Monday, October 9, 2006

New CD available

I have a new CD available, it's available as a free download. You can get it by clicking on the picture below or by going to the way, I'm not sure if that technically makes it a CD, since there's no hard copy involved, especially if you just download it and import it into your iTunes or other media library. Oh well, whatever...

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

new places

I've moved to Manila, and now that I have internet access & a wireless card I will try to update this thing more often than I was doing in Seoul, Chicago or Shenyang.

One of my new projects here will be to try and record dreams I have when I remember them. Hope I'll remember to actually do this....


Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Life, the universe, and nothing....

Had a new job offer in Ansan, one hour outside Seoul on the Blue Line subway (line #4). So that's where I am, living in a studio apartment (in Chicago, it'd be called an "efficiency") just a few blocks from work and a short walk from the subway station, my bank, and my phone company. I have cable & internet in my apt., and a fridge & stove & washing machine. Pretty nice setup. On the first floor of the building I work in is a bakery, a small restaurant, and a 7-11. And there's another bakery right across the street! Also across the street is a bar (known as a "hof" in Korea) where I had some pretty excellent BBQ ribs after work tonight. I also just found out a really good friend of mine from Singapore is living in Ansan, so she and I will meet up on Thursday.


currently on my iPod: Modern Times, by Bob Dylan

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Updates from Seoul

A month in Korea

Wow, time flies... seems like just the other day I was getting dropped off at O'Hare. I remember being really nervous about my flight for no reason, like was my ticket actually there at the Korean Air counter? etc. Stupid stuff like that. Some guy sat next to me on the plane because there was a seat open, no other reason, even though he had his own assigned seat and I kept wishing he would go back to his seat. Never happened. At least some of the food was OK - they served bibimbap, kind of a Korean vegetable salad (cucumbers, radish, cabbage, carrots, and sometimes wild mountain greens) mixed with rice and a spicy sauce. Very delicious and authentic, especially for an airplane meal. The dinner was horrible, frozen ravioli drowned in tomato paste and topped with an American frozen mixed veggie assortment, made in Chicago and completely inedible. But served with an amazing tiramisu, I still don't know how they pulled that off.

I did get to watch a lot of movies on the seat-back movie screen in front of me - Weatherman, Fun With Dick & Jane, Narnia, etc. I also watched a really good Korean movie called "Typhoon" -the first half concerned this guy who sees his family die during the Korean war and he grows up to hate South Korea and the US. In the second half it degenerates into a Bond-style action film where he escapes from North Korea and threatens to unleash a million ballons filled with some pretty dangerous stuff over Seoul during a major storm. It's up to, like, one guy, to stop him, a recently graduated lieutenant in the South's army.

When I got to Seoul I had to go through immigration, customs, etc. and then change dollars to won and find my bus, since there was no-one from the school there to meet me. Then it was an hour and a half by bus to where the school was, through terrible traffic backed up along the Han River. Tons of extremely modern apartments, cars, houses, shopping complexes, government buildings - Seoul is the world's 5th largest city and the sheer size of it just boggles the mind. There are over 10 million people in the city, where as Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea only has 2 million. Everyone here is pretty well dressed and they all have really fancy cell phones. Keep in mind that 2 of the world's largest cell phone manufacturers, Samsung and LG, are based here. There are tons of small restaurants, stores, street vendors, open-air markets, and the largest number of bars, nightclubs and internet cafes I've ever seen. The subway is really clean, fast and efficient and so are the taxis and buses. Seoul is also really safe - women walk down dark alleys here at 3 in the morning with no problem at all.

My school is all right, I'm just learning all the ropes. There really is a lot to take in at first, but I'm getting the hang of it all. I know as soon as I have the whole system memorized, it'll all change! So I shouldn't get too comfortable. I teach all age levels, from my first class at 3 p.m. of Kindergarten age children to my last one at 9 pm of high school age. I have some great coworkers: Kim (from Toronto), Lyle (North Dakota), Scott (UK), Les (Seattle), Mike, Charlie, Will (still not sure where they're from), plus my Korean coworkers Marty, Rose, Sienna, Sally, Lucy, Esther, Michelle, Anna, Monica, and a few more.

On the weekends I like to check out some areas of the city I haven't seen yet - like Apgujeong, kind of Seoul's answer to Rodeo Drive or Michigan Avenue, with posh boutiques (Chanel, Ralph Lauren, Louis Vuitton) and some totally bizarre pet stores, where your dog can get a manicure/pedicure, shop for designer doggie clothes and get specially baked doggie treats for the discerning pooch. This weekend I'm going to an arts festival near Hongik Univerity, with some modern and traditional art and music presented entirely from the perspective of women. Should be interesting.

I really enjoy Seoul, today I spent about 4 hours in this really cool coffee shop talking with a friend and drinking jasmine tea. Afterwards we went and had some really good Vietnamese noodles. Both the coffee shop and the Vietnamese place I discovered completely by accident, and that's a cool thing about Seoul - little surprises around every corner. There are also some cool record cafes, where you can sit and have a drink and request music off the owner's large collection of vinyl records.

When I first got here, everything seemed so modern and bleak and sterile, but today it was raining and the air and light of the city had a different feel - dark, mysterious, romantic. Today on the subway going home, I was riding in the front car when suddenly there was a commotion and lots of people started running and screaming away from someone or something. I heard some guy yelling and realized this guy was crazy and was just being loud but he certainly scared everyone. He had kind of a disheveled appearance, was really thin and had long hair and was wearing black clothes. When the train pulled into the station, he jumped up and kicked the door really hard. Then an older Korean man yelled at him, something like, "Hey, what are you? Crazy? Look at how you've scared all these people! You should be ashamed of yourself!" or some words to that effect. He got off at that station and no one else wanted to get off, they were pretty shaken. I'm just glad he didn't have a weapon and that no one was hurt.

Then when I was walking from the subway station I saw three young guys tumble don the stairs of a second floor bar, where they had obviously had waaaay too much to drink, and they immediately started fighting in the street - kicking, punching, etc. A crowd of spectators gathered at a safe distance, oddly enough the police never showed up. Weird....

I'm now officially a Seoul resident, as I recieved my resident alien card the other day. Whoop-dee-doo, this calls for a party. No, really I am excited, just that it's been a long week and I came down with a cold over the last few days. I hope to get a little rest over the weekend and I've found some really good orange juice (not conventrated, with the pulp still in it - yum!) and am trying to get back to my regular health. I had a massive sinus headache the other day at work - ugh. But my back problems have cleared up......

