Monday, May 30, 2011

I could tell you the venue, but I want to make you guess

This seems to be an astonishingly popular game amongst Chinese acquaintances of mine - particularly employers (particularly university or education-related employers, which is most of them).

Today - a recording gig.

My employer has decided to switch to a new studio (in pursuit of cost savings rather than quality increments, I have no doubt).

Where is it?  Wudaokou, they tell me.

Hm, I probably know the studio. I've done a lot of recording work over the last seven or eight years, and I've worked with most of the major recording studios in town. There are 3 or 4 near Wudaokou (well, not all that near; but it's such a major hub of the student world that everyone tends to use it as a reference point; and it probably is the nearest subway station to most of them).

We'll send you a map, they say. What a novelty! How nice!

The map appears to show that the studio is near Zhichunlu subway station. Not that far away from Wudaokou (one stop; a mile-and-a-half south), but NOT "Wudaokou".

I probably know that studio. There's a place I've worked a few times before that's right where the Google Maps teardrop appears to be hovering, or near enough.

But I'm not quite sure if it's the same place. And I haven't been to that place for a few months, so I might struggle a bit to find it again.

No problem. They'll send someone to meet me at the subway station.

And they do! Lovely!! It all works like a dream!!!

Except.... that the map they sent me is completely bogus. The place is not anywhere near Wudaokou or Zhichunlu. It's the other side of Xizhimen, about a 20-minute taxi ride away.  WTF?????

[Additional information to help casual by-passers appreciate the extreme bizarreness of this:  1) Xizhimen is a major bus and subway transport hub; 2) Xizhimen is much nearer to where I live than the Zhichunlu station to which I was directed; 3) the studio is only a 15-minute walk from Xizhimen (much less time than it took to get there in a taxi from Zhichunlu); 4) the studio is really easy to find; 5) the studio is in fact right next to a major university (one that I taught at a few years ago, so a doddle for me to locate).]

Bon mot for the week

"He who has done his best for his own time has lived for all times."

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Film List - Great Movie Songs

Now, I was going to be lazy this month, and just give you a link to the list of The 100 Best Movie Songs compiled by the American Film Institute back in 2004.

But then I thought, no, my loyal readers deserve more than this. So, here's a quick supplementary 'Top 10' (er, 18) of what I think are some of the most conspicuous omissions from the AFI list. [It's nice to see some slightly more exotic selections making their way in - such as Gene Wilder's & Peter Boyle's Puttin' On The Ritz from Young Frankenstein and Bob Hope's Buttons & Bows from the great 1948 comedy western The Paleface. But there are some very odd choices in their Top 100, I think (songs from Philadelphia and Nashville??). Some of my picks below didn't even make it into the 'Top 400' longlist. There's no accounting for taste!]

Some of my favourite songs from the movies

Highway To The Danger Zone (Kenny Loggins) from Top Gun [1986]
A great favourite on the playlist down at my favourite bar. Cheesy, yes - but the '80s were all about the cheese. There was a lot of other good music in this, notably the two classics, Otis Redding's Sittin' On The Dock Of The Bay and The Righteous Brothers' You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling - used to serenade Kelly McGillis in the bar, in one of the great failed cheesy pick-up attempts. (I don't think there's any problem about including non-original songs in this survey, since the AFI list includes, for example, The Righteous Brothers' Unchained Melody from 1990's Ghost, although that version was recorded in 1965 and the song itself is a decade older still.)

Eye of the Tiger (Survivor) from Rocky III [1982]
Again, all about the cheese! Not, on dispassionate appraisal, a particularly great song, and certainly not a very good film - yet, by some strange synergy, these two mediocrities combined to produce one of the most enduringly memorable film title songs of all time.

Bang! Bang! (Nancy Sinatra) from Kill Bill: Volume 1 [2003]
One of the most creepily appropriate pairings of a venerable 'classic' song with movie opening credits. Tarantino has included a lot of great music in his films - his use of the George Baker Selection's Little Green Bag for the famous slow-motion opening sequence of Reservoir Dogs might also be a contender - but I think this is the best of the lot, really rather haunting.

