Our Last Day in Paris – Revisited

October 9, 2012 (Tuesday) – our last day in Paris. I made a post on that day as we rode the Eurostar out of France, but that was more of a commentary on our stay rather than a journal of the last day. So, here is the journal version.

We woke up at 10 again and decided to have one last meal at Pomme de Pain, since their food was pretty good and it was close by (checkout was at noon).

Pomme de Pain

Sandwiches made to order, can’t beat that

I like studying the menus of the places where we eat, and I think I’ll remember for a long time that “chaud” is French for “hot” after seeing it so many times on Pomme de Pain’s menu. Seeing “C” on the hot water faucet helped to reinforce it as well (as opposed to “F” for “froid”). Anyhow, after some nice sandwiches and coffee, we made our way back to the hotel and made some final preparations before heading downstairs to check out. We experienced one bump which was a charge on the final bill for some items from the goodies tray in the room. As a rule, JC and I never take items from hotel mini-bars, and I had to repeat myself a few times before the receptionist agreed to drop the charge.

Hotel Mini-bar Tray

Looks tempting, but no, thank you

With four hours until the Eurostar was scheduled to depart, we stopped by the laundromat again. I put on the telephoto lens and captured some Parisians going about their business:

Paris Motorcyclist

Paris motorcyclist

A Real Frenchman

A real Frenchman

Strolling with Baby

Strolling with baby

Going Home from School

Going home from school

Once the laundry was done, we took the Métro from Boissière to Gare du Nord. This time, we found the tunnel leading from La Chapelle to Gare du Nord, so it was smooth sailing from then on out.

Well, it was almost smooth sailing because I kept setting off the metal detector at Gare du Nord. I emptied my pockets, took off my watch, and even removed my belt, but each time the infernal machine would beep. The female officer took me aside and waved the detector wand over me. When she got down to my shoes, we both realized it was the steel toe inside my boots; she tapped the toe with her fist, gave me a knowing smile, and shooed me out of the customs area. What a magnificent woman.

Riding the Eurostar

Blogging from the Eurostar

We didn’t have to wait long before boarding the train, and soon we were on our way out of Paris. At the time, I wrote that I would probably not visit France again, but after writing these posts and recalling all of the things that we did, I take back what I said. If I ever get the opportunity again, I definitely will go to France and Paris.

Other Random Notes from Paris

One funny thing about the laundromat was that I finally learned what the Baron in Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown was shouting when his chateau was on fire: “Au secours! Au secours!” (“Help! Help!”) I was reading JC’s guidebook while waiting for the laundry and it just dawned on me. I was pretty giddy after that. Here’s the clip on YouTube, and here I am being giddy:

I got it!

I got it!

In our neighborhood there was dog poop everywhere. One definitely needed to watch where one was stepping. Apparently, this is a common thing in Paris.

There were a few interesting things about the Paris Métro. First, some of the trains run on tires, resulting in more of a floaty and bouncy ride. I’d never seen that before. Second, many (if not most) of the trains require the passenger to open the doors manually. When the train stops, the lock clicks and you pull up on a lever to open the door. Some people pull up on the lever before the doors unlock to get a head start, and a few times the doors opened before the train came to a complete stop. Pretty cool. Third, some of the trains that we rode on were pretty small and more like light rail cars, with corresponding smaller stations (vs. 10-car BART trains or the MTR). Fourth, when in operation, the trains had a trumpety, siren-like, wailing sound. Hearing that sound and seeing the train bounce around on its rubber tires as it entered or exited the station was quite a spectacle. Lastly, at any moment, someone on the train can bust out with an accordion and start singing and playing. Busking seemed to be a common and accepted (read: ignored by the locals) practice on the trains.

This video has a good selection of the different kinds of trains on the Métro:

I thought about World War II a lot while I was in Paris. There seemed to be little reminders of the war all over. For example, I’ve already mentioned in the Day 4 post a street named after the French Resistance member Georges Mandel. We passed through a Métro station named after Franklin Roosevelt. When we went on the Batobus and passed underneath all of the bridges crossing the Seine, I wondered how strategically important those bridges were during the war. A little tiny bridge may seem insignificant, but if it’s the only way to send troops and supplies over a river, then its significance increases dramatically.

