Saturday, May 31, 2008

An end of the month treat

A few months back, I posted this video from YouTuber 'Xspazzx'. He's an intermittently insomniac film student who sometimes fills his sleepless nights by miming his favourite rock songs to his webcam. The results are remarkably good.

His Don't Stop Me Now and Life On Mars are particularly fine, but I think my absolute favourite is this - Queen's Stone Cold Crazy.

This guy really ought to be a star of the Internet. Go on - tell all your friends.

A quiet sense of achievement

This has been a quite brutal month, and I am glad it is now over.

However, as I review this whirlwind four weeks, I find a warming sense of satisfaction and contentment growing inside me - a feeling that is perhaps rather too rare these days.

In this past month I have.....

1) "Purchased" a new Z visa and the accompanying work permit.

2) Renewed my residence registration at the local police station (just accomplished this morning, with the kindly help of one of the most charming of my former university students).

3) Cleaned and tidied my apartment (about 5 hours of hard graft - long overdue!).

4) Put in a good 40 hours or so of work in the recording studio (factor in that this is probably at least two or three times as mentally and physically draining as just about any other kind of work you can think of). This has paid for my next quarter's rent.

5) Paid my landlord the next quarter's rent on time - without having him try to impose an arbitrary rent increase, or threaten me with eviction, or complain about anything at all. Remarkable!

6) Thrown together, in the space of three short weeks, a new (potentially long-term) deal for organising in-house business English training for an American IT company. This has involved pitching to my original intermediary contact, a Hong Kong businessman, to persuade him to take me on board as a partner in the project, then pitching to the IT company to persuade them to appoint us as their training provider, and then pitching to their HR manager to persuade her of the soundness of my training plan.

7) Entered into fairly promising discussions with an American education company about possibly becoming their 'gofer' in China, and consulting with them on the development and marketing of new programs targeted at Chinese students. We're still at a very early and uncertain stage, and I am hesitant even to mention it, for fear of jinxing the prospect - but, if it comes off, this could be just about my 'dream job'.

8) Edited a textbook, judged a debating competition, delivered a teacher training seminar, and taught about 20 hours of business English classes.

9) On a rare day off, I finally made a long dreamed-of pilgrimage to the Yanjing Brewery.

10) Supported and publicized three fund-raising events for the Sichuan earthquake victims: the Room 101 party on the 22nd, The Stone Boat concert on the 25th, and the Contemporary Art Auction at the Kerry Centre on the 27th.

It really would be nice, after all that, to spend 48 hours in bed - but, alas, I have to work over the weekend as well. Next week, though, is looking fairly slack.

Don't milk it!

Free advice for the Chinese leadership
(I haven't given them any for a while. They think they've been doing OK without me! Ha!)

Now, I don't at all wish to make light of the earthquake tragedy in Sichuan this month. I don't mean to suggest that this terrible event was in any way welcomed by the Chinese leadership, nor do I doubt the sincerity of the grief and sympathy they have expressed (I rather think Wen Jiabao and a few others might need some trauma counselling after their extended visits to the scene).

However, there's no getting away from the fact that, in PR terms, this has been an absolute godsend for the Chinese leadership. A month ago, there was a blizzard of negative China stories: the oppression in Tibet, restrictions on foreign media, the sorry state of the environment, cack-handed "preparations" for the Olympics. For the last three weeks, the earthquake has dominated the headlines (prior to that, the government here was spending a small fortune mounting a succession of media junkets around the country to try to draw journalists out of Beijing; then, for a week or two at least, every foreign journalist in the country headed off to Sichuan), and these other issues have scarcely been mentioned. Quite apart from the imperative of topicality in our attention-span-challenged world, and the unfortunate fact that disasters are such 'sexy' news, the recent suppression of negative comment can be attributed, I think, to an exaggerated delicacy that grows out of our sympathy: we are all - political leaders and common citizens alike - nervous of saying anything that might cause offence to the Chinese while they are still reeling emotionally from the shock of this enormous catastrophe.

This tactful self-restraint isn't going to last too much longer. The Chinese government is already showing signs of overplaying the 'positive' aspects of its own and the country's response to the tragedy. They appear to believe that they can ride this wave of sympathy and goodwill all the way to the Olympics. You'll be lucky. (I have a nasty feeling they might wipeout this week!)

The sense of solidarity the Chinese people has shown in recent weeks, and the generosity with which they have contributed to earthquake relief funds, has been quite inspiring. It is a much softer and more appealing manifestation of the country's powerful nationalism than we usually see. It is, however, all part of the same beast. And some state-run media here are now seeking to employ this more humane expression of national unity in the service of the tired old 'Tibet is rightfully a part of China/Taiwan is rightfully a part of China' arguments.

Yang Rui is - for foreigners living here - quite possibly one of the most reviled and derided personalities on Chinese TV. He's a regular presenter on 'Dialogue', a current affairs discussion programme on the 'international channel', CCTV-9. I like to give the guy the benefit of the doubt as much as possible. He's clearly very intelligent, and speaks good English. It's just that his English isn't quite good enough: he's a perfect embodiment of The Peter Principle. Tasked with hosting a high-level panel discussion, often live, and with little time for preparation, he is constantly being called upon to exceed the parameters at which he can comfortably function in English - and so he falters, stumbles, makes little gaffes...... and from time to time comes out with comments or questions that are just crashingly inept. Oh yes, I daresay most of it is carefully scripted, and not by him: he may not necessarily believe half the twaddle he comes out with. But for us foreigners who watch CCTV-9 occasionally (not that I think any of us watch it a lot; quite a few don't watch it at all), he has come to represent all that is most objectionable and inane in official thinking here.

A week or so ago, I caught Yang Rui saying that earthquake donations from Taipei proved that the Taiwanese wanted to be part of China - "because we are all one blood". Great! Superb! Make a really fucking stupid political argument, and then go and play the race card on top of it, just for good measure. Outstanding stuff!

People all over the world have given money. It's about common humanity, not common 'blood'.

Perhaps people in Taiwan do feel a closer sense of identity with mainland China, do feel more closely impacted by the disaster; perhaps they have given particularly generously because of common ties of race, culture, or family. But the generosity of their donations does not say anything about their political views on reunification with the mainland. Doubtless, many overseas Chinese communities - in San Francisco, Vancouver, New York, London, Manchester - also felt an especially close sympathy with the victims and made exceptional donations accordingly. Do they want to be governed by Beijing? I think not.

It's really not poor Yang Rui's fault. He's just a mouthpiece for the Chinese government. And the Chinese government are a bunch of assclowns.

I hate it when that happens.....

Which could, indeed, become the title for a series of posts......

I was just in the local bank, lining up to pay my month's telephone bill. The guy in front of me had a stack of cash to deposit. Really. About 500,000 RMB. You have no idea how long it takes one of the tellers here to count (and re-count) that much. I switched to another line.