More later,

mailing address: Rick Vaughn c/o YBM-ECC Language Institute Mia 3-dong 202-2 Joong-Ang Bldg. 2/F Kangbuk-gu, Seoul Republic Of Korea cell phone: (82)10-3980-1559 home phone: (82)10-983-6693

Sunday, April 30, 2006

My life story

Here's a project I've been thinking of for about 10 years, the film version of my life experiences, and it will feature well known actors in very short cameos. Some of them won't even know they're in the movie, like Steve Martin did to Eddie Murphy in Bowfinger. Anyways, here are the latest casting additions:

Lucy Liu as Rainbow


Fred Armisen as Hector


Mike Myers as Joyce


Christina Ricci as Rossanne


...and of course, I'll be played by:

Anthony Edwards as Rick

stay tuned...... :-)

Friday, April 21, 2006

Eric Idle at Borders

I was in line at 7:55, at Borders on State, even though the signing started at 12:30. There were a couple people ahead of me, including one Creepy Lady who was standing in front of the door, waiting to get in. As soon as the doors opened we made a beeline for the top floor, where the line started. Creepy Lady only kind of stood in line for like 2 seconds then went downstairs and sat in the cafe for a couple of hours. I guess she expected the rest of us to keep her place, because when she came back up demanded to take her rightful place at the front of the line. We pretty much managed to ignore her demands, and block her from cutting in front! Creepy Lady wanted her book personalized the following way: "Dear ____________ (i forget her name), I'm sorry that Robin Williams had to spoil your Buddy Hackett moment. Sincerely, Eric Idle." Whatever that meant. Lori, the event manager, told her there was not much chance of that happening at all.

Oddly enough, the Borders staff insisted on playing Madonna ("Cherish" sticks in my head, even as I write this) but switched it to the Spamalot cast recording seconds before Eric Idle and John Du Prez made their entrance. Eric came in wearing a white suit with no tie, a light blue shirt, and sunglasses - very Hollywood, and quite appropriate for the nice sunny warm weather Chicago is suddenly having. He said one or two words, posed for a couple of photos ("Look, you're on the web!" he said to John, pointing to the number of cell phone cameras snapping shots from the audience) then proceeded to launch into a rousing version of "Sit On My Face", leading the audience in the final chorus. Funny, I had just commented a few minutes earlier on how they probably were't playing "Eric Idle Sings Monty Python" or even "Spamalot" because this was a "family" bookstore... and now this!

Just when I got to the signing table, and was placing in front of Eric the items mentioned in my last post, someone from either Borders or the publicity people announced they were only signing the "Spamalot" CD and the book, "The Greedy Bastard Diary : A Comic Tour of America" so I was left holding a pile of stuff. Guess what? Eric took one look at it, gave me a kind of "give it here, lad" look, and signed all the swag anyways. I've always said he was all right! I got a free pair of coconuts too, imported by real African swallows (but I always thought those were non-migratory....)

A side note: what's up with the armed police escorts at Borders events? Are Borders management that suspicious and distrustful of their customers? I recall this at the Margaret Cho event on Michigan Avenue, and found it a little inappropriate. But then again, there were people like Creepy Lady, who made me and my friend Jamie a little more pleased to have them around (just in case).

Thursday, April 20, 2006

First 100 get a free pair of coconuts.....

Eric Idle will be at Borders on State Street tomorrow, signing copies of the cast recording of Spamalot. I'll be there in line (8:00 a.m.!) and bringing the following for him to sign:

1) A can of SPAM Golden Honey Grail;

2) The lid from a carton of Ben & Jerry's Vermonty Python Ice Cream;

3) DVD slip covers from The Rutles, The Holy Grail, and Baron Munchausen;

4) and, just to make it especially difficult on the man, a photo of he and I at the Chicago Theater across the street, Thanksgiving weekend, 1999.

If he refuses to sign all of these items (a refusal is highly unlikely), I shall have no choice but to say, "Ni!" to him....

Too bad I won't be able to afford tickets to the actual show, but I'll be flying out of the country on the 23rd anyways, but I sure would enjoy it if Spamalot plays in Seoul.
Your Japanese Name Is...

Takumi Tokudaiji

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Beijing will use artificial rain to clear air

Beijing will use artificial rainmaking to clear the air after a choking dust storm coated China's capital and beyond with yellow grit, prompting a health warning to keep children indoors, state media said Tuesday.

The huge storm blew dust far beyond China's borders, blanketing South Korea and reaching Tokyo.

The storm, reportedly the worst in at least five years, hit Beijing overnight Sunday, turning the sky yellow and forcing residents to dust off and hose down cars and buildings.

Hospitals reported a jump in cases of breathing problems, state television said.

The government was preparing to seed clouds to make rain to clear the air, state TV said, citing the Central Meteorological Bureau. It did not elaborate, and the bureau refused to release more information.

Storms carrying chalky dust from the north China plain hit Beijing every spring, but newspapers said this week's was the heaviest since at least 2001. The Beijing Daily Messenger said 300,000 tonnes of sand and dust were dumped on the city Monday.

That was "definitely one of the most serious pollution days in Beijing," weather forecaster Yang Keming said, according to the China Daily newspaper. "Small children had better stay at home during such days."

The dust reached Tokyo on Tuesday, the first time that has happened in six years, said Naoko Takashina of Japan's Meteorological Agency. Dust from China was found in more than 50 locations throughout the country, she said.

The Japanese agency warned of reduced visibility but did not say any health dangers were expected.

In South Korea, a light layer of dust blanketed the country, but no ill effects were reported. Rain was forecast overnight Tuesday, and the weather bureau said it should clear the air.

The dust storms are expected to last through at least Wednesday in Beijing, neighbouring Tianjin and a swath of north China stretching from Jilin province in the northeast through Inner Mongolia to Xinjiang in the desert northwest, the China Daily and other media said.

That region is home to hundreds of millions of people.

More storms were expected later in the week in Xinjiang and other parts of the northwest, according to news reports.

China's government has been replanting green belts of trees throughout the north in an effort to trap the dust after decades when the storms worsened amid heavy tree-cutting.

Last week, the western Xinjiang region was hit by its worst sand storm in decades, which killed one person and left thousands stranded after sand covered railways and high winds smashed train and car windows.

Image courtesy the SeaWiFS Project, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, and ORBIMAGE

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

KFA online shopping mall

Here is the official online souvenir store operated by agents of the North Korean government. I thought you may want to take a look at this, it's hilarious. Apart from ridiculously high prices, it seems the comments and customer reviews are completely unmoderated! Check it out now while you can.

