Friday, December 29, 2006

An earthquake near Taiwan has damaged some cables and now the internet is pretty much broken. I can access Google and stuff inside China but that's about it. Here's a China Daily article about it and an update.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Seasons Greetings!

I had originally intended to do a short podcast for Christmas but I've had a pretty bad cold and feel that listening to me cough and splutter over the internet probably won't be the kind of fun experience that anyone would really want to listen to.

Last week we had the school Christmas party. That caused a pretty hectic week with something of a clash of cultures as the Chinese teachers took it far too seriously. The would basically take the kids out of mine and Ann's classes without permission and then argue when we complained that we actually wanted to teach them, or maybe even prepare them to do something for the party ourselves. They also got themselves into a very wound up state - one was practically throwing up with the stress she put herself under - shouting at the kids when they got the slightest thing wrong, pretty much taking any fun to be had out of the event and hiding it far away beneath the needs of their own egos. It was bizarre, disappointing and frustrating to witness.

Despite all this the party itself worked out fine with good performances from the kids and the parents seemed to enjoy it. Mr Cai, the head of the school, was there for a short time although more than one parent commented that it was strange how he could come to the Christmas party but cold not be bothered to attend proper meetings with parents. He also disappeared pretty quickly too. After the party Ann and her partner, Joop, came back to our apartment where the other foreign teachers came along for a few xmas drinks as well. Friday the kids and the teachers felt we deserved a rest after a very difficult week so we took it easy.

Saturday was Christmas shopping. Going into Ningbo any weekend is like Christmas shopping and Christmas itself made little difference as it is not observed here except as an opportunity to decorate the shops. We got in and out early enough for it not to be too difficult. In the evening Zak and I went to the Web school Christmas party at the Sheraton. Although neither of us has worked for Web for a while we helped bring the number of foreigners up. It was a fairly formal do, mostly in Chinese, and the food was a little disappointing. Still, there was plenty of free wine and all the smoked salmon I could eat so I can't complain. Afterwards we went to Le Cargo and then on to some smaller bars on the other side of town.

On Sunday we decided to visit Wanda World, a new mall that has opened up next to the school. It's a mall, so there's not a lot to say about it. Of course it's nice to have some restaurants and shops near the school as otherwise it would remain a bit of a wasteland around here but it's just a mall. I started feeling a bit ill while there though and by later in the afternoon my cold had come on in full force. Sore throat, sore nose, sore head, sore ears. I managed to get out to the Indian Kitchen for their Christmas buffet which was nice but a bit of a waste as I couldn't taste very much.

Christmas day we opened presents (for the record: an 80GB USB hard drive, a 2 GB memory stick for my phone, some incense and a bottle of whiskey) and I slept. In the evening we headed out to Josh's, a new Web teacher, for a Christmas party and by then I was starting to feel a little more human. Had some great food - pasta, dip, potato salad - and then came home as I was shattered and Zak had to work.

Watched A Scanner Darkly the other night. Really good film. Pretty much captures the book (at least it does a better job than any other PKD adaptation I've seen, wonder if they'll do Valis next? LOL) . The rotoscope effect works really well to give it a timeless feel. It could almost be set back in the sixties/seventies or in the future. Sometimes it is a little jarring to go from almost photo-real images of the outside world to the very cartoony indoor scenes but in a way that feels like part of the point. Importantly the story retains the power to shock, too, as it hints at the effect of Substance D on society - not just on the users but those who would exploit it for their own ends and power. It's a film that has all the bits but doesn't make it easy for the viewer. Intelligent, well made SF. It's a rare thing and should be treasured. I am also really looking forward to The Fountain.

Yesterday did not do very much at all apart from reading and some writing. Today is Zak's birthday so we are out for a meal tonight. My cold is still with me, my head is still bunged up and I spent what felt like half of last night coughing, but I guess I'm on the mend.

Friday, December 22, 2006

never drinking baijiu again. ever.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

This is an interesting article on the Chinese economy in the Guardian:

"If anything, the Chinese response has been churlish, dishonest, petulant, hectoring, and patronising. Instead of addressing American concerns head-on, the Chinese reminded a country less than three centuries old that being older, China deserved respect and a different treatment....
It requires a particular form of chutzpah to roll out convenient aspects of Chinese history, which show foreigners in a bad light, while glossing over their own policies which have impoverished their people, if not keeping them imprisoned. And so China showed images of the opium wars, attempting to imply that China is a struggling country, emerging out of centuries of misery, and none of it was the fault of its own leaders, and the world must be patient with this fragile nation."

Monday, December 18, 2006

Only one week to go until Christmas. Here at the school things are a little chaotic as the kids are mostly practising for their concert on Thursday evening. In the mornings we are running classes as normal but in the afternoons it looks like it's all change for this week.

Other than that things are pretty much as they are. Anne, the other Primary School teacher, has put in a letter to ask that her pay be increased (she is being badly underpaid) and the head of the school has basically ignored it and made no effort to talk to her in the week since. As for me I'm pretty much convinced that it would be best to leave at the end of this semester as I have not had anything happen to make me think otherwise. It seems a shame in some ways but I don't have any regrets. I've mostly enjoyed the past year in China but it is time to move on.

Life has been pretty quiet. It's cold but the weather has recently not been too bad except for a heavy fog one day last week. We've been going out for meals but nothing major. Yesterday we went to the gym as we had some free guest passes. The gym was quite nice, modern and well equipped but as it is in the city centre it's not really a good option for regular use. And the sauna doesn't seem to be used at all which is the best thing about going to the gym in the first place. I have lost a lot of my fitness, which is kind of shocking except that I've done little exercise for the past year except for walking around town. I can't even really get into the countryside very easily and there's not much in the way of hills around here anyway. Most are being scoured away to help build roads and buildings. The whole province will probably be completely level in ten years time.

Christmas is here in a small way. The shops are decorated and playing Christmas songs but, unsurprisingly, there's little else to indicate it's coming. We are planning on seeing some friends on the day itself and then probably going to a bar. I have the week off but Zak doesn't so that limits our options. Still, a rest will be nice and it should be a good opportunity to catch up on some writing. I was hoping to go to Beijing to meet Wu Yan, a Chinese science fiction writer, but I am not sure if that will be possible now. I need to check the details and decide. Soon, I guess.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Grrr. One thing with regularly using different computers to access the various sites that I publish to or read or use to (attempt to) manage my life - logging on generally sucks. Most sites you visit and you have a big advert for signing up and a tiny link hidden away somewhere for regular users. In the case of Flickr, because I joined before it was taken over by Yahoo, I have to visit three pages before I can actually log in and see my account. It's moronic. Bloglines, Remember the Milk, are all the same. What is so bad about letting the people who actually use (and in some cases pay for) your service get access to them quickly and easily?

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Every so often I will think about taking another look at Linux. Usually the pattern is that I install it, play with it, and then uninstall it after a week when I need a Windows application or realise that, actually, Linux is kind of ugly and not that nice, or get fed up of having a simple task like sticking a CD into the drive made complicated. It has been a few years since I last tried it and I have been seeing frequent references to a new, easy to use distribution called Ubuntu. This itself still was not really enough to convince me but then I read that Mac users were making the switch. Maybe Linux is finally ready to be a desktop replacement that you can enjoy using instead of putting up with. I wanted to find out.

I downloaded the iso to burn it to a cd. You boot from the cd and the operating system starts so you have an opportunity to try it and see if it works before you commit yourself to installing. It seemed to work fine on my Acer 5500 laptop apart from a lack of correct screen resolutions and I liked the look of it. The default theme is orange which makes it really stand out from pretty much every other operating system out there. I admit I do like it but, if I get bored of it this is Linux and it is a simple job to changed pretty much every aspect of how it looks.

I lacked the courage to actually install it on my laptop as I was concerned about losing XP. Fortunately my work PC, which was pretty much not working due to the number of viruses on the school network, had a couple of very large, empty partitions and I decided to give it a go on that. After playing with it and using it for work pretty much full-time Nanowrimo came along and I needed to use the rather rubbish computer the school provided for my apartment. Because of the difficulty it has with XP I decided to give Ubuntu a try on that too. For the whole month of November, then, I have been almost exclusively using Ubuntu and for the first time I did not miss Windows at all. I decided to take the plunge and install it on my laptop.

All three installations have gone without any major problems. There is some great online documentation for helping fix up some of the little issues with Ubuntu hot off the cd and tools like Easy Ubuntu made the work of getting MP3 working, installing Skype and getting the correct video drivers very easy. I also decided to give Beryl a try. Beryl is a kind of extra layer for the UI which makes windows transparent, or wobble when you move them, and generally look like a very modern, Vista-like operating system. It can be a bit flaky and crash (it is still in development) at times but it does look really good, once some of the more extreme effects have been turned off.

