Thursday, September 30, 2010

Visit to Oxford by the first Chinese ambassador to UK

In a Chinese book, From China to Oxford, can be found the travel diary of Guo Songtao (郭嵩焘 1818-91), the first Chinese ambassador to the UK (1877-79) (and the first ever Chinese ambassador) when he visited Oxford on Nov 28-29, 1877. He visited Magdalen, All Souls, Christ Church, and the Bodleian Library. He also attended a lecture by James Legge (1815-97), since 1876 the first Professor of Chinese Language and Literature at Oxford, at the Sheldonian Theatre. The diary showed that Guo knew almost nothing about British universities before the visit, and probably learned little of any depth after. All that he recorded are the most mundane and superficial of factoids. (I did not find any indication that Guo ever learned any foreign language.)

The Turl Cash, Thornton's, and my lost youth

My intellectual development has been greatly influenced by Oxford’s venerable bookshops. I have particularly fond memories of The Turl Cash, Thornton's, and Blackwell's (of course). I am gratified to discover an old essay, "Oxford Bookshops" by William Ridler, of July 1963, when the original Parker's building had been demolished, and the new one (that I knew in 1974) was yet only on the drawing board. The essay has a particularly rare (I think) and delightful description of The Turl Cash.

ps. Exeter College demolished the old Parker’s bookshop at Nos. 26–27, Broad Street, Oxford and built its Thomas Wood Building (1964) on the corner of the Broad and the Turl. (source) The new building housed Parker's at the old spot from 1964 until c. 1993 when Blackwell's Art and Poster Shop moved in.

THE top engineering schools 2010-11 (complete list)

UK Times Higher Education (THE) ranks engineering schools:
1 California Institute of Technology --United States
2 Massachusetts Institute of Technology --United States
3 Stanford University --United States
4 Princeton University --United States
5 University of California Berkeley --United States
6 University of Cambridge --United Kingdom
7 Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) Zurich --Switzerland
8 University of Oxford --United Kingdom
9 Imperial College London --United Kingdom
10 Georgia Institute of Technology --United States
11 Carnegie Mellon University --United States
12 Cornell University --United States
13 University of Toronto --Canada
14 University of Michigan --United States
15 University of Illinois - Urbana --United States
16 National University of Singapore --Singapore
17 University of California Santa Barbara --United States
18 Northwestern University --United States
19 University of Hong Kong --Hong Kong
20= Tsinghua University --China
20= Hong Kong University of Science and Technology --Hong Kong
22= University of Tokyo --Japan
22= Ecole Polytechnique --France
24 École Polytechnique Federale of Lausanne --Switzerland
25 Peking University --China
26 University of Massachusetts --United States
27 University of Minnesota --United States
28 Pohang University of Science and Technology --South Korea
29 Brown University --United States
30 University of Melbourne --Australia
31 University of California San Diego --United States
32 Rice University --United States
33 Delft University of Technology --Netherlands
34= Purdue University --United States
34= University of Wisconsin --United States
34= Ecole Normale Superieure, Paris --France
37 University of Queensland Australia --Australia
38= University of British Columbia --Canada
38= University of Freiburg --Germany
40 University of Sydney --Australia
41 University of Southern California --United States
42 University of California Davis --United States
43 Birkbeck, University of London --United Kingdom
44 Australian National University --Australia
45 University of Science and Technology of China --China
46 National Taiwan University --Taiwan
47 University of Notre Dame --United States
48 Nanjing University --China
49 Bielefeld University --Germany
50 Ohio State University --United States

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Lincoln, Dartmouth, and Dr Seuss

I had not been nourished in my childhood by the works of Dr Seuss (1904-91), and have only been aware of him since about 1996.

He is the only prominent person that I know of who studied at both Oxford and Dartmouth. He was an undergraduate at Dartmouth (1921-25), and studied for D.Phil in English Literature at Lincoln College, Oxford, without taking the degree.

Oxonians of 1974-77: a Parade of the Notables

Prominent Oxford Students in 1974, 1975, 1976, and 1977

In 1974, there had been 23 Oxonian British PMs, besides numerous other eminent Oxonians.

And there were at least three future PMs amongst the Oxonians of 1974-77: Tony Blair, Benazir Bhutto, and Theresa May.

Tony Blair (with boater) at Oxford

Tony Blair (born 6 May 1953), UK's PM from 2 May 1997 to 27 June 2007, read Jurisprudence at St John's, Oxford in 1972-75, and graduated with a 2nd class in 1975.

Benazir Bhutto at Oxford

Benazir Bhutto (21 June 1953 – 27 December 2007) read PPE at LMH and St Catherine's in 1973-77, and was elected the president of Oxford Union in Dec 1976.

