Monday, March 31, 2008

Last call for band names

A quiet month it has been over on the 'Possible Band Names' thread, but last month's star performers, Snopes and Gary, have belatedly weighed in with some more very fine suggestions. The top contenders include Dane Breath, Queen Kong, The Hip-Hop Replacements (geriatric rap group?), Candy Rabbit and Cutting Room Floor.

Think you can do better? Give it a go.

Since my 'months' on this competition seem to have been running over a week or so into the following month, I will give you until noon this Friday (I work on GMT, remember. Well, now, I suppose, it's British Summer Time: one hour later. I'm English - indulge me!) to post your entries.

Remember, there are supplementary competitions for 'Best Foreign Band Name' and 'Best Cover Band Name', for which you can also leave entries on the same thread.

Happy band naming!

Don't use Chinglish

And another thing! (Supplementary free PR advice for the Chinese leadership)

What is with this "splittist" nonsense?

It sounds like some kind of vaudeville novelty performer, an acrobat who specialises in repeatedly doing the splits.

No, it just sounds like a 5-year-old's first fumbling attempts at word formation.

Guys, you can call them whatever the hell you like in Chinese, but when you're addressing an English-speaking audience in English...... then you should use English, not Chinglish.

You can't just invent words like that. Especially not words that sound so..... well, silly.

And there is a perfectly good word in the English language already. The word is 'separatist'. Use it.

Bad cop, worse cop

More free PR advice for the Chinese leadership

I was really saddened to see Wen Jiabao being trotted out to do the denouncing of the D*l*i L*m* the other week. It doesn't do much to help the situation, and I fear it will tend to tarnish Wen's reputation for many overseas observers.

Sure, he's the guy who gives most of the high-level briefings to the foreign media - perhaps one of the few, if not the only one, of the current top leaders here who are smart enough and relaxed enough to deal with foreign journalists convincingly and respond to impromptu questions. And I think he is perceived, both inside and outside China, as a politician with a human face, affable and sincere (although, of course, this might just be a terribly good act)..... whereas poor old Hu always looks as if he's got a steel rod up his arse. And it makes sense to keep Hu out of the limelight right now, since it would probably not be helpful to have too many reminders of his record in relation to Tibet (he was the Party Chief there during the last major outbreak of protests in 1989; and it was his tough crackdown on that unrest - alleged to have resulted in some hundreds of deaths - that helped to propel him into the Politburo shortly afterwards).

However, it is disappointing to see Wen having to parrot the party line about "the D*l*i clique" and "evil splittists". This might have been an opportunity for Wen to make use of his more moderate and genial image to soften the presentation of the Chinese government's line to the outside world. It would surely have been possible, without necessarily contradicting or disowning the 'official version', to tone down the language used, to spin the message a little differently. I would like to see this whole "D*l*i clique" nonsense dropped from the foreign press briefings for a while. And if it has to be addressed, or is brought up in questions, would it be so unthinkable to shift to formulas like "We suspect people close to the D*l*i may have been involved in directing some of the violence" or "We believe the D*l*i and his advisers can and should be doing more to restrain the violence"? Surely not.

I can't help but wonder if Wen is being set up as a fall guy on this. Although the collaboration between himself and Hu Jintao is generally seen as being very close and 'harmonious' (they both began their political careers around the same time in Gansu Province, and both obtained advancement through the support of the same powerful mentors, Song Ping and Hu Yaobang), Wen does seem to be much less of a hardliner on many issues; and there is a curious see-sawing in the amount of media coverage each receives, which might possibly suggest some kind of ideological tension - if not exactly a "power struggle" - between them.

In summary, I would propose dropping the 'demonize the D*l*i' approach altogether. If that is too radical a move, it should at least be possible to tone down the language of that message so that it seems less hysterical and buffoonish to an overseas audience. And you certainly shouldn't compromise the standing of the only one of your leaders who enjoys a really positive reputation overseas by making him the mouthpiece for these extreme and unpalatable statements.

This week's bon mot

"Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the men of old; seek what they sought."

Basho (1644-1694)

Sunday, March 30, 2008

I just wish they'd make their f***ing minds up!

(A cross-post from The Barstool.)

As of yesterday, Blogspot was blocked again in China. Blocked, that is, to the 'second level'.

Blogspot is almost always blocked at its regular IP address. However, most of us foreigners are usually able to access it easily enough via
an alternate IP address we've plugged into our Firefox browser. At the 'second level' of censorship arsiness, that gets blocked too.

The 'third level' is blocking even via robust proxy services like Anonymouse. We had that for a while a couple of weeks ago; but mercifully, the Kafka Boys aren't quite that pissed off with us at the moment.

I imagine blocking a multi-server proxy like that must be quite a complex undertaking. So, sometimes the chaps down at Kafka Central will just skip straight to the next level - which appears to be blocking the Net access of individual computers (an IT boffin I know didn't think this was possible, or at least had never heard of it being done - but I've now encountered two other foreigners who suffered from this, as I did, the other week).

The 'fifth level' - one step more extreme than that, but rather easier to implement - would be cutting off your home Internet connection entirely. (Although I suppose these days most people are using wi-fi a lot of the time; that would explain the appeal of blocking computers rather than connections. Maybe blocking a specific computer should actually be regarded as a higher level of obstructiveness.)

And the 'sixth level' would be being taken into custody. I would imagine that only native 'dissidents' would be in danger of that. We irreverent, super-critical laowai will simply be told - if we make one unsuitable joke too many - that our visas or our tax records are out of order, and be asked to leave the country at a few hours' notice.

This constant on/off/on censorship is very wearisome. I am having big problems getting Tor or Hotspot or (new candidate for top proxy gizmo, just recommended to me by a friend) FoxyProxy to work for me (my computer is old and slow, the wiring into my building is old and slow, the Chinese Internet architecture in general is pretty bloody slow, and with all of the extra filtering going on at the moment - well, the whole bloody thing is grinding to a halt). Thus, I am having to rely on web-based proxies, and these can be rather cumbersome in some ways. I am vexed. Mighty vexed.

But I think I'd be a lot less vexed if I knew that this was going to be the situation from here on and I could steel myself to embrace these irksome adaptations to my online life as permanent. The chopping and changing of the censorship regime every few days adds salt to the wounds, even when it's a change for the better.

This endless vacillating makes the Chinese government look even more buffoonish (buffoonish and goonish - not a good combination!) than usual. It makes it look as if they just can't decide what to block and why. It makes it look as if consistency in policy is quite beyond them. It makes it look (and I suspect there is some truth in this) as though the Internet censorship apparatus is so intricate that they're not really fully in control of it ("Ooops, what does this switch do?").

Also, of course, it fuels panicky speculation about the ongoing civil unrest. "They're tightening up on the Net censorship again! Did something really bad just happen out west??"

