Crossing my bridges

Famous Bridge Park.

I took a lengthy walk northwards along the other side of the river this afternoon. There’s a very, very long park (or what seems to be a series of parks) up that way. It was quite a pleasant place and clearly being prepared for the National Day on Sunday. At one point, there’s a park with some scale replicas of famous bridges from around the world, although it also includes the nearby Sanxian Zhou Bridge. Yeah, of course you’ve heard of that one. As I was looking at the bridges, it struck me that I’ve actually been across the majority of them at some time in my life. It’s complete chance that this should be the case, and an unexpected realisation.

I saw several people actually swimming in the river, including two in mid stream who were bobbing up and down. They’ve probably never had a day’s sanity in their lives. I shudder to think what a chemical analysis of the water might reveal. They were also in potential danger from some of the traffic on the river which included one very large barge steaming along at a rate of knots.

There’s quite a lot of new development in progress across the road from the river bank. I can imagine the idea was modern blocks of flats overlooking a riverside park. The park got finished first. It’s a bit like Line 13 in Beijing. The stops are all there, but there was next to nothing at any of them a couple of years ago.


The official announcement

Promotion to the big chair.

My friend James, who worked with me in Benniu last year and is now in Chengdu, has been made the team leader there after the previous incumbent was removed.

I know enough about the people involved to know more about it than I’ll reveal here.

It pays to enrich your word power.

At the conference, there was some exercise in which people had to define a word. One of the words was “defenestrate” which caused a certain amount of “Huh?” among my colleagues here. I knew it. I could vaguely remember that it was a Czech thing. I believe I first encountered it when I’d read about the suspicious death of Jan Masaryk in 1948 many years ago. (In Look and Learn??) It actually has quite a long history in the Czech Republic going back several centuries. You didn’t like your town council? Throw ’em out a window.

Then the other day I happened to use “abstemious” and was asked what that meant.

I’d like several other offences to be taken into consideration.

At last, a decent DVD shop.

I’d been told there was a DVD shop on Jintai Lu (津泰路), which I tracked down this morning. Quite a good range compared with the local DVD shops, but a lot of it was more of the same. As I looked through the stock, I kept saying, “Got that. Got that. Got that.” There were quite a few recent releases, but I had to look them up on the IMDb when I got home because I’d never heard of them.

There didn’t seem to be any new TV series available. Obviously, the new season has only just started in the States, but there should be stuff from the season that’s just passed. The Sopranos, The West Wing, and Stargate SG1 spring to mind. I’m hoping Extras might make an appearance, but so far only The Office has.

When I found Jintai Lu, I discovered that I’d actually been there before. It’s where bookshop street is to be found.

Sports days

A ‘been there, seen that’ event.

We went and watched the first half day of the school’s sports days at the Teacher Training University yesterday morning. If you’ve been here as long as I have, you’ve seen it all before. The classes opted for heavily Olympic-themed ideas. Class 13 did some weird thing that looked like one of the folk dances that we used to do when I was at primary school, but they managed to mess it up because one half of one line ended up facing the other half. It appears that the chain was meant to hop forwards and backwards, but it could do nothing of the sort.

After the opening ceremony there were running races, and we wandered around watching the long jumping and shot putting. The latter was a horror because no one appears to have taught the kids how to put the shot. We watched several competitors basically attempting to throw the shot. But then again, they won’t have done a scrap of practice for any of these events in PE class. Much time was spent practising the marching for the opening. [Easy on the -ings. –ed.]

Of course, we didn’t just watch. We found that we had to go through paragraphs about the sports days written by the pupils and pick the ones which were worth reading out over the PA system. We all took turns doing the latter. A lot of them were repetitive, and a couple were downright gibberish, including one which seemed to be a translation of a Chinese pop song. Or it could’ve been a retranslation of a Western song. That is, the song was translated into Chinese and then out again. It was basically Chinglish and rather meaningless.

As a consequence of the sports days, we have the rest of the week off, but have to teach Thursday on Saturday. Why we just don’t teach on Friday, I don’t know. Frankly, this is a blasted nuisance.

Anyway, I’m set to go to Hong Kong next week. Normally, I stay put during the National Day holiday because it’s one of those times of the year when travelling can be a nightmare in this country. What rather annoyed me was that when I bought the ticket yesterday, the price was ¥600 higher than the last time. Perché? Because the airlines are a bunch of greedy, money-grubbing bastards. It’s holiday time, so the prices go up. Bah! There’s another reason for me to be away from the Mainland. It’s a consequence of the assumption that foreigners have no lives or better things to do.

If I could get a job in Hong Kong, it’d spare me all this commuting. In fact, this will probably be the last time I go to the Territory for a while since I may not go there next year at all.