I've also found applications to match everything I need and want to do with my laptop. Amarok is an excellent music player with some really good features, like lyric look-up and a feature that downloads all the missing album covers for you. Picasa is available for Linux too so I get to keep my favourite photo organiser. Stellarium is a really good-looking star map program and Democracy TV looks really interesting, offering easy downloads from various channels, You Tube search and download and the ability to add torrents. Open Office and Abiword are decent replacements for Microsoft Office, although they are not quite as good (and I miss the ribbon) but they do everything that I need them to do. I spend most of my time in Google Docs now anyway - pretty much all of my novel was written in it. The only thing I can't do is play the latest games, but I got out of the habit of doing that a long time ago.

So, is it all it's cracked up to be, a Linux for the masses? Well, not quite. It is very usable once it has been set up. Installing applications is easy, and free, but some things do still require a trip to the console to run commands. There's no mp3 support on a fresh install and, although it's easy to sort things like this out using Easy Ubuntu or a guide it is an extra burden. I would say, though, that once it is all set up then it is easy to use (And, to be honest, how many people can really set up Windows themselves, easily, getting it all right? At least with Ubuntu you also end up with all the software the average user needs already installed. Except for mp3.) I will keep using it and now feel I have pretty much made the switch. Of course I'll still need to use MS Windows for development and the odd thing that I can't do with Linux (update my horribly proprietary Sony mp3 player or play Rome:Total War) but I feel comfortable with Ubuntu now and plan on sticking with it for a while. Hasta la victoria siempre.


Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Well, I did it. I finished nanowrimo and have written 50,000 words in just under 30 days. The resulting story might be good, it might be terrible; to be honest it's all a bit of a blur. I am certain that it's not readable at the moment, never mind publishable. So why do it?
Well I have 50,000 words of new ideas and writing now. That is a significant thing. I've also learnt a lot, about what I can achieve and how I can go about it. It sounds trite but the only way to actually write is to get words down. Some days those words may be useless and need re-writing but other days things slot into place and just work. And suddenly that strange idea you had to do that has relevance to this and it all, maybe, just works. It was fun to go out there with only a vague idea for a couple of characters, a broad idea of where I wanted to end up and almost nothing in-between.
There have been times when it has been hard. I've fallen behind, felt like I did not want to continue, wondered if it's worth it when I likely have no real inclination to get this story published. Two things generally got me going again. The first was simply the word count. If I sat down and did so many words today and tomorrow (and sometimes the days after too...), then I would catch up. It's the sitting down and doing it that is the hard part - once it's under way it generally keeps itself going, unless it's one of the bad days. As for getting published, well I wrote the story to have fun. In the process I may have created something that, with some extra work, may be publishable. I don't know. But even if not I have played with a lot of ideas and had a good time doing so.
Probably the biggest thing I've learned, though, is to get out of the short story mentality that I've been stuck in. The biggest problem with writing a novel that I've had over the past year is just how to get to the point where you take an idea and write so many words about it. It seemed impossible. Now it seems like something that I can enjoy doing.
So what's next? First, relax for a bit, get on with other things I've been wanting to do, like getting Ubuntu set up on my laptop, and probably do some work writing on some other ideas before taking a look at the story and probably sorting it out.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

And suddenly I can access blogger and blogspot again.
Still writing - have changed the image on the right to show you my daily progress, if you're really interested.
It's getting colder here. Lots of rain too. Have bought a thick coat and some jumpers in order to be able to cope. More when I'm done with Nano. In the meantime guess I'll enable email posting, just in case.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Digging through the new Google Docs and Spreadsheets settings I discovered that it can post to Blogger too. So I'm giving it a try.
Last week the school went to a mandarin orange orchard. We picked a lot of oranges and everyone enjoyed themselves.Today I started teaching the kids how to use powerpoint to create a slide on conservation. Tried to kick them out at break time but they wouldn't go.

Editing - I can also edit the post from Docs and Spreadsheets too. An online editor to edit a website? I would have wondered what the point was before...

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Blogger access

Blogger access
Originally uploaded by grazulis.
I cannot get to Blogger anymore. Google is also occasionally available. Of course, Wikipedia is back, so it's not all bad news, but not being able to reach some sites is extremely frustrating. Wishing I had thought to enable email posts.
I am doing this through Flickr, which I remembered allows me to post, but it is a bit of a pain because I can't edit or make changes afterwards.
Things are going well, though. I have written over 25000 words for Nanowrimo which means that I am on target. This is after a very shaky start because of a lack of time the first weekend and my being a little ill. Overall I'm really enjoying the process of writing the book in such a short space of time. It has taught me a lot and the book might actually be half-way ok by the end. After a lot of revisions.
I also got word that my story is in the next issue of Interzone. It will be published in January.
Other than that, things have been pretty quiet.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

If I'm a bit quiet on the blogging this next month it's because I've decided to do Nanowrimo, a month long challenge to write a novel of 50,000 words. I have a feeling it's going to be touch because I consider it a good day when I get 1000 words written but I guess that's the point. Anyway, if you're interested in giving it a try yourself just click on the icon on the right.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Some websites I've found interesting recently:

BoingBoing has to be one of my favourite "news" sites of the moment, just for the sheer amount of junk it throws up as well as interesting info on geeky stuff.

This is kind of like Google maps on steroids. It seems a bit slow but a nice way to waste half an hour.

More National Geographic, this time a whole area on world music with stuff to listen to.

The new, improved Google reader is much better, to me, than the old version and has just about replaced bloglines, so long as I'm on a fast connection. Now if only they'd implement being able to order subscriptions other than newest first.

Turn photos into ascii art.

Book on web design by 37Signals, the gurus of Web2.0

Finally, Nanowrimo is a website to support the National Novel Writing Month with a challenge for any writer (or wannabe) to write 50000 words in November.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

I arrived in Manchester, very tired, and was kindly collected and deposited home by my Uncle John. The next evening my parents arrived home. On the Saturday I went to visit Soo and Dave in Chester and had a bit too much to each and drink, but it was all very nice. It was weird being back in the UK, especially as the reason was so unexpected, and seeing some friendly faces helped. I went back home on the Sunday and began thinking about the speech that my mum asked me to give at the funeral for my Grandma. I still wasn't sleeping properly, usually waking up at around 4 or 5 in the morning, and on Monday morning, when I woke, I wrote the basis for the whole speech which I then finished off through the day.
The funeral was on the Tuesday. The church was full of family and friends which was really nice to see. I was very nervous about giving the speech on several levels; just doing it was one, but there is also the worry about content, what people would think, and all that. My mum had read it and thought it was good so I just had to get up and do it although by the end I was shaking and almost crying. It's something that I am glad to have done. Grandma meant a lot to me and I was happy that I was given the opportunity no matter how stressful it was at the time.
I didn't really do much on the Wednesday except go into Manchester to have a look at the bookshops. I got an email off David K suggesting we meet for lunch so I met him at the Earth cafe. It was good food, even if it was vegan... On Thursday my trip to Leeds began. I met Andy in the Angel for old times sake and then, slightly drunk, we went back to his house where we ate pizza and chatted. We all needed an early night, though, and I spent the next day reaquainting myself with my PS2 and reading comic books (thanks, Andy!).
I met Anthony in the Vic at 5pm. I'd remembered to email someone from my previous job at Education Leeds and so a few people I knew from then came along and said hello. Slowly my other friends started to arrive, as well as my sister and her boyfriend. Was thoroughly drunk by the time we left, which was only about 10:30 to give us time to get to an off-license before heading back to Anthony's and carrying on. Got to bed about 3.
After a few rough bits felt surprisingly ok on Saturday. Went to Hansa's, a very nice vegetarian restaurant in Leeds, with Mike, Cate, David and Amy. Ant came as well. Then back to Ant's where Dave and Dutch turned up to say hello. Got an early night, though.
Flew back on Monday with a rucksack of twiglets, marmite and dry roasted peanuts. Back at the school I was told that my boss had decided to hire a known heavy drinker and generally inappropriate teacher. Finally think Ann and I managed to convince him that no matter how desparate we are for teachers this would be a really bad idea.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Lots has been happening since my last post. I met my parents in Hangzhou on Sunday 1st October, which is National Day here in China. Chinese people generally get a week off but because there's no real holiday here they have to work the weekends to make up for it. In the run up to that Sunday I had to attend three Chinese functions in a row and by the end of it I was wishing that I was vegetarian again. If I never eat a strange bit of meat again it will be too soon. One function was for my school, another for the company that owns the school and the last for the mayor's National Day speech.
Hangzhou was generally pretty ok apart from the bit where I fell over and bruised my knee and chest by landing on a bench. Saw some bits of countryside I hadn't seen before and I think my parents enjoyed it. On the way back to Ningbo we stopped at the Lu Xun museum in Shaoxing and spent half the day there. It's not just a museum but also a preserved bit of the old town. There's photos from my last visit. As everyone in China has holiday at the same time it was all pretty busy and by the time I got back to Ningbo I was about ready for a rest. It wasn't quite to be; I took the folks to the city centre for some shopping which took most of the day. The next day we went to the Qing'an assembly hall which was a kind of maritime museum but was pretty interesting before meeting up with my boss in a tea house in Laowaitan. In the afternoon we went to Moon Lake and rode a pedalo around it.
On the Friday we received some bad news. My grandma died the day before. From that point on it's been a bit hectic as various calls had to be made and things sorted out and things left without knowing what would happen. The funeral is next week, on my birthday, so my parents have been able to complete their holiday at least. I've changed my existing ticket to allow me to fly back to Manchester but the only space has been for tomorrow so I will be back before them. I've also arranged a ticket back for the 23rd. So tonight I'm off to Shanghai to see my parents, briefly, before I fly back. I am hoping to meet up with some friends while I'm there but it's all going to be a little odd, I think.
Had another good bbq at William's last Saturday. Some really good food and then ended up at LBBs. Do have some other news but that's going to have to wait for now. Watched Superman Returns the night before last. I enjoyed it. Which is strange really because I've avoided Superman comics as though I were allergic to them. It captures the spirit of the original films really well (and let's face it, you just need to hear the theme to remember) and you can at least see where the budget went.
Also had a serious chat with my boss today because things at the school aren't going well and I felt I had to impress upon him the importance of certain things happening while I am gone. On top of which I was told this morning that some new children would be starting in Ann's class which we were never told about. Overall I'm not happy.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

