For my June 2006 diary, go here.

Diary - July 2006

John Baez

July 2, 2006

A transitional day: packing and cleaning up around the house before taking off for China tomorrow. I wanted to sleep in late, but I had to trim the bushes that were overwhelming the sidewalk in front of the house before it got too hot. It's another scorcher, after a week of scorchers, headed for 104° Fahrenheit (or 40 Celsius).

A garden is an ever-changing thing, even if you put a lot of work into keeping it the same, which Lisa and I don't. The soil here is good and there's endless sun, so plants grow like crazy if you just water them. Of course, introducing non-native species and watering the arid land here is an innately out-of-balance activity — an indulgence. All I can say is that removing the lawn and replacing it with citrus trees and Mediterranean-style vegetation has cut the water bill down to half what it was — or a third in summer.

And, next year we may not need to buy as much fruit! We'll have blood oranges, and Meyer lemons, and kumquats, and probably something else I'm forgetting. No grapefruit, which is a pity, since I've gotten to enjoy a grapefruit for breakfast every day. There's something marvelously healthful-tasting about grapefruits - I can't get enough of them, in part because I was allergic to citrus fruit as a kid, and there's nothing like the lure of forbidden fruit! But in fact, they're just good: not only good-tasting, not only good for their vitamin C, but also packed with other nice compounds. I don't need to know what these are to like how they taste and feel better after I eat them, but what the heck, let me list some!

Hmm, I'm getting carried away. I've got to finish packing. But first, I'll grab myself a grapefruit at the supermarket!

July 3, 2006

Woke up grumpily at 6 am to catch a shuttle to Los Angeles International Airport at 7 am, arriving around 9 am for a 12:30 flight to Tokyo Narita Airport. Read and slept as much as possible; utterly no desire to think about math, oddly. Too much focused on the adventures to come. A front-row seat let me stretch my legs, so nowhere near the hell it could be.

July 4, 2006

Arrived in Tokyo 3:30 pm the next day, thanks to the magic of the International Date Line. Beautiful overview of Japan as we sailed low over the sandy coast, then rice fields and complex canal formations, then houses and golf courses. Many buildings in this part of Japan have blue roofs. Why?

My 6:30 pm flight to Shanghai was delayed to 7:10 — the only glitch in this tedium of transport. I arrived around 9 pm. Passport control, customs. Lisa's smiling face in the mob of people greeting arrivals. Shue Hua, who works at the Fudan University foreign affairs office, helped us to a car. Steamy evening air; air conditioned car. Exhausted, sailing along the cloudy night highways with only a glimpse here and there of the skyscrapers for which Shanghai is famous. End point: a somewhat dingy room in the Fudan University foreign visitors' guest house. A great relief to shower and sleep.

Travel is fun - but only after you stop travelling and actually get there. And as William Gibson points out, when you travel by jet, it takes your soul a while to catch up.

July 5, 2006


The guest house is in a calm part of town, two blocks from a slightly more active area, packed with street vendors and small shops.

GuoShun Road, Yangpu District, Shanghai

So, we strolled over there and had two different kinds of dumplings for breakfast. It was my first real encounter with the heat and humidity of a Shanghai summer, and I soon retreated to the air-conditioned guest house. I will adapt. I must adapt.

Later we took the 55 bus down to the Bund. In some ways this is the epicenter of Shanghai: it's the line of colonial buildings facing east on the embankment of the Huangpu River, which meanders north before feeding into the mighty Yangtze. On the other side of the Huangpu is Pudong, the new part of Shanghai, dominated by ultramodern skyscrapers like something out of a bad science fiction story. They're fun, actually — but I forgot to bring my camera.

Then we cut west on Fuzhou Road; this is the road with all the cool book stores. We soon wound up at People's Park, the biggest park downtown: it's the green blob at left on the above map. We had a late lunch at a chain called Uncle's Cool Noodles in the basement of a big modern shopping center — Raffles Center or something. In case you're wondering, "Cool Noodles" means quite literally what it says. In a steamy hot town like this one can see why this style of noodles would become popular, but it seems to have originated in Korea.

