Monday, October 12, 2009

Business Card Storage: I have the technology.

I have been learning a little about Chinese etiquette. If someone compliments you, it is important to dismiss it, and not accept it. I like this, and since it is my natural tendency to do this anyway, think I shall find it very easy to adapt to this aspect of Chinese life.

The presentation of business cards is also important. They must be admired and looked at thoroughly before being put away. They must be handled by the edges, and the front (as Brian Clegg has pointed out) must face the receiver, and when the receiver finally does put them away they must go into a special wallet. Luckily Hodmandod Senior already has one of these special wallets, and has just gone through it taking all his old cards out so mine might go in. This has caused him to spend some time reflecting on the good 'ol days, when the place he worked for had a library and he could look stuff up in journals, and there were people around him occupied in similar cerebral activities, and he would make discoveries... and life was good.

Poor Hodmandod Senior - all that has changed now. One by one all the research scientists have left; and where there were once hundreds there will very soon be just Hodmandod Senior alone.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Buzz, the Roar and the Fight for Sleep.

I thought I was hearing the distant railway; I'd wake in the middle of the night and wonder why I could hear trucks shunting around then stopping, then shunting around again.

Over the last few weeks the humming has been louder. Recently it has woken me, and once awake I'd lie there listening; in the quiet of the middle of the night the sound seemed loud enough to make the inside my head pulsate. I'd get up, walk around in the darkness and hope it would go. To distract myself I'd switch on my computer and search the internet for cures. Instead I read of stories of whistles, of buzzes, of people moving house, being driven mad, even yearning for the eternal final quietness instead of this hell that accompanies whatever they do. It made me feel lucky that mine was only discernible at night, and quiet enough to be drowned out by the hum of my ordinary activities during the day.

The causes, apparently, are many: blood in some artery that comes too close, ear wax on the eardrum, infection of the inner and middle ear, stress and anxiety, malfunctions of the eustachian tubes (the small tubes that connects the ear to the nose), tumours (rare), a hereditary condition, and an odd side-effect of age-related deafness.

On Thursday I went to the doctor and he ruled out my favoured (because that is easily rectified) diagnosis: ear-wax . Instead he told me to make an appointment with the audiologist at the practice, so I shall have my hearing tested when I come back from China. In the meantime I am inhaling aromatic oils (because Hodmandod Senior is convinced it is something to do with my eustachian tubes) and going to sleep with the aid of 'pink noise' downloaded from the web into my ipod. This works well although the earphones make my ears sore after a few hours.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Deriving My Chinese Name

I decided to try and find my name in Chinese today for my business cards. My first name I found easily enough on this website. My second name was more of a challenge, and in the end made it up from characters of names which had parts which sounded similar so I got:

So, the 'duh' from Duffy, followed by the 'de' from Edwards, ending with the 'man' from Hoffmann should do.

The only trouble with this is that the resulting name might be unsuitable: the combination might make up a term that sounds like something rude, undesirable, or worst of all - unlucky. So I'm going to try and get it checked before I print it on my cards - it would be embarrassing to hand out cards and find people go suddenly quiet and edge away.

Added later: Just had another thought - maybe I could just find the Chinese for 'snail' and 'man' instead. Thinking about it, that might be a more meaningful translation.

Added next day: Words now checked for unsuitability and apparently they're fine, so going to try and find a way to get them on my business cards now.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Suitable gifts for China

As I believe I've mentioned I am going to China in a few days time, and thought I'd buy a few presents for people kind enough to talk to me. But what to buy? Virtually everything I pick up at the moment seems to have 'made in China' on the back, so what could I find that was British, didn't weigh much, and might be gratefully received.

As I normally do these days I consulted the great lord Google and came across other people who has asked the same question. And the answer seemed to be: vitamin pills.

Apparently vitamin pills are expensive and notoriously fake in China, so western-branded pills are very much valued. However vitamin pills seemed an odd sort of gift to me. Other suggestions were chocolate, coffee, preserves - all of which I considered but then dismissed: too perishable, or too heavy, or both.

In the end I found some suitable little things in the tourist shop: calendars with pictures of my city, old British coins in presentation packs and tea-cloths printed with pictures of the country. None of them show four things which is good because 4 is an unlucky number in China, according to another website.

I also had to be careful with the wrapping paper. Plain red is a safe bet, one website said, but the nearest I could find was cerise (which is close to pink, which fortunately is another lucky colour too). I'm taking that with some sellotape and ribbon because there's no point in wrapping things, since some customs official might like to see what's inside...

So I'm hoping I've not made any faux pas with what I have here, but surely the scientists I'm intending to interview would not believe in such things anyway. At least I would expect so...Maybe I'll keep my fingers crossed anyway!

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Essential Items.

