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    Fri, 19 Mar 2010

    /xLife/China/Beijing/OpenSource: Strange Goings On at Novell

    I do not normally blog about employment negotiations, but this was a strange one. I shake my head every time I think about it....

    The story is not very complicated: The Beijing office of Novell posted a job opening on a local website. I responded. There was an interview, which seemed to go well enough. A couple weeks later I received a phone call followed by an e-mail, with an offer. And here is where things go a little off the rails....

    Normally one would expect an offer, especially from a big company, to be, well, SOLID. Ie. at that point, if I accept the terms of the offer, the job is mine, if perhaps conditional upon a probationary period. Based upon this understanding of the situation, I actually turned down an interview in the following couple of days....

    Apparently though, at least in Beijing when dealing with Novell, there is no such "solidity". After I had already accepted the offer, the HR person I was dealing with asked me what kind of visa I had. I told her an 'F' (rather typical, I think, of someone working freelance in China).

    "Oh". "You need to have a work permit already." What she is talking about basically is a "Z" visa, which is only held by full-time employees sponsored by their employers. In my current situation, which was no secret to anyone, my holding a Z visa was quite an unreasonable assumption. And then she just kind of casually brushed away her previous offer, like it never existed.

    As any foreigner who lives in Beijing knows, the silliest part of this exchange is making a big deal about any kind of a Visa in Beijing. Getting them is fairly trivial. Even little hole-in-the-wall English schools seem to be able to get their employees Z visas, and I certainly do not have any problems renewing my F (normally....)

    So I am left contemplating three probable explanations for all of the above:

    I tend to lean toward the last explanation. But none of the above leaves me much inclined to waste my time replying to another Novell job posting.

    posted at: 09:57 | path: /xLife/China/Beijing/OpenSource | permanent link to this entry

    Tue, 13 Jan 2009

    /xLife/China/Beijing: Beijing-Specific Links:

    ***General Information:

    The biggest and oldest expat-oriented site in Beijing. Especially good for their classified listings:

    Another recent addition to the list of Beijing expat sites. Well-done but will it succeed?:

    Beijing bus routes. All Chinese, but is there any other way?:

    ***Medical Care:

    Haidian Hospital: Clean, fast, cheap, professional service. But not a word of English anywhere:

    United Family Hospital: Probably the best hospital in Beijing. Expensive, spacious, staffed by Australian doctors. A friend of mine had major surgery (collar-bone reconstruction with plates and pins) and had a first class experience:

    posted at: 08:46 | path: /xLife/China/Beijing | permanent link to this entry

    Wed, 17 Dec 2008

    /xLife/China/Beijing/OpenSource: Open Source in Beijing


    Beijing Java User Group (BJUG): http://www.bjug.org/
    Matrix: http://www.matrix.org.cn/

    Beijing Linux User Group (BLUG): http://www.beijinglug.org/

    Beijing Python User Group (BPUG): http://groups.google.com/group/bpug/

    Drupal China: http://drupalchina.org/

    Open Party: http://www.beijing-open-party.org/
    Organizer / aggregator for Open Source events.


    Exoweb: http://www.exoweb.net/
    An Open Source software development company, with a 100% Open Source working environment.

    Novell: http://www.novell.com/
    Rm 3603, Beijing Fortune Plaza Office Tower A,
    #7 East Middle 3rd Ring Road, Chaoyang District (just north of Guomao)
    Projects: Mono Accessibility, OpenSUSE

    Sun Microsystems: http://www.sun.com/
    Technology Plaza center, Tsinghua Science Park
    Chengfulu, Haidian District (just west of Wudaokou)
    Projects: OpenSolaris

    posted at: 21:59 | path: /xLife/China/Beijing/OpenSource | permanent link to this entry

    Mon, 10 Nov 2008

    /xLife/China/Beijing: What To See If You Are Visiting Beijing

    I am a Canadian who has lived in Beijing for four years now, and I walk a lot. Some locals tell me that I know Beijing better then they do. So perhaps my opinion of Beijing's various tourist traps(!), er, sights, might be of interest to others.

    Let me dispose of shopping first. I am not a shopper, so I do not intend to say much, except buyer beware! Counterfeit goods are plentiful and often difficult to distinquish from originals. If the price is unbelievably low, then you have a fake in your hands. The cheapest goods are often of very low quality, and might break the first day you use them. Foreigners are charged very high prices. Starting prices for foreigners wandering around in markets are generally *at least* double or triple what a local would pay, so bargain hard, or take along a local who knows the terrain. That said, if you walk into a big shiny new mall, goods are legitimate, and prices will be not much different then wherever you just came from (maybe more, because of luxury taxes....)

