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Brief Trip to Shenzhen

Shenzhen is a major Chinese city adjacent to Hong Kong. It is a vibrant economic power house, home to the Shenzhen stock exchange and many top-tier technology firms. With 9 million residents, its population has surpassed Hong Kong despite its short history of about 30 years only.

Although I grew up next door in Hong Kong, somehow I have never visited Shenzhen (besides using it as a jump off point to other parts of China). Yesterday I have an opportunity to take a dip into the city. It was an unplanned trip. I know nothing about the layout of the city. I have not even bother to purchase a map since it is only going to be a few hours. Instead I just trust my instinct. I jumped on the metro and managed to emerge in the heart of the central business district.

Shenzhen business district
Shenzhen Business District
Upscale Shopping Mall
Upscale Shopping Mall

It was more than 10 years since my last visit to China. During the time the economic and urban development of China has make huge stride. I want to witness the extend of development myself. If a cityscape of glass-clad office towers and upscale shopping mall is an indicator, Shenzhen has surely joined the rank of world class cities. The Central City Shopping mall is as good as any great mall in the world. Satisfied with what I saw, I decided to move on.

According to the map in the metro station, there is a large garden outside of the mall. I set off to explore it. The garden is separated from the mall by a wide boulevard. In order to access it, it seems I have to get on an elevated walkway. But how do I access the walkway?? This has become an unexpected challenge for me. I walk in and out and around the mall before I finally found the unobvious access to the rooftop garden.

Central Park
Central Park

The park is an oasis in the large city. It is well manicured with stylish fixtures that any city will be proud of. It is also a great refuge for birds and a delightful place to hear their chirping. There is only one issue though. The park is eerily devoid of people. I mean this is a prime real estate in the center of a metropolitan. Where is everybody? New York's Central Park it is not, all I can see is just a sea of green. Perhaps no one is as foolish as me to go outdoor under midday's summer heat. But I suspect this is not the only problem. Perhaps the park's access difficulty has challenged not only me but also the locals.

Shenzhen Cultural Center
Shenzhen Cultural Center

I went out to see the soaring architecture of the Shenzhen Cultural Center on the other side of the park. I figure the building is too far for me to walk to. So my goal is to find a vintage point to take a good picture. This require a long walk through some confusing pathway in an empty park. But the walk just keep getting longer without going anywhere. Many times I have considered to give up my pursuit. This will be a slap in my face since I pride myself in my wayfinding skill. When I finally reached the edge of the park, I found a boulevard and the cultural center in a distant. Nice architecture. But there seems no way for me to continue the walk. It is not even an inviting landscape for a pedestrian. I just took my picture and then walked back.

By now I have spent a fair amount of time walking under the sun. I need to return to civilization to grab my lunch. But there are more long trek before I have finally reached a shopping center and its food court. I finally got a sense of Shenzhen's cityscape. It is a new city done in grand scale, wide boulevards, monument buildings and huge parks. But it is not a livable city that I enjoy.

Las Vegaseque Sheraton Hotel
Las Vegaseque Sheraton Hotel

You can tell I was getting cranky. The lousy Chinese fast food I have had did not help either. I rushed back to the Hong Kong side to end this short trip.

2010.06.30 [, ] - comments

 

Pedestrians v.s. Cars - Pedestrians Win!

Causeway Bay is a major shopping district in Hong Kong. Gazillion number of people come by Causeway Bay every day. Over the year, one street after another have been converted into pedestrian use. Instead of squeezing into overcrowded sidewalk, more space are make available for pedestrian. This makes walking in Causeway Bay a much better experience.

Causeway Bay Pedestrian Street

Hennessy Road is the major thoroughfare in Causeway Bay. The surrounding streets are often narrow and labyrinth like. These streets were once only backstreets behind major department stores. Today they are destinations themselves with many boutiques stores and restaurants. These side streets are lousy for moving traffic but terrific for walking and shopping. It is a superb idea to close them for cars and open them for pedestrians.

Causeway Bay Pedestrian Street

Some streets have permanently converted into pedestrian plaza. They are nicely paved and raised to level with the sidewalk. But in other area, it is not obvious what has been done to restrict vehicle access. In the picture above, the only control device seems to be the sign that says "Access Only". In the morning the streets are lined with delivery truck, those access is expressly allowed. Still access restriction is working quite well with relatively few vehicles coming in. The taxi in the picture below is one of those.

Causeway Bay Pedestrian Street

With few physical marking, how do I recognize this as a newly created pedestrian area? I think the pedestrians themselves make it a pedestrian street. When sufficient number of people come off the sidewalk and go into the street, it makes driving through difficult. Cars become intruder there. These pictures are taken in the morning when actions have barely started. I'm sure when people are coming out in full force in the evening it will become impassable for cars.

