The shutters come down

Anybody there?
 
The score so far: BBC crippled but eventually viewable; The Guardian apparently out for the count; Danwei II still there; the Independent is still viewable; Spaces quirky (not there one moment, there the next); Live Journal still up; Yahoo! also still up.
 
This started yesterday afternoon at some stage. I’ve been able to get onto various sites, but then I lose access to them after visiting one or two pages on them. I have no doubt that this is another onslaught against the truth – in case anyone mentions it.
 
In case the shutters really do come down on Spaces, I’m off to Chengdu tomorrow and will be back on the 6th, hence I’ll be observing radio silence. (I really ought to get myself one of those mini-laptops because neither of mine are exactly portable; but then again, I try to leave the Internet behind when I go on holiday.)
 
Behave yourselves while I’m gone, and don’t mention any of those T-words which get Nanny all flustered; or the extreme joy and happiness that characterised the first thirty years.

I note in passing

70,000.

Indeed, I passed 70,000 hits at about 8.45pm last night. Don’t know who the lucky winner was because Pope B. of, er, Valencia City (? bloody awful handwriting; can’t tell where the place is) ticked the box requesting anonymity. Well, if the Pope wants to be anonymous, I should respect his wishes. The caller was someone who seems to have been going through old entries (although that might be several people for all I know).

(Later. Seems it was a crank call from the Archbishop of Canterbury. Those boys are such a pair of wags. There was this other time when the Archbishop of Canterbury turned up at the gates of the Vatican dressed as the Pope’s wife, only she turned up a few minutes later, was arrested by the Swiss Guard, and tortured by the Inquisition for six months until they realised their mistake. She can laugh now, but only after she’s taken extreme painkillers. [Oh, crap. He has nothing to say. –ed.])

Almost the end of the week. We do, unfortunately, have to go in to school on Sunday to give the little darlings their end-of-the-month tests and then on Monday because the stupid system doesn’t understand Monday-to-Monday holidays. I might use Jonathan Dimbleby’s Russia series to take the strain since I got two more discs of it from my Dad the other day.

The PAL classes are being good, but the AS class has neither the level of English nor the commitment, though I can’t blame them if they have no love for the books. NorthStar isn’t exactly exciting (but it’s not meant to be; seems more like a book for someone who’s serious about studying English) and Learn to Listen You Little Bastards is similarly fairly dull stuff (and, again, the sort of book for someone who’s a bit hardcore).

Meanwhile, Colin continues to get personal statements from the A2s, which are works of fiction by and large. The problem is that he (and to a lesser extent, I) has been correcting them only to find that he gets the same sort of thing back again because they’re being produced according to some model which none of the A2s can produce without perjuring themselves because they lack the breadth of experience that their Western counterparts might have. They ought to be honest.

“I’m a Chinese school boy/girl. My life revolves around going to school, being taught copious quantities of knowledge, but having no understanding of any of it. I have no hobbies or interests relevant to my subject because I don’t have time to cultivate them, but I do play basketball or Counter-Strike or go shopping or chat on QQ when my parents aren’t making me do extra English classes at New Oriental or English First. I’m doing physics / maths / chemistry / business because, er, something to do with some advanced nation reacting to centuries of writing 八股文 as a means of advancement, which retarded the country’s technological development; but although I may have an aptitude for the subject I want to study, I have no real interest in it. My dad’s an engineer / a boss (I have utterly no idea what he does) / etc., so that’s what I have to be regardless of what I really want to do. I know, though, that my parents’ capacious coffers will ensure that my application for a place at your university is greeted favourably.

PS, My English hasn’t progressed in two years because the absence of any exam for it deluded me into thinking that it wasn’t important. I hope you will admit me to your Foundation English Programme.”

While we’re talking about foundation English, a couple of weeks ago I saw some girl wearing a T-shirt which said, “No paint, no gains”. Sage words since seeing which, I’ve been buying paint. However, I now realise that it was a slogan for Chinese paint manufacturers. Advertising is cunning.

Meanwhile, the decorations have been going up for the National Day Holiday (the day when Chairman M. stepped close to the microphone and said, “No, I don’t want to buy the Thoughts of Chairman Mao.”), which this year will ignore 30 years of misery and celebrate 30 years of an increasing gap between the haves and have-nots. This city, for example, is absolutely crawling with very expensive, brand new cars, and they’re not being driven by the 老百姓. I don’t think I’ll ever be in China so long that I’ll ever cease to despise motorists and deplore the stupidity of all road users. Or pedestrians. The pavement is there for a reason.

Banner says

What?

