JISHOU, HUNAN — What do cell phones, washing machines, the Internet and electrical supplies all have in common? Aside from the obvious, electricity, they all added to my frustrations — or shall I say challenges — this week.
The cell phone issue was the biggest. I had bought my Treo 600 off eBay ages ago with the understanding that it was unlocked, meaning that I could use it with any carrier as soon as I inserted the appropriate SIM chip into it.
Sure, the Treo could find China Mobile and China Unicom signals, but without international roaming enabled (not that I could afford it), I could not use those signals. So, senior English students Christopher, Ava and Sophia took me to the China Mobile tents set up for returning students, where they helped me get a China Mobile account and SIM card.
Of course, it did not work. Believing my phone to be the all-powerful, unlocked, works-anywhere-in-the-world SuperTreo, I was of course mighty perplexed. The kids took me to the China Mobile store in downtown Jishou, where I got another SIM card that worked the same as the previous one.
“SIM card not allowed,” my SuperTreo informed me. “Your phone cannot be used with this SIM Card.”
How very informative. Thank you.
Of course, I gradually realized after spending an inordinate amount of time on the Web that my faith in SuperTreo was based on false information. My phone was in fact still locked to T-mobile, and the only apparent way to unlock (other than to call T-mobile and ask them to unlock it, not exactly feasible under the circumstances) was to pay someone a little money ($15) to download an unlocking program and obtain an unlocking code to free my Treo from its electronic prison.
I am now on the China Mobile network. And the $15 was still cheaper than buying a bargain-basement phone here.
Now I mentioned I used the Internet to solve my cell phone problem, but I actually had no Internet access at home until late Monday. Disappointing, but I could use an office computer in the meantime.
Chinese universities use a high security protocol for their wired connections, called the Ruijie supplicant. It’s based on the standard MD5 encryption, but with a local twist apparently. Without a university-supplied account, IP address and the Ruijie supplicant program, your wired connection ain’t gonna do nothin’. (Wireless does not exist here, by the way.)
Well, I had all that, but still nothing was happening. I have no clue why, but in any event the IT staff got it working by Monday evening. Only for Windows, though. Irritatingly enough, the Ruijie application provided me for the Ubuntu half of my dual-boot laptop (xrgsu) will connect, but will not authenticate my computer. At least others share my pain; my research into the matter turned many similar cries of woe, but no apparent solution.
So I’m stuck using Window$. Bleah.
When I first arrived at my flat on Sunday, I had no electricity. Well, actually, it was there; I just didn’t how to turn in on. A quick call to Christopher on the cell phone the office loaned me until my own cell was working again provided the answer. Outside each door is an electrical box. To turn on the power, you close the circuit breaker. Ah, so simple!
This morning, I awoke to find that once again I had no power, despite the circuit breakers in the box being all closed. Some texting ensued, during which I found that these boxes have a slot to insert a payment card to “recharge” your electrical account. (The boxes are called chargers for that reason.) My account had run dry sometime in the wee hours. The university, which is supplying my electricity and Internet at no charge, fixed the problem by lunchtime.
If you walk around this campus and look at the dorms, you will see every window or balcony (or rooftop!) festooned with laundry hung out to dry. Washing machines are thankfully standard issue here, but clothes dryers are not. I would wager then that each student has at least half of his or her wardrobe hanging outside to dry on any day. If I were to have clean clothes, I needed to emulate them and plan ahead. Washing my clothes the night before might work back in the States, with a clothes dryer at the ready. Not so here.
My flat has a little washer just outside the bathroom. Its buttons naturally have labels in Chinese. Since I had already bugged my hosts about cell phone, electrical and Internet problems, I was damned if I was going to ask them how to work the stupid washer. So I went to the local Jun Hua supermarket and bought some Omo laundry soap, confident I could certainly make the washer on my own.
The washer has two large buttons and four smaller ones. The big button on the right clearly turns the washer on, but no combination of the others would actually make the little fella do anything.
The Internet to the rescue! Poking around the Web with the model number eventually led me to realize that the manufacturer is Little Swan, a big whitegoods concern here that just happens to sell its products in the USA under the label Haier. And on their website I found an operation manual (perhaps written by some unmotivated business English major, judging from its lack of proper spelling and grammar) for a model similar to mine.
I am embarrassed to say how my Little Swan works. You push the righthand button. Then you push the big button to its immediate left. That’s it. So easy, an Ivy League graduate could wash his clothes. (The little ones provide washing and time-delay options, but the manual I found provided no help in making them do anything successfully.)
Now my flat looks like everyone else’s — half my wardrobe is out on the balcony. My cell phone works. My (Windows) laptop works. And I have electricity for the foreseeable future.
Now if I could manage to cook a decent serving of rice without burning it or drying it out …