Also, from an official North Korean website, here's an article promoting a restaurant in Pyongyang where dog meat is the house specialty: The Pyongyang Tangogi Restaurant


I'll be leaving on Sunday, April 23rd, 12:55 p.m., Korean Air KE0038 direct from Chicago-O'Hare to Seoul-Incheon (17 hours I think). I'll probably go to the airport early so I have time to go through TSA and all their reactionary no-shoes dance (hopefully no probes of any sort!). I will arrive in Seoul at 4:30 p.m. the next day, April 24th since I have to cross the International Date Line. Somehow that's preferable, so I can go to my apartment and crash and have a few hours to sleep and adjust. Hopefully this will ward off some of the effects of jet lag. But then again, maybe not.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

From Does the word "waeguk" bother you?

My answer: No. My ancestors were from Ireland, and were definitely discriminated against on moving to America. What did they do? Learned to live with it, and eventually overcame it. Watch "Gangs Of New York" if you really want to know what happened. I used to get upset in the Philippines when people would call out "hey Joe!" (traditionally used when referring to US soldiers, after WW2) as I walked down the street, but what can you do? Nothing. So I just learned to ignore it. One of my Chinese co-teachers in Liaoning province never could remember my name, so she just always called me, "Chicago". Which I found rather cute, actually. Now the people on the street yelling, "laowai!" (Mandarin equivalent of Cantonese "gweilo") on the other hand... definitely annoying. Once again, what can you do? There's a billion of 'em. Ignore it.

I used to hear "haole" all the time in Saipan, a US territory in the Pacific, this being a loan word from the Hawaiians (Polynesians) as the Chamorros (who are Micronesians) don't really have their own word for "outsiders" ("haole", meaning "ghost" - literally, "without breath" was used in Hawaii since time immemorial to refer to "Western" missionaries). And, more frequently, I'd hear "American" in reference to white people, which was ridiculous since Saipan residents claim US citizenship, so are by definition, "Americans" themselves (and even claim "Native American" status when aplying for college scholarships or admission). But what could I do? Get involved in a verbal debate or, God forbid, a fight, with some 350-lb. Chamorro guy juiced up on betel nut, Budweiser and soju? I think not.

I know non-whites in parts of America get called a lot worse. One of my African-American friends told me a few years ago he was considering starting a class for white people living overseas, since we're only just going through now what they've gone through their whole lives, at home. This is why minorities from Westen countries do much better... they've already experienced the staring, name calling, discrimination and much worse in their home countries, and are used to it already. At least the locals are only calling you "wayguk", or saying "hello" and giggling/running away, and leaving it at that. It's not as if they were burning crosses outside your apartment or lynching ESL teachers. Grow up.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

My Amazon review of Franken's "The Truth, with Jokes"

Saipan chapter needs fact checking, April 11, 2006
Reviewer: Richard D. Vaughn (Saipan, Northern Marianas, U.S.A.) - See all my reviews

While I am a fan of Mr. Franken's, and enjoyed reading this book there were some errors in the chapter about Saipan and the US Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

First of all, Mr. Franken cites the minimum wage on Saipan and her neighboring islands as being $3.15/hour. Not true. It is still $3.05, even as of 2006. I know, I lived on Saipan for nearly five years and have worked for this amount before. Various officials in Saipan and in Washington have lobbied at various times to change laws regarding this, and bring labor and immigration policies here up to Federal standards, but have been accused of prying into local affairs and violating the Covenant between the CNMI and Uncle Sam.

Next, Mr. Franken states that Saipan was where the bombers took off for Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Again, not true. The island that earned this dubious honor was the neighboring island of Tinian. I should know, I've been there too and have seen the pits where the bombs were loaded into the planes, and toured the runways.

Also, Mr. Franken states that the members of the Congressional junket stayed at the Hyatt Regency Saipan in 1997 or 1998 (the book was not clear on what year this took place) and were entertained at the SandCastle theater. This is also not true. The SandCastle Saipan facility did not exist until 2003. I should also know this, since I worked on the technical team that actually built the place.

I don't believe that there are any facilities on Saipan where the forced abortions Mr. Franken mentions were allowed to take place, seeing as the Mariana Islands are predominately Catholic. Rather, the pregnant garment workers would have to be sent for a short "vacation" back home in China, where the necessary procedure would take place, all in cooperation with the Chinese government.

Other than that, I found this book to be funny and well written. I just wish Mr. Franken would employ more dilligent fact checkers when he sits down to write his next masterpiece.

Sunday, April 9, 2006

Going to Korea

Hi all,

I've decided to go to Korea to work as an English teacher. After many delays (I first thought about this back around January) I'm just about ready. A few weeks ago I had to send some documents off via US Postal Service, now my papers have been approved by Korean immigration and on Tuesday I should be able to pick up my work visa from the Korean consulate in downtown Chicago. I'll be living and working in northern Seoul, about one hour's drive south of the DMZ. In fact, if the North Koreans ever decide to invade, I guess I'll be right in their way! lol

I have not been to Seoul since 1992, and I'm sure many things have changed since then. I used to see old men in traditional clothes and straw hats sitting (or crouched resting on their feet, rather) in the middle of a busy street, scenic overlooks with a stall nearby selling microwaved corn dogs, discarded VCRs in a drainage ditch, and, the most unusual to me at the time, a female attendant in the men's bathroom. I remember my friend Pete, from the UK, found a perfecty good working telephone in the trash behind the KBS offices. At the time, the Seoul subway system had no English signs, only Korean, which I did not know how to read at the time (until an older British missionary who had been in Korea some 40 years gave me an index card with some language notes on it, for which I am eternally indebted to him).

image above: National Broadcasting Corporation/NBC tower in Chicago that houses the Korean Consulate)

For those of you wondering just how many people live in this here place I'm going to, here is a list of the world's top 30 cities and their populations (hint: Seoul's #4, Chicago is #28):

