Monday, June 30, 2014

long forgotten dreams

Walking through a tacky furniture store in search of a fan, I stopped in front of a children's bed. It was in the shape of a red sports car and suddenly I remembered that well over two decades ago, I had stood in front of a similar car bed, transfixed. I don't remember wanting anything more than I wanted that car bed. Even today, I can't recall having ever coveted anything like I coveted that car bed. Alas, my parents were no nonsense, practical people and I didn't even bother to voice my adoration of the car bed. Even as an eight year old I knew that the bed was made of something that my mother would refer to as 'cheap' and my father would just laugh and scoff.

Still, I used to gaze wistfully every time I passed a car bed in a store, and there were plenty of stores that carried them. Even when I grew too old for that sort of thing, I could still feel the pull of the shoddily constructed, laminated, MDF board frame. I don't remember when the dream finally faded, but strangely it still has not died completely. I wonder how SB would feel about swapping out our current bedroom furniture for shiny, red and with wheels?



Wednesday, June 25, 2014

the unwashed

Now that we have entered the sweltering months of summer, my social calendar has picked up. June is always a very busy month. Junk trips are planned, barbecues are scheduled, and love is in the air. Despite the hot and humid summer weather, people still adhere to the tradition of June weddings. Historically, as in several centuries ago, May was the month when people scheduled their annual bath so it made sense that one would want to get married soon after while still smelling fresh-ish. You didn't want to marry right after the bath during the month of May because it was unlucky to celebrate so close to the Feast of the Dead or worse, the Festival of the Goddess of Chastity. But June, named after the goddess Juno, was auspicious.

I am a proponent of weddings at any time other than summer. I am not a fan of standing in a sunny garden or historical (read poorly air conditioned) chapel, struggling to pay attention to the lovely vows instead of noticing the rivers of sweat running down my back and leaving damp spots on my silk dress. I am not filled with joy at the prospect of rushing home from the ceremony to take a shower and get gussied up all over again for the reception. I hope that the bride and groom realize how much I like them to be subjecting myself to the outdoors on their behalf. And I pray for rain. A good shower never hurt anyone.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

enter the slip

As well as being the title of a Jim Morrison poem, it seemed an appropriate title for this post. Readers, might I share with you the story of an American exchange student who got stuck inside of a giant vagina statue: http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/27971248

When I read the news heading aloud to SB, he proceeded to open and close his mouth like a goldfish. There were so many thoughts, most of them inappropriate, that came rushing to the forefront of his brain, that he almost had a stroke trying to get them all out at once. Even the more reserved members of our dinner group seemed to struggle mightily not to pluck the low hanging morsel from the tree.

Monday, June 23, 2014

circumstance

I noticed a few years back when I was attending a friend's graduation that the HK love of auspiciousness seems to have bled into inflated regalia. My friend was receiving a bachelor's degree and yet she and all of her classmates were wearing robes with sleeves that in the US denote a master's degree, as well as a hood. This weekend I attended a secondary school convocation and the students were adorned in multiple sashes and hoods. I wondered what the local universities will come up with to top the secondary school regalia. Trains and scepters? I felt so cheated with my plain hood and spindly honors tassels.

We took lots of photographs with our young graduate. I guess that the family was prepared to accept that this was the girl's first and last convocation because her mum kept repeating how hard it had been to finish and how grateful she was that her daughter stuck with her schooling. I was surprised because I think that we're fairly good friends and I had no idea that the daughter was on the verge of flunking out or dropping out on several occasions.

Later at dinner, there was a lot of discussion over what the daughter's options might be. Everyone had been so busy working toward graduation that there wasn't much time to think about the future. These days it seems like even clerks require university degrees so it was challenging brainstorming viable options. While I didn't think that I had much to offer, after a few minutes of discussion we realized that the table of eight adults could offer some assistance. The girl had interest in photography and one friend's brother is a professional photographer. The girl is an athlete and I knew a few trainers who could employ her. We all knew people with restaurant businesses. I was relieved to be reminded that there are still occupations out there where someone without university can be successful. In fact, if the girl decided to become a steel worker or carpenter, she would be wealthier than most. When I think about the burden of my student debt and how significantly it has impacted my current income and options for future savings, I wonder if I should have become a carpenter.

Friday, June 20, 2014

green pastures and the valley

Our landlord didn't open the news story predicting declining rental costs and raised our rent by a couple thousand dollars. The knee jerk reaction was to look for a new abode but then SB and I talked it out and concluded that though there are greener pastures, we are not ready to move at this time. While we still highly enjoy our neighborhood and our neighbors, the smallness of our home is starting to become a concern. We now have two pups sharing the space, though that really isn't a problem considering that they seem to prefer being wherever we are, unlike teenage humans who want to be anywhere but near their parents. The bigger problem is that we have now been in Hong Kong for over six years and one of us (SB) is a natural  pack rat who, despite my vigilant oversight, has managed to accumulate all sorts of stuff. He put his overly large hoof down when I attempted to weed out some of the previous stuff that he had picked up. The inflatable hands from Sevens two years past should be given to someone's child and not tossed into a collection bin. The free t-shirts from the hockey/lacrosse/rugby tournaments are all going to be worn at some point once those t-shirts from boarding school (twenty plus years ago) eventually totally disintegrate. You get the picture.

