A Dream of Dead Mansions

A Chinese Hallowe’en Story.

Jia Baoyu could hear some distant sound in his half-wakeful state, but not tell where it was coming from or who was making it. It sounded like a cross between six dozen crickets being fried in a wok and twenty screeching alley cats. It sounded like Xifeng scolding the servants. The noise was beginning to drag Baoyu out of semi-consciousness, and it was then that he noticed the bed. The soft, silk sheets seemed to have become all gritty during the night as if the had been sprinkled with sand. Baoyu suddenly sat up.

He was no longer in the room in which he had gone to sleep the night before. He thought, for a moment, that Xiren and Qingwen might have carried him out into the garden as a joke, but he was sitting in the middle of a blasted, barren wasteland. Above him, blood-red clouds whipped through the sky and the wind carried a stench that was almost as terrible as a public toilet in Beijing.

When Baoyu stood up, he saw that he was on an island around which was a broad sea of churning lava. When he looked more closely, he could see faces seething and raging in the ocean of molten rock. It horrified and fascinated him. From the island there led a causeway and since there was nothing to keep him in that place, Baoyu began to follow it. The way was straight and seemed to stretch on forever, disappearing into a strangely dark horizon.

Baoyu rested several times along the way and wondered whether there was an end to the path or whether he would eventual die of starvation, his spirit left to wander in this desolate place for all eternity. Perhaps Lin Daiyu or Xue Baochai might spare him a thought in their prayers. As Baoyu walked, he noticed that the day did not change. The sky was without a sun and the light came from everywhere.

Just as the sun would have been setting, he found that a huge gateway appeared out of the black mists into which the causeway had seemed to vanish. He could see a pair of tall bronze gates on either side of which were two curiously animated towers. It was only when Baoyu got much closer that he could see they were covered in spikes and on each spike was impaled some wriggling, writhing, rotting corpse. Down the stones ran a stream of rancid blood which, when it hit the lava, threw up clouds of noxious black steam. In front of the gate was a much small archway on the lintel of which were carved the words Lasciate ogni etc. although they meant nothing to him. As he passed beneath the arch, the gates slowly rumbled open, the metal ringing as if to announce his arrival.

So massive were the gates that Baoyu still had a long walk to get past them and when they eventually closed, he felt the ground shake and heard a metallic boom. He turned but could see nothing. The light had been snuffed out, although he could still see himself. He looked around. There seemed to be no way to tell what was forwards or what was backwards; no way to tell whether any way was right, or all ways were wrong. Even up and down seemed to lose all meaning. Perhaps Baoyu was moving or perhaps they came to him.

Suddenly he found himself in a room. Above Baoyu sat three men, Rhadamanthus, Minos, and Aeacus, the Judges of the Dead. Before them sat a large book with a heavy gold cover.

“Name?” said Rhadamanthus.

“Jia Baoyu,” squeaked Baoyu trying to sound brave and manly, but he was suddenly trembling in terror.

Aeacus turned the pages of the book. “Jia Baoyu,” he said to his fellow judges. “He wants to be a girl. Is this true?”

“Well…”

“We shall give you what you desire,” said Minos. “You shall be a girl. You’ll have to shave your legs…”

“…which shall be long and sexy…” intoned Rhadamanthus.

“…and wax your bikini line…” said Aeacus.

“You shall have big boobs…” continued Minos.

“…to which men will talk…” added Rhadamanthus.

“But I don’t like men,” protested Baoyu who had never, for a moment, considered shaving, waxing, or the consequences of big breasts.

“For speaking back to the judges…” said Aeacus.

“…you shall be a double-D cup…”

“…and a nymphomaniac.” Rhadamanthus banged his gavel. It rang the knell of doom.

Baoyu started to open his mouth, but some great force plucked him out of the courtroom. He woke up with a start and found himself in his bed, sending Xiren and Qingwen, who had been sleeping either side of him, tumbling onto the floor. As they stood up, grumbling, Baoyu started to tell them about his dream.

“I know you’ve always been self-conscious about them,” said Xiren sym­path­et­ic­al­ly, “but you’re just going to have to accept that you’re a double-D cup.”

Baoyu looked down. “Noooo!” he cried when he saw what the plastic surgeon had done.

