The remains of the day

So much for primary education.

But before we get to that story, I went to the the Carrefour on 八宝街 (Bābǎo Jiē) in search of Vanilla Coke. It had as much as everywhere else, which is to say, none at all. Better stocked than the Carrefour in town, but no sign of what I wanted. The perverse thing is that in Fuzhou the supply of chocolate-flavoured coffee dried up and you could only get the regular stuff. Here, it’s almost exclusively the chocolate, although the machine down at the gate to the flats has regular.



This is all that now remains of the primary school building next door. The building at the front remains, and it appears that they’re adding at least one storey to it. Well, it’s either that, or a practical welding class.


Open air offices, perhaps?


Restock the shelves

The Laws of Supply and Demand.

When I first went to the Red Flag Supermarket under our building, they had the kind of orange juice I like. I went back this morning to find they had none. I went up the road to the other supermarket which did have a supply. They now have, er, none. I went to Carrefour and bought some there. I had to go to Carrefour anyway. But during my time in China, I’ve often found that a particular item that I want disappears from the shelves never to be seen again once the stock is exhausted. I can buy alternatives, but they’re never usually as good or palatable. It’s a bloody nuisance having to trawl several supermarkets to find what I want, or find that they don’t have what I want.

[19.08.14 In all the time I’ve been in China, I’ve never discovered why this happens, but it’s never ceased to happen. Smoovlatté appears, disappears, reappears; salt-and-vinegar crisps come and go with maddening irregularity; Vanilla Coke vanishes for years and then returns as if nothing ever happened. Some supermarkets have a product, but none of the others do, and then they all have it. There may be some practical reason for this contrariness, but if the evidence points to a demand, I’d expect supply to follow.]

Evening, all

Said the policeman cheerily.

I headed north this afternoon and ran into 文殊院 (Wénshū Yuán), which I’ve passed before. On this occasion, I thought I’d play the tourist and took a trip up the street (but only part play the tourist. I have no real desire to spend ¥60 to get inside when I’ve seen it all before at Yonghegong in Beijing).


If you look carefully in the following image, which I’ve enhanced for the hard of seeing, you’ll see one ancient cultural relic from olde [sic!] Cathay doing some advertising outside another.


And here’s a shot looking along the street. I did spot a couple of foreigners, but one seemed to be traversing the street as if it was an everyday event, so she could well have been a local.


I thought this made for an attractive picture, although the full-sized version looks better.


But I got to the end of the street and was amused to see the Wenshu Fun Post Office, the Wenshu Fun Money Box, and the Wenshu Fun Police Service on the map.


The character in question is 坊 (fāng) "lane; alley". I’m assuming that "fun" is an attempt to replicate the local pronunciation, or may even be a throwback to a misunderstanding from pre-revolutionary times (i.e., the Chinese said 坊 fāng and the foreigners heard "fun"). Aber ich weiß nicht.

I followed the road along the River Fu for a bit before somehow ending up on 东城 <insert character here for the particular section of road in question> 街.

I end with a picture of a typical intersection.


More belated film reviews

Fantastic Four: The Rise of the Silver Surfer.

It’s time to get married, but superheroes should know by now that that ain’t gonna happen because some supervillain is bound to gatecrash the party. And so it happens. Reid Richards (who should be called Richard Reid because that’s the usual order; same for French Stewart, Parker Posey and any other thesps who have arse-backwards names; you want an arse-backwards name? You should be Chinese or Japanese, among whom it’s the done thing) is about to marry Susan Storm when the Silver Surfer zeroes in on New York.

Victor von Doom comes back from the dead and starts by helping the military. That doesn’t last long – predictably. He gets the surfer’s board, skewers Susan (and not in the fun adult way either), and must then face the combined might of the Four. The Surfer gets his board back and goes and takes out Galacticus, or whatever the huge, cosmic cloud was called.

So, at the end of the film, Victor’s somewhere in the Atlantic just of the east coast of the States waiting for the sequel (Fantastic Four: Victor von Doom’s Underwater World); the Silver Surfer is in space and perhaps reunited with his board waiting for his spin-off movie (The Silver Surfer: Thong Bikini Babes of NGC 2264); and Reid and Susan get married, but attract the inevitable emergency.

Annoyances: the disc came out of Russia. The English soundtrack was out of sync and gave way to Russian in a few places; there were some parts which seem to have been edited out when one scene would abruptly jump to another.

As sequels go, this was a decent follow-up to the first film.


I wonder how much longer this film is? What?! Another two hours?! Yes, Zodiac is a long, long tale about the serial killer who sent newspapers encrypted messages, but who was never caught by the police. The film made it clear that the most likely culprit was Arthur Leigh Allen, who remains conveniently dead.

But the film was less about the killings themselves than the obsession it became, especially with Robert Graysmith, who definitely needed treat­ment. It was a little like that for a lot of the people who were principally involved with the hunt for Zodiac.

