Monday, February 28, 2011

Bon mot for the week

"It's not the destination that matters.  It's the change of scene."

Brian Eno (1948- )

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Favourite Posts from the 4th quarter of 2009

Ah, nearly up-to-date at last with these 'best of...' anthologies for the sidebar!

This one could take a while, though.  These few months seem to have been a particularly prolific - and a particularly rich - period for me.  I am tempted to just say, "Go and read everything I posted in October 2009; it's all gold!"  (And I start to worry that my quality of output has fallen off since then....)

I'm out of Beijing this week, and unlikely to have Internet access - so I hope my readers can keep themselves busy with this selection (while waiting patiently for my return, on or about the 1st March).

Pick of the Archives:
Favourite Posts, October-December 2009

1)  Do you find me WISIBLE? - 1st October
My commentary on the irresistibly ludicrous (and strangely camp) parade to celebrate the PRC's 60th anniversary (preceded by some observations on the extreme weather manipulation required in preparation for this, here and here).

2)  Shameful Pleasures  -  3rd October
My 'List of the Month' catalogues some of my unexpected private indulgences - that I cannot practice when anyone else is around!

3)  The fears that bind us  -  6th October
One of my more serious posts: my view of the Chinese Communist Party and its approach to maintaining its power here.

4)  Whose birthday is it anyway?  -  7th October
A slightly more humorous - but possibly even more bitter - reflection on the 60 years of Communist rule in China.

An observation on the bizarrely mangled pronunciation which characterizes China's laughably bad English-language TV channel, CCTV9.

6)  Let your NO be NO  -  October 15th
My experience of acting in a short Chinese video - never again (until the next time...).

7)  My philosophy of teaching  -  October 19th
A couple of important observations drawn from my long - if intermittent - career 'at the chalkface'.

8)  The sea inside  -  October 19th
A brief appreciation of the latest quirky creation of my artist friend Wu Yuren (unjustly imprisoned since the end of May last year, as a result of his activism).

9)  Good beginnings  -  October 20th
San Francisco literary agent Nathan Bransford's annual competition for opening paragraphs of novels prompts me to ponder on what makes a good opening for a novel, and to dig out some examples from favourite novels that I've read; and also to invite my readers to submit their own favourite opening chapters of novels in an ongoing 'collecting box'.

10)  The wall of silence (AGAIN)  -  October 23rd
I fume (not for the first time!) about the vexing Chinese predilection for avoiding giving you bad news by.... ignoring you altogether.

11)  A Classical Sunday  -   October 25th
A favourite anecdote from my time as a Latin teacher, and a superb poem on a Classical theme, Graham Hough's Andromeda (long lost to me - rediscovered thanks to my wonderful blog-friend JES).

12)  Don't say I didn't warn you  -  October 29th
Some gloomy observations on road safety (or, rather, the complete lack of it) in China.

13)  Let The Right One In  -  October 29th
My review of Tomas Alfredson's impressively creepy vampire flick set in a Swedish small town kicked off an unexpectedly lively comment thread  (which in turn provoked me to write extended follow-ups here and here, on the plausibility - and the population dynamics - of vampires, which led to even more vigorous comment threads).

14)  12 spooky vignettes  -  October 30th
I 'celebrate' Halloween with twelve micro ghost stories (later brought up to the baker's dozen with this wicked pun!).

15)  Up yer bum!  -  October 31st
I flaunt my Classical education again with this essay on the possible implications of rhaphanizo - a terrifying piece of Ancient Greek abuse.

16)  Possible opening for a novel  -  November 7th
A sketch of the first few chapters for a story about sniper duels; an idea I dallied with a dozen or so years ago, but which has long lain in neglect.

I thank Mr W.B. Yeats and his poem The Scholars for possibly saving me from a life of confinement in The Ivory Tower.

18)  Plumbing the depths  -  November 13th
Amongst the many, many, many very bad 'academic' articles I have had to edit, this is possibly the worst ever.

19)  Chinese plastic  -  November 19th
How do they make it so brittle?  And how do they get away with it, why does anyone buy it??  Unfathomable mysteries!  (There's a companion piece - from my frantic phase of moving house in this month - on the unstoppable accumulation of Dust in a Chinese apartment.)

20)  My Fantasy Girlfriend: Kate Beckinsale  -  November 21st
Less an appreciation of the lovely English actress, and more an excuse for some autobiographical anecdotes about the occasions I nearly met her - when she was a student at Oxford, and later, when I was a trainee lawyer.  Ah, Cruel Fate....

21)  Accumulator  -  November 29th
I analyse why my packing took so long (further elaborated here).

22)  The leaders leave first  -  December 8th
Another of my utterly serious posts, commemorating the 15th anniversary of the appalling Karamay theatre fire, in which nearly 300 schoolchildren were killed.  (I followed up with the text of a scathingly satirical song which references the tragedy, by blind folk singer Zhou Yunpeng; there's a video clip of him performing it posted over on The Barstool.)

23)  Poetry, with Chinese characteristics  -  December 13th
A recent lecture I attended on the interplay between Chinese and Western poetry leads me to post a fascinating rendition of a well-known piece by the great classical Chinese poet, Du Fu (Chinese original text added later in the comments); the fine English version is by an America academic, Frank Bidart - who speaks/reads no Chinese.

