A serious journal of record

News most necessary for all citizens to know.

I normally wouldn’t bother with China Daily, the English-language mouth­piece of the Party, but when I went to the Trader’s to get yesterday’s South China Morning Post, the concierge insisted that I take a copy of the former.

On page three (not that sort of page 3), there are some news stories in brief from the Chinese media. These cover a range of topics from the serious to the frivilous, but mostly at the latter end of the pond.

  • One man is trying to rent out his forehead as advertising space, but he’s asking for ¥100K a month (c. £7000).
  • A Guangdong man suffering from OCD had to have surgery after he discovered that his girlfriend wasn’t a virgin (although we’re assured that he loves her very much).
  • A third man, this time in Guangxi, dumped his girlfriend for her twin sister because the latter was “prettier and nicer”.
  • From Henan, we have the story of a 40 year old man showing extreme filial piety under the thumb of his critically ill mother for the past 20 years. Our spineless wimp said that he’d give up the idea of marriage if his 82 year old mother could live long. Hang on a mo’. I thought she was critically ill.
  • A thief in Shandong needed some Dutch courage to pull off a heist, but was caught after falling asleep instead.
  • A 50 year old man was accused of trying to find a girlfriend after he went to an Internet bar to chat to his daughter online.
  • In slightly more local news, a man in Nanjing was sacked for not washing his boss’s cat.

Not that the mainland Chinese have a monopoly on stupidity. A 16 year old boy in Singapore fell out a window to his death after jumping up and down on his bed too much in imitation of some pop star. Yeah, I know it’s tragic, but it’s stupidly tragic.

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The shorter it gets, the longer it grows

You can’t hurry these things.

Meanwhile, another gaff from the Civilization IV manual. This is under several entries in the Advanced Rules section.

Construction Speed Halved

Of course, it should be “Construction Time Halved” or “Construction Speed Doubled”. But if you look at the section on Wonders, you’ll find “Production time halved by:” or “Production cost halved by:”. But both phrases have the same meaning (namely, the latter), and thus I stumble across another inconsistency.

Quite a few times on the Q3W LEM forum, newbies learning to use gtkradiant have been advised to RTFM, but it seems that we should be giving Firaxis this advice, too.

Perhaps it’s American English

Doublespeak.

I was browsing through the Civilopedia, which is the in-game encyclopedia that comes with Civilization IV, when I came across this sentence at the end of the entry about England. (My emphasis, natch.)

Faced now with terrorist attacks that threaten the lives of ordinary civilians, Britain has pledged to work together with the United States and other nations to defend this attack on civilization.

Defend?! Were we on Osama’s side all along? I don’t know whether this is a valid sentence in American English, but in my English it should be something like “has pledged … to defend civilization against such attacks” or “has pledged … to counter/oppose this attack on civilization”.

I’ve never heard of “defend” being used this way, even in American English. A search of answers.com yields nothing more than the senses I’d expect.

My suspicion is that the English is simply ungrammatical, and that Firaxis Games thought they could do without an editor/proofreader to check what’d been written. In fact, it gets worse. The credits list five writers – a lead and four others.

If we have a look at the same sentence in the other languages which are available in the game, we find

French: “…pour défendre les attaques contre la civilisation occidentale.
German: “…arbeitet Großbritannien im Kampf gegen den Terrorismus heute eng mit den USA und anderen Nationen zusammen.”
Italian: “…per respingere questo attacco alla civilizzazione.”
Spanish: “…Gran Bretaña se ha comprometido a trabajar con los Estados Unidos y otros países en defensa de su visión del mundo.”

I’m no expert in any of these languages. For instance, I don’t know whether the French is to be read as se défendre “to put up a fight”, with the reflexive pronoun being implied from “la Grande-Bretagne s’est engagée etc.” earlier in the same sentence or not. If that isn’t the cases, then none of the possible meanings of défendre make any more sense than the English. It’s interesting to note that the French specifies Western civilisation and not just the vague civilisation.

If my German isn’t too duff, then that says what I’d expect, although there’s no defence of civilisation. The Italian also says what I’d expect, although the unfortunate translation of respingere on wordreference.com is “beat off”. Fnar! Fnar!

If I understand the Spanish correctly, that also says what I’d expect, but it seems to be a little critical (“en defensa de su visión [the United States’ vision?] del mundo”).

So in the end, we have not only some apparently wonky English, but we find that translators may have their own agenda.

