The party’s almost over

This country will never be civilised until…
Late summer sunset in Wuxi We had an introductory meeting at school this morning, although it was delayed by almost an hour. The content was mainly background stuff. Two of the teachers are from Manchester and I’m not alone in having a PhD. One of the chemistry teachers did his PhD at Sussex. We’ve also got a couple of Kenyans. In fact, we’re a thoroughly international group which is a good thing because the little darlings need all the exposure to a variety of accents that they can get.
My “office” this term is a petty little cubicle which belonged to my predecessor who, I’m glad to say, won’t be back for a second year. He came across as one of those foreigners in China who give the rest of us a bad name. However, that’s just for this term because next term we’re being moved to a different building while they refurbish the one we’re in.
We’re also separate from the rest of the school which means good and bad for us. The good is not being included in those little irritations such as Teacher Appreciation; the bad is missing out on some of those additional holidays such as sports days and mid term exams. However, I’m hoping that our own testing will bring some light relief during the course of the term.
My timetable sucks more balls than a rent boy. Three early mornings including the one I dread most – Monday. Tuesday afternoon is packed, and I’m on standby on Wednesday mornings in case someone is sick. However, unlike other schools I’ve been at, we resume slightly sooner after lunch and we’re done by 5pm. However, if they shortened lunchtime, we could start later and end sooner.
I’m mostly teaching IGCSE classes with one AS (three times a week) and one A2 class (once a week) while my esteemed colleague (whom we’ll call Colin, because that’s his name) will be dealing with the majority of the A2 classes. Everything comes in double periods.
We’re off to Shanghai on Friday for the start-of-term conference, although Colin declined. It’s obviously something you do once and is useful the first time, but you never need do it again. I’m hoping that I’ll have the time to go back to the Foreign Languages Bookshop.
wuxi_bridge I went to California Beef Noodle King up 青石路 for tea this evening. That’s when I got the photo above. I’ve been meaning to get a picture of the sun as it sets over 锡惠公园 for the past few days. There was a big Wahaha promo going on outside the building and the number electric bikes made parking an enormous pain. A few more shops had opened and a restaurant called 四海一家 (Sìhǎi yī jiā “The whole country is one family”) up on the top floor of the Walmart building seemed to have a queue waiting outside. Walmart was fairly quiet, though the egg queue was back again and the woman ahead of me at the checkout had a plastic bag full of them. It must be the season for fresh eggs because there was a queue snaking under a sign for them in Carrefour the other day.
The traffic on 青石路 this evening was dire even by its dire standards. The street really needs a series of controlled crossings more to calm the traffic than to allow pedestrians to cross the road without adding to the chaos. Actually the traffic should come in from the north-east rather than off 春申路, although teaching motorists to behave in a courteous and civilised fashion would help more than anything. But every motorist is some petty emperor who assumes that every other petty emperor will give way. Probably. In truth, I doubt whether the petty emperors see each other since the emperor never looks out for others; they have to look out for him.
I took my camera with me this evening because I’d been meaning to get a picture of the sunset and also of the bridge to the island, although the lighting and air quality was better yesterday, and the reflection was sharper.

