Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Wizard Of Hong Kong

           Every year I would like to think that I get a little wiser and smarter, although smarter may not be a good term but more life lessons learned smart.  Several years ago there was a book, Everything I know I learned in Kindergarten.  Although I have found that to be true, I have come to realize that my Kindergarten book is different. It should be everything I learned was by watching the Wizard of OZ.  Since I do not want to be called Dorothy, I will be known as Dorky in my version of the movie.
          September 1st is our one year anniversary since arriving in Hong Kong. It has been an interesting year for this Dorky.  As Mary Barbara and I review the past year, we have a lot of similar experiences and thoughts.  She has been experiencing her own Wizard of OZ movie in which she plays Dorothy.  However, what I have come to realize that each of us play Toto to each other. We have learned from each of our experiences, we support each other and we both have become that best friend that we rely on and have unconditional love.  I would never give her the nickname of Toto as I would be the one in the doghouse, but the point is that we all are Dorothy or Dorky writing our own version of the Wizard of OZ, at times playing all the characters.
         During this past year the Cowardly Lion has been in both Mary Barbara and me a good bit.  With all the new experiences, there is always a little fear of the unknown. Whether it has been living in a foreign country, eating new foods, flying constantly on airplanes, having language barriers, walking down the sidewalks, black rain, paying bills, being healthy, and what is next week is going to bring. We have come to realize that we face these fears everyday no matter where we are in the world, even if we are in what we feel is safe in the US.  We have become a lot stronger in taking on any and all challenges, and I would say that a year ago, the issues we face would be a lot scarier, but now we are not as fearful of the challenges.  We now are able to take issues in stride and do not have as much fear with our life experiences.  In fact in a lot of ways we are learning to relish each new experience.  We have called our whole experience our amazing race.  I still fight my fears. I go to India quite frequently and have reservations on a number of different fronts. I am learning my way around on my own, but still rely on others the majority of time to get me around.  The country is environmentally challenging.  When I leave I am exhausted from the pollution, the environment, the dirt, the trash,  the traffic, the poverty and yes the food. I have never been a big fan of India food, so I sometimes have to hunt for food for me. Thank goodness there are McDonalds, KFC and Dominos, which gives me sense of comfort.  I often tell people that the best Chinese food I have had since I left USA was in India, even though I live in Hong Kong.  A lot of my India friends tell me that they eat Chinese food at least twice a week. I have a rough time understanding how people can live as they do in India and why others would allow them to live like that, but they seem to live as they know no other way.  Several good stories have come from my time in India. I have been in meetings where they have quite frequent rolling black outs. I will be sitting across from someone discussing a topic, the power will go out and the person just continues talking as if nothing is going on even though we no longer can see each other. The other meeting I was in and giving a presentation in a very nice conference room, when a rat the size of my 13 inch shoe came running along the ceiling.  I was dumbfounded but all the locals went right on with their business without blinking.  I have gotten sick quite a bit more this year traveling. There has been a good many ideas as to why. It could be the airplanes where people are in a confined area with all kinds of coughing or it could be that I just have not gotten the rest and the travel has gotten to me.  I am learning how to take care of myself on my travels. I like to think that I have started the fist bump in India as I do not shake hands as much as give the fist bump.   As much as I have fought my fears, my wife has taken things full force. I get a chance to leave Hong Kong, am going to work and traveling. She has given up her job in the states, which means she is not working a full time job for the first time in probably 20 years. Not to mention that she facing a lot of the issues in Hong Kong on her own since I am traveling. I am very proud of her and her adjustment. She went in full force and has taken advantage of this opportunity. She is volunteering in several different facets of life, she is writing, maintaining our home, and now she is working by facilitating work in the states via the internet.  However, we have really succeeded as a team. She is the one who learned the Hong Kong mass transit system and then taught me, she is the one who has learned how to live in Hong Kong and taught me, and she is the one who facing our fears head on and figures out how to not make it scary. I am very lucky.  I will tell you that she is right on top of every storm that is within a continent of Hong Kong.   A lot of our fears are handled by our own personal communication, access to the internet, IPhone, IPad, Skype and my personal favorite slingbox. We are able to talk to family, friends, stay in touch/connected to home and have access to know how to get around, language barriers, restaurants, cultural challenges and educational challenges in which the internet has been very vital to our success.  I am not sure how anyone did anything before the internet. Our fears are not as much fears anymore, but just another exciting day in our amazing race.  I have seen two people die this year in my travels.  On one flight to Indonesia, two rows in front of me a man died in flight although they did not pronounce him until we landed. I saw a man in India after he had just gotten hit by a car lying on the road dead. India is a scary place to drive but a scarier place for pedestrians. Both of these events weighed heavily on me and my fears for weeks. Both I think that everyone has fears and everyone faces them differently. However on one transpacific flight from US to Hong Kong, we were about 40 minutes past Alaska. The captain came on the speaker to say that we were returning to make an unscheduled landing in Fairbanks, Alaska due to someone not feeling well on the flight. He then asked if anyone had Xanax or Valium that the doctor could use to put on their steward light. The plane lit up like a Christmas tree. I guess there are a lot more people who control that fear with modern medicine.
