Who needs night at night

When you can have it during the day?
 
wuxi_storm02 Around 1.15pm I noticed that it’d got very dark outside, and shortly afterwards an almighty thunderstorm arrived with lightning and torrential rain. The picture is before the worst of it arrived and the sky was looking quite dramatic.
 
I used the camera to video a couple of minutes as the rain got so heavy that the 红豆 building vanished from view. I also captured a lightning strike, which seems to have hit the ground not far beyond the building site.
 
The worst part is that we’re meant to be at school about 2pm, and the rain is showing no signs of easing or the storm abating. Looks like I’m going to have to don the world’s least effective pair of overtrousers.
 
Just to be ironic, there’s still no hot water and hasn’t been any since last night.
 
wuxi_storm03 Later. It was still pouring with rain as I left, and causing severe surface flooding as a result. I thought I’d try to get to school by riding my bike on the pavement, but parts of that were blocked by flooding and I took the normal route to school. I did venture up the street behind Aierma, but when I got to the end, I saw two cars with water up to their axles, and abandoned that idea.
 
Now that I look at the video a little more closely, the lightning strike actually hit the 红豆 building, although the camera seems to have done something a little odd, which made it look like the lightning had hit the ground near the building site.
 
I took the second picture on the way home from school from which the aftermath of the storm can be seen. This is down one of the back streets around 香谢 because the road in front of the intersection was still too badly flooded for me to traverse.
 
As for the visit from the police, that was mercifully brief. I caused a flurry of discussion when I asked the one question which the police don’t seem to have considered. They seemed to work solely on the assumption that when foreigners have visitors, those visitors are other foreigners. I asked what the situation was if a Chinese person came from elsewhere in the country to visit me. The answer, after much consultation, was that if that person is here more than three days, they need to be registered, and if they’re here more than a month, they need to get a permit.
 
We were also told that there are 10,000 foreigners in Wuxi, although I have to wonder where they all are.
 
The good news when I got home was that the hot water is back.

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The Unbearable Lightness of Scones

By Alexander McCall Smith.
Matthew and Elspeth get married and go to Australia for their honeymoon, where he rather foolishly goes for a nocturnal swim, is dragged out to sea by a rip tide, and is saved by a dolphin, though no one believes this last part. He also learns that his true father may be his Uncle Jack. After he gets back to Scotland, he helps identify a portrait of Robbie Burns painted by Henry Raeburn, which Lard O’Connor claims he inherited from an aunt. After Lard dies of a heart attack while they’re arriving at Big Lou’s, the boys decide to rescue the painting for the nation.
Angus gets dumped with the puppies which resulted from Cyril’s brief tryst with another dog, and find it hard to dispose of them until someone takes all six off his hands. Domenica had Angus filch the Spode cup from Antonia’s flat only for her to discover that Antonia has her own Spode cup. When Angus returns the cup, he learns that Antonia is a dealer, but her supplier is an old friend of Angus’s, and the product is marmalade.
Bruce is still engaged to Julia Donald until a dinner party leads to the truth being revealed. The baby is not Bruce’s after all, but that also means that he loses his job and the Porsche. He lands on his feet when he gets the chance to be the Face of Scotland until it turns out that Julia’s father is in charge of the project. Bruce learns to cry and goes back to Raeburn Todd where he admits his past shortcomings.
After Stuart stands up to Irene, Bertie gets to join the Cubs even although he’s under age. Tofu and Olive also join, and Olive is immediately made a sixer. While they’re out on an expedition, they help Ian Rankin find out who was responsible for shooting an arrow at him which penetrated his sleeve. Unfortunately, Rankin fails to take Bertie’s advice, and ends up signing up to the Royal Company of Archers before he finds out that it’s going to cost him £5000. In the end, Olive is demoted after some duplicity on Tofu’s part. Bertie also starts seeing his new therapist, but he puts his foot in it and has the man thinking that he really does have problems.
Big Lou still has man problems when she finds herself playing host to the francophone Pretender, who wreaks havoc wherever he goes. He and Lou’s boyfriend, Robbie, are eventually detained (under the Mental Health Act) while rowing in a boat and dressed as women as they re-enact the flight of the Young Pretender.
I think I’ll be taking a long break from 44 Scotland Street. As I’ve said in entries about other books in the series, it’s probably better to read this on a daily basis in The Scotsman rather than sequentially in a book. It probably also means a great deal more to the readers of that paper and the inhabitants of Edinburgh than it does to the rest of us. I realised that the series is a domestic soap opera, being Eastenders or Coronation Street set in Edinburgh, but having more humour. However, I’m not a fan of dom­estic soap operas, hence I’ve never really taken to 44 Scotland Street.
On the other hand, I’m curious to know how the new Bruce will fare, and whether the man who relieved Angus of the puppies might’ve had an ulterior motive.
But overall, I’ve finished with 44 Scotland Street for the time being.