Theresa May's wedding in 1980 (source)

Philip and Theresa May at a friend's wedding in the early 1980s (source)

Theresa May

Theresa May (born October 1, 1956), UK's PM since 13 July 2016, read Geography at St. Hugh's (1974-77), graduating with a 2nd class.

On the Oxford romance of Theresa and Philip May: here

Dominic Grieve
Dominic Grieve (born May 24, 1956), Attorney General for England and Wales and Advocate General for Northern Ireland from May 2010 to July 2014, read Modern History at Magdalen College, graduating in 1978.

Kim Beazley

Kim Beazley (born December 14, 1948), Deputy PM of Australia (June 1995 - March 1996) and Australia's Labor Party Leader (1996-2001, 2005-2006), earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s of Arts degrees at the University of Western Australia and was awarded the Rhodes Scholarship in 1973. He completed a Master’s of Philosophy at Balliol College, Oxford, writing his thesis on Soviet and American naval competition in the Indian Ocean.  (source)

Peter Millican

Peter Millican (born March 1, 1958), philosopher at Hertford College, Oxford, read for his BA and BPhil at Lincoln College, Oxford 1976-1982. His lectures on General Philosophy can be seen here.

Andrew Motion
Andrew Motion

Andrew Motion (born 26 October 1952), the British Poet Laureate 1999-2009, read English at Univ and graduated with BA (first class) in 1974. He then stayed on and earned his M.Litt. in 1976 (presumably at Univ, though not confirmed),

Alan Hollinghurst

Alan Hollinghurst (born 26 May 1954), the notable novelist and winner of the 2004 Man Booker Prize (see The Observer profile), read English at Magdalen College from 1972 to 1979, graduating with BA in 1975, and MLitt in 1979. (The friendship of Andrew Motion, Alan Hollinghurst, Stephen Pickles and Hugh Grant is described in "Iris Murdoch as I knew her", by A.N. Wilson.)

Vikram Seth

Vikram Seth

Vikram Seth (born June 20, 1952, Calcutta, India), Indian poet, novelist, and travel writer, is well known for his verse novel The Golden Gate (1986) and his epic novel A Suitable Boy (1993).
The son of a judge and a businessman, Seth was raised in London and India. He attended exclusive Indian schools and entered Corpus Christi College, Oxford to read English (which he later changed to Philosophy, Politics and Economics) in 1971, graduating with a BA in 1975, having taken the year 1973-74 off in India. He received a master’s degree in economics from Stanford University in 1978 and later studied at Nanking (China) University. In 1987 he returned to India to live with his family in New Delhi. (source)

Rajiva Wijesinha (see below) on Vikram Seth's Romanticism:  here

Pico Iyer

Pico Iyer. travel writer and essayist, was probably at Oxford from the autumn of 1976, according to his birth year (1957).

Pico Iyer was born in Oxford, England, to parents from India, in 1957, grew up in California and currently lives in Japan. He won a King's Scholarship to Eton and then a Demyship to  Magdalen College, Oxford, where, graduating with a Congratulatory Double First in English, he received the highest marks of any student in the university. He went on to acquire a second Master's degree in literature at Harvard, where he taught literature and writing for two years. (source)

David Profumo
David Profumo (born Oct 20, 1955), novelist and son of John Profumo (the disgraced Secretary of State for War in the Macmillan government (The Profumo Affair)), read English at Magdalen College in 1974-77, graduating with a First.

Val McDermid in 1975 (source)

Val McDermid (born June 4, 1955), Scottish crime writer, read English at St Hilda's College in 1972 (aged 17)-1975 (here).

Artemis Cooper (source)

Artemis Cooper (born 22 April 1953), British writer and biographer, read English at St Hugh's College in 1972 - 1975, graduating with a BA (here).

Peter Tasker

Peter Tasker (bio),  Japan watcher, author of Inside Japan (1987) and Japan in Play (1999), and financial expert, read English Literature, then Law, at Balliol College, beginning in 1973.

Rowan Atkinson

Rowan Atkinson (born January 6, 1955), the renowned Mr Bean and Blackadder, graduated with a BSc from Newcastle University (UK). He then entered The Queen's College, Oxford in 1975 to read Electrical Engineering, graduating with a MSc in Electrical Engineering in 1979. Mr Bean was conceived in Oxford.


Tan Jee Say, and Professor Rajiva Wijesinha, Chairman of the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats, on 3 Nov 2011

Rajiva Wijesinha (born May 16, 1954), MA(Oxon), DPhil (Oxon),  is a Sri Lankan writer in English, distinguished for his political analysis as well as creative and critical work. An academic by profession for much of his working career, he was most recently Senior Professor of Languages at the University of Sabaragamuwa, Sri Lanka.

