In the US, I occasionally see a sign saying that if I'm not offered a receipt for my purchase, I can demand to get my stuff for free. This is because employees could, if no one is watching, pocket the money and not report the sale. Their boss can't watch them all the time, but if every customer has an incentive to make sure every transaction is recorded, this sort of theft is much harder to get away with.
But what happens when the shop owner also wants to keep things off the books? In China, there's a 17% Value Added Tax, and that's high enough to make people want to cheat. If a shop under-reports their sales, they can underpay their taxes. To address this, there are official receipts that are also lottery tickets. The shop buys a stack of receipts from the government, but has to return copies of them later, with the numbers filled in. The customer's copy has a scratch-to-instantly-win bit in the corner, so people have a reason to demand an official receipt. Of course, if you do ask for one, sometimes the shop will jack up the price in order to pass along the extra cost of the taxes you're forcing them to pay.
I never ask for a receipt, because with my limited communication skills, I'm lucky if I can get through the basic transaction. So far, in my week here, I've only seen these receipts once (at a restaurant where I was having dinner with fluent locals).
People are talking about how iTunes will soon start selling DRM-free music, but DRM is just part of the problem, and iTunes music still will not be freely playable. In order to make something that can play the AAC files iTunes sells, one needs to license the AAC decoding patent, and there's no guarantee that the price will be reasonable or that permission will be granted at all. So paying extra for the DRM-free copies removes some of the legal obstacles to listening to your music, but you're still restricted to using only officially sanctioned players. In ten years, will you still be able to play your music, or will you have to buy it all again?
Thanks to the magic of time (zone) travel, I arrived home a few hours before I left China. Time travel sure is exhausting. I've got lots of photos I was quietly posting all along, plus about a picture's worth of words in the photo captions.
As with the rest of life, I experienced a lot more than I wrote about here. I feel like I should have some concluding comments about my trip, but it will be some time before the mental dust settles. I'm pretty sure I was occasionally coherent while I was there, but I'm a bit loopy from sleep deprivation at the moment. One thing I can say about Beijing is that it's under construction. I'd heard the city was changing rapidly in preparation for the Olympics, but I hadn't imagined the massive scale.
Everywhere I went, I saw piles of bricks and rubble from construction or destruction. I saw half-finished skyscrapers and concrete hovels in the process of being leveled. I'm told it's all supposed to be finished before the Olympics, at which point all the construction workers will be sent back to where they came from.
I got to observe some of the more obvious cultural differences like spitting, queue jumping, pervasive superstition, and completely insane driving. I was also told about many more subtle differences, but I'd need to stay longer and learn the language to get a real appreciation. Still, 11 days was enough that by the time I left, the environment had begun to feel familiar, and returning home was strange. I didn't think that could happen so fast. I'm sure I'll acclimate faster to my own turf, and though the trip was fun, broadening, and educational, it's good to be home.
I highly recommend having friends move to foreign countries so you can visit them once they've learned their way around, as long as they remember to move back. Also recommended: ube ice cream.
On my recent trip, I actually managed to post photos nearly every day. It was good to deal with it quickly, just to get it done, but not so useful for anyone else, since there was no easy way to discover that there were new photos to look at.
Now there's an Atom feed, which shows the 20 most recently posted photos. It's a good start on a bunch of other potentially fun and exciting features too, like photostream pages and searching over the metadata (caption text, date/time, location coordinates). But that's just vapor right now.
Sets are still shown in lexical order of tag name, which is usually the order in which I took the photos, rather than the order in which I added them to the set.
I'd like to go back in time twenty years and tell my younger, C64-using self that twenty years hence, I will own a 2GB storage device, over 6000 times as capacious as even a double-sided floppy disk, and that I will accidentally run it through the wash.