Seasonal verse

Following from a discussion on Twitter.

Spring’s Herald
A milky grey of soot and sand,
winter-wind-whipped ’cross the land,
is shooting through the hutongs bare,
with chill, with spit, with spite.

For many months we’ve faced the gloom:
The dead tree-branches over-loom
the frozen streets where burning coal
provides the only light.

But Lo! What’s this that peeks from ’neath
the steering wheel, casts off its sheath
of winter, and presents a glimpse
of warmth, of life’s rebirth?

O cabbie’s leg, to thee I sing!
With trousers fresh rolled up for spring,
your coming heralds winter’s end,
and sunny warmth, and mirth!

The trees, restored, now filled with song!
The children gaily dance along
the lazy, willowed Houhai banks,
as innocent as lambs.

So take your robins and your flow’rs;
in winter I just count the hours
’til cracking skin gives way to sights
of cabbies’ pasty jambs.


Posted in Verse | 1 Comment

Shanghai Lester School & Technical Institute

Discovered today on a bike ride – the former Lester School & Technical Institute, now the Shanghai Seamen’s Hospital. The rest of the neighbourhood isn’t in great shape; quite a bit has been torn down for the (extremely convenient) Xinjian Lu tunnel to Pudong. Hopefully this one, at least, can be preserved:

Posted in Photos | 3 Comments

Tobias Berg, vol. 1

In the mail today:

Tobias Berg Invoice Card

Posted in Archives | 4 Comments


I am thrilled to learn that Bringhurst’s The Elements of Typographic Style has now been adapted to online world. I consider myself a Bringhurst disciple, if not a practicing one; this site does much that the great man would likely find objectionable. Given time, I hope to atone for my typographical sins.

Case in point, from the original book:

Baskerville: Roman and italic, designed by John Baskerville in the 1750s and cut for him by John Handy. This is the epitome of neoclassicism and eighteenth-century rationalism in type, and the face was far more popular in Republican France and the American colonies than in eighteenth-century England, where it was made.

Many of the digital faces sold under Baskerville’s name are passably faithful to his designs, but small caps and text figures, often omitted, are essential to the spirit of the original, and to an even flow of text …

Regrettably, the digital face supplied with Mac OS X is one of those lacking in text figures—and is the one I use here. I have considered switching to Georgia, which renders quite beautifully on screens and contains a full set of small caps and text figures, but I simply like Baskerville more in the context of this site. Small caps I can avoid, but the lack of text figures may prove more difficult to work around. Perhaps it is time to eschew Arabic numerals altogether and simply write numbers in full.

More from Mr. Baskerville here.

Written on eleventh day of the eleventh month of the year of our Lord two-thousand and ten.

Posted in Archives | Leave a comment

On Yan’an Lu

My bike requires repairs. I have been taking too many taxis.

To a Shanghai taxi
O coach of völkisch birth, to you I plead:
Your pilot’s callused hands and leaden hooves
beget in me a dread of mortal speed;
The windshield glass, so stained with soot, removes
the sense of life and depth that sight improves.
With nought betwixt us and the soul ahead
he now with hellish tarantism moves
and hurtles us through countless signals red;

I pray, Santana: slow, ere we meet with the dead.


Posted in Verse | Leave a comment


Having been using the same version of WordPress for five years, I figured it was time for a change. I don’t expect that upgrading to the latest version will have much of an impact on my posting schedule (averaging, it seems, about one post every 13 months), but at least it should make it less annoying to write new entries.

What you see here is an attempt to update my old design by editing WordPress’s Twenty Ten theme. It may change over the coming days and months, or it may not. I’ve also added a new category called “Verse,” since poetry appears—quite unexpectedly—to be an increasingly large part of this blog.

On coming third at a pub quiz
But Yea—
Is glory in the noble third,
or sorrow, or despair? Glowing
bronze gleams bright.

Less the Word
of the Triune God, all-knowing,
no genesis. The empty night.


Posted in Archives, Verse | Leave a comment


The post office has not delivered my mail in approximately five months.




