Archive for November, 2007

Suits you sir

November 15, 2007

I’ve decided to bite the bullet and sort out a tailored suit from the same shop where Dad got his jacket from whilst the parents were over. I headed over on Monday after work and was measured up in about five minutes with the various specifications for the suit taking about another further five minutes. There was no hanging around at all. I’m due for my first fitting after work today, and assuming all is well I’ll collect the suit on Monday. Total price is HK$2200 which works out at just under £150. I’ve never had a tailored suit before, so I’m pretty fascinated to see how the finished article turns out. Of course, once they’ve got your measurements it’s really easy to get subsequent suits and shirts created, so if all goes well I’ll probably sort out a couple more at a later date. The other alternative I’ve been told about is to take an example to Shenzhen where they’ll copy it for a lower price.

I’ve also got my Internet and TV services connected at home now. The PCCW now-tv engineer turned up at the allotted time and spent about half an hour or so connecting the phone socket up to an ADSL modem. It seems that both the Internet connection and TV signal are delivered via the same line, so it’s essentially broadband television which is a different delivery method to both VirginMedia (cable) and BSkyB (satellite) back home. No complaints so far and I do indeed seem to be subscribed to a variety of movie channels (multiple HBO channels, Star Movies, Cinemax, MGM, and TCM) as well as a lot of sports channels, and a range of entertainment channels with a variety of channels carrying American content (FX and Fox Crime) and some British content channels (BBC entertainment, BBC Lifestyle etc.). Similar to the packages I had in the UK, it means there’s an awful lot of channels carrying an awful lot of rubbish television. There also seems to be quite a lot of censorship on the channels, with only one of the HBO channels being listed as adult content and requiring the parental PIN. It seems the adult content means they can swear.

The PCCW engineer also seemed a bit bemused about trying to set up an ADSL connection from my Linux laptop rather than the expected Windows. This is obviously a worldwide experience, as NTL/VirginMedia basically offered no support whatsoever whenever you mentioned the L word. He showed me the connection working on his Windows laptop before leaving me to set up the connection under Linux. Actually, I didn’t care for connecting my laptop to the ADSL mode directly as I already have my own wireless router set up the way I want it, and as soon as he left set about connecting it. Hey presto! Within about fifteen minutes I had my wireless router up and running connected to the Internet.

I was also able to register the water service in my name for the apartment via the Internet so managed to save myself the half hour phone frustration of spelling out where I live and my name to yet another billing company. It has been a fairly productive week, as I’ve also now got sufficient salary history to apply for a credit card and get a savings bank account set up. At the end of last week I was playing for Valley C team versus the B team in a crunch match in the league. We started on 4 points to the 3 points of the B team (who had played one match less). These inter-club games are always competitive and so it proved on Friday night. However through some hard work and determination the C team played incredibly well to come through with a 3-0 victory. As you can imagine we were very quiet in victory and had an early night…

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Out of the old, and into the new

November 6, 2007

Well, I’ve now moved from North Point to Wan Chai/Admiralty. I got the keys to my new flat last Tuesday, and figured I’d move my stuff across on the Saturday. I’d originally thought to move some on Friday night but obviously I was busy watching other people eat food I found hard to stomach. Fortunately, I haven’t accumulated very much in the way of stuff crap yet, so in total I think I had about four large rucksack fulls to take across, as well a smaller rucksack full of computer related equipment. As it takes just about half an hour from the door of the old place to the door of the new place, each round trip would take about an hour and a half, allowing for unpacking and packing time. This didn’t really occur to me at the time, so what I thought would be a quick and easy move turned into lasting all day. I also spent some time, and quite a lot of money, buying bed linen and duvet.

