Monthly Archives: June 2012

CDotD: Goodness Me – How Much is a Stamp?

I had to send a letter today from the US and had to look up the cost of a first class postage stamp as I have not mailed a letter from within the US in years.  I’m pretty sure last I had to it was 41cents (and the cheapest stamp I remember in my lifetime was about 25 cents).  So can you imagine the shock I experienced when I learned it had gone up to 45 cents!

To even greater surprise the international postage had broken a dollar at $1.05!

Of course this must be dull news to my American readers, but to contrast, international postage in HK is only about 36 cents! I believe local postage is only a few cents cheaper, but I rarely use local mail for my own usage, so I’m not sure.

For me, the cost of US mail is crazy, but for you, the low cost of HK mail might be what’s crazy!


Waking Up Not Knowing Where You Are

[Now behind 6 posts in my daily writing challenge — this is terrible!]

After my long weekend in Chicago, I headed for my hometown, New York, New York – my favorite city on Earth.  Surprisingly, I have not experienced any of the normal pains of jetlag — I’ve been waking up a bit early, but not too early, and able to get through the day without aching for a nap, and sleeping quite late!  I don’t know what I did this go around, but I have to figure it out.

Anyhow, this morning, at about 5:30am a heavy but acute thunderstorm rolled in and woke me from my subconsciousness.  I had heard about Typhoon Doksuri approaching Hong Kong this weekend and for some reason thought that the NY thunderstorm was the typhoon and that I was actually in Hong Kong and about to get excused from going into the office that morning.

But no – I was indeed in NY, on vacation with no work to go to and if I were in HK, I would be lamenting how this potentially signal 8 typhoon was only going to hit HK at midnight on a Friday!

Once I made these realizations I just rolled back to sleep.

More Musings on Chicago

Ever since I left New York almost three (!) years ago, I find myself able to look at the cities I visit as an evaluation, considering whether or not I can or cannot live there. I was once an incredibly stubborn New Yorker, thinking there was no place else on the planet for me. Now, I must admit, this may still be true, but at least, I am far more adaptable now in terms of where I can live.

When I left New York the first time, it was to go to college in Boston. How I hated it at first. I couldn’t help finding something to complain about. In Boston, I was so annoyed with how small it was, how early the subway closed, how early the restaurants closed, how early the bars closed (seeing a trend here?), etc. I thought, I would never move here. Of course, almost four years later, when I finally left Boston, I found myself in tears, and wondering how I might go back!

Now in Hong Kong, I’ve learned I have a much higher tolerance for all sorts of things, and I also have learned that I can move for short-term or perhaps better put, not-long-term stays. There is a lot to learn from such stays, and I certainly do not regret my move to Hong Kong, where I readily admit that I’ve learned vast amounts about law, politics, new perspectives, other cultures and people, and of course, myself. Staying put in New York would never have gotten me that far in the same amount of time, and I am grateful for that.

So as I was saying, when I visit someplace different, I think to myself – could I live here? I used to think that I had three must-haves: (1) city, (2) good public transport, (3) close to the water, and (4) a good Chinatown (note, not just any ol’ Chinatown, but a good one!). Unfortunately, (4) has put a lot of cities off the grid, but I am willing to be more flexible, especially where it comes to not-long-term stays, and hey, 3 out of 4 ain’t half bad (literally!).

Chicago just might suit me in those terms (as well as Boston and DC – but do note, they all do not have item (4)). I find the different neighborhoods charming, and absolutely love the vibrant culture scene, but one thing I noticed while walking along the streets of Old Town and Gold Coast was the lack of variety in terms of restaurants. Block after block I encountered places like “Carmine’s” or “Mamma Mia’s”, Western bakeries, and sports bars – your basic typical American stuff. I saw one Thai place, but it seemed very fusiony (as in it was altered to suit Mid-western tastes), and on a tourism pamphlet saw a recommended “Thai – sushi restaurant” (sorry, you can’t just put two incredibly different Asian cuisines together so casually in my opinion). Now Chicago definitely has a growing and very competitive foodie scene, with some of the country’s best restaurants, and innovative food. Also, there are all the ethnic ‘hoods – Greektown, Chinatown (I suppose), Ukraine town, etc.

But I have to admit, I imagine that living in such a bland food world would be limiting to me. I like just stepping out to try the newest (fill in the blank) restaurant, and while I do love me my American favorites, I don’t feel complete without that sort of worldly variety. It made me realize that is one of the big reasons that makes New York so great to me.

