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!

The Beer That’s Always Clear

Asahi HK Ad Circa 1938
Asahi ad from the South China Morning Post – October 18, 1938

Tonight’s museum post is another ad from that 1938 edition of the South China Morning Post that we found at Granny’s house. The ad implies that not all (commercial) beers in 1938 were clear. I don’t know much about beer but the idea makes me think of chill-filtering when it comes to Scotch. A quick Google search shows that many homebrewers today have to deal with cloudy beers. Guess that’s just part of the brewing process. As always, hope you’ve enjoyed this museum post!

Handbook of Stocks and Shares of the Principal Public Companies of Hong Kong 1955-1957

I found this book while cleaning out my granny’s house last year. Before the internet, before discount brokers, this was one of the tools privileged people used to invest their money. All hating aside, however, this is a fascinating look into Hong Kong’s past.

First, the cover:

HKSE Handbook of Stocks and Shares - 1958
Some figures from 1955 to 1957, for investing in 1958

And the back:

HKSE Handbook of Stocks and Shares - 1958
Printed at Ice House Street by the Standard Press, Limited, which still exists today

With Chinese New Year coming up, it’s interesting to see that holidays were just as big in Hong Kong in 1959 as they are in 2015:

HKSE 1959 Holidays
Whit Monday?

Somewhat unsurprisingly, HSBC is the first company listed in the book:

HSBC Figures for 1955 to 1957
Wonder if any of the people listed are alive still…

Lastly, the index of the companies listed in this book contains many names that are still familiar today…

HKSE Principal Public Companies Index
Some familiar names to be sure

As always, hope you’ve enjoyed this museum post.

Monday Dinner (6-16-14)

The night before starting a new job, I wanted to do my old job one last time. To close this stay-at-home-husband chapter of my life, I made three dishes:

Steamed Pork Cake With Shiitake, Chinese Preserved Vegetable, and Wood Ear
Carrot and Marrow Soup
Choy Sum with Oyster Sauce

porkcake

This was my first time making the pork cake with a real wok and an actual large plate. We’ve been cleaning out our Granny’s house (you might have noticed the posts with newspaper ads from 1938) and I nabbed her big wok. It takes a lot less time to steam because you can spread the meat out more. The result is juicy, tender, and (slightly over because I used a bit too much soy sauce) flavorful meat.

carrotmarrowsoup

We had some leftover veggies in the fridge so I made one of JC’s old standbys, carrot and marrow soup. I don’t remember if I mentioned how she made it for the first time. Growing up, I never had this combination (and actually, it’s not something you really see in restaurants), and I thought it was a bit odd when I first saw it. But then, I do enjoy both carrot soup and marrow soup by themselves, so the combo makes sense. Leave it to JC to be creative and break tradition.

Choy Sum with Oyster Sauce

Choy sum was also left over so I used the steaming water from the wok to boil it. You can’t really parboil it because it will taste raw (choy sum isn’t a vegetable I would eat without cooking). Anyhow, the oyster sauce was also JC’s creativity. For me, oyster sauce usually goes with Chinese broccoli, and unlike the soup, I’m not sure it’s such a great combo. 😉

Well, that’s it for this chapter, now on to the next. Hopefully I’ll still get chances to cook on weekends. Enjoy!

HE USED to steer clear of her

ODO-RO-NO Ad, 1938
ODO-RO-NO Ad – SCMP – October 18, 1938

Here’s another ad from that old newspaper that was found at my Granny’s house. This one is an ad for Odorono, an early deodorant. Smithsonian.com has a nice history of the product on its site. Just like the Brylcreem, Odorono is still sold today (though probably in a different form).

Hold on to HAIR HEALTH

Brylcreem Ad, 1938
From the SCMP – October 18, 1938

A few pages from the October 18, 1938 edition of the South China Morning Post were found in my granny’s flat. This was one of the ads on the pages. I’ve never heard of Brylcreem but apparently it is still around, and of course, Watsons is still around as well. It’s interesting to note the 5-digit telephone number. In my lifetime, I’ve used the 7-digit number and today’s 8-digit one.