2010.06.29 [] - comments

 

Plastic Bag Tax in Hong Kong

After many years of debate, Hong Kong has finally decided to impose a 50 cents (USD 0.06) tax on the use of disposable plastic bag in supermarkets. There have been many efforts to convince people to reduce plastic bag use voluntarily. But mostly the shops hand out bags freely and the result is very limited.

50 cents per bag in Hong Kong

I was shopping in a Causeway Bay supermarket in the basement of a Japanese department store. To see how effective this law is, I've spent a few minutes to observe the shoppers coming out from the cash register. The ratio of people using their own reusable bag vs. disposable plastic bag is roughly half and half. I was hoping even more people would bring their own bag. But compare to the baseline figure a few years ago where reusable bag usage is almost 0, this is certainly a big improvement.

See also my eariler entry about proposed plastic bag ban in California.

2010.06.28 [] - comments

 

Remember this moment - with Tatchee in Hong Kong

Remember this moment.

It is a quite summer afternoon in Hong Kong. It has been raining since the morning. I sit in my room. My bed is at the corner of the small room. Three years after my parents moved into this new house, we still haven't taken the Styrofoam cover off the bed's headboard. My mom bought the bed for me in case I return for a stay.

Tatchee is sleeping in the couch. I make him sleep on my leg at first. A pleasant surprise for me that he did fall asleep. The temperature is not too high. But he has sweat all over. My dad is laying on his bed reading before his regular afternoon nap.

Last night Tatchee sleep with me in the bed. He fall asleep quickly. At 6:30am he has woke up. I went down to the street to bought him some bread. He didn't really want the bread so much. We played toy robots. He keep asking me to play robot with him all day. We probably played a few hours total in several stretches. It is not such a fun game for me but I like it that we played together. He dropped the ‘Shark’ tank toy on the floor and destroyed it. It was actually a toy I had from my boyhood. It was a gift that my neighbor bought me from a trip in Japan. I find it sweet that he has taken interest in a toy left over from my boyhood. It is sad that it was broken so easily.

Broken Jaguar Vulcan

It is a rainy day, so I can't take him to other activities outside.

My father cooked. Tatchee ate both meal fairly well.

Yesterday we went to swimming pool. I have promised to take him there. He played water gun and seesaw and water slide. He asked me to go under the shallow water with my goggles. He has fun. It was fairly windy that day and it was surprising cool in pool.

And then we take shower. For the very first time, I shampoo Tatchee under a shower. He used to protest when I shower him over his head. But his time he covered his eye with his hands and manage just fine. An excellent first time.

After we left the pool, we go to a bench so that he ate the sponge cake his mom gave him. And then we went to visit my mom's shrine. We climbed 10 flights of stairs to get to her shrine. I found it without too much effort. Tatchee recognize her pictures on the stone. We say hi to her.

I remember this moment, a summer afternoon at home in Hong Kong.

2010.06.25 [] - comments

 

Decalogue I

How long ago was it when I went to the marathon screening of Krzysztof Kieslowski's Decalogue, the entire ten episodes shown in one full day? It must be more than 15 years ago. Kieslowski's films have a such important place in my memory, it is hard to imagine he has left more than 10 years ago.

This time I have as much time as I need to review each episodes on DVDs. The Decalogue One, "I am the Lord thy God; thou shalt have no other gods before me" is a about a tragic accident. Against all the computer calculation and precaution before going on ice skating on the frozen lake, accident has befallen on the young Paweł. Daddy returns home to stare at the green glow of the screen of his trusted computer. Just yesterday it made the assurance on the ice strength. Now it displays a single message - "I am ready _" with a blinking cursor. The picture remains there silently. It is some of the most contemplative moment in the cinema.

Decalogue I

I don't remember how I feel when I saw this the first time. The message is simple enough. It questions the primacy of science and structure in modern society and to reflect on the diminishing role of religion and spirituality.

Today I think I have resolved such conflict. It is a false dichotomy between science and religion. To me science is spiritual. The story implies a kind of scientific determinism. I think it is old school. Of course old school probably still describes the majority of people, both religious and non-religious. And also we have to take into account of Kieslowski's background working in the communist Poland in the 80s, where determinism is really the rule of the society and has far more relevance for him.

The flaw of Decalogue One is some may see it as an apology for scientists. Many people may simply conclude scientists are arrogant and ultimately hurt people. If so they are too affected by the accident. Kieslowski is a master to induce us into reflection of a moment. But we must not lose the bigger context to a single moment. Can religion or traditional knowledge make a better guideline regarding safety compare to science overall? I doubt it.

And this is only old school science. The "new" science of complexity sees the world as fundamentally nondeterministic. Many events are unpredictable. Accidents do happens. But this does not mean scientific prediction are not useful. They are useful in plenty of ways. The problem is those people who expect 100% certainty are not realistic of their expectation.

