Or, It Got Me out of the House.

What has this blog come to when I start talking about trips to Tesco? I wasn’t utterly bored, but I needed to get out of the house for a bit and headed over there through the dust of 锡沪西路 where the demolition work up at the corner has left stumps of concrete out of which twisted reinforcing rods are growing in a sea of rubble. There’s a line of shops further along which, it appears, is also going under the hammer, but as I came along, the shop front signs had been pulled down and were being broken up for scrap. Now where I’d naturally assume that you might use cutting torches or, failing that, hacksaws to cut the metal frame up, our enterprising migrant workers were using a sledgehammer. One woman bashed the metal with a hammer and her colleague twisted the piece sticking out trying to fatigue the metal so that it’d break. 

I assume, because I have low expectations of life here, that the employers are too stingy to supply the proper tools or the workers are unable or unwilling to afford them. Perhaps they really are just a bit dim. 

I went to a restaurant called Wish Doing (味之都 wèi zhī dū in Chinese, but written on the sign as W之sh Doing; the 之 looks more like a distorted i in the actual logo) in Baoli this evening. The menu was labelled “Recipes” and the title of the snacks section was “Nosh”, which is ironic because my trip to Tesco was N.O.S.H. – North Out, South Home. By the time I headed off for tea, the cloud had thickened up even more and it was starting to drizzle when I returned home.

One of the things I’d forgotten about this part of the country was the penchant for fireworks, which you don’t hear anywhere in Chengdu. Where the apparent ban of fireworks in many places is regarded as a suggestion to be ignored, the good citizens of Chengdu take no such liberties. I assume that’s so when such an over-militarised city wakes up to fireworks, they know, in fact, that the Тибэтанс are revolting and General Kang didn’t drop his cigar in the ammo dump again.

[22.08.13. In more recent news, Tesco is pulling out of China. I haven’t been back to the Tesco in Wuxi in a very long time because it’s simply not conveniently located. Wish Doing has also long since gone, having been replaced by some Taiwanese restaurant.]


Move the queen!

Move the bloody queen!
Looking for a new diversion recently, I found myself looking at one I’ve largely neglected, namely Chess Titans, which comes with my particular version of Vista. I don’t play chess much. Seldom ever, in fact, but I’ve been getting a little bored and needed something different to do. Chess software always makes me feel anxious because if it can defeat Garry Kasparov, then it won’t even notice as it annihilates me.
But that was before Chess Titans.
I admit that I’ve only been playing against it at lower levels of difficulty, but to my surprise, I’ve been able to defeat it playing either white or black. I quickly came to realise that this program is thick, although whether it gets any better at higher levels of difficulty, I’ve yet to determine. Occasionally it does do something a bit cunning, but it’s also apt to do something stupid as well.
The program doesn’t appear to have any book openings as far as I can tell. You never know how it might open if you play as white so that 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 might be followed by 2. …Nc6 or something entirely different.
I thought I’d see how it responded to a Fool’s Mate, viz.
  1. g4 e5
  2. f3 Qh4+
Chess Titans duly responded with 1. …e5 and I played 2. f3. What did it do? 2. …Nc6. Huh?! I kept playing, leaving the king exposed and vulnerable to being trapped. CT moved the black queen to h3. Qh1 would’ve been the winning move, but nothing happened. Eventually, it was a knight which checked the king, but even when I continued playing a stupid game, CT drove the white king to the centre of the board before achieving checkmate.
Here’s my second attempt to get CT to take the bait. It did, but it took seven moves to get there.
  1. g4 e5
  2. f3 Be7
  3. Nc3 Nc6
  4. b3 a6
  5. Nd5 Bd6
  6. c4 g6
  7. Bb2 Qh4+
Nor does Chess Titans appear to do any better at level 10. It’s response to 1. g4 was, after a lot of thinking, d5; 2. f3 e5; 3. b3 Qh4+ 0-1. I’m wondering what would’ve happened if my fourth move had been the same as the game above. I decided to avoid threatening the pawns in the centre, hence 3. b3.
Chess Titans is, by the looks of it, better as a chess teaching program of a sort. You can freely undo moves to see what happens if you take a different course of action.
I also found a program called Penguin which allows players to analyse games by going back and forward through moves and trying alternatives to see what might’ve happened. All the moves and their variations are recorded, and the list and the boards can be saved. The program doesn’t play against you since you’re doing the analysis. Useful, although it also revealed that a game I played against CT last night could’ve been finished ten moves sooner. Doh! Perhaps I really am more stupid than CT.

He says, “Ai ya.”

They say, “Aiya!”
I’ve kept meaning to mention a place I saw on the way back from Taihu called the Aiya (爱牙 àiyá “Take good care of teeth”) Dental Surgery, which I couldn’t help but read as 哎呀 (āiyā!), which is probably what people say when they see the bill afterwards.
All right, so it’s a slow news day.

