A short post for Friday

This is the first time I’ve ever had my name on a poster. I gave a presentation on “American Architecture” – actually, just Los Angeles buildings. The actual title of my presentation was “crazy L.A.”

It’s been an interesting evening. I watched the film Milk, with an amazing performance by Sean Penn. Then, I got locked out of my apartment when the key broke in the lock. I sought refuge in the apartment of two other teachers, who called another teacher, who then called a locksmith, in Chinese. I’m now obviously back in the apartment, or else I wouldn’t be blogging.

I’m also sick. It’s the allergy time of year, and it’s getting worse instead of better. Thank goodness for books, DVDs, and YouTube. And bed. I’ve watched an endless procession of old British TV programs – Fawlty Towers, The Avengers, and such.

Linguistically speaking

An archaeology of words: layers of posters on a New York wall, 1980
Words! Words! Words! I’m so sick of words!
I get words all day through;
First from him, now from you!
Is that all you blighters can do?
Show Me, from My Fair Lady, book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick LoeweA friend of mine once said of a woman we both particularly loathed: “Everything that goes through her brain comes out her mouth.” I may not seem like the type who harbors malice, but this woman truly had a case of verbal diarrhea [no, I won’tgive you the definition; it’s rather obvious if you think about it]If I ever start another blog, it’ll be called Talk to the Hand

I gotta hand it to you.
 Gimme a hand, will ya? 


Second-hand Rose.


Hand job [whoops – did I really say that?]

To be an old hand at something

You’re in good hands



If you want to know the meaning of these expressions, try the Urban Dictionary.


Then we can move down a notch: To have one’s finger in many pies, fickle finger of fate, etc. 

Since my students and I are now back in school, I feel an obligation to make my posts more, um, instructional. I inherited some of my grandmother’s love of words, so today I’m inspired by the book I’m currently reading: The Man Who Loved China, by Simon Winchester. It’s the story of Joseph Needham, the scholar who authored the multi-volume Science and Civilization in China.

Simon Winchester also wrote one of my favorite books, The Professor and the Madman, about the making of the Oxford English Dictionary.

All right, class, are you ready? Our two words for today come from my current reading: peripatetic and phlegmatic. With a nod to Mr. Winchester, I’ll take my definitions from the Oxford English.


1. travelling from place to place.
2. working or based in a succession of places.

Derivatives: peripatetically (adverb)

Peripatetic is often linked with monks, many of whom have wandered far and wide in pursuit of wisdom or enlightenment. One of the more famous was Chinese monk Xuanzang who, in the seventh century AD, undertook an epic journey to India and back that lasted 18 years. His quest: to study Buddhist philosophy from the Indian masters and to retrieve sacred Mahayana Buddhist texts for the benefit of his homeland. His ultimate destination in India was Nalanda, an ancient Buddhist center of learning.


unemotional and stolidly calm

Derivatives: phlegmatically

The word derives from phlegm, and supposedly phlegmatic has to do with the phlegm humor (one of the moods). That’s about all I want to know about it.

The British are generally regarded as being phlegmatic: unemotional, taking it all in stride; Simon Winchester certainly describes them that way. I guess it’s part of their national character, along with the famous stiff upper lip.

So there you have two very different words, both of which occur in one book and, now, in one blog. If you want to earn some extra credit, here are a few more “p” words to research: perspicacious, persnickety, persimmon, and parsimonious.

What? You want to leave class early? Do I look like I’m finished talking? Did you hear that sorry-ass excuse for a bell yet? You put your behind in that chair and look like you’re halfway interested in learning a language. Just for that, you will take a pop quiz right this minute!


The big picture


I made a really big picture. It’s a montage, actually, of 12 overlapping photos I took of a portion of one side of 水井街 Shuijing Street in Chengdu.




East side of 水井街 Shuijing Street, Chengdu. Click on the photo to view it in a larger size on my Flickr page. You will also have the oiption to see the full-size image at 6790 x 1177 pixels.


The street pictured above is part of the historic 水井坊 Shuijingfang historic district. I have been photographing this area since 2007.



  Here’s a view of the area from Google Earth. The two yellow arrows show the location of the street view above.
Here’s a Google Maps image of Chengdu, indicating the Shuijingfang historic area.



The Shuijingfang [水 shuǐ = water, 井 jǐng = well, 坊 fāng = lane] area of Chengdu shares its name with a very old local distillery which has been excavated, and is considered very important in the history of liquor production in China. As far as I can tell, what remains of the neighborhood is the largest intact historic area in Chengdu proper. At present it exists in an uneasy alliance with the very tall Shangri La Hotel, with its surrounding upscale boutiques and restaurants. The whole area is being developed for its tourist potential, but it seems as if its core of old buildings may actually be allowed to remain. The experience of stepping from one of the dim, narrow lanes, with its intimate scale of human activity, into the wide-open and impersonal space surrounding the Shangri La is jarring, to say the least. In Chengdu, the past and present seem to exist in separate camps like armies preparing for a clash; it’s a foregone conclusion, though, who is going to lose.

I recently introduced another foreigner (British) to this area, someone who shares my love of old things. Quite by chance, a friendly couple invited us into their home to have a look. It was an old siheyuan (4-sided courtyard) house that had been subdivided, but retained some of its original splendor. In my broken Chinese I managed to ask how old the house was. About 100 years, the man replied. The house’s entrance portico has some of the most delicate wood carving in the area.

Here are a few of my favorite views of the area.