2010-12-31

"Nanjing's Ming and Qing Architecture" by Yang Xinhua, Lu Haiming et al.

A Ming era stone tortoise from near the Linggu Temple. Can be seen on p. 274 in NJMQJZ, in black-and-white of course This is my review of"Nanjing's Ming and Qing Architecture" (''Nanjing Ming-Qing Jianzhu'', NJMQJZ) by Yang Xinhua, Lu Haiming et al. An earlier version of the review, without hyperlinks (I don't know how to insert them there), is on Google Books.



I like traveling, particularly to places with some history to them. At the same time, it seems that, due to planning and logistical reasons, I would often end up missing the most important sight of the city of region I visit. I went to Barcelona's Sagrada Familia, but failed to notice the famous turtles holding the columns around the main entrance. I've been three times to Beijing without ever making it to the Great Wall; passed through Xi'an without visiting the Stele Forest or the First Emperor's Mausoleum; crossed the Liujaxia Reservoir by ferry, while other people at the same harbor were bargaining with boatmen about the passage to the Bingling Temple. And in Nanjing... well, I only was there for 2 days, so let's say that I've hardly seen 10% of what I'd like to see there.

It looks like I will be in Nanjing again next month, and hopefully for longer than on the previous trip - so I wanted this trip's sightseeing to be a but different. I've been aware, e.g. thanks to Segalen and Paludan, about some of the most interesting sculptural ensembles there, such as the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum, or the surviving funerary statuary from the Six Dynasties' period. Mentioned passim elsewhere were some other wonders, such as the giant stele that the Yongle Emperor made for his grandfather, but which, due to its size had to be abandoned at the quarry. But would not it be nice to find out in advance where all those things are - in modern geography's terms, not Segalen's - and what they look like?

When searching at a nearby university library for a good book about Nanjing's antiquities I certainly did not expect to find anything as comprehensive and well printed as "Nanjing's Ming and Qing Architecture" (南京明清建筑, Nanjing Ming-Qing Jianzhu), produced in 2001 by a teams of around 80 experts led by Yang Xinhua (杨新华) and Lu Haiming (卢海鸣). This monumental book, as big as a volume from Encyclopedia Britannica, is of course way too heavy for any tourist to consider taking with him on an overseas trip. But it's certainly a pleasure to leaf through it at the stage of "armchair travel". It seems that each site worth writing about is written about, complete with its history, geometric dimensions (Chinese guidebooks love those, in general), location, and a few photos - some modern (though still black-and-white), some historical. I wish I could actually read Chinese well, but even if I am just looking at picture captions and scanning pages for dates and locations, it is still a worthwhile experience.

As the title indicates, the book is dedicated primarily to the monuments of the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1911); but, in fact, it has several detailed chapters on the relics of Nanjing's pre-Ming history (a thousand years old, too!). As to the post-1911 sites, the same authors have a separate book on them. When using this volume - if you can get it - you'd probably want to have a chronological table (to look up emperors' eras) and a good map (to look up locations) nearby. The book contains a number of interesting old maps for particular sites, as well as detailed maps of some archaeological sites. However, I am a bit surprised that a volume that big and that location-specific does not have a modern map in it, as it is such a natural thing to have (and, in fact, can be seen in much smaller books on the same topic). For a European reader, the absence of an index in a scholarly reference work of such a size would seem rather strange, but one has to admit that Chinese books rarely have indexes, period. (I guess the issue is, they can't decide how to index things...) This minor shortcoming is compensated, to an extent, by a detailed and comprehensive table of content, chronologically arranged.