24)  Go out and buy!  -  December 15th
An anecdote of my father's about his National Service in Palestine in the 1940s illustrates the power of advertising - and especially the power of a good, cheesy slogan!

25)  A motto, or a name?  -  December 16th
I am asked to translate a bon mot into Latin.  It is hard, I tell you, hard.

26)  My favourite pun  -  December 17th
Of course, it could only be from Flann O'Brien's masterful Keats & Chapman series!  And yet another Classical reference!! (I attempted my own pastiche of O'Brien's genre here.)

27)  My Fantasy Girlfriend: Dorothy Provine  -  December 19th
The '60s actress/singer is inducted into this series primarily because of her turn as Western saloon floozie Lily O'Lay in the Blake Edwards comedy The Great Race, performing the rambunctious showstopper He Shouldn't-a Hadn't-a Oughtn't-a Swang On Me - check out the video.

28)  Waking to strange sounds  -  December 20th
After only three weeks in the new apartment, I'm struggling to get used to its idiosyncrasies; but at least it teases a new poem out of me for the first time in.... many, many months.

29)  Scary Santa  -  December 24th
My Christmas 'treat' for my readers this year is the terrifying opening sequence from Jeunet et Caro's dementedly Gothic fairytale La cité des enfants perdus. (There was some rather more lighthearted seasonal fun with this post on snowball fights.)

30)  The Tea Tower (A Christmas Story)  -  December 27th
An anecdote about my first-ever Christmas in China.

31)  Among the musicians  -  December 29th
My new digs are in a building owned by a Chinese classical musicians' guild; being surrounded by people practising music almost constantly arouses some guilt in me about my long neglect of my guitar, my harmonica, my paper-and-comb, my....

32)  Guanxi explained  -  December 30th
I describe the Chinese approach to 'networking', with the invaluable help of a cartoon diagram by the Chinese artist Yang Liu.

Monday, February 21, 2011

I'm not really here

Or, if I am, I missed my plane two days ago.  Damn.

But probably I'm not here.  I'm somewhere else.  Somewhere I can't blog.  Deal with it.

A double bon mot for the week

"Man lives more by affirmation than by bread."

Victor Hugo (1802-1885)

"Affirmation without discipline is the beginning of delusion."

Jim Rohn (1930-2009)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

My Fantasy Girlfriend - Judge Anderson

I was never much of a fan of comic books, but... it was hard to resist the ebullient black humour of 2000 AD, which burst upon my consciousness in the mid-80s when I was an undergraduate (although I gather it had first been launched in 1977).

And it was hard - impossible - to resist the allure of Judge Anderson, much the most gorgeous of a number of lissom sidekicks to the central character Judge Dredd, the unsmiling law enforcer of the future metropolis of MegaCity One. She was soon promoted to being a lead character in many adventures of her own.

Athletic figure? Check. Intelligent and resourceful?  Check.  Sassy attitude? Check. Red hair? Check (although it was sometimes blonde in the later stories). Psychic abilities? Check (hence her frequent admonition to the bad guys: "Don't even think about it!").  I'm not quite sure why that last feature should be attractive, but somehow it is. Perhaps it's just the inversion of Napoleon Dynamite's celebrated observation: "Guys dig chicks with skills."

There was a rather good little comic store on Cowley Road in East Oxford when I was a student there. The poster on the back of my door through most of my undergraduate career was a reproduction I bought there of some of the magazine's original cover art (supposedly 'limited edition' - I wonder what became of that? It might be quite valuable now!) with Anderson in the pose above. I believe she was sealing a wormhole into another dimension which some malefactor had created to unleash a horde of demons and such into our universe. "Zip it, creep!" she snarled, as she levelled her blaster-gun at the perp. It seemed to me a particularly appropriate injunction to my visitors who might have neglected to close my door behind them... or might have been just returning from the toilet...

And did I mention her figure?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Pauvre lapin!

As if the 'Rabbit' were not already the most unimpressive of the roster of zodiac animals in the traditional Chinese calendar... I have recently learned that the Chinese character for rabbit,   - tu, is an exact homophone (yep, fourth tone and all) for , which means 'vomit'.  Oh dear.

I see someone's already cashing in on this unfortunate coincidence....

Although it turns out - oh, the irony - that in fact rabbits can't vomit.

Making the change

After more than 5 years of - almost exclusively - using Firefox as my Web browser, it is hard to even contemplate trying to use something else.  I am set in my ways.

And the few times I'd experimented with GoogleChrome when it first appeared, I'd been deeply unimpressed.  It wasn't nearly as fast as advertised (even worse than Firefox for video streaming, I found), and.... well, I can't quite remember what it was that bugged me about it (apart from the fact it didn't look like Firefox), but it definitely rubbed me up the wrong way - something, I think, to do with the browsing history, and the ability, or lack of it, to flip to and fro between websites visited in sequence.

