This term’s schedule

This term's schedule
JISHOU, HUNAN — Rather than blather on about Bitcoins and Ripple, this post is about teaching — y’know, my job. Last term, I had 10 sessions of teaching the freshmen and sophomores, plus a biweekly session with five Ph.D. candidates needing practice in speaking English. Each session is 100 minutes long, including a 10-minute break. This term I have only eight sessions, because another teacher (actually, the associate dean of the college) has taken the two sophomore Listening Comprehension sections. Whether this has anything to do with nine of those 75 students failing my final exam last fall, I cannot say, but the lighter course load is a nice relief. So, this term I meet the two sophomore sections on Mondays for Oral English. The end of the week is much busier, with Listening Comp with the three freshmen sections on Thursdays, and Oral English the day after. Each term, I settle into a new work routine. Saturdays and Tuesdays are what I call goof-off days, meaning I use them for non-teaching activities, like laundry or writing on this blog. Sundays and Wednesdays are class-prep days. I give the freshmen a listening quiz each week, so that means I have ...

Cherry blossom time

Cherry blossom time
JISHOU, HUNAN — These are from two weeks ago, when the blossoms were just coming out. Sorry for the delay. (Taken with with my cellphone.) ——— Tipjars: [paypal_donation_button]

Epilogue to my Bitcoin dilemma: I got my money back

Epilogue to my Bitcoin dilemma: I got my money back
JISHOU, HUNAN — So, after three telephone calls and four chat sessions on Huobi’s customer service chat window, I finally got my 500 yuan ($73) deposit back two weeks after I sent it. All is well now. I won’t bother you with all the details, but bank-to-bank transfers in China are persnickety affairs. The sender has to specify the exact bank branch at which the recipient opened his or her account. And my branch at the university is a sub-branch of another branch, so the system was not allowing the transfer to go through. Or something. Anyway, I got my money back. I am still unable to bind my bank card at Huobi without a national ID number, so obtaining Bitcoin using Huobi or BTCChina, despite my previous relationships with them, is impossible for the foreseeable future. In education news, I am spending this weekend recreating my lesson plans and syllabi for courses I taught in 2014-15 to submit to the college. Why, you ask? Well, the college needs to get accreditation (if that’s what it’s called here) from the provincial education bureau. To get it, each instructor has to provide detailed lesson plans and syllabi for courses taught in ...

Revisiting Ripple (not the wine) amid China’s Bitcoin clamp-down

Revisiting Ripple (not the wine) amid China's Bitcoin clamp-down
[UPDATE Jan 6, 2018: With the sudden boom in Ripple’s price lately, I’ve had some inquiries from readers wanting to buy Ripple XRP with Chinese yuan. The Ripple vouchers mentioned in this post are no longer for sale on TaoBao, and as far as I know, there is no convenient way to buy XRP with yuan available now. It is possible to buy Bitshares, Bitcoin, Litecoin or Ethereum over the counter (OTC) with the apps I discuss in this more recent post.] JISHOU, HUNAN — Out of curiosity yesterday, I checked up on Ripple, a cryptocurrency I honestly had not used or paid much attention lately, just to see what all the buzz about it was. I was pleasantly surprised for two reasons. One, the value of Ripple against the dollar (well, cents, really) has more than doubled since last year. It seems Bitcoin’s inherent limitations have encouraged investors to look at altcoins — the bazillions of alternative electronic currencies to Bitcoin — resulting in sharp price spikes for several since January. Second, it’s once again possible to buy Ripple tokens (XRP) using the Chinese shopping website, Taobao, or payment processors like Alipay. So, I gave it a try and ...