2010-12-27

Google knows how to divide text into words

... in Chinese, that is. This is no small feat, because Chinese text, when written in the usual way (in Chinese characters) does not reflect in any way the division of text into words (with the exception of some very special cases, such as when transcribing foreign personal names into Chinese). When Chinese speakers need to write a sentence in Pinyin (Latin transcription), they often end up writing every syllable as a separate word, or, more rarely, run all words together. (The photo above shows both possibilities). Most automatic Chinese-characters-to-Pinyin converters also separate the transcription of all characters with spaces. Google Translate, however, appears to have a pretty good idea how to put spaces between words in Pinyin. Getting to Pinyin, though, is a bit tricky. To do it, one can enter a Chinese phrase, ask Google Translate to "translate" it into another version of Chinese (e.g., simplified to traditional), and click on the "Read phonetically" link below, which will give you the Pinyin transcription of the phrase. E.g., for "有可能朱棣立神道碑加工期间,发现龟趺脖子下裂缝而弃之" ("Perhaps, during Zhu Di's installation of the Sacred Way Stele, cracks were discovered under the neck of the stone tortoise [serving as as the pedestal] and it was abandoned") you get "Yǒu kěnéng zhūdì lì shéndàobēi jiāgōng qíjiān, fāxiàn guī fū bózi xià lièfèng ér qì zhī". Which I think is pretty good for a machine, although of course the name Zhu Di should be capitalized and written with a space, and I would probably write "guīfū" ("tortoise-shaped pedestal") as a single word.

2010-12-24

Fixing umountable file system in Ubuntu

I find the current version (10.10, Maverick Meerkat) of Ubuntu Linux pretty reliable, but it seems to fail to handle one special situation correctly. If you suddenly run out of the disk space on the main partition (e.g., an application writing out lots more data than you should), you may suddenly find it that you can't save the situation by removing some files: the file system will suddenly appear as "mounted in read-only mode". On reboot, the main partition will show as unmountable. If you boot from an Ubuntu CD, an attempt to run e2fsc on that partition fails, because the partition shows as "busy".

Explanation?

I conjecture that one can't run "e2fsck /dev/sda1" from Ubintu Live CD because Ubuntu tries to mount the (now unmountable) partition during its start-up process, and the mounting process just sits there without giving up. This is why if you do "sudo lsof |grep sda1", you get a report like this:
jbd2/sda1 296 root cwd DIR 0,17 300 2 /
jbd2/sda1 296 root rtd DIR 0,17 300 2 /
jbd2/sda1 296 root txt unknown /proc/296/exed
and then, when you do "ps auxw | grep 296", you learn that it is a kernel-originating process that keeps the device busy:
root 296 0.0 0.0 0 0 ? S 21:36 0:00 [jbd2/sda1-8]
I tried to figure out how to prevent Ubuntu Live CD from trying to mount /dev/sda1, but couldn't: it seemed that adding options such as "sda=noprobe" (or should it have been "sda1=noprobe"?) to the boot command line had no effect.

Solutions

It seemed that other people with the same problem solved it by booting from a Slax live CD, rather than a Ubuntu one. But as I did not have a working Slax CD (the CD writer I used was not quite compatible with the CD reader), that did not work for me. Sanjaya Karunasena proposes a working solution for recovery. It turns out that even though /dev/sda1 is no mountable and can't be fsck'd, it is still accessible by the bulk copy (dd) command! So what he suggests is: * copying the entire "bad" partition to a file (an "image file") some other device (such as a big enough external hard drive) with dd, * runnning e2fsc on that file (yes, you can do it, if the file is an image of a partition) * re-writing the original corrupted partition by copying the image file back to it with dd. In between (after e2fsck), you can loop-mount the corrected file as a partition, so that you can cd to it and see if your data is actually there, Something like this, that is:
#-- copy data from bad partition to an alternative drive
dd if=/dev/sda1 of=/mnt/some-other-disk/sda1.img
#-- file system repair (on an image file!)
e2fsck -f /mnt/some-other-disk/sda1.img

#-- mount the "fixed" file as a file system just to see if it's indeed fixed
mount -o loop /mnt/some-other-disk/sda1.img /media/copy-of-sda1
#-- here you can "cd /media/copy-of-sda1" and see what's there; maybe copy some files to elsewhere
umount /media/copy-of-sda1

#-- copy the data back
dd if=/mnt/some-other-disk/sda1.img of=/dev/sda1
I first tried to copy the data with "dd" from sda1 to a USB device, but soon realized that all my USB devices were either too small to copy the entire sda1 to them, or were already formatted with vfat and thus could not store files bigger than 4 GB. So I ended up unearthing an old internal hard disk drive, opening up my computer, and connecting this old drive in (so it became sdb1). Then everything worked! Incidentally, it is useful to know that "dd" can read the unmountable device, and then write to it, even when that device appears as "busy" to e2fsck.

