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August 2009

SPANK GOLD: Edinburgh Festival 1995

You are here The announcement's buried in the lower half of page 3 of the 1995 Edinburgh Fringe programme.

This programme is also available on the World Wide Web at http://www.presence.co.uk/fringe. The programme includes a unique search facility to locate your favourite performer or show, or you can search on keywords given in the text. The Daily Diaries are also available on-line enabling you to plan your day-by-day visits in advance. Once you have seen a Fringe show, you can also post your own review in the Unofficial Reviews Section and read those already posted by other Fringe enthusiasts. If you do not have your own access to the Internet, you can surf the Fringe Pages and the rest of the Internet at Web 13 Internet Cafe, 13 Bread Street, Edinburgh.

So there you have it – 1995 was Edinburgh's first year on the web. The site was a little basic, as you can see from the linked archive: you could look through the programme, but it was impossible to buy any tickets online. Just like 2008, then! Ha ha, I am funny.

Thanks to my moderately responsible job in the computer industry, I had web access at work back in the summer of 1995, but nothing at home or (imagine it!) in any sort of mobile form. So I made all my bookings and arrangements the old-fashioned way. Here's how they turned out.

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Year Of The Monkey 2009: Health Scare In Hong Kong

In an amusing irony, McMug and McDull are advertising Pocari Sweat, which may have been part of the cure for what I'm calling my bout of Man Swine Flu. [ prologue / Beijing / Xi'an / Li River / Shanghai / Hong Kong / epilogue]

July 24th-26th

If I'm honest, the rot set in after we parted company with Dee in Shanghai. During the tour, she nagged us all into making sure we were drinking lots of water regularly, and even bought us rehydration salts to make sure our lost minerals were being topped up. And I dutifully followed her advice, only to forget it all once we'd checked out of the Liang An Hotel.

After a day of traipsing round the Shanghai shops and an evening of spicy food at Di Shui Dong, I had a night of bowel-related unpleasantness that would stretch over the following two days. Which means I spent nearly a whole weekend in Hong Kong tired, with stomach cramps, no appetite and frequent bouts of minor nausea. It's lucky I was doing all that in The Funnest Place On EarthTM, otherwise I'd have had a really bad time.

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Year Of The Monkey 2009: Sunless In Shanghai

A partially successful photo by The Belated Birthday Girl [ prologue / Beijing / Xi'an / Li River / Shanghai / Hong Kong / epilogue]

July 21st-24th

Blah blah blah Shanghai blah blah blah changed a bit since I was here last blah blah blah Jade Buddha Temple still the same blah blah blah soup dumplings at Old Chenghuang Temple Snack Square blah blah blah more fast food courtesy of Mr Lee the California Beef Noodle King blah blah blah Liang An Hotel very nice but their website appears to have dodgy exploit code buried in it so you're not getting a link.

Right, that's got all that lot out of the way. Now let me tell you about the TOTAL BLOODY ECLIPSE I SAW THERE THIS WEEK.

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Year Of The Monkey 2009: Lounging On The Li

Just because it amuses me, nothing more: this is our tour party leaving Guilin Airport [ prologue / Beijing / Xi'an / Li River / Shanghai / Hong Kong / epilogue]

July 18th-20th

Things I learned while reading the China Daily newspaper they handed out on the plane from Xi'an to Guilin:

- Jihadists really, really hate Manchester United.
- The reason why Chinese cinemas are so full of Western films right now is to clear the decks for a batch of local movies being released in the autumn, celebrating the 60th anniversary of the formation of the People's Republic.
- On a related note, Transformers 2 has just become the highest ever grossing film in China, taking 400 million yuan in just 19 days.
- A man in Beijing has been throwing bricks at cars that jump red lights. The Belated Birthday Girl approves.
- And finally, your headline of the day is this: Man Eats Fish Gall Bladders To Improve Vision, Faints.

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Year Of The Monkey 2009: Xylophone Buggery In Xi'an

Xi'an is a lovely city, but this police poster warns drivers of the dangers of people getting them drunk and stabbing them to death. [ prologue / Beijing / Xi'an / Li River / Shanghai / Hong Kong / epilogue]

July 17th-18th

(See, I told you I was having trouble thinking of an X. Blame B3TA's Rob Manuel and his Buffy Swearing Keyboard for the inspiration.)

