It’s been a few days

Hasn’t it? 

Christmas Day was foggy, windy and icy. Boxing Day was sunny, calm and icy. The day after Boxing Day was cloudy, windy and icy. Rob said that there was even some snow, which didn’t surprise me because when I’d been off DVD shopping I kept expecting to see flakes of snow flutter across my path. There wasn’t much snow, though. I think I saw the aftermath of some, but by that stage it was no longer recognisable as snowman DNA. 

On Christmas Day, I had a chat to my parents on Skype and then went round to Yvette’s for lunch. The food was excellent and we had a good time. After that, I felt no inclination to have tea. 

We went to Ronnie’s for our staff meeting two nights ago. Ronnie’s is an Australian restaurant out near 南禅寺 (Nánchán Sì). (Ironically [I think], Yvette’s also Australian, but she teaches maths. Hmmm. Perhaps “coincidentally” might be the more relevant adverb.) The food was good and included fish and chips, and pies, although the prices were a little steep. I won’t object if we go back some time, but I won’t be going there without good reason. Not easy to find either. I ended up getting a taxi with Caleb, Bruce and Angela by chance. The driver delivered us to the allegedly correct address, but we were outside a Home Inn. The restaurant wasn’t that far away, but because the building had apparently been renumbered (although how the driver knew that 58 was actually 29 I don’t know [the numbers had been halved?]; and just to be ironic [yes, actual irony this time], a shop about two doors down was numbered 80), we didn’t know which way to go until someone led us there. Ronnie’s was, in fact, further along the street, but back from the road. 

Yesterday afternoon was the New Year’s concert for the whole school. Obviously the act I was involved in was not included in the programme, and what I stayed to see (I generously gave an hour to something I saw eight years ago) was much more polished than our rather sorry excuse for a performance. Nick and Peter appeared in some performance by the PAL 1 class, but their presence made little sense. There was a Michael Jackson tribute routine because he is to China today what the Carpenters were when I first arrived here. Mind you, kids here still think rap is current. Is it? 

Meanwhile, the New Year’s honours list is out and I see that Peter Jackson has been knighted; so, too, Patrick Stewart. If I was an old person (well, really old), I’d be all overexcited about Status Quo getting gongs. Jenson Button was awarded an MBE and Anthea Bell, who’s one of the translators of Asterix, got an OBE. 

And the awards strike quite close to home because my uncle was awarded a Queen’s Service Order for services to horticulture. Who knows? One day I might get a gong for services to education. Now I really am being ironic. 

After Nick (that is, my sister’s husband and not the physics teacher) got me Yasser Seirawan’s Winning Chess Strategy for Christmas, it was apparent I needed the other books in the series, most of which arrived today. These were Play Winning Chess, Winning Chess Tactics, and Winning Chess Openings. I’m waiting for a fourth volume to arrive. Anyway, this lot will shut me up for some time to come. 

I’ve been reading short horror stories by Wilkie Collins (yeah, it’s still the Wilkie Collins season) and I’ve been formatting and editing (slightly) the text of the letters of Mary Wortley Montague which she wrote as she travelled across Europe to Istanbul as the wife of the English ambassador to Turkey. Interesting letters to read (you can actually get a 1794 edition from Google Books) and Lady M seems to have been a decent sort of person quite ready to correct the misconceptions the rest of Europe had about the Turks. On the other hand, she does seem to have met all the hottest babes in Turkey and practically no other species of woman on her travels. 

Outside the school, fencing was being erected to block off access to the pavement, which means that there will be pedestrians wandering down the cycle lane, blindly oblivious to cyclists and electric bike riders who will, in turn, be blindly oblivious to the pedestrians. The buildings on the street along the north side of the school have been being demolished and there’s now a concrete block wall up along that street. We’ll be moving our kit to the other building at the end of the term. Thus construction season continues in Wuxi.

My mobile

The e-book reader.

For about a year or so now I’ve been thinking that it’d be handy to have some sort of portable pdf reader because I’ve got quite a collection which is limited to my brick of a laptop. For some reason, this matter popped back into my mind a couple of days ago[1] along with the question whether my mobile could display text files. I tried copying a file to the phone, but there’s really nothing on the phone which appears to recognise text files (or pdf files for that matter).

I did a search online, intending to find a phone which came with the facility to read a range of standard text types (out of curiosity; I’m not planning to replace my phone sooner than I have to), but found a program by tequilacat which converts text files to a .jar file which you can then copy to your phone via bluetooth. It includes some useful options such as the ability to include a Windows font in which the text will be displayed (I have to press the #-key a couple of times first), which is much more pleasant to read than the phone’s ghastly native sans serif “font”; altering the page and font colours; and sundry other options which I haven’t tried yet.

