Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Tick, tick, tick goes the counter...

LOOK! Over there, in the sidebar (quite a long way down...): my Statcounter 'visitor total' is getting mighty close to 50,000. Some time in the next couple of days, that milestone will be passed. [Oops - the sidebar counter is in fact provided by Sitemeter.]

Yes, yes, I know - "hill of beans", and all that. This figure doesn't really tell us anything about the number of people who 'visit' in any meaningful sense of the word (much less about how much they actually read, or enjoy, of what they find here).

But numbers fascinate us, counting fascinates us.....

We don't count sheep because it make us drowsy, we do it because it feeds an addiction.

Hints and fragments

Waking at around 7am this morning (LATE for me; but I had been up till nearly 2am last night), I immediately switched on the TV, because you can never be sure what time CCTV5 are going to start re-running the previous day's World Cup football matches: on some days it's been as early as 7.30, on others not until 9.30 or 10am. (And there's no consistency as to which one they'll show first.) I'd been fearing that, now we're in the knockout stages, with the possibility of extra time and penalties in every game, they might be starting even earlier, to make sure they can get finished by lunchtime. Hence switching on the TV as soon as I got up....

And, as luck would have it (ill luck, that is), as soon as the picture came to life (it takes a long time on my antiquated set) I found that they were in the middle of a highlights roundup of the Spain v Portugal game (the one I hadn't seen). I quickly averted my eyes, and started doing vuvuzela impressions (more of a raspberry, to be honest; I haven't quite sussed out the appropriate embouchure yet) to try to drown out the commentary. Alas, I caught (repeatedly!) that the result had been yi bi ling - 1-0. And the key situation I had subliminally glimpsed on the screen appeared to have been a white-shirted Portuguese attack (I don't think Spain ever play in white, do they?). And I also caught something about Iker Casillas, Spain's normally awesome goalkeeper, having failed to catch or stop something (sometimes, knowing a little bit of Chinese is worse than knowing none at all!).

I took refuge in my study with a cup of coffee - but I had to leave the CCTV programme on, so that I could listen out for the start of a full re-run of the game (THIS is why vuvuzelas are useful!), while trying to tune out any further spoiling comments about the Spain game (I overheard a lot more yi bi ling, yi bi ling, yi bi ling, so I wasn't in much doubt that that was the final score in the match; but I managed to ignore all the rest).

However, I then made another blunder: checking the 'Blog Comments' folder (force of habit! what can I do?!) in my e-mail Inbox, I inadvertently clicked on this one by my old Oxford buddy, The Swordsman - which again required me to look away sharpish, since I knew it would inevitably be about this game.

When the longed-for re-run finally got under way (at the readily predictable time of 8.45!), I was in a fair old state of panic and dread that Spain (my pre-tournament pick to lift the Cup) were about to be unjustly taken down by Portugal (one of the most overrated teams in the competition, and the one I happen to revile most). Thank heavens that proved not to be the case.

And thank heavens we now have a couple of days off, to restore our depleted emotional resources.

[By the way, a few days ago I stumbled upon a blog by Robert Brault, a freelance writer and indefatigable epigrammatist (he furnished my 'Bon mot of the week' over on The Barstool on Monday). One of my favourite lines of his is: "I'm not really an eavesdropper; I just have an Attention Surplus Disorder."

A valuable attribute for a writer, that. It was something of a problem for me this morning, though: it's really difficult to force yourself to not listen to something.]

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Fantasy football!!

Ah, I always loved this sequence from Disney's Bedknobs and Broomsticks, with David Tomlinson as the much put-upon referee in a match between jungle animals. (Yes indeed, there were times when I felt like this, officiating in rumbustious high school games in my first job as a teacher!).

By the by, the epic World Cup discussion thread continues over on The Barstool (I'm mostly talking to myself these days, but what the hey!). Please go and contribute your thoughts.

And I was musing on cartoons (as well as football) today because of the contributions JES added to Saturday's post about favourite animated features - there are now a couple of new links to check out there: Terry Gilliam's 10 favourite shorts, and the Time Out 50 Greatest Animated Features.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Bon mot for the week

"It's not the struggle that makes us artists, but Art that makes us struggle."

Albert Camus (1913-1960)

Sunday, June 27, 2010

And again....

In their highlights the other day of the final World Cup Group H game between Switzerland and Honduras, CCTV showed the little Central American side apparently netting a goal.

This was the last item featured in the highlights, so it was presumably late in the game (although that might be a large assumption; chronology - or any other kind of logic - does not always figure in the structuring of these little roundups of the action on Chinese television). It was only shown once: there was not even a single replay, much less the multiple views and diagrammatic analysis we usually get for narrow offside calls. And there was no sound commentary over the top of it (even with my limited Chinese, I think I would have been able to recognise if the goal had been disallowed for a foul or an offside, if anyone had told us).

Since the game ended goalless, I gather this strike must not have counted for some reason; but on the very brief glimpse of it CCTV5 afforded, it looked perfectly good to me. And let me repeat: there was absolutely no explanation of this incident at all.

Just when I think CCTV5 can't possibly get any worse, they come up with some new way to astound and annoy me!!!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Film List - the best animated films (?)

Feeling a bit lazy this month. Well, feeling a bit wrecked, having stayed up until 4am to make sure Spain were safely through to the next round....

I had been thinking of doing a 'Film List' on the best sports movies I could think of, but.... I couldn't think of very many. (Escape To Victory? Probably not.)

Luckily enough, this list of The Best 25 Animated Features landed in my Inbox this morning, from online videogame review magazine IGN (god knows how I got on that e-mailing list!).

I'm not sure how many of their picks I agree with - I haven't even seen half of them. I definitely don't concur with their No. 1 choice. The fairytale Disneys I find a bit too cloying (I think I'd have to go with The Jungle Book or The Aristocats as my favourite Disneys, just for the music; or perhaps The Lady and The Tramp or 101 Dalmations for the charm of the stories).

Ah well, see what you think. That's all you're getting from me this week.

[Update: The remarkable JES added links in the comments below to a couple of much more interesting (and arguably much better) lists of this ilk: Time Out's Top 50 Animated Features, and this article from The Guardian in which film-maker Terry Gilliam introduces his top ten short animations. Those are both well worth checking out.]

Oh well, OK, ruminating just then on classic Disney this selection overlooked, I remembered this....

Friday, June 25, 2010

Recently, on the Barstool....

