The more things change…

Despite moving to a completely different continent, things are slowly moving back to normal, or our definition of it anyway. I still have my computer with dual monitors sitting on a 4-foot wide IKEA table. I still have my video games and my Scotch whisky. I still like staying up late at night typing shit on my website while JC sleeps quietly in our bedroom.

If there’s one thing I learned while we traveled the world, it’s that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Seriously, people all over the world, they’re all the same. They wake up in the morning, go to work, eat dinner, watch TV, and then go to sleep. They care about their loved ones and worry about the future. They have a place they call home that they’re always glad to go back to. Maybe in Hong Kong, the pace is a little faster. Maybe in Paris, it’s a little slower. And maybe in Scotland, it’s a little colder.

We’re still conditioned to think certain things. For example, both JC and I might think that a loud bang (there are lots of loud bangs here due to constant construction) is a gunshot, and then realize that there aren’t any guns here. For me personally, when I feel a vibration from a truck or the neighbor upstairs, I brace myself for a magnitude 8.0 earthquake. Sometimes I’ll accidentally refer to the MTR as BART.

Overall, I think we did it. We had this vision almost a year and a half ago, and now it’s reality. There are still things to learn and get used to, but on the most part we have our home here now. When I think about all the things we’ve done in the span of 11 months, I find it hard to believe. Last year at this time, I was looking forward to one more month of work, and then being free. Now, I have to look forward to starting work, which I admit I’m reluctant to do after taking so much time off.

I think I’ll save my thoughts on work for a future post. Good night.

Remember to read the fine print…

Just before we moved to Hong Kong I received an offer from one of my credit cards for one year’s worth of interest-free purchases:

0% Promo APR

I figured I’d take advantage of this offer since I’d probably be buying a bunch of stuff for the new place. Today, the first statement arrived, and being the paranoid person that I am, I thought I’d take another look at the offer:

Oops, U.S. only

Man. It never even occurred to me that where a purchase was made would even factor into the offer. Luckily, we didn’t go overboard with buying new things so I’ll be able to pay it all off.

I’m not a big fan of carrying balances on my cards, but on occasion a company will offer me 0% interest and I might take advantage of it. In this situation, it’s probably a blessing in disguise because I had just paid off an interest-free balance that I had carried for nearly a year. On the surface it seems like a good deal because you’re getting free money, but in the end you still have to pay for it. I ended up spending more money than I would have had I not had an interest-free loan.

Remember, spend less than you earn, and all those pennies will add up!

Day 11

It is day 11 since we have moved into our new place, and I’m sitting on our IKEA couch eating a slice of Sara Lee coffee-flavored (or should I say flavoured?) pound cake while drinking Rickshaw black tea out of my Guinness Foreign Extra mug. I had bought the box of Rickshaw tea bags on the first day that we were in Hong Kong. The Guinness mug was a promotional gift that came with the 4-pack that I bought on the first day that we moved in. The IKEA couch arrived exactly one week ago, and the Sara Lee was an impulse buy a couple of days ago when we were at the supermarket right before dinner time.

From the Rickshaw to the Guinness to the Sara Lee, we have covered a period of just over 3 weeks. It is hard to believe that it has only been that short an amount of time when I think of all the things that we have done, like buying furniture and daily necessities and doing other typical move-in things. One fun project was going to the computer mall to buy parts so that I could put my desktop back together. Some not-so-fun activities involved fixing several material issues with the apartment. Tonight is actually the first time I’ve been able to sit down on the couch and relax, a sign that things are finally slowing down and that we’re finally settling in. I like it.

I finally opened the bottle of Lagavulin that I had pledged not to until we had our own place in Hong Kong. I originally bought it from Costco on November 29, 2011. We moved in on March 6, 2013. Not bad at all, not bad at all. In the end, I decided not to open it with too much fanfare. I didn’t even video or photograph it. I just opened it like any other bottle of Scotch, poured it into my Glencairn glass, sniffed it, and then enjoyed it. It was immensely gratifying, especially considering all the occasions when I wanted to cheat and open the bottle before we were in Hong Kong.

Now, the next task will be to find myself a job. It’s a scary thought, since I haven’t worked in nearly a year. If I had to give advice to myself, I would remind myself that 3 weeks ago things looked scary as well. We didn’t know what the future would hold, where we would live, how we would cope. But now, we’re doing just fine. And, who knows? Three weeks from now I might already be slaving away at my new job, waking up at 6 in the morning, squeezing onto a bus during the morning commute. Sounds like fun. Bring it on.