Famous first words

When Sherly met Dracky.
As I may have mentioned in one of those all too frequent rare moments when I have little better to say, there’s a branch of Ajisen in Baoli which I happened to spot by chance a couple of weeks ago. Unlike the one on 五爱路 which is fairly quiet, this one is busy. In fact, it’s busier than any branch of Ajisen I ever went to in Chengdu. The Ajisen at Baoli isn’t actually visible when you head up 县前街 because it’s past the intersection where I turn to park my bike and actually tucked round the next corner, where it’s out of sight.
I needed to go shopping this evening because I’d run out of various items, and not wanting to go to KFC, Wish Doing (W之sh Doing), or Pizza Hut, thought I’d go to Ajisen, which was as crowded as ever.
Long-term readers may recall that at some stage in the past (which is really the only place I could’ve written it), I’d been musing about a story in which Sherlock Holmes meets Count Dracula. This stray piece of whimsy popped into my head again and got me wondering what their first words would be. Perhaps these:
“Ah, Sherlock Holmes,” said Count Dracula. “Master of penetrative deduction.”
“Ah, Count Dracula,” said Holmes. “Master of deductive penetration.”
Think about it. Oh stop complaining. That’s quality material.
Another thunderstorm burst across the city after another morning of watery sunshine and increasingly thick, grey haze. I snapped off a barrage of pictures hoping that one might coincide with a lightning strike, but instead, my camera batteries died on me. Because the chance that I might’ve snapped a flash of lightning was fairly remote, I’m not that bothered about their failure. The rain seems to have lasted most of the day, but had ceased by the time I headed off for tea and shopping.
I watched the final episode of Wild China this afternoon. It’s a BBC wildlife series narrated by Bernard “Gizza-a-job” Hill which looks at natural history in different parts of the country. It started with Yunnan and Guangdong, and then headed to Тибэт, which, Bernard Hill told us, had been a province of China for 50 years. Naughty Mr Hill. The next episode cross northern and western China and when I saw that the episode after that was called Land of the Panda, I thought it’d be all about Sichuan. Yet though Jiuzhaigou was mentioned and the Wulong panda sanctuary, Sichuan wasn’t mentioned at all and quite a bit of the episode seemed to be devoted to Beijing. In fact, central and western 汉国 barely got mentioned with the final episode being about coastal regions. Hill used words such as “rare”, “endangered” and “extinct” quite a bit. Interesting enough series, but (unavoidably) superficial in many ways.

Bestselling anachronism

No doubt the correct epithet, but…
One of the short news stories on the IMDb this morning is that Brian Singer is going to remake the iconic 1981 film Excalibur. The music and the visual were a bit different from the usual sword-and-sorcery flicks. The knights were shiny, yet the settings were grubby and organic rather than the chipboard castles that Errol Flynn used to traverse. The article says
Boorman’s 1981 Excalibur was adapted from Thomas Malory‘s bestseller…
Now Malory’s Morte d’Arthur was, no doubt, a bestselling book of its day, but the term feels too modern to be applied to a work of fiction from the late 15th century. It’s as if the IMDb hack couldn’t be bothered saying something like “…Thomas Malory’s Arthurian epic, Morte d’Arthur, published in the 15th century”.
wuxi_cascade Yesterday started with sunshine and fairly heavy haze, which turned into a thunderstorm by lunchtime. The rain got so heavy that water that it was cascading down the inner wall just outside the study window.
I note that the algal bloom I saw on Taihu has now reached the canal that runs around 江尖岛 (Jiāng Jiān Dǎo), which is just visible through the narrow gap and the rain in the picture.
I’ve suddenly enjoyed a short run of resounding successes against Chess Titans over the past couple of days. Two days ago, I defeated it in 15 moves. CT’s mistake had been to attack the white bishop on g5, which behaviour was not wholly unexpected. I was going to abandon the bishop when I was inspired to sacrifice the KN because I knew that CT would take the bait. It did and because it expects you to play as it does (I threatened the rook on f8, but I had no intention of capturing it), I was exploiting the game. I found an 1834 match between Bourdonnais and McDonnell on which Morphy had written some annotations. McDonnell had made the same mistake as CT by attacking the bishop with his kingside pawns. Morphy’s note observed that McDonnell had been censured for this.
When I tried to repeat the match, it did something different (not unexpected), but although it had avoided one “error” it’d made in the previous round, I still managed to defeat it in 19 moves and mated the king in much the same way as the previous game. Before this, my record was mate in 24 moves. I thought that I couldn’t better 15 moves, but I was wrong. Yesterday, I defeated Chess Titans in 11.
The match opened with 1. e4 c5, which anywhere else is a Sicilian Opening of which there are many variations. Because I think CT does a certain amount of randomisation to try and imitate a less skilful human player, I’m not so sure it was playing a Sicilian Opening as something of its own devising. When it played 2. …d5, I went online to see whether I could track down an instance of such a game. In fact, I found two, but neither was of much use as CT continued to do its own thing. In typical CT fashion, it checked my king, which, after d5, was its second error. I then played a series of experimental moves because I’d reached a what-now? point on the 7th move, and mated the black king about four moves later.
  1. e4 c5
  2. Nf3 d5
  3. exd5 Qxd5
  4. Nc3 Qe6+
  5. Be2 h6
  6. O-O b6
  7. Bb5+ Bd7
  8. d4 cxd4
  9. Qxd4 Bxb5
  10. Nxb5 Nc6
  11. Nc7+ 1-0
The end of the game was not dissimilar to the one which ended in 15 moves in that a series of captures left me with a slight advantage. CT also made the same mistake of leaving its flank wide open: kingside in the previous game and queenside in this one.
However, it’s blunders were more significant than mine, which was how I was able to defeat it. I’d be flattering myself to say that I’ve improved significantly against CT. On the other hand, I do try to follow an opening if I can. That may put me in a slightly better position, although CT will play some odd move sooner rather than later. The question is whether I need to deal with it or can ignore it.
My next goal is to open with a Queen’s Gambit, which is CT’s favourite opening, and see whether I can achieve a win in under twenty moves. That may be easier said than done, I suspect.

