It’s weekend. It’s raining. So a new stove it is. Ultralight.

When it came to ultralight stoves, I was sold to (alcohol-burning) penny stoves for quite a while. Well, not going ultralight is always the preferred choice, but then… Recently I revisited the concept of an ultralight stove with integrated pot stand (mind the chill factor of the pot on the stove though!) and I think I’m finally sold! No fiddly pot stand. No penny that doesn’t seal well. No troublesome refill. Just “pour-n-boil” (TM?). So here it is:

DSC00792

 

the instructions on how to build a can stove with integrated pot stand.

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Personal data protection – Asian style

LINE user here. LINE – the Japanese pendant to WhatsApp, KakaoTalk, WeChat or whatever you use to chat these days. On a related note, consider switching to Signal, Telegram or something similar; but read on: LINE is also the app of choice in Taiwan, so it’s an obvious choice if you live there.

Recently, on starting the app, it asked me to accept its new personal data protection terms. With this screen (notice the second bullet at the bottom):

Agreeing to LINE sharing my personal info for marketing purposes (to third parties, aka spammers)? Maybe not. Nope. They have at least my phone number and email address, probably some more personal data about me. Not happening… Fortunately, one can tap on the green check-mark and uncheck it. Easy, one thinks. But then, when you want to proceed:

Haha, thank you for offering to uncheck an item (all 3 are checked by default, btw). But going back to the first screen and actually reading the text, one finds a link that explains how to opt out of direct marketing. OK, choose that link and you are presented with this:

Easy, huh? This must be among the worst behavior regarding customer data privacy any large-scale Internet company has ever shown. My LINE account is deleted (which I could only perform after agreeing to their terms!).

Please go ahead and share this, IMHO a company having such standards should not have the right to stay in business…

Back to East Asia…

— or “things that only happen in Japan, Korea and Taiwan (and maybe other countries that are heavily influenced by the former)”

Taiwan had a very nice idea – conveniently file your tax online! When I tried to use it and it asked me to download and install a software that only runs on Windows, my Korean experience should’ve rang all alarm bells there are in the region. Anyway, a few hours later the conclusion: It’s software made specifically for foreigners to file their tax (locals use another method). Buuuutttt; it only works on Chinese Windows, not on e.g. English versions of the OS; which a foreigner in his infinite ignorance might dare to use.

Welcome back…

Edit: The challenge of finding a Chinese Windows was the easy part. Wait for the next post about actually paying the tax as a foreigner – I’m busy finding a plastic bag and stuffing bank notes in it. Once done I shall share my experience being diligent with the Taiwanese tax man…

Running a business

So, one goes to a mobile phone network operator to open an account. Provides some personal and payment data – such as bank account information for direct debit. The operator needs a few days to do a background check before enabling the service; granted – somehow understandable in a world where potential terrorists use their mobile phone to order a piping hot pizza and a cold beer. Or some mutton kabab (hint hint).

All is good, one uses the phone to call other people and surf the net. Until, one year later, that service suddenly comes to a grinding halt. Nothing goes. When one calls the operator (from another line, mind you!), the friendly customer support executive advises to turn the phone off and back on. You guess right, calling from the other line again. A few more times. Finally someone says, “oh yes, your stay visa expired. We terminated the service”. Good; one has a renewed visa since quite a while already. Thanks to said operator for never mentioning this “automatic visa-renewal reminder service”. The competent service executive advises to visit the closest operator outlet to apply for reopening of the account.

Deal! The (not so) friendly clerk in the closest (and 5 other, not so close) shops insists that such process does not exist. Plenty of calls (from another line, mind you!) later, one of them (not so friendly) clerks reluctantly accepts a form for reopening the line and confirms service resumption within 2 days; verbally. Upon visiting the store 10 days later (after several calls to the above mentioned hotline via, yes, you guessed it, another line…) the meanwhile even less friendly clerk produces a confused look and says “oh, THIS application?” – which he pulls out from under a huge stack. “Was I supposed to submit this to the back office?”. Hmm, no, I just filled it in to contribute to the stack of paper in front of you which makes you appear important…

Finally service is restored after about a month so I can happily pay my regular phone bill again. Short of one year later, one obviously learned his lesson to become proactive. A month before visa expiry, all it takes is to call the friendly hotline (from – hah! NOT another line; yet…) and submit the renewed visa for updating of customer records. Said, done. Next step? Goto above “it suddenly comes to a grinding halt”.