2010-12-19

Wuhan buiilding world's 3rd tallest skyscraper

Although one of China's - and, thus, the world's - major cities, Wuhan does not get into the international news all too often. However, they have juststarted the construction of what is going to be the world's 3rd tallest skyscraper. (The No. 1 and No. 2 are in Dubai and Shanghai, respectively).

2010-11-19

St Melangell, the holy patron of rabbits

It's nice to know that rabbits and hares have a heavenly patron too: Virgin Saint Melangell, Abbess in Wales. As she lived long before the Great Schism, she is venerated not only by Catholics and Anglicans, but also by the Orthodox! Icons of her have been painted as well.

P.S. More details on St Melangell, including a troparion to her, here.

2010-11-14

The bells are ringing

video

Bloomington's All Saints Orthodox Church now has its bells. They are called Cyrus, John, Zenaida, and Philonela. Today the bells have been blessed (with a full ritual, including a good sprinkling with holy water) and "officially" rung the first time, first by the priest himself (Fr. Peter) and other clergy, then by a girl who's been specially trained to do so.

video

2010-11-01

Blessing of the Bells

Although ornately decorated inside, boasting of its own miraculous icon (or icons?), and blessed with a wonderful choir, the Bloomington's All Saints' Orthodox Church presently looks from outside more like a small office building than a traditional Orthodox Christian "Temple of God". In Russian, it can be described it as ni kupolov, ni kolokolov: "No dome, and no bells!".

The congregation's hope is that some day the existing church building (constructed in the early 2000s) will will indeed become its office/classroom space, while the divine worship will move to a beautiful new neo-Byzantine building (yes, complete with a dome!). But that's a long way off.

On the other hand, the church is getting its bells! They have already arrived and are to be mounted on what the church proudly calls its "bell tower" (actually, just a simple wooden stand). They will be officially "blessed" on Sunday, November 14, right after the Divine Liturgy (which starts at 10:00, and typically runs for around 1.5 hours). See allsaintsbloomington.org for the schedule of services.

All Saints' is quite a remarkable church, with its roots more American than "ethnic". Although part of the Patriarchate of Antioch, it owes its existence, it seems, more to the turning of some American Protestants to the Orthodox way of worship rather than to any large-scale migration of Middle Eastern Christians to South Central Indiana.

A self-described "Pan-Orthodox" congregation, All Saints' can be fairly described as a truly "American Orthodox" church:

  • the service is all in English (except for a few obligatory Kirie eleison and Gospodi pomilui
  • the "New" (Gregorian) Calendar is used, same as what Catholics and most Protestants use these days
  • the Royal doors in the center of the iconostasis are, in fact a permanent opening, without actual doors! Which means that you can actually see the priest(s) and deacons(s) throughout the service, and not just hear them. (And to hear them better, there is a PA system as well...)
  • quite a few saints featured in their icons have lived in the United States (or what's today the United States), and at least a couple actually were US citizens
  • there are seats for everyone in the audience (not that you get to sit much, of course, this being an Orthodox Temple, after all!)
  • they have mixed seating (or, well, standing), and the women in the audience are mostly bareheaded

Mao Zedong in Kazakh

In a recent conversation, a question came up: "Was Mao Zedong's Little Red Book ever published in Kazakh?" I am pretty sure it was, although I have not actually seen it. In fact, quite a few works of Mao, Lenin and Stalin, appeared in Kazakh translation in the 1970s. The script in use was quite interesting: it was "Kazakh Pinyin": a Latin-based script that was used in PRC for a couple decades (apparently introduced in since 1964, and "enforced" in 1976), until it was abolished in favor of the more traditional Perso-Arabic script ca. 1983.

Below are a couple pages from Mao Zedong's Selected Works, Volume 1, in Kazakh. (You can click through any picture for an enlarged view).

Note the rather unusual letter Ƣ (which corresponds to the Turkish Ğ and the Cyrillic Kazakh Ғ). I am not aware of any "official" alphabet that uses it now, but I think it was in a few Latin-based alphabets of Soviet Central Asia in the 1930s (mostly Turkic languages, but also Dungan).

Some fiction, such as Lu Xun's The True story of Ah Q was published in that alphabet as well.