Civilization IV

Rome wasn’t built in a day, but if you give me an afternoon…

First, there was Civilization, an addictive DOS game with clunky graphics. Then there was Civilization II, the very first game on CD-ROM that I ever bought. I still think of that as the classic version of the game, which I’d still be playing today if it ran under WinXP. Civilization III seemed to be a wrong turn in the franchise. Perhaps I was bored with the franchise, or perhaps the changes weren’t to my taste. And now we have Civilization IV.

As you’d expect, the game play is pretty much the usual – build cities; till the fields; expand, and be annoyed by the AI teams.

There are some new features such as Civics, Religions, and Great People. Civics have come from Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri (SMAC). Instead of the old system of Despotism, Monarchy, Republic, Communism, and Democracy as available government types, each aspect of government has different options allowing the player to mix and match systems. Of course, this leads to anomalies such as Universal Suffrage, Slavery, and Theocracy. Like SMAC, there are clearly optimal choices which will be most beneficial to your society.

As the manual admits, Religion stirs up strong opinions; explains that seven religions were found to be the best number for the game; and the seven that were chosen were no reflection on the value of any other religions. Of course, Confucianism is not a religion. Among other things, Confucius was big on The Way (i.e., Daoism/Taoism) which is in the game. It would’ve been nice to see Humanism in the mix, but that’s kind of hidden in the Free Religion Civic. At this stage, Religion in the game is an interesting addition, but seems mainly aimed at keeping your querulous cits happy.

Great People are various major figures from history and fall into the categories of scientists, artists, merchants etc. When they’re spawned in a city, they can join it; contribute to research; trigger golden ages; found academies; and so on. They’re kind of like mini-wonders and are a nice little boost when they appear.

Two other changes are the removal of city riots and pollution. The former were a particular nuisance in Civ III because you’d have to monitor your cities almost every round to make sure that everyone was happy. The latter was a pain to deal with because workers took too much time dealing with pollution appearing on the same tiles again and again and again.

Workers now have a much wider range of actions to perform beyond building roads, mines, and irrigation. The Work Boat has the same function at sea, although it’s actions are more limited.

The AI teams seem about as dim as ever, unfortunately. I prefer to play the game as a world-builder, hence I don’t tend to waste much time on military units. Unfortunately, in the first game I played, the Aztecs got shirty, declared war, and conquered a couple of cities. That was dumb because I was technologically advanced enough and wealthy enough to have my remaining cities churn out Modern Armour. The Aztecs were only saved from a well-deserved drubbing because I won a space race victory. But it’s something that ought to have been addressed by now. If your opponent is technologically more advanced than you, and has stacks of cash, you shouldn’t be going to war against them.

From what I’ve seen so far, it’d seem that the AI teams no longer found cities in unviable geographical locations on the margins of your territory, which was one of the annoying habits they had in Civ II and Civ III. [10.09.08. Not exactly correct as I discovered in a recent game.] But in the game, you’ll occasionally get a visit from one of them recommending that you switch to the same Civic as them. My refusal to do so hasn’t resulted in a declaration of war, but I’m waiting for it to happen. The other irksome AI habit is their demand that you cease contact with some other civilisation. I think I rejected the Aztecs’ demands one time too many, and that’s why they went to war.

On this point, it’d be nice to be able to tell the AI not to ask some question ever again, and have the request respected.

The game defaults to seven civilisations, but I feel that for the standard map, this is too many. On the other hand, measures have been taken to prevent players from building as many cities as possible. You do, however, get to a stage where the game recommends that you should produce more settlers, even although there’s really nowhere for them to go.

I’d still like to see the option of each city being able to produce several improvements simultaneously. It seems odd that a city of over a million people is limited to making something faster rather than several things at once with only a minimal penalty on the speed of production.

At this stage, I generally like what I see in Civ IV. It seems to be a little more like Civ II and the changes make for an interesting new version in the series.

Well, I would’ve had it done in six days, but…

Could you people be more stupid?

This article about the rise of creationism or intelligent design in British universities was in today’s Guardian. I doubt whether it’s quite as widespread as the article implies since the instances of creationism being championed among students seem to be limited to high-profile cases (Guy’s Hospital) and hearsay (“A growing number of science students on British campuses and in sixth form colleges are challenging the theory of evolution and arguing that Darwin was wrong.”).

I can only hope that this statement is ironic (my italics):

“The vast majority of my students now believe in creationism,” she said, “and these are thinking young people who are able and articulate and not at the dim end at all…”

What were they thinking?

I’ve already adduced my own argument against intelligent design and I’ve seen another. Intelligent design basically claims that someone (i.e., the God of the Christians) has to have had a hand in evolution. It didn’t just happen. But how did the theory come about?

