Archive for July, 2008

A well travelled pair of shoes

July 11, 2008

This is a tale of hassle and a pair of shoes. A friend (let’s call him Alan) back in the UK had been given a pair of trainers from his girlfriend as a Christmas present. She had bought these trainers in Hong Kong when she was over in November I think. Unfortunately, she’d incorrectly guessed his shoe size and they were too small. Alan then went through a protracted email exchange with the manufacturers (New Balance) who informed him they couldn’t swap the shoes in the UK, as they were a limited edition and purchased in Hong Kong. However, they could arrange with the original shop to swap the shoes for the correct size. So it was in January I received an unexpected email from Alan asking for a favour…

Essentially, the plan sounded quite simple. He’d post the shoes over to me, I’d go to the shop and swap the shoes, then post them back to the UK. All in all it should only take a couple of weeks from him sending the shoes that were too small to receiving back the correctly sized shoes. The fact that I’m typing this in July should hint at the fact that all did not proceed quite according to this simple plan.  The first part of the plan went without a hitch – I received the shoes towards the end of January. The shop were they were originally bought was out in Kowloon and several MTR changes away from where I lived/worked so that wasn’t exactly ideal, but not a huge problem either. I think the shop staff were actually slightly surprised that I turned up to swap the shoes.

Next step was posting the shoes back to the UK. Of the available parcel box sizes, one was pretty much the exact same size as the shoe box itself, so couldn’t quite be used, and the next size up required lots of bubble wrap to prevent the shoe box itself from rattling around inside. The postal form requires an approximate value of the contents (HK$1500 or UK£100 in this case) for insurance purposes, even though the guy at the counter then cheerfully informed me that air mail packages to the UK aren’t insured (this may be because they use Parcelforce at the UK end…). I also declared the contents as a gift and that if they weren’t received to be returned by surface mail (yes, I’m a cheapskate). As far as I was concerned this should have been the end of it for me. Good deed done.

Unfortunately, the package itself never made it to Alan. Instead he was presented with a Customs & Excise invoice for approximately £200. I never saw this invoice, so it’s a bit of a mystery to me as to how they arrived at this sum. Of course, I got the initial blame for this… Alan, obviously, declined to receive the package which meant that after four weeks it was then to be returned to sender. Me. Fast forwarding to April and the shoes have still not arrived back to me, and emails are being sent to Parcelforce and HongkongPost to find out where the package is. It turned out Parcelforce were a little slow in sending the parcel back, and coupled with the 6-8 week overland transit time meant the shoes were due back at the end of April or start of May. And sure enough, the shoes were eventually duly returned to me. We needed a new plan to get the shoes back to the UK…

Fortunately, as I was recounting this tale of shoe woe over a few beers in the pub, our hockey coach (let’s call him Nigel) mentioned he was going back to the UK in the middle of June and would be able to take them back and post them on to their final destination for me. A few Sundays ago the shoes were transferred to yet another person for another trip back to the UK. This time they made it back without incurring a Customs & Excise invoice. There was still time for Alan to send me a message asking me why he hadn’t yet got them within a week of Nigel getting back. Not that I was getting hacked off with the whole process by this stage at all.

There is a happy ending to this tale though. A message was received at the start of this week saying Alan had received the shoes and they fit, and he was happy. Approximately 7 months and 24,000 miles later he has a pair of shoes that fit. Hurray! So, if anyone else needs items swapping in Hong Kong can they ask someone else to do it…

Both Nigel and I agreed they were pretty hideous shoes…

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Taxes and (half-)marathons

July 6, 2008

Death and taxes are supposedly the two constants in life. I’ve had to file my first Hong Kong tax return this week. This was simplicity in itself. Having gone through similar processes in the UK, and dealing with HMRC, the comparison (if you can call it that) is very stark. The brown envelope with Inland Revenue written across it never seemed to contain good news and was received with something approaching dread. Here, it’s a green envelope containing a much shorter form which in turn is much easier to complete (very tempting to describe it as less taxing…)

In fact, the only pieces of information I needed to provide was my name, ID number, and my earnings in the last tax year. I will then be presented with a tax bill in the near future. There is also an option to file online, much like the UK. However, logging onto the etax website presents an SSL certificate warning in Firefox. Not exactly inspiring confidence, so I’ll stick to a paper based filing. The etax website does have a tax calculator available so that you can get an estimate of your tax bill. There are two possible values – one with no rebate included, and one with the projected rebate included. With no rebate my tax bill will be just over one month’s salary (on ten months of taxable salary, then obviously equates to just over 10%). With the projected rebate this drops to considerably less than one month’s salary (about 8%). Hurray! Tax freedom day in the UK is normally in June – tax freedom day in Hong Kong could be January or early February. Which is just as well as I’m going to need cashflow to buy out the lease on my flat back in the UK. As per usual for me, money works out as pretty much a zero sum game.

I also agreed with some friends through hockey that running the Hong Kong half-marathon next January/February would be a good idea. Having run a few halfs in the UK and generally run the distance in about 1:40 I was fairly confident about having enough time to get into shape and be able to post a reasonable time. I’m now pretty sure this will be my slowest time, and frankly, beating the 2 hour mark will be my first goal. Admittedly this is the hottest and most humid time of year and conditions will be easier in January/February but I have definitely noticed that it’s the breathing that is more problematic than tiredness in the legs. This should definitely be a challenge when the time comes.