Right Now, #2

I couldn’t sleep tonight so I came outside to type some stuff on my laptop. Earlier, when I was waiting outside for the dog to finish his business, I looked up at the moon hanging low near the southern horizon. In the distance, I could hear a bird doing a whistling routine, a mix of chirps and whistles. For a moment, it seemed like I was in a jungle. Now, a few hours later, I can still hear the bird occasionally, but the moon is up much higher in the sky, and further west.

It’s been a while since I’ve been up at this hour. Ever since we attended a wedding in January, our sleeping schedules have reverted back to a more normal time. Prior to that, we would still be up at this time, playing Skyrim, surfing the internet, or enjoying a late meal. I haven’t thought about it, but it’s been two months since then.

When I was in bed earlier, I thought about the Right Now post from when we first started living in Hong Kong. Being outside with the moon and the chirping bird, it felt like another “right now” moment, so I got out of bed to type this. I wondered if it would be like the Coincidence post, but it’s actually a couple of weeks away before it will be exactly four years. Close enough.

When I was in bed, I listened to the bird and thought of the moon, and thought about how different the world is here compared to Hong Kong. Here, it’s actually quiet enough to hear a bird that’s chirping a couple of blocks away. The light pollution is low enough that you can look up in the sky and not only see the moon and its craters clearly, but also see the surrounding stars and planets. On many nights I’ve looked up at Orion’s Belt, amazed that I can actually see it, that the sky is so dark. Before moving to Hong Kong, I used to look up and see it too, but I never appreciated it as much as I do now.

Another thing that I appreciate more now is mortality. Tomorrow (or today), we are taking our niece to the Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. It is one of many activities that we have been doing with our niece since moving back to America. Being around her, I am ever more aware of life being a queue: that those who come first, go first.

When I was in bed, I thought about the trip tomorrow. I thought about the car booster seat, and how to install it in my car, which led to my thinking of what I would do if the worst should occur. In a situation where I could choose between losing my own life or hers, I would choose to lose mine, because as I said above, life is a queue. I’ve lived nearly 40 years and had a pretty good life up to this point; she’s barely had 4 and still has so much to experience. As I’ve probably mentioned on here before, everyone gets a turn.

I also thought about what I would say to JC if the worst should occur and I had a last chance to say something to her. I would tell her that she is the best thing that ever happened to me in my life, that I became a different person because I met her. I would thank her for being my JC, and my partner in life. As I’ve said so many times before, life is fragile and can end at any moment. Being around my niece has only reinforced this notion. We would be wise, while we can, to tell our loved ones how we feel about them if we have not yet done so.

I’ve talked about life being a cruel joke before. Our parents dote on us, we fly away only to realize how much they mean to us, they die, and the same thing happens with our children. Yes, it seems cruel and unfair, but that’s the way it is, and there’s nothing we can do to change it. That is life, the nature of our existence. It would be better to embrace this fact, our mortality, so that we don’t take life for granted.

Tomorrow, I will forward this post to JC and let her know (again) how I feel about her. I hope you will do the same with your loved ones. Four years ago, I sat on my bed in our little flat in Hong Kong, looking out the window, sipping a Laguvulin, contemplating life. Right now, I sit at the dining table of the inlaws, savoring a Laphroaig, our family dog sleeping on a cushion with a blanket over his head, the clock ticking loudly with each passing second, the moon shining outside. Life has gone on for four years, and will keep on going. Time to go to bed. Good night.

德昌魚蛋粉 (Duck Cheung Fishball Noodles)

德昌魚蛋粉
德昌魚蛋粉 – January 7, 2010

Was sorting through some old photos when I chanced upon this one, a bowl of fishball noodles from 德昌, in our old neighborhood of North Point. I don’t exactly remember the first time we went there, but I want to say 2008. Ever since that first time, we’ve gone pretty regularly throughout the years.