The nadir of adventuring

I had nothing better to do.
With the sun beating down on Wuxi for the past two or three days, I’ve been staying at home keeping cool, only venturing out when teatime came. But today I was feeling a little bored and decided that I ought to do something. I thought about going to Tesco. “Why?” I said to myself, and could find no excuses. Anything I needed to buy could be bought locally. Then, however, Auchan sprang to mind. I’ve only been there a couple of times, but never to look round. I didn’t realise that everything’s on a single floor [This is not an especially exciting fact. –ed.], although the pattern resembles other supermarkets. When you enter, you’re confronted with inedible consumer items (clothing, electronic goods, stationery, etc.), while the edible ones are at the other end of the building.
Anyway, I wandered around Auchan for about half an hour, had a closer look at the wine selection (which includes imported wine at the usual sorts of prices), and left without buying anything. Hot and sweaty there; hot and sweaty on the way back. The humidity has risen again, I think, although the cloud was back around lunchtime.
I went to the California Beef Noodle King for tea this evening where I had 炸酱面 (zhájiàng miàn), although the flavour was rather bland. Not as tasty as the stuff I used to have at the restaurant up 陕西街 in Chengdu; but unlike the other dishes, it was a single bowl with some consommé-like soup which I’ve never had before and couldn’t identify. The rice dishes tend to come over-larded with rice and with side dishes, which might be all right if it was all shared between two people, but it’s too much for one.
I went to Walmart afterwards to do a little shopping and found the place quite busy. So far it’s been rather quiet when I’ve been there, but they were all there – the local hovel dwellers were watching a DVD; there were some people in their pyjamas and others in light green uniforms; there was some loud child shouting like a eunuch drill sergeant, whose mother should’ve told him to keep his voice down; there was some other child hitting his granddad in the stomach with one of those concertina hammers; and there was the queue for eggs, a phenomenon I’ve seen elsewhere, but never understood. An egg is an egg. What make these queue-worthy, I don’t know. Perhaps they’re absolutely fresh eggs.
The queuing for them seems rather Soviet-era Russia to me, although China suffers from no such problems. Actually, that’s the odd thing. There’s actually a queue rather than an unruly mob. Although I’ve never observed these queues closely, I don’t think anyone pushes to the front, as the Chinese do in banks, and simply starts talking to the cashier. There’s waiting and it’s orderly.
There was quite a crowd outside at the entrance dancing or watching people dance. Yet though I was there at about the usual time and there have been people dancing there before, the crowd was much larger than usual. I don’t know whether there was anything special about today, or this is how things will be around Walmart from now on.
In international news, I see that A-level results are out again and another generation of A-level students has done even better than last year. In other words, it’s the usual and as usual, I’m having a hard time imagining that the whole thing isn’t some enormous, self-deluding con. I remember what things were like when I tutored at Manchester back in the mid 90s. The young geniuses were mostly anything but that then, and I suspect they’re anything but that now. Actually, it’s probably because, by and large, they’re being taught to the exam, but when they have to think for themselves, then it’s not so easy. Things are even worse for the little darlings this year because of limits set on the number of university places.
If you really want to know what the quality of young minds is like, ask a lecturer or tutor.

