Saturday, April 29, 2006

Muffled Brains Siesta Peacefully

Shoes are polished and ready to go

Saturday afternoon and I'm in the office. In fact, today everyone is in the office. We have a national holiday starting on Monday for a week but in exchange we're expected to be in work over the weekend. Can't argue with that I guess!

Everyone else seems to be gently swimming through the corridors having polished off half a pint each at lunch. The legendary Chinese constitution is not to be overestimated. Though I sat at lunch surrounded almost entirely by Mandarin getting more and more freeflowing as the centilitres crept down, I was involved in a brief conversation about whether I wanted to join The Party. It took a little persuading to inform them that they shouldn't start sending off the forms just yet. Pretty soon all will be asleep and I shall be able to work in a blissful silence.

In the mean time as the giggles reverberate I shall post some minor distractions.

A friend of mine here just had a driving test, but driving lessons here are unlike those in the UK and as far as I can tell it's all a bit barmy. Lessons are held in driving schools in specially designed model roads where there aren't the distractions of pesky motorists. All lessons are held here until the exam...which is also held here. This is all reasonable as for a learner, Beijing roads would be a pretty scary place. Though in a comment after staying here my mother mentioned that the drivers were incredibly skillful, this doesn't detract from the fact that we saw six accidents in the first week (In fact strangely this is only one more than I've seen in my whole six months here).

So, in order to save the learner's poor nerves, they never see a real road until they pass the test. Then once they've proved that they can turn corners, reverse park and emergency stop in the quiet confines of a driving school, they are let out on the chaotic roads for the first time, on their own. For anyone who has seen Beijing roads, this is an utterly terrifying thought. The first part of this sequence makes sense; it would be ridiculous to head straight into a Beijing rush hour the first time you get behind the wheel but to never see a real road until you pass says something deep about the priorities of safety out here. Curiouser and curiouser.

So, second book of the holiday was Kundera's 'The Joke'. His first novel and as I mentioned when I started it he had a great deal of trouble getting it published in a satisfactory translation
from within the confines of his occupied Czechoslovakia. It's a strange book and a lot of the structure of his later writing is there in a somewhat more clumsy but simultaneously raw form. The multiple stories which inevitably link, the themes of Czech politics and folk history and the sexual tension (often brewing to tempestuous frustration) are all there. He starts with several disconnected stories jumping backwards and forwards in time making a web of links which are only filled in late in the book. The individual stories are interesting but the vital links are left till the last minute. This means that they have an impact when you see them but at the same time the ends feel like they've been dangling freely for rather too long by this point. Still remarkable as a first novel and an interesting read but without the ingeniousness (often self-conscious) that he used later in his writing.

Dr Dan the mathematical neuroscientist has headed back to Canada after a big night out on Thursday. Depending on whether the authorities suspect that his fever is bird flu or not, he may be in a small room in Beijing airport being questioned about his poultry contact. Having mentioned that even as a string theorist my reading of scifi was pretty nonexistent I've been given an electronic pile of Phillip K Dick novels which I'm working through and will comment on when appropriate.

OK, all is quiet, I'll get on with some work...

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