To the north and west of the school a fragment of old Wuxi remains. The buildings to the north have been marked for 折. On a wall part way along the street, there’s a banner which says, 文明拆迁, 依法拆迁 (wénmíng chāiqiān, yīfǎ chāiqiān) “A civilised demolition and resettlement, a demolition and resettlement according to the rules”. I’d guess that some of the 拆迁 is neither civilised or in accordance with the rules if this is the sort of banner it’s felt necessary to display. [31.08.13. It took years before the buildings were finally demolished, and even now they land is empty, although a new wall has gone up, which presages the commencement of building work sometime.]

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I’ve been curious to know what’s down the narrow street which runs from the street west of the school and discovered this old but well-kept street, though the building on the corner has long since been abandoned. The street runs alongside a narrow branch of the canal, although whether it gets any traffic, I don’t know and doubt.

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The view in the first picture is down an alley off the street. It seemed rather picturesque, the sort of thing I’d want to paint rather than photograph. The second picture is historic Wuxi being manufactured. When I first arrived, there was some of the building in the centre of the picture and a little bit of the landing. I suppose someone has been commissioned to contrive a history of this ancient place – founded by the Emperor Qianlong during the Song Dynasty, visited by Marco Polo, the location of the first Wuxi Party Congress in 1871 etc. Can’t you just feel the genuine antiquity?

Dawn by day

Haze by night.

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I took these pictures earlier this week. The first picture is my quest to get a decent shot of dawn. I think I used the evening setting on my camera to try to inhibit it’s innate tendency to produce over-bright pictures so that I could try to capture the colour of the sun. The resulting shot is, I think, better than the pictures from the other day and I also used the zoom function. Although the sun looks good to the naked eye, in an unadjusted picture it seems to shrink. Even in the picture above, it still doesn’t fill the view as much as it seems to in reality. 

The second picture was taken a couple of nights ago after we’d had a very wet day here. It took me eleven shots with various settings (often quite extreme; aperture way down; ev way down) to get one which was near the view I could actually see. I liked the glow given off by the building in the background. 

I ought to stop taking pictures of the view from my window. I’m sure you’ve seen enough of them. 

What happened this week? Not a lot. We did have some delegation from the King Edward Grammar School (somewhere) in Essex because they want to set up an exchange programme with the school here. Mr Zhang, who is the Chinese equivalent of our CP, seemed to be most eager to discuss the visit with Rob and me to make sure that Essex Man was cool. 

And there isn’t much else worth mentioning this week. The tests, which Caleb had left on my desk for me to give to his chemistry class, had mysteriously vanished. I can only think I might’ve picked them up with some other papers, but from his description, it seems that the bundle, though small, would’ve been noticeable.

I’ve also been putting together some ideas for the English course we’ll give the little darlings at the end of the second term. My underlying idea is a course in general English. In other words, we’d treat the pupils as if they’re native speakers and get away from EFL English. I’ve got rather a long list of things they might do, probably overly long, but I thought they could do some reading (a collectively read short story with each of them reading and reporting on a part of the story, and reviewing it), learn something about English lit. from its origins to the present day, and learn something about the history of the English language; some writing (a huge range of possibilities here, but I’m hoping for creative writing); and some speaking (again, a range of possibilities). 

I’ve been playing a lot of correspondence chess online, but it vacuums up a lot of my time (I’m embroiled in about ten games at the moment and think that one would be enough) and right now I’d say that most of the games are against me because I spent the early part of most of the games swatting away pointless sorties from my opponents who are now in a better position than me. I think one game at a time is about all I can handle. I should stick with writing, at which I’m moderately competent, and stick to games against the awful Chess Titans. 

Meanwhile, my flat has become infested with Chinese fluff demons (绒毛鬼 Róngmáo Guǐ). As I’ve explained in a previous entry, they eat dust and shit fluff. Their usual habitats are under chairs, tables and desks, but there’s also a kind which lives along skirting boards or around the edges of rooms. When you try to hit them with a broom, they explode in a shower of dust and then reconstitute themselves while you’re not looking.

The ancient vista on the other side of the bridge comes on apace. I assume it’s going to be a canal side pavilion and park which will be inhabited by old people doing tai chi or people sitting around staring vacantly and doing nothing productive. There’s almost no traffic on the canal and thus nothing of interest to see.

A few weeks ago, Danwei got blocked for no reason I could discern, but now that I find there are links to Danwei from The Guardian, I’m wondering whether that’s the reason – consorting with a foreign news source. I miss having access to Danwei, the absence of which pretty much just leaves ESWN to which I am, these days, only an occasional visitor. Perhaps I’ve been in China too long so that the news becomes uninteresting. There’s been another riot, I see, but so what? It won’t change anything and the flaws in the system will remain.

