All right, where’s spring?

I know I put it somewhere.
In spite of the imminence of April and the presence of flowers, the weather continues to be anything but spring-like. It was slightly humid today, but looked like it could rain, and then like it couldn’t. At lunchtime there was that dark grey haze enveloping the city, but it didn’t last long. Meanwhile in Chengdu, Linda tells me it’s been padded jacket weather.
At school we’re heading for the mock exams next month and the real speaking exams. We’re currently reducing the amount of English for the AS classes so that they have extra indolence and snoozing time. Did I write that out loud? I probably meant to say “study time”. I feel sorry for the lecturers and tutors who’ll have to put up with the nitwits from AS1 and their feeble attempts to use the English language to undergraduate standard. All right, so they won’t have any problems in that case and their lecturers won’t notice the difference. Meanwhile, I’d say PAL2 will be worthy heirs to AS1 next year.
At the moment, I’m just going through the motions. I’m bored with the IGCSE ESL course. It just doesn’t have the range of other EFL courses because the book is really just a bunch of exam questions loosely disguised as EFL. I agree with the powers that be that we should stick with this for the PAL classes, but there is only a limited number of questions in the exam paper.
I’ve been having temporal issues today in that I have no idea what the time is. My PC at school says one thing, my watch says another, the clocks in the classrooms say something else, and Google has something different again.
I finally bought some more DVDs last weekend. It wasn’t intentional, but I happened to be roaming aimlessly around the town for nothing better to do when I found that I was near the DVD shop. I bought the fourth series of Dexter, which I’m watching, An Education, and Archer. The last of these is an animated Bond parody. It’s amusing enough, adult, but not especially original. Sterling Archer works for the secret organisation ISIS, which is run by his domineering mother. His father might be the head of the KGB or the head of rival organisation, ODIN. His hot former girlfriend is bonking the office nerd, and his secretary likes to be strangled while she’s having sex. Archer himself is oafish and insensitive, and has got his Mexican maid pregnant on numerous occasions.
OK, I’m even more bored now, and I’m writing this.

Back by popular demand

Though no one actually asked for it.
The dust storm which hit Beijing last week got as far as Hong Kong and seems to have blown Google there with it. Since then, the weather has gone from grey and depressing to grey, foul and depressing with an endless stream of rain for the past two days. That means lots of surface flooding and the chain on my bike slipping on the cog. I need to get at least two if not three links taken out of it because it’s prone to jumping off the rear cog even on slight bumps and rain obviously makes the entire assembly slippery.
As I noted above, Google has decamped to Hong Kong. Doesn’t appear to have made any difference as far as I can tell because the same sites are still blocked. I suppose you could do a phrase search via Google HK and slowly read the content of a site using the search results. Slow and tedious, and not worth the effort. Both sides sound like 小皇帝. Google: Waah! We don’t have all that much of the Chinese market. I mean, down with censorship. Nanny: Waah! Some foreign company thinks it’s exempt from Chinese regulations, which hurts the feelings of the Chinese people government.
I wonder, though, from where my iGoogle home page, which is the common or garden variety, happens to arrive on my screen; yet I suspect if I wanted to search for banned search terms, I’d still crash into some sort of techie impediment before I could get blocked by going to some website itself. I note that when I fired up the PC at school on Monday morning, Firefox’s default homepage was being sent to Google HK, though before that it’d been Google in English.
And speaking of Firefox, the update to 3.6.2, which was being touted for the end of the month to tackle some zero-day bug, has arrived early. That was probably to annoy the Germans who have now warned everyone to use neither IE nor Firefox. I’m sure that Opera will be rubbing its hands in glee – until the Germans suggest that people should stay away from Opera as well; and then Safari and Chrome.

A little dust up

All the way from Beijing.
The news from the BBC this morning is that there was a sandstorm in Beijing yesterday, although the dust covered quite a large part of northern China. We must’ve got the lightest particles if the edge of the storm got this far. Last night I noticed that my hair had a sticky, gritty feel.
This morning, the sun is shining in a watery sort of fashion, but it’s cool outside at the moment. Linda was telling me that there’d been more snow in Liaoning.
I’ve also changed the theme again this morning. Since I can only see the colour scheme of the pictorial themes for Spaces, I decided to switch to a plain theme. I assume that pictorial themes hurt Nanny’s feelings and are blocked for some reason. Possibly it’s because of the disparity between my actual location and the location I originally stated when I set this blog up, and because there have been subsequent changes in that relationship. In other words, the pictorial themes aren’t appearing for the same reason that I was unable to change some of the links in the sidebar a few months ago.

Fog or dust storm?

A little from Column A and a little from Column B.

