Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Google Blocked in China (Part 10¹⁰⁰)

Recently reported the increased blocking of Google's services. As described by Dan Levin in The New York Times:
The authorities in China have made Google’s services largely inaccessible in recent days, a move most likely related to the government’s broad efforts to stifle discussion of the 25th anniversary of the crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square on June 3 and 4, 1989.

In addition to Google’s search engines being blocked, the company’s products, including Gmail, Calendar and Translate, have been affected.
I have done some repeated testing over the course of several hours at my location in Hengyang, Hunan province with the VPN I use to "break through" China's Great Firewall (GFW) turned off and using a local DNS servers. My experience was mostly consistent with what is described except I was able to reliably reach:

1. Google China's "splash page" at
2. Google's map service for China at
3. Google's translation service for China at

The map and translation services were useable, but some components didn't quickly or ever load. Notably, all of the above services appear to be based in mainland China. Mainland Chinese users are redirected to Google's Hong Kong servers for other services. Except for one brief initial moment, I have not been able to access Google's services based on servers outside of mainland China.

I would also like to comment on two sentences in the post:
Back in 2009, Google decided to remove itself from China so that it no longer needed to censor its content. But it seems that Google is quite happy that GFW does the censorship work for them.
To be clear, Google has not fully removed itself from China and still has offices, employees, free lunches, etc. here. In 2010 it did stop censoring its search results per China's rules and redirected some of its services to servers in Hong Kong. I would not be surprised if Google is "quite happy" not to be censoring as it did in China before. But I doubt they would characterize the GFW as doing "the censorship work for them". Google has already made it clear it would no longer censor regardless. My guess is that Google prefers the GFW selectively blocking Google search over completely blocking it. But what would make them "quite happy" is if the GFW ceased to exist.

During the course of today's testing, I noticed some curiosities that deserve further attention. If they prove noteworthy, I will share them while also moving forward with posts on other themes.

Finally, as this post proves since I need to access blocked-in-China Blogger to write it, my VPN is working as usual at the moment.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

PLA Soldiers, Chengguan, and a Raft Ride During a Flooded Dragon Boat Festival in Hengyang

Last night the rain was especially heavy in Hengyang, Hunan province. When I set out this afternoon, most seemed relatively normal in the central urban area where I have spent most of my time, like last week when the Xiang River flooded a pedestrian area.

However, while walking down a street not far from Yueping Park, I looked down an alley I had not passed before named Yudetang (余德堂) and saw something rather unexpected.

flooded Yudetang (余德堂) alley in Hengyang, China

During a confused split second I wondered whether I was looking at a canal, but I quickly realized that an area in a hilly section of Hengyang had flooded. The water came up to the waist of one man of average height who jumped into the water further down the alley. While I was there, another man said to me that surely the U.S. would not have problems like this. I told him that sometimes the U.S. experiences flooding that wouldn't look very different.

I soon saw the arrival of a boat with residents guided by two People's Liberation Army soldiers wearing their urban camouflage uniforms.

People's Liberation Army soldiers wearing urban camouflage uniforms navigating a boat with residents from a flooded neighborhood

I then headed back to the main road and soon found nearby an intriguing route up a hill.

steep outdoor stairs in Hengyang

After reaching the top and going down a different set of stairs, I soon found myself facing another flooded area.

flood waters almost completely covering a white truck

A group of people gathered near the edge of the flood appeared bewildered to see me, and we were soon having a friendly conversation. They said the area has flooded previously but never before had the water risen so high.

Soon, a raft passed nearby, and after a bubble of activity several people hailed it. To my surprise it was not for themselves. Instead, they excitedly told me I could board it. I had no need for a boat ride and was looking forward to exploring another set of stairs, but a woman encouraged me to get on the boat and told me I could take more photos. I then noticed that although there were no soldiers aboard, one of the rowers was a chengguan, a law enforcement officer for urban administrative regulations and the "least-loved public official" in China. I really didn't want to be getting in the way, but the chengguan insisted, in a friendly manner, that I come aboard.

So I departed my new friends. Several of them looked rather amused.

smiling people in Hengyang

During the middle of the trip, I saw a group of men trying to move a car.

men pushing a car partially submerged in flood waters

And after a 5 minute journey, I disembarked at an area with its own set of onlookers.

tube pumping out flood waters

My thanking the chengguan caused a bit of laughter. As the chenguan rowed away, I pondered the fact that the end of my raft ride had been filmed by a news crew from Hunan TV.

chengguan rowing a raft in a flooded street in Hunan

I then climbed some stairs to a long balcony and backtracked a bit. Progress of some sort had been made with the car in deeper waters although debate erupted over what to do next.

men in shoulder deep water around a submerged car

There were activities elsewhere, although I didn't stick around long enough to figure out what they had planned.

men untangling some rope or wire

For others, there was nothing to do but watch.

people sitting next to a flooded alley in Hunan

Eventually, I decided to depart, and I took one last look back.

men holding a raft

As I approached a main street, I saw a street sign indicating I was now at the opposite end of the same alley where I first noticed the flooding.