If you just open a little wider

You can get your other foot in your mouth as well.

The news from the BBC is that the creator of Captain Pugwash has died at the age of 88. I’m pretty certain that I saw Captain Pugwash on TV when I was very young, but I barely have any recollection of it. Series such as Captain Scarlet and The Clangers fall into the same category: seen ’em, know the name, recall nothing about ’em otherwise. 

But we’re not here to reminisce over telly programmes from my childhood about which I can remember nothing. No, we’re here because of the English language. I quote:

Ms Gregory added: “They’re all now republished and they’re hugely successful – partly because all the parents and, indeed, grandparents now, remember the delight of Captain Pugwash.
“Grandparents bought them for their parents and their parents are now buying them for their kids.”

It’s that second part of the quote which caught my eye, which is another instance of Cynewulf and Cyneheard Syndrome in English. The pronoun references (their… their… their…) are obvious once you get to the end of the sentence, but because they’re being used anaphorically, the result is curiously messy.

Indeed, the sentence seems to become almost circular in one possible reading:

Grandparents bought them for their parents (i.e., great-grandparents).
Their parents (er, great-great-grandparents?) are buying them for their kids (i.e., great-grandparents).

I ought to make a note of this sentence and ask my students to explain to me exactly what it means. Perhaps I should tell them that it’s only when they’ve mastered the sentence that they will’ve mastered the English language and need not have another lesson in it ever again.

[22.08.13. Edited for formatting. As much as I like the current theme, the rendering of the <blockquote> element is ghastly, but WP gets all quirky when I try to use <p> tags as containers with internal line breaks. A <div> tag works better, but imperfectly.]

He’ll be coming round the mountain when he comes

There stood a Hill not far…
I circumnavigated 惠山 this afternoon.
That’s about it.
There’s a lot of construction work around it, including a police college or two; a university; and at least one new school. There are also several temples, some of which look quite new, but there’s also a long stretch of road beside the Grand Canal where all the buildings are in the process of being demolished, and quite a few other places where the old buildings survive for the time being. I also saw a blacksmith’s, anvil and all. I was expecting to see a bit more agriculture, but there was only one small area I could see where any attempt had been made to cultivate the hillside. But I believe 惠山 is a national park, which spares it from the depredations of farmers.
There were a lot of dragonflies around the south and west sides of the hill. First time I’ve seen any dragonflies since I got here, although I have seen a few dead cicadas. Considering how large cicadas are and how many there seem to be, it’s a wonder they manage to hide away in the trees; how there isn’t a constant shower of dead ones dropping from the trees; and why some trees aren’t in the middle of a sea of crackly cicada corpses. However, I don’t mind that they generally seem too lazy to fly around. A swarm of cicadas would be a little unnerving. Mind you, a swarm of cockroaches would be infinitely worse. At least they’re too lazy to do much flying.
The weather was slightly more tolerable today, being dry and less humid. There was some sunshine when the clouds started breaking up, but that didn’t affect me.

There goes another milestone


wuxi_evening01Two and a half days ago, the clouds gathered and it eventually started raining. Two days ago, we might’ve seen the eclipse, but it rained almost all day. Yesterday it was overcast and very hazy, which in Wuxi seems to suggest that it may start raining at any moment. Of course, it rained a little in the afternoon, but saved its heaviest downpour for the evening when I happened to be at Carrefour. I knew something was up because a large group of people had gathered at the exit from 保利. It was a short-lived thunderstorm and I actually barely got wet at all in the end. I did at least have my umbrella with me. 

I went to the Sichuan restaurant across the road from 保利, but that turned out to be a slightly posher affair than I was expecting. Because it was up on the first floor, I couldn’t tell exactly what I was going to find inside, but it’s the sort of restaurant where people go in mobs rather than singly. The 宫保鸡丁 was actually decent enough, but it wasn’t a dish intended for one person.

Anyway, the weather has left me stranded inside. Two days ago it was raining and yesterday, there was the perpetual threat of imminent rain. The cloud has broken up a little with hints of blue sky and even a threat of a little sunshine. There might be a short adventure this afternoon. (I’m thinking about a circumnavigation of 惠山.)

But while I’ve been idle,[1] I see that Green Bamboo has now passed 60,000 hits, although that’s mostly from searches via bing (formerly Windows Live Search) on indefinite subjects. I have no idea who the 60,000th caller was. That was 109 visits ago.

1. Actually, I haven’t been that idle, although I was a little yesterday when the afternoon became snooze time. The point is that just because there’s nothing worth posting here [Like this whole entry. –ed.], it doesn’t mean that I’m not busy doing something else.

