Archive for July, 2007

Should I stay or should I go…?

July 24, 2007

This is a question that has been playing on my mind for quite some time now. In my mind there are a lot of factors to influence my final decision.

Reasons for taking the position permanently and staying in Hong Kong

  • It’s a fabulous opportunity to work live in a foreign city with a real buzz to it, especially after 5 years of working in Bracknell.
  • The Hong Kong office I work with is friendly and it will look fantastic on the CV.
  • It’s only a 3 year contract – after that nothing is certain, so I could return to the UK then.
  • It’s a new challenge, and I wouldn’t want to look back in 10-20 years and be thinking ‘if only…’.
  • The holidaying opportunities in the area.
  • I get to play hockey on a water based astro (ok, this is probably not a strong reason if I’m honest).

Reasons for not taking the position in Hong Kong (or more correctly reasons for returning to the UK)

  • It’s a big risk. Renting out the flat won’t cover my mortgage unfortunately, so any salary I have in Hong Kong will have to cover the shortfall. The prospect of clearing my flat of all it’s crap prior to renting it out is also not exactly something I would look forward to.
  • Any property I have in Hong Kong will be small, in comparison to my place back in Wokingham.
  • Cooking. Somewhat bizarrely, I miss not being to just rustle something up quickly. Kitchens here are minimal to say the least which means I don’t have quite the same flexibility for cooking. Any longer term/more permanent flat will have to have a better kitchen than I have currently.
  • Pubs and friends back in Wokingham. There’s not quite the same pub atmosphere here, what with it being a city of 7.6 million people, that’s kind of to be expected. Typically evenings out will be planned in advance rather than spur of the moment.

After a lot of consideration, and mental arithmetic to try and figure out costs, how much of a shortfall on the mortgage, and how much I’d be earning per month I’ve come to a decision regarding the future… I’m going to give it a go in Hong Kong. Really, at the end of the day, there wasn’t that much a decision to be made. Opportunities like this don’t come up this often that often, and as one friend put it to me, I’d have to be mad in the head to turn it down. With the decision made, I’m now realising just how much I’ll have to sort out in as little time as possible – but hopefully my employer will be sympathetic and make this transition as easy as possible.

The good news is that I’ll get shipping costs paid, and I’ll also be back in the UK at least once per year whilst I’m here. So, you don’t get rid of me entirely. Now all I’ll have to do is plan my farewell tour… If over the course of the next 2.5 – 3 years anyone finds themselves over in this part of the world, please do get in touch and I’ll see about providing local delights such as chickens feet.

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Score

July 23, 2007

Short post today… Played hockey for Valley mixed team last week on Tuesday. A truly marvellous 5-0 win for us, and I even managed to get on the scoresheet. This, as those who have played hockey with me, will verify is a pretty rare event and if my past scoring form is to be continued means I’m not due to score for a few years. The opposition were pretty poor, but we made hard work of the victory, our overall scoreline being bolstered by the fact that ladies goals count double, of which we had two. Our first goal can only qualify as dubious due to that fact that it was actually volleyed by a shin over the line. Opposition not particularly impressed.

I also stayed for some food and beers after the match which meant the trams back to North Point had stopped by the time I wanted to go home. This shouldn’t have been a problem as there is a regular flow of taxis, and without fail inside about 5 minutes one appears and I’m inside saying North Point to the driver as my destination. Unfortunately, this is met with a blank look, and some word spoken back at me. Even more unfortunately, I don’t have the note with my address written in Cantonese with me which means we spend about a minute of conversation talking to one another in a language the other can’t understand. Eventually, the driver says North Point back at me – or at least what I thought to be North Point – and I figure this is good we’re going to get home now. But, it’s soon obvious that this is just him repeating the two words I’m saying back to me and he doesn’t actually have a clue where I’m trying to get to. I decide to give up at this point.

As I mentioned, taxis are regularly pulling up here to pick up fares so I’m pretty confident of getting another taxi quite quickly. Except, of course, I’ve now created a taxi rank by having this taxi waiting for a fare none of the other taxis are stopping. After about 5 minutes of this I realise I’m going to have to trek up the road a bit so I can flag another one down. The next taxi does understand english and is able to drop me right outside my apartment block. Also agreed to play netball some night – no details as yet. Could be interesting as I’ve not played netball since school, and I doubt I’ll be any good at it…

Saturday night

July 19, 2007

I won’t normally go for two posts in one sitting, but this kind of naturally follows on from the Disney experience. Having taken the MTR back ‘home’ I’d decided if I saw another Mickey Mouse silhouette I wouldn’t have been responsible for my actions. Am I the only person who finds Mickey Mouse quite creepy with that oversized head and nauseating smile? Anyway, got back from Disney without having killed someone and got a text message from a friend that he’d arranged a night out in Tsim Sha Tsui. Last time this had been arranged there turned out about to be about 20 people show up and a very late night ensued.

