Friday, May 31, 2013

Wronged number

SB had been receiving several phone calls per week from an unknown number. He always answers calls from unknown numbers because they are often from overseas family and friends but the latest batch have been from telemarketers.

I was told that telemarketer calls from unlisted numbers are not allowed but how does one report violators if one cannot identify the caller? SB often gets an earful of rapidly spoken (and not allowing interruption) Cantonese, followed by being hung up on when he asks who the caller is.

We have tried to talk to our mobile provider about this nuisance but China Mobile claims that there is nothing to be done. We are also a bit suspicious because China Mobile sells its customers' numbers.  And then charges them for calls. Brilliant.

After complaining to Cousin Shoils we were given some advice. Next time SB receives an unlisted telemarketing call he will breathe heavily into the phone and say, "It is done but there's blood everywhere." And then when the telemarketer begins to speak, he will hang up.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

what's the message?

This was the giant billboard advertisement that greeted me at the exit to the Central Tunnel near Hung Hom.  There is a drink involved; that is all I know.  If I hadn't taken a picture I wouldn't have remembered what was being advertised.  But I would have remembered the zebra.  And Andy Lau, or at least I think it's Andy Lau.  The picture is a bit too blurry.

Thursday, May 23, 2013


SB and I have spent years slowly and incrementally increasing our credit spending limits with HSBC.  Back when I opened my account they only gave me a limit equal to one month's salary.  It was laughable, except that it really wasn't.  SB once had to purchase some last minute plane tickets for his designers to fly from Europe to the US with his credit card and he was rejected.  Luckily I still had an old US card on my person.  After five years my limit is almost two months' salary, which was acceptable for my needs until recently when I heard that my ATM card was going to use UnionPay instead of Visa or Mastercard.

I wonder how it's going to be when I go to Paris for a couple of weeks in August with only a credit card that carries a paltry limit and whatever cash I can carry?  It seems a bit ridiculous that in the 21st century my choices are more limited than they were at the close of the 20th century.  Back then I didn't have to worry about being stranded while on vacation in a foreign country as long as I had my universally accepted check card, which allowed me to withdraw or "charge" all I wanted as long as I had money in the account.  Even banks that carry check cards are charging fees for using them these days, though.

After looking up the UnionPay website (discussion of the horror that is their amateur hour website shall be saved for another day) for locations across the world where I could withdraw money and discovering that almost all of the needed information is to be "provided soon" I thought seriously about only using my US bank but that isn't feasible because I would need to pay a transaction fee every time I made a withdrawal.  Also, my US bank, Band of America is now also charging all sorts of usage fees including account fees for the privilege of storing my money with them.  I am especially chagrined about this because I paid taxes that were used to bail Bank of America out of the mess that they had gotten themselves into.  As soon as I am back in the US I will be closing that account and finding another bank or credit union that won't be charging me a monthly fee on an account that I don't even access.  My only other criterion is that the accompanying ATM card is truly universally accepted so that I have a backup when my UnionPay doesn't back up its claims for use abroad.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Architart in wonderland

One of the firms in my top ten list of architects I would like to work for is considering whether or not to open a Hong Kong office.  Until now their local presence has been akin to two men in a phone booth who relay project information to a team in New York.  A friend of a friend knew the dog walker of the best friend of the wife of one of the partners, or something like that, and so I was able to schedule an informational interview.  Unfortunately the interview was this morning during the black rain storm.

It all started well enough: dinner at a reasonable hour and SB and me snuggled up in bed before midnight.  SB even offered to sleep on the couch because his tendency to snore loudly while rolling over me does not leave me well rested but I decided to drug him with allergy medicine instead since it knocks him out.  Somehow our water glasses must have cross contaminated because I also slept very heavily and was very groggy and disoriented when I awoke hours later to hear the wind banging and howling against our window.  Despite the flashing lightning and loud noises I fell back asleep almost immediately and didn't think anything was amiss when I woke up in the morning to rain and darkness.