Hong Kong Update – Day 12 of 15

It has been over a week since the last Hong Kong update, and what a week it has been. I started writing something on Monday and worked on it through Wednesday and then decided it was too whiny to post, so I didn’t do it (if I ever decide to write an autobiography, I’ll share it in detail then). We viewed almost a dozen apartments in a matter of hours and picked one, we learned a quick-and-dirty way to transfer money from the U.S. to Hong Kong, and now we have started picking out appliances and furniture.

For the first (whiny) part, I basically wanted to say that I needed to stay true to myself and not try to suddenly become a Hong Konger. I noticed I was trying too hard to blend in (and actually, I’m still working on it). For example, I would try to speak Cantonese in a situation where I could have expressed myself better in English. I have to remember that our being different is and is going to be a fact of life. The truth is we grew up in the United States; our behaviors, perspectives, and mindsets are different, and people can see that. Of course, we are still going to try to put people at ease, if we can. We just won’t do it at our own expense.

So, it was one week ago that we went to a real estate agent and gave him our housing requirements. We immediately went on a whirlwind tour of flats. The first one was a rude awakening, grotesquely small. There were “rooms” that in reality were closets. Ouch. We were wondering what we’d gotten ourselves into. Luckily, that unit was an aberration. I think the one we finally picked was number 6 or number 7, a cozy little place that’s close enough to the main boulevard to be convenient but still far enough away to be quiet. We signed the lease on Thursday and will be getting the keys tomorrow, which is probably why I can’t sleep right now.

After we picked the place it was time to put down a deposit. I had barely enough in my HKD account to cover the initial payment, with the balance due on signing. I had to move money from the U.S., and quickly. But how? I was afraid that there wouldn’t be enough time for a wire transfer. We eventually figured out that the best way to do it was the ATM. The bank security guard probably thought we were up to something, because on the first day while we were still figuring out the daily maximum, we made several back-and-forth trips. In Hong Kong there are different ATMs for deposits and withdrawals, so I’d withdraw a stack of cash and then slide over to the adjacent machine. Then we’d leave so I could get money from an ATM at a different bank, only to return a few minutes later. It was like musical ATMs. The hilarity was definitely ensuing. After a couple of days, we had transferred enough to cover everything.

Finally, we have spent the past couple of days shopping around for furniture. Today I looked at TVs and yesterday we picked out a mattress and a rice cooker. The process is pretty much the same as it is back home, except the showroom spaces (as well as the mattresses) are smaller. There is also a lot more staff on hand, too many if you ask me. Nothing like having a used-car-salesman (or Best Buy) type follow you around while you try things out. Online shopping is almost nonexistent here, and paying for things in cash (even big ticket items) is much more common and expected.

Can’t believe it’s only been a week. Guess we’re moving fast and doing a lot. We’re looking forward to finally be able to slow down and settle into our new place. Next up: bedding and internet (the classic combo, right?). Good night!

Day 4 of 15

Today is day 4 of 15 that we’re staying in a hotel. I’m looking forward to finding a place of our own so we can settle in and start looking for work. At first we thought about getting a month-to-month serviced apartment, but upon further consideration we decided that it would be easier to get long-term housing.

First, regardless of how adaptable we might think we are, in reality we are averse to uncertain living arrangements. Peace of mind matters. Knowing where we’ll be settled means one less thing to worry about. We want to start building our new home.

Second, we don’t want to move twice, with the second move being potentially larger. In the Bay Area we’ve done a lot of DIY moving, but here the logistics are a little bit different. We don’t have our own car and it’s more difficult to move things back and forth. If we needed to buy supplies or equipment such as a computer printer, we’d have to move those things to the new place. Better to do it all at once instead.

Third, we really would like to procure supplies and equipment. For example, having a second computer monitor and having a printer would be tremendously helpful with the job search. Being able to do everything at home instead of having to prep everything and bring it to a printing store would be much more convenient and efficient. Without our own place, it is simply not feasible to buy anything more than small items, and even then we are trying to keep from acquiring anything right now per the second point above.

The drawback of finding a place now is that we don’t know where we’re going to be working, which might mean a commute. Even so, it would be a public transportation commute that would be an hour long at most. We could use the time to read or catch up on email. We’re also going to try to find place in a relatively central location so that it’s not too far from everything. We’d rather deal with a potential commute for a year than to have to find a job under uncertain conditions.

The adventure is well under way!

Do the Wave

KMB Buses

We were on the bus yesterday sitting on the upper deck when I watched a lady on a cell phone standing at a bus stop miss our bus because she neglected to wave it down. In Hong Kong, if a bus stop serves more than one route, the bus driver often will not stop if you don’t signal to him. A simple sticking out of the arm and fluttering of the hand will do the trick.

