Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Quick notes on Finland

It's almost three weeks late, but here are some impressions of Finland. The Interstitial One and I visited Oulu, Turku and Helsinki in April/May and, apart from a severe difference of opinion with the locals on what "Spring" actually means and that it does not involve icy winds at close to freezing point, it was a most enjoyable experience. And expensive. As a rule, coffee should preferably be below R10, not over R30, than you very much. Same goes for beer.

We also experienced Vappu, and coming from a country where on 1 May (and all holidays) some go shopping, some laze about, some partake in rallies, some speech, some listen to speeches, some try to catch up on work, and some don't event know, it was oh so foreign seeing thousands of people doing the same thing - participating in the same festivity, getting drunk together, and wearing the same white caps for two days.

We saw Värttinä and Marianne Faithfull live, and both were excellent shows. Faithfull showed that age does not necessarily make you timid when a heckler got a bit too much (from celebrating Vappu) and she exclaimed: "Shut the fuck up, this is my show. I own the stage and you are here to love me!" Ja, tannie. Jammer, tannie.

Some visual impressions below.

Rows: A - C, Columns: 1 - 5
A1: When in Amsterdam for 5 hours, take a boattrip
A2: Alexander & the blow-up doll, Helsinki
A3: Hanging in there, Helsinki
B1: Army bicycles in front of Helsinki Cathedral
B2: Turku Castle is at one end of the city
B3: Värttinä at Klubi in Turku
C1: Sibelius monument, Helsinki
C2: Moomin is a national symbol (awaiting Vappu)
C3: One stone will only get you one bird, Suomenlina Fortress, Helsinki
D1: Inside Suomenlina's tunnels with a trusty Lomo
D2 - E2: Birch trees everywhere!
D3: Cloes-up of Army bicycle, Helsinki
E1: Still life with the Interstitial One and birch, Oulu
E3: Chapel window, Suomenlina Island

Friday, 11 May 2007

My god, ek dog ek het probleme

Julle ken daai sidebar advertisements wat altyd tune van 'n girl in jou area wat up is for some action? Like especially op thepiratebay.org (God bless) kry jy goed soos dié:
En dan dink jy "yeah right, pull the other one it's got bells on". Dis wat ek dink anyway. Since when hang die Aryan posterkids uit in Huangcun?
Wel, toe sien ek hierdie ad op 'n commercial blog genaamd Shanghaiist:

I am a j-rock lover, not really
keen in visual rock though,
however dress up more like a
street/pop style yoz. Messy
combination ain't I? ^^;

Hoe fokken original.
Ek los haar naam gelinked sodat julle haar kan uitcheck as sulke iconoclastic rebels julle ding is.

Big in China. I mean banned.

Well, whaddaya know. Blogger is once again unreachable from China. At the moment of writing no URLs ending with blogspot.com can be reached from China. This has been confirmed by using several anonymous proxies, which can all display Blogger perfectly. This post is also done using one of these proxies.

My wiskunde onderwyser in laerskool het altyd gepraat van ou mans met dik brille en pink kouse. Ek kannie onthou in watse konteks nie, maar hierdie skies dose in Beijing laat my aan hulle dink. Die ongelooflike ingatgeit, ignorance en arrogance wat van my skaal af gaan... Ek weetie wat om te se^ nie... Ek is jammer, regtig, maar ek bid dat die Chinese kultuur van verkramptheid nooit verder as hulle eie grense sal expand nie. Julle sal nie glo hoe vaktap hierdie mindset is nie. Zero engagement. Zero logika. Zero fucking intelligence.

Laat my dink aan 'n quote wat gequote is in een van my favourite graphic novels, genaamd New Statesmen ('n Crisis-reeks): "The divine should not only be guarded, it should be guarded AGAINST." My emphasis.

Thursday, 10 May 2007

A challenge

I quote:

"If someone wants to pin Olympic Games and Darfur issue together to raise his/her fame, he/she is playing a futile trick," the spokesman, Chu Maoming, wrote.