Time well spent

Irony and sarcasm – two for the price of one.
My Porsche 911 GT3 (Matchbox) Peter insisted that we should turn up at school horrifically early yester­day morning. What hap­pen­ed? No­thing until well after 10.00am when we finally had our meeting. The re­sults of that are that I’m teaching PAL 2 and 3, and both AS classes (i.e., my little darlings from last year). In a change from the advertised programme, I’ll be spared any A2 teaching, which means that I’ll never have to deal with the old AS1 class. Mind you, I have the new AS2 class (i.e., last year’s PAL 2 class) which has more than its fair share of vegetables.
I’ll be seeing the PAL classes five times a week each and the AS classes four times a week. No actual change, and the advantage is that I’ve already taught the material and have the lesson plans.
We didn’t have to go to school quite so early this morning, but having sat around for two hours, waiting to go over to the library for the textbooks, we were eventually informed that it wasn’t going to be happening, to which Peter added that I may as well stay away until next Monday.
(By the way, the picture has no relevance to the entry.)

It’s Britain, Jim, but not as we know it

London elegance come to Wuxi.
 
wuxi_knightsbridge A few months ago a sign went up on the building beside the hotel on the corner of 县前街 and 解放路 announcing the Knightsbridge Department Store. I noticed two or three days ago that it had opened for business and was curious to see whether it was any different from any other department store in China. Answer. No. It was the usual sort of thing. It had lots of signs up proclaiming its London pedigree, but bore no particular resemblance to any actual Knightsbridge department store. It was just another clothing mall with all the usual brands in the usual order.
 
I then went to the Carrefour on 清扬路, which I’ve passed several times, but never visited. It’s sort of like the Carrefour on 八宝街 in Chengdu compared to the one in the Fortune Centre there, being somewhat larger than the one in Baoli, although everything is on a single floor. There is a little more variety, including that coffee I used to drink, which has completely disappeared from everywhere else, and Weetabix, which I also used to be able to get in the Baoli branch, but no longer. The tuna in spring water also seemed cheaper.
 
Like yesterday, it started sunny and eventually clouded over. By the time I went to Walmart, it was raining a little and there were a few rumbles of thunder, all of which came to nothing. It was also quite humid this afternoon, and I’m inclined to believe that the weather forecast from Baidu, claiming that temperatures would still be in the mid thirties, wasn’t wildly inaccurate.

Sunset over Hui Shan

Serendipitous snappery.
 
wuxi_hui_shan_sunset As I was heading back over the bridge from tea this evening, I happened to catch the sun just sitting on the edge of 惠山 as it was setting after another clear, sunny day decorated lightly with cloud. I took a snap with my phone and wished that I had had my camera with me, although I’m not sure that the picture would’ve been any better for it.
 
There was no cloud in the east this evening, hence no picture like yesterday’s to be had.

There yesterday

Gone today.
 
If Vasco da Gama got off the plane right now [Er, wasn’t he a 15th century mariner? –ed.], he would have no inkling that we’d had an almighty great thunderstorm yesterday. Yesterday it was grey and cloudy; today, bright clear and sunny.
 
As I promised yesterday, here are the Porsches I drive in Need for Speed: Most Wanted.
 
Porsche Cayman SMW Nippy enough and not bad on corners, but tends to be twitchy.
Porsche 911 Carrera SMW Feels a little slow accelerating from a stop, and can also slide around a lot, but the engine noise is creamy.
Porsche 911 Turbo SMW The livery on this car is based on one I’ve seen on a real Porsche. The other version is orange bodywork and a black racing flag. As I said yesterday, this has phenomenal acceleration, and the handling is a great deal more stable than the other two Porsches.
 
Part of the mechanics of the game is altering the appearance and colour schemes of the cars to bamboozle PC Plod as he attempts to nick you. Thus I can drive like a maniac and be artistic without spending £130,000 on a car.
 
I’m middle-aged. I’m a fantasist. You’ve been a great audience. Good night.

I rode into that one

Rain doubt? No, rained out.
 
Yesterday's thunderstorm in Wuxi. The air was very grey around midday, and needing to go shopping at Carrefour, I scurried off hoping that I could get there and back while downloading Adobe Reader 9 and avoiding any inclement weather. I had been checking my Firefox plugins and hoping that the update would fix problems I’ve had viewing pdf documents, which I’ve been unable to do unless Acrobat is running at the same time. I wonder whether it has something to do with Acrobat 8, which seems to take precedence over Adobe Reader.
 