I have a hypothesis that one day someone was thinking about how humans have genetically manipulated plants and animals for centuries. Once upon a time, wool was black, but sheep were bred to produce white wool. If humans have been mucking around with genetics to bring about change in other species, then why not say some Intelligent Designer has been doing it?

But if sheep with white wool are the product of intelligent design, and humans are the designers, then shouldn’t sheep worship us as gods? That is, humans are to sheep as some god is to human beings. Of course, this makes a nonsense of intelligent design because the supporters of the theory wouldn’t claim that humans are gods, even although we’re doing much the same thing as the Intelligent Designer is supposed to have done. I guess the counterargument would be that the Intelligent Designer is much more sophisticated and that we’re paddling in the shallow end of that pond. (And as our knowledge of such matters increases, do we gradually become more like gods?)

I’m sure that this argument is probably some sort of logical fallacy, but I can’t be bothered to track it down.

So sheep, get worshipping or you lot are such a bunch of lamb chops (with mint sauce).

Another argument against intelligent design is to ask if the design is so intelligently done, where did all those random genetic defects come from? What god would design such a fragile genetic code (resulting in birth defects)? And if the design was so intelligent, why would there be homosexuals when for sexual reproduction only heterosexuals are required to continue the species? Surely such an “aberration” wouldn’t have been allowed in the first place. From the point of view of the proponents of the theory, it’d appear something got badly screwed up the arse on that one.  

It’s not looking good for the Intelligent Designer when the word “intelligent” appears to be false advertising.

Free look

No mouse required.

The whole weekend wasn’t a complete loss. I’ve now found a hotel which has the South China Morning Post. Better than that, I got it for free.

I went to the Trader’s Hotel where I was trying to find the Business Centre, but seem to have headed in the wrong direction. As I was coming back down the stairs, I saw they had a copy in the lobby lounge (where the two Filipino girls were still singing as they did last year). I took a copy over to reception and asked if it was possible to buy another. The woman working on reception called someone who brought the paper over, but when I tried to pay for it, I was told that I didn’t have to.

I went back last night and asked about the Post. I told them that I wasn’t staying in the hotel, but again got given a copy. I did ask if they were sure it was OK just to give me the paper, but they declined any payment. In Beijing, it’s sold in the hotels for ¥16.50, which is over twice the Hong Kong price of HK$7 (c. 52p). When I went over to the Trader’s tonight, the paper hadn’t arrived yet, so I couldn’t get the Sunday edition.

As for the rest of the weekend, it was a truncated version of what we did in August and February last year. Really nothing new came out of it, and we’ve all lost our weekend.

We had to take all the textbooks from our school as well and barely made any use of them. There was no reason why the out-of-towners couldn’t have brought their own copies. Actually, this is doubly annoying for me because I strained my lower back carrying piles of books to the minibus on Friday. That’s been a pain all weekend.

It snowed on Saturday morning. It was just small flakes and didn’t survive long. The weather was depressingly grey, misty, and cold.

We had pizza for dinner on Saturday night a little place not far from the International School. We couldn’t believe how cheap it was compared with Pizza Hut, but the fare was your actual real pizza made by someone of Mediterranean origin.

There are quite a lot of foreigners around that part of Changzhou, and not just at the hotels. I saw several who obviously lived in the area.

’Bout time for a shower. I have to get up early tomorrow. Oh joy.

[04.07.13. This must’ve been when we had two conferences in one year when one was sufficient. The pizza place was probably Monkey King. The hotel kept letting me have copies of the SCMP, but they got increasingly less happy about it even although I offered to pay for the paper.]

Quake IV

First, catch your Makron.

The Story

You are Matthew Kane a member of Rhino Squad and part of the army engaged in the assault on Stroggos. During the landing, your troop transport is shot down and you have to rejoin your squad. After taking out the air defence cannon, you board the Hannibal (the landing of which gets marks for stunning) to be briefed about a mission to destroy the Nexus, the Strogg communications network. It doesn’t quite go according to plan. In the interim, the Makron, who seems not to understand the phrase “Die, you bastard!”, captures you and attempts to turn you into one of his minions. You’re rescued and have the job of taking out the Nexus itself; killing the Makron a second time; and frying the Masterbrain. You get back to the briefing room only to hear that there’s another mission for you.

