Monthly Archives: June 2010

Leave With Caution

I woke up at 5am this morning feeling too much anxiety to bother getting a proper night’s sleep (got home after midnight after a huge evening of celebratory drinking at the FCC, more on this another time).  My flight to Beijing (a lone night’s stopover before NYC) takes off at 5:30pm tonight, and I have still to 1) arrange and submit my preliminary application to the Law Society, 2) clean my flat, 3) pack all my gifts, some clothes that I’d like while in NY, important papers needed to complete my taxes, 4) possibly buy another last minute gift or two, 5) figure out what prep course I will be taking for the Conveyancing Head.  A tall order, truly! But that doesn’t include the greatest one of them all — preparing for the humidity!

Leaving HK for roughly one month in July required quite a bit of thought, actually.  It’s just soooo incredibly humid that without any sort of planning, you risk coming home to wet walls, mold, all kinds of damage to clothes, shoes, everything!  Not that my apartment didn’t already have plenty of dehumidifying carbon packs, sold at all supermarkets, home goods shops, and pharmacies in HK (and similarly humid places, like Taiwan), but since my last scattering of these odd little plastic boxes that suck in water, back in May when I moved in, I bought a whole new set, as the old ones are all nearly full!

I was advised to close all the windows, including the two air vents in the kitchen and bathroom.  I’d thought that leaving a window open a crack would be the way to go, even though we are also in rainy season, and I could risk flooding my house should there be a black rain, but that would be completely wrong!  So I’ve instructed my one-week sublettor to be sure to lock it all down and to flip on the dehumidifier (the machine).  My two closest girlfriends, who are also away, but not for nearly as long, will be checking in on the apartment to empty out the dehumidifier from time to time.

And yet I’m still terrified of a massive mess awaiting me when I come home!  I can’t even begin to explain how destructive the HK humidity can be — and not just to the human body while climbing up the hills of HK, but to all your physical belongings! It is just a terrible terrible force, and I hate it when I’ll pull out a dress or some other item of clothing from my closet only to find it unwearable due to mold, and I can never be sure if I can even salvage the piece!

The first time I’d discovered the power of humidity was earlier in March, when HK is actually normally not so humid at that time of the year (so dehumidifier sales were remarkably high, and it was hard to locate any in the stores).  I was subletting Vicky’s apartment, and I remembered touching the wall to turn on the lights one day to discover my hand wet.  I also noticed an odd mold had suddenly appeared all across the ceiling, and clothes were musty, damp or covered in patches of mold. Yuck!

I’d never had to think about such a thing back in NY, even though we do have some fairly extreme weather conditions too — just none like this!  So remember to leave with caution if you ever take a long break from HK, and to prepare in advance!

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All The Small Things – Daily Living in HK

As I approach my 10th month here in Hong Kong, I continue to live the ordinary life of a resident and not that of a tourist, and there are just so many small things that are not the same.  Being on the small scale of differences, I can easily glean over them, and just accept them as the new way of life and carry on.  I figured I’d list a few here.

ATMs

I noticed this early on in HK, but just never remarked about it for some reason.  Upon entering an ATM branch, I finally understand my granny, who lived in Hong Kong for ten years before moving to New York in 1966, and her obsession with getting her bank passbooks updated constantly.  Here in HK, there are not only your typical cash machines, but automated machines just for updating passbooks!  They now Chinese grannies and their obsession with passbook updates — because, after all, the money is not in the bank until it’s actually stamped on your passbook!

Another small thing — cash comes out LAST in HK.  If you get a receipt, that’s first, then your card (which is always swallowed up, no swipe machines from my experience so far – but I primarily only use HSBC and Hang Seng machines), and finally your money.  I was very unaccustomed with this initially, as it is the opposite in the U.S., and once in Thailand, I nearly forgot my card because of this same reverse order! (Not as bad as the lady I saw who was about to walk away from the ATM without her money in HK!).

You can also pay your bills at the ATM – just start pushing away at the buttons and you are sure to find all government utilities, as well as a bunch of other private companies.  Am I missing something – but do we have that in the US?

Oh — btw, you can deposit checks on other people’s behalf at the bank too (at least at HSBC).  Just write down the account number on the back and slip it into this bin in the bank.

Postal Service

I’ve been quite impressed with the post office and service in HK.  First, it’s really cheap — it’s only $3HK to send an international letter — that’s roughly 36 cents in the US!  We can’t even send a local letter for that little! How much is a stamp in the U.S. now anyhow?? With it’s near annual increases, I even lost track while living there!

