Bureaucracy and writing

Forms were born in triplicate.

It’s depressing to think that the spur for writing was bureaucracy. The bureaucrats could record what farmers produced or merchants traded and tax them. Of course, in those days bureaucrats would come home from a hard day’s fiscal vampirism and say to their wives, “Sorry I’m late, darling, but we were absolutely snowed under with claywork today.” Well, they wrote on clay. Paperwork, claywork. Geddit? No? Sigh.

My guess is that the first piece of non-bureaucratic writing that wasn’t just a doodle was probably a letter, probably from one official to another since they had access to the scribes. As for literature, my guess in this case is that some egotistical poet decided that his version of some poem should be the definitive one.

That’s enough idle musing out of me.


Market day

Bumpkins’ big day out.

We had a big market day here today in which every slack-jawed yokel from the surrounding district must’ve come into town. There were market stalls set up along the side streets off the main road and they were absolutely packed. There were also various bouncy castles and stages on one of which there was a magic act.

I went into Chanzghou to do a little shopping, but the bus got stuck behind a multi-wheeled transporting taking some large piece of equipment to the large crane beside the Grand Canal. The result was that the traffic heading east spread itself right across the road as everyone jockeyed for position. Traffic heading west wasn’t so much reduced to one lane as the suggestion of a lane. Perhaps I’m missing something, but wouldn’t it have been a better idea to transport this particular piece of ironmongery at night when there was less traffic around?

Then as I’m walking from the station to the RT Mart, I get half the dust in Jiangsu Province blown into my face and the rest into my hair. When I got to Mian Ai Mian for lunch, I wiped my face with the complimentary napkins which were visibly grimy.

Headed home to find town still chaos. Had my last class of the day and then the power went off for about an hour or so. Probably too many bouncy castles had overloaded the power supply. It’d also started raining by then.

This place is totally pants.

The Chinese are such characters

Simplified vs. traditional – that old chestnut.

I saw there was a story on EastSouthWestNorth about the UN’s an­nounce­ment that they’d switch to simplified characters for the Chinese trans­lat­ions of their official documents from 2008. Some additional comments about this caused a stir throughout the Chinese Internet.

Simplified characters were developed after the Revolution and are used on the mainland while traditional characters were retained elsewhere (e.g. Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Japan). You’ll still see traditional characters in use on the mainland, but that’s often in advertising or, as I find locally, the names of companies. They are regarded as sophisticated and elegant.

The traditional vs. simplified thing shouldn’t be exaggerated. Most of the char­acters in use are the same no matter where you are in the Chinese speaking world. There are still characters here on the mainland which have bother­somely large numbers of strokes, which would seem to have been candidates for simplification because people can’t spell them anyway. The most complicated character, as far as I’m aware, is 齉 [nàng] “snuffling”.

[07.08.14. Possibly, it was never simplified because the radical (which is the whole left-hand side of the character) is quite rare. Even the extremely ancient 甲骨 (jiǎgǔ; tortoise shell), script gives no visual clues as to how this radical represents a nose. The character looks like a drawing of a person wearing a crown or some sort of head­dress.]

My view of the two types is that traditional characters are mostly over­com­plicated, unattractive, and messy; simplified characters are mod­ern, forward-looking, and dynamic. I do have one exception, though, and that’s the character for “car”. Before I came to China, I knew the trad­it­ion­al version which bears a clear resemblance to a top-down view of a chariot (viz., 車 che). When I got here, I found the character was written 车, which looks more like a car crash than a car.

[07.08.14. These days I’m not really that bothered. I have heard of injunctions against traditional characters in public displays (e.g. advertising), but there were also stories a few years ago about relaxing prohibitions against traditional characters. Although they may never return to favour, they may not be that far below the surface, either.

The signs in schools, admonishing pupils to use standard characters, do seem to be some throwback to a ban on traditional rather than non-canonical ones.]

So that’s what bras are for.

I’m off buying lunch and the TV’s on. There an advert for bras. Now this wouldn’t ordinarily raise an eyebrow, but the selling point (or perhaps that should be points; and no, this is not some retro joke from some cheap 70s sitcom) was somewhat different.

The selling point was that these bras would give you cleavage (cue lingering cleavage shots). Not only that, but they’d also make your boobs bigger. That’s not look bigger, but actually grow bigger (cue more lingering cleavage shots).

There were various shots of flat-chested girls looking thoroughly miserable followed by shots of same girl now sporting cleavage and grateful for it. There were also several shots of girls squeezing their boobs or having them squeezed to give them some lift.

Who said advertising in China was subtle?

Although I can’t obviously offer you a female perspective on bras in China, to me they look more like some form of armour plating and are, frankly, bulky and horrible looking.


That’s another fine mess

And we have to clean it up.

