Category Archives: Archives

Archives, Verse


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.



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.


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.


Don’t believe a word

Any visitors to this blog (there, I’ve said it) have no doubt noticed a distinct lack of activity in recent months. That’s mostly due to my resources being focused on this magazine and blog. Much to my surprise, however, I’ve found this site continuing to draw a steady stream of visitors.

Worryingly, many — particularly over the Olympics — seem to have come to view my inaccurate and generally useless “analysis” of air pollution indices in Hong Kong and Beijing. I tracked down the origin of many of those visitors to Wikipedia’s Air Pollution Index page. Apparently, someone thought that a random entry on a blog, prefaced by an explicit warning not to rely on the subsequent information, was a good source of information on the topic.

I like Wikipedia (I particularly enjoyed reading that the Shanghai World Financial Center was built “on the dreams of a few ‘Nam vets” — a phrase that has since been removed), and the fact that the entry on APIs was changed (not by me) is a good sign that the Wikipedia model generally works. But I still don’t quite understand how someone would add my API discussion in the first place. And thanks to its brief spot on Wikipedia, that page is now the top search result on Google for air pollution index beijing. Yikes!


The Beijing Left Turn

This explanation (with diagrams!) of cars at a Beijing intersection making a left turn is one of the funniest things I’ve read in a while. Substitute a Volkswagen Santana for the Hyundai if you’re in Shanghai, and add a couple of mopeds.

Edit: Proxy link here.


A letter to BOCOG

I was visiting the Web site of the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (BOCOG) a few weeks ago, and was disappointed to find that the weather conditions in Beijing — temperature and wind speed — were given only in degrees Fahrenheit and miles per hour, respectively. I sent a suggestion through BOCOG’s online form, but several weeks later, there has been no change. Today, I sent the following message by e-mail:

Subject: Weather Reporting for Olympics

Dear madam and / or sir:

A few weeks ago, I sent a message through the “suggestions” tool on BOCOG’s Web site, pointing out that Beijing’s temperature and wind speed, as given on (http ://, are shown ONLY in degrees Fahrenheit and miles per hour. I asked that the information also be presented using degrees Celsius and kilometres per hour, in the interests of the many English speakers unfamiliar with Fahrenheit and miles. To date, I have seen no response to my message, and there have been no changes to the site. I am sending this message in the hopes that it might be more successful than a Web-based form.

As the United States is the only country left in the world that persists in using Fahrenheit as a temperature scale, the exclusive use of Fahrenheit and miles per hour is both confusing and annoying to those of us who have adopted the metric system. Consider:

English is the primary language in Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, the Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, Belize, the British Indian Ocean Territory, the British Virgin Islands, Canada, the Cayman Islands, Dominica, the Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Grenada, Guernsey, Guyana, Ireland, the Isle of Man, Jamaica, Jersey, Montserrat, Nauru, New Zealand, the Pitcairn Islands, Saint Helena, Saint Lucia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Singapore, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, Trinidad and Tobago, the Turks and Caicos Islands, and the United Kingdom.

None of these countries and territories uses the units you have chosen in any official capacity. Only the United States does so. To use only Fahrenheit and miles per hour on your site, therefore, is to implicitly suggest that all English speakers are Americans. While I take no issue with America as a country, and indeed count many Americans among my close friends, this is an affront to the national sensibilities of all non-American, English-speaking countries.

I hope that in the spirit of international co-operation and friendship, you will fix this issue on your site. We may have “One World, One Dream,” but not all English speakers use “One System of Measurement.”

Thank you for your time, and I wish you all the best in helping to make the Beijing Olympics a great success!

Warm regards,

Andrew Galbraith

I am eager to hear back from them, and hope I can get the metric system up there before the Games start. 358 days left!

Edit: I’m aware that my statement that “none of these countries uses Fahrenheit and mph” is overstating the case somewhat… that’s only really true regarding Fahrenheit. I believe the point still stands.

Update: has bounced my message back. Apparently, it doesn’t actually exist, despite being listed on BOCOG’s site.


Shanghai hits the max

As of 4:30 pm, Monday, April 2, 2007:
Shanghai API at 500
The “500” is for respirable particulates. The other numbers are concentrations of Sulfur Dioxide and Nitrogen Dioxide, respectively. Taken from the Shanghai Environmental Monitoring Center. I’m not sure if this is a computer error or not, but looking out the window at the entirely brown air seems to confirm it. Yuck.

Edit: To be perfectly clear, 500 is as high as the air pollution scale in China goes.



Pancho, our family’s loyal companion of 15 years, faced with a long and painful decline after a long and happy life, was put to sleep today. He’s been such a big part of our family for such a long time, it hasn’t really sunk in yet. However, I think it’s the little things that I’m going to miss most: when I lived at home, he used to sleep on the rug beside my bed; later, when I visited during holidays, he would move from his hallway pillow to my bedroom rug at some point during the night, so he was always by my bed in the morning.

We originally got him when we moved from Vancouver to Tokyo and realised that our crazy whippet-pointer-lab-etc cross would be absolutely miserable in a large Asian city (we gave him to friends with a farm in the interior of British Columbia). Pancho was our “cat” and our “compact dog”, the only natural-born Canadian in the family apart from my dad. He became known to the shopkeepers in our neighbourhood, and was taunted by the gigantic Tokyo crows. He accompanied us on weekend trips to the lake district around Mt. Fuji, where my sister and I would race him down hills on our bicycles, and then take turns bundling him into our jackets and riding along the roads between the rice paddies, with his head sticking out under our chins.

He managed the move to Hong Kong admirably. He loved running along the beaches in Repulse Bay and Stanley, and in the country park around the reservoir at Tai Tam. He joined us on weekend hikes up the hills of Hong Kong island, even at the height of summer, when he would collapse, panting, in any shade he could find if he got too hot. He picked up the habit of hunting small birds, much to the consternation of our wonderful (and very Buddhist) Thai helper, Tum, who utterly adored him. On the other hand, he once saved the life of a frog by barking at a snake that was about to eat it (whether this was a case of gallant bravery or general dimwittedness is perhaps a question best left unanswered).

As he became older, he became a wonderful curmudgeon. You could have set your watch to his demands for walks — never noisy, but always insistent. And, once on a walk, he had very definite ideas about where he would go, exactly how long he would go there, and when it was time to go back.

I was not there for his last move, to Singapore, but visited last summer and saw him in high spirits, exploring the lush botanical gardens, and revelling in the wide open grassy spaces. At home, he still had his annoying habit of blending into the carpet, which frequently led to him getting punted across the room. He still loved sembei, the Japanese rice crackers, though having lost many of his teeth, they could prove hard to chew. He still acted like he was on crack after a bath, when he would race around the house with his ear to the floor, responding to the slightest movement by rocketing off in the opposite direction. He still proved entirely susceptible to tummy rubs, which would send his legs into spasms.

And every morning when I woke up, I still found him sleeping on the rug beside my bed.

Pancho, we will miss you.