Game play

It’s pretty much what you’d expect. Unlike Doom 3, you’re often working with NPCs to complete the various assignments you get. It’s the usual sort of thing. Meet people; protect them; restore power; repair things etc. It’s kind of the stuff that you did in Half-Life and Half-Life: Opposing Force all those years ago. It’s not a lot different from some of the missions in Quake II, although you have to deactivate forcefields rather than find the red or blue or yellow key.

There’s still a certain amount of find-an-alternative-route play, but almost no crawling through ducts or confined spaces anywhere apart from a couple of instances.

The game play is also reasonably fast, and compares favourably with Doom 3. But there’s also a certain amount of predictability because you know when you walk into an area, monsters are going to be spawning somewhere. I still have a preference for monsters being present from the off rather than spawned in places where they weren’t a moment before.

Level design

As I’d expect from Raven, the level design is top quality, although I did notice a few flaws in passing, such as minor matters of texture alignment; sparklies; z-fighting between light and shadow, especially on brush faces in areas where the lights flicker; misoriented shaders (chain going around a rotating cog in two different directions; axle rotating in opposite direction to cog). But the flaws are fairly minor and mostly non-obvious. At least some might be the fault of my system rather than the game itself.

There’s also a spelling mistake. It’s Putrefaction.

Performance

The performance of most of the levels is well within acceptable parameters. There are one or two occasions, usually when there are a lot of monsters about, that the framerate takes a serious tumble.

Monsters

As far as I recall, most of the monsters from Quake II make a reappearance in Quake IV, albeit in the latest fashions hot off the Makron’s drawing board. The AI is all right, but they still have a tendency to behave a little dimly. There were occasions when I’d stumble across low-level monsters who barely reacted to my presence, but didn’t seem to be reloading their weapons, either. I noted at least one instance of a monster running into a brush instead of around a corner to get me.

Overall

Overall, Quake IV makes up for the somewhat disappointing Doom III, but I feel that the whole Doom/Quake franchise has had its day. The games are getting to be like books of the same genre. Once you’ve read one, you’ve kind of read the lot. After Half-Life, which actually had a strong storyline, the FPS was finished. All that they can do now is change the setting (e.g. American McGee’s Alice; Max Payne 2) and update the graphics. The former gives the games some life; the latter is just gloss.

Quake IV is well done, but I don’t feel it’s a classic partly because those days are over and partly because it’s not really offering anything new. Basically, it’s solid and reliable, but perhaps it’s time to move on.

[04.07.13. Edited formatting and added tags.]

Dicky get your gun

Woke up this morning, got a boom-boom in your eye.

The story of Dick Cheney is certainly on a roll. First he shoots a friend. Then the guy turns out to be a lawyer and 78. Now he has a heart attack. When Ayatollah Dubya wants to sack White House legal advisers, he’ll just send them to Dick to “take care of them”.

The article in The Guardian notes

Hospital officials said they were not concerned about the six to 200 other pieces of birdshot that might still be lodged in his body.

Six to two hundred?? So 194 pieces of birdshot may or may not still be in there. It’s like saying the Earth’s between six to 93 million miles away from the sun.


Only if it means the opposite.

Meanwhile, The Guardian had this article about the global spread of English. It included this rather rash statement:

In China, 60% of primary school children learn English and more people in India and China speak the language fluently than anywhere else in the world.

I can’t speak for India, of course, but “fluent” is being generous about English as she is spoke in China. Modest to competent is about as good as most of them get, and our pupils will rarely use English once they leave school unless they’re going to study it at university. [I’d say most of the students in the main school never get beyond intermediate level. In recent interviews for the final few places in my current programme, one boy told us that he’d been learning English for nine years. Sounded like he’d been sitting in English class for nine years.]


It wasn’t like that in my day.

Meanwhile, the old guard here (i.e., those over the age of 95) have called for more openness in the Chinese media. I’m sure Nanny is having palpitations, and the Internet snoops are already busy deleting references to it in online. [It has been observed time and again that the Party boys shoot themselves in the foot over this matter because people don’t trust official sources of information, which leads to rumours, etc.]


It ain’t popular till they ban it.

The ban on Memoirs of a Geisha has made it even more popular. There’s a kind of irony about this because the makers won’t see any money from the sale of DVDs here; yet the ban has given the film which is, so I hear, not particularly good, a boost.

It’s this sort of thing which makes Nanny look mentally incompetent. If she stopped trying to ban this and that, no one would give a damn. But the moment she starts cracking the whip, suddenly you want a piece of the action. While I was in Hong Kong, I was tempted to buy Beijing Doll and Shanghai Baby which are banned on the mainland. [One or both of these are now openly available on the Mainland. I have since read Shanghai Baby. Can’t remember exactly what I thought about it, but don’t remember being impressed.]

