Thursday, October 31, 2013

too much

While I'm not squeamish about all the fake blood and guts that are being used to mark Halloween festivities, the same cannot be said for the real thing.  A friend who felt the need to send graphic images of the Boston bombings found out exactly what I think constitutes gratuitous gore and violence in media.

It's a slippery slope to be sure.  Graphic depictions have changed how a lot of people view fighting and war.  Sometimes we need to be shocked into realizing how bad something really is.  On the other hand, splashing private and agonizing moments of peoples' lives in full color can be insensitive and needless.

I may have been living under a rock, but I was unaware of the Facebook controversy regarding a beheading video.  The first I heard about it was last week when my news reader highlighted a story about Facebook's policy stating that the beheading video was allowed because of its newsworthiness.  I clicked on the story, thinking it had something to do with terrorists, and instead was treated to still shots of a woman who had been beheaded by her husband for supposedly cheating on him.  I almost threw up.  I had to lay down because I could feel the physiological signs that I was about to faint: palpitations, lightheadedness, sudden drop in blood pressure and full on distress.  If you want to publish those horrible images and feel like there is some sort of newsworthiness, then fine, but like R rated movies, there should be a warning on the web site for people like myself who wanted to know what is being debated without a full graphic representation of the offensive material.

Now a popular HK blog has posted a beheading image where I did not expect to see one. I don't care if the images are from last week or from 1891; I don't want to see it.  If you had given me the choice to click for the image or at least scroll down, I could have had the choice to not look.  I'm disappointed but I'll have to remove another news source from my list because I can't be passing out on my way to work in public transportation. I may fall and crack my head open and then I would be the one sickening people on a news site.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

reality bites

At the end of summer, I noticed that there was a trend of recipes for heirloom tomato jams.  Food bloggers were raving about the deliciousness of ripe, homegrown tomato jams and the sweet and acidic flavors being imparted.  I am a big fan of the sweet and sour combination in jams so I was sold. I imagined something similar to raspberry jam but with more of a kick.

So last weekend I picked up some ridiculously expensive organic tomatoes from City Super and downloaded a popular jam recipe.  Hours later I had a lovely, reddish-orange jam.  I grabbed a slice of sourdough bread, smeared on a healthy portion of my jam, and took a bite.  It tasted like sweet ketchup.  Well, maybe it tasted like a really lovely ketchup that someone had poured a cup of sugar into.

I went back online to check other recipes but they were all very similar to the one that I had used.  I then did a search for things to eat with tomato jam and came back with bread or bread and cheese.  I then cut a generous slice of Gouda and placed it atop the bread and jam and took another bite.  Yeah, still sweet ketchup.

I'm pretty disappointed and now I'm stuck with a couple of jars of insanely expensive and sweet ketchup.  If anyone can think of meals that can be made out of a pot of sugary ketchup, please let me know.

Monday, October 28, 2013

all together

I signed up for a company outing recently in a bid to make friends with some of my work colleagues.  It was a fairly successful outing in that regard and if I ever return to HQ from the site office I will call a few of my new acquaintances for lunch.

On the other hand, if not for needing to make friends, I would have run screaming from the trip.  Imagine 100 people descending upon two remote HK islands, complete with three megaphone waving tour guides and a group leader with the company name attached to a stick like one of those dreaded mainland tour groups.  That was my outing.  One of the megaphone ladies seemed to be in love with her megaphone and squawked into in nonstop for the entire seven hour trip.  At one point I saw her talking into the megaphone at a couple where were not even two meters away.  When we were back on the boat on our way to the second island some people from our seating area wrapped newspapers around the boat speaker so that we could drown out the noise.  The volume was so loud that I imagined our boat could be heard at half a kilometer distance. At least the villagers had time to prepare for our imminent arrival.

The situation finally got to the point of horrified amusement when we were led to a lovely campsite overlooking some bluffs.  SB and I had broken away from the group and were the first to arrive upon an idyllic setting.  A couple were sitting at the opening of their tent, strumming a guitar while other campers were flying kites. Then, suddenly the tranquility was broken by the shrill squawking of three tour guides trying to be heard over one another.  A minute later a horde of 100 overwhelmed colleagues came charging over the hill, trying to escape the incessant volume while the cows that had been sunning themselves ran into the brush.

Never again.

Thursday, October 24, 2013


Just when you think that you know everything, you are proved wrong. With a few exceptions, my reading material is more intelligent than my conversational vocabulary and when I was younger, it was fairly common that I would mispronounce a word that I frequently read but hardly ever spoke out loud.  Amusingly, some of my friends thought that I was using exotic or foreign words when I was simply mispronouncing common words.

