Category Archives: Commonplace

Ciuitates mutantur

I only turned my back for a minute.

Even if very little else changes in China (e.g. Have people in Jiangsu stopped wearing pyjamas in public? No. Are Chinese motorists considerate of other road users and pedestrians? No), cities never stand still. They perhaps don’t change quite as rapidly as the clichés would have the world believe. For example, it’s taken five years for the buildings to the east of me to reach their current unfinished state, and in Chengdu, the area around 大慈 has managed to go almost nowhere in the past eight years. The original development stalled, and the current one is making glaciers look like Usain Bolt.

But when I got back from Chengdu on Tuesday, I found there had been several changes while I’d been away. The 85° shop opposite Baoli has reopened after being refurbished. I must go in and see whether they have the tiramisu log which Linda introduced me to in Chengdu. Then via my former colleagues, Joe and Lucy, I learnt that the Metro has started running.

A couple of weeks ago, the entrances all seemed to have been opened. There was one from the Parkson building where Burger King used to be, and another from the Far Eastern where the posh wine shop once was. I need to go and have a look at a map to see what course it takes. I know it runs along Zhongshan Lu, which bisects the centre of the city, but I don’t know where the line has come from or where it’s going.

[As an aside, I now suspect that Jiefang Lu marks the line of the old city walls. The Metro exit from the Far Eastern is called 胜利门 (Shenglimen “Victory Gate”), and I see on the map 东门 and 西门. There seems to be no southern gate.]

When I went out to Ikea yesterday to buy a bedside lamp, I did see that there’s a station being built not far from there. I’m not sure whether the line, which is elevated, is going to be part of the Metro, or some sort of light rail link. At the moment, getting the bus to Ikea is no real bother beyond the length of time spent waiting at either end, and the slowness of the journey, which takes about half an hour.

Another new development was the roadworks on 学前东路 (Xue Qian Donglu) alongside Yaohan (aka, Ba Bai Ban). The road is completely blocked off at the moment as they rip up the surface, but that whole section to the next intersection has needed seeing to for a long, long time.

Things have also changed out at Ikea with the opening of the Livat shopping mall. This appears to be run by Ikea, and there are connections between the two buildings, but the shops in the mall are the usual sort of thing, and include a cinema, Auchan (a supermarket), and yet another Suning. The place also has Subway and Burger King, which both used to be in Parkson before they vanished. I’ve been wondering whether either place might reappear in town, but at the moment, they’ve been banished to the New District, and although it’s not difficult to reach them, the journey vacuums up quite a chunk of time.

Livat is also a good deal more expansive than it seems. From outside the building is reasonably large, but that also disguises the depth behind it. Most of the shops are up and running with a few blanks in between. I notice, though, that once again, there’s never anywhere to sit down. Perhaps this is to stop the local bumpkins swarming into the place for free air con but for little else. (They were already lolling all over the beds in Ikea.)

I wandered around the building, but by that time, I’d bought the lamp from Ikea and had had lunch, and there was no reason for me to linger. I note that there is ultimately nothing special about Livat. It’s the usual sort of shops, most of which don’t interest me in the slightest and most of which are already in town – apart from Subway and Burger King. I also note, once again, the complete absence of any bookshops.

One thing I noticed when I was in Chengdu was just how different the Far Eastern is there from the one here. In our one, there is a central space with the shops around it. The one in Chengdu has no central space, which makes it feel very different. It seemed more claustrophobic and more like those vast clothing markets in Beijing which I visited once or twice, where everything is packed in like sardines on floor after floor. On the other hand, the IFS building in Chengdu has a central space which, I assume, is some sort of psychological ploy intended to improve the shopping experience. (That’s probably what the brochure said, but probably didn’t say “ploy”.) Along with many of the shopping malls in town, Livat is based on the same principles.

Map of Wuxi Metro, Line 1

When I go shopping later, I’ll venture into one of the Metro stations to have a look at a map to see where the line goes, and perhaps where it’s supposed to be going. Is Line 1 the usual north-south affair or is it a circuit? What were they doing outside BuyNow on Wu’ai Lu, which seems to be a bit removed from the rest of the Metro system? I thought it was going to be another entrance, but that now seems highly unlikely.

[A little later. I went into the Sanyang en­trance outside Parkson and took this picture of Line 1. I suspect that Line 2 will run east-west and will include the station out near Ikea, though currently nothing heads into the New District (新区).]

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Lovely Dragon Boating Weather

Even the ducks have umbrellas.

Today’s forecast was for rain. The forecast was the icon with the big, blobby raindrops, which never bodes well.

There was a little rain last night, but it was mostly dry and overcast this morning. About mid morning, the rain started falling and alternated between light and heavy showers.

By the time I went out, the rain had eased sufficiently for it to be merely bothersome.

My first port of call was China Mobile to put more money on my phone. By the time I left, the rain had almost ceased and was replaced by another problem.