Trying to censor the Internet like this is just a really, really, really dumbass thing to do. But this is China. The country is run by a bunch of insecure assclowns.

Friday, March 28, 2008

A feeling poorly again haiku

Rasping throat, hoarse voice,
Headache, cough, and runny eyes -
The air in Beijing!

Meanwhile, over on the Barstool I have just instituted a 'What's your porn star name?' diversion. I failed to mention it at the time, but that was Post No. 600 on my 'other' blog. That calls for a drink!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Favourite posts from the 4th quarter of 2007

Pick of the Archive:
Favourite Posts, October-December 2007

1) Mooncakes are SHITE - 2nd October

The Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival prompts a brief rant about one of the country's least appealing 'special foods'.

2) Hush - 5th October

Enjoying the sounds of the rain in Beijing....

3) Reading the traffic - 7th October

I compare the hazards of jogging in China to the fiendish difficulty of the Monaco Grand Prix simulation I've been failing to master on my Playstation.

4) Fighting the good fight, Chinglish-style - 16th October

A particularly funny propaganda banner that appeared in the Sanlitun bar district shortly after a notoriously ham-fisted 'crackdown' on drug dealers there.

5) A teaching dream - 17th October

I suffer a rare anxiety dream - in which all of my students are seduced away from me by the rival teacher in the classroom next door (who just happens to be England's funniest [deceased] comedian). There's an additional punchline here.

6) Another thwarted romance haiku - 19th October

Another haiku on my non-event of an infatuation with the perpetually inaccessible Madame X.

7) Return of The Anti-30 League - 20th October

My birthday prompts the revival of a militant post-University campaign for obstinate age-denial.

8) Today's hilarity in the studio - 23rd October

My recording job throws up a couple of especially risible Chinglish moments. This one is possibly even better.

9) Why we love the Internet - 24th October

Because of silliness like 'the Hitler cat', that's why.

10) The Chinese DO have a sense of humour - 1st November

A link to one of the sharpest pieces of Chinese satire I have encountered (on the sorry state of journalism in this country).

11) Things that are SHITE - Employers - 2nd November

My new occasional series on things that really get my goat continues with this diatribe against the UK head office of my principal employer for the stupendous thoughtlessness of their timing of the quarterly 'company meeting'.

12) Important announcement - safety regulations for Chinese air travel - 3rd November

Another stunningly inventive piece of Chinglish prompts reflections on airport security and on the vileness of electronic dictionaries.

13) Great moments in cinema history - 4th November

My life as a cinema-goer: the 10 key moments.

14) Dangerous freedom - 8th November

The prospect of spending a day entirely alone in the office prompts some crazy and mischievous thoughts.

15) Chinese people LOVE me! (3) - 12th November

In which I admit to my lack-of-weakness for Chinese girls.... (a topic later covered in more detail here).

16) No. 038871 - 26th November

Superstitions about the significance of Beijing taxi driver registration numbers - and the birth of a competition to find the city's longest-serving cabbie.

17) My brilliant website ideas - 29th November

More japery, based around my occasional brainwaves for making money on the Internet.

18) Jobs I nearly had - 1st December

December's 'List of the Month' - pretty self-explanatory title!

19) A haunting image - 2nd December

A favourite piece of 'found humour', from a visit to New York a decade ago.

20) A different kind of haunting - 2nd December

Another of my 'list' poems, another of my poems about lost love - you know the drill.

24) Chinese people LOVE me! (9) - 4th December

A "little bit of politics", as I rail against the 'One China' Policy.

25) My fantasy girlfriend - Rhapsody Angel - 8th December

Confessing my childhood infatuation..... with a fibreglass puppet.

26) In praise of cautious fear - 10th December

A surprisingly popular 'bon mot of the the week' - perhaps because it was so evidently a commentary on my continuing inactivity with regard to Madame X.

27) His Left Foot - 10th December

Recollections of the great footballer, Kevin Sheedy (one of the greatest players I ever saw play in the flesh), including a clip of one of his best-known goals.

28) Messy break-ups - 14th December

My brutally abrupt sacking initiates some melancholy philosophizing on the similarities between jobs and girlfriends.

29) The 'Evil Bastard Employers' - a case study - 15th December

A very long post, but an important one: a list of grievances against my first employer in China illustrates many of the problems for foreigners in working or doing business here.

30) A new poem - 18th December

Quite a promising one, I think - again it is about my dismal lack of progress with X, my only topic at the moment.

31) I am a Penguin - 20th December

Christmas is the time for daft 'personality profiling' quizzes!

32) Addiction - 22nd December

I 'fess up to my sorry dependence on a citrus-y sweet called Hi-Chew.

33) Chinese people LOVE me! (12) - 22nd December

Another embarrassing revelation: I frequently sing when walking home late at night through the hutongs.

34) Token schmaltzy moment - 24th December

A link to a feelgood story I found on another website (and some compensatory curmudging from myself).

35) Music & Lyrics - 26th December

My rather good Christmas Day was capped with a viewing of this extremely charming film on DVD (a present from my buddy, The Chairman - who was particularly impressed with Hugh Grant in it).

36) An illustrated haiku for the year's end - 28th December

In praise of 'instant noodles' (though with an admixture of personal shame as well).

37) 421!! - 29th December

The days following Christmas in Beijing were marked by obscene peaks in the Air Pollution Index. (It is particularly nice - by contrast - when the sky clears up again, though.)

38) The Year-End Roundup - 10 Favourite Moments Of 2007 - 30th December

Not such a bad a year, after all......

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A Small Plug (=Commercial Notice)

My friend Sarah, The Life Coach, is going back to the UK to see her family in May, and will put on one of her "sort your life out, find a job you'd be happier in" seminars while she's there.

I'd be very tempted to go myself (god knows I need the help!) if I were in the country then. It's going to be a great weekend retreat in a lovely traditional inn (thatched roof and all) called the Royal Oak, in the Exmoor village of Winsford (ah, twinge of nostalgia - I regularly used to go there during my summer holidays as a kid). Do check out this link, and pass it on to anyone you know who you think might be interested.

Belated St Patrick's Day greetings

Interest in The Barstool seems to have been scant over the past couple of weeks. I daresay this has been partly due to the censorship problems we've been enduring here in China - but, hey, things are relatively open again now, so you can't use that excuse any more.

To celebrate the restoration of YouTube the other day (a guy in this Website Design class I'm teaching at the moment told me he knew of a proxy server that gave you access to YouTube even during the recent very tight lockdown; I'm sceptical, but I'm going to get the details next time I see him), I put up some links on my sister site to great Irish drinking songs - the highlight of which is an early TV appearance by The Clancy Brothers, one of the great Irish folk bands and largely credited with the popularizing of traditional Irish music overseas, particularly in the States. Go take a look.