Part of the problem in identifying and arresting Zodiac seemed to be that the police investigating the case only had part of the evidence. Graysmith seemed to dig up missing pieces of the puzzle, because in the course of the official investigation, the police were playing a kind of left-hand/right-hand game.

Did the length of the film detract from it? Not really. It wasn’t meant to be a fast-paced thriller, but I guess the audience got drawn in by the ob­sess­ion. There was the attempt to heighten the dramatic tension when Gray­smith feared that he’d come face to face with Zodiac, or Zodiac was in the house with the man who had made the posters for the movie theatre back in the 60s.

Henchmen are not just for Christmas

Have you hugged your thugs today?

I was having a look at Chinese Radicals Vol. 1 by Tan Huay Peng in which I found

豢 (huàn) to cherish (henchmen)

which had me raising my eyebrows. The character can also mean "to feed (livestock)". I was a bit curious so I looked up the character in my big dictionary. It only gives it in the sense above in the phrase 豢养一批打手 (huànyǎng yì pī dǎshou) "keep a group of thugs". No cherishing there, I’m afraid.

But I’m sure if you give your thugs lots of love and affection, they’ll be running around the park, fetching sticks and peeing on trees in no time at all. Or is that dogs?

Cycling by the river

On a Sunday afternoon.

From grey, wet and miserable, the weather has switched to bright and sunny with a little cloud. Yes, there is such a thing as blue sky over Chengdu. I decided to take a trip along the river and headed out to 新九眼桥 (Xīn Jiǔ Yǎn Qiáo; yes, that’s it’s name; no, I don’t know where the eyes come into it; I think it takes its name from the hospital that’s just on the opposite corner as you turn onto the bridge; or vice versa) which is just south of 望江楼公园. It’s about as far along the river as you can go without taking various detours shortly afterwards.

I headed home along the south side of the river and took this picture in passing.


If I’ve understood the inscription correctly, it’s a monument to revolutionary martyr Cao Ming. I’m not sure what the "二一六" is all about. Nor am I certain what the monument is meant to evoke in the minds of viewers. To me it comes across as brutish totalitarianism. I don’t find it uplifting. Change the hammer and sickle to a swastika, and you can imagine it sitting outside the Nuremberg stadium in 1936.

Ironically, if I haven’t got my bearings completely muddled, this is just near 九眼桥, although this bridge and the latter of a similar name are not that close together.

I went to the small bridge just past 百花潭桥 (Bǎi Huā Tán Qiáo) before looping back to complete the circuit. Here’s a picture looking west. There are people fishing on the opposite bank where the river branches.


According to the map, the southern branch is the 清水河 (Qīngshǔi Hé), although 青 (qīng "green") might be a little more accurate than 清 (qīng "clear"). [Is this a pun in Chinese I see before me? –ed.] The northern branch is called 浣花溪 (Huànhuā Xī), but the two together merely form an island which is mostly covered by 浣花溪公园.

Quite a lot of people were enjoying a relaxing Sunday afternoon sitting in the shade of the trees that run along the banks of the river while I flashed past most of it on my bike. And by "flash" I mean "go quickly", because the other type of flashing, er… It must be time to post this.

Irony in the afternoon, Part 75

The ironic shop.

While they demolish the primary school on one side of our building, I’ve never been along the lane that bounds the other side. Since the rain has gone for the moment, I thought I’d go for a little jaunt and start with that particular street. What should I find on the ground floor of this building, but one of the multitude of Red Flag Chains Stores that dot Chengdu, and quite an extensive one at that. I’ve been traipsing up past the school to one of the branches up there.

I decided I’d head north up 长顺上街 to see what’s up there, if anything. There were quite a few policemen on motorbikes and then a whole group on the corner of one intersection, 实业街 I think. They seemed to be specifically stopping the guys with the three-wheeled delivery bikes (called 平板车 píngbǎnchē in Chinese) and giving them a safety check – the bikes, not their riders. On the other hand, their riders might need checking as well.

A couple of streets further up on the right, a small crowd of people had gathered. Something seemed to be up, although I didn’t stop. There was a black car as well.

Further up the road, probably getting near Chengdu Station, there was a busy market street with lots of guys on overloaded bikes trying to squeeze their way along a narrow, badly potholed cycle lane.

I had an uneventful, somewhat circuitous trip home until I got to 文庙前街. I thought about going back along the lane that runs along the south side of the building, but decided not to. Big mistake. 文庙前街 was absolutely clogged with cars, as kids issued out of the school to their parents’ waiting cars. I don’t know what they were doing at school. Summer school? New Senior 1s getting their first taste of the three years that is the misery and suffering of Chinese high schools? Anyway, it was like the North Gate at LuHe on a Friday afternoon.

Two hundred tonnes of highly flammable material?

I need a drink.

There’s something amusing about the news that there have been a couple of occasions when American astronauts have been inebriated before being blasted into outer space (Drunk astronauts go from Right Stuff to the hard stuff). I’m surprised that not more of them are bombed or stoned because they’d have a pretty good idea that they’re sitting on top of some highly combustible fuel cells which will turn them into 炒肉丝 before they know it, should something go wrong (and has on more than one occasion).