My next destination was Parkson because I wanted to buy another bottle of wine. Big mistake. The traffic along 人民中路 was completely jammed up and I had to squeeze my way past a long line of cars to find somewhere to park.

The traffic was slowly making its way to the next intersection where it was mostly turning left onto 新生路. It’s now possible to go straight ahead, but I’m not sure whether it’s still possible to traverse the next section or it currently remains a dead end. 新生路 is not only unable to cope with that volume of traffic, but the cars were also barely moving. It’s actually quite a busy side street, but is also an utter bottleneck. There’s a car park along there, which is not exactly the best location for one.

I finally arrived at Carrefour with some rain in attendance. I did my shop­ping and departed. The rain was still relatively light, then heavier, then lighter, and just as I reached 远东百货, it became a monsoon.

Every puddle became a pond, every slope became a babbling brook, and all parts of the road were either one or the other.

Why is it that more often than not, the weather worsens when I get near 远东百货? The occasions when it has improved while I’ve been there are fewer and farther between.

More of the same tomorrow according to the forecast, and thus, the Dragon Boat Festival goes down the drain – or would if the drainage was better.

Speaking of many things

Lovelace.

In the first half of the film, the 1970s are sexy fun times as Linda Lovelace throws off the shackles of her mother’s oppressive Catholicism, and becomes the poster girl for the sexual revolution.

In the second half of the film, it becomes apparent that it wasn’t sexy fun times at all, and that Lovelace was the victim of domestic abuse at the hands of her violent and manipulative husband, Chuck Trainer.

It’s this split approach which makes the film less than satisfying. The whole thing could not be Boogie Nights without being factually inaccurate, but it could be cut in half and turned into some worthy miniseries.


The music industry.

I bought myself an iPod Nano last week partly because I have it in mind to have enough devices on which all my music can be left permanently, and partly because it gives iTunes something to do.

So far I’m very pleased with the iPod. I especially like the earphones which produce decent quality sound and which managed to stay in my ears without being jammed in as is the case with the noise-cancelling Sony ones.

I had thought my days of editing the metadata of sound files were largely over, but it seems I was wrong. I’ve been curious to know how changes made in Windows Media Player, iTunes, Winamp, and mp3tag affect the other programs.

My hypothesis was that whatever change I make in one program should affect how the file is read in all the rest. In reality, they all seem to keep their own counsel. While I prefer using WMP to edit the metadata with new material before I load it into iTunes and Winamp, it seems that the peculiarities of WMP which annoyed me in the first place still remain.

I was trying to correct “Privilege” in Reach the Beach by The Fixx. I may have misspelt the title myself, or it was always that way and I’d never noticed. No matter how many times I corrected it, though, it kept reverting to “Priviledge” in WMP after a second or two until I went into Explorer and moved the entire folder, which seemed to have the desired effect.

I also discovered that right clicking on an album in WMP and selecting “Update album info” caused the entire album to be restored to its original state even although it might’ve been two or three years since that last existed. It also makes me wonder why such information is preserved when it’s either incorrectly presented or completely wrong. In addition, WMP seems to have issues with music ripped using iTunes even although the current version plays m4a files. For reasons I cannot begin to explain, WMP read some tracks, but refused to read others, and even moving folders didn’t wholly correct the issue. (Perhaps there was also a problem with setting iTunes as the default player for m4a files.) Well, at least it was only an experiment.

The behaviour of iTunes is also variable, although it’s not as querulous as WMP. It seems to detect changes made in Winamp and mp3tag (at least sometimes), but also often requires manual updating. It can be quirky in that when I moved some files to a new folder, the album art vanished even although the files were the same as before. (Album art is an odd thing because it may appear in some programs but not in others, and changing it in WMP, for example, doesn’t mean that it’ll change in other programs.) It has advised me on one occasion that about 40 tracks were missing, but this information was volunteered for reasons best known to iTunes. I had to then find the missing files, which included Pachelbel et al. played by The English Concert. Why had iTunes misplaced this particular album? No idea.

Winamp seems to be the most flexible of the media players because it can be told to rescan either the entire Music folder or to reread the metadata in an album. It’s also the most technical, but doesn’t demand a high degree of technical understanding at every turn.

mp3tag is good to a point, but requires every little change to be saved manually, which can be a nuisance.

WMP is mostly all right, but can be temperamental and I don’t like the fact that it seems to retain data that ought to have been overwritten long again. If I’m instructing it to update an album, I mean for it to read the tags in their current state. iTunes seems less temperamental, but could do with options such as telling it a.) to find files which it can no longer find and present them for review, and b.) to have the option to reread the metadata for a whole album rather than individual files. Winamp the least temperamental of all even if it does present a technical face behind. Of course, it shouldn’t matter matter which program I use to edit the metadata of music files because they should reread the data in the Music folder – if not in its entirety each time the program is started, then from the files which comprise the particular albums I’m looking at.

Burnt offerings 2014

The return of Qingming.