I've gotten a little out of practise implementing GTD properly because it hasn't really been necessary until recently. As such my system has become very adhoc which poor management of categories and a rather slapdash approach to doing reviews leading to a loss of control on my part. The new job is not so familiar to me and requires a different way of thinking; using broad labels such as work or home have made it hard for me to create the focus of Next Actions that I have really needed. Some distinctions within categories and inboxes have become blurred making it harder for me to manage even basic requirements for acheiving. The net result of all this has been greater stress within the context of an environment that I can do little about.

After reading this article on DIYPlanner I decided to attack the problem at source and I cracked open Freemind in order to work out my goals and categories across both work and home and take a look at what has been working and what has failed.

Using a mindmap I was broke things up into distinct categories based on my current needs for Work and Home. Under Work, there is Teaching, Admin and Attitude. These are then further broken down into relevant subcategories (see the mindmap below). I then broke these down further, either with extra categories or tasks that I need to complete, to get as much down as possible and to help highlight which of these categories are important and which are not.

On the Home side I used the Physical, Spiritual, Social and Cognitive categories suggested in the DIY article. Under these topics I began to list some of the things that I wanted make sure I find the time to do, like Writing under Spiritual or Reading and GTD under Cognitive.

With this work done it was time to see about putting it into practice. I have a long list of inboxes at the moment so I decided to focus on getting that down to just two, on the computer, which can then be supplemented by more mobile methods, like the hipster, later.

I began by looking again at Remember the Milk for ToDo lists instead of using an offline application such as Outlook so that it is easier for me to manage and check my lists wherever I am. As I've mentioned before RTM also has some good features and is fast to use.
My previous categories were area-based, such as Home or Work, but there was no way to highlight what needed to be done immediately. I began by setting up some new lists and renaming old ones. The lists that I have currently settled on are:
  • @NextActions
  • @Waiting
  • Home
  • Shopping
  • Writing
The @s are to make those appear first on the list. Everything begins life in the @NextActions list and can then be moved if it's more appropriate that it go somewhere else. However I then found that I wanted to be able to categorise items further so that I could keep everything I need in the @NextAction category but still be able to look at a particular area, such as Curriculum. To resolve this I took the list of categories I'd worked out in the mindmap and applied them as labels. For example, "Amend Curriculum Plan" is tagged with Admin and Curriculum. Admin is the big label but Curriculum helps to refine it. (I can also assign names under tasks too, especially useful for @Waiting items). RTMs Overview page includes an section that combines Lists and Labels in a single box with items displayed in a cloud with items at different sizes depending upon how many items are in them making it easy to see lists and projects that have a lot to do (see screenshot above). Finally I printed out a copy of the mindmap of labels which I can keep on my desk for easy reference when creating new items.

Once I was happy that that was in place I started to tackle my email. I still like the gmail interface so I saw no reason to change from that. It's fast and flexible and available whereever I have internet access. The first thing to do was to separate my work email from my personal mail. Work email in my personal space depresses me because it makes me feel like I have to deal with it even when I'm not at work. I have already set up a work email account which I have begun to encourage people to use but not everyone does and stuff just gets through. So I have set up a filter on the worst offenders to forward those messages on to the work account and label them huamao so that I can remove them from my personal mail account during review. I then went through and deleted the work messages from my email account so that it is now just for me (after forwarding ones I needed to keep to the work address).

The next step was then to redo the labels. I have never used labels in Gmail effectively. Some, like "Scotland" (set up to bring together info about a trip to Scotland 3 years ago) could be deleted while others, like Parents' holiday (to track details of bookings for my parents' trip to China at the moment) I've renamed. I also created two new categories, @Reply and @ToRead, for marking those emails that require further action. All others can be archived or deleted. Emails requiring further response are also starred so that there is a single quick click I can do to see what outstanding emails I have. And best of all it leaves me with an empty inbox. My new list of labels in gmail (remember, this is for personal use) is:
  • @Reply
  • @ToRead
  • computer - for anything related to computing such as MS newsletters
  • family - messages from my family
  • friends - message from my friends
  • huamao - messages to do with my current job
  • info - basically a reference tag, for information like password reminders, flight details, etc.
  • jobs - contacts and other mails that I may need when looking for work
  • writing - stuff to do with writing, selling it or doing it
My work email account (also gmail) basically mirrors all of this but with slightly different categories based upon the RTM ones.

So, after spending a few hours rebuilding my GTD system I am feeling more in control of things than I was. There is a tendency when you feel like you have too much on your plate to sit back feeling sorry for yourself and just try to ride it out while getting more and more stressed. Now I feel like I'm in a position where I can at least be in control of what I need to do, even if the other problems with the job (or, rather, the management) are something that I am just going to have to accept for now.

My error was to be sloppy about reviews which led to poor and ill-thought categories and lists as well as extending the number of collection buckets I was "using" beyond a level that was maintainable. This kind of rebooting has made me feel much happier about what I need to do and reminded me that the most important things for me to keep the system going are the Next Actions and the Reviews.

Assuming, of course, I even stay in this job....