At the weekly team meeting on Tuesday we were informed that the school wanted us to teach the Senior 3 classes once the college entrance exam was over apparently because the parents had been complaining to the school about how their little dears had missed out on the classes they should’ve had.

What are the classes they should’ve had?

The ones that the Senior 3s didn’t want and the school decided, on very flimsy gounds, that they shouldn’t have because the results in their very first exam didn’t shown any improvement in their English. (A little blast from the past here.)

The extra classes will be happening at about the time our main classes ought to be preparing for and having our exams, but it sounds like the school wants us to abandon them for the Senior 3s. We’d then end up in a situation where the parents of the students in Senior 1 and 2 could complain to the school that their little darlings weren’t getting what they’d paid for.

One question I have is whether schools in the programme can unilaterally decide to drop classes as the school here seems to have. There was a certain amount of agitation from a few students, but the school made the decision. The decision seems to have been made on the basis of the schools utter obsession with the college entrance exam, and that might be how it was sold to the parents – if they were consulted at all.

Now the parents may be demanding the extra classes, but how that’s anything to do with the foreign teachers, I don’t know. We were along for the ride. The school’s messed up, so they should clean up.

Besides, this will be after the college entrance exam. The smart money says the Senior 3s will all have gone regardless. Even if the classes happen, it serves no purpose. We won’t be setting an exam for them at the end. In fact, it’ll be a babysitting job which will be an enormous waste of time when we could be dealing with our usual classes.

Well, that’s enough out of me for the time being. Some of us want to have tea.

Sugar and spice and all things nice

So that’s why babies look like storks.

I see the Royal Society has launched an attack on the teaching of Creationism as science. That’s fine by me, but I regard this is an American issue. I would’ve thought that Britain and Europe would be beyond such mock pseudo-science.

Of course, the article in The Guardian has the obligatory I’m-a-total-dickhead quote:

David Rosevear, of the Portsmouth-based Creation Science Movement, said yesterday that he was not surprised at the Royal Society’s move. “It is an atheistic faith position,” he said. “Atheism is as much a religion as the Church of England and they pursue it with real vigour … Not all scientists are evolutionists but they have to go along with it.”

Er, dumbarse, atheism isn’t a religion. Perhaps the argument goes

Atheists believe there are no gods; therefore, atheism is a religion because it still requires belief.

Thus, religion is belief, but if I apply the definition so casually, every time I believe something, I’m creating a religion. All right, that’s trivialising it, but the claims of Creationists are intellectual trivia masquerading as scientific theory.

The Gospel of Judas.

Now this, at least, was some interesting news. The Gospel of Judas has been translated and reveals an alternative early Christian view of Judas Iscariot. Instead of Judas being the great betrayer, he was actually helping Jesus liberate himself from his earthly body.

Of course, it’s a possible example of Christian exegesis. For instance, the Song of Songs is some X-rated ditty, but with a little exegesis, it becomes a deeply spiritual. Yeah, you keep telling yourselves that.

Hogan’s Heroes


I can’t remember when I last saw an episode of Hogan’s Heroes. I do know that I saw it some time in the early 1970s, so there’s a good chance that I last saw it about three decades ago. I was slightly shocked to find that the pilot and the first series dated from 1965 which make either it feel old; or me feel old; or both of the above.

The programme has the film Stalag 17 (1953) as its starting point. I’ve seen the film at some time during the past ten years and immediately recognised the resemblance Hogan’s Heroes had to it.

Hogan’s Heroes is about a group of Allied prisoners in Luft Stalag 13. In truth, the prisoners are Allied agents helping airmen escape from Germany with the help of the underground, and performing acts of sabotage.

The camp is under the command of Colonel Wilhelm Klink, who likes to boast that there hasn’t been a single escape from Stalag 13. Klink is cowardly, incompetent, and easily flattered – or cowed. He is forever trying to curry favour with his boss, General Burkhalter who is threatening to send Klink to the Eastern Front or to marry him to his sister.

Klink’s adjutant is Sergeant Schultz, who usually knows what the prisoners are up to, but would prefer not to. His catchphrase is “I see nothing. Nothing!”

The senior POW is Colonel Robert Hogan who only has to tell Klink that the Russian front is nice this time of year to get the supposed camp commandant to do what he (Hogan) wants him to. So long as Klink is in charge and Schultz is guarding the prisoners, Hogan’s operation is safe.

Hogan’s Heroes could be described as a comedy-adventure series. It doesn’t attempt to be relentlessly funny and the laugh track that you had in the first series when, for example, the hidden periscope would rise up out of the water barrel, has gone in the second. It’s faintly amusing the first time, and never funny again.

The first two series were available on DVD in Hong Kong, which was the likely source for the copies that I bought in town. However, there’s something a little stupid about having the boxes emblazoned with Complete first series! or Complete second series! when the whole thing finished back in the early 1970s. It should’ve been released in its entirety without all this infantile messing around.

