Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Treo Unlocked--Caveat Emptor

I don't usually write product reviews, but in the case of the Palm Treo Pro Cell phone (unlocked) I have to make an exception.  This is a phone that was given to me in the States so that I could put a China (and India) SIM card in it and use the phone in Korea.  It is also loaded with Windows apps, which I've yet to use other than to download an occasional attachment (and if the attachment has a password, you're out of luck).  As I've twittered off and on, this is the lousiest cell phone I've ever had ---and I've had Nokia, Motorola, Blackberry, and probably a few others. 

The worst thing about this phone is that it has a mind of its own.  It does what it wants to do (sometimes on a whim) rather than what I want it to do.  Let me count the ways:

  • The back of the case is very hard to get off.  Once you figure it out, it's okay, but even now I occasionally have trouble getting it off to get the battery out. 
  • The phone does not ring when you get an incoming international call.  Have tried every setting possible on the sound selection, and all it does is make a notification sound.  The only time it works is when I also set email to "ring"  like a phone call.  While there is probably a way around this, it sure shouldn't be this difficult.  
  • The battery wears down very quickly.  I have done all the energy saving things I can think of (such as turn off Wi Fi and Bluetooth), and it still doesn't hold a candle to the Nokia I had, which sometimes carried a charge for up to four days (and I was using it a lot), or even the Blackberry.  Palm seems to recognize this shortcoming because they give you a second battery.  But then the cover is hard to get off, so a pain.  
  • The backlight function goes down to almost black.  I made the mistake of turning it all the way down one time, and could only barely figure out how to get it back to a more reasonable setting. 
  • It does not have a function to tell you missed or received calls that you can pull up separately.  ( I know this is a phone function and not a SIM function because when I put the SIM card in my Nokia, it had these features. )
  • It is too easy to accidentally hit a number/contact and have the number dial on you---and impossible to stop in progress.  Once I called Marty at 1:00 a.m. when this happened.
  • The phone is hard to turn off.  You have to hit the button "just right" or it doesn't work. 
  • You have to lock the phone in order to ensure that it doesn't dial numbers, send SMS, or do other mischievous things on its own.   
  • The keyboard is not as user friendly as either Nokia (the best) or Blackberry. 
  • When you enter a new contact's phone info, you have to use two thumbs to enter the number because the entry line does not default to numerical values, but to letters.  This is a real pain when you are trying to enter a number on the go.  
  • The clock sometimes (not always) changes to the time of your last meeting.  Two or three times the clock has become "stuck" and I've had to reset it.
Almost every week, I discover something new that I don't like about this phone.   Glad it isn't one I purchased myself. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A Walk in the Park

 When traveling I like to be up early in the morning and see what's what. You can learn a lot about a culture by what people do at the start of the day.  

Across from my hotel there is a nice park.  It's quite large, with a couple of good sized ponds and little bridges, and takes around twenty minutes to walk around.  I'm usually up by 6 or 6:30, and sometimes on a nice day I'll go over and take a walk there.   You'll see people doing Tai Chi       like the woman between the trees in the picture above, people walking their little dogs (don't see too many big ones here), or older people, married couples or friends of the same sex, out for a morning stroll. Sometimes I'll see a lone young person, sitting on a rock or at a bridge, contemplating the day before work.  

All of these were expected, especially the Tai Chi.  What I did not expect was the morning bird outing.  In the picture, you can see bird cages hanging from trees.  This is just a sample.  At least thirty or forty people show up, some in utility vehicles with several cages, others by themselves, and bring their pet chickadees  for the birds to enjoy the outdoors, at least from the safety of their cages.  There is one area of the park where these people gather, and it is alive with the sound of birds chirping as the owners gather to catch up on the news, have a smoke, or stretch.   

Birds are more low maintenance pets, and also take up less room than dogs.  But cats are more common here than I would have thought--also low maintenance.  Just not in the same household with birds, I'd guess.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Goldilocks and the Three Spoons

One of the things I have found in this part of the world  is that the presentation and delivery of Western food can have some interesting twists.  Years ago, I went into a restaurant in Tokyo and ordered French toast for breakfast, and it came with no honey, syrup, or even butter---but there was a nicely cut up tomato as garnish.  In India I once had spaghetti with marinara sauce, and it was laced with pickle relish.   In the past few days I have had an equally fascinating experience here in China with cereal.  