Well, of course, it's been all football for the past couple of weeks - most of my blogging has been devoted to comment, analysis, and prognostication on the current World Cup in this monster thread (which has already surpassed the number of comments we racked up for my Euro '08 discussion thread - although this time nearly all of them have been mine!).

However, I have also found time for one or two other things. Just before the football festival kicked off I did this post on the most overrated bands on the Beijing rock scene. Then, last weekend I posted England's one surprisingly, uncannily good football song, Three Lions (the latest version, reissued yet again for this tournament) - with an additional link for a tenuously football-related song, Thomas Dolby's Close But No Cigar, which I had wanted to include in the post (but embedding is forbidden!). And just a few days ago, I posted this rueful observation on just why my love life has been so tantalising over the past year or so.

Please go and take a look. There won't be much new stuff on here until the football's all over.

A familiar story

A scene played out in living rooms around the globe this month, I'm sure....

It's times like this when I'm glad I'm single.

Haiku for the week

Straddling two timezones -
The brain wilts from the effort
Living in two worlds

The World Cup is killing me. But gosh, it's a good one this year.

Work is slackening off for me again, and - but for a series of lectures which require hours of preparation making PowerPoint slides for (my chore for today!) - I would have plenty of free time to recover from the frequent late nights/early mornings. Alas, that 8 or 10 hours of prep each week is ruining my life: I just can't find that much free time in my schedule without getting up stupidly early in the morning, or working in the evenings. Well, at least it's nearly done now....

I am seriously contemplating flying to America for the quarter-finals onwards, though. This being in the wrong timezone is wretched.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

I despair of Chinese TV....

Perhaps I ought to be grateful....

At least, we're finally starting to see signs of some consistency in CCTV5's coverage of the World Cup.

Yes, they've decided - in their infinite stupidity - to consistently add a banner across the bottom of the screen displaying the final score during the whole of the extended highlights roundups of the previous evening's matches.

I don't think they were doing this at the start of the competition. They've decided to add this 'useful service' just as things are getting really exciting as we're effectively entering the knockout phase, and when we can't watch all of the matches live because some of them are played simultaneously (and more and more of them in the graveyard 2.30am slot). Ggrrrr.......

Is there any conceivable explanation for this? Other than monstrous idiocy, or complete contempt for their audience??

[By the by, they finally got around to showing the Canadian Grand Prix early this Monday morning - edited highlights only, I presume, since the whole programme lasted barely an hour. And this is one full week after the race. You couldn't make this up.....]

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Chinese have a word for it

But, in many cases, it seems they only have one word (or phrase) for it.

As I noted at the end of the Olympics here, China really only has the one sporting chant (Jia you!) - which can become tedious very rapidly.

Watching the current World Cup with Chinese commentary on the dratted CCTV5, I have noticed that the commentators' favourite phrase is da men. Men () is 'gate' (used to mean the goal) and da () is 'big' (or is it the da - - that means 'shoot [for]'? Weeble??) - so it seems to mean something like "The goal is wide open" (or maybe "Shoot!").

The only variant we hear is hao ji hui (好机会) - "Good opportunity!" - usually said to follow up a da men as a criticism of the attacking team for squandering the supposed chance.

I have occasionally found this paucity of vocabulary on the part of the Chinese commentators to be quite useful. If I'm watching a morning re-run when I really ought to be getting some work done, and there are long passages of sterile play, I can retire to my study while leaving the TV on in the living room, and listen out with half an ear for an outbreak of 'da men, da men!' to alert me to the fact that one of the teams has finally managed to move the ball into the last third of the field.

In general, though, the repetitiveness is rather grating. All sporting commentary tends to be a bit limited in range of vocabulary and extremely clichéd; but at least our 'colour' commentators back home, the former players and managers, can usually be relied upon to come up occasionally with some inventive phrase-making (I mentioned on here long ago a wonderful line by Joe Royle on the BBC some years back, likening a pair of leaden-footed Polish central defenders to the Terracotta Army). Here it's always da men, da men, bloody da men. We never get someone exhorting the striker to "pop it in the old onion bag, my son". Nor do we get unfavourable comparisons being drawn between the finishing skills of the player and those of elderly relatives of the commentator ("My grandmother could have put that away!").

No, the absence of amusing abuse is particularly disappointing. The Chinese are much given to celebrating the misfortune and ineptitude of others with a good chortle, but they don't seem to have any verbal brickbats to go along with this. (Maybe I'm just missing them, because my Chinese is so useless? Weeble??) I haven't heard anyone saying in Chinese something along the lines of "You donkey! You wouldn't get picked in the Blind School."

And we certainly don't have any of the inspired malaproppery and reckless metaphor-blending of the late, great Dan Maskell (a wonderfully fruity-voiced old codger who was for many years the BBC's "voice of tennis"). My favourite line of his - said of Jimmy Connors, I think - was: "When the chips are up against him, he pulls out all the stops."

Ah yes, that's the kind of spirit we need to see from the England football team tomorrow. I'm not sure we're going to, though. I fear there'll be precious little da men; and whatever there is (unless it's at our end!) is likely to be followed immediately by a disdainful hao ji hui.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The football anthology

Yes, it's all football, all the time in my world just lately. Sorry about that to all of you non-sports fans.

Here's a quick roundup of all the football-related items from the past week or so (adapted from this post I added yesterday to my burgeoning World Cup discussion thread [thanks to The British Cowboy, The Swordsman, Stuart, Tony B, Richard P, Mr G, JK, and Gary for joining in the griping, jesting and prognosticating so far]).

A couple of days ago, I added the updated 2010 version of our rousing English football song, Three Lions (complete with a very good - and refreshingly high picture quality - fan video of some the the great moments in England's footballing past), to the 'Great Songs' series on The Barstool.

A week ago on Froogville, I had posted a selection of great England goals, including Gazza's impish piece of wizardry against the Scots at Wembley in Euro 96 and John Barnes out-Brazilling the Brazilians at the Maracana Stadium (in '84, was it?).

Amongst the other football-related frippery on my blogs, we've had a wonderfully barbed observation on Lionel Messi from JK, my favourite bar owner, and a deft metaphor of my own drawing on the Robert Green cock-up to comment on my state of being (it's not only Nick Hornby who can play that game), a headline from an American tabloid celebrating their 1-1 result against England as "a win", a LEGO re-enactment of the two key moments in that game.... and some speculation on how they might be reporting the World Cup in the DPRK.

