Changing your MAC address with smac

How to change your MAC address? It is easy under Linux: just use ifconfig command.
Under Windows, there is a handy tool called SMAC which can spoof the hardware address of your NIC, including that of the wireless card. This useful when you are using Relakks service and want to register again by changing your MAC address.

Update:K-mac is also capable of change the MAC address of the wireless interface and it is free.


A trip to the Wild West: A Day in Dunhuang

It is alright if you haven’t heard of the Yellow Stone National Park in the U.S., but it is almost guilty if you don’t know about Dunhuang of Gansu Province in northwest China. OK, I admit I am exaggerating here, but centuries of Buddhist caving paintings, statues and the Buddhist scriptures discovered in one of the caves make this place a world-renowned travel destination.

The Nine-level Tower Houses a Giant Buddha Statue

Photos are strictly forbidden in and outside the caves. In my visit, and I saw a stubborn American woman who refused to temporarily keep her camera in the janitors room, despite persuasions of her friends, and didn’t go into the caves! She never knew what she had missed.

Accessing the Caving Painting in Mount Mogao is easy: taxi fee is about three bucks from the railway station, and cheap bus rides are available right across the Dunhuang Railway Station. The ticket is about 25 bucks at the time of my visit and the guided tour in English is provided. Among my encounters with other tour groups, there was one guide whose English is sufficient to explain the prepared tour texts, but the other two guides needed more practice. But I guess this shouldn’t be a problem for foreign visitors since almost every one of them has a travel book, in which it lavishes a lot of page space on this famous place. However, I do have a kind reminder for you: if you plan to visit Dunhuang in just one day, which is enough for the place, it is advisable to buy your train ticket to the next destination right after you arrive at the railway station. After that, you can either visit the Cave Paintings or the Crescent Moon Spring, and the return to the railway station in the evening to catch your train.

When lining up in front of the ticket window, you are most likely to notice that the queue doesn’t move forward much. This is because the evil touts (scalpers) work in cohorts with the ticket clerks inside, and they just keep buying and reselling the tickets right in front of the ticket window. Salute to the Chinese girl I saw in the queue who started a fight with a touts for their dirty dealings under the table. She may not see this, but here is my word of salute to her anyway.

Here are some photos taken in Dunhuang:

Very impressive Dunhuang Raiway Station

This should be what the Caves Look like Originally

Fortified Caves You will See

The Tall Sand Dunes (I am proud I climbed up all the way up)

The Crescent Moon Spring in the Desert


Does this remind you of the last scene in the movie the Seventh Seal?


A trip to the Wild West: A Short Tour to Gaotai

Gaotai itself is a small town which has nothing special to boast. However, its memorial park of the West Route Red Army, which was surrounded and massacred in the city by local bandits, tells a story of bloodbath in the history of the Red Army. The battle happened around 1930s, and an army corps of the West Route Red Army was chased and surrounded in Gaotai by the nationalist army. Despite the fierce resistance, they were all brutally killed. The commanders were beheaded and their heads were wired and hung up for public display. The story of the doomed West Route Red Army merits a book, and I am no expert to tell you the whole story. Anyway, the memorial park is a place to feel the cruelty of the history.

My trip to Gaotai gave me a rare opportunity to observe the total eclipse of the sun. This is a highlight of my travel in the Wild West.

The Black River: just moments before the eclipse. This river is the second largest inland river in China. The unusual rise of the water level resulted from the rain in the previous day.

A Bright late afternoon sunlight turned into dawn hours in a transient moment during the eclipse.

I was at 100 kilometers away from the best observation spot of this eclipse.

The Arizona style dry land along to the road to Gaotai.


A trip to the Wild West: The Big Buddha Temple in Zhangye

Zhangye boasts its biggest sleeping Buddha in Aisa. The Big Buddha Temple, so called by the locals, is at a quiet willow-lined street near the city square. I was once a volunteer tour guide for the temple, but now I have forgotten almost all the description of the Buddha and the temple, and the only thing I can tell you is that it is about 34 meters long, and four people can sit on the ear of the statue to play cards. Anyway, it is just the biggest in-house nirvana statue of Buddha in Asia; maybe it is not the most artistically built among its kind, like the one I saw in Dunhuang, but it is definitely worth visiting, along with the exhibition of the Buddhist scriptures and relics. The ticket is 41 Chinese Yuan.

The Archway to the Main Building

No photos are allowed inside the main temple building, which was under renovation during my visit, but I managed to video-tape a little. Speaking of taking photos of the Big Buddha, there is actually an anecdote in my experience as a volunteer guide. I guided a team of French tourists to the temple, and one Frenchman held up his camera to take a photo of the statue, but I told him not to, even with no flash. Later, I learned that you can take photos of Mona Lisa at Louvre, and I started regretting for the Frenchman who didn’t have a photo of the giant Buddha statue. My reasoning is like this: if you can photograph Mona Lisa, you can definitely do the same thing to the statue, just turn off the flash.

In this reasoning, I filmed the statue without the notice of the janitor but unfortunately the video is too bulky to be shown in this blog. But if you make your way to Zhangye, this temple is definitely not something to be missed. To whet your appetite, here are a few photos of the Big Buddha Temple in Zhangye City, Gansu Province.

