Burnt offerings 2014

The return of Qingming.

Nothing kills of the anticipation of a long weekend like a pile of exam papers, and once again this year, there are piles to be marked in the after­math of the mocks this week. I’m already a little ahead on the marking, having dispatched the A2s’ reading papers in a day, although that’s not quite the feat that it appears to be. I also made deep inroads into AS1’s reading, and that is a feat because there are five texts, and the paper is a bulky, clumsy thing to handle.

The exam this time has also been different because we included a writing paper. Normally, to spare ourselves a good deal of bother, we set some recent text type as the writing so that we can mark it beforehand. Although I like splitting things in this way, such exercises are only partial tests of the students’ ability to produce the text type correctly because they’re only dealing with a single type and don’t have to do it under exam conditions.

Although I told the classes to focus on the topics which we have covered in class (Health and Cultural Diversity), A2(2) mostly chose the Cultural Diversity topic or the Science and Technology one. The popularity of the latter was because the text type was blog/diary entry, which is no doubt regarded as an easy option because of its supposedly amorphous nature. A2(1&3) split themselves roughly evenly across four of the text types, but had the brains to avoid Leisure, which was a pamphlet giving advice and thus something akin to guidelines or instructions.

AS1 favoured the nature vs. nurture question about homosexuality; the blog entry reacting to newspaper reports alleging that Justin Bieber is gay; and the review topic (“review the film of the book”, meaning To Kill a Mockingbird; answers – anything but). The other two topics got a smatter­ing of attention.


A musical interlude.

When I saw that the exchange rate had improved in my favour, I went on a music-buying spree.

  1. Garden of Early Delights (Pamela Thorby and Andrew Lawrence-King; Linn Records) – this is an album of early Baroque music which includes some fairly familiar pieces (in fact, the only name I don’t know is Johann Schop), and combines the recorder with the harp.
  2. The Nightingale and the Butterfly (Pamela Thorby and Elizabeth Kenny; Linn Records) – Thorby unites with a lutenist on an album of French pieces from the late 17th and early 18th centuries. This is mostly new music from composers who I have previously not heard of (e.g. Charles Dieupart, Louis Caix d’Hervelois) or who were only slightly known to me (e.g. Robert de Visée).
  3. Locatelli, Concerti Grossi, Op. 1 (The Raglan Baroque Players; Hyperion Records) – I don’t often go to Hyperion because they charge VAT regardless of your point of origin, but the exchange rate was a little more benign than it has been. I had previously had a single example of Locatelli’s output prior to this and bought several albums all at once.
  4. Locatelli, L’Arte del Violino (The Raglan Baroque Players; Hyperion Records) – This is Locatelli’s Op. 3, which is the composer showing off his technical skills with the violin. It is not, though, one of those works of this nature in which all sense of musical quality is abandoned in favour of some clever screechy sound which very few violinists – apart from Locatelli – could achieve.
  5. Locatelli’s Op. 4 (The Raglan Baroque Players; Hyperion Records) – This is a combination of six Introduttioni Teatrali which, according to the accom­p­anying booklet, have an obscure history. The remaining six Concerti are just as obscure with no clear reason why they were included in this publication.
  6. Locatelli, 10 Sonatas Op. 8 (The Locatelli Trio; Hyperion Records) – Like Op. 4, this is a mixed bag, being a combination of ten violin and trio sonatas which, as the notes say, was contrary to the usual practice of six or twelve pieces of the same genre.
  7. Marin Marais, Pièces de Viole du Second Livre (Markku Luolajan-Mikkola et al.; BIS Records) – Having quite liked Marais’ Pièces de Caractère, I thought it was worth trying some more music from him and filling in a gap in my musical arsenal.
  8. Marin Marais, Pièces de Viole du Cinquième Livre (Wieland Kuijken et al.; Accent) – This album includes a piece which was inspired by the oper­ation in which Marais’ gallbladder was removed (Le Tableau de l’Oper­ation de la Taille). I was listening to the album when I heard what sound­ed like someone speaking French. I thought it was coming from outside, but it was commentary accompanying the music.
  9. Rameau, Pièces de clavecin en concerts (London Baroque; BIS Records) – This is an album of six concerts which are largely character pieces, although it’s often impossible to tell who in Rameau’s circle they refer to. The first concert is probably a tombeau, a genre of which the French seemed to be particularly fond. There is some overlap with Rameau, Complete Works for Harpsichord (Trevor Pinnock; crd).
  10. Italian Lute Music G.G. Kapsberger – A. Piccinini (Konrad Junghänal; Accent) – Lute music always gives me a sense of warm summer afternoons when the sun is setting, the light is just so, and the world is quiet and comfortable.
  11. Telemann, The twelve Fantasias for Transverse Flute without Bass (Bart­hold Kuijken; Accent) – This is another album in which “fantasia” has been misspelt in the file name. Probably it’s just a typo, but it smacks of a lack of attention.
  12. Telemann, Trios & Quartets (Epoca Barocca; CPO) – What is says on the box. Unfortunately, the accompanying booklet (an occasional inclusion from CPO) is cut off at the end of the first page of the German section, which means there. The CPO website is barely any more enlightening. This seems to be chamber music for the musically inclined burgers of Hamburg to bash out of an evening.
  13. Telemann, III Trietti metodichi e III Scherzi (Parnassi musici; CPO) – These are light pieces which Telemann published in 1731. The CPO website says they are “full of dancy swing”. CPO must’ve been on a budget because the cover for this album is the same as the cover of Telemann’s Complete Violin Concertos Vol. 4.
  14. Hotteterre, Complete Chamber Music Vol. 1 Suites Op. 2 (Camerata Köln; CPO) – This is a very recent release from CPO and marks the first in a series of four CDs from Camerata Köln. I haven’t listened to the album properly yet, but it is very chamber music in style.