I also figured I’d make use of the landline I’d had in the old serviced apartment one last time before leaving and get cable tv, Internet, water, and electricity sorted out in my name in the new place. Hong Kong Electricity Company first up: they’d conveniently left a note in the mailbox informing the occupant (me) that I could phone this number to get the supply transferred otherwise they could terminate it when they liked, and that if left disconnected for four months or more it could only be reconnected with an engineer visit (chargeable of course). Of course, Hong Kong caters quite well to English speakers so I’m happily on the phone with someone who is happily taking my details. It should come as no surprise to learn that the surname spelling was a problem as ever – this does seem to be a family trait. Even more amusing is the fact that over here, surnames are typically used as the first name. So, for example, my bank card is in the name of Ervine Jonathan; so I’m being called Mr. John on the phone. With a second name spelt all kinds of ways. Finally we agree on the correct spelling. I’m also informed that there will be a deposit due of HK$860. OK, not too sure about that. Seems rather a lot, but not much choice there really. As I’m being read back the details, I realise we’ve somehow managed to get my pronounciation of fifth (as in fifth floor) to come across as sixth. I know I have a bit of mixed NI/English accent, but fifth confused for sixth? Correcting that error and I’m now informed that the deposit has leapt to HK$1200. It’s been about 20 minutes on the phone by now, I’m demoralised and in a hurry to get moving, so just pretty much accept it.

One down, two to go. Next up is now-tv. These guys offer broadband Internet and television delivered via an ADSL line. We also have a cable operator in Hong Kong who offer cable tv and Internet via cable, but now-tv have bagged the rights to the Premiership this season. Not too sure what other sports they have, or what else I’m missing out on, but it seemed a reasonable one to go for. Cue yet more difficulties with address and names. I think at one point I went through all the possible combinations of Arvina, Arvini, Irvina, before almost shouting down the phone ‘E at both ends’ only to get back to Arvina… Persistence did indeed pay off and by using a weird version of the phonetic alphabet we eventually agreed on Ervine. Having been mentally exhausted by these efforts the woman at the end of the phone then said it would be an 8 megabyte (I suspect she means megabit though) service, would I like to pay extra for wireless (no thanks, I’ll sort that myself), and that I get one month of free membership to some weird now-internet website that I’ll be charged for unless I remember to cancel after my one month. I’m then reeled off an plethora of television channels and packs etc. that I think I’m subscribed to, but to be honest it’s not really very clear. Mental exhaustion once again. Altogether the Internet and TV package will cost about HK$600 per month and should be installed tomorrow between 11:00am and 1:00pm. This was confirmed after handing over my credit card number – a struggle in itself again. Not helped by the name on the card being Jonathan Ervine, and my name at now-tv being down as Ervine Jonathan… I couldn’t face the water company after this, so went about shifting my stuff across town.

Fortunately the rest of the day went pretty smoothly, although by the end of the day I was pretty fed up with taking the MTR backwards and forwards across the city.  The last item I shifted across was my (heavy) desktop PC so figured I’d grab a taxi. Definitely a good decision, as having shifted everything through the rest of the day it was a blessed relief when the PC was in the new place. I was then able to head out to watch the Arsenal v Man United game, as part of an expected global television audience of one billion. I’ve never been a fan of the 12:45 kick offs when back home, but it’s apparent that they’re obviously timed so that they’re available in the evening here (8:45pm local time). There’s a massive market for the Premiership here (or EPL as it’s referred to… eugh) and as the amount of money being generated from here only increases, I suspect we’re going to see an even greater influence on the game back in the UK. Not necessarily in the interest of the UK fan either.

I’ll report back how the now-tv and broadband installation goes, and see how favourably or unfavourably it compares with the fun and games I had with VirginMedia in the UK. now-tv is owned and run by PCCW, who were basically formed by the merger of the Hong Kong Telephone Company and Cable and Wireless HK.

Leaving Dinner

November 5, 2007

Not my leaving dinner (yet). Today is 5th November and marks six months since I first arrived in Hong Kong, as well as Guy Fawkes day back in England. Guy Fawkes day is not celebrated over here. As my expected stay in Hong Kong is likely to be three years I’m quite possibly one sixth of the way through it. Anyway, Friday night was a dinner arranged by my office for one of my colleagues leaving. He’d completed twelve years and I think had resigned rather than being one of the redundancies leavers announced from the UK office. I assume it was a resignation as he’s been replaced, although when I asked if he had another job lined up he said he hadn’t. Maybe that’s normal over here though. To celebrate, or should it be commiserate?, his leaving there was a dinner arranged for the entire office. As we have about thirteen staff here it’s not quite a huge affair, but everyone was invited and also to bring families along as well. We had two large tables in a separate room, and would have had twenty to twenty five people in total.

