Waffle on Saturday

Uh-oh! The weather blog is back.

A few days ago, it was 32°, and clear and sunny. On Thursday the rain was probably the heaviest its been since Typhoon Haikui in July last year. The day started as drizzle, which was rain by lunchtime, and after a brief hiatus, it returned with a vengeance and didn’t ease until sometime on Friday morning.

Friday seemed to start dry, but when I left for school, I discovered that invisible light rain was falling. This is the stuff which is as saturating as heavy rain even although it can’t be seen from the window, and leaves no clear traces in puddles. But eventually, that turned into micro-drizzle for most of the rest of the day before the rain returned in the evening.

This morning the rain is still invisible, but I can see the telltale ripples in the puddles along the lane behind Jinma.

I’m sure that this is one of the wettest and most contrary springs that I’ve experienced here. We started the week on 32° and got drenched on 20°.


The week in education.

The PAL students have had both of their English exams. The Reading and Writing paper was par for the course. I think the note-taking and summary exercises may have been a little tricky because of the risk of distractions. The summary, which was about the advantages and disadvantages of e-books, was at risk of becoming a summary about e-book readers, I think.

Ex. 6 was a letter to a friend about borrowing something. I can imagine that the language of polite requests, which occurs in one of the early units in the book, had long since been forgotten, and I can also imagine how dull and mundane the requests were. It was another topic which though outwardly rather dull offered scope for some far-ranging flights of fancy.

Ex. 7 was an article about success. I’m sure the little darlings whipped out their finest clichés and used the usual Chinglish phrases about having “a big achieve­ment”. I thought about the topic myself and concluded that success is the product of achievement set against ambition. Success is gradient, from complete fulfilment of an ambition to any degree of partial fulfilment after that. At some point, the level of success is no longer satisfactory.

The Listening exam was on Friday, but I haven’t seen the paper yet, which probably had the usual stuff about chocolate, fruit, and dinosaurs.

It seems that I’m probably going to be teaching AS and A2 English next year, but there are certain issues with the timetable which make things awkward unless there’s a second teacher. I’ve also been told that we probably won’t be getting a third AS class next year (but the best laid plans etc.). The new students in those classes are either very good or very bad with nothing in between.

I don’t know quite how the rest of term is going to pan out. Part of June will be IELTS and TOEFL classes, but part of the next three weeks needs to be English class with the AS students, who are going to be having an English exam early in June. The main problem is that we’ve run out of time and there are other things such as SATs to distract students from reality.

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Mr Bamboo, Comptroller of the Weather

Mind where you park, moron.

Merida01
The infamous Lolita Complex Merida bike.

A couple of days ago I took my bike outside at school and cleaned it. Now it’s raining. It seems to be a pattern. It rains, I clean my bike, it rains again. The only logical conclusion is that I can control the weather by cleaning my bike. If I want to cause a drought, I don’t clean it; if I want to cause flooding, I do clean it.

I’m sure that we’ve probably had as much rain today as we had throughout the whole of last week. The ponds on the island are full to the brim, and as I write there has been a rumble of thunder. It was very heavy at lunchtime, and just as bad on the way home. Surface flooding once again leaves me wondering why it is after 2,500 of “civilisation”, the inGlorious Motherland can send people into space and build aircraft carriers, but can’t get the drains and drainage right.

A few weeks ago I mentioned how a car had gone over the edge of the low shelf outside Houcaller, which marks the edge of the pavement. Today at lunchtime the same thing had happened, and on this occasion some nitwit had managed to get their car even further over the edge. I wonder how commonly it happens, though, if it’s taken this long (four years) for me to see it twice.

My little darlings had their Reading and Writing exam yesterday, and will have Listening tomorrow. I had a look at the paper this morning, which was par for the course.

Today’s interesting Internet find (via languagehat) was a website devoted to the correspondence of Bess of Hardwick (aka the Countess of Shrewsbury), who was a contemporary of Elizabeth I. The site is interesting for the history, the insights into the people of the time, and the language when people still wrote much as they spoke.

And sprinkle it with nonsensical English

Those verbal decorations in full.

I’ve been meaning to mention a Merida bike which has been parked just beside the  door at the west end of the bike park at school. It’s a white-framed racer with flat spokes and probably costs more than mine. It sat there for some time before I noticed the words on the top crossbar of the frame: Lolita Complex. Why? No idea. If it said “Stand Alone Complex” and had a picture of Motoko Kusanagi, I might understand. I certainly don’t want to look Lolita Complex up because I suspect I’d find myself at the sleazy end of the Internet. I’m surprised the bike wasn’t the Merida Humbert Humbert.

