Mar 17 - Apr 1 2010

random trip report

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I meet Carl at SFO. We fly to HK (14 hours - uggh!) then Taipei. Taxi to Academia Sinica. We visit the AS convenience store ('Hi Life') which, along with the usual processed crap, has an urn of cracked tea eggs and a cooker of pungent tofu product, which disturbs Carl's nostrils.


We meet w/ seismology guys.

Carl and I take a long walk up AS road looking for dinner. Lots of small scooter repair stores. No English menus; we finally find a natural/veggie place. We stop at the Hi-Life store again; Carl gets a bottle of what looks like refreshing lemonade, but it actually lemon-flavored gelatinous slime.


1st day of Asia@home hackfest.

Dinner at the Famous Tea House. Good, but not as great as 2 years ago, and no tea ceremony.


2nd day of Asia@home hackfest.

Carl, Liz, Daniel and I take the subway to the Rohai St. 'night market', a narrow pedestrian mall filled with small stores and food stands. Many of the food stands are meat-oriented, with various extremities, organs, and unidentifiable parts. Every so often there's a particular extremely bad smell; presumably some food item. I have a dark-brown fruit drink of unknown origin. Carl has some bad fried tofu.

We end up eating at a grimy place where you sit at a griddle; they cook your food in front of you and serve it on a piece of aluminum foil. Perhaps the world's worst presentation.


Jill L. meets me in a cab at AS and we go to a climbing gym at a community recreation center in the north central part of town. One of the employees belays us both. JL does very well, and I have a good time. Then we walk in the neighborhood, drink tapioca pearl tea, and sit in a park.

I take a cab to the airport. On the plane, I make a game attempt to communicate via sketches with the Taiwanese lady next to me; no go. But her husband is very eager to communicate, gives me his business card (he's apparently a fortune teller) and urges me to contact him next time I'm in town.

Francois, Daniel, Andre-Pierre, Carl and I arrive at Beijing. Wenjing and Francois' Norwegian student Josef are waiting for us, but at the wrong terminal. We take the express train to terminal 2 to meet them.

A van takes us to the Jade Palace Hotel, a 5-star place, but the checkin process is tedious, and the bed is extremely hard - it seems to be a box spring rather than a mattress.

A sign above the sink says the tap water is 'undirected'. What this actually means (I discover later) is that if you drink it, you'll have the runs for several days.


At 1 PM we meet the others and walk to the venue, ICT (Institute for Computing Technology). We have a long planning meeting with Gunner the 'facilitator', and two young Mozilla guys, Christoper (dark hair, beard, glasses, quiet) and John (shaved head, outgoing).

For dinner we go to an ICT restaurant. W and I share her pasta dish and my dish, which is some a chopped meat/veggie mixture that you stuff into little buns.

After dinner we go to the public event, which includes talks by Francois, Gang Chen, another Chinese guy, and me/Daniel/Carl. There follows a question and answer period. This high point is a very long, rambling oratory by a slightly crazy-looking guy, which Carl and I could not understand but it sounded like a comedy routine. (It turns out he was suggesting various business opportunities and ways of making cheaper sensors).

The hotel has various recreational stuff in the basement: bowling alley, ping-pong tables, gym, pool. There's also a night club populated by sleazy-looking young people of both sexes. W investigates; too late for ping-pong, but we enjoy a few games of foosball in the bowling alley.


First day of hackfest.

I try to walk to the venue by myself, can't find it, and end up wandering randomly for about 2 hours. Eventually I return to the hotel, email Carl and Francois, and Francois comes and gets me. Very embarrassing.

The hackfest is not entirely successful, but Daniel starts on the OpenID thing, and Carl and I work on getting BOINC to compile on a locally-made ARM laptop.

We have lunch in the cafeteria downstairs, which is pretty bad.

W leads a group focused on CAS@home volunteership; the crazy guy from the previous evening is there. He seems to know a lot about almost everything, but his contributions mostly involve money-making ideas. He lives at home with his wealthy parents, is self-educated, and has in fact been in a mental hospital recently.

