Saturday, April 30, 2011

9th birthday, a hidden museum and Richard Long

It's A's birthday so she opens a few presents before breakfast before we head out to Napa Lake just west of town... well, a lake at certain times of the year but now more like marshland with grazing cattle - half yak, half cow (cak, yow?). The afternoon is spent wandering around the Old Town: a few souvenirs, a temple and massive prayer wheel on the hill, and a surprise birthday cake for A at a nice cafe just off the square. 9 years old... Before I know it, she'll be a teenager!

Continuing the Joseph Rock theme, we visited a small, very private museum about explorers. It was founded by the interestingly named Wong How Man who also runs the China Exploration and Research Society, but it's not in any guides and only opens by appointment. Anyway, four fascinating, beautifully presented rooms covering women explorers in SW China, expeditions to find the sources of the Yangtze and Mekong and a well-stocked library including Tintin in Tibet in Chinese (which translates as Tintin in Chinese Tibet). And no-one knows it's there.  

Finish the day at a lovely traditional Tibetan house which Amy co-owns with two artists, and where Richard Long stayed as part of a residency last summer. Looking forward to seeing the results of that in due course: the perfect landscape for Long.   

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Royal Wedding from Shangri-la

Awake to a perfect sky - blue with just the right amount of cotton wool clouds - and all aboard the bus to Genden Sumtseling Monastery, just north of town. It was established in 1679 by the Fifth Dalai Lama and is the largest Tibetan monastery in south west China. Beautiful place. There used to be 2,000 monks here but it's dwindled to around 500 now. Our guide does his best to explain the intricacies of Dalai and Panchen lamas, living buddhas, the cycles of life, mandalas and other amazing murals... but it's difficult to get your head round it all.

After that we visit a Tibetan home (dark, pungent smell of yak butter and surprisingly roomy), and then off to Shika Snow Mountain, just to the west of town. There's a 40 mins cable car which takes you all the way to the 4,500m summit, past a nomadic village and swathes of yet-to-bloom rhodedendrons. Snowy and cold but beautiful views stretching as far as Burma to the west and Sichuan to the east.

Back in time to catch the Royal Wedding on Dragon TV. There is something very strange yet almost fitting about watching this piece of British pageant high up in the Tibetan foothills, as Westminster Abbey becomes Will & Kate's own personal Shangri-la for an hour or so. Anyway, we toast the happy couple with glasses of Dali beer.     

In the evening we visit the Old Town which is a bit like a smaller version of Lijiang and without all the tourists. Lovely cobbled streets, wooden buildings and in the square people dancing in a giant circle. We hook up with Amy, a curator friend of Caroline's, for dinner at a fabulous Tibetan restaurant called Karma's. Dodgy name but the best food we've had all holiday. And after that we slip across the lane to what could almost be described as a pub to drink Tibetan wine and listen to a Tibetan musician. His ambient singing, little cymbals and feintly-touched drum sends the girls off to sleep and we have to carry them to two waiting taxis.       

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Tiger Leaping Gorge

We head north to Tiger Leaping Gorge on the River Yangtze. It's only 60km north of Lijiang as the crow flies but because we're not crows, we have a 3hr drive round the mountains. Finally we arrive and pick up our new Tibetan guide, the strangely named Wanda. It's one of the deepest gorges in the world, between Jade Dragon Snow Mountain (5,596m) on the south side and Haba Xueshan (5,396m) on the north, and so-called because at its narrowest point (25m) a tiger was said to have, er, leapt across to escape a hunter. The Yangtze rages below and suffice it to say, I wouldn't want to canoe down it.

Continuing north we climb into more mountains, heading for the once-prosaically named Zhongdian, now formerly re-named Shangri-la. Back in 2001, some bright spark decided the location of James Hilton's fictitious garden of eden was indeed Zhongdian. Brilliant. It's now a major tourist destination. Sadly, our hotel was about as far removed from paradise as you could imagine, so we moved to another one called... Paradise Hotel.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Joseph Rock and Lijiang

A few houses away from our guest house is Joseph Rock's former home, now a very modest, little-frequented museum of faded photographs and dusty artefacts. Rock was born in Austria but moved to America in 1905 to become a self-taught but brilliant botanist. He was then employed by the US Department of Agriculture to track down plants and seeds in south-west China, which is where he spent most of working life, branching out into ethnography (his study of the Naxi is still the standard), and good old fashioned exploration. It was a turbulent time (1922-49) to be in China, however remote. His National Geographic articles influenced everyone from James Hilton (Lost Horizons) and Herge (Tintin in Tibet), to Bruce Chatwin and Michael Palin. 

