On the first part of the journey …

On the first part of the journey ...
CHANGSHA, HUNAN — There was football. More about that later, though. I left Zhengzhou on Jan. 25 as a heavy snowstorm was just picking up steam. The snow was so bad that even the high speed CRH trains, which run on schedule 99% of the time, had to slow down or even stop, because of poor visibility and slick trackage. My train to Futian station in Shenzhen would normally have taken seven hours. We arrived four hours later. Second-class ticket: 735.50 yuan ($116). My plan was to stay overnight in Shenzhen anyway, and my flight to Hanoi was in two days, so no big deal. There are many bargain flights out of Hong Kong, and I love Hong Kong, so I spent the second night there. My Jetstar ticket was $180 round trip, including an extra checked baggage fee. I stayed in a guest house near Causeway Bay for $65. My Shenzhen hotel near Futian train station was $60. [I’ve blogged about visiting Hong Kong before, but briefly, you can walk from Shenzhen’s Futian checkpoint to the Lok Ma Chau checkpoint in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, passing through two immigration and customs control points. That takes about an ...

Happy Year of the Dog!

Happy Year of the Dog!
GUANGZHOU — It is now the first day of the Year of Dog, a suitable time to update everyone on my winter travels. I have just returned to China from Vietnam, where I stayed a little more than a week each in Hanoi and Da Nang. Now, I’m the middle of another week hopping from one place to another to see old friends before I head back to Zhengzhou. Here’s the itinerary, keyed to the map above. 1. Zhengzhou, Henan, China, where I currently work 2. Hong Kong (with a brief stay in Shenzhen) 3. Hanoi, Vietnam 4. Da Nang 5. Hanoi again 6. Hong Kong again 7. Guangzhou, Guangdong 8. Kunming, Yunnan (to reunite with a friend from Jishou U) 9. Changde, Hunan (for a former student’s wedding party) 10. Jishou (because I miss it) and then probably back to Zhengzhou via Changsha, unless I decide to squeeze in another place first. As I mentioned last time, this holiday trip turned into a working vacation when a former colleague asked me to proofread and edit an English translation of a book by a Chinese writer — for pay. Once I finished that, they offered another job, also for pay. ...

It’s a working vacation in Vietnam

It's a working vacation in Vietnam
DA NANG, VIETNAM – As usual, I have waited more than a week to write something about my latest journey. Seems to be a habit of mine. This particular trip has turned into a working vacation, which though fairly lucrative, has cut into my free time somewhat. A few days before I was going to leave Zhengzhou, a former colleague from Jishou University asked if I could proofread and edit a translation they had prepared of a book by a Chinese author. (I cannot reveal who the author is, or the title of the book.) She asked if I could finish it in five days, and I had to explain I was leaving in three for Hong Kong and then Vietnam. So, we agreed on a five-day extension. It was 198 pages long. Everything was going along swimmingly, until I caught a nasty head cold in Hanoi, which rendered me useless for two days. But I managed to process the book by the agreed deadline, and collected the other half of my fees. Then they offered me another job – 191 pages this time, but by the same author. What the hell, I figured. Nothing like earning money to defray ...

Astrophotography: Moon and Venus, Jan. 31, 2017

Astrophotography: Moon and Venus, Jan. 31, 2017
HIROSHIMA, JAPAN — OK, I’m not really in Japan now, but I was when I took the picture. I’m just now trying to curate the hundreds of photos I took during my month in Japan, and thought I’d share this. It’s not super-sharp, because I had no tripod and tried to brace the camera against a window frame to steady it. The Chinese tune, “The Moon Represents My Heart,” (月亮代表我的心 Yuèliàng Dàibiǎo Wǒ de Xīn) most famously sung by Teresa Teng (邓丽君 Dèng Lìjūn) has been playing in my head lately. So, for me at least, a picture of the Moon seems suitable for the occasion. Camera geek details: Nikon D3300, Tamron 70-300 mm zoom lens @ 135 mm, f/4 1/500 sec, ISO 12,800. Teresa Teng was from Taiwan, and became one of the first non-mainland singers to become very popular in China. Nearly everyone in China knows this song, especially those who came of age during the Opening Up of the 1970s. Sadly, she died young from asthma complications at age 42. Now, for your listening pleasure, Miss Teng. (Scroll down past the photo.)

