Sunday, March 30, 2008


What’s worse that arriving at Shanghai to find the Oriental Pearl Tower partially obscured by mist?

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Arriving at Shanghai to find the Oriental Pearl Tower completely visible- that thing is an eyesore.

Yeah I’m back in Shanghai for a short while.

On Saturday, I went to the western bank of the Huangpu River to get a look at the skyscrapers of Shanghai’s commercial centre. This particular section of the western bank is known as The Bund, after the bunds (floodwalls) that contain the Huangpu’s waters.

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Dense mist that day made it nearly impossible to get anything interesting out of the scenery- distant objects were too fuzzy, and the colours were made dreary by the light-scattering mist. A reasonably bright coloured barge was used to give the images a bit of bang, but the success of this rescue attempt is questionable.

I then took a long ride on the light rail to the end of Line 6 in search for the Yangtze River. The terminus was located near a port/ container terminal, which I thought would make for an interesting visit. But I neglected the fact that most ports, if not all, are not for public access.

Walking around the small lanes and backstreets of the area, I came across a vegetable patch located next to some houses and bounded by a container yard on one side.

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Super-Takumar 50mm/1.4 at full aperture

By then, it was close to 6pm, and the light was fading. A light drizzle convinced me it was time to get on my way back to central Shanghai.

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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Peach trees

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Saturday, March 22, 2008

How big is the male ego?

My office is located at a newish complex, and renovations are still going on in some units. Workers would use lifts to ferry sacks of cement, bricks, tiles and other construction materials to the upper levels.

To protect the interior of the lifts from irreversible serious cosmetic damage, the walls and floors are lined with plywood boards. Some people have started using these boards as their advertising medium- the service provided (housekeeping, for example) would be written in large characters, followed by a contact number.

An interesting service advertised was 打炮 (literally, whack cannon). The dictionary says the meanings of whack cannon are
(verb) to open fire with artillery / (slang) to ejaculate

Aha, sexual services for money!

Hokkien speakers refer to the act of male masturbation as 打手枪 (whack handgun). But nothing beats the Cantonese equivalent – 打飞机 (whack aeroplane).

The male ego can turn out to be disproportionally large.


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Tianjin proper

On Sunday, I took train to Tianjin city. While I sometimes refer to where I am as ‘Tianjin’, it is an inaccurate simplification. This is a natural matter of convenience- Klang Valley residents will sometimes refer to home as ‘KL’, regardless of them being from KL, PJ, SJ, Kepong, Puchong, USJ etc.

Tianjin itself is very much a provincial industrial city, sprawling and generally low lying with a smattering of tall, architecturally painful buildings in the central commercial area. On my way there, the train passed by a power plant with cooling towers serenely emitting water vapour, a steel tube foundry with a generous assortment of process columns and vents rejecting a variety of hot gasses, and the Research Centre for Physics and Chemistry for Nuclear Industry with an intimidating bounding wall furnished with barbed wire at the top.

Together with a colleague and a subcontractor, I visited two tourist traps with nothing particularly interesting. There were plenty of stalls selling paper cuttings, calligraphy supplies, brass items, clothing items, teapots, wooden furniture…

I should retract that statement. We were browsing very cursorily, and there was no time to inspect the wares properly. Perhaps I will return alone in the future for a better look.

There are apparent attempts by the Tianjin city administration to give traffic signs a measure of bilinguallity. However, they seem to have failed miserably.

WTF, because the foreigner cannot read Chinese characters, they help pronounce it. Without actually conveying any meaning.

The sign actually says ‘excess height not allowed’, and the bit on the right is jingle that goes something like ‘tranquillity is a blessing, life is to be treasured.’


The place I’m staying at does not have internet access, so I occupy my nights by writing nonsensical things (such as this) or reading downloaded copies of the Wall Street Journal (at 2 USD a hit, information does not come cheap), PDF files of Feynman’s Lectures on Physics and a financial analysis and valuation text book. TV does not cut the mustard; as a matter of principle, I do not watch the television due to the thought-stopping and brain-diluting prowess of the goggle-box.