And of all the many (more serious) articles about the tournament I've been reading online over this weekend, I think this blog post from the Football365 website best sums up what's going wrong for Capello and England. We still have a couple of days to try and put some of that right....

A double bon mot for the week

"Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts."

Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

"Failure is the line of least persistence."

W.A. Clarke
(of whom the Internet seems strangely ignorant: I doubt if it's this one; more probably an inadvertent misspelling of this one)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Sunday poem

I was rooting around for a poem on a sporting theme (sorry, in the grip of World Cup obsession here), but couldn't find much of worth. However, I did stumble upon this, a short poem I hadn't previously encountered by the great bard of the Yukon Territory, Robert Service. It's inspired, I imagine, by the challenges of survival in the wilderness, but in general it's more about surviving "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" in our daily lives - and thus provides an apposite inspiration to hard done-by and under-performing football teams.

The Quitter

When you’re lost in the Wild, and you’re scared as a child,
And Death looks you bang in the eye,
And you’re sore as a boil, it’s according to Hoyle
To cock your revolver and . . . die.
But the Code of a Man says: “Fight all you can,”
And self-dissolution is barred.
In hunger and woe, oh, it’s easy to blow . . .
It’s the hell-served-for-breakfast that’s hard.

“You’re sick of the game!” Well, now, that’s a shame.
You’re young and you’re brave and you’re bright.
“You’ve had a raw deal!” I know—but don’t squeal,
Buck up, do your damnedest, and fight.
It’s the plugging away that will win you the day,
So don’t be a piker, old pard!
Just draw on your grit; it’s so easy to quit:
It’s the keeping-your-chin-up that’s hard.

It’s easy to cry that you’re beaten—and die;
It’s easy to crawfish and crawl;
But to fight and to fight when hope’s out of sight—
Why, that’s the best game of them all!
And though you come out of each gruelling bout,
All broken and beaten and scarred,
Just have one more try—it’s dead easy to die,
It’s the keeping-on-living that’s hard.

Robert W. Service (1874-1958)

Saturday, June 19, 2010

CCTV5's latest vexation....

Showing a complete 'as live' re-run of last night's gripping match between Slovenia and the USA..... without displaying a game clock.

Really, people, how hard is this? You've supposedly been running a national sports TV channel for, what, 15 or 20 years now, and it's still f***ing amateur hour!!

[Ah yes, and they once again showed all the results and highlights in the middle of the 'as live' game, thereby spoiling the game for anyone who was hoping to enjoy it without knowing the final score.]

Lego eases the pain...


The UK's Guardian newspaper (clip via this website) has been trying to salve the nation's grief by staging re-enactments of the two key moments - one good, and one oh-so-very-bad - in last week's World Cup football game between England and the USA in the world of the popular Danish toy figurines. [I was reminded of the splendid Biblical tableaux of The Brick Testament, a site introduced to me by my blog-friend Tony, of the consistently delightful Other Men's Flowers.]

I don't think this makes things any better at all. Funny, yes; but still very, very painful to watch....

Friday, June 18, 2010

The view from elsewhere

My pen-pal and occasional commenter Livy left me a link yesterday to a parody of the World Cup news as it might be presented in North Korea (from The Daily Mash, a kind of British version of The Onion): North Korea Celebrates Flawless 8-0 Win Over Brazil.

It includes nice details like this:
"The first three goals saw their goalkeeper earn the 47th hat-trick of his career, with the last being a remarkable bicycle kick from the halfway line."

That might sound pretty ludicrous and unbelievable, but such superhuman feats of sporting prowess are surprisingly routine in The Workers' Paradise. The Dear Leader, Kim Jong-il, himself leads the way, with, for example, the world record low round for a full-length 18-hole golf course: 38 (including 5 holes-in-one, naturally).

I was curious to see whether there's any similar coverage of the World Cup in the English-language state newspaper of the DPRK, Pyongyang Times - which is supposedly available online on their Naenara website.

However, you ostensibly have to register as a user before you log in to this site. I tried to do so, and discovered that there is no 'Submit' button on the registration form page! Hmmm, maybe they're not really so keen to spread the appreciation of Juche to other countries.... Or perhaps it's just a temporary glitch?

In fact, it may not matter much, since there seems to be an open 'back door' to the site: if you go to the registration form page, and then hit the 'Site Map' tab at the bottom, you seem to be able to navigate to most other parts of the site from there without logging in (it is painfully slow to download, though).

It would appear that there's been no new 'sports news' in the Pyongyang Times since January. I wonder why that would be?

[I have a copy of the print edition of the Pyongyang Times, a treasured souvenir of the holiday I took in North Korea a few years ago with Koryo Tours. It is absolutely hilarious, priceless, unparodiable.]

Haiku for the week

The world bates its breath
Single shared experience -
The beautiful game

I find something fascinating, very touching about the sense of communion which this worldwide month-long mayhem of the World Cup brings: millions, billions of people glued to their television sets in hushed reverence, witnessing the same images and sharing the same emotions at exactly the same instant.

Here in China everyone is watching: every bar, every café, every restaurant has the TV on (most of them, in fact, have procured wall-sized projector screens for the month), and all their customers are watching the games. The mornings here are noticeably quieter, as people sleep in late, skive off work, after watching the late games. Productivity must be taking a nosedive.

Even people who can't stand the game must appreciate that something magical is happening here: this is as close to unity as humankind ever gets.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

They're at it again....

The boneheads at CCTV-5 have outdone themselves this time....

I was just watching the re-run of last night's game between Uruguay and South Africa. To better recreate the sensation of watching the game 'as live', there was a 15-minute break in the middle.

However, during this break, CCTV-5 screened a magazine segment rounding up the news and highlights from all of yesterday's games. Yes, all of them. Including the one we were still waiting to find out the result of. It did rather take the shine off my enjoyment of the second half.

And, oh yes.... my World Cup comment thread over on The Barstool is taking off slowly. (Well, so far it's mostly been me sticking my neck out with early predictions - and immediately being embarrassed by that disastrous start by Spain [the bookies' and my pre-tournament favourites]. They're not out of contention yet, but they're in a world of pain...) Please go and contribute your thoughts.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

In happier times...

I was checking in my archives the other day for this piece about Gazza's goal for England against the Scots in Euro '96, and discovered that the 'Top 10 Goals in the European Championships' roundup I'd originally embedded had apparently been deleted from YouTube (although I'm not convinced about this, since the freeze-frame title screen is still displaying normally). I thought I'd better substitute it with this clip of the Gazza goal on its own (though, unlike that earlier compilation of micro-clips, this shows it in its full, glorious context - Seaman's penalty save immediately preceding, the ebullient celebration afterwards). And, what the heck, here it is for you now....