I have seen instances where a malicious driver will continue driving past a single-route bus stop if he sees a person not stick out his arm, or he’ll slow down waiting for you to signal and then shake his head at you when you finally do. Ah, the intricacies of modern bus-flagging!

To be safe, I now stick my arm out every time.

Here’s some more information about this convention on Wikipedia.

Rest and Recovery

Our flight is over and we have made it safely to Hong Kong. The rest of the flight was uneventful, save for the bumpy landing. Thank goodness for the suspension (or whatever it’s called for airplanes).

I would like to commend the Cathay Pacific ground staff for a job well done. Apparently, someone mistakenly took my suitcase and we had to leave the airport with one less bag, the one with all my clothes in it. After taking our first nap, the message light in our hotel room started blinking: it was 2:30 AM, and it was a message from the front desk letting me know that my bag had been delivered!

Both the gentleman at the baggage carousel itself and the one behind the claims counter were polite, courteous, and reassuring. Despite being exhausted, I experienced minimal stress and was very optimistic about my bag turning up. I wasn’t expecting such a quick resolution, though. Thank you King, Eddy, and Esther!

Speaking of naps, our sleep schedule has been one of fits and starts. Just being in the air inside a pressurized cabin is very exhausting; add to that the equivalent of pulling an all-nighter and the result resembles something out of Resident Evil. Despite this, our bodies still seem willing to follow Pacific time. When it is bedtime in Hong Kong it is daytime in SF, and we’re only able to sleep a few hours at most, as if we’re taking an afternoon nap.

Having said that, we’ve been stringing together these naps and finally got in some extended sleep last night, going from 6 PM to 3 AM. There is a feeling of clarity and alertness immediately after waking up, but very soon after the cloudiness returns. We’re being strategic about what things we want to get done and when to eat, as it seems we’re getting hungry all the time. Right now, it’s about 6:30 AM. I imagine we’ll crash around 2 in the afternoon later today. It will be a few more days at least until we start feeling normal again.

On our way…

After 3 months of living at home we are finally on our way to Hong Kong. We are slightly behind schedule; originally, we had planned to be in Hong Kong by November, but of course we had decided to travel instead and didn’t even make it back to SF until that time. Once we were back in SF, we were (well, mostly I was) back and forth on whether we should take the plunge. It seemed that after traveling to so many places, I was comfortable settling down and making a home for myself. A lot of my thinking had to do with how much money we had spent on the trip.

OK, so if I’m stressing about money and we’ve finished traveling, then the next step is to find a job and a place to live. The more I thought about having to find a job in the Bay Area, the more I didn’t want to. It makes no sense. The Bay Area and Silicon Valley is one of the most desirable places to be in the country, if not the world. Why would I want to leave? Why did I keep getting the urge to live and work in Hong Kong?

An excerpt from my personal journal might explain it a bit:

Looking at how I’ve looked at Hong Kong in the past few years, one could say that moving to Hong Kong is my dream. I’ve thought about it so much. I’ve talked about it so much. We’ve already done so much, getting JC’s ID and opening our bank account. We still have that bottle of Lagavulin we’re planning to open once we’re settled. If I don’t do it now, I will regret it for the rest of my life. If I went and got a job in SF now, I would think “what if” every single day. That is the fact of the matter.

I would do well to remember a lesson taught to me during the road trip, when I went swimming at all those hotels. Just close my eyes and jump in. The instant that happens it is shockingly cold, but after a few seconds it’s perfectly fine, and then I start swimming. After 10 minutes, I have had my workout and get out of the pool, and there is such a mix of good feelings: feeling glad that I jumped in, my body feeling good after exercising, feeling hungry and ready to fill my stomach with delicious food. Now, the shockingly cold moment will be clicking “confirm” on the Cathay Pacific website.

Although we are originally from Hong Kong, we have never actually lived and worked there. I want to know how we’ll do over there. Will we survive? Will we thrive? How will we adjust? It’s actually rather interesting. We have been returning to Hong Kong on an almost annual basis for the past few years, which means we have been immersed somewhat in the culture and the society, but at the same time, going somewhere for vacation and actually living there are two separate things. I suppose in making our decision we also had a “grass is greener” mentality; we know that some aspects of Hong Kong life will be better than Bay Area life, despite also understanding that each place has its own pluses and minuses. We want to give the pluses of Hong Kong a try.

We have taken the first step. 9 more hours to go.