Saturday Night at the Movies

25 07 2011

On Saturday evening I went to see Tranformers 3.  I had to use up my last two ‘group-bought’ tickets since Cars and Harry Potter, both originally scheduled for July are now both being released in August, in part due the propaganda crap-fest (so I’ve heard) ‘The Beginning of the Great Revival’, a story about how great the communist party is.  Obviously, the third installment in the Transformers franchise was better than the second, though those who’ve seen part two know that’s not a difficult feat.  It is not up to the standard of the original in the series though.  The story isn’t that great, and the film is pretty long coming in at two and a half hours.  I’m also becoming less and less of a fan of 3D films the more I see them.  So far I’ve seen 9 films in 3D that I can remember, and the only ones that have really wowed me have been Avatar, and the animations like Rio, How to Train Your Dragon and Kung Fu Panda 2.  The final Harry Potter film is coming out soon so I’ll have to find out whether it’s worth it in 3D.  Cinemas here have far more showings of the 3D versions of films than the 2D one. 

The other problem with watching films in the cinema here is subtitles.  I’m not talking about the movies carrying Chinese subtitles throughout the entire movie, I’m entirely fine with that.  What I’m annoyed by is the lack of English subtitles in films.  The films is advertised as the English version in the cinema, as some films are dubbed into Chinese.  Of the 9 3D films I mentioned earlier, 5 of those have had non-English dialogue, none of which carries English subtitles.  There’s also no English subtitles when locations are shown on screen.  Even if you can read the Chinese subtitles fast enough to understand the non-English parts, often you’re not prepared to have to start reading the subtitles because the language switches happen very quickly, and in the original English version you would only see subtitles when needed so you would instantly know to read them.  It shouldn’t be that hard to add the English subtitles, the original version already has them! 

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Supermarket Woes

31 05 2011

As a foreigner in China, it can be difficult to fulfil the food needs we have. Many westerners regularly eat cheese, milk, butter, burgers and steaks, and many more types of food. Unfortunately many of these foods are somewhat difficult to obtain in China. It’s entirely possible to buy most of the foods you want, just you may need to take trips to several supermarkets, not exactly very convenient. The other problem is that supermarkets don’t seem to have an effective inventory control procedure.

When the newest Carrefour opened, it seemed like it would turn into my go to supermarket; they had real cheese, butter, and a well stocked imported food aisle. Now, they haven’t had real cheese for months, and the imported food aisle, whilst still well stocked, is hit-and-miss as to whether they’ll have what you want in stock, since it changes every time I’m there. It looks like I’m going to have to keep making the long trips out to Metro to get my cheese fix for now. Another example of the lack of stock control is in the supermarket near the university. They sell a Chinese brand of corn flakes which always seem to be a good seller, since they don’t cost a fortune like the imported brands. Unfortunately the supermarket often goes out of stock for a while.

The other issue I find in supermarkets is that there never seem to be enough people manning the checkouts. This seems strange because if you go to almost any other shop, like a clothes shop, or a restaurant, they have staff standing around not doing a lot, but supermarkets seem to be lacking. Yesterday evening I was in Carrefour, where there were queues of about 8 or 9 people at each checkout. To add insult to injury, each checkout has an “If there are more than 4 people waiting in front of you press here” button, which produces an annoying high pitched beep every time it’s pressed. Needless to say people kept pressing the button, to no effect. Common sense should tell you if they had extra staff to put on the checkouts with queues that long, they would be put to work, but it seems some people are lacking in the common sense department…





It’s A Team Sport

21 04 2011

I was in the supermarket waiting at the checkout when I spotted this gem written on a pack of condoms. 

condoms

I think it’s even more hilarious because it’s printed on the extra free condoms.  Just how many people are taking part in this “team sport”?





A Fun Saturday Evening

17 04 2011

Lately I’ve been either too lazy to blog or been busy doing other things like organizing my parents trip to China in the summer, which had plenty of blog material but like I said, I was too lazy to write it up.  Anyway I’m back now, raring to go.

