Banazîr the Jedi Hobbit (banazir) wrote,
Banazîr the Jedi Hobbit

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China, Day 3: Tian An Men Square and the Great Hall of the People

Lee Family Reunion 2006: China
A Tronkie Travellogue
Day 3: Jade Garden Restaurant, Tian An Men Square and the Great Hall of the People

01:35: It was interesting trying to use the bathroom and shower in the attic during a scheduled half-hour power outage that was apparently announced to everyone but me. I ended up waiting until the lights came back on, though I did manage to get the toilet flushed and my hands washed in the dark. ("Better than the other way around!" my cousin Cynthia would say.)

08:30: I'm awake! I dash into the bathroom and brush my teeth, and of course by the time I'm back, I've missed a few drive-bys in IM. Plus ca change, plus c'est le meme chose.

08:50 - 10:00: I spend the morning getting slightly better at the Xiaoxiao gunfighter game, while Cynthia watches me. I can finish the game on the Normal setting after barely losing two lives, and people wonder why I don't play Quake or Unreal?

09:40: There is a stealthy handyman painting the floor with caustic agent right outside our room, and when asked about it, he replied: "don't step in it... it's... chemicals".

11:30: I meet a Mr. Huang, a friend of my uncle's, and am introduced "as a professor from the America who's another one of those child prodigies". That's more than generous: for those of you whiz kids from the USA who started university at 15 or 16 as I did, a child prodigy in China typically starts university at 13 and has a doctorate by the age of 22. If that intimidates you back in the Americas and over in Europe, it should! My uncle asked me to bring him a copy of Buderi and Huang's Guanxi that he'd ordered and sent to my house, and I read most of it on the plane. There are 14 million undergraduates in the USA today. Of the 17 million in China, the caliber is steadily rising, and those who are at Tsinghua are pulling even with those at Harvard, Stanford, and MIT, at least in pure technical ability. You do the math.

11:40 - 12:10: My uncle confirms that Wikipedia is indeed blocked by the GFW. We have a short conversation about Jimmy Wales and Chinese internet censorship regulations, and I immediately go to #teunc on to find taiji_jian. Overnight, he's looked up a couple of things. As I move around the house, trying to find spots with adequate WiFi reception, he helps me configure an SSH/HTTP proxy using Firefox and a PuTTY connection to his Ubuntu Linux box in Illinois, and 15 minutes later I am merrily tunnelling under the GFW and loading up pictures of Tank Man.

12:15: We head out in a minibus rented by my uncle. The ramifications do not immediately become clear, but as we talk in the car, I realize that the family is going to occupy this vehicle (which seats eleven plus the driver, or thirteen at a squeeze) and the Nissan, to overflowing.

I turn around and snap pictures of my cousins as I talk to them. Mr. Huang's tiny sproglet is told that I am from America and responds, "ta1 cong2 mei3guo2 lai2 de4 ke3 shi4 hai2 shi4 hen3 shuai4 ah1" ("he may be from America, but he's still very handsome"). For you Firefly fans, shuai is what Kaylee calls Simon. I can't stop laughing.

13:00 - 14:30: Lunch is at the Jade Garden, a fine restaurant in the heart of the city. One of the nice things about Asian restaurants is that with a large party, you can get a private room with a coffee table and couch, a large-screen plasma TV, and a couple of single easy chairs. Cynthia decides that 'tis a gift to be simple.


Pickled cucumber and radish
Roast molasses-coated peanuts
Red eddos (lotus root) with glutinous rice in light syrup
Diced bamboo shoots with peas

Main Dishes

Stuffed hot green chilies
Prawns in the half shell
Tender-broiled filet mignon cubes
Layered pork (intestine, gelatin)
Pork ribs
Pyramid of choice meat
Steamed rolls
Fatty bacon strips on a bed of dried dark vegetables
Chinese bacon and bamboo hearts over jade vegetables in a light sauce
Tea-smoked duck
Lobster rice vermicelli

Signature Dish

Full deep-sea fish (18")


Chicken soup with cabbage and bamboo hearts

Second Dishes

Long noodles in broth with winter melon
Crabs in the shell

Seriously, and people wonder what I mean when I tell them I'm a hobbit?

Over a plethora of delicacies too numerous to easily remember, I have the most fascinating conversation about the Chinese education system, Google Desktop, and the GFW with my uncle.

Here's the lowdown on the GFW. Most blockage is carried out by the government of the People's Republic of China (PRC), as you probably realize. This censorship comes in three forms:

  • Domain-level IP blocks on specifically "subversive" or anti-government sites (pro-Taiwanese independence, Falun Gong, Tibetan freedom, and other such topics are banned), encyclopedic sites that contain links to controversial content such as accounts of the 04 June 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, and sites on the pornography blacklist

  • Day-long to week-long blackouts of ISPs around 04 June of each year and when someone uses a forum offered by the ISP to attack the government

  • Blocks of exponentially increasing duration on an IP pair. These are triggered by searches or instant messages containing names of dissidents such as "Wang Dan" or strings such as "Tiananmen Square massacre". When someone searches for such a string and gets a hit, or transmits such information over state-monitored IM, the offending client-server IP pair is blocked for 5 minutes, then 20, then 320. This affects everyone within that pair of IP blocks. (I am not sure whether it's a pair of dotted quads or just the first 2-3 quads.) Hotel users will experience an outage of service to the "objectionable" site when another guest accesses interdicted content. After enough tries, the police will show up and question the user.

Yahoo, Microsoft, and Google all voluntarily self-censor; Google restricts its own content the least, but it has caught the most flak for it because in the USA it's espoused a strong anti-censorship policy. Is it the cost of doing business? Personally, I would not want to self-censor, but after seeing what Google and its competitors bring to China, I would say that the net effect is overwhelmingly positive.

