Tuesday, November 29, 2005

I wrote about it briefly in my last post but am suddenly hit by how powerful having my music here is emotionally. I don't claim to know a great deal about music but I have an eclectic taste (as has almost everybody I've ever asked, it's become a bit of a non-question). As I sit here, headphones on, Veridis Quo by Daft Punk fades into This is not America by Bowie (direct from KW) I feel entirely contented. There are things that I'm slightly worried about in terms of work. Nothing to lose sleep over but some unanswered questions for the coming couple of years, but generally I'm very happy out here. Perhaps because I'm not in deepest rural China, sure, life here is different, there are things to get wound-up about and I'm sure that some of them will become more trying as time goes on, but generally this place is full of normal folk, going about their daily business. This is often in a substantially different way from back home and life's priorities are weighted very differently. Perhaps the sudden influx of freedom into society here has been so fast that people are becoming tied up in what they can get out of it. From what I've seen and chatted to people (Chinese included) about the situation, China is faced with problems of selfishness for several reasons. One of these which the government is seriously worried about is down to the fact that a generation is coming into power who have grown up as single children who have always had everything they've ever wanted. It's thought of as a somewhat uncontrollable generation. I guess this must be a combination of the upbringing and because the freedom to do what you want really is there now where it wasn't before. I'm not writing this to bad mouth the Chinese, I just say this as social commentary from what I see and hear here. The Chinese I've come into contact with in shops and taxis, in the office and on the campus have all been wonderful and even given the language barrier are generally willing to try with a bit of sign language. The selfishness however is also seen in another large aspect of life and in a different guise but again probably related to new found freedoms. Driving in taxis here or walking along the street, people push and shove and duck and weave through the traffic but at least fifty percent of the time this ends of with two people wanting to be in the same space. People are rarely willing to budge in this situation and consequently time is wasted for everyone. Someone needs to teach the Chinese some Game Theory. This is certainly not the case between people who know each other. In that case generosity is exuded at all possible opportunities. Doors are held open, seats are offered, assistance is given without asking and at the end of a meal there is always a competition for who will pay the bill. This usually lasts for a good few minutes of wallets being thrust towards a waiter or waitress until someone gives in and the bill is paid by the heaviest hand. It's a strange dichotomy which perhaps is related to the combination of the need to network and build firm relations and partly to do with showing how much of a modern capitalist member of society an individual has managed to become.

Now, three and a bit weeks in, I'm feeling reasonably settled and in a somewhat contemplative mood, possibly due to the music (currently from Bricolage by Amon Tobin), possibly because I'm over a fairly big hurdle having given my talk with reasonable success last week, possibly because I've just worn myself out at the gym and am too weary to do anything else, but probably because the day to day routine is now becoming just that and a reasonably enjoyable one. I'm now pretty used to the long hours though I may be corrupting my peers with trips to the local cafe, pad of paper in hand to chat about our crazy ideas. Apart from writing my next talk for this Saturday I have to think about how to teach a class of 15 students, most of whom are unconfident with their spoken English, to chat without intimidating them completely. There are some great online resources for TEFL and I've got a few ideas of games to
play but any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Sunday was indeed as relaxed and lazy as I'd hoped and apart from writing e-mails and chatting to people online, I spent some time blogsurfing. I was reading the blog of a friend from TASI who spoke a while ago about our information dependency and I certainly feel that (The Galaxy song by Monty Python - Marvelous) I now have a craving for a fast buzz of information input that can be quickly incorporated in the ever increasing web of useless but fascinating connections that is my own view of the web and the wider world. Blogsurfing is the perfect way to get a quick fix of random information from somebody else's worldview, often banal, frequently tedious but sometimes fascinating, intriguing and wonderfully written. I love to read people enthuse about subjects. Even subjects that don't interest me greatly. I'm no football fan by any stretch of the imagination but to read a newspaper article about George Best from a true aficionado who understood the genius of a man who I've never appreciated and could articulate his god-like skills made me understand for a minute how important this man had been.

Another example came from a man whom I know some detest. I was reading Jeremy Clarkson's article about the Bugatti Veyron (the first road car to break 1000bhp). This was similarly uplifting to hear someone enthuse about something that they clearly love like they've never loved before. Also fascinating from an engineering point of view as at over 250mph keeping the thing on the ground is a Herculean task.

Anyway, in fact the thing that got me thinking about all this was found through a long and complicated path through blogspace (On the sunny side of the street by Louise Armstrong). I came across this site by a woman called Sara, from New Jersey who I guess is a writer but I loved her bizarre, loose style of writing which sounds like a strange mix of A Clockwork Orange and Ulysses mixed with a dash of Hunter S Thompson and BB King! Anyway, if you have some time to read something that you may enjoy from a purely literary aesthetic point of view or it may mean nothing to you, have a look at her blog. There are also many other authors, artists and miscellaneous characters linked from her blog, many of whom are also worth a read (I am a rock by Simon and Garfunckle).

Anyway, and so to bed as the bulldozers move in for another night of anything but dozing (Run Fay Fun by Isaac Hayes).

4 comments:

Tarka Whispersnick said...

I read the Clarkson piece on the Veyron and enjoyed it. You might have hit upon something here, Biscuit. If the best written pieces from across the board (papers, mags, books, reviews, etc.) were gathered together in one yearly collection, people would buy that. Some publications, such as The London Review of Books and the Economist do something similar, but they don't reap the full spectrum of written material. It could be like an annual 'best of written' and would appeal to people who, like you and I, like learning about a disparate collection of things through well-written pieces. I wonder...

Sara said...

Thanks for the kind mention. I'm right there with you--I'll read about any topic, even cars or football which interest me little, if it's done rich in detail and with heart. I was thinking about that as I read the first part of your post about being in China, wondering why I was so engaged, given I don't know you. Will be back. Oh, and, I love that Bricolage album.

Jonathan Shock said...

TK, sounds like an interesting idea. It would just take a like minded group of people to keep an eye out for interesting writing about any subject that sparks the imagination. If people fancy e-mailing links to articles like this I can at least collate them. At the moment with such long days I wouldn't feel I had the freedom to do anything with them but at least I could act as a repository.

Jonathan Shock said...

Sara, no problem, I hope that's OK to link to your page. I'm pleased that people are finding my random thoughts and commentary intriguing and will continue to write as long as I come across information and experiences that seem worth sharing - unlikely to stop any time soon.