1Tokyo36 769 213Japan
2New York22 531 069United States of America
3México City
22 414 319Mexico
4Seoul22 173 711Korea (South)
5Mumbai/Bombay19 944 372India
6São Paulo19 357 485Brazil
7Jakarta17 928 968Indonesia
8Manila17 843 620Philippines
9Los Angeles17 767 199United States of America
10Dilli17 753 087India
11Osaka-Kobe-Kyoto17 524 809Japan
12al-Qāhirah/Cairo15 707 992Egypt
13Shanghai14 871 156China
14Kolkata/Calcutta14 681 589India
15Moskva/Moscow14 520 800Russia
16Buenos Aires13 470 240Argentina
17London12 524 316United Kingdom
18Tehran12 183 682Iran
19Karāchi11 969 284Pakistan
20Dhaka11 918 442Bangladesh
21Istanbul11 912 511Turkey
22Rio de Janeiro11 826 609Brazil
23Rhein-Ruhr11 793 829Germany
24Paris11 633 822France
25Beijing11 537 036China
26Lagos11 153 863Nigeria
27Krung Thep/Bangkok9 996 388Thailand
28Chicago9 464 886United States of America
29Kinshasa-Brazzaville9 343 416Congo (Dem. Rep.)
30Xianggang8 855 399China

No, I did not spend any military time in Korea. I was a worker for a missions/aid organization and visited 5-6 different cities on a ship. Mostly we sold books and collected medical and dental supplies for the newly-opened port of Vladivostok in Russia (which we visited that summer). I was in the army between 1993-94 but never went overseas (just Colorado) and finally was able to get a medical discharge and go to college on a scholarship... military life was just not for me!

I did try some dog in a Korean restaurant in northern China (when I was there in 2005); my mistake, I ordered the wrong soup, the menu was not in English or Korean, only Chinese. There were pictures, but they weren't very clear! Only after I had drank some of the soup and tried some meat did my friend let me know I was having dog. Not anything that you may want to eat, I think. I'll stick to kalbi and bulgogi instead!

My cell phone number will probably get cut off at some point, but give it a try anyways... and if all else fails, e-mail me! That's actually the best way to contact me, even in Korea (I'll probably spend most of my non-working time down the street at the local PC-방. As soon as I get to Korea, I'll let you know what my cell phone number is. I have three cell phones, all of them made by Samsung, and at least one of them should work in Seoul!


Friday, April 7, 2006

Reposted article about Korean food in China

Note: this is a post I wrote back in September of 2005 when I was teaching in Liaoning Province, northern China:

Seeing as I live in Shenyang, a city in northern China that is only a stone's throw from the North Korean border, I got this evening about as close as I'll ever realistically get to Pyongyang this evening - without needing a visa, that is.

I was invited by a couple of Chinese friends for dinner at a place near the city center calling itself "Korean Barbecue". Yes, that's the name of the restaurant, in 10-foot high neon letters .

Greeting us at the front door of the Nanjing Road establishment were two young Chinese men in fairly authentic North Korean military dress uniforms. Kinda freaked me out at first. Ya know? The only thing missing was a portrait of Kim Il Sung on the wall (a picture of Kim Jr. would have put me off my meal).

Even the guy who came to take away the coals was dressed in fatigues and had dyed blond hair and looked a little like Rick Yune in Die Another Day, where 007 sneaks into North Korea by high-tech surf boards.

The staff were quite good at explaining the menu in English and Chinese and even Korean, but one thing they failed to mention was that the soup I ordered, normally made with pork, this time contained dog. Yes, that's right, dog. Uh huh. Lassie. Bowser. Man's best friend. Etc. Mind you, this was only casually mentioned by one of my dining companions, "oh, by the way, that's dog you just took a bite of."

Needless to say, I stuck with the beef (bulgogi) BBQ.Afterwards (and sometimes during the meal) the staff brought us dessert, which consisted of sliced watermelon, melon ice cream, and some little fried bits of dough liberally coated in sugar. Midway through the meal they brought us damp towels, which I think you actually use before the eating starts (or after, I think).On the way out the door the immaculately attired North Korean soldier turned waiter gave us some fake Wrigley's "peppermint" chewing gum.

I would definitely recommend this restaurant to anyone who loves Korean food (including the occasional canine - the sign outside should be a poster for that John Cusack movie, which by the way is already on DVD at Walmart here), or has a good command of Chinese, and dosen't mind attentive staff to the point of being slightly overbearing. I had a good experience, if nothing else for the atmosphere and some good bibimbap.

****NEW CONTENT, APRIL 2006****
One of the best meals I had in China was at a Brazilian restaurant (the name of which I cannot recall) on south Nanjing Road, Shenyang, in September of 2005. This is one of those places where the waiters come around to your table with meat on skewers and slice off large portions on to your plate. I had some fantastic beef, lamb and roasted chicken. There was also a quite comprehensive salad bar featuring various fresh and cooked vegetables, soup, and assorted types of sushi (including kimbap). The highlight of the meal had to have been the beer, freshly brewed on the premises.

While having my meal, a man came over to my table and introduced himself. He turned out to be Australian and had been in Shenyang visiting in-laws with his local wife and their daughter. Turns out they had been entertaining family in the restaurant since sometime early that afternoon, and he was eager to talk to have someone to speak to in English finally. I was equally desperate for conversation with a native English speaker, after nearly a month working in a Chinese-only company. Over a pitcher of beer, which he described as "bloody good brew, mate", he told me which items were good and which to avoid (he didn't need to tell me to avoid the chicken livers or fish balls, though). He turned out to run his own upholstery shop back in Oz, though he struck me more as a sheep herder or rancher. Nice fellow, anyways. And good company during the meal. While we talked, his half-Chinese daughter ran all over the restaurant, playing and being spoiled by the staff, who kept remarking on her cuteness. He said that is a problem, bringing young children with you to Asia, they get so spoiled and treated like princes/princesses that when they return to the "West" there's some major counter-culture shock for the youngsters.

Afterwards, I said goodbye to my new friend and his family, and departed - no need to pay the bill, I had already paid in advance, even though it was a sit-down restaurant - this was something the staff insisted on. Maybe they've seen too many people eat and drink their fill and then run out on their tab.Another interesting dining experience was at Pizza Hut, which is in the Heiping District on one of the major shopping streets (coincidentally, right next door to Wal-Mart). This is a more formal sit down experience, with soft lighting, nice decorations, and an line to get a seat - must be popular! One Chinese girl, Helen, a coworker of mine I had dinner with here remarked, "I get the feeling this place is mostly just for foreigners" at which I had her look around the room at the predominately Chinese clientele. The pizza was good, there was a salad bar (one trip only so make sure to load up the first time), and imported beer in bottles. Not somewhere I'd eat all the time, but good for a little treat once in a while.


Ben & Jerry's, the South Burlington, Vermont-based ice cream company has recently released a Monty Python themed ice cream!