A local news report (in Chinese) confirms what the residents told me--this is not the area's first flooding.

Although the boats are somewhat fitting in an ironic manner, this certainly was not how I expected to spend the Dragon Boat Festival today in China. I am sure others felt the same. It was a somewhat surreal experience for me at times, but mostly I felt bad for the residents who have to deal with the flooding. Hopefully next year's holiday is more festive for them and all boats are far from their street.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Leap-the-Dips and a Roller Coaster at Hengyang's Yueping Park

Along with other attractions, Hengyang's Yueping Park has a small roller coaster.

metal roller coaster with track going through a giant cats mouth

Its small size reminds me of the first roller coaster I ever dared ride. Leap-the-Dips was one of my favorite amusement park rides as a child, especially due to its interweaving design and lack of fast speeds or big drops. I was also riding a piece of history. Leap-the-Dips, built in 1902, is the world's oldest roller coaster.

Although I have since developed a taste for more extreme roller coasters, Leap-the-Dips remains special. Lakemont Park in Logan Township has changed quite a bit since my childhood and lost much of its charm during some misguided development in the late 1980s, but fortunately Leap-the-Dips survives. If you are ever in the area of Altoona, PA, USA, I recommend stopping by the small park to enjoy a blast from the past on the wooden roller coaster.

I didn't notice a name for the metal roller coaster in Yueping Park and don't know if it has any remarkable history to tell. But, yeah, I rode it.

about to go through a giant cat's mouth while riding a roller coaster

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Wi-Fi and Notes in a Hengyang Black Tide

Admittedly, it was the name of a cafe on Changsheng Road in Hengyang, Hunan, which first caught my attention.

Black Tide (黑潮) cafe in Hengyang, Hunan, China

But I have returned to Black Tide (黑潮) several times due to its decent inexpensive iced milk tea and the friendly woman who has been working there anytime I have stopped by.

cup of iced Black Tide (黑潮) milk tea

When there, I have seen a mostly younger crowd. Sometimes they are using a piece of modern technology, whether a laptop ...

boy using a laptop at the Black Tide (黑潮) cafe

or, more commonly, a mobile phone, useful for taking advantage of Black Tide's free Wi-Fi.

girl viewing Chinese video on a mobile phone and many colored notes with messages on them at the Black Tide (黑潮) cafe

And sometimes they are writing messages on colored paper to publicly post there.

Free Wi-Fi, mobile devices, and colored notes with customers' messages can be found in many other cafes in China. This mix reminds me of issues and questions I earlier discussed regarding the value of looking at people's offline world when conducting user research for online services.

And it shows, like a reading protest in Thailand (related AP report), how paper can still matter in a high tech world.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

A Reason to Support Beijing's Winter Olympics Bid

I can't say I have felt much enthusiasm over Beijing's bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics. In fact, I had hoped another location would be chosen. I will refrain from detailing the reasons, because I might have had a change of heart after seeing a potential logo for the games if they take place in Beijing. The image conveys with great clarity the feelings of its creator and evoked such strong emotions from myself that tears nearly poured out of my eyes.

Without further hesitation, I present Anthony Tao's transcendent piece of art:

I look forward with great anticipation to seeing Tao's design for the mascot.

Children and Dogs on Huiyan Peak

Just because, here are a few photos of two girls, a boy, and two pet dogs I briefly met on Huiyan Peak (回雁峰) in Hengyang, Hunan:

two girls and a boy with two dogs sitting on a rock in Hengyang, Hunan, China

a dog in Hunan

two dogs in Hengyang

two girls and a boy with two dogs sitting on a rock in Hengyang, Hunan, China

Friday, May 30, 2014

The Power of Paper and Censorship in Thailand

One reason to read George Orwell's "Nineteen Eighty-Four" in paperback:

person holding a copy of George Orwell's "Nineteen Eighty-Four"

The silent reading protest against the military coup in Thailand occurred in a country which has seen a sharp recent increase in censorship. For one overview of the censorship now occurring in Thailand's traditional media and online social media see Aim Sinpeng's guest post on The Washington Post. A number of Thai companies have readily accommodated the military's requests, but foreign companies with online services popular in Thailand are proving to be more of a challenge. For example, Facebook and Google so far haven't displayed any eagerness to meet with Thai officials and "discuss online anticoup dissent".

Perhaps most telling about what the military has in mind for the long term are plans for a new system to monitor online expression in Thailand:
The director of the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology’s IT crime prevention bureau, Thanit Prapatanan, tells VOA it will likely be several months before the plan for the new control system is worked out.

