Clarity if not enlightenment

Rain and typhoons?

While Beijing has been washed down the drains and Hong Kong has been blown out into the South China Sea (where it bolsters spurious imperial claims to the region), we’ve had nothing but a string of clear sunny days with fluffy white clouds chased about by the wind. I assume that the weather systems to the north and south have been contriving to give us some decent, but rather hot (35°) weather. It’s been clear enough to see the hill to the east without having to squint through a curtain of haze, and as I write this, there’s not a cloud to be seen in the sky from my place.

I suppose I ought to make the most of it.

It reminds me of the summer when I first came to Wuxi, which was such a contrast to the typically cloudy weather of Chengdu. It also reminds me of summer in Hong Kong a couple of years ago when it was clearer than I’ve ever seen it.

There’s still much of the summer left to go, and yet it seems like an age has passed since term ended. I do mind a little bit that I’m still here, and yet in other ways I don’t. I’ve got things done that holidays would otherwise interrupt.

But there goes the rice cooker announcing that it’s teatime.

In which Mr Bamboo eats a rice burger

Yes, a rice burger.

After Yamazaki let me down today, I thought I’d go to Mos Burger, which is the new eatery downstairs in 远东百货. I queued up and got my tray, iced tea (just the thing for this time of year), and my number, and went to find a table. That wasn’t so difficult, but finding a table which had been cleared of the mess left by the previous occupants was more difficult. Unlike KFC where they swoop in and remove the tray before the chicken has even stopped clucking, the staff in Mos Burger were somewhat tardy about tidying up. Probably they need more people on duty.

The atmosphere was typical of your average Chinese restaurant – loud and grating. I tried to listen to some music on my phone, but instantly gave up because I couldn’t hear anything without turning the volume up to deafening levels.

Since the place was quite busy, I wasn’t expecting instant service and probably got my meal about five to ten minutes later. This consisted of a deep-fried chicken leg, which was rather hot, but came in a bag which allowed me to hold it, and the burger itself, which was nicely wrapped up.

The latter was a rice burger. In affect, it’s a kind of open burger where the rice is like the bun. In fact, it’s really just a rice dish folded in half. However, I didn’t realise that it was a rice burger until it started falling apart when I started eating it. The burger was in the corner of the envelope and if there’s a technique to eating one of these things without making a mess, I didn’t discover it. Actually, chopsticks should be supplied as standard. This isn’t a hold-in-your-hand meal.

I had the pork burger. It was, I’ll be honest, nothing special.

I happened to go past Yamazaki on the way out. There, to my annoyance, was my usual lunch, but by then it was too late.

BBC News – The search for photos of China’s past

BBC News – The search for photos of China’s past.

This is an interesting article about photos of a China which has largely gone. It’s the loss of the old which has motivated me to take photographs because even in my three years in Wuxi, much has vanished and I’ve often wondered whether any the locals have bothered to record old neighbourhoods before they’ve got demolished.

Unfortunately, my pictures are all contemporary so that the rickshaws and the traditional styles of dress or the sedan chairs are nowhere to be seen. But perhaps in some cases that’s not such a bad thing.

Wagner the Werewolf

By George W.M. Reynolds

Having served Faust for 18 months, the elderly Fernand Wagner is granted great wealth and handsomeness, but the price he must pay is to turn into a wolf for a night at the end of each month. His first flight through the countryside in wolf form leads him into trouble, not because he happens to kill some child, but because the resulting bloodstains connect him superficially to the murder of his granddaughter, Agnes to whom he had revealed himself earlier in the book. The murderer is actually Nisida of Riverola, the beautiful and imperious, but supposedly deaf and dumb sister of Francisco, the Count of Riverola, who has just inherited the title. She has fallen in love with Wagner, but believing Agnes to be a rival, kills her in clod blood. However, the events which lead to Wagner’s arrest were witnessed by Stephano Verrina, the captain of the local banditti who can’t help but fancy a woman who is both beautiful and homicidal.

Wagner is duly condemned and Nisida, who tries to use the banditti, falls foul of them, and the pair end up on a desert island in the Mediterranean, thus enabling Reynolds to spend a gratuitously long chapter about Nisida taking baths in the sea. There on the island, the Devil tempts Wagner several times, but is resisted on each occasion. Nisida is rescued by a character from the other half of this story and returned to Florence while Wagner receives divine aid and gets help from the Rosicrucians.

