November 2008

You are currently browsing the monthly archive for November 2008.

Beijing at play

To offer a sister to my previous black-and-white pair of pics, Beijing at work, here are two snaps of Beijing residents in more playful settings..

Laobaixing exercise and relax in an activity park by the side of Beihai, not far from the Drum and Bell towers

Laobaixing exercise and relax in an activity park by the side of Beihai.

A visitor to the 798 art district looks at his photos, while a crushed face looks at him.

A visitor to the 798 art district looks at his photos, while a crushed face looks at him.

Here’s a little titbit from an otherwise deeply uninteresting bus-ride a couple of weeks ago. (My silent spell of late has been due to a nasty bout of tonsilitis I’ve been fighting.)

It isn’t unusual, any native English speaker will testify, for foreigners in China to be approached by strangers keen on improving their spoken English. A popular location for this seems to be public transport (no escape routes, see). I was the recipient (victim?) of this honour (time-hijack?) the other evening on my trip home from Beida. My most recent four-bus-stop student was so delightful I can’t resist writing it up.

Below is a picture of ‘David’, a Beijinger in his 50s whose profession I didn’t catch. My conversation with him on the bus (what is the population of England? does everyone have two cars?) took a twist when he matter-of-factly took out a dictaphone and pressed record. When he arrives home tonight, he explains, he will ‘listen to my British English again and practice’. Fair enough, I think. Hao banfa.

Once we exhaust the topic of how much a Brit earns in a month, David produces the most tattered, battered, dog-eared English dictionary I have ever seen. He consults his notebook to check the page number to open it to, points to the word in the top-left corner and asks me to pronounce it in my ‘British English’, while the red-light of his dictaphone hums. Then the one below it. And below that. OK, next one….

At his request, I spend a merry five minutes working my way through an entire double-columned dictionary page. From ‘pathomorphology’ to ‘pheromone’. This, it transpires, is David’s method for teaching himself English. He has been working through this dictionary for 7 years (already at P!), while cornering unwitting English speakers on his daily commute. In retrospect, it explains his impressive, and for the most part utterly useless, vocabulary.

David, wherever you are and whichever bus line you’re frequenting, I wish you luck. Before we parted company, I asked if I can flick through his notebook. It’s full of bizarrely irrelevant English phrases, including the gem:

It is better for the brain to use chopsticks rather than a knife

My curiosity is piqued, but I wouldn’t mind seeing some hard science behind that claim.

David with his dictionary and dictaphone

David with his dictionary and dictaphone

Chris Patten was in Beijing this weekend. He spoke in the Bookworm on his new book, ‘What’s Next?’ (answer: a painful reminder of how expensive it is to buy English books in China). Here are a few choice quotes, besides his endorsement of Barack Obama:

“The US is still the only country that matters everywhere”

“Why is Europe Venus instead of Mars? Well, we tried Mars and it turned out pretty disastrously”

“I’m a believer in democracy despite Governor Palin”

“The House of Lords [in Britain] is a proof of life after death”

To mark the moment, here is Chris Patten talking to me about his first visit to China: an excursion from Hong Kong to the then “sleepy fishing village” of Shenzhen in 1979. How times change. Below it is a Mandarin subtitled version (translation by Wang Yao).

For more from this interview, see my earlier post. Go on.

Postscript: the following evening, Lord Patten hosted the Beijing launch of the Campaign for the University of Oxford (he is their Chancellor). Contrary to popular opinion, Oxford does not have hidden caves filled with gold bullion beneath its dreaming spires. It needs the generosity of its alumni if it is to survive this century as a world-leading teaching and research University. (Full disclosure: I was the web editor of said Campaign last year.)