He belongs to the Liberal Party of Sri Lanka, and has served as its President and Leader, and also as a Vice-President of Liberal International. He is currently Chair of the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats.

He read Classics as an undergraduate at University College (1970-74), and English Literature as a graduate student at Corpus Christi.

Tan Jee Say (born February 12, 1954), candadate in the 2011 Singapore General Elections and the 2011 Presidential Election, read PPE (Philosophy, Politics and Economics) at University College during 1973-76.


M Athar Tahir (source)

M (Muhammad) Athar Tahir (here, here), Pakistani writer, painter and civil servant (Federal Secretary (of) Education), was a Rhodes scholar (beginning in 1974, source) reading English Literature at Oriel College.

Punjab Portraits by M Athar Tahir


Ferdinand "Bongbong" R. Marcos, Jr.

Ferdinand "Bongbong" R. Marcos, Jr. (born September 13, 1957), widely known as Bongbong Marcos, is a Filipino politician and senator in the 16th Congress of the PhilippinesHe is the second child and only son of Ferdinand E. Marcos, the former president of the Philippines(1965–1986), and former First Lady Imelda R. Marcos. He read PPE (Philosophy, Politics and Economics) at St Edmund Hall in 1975-78 (here).


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Paternoster lift and Thom Building

I did not know that the type of antiquated lift in the Thom Building (housing the Department of Engineering Science at Oxford) is called the paternoster from its resemblance to rosary beads.

As I posted my notes on Facebook, my chain of thoughts thus proceeded from the sound of world languages (comparative linguistics being one of my interests), to the Pater Noster (The Lord's Prayer), and amazingly to the Engineering Science building at Oxford, and thus to engineering school rankings (global ranking of universities being another of my interests). Nice connectivity. Three degrees of seperation from comparative linguistics to comparative higher education, via Christianity and civil engineering.

The days of wine and roses

Vitae Summa Brevis Spem Nos Vetat Incohare Longam
        (The brevity of life forbids us to entertain hopes of  long duration- Horace)

They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
     Love and desire and hate:
I think they have no portion in us after
        We pass the gate.

They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
         Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
         Within a dream.

                                                       Ernest Dowson


    Wife disguised as sister, and the parting of waters

    LH pointed out that there were three parallel narratives in the Bible of miraculous crossing of bodies of water, once with Moses, leading Joshua and the Israelite nation, parting the Red Sea, once with Joshua crossing the dry Jordan, and finally with Elijah and Elisha also crossing the dry Jordan.
    The Jordan miracles are certainly less well known than the Red Sea parting. I suppose that the reason is that the Jordan was never mighty, like the Mississippi, and that its parting is a less impressive feat than parting the Red Sea.
    The parallel narratives reminded me of the three parallel narratives of “wife disguised as sister” in Genesis ( A patriach arrived with his wife in a strange land. To save his own skin, he lied that his wife was his sister, so that the local chief could take her for himself, without killing the patriach. The story is told thrice, twice of Abraham and once of Issac.
    The non-religious explanation of this is that the motif (theme) of “wife disguised as sister” had been popular in the oral transmission of the Jewish tribal myths. Different story tellers at different times had attached the same motif to different stories. When the oral stories came to be written and compiled, without any single editor being in the position to exercise editorial control to ensure plausibility and consistency, we get the strange and implausible parallel narratives.
    The same process of a popular “miraculous parting of the sea/river” motif being orally attached to multiple stories also accounts for the three similar miracles of parting of waters.

    Moses or a mighty wind?

    Defenders of biblical inerrancy has a new, impressively high-tech arrow in their quiver: The Red Sea could have parted for Moses. ( ) The exodus could have been historical.

    Ironically, the miracle is no longer one: purely physical causes suffice. Ascribing the parting of the Red Sea to the supernatural (and the power of Moses' action)  is therefore erroneous, and the Bible is errant. (Of course, the retort would be that the miracle was that God caused the mighty wind in the first place.)

    Of course, if the exodus never happened, the issue is moot.

    琵琶行 -- another poem of forty years ago

     琵琶行, composed by Bai Juyi (772-846) in AD 817, aged 45.  Another much-loved Tang poem from forty years ago.  )

    琵琶行  -- 白居易





















      自言本是京城女,家在虾蟆陵下住。[虾蟆(há má)陵]























      座中泣下谁最多?   江州司马青衫湿。

    將進酒 -- A poem for the ages

    A great Tang Dynasty poem composed by Li Bai in AD 752 when he was 51.

    What else happened at that time? The Abbasid Caliphate was founded in AD 750, and defeated the Tang forces in the battle of Talas in AD 751. This battle was crucial in deciding the border between the Sinic and the Islamic civilizations, and the limits of the Sinic civilization.