Despite saying I don’t do TV, there is one channel that I enjoy- CCTV Music. Leave it on in the background and one would be entertained with an assortment of classical, folk music from various provinces, occasional operas and even Andrew Loyd Webber’s Cats musical. At the moment, a battalion of string instruments (violins, violas, cellos) are playing something with a very typically Chinese composition.

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Monday, March 17, 2008

To a missing friend

Out of the ether, she suddenly appeared. Like a wavefunction that exists everywhere and nowhere spontaneously collapsing into the pure and distilled existence of a positron, she announced her undisputed existence by dropping a comment in my blog.

“Hey, I came about your blog through yahoo-ing my name. And, apparently we have the same name.”

We chatted a bit on MSN, but seeing that she did not have an internet connection that time, those few times were only when she was at friends’ places or internet cafes.

That was before the Chinese New Year of 2007. I had made a batch of CNY greeting cards (designed on Photoshop to fit a 4R print, and printed at a photo shop for 50 cents each), and thought it would be cute to address a letter to a Tan Yee Wei in Kuching from a Tan Yee Wei in Melbourne.

From that letter, she captured my mailing address and we became… *ominous cadence* pen pals.

We communicated using snail mail (which takes a long time), SMS (which carries very little data), phone calls (which cost a bomb) and MSN (which occurs rarely). Despite the inconvenience, we became close friends.


On occasions when I complained about the dullness of my weekend, or whined about feeling very sien, she would suggest that I step out of my comfort zone. Go to some bars or clubs, interact with people from different demographic groups, for example.

In the final quarter of last year, fate (or perhaps a wavefunction’s an aberration) brought us out of our respective comfort zone.

She received a job offer from a large multinational firm.

I received an offer to work in China.


By then, our lives were already diverging, and we communicated less and less frequently. One would imagine that a communication system based on a combination of mail, text, calls and instant messaging would not fail that easily, but it still happened.

Circumstances changed, priorities changed. Nothing is permanent.


Perhaps our paths might cross in the future, and we will finally see our namesakes in person.

From one Tan Yee Wei to another, all the best in your undertakings, may you find your source of happiness soonest possible, and take care


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

General updates

For the next month or two, my job scope is rather attractive. I am to divide my time between studying of the construction, operation and control of the Tianjin plant, and researching and simulating the flow patterns in an inlet manifold.

For a geeky character like me, part time applied research in a technically challenging area is very much welcomed. Computational fluid dynamics can be a pain in the fanny (note: informal American English for buttocks, not vulgar British English for female genitals) but once set up properly, the outcome is like an enlightenment.


The office in Tianjin is a small operation housed in a converted apartment unit. When there are no senior members from other branches around to take us out for lunches, the staff would cook in the office’s kitchen.

Yesterday was my first day around when there are no subcontractors or directors to have lunch with. There were only 3 of us in the office, and I had acquired a reputation for being able to cook (even though I had only cooked once for the housemate/ colleague in Shanghai).

Thus I was invited to conjure up a meal in a kitchen I was not familiar with, using whatever was available in the fridge. A quick browse around the kitchen revealed a good supply of noodles. Noodles are good- they cook much faster than rice.

So lunch will be some form of dry noodles, because I find the soupy kind boring.

I found frozen pork, thus the noodles’ gravy will have thinly cut pork strips like what one might find in some HK style noodles. There was an ample supply of garlic, sesame oil and soy sauce. Then I found black fungus, so some went into a bowl of hot water to rehydrate and then cut into slivers.

The knife block was sufficiently well furnished with a variety of knives (cheap things stamped from stainless steel sheets; nothing good about them) and a sharpening rod; the chopping board was a luxuriously large wooden slab. Working the knife through half a bulb of garlic and slicing the pork brought back a satisfaction not felt in a while.

It was also quite fun to formulate a meal plan based on a walk-through of the ingredients available.

