Working from home at the weekend?

Sir, yes sir!

Well, all right. If you like. I have an American student in PAL 2 who needs to be doing native-speaker English and not the pale (but practical) shadow of the English language which is the mainstay of the IGCSE ESL course. Fred and I decided to have her read Heart of Darkness.

I thought I’d (be a good boy and) go online in search of study questions for the book, but apart from brief visits to the usual sites (thisnotes and thatnotes), I was getting nowhere and I’m not sure why. At best the sites were only loading in part, but seemed to be tripping up on ad. serving which, failing to get through, was jamming everything up.

There was a story on the Register which said that Google had had some problems, which may be why Google Reader and Google Bookmarks were misbehaving (more with Firefox than with Chrome). The fault is supposed to have been fixed, but that doesn’t seem to have happened in the Empire where Reader has been there one moment and gone the next.

Of course, the current dog turd in the imperial soup bowl is the story about the obscenely huge amounts of lolly which Wen Jiabao’s family is supposed to have made, which has led to all or some of the NYT website being blocked. I had thought that that might be why Reader wasn’t working, but I don’t know.

Actually, that’s what’s bothering me: my ignorance. If I knew what was causing the problem, I might be able to find a solution or at least know and accept that there’s no solution. Instead, I get more and more annoyed as a consequence of my frustration. Instead, I’m more likely to start blaming Nanny when the mad old bat may not be responsible.

As for the big China story, I’ve long wonder how much the boys at the top might have. I knew it would be large sums, but I didn’t know how much. I don’t know why anyone’s really that bothered about it. It’s been happening in China since forever. If my sources aren’t unreliable, eunuchs used to set fire to imperial palaces and make a killing on the insurance and the rebuilding. In other words, the Wen family is following an age-old practice. It doesn’t excuse them, but it’s the way things are here.

It would probably be better if the Party embraced corruption as part of the Empire’s culture and stopped feigning horror every time it became public knowledge. A little more “Yeah, whatever” and a little less “Think of the children!” Since everyone knows the Party boys are corrupt, where’s the story?

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Bravely defending the Empire from baroque trumpeters

Alison Balsom, where is thy website?

When I was chatting to Mum and Dad on Skype yesterday, Dad mentioned a baroque trumpeter, Alison someone-or-other. I knew who he meant, but couldn’t remember her name.

I did a search for her just before and quickly tracked her down, but when I tried to get onto her official website, I found it was blocked. Since the host for the site isn’t mentioned, I can’t immediately see why the local Philistines should impede access to it, but can only guess that the host is the problem.

And yet to compound the irony, on her Facebook page is a picture of a billboard for a concert in Shanghai at the end of September.

I predict, though, that Balsom’s site will be viewable tomorrow. Probably. Wouldn’t be the first time something like this has happened.

A weekend! A weekend!

My kingdom for a weekend!

Fred and I left the Crowne Plaza in Kuala Lumpur at about 6.15am and made to KL Sentral, and the airport, well ahead of time. We thought that the flight back to Guangzhou might be half empty, but in this matter we were deceived and the plane was almost entirely full.

I should interrupt my narrative at this point to make some observations about Kuala Lumpur, although I saw so little of it that I can’t really form a proper judgement. I hated the mobs of motorcyclists and their attendant racket, and I wasn’t too keen on all the roadworks in the centre of the city. The weather, in spite of the heavy rain, was much more pleasant than I was expecting. I thought that the city would be drenched in humidity, but it was less humid than Wuxi typically is. The centre of the city is a tourist trap and not in a nice way. It seemed vulgar and tacky, and the sort of place where you might find the sleazy American who Fred and I overheard talking to one of the staff in the Pullman Hotel at Guangzhou Airport. Overall, on the basis of this snapshot, I’d generally rate KL higher rather than lower.

Part way through the flight my head started aching quite nastily, and got even worse before two Paracetamol capsules and a prolonged period of keeping my eyes shut eventually saw it off.

I’ve been constantly tired and exhausted this week for want of a decent weekend. I have been trying to do some marking, but even now I’m only within striking distance of completing PAL 1. On other occasions I might’ve bought papers home to mark during the week, but I’d be kidding myself if I thought I might actually do any marking in the evenings. If I was a cuddly toy, I’d be all outer fabric and no stuffing.

With the arrival of Reader and Acrobat XI, I went in search of the 10.1.4 patch for Acrobat because I had some bug trying to force 10.1.3 on me even although I had Acrobat 10.1.3. But what a rigmarole it was to find the latest patch on the Adobe website (basically, go to the US site or don’t bother), which was merely the prelude to a painfully slow download.