So, here goes:

The little guy with the gun is Jingjing, and that is an official pose. He's a panda, and one of five Olympic Mascots. Their names are all doubled, which has the effect of making them sound very cute. Beibei, Jingjing, Huanhuan, Yingying and Nini. Together they form a sentence: Beijing huanying ni, which means Beijing welcomes you. There's an interesting explanation on Piyin.info.

Friday, 4 May 2007

Hijack this

I just want to document this. I would love to be able to confirm this report, and get an idea of what the messages were. Of course Falun Gong will be blamed again. And two hours from now it will disappear. But, check out this picture from the Roger Waters concert in Shanghai. In Chinese it says 你可以重写历史但不能改变它. It means: You can rewrite history, but you can never change it.

It must be a set expression, because when I used Google to translate it the English was grammatically perfect. (If you are a student of English remember never to start sentences with "of course" or "and" or "but" nor even "I" neither, and look out for those double negatives.)

Sunday, 1 April 2007

Random rants blah

Krizz asked me via SMS from Germany this week why I'm not blogging. I wanted to respond and say: "Krizz, who last posted something on 27 November... 2006. Ahem." Too late now, it seems :-) (see below). I sincerely hoped you passed the German test, dude, after sitting around in bars the evening before... I can of course blame Blogger, which does not want to accept my posts via the web anymore... grrrrrr.


I had the opportunity to write down some thoughts earlier this week at Joburg airport. The place was chockers, and I had five hours of Nothingness to convert into something productive. It didn't happen, but I did write some thoughts down. I thought to myself, why not at least rant a little? That's the easiest thing to do isn't there? Complain complain complain. Just listen to people in shopping queues, airport lounges, smoking on the corporate sidewalks of South Africa, phoning in to late night talk radio...


[That-reminds-me-Interlude: I listened to a chat segment on RadioSonderGrense on my way to the airport about "tienerswangerskappe en seksvoorligting" and all I wished for was a more secular, more realistic discussion...I loved the tannie who kept on talking about "Die Kondoom" like people who say "The Gay," "The Moslem" etc. like they are talking about some alien lifeform.)


Where was I? Oh yes, my favourite species of complainer: the person in the slow moving Post Office/ Home Affairs/ bank queue that turns around and in a eerie, conspirational manner says: "Of course this is the NEW South Africa." Wink wink.


I have not lost it in one of those situations. Not yet.


To get to the point. Let me join in. Let me complain a bit. Here's a list of things I jotted down:

  • The Nokia N80 is the worst phone ever. It's my 5th Nokia and it might be the one that makes me switch. No battery life, so the supposedly wonderful features are useless because they never get used if I want to make it through one day of phone calls. Slow as a slow-mo. Dumb for a smartphone. Lots of little irritating bits which I won't even mention. It's been 6 months of hell.
  • I cannot find a case for my 4G iPod anymore. It's two and a half years old. Apple Store people look at me like I'm a freak. The Internet offers little solace (if I don't want slime-green socks).
  • I cannot find diff bearings for my 1973 Fiat. Plan B was replace the whole diff/ axle, but the mechanic went on holiday without telling me. Time to buy a new car. Time to move into the 80's.
  • I don't want to hear your conversation about "it's an opportunity" across 25 meters of airport lounge floor!!! You! Over there!

I always forget the important ones. The one's about how people drive, myopic politicians and losing to Australia. But it's a start. And easy.