What's New, Pussycat? (Tom Jones) from What's New, Pussycat? [1965]
I loved this film as a kid - great to see Peter O'Toole having some fun in a light comic role for once, with fantastic support from lovely Romy Schneider and demented Peter Sellers as an Austrian psychoanalyst. And the song is classic Tom Jones.

You've Got A Friend In Me (Randy Newman) from Toy Story [1995]
Really - this was one of the most baffling omissions from the AFI list. Disney was heavily represented, but Pixar didn't get a look-in!

Money Makes The World Go Around (Liza Minelli and Joel Grey) from Cabaret [1972]
The AFI list included this musical's title song, but not the arguably even more memorable Money. Strange.

I Could Have Danced All Night (Marni Nixon) from My Fair Lady [1964]
Musicals are fairly heavily represented in the AFI's list.... but the greatest of all musicals doesn't get a look-in at all?! Something going wrong around here. (JES pointed out in a comment below that I Could Have Danced All Night is in fact included in the AFI's 'Top 100'; I somehow repeatedly overlooked it. As a more-than-worthy substitute from the same film, I pick Stanley Holloway's great singalong I'm Getting Married In The Morning.)

I Will Wait For You (Danielle Licari) from Les Parapluies de Cherbourg [1964]
And of course, nothing non-American gets considered for the AFI list, so Michel Legrand's plangent - sometimes perhaps rather too gratingly unforgettable - score for Jacques Demy's great tragic romance is another of the more egregious omissions.

I Wanna Be Like You (Louis Prima and Phil Harris) from The Jungle Book [1967]
This wasn't in the AFI list??!! The best Disney song ever! Although it's a very close competition with the same film's Bare Necessities....

Shout! (Otis Day & The Knights) from National Lampoon's Animal House [1978]
The best of many, many great '60s songs (Louie Louie, Let's Dance, Wonderful World) used by John Landis in his cult campus comedy, it forms the climax of one of the greatest party scenes ever committed to film. According to Wikipedia, 'Otis Day' was actually a performer called Lloyd Williams; I don't recall seeing him in anything else, and I can't find anything about him on IMDB or anywhere else on the Net - strange.

America - Fuck, Yeah! (Trey Parker and Matt Stone) from Team America: World Police [2004]
Another great favourite down at the bar! From the same film, the hilarious Montage and You Are Worthwhiff, Arec Bawrrin! are also in contention.... as are Blame Canada!, The Unclefucker Song and the brilliant What Would Brian Boitano Do? from the guys' 1999 classic South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut.

Jockey Full Of Bourbon (Tom Waits) from Down By Law [1986]
This eccentric low-life comedy is probably Jim Jarmusch's most accessible work, and it is elevated to classic status by the exquisite opening sequence - accompanied by this great song from Waits's Rain Dogs album.

Ev'rybody Wants To Be A Cat (Scatman Crothers and Phil Harris) from The Aristocats [1970]
A pretty close second to the Jungle Book among the Disneys that most got under my skin when I was a child (and possibly the first one that I went to see in the cinema); I suspect this might be the song that turned me on to jazz - although it would be another 15 years before I started to discover much about the genre.

Be My Baby (The Ronettes) from Mean Streets [1973]
This song was also featured, I think, in 1987's trashy cult romantic hit Dirty Dancing, but it is Scorsese's use of it over the introductory sequence to his great early gangster pic that I particularly love.

These Foolish Things (Remind Me Of You) (Jane Birkin and Jimmy Rowles) from These Foolish Things [1990]
This is a simple but - in the context of Tavernier's wonderfully understated film (aka Daddy Nostalgie) about father-daughter reconciliation and the acceptance of death - heartbreakingly poignant rendition of the jazz classic, and one which encapsulates the themes and the mood of the story more completely than any other movie song I can think of.

