Low energy…

…happens when there are a lot of things to do, and one is uncharacteristically unwell. (I generally take pride in my diamond-hard immune system.) Though there are, of course, small tidbits from life that are worth looking at anyway, especially in these times when people around me are talking about postdocs and what they want to do after their PhDs.

On one of the billion mailing lists I am on, there was recently a listing for a freelance vacancy (I shall spare the excess of details) as a press-release writer. This was specifically declared as a “PAID” position, with the word written in capitals. The matter of unpaid internships as such has been thoroughly debated in the online world already, but since when could a freelance opportunity be unpaid? Or was the “PAID” aspect of the position advertised as thus, in order to attract more freelancers? Would a freelancer consider a post if it was unpaid?


Putting the money where your mouth is

Happy end-of-January! We all like to be reminded of the flighty transience of time, do we not? (Answer: we really don’t.) In order to avoid that particular reality, I like to focus on the tiny, perhaps inconsequential aspects of daily life, if only for a moment. So…

…do you know who Barnardo’s are? If not, the simple explanation is that Barnardo’s is a children’s charity. I have once even stood on a high street to collect money for them. Yup.

The image below is their latest campaign (suitably timed for the UK general election – which is in fewer than 100 days now, I believe), of which I made a blurry caption on a bus.

All for one and one for all?

The gist is that the current government awards more from the pot of social welfare to a mum who earns £70k a year than a mum who earns £9k a year, given that the other circumstances in the lives of these respective mothers are equal, i.e. same number of children (of the same age), same civil status, same hours worked, etc. Barnardo’s thinks that this is unfair, and wants you to text their number if you also think it is unfair. However, Barnardo’s have not stated on this billboard why they think is unfair, or how they believe that the welfare money should be spent.

Now, as far as I’m concerned, it would be great if everybody pulled their load, and received the proportionally same benefits (not necessarily all in cash) from the state, although I do not think I will see that happen in my lifetime. That said, I am uncertain that this us-versus-them, or rather we and the “other” – because depending on how you identify yourself, there will always be somebody who is different and therefore “other” to you – method is the way to make people donate to your charity. By alienating one portion of the public you are implying that they are doing something wrong, which is not necessarily the case. Frankly, everybody seems to be having a tough time right now.

But! Do you know what a really, truly tough time of life is? The time you have to wait between removing a cake from the oven, and eating it.

Academented Christmas, day the twenty-fourth/fifth – Merry Blogmas

There appears to be mixed opinions on whether the Eve or the Day is the most (over? Never!-)hyped day of Christmas, so I am posting somewhere in the middle.

There is little left to say but Merry Christmas!/Happy End-of-Hanukkah!/ Happy Wednesday/Thursday! I hope everybody has been swanning about in their place of choice in their outfit of choice, having a generally good time. I hope you have all got your out-of-office messages on your emails, and failing that, are ignoring any “pling” that results from your work emails on your phones. We have all ignored an (several) email(s) sometimes, and if you say you have never done that, you should be ashamed of yourself, because lying is bad form.

I wish you relaxation and good health until the new year, but who knows what will happen next? In the meantime, a little present for your trouble in following this naff calendar, although of course I hope you have been amused, and enjoyed your time here.


Academented Christmas, day the twenty-third – ironic neighbours

I never really think of myself as a historian. Occasionally I do something stereotypically historian (such as ooh and aah over war documentaries, or obsess over getting the year – or day – right on for a particular historical event at a pub quiz), but most of the time I think my not-so-historian-ness is highlighted in an office full of historians. However, this does not mean that I cannot occasionally pretend that I favour the old far over the new.*

“Old motor vehicle trade show.”

This picture was snapped on a sweltering day (little did I know at that moment that I was going to have my second bout of sun stroke of the summer later that day) when I headed away from “my” museum in Hangzhou, to Nantong, in order to carry out my pilgrimage to the home of Zhang Jian, founder of the first domestically funded museum in China.

This building was potentially too close (for comfort) to the really quite shiny coach station. Won’t anybody think of the cars?!

*Even this is very stereotypical in itself. Historians, I love you all.