Then we headed south and blundered our way across Ren Min Road into the old city — a ellipse-shaped patch of town vaguely similar to the hutongs of Beijing. As with the hutongs of Beijing, the old town in Shanghai is rapidly being eroded by the incursions of modernization. The wall of the old city has been broken down since Lisa last visited in 2001. The famous old mosque seems to be gone. Building projects have taken over many blocks, enormous cranes looming overhead. But there are still lots of twisty old streets, which I will explore more thoroughly later — and photograph before they disappear!

Mind you, many homes in the old city look like fetid dungeons - nothing romantic about them. One can see why the government wants to do away with them, even if they're laden with history going back to the Ching dynasty. As a Chinese proverb has it: the old must go so the new can come. But I feel nostalgia and sadness for the waning of the old city. Lisa said she wanted to cry.

We then wandered to Yu Yuan Shangcheng, a famous garden at the north end of the old city. It was closed but we caught some tantalizing peeks, and had a nice stroll on the elaborate bridge over a nearby pond, where swarms of hawkers tried to sell me "Lolex" watches. For some reason they assume that every Western male is yearning for a fake Rolex timepiece.

In case your eyes are glazing over at this recital, be assured that all the points mentioned on today's journey are famous "must-see" sights, with the exception of Raffles Center and Uncle's Cool Noodles. If you go to Shanghai, you should see these things.

And then you'll see that my descriptions are dry summaries of the full experience, leaving out 99% of the interesting stuff: elegant women with hair dyed auburn talking on their cell phones as they bike past, guys pedalling carts stacked with shockingly large amounts of various goods...

GuoDing Road, Yangpu District, Shanghai

...tantalizing little alleys poking off the main streets, swarms of annoying motorbikes honking like maniacs as they run you down, zillions of hole-in-the-wall shops selling every imaginable thing and lots of unimaginable ones too, bare-chested men lounging and chatting in wicker chairs by storefronts, a bucket of sad frogs on the sidewalk, a heron patiently stalking unwary carp — and a beggar girl with a blemished face thrusting her arm at me, no hand on it, crying "Money! Thank you!"

And much, much more.

If I hadn't spent the summer of 2003 in Hong Kong and last summer wandering through Beijing, Chengdu and Shenzhen, I would have found this day utterly exhausting, just from information overload. But I've gotten a bit more familiar with it all, so it wasn't so tiring.

July 6, 2006

Today we left the guest house and moved into the apartment Lisa had rented with the help of Shue Hua. Our address is GuoQuan Ho Lu, 25 nong, 7 hao lou, 203 shi. In other words: 25 GuoQuan Back Road, 7th building, apartment 203.

The place is nothing much to look at on the outside:

But it's quite nice inside, at least for my simple tastes: newly repainted walls, wooden floors, a big long bedroom with a kind of study alcove at one end, another small bedroom with a desk, a small living room, kitchen and bathroom. Two wall-mounted air conditioners to fend off the heat and humidity — it's blissfully cool in here!

A Chinese grad student of our acquaintance now visiting his folks in Shanghai later described our place as "endurable", which sort of miffed me — we're very happy with it. Sure, we could afford something fancier, but why?

For fans of economics I should record that this place costs Y2400 a month, where "Y" stands for "yuan" or "renminbi". Since there are about 8 yuan per US dollar, this is $300 per month — deliciously inexpensive for someone on my salary. To set this in context, a Chinese peasant who comes into the city to work as a laborer or sell things on the street makes about Y10,000 per year. A peasant family who stays on their farm also makes about Y10,000 per year — but divided among 5 people or so! That's about $250 per person per year. So, our nice cheap apartment would be utterly beyond their means.

I heard that to actually buy an apartment like ours would cost about a million yuan, which is about 30 years salary for some professionals. That makes their yearly salary about Y30,000 or $4,000.

