Monthly Archives: August 2010

No Turning Back… Well, For The Time Being

So if you couldn’t tell from some of my nostalgic posts on my visit to New York this summer, I’ve been experiencing quite the change of heart, missing my first and true love that is New York.  And having picked up, packed up and moved to a completely new city in about 2 months’ time once before, I know that in spite of having just signed a lease this May, converting my gym membership to a two-year one, and signing a phone contract (all not so dissimilar to my state of affairs one year ago), I am not necessarily by any means “stuck” here in Hong Kong.

Being in New York, I realized some very important things.  Firstly, New York is the best city in the world.  And secondly, it takes a lot more than an apartment, a gym membership, a phone, even a handful of friends and fun times to call a city a Home.  And as corny as it may be – it takes Love.

For me, I realized that Love would come in the form of either a very special partner who can support me in my craziness, and keep me calm in my over-thinking mind, OR come from the passion derived in an occupation that draws me back into the community around me, creating and doing something that makes me feel alive.  Let me just clarify for a second here, though — I’m not saying that you can only live somewhere with a significant other or an amazing job, I’m just saying for ME to be so very far from the city I love, where I was born and raised, where my family remains, where all the friends who know me best live or live nearby, and where culture, arts, and diversity continue to thrive in spite of a poor economy, I need one of those two things to keep me halfway around the world, all the way in Hong Kong.  Further, insofar as a job is concerned, I knew I could not just accept a job in HK doing the same things I’d do in NY — that it had to be a role unique to my very far-away environs, or else I’d just be keeping myself unnecessarily apart from NY for no valid reason.

It’s a good lesson to learn, albeit a tough one.  Hong Kong has been a wonderful experience.  I really needed to get away from New York when I did, and I’ve met so many amazing people here, heard so many interesting stories, gotten to travel, and really just begin to experience life in Asia… so where is this post going?  Am I leaving Hong Kong now on the eve of my one-year anniversary??

No, not quite.  In fact — here is some startling news! I got a job! Here in Hong Kong! And indeed, via pure networking.

This all pulled together in the past two months or so.  Shortly before I left for my month in New York, I’d sent off an e-mail to one of the contacts I had made during my big networking efforts in the Fall.  This contact was a lawyer who was a friend of a friend of mine back in New York.  When we met, I had gotten to HK only a month or so before, and told him my story, and met up to gather data on the legal scene in Hong Kong.  He worked for a major investment bank here, and transferred here with his wife and two kids about 2 years ago.

Anyhow, because I’d remembered how kind and supportive he’d been, I thought to shoot him an email to let him know about my decisions to stay in Hong Kong and rent a “real” apartment.  This led to a catch-up over dinner with his wife, also a lawyer here in HK, and his announcement that he’d actually be leaving his job at the bank soon to lead the HK launch of a NY-based law firm.  I was thrilled with the news, and really did not think he would be giving me a job or anything like that, but about a week later, Bill sent me an e-mail suggesting that I might be of help with this launch, in some part-lawyer / part-administrative capacity, especially given my language skills.

I was more than thrilled about the opportunity.  This particular law firm is a sophisticated boutique, and is among very few American law firms expanding, rather than contracting at this time.  I thought the opportunity unique enough to warrant quite the interest, and then Bill set the wheels in motion for me to meet with the New York partners during my visit home.

Anxious to hear back, I finally got word once I returned to HK, and accepted the offer immediately.  Work begins in mid-September.

So will I be staying put now? Is this enough to make Hong Kong Home? I’d like to say yes, but I have only been extended a 3-month contract to start with, and can’t say what might happen with this job.  It’s an interesting opportunity, certainly unique to being in HK, and has a lot of potential to be something huge, but at this premature stage, I just can’t know.

Plus, I’d been rather sullen lately, missing New York, finding HK extremely superficial and vapid in many ways.  But the bottom line is that I need to grab each moment for what it’s worth and squeeze the value out of it for me.

Anyhow, while the verdict is still very much out on what I’ll be doing this time next year, life is undoubtedly going to really change for me come next month (my anniversary month, no less!) with a job at long last!

In the News: More on the Transgendered Marriage Case

I’m still quite obsessed with this newspiece and silly me forgot to check The Standard — the free English language newspaper given out by MTR entranceways and other public spaces throughout many gweilo-heavy districts, where a better article expounding on the HKSAR’s position  echoing some of the arguments I thought I overheard on the news last night was published:

According to the article, “The [Government] barrister said a person who has undergone sex-change surgery is not commonly called a man or a woman, but a transgender.”  As to this argument, I’d really like to see the Government’s support.  My understanding was that transgendereds were identified by their “new” sex, and that the term “transgender” was really used to distinguish that they had once been the opposite sex, although they now were not.  I’d say that when a transgendered person walks down the street, we commonly decide “man” or “woman” first, then possibly “transgender” next.

The article also states that the Government further argued that “marriages may only be consummated through sexual intercourse between a man and a woman” according to judicial precedents both in Hong Kong and England.  I didn’t think that a transgendered person could not have sexual intercourse.  Perhaps the ability to reproduce might arise, but such is the case even with so-called ordinary heterosexual married couples.  Or am I confused over the definition of “sexual intercourse.”