For the 6th letter of the alphabet’s sake

Grow the f_ck up.
I was chatting to Linda on Skype this afternoon and the phrase “nervous twitch/tic” came up because her eyelid was twitching. I had a look at the word “tic” in my Concise OED and also my big Collins dictionary. It was a curiosity visit to both, but to the latter it revealed a little surprise. When I got to the page where “tic” was, I found that one of entries had been covered over with white paper. As you’ve probably guessed, this was a word beginning with Ti- and ending in -bet. Since I can spell Тибэт, it’s not a word I’d look up in the dictionary. In fact, the entry is quite readable if you shine a light at the page from the other side and is factual (the lexicographers’ view) rather than mythological (the view of the imperium sericum).
Of course, my next stop was a certain offshore island and, sure enough, the factual definition for it and its capital had been papered over. Never let the facts get in the way of a good story, eh? I believe that it was these facts which resulted in the BBC being blocked back 1999.
What about that cult. You know the one. Surely that would’ve been papered over as well. Actually, it hadn’t, but then again the entry says nothing about the antipathetic relationship between that cult and the one that runs the country.
I tried to think of something else. Лhаса! Not a scrap of paper covering it up. Not only that, but the entry describes it in terms not dissimilar to those used in the entry for the province of which it is the capital. Ha! You missed one.
But at the end of the day, this sort of censorship is merely childish. In fact, I would never have thought to go in search of sensitive words in a dictionary if it hadn’t been for this accidental discovery. Such actions merely highlight the words, whereas it’d be more effective not to shine a metaphorical spotlight on them. It’s the old matter of forbidden fruit. When it’s allowed, I don’t want it; when it isn’t allowed, I do want it.
It’s been fine and sunny for the past couple of days and hot but not as humid as it was a few weeks ago. I did do some DVD shopping, although I think I mentioned that in a previous, action-packed entry. If you must know, I fast-forwarded my way through most of the utterly unfunny, unnecessary Forgetting Sarah Marshall; I should’ve done that to I Love You, Man (which was “gay” in both senses of the word); and Stella Street turned out to be the film of the TV series in which the celebs all got scammed and ended up living under a bridge. I’ve started watching Wild China in which Bernard Hill uses words like “endangered” and “extinct” quite a bit.

What the…?!

Just when you thought the weird searches were over.
I thought I’d do a quick check of my stats just before. Nothing much happening, but there was a bing search not for a month, but for a specific topic:
I have no idea how such a search might bring anyone here apart from “bamboo”. I’m guessing that some of these word might’ve appeared in an entry, but it’ll be like some of the other odd arrivals I’ve had in the past. The words are there, but being used in a completely different context and almost certainly not being used adjacent to each other.
I’m not sure whether the English hints at a non-native speaker or not. I would’ve typed “white American” myself, but then again I don’t always put search terms in their standard order.

Where on earth is Anna Friel?

Having run out of DVDs which I’d bought in Chengdu, I was forced to find some purveyor of fine-quality Hollywood entertainment. And to that end, I… No, I was actually being quite sarcastic about the quality. You must be new to the blog to ask me such a question. But to resume. I’d read on that the underground mobile phone market beneath the intersection of 人民西路 and 五爱路[1] was a source, but this was no longer true.
However, I had spotted what appeared to be a new DVD shop further back along 人民西路 towards the canal and found they had a fairly pitiful selection of titles. The problem is that a lot of the DVDs in these shops are either recent-ish films or older films which the pirates probably bought on special the last time they went to HMV in Hong Kong, which means that there’s little of any real interest and little variety.
In the course of my travels, I spotted a second one across the road and then a third on 五爱路, both of which I must check out some time.
On the cover it said Bathory and starred Anna Friel. I thought it couldn’t be worse than Pushing Daisies (although the IMDb suggests that the case may be otherwise). On the inside it was Eternal, same subject (viz., Erszbet Bathory aka the Blood Countess, a major league sadist who thought that bathing in the blood of virgins would restore her youth), but some sub-softcore Canadian crap.
1. Literally “Five-Loves Street”, which is how many ways the Chinese think you can have sex – underneath, on top, from behind, to the left (popular during the Cultural Revolution) and to the right (popular since the Cultural Revolution).