Looking at this photo, I think of the soft, slippery noodles floating in the fish broth. The first sip of soup is especially satisfying after the anticipation of the meal. I like to pair it with an iced tea, either lemon or milk. If I remember correctly, this particular combo is under HKD$40, or about USD$5.00. What a deal.

I hope I get a chance to enjoy it again.

Hong Kong Central and Western Heritage Trail Guide Map

Central and Western Heritage Trail Guide Map For this museum post we once again have a PDF’d version of a Hong Kong brochure, the Central and Western Heritage Trail Guide Map (33.7 MB PDF, right-click to save), given to me by a coworker. Saving a digital copy of it is the primary reason for uploading it to the museum.

A nice secondary reason is that, like the Transport Department, the Antiquities and Monuments Office doesn’t seem to have a PDF version of this guide on their website. What they do have is a nice hyperlinked guide that’s probably more current than this 2010 PDF. Still, it’s nice having an actual brochure to browse through, and I’m sure a current one is available at any LCSD location.

Walking around historical sites can be both fascinating and eerie. I imagine all these souls from a different era who are no longer with us, living their lives and going through their trials and tribulations in the ways of that time, like how we go through our own now, in the present. They probably didn’t see themselves in black and white, just like how don’t see ourselves as JPGs.

If you are a history buff then I highly recommend giving the trail a try.

Hong Kong Transport Department Road Users’ Code

Hong Kong Road Users' Code

As part of my continuing quest to become more agile and less bogged down by physical objects in my life, I’ve been scanning a lot of my old booklets and magazines. Clutter is reduced, and convenience is increased: a simple search on my computer brings up the PDF, which works great now that my memory is no longer what it used to be. It’s also nice being able to browse the PDF on my tablet.

I received this booklet after getting my Hong Kong driver’s license in 2014. Since my California license was current, all I had to do was pay the fee, no test required. The reason for getting the license was that I wanted to try being a bus driver, a boyhood dream of mine. Sadly, I never applied and not long after I landed the job at the big bank.

This booklet came back with us via the shipping container and the sixteen boxes we shipped back to the US inside of it. It may seem silly to ship a bunch of things thousands of miles across the Pacific only to dispose of them, but when time is short and you have no time to sort through what to keep and what to toss, it becomes worth it. The proof is in my only and finally getting to sorting the stuff and finding this booklet now, 16 months after we’ve returned from Hong Kong.

As usual, hope you’ve enjoyed this trip down memory lane. This is a special one because the HK Transport Department doesn’t have a PDF on its site, and I imagine people googling “HK Transport Department Road Users’ Code PDF” will probably end up here. The PDF is OCR’d for convenience. Happy and safe driving!

Hong Kong Road Users’ Code (May 2000).pdf (40.7 MB, right-click to save)




Coincidence

Rosemary Garlic Tri-Tip
A scrumptious dish

I had a pretty good dinner tonight. Tri-tip roasts are on sale this week at Safeway ($3.99/lb) so I got one (~3.5lbs) to roast in the oven. Minced some garlic and fresh rosemary and rubbed it all on along with some freshly cracked salt and pepper. Every 15 minutes I basted with a red wine and beef bouillon solution. Took it out of the 350°F oven after about an hour and 10 minutes, and sliced it up after letting it rest for 10.

As I like to do after a fancy dinner, I dripped myself a cup of coffee. Recently we unpacked the last of our things from Hong Kong, a box of kitchen stuff. Inside this box was the Guinness mug that came with the 4-pack I bought after we first moved into our place in Hong Kong. I had forgotten that I used to use this mug for drip coffee in Hong Kong, using whipping cream in place of half-and-half since the latter is not sold there. There was a morning in spring of 2013 when I made coffee to go along with a sandwich made with bread from our bread maker, in preparation for watching a Warriors playoff game. That was a good morning.

Since the mug got me thinking about our time in Hong Kong, I came here to see if I could jog some more memories. I decided to read the 6-Month Update, and then I saw that it was posted on August 18, 2013. So, exactly three years ago. What a coincidence.