The Tin man wanted a heart.  I will tell you that our marriage is stronger for this move to Hong Kong. This past year has given us even more of an appreciation for our friends and family.  Skyping has been huge as this has allowed us to see the faces of our families.  I remember last Thanksgiving how special it was when Mary Barbara’s family set up the computer at their family Thanksgiving and she got to see all their faces and talk to each of them.  Both of our families have been huge in support of us and we cannot thank them enough in helping us make this amazing race.  We were blessed with a visit from my sister, friends from Athens and looking forward to the upcoming visit from Mary Barbara’s daughter and father.  It should be a good time. Mary Barbara has volunteered in many things in Hong Kong, but two which I must speak about are her teaching and military dinners.  Mary Barbara has volunteered her time at a school teaching kids English. It has not been easy but has paid off huge for us and the kids. The other item is Mary Barbara is helping with the US military ships when they come into port to visit Hong Kong. She works the pier, directing the Navy personnel to where they want to visit in Hong Kong. We also will have 2 to 4 of these Navy personnel over for a dinner. She works hard in scheduling these events, but to see these kids’s faces when they get a home cooked meal, talk to their families on Skype and talk about the US, is extraordinary. I am always surprised at how young all these men and women are that serve in the US Navy.  I am humbled at the things my wife does and the heart that she processes towards helping everyone. She has made me a better person.
The scarecrow only wanted a brain. During this past year, I have realized how uneducated I am and a lot of Americans that the world does not revolve around them.  I am surprised on how progressive a lot of countries have become in education, mass transportation, streamlined government and building infrastructure. My impression of a lot of Asia Pacific I found was coming from James Bonds movies. What a poor choice of foreign history.  I am constantly surprised at how people from other countries think about Americans, the US government and progress, both in a good well deserved way and a lot in a bad way, some of which is well deserved.  During this time of economic recovery, I have come across many people who have made remarks in which they are happy to see what is happening in the US.  However, just as many understand that what happens in US has repercussions on everyone.  I worry about the education system in the US, as a see a more educated and informed Asia Pacific population and much more worldly than I feel most of the US population are currently. I would like to think I am smarter than a year ago but I am probably just a little wiser and more traveled as opposed to smarter. I also know that I learn something or multiple things everyday from large life lessons to small lessons. I learned that Pigs ear taste like an ear full of cartilage, that airport lounges are a hidden gem of delight, that you cannot get Reese Cups anywhere in Asia Pacific (I keep walking around with peanut butter hoping someone will get chocolate in it), that I really miss Wal-Mart and K-Mart, that I can speak every language but no one can understand me, and I learned how to convert Fahrenheit into Celsius. Although, if you just say it is really hot, that covers the conversion more than adequately.
     I am not sure if I have found the wizard but I do know that there is no place like home. Mary Barbara and I talk often about our fears, our successes, our joys, our sadness, our triumphs and our happiness. I do not think we needed a wizard to help us get home, for the one thing we realize that this past two years have been some of the best of our lives. We understand that home is where our friends and family may be but it is certainly where we are together at that time. We know how much we miss our families and friends, how much they have supported us and continue to support us and that clicking our heals together does not work as well as Skype. We love our life and feel like we have won our version of The Amazing Race. So in the Wizard of Oz there is an ending of her waking up and I would like to think our adventure has yet to have an ending and our eyes are wide open.
Favorites of the Past Year
·         Restaurant—Dinner at the Hong Kong “Zumas”  with Mary Barbara
·         Group Dinner—Hot Pot---always a great time
·         Best Hike—Dragon’s Back
·         Best Visitor—My sister
·         Appliance—Hands down  Air Conditioner
·         Country—Love all parts of Australia
·         Best concert  The Eagles in Hong Kong, they still got it for old men
·         Hong Kong Movie theaters—comfortable and  pick your seat
·         Watching WVU football on Slingbox while instant messaging with Drew and Steve
·         Playing live version of Frogger on the streets of Hong Kong
Least Favorites
   I try to focus on positives and this list could be huge but I do want to name a few. They include the smell of street restaurants in Hong Kong, lack of one stop/one shop, Walking in rain with umbrella in Hong Kong, washer/dryer combo, no real vacation(always going from house to house or event to event), getting the hate stare in Hong Kong occasionally, no free refills,  pollution and the cats not working to earn their keep.