    High-Priority Sites:

    Beijing's parks: Tiantan 天坛, Ditan 地坛, Ritan 日坛, Yuetan 月坛 parks (Heaven, Earth, Sun, Moon) found at the four cardinal points just outside the 2nd Ring Road. The Old Summer Palace 圆明园 in the Northwest just north of Beijing University. The Summer Palace 颐和园 further to the Northwest, just at the edge of the city. Xiangshan Park 香山公园 and the Beijing Botanical Garden 北京植物园 at the extreme Northwest edge of the city. Beijing's parks are beautiful, peaceful, and sprinkled with old temples and architecture that in some cases goes back millennia. Special mentions are the massive temple complex in Tiantan, the Buddhist Temple Wofosi 卧佛寺 in the Botanical Garden, and the thousands of martial artists training every morning in Tiantan.

    The Hutongs 胡同: Beijing's traditional courtyard / narrow lane neighborhoods. These are shrinking rapidly because of development, or in some cases being renovated into something that does not much resemble the original. Old neighborhoods still exist in many places. From Ditan Park, head south across the 2nd Ring Road and then hang a left just after you pass Yonghegong Temple. Or head straight south from Tiananmen Square and you will find more. Walk around Houhai Lake just inside the Northwest 2nd Ring Road and there are many examples of old, and highly renovated, courtyards, as well as shops and restaurants.

    Tiananmen 天安门 Square: its big, free, and surrounded by a lot of imposing architecture.

    Simatai Great Wall: The Great Wall passes very close to Beijing, there are many areas that are highly accessible from Beijing, and they are therefore absolutely over-run by tourists. And in some cases renovated so as to look like they were build just last year. Traffic is horrible, crowds can be so dense as to render one as unable to move.... Simatai is far enough out (three hours drive) that very few people go there. I have been there twice (three times?) and seen just a handful of people each time. Renovations are minimal. It is possible to spend the night in local guest houses.

    Eat a lot. Do not be afraid of street food, hygiene levels are quite reasonably high. You can eat very well and very cheaply, or very well and very expensively (though the former is more difficult without Chinese skills).

    Medium Priority:

    Any part of the Great Wall except Simatai, unless it is the dead of winter, which has a way of reducing the crowds.

    The Forbidden City. It is definitely worth seeing once, but it was completely stripped of anything that could be carried away during the Revolution, so it seems, at least to me, to be kind of.... empty. There is a garden in the north end with very old trees, and another one just outside the complex on the East side, which I thought still retained some feeling.

    The campuses of Beijing University and Tsinghua University (adjacent to one another at the Northwest 4th Ring Road) are big and beautiful.

    Low Priority:

    Shopping, for reasons enumerated at the top. Unless you want something very specific, like jade or Chinese artwork. Then be prepared to bargain.

    Most Temples. Most of them feel like tourist traps manned by fake monks. There are some exceptions, but I generally feel regret after paying the door charge at these government-run institutions.

    posted at: 00:50 | path: /xLife/China/Beijing | permanent link to this entry

    Mon, 20 Oct 2008

    /xLife/China/Beijing/OpenSource: Gnome Asia Summit[1] in Beijing

    I just attended what I think was my first Open Source conference. Hard to believe I have been an open source zealot for so long and this is my first conference.... As it happens, maybe because of the Beijing Olympics, maybe because the Open Source community is experiencing massive growth in China, this is just the first of several such events in Beijing over the next few months.

    I have to say a conference like this is a fun, informative, and highly motivating experience. It really does leave one with a strong desire to find a project and start coding, like yesterday. It probably also helps that the event was super-well-organized, and most of the presenters were quite interesting.

    One of the things I learned this past weekend is that the Open Source community and the commercial world are in a highly symbiotic relationship. Fully 40%(!!) of the work done on Open Source projects is done by paid employees of companies that operate in the Open Source space. Which of course explains why there are so many eager sponsors[2] for this kind of conference: they want to recruit more free labor for their projects by helping to build a vibrant Open Source community around them. It would seem like a truly win-win situation, and perhaps explains why many companies are moving towards the Open Source model. (Of course, Sun Microsystems[3] is the poster child for this trend....)

    The sponsors flew in a number of executives and senior engineers from around the world to talk to us. The event was free, the facility first class, lunch was good and also free, and there were some quite lavish prizes raffled-off at the end of every day (starting with a laptop....) I felt quite pampered.

    Another really interesting tidbit I picked up was the vast increase in Firefox usage in the past couple of years. If I recall the graph clearly, Firefox users went from single digit millions to over 100 million during that period. Obviously most of those are Windows users.

    And I switched my window environment from KDE to Gnome[5]. Gnome really seems to be becoming the standard, so I really think I should get better acquainted with it.

    Here are some pictures from the event[4].

    [1] http://www.gnome.asia/
    [2] http://www.gnome.asia/en/sponsor/
    [3] http://www.sun.com/
    [4] http://flickr.com/search/?w=all&q=gnomeasia&m=text
    [5] http://www.gnome.org/

    posted at: 01:39 | path: /xLife/China/Beijing/OpenSource | permanent link to this entry