I have - grudgingly, digging in my heels every inch of the way - returned to it over the last couple of days.  And there are still things I don't like about it: an unwanted Spellcheck feature in American English, no drop-down 'recent history' menu showing sites visited under the current tab, the tab labels tiny and unilluminated (WTF??!!) in a narrow strip along the top of the window that's very difficult to see, Hong Kong as the default routing for Google (which leads me to doubt whether my VPN is working quite as it should), and no automatic saving of tabs if I close the program.  Grave problems, indeed.

But it is now dizzyingly FAST (at least compared to what I've become used to).  And it doesn't crash all the time.

I think I may have used lumbering, glitchy, unstable Firefox for the last time.

Haiku for the week

Explosions do their job:
Evil spirits all leave town.
Today, they come back.

Really, what is the point of it all?  One or two days of firework mayhem might be quite fun: but 16 days on the trot just becomes desperately, desperately TEDIOUS.

Thank heavens it's all over for another year.  I think I'd rather put up with the bad spirits.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The END is at hand

It's actually been one of the quietest Spring Festivals I can remember (although maybe I spared myself the brunt of the onslaught by hardly setting foot outside in the evenings).  I hear folks are grumbling that fireworks have got very expensive this year (there was a huge price war between two or three major distributors a few years back; I wonder if they've now consolidated into a monopoly?); and it seems they've been rationing themselves, saving their arsenals for a few really BIG splurges (11pm to 2am on New Year's Eve/New Year's Day was BIG this year), rather than keeping up an almost continuous barrage, as has often happened in previous years.

But a couple of nights ago, things got a bit crazy.  For a wee while in the middle of the evening, I was finding it seriously annoying, as I was mired in yet another huge editing task and it was becoming impossible to hear myself think with all the window-rattling detonations going on in the courtyard outside.  Yesterday morning, the damp air was acrid with smoke, and the compound of my apartment complex was carpeted with dust and ash and burnt cardboard casings.  I haven't seen such an extreme 'firework hangover' after a single night of madness for two or three years now, I don't think.  Perhaps it's just a case of people realising the holiday is nearly over, and starting to use up the ordnance they've been holding back until now.

Well, I don't think I'd noticed before that the 13th day of the Chinese New Year was anything very special (though every day throughout this interminable holiday has some distinctive significance, only a few of them are a pretext for extra special firework frenzies - the 5th day is usually the biggest of the lot); but I gather that, like Day 5, this is a day especially associated with Guan Yu, a revered 3rd century BCE general widely honoured as a 'God of War' (and as a 'God of Wealth' or 'God of Prosperity', because he was so successful on the battlefield); being a military chap, he likes loud noises, oh yes.  I don't suppose they had gunpowder in his day; but over the past thousand years or so, he's certainly become very familiar with it!

When I quizzed my China-wise friend The Weeble as to what was going on on Tuesday night, he replied, "Foreplay for Thursday's Cataclysm" (which is an all too plausible band name!).

Oh god, yes - tonight is the Lantern Festival, the last day of the main phase of the New Year's festivities: every firework left in the city is going to be let off tonight.  Where did I leave those earplugs?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Some midweek silliness for you

A week or so ago, I happened upon this wondrous oddity on YouTube - a video from a goofy young Canadian called Corey Vidal (who evidently has far too much time on his hands, posting scads of this home-made frivolity under the username ApprenticeA).  This one is  a celebration of the Stars Wars films, featuring young Corey doing multi-screen lip-syncing to an a cappella medley of arrangements of John Williams' famous musical themes from the series (and a few other films as well) with lyrics plundered from the dialogue - performed by a comedy singing group from Salt Lake City called Moosebutter ("We sound like baldness feels"): you can buy this song (or just check out all the lyrics) at their own website above.  I'm not a Star Wars fan myself, but I loved this.

Enjoy  -  Star Wars (John Williams Is The Man).

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Supplementary 'List of the Month' - Things I have to do in the next few days...

Oh, my, this has suddenly become a very hectic week.....

Here's what I have on my 'to do' list now....

1)  Replace the flight documents that I picked up yesterday, and promptly lost.

2)  Do some online research about my holiday destination, and try to make some budget hotel bookings.

3)  Contact the old college friend who I'm hoping is going to be able to give me a free crash for at least part of my stay.

4)  Go to a foreign language bookstore to try to pick up a Lonely Planet Guide or similar.  (Although my buddy The Choirboy has promised to lend me his Shoestring Guide to South-East Asia...)

5)  Go to a bank to try to purchase some foreign currency.

6) Go to a bank (unfortunately, I'm afraid it has to be a different bank) to pay my next quarter's rent a week or so early.

7)  Hope one of the local barbers will return from holiday - and waive the Chinese superstition about it being bad luck for a man to have his hair cut in the first month of the Lunar Year - so that I can get my shagginess shorn.  (Otherwise, I will have to shave my head again; I am not going to a hot country with this much hair!)

8)  Go to a computer markeeeeeet to geeeet myself a new keeeeyboard.

Oh, and, not having been on a holiday in over 18 months, I probably have to do some shopping for new clothes, and maybe some luggage as well.

All of this would not be such an onerous load if..... I weren't also juggling half a dozen new job enquiries/applications and the possibility of one or two interviews later in the week, and devoting 4 or 5 hours every afternoon to preparing and delivering classes for a private student (which includes a gruelling hour-and-a-half or so of travelling to and from the distant northern suburb where he lives).