I’d just got to the checkout in Carrefour when I heard a rumble which I thought might be the result of some activity upstairs, but when I got to the entrance to Baoli, it was already clear that it was pissing down and another thunderstorm was passing over the city. (See picture for yesterday’s downpour.) I did have my umbrella with me, but without my full regalia (viz., my North Face raincoat and leaky over-trousers), it would’ve been suicide to venture out. Instead, I took a turn around Baoli to while away the time.
 
There’s not much to say about Baoli that I haven’t said before. It is a mall full of pretentious shops. It has no bookshops; it has no music shops; it has no electronics shops, which I’d expect to find in any self-respecting mall. Even Harbour City in Hong Kong, which is in many ways the same thing writ large, has these kinds of shops beside the expensive clothing shops.
 
I eventually ended up looking out of the window above one of the entrance where a dragonfly suddenly alighted on the strings of lights in front of the window as it sought somewhere to shelter from the rain. I took a picture of it with my phone, but the dragonfly was within the camera’s shortest focal length and the image was blurred. It was not as interesting a specimen as the red dragonfly I once snapped.
 
Outside, I watched a woman selling umbrella to hapless cits who had forgotten theirs. She seemed to be reasonably successful, but I did wonder whether people who declined her offer were thinking of all the umbrellas which they already owned, and their reluctance to add to that bloated collection. The seller was nothing new. It seems that any time it rains in China, umbrellas and people selling them will appear out of nowhere as if they were hiding in the bushes waiting for this very opportunity.
 
The sky this evening. Eventually, I decided to go and have lunch at Ajisen in the hope that while I was eating, the rain would subside or depart. It did subside, a bit, but my dash home was also accompanied by thunder (the Chinese weather gods were very flatulent today) and lightning. There was a little surface flooding on the way home, but not much.

Pictures, but not at an exhibition.
 
Our second picture in this entry is the sky early this evening probably not long after the sun had set behind 惠山. The thick, formless grey cloud had broken up enough to give the sky some character. As I remarked to Linda earlier, it wouldn’t surprise me when I look out of the window later this evening for the sky to be clear as it was last night and for the past few nights. I’ve even been able to see a star or two, and I think Saturn has been visible; not to mention the moon.
 
Now that I’m thinking about buying a new digital camera, I’ve been putting my present model, a Sony DSC-H5 through its paces. It’s been quirky to say the least. As I’ve said before, it makes pictures brighter than the scene actually is, and trying to get a picture which looks like what you see yourself is not easy. In fact, a picture I took out of the window last night was so processed (extreme settings, mind you) that you could see the redness of the tiles on the wall of the building in the final shot.
 
But I’ve also found that it has problems focusing. I tried a macro shot of some fake flowers in my flat, but when I took the picture, it was clear that the camera had focused on the wall behind and to the side of the flower. In a zoomed shot from the window last night I was trying to get the silhouette of a building behind which there was a green floodlight. I can only assume that the camera had insufficient information to find something on which to focus because the shot was blurred no matter what I tried.
 
Macro shots seem to reveal another side of this quirkiness. In AP mode, a low f. stop results in little depth of field, as I’d expect, but something in the mid range seemed to get pictures where the middle of the shot was in focus and the foreground and background blurred.
 
I’ve been trying all manner of menu options to see what effect they have as well. Low ISO numbers are better than high ones. I ought to know that, but it’s something I’d long since forgotten. The specialised settings such as twilight, portrait, etc. are all a bit of a waste of time as far as I can see.
 
Does this take me a step closer to buying a new camera? We’ll see.

Middle-aged man’s fantasies.
 
When I was young, I used to note when my Dad was suffering from middle-aged man’s fantasies. How his aged breast will swell with paternal pride to know that I’ve inherited such delusions. I’ve been playing a lot of Need for Speed: Most Wanted this summer, and decided that of all the cars in the game, I prefer the Porsches (except the Carrera GT, which is in the wrong game, I think). Oh, I know I fancied the Lamborghini Gallardo and the Murciélago, and I desired the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren (a twitchy tank which can turn on a sixpence), and I was generally uninterested in the Ford GT or the Corvette, but I found myself preferring the Porsches.
 
That took me to the Porsche website (UK) where they have a Flash-based tool which allows you to create your own Porsche. Thus in the spirit of being a middle-aged fantasist, I present my garage of Porsches.
 
