Tuesday, December 13, 2005

As the pace of life here settles and I stop having so many new experiences during the weekdays, the number of posts is likely to drop off a little too. I'm hoping to keep exploring at the weekends as much as possible though this weekend was pretty relaxed. Sunday was spent sitting in a cafe, reading a book and drinking extortionately priced
coffee. Just a year or so ago it was virtually impossible to get good coffee out here. Now it's pretty easy but there's still a great niche market with a huge potential. The Chinese taste is slowly being weaned onto the caffeine punch and with 13 million people still to get the buzz, there's a lot of room in the market place.

It turns out that there's a little more method in the madness to these Chinese characters than I first realised. It means that, while it's pretty difficult to remember them, there is a structure which makes it marginally easier than the random mess I first imagined. Most Chinese characters contain several parts which themselves have a meaning. Often there are just two parts. The first one gives an idea about what the word means and the second gives an idea of the pronunciation. For instance, the word for 'they' (feminine) is given by (symbol for woman)(symbol for also)(symbol for
person)(the sound-men).

The word is tamen, so even if you'd never seen the word before, you'd have a chance of guessing what it means and could at least get the second half of the sound. Saying that, the word has ten different pen strokes but at least it can be broken down. I think I've got the 15 words given to me last week now but I shall find out tomorrow.

Another photo from Friday evening. Most people had left by this point but it was a nice crowd. The beard is now in full bloom!

Pan, one of the guys who was out with us over the weekend has a great way of describing the intonations which I still find difficult to master (Ranger's command - Woody Guthrie). He's very into his music and so explains the intonation by conducting as he says a phrase. I may look a little strange waving my arms about as I speak but I'd rather do that than leave my hairdressers with a tonsure!

Because I don't have enough on my plate at the moment, I've just arranged an interview with an English language tutoring company. I hope to give a couple of hours a week tutoring which should fund my weekends. I really hadn't realised that going to bars was such an odd concept to a lot of Chinese people. Several of the Beijingers who came out with us on Friday night had never been to a bar and if they had, not more than a couple of times. I think some of them thought it a bit odd that the Westerners were all drinking beer while they sipped on their Chinese tea. A very friendly group but with a completely different idea of socialising. That said, we had a reasonable amount to talk about and will be seeing some of them again this coming weekend. It appears that not only am I shaking up the department but I'm corrupting the hardworking native Beijing population. Phill, you've taught me well!

Sunday was spent mostly trying to find places which were warmer than my apartment. Builders came around early on Sunday morning to fix the holes in my door. They managed this but with the side effect that my door is now more window than door. I'm not too bothered as I'm not planning to laze around on my balcony any time soon.


China clearly likes its unity and coherence. This is good in some ways but has detrimental affects in others. One of the strange things that I learnt when I arrived is that China is a single time-zone. If you look on a map, it should really span five time-zones but for the sake of unity, it is the same time everywhere in China. This must make things pretty odd in the far West which is furthest off the time that it really should be. When they get up, presumably it stays dark for an extra three or four hours in the morning. Apparently they tried to split it up into timezones but people were confused and the system soon failed. Anyway, another useless piece of China trivia for you there. (Mashin' on the motorway - DJ Shadow)

Incidentally, I've spoken before about the Chinese piracy problem. Within the universities there is an industry of copying textbooks. It's a difficult one though. The students simply can't afford the genuine books but I feel bad condoning the action. I guess the publishers need to set up deals with countries in which the students can't hope to own the original article otherwise. This has been done with at least one of the major academic publishers.

At the moment a single small street here renowned for selling fake clothes is being sued for around half a billion dollars by the likes of Gucci, Prada, Ralph Lauren etc. I'm guessing they will fall into the blackhole of the Chinese legal system.


Yesterday's lunch was an offally big surprise! A hotpot of untold depths of variety in both taste and texture. I am finding some things difficult to eat but I'm determined to get over what is clearly an artificial dislike of certain sensations. If a country of 1.3 billion can enjoy a bit of tripe as if it were a fine fillet of steak, I want a piece of the action.

Today's lunch was a fine plate of this. It's pretty tough to get any poultry anywhere here at the moment and this is a pretty good alternative.

Anyway, must get back to the Chinese studies.


Uncle pee said...

Well Grasshopper so you are thinking of opening a verion of centralperk in Beijing?(for the central aim of spreading jitters and late night conversation ). I like your toad though apparently licking is better than biting with some species.

kayossity said...

Your food intake is toadily astonishing. Don't you dare start reversing cultural norms and bring such delicacies as tripe to the bars and restaurants of the UK when you're back here!

Archibald. E. E. E. Eph said...

Toad? Ye gods shock. Eating your own shoes has gotta be better than that. Good to chat on Sunday.

Jonathan Shock said...

I think I have enough on my plate without attempting to start a cafe but for any business minded people, I'm sure that Beijing is a place full of trends that are only in their beginning stages. From what I understand, business out here can be pretty infuriating if you're used to Western practices but I'm sure anyone with enough business sense could make a killing out here.

Alas, it's not toad, merely bullfrog. Toad I am yet to sample.

I'm generally not averse to tripe. I wasn't too keen on the raw tripe I ate in a sushi bar but other than that, it's palatable when prepared well.

Anonymous said...

whats going on with the singer in the background? she looks like shes in the middle of a severe heart attack and about to drop to the ground whilst you guys all smile and look radiant for the camera!! wheels x

Jonathan Shock said...

It's fine, it was just a mild heart attack. That's what you get for trying to bring back 80s camp I'm afraid.