On the telly. Well, the DVD player.

Ugly Betty.

Having heard much about Ugly Betty, I was curious to see it. I believe it’s based on some Mexican soap opera, which would appear to explain the more ridiculous elements such as the brother, believed dead, who comes back as a sister, or Betty’s clearly unnecessary braces and inability to find a decent hairdresser.

Betty ends up getting a job as the assistant to Daniel Meade, the editor-in-chief at a fashion magazine called Mode, because she’s shag-proof. She manages to survive in this world of pretty, pretty unpleasant people and steer her boss through one crisis after another. Thanks to Betty, he becomes a better person. But he’s not safe on his throne with Wilhelmina Slater, the magazine’s creative director, and a mysterious woman, plotting to take over the magazine. The mysterious woman was formerly Daniel’s older brother, Alex, believed to be dead, but now a woman (Alexis). It turns out that Alexis’ desire for revenge against her father is misplaced as it turns out their mother was responsible for the death of the previous editor-in-chief who was also the mistress of the paterfamilias, Bradford Meade.

If that wasn’t enough, Betty’s father turns out to have been an illegal immigrant, who’s then stalked by his case worker. Her nephew’s absentee father reappears, but has problems coping with his son being more than a little gay. (There’s a lot of being accepted for who you are and being happy with who you are as a counterpoint to the shallow and highly critical world of Mode magazine.)

As you can see from the basic outline, this is daytime soap opera stuff. It’s kind of a melodrama, with the emphasis being on mellow. It’s different from most series where characters remain monotonously the same. Daniel becomes a better person, which kind of thwarts some of the plots against him, but will Betty lose her braces if this survives for a few years and actually get her hair cut by a trained professional?

I might continue to watch the series in the future, but more because it’s something to watch rather than because it’s something I really want to watch. As I’ve noted in the past, I tend to like TV series for which I have a degree of empathy. With Ugly Betty, I don’t really have any empathy, hence my rather lukewarm view of it.

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That time of the year again

NaNoWriMo is nigh.

I believe I said a few months ago (probably longer) that I might try my hand at doing a NaNoWriMo thing over the summer to gauge whether I could do it. The TEFL course in Zhuhai put a stop to that, though. The real NaNoWriMo is here again, and I’m sort of tempted to sign up. Unfortunately, I fear that I’ve left it too late because I’d want time to plan the whole thing (is that allowed?) in advance. It wouldn’t be in extreme detail, but it’d be enough to know the whole structure so that I’d know where things were going rather than just writing blindly. Besides, I don’t happen to have a spare plot lying around. At least I don’t think I do.

I could probably do it, but I fear that I’d start with the best will in the world, be writing well over the necessary 1666 words a day, and then start slipping, producing fewer words until eventually the story would get to a point where it’d sit for one day; then two, and after that be wholly abandoned. Real life would also get in the way sooner or later. In other words, this is the sort of thing that’d be better to try over the summer when I’ve really got the time and won’t be interrupted by other stuff.

Nonetheless, I still find myself being tempted to try doing this.

[28.07.14. I’ve just added a note to another entry about NaNoWriMo, observing that November is not really the best time for writing a short novel regardless of the circumstances. I possibly managed to write 50,000 words over the course of the summer of 2012 in a furious burst of writing, but that was across the holidays rather than within the space of a month. It looks like I might achieve a similar feat this year.]

Guess who’s not coming to dinner

So much for visitations.

We were supposed to be having a visit from one of their lordships today, but I got to school this morning to find that he’s not coming till next week. Because Brian and Etienne have gone to Hong Kong to deal with visas, we’d be short-handed this week. In addition, the sports days are on Thursday and Friday, which means we don’t have any teaching then.

In other news, 蛇夫人 has mistaken the inertia of one of the Senior 3 classes for a purely Media Studies event. In fact, the class has been given something to do, but they’re not doing it. It makes me more certain than ever that the Senior 3 classes will come to an end sooner rather than later this term, but we’re having to go through the whole farce as usual. In my experience, these are the acts of the farce.

