Tuesday, January 30, 2007

LOL. Should I switch back now?

BA strike called off
Union abandons strike but British Airways says it is too late to prevent widespread disruption.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Phoned BA today and changed my departure date to be the 15th Feb instead of the 13th. Pretty sure I'm about to read that the trade unions have come to an agreement with BA and the strikes are off but a couple of extra days in Shanghai aren't necessarily a bad thing.
Buddhism can be regarded as a fairly negative religion, especially when reading the Mahayana teachings of emptiness. This can lead to many misunderstandings as to the nature of that emptiness and what enlightenment is. Often when one hears about a Zen master or someone who has had a satori experience there is a sense in which that person is enlightened, that they become a moral authority without peer. Yet there are also many instances of masters, from all traditions, behaving in ways that do not suit them. It is as though the teaching absolves them from moral absolutes by virtue of their own experience combined with a thorough disdain for the normal world in which the rest of us live. This can lead to people abusing their position in various ways, even leading to views that seem very much at odds with Buddhism's peaceful reputation, such as described in the book Zen at War.

Over the past year I have been slowly making my way through the Vimalakirti Sutra, which tells the tale of a layman known as Vimalakirti and describes his complete understanding of the doctrine of emptiness. At the start of the book he is pretending to be ill in order to encourage visitors to come and listen to his teaching. At one point in the book he is visited by a number of bodhisattvas from a different realm of existence where enlightenment is easy to attain. They go together to meet the Buddha from our realm and put to him a question as to how he can teach in this world when there is so much wrong with it. The Buddha's answer is interesting and it addresses something of the correct way to approach emptiness. That is, while we should hold on to emptiness as a method for understanding the nature reality it is important for us to remember the rules of the world around us, of what the best of us should try to be in our relations with others. Emptiness, in other words, is not some kind of all-purpose get-out clause for our actions even if we are enlightened, and more so if we are not.

"What is meant by saying that the bodhisattva does not dwell in the unconditioned? It means that one studies and practices the teachings on emptiness, but does not take emptiness to be enlightenment. One studies and practices the teachings on nonform and nonaction, but does not take nonform and nonaction to be enlightenment. One studies and practices the teachings on nonarousal [of causes], but does not take nonarousal to be enlightenment. One views things as impermanent, but does not neglect to cultivate the roots of goodness. One views the world as marked by suffering, but does not hate to be born and die in it.... One views the world as something to be cast off, withdrawn from, yet with body and mind one practices goodness.... One embraces the view of emptiness and nothingness, yet does not discard one's great pity.... One embraces the view that all phenomena are are void and false, lacking firmness, lacking personality... yet while one's original vow remains unfulfilled, one does not regard merits, virtues, meditation or wisdom as meaningless."
Chapter 11, Vimalakirti Sutra, trans. Burton Watson, 1997, Columbia Press.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

so, it's been an odd week again. a friend of mine has fled ningbo to look for work in shanghai and try and become a better person by squatting in his sister's house. turns out i've booked a flight on a day that BA might be striking. my boss has spent a considerable amount of time trying to convince me to stay, badly. ("O, go on. It'll be great because I still don't have any kind of business development plan, want you to do more work and would you mind switching to a bonus scheme so i don't have to pay you because we will make a profit. honest."). had some nice comments about my story on the interzone forum. and i've been recording my moods in one of the best online apps i've ever seen - moodjam.org.
flying back on the 13th Feb, strikes permitting.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Democracy works! Probably...

"You recently signed a petition asking the Prime Minister to
"create a new exception to copyright law that gives individuals
the right to create a private copy of copyrighted materials for
their own personal use, including back-ups, archiving and
shifting format."

The Prime Minister's Office has responded to that petition and
you can view it here:

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Can't quite believe that I haven't posted since before New Year. So I guess a belated Happy New Year is in order. I guess that partly it's because the internet is still a bit rubbish. It gets a little better every day but a lot of stuff is still either extremely slow, times out or is inaccessible. This includes my googlepages website (although as the rest of Google has been strangely unaffected by the whole event may not be because of the earthquake), which is a bit annoying because I wanted to take a good look at it and fix a few things up as the address will be appearing in Interzone this month. That's right - any moment now your local supplier should be putting out the latest copy of Britain's best science fiction magazine with my first published story in it. Erm, buy it. Borders usually has it.

On the flip side it looks like my time in China is coming to an end. Things here at the school have not improved and so I feel it is definitely time to move back to the UK and be happy about the experience instead of trying to drag it out and getting more frustrated.

In the meantime we had an ok, drunken new year visiting various bars in Ningbo of varying quality (low to bad). Dmitri is back from Japan and it was his birthday last weekend so we went out for that. First he and Sly came over and we took them to the mall, Wanda World. Sly has never been in a B&Q before so we had some difficulty getting him away from the cordless drills. Had some nice seafood and went to play chess and drink coffee afterwards. Then we went and got drunk.

I have ordered suit which is being finished this week so that I can collect it on Sunday. I also have a number of things to sort out before my return to England, such as posting some boxes of stuff, buying some presents and booking our flights. Which I can't do until the school has confirmed what it is doing about my visa. If they don't let me know soon I'm just going to book a flight as soon as possible because I can't afford to wait around seeing as it's Chinese New Year soon.

I've also started teaching myself Ruby with an idea for developing a Rails application for writers. It's mostly just to get me back in the right mindset before going home but it's been really interesting. It's pretty well worked out as a framework for developing web applications but it's hard to find any decent reference material. Guess that will have to wait until I can get to a good bookshop.

Just finished reading "Looking for Jake" by China Mieville. It's a collection of modern fantasy short stories that are mostly set in London. I enjoyed it but it somehow felt like looking at old, sepia photographs; they look nice and you get an impression for the place but you sometimes wish for more.