Blood: The Last Vampire.
This looked like the dull, but beautifully made OAV to the TV series. It was an overly prolonged story about some vampire slayer called Saya who was hunting down three vampires at a school in a US military base in Japan. It was meant to be the era of the Vietnam War, but some of the material (the scene in the dance hall) seemed to be based on World War II.
The headmaster of the school looked like he had one of the headcrabs from Half-Life growing out of the top of his head.

The Soloist.
Steve Lopez, columnist for the LA Times, happens across a homeless man, Nathanial Ayers, playing a violin with two string. When Lopez does some investigating, he finds that Ayers was, and still is, an incredibly talented musician. He writes about him in his column and tries to do something to help him, but Ayers, who has serious mental problems, is, perhaps, beyond help.
It’s difficult not to compare the film with Shine, but this seems a little more pedestrian, with an underlying humanitarian message about the problem of homelessness in LA.
Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr. seemed to put in decent performances. Catherine Keener, who played Lopez’ ex-wife and colleague, seemed underutilised in a B-plot that got left behind.

Literally doesn’t literally mean literally

Tales from the fun and exciting world of the armchair linguist.

I finally literally got round to literally checking out the Guardian website where I literally found a review for On Tour with the Queen by Sam Wollaston. It literally isn’t a programme I’ll literally see any time soon, which is, literally, a pity because it literally sounds literally quite interesting. Wollaston literally pulls up the presenter, Kwame Kwei-Armah for his use of “literally”.

Literally indicates that something should be read in its literal or primary sense, rather than metaphorically.

Except as Chaucer literally put it, “In form of speche is chaunge”. These days (and literally long before them), literally is literally being used as an emphatic adverb which literally means something like “in fact” or perhaps “almost”. I don’t literally disagree with Wollaston that the word may literally be being overused or, at least, literally used often enough to literally be noticeably annoying.

Of course, literally still literally retains its older meaning, which should literally be used on any appropriate occasion.

Normally, I wouldn’t literally care about literally, which is literally not a word that I literally use that much, although I’m literally sure that I’ve literally done so in the past without literally distinguishing its older from its more recent senses.

[16.08.13. I assume that the reason why this post has surfaced again is a peevish article in The Guardian (?) recently about the use of “literally” as an intensive adverb because the hack who wrote the piece is too literal-minded about what she thinks the word should mean. (I do recall that the author was female, but I can’t immediately find the article.)]

Terminator Salvation

“You’re a nice guy.”
Family Guy nailed this film one way by asking why we needed another in the series; The Editing Room nailed it in another way with comments about the explosions.
Marcus, who’s on Death Row, signs his body away to Cyberdyne. Are we meant not to guess that he’s probably going to be terminatorified? Probably. Anyway, he comes back after a really long holiday and ends up with Kyle Reese, who’s captured by Skynet, but not killed even after he’s been identified. Marcus wants to rescue him. John Connor wants to rescue him. The High Command of the Resistance want to bomb Skynet back to the Eniac age and don’t mind who they kill in the process. Connor gets on the radio and tells everyone to disobey orders, which they do because the last thing they need Christian Bale ranting at them like some tiresome prima donna.
Marcus, now aware that he’s half Tin Toy and half human, escapes from the Resistance with the help of some babe who likes her men metal, and teams up with Connor to infiltrate Skynet HQ. But when Marcus gets inside, he finds that he’s actually a mechanical homing pigeon. “Sucker!” says Helena Bonham Carter. So Marcus pulls the chip out of his head and goes to rescue Connor, Reese and everyone else.
Meanwhile, Connor has run into CGI Arniebot and is getting the crap beaten out of him while trying to deactivate the Arniebot with a pistol. You’d think that if the Resistance is still flying planes, which means the ability to manufacture weapons and spare parts, train pilots, and ship fuel to various bases, then they might have designed some weapons which are more effective against terminators than mere pop guns. Anyway, Marcus turns up to beat up the Arniebot even although it’s had hundred of tonnes of molten metal poured onto it, which resulted in its destruction in previous films.
Unfortunately, Marcus still has a heart, which the Arniebot detects and deactivates with the Bruce Lee Punch of Death. But is Connor not going to let Tin Toy die? Oh no. A make-shift resuscitator gets Tin Toy back on his feet and pulling the Arniebot’s head off. With that, it’s time to blow Skynet to smithereens.
But there’s worse to come.
No, not the destruction of the submarine that’s the HQ of Resistance High Command. Anyway, that scene was earlier in the film.
No, it’s the threat of sequels. Cue big explosion.