Finally, time to put an end to it all. One is departing the country for good. And closing the serice permanently. Yes, you might well guess it by now:

One calls (from NOT another line) the friendly service hotline, asking about termination of service. Of course one prepares early and asks those questions a couple months in advance. The answer one gets is that termination by phone has to be provided 10 days in advance. Said, done: 10 days in advance, on giving notice to the same hotline, one is informed that notice can only be given 2 days in advance. 2 days in advance, on giving notice to again the same hotline, one is informed that notice has to be given 10 days in advance. Hmm, 3 more calls to the same hotline, talking to 3 different friendly operators, yields in a promise for 24hrs termination of service. With the request to report to the (see above) closest outlet to settle one’s final bill. 

Less than 24hrs later, service is indeed disconnected (surprise!). Reporting to the closest (see above) outlet results in comments that this cycle’s bill will be processed later. Once one has left the country. Long discussions and multiple calls to the friendly hotline (from, yes you guessed right, another line) later, the closest (see above) outlet accepts payment outside the regular payment cycle. Receipt of payment is recorded in a handwritten ledger at the (see above) outlet and one is informed that receipts cannot be issued but everything is in order since it’s reported in the ledger.

One leaves the country some 24 hours later; for good. With quite a happy smile across one’s face.

Some 30 days later, one receives an email about new charges accrued on above, closed account, during the previous month. The email wasn’t, as the innocent observer would suspect, sent by the mobile operator but was instead provided courtesy of the bank where one had an account while living in that country. One had meanwhile closed the bank account as well (hah! that’s worth another blog post even longer than the one you’re reading now). So apparently a bank, holding a closed account can accept charges from a closed mobile phone account and inform a permanently departed account holder about outstandings. Hmm…

3 months into the story, the two institutions are accruing and bouncing (while a 3rd party, the landline phone service provider, is joining forces in the battle for unpaid bills). Meanwhile, a relocation company who was paid as a service provider to handle all the above account openings and closures for one also comments on the situation:  “It’s OK, don’t worry about anything”. 

Heck, I’m not going anywhere near this country anytime soon knowing that friends of mine were summoned to court for “unpaid telecom charges”. 

Some more routes for your bicycle touring adventures in South Korea

After having recently described your easy way across Korea on a bicycle, namely from the Incheon Airport to Busan, here’s a few more routes you may want to consider after completing the Incheon-Busan ride. These rides are off the beaten track, umm, bike path. I find them way more interesting than riding on dedicated, straight, flat bike paths all the time but yes, there may be climbs, wider roads and whatnot. The routes do avoid busy roads and ugly climbs most of the time though, so yes, you can do them if you managed Seoul-Busan on the bike path.

Munsan-Sokcho — DMZ and the mountains of Gangwondo

DMZStarting at the Munsan subway station, this route touches the DMZ (bring your passport if you want to add an extra half day to go into the DMZ and see the tunnels) and brings you over the eastern mountain range of Gangwondo down into Sokcho. You’ll ride up towards Seoraksan on a very scenic, deserted road. So do bring your camera along! Up north, Korea is relatively deserted. I rode this during Mid-Autumn festival and had no problems finding motels and restaurants, but I recommend you do plan ahead a bit in case you are planning to spend the nights in other places than I did. Here’s the GPX file for the ride, I did it in the following intervals:

1 Munsan-Cheorwon 97km
2 Cheorwon-Hwacheon 87km
3 Hwacheon-Wontong 89km
4 Wontong-Sokcho 51km

Sokcho-Busan — Along the east coast

EastCoastThis route may well be my favourite. It’s relatively flat and provides quite a variety of sights. The landscape as well as the civilization changes along the way. Starting in the cooler north, heading further south where the climate gets warmer and with it the houses change, down to the south with its industrial cities and related wealth.
The Korean government is planning to build a bike path along the coast, I’d therefore recommend to do this route as soon as possible before the herds of cyclists come over — here’s the GPX file of the route on road. One option could be to ride it in 5 days as I did, but since there’s quite some population along the whole coast, you’ll certainly find accommodation in other areas as well.