15:30 - 17:00: We get back, freshen up, and hop in the minibus for an excursion to an open indoor market. It looks much like any mall you would see in San Fransisco's Chinatown, or New York's, or Toronto's: most of the wares are overpriced bric-a-brac, though there is a very well-stocked Tetra aquarium store. Cynthia and I spot an albino frog, many turtles and lizards of various descriptions and sizes, and a bowl of the grubs that are their food. Two goldfish leap out of the bowl as we walk past, and Cynthia and I regale ourselves with several minutes of Goldfish Suicide Counseling and Goldfish Social Work.

19:00 - 22:00: After dinner at home, I go to Tiananmen Square with my Fifth Aunt, Kai-Ming, and saw a Chinese musical pageant at the Great Hall of the People.

For those of us American-born Chinese who remember the events of spring, 1989, stepping into the square for the first time inundates one with a feeling of momentous destiny. For all that I was interested in the show, in taking pictures, and for all that we were already late, I felt a slight chill up my spine when I first laid eyes on those so-familiar sights.

As we dash past the milling crowd, my aunt asks why we don't just duck under the yellow tape by the side of the walkway. I reply that the soldiers standing guard every few tens of meters might not like it, so we take the long way around. We go to the Depository and check my aunt's bag, though she has me hang on to all of her cash. Later, once we are inside the Great Hall, I give it all back to her.

The pageant is well-produced and choreographed; the production value is high insofar as the musical performance was decent and the costumes are well done. The translations leave a lot to be desired, and the general acoustics of the Great Hall are poor, but I expected as much. The pageant itself is only a little propagandistic, though even to my foreign-born perception, the pro-Communist themes are there.

Here is a synopsis of the songs:

  • 1. This is the ancient land of the Chinese people, rooted in a mythic past.

  • 2. Chinese people have worked hard since the beginning of history.

  • 3. Chinese people build things with their hands to improve life for successive generations.

  • 4. The people plant rice every year.

  • 5. Farm girls weed the rice every day.

  • 6. The men of the coastal village fish and the women work on the beach.

  • 7. The inland people grow grain and dry it under the baking sun.

  • 8. People carry the grain home on sacks hanging from long poles.

  • 9. People in the valleys grow sugar cane.

  • 10. The villagers drink great amounts when the harvest is done, and are hard to get drunk.

  • 11. Bumper crops bring great prosperity and elation to the village, which bursts into a song of celebration.

  • 12. The Chinese culture is founded on harmony and love between the divine spirits of Heaven (tian) and Earth (di).

  • 13. Family love is paramount in Chinese culture; the wistfulness of a sibling missing another, poignant.

  • 14. The swaying of plants in the wind is reminiscent of a dance.

  • 15. Chinese married life is droll, and even old married couples who scold each other are sometimes actually flirting.

  • 16. The courtship songs of the Northern ethnic minorities are like wine, overwhelming the senses for a time.

  • 17. Passion and erotic love are like a net in which two fish are caught.

  • 18. Chinese society takes amusement in encouraging conjugal love and eavesdropping on it.

  • 19. The beautiful moon of Guangxi province is highly renowned and the subject of much poetry and song.

  • 20. The Guangxi ethnic minorities wear lovely costumes and sing folk songs.

  • 21. The wedding of a girl of the Yao ethnic minority is a great occasion for the entire village; her sisters are the bridesmaids. (I got the faint impression from this song that "sisters" are associated with exotic ethnicities, and people are at least encouraged to think of them as a thing of the past.)

  • 22. The weddings of the Yao ethnic minority are beautiful and occasioned by song and great pageantry throughout the village.

My uncle, parents, and cousin are in the minibus and the cell phone he handed me before the pageant rings before we have even picked up my aunt's bag from the checkpoint where she left it. The vehicle swings around, we hop in, and the driver takes us home.

I'm sleepy enough that I'm sound asleep before midnight.

P.S. : I haven't forgotten that today is my fortnightly computer question day. The list is forthcoming. :-D

ETA, 04:50 CDT Tue 04 Jul 2006:

Thanks to all who have helped with previous ones, which I posted on:

Here's my fortnightly update:

Now for the new questions...

Corruption in WinXP MSDN-AA images

I seem to be missing drivers in my Microsoft Developer Network Academic Alliance (MSDN-AA) CDs, which we university users have to download and burn from ISO images. Does anyone know what can cause this corruption other than bit errors in the ISO image or the CD burning process? It seems to happen a lot for me, more than can be explained by bad media. I used to get the problem even with Volume License CDs, though more rarely.

Good replacement power supplies for Dell Dimension desktop PCs

I keep having the CD-R/RW drive or one of the USB ports conk out on Tulkas, my ancient Dell Dimension XPS D-300 (purchased for $3000 in January, 1998). I suggested retiring it two years ago, but Banamum is of the "I can still use it" school of thought, and so it looks as if we will go for 10 years.
I figure I will need to put a power supply in it for this to work; can anyone recommend a good, reasonably cheap one?

A better way to reboot a VOIP box

The only way I seem to be able to get a fresh IP on the LinkSys VOIP appliance I got from iTalkBB, the Vonage clone we subscribe to, is to:

  • 1. Disconnect the power to the VOIP box, the 16-port switch, the combo router, and the cable modem

  • 2. Plug the VOIP box directly into the cable modem

  • 3. Power up the cable modem and wait a couple of minutes (and sometimes reboot the cable modem) for it to get a new IP

  • 4. Power up the cable modem, combo router, 16-port switch, and the VOIP box

There's got to be a better way. Any suggestions?

Tags: beijing, censorship, china, chinese music, cultural pageants, family, google, great firewall of china, great hall of the people, information security, music, musicals, prc, propaganda, proxies, tiananmen square

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