And blogging about it all, of course....

Breaking point

I did eventually accede to the tearful e-mail pleas from my Chinese editor and return to that dratted article about Buddhist literature in China at the turn of the last century (a moderately interesting topic, had our author done anything more with it than stack together a lot of unnecessarily long-winded quotations that were so badly translated as to be mostly quite incomprehensible).  Yes, the one where the author conflated four or five different possible meanings of 'enlightenment' in every other sentence.  That one.

It fried my brain.  I put in nearly 20 hours of work on it between Thursday evening and Sunday evening last week.

There is perhaps a danger that my editor now thinks I am a soft touch.  Yesterday - without even asking - she tried to dump yet another monstrously long and monstrously badly written article on me.

It was a very abstruse and muddled piece on literary theory.  The abstract began: "Chinese literary theory follows the precepts of Marxist criticism."

Well, I deduce that's what it meant.  It actually said:  "Chinese literary system establishes a paradigm of Marxist-inspired criticizing activities."

I kid you not: "criticizing activities"!

And the author wanted to use 'literary system' as one of his category tags.  I'm not sure that 'literary system', in English, really means anything.  I rather think the author intended 'the literary establishment'.

I said NO.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The death of the 'e'

Much as I love the convenience of a laptop computer, I hate trying to type on a tiny keyboard.  I can almost feel the RSI kicking in after the first few minutes.

So, when I bought my first laptop - 9 years ago, almost to the day - I immediately went and bought an offboard keyboard that I could connect to it via a USB port.  And that same keyboard has served me well for.... 8 years and 9 or 10 months; 8 years and 6 months of that being in China.

Several times in the last few years I have been tempted to junk this keyboard purely on the grounds of how disgustingly grimy it is.  The neat freak in me is disgusted by the accumulation of toxic sludge from Beijing's notoriously grubby air; the forensic science nerd in me is fascinated by the indisputable record of how surprisingly rarely I use the 'Alt' key, and apparently never use the 'Esc' key.

But now at last the time is come to say farewell to this faithful servant through so many years of escritorial labour (did I just make that word up?  the Internet tells me I did!).  Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!

Not so much a keening cry as a stuck letter-key.  The spring under my 'e' has broken.  Other keys in that area - 'a', 's', 'd', and 'r' - are starting to get noticeably spongy too.

There's probably some keyboard 'cobbler' in one of the computer markets here who'll bodge you up a workable short-term repair for 10 kuai or so, but I really think the time has come to get a new keyboard.

And maybe institute a regime of weekly cleaning for it....

I despair (again) of China...

No. 1,000,009 in an ongoing series....

In a way, I suppose I can't entirely blame him.  Others before him had parked all along the fulu ('service road') alongside the main drag of Dongzhimenwai... often, indeed, double parked... and, in one instance, treble parked.... so, that narrow road was barely passable at all, and there were certainly no obvious (illegal, but 'available') parking spots along there.

What could a man of substance like himself do but drive half a mile along the sidewalk until he reached the restaurant where he was to be dining that night?

It was a cruel misfortune that he should encounter so many pedestrians in his path.  And that one of them should be me.

Yes, it took him rather longer to get to his dinner engagement than he had anticipated.  But his windshield wasn't broken.  He should be thankful.

Bon mot for the week

"Love involves a peculiar unfathomable combination of understanding and misunderstanding."

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The TV Listings (7)

We're overdue another roundup of my video postings.  Here are the viewing highlights from the last quarter of 2010 (a particularly busy time for music posting!).  Something for the weekend....

The Comedy/Movie Channel

Merry Xmas, Everybody  -  I find a superb stop-motion video to accompany Slade's stomping Christmas anthem. (See also below, under Music.)

An appeal for Mongolian artists - a video promoting the work of two Mongolian artists who, along with my Belgian film-maker friend Vanessa De Smet, were running a (ultimately successful) Kickstarter appeal to raise money for a couple of major projects and a proposed European tour.

A little bit of Zen  -  I find (once again via the indispensable JES) a gorgeous short stop-motion film by Polish art student Alicja Cioch, inspired by How To Grow Clouds, a delightful little prose poem by one of my favourite writers, the Czech Karel Čapek.

What, pray, is a bogan?  -  my favourite bar owner introduces me to an essential piece of Aussie slang, meaning white trash low-life.  The concept is illustrated by Melbourne comic 'The Angry Aussie' and by Oz ska band Area-7's catchy comedy hit Nobody Likes A Bogan(See also below, under Music.)

What is it about the Finns??  - grown men performing an a capella musical number in sumo suits?!  It could only be the outlandish Finnish troupe Semmarit.  They do put on a very fine show.  (See also below, under Music.)

Oh, What A Lovely War!  -  I mark Remembrance Sunday with the impossibly poignant closing scene from Richard Attenborough's marvellous satirical musical on World War I.  (See also below, under Music.) 

