Sunday, December 30, 2012

Forever free

Here's a reason to ring in the new year: 150 years ago on New Year Day, the Emancipation Proclamation came into effect and all slaves in the rebelling states were declared forever free. Celebrate the men and women who struggled against slavery, and look forward with hope that one day all mankind will be forever free.

The National Archives will hold "Watch Nights" following a tradition that dates back to 1862 when abolitionists waited in congregations on the night before, for word that President Lincoln had officially signed the proclamation as he had promised during his initial proclamation speech in September 1862, after the Battle of Antietam.  In the wake of so much tragedy this year, it is good to remember reasons to hope.  This year's trials and tribulations have caused me to reflect on my values and ponder the definition of justice.  What does it mean to seek justice, to be free, and what rights must we protect to ensure liberty for mankind?

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Hong Kong's hidden water city

In wake of recent disasters that have shut down cities in the United States, NBC aired a news segment about the complex drainage system that begins in the hills and runs beneath the roads and other infrastructure in Hong Kong.  While Hong Kong's location behind the Philippines allows it to escape a lot of the brunt during storm season, we still weather an average of seven tropical storms each year.  And we can thank the ingenuity and preparedness of many civil and drainage engineers within the region for why we won't be sitting in our darkened living rooms with stale crackers and 7-up any time soon.

Please check out the two minute video clip.  It shows part of the amazing labyrinth of tunnels beneath us, which most of us will never see or even realize is below.

I would love to tour the drainage system.  So far the only drainage system that I have toured was below Paris and it wasn't a storm water system, if you get my drift (har har, a pun).  The tour, though informative and interesting, was also fragrant and I spent the rest of the day discreetly sniffing at my clothing in fear that remnants of the overwhelming experience had ingrained themselves upon me.

Last year I spent enough time charting the progress of the Hong Kong West Drainage Tunnel to start wondering if I was becoming a groupie.  Some of you may recall my blog post in September 2011 regarding my nervousness because my office building was vibrating.  Smoggie directed me to the DSD presentation showing that there was tunneling going on right next to my office.  After reading about the project I was hooked on following the progress.  In fact, like a romantic storybook ending, Nuwa and Oshin (these were the names for the tunnel boring machines), both majestic creatures at 7.2 and 8.3m diameter respectively, reunited near Stubbs Road right next to my office after struggling through 11 kilometers of volcanic rock and granite.  And thanks to all their struggles we can now live happily ever after.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

silent night

Knowing that I was alone for the holidays, some well meaning friends would not take no for an answer and dragged me out with them for a boozy night in LKF.  I will admit to feeling sorry for myself now and then without SB but I have also been enjoying the peaceful state of our home and the opportunity to curl up on the couch with some warm cider and my Kindle.  I would have enjoyed spending last night finding out what happened to [the fictionalized] Cromwell after Wolsey’s death but I suspected that this night of cheering me up was more necessary to my rescuers, who granted themselves a rare and guilt free night away from their children in order to carry out their mission of mercy.

The well intentioned couple brought along their neighbor, an architect, who they seated me next to with the assumption that the two of us would enjoy talking to each other or at the very least, have something to talk about.  They were wrong.  After the initial, "who do you work for?" question that was met with a firm that I confessed that I didn't know about, I asked him if there were any projects that I would be familiar with.  His response: "We're a very conceptual firm and we don't do a lot of mainstream stuff.  You wouldn't know any of my work." Well, okay then. After forcing myself to ask a few more polite questions I discovered that his firm specialized in using animation programs such as Maya.  Creating geometric designs using NURBS (Non-uniform rational basis spline) surface modeling is definitely a specialty field in architecture though not as special and elite as he might think; I took Maya classes along with 1/3 of my graduating class back in the day.  Though tempted to throw out some comment on bifurcation to clue him in (imagine the horror of a "mainstream" architect knowing your secret language!) I decided that it was horribly selfish of me to commandeer all of his attention and vacated my seat under the pretense of ordering a drink.  

Jake, a fitness instructor, ended up taking the seat next to His Hipster Holiness and I was free to start a conversation with two random South African women at the bar.  We talked about all sorts of meaningless things for almost an hour while I carefully avoided Jake's attempts to make eye contact. When I excused myself to the ladies' room, Jake cornered me in the hallway.

"Following women to the restroom is creepy," I told him.

"Please don't leave me with alone with that guy," he begged, "all he does is stare at the wall." I looked over and sure enough, His Hipster Holiness was staring off at apparently nothing with a cool, bored look.

