Saturday, December 29, 2007

Wanderlust, or Lack Thereof

The two years after my experience in China were a little frustrating. After more travel than I could possibly have dreamt of, I was confined to Western Europe pretty much from late June 2006 to December 2007, discounting a short jaunt to Egypt over the Christmas break 2006. Whilst this frustration may sound extravagant, remember the context. I feel like Tom Hanks in The Terminal – a stateless person. Therefore, a sense of foreignness sets upon me, wherever the world I may be. On a subconscious level, I am eternally trying to escape this foreignness. Therefore, I yearn for travel...oh...about every 3 months, as I try to get the proverbial devil off my shoulder. So for me to sit around in every one place for more than a quarter of a year feels slightly Luciferan, and whilst I'm no god-fearer, it only makes sense to hedge my bets and stay out of the devil's bewitching grasp.

So fast-forward to December 2007, and fulfilment, a dangerous word though it is, bears down upon me. Just between New Year's and Easter, I will spend time in the US, the UK, Finland and China. Furthermore, I will only spend two complete months in the UK through next summer, and those two months (May and June) are GCSE months. In other words, although not my doing, I will only spend mandatory months in the UK. So despite wanderlust being my signature emotion, it appears to have lost me in the run-up to 2008. I suspect, however, we will rejoin at some point down the line.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Just Desserts

Former Gunner Ashley Cole revealed in his show-all autobiography that, in his opinion, Cesc Fabregas was an "unproven featherweight," publicly acknowledging disagreement with Arsenal management. So good riddance came around and boy oh boy was karma evident this afternoon at the Emirates Stadium. In a 1-0 Arsenal - Chelsea fixture, William Gallas (whomst Cole was exchanged for) poked home the eventual winner late in the 1st half. Then, with the clock running out, Fabregas was booked for a meaty challenge on "Cashley Cole," who decided that the £150,000 offered to him to stay on at Arsenal was not enough.
Needless to say, but there was bad blood a plenty in a game that had 10 bookings and 2 injuries. Despite the magnitude of the event on the field, turfside relations were apparently calmer.

"The Israeli has been close to Wenger for more than a decade and, while admitting their friendship will be on hold during tomorrow's meeting at the Emirates, Grant wants to treat the Frenchman as a source of inspiration.

"He is a good friend of mine," Grant said. "He is a great coach, a great person and he has a great vision of football. He thinks about the game in the right way and he works not just for the short term but for the long term, right from the base of the club. I like to take good things from any coach I respect and he is one of them."

Despite these pleasantries, the atmosphere was very heated as push came to shove several times throughout the match. However, Arsenal will be happy: they emerged with 3 points and their position atop the Premiership intact. Chelsea however have dropped their 1st league match under Grant and in doing so have lost both their skipper in John Terry and their position in the Champions League spots. In all senses of the word, Arsenal are victorious.

And let's not forget:

- That unproven featherweight we all know and love as Cesc Fabregas is one of the most highly regarded young players in the game today.
-William Gallas, who Arsenal gained in addition to cash for Ashley Cole is captaining the Gunners and has come up with several clutch goals this year.
-Arsenal claimed their first victory against the Blues since the sacking of Claudio Ranieri. They never managed it under the reign of the Special One, Jose Mourinho, but succeeded on their first try with Avram Grant at the helm.

It seems the Battle of London is complete, so quit crying and go home, Cashley.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Collective Strength

Growing up on that piece of land known affectionately by Anglophile Bill Bryson as "the small island," I am well aware of the so-called "Island Mentality" that surrounds its inhabitants. Due to some sort of primal reflex, Britain seems to try and push away foreign elements. Despite suffering greatly over the course of World War II, Britain was not a founding member of the European Union. Considering that it took the military might of the United States and Soviet Union to really take an upper hand in the war, it was perhaps naive of then Prime Minister Harold MacMillan to not join the European Economic Community upon its foundation. This was high noon of the Cold War, and if war had broken out, a fragmented Western Europe would have been knocked aside by the considerably stronger Soviet forces. Of course, certain countries have actual reasons for not joining the EU. For instance, Switzerland is hell-bent on pristine neutrality, and Norway's whaling industry is key to its economy, but Britain simply does not have a case to stand on. In the two World Wars, the UK required the US Army to fend off the Axis forces...
50 years after the EEC came into being, and Britain is an established member of what has developed into the European Union. There has been almost no bad blood amongst Western Europe since 1945, and despite the noise-making of the UK Independence Party a few years back, Britain is still part of the EU. Not that its citizens like it that way.
But still, people do not see the practical advantages of the Euro, seeing it more as a voucher for cheap booze than a pan-European currency. That is what really irks me, that Britons feel the right to flaunt their membership, without fulfilling one of the most basic commitments. The point I'm trying to get across it that whilst there has been no conflict in Western Europe for half a century, that is largely down to the EEC and the EU, and if member states do not abide by their rules, fractures may develop and the strong collective strength built up by the EU could subside, and with the regional economy struggling to keep up with the likes of India and China, the future would not look bright. So I urge you, people of Britain, to take up that Euro. It may not seem like a difference-maker, but believe me, it is.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Who'd have thought it?

Really, who'd of thought it? My beloved Canucks are 11-3-2 since that "apocalyptic" early November match-up against the Nashville Predators. For the uninformed, the Nucks lost key blueliners Kevin Bieksa and Sami Salo to freak, potentially career-threatening injuries. Yet through the red haze lurking around the Canucks forum after that encounter, seemingly with the Grim Reaper, several heart-warming storylines emerged.
Numero uno is the play of Alex Edler, native of Ostersund, Sweden. The rookie defenseman has been Vancouver's most consistent and is drawing rave reviews from Canuck fans. TSN (Canadian ESPN) has lauded him in their rookie rankings, and deservedly so, most Vancouver fans would argue. Then we've got the resurgence of Markus Naslund, who has recovered that laser wrist shot that escaped him in his prolonged post-lockout slump. Of course, Roberto "Luongod" Luongo has figured in his team's recovery, posting 4 shutouts in November after an unsightly October, drawing a NHL.COM 1st Star in the process. Yet what would we expect from ol' Bobby Lu?
Perhaps the most refreshing storyline has been the development of Ryan Kesler. The 23 year old had struggled since being drafted in the 1st round in 2003, but has carved out a niche for himself on Alain Vigneault's defense-first team, taking Marian Gaborik, Joe Sakic, Ryan Smyth, Jarome Iginla and...Sidney Crosby off their games, thus taking a huge amount of pressure off the aforementioned Luongo. All this for a guy who suffered two serious injuries and a family illness last year. The fire must be burning in his belly.
Yet my unsung hero is most certainly Curtis Sanford. The Owen Sound, Ont. native was establishing himself as St. Louis's starting netminder, but took a pay cut to back-up All-Star Roberto Luongo. Yet this brave decision has paid off. Through 3 starts, Sanford has picked up a 100% win record and a career-high .911 save percentage. Not bad for the undrafted 28 year old who just 8 years ago was languishing in the United Hockey League.
Oh and did I mention? The Canucks are 2nd in the West going to tonight's tilt with the Kings. Not bad for a team given little hope waaaaaay back in October.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Up the Us!!!

