Archive for July, 2010

Two Quick Pics

Monday, July 19th, 2010

Aaron in his tux, ready for the weekend.

Pool Party from Eda's Birthday Sunday

Thunderstorms

Sunday, July 18th, 2010

Summer is Here

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

Definitely summertime now.

Veronica Standing

Monday, July 12th, 2010

It’s a news from Veronica week here at the Steussy Ranch. Today, Veronica pulled herself into a standing position for the first time. Caught on video.

Veronica Moves to Girls’ Room

Monday, July 12th, 2010

Veronica Loves Her New Place

In a highly anticipated move at the Steussy Ranch, Veronica moves in with Camilla to form the Girls’ Room. Camilla is ecstatic. Veronica celebrates by sleeping completely through the night for the first time ever.

All is good.

Sienna’s 7th Birthday

Monday, July 12th, 2010

Sienna's Swimming Pool

On Saturday, the six of us went to Sienna’s 7th Birthday party. It was an over-the-top party, with pony rides, a mini-ferris wheel, ice-cream truck catering and more. It was a complete blow-out, and the kids loved it!

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Veronica at 11 Months

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

Some video I shot yesterday while Mom, Camilla and Aaron were out shopping. I think I’m finished posting about China. I have more to say, but the main points have all been said by now.

Suzhou Photo Album

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

Nighttime traffic in Shanghai, under the lights of the elevated highways.

Virtually every photo I took during the two week trip is here.

China Travel — Technical Aspects

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

Road Warrior Tools

Going to China for two weeks requires a bit of technical preparation. In my sparse luggage, I took with me:

  • MacBook Pro
  • iPhone 3G
  • External Hard Drive with Copy of Laptop Contents

I needed to be able to run my business, have confidential communications and surmount the Great Firewall of China. All of these were accomplished with ease.

iPhone screen in China. Note the service provider is China Unicom (the Chinese characters). 3G is active, as is my VPN service. The page showing is my sister's Blogger page, a page which is blocked in China by the Great Firewall.

Before leaving, I prepared two methods of encrypted communication with my server in Southern California. The first one was a standard VPN (Virtual Private Network). This is the gold standard for private communication. It establishes a direct digital connection between my laptop (or cellphone) and the server, scrambling all of the information using mathematical keywords. I installed PPTPD on my Linux server and tested it before leaving. Both Apple’s OS X operating system and iOS for the iPhone have VPN built-in to their systems.

As a backup, I also tested SSH Tunneling, a technique with is not as clean as VPN, but which I used when living in Budapest two years previously.

Mostly using VPN, I was able to drill through the Great Firewall and maintain posts on Facebook and Twitter while traveling. Further, I was able to do so both on my laptop and on my cellphone.

While in Shanghai, I used a blogger‘s instructions to use a China Unicom SIM card in my Apple iPhone. The SIM card cost 126RMB ($19) to purchase. It gave me a month-to-month billing program of 66RMB ($10) which included voice calls, SMS and 300MB of 3G data connection. I used the data connection extensively in my two weeks.

One unanticipated problem I ran into were locked-down WiFi services. There were several WiFi connections I used which only allowed traffic on ports 80 (standard web traffic) and 443 (secure web traffic, used for https:// connections like banking and shopping). Both VPN and SSH Tunneling require non-standard ports, so they were often useless with WiFi. Fortunately, I always had my cellphone connection, which did not block any ports, as a back-up.

Outgoing international phone calls were done with Skype (both through the laptop and cellphone directly). Incoming calls were routed directly to my Chinese phone number.

Posting to Facebook from China, another blocked service

China Time Machine — How Much Has Changed in 20 Years

Tuesday, July 6th, 2010

My Chinese visa, 1989

The last time I stepped foot in Mainland China was April 24, 1989. I had just spent a month in-country, seeing Guangzhou, Guilin, Kunming and Shanghai. I spent the final five days of my trip in that city. The night before I left, the evening sky was filled with the protests of students as the forces that culminated in the Tiananmen Massacre of June 5. My American host at Fudan University told me it was probably a football match.

Shanghai Bund, 1989

Regarding Shanghai, it’s hard to imagine a deeper contrast. Nanjing East Road, today a vast shopping route, was a sparsely traveled narrow road. I remember a few dozen shops open, including a dusty old bakery (one of the few in China – bakeries are not part of Chinese cuisine), a bookstore with perhaps a dozen titles, a few magazine shops and little more. Dust was everywhere.

Shanghai had been an international city, an open port since the Opium Wars in the early 1800’s. Prior to that, it was simply a sleepy fishing and weaving village of little importance. As trade came through the area, foreigners moved in. By the beginnings of the 20th Century, while there were only 20 to 30,000 westerners living there, their army of Chinese laborers had built them a full city of western buildings, paved roads and the like.

Horse Racing in Earlier Days in Shanghai

In 1989, much of this was still visibly evident. Between the concrete monstrosities of communist construction, there were numerous beautiful mansions and villas for the wealth few. In the middle of the city was the abandoned British horse racing track. A gigantic part of the inner city, it was leveled to build the People’s Square park and complex of museums.

Today, Shanghai is again a cosmopolitan center of business, finance and trade.

Modern Shanghai, Pudong District

Skyscrapers dot the skyline. Streets are littered with shops, banks and other modern delights. The remaining old villas of pre-communist China are marked by historical markers, but are otherwise not very noticeable between the modern, trendy constructions of the present.

But these were changes I was expecting. The news, after all, is full of detail on the changing face of China. But there were aspects of these changes that struck me to the core. Three things in particular that I was not expecting.

Chinese Backpackers

1) Chinese Backpackers and Tourists. When I traveled China in 1989, moving from one place to another was so enormously complicated, difficult and expensive, few Chinese people did so for pleasure. I remember talking to people in a village outside of Kunming. None of them had traveled anywhere expect to the provincial capital. And those trips were only by necessity, not to see the sights.

The Chinese backpackers were everywhere, taking pictures of everything. They look exactly like I did when I was one of the first independent travelers in China all those years ago. These people saw what we were doing, copied it, and made it theirs. The Chinese backpackers, in the swarming thousands, are my spiritual descendants.

Suzhou Redlight

2) Red Light Districts in Suzhou. Nothing prepared me for a red light district in the People’s Republic of China. Walking to a pub to meet a friend and watch World Cup Soccer one night, a Mama-san grabbed my arm and took me into her small pub to show me her girls. It simply shocked me. I’ve seen Manila, Hong Kong and the infamous Patpong District in Bangkok, but never expected anything here. There was one for foreigners (located on Shiquan Street, near the intersection with Fenghuang Street), and one that was exclusively Chinese south of the Night Market.

Suzhou Massage

A local resident told me that Shanghai had closed all of their redlight districts in preparation for the Expo, and that several of them had move to Suzhou, an hours drive to the west.

Friendly People

3) Talking to People. In 1989, Chinese people were extremely reticent to talk to foreigners traveling in their country. I don’t blame them; people with foreign connections were targets during some of the upheavals in the ’60s and ’70s.

Today is different. It really is possible to sit down and talk with people. Not everyone, but lots of people are certainly open to just talking for a period of time. Common questions when they learn I can speak Chinese: “Where are you from?” “How do you like China?” “How many kids do you have?” “Four!?!?!?!”

It’s a different place. And, very largely, for the good. Twenty years ago I thought growing up Chinese was a terrible tragedy. I’m so happy to be proven wrong.