Bitcoin, Litecoin withdrawals resume at Chinese exchanges — woo hoo!

Bitcoin, Litecoin withdrawals resume at Chinese exchanges -- woo hoo!
JISHOU, HUNAN — After five months of shutdowns, Chinese cryptocurrency exchanges have resumed Bitcoin and Litecoin withdrawals, meaning I could finally move the coins I’ve had at Huobi.com since February to my other wallets. Chinese regulators forced BTCChina, Huobi and OKCoin to halt the withdrawals (but not Chinese yuan withdrawals) in January, pending “investigations.” Basically, it boiled down to the government telling the exchanges to tighten ship, monitor who was moving money through the exchanges, and add policies to limit margin trading and end fee-less trades. Resumption of Bitcoin and Litecoin withdrawals comes a week after the three exchanges announced they would offer trading May 31 in Ethereum and Ethereum Classic — two of the hottest tokens in the markets. Interest in Ethereum has picked up in China, as I’ve mentioned before here. Makes me wonder if the exchanges did some bargaining with the national regulators to allow the new trading platforms in exchange (pardon the pun) for complying with the new rules. In any event, Bitcoin prices rose today over $2,400, perhaps in response to the Chinese exchanges regaining full integration with the world markets. The other two were also trading strongly today.

Another fascinating infographic: the explosion of Bitcoin and the altcoins 2

If you’ve read my blog, you know I’ve been involved with Bitcoin and its progeny since 2013. This month, the cryptocurrency markets have exploded, though there was a market correction a few days ago. To get a handle on what all this means, check this inforgraphic from the Visual Capitalist. Courtesy of: Visual Capitalist If you’re interested in getting started with Bitcoin, Litecoin or Ethereum, you can open an account at Coinbase using my referral link here. We each get $10 in Bitcoin free if you spend more than $100. With Coinbase, you link your bank account, so you can buy and sell those three cryptocurrencies with US dollars. There is also the option to link a credit card, so you can receive the coins instantly, rather than waiting a few days for the ACH withdrawal to clear. I’ve been debating whether to post a tutorial on how to mine, buy, sell and trade Bitcoin and the altcoins, but have hesitated because so many other bloggers have already done the same. Let me know if you want the Wheat-dogg version.

Loose change found in a sticky note on a wall

Loose change found in a sticky note on a wall
JISHOU, HUNAN — Last month I reported I had found “loose change” in a hard drive backup, but regretted losing the password to free some of it from captivity. I found the password today, and in the nick of time, too. What I had found in a backup were the wallet files for two cryptocurrencies I had bought in 2014, then eventually forgot about. One of the files held about $2.50 of Namecoin, while the other (at the time) held about $8 of PeerCoin. Trouble was, the PeerCoin wallet was encrypted with a passphrase I had long since forgotten. After wracking my brain for a few days and trying different possible passphrases, I gave up on the project, assuming those $8 would be forever out of my reach. Then today I learned PeerCoin’s value had shot up from 80 cents to $2, making my tiny holding worth $20. Once again, I attempted to guess the long lost passphrase, to no avail. Just before I had classes this afternoon, I went over to my desk to fetch something and noticed one of the sticky notes on the wall behind my computer screen had curled up enough to hide the note written ...

Bitcoin, Litecoin and Ethereum — oh my!