It's also difficult in these circumstances not to ponder idly on the practicalities of mugging. I mean, if you happen to see a portly middle-aged geezer heading towards the bank with a shopping bag full of money.......... I wonder how on earth he came by such an amount. It's far more than I am ever likely to amass in savings in a lifetime of working here.

He was wearing pyjamas, too......

Friday, May 30, 2008

A farewell Not The Daily Llama

Not daily. And not a llama. And most definitely, in no way shape or form, the Dalai Lama - because I wouldn't dream of mentioning him on here. Oooops!

Well, anyway, I think this might be the last in my little series of visual puns that's been running over the past couple of months. My humble powers of invention are being over-taxed (as are my powers of search & retrieval on the Internet). I have a few more 'daily' ideas - Dolly the cloned sheep, Daley Thompson the decathlon champion, Dili the capital of East Timor..... But new variants on the L-word have me stumped, I'm afraid.

Better to quit while I'm ahead.

(Don't panic, Moonrat - I still have plenty of real llamas in reserve. Although perhaps I shall suppress them..... until I get my danged t-shirt!)

A glimmer of hope

One of my more unusual jobs this week was acting as an adjudicator at the finals of a High School Debating Competition. That's debating in English. This was my first time to be involved, but apparently it's now in its sixth year, and getting to be quite a big and successful event, hotly contested by all the leading schools in the Beijing area.

I hadn't been exactly brimming with optimism or excitement about this beforehand. Precious few of the University students I've encountered here have attained a real fluency in English, and just about none of them have got the slightest idea how to debate. And I've had to sit through far too many University "English Speaking Contests" in the past (heck, I got roped into judging one of these within days of arriving in China on my first trip, all the way back in 1994 - I suppose that must have been my first ever paying gig here). Strangulated pronunciation, sing-song intonation, and - sometimes - melodramatic excesses of emotion are standard. As is the use of 'backing tracks' of lush orchestral music. I suffer particularly vivid, painful memories - acid flashbacks - of a young woman hyper-emoting "Oh, Captain, my Captain!" while plangent music (I think it might well have been Ravel's Pavane pour un enfant défunte, but memory fails me on this point now) gushed out of her ghetto-blaster. She was, in fact, one of the best participants in that particular freakshow, but it was still one of those jarring "We're not in Kansas any more!" moments of cultural dissonance.

Well, I had been half-fearing more of the same on Wednesday; but I was very pleasantly surprised. No, the quality of debate was not high, and there was very little humour (and absolutely no lateral thinking) on display, but the standard was certainly not abysmal either - and a few of the better rounds actually kicked off into some spirited back-and-forth exchanges. It was the level of their English, however, that really impressed me. Even the ones most overwhelmed by their nerves managed to make a reasonable showing. The stars of the event appeared to have attained native speaker fluency (By the age of 16! It makes you sick, doesn't it?!).

It was a very diverting afternoon. And one that makes me think that perhaps Chinese education - at least in a handful of 'key schools' (almost all of the schools represented in this grand final were special 'experimental' schools, or schools attached to teaching universities) - is finally starting to make some progress.

These were a great bunch of kids, and I hope I may meet some of them again one day. I have something in mind by way of an extra 'prize' for them, but I'm not sure if I'm going to be able to pull it off........

Spoke too soon

It was only a couple of days ago that I spoke proudly on this blog my self-imposed ban on eating in taxis.

Well, the week just past has been so hectic that I've often been missing out on standard mealtimes altogether, so........ well, sometimes the 'rules' have to be relaxed.

Yesterday, "lunch" was 5 minutes of wolfing down yangrou chuanr and kao nang (that's mutton kebabs and flatbread, for you non-China-initiates) in the back seat of a cab with my principal recording partner, DD, as I shuttled between one studio and another.

I am ashamed of myself of course; but also mightily glad that I managed to get some sustenance in. And there does seem to be something particularly satisfying about eating kebabs on the move. Maybe it's the wind streaming through the open windows into your face......

A too-busy-for-comfort haiku

A blur of business:
Every hour brings something new.
Week stretches its seams.

This week has been just crazy. Between dawn on Monday and around 8pm yesterday evening, I calcuate that I had put in around 50 hours of work - perhaps more! - in the space of 80 odd hours of life. And I'd managed barely 12 hours of sleep in the same period.

Today is supposed to be a 'free' day. Except that I have to tidy my flat, meet my landlord, register my residence at the police station, draft a contract for a new job, mark some exam papers, prepare a presentation for the weekend, visit a client to do a few left-over oral English assessments, meet with a partner to discuss a new training program, conduct one or two short telephone conferences, and deal with the inevitable slew of e-mails. Ah, blessed relief.........

Thursday, May 29, 2008

This week's studio humdinger

There's been heaps of recording work recently (a regular seasonal blitz of preparation materials for the national College Entrance Examinations - gaokao - at the beginning of next month), and it has, of course, thrown up dozens of inadvertently humorous moments. Gawd, it's been gruelling, though; I'm mighty glad the big rush is nearly over now. The work has been made even harder of late by a common formatting glitch where punctuation (commas and apostrophes particularly) will be omitted and massive spaces in the text inserted in their stead. You know the kind of thing: it happens quite commonly when you cut & paste from 'Word' into another medium (such as 'Blogger'!); but somehow this is much, much worse. It really makes it very hard to sight-read when there are random spaces in the text between key words or in the middle of words.

And it can occasionally lead to hilarious oddities such as this:

"I regret for Michael Jordan sex service."

Well, what it actually said was.....
"I regret for Michael Jordan s ex-service." Two Chinese basketball fans were talking about their love of the NBA, you see; and they were attempting to say they were sorry that Jordan had retired. It took me a moment or two to work it out. At first I thought they had mixed him up with Kobe Bryant!

A close second (though a rather too painfully uncomfortable one) was this, from a presentation extolling the appeal of the UK's University of Bradford to international students:

"The University has attracted students from all over the world, many of whom have stayed on to form resident communities in the city."

Nothing wrong with that, you may say? Indeed not - but I performed a lightning edit on it, excising a single offensive word from the middle of it. Yes, the original script had said 'too many'!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A sign of the times

The Great Purges continue, with successive tranches of "undesirable elements" being kicked out of the country to make things more wholesome and "harmonious" for the upcoming Olympics. First it was the Africans (because, of course, they're all drug dealers!). Now it's English teachers (because, of course, they all take drugs!).

I heard tell a few days ago of a language school down south in Shenzhen that is having to close because it can't find any teachers. Just yesterday, I heard a similar rumour about one of the training schools here in Beijing. (Those of us that manage to hang on will have our pick of the work!!)

And so today, I witness the birth of a new phenomenon: EFL teacher recruitment spam! Yep, waiting for me in my Inbox I find not one but two begging letters from beleaguered Chinese language schools. How the heck did these guys get my e-mail address?? Honestly, I've never received anything like this before in all the years I've been here.

Interesting times, indeed.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A Day In The Life

I have always tried to avoid the tediously diaristic style of many bloggers, but....... well, I've just had such an improbably long, packed, and dangerously stress-filled day that I felt I ought to try to itemise its myriad irritations - as much for personal catharsis as for your entertainment. Sorry.