A quick google define search does yield several variations — from “the act of sexual procreation between a man and a woman” requiring “orgasm” and “ejaculation” (now that’s a tall order that definitely does not always happen between a man and woman!) via wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn to “copulation or coitus,” where “[t]he two entities may be of opposite sexes or not”, according to good ol’ wikipedia,or as broad as “[s]exual interaction, usually involving genital and/or anal and/or oral penetration, between at least two organisms” a la wiktionary.org.

I wonder what the legal definition of “sexual intercourse” is.  I’d guess it has been defined in some divorce or annulment proceedings.

And as I suspected, I did hear a reproduction argument.  According to The Standard article, the barrister for the Government “argued that marriages and families have long been considered inseparable and that offspring are a core part of marriages.”  But even so, the ability to reproduce has never been a limitation on the right to marry, and the inability to naturally reproduce most certainly does not infringe on a married couple’s ability to have offspring.

So I’m obviously still not convinced, especially in light of the fact that the HKSAR has indicated a willingness to acknowledge the plaintiff’s changed gender by giving her a new resident ID card evidencing her new gender.  But the Government’s counsel said that in spite of this change, “it does not follow that they have a right to marry a partner of genetically the same sex.”

It makes no sense to me that the Government can acknowledge someone is a woman or man in the one instance and not in the other.  If sex is now going to be defined by genetics, then 1) the Government should not be inconsistent about it and 2) isn’t there a whole class of individuals who are of ambiguous gender (hermaphrodites or those who were born with two sex organs and had a gender decision (sometimes incorrectly) made by the doctor at birth)?  What then?

I’ll keep you posted…

Quick Addendum Re: Transgender Marriage Case

Just want to make a clarification of a term I misused in my previous post about the transgendered woman who is being thwarted from marrying her boyfriend in Hong Kong — I understood “Queen’s counsel” to mean the lawyer representing the Queen, i.e. the Hong Kong government, which I thought odd, since England had handed over HK in 1997. I learned that “Queen’s Counsel” actually is a title of seniority, which is indicative of expertise, used for English barristers.

The lawyer employed by the HKSAR has this title as she was imported from England to try the case. This is of special import since it indicates how critical this case is to the Government, especially as anyone with the esteemed title of “Queen’s Counsel” (only granted by the Queen of England) will also be rather expensive!

Well let’s see how the case pans out. It was granted two days’ hearing only.

In The News: Transgendered Woman Blocked From Marriage

I was initially originally going to file this under “CDotD”, but it’s not so much crazy as it is of notable interest.  Last night I had the news on (in English) for background and a story about a legal battle between a transgendered woman and the government came up.

Basically, the plaintiff was born a male, and had undergone surgery to change his sex to female over the past 5 years.  She now wishes to marry her boyfriend, but has been blocked, under the law against same-sex marriage.  She has had official documents certifying her sex change, where the HK government even issued her a new resident ID indicating her new gender, but her birth certificate could not be altered.

Of course the irony is that she could marry another woman under this interpretation – and yes, I really wish someone would test that one!

Anyway, what struck me most were some of the arguments put forward by the Queen’s counsel,  concerning reproduction.  I couldn’t quite catch what law she was citing on the news clip, but heard something about the fact that the plaintiff had no female sex organs, and hence be unable to reproduce with her boyfriend, therefore was grounds to ban the marriage. Huh?? Since when was reproduction a necessary outcome of marriage? (Or heck, even the reverse?)

Anyway, I tried to do some research on this news piece today, and couldn’t come up with any particularly detailed articles.  Here’s the AP’s article, and here’s one from Xinhuanet, a major news site based in China.

From what I can glean from these articles, the HK Marriage Ordinance only permits marriage between a man and woman — a common point argued in the gay marriage arena.  At the same time, the Basic Law, HK’s version of its Constitution, states “The freedom of marriage of Hong Kong residents and their right to raise a family freely, shall be protected by law.”

I agree with the plaintiff’s counsel that this is purely a matter of interpreting the law, and not legislating, as Queen’s counsel suggests, and that the plaintiff, for all intents and purposes is indeed a woman, whose freedom of marriage is being thwarted!

Apparently Queens’ counsel also suggested that allowing this marriage would have far-reaching impacts on children and inheritance.  Huh? I just don’t get it.  I mean, here is indeed a man and woman getting married, just that the woman used to be a man but isn’t anymore and never will be one.

I suppose I’m not that surprised that this case has turned up, and I’m not that surprised by Queen’s counsel’s arguments (I mean, what choice does she have?).  But I’m definitely going to keep my ears alert for the decision.  I’d be surprised if HK does not permit the marriage and lags behind its neighbors Korea, Singapore, Indonesia and even mainland China!

I’ll post the decision when its reached.

