Monday, May 29, 2006

Pictures, finally, if not more stories yet.

Yup, if you go to our set of China photos on Flickr, you can see many (and I mean MANY) of the pictures of our trip. Most have captions, which you can't see if you run it as a slideshow, just so you know. So if you do the slideshow, it will be pretty but not informative. If you view them one at a time, it'll be a little more unwieldy but you'll have the added bonus of knowing what the hell is going on.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Photos Still to Come

I promise there will be photos soon. I'm just trying to figure out how I can maybe reduce them all in size as a batch, so I don't take up all my bandwidth allowance on Flickr. I suppose I could use the allegedly unlimited storage space on my SBC/Yahoo/AT&T/whatever-the-hell-it-is DSL account and put them up there, but there's something nice about having them all in one place, plus I'd probably want to reduce the size anyway.

More stories soon, too. It's just been hard to find free time because I went back to my day job yesterday. It lasts through the end of June. I shudder to think what excruciatingly mind-numbing projects my supervisor will find for me to do during that time. I'm almost done with two major ones. I also filled out a bunch of purchase orders for her (because she doesn't know how to do them correctly). I occasionally find myself wondering what it is she actually does. Lord help me, she's nice, but the woman is a deadly combination of nit-picky and not too bright. For example, she makes a ton of punctuation mistakes in her documents, but is very consistent about them.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Things I Learned in China, Part One: Transportation

  • The roads are an insane place. If you do not have balls of steel, you have no business driving around in China. Fortunately, all the taxi drivers and minibus drivers we had the joy of utilizing had balls aplenty. Especially in Beijing, where the roads are packed from curb to curb with cars, trucks, bikes, mopeds, bicycle carts, and pedestrians, the chance of random sudden death seems to be quite high, at least to my Western eyes. Pedestrians appear not to have right of way, but they will routinely walk towards and into traffic as if they do. People seem to somehow know when to start or stop walking or driving, but I saw no logic to the madness. To me, it seemed like everybody was trying to walk or drive everywhere at the same time, and I was constantly convinced that our minibus driver was going to mow down a few bikes whenever he made a turn. When we were in Shanghai, a friend of Rob's Auntie Fang (an aunt by marriage who was raised in Shanghai), named Lou, drove us around for a day in his rented minivan, and he jokingly asked if anybody wanted to try driving in China. Ha ha, we said, but no. Rob said he considered it for about half a second, but then it occurred to him that he had no idea what the right of way is supposed to be. We noticed that on certain occasions, cars making a left turn have right of way to the opposing traffic, but we weren't sure why or how.

    Most Interesting Traffic Moment: While taking a bicycle-rickshaw tour of a hutong, or traditional Chinese neighborhood in Beijing, we got caught in an alley traffic jam that consisted of cars, bikes, rickshaws, and pedestrians. Whee!

  • Cars have strange names. While we're on the subject of cars, I noticed that auto manufacturers have different naming conventions in China. According to the aforementioned Lou, lots of automakers produce cars specifically for the Chinese market, brands that aren't found elsewhere. For instance, there's the Volkswagen Santana, which I found rather amusing. The Santana 3000 is commonly used for taxicabs, and is slightly smaller than a Passat sedan. We also saw a lot of red Citroen taxis and blue-and-gold or tan-and-gold Hyundai Elantra taxis. Needless to say, these cabs are not large. Other entertaining cars I jotted down were Nissan Sunny and Cadillac Shanghai. The latter is a minivan; I also saw a Buick minivan.
  • You can tow anything on the back of a bicycle cart. While we were on the hutong tour--on bicycle rickshaws--we saw a small cart attached to the back of a bike. Tied to the small cart was a rather large couch, at least a third of which extended off the back of the cart platform. Boxes of groceries, garbage, loads of bamboo, you name it--it will be attached to a bicycle and toted. Plus, people will ride on the back of someone else's bicycle, sidesaddle. That just seems dangerous to me, especially in light of the scary traffic I already talked about.
  • Chinese planes are much nicer than ours. On our flights within China--from Beijing to Xi'an, from Xi'an to Guilin, and from Guilin to Shanghai--we were on some of the cushiest, newest planes I've ever been on. If Southwest Airlines is like a flying bus, these were like flying Lexuses (Lexi?). More legroom, much newer, and one of them even had an anime safety video on the drop-down video screen. However, it was not good-quality anime, I'm sorry to say. I would call it craptacular, but amusing.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Back Again

One of the best things about coming home from a long vacation has got to be the prospect of sleeping in my own bed. I'm also looking forward to sleeping under an actual top sheet, which was lacking in any of the Chinese hotel rooms we stayed in. There was only the fitted sheet, then a comforter, which was inevitably white. My own bed is sounding more and more appealing, especially since we've been up for about 22 hours, and we're trying to stay awake in order to get to bed at a pseudo-normal time and reset our internal clocks. So I'm currently a bit loopy.

In addition, I look forward to stopping feeling like I'm on a bouncing, turbulent airplane. I didn't get sick or anything, unlike Rob's poor mother, but I keep getting this uncomfortable sensation of bobbing up and down. There was a good twenty minutes of severe turbulence at one point, plus occasional short disturbances during the rest of the flight. Not as bad as our flight to Japan in 2000 (or was it 2001?) but probably second worst ever. Blech.

