Sunday, May 31, 2009
Saturday, May 30, 2009
"I'm a Derek. Dereks don't run."
Must answer me these questions three
'Ere the other side he see."
Update: I've now posted the answers here.
Friday, May 29, 2009
no longer home, but prison.
Five years in same place!
Thursday, May 28, 2009
They are being robbed.
We've been burgled.
I've had something stolen (from me).
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Monday, May 25, 2009
Sunday, May 24, 2009
Poem XXXIV ('Heraclitus')
Εἰπέ τις, Ἡράκλειτε, τεὸν μόρον ἐς δέ με δάκρυ
ἤγαγεν ἐμνήσθην δ᾿ ὁσσάκις ἀμφότεροι
ἠέλιον λέσχῃ κατεδύσαμεν. ἀλλὰ σὺ μέν που,
ξεῖν᾿ Ἁλικαρνησεῦ, τετράπαλαι σποδιή,
αἱ δὲ τεαὶ ζώουσιν ἀηδόνες, ᾗσιν ὁ πάντων
ἁρπακτὴς Ἀίδης οὐκ ἐπὶ χεῖρα βαλεῖ. Callimachus (c. 310-240 BCE)
A famous Victorian translation of this follows below. It's a telling illustration of the conciseness of the Greek language that Cory's version is pretty nearly twice as long. The phrase I so love - ἠέλιον λέσχῃ κατεδύσαμεν - is very nicely rendered by him, but the original has a forceful simplicity about it: "we sank the sun with talk". ('Nightingales' - ἀηδόνες - is generally taken to be the title of a book of poems by the writer's deceased friend, Heraclitus; but I've always preferred to think that it is just an evocative metaphor for poems or poetry. Perhaps Cory thought so too, since he didn't capitalise it.)
They told me, Heraclitus, they told me you were dead;
They brought me bitter news to hear and bitter tears to shed;
I wept as I remembered how often you and I
Had tired the sun with talking and sent him down the sky.
And now that thou are lying, my dear old Carian guest,
A handful of grey ashes, long, long ago at rest,
Still are they pleasant voices, thy nightingales awake;
For Death, he taketh all away, but them he cannot take.
William Johnson Cory (1823-1892)
(for Aidan Higgins)
'The world is everything that is the case',
From the fly giving up in the coal-shed
To the Winged Victory of Samothrace.
Give blame, praise, to the fumbling God
Who hides, shame-facedly, His aged face;
Whose light retires behind its veil of cloud.
The world, though, is also so much more -
Everything that is the case imaginatively.
Tacitus believed mariners could hear
The sun sinking into the western sea;
And who would question that titanic roar,
The steam rising, wherever the edge may be?
Derek Mahon (1941-)
Friday, May 22, 2009
Censors win by accident.
Drowning in treacle.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
"What did you do last night?"
"You must have done something."
"And what did you do at home?"
"Which TV programme did you watch?"
"Oh, what was the score?"
Monday, May 18, 2009
Winston Churchill (1874-1965)
Henry Steele Commager (1902-1998)
Harry Belafonte (1927- )
Saturday, May 16, 2009
Friday, May 15, 2009
Thursday, May 14, 2009
I perused the instruction booklet in some detail (a habit I suppose I'd carried over from my earlier experience with board-based strategy games; although, in fact, computer game booklets rarely tell you anything of any use at all in playing the game, outside of the basic control functions).
That is how I became aware of the very striking Ms Folta, a lady who would otherwise have passed completely under my radar.
Funnily enough, I never did get around to playing the Wolfenstein game (although you can find more information about it here, if this is the kind of thing that interests you.)
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
It reminded me of a favourite line - on relationships and matrimony - from one of those roundups of 'Cute things kids say' that was circulating on the Internet a few years ago: "If you're going to get married, it's important that you should like some of the same things. Like, if you like watching sports.... she should like it that you like watching sports. And bring you chips'n'dip."
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Monday, May 11, 2009
(Zǒu wéi shàng cè)
"If all else fails, retreat."
Sunday, May 10, 2009
Softly, in the dusk, a woman is singing to me;
Taking me down the vista of years, till I see
A child sitting under the piano, in the boom of the tingling strings
And pressing the small, poised feet of a mother as she sings.
In spite of myself, the insidious mastery of song
Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong
To the old Sunday evenings back home, with the winter outside
And hymns in the cosy parlour, the tinkling piano our guide.
So now it is vain for the singer to burst into clamour
With the great black piano appassionato. The glamour
Of childish days is upon me, my manhood is cast down
In the flood of remembrance, I weep like a child for the past.
D.H. Lawrence (1885-1930)
Walking the suburbs in the afternoon
In summer when the idle doors stand open
And the air flows through the rooms
Fanning the curtain hems,
You wander through a cool elysium
Of women, schoolgirls, children, garden talks,
With a schoolboy here and there
Conning his history book.
The men are all away in offices,
Committee-rooms, laboratories, banks,
Or pushing cotton goods
In Wick or Ilfracombe.
The massed unanimous absence liberates
The light keys of the piano and sets free
Chopin and everlasting youth,
Now, with the masters gone.
And all things turn to images of peace,
The boy curled over his book, the young girl poised
On the path as if beguiled
By the silence of a wood.
It is a child's dream of a grown-up world;
But soon the brazen evening clocks will bring
The tramp of feet and brisk
Fanfare of motor horns
And the masters come.
Edwin Muir (1887-1959)
Saturday, May 09, 2009
Fresh dead fish!