My attempt to acquire Boismortier, Flute and Harpsichord Sonatas Op. 91 has been unsuccessful. I downloaded an album from Presto Classical, but what I got sounded late 18th century. I then had a listen to samples of the album on line, which confirmed that what I had was probably something by Haydn. I’m waiting for Presto Classical to let me know when the actual album will be ready for download.


The Sekkereterry of Stayte for Edgercayshun.

Last year when the PISA report came out, much was made of the results which showed that Asian school children were geniuses and British school children were barely able to hold a pencil without stabbing one other person (including themselves). As was observed at the time, the quality of life for Asian children is generally dreadful and, in the case of China, the results were based on children in Shanghai. Michael Gove wants GSCEs pegged to results in China and other successful economies from 2017.

As I’ve observed in the past, Chinese school children are good at anything a computer could do, but rarely good at anything else. Maths – tick that box; Physics – tick that box; Chemistry – tick with less certainty; Biology – don’t tick it at all because the language is beyond them. Arts and Humanities subjects? Not likely.

Even the dimmest students here can still do maths with a reasonable degree of competence, but only a few of them are capable of doing Further Maths according to the Head of the Maths Department at school. While they may be good at maths, that doesn’t make them intellectual giants. Anything requiring imagination and creativity is beyond all of them unless they’ve been taught some sort of procedure for mimicking something just as they are taught procedures for writing TOEFL and SAT essays.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Gove’s favourite sci-fi characters are the Borg from Star Trek and the Cybermen from Dr Who, both races of soulless cyborgs who can solve maths problems in the blink of an eye, but haven’t got a milligramme of creativity or joie de vivre among the lot of them. The man seems to want Borg school children rather than human beings.


Bloody China Mobile.

I’m regretting the recent switch to China Mobile. The latest wheeze is that all .co.uk websites have been blocked. I’d been on Presto Classical the other morning, but couldn’t get on it in the afternoon without Astrill. The same block (or, impediment) seemed to be affecting music sites in general, but I found, for example, that The Register was also out of bounds. .org.uk sites seemed to be partly affected. At school, which I assume goes through China Telecom, there were no problems with any of these sites. Great­fire.org claims no blocking, either. I suspect this may be some sort of filter­ing cockup. Something to do with a DNS update?


But at the end of the day…

I need to get on with some marking.

Bridging the gap

The rest isn’t silence.

I’ve been intending to post something here for some time, but every time I’ve tried to do something about it, I eventually look at what I’ve written and decide that I can’t be bothered posting it.

The start of this term has been busy with the practice for the individual orals, the practice for IGCSE speaking, the Written Assignment, and the actual individual orals all being dealt with in the first three weeks. As a consequence, the winter holiday is a distant memory with a feeling of unreality about it. The coming week will be the first normal week we’ve had all term, but the week after is the mocks (yes, already), and by the time those are out of the way, the final exams for English B will barely be a month off.