Next: London, Day 4 – Back from Paris

Nike Air Flight Certified (2007-2013)

Nike Air Flight Certified

Nike Air Flight Certified – Retired

I’ve had these shoes for 6 years. When I came home from basketball the other day, to take off the shoe I stepped on the heel while pulling out my foot (something I’ve done hundreds of times), and “BRAAAP” the sole separated from the rest of the shoe. I guess the combination of heat, humidity, and age finally took its toll.

In 2007, I was in Hong Kong and out shopping with my family when I chanced upon these shoes. I had just discovered some basketball courts near my hotel in Hong Kong and wanted to play, so my mother offered to buy them for me. 2007 was the first time I returned to Hong Kong on my own, and I was very excited at the prospect of playing hours of basketball during the day and eating like a pig at night.

ong Kong Basketball Court

Here I am at the new-to-me courts in 2007

When it was time to return to the U.S., I didn’t have enough room to bring the shoebox with me:

Nike Air Flight Certified Shoebox

Nike Air Flight Certified Shoebox

In the U.S., I kept these shoes at work and I would use them when I went to the YMCA during work breaks to play basketball. When returning to Hong Kong in subsequent years, I would always stay at the same hotel and bring my shoes with me.

Basketball @ YMCA 8-20-09

Here I am at the YMCA.

When I look back on the past 6 years, I cannot believe that so much has happened, that so much has changed. When I first bought these shoes, I was just starting out as a full-time employee at my previous job after being part-time for a couple of years. Just like that, I spent five more years at that company and then traveled around the world, and now I’m in Hong Kong again, not as a tourist, but as a resident. Unbelievable.

Without my trusty old shoes I cannot play basketball, so I quickly went to the Nike Factory Store and picked up a pair of Air Jordan 2012 Lites. I never thought that I would own a pair of Air Jordans, but these were the most comfortable pair of shoes that I tried (they’re incredibly light), and since they are last year’s model, I got them at a reduced price. After testing them out on the court last night, I’m very happy with them. Here’s to hoping they last as long as my previous pair.

Nike Air Jordan 2012 Lite

Nike Air Jordan 2012 Lite

All Nighter

I’m typing this after having pulled an all-nighter tonight. Why did this happen? Here’s the story.

We’ve been enjoying life and living with little restriction. As my current tagline reads, we eat when we’re hungry, and we sleep when we’re tired. That said, our current sleep cycle begins in the morning and ends in the late afternoon. Today, we were supposed to wake up early so that we could meet JC’s former employer at 11 AM and collect her final paycheck. That’s right, collect her final paycheck from her final day of work, which occurred on April 21, 2013 – nearly two months ago.

We should have known something was up in the very beginning, when they asked JC to come in for a couple of “trials” to see if she would be a good fit to work at the place. The trial was at least two full workdays, neither of which were compensated. Now, to be clear, compensation was neither promised by the employer, nor expected by us. At the same time, if I were the employer, I would at least offer some sort of token compensation (maybe unsold product at the end of the day?) to make up for the person’s time. I mean, this is a low wage, front-end retail food-service job. Seriously, how much trialing is required? You’ve seen JC’s resume. She’s a fuckin’ degree-holder and graduated top of her pastry-school class. The “trials” just happened to occur on days with special, larger-than-usual orders. Trial indeed.

Later on, we found out that the contract JC signed was an illegal contract. In the contract, it stated that if JC decided not to continue employment during the probation period she would be dinged some amount of pay. When we checked the labor laws and consulted with the Labour Department, we found out that this behavior is explicitly prohibited in the labor code so as to protect employees from cheap-ass employers like this one. The law is clear in stating that that particular clause in the contract is null and void.

The other thing about the contract was that there was an explicit clause requiring JC to behave ethically and with integrity. As there was no corresponding guarantee in the contract stating that the employer would behave ethically and with integrity, I copied the entire clause and replaced every instance of JC with “employer”, and gave it to JC to ask them to add it to the contract. In my mind, the whole section was throwaway anyway because it was so vague; to anyone who was already ethical, it would make no difference whether the language was in there or not. I figured it would be a good way to test them. If it’s good enough for the employee, it should be good enough for the employer, right? Wrong. They rejected the addition, essentially reserving the right to behave unethically. Do as I say, not as I do.

(Speaking of which, they verbally “agreed” to consider increasing JC’s pay at the end of the probation period, but refused to add that agreement to the contract as well.)