Today is the day that could potentially solve Cambridge United's financial facilites. The Us take on Weymouth, who currently hover precariously above the Blue Square Premier dropzone. The sides meet at 3pm, at the Abbey Stadium. But what is the significance of this match? Well, this fixture is part of the FA Cup 2nd round. A win today for the Us would see them advance to the 3rd round, where Premiership and Championship teams enter the fray. Depending on where the tie is held, Cambridge could stand to gain £1 million, which would go a long way to setting up the club for a sustained return to League football.
It was this lack of funding that lead to the former Championship play-off finalists fall from grace. Despite a short resurgence in League 1, the club quickly fell out of the league, a drop that was quickened by the 10-point penalty they earned for going into financial administration.
However, Cambridge has been known for nuturing young talent, and former Us such as Dion Dublin, Dave Kitson and John Ruddy have all gone to Premiership sides. The Us' match-up against Weymouth last season marked Cambridge's escape from the relegation battle. The 7-0 defeat of the Terras followed a 4-0 whipping of Northwich, and the Us have carried that form into this season, going undefeated at home, good for 3rd in the Blue Square Premier. All in all, I tentatively predict a Cambridge win, and look forward to the 3rd round draw on Sunday.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Lack of Identity

People often ask me what I consider my home to me. England? No. Holland? No. America No. “Then where?” comes the inevitable reply of perplexion. I wish I knew. Amongst the creole of standard English and American English, somewhere the answer must lurk. But as of yet, I have been unable to discover it. But that’s not a bad thing. This lack of identity enables me to view the world from any perspective, reflecting on the maladies of George W. Bush without so much as a glimmer of patriotic embarrassment, or criticizing the island mentality of England without feeling guilty or traitoric. Yet there are definite drawbacks. For example, there is no state where I am not subject to bigotism or racism. But that is a small price to pay for what is, in my eyes, the great honor of tri-nationality.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Oh Really?

I’m not really surprised. Hollywood is pretty tight with the pro-Israeli crowd. You know, the “democrats.” Is it just me, or aren’t the Democrats supposed to be the ones who don’t endorse wars. So it’s more than a tad…confusing, that a bunch of Kerry’s benefactors would come out and stand on the Israeli “Defence” forces side of the line? I guess those actors only have on-stage brains, although the thought of Sylvester Stallone actually acting as opposed to just hitting a punching bag is hard to visualise. But whilst the Demorats and Republicans are fighting it out for the Jewish votein 2008, people, are being murdered. And the IDF is responsible for far more of these deaths than the Hezbollah reservists. Ehud Olmert knows that America is too busy canvassing for the Jewish vote, and thus has the gall to -not for the first time- bomb civilian targets and UN peacekeepers. And just for the record, Ms. Kidman, just one kidnapping is not a terrorist attack. If that was the case, then thank God Britain hasn’t bombed the Algarve to pieces. Israel plantedtwo craters in Beirut Airport. Israel has committed war crimes by bombing civilian infrastructure during a time of war. Civilians are dying. And it appears Hollywood is just fine with it.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Darn It

OK. I admit it. I was wrong. Turns out the end of the academic year didn’t turn off the dribbling tap that is Musings from Meldreth. Instead, it seems have to provoked a whole blow of literary fodder. The quality probably isn’t greatest, but hey, its a start. Hmm. Its not like my time was particularly constrained, and I don’t like to make excuses, but that probably has a part to play for the reason the blog had no entries for six weeks. Well that little dry spell is over. But blogging about blogging? Surely that is only for Mr and Mrs Blogger? My god. Well, the blogging is back. Now all I’ve got to do is conjure something intuituve to write about. Hmm. Sarkozy vs. Sego was pretty interesting, but that really is old news. OK. I’ve got it. The Kashiwazki Nuclear Plant. For starters, its got a great name. Way better than Sizewell, or Three Mile Island. It conjures up the image of something high tech. Oh yeah, and its leaking radioactivity into Northern Japan. If I lived there, no, I wouldn’t be happy, but it is a media field day and it will be interesting to see what actually happens. Doesn’t seem terribly bad right now. But last time Japan suffered the effects of a bunch of neutrons and electrons going haywire, hundreds of thousands of people died. So you can bet that Abe will try and quell the fears of his people, as well as containing the damage. So just keep one eye on this space. I doubt anything will actually happen though. Just hope I don’t end up eating my own words again!

什么? 我…是好???

你好! 我释放的王约翰。 我在英国,我是荷兰和美国人 我。 我 很都喜欢南京,和在南京一个年。 我家有爸爸,妈妈,和两个弟弟。 和…我的爸爸是老师…我的弟弟和我是须生…我的妈妈是…妈妈! 我的学校是 Melbourn Village College。 他是非常昊!可是,我的朋友,大为, 没有一个比!不好! 我爱blogging,打网球和冰球。在 中国,我 参观 北京,西安,郑州,洛阳,登封,扬州,上海,北经, 上岗和厦门。 我明年去回到中国。是, 我的生活烦人。如此?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

It’s Official

As the academic year begins to wind down, it seems my will to think deeply winds down too. The effort to come up with something insightful and interesting just isn’t coming to the surface. Heck, I’ve haven’t really read a book in two weeks. Its not like I’m bored out of my mind either. Quite the contrary. I can’t wait for the summer to start. Parties, camp counselling, tennis, family and France fill the summer, its just this business means that is hardly space in my brain for any more complicated thought than “man, we’re gonna have an awesome weekend.” But hey, hopefully, the abyss of mindless nonsense as I chill by a swimming pool somewhere in the south of France. In a way, its probably good to fill my brain with nonsense for 6 weeks. With a little bit of a rest, my brain might just be raring to go come September time.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

I can breathe!

Whew. What a relief. Finally, the hard bit's over. Only three weeks left till summer vacation. Boy, oh boy I can't wait. Its not like this has been a bad year, but it has been tough. The leap from 8th grade to 9th is huge. Last year, I was proud when I managed to write something 800 words in length. Now, if I'm lucky, that's the half way point. I can only pray that a similar advance doesn't await me at the end of next year, as I make the jump to Sixth Form College. But yeah, so next couple weeks I've got work experience in Cambridge. Sounds kinda boring, but hopefully I'll be plesantly surprised. Still, I am so glad that I've got practically all my coursework behind me. As I said, I can breathe now. Sweet air!!!

Monday, June 11, 2007

This about sums it up...

Nanjing: Man living in harmony with Nature
http://www.sina.com.cn 2004/04/02 16:12 中国周刊

  As early as the beginning of the 20th century, Dr. Sun Yat-sen commented that "Nanjing is a very charming and nice place which boasts of high mountains, deep water and the plateau. These three kinds of endowments bestowed by heaven are incorporated with the city and it is indeed difficult to find such beautiful scenery among big cities in the world." These natural endowments have resulted in an ecological layout that incorporates mountains, water, the city and forest together. Based on such endowments, the environment of mountains, water and the urban layout form an organic blend, and a living city has been created, where man and nature coexist in harmony.

  A natural park

  Nanjing's mountains are lofty and imposing. The western part of Ningzhen Mountains lies here. Mt. Zhongshan is located in the eastern part of the city and looks like a long dragon. Mt. Stone is in the western part of the city and seems to be a crouching tiger. Hence the saying "Mt. Zhongshan is like a lying dragon and a tiger is crouching in the Stone City."

  Nanjing's water is both grand and charming, with the Yangtze river coming from the southwest turns to the east, and the Qinhuai and Jinchuan rivers meandering inside the city. Two lakes, Xuanwu and Mochou, are located in the east and the west.

  The old and the modern parts are integrated within Nanjing City, combining ancient civilisation with modern vigour.

  Nanjing's forest is unique. Tall ancient trees can be seen everywhere in the city, green land and flowers dot all parts of the city. The street trees that have been growing here for many years have formed "green channels" that are spreading all over the whole city. These have led people to comment that "the city is inside the forests" and "the forests are inside the city". That's Nanjing: an ecological city for human living.

  Building an ecological city

  Nanjing City has an area of 6,597 square kilometres and a population of 6.4 million. The overall urban layout has been designed to permit the construction of living accommodation for 10 million people. Based on the city's natural and ecological conditions, the innovative idea of an urban development zone has been put forward. This is the key space reserved for Nanjing's future social and economic development. Its area is 2,947 square kilometres, and its current population is 4.55 million. According to the plan, a modern, big and open-style metropolitan layout will be created. In this layout, the Yangtze river acts as the main axis, with the main city at its core. There is a multi-element structure, with several sub-centres. The layout contains three forms of towns: the main city, the new urban districts and the new city.

