Sunday, June 30, 2013

summer glow

One of the things that I love about summer is junk trips.  There is nothing like swimming in the ocean at an outlying island with a few dozen friends to make you forget how hot and miserable Hong Kong is during the summer.  

In the past month a few junk trips were derailed by foul weather but last weekend I was finally back out on the water.  Everything was brilliant, literally and figuratively, and a lovely swim turned into nearly an hour of laps by the beach.  Unfortunately my back was...out on the water.  I didn't do a good enough job with the sun lotion and now I have glowing, angry, red skin at my shoulders and lower back.  

As misery likes company, I was somewhat pleased to notice that my teammate was not wearing underwear beneath her shirt the next day. Apparently tight elastic was too much for her skin.  We have another junk this weekend and I'm wondering where to buy those neoprene balaclavas that are so popular in Qingdao.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

the human heart in conflict with itself

We spent our time after dinner last night listening to William Faulkner's acceptance speech for his 1949 Nobel Prize in Literature.

You can read it or listen to it here:

Not only does "the human heart in conflict with itself" make for great literature, but it makes for great moments in life. I reflected on difficult decisions that I have made; some have helped to define me, some I have learned from, some I was proud of, and some I wish that I could take back. I have regrets, but I am not weighed down by them.  I have triumphs, but they probably aren't meaningful to anyone else.

If you life was a book, what kind would it be?

Monday, June 24, 2013

Can I get this on Youtube?

I was grabbed by a news headline stating that a "sheep eating" plant was set to bloom in a greenhouse in Surrey for the first time in fifteen years.  This I had to find out about.

According to the International Science Times, the Puya chilensis, a native of Chile, indeed does use its spikes to trap animals as large as sheep and then fertilizes itself with their decaying corpses.  I am torn between wanting to see a time lapse video of this process and being horrified at myself.  I may have to settle for watching Little Shop of Horrors.

Friday, June 21, 2013

one of those days

SB happily trotted off this morning for a hike; he had planned out an off the trails voyage to locate some waterfalls in Tai Po that he had seen on a recent trail hike.

Two hours later he was home again, having abandoned the hike fifteen minutes in when he realized that it was one of those days in HK that is simply too hot to be outside.  We've had a few incidents where we have had to cut short our hikes when we've become alarmingly low on water and today was just not the day to try something new.

Monday, June 17, 2013

we saw a woman

We saw a woman wearing a pink jacket that depicted poodles with hair bows. Then we passed her and saw what she was cradling in her arms. A more abiding love may be hard to find.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

I won't be there

I could explain why I'm not the least bit interested in going to the rally at 3pm or supporting Snowden but Slate's article pretty much covers my feelings on the subject, and more eloquently than I could.  Slate Magazine is on of my go-to online publications; they tend to espouse views that are strikingly similar to mine: left leaning yet moderate, with occasionally haughty or contraction stances.  Like the folks over at Slate, I am strongly opposed to the NSA gaining full access to private companies' Internet servers and spying on its citizens.  Even if Snowden's accusations now seem to be greatly exaggerated, I still want a review and clarification of just what my government is doing to its own people.  But I never did like those martyrs that I had to read about in catechism class; they reeked of delusional and self serving behavior.  Of all the available options, why chose jumping into the fire?

Friday, June 14, 2013

master of none

One side benefit of practicing in Hong Kong is that I don't have to deal with a certain type of client that I saw all too often in the United States: the guy who thinks he's an architect, too.  Here people need only to look over my shoulder at the skyline to accept the truth of my profession.  Back home, aside from large cities, there is enough land to build horizontally instead of vertically.  An architecture or engineering degree isn't necessary to build a two story, ugly box that holds rooms, and somehow this fact means that many ugly box users and dwellers feel that slapping a "window treatment" suddenly makes them a designer.  Apparently those six and a half years of schooling weren't necessary.

When I interned at a small, residential firm in Texas I learned to appreciate my boss' patience and humor when confronted by would-be clients who fancied themselves to be architects and just needed him to "you know, draw my house in that architecture style for me."  Being the designers, they didn't see why they needed to pay him any more than you would pay a draftsman. Surprisingly (to them) he never accepted these types of projects.  There are probably a few designers who are willing to make an easy, menial paycheck by producing construction drawings of a deluded architect's dream house that's strangely got a labyrinth of dead end hallways or a cavernous living room that belongs in a hotel reception, but my boss wasn't that person. He actually cared that people lived in pleasant homes.