Act 1: Class as it was in Senior 2.
This means the usual arsing around they’ve done in Senior 1 and Senior 2.
Act 2: The programme / school suggests what we might teach the Senior 3s.
At this point we’re trying to make things relevant for Senior 3 and might even go so far as drawing up detailed term plans.
Act 3: The school tells us what it wants us to teach the Senior 3s.
The Senior 3s have probably been complaining to the school about the classes. Well, a few of the more self-righteous little dears have been complaining.
Act 4: We ask the Senior 3s what they want.
The customer is always right.
Act 5: We stop teaching Senior 3.
The customer is still right in spite of us asking what they wanted.

Of course, then we get saddled with them in June when we play out a farce of a different sort.

[09.09.14. I had thought that our A2s might treat their final year with a little more re­spect than their counterparts in the main school, but for most of the past five years, they have been no better than any other Senior 3s, being swollen with pride and arrogance, and cushioned by their ignorance that next year they’ll just be another bunch of freshers.

In addition, it’s been a long time since a university degree in China was a guarantee of fame and fortune, with too many graduates chasing too few jobs. I assume the Empire has a glut of STEM graduates, and wouldn’t be surprised if Humanities graduates are overwhelmingly female.]

So that’s what they’re called

A Chinese spice revealed.
 
Sooner rather than later, anyone who comes to China is probably going to run into a berry which makes their mouths go numb. Actually, I find the flavour quite pleasant and the resulting sensation not without a certain frisson. We were wondering just recently what the name of this berry is, and as I was roaming around Carrefour this afternoon, I happened to run into some.
 
Their name in Chinese is 红花椒 (hóng huā jiāo). They are the berries of the Chinese prickly ash.
 
hong hua jiao; berries of the Chinese prickly ash
 
There. Now you can amaze everyone with your knowledge of Chinese food additives.

Speaking in tongues

Here come(s) the Language Police.
 
Since Language Log enjoy(s) twitting the BBC over its somewhat shaky accuracy in the coverage of science stories, I wonder whether it/they will have anything to say about Mind your language, critics warn BBC in The Observer. (Oh what should I be using for Language Log? The singular or the plural? Where are, er, is the Language Police to prescribe the correct usage for me?)
 
The idea is that the Beeb should have a Head of Grammar.
[Ann Widdecombe] and others want managers at the BBC to consider the suggestion by Ian Bruton-Simmonds, a member of the Queen’s English Society, that it appoint a head of grammar. Under the proposals, 100 unpaid ‘monitors’ working from home would note grammatical slips or badly chosen vocabulary. The checkers would then report to a central adviser, who would write to broadcasters outlining what was said and what should have been said. (My link to the QES.)
And who’d be choosing these ‘monitors’? What makes them any more competent than anyone else to comment on what is allegedly wrong with the grammar and vocab coming out of Auntie’s cakehole? Let’s have a look at the next paragraph and wonder about the competence of these people.
According to Bruton-Simmonds, also author of Mend Your English or What We Should Have Been Taught at Primary School, regular mistakes by BBC correspondents spread fast through society.
Now I take this to mean that the BBC is the source of all supposed errors in English. Surely that can’t be true, can it?
 
I don't understand, No. 28
 
Oh dear. It really does appear to be true, doesn’t it? To arms! We must defend the language with all our might! (Or should that be "with all our may"? "Broadcasters are said to make mistakes such as…using ‘may’ instead of ‘might’.")
 
But there does seem to be another possible solution. Read carefully, dear reader.
‘You do not hear them on the Terry Wogan show because he is a well educated man of a certain age.’
Ah ha! So if we all become well educated men of a certain age, then the English language will be saved. I think some women might (er, may?) be a little peeved that they should have to become men – of a certain age – for their English to be correct.
 