Nothing kills of the anticipation of a long weekend like a pile of exam papers, and once again this year, there are piles to be marked in the after­math of the mocks this week. I’m already a little ahead on the marking, having dispatched the A2s’ reading papers in a day, although that’s not quite the feat that it appears to be. I also made deep inroads into AS1’s reading, and that is a feat because there are five texts, and the paper is a bulky, clumsy thing to handle.

The exam this time has also been different because we included a writing paper. Normally, to spare ourselves a good deal of bother, we set some recent text type as the writing so that we can mark it beforehand. Although I like splitting things in this way, such exercises are only partial tests of the students’ ability to produce the text type correctly because they’re only dealing with a single type and don’t have to do it under exam conditions.

Although I told the classes to focus on the topics which we have covered in class (Health and Cultural Diversity), A2(2) mostly chose the Cultural Diversity topic or the Science and Technology one. The popularity of the latter was because the text type was blog/diary entry, which is no doubt regarded as an easy option because of its supposedly amorphous nature. A2(1&3) split themselves roughly evenly across four of the text types, but had the brains to avoid Leisure, which was a pamphlet giving advice and thus something akin to guidelines or instructions.

AS1 favoured the nature vs. nurture question about homosexuality; the blog entry reacting to newspaper reports alleging that Justin Bieber is gay; and the review topic (“review the film of the book”, meaning To Kill a Mockingbird; answers – anything but). The other two topics got a smatter­ing of attention.


A musical interlude.

When I saw that the exchange rate had improved in my favour, I went on a music-buying spree.

  1. Garden of Early Delights (Pamela Thorby and Andrew Lawrence-King; Linn Records) – this is an album of early Baroque music which includes some fairly familiar pieces (in fact, the only name I don’t know is Johann Schop), and combines the recorder with the harp.
  2. The Nightingale and the Butterfly (Pamela Thorby and Elizabeth Kenny; Linn Records) – Thorby unites with a lutenist on an album of French pieces from the late 17th and early 18th centuries. This is mostly new music from composers who I have previously not heard of (e.g. Charles Dieupart, Louis Caix d’Hervelois) or who were only slightly known to me (e.g. Robert de Visée).
  3. Locatelli, Concerti Grossi, Op. 1 (The Raglan Baroque Players; Hyperion Records) – I don’t often go to Hyperion because they charge VAT regardless of your point of origin, but the exchange rate was a little more benign than it has been. I had previously had a single example of Locatelli’s output prior to this and bought several albums all at once.
  4. Locatelli, L’Arte del Violino (The Raglan Baroque Players; Hyperion Records) – This is Locatelli’s Op. 3, which is the composer showing off his technical skills with the violin. It is not, though, one of those works of this nature in which all sense of musical quality is abandoned in favour of some clever screechy sound which very few violinists – apart from Locatelli – could achieve.
  5. Locatelli’s Op. 4 (The Raglan Baroque Players; Hyperion Records) – This is a combination of six Introduttioni Teatrali which, according to the accom­p­anying booklet, have an obscure history. The remaining six Concerti are just as obscure with no clear reason why they were included in this publication.
  6. Locatelli, 10 Sonatas Op. 8 (The Locatelli Trio; Hyperion Records) – Like Op. 4, this is a mixed bag, being a combination of ten violin and trio sonatas which, as the notes say, was contrary to the usual practice of six or twelve pieces of the same genre.
  7. Marin Marais, Pièces de Viole du Second Livre (Markku Luolajan-Mikkola et al.; BIS Records) – Having quite liked Marais’ Pièces de Caractère, I thought it was worth trying some more music from him and filling in a gap in my musical arsenal.
  8. Marin Marais, Pièces de Viole du Cinquième Livre (Wieland Kuijken et al.; Accent) – This album includes a piece which was inspired by the oper­ation in which Marais’ gallbladder was removed (Le Tableau de l’Oper­ation de la Taille). I was listening to the album when I heard what sound­ed like someone speaking French. I thought it was coming from outside, but it was commentary accompanying the music.
  9. Rameau, Pièces de clavecin en concerts (London Baroque; BIS Records) – This is an album of six concerts which are largely character pieces, although it’s often impossible to tell who in Rameau’s circle they refer to. The first concert is probably a tombeau, a genre of which the French seemed to be particularly fond. There is some overlap with Rameau, Complete Works for Harpsichord (Trevor Pinnock; crd).
  10. Italian Lute Music G.G. Kapsberger – A. Piccinini (Konrad Junghänal; Accent) – Lute music always gives me a sense of warm summer afternoons when the sun is setting, the light is just so, and the world is quiet and comfortable.
  11. Telemann, The twelve Fantasias for Transverse Flute without Bass (Bart­hold Kuijken; Accent) – This is another album in which “fantasia” has been misspelt in the file name. Probably it’s just a typo, but it smacks of a lack of attention.
  12. Telemann, Trios & Quartets (Epoca Barocca; CPO) – What is says on the box. Unfortunately, the accompanying booklet (an occasional inclusion from CPO) is cut off at the end of the first page of the German section, which means there. The CPO website is barely any more enlightening. This seems to be chamber music for the musically inclined burgers of Hamburg to bash out of an evening.
  13. Telemann, III Trietti metodichi e III Scherzi (Parnassi musici; CPO) – These are light pieces which Telemann published in 1731. The CPO website says they are “full of dancy swing”. CPO must’ve been on a budget because the cover for this album is the same as the cover of Telemann’s Complete Violin Concertos Vol. 4.
  14. Hotteterre, Complete Chamber Music Vol. 1 Suites Op. 2 (Camerata Köln; CPO) – This is a very recent release from CPO and marks the first in a series of four CDs from Camerata Köln. I haven’t listened to the album properly yet, but it is very chamber music in style.