On the day that JC was originally supposed to collect her paycheck 19 days after her last day of work (problems with the accounting software, of course!), there was a thunderstorm. She went all the way over there in the rain, only to find that the employer had indeed illegally subtracted the difference from her paycheck. The employer said it would consult its “legal department” (this is a 2-person business, and if there really was one, they would not have allowed the illegal clause in the first place) to find out if what we were saying about the labor law was true. OK, so we play along. A week goes by, no word. Two weeks go by, no word. Eventually, JC is the one to contact them to see what’s up. Then, it’s one excuse after another. A busy week. Oh, got sick. Have a bunch of meetings.

So, why did I stay up all night? Because I can. Because the chicken-shit amount of the paycheck makes no difference to whether we continue to enjoy life or not. Because I’m not going to change the way I’m currently living for some cheap-ass motherfuckers who don’t have the decency to pay their staff for services rendered. I’d rather stay up all night doing what I want to do than futilely attempt to fall asleep 4 hours before my bedtime and try to get up after sleeping for only 3.

I make no apologies for the level of discourse I’ve used in this post. I have the backing of principles and values. The type of people running this business are probably the type of coward who would hide behind such things as discourse, completely ignoring the substance of their own actions. Speaking of business, in business you scratch my back and I scratch yours. Everybody wins. Each side benefits. To me, these are the fundamentals of a long-term positive and productive relationship. On the other hand, the type of one-sided take-advantage-of-people exploitation happening in this situation is short-sighted and outdated (well, maybe not in developing countries – oops, did I just lump Hong Kong with the third world?). It just amazes me that what seems to be a promising premise, starting a new pâtisserie in Hong Kong, sharing your creations, following your dreams, being an entrepreneur, is tarnished by such cheap and unscrupulous behavior. I’ve tried the product and examined their sales model and, to put it mildly, they have some things to work on. I mean, maybe they can fool people in the beginning to part with their money, but long term, forget about it. What’s that statistic about businesses failing in their first year? Or that proverb? Fool me once, is it?

On a happier note, so far we’ve enjoyed a late night meal from McDonald’s, watched Iron Chef (Black pig, then clam battle), I’ve written and posted a couple of entries on Paris 2012, and now there’s a 1970 Hong Kong movie on TV (seeing my parents’ version of Bieber Fever has validated this entire exercise). The birds have started singing, the sun is rising, and later I’ll probably go shoot some buckets before getting ready to go pick up the check.

I’ll update this post if, during the course of picking up the check, something happens that refutes what I’ve said here this morning. Here’s to hoping I’ve been wrong. Still, whatever happens, whether we get paid or not, today is the last day that we will concern ourselves with this issue. Life’s too short.

Good morning, good afternoon, good evening, wherever you are.

Update 6/19/13 2:49 AM: Turns out I was wrong about the uncompensated trial days; the final paychecks did include these days. That was the only thing I was wrong about, though. First, we were asked if we would be OK receiving half the amount now, and half the amount in one month, in the form of a post-dated check. We accommodated because as I said, we wanted to put this behind us. After we agreed, we got lectured on the law, how to run a business, how we missed a great opportunity, how JC put them in a “very bad position” (yes, a little RETAIL SALES job that didn’t work out put them in a bad position). OK, so they wanted to get in the last word. When I tried to explain the part of the labor code regarding probation, I was dismissed and kicked out of the store. I guess when you’ve got no argument, those are the best courses of actions (the LA LA LA I can’t hear you tactic). Only thing left to do is to cash the checks. Oh man, please don’t bounce so we can finally get this over with!

Aquarium de Paris Photo Gallery

As I said in my original post, the Aquarium de Paris is the best aquarium I have ever been to. It was very well balanced in terms of what types of animals were on display. In many aquariums I’ve been to, the variety of livestock is usually overly skewed to either saltwater or freshwater, but I thought it was pretty even here. The native area (i.e. the Seine and North Atlantic) was well-represented, in addition to foreign habitats such as tropical reefs and Amazonian jungle. I was also impressed with how clean the aquarium was. There were no scratches on the glass (or plexiglass), and the lighting for each display was appropriately bright or dim. Instead of traditional placards, each tank had an LCD monitor displaying dynamically updated and relevant information. Even their website is better than most, with a detailed catalog of the species on display.