On my mobile, a 16pt font seems to be a reasonable size and I’ve set the page colour to a pallid yellow in a rough imitation of the colour of the paper found in a paperback. My first book was Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Exploits of Brigadier Gerard which I can redo now that I have a better idea of what I’m doing. I’ve also put on Trent’s Last Case by E.C. Bentley along with Pope’s Rape of the Lock.

From the point of view of convenience, my phone is much more portable than an e-book reader. From what I’ve seen of them, they look rather fragile and are not the sort of kit you can shove in your pocket. It also means that on occasions when I might like to take a book somewhere with me, but such a thing isn’t feasible, then my phone will do quite nicely if I can find the text. Of course, that limits me largely to works from the 19th century and early 20th centuries unless I write my own. Would it make me a narcissist to read my own works?

1. Now I remember. I was having a look at Project Gutenberg, where such things were mentioned.
[06.08.13. Since I wrote this, I’ve acquired a Kindle. The good: it can store a lot of books and they’re searchable. The bad: the disconnection between indexes and the locations to which they refer.]

The poster boy for irony

Or, as we know it, China.

wuxi_ironyI wasn’t going to mention the outcome of the climate change talks in Copenhagen or my utter lack of surprise that it was sabotaged or the identity of the saboteur. What was the rest of the world expecting? But when I got back from lunch this afternoon, I decided to re-enter the building through the lifts from the lower ground floor. As I was passing the notice board just near the outside door, I noticed this poster, which I couldn’t resist snapping for its irony value. There’s some double irony because the English is real English and not Chinglish as I’d expect. 

Of course, the poster is ambiguous because it could be a call to combat change for the better; and after what happened in Copenhagen, I’m inclined to suspect that’s its actual intention.

Meanwhile, it seems to be painting week in Wuxi. The local council is having 江尖桥 painted, and the posts on the outside of the walkway on the island. There were some council workers repainting the road markings at the intersection last week. In fact, the work at school, which currently seems to be the upgrading of the piping at the front and the renovation or demolition of buildings on the north side, may be part of all this. Scaffolding went up around the lighthouse on the island a couple of days ago, and there are now some people on it who appear to be cleaning the rust (?) off the metallic bands that run around the circumference between each set of glass panels.

I guess that the redecoration is early preparation for the Spring Festival, although that’s about six weeks away. As for the work at school, there’s no sign that we’re about to be moved yet. That should really be done during the holiday or after the final exams when it’s going to cause the least disruption. I did wonder why anyone would have us moving this month.

Meanwhile, the sun continues to shine and the weather continues to be as cold as charity. Perhaps we’re in for an early spring next year.

Tales from the School of Irony

Are you sure that’s the title you want, Mr Kearns?

I went to the Xinhua Bookshop on 人民中路 this afternoon. It was for an unofficial, semi-official visit. As I was looking through the rather eclectic collection of foreign-language books on the shelves, I espied the title How Tiger Does It. Yeah, how that Tiger [Woods; the golfer] does it. I wonder whether Brad Kearns is regretting his unfortunate choice of title. I should’ve checked to see whether it was sub-titled “And who he does it with”.

Meanwhile, from a non-ironic school I see the spam pests are having a good shit over my blogspot blog, and there’s not a thing I can do about it. These nuisances are clearly from Taiwan (trad. chars.) and probably targeting any blogs written by people trapped on the mainland because they know that we probably can’t do anything about it. Meanwhile, I found that Project Gutenberg is now viewable for the first time in years. I wonder if that’s because there’s been a change of management and thus a change of IP address.

My big day today was not my big day. We were merely auditioning in front of a group of teachers who were deciding whether Class 15’s act should be included in the Christmas concert. As things stand, our little drama needs much more work.

Meanwhile, this seems to be demolition season in Wuxi. Not only are the old houses on the far side of the island being demolished, but some other blocks of flats a bit further over on the other side of the canal have suddenly been turned to rubble. The flats next to the nursery school in our complex appear to have had their roofs removed, but that seems to have been the sole intention of that exercise. I’m sure if Marco Polo had headed this way in the 13th century, he would’ve written in this diary:

We rode towards the town of Wuxi, but when we got there, there were only piles of bricks. When our guide asked a local man whether we were actually in the town, he replied that it had been demolished, but would be rebuilt shortly. Our man asked him whether he was at all inconvenienced, he said with a shrug that such things happened there at least once a week.

Foreigners and their ways

Zip me up; zip me down.

When Caleb got into the office this morning and tried to take his jacket off, he couldn’t undo the zip which because it was sticking at the bottom, he had to pull the jacket off over his head. At lunchtime, Caleb tried the zip again again. He got Bruce, the student teacher whom he is mentoring, to try, but Bruce had no success. I examined the zip myself. The fastener moved up and down, it wasn’t getting jammed by the cloth of the jacket, but it wasn’t coming apart either. Or didn’t, until, by chance, I pulled it apart on the other side. In other words, the zip had been sewn into the jacket the wrong way round so that the fastener was on the right-hand side instead of the left. Doh!