Saturday, August 27, 2011


     Do you remember when we first got our old clumsy desktop computers, set them up, plugged all the wires in with all the accessories and hardware. Turned on the computer and then proceeded to play solitaire for the first six months? My personal experience came in the form of both solitaire and mine destroy, in which I became the self-proclaimed champion.
     So my wife got an IPad2 which she loves and it has almost all the bells & whistles.  We can watch sling box on it, get any app and just about do everything a normal laptop can do and certainly much more than the old clumsy desktop which we all started with.  However, solitaire comes in a different form. I came home and found my wife had downloaded an app for the cats. A fish swims around the screen and the cat connects with the screen with the fish, it disappears and another appears. Only one of the two cats plays it, but she does play it vigorously.  The cat tries to eat the fish off the IPad2 or hits it with her paw. I am not sure the cat is having fun but the look on my wife’s face is priceless. She has a grin on her face of total enjoyment. She talks to the cat and encourages the cat to get the fish. Once in a while I catch my wife hitting the fish her finger, so I am not sure who is better at hitting the fish.

Who is happier--not the cat

        Of course I guess we all have our vices when it comes to the new IPhones, IPads or electronic devices whether it is Angry birds or Zombies.  While I have apps that I love which are the magnifying glass on my IPhone which helps me with the small print, the mirror or the flashlight, which I all find very useful. But I must admit that my favorite app is Sit or Squat, which gives me GPS directions to the closest public restroom

   So I guess even the new-fangled electronic equipment, can make us smarter or use less brain cells as no matter how advanced the equipment gets, we all still resort to solitaire in some form.


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Head for the Hills or The Hills are Alive or Hill Billy or

Hong Kong Island has a major trail that runs east and west called, oddly, the Hong Kong Trail. Eight sections make up the trail - here's a link to a website that breaks down the sections: Hong Kong Trail (when you come visit, we'll check out as many as you want).  My friend, Hannah Smith, introduced me to the section known as Dragon's Back - Section 8 at the western end of the trail. There are a couple of different places to start the trail - here's one way:

Take the MTR to the Shau Ke Wan stop, exit the station and catch the number 9 bus right outside the station (its the bus stop furthest from the building). The bus travels out of the little village within minutes and then winds its way around some very tight corners as it travels down towards the starting point of To Di Wan. Watch for the car park on the right side of the road and hit the stop button just as you pass. The bus stops at what looks like an indent in the rocks - but its really the start of the trail! There will be a wooden posted sign and arrows pointing up (and up and up and up).  This hike takes about 2 hours, depending on your pace, especially during the first hour as most of that is the climbing - which is worth the huffing and puffing because the views are amazing:

Hannah (pictured above) and I, wrapped up our hike in Shek O, meeting up with another group for lunch at a little village restaurant. We had Pineapple Chicken Fried Rice (which I later made for Mark and I - recipe here: Pineapple Fried Rice.) Let me digress for one moment. When I write "village restaurant," picture a typical American Rib Fest - that is, those general eating areas with tables and folding chairs stuck under large plastic tents. That's a "little village restaurant." We also had honey fried calamari (delicious!), curry chicken, and fish balls. Big Wave Bay is a part of Shek O and several little stores along the way sell beach toys, towels, bathing suits, etc. They even advertise beach chairs on the villages one and only roundabout:

Village Restaurant

Hopefully a misspell...


A few weeks later, Mark and I took the same hike - minus the lunch in Shek O. We treated ourselves to a cab ride back to Wanchai. A few shots from that hike:

Check out Fido on the roof.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Rainy Days and Mondays...

Actually, today is Tuesday. Tuesday, July 12, 2011 - nearly 5 months after our last post. Recently someone sent me a messages that said, "We miss your updates!" And I replied, "Today I cleaned the cat box, paid a few bills online, and went to the grocery store."

And that's what happens, folks! We start off on something new - a job, a relationship, car, shoes, dog, and we want to share all the excitement with our friends. "My new boss is a hottie!" "My shoes looked smashing!' "The puppy peed on the carpet - so cute!" Over time, the excitement subsides into apathy ("Who? Oh, him. Yeah, I saw him clean his ears with his car keys"), disappointment ("Those shoes pinch my toes, so I have to walk on my heels"), or even, disgust, ("And then he swallowed my pantyhose and we spent $1,000 at the vet"). More than one well-integrated individual has said, "No matter where you move, there you are." Meaning, there YOU are - still you, still have curly hair, and still require two eggs over easy, english muffin and bacon on Sunday mornings. Meaning, its all about attitude.

Our attitude is: so much to do, so little time! Rather than apathy, disappointment or disgust, we're still enthralled with the adventure, still happy with our choice, and digging into local life even more.