But could I live in Chicago? I’d say yes. Not for the long-term (especially given it’s famously cold winters), but certainly for some short-term. (especially since it is a short 2-hour flight to New York) What does short-term mean? Well, I said I’d live in Hong Kong for the short-term, and here we are fast approaching three years! I suppose that’s still short-term.



In Awe of SPACE

Again behind about 4 posts but I have a legitimate excuse — I flew out to Chicago on Friday and have been at hotels without free WiFi.  Again, excuses don’t excuse, so here I am with my post meant for Friday.

This is my second time in Chicago, and again I’m visiting in the summer, which is the most beautiful time for Chicago, apparently.  I can’t imagine what it would be like in the winter still, despite having lived through a number of Boston winters in my past, but after living in Hong Kong the past few years, I can’t really stomach the concept!

The city is so beautifully laid out.  The grid system and public transport makes the place very convenient to get around, and I absolutely love the time and attention put into incorporating culture into the city.  Last visit I went to the Contemporary Art Museum and was really glad I did.  This time I saw one of the most well thought out art exhibitions (not just in the explanations on the walls, the organization of the paintings, but also the audio tour) that I’ve ever seen at the Roy Lichtenstein exhibition at the Art Institute. There are numerous parks and green spaces.  Millennium Park is not only a wonderful garden but houses extraordinary public art.  I also appreciated that the Farm in the Zoo at Lincoln Park was free to the public so that all the city dwellers could get an idea of where food comes from. 

There’s also no shortage of theater or arts.  I once again visited Second City to see its 100th revue, “Who Do You Think We Are?” and had so much fun.  Always having had roots in political satire, the Second City Stage is no doubt having lots of fun with its beloved Senator-now-President Obama. 

Then let’s not forget the architecture.  Chicago is well known for being the home of many famous architects, and all the varietals of architecture tours are worth it – walking, boating, even segwaying (I imagine — haven’t done it yet).  The city is just filled with so many different styles of amazing architecture that really symbolize America to me.  When I see art deco detail on tall skyscrapers, I think of a wonderful time of growth and ambition that is purely American to me.

Walking through Lincoln Park, Old Town, then the Gold Coast yesterday, I found all the space so striking.  Of course, anyplace after Hong Kong feels spacious (Times Square is just a playground to me now), but I really just could not help noticing all the space in these neighborhoods with primarily low buildings (no more than 4-6 stories), complete with gorgeous architectural detail.  I thought how New York is so much more dense in comparison, and that come to think of all the US cities I know well (DC, Boston), this is more typical of American life – and I like it.

When I will return to such space remains to be seen, but as I walked through the charming neighborhoods of Chicago, I couldn’t help but feel a lightness in my step of not having towering residential blocks surround me wherever I went.  Even the downtown area, with its many skyscrapers, feels less dense as the blocks stretch further and the streets much wider.

It also made me see why so many others think of America as some kind of paradise – because even in my few travels in Europe, South America, and more travels in Asia, no place feels so big, so proud, so storied, so hopeful.  Or maybe it’s just my nostalgia.


Foreign Lawyers on the Rise in Hong Kong

While doing research for another post I chanced upon this article from the SCMP on increasing foreign lawyers in Hong Kong as well as increasing foreigners qualifying locally to practice in Hong Kong.   The most alarming figure is that the number of registered foreign law firms have doubled from 36 to 72 since just 7 years ago in 2005!

These numbers certainly are on the rise, and no doubt, many Westerners have looked East for new profit sources with the recent global financial crisis.  But are fears concerning competition really genuine?

Having had experience at one such foreign newcomer firm and now joining a seasoned Hong Kong law firm that is part of an international practice, I see great differences.  I do not think that any foreign firm can simply hang its shingle in HK and expect great things to happen at an instant.  Success in Hong Kong law requires so much more than wits and resources.  The legal community here has always been relatively small – as is with the rest of Hong Kong, who you know is quite important, and often can beat out what you know.  This is not to say that being smart is not important, just that knowing  who you’re dealing with and how to deal with them makes a substantial difference.

Also, the practices here can be a bit pedantic and obscure, so experience really does come in handy i just knowing what to do.  And on an even simpler level, the law itself is not always that relateable, especially if you’re a US lawyer (as I am constantly observing!).

Further, if you’re expecting a great new inflow of China work, think again — because there guanxi matters more than you can know!  I find that even my current firm, which has been in Asia for over 30 years, does not have it easy convincing the Chinese to go with us.  In this case, there are some true local law firms (Hong Kong-born, led by Hong Kong-born lawyers) that tend to dominate with these clients.