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Went to Shanghai last weekend. Ningbo is reasonably developed but is still lacking in a lot of areas - the shops are pretty monotonous, there aren't many bars and mostly it's just the same people out every week. Which is nice but it's good to experience something different for a change, especially as I've been feeling stressed. And Shanghai is very different. It's a truly modern city, with a fast, reliable underground, bookshops with good supplies of English novels, shops of a dizzying variety (everything from specialty kilim shops to Ikea), and a busy but relaxed vibe that makes London seem very quiet.
Mostly I wanted to buy a couple of books, and I ended up getting five. For those who are interested:
  • Umberto Eco - The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana
  • China Mieville - Looking for Jake
  • Liz Williams - Banner of Souls
  • Mark Gatiss - Vesuvius Club
  • Murakami - Norwegian Wood
We stayed in the Metropole as all the cheap places were booked up and we hadn't put a lot of thought into planning it. Still, it's a nicely decadent place, very reminiscent of the 1930s and our room had views over the Bund and a balcony looking over the rest of Shanghai.
Went to the Gongdelin vegetarian restaurant and had a couple of beers in a bar on Saturday. On Sunday I went to meet Victor, a guy I've been in occasional contact with as we share an interest in GTD and moleskines. We had a delicious Xinjiang meal and chatted about computers and time management. He's a nice bloke and I look forward to having the opportunity to meet up again.
After that I met up with Zak who had been looking at violins. As well as walking up and down a street filled with musical instrument shops we also headed to the Yu Gardens area but didn't really do much else before getting the train back to Ningbo.
It seems strange to me that I haven't been to Shanghai for the weekend before now, but I think I'll definitely be heading over again in the next month or so.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Well, term started last friday and it's been something of an interesting week. Some has been good and some has been bad. The good is the actual job, and the small amount of teaching I do, is very enjoyable. I also like getting to know the Chinese staff and generally although there are things that are just plain not working there isn't a lot that I can do about that and I have to just keep pushing while letting things happen. The key example here is the attitude towards hiring more teachers. They are reluctant, still, to talk about paying for advertising or increasing teachers salaries to make it happen. But without more teachers we face a problem with existing parents and also with the fact that we simply cannot expand and get more students. Which brings us to the bad. Last night I got phonecalls from two parents who screamed at or threatened me down the phone because their kids had told them that a new pupil would be starting on Monday. That isn't even true - we had a visit from some parents who are keen to get their child in to the school but it isn't going to be on Monday. Even if it was true we would still have less than 10 children in a single classroom. The problem is that there is a wide range of ages in that classroom, from 5 to 10, and they believe that this is unacceptable. Now, I have spoken to the classroom teacher, Ann, and she maintains that teaching that range is well within her capacity. I am also teaching two of the older students for science and SOSE/History so that all the kids have guaranteed teacher time. Of course, the situation is not ideal and we desparately need another teacher but the parents' behaviour in all this is unacceptable.
I've also been out a couple of times this week with work. The first was on Monday for a meal to celebrate the start of term. This involved my boss, the acting principal Mr Cai, ganbei-ing everyone around the table. Ganbei means empty glass and is like "cheers" except that you do have to empty your glass. In this case, red wine. I was required to go around the table as well so I was thoroughly drunk by the time I got home.
Next, Friday night, we went out for a meal again for the Teachers Day Holiday but the drinking was a lot more subdued as everyone was saving themselves for the KTV afterwards. KTV is kareoke, which I have managed to avoid so far but not any more. The KTV club is basically lots of private rooms for groups to sit around on a sofa and enthusiastically applaud each other for singing. Yes, I did sing one song. But the strangest thing was when I went to the toilet. I was standing at the urinal when suddenly the attendant placed a hot towel on my neck and started giving me a head massage! To say I wasn't expecting it is understating the matter although I've been so tense all week that it was probably a good thing. Anyway, after KTV Zak and I headed into Laowaitan to meet some friends at a bar called Le Cargo, and I got very drunk for the second time this week.
On a non-work related theme Zak and I went to a very nice Lebanese restaurant on Tuesday. We had humus and aubergine dip and grilled chicken and meat with spices. It was great. And there's no alcohol served in the place which was even better.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Watched a recent Hong Kong film called Election yesterday. The story is about the fall out within a triad from its election of its new chairman and the battle between the two candidates to gain control. It was really good. The film is very naturalistic, with no guns, so is very different from the normal HK fare. In fact the triad leaders spend most of their time in the film locked up as the police try to force them to work out a truce while the gang's factions fight amongst each other to deliver the baton of the chairman's authority to the leader they support.
It does have some faults. Some of the themes and characters aren't developed quite as well as they could have been, including the main theme of the battle between tradition and the need to "modernise" their gang activities. There is an Election 2 which apparently isn't quite as good, or at least is really just a kind of re-run of the original but it's supposed to be still watchable. If I see a copy with english subtitles I think I'll get it.
Today is the school's open day in preparation for the start of term next Friday. I get to meet parents and give a speech which is all a bit scary. I probably shouldn't have had tha second tequila last night but actually I feel fine. This lunchtime I listened to Just a Minute to help me relax.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Today I met one of the richest men in China, the owner of Hua Mao group and my school. He came to see how the place is looking and generally give his blessing for the future. The school itself is really starting to look like a real school, with classrooms and everything.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

More playing about with Google, but this time with googlepages. My old website has been moderately popular, mainly because of the cut-up machine, but has been in a considerable limbo since UKOnline disabled the facility to upload changes through any mechanism except directly logging on to their servers. This always seemed to me a shame but at the same time I moved onto Blogger and found that maybe I didn't need a website anymore. However, with Google's new service I decided that maybe it was time to have another look at what a personal website should be.
I did take a quick look at googlepages when it was first announced but found the lack of javascript (an essential for the cut-up machine) and no abiliy to create your own template a bit too limiting. This time around there are still no personalised templates but there is the addition of google widgets, exactly like those used on the Google homepage, which can use javascript. So I spent Sunday evening playing with that and created a cut-up machine (which you can add to your desktop by clicking here: Add to Google).
That evening I fell ill with some kind of nasty food poisoning and spent most of Monday and Tuesday in bed. This morning, not really wanting to get on with very much else, I've been playing with the site and have now created a new(ish) homesite. So far it's just content from the old one and I haven't moved everything yet. But not bad for a morning's work.
Not that it has all been that easy. The lack of templates means that I am stuck with the scheme that Google has created and cannot modify it at all. So, if I want to change something on one page I have to go through all of them and change each one. It also means that it is impossible to create a generic menu system. To get around this I had to create another special widget and add it manually to each page. This seems ridiculous when compared with the functionality that blogger already offers and hopefully will be fixed soon.
Aside from that it works quite neatly. The page editor is simple and allows anyone to create a website. You can also upload pages and images (up to 100MB) so if I had wanted I could have used that facility to create a carbon copy of my old website without much fuss (except for the lack of folders).
So now I just have to decide what the website is for. Afterall I do have my blog so what's the point? I've yet to really decide. I think I want to look at the site as a platform for my writing, another plank on the muddy path of treating it as a career, and so there will be content and organisation changes over the next few months. Much of the older content will, I think, be archived off to the side to make way for other stuff. Now that I can. Unless the changes announced to Blogger today change my mind again.
The new home page can be seen at:
Setup your own pages at: (you'll need a Google account)
Information on creating Google Gadgets:

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Well, I survived the typhoon. Actually we didn't even get any rain here in Ningbo although it was pretty bad in the south of the province. This week I've decided to finish with my part-time work with Web English School as it was just taking up too much of my time. My new job as Dean is really starting to take off and I want to be able to focus on that, and write, and the money isn't so important. It paid for my phone and got me a little extra, so that's ok.
As a writer I like to collect news articles, bits of science and odd words that I uncover on the internet. Previously this meant adding links to your favourites (and, latterly, delicious and bloglines) and forgetting about them. Then, almost inevitably, when you came back to read the article it wold be gone, moved or deleted, meaning extra wasted time searching Google for some remains of a half-remembered idea. Scrapbook for Firefox is a plugin that allows you to select a piece of text or even a whole web page and save it to your hard drive. It also has the ability to categorize your snippets into folders, add notes of your own, search and highlight text. All very useful, until you move to China and leave your computer behind.
Recently Google announced Notebook, an application that does pretty much the same as scrapbook but with the advantage that all your information is stored at Google, can be shared with others, and accessed anywhere with the internet. It also integrates with Firefox so additions can be made quickly simply by right-clicking on a selected piece of text or page, just like Scrapbook...
I've been using it a lot to collect articles and research information but I feel I haven't been using it all that effectively. Sure, it's a repository of information I want to be able to read when I want but what else can it do? This week I started using the enhanced Google homepage again and rediscovered the wonderful Word of the Day. I decided to add a word from the list to the Google notebook and realised that I may be able to use it more effectively. This morning I went into it and set up four different notebooks: Inbox, Words, Inspiration and Novel. Inbox is the default. Everything added goes in there. This saves me having to continuously alter which Notebook I'm adding to which is not an easy or intuitive process, especially from the pop-up window. Now, once a week I can go through the Inbox and file things into the correct notebook. Interesting articles that may be a starting point for an idea in Inspiration, words I like into Words, and research for my novel, well, you get the idea. Each notebook can also be divided into sections, which can be useful fo separating out specific information further. So now I can spend even more time on the web "researching" ;)
Google Notebook is still a labs (beta) product and does have some flaws and some omissions. There is AJAX implementation to create a nice interface but it can be a little unwieldy at times. Options such as collapse all are only available through a drop-down menu and they should really have instant access icons. You can create sections within a notebook but notes added just seem to be thrown into the latest section instead of at the top where they can be filed easily or, ideally, asking you which section you want the note in when you drop it onto the notebook. There is also no "tagging," a concept so integral to Gmail which would also work really well here as it is impossible to have notes in more than one section. The option to be able to quickly highlight text would also be useful as would being able to view the note full page or as a pop-out.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Well, people travel for new experiences so last week I went bowling for the first time. It was an event organised by Web, the school where I'm doing some part-time teaching. It was a lot of fun although I didn't score that highly. I think it was around 80.
I have had another busy week. The work for the new school is starting to really pick up. Lots of forms and policies to get sorted before the start of term, new parents to meet, and new teachers to recruit and fix up with their visas. And when I'm not doing that then Web are asking me to do extra classes, which I am now having to turn down. I haven't had a day off for a few weeks now; so much for my long holiday... Spent yesterday afternoon in a teahouse working through some stuff in a meeting. The teahouse was pretty nice; quiet and comfortable. You pay about 50 or 60RMB for a cup of tea but you get endless refills and free food so it's expensive but a good place for go spend a couple of hours.
I downloaded Office 2007 Beta last week as I do miss having One Note and I wanted to test Outlook's iCal features. Seems pretty stable and I do really like the new interface. It's such a simple but powerful change that it almost seems a wonder no-one thought of it before. Now, instead of lots of drop-down menus and obscure icons the two are combined into a single "tabbed" interface. For example, the Home tab includes all the basic editing and style functions which are divided up into specific boxes and labelled with what they do. And if an option isn't there, or you are not quite sure what you want to do, many of them can be extended by clicking on the bottom of the box to provide more information. There is also a big Start button type thing in the top-left which opens out into the standard save, etc, but just, well, looks good. If I could be bothered I would post some screenshots but there's probably plenty out there.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Sony Ericsson W810c
Originally uploaded by grazulis.
Have been busy this week. Partly because of my new role as Dean, partly because I've been working "part-time" at Web international, a professional English school here in Ningbo. I say part-time but I've taught over 20 hours this week, mostly in the evenings, which has been a bit much and has left me little time to really do much else, although I have been wasting time playing a computer game - It's too hot to do much else.
This is my new phone which is pretty neat. I've been using my calendar to sync with Outlook but what I really want is to be able to sync with Google calendar. I'm hoping that the beta of Outlook 2007 will at least allow me to subscribe to iCal feeds so I can sync downwards.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Am back from Xinjiang where I had a really fun time.