In other news, I decided to buy myself some nice speakers for my laptop when my latest set of Edifier R10s started giving off a hum. This time I bought a set of Edifier M3 Plus speakers which consist of a tube-shaped sub-woofer and two golf ball like satellites, which I tried with my Walkman and suspected that the sound was better that my big Edifier R30s. (Yes, I do seem to have a thing for Edifier speakers; I did look at some Logitech speakers, but the model I considered had too much bass and no control over it.)

I finally did something about getting better broadband at home, and have switched to China Mobile. The new service offers 10Mbps, which is a marked improvement on the pitiful 1.5Mbps which I’d previously had. The downside is that China Mobile appears to block Live Journal even although I am able to access it from school. In better tech news, I found I was able to chat to Mum and Dad on Skype using my phone.


Indo-European Linguistics by James Clackson.

This is an overview of issues in Indo-European, laying out issues in phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics and affiliations among the IE languages. In my own field (stress assignment), Indo-Europeanists generally think in terms of paradigmatic shifts rather than morphologically generated patterns, which is a little like applying templates to the process. An interesting book which gives some insight into the limits of our knowledge of (P)IE.


Empress Dowager Cixi by Jung Chang.

In her book, Chang shows that the picture we have of Cixi is not exactly accurate and that while some of the charges levelled at her are well founded, the author presents a woman who ought to be lauded rather than reviled. As well as trying to correct the bias against Cixi, Chang also shines the light on the people who helped her, including foreigners such as Sir Robert Hart, who was instrumental in improving the Chinese government’s finances. Chang also takes quite a few implicit swipes at the present dynasty with the Dowager Empress and her supporters being keen to put reform into practice rather than waffle about them and make empty gestures.


Proof.

Gwyneth Paltrow fears that she might’ve inherited her father’s mental illness. “How shall I play this part?” thought Gwyneth, and said to herself, “Like a very damp, monochromatic sponge.” Film of the play. Yawn.


Michael Collins.

The American version of the road towards Irish independence. Michael Collins fights to free Ireland from the clutches of the British Empire while conducting a bromance with Harry Boland which turns sour when he returns from London with a declaration of almost independence and triggers a civil war. Harry is killed in the internecine fighting, and de Valera apparently entices Collins to a remote part of the countryside where he can be assassinated. History takes a drubbing at the same time.

As the old Chinese year passes

Out with the old and in with the new.

It’s about time computer manufacturers caught up with the demands of everyone else and fitted about half a dozen USB ports to laptops and PCs. Three ports on my laptop, but one of those is taken up by the USB hub; a second (USB 3.0) is occupied by my external HD; and the third is now connected to my second USB hub. When I bought a pair of replacement speakers a few months ago, they came out of the cupboard because, it seems, they all come with USB plugs these days whereas I wanted one with a jack because that’d be another port permanently out of action.

While I was in the computer centre, I also had a look at monitors. Mine has been doing sterling service, but it’s about six years old, and although it may have been manufactured in 2008, it was already an old model. I had a look at an Acer H236HL, and when I got home, read some reviews of it on the Internet, which were generally very positive. I went back and bought it after lunch. Like the laptop monitors I’ve had for the past few years, it’s one of those crystalbrite (sp?) displays; 1920×1080, which means that all my wallpaper is redundant because of the difference in size and aspect ratio. The picture is, though, noticeably sharper and clearer. The down­sides are a.) the plastic frame feels flimsy; b.) the frame is too narrow for my webcam to sit firmly on; and c.) the buttons are on the underside of the frame and not labelled in any way, thus making it fiddly to change any of the settings. But the quality of the picture in comparison to the old monitor make up for any issues.

There was a WeChat update for my phone yesterday about which I told Linda. “If you look at the shopping bag,” I said, “you’ll see whether you’ve got updates.” How many updates did Linda have? 29. Eek! I also had a major system update this morning (the Lumia Black one), but I’ve also read that there’s meant to be a W8.1-type update in the next few months. So far, so good with the phone. While W8 may be generally despised on computers, its mobile instantiation works well, although I’m not the most demanding user. It could do with something like Windows Explorer be­cause there’s no central pool of files. If I copy a pdf document to my phone, I can choose Adobe Reader or MS’s PDF Reader, but once I’ve chosen one, I can’t open the document with the other one or even navigate to it, and Office only lists files that have come from SkyDrive or have been copied to the phone via Bluetooth. I suppose the idea is that everything’s on SkyDrive, which wilfully ignores the difference between a few small files and something substantial in size which is a pain to upload and download. Some empires have feeble broadband and are a long way from uploading, say, 50Mb as if it’s nothing at all.