I think a local letter is $1.7 HKD, and I recently sent something by Speed Post – HK’s version of FedEx – to the U.S. at $174 HKD for 500 grams – not too shabby.

I also recently discovered that when you receive a certified letter or package, the mailman comes straight up to your apartment for signature — I didn’t think that was the case in a NY highrise, or am I mistaken (I never lived in one really, and where I lived in doorman buildings, the doorman accepted our packages, etc.)  I have a doorman here at my apartment building, but they don’t do much but sleep, disappear somewhere, or be nosy.

Oh — and another convenient thing, at the mail slots outside the post office, you can buy stamps right there and then in the event you arrive after hours!

Paper, Ink, and Books

I went to buy paper for my inkjet 3-in-1 printer (which I bought used for just $150 HKD thanks to a departing American MBA student at the CUHK that posted an ad on geoexpat) and discovered there is no such thing as 8 1/2 x 11 inch paper here — indeed I could only find A4! I’d heard about it when I was learning about international resume, rather CV, writing, but it just didn’t connect that I’d have to use it here.  Silly me.

And while I’m on the topic of paper, why not ink — talk about convenience.  The person who sold the printer to me referred me to a ink-hk.com for refills, where I can buy cartridges for $47 HKD each, get coupons for redemption when I return used cartridges for recycling, and delivery is FREE when I order $100 HKD or more.  INSANE! Crazier — the delivery came the same day I ordered.

Similarly, I found ordering books incredibly easy too! When I wanted to get a new Coelho novel, I was sure it would be useless to just walk into any random bookshop hoping to find it (although Swindon’s in TST is pretty well stocked), so I broadcast my query on facebook and discovered that paddyfield.com is the HK answer to amazon.com.  However, I ended up ordering form HK Book Centre Webstore, where I could browse tons more titles and have my book delivered to a local store for pickup free.  That was easy enough.

7 Eleven

Speaking of convenience… 7 Eleven is more than just your one stop shop for beer, dim sum, and phone cards — but did you know you can change your RMB here? Charge your phone here? Refill your Octopus? Pay your utility bills?! Yes, that’s right, you can pay your Three mobile plans, HK electric bill, etc. etc.  Apparently you can also pay many of these bills at Circle K too, but I never go to that shop, and it is not as prevalent as 7 Eleven.

Do I sound completely idiotic here?  Either way, I am loving all these small things, and really ought to give ’em props!

(Not So) CDotD: 英格蘭 vs. 英國, Chinese I Learned While Watching World Cup

The World Cup IS the sporting event that brings the world together. I have had experience enjoying World Cup from abroad once before — when I was in China in 2006, and let me tell all you Americans out there, it is worth getting out of your homeland to watch some games in a foreign pub or two (or three or four…). While Americans have little to no appreciation for the sport, we know how to be fans — and what’s more fun and educational than cheering and booing with some foreigners (especially the ones we love to hate!)?

So far in Hong Kong, I’ve been impressed with my American contingent who would make great efforts to get out there and support our home team — including the USA v. England match that started at 2:30 am HKT!

I met up with a few of my fave Americans (including Vineet and Jag, but sadly, no Daven) at a British styled pub of all places, Yorkshire Pudding, where I ran into other American friends (Bernie, Ivan — although he is technically a HKer, he grew up in Hawaii), and other insane American fans, including a dude wearing a flag for a cape.

Anyhow, it was not at this particular game, but the rebroadcast of England v. Algeria that I was watching while ellipticalling at the gym where I noticed that “England” was written as “英格蘭” (ying ge lan), which obviously sounds more like England, but I’d always known England to be “英國” (ying guo).

Interesting…. I obviously guessed it — it’s England the country itself versus United Kingdom (although why not call UK something that makes more sense?).  Here’s the link for verification — although you may need your google translator on:  http://ks.cn.yahoo.com/question/1407060601338.html

So yes friends, World Cup is fun and educational!  USA!

Another Return and Feeling Like a Harsh Lover

I’ve been wondering what to write about for the longest time. Been bouncing around a few ideas that need to be more researched, but I’ve just been incredibly busy these past few weeks trying to sort out a bunch of paperwork as I prepare to make an application with the Hong Kong Law Society to become locally qualified (I’ll detail all this pain in another post).  But I’ve felt even more crunched for time of late because I am heading back to New York in less than 2 weeks!