So we are staying in our small flat, along with our dogs and our stuff. But one day soon this will change. We will either have to find a larger place in the valley, probably for a bit more rent, or we will move to a neighborhood that is more affordable. We noticed some homes in the New Territories that will provide almost twice the size of our flat AND a rooftop or terrace for a lot less than we are paying in our convenient location. Of course, I will still have to check these places out to ascertain dog friendliness and the like. Do any of my readers live in areas where there are places for dogs to play and socialize, and yet not a nightmare for using public transportation to get to work on the island?

Thursday, June 19, 2014

planning

The term 'planning' usually infers a process regarding decision making for the future. The business of town and regional planning involves stages of information gathering and market research that are analyzed to eventually form a comprehensive proposal to best suit the needs of a community. Or at least that's what I got out of my Master's of Regional Planning. Of course, I haven't used that degree to the scale that I use my architecture degrees so my knowledge may be old fashioned.

At my former job, I had the misfortune of working on a plan that I found to be wrong in almost every aspect. It was a poor idea featuring aesthetically repugnant, repetitive housing elements, to be located in one the the most culturally rich areas of Hong Kong. This new development would be built in the middle of a rural, farming community, which would effectively destroy the fledgling eco-tourism business there. I decided that the best that I could do was to offer a better solution because the developer was dead set of developing the area into high rise housing and proposed a hub that contained not only stacks of high rises, but also infrastructure and amenities that could tie in with the organic farms and outdoor centers. The proposal won and we were give the project. A few months in, the supervisor that I hated with the rage of a thousand burning suns decided to increase the developer's already high profit margin and withdrew most of the amenities to make room for more housing on giant retail podiums. The fertile ground was replaced with concrete blocks. This signaled the end of my career at the company. I may be considered a sell out for joining the ranks of corporate architecture but even I have my limits of endurance.

Reading about the protests at LegCo, I get it. The government is trying to alleviate the housing crisis and its plans to benefit the majority are going to displace a minority of villagers. I agree wholeheartedly that the trend for skyrocketing housing prices that put home ownership out of reach to the average citizen needs mitigation. But instead of addressing the causes of these problems, which is not an easy task, the solution proposed is to raze a village and build a new town. It will probably be (relatively) affordable due to the remoteness of its location and mass produced, cheap construction of its housing estates. While I can, and will, remonstrate the government for coming up with such a crap solution, I also understand why it did. The problems are not easy. The Hong Kong housing market is extremely volatile. Contributing to the crisis are mainland buyers who bought 20 to 40% of new homes between 2009 and 2013 (they were eventually slowed down by the stamp duty). But mainlanders are not entirely to blame for the poor public housing ownership policies, nor for the growing income disparity that is steadily rising. This is a territory with the highest retail rental prices in the world and third most expensive rental market, and yet the median monthly household income is $20,700. Encroaching into the rural areas and throwing up a bunch of ugly housing blocks isn't going to solve the problem.

Monday, June 16, 2014

good lassie

Yesterday during our hike I heard the sound that no dog owner ever wants to hear: the cries of a terrified and/or injured pup. I took off down the trail and was intercepted by Tippy, who had been running at full speed toward me. She turned around and raced to an opening in the bushes at the edge of the path, leading to a steep slope. Then she waited until I could see her before continuing into the bushes. Somehow I managed to pause before plummeting down after my dogs, and listened and looked. I didn't hear any noises of another creature down with my pup, which was good, but I could hear thrashing noises along with Elsie's cries. By then SB had found a safer area to enter the slope and was slowly making his way to Elsie while I edged forward at my location in hopes of being able to see the dogs.

A small tree was shaking back and forth, indicating that she was caught in something. I cannot tell you how relieved I was that she wasn't at the bottom of a cliff. Before SB could reach her, she managed to free herself and was frantically running about the area. She eventually came into view and both she and Tippy shot up and back onto the path like little rockets. SB gave her a thorough pat down and squeezed on her limbs and undercarriage. Thankfully there were no cries of pain. We aren't sure of what the problem was but it seemed most likely that she had fallen into a hole that may have been obscured by all of the brush. After a few minutes of staying close to us, she forgot about the trauma and was off running about with her sister.