I think this would perhaps more aptly be titled: A Day In The Not Life

3.50am Woken up by stifling humidity. Parched, and soaking in sweat, I down a pint-and-a-half of water, and reluctantly turn my bedside fan on - blissfully cooling, but just too loud to allow any proper sleep from there on.

4.45am Turn fan down to lowest setting, in hopes of it being quiet enough to allow me to nod off again. Soon begin to sweat once more.

6.20am Finally give up on fitful, sweaty, unsatisfying sleep, and start to get active.

6.30am Begin working on the computer: anxiously scan e-mail Inbox for latest round of "discussions" I'm having with an American company about helping them to launch some of their educational programmes in China. Nothing. Damn. I apply myself to finishing off a couple of blog posts I'd started but given up on late last night, and draft a couple of rather important business-related e-mails. I also try to download e-mail attachments of the seminar materials I'm going to need tomorrow..... and find that my dratted computer can't/won't open & save them now. I wonder what's going wrong there.

7.55am Second cup of coffee of the day. Shit, shower, shave. Just about to have breakfast when I notice an incoming e-mail from my "new Chinese business partner" and have to draft another long, careful response.

8.35am Pack for the day. Realise that I still haven't sorted out all the fa piao I need for avoiding tax on the monthly pay claim I am hoping to collect today. In too much of a hurry, I stuff a few handfuls of the bloody things in a pocket of my laptop bag. A few more e-mails. Clean teeth, dress, doublecheck I have everything I need for the day.

9am Heading out of the front door. "Breakfast" is a banana as I descend the stairs. Strange dearth of cabs outside on my street. I start to fret that I'll be late for my morning recording session.

9.10am Finally get a cab. While away time en route by sending SMS messages - to my letting agent, trying to get her to arrange a time for landlord to collect the next quarter's rent; to the studio, apologising for my likely lateness; to my recording partner, ditto; to my contact at the British education company I'll be visiting at lunch time, to try to make sure that she's still expecting me and will have last month's pay ready for me.

9.38am Arrive at the studio. Our Chinese engineer isn't there yet - but arrives a couple of minutes later. My recording partner is even later than I am.

9.52am We finally start work in the studio.

12.31pm We finish the session. I have to hang around for another 5 minutes frantically sorting out and counting up my fa piao.

12.37pm Dash into nearby supermarket to pick up a couple of A4 notepads (it's the only place in this country I've ever seen that has notepads in this size!). Decide to walk to British education company's offices, nearly three miles hence - this at least allows me to wolf down some fried street snacks as I go, by way of "lunch" (I never like to eat in cabs, for fear of offending the driver..... or subsequent passengers).

1.21pm I phone the HR assistant at the IT company I'll be visiting next, to check that everything has been arranged for the preliminary English level assessments I'm supposed to be conducting there later in the afternoon. She's a student intern, and doesn't inspire confidence. I cross my fingers and hope for the best.

1.24pm Arrive at British company's offices. The building also happens to house a department of the Ministry of Education, and security is particularly elaborate at the moment (not especially secure, just elaborate) because of the imminence of the national College Entrance Exam: it takes over 10 minutes for my contact to collect up all the various countersigned chits she needs in order to gain me access to the building.

1.37pm In the office at last, I pick up copies of the seminar materials for tomorrow, and start working through my pay and expenses claim for last month. I discover that, in my haste to get ready this morning, I have left behind or otherwise mislaid the taxi receipts that actually relate to travelling expenses I can claim back (newly tightened regulations mean that I have to produce the specific fa piao for journeys I've undertaken on behalf of this company, even though we're mostly talking about pennies in English terms - actual dates and times may be checked!), which may leave me 300 kuai out of pocket. Damn! Even worse, although I've brought fa piao to a total value of well over 1.5 times the amount I'm trying to get paid, a large number of them are, for various obscure and irritating reasons, not eligible. We have to go through them one by one, and I come up nearly 1,200 kuai short of my target. Double damn!

2.10pm I finally manage to extricate myself from the protracted fa piao fiasco. At least they have trusted me to bring in more of the things later in the week, so they've given me all of the money due to me bar the taxi expenses. I'm now running dangerously late.

2.12pm I'm lucky enough to run into a cab that's just dropped someone off outside the building. Unfortunately, the traffic is absolutely horrendous mid-afternoon, and it takes me fully 25 minutes to cover the mile-and-a-half or so from Tsinghua University to the 4th Ringroad at Zhongguancun. Things get better after that, but not much. I call the HR intern to tell her that I'm probably going to be a little late.

3.02pm I arrive downtown at the office where I'm running the English assessments only a few minutes late. I take another couple of minutes to duck into the loos and change into a smarter (and less sweaty) shirt. When I meet the flaky intern, I discover that the arrangements for the written tests have been thoroughly botched up, and, moreover, nearly one-third of the employees to be tested are unexpectedly absent from work that day. I manage - just about - not to blow my top, but do point out rather heavily that they could perhaps have let me know this so that I could reschedule the session rather than, you know, wasting my time by having to come there twice (or thrice, or.....). I salvage the situation as best I can.

5.14pm The afternoon doesn't go so badly after all. 3 of the 5 absentees reappear in the office (although I'll still have to make an extra trip to catch up with the other 2; and it's going to be a 'mare collecting the written tests from everyone....). I wrap up the one-on-one interviews (only 15 or 20 minutes later than planned) and dash out of the door.

5.18pm Luckily, my two afternoon appointments are both adjacent to the brand spanking new Line 5 subway. I've just missed a train and have to wait 5 minutes for another one, but apart from that it's a very smooth and painless transition between the two venues. Fit in another brief blizzard of text messaging to set up a further recording session for the middle of next week.

5.50pm I actually arrive at my destination with a few minutes in hand and am able to sit on a park bench and quickly review the materials I'm about to be using in class (and scarf down a bag of crisps by way of "tea").

6.02pm I arrive for my early evening business English training gig in good time, as usual; well, just enough time to grab a mug of tea, set up the fan and the CD player, clean the whiteboard, etc.

7.50pm Class hasn't gone too badly, considering how exhausted I am; but I think students and teacher alike are glad when it's over. I take the subway home (usually I walk, but I've got a heap of work still to do at home).

8.14pm I nip into a neighbourhood Muslim restaurant for a quick bite of supper (definitely too weary to cook for myself; and worried about all the work I should be doing when I get back). I opt to try a new dish, a beef & tomato stew which looks marvellous on the picture menu but is severely ordinary when you meet it face to face. My letting agent still hasn't got back to me about arranging for the landlord to come round tomorrow, and I can't face trying to clean and tidy the flat tonight (it would probably keep me up all night!), so I decide to suggest postponing it until the end of the week.

8.56pm I find myself getting sucked into the melodramatic historical soap opera on TV in the restaurant. I realise it is probably just procrastination.

9.14pm Finally tear myself away from the TV and return home.