It’s good to look back sometimes to see where you’ve been (although admittedly, I probably look back more often than “sometimes”). Three years ago, I was becoming more comfortable with myself and my way of living, becoming happier, and enjoying life more. It would seem that three years later, this is happening once again.

Four months ago, I wrote that time is the most precious resource. In exchange for having time, I chose to forgo having an income, and in turn forgoing having our own place to live. At that point it had almost been a year of staying with our parents, and now it has been more than that. In these four months, there have been good days and bad days. There has been internal struggle, and depression. There has been talk about moving back to Hong Kong because it would be easier to find a job and a place to live there (it sounds crazy, but compared with the Bay Area it’s true).

Perhaps I fell back into that chasm where all I do is worry about the future, worrying whether what I’m doing now is conducive to that future, whether what I’m doing is what I should be doing. When I’m in that chasm, I completely lose sight of the present, no matter how good it is. No, we aren’t working, yes, we’re living with our parents, but is that really so bad? We get to do whatever we want, whenever we want, staying up as late as we want. We get to eat tri-tip (when I had thought about escaping back to Hong Kong, I didn’t even think of how less frequently we had good beef over there). Other than the occasional self-inflicted kind, our present lives are stress-free.

In recent weeks is when I’ve finally started realizing all this, again. To stay in the moment, to enjoy the present that is good, to know that there is nothing to worry about. The past has shown us that we always step up and do what’s necessary when the time comes, so why not just enjoy this time that we have now? We are happy, healthy, and probably will be in the foreseeable future. I am confident that we will be able to handle whatever that future brings.

One Year After Hong Kong

More than a year has passed since our return from Hong Kong. The day has come and gone without my having said anything about it on this website, but in recent weeks I have actually been thinking a lot of our time there.

Looking back at this past year, I have realized that I had not really gotten over leaving Hong Kong. It has been like a mourning period, or the period after a breakup, with constant comparisons between aspects of life here and aspects of life there. To name a few, it is mostly things that, in my opinion, HK does better than SF: convenience, HK-style food, public safety, and public transportation.

Back in March of 2015, before we decided to return to the US, I did some comparisons with the intention of posting them here. I never did, so here are some of them now, in italics, along with present-day comments and additions.

Convenience

The other day, JC told me that the stored value on her prepaid phone was running low. I was in a new-to-me part of town on my way to a dinner but I knew that all I had to do was to keep my eyes open and I’d find a place that sells recharge cards. Not long after, I saw a 7-Eleven and took a detour. It took 30 seconds for me to stop, buy the phone card, and then be back on my way.

I remember this night, getting off the bus and walking up a footbridge, then seeing the 7-Eleven just inside the Shun Tak Centre. Whatever it is you need, you can be sure that it’s not far away. More significantly, you can be sure that it’s not far away, on foot. It is the nature of population density and the culture that has evolved from it. Most people don’t drive. Homes are small with little space for storing extra things. Instead, when the need arises, people simply go down to the supermarket or the convenience store. Considering the small space and the large amount of people, it is not surprising to see multiple supermarkets, convenience stores, and restaurants in close proximity to, and steps away from, each other. On the most part this wouldn’t happen in America (I’m thinking NYC might be an exception). A single big box store would be able to successfully meet the demand of people from miles around and opening another one across the street probably would not make business or financial sense.

I’m also a fan of the super convenient Octopus cashless payment system, accepted all over Hong Kong. It works on most modes of transport, retail stores, and fast-food restaurants. I’ve even paid for haircuts with it. Whenever I went to play basketball, I only had to bring my Octopus card and I’d be covered for the bus fare, the drinks machine at the court, and sometimes even a late dinner from Cafe de Coral if I was hungry. If only Clipper were as widely accepted here as Octopus is in HK.

A couple of other seemingly small but actually very convenient things: tipping and sales tax. Tipping is neither expected nor required, and I have to say it feels liberating to not have to figure one out, worrying if the amount is appropriate. Similarly, no sales tax means what you see (on the price tag) is what you pay, no math required.