If I Only Had A Brain (Ray Bolger) from The Wizard Of Oz [1939]
Over The Rainbow - of course! - tops the AFI's list, and Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead! somehow sneaks in at No. 82; but the film's other great songs are overlooked (Ding-Dong! beats out We're Off To See The Wizard and If I Were The King Of The Forest??). The Scarecrow's rather poignant fantasy on the imagined advantages of an intellect is my personal 'best of the rest'. [I gather an early, rather slower version of the song was rediscovered a couple of years ago; there's supposed to be a link to it here, but I'm having difficulty getting it to play at the moment.]

When I See An Elephant Fly (Cliff Edwards and the Hall Johnson Choir) from Dumbo [1941]
Oh my god, this almost slipped my mind - definitely among the all-time top three or four Disney songs!

See What The Boys In The Back Room Will Have (Marlene Dietrich) from Destry Rides Again [1939]
A marvellous saloon singalong from one of my favourite Westerns.

Any other suggestions??

Friday, May 27, 2011

Another example of why I don't like working for Chinese universities

I've just finished a month of business training seminars for a major state-owned enterprise. Although this SOE has its own - enormous - 'training campus' to the north of Beijing, and thus could quite easily (you'd think) arrange such training for itself, it chooses to sub-contract to an outside supplier. That supplier, in this case, is a small commercial English school based on one of Beijing's better-known universities (the exact nature of the relationship with the university itself is unclear; often such commercial entitites seem to be essentially autonomous, and are merely paying some kind of fee to use the university's name and facilities to enhance their 'credibility'). Why anyone would choose this particular school is quite baffling to me; but, evidently, quite a lot of people do. It must be down to guanxi. Or because they're CHEAP.

I've worked for them many times before, but.... they are as outrageously incompetent as every other Chinese school - and especially every university or university-based school - that I've worked for here (I bitched about this course right at the outset).

Latest case in point: they've just asked me to provide a mark for each of the students on the course.

Today - after the course has finished.

No mention of any requirement or expectation for the students to be graded was mentioned before the course started, or during the four weeks that it was running. Hence, I didn't run any formally assessed exercises, and didn't keep many notes on the students' performance in class. I could come up with some marks retrospectively, but, you know, it's not easy. This is really the kind of thing that you should PLAN FOR from the outset.

But 'planning', you see, just doesn't happen in China. Not in the education sector, anyway. People just bumble along, improvising their way as haphazardly and inefficiently as possible. You are never told whether you are expected to grade students.... UNTIL IT'S TOO LATE. You are never told how to grade them (10-point scale, 20-point scale, percentage, A-to-E letter grades... Greek letters... half-marks... +++ or -?, etc.). You are never told why they are being graded. And, worst of all, you are never told the expected range of marks (if I think 85% is an "outstanding" mark, but the students or the course organisers are going to be disappointed if anyone scores less than 90%, I need to know that; and if, as here, there are several different trainers teaching different components of the course, we need to try to make our grading fairly consistent - we shouldn't have one guy giving everyone scores in the 80s and another giving a spread from 65 to 95 and another giving beta pluses and alpha minuses).

I weep and chew the carpet in frustration at this kind of mind-blowing incompetence.

Oh, and they haven't given me a mark sheet or a name list either...

Haiku for the week

Blue skies too can bore;
Perfect weather starts to pall;
Happiness fatigue!

Ungrateful so-and-so that I am - after two or three weeks of this hot-but-not-too-hot early summer bliss, I was growing impatient for a change of weather, any sort of change. Even a few days of smoggy humidity would at least introduce some welcome variety. But a good old summer downpour was sorely overdue! (There was thunder and lightning along the northern fringes of Beijing yesterday morning, but it somehow passed the city by without evolving into a proper rainstorm. Then, in the early afternoon, the dark clouds suddenly started massing again. Pity I was just setting out on a 70-minute commute to work!! But still, I was as excited as a 10-year-old schoolboy.)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

I miss teaching literature, but...

