Sunday, December 30, 2007

The clock is ticking...

By this time next week, I will be on an tropical island in temperatures of around 18'Celsius. Mmm. Certainly won't be too heartbroken to leave the weather that has given me the blocked nose of the past few days... seriously been so bad that blowing my nose made me sound like a kid who had just bought a tuba. And then shoved a shedload of kazoos into it.

But I will miss the people down here. Because of the early departure (it was a necessity to be there for the 7th Jan) despite my best efforts I won't be able to see everyone. Tomorrow and New Year's Day I can pretty much call a bust, and though I'll be taxiing at Heathrow just shy of midday, having to get there early etc means that that day's out of the question also. So that leaves me three days to see the people I've managed to inadvertently avoid for ages (damn you elusive physios! most notably). And I still have to work on those days, though I'm not TECHNICALLY meant to work on Friday. I'll try and get that day cleared. And still have to pencil in the time to grab a couple of last minute things.

Moral of the story and note to self: Stop bloody leaving things until the last minute! I'd pledge to make that a New Year's resolution but I a) don't really believe in the effectiveness of that concept at any rate and b) know that this last-minute syndrome I have is something of a part of me, and one that I doubt would alter for something as niggling as a resolution. Ho-hum, I'll just live with the stress! :P

It's been recently hitting me, the sheer enormity of what I'm about to do. For the better part of four months, I'll be in a strange country without the safety net of people I know, where my mother tongue of 21 years will be a luxury, and where democracy is something they merely read about. Perhaps. Maybe that's censored too!
Bottom line is, as exciting as this undoubtedly is, it's also going to be a baptism of fire, a real training ground, a veritable spring of motivational metaphors and similes to the same end: I'm going to have to experience a helluva lot of personal growth and find a new level of self-sufficiency.  And that's pretty scary, but I'm looking forward to the chance to prove myself like never before.

Piddling, back-of-my-mind-type wonderments:
- What am I going to put on my iPod? Silly and superficial and unimportant? Yes, but I'm not going to be able to change it for 4 months, I want to be good stuff! Recently got my grubby mitts on the Weepies album and a couple of Belle & Sebastian, which I'm looking forward to delving into, as well as some classical stuff. (Dutch violinist, Janine Jansen playing the Four Seasons by Vivaldi! Should be great!) But this means I'll have to uncheck a whole lot of other stuff... How fortunate I am that such unworthy problems are among my biggest dilemmas.
- Yet again, a book makes me feel silly. Metamorphosis by Kafka, seems to me thus far to be entirely about a man who turns into a giant bug. For all its RL Stine (Goosebumps are the bedrock of modern literature! Or not.) comparisons (thanks to H.R. for that wonderful conversation tangent in the pub!) I really don't get it. Is there some allegory I'm missing? Does this metamorphosis give rise to a commentary on the human condition? Either I'm an idiot and Franz Kafka is wasted on me, that really IS what the book is all about, or I should stop trying to read books carefully at 2 in the morning.
- The more I think about it, the more I would really like to use the old acoustic guitar as a teaching aid in China! I hope I can find one to use and think of a song that wouldn't get me arrested. The early Beatles stuff is fairly innocuous, right?
- How am I going to get my photos sorted out out there?

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Ghosts of Christmas Past

- For me, Christmas Day overall consists of family, food and cheesy I-could-never-watch-this-any-other-time-of-year television programmes and films. Time was when the older movies were staple... you could bet money that they'd show "Sound of Music" and "It's a Wonderful Life" on at SOME point during the day. Now, as much as I love "Finding Nemo" (it ACTUALLY gets better with each, albeit necessarily infrequent, viewing!) it's not the most festive. And you'd probably have to be eight or anxious to get your kids to pipe down for a bit to sit through such quasi-festive drivel as "Santa Clause 2". Wow, I've just realised how much this is merely the mad ramblings of a couch potato. Not exactly the most compelling reading, I expect. And on that note, why isn't the Queen's Message more widely advertised! I had to resort to Youtube to watch it this year, as I couldn't find it on the telly. What is the world coming to? :-P
Also on that note, festive drivel that I will GLADLY endure is "Love Actually". Sure, it represents the overly whitewashed, Hollywood Rose-tinted glass version of London in an overly rom-com manner but there's a lot of guilty pleasure to be had in the star-studded cast ("Ooh Keira Knightley!") , the ability to point out parts of London ("Ooh the South Bank") and the ability to post out the myriad flaws in the plot ("Ooh, the inappropriately foul-mouthed and lacking in decorum tea-lady working in 10 Downing Street!") But hey I do actually love it. See what I did there? I hope not. I'm ashamed.

