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Useful Tips and Useless Quirks I Learned About Travelling in China

When travelling in another country, it's hard not to note some of the quirkier cultural differences. here are some of my observations. I haven't gone out of my way to be politically correct.

I'll keep adding to this list while I'm here.

Useful

Vendors

  • I have only ever been harassed by street vendors at a popular tourist site.

Police

  • Most police stations have one English-speaking officer on duty.
  • Every police officer I have talked to has been friendly and extremely helpful. If you ask them where something is, they will often find an excuse to drive you there, unprompted.
  • I don't think you can walk for 10 minutes without encountering a police station. They are everywhere.
  • The sign will often say "Traffic Police", but they carry a pistol, a rifle, and SWAT shields.
  • The officers that I spoke to had much loyalty to protecting the people of their district, but did not have strong feelings about loyalty to the state. They consider that the job of the military police.

Passports

  • Any non-trivial exchange with the police will involved them photocopying your passport. This is actually kind of handy, because a condition of the Chinese visa is that you report your location to the police. Hotels do this for you. Hostels may or may not.
  • You will also be asked for your passport for many other things, such as buying bus/train/plane tickets.
  • Guard it at all times. I met an Indonesian man who lost his passport, and dealing with the government to reissue his visa took about a week, and may trips to the capitol.

Water

  • There are no public drinking fountains, because the water is not considered potable (even in most hotels). Instead, boiling water dispensers are very common. I think this is one reason that tea is so ubiquitous here; who wants to drink hot water?
  • Most hotels provide bottled water and a kettle.
  • Learn to enjoy Chinese tea. Kind of like Chai, no two are the same.
  • Locals do not use teabags, they just dump the ingredients in water (it looks like you're drinking pot-pourri).
  • Unfortunately for once you do acquire a taste for Chinese tea, it is never served strong.

Taxis

  • Most taxi drivers are kind and helpful, use the meter, and will provide a receipt. Although not expected, I always tips these drivers and usually tell them why.
  • A few will try to take advantage of foreigners, and charge you more; but at least they will do so before they embark.
  • If they actually try to rip you off or fight about the fare, find a police officer (there is always one nearby). A threat to be sent to jail will clear up the issue.
  • You can get a good inter-city rate for a taxi by sharing a taxi. You can do this yourself, ask the cabbie to do so (if in an area where other people going to the destination is likely), or they may just do it themselves.

Buses

  • Finding the bus station can be tricky, because the buses are in the back, and there isn't any English signage. After a police officer took me to the bus station, I said, "I never would have guess this was the bus station." He replied, "But it says so on the big sign out front??"
  • Just hop on any bus if you're not at a bus station. Someone will come to get payment eventually. Local trips will generally cost less than 10 RMB, and 25 RMB for inter-city routes is normal.
  • The bus will not leave a station until every seat has a person on it. If it won't fit overhead, and the bus doesn't have a luggage area underneath, your large pack is going to have to sit on your lap.
  • In some areas, buses have seat belts, and you are expected/required to use them.

Planes

  • Mobile phones must be turned off and put away at all times, except while the plane is at the terminal. This is a CAA regulation. Flight mode doesn't count, it has to be off. If you don't, you will be asked to put it away (and they will make sure you do).
  • This applies to inter-city flights, as well as international flights if the airline is based on China.

Tipping

  • Tipping is not expected in most circumstances.
  • I always tip when anyone goes over and above, and it is appreciated.
  • It is not rude to tell them why, and it encourages good behaviour, and goodwill toward foreigners.

Internet

  • Yes, websites are heavily censored here. Sometimes this is done at a DNS level; usually the connection attempt just times out.
  • Everything Google is blocked. Bing search works, but some results will be censored.
  • VPN services like ExpressVPN do work, but depending on the protocol used, the connection may get dropped regularly.
  • PPTP, while less secure, does seem to universally work without disruption.
  • Generally, use of mobile data is uncommon and expensive.
  • Instead, there is free public wi-fi almost everywhere in urban areas.
  • Unfortunately, in order to access it, you usually need to authenticate with your Chinese phone number or WeChat account, even at McDonalds.
  • Some KFCs do not require authentication, and hotels usually do not, so loitering outside was sometimes an option.
  • I have yet to have a reliable and fast connection.