  The main city refers to the district south of the Yangtze river and is surrounded by highways forming a circle around the city. It has an area of 243 square kilometres, and its current population is 2.6 million. The new urban districts include Dongshan, Xianlin, Jiangbei. These will be at the centre of the expansion of the main city. The new city includes towns and counties such as Dachang, Xinyao, Banqiao, Longtan, Xiongzhou, Yongyang, and Chunxi. They respectively assume the functions of service centres for their own regions and will become the main development areas of Nanjing's future secondary industries. It is planned that ecological spaces will separate the town-groups so that an "open-type" layout is created.

  This layout is intended to merge the development of the city with both the mountains and the water. As a result, as the scale of the city is expanding, a harmonious dimension will be retained between the city and the natural areas, ingeniously combining Nanjing's resources of mountains, water, city and forest, so as to form a Greater Nanjing that is truly "a city in the forest and a forest in the city". Moreover, the "urban sprawl" so common to other big cities will be avoided.

  A truly green city

  Nanjing has established an urban green land system that is distinct in style and merged organically with the city proper, as well as the surrounding towns.

  First of all, the mountains, forests, bodies of water, and farmland, as well as the and man-made protective forest between the city and towns form the basic framework, while the green land system inside the towns acts as the secondary framework, and the green belt along the communications corridor among towns and the river system forms a linkage. In this way a complete ecological protection net is formed. The three green ecological corridors, i.e., from Mt. Lingyan, Bagua Island to the Yangtze river, from Mt. Qinglong, Mt. Zijin to Lake Xuanwu and from Mt. Yuantai, Mt. Ox Head and Mt. Zutang to Mt. Laoshan, are strictly protected. Five big suburban parks, including Mt. Ox Head, Mt. Zutang, Mt. Tangshan, Mt. Qixia, Mt. Laoshan and Mt. Lingyan are being created, so as to meet people's increasing requirements of recreation and leisure. Green open space will not be less than 75 % of the urban development area, and forest coverage will not be less than 40 %.

  Secondly, the green land system of Nanjing City proper has Mt. Zhongshan, Yuhuatai, the scenery area of Mt. Mufu and the scenery belt along the Yangtze river as its main feature. The highway greenbelt surrounding the city and the greenbelt along the river in the main city act as the green outer ring, and the scenery belt of city walls of the Ming Dynasty acts as the green inner ring. The green corridor formed along the inner/outer Qinhuai river and Jinchuan rivers acts as the connecting band. Various kinds of parks, green land along streets are dotted everywhere in the city, forming a garden-type green land system composed of "two rings and four patches" where points, lines and planes are organically combined. They are integrated with the urban ecological main framework to form a seamless body where urban space and ecological space penetrate one another to form an organic whole. At the same time, plans provide for 80 % of citizens to find an area of green within five to ten minutes' walk. Over the next ten years, public green space per capita in the city proper will surpass 18.7 square meters and the urban greening coverage will reach 55 %.

  A city full of economic vigour

  For a living city, an excellent ecological environment is a must. Furthermore, urban economic vigour and the cultural heritage need also be taken into account.

  Nanjing is one of the four big central cities of the Yangtze river basin, and is also the northern central city of the Yangtze river delta, ranking second only to Shanghai. The city has convenient communications, prosperous industries, vigorous commerce and trade, developed science and technology and booming culture and education. All the above combine to provide a secure environment for its citizens' work, recreational and entertainment needs.

  A rich cultural legacy

  Nanjing's urban scenery of is nothing short of wonderful. Here, the mountains look down on rivers and lakes, and the entire city is merged into a vast expanse of green. Here lie the ancient city walls of the Ming dynasty, the lofty Yangtze river and the charming Qinhuai river. Urban construction pays much attention to the urban environmental design that is closely related to people's work and life. It can be seen even in the details of the city's buildings, the considerable public facilities, the patches of green land and public spaces, delicate small buildings and a comfortable environment for walking. It is this merging of nature and humanity that makes for its distinctive charm.

  As the ancient Green philosopher Aristotle said, "People come to the city for survival and stay there for better living." It can be seen that Man's survival and development is a permanent pursuit in Man's urban development. With the new century, people are still persisting in the pursuit of an excellent living environment and seeking a living city on a human scale, a place where Man and Nature coexist in harmony. We believe this dream will come true in Nanjing.

  Chinese by Sun Juan

  Translated by Pan Xuebing


Thanks to Sina News for this article - finally something reveals the splendour of Nanjing, perhaps my favourite city in the world. A real melting pot of the old, the new, the rich, poor. Even the east and west seem to merge here. Something you will only ever find in the world's 4th biggest country.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Credit Where Credit's Deserved

Well, congratulations to the Anaheim Ducks. The Stanley Cup, at long last has come to the West Coast. Problem is, the Ducks sit at 4th on my list of Pacific Coast teams. I cannot help but look at their victorious season with bitterness. They lead the league in fighting majors, which to me suggests a team that bullies their opponent into submission. Nobody can deny it. That is not how the Stanley Cup should be won. The Cup should be won by a free-flowing, offensive team. Not a team that grinds their way to success. As Scott Niedermayer will tell you, this doesn't usually happen. The Ducks Captain has won four cups, each time on defensive teams. New Jersey won thanks to Jacques Lemaire's trap system. Anaheim won thanks to the league's most vicious forecheck. But most aggravating from my perspective is the lax refereeing that the Ducks owe much of their success to. There was beaucoup de goaltender interference throughout the playoffs. There was the elbow to Jannick Hansen that led to Vancouver's demise. The cheapshot on Holmstrom only recieved a 1 game suspension. Then there was Pronger's second cheapshot of the playoffs, knocking Dean McAmmond senseless. Again, he received just a one game suspension. Another constant throughout the series was obstruction. Ironically, after many complaints from the Ducks' opponents, it was the Senators that suffered worst from the tighter refereeing, falling behind on the PK and ultimately losing their bid for the cup. But all this pales in comparison with Scott Niedermayer's body language after the final horn. It looked like he had to try to smile. Perhaps it was his muskrat of a beard, but as a captain, he should at least have the decency to celebrate his record-breaking 4th cup win with someting like emotion. Having said that, his conduct with Alfredsson was admirable. As a Canucks fan, the one thing that ticks me off above all else was Justin Morneau. 6 months ago, he was recognized as AL MVP during a presentation at GM Place. He made much of his friendship with Canuck defenceman Willie Mitchell. Now, as the season draws to a close, Morneau has jumped ships to the Ducks, getting his Cup Moment on the back of his friendship with another defensive stalwart, Chris Pronger. And there you go, Justin Morneau, stick this in your Trophy Room: Hockey Whore of the Year.

On a final note, you have to be impressed by Swedish resilience in the face of adversity. Namely, Naslund and Alfredsson holding up their teams against the Ducks.
Cue the clips.



Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Real Deal




Exploring China on the back of a placement teaching english is growing ever more popular. But once you actually set foot in the Middle Kingdom, what is it actually like? Well, typical wages vary from around $6000 to $10000. Whilst this may seem stingy at best, it is definitely a sufficient income in the PRC. Bare in mind that the country is littered with bare-bones markets where farmers, butchers, so on and so forth sell their products. That being said, many "luxury" goods that one might take for granted in the West suddenly become very expensive in China. For example, yogurt in the UK costs about $2, but at your local Suguo or whatever in China, a 1 litre carton will set you back 11 kwai, or about a dollar and a half. Whilst that may not be problematic for your run-of-the-mill expat, it will burn a whole in the pocket of an english teacher. But hey, its not all bad news. Some of the more elite institutions provide accommodation for their staff. In Nanjing, the Grand Canadian Academy, amalgamated with the Nanjing Foreign Languages School, offers its teachers on-campus apartments. Universities also offer good places to base yourself. Cheap accom is available in the foreign student dorms, not just for the learning, but also the learned.
So provided you manage your funds, you could have a ball of a time in China. Travel within the PRC is relatively cheap. Even the most luxuriant of goods aren't disproportionately expensive. It is very much do-able, and very much worth doing. My final tip: eat Chinese food.