The company started selling the officially licensed confection, called Vermonty Python, on February 6, according to company sources. The ice cream is only available in the traditional pint-sized containers, and may likely be found in your local grocery store. The packaging features suitably Pythonesque images, mostly a Holy Grail/Spamalot theme (including the Python Grail) and the following text:

We interrupt ourselves with much hooting through tin horns to bring you this brilliant new ice cream, made from dried shrubbery and old cereal packets. This is a ripping good flavor, really, so buy it quickly and run away, silly person, or we shall taunt you a second time.

The flavor is coffee liqueur ice cream with a chocolate cookie crumb swirl & fudge cows. Think tiramisu with chocolate treats! It's fantastic!

Monday, April 3, 2006

CTA announces "Pink Line", more to come (stay tuned....)

Causing a lot of furor, uproar and mayhem amongst Chicagoans, the Chicago Transit Authority announced the controversial "Pink Line", which actually is only part of a much larger plan for the Circle (or Silver) Line and anyways, and will probably only be in operation for maybe 6 months at the most. Don't get your knickers in a knot just yet, boys. Read more here and here.

Sunday, April 2, 2006

China's Super Girl Needs a Rescue

American Idol is big. Mongolian Cow Sour Yogurt Super Girl's Voice is huge. Super Girl--as China's dairy-company-sponsored imitation of Idol is known--drew a TV audience of 400 million for the finale of its four-month run last year. Voting by text message, viewers chose Li Yuchun, 21, a college student who sang like a man and sometimes dressed like Mick Jagger, as their 2005 Super Girl.

Li Yuchun, on the cover of Time Asia

It turns out that she may also be the last one. The State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, China's chief broadcast regulator, last week issued new rules governing Idol-inspired shows. The directive says contests should contribute to "constructing a harmonious socialist society ... [They] must not make a hubbub about things as they please and must avoid creating stars." These restrictions may or may not prevent Super Girl from securing permission to air, but they're certain to cramp the show's style.

Less certain is what prompted the rebuke, which has stoked vigorous debate among the show's Net-savvy fans. Some speculate that the authorities worried that voting for TV contestants would make the Chinese want to vote in other contexts, such as for their political leaders. Others thought Li and her fellow finalists were insufficiently prim role models. It's also possible that Super Girl--produced by a station in Hunan province--was upstaging CCTV, China's national network, which produces its own more subdued but far less popular ersatz Idol.

Future Super Girls may see their ambitions quashed, but the directive reserves its harshest orders for prospective judges, who "should be positive and healthy ... They must not make contestants embarrassed." That last part may explain the original Simon Cowell's take on the Chinese rules: "Crazy."

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Rick & Joel @ Great America
amusement park,mid-1980s
Rick, Grayslake IL, late 1980s
Rick, Chicago, late 1980s
Rick & Russ, Chicago, late 1980s

"magic kingdom"

Disney World, Orlando FL, 1977
Dad, Mom, Rick

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Panda painted onto single hair

Chinese micro-painter Jing Ying Hua has painted an image of a giant panda on a single human hair.

The artist took 10 days to create the mini-masterpiece using a single rabbit hair as a paintbrush.

Vistors to a Chinese gallery viewed the painting through a microscope at 50,000 times magnification.

Panda painting

The image was magnified 50,000 times

Other micro-painters include Russian artist Valeriy Dvoryanov who creates oil paintings of famous people on poppy seeds and grains of rice.

His biggest work to date is 2003's picture of the Titanic, on a 2-mm-long mineral sliver.

One of his works is inscribed with the words: "I have loved the sun all my life and always wanted to paint the sun" in letters a fraction of a millimetre wide, painted using a sharpened human hair.

And in 2002, Micro-artist Willard Wigan spent months designing, sculpting and painting a miniature figure of Muhammad Ali fighting Sonny Liston on a pin head.

His collection includes a Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Tower Bridge and Jesus - each fitted into the eye of a needle.

It also features a minute Statue of Liberty and a boxing ring containing Lennox Lewis and Evander Holyfield.

When idiots reign supreme

Ok, let me get this straight: George Bush is upset because a Christian is being harrassed in a Muslim country. Lots of Muslims get harrassed in Christian countries and no-one does anything about it. Why is that?

Friday, March 17, 2006

separated at birth: Bill Murray & Slobodan Milosevic


Originally uploaded by rixmail99.


Originally uploaded by rixmail99.


Originally uploaded by rixmail99.


Originally uploaded by rixmail99.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

'Creative plumbing' delivers beer

A woman said she thought she was in heaven when she turned on the kitchen tap to find a plentiful supply of beer.

Haldis Gundersen was planning to do the washing up when she made the unusual discovery at her apartment in Kristiansund, west Norway.

But two flights below, workers in a bar faced the more disappointing realisation that water was flowing from their beer taps.

A worker had connected a beer barrel to the apartment water pipe by mistake.

"I turned on the tap to clean some knives and forks, and beer came out," Ms Gundersen told Reuters news agency. "We thought we were in heaven."

But the beer was flat and tasted odd, she said.

'Really creative'

Downstairs at the Big Tower Bar, workers realised what the problem was - a new barrel had been misconnected to Ms Gundersen's water supply.

"The water and beer pipes do touch each other, but you have to be really creative to connect them together," said Per Egil Myrvang from the local beer distributor. He helped employees to rectify the problem over the telephone.

Ms Gundersen bore no grudge. "If it happens again, I'm going to order Baileys," she said.

In Norway, the sale of alcohol is controlled through a state monopoly and beer prices are some of the highest in the world.

Tuesday, March 7, 2006


Coming home party for the great hunter (Russ)
on his return from safari..........

featuring Joel, Joy, Pearl & Matty; Jason, Kat & Isabeau;
Mom & Dad; Russ; Bob; and Rick.

Originally uploaded by rixmail99.


Originally uploaded by rixmail99.


Originally uploaded by rixmail99.


Originally uploaded by rixmail99.


Originally uploaded by rixmail99.


Originally uploaded by rixmail99.


Originally uploaded by rixmail99.


Originally uploaded by rixmail99.


Originally uploaded by rixmail99.

Introductory post (shamelessly copied from the e-mail)

Hi gang,

Here's the address to a family blog I set up.... you are all members and have posting priveleges; kind of a message board to keep updated (just for us!!!)... enjoy!


Thursday, March 2, 2006

Drawings you should see...

