Monthly Archives: January 2010

Settling Into “Normal” Life – Modems, Bathroom Explosions and the Joys of Gym Shopping (Part 2 of 2)

Plumbing (Part 2):

Okay, and now back to the “tun kuy loh,” which I now realize roughly means “passage” or “flow” “pipe” man.  So the tun kuy kid whips out that crazy machine and proceeds to blast his way down my toilet.  Essentially, the machine shoots air at massive pressure.  I was not sure what was going on, as I was trying to scarf down some dinner in the dining room, as I was supposed to meet with friends for some networking event later on, but the great roar was rather alarming.

The kid explained that the machine is actually quite dangerous and can kill someone if pointed at him! I told him how I had no idea what to expect and thought he was just going to come snake the pipe, and that I somehow doubted any such device was available for consumer usage in America.  Hmm, am I sensing a theme about plumbing and HK here??

Anyhow, it’s been nearly a week and so far no further plumbing issues, although, I have to admit, I’ve barely used my shower since joining my gym.

Gym Shopping

One of my 2010 resolutions was to dedicate 10 hours a week to exercise.  While I’ve had great fun learning to swim, running, and of course, rock climbing, with Project X, an amazing group of mainly late 20s – 30s ex-pats and local HKers who are dedicated largely to climbingand diving, I knew that 1) the HK diet will surely kill me and that the occasional climb was hardly making a dent in the pounds I was so easily gaining in HK, and 2) I needed a gym to feel “normal.”  Since I was saving a substantial amount of money living in Vicky’s apartment versus the ol’ serviced apartment in Wan Chai, I promised that I’d spend the surplus on a gym membership.

There are a number of gyms in HK – California Fitness, Pure, Fitness First, Seasons… Within short walks from my house are California Fitness in LKF, Pure by the escalators by Hollywood Road, and I discovered today (too late to investigate) a Fitness First down in Sheung Wan.  I went to check out just California and Pure, since I knew I’d only want to go to gyms that were right by my neighborhood.

Both gyms had me jump on some physical assessment machine that told me how much lean muscle and fat I had, whether I was within range, or over- or under- weight, etc.  Essentially the gyms seem to do this to pressure you to join with guilt — “you are sooooo fat, you better join a gym!”  For the most part, I am within the normal range, but in both cases, I’d be asked to see a fitness trainer to explain how normal still wasn’t enough, and I had to improve still.  While I agree there’s definitely room for improvement – especially in that my right side is much stronger than my left (another measure revealed by the assessment), due to years of fencing, I did not appreciate the figure that said my waist-hip ratio was in the “excessive” category — I have no problem with my curves, and it felt more like a measure of aesthetic than fitness to me.

In any case, there is a HUGE difference between CF and Pure. Pure is definitely expensive — and of all the different plans it had (6 month, versus one year, versus two years; off-peak hours; access to all locations or some locations or one), no plan could possibly come close to how cheap California Fitness was.  A one-year all-access membership at California Fitness was cheaper than any of the Pure plans — and that’s overall, not per month!  In spite of that, I still went with an off-peak single location 6-month plan at Pure at what’s roughly $116/month for 6 months (I managed to get initiation waived by knowing a friend who is a member).

Now that’s a pretty steep cost for a gym membership, but to me, the alternative, California Fitness (now if I’d known Fitness First was as close as it is, I may have ended up there, but in spite of that, I’m extremely happy I went with Pure) was just impossible.  First, the gym is incredibly crowded — not just in terms of people, but even all the machines feel on top of each other.  There is no sauna/steam room, and seemingly no real amenities.  Finally, the salesman was pretty impatient and pushy.

In contrast, Pure is a heaven.  Think Equinox plus plus plus, for those of you reading from NYC.  In addition to a beautiful gym with up-to-date machines (including a great spin workout machine for when I can’t make class — something I’d always wanted back in NY), they offer you just about everything you need — gym clothes (less shoes and sports bra), locks, earbuds, DVDs, computer terminals in the lounge, even fresh apples for a healthy snack after a hard workout!  The facilities are extremely clean, there’s plenty of classes, seriously, nothing to complain about!  They have the TRX – my very favorite workout device of late, pole dance classes, thai boxing! Oh, and did I mention the RAIN SHOWER?? I can go on!

I even signed up for 25 sessions of personal training in order to take advantage of specials that resulted in $55/hour personal training — now that’s much cheaper than what I was paying at New York Health & Racquet (although my membership there was insanely cheap with a corporate discount/buying 22 months in advance).  Hopefully my membership can only get cheaper once I start working — or at the very least, it will be affordable when I have supplemental income.

I’ve been to the gym every day since joining and just LOVE it.  I had no idea how important the gym/working out was to me til I joined Pure in HK.  I just feel all that more normal, and the endorphins from working out keep me healthy while I also feel a heck of a lot less guilty about my HK diet/having to eat after a late night out.

So hopefully I’ll be back to my pre-HK fitness (I’d become particularly devoted to building my personal fitness last summer once I had more time to go to the gym and had found an amazing trainer).  My new trainer and I have a goal of getting me to do a pull-up in two months’ time!  Now that would really be something!