This always seems to happen in Beijing.

It is as if Dame Nature loves to thumb her nose at our Communist government and its nationally imposed timetable for the provision of winter central-heating.

In November, just around the time all our heaters come on, after enduring a mostly arse-freezing October, we invariably get a late-season burst of warmish weather again - making our first week or so of central-heating uncomfortably balmy indoors.

The even less welcome corollary is that when in mid-March the heating goes off again, our always somewhat half-hearted and tentative Spring weather abruptly disappears for a while. The 'magic date' for cutting the heat is supposed to be March 15th (the official commencement date being November 15th), although there is some local variation of a day or two; and it generally takes at least a few days for the water to drain from the system in a large building like mine, and the pipes retain a vestige of heat for a while. Then, around the 18th or the 20th, we get our arses frozen for a spell again.

Since Sunday evening, the temperature has dropped by 10 or 15 degrees Fahrenheit, with the nighttime lows down around freezing again for the first time in three weeks, and the daytime highs barely limping into the 50s (and nippy windchill, to boot). On Friday, we are predicted to suffer a nighttime low well below freezing - the blossoming trees aren't going to like that.

A week ago, I was struggling to sleep because I was too warm at night, considering retiring my duvet for the next 6 months. The last few days, I have been forced to wear a sweatshirt at night for extra warmth, and to pad around in tracksuit bottoms during the day.

I know, I shouldn't really complain. Everything from just north of the Yangtze on downwards gets no central-heating at all. And those guys got snow this year!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Don't hide behind vaguenesses

Yet more free PR advice for the Chinese leadership

It seems to be something of a problem of the Chinese language that it is tremendously woolly. Perhaps it's a failing of their philosophical tradition too: they never had a Socrates, so definitional analysis never really seems to have taken off here. I don't really know enough of linguistics to claim an authoritative opinion on this, but I suspect that there are so many deficits in the language (paucity of vocabulary, difficulty of new word formation, no tense formation as such, few if any modals, limited use of relative clauses, no articles at all, absence of clear distinctions between nouns and verbs), that precision of the kind we take for granted in English just isn't possible in Chinese.

Making all due allowance for the idiosyncracies and shortcomings of the language, though, I still say Chinese politicians and media tend to rely far too heavily on clichéd phrases that are so nebulous as to be almost completely meaningless. It seems to be a key technique of Chinese rhetoric. And - at least when addressing an overseas audience - it needs to be ruthlessly weeded out. It sounds, at best, tedious and pompous; at worst, evasive, or just plain ludicrous.

I came across a particularly baffling example in one of my recent editing jobs: "the Chinese Confucian circle". Any idea what that's supposed to be? Me neither! Evidently it is becoming a recognised term of art in certain academic circles in China, but its meaning is not readily apparent to anyone else. Is it a club or society to promote Confucian values? Is it a cabal of Confucian scholars? No, it appears to mean "those East Asian countries which share a tradition of Confucian thought with China". So, that would be Korea, then (North and South)? And perhaps (rather more tenuously?) Japan. And you might think that the word "Chinese" could usefully be omitted from the formula as redundant or misleading - since everyone knows Confucius was Chinese, but here we're not talking about Confucianism in China.

The other one that's been appearing everywhere in the local media over the past fortnight is, of course, "the D*l*i clique" (or sometimes, to give us just a little variety, "the D*l*i coterie").

Occasionally, the D*l*i will be vilified directly, but more often of late it seems the Chinese leadership and media are attacking him via this formula. The insinuation that the D*l*i is masterminding the recent troubles is still clear enough, but..... they're trying to give themselves a shred of deniability about that? "Ah, we didn't actually say it was the D*l*i himself."

Well, what exactly did you say? Nothing. Who are the members of this clique? What is their relationship to the D*l*i? Are they part of his intimate circle, or people who only know him at a distance? Do they treat him merely as a figurehead and an inspiration, or do they take instructions from him?

This is just the usual asinine mud-slinging with an overlay of pointless obfuscation. Stop it!


In only my second or third full week of teaching here in China, I got one of my first tastes of "the Chinese way of doing things" in educational institutions (i.e. complete cock-up).

I had been looking forward to a morning off, because both of my classes were supposed to be attending some kind of "opening ceremony" to mark the beginning of the new academic year. I had only found this out by chance (an overheard conversation in the faculty office); nobody would ever tell you about this kind of thing in a Chinese school or University!

At this stage of my career here, I was still trying to be nice and accommodating and.... all those things I've now rather given up on. So, I double-checked. I went to the faculty office the day before and asked the director's secretary if I had classes the next day. "Oh, no. Your classes are cancelled. The students will go to the opening ceremony."

I treble-checked. "Well, thank you, Angela. But would you mind asking the director for me now, just to be absolutely sure. It seems that most of my colleagues have classes as normal, so I wonder why only my classes are cancelled." Yep, the boss confirmed it - no classes for me on Thursday. Whoopee!

I quadruple-checked. I was in the faculty office early the next morning doing some printing, and bumped into my teaching assistant. "So, no classes for me today, Diana?" "No, class is cancelled."

An hour or so later, I was heading out into the city to enjoy my unexpected day of freedom..... when I bumped into one of my British teaching colleagues. He said, "Diana is looking for you. She says your class has been 'uncancelled'."

We both laughed.

Then I said, "You ain't seen me, right?" and left on my walk.

Ah, those far-off days of innocence!

I did rather enjoy that wonderful non-word: a rare instance of Chinglish being usefully inventive - 'uncancelled'.

And hence, that anecdote was all preamble to announcing that my blog is now unbanned again.

I think, in fact, it was only 'down' for a day or two - but once you've taken to using proxies to evade a block, you don't easily find out when the block is lifted again. I imagine it was probably an automatic sanction, perhaps imposed because I had injudiciously linked to a couple of China-based blog sites that had been blocked already.

Even better news - YouTube is also back!! Heck, the Chinese Internet seems to be pretty much back to 'normal'.

Does that mean the Tibetan crisis is blowing over? Or does it mean that the Chinese leadership has started taking my advice??

No, it's probably just that the hopeless assclowns can't make up their minds.

Albert, again

"Problems cannot be solved by thinking within the framework in which the problems were created."

Albert Einstein (1879-1955)

How true! And particularly appropriate to the present situation in China!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

We are all Simpsons now

Many have asked...... "What does the Froog look like?"

Now, at last, it can be revealed - via the technological marvel of The Simpsonizer.

Of course, the device has its limitations. Everyone starts off with piggy eyes, a button nose, and impossibly low-set ears; and although you can ameliorate these oddities - and the inevitable goofy overbite, of course - the range of customizations available is really pretty small (and some of them don't work at all: you're supposed to be able to use a slider control to vary hair and clothes colour, but....).

