Saturday, November 30, 2013

thankful

This Thanksgiving I did a lot more reflecting than in previous years. I am going to be an aunt and I think that it has made me a bit softer than usual. I thought a lot about how thankful I was to have SB with me for better or worse, in emergency rooms or healthy. We had another kitchen accident that required emergency care so more on that at a later date.

This reminds me to be thankful not only for our usually good health but also for the medical services here in Hong Kong that allow us to seek care without stressing out over the cost of hospital care. We are living on my salary and a trip to the emergency room in the United States would have hurt.  I hope that Obamacare, as it is being called, works as it is meant to because one should never have to choose between one's health and one's financial solvency.

I also was reminded this year that I am at an age where I no longer consider myself to be young.  I experienced some trauma thinking that I am now closer to middle aged than teenaged, but then I thought about how much less awkward and dumb I am and that cheered me right up.  I prefer my sharper self even if it is in a less sharp body.

It must have been thinking about aging that caused me to look back on a poignant Thanksgiving more than a decade ago. A university tradition went terribly wrong before our annual game against the University of Texas and the bonfire that we had been building collapsed.  There were twelve trees planted alongside the rugby pitch to memorialize the students did not survive the accident; it was something that I am thankful for because I saw those trees every week and is eased my heart to know that I was not in danger of forgetting.

One of the students was an architecture student in my year.  I had never met her but I felt her loss anyway.  At my graduation, right before I hoisted the gonfalon and led my class into the stadium, I spared a moment of thought for this unknown woman as well as my dear friend, Robley, who succumbed to cancer one month before. It is times like now when I face down a milestone that I think about those who are no longer along on my ride.  They were bright and beautiful people and they should have had whole lives but sometimes things don't work out like they should. While I am saddened that they missed these experiences, I am very grateful for the life that I have had and for the gift that these people gave me: the knowledge of how precious our time on earth is.  

Monday, November 25, 2013

meow

I deserved the glare that I got today while waiting to be seated for lunch. The middle aged woman in front of me looked like a cat and I was fascinated. Her skin seemed too tight for her skull while her neck and hands were soft and a bit lined like a normal middle aged woman. I wasn't trying to be rude but I was mesmerized by the complete lack of wrinkles anywhere on her face, even as she was glaring. It really was like a cat; their expressions rarely change but you just know when they want to rip your throat out.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

in a pickle

SB was on his way to meet friends and when the lift doors opened, the elderly lady from the commune who occupy the flat next door stepped out.  He told me that she paused as she was exiting and then paused again as he got into the lift car.  He held the door open, thinking that she might have changed her mind and wanted to go back down but she shook her head.  Then, as the door was closing, she called out at him.  He quickly opened the door for her but she shook her head and then started rummaging through her bag and produced a jar of pickled vegetables.  SB understood immediately. He is a very strong guy but he said that he struggled to finally open the jar, much to her delight. He and I had a chuckle imagining that she had been wandering around the building, trying to find someone to open her beloved pickles. He told me that it's always a great feeling to be able to do something useful for neighbors.

snip and tuck

It's a shame that SB has such an adverse reaction to needles because one of my awesomely useless skills, along with architectural hand lettering and colored marker illustrations, is the ability to sew perfect, little stitches on many materials including skin.  I shall never get the opportunity to practice my skills thanks to last summer's debacle.

Last night SB returned home sporting an impressive, little gouge in his elbow.  He was vague on the details but it appeared that he was involved in a scuffle with another player that (for once) wasn't his fault.  The other player received a double penalty and SB continued to play without realizing that he was bleeding all over the ice.

He needed stitches but it wasn't going to happen so I was very happy that I had picked up a handful of butterfly bandages last summer when we were in the States.  I haven't been able to find them here in Hong Kong.  You can make your own but I prefer the ones you buy at first aid stores because they are strong and adhere more than regular bandages.  This is important because you are using the butterfly to close a laceration in lieu of suturing.

Overall I think that I did a pretty good job.  SB will live to fight play another day.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

splendid voyage

This is the 1953 Timossi-Ferrari 'Arno XI' Racing Hydroplane.  It is one of the most stunning speedboat designs that I have ever seen.  I needed to share it with you.

(Image from Gizmodo)


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

fare well?

Many moons ago, during my freshman year of university, our professor urged the class to carefully manage our personal credit ratings.  I was eighteen years old and had never considered my credit rating until then, so later that week I applied for a free credit report.  I received the shock of my life when I discovered that I had abysmal credit.  In fact, I was apparently being pursued by several collection agencies.  This began an ordeal that continues to this day.  