The stuff for this trip is accumulating steadily: a spork to carry with me in case manipulating chopsticks becomes too much; an enamel cup and an unbreakable, multipurpose 1 litre flask, for brewing tea on the train and also making up sterile water in emergencies...

with the sodium chlorite and phosphoric acid drops (see below), plus plasters, hand-wash; wipes and other usual first aid essentials; a whistle as recommended in my DK travel guide for lone females; plus the sterile kit with the syringes as mentioned (oh, so often) before, and a tick remover in case I happen to find myself in mulberry groves...

then of course the universal plug (why does every nation on this earth seem to have to have its own unique way of connecting to the grid?); various earplugs and wipes; and a very light weight towel...

and then security devices - a passport case; another waist bag (very well-worn) and a fiendishly complicated cable for securing my bags to the train racks...

then 'memory' for my camera and my laptop (and a couple of devices to ensure I don't lose my lens caps...

and these for the flight over - another pair of circulation socks and ear plugs...

My luggage limit is only 20kg and I'm wondering if I've reached that yet...and all of it seems to be 'made in China' anyway. So often I wonder if I wouldn't be better off just bringing an empty bag and buying all of this stuff when I get there.

Impression West Lake

Although my visit to China is going to be mainly 'work' - interviews and note-taking - I am going to have a few opportunities to do a little sight-seeing. One of the first is 'West Lake Impressions' which is performed on the West Lake in Hangzhou. It was recommended to me by my enthusiastic travel agent who has just made a trip to Hangzhou himself. Here is a trailer.

It is based on an old folk-story about a Xu Xian and Bainiangzi.

Bainiangzi was a white snake who led such an exemplary ascetic life for a thousand years that God allowed her to follow her yearning and become human. Her first walk took her along a bridge in Hangzhou whereupon it started to rain.

A young man called Xu Xian happened to see her and as they sheltered under his umbrella they fell in love. Together they started a hospital and looked after the sick.

However, an evil monk called Fahai hated Bainiangzi. When he discovered her secret he vindictively told Xu Xia and the the news caused Bainiangzi's doting husband to die of shock.

Fortunately, Bainiangzi knew of a way of bringing Xu Xian back to life - a weed that she knew she could find in heaven - and the revived Xu Xian loved his wife more than ever.

The ending is sad. The evil monk Fahai captures Bainiangzi and holds her prisoner in the Leifeng Pagoda (which, like the bridge, can still be seen on the West Lake).

I think the show that is performed on the Lake is about another love story which mirrors the ancient one of Bainiangzi - but it is a little difficult to tell. The story told is fragmented and gives a hazy impression, but I have had a go at re-interpreting it again:

First Act: Meeting.

You hold a parasol; I hold a lantern. They say, if you come here, love can last a thousand years; but for me it lasts a moment - the merest splinter of time, but it is like no other. In that time the universe forms. One form gives rise to another: symmetry and assymetry, one particle becoming two and reaching the opposite sides of the galaxy: ying and yang, male and female, Xu Xian and Bainiangzi, you and me.

Second Act: Love.

You see: what comes together always falls apart. We circled like two stars. We could blaze, but instead we danced.

Third Act: Good-bye.

Our dance was as transient as flames. They say my death was beautiful but all I remember was this: a broken wing, a cutting down, a messy tragedy, a snuffing out of light... and my feathers, falling through the air like ticker-tape.

Fourth Act: Memory.

You call and I hear. You remember rain and I remember what has gone.

Fifth Act: Impression.

A dream; an unreachable moment - all these are glimpses, like reflections in the water - as insubstantial as desire.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Writing their way to the gods.

I have temporarily abandoned trying to learn Chinese writing due to lack of time. I'm glad I've made a brief foray into the subject, though, because I have learnt a lot about Chinese culture and history as a result.

It is not known exactly when the people living in China started to write, but the earliest firm evidence is from 'oracle bones' originating a thousand years before Christ. They are records of discussions with the ancestors who were revered as the intermediaries to the gods. I think this reverence of the dead is something most humans tend to do - we look for the saintly qualities in people who, when they lived, we regarded as more ordinary. Anyway, ancestor-worship was (and is) a long-standing feature of Chinese life, originating perhaps, in Neolithic times; and those who were thought to be able to communicate with the dead were revered too; the Shang kings, for instance (1600- 1000BC), were believed to have the ear of those who had gone before them.

The oracle bones were consulted by Shang kings for general advice about the future. A diviner would prepare an oracle bone (or a piece of turtle shell) by touching it with a hot poker. The bone would then crack and the way it cracked would be interpreted by the king as the ancestors' answer and this would be recorded on the oracle bone in 'logographic script'.

These symbols on the oracle bones gradually evolved into traditional Chinese writing, and this accident, that it was 'logographic script' that persisted (rather than a phonetic system of letters of the west) had momentous consequences for Chinese civilisation.

As I have found, this 'logographic script' is difficult because 800 different characters need to be learnt just for a basic understanding. It takes three years to learn, so only those with sufficient intellect and time ever became literate. They formed an elite group - uniting not only those from diverse geographical areas, but also, more importantly, those from different times too. Only the literate could understand the words of the ancestors, and, so only they could communicate with the gods too.

One day I hope to come back to this because this system of writing is so different and interesting - I think, like learning the language itself, it is a good way of exercising the brain.