Such books are described as spiritual pollution, which sounds rather religious in a country which is officially atheist.

[04.07.13. Edited formatting and added comments and tags.]

Hong Kong IV

22.01.06 – Outward bound

I had thought that I was going to be standing on a train stuffed to the windows with migrant workers because my ticket had “No seat” on it, but I was directed to carriage 3 where there were plenty of seats. When I got to Nanjing, I got a taxi to the Friendship Hotel, only for the driver to eventually tell me that there’s a Metro system there. Must be very new because it’s not in the latest edition of the Lonely Planet China guide. It would’ve taken me to my destination for about ¥3. As I saw today, construction is obviously about to start on Line 2, but at the moment, the Metro is a single north-south line.

The Friendship Hotel is near the centre of the city and was offering a special deal of ¥188 a night. Of course, the place is, like all Friendship Hotels in this country, a bit seedy. It also has it’s comic relief. In the bathroom in each room are various things you can buy in case you need them. This included a pair of knickers. On the back of the box it said in English “Uncomplimentary”, although the Chinese said, “Not gift item”. I wouldn’t have called this pair of knickers so much uncomplimentary as unflattering.

You always forget something. This year it was a pencil for doing sudoku puzzles. But I outdid myself and took something completely useless – my bike pump, which has been in the side pocket of my rucksack all term. I also took two towels because last year I took none and needed them. This time the guest house supplied them. I could’ve done with the extra space in my suitcase.

It was nice to be in Nanjing and away from this horrible rural backwater. I bought a copy of the South China Morning Post (SCMP) from the Jinling Hotel. First time I’d seen the SCMP since June last year.


23.01.06 – Arrival in Hong Kong

I’d already tried scouting out the location of the stop for the bus to Nanjing Airport, but couldn’t find it. I did find a bus station nearby. I went over to the Sheraton and was told that the station for the airport bus was on Zhongshan Nanlu. I tried to get a taxi there, but the driver seemed to think it was an enormous joke for me not to want him to take me to the airport for a lot more money than being ferried to the bus station and catching the bus would’ve cost. So I walked, only to find that the airport bus was based at the corner of Zhongshan Nanlu and Shengzhou Lu, which was not a brief stroll. But I got the bus to the airport which is an hour outside of Nanjing.

Fortunately, I’d given myself plenty of time to get to the airport, where I talked with a guy from Hainan Island who was at university in Nanjing and heading home for the Spring Festival. He wanted to practise his English which was actually pretty good.

The trip to Hong Kong was uneventful. The plane wasn’t full and I had a spare seat next to me. I blasted through immigration and baggage claim in about five minutes flat, charged up my Octopus card, and was off to town. I ended up in the Lee Garden Guesthouse on Cameron Road. I was on the 8th floor (lucky number), although the view was non-existent.

I went off to Ka Ka Lok for tea where Charlie Chuckles is still fronting the place with a cheery smile and a witty remark for all his customers. This one is an Olympic gold medallist in seriousness. Anyway, I hadn’t had fish ‘n’ chips for so long.


24.01.06 – I think I read about that

I went to have breakfast at Dai Pai Dong on Canton Road only to find that it’d gone. I think I read something about that in the SCMP last year. I went to Delifrance instead, but after that, I had ordinary breakfast cereal in my room each morning.

As usual when I get to Hong Kong, I only have the haziest recollection of where anything is. I tried to find Swindon Books, but couldn’t at first. I tried to find Cosmos Books on the Island and ended up in M&S instead. Don’t ask me how.


25.01.06 – This time I found it

I eventually found both Swindon Books (Lock Road, Kowloon) and Cosmos Books (Johnston Road, Hong Kong Island; turn right out Exit A3 from Wan Chai station). I had lunch in the Southorn [sic!] Playground and watched some old Chinese guy effortlessly dropping a basketball shot after shot through the hoop. The kids here could learn a thing or two from him.

I headed to Page One in Festival Walk near Kowloon Tong. I bought The Tale of Genji because I’d been thinking that apart from some manga, I’ve never read anything Japanese. This is, of course, the classic Japanese novel.

I went for a wander around the south east quarter of Kowloon Peninsula. It’s not a part that most tourists would visit. As I was passing the harbour, I heard a splash and saw that some men working on one of the barges had chucked a dog tied to a rope into the water and let it swim around before hauling it back on board. I got a couple of pictures of that. I’m not sure whether the dog thought it was a bit of a lark or the men were giving it a bath.

