Archive for the ‘hockey’ Category

The windy city

June 1, 2010

It’s been getting hotter, wetter, and more humid again in Hong Kong … a sure sign that the typhoon season isn’t too far away. Fingers are crossed for T8s in the morning on week days.

The hockey season has finally finished again – HK organisation being what it is meant that nearly 8 weeks passed between the end of the league season and the cup competition. The 8 week gap had not improved our hockey and we, very disappointingly, went out to a golden goal in extra time having fought back from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 in normal time. It’s fair to say I didn’t cover myself in glory picking up my first ever yellow card.

It did mean that last weekend was free from hockey, and I was able to take advantage of this by going to see the musical Chicago at the Lyric Theatre here. I wouldn’t exactly be classed as a regular theatre-goer. Thinking back, the last trip I’d have made to a show would have been Shaolin monks doing martial art type stuff in London well before moving to Hong Kong. Chicago has had quite a lot of publicity, as it’s on tour from London – where it has received good reviews apparently.

Overall it was an enjoyable night, with a few things that just mark it out as Hong Kong. It was a hot and humid night, so the ample opportunity to work up an uncomfortable sweat when walking to the theatre was taken. I still haven’t learnt that the direct path between where I am and where I want to be isn’t necessarily the right route to take, especially with the amount of building work going on meaning roads can be randomly blocked off. Three years and you’d think I’d be aware of this.

Upon arrival in the foyer an announcement is made asking everyone to make their way upstairs as the show was about to begin. This was at least 30 minutes before the scheduled start which seemed odd, as I didn’t imagine we’d be getting trailers for upcoming shows somehow. Arriving at the upstairs section, and enthusiastic usher points us towards the section labelled on the ticket … at which point I’m asked ‘where is my sticker?’. I don’t have a sticker. A company called OOCL have sponsored tonight and have two areas which dominate the upstairs section of the entrance. To be part of this party you need a rather flimsy looking sticker. The woman asking for my sticker doesn’t look too impressed with my answer that I don’t have one and I’m just looking for theatre entrance B. Entrance B is nearby, and very obviously not open.

After standing round looking like a lemon thinking there surely must be somewhere I can get a drink for about 5 minutes, a quick enquiry about drinks to the staff member on the door means she has to ask someone else. Following on from this, someone with a clue points back in the direction where the stairs are. It seems the original usher had been a bit over-zealous, and rather than initially offering directions to the bar thought directions to a closed door far more apt.

With the bar found, a pre-show sparkling wine could be enjoyed before having to move back to the door in order to actually get in. This was yet another bar that used a token system. I’m not convinced of the efficiency of token bars. Particularly when the table to buy tokens from is right next to the bar itself. I’m sure in London upon arrival you’d be directed straight to the bar to be parted from your cash in return for over-priced drinks. Here, sometimes, it can be a battle to buy over-priced drinks.

As I said, I found the show itself to be very enjoyable – it was (presumably) subtitled for the Chinese with electronic displays either side of the stage displaying Cantonese* when the speaking parts were in action. Quite how much a non-English speaker would follow when the songs are sung is debatable as they weren’t subtitled. It must make for quite a strange experience. The seating, like the buses here, aren’t designed for Westerners. It’s not even as though I have long legs, but legroom was definitely at a premium, and it was a bit of a squeeze when people had to move through.

There was the expected glow from mobile phones dotted throughout the audience, but as far as I was aware there wasn’t a mobile phone ring during the performance. There was, unfortunately, an annoying child who must have been about 6 years old though in the row behind. I’m not entirely sure what the parents were thinking about bringing a 6 year old to Chicago. It’s not as though the storyline is exactly aimed for that age group, and when he starts fidgeting and whining he’s just upsetting everyone else nearby. Besides, considering the show started at 8:00pm (and finished at 10:30pm), shouldn’t he have been in bed by then? This is what people have live-in maids for in Hong Kong …

I think the biggest surprise of the night though was at the end when they announced the cast and that it was Craig McLachlan playing Billy Flynn, or rather it was ‘Henry from Neighbours’. When it was announced it was definitely an ‘oh yeah, of course!’ moment, and felt as though I should have realised that beforehand. Still, at least I have the excuse I’m not Australian, so could be sort of expected not to know that … unlike who I was with!