Yesterday started out like any other ordinary Saturday, with no plans to do anything, so I was expecting quite a dull day apart from the lovely weather we’ve been having.  It soared to 31 degrees at one point so going outside then wasn’t very pleasant.  Anyway, I received a call from a classmate to go out for dinner so I agreed and an hour or so later we had met up.  It turns out it was my classmates birthday, so he arranged for 8 of us to go out for dinner to 金汉斯.  I’m not exactly sure what type of restaurant I would call it.  They had a buffet consisting of fruits, some salad, some cakes and bread, chinese food, sushi and no-so-nice pizza.  They also have meats on skewers that the waiters come to your table to cut up for you to eat, though the portions were small for each one (for example you got one chicken wing).  There were some questionable meats on offer, and I did try cow tongue, but it wasn’t particularly nice so I won’t be eating that again.  I did manage to get full before all the meats had arrived so I skipped a few of the later ones.

After our meal we headed to karaoke, where I was pushed to sing the first song.  I chose ‘Wonderwall’ by Oasis which went down quite well.  Two of my friends decided to do a duet for one song, and I don’t know if they were doing it on purpose, but they were hilarious.  They were singing out of time with each other, and both were out of time with the song, all the way through.  There were plenty of Chinese songs sung (not by me) and a few that I recognised, and I also sung ‘Hey There Delilah’, ‘Better Together’ and I gave the final performance of the night by give an extrodinar(il)y (bad) rendition of ‘Price Tag’ by Jessie J.  My rapping was obviously spot on, and I can totally sing higher notes…





End of the Journey

15 03 2011

Yesterday I finally finished reading Journey to the West.  If you may remember, I was half way through towards the end of November, and it has taken me the remaining three and a half months to finish the second half of the story.  If you want to know why, continue reading.

As I said before, the book had started getting repetitive.  The book continued this way all the way through to the last few chapters, which is the main reason I took so long.  You can only read so much of the same thing before getting bored out of your skull, and the next time you think about reading, you can only remember the reason you gave up last time.  Anyway, I persevered and made it through to the end.

So, Sanzang and his companions finally make it to visit the Buddha in the West, get the scriptures and make it home in time for tea.  Well not quite, the journey is described as taking many years in the book, and the return journey is unbelievably short when you think about how long it took to get there.  The second half of the book carries on the tale of the journey with the following general formula:

1. Some demons/baddies are in the way of continuing the journey, they want to capture Sanzang to eat him.

2. They trick Sanzang (Every time!! Why doesn’t he ever learn?) in some way and capture him and take him back to their cave/dwelling/hut.

3. Monkey puts forth the plan to rescue him (with the occasional “Let’s just give up and go home” from Pig). 

4. Monkey leads the battle to free Sanzang from the demons and eventually frees him.

5. Rinse and repeat.

This formula is interspersed with some other kinds of problems, but they are few and far between, and generally not much more interesting than the demon scenario.  One of the last chapters attempts to give some explanation as to why there were so many troubles on the way.

After finishing reading, I checked a few online reviews at amazon, and most of the reviews were 4 or 5 star, with only a few 3 and below.  The reviews that were 3 star or below did mostly pick up on the repetitive nature of the story, and thus graded it lower because it isn’t really necessary, in my opinion.  There are other abridged versions of the story, one of which is 30 chapters long.  This version sounds to me like it would work far better as a novel than the unabridged version I read.  To understand the story, you really only need to read the first 20 or so chapters, and the last few chapters, with one chapter in-between describing that the journey from East to West was long, slow, riddled with dangers including demons, fraudsters, bandits etc., and the gang had a real hard time.  It would serve the same purpose and save a hell of a lot of reading time and paper! 

The novel is based upon the story of a real monk named Xuan Zang who did indeed go to India to study the scriptures, because he was concerned about the quality of the Buddhist scriptures that were already in China, since they were poorly translated and so there were many different versions.  After training as a monk, he went to Chang’an (modern day Xian) to request a passport and permission to leave to journey west, along with several other monks.  Their request was denied, so the other monks gave up, but Xuan Zang snuck out of the city with the help of other people of the Buddhist faith.  When it was discovered he had escaped, a document ordering his capture was sent out, though more Buddhists helped him evade capture until he was free of the threat.

He then had to face the Gobi desert alone.  Not only did he have to endure the hardships of the desert, there were also five sentry towers posted that had orders to kill all travellers without a passport.  Xuan Zang managed to evade all five of these towers, though he would get shot at.  He got lost in the desert, and by pure luck when he was near death his horse led him to an oasis, so he was able to carry on his journey. 