Porsche Boxter S The Porsche Boxter S. Actually, I could probably buy one of these.
Porsche Cayman S The Porsche Cayman S. I might just be able to con, sorry, persuade the bank to give me a loan to buy one of these.
Porsche 911 Carrera S The Porsche 911 Carrera S. I have a pair of sunglasses, which I probably bought about quarter of a century ago, to go with this car. I started middle age early. Bloody expensive. The car in NFS: Most Wanted absolutely purrs like a Rolls Royce Merlin. (If you’ve ever heard a Spitfire, you’ll know what I mean.)
Porsche 911 GT3 RS The Porsche 911 GT3 RS. The car Bruce sniffed at as part of Julia Donald’s dowry. This starts at about £107,000. Not in NFS: Most Wanted.
Porsche 911 Turbo S The Porsche 911 Turbo S. About £127,000 to start with. My favourite car in NFS: Most Wanted. Amazing acceleration, and fully modded in the game, the car can hit around 387kmh.
 
Anyway, I’ll show you my Porsches in NFS: Most Wanted tomorrow. Let the middle-aged fantasies continue – but not all at once.

The World according to Bertie

By Alexander McCall Smith.
I feel increasingly sorry for Bertie and his suffering. He has no reliable friends at school and his mother makes him play with the odious Olive who uses a real syringe to extract a blood sample from Bertie and later telling him he has leprosy. On a family outing to Valvona and Crolla, Ulysses gets left behind. Irene instantly blames Stuart and when they recover the baby, Bertie finds that the child isn’t Ulysses – in fact, not a boy at all. But there needs to be some relief for Bertie from his dreadful mother or the picture of his life is too unremittingly bleak to be tolerable.
Matthew and Pat finally become an item, but Matthew has second thoughts and Pat has second thoughts after she believes she sees Bruce. Matthew even goes so far as to propose to Pat, but she merely says she’ll think about it, and when they break up, both parties are relieved. I’m not sure what to make of Matthew. If I was meant to feel sorry for him earlier in the series, I don’t have much sympathy for him now because he’s be­come irritating.
However, Matthew’s wish does come true in the end. Bertie’s teacher, Elspeth Harmony, pinches Olive’s ear after she hears about the incident with the syringe, and is suspended from her job (cherchez the dead hand of Irene) from which she then resigns. She meets Matthew by chance, hit it off, and he proposes
Angus Lordie fears that Cyril is for the chop after being detained for biting people. Thanks to Bertie, the police track down the real culprit. Un­for­t­un­ately, Cyril blots his copybook by shagging a neighbour’s dog and getting it pregnant, much to the chagrin of Angus’s intemperate neighbour who threatens to make the resulting puppies his responsibility.
Domenica is unhappy about Antonia’s decision to move into Bruce’s old flat, and even more annoyed when she finds that Antonia has wandered off with various possessions of hers. She also realises that Antonia is having an affair with the Polish builder, Markus, whose English doesn’t extend beyond the word “brick”. However, that’s a short-lived liaison in the end.
Big Lou has a new boyfriend, Robbie, who’s an ardent Jacobite, even although Lou thinks that  it’s all a bit of a waste of time as he and his fellow Jacobites await the arrival of some representative of King Francis, who lives in Austria and has no pretensions to reclaim the Scottish throne for the House of Stuart.
Porsche 911 GT3 RS And yes, Bruce is back, and falls straight into the clutches of Julia Donald, who allows herself to get pregnant and uses her father’s fin­an­cial muscle to make Bruce propose to her. How that’s going to last, I don’t know, but he does get a Porsche 911 GT3 as part of the bride’s dowry, which he sniffs at (idiot) before ac­cepting.
Because I’ve been reading the books in the series one after the other, the characters haven’t had the chance to hide behind a respite between series of 44 Scotland Street during which time readers forget what they were like. But because I’ve read the books in succession, I’ve found certain patterns emerging which make me wonder about the Scots, or at least the people of Edinburgh. I think Angus’s realisation that Domenica is a substitute mother says a lot about the female characters. Overall, I note that the male characters, excluding Bruce, are generally likeable, but often a little aimless (e.g. Matthew and Stuart). The female characters are generally maternal or aunt-like, ranging from the purely evil (Irene and Olive) to the more likeable (e.g. Big Lou and Domenica). Ultimately, characterisation seems to lack variety.
I also note that all the younger characters seem to have wealthy parents (thus, Matthew, Pat, and Julia). I also note that none of the older characters appear to have children apart from Irene and Stuart.