    Charles Martel halted the advance of Islam into Europe by defeating the forces of the Umayyad Caliphate in the Battle of Poitiers on October 10, 732. This battle was also crucial in determining the boundary between the Christian and the Islamic civilizations.

    I probably first came across the poem in 1970. Forty years on, I am now older than the poet when he composed it.

    Indeed this is a poem for the ages -- an everlasting literary masterpiece. In essence:

        Bibo ergo sum (I drink, therefore I am) -- Li Bai

        Cogito ergo sum (I think, therefore I am) -- Descarte

    將進酒      --李白















    The romance of Africa

     Just in case I find myself travelling to Africa, the Ibrahim Index of African Governance ( ) is a new, relatively unknown database for a deeper understanding of African nations.

    2010 QS University rankings -- by academic peer review

     2010 QS University rankings -- by academic peer review

    1. Cambridge
    2. Harvard
    3. Oxford
    4. Berkeley
    5. Stanford
    6. MIT
    7. UCLA
    8. U Tokyo
    9. Princeton
    10. Yale
    11. Toronto
    12. NUS
    13. Chicago
    14. Columbia
    15. Cornell
    16. Imperial College
    22. Peking
    30. Tsinghua (PRC)
    34. U Hong Kong
    76. NTU
    78. Birmingham

    Ranking by academic peer review(

    Overall ranking(

    金砂寨 (Jinshazhai, Jinsha), our ancestral home (Part 1)

    According to our family genealogy, my 19th generation ancestor (great*17 grandfather) 陈盘隐 (1368-1448) settled in Jinshazhai (Jinsha) village(金砂寨), Caitang Town (彩塘镇), Chao'an County (潮安县), Chaozhou City (Prefecture)(潮州), Guangdong Province, PRC (, 15 km from the centre of Shantou (汕頭, ), soon after AD 1390. The Jinsha Tan clan, of Teochew dialect, is still there.

     My grandfather was the first in my family to settle in Singapore (in 1937).

    Tan Yeok Nee (Tan Hiok Nee, 陈旭年, 1827-1902) (Wikipedia, Infopedia), whose mansion, House of Tan Yeok Nee (陈旭年宅第 or 陈旭年大厦, Wikipedia) at the corner of Penang Road and Clemenceau Avenue in Singapore is a national monument, is the most prominent son of the clan in Southease Asia.

    ******** Postscript *********

    Grand Mansions, Bungalows and Villas of the Past (here) describes the House of Tan Yeok Nee and the River House, also known as Ripple House (涟漪楼), both built by Tan.

    Early Teochew businessman Tan Yeok Nee 陈旭年 (1827 – 1902) came from China at an young age and made his fortune through gambier, pepper, alcohol and opium trades. On very good terms with the Johor Sultan, Tan Yeok Nee would later become Malaya’s biggest kangchu (港主, lord of the river settlements) at the age of 39. By 1868, the sultanate bestowed on Tan Yeok Nee the status of the kapitan (representative of the Chinese enclaves), and presented him with the title of “Advisor to Government” (资政).

    Currently leased to the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, this century-old house was originally known as Government Advisor's Mansion (资政第). Together with the River House, they are the last remaining Chinese-styled mansions in Singapore.

    The House of Tan Yeok Nee is also the only surviving house of the famous “Four Big Mansions” (四大厝) built by Teochew tycoons in the late 19th century,  the other three being the House of Tan Seng Poh (located at the junction of Loke Yew Street and Hill Street), the House of Seah Eu Chin (located at the northern Boat Quay) and the House of Wee Ah Hood (also known as 大夫第 and demolished in 1961).

    Conserved as a national monument in 1974, the house has witnessed dramatic events in its history. It was acquired in the early 20th century when the first railway was constructed. The house became home for the Tank Road Station master.

    It was sold to the Anglican Church in 1912, which set up St Mary’s Home and School for the Eurasian girls. In 1938, the Salvation Army took over the site as their headquarters but it was bombed and occupied by the Japanese forces during the Second World War. After the war, extensive repairs were carried out and when the Salvation Army was relocated to Bishan in 1991, the house was sold to Cockpit Hotel and subsequently Wing Tai Group.


    Independent confirmation of the information on 陈盘隐:

    陈坦六世孙陈惺斋裔孙陈盘隐从福建省漳州府莆田县家东桥乡宰辅巷迁居潮州市彩塘镇金砂寨。陈盘隐七世孙陈宽裕于明景五年 (1454)迁创于潮阳举练都港后村 (今属陈店镇),裔分小南塘(今属城南街道)与贵屿巷尾。陈盘隐九世孙陈瑚流迁居汕头市潮阳区贵屿镇贵屿乡。另有金砂陈氏裔孙分居潮安县浮洋镇新安村。

    ( )


    ( )

    Part 2: here