Archive for June, 2008

ADSL Setup in Shanghai

Tuesday, June 24th, 2008

So here I am trying to set up an ADSL connection in the place we moved into.  The owner had been paying for ADSL for quite some time, so presumably it worked.  But neither of the two Ethernet connections in the house seemed to have signal in them, so I ended up calling the ADSL repair folks.  In Shanghai, this means China Telecom.

The repair guy comes over, tests both Ethernet ports, and verified that there indeed weren’t signals coming out of them.  He then goes into the phone panel in the house and begins disconnecting all sorts of wires.  It’s a mess in there, a veritable bird’s nest of thin-gauge technicolor wiring.  But no matter.  He starts cutting and ripping them all out.  Finally, he connects two tiny wires together.

Back upstairs.  Now testing the phone jacks.  Doesn’t work in the office.  No worries, let’s try the guest bedroom.  Ah, the phone line seems to work there.  Let’s now connect an ADSL modem to it.

Great.  Everything now works from the guest bedroom.

Me:  “Great!  Can we now get it working from the office?”
Phone-Love:  “How about you just use the Internet from here?”
Me:  “The guest bedroom?  I was thinking of using the computer from the office… it’s the one with the Ethernet port, right?”
Phone-Love:  “The port’s not working.  The phone line there’s not working either.”  It, by the way, doesn’t seem to cross his mind that his chop-job in the garage might have had anything to do with this.
Me:  “But isn’t the point of the Ethernet port that our network connection should come through it?  Can’t we get that working?  Or at least the phone line in the office?”
Phone-LoveDead serious, with no self-detected I’m-From-China-Telecom irony.  “That’s not my job.  The phone line upstairs is broken.  Not sure what that Ethernet port was for.  Why don’t you just use the guest room to access the Internet?”

If it’s not the China Telecom guy’s job to get a phone line working, I’m not sure whose job it is.  But no matter.  Here I am, coming to you from the guest room.  That’s not all — there’s more.

I bought an ADSL modem from Metro City, a mall in Xujiahui that sells all sorts of computer goods.  (It also has a fabulous food court in the basement for those marathon shopping trips.)  If you’re going to buy an ADSL modem, I’d highly recommend getting one that has an English interface.  The local brand, TP-Link, does not have English menus.  So good luck there — you’ll probably recognize one or two familiar-sounding terms, like DHCP or NAT.  But the rest won’t be usable.

I pat myself on the back for being smart enough to get a D-Link, whose interface is indeed in English (mostly).  Herein begins the fun.  I plug in the ADSL modem, enter my username and password, and nothing happens.  No Internet.  I look around the menus and discover that I might need to modify “VPI” and “VCI” numbers (which apparently vary from carrier to carrier).  Onto the phone to China Telecom speedy helpdesk.

Me:  “Hello, I’m trying to get an ADSL modem configured for use on your network.”
ADSL-Love:  “You don’t need to configure anything.”
Me:  “I’ve put in my username and password, but there’s still no connection.”
ADSL-Love:  “Oh, right, you do need to put those in, but then it’ll work.”
Me:  “It doesn’t.”
ADSL-Love:  “It’ll work.  You don’t need to configure anything.”
MeAt this point, instead of trying to articulate the reality of the absolutely nothingness that was going on in my office guestroom, I take a different tack.  “What are the VCI and VPI settings for China Telecom’s ADSL?”
ADSL-Love:  “You don’t need to know those.  You don’t need to set them.  You know, for those settings, you should call your modem manufacturer.”
Me:  “But aren’t those settings carrier-dependent?  The manufacturer wouldn’t know those, right?”  “Carrier-dependent,” by the way, is a gross exaggeration of what I said in my second-grade-level Mandarin.  The literal sentences were probably something more like, “Aren’t those switches which I here set modem only you know?  Not modem maker?  You have numbers?  VCI, VPI?  Capiche?”
ADSL-Love:  “No, you don’t need to set those.  Your manufacturer can help you.”

As you’ve probably guessed, D-Link has absolutely nothing to say on this subject.  Rightfully so, since those settings are indeed carrier dependent.

To save you new-to-Shanghai folks some ADSL Love of you own, here are the critical settings you need to know:

Protocol:  PPPoE
Channel:  PVC0 (that’s channel zero)
VPI:  8
VCI:  81 (decimal, or 51 hex, depending on your router)

These settings will only work in Shanghai for ADSL.  Other parts of China are sometimes run by different carriers.  The parts that are China Telecom outside Shanghai may have different VPI/VCI settings.  In those cases, you don’t need to configure anything.  It’ll just work.  Or you could call your modem manufacturer.  Heheh.