Great movie lines  -  a debate about what makes a memorable, quotable line (and whether recent cinema is lacking them), inspires me to go rooting around on YouTube for collections of examples.  There are links to a recent American Film Institute 'Top 100' (in four parts) and one or two other compilations as well, but the pick of the crop I chose to embed is a 'Top 100 in 200 seconds'.  (Quite a lively comment thread on this one, too.)

Stop it!  -  a great little skit from Mad TV, with poor Mo Collins discovering that therapist Bob Newhart has a very unorthodox approach to dealing with neurosis (yet another introduction from JES!).

Grand Prix  -  a review of John Frankenheimer's great motor racing film from 1966, closing with the Belgian Grand Prix sequence from it, which includes extended in-car shots of the terrifyingly fast (and safety-free!) road circuit at Spa-Francorchamps.  (See also below, under Sport.)

The Music Channel

Stand By Me  -  an unfortunate experience in the recording studio prompted me to seek consolation in the classic Ben E. King number.  I posted links to Ben's version and the famous Lennon cover, but my great discovery here was a video of assorted street performers from around the world doing it (part of the Playing For Change project).

Merry Xmas, Everybody  -  how could my Christmas entry in The Barstool's 'Great Songs' series not be the Slade classic?  (See also above, under Comedy.)

Free Nelson Mandela!  -  my concern about a possible police crackdown on this year's Beijing Santacon prompts me to post a video of this classic protest song by The Specials (which, I suggest, could now be adopted as an expression of support for Liu Xiaobo).  Also, a link to a rather good live version by Amy Winehouse, from an AIDS benefit concert in 2008.

Nobody Likes A Bogan  -  a song we hear rather a lot of in my favourite little Aussie boozer, but it's starting to grow on me.  (See also above, under Comedy.)

Pump It Up  -  I used to find Elvis Costello's spastic 'dancing' on this video deeply unsettling when I was a kid, but nowadays I've warmed to this infectiously jaunty number (a key part of the music playlist on Nigel's 'Special Mondays', the musical and drinking highlight of my year).

Sweet Jane and Blue Moon Revisited  -  since Margo Timmins, the velvet-voiced frontwoman of Cowboy Junkies, is finally acknowledged as my ultimate 'Fantasy Girlfriend', I post a double-whammy of two of their greatest songs.

Caravan  -  the Duke Ellington instrumental is a quirky favourite of my French musician chum, Jean-Sebastien Héry, who regularly uses it as the set-closer for his awesome blues-rock band, The Amazing Insurance Salesman (who had just won the China round of the 'World Battle of the Bands', and are shortly to take part in the Grand Final in Kuala Lumpur - good luck, boys!!).  This still seems to be the only bit of video of AIS on the Internet - well worth a look! 

Bonsai  -  a great number from quirky Finnish choir Semmarit, who I saw perform in Beijing recently.  (See also above, under Comedy.)

And When They Ask Us How Dangerous It Was  -  for Remembrance Sunday, I post this heartbreaking song from the WWI satire Oh, What A Lovely War!  (See also above, under Movies.)

I Wanna Be Sedated  -  a quick blast of The Ramones!  And why not?

Ruby's Eyes  -  a pretty little song from Tommy Emmanuel, the Australian finger-picking guitar virtuoso.

Across The Universe  -  three highly contrasting versions of the classically trippy John Lennon song, by Fiona Apple (from the end credits of the film Pleasantville), disturbingly weird Slovenian "art-rock" outfit Laibach, and, of course, The Beatles (with a homemade video from a Youtuber).

Sentimento  -  a song from the marvellous Cape Verde singer Cesaria Evora (who was supposed to have been playing in Beijing, but I'm not sure if it ever happened; if it did, it appears to have been a 'cadres only' event, with no tickets made available to the general public - boo!).

Piece Of My Heart  -  I find a great clip of Janis Joplin performing one of her trademark songs on a 1960s TV show (and throw in links to Try (Just A Little Bit Harder), To Love Somebody, and Cry, Baby! as well) to mark the 40th anniversary of her untimely death.

Her Morning Elegance  -  I post this song by Israeli singer-songwriter Oren Lavie not so much for the music (which is fairly blandly forgettable), but for the stunning stop-motion animation of the video (and, yes, for the utterly gorgeous actress Shir Shomron who appears in it).

The Sports Channel

F1 in the 1960s  -  a great clip from John Frankenheimer's 1966 film Grand Prix, recreating the Belgian Grand Prix of that era, with some stunning in-car footage.  (See also above, under Movies.)

Snooker 'gods'  -  Ronnie O'Sullivan's recent coup (of anticipating that he was going to make a perfect clearance of 147 after the first couple of shots!) inspired me to dig out a few examples of the genius of Alex 'Hurricane' Higgins, the greatest player of the game during my childhood (and, probably, ever - although his temperament was too erratic for him ever to achieve consistent dominance of the sport, he could do things that were simply impossible).  I embedded Ronnie's maximum break, and the climax of Alex's victory over the Welshman Doug Mountjoy in the 2nd round of the 1982 World Championship (which Alex went on to win), and provided links to a couple more superb breaks by Higgins.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Another further typical common feature or aspect of scholarly academic articles and monographs in China

They understand and recognise the importance and necessity of never or seldom saying and stating their points and ideas in only one word, but rather of always or as often as possible using two words or phrases of identical or similar meaning together or in quick succession throughout the entire course of their article writing.

