Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Waiting on the White paper

So the government's White paper was the big news in academia. No surprises really. I was, however, pretty depressed by the comments in the Times Higher including one that read something like 'I wish I could retire'. My response? Well, do retire then and give your privileged job to one of my dear friends who have great research profiles, are inspirational teachers and yet can't get a full time post. It makes me madder than any government paper!

So we had our final exam board today and all was well. Was reminded by how wonderful our students are and how much hard work they put in last year. I've also been getting to grips with the ol' iPad and have transferred my research notes etc on to it. Am delighted with it and feel more organised already. Spent this morning faffing about with a mind map which really helped me to strengthen my structure in chapter five. When I've spent another couple of weeks faffing I'll post a blog post on academic apps in case anyone is interested.

We have been enjoying Wimbledon (go Roger!), a new offering from 'love film' ('The Fighter' with the always impressive Christian Bale - a bit sweary but very interesting), a lovely weekend with David's cousin and some fun reading. The book redrafting is going well and I'll get back to it on thursday. Tomorrow gives me a wee break as it's our faculty research day. Last year this event was really enjoyable and I'm looking forward to it again.

Anyways, a cup of tea beckons and some academic blog reading. All fun and games this end. Oh...and preparation for someone's birthday tomorrow...


Friday, 24 June 2011

Little dull book jobs

Firstly, and most importantly, 'happy birthday mum'. Hope you're having a great day.

Since Tuesday it has been mostly book proofreading. I am two thirds the way through the third chapter so the introduction and chapter two are done. Lots of dull jobs like checking citation, making corrections and sorting out syntax. Fortunately I have Wimbledon to keep me company. The book was put on the back burner today as we enjoyed an afternoon of exam boards.

Apart from that I have been...losing at squash (though I played rather well), watching more Chinese films, tidying the flat, getting used to my iPad, learning more about twitter (still a bit of a mystery) and using my new tea set bought in Beijing. It's all rock n' roll here!

Anyways, D's cousin is arriving in a bit and there is still a bit of sorting to do so I'll leave it there. Have a great weekend one and all.


Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Manchester, is this love?

Sorry about the delay in posting this week. The weekend was taken up with much jolliness and our Internet has been a little dodgy since our return. I have spoken to the good folks at Virgin many times now but to no avail. Ho hum.

So what has been happening since last Wednesday? Well, on Thursday night we journeyed across to Stockport. Friday was spent working on the book. In the evening though we caught the train the Manchester to see Whitesnake at the Apollo. Now I was a little nervous about the whole evening. My last gig at the Apollo had been a teenage scream fest (Boyzone - I know, I know!) and I remembered it as a total dump. Friday night was also my first ever proper rock concert. I'm used to the prog circuit now but this was something else entirely. I needn't have worried. There was more fleece than leather, and the crowd were the most respectful, kindly group of folks you are ever likely to meet. The actual gig was loud and fun. Now there's a man who knows what to do with a microphone stand. It was summed up by the sweet fans on the front row who threw tea bags on to the stage for Coverdale to enjoy post-gig.

We enjoyed a lovely walk in Styal Mill on Saturday. This is a place I remember with great affection and it was lovely to wander round round with the parents. Smelly (sister) returned on Sunday so we could enjoy our first father's day together for many a year.

And now we are back to a week of exam board meetings and finalising the book. Today I finished the final read through of the introduction and worked on my bibliography. The latter is a very dull job but does mean that I can have Federer on the telly at the same time as it requires very little actual brain power. I love Wimbledon!

We're continuing with our Chinese films. Last night it was Hero, another beautiful film that made me cry. I am such a wuss at the moment.

A cup of tea beckons.
Enjoy the week folks.

P.s. Apologies for the brevity and the slightly stilted expression. I am using my new iPad given to me as a present from someone very special. Thanks so much! It is going to make a massive difference...once I've worked out how to type with more than one finger!

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

...what the...what?

This was my response to this week's episode of Game of Thrones. Well, we didn't see that one coming! This week has been a jolly mixture of book writing, HEA teaching courses (brilliant - the good folks at CERD are just terrific!) and some lovely play reading. It has been mostly the big hitters of Modernism: Eliot and Yeats. The Book is coming to an end. After the afternoon's session I can really see the finish line.

On Saturday D and I spent all day at home. We even got takeout pizza for tea. What made us so unbelievably lazy, you ask? Well, D was grappling with photographs so you good folks can enjoy our China snaps. He then redesigned my website. It now looks amazing! Check it out. I'm delighted with it. I am also now on Twitter. D has been on this social network for a while now but I have resisted. I am not on Facebook and have some ethical issues with social networks that I won't bore you with. But Twitter feels a little different. I am really enjoying engaging with folks through this medium. Lots of academic institutions now make their announcements via Twitter so it is definitely the way forward. If you are a Tweeter then you can follow me if you go to 'follow me!' on the new website.