The other half of the story is about the Count of Riverola and his love for Nisida’s maid, Flora Francatelli. Nisida arranges for her to be confined to a dreaded Carmelite convent where she’s joined by Giulia, the unfaithful Countess of Arestino. However, Nisida’s plan goes awry because Manuel d’Orsini, Giulia’s lover, employs the banditti to raid the convent and the pair are rescued, but the destruction of the institution follows and no one is thought to have survived. Flora’s brother, Alessandro, is the secretary to the Florentine ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, but is recruited to the dark side, and having encountered a hot babe in the bazaar, rises to the post of Grand Vizier and marries the emperor’s sister, Aischa, who was the hottie he met at the market. But he neglects Aischa, who complains to her mother, who has the frighteners put on Alessandro (now called Ibrahim) by having his new mistress, Calanthe, murdered.

Because of an encounter with the Count of Riverola during the siege of Rhodes, Ibrahim learns that his sister and aunt are in danger, but having rescued Nisida during his passage to Florence, he allows her to learn of his purpose, and she also discovers what happened to Calanthe, who was the sister of Ibrahim’s trusted Greek servant, Demetrius, who learning the truth from Nisida, plots against his master although it ultimately thwarted.

Ibrahim turns up in force outside Florence and the Francatellis are reunited along with Manuel and Isachaar the Jew, who got caught up in the relationship between Manuel and Giulia. (She, on the other hand, was tortured to death by the Inquisition; but her husband, who was so vengeful, was struck down by Manuel.)

With Nisida’s machinations revealed, the Count marries Flora and they hasten to the closest to which his father instructed him to go the moment he got married. Early in the story, Nisida had already looked inside the chamber and read the manuscript which her father had left telling his own tragic tale. Inside the closet are two skeletons. One is the dead Count’s wife, Vitangela, and the other is her brother, Eugenio, who was thought to be her lover and Francisco’s father, whom the old Count had killed. When Wagner sees the two skeletons, his curse is broken and he turns back into an old man and dies. The dying Nisida also tells her story, that all her actions were done as a promise to her dying mother so that Francisco might be able to inherit his father’s title, and so that she might stop him from marrying beneath his station to prevent the tragedy of Vitangela and Eugenio from being repeated. Nisida duly dies and is laid to rest beside Wagner.

Meanwhile, Ibrahim continues to serve the Ottoman Empire and Manuel d’Orsini renounces Christianity, rising high in the Turkish government. But fifteen years later, Demetrius manages to poison the emperor against Ibrahim, who is assassinated.

The plot of Wagner the Werewolf is tighter and much better controlled than that of its rambling contemporary, Varney the Vampyre. It is, perhaps, the saving grace of the story because Reynolds does himself no favours with his penny-per-word style which frequently tries the reader’s patience and often tends to be at its worst where some significant information is being imparted. Reynolds is also repetitive at times, especially when he uses a new word, which he then repeats a few lines later. For about the first half of Wagner the Werewolf, he has his characters frequently ejaculating (Wagner, Nisida, evil elderly nuns) all over the place, but the word then almost entirely vanishes. Either Reynolds reined himself in or someone had a quiet word.

Ultimately, Wagner the Werewolf seems to be a story of redemption and romance. It has plenty of Gothic elements (banditti, convents, skeletons, dark secrets, a werewolf), but not much of a Gothic atmosphere. Wagner’s lycanthropy is almost entirely incidental after the first occasion and although in the guise of the wolf he is a bestial monster, the rest of the time he is a decent chap.

Reynolds’ relationship with religion is ambiguous. As the introduction observes, he seems to have been an atheist. Wagner’s Christian redemption contrasts with the cruelty of the Carmelite nuns and the Inquisition. (Wagner never enters a church and his particular brand of Christianity is never made explicit.) Alessandro (Ibrahim) becomes a Muslim to further his own ends, but here Reynolds hints that he remains a Christian at heart, which further characterises his contrary nature. (Alessandro is never really presented as a thoroughly bad person for neglecting Aischa or his plan to have his way with Nisida, but he is an opportunist.) Manuel d’Orsini also converts to Islam, but this is a reaction to the cruelty of the Inquisition. Isachaar the Jew is treated sympathetically by Reynolds. Unlike other authors who would have killed or converted the Jew, he does not have him renounce his faith, and again, in contrast with the Inquisition, Isachaar is welcomed by Ibrahim and treated with decency. It is possible that Reynolds had a general antipathy to Christianity, and a more particular one to Catholicism, and was playing to his audience with the redemption of Wagner.

Wagner’s relationship with Nisida is the great love story in the book, but there’s ambiguity there as well because ultimately he is God’s agent against her. She ends up being one of the temptations which the Devil places in front of Wagner (although not before he has had a lot of sex with her), and he resists her blandishments as well. Wagner dies as a consequence of being redeemed and Nisida redeems herself while dying and, as the reader might expect, they are buried together.