The article sort of ends on a more sensible note.
Others said the critics should accept language was fluid. ‘Language evolves and we should evolve with it,’ said Adam Jacot de Boinod, author of The Meaning of Tingo, which highlights the weaknesses of English by listing foreign words for which there is no English equivalent.[1]
 
He said once people reached 40, they often felt nostalgic for what they were taught as children – and if the call for a language adviser was simply ‘to be pedantic and yesteryear’, he would oppose it.
Having reached 40 and then some myself, I have to admit that I have no nostalgia for what I was taught as a child, as if it was some Golden Age of Pedantry Pedagogy.
 
Notes.
1. A different sort of nonsense in my view. I recall being somewhat annoyed by statements about Old English mōd "spirit" or Middle English corage "spirit" having no actual equivalent in Modern English as if we’re too damned stupid to adequately comprehend the meaning of such words. Obviously, it goes both ways because I’m sure there are a stack of words in English for which there’s no equivalent in other languages. Far from being a weakness, this is just the way language is.

The Leg and Whistle

By your man on the spot.

I thought about going to The Leg and Whistle last night, but afer the exertions of the past few days, I thought better of it and decided to leave my visit until this evening.

The Leg and Whistle is out on 科华街 which runs from east to west to 科华北路’s north-south. It’s not far north of the intersection with the 2nd Ring Road. It’s easier to have taxis do a U-turn there because there’s no convenient point where you can cross the road without a long walk.

The first thing that I noticed about the place was an absence of British beer. I got talking to the guy who obviously runs the place and who told me that in spite of a contract with suppliers, no British beer was available. There was Tiger draught (¥20; c. £1.30) and anything after that was in bottles. My informant told me that if he were to sell such brands as Strongbow or Guinness, he’d have to charge ¥60 a pint (about £4). Overall, the prices at The Leg and Whistle are reasonable for what they’ve got.

The range of beers was dominated by a Russian brew called Baltika, although Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia might want to complain about such a brand name. I tried the No. 4 Baltika which tasted like port or raisins, but if I want port, I’ll drink port. Won’t be drinking that particular Baltika again.

I also had to go to the place early because the gates to my complex get locked at 11.00pm (or 11.30pm). I feel I haven’t been here long enough to make Mad Madam Mim admit me me after hours.[1]. As a consequence, for much of the time I was there, I seemed to be the only patron who wasn’t a friend or relative of the people who were running the show. The bar maid (although I suppose these days you have to call her an Alcohol Distribution Specialist) appeared to spend time on this side of the bar smoking, although she went to the place next door (公社菜馆) and had something to eat at about 9.15pm. There was some old guy who was, I suspect, a mate of the guy running the place (who himself only appeared part way through the evening) and his girlfriend. And if you’re guessing that she was half his age and half as wide, you’ve just scored 100%.

A few more people did turn up. I ended up talking to an Australian couple who are in their fourth year in Chengdu; well, outside it near the panda place. There were a couple of guys who were playing darts; there was some foreigner and his girlfriend who sounded as if she was overseas Chinese, but might’ve spent time in the States. Their sojourn was brief.

In spite of what Chengdoo [sic!] Citylife said, there’s no pool table, but there’s a dart board and there is football, if you’re into that sort of thing, which I’m not.

I observed that the local night life was a little lethargic. Most people sat around on the benches on the pavement and seemed to be inert both physically and mentally. There was this group, though.

Old people worshipping a street light

They appeared to be worshipping a street light; although I’m foreign so what do I know? There was also a book stall in the foreground with a steady stream of browsers. I note that by about 9pm most of the other places near The Leg and Whistle fell quiet, although before that there’d been people at the tables outside them. There were a few late diners, but that was about it.