When I got back to the hotel, I had a call from my friend Brigid who taught with me in Beijing last year. She now has a job teaching English in Hong Kong, although it’s at a school for deaf kids. Actually, that particular school (number of students: forty-seven) is probably going to be closed down, but Brigid will be transferred to another school in the same programme.

Brigid was also having medical problems. Just before she left New Zealand, a pain developed in her left leg and was giving her serious grief by the time she got off the plane. She eventually learnt that she had a damaged cartilage in her knee which is going to need surgery to repair. If things had gone according to plan, she should’ve had a Hong Kong ID which would’ve meant that she could’ve applied for medical insurance to cover the costs of diagnosis and treatment. But she needed to go to Macau or Shenzhen so that she could then enter HK “properly”; and then get insurance so that she could get it treated.


26.01.06 – She has views

I went to see Brigid who’s living in the Island Resort complex in Chai Wan. She’s on the 59th floor of her building and has some great views when the weather is clear. We had lunch and went to Ikea because her flat was only partly furnished and she needed some more stuff for it.

It’d been in the news that Chris Penn had died. The Standard, which is HK’s evening English-language paper, said he was 40. In the SCMP he was 43. Actually, The Standard was right. I would’ve guessed the SCMP was right, but only because I thought he was older than me.


27.01.06 – Opening at midday

I tried to find my way to the computer markets in Mong Kok, but couldn’t find them. Second year running that’s happened. I find that Hong Kong lacks distinctive landmarks when you’re navigating you’re way around the place and trying to find something that isn’t well sign-posted (or the sign is only in Chinese). It didn’t matter because I then remembered that the Mong Kok computer market doesn’t open until midday.

So I went to the computer market in Wan Chai instead. I can find that. I got a copy of Quake IV. If the vendor hadn’t asked if there was anything else I wanted, I would’ve overlooked Civ IV.


28.01.06 – Rain

It rained. Apart from obligatory foraging forays, I stayed in most of the day. It didn’t hurt because my feet had taken a fair pounding since Nanjing and needed to be rested.


29.01.06 – Xinnian Kwaile! (Kong Hei Fat Choi!)

It was nice and clear by the time I got up. I wandered around Tsim Sha Tsui taking random photographs. I thought about going to the Peak because the day was so clear, but by the time I got to the Terminus, there was a lengthy queue. As usual, all the Indonesian and Filipino maids had gathered in and around Chater Square. Their high-pitched voices were really noticeable.

I was going to meet Brigid and her friend Alison to see the New Year’s Day parade, but Brigid had to pull out because her leg was causing her so much pain. I went along with Alison and her son, Nick, to watch the parade. I got some pictures, but unless the marchers stood relatively still, they’re horribly blurred. This was also the night that I caught a cold off someone.


30.01.06 – Shek O

I went to Shek O (Stone Bay) which is the easternmost beach on Hong Kong Island. It’s quite small and although the town is clearly a bit downmarket, the area is otherwise some very expensive houses surrounding a golf course. There were a lot of expats about. It was another nice day and there were people swimming; even some Chinese, which surprised me because although Hong Kong really does have winter, it’s nowhere near as cold as the mainland; yet they dress as if it is.

I then wandered up the road to Big Wave Bay which was more of the same with surfers. I think they must’ve been having a class, because there wasn’t a lot of surfing being done.

That evening I went with Brigid, Alison, and Nick to Cafe Deco which is a restaurant up the Peak overlooking the harbour. We watched the fireworks. although a tree and a couple of tall buildings obscured the view. But it was very clear night and the pictures came out about as well as could be expected.


31.01.06 – Take a number and wait

When I went for tea, Kowloon seemed so crowded that I went over to the Island. I went to a Pizza Hut in Wan Chai where I arrived just in time to avoid more crowds of people. I was seated at a table for four, but got the staff to move me to a table for two so that some of the people waiting could get a seat. Aren’t I too kind?

I bought Martin Booth’s book Gweilo which is about his childhood when he first lived in Hong Kong. He wrote it just before he died in 2004. I was tempted to buy it while I was home last year. Hong Kong back in the late 40s and early 50s sounded much like China today. Where I live, it’s still about 1953. While Booth and his mother got involved with the locals, his father never fitted in. He was an alcoholic with a severe inferiority complex.

I also bought David Bowie’s Scary Monsters album which I’d been meaning to buy for years, but I’d never seen it on special before. Good thing too because now that I’ve heard it, I find there are only two decent songs and the rest are Bowie squeaking and gibbering cacophonically at different pitches.