1 Sokcho-Okgye 103km
2 Okgye-Uljin 100km
3 Uljin-Pohang 136km
4 Pohang-Ulsan 92km
5 Ulsan-Busan 82km

Busan-Haenam — The wrinkly part of the country

SouthCoastThis ride is a bit more tricky; the south coast consists of a lot of bays, islands and is criss-crossed by highways you can’t ride on. If you tried to ride all along the coast you’d probably have to go some 1000km (no, I didn’t measure it). So on this tour, I took some shortcuts and cheated a bit (namely took a train at the end of day 4). Still, the ride was worth, especially Namhae and Wando are areas well worth visiting. Here’s again the ride’s GPX file and my itin:

1 Busan-Masan 94km
2 Masan-Samcheon 95km
3 Samcheon-Namhae 70km
4 Namhae-Gwangyang 52km
5 Boseong-Wando 92km
6 Wando-Haenam 87km

Jeju-do

This last suggestion is really a no-brainer. Some 230km around the island, all flat. By spring 2014 the bike path is supposed to be completed, but even before that there is already a bike path along road 1132 which island. The island is speckled with motels, pensions and hotels, so you can spend the night at any place you like. Camp sites are also avail, btw, in case you want to use the opportunity of a flat terrain and haul your camping gear along.
Getting to Jeju (from Seoul) is fairly simple as well. There are all the flights plus, my favorite, there’s an over-night car ferry from Incheon airport. Push your bike onto the ferry at 8pm, eat, drink and sleep on the boat and arrive in Jeju around 7am, ready to ride. Same routine on the way back — especially convenient if you have all your camping gear with you.

No GPX file for you to follow (since it’s really dead-simple), just one advise: Do the ride counter-clockwise, Ie keep the sea at your right shoulder. Doing it this way, you will have the wind in your back more frequently plus you will be on the correct side of the road to see more of the beaches (there won’t however be many cars on the road to begin with…).

Never trust a foreigner – sort of, well, ugh, wait a second!

In India, a foreigner has to renew his working visa annually. Reasonable (except for the process of doing so, but that’s another story). And in India, a foreigner has to pay taxes annually as well. Also reasonable (except for the amount one pays and what he gets out of it in return, but that’s again another story). But when you combine the 2, it gets interesting:

Let’s say your annual visa renewal is due in March. Tax payment needs to happen until somewhere in July. Now, if you apply for a visa in March of one year, the authorities will put a remark into the visa saying that by July you need to get a stamp on the visa proofing that you paid taxes, otherwise you’re not allowed to leave the country come late July. Maybe reasonable (except that I haven’t seen this in any other country I lived so far…). Hmm, me thinks — if I wanted to escape India without paying taxes, would I do so in July or August?

And then, eventually the inevitable moment comes and the diligenty tax-paying expat leaves India for good. Which is unlikely to happen by the time the government declared end of tax-year, I.e. July. But, let’s say the unsuspecting expat leaves in April. Then India lets the foreigner go without any proof since he can’t pay tax yet according to the Indian schedule. Instead, as it seems, India expects the guy to pay taxes once the Indian authorities declare tax-payment season, which is July. When the foreigner is far, far away. Hmm.