Afternoon in Lijiang: a beautifully (some might say, overly) preserved town with cobbled streets, cafes, crafts shops and criss-crossing mini-canals filled with surprisingly clear water. Yes, it's very touristy but it's still a great place to stroll, relax and soak up the picture-skew-ness of it all.

Sort of by accident, we meet our friends Fiona, Nick and children for lunch in a rooftop cafe. Incredibly lucky with the weather, though Fiona has just broken her arm in an accident too complicated to explain. I buy a tome on Joseph Rock in a nice little bookstore.   

There was a big earthquake here in 1996. Interestingly, most of the old Naxi houses survived, so the government rebuilt the town with traditional Naxi architecture. It's now a UNESCO heritage site. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

Awake to a cold morning, the sight of snow-covered mountains and a simple breakfast of boiled eggs, pitta bread and apple jam. Our new half-Han, half-Naxi guide, Eleanor, accompanies us up the valley to Jade Dragon Snow Mountain national park. It's very touristy with heavy entrance fee, massive coach park and a full-on open-air show about the myths and legends of the Naxi people (co-directed by Zhang Yimou) with mountains as backdrop, a cast of hundreds and a dozen horses. It reminded me of the Millennium Dome show: spectacular but somewhat vacuous.

Still, beyond that there's yaks loitering around a crystal clear river, a cable-car ride up to a meadow and pine forest with well-laid out trails, and fabulous views of the main peak, Shanjidou, 5,596m. Our guide said it had never been climbed, but a quick search reveals that it has - just once - by an American expedition in 1987. While up there we witnessed an amazing ring round the sun. Apparently it's called a 22 degree sun halo which I'd never even heard of let alone seen. 

Back at Nguluko guest house we huddled around a fire in the middle of the courtyard, practising our bad Chinese with Mr and Mrs He, looking up at the stars and drinking damn fine Dali beer.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Don't Dilly Dali on the Way

We head north in our jolly bus, along winding roads and watching kids' DVDs, to Shizhong Mountain, miles from anywhere. It has a small temple built precariously out of the cliff face. Then on to Shaxi which was an important staging point on the old tea route to Burma and Tibet. It's been beautifully preserved by a combination of a technical college in Zurich and the local council. It's also eerily quiet - totally unlike Dali Old Town. An oasis of calm - see right.

Continue northwards, eventually reaching Lijiang and the tiny village of Yuhu just the other side of it at around 9pm. We're booked into the small and rustic Nguluko guest house, run by a sweet old couple, who've stayed up to serve us some dinner. It's basic (just 4 rooms - we have the place to ourselves) but has a lovely away-from-it-all charm. The village is in the shadow of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and was where the expolorer, botanist and ethnographer Joseph Rock was based between 1922-49. More about him later.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Cormorants, pagodas and mahjong

Interesting morning poking around the market in Xizhou and then down to Erhai Lake for a spot of fishing... with cormorants. The birds are trained to dive into the water and invariably bring back a decent sized fish which, because of string tied round their throats, they can't swallow - but it still takes some doing to get them to part with it.

Lunch and a wander in Dali Old Town, which used to be the capital of Dali kingdom and was pretty much independent until the last century. The French came here, up the Mekong, in the late 19th Century, and the Brits shortly afterwards from Burma. It's nicely preserved but very touristy. A bit more tranquil are the Three Pagodas, built out of brick covered in white mud around 900AD, though they've been renovated a hundred times since.

In the evening we were entertained by some Bai musicians in the courtyard of the Linden Centre. The Bai are the main ethnic minority in the area - around 2m of them. Following that, Caroline and I learned how to play mahjong with two Chinese girls. Quite complicated but against all the odds I managed to win the game.

Saturday, April 23, 2011


Very excited to be off to north-west Yunnan, on the border with Burma and Tibet, a place I've wanted to visit for a long time. Three hour flight to Kunming where we meet up with our friends Markus, Caroline and daughters. Then, because our onward flight to Dali is cancelled, we endure a five-hour drive in a bijou bus - which will be our transport for the next week, complete with driver and three different guides. It's the most organized holiday we've ever planned, has taken three months and has not been without hitches (the first agent went bust just when we were about to pay for it). Anyway, we finally arrive at the Linden Centre, a large, exquisitely renovated courtyard guest house in the village of Xizhou, just outside Dali Old Town. It's run by an American couple and is so right-on (eco-friendly, locally integrated etc) it almost hurts.   