Site incident.

wuxi_site01 wuxi_site02

I got home after lunch at 永和大王 and looked out the window to see a large number of people inside and outside the gates of the site next to the island. My first thought was that the person who had been living in the last surviving hovel was being pig-headed about leaving and might’ve been causing a scene. But although there is a removals van in the picture and you can see furniture being carried to it, there was also an ambulance (right-hand side of the first picture). I then thought that the focus of attention was the remaining houses on the far side, but realised that the object of interest was hidden behind a large bush near the canal and had been the victim of an accident. I’m guessing that the person had suffered an electric shock because I could see a group of (electricity?) workers in orange hard hats around one of those transformers. I may, however, be mistaken on this point. There’s definitely something going on over there, but I can’t see what exactly.

And there’s my answer. The last of the occupants of those houses are being removed. I’ve just seen a lorry with furniture on the back driving out of the site. The workers over the other side are probably waiting to move in to start demolishing those houses as well. I notice that another ambulance remains probably as a precaution in case things turn ugly. There’s also another group of workers around a gate (hole in the wall is probably a more accurate expression) beyond the first group of workers but it’s impossible to tell exactly what’s going on. A small group of people went into that area, which looks like a rubbish tip, and disappeared.

As for the remaining house, I’m guessing it was demolished moments after it was finally vacated because I checked a few minutes after starting this entry and the building had gone.

The Woman in White

By Wilkie Collins.

Having read The Moonstone earlier this year, I thought I’d read Collins’ other well-known novel, The Woman in White.

Walter Hartright has an encounter with a mysterious woman in white who has escaped from an asylum, and being a jolly decent sort of chap, he helps her evade her captors. We learn that her name is Anne Catherick.

With a recommendation from his friend, Professor Pesca, an Italian émigré, Walter lands a job as a drawing master at Limmeridge House where he teaches babelicious Laura Fairlie and the ugly Marian Halcombe under the roof of Laura’s uncle, the über-hypochondriac Mr Fairlie. Walter falls in love with Laura, but their love is thwarted when it’s revealed that she’s been betrothed to the perfectly nice Sir Percival Glyde. Having looked up the number for the French Foreign Legion in the phone book (not available until 1873), Walter goes to Central America instead.

Nothing can be done to prevent Laura’s impending marriage to Sir Percival (who’s twice her age), but she manages to ensure that Marian will be her companion when she gets to Sir Percival’s seat, Blackwater Park, after a honeymoon on the Continent. When they do return, it’s with his full-figured friend, Count Fosco, and his venomous wife, who’s also Laura’s aunt. Sir Percival, who was such a delightful chap when he was trying to win Laura’s hand, turns out to be a villain of the first order and up to something which Marian does her best to thwart, but is ultimately unable to prevent. It becomes clear that Sir Percival married Laura for her inheritance and, thanks to her resemblance to Anne Catherick, a little sleight of hand allows him to get his hands on the money.

Walter returns to England to find that Laura has apparently died, only to find that she’s alive (Anne Catherick having died instead) and has been spirited by the resourceful Marian away from the asylum where she’d been kept. The three now live together in secrecy and Walter does what he can to find evidence that’ll prove Laura is, in fact, Lady Glyde. He has to contend both with Sir Percival and with Count Fosco, and eventually learns that the former’s secret is that he has no claim on his baronetcy. Sir Percival (or, as I suppose I should now call him, Percival) manages to die in a fire at the church in Old Welmingham when he tries to recover the evidence of the fraud he perpetrated. The identity of Anne’s father is also revealed – not Percival, as Walter believed, but Laura’s father who was a beau in his day.

That just leaves Count Fosco who holds the one piece of evidence which will prove that Laura (now Walter’s wife) really is who she claims to be. It is with the help of Professor Pesca that he gains sufficient hold over the Count to have him reveal that last vital piece of evidence. Laura is acknowledged by her uncle and the law to be herself. Count Fosco is murdered by the Brotherhood (shady foreign types), and Laura’s uncle dies of a fit o’ th’ vapours, which leaves her and Walter’s son the heir of Limmeridge.

The story is told in similar fashion to The Moonstone as different characters make some contribution to the narrative. As for the pace of the narrative, I felt there was a slough in the Blackwater Park section until nearer the end when Marian eavesdrops on Sir Percival and Count Fosco, but after that things pick up. Collins could’ve been writing for a movie with all the revelations coming in rapid succession at the end along with Sir Percival’s unexpected death in Old Welmingham.