* Could have been Mandarin … let’s face it after three years and no knowledge whatsoever of Cantonese, I’m not going to be able to read the difference between Mandarin and Cantonese either.

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Medic!

May 6, 2009

Mum – don’t worry, I’m fine …

A post to prove that I haven’t succumbed to swine flu and, for the moment at least, am alive and well. If you’re reading this, then I guess you’re not dead from swine flu either – which is apparently at global pandemic proportions. Once the WHO (World Health Organisation, in case you’re wondering) raised the status of a bunch of Mexicans having a cold (yes, I know it’s more serious than that) to global pandemic level, governments kicked their action plans into, errr, action I guess.

In the UK, I’m told this basically means instructing people to cover their mouths when sneezing or coughing. Doesn’t this happen anyway, or have hygiene standards in the UK slipped to Hong Kong levels whilst I’ve been away? Fortunately, Hong Kong, having dealt with SARS in the past is well prepared for these non-events. There has been an increase in the number of locals wearing masks (the surgical/sterile variety – not the Hallowe’en ones). There are still more people not wearing them than wearing them though. This does make me wonder if those wearing them are infected with the plague swine flu. Wearing these flimsy little masks does apparently enable you to cough/sneeze even more freely than before without the need for covering one’s mouth. The  MTR is truly delightful at the moment as a result … especially given the thoughts of infected/not infected as expressed above.

Swine flu has hit Hong Kong though. I read in the local free paper (think low quality Metro and you’re still not quite there – yes, it’s worse than thelondoner or whatever it’s called) that the Metropark  Hotel in Wanchai had been quarantined off due to the dreaded swine flu. Apparently, someone from Mexico had brought it in (what a surprise!), but within a couple of days the authorities had already picked up the drivers and cabs that the guy had taken and screened/scrubbed them. Just to clarify, that is they had screened the drivers, and scrubbed the cabs. Wanchai is a fairly large area within Hong Kong Island, so I didn’t give the story much thought (bunch of tourists trapped in a hotel seemed quite funny), until I was out shopping on Monday. Within 300 yards of my apartment there was a police cordon at a street corner, and quite a bit of press activity. Looking across to the building that was surrounded I saw someone leaning out of about a 7th storey window. ‘Nutter about to jump’ was my original thought. Then scanning down to the building name, I saw ‘Metropark Hotel’. Admittedly, it took a few seconds for everything to register and fall into place, but it seems that the swine flu pandemic is on my doorstep.  I still haven’t rushed to the pharmacy chemist to buy sterile masks though – that would be a sign of hypochondria after all, and not at all manly.

As of today, they’re still holed up in the hotel – the guests (prisoners?) must be going mad with cabin-fever by now. Fortunately, as I’m not  infected I was able to enjoy the long weekend just gone. We get Labour Day rather than May Day here, which means we had Friday as a public holiday rather than Monday. To improve the weekend, the weather was blue skies and sunshine over all three days, which was fantastic. Not so fantastic was  playing hockey at 12:30 on Sunday in the heat/humidity though. We lost to the local rivals (Football Club B) 4-2. It was 3-1 at half time despite them having no keeper for the first half. How does that work?

I wasn’t exactly on my best form having been out the night before. One of the Ladies A team had organised post-match roof-top drinks on Saturday night. This civilised small get-together seemed to carry on for quite some time with a rapidly expanding guest list. The roof top became quite busy, wine was flowing, and much fun was had by all. Prime location had to be the hammock though, which was very comfortable. By about 2am I had managed to secure this location for myself and was thoroughly enjoying myself … right up until I somehow tipped myself out of the hammock. I’m still not sure how this happened. I’d like to think other people were to blame for tipping me. What I do know, is that my fall to the ground was ‘cushioned’ by landing on a wine glass which immediately shattered and meant I landed ungracefully on the ground with an assortment of cuts, scrapes, and a nasty looking laceration to my calf.