My attempt to acquire Boismortier, Flute and Harpsichord Sonatas Op. 91 has been unsuccessful. I downloaded an album from Presto Classical, but what I got sounded late 18th century. I then had a listen to samples of the album on line, which confirmed that what I had was probably something by Haydn. I’m waiting for Presto Classical to let me know when the actual album will be ready for download.


The Sekkereterry of Stayte for Edgercayshun.

Last year when the PISA report came out, much was made of the results which showed that Asian school children were geniuses and British school children were barely able to hold a pencil without stabbing one other person (including themselves). As was observed at the time, the quality of life for Asian children is generally dreadful and, in the case of China, the results were based on children in Shanghai. Michael Gove wants GSCEs pegged to results in China and other successful economies from 2017.

As I’ve observed in the past, Chinese school children are good at anything a computer could do, but rarely good at anything else. Maths – tick that box; Physics – tick that box; Chemistry – tick with less certainty; Biology – don’t tick it at all because the language is beyond them. Arts and Humanities subjects? Not likely.

Even the dimmest students here can still do maths with a reasonable degree of competence, but only a few of them are capable of doing Further Maths according to the Head of the Maths Department at school. While they may be good at maths, that doesn’t make them intellectual giants. Anything requiring imagination and creativity is beyond all of them unless they’ve been taught some sort of procedure for mimicking something just as they are taught procedures for writing TOEFL and SAT essays.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Gove’s favourite sci-fi characters are the Borg from Star Trek and the Cybermen from Dr Who, both races of soulless cyborgs who can solve maths problems in the blink of an eye, but haven’t got a milligramme of creativity or joie de vivre among the lot of them. The man seems to want Borg school children rather than human beings.


Bloody China Mobile.

I’m regretting the recent switch to China Mobile. The latest wheeze is that all .co.uk websites have been blocked. I’d been on Presto Classical the other morning, but couldn’t get on it in the afternoon without Astrill. The same block (or, impediment) seemed to be affecting music sites in general, but I found, for example, that The Register was also out of bounds. .org.uk sites seemed to be partly affected. At school, which I assume goes through China Telecom, there were no problems with any of these sites. Great­fire.org claims no blocking, either. I suspect this may be some sort of filter­ing cockup. Something to do with a DNS update?


But at the end of the day…

I need to get on with some marking.

Bridging the gap

The rest isn’t silence.

I’ve been intending to post something here for some time, but every time I’ve tried to do something about it, I eventually look at what I’ve written and decide that I can’t be bothered posting it.

The start of this term has been busy with the practice for the individual orals, the practice for IGCSE speaking, the Written Assignment, and the actual individual orals all being dealt with in the first three weeks. As a consequence, the winter holiday is a distant memory with a feeling of unreality about it. The coming week will be the first normal week we’ve had all term, but the week after is the mocks (yes, already), and by the time those are out of the way, the final exams for English B will barely be a month off.

In other news, I decided to buy myself some nice speakers for my laptop when my latest set of Edifier R10s started giving off a hum. This time I bought a set of Edifier M3 Plus speakers which consist of a tube-shaped sub-woofer and two golf ball like satellites, which I tried with my Walkman and suspected that the sound was better that my big Edifier R30s. (Yes, I do seem to have a thing for Edifier speakers; I did look at some Logitech speakers, but the model I considered had too much bass and no control over it.)

I finally did something about getting better broadband at home, and have switched to China Mobile. The new service offers 10Mbps, which is a marked improvement on the pitiful 1.5Mbps which I’d previously had. The downside is that China Mobile appears to block Live Journal even although I am able to access it from school. In better tech news, I found I was able to chat to Mum and Dad on Skype using my phone.


Indo-European Linguistics by James Clackson.

This is an overview of issues in Indo-European, laying out issues in phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics and affiliations among the IE languages. In my own field (stress assignment), Indo-Europeanists generally think in terms of paradigmatic shifts rather than morphologically generated patterns, which is a little like applying templates to the process. An interesting book which gives some insight into the limits of our knowledge of (P)IE.


Empress Dowager Cixi by Jung Chang.