Update to the update to the Bitcoin saga

Update to the update to the Bitcoin saga
JISHOU, HUNAN — So, I got a reply from BTCChina today to my inquiry about continued use of their services. You can guess what it was. But here it is from the horse’s mouth. Good day! Our sincere apologies for this matter. BTCChina will no longer allow foreigners to use our services. You cannot use BTCChina from now on. Should you have further concerns, please do not hesitate to let us know anytime. Thank you very much and have a nice day! Best Regards, Customer Service 1011 This reply has two explanations. Given that both Huobi and BTCChina had no problem before with my using their exchanges with a foreign passport as ID, this new policy confirms that the government is trying to restrict the flow of Chinese yuan out of the country, other than by official channels, and that government regulators want the Chinese Bitcoin exchanges to only deal with Chinese citizens, who would be easier to control legally (or extra-legally) than foreign residents. While I have not heard back from Huobi about my bank card + passport issue, I can now assume that they will tell me the same thing as BTCChina — that Huobi can no longer ...

Update to the China Bitcoin saga

Update to the China Bitcoin saga
JISHOU, HUNAN — I talked to customer service at Huobi today, and it seems enabling deposits with my Chinese bank card is not easy as one would think — all because of the lack of a Chinese national ID number. So, they will refund my 500 RMB ($73) deposit in two to three days. If Huobi’s coders don’t edit the backend to allow linking passport numbers to Chinese bank cards, I may be shut out of Huobi indefinitely. There’s really no point in using an exchange if you can’t, you know, exchange stuff. Meanwhile, I sent an email to BTCChina’s support staff to inquire if I would have similar difficulties trading on their exchange. I’m waiting for their reply. BTCChina has this message on their website now. As with Huobi, I had already provided BTCChina with all that when I first opened the account a couple of years ago. Huobi required me to do it all over again, because the name issue I explained yesterday. I’m hoping I don’t have the same hassles with BTC China. In the meantime, if I want to buy Bitcoin in China, I can still use LocalBitCoins.com or BitKan (a China-based P2P service). While these ...

China’s new regulations for Bitcoin exchanges are a PITA

China's new regulations for Bitcoin exchanges are a PITA
JISHOU, HUNAN — If you’re not into Bitcoin, you may safely skip this post. Otherwise, read on to learn of my frustrations in complying with China’s new requirements for Bitcoin exchange users. I have accounts with two Chinese Bitcoin exchanges, and previously had no issues at all registering those accounts and submitting orders using my Chinese bank cards. But national banking regulators have recently compelled the exchanges to comply with KYC (Know Your Customer) and AML (Anti-Money Laundering) regulations, ostensibly to protect customers and cut off possible criminal activity, but mostly to restrict capital flight. Over the weekend, Bitcoin prices had dipped into the $900 range, and I was betting that they would bounce back. Assuming that these new KYC/AML regulations were not yet in effect, I made a 500 RMB ($73) deposit to my Huobi.com account. And nothing happened. Huobi did not credit the deposit to my account. Yesterday, customer service informed me that I had to upload a photo of my passport and a photo of me holding the passport next to my face. So I did that. Several times. Each time, there was an error message. First, I got “the image is not clear,” so I submitted ...

Living your dream sometimes has unforeseen consequences

Living your dream sometimes has unforeseen consequences
JISHOU, HUNAN — Here’s a bittersweet anecdote from the world of teaching. Last week, I was looking for a TED talk about careers to show my students and found one by a dynamic guy named Scott Dinsmore, who founded an organization called Live Your Legend. Since TED speakers talk a mile a minute, courtesy of the 18-minute time limit, I included the English subtitles to help with their comprehension. The freshmen liked it, so this morning I shared it with the sophomores. During the break, I decided to visit Dinsmore’s website to check it out. Since China blocks YouTube and Vimeo, we couldn’t see the video on the main page in class. When I watched it after coming back to my flat, I got an unpleasant surprise. Scott Dinsmore was killed in a rockslide on Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania in 2015. Everyone else in the climbing party, including his wife, survived. He was 33. Now, if TED had bothered to note Dinsmore had died, I might have chosen a different video. As it is, I should tell my students that living your dream sometimes has unfortunate consequences, but that they should never hesitate to take risks. His message, which is ...