There are consolations at times.... when you reflect on how poorly most of your efforts are received (or on how poor most of your efforts are?!). It is a thankless task.

[This from Graph Jam - another of the great Internet time-wasters!]

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A touch of Zen

When you're trying to get to a business meeting out in the remote Western suburbs, and it's a hot day, and the bus route that was recommended to you appears not to exist, and you're starting to be in danger of running late... trying to hail a cab could well bring on a massive anxiety attack.

But, occasionally, you get lucky. Occasionally, just occasionally, you get a driver who...

... is cheerful and serene, rather than a xenophobic grump or a road-raging psychopath.

... knows how to drive, and doesn't crunch his gears painfully, or wear out his clutch, or hop madly from accelerator to brake and back again in a series of kangaroo lurches down the road.

... chooses to drive safely, indicating his lane changes, and not carving other drivers up at every opportunity.

.... doesn't quite know the way, but is honest about that, and doesn't panic about it.

... takes your mobile phone from you to get directions from your host, and then just takes the directions briskly and simply, without getting into a long argument about it (or a general conversation about the weather or the government, or whatever it is that most cabbies talk about when given the chance to converse with a stranger on somebody else's phone).

... does his best to take you right to the door, stopping frequently to ask directions from the numerous 'security guards' loafing around this huge and labyrinthine villa development out on the 5th Ringroad.

... cheerfully lets you off the 2-kuai surcharge when he sees you don't have any small change (this has only ever happened to me a handful of times before, most notably with this guy - my previous coolest cabbie).

... stops and calls back to you in friendly fashion when he finally spots the address you're looking for as he's driving away.

It was more than just a pleasant surprise or a welcome relief from stress; it was a joyous, life-enhancing experience. We don't get nearly enough of them in Beijing, but we do get some.

Not surprisingly, this chap was a 20-plus-year veteran: registration number 0039**.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

We have a winner!

Silicon Valley IT guru and long-time irregular 'regular' commenter Gary has claimed the distinction of being my 50,000th visitor over on Barstool Blues.

Congratulations, and thanks, Gary.

Now.... we can get back to 'normal' on here...

[But - oh my - we'll be passing our 100,000th visitor on Froogville before the end of the year. Imagine the excitement that will generate! Well, none at all, probably...]

Monday, May 23, 2011

Still counting....

It seems I was a little over-excited in supposing that my parallel 'drinking blog' Round-The-World Barstool Blues might greet its nominal 50,000th visitor over the weekend. Traffic, in fact, was very slow these past two or three days (And a good thing too! Everybody's out enjoying the fine early summer weather instead of crouching in front of their computer screens!!).

Now, however... well, now we are very close indeed. It seems we will pass the momentous threshold at some point on Monday night or Tuesday morning (on Beijing time; it might still be daytime Monday for my American readers). 

Be my Visitor No. 50,000 over there (or the first one after 50,000 to let me know!) and claim a "prize" of considerable but as yet still unspecified wonderfulness - by leaving me a comment here. The counter-widget is now at the very top of the sidebar, to make it easy for us to keep tabs on the situation.  Ooh, the excitement....

For the booklover's birthday wishlist...

I stumbled upon this the other day on Design My World, and thought Hmm, must have! It's a pity it's five months until my birthday (and the world might be ending around then!). I want it now.

Don't we ALL feel like that poor, fragile, about-to-be-squished little man from time to time? I was reminded of this book, by the Czech satirist Bohumil Hrabal.

Bon mot for the week

"You can always brake later than you think."

Kimi Räikkönen  (1979-  )

Sunday, May 22, 2011

My Fantasy Girlfriend - Patricia Hodge/Phyllida Trant

This lovely red-headed actress has been ubiquitous on British TV for nearly 40 years now, an even more regular face than others of my 1970s nostalgia picks in this series like Jan Francis and Gabrielle Drake. And she epitomises many of the qualities, both in looks and in character, that I most often tend to be attracted to in a woman: the height, the flame-coloured hair, the strong jaw and vertiginous cheekbones, of course; but also a suggestion of uncommon intelligence, or of a species of shrewdness, anyway, and a self-reliance, a certain toughness and steeliness of purpose too, and of course a provoking aloofness, an intoxicating whiff of patrician hauteur (ah, yes, the unattainability thing again!).

