Go to Homepage
The only difference between first class travellers and first class idiots is the price they pay.
Vijay Verghese, Editor, Smart Travel Asia

Are you being hacked?

My doppelganger and I slug it out to access Gmail and the right to surf in English.


Vijay Verghese/ Editor

Change font size Smaller font Larger font

Print This ArticleE-mail This Page
Visit our Facebook page
Who built a hotel on the runway at Samui Airport?
Amazing things are happening in Thailand according to Google Map

THE WEB is a clever beast. It is intuitive, quick, and can be fashioned to focus on user needs and preferences. Much of this happens automatically without the need for users to change settings and fumble endlessly with widgets and arcane coding. In short it is idiot-proof. Thus when I open Google on my browser in Hong Kong, it recognises my location and switches everything to Chinese text. This remarkable facility enables me to spend a lot of quality time online – mainly figuring out how to switch everything back to English as I do not speak or read Chinese.

The result is I have started spending less time on the internet and more time with friends and family. I have started opening delightful reference books like The Royal Horticultural Society's Encyclopaedia of Plants and Flowers that were gathering dust on my bookshelves. Thus I was reacquainted with yellow-tinged frangipanis and floppy pink tongues of musanda.

Send us your Feedback / Letter to the Editor

A few days ago I pored over an atlas. For those not in the know, this is a large and hefty book that is ideal for school going kids and for throwing at husbands who fail to understand geography. "YOUR mother stays in THAT room, comprende?" "But that's the cupboard." THUMP!

I got to see what the world really looks like, not through Google Earth or Street View, but on large glossy printed sheets with countries marked in bright yellow, orange and blue with red lines demarcating boundaries. I used to do this when my son was in school, pre-internet. I had also attempted to teach him about the world's religions and showed him an illustration of Christ entering Jerusalem, seated on a donkey. "Why not Mercedes Benz?" he asked, using a simple Hong Kong algorithm of the kind Google employs. The last time I pulled out a large atlas was to ask my staff, "Where is Brunei?" – only to get as many responses as there were voices.

It matters not a jot that Sudan is now torn in two and that Indian Kashmir has been gobbled up by China and Pakistan, or that the Spratly Islands – inconsequential specks in the South China Sea – are claimed by just about every country within 500km of the sandy spits due to the faint promise of oil lurking in the blue depths. A printed atlas has a certain je ne sais quoi about it and a reassuring rustle of paper that defeats insta-maps on the Web.

I have to admit though, online maps are often packed with remarkable information. Flying to Samui some months ago I consulted a Google map only to realise that my plane could not land at Samui Airport as someone had built a hotel smack in the middle of the runway. At least that's where The Anantara resort was flagged. How these things happen is anybody's guess. Competitor sabotage? User idiocy? Google too clever by half? And when you get five different location results for the Grand Hyatt Tokyo you'll throw up your hands in despair and set your hair alight, which seems the smart thing to do under the circumstances.

Flying to Samui I consulted a Google map only to realise that my plane could not land at Samui Airport as someone had built a hotel smack in the middle of the runway...

Why does Google think I am Chinese? It decided I was Chinese some weeks back when I found myself unable to access the main Google.com site. It seems an odd calculation in this day and age where people are more international and mobile than ever before. Multinationals parked everywhere from Kazakhstan to Ougadougou are busy hiring Indians, Chinese, Filipinos, Singaporeans, Swedes and Americans. Just about every international language is spoken in Hong Kong. Yet Google's lingua franca is Chinese.
This is the fundamental problem with algorithms. Math equations do not take common sense into account. New-hire foetuses at Google are reprogramming the world and we are all falling in step with their flawed algorithms.

