Heading Home

This morning I officially graduated from my one-year Mandarin language course at the Beijing Language & Culture University. After five years away from Hong Kong, tomorrow I finally return home permanently, and am looking forward to starting at my new workplace.


CNN Censored in Beijing reporting on Taiwan

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised since I’ve heard others mention it happening before, but it was the first time I saw it for myself. Tonight CNN was covering the annual session of the National Peoples’ Congress, and was describing the efforts of the NPC to pass a law forbidding the secession of Taiwan, its renegade province. The story started out uncensored with video footage of the NPC. The CNN anchor talked about the topics discussed during the conference, and talked about China’s efforts to pass the anti-secession legislation. The anchor then went on to say that “critics are dubbing it a war preparation bill…” at which point the audio and video cut out for a few seconds and resumed when CNN had moved on to talking about measures aimed at Chinese farmers.

Featured Extension: Coral Distribution Network

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Coral NYU Distribution Network, here is a short introduction:

Coral is peer-to-peer content distribution network, comprised of a world-wide network of web proxies and nameservers. It allows a user to run a web site that offers high performance and meets huge demand, all for the price of a $50/month cable modem.

Publishing through Coral is as simple as appending a short string to the hostname of objects’ URLs; a peer-to-peer DNS layer transparently redirects browsers to participating caching proxies, which in turn cooperate to minimize load on the source web server. These volunteer sites that run Coral automatically replicate content as a side effect of users accessing it, improving its availability. Using modern peer-to-peer indexing techniques, Coral will efficiently find a cached object if it exists anywhere in the network, requiring that it use the origin server only to initially fetch the object once.

Since I’m currently located in Beijing, I find the Coral Network very useful for accessing sites that have been censored by the Chinese Government. By simply adding .nyud.net:8090 onto the end of a hostname, it will fetch any page and deliver it to you via its cache. There are many other uses for it, such as accessing Slashdotted sites, but I use it primarily for accessing banned sites (for example, anything on Blogspot, TypePad or LiveJournal, amongst a lot of others).

In order to make things easy for us Firefox/Mozilla users, they’ve written a search engine plugin using which you can easily ‘Coralize’ any page, an extension with which you can ‘Coralize’ any links on the current page, and a ‘Coralize’ bookmarklet that Coralizes the currently viewed page.

I’m sure someone out there will find Coral as useful as I do.

the talk from the man

During our international students’ orientation at BLCU, a nice gentleman from the Beijing Public Security Bureau came to give us a talk about various things that we should know about our stay in Beijing. First off were all the visa and entry/exit regulations which were useful to know. Second were things to do and things not to do. That part was also pretty predictable. One part that I wasn’t really expecting to hear was this:

While talking about health services available, he mentioned the following: “If you are feeling sick, have injured yourself, want an abortion, or have any other health related concerns please visit your nearest licensed hospital.”

I laughed a bit inside as I thought about how an American audience would have reacted to this.

say yes?

You know how in the US you see all these advertisements targeted to kids that read: “Say No to Drugs” or “Say No to Alcohol”? Well, the Chinese have a different philosophy:

Say Yes to Beer!

This sign was seen outside a bar near my university. The picture was taken on my Nokia 6600 phone.

lots of changes

It’s been over a month since I last posted anything to my blog. Posting after so long seems somewhat weird, because so much has happened since July 22. So here’s the short version of events:

July 30-August 4: Visit New Jersey.
August 6: Leave Chicago permanently and return home to Hong Kong.
August 7: Reach Hong Kong.
August 13-18: Go to Singapore to visit my brother and his family. My fiancee flies down from Kolkata, India and joins me in Singapore.
August 18: My fiancee and I fly to Hong Kong for a short visit (she returned on August 28 to Kolkata).
August 25: I fly to Beijing, China to start a 10-month Manadarin course at the Beijing Language & Culture University.

All of these things have kept me very busy, and away from Mozilla/Firefox. In fact, I think I went a whole month without logging into Bugzilla. That must be some sort of a personal record.

Anyway, now I’m located in Beijing for the next ten months or so. My first impressions of Beijing are very positive. China is far more developed than I imagined, and Beijing is a very cosmopolitan city, even more so I think than Chicago, where I spent my last four years.

Technologically speaking, Beijing is light years ahead of the US. Cellphone providers here are deploying 3G networks capable of sending data at 384kbps down/64kbps up, and GPRS is already in widespread use. The hotel I stayed at for a few nights before moving into my permanent place was the unquestionably best hotel I’ve ever stayed at. Everything was computerised, from the TV controls, to the room lights, to the air conditioning, to calling a valet. And it was all accessible from a central control panel next to the bed. It had to be seen to be believed. I haven’t seen anything like it in either the US or Hong Kong.

The only complaints that I have about internet connectivity are that firstly that it is rather slow, and secondly is that it is censored (though not as heavily as I had imagined). For example, sites such as BBC News and Google Cache are completely inaccessible. I’m sure there are more examples.

Thankfully, I still have VPN access to the University of Chicago (at least until February, after which I’ll need a new VPN provider). Since VPN access is not blocked, I have effectively unrestricted internet access by tunneling to uchicago.edu. I’m glad I’m able to use VPN, else having restricted internet would be somewhat of a bummer. My Vonage box also works here, which is nice, because calls between anywhere in the world and the US are far cheaper than between anywhere in the world and China. I had to buy a new phone to use with it, since using my American wireless phone which was not type-approved for China would probably be the quickest way to annoy the police here, since I’d be broadcasting RF on restricted frequencies.

I’m hoping now that I’m somewhat settled into my new place in Beijing and that my net connection is working (albeit slowly) and unrestricted (thanks to VPN) that I’ll be able to spend some time catching up on my Firefox QA stuff.