It was a day of intense logistics, which would have been impossible without generous help from Shue Hua, his grad student assistant Li Lin, and our landlord, Mr. Wong. First we registered with the neighborhood committee, which required xeroxing our passports and visas, getting my picture taken, and filling out lots of paperwork. Then we registered with the local police department. Then we went to China Telecom to get phone service and broadband internet, which I am now happily using to post this. Then we went shopping for essentials like bed linens, pillows, towels, laundry detergent, a wok, and many other things I now mercifully forget. Most of these were easily obtained in a big department store. We ordered a desk from Fudan University, which sells them along with lab equipment and other stuff. I think it cost Y280. Finally, we moved all our suitcases from the guest house to the apartment. Lots of taxi rides were required for all this — taxis are ubiquitous here, as in most Chinese cities.

It's a great relief to be ensconced in my new abode.

July 7, 2006

The desk was delivered first thing in the morning! We went out for jian bing, or "Shandong pancakes", made by a friendly guy in a little hole-in-the-wall shop. First he starts a thin crepe-like layer of batter frying on a hot circular metal plate. After five seconds, he cracks an egg and smears it all over the batter. Then he dumps on scallions, pickled ginger, and cilantro. When it's cooked, he scrapes it off, folds it in half, and spoons on some hoisin sauce and a dab of hot chili paste if you want — we do! Atop this he sets two pieces of crunchy breadlike stuff. Then he folds the whole thing into a handy sandwich and pops it into a plastic bag. A nourishing breakfast cooked in one minute — especially tasty when you ask him to put in peanuts!

I was going to take photos of how these are made, but I see someone already has.

We spent the day getting our apartment set up and talking to people. At 5 we hiked over to a big department store called E-Mart on the corner of Quyang and Zhongshan to buy coat-hangers, a chopping board, cups, bowls, plates, chopsticks, an electric tea-kettle, and more.

Before actually buying this stuff, we had dinner at a Xinjiang restaurant called A Fan Ti Gourmet City across the way, on 775 Quyang. Xinjiang is China's largest province in area, but it's desert land out in the northwest, only 19 million inhabitants, mainly Uygurs. The food we ate resembled the Arabic food I know — wonderful lamb shiskebab, flat bread and fresh dates. There were belly dancers and loud music, but nobody paid them much attention.

As always, I'm shocked by the low prices. Completely serviceable and esthetically inoffensive mugs cost Y2.9 each at E-mart — that's about 35 cents! The whole shopping trip cost about Y220, or $26. Our dinner was about $8 for two. I'll stop talking about prices soon, but one has to factor this in when trying to understand life here.

July 8, 2006

Today we got wireless broadband installed in the apartment, apparently clocking in at 7.8 megabaud. We still need a router so we can both work online simultaneously — key to a successful relationship. We also got some music going by hooking Lisa's DVD player to the TV that came with the apartment. The TV has good speakers, so it was a delight to listen to Bach's violin sonatas played by Perlman. Music makes the world go round.

There were intermittent heavy rains today: turns out a typhoon is passing by, heading for North Korea, doubtless to punish it for firing missiles into the Sea of Japan. We got caught in a downpour on the way to dinner with Shue Hua and Li Lin, who is leaving Shanghai tomorrow. In the fall he plans to begin graduate school in electrical engineering at UCR.

July 9, 2006

Lisa is down with a bad cold, so I spent the day catching up on email and writing this diary. Towards the end of the day she got up enough energy to go out and have dinner at a Szechuanese restaurant on the little pedestrian street near where we live.

July 10, 2006

Another lazy day at home. I polished up a paper I wrote with Alejandro Perez on the
quantization of strings and branes coupled to BF theory and emailed it to him so he could submit it to ATMP.

In the afternoon, Lisa and I went out for lunch at the pedestrian street and bought some stuff at the wet market. In China, a "wet market" is one that sells produce. The one here has dry goods too — and spices, tea, fish and live chickens!

