Book Review – Decoded by Mai Jia

“You are a rat.
You are waiting inside a barn.
But you cannot eat the millet.
Each grain of millet has been daubed with a protective coating to prevent your teeth from gnawing into it.
– That is cryptography”
 

…and this is a review of the English translation of Mai Jia’s 2005 novel Decoded.  It gets 3 brush duck points out of 5.

decoded

 

Rong Jinzhen is “humanity’s creme de la creme”: a self-taught maths genius, chess master, interpreter of dreams, probably autistic  – and superstar of China’s top-secret cryptography world during the Cultural Revolution era, smashing the globe’s most complex ciphers.  All the more surprising when his toughest challenge comes at the hands of an adversary who is his polar opposite.

The story is pieced together from accounts of various people with whom Rong crossed path, mostly family and colleagues – in fact, the reserved hero himself utters only a handful of lines of dialogue.   This makes it rather hard to share the adulation heaped upon him by the other key players, and even more so their affection (sometimes).   Towards the end the author allows you a nose through one of Rong’s notebooks – but rather than providing insight it feels like a slightly scary and regrettable intrusion.  Perhaps that’s why the author warns against reading it.

I have learnt that ciphers are terrifying – variously the work of the devil, houses above the clouds with millions of false doors and numerous other frightening things guaranteed to send any punishment-hungry genius who takes them on insane.  Decoded is charming and funny at times, with some excellent characters in the early parts, but becomes bleaker and heavier as it progresses.   It’s been described as a thriller, but don’t expect any action – rather an evocative but murky mystery.

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Moon cake

Brush Duck enters the space race, giving a big thumbs up and tip of the space helmet visor to the unmanned Chinese landing module which is expected to touch down today in the Bay of Rainbows, the Moon.  The landing module will deploy the robotic rover and Oriental sex-toy soundalike “Jade Rabbit” which will presumably buzz around a bit collecting soil and then record a twerking video for Youku.

月亮代表我的心!

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Nothing Happened in Tiananmen Square Today

Nothing happened in Tiananmen Square at around midday on Monday 28th October 2013.

State sponsored new agencies and numerous other sources were quick to confirm that nothing happened on Monday.

‘Tiananmen Square, is famous for being a square in the middle of Beijing’

The Guardian and other news agencies around the world reported on an incident involving a jeep in which 38 people were injured.

Image

When asked for a response, one senior official quoted an old proverb:  “There is sometimes smoke without fire”

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Playing Chinese gin rummy with Mao

Click here for a really fascinating interview from the BBC World Service’s Witness program with Sidney Rittenberg, an American communist who joined up with the CCP leadership in Yan’an, Shaanxi province, in 1946.

Yan’an is considered the birthplace of the Revolution, as it was the finishing point of the Long March, and the centrepoint for Chinese communism between 1936 and 1948.  Rittenberg describes seeing the CCP top brass wandering freely about the deserted town and meeting for card games and dances.

Mao in Yan'an: "He danced every dance"

Mao in Yan’an: “He generally danced every dance”

Despite being imprisoned in solitary confinement twice by his comrades, for a total of 16 years, including during the declaration of the People’s Republic in October 1949, Rittenberg seems to have fond memories of his time in Yan’an, particularly of Zhou Enlai.  Mao is described as an aloof, hulking figure, but he remembers “he had an amazing sense of humour, he would keep you in stitches the entire time”.

BBC World Service Witness

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Mao not a Beleiber – 不到长城非好汉

Not always praised for his foresight, it seems that Mao must have had 30 September 2013 in mind when he proclaimed that “Who never climbed the Great Wall cannot be deemed a Man”  (不到长城非好汉).  For on that day the total ninny from Stratford, Ontario, Justin Beiber, got carried up the Wall by his bodyguards, before celebrating like an idiot.

jb

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Drunken Monkey Style

We can learn a lot from the drunken monkey.

monkey wine

After doing some research into how to treat high blood pressure I came across a paper studying the effects of Calcium channel blockers on alcohol-drinking monkeys. Initially I imagined a gruesome laboratory in which poor monkeys were pilled up and force-fed Lambrini’s, WKD’s or Jäger bombs.  However I soon discovered that the experiments were slightly more nuanced and based on the monkey’s preference for alcohol after taking the anti-hypertensives rather than any university style frat house forced drinking games. It turns out that the pills turn off some of this booze-monkeys from drink (probably a good thing as the side effects of these drugs are amplified with alcohol)

The concept of a drunk monkey is not a new one and these monkeys have been studied extensively and their habits compare with human drinking patterns.

see this hilarious BBC video:

In Chinese martial arts, there is a unique style which incorporates the relaxed and swaying movements of a drunken monkey. It involves rolling around a lot, eye poking and throat attacks and low kicks. The inspiration for Drunken Monkey style is Sun Wu Kong (孙悟空)  the Monkey King, the main character in the Chinese epic Journey to the West (西遊記). Non Sinophiles may recognise him from the excellent 2008 BBC Beijing Olympics animation

Monkey King BBC olympics

So lesson learned: Don’t give monkeys alcohol and don’t treat their blood pressure, or they will kick your ass.

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Beijing State of Mind

LaoWai’s repping it in Beijing

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by | August 6, 2013 · 10:48 pm

That’s not OK(FC)

Something everybody knew, but would probably have preferred not to have had confirmed, has been confirmed by CCTV this week.

That something is that if you plan on grabbing a drink at KFC in Beijing, you would be 13 times better off filling your own ice tray from a public loo, freezing the cubes at home, and taking the cubes along to KFC, than lumping for KFC’s own ice cubes.  Ok, let’s say ten times better off (less convenient).

Not bothered

Not bothered

OK, here comes the science bit – a Beijing KFC’s ice cubes were reported to contain 900 colony-forming units (CFU) of bacteria per millilitre.  That is 13 times more than toilet water and more than 20 times the national limit (though to my mind 45 CFUs per millilitre doesn’t sound that healthy either).

 However rest assured that shrimp flavoured potato chips have been given the all clear.

For more, see the South China Morning Post.

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Good hands!

If you’re going to find yourself hanging from a fourth floor window ledge, try to make sure you have this set of helpful Zhejiang couriers down below you.

Ideally, in these circumstances, the ground crew will have time to put a full bed-sheet plan into operation (see illustration below) – however, the gang managed to break the toddler’s fall well enough and she was left with only minor injuries.

Textbook

Textbook

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Beijing high rise

Not as well known as Hong Kong or Shanghai for it’s upwards protrusions, Beijing does still have its fair share of mighty erections.  And, with the skyline already boasting one building firmly in the the trouser department (the quite unique CCTV Headquarters, commonly known as 大裤衩 or “Big Pants”), purile Beijingers now been handed the gift of the new People’s Daily HQ to laugh at:

People's daily hq

“But…it looks like a…colossal penis!”

Let’s hope that the new workplace will inspire People’s Daily staff to produce some truly seminal output!

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