The washing was done by the receptionist.


Yesterday was uncommon in that I dreamt. It was quite an uneventful one - I was sharpening a knife.

I miss my knives; they are in Melbourne. Not that it would be feasible to carry 3 kitchen knives around with me to every port of call…

Hopefully the blades are serving humanity well; there’s a chance I might see them in the not-too-distant future.


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Forbidden City, Beijing

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Super-Takumar 50mm/1.4

Copper Lions

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Jupiter 9 85mm/2.0
These are the mounting points for the handles on a huge copper vessel. Used to hold water, fires were lit under the vessel throughout winters to prevent the water from freezing

Tunnel Vision

Super-Takumar 50mm/1.4

The size of the gate is absurd. Note the size difference between the people and the doors.


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Jupiter 9 85mm/2.0

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Monday, March 10, 2008

Beijing - a brief summary in photographs

Wangfujin is a commercial street located East of Tiananmen Square. Along a portion of the street, various food stalls are set up selling a strange assortment of food.

Starfish and Bee Cocoons

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Starfish and bee cocoons (on skewers located in trays behind the starfish tray) are available...

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...together with disturbingly large centipedes.

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The last time we visited, this river was still frozen solid. A few of the younger cousins looked for large rocks to throw on the ice in hopes of breaking it. They were not the first ones to try- several chunks of stones, concrete and bricks indicate previous failed attempts.

A surprising number of people were on a bridge taking photos of the Bird Nest. However, with the number of street lights and wires in the way, i decided to screw it.

The Water Cube

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We came back at night to find the the National Aquatics Centre illuminated. While the buildings are completed, work is going on for the landscaping around the stadiums.

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Friday, March 07, 2008

Ooh look, a proxy web site!

The Great Firewall of China has blocks access to all blogspot sites and BBC News. I also hear that porn sites are blocked, although I have not gotten round to verifying this. It is rather bad, seeing that BBC is my source for news.

After some searching, I have found online proxy sites that are designed to circumvent intrusive online nannying practices. I go to a proxy site which is not blocked by the government, and request that the site sends me the BBC content. The site will independently obtain the BBC data and send it back to me, thus i do not need to connect directly to the BBC.

To illustrate:
Imagine an extremely insecure and jealous husband. (For the purpose of this discussion, neglect the question of how an extremely insecure and jealous managed to get married.) He does not like his wife talking to a seeing dashing old friend of hers. But she wants to get their primary school teacher's phone number from him.

Unfortunately, all communication is partially monitored by the insecure husband. He checks each caller, and once he has verified that the caller is not the dashing old friend, he lets her be. So there is no way she can call the old friend. However, she decides to use a proxy.

Our heroine calls her friend Stella- she has unrestricted access to Stella. She asks Stella to ring the old friend and get the number from him. (The connection between Stella and the old friend is unmonitored because Stella is outside the control of this insecure husband). Then Stella will pass the information back to the heroine (which is possible because the heroine has unrestricted access to Stella).


I’ll be going to Beijing for the weekend. Will probably bring the film camera as well, seeing that film processing and printing is quite cheap here.



The Matrix

The view from my level 30 room while in Shanghai. Part of a huge development involving tens of buildings, someone estimated that the apartment complex holds 200,000 residents.

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Tanggu is a satellite town located 1 hour away from Tianjin city. An industrial town faced with recent commercial development, the use of large spaces and wide roads give it a feel like that of Putrajaya.

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Tianjin Soda is a century-old chemical factory that runs a coal-fired power station, soda manufacturing facility and distributes waste heat for district hearing. I will be back for more photographs.

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Thursday, March 06, 2008



The colleague and housemate, who also happens to be the boss’s right-hand lady, summoned a taxi and we left for the domestic airport at 9am. The flight was scheduled to depart at 11am, but did not receive clearance from the control tower to roll out. So we sat on the tarmac waiting for 45 minutes, gas turbines running.