Strangers

  • I've heard people remark that Chinese people are not friendly, or even rude. I have never had this be the case, but they do keep to themselves unless interacted with.
  • As an example, an elderly lady looked overwhelmed by having to carry her luggage down a long flight of stairs at the train station. No one stopped to help her. I motioned to help, and carried them down for her, and she was extremely grateful.

Security

  • Expect x-rays, metal detectors, and a pat-down everywhere you go. Train stations, bus stations, subway stations, malls, banks; pretty much anywhere people congregate. And they actually do their job.
  • Gas stations are usually barricaded, and the police will let you in.
  • Before letting you in, a search of the cabin/trunk is customary. The are looking for firearms, explosives, or anything that could threaten the attendant or other customers.
  • Passengers must leave the vehicle while it is in the station. Stations have a waiting area with chairs for passengers. I think this is so a group of people do not try to overpower the attendant.

Electricity

  • Almost all power outlets are universal, and can accommodate North American plugs.
  • Not all are grounded, so my 3-prong power bar/extention cord was not always useful.

Interesting

  • In an entire week of travelling all over the country, I have only seen 4 non-Chinese people. It is a reminder of how diverse Canada is; in fact 4.3% of Canadians are of Chinese heritage.
  • In Sandaoling, my room came with a Mahjong table, complete with tiles. It took me a while to notice, because it was covered with a tablecloth.
  • The scale by which wind turbine generators are used here makes ours look like a quaint science fair project (in a sense, it is).
  • KFC is huge here. About as common as Tim Hortons' in Canada.
  • Fast food restaurants often will present you with a laminated menu with pictures, and you can gesture toward what you want.
  • Following the death of Mao Tse Tung and the end of the Cultural Revolution, hundreds of millions of Chinese people have been pulled above the poverty line, initiated by the government of Deng Xiaoping in 1978. Then 68%, now only 10% live below the poverty line (as defined by the IMF).

Noteworthy

  • I've heard people remark that Chinese people are not friendly or rude. I have never had this be the case, but they do keep to themselves unless interacted with.
  • As an example, an elderly lady looked overwhelmed by having to carry her luggage down a long flight of stairs at the train station. No one stopped to help her. I motioned to help, and carried them down for her, and she was extremely grateful.
  • Yes, there is Walmart in China.
  • Although not quite up to the same standards, IHG hotels are very safe bet.

Frustrating

  • Smoking is still widely allowed everywhere, and ventilation is usually bad. In Beijing, smoking is not allowed indoors, but everyone smells like it, picked up from people smoking outside.
  • Many non-smoking hotel rooms smell like smoke, and have an ashtray.
  • Trains (not the bullet ones) wreak of smoke. Very sad for someone who loves riding trains; it makes the experience unenjoyable.
  • In addition to being heavily censored, hotel wi-fi/wired internet connections are very unreliable and slow.
  • If you came to see rural China, with lush vegetation, beautiful gardens, and rice paddies, don't come in winter.
  • The Terracotta Warriors exhibit closes at 4:30pm.

Useless

  • It is very difficult to suppress the urge so sing Convoy out loud when you see one.
  • I'm not saying there is a genetic predisposition or anything, but yes, Chinese drivers are awful.

Terminal to GIF creator

Day 16: Nature. Check.

Trip map
Anjuna Dam
Lake Anjula
King cobra

Yesterday I used Google Earth to plan an amazing motorcycle trip. The loop took me along the northern edge of Goa, up the Western Ghat mountains, into the Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary, East through Maharashtra, South through Karnataka, and West back to Goa. The trek would begin about 50m above sea level and would peak at almost 1000m (3280ft).

I began the trip around 10:00, leaving to the North up NH17, and East at Mapusa toward Mhadai. Near the entrance to the park is Anjuna Lake, and the Anjuna Dam. Once in the park, I made a few stops.

The first was a path by a small stream. I entered the trail only about 50m to get away from the road to discover what I could hear and see. As I stood quietly, I realized I was surrounded by hundreds of monkeys. They climbed and swung from tree to tree. Although I got a few pictures, they were very difficult to photograph. They were in constant motion, and due to the canopy of the trees, light was insufficient for a fast shutter setting.

The next stop, much further up the mountain, was a lookout that faced Anjuna Lake. It is a beautiful view of the Western Ghats facing the West, Anjuna Dam in the distance.

Although the temperature started to cool as I climbed the mountains, I decided to change out of my jeans, and in to my shorts. I wouldn't normally wear jeans, but I've had enough mosquito bites this week; and covered legs are recommended for snake encounters. However, noon approached, and the heat was increasingly uncomfortable.