You think I'm exaggerating?  Not by much!

The monstrosity I'm currently working on weighed in at 12,500 words.  I think I'm going to bring it in under 5,000.

Haiku for the week

Yesterday, silence:
The world muffled by new snow.
Today, the dazzle.

Yesterday was a miserable, grey, wet day - but at least I got to sleep in a little later than usual in the morning, because it was so uncannily quiet outside.  Today we have a clear blue sky - and the reflected light from the remaining snow outside is so intense that it felt like bright midday in my (inadequately blacked-out) bedroom by 7.30am.  Win some, lose some.

It looks as if today is going to be a pretty day, though.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Get the Panda on your side

So, Hosni Mubarak is still clinging to power by his fingernails, and the opposition are trying to organise another general strike?

I wonder if Mohammed ElBaradei has considered sending the embattled President some 'Panda' brand cheese??  Surely, that would get anyone quitting their office and running for the hills?  I think it should be tried!

Ooh, someone's made a t-shirt. I want, I want.

What is this strange stuff?


Can it really be???

I rose early this morning, and was shocked to discover that we had had a light dusting overnight.

Now, it's started again, and the sky looks full of it - although it's thin and wet, and the temperature is scarcely below freezing, so it probably won't hang around for long.

I think this is "officially" the dryest winter on record in Beijing... and the latest first fall of snow.

Can anyone remember when we last had some precipitation?  I have a feeling we might have had a little bit at some point in October, but the last reference I can find to any here on my blogs is in early September.  Have we really been 5 months without a drop of moisture falling in our capital?  Jeez, this place is a desert!

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Shaggy (again)

This is how I feel.

This is what I look like.

Apart from a few, very limited, clumsily self-administered 'trims', I haven't had a haircut since the end of last July.

At that time, I shaved my head completely - and my hair grew out again fairly slowly (much slower than on the previous couple of times I'd tried this 'look'; particularly on top of my head, where I find I am suddenly becoming worryingly thin).  So, it's only in the last month or two that my hair's become long enough to require a proper cut again.  But it is most definitely way too long now, untidy, hanging over my ears and my collar.

My surprisingly competent local hairdresser shut up his shop for the holidays two weeks ago.  And, thanks to local superstition, I'm unlikely to get an opportunity to get my hair cut now for nearly another four weeks.

I don't know if I can last that long.  I may have to go to an expensive Western 'salon'!  Or, more probably, I may have to shave my head again.  You have been warned...

Monday, February 07, 2011

Many paths to 'enlightenment'

Perhaps it was more exhaustion than exasperation - after editing two enormous articles and five or six book reviews over the past week - but I just threw in the towel on my latest editing assignment, after merely skimming the first few pages.

The trouble, you see, was that I tend to rely very heavily on the title and abstract (and library categories, if suggested) to try to work out what the heck one of these articles is about.  They're usually written first - or at least conceived - in Chinese, and then indifferently rendered into English, either by the author or by a miserably underpaid Chinese translator (you can't complain too much about the wretched quality of their work when you realise that they're probably earning less per hour than a domestic cleaner - a cleaner working for a foreign employer, at any rate).  I don't have access to those original versions; and it wouldn't do me much good if I did.  No, I have to read the 'Chinglish' - and try to guess what it is supposed to be about.

And this latest one defeated me because it purports to be about 'Enlightenment Ideas' (yes, with initial capitals; but this is in the title, so this may not be significant).  Unfortunately, later on in the abstract, it mostly talks about 'enlightenment' without an initial capital.  Though, at the end, it does seem to be placing this in the context of something it calls the 'Enlightenment Movement' or the 'Modernization Movement' (or the 'Modernization Enlightenment Movement' or the 'Enlightenment Modernization Movement'; these are probably all supposed to be the same thing - Chinese writers don't pay a lot of attention to word order).  Yes, those are all spelled with initial capitals (but without the single inverted commas, which are my way of indicating that I'm quoting exactly from my author).

From my brisk overview of the abstract and the first couple of pages, I think the piece is probably attempting to draw parallels from the Enlightenment (which didn't as such happen in China; you know, more of a European thing - but let's not get into that right now...), but is mostly concerned with the intellectual climate in China at the end of the 1800s and in the early 1900s.  To my knowledge, none of the intellectual movements of this time in China have been labelled a Chinese 'Enlightenment' (which probably would have an initial capital, if only to show that it was named after the European intellectual revolution of a century-and-a-half earlier; and would almost certainly require single inverted commas, to show that the appellation is derived from elsewhere, and not universally recognised or accepted).  I suspect the author/translator is speaking of what is commonly known as the New Culture Movement (but this is a very well-known set phrase in English, and a fairly literal translation of the universally used Chinese term - so I can't imagine why my writer didn't use this), which might be seen as a kind of 'Enlightenment', akin to it in some ways.  But we really need that initial capital (and the single inverted commas), if that's what he means.

Ah, and there's one further layer of potential confusion in all of this.  The author is focusing on Buddhist writers, so.... at least occasionally, he's talking about that kind of 'enlightenment' as well.  Oh dear.