Mark has been to India and Australia countless times. He's taken trips to New Zealand, Phillipines, Guam (I got to go, too!), and I think, Thailand. He was in India last week for eight days, is home for four days, leaving for Australia for nine days, home for overnight, then flying to the U.K. for four days, home for two days and back to Australia/New Zealand for two weeks. The only consolation is: I get to go with him this Thursday for my first visit to Australia- specifically Brisbane, Queensland.  Say it like you say "San Diego, California." I'll tell you all about it when I get back!

We went home to the U.S. for a great visit back in May and it hit me - how fast our time is going in HK. It has been a year since our first visit when we explored the possibility of even living here. In about 7 weeks, it will be our one year anniversary, with two years left on our contract. (So, if you're contemplating a visit - git a move on!)

I have fun updates for this blog - a recent hike on Dragon's Back, visits to Jade Market, Temple Night Street Market, Sham Shui Po market and a cemetery hike with local historian, Jason Wordie. And! I painted our apartment - well, at least the living room/dining room area - pictures will accompany that post, as well. See you soon!

Entrance to Jade Market

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Are You Kidding Me?????

         During the past two years my wife and I have been on a good routine of working out on a regular basis.  In the states we would be at the gym around 6am and do the regular workouts.  Mary Barbara has really upped her workouts and is running distance as well. So when we moved to Hong Kong, it was important to both of us to continue this routine.  She has been much better than I in keeping on a regular workout regime since moving to Hong Kong.  I am very proud of her and her dedication to working out.
      One of the important aspects of wherever we lived in Hong Kong was a gym nearby. We found an apartment that had a gym in the building.  It has all the right pieces of equipment: a couple of treadmills, a couple ellipticals, a couple of bikes, free weights, a couple nice universal machines and a couple of extras.  It is the extra that has got me saying, “Are you Kidding me”.
     In between the free weights is a piece of fitness equipment that I could not believe.  For me to call it fitness is to me a stretch.  I grew up loving John Wayne movies, the Lone Ranger and a lot of westerns. However, this piece of equipment had to be out of the western “Blazing Saddles”.  When someone thought about inventing this piece they must have been a John Travolta fan and saw Urban Cowboy one too many times.

Side to Side, Waist or Hips--your choice

   Ok---right smack in the middle of our gym is what I believe is called the Joba. It is an exercise saddle. I thought it was a joke or something to keep the kids satisfied while the adults worked out.  I even looked it up on the internet and what I found was a mild form of what I would call video exercise porn. It was like those original ESPN workout videos when ESPN just started and they would have two women working out in leotards and all they ever showed was their face/lips and body parts. I do not believe anyone worked out aerobically to those as well.

What is being sold here?

             So the Joba is a saddle which gives you the ability to supposedly work the core of your body. If you are interested, go to the internet and watch one of the videos.  It looks like they originally began out of Japan or Korea and they are now in the states, although I believe it is just a fad and they are riding off into sunset.

    In the videos it shows which area of the body is exercised, which looks like a little bit of the legs and hips.  Although I find this hard to believe.  I can see some possible uses for it with modifications, maybe a beginner learning to ride.  However, as an exercise machine, it is not.
    I know that John Wayne is happy with his remake of True Grit, but he is rolling over in his grave at this machine and the fact that I had to try it.  He would be saying, “Are you kidding me”.

One too many John Wayne Movies

Sunday, February 6, 2011

SUPER BOWL--Hong Kong Style

       My wife and I wondered how much support, excitment and knowledge would exist for the time honored tradition of the US Superbowl in Hong Kong. Sports here is not American football but more International football(soccer), rugby, some basketball and cricket.  We certainly would be able to watch the Super Bowl at home on our slingbox but we wanted to see if we could find a festive crowd to watch the game. I like both teams and my wife being a Cleveland fan was supporting whoever was playing the Steelers, which in this case was the Green Bay Packers.. We were pleased to see several establishments taking reservations for the game. In Hong Kong the Super Bowl would take place 7am on Monday morning.
        One of our favorite places to eat is a western steakhouse that caters to Expats with the menu and is called Dan Ryan's Steakhouse. We gave a $200 HK(about $25 US) as a deposit to reserve a table for the game. So at 6:45 we walked one block to Pacific Place Mall to Dan Ryans for the Super Bowl. Not knowing what to expect, we encountered the restaurant prepared with little footballs, TVs up everywhere, limited menu and table name plaques. Of course the entire restaurant was more geared towards the upcoming Valentine Day. but that did not matter.  The back room had long tables with many chairs in place of the booths and what seemed like a reluctant and sleepy staff. They do not nomally open for breakfast, the town is just getting thru the Chinese New Year and on a normal day Hong Kong does not get started early or at least until after 9am.
         I found it somewhat sacrilegious to be watching the Super Bowl at breakfast. I was looking for chicken wings or pizza, but instead found a modest but nice attempt towards the expat in terms of a limited menu, although again for breakfast. They did have a windy city hot dog, but did not think I could stomach at 7am in the morning. We both ordered ice tea with omelettes, which were very good. The food was a good breakfast and now it was game time.
       Mary Barbara and I wore our WVU gear so that we could possibly meet others from the area. My thinking was that there were would be Steeler fans in the restaurant who would see our WVU gear and then commiserate. Mary Barbara did have on a gold and blue scarf until she realized this was too close to Steeler colors. She settled on a nice WVU sweatshirt. I wore my WVU hat. The plan worked sort of, as a guy sat down beside us, saw my hat and said "Let's go Mountaineers". Turns out he is a teacher at one of the International schools. He graduated from WVU, was missing watching WVU sporting events and we had a fun discussion. However, he was from New York and rooting for the Packers. Anyway mission accomplished on the WVU gear plan.

