Saturday, October 25, 2014

my fellow Americans

I met a lovely lady at the dog park who invited me to join her dragon boat team. Unlike my team which trains seven weeks per year in preparation for for the one big race (and usually enjoys all day drinking on race day) this team of all female paddlers is serious. They train three days per week. Already I am at a disadvantage since I work and can only make it to Saturday training.  But they all friendly and understanding that I have to make my job a priority.

So that is how I spent Saturday morning surrounded by tall and/or blonde women with the exception of the coach who is short and Asian. I had gotten used to being tall among Asians and now I'm reminded that back home I'm a shrimp. At least SB will have no problem picking me out of the crowd. I'm not joking that everyone else is tall or blonde, or both tall and blonde in most cases.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

horsing around

We were planning to enjoy the opening night of the Happy Valley races from the comfort of our home but then we received an invitation to a private box. Looking out the window while cooking our own dinner vs private balcony with good friends and a was a no brainer.

Though we had previously taken part in a tour of the facilities, SB and I signed on again when a tour was offered because we needed to stretch our legs after gorging ourselves on oysters (me) and roast beef (SB). No sooner had we entered the area where the horses are trotted around, the sky opened up. A few fat drops of rain quickly turned into a deluge. Our group ran in the direction that we had come from but three of us followed some people in the other direction toward a closer shelter.

It didn't take long to realize our mistake. We had blindly followed some horse owners to the area where the jockeys dismount after the race ends. We were surrounded by grooms who were quickly and efficiently removing tacks and escorting the horses toward waiting trailers. We watched a jockey violently throw his helmet across the ground and storm away, apparently disgusted with his performance (or that of his horse). Owners were shaking hands and retreating to their private boxes while we stood by awkwardly. We three interlopers plastered ourselves to the wall until the area was fairly clear again and attempted to exit out the nearest door but the guard refused to let us into the area, probably because it was an owner only area. We tried to go back where we came from but other horses were being trotted out and we would  have had to cut through them. We went back to the guard at the owner area asking to please let us just pass through and exit but he was an input only device. He only cared that he was checking for owner badges for entry into the room and it was not his concern if three people were tramping around with the racehorses five meters outside of his post.

Eventually our shenanigans caught the eye of a race marshal who had just returned from his shift and he kindly indicated that we should continue to tramp with the horses through the tunnel where we could either be loaded onto a horse trailer and whisked away or scurry out of the tunnel. We chose to scurry out of the tunnel and exit the racecourse. Then we hugged the building and avoided most of the rain until we found the correct entrance and arrived back at the box. Others in the tour group returned five minutes later, soaking wet after having had to walk around the perimeter of the building because they had lost our tour guide and were not allowed to reenter the area that our group had been brought through. The problem was evident: HKJC workers were doing their jobs and no one was willing to do more than his job. Without the tour guide as an escort, the entire group was literally tossed out into the rain.

The tour guide eventually returned with those who had managed to located him and apologized profusely although none of this was his fault. It was a near impossible task to gather the twenty of us together amongst hundreds of people running for cover. To make up for it, we were given lots more free booze so that by the end of the night no one cared that we were soggy and rumpled. My only regret is that I didn't take pictures of my up close and personal encounter with the horses. They were gorgeous.

Friday, October 17, 2014

so long and farewell

Two of my frequently visited Happy Valley restaurants are closing according to neighborhood sources who are in the know. St. Germaine is closing its doors after several years of operation. I occasionally ate there and more often visited for a drink or three when I fancied something a bit more upscale than the local pub. They seemed to do a brisk business on race nights and when French sports were being televised. I awoke from time to time to the sounds of La Marseillaise being bellowed from triumphant patrons. It was the trade off for choosing to live close to all of the amenities. If you want to live in the center of everything, expect that excitement will occur from time to time (nudge, nudge, horrible man who lives above the Happy Valley Bar & Grill and keeps calling the police on customers' children playing in the open space).

The Chapel is also closing after decades in this neighborhood. SB recalls gathering there twenty years ago after attending the funeral of a friend who died much too young. It had been the friend's favorite drinking hole. I know several people who religiously attended the Chapel's quiz nights for years. I fear for their spouses who may face some grueling months ahead, playing Trivial Pursuit and searching for a replacement quiz night to save their marriages. Yes, the Chapel served a higher purpose and will be greatly mourned.

At least the real estate office boom seems to be over. Those were dark years when every street in the valley seemed to feature wall to wall real estate offices. Unfortunately nothing seems to be slowing the emergence of wall to wall banks. While we HK residents have great fondness for money, it is inedible and does not provide satisfaction at mealtimes.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

it's been a rough week

It's been a rough week for me - deadlines, revisions, pitchfork waving - but this week was even rougher for one social worker and the Hong Kong Police Force.

Monday, October 13, 2014


On an island with millions of people crammed along flat areas, we are bound to encounter land use and sharing issues. I join thousands of fellow residents who jostle along the sidewalks on the way into the office in the morning. Almost every day I see someone cutting into the bus queue or shoving to be the first person to board the tram. I've had colleagues close the elevator doors on me as I have entered the lift car. After six years in the HK rat race I can't be bothered to care most of the time.

On several mornings I wake up early to have a quick exercise session at the local sports ground. My routine hardly ever changes: I run a lap around the grounds and then do some calisthenics. There are far fewer runners in the morning than in the evening and those annoying people who can't stand being passed don't seem to wake up early so I don't have to be stuck trying to run around someone for 100 meters while dodging other runners going in the opposite direction. 

Lately I have encountered a new problem: exercise classes. Most of the outdoor fitness classes choose to operate in areas where they can peacefully coexist. the Tai Chi groups practice in the paved gathering area near the children's playground and in the hockey pitch while several circuits groups take up corners at the rugby and football pitches. Unfortunately a new exercise group has cropped up at the calisthenics area. This is annoying. The area isn't particularly large so fifteen people very easily overwhelm it. They often attach TRX suspension equipment on the bars and benches so that sharing is impossible. The trainers used to wait impatiently while I did my exercises. Then they began setting up as I was exercising, slowly cutting down on the area that I could use. Now they arrive before I do and cover the entire area with their gear. I am seriously considering helping myself and using their equipment.

I don't want to complain to the recreation ground management but I'm not sure what other options I have. These trainers have made it clear by their actions that they intend to take over the calisthenic area for their income generating purposes and to the exclusion of others. I just don't want all of the other groups that don't create friction to be booted out because I complained about one bad group. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

cancel everything

SB and I had nice plans for the long holiday but we've canceled them. There are more important matters to attend to, such as supporting our friends. We discussed what we felt comfortable doing. During the protest marches earlier in the year we were careful to be observers and not join the marches because we wanted it to be clear that these protests were by Hong Kong citizens. We were able to show our support by standing at the sidelines and bearing witness.

This time we are joining our friends to support them. SB and others have taken turns sitting with and delivering  nourishment to several friends. The weather is not ideal, ranging from sweltering heat to thunderstorms. A little moral support goes a long way.

I try not to think of the end and my own pessimism and feelings of futility. I am no longer young and idealistic, which is a sad thing. I wish for that young woman who thought that she could change the world. On the other hand, ten years ago I was advocating for another futile cause and today three of my former teammates are legally wed and raising families. In the words of Chuck Berry, you never can tell.