Alcohol being a good anesthetic meant I was aware of this, but not in too much pain, although there was some bleeding. No arteries cut, and not masses of blood, but enough to make those queasy feel uncomfortable. I’m told I’ve left a trail of blood from the roof-top down to the kitchen where I was tended to and patched up. The kitchen being nextdoor to the bathroom where the apartment owner was busy throwing up (through alcohol not at the sight of blood). Suffice to say, between the two of us we cleared that party in record time.

Turning up to hockey the next day having to explain the variety of bandages I was wearing as a result of a ‘hammock incident’ is slightly embarrassing. Hospital was suggested for stitches, but I’ve since been told that the queues at hospitals are no fun whatsoever. Lots of hypochondriacs (twice in one post for that word) with a mild sniffle, heat sensors, temperature readings as you walk in, and before you are examined, and surrounded by sick people does not appeal. I’m fully stocked on antiseptic cream and bandages, and will wait for the wounds to heal naturally. I might even get a ‘cool’ scar out of it.

Hope you’re all well, and I’m hoping to plan a trip back to the UK in July to see as many friends and family as possible!

Update: I also meant to add that after the pandemic upgrade, my building put clear plastic over the lift buttons. It took pointing out by friends that this was so they could be wiped (hourly) to sterilise them that this was the purpose of the plastic covering. Sometimes, I can be a bit slow on the uptake.

The Olympics

August 26, 2008

So that’s the ‘greatest show on earth’ over for another our years until the Olympic Games open in London in 2012. What a lot of people (particularly anti-Olympic whingers in the UK) fail to realise is that the venues for an Olympic Games can be split over a wide variety of locations, and don’t have to be centred around the main stadium. Beijing 2008 is a prime example of this with the rowing, sailing, and cycling taking place considerable distances away from Beijing. I mention these three sports as it turns out the UK did rather well in these disciplines. There was much fun to be had winding up the Aussies over here that Team GB were ahead (and finished ahead) of Australia in the overall medal table. Getting retaliation in first for the Ashes next year really.

Hong Kong also had the privilege of being a host venue. Hong Kong was hosting the equestrian events at Sha Tin which is where the larger of the two racecourses is in Hong Kong. Essentially the event was being hosted by the Hong Kong Jockey Club who run Sha Tin racecourse. According to the various buses emblazoned with the Beijing 2008 advertising they were ‘sharing the spirit, sharing the dream’ or something like that. The truth is actually that equine disease is apparently rampant in mainland China, and getting the large numbers of international horses in and out of China would have been a nightmare. The obvious solution was to ‘share the Olympic spirit’ with Hong Kong. Despite that, it has been wonderful to be located in a host venue. Plenty of Olympic logos, banners, merchandising has been around, and a lot of teams chose to base themselves out of Hong Kong and Macau to prepare for Beijing. I’m not sure the Australian reason of avoiding the air pollution in Beijing had quite the ring of truth to it though…

Fortunately the GB, New Zealand, and Canadian hockey teams had decided to play some pre-Olympic matches in Macau and Hong Kong so I was able to see some international hockey here. Despite playing in very hot and humid conditions the game pace was significantly higher than usual, and was great fun to watch. GB beat New Zealand 3-2, and Canada beat a Hong Kong league Barbarians team 4-0. Just a shame GB were a bit inconsistent in Beijing and only drew against Canada… However, 5th place overall was probably what they aimed for originally. I could have got tickets for some of the equestrian events in Hong Kong, but horsey things really aren’t my idea of fun, so chose not to go. From reports here it seems dressage definitely wasn’t the local’s cup of tea either with lots of the spectators leaving during the course of the day(s) that it was on.

An idea that had been floated by some guys in the hockey club had been to go up to Beijing and try and get tickets ‘on the street’. Typically this has been fairly easy at previous Olympics, and tickets weren’t registered against names. So, in theory this should have been possible. Except that leading up to the Games Chinese visas became more expensive and harder to get. You could only get a single entry visa (not an issue of itself), and buying tickets on the street is illegal. This is the main reason I chose not to go. Being caught by the Chinese police illegally buying tickets probably wouldn’t be viewed to well, and seeing the inside of a Beijing police cell is way down my list of things to do whilst I’m here. Still, there’s always tv… or so you’d think.