In her book, Chang shows that the picture we have of Cixi is not exactly accurate and that while some of the charges levelled at her are well founded, the author presents a woman who ought to be lauded rather than reviled. As well as trying to correct the bias against Cixi, Chang also shines the light on the people who helped her, including foreigners such as Sir Robert Hart, who was instrumental in improving the Chinese government’s finances. Chang also takes quite a few implicit swipes at the present dynasty with the Dowager Empress and her supporters being keen to put reform into practice rather than waffle about them and make empty gestures.


Proof.

Gwyneth Paltrow fears that she might’ve inherited her father’s mental illness. “How shall I play this part?” thought Gwyneth, and said to herself, “Like a very damp, monochromatic sponge.” Film of the play. Yawn.


Michael Collins.

The American version of the road towards Irish independence. Michael Collins fights to free Ireland from the clutches of the British Empire while conducting a bromance with Harry Boland which turns sour when he returns from London with a declaration of almost independence and triggers a civil war. Harry is killed in the internecine fighting, and de Valera apparently entices Collins to a remote part of the countryside where he can be assassinated. History takes a drubbing at the same time.

The Saturday Ramble

Waffle with everything.

It’s been a long time since I wrote one of my rambling, ephemeral Saturday-morning posts, but for the first time in a while, I don’t have to concern myself with other business – typically something school-related.

The monthly tests were last week, although it feels a longer time has passed. A week ago I was marking AS1’s reading tests; on Wednesday, I ploughed my way through A2(1&3)’s reading tests; and on Thursday, A2(2)’s got the same treatment. Because we had students away doing SATs during the tests, there were a couple of strays to be dealt with, but unlike quite a few of my less fortunate colleagues, I don’t have these things hanging over my head this weekend.

However, lest it be thought that this situation is all silver lining and no cloud, I had the A2s write their embedded interviews yesterday, and AS1 write its reviews of The Social Network. The former had had all week because it was the last round of the interactive orals this week and I’d set them the task of writing the embedded interview while I was otherwise engaged. Some had completed the task, and quite a few had rewritten the transcript interview, which is a text type we did last year; but I insisted that they should finish the writing partly because they’d had all week to do it. I had AS1 write their reviews immediately after they’d watched The Social Network because when last year’s AS classes did the same exercise as homework, they plagiarised other reviews en masse and I abandoned the whole thing. However, these things can wait. I’m having my weekend.

I’ve been keeping half an eye on the trial of the Grillo sisters, who have just been acquitted of committing fraud against Charles Saatchi and Nigella Lawson. This is not because I have any particular interest in the case, but because the embedded interview was part of the food-themed section of English class. The task for the A2s was to write up an embedded interview with a celebrity chef. Lawson comes into the story because I happened to use a couple of interviews with her as additional examples.

My contract has been renewed and I’m even getting a modest pay increase. I thought that those days were over because I’d hit the top of the pay scale.


The new toy.

After Linda replaced her stolen phone recently, I decided that it was about time I did the same. This was not because the phone was ailing, but because it was ageing. Since Linda had bought a Nokia Lumia, I decided to do the same, and headed off to Suning Plaza, which is just across the lane from Parkson. They may have been having a sale because the phone I bought, a 920, was ¥2,399 here, but in the shop in Chengdu, Linda said it was ¥3,000.

The Lumia 920 is a WindowsPhone running WP8, and where I think W8 (or its derivatives) is a dumb idea on a laptop or PC, it works on a phone or tablet, although not everything is obvious. For example, there’s a screen view which shrinks the screen and allows you to swipe through recent places. According to the manual, you hold down the left arrow key, although I have no idea how I’ve done such a thing because I’ve only managed to bring up that screen by accident on previous occasions. The screen also rotates from time to time, but that seems to be a matter of holding the phone in the upright position and turning it sideways. It does happen at odd moments, though. Nothing in the manual about this function, which I assume is a more recent addition to the device.

The phone came with the usual Nokia apps such as maps, music, etc. Because of the link with Microsoft, the phone came with the mobile version of Office home and student edition. One Note has a separate tile, which is probably sensible since it’s apparently the phone’s notebook. As far as using Office productively goes, I’d say that it’s wishful thinking. It’s all right for reviewing documents in Word, Excel, and Powerpoint, but the size of the screen and limited functionality of these programs makes creativity awkward – something done out of necessity. In addition to these apps, I’ve also installed Adobe Reader, Kindle (hurrah! And the text is much better on the phone than it is on my Kindle), and Google, which seems to have some kind of built-in browser although I can’t get Chrome without being redirected to the Chinese Nokia website – any attempts to get Chrome from elsewhere get blocked. I’ll just have to tolerate IE10.

It was fortunate that I already had an MS account when I got the phone and that I happened to have the password with me. Office comes with SkyDrive, which is not a service I use half as much as I ought to, although there are still quite a lot of pictures there from the days when my blog was on Spaces.