This, I think, is not too bad a likeness. At least, it captures my fondness for dark clothes (a dark blue Hugo Boss shirt and black Levi's are my trademark 'look'). I have no idea, though, why it gave me a black thatch; my hair is really quite a light brown. This 'yellow' version of me (working from the same original photograph) is a little closer to the right hair colour, but I couldn't get rid of the tousled style - that's not me.

And just to get really freaky on you, here is me as a chick. You know how I love to stay in touch with "my feminine side"!

Thanks to Leah for alerting us all to this wonderful timewaster!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Don't diss the D*l*i

More free PR advice for the Chinese leadership

If your antagonist has way more moral authority than you, try to close the gap a little by mirroring (and acknowledging) his dignity and restraint. Don't just resort to that tired old mud-slinging tactic to try to lower his standing.

The D*l*i L*m* may not be quite so spotlessly saintly as he is generally perceived outside of China, but he's certainly not the cackling comic-book villain the government here tries to portray him as.

The Chinese have repeatedly asserted that the D*l*i was pulling the strings of all the recent disturbances, and that they have evidence of this. They haven't produced any evidence. It seems inconceivable that there could be any hard evidence of this kind of activity, at least so soon after the events. I read somewhere that the D*l*i has challenged the Chinese government to send a team of investigators to the seat of his government-in-exile to try to find evidence to support this accusation (he's so much better at PR than they are!).

You know what, Chinese leaders? Even if it were true, and even if you had the evidence, you should think very carefully about how to present those facts to the world's press. It might, after all, just be better to keep it to yourselves - because you have so little credibility (as a result of your lousy PR, and your years of mud-slinging) that people are just going to assume you have fabricated the 'evidence' as black propaganda. These kinds of accusations - even if well-founded - are never going to play well with an overseas audience, whose sympathies naturally lie more with the D*l*i than with you. And I mean everyone else in the world, not just 'the West'. Some of the Asia-Pacific countries more immediately within China's sphere of influence might be more supportive of your government, more sympathetic to the use of the force; but just about everyone outside of China has an overwhelmingly positive view of the D*l*i. It's going to be very, very hard for you ever to change that. And half-arsed attempts to do so by childish name-calling are only going to bolster his 'noble martyr' image, while further diminishing your - already negligible - moral stature.

As Will, the Imagethief, pointed out in an excellent post the other day, the Chinese leadership has been peddling this anti-D*l*i narrative to its own people for so long now that it finds itself locked into it. It could be that they value consistency in the abstract (but somehow I doubt that). It could be that they worry that the large foreign media presence in China today means that messages in the domestic media will be widely reported overseas, however much they try to put over a softer line in official briefings for the foreign press only. It could be that they are worried that a different message released to the foreign media is increasingly likely to find its way back into China, especially via the Internet, and thereby confuse the populace and, perhaps, start to undermine the decades of brainwashing they've been subjected to on this issue. Those would be not unreasonable concerns. But you know what - I think actually they just expect us to buy this crap. Because the Chinese people have bought it so readily for so long. Because they themselves have bought it.

And no, I am not going to make any apology for the use of the highly emotive word 'brainwashing' back there. Chinese state propaganda is so thoroughgoing in its methods and its effectiveness that there really is no other word so apposite.

By the by, you may notice that this hysterical China Daily op ed piece (also linked to above) ridicules the notion that T*bet*ns "revere" the D*l*i - yes, their quotation marks, not mine. Sigh.

What time is that jacket?

Yesterday, in the recording studio......

Pretty much the first of the micro-dialogues my partner and I were asked to perform was this:

"How much is that jacket?"

"Seven fifteen."

Well, it tickled me. I know it is possible to quote prices without referring to the currency, but I don't think it's the prevalent practice in any English-speaking country that I've been to; and it does seem particularly awkward in this example, where we have such an improbable figure being quoted, and one that just happens to sound rather more like a time.

I strongly suspect that the above exchange was created by an accidental fusing of two incompatible dialogues. Such Frankenstein creations are quite common, as Chinese educational publishers make just a minimal effort to introduce a few variations into the endlessly recycled basic scripts.

Some of these oft-used scripts clearly go back a very long way - inappropriate cultural references, especially wildly out-of-date prices, act as useful little archaeological markers for dating their origins. It's not uncommon to find such exchanges as this:

"How much is a flight from New York to London this week?"

"50 dollars."

"That's very reasonable. What a great airline PanAm is!"

I am recreating from imagination more than memory with this last example, but I have encountered many examples like this, honestly.

The last line there looks suspiciously like an interpolation from one of my predecessors behind the microphone. Every once in a while, we will spot a surprising novelty in one our tired old scripts, and realise - with a certain alarm - that our employers have been transcribing the occasional facetious asides that we make to keep ourselves amused in the studio. There is a one dialogue - actually more of a genre! - that comes up all the time: a tourist couple (sometimes Chinese, sometimes foreign, sometimes unspecified; sometimes on holiday in China, sometimes in New York, sometimes elsewhere) discussing their plans for the day, ending with what they will do for dinner that evening. The conclusion is always the suggestion by one partner of eating at a Chinese restaurant and the other delightedly agreeing (oh, the propaganda here is subtle, pervasive!). Except..... once I was rather shocked to find a dialogue of this pattern ending with the line: "Why don't we go to an Indian restaurant? It'll be such a nice change from all this greasy Chinese food!"

You could have knocked me down with a feather. Especially as I recognised in these words the familiar acerbic humour of my principal recording partner, Dishy Debs.

We have to be careful what we say behind that microphone - or our own words may come back to haunt us one day. It is a daunting responsibility.

(And NO - of course we don't get paid for these impromptu script contributions!)

Friday, March 21, 2008

Signs you're getting old

When the taxi drivers start looking younger....

I was driven this morning by a shifu with the driver registration number 0822**. Now, according to my theory of the significance of these numbers, that should have meant that he'd been on the roads as a cabbie since, ooh, at least the mid-to-late '80s, I should think. But this chap was so fresh-faced, I doubt he could have been more a few years old back then.

It was his picture on the registration card, so he wasn't just filling in for a friend (that does still happen, but much less, I think, than it used to a few years ago). I wonder if the Taxi Supervision Bureau is trying to stave off the need to introduce 7-digit registrations by re-issuing 'retired' numbers?

Or had my driver somehow happened upon an elixir of eternal youth?? Maybe raw garlic is the answer??

Censorship latest....

There appears now to be some (intermittent, ineffectual) interference with Blogger. Sigh.

I seem to be able to get round it by re-setting my cookies every few minutes. Could just be a random glitch, I suppose.

Assclown haiku

Big Brother watches,
Then pulls plugs (or half of them).
The cat and its mouse.

By the way, there is a post where all the comments are haiku (I didn't plan it that way, it just happened!), so, if you fancy practicing your own syllable-counting skills.....