Carl is still hungry, so W takes him to the Hunan restaurant at the hotel and orders for him. He's so pleased by the meal that he changes his mind about canceling his upcoming package tour (although he later un-changes his mind when he learns about squat toilets on trains).

W and I rent the ping-pong table. Carl watches for a while. Daniel joins us and we play 3-way tournament for a while.


2nd day of hackfest. We finish OpenID and ARM projects. Andre-Pierre creates wonderful logos for the WCG clean water project. Not much participation from local programmers.

Dinner at Peking duck restaurant.

We return to the gym area. I've missed my chance to play ping-pong with David Aanensen, but I run into the Daniel and hackers (John and Christopher) and play a couple of games of 9-ball with the latter.


We fly to Xi'an on Eastern Airlines.

The bus ride from the airport to Xi'an takes an hour. I'm horrified by the human impact on every square foot of land. Construction sites (mostly high-rise apartment buildings) are everywhere. The remaining land is bulldozed and terraformed. Huge piles of rubble are everywhere. Occasionally there is an attempt at forestation: square arrays of thin, doomed-looking trees.

The inner city of Xi'an, roughly 1 by 3 miles, is ringed by a 40' wall. We're staying at the Motel 8. We locate this, near the bus stop, but it's the wrong one: there are 8 of them in Xi'an.

Out Motel 8 is a bit far away, so we get a taxi. This turns out to be extremely difficult. Most of the time, taxis either don't stop are say they're not going in the direction you want. The hotel is reasonably comfortable, though the bed is also hard. It's cheap - about $25/night. In fact everything in Xi'an is cheap.

We eat dinner at a local place, and have the typical dish: mutton and bread cubes in soup, with some hot sauce and chopped pickles. It's actually pretty good.

Random notes about restaurants: when you sit down, the waiter brings menus and patiently waits there while you make up your mind, however long that takes. Hot water is free; tea is extra. There is no tipping.

We try to find ping-pong. Google Maps lists a nearby place, but when we go there (2nd floor) there are only pool tables; lack of demand for ping-pong.

We walk along the base of the city walls. At one gate there's an outdoor pool hall. We pass several outdoor dance classes, and a game of hacky-sack being played with a giant shuttlecock. Every so often there are machines for exercise or self-massage. The wall is made of slighly sloped brick, and I verify that it's climbable.

At roughly 11 PM every night the phone rings in the hotel room. They say it's the hotel gift shop seeing if there's anything I need. Actually it's a prostitution service.


We rise early and are at the breakfast buffet when it opens at 7. This is suprisingly good - lots of good dishes, buns, coffee, and only 10 Yuan. One of the dishes is labeled 'Old Fucken Mother', which delights me endlessly.

Uh, I'll go with the Preserved Bean Curd

We take the 2-hour bus ride to Huashan, the small town at the base of Mt. Hua. There is a big Taoist temple at the start of the trail - perhaps the birthplace of Taoism - and many inscribed stones on the way up.

There are small stores every few hundred yards selling drinks, cucumbers, fruit, stone eggs, toys, etc.

The trail is paved with stone. It goes up a narrow valley, gradually becoming steeper until it is mostly stairs. The trail passes the terminal of the cable car, and suddenly there are a lot of people.

Hidden speakers play an inspirating 'Mt. Hua Theme Song' in a loop. It goes up 'sailfish fin', a narrow rib of rock.

There's a section of 20' or so where it's very steep, with chains.

We take the cable car down. Then there's bus that goes down to Huashan.

We catch a different bus back. They're showing an action move on the TV, so the bus is filled with loud sounds of gunfire, hitting, and yelling. At our request they turn it down, but only a little. The bus is a local, makes many stops, and takes a long time. It goes through a small town by a coal-fired power plant; there's a bustling marketplace and food stands directly adjacent to a giant concrete cooling tower.

We have dinner at a hot-pot place. You select your meat (many rolls of thinly-sliced mutton) and then pick whatever vegetables and noodles you want from a case. You then dip everything in a dark pungent sauce.

