Eye of the Chicken
A journal of Harbin, China

Technical difficulties
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I'm experiencing various technical difficulties this week, some of which are mostly annoying and some of which are mostly amusing, and all of which are both. Here they are, in order of least to most amusing . . .

* Internet connectivity has been spotty in my dorm room. Dunno why this is; at some times, I've not been able to load the full version of gmail, and have been bounced to the html version instead. Gmail chat is pretty well a wash no matter when I try; I think it's being blocked by the government, but I can't say for sure because I haven't tried to get it off-campus. (We westerners tend to assume immediately that any internet glitch is censorship-related, but often it's just a bandwidth problem.)

Anyway, it's been hard to see the videos for my online class because streaming is almost always Out of the Question, which is making my cute, longstanding habit of procrastination into a real problem. (Ok, it's not cute, but it sure is longstanding.) I'm going to have to start frequenting the local expat coffee bar if I expect to get my homework done on time.

* I'm trying to sign up for a TESOL class here in Harbin. They want payment through Paypal. I really dislike Paypal; my interactions with them rarely go smoothly (mostly because I don't use it very much and consequently always have to reset my password before I can do anything . . . ). Anyway, I changed my password again, made my payment, got a confirmation - and then got a notice that Paypal had reversed the transaction and limited my ability to pay on anything because my account was being used in an Unusual Location. They wanted me to reset my password and security questions. I did that, but no dice. So I called tech support, explained the problem (including telling them where I am), and they removed the limitation. I signed back on - and Paypal wanted another new password, another set of security questions. I provided those, then went to pay for my class. Everything went smoothly . . . except about fifteen minutes after the transaction, I got another email telling me that there was suspicious activity on my account, and the transaction had been reversed. Now they want me to prove my identity by (a) accepting a call at my home phone, or (b) providing something with my picture and address that has been issued in the last six months. This pretty much eliminates all the pieces of ID that I've brought with me . . . or that I even own.

The real kicker? The place offering the TESOL class is about half a mile from my dorm building; if they would only let me, I could go over there tomorrow and bring them cold, hard RMB cash. But they only take Paypal, and they only take dollars . . . go figure, eh?

* Many bank machines here will not accept my debit card's PIN. In China, they have 6-digit PINs and (as most of you know), in North America, we have 4-digit PINs. Sometimes you can prepend two zeros to the 4-digit PIN and fool the machine. But on other occasions, the machine tells you (unhelpfully and patently incorrectly, I might point out) that your PIN is wrong. (Computers are never wrong. How does the saying go? "He who knows not, and knows not that he knows not - he is ignorant. Shun him.") Having learned my lesson in Beijing (where, much to my complete and utter surprise, my card got eaten because of "too many attempts with the wrong PIN"), I now realize that I have to call my bank when this happens, and explain that yes, I do know my PIN, and it's the machine who's screwed up, not me. At least the people in the bank are getting used to my calls from China . . .

* I can't prove I have a PhD. This one is downright amusing to me. A few weeks ago I was asked to provide verification of my PhD, so I duly went on the MSU website and requested a transcript. They have this process automated very nicely; I paid my $5 (still $5! After all these years!!), and the computer generated an email with a link to a .pdf of the transcript, and sent it to the appropriate person at the university here. (The transcript was viewable 20 times in a period of 30 days.) All very official.

Well, it turns out that the school can't accept a transcript; they need a diploma. Being a real "we-don't-need-no-piece-of-paper" kind of person, I have no idea where my diploma is, or whether it even survived the 4 moves we've made since I got it. (I'm not entirely sure I ever got it, frankly.) Soooo . . . I called MSU, and they informed me that it will take 4-6 weeks to get the thing (because it has to be reprinted and, because it's a PhD diploma, it comes from out of state). And it costs $50. (I didn't know whether to be pissed that it cost so much, or pissed that it's the same price as Masters' or undergraduate diplomas.)

When it arrives, my husband is going to take a picture of it for me so I can prove to the Chinese authorities that I actually got the degree. Why do I think I could have solved this problem to their satisfaction by asking someone to go to Kinko's and make me a diploma??? I was soooo tempted; it's not like I would be faking the degree - which I legitimately have - by faking the document, which anyone could fake . . . and jeez, they didn't accept my transcript, which is our official document . . .

Anyway. This time, I'm framing the sucker. And hanging it in my office at work when I get home.

Other than the occasional amusing little hiccup, life is proceeding apace. I'm done being homesick, and, just as I suspected, I'm now watching the days slip by all too quickly . . . I can't waste a minute, I just can't.

And on that note, I'm gonna go study Chinese.

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