Safety

Growing up in SF, you learn that on the bus or BART you leave your newest toy in your bag and not out in the open for opportunists to see and grab. With the advent of smartphones and everyone carrying them around out in the open, this is a little different now, but one still has to bring street smarts when riding public transportation or walking around on the street. In Hong Kong, one needs no street smarts at all. One can be a smartphone zombie, keeping his head down towards his device, and still be safe.

This has always been true, and seems even more so now with the increased gentrification and new money coming into SF. The perception is that people are being driven out and have to resort to crime to survive, or perhaps because there are now more rich people here, it’s hunting season. Burglaries, robberies, shootings, and stabbings are reported every week just in our one neighborhood, let alone the entire city. I experienced crime first hand as a kid in SF, and I learned to be constantly vigilant because opportunists will prey on you if you appear weak or inattentive even for a split second. It’s a relaxing change being able to just let go in Hong Kong without needing to remember to keep aware of my surroundings all the time.

Another thing involving both safety and convenience is the 24-hour store. Here, opponents of 24-hour establishments will always cite crime as a factor, because it is. In Hong Kong, it’s a non-issue. I miss 24-hour McDonald’s delivery. I miss midnight hot pot. I miss being able to take a walk around the neighborhood in the middle of the night.

Race

I know this is a touchy subject, but for me one benefit of living in Hong Kong is that I’m finally a part of the racial majority. Say what you want about racial progress in the U.S., and especially the Bay Area, but there is still a long way to go when it comes to relations between races, and perhaps not necessarily between whites and minorities. Although we all live in close proximity to each other, we do tend to keep each other at arm’s length. Obviously I’m generalizing here, but it happens enough to bother me, happens enough to make me feel excluded.

This seems even more relevant now with the Black Lives Matter movement, police shootings, and the election on the news recently. It gets kind of tiring. The first time I experienced racial discrimination was in this country, and things have not changed much in 30 years. We love talking about it though, using code-words and politically correct rhetoric to make it seem like it’s a thing of the past. And that’s just overt racism, without considering the type that has been institutionalized, the kind you don’t consciously think about or even realize you’re practicing. Also, why does discussion of race in America only involve black and white, and very occasionally brown? I think I know the answer, but as a yellow person that doesn’t mean I can’t still feel marginalized.

In Hong Kong, where I’m part of the majority by a long-shot, race, like crime, is another non-issue. Don’t get me wrong, people in Hong Kong can be extremely racist, but at least they don’t talk about it all the time trying to pretend like it’s not there, and they don’t direct it towards me.

Food

This one’s sort of a combination of the above: convenience, race, and geography combine to give me easy access to food that I enjoy. For example, HK-style fast food like Fairwood and Cafe de Coral. McDonald’s delivery. Baked pork chop rice. Iced milk tea. Yunnan rice noodles. Beef brisket and tendon noodles. Fish ball noodles. On the most part these selections are available in the Bay Area, but one must go and seek them out. Here, one does not have to travel far to enjoy local cuisine.

To add to the above, while HK selections can mostly (no 雲南米線, sadly) be found in the Bay Area, the quality can be severely lacking. It’s like they know that they’re the only option so they put out shit food. I suppose it’s all relative; people in Hong Kong might argue that Cafe de Coral is shit food. I should also mention that I used the wrong words in “convenience, race, and geography”. They probably should be convenience, culture, and density.

To name a couple more, I really miss the fresh iced lemon tea from Yoshinoya in Fortress Hill, and the curry beef brisket (with steamed rice) at both Cafe de Coral and Fairwood.

Fairwood Beef Curry Brisket and Tendon
How not to get any work done after lunch – Fairwood’s Beef Curry Brisket and Tendon

Public Transportation

This one can be filed under convenience as well. There are so many different modes of transportation: MTR, taxi, bus, mini-bus, tram. Many routes are duplicated so that even if you miss a bus, another one, or a tram, or a mini-bus, are not far behind. Maybe I’m lucky because I live in a busy/convenient area, but I really like this aspect of HK.

