Sunday, July 20, 2008

I'm currently reading The Man Who Was Thursday by GK Chesterton. Here's the dialogue of Syme getting recruited as an undercover detective.

"I really have no experience," he began.
"No one has any experience," said the other, "of the battle of Armageddon."
"But I am really unfit-"
"You are willing, that is enough," said the unknown.
"Well, really," said Syme, "I don't know any profession of which mere willingness is the final test.'
"I do," said the other- "martyrs."

This book expresses hatred of two advanced ideas of Chesterton's age (it was published in 1908). The advanced ideas are:
1. Good and evil are social constructions and not universal and sacred.
2. Great art must shock and upset people.

There are numerous passages that make you want to stop and applaud, or dog-ear the page as I did. Here are some:

he knew that his enemy was a terrible fighter, and that probably his last hour had come.
He felt a strange and vivid value in all the earth around him, in the grass under is feet; he felt the love of life in all living things. He could almost fancy that he heard the grass growing; he could almost fancy that even as he stood fresh flowers were springing up and breaking into blossom in the meadow - flowers blood-red and burning gold and blue, fulfilling the whole pageant of the spring.

The poor man really has a stake in the country. The rich man hasn't; he can go away to New Guinea in a yacht. The poor have sometimes ojected to being governed badly; the rich have always objected to being governed at all.

Oh, I could forgive you everything, you that rule mankind, if I could feel for once, that you had suffered a real agony, such as I-

As well as being thrilling, it's helped me crystallise some ideas that might help me finally get on with this second novella I'm trying to write. To place anarchism against conservatism; radicalism against moderation; youth against age; folk religion against strict orthodoxy; and see what comes out in the end. I think my time as a teacher and my recent trip to Ireland gave me a strong enough cast of characters, and a book of folk tales I read over a year ago gave me the skeleton of a story. So fingers crossed.

Oh, my Chinese blog is very slow an difficult to access on this proxy but it's

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Misconceptions of China

Those who travel to China form lots of misconceptions of the place and many take these misconceptions back to the mysterious West and spread them. I would like to balance out these malicious lies with some of my own.
They are all debatable but some are barely even matters of opinion.

Strangers approaching you speaking English=friendly
Strangers muttering about you in front of you=rude and uncultured

It's a common occurence, particularly in towns full of University Students to have young and attractive people approach you with the sentence "would you like me to be your translator?" or more bluntly "can I help you?"
Does this mean that they roam the streets all day offering help to able-bodied adults who appear to be minding their own business? or cripples, or beggars, or old ladies? I never even saw a Chinese person acknowledge a stranger who wasn't of foreign appearance.
As for those who talk about you in front of you, well that also happens to me in the English-speaking world, so it never really bothered me. But as I got to a level where I understood what most of them were saying I realised that things like "he's so handsome" and "I can't approach him, my English is fucking rubbish" are much more common than racial slurs (I'll get to racial slurs in a minute if I remember). It's if they go into the local dialect that they're probably taking the piss.

Many people lack inquisitiveness and initiative. This is the result of Communist tyranny, and more recently, vapid consumerism
Read up on ancient Chinese history and mythology. This is not an exclusively modern phenomenon. And is it really exclusively Chinese anyway?

Western style industrialisation/consumerism is stripping Chinese culture of everything that was once valuable about it
At both leaving parties in Longchuan, Students (aged 16-19) were pouring coke into paper cups and gan beiing* to the time about to pass and for the things that are yet to come. That's coca-cola or pepsi, there were both on the table. My mental image of them raising their cups and then draining them in unison is a very unusual real-life example of innocence and justifiable optimism.

Although Coke has been available in China for well under a century, and ganbeiing beer and baijiu dates back into the mists of time, the latter is unhealthy, unpleasant, and (as far as I'm aware) completely unnecessary.

*ask a Chinese friend what ganbeiing is.

Chinese people drive selfishly
They drive like idiots. Most drivers don't wear seatbelts, most motorcyclists don't wear helmets, and the lawlessness of the roads would disgust Sergio Leone. But clearly it's not selfish. It's more like, self-destructive.

Chinese people don't discuss, or express opinions on, major issues in public places
You just have to learn the language and enjoy earwigging other peoples' conversations to know that this is simply not true. As with anywhere, the majority of people prefer to chat shit about nothing than to put the world to rights.

In China, image and presentation are everything. Genuine quality is nothing
In history, for example during the SARS outbreak in 2003, obsession with keeping up appearances, has done great damage.
But just because some people live beyond their means (having lived in America I can't imagine anybody doing such a thing), and few people, however friendly, ever actually invite you into their living quarters. It's not necessarily because their living quarters are shamefully squalid, it might be because you have B.O.

Chinese girls (aged 16-25)fall neatly into two categories, traditional and westernized
Let's do an association of common words attached to these two archetypes:
TRADITIONAL-refined, virginal, uptight, remote, can sing but can't dance, hypocritical, virtuous, incorruptible, giggly, irritating
WESTERNISED-bubbly, promiscuous, talkative, honest, vibrant, confident, potentially mad, can dance but make white men look rhythmic, confident, giggly, irritating

I suppose I met a few girls who fell neatly into one category or the other, but people are much more interesting and adaptable than that.

Although appearance and face are very important in China, we should refrain from judging people by their appearance
Well, you shouldn't comlpetely judge anybody by their appearance, of course. But what about these guys who dye their hair orange and shape it like a pineapple. They've taken time and effort to look like a complete douche. Of course it says a lot about them.

There is a connection between the level of noise pollution and the fact that it's a totalitarian state
In any Chinese city, there is an obscene amount of noise from shouting, car horns, and really loud, really shit music.
In the early days, I thought this was because the subjects of a tyranny are frightened of the sound of their own thoughts. But then, I realised that the noise was made with consistency, regularity, and efficiency, so is probably not the responsibility of the Chinese Communist Party.

I'll get onto the issues of the role of the foreigner and the very real problem of racism, if and when I can be bothered.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

I'm off home tomorrow. I'm in Hong Kong now. It's two weeks since I wound up in Longchuan and I've been mostly ill since then. I've also started a blog in Chinese, so to those who are interested, I will post a link as soon as I know how.

I have however, (re)discovered the work of Ivor Biggun to prepare me for home.

Just as Longchuan is rel China, Ivor Biggun is real England. Bring it on

Wednesday, July 02, 2008


In one of his immortal sketches, George Carlin ranted about stuff.

Today, I had the end-of-term party for the other middle-school I teach in. The one on the other side of the river (tracks).

I gave a much lengthier speech in Chinese. Last time, the last few sentences were drowned out by applause, but this time everybody listened to every word. In the absence of a guitar, one of the Students held their MP3 player up to the microphone to impovise a karaoke session (in their school assembley hall).

The whole thing is indescribable.

Among the stuff I've been given, there are lots of traditional Chinese stuff, a map of China from a student called Shayne Ward (because I said I would love to travel China if I had the chance), and countless letters, cards and photographs.

It's all stuff that one can never wish to dispose of.