For example, I used to mispronounce gross but everyone thought that I was speaking French. Then there was my best friend who spent four years telling me about her cleavlage before I realized that she wasn't trying to be cute.  There are also words that I simply can't get right.  I can never say drawer without sounding unnatural. It is either slow like molasses: draw-wer, or unintelligible: droor.

It's been so long since I can remember being corrected that I was floored by a recent discovery.  Remuneration.  I am pretty sure that I have never heard it pronounced correctly and when I discovered my mistake after being caught out by a spell checker, I tried to say it out loud and couldn't.  I contacted my friend who works in HR and she confessed to me that like me, she didn't realize the word was remuneration until she started working.  Also, she pronounces it "renumeration" because trying to do it the correct way causes tongue twisting as in my case.  Interesting.

What other words cause us problems?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


Usually if traffic is heavy in one direction in the morning, it will be the opposite in the evening as people go to and from work, but this is not the case with the Aberdeen tunnel.  It seems to only be slow in one direction because traffic out of the tunnel into the Wanchai district is impacted by backed up traffic from Causeway Bay and the Central tunnel, which are busy at almost all times. My bus ride to my site office takes ten minutes in the morning but the ride home takes from thirty minutes to an hour. This morning was the first time that it was slow going to Aberdeen but the reason became obvious when we emerged from the slow moving tunnel: three very nice, black luxury cars had gotten into an accident at high enough speeds to do some damage. The BMW no longer had a trunk and the Lexus was crunched up like an accordion, though only in the front and back so I hope that he driver escaped safely.  I didn't see what happened to the third car because the police van was blocking my view.  Then the car in front of my bus ran into the one in front of it and that pretty much closed down the remaining lanes of traffic until an aggravated officer walked over and told the two rubberneckers to stop taking pictures of the scratches on their cars and pull over.

Last week my Friday ride home was unusually bad; it took one and a half hours to go home.  As far as I could tell, there were no accidents but Causeway Bay was so congested that traffic had become backed up all the way to Wong Chuk Hang.  But like I said, it was an extreme situation that will be somewhat alleviated when the stations that I am working on open. There's nothing like experiencing ridiculous gridlock to and from the office to motivate the site team into a high work rate.   The usual procedure is to play hot potato with an issue, passing it from Civil to Structural to Architectural to Building Services until someone finally has to bite but we don't have time for that crap. While we are solving issues at a fast rate, I am also under extra pressure because I need to make decisions with less time to recheck all of the supporting documents or call up the HQ team. If the station is really ugly, it is probably all my fault because I approved the alternative finishing material. If it is nice, then it was probably because it was done according to the drawings.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

the burn list

SB's sister has an exit plan.  If anything happens to her, her neighbor has been instructed to pull up to the home with a large dump truck and start filling it before her mother and family arrive.  Her sister in law has been instructed that if the neighbor fails to clear the clutter in time, she is to walk into the home with family members and exclaim over how surprised she is by the mess because it's usually immaculate.

My exit plan is more simple.  I am Type A personality through and through so there isn't any mess to be left behind.  Everything is compartmentalized, thus making my burn list easier, though no less critically important.  SB has been instructed to first find my Kindle and delete the section labeled "Lilith" which contains Gothic romances (oh, Heathcliff!), the Sookie Stackhouse series, the Charley Davidson series, and a few other books that would reveal how common my reading tastes can be. Then he is to open up one of the Booker prize novels in my Kindle as though I was most recently reading it.

SB claims that he can't think of anything that he would need to have removed if misfortune befell him.  I suspect that what he really means is that he is uncomfortable thinking about death and won't be making jokes about it any time soon.  I've tried to have a serious conversation about his intentions should anything happen but he hasn't wanted to discuss it.  I don't want him to be that guy who passes away and leaves the family at loose ends but that's how it will probably be.  Without a legal marriage, I have no rights as far as his estate is concerned, so I guess that it won't be my problem.

Monday, October 21, 2013

the flying fool

A few weeks ago SB was talking to his sister on the phone when their call was interrupted by a loud crash.  His sister then ran next door to the scene of a boat crash.  A speedboat had run hit the dock, skittered down the boardwalk, torn through a sidewalk, crossed the street, plowed through a small yard, and eventually came to a stop in the side of a house.  Amazingly, no one was injured.