- I've had to start idly think about what to bring to teach the lil' Chinese kiddies. Found a wonderful resource in a Facebook group in which people who are actually out there teaching. I think it would be rather amusingly and cute to make them sing a song. Then one fast realises that it's harder than one thinks to use a song that has nothing that could possibly be controversial, though I expect I'm being paranoid. But would they be 'down' with songs that contain fornication, suicide, imagery that could be misconstrued. More importantly, am I listening to the wrong type of music?! ;-)
I would just love it if I could get ahold of an acoustic guitar in the school. That could be awesome, and Youtube-able! Awww, little Chinese kids singing KT Tunstall... Muhaha!
- My Mandarin still sucks. I'm going to be the equivalent of those tourists (perhaps stereotypically, mostly the Americans I'm afraid) who come over here and want to visit Lee-ster Square, South-work Cathedral and Covenant Garden (though incidentally I believe that was the original name). But I'm nevertheless excited, especially for the opportunity to travel during February! I just feel like there's an immense amount of freedom, strangely handed on a plate to me. I'm under no illusions that this freedom to travel wasn't present before, but now I'm being all but forced to travel around an exotic continent. Nice :-)

- Today Benazir Bhutto, a Pakistani politician was killed in Rawalpindi. I wouldn't claim to be an expert of Asian politics, but from general knowledge I know it's a great blow to Pakistani democracy. Just go to show that while in some of our Western societies our precious democracy is taken for granted while countries like Pakistan often struggle to restore it.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Ah well, it's the weekend now.

So, I get into work today to discover I'd been robbed. Operating almost on entirely on autopilot, I waved hi to a colleague, sat at my meagre desk and switched the computer on. With iPod still blaring in ear and my mind not entirely on the day ahead I note that staccato quasi-ringing sound that can only signify a Windows error: the computer cannot detect a functioning mouse. What the hell? Someone nicked my mouse! Turns out our lil' row of cubicles were visited by a strange thief... they nicked my mouse, and actually somewhat amusingly, from our tin of Celebrations, leaving nothing but Mars Bars and Milky Ways. So we had a strange, we can presume slightly podgy? thief who apparently has certain tastes. But seriously now, I wasn't that bothered, it be strange if I did, but I was certainly amused by our little kleptomaniac friend. The irony was then that IT support then required me to log on and put in a request via the intranet, needless to say, sans mouse that's a LITTLE tricky.

I have still not done a great deal of work, due to a series of events not ENTIRELY designed of my own... the ordering program we used decided I was no longer a valid user, meaning I had to use a colleagues log-on details. We also went out as a team to get some McDonalds in. It was strangely rather nice, we bonded a little more over greasy chips and sauces that seemed to desire escape to freedom.

When you're not working in an office 9-5 it is, from my experience, pretty easy to look at people with their workplace related anecdotes and think "Woah, these people have no lives..." But when it comes down to it, this IS their lives. The majority of the waking hours spending in the company of office colleagues, in the backdrop of the little cubicle or desk that is your temporary prison. This is where the majority of your daily notable activities (though not necessarily the most exciting) will occur, and thus be the source of your tales of daring escapades. And if you're lucky, the tales you're able to tell others will be interesting and indicative of an exciting career.

We also spent a rather lengthy extent of the morning writing out Christmas cards. Yes, we left it rather late, and yes, I didn't know most of the people whose cards I was signing but in the single-minded intent to GIVE (albeit minimal on my part) does lead to the Christmas spirit I should have been feeling earlier. The sense of winding down a little for the festive period, the greater appreciation for the commercial and domestic changes... maybe the spirit is hitting me at last. 