Here today

Gone tomorrow.

Having been inside all day yesterday, I needed to go and play outside. Wuxi is a new city, but much of the old still remains and isn’t hidden, as it often is elsewhere, behind all the new buildings. But today’s foray into old Wuxi led me to a world that’s marked for 拆. While Baoli is all very pretty from the front, the old city is being demolished behind it while in the adjacent alleyway, a ubiquitous worker dismantles old doors.

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The nearby streets are still inhabited for the most part, but some buildings have already been gutted. I assume that the archway in the second picture below would have been an entrance, the door and the windows being a more recent addition. Above the arch of the gateway, the name has been chiselled off, although that seems to be some recent “vandalism” since the characters don’t seem to have had time to be worn by the weather.

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Meanwhile, Mr Man, in his slightly short trousers, heads home. Will he get there before the wrecking ball does? Of course, his neighbour’s house, now merely a temporary shadow against the adjacent wall until that, too, becomes rubble in 拆国, is the future of Mr Man’s cosy domicile. Of course, he’s probably quite keen to live on the 21st floor where he can wax nostalgic about life in the slums and the balmy days of hot-and-cold-running vermin.

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Meanwhile, some places are likely to survive such as this antique chemist’s shop near 南禅. Just as I reached the intersection, some fire engines came screaming out of the exit on the opposite side of the road, their sirens blaring probably because that’s what American fire engines do in the movies. All the wailing in the world has little effect on the motoring public for whom sirens are yet another noise to be ignored rather than an alarum inviting respectful avoidance so that the emergency services can go about their business unimpeded. And for those who do notice, they can always go for a quiet walk beside the unused canal.

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Wuxi does have history, but it’s rapidly disappearing beneath the modern world, and in the absence of much real local history, it’s being manufactured. The park on the other side of the bridge outside progresses apace, but whether there ever was a pavilion there in the past, I don’t know and am inclined to doubt. Give it five years of neglect and it’ll look like a relic from the Tang Dynasty.

The school

And rather nouvelle at that.

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The first picture is the passage in the building where I work. It’s the same in both directions, hence I only need to show you what it looks like in this direction (although it might be that direction). In truth, I don’t know whether the PAL classes are left or right when I leave the office, but they’re in one direction and the AS/A2 classes are in the opposite direction. I have no idea whether I turn left or right. There’s a good chance that I’ll try to go into the conference room instead of our office when I try to find my way back. I’ve already done that a couple of times. [31.08.13. The building was subsequently refurbished, half being devoted to our programme, and half to the school museum which is opened when visitors come calling. Due to a lack of forethought, there isn’t actually enough proper office space.] 

The second picture is our building from the outside. I’m guessing it’s one of the older buildings, possibly an original, and probably an old main building since there’s an ugly stone on the other side. (As you can see from the third picture, which is from the opposite side to the second, some aesthetically minded person decided to try and hide the rock with some plants.)

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wuxi_school06The new school buildings, which are very new indeed as the left-hand picture attests, look like this, and probably bear an outward resemblance to the original school buildings. There are some older new buildings (newer old buildings?) if you go round the back and look for them and if you go far enough, you’ll find Mr McGregor’s nursery, where he cultivates mint, marigolds, and marijuana marjoram. 

wuxi_xihui01 But as the weary explorer rounded the corner, suddenly, there through the trees was a gap and framed in it, a scene from Old Cathay, the pagoda in 锡惠公园, constructed as long ago as 1985. Who knows how many lovers threw themselves from it in despair because China had no (well, privately owned) VCRs at the time and they’d missed the final episode of 红楼梦? Who knows what famous photographer (called Mr Bamboo) ascended its precarious steps and took pictures from it? Who knows what pious words have echoed up from the temple? (♫And the Chinese know – o-way-o – they walk the line like Egyptian♫)

A dull imitation of nature

Sunrise.

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When I looked out of the window this morning at obscenely early o’clock, the sun, a red disk, was rising over the buildings and subtly illuminating the ripples of cloud which was spread across the sky. The scene, a Kodak moment, came out on my camera as an insipid representation of what I had seen with the naked eye.

In the first picture, the sun was filtered through the haze, which gave it that red look. In the second picture, taken a little later, it was brightening up, giving more definition to the clouds. It’s a pity that the first picture failed to capture what I saw. It was also nice to see it, but why can’t we have sunrise at a respectable hour?

Weak lessons

Oh shirt, indeed, matey.