One of my best friends, law school classmates, and former roommates, Anna, is getting married on July 4, and I was honored with the request to be a bridesmaid.  I could not say no, but of course, being halfway around the world makes it a tad difficult to plan a hen night, bridal shower, plus fulfill other bridesmaid duties.  Additionally, since I was constantly under pressure to get some other pressing matters sorted (finding an apartment, moving, setting up my home, and now this local qualification stuff), I’d have even less time.  I feel worse since I felt I was able to put in 110% for Susanna’s wedding the year before (dress shopping, fittings, etc.), and I always like to give whatever I do more than my very best.  Unfortunately (so sorry Anna), I was not sure I did that here!  On top of that, the other two bridesmaids live in Africa and Australia — so the each of us, bride included, are on different continents!

About a month before the wedding date, I bought my flights, and due to another wedding and a chance to go see Russell Peters with Oli at the end of July, ended up booking an entire month in the States.  Friends have been asking if I’m pumped to go back, and sadly, I’m not.  It’s strange.  I am, of course, happy to go see old friends and family (definitely want to spend a lot more quality time with my Granny), and yes, I’m looking forward to eating my favorite NY goodies (Luzzo’s pizza, J.G. Melon burgers, some quality yet not exorbitantly priced bistro fare, pub grub at St. D’s, etc.), and definitely believe that New York in the summers is the best (all the free outdoor concerts, movies, events!), and yet no – I’m not feeling it!

I’m terrible.  How can I say that about my first love, my self-proclaimed true love, New York?  My last visit back involved three weeks in New York last December. I was horribly jet-lagged, and I had to struggle through it as I had a packed social calendar, a family wedding, lots of meals/drinks/parties with friends, the holidays, even someone from HK came into NY!  I also had to do a lot catching up with home business, made appointments with all sorts of people to make sure things were still running smoothly in my absence.

By the third week, I was oddly depressed.  Part of it was likely due in part to a difficult relationship issue, which is always saddening, but I don’t think that was it.  Suddenly, all the feelings of listlessness and uselessness rushed back into my body and my brain, and I was so unhappy.  I wanted to cry, and would cry, I felt desperate for help.  I even did a lot of research on affordable therapy in Hong Kong.

Then I left, went to India, and started off life in HK with a bang in the new sublet, school, even Namit’s visit.  And I quickly forgot all those feelings of depression.  Why did that happen?

And I am anxious about my return to NY for that reason – four whole weeks.  I’m trying to figure in some side trips to DC and New England to distract myself, but am not sure how that will work out — still a few moving parts in my schedule that I need to consider.  I also am arranging to stay with Peter in his apartment in Chelsea, to help alleviate the back and forth of my Manhattan – Queens commute, to ease the jet lag symptoms.   I know I will be busy (I need to obtain a lot of original documents for this Law Society application – all before July 9), but am I going to fall ill with depression again?

I do love New York, my friends, my family, yet I can’t understand it — why is it that there is something not right with me and New York right now? I am not excited to go back, and I just want to stay in HK to continue moving forward in solidifying my life here.  Worse, I feel sorry to admit this.  It’s a strange feeling.  Now I can firmly say that I’m not in a “neither here nor there” mode — I’m most definitely more here than there, and as happy as that makes me, that too doesn’t quite feel right.

[to be continued]

CDotD: Hong Kong Names

There was a very brief mention on Hong Kong names in my last post, where I spoke about the popularity of the name “Candy” here in HK, and how there is nothing suggestive whatsoever about the sweet name.  Of course, I fear that I’m being an overbearing Westerner when I snicker at some of the Hong Kong names I’ve come across.  On the other hand – it has worked both ways at times.  I have a male friend here named Christy — which yes, I did a double-take to when I first heard it, as it is a typical female name, but I did not question.  Christy, as it turns out, is an Irish name, and Christy, my friend, is half Irish.  Poor thing, of course, has received plenty of comments about the confusing name – especially here in Hong Kong.

Annoyingly enough, he has had many locals ask, “Is your name really Christy??” I mean, it would be one thing to ask the origins of the name, or for him to repeat himself if it was confusing, but to ask if someone is actually named what they say is their name?? I find that shocking as I can EASILY ask the same of too many Hong Kongers I’ve met here.

While I’ve come across quite a few odd names, I swear, I’d never questioned the veracity of one’s name!

Another recent anecdote regarding HK names happened recently.  I had to stop by the good ol’ HSBC to apply for a local credit card, and discovered I’d have to e-mail a few things to the banker.  For some reason, he did not have a name card, but instead, wrote down his email address on a post-it.  He started writing out his address — “Rhythm…” and I began to think — “No, no, no — please give me your official work e-mail, not your hotmail account!” when the banker continued on – “..<surname>*@hsbc.com.hk.  And I could only reel back in surprise in my brain.

Rhythm?? Really??