I did have a play with the panorama software on the phone last night. Must try it again, outside, although the air is currently unfit for human con­sump­tion, and the phone is recharging as I write.

Yesterday, I posted my first blog entry via my phone to my LJ blog and today I changed the theme of my WP blog to 2014, which I much prefer to the hideous mess that was 2013. This one is much more elegant, being thankfully devoid of the unappealing coloured circles of last year’s one, and the unattractive font used for headings. I’ve also added a nice header picture which contrasts with and complements the colour of the sidebar.

Finally term ends

Three days late.

On Monday morning when I went to school, I found the back gate was locked. When I parked my bike, I found the gate at the top of the stairs was locked, and I noticed no obvious activity over at the main school, which made me suspicious.

I’m told that we were the only ones at school because the headmaster had had a tantrum. According to the contract, we are permitted one religious holiday off (which is ironic because I’m an atheist), but it seems the headmaster thought we should be punished for daring to have a significant holiday off. He was also in a frightful bate because the students who went to Yunnan with Habitat for Humanity in November had not sought his permission to go (which, quite probably, he would not have granted).

We know that the headmaster doesn’t like the presence of an international programme at school. I don’t know whether he’s a xenophobe, a nationalist, a racist, or quite what. Quite possibly all of the above.

Although classes have been a waste of time this week, we’ve still had quite a bit to do because the start of the second term is going to be insanely busy with the individual orals, the written assignment, and the IGCSE speaking. For the first four weeks, at least, I’ll see AS 1 now and then, and the A2 class, er, whenever. We have about a month (a week here and a couple of weeks there) to get through the rest of the IB English B course.

Like last year, this term vanished with indecent haste. Next term is likely to do much the same. The mock will be upon us before we know it, and the finals before we’ve even recovered from the mocks. Lots of dead time, including the final couple of weeks of June, which are always a complete waste of time.

Alphabetical

By Michael Rosen.

In Alphabetical, the poet, Michael Rosen, goes on a ramble through the alphabet. He says something about the history and pronunciation of each letter, which he follows up with a discursive, letter-inspired essay.

The preludes are repetitive and shallow, and rather frequently wrong. I knew that things were not going to go well when in the introduction Rosen claims that “man” – “men” and “woman” – “women” are n-plurals and that the Germanic n-plural was gradually swapped for the Romance s-plural. This is, of course, complete drivel (which is repeated later in the book), and it continues in various forms well beyond the introduction. /s/ and /z/ are, respectively, voiceless and voiced, Michael, not “soft” and “hard”. Ugh. The man even has the gall to talk about the International Phonetic Alphabet and its mutant American cousin.

The also essays vary. Some are interesting even if I’m a little sceptical about their factual accuracy. Others drag on when some diligent editor should’ve smacked Rosen round the back of the head and introduced him to the words “concise” and “interesting”. They resemble extended versions of the sort of feature articles which appear in Sunday magazines which come with the papers. I read some and skimmed my way indifferently through others.

Alphabetical is a mix of two- and three-star material. Readers looking for an intelligent discussion of the genesis of the modern alphabet would be advised to look elsewhere. The accompanying essays are a hit-and-miss affair. If one bores, skip to another.

The blockheads strike again

Don’t let a good story get in the way of paranoia.

In baffling news, the Shanghaiist reported that The Guardian has been blocked – at least the desktop version has. Why? No one knows.

Although there have been quite a few China stories in paper over the past few months, there had been nothing recently which might justify the blocking of the site. It is possible that the block was a mistake, but that seems unlikely. It’s possible that the imperial government got wind of some (allegedly sensitive) story and wanted to spike The Guardian’s guns, but there have been no revelatory stories so far. It’s possible that The Guardian is being punished for the activities of its journalists in China.

On that final point, foreign journalists have been having problems getting their visas renewed (The Shanghaiist).

The irony (though not a new irony in cases like these) is that the mobile version of The Guardian is still accessible at the time of writing. How long will the desktop site be out? I don’t know. It may be quietly unblocked soon rather than later; but even if it isn’t, my little darlings should still expect to see more articles from The Guardian in the future.