For more info, see: http://www.gcahighschool.ca/bc/en/images/staffhandbookfinalSept2006.pdf

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Firing Line Part 4

Khalid's office overlooked the Tigris. Midway up the building, looted for all its worth, it was the snipers dream. It was perhaps five hundred metres from the main avenue in Mosul, Shalia al Hussein – not so far that accuracy was diminished, yet not so close that the coalition troops could pick them up. Khalid turned Reilly. “I take it you know what happened where we stand, John?” Reilly hesitated. “You mean the Ba'ath Party thing...oh wait, no. I know what you mean. I was down there when it happened,” said Reilly, gesturing towards the far side of the river. “ Colonel Schaefer went down like a sack of potatoes. So this is where it happened?” Reluctantly, Khalid began to explain. “Ahmed – my brother – killed him. I was coming up the stairs when I heard this great crack, like a whip on the rump of a horse, so I ran towards the sound. I saw Ahmed throw the gun into the river, but you could smell the gunpowder. He's a big man, and he threw me aside and ran. Ran to Abu Mahmoud. Satan himself pales in comparison to the bastard. I can't even begin to thank you for what you did earlier.” Khalid cast his gaze at the floor. “So what's our next move?” asked Reilly. “Knowing Ahmed and those MM crazies, they'll just try and go for us again. We'd better get going. But first...follow me.” Reilly followed Khalid through a series of linoleum-floored corridors. Despite the aura of an hospital, Reilly had to remind himself of the terrible things that had gone on in this very building. Khalid drew to a halt outside what looked like an ordinary, non-descript cupboard. Checking for bypassers, he opened the cupboard. Reilly looked inside. Black polished metal lined the space. Black polished metal with wooden handles. “Wha..?” Khalid cut him off. “In today's Iraq, it is unwise to be unprepared. Here,” he said, grabbing a rifle and a few clips of ammunition. “Catch.” Khalid proceeded to pick up his instrument of choice – an Uzi sub machine gun. Just as the door swung shut, a shot zipped past. “Looks they've brought the war to us,” Reilly muttered. One of their assailants from the hotel stepped out from the corridor, dressed in a kafiyeh, the traditional headdress of the Middle East. The Mujahideen were determined to succeed now.

Ahmed has been tipped off as to the journalist's presence at the Ba'ath building just after Abu Mahmoud had dealt with him. Little did he know his brother in cahoots with the journalist. He had rounded up the the other mujahideen and sped through the back alleys of Mosul. The Americans wouldn't find them. They had pulled up at the building gate half an hour previously, but had slowly filtered in to avoid attracting unwanted attention. Five men scampered up each stairwell, before pouring down the sixth floor corridor, pulling to stop out of site of the American. Ahmed was the first to step out and shoot towards the bastard.

Reilly jammed the button on his Thuraya sattelite phone that brought the US Army running. “Shouldn't be long now,” said Reilly to a crouched Khalid. The informant fired a covering burst as. the pair ducked into an open doorway. A scream rang out. Reilly leant out of the doorway and fired a further salvo in the direction of the scream. More bodies could be heard thudding to the floor, but the danger had by no means passed. As if to prove a point, a bullet scythed through Reilly's trouser leg, just grazing the flesh. Reilly, shaken, dove into the empty room. A tremendous thud shook the building, followed immediately by a flash of light. Then the chatter of machine gun fire ebbed back into the minds of dazed Reilly and Khalid, sprawled on the cool floor. After a couple minutes of furious gunfire, the jarring crack of bullets rescinded and was replaced by the patter of boots.

Reilly managed to crawl out of the room he had sheltered in with Khalid. It was not a pretty site that met his eyes. Abu Mahmoud lay prone on the floor, identifiable only by his bandaged foot. His minions had suffered a similar fate. A stream of blood flowed down the corridor. They had been brutally, mercilessly outclassed. They had paid the ultimate price. The Army Troopers rushed towards him. “Wait there,” one of them barked. They filed into the room the pair had hidden in. A shot rang out.

Reilly leapt to his feet, adrenalin surging through his body. He ran towards the room. Khalid lay dead, a bullet wound between his eyes. Reilly rounded on the soldiers, struggling to control his hatred. “That man saved my life. You stupid, cold-hearted, blood-thirsty bastards. That is how you choose to repay him? By killing him? This will come full circle, just you wait.”

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Here we go again...

In a move reeking of Dubya, Gordon Brown confirms that he believes the Iraq war is necessary and that he won't sent a date for withdrawal. Not another fresh-faced idiot making an absolute mess of well...a slight mess?

according to BBC 24 anyways...

will get a link later

The Firing Line Part 3

As the mujahideen reeled in shock, Reilly and Khalid ducked past a set of double doors and scampered out the loading bay next to the kitchen. But they weren't out of the woods yet. The infamous Abu Mahmoud lay between the pair and relative safety. Rifle slung at his waist, the imam had the same air of overconfidence as the swashbuckling marines that went into Fallujah and well...didn't come out again. He brought his rifle up to his shoulder. It never made it. He lay on the floor, writhing in agony, blood pooling around his left foot. “Thank you, Mr. Reilly,” said Khalid. “Gut reaction,” came the response, brushing aside the compliment. “Where now?” “My office. Nobody knows where it is. Couple clicks over, on Tigris Shalia.”

Running out of steam, the pair pulled into the gate of the derelict Ba'ath party headquarters. A Humveee rolled slowly past. Reilly waved his press credentials at the fresh-faced soldiers. “You work here?” enquired Reilly. “Not so much work as hide out, but yeah,” came the response. “C'mon.”

In the Imam's quarters, Abu Mahmoud was in a furious temper, and Ahmed was bearing the brunt of it. “You fool! You yellow-bellied idiot! You see one of us go down and you freeze? Yes, that's what you do!” said the stricken cleric, in a voice laden with sarcasm. “I had a good mind to turn my Kalashnikov on you, and I will if you let him slip through your greasy fingers again. Do you hear me?” demanded Abu Mahmoud. “Yes, master,” replied a submissive Ahmed.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Firing Line Part 2

Back on the base, Reilly lay in his bunk, trying to visualise his life back in New York. He could almost see the Hudson River sweeping past his office on West 43rd Street, near the UN Building. How he longed for a cappucino. His cellphone removed him from his daydream. “Hello?” It was Khalid, one of his few trustworthy contacts in Iraq. Far more honest, than that Paul Bremer, Reilly thought. “John, another Humvee has been blown up. I've got a car outside the southern entrance. It'll take you to the El Arab Hotel. Meet me at the usual spot,” instructed Khalid. “Will do,”replied Reilly, stuffing a notepad and camera into his backpack.

The sentries were but Midwestern farm-boys, so Reilly had little trouble making his way past the perimeter fence. He always felt a rush getting into real Iraq, even considering the dangers he faced. Driving at full speed, the driver got him to the El Arab Hotel within ten minutes. As he made his way through the abandoned hotel, he could almost see the battle that had unfolded here between the Americans and Abu Mahmoud's gang. Both sides considered it a victory but were reluctant to really establish control. Who ever ventured might not make it out.

Reilly turned out of the staircase and saw a tall, well built man crouching next to the wall. “Khalid!” he whispered. “Where is it?” The man got up. Carefully, he gestured towards over the wall. “My brother did it.” Reilly peered over the edge. The vehicle could barely be identified as such, more mangled metal than mean machine. He looked back at Khalid. “Please don't tell them!” begged Khalid. “I'll have to tell them sometime, but I'll wait until your brother is gone. Now, I need to get some photos of the Hummer.”

Meanwhile, Ahmed and the other Mosul Muhajadeen got ready for their latest mission. Abu Mahmoud had told them that Reilly would give them away to the Americans and so had to be taken care of. They didn't need telling twice. As they finished asking Allah for courage, they burst out of the derelict barber's shop and ripped a salvo of iron towards the El Arab Hotel. Advancing rapidly, they couldn't see any threat to their livelihoods. But they also couldn't see Reilly and his informant.