At the movies

Stuck on You.

After a friend of mine mentioned Stuck on You on his blog, I bought a copy when I came across it in one of the DVD shops in town.

It’s the story of conjoined brother played by Greg Kinnear and Matt Damon. They work at a diner in Massachusetts, but Kinnear wants to pursue an acting career in Hollywood and takes the reluctant Damon with him. It’s after a chance encounter with Cher (looking like a 45 year old – embalmed 4,000 years ago) who is trying to wriggle out of a TV programme that Kinnear gets his big break.

But the show’s a success, and when a group of fans turns up at the door to the set, Cher assumes they are there for her, only to find that they want Kinnear. However, fame and Damon’s Internet girlfriend pressure the brothers into splitting up.

After the operation, they find they’re only half the men they used to be and that one doesn’t really function well without the other, and they return home to the diner. Kinnear does, however, realise his dream of Bonnie and Clyde: The Musical – with Meryl Streep.

There are some funny moments throughout the film, although the musical number at the end is a piece of needless self indulgence when the audience knows that we’ve kind of got a happy-ever-after ending.

City Hall.

I’ve seen this lots of times in the DVD shops and finally succumbed to its siren song.

I couldn’t remember whether I’d seen City Hall before, but realised that I had as soon as I started watching it. I was then worried that I’d already bought it on DVD, but I hadn’t. I must’ve seen it on TV.

It’s the story of corruption in the administration of New York which goes right to the top of the tree. The scandal is uncovered by the Deputy Mayor (John Cusack) in a display of surprising political naivety and some women with extreme PMT played by Bridget Fonda.

Al Pacino, who plays the mayor of New York, gives an Oscar-winning oration at the funeral of the little boy who was shot accidentally at the start of the film, but the bookend narration by Cusack sets the tone – good ol’ boy from Louisiana in the big, corrupt city. He’s the shovel and they’re the shit.

This is a political film, which means that the revelations don’t come after anonymous assassins chase the Deputy Mayor and his PMT sidekick all over the city. That’s not necessarily a bad thing because there are plenty of political conspiracy films out there.

City Hall‘s all right, but not as all right as you might think.

Breaking Up.

Has anyone ever heard of this film starring Russell Crowe and Salma Hayek? I never had. I survived for about twenty minutes and felt no com­punction about stopping the DVD and putting it back in the wrapper.

The blurb on the back describes them as a “couple in a sawy contemporary romance” and goes on to say, “something whispers it’s the lobe of their lifetimes”. If “sawy” means “boring because it appears to be based on a stage play”, then perhaps that isn’t a misprint.

Cruel Intentions.

This is another version of Les Liaisons Dangereuses. It works well enough based on New York society, although the sentiments of the original seem out of place in the modern world.

In the film, Valmont (Ryan Philippe) is Casanova’s evil twin, but he’s finding the art of seduction too easy and needs a challenge. He finds the challenge in the form of Reese Witherspoon, the daughter of the headmaster of the school which Valmont and his “sister” (Sarah Michelle Gellar) attend. Witherspoon has publically promised not to put out until she’s married.

Valmont make a bet with his sister (who is not actually related to him). If he can bonk the headmaster’s pious daughter, he can have his sister as well. If he fails, she gets his car. Valmont eventually succeeds in his endeavour, but falls in love with Witherspoon. His sister then manages to turn him against the headmaster’s daughter by reminding him of his true nature, and despises for his weakness. Valmont is killed saving Witherspoon and the fake sister seems to have won.

However, Valmont has his revenge from beyond the grave through the diary he kept. Gellar’s reputation is ruined.

I believe this film has spawned at least one sequel which, as I now see from the IMDb, is the pile of poo you’d expect.

Star Wars.

I probably haven’t seen this since the 20th anniversary edition came out ten years ago. And when I saw it then, probably for about the first time in ten years, I wondered why I’d liked it in the first place. I guess it was the sort of film that would appeal to twelve year olds.

Anyway, I’m here to make an observation. I’d never noticed that when Luke Skywalker was getting in and out of his hover car that his legs were disappearing below the depth of the chassis. In fact, if you were to make the car for real, your legs would have to stick straight out when you sat down.

And it’s only taken me nearly thirty years to notice that.


When I keep seeing the same DVD in the shops several times over, my curiosity usually gets the better of me and I buy it.

The film seems to be an allegorised version of an illness.

It looks a bit like an animated version of a painting by Dali. I’m not sure who the intended audience is, because I thought the whole thing was a little arthouse. Preteens might like the visuals, but probably won’t understand the nuances of the story. Teens maay regard the film as a little childish and fail to see the depth.

I can’t say that I liked it much myself.

The Brothers Grimm.