Television coverage here was absolutely rubbish compared to the BBC. Whilst in the UK you can get BBC coverage via terrestrial, digital, and the web, in Hong Kong the rights were held by one terrestrial channel (we don’t have the equivalent of ‘Freeview’ here) and some channels on a cable television provider. Unfortunately, I get television delivered via broadband, not cable, and worse, my flat does not seem to have a terrestrial socket anywhere. Basically, I had no Olympic coverage at home. This wasn’t a disaster, as to be honest, there were only a small number of events I was actually concerned about watching. Notably GB hockey matches and some athletics. Online TV schedules suggested that GB v Holland would be screened on terrestrial live on a Wednesday night. Having arranged to watch this with friends in a pub on the night, it’s somewhat disappointing to be faced with coverage of lots of sports featuring China… Yes, I know, I’m in China and it’s kind of to be expected to follow the ‘home nation’. However, most of these events weren’t live, and what’s the point of a schedule? Clearly a work of fiction. We did get the last 25 minutes of the match, which included the solitary goal, unfortunately for the Dutch… bah.

The overall feeling in Hong Kong was that the local population became a lot more pro-China than usual. Particularly the local media in Hong Kong. There is a free press in Hong Kong which for the main part either looks to Beijing for direction or is blatantly pro-Beijing. During the last few weeks though it’s felt like all the media are taking a more pro-Beijing line than usual. The Chinese goal to ‘beat’ the US at the medal count has also been felt quite obviously. Although, I did get the impression that (to a certain extent anyway) it felt that only gold really mattered. For example, a shopping centre I sometimes get lunch at had a big screen showing sports during the day with seats in front so people could watch and cheer etc. They also had a medal counter below this screen… except it was counting only the golds. (for China in case that’s not obvious) The Americans then used the sneaky tactic of counting total medals won to show USA at the top of the medal table…

It’s been great to be in the right timezone for these Games and in order to get a fix of Olympic action I ended up downloading some of the BBC Olympics Today highlights programs so I got to see the major moments I think. I also managed to catch some of the closing ceremony in a mainly expat bar on Sunday night. Biggest cheer definitely had to be Boris Johnson receiving the Olympic flag.

As per my last post, there was indeed a storm on the way. The T8 signal was hoisted on Friday morning at 7:40am which meant no requirement to go into work that day. I think I received my first invite to the pub by about 11:00am. We did actually get a T9 for about 11 hours, but it never really got violent on Hong Kong island. A few trees blown down or requiring removal afterwards seemed to be about the extent of it. Still, a day ‘off’ work is not to be criticised.

Tours, tailors, and dinners

June 19, 2008

Admittedly it’s been a while since the last posting, and it’s time for an update to the blog I think. Since the last time I’ve completed my furthest overseas hockey tour to Jakarta in Indonesia (weekend May 24/25). From a blog point of view, tour rules apply in that ‘what goes on tour, stays on tour’. However, some of the highlights that can be discussed include how flat Indonesia is. The first very apparent notice were the signs in the airport stating that drug trafficking leads to the death penalty… nice! Apparently Indonesia was a Dutch colony – with a none to popular Governor at one point – and I did wonder if the Dutch thought it was just like home due to the flatness of the landscape. It’s very obvious how the surrounding area was devastated by the tsunami a few years ago as there is no natural defence available whatsoever. Jakarta itself seemed in places to be built on water. The local currency is the rupiah, of which about 1M equals HK$840, which means 1M rupiah is approximately £55. When you’re dealing with such stupid sums it does become difficult to keep a track of how much you’re spending. On the other hand, you do feel pretty rich when you’re withdrawing at least 1M of the currency at the ATM and realising it might not last a single night out.