Mike Adler's view on administration

Op my pa se lessenaar was n bordjie wat gelees het: "n Deurmekaar Lessenaar is die Merk van n Genie." In daai geval is ek die slimste ou in ons departement. Met dit as agtergrond, hier is iets deur Mike Adler wat ek nogal geniet het:

As every Australian Academic knows all too well, there are three things that we are supposed to do, Research, Administration and Teaching, of which the most rewarding financially is administration. We used to promote has-beens to do administrative chores and to increase their pay to compensate for the loss of prestige that goes with being a drudge. The laws of supply and demand have ensured that drudges now have the prestige, and the power to order things the way that drudges like them. My position on administrative chores is that I do what the Mathematics Department requires no matter how much valuable time it wastes on bizarre and pointless ritual designed only to placate meddling bureaucrats with an inadequate grasp of their own ineptitude. At the same time I point out the folly of it, vehemently. The only alternative is to join the bastards, which would leave me too full of self-disgust to function.
There are some honest administrators around who have come to it from honourable motives. I have met three, and there may be others. Two of them even have a sense of humour. They are usually very well organised but not very creative. Well, if everybody was like me the world would fall apart over the weekend, and an honest administrator who really works for the public good is a jewel to be treasured. We look at each other through the bars, each wondering which side is the zoo. I am prepared to admit that I need them, I can only hope they feel the same way about me. I doubt if those in Canberra do.
By contrast, what I think of the blinkered reptilian scum who get their jollies by working their way into politics in pursuit of status, prestige and the joys of pushing other people around, should not be put on a website which may be read by the young and innocent. To the blinkered reptilian scum I say: `Beware. Do not mess with me, or I will eat your eggs'.

The quote comes from here.

Sunday, 4 March 2007

Mao Arse

In light of Cerebus's... uhm... Marius's post on his Mao piccie (very nice, btw), I thought I should post this t-shirt design, which made me chuckle:

Available from dirty microbe
I first saw it at tcritic.com

Sunday, 25 February 2007

Is this even possible?

I just posted two pics to flickr. One is of Mao Zedong's gigantic picture above the Tiananmen. A minute later I can't load flickr. Nothing comes up in my browser. Through proxify.com, however, my pictures load in a second. Usually this means one thing: China is blocking me somehow from getting through. Is this kind of thing possible? I know in the past a search for "Falun gong" on Google made Google go away for exactly one minute. If this is the case with flickr too, then it is the most idiotic thing I have ever seen in China, and that, believe me, means something. Oh, did I tell you I went to a Roger Waters concert in Shanghai. I don't know who I mean with "you".

Sunday, 11 February 2007

Talking about perspective...

I've been scurrying about on the ground for the last 6 months. What has been strange (and welcome) is that since returning from a mid-year trip to the Baltics last year July, I hadn't flown anywhere. My work, for the first time in years, was driving distance from home.

On Wednesday last week I boarded my first flight to Johannesburg for 2007 and, apart from the continuing parking shambles at Cape Town airport which adds another 15 minutes to the trip, the experience in general started out pretty much as I remembered it. I did think that the demographics of the flights are getting more diverse in terms of race and gender, and I did forget how small the space was that you are given on a plane, but otherwise it was a question of settling into a routine.

The plane took off in the Durbanville direction and it was then that the big difference struck me. Scurrying about on the ground in between roadworks and new developments and veld fires and traffic jams and malls for half a year, meant that I had a distinct view of the rhythms of the city, but all of these experiences were incidental - one thing happens, you move on and see something else, around the corner is a new development...

From the plane, I suddenly got perspective again, which was exhilarating. I could see the traffic patterns and where the worst bottlenecks in afternoon rush hour was (many because of poorly placed traffic lights). I realised how big the Century City development was by seeing the layout of roads and water and the blocks of ugly ugly flats that so offended me when I drove past them. I noticed Woodbridge Island doesn't really look cut-off from the air due to sand banks in the water. Robben Island is far to swim to. The sprawl is... well, sprawling.

I usually pre-book window seats to be able to sleep against the sidewall, but for the first time in a long while, I was watching the scenery pass by. Which was good. And fun. And enlightening.

Sunday, 4 February 2007

Broadening perspectives

As of this week, the geographic dispersion of this blog's members increases once again. Krizz is leaving today for Freiburg, Germany, for a year, so we now have a footprint spanning three continents (and Cape Town). Very multinational, very The World if Flat.