      It was game time and the poor General manager was frantically running around searching for the channel. We were going to watch the game on the Asia Network TV which pays the US network for the feed. The bad part is there is no pre-game show and we missed all the commercials, since the advertising was for Asia specific. We did see a lot of Red Bull commercials. Both of us ended us watching the US commercials on the laptop later in the day. Finally the General Manager found the station before the kickoff much to his delight as the natives were getting restless. Joe Theisman was the color commentator  but camera angles, replays and extra commentary were missing. Joe was ok however. 
     The game was on all the TVs, the place was packed with close to 70 people, which were probably 60-40 Packer fans to Steeler fans, but that was based solely on cheering and the Steelers did not have alot to cheer about until the second half. We enjoyed sitting there watching the game and at that time and place, could have been anyplace in the USA. It was the atmosphere we were hoping to find, even though it was breakfast. Mary Barbara cheered loudly for Green Bay and she had a lot of fans on her side of the cheering. 
       I exchanged emails with Drew and got to skype with Steve and his family during the game. The IPhone skype application is very cool. I had to end up walking outside into the mall to hear them but it was nice to share.
      All in all it was the perfect Hong Kong Super Bowl experience and a good game. Worked out well.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Happy Chinese New Years

“Show me the Money”
           My wife and I are experiencing our first Chinese New Year in Hong Kong. Every day we learn something new or something different about the New Year. In the Chinese culture, this holiday is probably very close to the Western Christmas.  The most common Chinese ways of saying Happy New Year are Gong Xi Fa Cai (Mandarin) and Gong Hey Fat Choy (Cantonese). Even though the pronunciations are a little different, both are written the same way.
   When I can pull it off, I use the Cantonese verbiage. However, after I said this to my friend Morgan, he replied to me “why did you call me a fat boy”. Of course he is a fat boy with a little wise mouth. So as my wife and I make our way thru this new Chinese New Year which is The Year of the Rabbit, we learn about tradition, the holiday and the little red envelopes (packets)

Dreaded red envelopes

     The tradition of the red envelope has been our most challenging tradition to learn, get right and participate. The red color of the envelope symbolizes good luck. It is sometimes referred to as the Red Packet. The story of red packet dates back to the Sung Dynasty in China. A village called Chang-Chieu was at the time terrorized by a huge demon. No one was capable of defeating it, not even their greatest warriors or statesmen. However, a young orphan, armed with a magical sabre inherited from his ancestors, fought the evil demon and eventually killed it. The villagers were triumphant and the elders presented the brave young man with a red packet filled with money for his courage in saving them. Since then, the red packet has become a part of traditional Chinese customs. During Chinese New Year, they are given by married couples to small children, teenagers, helpers, and unmarried adults.

Very nice person working it

     Now this is where our story really begins. We were originally told that the people who operate our apartment building should be given an envelope by us. These people include the door people, the custodian staff and anyone who cares for our building that has a direct effect on our day to day lives.  For us, who are watching our US and our Hong Kong Dollar budget, this seemed like an expensive proposition. I have resisted but Mary Barbara took the reins to make this happen.  About three weeks ago, I noticed an increase in activity among these helpers when I was around. I mentioned this but no one really noticed. Then as we paid attention, it was noticeable that the helpers were going out of their way to be nice. I became increasingly aware of the over friendly and pleasantness. In a culture that does not believe in tipping, everyone seemed to be working it to get that extra red packet. I found myself resistant to people being nice. I would race to the door so they would not open it for me. I would yell across the room, I will get it, please do not, as all I could think of was how many red packets I would be distributing. I have become suspicious of everyone who is nice to me. In my mind I would imagine telling this person, “Don’t you dare be nice to me, as I do not want to give you a red packet”. I had become the Grinch of the Chinese New Year. I was not going to accept anyone being nice to me. I became the neighbor who had the ball come in the yard, grab the ball and not give it back. If people opened the door, I would stop and grab the door myself. I would race to the door so that they would not get it, If someone said good morning, I was questioning whether it was an actually a good morning or just a red packet morning. I finally had to stop the madness and give in to the season. At my work, I gave out the red packets to the people who got my hot tea packets, took out the trash, cleaned the restrooms, said Good Morning or just smiled at me. I went from that Grinch who suspected an alternative motive to “oh well, let’s get this over with, here is your red packet”. I started just giving the red packets to people who smiled at me, who said good morning, and who opened the door.  Please just stop the madness.