He picked up more help along the way, and some followers.  They journeyed on through mountain passes and valleys, and many of his followers died during the journey before reaching India, though Xuan Zang survived and persevered.  In India, the remaining travellers had to deal with the threat of bandits, and were caught several times and nearly murdered.

Eventually Xuan Zang reached the university in India where he set out for, and studied the Buddhist scriptures for five years.  After leaving the university, Xuan Zang travelled throughout India, visiting many famous Buddhist sites.  He then journeyed back home to the East to return with the scriptures.  He had to request permission from the Emperor to return, and the Emperor was impressed with his accounts of his journey, and needed Xuan Zang for information about the Western countries in order to defend against attacks, so permission was granted.  Xuan Zang gave a detailed account of his journey to the Emperor, and then set out to translate the scriptures, for which he received aid from the Emperor.  The journey took 17 years in total.  Xuan Zang died at age 63 in Chang’an. 

The book is aimed more at children than adults, but to me the real story of the journey to the west is far more impressive and possibly worthy of a book all to itself, with a bit of fictionalization thrown in.  Also, the real story shows how brave and persevering the real monk was, but in the book he’s portrayed as quite the wuss.  Quite the injustice.

That’s it for my Journey to the West review.  I’m going to take a break from reading before continuing on my quest to read the four great Chinese novels. 





Zebra Crossing Ahead!

13 03 2011

After 2 and half years of riding buses in Xiamen, I’ve finally figured out the final announcement that plays on the buses.  I’d figured out the first half a while ago, but the second half was more difficult, especially since one word is not pronounced properly (in my opinion).  I searched online to find out what the final word was, which is the one I was having trouble with, and it seems other people who’ve heard this announcement also misheard what was being said, so it’s not just me.  So, this announcement translates to “Zebra crossing ahead.  Please slow down and give way (to the people crossing/wanting to cross)”. 

The first thing that struck me was this is clearly not an announcement meant for the passengers of the bus, but for the bus driver.  It baffles me as to why there is a specific announcement for the driver to tell him or her to slow down at a zebra crossing and let people cross.  I think that the traffic laws in China state that the cars don’t have to give way to pedestrians who are waiting to cross the road, but a pedestrian already on the zebra crossing has right of way.  Surely bus drivers should already know this, thus making the announcement obsolete?  However, this is china (a common phrase among expats in China), so it doesn’t surprise me when people break rules like the zebra crossing one.  Bus drivers have probably learned to tune out the announcement anyway, judging from my own experiences, so it’s a pretty useless feature now.

The other thing that is odd about the zebra crossing announcement is that this is the only type of warning for the bus driver.  There’s no “Traffic light ahead.  Please slow down and don’t go through red lights.” or “Your bus has too many passengers, it’s not a competition you know” or “You are driving on the wrong side of the road. You may have a death wish, but the passengers don’t” announcements.  Maybe we’ll hear these sometime in the future…





Michael on Ice

8 03 2011

Last night I went on a class outing for Women’s Students Day.  Today it’s Women’s Day, can’t these two ‘days’ be combined into one?  I’m not aware of any Male Students Day or Man’s Day (and don’t give me ‘every day is Man’s Day’).  Anyway, we went to the newly opened ice rink conveniently located at Zhongshan Road, only 10 minutes by bus from the university.

It’s a pretty big ice rink, and by the looks of it could also be used for ice hockey, given the floor markings which looked conspicuously like an ‘ice pitch’ (what do you call an ice hockey pitch/playing field?).

ice_skating1

The Ice Rink

In total there were about 35 people from my class at the ice rink.  Out of those people, only two were able to ice skate, and one of those was me.  A few people did start to get the hang of it after a while, but there was still a lot of falling over.  Many people just stuck to the sides and ambled around the rink that way.  After some time I decided to try changing to a larger skate size because my ankles were hurting from the skates.  On my first circuit on the larger skates I took a spectacular fall on the turn, sliding along the ice towards the wall.  After this I loosened the skates and I was back on form.  However, I have since found out that you shouldn’t let your feet/ankles be loose inside the ice skate, so maybe next time I’ll try a smaller size.

ice_skating2ice_skating3

As you can see from my beautiful form, I’m definitely a contender for the 2012 Olympics.

It was a fun night, and hopefully I’ll go again soon, when my feet have recovered from the ordeal I put them through last night.