Reilly and Khalid had just reached the burnt-out, bullet ridden lobby when the Mosul Muhajadeen has begun strafing the hotel. They had been able to duck behind the counter, but they knew they would die if they lingered. Carefully, they tried to dodge past the flurries of aimless bullets. However, their progress was slow and it took them five minutes to get to the kitchens, a mere fifty metres away. Reilly ripped his army-issue Beretta out of his shoulder holster. The intensity of fire was growing, a sure sign that their assailants were closing in. Suddenly, out of the corner of his, Reilly spotted one of the muhajadeen rushing towards him and Khalid. Without thinking, he spun around and shot their pursuer. The disillusioned warrior lay dead on the marble floor.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Firing Line Part 1

The dust rose up from the sun-beaten streets of Mosul. The ground was vibrating. From the roof, one could see for miles around. One could see the Humvee speeding across town. Up here, you could see without being seen. It was the insurgent's dream, a way to get back at the pig-headed Americans. A place where one could, you might say, express oneself. And that is exactly what someone did. The Humvee appeared to leap up into the air, split into halves and come crashing back down again. Such was the force of the impact that pavements all around buckled. The killer fled, leaving the bastards screaming in agony in their burnt-out car. Good riddance he thought.

John Reilly was nearing the end of 2nd stint in Iraq, assigned this time to the city of Mosul. The going had been tough, and he was looking forward to going home. He had seen more than one might wish for. He had stood by and watched as Iraqis were slowly killed in their own homes by blood-thirsty soldiers. Recently things had gone really bad. Just hours previously, Reilly had been interviewing the local Minister of Agriculture when a Humvee laden with troops was decimated in yet another insurgent attack. Reilly knew who did it, but didn't dare tell anyone.

Khalid stood on the roof of the El Arab Hotel in central Mosul. Up here, he felt light-headed, looking down on the sadly mundane carnage below. He wondered whether Reilly would even bother coming down and picking apart what happened. Out of the side of eye, Khalid glimpsed a plume of smoke. Turning around, the source was found. A rocket launcher lay beside the wall. No-one was supposed to be up here, and the reason why lay below. He had been seen, and bullets from the angry Americans down below whizzed past. Ducking past the hail of metal, Khalid darted back home. There, his wife and son sat eating the ever- present stale bread. In the corner lurked a guilty soul.

Infuriated, Khalid set upon the man. “Why? Now you are better than them. You have sunk to American levels. Ever since you started going to that fool, Abu Mahmoud's mosque, you lurched precariously on the line! Now I see you are but a petty killer!” Khalid berated his brother, Ahmed for the attack on the Americans. “If I was our father, you would be banished to the countryside.” “Be that as it may,” countered Ahmed, “you can't say that the Americans have improved life here. If anything, the streets have become more dangerous. How can you stand for that, how can you live with the fact that your wife, your son, might not come home one day?” A silence followed. Sullenly, Khalid ushered his brother out the door. “That bastard Abu Mahmoud really got to you, I guess. Whatever it is, go away and sort out your head. Come back when you do, my dear brother. Inshallah.” Ahmed moped away, across the Tigris, heading for his master.

The Firing Line.

Over the next few weeks, I will be serialising my new short story, the Firing Line, set in present day Mosul.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Enigma

In an article recently published by Observer magazine, written by aclaimed author Zadie Frost, the torrid sate of life across Liberia was revealed. As is the trend across post-Colonial Africa, Liberia has struggled, pretty much since it was established as a haven for freed slaves in the 1870s. The slaves arrived penniless and their predicament has remained the same. Yet why? They have been recipients of US aid for almost thrice as long as Israel, another state inhabited by one-time refugees and a nation that has thrived due largely to aid, mostly from the USA.
In the civil war the droned on for the best part of a decade, 300,000 civilians died. Millions were made homeless. Child soldiers were a plenty, their minds a manic haze clouded by hallucinatory drugs. Scores of women were raped by opposing militiamen and mercenaries. Yet where was the foreign intervention so desperately needed. The US, Liberia's main foreign benefactor were busy. On the roulette table that is the Pentagon, Iraq and the Balkans came up first, so the atrocities committed by Charles Taylor's minions went on with hardly any attention, without the necessary foreign intervention to bring the madness to a halt.
A decade later and the violence has subsided. But still there is a massive 86% unemployment. Outside of downtown Monrovia, there are few paved roads, the only actual highway connecting Monrovia Airport with Mamba Point Hotel, known as UN Drive. An online reviewer described Mamba Point Hotel as "the only real hotel in Liberia."
Yet it is not all bad. Lead by Harvard-educated economist, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Liberia's economy is in the midst of a revival. Firestone, a rubber manufacturer is now contributing to Liberia, not just exploiting it. Monrovia port has a large number of container ships registered to it, a sign that there is some international trade going on. The main problem Liberia faces in the immediate future is its budget. It has a budget of just $100m. The UN budget in Liberia vastly eclipses that, at $800m. Whilst conditions are improving, even a wonderwoman like Johnson-Sirleaf can only do so much with that kind of funding. But like I said, it isn't all bad - Mittal Steel bought a huge stake of the country's ore reserves at a price of $1bn, a deal that will vastly improve the country's economic state

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Live-Blogging gone wrong

In the spirit of Canucks and Beyond and Yankee Canuck, I am looking to uphold the great tradition of live-blogging. So here goes. Sharks - Redwings, Game 2. All times GMT.

21:06 Stupid Figure Skating!!! All the internet feeds I was planning to use have been taken up by some stupid figure skating tourney. OK. I shall break the mold and live-blog figure skating.

21:08 Oh WOW, they can kick their heels in tune to music...

21:09 There's a move called a TWIZZLE? Why, oh why?

21:11 Two things: the competition is in Japan and the music probably shouldn't be described as such.


21:12 LOL: there is some resemblance to hockey: instead of little hockey players skating around during the intermission, they've got little figure skaters twirling around during lag-time.

21:13 Isn't it time for HNIC yet?

21:16 Someone please lay down a hip check at center ice. Please. Pretty please.

21:17 Why does the Redwings game start at 2pm anyway? Pistons later tonight?

21:21 God has put me out of my Cinderella on Ice misery and beset with me with a new problem: faulty internet. Just great.

21:23 This isn't all bad. My "limited or no connectivity" means that I don't even have to try and do the childish BBC revision quizes. But I get the feeling it won't stave off Monday's exam.

21:26 I guess I'll resort to my collection of "borrowed" youtube videos. First on deck, Matt Cooke's tying goal against the Flames a few years back...

21:30 Screw this. Still no internet, so I'm gonna call it quits. Now what movie to watch...

21:31: Austin Powers:International Man of Mystery it is...

23:03 Still no feed, but the internet's back up now. Sharks 2, Redwings 2 heading into the 3rd.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Day on the Sea

Just some footage I took on the recently extended Stena Hollandica in early April, as well as some photos in Ijmuiden at the mouth of the North Sea Canal.

One down, three to go

Elation filled downtown Vancouver as the Canucks dumped the Stars to at last bring a marathon series to end. But what lies in the road ahead? The big, aggressive Anaheim Ducks, a team not unknown to beat its opponent to victory. Whilst this is destined to be a tough series, if they can get through it alive they seem to have a reasonably easy route to the finals. At the conference finals, they would play either San Jose or the Red wings. The Canucks have a winning record against both teams, and a phenomenal record against the Eastern Conference since the lockout. The Ducks also had a considerably easier regular season than the Canucks, playing teams like the Kings or Phoenix so many times its not funny. They're a big, physical team but as long as the Canucks stay out of the box and Bieksa gets his game feet back, the Nucks should pull through. We saw signs of the Canucks' physicality in Game 7 - Pyatt in particular, but that needs to be more of mainstay if the Canucks want to keep their Cup hopes alive. Perhaps it would have made more sense to call up a more physical player like Bourdon or -dare i say it- Goren than the likes of Edler. With a bit of luck, Cooke and Kesler will be back for the second half of the series, and that would give us one amazing checking line (Cooke - Kesler - Pyatt,) not to mention players like Green, Linden and Burrows on the 4th. So while many predict a Ducks win, keep this in mind: the Ducks are a 1 dimensional team - brute size and strength is there only real attribute, but the Canucks are the embodiment of a complete team: rock solid defence, all-star goaltending in Luongo and some ridiculously skilled forwards in the Sedins and Naslund. We also have Captain Canuck, Trevor Linden, fighting for one last chance at Lord Stanley's Cup. Oh yeah, and Sabourin got his first win against the Ducks. Too shay.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

You cannot be serious!!!