Wet market on ZhengSu Road, Yangpu District, Shanghai — outside

Wet market — inside

July 11, 2006

We got a wireless router! Now we don't have to take turns using the internet. As long as I want, I can work in the little bedroom at the front of the apartment, connected to the web, listening to music on my headphones:

It's just like home. But when I get bored, I can step out into Shanghai!

July 12, 2006

Lisa and I took the 55 bus down to the Bund, the old colonial embankment on the west of the Huangpu River. If you look across the road you can see Pudong, the newly developed area across the river. Not too long ago it was rice paddies. Now it looks like this:

Across the road, on the river's shore, there's a strip of park where people come to eat, have fun, and marvel at the view:

Then we hiked west along Nanjing Road, one of the liveliest shopping streets in Shanghai. Since it was rush hour, each red light held back a phalanx of bicycles and scooters eager to charge forwards when it turned green:

The prospect of crossing the road was enough to make the newcomer hesitate before plunging in:

As we entered the heart of the shopping district, the colorful signs became phantasmagoric:

The Shanghainese have made colored lights into quite an art; they'll coat entire buildings with ever-changing displays:

As it got dark, we headed into the subway station...

... and went down to the French Concession, an area first leased from the Chinese in 1846, which is now full elegant shops and funky art galleries and cafes. On the door of one there was a poster showing an angry guy and the words Fuckin' Politics! This is the most "edgy" thing I've ever seen in China — they usually try to keep things pretty bland and sweet.

We eventually found a nice restaurant called Old Shanghai and had a mango salad and beautifully cooked starter of pumpkin and lily, followed by stir-fried shredded eel on rice and a roast pigeon with pepper salt, with a bottle of rice wine. Yum! It cost Y76, or about $9 for the both of us.

Finally we returned to the Bund to catch the bus home. The old buildings of the Bund were all lit up:

and across the river, the towers of Pudong were gleaming:

While New York rebuilds its World Trade Center as a less flashy, bomb-shielded memorial to the death of its old self, Shanghai is soaring to the skies in a flamboyant, wildly optimistic style. It's symbolic of how China is cleverly sitting out the war on terror - while the US overreaches itself and becomes entangled in wars with Afghanistan and Iraq and showdowns with Iran and North Korea, China has been nailing down oil deals, plunging forwards economically, and building its military.

It's hard to help pondering this here in Shanghai, thanks to the recent meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a group consisting of China, Russia, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan — which Iran, Pakistan and India are also eager to join. In their meeting this June, Putin of Russia and Ahmandinejad of Iran proposed the formation of an energy club as part of this organization. Needless to say, given the coming energy crunch, some folks in the West are worried.

Note the sentence on "Chinese efforts" below:

An OPEC With Nukes?
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization may join some of the world's leading energy and military powers

Richard Weitz
The Weekly Standard, July 12, 2006

The recent summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization--a group consisting of China, Russia, and four Central Asian countries--has evoked alarm about a potent anti-American bloc emerging in the heart of Eurasia. The presence in Shanghai of fiery Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and the prospects for exclusive ties among some of the world's leading energy and military powers, has generated fears about a renewed Cold War between a democratic West and an authoritarian East. But these concerns are, at present, exaggerated.

The SCO lacks the internal cohesion and capabilities of strong multilateral security institutions like NATO. Its members disagree over the desirability of a Western military presence in Central Asia. They also differ over the SCO's role in traditional defense matters and whether member governments should collectively suppress domestic unrest. Furthermore, granting full membership to Iran, Pakistan, or other SCO observers could just as easily weaken the organization as strengthen it.

The SCO has a strikingly broad agenda. Cooperation against terrorism--broadly defined to include "separatists" and "extremists"--has become a core activity, with members conducting increasingly large joint "anti-terrorist" exercises. Other initiatives encompass combating organized crime, managing natural disasters, and promoting economic and energy collaboration.