I was up at an earlier hour because I was traveling to an office in Kowloon so I convinced myself that it was darker because of the time of day.  After a few minutes of standing at a deserted bus stop I began to have doubts but my phone was set up to receive weather warnings...or so I thought.  Apparently that HK weather app was useless.  I have since downloaded the HK Obeservatory app.

I then tried to call and confirm my interview but no one was answering.  I was 80% sure that the meeting was cancelled but I wasn't willing to bet on the remaining 20% so I found a taxi driver who was willing to negotiate the price of bringing me to Kowloon.  And by negotiate I mean that he allowed me to keep the coins left over in my wallet.  In fifteen minutes Mr. Kwok had earned enough to add another phone to the collection that was beeping and flashing across his dashboard.

The building housing the firm's glorified phone booth of an office was quite large with several banks of lifts and not one single piece of furniture dotting the miles of polished marble floor.  I had to change out of my rain boots hunched over in a corner where no one could pass by behind me and see the color of my underwear.  I was half an hour early so I lurked behind a column for twenty more minutes before heading upstairs where I met...darkness.  The office was dark and empty.  No one was there.  I tried to phone them again and saw a red light blinking at the reception counter on the other side of the glazing.

At least when I exited the building buses were running.  Despite having an umbrella I was still soaked from the knee down but I didn't care as long as I didn't have to pawn my necklace to afford a taxi ride home.  The rest of me got soaked as well after I met SB for coffee because someone took the umbrella.

The interview has been rescheduled for tomorrow morning.  I can't imagine anything else going wrong, but maybe I should prepare in case a swarm of locusts or some other biblical misfortune descends upon us tomorrow.

Monday, May 20, 2013

cringe-worthy moments

Many years ago in more immature times my first boyfriend and I experienced a long, awkward breakup.  We more than just experienced it; we were active thespians with starring roles to a soap opera.  I would have named the soap, Overwrought Recurrences. While a small corner of our rational brain lobes recognized that it was time to move on, the more creative areas of the brain decided to make the most of this poignant moment of youth.  Making the most out of something doesn't always mean making the best of it.  

We didn't want each other but we didn't want anyone else to have each other either.  I would manage to find out who he was interested in and then show up at a party where I would casually (at least casually in my head) make comments to the other girl about how he had shown up to watch my race and drive me home the previous weekend.  Of course he had only shown up at the race because he heard that I was getting friendly with a fellow runner and needed to show him who was the big dog.  We spent almost a year lifting our legs and peeing over everything until he graduated and moved away, thus saving us from further humiliating events.

Despite our best efforts to act like idiots we managed to salvage the friendship and moved on from the toxic behavior.  He is one of few people who has known me since school days and I am thankful for that connection to my past even with the cringe-worthy memories.  Those times when I remember something particularly childish serve as a reminder to work on self awareness, because I certainly wasn't thinking, "Gee, this will cause me to flinch in horror every time I am reminded of how bratty I was."  The recognition of jacknappery is quite a character building tool.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

part man, part goat

As I was catching up on local American news I experienced something akin to déjà vu when I read a burglary story from Kentucky.  The suspect, who coincidentally shares the maiden name of SB's mother, broke into a supermarket and managed to consume six steaks, several boxes of shrimp, a birthday cake, and fifty-seven cans of whipped cream which he then washed down with beer.  When I read about the man's intake to SB, he also recognized a similarity to his own dietary needs.  Cousin, is that you?

Saturday, May 18, 2013

When WAGs attack (with sticks)

SB's lacrosse teammates' plus ones are a lively group of women who I enjoy visiting with.  They're not so different looking from the rugby WAGs: pretty, well dressed and put together with much more care than SB's girlfriend who rarely diverges from ponytails and flip flops.  I like the rugby ladies well enough and get along with the ones who play other sports (I even went to my first netball tournament a few weeks ago to support a couple of the rugby girlfriends) but I don't spend a great deal of time chatting to them as a group because often the talk is about their men or things relating to their men.  Trust me, I hear it enough from the men themselves. I'm fortunate that my difference as a player makes it acceptable to leave the conversation because some of the WAGs take on a glazed, trapped look when the others' talk inevitably turns to "my boyfriend is amazing because blah blah blah."