Tree and plants in our Apartment lobby

      The people take these red packets and normally put them on what I call the money tree. Trees, plants and flowers are everywhere and very beautiful. I have been working the angle to get a free tangerine tree as they are all over the place. Apparently, this probably will not happen even though my red packets are eventually placed on several these trees.

   Every day the rules seem to change. So today someone tells us that we should each give an envelope to each person, not as a married couple. Mary Barbara said that was ridiculous. I was glad she was on my side in this latest revelation. Then I find out that I the amount of money given should always be an even number and amounts ending with 8 are very popular as the number 8 sounds like prosperity. Depending of the currency base, the most popular amounts are 8, 18, 168, and 888. An amount that is usually avoided despite ending with eight is 38 especially during weddings as “3” and “8” when used together sometimes refers to an unpleasant woman. An amount that ends or involves 4 is usually avoided as 4 in Mandarin and most Chinese dialects sounds like death.  The worse amount to give in a red packet is 44. So why do I tell this is because I gave out $40 Hong Kong dollars to several of the people who work in my office. I should have known this one as every building does not have a floor ending in 4. My apartment building is missing a 4th and 14th floor. But I did it anyway and gave them $40.  I wondered why I got the dirty looks the rest of the day.  I am hoping that the fact that one of them was Philippine will make a difference, but I doubt it.
     We have a friend who is an Asian unmarried woman. She is horrified by the fact that people are supposed to give her money. Children, unmarried and servants are supposed to be the rule of thumb. Not sure why but it is so. Naturally, I find this a sense of great enjoyment to torment her with the fact that I am going to give her money because she is unmarried.  Several times I have told her I hope that with all the money she gets, she can buy a husband or love. Of course, this usually ends with something thrown my way. I open the door for my wife all the time, and am expecting a red packet, although I am just happy with the “Thank you” she always gives me.
    So here we are celebrating the Chinese New Year, telling people they are a fat boy and giving away our money in red envelopes. This week I went to the dentist and he charged me $13,000 Hong Kong dollars.  I should have given it to him in a red envelope as I was just giving my money away to him.  For the amount of money he charged, he should be giving me a Red Envelope.  When does all the madness end?  All this for a rabbit. Happy Chinese New Year.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Almost Heaven Korea

Kimchi and Fish heads--way too much food

  This week has been my first and hopefully not last trip to Seoul, Korea. Everything has been great with a beautiful modern airport on landing, an efficient mass transit system, the food and the wonderful people.  As I drive thru the city, you could envision this as a any bigger city in the US. Going past the basketball arenas, baseball parks, Olympic stadium, organized traffic(both heavy and not), a beautiful city, a horizon lit at night like a year around Christmas season, it was a very comfortable country to visit.

     The real reason for this post was to relate a story concerning my first night in Seoul. I met up with some business associates for dinner who both happened to be from Ann Arbor and big Univerisity of Michigan fans. We were discussing the recent UM football coaching changes, which I mentioned multiple times that I was a WVU fan, and that I was not that disappointed that UM was having difficulty. They attempted to poke the normal sterotype fun at me for being a WV fan, which they had no real ammo with the UM situation. In the Hyatt Hotel was a house band who was a Korean band but singing everything in English, mostly US pop music. As we were leaving dinner, the band started a new song which could not have been timed more appropriately. They sang a beautiful rendition of "Almost Heaven, West Virginia".  I could not have been more in my glory at this time. Both Michigan men started groaning, accusing me of setting that up, but I just called it WV karma. I made them stand there and listen to the song before getting on the elevator.  Imagine my first trip to Seoul, Korea, living in Hong Kong, missing home and I could not have a better welcome to Korea. Almost Heaven Seoul, Korea.   link to video of Almost Heaven in case you have not heard it or just miss it

Handicapped Urinal in Seoul Airport which adds to my collection of restrooms around the world