"I'm sure you can find something to talk about.  You're both hipsters." I desperately wanted to return to conversing about socks or kittens or whatever it was that I was talking about with the random women.

"I'm not a hipster.  I just wear tight clothing."

Sadly, my conscience got the better of me and I agreed to join Jake in attempting to converse with HHH.  Of course, five minutes into the ordeal Jake jumped up to buy me a well earned drink and somehow got side-tracked.  Eventually I saw him chatting up the two South African girls, leaving me to suffer alone.

And that is how I spent the evening instead of feeling sorry for myself at home.

Monday, December 24, 2012

the best things

'Tis the night before Christmas and I'm alone in my house, quiet as a mouse.  Or considering the feast I just partook in, maybe I'm more of a fluffy gerbil.  Anyway, I am here and missing SB but I did have a wonderful time with some of my favorite people.  I am losing track of the days; after another rugby party on Saturday I found myself creeping home at 6am and then proceeded to miss most of Sunday, only to rally again today.  As there is a boozy brunch at 11am tomorrow I am staying inside tonight.  Our Christmas Eve group ordered a ham dinner from Great that really was great except that they forgot to include our potatoes when we picked up the dinner.  Great would not deliver and no one in our party was interested in taking a taxi back to Admiralty for the missing spuds so we had to make do with roasted apples and brussel sprouts.  There was plenty of delicious ham to everyone's delight except the two vegetarians in the group.  Next time we will take inventory of our food pick-up.  It was annoying to find part of our feast missing no matter how good the ham was.

I haven't come up with a gift for SB. He is gone for a month so I have time.  In the past I have gotten him electronic devices such as a GPS, a phone, a camera, and a Wii.  Then I started thinking and realized that while my gifts are really useful and appreciated now, I haven't gifted him with much that can be considered a keepsake.  So this year I want to give him a gift that he can look upon fondly in the future.

SB has gotten me some real stinkers such as that French cookbook that the only thing French about it was that it was written in French, or the coffee mug and weird figurine that were clearly bought at the airport on his way home.  But he has also come up with some wonderful presents that have amazed me.  I list my top five presents, not necessarily from Christmas but full of joy nonetheless.

  • Wood Buddha: It is not very large, about the size of a bowling ball and about as heavy.  It is a very smooth, round sculpture with minimal features but mostly just a curved and very dense piece of beautiful ebony wood.  I love how heavy and smooth it is.  I like to cradle it in my arms and run my hands across it, trying to distinguish the faint wood grain.
  • Lilies: He buys me lilies every few months from the flower store downstairs.  I love the way they fill the entire flat with their sweet fragrance. Strange how I hate flowery perfumes but love the scent of fresh lilies.  
  • Tiffany Necklace: SB's family has a tradition involving this store.  He and all of his cousins were gifted with silver key-chains when they graduated from high school.  He received cuff-links upon completing his undergraduate degree and a card case after completion of business school.  I had never even set foot in a Tiffany store when we met but two years later I had my own robin egg blue box with a pretty, little necklace.  I love it more for what it means to be included in his family than its beauty.  And I love him.
  • Lacrosse Stick: I don't really play lacrosse but the stick meant a great deal to me because it signified that SB wanted to spend more time with me.  By gifting me with my own stick, he ensured that I would accompany him when he wanted to throw the ball around.  As an added bonus it was perfectly acceptable to club him with my stick while playing with him.
  • A Dog: Okay, he didn't quite gift me with a dog but he borrowed one once and it was bliss.  I was at home in NY when I heard some strange noises outside of the back door.  Then a black shadow rushed past the window and frightened me half to death.  It was Ozzie, SB's sister's dog.  I met Ozzie before I met his sister (she met me the next day) and it was love at second sight.   

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Hypnerotomachia Hoplophilia

When I lived in Italy I once engaged in a lively debate over a court ruling that pinching a woman's posterior was not illegal or even unacceptable as long as the [male] pincher did so in the spur of the moment due to being overcome by "appreciation" for the woman or her appendages.  It was a surreal moment when I realized that the debaters in the butt pinching camp were serious.  Years later I read about the antics of Silvio Berlusconi and thought to myself, how does this country manage to survive when run by buffoons?

And then I read the statement released by the NRA's Wayne LaPierre calling for armed guards in every school while blaming rap music, movies and video games for the perpetuation of gun violence.  I am still waiting for the subsequent press release revealing that he lost his carefully prepared speech notes, accidentally consumed some magic mushrooms in his breakfast omelette and then suffered a stroke right before giving his statement.