9.26pm Put on a load of laundry, check e-mail (nothing important, thank heavens), run through PowerPoint presentation I'm supposed to be using tomorrow. I fail several times to copy some other materials I need to CD, and realise with horror that my computer is often freezing up over even the simplest of tasks. In desperation, I crash it and relaunch it. It's running better, but still not great. It's still not letting me burn CDs. I am mightily vexed. I fear it's just getting too darned old and needs replacing.

11.10pm I give up on work for the evening (planning early start tomorrow for seminar preparation), and decide to embark on this post.

11.50pm Damn it - I've ranted for nearly 40 minutes. I hope there's actually something here worth reading after all of that. You be the judge.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Art Event

My photographer friend Karen tipped me off over the weekend about a charity auction for Sichuan Earthquake relief that the Beijing contemporary art community has put together, and this afternoon (happening to be in the CBD for a meeting) I looked in on the preview.

Alas, I won't have time to attend the auction tomorrow evening, but I do recommend it to any of you who are free.

"Together We Pull Through"

Charity Art Auction for victims of the Sichuan Earthquake

Kerry Center Hotel, Guanghua Lu, Beijing

Tuesday 27th May, 8pm

A supplementary 'List of the Month'..... Things I Miss

I just got caught out in a very warm and increasingly heavy summer thunderstorm as I was on my way home tonight - a very pleasing experience, which prompted the following reflection:

Things I Miss

1) Kissing in the rain

Let me start again. Let's make that.....

Things I Miss Doing In The Rain

1) Kissing in the rain

2) Going for long walks in the rain

3) Running in the rain

4) Skipping in the rain

5) Splashing in puddles

6) Catching raindrops on my tongue
(not really safe in China!)

7) Singing "Singin' In The Rain" in the rain

8) Eating ice cream in the rain

9) Being the last person still sitting outside (and drinking a beer) in the rain

10) Kissing in the rain

The weekly bon mot

"The principal mark of genius is not perfection but originality."

Arthur Koestler (1905-1983)

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Naming of parts

Following on from yesterday's oddly didactic llama photo, I thought I'd dig out this old favourite, the first in the 'Lessons of the War' trilogy by the British poet, Henry Reed. They are widely anthologised (the first and third ones particularly) separately, but one very rarely finds them together. Perhaps I'll post the others in a week or two.

Anyone who has ever done any form of military training in the UK will immediately recognise the distinctive character, the voice of the British non-commissioned officer - a type, a class that doesn't seem to have changed in 50 or a 100 years or more.

Naming of Parts

Today we have naming of parts. Yesterday
We had daily cleaning. And tomorrow morning,
We shall have what to do after firing. But today,
Today we have naming of parts. Japonica
Glistens like coral in all of the neighbouring gardens,
And today we have naming of parts.

This is the lower sling swivel. And this
Is the upper sling swivel, whose use you will see,
When you are given your slings. And this is the piling swivel,
Which in your case you have not got. The branches
Hold in the gardens their silent, eloquent gestures,
Which in our case we have not got.

This is the safety-catch, which is always released
With an easy flick of the thumb. And please do not let me
See anyone using his finger. You can do it quite easy
If you have any strength in your thumb. The blossoms
Are fragile and motionless, never letting anyone see
Any of them using their finger.

And this you can see is the bolt. The purpose of this
Is to open the breech, as you see. We can slide it
Rapidly backwards and forwards; we call this
Easing the spring. And rapidly backwards and forwards
The early bees are assaulting and fumbling the flowers:
They call it easing the Spring.

They call it easing the Spring. It is perfectly easy
If you have any strength in your thumb; like the bolt,
And the breech, and the cocking piece, and the point of balance,
Which in our case we have not got; and the almond-blossom
Silent in all of the gardens and the bees going backwards and forwards,
For today we have naming of parts.

Henry Reed (1914-1986)

Saturday, May 24, 2008

A technical Daily Llama

I hope you're paying attention. There may be questions later.

More inadvertent humour

Another busy week in the studio culminated in a news item about a plane crash in northern England. It was probably taken from an authentic TV or radio report. Except that...... well, at the end they grafted in what I assume was a gloss about the local history of the area in which the crash happened. It really didn't fit very well.

"The pilot was in constant radio contact with an ancient Roman fort."

Now, in any other week, that would surely have taken the prize, but this week..... the draw prizes at the Sichuan Earthquake benefit gig at Room 101 on Thursday were impressively tacky, "jeweled" powder compacts. These items were triumphs of kitsch; but when I noticed the 'brand name' on the box, I just cracked up - Swanky Russian Craft.

Hahahahahahahahahaha! A possible band name???

A traffic incident

I saw a woman knocked off her bicycle by a car the other day.

Luckily, it was a very low-speed impact, and she was shaken but unhurt.

In fact, I don't think the car was moving. I'm not sure there was even an impact - I didn't hear one. I think the woman just wasn't paying any attention, didn't see the car in her path until the last minute, and did a bit of a panicky wobble by way of "evasive action", and, er, lost balance.

The car was pulling out of a side road, but (for once) I really don't think the driver was to blame. He had edged cautiously into the bicycle lane, and then stopped again to check that it was safe to pull out (a degree of attentiveness almost unknown amongst Beijing drivers). I'm pretty sure that he was completely stationary at the moment of the "collision".

I should also point out that this was alongside the 4th Ringroad. The car was entering the fulu - the ancillary road - rather than the Ringroad itself; but that's still a pretty busy and dangerous road; Beijingers often just use these ancillary roads indiscriminately as an alternative/supplement to the major roads, and whizz along them at breakneck speeds. Not too many people are foolhardy enough to try to ride a bicycle for any distance along a Ringroad fulu; especially not at this particular point - there's heaps of traffic coming on and off the Badaling Expressway, and a busy bus stop that effectively blocks off the cycle lane for a while anyway.

Oh yes, and the woman was cycling the wrong way, against the flow of traffic. And evidently not looking where she was going (or she wouldn't have been surprised by a car emerging from a large housing complex which has taxis nosing into or out of it every few minutes).

Incidents such as this, I'm afraid, tend to bring out the submerged eugenicist in me. People like this do not deserve to live!

I repeat: this woman was cycling down what is basically a motorway - on the wrong side of the road - with her eyes closed. And she was aggrieved at the poor bloody driver (who might, I think, be forgiven in the circumstances - pulling out on to a busy and dangerous road - for not looking right at all..... although that isn't what caused this accident). Un-fucking-believable. No sense of self-preservation at all.

Friday, May 23, 2008


After some weeks of consternation, I have bitten the bullet, shelled out the moolah...... and got my friendly neighbourhood visa fixer to acquire an extension on my Z visa. It would appear that I can now stay here happily through the Olympics.

Of course, when one acquires a visa in this way, one always worry that it is rather less than fully 'legitimate'. In the past I have always been able to persuade myself of the essential validity of my visa status, of the honesty of my application, because I have at least been applying as a teacher, and have been nominally employed by teaching institutions with which I do have some genuine relationship (it's just that they were being very friendly, and repaying past 'favours' I'd done them by writing me a dummy contract which didn't actually require me to do any work for them!).