Xiren and Qingwen looked at each other and started to giggle. “April Fool!” they chanted.

Baoyu looked puzzled until they explained that that was Hallowe’en – with Chinese characteristics.

Try wikipedia

You won’t learn anything here.

I notice that I’ve had quite a few hits via baidu for a history of English lit. and A Dream of Red Mansions recently. I’m not sure why I’m getting hits for the former. Perhaps this term’s major essay at some university here is to write about the history of English literature. Unfortunately, I don’t have any substantive information on that one, but if you go to the antiquated Cambridge History of English Literature on Bartleby, you might find something of use. However, you should be going and doing research in your university library.

As for A Dream of Red Mansions, I wonder whether that’s come up because of a kids-these-day rant that was reported recently on Danwei. It was triggered by a comic version of A Dream of Red Mansions which takes some liberties with the story in the best traditions of parodies. But as the article says, this version was published four years ago and no one seems to have minded at the time. (One note, though. I’m not sure whether this is a comic book [i.e., manga] or a comedic, but otherwise prose rendition.)

Anyway, let’s give baidu what it wants. There was this sexy girl with long legs, and she had big boobs. She was a sexy girl with big boobs. Now, let’s see how long it takes for me to find that I get a hit or two via baidu for these terms. This time I’ll know that I actually wrote them.


Google in China. Noch einmal.

Another article about Google in China in The Observer today along with the usual arguments from both sides.

At the first Internet Governance Forum in Athens, starting tomorrow, the firm will insist its presence in China does more good than harm by getting more information to more people.

As we all know, Google has bugger all market share in China. In reality, it doesn’t appear to be making a significant difference.

‘We’ve made an empirical judgment, though, that being able to hire Chinese employees and have them be part of the Google culture and be free-thinking, freewheeling internet people … when you add it all up, we think we’re helping to advance the cause of change in China.’

Yeah, you keep telling yourself that. Just how many Chinese employees does Google have? Does the company really believe that such a small number of people is really going to make a difference? Also, where’s the main clause after “that”? I’m not sure whether the ellipsis means that material has been omitted, or the commentator simply trailed off.

‘We do see Google with a search engine in China that gives very different results from the one for the rest for us. I think the starkest example is the picture search for Tiananmen Square. We get the man in front of the tank; in China you get a happy, smiling couple, standing in Tiananmen Square as tourists.’

Another tiresome generalisation. It makes it sound as if all Google search results are warped and twisted. I do a search for “sexy girl long legs big boobs”, but all I get is a link to a page on model workers in Hunan, 1954 – 1957. (No, that’s not what I actually get. The top link for such a search is to a site which – I’m guessing ‘cos I’m not going to go near it – aims at “pick[ing] up cullies to increase their stock”.)

[27.08.13. A thought pops into my head while I’m editing this. What if you only want tourists grinning witlessly in Tiananmen Square and don’t want scenes from Tank Parking Day? All right, I suppose you can refine your search.]


I don’t believe it.

In another article from The Observer, it’s reported that books on atheism are the belle du jour of the publishing world.

A glut of popular science books making a trenchant case against religion have soared up the bestseller lists both here and in America.

I’m sure our hack didn’t really mean to imply that only books about science can make a case against religion, but I’d guess that if you asked for the antithesis of religion, most people would say science.

Dawkins’s book is also selling rapidly in the UK. ‘In terms of sales it’s vying with Jamie Oliver,’ said Alister Babb…

Jamie Oliver. Isn’t he that theologian? [Mr Bamboo. Isn’t he that pointless picky pedant? –ed.]

‘The God Delusion is selling four times as many as the next bestselling science book.

But is The God Delusion principally a science book, or is it principally anti-religious polemic? I can’t see how a book that specifically attempts to debunk religion can be described as a science book even if it employs science as part of  its arsenal against it. It’s also possible to make a sound case against religion using logic without summoning science to the cause.

However, I am aware that religion has been attempting to subvert science with such idiotic ideas as Intelligent Design, which purports to give nonsense a sound factual basis. If we are going to debunk pseudo-science, then scientists are just the people to do it. But what are the aims of these books? I assume that some of them are intended to address scientific fallacies that have been pressed into religious service rather than debunk religion outright; others may be a more direct attack on religion through science (which seems to be the aim of Dawkins’ book from what I can gather).