[05.09.14. Very little of the preparation for Sports Days at Chinese schools has anything to do with sport. Pupils do a lot of marching practice for the opening ceremony and… that’s it! Such days also seem to be scheduled for around mid autumn (NB. Actual mid autumn, and not the so-called Mid Autumn Festival which is in early autumn when the weather can still be summer-like) when the weather is typically unsettled and we gaze anxiously at the skies hoping that it won’t rain.]

See, I am normal

But that’s what the Chinese say.

We went to the Entry and Exit Section of the PSB yesterday to deal with our foreign residents permits. I was expecting to have to go to Hong Kong for a couple of days to get a new Z-visa for the Mainland, but it appears that here in Fujian Province that’s not necessary. (Watch this space perhaps.)

Just as we were leaving the building, June gave us our Foreign Expert Certificates and our Certificate of Health Examination. I’ve never had one of the latter before. I don’t know whether it’s new or simply something they do in this part of the country. The results of the health check are that I’m the poster boy for normal. Yes, that’s right – I’m normal. [That’s a different kind of normal. –ed.]

Oddly enough the booklet informs me that my external genital organs are normal, although as far as I recall, there was no sighting of these by anyone during the whole time I was having the medical check. Certainly no one tried to cop a feel.

I’ve also allegedly shrunk. According to the results, I’ve lost 3cm. I don’t think there’s been any… Not that sort of shrinking. I’m talking about my height. See, an innocent comment and all you perverts are all, er, innuendinous. Actually, I’ve just checked, and it appears to be true. I probably haven’t shrunk at all, but I’m puzzled about how I came to think I’m 3cm taller than I am.

Are you Dis-ing me?

I’m so damned.

Occasionally on my wanderings around Cyberia I run into online quizzes. They’re usually of the which-TV-character-are-you kind from Quizilla. [I bet you always end up being the cute one –ed.] Anyway, in my searching for something else, I found the following.

The Dante’s Inferno Test has banished you to the Sixth Level of Hell – The City of Dis!

Here is how you matched up against all the levels:

Level Score
Purgatory (Repenting Believers) Very Low
Level 1 – Limbo (Virtuous Non-Believers) Low
Level 2 (Lustful) Moderate
Level 3 (Gluttonous) High
Level 4 (Prodigal and Avaricious) High
Level 5 (Wrathful and Gloomy) Very High
Level 6 – The City of Dis (Heretics) Very High
Level 7 (Violent) Moderate
Level 8 – the Malebolge (Fraudulent, Malicious, Panderers) Very High
Level 9 – Cocytus (Treacherous) Moderate

Dante’s Inferno Hell Test

As you might expect from such quizzes, it’s obvious to see how you can end up with some biased answers. For example, I’m not gluttonous by any stretch of the imagination, but in attempting to answer questions where there is no suitable choice either way, I end up being gluttonous.

Anyway, I’ll leave you to find out by yourselves how evil you are. That whole roast ox, stuffed with whole roast sheep, stuffed with whole roast geese, stuffed with whole roast chickens, stuffed with whole roast quails, stuffed with whole roast hummingbirds glazed in the nectar of rare tropical flowers isn’t going to eat itself.

News of the Screws

(Title with apologies to Private Eye.)

Over on Language Log, there’s another instance of a hilarious mistranslation of a Chinese dish because of a dual meaning one character has. The name of the dish is 虾干炒白菜 xia gan chao bai cai which is “stir-fried dried shrimp with bok choy”. But because 干 gan has another mean­ing, the English translation given on the sign is “The shrimp f_cks the cabbage”.

I think I might’ve mentioned the Chinese menu that’s been doing the rounds of the Internet in which 干 is similarly inappropriately translated.

This particular 干 gan is first-tone and the simpilifed form of 乾. There’s also fourth-tone 干, which is the simplified form of 幹. This 干 can be short for 干部 ganbu “cadre”, but the character can also mean “do, act, work”.

Is English so different? After all, it appears that the Chinese can also hang people out to dry.

The length of the stroke

So no beautiful models, then?

I discovered a couple of days ago that I’d misread the name of the local university. It’s not 帅范大学 shuaifan daxue, as I mistakenly believed, but 师范大学 shifan daxue “Teacher Training University”. As you can see, 帅 shuai and 师 shi are quite similar to each other so that in passing I might well mistake one for the other.

A this-and-that entry

Genitives as antecedents.

I noticed this in an article about the biography of Ted Hughes’ mistress, Assia Wevill, in The Guardian, that journal of grammatical agreement.

The book also reveals that Hughes and Wevill starting sharing Plath’s bed in the London flat where she died within two days of her suicide.