We arrived at Tianjin airport at 1.30.

The Tianjin office is a remarkable operation. Set up solely to service the construction of a water treatment plant, it is housed in an upmarket apartment unit. The living room has 6 cubicles; the senior engineer sits in the master bedroom, complete with a big important-looking desk; two other rooms each hold 2 workspaces. A last room is used as the meeting room.

The accommodation is almost as exciting. Everyone referred to going back to the ‘hostel’, but I had no idea what they were talking about. When I got there, I found that it was a large 3-room apartment. Each room held 2 occupants. As they had only acquired the place recently and moved in the day before, the furnishings were sparse. All necessary furniture were in place, including a lounge set, TV, wardrobes, beds, dining furniture, shoe cupboard, washing machine and fridge. However, there were no plates, no cutlery, no knives, no pans, no chopping board, no kettle and no cups.

Earlier, the senior engineer had remarked to the boss’s right-hand lady that without any ladies staying in the hostel, the place would get dirty very quickly. She is probably right. I’m staying with 2 Malaysian fabrication contractors who are in town for a fortnight, a young engineer from Shanghai and a Malaysian man who works in administration. They have been here for one day, and there are already traces of messiness. In various locations are empty cups from instant noodle meals, now serving as impromptu ashtrays. The non-perishable groceries are all dumped on the dining table, left in plastic bags.

It’s not about being sexist, whereby women are ‘supposed’ to clean up and cook and breed. This is probably a case where the collectively lower expectations can lead to a general decay in standards.

After a splendid dinner at a Hunan restaurant, 4 of us went to Tesco to gather our supplies of food and cutlery. It’s like starting all over again.

What’s the fair price to pay for a ceramic cup? Is 25 RMB acceptable for a mid-sized kitchen knife? How bad is it when a 500g tin of standard Nescafe instant coffee sells for 113 RMB?

The expectations have to be recalibrated. There is no use converting to MYR, because I’m not earning MYR, and because I am not a full-time arbitrageur. There is even less benefit in comparing to AUD, because I am not earning my salary in AUD and thinking in AUD terms will make me overspend.

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Sunday, March 02, 2008


I’m in Shanghai now. First impressions were of a city jammed full of unmoving motor vehicles- the taxi ride from Pudong International Airport to the company office took 2 hours to cover 50 km, averaging a fantastic glacieresque speed of 25 km/hr.

After registering myself at a police station (part of the procedures to obtaining a work permit), a colleague brought me to Chenghuan Temple, a famous and crowded shopping district. Apparently, a shop there sells very good xiaolongbao.

The queue at the take away window was approximately 100-long. The more expensive options would be to dine in. This shop has a remarkable method to milk the demand curve for xiaolongbao- one section of the dining hall sells one basket of xiaolongbao for 20 RMB. Another section of the dining hall sells them for 30+ RMB per basket.

This ensured that the business will be able to trade at large volumes (take away and cheaper dine-in) and also get additional profit from people willing to pay more to wait less. However, this trading strategy is only applicable if the demand is sufficiently large to fill up all spaces. Then a portion of the dining hall can be dedicated to people willing to pay more. Also, there must not be any substitute product which may take away business allocated to the high-paying customers.

This afternoon, I took the MRT to the centre of Shanghai’s commercial district (where that fugly tower stands), with the intention of taking some photographs. Wisely, I forgot to bring the camera’s CF card. I was pissed off.

The MRT was a rather eye opening experience. There were people EVERYWHERE. At first it’s intimidating, but after 2 minutes one adapts to the situations and learns to squeeze and push through the throng.

For some reason, I cannot access blogspot websites from the connection at my temporary flat. I can read the posts via Google Reader, but I cannot see the comments. Bloody annoying. And the connection here is for 30 hours per month, so I am very careful with my time online. Go online, open yahoo mail, open all unread email, open google reader, download all attachments, and disconnect. Read, reply and write blog entry while offline. Go online, paste email replies, post blog entry and disconnect.

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