On the way home today, I had just passed 五爱路 when I saw a woman wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the words “Used daisy can” on the back. Apart from this being a random collection of English words, I can’t begin to fathom whether it’s meant to mean something.

Louise Couperin: Complete Harpsichord Works | Classical-Music.com

Louise Couperin: Complete Harpsichord Works | Classical-Music.com.

So would I be right in guessing she’s the wife of one of the Couperins? I don’t know when this particular review appeared, but perhaps some keen-eyed sub-editor spot­ted this example of overexcited typing before the magazine was printed.

Kate Bolton’s reviews for BBC Music Magazine are quite pretentious, and I’m sure that if I studied the form, I could mimic such empty purple phrases.

I’ve had quite a number of automated mail messages from Classics Online asking for reviews of music I’ve bought. Where I might have something intelligent to say about a novel, I’m not sure where to start with music since I’m a listener not a practitioner. Sometimes I can say something about the performance; sometimes I can say something about the music; I can’t say anything about, say, how the music might’ve been performed. In a few cases, I can make comparisons.

I think I have enough harpsichord music by a couple of the Couperins (François and Marc Roger Normand) not to need yet more by them.

Lazy and getting fatter

Not quite me, though.

I needed to buy some more water this evening. When I went to the shop, there was a boy in a toy Lamborghini, celebrating the company’s 50th anniversary. In my day, it might’ve been a pedal car, but this one was battery-powered.

It was like the Escalator or Moving Walkway Problem. When there is no one to bar the way, why do the Chinese still just stand there doing nothing? If the pavements were all converted to moving walkways, would anyone walk further than the distance necessary to cross an intersection?

So instead of this child putting the effort in to driving himself around, he’s already been introduced to the idea that other things make all the effort and he is merely conveyed. I bet his parents will drive him to school, where he’ll sit at his desk most of the day.

There was an article in, er, some blog I read about Chinese students at top American universities which included an American from Yale at Peking University. Her tale was about how the students from Yale left writing an essay to the last minute while the Chinese students had taken care of it long before. She also marvelled at all the diagrams and complex data which they had included.

Clearly she’s no Old China Hand or she’d know that they’d probably written a gestalt essay larded with pretty pictures to hide a lack of content and intellectual depth, and first draft = final draft in China. I have yet to encounter a student who understood that what they write is merely a bad, unplanned first draft.

The Chinese students obviously needed a kick up the arse for being lazy in one way, while the Yale students needed the same kick for being lazy in another way. Neither group used their time wisely.

The Party of Dulness

Some people cannot brain today; others cannot brain at all.

I ran into Academics chastised for bad grammar in letter attacking Michael Gove on the Guardian by chance this afternoon. There’s actually a second (meta) article about it, which has all the amateur linguists crawling out of the woodwork and making pronouncements about language which, with a few exceptions, reveal once again that the amateurs need to keep their cake holes shut and leave language to the professionals.

It all began with an open letter to Michael Gove, the nation’s Schoolboy-in-Chief, back in March about standards in education and teaching, which has been criticised for its bad grammar. One passage came in for particular excoriation:

Much of it demands too much too young. This will put pressure on teachers to rely on rote learning without understanding. Inappropriate demands will lead to failure and demoralisation. The learner is largely ignored. Little account is taken of children’s potential interests and capacities, or that young children need to relate abstract ideas to their experience, lives and activity.

Quite, quite dreadful. Really?

Much was made of the opening sentence by Nevile Gwynne, who was one of the judges in their dubious competition. To quote directly from the Guardian article (since I don’t have the wit to paraphrase this level of genius):

Presumably they mean something like ‘demands too much when children are too young to be ready for so much’, but, as worded, it simply is not English,” he said. “In that sentence as worded, ‘too young’ can only be two adverbs, ‘too’ qualifying the adverb ‘young’, and ‘young’ qualifying the verb ‘demands’, as would, for instance, ‘soon’ or ‘early’. But ‘young’ is an adjective, and cannot ever be an adverb. And it certainly is not doing the work of an adjective in that sentence, because there is no noun that could be ‘understood’ and which would turn that sentence into English.

Let’s have a look at that sentence again with a few simple function labels.

[Much of it]S [demands]V [too much]dO [too young.]A

Let’s then ask Gwynne whether he has any problems with a sentence such as

[Gwynne]S [read]V [a new book]dO [every day.]A

According to his reasoning, this isn’t a possible sentence either because “every day” is an NP, and just as adjectives cannot function as adverbs, so NPs shouldn’t be able to function in the same way.