Posted in Verse | Leave a comment

Seen on the ride home

June 4, 2009, shortly before 7:00 p.m. Location: People’s Square, Shanghai. A police van with a bewildering array of cameras, lights, whizzing bits and oddly bulbous domes is parked near a large crowd. The van’s side door is slightly ajar. Signs behind the crowd reveal that the people are here to watch “High School Musical” at the Shanghai Grand Theatre. A peek inside the police van reveals an officer staring at a computer screen, playing Solitaire.

Posted in Archives | Leave a comment

A bonnie lad

Kim Il-sungThis Friday will mark one month after the 97th birthday of Kim Il-sung, which is a good enough excuse for me to post something that’s been sitting on my computer for some time.

It is an ode to Kim Il-sung written in the style of Robert Burns, with apologies in advance for any true speakers of Scots. I’ll admit I can’t remember the precise reason that I decided to compose such an ode, but here it is.

For those readers who may be unfamiliar with the hagiography of the DPRK, here is some background information:

The poem refers to the log cabin on Mt. Paektu, the place of the mythical origin of the Korean people, in which Kim Jong-il had his equally mythical birth. That birth, on February 16, 1942, is said to have been accompanied by a double rainbow and the appearance of a new star in the sky. The cabin stands today and is something of destination for pilgrims in the DPRK — it’s also filled with numerological significance, including being 216 meters (as in 02/16) from the base of a nearby cliff.

Juche is the principle of self-reliance that is the foundation of North Korean ideology. Arirang is the name of a famous Korean song, sometimes sung as an ode to reunification, and has also been used as the name of the Mass Games held in Pyongyang.

And now, the poem:

On seeing his cabin on Mt. Paektu
Abune a cauld and mirky brae,
o’ Paektu’s snaw, aneath the skies,
whar Kim Jong-il th’ bairn is frae,
a cozie, hamely haddin’ lies.

It hears at dawe the birdie’s sang,
tha’ echoes ben the gracefu’ morn.
Sae hinny as he flees amang,
Th’ pine, th’ larch, th’ spruce
– th’ thorn.

O haddin’! Bigg’t by daddie Kim!
Frae timmer made: Ye stand sae straught!
Me heart’s astir wi’ thoughts o’ him,
Wha me to grit Pyongyang hae brought.

But now, waesacks! His banes gae stiff!
An’ cauld as airn; He’s here nae more!
I’m wearie, fill’t with dool an’ grief!
Me fiere, me daddie’s, left the shore!

O! Kim Il-sung, I’m fidgin-fain
For ye! An’ though ye’ve now passed on,
I’ll see your haddin’ when ye’re gaen,
And ken tha’ Juche isna faun.

And sae, thegither, teuhgly stan’
a-fiel’! We, wi’ blithe spirits all!
For bonnie is the Arirang,
O! Kim Il-sung! We hear your call!


Posted in Verse | 1 Comment

The new ride

An ill-starred taxi ride recently left me without a commuter bike. Lesson learned: When taking a taxi, always get a receipt. Without one, the Bashi Taxi Company proved unable to recover my beloved Dahon Boardwalk, folded and placed in the trunk. It had recently been converted into what I dare say was China’s only fixed-gear folding bike.

Wu Xiaohai, the manager of Devil Bikes on Jiangning Lu, had been the man behind that fixed conversion, and his condolences on the loss were sincere. Then he showed me this (click to enlarge):

The bike is made by TNT, a Taiwanese company with no apparent web presence. They specialize in what are known as “minivelos”: rigid road and mountain bike frames built for 20″ wheels (BMX size). TNT’s frames are all-aluminum, and include such nifty features as generous clearance for fat tires and fenders, and disc brake mounts. The frameset, including fork, sells at Devil Bikes for RMB780 (US$114).

The Brooks saddle, lifted from my ernai Jamis (now suffering from pangs of jealousy), was my own addition. The rest was built up as Wu saw fit.

I had not been aware of minivelos, which I understand are enjoying some popularity in Japan. They combine the quick steering and all-around fun of a small-wheeled bike with the solidity of a rigid frame. Plus, they’re small enough to fit in the back of a taxi with an easily removed wheel. Just don’t forget your receipt.

Posted in Archives | Leave a comment