I realize that many Hong Kongers have their parents choose a name, and perhaps this name was chosen to match a Chinese name; or who knows, perhaps the parents didn’t know English too well; or you know what, maybe his parents are Gwyneth Paltrow (Apple) or Nicolas Cage (Kal-El).  On the other hand, I’ve also heard that many locals choose their own English names later on in life, or are given English names by their school teachers, so shouldn’t they have chosen more wisely? I wonder if you think I’m still being an overbearing Westerner here, judging as I do, but I swear, it’s not just me, or this single instance.  Below are a few articles I found on the very same subject, have a look:

http://www.cnngo.com/hong-kong/im-sorry-your-name-what-131674

http://www.bigwhiteguy.com/tea/names.php

I suppose it might be more typical in China or some other place where English is not the first language, but it is just bizarre to me in Hong Kong, where English was more or less the second unofficial language for decades, and where Western exposure has never been an issue.

Finally, to prove my point, here are a few other names I’d come across in HK life:

Chlorophyll — I was looking at names of lawyers on a firm’s website while job hunting and discovered this precious one.

Wet — for a female.  OK, this I learned second-hand from a friend, but I think this is funny for some obvious, albeit dirty, reasons.

Circle — I met this guy at a social event, and after not understanding what he was trying to say was his name, perhaps because his accent was a bit strong, or because I could never have expected someone being named after a geometric figure, he drew a circle in the air with his finger to demonstrate his name.

And for the grand finale, and here I have to use her surname, in spite of my footnote below — the famous, and I swear she is real, Kinki Ho.

*While I’ve always used real names in my blog, I never reveal surnames, especially here with an e-mail address being printed.

Kids Say the Darndest Things

I believe I’d mentioned before that my rock climbing club, Project X Team, which is actually way more than a rock climbing club, has adopted a local children’s organization, Changing Young Lives Foundation, to look after.  We’ve volunteered our members to throw a Chinese New Year’s party for the kids, put together a charity event, raising over $60,000 HKD, and most recently, organized a climbing event for a group of 15 kids on a public holiday.

I’m pretty curious about how children live here in HK, as I have actually started wondering about having children here myself one day (crazy, huh??).  I notice public programs, have looked at the library (no seating at my local one — weird, but perhaps the juvenile library is different?), and I most frequently ask adults and children alike about schooling here.

Anyhow, more on those topics some other day… what I found most interesting was the cultural misnotions the children had.

On our bus ride to the climbing wall, one of the girls noticed that many of the X volunteers, many of which are 華僑 – or foreign-born Chinese, were speaking in English to each other rather Chinese.  She thought it odd — why aren’t these Chinese people speaking Chinese? Of course, we explained that many of us are not from here, and that actually, English is our preferred language.  I can understand how that’s confusing.

As the day progressed, one particular little girl had really taken a liking to me, and we talked a lot.  She was extremely sweet, suiting her English name, Candy (a very popular name here, in spite of its bimbo/stripper connotations in the Western world).  We talked in Cantonese because she was extremely uncomfortable in English, and in fact, I noticed her English, although it is required education in HK public schools, was very limited.

Of course my Cantonese isn’t quite fluent, and I make lots of mistakes all the time.  I was happy to have Candy or her friends correct me, too, and she was fascinated at how I had to reach back into my mind to figure out how to say things, and then I explained why my Chinese was so strange:

“My Chinese is not so good because I was not born here”

“Where were you born?”

“In America.”

“If you were born in America, how come your hair isn’t blonde?”

I laughed and looked around in wonder.  “But my mommy and daddy are Chinese, so I will be Chinese too, even though I was born in America.”

The little girl absorbed this information and then asked if the other blonde girls in our group were Americans.  I explained that not all Americans are blonde nor or all blondes American.  So I encouraged her to go up to each of the blonde or light haired volunteers to ask where they were from.  She was very shy with her English, but I helped her out.

Then I started pointing out all the foreign-born Chinese and all the different countries they came from — England, Wales, America, Australia, Canada.  She was in complete awe.

It’s a real pity that even though these children live in one of the most international cities in the world, they have no idea what that means.    As I’ve said before, HK is extremely segregated, and even though there is a vibrant and large expat community lurking all about Hong Kong Island, and still more out on Lantau in Discovery Bay (or Disco Bay for short), and others growing out in the New Territories, local kids rarely get to know them, particularly the poorer ones, as you’d have to be enrolled in international school or have a parent working at a multinational company to have any clue.

I hope to spend more time with the children.  I have soooo many amazing tales of observation still to share, if you would indulge with my kid-craziness, and I definitely feel myself growing with these particular experiences.