Overall, The Leg and Whistle was not all that it might be through no fault of its own. It’s also still quite new. I had thought that there might be a few more rich and pretentious university students (or locals) in the place. I guess that it’s still establishing itself. If you’re looking for a British pub in Chengdu, The Leg and Whistle isn’t quite there. At the moment, it’s a quiet place and hasn’t yet been infested in the same way the Shamrock has by people who think this is a Western experience when it isn’t; or by Chinese girls who are out to snare an (allegedly) rich foreigner.

Worth a second visit? Yes, I think so. It would be easy to dismiss The Leg and Whistle for its want of British beer and its superficial resemblance to a pub, but it’s a place where you can hear yourself think, which I find more appealing than the Shamrock any day. Similarly, it doesn’t feel like your average Chinese bar, which is typically a fairly seedy, dimly lit sort of place and lacks any appeal whatsoever.

Notes.

1. Nonetheless, I have to wonder how puerile this place is for the gates to be shut at 11pm.

The Mystery of the Missing Sock

[20.08.14. I’ve deleted the tale of the sock, which had somehow ended up in the leg of my trousers, and have shifted the remains of the post to a more relevant category.]

Rome.

I finished watching the second series of Rome last night. This one followed on from the assassination of Julius Caesar to the civil war between Octavian and Mark Antony. I thought the programme might at least get Cleopatra’s suicide right. There were no asps copping a sneaky feel. Besides, you have to provoke snakes to get them to bite sufficiently for them to be lethal. Unless the snake in question is something seriously venomous, it’s probably going to lash out and run. [Have you done with the nerd moment? –ed.]

Did the money run out? Apart from Octavian provoking Mark Antony into going to war, the rest of the conflict was absent and the end seemed rather abrupt. We saw the aftermath of the Battle of Actium, and that was it. I assume the budget didn’t extend to a couple of CGI fleets lobbing Greek fire at each other; or Octavian ordering the signal “England expects every man to do his duty” to be raised; or Cleopatra saying, “Does my bum look big in this galley?”

I assume that this is the last series of Rome. It ended on the rather improbable note that Caesarion survived and was taken under Titus Pullo’s wing. After this, we’re getting into I, Claudius territory.

Lunchtime in Chengdu

Mank in pictures.

Wen Miao Qian Jie Pavement on north side of Renmin Park, ChengduMemorial to the Railway Martyrs, Renmin Park, Chengdu

As you can see from the pictures, Chengdu this lunch time has been pretty manky. I came out of Subway to see some rather dark weather heading in from the east, although by the time I took these pictures, the best of the light had gone. You could see a definite boundary between where it was grey, but bright on the one hand, and grey, but dark on the other.

There are little black particles in the air, but I’m not going to say how I happen to know this. [17.11.13. I think I know how I knew this. It was something to sneeze at.]

The best laid plans

No, the worst, really.

This afternoon went disastrously well. The plan was that the visiting American teachers would be teaching our classes for one period this week. I got to school this morning to be informed that the plan had changed. Who’d changed it? 蛇夫人. The issue had been confused by another change. Instead of solely teaching our classes, the Americans were going to teach some other classes as well, but that wasn’t made explicit on the revised plan. Consequently, we didn’t know what was happening, nor Class 6 who were, it turned out, meant to be seeing them the second period after lunch. The whole problem was sorted out in the end, but too many people were doing the planning.

Anyway, since I didn’t have to worry about the second class this afternoon, I went in search of the Leg and Whistle which is this new-ish pub on 科华街, a street which I’ve been down several times before, but didn’t know its name. The place is a little hard to spot from the street because the view is obscured by trees. It’s the street where there’s a hairdresser’s called Tony and Guo. I noticed that on the intersection with the Second Ring Road the establishment was called Tomy and Guy.

Quincy and I went to the pizza place last night. It’s name is “High Fly Pizza”, not “Night Fly” as I think I said previously. [09.09.14. True. I spotted the mistake a few days ago as I was editing old entries.] Night Fly is the name of the dimmest and most immature pupil in my half of Class 6, and I was clearly getting the name of the establishment confused with his ridiculous English name.