Bitcoin, Litecoin and Ethereum -- oh my!
JISHOU, HUNAN — It may seem like this blog is swinging toward the intensely techie, but bear with me. I’m your surrogate in the ever-changing financial technology (fintech) landscape. Government regulators required China’s Bitcoin exchanges to halt Bitcoin and Litecoin withdrawals back in January, and that situation still remains. But, when one door closes, another opens, as the saying goes. It turns out Bitcoin and Litecoin are not the only cryptocurrencies being traded in China. Yunbi.com is a Hangzhou-based exchange specializing in Ethereum, Zcash, Bitshares, and several other cryptocoins, as well as Bitcoin. I only learned about it a week ago, as it is relatively new. Curiously, government regulators have basically ignored Ethereum, which at this writing has the second-largest trading volume worldwide after Bitcoin, and just about every other token besides Bitcoin and Litecoin. Not that I’m complaining. Once I realized Yunbi would allow withdrawals of not-Bitcoins to recipients outside the exchange, I applied for an account. Yunbi required me to submit photos of my passport, bank card, and a selfie of me holding them, and within two days, I had opened an account there. While I may not be able to send funds outside China with Bitcoin or ...

Trying out Abra, a new mobile payment app 1

Trying out Abra, a new mobile payment app
JISHOU, HUNAN — While exploring ways to move my money more easily around, I stumbled across Abra, a mobile phone app that transfers funds using the Bitcoin network. I gave it a try, and I like it. For one thing, it simplifies my transfers from China to the USA. Before Abra, there were several steps to transfer money from my bank in China to my bank in the USA, whether I used PayPal or Bitcoin. Abra reduces that number, and removes some fees in the process. There still remains one major drawback: Abra has no working relationships with banks in China. So, I still need to jump through a few hoops to buy Bitcoin to drop into my Abra wallet, but once it is there, it’s a breeze to send it to my bank account in the States. I’ve done all sorts of stories about moving money across borders, but to review, here are the main steps. For PayPal: Log into my China PayPal account. Send funds from my Chinese bank to my American PayPal account. PayPal charges a 4% foreign exchange fee. Log into my American PayPal account. Transfer funds to my bank account. Not bad, right? Unless you ...

Good news from Huobi.com about my Bitcoin account 2

Good news from Huobi.com about my Bitcoin account
JISHOU, HUNAN — The Bitcoin winter in China may be thawing finally. I can use my bank card at the Huobi.com Bitcoin exchange once again. As I related earlier, the new national regulations concerning Bitcoin exchanges seemed to have shut me, and other foreigners, out of the exchanges indefinitely. BTCChina told me flat out that foreigners would not be allowed to trade with them anymore. Huobi did allow me to re-register with my name exactly as it is listed on my passport, but I could not bind my Chinese debit card to the account because I had no Chinese ID number. That ended Monday, when I got a call from Huobi saying I could again use my Chinese Unionpay card. Huobi’s system now accepts my US passport number as a proper form of ID to be linked with the card. I also had to do a “video verification” by participating in a video call on the QQ messaging client with a Huobi agent. She asked me a few questions, like my name, the source of the funds I would be using, and my reasons for trading in Bitcoin. I also had to show her my passport and my debit card. ...

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]

Loose change found in a backup

Loose change found in a backup
JISHOU, HUNAN — You know that nice feeling you get when you reach into a pocket and find a $20 bill you’d forgotten all about? Imagine it happening while you’re rooting around a computer backup file. I’ve been dabbling in cryptocurrencies, like Bitcoin, since 2013. At the beginning, I was pretty much at sea, and in any event it was hard to see which of the several cryptocoins back then would really catch on. Then, as now, I had small caches of Bitcoin and Litecoin on my computer. But I also had even smaller amounts of two other lesser known tokens, Namecoin and Peercoin. Neither of these seemed to be catching on, so over time I just forgot about them. Day before yesterday, a friend asked me if I could send her some photos I took in 2015. This required me to hunt through my backup drive for the pics. After I found the photos and emailed them, I decided to poke around my backups a little more. Scrolling through the list of program files, I came across Namecoin and Peercoin wallets. Hey, I asked myself, I wonder if there’s any money still in those wallets? Really, I had no ...
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