Friday, April 22, 2011


My last post for 10 days as tomorrow we fly to Yunnan, which will be a strictly enforced Offline Zone. Even if I wanted to get online, I couldn't post without home/office VPN. Anyway, will keep notes and do in retrospect. The weather forecast says 7 days of rain so our bags will include ponchos, galoshes and jigsaws. Fingers crossed it's wrong.

Thursday, April 21, 2011


I'm not a big one for musicals. Never seen Cats, Les Miz, Phantom and all those West End shows. So I felt something of an imposter when invited to attend the result of a 10-day workshop for 30 students from the Central Academy of Drama here in Beijing, London's Guildhall School of Music & Drama, and Arts Educational Schools, which is the cumbersome name for a drama school based in Chiswick.

The idea was to create a 40-minute musical work on the theme of Romeo & Juliet with songs from the 1999 Terrence Mann rock musical of the same name, West Side Story (of course), other songs in Chinese on the same theme, and a few bits of Shakespeare spoken text for good measure. Given that they started from scratch, couldn't speak each other's language and had only 10 days, the results were seriously impressive. The project was part of their curricula so we're not expecting a tour or anything, but it's an amazing experience to have when you're a youngster and, who knows, maybe something will come of it.    

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


We were talking at breakfast this morning about possible alternatives to cereal. For as long as I can remember, I've always had a bowl of something with milk in it. Cornflakes, Rice Krispies, Shreddies, Weetabix... I probably had Sugar Puffs and Frosties too, with free gifts.

Was it in the 80s that the high-fibre, low-cholesterol, vitamin-laden health kick came in?  Whatever, I'm happy to have Fruit&Fibre or muesli, with strawberries (serving sugestion) as part of a good old 'well-balanced diet' and knowing that breakfast is the 'most important meal of the day'. But you can still get sickly-coloured, mickey-mouse-shaped, uber-artificial if you want it. Look down the cereal aisle in any supermarket and the choice is amazing, ridiculous even.

But back to the issue. The trouble with eating cereal in China is that it's all imported and very expensive. Around £5-7 a packet. So we may need to change to rice porridge (congee) or soy bean milk soup. Or a fry-up?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Chinese lessons

My twice weekly lessons continue. Kind of dread them, especially if I haven't done the homework. First 20 mins hard, second easier, last 20 I'm tired. The main problem is remembering and using the vocab inbetween classes. I don't really speak much hanyu in the office and none at all at home, so progress is slow. Still, it's better than my Thai, 'though not as good as my Japanese (which itself is limited). Our upcoming holiday to Yunnan should be a good practising ground. Wo qi dai - I'm looking forward to it.  

Monday, April 18, 2011

No news

Not a great deal happened today, save the usual mixture of carnage and frivolity around the world which we all know about the moment it happens. Cast your minds back eighty years... On this day in 1930, BBC Radio evening news announced that "Today, there is no news". Apparently the start of the Chittagong Rebellion was too late, it was a Good Friday so no football, and there were no celebrity break-ups. Instead, some light music.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

U is for...

Just about enough Us for 10:
  • Underworld
  • Ultramarine
  • Urban Sax
  • Univers Zero
  • U2
  • Ultravox
  • The Undertones
  • UV Pop
  • The United States of America.
After dodgy beginnings in the 80s as Freur, Underworld became the electronic dance band of the 90s & 00s, not least in Japan where I saw them a couple of times and interviewed them during a British Council project. Still great. Ultramarine also began life in the 80s under a different name (A Primary Industry) and released a few great albums of folktronica (before the term was coined) in the 90s, the standout being Every Man and Woman is a Star, before fizzling out in the 00s. One of the best gigs I ever saw was them and Bark Psychosis above a pub in New Cross. To complete the electronica trio, I'd have to include UNKLE. Their Never, Never, Land is as good as Massive Attack and they 'do' guest vocalists a lot better than Chemical Brothers.