By the way, right before LaPierre unleashed his findings on the causes of homicide using firearms, Slate's Chris Kirk published an interactive chart indicating every school shooting since 1980. You can read about it here:

Thursday, December 20, 2012

fir your health

I have been enjoying the wonderful scent of fir that permeates the air from the nursery selling Christmas trees opposite to the Happy Valley racecourse entrance, as well as when I pass various flower shops and wreaths adorning businesses.  If only I could get my hands on some mistletoe.  Other favorite Christmas scents include mulled wine, hot cider (I have been making this every other morning), peppermint, and brandy.  

The other day in the grocery store I was given a sample of sparkling lemonade.  I almost spit it out when the taste that hit my tongue was not only the delicious, tangy citrus taste but something that reminded me of furniture polish.  I then looked more closely at the display and discovered that my sample was fir flavored.  I was not aware that you could consume fir sap.  I have also never consumed pine/fir scented furniture polish but as soon as the lemonade hit my mouth, that is what I thought of.  

The lemonade part of the drink was not bad.  The drink comes in fancy glass bottles.  Other "flavors" include something with what I suspect were real gold flakes, fruits, and a range of lemonade mixed with wine.  Interesting.  The sample lady told me that the fir lemonade was good for my health.  I should have asked her how so.  Regardless, it smelled like holiday happiness in a bottle even if the taste wasn't quite the same.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

prickly things

SB announced to me that he was flying to New York in three days and would be there for a month.  His father is in the hospital and apparently is a handful.  The exact term used by the suffering hospital staff was 'combative.'  I agree that SB needs to be there to take care of his father and spend time with the family.  I am, however, annoyed that he only just now informed me that I would be spending the holidays alone.  I am not exactly pleased that he forgot to tell me that his father was unwell and then purchased the plane tickets before informing me that he was leaving or inviting me along.  I feel that he should have invited me even though I wouldn't have gone while he claims that he didn't think I would go so he didn't see the need to invite me.  Is this one of those Mars vs. Venus things?  Because Venus would like to club Mars over the head for his lack of inclusiveness in all of this decision making.

Then he tried to convince me to go shopping with him for gifts but I quickly disabused him of that notion.

We did have time to go on a small walk above the valley together.  We noticed some quills lying near the beginning stage from the Parkview to Dragon's Back.  I didn't know that porcupines exist here.  Has anyone seen any on your hikes?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

flint and steel

First, my disclaimer.  I come from a family of gun owners.  Mostly, we have rifles and shotguns that are used on the fish and game preserve.  A few of my family own guns for protective purposes.  In a more ideal world criminals wouldn't be able to so easily access guns and no one would need to exercise their second amendment rights.  I also acknowledge that the amount of damage that one person can cause with a firearm is a reason for alarm.  We need to do something about this and we need to do it soon.

When gun control is mentioned, the NRA uses their clout to shut down almost all attempts at legislation.  SB is one of the gun owners who is against most forms of gun control legislation that is proposed, and to an extent I am as well.  Most gun control legislation is agreeable such as banning those clips that carry hundred of shots without needing to reload (it should only take one shot to fell a deer) but then there is always something tacked on to the proposal that is unpalatable and keeps the legislation from being passed.  Both sides of the debate appear unwilling to agree on theoretical issues regarding gun ownership and rights in the US, and we are turning blue debating our points without attempting to look at the problem creatively.

Let's work on what we can agree on first.  Both sides will agree that violent crimes involving the use of guns, handguns especially, are plentiful and concerning.  I think that the first step is to set aside attempts to further handgun legislation (for now) and instead increase punishment for crimes involving the use of a gun.  The NRA can't find fault with that because it would also address their issues of disreputable people ruining it for all of us.  This would not curb all crime but there would at least be a segment of the population who would think twice about carrying a gun with them if they knew that getting caught would result in a high price to pay.

My next step would be to take a page from the anti-abortion groups.  A lot of states have found ways to deny abortions despite being in a pro-choice system by enacting TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) policies that make it almost impossible for an abortion clinic to operate such as requiring extremely stringent building codes including excessively wide doors and huge operating rooms, and forcing doctors to live closer to their clinics where they can more easily be harassed and threatened.

