250 Lines of Definition


“The future is now! Soon every American home will integrate their television, phone and computer. You’ll be able to visit the Louvre on one channel and watch female mud wrestling on another. You can do your shopping at home, or play Mortal Kombat with a friend from Vietnam.” – The Cable Guy, 1996


A colleague and I were recently waxing nostalgic about the 1990s. We agreed that today’s knowledge-at-yer-fingertips world is marginally preferable, but we are both happy to have grown up in a slightly simpler time when a 3 and 1/2 inch floppy was nothing to be ashamed of, and when Netflix binges involved changing the cassette every two episodes.

Ours was a weird time: 7-11 wasn’t just a name, it was opening hours; TMNT cereal turned everyone’s shit green; we suffered weird, violent 16 bit hallucinations at the robotic hands of Earthworm Jim; and – for one night only – Paul McGann was our generation’s single Doctor Who.

The early nineties was a time of flipping POGs, blowing the dust off Nintendo cartridges, and taping shows on bootleg VHS (I’m old enough to remember my mum reminding me not to ‘get the little one’ from the video store, a warning against the dangers of Betamax).

The latter part of the decade was, in that pre-9/11 world, a time of looking forward: fiber-optic broadband in every home, Nu Metal in every nightclub, digital cinematography in every film. People weren’t worried that their neighbour might be an extremist plotting holy war, they were worried about the millennium bug and Bill Clinton’s dong.

I spent most of the nineties not staying in the same place, being U Haul-ed to various small towns in Alberta before seeing in the new epoch in one of England’s least interesting villages.

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Before video games started outselling Hollywood blockbusters, before The Sopranos and Breaking Bad finally turned television into a legit art form, movies were the dominant pop culture medium. 1999 is often cited as one of the great years for cinema: While James Bond hung from a thread above the millennium dome and George Lucas dropped the ball on Star Wars, young music video directors were breaking through with future cult classics like Fight Club and Being John Malkovich.*

Meanwhile, two film students used videotape and guerrilla marketing to show that an improvised folk horror about three kids and a fictional witch can make the sort of money that most of Hollywood only dreams about. A couple of brothers (at the time) from Chicago proved that it’s possible to make a science fiction kung fu action thriller that has a philosophical core (at least until it collapsed under the weight of its own cross-platform, multi-sequel bullshit). These were films that summed up ‘our’ decade and, more importantly, said and meant something.

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We Generation X-ers felt no highs or lows. There were rumours of those who did, but they were just put on Ritalin by their douchebag parents. Our spokespersons were the sort of people who dressed up as a bat instead of confronting their problems or who moved into derelict houses with their imaginary friends to plot Year Zero revolution. We didn’t even spot the irony in a monologue about how we’d never be famous or have rock hard abs being delivered by Brad Pitt.

Here in the present, there is a wave of eighties nostalgia. Touted soon-to-be sequels include Bill and Ted, The Goonies, and The Dark Crystal. Christian Slater’s agent has woken up after a long winter’s snooze where the speed dial was set on straight-to-DVD. I guess we have to wait a decade or so for Fight Club Too or Being John Malkovich Again, or yet another X Files movie.

Even if we do have to put up with a Matrix reboot.


*(a film that I swear I at least occasionally shut up about).

I Walk The Line


“The fruits of idleness are more precious than the fruits of labour.” – Walter Benjamin


Some of my days in the Jing are (deliberately or otherwise) busy and exciting. Others are more like yesterday and today.

It rained like Vancouver the other night. Happy Valley, for whatever reason, suddenly burst to life and is currently full of sounds. A  traditional funeral procession passed through the puddles underneath my apartment building. I was woken this morning by a man shouting Mandarin numbers into a megaphone for reasons that elude me as usual. There’s a lot of music coming from the nearby park.

Yesterday I decided that I didn’t want to spend all of my downtime watching two short seasons of Eighties telly, so I set off (collar up against the elements) with the original intention of investigating what lies at the end of Line 4. I don’t know what there is at Biomedical Base subway station, but the name implies some real Resident Evil shit.

I dismissed a trip there as just too damned far in such shitty weather, so I ended up at some hipster joint outside Hufanqiao: a place that did nothing to dispel the Vancouver feeling.

I treeked through the drizzle along a fair chunk of Line 7 (my own back yard in Beijing terms). I saw bugger all. Absolutely sweet Football Assosciation. I think there was a 7-11 at one point, that was about it.

I basically did nothing all day, which can be a wonderful thing to do. It again reminded me of my Vancouver days, just walking and sipping coffees and wondering when the gf was going to get out of bed (this time without a time difference between us, she’s just lazy!)

Today is no more exciting. We’ve got the plumber in, which will hopefully go better than last time.* I’ve got to change some money at the bank and do other grown-up sort of things. I’ll probably have another coffee at some point.

I find it all quietly blissful… Apart from the megaphone, of course.


*See: https://bentheforeigner.wordpress.com/2015/10/08/lost-in-google-translation/