I also turned up this '10 Best England Goals' selection. Some fun stuff, but mostly long-range efforts (and, even on that criterion, there are some strange omissions - such as Joe Cole's corker of a volley against Sweden in the last World Cup). Goals that had a critical importance in major games linger longer in the memory: Shearer's emphatic finish to complete the rout of Holland in Euro '96, for example; or David Platt's last-gasp winner against Belgium in the 1990 World Cup; or, well, Lineker's hope-inspiring late equaliser in that agonising 1990 semi-final against Germany. [Update: I've just added the 2010 version of Three Lions over on The Barstool; the accompanying fan video has an even better selection of great England moments.]

Nothing before the '80s either - and even there they miss Butch Wilkins chipping the ball over the top of the Belgian defence, and then repeating the feat with the keeper in the 1980 European Championship, Chris Waddle covering half the length and rather more than half of the width of the pitch in running the ball through the hapless Turkish defence [Ah, I don't know how I managed to overlook it, but actually that one is in there, at No. 4. It's probably even better than Barnesey's romp below - although in both cases the defences just stood by and watched, mysteriously failing to offer a single challenge.] in the 1985 game at Wembley that secured our qualification for the World Cup, and, of course, this..... John Barnes walking the ball into the net from 40 yards out...... against the Brazilians...... in the Maracana. Fantasy Football indeed! Of course, it was only a friendly; and, alas, he never managed to play quite this well for us in a major tournament.

Unfortunately, I can't envisage there being anything like this to lift the hearts of England fans this time around. On the contrary, the earlier we crash out of the tournament, the less pain we'll have to suffer.

By the way, it looks as though this post is going to become my discussion forum for this World Cup. I wonder if we can beat the 50-odd comments we rang up for the European Championship thread a couple of years ago?

Monday, June 14, 2010

I can't believe how SHITE CCTV is!!

I have berated the shortcomings of the national television station - and especially of its sports channel, CCTV-5 - many times before (notably during the Olympics two years ago, here and here and here; and in this very early post, when I was still being coy about the fact I was in China).

Chinese sports fans have told me that its scheduling is so stupidly perverse that they commonly joke that the acronym stands for China CRAP Television rather than China Central.

Things seem set to be particularly wretched during this World Cup. They've paid a lot of money for the coverage, I guess; so they don't see why they should expend any resources on anything else for the next month. Usually you can watch all the F1 motor races here, but yesterday's Canadian GP was bumped by the welter of World Cup programming (despite the fact that the race fitted neatly in the football-free slot between the day's second and third games). I rather fear that there's going to be no way for me to see any Wimbledon this year either (other than going to crowded and expensive sports bars to watch an overseas satellite channel - which I hate).

Well, at least this single-minded focus on the footie should mean that we get decent coverage of that, right?

Well, er, no - this is China CRAP TV-5 we're talking about here. There's a plethora of naff game shows and talk shows with a tenuous football theme, but remarkably little in the way of news or highlights from the tournament itself.

I was too tired to stay up for Germany's opener against the plucky boys from Oz last night, so had hoped to catch a full 'as live' re-run at some point today. During the last World Cup and the two European Championships I've seen here, the major games were all repeated in full at least once (although there was no kind of consistency as to what time these re-runs would be shown!).

Today, I thought I'd got lucky when they started showing the Germany v. Australia match as I took a break from my keyboard labours at lunchtime.

Hm. They showed the first half only. Then a LONG ad break. Then about 30 seconds of highlights of the rest of the game - blink and you've missed it.

Staggering! Mind-boggling!!

And the likelihood is, I fear, that this wasn't just a one-off aberration, because one of the channel controllers judged that this was an unimportant or unexciting game. No, these people are so incredibly obtuse that they are quite likely to do the same kind of thing - or worse - with the climactic games of the tournament.

I am already becoming tempted to flee the country for a few weeks, so that I can enjoy the tournament properly.

Bon mot for the week

"Everything has its beauty, but not everyone sees it."

Kong Qiu ('Confucius' - 551-479BCE)

Saturday, June 12, 2010

My Fantasy Girlfriend - Louise Brooks

I've been holding off from adding Ms Brooks to the ranks of my 'Fantasy Girlfriends'. Perhaps I was afraid the selection would seem too 'obvious', not 'individual' enough (although, heck, most of my other choices have, I think, been fairly universal favourites). More likely I was fretting that I wouldn't know what to say about her: she was such a remarkable character that it's difficult to begin to do her justice in a few short paragraphs. (The Wikipedia article on her is 1,000 words, and barely scratches the surface.)

She was, of course, one of the great movie stars of the later silent era, establishing herself in an all-too-brief career as one of the most iconic beauties of the 20th Century (the inspiration for, amongst many others, Liza Minelli's 'look' as Sally Bowles in Cabaret). The distinctive short bob hairstyle which she popularized (and perhaps created: she claimed to have been wearing her hair like this, at her own insistence, since childhood) will probably bear her name for eternity.
There's a wonderful slideshow of black-and-white portraits of her on YouTube here, and an interesting selection of painstakingly colourized ones here.

I think there was something more to such potent and lasting appeal than just the beauty of her face and figure, or her acting ability, or her alluring aura of innocent-but-naughty sexiness. There's a hint of fragility, vulnerability about her photographs too - that quality that arouses the male protective instincts. (She had a pretty unhappy life in many ways: blighted by an instance of sexual abuse when she was a young child, she struggled for many years with debt and alcoholism, and went through a string of unsatisfactory relationships.) But there's also a suggestion of great strength, and self-confidence about her.... and an unusual intelligence.

After her film career fizzled out (it would seem she wilfully destroyed it: she had a golden opportunity to re-establish herself in the mid-30s when she was offered the female lead opposite James Cagney in The Public Enemy, the role that would make a star of Jean Harlow; but she impetuously turned it down to spend time with her lover instead), she struggled to make a living - but one of her brief, abortive jobs had been as a gossip columnist, and it's such a pity that those pieces are now lost. And I suspect that it is a great tragedy that also lost is Naked On My Goat (a line from Goethe's Faust!), an autobiographical novel she worked on intermittently for several years - before becoming dissatisfied with it and flinging the manuscript in an incinerator. Later in life, when she was 'rediscovered' and lionized by European film critics, she revealed a striking talent for writing, publishing many witty and insightful articles and essays on film and on her own life. Several of these pieces are now collected as Lulu In Hollywood - a book that has long been on my wish-list.