If you’re an aquarium enthusiast visiting Paris, definitely make a trip to the Aquarium de Paris a priority! For now, please enjoy the photo gallery.

Next: Our Last Day in Paris

Paris, Day 5 – Eiffel, Aquarium, Ramen, Eiffel Again

October 8, 2012 (Monday): our fifth day in Paris. I remember that this was the first day that we woke up relatively late. Up until this point, we had been waking up in the early morn due to jet lag from flying to Europe from the East. It was already 10:00 AM, and as it was our last full day in Paris, I quickly went online and ordered a couple of summit-lift tickets for the Eiffel Tower.

We walked over and stopped by a crepe stand that we had patronized the other day. Their chicken crepe was pretty good and I wanted to eat it again for breakfast. That’s when JC got the treatment from the crepe lady. I had a coffee in addition to the chicken crepe, JC had the jambon, œuf, and fromage. It was good, but not worth the shit that came with it.

Alas, it was a rainy and dreary day, and we wouldn’t realize until we were at the summit that it was not the best day to go up there:

Looking Down from Eiffel Tower Summit

Is this San Francisco?!

Still, the views from the 1st and 2nd levels were pretty good:

Looking Up to the 2nd Level View from the 2nd Level

In the end, the whole thing, from the crepe treatment to seeing only white fog at the top of the tower, was pretty underwhelming. I felt like I’d just been in a boxing match except I was the only one taking punches (ouch).

We walked away from the Eiffel Tower, across the river, the gray sky and drizzling rain doing nothing to take us out of our daze. Trudging along, we walked onto an area of dirt that was now pretty muddy from the rain, and looked up: Aquarium de Paris. Aquarium de Paris was here? If this was fate’s idea of a consolation prize, then we were going to take it. Inside we went.

As it turns out, this wasn’t just a consolation prize, but a complete 180. The Aquarium de Paris is the best aquarium I have ever been to. It’s clean. It’s modern. It has a good variety of animals. The tanks are crystal clear. There’s even a miniature movie theater inside (where we took a nap!). I was very impressed.

After viewing all those fish, I was in the mood for some sushi, so while we were back at the hotel for a short rest I started looking around online to see what was good. In a review for a Japanese restaurant, there was a reference to ramen, and it reminded me of how much I enjoyed eating ramen in Tokyo. After narrowing down reviews, we decided to give Kotteri Ramen Naritake in Paris’ Little Tokyo a try.

Kotteri Ramen Naritake Naritake's Chashu Ramen

There was a line outside that blocked the entrance to the shoe store next door (as can be seen in the photo above). The owner came out and gave the ramen people an earful, and then the staff asked us to queue up on the other side.

Once we were in, it was ramen time. Since we could barely speak French and the staff was almost in the same predicament, we resorted to some of our recently-learned Japanese to order (broken French to broken French vs. broken Japanese to native Japanese). I knew not deleting the app from my phone would come in handy! We had a couple of ramens, an order of gyoza, and a bowl of steamed rice. As can be seen from the photo, the ramen was authentic: rich, greasy, and delicious. Oishii!

From Little Tokyo, we took the Métro from Pyramides back to Trocadéro; it was our last night in Paris after all, and we hadn’t yet seen the Eiffel Tower at night, not to mention we needed to walk off our hearty meal. Luckily, unlike earlier in the afternoon, the sky was much clearer and we were offered breathtaking views of the tower at night.

Eiffel Tower at Night Eiffel Tower at Night

It was still cold and rainy, but our last full day in Paris ended in a completely different fashion than the way it started. That’s the way life unfolds – one moment it might seem like things couldn’t get any worse, and the next moment it might seem like things can’t get any better. If anything, the way this day turned out taught me that you just gotta keep going, because in the end the good will outweigh the bad, by far.

So as not to sidetrack this post, I posted a separate gallery of the Aquarium de Paris photos.

Next: Aquarium de Paris Photo Gallery.

Updating “Date Taken” En Masse

I recently came into a large amount of JPGs that had been taken with the camera set to the wrong timezone. The camera was still on Pacific time while being used in Hong Kong. As a result, the “Date Taken” tags on all the photos were all 15 hours before they were actually taken.