On the other hand, Flora Francatelli, who gets little page time beyond her confinement in the nunnery, is a more conventional Victorian heroine with her Cinderella story. There is a wider parallel here, too, because Francisco and Flora, who are inherently good and who live happily ever after, contrast with Wagner and Nisida, who have something dark about them and die.

Overall, Wagner the Werewolf is a vexing story because the plot is cleverly constructed, but the style is, for a 21st century audience, tedious and windy. Mind you, if anyone has managed to get through the (current) entirety of the directionless Song of Fire and Ice series by George Martin, 191,000 words in a single volume by Reynolds won’t be that great an obstacle.

Harmonising KFC?

Or just pandering to the Mainlanders?

When I first went to Hong Kong, I found that the menu at KFC was different from the one on the Mainland. They had cross-cut chips and teriyaki chicken burgers, and I wished that such things would find their way to the other side of the border. The exception, as I believe I mentioned in an entry several years ago, was a KFC in Kowloon City, which had the Mainland menu. Three or four years ago when I was back in Hong Kong, I went to one of the KFCs in Kowloon, either the one on Cameron Road or the one near the Peninsula Centre on the other side of Chatham Road South. I fancied a teriyaki chicken burger, but, alas! got a Mainland menu instead.

At the time I thought the menu had been harmonised for the sake of convenience. But I was thinking about this this morning in the light of having read a blog or two about Hong Kong in recent days, which mentioned the vast number of tourists flooding in from the Mainland, and wondered whether this change was to cater to Mainland tastes. On the other hand, I haven’t been to one of the more outlying KFCs in the Territory in quite some time, and thus can’t say whether this has only affected branches in the Kowloon tourist trap.

But even here there’s been a shift in the menu, which has started to include traditional-style rice dishes similar to the sort of fare that Linda and I would have at CFC in Chengdu now and then. It doesn’t appear that the standard menu is about to vanish any time soon or that KFC was worried about losing market share to 永和大王. (At certain times of the day, it’s better to 袋走 [das stimmt?] than it is to try and find a seat.) I have tried one of these new additions to the menu, but I found the quantity too much, and if I remember correctly, the dish was ultimately nothing special.

Google+ goes wild

All right, there’s a slight spike.

When Google+ kicked off, I seemed to be alone. Then I made a few friends. Wil Wheaton is one of them, but as he’s a social media slut, I don’t think he means it. But it didn’t take long for the requests to grind to a halt, by which time I wasn’t bothering with Google+ anyway. As with Face­book, I’ve never understood the point of social media because I’d much rather see my friends in person; and if I can’t, they can read my blog.

Anyway, Google+ was apparently dying if you believed The Register. But suddenly the number of requests has gone from occasional to frequent in the past couple of weeks. The question which I’m obviously going to ask is why this has happened. Academic year over, students with nothing to do? Official orders to Chocolate Factory minions to swell the ranks of G+? Who knows?

[12.08.14. It’s been awhile since I last saw any stories about the decline and possible demise of G+, which I find less interesting than Facebook be­cause it’s a sludgy mess of random, often repeated stories. It’s a bit like a lucky dip, but it just doesn’t grab me.]

You can say whatever we tell you to

Or, The Heir Apparent and the ex-PM.

I got up this morning to find a news item on the BBC about the Empire blocking the Bloomberg website. I wasn’t at all surprised to find that the article on the BBC site was also blocked. Talk about a red rag to a bull. I just had to open channel D and find out what was going on.

The fuss was about an article on Bloomberg detailing (as far as possibly) the wealth of the family of the heir apparent, who himself is outwardly squeaky clean while the rest of the clan have millions, including some place in Repulse Bay in Hong Kong. (I know exactly where, too.)

Contrast this story, which will be rigorously suppressed on the Mainland, with the tale of the former Dear Leader, Mr T. Blair, and his tax affairs published in The Guardian. (Tony Blair insists that he does not avoid paying tax.) The two stories are about politicians trying to at least hide their wealth and information about it. In one case, the state connives to aid such concealment; in the other, the press can report such a thing provided the facts have been checked and nothing inappropriate has been said. The Empire and the UK may share a few too many things in common (secret­ive government obsessed with controlling the people; surveillance state), but here’s one point where the two differ in what people may know about their former and future leaders.

It’s also ironic that the Empire aids and abets Blair as well because The Guardian website is blocked beyond the front page.

I’ve finally seen a picture of CY Leung, the new Chief Executive of Hong Kong, who looked to me like the very model of an oily imperial governor. I expect that sooner or later he might be badly photoshopped into some picture where he floats, godlike, above some anonymous stretch of road as his oily counterparts often do on the Mainland.

Time to open channel D.