There was another woman who shared my first and last name, though not my middle name, and she was a crook.  She wrote bad checks, didn't pay off credit cards, and generally seemed to be a grifter who moved locations frequently. Somehow the collection agencies had confused me with her.  I used to think that this was because I spent my childhood moving on average every two years so maybe our patterns made the agencies think that we were the same person.  But after calling up the various collection agencies trying to clear my name and getting nowhere I started cynically wondering if they simply didn't care that my name was being dragged through the mud as long as they got paid. One particularly odious man told me that he could do nothing to remove my name from the list but since my poor credit would prevent me from opportunities in the future, I should go ahead and pay to repair the damage. He even offered me a deal of paying off a fraction of what was truly owed.

Collection letters even found their way to Hong Kong when I moved here in 2008.  I could only shake my head in dismay at the demand for payment addressed to me even though I was several decades younger than this other woman. I have stopped bothering to fight to clear my name but as it turns out, there are many credit card companies who apparently don't worry about such trivial things as a reputation for nonpayment because I still receive credit card applications. In grad school I nervously applied for a credit card and received it along with a $15,000 credit line. Idiots.

Last night I Googled my name for the first time in quite a while and discovered quite a few obituaries from two years ago. The person with my first and last name  happened to have been the same age as my grifter.  I would like to share with you that it is uncanny to read your name in an obituary. Along with feeling unease and maybe a spot of sadness because that's how most of us react to news of a death, I also felt some relief.  Unless there is another crooked person sharing my name out there in some horrible twist of fate, I imagine that my days of receiving rude and threatening phone calls from collectors are over.

transparency

I'm back at headquarters for a week and then I'll be over at another site.  I like returning to the office because I am starting to get to know other people around the office.  I am fond of my team but we are one of the smallest teams in the office and half of us are away at various sites so we don't have many opportunities to interact.  I am sometimes wistful when I see some of the thirty person work groups having beers together in the corner of the office but I like my directer too much to want to move to another group.

I also like the office a lot.  At first I wasn't too keen on the open office concept; you cannot have truly private conversations and sometimes the noise from others is distracting. Now that I have been at the firm for several months I have come to realize that as far as my profession is concerned, this open office layout has many benefits.  If I am not mistaken, IDEO was one of the drivers for other design firms taking up the open office layout and adopting a similar organizational structure. I have discovered that while I don't enjoy having the rest of the office hear me blundering through a phone call or arguing with my boss, being party to discussions going on around me means that I know what is going on in projects that I will most likely be asked to contribute to in the future. I have learned how to tune out conversations that don't interest me. Also, once I got over the whole pride issue of knowing that others could hear my conversations, I discovered that similar to how I have learned from listening to others, there are others who are learning from me. Recently a colleague from across the office needed advice on fulfilling a statutory requirement and was directed my way by another colleague who recalled a rousing (i.e. loud) conversation that I had with my boss. Likewise, I have noted which people around the office have expertise in various fields that will be helpful to me in the future.

At my last job, we had a hybrid structure with partial cubicles and it wasn't very successful in my opinion. I suppose this was because our attitudes never changed; we were just cubicle monkeys with the tops of our cubicles lopped off.  Rather than ideas and information being spread throughout the office, we hunkered down in our topless cubicles and conversed in whispers lest our ideas be exposed.  There was a gentleman in another studio who I somehow discovered knew almost every building code by heart.  I used to walk over to his area to ask for advice but after feeling self conscious from all the stares that his studio members gave me, I resorted to emailing him.  Looking back, I realize how silly our attitudes were. We were supposed to be one happy company but each studio was hoarding its resources.  Of course, since each studio was responsible for managing its own profit, this meant that we were sometimes competing against each other for projects.

Not everything is sunshine and rainbows at my job but this is the first time since school that I have observed people walking over to others and asking for help or an honest review of their work.  So far I am enjoying the collaboration even if everyone can hear me when I say something dumb.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

making it count

My company is matching whatever individual donations we give to typhoon victims.  We are donating to the Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund.  As far as I know, there is no limit.  A friend's company was doing the same thing but with a limit so once the company had reached the matching limit, he started asking around for who else out there had a donation matching policy.  It's something that I wouldn't have thought of but due to his cleverness, his team has significantly increased the amount of giving by spreading the money.

While I am disappointed to hear about corruption and unfairness already affecting the aid process, I cannot let cynicism prevent me from reaching out.  By choosing a well known, international organization I am expecting that they will have experience navigating through the red tape and corruption to get necessities to those who need help.

As a Hong Kong resident I am fully aware that the Philippines' location means that it bears the brunt of a lot of storms that are heading this way.  If not for their position, it could have been us, and our outlying islands could have been ravaged.  I experienced a couple of hurricanes when I lived in Florida and it was enough to convince me to move away.  I loved the beaches but I couldn't afford to rebuild when mother nature swept my home into the ocean. I don't think that there is anywhere in several pacific nations that you can move and know that you are fully safe.