Not surprisingly, many of the SCO's weaknesses stem from this expansive agenda and diverse membership. Agreements adopted under its auspices often consist primarily of bilateral deals, with the organization merely providing a convenient negotiating venue. While some current and aspiring members seem most interested in the SCO's economic potential, others mainly value its regional security role. Also, serious rivalries and disputes exist among its Central Asian members--especially between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, perennial competitors for regional primacy.

Russia has repeatedly opposed Chinese efforts to establish a SCO free-trade zone, acquire control over Eurasian energy resources, or give the body a military dimension. As a result, the SCO remains primarily a security organization, focused on countering transnational threats from non-state actors, rather than implementing a collective defense structure like NATO. The SCO does not have its own military forces, an integrated command structure, or even a combined planning staff. Russia favors the status quo because it can veto SCO actions. Conversely, China lacks equivalent influence over the decisions of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a genuine multinational military alliance that includes all SCO members except China and Uzbekistan.

Member governments also diverge regarding whether the SCO should protect one another against further "colored" revolutions. They accept that the organization should defend incumbent regimes against terrorist threats, which they characterize as foreign-inspired, but remain divided over whether to respond collectively to major but nonviolent domestic challenges. During the March 2005 government crisis in Kyrgyzstan, SCO members could not agree on joint action, with military intervention reportedly favored by China and opposed by Russia.

July 14, 2006

By the way, in case it's not obvious, I'm not pushing some sort of "yellow peril" alarmism. I just think that as China continues to grow and the United States continues to overextend itself and sink into debt, we'll see a shift in the balance of power. With any luck, this will be a peaceful transition.

Lisa and I had a dinner with some of the people at Fudan University who invited her here, including Lu Gusun, a Shakespearian scholar who's the editor-in-chief of a famous English-Chinese dictionary.

We had many dishes, including sparrows — a first for me. Most Chinese are unabashedly carnivorous and don't seem to feel the pangs of guilt Westerners feel when eating unusual animals that seem more "cute" than the ones we're used to eating. While I feel these pangs myself, I don't pay them much heed unless I think the species as a whole is being endangered by overhunting, as with, say, sharks. If an animal is being bred for food, I figure this is just a form of commensalism, good for everyone in the long run — except insofar as eating that animal wastes resources, overbreeding threatens its genome, or it's being killed in an excessively cruel way. Maybe if I thought about these often enough I'd become a vegetarian. Apparently a kilogram of beef requires about 100,000 liters of water to produce... sort of obscenely wasteful.

July 15, 2006

More unabashed carnivory. Our landlord, Mr. Wong, makes his living selling wines to restaurants across China. In October, when hairy crabs migrate from Yangcheng Lake to the Yangtze River to mate, he joins hoards of tourists and rents a place near the lake where local fishermen harvest these crabs. The tourists are there for the crabs: over five hundred restaurants line the lake, he said, and most are only open in October and November. He goes there to sell wine to these restaurants. So, he's near the top of the food chain! I leave on September 20th, but he said we might go there — if we pay for the crabs, he'll get the wine, and he can drive there in a company car.

I'd like to visit Suzhou, too. This is the city with the best classical gardens in China. Once it had over 200 gardens, and 69 are still in good shape today. Lisa visited a number of them, including the Humble Administrator's Garden — it's not really very humble! It dates back to the early 1500's (the Ming dynasty).

Another great city near Shanghai is Hangzhou, the capital of China during the Southern Sung dynasty, now famous for the beautiful West Lake. We were going to visit there next week, but that plan fell through. We may go later.

July 16, 2006

A cool and breezy day after a night of rain. Lisa and I took the 55 bus down to the Bund and strolled down Renmin Road to the most fascinating part of Shanghai: the old city, Nánshì. It's a fractal maze of twisty streets, tiny homes and streetside shops, thick with people doing every imaginable thing, living their lives on their doorsteps. Cooking, chatting, sleeping, selling, playing Chinese chess,....