P.S. Here's more on the statistics of this translation industry.

2010-10-28

Photos from the Armenian Church in Istanbul

I have uploaded to the Wiki Commons my photos from the Armenian Church in Istanbul. Corrections/translations to captions etc. are welcome.

Ashley in Iran

Ashley in Turkey Ashley, with whom I crossed Turkey-in-Europe a month ago, now reports having successfully crossed Turkey-in-Asia as well, and entering Iran.

2010-10-08

Malaysia Airlines use Linux

At least for their in-flight entertainment system. The picture is that of the start-up process.

2010-09-30

St George: the horse, the dragon, and a teapot-wielding assistant

Who does not know what the traditional iconographic image of St George look like? A horse, a spear, a dragon. And... a small fellow with a teapot (or something like that). At least at this particular painting in Sozopol, Bulgaria - and I think I've seen the teapot guy elsewhere as well. Any ideas? The teapots (or pitchers of similar kind, if you wish) are of some importance in some Islamic cultures: e.g., you can see them outside of many Muslim restaurants in China (for hand-washing), or - in great abundance - in some Chinese mosque's "ablution blocks". But I doubt there is any connection here... Some Russian folk tales, I think, mention the character using some kind of magic water when fighting Zmey Gorynych (a multi-headed dragon of sorts) to prevent the creature from growing new heads to replace the ones he's lost. But I doubt this is relevant here either.
P.S. Thanks to Wikipedia user Cam, here's an article that devotes several pages to the discussion of exactly this motif: Suzanne Macalister, "From the hero with a thousand names to Perseus, Bellerophon, Demetrius, George -- as Media", published in the ''Journal of the Hellenic Diaspora''. According to her, there is no official explanation (i.e., an inscription on the icons themselves, or a discussion in canonical literature). The most common word-of-mouth explanation is that the boy is a person rescued by the saint from the Turks (or, with an earlier Byzantine reference, from the Bulgarians, with whom the Byzantines often fought). The "teapot" becomes a winecup in one iconographic version, where the boy captured by Turks had been serving a cup of wine to his master at the moment when St George responded to the boy's mother's prayer and miraculously rescued the captive. In another version it is not a boy but a princess, who got a ride with St George to get water from a well that had been invaded by the dragon (whom the saint was to slay). folk legend. Yet another legend, from Crete, says that the small person worked at a coffee shop, where the saint was drinking coffee at the time when the message came that the dragon was located and needs to be slain; ever-helpful, the coffee guy accompanied his customer to the battle, with the coffee pot ready for action. There are other versions as well.

2010-08-26

Life imitates art


Life imitates art in Ubud Monkey Forest.

Tuktoyaktuk, we stand on guard for thee!

According to the communications director for the (Candian) Prime Minister's Office, "Thanks to the rapid response of the Canadian Forces, at no time did the Russian aircraft enter sovereign Canadian airspace." Does he imply that if not for the watchful CF-18th, Russian TU-95 would fly toward Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk?

2010-08-14

Ricky the Rabbit (before 2005 - August 14, 2010), R.I.P.

Ricky the Rabbit died yesterday morning, apparently of old age. He was still sprightly and industrious as usual on Friday evening, but was found dead - still warm - on Saturday morning, when his owner (my current landlord) went to Ricky's house to offer him a treat of cashew nuts. Rest in peace, Ricky!
From Australia

2010-07-30

Shanghai subway Line No. 2: airport-to-airport

As of a few months ago, Shanghai has what may be the world's longest subway line, connecting the Pudong Airport (some 40 km east of the city) with the Hongqiao Airport (on the far western edge of the city, some 12+ km west of downtown). According to this trip report, one can actually make it from the arrivals gate at Pudong Airport to the check-in area in Hongqiao's new Terminal Two in 1 hour 40 minutes. (The actual subway train travel time is
said to be about 90 minutes.)
Presumably one can get from Pudong to the new Hongqiao Train Station within pretty much the same time.

The subway fare is said to be just 8 yuan (a bit over US$1), which is a remarkably good deal for this kind of distance.

This all is great of course, but the Hongqiao connection also contrasts the relative speeds of the city subway and the new intercity train: if you have entered China via the Pudong Airport (which is one of the country's top international airports) and want to go to Nanjing, it would take you 1.5 hours to make 60 km to Hongqiao, and then just 1 hr 15 min if you take the fastest train from Hongqiao to Nanjing (300 km away).