[21.01.14. The Guardian is now visible again, but I don’t know when access was restored. In a bout of contrariness, we were unable to access any search engines from school this afternoon, including that imperial lapdog, Baidu. It’s not unusual for Google to be inaccessible from school, but there’s no rhyme or reason to it.]

[22.01.14. Well, it seems that the block was probably a warning shot from the imperial government because this morning [still currently visible] is China’s princelings storing riches in Caribbean offshore haven. It’s an article about a report on the colossal amount of wealth a tiny number of people in China have. Will this lead to The Guardian being blocked for good? On the one hand, this isn’t exactly news; on the other, it is a little embarrassing for the emperor and his drive against corruption. I won’t be surprised if imperial peevishness prevails.

Later. Imperial peevishness has indeed prevailed. The Guardian is blocked again – completely. Even the mobile version is unavailable this time.

The strange disappearance of Baidu and other search engines yesterday may be due to an alleged hacking attack, which directed Chinese users to some website run by the people behind Freegate. (China blames hackers for internet outage that re-routed users to US site. The Guardian – the emperor’s favourite foreign rag.)]

New Year, New Learning

Thirty years late.

This weekend was half busy in that I spent almost the entirety of yesterday marking my way through my Extended Essays. Knowing how many marking criteria there are (eleven), I marked them all one criterion at a time, which may not have sped things up, but it did mean I wasn’t having to keep eleven things in mind all at the same time.

I note that none of the criteria really covered the matter of the accuracy of peripheral facts. One student stated there were two world wars in the 20th century only to shift them back to the 19th century. None of the criteria seemed concerned with grammatical accuracy beyond appropriateness, which meant that some nonsense had to be allowed to pass. Nor were there any penalties for improper use of paragraphs. Once again, the IBO seeks to flatter.

The main problems tended to be with peripheral issues such as the abstract, the introduction, and the bibliography. The last of these lost everyone marks because in spite of being told to use the Harvard Reference System, it was not properly implemented. I had even warned one student to change the bibliography in her first draft, but to no avail. The final draft contained the same bibliography.

Where Saturday was busy, Sunday was deliberately idle. I spent quite a large chunk of the day on YouTube looking for music videos from the early 80s and creating playlists. I’ve been after pieces of music that I liked at the time, but never felt inclined to buy the album. I’ve also been tracking down pieces of music which I liked, but about which I knew next to nothing at the time.

Thus, I found that UB40’s song Food for Thought, which has a memorable sax riff, begins “Ivory Madonna, dancing in the dark”, and not “I’m a prima donna…” I had thought the song was a dig at Thatcher. I didn’t know that Making Plans for Nigel was by XTC; or that Johnny and Mary was sung by Robert Palmer and is supposed to be about a couple of mimes; or something. I thought it was some melancholy piece about someone who’s mentally retarded or perhaps suffering from the consequences of drug addiction or a car crash. And his name’s spelt Jona Lewie.

I also happened to bump into a video of hits from 1986, which reminded me why I gave up on contemporary music at about that time. Glam rock had returned, it was an age of saccharine ballads, and rap was starting to blight the scene. It was also the time of feat. songs when, I think, we were all meant to fall about in orgasmic ecstasies about the union of two great musical egos… Sorry, artists. All right, it seems to have worked sometimes – Bowie and Jagger, for example. This also reminds me of Dire Straits. Must go looking for some of their stuff.

The Saturday Ramble

Waffle with everything.

It’s been a long time since I wrote one of my rambling, ephemeral Saturday-morning posts, but for the first time in a while, I don’t have to concern myself with other business – typically something school-related.

The monthly tests were last week, although it feels a longer time has passed. A week ago I was marking AS1’s reading tests; on Wednesday, I ploughed my way through A2(1&3)’s reading tests; and on Thursday, A2(2)’s got the same treatment. Because we had students away doing SATs during the tests, there were a couple of strays to be dealt with, but unlike quite a few of my less fortunate colleagues, I don’t have these things hanging over my head this weekend.

However, lest it be thought that this situation is all silver lining and no cloud, I had the A2s write their embedded interviews yesterday, and AS1 write its reviews of The Social Network. The former had had all week because it was the last round of the interactive orals this week and I’d set them the task of writing the embedded interview while I was otherwise engaged. Some had completed the task, and quite a few had rewritten the transcript interview, which is a text type we did last year; but I insisted that they should finish the writing partly because they’d had all week to do it. I had AS1 write their reviews immediately after they’d watched The Social Network because when last year’s AS classes did the same exercise as homework, they plagiarised other reviews en masse and I abandoned the whole thing. However, these things can wait. I’m having my weekend.