If you’re wondering what’s happening, I’m trying to think of a suitable concluding sentence. I fear this may have to be it.

Three book reviews

Catching up on my reading.
 
I note that there are far fewer book reviews here than there ought to be. Here some books that I’ve read recently.

A Year in the Merde and Merde Actually.
 
I assume that these are semi-autobiographical tales based on Stephen Clarke’s life in France. Our hero, Paul West, arrives in France to help with the establishment of an English tearooms in Paris. He discovers that there’s more to the project than meets the eye and eventually blackmails his boss out of the idea. Paul also spends an inordinate amount of time bonking cute French girls who all tend to wear next to nothing and do naked yoga. Yeah, I’m sure all attractive French female twentysomethings do that.
 
Paul ends the first book with Florence who is half-French and half-Indian, but rather too indecisive.
 
In the second volume (I prefer the American title, In the Merde for Love), our hero struggles to get his tearooms open, and eventually succeeds. His love life flies around all over the place as he realises that Alexa is The One, and it all ends happily ever after.
 
I enjoyed both volumes, although I thought the succession of cute, horny French girlfriends was a cliché. The cultural differences were amusing, but the apparent level of ignorance of the English language and British culture among the French seemed alarming if what I was reading was a reasonably accurate fictionalised depiction. I suppose I could relate to Paul’s situation since I’m a foreigner in a very foreign country myself. The ending was also a little Hollywood. Paul messed up his relationship with Alexa about three times before finally winning her over. She seemed a little too persuadable to be real.

The Vesuvius Club
 
Mark Gatiss of the League of Gentlemen is behind this Boy’s Own adventure set during the early 20th century. Lucifer Box, an Edwardian James Bond, must find out why a bunch of vulcanologists…
Gentle reader, here I must inform you that the collective noun for a group of vulcanologists is a bunch. I believe I read it on the Internet moments ago.
…has disappeared. His adventures take him through a world of excruciatingly bad puns to Mount Vesuvius in Italy where he must prevent a mad scientist from using the volcano to rip the planet apart in a megalomaniac act of revenge.
 
This is a light, but entertaining and amusing tale of improbable derring-do in the tradition of Rippng Yarns.

The Bartimaeus Trilogy.
 
One of these days I might be dealing with a group of kids who can cope with Harry Potter, Artemis Fowl, His Dark Materials, or the Bartimaeus Trilogy.
 
This is the story of another boy wizard, but rather than angry youth, Harry Potter, we have vengeful, cold-blooded and ambitious John Mandrake (aka Nathaniel) who lives in a world ruled by wizards and mostly by the British Empire. In the first book, John Mandrake contrives to have the djinni Bartimaeus steal the Amulet of Samarkand from another wizard, Simon Lovelace. It all goes horribly wrong, and Mandrake must prevent Lovelace’s coup d’etat.
 
In the second volume, The Golem’s Eye, Mandrake is now part of the government and again must stave off a coup against the government. He is also trying to track down and eliminate the Resistance, a group of non-magical people who are resistane to magic. If that wasn’t enough, there’s also the little issue of William Gladstone’s skeleton to deal with.
 
In the final volume, there is yet another attempt to overthrow the government, this time using a very high level demon. Armed with Gladstone’s Staff and aided by Bartimaeus, Mandrake saves the day, but at the cost of his life.
 
I got the impression that the trilogy was a satire on the British government rather than just another story about a boy wizard. Did Stroud, who has a background in publishing, come up with the idea of an alt history where the British Empire survived, and then decided to throw in magic and a boy wizard because these things were selling?
 
I’m not sure how the target audience might relate to John Mandrake since he’s not a particularly sympathetic character even if he does act nobly in the end. Bartimaeus is more interesting and more appealing, and much less evil, although we’re led to believe that unless they are properly controlled, demons are a nasty bunch. The audience is bound to feel some sympathy for Bartimaeus whose master’s refusal to dismiss him results in him being severely weakened. As for John Mandrake, you don’t really care at all.

Where d’you think you’re going?

Civilised roads.