More interesting details to come, later or perhaps tomorrow.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Yes, China is Amazing

...but it's definitely a "bring your own TP" kind of place. I'm actually sort of surprised I can get to blogger from here, but then again, this trip has been full of surprises. I'll have to update when I get back, but suffice it to say we're having a great time and taking a TON of pictures. I think my video will make people seasick, though.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

En Vacances

As you may or may not know, Rob and I are leaving Tuesday morning on a 12-day trip to China with his parents, aunt and uncle. Should be fun. May not be able to blog before I leave, or from China, depending on whether Blogger is blocked by the Chinese government. I sure hope my e-mail isn't blocked. I get the impression it's mostly content pages rather than services that get blacked out, but I won't really know until I get there.

So, if you see no postings for two weeks, it means a) I got really busy over the next day or so packing, and b) Communists hate Blogger.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Tales of the Amazing

It's people like this who just make me feel vastly inferior. Somehow I was a candidate for this medal. I think "candidate" is the level (or two) before "finalist." After all, they interviewed all this year's finalists, and I only recall talking to an actual human once regarding the University medal.

The thing is, I had no idea I was even being considered for the thing until they sent me a letter--me and, like, 36 other people. Compared to all these finalists, I didn't do SQUAT. I had about two extracurricular activities, not counting studying. I'm serious. And one of my activities was drawing snarky cartoons for the humor magazine. Not exactly something that makes you "most distinguished senior." Who knows--maybe 1997 was an off year for candidates.

Of course, being Berkeley, did I get a single dollar of scholarship money from them? Nooooo.

Another ACTUAL Rejection.

One and a half, really. Today I got my novel back from Margaret K. McElderry Books (A Division of Simon & Schuster, which is now "A Viacom Company"), after having written them a reminder letter last week--a sort of "you said it would be three months and now it's four; what's up with that?" letter. In their rejection was this truly uninformative sentence:

Unfortunately, though we wish it were otherwise, this does not seem to be something we can undertake for publication on our list at this time.

Blah. I also found out last week, in case you didn't read the addendum to "Another Non-Rejection" below, that Permafrost will not, in fact, be publishing my piece. Here's what they said when I e-mailed them to ask about it:

No, I'm sorry, we don't plan on publishing "Literacy"--I guess the only reward of being the runner-up is just that, "being the runner-up." A line for your vita, I guess. But best of luck placing the story elsewhere; I enjoyed it and I bet you will be able to find it a home.

Uh. Thanks. I guess. So I'm totally not going to withdraw it from the other contests I entered it into. I'm still waiting to hear back from Blooming Tree Press on the anthology that is supposedly going to contain my YA story "This Is Jane." I've sent them two follow-up e-mails ever since I got that one phone message. They never called back (to my knowledge) and they didn't leave a number, and they didn't answer either of my e-mails so far. I don't know if I'll have time to call before we leave for China on Tuesday, but I'll definitely see if a paper letter has more effect. I will also inform them of my absence, as it would be just my luck if they finally tried to get hold of me while I was out of the country.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Come on everybody, let's get ffff.......

I felt a bit older this morning, as I listened to the ending music for NPR's Morning Edition and realized that it was a jazzed-up instrumental version of Brass Monkey (you can listen to the clip if you click that link). I'm used to hearing random snippets of Beck on NPR, but the Beastie Boys? Even instrumental Beastie Boys? Does this mean I'll be hearing Muzak versions of Tool in the grocery store? Jazz arrangements of Nirvana in the dentist's office? What is the world coming to?

Monday, May 01, 2006

World's Biggest Cojones

I am not kidding when I tell you that C-Span's finest moment of 2006 occurred this past weekend, unbeknownst to me until a short while ago. All I can say is, somebody is going to be fired, and that somebody is whoever thought it would be a great idea to have Stephen Colbert host the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner.

Well, I think it was an amazingly awesome idea, but I'm not sure it turned out so well for...well, the President and all the press correspondents in the audience. All I can say is that Stephen Colbert must have the biggest balls in the world to do what he did. But you can go to YouTube and judge for yourself. That link goes to part 1 of 3--there are links to parts 2 and 3 on that page. It's 20-plus minutes, but it's worth it, trust me. It's worth it just for the incredibly awkward silences during Colbert's post-joke pauses for laughter. Though, personally, I was sitting here in front of my computer in hysterics. Oh, and be sure to watch for the totally random shot of Larry Fishburne.

Save the Internet

Save the Internet: Click here Sez MoveOn.org:

"Do you buy books online, use Google, or download to an Ipod? These activities, plus MoveOn's online organizing ability, will be hurt if Congress passes a radical law that gives giant corporations more control over the Internet.
Internet providers like AT&T and Verizon are lobbying Congress hard to gut Network Neutrality, the Internet's First Amendment. Net Neutrality prevents AT&T from choosing which websites open most easily for you based on which site pays AT&T more.

This is a really stupid, scary, and monopolistic scheme. Threatening my ability to efficiently vote with my dollar will only make me more determined to actually do so, instead of resting on the laurels of my laziness. In all seriousness, corporations already have enough control over internet access--if you don't think they already influence what websites you click on, get your news from, and purchase from, just via things like handy pre-chewed portal start pages, then you aren't paying attention. Don't let them cripple sites that refuse to pay their economically discriminatory internet poll tax, unless you want to turn our economy into an oligarchy.