Hi there!Mark Whitworth I am Mark Whitworth -
writer, educator, traveller
and all round good guy.
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June 2010

Diary 23 – The Departure of the Prodigal Sun - Round the World in Eighty Days!

Beijing Zoo, Exotic Animals, China DailyThis week’s journal spans time and space to bring you delicious offerings regarding Chinese eating habits, computer problems, Suzhou and Chinese culture, British Petroleum and the oil leaks, the  Foxconn suicides, the drinking habits of Australians and their birds, leaving China, our plans for the summer, Chinese food price speculation, school management, the England v. USA World Cup game, the use of bad language in my novel, Chinese archaeology, TV watching habits and much more. All in all I had a fun time writing it and with any luck you should have a fun time reading it! Please enjoy!

Hippo, Tanzania, Sandy KightKnowing just how much everyone likes weird and wacky tales, it’s probably appropriate to start with the news from Beijing Zoo. It’s said that the Chinese will eat anything that flies except an aeroplane and anything with four legs except a table. This of course misses out on many other species they also eat such as scorpions, silk worms, grilled snake and sea horses on sticks to name but four. However, Beijing zoo has just launched a menu that features many of the creatures currently living at the zoo, including that well known delicacy, hippo. It would be perfectly possible to exit the kangaroo compound and five minutes later tuck into kangaroo steak. Giant Pandas, ChengduThis really does seem to be taking things a bit too far but as Wang Zengnian, the Beijing Wildlife Conservation Association’s Vice-President said, “It’s perfectly legal…people have a misunderstanding about wildlife protection. Serving exotic animals in restaurants is legal.”

Yes Wang, it may be, but is it appropriate in a zoo. Let’s make a main course of the Giant Panda shall we!

I will confess I’m going to have difficulties with pictures this week. I’d just put together a collection of my favourite photos of our time in China, which will appear shortly, but my laptop has bitten the dust in the last couple of weeks. It’s currently residing with Mr. Kang who has done several jobs for us. Andrea and I bought new, matching laptops almost three years ago and my own has been plagued with problems associated with the graphics card. I thought we had sorted it all out eighteen months ago but then suddenly on a Sunday morning…bang! Fortunately I always do my backups on Saturday night, so I’ve lost nothing at all. In fact with my creative juices flowing at the moment I’m backing up every day or two; after this particularly painful episode I might switch to a daily back up.


So I’m using Andrea’s laptop whilst she’s plugging away on her Mac. There are a few problems. My own is set up as a UK keyboard, which obviously features this important symbol - £ - and the double speech marks – “ – reversed with the - @ - symbols. As there’s quite a lot of dialogue in my novel, this last issue is causing my typing to slow significantly. The recalcitrant machine should be returned to me next week, so look out for the photos, they’ll be some crackers, while I try to revert to my UK keyboard!


The other problem is the language default. I thought I was making significantly more errors than usual only to realize the setting was in English (USA). Obviously this can and will be changed but the odd mistake may creep through under the radar; my apologies if this is the case and it ends up being a little transatlantic!


Suzhou, CanalsSuzhou appeared in the headlines a couple of weeks ago as it hosted an international forum on cultural heritage in cities. There’s no denying that there are many cultural sites in Suzhou and some of them are pretty good. However, it must be tempting for some of the delegates to ask about the age of some of these attractions, as many have been completely rebuilt. The extremely pleasant walk down Ping Jiang Lu is undertaken by most tourists to Suzhou who marvel at its authenticity; when we arrived in 2003 it did not really exist. Many cultural sites are in fact recreations, which doesn’t matter too much to most people, but it does Confucius, Disciples, Suzhouirritate the Chinese, as in many cases the originals were only pulled down in the last fifty years and now they’re seeing them rebuilt. Chinese culture, like Chinese history, reinvents itself to suit the present or future. The classic pictures of the Great Wall are all of the one built by the Ming and substantially repaired very recently, but at the same time you’ll be told the Great Wall you’re looking at has more than 2200 years of history. Well that’s wrong; it has an even longer history than that but there are too few people who care to find the truth. Our trip to Qu Fu, the home of Confucius, proved to be an examination of the Qing and Ming interpretations of Confucianism, just as historical Suzhou Book Sculpture, Suzhouwill prove to be a modern interpretation of a city with a history as long as that of the great sage.


One of the most fascinating aspects of working with Chinese history is to find out how little the average Chinese know about it. This is a little surprising when you see just how many historical dramas are shown on TV; these are extremely popular. When you actually start to ask about details, time frames and anything to do with normal people, rather than emperors, there is very limited knowledge. I believe that Americans are the most knowledgeable about their own history; although this is largely due to the fact their written history is very short and required study every year, although they do balance this strength by what might be described as a blind spot when it comes to world geography!