Now, I gather, I have become an urban planner with an obscure Chinese property developer.

Hmmm. I'm 'safe' for the time being; but if Olympic security gets ramped up another notch, I fear it could all fall apart in a moment. The anxious times continue......

Or, as Phil Collins put it......

A new low in Chinese labour relations

I have lamented before (most notably, here) some of the notoriously sketchy behaviour of Chinese employers - particularly in the education sector - which tends to discourage a lot of foreigners from staying here, or from coming to work here in the first place.

But I think I may perhaps have just encountered a new nadir in this sorry history (at least for us here in Beijing; out in the sticks I've heard of some really scary aberrations: teachers being held under 'house arrest' for threatening to break contracts, and so on). My pal The Chairman teaches at a private high school just outside the city. The internal politics there is getting a little bloody: the headmaster (a thoroughly slippery, incompetent, amoral shyster - and I know whereof I speak: I used to work for the slimy little shit a few years back) has found investors to back him in setting up a new school of his own; so he is plotting to jump ship this summer, and is attempting to poach most of the teachers - and the students! - to come with him. The school's owners are not unnaturally a little pissed off to discover this. However, their response has been....well, how shall I say, a little extreme. It seems they have broken into the foreign teachers' apartments while they were out at work, and stolen their documents (not their passports and work permits, but all the other supporting paperwork - degree certificates, letters of recommendation from past employers, etc. - that you need to process a new visa/work permit application).

Just when I think that China can't surprise me any more, just when I start to think that their way of 'doing business' can't get any more fucked up....... well, again and again I find myself being proved wrong.

I am recommending that they call in the police immediately - in that this seems to be the morally appropriate thing to do; though I doubt if it will do any actual good. Watch this space.

An I-really-shouldn't-have-done-that-to-myself-last-night haiku

Late nights, smoky bars,
Shouting above the music.
Tom Waits huskiness.

I really should not have accepted yesterday's last-minute commission to do yet another recording gig this morning, in the wake of the predictably excessive indulgences of the Sichuan earthquake benefit party at my local bar, Room 101, last night.

I was very, very tired this morning. And my voice was very, very raspy.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Chaos on the roads

That's Beijing magazine has been running a competition this month to find the longest delay in traffic during a cab ride in the city (apparently there's a separate record of 'wait' time on the receipt - who knew?).

The fates have been unusually kind to me so far this month. I would have had a leading contender last month, when a moment's inattention resulted in my being taken on to Shuangqing Lu - surely one of the worst traffic jam black spots in the whole city. I was heading from the SE corner of Tsinghua University to Liudaokou (next to the Forestry University), a distance of not more than than 2.5 miles. It took me over 50 minutes, and I swear I was completely stationary for at least half of that. I wouldn't normally expect it to take more than 10. Heck, I could have walked it in 35 minutes..... but it was raining. I had done my best to instruct the driver, in my fumbling Chinese, that he should go straight over the Wudaokou level crossing and then hang a left; but he seemed insistent that it would be quicker to take the left before the crossing, leading to the dreaded Shuangqing Lu. It's a fairly narrow road; and, just at the point where it crosses the railway line, it crosses/merges with two other larger roads; and there seem to be no traffic lights at this junction - or, at least, none that work in any kind of sensible way. Traffic from all directions meshes together, and........ gridlock. Time and again. I should have known better: I've encountered this before - though not nearly as badly. I'm sure my cab-driver knew this too, but thought it an easy stratagem to bump up my fare.

And god knows, Chengfu Lu, the main east-west road running from BLCU (the Beijing Language & Culture University, home to one of the largest populations of overseas students studying Mandarin) to Tsinghua and Peking University, is plenty bad enough. Two really rather superflous pedestrian crossings in quick succession, then two more sets of traffic lights for side roads, either side of the level-crossing. And the situation is made even worse by the huge number of bus routes along that stretch of road. Even when traffic is light, it can take 10 minutes or more to cover the mile along the south side of the BLCU campus. In the rush hour, things almost invariably grind to a standstill. Indeed, they can be pretty bloody awful at almost any hour of the day (on a number of occasions, when in a hurry, I have actually found it quicker to get out of a cab, walk half a mile to the other side of the railway line, and hail another one there). Yep, Chengfu Lu and Shuangqing Lu are to be avoided at all costs - unless you want to win That's Beijing's prize that badly.

In fact, I got caught out by the Curse of Chengfu Lu a week or so ago, when I wasn't even on Chengfu Lu. No, I was in a cab heading south on Xueyuan Lu, which crosses it. I do this journey home from one of my regular recording studios quite a lot, and it doesn't usually take me more than 20 or 25 minutes to cover the full 8 miles home. On this occasion, it took me that long to cover the block and a half from the studio to the junction with Chengfu Lu (admittedly, these are very long blocks: perhaps three quarters of a mile or so each). Because...... despite Chengfu Lu being backed up solid (or so I imagine) all the way from the Wudaokou railway line, buses were still streaming across the junction in their eagerness to join this traffic jam, and had completely blocked Xueyuan Lu. Really. The bus drivers were completely ignoring the traffic lights; or, at any rate, they were ignoring the fact that there was no space for them to drive into on the far side of the junction. And, of course, there was no sign of a policeman anywhere who might try to sort this mess out.

Once we managed to get to the front of the queue at this set of lights, and to find a hole to weave through in this seemingly unbroken line of stationary buses, it was plain sailing on the other side: we got home from there in less than 15 minutes.

I kid you not: a roadblock of buses!! Only in China???

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Doing our bit

One of my favourite local bars - Room 101 on Andingmennei, a couple of hundred yards north of the Jiadaokou junction - is throwing a party this Thursday to raise funds for the Sichuan earthquake victims: voluntary donations on the door, and all bar takings for the night to go to earthquake relief charities. Plenty of live music and drinks specials.

A good way to help the cause. I just put up a fuller notice about it on brother-blog The Barstool, if anyone's interested. I hope I will see plenty of you there on Thursday.

The return of an unworkably CRAPPY Internet

Maybe it's earthquake damage. There are famously only 3 or 4 cross-border cable links to the Internet in China, and one of them, I guess, runs through the western areas hit by last week's earthquake. Even if the cable isn't completely down, I imagine there could be a lot of localised damage to the Internet architecture there, which is reducing effective bandwidth for the whole country.

Maybe it's just that, because of the earthquake, everyone is trying to get on the Internet all the time here, hungry for the latest news.

Maybe it's that the government censors, nervous of any possible adverse comment on the earthquake relief efforts, are ramping up their filtering on the Internet to ridiculous levels.

Or maybe it's completely unrelated to the recent earthquake. Maybe it's just the return of the annual Internet blitz we always suffer in the middle of the year, for 2 or 3 weeks either side of June 4th (and if you don't know what that's the anniversary of, go look it up - if you can; in China, it's difficult!).