JiuCang Street a bit south of Fuyou Road, Nánshì

A bit further south on JiuCang Street

I could have taken more interesting pictures, but I didn't want to be too intrusive. We didn't go too far in, since we wanted to head west to the French Concession. But first we wanted a snack at the Shanghai Classic Restaurant. So, we doubled back and headed east on Fuyou Road across Henan Road. This intersection is particularly bleak: new construction is tearing up the old city, leaving the worst of both worlds for now:

Henan Road just south of Fuyou Road, Nánshì

Lisa and I had looked for a famous old mosque a bit south of here on our July 5th wanderings, and failed to find it. We were quite sad, thinking it had been destroyed to make way for a fancy hotel. So, we were delighted when we found it on Fuyou Road just east of Henan! Our map had been mistaken. It dates back to 1868:

Fuyou Lu Mosque, 378 Fuyou Road, Nánshì

We had a wonderful late lunch at the Shanghai Classic Restaurant: lotus, nicely cooked Ningbo style bok choy, Guangzhou style roast goose, and crab with rice cake. The real name of this place is Shànghǎi Lǎo Fàndiàn. The adjective actually lǎo means something closer to "venerable" — it shows up in the name of the philosopher Lǎo Tze. There's a plaque on the restaurant with this story:

The Memorial for the Rebuilding of Shanghai Old Restaurant
According to the Chinese folklore, Emperor Qianlong concealed his identity and toured around Shanghai County in 1737. By chance he took dinner in one local bodega beside the County Temple. Satisfied with the delicious dishes, Emperor Qianlong left his autograph, denominating the bodega with "Longsheng Restaurant". In 1875, Mr. & Mrs. Zhang from Pudong opened a restaurant on the same site of the bodega and named it with "Rongshun Restaurant". They created a new cooking style — Shanghai Cuisine, which kept up the prosperity of the restaurant heretofore. Modern Shanghai citizens address it respectfully by the name of "Shanghai Old Restaurant".

Then we headed west... but before reaching the French Concession, we ran into a Taoist temple near the old west gate of the city: the Báiyún Guàn, or White Cloud Temple. Apparently it dates back to 1882. Lisa says it's one of the two places that still hold a large portion of the roughly 1500-volume Taoist Canon. Someday we'll go inside.

Anyway, it has a nice park on one side:

Báiyún Guàn (White Cloud Temple), Daijing Road, Nánshì

a high-rise behind the other:

Báiyún Guàn (White Cloud Temple), Daijing Road, Nánshì

and some old buildings, half-demolished but still very much in use, across the street:

Daijing Road, Nánshì

We then wandered to the French Concession, but only made it to the highly modern, Westernized part with fancy boutiques and wine bars... not my kind of thing, and certainly not worth crossing the globe for! A lot of Western tourists seem to disagree.

Mall on Huáihǎi Zhōng Road, Jìng Án District (French Concession)

Today I've put in the accents indicating tones in pinyin, but I don't think I'll have the energy for that most days!

July 17, 2006

This morning I was listening to the National Public Radio news on my computer — a day late, as usual, which is no fair because our day starts earlier. Anyway, I caught a story about the fast pace of economic growth in China. Big coastal cities like Shanghai are doing well, while poorer inland towns are not.

It's hot today. We had a late breakfast at our favorite restaurant on GuoDing Road: xiaolong bao, da huntun and zhou.

These are words worth knowing, so I'll explain! "Bao" refers to a wide variety of "buns" ranging from truly bun-like rice buns stuffed with vegetables or pork, to more dumpling-like things. Xiaolong bao are dumplings stuffed with pork and hot broth! Bite into one prematurely and scalding fluid gushes forth, scalding your tongue. Wait a bit, dip it in vinegar, nip into it more cautiously, and you can carefully suck out the soup, which is really very tasty — then eat the dumpling. Da huntun, or literally "big wontons" — the word "wonton" is Cantonese — are pork and vegetable dumplings in soup, and this particular place does them great. Zhou is congee, or rice porridge - usually served with other seasonings, from pickled vegetable to meat to fish. If you don't like porridge, congee probably won't change your mind. But, with the right seasonings, it can be quite nice. I've also seen versions that are just a thin bland gruel — not nice.