Also of note over the past few weeks is the insanity of the London Underground. You never quite feel the sheer animosity of it all until you have experienced it in the rush hour. It's a completely different kettle of fish from the leisurely tube rides you might take before or after a night out when you just perceive it as the most convenient way to get to B from A, but a whole other when you have to battle a dozen strangers to get a a minimal space on the tube, either risking sardine-like squishing, hazardous door crushing, high pitched screamings or being thwacked numerous time upside your unsuspecting head. It does also have the tendency to bring out the very best or worst in our beloved Londoners. The slightly odd looking hippie with the massive and vaguely worrying bag will help you clear a space  so you're not standing in a space smaller than your head, and that otherwise sweeting looking old lady will suddenly attempt a Laurence Dallaglio impression and rugby tackle you at the kidneys in an effort to eke a little more space in a way that baffles the average spacial awareness. The Tube is not a Tardis people! I handle it by blanking out the inhuman exodus around me and just listening to my music. It may make the rat race a little more mindless but heck, it helps preserve my mind.

The Weepies are currently rocking my iTunes list. And I appreciate my re-delving into the lyrical mastery of Jason Mraz. Only a few days until Christmas. And I actually care now!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Random thoughts

- Today was the day of Liverpool v Man Utd, followed immediately by Arsenal v Chelsea, which made for an interesting afternoon of Premiership football! Not least because I had lunch at home, went to the pub, and when I returned home after said matches, it was dinner time, pretty much. So in essence an entire afternoon taken up by football! Nice. Somewhat predictably (to me, at any rate) Man Utd and Arsenal both won 1-0: they were both good matches, albeit filled with blunders by all four teams.
Which brings me onto this musing: what crazy fool invented football?! Yes it is justifiably one of the world's favourite sports, but think about it. Which bored-out-of-his-skull individual from the Middle Ages decided, Hmmm, wouldn't it be such a lark if I took this pig's bladder and stuffed it? Ooh, ok. And if I kick it around? Hmm. Now I'm thinking it would be great to split up into teams and kick it from one village to another!
The mind boggles...

- "It's Christmas time / There's no need to be afraid..."
Christmas. This period must mean such a lot to different people. The businessmen of the world see an excellent opportunity to cash in on the pressure to buy presents, cards, food, trees and all the trimmings that such an international holiday entails. People unfortunately endowed with loneliness or tragedy see it as a time that accentuates their tragedy, made envious by the happiness of others, similarly for people less well off, or in generally less fortunate areas of the globe. Take the people of Africa, most demonstrably the focus of the Band Aid campaigns to increase awareness of and aid to the impoverished areas.

I'm not sure entirely where I'm going with this, but what I want to remind myself and anyone else who may stumble across this is to hopefully remember what Christmas is all about. It's about celebrating the birth of Christ, about what Christ brought to the world and the lessons he taught. In a nutshell, it's the second most important Christian holiday.
Even for those not Christian-inclined, or religious at all, one can take something from the times... we can remember the feeling of Christmas, the morals, the desire to give of oneself to help others and not think purely of ourselves. For example, one of the more celebrated of the Christmas stories is surely Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. This epitomises the essence of Christmas by demonstrating to Scrooge, the protagonist and narrative tool, the attributes and sentiments that he is lacking, without being necessarily Christian in its teaching.

Now if this holiday has somehow become about who has the biggest tree, then perhaps it is time to take a much needed step back, but other side effects, like the songs, I must admit to enjoying immensely. I myself am not feeling terribly festive as of yet... at some point along the way, ironically, when I stopped having the decorative and commercial side shoved down my throat, I myself starting losing sight of what Christmas cheer is. Perhaps a side effect of the Christmas lights being put up in autumn sponsored by Hollywood hits? Perhaps when I, rather Scrooge like, stopped giving out Christmas cards because I was giving up on giving them to everyone (I may still make a slight effort this year)? Who knows. For my part I know I won't feel terribly in spirit 'til perhaps Christmas Eve. Maybe I do in fact rely upon the commercials, the baubles and the little fluff-lined hats. All I can do it try my best, consciously attempt remember what it's all about and not ruin it for anyone else. The songs help, but maybe I just like the cheesiness.