It malingered in microscopic pits on the surface

Breaking Bad.

I suppose that this is some other network’s answer to Weeds. A high school chemistry teacher, Walter White, is diagnosed with lung cancer. He needs to earn money for his family so that he won’t leave them destitute, and by chance, he encounters a former pupil, Jesse Pinkman, who’s involved in the drug trade. Because Walter is a genius at chemistry, he makes the best drugs ever, but find himself in a rather murky underworld populated by deranged Mexicans and addle-brained junkies. 

Breaking Bad lacks the depth of Weeds. Most of the series centres on Walter and Jesse in a kind of surrogate father-son relationship. There’s Walter’s pregnant wife who at least has the baby by the end of the series, but her purpose merely seems be to play the part of the old TV cliché – the shrill, suspicious and inflexible American housewife. There’s Walter’s son, who has cerebral palsy, and could be getting up to all manner of adolescent mischief, but that lasted for a single episode. There’s Walter’s brother-in-law, Hank, who works for the DEA, but just when he seemed to be on the verge of guessing the identity of Heisenberg (Walter’s alias), nothing seems to have come of that potential storyline. There’s his self-centred kleptomaniac sister-in-law, but that was another storyline that lasted a couple of episodes and died. 

A lot of the series was full of the mundane such as Walter repairing his house. On occasion, Breaking Bad was like an episode of McGyver or The A-Team when Walter would use his knowledge of chemistry to solve some problem such as his RV suffering from a flat battery when he and Jesse were way out in the desert making drugs. A lot of the episodes were recursive instances of Murphy’s Law. Often Walter seemed to change from one episode to another as if the writers didn’t know what to do with him. 

The start of a lot of episodes focused on a pink, scorched teddy bear fished out of Walter’s swimming pool, and gradually other information was revealed such as a couple of bodies, and damage to the windscreen of Walter’s car. It seemed that Walter might end up blowing the house up by accident or some other tragedy had happened. In truth, Jesse’s dead girlfriend’s father worked (insert long pause here for unnecessary dramatic effect) as an air traffic controller, but a lapse in judgement led to a mid-air collision and the pink teddy bear fell into Walter’s swimming pool from one of the planes. Although the writers were trying to be clever, hinting at some other end for Walter, they might have spent their time more productively trying to get some mileage out of the other characters in the series instead of all these one-off stories.

[22.08.13. Breaking Bad finally finished this year and was the object of much critical acclaim, which I find baffling. Perhaps it was like Star Trek: TNG where the first three series were utterly dreadful before it actually improved.]

An appendix on unrelated matters.

I did actually go for an adventure today, following the Grand Canal in a roughly southerly direction. It has to have been the dullest of my outings so far since the canal has nothing scenic to recommend it. There seems to be some scheme to make it look a little more attractive by planting trees and building a low retaining wall alongside it, but overall, it’s not an interesting stretch of water.

I see from the BBC and a mail message that my Mum sent me that the current grey, windy weather here is almost certainly the consequence of a typhoon that’s been pounding Fujian and Zhejiang. I’d forgotten about such things while I was in Chengdu.

Last night, there was a rainbow on 青石路. Tonight, the sky there was a light mauve colour which I thought was the tint on the windows and doors of the restaurant I was at, but it has no tint.

Charlotte Bronte fans should rejoice because they now have somewhere to stay when they come to Wuxi – the Jane Eyre Regency Hotel, which is just near the intersection where 青石路 meets 春申路. I can’t begin to fathom why it might have this name. Regency Hotel makes sense, but I wonder what Jane Eyre means to the Chinese. A romantic destination? Or is some mad woman going to burn it down while her husband regrets not marrying the plain girl instead?