Going back a bit, Urban Sax have to be in there, though they're first and foremost a spectacle not a recording group. I have happy memories of numerous 'concerts', playing football with them in Nancy (there were enough of them to form two 11-a-side teams) and crashing out on their manager Gilles' sofa in Montmartre. They're still going. Belgian band Univers Zero are definitely Top 10 who, along with French band Art Zoyd, spearheaded a kind of avant chamber rock as part of the Rock In Opposition movement... but I haven't kept up with them since the mid-80s.

U2? Well, they'd have to be in there wouldn't they? Of course, the Eno-produced stuff got me more interested, especially Achtung Baby and Zooropa. As stadium rock bands go, U2 are better than most. It was of course at Wembley's Live Aid that they made their mark, whereas Ultravox's performance that day was the beginning of the end for them. Still, I have a soft spot for them, both John Foxx and Midge Ure incarnations. I gather they've reformed.

The Undertones were all that was great about new wave: no-nonsense urgent pop by pale, thin young men with bad haircuts andno fashion sense (Feargal's parka is an abiding memory). UV Pop was John White from Sheffield who made great new wave(ish) / experimental pop and remain little-known favourites, compared with all the other Sheffield acts of that era; their Serious single is a minor classic. And finally, mention must be made of The United States of America for their one weird 1968 psychedelic-experimental album.

I should also mention Rachel Unthank, The Underneath (one of Kark Blake's many bands), United Future Organization, Vladimir Ussachevsky, (Ashra's) Lutz Ulbrich, The Unknown Cases, Uilab and, er, UB40 and Uriah Heep?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Man swims across lake

Spent the day with our Bangkok-based Dutch friends, Egon, Sandra and their three children. While we were admiring Houhai lake, a man walked up, stripped to his trunks, climbed over the fence and dived in. Here he is, swimming for China.
Our friends are returning to Holland in the summer. Egon's chucked his job in, bought a house with a garden, taking a break and then they'll see. Sounds scary but appealing.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Walking for the sake of music

I seem to have less and less time to listen to music. Weekends are mostly about family. I often ask the girls to pick a letter and then vinyl or CD, resulting in something I haven't listened to for ages, but it's got to be reasonably accessible. Evenings offer a bit more leeway (when I'm in) but once we've eaten, washed up, watched the news, talked through our respective days, done some Chinese homework, dealt with admin... then I'm pretty much ready for bed and a few pages of a book. I envy my friend Wolfgang who can listen to stuff while working, which is simply not an option in my job. So... I'm experimenting with walking rather than cycling to work - which gives me 20 iPod mins each way. This week I've been listening to three new albums by bands who've been going for 30 years: Wire's Red Barked Tree, Blancmange's Blanc Burn and Shriekback's LIfe in the Loading Bay. It's not enough, but it's a start.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Yuri Gagarin

50 years ago, almost to the day (actually the day before yesterday), Yuri Gagarin became the first person in space. Just watched an excellent film about it, by Christopher Riley. It uses the original audio (with subtitles), new footage from the current International Space Station tracking the exact flight path of the mission (there was no camera on board then) and great music by Peter Sheppard. I'm proud to say that the British Council helped produce it. You can see it here.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Beijing Burberry

This evening I went to the 'mother of all parties' (as The Telegraph described it), to celebrate the opening of Burberry's flagship store in Beijing. Ingeniously they put it on at Beijing Television Centre. No expense was spared: the route from the entrance to the stage area was completely transformed into a hall of mirrors, video walls of London skyline and matt black. Once inside, a huge club-like environment had been created complete with very British music ranging from The Jam to Dusty Springfield.
Then the show started. First off: some very cool floor-to-ceiling projections of real & animated catwalks. Then a white curtain raised to reveal a black stage with 8 Burberry-clad models standing in line at the back of it. They stood for a while then walked off stage left, then came back on again stage right, again in perfect formation. It was only after a few minutes that I realised the whole thing was virtual, confirmed when halfway across the stage each model 'vapourised' into clouds of silver dust. By the end of it they were mixing live and virtual. Incredibly impressive. Then the back curtain went up to reveal Keane who performed a 40-minute set, their first gig in China. I'm not a fan so this was a bit retro after the virtual extravaganza beforehand, but I guess that was the Burberry point: cutting edge + tradition (of sorts). You can see a 2-minute snippet of the event here.