Of course, the Pudong airport is also served by the world's fastest train - the famous Shanghai Maglev, which would allow one to cut the actual time on the train by about half an hour, at the cost of 50 yuan. But taking into account the extra transfer(s) involved, the overall time saving may be pretty minimal.

2010-07-29

Wuhan flooding


Watched news reports from Wuhan. On the promenade in Wuchang, the water level is about level with the pavement of the riverside promenade, and in places a bit above yet. (In a normal summer, the water is a few meters below, and people walk down the steps to swim in the Yangtze.) But, at least if the Central Television is to be believed, nothing as catastrophic as in 1954. The Three Gorges Dam, Gezhouba and Danjiakou Dams are said to be buffering the flood.

Rails to Khorgos

On July 1, 2010, China Railways started passenger service from to Yining (a.k.a. Ghulja, Gulja, Kuldja, Yili, etc.), on the railway that was completed a few month previously and that runs all the way to Khorgos on the Kazakh border. Now it takes less than 12 hours from Urumqi to Yining on an overnight train.

To get to Yining, they had to build a 13.6 km tunnel across the Borokhoro Mountains (a range of Tianshan).
Kazakhstan wants to extend the railway on their side, from Khorgos to Almaty. Much easier terrain on their side of the border... but let's see when they actually finish.

Yining, of course, is the same Kulja, or Ili, that was the capital of the Manchu governors of Xinjiang, and and which was occupied by the Russians during the Dungan Rebellion in the 1860s-1870s.