I love the attitude of the woman: protesting that she hated Hollywood, and walking out on her Paramount contract at the height of her fame to go and make a remarkable trio of films in Europe with the great German expressionist director G.W. Pabst - the films (Pandora's Box, Diary Of A Lost Girl, and Prix de Beauté [the latter written and produced by Pabst, but directed by his friend, the Italian Augusto Genina]) on which her reputation now rests. She later claimed: "I just didn't fit into the Hollywood scheme at all. I was neither a fluffy heroine, nor a wicked vamp, nor a woman of the world. I just didn't fit into any category."

She also delighted in titillating and scandalizing people - cultivating the reputation of being a lesbian out of sheer devilment (late in life, she said: "Out of curiosity, I had two affairs with girls - they did nothing for me.").

She was one of a kind. She refused to fit into any conventional template or to acquiesce in others' expectations of her. It was perhaps both a blessing and a curse, this rebellious individualism: it was what made her such a compelling figure, but it also condemned her to a life that was mostly marginalized and unfulfilled. She wrote of this 'flaw' in herself, her "failure as a social creature":

My mother did attempt to make me less critical of people's false faces. "Now, dear, try to be more popular," she told me. "Try not to make people so mad!" I would watch my mother, pretty and charming, as she laughed and made people feel clever and pleased with themselves, but I could not act that way. And so I have remained, in cruel pursuit of truth and excellence, an inhumane executioner of the bogus, an abomination to all but those few who have overcome their aversion to truth in order to free whatever is good in them.

Now do you see why I love her so?

Finally, here's a great little clip compilation (although the accompanying music - Mr Brightside by The Killers - might not be to everyone's taste)....

Friday, June 11, 2010

When is a year not a year?

When it's calculated by the Entry and Exit Administration of China's Public Security Bureau, that's when.

A "one year visa" in China is valid for one year less one day - so, each year your due date for renewal moves forward by one day. I can't see any good reason for this. It's just irritating and petty. If there is any reason for it, it's probably to try and catch people out - so that they can be badgered into paying 'spot fines' for inadvertently renewing their visas a day late.

It's quite stressful enough having to renew a visa (and residence registration - although this time that was mercifully uneventful for me) in the week following June 4th, to be without a passport on that unhappy (and, for the Chinese authorities, ultra-anxious) anniversary. I think when I reach the point where the visa has to be renewed on the day itself, that will be my cue to quit this country.

Haiku for the week

Blue skies after rain:
City never felt so clean -
Everywhere freshness.

Gosh, yes, it was a nice day yesterday. Today, by contrast, has dawned clammy and overcast. The full-on Beijing summer - when the shitty days outnumber the good ones about three to one - is now just around the corner. I have a regretful sense that yesterday afternoon might have been the last perfect day we'll see until September. Sigh.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Time for another Daily Llama

The poor chap surely can't see where he's going? (Metaphor alert! Oh boy, do I know that feeling....)

Where did this week go?

Well, my life just got stupidly busy - that's all.

It's as if all the recording studios I work with here have suddenly rediscovered all the work they forgot to give me in March and April and are trying to catch up on the backlog in the space of a couple of weeks.

Add to that a fairly high-profile series of lectures for one of the foreign Chambers of Commerce this month (which, because they require extensive handouts and accompanying PowerPoint slides, are probably going to take me at least twice as long, possibly three or four times as long to prepare as to deliver), and a new course of in-house training for a UK company that's going to require a fair bit of preparation, and the usual array of other writing or editing jobs on the side, and..... well, I've probably done something like 60 or 70 hours of work in the last 7 days.

And on top of all that, my Great Unrequited Crush has been in town for a few days, so I've been trying to make time to see as much of her as I can.

Hence..... a bit of a blogging holiday this week.

Make the most of it while you can. I'm sure I'll be back to my old ways soon enough.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Bon mot for the week

"Where evil holds sway, there are greater opportunities to do good."


I think this should perhaps become my new standard answer when people ask me, "Well, why do you live here if you hate the country so much?"

The more straightforward response I usually give is that I don't hate the country at all. Quite the reverse. I don't even hate any specific members of the country's leadership. But I do deplore the institutions of public life which perpetuate such a culture of brutality, corruption and deceit here.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

List of the Month - Beijing types

A week ago over on companion blog Barstool Blues, I put up a post I originally titled Constituencies, attempting to categorize the main types of people we find in Beijing - at least amongst the English-speaking expat population here.

I realised that I had omitted a few rather significant sub-groups, so added some afterthoughts in the comments. Here's a slightly expanded version for this month's 'List of the Month'.


Reflecting further on the bizarre choices among the winners and nominees in this month's The Beijinger Bar and Club Awards, I realise that as the expat population has grown larger in the years I've been here, so too it has become more differentiated, more fragmented.

Back at the dawn of the Noughties, the number of laowai in Beijing was probably only in the few tens of thousands (well, at least if you exclude the very large - uncountable - numbers of Koreans, Japanese, and Asiatic Russians, many of whom seem to have become permanent residents, and who 'blend in' to the local population much better than other varieties of foreigner), and the number of anglophones perhaps only in the few thousands. And because of that compact size, we had a shared sense of identity, of common purpose - perhaps a slight feeling of being beleaguered in the midst of a very strange and occasionally hostile city, and needing to club together for support. Of course, the city itself was far smaller then (with the 5th Ringroad just beginning construction, and very little development out beyond the 4th). And the 'bar scene' was tiny. Well, there were the old stagers: The Den, The Goose & Duck, Frank's Place, the John Bull Pub, The Mexican Wave, Maggie's. There was Poacher's and Jazz Ya just off Sanlitun. And there was the good old Sanlitun South bar street. And that was about it. Houhai didn't start to take off as a bar area until 2003; Nanluoguxiang not until 2007. Even the student enclave around Wudaokou was pretty rudimentary in those days (when did Lush open? '03??). Ditto Shunyi: it was already being promoted as a 'luxury villa' community removed from the hubbub of the city, but all those fancy malls and restaurants and coffee shops that make it such a comfortable home-away-from-home for expat families have sprung up just within the last half dozen years or so.