I’ve been keeping half an eye on the trial of the Grillo sisters, who have just been acquitted of committing fraud against Charles Saatchi and Nigella Lawson. This is not because I have any particular interest in the case, but because the embedded interview was part of the food-themed section of English class. The task for the A2s was to write up an embedded interview with a celebrity chef. Lawson comes into the story because I happened to use a couple of interviews with her as additional examples.

My contract has been renewed and I’m even getting a modest pay increase. I thought that those days were over because I’d hit the top of the pay scale.


The new toy.

After Linda replaced her stolen phone recently, I decided that it was about time I did the same. This was not because the phone was ailing, but because it was ageing. Since Linda had bought a Nokia Lumia, I decided to do the same, and headed off to Suning Plaza, which is just across the lane from Parkson. They may have been having a sale because the phone I bought, a 920, was ¥2,399 here, but in the shop in Chengdu, Linda said it was ¥3,000.

The Lumia 920 is a WindowsPhone running WP8, and where I think W8 (or its derivatives) is a dumb idea on a laptop or PC, it works on a phone or tablet, although not everything is obvious. For example, there’s a screen view which shrinks the screen and allows you to swipe through recent places. According to the manual, you hold down the left arrow key, although I have no idea how I’ve done such a thing because I’ve only managed to bring up that screen by accident on previous occasions. The screen also rotates from time to time, but that seems to be a matter of holding the phone in the upright position and turning it sideways. It does happen at odd moments, though. Nothing in the manual about this function, which I assume is a more recent addition to the device.

The phone came with the usual Nokia apps such as maps, music, etc. Because of the link with Microsoft, the phone came with the mobile version of Office home and student edition. One Note has a separate tile, which is probably sensible since it’s apparently the phone’s notebook. As far as using Office productively goes, I’d say that it’s wishful thinking. It’s all right for reviewing documents in Word, Excel, and Powerpoint, but the size of the screen and limited functionality of these programs makes creativity awkward – something done out of necessity. In addition to these apps, I’ve also installed Adobe Reader, Kindle (hurrah! And the text is much better on the phone than it is on my Kindle), and Google, which seems to have some kind of built-in browser although I can’t get Chrome without being redirected to the Chinese Nokia website – any attempts to get Chrome from elsewhere get blocked. I’ll just have to tolerate IE10.

It was fortunate that I already had an MS account when I got the phone and that I happened to have the password with me. Office comes with SkyDrive, which is not a service I use half as much as I ought to, although there are still quite a lot of pictures there from the days when my blog was on Spaces.

The phone also forced me to buy a wireless router about which I was a little wary because I expected to find that I should be coughing up more money for a second connection to the outside world. As it turns out, that wasn’t the case. Nor was the router exactly expensive. I was expecting the price to be several hundred 元, but it was a mere ¥100. The first problem to overcome was the installation because the instructions were only in Chinese; but after a little guesswork, I found that the first part was irrelevant because it was to do with setting things up through Control Panel. The other part involved going to the router’s IP address and setting things up through a page which, I assume, it embedded on the device. This, too, is solely in Chinese, but I overcame that as well, and have had WiFi ever since. It became clear that I needed it after I found that the Nokia Suite software for my old phone didn’t interact with the new one.

There was also an app allowing PCs and laptops to chat to the phone via a USB connection, but it has very limited functionality. For once, Bluetooth seems to be a better option.

I opted for the 920 over the 925 because the reviews suggested that the former was better value for money while the latter was expensive and added little. So far, I have no real complaints about the phone apart from its occasional bursts of quirky behaviour when I do something with it that I wasn’t intending to do.


0 to the far side of the intersection faster than an Audi R8.

I’ve already had one run-in with a tardy Audi R8, and now I’ve had another. I was waiting to cross the intersection to Baoli. On the other side was a black Audi R8 Coupé oozing coolness. The light went green and I dashed off. It was not until I was nearly on the far side of the intersection that the wide boy in the Audi decided to rev his engine, which made a considerable amount of noise, and out-accelerate everything else – embarrassingly late. Perhaps it was turbo lag.

While we’re on the streets of Wuxi, the 中山路-县前街 intersection remains a mess. The road surface is wet and uneven, and heavy metal plates, which bob up and down as vehicles pass over them, remain strewn across the road. There’s no sign of anyone doing any work on it at all.