2010-06-28

An Australian house

A typical brick-and-tile house in an older (1960s) suburb. Note the mature trees in the front yard.
When you live for a long enough time in North America or in Australia, the way houses are built in a given region seems entirely natural. But when you move between the two, you do notice the difference. So here's an attempt of comparison typical middle-class (well, maybe lower-middle-class) homes in US (particularly, the Midwest) and Australia (particularly, South Asutralia, which is dry but not tropical or subtropical). The illustrations are here.
Front yard (the living room side), driveway, and car port. Not an inch of wood or vinyl siding in view. The TV antenna on the roof is pretty important for TV owners, as American style cable television is uncommon. The TV signal is free, and comes from the air.
* Structure: USA: a frame of two-by-fours, with plywood around it, and vinyl sidings on the sides. More expensive houses may have some brick - typically, just as a siding for the facade; others may have some bricks/cinderblacks as the lowest section of the wall. The roof may be covered with a variety of materials, often asphalt shingles. Australia: a typical house here is "brick and tile", meaning the walls are build of solid brick all over, and the roof is cermaic tiles. On construction sites, I often see some kind of metal frame being built before brick is laid, but I don't know if every Australian brick house has such a frame inside. This all means that the buildings age gracefully: the house I am in is said to have been built in the 1960s, but it looks almost new. An American 1960s house... well, it may look new, but it probably would have a couple changes of siding and roof shingles by now * Floor plans: a variety of 1-story, split-level, and 2-story plans in the US. An Australia, a single-level floor plan (very similar to the US good old "ranch style house") still predominates. Basically, it's a big living room and kitchen in one end of the house; a long straight hallway with (usually) 3 bedrooms, a bath and a toilet (see below) in the other end. While there are of course 2-storey houses in Australia, I can't recall seeing even a single one in my current suburb (Christie Downs), which is a fairly typical middle-class suburb of the 1960s vintage. Typically, a 2-storey house is a luxury house in a wealthy neighborhood - on the seafront, or maybe on a very large lot in a more rural setting. * Storage: While there are plenty of closets in most American homes, they are much less common in Australia. This 3-bedroom house only have one, fairly small, closet - in the largest bedroom. Certainly no closets of the walk-in variety. What, you have more things to store? You can always buy a "wardrobe": a large cabinet for storing clothes. Of course, many homes here have various types of sheds in their backyards, built, naturally, out of corrugated iron. * A garage in every modern house in the US; often just a car port (a parking area covered with a corrugated iron roof) in Australia. * Heating: In the US, you'd often have a whole-house central heating system. Here in Australia, it is "central" heating in the sense that there is a gas furnace in the center of the house with a fan that blows hot air into the hallway. This is very good for warming up the hallway, not so much for the rest of the house :-) * Water heating: similar system, but in Australia the hot water tank usually sists right *outside* of the house. (Hey, it's usually hot here!) * Laundry: USA: a washing machine connected to the water and sewer pipelines in some "industrial" way, meaning, it's probably has been done by a plumber). A clothes drier next to it. Australia: a washing machine usually comparable to (simpler) American models, but the water/sewer connection is more often in a "do it yourself" way. There is a laundry sink next to the washing machine, and the cold and hot water hoses connect to the respective faucets. Many people make a point to make sure to actually close the faucets after using the machine, just in case. The machine's water draining pipe goes into the sink, and in the summer we attach an extension pipe to it so that the dirty water flows to the lawn. In Australia, electric clothes driers are rather uncommon (I've only seen them in the houses of people who actually needed them for their business, e.g. those who'd run a hairdresser salon etc). But every house has a traditional Australian "umbrella" style clothes drying rack in the backyard (see photo). * Stove: US: electric, or self-starting gas range. Australia: Got matches? (Or a cigarette lighter, at least...) * Bathrooms. I like the American concept of a "combined" bathroom - a room that has both the toilet and the bathtub in it. Australians, however, more often go for the European concept of two separate rooms - a bathroom proper (just the bath and/or shower and a sink), and a toilet (a room with, well, just the toilet, and not even a sink). I find this arrangement rather inconvenient - why do you need so many doors and walls? - but I guess the point is that an American house may have 2 or 1.5 bathrooms, while a typical Australian house probably would have just 1 bath and 1 toilet. * Shutters: rather bizarre immobile "fake shutters" nailed to the walls outside of the windows of many American houses. Very much operational roll-down-shutters on at least some of the windows of Australian homes; usually they can be controlled from indoors (pulled up or down by an electric motor controlled by a button inside the house; or there is simply a handle you rotate). People like them for privacy, security, and temperature control. * Fencing: US: a variety of choices, from tall wooden fences to chain link to none at all in some subdivisions. Australia: people here definitely favor tall corrugated iron fences.
Front yard (the bedrooms' side). The "tower" on top is the top of the evaporative cooling system.
* Air-conditioning is essential in much of the US; the users are supposed to keep one's windows closed. In Australia (at least, the drier parts, such as SA), they typically would have "evoparative cooling": a system that works pretty well in dry heat, and actually requires that one keeps one's windows slightly *open* when using it.
Back yard, with the covered and sheltered "patio", and the iconic Australian umbrella-shaped laundry-drying rack. The white rabbit is optional. The roof "tower" is for the evaporative cooling system.
* A variety of patio and deck styles can be used, optionally, in the US. A quintessential Australian feature is a paved area adjacent to the back of the house that is covered on top (with a corrugated-iron roof) and sides (with [theoretically, removable] strong transparent plastic) to create a space for outdoor entertainment recreation (barbecue), dining, smoking, whatever, throughout most of the year. The area is about size of the living room. Incidentally, this is a very convenient area to keep houseplants and seedlings: both those that need more shade (in the hot part of the year) and those that need somewhat of a "greenhouse" environment (during the colder part of the year). Some people, of course, also store a lot of junk there.
The rainwater tank. This one is tiny - 800 L (200 gallons) or so, but many houses have tanks 10 times size of this, or more. An air-conditioner unit is seen on the left, but it is hardly ever used, since the evaporative cooling is usually sufficient even on the hottest days. The fence (on the right) is, of course, corrugated iron
* Water: in Australian cities and more densely suburban areas houses, of course, do have city water supply, but even then practically every house would have a rainwater tank: from a tiny one, as we have (just 800 liters = 200 gallons), to a large system with several tens of cubic meters. In more outer suburban or rural areas, there is often no city water mains (and no water bills, either!), but you're expected to live off the rainwater tank and maybe a "bore" (a drilled well). So in areas like this, you'd better budget your water... if you don't, you'd have to buy some from a tanker truck, which is of course rather expensive. * Landscaping: in Australia, something is in bloom any time of year. And, of course, the palms...