Ah, but I did not love her in everything she was in (she tended to get typecast rather as snooty upper-class totty), and she was not overall one of my more major crushes. No, whenever I think of Ms Hodge and melt, I am thinking of her as Phyllida Trant, the lady barrister who was a kind of protégée of the wily but disreputable old soak Horace Rumpole in several episodes of the long-running ITV series Rumpole of the Bailey. [I was reminded of this series by a comment-thread exchange just the other day. Although I never had the slightest interest in practising criminal law myself, I'm sure it was Rumpole, along with the earlier Crown Court (which used the compelling gimmick of having a real jury deliver a verdict at the end of a scripted trial played out over a week of daily episodes on lunchtime TV), that was mainly responsible for nurturing my insane desire to become a barrister myself.]

Ms Trant ultimately disappointed me - and countless other male fans, I'm sure - by marrying another barrister in her chambers, the amiable but drippy (upper-class twit!) Claude Erskine-Brown. Until then, she had been my perfect embodiment of the single, professional woman. Luckily, I didn't really follow how that came about. I suppose I only saw the first four or five seasons, before heading off to university and all but abandoning TV. The series carried on for the best part of a decade more, but I only caught a random handful of the later episodes.

Gosh, there's something about lady barristers! I don't think it was just the loveliness of Ms Hodge/Ms Trant that implanted this particular erotic fascination in my mind. The prim simplicity of a black business suit, the stark contrast with the crisp white blouse, and then the black tights or stockings, of course, yes, the stockings.... damn, there's even something oddly fetching or provoking about those godawful horsehair wigs (they make the scalp itch something rotten; and I regard it as my chief consolation for having failed to make my way in the profession myself that at least I escaped the torture of having to wear one of these darned things; perhaps it's the sympathy trigger that makes a woman wearing one seem attractive - it makes us feel sorry for her?!).

Uniforms in general, of course, are commonly perceived to have a frisson of sexiness about them - something about the aura of power they emanate, perhaps... and the sharp tailoring? In addition to that, though, I think there's something particularly alluring about the way that a strong personality manages to shine through even more strongly in defiance of a costume that's designed to depersonalize. And, more so than almost any other uniformed ladies (such as air stewardesses or traffic wardens), female barristers are necessarily formidably intelligent.

Yet, despite the poise and power bestowed by their academic pedigree and their vital role in the judicial system, there's also usually a beguiling air of vulnerability about them, a sense of the struggle they must undergo to assert themselves in what is still a predominantly masculine - and often rather sexist - arena, or an intimation of discomfort in maintaining the facade of 'male' toughness that is so often expected of them in their work. Lady barristers, I have found, are often a tad intimidating, sometimes even downright scary... and yet I almost always want to give them a hug.

My days of law school, Bar school, and pupillage were a dizzying succession of ephemeral infatuations. Another reason, perhaps, to be grateful that I didn't make my career at the Bar....

Friday, May 20, 2011

Another 'final countdown'!!

Interest in my 'drinking blog' has, after a worrying lull, apparently started to pick up again a little in the last week or two, and - according to the Sitemeter widget in the sidebar - the accumulated visitor total is now nearing 50,000.

This landmark should be passed (assuming the world doesn't end tomorrow!) within the next few days.

I have decided to offer a prize to whoever can convincingly claim to have been Visitor No. 50,000. (I've moved the counter up to the top of the sidebar for a while to make it easier to keep track!)

Do leave me a comment here if you think it's YOU.

The End of Days?