My father who was visiting Hong Kong recently tried to access his Gmail and was rerouted to all manner of secret questions and complex scrawled-text challenge-response gimmicks. After 15 or so attempts he gave up. Earlier Google had sent up an alert on a bold pink strip declaring that hackers [read, the Chinese government] were afoot and the price of Gmail access was eternal vigilance. My father was eventually told someone was trying to hack into his account from Hong Kong. I found a way in and left my computer – and Gmail – on for an entire week. Friends report similar issues when they travel to other countries and I am frequently branded an interloper by Yahoo when I try to log on from different Asian cities.

Fear not. There are two fixes. Type "/ncr" after the search engine address, as in www.google.com/ncr and you're back to the English version. Or learn Chinese.

There is something romantic about being an interloper abroad. It's all very cloak and dagger. But I am worried. If I changed my browser settings from Chinese to English would it spark off some terrible conflagration? Perhaps like in some terrifying movie I am in fact my own doppelganger trying to break into my own life. So which is the real me?

Send us your Feedback / Letter to the Editor

Previous Columns
Snap-happy hounds beware Delhi daze in springtime Let's celebrate with Kitty Hide your prying eyes Pilot project for beginners Green flights of fancy? The art of arriving late When life drives you potty Airports, awards, and alarm A fright for sore eyes Dry skin wet eyes Back to the Tunnel of Love Why fearless flyers won't flee fees More wind in the hair Travel tremors after Japan The case of the intact bags End of the OTA-man empire? A picture says a thousand words Only Engrish spoken here Voices in the sky A tale of three airports What's in a brand A big bite of a bad Apple Now haste to the hustings Just 400 homicides and all's well No sex please, we're British Some minor details aloft Highway to the heavens You look radiant darling Good info a needle in a haystack Please watch that safety drill A classic cycle folderol Utterly eggcentric behaviour The price is right Flashing in public is a crime [Offset] my kingdom for a horse Your cash or I'll sneeze The greening of the world Do broccoli need passports? Could I see your profile? Great Scott! Empty seats Travel in an age of terror There is no free lunch Another Night in Bangkok Beatings on the beach Travelling with Teenage Kids Whither Wi-Fi at 30,000ft? Are you locked in the toilet? Charge of the Flight Brigade Across the Universe Baby it's cold outside Why I'm dying to travel A key question Gorillas in the mist Confounding customs When blackmail works By taxi through Asia A really cheap date Make a meal of it Tales of two teeth Putting curbs on carbs Dial R for rip-off The New Math aloft Why boutique is best Are you terminally mad? Heavy question, ladies The secret of good sleep Just bring Pluto back A fluid situation aloft Why Friday's the best Nothing but the truth Gone in 60 seconds Just use your imagination Free flights for all Is your travel in vein? Pet peeves and solutions Viral travellers welcome Yes it's safe to step out A passage to India It is a "brand" new Asia The show must go on Criminally good holidays The accidental tourist It's a free ride Sleep tips for the road I'll follow the sun A good pillow fight A bridge too far? World's safest spots The need for speed Small is beautiful, sometimes Bumming around Asia Samsonite and Delilah Just one good book Space, the final frontier Extreme Travel for Real Men Just grin and bare it Unfazed by phrase Honey, I Shrunk My Brain Miss World to the Rescue When things go bump To catch a croc, in Hongkong A thrilla in Manila The Steamy truth about Spas Are Travel Agents Dinosaurs? The Hub of the Matter Win a second wife - free! Forget inflight TV, try DVT Adventures of the Green Man Hongkong's Masked Ball Travels in War and Peace Advice on travel advisories Pound of flesh
Note: Telephone and fax numbers, e-mails, website addresses, rates and other details may change or get dated. Please check with your dealer/agent/service-provider or directly with the parties concerned. SmartTravel Asia accepts no responsibility for any inadvertent inaccuracies in this article. Links to websites are provided for the viewer's convenience. SmartTravel Asia accepts no responsibility for content on linked websites or any viruses or malicious programs that may reside therein. Linked website content is neither vetted nor endorsed by SmartTravelAsia. Please read our Terms & Conditions.