In the middle of the film the father was giving a lecture on language. Unlike other old school point of view, this lecture on the relationship of language and intelligence resonates deeply to me. He laments that computers, a machine that operates on 0 and 1, can somehow displays awareness. He was talking about emergence! It strikes me that human, an organism makes up of simple molecules and a lot of H2O can display awareness. So a man made machine, despite its seeming simple logic structure, can conceivably display a consciousness on a high level someday by the similar principle.

I don't have a conflict between science and spirituality. Science is my new religion. This is of course the topic of another 100 blog posts.

2010.06.14 [, ] - comments

 

HTC EVO Battery Gets Better

Last time I recorded my HTC EVO battery lasted over 2 days. It has gotten better. This time it has cleared 3 days of light use.

HTC EVO battery use

For me its battery performance is on-par with other smart phones.

2010.06.11 [, ] - comments

 

How I Keep The HTC EVO Alive For 2d 15h 41m!

By putting it in airplane mode! Don't laugh. Please read on.

The Sprint HTC EVO is the latest Android handset coming into the market. It is a first phone that supports 4G WiMax (though not yet available here in San Francisco). And it boasts a massive 4.3" display and 8MP video camera. But all the report coming in during its first week of debut confirm one thing, its battery life sucks. Some reports complaint the battery won't even last a full day of use.

The verdict aren't universal though. Some people got considerably more battery life than the others. How much people actually do with the phone is of course one major factor. But it also dawn on me that the battery life isn't determine by the phone alone, the network signal strength also play a large role. For those lucky folks who receives a strong signal, the phone exert relative little power to stay connected. Conversely when the network signal is weak, the phone has to increase the power of wireless signal to remain connected, thus draining the battery faster.

HTC EVO battery use

The signal in my bedroom has relatively weak signal. It bounces between 2-4 bars out of six. So I turn on the airplane mode when I go to sleep. Nobody want to receive a call while they are sleeping, don't they? I'm still using it as an alarm clock to wake me up in the morning, when I'd turn it back on to receive calls. In 3 nights it saved 24 hours of battery use for unneeded cell connection.

I wasn't testing how long the phone last while idling. I was using it every day. But I use it judiciously with the battery conservation in mind. Here are some of the things I have done:

4G off
WiFi off (except of short use)
GPS off (except of short use)
Bluetooth off

Phone calls a few minutes a day
Some web browsing
As a WiFi hotspot (several minutes a day)
A lot of music playing
Background syncing (e.g. Google Calendar)
10 minutes of GPS tracking

I think EVO's battery is adequate for me. It is worst than my iPhone, which routinely gets 3 days of life even after nearly two years of use. But EVO's battery is sufficient to me.

I want to mention that I've done all these battery conservation trick for my iPhone initially, including putting it into airplane mode during the night. Initially my iPhone 3G sometimes didn't last a day if I didn't use it carefully. After multiple OS update, its battery life has actually gotten considerably better. I hope EVO will also improve as newer version of Android comes out to make more efficient use of the battery.

(Update: the battery has lasted 3 days in my later test)

2010.06.05 [, ] - comments

 

California Plastic Bag Ban

I'm delighted to hear that the California legislature is consider to ban the use of plastic and some paper bags from retails. If the law passes, we will be joining other nations like Ireland and China in curbing irresponsible use of disposables and reduce the pollution to the environment.

Three years ago, over the objection of California Grocers Association, San Francisco was the first city in California to ban the use of plastic bags in large stores. Like many progressive ideas sprout from this city, it seems too radical to some people at the time. Business groups opposed and loud mouthed critics spare no effort to ridicule San Francisco. But time and again, what appear as crazy ideas at the beginning get wide acceptance eventually. Remember things like recycling and gay right. Before they get wide acceptance today, they were fiercely opposed and ridiculed at the beginning. After San Francisco, a few cities like Oakland quickly joined to ban plastic bag. Finally it spreads to the entire state. This time the California Grocers Association has turned around to support the registration. It only take them 3 years!

The final opponent to this bill is none other than the plastic industry. I want to take aim at their fallacious claim this will result in higher prices to consumers. The most important point is the cost of disposable bags will be trivial compare to cost of goods. That's why retails are willing to hand out bags freely in the first place. But if the ban of plastic bag has any effect on price at all, it should lower it. 'Free' plastic bags are after all, not free. Their cost are just part of the retailer's business cost and will be reflected in the price.

If I'm plastic bag manufacturers, I would consider switching gear to other high value product like tote bags, which can sell for $10 or more. Why be the bad guy producing millions of plastic bags at low margin and pollute the environment? Stop making product for pennies and start making high margin product! It is good for your bottom line and it is good for your karma.

2010.06.02 [] - comments

 

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