Further along, my map showed a mountain road. It turned out to be a trail. I could see on the map that there was a waterfall nearby, so I hoped the trail would lead to a view of the falls. I got off the bike and started trekking. Had I read the sign at the entrance to the trail I would have realized that it was a 6km trail to the peak of Vagheri, the main direction being up.

Tigers have not been confirmed in Mhadai in about 8 years, but it is ideal habitat, and it is estimated that there could be up to 50 living in the 400km² Mhadei and Bhagwan parks. Tigers like jungle, water, trees, and paths, so who knows!

After about 30 minutes of walking, the path on my map had run out, yet the path ahead just kept going. I couldn't hear any sign of waterfalls, so I gave up and turned around. It was around noon by now, but even in the shade, such a steep climb is exhausting in 30C temperatures.

As I walked back down the path, the leaves crunching under my feet, I kept an open ear for any signs of mammalian life. Many lizards scattered as I walked, and possibly the odd mouse. It would have been cool to see a boar, deer, or monkey at least.

I heard rustling in the bushes ahead. Then I heard what sounded like a large mammal taking a pee. Holy shit, I thought; this could be a tiger. I stood dead still as the sounds moved in the bushes, my eyes focused on the location of the sound, looking for motion. It took a few seconds before I realized that the motion no longer coming from the bush, but it was crossing the path in front of me.

Let me clarify, that I am not afraid of snakes, as such. Back home, a walk in the tall wild grass will often stir up a few garden snakes. They are usually about 20cm to 40cm, are quite narrow, and kind of cute. I don't go picking them up, but they don't bother me. Last night, I was reading up on Indian snakes, just in case I encountered one. That's why I had worn the jeans (that I changed out of). Of course, India has venomous snakes, and although for the most part they try to ignore humans, some 40,000 people die of snake bites each year. It is obviously a populous country, and on a per-capita basis it would  be comparable to about 1100 Canadians, about the same as the number of deaths by accidental falls. Nonetheless, while death-by-tiger would be the ultimate honourable sacrifice for my favourite mammal, death-by-snake-bite would leave me humiliated for eternity.

I mention this because the snake that was crossing in front of me was about 250cm long, and 8cm in diameter. At this point I was about 6m from the creature. Remembering my previous night's reading, I slowly stepped backward and grabbed my camera. It stopped to check me out. Remembering that stomping on the ground would send the snake vibrations that a large scary predator was nearby, I gave it ago. Now, I didn't spend any time while learning about snakes to memorize all the patterns and colours, and which ones were venomous, I did recall that only the cobra does that thing where it lifts the front third of its body and makes that hood shape and flicks its tongue at what it perceives as a threat — like the snake in front of me was doing.

Adrenaline kicked in, and I don't remember what I did next, but it resulted in the snake slithering away and doing its thing. I confirmed that its noise was going well into the distance before proceeding.

The rest of the trip was beautiful and enjoyable. If you made a list of what motorcyclists love, it would include twisty roads, mountains, little traffic, and perfectly manicured asphault. That was exactly what I got; at least while in Goa and Maharashta. The roads in Karnatika were awful. I had to ride for several hours in first gear, dodging pot holes, some 3m in diameter and 15cm in depth.

Sister wasn't home yet when I returned, so I went to the local shops and had a beer with the local men at the "wine store". Ulrike arrived shortly after I returned. I fired up the computer, curious about what snake I found. It was a King Cobra. In fact it looked exactly like this one:

I think that was my last nature walk in India.

Day 14: Shave and a haircut, 10000010 bits

Yvan

Best value so far: INR 130 for shave, haircut, and head massage. I'm definitely a fan of the straight razor shave and massage; all told, about 45 minutes.

I got a button sewn onto my shorts while I wore them.

The neighbour really wanted to visit us. We weren't sure why, but thought it could be exciting. Weren't we disappointed when he tried to recruit us for Amway.

Yes, I will shut up about the cashews now.

Cashews with skins

Papa would always return from Goa with Feni and bags of cashews like these, with the skins still intact. A bit of an acquired taste, the skins add the slightest bitter/sour/nutty flavour that beautifully complements the natural buttery flavour of the nut.

Every time I go to an Indian or asian market back home I check to see if they have any of these nuts, but they never do. My best guess is that they are considered inferior to the peeled raw and roasted nuts that are ubiquitous.