Playing hockey at near the equator towards the end of May has to be considered uncomfortable at best. it was hot and humid, and drinking beer throughout the day made it no easier at all. I think the strangest thing in Jakarta was moving between the hotel we stayed at and other places we’d go for the nights out. Every large location (hotels and nightspots) would require passing through a security check with under-car mirrors, security guards, and checking the bonnet and boot. Probably even more security than I ever remember in Northern Ireland. I think Indonesia is a predominantly Muslim country but with a lot of Western expats and visitors so is potentially a flashpoint for ‘international terrorism’. During my very brief stay there I witnessed nothing. Although I was definitely struggling on the last day of the tour. There is no hangover worse than a Bintang hangover for sure!

I think I’ve previously mentioned that I’d decided to go for a tailored dinner suit for a couple of formal dinners coming up. Basically, myself and one of the hockey coaches thought it would be worthwhile getting a proper tailored sinner suit, as well as bow ties and cummerbunds. We had a couple of measurements before the Jakarta tour with a view to finally picking everything up shortly afterwards for the first dinner the following weekend (May 31). Everything seemed to be going to plan until the Thursday before the dinner when we were due to pick everything up… Unfortunately, the bow ties were not the type you can tie, and the cummerbunds were not silk. I’ll admit I’m quite picky about having a tied bow tie, my view being if you can tie a bow tie, you wear a tied bow tie. Back in the UK, picking up a bow tie and cummerbund is very easy, I’d go to the likes of John Lewis or House of Frasier or a very obvious formal wear shop. In Hong Kong I have no idea where to buy this type of stuff… and suggestions to go to a tailor are not helpful! Eventually we went to Tie Rack and bought not quite red and black matching ties and cummerbunds. Not ideal, not matching with the colours of the jacket lining or stitching we’d chosen, but a lot better than the original option.

Thursday night (29 May) before the first formal dinner (the whole of Valley RFC) involved a night in a friend’s flat, a few plenty of beers and me trying to teach two friends how to tie a bow tie. For those who know how to tie one it’s something that just happens, and then it’s perfectly obvious. Our hockey coach, Buttler, was able to figure it out pretty quickly. It’s just like tying a shoe lace after all… However our American friend, Dougal, just struggled thorughout the entire evening until after plenty of beer it just seemed to work. I just had to keep my fingers crossed that they could manage it on the night itself. To make matters easier we agreed to meet up beforehand arrive to the dinner location together…

Much to my surprise, we all managed to get changed and have our ties done correctly well before we were due to leave for the dinner. And the whole point of the tied bow tie is so that it can be undone later in the evening which it duly was. One of the advantages of being a guy is of course that you can wear the same outfit to multiple formal events. And so, 2 weeks later I was able to reuse my outift for the Hockey section formal dinner. Both events cost approx HK$500 (£35 at the most) and covered a hot buffet meal and as much as you can drink from the bar. This definitely compares very favourably with the equivalent events I’ve been to in the UK.

The tailored dinner suit certainly fitted very well, as you’d expect from a tailered suit. However, the satin on the lapels was a bit too shiny for my liking, and the buttons were white plastic (albeit covered with black material, though I can still see the white plastic…). The complete suit included a shirt too which obviously required cufflinks. Again, in the UK these are easy to find. Over here I’ve not got the slightest clue where to look, and although I did eventually a few shops (M & S being one), a lot of the cufflinks available were either gold (not my colour) or shiny, or worst of all encrusted with fake diamonds. The fashion over here is definitely very bling. Bling is something I’m very definitely not. Eventually I found a couple of sets that I absolutely would not buy in the UK, but I figured passed muster here…

In summary; a very fun tour (which I won’t write about), and two great formal nights out (which I can’t remember enough about to write about).

Olympic Torch reaches Hong Kong

May 2, 2008

Today marks the start of the Olympic Torch relay through China – I think it was 100 days to go to the start of the Olympic Games quite recently. It was quite damp this morning, which certainly in the UK would normally mean less protestors, however I don’t think there was a danger of there being mass protests along the route of the torch in Hong Kong anyway. Hong Kong is technically in a tricky position as the Basic Law agreed between the UK and China at the time of the handover guarantees freedom of speech, but the culture here of not wanting to lose face, and also the fact that Hong Kong is part of China means that the authorities here are very sensitive to the possibility of a protest along the route. I’m a big sports fan and am looking forward to the Games but, frankly, couldn’t give a stuff about the torch procession (so it’s been work as normal for me today). However, it’s difficult to miss the fact that the torch relay is happening today. Lots of schoolkids (obviously not in school!) milling around have been handed flags with the Hong Kong (Lotus flower) symbol and the Chinese national flag to wave. Lots of red stickers with apparently the date of the start of the Games printed on them being worn as well. The pro-China propaganda machine is in full swing it seems. From the little I’ve seen of the procession there don’t appear to be any blue tracksuited thugs minders surrounding the torch carrier either.