I had to stifle my amusement when I recently had dinner with a group of writers and they began to talk about the outrageous requests made to them, ranging from working in exchange for "a raised profile" instead of actual money, to being given extra duties on top of the writing as though the client didn't think that the writing was enough to deserve being payed.  For every person who thinks that he is a designer, there are apparently two people who think they are writers and can't see why they have to actually pay someone for their writing.

I wonder what other industries suffer similar behavior?  Do chefs get dismissed by amateur cooks?  Are there any musicians out there who have experience the same?

Monday, June 10, 2013


On June fourth we commemorated the Tiananmen Square protests and killings of civilians in Hong Kong, where we are still free to do so for the most part.  On May 26, SB and I were in Causeway Bay to watch demonstrators calling for a reappraisal of the Tiananmen crackdown as well as call for democracy.  I admire the vigilance of Hong Kong people in monitoring their freedom and press freedom that has been eroding over the years; I think that there is a tendency to be complacent when your economy is robust.  

The US stateside notice of the June Fourth anniversary was overshadowed by the exposure of the National Security Agency's PRISM presentation detailing how the program has been accessing data from major internet companies such as Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo and Skype.  The NSA was given authority through the Patriot Act to direct companies to turn over their servers, which contain information for all civilians, not just terrorists.

Ironically Edward Snowden, the whistle blower, arrived in Hong Kong days before the protests because he feared for his freedom, if not his life, and felt that Hong Kong was capable of resisting the US government's dictates and that Hong Kong “have a spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent.”

Badcanto has published local reactions to Snowden's choice of haven.  The reactions capture a very typical Hong Kong flavor: witty, acerbic and upfront. "What a retard! Hong Kong doesn’t have freedom of speech anymore!"

It is times like this that I really regret my poor understanding of Cantonese.  I have learned enough to know of the clever word twists and poetic uses of language for verbal sparring and sly set downs, and wish that I could understand them in their native form rather than just translations.  I feel like I am missing out on a part of the local culture because clearly there is another layer underneath the polite, facial behavior that we encounter in passing.  I hope that certain aspects of Hong Kong culture never change.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

A-Ma Temple, 25 years later

Last summer I spent three hellish days removing my parents' photographs from the damaging acidic paper albums that they were being kept in and penciling their dates and locations on the back before placing them into ordered bins.  We were able to identify almost all of the photographs, save a few.  One of them was the one on the left.  I suspected that it was from Macau because I couldn't recall it from any of my adventures here in Hong Kong, and I have been to many temples and hiking paths.  I recognized the first character as tai (very/large) but couldn't figure out the second.

When we got back to Hong Kong, SB pulled out his Chinese dictionary and looked it up.  It is Tài yǐ (太乙) but when I typed the words into Google Translate it came out as nothing meaningful. Then we did a Google search for phrases using the characters and got the characters reference 太乙真人, meaning Tàiyǐ (primordial unity of yin and yang) and Zhēnrén (Daoist term for Perfected Person).  But we still didn't know where the picture was taken.

We were in Macau for the weekend so I made a list of Chinese forts and temples that we hadn't yet visited.  At the first stop in our journey, we found it on the rock wall behind A-Ma temple. I am now feeling inspired to try to recreate photographs that were taken decades ago.

The temple is in Barra and looks out over the mainland of China.

I couldn't resist photographing these tourists.  People complain about how sloppy some Chinese visitors are but these women were all done up.  It was extremely hot and humid and I wondered how they were faring in all of that lace, chiffon, sequins, and ruffles.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

flower market finds

I've been in Hong Kong for almost five years and until yesterday I had never been to the flower market.  This has been mostly due to laziness because the flower market in located in Prince Edward near the old Kowloon boundary while I live in Happy Valley, which has several flower shops.  I finally decided to go check it out because I was looking for more variety for my plant collection than the typical neighborhood offerings of feng shui/money plants (Crasulla Argentea, Pachira aquatica, Dracaena, etc.) which I already have.  Also, two of the local stores got put on my black list for selling me sub-par plants, as in one had no roots and the other died within days of me taking it home, most likely because it had been drowned.

One of my favorite plants is the Peace lily (Spathiphyllum).  While most of my plants hang out by the window, it adds cheer to a shady corner of the flat while being very low maintenance, only needing frequent watering.  My previous Peace lily lasted years without fertilizer or new soil, and probably would have lasted many more years if I hadn't left her with my neighbor when I was out of town. He forgot the only thing she needed: water.  NASA placed the Peace lily on top of a list for removing all three of most common VOCs — formaldehyde, benzene and trichloroethylene so it is a great plant to have around.  

While there are anemic, little Peace lilies to be found in the local plant stores for $60 or so, I found this cute one for $20 at the flower market.  I also got a bag of soil for $6 for when I'm ready to repot.