I had been invited earlier in the week, although wasn’t too sure whether I should go as it was largely going to be a Cantonese evening and I’d been warned it was a seafood restaurant. Six months in, I’m still not great on seafood. I can eat most fish, but shellfish I really struggle with; more from the mental side rather than anything physical. Although, crabs to my eye just don’t look nice, and the same goes for shrimps and lobsters… I’d decided to go as I thought it would look impolite not to, I had no other plans for Friday night, and thought it could be good fun and a chance to have a different kind of social evening.

As I mentioned we had a separate room with two large tables set up with a large TV on the wall, and a sound system that looked suspiciously like it was set up for karaoke. This was not an encouraging sign. On arrival there were some plates of battered chicken wings available and we were also passed a glass of white wine. Chicken wings always seem like a lot of hassle for not much return, but as I knew this was a seafood restaurant and I was likely to struggle with some of the dishes I had a couple of chicken wings. Washed down with what I can only describe as horribly sweet white wine. Not the greatest of starts.

Next up was plates of crabs. I’ve no idea how these were cooked – I’m assuming they were boiled, but everyone was able to have some entertainment at my expense as I found just the site of these crabs quite nauseating. I was, however, educated on how to tell the difference between male and female varieties. Apparently the male is more desirable as there is likely to be more meat. Next up came some bowls of peanuts and plates with celery in a chili sauce. The peanuts seem to be a staple part of most meals I’ve been too, as has the celery. I quite happily ate from these dishes, although I would have to class them as slightly boring dishes, and have no idea how vegetarians survive. At this point I’ve the restaurant staff are bringing in what looks like hot wine. My first thoughts are that this is pretty unusual, but I’m not exactly shocked or surprised – although I’m then reminded that sake is basically hot wine, and of course we have mulled wine at Christmas in the UK. So not really all that unusual. I’m informed this is a hot rice wine and should taste similar to sake. That’s probably the case, except here you’re expected to dump in a dried plum to add to the taste. It seems the dried plum is to add a kind of bitter sweet taste to the drink, and the longer you leave it the worse stronger it becomes. It’s obviously a mechanism to get you to drink the wine pretty quickly, and for me it worked pretty well.

We had yet more sweet white wine passed round, although I’d then opted to stay on water rather than the wine. Our next dish was a huge bowl of melted cheese with bits of lobster jutting from the surface. So, yet more shellfish… with a cheese sauce and noodles underneath. I tried a very small amount of lobster with cheese and noodles. Any taste was basically masked by the cheese so was edible. The dish itself was weird with amputated claws and legs appearing in the cheese sauce along with, I assume, cuts of the main meat of the lobster. Not the most visually aesthetic dish in the world for sure. Halfway through this it was accompanied by what can only be described as crab appendages. This time not in a cheese sauce it was just a couple of plates of various bits of crab, the torso being a notable exception. It seems incredibly fiddly and hard work to get anything nutritious from this.

As you can probably imagine I’m not eating much of this so far, however the next dish is a soup, and some kind of white fish. The white fish was fine, a bit chewy, but tasted ok, and the soup wasn’t too bad either. I must admit I didn’t eat the things in the soup though, as I’d been informed that one of them was some sort of sea snail, and the mental image just wasn’t a positive one. After this dish we had abalone turn up – one of which I ate but found absolutely disgusting. Which everyone else found very amusing. At this point there also turned up a plate of barbecued beef, so I was able to get rid of the abalone taste (and texture) with that.

There followed some desserts which I skipped as I’m not a big dessert fan any more, and felt I’d had more than enough sweet stuff with the wine and rice wine earlier. All in all it was a pretty interesting dinner, and it was fun from the social aspect to be out with so many of the office and their families. Added bonus was that there was no karaoke, but there was Nintendo Wii playing instead. It seems very odd to go to a restaurant and play a games console. There was also some (very bad) soap opera viewing to be done mid-way through the meal. I may not have understood the words, but it looked like a cheesily bad soap opera, particularly amusing when one guy jumps in front of another to take a bullet and when we next go to this guy (now on the ground moaning in pain) the main? character rolls him over to discover he’s fallen over on a knife too (with the expected bad fake blood). Absolutely hilarious from my point of view, especially as at that point the shooter decides to jump off the conveniently near by cliff.

I think the oddest thing is that the meal and taxi costs are then expensed back – you’d not get that in the UK. One final gift from the company on departure perhaps?