I could go through and manually change the dates for hundreds of JPGs, but obviously that would get old fast. What I needed was something that could process a large number of files without any intervention from me. Searching around, I found a tool called ExifTool by Phil Harvey that allows me to correct the “Date Taken” tags for every single JPG at once. Credit should also be given to this thread in the DP Review forums for helping me to find ExifTool in the first place.

After downloading and learning about the program, I wrote a quick and dirty batch file that does what I need:

exiftool -DateTimeOriginal+=15 *.jpg
exiftool "-AllDates<DateTimeOriginal" *.jpg
exiftool "-FileModifyDate<DateTimeOriginal" *.jpg
exiftool "-FileCreateDate<DateTimeOriginal" *.jpg

The first line adds 15 hours to the “Date Taken” tag for all the JPGs in the current folder/directory. Now, if a JPG is selected, the status bar in Windows Explorer will display the correct time and date.

The ExiF data actually contains a whole bunch of dates. For consistency, I added the second line to make all of these dates the same (i.e. plug in the newly updated DateTimeOriginal to AllDates).

The last two lines change the “Date Modified” and “Date Created” dates in Windows Explorer (i.e. the dates that appear if you right-click a file and choose “Properties”) to match “Date Taken”. These dates are a part of every file and separate from the ExiF dates, which is why updating “AllDates” doesn’t work. I added these lines because I like to view my files using “Details” view and sorted by “Date Modified”, and I figured I might as well update “Date Created” as well.

Hopefully, this information helps anyone else who has to batch update “Date Taken” for multiple files.

Paris, Day 4 – Walking, Pâtisseries, and the Louvre

Louvre Pyramid

Going to the Louvre on Sunday

October 7, 2012 – this was our fourth day in Paris, and the only Sunday that we would be in the city. How do Parisians spend their Sundays? We thought we’d walk around our neighborhood to see if we could find out.

Instead of walking along the main boulevard (Avenue Kléber), we decided to try one of the back streets instead. The street we were on is called Avenue Raymond Poincaré; if you look for it on Google Maps Street View, you’ll find that it is kind of a back street, narrow and with 2-lane traffic, perfect for a Sunday morning stroll.

Sunday Church

As it is all over the world, people go to church on Sundays. Here, we are passing by the Church of Saint-Honoré d’Eylau. I am guessing that these people just got out of the morning service and are catching up with their fellow church members. It’s nice to see smiling faces and babies. Coming from California, though, it’s different seeing so many people smoking everywhere, even amongst kids. I noticed this everywhere we went, not just Paris.

Place Victor Hugo

Soon, we reached a roundabout with a sign that read, “PLACE VICTOR HUGO”. Victor Hugo. The name sounded very familiar but we couldn’t quite put our fingers on it. Luckily, Google is our friend: Victor Hugo. “Oh! He’s the Les Misérables guy! Huh huh huh”.

Sunday Filming

On this Sunday there was some filming going on in the roundabout. It was an old Mercedes Benz convertible in front of the camera. I wonder what they were filming for? Maybe the company site has some answers.

Giant Blocks of Granite Buildings Made of Stone?

Walking around an old city such as Paris is really awe-inspiring and fascinating. Where I’m from, there aren’t many buildings from the 1800s that have survived World War II (and these are probably some of the younger ones!). I suppose it’s not too surprising that these buildings have stood so long because they simply look so solid; they look like someone carved them out of a bunch of gigantic slabs of granite that conveniently formed in city-block sizes. Maybe that’s why Paris doesn’t have rectangularly-shaped city blocks, because the granite randomly formed all over the place!

Without new, there can’t be old. Here’s a newer-style apartment building, along with some creations brought back from the New World:

Apartment Block in Paris Starbucks in Paris

Red Pepper Burger, McDonald's Paris Royal Cheese, McDonald's Paris

I don’t know why I like McDonald’s so much. I guess I like seeing what kind of localized offerings are available, seeing what the product managers at McDonald’s think locals will like. Don’t know about the Parisians, but I didn’t like that Red Pepper Burger too much.