During one of my all too frequent random internet searches I stumbled upon this Google hit:

British School of Nanjing.

Probably insignificant for most of you, but for me it was as though a bomb had dropped next door. See, during my time at Nanjing International School, we prided ourselves on being the only real international school in Nanjing, which according the "cultured" expat folk of Shanghai, was just some dusty little town somewhere upstream. Nanjing, a city of some 6.5 million souls. Dusty little town my ass. Anyway... Once, we were at a volleyball tournament at the Shanghai American School (the last bastion of utter isolation,) and we heard one expat kid ask another: what does nis stand for? Soon, they began teasing us, their country cousins with their hilarious new interpretation of NIS: nerds in Shanghai. And that is why I'm somewhat afraid of another international school opening up shop in Nanjing. I'd hate to see Nanjing reduced to the comparative mediocrity of Shanghai or Beijing. I'd hate to see our cross-town rivalry with Nanjing Foreign Languages School reduced to mere peanuts. I'd hate to see our somewhat eccentric rivalry with Concordia thrown out for some new money-making scheme. But thankfully, that won't happen. Because it is in the middle of nowhere, some 50 miles out of Nanjing, by the shores of uber-expatty Baijia Hu. They may as well call it British School of Zhenjiang.

Let's just get on thing straight.

This



is way better than this...




Go Lions!!!

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Get it Straight!!!

A few weeks ago, Andrew Lansley, the Conservative MP for South Cambridgeshire gave a talk to my English class. The main subject of the talk was to do with parliamentary procedure, as we had just finished our entry for the annual Youth Parliament competition , but then came an opportunity to asks questions of him. As the Conservatives aren't very popular in my circle of friends, we laid into him a bit, asking him about why, exactly, proportional representation is a bad thing and why he chose to be a Tory. He once told my mom that "it was the only way he could get elected," but it turns out he Tory because he previously held a position at the Conservative Research Department, alongside people such as current Tory leader, David Cameron. So later on in the question session, I asked him which way he voted in the prelude to the Iraq war, as the Tories were generally pro-war. So off he went on this long spiel about how he wrote an article in the Independent on the eve of invasion, condemning the UK's involvement. But he never actually said which way he voted. So that evening, I looked up his voting record. He had indeed voted for the Iraq war. So, I took the appropriate course of action. I e-mailed him (or most likely, his secretary,) and offered him that chance to explain himself. Several weeks later, this turns up on my doorstep, on very fancy House of Commons letterhead:

Dear Mr van de Ven,
Thank you for your correspondence regarding my voting record on Iraq.

I have checked both the websites you refer to - Public Whip and They Work For You.
Firstly, they use the same source of information and, secondly, the calculation is misleading.
They weigh the votes in such a way that they do not adequately reflect my stance, which was expressed in the Independent article you read prior to looking on the websites.

I hope this is helpful and I am sorry for the confusion.

Yours Sincerely

Andrew Lansley


So the Good and the Bad. Where do we start?

The Good? He didn't stick the letters MP at the end of his name.

The Bad? This could take a while. He can't face up to the facts in front of a bunch of school kids. Imagine what he'd be like in Parliament. He still hasn't confessed to the fact that, A), he is a puppet, or was it b), he's pro-war? If he was really a good politician, he'd attach a copy of said Independent article, which I hadn't read when I sent him the e-mail.

This letter also exposes Lansley as the puppet he is, voting with the party on an issue that apparently, he strongly disagrees with.

So no, Mr Lansley, your letter is not helpful and neither does it ease my confusion.

Oh, and by the way, searches on Google and the Independent website didn't return the article.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Misconceptions

Well, I thought that new beginnings might lead to new revelations, but it wasn't to be. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed every second of the week I spent in my European homeland, Holland, but I didn't feel the sense of rejuvenation that you might expect after the foreseeable death of a family member. I felt that maybe, I might find that elusive national identity, something that I am yet to experience. Not that that's a bad thing. I would be lying if I didn't enjoy being able to choose between America, Holland and Britain. But that has its drawbacks. Wherever I go, I always find myself sticking up for at least one of the three, and nowhere more so that the UK, where a fair number of its citizens have really bought into the island mentality, shunning the Euro and other ideas deemed as too "continental". But particularly irritating is the general attitude towards the US, with the vast majority of people looking at is a "Supersize" country - too much energy and food consumed, too many obese people, too many cars, etc. I'm not saying America is innocent - far from it - but it seems naive to criticise another country when all is not well at home. The sad thing is that a lot of opinions are based on misconceptions, from the highest levels of government (unless Bush is truly evil, he did think that Iraq has WMDs) to the ordinary citizen. So I have some advice for everyone. Think before you speak, and then think some more.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Spot the Evil Twin

What a surprise. Blair has gone crying to the man in the Oval Office. Once again, he proves that while can talk the talk, he most certainly cannot walk the walk. More like limp. Still, its typical isn't it, that Dubya would go in, typically brazen, and aggravate a situation that, arguably, was his fault in the first place.
When the UK troops were first seized almost 10 days ago, my heart sank as I thought back to the occasion a few months ago, when Iranian diplomats were detained in Tikrit by Coalition Forces. It seems Ahmadinejad is merely fighting fire with fire, holding out until the Bush administration admitted its detention of the Iranian diplomats, at which point, the 15 UK soldiers will be returned. Officially, Tehran is looking for an admission that Royal Navy boats entered Iranian waters, but really, they want Bush to admit what that he abducted diplomats, a far more serious sin than detaining military personnel who may well, intentionally or not, have strayed into the Iranian-controlled portion of the Shatt Al Arab waterway.
Still, it has been Ahmadinejad in the driving seat from the get-go, engineering a situation that forces Bush to at least confess to the detention of the Iranians in Iraq. So in a way, this political bad-mouthing has gone full circle, as Ahmadinejad now has Bush looking like the idiot he is, in front of the world press. Many think of him as a villain, a thorn in the side of the Middle East peace process, but really, he has subtly caressed the media, compelling Ehud Olmert to open more talks and showing up Bush. He even struck a chord with me when I saw images of the mob outside the British Embassy in Tehran, where riot police valiantly drove back the angry students. As is common in many Arab countries, it is the righteous, somewhat hot-headed students and younger adults that cast dark shadows over the government.
Unlike people such as Hosni Mubarak and King Abdullah II, Ahmadinejad sticks up for his people. And that is far more important than maintaining a soft exterior just so Western leaders feel safe in their silk sheets. This not an evil man, this is a man who wants the best for his people.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Baghdad F.C Excerpt

Just found this in a book I was reading, Simon Freeman's Bagdhad F.C. A quote from an 1920's RAF airmen, it shows that isn't exactly an Iraqi fault that led to the Iraq War, but decades of overbearing dominance by the League of Nations and in particular, the U.K

One RAF squadron leader said: "Real bombing means within 45 minutes, a full size village can be practically wiped out, and a third of inhabitants killed or injured, by four or five which offer them no real target, no opportunity for glory as warriors, no effective means of escape." The British continued to bomb the Iraqis through the 1920s. in 1924, one RAF officer, Air Commodore Lionel Charlton was so disgusted when he visited a hospital and saw the mutilated civilians that he resigned his commission. But many were brutish. One RAF ranker wrote: "Woe betide any native [working for the RAF] who was caught in the act of thieving any article of clothing that might be hanging out to dry. It was the practice to take any offending native into the squadron gymnasium. Here he would be placed in a boxing ring, used as a punch bag by members of the boxing team, and after he had received severe punishment, and he was in a sorry condition, he would be expelled for good, minus his job."