I've been back in China for nearly a week now, and things I'd forgotten since my last visit 16 years ago are just starting to come back to me now. Things like how the Chinese, for all their loveliness in so many other areas, are quite simply the worst drivers I've encountered anywhere in the world. (And I've been to Italy.) Or the endless palaver of getting travellers' cheques cashed here - though thankfully, several Chinese banks have Cirrus network ATMs now. Or, most of all, the way that as a foreigner, you're simultaneously the most visible and least visible person in town. People will either stare at you or greet you warmly in the street, but when you're in a queue they'll barge right through you as if you're not there.

This last point came to mind at either end of our overnight sleeper train journey from Beijing to Xi'an. (Like a log, since you ask.) On our departure, we had to battle our way through a minor encampment of people apparently living on the station forecourt. The scene on our arrival was chaotic in a different way, with hordes outside Xi'an station either waving namecards because they were waiting for you, or carrying tourist maps because they were looking to sell them to you.

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Year Of The Monkey 2009: Bi-domiciled In Beijing

Yeah, sorry it's late. [ prologue / Beijing / Xi'an / Li River / Shanghai / Hong Kong / epilogue]

July 12th-16th

Ha! Great Firewall, my arse.

Okay, that may be tempting fate, so let's qualify it a little. We've just spent a total of four nights in Beijing, spread across two separate locations. In all that time, I've been able to get free wi-fi access - once at the hotel, once at a nearby bar - and the vast majority of the websites I've attempted to visit have posed no problems at all. There are obvious major blockages to be found, notably any of the Western video hosting sites such as YouTube or Google Video. And as I'd been warned before coming out here, Blogger is impossible to access without going in round the back via dodgy proxy servers and the like. Typepad, however, appears to have evaded the censors for now. Which means that if we assume there aren't any local variations in web censorship - and I couldn't tell you either way right now - I should be able to update this blog as we go. Although I'm not sure at the moment why I can't see any of my pictures.

Anyway. Where were we?

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Year Of The Monkey 2009: Half There In Helsinki

Quite a long way from Cairo, lots of miles from Vietnam [ prologue / Beijing / Xi'an / Li River / Shanghai / Hong Kong / epilogue]

July 11th

The Chinese government is so scared of the internet, last month their TV channel ran a propaganda story trying to persuade people that "Google Porn" causes memory loss. Not that they make it easy for Chinese surfers to see it, of course: for years now, the infamous Great Firewall has blocked access to all the most interesting bits of the web. Most recently, China came this close to introducing compulsory site blockers on every new PC, and would have got away with it if it hadn't been for the sort of last minute technical cock-up that most of us in the IT industry take for granted. Not to mention that Chinese TV recently ran a propaganda story claiming that internet porn causes memory loss.

So bearing all that in mind, here's a bright idea: let's go on holiday to a country with some of the most locked-down stretches of internet in the world, and attempt to blog from there live.

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SPANK GOLD: Spankin' USA Revisited (1999)

Note that for added unwatchability, the trailer footage used in the background of the opening titles has been literally filmed off a computer screen. I started doing all this internet nonsense back in 1998: my first major holiday after that was my trip to America in 1999. During a crammed fortnight, I spent a few days apiece in New York, Washingdon DC, San Francisco and Los Angeles. I got two pieces for the site out of it: a review of the just-released Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, and a more general thing entitled Spankin' USA which became the first ever article in my Travel section.

It's a bit thin compared with the travel pieces that were to follow - I mean, it doesn't even tell you which hotels I stayed in. But you'll notice that there's a throwaway reference in there to a holiday video called Four Cities, which I promised I'd be showing to an invited audience of Spank's Pals on Independence Day weekend 1999.

Ten years later, I'm going to do that all over again. And this time, you're invited.

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Simian Substitute Site for July 2009: Where Are They Now? - Bubbles

Where Are They Now? - Bubbles (illustration: 'Michael Jackson And Bubbles', Jeff Koons, 1988) I know the first-of-the-month post is usually where I hype up what my plans are for the month to come. But it's going to be a little tricky to do that for July 2009. For now, let's put it like this: there will either be a spectacular series of posts throughout the month, or there'll be a creepy and awkward silence for a fortnight or so. It could go either way, wait and see. Hopefully, interspersed with that we'll have the Spank Gold action you've come to know and tolerate, including a wee USA special for Independence Day.

Beyond that, I really don't know how this month will pan out. I mean, on Bastille Day it'll be this site's eleventh birthday, and I couldn't tell you if we're going to be commemorating it on the day or not. I mean, just how Great a Firewall is it anyway? We'll see.

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