Tuesday, 23 January 2007

Music notes

I listened to it too late, so it didn't make my list of 2006, but honourable mention should go to Mogwai for Mr. Beast - a tight, melodic, at times loud and beautiful record. It even has smatterings of steel pedal and lyrics/ spoken word. Ignore the Pitchfork review.

Also, if you've read all the bad press The Fountain received and don't know whether it's worthwhile, go and watch it for the music. Written by Clint Mansell and performed by Mogwai and Kronos Quartet, it structures and guides the movie perfectly through its different story lines. The overlong ending sucks, and not even the music can make up for that, but Darren Aronofsky knows his craft.

Explosions in the Sky has a new album out.

Now playing: Set Fire to Flames: Sings Reign Rebuilder (the title of which eMusic managed to misspell).

Tuesday, 9 January 2007

Mopgat of the mind

I need to start 2007 off by getting rid of the odds and ends from 2006 that serve no purpose.

Pet hates I haven't found the need to communicate (apart from that Vodacom animal mascot thing):
  • People that, on hearing may the force be with you say: “Oh, my husband/ friend/ niece is also a Star Trek fan!”
  • When a woman mentions women’s rights in a discussion about service delivery to the poor, and the toupeed chairman, smiling slightly, says: “Thank you, that’s a very constitutional question.”
  • When the same woman insists on talking about women's rights every time the subject of the poor comes up, as if it’s a gender-discriminating term.
Quotes overheard at a live music gig in Cape Town:
  • "Daar's 'n oop spotjie"
  • "I showered today"
  • "That's ok, I'm over it now"
Photos of things that made me point-and-click:

Rows A - D, Columns 1-3
A1: Ooh, so this is what a fluffy omelette should look like (Obs, Cape Town).
A2: A barrow full of mint. Mojito's anyone?
A3: The development of Buitekloof Studios, an old Cerebus place of work (see also B3).
B1: Noodlebosch, now also in Long Street.
B2: Street sign, De Waterkant, Cape Town.
B3: End of an era: Bruce Tait's and Mabu Vinyl need to relocate due to the Buitekloof development (the former still looking for a new spot...)
C1: Work. Deadlines. Lekka.
C2: Groen sprinkaan op sonneblom. Sommer.
C3: I think that one's called Bliksem.
D1: Too small to read, but it says "Keep it real, gooi 'n Coke in jou keel..."
D2: Shop decor in Long Street flowing out into the street.
D3: What will happen to the branded Public Gardens cutlery when the greasy spoon restaurant is also eventually reinvented?

Sunday, 7 January 2007

Day one: Xi'an to Lintong

Yes, yes. I'm sitting here surrounded by CD's and gaming peripherals (i.e. cables and joysticks), reinstalling Ubuntu Linux and waiting for the damn earthquake-damaged undersea-internet-cables to deliver my sorely needed updates...

*pause, out of breath*

and so I thought I'd tell you about my bicycle trip, as I promised. I'm sure you were all just dying to know what it was like. From among my mountains of stuff I managed to pull a little notebook I despoiled upon that fateful trip, in October 2006. So, without further ado, and unless interupted by the need to reboot so nautilus-data2.12.10Ubuntu1.2 can properly load, here it is:

I left early. It was raining. I went back home and got a raincoat. It was one I bought for about 50 cents (ZA) and it was big enough to cover my whole bicycle. Then I went back again because I forgot the pump. Then the pump didn't fit in the small bag so I transferred everything to my big bag -- the massive hiking kind -- and I left again. I made K-Coffee about 30 minutes later, completely out of breath and sweating like a dog.

K-Coffee does a mean cheesecake, considering you can't get cheese in China. It's in a new tourist lane built around a 1000 year old pagoda, awkwardly called the Big Wild Goose Pagoda in English -- while it's only three syllables in Chinese. I had two coffees while watching the morning commute get under way. Hundreds of pensioners filed past, walking backwards and slapping their breasts. This is considered a vital morning exercise and, judging from their expressions, a painful one.