In those days (7 or 8 or 9 years ago), everyone hung out on Sanlitun South - regardless of disparities in age or income, regardless of place of residence. 'Year abroad' students from Wudaokou would rub shoulders with big-hitting executives from Shunyi in places like Nashville and Jam House and Tanewha and Hidden Tree. Even lowly language teachers would be welcomed to the party, so long as they didn't talk shop (although they might prefer to hang with the teenage expat brats in ultra-cheap dives like Black Sun or Pure Girl). Oh yes, the old 'Bar Street' was a great leveller. But then it got levelled.

I think it would have lost that unique 'melting pot' character anyway by now, even if it had somehow survived Beijing's merciless obsession with 'progress'. I'd guess that the expat population is now 10 times what it was back then (certainly the number of language students has gone up by rather more than that); average levels of affluence are rather higher (even poor old English teachers are getting paid ever so slightly more these days); and the number and diversity of bar and restaurant offerings has seen a corresponding boom.

It's hardly surprising, then, that there should be less coherence in the community now, and less coincidence of tastes on the nightlife scene. The people who voted for Xiu in those recent awards are unlikely to have much if any overlap with the people who voted for Paddy O'Shea's. And the people who would have voted for Salud (if it had been nominated) would not have overlapped very much with either grouping.

I'd say the main 'constituencies' these days (among Beijing's native English-speaker population) are as follows:

The Embassy Crowd
These are the 'aristocracy' of the expat community, too high and mighty to socialise much with us ordinary mortals. The nature of their job generates a sense of superiority, or at any rate of 'separateness' - and they seem to do 90% of their socializing with staff from other Embassies. (It was different in the olden times, when they might have only a few hundreds or a few dozens of their citizens residing here, and so felt at liberty to invite them all to the Embassy bar for a social evening once a month. [The New Zealand Embassy still used to do this until about 5 years ago, but I don't think the tradition continues today.] Now, with thousands of us here - constantly getting into 'trouble' with lost passports, traffic accidents, violent altercations with landlords or employers, etc. - they have to set up professional barriers to discourage us from bothering them. And that on-the-job aloofness too often carries over into their private lives as well.)

The Shunyi-ites
"The rich are different." (Fitzgerald) "Yes, they have more money than us." (Hemingway) "And they live in Shunyi." (Froog)
I have nothing much against Shunyi, really (nothing that a small thermonuclear warhead wouldn't put right, anyway). Nothing, that is, except its isolation and its unreality. It is not Beijing. It is nearly 20 miles outside of Beijing, and it is a completely different world.

The Hipster Rich
Some of the mega-wealthy entrepreneurs and senior executives choose to live within the city proper, rather than Shunyi - largely to prove that they can afford to do so (in huge, renovated siheyuan properties, or luxury serviced apartments). Also, they tend to be without children, and are thus unconcerned about the supposedly fresher air (ha!) and proximity to the major international schools which Shunyi boasts.

People With 'Real' Jobs
The average Shunyi-ite or Hipster Rich type tends to be rather off-putting. They're not necessarily arrogant, but they often are, a bit. And you do get fed up of the smug/cagey way that people won't tell you any more than that they're "involved in import-export". And there just isn't anything very interesting to say about being a manager in an engineering company. However, once in a while you'll meet a TV producer for CNN, or an architect, or a CleanTech consultant, or a lawyer, or an airline pilot - and they are often fascinating, and very nice (if usually hellishly overworked) people.

Visting Businesspeople
There's a group who are not actual Beijing residents, but are here often enough and for long enough to require inclusion in this roundup. They're almost all in "import-export", though a few are in "education" of some form (which is, after all, just the import-export of people). They're akin to the Hipster Rich, but mostly not quite as rich. Occasionally interesting people.... but obviously not the sort you can base your social life around.

The Expat Brats
The children of long-term, well-to-do foreign residents mostly have far too much pocket money and parents with a somewhat laissez-faire attitude to letting them go out on the town. There are parts of Sanlitun on a Friday or a Saturday (or a Wednesday or a Thursday?!) night where the average age seems to be below 16.

International School Teachers
A privileged niche class - much better paid than those of us on 'local salaries', but paupers compared to most of the MNC execs. They usually qualify as honorary Shunyi-ites. I fell in love with one a little while back, but it was obviously a doomed prospect; she only came into the city three or four times a year.

EFL Teachers
A derided underclass. Probably the most numerous single category in this analysis, but lacking any sense of group solidarity; indeed, usually lacking even the pride to identify themselves. Most of them hang out in Paddy's or The Den, pretending to have more money than they do; or in the Wudaokou student bars, pretending to be younger than they are. Sad.

The Missionaries
They're mostly from North America. And they're mostly here as EFL teachers. But they seem not to have to worry too much about earning money, because they have some kind of private income (in some cases, I think, they're being sponsored by churches back home). Their ulterior motive for being over here is to set up little clandestine prayer groups and Bible study classes and spread the word of Jesus. They are widely reviled - even by non-atheists - because their willingness to work for little or no money tends to depress the rates of pay offered to everyone else.

IELTS Examiners
The old joke says, "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach." The China expansion on that wisdom is, "Those who can't even teach, teach EFL; those who can't even teach EFL, examine for IELTS." IELTS is the main English-language testing programme for people wanting to go to an English-speaking country (other than America, where they prefer their own TOEFL system) for work or study, and it's administered in China by the British Council. There's such a huge demand for this exam amongst the Chinese that there are testing sessions in dozens of cities across China almost every weekend, and hence regular work for some hundreds of examiners. It pays much better than regular EFL teaching, so many of them subsist solely on this work and abandon their teaching jobs. It's a rather odd lifestyle, though, to be on the road so much, to be working on the weekends but not during the week. There's something rather disturbing about the psychological profile of the typical career EFL teacher - a sort of perpetual adolescent, flight-from-reality syndrome. And it's ten times worse with the IELTS Examiners: they are, for the most part, an unlovely assortment of freaks and loons.

The Chancers
The sad flotsam & jetsam types who are supposedly here "doing business", but appear in fact to be mostly surviving on their savings and "past glories".... while hunting for a Chinese wife. The ones who've achieved some kind of success here have usually done so by marrying a Chinese wife smarter than them to "take care of business". The majority seem to be perpetually searching for "the right opportunity" but never finding it - and having to supplement their dwindling cash reserves by taking little bits and pieces of part-time work. If you're a "businessman", you really shouldn't have to be working as a university teacher or an IELTS examiner on the side.

