Rain, rain

You know the rest of the rhyme.
The topsy-turvy weather continues. We’ve had brilliantly clear days. We’ve had a day with such thick fog that I couldn’t see the canal. And today we’ve had a day when it’s been so humid that the buildings are sweating. The floors of the building at school were wet in spite of the rain, not because of it. There was fog in the subterranean bike park at school. There’s condensation on the outside of the windows of this building. The humidity level is about 80% at the moment, and it’s exceptionally dull and grey.
The return to school hasn’t been a comedy of errors in as much as it’s just been of errors. I went into school two days ago, but no one had the keys to the office. I went in yesterday with the same result but met Caleb who did have a key to the office, and I was able to claim a desk. We had Internet access, but no printers (that’s now been solved), and the photocopier had almost no paper left. That’s now extended to the printers as well.
To make matters worse, someone broke the key in the lock of the door to the photocopier, although without any paper the machine is about as useful as sun cream is here right now.
I was going to indulge the PAL 2 class because this is another instance of a holiday coming to a conclusion at the arse end of a week, but there’s no Internet access in the classroom. I tried haiku poetry from the Writing Course with them, but the first class finished before the whole exercise could founder on their apathy to creativity, and in the second I left them to their own devices. There was no point in starting any formal lessons with them this week because it’d only put them ahead of PAL 1.
AS 1 also seemed to be suffering from the same absence of Internet access, but that appeared to affect the operation of Windows Media Player. Fortunately, it was possible to use a different media player, but it took some time to sort things out. Overall, I think the class set the tone for the term – one of witless indifference on the part of the students. Various students were absent, and a number were late to class. They’re going to have to do listening until the photocopier is sorted.
And there you have the start of the second term.

Time to take a trip

乐购 means “happy buy”.
I’ve been meaning to go out to Tesco (or 乐购 lègòu as they call it here) all week, but have never got round to it. Yesterday, having been woken at 5am by a city-wide barrage of fireworks, I felt disinclined to do anything, but today, having had a late-ish breakfast and finding that it was a pleasant day out, I went off to Tesco for a little shopping and lunch.
The little shopping was for the Shushuang (舒爽) Propolis and Aloe flavour toothpaste for which Tesco is now the only source I know. In fact, knowing that it was the product of a Hong Kong based company, I kept an eye out for it in Hong Kong, but like Vanilla Coke, the city had none. Carrefour does have some Shushuang toothpaste, but not this flavour.
I also discovered that Tesco was having a wine sale with some of the more expensive brands reduced quite heavily in price. After much dithering, I went for an Eaglehawk Shiraz Merlot Cabernet down to ¥58 from ¥110. And Tesco had broccoli, which has disappeared in other supermarkets. I’ve been to Carrefour twice now and not found any even although there’s normally a mountain of stuff in the fruit and veg section. Walmart has none at all; nor Trust Mart
The soundtrack on the way out and back was various pieces by Bach, including the Inventions.
Meanwhile a certain religious leader has been meeting the leader of a certain country, which has upset the feelings of the people of another country. When will a certain unelected authoritarian regime learn that such expressions sound utterly ridiculous?

I don’t have to dream of a white Chinese New Year

But I may have to dream about spring.
wuxi_snow01 wuxi_snow02
At about 3am this morning, I needed to go to the loo and couldn’t quite fathom what was wrong with the world outside. I thought that the smoke from the tonnes of ordnance set off last night was hanging in the air until I looked out of the window on the far side of the flat and found that it’d been snowing. The photographer in me made me take a few photographs, which I regret a little because the fireworks started going off again perhaps some time not long after 4am and woke me up. Consequently, my brain is a little more dead than usual.
The other picture is the scene this morning, and it’s still snowing as I write this at 10am. And the barrage of noise continues in spite of the weather. Once again, this merely confirms that the term “Spring Festival” is PR because if this is spring, Jim, then it’s not as we know it.
In spite of the weather in Hong Kong being a little miserable last week, the Territory is probably in for another cold snap like the one two years ago if the cold front pushes far enough south. I could check the Hong Kong Met Office website, but when I did that before I left, it claimed that the weather for the first half of the week was going to be generally fine and sunny. I seem to have chosen the right week to go there even if the weather wasn’t the best.