The most interesting characters are Marian Halcombe and Count Fosco. Marian attracts the Count’s admiration for her actions, and she acts boldly to protect Laura. Her biggest problem is Collins himself who undermines her by reminding the audience that she’s a weak and feeble woman when, in fact, she’s demonstrating the opposite. Count Fosco is interesting because he seems wholly reasonable and somewhat eccentric when he is, nonetheless, utterly villainous. His background is also uncertain, and it’s not until Pesca reveals more that we learn the Count is a spy and a member of the Brotherhood. His weakness is Marian Halcombe, and his end is as mysterious as almost everything else about him.

Sir Percival, on the other hand, seems to be little more than a stock villain (BA Moustache Twirling, Oxon.). Walter Hartright, who is absent from a large part of the story, is one-dimensional as the stout British chap defending the honour and safety of his beloved, the anaemic Laura. An hon. mention should go to Mr Fairlie, especially in the section which he narrates and in which he hilariously reveals just how completely oblivious he is to his own failings. He has the decency (or should that be “predictability”?) to die of apoplexy. Madam Fosco, whose character is revealed earlier in the book and indirectly, is a nasty piece of work; and Mrs Catherick, Anne’s mother, is also venomous, vindictive and condescending.

As I said, once Collins really got going with The Woman in White, it moves along at a reasonable pace. On the other hand, I thought it was rather Victorian where I could do with something from the 21st century.[1]

But looking at my bookshelf what do I find but The Haunted Hotel and Other Stories by, er, Wilkie Collins. I’m afraid my return to the 21st century is going to be delayed.


  1. As an aside of a sort, I’ve been wondering whether the peculiar thing which the Chinese believe is formal English (the odd creature that’s to be found in Senior English for Schools or the College Entrance Exam) is actually based on 19th century English and, perhaps, elements of American English which from a British perspective would be regarded as old-fashioned. In my English, the verb recommend can take a finite clause as a dO, but not (I’m reasonably sure of myself) an infinitive, which is something I’ve been correcting (erroneously it seems) in my little darlings’ English. Thus “I recommend that you (should) read The Woman in White”, but not “I recommend you to read The Woman in White” (which, if not ungrammatical, sounds dated) But I found Collins using recommend with an infinitive construction, which then got me thinking about this because school Chinglish often makes me think of the 19th century and its often stilted prose style.


“Sounds like a made-up word to me.”

wuxi_deliveryI was running a little late for school this morning and took my usual route down the street behind the school until I ran into this sight. It’s common enough in China, the dullard with his overloaded vehicle, but I don’t think I’ve ever posted a picture of such a thing. I don’t know what lead to this, but it might’ve been that our 乡下佬-brained delivery man might’ve been trying to give way when part of his load tumbled off. I’m sure he thought that the car horns were merely a musical accompaniment to his labours. As usual, such antics attracted a small crowd which can be seen on the right. I turned round and took an alternative route to school. 

It seems that Mr Bamboo is going to be treading the boards again. James from the PAL 2 class came to see me between classes this morning to ask if I’d be willing to help in one of the performances for the New Year’s concert. I know that our classes have been preparing and I thought that this was what I was being asked to participate in. It turned out that I was playing a small part in a performance being staged by Class 15, Senior 1. I have to speak a few lines in Chinese with a little English thrown in. 

The rehearsal at lunchtime took me over to the other side of the school where the workers have started 拆ing the buildings. I don’t know what’s going to appear in their place, but it might be dorms. Another teaching building would seem to be unnecessary. Meanwhile, it seems that we’re probably not under immediate threat of ejection from our building just yet because the work that being going on at the west end is to do with the piping. That may, of course, be a prelude to the refurbishment. 

I went to Gizma last night to escape the tyranny of other restaurants and arrived outside the mall to find that a small town of booths had been erected and there was, it seems, a food fair boasting regional 串 from around China. There was quite a throng in and around this new curiosity, but I got to Gizma to find it empty. When I came back out, I could see an audience had gathered at one of the booths not, it seems, to sample the quality comestibles that were on offer, but rather to watch the boys perform as they prepared the dishes. 

As I went past the Jane Eyre Regency Hotel this evening, I saw some good ol’ boys being loaded into a semi-official looking van. I’m not sure whether they were being harmonised or what, but they were members of the Green Army Greatcoat Brigade who would hardly seem to be the clientele you’d find in the JERH. I went to California Beef Noodle King and found the booths were still standing (although the strong wind was putting them to the test) and the throng was still thronging. I caught the tail end of 2012 in CBNK, but chose to read some more of The Woman in White. I went into Walmart where I find the local DVD player testing committee were still trying out one of the machines. They’re obviously very picky and would prefer not to make rash purchases. Quite wise, gentlemen. Why spend money on a DVD player when you can take it for a permanent test drive it?