My year-end roundup last December proved to be quite a popular post, so I thought I'd attempt something similar this year.
What I was writing about in 2011
It was a year of milestones: I entered upon my tenth year of living in China; I passed my 100,000th official 'visitor' here on Froogville, and my 50,000th on The Barstool; both the blogs reached their 5th anniversaries. I celebrated this event with an account of how I came to be a blogger, and with a 'collecting box' post seeking readers' suggestions of their unusual super-power (along with an attendant 'Nemesis'). It was also the centennial of Irish humourist Brian O'Nolan, one of my favourite writers, and the 25th anniversary of Nothing To My Name, a landmark hit for the founding figure of Chinese rock'n'roll, Cui Jian.
There were dark clouds at times in 2011. My artist friend Wu Yuren went through a faltering, oft-adjourned fiasco of a trial, without any verdict being reached, and spent the first three months of the year in a detention centre - making a total of 10 months that he was kept away from his family - before finally being released. An online friend was injured in the Tucson shooting in January. I had some serious health worries of my own through the middle of the year. And, much as I try to resist getting too serious or too topical on here, I was unable to avoid making some observations on the sickening Foshan hit-and-run incident in October.
Other more earnest posts - but leavened, I hope, with some wry humour - included further denunciations of Twitter (and its Chinese version, Weibo), and the ghastly e-book phenomenon; a disturbing parallel between the last years of the Qianlong Emperor and present times; grumps about the Chinese censors' assault on Witopia (only very briefly successful) and the meltdown of Beijing's subway system; an exposé of a widespread misperception about the size of the customer base for China's Internet giant Tencent; and a Cassandra-like warning on the longer-term prospects for the Chinese economy. I also pondered dejectedly on the Jasmine Revolution's failure to materialise (although this did suggest to me a promising concept for a new bar), remained resolutely unexcited about the 90th birthday party for the Chinese Communist Party, and identified the mass exodus of the Chinese upper-middle class as one of the key safety valves that is deferring possible revolution.
Quirkier China observations included my discovery of how Beijing massage parlours are able to offer sexual services legally; a life-affirming good taxi driver experience (particularly welcome in a year in which Beijing's taxi service has declined alarmingly); a bar owner friend improvising a risky remedy for a fizzled firework fuse; the TV watchdog trying to ban time travel; and the realisation that one of the reasons Chinese universities are rubbish is that they don't encourage enough frivolity among the student body. I declined to purchase some sausages that were 5 months past their use-by date, witnessed some panic-buying of salt after the Fukushima nuclear accident, and discovered that there is a special word for the Chinese propensity to eat things you really shouldn't. I also encountered China's (possibly the world's) worst-dressed woman, observed an unusual game of cards, discovered some very odd toys, and experienced a flood of nostalgia for outdoor pool tables. I enjoyed an inflammatory cartoon about a 'rabbit rebellion', and learned that the Chinese word for 'rabbit' has a very unfortunate homophone (this has been The Year of the Rabbit, in the Chinese zodiac system). And I compiled a list of the Chinese words likeliest to gain adoption into global English.
In the realm of work, I have been dismayed at the thoroughgoing incompetence of Chinese lawyers. I have continued to be appalled (but unsurprised) at Chinese academics' inability to distinguish between different types of source, their exuberant mixing of metaphors, their transparent plagiarising, their rampant redundancy, and their hybristic belief that they can interpret subtle nuances of Western popular culture (even the jokes in South Park!!). I was particularly vexed by a chap who managed to conflate four or five different uses of the word 'enlightenment'. And I've wondered whether any of this might be helped by the introduction of a 'Causal Friday'.
I have begun to feel pangs of homesickness (or perhaps just China ennui, or more specifically a growing disenchantment with Beijing), and have contemplated trying to walk back to the UK (my restless wanderlust, I realise, can be attributed to a formative childhood influence). I've also considered relocating to somewhere less stressful in China (I've even got a house in mind); or perhaps opening a bar of my own (in Malaysia!).
In a review of my Googlewhackiness, I listed some of the unlikely search terms that will guide you to my blogs. A walk in the country nearly ended in death. One of my dreams was enchantingly musical (or musically enchanting); another was all about bars. I turned up a satirical quip about the slack morals of foreigners in Shanghai, crashed the China Potato Expo, learned how to gauge the mood of llamas, and was disturbed by an unfortunate juxtaposition of businesses next to my holiday hotel. I've shared my thoughts on barrister's wigs, reflected on all the more exotic places than Beijing in which I might have lived, demonstrated why nobody really wants to see any of my photographs, reminded you of the importance of being careful with electricity, been disappointed that The Rapture once again failed to occur, discovered some fascinating patterns in inter-disciplinary crossover in American academe, realised the disturbing fact that all my favourite films end with the death of the protagonist, and sketched out a treatment for an action film about EFL teachers starring Jason Statham.
In a surge of nostalgia for my 1970s childhood, I enrolled TV commercial siren Valerie Leon and delectable actress Jane Seymour among my 'Fantasy Girlfriends'. I also - rashly! - attempted to set out in some detail the template for my ideal woman/real-life girlfriend.
I assembled a number of different versions of Bohemian Rhapsody (bluegrass band Hayseed Dixie's was particularly enjoyable) for a video post. I was reminded that the Theme From Shaft is an irresistible cure for depression (ironically enough, Led Zeppelin's Black Dog may be an even better one; but I haven't got around to posting that yet). The song Be Like A Duck I have also found to be a great stress-buster, and to encapsulate valuable life advice. I celebrated St Patrick's Day with some classic versions of the Scots/Irish farewell song, The Parting Glass. I discovered a wonderfully strange guitar. This tribute to film composer John Williams (by Salt Lake City a cappella comedy group Moosebutter) is splendid too. And finally, I shared a list of my favourite amusing album names, and another of favourite movie songs (ones that - strangely! - hadn't made it into the American Film Institute's 'Top 100')
On the poetry front, we began the year with some painfully apposite lines from T.S. Eliot. I have also flaunted my classical education by offering up poems of my own inspired by Xenophon and Horace, and I have made a cup of tea for Mr Death.
In the world of my bar blog, I enjoyed one nearly perfect day, met Lassie, discovered an unlikely new drinking role model, and rescued the world's ugliest kitten. I have learned an interesting fact about the history of lager making, been reminded how wonderful Beer Lao is, and ventured briefly, bravely into what is in all probability Beijing's worst bar. I've mused on the important question of why all Norwegian women are gorgeous, and grumped about how obnoxious young Irishmen seem to have become in the last couple of decades. I reflected on the evolution of my bar-hopping habits in Beijing, grouched about excessive booze prices here (a call-to-arms which has gone sadly ignored!), explained why I have fallen so decisively out of love with Dos Kolegas (once my favourite music bar), and recalled some of my most embarrassing 'morning after' experiences.
Among the Barstool posts of rather broader interest, I have produced an important bon mot on the usefulness of drink, and shared more of my wisdom on hangovers. I've also discussed the etiquette of where to stand in the men's toilet, suggested how the expat magazines might improve their 'Bar of the Year' polls, advised on how to hold a successful music festival, discoursed on the essence of the stag party, identified some overlooked or unexpected failings of many bars and restaurants, and formulated some simple Rules of Drinking.
Solid gold, all of that. Well, most of it.
Do dip in at random, if you're a first-time visitor here - or if you missed any of this stuff first time around.