This post on ESWN is worth checking out. From those of use who come from countries where driving culture is comparatively civilised, Chinese driving culture is barbaric. I have to applaud the woman in the picture. (10.08.14. The post on ESWN may no longer exist, but I think it was probably a sequence of pictures which showed some foreign woman on a bike pre­venting some motorist from using a cycle lane. But as I’ve noted in another post, Chinese motorists can’t tell the difference between a cycle lane and a driveway or between the pavement and a car park.)

Chinese drivers seem to think that they become the Emperor when they’re behind the wheel.

I’ve long assumed that the only road rule in this country is “Aim for the gap”. If you don’t hit anyone or anything, then you can’t be doing anything wrong regardless of the number of rules you might actually be violating. (10.08.14. There’s also the law of size, with the biggest thing having the right of way; there are some exceptions to this such as military vehicles and high-level officials.)

Instead of Nanny’s drive for a civilised (i.e., censored) Internet, she might put some effort into civilising traffic culture first since the latter affects just about everyone. The former remains a minority sport.

Actually, a couple of years ago there was an attempt to bring some level of civilisation to the roads in Beijing. There was a very visible public campaign at Guomao, including a free paper that outlined drivers’ bad habits. As far as I’m aware, it had absolutely no effect.

I thought they stopped making these in the 70s

Snakes on a Plane.

I spotted the DVD of Snakes on a Plane in the DVD shop in town just recently and grabbed it out of curiosity. I wanted to find out whether the film was as bad as the title suggested. It was. It was sort of like Airport 75 with snakes, being one of those films where if something can get worse at a stupid moment, it will. When everyone’s told to go upstairs, what happens to the banisters? They collapse.

All right, so the plot is that some guy has seen a Korean gangster murder a public prosecutor. Our gangster has his minions track him down, but out of nowhere, Samuel Jackson arrives and saves the day. The witness has to be taken to the mainland (they’re in Hawaii). Somehow, airport security in Hawaii is rather slack, and a bunch of poisonous snakes is smuggled onto a plane. Their mission is to take down the witness or cause the plane to crash.

The characters were all the clichés you’d expect in a 70s disaster movie, and you weren’t disappointed. The captain gets killed; the co-pilot gets bitten as well, but survives (where was the navigator?) for a while before succumbing. There was the horny young couple – she gets bitten on her boob; the vacuous socialite whose dog (allowed on as cabin baggage – huh?) ends up as snake food; the guy who goes to the loo and gets bitten on the todger; the ageing stewardess who dies tragically after rescuing a baby.

This is one seriously stupid film that’s about thirty years out of date. Who was dumb enough to think it worth putting up the money for this dreadful pile of poo? Why have I written so many words about it? Where’s the DVD now? In the rubbish where it belongs.

Old Occitan

No, it’s not an anti-acne cream.
While I was off looking for other stuff, I found this site about Old Occitan (aka Old Provençal), the Romance language of southern France. It was the language of the troubadors whose music was probably greeted by the local burghers with such cheery cries as, “Turn that f_cking lute down” and “My daughter?! Thank God it wasn’t the goat.” But since this was France and it was the Middle Ages, it really was the goat.

The Lull

What do we do now?

I had assumed that wikipedia was unblocked because Nanny had worked out how to filter content she finds disagreeable, but I’ve been wondering whether the controversy over wikipedia’s quirky editorial policies and the allegedly questionable quality of some of the articles had Nanny saying to herself that she’d got into a tizzy over nothing.

As you can tell from my silence, nothing much has been happening on the island recently. We had no water yesterday for some reason. If there was building work going on, I don’t know where it was. I bought some Emmental cheese earlier this week, but found it wasn’t to my liking. The irritating plinkety-plink music that’s been bothering me very early in the mornings is coming from the school. These people have no consideration for others.

Class 13 are still intractable; Class 14 is slightly better when the dim bulbs are absent. The results of this week’s practice IELTS reading exam were marginally better than last week’s.

I got a couple of new pairs of pyjamas from my Mum yesterday. They’d actually been bought for my Dad when he had his hip replacement operation, but they were too small. I now have five pairs of pyjamas which does seem a little excessive, doesn’t it?

I’ve been watching Arrested Development again, and I’m working my way through both series of GITS: Standalone Complex.