Whatever it is, the Internet - at least in my humble home - has become just about unusable over the past 48 hours. It doesn't actually appear to be targeted censorship (though I'm sure I'd get into far worse trouble if I tried doing any Googling on topics related to that anniversary); it's just a case of the whole network being so compromised - whether by earthquake damage, overuse, or government monitoring - that almost every site is becoming unworkably slow and glitchy: you often have to hit 'Refresh' or 'Retry' 3 or 4 times to move between one page and another. E-mails are often lost completely. So are Blogger posts. Blogger hasn't previously suffered any interference here in China, as far as I know; but in the past few days it has become very, very troublesome. Yesterday's two posts on here took about half an hour to write and 12 hours to post!!

So it might be another light week (or six weeks) or so of posting from me.

I'm sure you'll survive somehow.

Monday, May 19, 2008

1,001 posts

To celebrate the improbable momentousness of the volume of posting I have now achieved on this site, I thought I should offer up something on an Arabian Nights theme....... perhaps some scantily clad harem hussies like this.......

Or this.......
After all, I need to do something to drive traffic here; and, as we know, nothing drives traffic like SEX. Sex on Froogville?! Whatever next??? I know - it doesn't quite fit, does it?

And I find in the end (after wasting a good portion of Sunday afternoon doing picture searches on this topic) that I like this richly coloured abstract by the German painter, Karl Maenz, best. It's a 2006 work of his entitled (who knows why?!) '1,001 Nights'.

This is just getting silly

I have just spent another very long day behind the microphone recording listening practice exams, a day made to seem even longer by the sudden degeneration of the latter portions of the script into absolute gibberish.

It would appear that the publishing houses are rushed off their feet by the current demand (it's probably a last-minute frenzy of preparation for the national College Entrance Examination, or gaokao, at the beginning of next month), and, while they are able to fill most of the requirements made of them by following the tried and trusted method of rehashing the same old scripts we use every year (though with the occasional bizarre evolutions: today we had one where the 'hotel guest calling room service about something or other' scenario suddenly morphed into a man asking a woman about her recent long weekend holiday - the latter, one we've had so often that my partner DD has come to loathe it like the screech of fingernails scraping on a blackboard, is traditionally located in Snowdonia, but today, for a change, happened in the mythical township of Snowton); but it was evident that a shortfall in some of the scripts was being hastily filled by junior employees with only semi-competent English trying to transcribe past tapes without the benefit of being able to see the scripts for them.

Hence, of course, the 'Snowton' for 'Snowdon' substitution. And, quite regularly today, 'Wow' for 'Well' as an opening - but often alarmingly inappropriate - filler. A train crash outside Rugby was today situated in 'Lagby', while the train was said to have originated from 'London Austin' (a strange combination of bad listening skills and poor spelling in these transcriptions!). A set of directions for central London was full of such extravagantly inept guesswork: Greshroom Street, Luidgate Circuits, The Mention House.

Later, a reference to the well-known Florida tourist destination of 'Oraldo' caused us particular hilarity (Oral do? Fnnaaargh, fnnaaargh!!).

My personal favourite, though, was when the opening greeting "Hi, Jennifer!" became transformed into "Hi, General!"

DD occasionally gets miffed at my obsessive streak when it comes to weeding out unsuitable names (my zeal for this in the classroom is generally repeated in the recording booth). "I wanted to be a general! Why can't I be a general?" she pouted.

And this latest salvo of studio-inspired merriment is......... (pregnant pause)......... well, believe it or not, it's actually Post No. 1,000 here on Froogville.

The milestones are flying by thick and fast just at the moment. Only four days ago, my junior blog, Barstool Blues, reached the ominous 666th post, and then, this weekend, clocked up its 10,000th officially recorded visitor. When I first sat down at the computer to record some of my brain-spillage one morning back in September 2006, I little imagined it would ever go this far.....

How much more of this nonsense do I have in me, you may well ask. I have no idea.

Bon mot for the week

"Only dead fish swim with the stream."

Malcolm Muggeridge (1903-1990)

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Band Name winners...... and another milestone

Do please go and check out the latest crop of winning Possible Band Name suggestions I just posted over on The Barstool.

And note also the hit-counter on The Barstool's sidebar: yes, we have just passed the 10,000 visitor mark on my junior, more disreputable blog! (Actually, the other traffic-monitoring tool I use suggests the number is nearer to 15,000; but all of these systems are prone to inaccuracies and omissions of some kind. Sitemeter is the one I've chosen to go with [because I prefer the sidebar display], so that's the one whose landmark figure I now celebrate!)

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Interpreters everywhere

Yet another reason why I don't learn Chinese......

Most of my Chinese friends speak decent English. Most of my foreign friends speak at least a little bit of Chinese. The only two girls I've dated seriously here, though foreign, spoke very good Chinese. There's almost never any shortage of people on hand to translate for me; and thus there's zero pressure on me to learn Chinese myself.

And it's really rather nice to be able to devolve the wrangling-with-the-locals stuff to someone else. Partly, I suppose, it's a kind of laziness or cowardice - not wanting to get involved in the hassle that this so often entails. But also, I think, there's something more positive in it, something strangely buoyant and liberating - relinquishing some measure of your own control and autonomy, placing absolute trust in someone else to conduct a transaction for you.

Holding it all in..... for the Olympics

There have been some slight signs of 'progress' in the campaign to eradicate some of the less appealing behavioural traits of Beijingers prior to the projected influx of foreign tourism in August: blatant queue-jumping at the ticket window in the subway is much reduced, queueing for buses is becoming much more orderly, and just occasionally you even find people allowing passengers to disembark from subway carriages before piling through the doors themselves.

But public spitting? I can't say I've detected any significant reduction in this; but it is supposed to be a key focus of the campaign - the powers-that-be having recognised that it is one of the things that most grosses out us sensitive foreigners. I think there really is an expectation here that there will be no spitting at all during the Olympics, that Beijingers will somehow overcome the habit of a lifetime and restrain themselves for a full two or three weeks.

It seems a crazy, unrealistic dream, but...... this is a country where social engineering of this kind really is possible. Perhaps we really will see a gob-free August.

But can you imagine what it will be like as soon as the Games are over and the tourists leave? An enormous collective, synchronous SPIT, a cathartic release of weeks of retained phlegm!

This strange, terrible image got me to wondering what this might actually sound like - 10 million people doing a huge simultaneous hawk-and-spit.

I think you could probably generate a reasonable facsimile of it by recording a representative sample of, say, a hundred or so Beijingers spitting in their different ways, and then multi-tracking each one scores of times to produce the requisite depth and texture and volume.

If only I had some decent sound equipment! I mean, some people make good money off ideas like this. If you hear of anyone else doing something like this, remember - you heard it here first.

Yes, THE BIG SPIT - the first in an occasional series of My Crazy 'Art' Ideas.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Studio humdinger of the week

"I want to play balls with you."

Probably in the P.E. class, where, as we know, they can "play with each other freely."