I just stumbled upon this story which informs us that certain religious nutjobs in the States have declared that the end of the world is going to take place tomorrow, Saturday 21st May 2011. No specific time is mentioned, I don't think; but I suspect it's likely to be around noon, on Central Standard Time (how the good folks of the Bible Belt set their watches).

Ah, well, strictly speaking, this is not yet quite the end. No, it is to be the time of The Rapture - as calculated from a close reading of The Bible by an 80-year-old Christian radio broadcaster called Harold Camping. The Rapture is the snatching up of the righteous from the Earth to meet with God in Heaven (or perhaps just to be taken for a thrilling flight through the clouds - Biblical references are unclear on this point). Christian nutjobs disagree as to whether this event precedes or is simultaneous with the Second Coming of Christ. Camping, I gather, takes the view that it precedes it, and ushers in the period of Tribulation upon the Earth, culminating in the great battle of Armageddon; then we get the Second Coming and the Millennium of Christ's rule upon Earth. Mr Camping, however, regards the Millennium as more of a metaphor (but the Tribulation and Armageddon are not?), so... Armageddon is the End of Everything. And that will be exactly 5 months after The Rapture, on 21st October. You have been warned. At least I'll have one more birthday; but it might be a rather sombre affair, overshadowed by being the Penultimate Day Of Existence.

So, the world won't end tomorrow. But it will be the start of very bad things.

Of course, we probably won't know for sure whether Mr Camping was right or not straight away. The 'righteous' are probably so few in number - and such dull people! - that their disappearance may go unnoticed. And the very bad things might not immediately seem that much worse than what we've been experiencing anyway - wars, revolutions, earthquakes, tsunamis, nuclear meltdowns, bird 'flu in humans, the continuing proliferation of Starbucks and McDonald's. With all of this going on, The Antichrist is going to struggle to get himself any airtime.

Still, it makes a fellow glad to be an atheist...

[Mr Camping had previously predicted September 1994 as the beginning of the End of Days, but graciously admitted to a "mathematical error". He seems much more confident this time. I hope he won't be too disappointed if he proves to be mistaken again; he seems such a genial old buffer.]

The weekly haiku

Sculptors can give up,
Discard blunt chisel, brittle stone.
Teachers must endure.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The TV Listings (8)

A roundup of my video postings from the first quarter of this year:

The Comedy/Movie Channel

Movie trailer spoof - to accompany my Film Taglines Quiz, I post this funny clip of top Hollywood voiceover artist Hal Douglas sending up all the clichés of American film trailer narration.

An incredible journey - e-friend and occasional commenter Cedra Wood posts a video about her work on Kickstarter to raise some cash to help with a forthcoming painting trip to Australia this summer; so I give her a boost on here too.

Father Jack's finest moment - another St Patrick's Day treat: a favourite bit from the UK Channel 4's cult '90s sitcom (a surreal piss-take of the Irish priesthood), Father Ted. [Unfortunately, embedding clips of this show seems to be very comprehensively blocked, so you might as well go straight here.]

Year of the Rabbit Rebellion - a gruesomely funny political cartoon (produced, I've since been told, by a group of young animators from Taiwan), which references a number of the most notorious examples from the last few years of the Chinese Communist Party's ineptitude, corruption, and abuse of power.... and suggesting that this could be the year when the docile rabbits (the ordinary people) start to fight back against the bullying tigers (the ruling cadres). Oh, I wish, I wish.  

Australian Citizenship Test - a little cartoon history lesson to celebrate Australia Day.

Homeless voiceover star - an uplifting story (well, initially, at least) from the States about a homeless man whose 'golden voice' gave him a shot at stardom as a radio announcer.

The Music Channel

Manic Monday - I don't need much of an excuse to post the video of The Bangles' 1980s hit (penned by Prince). Didn't we all have a crush on Susannah Hoffs 25 years ago?

Sally MacLennane - for St Patrick's Day this year I post this great rabble-rousing singalong from The Pogues (I was particularly pleased to find a clip of them performing the song on The Old Grey Whistle Test, a BBC2 music show that was one of the foundations of my childhood, my life...).