You can't really blame them for wanting some kind of retribution. Iraq is merely a concept, lines drawn on the map in the aftermath of World War 1. No political or cultural differences were taken into account. History is repeating itself in the most ugly form. Don't we owe them an apology?


Tuesday, March 13, 2007

No to Nukes

Just a little write-up I had to do for a class debate:


No to Nukes

Council meeting ends with veto of nuclear power station application

By Johan van de Ven and Tom McFadzean

All names have been changed for legal reasons

Present were a plethora of expert witnesses and activists from around the globe, including political troublemakers, Greenpeace. What ensued was a heated debate with Alpha Waste, inc., the contracted waste management group, and the aforementioned Greenpeace dominating the floor. But one thing is for sure: Melbourn, if the council's recommendation is taken into consideration, will not be scarred with a nuclear power plant. The source of the argument was Alpha Waste's claim that all nuclear waste would be stored underground. Greenpeace did not like the idea, arguing that hazardous nuclear waste could seep into soil or the water table, contaminating the region's natural resources, and hence the food supplies. Another point made was that research into nuclear technology inhibited progress made in the quest for clean, renewable industry, as it took up valuable government grants. However, anti-terror expert Arjen van Leenen, a researches at the National Laboratory in the Netherlands, reminded the council that even in poorer countries, nuclear facilities were “very secure.” One example given was that of San Onofre Nuclear Generating Facility, near San Diego, in the US. It has two airbases within a 30 mile radius. Despite hostile questioning from the Friends of the Earth representatives, van Leenen also pointed out that there has never been an instance of nuclear terror, “looks like the world learnt a valuable from Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”
The debate boiled down to a vote, which swayed against the motion.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

These are a few of my favourite things...

Over the past year living in China (Aug 05-Jun 06), we saw a great many things, from a torn apart body on the Yangzhou- Nanjing Expressway to the vast crowds at Tiananmen Square. Of course a lot of it was the nostalgia of visiting sights from my childhood. There is no way to express my feelings for Nanjing, and for China as a whole, but here are some experiences that left a mark on me.

1) Swooping down on Nanjing, a city I'd left behind nearly a decade ago. Seeing how much it had changed, even from the air, was enthralling

2) Walking from the old Hilton to Xinjiekou, also known as downtown Nanjing, something that led to my falling in love with the city


3) That first day at NIS, 15. Aug. Seeing that plethora of nationalities really got my senses flowing.

4) Shanghai. From my first night, driving amongst the skyscrapers on the Yan'an Elevated Road to swimming amongst the swaths of people on Nanjing Lu, New Years Eve, to the Jinmao Tower the day before a bleary-eyed departure, there is no way to describe this city other than amazing.

5) Trips Week '05. A week "roughing it" across Shaanxi and Henan. Included were 28 hours on trains and 12 on buses, but sifting through sites such as the Longmen Grottoes on the banks of the Yellow river, the Terracotta Army, Xian, and the home of Kung Fu, Shaolin, was amazing.


6) The afternoon spent at the Grand Canadian Academy, better known as Nanjing Foreign Languages School. Playing with Chinese kids and wandering around the campus with our host, Tommy, was "healthy", but more importantly, very interesting.

7) Hopkins Center soccer every weekend. From the exuberant Jia Kun to the cheeky Victor to the vets, Robert and my dad, Hans, there was a great mix in abilities, from NCAA to novice, everyone was represented. As with everything Hopkins-related, the sense of looking forward, enjoying life to the full was contagious.



8) Looking down on Tiananmen Square from the Forbidden City during the Golden Week, it was unnerving to think of the history that had unfolded on the exact tile I was standing.


9) Xuanwu Lake. Whilst some people described it as dull, it showed what the Chinese can do when they want to. The result, a pristine, elaborate park, complete with rowing club and a very watery driving range. Major deja vu after going to Al Azhar park in Cairo. Two up- and-coming countries, though.


10) The pirating business. Just like Robin Hood, stealing from the rich and giving the poor. It allows all but the poorest of the poor to access Western media. And it allows foreigners to build up ridiculous DVD collections. You could even get them in foreign supermarkets, such as Carrefour.


11) Biking around Nanjing. This was probably the most influential factor in my addiction to Nanjing, because it meant you could take in the sights and smells, roam the city at ones will. It makes you feel like one of them, not a laowai.



Oh, and...

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

NHL Trade Deadline Breakdown

If my memory of last year is correct, than whilst last season featured many more trades, they were generally less high profile. Apart from the Canucks. Smolinski is a solid 2 way player, but not much more. Sopel is a reliable d-man, but again, nothing flashy. Same goes for Weinrich and Carney last year. It is a shame that Noronen, didn't stick around. I know we all like (?) Sabourin, but he's not in the same league as Noronen, who I think was once a starter with the sabres.


Other opinions:

It seems like the earlier you trade, the more you give up. Both the Trashers and Preds gave up huge amounts for their respective vets, whilst the Sharks got off relatively light in their aquisition of Guerin. The Sens practically stole Saprykin, a high draft pick, from Phoenix. The one trade that really annoys me is Zubrus going to the Sabres. Whilst this obviously means that the Caps couldn't resign him, he is a player who would have been great with the Nucks. If the Sabres got him basically for Novotny ( there was also an exchange of picks) then the canucks could have swung the Caps with Cooke. But still, this is the rental season, not when like when things are more long-term in the post (or pre?) season.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Where the Truth Lies

Africa. The lost continent. You've heard all the cliches, but only one word describes the mess. Anarchy. Perhaps a portion of the blame lies with US President, George W. Bush. If bodies were not being blown this way and that in Baghdad and Basra, then perhaps the Western world would not be able to turn a blind eye to the deep-rooted problems of Africa. Virtually every nation in the continent has experienced some sort of rebel violence in the past century. From the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt to the Janjaweed in Sudan down to the APLA in South Africa, there has been premeditated bloodshed in most, if not all African states. And yet this is largely ignored, a sub-plot in the fight against AIDS, the battle against poverty and the struggle against starvation. Yet this, the violence, is our fault. As Leonardo DiCaprio's character, Danny Archer, said in the movie, Blood Diamond, whenever a valuable commodity is unearthed, people die. From rubber in the early 20th Century to gold in the later part of that century to diamonds more recently, foreign corporate investment has spelt trouble for a troubled region. When people are fighting for their lives, they do extreme things. Whole countries, such as Rhodesia, were established for foreign money-hunters to make a quick buck. So perhaps this is a plus for Western overseas responsibilty, with the Kimberley Process beginning to pay back some of the grief foreign investors have caused the continent. Whilst this is a good first step for Western world, it is only that, it is only one step. Something needs to be done to sort out the Middle Eastern mess, something constructive, not the army going in guns blazing. The truth? Africa's problems are more complicated than anyone would like. As soon as one dies down. Serious threats are coming at the continent in many forms, and there is little Africans can do about it. Physical help for the African continent must continue.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