Xinjiang Podcast
Or see photos.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Today it is an oven out there. Even Steven, an Australian and disliker of air conditioning, is doing nothing today except sit inside with his air con on full blast.
But I had to go out as I wanted to wish the previous principle, Joel, well on his last day as well as confirm a few last bits of work before I go away. I also wanted to get my phone topped up and do a couple of other bits and pieces while I was in town. Hopefully, when I get back, the move to the new campus here will be well under way and I can focus on hiring new teachers. We're looking for primary and high school so if you're reading this and would be interested send me an email.
Anyway, enough of that. For the next two weeks I am on holiday and can forget all about meetings with the head of Nottingham University (Ningbo campus), recruitment, promotion and the curriculum. I fly to Urumqi on Sunday morning.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

And then something happens. Yesterday I had an interview here at Huamao with a couple of representatives from the company that owns the school. At the end of that I was offered the position of Dean, effectively head teacher, of a school they bought earlier in the year that teaches the children of expats here in Ningbo. The school is currently located downtown but is being moved to the campus here for the new school year. It's more money, more responsibility and, hopefully, more interesting work although it looks like I'll have to forego my long holiday in order to oversee the move as well as market the school to prospective parents. It's currently very small with only 20-odd students and and my progress will be judged by increasing the number of pupils. To be honest it came as a bit of a shock. I know someone else was being put into the position but he had to pull out for personal reasons. I didn't expect the job to be offered to me. I went to visit the school today and met the current principal and many of the teachers there at the moment. It looks like a nice place although it is a bit unnerving to think about what it all means. I guess I'll just have to see how it all goes. I am still planning on going to Xinjiang, however, as I really don't think I could stand to lose all my plans (such as they were) for the next few months. You can see the school's website at

Friday, June 16, 2006

Today was my last day teaching for this semester. This week has been fairly easy with just the last few exams, scoring them and showing many of my classes Wallace and Grommit. Yesterday I took part in a dialogue challenge for my Grade 1 Ideal classes which required the students to learn dialogues based on phrases I had taught and then to adjust them to their own liking. It went very well and many of the students, thanks to some hard work from their Chinese teachers, were pretty much flawless.
So, what to do now? I am off until the end of August and, as I have said, I want to spend a lot of time writing but I am also planning on doing some travelling as well. On Sunday I am going to Putuoshan with Zak for a couple of days but as she is working she can't get away for too long. The plan then was to go to Xinjiang with Nick, who has just finished his contract here at Huamao, but now he has been offered a permanent job that he can't really turn down. So, I am still going to Xinjiang but I will probably leave it for a week before I head off now.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Guardian Unlimited Technology | Technology | Google 'compromised principles' over China
Interesting article. I had noticed that for the past few weeks I've been having problems reaching Google and my mail sporadically which I guess is all connected. One of the interesting comments here is "[Mr Brin] said virtually all the company's customers in China used the uncensored service." I guess, given the choice, you go for the one with the best results, even if it means you can't reach some of the sites you want - like wikipedia, BBC news, Wired blog, any geocities site and Blogspot. It's also interesting how Google keep engaging on this issue, unlike the resounding silence from companies like Yahoo and Microsoft who have actively helped the government arrest people or suppress content. (Sorry, I meant "obeyed local laws").

Monday, June 05, 2006

I haven't really been up to all that much, certainly nothing that really seemed worth recording in the blog, but I figured I'd get something down.
I was asked by the school to participate in a competition to write an essay about Ningbo through a foreigner's eyes. I gave it a go, tried to write the most complimentary thing I could in half an hour and submitted it. Unfortunately I'm up against some stiff competition as I don't think I sucked up nearly as much as some of the other entries (although I did try). You can read the essays on the Ningbo Today website.
I've been working on my novel - mostly by writing down everything I know about it in a Tiddlywiki. This allows me to make WikiWords which can be used to identify other tihngs I want to write about as background so the whole process is kind of like mindmapping except that it allows me to explore ideas in a way that suits me better as a writer - and the tiddly creates a fantastic reference for me for when I am writing. I counted the number of words are in it yesterday and it already comes to nearly 5000 and there's still plenty I want to add in to it as well. It's a fantastic writer's tool - or indeed for any planning task. Of course mind mapping is still useful for a lot of reasons but this is a kind of next step on the process.
Speaking of which I suppose I ought to also big up N-Gen, a random name generator for writers and anyone else who might be interested in such things. It's been built by a friend of mine but it's simple and it works well. That also reminded me of WriteThis which I've also now downloaded again and is a great little app for just getting started.
As for work; I'm giving examinations this week and probably part of next week too. They're fairly simple (it has to be to get through 40 kids in 40 minutes) and it kind of makes it a fairly easy week in some ways as I just have to sit there and prompt the kids for answers to some basic questions that they should be able to answer. Of course what it does mean is that this semester, for me, is nearly over and I need to start thinking about the summer holidays. I am probably going to spend some time in and around Ningbo to do some intensive writing but I am also planning at least one big trip away. I am thinking about going to Kashgar*, in Xinjiang, which probably will take about 5 days of travelling overland (it's possible to fly but still difficult and extremely expensive) but it just somehow seems worth it. Haven't really decided for definite (well, ok, I probably have) and I haven't any firm plans so I'll keep you updated.
Yesterday I had an interview to do some part-time work teaching some employees of a stationary exporters. It's a small company and they seem nice and are willing to let me dictate when and where so it should suit me over the next few months so I can earn a little bit of cash and meet new people without disrupting my plans too much. (I've already turned down two offers of full-time summer schools...)
And that's about it.

*That link was going to take you to a page on Rough Guides web site but they have implemented an absolutely terrible website that doesn't allow me to link to the page I want because it uses javascript for everything. Idiots.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Well the weather is getting warmer and the end of term is getting nearer. In fact, after tomorrow, I only have 3 weeks of teaching left. Time really seems to have flown by even though it also feels like an age since I left the UK. Still, it means I now have to start working out what I'm going to do for the summer.

This book looks interesting....

Strange Horizons Reviews: Visionary in Residence by Bruce Sterling, reviewed by James A. Trimarco

Thursday, May 18, 2006

I've been a bit ill this week with a cold and sore throat and ear. I went to the doctors yesterday and was given two drips, some antibiotics and some throat lozenges. The drips are bit over the top but tey are used to administer some kind of medicine. Am starting to feel a lot better now although my ear is still sore. Have had some time off work as there's no way I could have taught and mostly I just lay in bed.

On Tuesday evening I had an interesting chat with a man in Shanghai who is interested in Lifehacking and GTD. We started by discussing linux distros and it kind of went downhill from there... still it was nice to geek out for a bit and I've offered to help him set up, which could be fun. He also put me onto a site that gives you 1GB free storage space for files - useful for backup and accessing anywhere:

And, this week, Google Notebook is here, which looks pretty good despite not being able to tag stuff. Handy for collecting research from the web together and not a bad interface either.

PS. David makes a good point about the box link (see comments) - use that and help me on my way to a free account upgrade! What are you waiting for?

Friday, May 12, 2006

So, after a short break it's back to work. Spent Sunday spraying for cockroaches and sweeping up the remains. Actually I'm still occasionally sweeping up the remains as there are more, er, victims every morning. Basically after having a cockroach jump at me for the third time after opening my fridge door (they like to rest in the space between the fridge and freezer doors) I'd had enough.