I’m currently looking into the possibility of going up to Beijing during the Olympics to see about trying to watch some of the hockey during the group stages. This will depend upon when this takes place and the general cost involved in travelling there. However, I do have a trip hockey tour to Jakarta towards the end of May coming up, and I’ve also booked a trip to Australia (Sydney) for the end of July. I’ll get to catch up with some friends I know through work there and also watch the Wallabies v All Blacks Bledisloe Cup match whilst I’m there. That should be very exciting, and set up nicely to watch the same teams play again in Hong Kong on November 1st. I just need to decide who I’m going to support now…

The end of the hockey season is approaching and the Valley B team are entered in the main Cup competition. Having successfully seen off a team from our own division last week (with more than half the team suffering horrible hangovers), we now face the Premier League champions in the next round on Sunday. Could this be a result to rival Barnsley overcoming Chelsea in the FA Cup perhaps? Either way, the most important match of our season is on 16th May when Valley B take on Valley C with 3rd place in the 1st Division at stake. This is an important match for me, as in the revers fixture I was playing for Valley C (when we won 3-0) so I now face my former team-mates… This match will be decisive as to who has the bragging rights at the Valley annual dinner a couple of weeks later. For which a tux is required. I’d bought a new tux back in the UK just over a year ago, and wore it to one Wokingham Hockey Club event, so now have to buy a new one here. Still, it’s an excuse to buy a tailored one which is in the process of being made. Typically, the tailored one is cheaper than the one I bought last year in the UK…

I received an email earlier in the week I have now completed six years with Novell, which served to remind me that I’ve been in Hong Kong for very nearly a year now. A thoroughly enjoyable year I must admit. Later that day, I got the not so welcome news I’ll be delivering another presentation in early June… another chance to talk to a room full of statues who I suspect understand very little of what I’m saying for 30-40 minutes. Ah well.

We’ve got another guy join us on secondment from one of our India offices for 9 months. As he gets to be the new guy (or FNG as new guys were labelled in the UK) it now falls to him to experience unusual foods at lunch time. However, it seems he’s going for the chicken option, and by that I don’t mean eating chicken, by saying he’s a vegetarian and just sticking to a plate of fried rice. Which he then eats with a knife and fork! Part of me thinks that’s quite clever, and another part is sad for him to be missing on the delights of jellyfish and chickens feet etc. In terms of food I feel I don’t do too badly with the food here – although I’ve come to the conclusion I just don’t like prawns. This has been a source of contention with friends in the past, and I’ll accept a lot of the dislike previously was that I hadn’t eaten many, and just didn’t like the idea of them. I’ve now eaten a fair amount, and I now know I really don’t like the taste, the texture as well as the whole idea of them.

Bit of a longer post that I’d originally intended. If you’ve got this far, you must have nothing better to do…

Writer’s block in the New Year…

January 22, 2008

I’ve been back in Hong Kong since Saturday 5th January, and there’s been a definite lack of activity on the blog. Probably more down to laziness on my part than any other particular reason. Although, I feel it’s been a pretty quiet time which is pretty typical for January. Definitely more of the calm after the storm of partying through Christmas and New Year. As ever, returning back to Hong Kong brought on the jetlag and I’m still figuring out the best way to get through this. I don’t think falling asleep at my desk at 3pm every day would be considered an acceptable solution. Having said that, as I’ve noted before, the locals here think nothing of putting their heads down at lunch time for a bit of a nap. They bring cushions in expressly for this purpose. How they manage to wake up at the correct time is a bit of a mystery, as I don’t hear a lot of alarms going off round about 1:30-2:00pm every day.