Matt Damon rides as a brother again. I didn’t buy this film. It was given to me by one of the students, probably because I’d let her have my copy of Finding Neverland. Like the exchange of armour between Glaucos and Diomedes in Iliad VI, I got the worse of it (although the exchange was never part of the original deal).

The film sets the Brothers Grimm in one of their own fairy tales. The plot drags on and on. You don’t care.

It’s like other films based on fairy tales. You get the impression that the maker of the film read some book about the psychoanalytic interpretation of folk tales and, therefore, decided that the film should have soem sort of dream-like quality reflecting the nebulosity of the mind. Instead, the film merely reveals the nebulosity of the maker’s mind. I see the culprit was Terry Gilliam. A fine cinematic moment there, Terry.

The barred gate

A gate in the wall is worth none in the bush.

A couple of weeks ago, the trees…

Actually, although these resemble trees, it’d be more accurate to describe them as over­sized, outdoor pot plants. Or perhaps giant bonsai trees because the roots, like the branches, have been severely trimmed.

…along the driveway into the flats which had all died over the winter were replaced with more of the same.

Then, last week, some workers knocked down a section of the wall and put a gate in, but the trees and shrubs have remained. I guess that the gate is probably intended to be an emergency exit or back gate, but whoever owns the trees and shrubs has either refused permission for them to be removed or hasn’t been asked. (See picture below.)

Hell  hath no fury…

Mr Lamian was in a bad mood again tonight. As usual, I have no idea what he was on about, but there was a lot of yelling at some guy I’d never seen before.

What provoked this outburst?

While I was poking around the Net a couple of days ago, I found a document called The ALT Grammar Watch. (ALT = Association for Ling­uistic Typology.) It’s basically a bibliography of recently published gram­mars. The first entry for The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language is followed by an extraordinary outburst which seems to belong to The Big Book of Fantasy Facts about the English Language.

It starts by saying that the language is probably a creole. I’ve heard some­thing like this about Middle English, but a creole is a pidgin which has gained a body of native speakers. As languages go, creoles are linguistically impoverished, and the speakers have to find ways of expressing various concepts that go beyond the pidgin from which it came. At no time in its history can I think of English ever resembling a creole.

Next, it says that the language was “once believed to be VSO (Semitic-Celtic substratum!) but now generally categorized, not very excitingly, as SVO”. Huh? I’ve never heard anyone claim that English was at any time a VSO language. We also have an ample lack of evidence for any Semitic-Celtic substratum. Besides, the Anglo-Saxons borrowed barely any words from the British when they conquered Britain. It’s also rather subjective to say that SVO languages aren’t very exciting.

Prepositions are called transitive adverbs. I search for the term via Google and get the sum total of 115 hits. All right, I can imagine a preposition being described as a transitive adverb, but the terminology is clearly not widespread. Several of the hits refer to Thai, a language I know nothing about. Transitive adverb sounds like a term that by any other name (namely, preposition) would smell as sweet.

[07.08.14. In more recent books I’ve acquired, prepositions have been analysed as having transitivity because some prepositions (e.g. at) take obligatory complements, while others such as below do not have to (e.g. “The cat was sitting below the tree” ~ “There was a cat sitting below”.]

Next we’re informed that the language is “not seriously ergative”. Well, English is a nom-acc language, so you’re getting what you paid for.

If we skip over some of the nonsense that follows, we read that “all nouns are verbs, sometimes”. Of the class of lexical items called nouns, some belong to the class of verbs through zero derivation. This is painful.

A little more skipping and we find “stress a mess”. No, not really. English stress is complicated by morphological considerations, but it isn’t that messy.

There are “no clicks” and “no labial flap either”. How are either of these statements at all relevant? And who could top the classic, “no vowel harmony, but that is only to be expected when you’re monosyllabic”. Now don’t stop me, but “monosyllabic” has five syllables.

The ALT seems to be a serious organisation. This isn’t some bunch of under/post-graduates with somewhat inflated ideas of their own know­ledge and understanding of linguistics, but it is seriously embarrassing. The initials at the end of the entry are FP which would appear to be Frans Plank, the editor of the journal Linguistic Typology.

I find the comments utterly baffling.

Extreme weather!

Night starts at 2.30pm.

I’m in Changzhou this afternoon. I come out of one of the DVD shops and the sky is beginning to darken. I head back  to the bus station and, as I’m sitting on the bus, the sky gets so dark that it could be night. Cars had their headlights on and the street lights were eventually turned on as well. It lightened up once it started raining.

Night lasted about quarter of an hour from 2.30 to 2.45pm.

There were a couple of occasions when I was in Beijing when the sky got dark, but certainly nothing resembling night.

[07.08.14. I’ve been back in Jiangsu Province for the past five years, and although there have been a couple of occasions when the day has got very dull, I’ve never experienced anything as extreme as this particular day again.]