Although the words were edited out of the tapes which were broadcast from the studio on Earth, there’s been an on-line rumour going around since I invented it just now, that Buzz Aldrin’s second utterance when he set foot on the moon was “Where’s the bar?”

Another one?

Suddenly half a dozen come along at once.

I learn via indirect sources that yet another Beowulf film is coming out. It’s meant to be being released in November. There was, you might recall, that one made in Iceland, which was rubbish as far as I recall, and I believe there was one before that – a glossy version. I think the story also got used with much mutilation in an episode of the dreadful Star Trek: Voyager. In addition, I now find there was a TV version released earlier this year.

The story, if you must ask, is about the eponymous hero who travels to the court of King Hroðgar to deal with a demon called Grendel who has been attacking Heorot on a nightly basis. Beowulf fights Grendel and rips his arm off, which is then nailed to the eaves of the building. But it turns out that Grendel had a mother who seizes Hroðgar’s favourite thane, Æschere. Beowulf volunteers deal with this other demon which the Danes seem to have forgotten. He dives into a lake full of monsters and reaches an enchanted cave where he fights Grendel’s mother and kills her. When the Danes see the blood in the lake, they think Beowulf was the main course at lunch, but the Geats wait and he emerges from the water with her head. (That’s the only way to deal with disruptive kids and their wastrel solo mothers – take their arms off, or their heads.) Hurrah! says everyone else.

Time passes and Beowulf becomes King of the Geats. One day a fugitive slave steals a cup from a dragon’s hoard. The dragon, sensing the loss of the cup, decides to attack Iraq the Geats, and ravages the countryside. Beowulf’s been on the throne for fifty years, but still goes forth to face this new menace. He kills the creature, but dies from its bite and is buried on a promontory. The poem ends with predictions for a miserable future. (The poem is full of that sort of thing. Heorot looks nice, but, you know, it’s going to go up in flames.)

And that, without going into extreme detail is a synopsis of Beowulf. Watch how it gets butchered by this next film as well because you just know that they’ll have to add or change a bunch of stuff. I predict there will be the love interest; Unferþ’s role will probably be expanded so that he’s plotting against Hroðgar or in league with Grendel. From the image I saw, it looks like it might be a bit CGI in the same way 300 was. In other words, the Danes are going to be a bunch of louche boys in bondage gear.

All right, so I admit that the pace of the original story is slower than slightly melted cheese running across toast and that to be comparatively faithful to the text would be to bore your audience into a coma. But it’s also about time Hollywood got its hands on some other epic-length poems such as Troilus and Criseyde (although without Troilus blubbing most of the time); The Knight’s Tale; The Faerie Queene; and – but I thought there were already plans for a film version – Paradise Lost. I know there’s a film version of Gawain and the Green Knight, although I’ve never seen it. On the other hand, I’m sure there’s another TV programme from the 60s or 70s which can be swiped for an unoriginal idea.

[22.11.13. The CGI version of Beowulf was so dreadful that I think I ignored it, had a shower, and then returned to ignore it some more. (I see that the comment I added on this post back in September 2013 is almost identical to this one; I wisely disliked the film in this post; I suspected that Gaiman and his fellow conspirator were probably going to have the hero dress up as a stereotypical, and incorrectly attired Viking in this post; the incidental review is buried away in this post; although it’s not wise to judge a work without seeing it, Beowulf turned out to be even worse than I suspected. Neil Gaiman + films = dreadful.)

Don’t tell me. You’re, um…

Forgettable character No. 978.

There are some characters which seem instantly forgettable. It doesn’t matter how many times you see it, the only trace of it that remains in your memory is that you’ve seen it before. It might’ve been five minutes ago, but it’s gone.

My current nemesis is 求 (qiú) “ask, beg”, which I keep seeing and keep instantly forgetting. I think the problem is that it’s like 球 (qiú) “ball”, which I do know, although rather fear that I’m about to start doubting that I know it at all because the two are so similar.

On the other hand, I walked into the kitchen yesterday or the day before and realised that I could read the name of the washing-up liquid, which is called 采奇 (cǎiqí). What word that’s meant to be (i.e., it’s a foreign word), I can’t tell. The Chinese is literally “pick strange”. A Google search actually gets 5 million hits for this collocation, although it’ll always be followed by some other word. I noticed quite a number of instances of 采奇石, which seem to take you to sites about odd-shaped rocks.

27.07.07 求 has a friend, 课 (kè) “class, lesson”, who keeps appearing and who I keep forgetting.

07.06.14. Seven years later and I still can’t remember this character. It’s found in quite a wide range of words such as 求爱 [qiú’ài] (vb) “court (a girl)”, 求婚 [qiúhūn] and 求亲 [qiúqīn] (vb) “propose marriage”, and 求救 [qiújiù] and 求人 [qiúrén] (vb) “ask for help”.