Finally, add a bit of (Indian) spice to the equation: Indian banks are only allowed to keep accounts for foreigners as long as they possess a valid visa. And visas are tied to actual employment contracts. In other words, once the foreigner’s employment contract ends, he leaves the country. Obviously. At the same time, his visa ends. And, at the same time, his Indian bank account seizes to exist. Now, back to the original topic, some time later he should pay taxes. By transfering money from his (aha!) Indian bank account to the tax authorities. Hmm, hmm, hmm…

Did any Indian authority ever think this whole thing through? I’m wondering how many expats “evade” taxes in their final year of (partially) being in India. Not out of intention but, well, #OnlyInIndia

I’m planning to leave India in November, btw. And I’m trying to adhere to all regulations. To my best. Let’s see how that works out…

Ordering food in India…

So we, as we did for plenty times during the last few years, called one of our favourite local restaurants the other day to order some home delivery. The friendly automated lady told us that the called phone is currently out of service and we should try again later. Later as in when the restaurant paid their bill or when the dug-up cable got replaced?

Never mind, Google knew about an alternative number to call. Done deal we thought — called the number, asked “is this restaurant xyz”? “Yes”, it sounded through the line. Hah, done deal! “We’d like to have one order of pepper fry chicken” — “you know the one with curry leaves and chilli”. “Yes, with curry leaves and chilli” it sounded from the other end. “And dal fry and 2 naan”. “2 dal fry?” the called asked. “No, 1 dal fry, 2 naan” we responded to the slightly slow employee of the enterprise. “OK,” he asked; “that’s all? Give me your address”. The address was provided and all seemed good.

Until about 20 mins later when a text message came in, saying: “We are not a restaurant, we are an interior works company”, compete with a pic of their signboard.

I don’t usually do millenium-generation shorts, but WTF feels spot-on for what I felt…

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Driving a Mahindra Ssangyong

RX7

I’ve been living in a building carrying the name Ssangyong. That was ok, albeit it brought on an interesting episode with a flooded apartment plus 5 units below mine being really flooded.

This time it’s about the car. It claims to be built upon the previous Mercedes Benz ML class. Maybe. Then Ssangyong went bankrupt and got acquired by Mahindra. Of India. Where I live now. And needed a car once I arrived here.

Yup, I chose a Mahindra Ssangyong Rexton RX7. Considered a luxurious vehicle back in Korea. Considered very luxurious over here. My first two days with it were pretty inspiring:

– The mechanical steering wheel height adjustment only works if you rattle the wheel real hard to unlock the lever
– The 3rd row seats have no head rests. Safety galore!
– The 2nd row center seat belt is not 3-point but old-style 2-point. Not the retracting 2-point but just the “belt tangle loose, adjust it manually or not” 2-belt. Very classic style, haven’t seen this for some 20 years…
– Not too sure what to make of the fact that the (beige) interior is pretty grey and black in places and the vehicle has some 120km on the odometer upon delivery. Maybe normal for India…

Day 3 the adventures start:
– Audio system remote controls in the steering wheel don’t work
– When the vehicle is parked, engine off, you can’t switch the gear lever from P to R/N/D. Of course, that’s how it’s supposed to be! But — you CAN move the lever half way towards R. Enough to unlock the gearbox lock, the vehicle starts rolling away!
– Diesel consumption is some 17l/100km(!)

Good thing I have a driver 🙂 I send him back to the dealer to fix the stuff. He comes back half a day later reporting success:
– They disassembled the steering wheel, assembled it again. Half the remote buttons work, the other half doesn’t.
– The gear box issue will solve itself after some 500km, the dealer’s sales guy (!) claims
– The same sales guy says the gas consumption will improve once “the carbon settles in the engine” after some 1000km…

After some e-mail exchange with Mahindra themselves, a customer relationship manager of the dealer contacts me. Meanwhile I figure out that the cruise control doesn’t work. Neither does the rear washer. Some 3 weeks into the life of the shiny new Mahindra Ssangyong, it goes back to the dealer again. And comes back the same day:
– The cruise control got fixed. Yay! 🙂
– The rear washer washes. Yay yay! 🙂
– The steering wheel remote buttons work, yay! (for now…)
– The gear box gets “inspected”, “adjusted” and the topic reported to Mahindra. The “adjustment” now allows the shift lever to be moved into reverse gear without the brake being engaged! yay 😦