Friday, November 15, 2013

capable hands

C was able to check in with me today. I figured that he would be busy because he is part of HSM-77 (Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron Seven Seven "Saberhawks") and helicopters that can carry tons of weight will be very useful in distributing aid.  He told me that the squadron refitted the helos from their military purposes. I was impressed by how quickly the team can frame, fit, paint and assemble parts but I guess that's what rapid response is all about. We complain about the portion of our taxes that goes into the US military but this is an example of money well spent, in my opinion. I am darn proud of him and times like this make me proud to be an American.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Put out to sea

C's visit with us was cut short because a humanitarian mission has come about for the USS George Washington. I wish him a speedy journey. Two nights ago we were watching the Typhoon's path toward the Philippines on television as we were sharing a few beers and around now he must be arriving there.

We had a last dinner and then a beer at Dusk til Dawn, which was packed with other servicemen who were enjoying their last hour of liberty. The waitress took my money and never returned with my change.  Then C bought a beer for someone that he knew and that waitress never returned with his change. This isn't the first time that this has happened so I will never buy a drink from a waitress at this establishment again. I've never been ripped off at yhe other bars.

We took a taxi to pier 10 since Fenwick pier is under construction. As we were driving up, the taxi driver took a sudden left. SB immediately questioned why he didn't drive straight and turn right but he started yelling at us and drove all the way to the Macau terminal before turning back around and then into the other side of Central piers. Then as he was nearing pier 10, at the roundabout that he originally should have gone to, he then started driving away, telling us that he was taking us to Fenwick pier. We made him stop at pier 8 and got out. I didn't want to pay that a$$hole but it was more important not to cause a problem as C was needing to leave.

After saying our goodbyes, we found another taxi to take us home; the first taxi driver was waiting at the taxi stand to rip off more servicemen but he knew better than to complain when I got into the taxi behind his. Our fare when we got home was $46 and the driver took my hundred and then said bye bye. Hah! I politely reminded him that he owed me change. I gave him the benefit of doubt that his omission of change was a mistake but then he started driving before we had fully exited the taxi, taking off with the door still open. I kinda wished that I had cut through the footpath to the taxi queue on the next street though I have no idea what I would have done had I found him.

It's disappointing to see how poorly behaved some people can be when they perceive vulnerability. I imagine that had I been drunk as they had assumed, I could have been taken for quite a ride.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

It was a good weekend

C's visit has been so far so good.  We stayed up until 5am on Friday night gossiping about old friends and enemies.  I only returned to my former home a couple of times since graduating and moving away but he's been back once per year and has kept in touch with our classmates.  We laughed about how many of our classmates married each other or at least reproduced together.  I'm not sure if other schools had similar outcomes but we thought that it seemed unusual how incestuous our old classmates have been.  If I played the Kevin Bacon game (which by the way SB is 1 degree) then within six degrees C and I are connected to most of our school and definitely everyone in our social groups.  It reminded me of a demonstration in sex ed. class where the teacher showed us how a couple of students with an STI could infect half of the class within a few exchanges.

On Saturday night after my rugby match we made our way to the Fringe to catch some live music.  SB's friend and fellow hockey player is part of a band called League of Gentlemen, and they are probably my favorite band in Hong Kong.  The show had three bands playing: The Bollands, League of Gentlemen, and the Fat Jokers. It took me a while to finally hear League of Gentlemen because they didn't play very frequently and when I tried to see them at the Wanch, it was packed and a busted speaker made the music a bit excruciating.  When I finally made it into another show I was blown away.  Saturday's show was probably the best performance that I have seen from them.  They opened with some newer, more melodious music, which I won't bother trying to describe since I am a buffoon but it was exciting to hear a slight departure from their last album and I loved their previous sound. The album was ridiculously easy to buy from their website, which I appreciate.

We arrived in the middle of the first band's set and I wish that my rugby game had ended sooner because the Bollands were a revelation.  Have you had one of those nights where you go to catch some live music, expecting something decent because you have gotten to know who you like and know which groupings should produce a good vibe, and then you walk into the venue and the music is so much more?  We walked into the Fringe and I was immediately taken by the Bollands.  You can sample their music on their website.  We signed up to their mailing list first thing in the morning. Oh, they were fun to hear and watch.

I quite liked the Fat Jokers as well.  We weren't able to hear a lot of their set because we had to get C back to the ship so I hope to hear them again soon.  One of the musicians was extremely good with a harmonica.  The band had a small brass section as well as various other props that made for a really fun show.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

port of calling

My only ex who I am still in contact with (unlike SB's harem) is coming to visit. He is about to retire from the Navy and is on what I am calling the goodbye tour, upon the USS George Washington.  SB is possibly more excited than I am for the visit because the ex is part of a helicopter squadron and SB loves all things mighty and military, especially those things that fly.  While being quizzed by my girlfriends about my expectations for the SB and C's first time meeting each other (frankly, I don't see any problems other than SB trying to monopolize C to talk about helicopters), word got out and now their boyfriends are also begging to meet the ex and get a tour. Try to imagine a 6'5" ginger haired man who is jumping up and down while clapping his hands and begging to be invited on the boat.  I hope C doesn't lose my number after this visit.