I took a bit longer to get over the trauma of hearing her crying loudly and out of sight. Afterward, we remembered how Tippy had come running for us and wondered if she was fleeing or coming to fetch us to help her sister. I prefer to think that she was going to get help. After all, she did turn back as soon as she saw me and went right back to where Elsie was trapped. She's just like Lassie, if Lassie liked to chew gum, dig egg shells out of the trash, and bark in her sleep.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

composites of D Day and Today in Normandy

These images have been making their way through the internet on various websites, but if you have not yet seen them, I suggest that you do. They will give you pause.


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

music dogs

SB remembered that years ago, someone who was a much better musician than he is now tried to play "blackbird" on his guitar and failed. Of course, this became a challenge to SB. So far he has not mastered playing the song but we have discovered new things as he has been practicing. Tippy, who we already know loves SB's falsetto, also somehow seems to know when SB is making up song lyrics about her. I don't know if the fondness for her comes through in SB's voice, or if she recognizes her name. Either way, when he launches into the Tippy related lyrics, she is right there in front of him, paws on his lap.

Elsie isn't quite the music lover that Tippy is, and doesn't get so many songs written about her, but she does like to join in Tippy's enthusiasm and magnify it. When she is happy, her tail starts to spin in circles, seemingly gathering energy until she can suddenly launch herself at the object of her happiness, followed by bouncing around the room and trying to give hugs and kisses.

I know that a lot of dog experts say that when a dog attempts to jump on you, it is trying to dominate you but what malarkey. Does the dog in the video look like she's trying to be boss, or is she just swept up in enthusiasm?


Thursday, June 5, 2014

4 June 1989

Twenty five years ago China fired upon its own bright and young citizens, sending tanks and guns to crush a peaceful student protest. While it is estimated that over a thousand students and protesters were killed, no one knows for sure. The government is still actively enforcing a media blackout twenty five years later. There are a thousand mothers who are still waiting for answers to why their sons and daughters never came home.

dragon boat 2014

On Tuesday at the office I wondered if I was coming down with something until I realized that there may be another explanation for my sore throat. My dragon boating colleague was in similar straits today and I started to recall just how much yelling occurs when you are paddling frantically to the finish line.

At the races I tried to avoid too much consumption of alcohol because I couldn't take the day off on Tuesday but there was all that cold bubbly and the street party.  What is it they say about good intentions?

While I continue to race with the same team for my fourth HK season, I heard back from the office team that I had been helping to train. They were a 100% rookie team and I had some worries. During their first race the strongest member's paddle broke and all the people behind him scrambled to find the replacement paddle in the back of the boat. They finished last. In the second race, some of the teammates ran out of steam and stopped paddling. The others on the boat were still enraged about this when they each stopped by to rehash the disaster that was their inaugural Stanley race. Despite this, most of the team are very keen to do it again next year.

In my team's first race we did only marginally better (8th place in the heat).  I twinged a muscle in my back trying to move the boat but luckily we were able to massage it until it released in time for the next races. We gathered the duds on our boat and had an encouraging but serious talk about blah blah ninety seconds of effort blah blah we have never done so poorly before blah blah we know you can dig deep and pull through for us. We then finished second place in our next race and advanced to the gold plate final, which was as high as you can go if you didn’t perform in the top three in your first race to advance to the cup, and were barely beaten in the final. Overall, we are very happy with our runner up trophy considering the stinker of a performance that was our first race. We celebrated like we had won runner up to the cup.

Then we heard an announcement that we had to re-race the final competition. Apparently one team was disqualified or something like that. Since this didn't affect anyone's time, our captain and several others went to find the tournament officials and ask for an explanation. Meanwhile several of my teammates had decided that they were too tired or drunk to continue on. The competitive members of the team couldn't fathom why anyone wouldn't want to keep going until we passed out. There was a big debate. angry words were exchanged. Then our captain returned to announce that the re-race was due to one of the boats having sunk to no fault of their own. Apparently the plug fell out or was pulled out by some prankster in the previous race (more likely scenario) and that team didn’t realize it until they took on a lot of water. They had tried to hoist a red flag before the race but no one saw them. As bad as I felt for that boat, we appealed the final race because we didn't have enough willing paddlers at that point. Several other teams joined the appeal and it was decided that a re-race was impossible. We kept our trophy and forgot all about the angry words that had been exchanged.

Our team made the critical error of not bringing enough beer so by the time that we disembarked for the street party, there were several people stumbling around clutching bottles of wine. And then there was the rando who crashed our junk with a bottle of tequila. By the time that I ran screaming from the street party, people were chugging bottles of wine like they contained apple juice. I’m sure that everyone that I left behind called in sick for work the next day.

When I arrived at home, the dogs chased me throughout the flat, trying to lick the salt off my legs with expressions of pure delight on their little faces. Elsie executed a lock around my ankle with her front paws so that she could lick my toes while Tippy went after my kneecaps.

Oh yeah, and SB opened his bag last night to discover a pair of women’s underwear. We had a good time trying to compose the most brilliant group message querying who tucked her panties into SB’s bag.