For a full (though possibly outdated) list, search online for “china telecom vci vpi.”  There are a variety of sites that list ADSL settings worldwide (primarily for Linux drivers, apparently).

"Next Time I’ll Bring a Knife"

Friday, June 20th, 2008

Overheard on the elevator today while going up to work:

Man:  “I think it’s my third time here.”
Woman (colleague):  “We’ve been here four times.  But you missed one of the meetings.”
Man:  “That’s right.  A total of four times, but I missed one.  I can’t believe after all these meetings that we’ve still not reached an agreement with them.”
Woman:  “Tell me about it.”
(This is a rough translation, since in Chinese the literal phrase “tell me about it” doesn’t mean what it does in English.  If you want to imagine more of a Chinese flair to this conversation, just roll your eyes and lament, “AYE-yoh,” or you could use the popular, “AYE-yoh-eh.”  Let your arms flap a bit in exasperation.)
Man:  “Well, if we don’t get an agreement with them today, next time I’ll bring a knife.  ‘Oh, Mr. Chen, I think we should discuss…’ POW!!<Mr. Chen makes a forceful stabbing motion in the elevator>  “That’ll show ’em.”

The good news is that Mr. Chen, Deal Closer Extraordinaire, got off the elevator one floor before the Microsoft offices with his yet-unperturbed colleague.

This conversation got me thinking.  It used to be, say, in the early 1990’s, that these sorts of jokes would be lightly chuckled at and filed away in the Dark Humor section of water cooler lore.  But somewhere in the last decade in the US, these jokes stopped being funny.  We’ve essentially applied the famous airport TSA sign — “All jokes will be taken seriously” — to our lives.

Has this change happened in the US because of all the workplace violence, all the Going Postal, the last few years?  Or is it just I that thinks these jokes would no longer be funny if said in an elevator in the US?

Let me know your opinion.  A barrel of laughs?  Nervous staring and shuffling in the elevator followed by a quick call to building security once you’re out of Mr. Chen’s earshot?  Which would happen in the US?  Has our culture changed?

POW!!  (Just kidding.  Plastic butter knife.)

Guards Everywhere

Thursday, June 12th, 2008

One thing to get used to in China is the number of guards everywhere.  It can sometimes feel like you’re in the type of apocalyptic urban future that’s pictured in movies.

Typically, every housing complex or apartment building has several guards standing around it.  There’s at least one at every entrance and one or more walking around.  Their job seems to be asking every unfamiliar person their business.  The funny part is that you just have to say where you’re going and they let you through.  “I’ve been invited to building 20, apartment 501.”  There’s not even a verification step.

But they really are everywhere.  When I showed up the first day at work, I had to answer to two separate guards in different parts of the building.  Getting into our apartment complex requires talking to at least one guard.

Sometimes, the guards are just posted at traffic intersections.  Not traffic directors — guards.  I was once in the middle of nowhere, way outside the city, literally in the middle of farm fields, when I walked up to a guard that was posted at an intersection between two tiny roads.  Good thing I ran into him, though.  I was completely lost.  He called a cab for me.  But other than me showing up, his job was just to stand there all day monitoring the “traffic.”

It seems that many of the guards aren’t government employees, though I can’t be positive just yet.  For instance, many housing complexes are guarded by folks from Collier International, the commercial real-estate company.  My guess is that most guards are private (rent-a-cop) guards, though the uniforms certainly look official.

The exception is near government buildings, where armed guards in green uniforms abound.  They look pretty official.  Especially with their shotguns.

Most guards don’t appear to be armed except for the green uniformed ones.  I’d take pictures and post them here if I didn’t think that’d land me in a world of trouble.  So for now, you’ll just have to imagine rent-a-cops everywhere.

Jo-Jo’s, Part Deux

Thursday, June 5th, 2008

Our shave ice [sic] story from Kauai doesn’t just end with my previous post.  I’ve since discovered intrigue and drama behind the aforementioned Jo-Jo’s Shave Ice.  It’s probably fitting that I at least post this follow-up story, since just about the only search term that’s led to this blog so far is “shaved ice.”

As you recall, Jo-Jo’s Shave Ice is the legendary shave ice store in the little town of Waimea in southern Kauai.  I say “legendary” because just about every Kauai tour book will tell you to visit it, including the much-lauded, otherwise superb Ultimate Guide to Kauai.  And I say “legendary” in quotes since, as you know, I find shave ice to be one of the most overrated local foods in travel history.  It’s billed as some sort of Kauai / Hawaii specialty, not to be missed, but really — it’s “not to be missed” in the same way that Good Humor or your neighborhood 7-Eleven ICEE is “not to be missed.”