The Mandarin Students
There are at least three sub-varieties: the fairly 'serious' ones who are attending a full-year programme as part of their undergraduate language degree; the mostly rather less serious ones who are on a 'study trip' here (usually of considerably less than one year; many of them seem to realise quite early on that this isn't really going to get them anywhere, and just give up on their studies and party); and the mid-life crisis types - on the run from debts, failed marriages, derailed careers - who have convinced themselves that learning Mandarin may be a panacea for all their ills (in this stressful modern world, it seems, such crises can hit any time from the mid-twenties onwards). I despise all three types more or less equally. They tend to be very loud and very brash. And very tiresome in constantly trying to show off the tiny amounts of Mandarin they've managed to learn.

The Planet-Savers
In recent years, more and more of the Mandarin Students have stayed on to find work with worthy NGOs, bijou environmental consultancies, and so on. Indeed, some come here pursuing such opportunities without wasting the time on a Mandarin course first. There are now large numbers of young professionals here in such interesting and laudable (but mostly not very well-paid) jobs. Most of them are in their mid to late twenties or early thirties, and many of them are women. This ought to be my prime girlfriend-hunting milieu. Unfortunately, the aura of worthiness surrounding them can be quite suffocating.

Local Hires
Most Mandarin Students, however, don't get interesting and worthy jobs for NGOs and the like; they just find regular entry-level positions in Western companies (or sometimes, god help them, in Chinese companies). Many young people today - driven by curiosity about the largest, oldest, blah-blah-blah nation on earth, or by naive idealism about China being the 'new economic frontier', or simply by the dearth of job prospects back home - come out here without even much, or anything, in the way of Mandarin skills, and hope to find a job anyway. Most of these people - however good, bad, or non-existent their Mandarin - eventually find something, because there are so many jobs around in Beijing. And most of them are happy to have taken that first step on a career path, to have found a way to stay here. They try not to be too resentful of the fact that 'local hires' only get paid, at best, 20% or 30% of what they'd make for a comparable job in their own country (and this despite the fact that some international 'cost of living' indices rate Beijing alongside New York as one of the most expensive cities in the world in which to live!).

An unfortunate sub-set of the Local Hires (well, many of them, I think, are not hired locally, but their pay is usually similarly miserly, unless they do really well for themselves on commissions): people with foreigner-targeted sales jobs - in things like real estate, relocation services, healthcare, and, oh god, "financial advice". It is a potentially lucrative (though, mostly, probably not) but somewhat stigmatized line of work.

The Frat Boys
A mysterious and very annoying sub-set. I don't know where the fuck these people come from. They could, I suppose, be part of any one of the groups above - although I would guess that the majority of them are Mandarin Students, or young professionals who've only recently finished their spell of being a Mandarin Student and are still behaving in much the same way on their nights off. They are mostly male, nearly all American (they are The Borg: they will occasionally 'assimilate' innocent bystanders into their 'culture'), and fall within the 18-30 age bracket, probably mostly in the mid-twenties. They are very raucous. They drink shooters. They are very raucous. They like hip-hop music. They are very raucous. The word 'like' accounts for almost 30% of their discourse. And they are very, very, VERY raucous. They are the reason why I found The Rickshaw (now mercifully demised) intolerable in the past, and why I continue to avoid most of the places around Sanlitun.

The Small-Time Entrepreneurs
More and more people in the last few years seem to have been bravely taking the plunge in trying to set up a small business of their own. You don't even need to have a Chinese wife in order to do this any more (although I think it still helps). I admit I am envious of these folks. (I just don't have quite enough money to strike out on my own; and the search for a trustworthy partner seems neverending....) However, for every bar or restaurant or t-shirt shop that makes a reasonable return for its owners, there must be 10 that are ignominious failures. And the few that succeed usually get torpedoed within a few years by rent-gouging landlords or treacherous business partners or the dreaded redevelopment notice ('chai'). Oh gosh, yes, it takes a lot of bravery to undertake something like this. Bravery, and a kind of optimism that borders on delusional religious fervour. I don't think I have it.

The Bohemians
A strange and nebulous class. Most, but not all, are still relatively young. Most, but not all, have acquired extremely good Mandarin (not by taking courses in it, but by having Chinese friends or Chinese lovers, and by taking jobs that required them to use Mandarin on a daily basis). Most - well, just about all - live in the city centre, mainly within the 2nd Ringroad (though some have moved out to the distant suburbs in search of more affordable housing). Very nearly all of them are involved in one of the more creative professions: art, music, photography, journalism, translation, graphic design, fashion, writing, academic research. The majority, I think, regard themselves as 'lifers', people who are settling down here for the long-haul, probably for most or all of their working life - and perhaps even beyond.

The Old Timers
They could fall into any of the other descriptions - they're mostly Small-Time (or not so small-time!) Entrepreneurs; many of them, perhaps, started out as Chancers, but got lucky in their marriage. After a certain length of time, though, origins, however lacking in lustre, cease to be of any importance. Once you've been here 15 years or so, you enter a distinct category all of its own.

And where do I fit into all of this? Well, I don't. I am UNIQUE, unclassifiable. I used to be an EFL Teacher, but I have escaped from that miserable life. I've been a Local Hire a few times, and would not like to go back there either. I aspire to be a Small-Time Entrepreneur, but haven't made it yet. Most of my friends are Bohemians, but I fear I don't quite qualify myself. Well, no analysis of this sort can expect to be comprehensive....

Friday, June 04, 2010

The weekend poem comes a little early

This poet, Arthur Hugh Clough, was one of the great forward-thinkers of the first half of the 19th Century, indeed something of a proto-socialist. This, his best-known work, is said to have grown from his attempt to find consolation and a renewed sense of purpose amid the bitter disillusion that followed the failure of most of the political reform movements which had erupted into 'The Year Of Revolutions' in Europe in 1848. Change is coming; maybe slower than you'd wanted, maybe imperceptibly, maybe not in the way that you'd imagined; but change is coming; change cannot be stopped.

I'd so like to believe that might be true of China today, but I struggle to find any evidence of it.

It's odd how these widespread political convulsions seem to happen every 60 or 70 years (at least, since the dawn of 'the modern age'): 1642, ????, 1776, 1848, 1917, 1989..... I wonder if it's something to do with the human life-cycle: the typical span of three generations, or the typical life expectancy of a man?