Thanit cites the example of China, where he argues that filtering does not have a significant impact on society, rather it just blocks some websites deemed dangerous, but all Internet ports are not closed.
Thanit's use of China as a positive example says much.

I won't try to guess what steps Thai's military will take next. But if Thailand follows China's lead in restricting online expression, it's hard to imagine that the censorship won't significantly impact Thailand's society in Twenty Fourteen.

Ads With Feline and British Touches for a Photography Studio in Hengyang

After two posts about American ads, I will bring things back to China while sticking with the ad theme.

One of the first sights after entering through the northeast gate of the locally popular Yueping Park (岳屏公园) in Hengyang, China, is a helpful map. Below the map is something perhaps less expected.

map for Yueping Park above an ad with a woman wearing a cat outfit

It is not an ad for the nearby Hengyang Zoo. Instead, it is an ad for a photography studio which might have a penchant for cats. Fate or blind luck later brought me to the studio's location. The two signs on the pedestrian street in front of it were hard to miss, if for no other reason than that they were directly in my path.

advertisements for a photography studio--one a photo of a wedding couple and the other a woman wear boxing gloves and a bra with a British flag design

I don't have any strong opinions about the ads like I did for the Apple or ESPN ads. But I will note that the British flag design on the one woman's top fits a fashion trend I have noticed in China. More on that topic in a later post.

Pink boxing gloves are a far less common sight.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

(I Believe That) I Like "Esa-Pekka's Verse" by Apple

ESPN's "I believe that we will win!" ad left me me a bit surprised and asking a few questions. Another ad I recently saw also left me surprised but did so in a rather positive manner.

The ad by Apple is remarkable for featuring Esa-Pekka Salonen, a conductor and composer of "contemporary classical" music. As Alex Ross notes, despite their incredible talents, artists like Salonen usually doesn't garner much mass-market attention. I would say more except that I don't need to, because Ross already wrote a great piece about the ad on The New Yorker.

(I Believe That) I Would Change This Sports Chant

Thanks to the glories of online social networking and VPNs, I recently saw this ESPN advertisement for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil:

I appreciate ESPN wants to get Americans excited about the World Cup, but the chant "I believe that we will win!" leaves something to be desired. Not only does it call into question the claim that the U.S. is a leader in creativity, but its potential effect is weakened by the phrase "I believe that". Instead of detailing my thoughts in a three thousand word essay, I will instead simply share three other videos along with a few questions to ponder.

First, what if the refrain in this song by Queen were "I believe that we will rock you"?

It doesn't quite have the same kick, does it?

Second, after the rocking is over, what if the refrain in this other song by Queen were "I believe that we are the champions?

It raises the question of whether they are really the champions, no?

And finally, the ESPN ad sounds more like a daily affirmation than a rousing or intimidating sports chant. But even if that is its purpose, why add "I believe that"? Stuart Smalley didn't:

I could go on, but (I believe that) I will stop here.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

People, Fishing Rods, and Kites Next to the Xiang River

After the recent flooding, today a pedestrian area next to the Xiang River in Hengyang seemed relatively back to normal for a weekday afternoon with people sitting, walking, fishing ...

pedestrian area next to Xiang River in Hengyang

flying kites, ...

man flying a bird kite next to the Xiang River in Hengyang

and selling kites.

kites for sale next to the Xiang River in Hengyang

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Flooding and Cleanup Along the Xiang River in Hengyang

Flooding caused by recent heavy rains has led to at least 37 deaths in southern China. The Wall Street Journal posted a slide show showing some of the rain's impact in Hunan, Jiangxi, Guangdong, and Fujian provinces.

The rain has been heavy at times in Hengyang, Hunan province, but I haven't noticed anything calamitous in the central urban area where I have spent most of my time. Flooding has been easy to see, though, along the Xiang River (also called the Xiangjiang River).

partially submerged trash container near a partially submerge stone railing
The stone railing was completely submerged at one point.

The river never came close to overflowing the nearby streets in this part of Hengyang, but it did rise high enough to submerge at least one adjacent lower-level pedestrian area. The water has been receding, but this area remains underwater. So instead of this:

people one a stone railing next to the Xiang River in Hengyang
Signs of earlier flooding are evident.

... today cleanup operations were underway to remove silt and other debris.

workers sweeping silt away from a submerged pedestrian area
Didn't look easy

I briefly met part of the cleanup team, and many of them appeared to be proud of their work. One person even asked me to take a group photograph.

Ten workers, some with brooms made from tree branches, posing for a photograph
The second woman from the right made the request.

They probably don't get as much positive attention as they should. But their work will mean the flooding's effects here will soon be forgotten, and people will be able to once again enjoy not working next to the river.

people sitting on a stone railing next to the Xiang River at night
A more typical scene at the riverside pedestrian area