Learning About HK Law: Learning English

As I had mentioned previously, the one saving grace of having to study for these OLQE Heads is that at least I get to learn some interesting things.  During one of my revisions (as they say here in British English), I came across the HK property law that prohibits noisy, noisome or other offensive trades.  These include:

brazier, slaughterman, soap-maker, sugar-baker, fellmonger, melter of tallow, oilman, butcher, distiller, victualler or tavern-keeper, blacksmith, nightman, scavenger

So not only am I getting lessons in the law, but I’m learning ENGLISH! What the heck are a brazier, fellmonger, victualler, and tallow?

Well here are the definitions I learned:

A brazier is a container for fire, generally taking the form of an upright standing or hanging metal bowl or box. Used for holding burning coal as well as fires, a brazier allows for a source of light, heat, or cooking. …
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brazier

A fellmonger was a dealer in hides or skins, particularly sheepskins, who might also prepare skins for tanning. The name is derived from the Old English ‘fell’ meaning skins and ‘monger’ meaning dealer. …
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fellmonger

A victualler is the keeper of a restaurant or tavern or one who provisions an army, a navy, or ship with food.
www.escndatabase.com/glossary.htm

Finally,

Tallow is a rendered form of beef or mutton fat, processed from suet. It is solid at room temperature. Unlike suet, tallow can be stored for extended periods without the need for refrigeration to prevent decomposition, provided it is kept in an airtight container to prevent oxidation.
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tallow

But can someone please tell me what is so noisy or noisome about a nightman??

How to Become a Locally Qualified Lawyer in Hong Kong

In my further attempts to assimilate and become a true Hong Konger, I’ve been working towards becoming a locally qualified lawyer here.  While it’s not necessary for an expat lawyer to be locally qualified (there are plenty of jobs that do not require you to practice local law), it certainly opens a lot more doors and I figured it might as well be one more accomplishment I attempt before I leave (yes — after my last visit to New York, I know deep in my heart I cannot stay here indefinitely).

The process is rather tedious.  First, one must make an application to the Law Society of  Hong Kong by early July to take the Overseas Lawyer Qualification Examination (OLQE), including any application for exemptions.  The OLQE is comprised of five Heads, or subject examinations (Conveyancing, Civil and Criminal Procedure, Commercial and Company Law, Accounts and Professional Conduct, and Principles of Common Law).  The world being divided into civil code law and common law (a far more tedious and boring subject than I can tackle in this post), only civil code lawyers with 5 years’ experience may even attempt at the exams, while common law lawyers (such as Americans) are instantly entitled to sit for the exams AND are automatically exempt from Head V.  Further, common law lawyers who have 5 years’ experience, and can prove it, are exempt from Head II, and may submit “evidence” that they have the experience requisite to be exempted from Heads III and IV.  No one ever gets out of Head I (or virtually no one).

The application  itself costs $3300 HKD, is extremely tedious, requires a lot of running around (original certificates of good standing from each jurisdiction you are admitted!), nagging former employers to sign letters you, of course, draft yourself, etc. etc.  Not nice.  I managed to convince the Law Society to exempt me from 2 of the 3 exemptable Heads, and am now taking a prep course at IP Learning for Heads I and III.  Obviously, these courses are not cheap.

In addition to costs for the application and preparation, you then pay the Law Society an additional $5500 HKD to take a Head, and an additional $1100 for each subsequent Head!  This must be done by mid-August.

The exams are given just once a year in the Fall, with results not coming out until some time in February, and then once you have your hopefully happy results, you then make an application for admissions — which I believe involves yet another fee!  What extortion!!!

And just to take up STILL more time, the admissions ceremony does not even take place until the following July!  So all in all, the whole process for a foreign lawyer to get locally admitted is extremely tedious, time consuming and expensive.

So here I am — studying for two exams, attending classes 3x a week, but learning quite a lot of interesting things about HK (more on that in subsequent posts, obviously!) But is it all going to be worth it, especially in light of my new-found certainty that I belong back in New York one day??

(P.S. — I’m not sure what a civil code lawyer who doesn’t have the 5 years’ requisite experience has to do.  Does one have no choice but to qualify as a brand new lawyer in HK?  That is, obtain a law degree, take the one-year PCLL and then a 2-year traineeship??  Now that I’d never do!)

What I Bought For ~$10 This Morning

It’s been a while since I’ve expounded on cost of living in HK, so I thought I’d recite what I’d bought this morning after spin class, at the nearby Chinese supermarket (I call it the Chinese one, because there are more Western-like ones — two big chains in HK are Park N Shop and Wellcome), Kam Bo (also a chain), and for 79 HKD (roughly $10 US) bought:

– 9 bananas (9.20 HKD)

– 4 oranges (10 HKD)

– 3 grapefruit (5 HKD)

– 4 cucumbers

– 2 packages of enoki mushrooms (5 HKD)

– 1 packet of dried spaghetti

– 1 can of chili tuna (7.90 HKD — quite expensive!)

– 1 large roll of vegetarian ham (30 HKD)

All quite healthy foods for a low price (although one might wonder how the produce is grown, etc.).  How much can you get for $10 in your homeland?