The phone also forced me to buy a wireless router about which I was a little wary because I expected to find that I should be coughing up more money for a second connection to the outside world. As it turns out, that wasn’t the case. Nor was the router exactly expensive. I was expecting the price to be several hundred 元, but it was a mere ¥100. The first problem to overcome was the installation because the instructions were only in Chinese; but after a little guesswork, I found that the first part was irrelevant because it was to do with setting things up through Control Panel. The other part involved going to the router’s IP address and setting things up through a page which, I assume, it embedded on the device. This, too, is solely in Chinese, but I overcame that as well, and have had WiFi ever since. It became clear that I needed it after I found that the Nokia Suite software for my old phone didn’t interact with the new one.

There was also an app allowing PCs and laptops to chat to the phone via a USB connection, but it has very limited functionality. For once, Bluetooth seems to be a better option.

I opted for the 920 over the 925 because the reviews suggested that the former was better value for money while the latter was expensive and added little. So far, I have no real complaints about the phone apart from its occasional bursts of quirky behaviour when I do something with it that I wasn’t intending to do.


0 to the far side of the intersection faster than an Audi R8.

I’ve already had one run-in with a tardy Audi R8, and now I’ve had another. I was waiting to cross the intersection to Baoli. On the other side was a black Audi R8 Coupé oozing coolness. The light went green and I dashed off. It was not until I was nearly on the far side of the intersection that the wide boy in the Audi decided to rev his engine, which made a considerable amount of noise, and out-accelerate everything else – embarrassingly late. Perhaps it was turbo lag.

While we’re on the streets of Wuxi, the 中山路-县前街 intersection remains a mess. The road surface is wet and uneven, and heavy metal plates, which bob up and down as vehicles pass over them, remain strewn across the road. There’s no sign of anyone doing any work on it at all.


The winter solstice.

Today’s Google doodle claims that it’s the first day of winter. Where? Where is it the first day of winter? It sounds like a Hallmark anniversary. It is the winter solstice, though, and bloody cold to boot.

Oh, lordy, he’s heading for the microphone

And he’s going to make a speech.

Yes, it’s that time of the year once again when back in 1949, Chairman Mao stepped up to the microphone and announced the opening of the People’s Republic of China, and the audience departed from Tiananmen Square in a sea of lively chatter: “Who was he? What was he talking about? Did I vote for him? What about the workers? I hope they remember that violence doesn’t legitimise them. Oh, bugger, I left the gas on.”

The week leading up to this year’s National Day Holiday really was a week, fraught with anxieties about the contrary weather and the maddeningly transitory forecast for Sunday which veered from heavy cloud to light to moderate rain and back to heavy cloud again – and then ended up being sunny spells. If the weather had been bad, we might’ve had a nine-day week.

The centre of the city gets worse with one of the busiest sections of 人民路 being narrower than ever and now congested by cars, electric scooters, and pedestrians. Motorised traffic really needs to be directed away from the centre of Wuxi while all the work is being done on the Metro, but that would be sensible.

That section was especially bad yesterday because the mall beyond Parkson was having some sort of grand opening, and there were a lot of people around there. The bike park outside Parkson was completely packed. I could see somewhere to park my bike, but it was a row in, and I had to carry my bike over my head to get in and out.

I still haven’t been into Centre 66 yet to see this fabled supermarket with its Western goods. I need to reconnoitre the area to find somewhere to leave my bike, but there seems to be nowhere to do that along 人民中路. I might just have to park outside the Xinhua Bookshop instead.

The Ferrari-Maserati shop is under wraps at the moment while they no doubt make it look pretty for the arrival of all its odiously wealthy customers. In fact, the whole complex looks to be yet another paean to the massive wealth disparity in the Empire. The poor may be less poor, but the rich are vastly richer.

Anyway, Linda is arriving tomorrow to spend a few days with me. Hurrah!

Autumn is in summer

Spring is in winter.

The Mid Autumn Festival is upon us again. This will be my twelfth, although it’s only in recent years that this has been a long weekend. (I.e., we get one day off, and the other is stolen from the nearest available weekend; why not give us the Friday or Monday and be done with it? [You do realise that that would be sensible. Not something in great evidence in China. –ed.])

I forget what the weather has been like in previous years on this occasion,  but it remains rather summery. I believe the high today is 31°; certainly the sky is blue and the air is reasonably clear. There’s a small scattering of fluffy clouds to the east. In truth, today could be yesterday; today could be a year ago.

Although the weather today bears a greater resemblance to summer than autumn, the weather is feeling autumnal. It might be hot during the day, but the heat is less intense than it was a few weeks ago when it pervaded everything. So long as the humidity is kept at bay, it’s tolerable outside.

At the moment, the weather is not something to be too worried about, but with sports days coming up next, we will be anxiously watching the skies. In all my time in China, I cannot remember a single sunny sports day. It is quite possible that I’ve forgotten, but I typically associate sports days with heavy cloud and the imminent threat of rain. But just as I cannot recall a sunny sports day, I cannot recall the entire thing being cancelled because of the weather. Last year the little darlings had a temper tantrum even although the weather was quite ghastly.

In all likelihood we’ll go through the same thing again, but with the added bonus that if we do have to teach, the week before the National Day Holiday will be very, very long.