Lacrosse isn't a hugely popular sport here in Hong Kong, although it is growing, so it is less likely that chronic "jersey collectors" number among the women lining the stands.  When not prowling the sidelines watching SB or taking photographs of the team, I enjoy listening to the banter.  One woman works for an NGO that focuses on teaching job skills to battered women.  Another plays on the women's national team and always appears at the matches with two young children, wearing mini team jerseys and carrying mini lacrosse sticks.  They aren't an over-awed group of supporters and last week we were in stitches making fun of the antics of our men with their awards.  I won't reveal SB's silliness but it isn't as awesome as one of the men who was revealed to strut around naked, wearing all of his medals.  I didn't think to ask if this practice achieved a positive result from the girlfriend. I wonder how many people actually do sit at home and polish their trophies.

I started playing lacrosse this season and it occurred to me that I should invite my fellow WAGs to try it out with me.  They always pay close attention to the game and express a lot of enthusiasm.  So I showed up at training with a fellow WAG.  After some initial bemusement from players who were used to seeing her in a pretty dress on the sidelines, she soon convinced them that she was serious about learning the sport.  Now there are three of us wielding sticks at along with our menfolk.  I don't think that all of the WAGs are going to join in but it's nice to have a common activity with them since we have been sitting together on weekends for seven months of the year for the past couple of seasons.  We are practically a team already, just a stationary one.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Hong Kong and racism

The Washington Post reported that a survey examining economic freedom and racism ranked Hong Kong as number one of all other countries for racial intolerance based on questions including one that asked if they would mind a neighbor of a different race.

Aside from the usual caveats regarding truthfulness in surveys, I can think of other possible reasons for intolerance of others when packed together like sardines.  SB and I are distracted by our neighbor's cooking smells but I'm not sure that it makes us racist to wish that it wasn't so common for some cultures to fry fish and fermented food items.

On the other hand, we have seen some deplorable behaviors toward foreigners that can't be blamed on stress from overcrowding and over-saturation.  I just have a hard time imagining that the prejudice that I have experienced in Hong Kong is the worst in the world when I read about horrific crimes committed all over the world.

** Update: Hong Kong Paintings has informed me that the Washington Post made a correction, and that instead of 71.8 percent of HK residents reflecting racial intolerance, only 28.3 percent responded that way, making it neither the best nor the worst.

not my ideal

Yes, yes I know that I often lovingly refer to SB's pleasantly fuzzy exterior coating and his prehensile feel but there is a limit to my fondness of early history.  

My recipe feed has recently been bombarding me with all sorts of recipes for 'paleo' this or 'paleo' that.  Without knowing anything about the new diet, I already had an idea of what is was about, considering that paleolithic refers to the prehistoric time period that our ancestors developed stone tools.  In other words, it's a caveman diet, except the foods featured don't look like anything cavemen would have conjured with their rocks and axes.  Yes, call me a cynic.

Fad lovers, miracle weight loss/health seekers and a diet professionals claims that benefits of eating a diet made of of foods that a caveman could hunt or forage (though not exactly what a caveman would have cooked) include freedom from diseases such as heart disease and diabetes as well as a slim figure.  I think that most dietitians would agree that lean meat and fresh fruits and vegetables in a balanced diet would have the same benefit and you wouldn't even have to buy the paleo book.

I suspect that most diet followers, like religious devotees, have a need to be told specifically how to think and what to believe when they adhere to these diets.  To distinguish the diet from the all too simple advise to eat balanced meals, paleo gurus tell dieters to eat specific wild plants and food that could have been hunted or gathered in paleolithic times.  This will eliminate exposure to the processed foods that contain cholesterol and saturated fat, as well as the 'diseases of affluence.'  