The summer-like weather continues. In fact, it doesn’t feel like summer, but it doesn’t feel autumnal either. In Beijing, the temperature has usually started to fall by now and we’d not be far off that awkward hiatus between needing heating and the heating being officially turned on in mid-November. I know it will get cold here, but that may be another month away, and the temperature may not really dip until January next year.

I had a look at my stats after I posted this earlier today and find that I’ve now had over 2400 hits. I’m still coming up as a hit for some weird searches via baidu. There was one a couple of weeks ago or so for “sexy girl long legs” or something like that. There was that woman I saw in Hong Kong with the overtanned but otherwise quite sexy legs. [Are you going to write any more? You’ve been sitting there looking vacantly horny for a couple of minutes. –ed.] If you want pictures of that sort of thing, you’ll have to go to Skinhua. Sorry, Xinhua, the official Chinese new agency [for scantily clad totty].

[18.08.13. Edited formatting and added tags. Thought I might’ve said more about Arrested Development, which I’ve just been watching again (though not the fourth series).]

Further film reviews

The Keeper.

An Iranian boy living in the States learns something of the life of Omar Khayyam from his brother who lies dying in hospital. The brother dies before he can finish the story and the boy goes on a trek across the world to learn the rest of the story. The contemporary sequences are intercut with the story of Omar Khayyam himself.

The latter, I thought, were rather stagey, the performances being somewhat wooden. The guy playing Omar Khayyam could’ve been as easily replaced by that Japanese robot in the previous entry for all the range he displayed. Same, too, for the actor who played Omar’s best friend.


Extras.

I bought this in Hong Kong because although it may turn up here on the Mainland, there’s no guarantee that it ever will. I hadn’t seen the final two episodes of the first series which include the one with Patrick Stewart who sends himself up without mercy with his screenplay in which he has powers which cause women’s clothes to fall off.

I had a squint at the second DVD which has all the extra stuff including some outtakes, most of which seem to be Ricky Gervais cracking up with that squeaky, screechy laugh of his.


My Super Ex-Girlfriend.

A daft, lame-brained caper in which boy meets girl. Girl turns out to be a bit of a head case. Boy dumps girl. Bad move, dude! She has super powers. Fortunately other boy likes girl. Everything ends happily.

Can I use the ¥6 excuse? Yeah, I guess. Actually, I’d never heard of it, so it must’ve sunk like a lead balloon full of mercury. I think I’ll plead ignorance.


Keeping Mum.

A Britcom which I’d never heard of although I’d seen the DVD several times. Rowan Atkinson is the vicar whose family is out of control until the new nanny arrives and “takes care” of things.

Not exactly an Ealing Comedy, but it ticks along quite nicely as Maggie Smith irons out some wrinkles (and wrinklies). I’m not sure I quite liked the end, not because, as some people have complained, of what happens to the men who are there to drain the pond, but because of the assumption so the mother, therefore the daughter.


The Lake House.

This is another film I’d never heard of. Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves have a relationship via a post box. The catch is that he’s in 2004. but she’s in 2006. From what I’ve seen, it wasn’t well received critically. but I thought the storyline was well enough crafted. It’s certainly worth a second viewing because you’ll then understand the plot better.

I thought the big hole (excluding, of course, the warping of space-time) was that Bullock and Reeves met several times, but never joined the dots. Each time it was as if they’d never met before. The pair of them also got to act their age, which seemed a little more realistic to me than, say, Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta-Jones in Entrapment.

This won’t go down as a classic film, but it’s a long, long way from a steaming pile of poo…


The Break-up.

…which is more than can be said for this. Within thirty seconds I knew that I probably wasn’t going to last the course with this one, and about ten minutes later I called time. I must have a strong pain threshold.

Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston? Yeah, right. That whole thing they’re supposed to have had sounds like some sort of attempt to stir some interest in a film where the extermination of the cast and production crew would win universal plaudits. (Of course, I can’t speak for Kim Jong Il who probably thought it was the best thing he’s seen in years. But then again, he’s two feet short of a midget.)

¥6 badly spent.


Foxfire.

An outing for Angelina Jolie from 1996. She plays a homeless girl who helps four friends through a difficult patch. For no particular reason, she turns up at their school one day and starts helping them fight against their oppressors (parents; teachers; the football team).