As of the publishing of this entry, I’ll have been back in HK for two whole weeks in 2010, and I have to say I’m feeling relatively accomplished (I also have cleaned up my inbox which gathered over 100 excess emails in my absence, developed a short list of jobs to apply to, and uploaded my India photos to facebook).


Settling Into “Normal” Life – Modems, Bathroom Explosions and the Joys of Gym Shopping (Part 1 of 2)

Hello 2010 and my new year’s resolutions…. If you’ve been following this blog, you’re probably wondering “where the heck are those weekly posts promised??”  Yes, yes, I’ve been horrible at this and I am behind in each of my new year’s resolutions so far.  It’s hard to start having goals that require weekly hour logs when you still have much to do to actually settle in.  As I mentioned before, I moved into a new flat — an actual real apartment, with a bedroom, a kitchen with two gas burners, a bathroom, and a living space that is primarily occupied by a dining table.  Even though it is a sublet complete with furniture, cookery, and all the basic household needs, I still had to go and get myself internet services, clean, buy a few missing odds and ends, and deal with plumbing issues!

Internet:  While this is a rather mundane subject to expound upon, I did wish to keep this blog to detail living costs and my methods, so here goes. On my first day back, I wandered down to the Three shop, one of HK’s major wireless providers, to check out their plans for a month-to-month USB modem stick (I felt that this was a more suitable solution for me since I wanted to make use of my brand new netbook and have internet anywhere I went).  Here I could get unlimited data for 200 HKD a month, and I could furnish my own USB modem stick separately.  Essentially, the cost is the same whether or not you are in a contract or not — only difference, those who lock into 24-month contracts get the modem stick free (their modem sticks cost an extra 780 HKD).  Not bad, but I wondered if I could do better.

Fortunately for me, HK likes to organize a lot of similar shops in the same place, not unlike many of NYC’s shopping districts (think the fashion district, flower district, the kitchen supply shops on Bowery, etc.).  PCCW/Peoples and Vodafone/SmarTone were all sitting in a row for me to check out one by one.  I eventually discovered Three had the best deal, and was the most flexible in terms of not locking me into any sort of contract.  Other plans were actually vastly more expensive, or did not have flexible month-to-month plans.  So points to Three.

Only small obstacle — apparently I’d need to leave a 3,000 HKD foreigner’s deposit fee if I did not have an HK ID.  Now last term when I visited the folks over at Immigration Tower, I was told that all I needed was to renew my student visa to show a 6 month stay in HK and I’d be granted one.  I wondered if it could really be so easy, and yes, it was.  In fact, I did not need a copy of my birth certificate, as stated in the instructions – perhaps this is more important for those who need a “right of abode” designation.  It took me a few hours or even less to get it all sorted.  Thumbprints scanned, photo taken.  I can pick it up in a few weeks’ time.

I got a copy of my application to prove that I have a HK ID, and then proceeded to head over to the nearby Wan Chai Computer Center.  I’d never shopped here before really.  I did stop in once when a friend wanted to look at cameras, and thought it was madness.  It’s just a collection of stores all in one place, each selling various electronics — cameras, computers, camcorders, tvs, etc.  Once again, it was a case of the first shop was the best one.  I did shop around a bit, but found my modem stick for 600 HKD at the first shop I’d inquired.  I negotiated it down from 700 or so.

And pursuant to typical HK convenience, I just had to walk across the street to visit a Three shop (I’m also very familiar with this part of the ‘hood having lived right around the corner last term).  It didn’t take long to get my new modem stick subscription and voila — internet at home!

So… no excuses on the whole failure to blog once a week resolution, right? Okay-la!!

Bathroom Explosions.  It’s not as gross as what you’re probably thinking… So I had my very first house-guest that first weekend in the apartment.  Namit, who had taken an extra long holiday from work, decided to take a side trip from Mumbai to HK.  It only cost him ~$300 on Jet, R/T, and I was told the flight was shockingly comfortable (I say this having recently flown Indian Airlines; most folk who have flown this government-owned airline know what I’m referring to).  Unfortunately, it was during his stay that we encountered a few issues.  First, the motorized air pump that came with the air bed left behind for me was not working.  Then on the last day of Namit’s stay, the bathroom floor was suddenly filled with several inches of water during his shower.

I was frantically trying to figure out what to do without disrupting too much of my guest’s stay.  Guests of mine, please take note, while you may think you are being helpful in dealing with such things, I really need you to just go away and enjoy your stay, leaving me behind to suffer.  I promise you, I suffer more when I see my guests lifting a finger to clean/deal with mystery water.

This was not an easy thing to deal with at all.  I called Vicky, my sublettor, and immediately had to deal with a bad phone connection to China.  But after a few tries got enough time to communicate my issues.  Apparently my apartment is owned by some entity, and that I can call an agent to help me with issues pertaining to the apartment itself, and just pray that the landlord won’t make me pay for repair costs.  Building issues can be addressed downstairs at the front desk.  Thinking it was a building issue, as the pipe that flooded didn’t seem directly connected to either the tub or toilet, I sought someone at reception.