This time, I was once again, the first to turn up about 9:00pm and Dave had booked a table and seats for 10 people. By 10:00pm no-one else had turned up. I’d also found out that for some reason the toilet flushing plumbing in TST didn’t work, even though evrry other kind of plumbing did seem to. By 10:30pm one other girl had turned up – unfortunately neither Dave nor myself actually knew who she was. The barstaff were also getting antsy about moving us to a table right next to the toilets as we were hogging about 10 seats and the staff were less than convinced we’d get 10 people to turn up. From this point, the evening turns a little unusual…

I need to take toilet break, and as I’m washing my hands start chatting to the other guy in the toilets (normally I’d leave toilets out of the blog) – mention that the flushing isn’t working and that he has an accent. Turns out he’s Canadian has spotted us in the bar (as the only other non-Asian group) and then mentions he half owns the bar. Asks where we’re sitting and says he’ll sort out a round of drinks for us, which when we get back to our seats he duly does. Really unexpected and very welcome. And the bar staff stop hassling us to move to another table. Our new Canadian friend leaves and within about 5 minutes we’re shifted up to the bar to free up seats for a group of 4. Busy bar.

Having decided we’re not impressed, and unlikely to get more beer we go on the move for other bars, with Dave’s view being to see what we can get for free or at an extreme discount. Unfortunately, the best he manages is a few tubs of free peanuts in one bar which doesn’t really match up against a free round of drinks from a bar half owner. Moving on to a final bar for the evening we finish up with some cocktails listening to pretty bad dance music until all of sudden the bar goes quiet, and about 10-12 police are in the bar. Two of them go straight to the toilets and bring out whoever is hiding in there and the remainder start going round the bar… asking for ID. Of course, the only legal ID I have is my passport which is currently in the inside pocket of my suit jacket back home. The Chinese policeman look suitably unimpressed with my UK driving license as proof of ID. I’m asked for Hong Kong ID, and when I refuse to produce it am asked for my passport which again I have to refuse on. I’m told to always carry my passport from now on. Which of course I haven’t.

All in all a weird night. But at least I had plenty of beers for a post-presentation celebration.

Disneyland…

July 19, 2007

Upon arriving in Hong Kong it did come as a bit of surprise that they have a Disneyland here. I wasn’t actually that interested in it to be honest having stayed at EuroDisney, as it was called then, many years ago. However, sometimes events conspire to just put you somewhere you didn’t expect to be. And so it turns out that on Friday 13th I’m giving (yet another) presentation. This time to about 140 people. Again, I’m the only English presentation. It’s obviously a small IT community in Hong Kong as I’m beginning to recognise a few faces now. Either that or my presentations are gaining a cult audience, which is unlikely. Today’s presentation is expected to last 50 minutes. Having had about 2-3 days to throw this together I’m not exactly confident, but my mood improves dramatically when we’re overruninng time, and it seems I might need to cut to about 30 minutes…

… 45 minutes later. Despite trying to cut my presentation down, it proved impossible. I’m still not convinced many people actually understand me, and had some people walk out (as did everyone else though), the usual pictures again which I’m getting used to. As ever, upon completion of a presentation I’m on a bit of a high and looking forward to a few beers to celebrate. If we rewind a couple of weeks… I was offered the option of a night in the Disneyland hotel and free park entry the next day for doing a presentation. I wasn’t about to say no. It turns out everyone else did say no, except one guy from the office wh, strangely, has brought his family along. This all seems to be going on the same company bill. Unfortunately, being Disney the options for alcohol are somewhat limited, added to which I’m here as the entertainment for my colleague’s 7 year old son (and obviously to help with his english…). After dinner I’m gasping for a beer and find the bar in the hotel. Completely empty. I’m not normally keen on empty bars, but tonight I’ll make an exception, for 2 beers.

Disneyland Hong Kong the following day. There’s only really one word to describe Disneyland Hong Kong – completely crap! Yes, that’s two words, but completely deserved in my opinion. It’s small and contains very few actual attractions. During what turned out to be a very long day, there is only Space Mountain as a proper ride. And once you’ve done that, there’s not much more fun to be had. Although the Buzz Lightyear laserquest style ride wasn’t very exciting, it was beaten for dullness by the Autopia ‘ride’. Autopia… the cars of the future (sponsored by Honda) looks like it should be go-karts. But, it’s slow, and you’re on a track, for one lap, and then you’re off towards to the exit. Which would be disappointing except it was so damn hot it was a relief to be scuttling towards the air conditioning.