My major goal was to add to my collection of succulents.  They are beautiful in compact form and relatively easy to care for, which makes them ideal plants for my little, hanging pots and window sill.  

This echeveria rosette has a lovely gray and purple hue, and cost only $28

I bought this trio of grafted cacti, "moon cactus" for $20.  They are very popular genetic mutations.  The tops are desert cacti whose lack of chlorophyll means that they wouldn't have lasted long in normal conditions but they have been grafted to tropical cacti, allowing them to thrive.

This guy was my most expensive purchase, at a whopping $30 (That's less than USD$4).  It's an air plant, Tillandsia filifolia, and I got it as a present for SB.  He likes to hover over the plants and breathe on them so now he has an extremely portable plant to drag around and breathe on.  I'm trying to find a hanging glass orb like what some people hang candles in but for now it sits in a Pyrex dish.  I think that it's really cute.

those keyboard symbols that you never use

Gizmodo recently explained the history behind some of the keyboard symbols that I only use when swearing online: what the f*#k is this $h%t?  I've been curious but never enough to actually look it up myself.  Now I know that the asterisk dates back to biblical times and the ampersand is a mutation of the Latin "et."

Friday, June 7, 2013

June Fourth Tiananmen Square Vigil

As promised, photos from a few nights ago.  Another year has gone by and still Beijing keeps up its silence.  But you can hear the protesters loud and clear every year in Victoria Park.

SB has a growing collection of t-shirts that he has purchased from organizers over the years.  This year they ran out of one with upside down tanks that he wanted.  If anyone knows where we can get it, please let me know.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

June 4th

We just returned from the candlelight vigil at Victoria Park.  Despite the heavy rain, the crowd was huge.  I will post photos later; right now the camera is drying with the battery removed.

Many of the protesters were not even born when the Tiananmen Square massacre occurred.  I was a child with no real understanding of the real cost of the protest.  I know now and I take the time to acknowledge it each year.  It is the least that I can do.

Monday, June 3, 2013

space-time continuum

One of SB's hardest struggles as an adult with ADHD is to manage his time, or perhaps it's my hardest struggle since he likes to schlep off the responsibility of time management to me.  I try to remind myself that I don't know what it is like to be him. I compare how I see time as a linear sequence to how he views it, which is like a large, tangled thread.  He never allocates the correct amount of time for an activity and his lack of concentration stretches out mundane tasks.  What I assume is fifteen minutes can be in the range of ten to twenty minutes but what he assumes is fifteen minutes can go for an hour.

We are always the last to leave the hockey rink because he takes over an hour to shower.  No, he is not standing under the shower for the whole hour, lost in thought, but rather he distracts himself for forty-five minutes, dresses and undresses for seven minutes, and showers for eight minutes.  Twice he took well over his typical hour so that not only were we the last players to leave, but most of the staff had gone home and the lights were turned off; only the manager remained with me as I waited with steam blowing out of my ears.

It is the small things that undo me.  I know him well enough that I can plan for his typical slowness and distraction when we have obligations to meet but I can't control the little activities.  On Saturday night I made brownies for my lacrosse group when I realized that my neighbor still had my plastic container.  I asked SB to run downstairs to the store and buy another container.  I asked him to hurry because we had to leave within twenty minutes.  Ten minutes later he called me from the grocery store up the road because he forgot to go to the store that was thirty paces from our front door.  He needed me to advise him on a container.  "Get one that will hold two pans of brownies." I told him.  He returned half an hour later with two small containers that were not only significantly smaller than the brownie pans, but they were an inch tall.  I don't even know what you could store in something like that!  We were not only late to the lacrosse group, but we left the brownies at home since there was nothing to carry them in (the baking pans were glass and not an option).  Later that night when we got home, I saw him happily gobbling up brownies and had a nearly overwhelming urge to grab them from him and toss them all in the trash.  He likes to cite his effort when I get upset at missed goals but sometimes the thought does not count.

At other times I take note of how hard he has to work to focus on boring tasks like taxes and forms.  I appreciate that he can complete those tasks on his own, and under considerably more stress than most people.  He knows that setting something aside might lead to him forgetting about it entirely, followed by consequences, so he has no choice but to take up a lovely weekend morning with paperwork.  I wish that life could be easier for him but the digital age seems to make everything happen immediately and coincidentally.  Who knows, maybe one day time will no longer be thought of linearly and we'll have a new appreciation for how his brain works.  He is very smart and entertaining with diverse interests, possibly due in part to the ADHD.  If only I didn't lament the passing of time.