I wouldn't even try to get into a topic like that if I were writing (oops - I suppose I'm doing it now, in a very modest way!).  Not as a non-native speaker, anyway.  There's such a world of difference between Voltaire et al asserting the primacy of reason and Asian ascetics getting all trippy after pronouncing om in a cave non-stop for 10 years (and between either of these and Cai Yuanpei et al trying to drag China into the 20th century), that I would step gingerly around the linguistic minefield of trying to distinguish those different varieties of 'enlightenment'.  While I am alive to the possibly intriguing similarities between these different milieus and outlooks - and I do relish the wordplay of it all, I do! - I think it's just too damned hard to say anything very useful or comprehensible about all this (not that these have ever been the sort of criteria to deter a Chinese 'academic' from seeking publication!).

And I think that would be true even if the source material I'd been given to work with were already in very good English; whereas, in fact, it is of course written in the most lamentably inept Chinglish - which simply uses the word enlightenment (or various not-exact-cognates!!) throughout, to refer to any or all of these different concepts (and possibly some others as well that haven't yet occurred to me) without any distinction.

If I were prepared to put in the hours of blood, toil, tears and sweat (as I usually do), I probably could eventually piece together what on earth this chap is trying to say.  But I don't see why I should bother.  It's about time the Chinese (or their most "distinguished" academics and translators, anyway) started to pay attention to the importance of initial capitals.... and the appropriate use of single or double inverted commas.... and consistent nomenclature.... etc.

This is my foot: down it has been put.  (As Finn might have put it.)

Bon mot for the week

"I hear some people say they are actively 'looking for love'.  I am reminded of a story I once read in which a suicidal thrill-seeker cut himself on the leg and then went swimming amongst Great White Sharks."


Saturday, February 05, 2011

List of the Month - Why my Web browser keeps crashing!

It is, I fear, because I've always got far too many windows open at once.  

But what's a boy to do?  People tell me that it is possible to set up gizmos called 'feed readers' to send me new articles from favourite blogs, but it all sounds far too complicated to me; I prefer to just leave them all permanently open, so that I can check them at any time with a single click of the mouse.  Indeed, I quite often leave individual posts open in their own tab, if there's an interesting comment thread evolving (comment thread notifications by e-mail - why would I bother with that?).  I've never been much of a fan of 'bookmarking' either.  I suppose I spend so much time online these days that I'll often visit 100 different webpages in a week, many of which may have some lasting interest to me - but it would be far too cumbersome to try to catalogue them all; I figure they'll be interesting and relevant to me as long as I keep them in an open tab; when I close the tab (or the browser crashes, and I can't recover my previous browsing session), then I've accepted that their usefulness to me is done.

And so.....  this is what I usually have going on at any one time:

My blogging window - with Blogger, Froogville, Barstool Blues, and The Book Book.... usually supplemented with GoogleAnalytics and Statcounter, and, sometimes, an IP Address Lookup, and at least one Wikipedia tab (for checking names and dates of birth for people I quote on here).

Then I have my YouTube window, which usually has at least two or three different tabs open in it (and quite often also one or two things from other video sites, particularly the Chinese YouTube clone, Youku).

There's the general reference window, which usually has three or four Google or GoogleScholar tabs open at once (essential aids to my editing work!), and at least a couple of Wikipedia pages, along with AcronymFinder, Amazon, a currency exchange calculator such as Oanda or X-Rates or XE, a couple of Chinese dictionaries (I find Mandarin Tools fairly poor in its database/definitions, but quick and easy to use, while NCIKU has much richer content but can be maddeningly glitchy), and the local weather.

There's also usually a sports window, with upcoming English Premier League fixtures, recent results, and the league table courtesy of Football365, cricket news on CricInfo (which appears to have been recently taken over by ESPN - what the hell? what does ESPN know or care about cricket??), the Grand Prix latest from Planet F1, and - currently - the Superbowl XLV page.

Then there's my 'What's On?' window, with indefatigable bar/restaurant reviewer BeijingBoyce, upcoming gig news from BeijingDaze and the Beijing Gig Guide (which often have me pursuing links to free music samples on the artists' MySpace pages or Chinese music site Douban), local listings magazines Time Out Beijing and City Weekend, and the city's indispensable literary salon The Beijing Bookworm.

There's my China window, with essential news and views from Danwei, The Peking Duck, China Digital Times and The China Beat.... usually accompanied by the hilarious China Daily Show, blog-friends at the Granite Studio and Found In China and Bokane, and - much of the time - by CN Reviews, Fool's Mountain, China Law Blog, ChinaSmack, China Geeks, and Global Voices: China.

And finally, there's my 'favourite blogs' window, where I try to keep up to date with my dear blog-friends and commenters: Other Men's Flowers, OMG, Whaddayamean, Cedra, The Enigmatic Masked Blogger, and a few others I wouldn't embarrass by mentioning in public.

Well, not quite finally, because these days I usually have a whole set of tabs just for JES and his remarkable Running After My Hat - following the comments on his two or three most recent posts, occasionally delving back into his archive to revisit a remembered favourite, checking in on some of his fascinating cast of commenters (such as DarcKnyt, Marta, SevenImp, and a/b), or following a few of the scores of diverting links he provides.