Fortunately by 3pm we were ready to go, but not before I’d filled in a questionnaire about my wonderful experience of the day… Sometimes what is actually a jolly doesn’t turn out that way. Still, at least I can tick Disneyland off my list of Hong Kong attractions.

Normal service to be resumed

July 13, 2007

A brief hiatus in updating the blog as the ‘aged parents’* were across for a week from last Thursday. As a result, I figured I’d wait until they’d gone before updating the blog. It’s Friday night at the moment – I have completed yet another presentation; this time in front of about 150 people. If things continue at this rate I’ll be presenting in front of thousands in a few months. I’m somewhat relieved that I haven’t yet been asked to do another one, and will be trying to keep a low profile for the time being.

Anyway, the week with the parents wasn’t too stressful and it was good to have family out here again – and also nice to have 4 days booked off from work. Of course, it means doing some of the same things over again – like going up the Peak Tram, taking the Star Ferry, taking a trip to Stanley market, going to the Ladies market, going to Temple Street night market… OK – I’m not a big market person and had previously only been to Stanley market whilst looking for a second hand bookshop. I can now verify that all three markets contain the biggest load of crap, and nothing else. Was I surprised? Not really. Having provided the advice before Mum & Dad traveled that they should bring umbrellas as it can tip it down at a moment’s notice the weather over the last week has been: hot as hell, horribly humid, and completely dry! Even the air quality has been good, with clear views over Victoria Harbour and the mountains beyond. This is typical of nature conspiring to make me look stupid.

Of course any visit of the parents is not without it’s difficulties. Quite why I wasn’t told beforehand that they’d like a tailored jacket for Dad is a mystery, as it meant I had to immediately try and sort out a tailor through Chris at work. Chris came through like a legend on that front however, even if the price to be paid did mean a lunch with my parents, me, and Chris and his wife. Why this was deemed a suitable occasion to mention that when I was a young child I had difficulty pronouncing my name is another one of life’s little mysteries.

I did manage to avoid traipsing round the Jade market. I’m reliably informed this is also completely full of green coloured rubbish. We agreed to meet to look round the Temple Street night market on Tuesday night after Mum & Dad had walked round the Jade market. It took a bit of time finding the ‘real’ part of the market, especially after having to walk past the stalls selling sex toys – another uncomfortable moment. It seems that it’s at this market you can buy the ‘copy watches’ from guys with catalogues of the available watches on tables, DVDs (including Die Hard 4.0, and Transformers), and the usual assorted other crap. The DVDs are listed at HK$20 but I didn’t buy any on Tuesday when we were there. I’ll save this for later. Both me and Dad fancied a copy watch, so I pointed at a possible Omega watch in the ‘catalogue’ and the guy at the stall disappeared down a nearby sidestreet saying he’d be back. Prior to this disappearaing act he’d typed 580 into a calculator which I guessed was his suggested price. It’s important to understand that once you’re talking to these stall holders it’s nearly impossible to get away without buying anything. It must be the scottish in me, but there was no way I was paying HK$580 for a fake watch.

After about 5 minutes of hanging around, a different guy appeared with a plastic bag containing the watch I’d pointed at. It was certainly heavy enough to pass off as a Omega, and upon first appearance looked a pretty good copy, and indeed having looked the ‘model’ up on the Omega website I can verify it looks very good indeed:

http://www.omegawatches.com/index.php?id=132

So far so good. According to the new seller’s broken english they ‘all work for the same guy’ although he obviously hadn’t checked with his mate as to the price to be offered as it suddenly dropped to HK$500. That’s still £33 which in my view is too expensive for a copy watch. Seeing my reluctance the calculator is thrust in front of me with a view to me putting in my valuation of the watch. Figuring I may as well have some fun, I went for 300 – and was surprised that I got an agreement straight away. Lesson #1: always go stupidly low when haggling. They might agree to your first offer…

So I now own a £20 copy-Omega. Unfortunately, that’s not quite the end of the story. Dad decided he’d quite like a copy watch too. It wasn’t quite as smooth sailing for him however as he’d pointed to a couple of different watches and the stall holder obviously fancied his chances at selling more than one. After a certain amount of confusion – Northern Irish accents haggling with broken chinglish is not the most effective communication in the world – Dad had managed to start negotiations for a single Breitling watch. The stall originally tried 600, which we knew wouldn’t be a final offer – it was interesting to note though, that his Mum’s offer of 285 was turned down. Finally agreement was reached on… HK$300. Lesson #2: Don’t faff around with multiple watches. Know what you want and be prepared to walk away and keep walking.