I'm not interested in anything that bans gluten or dairy because I am a cheese lover, despite being lactose intolerant, and SB is a bread lover.  I don't eat very much dairy but I could never cut it out of my life entirely and SB is genetically gifted so who cares if he eats entire baguettes all day long?  Beside, have these paleo dieters been to the museum of natural history?  Those cavemen in the reenactment scenes are all four feet tall and bent over with teeth that were worn down from all of that stone ground grain.  That is not my picture of perfect health.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

talking round the problem

Since I no longer read the Standard due to its propensity to raise my blood pressure to dangerous levels, I missed the gem of a quote by Hong Kong's Security Chief, Lai Tung-Kwok until this evening when I was having a glass of grape beverage at my local.  Several of my friends were discussing the uproar that was caused abroad and whether the local mindset if different.  The conversation then went on to how one of my friends (a man) thought that there was an overreaction over what he considered to be practical advice.  I point out that the comment came from a man because I've had similar conversations before and it always is a man who makes the inevitable comparison to being drunk and mugged or leaving valuables in your car and having it broken into.  Opportunistic crimes.

Let's for a moment pretend that rapists are motivated by the same logic as muggers and thieves, and that they are seeking some sort of benefit over their victims rather than the more sinister and less logical reason.  If this was solely a crime of opportunity, then my friend's point makes some sense because we get warned about how to avoid making ourselves victims.  So if women weren't so drunk and unable to notice danger or if they weren't so attractive and caused the rapist to need sexual gratification then they could avoid being raped.

According to this logic, did you know that the leading cause of pedophilia was sexy eight year olds?

Yes, there have been a spate of cases where young women got very drunk and opportunistic predators took advantage, but the fact, according to the Journal of American College Health. Vol. 39, is that 79% of rape victims are not intoxicated.  But do you know who was intoxicated?  In 55% of cases, it was the rapist.  Mr. Lai would be addressing the problem better by advising men to stop getting drunk because they might be tempted to rape.

Every so often I read a horrible case of a random person who was assaulted outside a bar or standing on the street by a drunk thug.  No one stands around discussing how that blue shirt he was wearing or poor choice to stand next to the door led to his attack, even though it may have indeed led to the attack.  We correctly focus on the criminal and despair over the generation of yobs and thugs that are being produced, and how to correct it.

I have yet to hear a discussion on sexual violence that doesn't gravitate toward how we women can protect ourselves - useless advice for the majority of rape victims anyway.  When are we going to start talking about the problem with the generations of people who think its okay to humiliate and dominate others.  Because I bet we would have much more success at rape prevention if we had fewer rapists, not fewer victims.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Chai mix

We ran out of our supply of coffee beans that SB had brought home from our favorite New York coffee roaster, Ithaca Coffee Company so I decided to try something new.  I used to really like drinking chai but I had forgotten about it since moving to Hong Kong.  I went out and bought some chai mixes but they weren't satisfying my memories of a milky, spicy tea with both robust and subtle layers of flavor.  Then I thought to myself, I bet I could try to make this on my own.

So that is what I did.

Most of the recipes that I found online used black tea with two teaspoons each of ginger and cinnamon, and one teaspoon each of cardamom and cloves.  Then you added sugar to your taste.  I found other exotic recipes using star anise, fennel seeds, peppercorns, nutmeg, vanilla, etc.  I decided to experiment with different spices and had a fun time trying out the different combinations.  I liked the subtle licorice flavor of using anise but thought it was too bitter when combined with cloves so I preferred fennel seeds, in very small doses.