Academented Christmas, day the twenty-second – semantics part two

Apologies for the belated entry!

Many people (or maybe it is just me) float through their lives today without thinking about the little details that might make day-to-day life a little better (or worse). Such as funny names. Everybody likes a funny name, no? The other day, a friend and colleague of mine was discussing potential Christmas presents for family members, and I suggested a day out at an amusement park for one of their younger siblings. Then I mentioned that I hadn’t been to “Green Grove” – this is the direct translation of the name of an amusement park in a European capital city, gold star if you can figure out which one – for ages. Cue a procrastinatory half-an-hour of translating non-English proper nouns into English and amusing ourselves (…myself) over the effect. The consensus is that they are often (non-)descriptive, twee, or unflattering.

Exhibit A:


“Southern ditch mud river.”

Exhibit B:

Stockholm. (The sign is the white-on-black text. Don’t get distracted by the doodles.)

“(The) Raspberry mountains.”

Elephant and Castle? What’s that?

Any further contributions are most welcome in the comments!

Academented Christmas, day the twenty-first – semantics

While on the subject of travel, an office colleague, who is rapidly becoming a Scandiphile, was asking me about bureau de change matters – namely, how money is referred to in different countries. This was the resulting list.

money, money, money***

It could be worth noting that while Hong Kong uses HKD – Hong Kong Dollars for the uninitiated – the terminology surrounding money for Chinese speakers is the same as in Mainland China. CNY is often also called RMB (人民币* ren2min2bi4), of which the 币(bi4) refers to the money itself. In fact, 硬币 (ying4bi4) directly translates to “hard cash”, and means coins. HKD is usually referred to as 港币 (gang3bi4) by Chinese and Cantonese speakers**, where the 港 comes from 香港 (xiang1gang3) – Hong Kong.

*Ren2min2 (人民)means people, or people’s. So 人民币means people’s money.

** If I am wrong, please let me know. I will add errata and credits.

*** If anybody has anything to add to this table, please leave a note in the comments!

Academented Christmas, day the twentieth – Chinese trains

Today’s post is actually a public service announcement.

If you, especially if you are an early career researcher who does not have huge budget freedoms, wish to travel to China for work or leisure, I say, excellent for you! The road, rail, and air networks are relatively expansive, and there should be a way to get to most places. However, if you wish to commence or visit a city that is not an international hub (most of these are situated on China’s enormous coast from east to south), but still a large enough city, air or rail may be your best bet.

Travel agents (or “ticket offices”) can be easily found in cities – there is one in the PKU campus – who will be able to provide both ticketing services, as well as general advice on travel and routes. The basics are as follows:

  • you will need ID, preferably passport, for buying any and all tickets and travelling.
  • Prices on flights will fluctuate depending on how long you buy them before the date of travel;
  • prices on trains will not.
  • The high-speed trains all have service codes beginning with G, and are the prime choice of many who want to travel between large cities and massive cities. They are air-conditioned.
  • Not all trains are air-conditioned.
  • Make sure you are headed for the right station, as most of the larger cities have multiple stations at different ends of town, and are commonly denoted by cardinal direction. (North 北 bei3; South 南 nan2; East 东 dong1; West西xi1. It’s also possible that there will be a “city station” 城 cheng2.)
  • A train station is a “火车站 (huo3che1zhan4)”, and an airport is a “机场 (i1chang3)”. A stop is “站 (zhan4)”.
  • N.B. The numbers in the romanised spellings of the Chinese characters indicate which of the four sounds the word should take.
  • Finally, remember your pot noodle for the train, and also that the hot (drinking) water is free, the cold (drinking) water is bottled, and you need to buy it.

Now, you may choose your destination…

Where do you want to go?

This is an example of how a ticket vendor may display the choice of destinations: the yellow titles are the names of provinces, followed by a list of cities within.

P.S. Of course, coaches are available to smaller places, but not always for the faint-of-heart, and, by my own experiences, you’re better off travelling on those only if you are confident in your Chinese.

P.P.S.Finally – driving. I would not go there myself unless I had time to take extra driving lessons specifically in Chinese traffic. So much for optimism!