The Best of British

wuxi_billboard Since it’s New Year’s Eve, I thought it was about time for some more Chinglish. I’ve been meaning to get a picture of this advertising hoarding for the past couple of weeks. The English, which is a little difficult to read, says “When England Met Huishan, Time Axis, And Space for the Degrees, Does Not Require Complicated Footnote, Arbitrary Intersection Of A Vertical And Horizontal, Calibration Of Life Can Be Extreme”. There’s no corresponding Chinese text from which the actual meaning of this can be discerned, but it does require some sort of complicated footnote. This is the sort of writing that the AS class produces.
For the first time, as far as I can recall, fireworks are being openly sold on the street and a few minutes ago a serious barrage began. I went to Walmart down an almost dormant 青石路. A lot of the shops are already shut and on tables here and there were heaps of fireworks just waiting for some clown to set them all off with a cigarette in spite of warnings from the proprietor.
Carrefour has been impossibly crowded for the past few days. Yesterday I queued for about 25 minutes before getting to the checkout. Most people were pushing shopping trolleys around and there were boxes stacked up down the aisles instead of being kept in storage out the back. All right, perhaps out the back was full. In Walmart, on the other hand, it seemed to be just another Saturday.
The weather has gone down hill since I returned from Hong Kong. We had snow a couple of days ago, a light dusting but sufficient in quantity to build up and it’s remained cold enough since for it still to be sitting where it is in shadow. We have seen the sun for the past couple of days, but it’s turned cloudy this afternoon. Once again, the Spring Festival seems aptly misnamed.
I’d estimate that it probably took me around ten hours to download the 1.0.2 patch for Chessmaster. It took about three and a half to four hours to get the patch and the rest of the time was abortive attempts. Most annoying.

You put the disc in the DVD player and out comes

The Hurt Locker.

The Hurt Locker is the story of an American bomb disposal squad in Iraq. It was made in a pseudo-verité style, which means no happy studio endings or mood music to cheer on our heroes. There are the nasty moments such as the boy who’s murdered so that his corpse can be used to hide a bomb, or the man who has had a bomb locked to him and cannot be saved. The bombs appear, but there’s never any sign of the bombers, and the Iraqis often appear to know what’s going to happen.

I assume the film deliberately focused on the bomb squad as a bunch of guys doing a job rather than on questioning America’s presence in Iraq. The bombers were implicitly the bad guys, but it’s hard to see how they could be portrayed as anything but self-interested psychopaths. I don’t know whether the rules of engagement were being criticised because there were more than a few scenes where the American soldiers might’ve started shooting because of the imminent danger they were probably facing.

Dorian Gray.

This is some BBC TVM which brought Men Who Stare at Goats to my attention. As for the film itself, it seemed loosely based on the book, at least as far as I vaguely remember the book. Sooner rather than later I’ll vaguely remember this film.

[31.07.14. If I hadn’t written this entry and if I’d never seen it again, I would never have remembered this film. If I remember Men Who Stare at Goats rightly, it was utter bollocks.]