Here's a recent oil painting that my brother-in-law, Jason Seiler, did of Johnny Cash:

...quite impressive, I think. And he claims it only took him an hour. OK. Here's another:

...that one's a sketch, which he says only took 20 minutes. Wow. I'm impressed.

To view more, or to contact Jason, visit his site at

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Closure of American Citizen Services on Wednesday, March 8

Dear American Citizens,

In 1999, the Chinese Government passed a law declaring March 8 to be a half-day national holiday in observance of International Women's Day. In keeping with Chinese practice, the U.S. China Mission will officially close at 12:00 p.m. on Wednesday, March 8, 2006. Therefore, March 8th we will not offer any American Citizen Servcies.

We apologize for the inconvenience this may cause. Thank you for your understanding and cooperation.

American Citizen Services Unit
US Consulate General
Shenyang, China
Tel: 86-24-2322-1198

Monday, February 27, 2006

Sex Pistols say No to Hall of Fame

Most bands are honoured to become a part of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame but then again most bands are not the Sex Pistols.

The always controversial Sex Pistols were to be inducted into the Hall of Fame this year but have refused.

In a hand written statement full of spelling and grammatical errors with language not repeatable in polite company, the band essentially indicates that they will not be at the Hall of Fame induction and do not wish to be inducted. The message is posted on their official website.

Though the band was highly volatile and only together for a short period of time in the seventies they quickly became one of the most influential punk bands. Embodying the British wave of the Punk movement the Sex Pistols were a huge influence on bands like Rancid and the Libertines.

Though the band essentially broke up in the late seventies they reunited several times to tour in 1996, 2002 and 2003.

Other bands and musicians that will be inducted into the Hall of Fame include Black Sabbath, Blondie, Miles Davis and Lynyrd Skynyrd. The honours will be handed out March 13 at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York.

View: God Save The Queen

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Clooney: I'm a proud traitor

Actor and director George Clooney says he is proud to be denounced as unpatriotic for questioning US policy because he wanted to be on "the right side of history".

Interviewed on BBC television about his latest films Syriana and Good Night, and Good Luck, Clooney said that not only did he accept the right to be attacked for his views but he even relished them.

Clooney, who has weathered attacks since opposing the 2003 Iraq invasion, said at one point that it was "frustrating" to be listed as a "traitor" on a set of playing cards, but he also accepted people's right to free speech.

He later admitted he relished the attacks.

"I think it's important to be on the right side of history," Clooney said.

"I want to be on that deck of cards. And I want to be able to say that they boycotted my films. I want to be able to say I was on the cover of a magazine called a 'traitor.'

"I'm proud of those because those were badges of honour for me because that was when you did it when it was hard to do."

Clooney has received critical acclaim for Syriana - about oil politics and Islamic extremism - and for Good Night, and Good Luck, a reminder of the threat to civil liberties through a story about the anti-communist hysteria in the United States of the 1950s.

Clooney said Syriana did not single out US President George W Bush's administration for attack, though it "certainly goes at this administration" as well as at 60 years of failed Middle East policy.

"If it's an attack, it's because you're asking questions," Clooney said.

Clooney has said the chilling effect of the September 11, 2001 attacks on US politics had inspired Syriana and its unflinching look at the ways extremism and political instability are fostered by the interests of big oil.


Saturday, February 25, 2006


watch this cool interview with Melissa Auf der Maur
of Hole/Smashing Pumpkins...

Friday, February 24, 2006

news updates

Philippines: Emergency rule 'to stop coup' dismays old allies

EMERGENCY rule was declared yesterday by President Arroyo of the Philippines, who said that she had to forestall a coup attempt timed for this weekend’s 20th anniversary of the people-power uprising that toppled the dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

She provoked furious protests in Manila after detaining an army general and claiming that there had been a conspiracy between political opponents, soldiers and communist rebels to bring her down.

Troops manned roadblocks in the capital as thousands of angry protesters fought with riot police after the announcement, which capped months of coup rumours. A dozen military coups have plagued the Philippines since the fall of Marcos in 1986.

Corazon Aquino, the first post-Marcos President and a former Arroyo ally, joined protesters who included nuns and priests. Police turned fire hoses on a crowd of 5,000, and were pelted with stones. Catholic bishops appealed for calm.

Mrs Arroyo has been tormented by street protests, waning popularity and fears of brewing trouble in the Army since allegations against her last year of vote-rigging and claims that her husband had profited from illegal gambling rings.

Introducing emergency rule, which allows arrest without warrants, is a political gamble just before an emotionally charged anniversary recalling the greatest success of Filipino democrats.

Critics accused her of overreacting and trying to take on dictatorial powers as the peso and stock index fell in value.

Mrs Arroyo was defiant. In a broadcast address, she said: “This is my warning to those conspiring against the country — the full force of the law will fall on your betrayal.” She added that she had authorised the military and police “to take the necessary measures”, and described a “systematic conspiracy” by members of the opposition, communist groups and “ military adventurists” to bring down her Government.

Brigadier-General Danilo Lim, the soldier accused of leading the plotters, had been detained before in connection with a coup attempt in 1989.

The President, in power since 2001, is an economist who pledged to improve the country’s dire economic performance, but she has failed to win much popularity.

Thailand: leader gambles on early poll to subdue rebellion

HE ROSE from humble policeman to the owner of one of Asia’s most powerful business empires, and won two landslide election victories as Thailand’s self-styled “CEO premier”.

But yesterday the once-unassailable Thaksin Shinawatra confronted growing opposition to his autocratic Government by calling an election three years ahead of schedule.

Mr Thaksin, who was returned to office for a third term just over a year ago, stunned the nation by dissolving parliament and calling elections for April 2. It was a dramatic counter-attack against his opponents, who brought thousands of demonstrators to the streets of Bangkok in successive weekends, and the biggest gamble of his colourful political career.

The gamble will probably pay off for Mr Thaksin, who in recent weeks appeared to have lost his sure touch, provoking a middle-class rebellion among city dwellers who had voted for him with enthusiasm little more than a year ago. Now he is embattled. His popularity has slumped, according to opinion polls, and former admirers speak of him with venom.

For many, the last straw was the sale of Shin Corp, his family’s giant telecoms business, to a Singapore state company for $1.7 billion (£1 billion). There was disappointment that it was bought by a foreign company. Mr Thaksin’s family paid no tax on the profits, causing outrage among middle-class salarymen, some of Mr Thaksin’s most loyal supporters.