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Don't sling mud

Some free PR advice for the Chinese leadership
(First of what could become a long series....)

Actually, this could apply to most Chinese people, since they all too commonly share the hidebound thinking and inept techniques of argumentation propagated by their rulers and their state-controlled media.

In perusing various blogs and bulletin boards over the past few days to try and keep abreast of responses to what I am for now still euphemistically referring to as the troubles out west, I have found it depressing how often the first response of Chinese commenters is to completely ignore the central issue - what should the Chinese government's response to this situation be? - and instead disparage everybody else they can think of. The basic line of thinking is: "America does not have the moral standing to criticise us because it has done many bad things itself (slavery, annihilation of the Native American tribes, Gigli). Ditto Britain (the Raj, The Opium Wars, bodyline bowling). Ditto France (more colonial nastiness, blowing up The Rainbow Warrior, being so fucking smug all the time). And so on. And so on."

Please, guys (and, occasionally, gals), grow up. This kind of historical muck-raking is absolutely irrelevant, and reduces the discourse to the level of schoolyard name-calling.

And please, please, please (are you listening, government spokesmen?) don't ever use this line again: "No country has a perfect record on human rights."

Indeed not. But some do a lot better than others. And it is the mark of what I like to think of as a "grown-up" country that it strives to improve its human rights record, that it listens to criticism, that it is (usually) prepared to acknowledge its shortcomings and strive to address them.

When government leaders, official spokesmen, and state-run media resort to this kind of response (and they often do) - well, it just makes them look like a bunch of assclowns. Stop it!

A pick-me-up

I received an unexpected telephone call a couple of days ago from an old Chinese friend. Through contacts at the Australian Embassy, she had received a couple of invitations to the opening of a new exhibition of Aboriginal art - Utopia: A Picture Story - at the National Art Museum Of China (or NAMOC - but I always think that acronym sounds disturbingly like a character in some fantasy novel). Knowing that I was an arty sort of fellow, she thought this would be a good pretext for us to catch up and invited me to join her.

It is indeed a stunning show. And it's only on till next Friday, so hurry on down there.

Also, by lucky chance, I discovered that the long-running exhibition on the ground floor there of artwork from the Dunhuang Buddhist grottoes (almost all reproductions, but still pretty awe-inspiring) was still open. I have been repeatedly failing to get around to going to that for the past couple of months, although it has been often recommended to me. It finally closes tomorrow. I'm so glad I got to see this. (And it was FREE! Rather to my surprise, once we'd got past the front gate with the aid of our invitations to the 'Utopia' opening ceremony, there was no further security or ticket-checking within the building, so we were able to wander around at will and see everything. Something of an oversight on the part of the museum's management, I feel - but I'm not complaining.)

It's a curious quirk at NAMOC that they often seem to 'hide' the most interesting stuff away in the easily overlooked rooms at the extreme eastern and western ends of each of the three floors of galleries. This was even true of the Dunhuang show, where - impressive as the huge reclining Buddha statue and the dozens of mural paintings were - some of the most striking items were adjuncts to the main exhibition, tucked away in the wings at either end: two collections of modern paintings; the first, sketches and copies of the ancient artworks, or new paintings in imitation of them (there was one I found especially haunting, 'Noon Break' by an artist called Wang Yuliang: a beautifully simple composition of a nomad sitting on the ground, his head nodding in slumber, but still holding firmly on to the reins of the trio of horses standing around him); the second, much more contemporary in style, mostly of the rugged desert landscapes surrounding Dunhuang, in the far western province of Gansu.

It was gorgeous weather yesterday, as well: bright Spring sunshine again, after a few days of choking smog and dust. Seeing an old friend again. And a serendipitous opportunity to enjoy not one but two exhibitions (well, three actually: I also briskly toured the galleries on the 3rd Floor, which were mainly given over to an interestingly diverse - but mostly pretty awful - collection of what appeared to be Chinese oil paintings done in a late 19th or early 20th Century European style). It quite lifted my spirits - which had fallen very low in the past few days, with all the concerns about the situation in the western provinces and the Internet harassment I've been suffering at the hands of those assclowns, The Kafka Boys. I fear I was initially a little grumpy with my Chinese friend, griping about my censorship hassles and my worries about getting a visa renewal in a few months..... but gradually my clouds of gloom were dispelled, and by the end of the afternoon I was feeling quite chirpy and positive again.

How long will it last, I wonder?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


My two frivolous, inoffensive little blogs, Froogville and Barstool Blues, have made it on to the Chinese government's 'hate list', it seems.

Yes, as of some time on the evening of Tuesday, March 18th, I have been "harmonized" (as they like to put it in the local jargon). While most of Blogspot remains available, my blogs can no longer be reached from China - not even via Anonymouse. Gosh, that makes me feel special.

In fact, I am currently so 'special' that at around midnight last night my home Internet link was cut completely. That doesn't seem to have happened to any other laowai I know, so the Kafka Boys must really have decided that I am an ultra-bad dude.

Fortunately, they seem to have blocked me on the basis of my IP address rather than my Internet account - and, ta-daaaa, I happen to have a second computer, which is still able to get me online. Unfortunately, it is a truly ancient Vaio which is so SLOW that it barely functions with the modern Internet. And if the Kafka Boys really dislike me that much, I'm sure they'll soon notice this oversight, and block my home access completely. [By the way, does anyone happen to know how to change a laptop's IP address?]

Oh well, I have long been meaning to treat myself to a new computer anyway. And I have some 'Anonymizer' gizmos that supposedly beat all of the less drastic blocking techniques. And - if I can't get my home connection restored by yelling at the Internet provider on the phone all morning (that is my plan - I think it'll make me feel better, even if it doesn't produce any more concrete results) - perhaps I'll finally become a wi-fi fan and spend my days trying to get my work done in bars and cafés.

If I'd thought the authorities here would ever get this medieval on my arse, well, I would have liked to have done more to deserve it.

Yes, I have made fun of the Chinese government's propaganda-speak on occasion. I have made one or two indelicate references to Taiwan. And a couple of days ago, I was rash enough to mention a few China-based blogs I like to read that had already suffered "harmonization". I have also used my Blogger ID to comment in a few other places (notably on my friend J's excellent Chinese history blog, Jottings From The Granite Studio) on the current troubles - I wonder if that's what really got me into trouble.

On the whole, though, I'm really not a very political blogger: literature, cinema, music and humour (and love and regret and the consolation of a good beverage) are my main writing interests. I don't talk about China all that often, and I hardly ever mention current events. In particular, I had carefully avoided making any overt references on my own blogs to the Tibetan riots. And I certainly wasn't about to go posting any photographs or film clips of the events.

Now...... I wish I'd been more courageous, more outspoken.

Perhaps I will be from now on. After all, you might as well be hanged for a sheep as...... well, hanged for nothing at all.