This is not meant to say that foreign firms have no place in Hong Kong.  They most certainly do, especially as the world becomes smaller, and clients can have problems or questions that require resolution from any corner of the planet.  Also there is no doubt that “foreign expertise” is desired in local firms, as is evident by my own position at my firm.  But at the same time, a foreign qualification alone is not enough more and more in Hong Kong.

Finally,  I can personally attest to the growing incidence of “mixed” cases, where dual qualifications are useful.  In almost every single one of my cases since my joining this firm about 9 months ago, there have been both localandforeign elements.  Sometimes my US experience is directly required (not too often so far), and sometimes just being able to explain differences in law (or even culture) has come in handy.

My sense is that an open legal market is good for everyone, though proper regulation and oversight is still necessary to ensure that the local public isn’t misled or harmed.

Working in HK: Window Cleaning Overkill?

I really need to keep track, but I think that I’ve seen window cleaners (the ones who are dangerously perched on a tiny platform that is pulleyed up and down buildings) cleaning windows on my building (whether it be on my side of the building, or another) at leasdt once a week this past month!  What is up with that? Is it an indication of overkill in Hong Kong or of extreme pollution necessitating such excessive surface wiping?  Anyone else noticing a fairly high frequency of window cleaning at their office buildings in Hong Kong? I am sure it was a rare, potentially once a year, happening in New York.

(and with this post – I am up to date!)

HK Must-Dos: Be on a Dragonboat Team!

Two years ago I made it a point to go and see the Stanley Dragon Boat races on Tuen Ng Festival.  It was a really huge event, where the corporate presence was more than evident (after all, its primary sponsor is Sun Life Insurance).  In many ways, it is not unlike the Corporate Challenge in NYC — but also different.

First, I have to admit, I’ve never attended the Corporate Challenge — only heard about it through friends.  My understanding is that it is a real run – but only for the top runners, because you’re otherwise stuck sloshing through a pretty big pack of not-ordinarily running runners.  Then there are your corporate booths, for the HR staff and others to cheer the runners on.  Teams can enter to win for best times, and there’s also a t-shirt contest.  At the end there is some drinkery of course.

The Stanley Dragon Boat races are somewhat different.  First, dragonboating takes real teamwork and practice.  The rowing can be quite back breaking, and it’s an organized bunch of quick sprints (it takes under 2 minutes to do the race).  Though most corporate teams are comprised of weekend warriors, it is not easy stuff and does require some athleticism and coordination!  This I can attest to, having done it before. 

As for running a 5k without having done any practice? I would say any reasonably fit person can do this on the fly, and survive.  Running doesn’t require any teamwork!

As in the Corporate Challenge, lots of corporate teams sign up, and it’s an incredibly popular thing to do in Hong Kong.   What’s more fun is the costume contest for the Dragonboat races, however.  Not only are teams designing funny shirts or cute team names, but there’s always some interesting headgear.  I’ve seen teams wearing panda hats, shark hats, pirate hats, etc.

Finally – as for the drinkery — the Stanley Dragonboat races involve BOATS!  So lots of firms will anchor their company junks (junkboats are just yachts – not sampans), and host some great parties.

This year I joined my firm’s team – and we had our own cute name and plush hat included in our costume.  We only had 5 practices, but they were 2-hours long — apparently double from previous years, and pretty hardcore imho!  Every weekend my back ended up aching quite a lot, keeping me away from any real activity the following day, and requiring at least a day to recover.  But practices were fun – especially when we had time to relax in our company junk post-practice.

We rowed in the Law Society Professional Cup the other week and took 3rd – an all-time high for a very under-achieving (athletic) team, so it was beyond thrilling when we even took 1st in one of the 2 qualifying heats. 

The video taken by our HR staff proved that it was not speed that led us to win — we were not even third fastest out of the docks, but coordination – as our teamwork led us to overtaking all other boats by up to 2 full seconds (a big deal when races are completed in well under 2 minutes). 

Bottom line — attending the Stanley Dragonboat races is highly recommended since the costumes are great, and there’s lots of energy and fun for everyone – especially if you can get in on one of these company junk parties.  Participating in the races is even better (unfortunately I miss the Stanley races this year because of travel)!  It’s a real bonding experience that is both fun and rewarding.  Let’s also not forget – it’s time with some sun, sea and sand – so why not?!