Although the terms of the transaction were legal, condemnation of the way it was structured was universal. Simmering anger over past corruption scandals and alleged abuses of power exploded. In 2001 Mr Thaksin was accused of concealing assets by transferring company shares to family members, servants and a security guard. He has also been accused of hiring old school friends for key posts and handing out sweetheart contracts to build an international airport.

But although people in Thailand’s cities may have had enough of their leader’s self-serving stunts, bloody crackdowns on insurgents and criminals, and dubious business practices, there is one place where the people love him: the countryside, where 70 per cent of voters live.

Yesterday 3,000 farmers from villages near Bangkok cheered the man who has brought some of the new prosperity of Thailand’s urban world into the impoverished villages. “If you are sick of me, send me home,” he told them. “But if you want to continue using me, vote for me and I will work for you.”

After a meeting with the revered King of Thailand yesterday, Mr Thaksin began his re-election campaign in earnest, promising pay rises and tax breaks for public sector employees. But the election will be won or lost among farmers, the strongest supporters of his Thai Rak Thai (Thais love Thais) Party. Business leaders also welcomed an election that should end the growing mood of uncertainty in a country nervous of street protests and their potential to turn violent. The main stock exchange rose slightly after weeks of wobbling, although protesters have vowed to hold a third demonstration in Bangkok tomorrow.

Mr Thaksin looks almost sure to win the vote on April 2, but his party is likely to be returned with a much-reduced majority. In a country used to weak governments, Mr Thaksin’s bold style and colourful approach have revolutionised politics. The billionaire captain of industry has instilled in Thais a sense of pride in their nation. Yet some of his most loyal supporters are joining the protesters in Bangkok calling for his resignation.

Among them is Chamlong Srimuang, leader of a bloody revolt that helped to oust a military-backed government in 1992. The presence of Mr Thaksin’s first political mentor at rallies has fanned fears that the campaign could descend into violence. “I can’t stand mob rule and I won’t allow them to exert any pressure on me,” Mr Thaksin said. “I respect decisions by the majority of the people, but not by some groups who claim that they have a mandate to decide on behalf of the people.”

  • Charismatic, he ranks 18th on Forbes’ list of South-East Asia’s richest
  • First democratically elected PM to serve second consecutive term
  • In 2004 tried to buy 30 per cent of Liverpool FC, funded by state lottery
  • Crusade against drugs led to deaths of 2,500
  • Hardline approach to insurgency in south. About 80 died in army custody, most suffocated in lorries

Monday, February 20, 2006

After Flowering as Forum, Wikipedia Is Blocked Again

BEIJING -- When access to Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia that anyone can edit, was disrupted across China last October, a lanky chemical engineer named Shi Zhao called his Internet service provider to complain. A technician confirmed what Shi already suspected: Someone in the government had ordered the site blocked again.

Who and why were mysteries, Shi recalled, but the technician promised to pass his complaint on to higher authorities if he put it in writing.

"Wikipedia isn't a Web site for spreading reactionary speech or a pure political commentary site," Shi, 33, wrote a few days later. Yes, it contained entries on sensitive subjects such as Taiwan and the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, but users made sure its articles were objective, he said, and blocking it would only make it harder for people in China to delete "harmful" content.

Shi was hopeful the government would agree. When the site was blocked in 2004, he had submitted a similar letter, and access had been quickly restored. Since then, the Chinese-language edition of Wikipedia had grown, broadening its appeal not only as a reference tool but also as a forum where people across China and the Chinese diaspora could gather, share knowledge and discuss even the most divisive subjects.

But today, four months after Shi submitted his letter, Wikipedia remains blocked.

The government has declined to explain its actions. But its on-again, off-again attempts to disrupt access to the site highlight the Communist Party's deep ambivalence toward the Internet: The party appears at once determined not to be left behind by the global information revolution and fearful of being swept away by it.

Officials tolerated Wikipedia at first, perhaps because it seemed to be exactly what the party had in mind when it began promoting Internet use 11 years ago -- an educational resource that could help China close its technological gap with the West, encourage innovation and boost economic growth.

But as the Chinese Wikipedia flourished, the authorities apparently came to see it as another threat to the party's control of information, and an example of an even more worrying development. The Internet has emerged as a venue for people with shared interests -- or grievances -- to meet, exchange ideas and plan activities without the party's knowledge or approval.

With 111 million people online and 20,000 more joining them every day, the landscape of Chinese cyberspace resembles a vast collection of new and overlapping communities. Although Chinese write less e-mail than Americans, they embrace the Internet's other communication tools -- bulletin boards and chat rooms, instant-messaging groups and blogs, photo-sharing and social networking sites. A popular feature of the Chinese search engine Baidu lets users chat with others who have entered the same keywords.

Studies suggest this digital interaction is changing the traditional structure of Chinese society, strengthening relations among friends, colleagues and others outside family networks. In a multinational survey, a much larger percentage of Internet users in China than anywhere else said online communication had increased their contact with people who shared their hobbies, professions and political views.

The Communist Party polices these emerging Internet communities with censors and undercover agents, and manages a Web site that it said received nearly a quarter-million anonymous tips about "harmful information" online last year. But the methods the party uses to control speech and behavior in the real world have proved less effective in cyberspace, where people get away with more, and where the government is often a step behind.

When authorities catch up, citizens often have already weakened the party's grip on public life and succeeded in expanding civil society. They have organized charity drives for rural schoolchildren and mobilized students for anti-Japanese protest marches. And they learned to work together to write an encyclopedia.

"Wikipedia is special because other places don't have this kind of discussion, at least not such an intellectual discussion. It's a place where people with different backgrounds interact," said Shi, a prolific contributor to the Chinese Wikipedia. "But that wasn't even our goal. Our goal was just to produce an encyclopedia."

Meeting of Minds

Created by volunteers who write and edit articles in a collaborative process, Wikipedia is the Web's largest reference site, and it boasts editions in more than 200 languages.

The Chinese one, launched in May 2001, was blank for more than a year before Michael Yuan, a graduate student in mathematics at Beijing University, stumbled across it in a Google search. Yuan said he was enchanted by the English edition, and saw it as "an interesting place to study, hold discussions and share the pleasure of learning and writing." When he noticed the Chinese site was empty, he set out to build it.

On Oct. 30, 2002, Yuan created the first entry, a one-sentence definition of "mathematics." He was soon joined by Sheng Jiong, a Shanghai native studying law in Singapore, who wrote on the "People's Republic of China."

In the beginning, the Chinese edition was heavy with science and technology. The Norwegian mathematician Kirsten Nygaard was added before Sun Yat-sen, the father of modern China. But as months passed, people from around the world began to submit articles on a variety of subjects, including wine and cars, history and politics.