01.02.06 – Washing day

Yeah, that was about the high point of the day. By now, the cold was driving me mad.


02.02.06 – A den of vice and iniquity

As a consequence of reading about Martin Booth’s adventures in Kowloon Walled City, I decided to go to Kowloon Walled City Park. The city was originally the last remaining outpost of Qing Dynasty China after Kowloon Peninsula was ceded in perpetuity. Chinese officials abandoned it at the end of the 19th century and it became a kind of Nomansland which seems to have fallen under the control of the Triads. By the 1960s it was a kind of high-rise slum. It was finally demolished, with the agreement of the Chinese government in the mid 90s and turned into a park.

There’s some archaeology on display near the south gate, including the stone plaque which has some Chinese characters carved onto it. There was a section for bonsai trees, and a Crape Myrtle walk. I mention the latter, because the flats next to the area I’m in are called Ziwei Yuan – Crape Myrtle Gardens. Although I’m sure the buildings aren’t original, one or two have been rebuilt where they were in the original walled city.

Afterwards, I took a walk in Kowloon City. It was rather quiet because a lot of the shops were closed for the Spring Festival. But even if they’d been open, the place seemed rather dead. Everything seems to pass it by. I think that was where I found a KFC with a mainland menu. The KFCs in Kowloon have what I’d describe as a more cosmopolitan menu. The mainland menu used to come with chips and Pepsi. It now comes with coleslaw and some sickly sweet fruit drink.

I went to the Heritage Museum in Tai Wai to see the Silk Road Exhibition. It included some texts in various languages, some textiles (including one that was about 2500 years old), various artifacts, and two mummies, both Caucasian in origin. I think it was in last Saturday’s Post that there was an article saying that not as many people had been to the exhibition as had been expected. But the article also suggested that the advertising for exhibitions in Hong Kong tends to be a bit generic. I think I saw the advert for it at Admiralty Metro Station.


03.02.06 – You guys are so stupid

Nanny banned Memoirs of a Geisha on the mainland because she was worried that mainland audiences might not be able to contain their enthusiasm [Don’t you mean ‘outrage’? –ed.] at seeing Zhang Ziyi and Gong Li playing Japanese characters. On this occasion, the ban is kind of saying that mainlanders are just too thick to be able to watch this film without reacting stupidly. It’s not actually being banned because it’s subversive or mentions all those T-words that give Nanny palpitations.

I bought my sister a couple of things for her birthday, including a bookmark with her name in Chinese characters. I was curious to know how the first and third characters were pronounced, and went to Swindon Books to look them up in a dictionary. To my surprise, the range of Chinese-English dictionaries was pitiful. It’s much better here on the mainland. Eventually, one of the shop assistants helped me, and found the characters in a reprint of a Qing Dynasty dictionary. The first character, , means “fine jade” and is in my big dictionary. The third character, tàn, which is a personal name, isn’t in the dictionary at all, but is, apparently, a personal name. On the bookmark, it’s meaning was given as “sentimental”, but the first character was translated as “fairyland”.


04.02.06 – Age concern

That morning as I went to Wellcome (a supermarket chain in Hong Kong) to buy a box of breakfast cereal, I saw a girl who must’ve been in her early twenties wearing a sweatshirt with the slogan “Sexy Senior Citizen”. Don’t worry kid, you’ll get there eventually.

I had lunch with Brigid at Pacific Coffee in Central before we headed to Harbour City in Kowloon and then went to Kowloon Tong where she signed up for medical insurance. We then had afternoon tea at the Pacific Coffee in Festival Walk, but had problems finding a seat. The place was huge, but the back part was full of students studying. The place wasn’t exactly conducive to such an activity because it was rather noisy.


05.02.06 – That bloody cold

Yeah, it was still giving me grief. I went to see Brigid again. This time we went in search of a pharmacy for the medicine she’d been prescribed for her leg. At a medical centre in the Island Resort complex, she was told that the pills would cost HK$600 (c. £45). None of the other local pharmacies even had the stuff. We had dinner in the restaurant next to MacDonald’s. The wine was allegedly a Shiraz, but I was sceptical. The staff were unnecessarily obsequious and it felt a little embarrassing.