BBC reporters attacked by ‘thugs’ in Xinhua county, near Loudi, Hunan

BBC reporters attacked by 'thugs' in Xinhua county, near Loudi, Hunan
[CORRECTION ALERT: Xinhua is a county, not a township. I’ve corrected that error.] JISHOU, HUNAN — A BBC correspondent reported today that he and his team were attacked while attempting to interview a local woman about her petitions to the national government. The altercation occurred in a village of Xinhua county in the jurisdiction of Loudi, a city about three and half hours from Jishou. John Sudworth says a group of people prevented him from meeting Yang Linghua, a resident who planned to journey to Beijing to present her grievances to the national congress there. Then, Sudworth says he and his team were physically accosted and their equipment smashed. Then they were chased out of town. Eventually, uniformed police and local officials came out, and required Sudworth and the other journalists to sign a forced confession that they had conducted an “illegal interview.” Ms Yang was also detained, he says in his account. After we left the village, we were chased down and had our car surrounded by a group of about 20 thugs. They were then joined by some uniformed police officers and two officials from the local foreign affairs office, and under the threat of further violence, we ...

I’m back, and now dealing with China’s new Bitcoin restrictions

I'm back, and now dealing with China's new Bitcoin restrictions
JISHOU, HUNAN — While I was away, China’s central banking authorities decided to investigate (as they put it), China’s Bitcoin exchanges, resulting in all the exchanges sharply curtailing withdrawals of Bitcoin until further notice. As I have used Bitcoin as a way to move part of my salary (paid in Chinese yuan) to my bank in America, this new situation directly affects me. All is not lost, however, as I will detail below. One dilemma many expats face is moving money from one country to another. I am paid in Chinese yuan, and am permitted to transfer 70% of my very modest pay — by US standards — each month to the USA. At first, I used bank wire transfers, which required substantial paperwork, the assistance of a Chinese national’s bank account and relatively high fees. Then I learned I could create a Chinese PayPal account and send funds to my American PayPal account, paying about 4% in exchange fees. Not bad, but my experience with PayPal is, shall we say, less than positive. Beginning in 2013 I started using Bitcoin to move my money cross-border. I’d buy bitcoins with Chinese yuan, send the bitcoins to my Coinbase account, and ...

Winter holiday is here, and I’m in Japan! 4

Winter holiday is here, and I'm in Japan!
TOKYO, JAPAN — This year’s winter escapade is not to a warm, sunny location like Malaysia, but to the more wintry Japan — a joint effort by my son and me. He had some comp time available, and wanted to visit me in Jishou, but as I had planned to travel outside China during the Spring Festival, we settled on two weeks in Japan. Fun fact: this year, the Chinese New Year falls on my birthday. I’ll leave it to you to figure out which day that is. I gave my exams on Dec. 30, and spent the rest of the week reading them and calculating grades for my 150 students. I discovered two disturbing things: at least two of my sophomores had cheated on their exam and hardly any of the sophs had improved their listening comprehension marks over the last three terms. The cheaters flunked their exams, and the term. They will need to take a new test next term. I also get to read their classmates the riot act, as I suspect those two were just the unlucky ones who got caught. The sophomores’ failure to improve their skills much since they were freshmen is a bigger ...

Twin Chinese girls separated as babies reunited on Good Morning America

Twin Chinese girls separated as babies reunited on Good Morning America
TOKYO, JAPAN — In 2007 two baby girls from Jiangxi province, China, each with medical issues, were given up by their birth parents for adoption to the same orphanage. It seems their birth parents brought them to the children’s home separately, which apparently led the orphanage to assume they were not related, despite looking like identical twins. Twins who were each adopted by American families, and who each never knew she had a twin until last month. Jennifer Doering wanted to give her daughter, Audrey, 10, a special Christmas gift — some information about her past. After some online sleuthing, Jennifer found a photo of baby Audrey sitting next to a mirror-image of herself. Even more sleuthing, and she located Gracie Rainsberry, Audrey’s twin and the daughter of Scott and Nicole Rainsberry. Though the two girls did some FaceTiming together, they had not met face-to-face until two days ago, in front of a nationwide audience on Good Morning America. Watch and make sure you have some tissues handy. The GMA team arranged for the families to do up New York City right with tickets to see the stage production of School of Rock and dinner at Planet Hollywood, and even ...
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