In spite of her homelessness, la Jolie obviously has a great skin and hair care regimen. A curiosity buy.


Superman Returns.

Indeed he does, but without the depth. Brandon Routh looks the part, but lacks the presence. Kate Bosworth, who played Lois Lane, seemed way to young to be some ace reporter. If she’d been playing the school alpha bitch, then I might’ve believed it.

It’s a pity that Kevin Spacey, who played Lex Luthor, didn’t get more time on screen, although he would easily have stolen the whole show from Routh and the film would have to have been Lex Luthor Returns.

Another Superman film. What’s on ITV?


Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

I bought this partly out of curiosity and partly because I might be able to show it to my [gritted teeth]lovely little darlings[/gritted teeth] some time. The latter is unlikely to happen any time soon.

It follows the basics of the original story with five obnoxious children and Charlie winning the opportunity to visit Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory where each of them meets with a richly deserved fate. In the book, Charlie also slips by ignoring Willy Wonka’s injunctions, but redeems himself by showing his loyalty. In the film, Charlie gets through without falling victim to temptation, but refuses to leave his family to live with a man who’s somewhat older than he is. (You can see where this train of thought it leading.)

As a result, Willy Wonka learns the value of families.

I saw the original film many years ago, but I have a feeling that the style of the two is rather similar and that like the first version, this is rapidly going to look dated. I’m not sure that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory would really work as anything but a cartoon. The interior of the factory always ends up looking like an acid trip, or the future as conceived in the 1960s or 1970s, or a page from Dr Seuss. Willy Wonka remains a smug, annoying bastard, and although the rich kids are vile and obnoxious, I wouldn’t have minded if he’d been given a taste of his own medicine as well.

Maid service

Don’t even ask where you insert the key.

Another one of those little moments from the Land of the Rising Sun. It’s not so much the robot cutie as the English on the website [24.06.13. Dead link removed.] that amuses me.

  • Have you ever seen this much lively robot?
  • She is robot working girl. (“Me love you long time!”)
  • Dressed in cute maid costume at trendy coffee shop. (Perhaps that should be “formerly trendy”)
  • Graceful Japanese woman as pro-Japan ambassador. (As if she’s going to stand around saying in Chinese, “So sorry about the war” or “Please, you can have the Diaoyu Islands.”)
  • You can count on her. Cabin attendant. (Hopefully the thing floats so that when the plane ditches, she can save many lives.)
  • Takes good care of patients. Reliable nurse. (This is beginning to sound like, “We are the Borg. You will be assimilated”, or “Me love you long time.” I think the guy in the picture is hoping for a little of the latter.)

There are whole anime/manga series about this sort of thing. Now you can live the dream.

Hong Kong. Again.

Where’s my holiday home?

Just as my suitcase was about right for my departure, it stopped me spending too much money in Hong Kong because I didn’t have the space for too many bulky items. I raided M&S; bought a few books (natch); and bought the first series of Extras on DVD.

Like my trip in August, a taxi turned up just at the right moment to take me to the Apollo Hotel for the airport coach. But when I got out of that taxi, I was accosted by another driver who wanted to take me to the airport for ¥30. I was having none of that because it only costs ¥20 on the coach, but even when the driver saw that I wasn’t going to cave, a second taxi driver made the same offer. How dumb are these guys?

I was in a room on the 7th floor of the building where the guesthouse is. It was somewhat bigger than what I’ve been in upstairs, but the view was non-existent. I could just see the building where that line of disused loos is sitting on the roof, but most of the view was the room around the corner from mine. It struck me that I could really do with a holiday home in Hong Kong, not that I could possibly afford such a luxury even in the less salubrious parts of Kowloon City.

I noticed that The Washingtonienne and Belle du Jour were available in Page One, which prompted me to write the following tale about getting your blog published.

“Welcome to Trend Publishing, Mr Bamboo,” said Tony Burton-Hughes who had just been introduced to me as a senior editor. We shook hands.

“Please,” I said, “call me Green. It’s very nice to be here.”

“I trust you had a pleasant trip.”

“Very.” I’d never travelled first class before. It was going to be a hard blow to return to economy as I felt I inevitably would.