Two new China-based films dropped through our doors from Love Film this morning so I'll look forward to seeing them. And we're off to Stockport tomorrow. On Friday night we are going to be enjoying the jolly rock sounds of Whitesnake. I'll write a wee review early next week.

In the meantime, enjoy the week.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Reflections on China: the full story

So, as promised here are some thoughts about our trip to China. If you have time and a large cup of tea then check out our photos taken (mostly) by D with his new camera. There is a slide show flicking away to the right of the blog under my lists. This is the cut down album - we started with nearly a thousand so brace yourself...

China was a place I had wanted to visit for a great many years. As an excitable undergraduate living in Aberystwyth I had a number of friends who were fascinated by this great country, and their enthusiasm eventually rubbed off on me. I learnt a lot about Chinese history and about the missionaries who had travelled over to China during the nineteenth century. I own at least five Hudson Taylor books which I read cover-to-cover. And now China is in the midst of great changes economically, socially, politically. It has become a place where the old meets the new, where hutongs make way for skyscrapers and luxury German cars are becoming as prevalent as bicycles. So it seemed an exciting time to visit.

And so it proved. As we wandered around the busy streets of Beijing it all felt rather surreal. Given that I was fulfilling a dream simply by being there, D asked whether I felt a little sad. Often when we achieve something we have been working towards and thinking about for many years we can just feel a little flat. I can honestly say that I didn’t feel sad at all, just a little overwhelmed and very excited. 

So here are the high points of our trip:

Walking the Great Wall
This was an incredible experience. I’m not sure what I was expecting but a complete wall snaking off into the distance with forts and breathtaking views was not it. It is one of the highlights of my life and also proved to be one of the toughest fitness challenges D and I had ever attempted. A four-hour hike (the first hour and a half up an almost vertical mountain) in 36 (ish) degree heat. Phew! You know those lists of things to do before you die…put this on it!

Seeing beautiful stuff
Beijing is full of incredible sights, from the architecture of the Forbidden Palace to the amazing parks at Bei Hai and the Summer Palace. At times it feels as if you have entered 'China World' as it is almost exactly as you would imagine, complete with temples, locals doing tai chi and dragon boats. But it really is like that. Take a scan through the photos (click to the right) and see some of the amazing things we saw. Every site was packed full of Chinese tourists, coming to visit their own history.

The Chinese people
Now it is tough to generalise about the inhabitants of a country that makes up 1/5 of the population of the whole world, but everyone we met was so friendly and welcoming. There weren’t many who could speak English (my knowledge of Chinese adds up to ‘hello’, ‘thank you’ and pointing with a grin) but there was a lot of laughter and smiles. On our trip round the old hutongs a lady welcomed us into her house. We had a good chat through our interpreter. Can you imagine this sort of thing happening in Britain? I miss the Chinese people very much.

Visiting Beijing Baptist Church
We love going to different churches on our trips and this one was no exception. Generally it means trips out into the desert or, in this case, to a tucked away hotel. We had a wonderful time with them and got taken out to lunch where they informed us that we shouldn’t eat anything that falls on the table…a useful factoid that stayed with us for the rest of our trip.

Seeing real Beijing
We had booked a guide for one day of our trip to show us around the real Beijing. As tourists who don’t speak Chinese it can be difficult to get around at times. So she took us to markets, tea ceremonies and art galleries and we caught a glimpse of real Beijing. In fact we were lucky to see it at all as the hutongs are disappearing rapidly to make way for flats or offices. The skyline of Beijing has changed at an unbelievable rate. Unfortunately this means that some of Beijing’s most historical districts are disappearing too. Ancient temples and houses are making way for big glass towers. We saw the effects of this in the rubble of the hutong we visited. When we asked our guide she said that there were good and bad things about this. How true!

Chinese TV
D loves watching local telly whenever we are abroad. Chinese telly, however, is rubbish. There is a lot of patriotic dancing and badminton. That said, in a slightly surreal, nostalgic moment, we got to watch Costner’s magnificent Robin Hood Prince of Thieves one night.

The food in Beijing is really excellent and very cheap. Even the best places are a fraction of the cost of the UK. I enjoyed all the vegetables we ate. The Chinese seem to have a good food ethic, cooking from scratch and including veg, meat and carbs in every meal. Here’s hoping that the growing amount of KFC and MacDonald’s won't ruin this. On Thursday night we ate at the Dadong Duck Restaurant, which was truly incredible. Normally I don’t even really like duck! Oh, and D got to eat a snake on the final night and felt no ill effects. One of his other foodie highlights were the vegetable ice lollies - pea or sweetcorn lolly anyone?