I found them bagged at the local general store, and they're as great as I remember.

Day 8: Laundry, Knives, Banks, and Film

Knife man!

Back in Guelph, on a hot summer's day, you may hear the sounds of bells ringing, gaining in volume. It's one of two people, the Dickie Dee (ice cream) boy, or the knife sharpener.

During morning tea we heard the bells and glanced up the street. A young man carried a welded steel frame with a grinding wheel and pedal — he is a knife sharperer. Note I said carried. I felt for the poor guy. If I had my tools with me I'd offer to weld on some wheels to this thing, probably 20kg or more. Ulrike rushed to the kitchen and returned with a handful of knives and an assignment.

Today was laundry day. We had both run out of underthings, and my whole wardrobe was ready for a wash. The little washing machine is the most high-tech device in the house. In the humid weather, the drier (clothes line) on the other hand, took quite a bit longer; so I spent most of the day in underwear.

After days of fighting with the Vodaphone SIM card, I gave in and went to the Vodaphone store. The girl at the desk confirmed that yes, it was weird that I had a signal, yet could not connect, but in a few minutes she diagnosed the problem. Although I had just added a INR 1250 data plan to the SIM, it needed at least 1 rupee on balance in order to connect to the network. Simple, yet absent from the FAQ and every search I tried.

While in the village I tried to withdraw money at the ATMs, having used my last 10 rupees to add to the Vodaphone card. A few days earlier I had pulled INR 10,000 out of an ATM in Bombay without difficulty, but for reason still unknown, it was not so easy here. After an hour and 8 banks, the ATMs read CALL BANK, an indication that my account was locked out.

That wasn't supposed to happen. I had called all of my banks before leaving Canada, ensuring they note the timeframe and destination of my travels. ScotiaBank assured me that if I encountered any problems, I need only call the number on the back of the card collect, and they would accept the charges. After 2 hours of trying I summized that if there was indeed a way of calling Canada from India collect, it was beyond my abilities. I couldn't even figure out the equivalent of dialling 0 to speak to an operator.

GOA Photo FestivalUlrike, her writer-friend Jessica, and I went to the 2015 Goa International Photo Festival. The exhibits included photos of India by Indians, winners of the World Press photojournalism awards, and other international photographers.

How to use ActivStats for Data Desk with Minitab

So you are taking a statistics course, and the textbook includes a DVD-ROM with ActiveStats for Data Desk, but the course requires you to purchase ActiveStats for Minitab.

The bad news is that ActiveStats for Minitab will cost you another 60 bucks or more.

The good news is that Minitab is an excellent statistics package and it is way better than Data Desk; and if you're willing to make a tiny effort, you don't need to buy ActiveStats for Minitab.

What we are going to do is let ActiveStats open data sets in Data Desk, and then copy-and-paste them into Minitab.

There are two circumstances you will need to do this.

  1. An instructional exercise asks you to plot or analyze something.
  2. A homework assignment asks you to plot or analyze something.

They both work the same way. Let's look at an example.

For every exercise in ActiveStats for Data Desk, there is an equivalent one in ActiveStats for Minitab. They are not always named the same thing, but they are otherwise identical.

In chapter 7-4, there is an exercise called Examine Mortality and Education Using Data Desk. We'll do it in Minitab.


If we click the icon, the exercise is opened in Data Desk.

One of the little windows contains the data set. Select the each of the data columns by holding down shift while clicking each one. Ignore the once called Reference.

Now copy these by pressing Ctrl-C or Edit|Copy Variables. You will be asked if you want the variable names in the first row. Click Yes.

Now fire up Minitab with an empty project. Position the cursor by clicking in the grey cell that is one over and one down. Press Ctrl-V or Edit|Paste Cells. Poof! There is your data set.

Now all you need to do is complete the exercise in Minitab. You may need to use your brain to find the equivalent function in Minitab for each in Data Desk, but they are both statistics software and the terminology is similar or identical.

For this exercise we need to calculate the Pearson Product-Moment correlation, and plot a Scatterplot. Hmmm... I bet Scatterplot is under the Graphs menu... yup. And correlation?

Found it!

Enjoy learning about statistics and sticking it to the man. If this article saved you $60, please consider donating $10 or more to the Guelph Humane Society. The pups and kitties will be grateful.

Profile of Mac vs. PC users

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