Friday, May 08, 2009
banishing sleep and comfort -
Thursday, May 07, 2009
Wednesday, May 06, 2009
Tuesday, May 05, 2009
Monday, May 04, 2009
Sunday, May 03, 2009
Saturday, May 02, 2009
Friends of friends
Hanging out in bars
Addendum: Well, I never did get around to writing the contemplated follow-up post on this - although, in reviewing this a few years on, I realise I did touch on most of the peripheral points I'd wanted to cover about the nature of friendship (and the difficulty of establishing really close friendships with the Chinese) in this post, or in subsequent comments below.
One unusual practical difficulty in maintaining Chinese friendships is the extraordinary volatility - and mobility - in the employment market here. People job-hop like crazy: especially in their first few years out of college, young Chinese seem to think nothing of changing jobs at least once a year, sometimes even within a few months (they're not in thrall to our Western notion that you have to stick something out for at least two or three years to prove you've got loyalty and staying power!). And even a bit later on into their careers, it seems to be quite common for people to jump every two or three years. It has frequently been a problem for me in winning repeat contracts for training seminars that the HR director who first hired me has moved on somewhere else less than a year later (strangely often, in fact, before I've even finished delivering the initial contract!).
And of course, when people switch jobs, they quite often switch cities as well. I suppose most of the well-educated high-achievers I get to meet aspire to have a chance to work overseas - or, in many cases, to emigrate permanently. Most of those that stay in China will gravitate to more commercially vibrant centres like Shanghai, Guangzhou, or Hong Kong.
This high level of mobility conspires with an unfortunate distaste for using e-mail. I don't think the Chinese like using e-mail even in their own language (perhaps because it can be slightly laborious writing characters via a keyboard); they're certainly highly resistant to using it in English. They all seem to prefer the IM format (the predominant platform here is called QQ), which I've never got into. It took me a while to twig just how big a problem this is, but... one of the main reasons I haven't been able to maintain many long-term Chinese friendships is that the Chinese rely mostly on their work e-mail address, they switch jobs every year or two, and they seldom if ever remember to notify their address book contacts of their new work e-mail. It is an exasperating phenomenon: I've lost touch with dozens of people this way.
A more general cultural obstacle, I think, is that Chinese folks just don't fit in with Western styles of socialising. They expect parties to highly structured, rather than free-form minglers; they like to have formal introductions to anyone they don't know; lots of organised activities, so that they won't be left having to make too much small talk; a timetable! They don't get on well with the much looser Western concept of a party, and will often be reluctant to attend unless they can bring a gaggle of their own friends with them.
They're not comfortable with Western bar culture either - whether it's because it's so alien to their experience or expectations within the culture they grew up with, or because many of them (regardless of experience) have an extremely low, often non-existent, physical tolerance to alcohol, or because they have too little disposable income to be able to afford a long evening in a bar. Even the few Chinese that do try to accommodate themselves to this lifestyle (it's become very trendy during the Nineties and Noughties, especially amongst university students and young professionals) tend not to drink nearly as much as most Westerners. And, as I noted in this post on my 'bar blog', Chinese taste in bars is radically different to that of Westerners - with the result that the great majority of bars, whether by accident or design, become almost exclusively Western or exclusively Chinese. [I prefer those bars that manage to achieve a good blend of the two communities in their custom, but it's a difficult trick to pull off; and it seems to be becoming increasingly rare.]
The Chinese concept of socialising seems to be exclusively restricted to eating out (which I love; but it can't be your only social outlet, every night of the week!), nightclubs and karaoke (which I hate).
There are other cultural incompatibilities as well: a typical ignorance or naivety - and often a deadening lack of curiosity - about life outside of China; a common 'chip on shoulder' insecurity about China's place in the world, and an attendant hair-trigger sensitivity on certain political issues (it is rather depressing how even quite educated and enlightened young Chinese, who often seem to be refreshingly open-minded about things like tolerance of homosexuality or calls for democratic reform and human rights improvements in China, can suddenly become knee-jerk nationalists over matters like the Senkaku Islands dispute); an occasional heavy-handedness in forcing their cultural values on you (things like having a host at a restaurant meal order all the food without consulting you at all, or insisting that you can never sip a drink without toasting or being toasted by someone really bug the crap out of me sometimes).... and, of course, the accelerated relationship timetable. (An American friend once explained it me thus: A Chinese girl isn't going to go on a second date with you unless she's decided to sleep with you. And she usually won't sleep with you unless she thinks that you're marriage material. So, by going on a second date together, she thinks you're expressing a willingness to get engaged. And she'll be wanting you to meet her parents on the third or fourth date, and making wedding plans before the end of the year. I feel he was exaggerating... but not by much.)
The combined impact of these many unfortunate factors explains, I think, why it is difficult for Westerners to form friendships with Chinese people here, and just about impossible to form any really close and lasting friendships with them.
But perhaps this isn't so strange, or so terrible. As I mentioned in the main post above, most of us have only a handful of truly close friends in our lives - probably fewer than ten in the innermost sanctum of the heart - and these tend to be people who are deeply compatible with us, in temperament, in interests, and in cultural background. I fear it is almost inconceivable that any Chinese person could attain that level of compatibility with a Westerner - not without spending several years overseas, anyway. Moreover, these very intimate friends of ours are mostly people that we met during particularly intense periods of our lives - at school, university, or at the outset of our professional career - and with whom we bonded especially closely because of some important shared experience, often a shared hardship. I think it becomes less and less likely that we will make such intimate friends after our mid-thirties - perhaps because our 'quota' is full up, or perhaps because we live life less intensely as we age. Whatever the reason, it just seems not to happen. And I was already pushing forty when I moved here.