The Great Shopping Expedition

Buildings may go down as well as up.
I arrived in Hong Kong to find that there was a problem with the banking network – so I thought – which left me throwing myself on the mercy of the guesthouse until I found that I could get money using my ICBC card. What I discovered the next day was that I’d been trying to withdraw too much money at one go. I also managed to mislay my passport by placing it in the inner pocket of my rucksack and forgetting that that was where I put it; and then I locked myself out of my room. I did not have a good Sunday.
The news in Hong Kong was the collapse of a building the previous Friday which killed several of the occupants because of various (illegal) structural changes over the years. The article on the front page of the Sunday Morning Post gave the numbers of buildings which were potentially at risk in each district. I must admit that as I wandered around Hong Kong, I kept half an eye on the buildings to see whether I could spot, say, enclosed balconies or any other signs that they fabric of the building had been modified. When I was walking down Johnston Road in Wan Chai (湾仔), I noticed that a lot of the buildings overhung the pavement, but I couldn’t tell whether they were supposed to have balconies or not. I also noticed some buildings around my part of Tsim Sha Tsui (尖沙咀) which looked like they might’ve been modded.
There was an absolute dearth of Vanilla Coke in Hong Kong, and I note it seems to be being replaced with Lemon Coke here. I seem to have cleaned out the last of the Vanilla Coke from Trust Mart.
The trip was purely a shopping expedition because I haven’t been to the real world in a year and I needed (some) stuff. Thus I have new trousers and shoes (not absolutely necessary, but I’ve been wondering whether the shoes I bought in New Zealand last year might be contributing to the eczema that was plaguing them at the end of term); the upgrade to Windows 7 which took me three hours to install (Vista SP3, methinks, but I detect signs of an improvement overall; some obvious differences such as the ability to tell W7 to pin various programs to the taskbar instead of dragging them there; a reorganised calculator; I’ll find other things as I explore further); and twelve books or so.
I read Peter Hessler’s River Town, but I was a few years late with that one. It was interesting enough, but I’m already familiar with the territory. One or two chapters in the book seemed to be padding, and I found phrases such as “our China” and “your America”, which reflect Chinese idiom, to be annoying and grating. There is definitely a difference between the students Hessler was teaching and the 90s generation which I’ve largely had to suffer since I came to China, although a lot of what he said was familiar. I wonder what Fuling is like today and how much it differs from the city of 1996.
I also read Dial M for Merde, the latest of Paul West’s adventures in France by Stephen Clarke. Unlike the previous volume in the series, this one is back in France, but set in Provençal and back on target. West is recruited by French police to keep an eye on his girlfriend who is supposedly plotting to assassinate the French president who will preside over the wedding of West’s ex-girlfriend, Elodie, to the rich, coke-addled Valéry. In the end, West saves the president, is awarded a medal, and scores with the hot French police woman who was leading the investigation. His slightly addle-brained friend, Jake, also manages to get a grant out of the French government for his dreadful poetry.
I have 44 Scotland Street to read as well (although I’m beginning to think that Alexander McCall Smith is a little too prolific), and a couple of books by Stephen Hunt which I bought on a whim because I didn’t want to return here just with books about chess. I have no idea whether I’ll like them or not, and there is a third book, although Page One didn’t have it. I’m not sure whether they form a series or not. (Turns out that they do.)
My return from Hong Kong was not so good. I ended up kicking the wall in the guesthouse because of a dream I was having, and then woke up rather sooner yesterday morning than I wanted to to find it was absolutely tipping down outside for the first time. The rest of the week had been grey and cool with very, very slight drizzle, but I had had no cause to use an umbrella until then. Got to the airport and had to wait in an enormously long queue. The arrival of the plane was a little delayed, but it was slight. When we got on the plane, the weather seemed to have worsened again. The clouds had been sitting low on the hills of Lantau Island, disappeared behind a curtain of heavy rain, and then reappeared.
We taxied out to the runway and sat watching huge clouds of water being thrown up as planes came in to land. And there we sat for quite some time, the word being that the weather was against us. Just as I began wondering whether we might head back to the terminal building, the pilot announced that he’d decided to return because the plane needed refuelling. As the ground crew did that, we had lunch and continued to sit around until we left at 3.30pm, three and a half hours after our scheduled departure time. In other words, I spent over five hours on the plane.
I’m pleased to say that the IMDb is viewable once again. Speaking of movies, I watched Avatar the evening I left. How the hell that pile of witless shite made so much money I don’t know, but can only attribute it to the visual effects if you can see it in 3D. It was so long and dull that I went off and had a shower. Technology, bad; Colonel Mecha Gargamel, bad; giant smurfs and creatures with more eyes and legs than they need, good.
I’m not so pleased to note that when I got back yesterday evening, I found that the C-store next to the gate has gone. That’s a nuisance because it stocked things that foreigners want where the shop inside the entrance is basically a Chinese affair. Where am I going to find my Smoovlatté now? The Kedi back along the street where the prices are utterly mercenary?
Anyway, it’s time to go and do some shopping and have lunch.