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Keyboard Mashup

I stopped by the grocery store to pick up stuff for beef stew  and was checking out the meat counter. Of course items are labeled differently - I can find "Stew Meat" in the U.S.  Here the labels say things like "beef top tips" or "round beef sirloin" - what part of the cow is that? I stopped reading labels and started looking at the actual cut.  Eventually I found something that looked like beef stew meat and it took a me a few minutes to decide to buy it as I was unsure of this label, "Australian Orfanic Beef."  Several meats had the same label and I hesitated because in a foreign culture, words that sound even slightly different can be intimidating. I hemmed, hawed, looked around, thought about it, and then spied this label on another piece of meat, "Australian Organic." Oh! Someone had mistyped a bunch of labels and, God bless him, rather than redo all that work, he just went with it and put the misspelled labels out there. With joy and confidence in typos, I bought the "Australian Orfanic" stew beef and headed home to start finner.   

Monday, January 10, 2011

Everything I learned I learned in Kindergarden?

    Several years ago there was a book written by Robert Fulghum and published “Everything I know, I learned in Kindergarten”.   So what the book does not address is what happened if you did not go to kindergarten? Heck I could not even spell it correctly in the title.  I am now discovering that people expect me to know things that I do not know.  I cannot believe that just because I did not go to kindergarten that I am punished for the rest of my life. Maybe I should have paid attention during the rest of my schooling of elementary, secondary and college years, because I am finding I am missing some pretty basic things.

Joss Paper offering at Temple

    Let’s begin with the temperature. People told me that Hong Kong is warm.  I like to believe people and when I arrived to Hong Kong it was hot, Africa Hot and so humid that I was carrying an extra shirt to change due to sweat just to make it from the door to the cab. No one ever told me it got cold in Hong Kong.  No buildings have heaters and we packed all our turtlenecks, sweaters, winter coats and gloves into storage back in the states where we will not see them again for years.  So the last couple of weeks it has been cold. Ok, not cold that most of you are experiencing back in the states, but cold here. It has been in the single digits here at night for a couple of weeks and in the teens during the day. OK—so this happens to be Celsius, but it is still cold. If I am back in WV, OH or Pa and someone told me it was going to be in the teens, I would be bringing in the firewood, turn up the heat and get ready for some popcorn in front of the TV, nice and warm.   The whole metric system I do not think was taught in kindergarten, it could have but I did not go to Kindergarten and I remember several classes trying to teach it, but I did not understand why we had to learn another way when we had our old reliable Fahrenheit.   Now as man who still likes to learn but only simple things, I know that if I multiply by 2 and add 30, I get my estimated conversion from Celsius to Fahrenheit.  SO it is supposed to be 6 degrees Celsius tonight, which would be around 42 degrees Fahrenheit ((6X2) +30).  Now I feel like a genius except for the fact that in the US, 42 would have been a warm day and I am cold here.  I walk around and see people in winter coats, mittens and wool hats. I plan on stopping by Joss paper burning at Temples just to get warm.  Next week I go to Korea, where I am told it is really cold, but guess what, I have no winter clothes and no one carries my size. I went to a dinner party this weekend where my shoes that I took off at the door were admired by everyone as some sort of Godzilla footprint discovery.
     Sometime in the 80s or 90s someone in the US government came up with the idea that everyone in the US was going to convert to the Metric system.  There was a countdown and warnings that all road signs would be converted. I believe I saw a couple of road signs and then I think most people just sort of said, this is stupid and we like miles, not kilometers.  I believe that there a minor revolt down by the Department of Highways and it did not happen. We just said this is too hard and I do not want to change. Well I wish I had learned this in Kindergarten because now as I travel or attempt to figure out how many miles my wife ran today, I need a calculator to convert miles, kilometers, yards meters, centimeters, inches, liters and gallons. OH please stop the madness.  So 1 Kilometer = 0.621371192237334 Miles.  If I knew how to do this I would understand what pie is other than something to eat, which I would kill for a piece of apple pie. I know if I was in Kindergarten, they would not deny me pie.  So I know now that every 10 miles is about 16.1 Kilometers. To keep it simple I make sure everything I do is around 10 miles, which makes for some longer trips. I believe that the US is the only country in the world left who uses miles.
     Another item is the world currency system. I get paid in US dollars, must wire it to my bank in Hong Kong. I get a fee in the US, a fee in Hong Kong and I get an exchange rate/loss. The Hong Kong dollar is around 7.75 dollars to every 1 US dollar.  And since I travel to other countries such as Australia, New Zealand, India (Rupee), Taiwan, Singapore, Indonesia (Rupiah), the Malaysian (Ringgit) and others, I must figure out the conversion, take a hit on exchange rates and be able to think in terms of that country’s currency.  I must be able to convert their sales into US dollar sales.  One of my first trips to Australia they kidded me endlessly everywhere I went as the Australia dollar had just become more valuable than the US dollar. I just felt lucky as it was only a couple of cents more valuable and in my kindergarten mind, I just called it even.  The extreme to this was a recent trip to Indonesia where at one point I was carrying around 1.4 million Indonesian Rupiahs. I was amazed and felt Howard Hughes (Bill Gates) like to have hundred thousand bills. I would go down the street feeling like a hole burning in my pocket with 1.4 million. However, this was just around $155 US dollars, and it may cost 500,000 dollars for a bag of ruffles potato chips.  So everything is confusing and money may be money or just pieces of paper with a lot of numbers printed on it.  I have never been so happy as I was on a recent visit to Guam, a US territory.  I looked forward to the trip because I got to use US currency and shop for familiar needs at K-Mart. I never thought I would ever say I was happy to shop at K-Mart.  Yes, I got to use US currency.
      Now let me tell you how many US dollars we have lost not in monetary currency but in electrical currency.  We have lost two space heaters, a Wii, five kitchen appliances, a DVD player, and a vacuum cleaner. When I say lost, I mean they burned up.  They teach you in kindergarten not to put your finger in the electrical socket but I do not remember anything about this plug does not work in this outlet.  You would have thought after we lost the first item, we (I say we but I believe no one stopped me time after time) would have learned, but we just kept hoping that if we plugged it in, the miracle of electricity would flow smoothly and everything in the world would be fine.  Now I know that this is not true and we must either get a converter (most of time expensive and a learning experience) or just buy a new item here in Hong Kong. Let me tell you that you would think since most of the stuff we get in the US says “Made in China” it would work, but this does not mean that it will work in an electrical socket here in China. Those Chinese are tricky. I have different plugs and converters for every country now. In most hotels they provide adapters and the only socket that is truly universal for the most part is the shaver outlet in the restroom. I believe this is because too many hard headed Americans kept trying to plug in the hair dryer in a foreign country and blowing out the hotels outlets.

