Blogless in Hangzhou

It has been difficult to access Mirkwood over the last week because blogs are blocked here in China. The homepage and forums are accessible, and so are the self-hosted blogs, but I couldn’t read any of the blogs. Google seems to have brokered a deal with China; I could access quite a few sites on Blogger. The only way to access Mirkwood was to log on remotely to the machine in my university lab, and use the text browser Lynx to view the pages. I wanted to write a post, but logging in was impossible with the limited functionality that Lynx provides. Finally, I managed to use an X-window manager to open the blog on Firefox. The connection is agonizingly slow, but reliable enough to post this blog entry.

I have received a few comments and I haven’t been able to approve them for the reasons cited above. I will go through all of them when I return to the US on Sunday.

Almost immediately after I put The Autumn of the Patriarch in the side-bar I was simultaneously transfixed by Richard Dawkins’ The Blind Watchmaker and Gabo’s Memories of My Melancholy Whores – the latter a recommendation from MafeMaria. Just before packing I chickened out, feeling that Gabo would be too heavy for the journey because he drills, hacks and messes up my mind. So, at the last moment, I put Dawkins in the carry-on baggage. Now, after a flight missed due to visa problems, followed by a long and unsuccessful meeting, that seems to have been the right choice.

I am only 70 pages into The Blind Watchmaker, but am amazed at the thoroughness with which Dawkins is making the case for Evolution – or making the case against Intelligent Design. The early part of the book attempts to explain the myriad possibilities and routes that evolution can take. To do this, Dawkins uses a simple computer program that starts with a 9-gene organism, which mutates as the program iterates, resulting in a mindboggling array of digital creatures. Considering that the first organism was a mere stick, shaped like a “|”, the complexity of the final product, after a few dozen mutations comes as a pleasant surprise.

Following 6 days of 12-hour meetings, we were treated to “Romance of the Song Dynasty” an extravaganza of opera, acrobatics, song-and-dance, about the past and present of Hangzhou, former capital of the Song rulers. Performed in a gigantic closed hall with elaborate sets and costumes, mist, water and lasers, this was quite an amazing experience. At one point, in the darkness, huge red Chinese lanterns were lowered from the ceiling of the hall – about a hundred of them in a two-dimensial array from the first row to the last. They looked otherworldly, like a gathering of levitating extra-terrestrials.


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