And you can't imagine how pissed off I am at this sort of censorship. Losing my blogs is painful enough (I have become a bit of a junkie for them, I admit); but to lose my Internet connection - that disrupts, paralyses my social life, destroys much of my livelihood, cuts my only link to my family back home.

"Of course, you realise this means WAR?"

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Vanity of vanities

I recently happened upon this website which purports to assess the complexity of language used on your blog or website by reference to the 'reading level' supposedly required at various stages of the American education system. It's an amusing way to waste a few minutes putting all of your favourite sites to the test, but I wonder how reliable it is.

OK, I confess I am rather peeved to discover that the 'reading levels' of Froogville and Barstool Blues are supposedly only:

At first, I took some consolation that most of the blogs I enjoy also received this rating. Even the formidably erudite Leah was assessed at the same humble level; but today I find that she has somehow bumped herself up to a College (Post-graduate) rating. I am quite mystified. Mystified, and jealous. Yes, her sudden upgrading is particularly baffling, since of late she has only posted funny pictures and video clips; the writing has been scant and frivolous. What has she done to so impress this mysterious prose-sampling computer program?

Jeremiah, who is most of the time writing quite earnestly about Chinese history with a level of detail (footnotes and all!) and language pitched well above the average Freshman, is still rated only as Undergraduate. It really is hard to surmise the criteria on which these automated assessments may be made.

While I was briefly heartened to see that the execrable China Dirt blog was rated at only an Elementary School reading level (a dismal collection of "dating disaster" stories from expat women, it was widely known in my circle as Whiny Bitches Dotcom; it gained quite a lot of attention when it was first launched a year or so ago, but has now mercifully withered into disuse - but, if any of you thought I gave expat women an unduly hard time in my Dating in Beijing series of posts over on The Barstool a while back, you could check out some of the posts on here to see just how bitter, warped, and self-defeating some of them become), I was soon once more perplexed to discover that the hyper-literate family blog Peer-See was accorded the same disdainful rating.

But the most astounding aberration of all from this rating system is that my old friend 'Keith Tolstoy' and his oddball potpourri of Internet beachcombings is the only site I can find to be rated as:

I tipped him off about this, and he has proudly bragged of the accolade and added it to his sidebar. Now, 'Tolstoy', dear mad 'Tolstoy', is indeed a gargantuan intellect - but there's little in his blog to reveal this: it is almost devoid of text. The mystery deepens.

I begin to suspect that this so-called Readability Test is largely or wholly based on the ratio of hotlinks (and/or embedded videos) to text..... which would actually make it a very poor measure of 'readability'. I imagine there might also be some sort of weighting for the kind of sites you link to (after all, I include a pretty high proportion of links myself, but mostly to other posts of my own, or to other blogs; whereas 'Tolstoy' links to a lot of highbrow newspapers), but it seems odd, inappropriate to gauge a site's 'readability' by reference to things outside the site itself.

I did ponder conducting a series of experiments to see if I could bump up my rating (more hotlinks, numbered footnotes, bibliographies, using words like 'esoteric' and 'eclectic' and 'effulgent' more often?), but...... really, what is the point? Most of the things that ought to count towards a higher 'reading level' - long sentences and paragraphs, correct grammar/punctuation/spelling, low use of slang and profanity, high use of Latin- or Greek-derived vocabulary, extended quotations, quotations in other languages, poetry - I can already claim, and it hasn't done me any good.

I'm not really bitter, honestly. I'm just a little irritated that it's such a ridiculously bogus test.

A smoggy day

This is the view from my balcony this morning. In real life, it looks rather worse. Those buildings beyond the park are little more than a quarter of a mile away but are looking decidedly hazy. The historic Drum Tower, just out of shot to the right, is barely a mile away, but is almost completely invisible.

As I opened my window for about 5 seconds to take this shot, my nose and throat were immediately assailed by the choking, dusty fug that leaves a dry taste of soil in your mouth.

According to the State Environmental Protection Agency website, today's API is 126. That is a blatant lie. I've had enough experience of Beijing's air and comparative pollution indices to know that now. 126 is BAD; but this is much, much worse. This is on a par with a few days we had back in December where the the API was rating in the 300s and 400s (and, on one horrendous occasion, above the top of the scale at 500).

I was full of good intentions of heading out for a long run this morning - but not in these conditions. I think I'm going to cower at home all day, with all the doors and windows tightly shut. Indeed, I may try to stay inside all week - or until it clears up enough for me to be able to once again see those buildings 400 or 500 yards away.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Inverted commas - the Chinese propaganda machine's deadliest weapon

I don't know how long this might have been going on. I don't recall noticing it in my early days here; but I find the quality of the local state-run English-language news media to be so depressing that I don't bother to look at it very often.

I first noticed the phenomenon in an article about Taiwan 3 or 4 years ago. Every word relating to the political institutions of the island - "president", "parliament", "ruling party", "supreme court", etc. - was enclosed in jeering inverted commas like that. Astoundingly petty! (And, of course, Taiwan does not have a government, not even a "government" imprisoned in inverted commas; no, it has "authorities" - that is the unvarying convention in domestic news coverage. I kid you not.) Since then, it seems to have become ubiquitous (or perhaps I just notice it more?): anything the Chinese government doesn't approve of or doesn't accept the legitimacy of, anything that doesn't 'harmonise' with the party line, is branded with the stigma of inverted commas. There hasn't really been much domestic reporting of the recent troubles yet, I don't think; but I expect when China Daily does get around to mentioning it, we will very probably see "protests" and "protesters" disparaged by inverted commas. (What legitimate cause of grievance can they possibly have to "protest" about? No, they're all just troublemakers, ne'er-do-wells, looters. Nothing more.)

One of my editing jobs at the moment is for a foreign policy think tank. An article of theirs I was working on a little while back dealt with the issue of 'soft power' and 'cultural diplomacy' (see - I fight back with single inverted commas when I find these academic or political buzzwords to be of dubious value!). Most of it was hellishly turgid, repetitive, or simply unintelligible, but there was one brief patch of relative lucidity in the middle, where it was admitted that the 'culture' China would really like to be propagating around the world is Marxist socialism (with Chinese characteristics), but since that is kind of discredited these days, they have to content themselves - for now! - with substituting the propagation of Confucianism (and dragon dances and tea ceremonies). Of course, they didn't say 'discredited'. No. What the authors of the article wrote was something more like this: 'Since the fall of the Soviet Union, interest in Marxist ideology around the world is perceived to have "withered".' Yep, those darned inverted commas again.

I suppose I was quite a naughty editor. I removed those inverted commas. Funnily enough, they haven't sacked me yet - but I'm sure it's only a matter of time.

Strange Days

Three days of YouTube 'cold turkey'. It ain't fun. I suppose it's good for me, really, but that's scant consolation at the moment.