Before leaving K-Coffee I checked my equipment again: emergency food, clothes, spare inner tubes, a patch kit, dried meat sticks, digestive biscuits, multi-vitamins, cellphone, camera, cigarettes, kitchen sink and lawnmower. (That last bit was lame, but it's in the notebook, so now it's here.) All of this worked out to a very comfortable 40 kilograms or so, and with barely a grunt I set out, direction due West.

A minute later I realised my mistake and headed direction due East. The streets were unbelievably busy. That's one of the reasons it took me so long to write this up here. That unbelievably. It's a killer. It's the kind of thing you write in bold. You really wouldn't believe. And I doubt very much my explanations could convince you. China is ... un ... just ... with the ... You have to see it. Full stop.

I basically played Pac-Man the first six hours, just getting out of the city. With Pac-Man I mean I dodged, scrammed, avoided, bounced, jumped, fled, hopped, screamed and generally aerobiced my way through about a million cars, trucks, tractors, mini-busses, bicycles, motorcycles, rickshaws, katamarans, livestock and the occasional person. All this sheer maneuvering left me about 20 kilometers out of the city, climbing a hill towards the Siyuan Teacher's College (where I once imparted wisdom) and overlooking the vast sea of pollution that is Xi'an. Before me lay a channel that cuts through the outer suburbs of Xi'an and eventually reached my first destination: the mighty Wei River. Don't know what it means. One of the multitude of wei's means "stomach" and I figure that's descriptive enough. I made a left at the toll-gate, seeing as they don't allow bikes on the express-way, and followed the line of greenery. I was hoping to see the city recede and give way to open grassland, but as I was to discover in the next few days: THAT NEVER HAPPENS.

It's (what we would call) suburbs all the way to Beijing. The buildings never end. The road does: abruptly... into a pool of mud and a passing motorist thought it was the funniest thing in the world to see a wet, dirty foreigner stand ankle deep in a pool of slush. I will never forgive him. He set the tone. He was my first gawker. There were more to come.

I was making for a place called Lintong, slightly East of Xi'an and pretty close to the Terracotta Warriors. The road, like I said, was a moving river of mud and beer-bottles. I kept to the edges as much as I could to stay of the firmer bits of grass. The first day was really agony. I have nothing good to say about it. Except maybe the friendly man who gave me a clothes pin for free when I indicated to him I needed something to keep my trousers from getting tangled in the bicycle chain. He gave me two.

I got terribly lost. If you ever take the road out of Xi'an on a bike, stick to the bits where you can see busses. If you haven't seen a bus for ten minutes, well then baby, you're lost. Around midday I hadn't seen a bus for an hour. That figured, because it had all been downhill and relatively comfortable. Eventually I ran into a wall. Right across my way, from horizon to horizon, ran a railwayline. It was built onto a man-made ridge, and there was, as far as the eye could see, no way through, nor no way over. Next to the road was a workers camp and some well-dressed men in hard-hats walked past me. I asked them if I could get around this thing. Turned out they were engineers, probably contemplating the same problem. No, they said. Back up the lovely, long slope. They snickered. I pretended it was exactly what I wanted to do anyway.

On my way back up the incline I had a wonderful experience. An old lady was working in her garden, and as much as I detest the use of the word "lady" I can not think of another description. She was doing something nurturing to a ranking plant and when she heard me huffing up the hill, she stood up, looked me full and the face and smiled.

I almost came off the bike. It was a real smile, and then she said: "Ni hao." This means "Hello"... BUT it is also the first words in the dialogue you read on page one of any Teach-Yourself-Chinese book. So I was prepared. And I said: "Ni hao ma?" And she said. "Hen hao, nine?" And I said: "Wo ye hen hao."

It was like a fairy tale. She said all the right words in exactly the right places. She wore a flower-print dress and a hat. She happens to be the first old woman in China who were friendly to me. She made up for much.

I didn't even notice the hill the rest of the way.

To be continued.... maybe.