I tried to update Reader at school today, but all that achieved was the death of Reader X and the unwelcome rise of Foxit. My theory remains that schools have been told to prevent the installation of Adobe Reader because it’s being used as an attack vector by a benign imperial government that we all know and love.

It was the annual Open Day at school today when we have teachers from other schools, and parents, wandering into our classrooms. I had a bunch turn up during my second period with AS 1&3, and then a couple later this afternoon.

Meanwhile, Freegate has been updated again.

Three motoring morons today. One driving his car down the cycle lane outside school; another (Volvo driver) under the bridge cutting some other driver up (at speed) on the inside (don’t mind me); taxi driver going wrong way down the cycle lane on 人民西路. I saw a story a couple of days ago about some 太太 whose SUV was about to be towed away. She got in it and towed the tow truck away instead while the driver of the truck chased after her. (End of story unknown.) This occasioned much praise from ignorant foreigners who are unaware that a few more morons in the Empire need to be towed away to teach them some manners.

Hong Wrong has an interest entry about the changing Hong Kong skyline. I also saw an interest article somewhere about Kowloon Walled City, but I forget where exactly.

No, I haven’t forgotten you

And I don’t need Freegate.

Here I am in Kuala Lumpur for three days of IB training and no weekend. Actually, I have two days of travelling, three days of IB training, and no weekend. I don’t like this game!

Fred and I travelled to Kuala Lumpur via Guangzhou on Thursday, arriving here at about 11.00pm. We’re in the Crowne Plaza Mutiara, which is not all that far from the Petronas Towers, which can just be seen from the other side of the hotel.

We took the express from  the airport to KL Sentral station, which is, we were told, a journey of some 65km. At the station we then bought a ticket for a taxi before we even got out of the building.

We’ve been being overloaded with information about the basics of the IB programme, most of which I will’ve forgotten before we’ve even left the hotel. There is lot, though, as we go through a verbose summary of the handbook.

The hotel is nice, but not quite as nice as the Crowne Plaza where we stayed in Chengdu. I’m on the 25th floor looking out over a monorail stop. There are quite a lot of roadworks in progress, and the streets can’t quite cope with the volume of traffic using them, it seeems to me. There are also gaggles of motorcyclists zooming about, although I can’t say why they seem to travel in groups. I can’t say whether the traffic is truly well behaved or whether it’s well behaved because the volume of vehicles prevents it from being anything else. If this was China, there’d be utter chaos on the roads because of the appalling state of road etiquette there.

The weather has been rather wet at times, although I came prepared since I’d read that this was the rainy season. We’ve had some very heavy showers, which generally don’t appear to last that long. Nor does the city seem that humid. At the moment, it’s pleasant.

I went for a brief wander yesterday afternoon through the Pavilion, which turned out to be a covered bar street, which, in turn, seems to be part of a larger tourist trap in the local area. Not exactly my sort of thing. My wandering took me to Watsons where I found that the deodorant for which I pay ¥32 in China was a mere RM7.11 (about ¥14.50).

This afternoon I went over to the Petronas Towers which contains the Suria shopping mall. There I found a branch of M&S and solved my ageing trousers problem at a stroke. The alternative was a trip to M&S in Shanghai at some stage; but possibly just as I paid less for the deodorant here, I also paid less for two pairs of trousers. I must go back to the mall again to explore the place further.

It’s hard to get an overall picture of Kuala Lumpur from here. This part of the city seems a little dead. Lots of cars pass through, but there’s not much about apart from bars, restaurants, and expat dens. It reminds me of a cramped version of Admiralty in Hong Kong after the lights go out at the end of the day. The area seems to be mainly hotels, banks and businesses, but I get no sense that this is a residential area.

Contrary to what I expected, when I looked this place up on Google maps, I found that Kuala Lumpur Call Girls was marked as being just nearby. I don’t know whether this is meant seriously or not, but Fred was accosted by someone, and I’m sure I saw a potential employee of the business yesterday evening. I thought Malaysia was rather more prim and starchy than that.

One more day to go and we’re back to the Land of the Ignorant, Unimaginative, and Benighted early on Monday morning. I have no problems accessing the Internet here and I don’t notice any signs that Malaysian society is about to collapse because people can see Facebook, G+, YouTube, WordPress, etc.

At the start of the week

Update me.