Blogger and Blogspot are still available here in China (well, Blogspot is more or less permanently blocked anyway, but we access it via an alternate IP address; the Net censors here can block that as well if they put their mind to it, and I fear they soon will), but who knows for how long.

The two more politically conscious (and West China-focused) blogs I sometimes read, Mutant Palm and Opposite End Of China, were both trying to cover the recent events, and both got blocked very promptly. The Peking Duck, one of the most popular of the 'current affairs' blogs (although I'm not a regular reader; I'm too disheartened by its notoriously rambunctious and often downright lunatic comment threads), was - amazingly - allowed to keep going all weekend, but seems to have been shut off now. The Granite Studio, at least, is still with us - although that may only be because J hasn't drawn attention to himself by posting anything today. The unusual thoroughness with which the censor is trying to lock us down is evidenced by the fact that a lot of the sites I've been trying to reach for news are even blocked via Anonymouse - now that is thorough.

Then, around midnight last night, in trying to switch between two of my many Yahoo Mail accounts, I found that these too were being blocked. I tried one of my back-up G-Mail accounts (which I hadn't looked at for ages), and, sure enough, that was being tampered with as well - although, mystifyingly, I was eventually able to log into it, but was then prevented from connecting with the site any further to execute any commands in my Inbox (and all I wanted to do was delete 6 months' accumulated spam!).

There is, at least, one saving grace for me at the moment, a "bank error in my favour": my principal Yahoo e-mail account is unaffected by this block - I presume it managed to slip through the cracks because I was already logged into it when the block was imposed.

So, no, I do not have the temerity to mention the T**** word on here openly. My blogs are just about my only remaining online recreation, so I really do not want to get them blocked.

I wonder - is the e-mail problem a general crackdown, or am I being targeted for 'special treatment'? Little old me?! What have I done??!!

Bon mot for the week

"The moment when you first wake up in the morning is the most wonderful of the twenty-four hours. No matter how weary or dreary you may feel, you possess the certainty that, during the day that lies before you, absolutely anything may happen. And the fact that it practically always doesn't, matters not a jot. The possibility is always there."

Monica Baldwin (1893-1975) - a niece of the British Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, who spent 28 years in a nunnery.... and then came out to write a book about it, I Leap Over The Wall.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

A maze of tunnelled stone

Funny how these things suddenly come back to you. A line of poetry popped into my head out of nowhere this morning, and I realised that it was from this poem by Edwin Muir. It's one of the first poems that I ever committed to memory, when I was about 8 or 10 years old (the other two that I particularly recall learning like this were Shelley's Ozymandias and Gray's Elegy Written In A Country Churchyard). Even after a lapse of three decades, I find that my recall is nearly perfect. Strange how the mind works.

The Castle

All through that summer at ease we lay,
And daily from the turret wall
We watched the mowers in the hay
And the enemy half a mile away;
They seemed no threat to us at all.

For what, we thought, had we to fear
With our arms and provender, load on load,
Our towering battlements, tier on tier,
And friendly allies drawing near
On every leafy summer road.

Our gates were strong, our walls were thick,
So smooth and high, no man could win
A foothold there. No clever trick
Could take us, have us dead or quick.
Only a bird could have got in.

What could they offer us for bait?
Our captain was brave and we were true....
There was a little private gate,
A little wicked wicket gate.
The wizened warder let them through.

Oh, then our maze of tunneled stone
Grew thin and treacherous as air.
The cause was lost without a groan,
The famous citadel overthrown,
And all its secret galleries bare.

How can this shameful tale be told?
I will maintain until my death
We could do nothing, being sold;
Our only enemy was gold,
And we had no arms to fight it with.

Edwin Muir (1887-1959)

Saturday, March 15, 2008

My Fantasy Girlfriend - Elizabeth Russell

I had bought a DVD of the Bollywood classic Lagaan 4 or 5 years ago, but had somehow never got around to watching it. I finally put this right a few months back, thinking that it would be the kind of 'wholesome family entertainment' that would make ideal Christmas viewing. I was quite right. It is absolutely charming, and the nearly 4-hr runtime fairly flies by.

And I was, of course, utterly smitten with the female protagonist, the spirited young Englishwoman Elizabeth Russell. There's something about lacy white blouses and straw hats..... and perhaps the suggestion of tension between the exterior primness and restraint and the passionate nature concealed within (I always maintain that Picnic At Hanging Rock is the most erotic film I've ever seen - don't laugh: I am quite serious!).

It may help that the actress who plays her, Rachel Shelley (I gather she has gone on to become rather famous through the American TV series The L-Word), is about the only person in the film required to do any real acting; the other Brits, anyway, are all one-dimensional upper-class twits. And it is a very affecting character she portrays - intelligent, principled, courageous, dignified, self-sacrificing (she falls in love with the dashing young Indian farmer who leads his village's opposition to the injustices of British rule, but accepts that she should not seek to part him from his local sweetheart).

I've long had a little bit of a weakness for Bollywood (during the 1990s, Air India always seemed to have the cheapest London-New York airfares, so I flew with them several times - always enjoying the curry meals and the seemingly never-ending inflight films). Lagaan was one of the first and best of Bollywood's occasional attempts in recent years to produce a 'crossover' film that can succeed in international markets: it has a big budget and Western-style production values; the cheesiness of the more run-of-the-mill Bollywood product is restrained; and it even has a decent script. It was the pet project of its star, the strikingly handsome Aamir Khan.

The film centres around a game of cricket (now, of course, one of India's great national passions; but back in the 1800s, a still-mysterious import of the British rulers) played between a group of Indian villagers and the British soldiers from the local garrison. The people of the village of Champaner, assailed by a drought, are unable to pay the annual tithe - the lagaan of the title - demanded by the British, and plead to be granted an exemption. The dastardly British captain in charge of the district (an over-the-top performance from Paul Blackthorne, but Bollywood likes its villains to be one-dimensional) threatens them instead with an increased tax; but then, on a whim, he proposes a wager that if they can beat the British in a cricket match, he will remit the tax for 3 years, but if they lose, they will have to pay double - an impossible imposition that would destroy them. The fiery young Bhuvan (Aamir Khan), to the horror of his fellow villagers, accepts the wager. One by one, he wins them over to the necessity of playing and winning this match, and recruits them on to his rag-tag team. The situation looks hopeless for them, since they have just a few months to learn the rules of the game and develop their skills in it. Fortunately, they are helped by Elizabeth, the sister of the wicked captain, who, appalled at her brother's cruelty and inspired by the spirit of fair play, begins to secretly coach the villagers in the finer points of the game.

