Winter holiday time

JISHOU, HUNAN — I had meant to post this a few days ago, but my webhost was having serious server issues, so I had to wait. Exams ended Jan. 11. I had two days free before teaching four middle school students two hours a day for a week. That was basically my only time commitment until the 20th, when it was time for all of us to begin the Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) holiday. Most of the students on campus vacated as soon as exams ended. A few stayed to work short-term jobs before heading home, and even fewer are staying here for the entire holiday. So, at least I had some company. I’ve also spent time with friends in town. Most of the time, it’s blessedly quiet, so I can pursue projects that I’ve put off for months. One was to get better wireless Internet service. China Mobile, my cell service provider, has WiFi service, but it’s spotty in Jishou and on campus. They are reportedly building it out over the next few months, so that I might actually have WiFi available in my classrooms and home by April. I wanted something a little quicker, so I asked ...

High technology eating

JISHOU, HUNAN — I had to upgrade my cell phone today in order to eat tomorrow. In a real life analogy to upgrading to Windows N+1 or OS X+I, in order to buy a meal, I had to upgrade my hardware. Naturally, there were compatibility problems. There were some major changes to the main university dining hall this summer. The second floor got new tables and chairs, new serving lines and (bless us all) air conditioners. The other big change was, beginning this week, we can no longer pay cash for our meals. Previously, there were two payment options: good old fashioned cash money and the SIM cards in our cellphones. Most students paid with their phones. Each serving line had a “wave-and-pay” near-field reader: hold your phone against the reader and the meal cost is deducted from your account. It’s a pay-as-you-go arrangement, so students periodically have to refill their accounts at the dining hall or cellphone office. I, however, just used cash, because I eat less often at the dining hall (also known as the canteen here) than the students do. But that option ended this week. After a two-week transition period of requiring us Luddites to buy ...

Meanwhile, techno-frustrations abound 2

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. Wrong. 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 ...
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