= Well I have to be up in five hours for a job that's not terribly satisfying and not the happiest workplace! But hey, it's paying for all the stuff I need to get to China, and it's a reason to get out of bed. Heck, with the warmth of the bed and the coldness outside, I would be very inclined to stay in bed had I nothing to get up for, haha!

In the meantime, I dragged up this link I sent to other people on Facebook last year. It's a rather cute little Christmas game: saccharine to the point of tooth decay but I imagine that's what the people want at this time of year :)

The point is to choose what order to select the little squares to make the perfect little story... Enjoy!

[Edit, took down game... the tinkly sound was getting on my nerves!]

Sunday, December 02, 2007

First Post

I figure I'll set this up so I have some kind of resource to record things down when I go to China (mmm, such a delicious hotbed of excitement mixed with intense fear...!) and heck it might help while away the crazy wee hours in the morning when no-one else but me seems to be awake.

Never overly sure just what to write for these things to be honest... I do know initially I'm rather reluctant to completely spill my guts to the immensely scrupulous sense of privacy held by the internet(!) So to the superficial I think!

- The Golden Compass, as a film, irritated me. Now, the books were FAIRLY fresh in my mind, considering I caned them the week before (ah... sweet insomnia...) and so the ill treatment of Mr Pullman's books was more acutely noticed for it. I did enjoy seeing certain aspects on the screen, in particular the armoured bears and the daemons were rather well represented, though aspects of the technology (spark fueled quasi carriages?) were something of a curio. My main quibble was the pacing, how it was all rushed as if the screenwriter merely wanted to tick off all the little boxes. He didn't miss any of the major events, aside from the glaring omission of the last chapter which we must attribute to American test audiences, giving an overall effect of a child telling the story back ("And then Lyra saw a bear.... then she told him where the armour was... then the bear found it... then they went towards Svalbard...") albeit with spectacular effects. The best parts of the film, not least Sam Lloyd's excellent portrayal of Scoresby and Daniel Craig's weighty interpretation of Lord Asriel, are merely displayed then discarded 'til later, which is as frustrating as it is tantalising to the potential the sum of the film's parts could have been.
Though I believe I read somewhere that this film cost three times as much as Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring, and I know without even thinking on it, that I infinitely prefer the latter.

- As you may or may not know of me, my music tastes for the most part spans from one obsession to the next :P Currently my favourite artist is a singer/songwriter from Seattle called Brandi Carlile. I really cannot recommend her too much: her voice can range from the dulcet tones of her exquisitely written ballads to the blasting half yodel thing she pulls out sometimes. To some, I imagine it must be grating, but I merely find that endearing. Seriously, check her out, though for the most part it's rather difficult to locate her stuff over here... I have an American friend to thank for 'hooking me up' and, perhaps embarrassingly, Grey's Anatomy to thank for introducing me to her in the first place. They featured a number of her songs although I believe at the time she was unsigned...

- Reading Brideshead Revisited makes me feel stupid. I consider myself FAIRLY well read (not as well as some I know, including H.R. who is ridiculously well read, but definitely more than the average) but the style of writing adopted by Waugh at times makes me reach for the dictionary (words like sacerdotal in context are fairly easy to guess the gist of, but I would rather KNOW what a new word means) and  at other times gives me the feeling that I am perhaps punching above my weight (ha, the metaphor clearly shows I still have Ricky Hatton on the brain), that I feel a little overwhelmed with the casual references to writers and artists only half of whom I know about and a further quarter have heard of. I haven't felt this inadequate reading a book since my last Virginia Woolf venture. Certainly her imagery is superlatively eloquent and beautiful, but the sheer density of the stream of consciousness rather makes me believe that I could drown in it.