Teaching has been pretty fun, the kids seem mostly to be glad to be back (although one class was just so so when I asked them how they were). The only day that was a bit rough was Wednesday but that was entirely my own fault. I went out on Tuesday night for Noah's birthday and we had way too much beer and sake at a Japanese restaurant. mmm sushi. I also found out I had another story rejected on Wednesday morning.

And tonight it's Steven's birthday so it looks like I may have to do it all again. In the meantime I'm listening to Black Grape and enjoying an unexpected afternoon off as my tutor students are not back from Korea yet.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

May Day Holiday

A podcast talking about what I did on my holiday - travelling to some nearby cities and seeing the sites.

My Odeo Podcast

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Well, have been busy wrapping up my last week of work before the holiday. Had my Wednesday classes repeated yesterday as that part of the timetable is running again until Sunday although I am, as of today, officially on holiday for a week. So yesterday's classes were a bit weird as I basically used them to review some stuff and show them some photos of my family. While I have enjoyed the teaching it's going to be nice to have a break. Looks like we're definitely going to Shaoxing on Monday with some of the other teachers here and then Zak and I are going to Hangzhou for a couple of days. I expect it will be incredibly busy and hectic but it will be nice to get out of Ningbo for a little bit.
Went to the ballet last night - Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake. It was at the Ningbo Grand Theatre, a newly built place that is as modern and well built as somewhere like Bridgewater Hall so it all felt very civilised. Of course, the atmosphere was a little different, less stuffy and many people were quite happily snapping photos and chatting through the performance which made the visit more interesting. I've never been to a ballet before but I guess it was about what I expected except that I enjoyed it more than I thought. Namely a bunch of people dancing around to music, but it was pretty impressive. The dancers are incredibly fit and manage to make what must be really difficult look very graceful and easy. Don't think I would rush to see another one but I'm glad that I went. I was a little disappointed by the music as it is a little blander than I thought it would be but I guess it's really more like a film soundtrack, an accompaniment, rather than a symphony or something.
Today have mostly been lazing around, doing a few chores and soaking up the heat. It's a hot day today...

Monday, April 24, 2006

Thanks to those of you who have given me feedback on the podcast. I will do another one soon.

This last week has been pretty quiet. I've caught up with some of my DVD watching, taught some lessons and that's about it. We went out for some food at a nearby restaurant on Friday night and then a few people ended up back at mine for drinks afterwards. We bought a crate from a local shop and the owner was good enough to drop it off for us although in the end we didn't make much of a dent in it as Ardon had some whiskey so we had some of that. When Rowena came back from work she told us that some Russian ballet people are coming to Ningbo this Friday to do Swan Lake.So it looks like, for reasons I'm still not quite sure about, I'm off to do that.

On Saturday night we went to Le Cargo, one of the other few bars in town. It's incredibly expensive, even compared to the other places, and it's also too small for the number of people who were there, but it does have the best music - mainly because they have someone playing it rather than a computer for anyone to use to select their favourite Bon Jovi tracks.

Next week is May Day, which is a week long holiday for many people here in China. Still don't have any definite plans as such but it looks like we're going to visit Shaoxing, which is another nearby city, and maybe do some of the sites around Ningbo. While it would be nice to go further away it's all going to be pretty busy with everyone in China on the move.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Georgina was talking this morning about the dust storms in Beijing. They've been really bad this past couple of years but this year looks like the worst. Today has been really hot and nice until I walked out of my last class this afternoon. There is dust everywhere and a massive cool wind blowing. Pretty weird.

Also, just had some real, actual toast with jam. Awesome.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Well, I've entered the age of podcasting, so if you'd rather listen to than read about my past week in China follow the link. I'll see how it goes but I may do one once a month or so instead of a blog entry. It's only a couple of minutes long, just to try it all out. For those of you who can't be bothered, a Happy Easter to you anyway.

My Odeo Podcast

Monday, April 10, 2006

Went out Friday night which was greatly helped by getting paid for the tutoring I've been doing although the Shamrock was full of businessmen and LBBs full of idiots so came back reaosnably early anyway.
Saturday morning went to get Zak's bike fixed and had a look at some myself. Looks like I can get a pretty reasonable one for cheap so I may look into that this week. Getting around locally isn't difficult but a bike would just make everything a bit quicker and easier. I also bought a couple of plants. One is on my table in the main room which is really nice, kind of cheers the place up. The other is a bonsai which I've put on my balcony. Total price less than 3 quid.
Watched Dog Day Afternoon in the evening, which I haven't seen for years, and is still a really good film. Had to get an early night though as we were required to be up for 7:30 to get a tour organised by the school to a local festival in a town called Hengjie. It was a kind of food competition so got to try lots of different tasty things - although it did keep raining. I guess local festivals are the same all over. After that we went for lunch although I was still pretty stuffed so couldn't eat much. Then we were supposed to go climb a mountain and pick bamboo (the area has a lot of bamboo) and Nick wanted to go panda spotting. Of course there are no pandas but it gave us something to talk about. Unfortunately the narrow streets of the town meant that the bus got trapped by another bus that had broken down and we ended up just sat on the bus for an hour. Then we came home.

Friday, April 07, 2006


Keen students (sometimes)
Originally uploaded by grazulis.
It's been kind of a mellow week in the run-up to pay day. Got called by a friend at Webb, a language school in Ningbo for adults, to see if I could take an English Corner as a one off that evening. I said yes, it's a bit extra money and I figured it would be interesting to talk to grown ups for a change. The chosen topic was adoption, although I was able to pick any I wanted, so I talked about that. It was pretty interesting to see what questions I got, like: "Do people adopt babies so they can get tax breaks?" "No"; "Is homosexuality legal in your country?" "Yes"; "Is that why there aren't many babies to adopt?" "No"; "Why are you left-handed?" "Because I'm smarter." (Well, ok, that wasn't the actual answer I gave to that one). When I got back Nick was just heading out to the shop so we went out and bought a crate of beer as it was pretty warm and we all needed a drink. It was pretty heavy to carry back though.
Tuesday was hot, apparently up to 30 degrees. A little taster of what the coming months hold for us as it has cooled off a bit since. Other than that it's just been teaching, drinking and watching the odd dvd. Although 24 bottles lasted four of us 4 days so it's not been excessive. Also been playing frisbee after work a bit and doing some weights (so Mike, you'd better get to it too) which has been fun.
Got one of the Chinese teachers I work with to take some pictures in my Second grade class this morning so I've posted them for your pleasure. The lesson is to teach shapes by getting the kids to learn how to describe aliens. It works quite well. Afterwards Linda suggested I could use this lesson plan for a demonstration class for other teachers and parents. Gulp.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Got woken up this (Sunday) morning by John Zhu telephoning me. Apparently a parcel has arrived for me. Yay! But I really could have waited a couple of hours to find that out... Especially as drinking to the wee hours last night with Nick and Ardon. Well, 1am, which counts as pretty late in these parts. So it goes.
Weekend has been pretty quiet. Zak set off for HK yesterday to try and get her visa sorted so we went to the Indian Kitchen in Ningbo on Friday night. Had the All You Can Eat buffet for 78 yuan. Kind of expensive but it was really really tasty. Nice to have a proper curry again. Only managed about 3 plates, though, including starters.
Yesterday mostly just lazed around but got some GTD stuff sorted and did some writing. Watched an old John Woo film called A Better Tomorrow starring Chow Yun Fat. Good fun but pretty ludicrous. Then everyone started congregating at my place in the evening.
Found this article in the China Daily the other day. The China Daily is the official English language newspaper in China. Serious topic. Made me chuckle.
Guidance needed to prevent teen pregnancies

2006-03-18 07:01

They were 16-year-old classmates, studied together regularly and were clearly attracted to each other.

One afternoon, they were in the girl's bedroom with no one else at home doing their homework.

A brush of limbs, a touch here and there, then kisses, leading to the "forbidden thing."

O, yeah, for those of you looking for love Google is branching out...