A photography haiku

Revelling in light,
The eye always a camera,
Framing every scene.

Well, it is if you've got that photography itch, anyway. And the scores of ramshackle alleyways in my part of Beijing are a profuse source of inspiration.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

A (belated) Website of the Month

I have been meaning for a while to give a little boost to China Casserole, the blog Leah started with a small group of American study-abroad students who've been taking classes with her this year. It only got going a little way into this semester, perhaps two months ago, and I guess I was waiting to see if they would keep contributing regularly and make it into something substantial..... and then I just got so busy, I kind of forgot about it for a while. Sorry, Leah.

I guess this might well be only a 'Website for a Month' now, since they'll probably discontinue it when they return to the States in June. So, take a look at it while you can. There's quite a lot on there now, and it's a diverse and often interesting mix. It seems to have been a very successful class project - well done, everyone.

I'm tempted to try something similar myself one day........ if I ever find myself back in a University classroom, that is......

Late afternoon walks in the hutongs

One of my favourite things about living in Beijing. Many's the time I've been mired in depression and struggling to drag myself out of the apartment - but as soon as I do (at least, if it's a nice clear day), I can usually drive those blues away within a few minutes.

The light from about 4pm to 6pm at this time of year can be quite gorgeous. I haven't been out and about with my camera nearly enough just lately. I must start getting back in the habit.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Feeling the earth move

I can't say that I did. Thanks, anyway, to those of my correspondents who expressed concern about my well-being.

Apparently, Monday's earthquake was felt quite strongly in tall buildings, and most of the office blocks around town were evacuated as a precaution. At ground level, I don't think anything was perceptible. I think I was in a taxi at the time, and quite oblivious.

The first I heard of it was a little while later - late afternoon - when a couple of Chinese friends sent me warning text messages about it.

It was interesting to see how the news got out and how quickly it travelled. I imagine the authorities here might have been inclined to sit on the news for a while until they'd had time to digest its magnitude and plan when and how to release the story (progress of a sort: not so long ago, the debate might have been about whether to release it at all). However, their hand was forced, as the news broke very rapidly without them.

The first reports outside of the country seem to have been based on seismic analysis from the United States (and maybe other countries too) identifying western Sichuan as the epicentre of a massive quake. However, the news got around very quickly in China as well - chiefly, I understand, through the numerous Chinese clones of the Twitter website (which is, I gather, a sort of communal online bulletin board, an outlet for the instant messaging urge when you have no friends to send messages to). That, of course, soon spilled over into people sharing the news with each other via e-mail, SMS, and phone calls. Ah, the power of the information revolution!

Also, of course, the quake was so powerful that it was directly felt across most of China (just not by me).

Later on that evening, a couple of other Chinese friends told me - entirely independently of each other - that they had been told, quite authoritatively, that there would be a major aftershock early on Tuesday morning, and suggested maybe I shouldn't go to bed that night as a precaution. Ah, the power of rumour and superstition! I've heard this kind of warning before - after a typhoon, after the earthquake in Xinjiang a while back, after the Songhua River chemical spill a few years ago. Always the predicted hour of doom seems to be 4am (or between 3am and 4am - the fourth hour). I suppose, as long as the fear doesn't become too potent, there's no real harm in maintaining a heightened alertness for a little while, in taking a few steps towards disaster-preparedness. The key - and not unreasonable - anxiety of many Chinese, I believe, is that such events may cause an interruption in their utilities; on Monday night, all across the country, a lot of people were probably stocking up on flashlights and candles, and filling every container in their house with tap water. Me - I was just propping up a bar, watching CNN (without the sound) to try to find out more about what had happened.

I assume this paranoia about disaster striking in the wee small hours has to do with the numerological juju about '4' being an ill-omened number because it sounds like the word for 'death'; but it may possibly also have to do with lingering memories of some historic disaster. I believe the hugely destructive Tangshan earthquake of 1976 hit in the early hours of the morning, and that was surely an important factor in the enormous loss of life it caused; I get the impression that this new Sichuan earthquake has been almost as severe in the amount of damage it has caused, but if the death toll remains in the 10s rather than the 100s of thousands (let us hope for what we can: it's still early to be estimating the total loss of life, but it's looking very, very bad), I suspect that this will be largely because it happened in the middle of the afternoon when so many people were out of doors, rather than asleep in their beds.

Another question that's been intriguing me is how fast does a seismic shockwave travel? Can anyone point me to a definitive answer on that? I gather the earthquake epicentre was some 1,300 miles or so from Beijing, and I think we felt the initial tremor about two hours later (the numerous powerful aftershocks - which apparently gave the impression in some areas of the earthquake being almost continuous for more than two hours - were not strong enough to be felt this far away).

One of the colleges I visited in my job with the English education company last year is situated a few miles to the north and west of Chengdu, not too far from the epicentre. I hope the staff and students I met there are all OK; you do feel the impact of a disaster like this all the more keenly when there's a personal connection like this, however tenuous it may be.

A lot of my journalist friends have headed out there to cover the story, although I'm not sure what kind of access they'll get. Many of the worst affected areas lie in the western half of the province, the heavily Tibetan portion that's been closed off to foreigners for the past two months. At least there may now be one inadvertently positive outcome from the recent military crackdown: there are huge numbers of soldiers already on hand to help with the relief effort.

I had been thinking of heading out there myself to volunteer to help with the search for survivors. I'm not even sure if that's possible; and I rather suspect that a huge influx of foreigners at the moment - however well-intentioned - wouldn't be welcomed, and perhaps would not be helpful. I pray they are getting enough manpower mobilised on this, though: there are whole villages, towns, cities buried; I saw a report yesterday of a single small city where they believe there are as many as 18,000 people trapped in the rubble; and that's only one among many. This is an unhappy week.

Warm rain

It's been gloriously sunny for the past couple of days, and was again today until....... the sky clouded over very suddenly in mid-afternoon.

As I headed out on a hurried shopping expedition a little while ago, big, fat drops of rain were starting to fall intermittently. Warm rain.

That was a pleasant surprise. It has been unseasonally cool here just lately; and we don't usually start to get really warm rain until July and August.

I love rain like that - and will often go walking or running in it (the bao'an - the teenage gate guards at the front of my apartment building - think I'm crazy!).

I had been planning to go for a run late this afternoon, and at present the rain - light, warm - would be rather refreshing to run in. The trouble is, it threatens to get heavier. Much heavier. And that might not be quite so much fun. Especially when the drains clog - as they invariably do - and the streets start to flood and I find myself splashing ankle-deep through dilute sewage. No, not nice.

Another excuse to cry off! My running regime has been terrible of late: I've had very little free time, and when I have had some, the foul air quality has made me a prisoner of my apartment, or I've just been feeling too lazy as I suffer from the cumulative exhaustion of repeated late nights and bad sleeping. The Great Wall Marathon is coming up this weekend, but I am in no kind of shape to attempt it again this year, as I had hoped; at present, I can barely run even a half-marathon (which means that I am about the most out-of-shape I have been in the last 4 or 5 years!).