July 21, 2006

Do you want to climb an active volcano?

On May 18th, 1980, Mount St. Helens blew its top in a truly amazing eruption. A magnitude 5.1 earthquake caused the largest landslide in recorded history. 2.8 cubic kilometers of rock collapsed and a blast of pressurized gas shot out, destroying 400 square kilometers of forest:

In 2004, after years of inactivity, a series of small earthquakes heralded a new phase in which Mount St. Helens began shooting off steam and ash, as shown in the top picture above. This is not considered to be the prelude to a new big eruption; on the contrary, experts believe that this release of pressure makes the volcano safer.

So, today the US Forest service began letting people climb to the crater rim! You need to get a permit. Hazards may include ashfall, ballistic rocks, volcanic gases and debris flows. If you encounter these, don't panic. It's all just part of the show.

I've always been fascinated by volcanic and geothermal phenomena ever since I was kid. I remember learning with pleasure about fumaroles and solfataras. So, I can't resist mentioning that the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens caused "pyroclastic flows" and "lahars".

A pyroclastic flow is a very dangerous thing: a mixture of hot gas, ash, small rocks and boulders rolling along the ground, which destroys everything in its path. In the eruption of Mount St. Helens, the initial pyroclastic surge accelerated to almost 500 kilometers per hour, but slowed as it moved further, so several people were able to escape it by driving 100 to 160 km/hour.

(That's 65-100 miles per hour for us Americans — normal speeds on the Los Angeles freeways when there isn't a traffic jam.)

A lahar is a rush of water caused by an erupting volcano. This is an Indonesian word; the very fact that they have a word for this should be enough to depress the real estate market there. Sometimes lahars are caused when lava rapidly melts ice or snow; more often they happen when heavy rains cause mudslides during or after an eruption. You can read an impressive eyewitness account of a lahar in Guatemala, complete with photos, at the US Geological Survey website on volcanic hazards:

The lahar passed below us at what seemed an incredible speed and with an overwhelming roar. The front of the flow was approximately 5 m high and filled the river channel. As the hot lahar became larger, small rocks and mud splatter were thrown onto and over the bridge. We decided that we were not high enough and ran for the safety of the far bank. There, ground vibrations made it difficult to stand and we had to shout to be heard over the roar.
A lazy morning. Detailed street maps of the Fudan area are hard to find, especially in English, so Lisa added street names in English to a local area map while I pondered Mount St. Helens, did a little work on my website and burnt her a CD of Dylan tunes. A couple days ago we found a great CD and movie store called Artbook Rockmusic Artmovie on Guoding Road near its intersection with Zhengxiu. I bought copies of "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band" and "best of" albums by Japan and U2 for Y12 (about $1.50) each. Apparently not bootlegged — part of some official-looking Chinese series of rock CDs! Lisa found an incredible selection of rare movies in the back room, and bought two we'd never heard of: Orfeu, and an Orson Welles movie called Mr. Arkadin.

Last night we saw Orfeu: an updating of the classic Black Orpheus, featuring music and even a cameo appearance by favorite Brazilian musician, Caetano Veloso. It was good — but very, very sad. The slums of Rio de Janeiro are darker than in Black Orpheusdrug gangs rule, and the police shoot as many innocents as criminals. In this retelling of the Orpheus myth, Orfeu and Eurídice are killed almost accidentally by jealous friends who instantly regret what they do — snuffing out two of the brightest lives in the favelas.

July 23, 2006

Breakfast at a little hole-in-the wall place on the corner of Zhengsu and Guodian. They make the best xiaolong bao we've had, and that's all they make, besides soup. You can get a small bamboo steamer of about eight xialong bao for Y3 (approximately 36 cents). You can get them to go in a plastic bag, or eat them in a tiny air-conditioned room which is nice when it's hot out. Calling this room a restaurant would be a gross exaggeration; it has stools for three people, a little booth with chopsticks, some bottles of vinegar and some hot sauce — and they're usually busy making xiaolong bao there. But, this is nice if you want to learn how they manage to get broth inside a dumpling! (The trick: the broth is a cold gelatinous aspic when they put it in.)