The hotel I am at offers a breakfast buffet that is part of the room tab.  It is really quite a lavish spread with a Chinese breakfast, Japanese foods such as sushi and sashimi, and more traditional Western fare such as eggs, meats, cheeses, fruit, bread and rolls, etc.  There is also a small area with about half a dozen varieties of cereal.  Yesterday I decided to have All Bran and I put some in one of the bowls that I found on a shelf under the cereal with a large serving spoon that was near the cereal area.  For some reason the table settings here  include forks and knives but no spoons, only a very tiny spoon that is served with coffee to stir in milk or sugar, so I looked near the cereal area for one to eat with.  Nothing.  I looked by the fruit, some of which is the type that is canned with syrup.  No spoons.  Finally,   I asked a waitress and she disappeared and came back with a Chinese soup spoon (the kind with the big lip around the edge for eating soup, but definitely not appropriate for spearing All Bran, or canned fruit, for that matter).   I held the spoon and pointed to the bowl---how was I going to eat cereal with this spoon?  She looked flustered.  I finally picked up the tiny coffee spoon and started eating the cereal with it---at the rate I was going, this was going to take a while.  The waitress went off and got another waitress, who asked me what I needed.  A regular spoon, please?  So off went the second waitress.  When she came back, she had a large serving spoon--no lip, which was good, but three good spoonfuls of cereal and I was able to finish the bowl.   

This morning I seriously considered bringing my own spoon--I had one in the room that I had bought when I first came here.   I forgot it.  Resigned to eating my bowl of cereal with the small coffee spoon, I was surprised when the waitress came over to my table, again bearing the large serving one.  But then when I went back to get a little more cereal, I couldn't find anything to dish it up with.....  Maybe it's time to switch to an omelette?  

Sunday, May 3, 2009


This was a holiday weekend in China, so I  spent a couple of days in Suzhou, which is about 15 minutes from Kunshan by high speed train.  The city is called in tourist brochures the “Venice of China.”  I haven’t been to Venice, so can’t comment on the accuracy of this comparison, but it is an interesting city with lots to do, so I’ll definitely go back.  

Although I usually like to explore on my own, this time I hired a guide and was glad I did.   “Mr. Yu”  was a local of indeterminate age (probably in his late 60s or early 70s) who had been an English teacher, and I gather that he has been a tour guide for many years, rising up to the highest, yellow level in the tour guide hierarchy.   He ferried me around to a number of spots, very informative, that I likely would have found only with great difficulty on my own---and as it turned out, even more so because of transportation problems

  The person who made my reservation with Mr. Yu asked me, by the way, did I want a car as well?  Expecting that I would be spending the whole day with someone who had a car, and  thinking that if I needed to go anywhere else, I could simply take a taxi, I said, no--I would take a taxi from the train station.  The response:  ok.  Well, it turned out that  because there are few taxis in Suzhou to begin with and it was also a holiday weekend, this was not a wise move.  At the train station, I waited in a long line for more than a half hour for one---not a lot different from New York at one of the airports at times, so initially I was not that concerned.   However, the next morning Mr Yu arrived; we left the hotel and he immediately tried to hail a cab, with some difficulty.   I now realized the reason for the question about hiring a car.  Unlike tour guides in other places I’ve been, he didn’t himself drive.  Mr. Yu later told me that he had told the person who had booked his services for me  that due to the holiday we definitely should have a hired car, but--likely because she did not speak English well, and my Chinese has not advanced to this level of understanding-- she did not pass this information on to me.  Somehow, we did manage to flag cabs during the day, sometimes waiting up to ten minutes, until the very end of the day, when there simply were none to be found in the area of town we were in.  We wound up returning to the hotel by pedi-cab (as autorickshaws are called here.)  No big deal for me, having lived three years in India, but Mr. Yu was obviously quite chagrined.  

Nonetheless, it was a worthwhile day.  We toured two of Suzhou's over 70 gardens, both of which are UNESCO World Heritage sites.  The first was  the largest in the city, called the "Humble Administrator's Garden" , which was actually built up by a rather cheeky cultural minister during the Ming dynasty (14-17th centuries), who became "humble" only after a fall from grace.  The garden was packed and there were probably over a hundred tour buses there with masses of people from various parts of China as well as foreign countries.  The second garden, the Master of Nets (the nets refer to fishing nets) I liked much better.  It was a lot quieter and more like a private estate.  Plus, there was an art gallery on site with very reasonably priced silk paintings, woodblock prints, and water colors.

It started to rain in the afternoon, so we rented a boat and toured down the canals that traverse the city---down a main one called "the Grand Canal"  and then off into some neighborhood canals, where people's back windows face the canal and their front door the street.  Some of the stone bridges --some foot bridges and others that allow larger traffic--are hundreds of years old.  Along the steps is a small groove that allows people to move bicycles up and down the bridges. 

At one point we stopped and got off the boat to tour a small market area.  China is famous for the unusual things that people eat, and you could see them in all their variety here---in addition to vegetables and fruits, there were live snakes, eels, pigeons, frogs (pretty good sized ones), turtles and the usual chickens and ducks, as well as pig's feet, intestines, etc.  No monkeys though.   Probably too low in this part of the country.