The winter solstice.

Today’s Google doodle claims that it’s the first day of winter. Where? Where is it the first day of winter? It sounds like a Hallmark anniversary. It is the winter solstice, though, and bloody cold to boot.

The Great Game

By Peter Hopkirk.

The Great Game was played out in central Asia between Britain and Russia throughout the 19th century as the former, fearing that the ultimate prize for the latter was India, sought to counter Russian expansion. It was set against a background of brutal terrain, a brutal climate, and brutal people in a remote part of the world which was largely unknown to either Britain or Russia.

In many ways, it was another part of the Age of Discovery as British and Indian surveyor-explorers surveyed the regions north of India to assess how easy it might be for the Russians to send army through the passes to invade the Jewel in the Crown. Very often such ventures ended in death in a violent, duplicitous, and deeply xenophobic part of the world.

The British government vacillated between forward-thinking policies and masterly inactivity while the Russians deceitfully nibbled away at central Asia, often extending their borders as a fait accompli about which their opponents could do nothing. But whether the Russians really had been a threat to India is another matter, and it is incredible that apart from the Crimean War, the two sides avoided all-out war.

There was plenty of heroic derring-do which led both to terrible slaughter (Afghanistan) and close-run victories (Chitral).

Hopkirk tells an interesting tale which occasionally feels dated by references to Soviet historians and their dubious interpretation of the events of the time. His account focuses on the British side, but he does so without waving the flag directly. There is, though, plenty of implicit criticism of the Russian Empire for its duplicity as it typically denied any interest in further expansion before it did exactly the opposite, and the British government for its apparent naivety (which may just have been masterly inactivity).

Everyone smokes here

The Airpocalypse continues.

A picture of a smoggy day in Wuxi, China, December 2013.The air quality in Wuxi has continued to be vile for a third day, having risen by a hund­red points to an AQI reading of 352 at 4.00am this morning, since when it’s per­sist­ent­ly been above 340 all day. I assume that this is the consequence of an inversion layer sitting on top of China causing the smog to build up. (As I write this, some thoughtful person is making things just that bit worse by setting off some fireworks; but in­tel­lig­ence and consideration are not really qualities of the average imperial citizen; in fact, if Descartes had been Chinese, he would’ve eaten the dog after killing it so brutally, and would’ve said ‘I pollute, therefore I am’.)

Yesterday, the PM 2.5 and PM 10 readings were over 300, but at the time of writing, they’ve dropped to a less lethal 239 and 272. I should take up smoking since I’m sure that would be less injurious to my health than the stuff thickening the air like lethal cornflour.

Now that the temperature has dropped, wearing a mask while I’m riding my bike is not such a trial as it used to be. In fact, I notice that quite a lot of people have been wearing masks today, including many of the pupils at school.

I see the PM was in China recently. He complained about a Bloomberg reporter being excluded from a press conference, but I assume he phoned his boss (Li Keqiang) who phoned the emperor, who said it was all right for Cameron to complain so that (to a domestic audience) it would look like Britain was standing up to China.


The Smogpocalyse drags on. (06.12.13)

Smog in Wuxi, China, December 2013Things have got worse. At the time of writing, the AQI is 354, PM 2.5 440, and PM 10 545.

Meanwhile, outside, there’s some sort of student market. Instead of the school banning such a thing and telling children to remain inside, their lordships seem quite happy for all of them to breathe the vile and unbreathable air. Of course, the students aren’t helping themselves by opening the windows of their classrooms.

In fact, in any reasonable country, we would all have been told to stay home. On the other hand, if we were told to stay home, we’d probably end up having various weekends stolen from us.

As far as I’m currently aware, there’s no end in sight.

Today’s picture was the scene looking east at about 5pm. At the current time of writing, the AQI is 387, PM 2.5 379, and PM 10 494. What is being done about this?


Shuffling off this mortal miasma. (10.12.13)

Yesterday morning was very dull and grey, and the AQI had started rising again after hitting a peak of 387 about 24 hours earlier.

It was, though, the arrival of a cold front from the north that has finally seen off the smog, and this morning, the air is comparatively less filthy in that I can see the buildings in town clearly, although I can’t see the line of 锡山 to the east. Still, this is a vast improvement over the view out of my window for the past week.

Life and whatever in the imperium sericum.

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