“Let me introduce you to everyone. You’ve met Caroline, my PA. This is Polly Collins. We’ve taken the liberty of appointing her as your literary agent. Several of our authors are under her wing.” Ms Collins seemed to be in her late forties and a little overfond of unsubtle makeup. “This is Sarah Hyde. She’s the project editor and will be in charge of seeing your magnum opus through to publication. Since this is her baby – and yours – I’ll let her have the floor.”

“We’ve been enjoying reading your blog,” Sarah began and I muttered my thanks. “We think it has definite potential and we’ve come up with a proposal which we’d like to run past you. It’s more or less a bunch of minor edits.”

I’d been expecting some suggestions since there were quite a few entries which would hardly appeal to most people, and I’m sure others needed appropriate editing.

“For a start, you’re a bit too, er, male. We really need you to be a woman. And,” she continued without pausing, “there’s not much about sex. It’d help if you were a woman with an overactive sex life. You’re in about the right age range, but let’s make you a little younger – early thirties, say.”

“I’m forty-one,” I said. Curse my youthful good looks!

“Don’t worry,” interjected Tony. “Airbrushing can work wonders.”

“And you need to be Chinese. So from now on, you’re Wang Fei, blogging about your very active sex life during the Cultural Revolution in Shanghai, bonking your way through the Politburo. That sort of thing.”

“There are a couple of problems,” I said not wishing to ruin the deal by observing that all of it was a problem. “Most Chinese people are married by the time they’re in their mid-twenties. Even if Wang Fei was in her early thirties, she wouldn’t even remember the Cultural Revolution.”

“I see where you’re going with this,” said Sarah. “You’re twenty-five, in Shanghai looking for Mr Right during the Cultural Revolution, bonking your way through the Politburo, and blogging about your elusive search for love.”

Somewhere nearby, I’m sure reality was asking to be excused.

Another theme of my trip to Hong Kong was afternoon tea. By about 3pm, it was very difficult to find anywhere to sit down and relax.

I did do one touristy thing and that was to take a trip on the Skyrail up to Ngong Ping. I was a little bit wary about taking the MTR out to Tung Chung because the Airport Express costs HK$100 and the airport is barely a stone’s throw from Tung Chung, but the Tung Chung line costs the usual amount, which rather reveals what a major-league rip off the Airport Express is. The Skyrail is a cable car running up the north side of Lantau to the seated buddha which I visited a couple of years ago. I must admit that I wasn’t impressed. There really isn’t much of a view and even if it’d been clear, there wouldn’t have been much of a view. You could see the airport, but the rest was merely an inlet and some hillside, neither of which had anything to recommend it.

I think living in China does something to your sense of perspective. I saw several groups of foreigners in Hong Kong all of whom seemed to be grotesquely large (all right, so they were fat as well). In spite of claims that obesity is on the rise in China (certainly in cities like Beijing or Shanghai where the populace is noticeably larger), the average sizes here are still weedy and scrawny.

[05.07.14. I assume that this entry popped up because of the protest in Hong Kong on the 1st of July. Mention of it on this side of the border got throttled, with the punters saying that the news was censored even more severely than news about the 25th anniversary of Tiananmen Square in June.

In the eight years that have passed since I wrote this entry, the imperial government has grown even more paranoid. Blocks on various sites such as Facebook, blogspot, and WordPress have gone from contrary to permanent. Various newspapers such as The Guardian have also been blocked for daring to reveal that the leading families in the land aren’t short of a bob or two.

The Emperor’s current campaign against corruption may have more to do with Party politics than anything else, but is presented in the guise of tackling one of China’s endemic problems.

As for Hong Kong, the writing on the wall suggests that China’s plan for the Territory was to regard any handover agreement as yet another unequal treaty which it could, after a sufficient amount of time, ignore. It’s already been doing the migrant thing by allowing Mainlanders to visit Hong Kong in vast numbers, and has never been keen on letting Hongkongers have some­thing approximating to proper democracy, which would merely make the claim that China and democracy don’t mix a bigger lie than it already is.

I don’t know what the future for Hong Kong is going to be like. I suspect the cancerous growth of interference from Beijing will continue, but if Hong Kong manages to maintain a reasonable degree of autonomy to 2047, what will happen after that?]