Friday, March 31, 2006

My todo lists printed
Originally uploaded by grazulis.
Got an email from David I last night with a link to TaDa lists but also a comment wondering whether I needed GTD style tools anymore. Strangely this coincided this week with an effort on my part to use my lists as effectively as I used to, especially via my good old Hipster. Why? Well, my lessons are obviously structured around a weekly timetable but I find that outside of the everything gets kind of aimless and I am constantly thinking of things to do, or buy, or organise, that are then getting forgotten. Not that this is usually a problem but, you know, it'd be nice to keep the system going. Plus it means I'm taking a fairly random and shotgun approach to my writing and I want to be able to track and manage what needs to be done there. So I've started devising some new lists based around my current requirements. There's still some work to do but basically it comes down to:
  1. Writing
    • The novel
    • Other writing and fiction
  2. Work
    • Lesson plans and follow up work
  3. Shopping list
  4. Personal list, e.g. things I just want to do.
I had a look at Tada which does look pretty good but is fairly basic and then I remembered Remember the Milk. I haven't been to it for a while and it looks like it's undergone quite a few interesting changes. You can add tags, type in "Tomorrow" or "Monday" in the deadline and it'll automatically fill in the correct date and create "Smart" todo lists based on searchs of your existing lists as well as email to-dos to yourself. So I hammered out a few basic lists to get myself started (will probably do a full dump tomorrow) and printed them out for my wall so I can always see what I need to do next.
Hopefully this will stop me wasting a lot of time in the future. Of course, it's my time to waste and I don't plan on making myself manic with all this but it's interesting to work out how GTD is just as important and necessary within a low-stress environment as an intense and busy one.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Well, the big news of the week is that my resident permit finally arrived yesterday. , John Zhu, the bloke in charge of the foreign teachers, is incompetent and I have absolutely no idea what goes on in his head. One of the American teachers who has been here for five months still doesn't have his resident permit because this bloke hasn't been bothered to sort it out (otherwise known as doing the minimum of his job requirements) and has now been fined 5000 RMB even thought it's not his fault. So I'm pretty glad to get mine done and everyone else who arrived at the same time has also been sorted.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Had a pretty good week of teaching. After a couple of my classes the Chinese teachers even came up to me and said they thought they were good lessons. Now I just need to think up something for next week.
Overall things have been pretty quiet. Probably this is partly due to a need to watch my spending and partly as I got a cold on Thursday. It wasn't a bad cold or anything it just tired me out and I'm still a bit bunged up.Small canal, Moon Lake Yesterday the weather was warm and sunny so went for a walk around Moon Lake again with Zakiya and took some pictures. In the evening we went to one of the local market and had noodle soup where you pick what stuff you want to go into it and put it in a basket so it can be cooked. The chef then puts it into a small wire basket in boiling water with several others to cook it for you. Pretty tasty for 6 yuan. Also watched a pretty cool film by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean called Mirrormask.
O well, back to lesson planning...

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Forgot I was going to write this about Saturday. Was walking, in the evening just after dark, over to the supermarket with Nick for some beer. We got to talking about how to explain living in CHina to people back home. Just that you can do normal things like go to buy shampoo or beer and yet it somehow transforms into a bizarre and surreal situation just by being in China. Like, it's buying a beer, just like at home, but then it's 5 degrees off. Just then we turned the corner into the supermarket car park. It was full of people watching an old anti-Japanese war film being projected onto the side of the building like a scene straight out of the 1960s. "Like this, then?" I asked. We stood and watched for a few minutes then went to get the beer.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Went to a local temple, the Seven Pagoda Temple, on Saturday afternoon. It was a very nice, small and peaceful place not too far from the centre of town. Lit some incense and then later ruined all my good karma by drinking wine and playing poker. Sunday was mostly a wasted day of hanging around waiting for things to happen but I did go out for a nice Korean bbq in the evening when Noah finally resurfaced from his weekend and met up with Thomas and Jade.
Watched "The Promise" (Wuji) last night. It's a new(ish) film by Chen Kaige who made Farewell My Concubine (which I haven't seen) and several others that I have. Generally I have found his films to be good but not great and this is about the same. A lot of it looks gorgeous, in an over the top kind of way. The CGI can be a bit ropey in places but is used consistently so that it doesn't jar and adds to a very dream-like film. Some of the fantasy stuff is a lot of fun and there is potentially a good story there except that it occasionally gets muddled. It's certainly a fun action adventure in the line of HK comic books and worth seeing - I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Great News: After fifteen years of searching I've finally found a way to make baijiu (Chinese spirits/paint stripper) palatable. Yesterday, as it was St patrick's we had a lot of green snacks and a sparkling apple drink. When I tasted the drink I realised that this was the exact taste to work with baijiu. I told Nick and he agreed and ran off to get a bottle. So we gave it a go and it worked.

Other than that it's been pretty much the same old. I cooked last Sunday for a few people, did spaghetti meatballs which worked out pretty well. We managed to get some fresh basil and parmesan for it as well. Had a fairly quiet week other than that. Started doing some tutoring of a couple of my Korean kids yesterday afternoon. It's easy enough and a bit of extra cash. John wanted me to do three days worth, Friday, Saturday and Sunday but I said no. I think if I want to do that much extra work I'd rather find some with one of the adult schools in town.

Yesterday evening went out to the Irish pub in town for a pint of Guiness with Zak and Noah. It was pretty crowded in there, lots of businessmen so we left after one and went to LBBs instead, which is a bit more low rent as a place but the music was better and the beer is a lot cheaper. Met up with a few of the people I've seen around before, which was good, as haven't seen them for a couple of weeks. Also met the bloke who runs so check it out if you want to see a bit more about Ningbo.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Haven't done much this week. Weather has been generally warm but it's predicted to turn cold again tomorrow. My grade one classes are still challenging but I think I'm getting there. Picking up some tips from the Chinese teachers and have found some useful web resources.

Yesterday evening went out with Nick, his girlfriend Rowena, Noah and Zak to 348, a Chinese disco/nightclub. Inside, after walking through the metal detector and the corridor of flashing lights the place was full of people sat around a stage with women dancing and singing. We got some beers and were taken to a table. After an hour or so of the floorshow the music started and the dancefloor filled up instantly. The music was pretty exclusively happy house, mostly Chinese stuff but a few things I recognised. Went up to dance and it was chaos. The dancefloor was bouncy so you didn't really have to dance, just stand there and let the thing move you. Is was also so full of people that you couldn't really move anyway. I think we left about one, ears ringing, and came back.

Today just went into town and walked around Moon Lake, which is a park in the middle of town and a nice place to visit. Also bought some memory to try and speed up my computer. Seems to work.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

ok, back to teaching. the weather has been nice, sunny and starting to warm up. the teaching has been mostly fun as well. the second graders are a lot of fun but i'm struggling a little with the first grade. it's kind of hard to find stuff that is simple enough and yet not so repetitious that they get bored. i've found some useful stuff on some websites so i'll probably give it a try.
got hammered in town on friday night and played some pool. then had a much lighter night over at noah's place on sat. on sunday found out my working hours have changed. my lunchtime has been reduced to just under two hours but i don't have to start until 8 and now finish at just after 3.guess i'll find a way to cope. probably by watching copious amounts of series 4 of 24.
ok, file o fax (fof) vs hipster, the great debate. i like my new fof on the whole but today the little clasp that closes it kind of separated a bit making me worry a little bit about longevity. it's great for jotting down notes and dates and general info keeping but the hipster still wins out on portability and general all round usefulness, whether it's keeping lists of people i need to email (you know who you are) or recording items i need to research for my book (yes, have finally gotten around to doing some writing). the fof is also difficult for writing long bits in because of the ring binder style. so, for day to day i might switch back to the hipster for now as i don't really have that many appointments to track. so long as it has my timetable that should be good.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Am thinking about volunteering my services to the UN. They can send me to drought areas and, hey presto, rain will probably follow. Arrived in Hong Kong to warm weather and sunshine. The next day was overcast and rainy. Guangzhou was a deluge.
Anyway, arrived in Hong Kong, got the flash train into the centre and a taxi to Chungking Mansions, all the while marvelling at how easy Hong Kong is. Got myself a room/broom cupboard for a couple of nights and went out for a walk. HK hasn't really changed all that much; still very busy, full of shops and neon and people selling you stuff. In the evening went for an Chicken Massala in Chungking and ate rather too much.
The next morning headed over to Wanchai on HK island where the Chinese Visa office is. Sat in the queue for an an hour and applied for my Z visa - turns out I did have the correct papers, which was nice, but also meant that the one sat on John Zhu's desk for Manchester should havce been sent to me and this whole trip could have been avoided. Hung around Wanchai for a couple of hours, collected my passport and got the ferry back over to Kowloon. Got some samosas for lunch and took the MTR (underground) to north Kowloon to check out a Taoist temple up there. Interesting but mostly just killing time. Back in Tsim sha tsui I wandered a bit more and ended up in a Spanish bar called La Tasca. Kind of reminded me of places in Granada when I went with Tan. Was going to have Tapas but they didn't have patatas bravas so i settled for some olives and a "chiken fajita." It came with thick potato wedges instead of tortilla wraps but was very nice.
Next morning I got a taxi to Hung Hom station and took the train straight to Guangzhou. Getting the taxi from the train station there to the good old Youth Hostel on Shamian was nice - I was amazed at how much I remembered and how little it's changed. Guangzhou is still very green, slightly shabby and, on the surface, I still like it.
Got caught in a monster downpour after checking in and then headed to the Guangxiao temple. There I ended up talking to two old women who help look after the place and they ended up giving me a tour around, some books, and a bag full of fruit, biscuits, sweets and nuts. O Mi Tuo Fo. Said I'd say hello if I go back to Guangzhou in the summer.
In the evening I stayed on Shamian and went to eat a hamburger. Shamian is still full of couples who have bought (sorry, adopted) Chinese babies which I still find leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I'm sure there are many benefits for all concerned but that doesn't mean I have to like it.
And now am back at the school and, I guess, back to teaching tomorrow. I shouldhave stayed away an extra day - tomorrow is my busiest schedule...