There were a man, a woman and a small girl in the boat.  The woman was shrieking at the man for crashing the boat.  She and the man kept telling the small crowd who had come to offer help that they hadn't been drinking even though no one asked if they had.  SB's sister was disgusted that the woman seemed to be more concerned with yelling at the man than checking on her terrified child.

They were very lucky.  It turned out to be a good thing that the man was driving at a very high speed because it had caused the boat to go airborne when it hit the dock rather than crashing into the sea wall, which probably would have killed them.  They were lucky that no one was sitting at the neighboring dock or in the porch of the house that they hit.  They were lucky to be alive.

The man was arrested for being intoxicated.  The woman was allowed to leave with the girl and go to the hospital for a checkup instead of also being arrested for public intoxication. This may not have been a fairy tale ending but I would chalk it up as a very happy ending considering the circumstances.

SB's sister sent us the local news story to show us the damage.  Lucky fools.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

people are weird

When my friend Lauren came to visit, she made an effort to try and locate other black people in the landscape.  During the four days that she stayed with us, we located six black people, two of whom made contact with her.  It's not like I seek out other white people, though I do take note when I hear other American accents in a crowd, but there is a difference between being a minority and an extreme minority.  She doesn't try to make friends with every other black person back in the US but since she moved to Japan, I guess she started feeling very isolated and wanted to find similar looking people. Here in Hong Kong I have five black friends that I see on a fairly regular basis.  Now I wonder if they share Lauren's sentiments.  Maybe I should ask them if they know each other.

When Lauren and I went to Macau, things got weird.  In Hong Kong, she was unusual but I doubt that she was the first black person that anyone had seen.  There is an African community here after all, and it is a cosmopolitan city.  But in Macau she apparently went from an extreme minority to exceptional. When we walked into the Venetian, a group of people who were dressed like Mainland tourists literally stopped in their tracks and gaped at her with their mouths open.

Now, I remember being nine years old and seeing a set of albino, Chinese twins at the playground. That was a rare sight, but did I stop in my tracks and gape?  No, I did not.  I definitely did a double take but even at nine I knew how not to be rude. As nonchalantly as a nine year old who is attempting to be nonchalant can be, I strolled past them on the swings and climbed up the jungle gym, where I could discreetly inspect them from a distance while hiding behind a tire. After a few minutes I discovered that spying on kids on the swings was boring so I lost interest and went on my way.

So, back to the tourists in the casino.  This gaping with open mouths happened several times.  We even had to walk around a couple of morons who had stopped in our paths and were staring.  I gave them the most potent of my stink eyes but it didn't seem to have much of an effect. At least on the adults; I did manage to get a teenage girl to flinch. If I had it all to do over again, I would have jumped at them while yelling, "boo!"

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Isn't it not ironic?

When Alanis Morissette's song, "Ironic" dropped, it caused a sensation amongst literature teachers who debated whether or not the situations in the song were actually ironic.

"Isn't it ironic," sang Ms. Morissette, only to be replied with a resounding "no!"  As it turned out, the song itself became ironic by its lack of irony.

The situations described in the song, such as dying after winning the lottery or experiencing rain at your wedding, were unfortunate in an opposite of serendipity kind of way.

I experience this zemblanity on the mornings when I go to my site office. Four or five buses will pass my stop, all with 'Out of Service' signs, as they are going off shift. Un-serendipitously, the bus parking lot is right next door to my site office. We share the same entrance. Instead, I have to wait for a bus that will drop me off five minutes' walking distance from my destination.

Monday, October 14, 2013


I saw two elderly ladies crossing the street, arm in arm. One of the two was in much better physical shape and was helping her friend to walk. They had matching, fluffy orange hair and big smiles. They were dressed up and wearing sparkly shoes. It put a smile on my face to see them together.

My best friend and I once joked about how we were looking forward to the day when we both would be old. We would move to Florida and spend our days sitting by the pool in leopard print bikinis and leering at the lifeguards.  Now that I think about it, I would like nothing more than to be closer to my loved ones once I am done with the rat race.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

off the grid

Our various utilities have been shut off for periods of time. I wonder if this is due to roadworks and drainage works in the area or if it's normal for flushing and fresh water tanks to be serviced every few months. We also lost elevator usage, not that I minded too much because I like knowing that someone recently checked the cables and mechanics.

We didn't think too much about our internet going out on Friday night because it does that for half an hour or so from time to time, but on Saturday morning we noticed that NowTV wasn't working and the internet was still down. We called PCCW to complain and won't get anyone out to assist us for another two days. We have requested a refund for the days without internet or NowTV but it probably won't happen since it's not like we can threaten to switch to the practically nonexistent competition.