The regular desk man was not there, as it was lunch break, and I had to talk in Cantonese with the cleaning lady.  She gave me a number to a repairman, who then told me I’d have to pay him $600 HKD to deal with the repair.  Not wanting to have to go there without having someone at the building at least look at the problem first, I declined.  I had to wait til next morning to see someone in the building.

That was all unhelpful as I was then told it was a problem my landlord had to fix.  So there I was afraid to take a shower in my own house still.  I called the landlord’s agent, who surprisingly turned up within 30 minutes to try to fix the problem himself.  Now the agent is no repairman, but somehow had enough experience to determine that the toilet pipe was somehow causing this backup.  He popped out and returned briefly with an extremely caustic chemical.  In his suit, he donned a pair of orange rubber gloves and dumped a cannister of something so chemically reactive that I highly doubt it’s available to the ordinary consumer in America.

Once he threw the contents of the cannister into the toilet, a whole bunch of very stinky smoke came out, and we had to wait for it to subside before flushing the toilet.  After a few flushes we found the problem persisted.  The agent then disappeared again, and came back with some kind of helper to look at the problem and see if he could fix it.  He had no special tools with him, some tube thing and a big plunger.  He tried to plunge the drainage hole on the bathroom floor from where the flooding came out of, but to no avail.  I was told to call someone called the “tun kuy loh”.  I have no idea what “tun kuy” means, but I assumed it meant someone who would snake the pipe.

Unfortunately, I was likely to be liable for the 500 HKD it would cost to get the tun kuy loh to pay a visit.  I argued that this was completely unfair and that it ought to be the landlord’s cost, as this seems to be a deep-set plumbing issue that I could not have possibly cause.  I asked the agent to at least see if the landlord would meet me halfway.

At this point the floor was flooded again, and there was all kinds of brown dirt.  I’d like to believe this dirt was not related to the toilet, and since there was no foul odor, I can hopefully safely say it was not fecal matter.  In any case, my bathroom was completely dysfunctional at this point.  Worse, some of this flooded out of an adjoining drainage hole into the kitchen, which is adjacent to the bathroom!

I called the tun kuy loh, and he said he could come anytime, which was a relief since I would not be home til past 7pm that night (school and my weekly facial).  I then sped off down the escalators to get to school.  I was going to be late for sure due to all this!  That’s when the agent called me again and said he’d convinced the landlord to bear the cost! He said he explained how I was new to HK and a pretty young girl who shouldn’t have to deal with this.  Now don’t start thinking that’s scuzzy of the agent — it’s actually pretty normal to coddle young pretty girls.  We are supposedly “helpless”, or at the least, those who are able should be taking care of us.

Now lighter in my step, I was unafraid about dealing with the tun kuy loh later that evening.

When I called the tun kuy loh, he said he could meet me in 30 minutes, which was just about the amount of time I needed to get home from Causeway Bay.  When I got there, I saw no “老” (short for old man in Chinese), rather, I saw a young boy who could have well been a teenager! He had a backpack and inside said backpack was a mighty machine that looked like something from Ghostbusters.

Upon inspection he said he might have to charge another 300 HKD to do a second pipe.  Not knowing whether the landlord would pay for this additional pipe, I asked the tun kuy kid to just try the one pipe, and if we still had issues, I’d consent to the second.

Now I’m sure you’re all dying to know how this crazy device worked, but I’ve been writing from a terminal at my new gym (yes, that comes in part 2 as well), and I ought to get to a happy hour event just down the road — ahh, the convenience of living in Soho.

Happy New Year!

Happy 2010 everyone! After weeks of radio silence, I re-emerge, but only briefly.  I am typing this post “live” for once (I typically sit over a post for a while, and will edit a bit before hitting “publish”) from Pacific Coffee, a popular coffee chain in HK, with free internet terminals.

I’ve returned from 2 weeks in India, and have plenty to write about, particularly about poverty and the management of 2 billion + people.  But that will have to wait until I finish setting up house in my new sublet up in the Mid-levels, where I have yet to resolve my wifi issues.

Hopefully that will happen end of this week, but first I need to get myself a HK ID card (just for convenience’s sake — without it, I will have to deposit 3,000 HKD foreigner’s fee to get my USB modem from Three Shop).

Back not more than a handful of hours, and soooo much to do.  School starts tomorrow and then I even have a first visitor this quarter and new year on Friday — Namit is coming for a weekend!

Anyhow, to wrap up this post before rushing off to my facial lady for a much needed cleansing after 2 weeks of high pollution (much higher than HK’s!), here are my new year’s resolutions — a real first for me:

1) I will devote 30 hrs per week to the study of Chinese while in school

2) 10 hours a week to exercise/sports

3) 7 hours a week to the job search

4) Blog at least once a week

And any of the above that I skip must be made up that month! So yes, since I was in India til the 10th of the month, I have a lot to make up!  At least I’ve gotten the blogging out of the way for the first week…

I also have some less concrete resolutions, but will wait for another post to tell you about them.

For now, happy 2010 – I am most definitely looking forward to seeing what this year brings us!