It must have cost a fortune. But it's probably worth it to Burberry who now have 60 shops in 30 cities. Spending on luxury goods in China is forecast to grow from £6.2bn in 2009 to £17bn by 2015, and Burberry wants a big chunk of that.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

From Tan Dun to Dingding

This afternoon I took part in a press conference for the Yehudi Menuhin Violin Competition which will take place at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. It will be the first time that the Competition has been held outside Europe. Menuhin visited China three times and was the first Western musician to receive an Honorary Professorship in China in 1979. A short video at half-speed got the event off to a false if amusing start (it sounded like a promo for a Cello Competition) then lots of speeches and some Q&A. And all for an event which will take place a year from now. The CCM has some well-known alumni including film soundtrack supremo Tan Dun and world music artist Sa Dingding (right) who by chance I was listening to this morning on my way to work.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Careful with that Axe, Alan Davey

This month 200 or so Arts Council-funded organizations learned that they wouldn't be getting any grant from next year. Here they are. It's a saving of £19m, which is roughly what the English National Opera will continue to get. I'm glad that ENO will continue to be supported, but it's sad that a lot of small, busy, creative organizations dotted all over the country may well end up closing their doors. Tough decisions and I sympathise with not only those affected but those who had to decide where the axe fell. On a related matter, I heard today that BBC World Service Drama is no more, after 79 years of operation. Ever heard of it? I must confess that I've barely listened to the World Service, let alone one of its plays, but that's because it wasn't really aimed at me: as with the British Council, its for overseas folk (er, which would include me). Interestingly, it gave Ewan MacGregor his first two professional acting roles, and Trevor Howard his last (as King Lear); broadcast the hugely popular - and only global - soap, Westway, which won the CRE Award for Best Soap in 2000 (beating Coronation Street), and was one of those tiny little departments that did great work without most people noticing. Anyway, we'll continue working with them on the International Playwriting Competition which takes place at the Royal Court every summer.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The oldies of Jingshan Park

Interesting afternoon in Jingshan Park which overlooks the Forbidden City to the north. It's famous for two things: where the last emperor of the Ming Dynasty hung himself, and where old people nowadays come to socialise. You see a lot of the latter in Beijing parks but this was amazing... hundreds of groups of people performing music, dancing and singing. The singing was performed with amazing gusto, typically with a 'conductor' surrounded by 20-30 mostly elderly men & women. Quite stirring. There was a palpable sense of tradition, nostalgia and patriotism, a few die-hards still wearing Mao suits.

Saturday, April 9, 2011


The Grand National is the horserace for those not interested in horseracing (which would be me) and reviled by animal rights activists (it averages three fatalities a year). I think I've only ever watched one - the famous one in 1973 when Red Rum pipped Crisp to the post. (I only realised Red Rum was Murder backwards after The Shining). So, I hear Ballabriggs won the 164th National, trained by the same family who trained Red Rum.

Here are my half-dozen horse-racing moments:

  • Goodwood: 5 miles from my home in Chichester, so I probably went more than once, watched from The Trundle, a conveniently adjacent hillock which allowed you (and hundreds of others) a specular and free view

  • Hereford: camped on the racecourse in August 1977 and remember waking up to hear that Elvis had died

  • Epsom: don't remember much about the horses but A took part in a children's sprint in front of the grandstand, although she pulled up at the finishing line, terrified of a bloke dressed up in a horse's outfit waving a chequered flag

  • Tokyo: where a bunch of us attended the Ambassador's Cup, placed bets in Japanese and we got to stroll around in the Paddock afterwards

  • Kemptown: I used to live by this racecourse (in Brighton, not Camptown racetrack five miles long which is in Pennsylvania) but never went

  • Walthamstow: I once went to the dog-races here; does that count?

Horseracing was big in China - well, Shanghai - in the early part of the 20th century but was banned after 1949. It was recently legalised but there's not much going on, mainly because gambling - which for some reason is synonymous with the gee-gees - remains illegal, at least on the mainland. However, that could change. There was a 'meet' in Wuhan recently and I read somewhere that a Dubai consortium is building a massive racecourse in Tianjin.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Glued to the Monitor

Today was 12 hrs glued to the PC with occasional breaks for meetings, soup and a Chinese lesson. Most of my day is spent emailing people in China and UK. Today I received 115 emails, only 10 of which I deleted without opening, a further 20 were for info only, which left 80+ needing action of some sort. That's an unwelcome ratio and bad for the eyes & posture.