Sometimes, it's not just Firefox that crashes, but my brain....

Friday, February 04, 2011

If I ruled the world

And I soon will.  Oh, yes.

In this doldrummy period of nothing-to-do my best friend The Choirboy has arranged another game of Risk this afternoon.

The last time we did this, it resulted in strained friendship and lost sleep.  Today, we're aiming for an earlier start - but it's likely to be a very long and bloody and boozy affair that will write off all of today and, quite possibly, a fair bit of tomorrow as well.

My Bengali nemesis will be absent this time, but a number of the finest minds in Beijing (make that Evil Geniuses) will be joining battle, and it should be.... challenging.

But I shall prevail.  Oh, yes, I shall prevail.  Unless I get too many shitty dice rolls....

Haiku for the week

Constant explosions
Imagined memories of war
Soul clenches, cringes

I find the interminable firework overload of the Chinese New Year celebrations very emotionally wearing.  It's not just irritation and ennui with the relentless din of it, and the throat-scouring clouds of gunpowder smoke.  It's not just my hyper-alertness to the risk of injury to my person, or concern for the possible harm the guileless locals seem about to inflict on themselves.  It's partly these things, but it's something more, too.  I seem to suffer the same exaggerated sensitivity to loud bangs as a dog.  This continual rattle of explosions, reminiscent of gunfire,  makes me very, very anxious.  I almost wonder if it isn't remembered shellshock, if I didn't experience being under fire, perhaps endure sustained bombardment in the trenches, in an earlier incarnation....

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Year of the Rabbit Rebellion

The Chinese seem to struggle to justify the inclusion of the rabbit in their zodiac cycle.  There's just nothing impressive about the animal at all.  They even seem to struggle to draw it convincingly.  Most of the 'good luck' paper cutout rabbits I've seen around town this past week or two have looked more like pigs than rabbits: flat noses, pink flesh, unfurry - and with featureless 'ears' (that look more like big cigars or elongated balloons than auditory apertures) grafted on as an afterthought.  Downright ugly, most of them; some, decidedly creepy.

I started grubbing around on the Internet in idle moments last week to try to find a decent picture to put up today to greet the Chinese Year of the Rabbit.... and this is about the least nasty one I could find (and I still find this pretty disturbing).

Ah, but then I found this poster below - which is rather more easily recognisable as a rabbit.  Well, recognisable as one particular rabbit.  Clearly, 2011 isn't going to be The Year of Serious IP Enforcement in China.

And then.... I found the short animation below - a video 'New Year's Greeting Card' that has been circulating around the Chinese Internet a lot since about the middle of January.  I hesitated to post it at first, partly because of the language issue for my overseas readers (although Charles Custer at the ChinaGeeks blog had posted an article about it with a text translation), and partly because of concern about what might happen to its creators if it attracted too much publicity (I rather fear they'll get 10 years' hard labour).  However, it's so good that I think it deserves to reach as many people as possible.  And I figure the film-makers knew what they might be bringing down on their heads when they set out to do this.  And.... a couple of days ago, an English-subtitled version appeared on YouTube, courtesy of user lodproductions90.

The pictures probably tell the story clearly enough, anyway.  In this grisly fable of modern China, the rabbits represent the ordinary people, while the 'tigers' are the ruling elites.  Anyone who follows China news at all should recognise these common sources of popular discontent: forced evictions to make way for new property developments, and the beating or arrest of anyone who resists or protests (this is what my artist friend Wu Yuren got in trouble with the authorities for); the horrendous tainted milk powder scandal; cadres (or their bratty offspring) killing people in hit-and-run accidents and expecting to get away with it; and disasters like the Karamay theatre fire.  As the film warns at the end: "Even rabbits bite back if pushed around enough."

As little Kuangkuang remarks when he wakes from his nightmare at the end of the film, "This is a significant year."  [I hate the inevitable Chinglish mistranslation 'meaningful'!]

Let's hope so.  It's time for the Tigers to realise they can't go on like this, to relax their grip on power, to begin the long overdue reform process..... before they find themselves confronting the Night of the Lepus.

Best wishes to everyone 
for a productive - and progressive - Year of the Rabbit!!!

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

The end of the world as we know it

I hadn't known of the phenomenon of volcanic lightning before (or perhaps I'd just forgotten about it; apparently, Pliny mentions it in his famous description of the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79), but I noticed these stunning pictures in an item on Yahoo News the other day about the ongoing eruption of Mt Shinmoedake in Japan (that Yahoo slideshow is a bit overlong, and includes a lot of duplicates; these are definitely the two standouts).

Usually, this is what Beijing would be looking like tomorrow morning - Chinese New Year's Day - but this year, I'm wondering if the firework madness is going to be relatively restrained.

[Finally, proof - as if it were needed - that supervillains tend to be foolish or reckless in their choice of secret hideouts.  Mt Shinmoedake was the site of Blofeld's headquarters (some more good pictures and videos of the current eruption at this link) in the classic 1967 Bond film You Only Live Twice.]