We’re having our students keep diaries of their academic progress (or lack of it). It’s meant to help with their critical thinking as they consider why it is they might’ve found some things difficult to master. The PAL classes are not finding business easy probably because it’s rather language-heavy compared with science subjects and maths. This was the comment (original spelling and puntuation preserved) that one student wrote about business:

The Buiness is my weak lesson, I almost understand nothing. Oh, shirt, when can I understand the business. God help me!

I note that another student had an Oxford English-Chinese dictionary (or vice versa). On its very hard cover, it claimed that it was a paperback. Well, you know the pirates here. They love their irony.

Meanwhile, I’m preparing this afternoon’s and, probably, tomorrow’s lesson plan for the PAL classes. The book has a section on word building which threw up the possible, but unlikely adverb “removably”. I chucked it into Google and got 931,000 results. These included such unironic phrases as “removably attachable / mountable / securable” and the like, which upset my grammatical sensibilities. Oh, shirt!

Rice

Taking its queue from eggs.

wuxi_lightingThere was another queue in Walmart this evening along with the usual group of people watching a DVD, but without feeling the slightest compunction to buy the machine on which it’s being played or the TV on which they’re watching it. They probably haven’t even bought the DVD. But the queue. What was that about? Eggs again? No. Rice. What was special about it? I don’t honestly know. Farm-fresh rice? It was coming from sacks in a shopping trolley and being doled out to each customer by some man wielding a scoop. 

When I got to the checkout, I noticed a sign on the wall beside the exit which had the label “Servant Leadership”. On the divider at the checkout it said “Please checkout at  nearby cashiers”, which I took to mean (probably) that the till was closed, although you can never be too sure. It might’ve been an ironic statement, of course.

There was a large crowd outside dancing to loud, grating music and another large crowd spectating[1]. The stage was being dismantled and packed onto a small truck, probably to be unpacked from the same small truck on the same spot some time next week. There was even a beggar on the first landing up to Gizma, which hadn’t been my first port of call for tea, but when I got to the Western restaurant, the flight controllers had people in a stacking pattern.

I happened to spot the scene above while I was chatting to Linda, and liked the contrast between the late afternoon sunlight lighting the buildings and the greying sky behind them.

My hit count has gone a bit wild this week. 1321 so far and 67,000 hits is now memory from some time earlier today. One visitor allowed me to correct an error in a title. The negative past habitual “didn’t use to” has always been a bit of a pest for me.

Notes

1. That’s odd. Live Writer thinks “spectating” is misspelt. [31.08.13. So does Chrome.]

The red carpet treatment

Pour moi?

Not long after I got up this morning, I heard some rather loud fireworks outside. I assumed that someone was moving into the building. We were meant to be going to 塘南广场 to buy foam rubber pads to put on our rather uncomfortable mattresses. In fact, both of mine are obviously cheap crap – little more than a metal mattress frame in a cloth cover with minimal padding. (I’d aver that 床垫鬼 [Chuangdian Gui, the Chinese mattress demon] constructed these things himself.) When I got downstairs, there was a red carpet, which had bits of streamers on it, snaking through the door. I could only imagine that it’d been laid out for me (to honour my glorious presence; do I need to spell the reason out to you?) and I went outside to meet the others.

But after standing around on the street for a bit, I texted Yvette who said that the trip to the market was probably going to be postponed until tomorrow; and with that I headed home.

It was as I was walking through the complex that some more fireworks started going off with some exceptionally thunderous bangs. (Probably, given the occasion for the fireworks, to scare 床垫鬼 away for good.) When I got near my building, I saw what all the fuss was about. There were some newly weds and their entourage of black cars blocking the way. The parents were swollen with money; the bride with romantic feelings; and the groom was, well, just swollen.

Rather than get tangled up in the wedding party, I thought I’d enter the building through the lower entrance, and I was fortunate that a couple of people were getting out of the lift just in time for me to get in. The lift stopped at the ground floor as I expected it might. Then some camera jockey got into the lift followed by the bride and groom themselves, and a couple of favoured attendants. Knowing what torpid travellers the Chinese can be, I was surprised the bride and groom made it to the lift so quickly. Mind you, he was swollen and she, impelled by… No, not romantic feelings, but rather the desire to calculate the monetary value of their wedding presents so that she can boast about it to her friends in Starbucks while the groom is off bonking his concubine and complaining that his wife only married him for the Kenwood mixer.

I later went shopping, but first I needed to do something about getting the rear tyre of my bike pumped up, and went to the Giant bike shop where I saw one of those small pumps for ¥168. I wondered whether I’d misread the sticker. It seemed to be some sort of hi-tech affair which, I strongly suspect, offered no real advantages over the common or garden variety. But the shop offers free air for inflating tyres, which seems only fair because of the inflated prices for some of their bikes.