Jo-Jo’s is supposedly the best that Kauai shave ice has to offer, a claim consistently reaffirmed by surveys, guidebooks, and locals.  If that’s the best of shave ice, then I respectfully ask to be excused.  I tried shave ice at several locations in Kauai, including Legendary Jo-Jo’s (more on that below!), and find the snack to fall far short of expectations.  This, coming from a man who loves many other forms of frozen ice desserts:  gelatos, Taiwanese shaved ice, Malaysian ice kachung, etc.  When it comes to frozen desserts, you name it, I love it.

Except for shave ice, which I file in the same Joking Around category as Slurpees, ICEEs, and carnival sno-cones.  In every shave ice stand I visited in Kauai, the dessert was served with fake syrups — artificial colors, artificial flavors.  I have no idea why, on a tropical island known for its pineapple and sugar cane fields, you’d use fake pineapple syrup.  But they do — every last shave ice stand in Kauai.  No amount of quaint grammatical insistence on calling the dessert “shave ice” is going to rescue it from stark reality.  It is a much-ballyhooed, much over-hyped tourist trap of the first order.  My kudos to its marketer.

But that’s all beside the point.  The real point is this:  that the Jo-Jo’s I visited, the famous one, the self-declared “original,” was indeed the original in one sense:  it was the original abandoned Jo-Jo’s.  That’s right.  Jo-Jo, the namesake and founder of Jo-Jo’s Shave Ice, operates a competing shave ice store no more than 50 yards from the original Jo-Jo’s location, just down a small alleyway.  The nondescript new Jo-Jo’s, the one now operated by Jo-Jo herself, is somewhat spitefully named The Original Jo-Jo’s.

As I entered The-New-Location-Of-Jo-Jo’s-Shave-Ice-Shop-Yes-The-One-Still-Run-By-Jo-Jo-Herself (let’s call it “TNLJJSISYTOSRBJJH”), you could feel the tinge of hurt.  Signs shouting “The Original,” “The Real One Voted as the Kauai Locals’ Favorite,” and numerous newspaper articles authenticating its claim plastered its walls interior and exterior.  But nothing would change the fact that it was located off the main road, in a little alleyway, righteously declaring its originality to a world that wasn’t listening.  I only happened to stumble upon it because I was on foot and got confused by the signs pointing various ways.  Jo-Jo’s is HERE!  No, the real one’s HERE!  I’m Jo-Jo!  Look!  It’s me!  TNLJJSISYTOSRBJJH!

Two Jo-Jo's

The Original Jo-Jo’s (1) and TNLJJSISYTOSRBJJH (2)

But no matter.  I’m going to let you in on something:  it doesn’t matter which one you go to since it all tastes the same.  It’s pretty hard to have a unique product when everyone uses artificially colored, artificially flavored syrups from the same bottles.  I tell you, the first person to suggest, to even think, of using — brace yourself — real fruit in their shave ice syrups will rock Kauai.  Jo-Jo’s, Jo-Jo’s, and even Jo-Jo herself, won’t know what hit ’em.

To be fair to Jo-Jo, she quit her original shave ice shop in order to teach at a local school.  According to a newspaper article posted in TNLJJSISYTOSRBJJH, she taught school for eight years and then decided that too many of her students were quitting school in order to work.  So she opened TNLJJSISYTOSRBJJH in an effort to keep them gainfully employed in local industry without needing to quit school.  All in all, an inspiring story for such a hugely disappointing dessert.

If you make it to Waimea, go ahead and visit the Colorful Jo-Jo’s (pictured at the bottom of my original post).  Then, walk down the nearest alleyway to its west to try TNLJJSISYTOSRBJJH.  You can high five some of Jo-Jo’s students as you ponder the mystery of shave ice.

Labor Force One Billion

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2008

One very obvious difference when you walk into Shanghai stores vs. stores in the US is the number of employees.  Stores in China tend to be chock full of employees.  It’s far more than you’d ever see in the US.

I once spotted six uniformed employees standing in one aisle of a supermarket.

The supreme hilarity with all this excess, however, is that not one of those employees were eager to help me.  Sure, they’d begrudgingly answer questions, but they weren’t about to offer any assistance on their own.  Give them a break — they’ve got five other buddies to attend to.

You’ll see the same sort of excess in ritzy shopping malls.  Several of the local malls cater primarily to foreigners, charging ridiculous amounts of money for shiny little products.  On any typical weekday, you’ll find that the mall is mostly empty except for all the employees standing around everywhere.

I speculate that there’s all this excess because of the great differential in earning power between the rich in China (or the West, for that matter) and the average Chinese person.  At the supermarket, you can easily find small pieces of beef that cost more than a day’s wages for one of the supermarket’s employees.  With that sort of differential, it’s no wonder there are a bunch of people standing around.