Meanwhile I am awake and missing out on my beloved TAMU football team taking on Ole Miss. And that is a tragedy. Ask SB; if I whine one more time this hour he may chloroform me with his smelly hockey glove.

Friday, October 11, 2013

nuff said

My friend Stephen is an architect with an undergraduate degree in Applied Mathematics.  On one of his school projects he used fractal geometry to determine gaps and spaces between objects and walls to allow for views and provide a feeling of continuity beyond rooms.  It was really well done.  The chair of the department walked into the studio, glanced at Stephen's project, and then informed him that his work was strikingly close to Mies.  Mies van der Rohe was a giant in the field of architecture.  On the other hand, he died in 1969, thus beating Stephen's ideas by half a century.  Mies didn't use fractals as far as anyone knows but his design sensibilities were similar.

While Stephen enjoyed order and logic in his designs, the same could not be said about his self.  He created cognitive dissonance almost everywhere he went, and still does. You see, Stephen's parents were part of a group of Hong Kong residents who left prior to the handover and settled into Britain or one of her territories.  This is why Stephen, the brainy, brilliant mathematician/architect, is likely to greet you with "Wha'appen!" or "Wha'up!" when you speak to him.  Stephen was raised from the age of four in Jamaica.  He has a certain limping swagger to his step and he walks even slower than a typical Hong Kong teenager who is watching movies on his/her mobile phone in Causeway Bay.

We once traded iPods and aside from David Gray, all of his music is Reggae.  All. Of. It.  

He has risen in the ranks of his international firm faster than anyone else in our graduating class, much to the surprise of several instructors who previously despaired that he would ever stop pontificating on equations and actually build something before the term ended. He is very, very precise and accurate in his practice but he is also the guy who discovered his car under a foot of snow in the faculty lot after he had parked it days ago and forgotten where it was. Probably the only reason it wasn't impounded was that no one wanted to deal with removing the snow.

Stephen visits HK from time to time for his job but during his last visit, he was part of some sort of reunion of his parents and their friends. For a week, Ma On Shan was inundated with a group of thirty-something Chinese men all doing the homey limp and speaking in Jamaican Patois. Stephen said that it caused a lot of heads to turn.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

deer in headlights

The bus stop facing home from my site office is across six lanes of traffic.  The first night that I tried to get to it, I attempted to find a legal crossing route, which led to me climbing up some stairs to a not so large pedestrian sidewalk along a very busy highway, then climbing back down and still having to rush across a lane of exiting cars because there was no crosswalk to be found.  The second night I walked down the six lane road until it became obvious that there was no crosswalk and then I ran across the six lanes as fast as I could with my heart beating loudly in my head.  I was lightheaded from the adrenaline rush.

I looked at all the other people at the bus stop and thought to myself, surely they know something that I don't because they can't all be dodging fast moving traffic like I just did.

As it turns out, that is what they do.  I now know that there are small lulls in traffic that allow you to rush across the roadway. Also, at certain areas there are medians that you can use to break up the six lane rush into three and three.  While I still scurry across, the locals here are much more relaxed to the point that I wonder if they are stupid or suicidal.

I often see people strolling leisurely across as though the speeding cars will stop for them.  When it becomes obvious that the speeding cars are not slowing down, they hustle the last few steps, missing the cars by only a few meters. It is like they are playing chicken, but I'm fairly certain that I know who will win.  People here like to walk slowly and even a minibus bearing down on them will only cause a marginal increase in pace.

Today I watched a woman walking across with her dog.  The dog was some kind of small, shaggy lapdog and it barked at everyone that it saw, almost startling me off the median when it started yapping at me.  It also lunged at a couple of construction workers who were eyeing it in a way that made me nervous if the owner ever took her eye off of it.  There was a small break in traffic, but we could see headlights not so far away.  Despite the approaching traffic, the lady did that shuffle that some people do- the one where you don't actually pick your feet up off the ground.  The headlights were getting close enough that even dumb dog was trying to run away from the lights and pulling at the leash in the other direction.  There would have been a collision if the taxi in her lane didn't hit his brakes.  I was standing there, frozen in horror and thinking that I was about to witness something terrible.  The woman finished shuffling across the road while the taxi driver laid on his horn.  She looked absolutely unruffled. Suddenly I understood why the dog was such a freak.

Sometimes I wonder about other humans.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013


Behold, an animation that may be even better than the previous one I wrote about.