Appendix.

I recently learnt that Wuxi is the fifth most affluent city in China. We’re behind Suzhou at No. 3 and ahead of Changzhou, which also makes the top twenty list. [Really? Changzhou? One of the dullest cities imaginable. –ed.] Chengdu may be a good deal more affluent than most of Sichuan, but it’s not in the top twenty.

Meanwhile, the posh new (but unfinished) mall opposite the Xinhua Bookshop on 人民中路 is supposed to have a supermarket exclusively selling foreign products (at more than foreign prices, I expect). I know that the same mall has a Ferrari-Maserati shop, although I don’t know whether this will be ridiculously unaffordable cars or ridiculously expensive trinkets.

In fact, the whole place is a Ferrari-Maserati mall with all the posh designer brands there flogging their outrageously priced designer kit to vulgar conspicuous con­sumers.

Time for topical trivia

Preface.

I’ve been coming here quite a bit, but mainly to see who’s been reading what and then either editing the formatting of old entries or deleting the entry because it should’ve been posted on Facebook because it was topical and trivial.

It is with this in mind that I’ve been dithering over this entry because it will be topical and trivial.


Holiday in Chengdu.

I meant to write something about the holiday in Chengdu much sooner because I knew that much of what happened would quickly fade from my mind.

The weather was generally grey and dry, which was in contrast to the heavy rain and flooding from which Sichuan had been suffering. There was one nice day when we saw blue sky and sunshine, and it started raining again on the day of my departure.

Global CentreLinda and I went to see the Global Centre (环球中心), the largest building in the world, which is on the south side of Chengdu (get off on the second-to-last stop on line 1 of the Metro). The building is vast, and also vastly un­finished. There were some shops, but like Raffle’s last year, so many premises were unoccupied, and the cinema was still being built. The artificial beach was also unfinished. But it seems to be standard practice in China to open some building long before it’s actually finished.

The picture above was taken with my new camera, which I bought because I knew I’d be going to the Global Centre and didn’t want to rely on the paltry camera on my phone. The new camera is a Sony HX 200, which is something like the great grandson (possibly great-great grandson) of my old camera. The only problem is that I can’t get pictures off it at the moment. I accidentally gave Linda the USB cable instead of the USB cable for her Walkman. It’ll have to wait till I’m at school before I can get the right cable back.

We mostly pottered around. Went out to Raffle’s a couple of times; went to the computer centre next door because Linda needs a new computer; went shopping for sunglasses from the camping shops on the other side of the road; and bought a new pair of sandals to wear inside so that I can wear the old ones outside.

I did notice an odd trend, though. One day when we were on the bus, I saw that some girl had gauze pads on her knees, and when she alighted, it was done very awkwardly. I then saw at least two more girls with sores on their knees as well.

I can only guess that this is a result of them tripping over in their stripper shoes. When we were in the Global Centre, I saw a girl with pea-stick legs clinging to her grandma on the escalator for fear of toppling over.


Merlin, the whole thing.

I’ve had a small pile of DVDs sitting on my bed for months, but because I mostly listen to music these days, I don’t bother watching them. I did, though, plough through the entirety of Merlin after I got back from Chengdu.

The story is roughly based on Arthurian legend, but in this version, Uther is mostly alive and fierce opponent of magic. Merlin is Arthur’s servant, and Gwenevere is the blacksmith’s daughter. Morgana, Arthur’s half sister, camps it up as an evil Goth chick with Helena Bonham Carter’s insane hair.

The tone of the series changed over time from being fairly light to being much darker. Evil Morgana was joined by evil Queen Gwenevere, and there was a cameo from the ghost of evil Uther.

The relationships between the characters also fluctuated. It seemed odd that Merlin and various other underlings were quite familiar with Arthur, addressing him by name. In a later episode, the writer seems to have decided that Arthur should be addressed formally throughout, and then in subsequent episodes, there was a mixture of formal and familiar.1

In the end there was a battle at Camlann where Merlin in the guise of Emrys hurled bolts of lightning at the Saxons. Mordred, who had gone over to Morgana’s side after Arthur had hanged his fanatical girlfriend, mortally wounded the king, but was killed himself.

Merlin tried to get Arthur to the Isle of the Blessed, but the series had already been axed, which meant that Arthur would never make it in time to be healed. He did remain alive just long enough for Merlin to inform him that he was a wizard.

The series ended without ever fulfilling the prophecy which the dragon (voiced by John Hurt) kept mentioning, viz. Arthur will unite the kingdoms of Britain to establish Albion.


The weather. I just had to mention it, didn’t I?

Last year the finally two weeks of July were clear, hot and sunny. This year we’ve had less clear and sunny, but more hot. I cannot recall the last time the high wasn’t 37°, and yesterday, it was 39°.

While the weather in Britain has been “scorchio”, it can’t really compare with the searing temperatures which we’ve been “enjoying”.

Is this going to last into August or, like last year, is some ruddy great typhoon going to slam into us?


The new chair.