The problem with the sentence is like my recent observation about the dangling participle in the translation of the sentence in Sicilian. “She” refers back to “Plath’s”, but English isn’t fond of genitive antecedents to pronouns. I naturally read “she” as “Wevill”. I’m not sure the sentence can be satisfactorily rewritten without running into some variation on this problem. You have

  1. Hughes and Wevill started sharing Plath’s bed.
  2. It was in the London flat where Plath died.
  3. They started sharing it within two days of Plath’s suicide.

Plath is the common factor in all three parts of the sentence, but she mostly wants to be in the genitive.

This is stupid.

From Oblivion, we have the following condition for joining the Fighters Guild:

You must have a clean criminal record to join.

Huh? A clean criminal record? In Cyrodiil, it appears that everyone’s guilty of something until proven innocent. Actually, I stick my criminal record in the wash to clean it, but I hear that taking it down to a river and beating it on a stone can be quite effective. I’m also informed by knowledgeable sources that the police in China find this method to be effective with suspects as well.

Teacher Appreciation Day

Three cups.

We were taken to a restaurant in the shopping mall near the river for Teach­er Appreciation Day. The banquet was pretty much your standard Chinese affair, although with a little more seafood than most because it’s a local speciality.

Everyone was going round toasting the other tables, but it was all being done with beer, and many of the toasters insisted on three cups. Chinese beer is weak stuff so that you can drink a lot and not really get hammered. The real crippler is the quantity, which I can’t cope with. You end up going to the loo every five minutes and feel horribly uncomfortable.

I’m surprised that baijiu didn’t make an appearance, but that’s a two-edged sword. You can drink a greater quantity without feeling bloated, but the alcohol content is fairly lethal. If I’m eating, I can cope with a small amount, and ganbei as much as the next hardened drinker.

In fact, I find baijiu (which is like rice-flavoured whiskey) to be unpalatable. I can tolerate it once in a while, but not on a more regular basis. Fortunately, Teacher Appreciation Day only happens once a year.

[05.09.14. I was unaware of Teacher Appreciation Day when I first came to China. For the first two years, we got ¥1,000 each (as did the Chinese teachers), but after that, at various schools, it’s been dinner and a show – and we’ve often had to do the performing. Often, we hoped that our per­formance would be so awful that we’d never be asked to perform again; and in one instance, this tactic seems to have worked. In Wuxi, we get given ¥100 and there’s no dinner or show. I don’t mind in the slightest.]

The Wizard’s Tale

Once upon a time…

…there was a wizard. He was neither a very old wizard nor a young wizard, but somewhere in between. He had worked hard to earn his wizard’s staff and cloak, but found that when he was made a wizard, no one really wanted wizards and, after a brief spell at a very good magical university, he ended up living in the dungeon of a deranged old witch and her ogre of a son for several years with no prospects of ever escaping. Eventually, the old witch made good her threat to sell her ruinous, but centrally located hovel, and the wizard was forced into exile in a distant land where the customs were strange, and the people ruled by vampire necromancers.

It was in the distant land of Cathay that the wizard got a job teaching imps how to speak, but they were impish, which is to say that they weren’t remotely interested in what the wizard was trying to teach them no matter how many Spells of Interest he cast on them. In fact, they were completely resistant to such magics, and the wizard knew full well that what he did actually didn’t matter at all since the course he taught was, metaphorically speaking, tied on to the rest of the imps’ education system with a piece of damp string, although some conjurers had persuaded themselves it was really an iron band.

After three years, the conjurers asked the wizard to go to a village in a remote part of the country, to which he agreed because the imps at his first school had grown worse by the generation. The imps at the new school were really not too bad, even the annoying ones. But long before the year had passed, the wizard decided to move on. The vampire necromancer who was in charge of the school ran it like a prison, and the warders were emotionless robots who made some of the wizards teach implings. Besides, the place was dull and interesting, and a long way from anywhere anyone might actually want to go.

The wizard now found himself in South Cathay where it was always warm and tropical except in winter when it was neither. And there were the same old imps again whose impish behaviour so annoyed the wizard one day not long after he had started trying to teach them that he felt compelled to comment about it, but, lacking an immediate audience, decided to publish his frustrations in the vast lands of Cyberia where no one ever found anything unless it was by chance; or someone else told them; or there were naked women. There the wizard could write what he liked without interference from outsiders who had no say in the editorial content.

Thus it was that three people discovered the imps that the wizard was teaching in Cathay were a bit dim and couldn’t be motivated no matter how hard anyone tried. Of those three people, two had not bothered to read the whole article because so many words made them dizzy, and the third, who had been hoping for naked women, had departed soonest.

© The Wizard of Cathay 2006.
All events, people, and incidents in this story are wholly fictionalised.
I really love my job. No, really I so do.