D as a celebrity
One thing we hadn’t really prepared ourselves for was D’s celebrity status in China. As he is 6”5 with blond curly hair (goodness, he sounds like a real hunk!) he stood out like an alien in Beijing. Everyone found him hilarious and wanted their picture taken next to him. Cue much laughter and fun all round. I think D has felt a little flat back in Lincoln. 

Standing in Tiananmen Square
I remember this place well from my childhood and it was a slightly eerie feeling to stand there in the heat surrounded by Soviet-style architecture with Mao looking down on us.

Wandering round 798 Art District
While we saw a lot of old stuff, we were also impressed with the new. 798 is a contemporary arts district that feels like a mad moment of anarchy in an otherwise ordered country. It taps into a modern movement exemplified by the work of Ai Wei Wei. It was a great inspiring place of experiment and I hope it will continue to go from strength to strength.

And here is a list of the things I won’t miss (it is a very short list!):

Not being able to speak the language
This is a very frustrating experience. But our Chinese friends were very forgiving.

The toilets
Ah yes! I am afraid that I am a soft, wimpy Westerner and cannot cope with holes in the ground.

The traffic
Wow, Beijing roads are insane. I have no idea why there aren’t more accidents. They go by the ‘patient impatience’ rule. Do any move you like, however crazy. But if someone gets there before you then you just shrug your shoulders and nod to them as the better man. In Britain there would be riots in the streets and blood on the tarmac, but in Beijing we didn’t even see anyone raise their voice let alone their fist.

And there you are: some not-so-brief reflections on our trip. As a brief footnote, it may well be surprising (given my research interests etc) that I haven’t really mentioned politics. We are well aware of the political situation in China and some the human rights issues that this country faces. To be honest, we didn’t see anything that caused us concern while we were there, though we learnt that the capital punishment statistics are horrendous. I’m not wanting to put my head in the sand over this one but I can’t really comment, given that everyone we met treated us with the greatest warmth and we wandered around the city with total freedom.

Suffice to say, we had a truly wonderful time and are currently working our way through our canon of beautiful Chinese films – last night it was House of Flying Daggers. I cried…a lot….but I wasn’t sure whether I was crying at the film or at the fact that I missed our Chinese friends.


Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Reflections on China: the prologue

Evening folks,
We've just arrived back after a jolly cinema/Nando's combo. Tonight's film was the new X Men flick and very good it was too. I really like this franchise - intelligent movies with lovely cinematography and really engaging characters. This evening's offering was a great addition to the series. And the delicious Hugh Jackman made a wee cameo appearance. I'd definitely recommend it.

We haven't got our holiday photos online yet as Nikon, in their wisdom, do not include a USB cable with their new cameras. D is waiting for one to arrive from Amazon so for the moment you'll have to make do with a couple of snaps from the iphone. When the photos are up (and I have had some time to think about it all) I'll post some real reflections on our Chinese adventure.

Here's one for all you plane enthusiasts. We flew on the Airbus A380, the biggest plane in the skies. Here it is at Beijing Airport with its little brother from British Airways next to it:

Wandering around Tiananmen Square at night was an incredible experience. Everyone was super friendly and even late at night we felt totally safe and well looked after.

We really loved the English translations of signs. They were always polite and read a little like an essay by an undergraduate who is trying too hard. Here is D standing next to one of our favourites:

And finally for the time being, here is a wee film. D's favourite thing about plane travel is being able to watch back-to-back movies. On the way home they were showing The Edge with Sir Anthony Hopkins (one for all you Kermode fans there). He was slightly surprised by this as, and I quote, "I'm sure that film has a plane crash in it". Everyone knows it is poor etiquette to show an air disaster film while zooming through the air at a gizzilion miles an hour at 30,000 feet. But, in a moment of true comic genius, D managed to capture what the good people of Lufthansa decided to do with the dreaded crash scene.

Anyways, that's your lot for tonight. I'll probably post a more comprehensive response to China at the weekend. Between now and then it is Book, some faffy admin jobs and some serious flat tidying.

Enjoy the week folks.

Monday, 6 June 2011

And another quickie...

...just to say that we have arrived back safely from China. Phew, that was a quick week! I'll post further about our trip in the next few days and the photos should be up and about by the end of the week in case you are interested. Suffice to say, it was amazing! D and I couldn't believe some of the things we saw and experienced during our seven days. We were welcomed wherever we went. So if you would like to read stories about eating snake, hiking the Great Wall, trying pea ice lollies and D becoming a Beijing celebrity then check back over the coming days. While D gets another day off to recover, I am back to work today and can't wait to get cracking on the Book. We always love our holidays but we are always glad to get back into things here too. Enjoy your day one and all.