"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.


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.


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".


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.


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.


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).