Monday, November 4, 2013

spreading good news

My sister randomly emailed me three months ago to tell me that she had been dating "the one" for six months. We're not a family that keeps in touch regularly so this was a big deal.  She was bringing him on a trip to Europe with my parents. I was invited but couldn't make it so instead we met over Skype.  Then I didn't hear from my sister again.

After a few unanswered emails she contacted me to arrange another Skype chat.  She was acting really strange and then finally as she was getting ready to sign off she said that she had something to tell me.  Immediately I knew.  Then she stood up and lifted her shirt.  "Oh my gawd, you're fat!"  I exclaimed.  SB came rushing into the room.  "Holy cow, look at that gut!" he chimed in.

"No!  I'm pregnant!"

"Oh.  Well then, congratulations!" and then I danced gleefully around the room and bounced about in front of the computer, probably contributing to her mounting nausea.  She's already in her second trimester and her boyfriend is becoming a bit concerned that she hasn't told anyone.  She felt like she couldn't tell her friends without telling my parents first but she is afraid to tell them because they are very traditional.  I'm sure that my poor sister is remembering that time when our close friends' son knocked up his girlfriend and even though they couple married, my father was a judgmental jerk.  To the wife, not the husband.  Because that's how conservative people roll sometimes.

I chose to go the way of levity because I knew that there was a reason why she looked really pregnant and was just now telling me.  I wanted her to laugh and I succeeded.  Then I told her seriously that she needed to tell the parents because she was getting on in her pregnancy and they would need time to adjust.  It was wrong that she couldn't share the joy with her friends because of her fear of our parents.  I also wanted to tell our aunt so that when my father called to complain, she could knock some sense into him.  SB and I won't be reproducing (we can't even get our acts together to marry) so this is his only chance at grandchildren.

I'm over the moon for her.  She isn't exactly a spring chicken anymore and she always wanted babies but with her crazy job, she wasn't able to date much. It's all been so fast but I don't find myself having any trouble at all accepting the new man and the baby.  This is what she has wanted and I'm delighted for her.  I just hope she breaks the news before the baby arrives.

Friday, November 1, 2013

home and heart

I grew up as a homebody but that is not who I am; I like traveling and can make myself comfortable in almost any location.  When I was younger, before my friends and I started settling down, I often spent the weekend away from home.  My friends and I always carried weekend bags because you just never knew where you would end up.  After going out on Friday, we would all migrate to one of our homes and fall asleep there. Saturday, after the rugby match, my teammates and I would head over to another teammate's home and would usually remain through Sunday.  Then I would wake up on Sunday morning and visit my Aunt and Uncle before returning to my home on Sunday night.  I liked this lifestyle.  I liked it a lot more than what I grew up with.

My mother is a very private person who keeps the locks on the doors at all times. I sometimes wonder if that is her personality or if she was more affected from growing up in wartime than her older and younger sisters, who are more open and outgoing. My father has never cottoned to the idea of sharing his girls with others so he was happy enough to spend my childhood weekends hiking with my sister and me or staying in.

When I was ten or so, we visited my father's youngest sister in Texas and I was exposed to a whole new world. My teenage cousin was an only child, but she had a dozen friends over at any time of day or night. My aunt and uncle were hosting not only my family, but another family who came over once a month to go sailing with them.  When you added neighbors stopping by to chat (that didn't happen with my family, with the doors being locked and all) it became one, boisterous flurry of a week.  I loved it.  I loved meeting all sorts of interesting people and learning about them.  It was very sad when a few days later my father packed us up for an impromptu weekend hiking trip.  "I miss spending time with my girls." he said happily as we drove away.  As though we didn't spend every weekend having family only time.  And my mother didn't even like to hike!  She spent the weekend alone in the hotel room, watching television with a Do Not Disturb sign on the door while my sister and I went hiking in the oppressive Texas heat with our father.

I had experienced a taste of how other people lived and I wanted it.  It took seven years but I finally became old enough to leave home and live with unlocked doors. Apparently I am too welcoming because SB has lectured me a few times about how there are times to lock the door, like when you leave for a few minutes to buy milk or go downstairs to chat with a neighbor. Of course, now that I have settled down, staying in is not all that bad.  There is a moment when I walk through the door of our little flat when I can feel the stress of the day slipping away, followed by the anticipation of seeing my beloved waiting for me.  Or at least sitting on the couch, scratching himself and waiting for me to feed him.  It feels like home and I like that.