In July 2003, a prolific Hong Kong user known online as Lorenzarius sparked one of the site's first political debates with an essay urging people to avoid "China-centrism." He argued, for example, that the war that began when Japan invaded China in 1937 should be called the "Second Sino-Japanese War" instead of the "War of Resistance against Japan," as it is referred to by the party.

Most who responded posted objections, saying that almost all Chinese knew the war by its official name. But they also endorsed his larger point about trying to maintain a neutral point of view in Wikipedia's entries.

A few months later, another debate erupted over how contributors should resolve disputes on the site. Some advocated a system in which only the most active users could vote, but Sheng argued that all users should be treated equally. Lorenzarius concurred, and urged users to try to compromise and seek consensus before resorting to a vote.

To many educated in China, these governing principles of Wikipedia -- objectivity in content, equality among users, the importance of consensus -- were relatively new concepts. Yuan said he consulted the work of philosopher John Rawls and economist Friedrich Hayek to better understand how a free community could organize itself and "produce order from chaos."

"We had heard of these ideas, but they really didn't have much to do with our lives," said Yuan, now a computer programmer. "In school, we were taught an official point of view, not a neutral point of view. And we didn't learn much about how to cooperate with people who had different opinions."

In early 2004, state-run newspapers began writing positive articles about the Chinese Wikipedia, and the coverage fueled further growth. By February, more than 3,000 people had registered as users and there were more than 5,000 entries. By April, the site was getting nearly 100,000 page requests per day. By May, the number of definitions on the site had climbed past 10,000.

Then, on June 3, 2004, people in China who tried to visit Wikipedia saw an error page instead. The government had blocked the site on the eve of the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Story of Tiananmen Square

The entry on the "June 4 Incident" in the Chinese Wikipedia runs nearly 20 pages, but when it first appeared in September 2003, it was just three sentences. Posted by an anonymous user, it said troops seized control of Tiananmen Square after it had become a "base camp for various hostile forces." It did not mention any deaths or student protesters' demands for democracy.

Two months later, people began to edit the article, inserting a phrase about the pro-democracy movement and mentioning that "many city residents" were killed. But the Wikipedia community seemed hesitant. A few people tried to break the silence, adding thousands of words all at once. But others deleted them immediately.

Then, four months before Wikipedia was blocked, Sheng posted a message saying he planned to overhaul the entry. Slowly, he began writing a more detailed and objective account, posting it piece by piece, starting with a chronology of the demonstrations and putting off the more sensitive subject of the massacre for later. Another user noted that foreign news media had reported that more than 1,000 people were killed.

The changes prompted debate even before Sheng finished the project. One user attacked the article as biased, arguing that foreigners had used the students at Tiananmen Square to subvert the Chinese government. Others urged caution because of the political sensitivity of the subject.

"Regarding the June 4 incident, I know very little," one person wrote. "At least for the present stability, I hope we don't make an issue of this."

Shi Zhao, the chemical engineer and frequent contributor, objected to using the famous photo showing a lone student stopping a column of tanks. "It seems the entire article has very little from China's point of view," he added. "It's basically all the Western point of view. Is this a neutral point of view?"

But after Wikipedia was blocked on the eve of the Tiananmen anniversary, Shi -- who describes himself as a supporter of the Communist Party -- was among the first to call his Internet service provider to complain. He also submitted an appeal.

Then without any explanation, the government restored access to the site.

The 19-day disruption caused Chinese Wikipedia use to drop and prompted hand-wringing in the community that built it. Some suggested that the site practice self-censorship to avoid being blocked again. But most opposed the idea on principle.

"It would have violated our policies, because Wikipedia is independent of any government," Shi said. "We aren't publishing political editorials, just providing information from a neutral point of view."

Instead of backing down, the site attracted more users, and the debates intensified as people tried to hammer out their differences on subjects such as the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement, the one-child policy and even the Chinese Communist Party.

Because users hailed from Taiwan as well as the mainland, the most passionate fights were related to the status of the self-governing island. At one point, there was even talk about splitting the site in two, because residents of Taiwan and the mainland write Chinese with different sets of characters.

Technology bridged that divide. A student wrote a computer program to automatically convert text from one set to the other.

Slowly, a community was consolidating outside the party's purview, one that was learning to settle its own disputes, that crossed borders and tolerated those who contradicted the party's views, and that began organizing get-togethers in the real world as well as cyberspace.

It must have been disturbing to some in the party, which has long sought to dominate all organized social activity in China. In September 2004, the government blocked access to Wikipedia again.

Some blamed the decision on an influx of Internet users who were upset that the censors had shut down a popular university Web site. Others linked it to a message posted by a disgruntled Wikipedian on the losing side of an argument two days earlier.

"I have already called the police, and told them there is a lot of Taiwan independence, Falun Gong and other reactionary content here," the user wrote. "I even gave them many entries as examples. After a few days, they will come for an inspection. You'd better get ready. . . . Ha, ha."

'China's Voice to the World'

To the community's relief, the second block lasted only four days. Then, for more than a year, Wikipedia operated free of any government interference.

The encyclopedia flourished, passing the 40,000-entry mark in September, and the community thrived, growing more stable and mature. Users continued to discuss and write about sensitive subjects, branching into current events, but the rancor of the debates seemed to subside. When newcomers resorted to overheated language, veterans stepped in and cooled things down.

So the government's most recent decision to block Wikipedia was a deep disappointment. Shi Zhao submitted another appeal. Cui Wei, 25, a graduate student at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, wrote one, too.

"By blocking Wikipedia, we lose a chance to present China's voice to the world, allowing evil cults, Taiwan independence forces and others . . . to present a distorted image of China," he said. "We lose a chance to share academic knowledge with the world, and as users, a channel to gain information. . . .

"Such an act is no different than cutting off our tongues and shutting our eyes and ears. It is closing and locking up the country in the age of the Internet."

As the weeks passed, many concluded Wikipedia had been blocked for good.

In December, a message appeared on a Wikipedia page alleging the site had been "conducting anti-China activities under the flag of being neutral" and accusing its senior users of being "running dogs for American imperialism." Some suspected the note was posted by a government agent.

The number of people using the Chinese Wikipedia site has dropped, but devoted users are finding ways to access it. The community now boasts 45,000 registered users, most from the mainland. Among the site's 56,000 entries is one that explains how to get around the government's firewall.