May you live in interesting times. This Chinese curse illustrates better than almost any other that culture's gift for quiet irony. For Chinese residents of Indonesia, events in recent weeks have been more interesting than anyone could have wished for, as they have found themselves the target of an explosion of anger from native Indonesians resentful at the prosperity of the tiny Chinese population, which is reckoned to control four-fifths of the country's wealth. Chances are the Chinese have not been giving this much thought as fleeing for one's life leaves little time for philosophical musings on ancient wisdom. For those of us fortunate enough to be somewhere else, however, there is still the odd glimmer of humour to be spied in the grim turn of events.
Pictured on the front page of a recent copy of the Daily Telegraph, a scene of rioting featured an upturned, burning vehicle from which looters were removing large cardboard boxes. Both the van and the cartons are clearly marked with the insignia of Best Power, a British manufacturer of computer equipment.
The looters look pretty pleased with themselves, but it is unlikely their triumph will last for long. It will turn to bitter disappointment when they get their haul home and find out what the boxes contain. Best Power makes uninterruptible power supplies, devices as essential to the smooth running of modern computer operations as the alternator is to the motor car, and every bit as dull.
All decent citizens will cheer at the failure of the rioters to profit from their lawlessness (with due respect to Best, it is difficult to imagine that a thriving black market for UPS boxes has sprung up in the strife torn region just yet). We must resist the temptation to gloat: these people are already in a dangerous mood and the risk is that the bitterness caused by this unfortunate incident could provoke a further outbreak of riots.
Further light relief comes in a press release from Hertfordshire software firm Alphametrics, in another example of the boundless ingenuity of IT firms when it comes to spotting and milking opportunities for cheap publicity.
The four-page document, headed "Escape from Jakarta" opens unpromisingly with a description of Alphametrics' FXAT dealing room system, but soon abandons the subject of software to concentrate exclusively on a description "in his own words" of the experiences of Ben Chapman, 27, a mathematics graduate who works at the company's office in Bangkok.
Mr Chapman found himself in the midst of the action when he took a business trip to Jakarta just as the troubles began. "Midst" is perhaps the wrong word, as our hero never actually finds himself in any danger and his escape is entirely uneventful. This has obvious drawbacks for the narrative but, what the story lacks in excitement, it more than makes up for in unintentional humour.
Mr Chapman's main concern throughout his ordeal is for the inflationary effect of the riots: he describes increases in taxi fares and the cost of phone cards in some detail - his mathematical inclination showing, perhaps, or his employer's interests in the money markets.
When it comes to evoking the drama of the unfolding events in Jakarta, Mr Chapman has a wonderful way with understatement that suggests either a pale, thin, bespectacled academic oblivious to danger, or a beefy, lantern-jawed, thrusting young manager laughing in the face of peril and tweaking the nose of adversity. Either way, his observations achieve a marvellously comic effect.
"Before I arrived in Jakarta, I'd heard various reports about unrest in the city, even that a petrol station or two had been burned, but I didn't think much of it ..." Mr Chapman begins blithely. "Tuesday passed uneventfully, for me, although four student protesters were shot by police ..." he continues. "Things began to hot up a bit on Wednesday" - including clashes between students and soldiers, and a market set on fire by a mob, but the ice-cool Mr Chapman still didn't "see or hear anything that led me to suspect that Jakarta might be getting dangerous".
Eventually, having struggled to overcome no danger whatsoever, he makes it to the airport and somehow glides through the crowds jostling to board delayed flights, straight into the departure lounge, and onto the only flight leaving that day.
Before he goes, Mr Magoo can't resist driving one further nail in the coffin of story telling: "I moved on to the departure gate. The news on CNN that Frank Sinatra had just died did dampen my spirits." For crying out loud, man! The city is burning, the natives are revolting, you could be killed at any minute and you're worrying about Frank Sinatra. Just get on the bloody plane!
If you wished interesting times on Mr Chapman, he'd thank you without a trace of irony.
Fancy working abroad? Mole Overseas Personnel, Mole's newly formed recruitment consultancy, has a number of interesting opportunities in the Far East on its books. Write for details to Mole at the above address or phone 0171 316 9068.
'Sunlit wet sidewalk' provides evidence of methane rainfall on the north pole of Saturn's moon Titan
Methane rainfall indicates the start of the summer season in Titan's northern hemisphere
Scientists believe there could be other hydrides or superhydrides with super conducting properties
Resetting the telemetry circuits and associated boards brought the instrument back to operations mode
Fortnite news and updates: Flaw in Fortnite authentication could have helped attackers steal player login credentials
Attackers could have used Fortnite security flaw to buy in-game currency on players' stored credit cards