Chinese puzzles

August 20, 2008

While The Mole was away on his sabbatical, the decorators moved into the Motor Racing and Trade Development Department of the Secret Intelligence Service at Vauxhall Cross. They knocked down walls and applied new paint and a little Feng Shui. The result was an open-plan office. This meant that no-one could have a snooze in the afternoons, nor spend an hour a day doing their nails or reading Guns & Ammo magazine.

The Mole rather liked the new department. It was light and airy, but there was more than a little discontent from his agents. Penelope (Roedean) declared that Feng Shui was “a pseudo-science” and that she did not believe that energy flowing around furniture made any difference to her mood or productivity.

“If you ask me,” she said. “Qi was invented by people with a backward IQ.”

“Very droll,” said The Mole. “It is rather lighter here than it used to be. I don’t really understand about this qi thing. And I get my yin and yang mixed up as well.”

“Well,” said Penelope (Benenden) helpfully, with a flash of her dark eyes from behind her glasses. “If the qi flows freely around, rather than being squeezed through gaps, we are all happier and work harder as a result.”

“Poppycock,” said Penelope (Roedean). “They are all snake oil salesmen.”

“Well at least we don’t have mirrored balls on the ceiling, running water features, crystals or wind chimes,” said The Mole. “But it is nice to see you girls a bit more than I used to. It was really rather lonely sometimes in my old office.”

“The novelty will wear off,” said Penelope (Wycombe Abbey) from beneath her honey-coloured bob. “I am sure you will be heartily sick of us in a bit.”

The Mole considered that for a moment.

“Well, anyway,” he said “It is a dull week. Everyone is on holiday and it has given us something to talk about.”

“Thank goodness for the bad English weather,” said Penelope (Roedean). “It would be too ghastly if we had to sit in here with glorious weather outside.”

“So,” said The Mole. “What is happening? There must be something other that Lewis Hamilton losing a suitcase.”

Penelope (Roedean) laughed.

“Yes, poor Flavio ran into trouble,” she said. “He was on his way to open some new bar with a bunch of his B-list celebrity friends and they tried to land on a public beach in Sardinia. And the beastly people attacked them. Threw sand and water at them and called them names.”

“Good Lord,” said The Mole.

“According to the newspapers in Italy it was because the wash from their motor launches was knocking over sandcastles and upsetting small children,” said Penelope (Benenden). “I think I would have done the same. No-one likes ostentatious exhibitions of wealth.”

“The best bit, said Penelope (Cheltenham Ladies College), who had been standing quietly by the window, looking as always like a statue of Athena, “was that Flavio complained that he paid his taxes and had a right to do as he pleased.”

“I never thought Flavio was a schmuck,” said Penelope (Roedean). “But if he is that rich and pays his taxes in Italy, then he needs his head examined. Doesn’t he have accountants to tell him to do everything in the British Virgin Islands and Liechtenstein?”

“You’d think so, wouldn’t you?” said The Mole. “My experience is that rich men never pay the same percentages as common folk.”

“Perhaps he was talking about the super-yacht tax they have down there in Sardinia,” said Penelope (Benenden). “I know he made a big fuss about it a couple of years ago because the authorities decided to charge a luxury yacht tax for non-residents. I seem to recall he organised a party against that at the time. I guess he was not a resident then.”

There was a pause in the conversation.

“Where’s Bernie?” said The Mole.

“Beijing,” said Penelope (Benenden). “He was there to watch the Olympic Games.”

“Was he?” said The Mole, with a rather sceptical tone.

“Yes, he was spotted at the Laoshan Velodrome, in the west of the city.”

“I didn’t know he was into cycling,” said The Mole.

“I don’t think he is,” said Penelope (Benenden). “It is rather odd, isn’t it? Anyway, I took a close look at the place and you might recall that a couple of years ago there was much talk of using Olympic facilities for motor racing after the Games were over. Some government body in Beijing did a deal with Champ Car to allow for races to be held after 2008 on a course created by using roads built for the Olympics. The deal never came to fruition, but it was announced.

“Anyway, then I went on to Google Earth and found the Laoshan Velodrome. It is adjacent to the Laoshan Mountain Bike Course, which winds through a parkland area. The odd thing about this is that there is a perimeter road around the mountain bike area, which looks from the satellite pictures to be remarkably like a racing circuit, featuring chicaces and even run-off areas.”

“Good Lord,” said The Mole. “Let me look.”

Penelope was right.

“It seems to have everything you would need in terms of roads,” Penelope went on.

“Look, there are even two underground stations on a line that goes straight into Tiannamen Square. And it is all right next to the Fifth Ring Round. See, there are two big interchanges so people could come and go quite easily. It looks like a pretty good venue for a race track to me.”

The Mole pondered.

“If I remember correctly Shanghai has a contract until 2010, but the race has not been a success.” he said. “The track is stuck out in the middle of nowhere and the man who ran it is now in jail. Ticket sales were disastrous. The total losses on the place are probably in the region of $350m. And the Shanghai government has changed completely with the old gang having been booted out. Beijing is very much in control these days.”

“Using old Olympic stuff would be logical,” said Penelope (Benenden). “Sounds like a good idea, really.”

“You’ll never guess the name of the man in charge of that stuff,” said Penelope (Roedean). “It’s Qi. Mr Liu Qi.”

“Maybe the Feng Shui is better up there,” said The Mole.