Saturday, February 25, 2006

This morning I went to Tiantong Temple with one of the Chinese teachers and her husband. It was pouring down with rain so the photos aren't so good and the visibility was pretty low but it looks like a really nice place to visit when it's sunny.
Tomorrow I have to fly to Hong Kong in order to get my visa sorted out. I'm looking forward to it- I'm treating it like a holiday, really, and it should be a lot warmer than here. Also looking forward to a curry in Chungking Mansions and just generally seeing how the place has changed. Hopefully will have my visa sorted out in a couple of days and then I'll head back. Tiantong Temple

Thursday, February 23, 2006

After I last wrote I got a phonecall inviting me into town to go for a meal with some other teachers who work in Ningbo. Had some nice food and some beers at the Shamrock before heading back for a few rounds of poker with the teachers here. I think I lost about 10p but I'm a bit hazy on that.
Sunday I decided to head back into Ningbo centre and have a walk around to orientate myself. It was raining but it was nice to stretch my legs. The only problem was when I went to get a taxi there were none around. I found one eventually though. Had a quiet night in.
Teaching this week has been interesting. One of the Primary school teachers has asked for some help teaching music but as I have no talent for music and almost none for singing I could only give limited advice. On tuesday went for a medical checkup which I had to pay for! And it looks like I'm definitely going to have to go to Hong Kong to sort out my visa even though we've shown the bloke who is supposed to look after the foreign teacher several government websites that say you can do it inside China. O well, it's a holiday, I suppose, and at least it will be warm...
Other than that not a lot to say really. Watched some DVDs, they have Korean food in the canteen now which is pretty good (there are South Korean students here, apparently because they've been kicked out of schools in Korea and are from rich families), and explored another nearby market which has a stall with Tianjin-style pancakes. Mmmm.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

OK, it's been a pretty full week. Have been busy every evening so I haven't had a lot of time to write, and quite a few 7:40 starts so I've been pretty tired.
The teaching is fun but it gets pretty repetitve. I'm teaching first and second grade which is 7-9 year old kids. Most of my classes are of about 40 students but some are only twenty. I always have a teaching assistant in the class with me to help keep order and translate anything the children don't understand. Much of it, in classes that big, is about getting them to repeat stuff after me but it is fun trying to find ways to get them to actually think about the language and what they are trying to say. And I can use a little bit of Chinese which they think is amazing. Over the next couple of week's I'll probably try and bring more into the classroom as teaching aids but for now it's more about getting them used to me. I also need to find some good songs to teach them.
Have been out in town a couple of times but it's pretty expensive - like 30 RMB for a drink (about 2 pounds) which is crazy when it only costs 2 RMB to buy a bottle of beer in the shop. Met one of the teachers who is leaving and he sold me some speakers and a DVD player (both for less than twenty pounds!) so I'm feeling quite set up now. Last night I invited all the foreign teachers over to my apartment so we drank some beer and wine and chatted for a while. They seem pretty nice, generally quite thoughtful and they are enjoying it here.
Today I went with Nick, who is from South Africa, and his girlfriend into Ningbo for some food and so he could take me to a good DVD shop. So I now have a small pile of DVDs to watch along with the ones I brought out. At least I won't be stuck for something to do...
Also interesting - I read an interview with a Chinese science fiction writer and it had his email address so I've been in touch with him. He has given me some titles of books to look out for so I'll probably head down to the Xinhua bookstore soon and see if they have them.
It's been really cold this last couple of days. We even had a little bit of snow yesterday so I am probably just going to wrap up warm now and watch some tv.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Yesterday evening went out for a couple of drinks in Ningbo which was ok, although it being a Monday night it was pretty quiet. This morning I got a phonecall off one of the teachers I didn't meet yesterday inviting me over to have a chat about what to do and introduce herself. I also ended up watching the weekly raising the flag ceremony which is like assembly in the UK. After that I came back for lunch and to do some lesson preparation for the two classes I had this afternoon.
My first class was ok but not brilliant, but then it was my first one. The second went much better though and I enjoyed it. Both classes have about forty pupils and the classes are very much about learning by rote rather than encouraging the students to use the language for themselves but some of the kids are very bright and pick stuff up quickly. I guess it will take time to work out what I need to do to get the most benefit.
It's nice and sunny here at the moment so it has been pretty warm today. I think that it will start to warm up properly in the next few weeks.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Flew into Shanghai last Friday evening. The flight was reasonably comfortable as it wasn't too busy and had a tv in the back of the seat in front of me so it was easy to just keep watching. Didn't really sleep though so was very tired when I arrived. Got the bus into town and checked in to the hotel easily enough and just wandered around a bit getting my bearings again. On the Friday met Noah, one of the other English teachers, for lunch and we wandered down to the Bund and had a bit of a chat. He can speak Chinese too but being much younger is a lot keener... Went back to the veggie restaurant I went to last time and had a nice meal in the evening.

On the Saturday went to the train station to be collected by John Zhu who is the man responsible for hiring us and looking after us while we are here. He seems pleasant enough although probably a little ineffectual at times. Also met Steven from Australia, he has been here for about 3 years teaching in other places.

My apartment is quite nice but a little grubby so I need to spend some time cleaning it up. Today I met some of the Chinese teachers I am going to be working with. They seem nice but their schedules are a lot longer than ours. I have twenty lessons a week with classes mostly of 40 kids about 7-8 years old but I will be helped by their Chinese teacher, at least at first. I start teaching tomorrow afternoon so until then I need to get cleaning and think about my lesson plans...

Will also try and get some photos uploaded.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Britons unconvinced on evolution: "More than half the British population does not accept the theory of evolution, according to a survey."


Thursday, January 19, 2006

With my imminent departure to China I have been thinking about my analogue/paper system (inspired by random reading on D*I*Y Planner). I think I have three major requirements for data capture in my daily life:
  • Next Action lists
  • Random thought/ideas capture (and working on those ideas)
  • Organising appointments and dates
For the past six months or so I've been using a HipsterPDA which has been brilliant for Next Actions and not bad for ideas capture. Essentially the cards are disposable notes to myself to do something or remember something and nothing quite beats that sense of liberation when you tear up a card and through it in the recycling bin. A hipster is better than a notebook for this because you can re-order and dispose of entries so easily. This has been backed up with a Moleskine notebook for journal entries and writing - a more permanent record of work and ideas that can then be transferred to a PC/Gmail/etc. (Which leads me to wonder if part of the paper revolution for me is a kind of shift into a different paradigm where digital is permanent and paper temporary).

But there are problems with it. Basically it eats cards so fast, which feels a bit wasteful but also means that I'm constantly running out so I end up sub-consciously rationing them and not capturing everything I want. Also the temporary nature of the system means that it's not so useful for contact information (which I generally keep in my phone or digital anyway) or other reference stuff. But the main gap is that I can't get a calendar working with it and this causes me problems. I've tried D*I*Y calendars, PocketMod, creating my own week planner on an index card and, while they've all worked for a time they've either ended up getting lost, or scrappy/ugly or required too much effort to create.

I'm considering a file-o-fax as that might give me some of the flexibility of the hipster with the clean-ness of the printed page but I think that it will be too clunky. At the moment the best bet is to stick with what I've got but:
  • Buy lots of index cards at a time - ideally about five packs.
  • Buy a small A6 diary for appointments which will barely increase the carry size of the whole package but give me the calendar I really need.
Also have had a look at some of the notebooks that Muji do as lightweight intermediate writing-capture tools for when a moleskine is just too damn big to carry. They are tiny but smart and at only 60p each it's cheap enough to buy a stack of them as well. A part of me wonders whether to simply replace the hipster with a couple of them but I guess I'll have to wait and see. I think I'd miss tearing them in half too much.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

THE WORLD QUESTION CENTER 2006 — Page 11: "By transporting contagious flu patients into a series of tightly packed groups of susceptible individuals, personnel fostered transmission from people who were completely immobilized by their illness. Such conditions must have favored the predator-like variants of the influenza virus; these variants would have a competitive edge because they could ruthlessly exploit a person for their own replication and still get transmitted to large numbers of susceptible individuals.

These conditions have not recurred in human populations since then and, accordingly, we have never had any outbreaks of influenza viruses that have been anywhere near as harmful as those that emerged at the Western Front. So long as we do not allow such conditions to occur again we have little to fear from a reevolution of such a predatory virus."