The momentous contest - a two-day match between the villagers and their colonial oppressors - occupies the whole of the final third of this long film. It is impressively staged, cleverly incorporating almost all the key elements of the game of cricket, including some of the rarer or more subtle quirks of the rules. It probably helps if you know and love the game and can recognise all of these references, but it is by no means essential. The drama and excitement of the various situations comes across powerfully even if the rules of play are a mystery to you. It is perhaps the film's greatest accomplishment that it makes you accept wholeheartedly the villagers' viewpoint - that the climactic cricket match is nothing less than a struggle for their survival. It is also, of course, a potently symbolic assertion of independence from colonial rule. It is a little uncomfortable to have one's own nation portrayed in such unrelentingly negative terms - but I suppose we deserve it. At least we are partly redeemed by the saintly figure of Elizabeth. Brit-haters, however, will no doubt warm to the film more easily than Brits.

All the usual Bollywood elements are here - humour, romance, a bit of skullduggery, a few song & dance numbers - but it's the charm of the principals (Shelley, Khan, and Gracy Singh as the girlfriend who not unnaturally becomes resentful of the growing warmth between Bhuvan and Elizabeth) that holds it all together. It's pretty undemanding stuff, but thoroughly delightful.

And, talking of colonial oppression..... I had wanted to look on YouTube to see if there were some clips from the fantastic cricket match finale I could add to this post...... but we have no YouTube in China at the moment (and, the way things are going, I fear we might never get it back). Dag nabbit!

Eagle eyes!

I was walking down the street with Leah one evening a few days ago when she suddenly said, "They've got La Strada in that shop."

I was dazed and confused. "What shop? Where? What are you talking about?"

I hadn't bothered to pay any attention to the shop we'd just walked past because I had believed (oh, foolish error!) that it was only a CD shop (and thus probably contaminated with a glut of saccharine Mando-pop).

But in fact, they have a wide selection of DVDs as well. And La Strada was prominently on display at the near end of one of the half-filled shelves.

Nevertheless, Leah deserves much credit for her sharp eyes in spotting it at some distance, and while we were moving briskly along. Credit also for remembering - from a passing reference I made on here a few weeks ago - that this was a title I had long particularly craved. Credit, and much thanks.

However, it was a potentially damaging discovery for me. This place was an Aladdin's Cave of rare old classics, and I found myself indulging in a major splurge (my first DVD-buying frenzy in several months: I was pretty restrained in Harbin - more because of shortage of funds than self-discipline). I ended up nearly emptying my wallet, and buying 25 or 30 disks - including such greats as Seven Samurai, Night Of The Hunter, and Pepe Le Moko. Ah, bliss.

And this place is dangerously close to where I live. I am going to have to exercise considerable self-restraint. Only one trip a month. Well, maybe two. 200 kuai spending limit each time. Or perhaps 300..... Steady, steady. I can do it.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Thrice LUCKY!

Yes, I know this looks like a whoopee-cushion, but actually it's an especially lucky souvenir pack of expensive Chinese pu er tea.

This, you see, is Post No. 888 here on Froogville - and, according to the superstitions of Chinese numerology, the number 8 is equated with sudden good fortune (or longer term prosperity) and is the luckiest number of the lot. And three 8s together is just superlatively, ecstatically, incalculably lucky.

Some of that good luck could rub off on you just through reading this post. Do you feel it??

Casting around for some interesting '888' reference that I could use to justify this post (rather than have it just be a mileometer reading), I was reminded that in the Philip K. Dick book Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? (the inspiration, of course, for the classic sci-fi film Blade Runner - although that was a very loose adaptation, which omitted many key elements of the book..... including this one), there was a machine called the Penfield Mood Organ, which people used to manage their emotions. Setting '888' on the Organ was defined as: "The desire to watch TV, no matter what's on."

Don't complain that you never learn anything from this blog.

More haircut blues

There is a superstition in China that it is bad luck for a man to get his hair cut during the first month of the new year in the Chinese lunar calendar: specifically, dire things could happen to your mother's brother as a result. Even if your mother doesn't have a brother, or he's dead already, or you can't stand the old fart - well, this is an ancient tradition, and not something you should mess with. It seems somehow reckless of yours and your family's good fortune to take risks with this kind of thing (although one suspects this is a tradition that has been vigorously promoted over the years by the hairdressers, so that they can take a longer holiday at this time of year).

This is one of those odd little local customs that rather charms me, and that it amuses me to observe - even though there is really no reason at all why I should, and it is today widely falling into disuse even among the natives.

And, for some reason that escapes me, I didn't quite get around to getting my hair cut on the weekend before the Chinese New Year holiday got underway; and have thus had to bide my time until it becomes 'safe' to go back to the barbers again, although my hair was becoming uncomfortably shaggy.

I had thought that last Friday would be my first 'opportunity' to get my hair cut. But I had been basing that on the erroneous belief that lunar months are 28 days long. I have recently learned that, at least according to the Chinese lunar calendar, they are strictly based on the appearance of the new moon - and this is usually at 29-day intervals. Moreover, it seems that the 'prohibition' on haircuts actually goes beyond the first month: the 2nd day of the 2nd lunar month is the 'Dragon Raises Its Head' Festival - birthday of Earth-god Tudigong, the real advent of Spring, and....... the most auspicious day in the entire year for a man to get his hair cut.

I had anticipated that the end of the superstitious haircut embargo would occasion a huge run on the barbershops, and for that reason had not bothered to check one out on Friday - which I mistakenly thought to be THE DAY. I had to work most of the weekend, so didn't get a chance to try for the haircut until Sunday afternoon...... and so discovered, by unhappy accident, all this nonsense about the Dragon waking up and getting skittish as a kitten: every hairdresser's shop in my neighbourhood was packed to the rafters. Sigh.

So, I've had to let it go nearly another week, and have only just now got myself a trim. I am mightily relieved to have shed some of that weighty and unruly thatch and to be feeling once more a little more like my 'ideal self' at last.

I am rather concerned, though, that the too-good-to-be-true hairdresser's I discovered just around the corner a few months back already appears to be 'going through changes'. Maybe it's just that all the staff change their own hairstyles every few days and thus seem perpetually unfamiliar to you (and, well, I've only been in there 2 or 3 times before, the last one a couple of months ago; so, there's very little chance that I'd recognise any of the people there anyway), but it didn't seem like the same place at all. A very slow, fussy, reluctant-to-actually-remove-any-hair kind of cut, no chirpy English-speaking girl hovering around to help out.

Still, it hasn't turned out too badly. It's not as short as I like it, but it looks reasonably neat. The guy seems to have done some weird kind of layering thing with it, leaving it progressively longer towards the back of my head. I suspect this may be a prudent stratagem to help conceal my rapidly thinning crown. However, it feels to me too much as if it is likely to develop into a mullet if I leave it unattended to for more than about 4 weeks (my hair is nothing but a trial to me: that which does not fall out grows unreasonably quickly).