A Decade of Discovery


For a decade, the Stena Discovery regularly ferried across the murky depths of the North Sea, between Holland and the UK. It was, at first, a sleek, shiny machine. Even after the paint gre tired, it still had a dominating physicall nature. So much so that its approach had to be altered after its huge bow wave caused a number of small boats to become swamped or capsize. The difference between this and your average ferry is similar to te difference between a jetski and a canoe. Huge. It had 100,000 horsepower and could do 50 mph. It was the fastest ferry in the world. Much akin to the retirement of the Concorde four years ago, it feels like a step backward has been taken in the development of maritime technology. I remember leaning over the quayside railing at the Hook of Holland and then, majestically, the Discovery would emerge over the horizon, imposing as ever as it headed straight towards you. There was always an upbeat feeling on board, but that may have been due to the slightly tipsy nature of the chip-wielding, card-dealing passengers. Never did it seem more graceful than when it slowed down near the coast, gliding past the huge container ships at either Felixstowe or Rotterdam. Gazing down at the jet turbines, you really gained a sense of the Discovery's power. Unfortunately, this power came at a cost. For every unit of horsepower, almost 2 litres of fuel were used a day. This ship alone could suck oil fields dry. Stena Line officially cited decreased demand and running costs as the reason for the retirement of the Discovery, but really it would have been immoral to continue running the ship. In its place, Stena is extending its two superferries, the Hollandica and the Britannica, to almost 250m. If they can't have the fastest ferry in the world, Stena will have the two largest ferries in the world. Unfortunately, one of the sailings will be undertaken by the trucker ferry, the Trader until the extensions have been completed in May. Its hard to see many travellers elect to take the 7hr Stena crossing when, for similar prices, they can hop across to the mainland courtesy of the many low-cost airlines. Still, it was fun while it lasted.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Uh Oh!!! - The Airport

Many people thing of the airport as that nuisance that marrs both beginning and end of your holiday. It need not be. You need to approach the airport with the right mentality, the right outlook. But most importantly, the right equipment. Something to keep you occupied, be it money, be it a book. As long as you have something to keep you occupied, you'll make it through those tedious hours in the departures lounge. If all else fails, refer to my personal favourite method - try and figure out who people are, where they're going and were they're from. That's it, airport anthropology.
You'd be amazed to see how many different races and destinations you can see in 3 hours. For example, last December I saw as amazing variety of people, from an Albertan heading home to Calgary to a businessman flying over to Shanghai for a meeting. The same occured on our way back from Cairo to London, dozens of Americans transiting back to the US via Heathrow. There was a backpacking couple, a family of 5, the whole lot. Another of my favourite departures lounge is to take pictures - some stunning materialized thanks to sticking a lens out the window of the departures lounge in the morning.
All you really have to do is keep a positive outlook, and think about the time ahead of you, rather than that behind you. I guess you can apply that to your whole life.

Friday, February 2, 2007

I smell...a rat

Well not quite, but someting thereabouts...

As the American political scene gets going in preparation for the Presidential elections in just under two years time, I take a moment and wonder; why is it that Hillary Clinton still holds that name. She stuck by her husband after he was ripped limb from limb by the media after his affair with White House intern, Monica Lewinsaky. Was it to hold the family together or for something more sinister, say...PERSONAL GAIN???!!!

Prior to marrying Bill, she was just another Yale law student. Whilst she may well have gone on to be a hotshot lawyer, there is little evidence to suggest that she would be the political force she is now. Would she have become Senator of New York without the connections that come with being First Lady? New York is a very influential state, and it takes a bona fide political powerhouse to rule over such a state. I wonder.



Hillary Clinton is one of the three main candidates, in my view, for the presidency. Among the three of them(Barack Obama and Condoleeza Rice, whom I included as the most likely Republican nominee, not because I like her, being the other two), there are several traits never before seen in a President: Hillary Clinton is a woman, Obama is African-American, and Condoleeza Rice is a combination of the two. So whatever happens, at least American politics are evolving. One question lingers, would Bill Clinton be described as the First Man, or the First Gentleman?



Whatever the circumstances, Hillary has had her chance to shine, her chance to wow the crowds as First Lady. Whilst she was a good First Lady, she probably wishes she had occupied more time in the limelight, but time is through. She should gracefully step aside and let someone...fresh have a shot at it, someone say...Barack Obama. The US has suffered enough at the hands of Bush & Co., and it wouldn't do any good to have another stale President on account of their family. America is in need of a breath of fresh air.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Déjà Vu!

There's a first time for everything, and over the past 2 or 3 years, there have been many of those in the world of sports. Last year, the Detroit Tigers established themselves as a legit World Series contender. Prior to that, the NHL followed a growing trend in American sports, by instating a post-lockout salary cap.
Another league that has a salary cap, the MLS, recently took measures to avoid the salary cap. Billed as the Beckham rule, any team in the league may sign one player whose contract is exempt from the salary cap. And the league's most powerful, influential club, the Los Angeles Galaxy, were the first to take advantage of that rule, signing its namesake, former England captain David Beckham, for $250 million over 5 years. But contrary to popular belief, this isn't the first time big-name foreign stars. And no, I'm not talking about the now defunct US Soccer League, one time host of stars such as Johan Cruijff and the infamous Pele. Andreas Herzog, Champions League winner with Bayern Munich and two-time World Cup participant with his native Austria, signed with the Galaxy on a one year deal in 2004. Another two-time World Cup participant graced the Home Depot Center. Hyong Myung-Bo, captain of the 2002 South Korean World Cup side, played with the Galaxy the year previous to Herzog's signing. Even a World Cup winner has played in the MLS. Youri Djorkaeff lifted the World Cup with France when the country hosted the competition in 1998. He scored 12 goals through 45 appearances with the New York/ New Jersey Metrostars, now renamed Red Bull New York, in the 2005-2006 season. Question is, will Beckham's signing bring in an exodus of waning stars from Europe, as has happened with players such as Figo, Baptista and the De Boer twins in the Qatari and Saudi leagues? It remains to be seen.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

How Low Do You Go?

Well, Dany Sabourin got his 4th start of the year. If only he had played that well in the other 3 games, the canucks would be cruising right now. Despite taking the shootout loss to the Buffalo Sabres, he had 33 saves in the game. And he was just 40 seconds from his first win of the year. Then the league's best team showed why they are just that. Puck Luck. A shot from the point cannonballed around the slot bouncing 3 times before cruelly looping over Sabourin and in to the net. In the prevailing shootout, only Morrison scored for the canucks, before Ales Kotalik stole the game from the Canucks with a nifty shootout goal, digging the puck high into the net. I would be saying it wasn't all bad, but in reality, the only thing that was bad was Drury's game-tying goal. Naslund's point streak is a five, the tempermental Jan Bulis has 3 points in as many games, Bieksa continued his impressive run of form with an assist on Naslund's goal and former Sabre, Taylor Pyatt also had his 3rd point in 3 games after breaking his thumb at the mercy of Jeff O'Neil's stick . But best of all Sabourin had 33 saves against the league's highest scoring team. I wouldn't be ashamed of that. The only worrying thing is that the Sedins are pointless in 3 of the past 4 games, but with almost a week off, I look forward to them running the LA Kings over in the first of a four game seasonal series.

Friday, January 19, 2007

The Real Inauguration

Around 3 years ago, I saw an LA Galaxy game, against the Chicago Fire. That's nice, I hear you say, but there's more to it than it sounds. While we were climbing our way up to the seats, I saw a man wearing a Leeds United jersey. Even back then, there were in the Championship (one league down from the top for you non-soccer fans.
Fast-forward about 2 and a half years, and I found myself at a Peterborough Phantoms game. But where's the link?, you ask. Well at this game, there was a guy wearing a Manitoba Moose jersey. I was equally shocked to see this as the Leeds shirt in LA, because despite the billing of UK hockey fans as extremely passionate, you wouldn't expect to see a minor league sweater outside some old, converted warehouse in this corner of industrial England.

Well, that theory was proven right at the intermission, as I overheard a chat about Pascal Leclaire in the hockey shop. Sure, he was riding a hot streak at the time, but this is Pascal Leclaire, who for the first portion of his career was only a back up to Marc Denis in Columbus. Well, congragulations go to whoever it was that said that British hockey fans are passionate and knowledgable. They are also the the only fan group to have their own official little organziation, something they relish hanging over the heads of sides like Russia and Sweden. It remains to be seen if US soccer fans are as passionate about their games as is the case with hockey here in britain, but with the imminent arrival of Becks on the Hollywood block, all could soon change...