Star Wars Medley (John Williams is The Man!) - a great piece of fun from Salt Lake city acapella group Moosebutter, with split-screen lip-syncing from YouTube super-nerd Corey Vidal.

Hold On - the original video and a great live performance of one of my favourite Tom Waits love songs.

Bohemian Rhapsody - the original Queen video, a live performance at Wembley Stadium, a LEGO video, the opening scene of Wayne's World, an acoustic version of the song by classical guitarist Edgar Cruz, and.... the rather wonderful American rock-grass outfit Hayseed Dixie doing their take on it.

Caramel - a delicious love song from Suzanne Vega.

Harmonica solo - French harmonica virtuoso Laurent Maur was visiting Beijing at the end of last year, and I was privileged to hear him play a couple of times. Here's a great clip of him playing with a full orchestra.

The Sports Channel

Wot - no sport this time? Apparently not. Sorry.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The safety valve

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote that conditions in China could soon become ripe for some kind of revolution, because of a likely dramatic slowdown in the rate of economic growth whilst the demands and expectations of its rapidly expanding middle class remain on the rise and increasingly go unmet.

However, that observation overlooked one key factor which, I think, is the major contribution to China at present apparently continuing to be (enviably or regrettably?) 'revolution-proof'.

It is simply this: the overwhelming demand of the great majority of the new Chinese middle class, or of very large numbers of them anyway, and one which is really not at all dependent on the Chinese government for its realisation, is.... to get the hell out of the country.

China has some of the lowest levels of social trust in the world, and - I would say - some of the lowest levels of respect for its political system and its leaders. But a lot of the people who are most likely to find their aspirations for a better life here frustrated, and who are most capable of expressing their dissatisfaction about that in a cogent and influential manner, do not hang around here to brood on their discontent - they emigrate to Canada (or Australia, or New Zealand, or anywhere else that will have them) as soon as they possibly can.

If 'the West' really wanted to bring down the Chinese Communist Party (and I, for one, increasingly tend towards the view that they should).... I think a ban - or a massive cutback - on Chinese immigration would be all that it would take. If the starting-to-be-rich all had to stay here, they would have to find some way of making this country work better - not just for themselves, but for everyone. But the starting-to-be-rich and the lucky-to-be-educated have an easy way out. And everyone else is too poor and too powerless to lobby effectively for change.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Mr Grindtooth again

I'm doing a business training course for a Chinese state-owned enterprise this month.

It's arranged through an 'English school' run by a Chinese university (god help me!).

Thus.... a course is thrown together in a headlong rush, by people who know nothing whatsoever about teaching or course planning, and without any consultation with the poor bloody trainers who will be delivering it... without any level testing or needs assessment of the intended students... and, as far as I can discern, without even any meaningful discussion about the course structure or purpose with the people responsible for booking it.

Still, I don't have to worry too much any of this headless chicken stuff because at least "all the course materials will be provided" for me.

They provide one book.

It's a self-study book rather than a classroom workbook.

Most of it is based on listening activities, which work particularly poorly in a classroom setting (and they've given me a very large group for this course; nearly twice as big as you'd hope for in an intensive business skills-focused course). Moreover, it's very high level listening material - content-rich, employing some sophisticated vocabulary, and delivered in a variety of non-standard English accents, many of them Eastern European. It's just too darned difficult for most of my students. 
[It has become something of an article of dogma in TESOL circles that foreign learners should be exposed to 'authentic English' in all its richness and variety. Cambridge Exams are particularly keen on this use of European non-native speaker accents for their Business English Certificate. I see the virtues of this in principle. Unfortunately, in practice, I've just about never met a Chinese English speaker who can cope with it at all. Their comprehension just falls apart if they're listening to audio only, and being confronted with a non-standard accent and idiomatic vocabulary.]

And even if I did make use of all this inappropriate listening material and adapted the other exercises in the book to classroom use, it's only about 12 to 15 hours' worth of material. I have 28 timetabled hours to fill.