Top o’ the hill, ma


I decided to go on a much briefer adventure today to 锡惠公园 (Xīhuì Park), which still entailed much sweating even although the park is only about a kilometre away. My principal aim was the pagoda on 锡山.

The pagoda on Xi Shan in Xihui Park, Wuxi

There’s quite a bit more to the park than just that, and there’s a cable car up to a higher peak beyond this one, but that’s a trip for another day and even another season. The park itself seems to be yet another which has been fashioned and then gradually left to its own devices with maintenance on it being desultory at best. Hidden away in the growth on the hill were bits of this and that such as observation platforms (?) from which nothing has been observable since the trees grew up and obscured the view.

The steps up the hill were the usual uneven sort of thing constructed out of rocks which should only be tackled by people wearing sensible shoes, but I imagine that a lot of Chinese women have taken it on in high heels.

When I got up to the pagoda, I thought that it was closed, but found that you have to go round to the other side of the complex to get in. I was expecting to be charged for the privilege, but access was free. I did a circuit of each level as I went up the very narrow stairs. I’m glad I was the only person there because I imagine that if the place gets crowded the ascent and descent can be difficult in a nation which has almost no concept of “give way”. Anyway, I got to the top and got a decent pan­orama of Wuxi.

xihui02 xihui03
xihui04 xihui05
xihui06 xihui07
xihui08 xihui09
xihui10 xihui11

In the first picture, you can see the Grand Canal as it heads in a roughly south-easterly direction. The second and third pictures look towards 太湖, but even if there was no haze or pollution, it’s possible that the buildings would hide any view of the lake. In the fourth and fifth pictures you can see 惠山 and the cable car that goes up there (right of centre in the fourth picture and left-hand side in the fifth picture). The sixth picture looks towards 常州 (out of shot as far as I’m aware), and the seventh and eight to the north and north-east. About a third from the right-hand side of the ninth picture is the complex where I live. The final shot, which isn’t part of the sequence, is of the school itself, looking rather shiny and new.

There were only a few people in the park, but it is a weekday, hot (probably in the low thirties as usual) and a little sunny, which always sends the Chinese fleeing inside. It certainly sent me fleeing back home to dry off and cool down.

Those unintentional puns in full

It came from the IMDb.

I quote:

OMG, this movie was so freaking boring! The past Harry Potter movies at least had engaging elements, and Alan Rickman’s portrayal of Snape was always the highlight of any of the movies. But in this one, even Alan didn’t seem to be throwing everything he got into his character. He too looked board.

I suppose wooden acting does make the actor look board.

Lake Tai

Less 太湖 thanhot, 太 sweaty, 太 dusty, andgreen.
I decided to go out to Lake Tai this afternoon. It’s not that far away, although the moon isn’t that far away from the Earth when you consider how far it is to Neptune. It’s nigh to Wuxi, but not nigh enough.
There’s no direct road out to the lake. Sooner or later, it’s necessary to turn south and then west. Unfortunately, the road down which you travel (and this is probably all of the roads running from the Grand Canal; I took 梁清路 Liángqīng Lù on the way out) eventually hits some area where there’s a lot of construction work and a lot of dust, which you can’t wholly avoid. From the city to the lake, the area seems to be one big housing development. The more established parts, which you can see in the first picture below, look rather attractive, although even here, still some way from the lake, the green tinge isn’t the flora being reflected in the water, but the local algal bloom. You can see the bloom better in the second picture, although you’re spared the horrible reek that went with it.
taihu01 taihu02
taihu03 taihu04
But there was this very pleasant stretch of road across 渤公岛 (Bógōng Dǎo) which is home to a nature reserve. There were a couple of kids on the side of the road mucking around with some piece of scientific equipment, although I’ve no idea what it was or what they were measuring. It might’ve been for a school project. I went to the bridge at the other end, took the final picture which looks eastwards towards Tai Hu District, and decided that it was time to head back, having achieved hotness, sweatiness, and dustiness.
In the course of my travels I found a third branch of Carrefour (quite a new one by the looks of it) and spotted yet another Sichuan restaurant. The women in the Kedi (equivalent to the Wowos in Chengdu) where I stopped to buy more water had me stand in front of their air con to cool down, although it didn’t help. When I got home, I had to get changed. This really isn’t the right time of year for going on adventures here.
In unrelated news, I should mention that when I was coming back from Aierma after a little shopping and was waiting to cross the road, I watched some woman (although she looked like a teenage girl to me) push a baby in a pushchair into the traffic as if none of it was there. If she’d been foreign, she would’ve been blonde – very blonde. After a year in 奔牛 I concluded that people in this part of the country were a little thick, and now they have a Queen of Stupidity. If the child survives his mother’s cretinous antics, he’ll be called Prince Lucky and everyone will want to touch him so that they might share some of his good fortune.