Yes, I think a big part of this was that I lived in North Point, a super-convenient area with many overlapping lines. Contrast that with some of my relatives’ neighborhoods in Hong Kong and one will find that it can be just as bad as MUNI or BART (to their credit though, both MUNI and BART have continuously tried to improve). Nonetheless, Hong Kong’s public transportation system is still way better than the Bay Area’s. Even if you ignore frequency and timeliness, the cleanliness of HK transport destroys that of the Bay Area’s.

As mentioned before, riding on the upper deck of a bus is one of my favorite pastimes. This is something that I miss tremendously. I’ve tried sightseeing on MUNI buses, but it’s not the same and actually quite a difference. They feel claustrophobic by comparison.

Final Words

Being a person of two worlds can be a struggle. Juggling is something I’ve been doing ever since my family moved to the United States, and it seems to have gotten harder after living in Hong Kong as an adult. While it may seem like I’m just bashing America in this post about things I think Hong Kong does better, I can tell you that when I was living there I did plenty of bashing in favor of the USA. It sucks. I sometimes wish I came from only one world, born and raised in a single place, living my life out in that place, not knowing what’s outside, being blissfully ignorant. If you don’t know what you’re missing, then you can’t miss it, right?

Have a good night. 🙂

Wan Chai to Tsim Sha Tsui on the Star Ferry

Hong Kong Island
View of HK Island from Star Ferry, Wan Chai to TST – May 2, 2015

Been awhile since I’ve posted a non-food-related slideshow pic; tonight’s is one taken from the Star Ferry on its way to TST. From left to right you can see the Convention Centre, the Bank of China Tower, Cheung Kong Centre, and the rest of the Central waterfront skyscrapers. As I’ve mentioned many times before, it’s incredible how small Hong Kong is.

Tiny Kitchen

Tiny Kitchen
Our HK kitchen – April 19, 2015 – 11:41 PM

Sunday evening in our old HK kitchen, before it was taken apart for move-out. It was a tiny but useful kitchen, and I dare say that it became efficient as well after we mastered how to prepare meals in it. We could have the oven, rice cooker, stovetop, and even the second rice cooker (from Granny) going at the same time. We could even do our laundry in it! (haha)

It’s nice to see these kinds of photos in the slideshow every now and then; reminds you of all the chapters you’ve gone through in life. Here, it’s Sunday night, winding down and getting ready for work the next day. Have a good week!

27 Weeks

Last night I read a journal entry for July 5, 2014, the last day that anyone in my family set foot in my Granny’s flat in Hong Kong. The place had been in our family for 40 years, give or take a few. The rent always stayed below market rate due to rent control, but even so it started making less and less financial sense to pay rent for a place that nobody was living in. On occasion, my mother or other relatives would stay there while visiting Hong Kong, but otherwise since 2010 when Granny moved into a home the place was uninhabited. It was kept in the hopes that perhaps one day Granny would return, or maybe for nostalgic purposes.

My mother and aunt had cleaned out the place, with JC and I tagging along but mostly staying out of it (save for keeping old newspapers and other historical items). They (especially my aunt) took a more practical approach to cleaning house. For example, old newspapers and other decades-old trinkets were considered trash. The antique furniture was sold to a dealer, and everything else was left to be kept or taken away as the landlord saw fit. I went there to retrieve a camera that my aunt had accidentally left there, and also to take my time and comb through the place for anything else worth keeping. Being the sentimental person that I am, I also took it as a chance to say goodbye properly to the closest thing I ever had to an ancestral home.