So, the book is all but discarded, and I have to create most of the activities and materials myself.

But the school likes the feedback I'm getting so much, they're asking me to do a course for a different group of students on the same topic next month.

Oh dear: it is supposed to be exactly the same course, using exactly the same book.

But at least it's only 15 hours this time.

Just ONCE before I leave this country, I'd like to work with someone who actually gives a damn about course design. I fear it's never going to happen.

This is (one of the reasons) why I do not like working for Chinese universities.

Bon mot for the week

"A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops."

Henry Brooks Adams (1838-1918)

Sunday, May 15, 2011

An important lesson

A couple of weeks ago, while trying to find some amusing pictures for a Cinco de Mayo post, I happened upon a selection of funny Mexican gravestones (it seems to be a well-established national genre).

I couldn't help but be reminded of this classic bit of Belloc. [And I am glad to have just now found a free edition of his poems to download in PDF.]

Lord Finchley

Lord Finchley tried to mend the Electric Light
Himself. It struck him dead: And serve him right!
It is the duty of the wealthy man
To give employment to the artisan.

Hilaire Belloc  (1870-1953)

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Foul play... or ill luck?

It appears the infuriating glitch I suffered with Blogger the other day may have been down to random gremlins in the system rather than culpable ineptitude on the part of the Google drones who maintain and update the facilities on the site.

The sudden scrambling of the account settings (changing my online username?! sacrilege!!!) was but the first in a veritable tsunami of anomalies - and Blogger was taken offline for a full 24 hours yesterday, while techies toiled to plug all the leaks. It's rather a relief to learn this. I had been starting to worry that perhaps my account had been individually hacked. (And - call me paranoid, if you will! - I wouldn't rule out the possibility that some of Blogger's problems were the result of malevolent interference by employees of the Chinese government. The CCP really does hate blogging that much!)

It appears the maintenance/repair job involved the ("temporary") loss of some data, as Blogger/Blogspot was rolled back to its Wednesday state, removing posts I'd put up on Thursday or Friday. I'm relieved to have got them back now. However, there have been a number of other irksome bugs: timestamps have been changed all over the place, some category tags have been strangely scrambled, 'scheduled' future posts (i.e., yesterday's haiku) did not appear at the specified time, and some recent comments have been deleted (and not yet restored).  Ggrrrr.

Still, at least we're back.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The weekly haiku

Sunlight so perfect,
The world seems joyous, carefree.
Soon it grows too hot.

We've had a couple of really perfect days this past week or so: too perfect to last.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Don't be evil!

And I'd say that 'evil' encompasses wanton mischief as well, Sergey. And staggering ineptitude and obtuseness that is likely to needlessly cause aggravation and inconvenience to others.

Yes, I am once again royally pissed off with Google. 

Some of their techie assclowns somehow decided a few days ago that it would be cool to tweak the account settings - without telling anyone - in such a way that your Google account, instead of displaying the online username that you've been using for years, would now show your actual first name from a completely different set of data.  WTF?

Really, chaps, you should never, never, NEVER change the way someone's personal information is accessed or displayed without giving them some say in the matter beforehand. For me, it is (I hope!) merely a brief annoyance. For some people (especially in the paranoid and repressive country in which I live), preserving one's online anonymity is essential to keeping oneself out of prison.

Google, you should be ashamed of yourselves. And I hope the assclowns responsible for this monumental screw-up are soon out of a job.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Say it in llama

  • t
  • h
  • e
  • d
  • a
  • l
  • a
  • i
  • l
  • a
  • m
  • a
  • i
  • s
  • r
  • e
  • a
  • l
  • l
  • y
  • a
  • v
  • e
  • r
  • y
  • n
  • i
  • c
  • e
  • c
  • h
  • a
  • p
  • .

A number of friends - knowing my llama-fetish (and, indeed, my Lama-fetish) - have sent me notes about this Llama Font site recently. Hours of fun. Days of procrastination.