It's the smallest, least charismatic place I've ever eaten: the floor is dirty and the entrance is hung with clear plastic strips. But, the food is great and the woman who runs it is very friendly — the place has a good vibe. So, I love it.

It rained a lot last night and today it was a bit drizzly and really cool! About 26 Celsius (79 F) — the coldest it's ever been here during my visit. Bliss!

Back home in Riverside it's really hot. The temperature hit 45 Celsius (113 F) yesterday, and 41 Celsius (106 F) today. There's been an unprecendented heat wave throughout California, triggering lots of fires. I'm worried about my garden. Indeed, it's been hot all over the US and Europe. Meanwhile, in Congress, Republicans are holding a hearing to poke holes in a famous study that led people to notice global warming, ignoring the many studies that subsequently confirmed it.

July 24, 2006

Lisa and I wandered extensively through the Old City south of Fangbang Road, even crossing south of Fuxing Road to see the Peach Blossom Mosque. I took lots of pictures, mainly to preserve some record of this unique area, which is bound to disappear soon. You can see a bunch of them in a not very organized form. The photos of street signs are to help me remember where everything was.

July 28, 2006

We went to a park on Huaihai Road in the French Concession. It was very peaceful and civilized, full of people playing cards:

The "tree-hugger" at right is doing some idiosyncratic form of exercise, but that's quite common in China — in any green space, especially in the morning, you'll see people doing tai chi and qi gong, walking around in funny ways, and even dancing in organized groups. A lot of parks have exercise machines, too. All these forms of exercise are most popular among the middle-aged and elderly. Now and then one sees a younger person jogging.

From the park we could see the domes of what was once a Russian Orthodox church, built in the 1930s — the time of Stalin's purges! There must be an interesting story behind that. Stalin was a Orthodox monk himself before he became a communist.

Now this church is a restaurant called The Grape. The inside is nothing special, nor was the food — I don't recommend it.

July 31, 2006

Friends back in Riverside report my garden is in serious trouble from the heat; I tell them to double the watering times on the automatic sprinkler system. The plants may look dead now but I've noticed that lots of our plants can bounce back when times improve. We'll see.

Today a math grad student from UC Berkeley named David Farris, working at Fudan University this summer, found out I was lurking nearby and came by to bring me a campus map and chat a bit. Nice guy. He told me where to buy cheap math books — knockoffs of Springer graduate texts and the like.

He also told me that astronomers from South India invented many of the basic ideas of calculus long before Newton and Leibniz! They were based in Kerala.

According to Sarada Rajeev's course syllabus,

They knew of the theory of infinite series, notions of convergence, differentiation, and iterative methods for solution of non-linear equations. This school, founded by Madhava of Sangamagrama and included as its prominent members Neelakanta Somayaji, Parameswara, Jyeshtadeva and Achyuta Panikkar, flourished between the 13th and 16th centuries — but has its intellectual roots with Aryabhatta who lived in the 5th century.

We will review their knowledge of (pre-Keplerian, epicyclic) astronomy and the problems that they were attempting to solve that led them to such revolutionary mathematical discoveries. We will get a glimpse into the contents of the first calculus textbook in the world, the Yuktibhasha (in the South Indian language Malayalam) written by Jyeshtadeva in the 16th century. The spice economy of Kerala and its unique social structure (centered around the temple and its Hindu religious rites) in which this community of scholars existed will also be described.

I should learn a bit about this and mention it in This Week's Finds, especially since last week I wrote about Euclid's Elements. Rajeev's syllabus has enough references to get started.

For my August 2006 diary, go here.

It's only in Hollywood that the explosive device can be disarmed with three seconds left on the timer. The future always has one surprise you didn't anticipate; if you expect to win by the skin of your teeth, you probably won't win at all. - Eliezer Yudkowsky

© 2006 John Baez