Goodbye to Granny's House
July 5, 2014 – Goodbye to Granny’s house

I’m reading the journal entry when I remember that the landlord’s representative, Mr. Lam, showed up near the end of my visit. He said that it was fortunate that I had gone there when I did, because he was planning to change the lock. I asked him if I could keep the lock for sentimental purposes, but he refused because he couldn’t make the call. He said that they would probably move that ancient lock to another property (lol). At that time I was just starting out at my job in Hong Kong, and I hadn’t learned the intricacies of CYA (covering-your-ass) yet, but now with my experience of working in HK I realize in retrospect that he was probably just afraid of doing something out of the norm. When I was explaining to him my sentimental reasons for keeping it, all he could think about was following the rules and toeing the line. Nothing I said registered.

This got me thinking about bureaucracy in Hong Kong and how deeply entrenched it is in HK society. Employee empowerment? Forget about it, they’re scared too shitless to make any decisions, call the manager. Remember when I complained about ticky-tack fouls? Bureaucracy in action. The players have been taught (or punitively programmed) to follow all rules to the letter in life and in basketball, so one little touch is a foul. What about when I tried to stick up for my coworker, or when I tried to order a battery for a user? Sadly, I did end up alienating some people at work due to the way I got things done, and I wish I would have gone about it in a smarter way where I could have had both my cake and to eat it too.

With my mind on Hong Kong, I went back and looked at all the updates I’ve made about living there, including some in my own private journal. I was reminded of how I felt when I was trying to find a job, how I felt my first month into the job, and how I felt about my career overall. There is some symmetry between what was happening then and what is happening now. I compare what I’ve been doing in the six months since returning from Hong Kong with what I was doing in the first six months of living in Hong Kong, and I find that I’m going through something very similar. And yet, in the 27 weeks I have been back in San Francisco, there have hardly been any updates on this site. I’ve posted a bunch of museum posts and VH posts, but nothing like those HK updates. So, here’s a quick recap.

In July, the first month of coming back, I had the momentum of moving from HK and being fresh from leaving a job. The first job application I sent out resulted in an interview. In my hubris, I did not prepare for the interview thinking it would be just like a meeting at work, which resulted in a poor performance and my candidacy being passed over. I continued applying for jobs with no results. On the recreational side, it was nice being back in America and going to BBQs, Costco, VH, and Sizzler. There was a learning curve to playing physical basketball again.

In August, same thing. Applied to a few more jobs, heard back from none of them. There was a family wedding which took up an entire week. JC landed a job. I continued playing basketball.

September, more of the same. I continued to mark off every Thursday: 10 weeks, 11 weeks, 12 weeks, etc. Our stuff from Hong Kong finally arrived. Since I didn’t have to work, I was tasked with waiting for the delivery.

In October, I enlisted the help of a staffing firm to assist with my job search, but nothing really happened on that front. I started having difficulty with waking up and not knowing what to do, which drove me to start planning my days ahead of time so that I could simply follow my calendar without thinking, similar to when I had a job and a routine.

November, I started ramping up the search again with the new system. I got my first interview arranged through the staffing firm. Everything went great, they told the agency that I was great, but sadly I lacked iPad experience whereas my competition did not. It was nice to spend the first Thanksgiving in three years with family and have multiple grand feasts. At 21 weeks, I stopped keeping track of how many weeks we’ve been back.

Last month, I started truly getting depressed. Maybe it was the holidays, maybe it was the cold, or maybe it was my career, or lack thereof. Remembering how I felt about my career while I was in Hong Kong, I wondered if I wanted to keep doing what I was doing, applying for jobs that I knew I could do but not really interested in. Did I really want a repeat of my HK job? If not, what would I do? Start my own business? Again, what would I do? I had and continue to have no idea. I went back and read about the tyranny of the shoulds. I’m back to the situation I was in when I wrote those posts, except I don’t really have any money now. Is there room for idealism when one doesn’t even have enough money for his own place to live? I’ve done IT support on and off for 20 years, should I not just hunker down and make some money via this field first? Or, have I forgotten the lessons I’ve learned during these past 3 years?

It’s been 27 weeks, and I’m still trying to figure it out. Happy New Year!