Thursday, December 01, 2005

So, blogspot is no longer viewable here again. It's happened before and I've no doubt it will happen again but for now, generally it's impossible to see blogspot sites. Ask no questions I tell you, just read, comment, smile and act natural.

I'm now fully legal here, perhaps not entirely kosher but at least legal. It took less than five minutes to get my visa sorted out at the central Beijing police station, where they clearly deal with many thousands of people like me every day (now there's a terrifying thought).

I've discovered a new dimension in fully-immersive-movie-watching. I bought a couple of DVDs yesterday expecting that they may well be fakes. It's pretty tough to find the real thing here. As I mentioned before, even in the large department stores, the genuine and fakes are mixed together. The governemt has promised many times to sort out this problem but it's so widespread that the task is almost impossible. Anyway, one of the movies was Sin City which I didn't get a chance to catch at the cinema the first time round but heard rave revues from friends. I started watching and was a little surprised when I found that the first scene was in French but it sort of fitted the atmosphere of the scene so I carried on watching expecting it to flip to English any moment. It never did and turned out that the whole film was the dubbed French version with no option to switch. This was fine though as there were Engish subtitles. My French is a little rusty but not too bad and it quickly became apparent that the subtitles were a pretty poor imitation of the dialogue. In fact, after not too long I realised that the subtitles were for a different film entirely. In fact they were the subtitles to The Piano and had nothing to do with Sin City at all! It's truly a mind-expanding experience to watch a film, dubbed into another language with subtitles to a different film which frequently slips into Maori dialogue. I would take it back but there are some superb moments when people are being beaten to a pulp while being asked politely about their coming concert or falling out of windows contemplating whether they have their keys on them. Worth a watch I assure you.


They were neither blindfolded nor were they playing using their feet but I managed to win a couple of games of tabletennis yesterday. This was either down to the fact that I was humiliated in such a vast number of games that statistical fluctuations became noticable or that I'm such entertainment for them that they got together pre-match and pulled straws for who would lose to me in order to keep me returning for more punishment. Not sure as yet but it worked and I shall be returning next week.

I've been asked to continue noting the musical context within which I type so whenever you see a random song in brackets, that's why. Currently I'm not listening as I should really be working but it may happen in future posts.

I liked the idea of TK's of collating articles and material on diverse subjects written by enthusiastic people to create an annual 'best of written'. I don't have the time at the moment to do anything with the material but would be happy to act as a repository where people send me anything that they've read recently which they found enlightening/uplifting/bizzare or merely that they'd like to share with like-minded people. If you can think of a better way of doing this, please leave a comment or e-mail me and it would be good to discuss it. For now, I suggest that people send me links which I'll start collecting. I shan't censor the material at all and will just create a list of websites. Be sensible, but if you've find something that you'd like to share, send a link to me.

Another example of a strange Chinese nuance, this one left over from the times when the working structure of society was far more firmly fixed. At this time, people were given jobs almost at random. The pay was the same and there was little chance to change. You became an expert in your area and were supposed to know nothing about any other subject. I hadn't realised that this was the reason that in almost all restaurants here, there are many private rooms off the central area of the restaurant which are continuously used for business meetings. The reason is an historical one. Previously, if you were for instance the man who built the bridges it was thought of as pretty dangerous if you were speaking to the man who manufactured steel. You might exchange information which could make you start to think about better working practices, not a good thing! You two certainly shouldn't know anything about the other person's subject so if you were going to meet, you'd better do it in secret and where better than a private room, shut off from the rest of the world at a restaurant. This is the same reason that until recently, most private cars in China had blacked-out windows. Basically there is still a paranoia about who people are seen with. The blacked-out car windows has changed because people realised that you could see better with lighter windows but at the moment there's no evolutionary reason why restaurant practices should change so I guess it will stay like this for some time (Symphony no. 9 in E minor - Dvorak).

I've spoken about global warming in previous posts. This was in relation to the frequency of strong hurricanes in the South-Eastern US seaboard. In fact the crux of that discussion was that though it might appear obvious, it's actually pretty tough to find a strong scientifically verifiable (and that's the important point) link between the two. I wasn't indicating that I didn't believe that there was a link but just that scientific evidence appears to be pretty incoherent at the moment. Anyway, an interesting new article today about the fact that the Gulf stream currents have weakened by 30% over the last 12 years. This is a pretty startling number and with emmisions of greenhouse gasses showing little sign of reducing (especially with car markets beginning to boom in developing countries) (Cherry Blossom - Susumu Yokota), things are looking like getting pretty chilly over the next few decades. I mentioned it before but I really advise reading this cartoon about climate change (to be added to my list of interesting information that I think is worth reading).

Anyway, I'll stop there before I think of another entirely disconnected paragraph to add. My apologies to anyone who was expecting coherent prose.


Yi He said...

Hi Jon,

I'm becoming a big fan of your blog. I didn't have a chance to read all of your entries yet, but I'll try to do so when I have the time.

Your story about Sin City had me laughing out loud. You should certainly save it and show it to your friends back home when you get a chance. I should warn you in advance though, if you are caught carrying fake DVDs though custom, there will be a stiff fine. I don't know how often people are caught, but do so at your own risk.

I thought one of the main reasons that we just witnessed an unprecedented hurricane season in the Atlantic region is due to the rise in water temperature as a result of global warming. The intensity of a hurricane is directly related to ocean temperatures, thus the warmer waters allowed more tropical storms to be upgraded to hurricanes level. Is this still debated?

Jonathan Shock said...

Hi Yi,

many thanks, I really enjoy writing it as you can probably tell.

I spoke about the link between hurricane frequency and sea water temperature in a previously post (Friday, October 21, 2005). It does seem like the obvious link but things are a bit more complicated. Even though the average temperature in every ocean has increased over the last 30 years, the increases in intensity and frequency have only occured in the Atlantic basin. That's what I mean by scientifically verifiable. You make a hypothesis based on evidence and then test it. The test breaks down in the other 5 Ocean basins. It doesn't mean it's wrong, just that the link is more complicated than that.

Yi He said...

Here is a link to a good write up on global warming and the possible effects it has on hurrican/tropical storms.

Yi He said...

how do you get a link to work? I can't use the url tag....

Jonathan Shock said...

Unfortunately wikipedia is blocked over here which is a real pain as it's generally one of the pages I use most back in the UK.

Remember that though Wiki is a superb tool and resource, its strength is also its weakness. Any information from a wiki site should be taken with due skepticism (though with links to appropriate papers this is lessened). My problem with the climate debate at the moment is that there seems to be so much conflicting evidence. My instict is that global warming and storm statistics must be linked but until I stop seeing negative evidence I will remain on the fence. I don't think that this is my unwillingness to decide but my scientific background saying that science should be driven by firm evidence and not strong belief. The evidence on Wikipedia does seem strong but I've read an opposing view very recently. All of this being said, I do believe, however strong the evidence is, that we need to do something about reducing emmisions now rather than when complete concensus is reached and it's far too late.