Friday, April 27, 2007

Time warp

My job, and that of those around me is, in theory, to tackle some of the deepest questions about the universe around us, both on the largest and the smallest scales, to gain a true understanding of the nature of reality and to discover what are the underlying structures of the amazing phenomena we see in nature. Whoever, as far as I know nobody has tried to solve the strangest puzzle of them all: how on Earth did it get to Friday already? Yet again I'm at a loss to know where the middle days of the week vanished to. I've checked my Mathematica files and my LaTeX scripts and some of them are indeed date stamped with the intervening time period, but like an ancient mathematical riddle Monday+Friday seems to equal a full five days. I'm at a loss.

Anyway, however we got here, Friday arrived although the weekend is not upon us, at least here in Beijing. The 1st of May marks the start of a one week holiday and, as always, we must work the preceding weekend to earn our rest. The holiday starts on Tuesday so we still have a bit of a slog until we're given our respite.

This morning I spent interviewing nine candidates for various positions at the KITPC, from management to computer administration. My job was simply to spend time with the candidates before the official interviews (a 15 minute presentation in front of 20 or so members of staff) to chat informally and gauge their English level. It doesn't seem appropriate to make any comments on the results, but it was another interesting insight into life here and an enjoyable morning spent talking with the prospective employees.

I still need to give full reviews of the concerts last week but before I talk about the music I wanted to mention the strange phenomenon of Chinese crowds I encountered. ...

It's no secret that the Chinese are not known for their queueing skills. As a Brit I spend a good amount of my time in queues and think that it's a jolly good way to wile away my hours. Here in China any queue which forms through random, chaotic processes tends to disintegrate within a few seconds. I find it frustrating that when I'm trying to buy a ticket, get my lunch or wait for the train, the only way I've found to get what I want is to stand my ground very firmly, which is sometimes a strain for the blood pressure levels. I haven't found myself pushing people yet, but it's been close on occasion.

Before the Sonic Youth gig we were supposed to have a show from one of Beijing's top rock bands - Carsick Cars, who I haven't seen before, though the guitarist had been accompanying Elliott Sharp the previous week. All 1000+ of us piled into the venue a little after 7 on Monday evening waiting for the 7.30 start of the support band. But we waited and waited, with the occasional blur of a guitarist or roadie seen through the door at the back, but nothing more than that...for two and a half hours. Standing in a concert venue for two and a half hours with nothing to see isn't my idea of fun (no orderly line, you understand). What amazed me, however, was that had this been in England, land of patient, needless queuing, there would probably have been a riot within half an hour of the band's absence and a painful chorus of 'why are we waiting' would have kept people going until blood was spilt. However, here in China, where my toes are constantly stepped on when waiting for my baozi for breakfast by an overly eager security guard or impatient school kid, there was an eery calm and complete acceptance of the situation. Some of the Westerners in the crowd attempted to start a round of calls for the band, but they just sounded a bit out of place.

I wonder how much longer the crowd would have stayed patient. The way things were going I couldn't see the calm breaking for some considerable time to come. Lesson learnt: Queuing is a no-go here but patience is a true Chinese virtue!

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