Here is my favorite chai mix (so far):

3/4 cup of water
1/4 cup of half & half (or evaporated milk)
2 teaspoons of black tea (I prefer Assam tea)
2 smashed cardamom pods
1/2 cinnamon stick, or 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1 thin slice of ginger, or 1/8 teaspoon of ground ginger 
1 clove, or 1/8 teaspoon of ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon of fennel seeds
2 peppercorns
sugar or honey, to taste

Heat the milk and water until just below boiling.  Add the tea and spices into a tea strainer or mesh bag and steep for a couple of minutes and then sweeten.  

It's that easy.  The only difficulty is trying to recall which combination you like the most.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

spring roundup

The spring season has been an active one.  It is almost summer here and I've only now gotten around to parsing through my camera's files.  Without further ado, I present Archi and SB's spring photolog.

SB's lacrosse team continued to dominate the league

but his hockey team was eliminated in the playoffs

Meanwhile my rugby team made it to the fifth grand final in a row since I've been with them...and lost for the fifth time in a row.  I don't have a picture to upload because I still can't bear to look at them.

In other rugby news...

We saw all sorts of rugby legends compete during the Hong Kong Tens

Los Angeles' ICEF Rugby boys played against Operation Breakthrough

The Hong Kong Women's Sevens didn't fail to entertain

Though the IRB Hong Kong Sevens was the ticket to have

The Pot Bellied Pigs played a rugby match with the Marines from the USS Peleliu.

I didn't take pictures of the Pigs vs Marines match because I was running touch but it was a hugely enjoyable match to watch.  Those marines sure like their iron and their tattoos.  I regret not having a camera on hand.

yeah, okay

Setting: last night, in the bedroom as we are getting ready to go to sleep.

SB (holding up his phone): Hey, do you want to see a video of a woman taking a dump in the lift of the Shenzhen MTR?

Me: Aack, no!  Gross!  

Me: Wait, was it a girl or a woman?

SB: A grown woman.

Me: Yeah, okay

SB starts to load the video

Me: No, no!  I meant, 'yeah, okay I've heard it all,' not, 'yeah, okay I want to see the video.'

Instead we watch a video of a duckling fighting off sleep.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

I don't know why

SB begins by telling me, "I don't know why," and then he pulls out some socks from the laundry, "but I really like putting socks on your feet.  I think it's because you have such tiny, little socks and I can't believe that they fit on your tiny, little feet."  And then he puts the socks on me even though it's warm and muggy outside and I really don't need to be wearing socks.  I would say that I don't know why I love him so much but that's not true.  I love him not only despite the fact that he's such a weirdo, but because of it.

Right now he is squeezing each of my sock-clad toes in a rather unconscious gesture as he reads the news with my foot on his lap.

Friday, May 3, 2013

music that moves

In 2008 I wrote about how specific art and music evoke a powerful response in me, especially when the response is tied to a memory.  I still occasionally get teary eyed when listening to Jeff Buckley or Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, who in a weird coincidence died within a month of each other.  In their voices you can feel the mana coming out and seizing something deep within yourself.  You are held in its grip and transported into the song, maybe even into a memory.

Last month, Maine Public Broadcasting Network produced a series called Music That Moves Me, which I strongly urge anyone, especially music lovers, to listen to.  Featured speakers discussed how a certain piece of music influenced them in the course of their lives.  The recordings were deeply personal and SB and I each had a favorite.  SB loved Craig Campbell's recollection of a nautical adventure while I (of course) bawled while listening to Jim Shaffer's story about his brother.  MPBN also allowed listeners to add their own stories to the series and you can listen to them on the webpage along with the featured speakers.

SB and I hooked up the computer to our sound system and listened to one recollection every night after dinner.  It was a wonderful experience and inspired us to begin talking about the songs on the program or about our own musical recollections.  Some of the stories that we shared, we already knew about each other, but many stories were new.  SB even remembered a song that he and his roommates made up about Nanjing to the tune of 'New York, New York,' which he sang to our friend from Nanjing who may or may not have been entertained.

I can't help but think that Spike or Ulie could have a story or two worth adding to the listener recollections...