I got back from Chengdu determined to do something about going to Ikea here. I had learnt a thing or two since my first failed attempt to get there.

The 328, which is really the bus for Metro, only runs from 6.40pm and would only reach Ikea in time for the place to close. The correct stop was the first one on the far side of 县前街, although I was beginning to have my doubts until I saw the Ikea bus going in the opposite direction and turn right onto 县前街. In other words, it doesn’t even go past the Far Eastern.

But the bus did eventually arrive and I travelled all the way to Ikea (about 10km, I estimate) for ¥2. Since it was a weekday, the bus was lightly populated, and Ikea was also quiet, which is in marked contrast to either in Chengdu.

I found the chair I wanted (the Markus) and arranged for it to be delivered to me the next day, which it was after some sort of hiccup. I think the deliverymen possibly went to the wrong building.

Anyway, it’s nice to have a decent chair to sit on, one which I can lean back when I want to watch something.


Speaking of watching something…

I watched Warm Bodies last night. Basically, girl meets zombie and he turns into a real boy. It’s a bit Pinocchio and a bit ugly duckling.

I assume that there’s a message here, but the question is what the zombies and skeletons (extreme zombies) represent exactly. Some sort of underclass in the US? The proletariat is not entirely irredeemable?

If you’ll forgive the irony of such a comment, the film had promise, but never quite seemed to come to life.


When in Rome?

I’ve been keeping half an eye on the GlaxoSmithKlein case, wondering exactly what is going on. Whenever some foreign company gets criticised for dubious practices, I suspect that it’s the Chinese people running the show here who are responsible. In this case, it appears to be the foreigners who are at fault and yet I also suspect that they were just doing what everyone else does here. (Long-term readers, if there are any such, may recall advertisements for “Brain Boost” at the school in Benniu, which were passed off as safety warnings.)

Why aren’t Chinese pharmaceutical companies being targeted? Why a foreign company? One suggestion I’ve seen is that this has something to do with the previous emperor’s relatives.


When red songs become the blues.

Bo Xilai is finally going to be tried. This provoked some rather robotic pro-government tweets on Weibo. As for the trial itself, I assume the outcome has already been decided. I suspect Bo will survive to spend the rest of his days in the same comfy prison as his wife.

I assume that the decision about his fate has already been made, and that the rest of the trial will be stage-managed.


Georgie Pordgie. Pordgy?

The new future king of England has been born and has been named George Alexander Louis.

At a rough guess, I think I will’ve been long dead by the time he’s king. If QEII lives to be 100, Charles won’t be king before he’s about 80, which means that William may not be king much before he’s 50, and by the time George VII gets his go on the big chair, most of the century will probably be over. I might just live long enough to learn who George’s successor will be.

Notes.

  1. This has me wondering how Dark Age underlings addressed their superiors before Celtic Britain became Englalond. We see Arthur through the lens of how we see the Middle Ages when the servants would not, presumably, have dared to address their masters by name and English got saddled with that ridiculous and artificial Continental custom of tu vs. vous.

What does the smart money say?

It says it’ll be fine on Monday and Tuesday when we’re having our weekend stolen off us.

Once again it’s the infamous 高考, China’s equivalent of A-levels or SATs. After three years without any meaningful exams, a bunch of egotistical 17-year-olds with a grossly inflated sense of their own cleverness will be enjoying the the ultimate three-day extravaganza in the Chinese education system.

As a colleague of mine observed on Facebook, there’s a whole battalion of ninjas on guard around the school ready to make any noise-making miscreants regret their actions, whereas we have been afforded no such consideration during our exams.

And thus we get at least one day off.

The Dragon Boat Festival also falls on some random day around this time because a fixed holiday would be sensible, and that (being sensible) is not part of the Chinese Dream™. This year the Festival is Monday to Wednesday next week. In a civilised country, we’d probably have the whole six days off, but this is a country devoid of human decency, and while we get Wednesday, we’re back at school on Monday and Tuesday.

Currently, though, we’re having the day off. The weather is utterly appalling again, possibly being even worse than the previous occasion. Heavy rain and high winds all morning, and copious amounts of surface flooding – water gushing up from the drains, water gushing out of drainpipes, and water streaming down every available slope.

While my raincoat and over-trousers protected me to some extent, this is the sort of rain which tends to overwhelm my defences. Although I zipped up all my pockets, the rain got through.

When I got to Carrefour, I looked utterly dishevelled while everyone else looked, well, shevelled, which was rather annoying because none of them were armed with anything more than an umbrella.

All the girls in their hooker (stripper/porn star/70s throwback platform) shoes won’t even be getting their feet wet, but my shoes got soaked, and my socks, and my feet.

I’m predicting that next week while the rest of the country has Monday and Tuesday off, the weather will be fine, dry and pleasant. It’ll then rain again on Wednesday.

Later. As it turns out, neither Monday nor Tuesday was that nice, and Wednesday is supposed to be overcast, but I won’t be too surprised if there’s more drizzle.