I hope we don't have to wait around past the middle of this century to see things change in the way this country is governed. It should be noted that this 70-year cycle seems to be a succession of violent upheavals. I would like to think that such sudden, and potentially catastrophic, shifts in political arrangements could be avoided - or at least ameliorated - by timely and well-managed programmes of reform. But perhaps not; perhaps there's just something about the way our societies work that things have to fall apart once in every lifetime.

The Struggle

Say not the struggle nought availeth,
The labour and the wounds are vain,
The enemy faints not nor faileth,
And as things have been, things remain;

If hopes were dupes, fears may be liars;
It may be, in yon smoke conceal'd,
Your comrades chase e'en now the fliers—
And, but for you, possess the field.

For while the tired waves vainly breaking
Seem here no painful inch to gain,
Far back, through creeks and inlets making,
Comes silent, flooding in, the main.

And not by eastern windows only,
When daylight comes, comes in the light,
In front the sun climbs slow, how slowly,
But westward, look! the land is bright.

Arthur Hugh Clough (1819-1861)

Haiku for the week

The blood on the streets
Can't be washed away by lies;
Its stench still lingers.

It's amazing, appalling that the government is still trying to cover up what happened here on 3rd/4th June 1989. It remains a truth too terrible to be confronted that 21 years ago the selfish, frightened Party leaders in Zhongnanhai briefly declared war on their own people.

Many of those responsible are still alive, some are still in power. Wise up, guys. The longer you try to keep on denying this, the harder it's going to come back and bite you in the arse one day.

Well, no - sadly, perhaps not. It may take years yet, perhaps decades before we see any such consequences; and by then, the perpetrators may all finally be dead, or safely retired (perhaps retired overseas, at that). I fret that it's the country rather than the guilty old men who lead it that may one day inherit a bloody legacy from these decades of institutional dishonesty. If you try to keep the lid screwed down this tight on all dissent.... eventually it's going to explode like a pressure-cooker.

It would be much better for all concerned if the Party leaders would begin to face these skeletons in their closet NOW. But I fear it's never going to happen.

[Some foreign observers here have made quite a lot of an editorial piece that appeared in the main Party mouthpiece People's Daily a couple of months back, a personal memoir by Premier Wen Jiabao about Hu Yaobang, the reformist former General Secretary of the CCP whose death sparked the 1989 demonstrations. (Hu had been purged from the leadership at the beginning of 1987, when the old guard blamed his liberal policies for earlier outbreaks of student activism over the previous 18 months. He subsequently became idolized as a martyr by many of the students, and tens of thousands gathered on Tiananmen Square to honour his memory on the day of this funeral, 22nd April 1989 - the first of the mass occupations of the Square which continued through the next six weeks, until...) You can read an English translation of that article on the China Geeks blog here. I'm not getting too excited just yet. Perhaps it is one of these very subtle testing-the-waters type of things - Let's run it half-way up the flag-pole, and see if anyone gets arrested. Perhaps it could herald the beginnings of a major shift in official attitudes. But it seems to me that a partial 'rehabilitation' of the long-dead Hu Yaobang is a very long way indeed from a rehabilitation of the much more recently deceased Zhao Ziyang (his successor, who was purged in the midst of the Tiananmen sit-in, for counselling moderation in dealing with the protesters) or of his deputy of the time, Bao Tong (under house arrest ever since; but he continues to be an astute and unrelenting critic of the present regime). And a very, very long way from making an apology, commemorating the dead, allowing public examination and discussion of what really happened. Daring to say that the CCP's 'reformers' of the 1980s were perhaps not all bad after all is some sort of a start; but it's only the tiniest of steps on a very long and rocky road.]

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Recently, on The Barstool

My 'drinking blog' has been full of music these past few weeks. We've had Julie London's (and others') Fly Me To The Moon, Van Halen's Hot For Teacher, Fats Domino's I'm Walkin' (with Ricky Nelson), and The Beastie Boys' (You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party).

We've also had a 'disturbance in The Force' in my love life, and this analysis of 'Beijing types' among the English-speaking expat scene (which I may well transfer over here in its entirety some time soon).

What have you been missing, those of you who never venture over to the Dark Side? All the good stuff, that's what.

New Picks of the Month

Time for some more recommendations from way back, two posts from three years ago this month that are worth a second look.

From Froogville, I choose this early 'classic' - Bad haircut, bad karma (particularly - painfully - apposite at the moment, since I am once again about to undergo the traumatic ordeal of trying to get my hair cut).

And on Barstool Blues, I point you towards this piece about my Ideal Job.


Traffic Report - the blog stats for May

Another month in which The Barstool was lock-step with its big brother Froogville, tieing it for number of posts almost day by day - largely because of the exceptional number of major music events this past month, such as the Midi Festival and the Dos Kolegas 5th Anniversary Party.

Both blogs finished the month with 42 posts (a satisfyingly Douglas Adams-y number); but while Froogville's wordcount reached a fairly typical total of a bit over 15,000 for the month, Barstool Blues was well over 20,000 words. Whew!

Although I have been much busier on the work front of late, the 'bad habits' of excessive blogging I fell into during the slump of no-work in the first quarter seem to be persisting. Really need to get out and enjoy the summer breezes a bit more.....

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

The tanning industry in Bangladesh (a Website of the Month recommendation)

My friend Amy Johansson is an extremely talented young lady. She started out as a fashion designer, but has lately moved into more of a management role as a 'product developer' with the Swedish clothing chain H&M. For the past few years, she's been based with one of their subsidiary companies in Bangladesh, where they source a lot of their fabrics. During this time, she has been applying her visual flair more and more to her passion for photography - a hobby that has evolved into a second career. She has some marvellous pictures on her website.

Her most recent project, in collaboration with a journalist friend, Gabrielle Jönsson, has been a photo-essay called 'Lethal Leather - A Journey Through The Leather Industry In Bangladesh'. She has made it available as a slideshow on her site.

As Amy and Gabrielle say in their press notice about this:

The leather industry is one of the world’s most harmful, posing great risks to human health and the environment. Leather is treated with a number of dangerous chemicals to prevent it from decomposing. In Bangladesh, leather production takes place in the heart of the capital Dhaka, home to 12 million people. Nearly two hundred tanneries across the city manufacture products to sell to international fashion labels. It is rare for workers to wear protective clothing at these highly toxic production plants, which are dotted between residential housing. 150 tonnes of industrial waste are produced here every day, much of which is channelled into the city’s rivers.

That is certainly a disturbing thought. China's record on environmental pollution is pretty atrocious too, but at least they don't usually site hazardous industries like this right in the heart of cities.