Just before returning back to the UK for Christmas/New Year I’d looked into joining a gym out here. I found I was definitely lacking fitness for hockey matches. I signed up for Pure Fitness at Kinwick Place a couple of weeks ago. It’s walkable from the office after work, is conveniently located, and not horrendously expensive. I have had to sign up for a two year contract though, which nicely complements the two year tenancy agreement I signed, and the two year Internet/broadband contract as well. Looks like everywhere likes to tie you into long term(ish) contracts over here. I’d toyed with the idea of entering the Hong Kong half-marathon but this is now fully subscribed so I’ve missed out on that opportunity. Next year it will have to be.

Since returning I’ve also bought a sofa for my flat so I can veg out in front of the tv more easily. The crappy and uncomfortable plastic seats supplied with the apartment can finally be hidden away in storage. Faced with the choice of going to a local furniture store, of which there are plenty on the nearest main road where I live, or going to Ikea in Causeway Bay… I went to Ikea. It was a lot less hassle, involving simply ticking a few boxes on a sheet of paper, and then arranging a delivery date. Ikea are also quite convenient in that they take EPS as a payment option. EPS stands for Electronic Payment System and is very similar to Switch/Solo in the UK, with one notable difference: hardly anywhere actually uses it! Sofa and table arrived last Wednesday, accompanied by three guys who promptly set about putting the sofa together. These guys work pretty quickly, and within 20 minutes the sofa was done. Unfortunately the sofa I picked was only available in white, so will undoubtedly be grey by the end of the year.

I have also managed to sort out a helper for my flat. By helper, I really mean cleaner. Fortunately, a friend who lives nearby has used this particular helper for years, so she comes recommended and is reliable. For less than £10 per week, I get to return to my apartment after hockey to find it has been cleaned, the washing up has been done, and the ironing done. This last one was a bit of a surprise to me this week, as I haven’t as yet managed to buy an ironing board. It’s another one of those challenges of living somewhere foreign as to figure out where to buy things. Back in the UK I’d go to what was previously called an ironmonger or hardware store, or failing that Argos. I’d not been able to spot an equivalent to these kind of stores before Sunday, so I had an iron, but no ironing board. I’m still not entirely sure how the ironing was done – however I have since found a local shop that sells ironing boards.

As a friend at the hockey club here put it when I mentioned the whole cleaning, washing up, and ironing being done aspect ‘I’m really getting into living in Hong Kong now…‘. I think he was only partially joking, as it seems lots of people employ helpers/cleaners/maids/etc.

I also got paid a bonus whilst I was back in the UK, so came back to find my Hong Kong bank account looking pretty healthy, which was convenient as my UK bank account wasn’t looking quite so healthy. I knew when I agreed to stay here I’d have to transfer money back every so often, so figured this was as good a time as any to figure out how easy it is. First obstacle was to get my Internet banking set up to allow money transfers (both overseas and to other local accounts). More form filling, and more waiting at customer services at HSBC. I’m slowly learning to not go to places with queues at lunchtime. Once that was done I had to wait for my security device to arrive through the post (techies would recognise the SecurID token). So HSBC HK Internet banking seems to be a bit more secure than that in the UK. Once in, filling out the money transfer information was surprisingly easy and straightforward (and in English). Even better, the fee was less than £10 and the money arrived in my UK bank account the next working day. And yet, money transfers in the UK still take ~3 days… weird.

Clearly being paid a bonus meant I had to buy myself something. I had that itch to spend some money, but couldn’t figure out what to buy. In the end I went for a Playstation 3, despite as mentioned in a previous post not being a gamer. I have, in fact, given the PSP I bought last year away to one of the hockey coaches as it was simply collecting dust. So far it looks pretty cool, and I’ve even bought one game for it in a token effort to make it practical. However, it’s also possible to have various Linux distributions running on it, so if I need to satisfy my inner geek I’ll maybe get round to trying SUSE on it at some point. Having gone through some of it’s settings last night it can receive media streams (you might want to browse elsewhere if media servers/centres aren’t your thing). Before coming out here I ripped my DVD (and CD) collection to hard disk so I could take my movies with me without needing to drag all the DVDs too. Quite impressively, I’m able to have these stream from my little NSLU2 storage unit to the PS3 and be displayed on my tv. At least now, if/when I don’t with games on the PS3, I’ll have an expensive media player and Blu-Ray player (I have, obviously, not bought any Blu-Ray disks yet). I’m also now hoping that Blu-Ray is VHS to HD-DVD Beta.