We walk along the wall again. This time we stop at the pool hall and play a couple of games. An extremely cute boy (7 or 8) watches us play practices his limited English with me, and engages me in a kung-fu fight.


We take a bus to the Tang Dynasty Cultural Park, a bunch of attraction ringed around a lake: a giant rock with human figures carved into it; a small valley whose walls are inscribed with classic poetry; a waterfall that cascades over many rocks, forming a wall of mist; various statuary, including many of Empress Wu; various temples and pagodas; a playground; and so on. There are periodic live events: a lion dance on top of tall poles (very impressive, lots of jumping and 2-person standing); a martial arts demonstration; a classical dance performance, cock-fighting, and so on.

The lion dancers jumped around on these posts; incredible

These guys were best buds

Empress Wu. Hot.

Fat was beautiful in the Tang dynasty; Empress Wu, for example, was on the plump side.

There are several places where women can put on dynastic gowns and headdresses, and have their picture taken.

We eat at a restaurant outside the park, then walk to the 'Happy Mall' at the nearby Goose Pagoda and share an ice cream cone at the Baskin Robbins.

We want to take the 22 bus back, but can't figure out where it goes. We decide to walk back, but after 45 minutes our feet are sore and we're only halfway there, so we catch a bus that lets us off near the inner city. We return to the pool hall.


We take a bus to the Royal Baths, and I hear the story of the emperor who has a thing with his daughter-in-law but is eventually forced to execute her.

I'd like the Manssage, please.

The daughter-in-law, nominally one of the 4 most beautful women of all time

We continue to the Terra Cotta Army site. There is some anxiety about money, but fortunately there's an ATM there (Chinese cards only).

We rent an audio tour guide thing. First we see the bronze chariots, then visit the pits in reverse order. Pit 3 is nothing but rubble. Pit 2 has a few dozen figures. Pit 1 is the large one with hundreds of figures.

Much reassembly was still going on

We eat 'Chinese Hamburgers' at a dirty tourist place near the bus station. These are quite unappetizing, and we fear possible good poisoning.


We get up at 5 AM to catch an 8:50 AM flight back to Beijing.

W locates a climbing gym on the web, which is described as Beijing's best. But it turns out to be a small unattended wall at a shopping mall; no climbing is possible.

Then we try badminton. However, it is clearly too windy to play outdoors at CAS. So we take a taxi to a place that W has located on Google Maps. Unfortunately this turns out to be a school, and the guards turn us away quickly when we try to walk in. They tell us of another place a few blocks away, but this turns out to be under construction and closed.

By the time we're done most restaurants are closed. We eat at porridge place across the street, which is quite good. I have beer, potstickers, and a spicy veggie dish.


No more disasters; W makes reservations at 1 PM for badminton and ping-pong at the Olympic facility. We have brunch around 11, then go to the gym. The badminton is in a big hall with about 10 courts. There are some very good players there. It takes a while to warm up, but we have some good rallies and break a sweat.

Then we go around the corner to the ping-pong facility, a large basement room with 15 tables. At first we're the only ones there, but then a middle-age woman comes in with her coach and practices forehands. W and I play a few games, then practice her forehand. By the end she's doing pretty well.

Seeking more ice cream, we walk to a shopping mall. We consider seeing a movie but nothing appropriate is showing. The only ice cream is a Dairy Queen, which is actually OK.

Eventually we get hungry. I'm tired of Chinese food so we go to KFC, which doesn't serve real pieces of chicken, only nuggets, wings, fingers, and sandwiches. But it's OK. We walk past a bunch of clothing vendors.

Wanting dessert, I have a piece of cheesecake in the hotel lounge. A large white guy is drinking beer by himself, so we engage him in conversation. He works for a company that builds water theme parks, and he tells us stories about difficulties of working with Chinese companies who are culturally unable to admit mistakes. This is interesting for a few minutes but then he starts repeating the same story over and over. I manage to get away.


At the airport I run into John the Hacker, who's on the same flight as me. We go through security together and chat for a while.

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