The Willow-lined Street to the Temple

The Temple Gate (the placard reads Big Buddha Temple)

The Main Building (incense furnace in front)

A Shabby Room at the Temple Corner

The Clay Pagoda


The Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games: Reviews and Comments

The following is a summary of some critical reviews of the opening ceremony by some Chinese netizens:

  • Performers were everywhere, however, there lacked the existence of individuals. Like in the movie of Hero and The Curse of the Golden Flower, the group works in perfect synchronicity, which overshadowed the nature of each performer –a conglomerate, not a group.
  • When the procession entered the stadium, the girls in white dress who lined up near the entrance didn’t stop dancing and waving for almost two hours. Wasn’t it too tiring and monotonous for these young girls?
  • Despite the stunning pageantry and pyrotechnics, it expressed the mentality that the group is larger than the individuals within it.
  • The theme song was too soft and gentle, like a lullaby.
  • Where were the five mascots? Why didn’t they appear on the stage?
  • Too much extravagant fireworks which diluted the cultural elements.
  • The final stage of lighting up the big torch should be more creative. The image on the circled screen moved either too fast or too slow in bad synchronicity of the last torch carrier.
  • The performers on strings were reminiscent of the flying people in Kung Fu movies.
  • Too much attention on forms instead of contents, fortunately the lighting made it all up.
  • China is a country made up of 56 ethnic groups, but other ethnic groups were not given much lens time.
  • The subtitles were too small to be seen when the Chairman of the Olympic Committee was making the speech.

Despite the reviews mentioned above, the majority of people were very much impressed by the performance, especially the starting show of the lighted drums.


A trip to the Wild West: unpleasant experiences on trains in China

I considered myself a hero when I spent three days on a slow train, sitting on a “hard seat”. China’s railway system sells three types of tickets:

    • The standing-ticket. In the rush times, especially during major holidays, the trains are so crowded that all the seats are sold out. Under such circumstances, the railway station invented the “standing-tickets” – the passengers buy a ticket with the same price as the “hard seat”, but have to stand in the aisle throughout their rides.
    • The hard seat. Rows of seats with vertical seatbacks. It is called the “hard seat” because in the past, the seats on the old style green-colored trains were indeed not well-cushioned. Although they are more padded now, the name somehow retained. It is the cheapest seating on the train, good for short distance traveling, but extremely uncomfortable when traveling overnight and long distances, because its backs are vertical, making it very difficult to nod off the long night.
    • The hard sleepers. Every six of these hard sleepers make up a cell section, and on each side of the cell, there are three beds stacking above each other: the low one, the middle one and the top one. People usually prefer the low one, and settle for the middle one, but the top one is less preferred – it is difficult to climb up and the air-conditioning on the roof is noisy and blows cold air directly on the top bed. The price of hard sleepers is usually the twice of the hard seat.
    • The soft sleepers. Not so different from the hard sleepers, apart from the fact that the cell section has a sliding door, and each cell has four beds instead of six. Also, the soft sleepers are more padded as its name suggests. The compartment of the soft sleepers also sports western style toilet. I also noticed its compartment a good place for morning grooming, because it has water when water in other compartments runs out.

      Now let me go back to my experiences (some are unpleasant) about riding a train in China:

      • The design of the hard seat is ridiculous for the mere fact that its seatbacks are vertical. It is really a test of will and strength when one has to ride on it overnight: there is no possible posture you can find to nod off comfortably, and one has to change the posture frequently to relax the strained body.
      • I have seen thieves groping for wallets of the sleeping passengers on hard seats, but I didn’t dare to speak up, fearing the almost certain retaliation from them. The pickpockets on the train seemed to be rampant when I was a student about ten years ago. At that time, the ticket check-in was slack and the criminals could get on and off more easily.
      • I did see a caught thief on train. Apparently having received some beating, the young man was cuffed from the back, walking from compartment to compartment by a policeman, yelling loudly and repeatedly “I’m a thief, I am a thief”. It served him right.
      • In rush times such as during the Spring Festival and other major holidays, it is almost impossible to buy a seating ticket, and the only choice left is getting a standing ticket – which means one has to stand all the time throughout the journey. The train can be so crowded and people consider themselves lucky if they can occupy a spot in the connecting area between two compartments, and even luckier if they are not on the the side of the exiting area. I have seen people sit on the washing basins and on the floor, and it is not rare to see people sleep on the floor or under the cramped area of the hard seat. In some cases, people occupy the toilet closet as a seating space. I admit I slipped under the bench of the hard seat once, and slept on some news papers.
      • Speaking of the toilet, be prepared to see the unflushed toilet more than once on a single train ride. Sometimes the nuisance is not because of the lack of manners, but because the lack of water on the train. What can a gentleman or a well-educated citizen do under such circumstances? Hold your breath and use the toilet, such can be the life on a train.
      • In the past, the conductors on the trains were rude, but it is no longer the case in my recent train experiences. In my train rides last week to Dunhuang, a world-famous reserve of ancient Buddhist caving paintings, my sister and I had a funny experience with a conductor. He thought my sister was a student, and he asked her to copy about dozen pages of meeting notes for him. It appeared he had to copy the briefings of a meeting and show it to his superior, but he was lazy and hated the boring notes, so he picked a student-looking girl to do that chore. I could bear it no more after seeing my sister finish two pages, and very “politely” yet resolutely discontinued further cooperation.
      • There is no smoking and non-smoking compartments on trains in China. All cigarette addicts are required to smoke in the connecting area between two compartments. The problem is: the train is air-conditioned, and the fume can easily enter the compartments. Some sly smokers even smoke in the compartment when the conductors are not in sight.
      • The foods on the train are lousy and expensive. I could never understand why they can’t make it expensive and edible, or make it cheap and tasty to sell more and gain more profits. You tell me.

      Ok, so much about my accounts about the unpleasantness of train rides in China. However, like anything I said about China, this post does not mean to slight my motherland, but to point out the areas for future improvement. Foreigner traveling by train in China has to bear one thing in mind: one cannot claim to have seen seen China without riding a train on her vast land. On a train, you see the real Chinese people, see the most beautiful and the ugliest along the railway, eat what they eat and breathe what they breathe. If you speak Chinese, you will learn so much from your conversations with these ordinary Chinese people.