I would suggest that instead of attempting to abolish the second amendment, which would be long, costly and most likely unfruitful, gun control proponents should borrow from the TRAP regulators.  Maybe include mental heath assessments to be provided by licensed psychologists.  Perhaps require fingerprints to be added to a federal database; a lot of libertarians would have huge issues with this.  How about adding some building codes for gun shops that required beefed up security and surveillance?  While resolving the larger questions regarding free will and rights versus safety and prevention seems to be a long way away, there are things we can do now if only people would think more creatively.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

a black day today

                                                     Nature's first green is gold,
                                                     Her hardest hue to hold.
                                                     Her early leaf's a flower;
                                                     But only so an hour.
                                                     Then leaf subsides to leaf.
                                                     So Eden sank to grief,
                                                     So dawn goes down to day.
                                                     Nothing gold can stay.
                                                                         - Robert Frost

                                                     Rest in Peace David Tait

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


Brought to you by the Oregon Zoo, a baby elephant playing in wood shavings.  Because we all love baby animals and suffer for our love of charismatic megafauna.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Merry, merry

We had our rugby club holiday party last night.  Fun was had by all in a relatively trouble free way with the exception of the moron who swiped the golf cart and broke the boom gate to King's Park.  He is about to become a CCTV star, albeit a poorer one once he gets the bill for his shenanigans. 

Finding the correct venue fell into SB's hands and the effort was carried out in a method similar to how Goldilocks chose her accommodation.  We wanted a place that would provide a party befitting rugby players as well as our supporters, that was at an affordable price, and would be enjoyed by all of our club's population cohorts.  We needed beer for the antipodes and Brits, wine for the Frenchies, and a buffet for the Chinese.  We got a surprisingly good price quote from Azure in the Hotel LKF but felt like it was too nice a venue.  If anyone is looking for a place to host a large party for normal people I would recommend calling Azure.  I love the art deco feel to the place and you can't go wrong with rooftop cocktails.  We also got a reasonable quote from Champs but we wouldn't have had the whole place to ourselves so we decided to go with King's Park and their vendor, Delaney's.

There was a small bit of gripe from a few club members that the location was sub-optimal and too familiar because we play there a lot.  For SB and me, the location was perfect because the isolation meant that we wouldn't be unleashing our teammates on unsuspecting bystanders.  We had a great dinner buffet consisting of turkey, ham, two kinds of potatoes, several vegetables, stuffing, pudding, and enough booze to over-serve all interested parties.  At the end of the night we had finally drained the enormous punch bowl but there were still unopened bottles of wine and beer despite valiant efforts made by a few very large men.  Two of the very large men were found defeated and sleeping off their efforts on the pitch.

A few days before the party SB began to confirm the number of attendees.  We found a dozen names on the club's Facebook invite that we didn't recognize.  SB tried to message them but their profiles didn't allow any contact options.  Then we looked at the profiles and discovered that one of the attendees liked to upload pictures of her hamster while another had lots of Manga and basketball.  Holy crap, we had some 14 year old from the colts team on their way over to Bacchanal 2012!  And because of their ages, Facebook wasn't allowing us to contact them to let them know that this was an age inappropriate event.

We tried to keep an eye out for any dewy faced members drinking beer and warned the less intelligent members to ID any women they managed to woo.  The only two fourteen year olds that we saw thankfully arrived with their mother.  On the bus ride over from So Kon Po, where we had been playing, mom had her jacket over them as underwear started flying past our heads.  Then the songs began.  I wasn't sure if the bus was taking us to King's Park of straight to hell.  Either way, I hoped that we had enough beer.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

getting into the spirit

This morning I woke up chilled and so tonight I will finally be using my duvet, which makes me happy because it is starting to feel a bit more like winter, or at least a tropical facsimile of winter.  SB of course is still in t-shirt and shorts with the windows wide open.  He claims that it's only chilly because I just got over being sick.  I lost half a kilo over the past week so SB won't be receiving any awards for his nursing or lack thereof.  I would have called cousin Shoils but she's pregnant so I was left with my only other option.  Acquiring chicken noodle soup from my a partner with ADHD meant receiving a phone call from the grocery store because he forgot the shopping list followed by a long wait for the soup to cook because he got distracted watching the football game.  But he made the appropriate noises of sympathy and acknowledgement of my misery carried a lot of weight.

I played in the rugby match for my team last night even though I was still feeling a bit under the weather but I needed some activity and it was the last match before a long winter break.  Next weekend is the club's holiday party followed by a month of cheery activities.  Maybe it was a good thing that I starved for the past week.

In the next few days I will be dragging down ornaments and attacking the windows like a jolly elf to prepare our home for the holiday spirit.  Right now, even the air smells right.  Every time I'm on a tram out of the valley we pass a nursery that has recently started selling fir trees.  The scent of fir is amazing.  I wish that I could buy the scent.  I tried an essential oil last year but it ended up smelling like disinfectant.