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.