April 30, 2007

Tread Lightly, For History Is Underfoot

Category: History — Cranky @

In the Forbidden City in China is a building called the Hall of Supreme Harmony. It’s a stunning building, made more so by the restoration processes currently under way. A facelift is in order. After all, the city is 600 years old.

The stones that make up the floor of the Hall, however, do not need refinishing. They’re unique to the City, existing nowhere else in the world.

They’re called gold bricks, although they contain no gold, and it took about 2 years for a batch of these bricks to be completed. They spent 136 days baking, and each batch consumed 50,000 kilograms of fuel. They were soaked for 49 days in tung oil, and polished endlessly. And now, 600 years later, they still shine like new.

That such expenditures could occur is a testament to the power of the Emperor over the people of China. The incredible amount of time and effort involved in creating just the floor of this building is difficult to comprehend. It’s also an amazing monument to the skill and dedication of the craftsmen.

Today we have the benefits of industrialization, and we can arrive at similar materials in a much shorter time, but it’s not quite the same. The Forbidden City was built for the long term, using the most durable methods and best materials, and when you look at the buildings you can get a sense of the immense care and effort that went into it.

To be sure our generation is creating some incredible architecture. In 600 years, I wonder, how will our offerings fare?



April 24, 2007

There Are Limits To My Kindness

Category: Social — Cranky @

Several times a day I am asked for spare change. I live and work in the downtown core of the city, and it comes with the territory. We’re booming, thanks to oil, and along with wealth comes an increase in the transient population. It makes sense, doesn’t it? After all, those less fortunate will do best if they follow the money.

Lately there has been a shift in attitude, though, and some of the transients are becoming more aggressive, and even threatening. We see them daily, so we know which ones to steer clear of. People who have to beg, for whatever reason, do generally have my sympathy. Once in a rare while I’ll pony up some cash, but it doesn’t happen very often. I do not begrudge them the question, though, and I’m not going to treat them disrespectfully, providing they are not rude to me.

Having said that, though, there’s one type of beggar that makes me livid.

I drive a reasonably nice car, and lately there has been an increase in beggars who ply their trade, such as it is, in parking lots. When they approach me as I get out of my car I have no choice but to hand over some change. If I refuse, they might kick in my door panel as soon as I’m out of sight.

Thus begging becomes extortion, and by that transition it becomes theft.

I’m a reasonably nice guy, but this makes me very angry. I wish somebody would open up a service to deal with these people. I’d call them up and pay them $27. They’d send over somebody to punch him right in the face hard enough to loosen a few teeth, and then hand him $2 for his “bus ride”, “coffee”, or whatever else he claims to lack.

My basic human kindness dries up instantly around people like these, and I’d really like to see them punished. I do not take well to being coerced.


April 18, 2007

No Flu Shot For Me, Thanks!

Category: Life — Cranky @

At some point in our lives we all get sick. We live in a very complex ecosystem, and there are a variety of creatures that have it in for us. Living in a landlocked northern climate I’m not particularly worried about being eaten by a crocodile. I’m not even concerned with bears, despite the fact that they are actually native to the area. After all, I live in the downtown core of the city. A bear would have to make a mighty long trek through the urban jungle to come say hi.

No, I’m more worried about the smallest creatures. Viruses and bacteria are much more likely to be a problem. I may go my whole life without being trampled by an elephant, but I haven’t escaped the flu.

Having a stomach flu is a rich experience, full of sound and fury. In the simplest case one may have to face some vomiting. The scents involved in that process are a cacophony of earthy, pungent vapours. From the basic stomach acids and the remnants of the past meal, the odours can range from the delicate digestion of vegetable matter to the half-digested, eye-watering stench of boiled eggs and sushi.

Of course that experience would be enough for anybody, but sometimes the problem isn’t food exiting the entrance – it’s food exiting the exit. The varied textures of diarrhea that can accompany the stomach flu are matched only by the dramatic differences in odour. And as much as a tandoori dinner smells bad coming up, it can be worse taking the traditional route. Violent diarrhea is a symphony of unnatural sensations, from the rotten odour to the feel of hot, acidic liquids coming out where liquids should never exit.

And then there’s the Holy Grail of sickness. Explosive diarrhea and vomiting, occurring at the same time. You purge the nether regions, realize you’re going to spew, and when you jump off the toilet to do so you come face to face with the product, and you spew harder. The combined mix of liquid feces and vomit rise up to greet you, and you reach the nirvana of disgust. Overcome, you continue to contribute to the bulk of the mix. Even if you have the presence of mind to flush it, the motion of the water releases a renewed cloud of stench as the surface of the waste is disturbed.

And yet there are still some people that don’t like needles, and therefore pass on the flu shot. Amazing.