As the day progressed, the fog got thicker and turned a sort of light yellow-ish brown colour. There is a slight hint of the reek of a Beijing dust storm, although not as pungent. Nonetheless, this doesn’t seem to be your common or garden Wuxi haze.

Yesterday, because it was quite warm outside, I opened the windows to try and let some of the warmth in. But I noticed, as I never really have before, just how noisy this place is. I didn’t just let warm air in, but also the incessant sound of car horns, which are noticeable because up here on the 15th floor, they come from all directions. I suppose that when they test cars for use in China, the horn is the one thing which gets put through the proverbial ringer. It has to endure excessive and unnecessary use, and sound as irritating as possible.

Down at Walmart last night I arrived to find the finishing touches being put to some very formal promotional gig being held by Buick. Probably all the invited guests were the corrupt officials and businessmen who can afford to buy cars. If you only left the cars driven by honest men and women on the roads of this country (excluding taxi drivers), then there’d be very few cars left in private hands. That wouldn’t be a bad thing because people here are appallingly bad drivers as I’ve noted previously. Fewer motorists might also make 青石路 safer and more tolerable. That was up to its usual low standards again as I headed home after tea.

Time to change again

Is this anti-aliasing I see before me?
I decided it was time to change the theme again. Not only that, but as I was looking through the themes, I noted that the text was being anti-aliased in some of them. That’s one of the things which has always bothered me about Spaces is that the font has always looked hideously blocky in IE 8, although Firefox does anti-alias the text. I don’t know why there should be such a difference or why this theme should be different from some of the others.
My main consideration was a theme with a plain white background, although I liked the colours in the da Vinci theme. However, I note that what I saw on the list of themes is not what I’m seeing when I visit the blog. There should be some background image, I think, but all I see is black. I also found, by chance, that it’s nearly a year to the day since I changed the theme.
In weather news, it’s warm and windy today with increasing amounts of grey haze. It was warmer yesterday than I was expecting it to be, and when I went over to the Xinhua Bookshop, I was a bit overdressed for the occasion.

High and low context cultures

EFL teaching can be educational.

The listening book we use with the AS classes contains a series of short lectures on a diverse range of topics. The latest one, which I found quite interesting, was about Edward T. Hall’s division of cultures into high-context and low-context.

In a high-context culture, the whole group shares a common culture so that the content of messages may be more implicit than explicit because the culture supplies the omissions. In such cultures, your family background may be an important factor in your dealings with others, and a person’s word is their bond. Such cultures also have a strong sense of history and tradition (all part of that shared cultural background) and change little over time. Thus, innovation, even when it doesn’t have a major impact on society, may be rare, and the culture is all about knowing knowledge rather than using it in novel ways. In a high-context culture, custom is more important than the law.

In a low-context culture, messages are more explicit and business is all about guarantees in writing (i.e., contracts). There are rules and procedures to be followed, and people are individuals who are responsible for themselves. These are societies in which the rule of law is important. Presumably a low-context culture is more innovative not just because change may come more readily, but because new ideas are more readily accepted.

Although a society will fall somewhere on the continuum between high- and low-context cultures, there appear to be no absolutes. For example, Old Boy Network or Old School Tie cultures are high-context because a person is accepted without question on account of their background and what it implies about that person. Probably when a person is part of a specific group, they will be in a high-context situation, but if society in general is a low-context culture, they will switch codes. I suppose I’ve done that with phonology. With other phonologists I know what we’re talking about, but with outsiders, I need to be more explicit.

China is obviously a high-context culture, and now that I know a little about such cultural classifications, I can now understand why people behave as they do. I have been aware of aspects of high-context culture here such as the flouting of laws about, say, fireworks and spitting because these are customs which no legislation is ever going to stop. There were a couple of occasions when I forgot to take my wallet when I went to High Fly, but there was very little fuss about it because they knew me there. Of course, the same might be true for regular customers at restaurants in Western countries. The obsession with knowledge but the absence of any critical thinking is another element of a high-context culture. Similarly, the government’s paranoia about heterodox ideas and the blocking of large chunks of the Internet is another manifestation of high-context culture.

Although both types of cultures have their strengths and their weaknesses, I can’t help but suspect that high-context societies are more likely to have dictatorial governments or if they are democratic, a tendency for one party to be in power for decades (e.g. Japan). I hypothesise that a survey of high-context cultures would reveal that when there is a change of government, it comes through the violent removal of the previous regime, and that the only real change is the people in power not the system itself. In such societies, the opportunities for the abuse of power and corruption are rife because there’s no third party (i.e., the law) to impartially guarantee someone’s rights. That’s not to say that low-context cultures are free from such abuses, but these shortcomings are definitely a prevalent feature in China, not just today, but for much of the country’s history. I can’t see how China will ever be an advanced or developed nation by 2050 without some sort of cultural shift along the continuum away from the high-context end.

