My percussion course unfortunately got cancelled due to low numbers, so I decided to so something different. I enrolled for a course in Mandarin. I had my first lesson last night. My first impression: it's hard. You've got those all-important tones to negotiate, but the minute you try and form a basic sentence, all those tones go out the window. It's nothing like anything I've attempted before. The words don't feel like words at all, but just sounds, which means there's little to get a handle on. Compare Chinese to Indonesian, where the words for "open" and "closed" are "buka" and "tutup" respectively. Now I look at "buka" and think of "bocca" which is Italian for mouth, and imagine a wide-open mouth. As for "tutup", that reminds me of "shut up", hence closed. When you're trying to learn Chinese, those kinds of memory aids are far harder to come up with. And let's face it, Mandarin is not the prettiest of languages. With all its monosyllables, it hardly flows like, say, French or Italian. The Italian word for beetroot is "barbabietola", which with those three B's surrounding a rolled R, is a pleasure to say. The same goes for "pomodoro" (tomato), and you can see all those four O's lined up like four big juicy Italian tomatoes. In Mandarin, nothing on the same planet as those two words exists. But in case you think I'm bagging Chinese, it does have some really nice features. Word order seems extremely sensible to me. The word for "understand" is "ming bai" (I can't get the tone markings easily) which literally means "bright white". How great is that? A relationship is "guan xi" (Chinese life is all about your guan xi), and to say something doesn't matter, you say "mei guan xi", which means "no relationship". Makes sense, doesn't it? It's also a reminder, in case I needed it, that if you're not in a relationship, you don't really matter. I'm already looking forward to lesson two. (I'll try and get on the Batucada drumming course.)
I spoke to Mum, Dad and my brother on Monday night. Mum and Dad had just got back from their amazing Nordic cruise. While they were away they had an offer on their third UK property accepted. They're turning into tycoons. My brother passed his SAS course, but frankly (after what happened last year) I was just glad he got back in one piece, with only a few bruises and cuts to his hands. I still have no real idea of what he went through. How my little brother does it I don't know.
It's almost two weeks since I went to Auckland on a shiny new plane. On Saturday I went to the autism group, where the turnout was relatively low. It was great to see the facilitators and some of the old faces, as well as new ones. The topic, which people talk about in turn at the start of the session, was the pros and cons of 21st-century life. Gosh, where do you start with that one? Firing up the Auckland Transport app on your smart phone at 11pm and getting on the right bus with 30 seconds to spare, through to people not talking to each other because they're glued to their smart phones. The worst part of living the 21st century, in my opinion, is that the amount of hatred and cruelty in the world is the same as it was in the 20th, if the events of the last few weeks are anything to go by. On Sunday I saw Bazza in Papakura, and couldn't wait to leave his house with the unshuttable loo door and a combination of two strong smells: disinfectant and Bazza. He bought me a kebab meal which didn't quite do it for me, to put it mildly. (Bazza still plays tennis. He recently chipped in $1000 to help buy a defibrillator, after someone from an opposing team collapsed and died during an interclub match.) On Monday I met Richard at the very pleasant Pukeko café in Parnell. Richard had been sick with flu and it was good of him to catch up with me at all. I saw three movies: What We Do in the Shadows (a Wellington-based comedy vampire movie that wouldn't have worked at all if it was Auckland-based), The Lady From Shanghai (a slightly weird film noir from 1947 with a dramatic ending; it was part of the film festival) and The Armstrong Lie (also part of the festival, this was a fantastic documentary I thought). I didn't see everyone I'd hope to. I couldn't contact Mandy at all. Brendan lives near Albany and meeting up just got too hard; I had to make do with a 70-minute phone conversation which he dominated with his conspiracy theories on both Malaysia Airlines disasters. On Tuesday I caught up with the former facilitator of the Wellington autism group. We met at Zarbo in Newmarket. I had a great meal there, including a small piece of a gigantic salmon. She then took me to visit her house in Titirangi. They've done a lot of work on the property, especially the garden which, with its stream running through it, really makes the place. The Auckland property market has gone crazy in the 2½ years since they bought the house and its value has increased accordingly. She then drove me to the airport - nobody had ever done that for me in Auckland before, so I felt quite privileged.
The Glasgow Commonwealth games is in full swing. I'm not watching any of it. I was here for the Auckland games in 1990; it was all very exciting and a very big deal. I still remember the "This Is the Moment" official song. Some people have asked what the point of the Commonwealth Games is any more - "you might as well have a games for countries that begin with P" - and I kind of see that point. The argument I don't get though, is "the standard isn't as high as the Olympics, so it's crap and not worth watching." I've seen tennis matches between players ranked well into three figures and been totally captivated. The corollary of that argument is that if the best players are there, it must be worth watching. The Indian Premier League has many of the world's best cricketers, but to my mind it's manufactured crap and I can't see why you'd want to watch it.