Oh yeah, weather has been cold enough to require jacket/coats in the evening, although I did get a bit of sunburn on Sunday whilst playing hockey. Air quality is totally rubbish right now though.

Last post of the year in Hong Kong?

December 18, 2007

Quite possibly the last post I’ll make in 2007 from Hong Kong, as I’m due to fly back to the UK on Friday 21st. Of course, my flight arrives from Heathrow after the last flight to Belfast has departed, so I get to spend a night in Heathrow before getting the first flight to Belfast. I fly into George Best Airport, or as surely everyone in Northern Ireland calls it, the Harbour Airport. I said in my last post that it doesn’t feel at all like Christmas over here, with a lack of over the top decorations and annoying music. That was a day before I had to go to Causeway Bay… It’s definitely decorated for Christmas there, and the first thing you can hear in the MTR station is Jingle Bells coming over the speakers in the station. Ho Ho Ho. Still, with blue skies and temperatures in the early 20s it’s still a little very odd. To get into the Christmas mood, I have mentally engaged into the pre-Christmas wind down at work though. I thoroughly recommend it.

I have managed to do no Christmas shopping of my own so far. I’m not the best shopper in the world at the best of times (except possibly when buying gadgets for myself), but the prospect of having to fight through the crowds at the same time as trying to figure out what might make a good present for people is not my idea of fun at all. When it comes to shopping my preferred method is to know what I’m going to buy, know where I can get it, go to the shop, and buy it as soon as I see it. Of course, I could possibly save a bit of money buying elsewhere if I traipsed round ten shops, however in my mind the time saving of not traipsing round ten shops is far more valuable to me. I suspect some people would see my viewing the additional browsing as traipsing as fairly negative, when I should see it as a chance to browse for other gifts, and generally enjoy the experience. Sorry, I just can’t do that very well. I can always pick up a tip from Stu, and do my shopping at the airport – as it seems I’ll have a bit of time to kill.

Once again, the Irish Sea is proving to be an expensive stretch of water to cross. How a flight from Hong Kong to London can be ~£600 return, yet a flight from London to Belfast can be ~£230 return baffles me. Some of it is due to the various taxes that have been steathily rising over the years, but even so, it does still strike me as a rip off. I can’t see the excuse ‘Sorry Mum, I’m not coming over as I’m being green’ getting very far with the parents in the future. By being back in the UK, I am missing the office Christmas party. This has been scheduled for Christmas Eve, and families have been invited. I suspect it will be very much like the ‘leaving’ meal I attended a couple of months ago, but I’m curious to know how it goes. If as expected it involves horrendous amounts of shellfish (again) then I’m not too disappointed to be missing it from a food experience perspective though.

The reason the leaving was in punctuation quotes above is, it seems as though leaving doesn’t necessarily mean not working for the company any more. I’ve seen the guy whose leaving dinner it was in the office when I’ve been back in almost every week. Yesterday, we were part of a presentation team to a potential customer. So, I’m somewhat confused as to what leaving actually constitutes – he’s still in the email address book, on Instant Messenger etc. Ideas anyone? (No Hotel California lyrics please)

My diary for the rest of the week is looking busy enough. Tonight is my last hockey match of 2007 – if we (the C team) can win we’ll be fourth in the table (sadly we lost to the last touch of the game on Sunday), then out for some pre-Christmas hockey drinks. Tomorrow night is a social night out in Wan Chai, where one of the bars offers any drink for HK$20, so long as it’s a Standard Chartered note. We’ve all been saving any Standard Chartered note we can lay our hands on at the hockey club. Thursday night could possibly be a meal in a Japanese restaurant on Kowloon side – although nothing is as yet confirmed. I intend to get time at the Temple Street night market to buy some tatty quality gifts for Christmas though.

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…