We’ve also seen some sunshine this afternoon, another excuse for me to go on a brief adventure around the town.

Qingcheng Shan and Dujiangyan

Daoists and irrigation.

The school asked if we wanted to go along on the trip to Qingcheng Shan (青城山) and Dujiangyan (都江堰) which had been arranged for the visiting American teachers. The two places, which are about 40km north-west of Chengdu, are quite close to each other.

Qingcheng Shan is a complex of Daoists temples, halls and pavilions set on a heavily wooded mountain. These are pictures of Jianfu Palace (建福宫) which is down at the bottom of the hill, and its front gate.

Jianfu Gong Jianfu Gong, front gate

We then went up a wooded path to Lake Yuecheng (月城湖) which is named after a hill called the City of Ghosts (鬼城) or Moon City Mountain. We crossed the lake on the ferry…

Qingcheng Shan Lake Yuecheng and the ferry to the cable car

…to get the cable car (well, ski lift) to the top of the mountain where we walked up to Shangqing Palace (上清宫).

The cable car to the top of the mountain Shangqing Palace

Shangqing Palace was built during the Jin Dynasty (1115-1234) and rebuilt during the Qing Dynasty. (And probably refurbished some time in the past ten years or so.)

Shangqing Palace Shangqing Palace

And that was as much of the whole thing as we saw, which was a pity because there’s a lot more to Qingcheng Shan than just this. It’s the sort of place where you could spend three or four days at least, two days on each side of the mountain.

We then went to Dujiangyan (堰 yàn “weir, dam”), where we were led around by an English-speaking guide. The place is an irrigation scheme which allowed for the area around Chengdu to be irrigated and protected from flooding. The park around the actual project also comes with some Daoist temples. The idea was to control the amount, direction and speed of the water by cutting additional channels alongside the existing river and adding spillways for when the river reached a certain height.

The River Min, Dujiangyan djy003

In the foreground of the left-hand picture above and roughly in the centre of the right-hand picture (note the spillway extending off to the left), the riverbed is about 30m deep as part of the scheme to control the speed of the river and the amount of silt in the river. In ancient times, the Chinese used structures like this to block the river so that they could clear out the previous year’s detritus.

A wood and stone weir, Dujiangyan

The tripods would then be demolished so that the whole structure would then break down. 

The river is called the Min (岷 Mín) which I thought might be the source of the Min Jiang (闽江; Mǐn Jiāng) that flows through Fuzhou; but different characters and different tones.

Once again, we only saw part of the whole complex for which you’d need to devote at least half a day.

As you can see from the pictures, the day was quite misty, although just after we had lunch the sun almost appeared through the relentless blanket of grey clouds. I also need to stick my lens hood on the camera and leave it there because I’m still getting a lot of ghosting on some shots where there’s a strong contrast between light and dark, or light is shining from above. It seems that the automatic adjustment on the camera doesn’t cope well with such conditions.

An accident on the way to Qingcheng Shan

We saw the aftermath of two accidents on the way to Qingcheng Shan. In one, a truck carrying a load of flour had toppled over. I wouldn’t be surprised if the truck had been overloaded. In the other, some motorcyclist had been hit by a car and had obviously been injured. 

Finally, another Chinglish moment. This plaque was dotted around the grounds of Qingcheng Shan.

Did Du Fu really write this?

The error is “split” for “spit” (唾 tuò). I can’t help but wonder whether Du Fu really wrote this. It’d be a bit like finding that Alexander Pope had written a poem extolling snot. I investigate. Huh. It seems he really did write those lines. The poem is about 丈人山 (Zhàngrén Shān), which is on the right-hand side of the cable car as you go up the mountain. The whole poem, for those of you who can read Chinese, is

五古·丈人山
自为青城客,不唾青城地。为爱丈人山,丹梯近幽意。
丈人祠西佳气浓,缘云拟住最高峰。扫除白发黄精在,
君看他时冰雪容。(
Website.)