Educational horror

The A*s! The A*s!
Well, it’s time for the A-level results. That means it’s time to bewail that yearly social inequity, the uneven distribution of As. The Observer leads with Public schools to take lion’s share of new A* grades. The A* tends to be awarded to pupils who get >90% (although I believe the exact figure varies). It seems that every year there’s the usual hand-wringing about middle class pupils at good schools getting the best results while working class pupils etc. This is often followed by the lack of girls doing science subjects or engineering. In both instances the argument seems to be that group X contains an insufficient number of group Y because someone said so. No one ever seems to ask whether group Y is desperate to be a part of group X, or observes that some members of group Y might not have a snowball’s chance of becoming part of group X.
 
As for our little darlings, I’ve already seen the provisional results, although I don’t think that applies to the IGCSE or AS-level exams. The results in English seem to be all right. Most of the students in PAL classes got Bs and Cs, which makes me suspect that I overestimated their performance by about a grade. There was a fairly even bell curve of the kind that I’ve come to expect, but there were quite a number of U grades, which is about as close to a fail as you can get, and none of the lucky winners in that category had me gaping like a retarded goldfish which cannot understand why it cannot pass beyond the bounds of its bowl.
I’m not sure what kind of IELTS level a B or C might correspond to, but perhaps 4.5 to 5.5 might be about the right range. In other words, most of the little dears have moderate competence at intermediate level, but they’re not really ready for lower advanced and never will be.
 
I note, though, that the PAL classes got more As in Business Studies, and as for Maths and Physics, those were a mass of A* and A grades. How frightfully middle class my little darlings must be. No, they’re just good at subjects for robots.
It rained today, though not much. Second time we’ve had rain since I got back to Wuxi from my holidays. I keep waiting for more, but what little we’ve had hasn’t amounted to much. The weather seems to be utterly topsy-turvy, the winter being wet and miserable while the summer has been dry and hot. At the time of writing, it’s been raining again and I can see people sheltering in the pavilion on the island. If the variations in the weather were a little more regular, I might not mind, but as much as I like sunshine and warm weather, a little variety wouldn’t go amiss.

Dry martini days

Rain? Oh, that’s what a king or queen does. Isn’t it?
 
I had a mail message from Nick this morning wondering whether I’d been affected by the flooding (BBC story). Since the message informed me that it’d been dispatched via an iPhone, I assume that Nick has a new toy to play with or Kirsten does and he was allegedly trying it out. But to return to the meteorological theme with which this entry commenced, while Gansu Province has been badly hit by flooding, Wuxi has barely had any rain at all since I got back from my hols. It rained quite heavily a few days ago when we had three thunderstorms in one day, and although the clouds have gathered almost daily, usually during the course of the afternoon, nothing has come of them, and by mid to late evening, they’ve often dispersed again. The daily temperature range here has been 27° to 34°, though thankfully not too humid. The air has also been quite clear.
 
I see from the latest report on the Beeb that the situation in Gansu Province is possibly going to get worse with the approach of some tropical storm. I assume that the storm itself is responsible for pushing hot air our way. On the other hand, someone has been rescued after being trapped for 60 hours
 
In another story from the BBC, archaeologists have discovered Britain’s oldest house near Scarborough, which is roughly 10,500 years old.
The teams were congratulated by Universities Minister David Willetts: "This exciting discovery marries world-class research with the lives of our ancestors.
I wonder if this world-class research will attract world-class funding or whether Willetts is merely mocking the archaeologists’ hopes that they might get an increase in their grant for next year.
 
This entry on Danwei about an essay written by Hu Shi in 1959 caught my eye. As the introduction to the article notes, there are similarities between organised religion and totalitarian government. I’ve often thought that the Catholic church and the Party are similar in that they both think they’re infallible and are both intolerant of people who think differently. Orthodox good; heterodox bad. There’s also a link between Hu’s article and what Hume says about religious tolerance in the third volume of his History of England.
 
Hu recounts a story about John Calvin, whose reforms were a response to what he saw as the shortcomings of the Catholic church, labelling Michael Servetus a heretic for criticising him. The heretic (Calvin) saw no irony in having Servetus (another heretic; a meta-heretic?) burnt at the stake for daring to think for himself. In Chapter XXXVII of his work, Hume notes the effects of intolerance on zealots of various persuasions before discussing the persecutions of Mary’s reign. Those who do the persecuting are savage; those who are persecuted are typically self-indulgent martyrs.
 
I like Hu’s line when he says
Their prohibition of deistic religions reveals the same childish, arrogant, and intolerant attitude that pervaded the country fifty years ago.
Plus ça change…