Darn it! I really ought to go out now, rain or no rain. This is the first completely free day (well, not completely: I've had a few meetings to discuss new work opportunities to take care of) I've had in ages, and I ought to make the most of it. I'm being a WIMP.....

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Poised on the brink of history

My Possible Band Names game over on The Barstool has attained the awesome total of

Who will make the 100th contribution? It could be you! Go on.

More studio fun

"What's this?"

"It's an orange."

"What colour is it?"

"It's green."

Hmmm. Well, I don't think I'll be buying that one then.

And then there was this.....

"I've got a big rubber for you, Miss Li!"

"Wow! That's a very big one! I really like it!"

Although my partner and I had been hired to add a touch of class to these materials with our elegant British accents, I am pretty sure that the writers had intended them to be in American English. And in American English, a rubber is...... Well, we couldn't think of any tactful way to explain it, so we left the studio staff in utter bafflement at our tearful, wheezing mirth.

Monday, May 12, 2008


An American friend I was at dinner with yesterday was complaining that her wastrel twenty-something son back home appeared likely to fail to acknowledge Mother's Day (American-style; the UK version, of course, falls on the third Sunday in March rather than the second in May).

I suggested that she could avenge herself by sending a singing telegram around to his place of work today, to humiliate him in front of his co-workers with a chorus of something like "You broke your Mother's heart again."

I think this is a fine and potentially very lucrative concept. No doubt somewhere in the world (probably somewhere in America) such a creatively spiteful variation on the singing telegram service already exists. But then again perhaps not....... Maybe this could be my 'million dollar idea'?!

Of course, there's no absolute necessity to run a business like this over the Internet, but..... such is the fashion of the times. And I haven't added to my 'Brilliant Website Ideas' series for a while.

Further frivolity from behind the microphone

Things are so busy in the recording studios right now that I even relaxed my usual principle against working on the weekends for a few hours yesterday afternoon - I was taping the exercises for a young kids' EFL book with the charming, elderly Chinese professor they always get to do the female voice for these (and she's only available on weekends, alas).

The trouble with books of this level is that they are rather heavy on the alliteration at times (and quite divorced from reality!):
"Peter the Panda plays the piano ponderously."
(Well, no, OK, the adverb probably wasn't 'ponderously', but there certainly was a sentence very like this. Supply your own variations.)

Still, at least I haven't come upon any cloning references so far in books for this age range.

There have been quite a few tongue-twisters even trickier than Peter-the-Panda coming up in the regular workload of late. It is quite a test of my professionalism. See how you get on with.....

"I myself am an immigrant."

"The Halloween holiday falls on October the 31st."

And "What size sports shoes do you want?"

Remember, this is a relentless sausage-factory scenario: there's no time to pre-read and rehearse - it's 5 or 6 solid hours each day of sight-reading. And we pride ourselves on not wasting time by stumbling over phrases like this and needing re-dos. But sometimes, well, there's just no helping it.

Another punning 'Daily Llama'

Thanks to The Mothman for this latest inspiration.

And I've been forgetting to say, but I really must make it a habit -

Bon mot of the week

"The happiness of a man in this life consists not in the absence of but in the mastery of his passions."

Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809 - 1892)

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Another studio blooper comes back to me

"I've just cloned a donut."

Not really Chinglish, as such. In fact, it was consciously intended as, and later explained as a joke. But still, a pretty unexpected, downright surreal notion. It made tea come out of my nose.

For some reason, the people that write these crappy EFL textbooks in China are really obsessed with cloning at the moment.

My Fantasy Girlfriend - Lt. Gay Ellis

I think my first flesh-and-blood crush may well have been on yet another Gerry Anderson character, Gay Ellis from UFO (Anderson's first live action series, after all those infamous SuperMarionation shows in the '60s). What was it about those crazy Gerry Anderson shows??

She was played by the lovely Gabrielle Drake, who cropped up repeatedly on British television during the 1970s and was, I think, really quite a decent comic actress (as well as being achingly pretty), although always, alas, confined to tiny roles as wife or girlfriend. I think she may well have been partly responsible for my lifelong fascination with willowy redheads.

But in this show, you couldn't tell she was a redhead. She always wore that ridiculous purple wig (surely the wackiest of all of Sylvia Anderson's rather avant garde fashion ideas!). Well, I think there was one episode where she was on leave down on Earth (ordinarily, she commanded the control centre on the Moonbase of the Alien Defense Oganization - perhaps the metallic wig was some sort of radiation protection??). And I saw most of this show in black & white anyway, at least originally (we didn't get a colour TV until 1974, by which time I think it had finished; although I almost certainly caught some re-runs later on).

So, what was her appeal? Not the wig, I hope! Possibly the skin-tight silver catsuit. And the pretty face and great figure, of course. But I really rather think it was the fact that she was a lieutenant that grabbed me most: she was always so impressively cool and calm and unflappable. And I think I somehow liked the idea of being ordered around by a woman.

Well, perhaps on that basis I should have swooned even more for Col. Virginia Lake (as played by the generously proportioned actress, Wanda Ventham, who I know was a great favourite of The Mothman), but, well, somehow the Colonel always seemed a little bit too (forgive me, Mothman!) mumsy for me. And I think I find the junior rank more alluring: you know, it's status of a kind, but it's not impossibly remote and unattainable.

Friday, May 09, 2008

A Daily Llama!!

A particularly cute one, this.

Almost worth a tee-shirt, eh, Moonie??

For other readers confused by this reference, the lovely & talented Moonrat some months ago promised me a tee-shirt bearing one of the eccentrically brilliant and wildly un-PC accidental aphorisms of her crackpot boss, 'Robert the Publisher'.

Alas, the poor girl has been too busy to get around to having the shirts printed yet. It is time for the gentle reminders to start, I think. It's not just for myself, you understand. I feel this is a public service, indeed a duty. Just about all of her regular readers have also asked to have one of these shirts, but I believe I am the only person who is owed one (she promised it to me as a prize for winning her sonnet competition). So, I am championing the cause of all the tee-shirt-hungry EdAss acolytes in trying to goad her into making the time for a trip to the screen-printers.

I think I may have to resort to the notorious drip, drip, drip tactics of Cato the Elder: from now on, I shall sign off every post on here with.......

Still waiting for my tee-shirt......

Haiku of the week

Unfamiliar blue
The sky returns from exile
Dazzling novelty

After enduring days and days of shit-coloured skies and half-mile visibility, a clear day is like a drink of cool water after a hundred-mile trek across the desert.

And sorry, but I had been playing with Blogger's new 'scheduled post' feature: I wrote this week's haikus the day before, and had timed them to appear on Friday morning, without the necessity for me to get out of bed to post them live (after the week I've had, I was determined to stay in bed until at least noon, whether I was asleep or not.... but in fact I was). Alas, I got caught out by the American (and Chinese) numerical convention that lists the month rather than the day first, and so had inadvertently scheduled them for early September. Drat! I will try to be more competent next time, I promise.