I made a start on Rachel de Woskin’s book, Foreign Babes in Beijing. That was another one I read in about a day. I think the book is probably more interesting if you haven’t lived in Beijing. De Woskin was one of Beijing’s Happy Valley crowd. Although I’m sure the events she narrates really happened, the tale falls out a little too readily. PR job (yawn) and role in some dreadful TV series (faux glamour); a hunky Chinese boyfriend (doomed romance); a death (tragedy); a change of scene (abrupt dénouement). It just lends itself to a film.


06.02.06 – Through a haze brownly

When I first visited Hong Kong, I went up the Peak the first or second day I was there and had never been back until this year. For the past two years the weather hasn’t been conducive to another trip up there. But once the morning cloud had burnt off, the weather during the week of the Spring Festival was brilliant. I decided it was time for another daytime visit to the Peak. There weren’t as many people waiting to get on the tram as there had been on New Year’s Day, and the view was probably clearer than my first visit there.

The really noticeable thing about Kowloon this year was the peskiness of the Indian tailors in Tsim Sha Tsui. Usually, they bother the white folks, but never to the extent they did this year. There really was a concerted effort to get people to buy an overpriced suit that probably wouldn’t last to the door of the shop. In Gweilo, Martin Booth comments that Chinese tailors would never tout for business because they know their suits are better quality. I have my genuine fake Armani from the Silk Market in Beijing.

But this peskiness also extended to the massage parlours. The building I was staying in had a massage parlour downstairs. From the afternoon onwards, someone always stood outside the door trying to get anyone and everyone to have a massage. Even although I’d been in and out of the building for two weeks, whoever was working the door insisted on asking if I wanted a massage. But this evening, the girl who was doing the pestering completely surprised me by saying, “Hi”.


07.02.06 – Half way up the escalator

Hong Kong claims to have the world’s longest escalator running from Connaught Road through Central to Mid-Levels. I was curious to see this feat of modern engineering, but found that it’s a series of separate escalators rather than one long one. It actually runs through a rather quiet part of Central. There are one or two interesting views to be had from it, including further reminders that Hong Kong isn’t all shiny and new, and that there are some dilapidated buildings there.

By now, Brigid’s leg had reached a crisis point and the likelihood of an operation seemed to become remoter and remoter. Luckily, her local hospital is one of the best in the Territory and because of the urgency of the condition, she’s having the op. done sooner rather than later. How much is it going to cost? HK$200 (c. £15) as opposed to HK$20,000 (c. £1500) to have it done privately. As you can imagine, she was enormously relieved.


08.02.03 – Nanjing II

I grabbed a copy of Monday’s Guardian when I got to the airport. I hadn’t seen this new format. Very inky, I have to say. Anyway, I’m back to the Grauniad Online; there’ll be no more South China Morning Post for some time.

I passed through Nanjing Airport quite quickly, and got the bus back, arriving at the Friendship Hotel about mid afternoon. This time I was on the 11th floor (i.e., 10th) looking south, I think. I’d heard that there’d been snow on the mainland, although it’d mostly gone apart from a little remaining on some roofs and piles of snow dotted about here and there.

It was a little bit of a relief to get away from Hong Kong because the place can be quite intense, especially in Tsim Sha Tsui with such a large number of people packed into such a small geographical area.


09.02.03 – Tickets

I took the Metro to Nanjing Station and bought a ticket to return home today. I got on the 9.26am train, although I think if I’d known what the N515 meant, I would’ve opted for one of the T trains.

I went to Pizza Hut for tea, but there was a queue outside. After I ordered, dessert and beer more or less arrived simultaneously, and the pizza some time later.


10.02.03 – Homeward bound

The N515 turned out to be a double-decker train and somewhat packed. Fortunately I had a seat and there was just enough space for my suitcase not to be half blocking the aisle. It wouldn’t have fitted on the luggage rack even if there’d been room. I’m not sure I could’ve lifted it that high. When I went to Hong Kong, it was just under 14kg. When I came back, it was just over 20kg.

As I was walking across the platform to the carriage, one of my pupils came up to me. He was heading back to school. We arrived in Changzhou about half an hour later than expected, and got the bus back here.

End of the story, but not quite the end of the holiday. In previous years, I haven’t minded returning to Beijing, but this year, I have to admit that I minded coming back here. Hong Kong was a reminder that I’m not a small town boy, and it’s about time I moved on from China. My suitcase was so heavy because of all the books that I brought back with me (about 15 to 20). Changzhou doesn’t have a Foreign Languages Bookshop and none of the hotels, as far as I’m currently aware, have the South China Morning Post. This isn’t even an interesting place to be. Even if I stay with the programme for another year, I have no intentional of spending a second year here. Now if only I could get a sensible job in Hong Kong.