Via The New York Times.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

twinkle, twinkle

Right before I go to bed, I would like to present this lovely video recording the birth of a new star in the Vela constellation, which is about 14000 light years away from us. It was captured by the folks at the Atacama Large Millimeter/sub-Millimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile, where my friend Henry the Astrophysicist worked. He's the guy who kindly directed me to an animation that finally made the Higgs boson understandable. I figured that on the day that Higgs and Englert got their prize, how better to end the day than with a visible display of the might of the universe.

rattle and roll

The entire three storey site office was rattling and rumbling today as foundation works were going on outside.  While it doesn't feel as disconcerting on the second floor as it did when I was on the 33rd floor a few years ago and felt the tunnel boring that was going on nearby, it's never okay for me to feel vibration underfoot when I'm not safely planted on the ground. None of the dozens of engineers surrounding me seemed bothered so I felt reasonably certain of my safety.

I had a discussion with the lead structural engineer about the incident of a few years ago.  The worst part for me was that no one else in the office seemed to notice, which made me feel crazy.  The small seizures that I've experienced from time to time over the years don't feel like a vibrating floor does but I was beginning to second guess myself.  The engineer told me that I was right, but my colleagues were correct as well.  Apparently a lot of people can't feel small tremors so he didn't think it was unusual that no one else noticed. He said that it was more unusual that I felt it.

Of course today the ground was really shaking so everyone noticed.  I guess it's a normal occurrence when major ground works are being conducted a few hundred meters away.


You know how there is a genre of comedy films that focuses on weddings?  There almost always are certain character types ranging from the sexy bridesmaid to the drunken uncle.  I have been to enough actual weddings to realize that stereotypes exist for a reason.  The combination of high emotion, booze, and too much family for too long together makes for a potentially explosive situation.

At my cousin's first wedding, the DJ got drunk and started spouting not so subtle sexual references using baseball terms (the groom was a professional player), followed by inappropriate music that led to the groom's cousin choosing to hump a member of the wedding party on the dance floor, complete with nipples popping out of her teeny, tiny dress.  I was twelve at the time and found the whole situation more interesting that horrifying.  I did not feel the same way about my grandmother stumbling around and finishing other people's champagne that they had left on their tables.

Eventually the rowdiness caused my young self to be banned from the ballroom so my uncle took me to the pier of the yacht club and together we launched one of the ice swan sculptures into the gulf of Mexico.  He figured that he would get his money's worth out of them. Then my uncle handed me his checkbook and said that I could use it for kindling. 


One of the two weddings that I attended this weekend (and I had thought that wedding season was finally over!) could have been scripted by a wedding comedy writer.  The cousin of the bride, who has been married three times and has seven kids from four different fathers, jostled the other single women out of the way to catch the bouquet. A bridesmaid became vomiting drunk two hours into the event.  Another drunken guest revealed that the groom had slept with his sister.  Later, as the groom's mother was regaling us with a tale of how concerned she had been that he had lived in Hong Kong for six years and hadn't met anyone, a table full of women who worked at the groom's restaurant started tittering.  There was a story there, I am sure.

Apparently this kind of wedding is the best kind...for the guests, at least.  On Sunday morning a dozen of us met up for brunch and compared notes on all of the incidents and revelations.  I was laughing for hours.

SB and I later had a chuckle about how our wedding would go off.  We are close to two of his exes and friendly with another three, along with me still being friendly with my first boyfriend so we could probably fill one table at our reception with only exes.  Then we would have to invite some of our rugby teammates.  Okay, we would probably need to invite lots of them since many of the friendships span over a decade.  They would sing those songs. My father would probably have a heart attack looking at the lesbians on my team.  And my mother and father aren't on speaking terms with my aunt, who happens to be my godmother, and my other aunt, who is my sister's godmother.  Yep, we should probably elope but I'm kind of curious to see what happens if I throw everyone from each aspect of my life together and then add booze.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

for goodness' sake

I first heard the phrase when a teammate was trying to decide whether to stay with our club or to try something different.  Our captain contacted her to persuade her to remain.  She ended her missive with "I look forward to the good news."

My teammate shared it with me because she was under pressure and felt like she was being manipulated.  I told her that maybe it was a language thing and the comment wasn't meant to sound so heavy handed.  I was partly correct.

Apparently this is a popular phrase here along with "add oil!" and "support you!"  Maybe this phrase is used in the UK as well; a lot of popular HK phrases have British origins.

Today I was handed a convoluted set of documents by a contractor, which I was somehow expected to sort out.  "I look forward to the good new," was scrawled in the corner.

I am still in my office trying to work out the good news.