Those mysterious place names

In full.
The name of the street which runs along the east side of the school is 香榭路 (Xiāng Xiè Lù). The character 榭 means “pavilion or house on a terrace” and is not part of charmap’s pinyin Chinese character set. I had to use the radical lookup to find it. I assume that it’s not in common use, which is why looking up “pavilion” in the dictionary didn’t help.
Of course, to be more exact, the street in question might not be 香榭路, which may end at the intersection, but I’ve never seen any of the blue address plaques on the buildings at that end of the street, not even the more substantial ones.
Some of the shops down there are still operating and signs have been painted on the concrete block walls to let people know, but I assume that they’ll also be 拆ed in due course. The walls are a blasted nuisance in one way because they limit your line of sight on the street as it curves down to 人民西路, and there’s much less room for the idiot motorists to get past each other.
The weather is supposedly set to improve so much this week that it’ll be 23° on Friday. I’ll believe that when I see it.
‘Shakespeare’s lost play’ no hoax, says expert, which is all well and good, but when you read the article, it’s the claim that a play by Lewis Theobald (Alexander Pope’s absolutely favouritest thesp) is based on the lost Cardenio. In other words, this isn’t actually a copy of some lost work by Shakespeare, though bits of it might be Shakespeare’s own words.

Irony turns up

And she’s brought coffee.
I went to Gizma for tea tonight and ordered the spicy chicken pizza. I’m not sure that’s what appeared in front of me, but it was edible. The pizza there has improved, although it still falls short of what High Fly offers. Afterwards I went to Walmart for a little shopping.
As you may recall, I finished off their supply of U-Yo coffee and bought some more from Tesco, which remains the only source of it that I’m currently aware of. As for Smoovlatté, I haven’t been back to that branch of C-Store to see whether they have any more. Anyway, I went down to Walmart in search of the Pocky Mousse (dessert; honest). The shelves had been re-arranged and seeing none, I went to see what the coffee situation was. No U-Yo, but there was a whole stack of Smoovlatté.
I should’ve known that this would happen. But I’ll probably eventually buy it all and then go back to Walmart a few days later not only to find U-Yo on the shelf again, but more than one flavour. (I haven’t seen the caramel macchiato flavour in ages.)
Demolition work has resumed along the far end of the street on the east side of the school. (I know the name is something like Fragrant Pavilion Street, but I can’t remember the Chinese for it. The second character has the 木 radical, but I can’t recall the rest.) The workers have also started erecting concrete block walls as they did on the street along the north side of the school grounds. I’d say the latter has a direct connection to the school, but I’m not sure about the former.
(Nothing about the weather? Clear, sunny, reasonably mild. In fact, it’s clear enough to see the stars tonight in spite of some thin haze and copious quantities of light pollution.)

And having had one thing

We’re now having the other.
It snowed heavily again at about 4.00pm and then at 4.30pm while the sun shone weakly in the background, and at the end of the day there was nothing to show for it. Not a flake had survived probably because it was too dry so that the flakes were hitting something, dissolving at once, and leaving nothing behind.
This morning, it was all change with clear skies and sunshine, although a little cloud has started to appear since then. Although it was cold overnight (the duck pond outside Aierma must’ve frozen over), the sun has felt quite pleasant.
On the other hand, this morning’s international weather news is that snow hit north-east Spain (sorry, I mean Catalunya) and bothered settling.
Oh well, I don’t mind that the snow here was so transitory because the aftermath can be a mess when it turns to black slush.
But what’s the weather going to do tomorrow?

Weird weather watch

The saga continues.
wuxi_snow03 There was a brief burst of sunshine this morning, but noting the copious quantities of cloud and sensing the gelid conditions, I wasn’t expecting this to be prolonged or even warming. I turned my back on the outside world for a few minutes, looked out the window just when I was about to head to school and found that it was raining. It was the sort of rain that comes in sheets and seems to resemble the tips of clouds scraping along the ground. When I got outside, though, I found that it was actually snowing lightly and just to be ironic, the sun was also shining.
I went to 永和大王 for lunch, got out, and found myself in a mini-blizzard. About five minutes later or so I’m home. I’m still in the blizzard, but the sun is shining again. Right now it’s snowing lightly (a few minutes later, heavily), there’s no sun (more than a few minutes later there was more sunlight), and if the snow gets heavier (which it now has become; see picture), it’ll start to settle because the ground has been drying out.
Another few minutes have passed and the snow has now gone, and what is unclear in the picture above is now clear once again.
Winter 2009-10 is now winning the prize for longest, worst winter in China ever. It’s not as cold as that first winter in 2002-03, but since I’m expecting winter to last to the end of the month, the season will’ve been five months long by the time it’s done.