Well, let’s wait and see what Mahindra thinks about the gear box. Then, it’s now some 6 weeks into the life of the poor vehicle, the daytime temperature in Bangalore slowly rises. To a point where the aircon of the car could come in handy. Yes, you guessed it… So I ask for an update on the gear box issue and mention that the aircon is sub-par. After a very swift response by the dealer, it is agreed that the dealer sends a driver to pick up the vehicle for “repair”. The driver arrives on time and is friendly, like all their staff, I must admit… So the vehicle goes away again. A few hours later a call comes in:
– The dealer’s driver reports “slow pickup” (read: poor acceleration). Yes I noticed earlier but didn’t bother, this is a SUV and not a Porsche… Anyway, the dealer proposes to fix it but we agree to defer to a later point since it’d take some 2 days and:
– the gear box “got inspected again and the case re-reported to Mahindra”
– The gas of the aircon got refilled and I’m liable to a charge of some 800Rupees (about 10 Euro) — with the vehicle having a 2 years warranty. Not that 10 Euro would hurt much, but what’s the point of a warranty when the factory can’t fill the aircon?

Meanwhile 9 weeks into the life of the goo’old clunker, word comes in from the dealer that Mahindra advises the change of a certain part to fix the gearbox issue. Yay! Almost the same day, I’m innocently driving and want to mute my radio by the button at the steering wheel to, surprise, figure out that the remote control buttons fail to work again. 3rd time! That makes me have a closer look at the wheel. Weird, I think, I have to hold it pointing left to have the vehicle go straight. Bloody mechanic who “fixed” the buttons earlier, must have had a twisted look when he reassembled the wheel…
Good thing though you only notice those things when you drive yourself. I consider myself lucky to have a driver, so I don’t see these flaws every day. But then, when my driver drives, I love to sit on the passenger seat. My fault entirely then, as the passenger seat unfortunately came loose during the last 2 weeks. No fun to get thrown around as your driver corners with a misaligned wheel 😦

Meanwhile the vehicle has done some 2500km, still gulps 17l/100km and I’m awaiting yet another reply from the dealer. I’m going to meet the head of R&D Mahindra next week down in Chennai — not because of my vehicle but for business reasons. I was thinking of driving down there but instead opted for a flight since driving would have meant sitting in a vehicle for 5hrs with 36deg C outside while it’s 32deg C inside with the aircon at full power. Not happening; I’m instead seriously thinking whether I should give him the URL of this post…

4 weeks later, a guy from Mahindra recently called me and said that this time, while the garage does the “repairs”, he will be around to make sure everything goes well. Well — the car is back from repair now, with, according to them, “all fixed”. Strange then that the gearbox lever still has the same fault, the steering wheel buttons still don’t work and the passenger seat still rattles… Good thing I can’t see any change with the “pick up”, I have hope that they didn’t even touch it.

I have decided to give up. The car is leased for 2 years, it’ll go back to the leasing company after that time and all is over for me. I will just take away that I will never, never ever in my life touch a Mahindra or Ssangyong vehicle again. Ever. Recommend those clunkers to your worst enemies…

Next up: My experience with the Kenwood Multimedia/Navigation unit that came installed in a Mahindra/Ssangyong Rexton RX7 in India.

Residential hardship

So I moved into this residential community in Bangalore recently. Here’s what local people in such upmarket places rant about. This is WAY better than redneck Germany! Guess what I, a large animal, will do again tomorrow morning:

Dear All,

I found dog poop in front of my villa again today morning and this is the 5th time within a month!

I seem to have got better at this and thanks to the pets I know more about poops now! So pet enthusiasts please don’t take the trouble replying to my mail saying that I could have mistaken cat poop for the same. I now know that it is definitely from a big dog or any animal that is larger.

I again request the pet owners to be more sensitive and considerate of your neighbors.

Thanks and regards
–name removed–