It will probably come as no surprise to find out that both watches seem to be identical in size and weight. Oh yes can’t forget to mention, my watch strap broke within 10 minutes (seriously!) of getting back to my parents hotel room, the upper and lower buttons seem to move dials round rather randomly, the time adjust dial is on a threaded screw type thing to keep it flush to the watch body – not sure if a real Omega looks like that, and I’m really not sure when I’d actually wear this watch. Still good fun though. I’ll take a trip to Shenzhen at some point and see how things compare there.

Most amusing/memorable moment from the week… Mum’s reaction on seeing my apartment/boxroom: ‘Oh! <pause> I see what you mean about the apartment‘ (being small)

Second most amusing/memorable comment… Mum again on arriving by taxi at the Peak Tram terminus and asking the taxi driver: ‘Is there a tram to the top?‘ She did actually mean bus yet said tram, resulting in the taxi driver looked suitably confused.

Unsurprisingly, my hotel room at Disneyland is larger than my boxroom in North Point. Yes, the Disneyland hotel (and park entry ticket tomorrow) is a jolly from work, but what am I supposed to do? Turn them down?

* Aged parents was the parental sanctioned phrase to describe the parents in the blog.

2 Presentations…

July 3, 2007

Sometimes as part of my job I have to give presentations to customers, partners, or suppliers. I wouldn’t say I’m exactly wonderful at this, but it makes for a nice change to the job and can be quite a challenge. Anyway, I was asked if I wouldn’t mind giving a bit of a talk at a forum we were taking part in on Saturday 23rd June. Might be 20 minutes at most. Shouldn’t be too difficult I figured – a short 15 minute chat round a table was how I’d originally envisaged the whole thing. It wasn’t until the day before that I was casually asked if maybe I could have some slides to go along with this little chat. It’s at this point that I began to have a bit of panic set in. Slide presentations I normally like to prepare myself and have time to figure what I want to say on each slide. Clearly I had no time for this, so had to download a slideshow someone else had prepared and cut out bits I really didn’t want to talk about. With this done by the end of the day I was feeling a bit better about the event and decided to go out for some drinks… and crawled back to my apartment in the small hours of Saturday morning.

The forum event is being held in Macau. This is the third weekend in a row I’m heading out to Macau, and the novelty has definitely now worn off! Unfortunately my hangover had certainly not worn off by this time. I only arrived with about 20 minutes to go as all the ferries to Macau seemed to be booked up which wasn’t ideal. Upon arriving at the venue I’m led into the room that this round table discussion is going to take place in, only to discover that there seems to be a stage at one end with a speakers podium, and a table marked out with 5 name cards. Unfortunately, my name is one of them. The only thought in my head at this stage is ‘oh my god’.

It seems as though I’m first up after lunch about to give an unprepared presentation. Excellent! Fortunately, there seems to be only about 20 people in the audience of which I think only 3 or 4 are actually paying attention to me. I’m convinced one guy is definitely sleeping. I’m also not convinced that what part of the audience is listening to me is actually able to understand what I’m saying. So with all this I’m already struggling to keep my mind on the presentation and not totally freeze on the stage when there starts being flash photography of the event. Having missed the morning session I didn’t realise that the audience were allowed/encouraged to take photos of the presenters as they went along. Also, one of the organisers (I think) is very enthusiastic with his camera prowling along the front and taking loads of pictures. I can only guess that I looked like the proverbial rabbit caught in the car headlights. No idea how long my presentation lasted, but I fairly rattled through it and suspect I managed 10 minutes. I got the expected polite applause when I finished though. Not my finest 10 minutes it’s fair to say, and definitely not doing a presentation when hungover again. Worse luck, I had to sit through the next 3 presentations that were all in Cantonese. Mr Sleepy in the audience didn’t seem to wake up for those either, so I felt slightly better at that.

Despite my less than stellar performance in Macau I was lined up to do another presentation on Friday 29th June. This time though I had the presentation supplied, and plenty of time to go over it and prepare what to say on each slide. Expected to last 40 minutes. Similar kind of et up again, with a podium on the stage and being mic’d up, this time to an audience of about 120. Being prepared for this sort of thing makes a huge difference. I was first up again but this time I was ready for the photographs and got through pretty much unscathed. No sleepers this time as far as I could tell which helped. Again, all other presentations in Cantonese – I’m just wondering how many people understand me. Some people must have done as they said they stayed to the end to specifically see me run through a very dodgy video demonstration. They must have been disappointed when that got cancelled… I was not, I didn’t really understand what was going on in the video.

Lessons learnt: Don’t try and wing a presentation on a hangover, it’s never going to work. Do try and prepare for the presentation as much as possible. Don’t do presentations if at all possible!

Got roped in for another one next Friday (13th – haha!) July. At DisneyWorld. 50 minutes, god help me.