At worst, the sentence is stylistically clumsy with the doubling of “much”, but there’s nothing wrong with the grammar.

What about

Little account is taken of children’s potential interests and capacities, or that young children need to relate abstract ideas to their experience, lives and activity.

Well, at most Gwynne can smack them for their rhetorical lapse by not paralleling the grammar of the clauses dependent on “Little account is taken of”, but such lapses aren’t exactly unusual, and when you have to deal with someone as annoying as Michael Gove, you are inclined to yell angrily first and think afterwards.

You could also argue that the that-clause is in apposition to “little account”. I often find I use a similar construction with “reason” where I use a that-clause to state the reason, but feel vaguely uncomfortable about it. If I had to make an educated guess, I’m generalising “that” a complementiser.

Probably CGEL (if you can afford it or find it in your local library [assuming they can afford it]) will have sensible explanation for what’s happening here.

I cannot help but quote Pope yet again:

A fool might once himself alone expose,
Now one in verse makes many more in prose.

Only 50ml more to England

Supply and demand.

A fairly frequent topic on this blog has been supply and demand with Chinese characteristics. When there’s a demand, there’s no supply, and when there’s a supply, there’s no demand. (It seems to be true when I’m the customer.)

Thus I’ve bought products which have vanished from the shelves, apparently for good, only for them to reappear sometime later with a substantial gap between the two points. I don’t know whether the coffee I used to buy is still available, and I know that Smoovlatté, which may be in evidence at the moment, could vanish next week.

A recent reappearance was Tim-Tams, which are now back in Walmart after a long absence. Why? Who knows?

The exception to the rule would appear to be Weetabix, which have been coming and going, and have now gone because of the poor wheat harvest in the UK. In this case, the absence of Weetabix products has nothing to do with local quirkiness.

The Lipton’s Italian-style lemon tea has been coming and going on a short cycle. One moment it was in the Far Eastern; the next it was gone; then it was back; then it was gone again; and so on. About a month ago, it was back, but didn’t last long. Then, about a week ago, I spotted something which seemed to be the same, but was now called English-style lemon tea, which came in a different-shaped bottle. The stuff seemed to be the same.

When I was in Walmart looking for some lemon tea, I found that far from the English-style one being a replacement for the Italian-style one, they were both on the shelves. In addition to the name and shape of the bottle, the former is 50ml larger than the latter.

I don’t suppose that I’ll ever know why the supply of most goods here is so ca­pric­ious.

Those bank holiday achievements

In full!

Monday: put washing away and had a snooze.

Tuesday: had a snooze and worked out satisfactory way of renaming music files without giving WMP brain damage.

Wednesday: bought some water and finished off a Powerpoint presentation for exam revision. (Wednesday is currently still work-in-progress.)

Overall, substantial achievements, none.

The business with the music has resulted in a lot of flabby file names being replaced once and for all, but the process was dull and mechanical. I discovered that if I change file names (and paths) when I open a folder in WMP, it deals with any alterations on the spot instead of messing about if the change is first made in Explorer.

Two days ago, there was a line of flower stands on the ground floor outside the lift. Someone apparently important had died or (quite possible) the parent of someone important had died. (A lot of the geriatrics around here are such peasants that I can’t imagine they’re paying their own way.)

Then yesterday there was a wedding with a red carpet and deafening fireworks to boot. The flower stands were tucked out of sight for that.

This morning at about 6.30, the dirge band started up and played intermittently for a couple of hours. As I said above, someone important was involved in the funeral, which the quality of the playing con­firmed because the band seemed much more professional than the usual sort of thing I hear on these occasions.

One of the recent news stories here was about Neil Robinson, who was being sought by British police in connection with sex offences at home. China has been fairly lax about who it lets into the country. In my previous job, there was at least one paedophile at one of the schools in the programme; in this job, we’ve allegedly had one at school (though the source of that claim was not without personal bias); and a couple of teachers at one school were dismissed for improper relationships with pupils. I’ve been in one bar where I’ve seen some sleazy, middle-aged lech try it on with the bar girls, and that’s why I never liked the Shamrock in Chengdu or places like the Red Lion here.

Mind you, I also hasten to recall the senior male Chinese teachers in Fuzhou who were all perving through the door of the hall when the girls were doing some folk dance in vaguely skimpy folk costumes as one of the acts in a school concert.

Either way, it’s bad advertising for middle-aged men.

Well, at least my girlfriend’s an adult, although since she’s a bit older than me, does that make her a dirty old lady?