Wednesday, March 26, 2008

I'm Back, For Good (Maybe)

It has been almost a month since I last posted. I want to blame our lack of decent internet service, but that's just a lame excuse as I kept my other blog up to date.

We were without decent internet for nearly three weeks. One day it just went down. On the Dell, where we are connected to a cable, we couldn't get it at all, on the Mac, where we have wireless it was incredibly slow and often would go down without warning.

A little disclaimer here: We have a wireless network, and several others in our little complex do as well. Truth be told, I'm not really sure which one is ours and which ones are theirs. Most of the networks are password protected but there are a couple that aren't and I get confused as to whether or not I am on my own network, or stealing someone elses.

After waiting and hoping it would fix itself we finally had one of our Chinese friends call the company to complain. Turns out we were behind on our bill. Two months late in fact. Now before you roll your eyes and call me a deadbeat, let me explain.

The bill is in Chinese. I can't tell what the heck it is saying for the most part. There are a variety of number on the bill, all of which look like amounts of money and none of which say anything in English telling me how much to pay. The one bit of English on the bill says "prepay" and I always assumed that meant we had paid ahead. I thought this because prepay generally means that you have paid ahead, and because each time we have paid our bill we've had to pay at least a month in advance.

The only way we know how to pay the bill is to the person from the internet company comes to our living quarters. She comes every Sunday in the afternoon. Every Sunday in the afternoon we also have a meeting. Remembering to go to internet lady before the meeting is difficult.

We also got no warning that we were behind. We had heard that if you don't pay a bill then you get items in the mail reminding you to pay. We got none.

Time slipped by and we didn't pay and we got shut off. So we paid and now we're cooking.


My birthday was yesterday. It was a pretty good day. We actually celebrated last Friday by having some friends over and playing games. I made a great big batch of nachos which were delicious.

My brother-in-laws birthday was Sunday and we celebrated by going to the Naked Cow on Saturday night. This is a big western style restaurant. Us men folk had meat. Lots of meat. We had lamb shanks and a pork shoulder and a full chicken and several other dishes. It was delicious and it tore me up most of Sunday.

Tuesday night we met with some more friends and had dinner at a place that gives teachers half on on Tuesdays.

I'm glad I've stayed alive another year.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Shanghai Diaries - Japanese Edition, Part 3: Kyoto, Osaka, and Home

From Osaka we trained to Nara, an old city that was also the capital of Japan at one time. We visited more temples there, but having rested from them in Osaka, I was once again fascinated by them.

Like Miyajima, there were tame deer roaming through parts of the city. There were many schoolchildren feeding the deer only to realize that once one deer sees food, the whole lot of them sense it and quickly surround the food bearer. In the park side, two bucks began fighting over something. I, like many others, rushed in to take photographs. The battle raged for a few minutes until the two bucks separated a bit.

Still filled with anger, one buck made a mighty sneer at my brother-in-law and then proceeded to headbutt an older lady who had bent down to tie her shoes. He got her right in the back with a thunderous bang. The women fell and the crowd gasped. To both my brother-in-law's and my own credit, we both rushed in and stood between the deer and the woman. It was then I realized the buck's head was about the same height of my midsection. I cringed at the thought of losing my reproductive powers by a deer in the middle of Japan.

Luckily, no more bucking occurred and we all got the crap out of there.

Nearby was the largest wooden structure in Japan (another temple like structure), which was awesome, but lost a little bit of its lure with me still being hyped up from the attack of the deer.

It was then towards Tokyo that we once again headed. On our way we hoped to make a pit stop to see Mt. Fuji in the distance, but it had begun to snow again and those plans were abandoned.

We saw a bit more of the city this time, including some crazy cheap electronic markets, the atrociously ugly Tokyo Tower, a gaggle of Cosplay kids dressed like sleazy nurses, Goth rockers, and a variety of other anime characters.

Japan was amazing, but we were all quite ready for home and its comforts. Due to some communication errors (and a national holiday), we were unable to pick up our new tickets until the day we were to leave. We awoke quite early and headed to one side of Tokyo to pick up the tickets so we would have time to make it to the other side of the city and the airport. We made it to the ticket office just as it opened, only to find out they had sent a messenger to take the tickets to the airport.

A couple of hours later we were in the airport standing in line behind a group of sumo wrestlers. It was quite a hoot to watch all of the various people walk in through the door to be surprised and excited over the sumos. I would have expected the wrestlers to be old hat to most of the Japanese, but even they went crazy for them.

Eventually we made it to the front counter and asked for our tickets. We paid our money and then were surprised to see only one ticket for my wife, but none for me. We asked about this and were assured they would find mine. A few calls later and we were told there was no ticket, nor any record that I had applied for a lost ticket. They apologized, but told me I would have to buy a new ticket to the tune of $900.

For the record, that's more than we paid for two tickets in the first place. They did upgrade us to Business class, but I took note that I was still sitting next to the wife, which, of course, means I paid for my seat twice.

I paid my way, and took it from behind like a good little boy. I'd like to say we got to China and the airline treated me right with some sort of refund, but three weeks later, about a dozen phone calls, and two more trips to the agency has only gained me more anger and confusion.

Japan was absolutely wonderful, and though it is now tainted with that ticket fiasco, I'd still highly recommend it to all travelers.

Monday, March 3, 2008

slow connect

My internet connection in Shanghai has always been a bit peculiar. Technically we get DSL speeds, but that's only on paper. When all the planets are aligned properly we do get high speeds and everything is good under the sun. Periodically, and seemingly quite randomly things go off and then my connection is anywhere from pretty OK to crap, actually.

Sometimes it is easy to figure out. During the early evening it is easy to understand why things slow down - 18 million people get home and log on. Other times though, it just happens. Sometimes it will go completely down for a few hours or even a day. This week, it has just stunk.

I am averaging about 1 bar on my wi-fi, but it fluctuates. Sometimes it goes up to a two or a three, and often it will go out completely. There is no rhyme nor reason, nor even a bit of prose for the whys. It just is. It is just driving me crazy.

My first internet was connected on a 8 bit modem. When we finally moved up to 11.1 speed we thought it couldn't get any better. Now I don't know how anyone could use a dial-up modem, and while even at a 1 bar I can still surf everything, download and upload at a reasonable rate, I'm ready to throw my computer across the room.

I would say this is why I have not been posting much lately, but well I hate to lie to my readership (today, at least.) Truth is I've been in a funk for the last week. I'm working on getting it un-funked, but with this lousy connection even an un-funked writer is not one that can post very often.