I got back from Chengdu yesterday afternoon, where I’d been since last Tuesday. Internet access was intermittent at best: long periods of getting nowhere via my Internet helper were followed by short periods of access, which were enough to post some brief comment on Facebook before the connection was lost again. It was annoying and frustrating, and any idea I might’ve had about posting here had to go out of the window.

The flight to Chengdu went without a hitch. The city wasn’t completely grey and dismal while I was there, but to make up for that, it was utterly horrid yesterday with heavy cloud and dull haze, which eventually turned into rain (though not till after I’d departed).

I was on the noisy side of the hotel overlooking 滨江路 (or whatever the road is on the west side of 南大街; 锦里东路, which is a little odd because 锦里 is probably about a kilometre south of the river) where the traffic a.) never seems to stop and b.) seldom knows how to stay in lane.

The traffic in Chengdu is possibly worse than ever, and in places, cyclists are force to take rather circuitous routes to get about. It’s not longer possible to cross 人民南路 on the south side of Tianfu Square (from 西 to 东御街 [御 yù “imperial”]) without going south to the first intersection and doing a painfully slow U-turn there. It makes the driving in Wuxi look civilised.

I had some transport for the first time, a racing bike loaned to me by Linda’s best friend. It taught me that I’ve grown out of racing bikes and their cripplingly hard saddles, and their low-slung handlebars, which forced me to bend uncomfortably over the machine. On the other hand, it reminded me how much better narrow-gauge tyres are (which it had), and decent brakes (which it didn’t have).

Linda and I took a trip to Ikea where I bought some flannels, but had not intended to, and had a look at a chair for the study to get me off this kitchen chair. There’s now an Ikea in Wuxi, and a bus which goes out there, but I need to ask someone which number.

We went to High Fly for tea one night. The staff who were there in my day all seem to have gone, and the menu seems to have changed its focus to steak with pizza being reduced to an also-ran, it seemed to me.

On Friday, Linda and I went out to Raffles City, which has been under construction for about the past four years. The place is where the Sichuan (?) Museum of Culture had been when I first arrived in Chengdu. Raffles is, obviously, a Singaporean development, and contains the usual posh shops. It also has the first Mainland branch of Treat, which is actually part of the ParknShop empire. I knew the name was familiar, but I couldn’t remember where I’d seen it until I checked online. It is, of course, the supermarket at the end of the exit from the Kowloon Tong MTR station when you head to Festival Walk. It had a wide range of imported stuff, although the wines were on the stupidly expensive side.

Back in Wuxi, I found that M&G R1 pens have vanished from the shelves, including the red ones, which often linger after the black ones have gone. Still no sign of Nutella in Carrefour, but the Frico Gouda is back after an inexplicable absence.

Saw a white Audi R8 outside 远东百货 yesterday, and then a white Bentley Continental SuperSport on the side lane into Jinma. The only exceedingly expensive car I saw in Chengdu was a mid-blue Porsche cabrio.

The fun and games begin again tomorrow, but I could do with another week or month or so before then.

The Chairman’s film reviews

FDR American Badass.

Yes, it’s that time of the year again to celebrate the moment Mao stepped up to the microphone and said those immortal words, “Clean up on aisle four.” In the meantime, let’s check out the Chairman’s film reviews for that heady day in 1949.

FDR American Badass could’ve been a cheap and cheerful piece of cinema. Instead, it was just cheap. FDR gets polio from being bitten by a werewolf, becomes president, and goes to war against Hitler, Mussolini, and Hirohito, who are all werewolves.

Who was the audience for this? Very drunk or stoned university students? Who was behind it? Very drunk or stoned university students? What were Barry Bostwick and Kevin Sorbo thinking when they signed up for this?

So bad that it’s too bad even to be good.

[Later: Tojo corrected to Hirohito.]

Captain America.

I should’ve watched this before I watched The Avengers because it supplies the background to it.

Steve Rogers is a seven-stone weakling who’s been trying to enlist, but can’t pass the physical. But his enthusiasm gets him enrolled on a top secret programme to create a super-soldier, which he passes, and is transformed into Captain America.

But instead of leading a squad of men into battle, he performs on stage to encourage investment in war bonds. The show is popular at home, but falls flat before an audience of soldiers. There’s only one thing Steve can do: disobey orders and do something heroic.

After that, he takes on Red Skull, who is using the Tessaract (which popped up again in The Avengers) to create energy weapons. Formerly one of Hitler’s favourite monkeys, he’s gone rogue and only Captain America can stop him.

Which he does, and the plane crashed into the ice, leaving Rogers frozen for seventy years.

I can’t quite get the soundtrack for Team America: World Police out of my head every time I mention Captain America.