      I know that they teach you what time it is in Kindergarten, but I am pretty sure I would have gotten an F on this as I am constantly confused as to what day it is, what time it is, what country I am in and most importantly, what was the room number of my hotel room.  I keep on my laptop and my iPhone several world clocks going to help me in this transition. I really get confused on the weekends as I write this it is Sunday night in the Eastern US but Monday morning before I go to work in Hong Kong.  And since Mary Barbara and I watch the slingbox on eastern US time, this only confuses me further.  Examples are watching Mike and Mike in the morning in the evening in the US or watching Monday Night football on Tuesday morning from my office or before I go to work on Tuesday.
      So what I missed by not attending Kindergarten, I must now learn to train my mind to think in terms of currency exchange, metric system and is it really cold or hot.  If I could add an important message to kids now in the US, it is pay attention in Kindergarten otherwise the world may be passing you by. Don’t worry about “Don’t do Drugs”, just learn the metric system.  Or you just have to work harder as an adult to figure it all out.  The biggest lesson learned is that if it is cold in Hong Kong, you plug in your favorite US popcorn popper, it will burn out. And for some reason, finding a popcorn popper anywhere (I MEAN ANYWHERE) in Hong Kong is impossible.  So when it is cold, I cannot even sit in front of my slingbox and enjoy a bowl of popcorn, unless I make it the old fashion way.  They do not teach that in Kindergarten.
     Robert Fulghum book is really relevant in Hong Kong, my travels, and I do follow his basics when I am in the world and must give him credit for pointing out the items below. I know when I hold Mary Barbara’s hand the world is good and when I finally find that popcorn popper for Hong Kong.--Mark

All I really need to know about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sand pile at school.
These are the things I learned:
  • Share everything.
  • Play fair.
  • Don't hit people.
  • Put things back where you found them.
  • Clean up your own mess.
  • Don't take things that aren't yours.
  • Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody.
  • Wash your hands before you eat.
  • Flush.
  • Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
  • Live a balanced life - learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.
  • Take a nap every afternoon.
  • When you go out in the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together.
  • Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: the roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
  • Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup - they all die. So do we.
  • And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned - the biggest word of all - LOOK.
Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation. Ecology and politics and equality and sane living.
Take any one of those items and extrapolate it into sophisticated adult terms and apply it to your family life or your work or government or your world and it holds true and clear and firm. Think what a better world it would be if we all - the whole world - had cookies and milk at about 3 o'clock in the afternoon and then lay down with our blankies for a nap. Or if all governments had as a basic policy to always put things back where they found them and to clean up their own mess.
And it is still true, no matter how old you are, when you go out in the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.
[Source: "ALL I REALLY NEED TO KNOW I LEARNED IN KINDERGARTEN" by Robert Fulghum.  See his web site at  ]