When I first joined the British Council, we had post, fax and telex. Remember telex? We also had a masive great typewriter if you wanted to hammer out something yourself, and a typing pool. For documents we would have to send it to Bornemouth in a van, wait two days, correct it, send it back again, and then post it somewhere. Some people had secretaries! I also used to write letters with a pen. Imagine!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Nanook of the North

Watched Nanook of the North last night. Shot in 1922, it's one of the first ever feature length documentaries, certainly the most successful of such. Fascinating film, all about an eskimo hunter and his family in Arctic Canada. Yes, I know some of it was staged and he normally used a gun and his 'wife' was actually the common law wife of the Director, Robert Flaherty (!) and so on and so on. But hell, it's a great film shot in extreme conditions and hats off to him. Incidentally, Frank Zappa dreamed he was Nanook in his song Don't Eat the Yellow Snow. And while we're about it, Flaherty made a similarly successful documentary, Man of Aran, in 1934 which somehow became the subject of a recent British Sea Power album. All this is pretty removed from my current whereabouts...

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Bob in Beijing

Bob Dylan played in Beijing last night, his first ever show in China. I was half-offered a ticket but it fell through at the last minute. Not a big fan but it was an 'event' and would have been an 'experience', not least because hardly any A-list names play here. My friend Steve (Barker of The Wire), went though and gave a positive report. Apparently it was near enough full: one-third ex-pat, two-thirds Chinese. He did a good selection of old and new. His voice held out. The only words he said throughout the concert were introducing the band - who were apparently excellent. Needless to say, he didn't sing Chimes of Freedom.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


It's Tomb Sweeping Day today, a public holiday and "a time for people to go outside and enjoy the greenery of springtime and tend to the graves of departed ones". Well, we passed on the graves but decided to try kite-flying in Chaoyang Park. Kites probably originated in China some 2,500 years ago and wherever there's wind and an open space you'll see people flying them. They're tricky blighters, but after half an hour we finally got the hang of it and up ours went, some 100m or so into the Beijing sky. Actually, the hardest thing was avoiding getting tangled up with other people's. In any case, I don't think we'll be entering the international kite festival in Weifang, not too far from Beijing, nor visit its kite museum, the largest in the world.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Like herding cats

Took at half day off to meet our friends Ian & Katie, their three girls, and Katie's parents, up from Shanghai for the holidays. Walked around Houhai on a gorgeously sunny day. There were 11 of us, which could have made things difficult: some want to shop, some want to take pictures, the children want to play and where do you eat? But it all turned out amazingly well. Not least lunch which was in our favourite, though tiny, pizza restaurant; somehow we managed to squeeze around two small tables in its sunny patio, the kids behaved and the waitress was brilliant. Went up the Drum Tower and looked over the rooftops and lake. Lovely day.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Mother's Day (Part 1)

Bit of a lie-in for Liz this morning as filial and husbandly piety kicked in with cards, prezzie & breakfast in bed. But after that, Liz took the kids to ballet and I had the morning off. Ah well, you can only have so much of a good thing. But hang on, she'l get another chance. Today is Mothering Sunday in the UK, but in China (and in nearly 100 other countries) its on 8 May. It's quite a new thing here, but as The People's Daily says: "despite originating in the United States, people in China take the holiday with no hesitance because it goes in line with the country's traditional ethics – respect to the elderly and filial piety to parents." So there you go. And of course we phoned our mums

Saturday, April 2, 2011


Happy birthday mum. Born in the year of jazz and Lindbergh flying the Atlantic; the dawn of television, the BBC, talking movies, transatlantic phone calls and traffic lights; the recognition of Ireland as a free state; and Cardiff winning the FA Cup. That same day Kenneth Tynan and Ferenc Puskas entered the world, followed later in the year by Danny La Rue, the current Pope, Val Doonican, Roger Moore, Janet (Psycho) Leigh and good old Ken Dodd.

1927 Quakes

Interestingly, there were two big eathquakes in Japan that year, the first killing nearly 3,000 people, the second out at sea caused a tsunami which killed 100 people, neither of which got a mention in the news over the last few weeks. Meanwhile in China there was a much bigger one which killed 200,000 (more than the the Great Tokyo earthquake of 1923 and the Sichuan earthquake of 2008 put together), also hardly mentioned now.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Rain and tapas

It rained this evening. Aside from two falls of snow, this is the first precipitation in Beijing for five months. To celebrate, we went out for dinner with Liz 2 and Stuart. This involved getting out of their car and walking across the pavement to the Spanish restaurant with umbrellas up for all of 5 seconds. But it was a novel experience. Good tapas and wine too.