From our seat on the 2nd floor of McDonald’s, we could see a store across the street called “picard”. The only thing I associate with that word is the captain of the Enterprise, and I ended up spending my lunch doing lame Captain Picard impressions (“Make it so”). After lunch, we went inside to take a look, and it turned out to be a frozen-gourmet-food market. No wonder their logo is a snowflake.

picard picard Frozen Desserts

After picard, we headed south on Rue des Belles Feuilles (the Street of the Beautiful Leaves). Referring to Wikipedia, it seems that the street used to border a park which is no longer there, hence the “beautiful leaves”. Now, there are various culinary establishments selling everything from Chinese food to sausages to roast chicken to lemon pies. The place selling the chickens was packed and had a long line (apparently, the Bresse is a top breed of chicken in France). The lemon pie place was opened by a famous French baker named Frédéric Lalos. Why do I suddenly feel sick that I had McDonald’s for lunch?

La Mandarine Chinese Food Au Poulet de Bresse

DSC_3846 Lalos Tarte Citron

Well, no need to feel sick because at the end of the street, at a roundabout known as the Place de Mexico, we got another view of La Tour Eiffel. It’s kind of neat that you can do your own thing in your neighborhood like shopping at picard, drinking Starbucks, and buying roast chicken, and then you look up and the Tower is there. It seems reassuring in a way. We made a right and proceeded down Rue Decamps and saw what I presume to be an incinerator with a giant chimney.

La Tour Eiffel The Incinerator

Soon, we arrived at Avenue Georges Mandel. Again, the name sounded familiar (maybe because of Howie Mandel?), but after checking Wikipedia it turns out he was a member of the French Resistance who was executed during World War II. The street sign said as much. Speaking of which, it’s pretty cool that some Parisian street signs come with a little caption explaining who the street is named for. Rue Decamps was named for a painter and engraver. Coincidentally (though under different circumstances), both Mandel and Decamps died before their time in a forest outside of Paris known as Fontainebleau; perhaps that is why the rue and the avenue intersect.

Intersection of Avenue Georges Mandel and Rue Decamps

At this point we were pretty close to the Rue de la Pompe Métro station, so we decided to Métro instead of walk back to the hotel for a short break. Take line 9, transfer to 6 at Trocadéro, and get off at Boissière. Voilà!

Paris Métro - 16th Arrondissement

Short break over, we were now on our way to the Musée du Louvre, but by way of a couple of pâtisseries in the 6th arrondissement (JC is a student of the culinary, particularly pastry, arts). If I’m not mistaken, we took the 6 and transferred to the 12, getting off at Rennes.

The first one was pâtisserie Sadaharu AOKI paris on Rue de Vaugirard. As can be ascertained from the name, this is a pâtisserie with Japanese origins, with stores in Tokyo and Taipei, in addition to Paris. You’re not supposed to take photos inside the store, so I snuck one in from outside.

pâtisserie Sadaharu AOKI paris pâtisserie Sadaharu AOKI paris

Heading east, we found our way to Rue Bonaparte, which is where the second pâtisserie we went to is located. Pierre Hermé has been called “The Picasso of Pastry”, so naturally there’s a huge crowd outside the store:

Pierre Hermé

It was a little too much excitement for me, so I went and hung out across the street, at the Fontaine Saint-Sulpice:

Fontaine Saint-Sulpice

There was a little café nearby, Le Café de la Mairie, so we sat down for some espressos and some rest. When we first sat down, there were a couple of empty tables next to us and no one waiting. I sat next to JC, so both of the seats opposite from us were empty. Later, a party of 4 came and took the remaining tables, and after that a couple came in and stood around the bar. I was kind of in my own little world and not really paying attention, but then I started noticing that they were staring at us, and then the lady started shaking her head. I caught on and moved to sit across from JC, the couple sat down, and it was thumbs up all around (they literally gave me the thumbs up sign, hopefully it wasn’t the French way of flipping the bird).

Inconsiderate Tourists, First Person Perspective

From the café we walked over to the Saint-Germain-des-Prés Métro station to take line 4 and then line 7 to the Louvre. The cool thing about the station was that instead of billboards, it used spotlights and slides to create displays on the walls.

Saint-Germain-des-Prés Métro

As it turns out, it was the first Sunday of October, so admission to the Louvre was free. Even though it was late in the afternoon, there was still a significant line to get in. Fortunately, the wait was pretty short and soon enough we were inside.

The only thing I know about the Louvre is that it’s where the Mona Lisa resides, so of course that was the first exhibit I went to. When I think about it, it’s kind of odd that people would crowd around a painting and take a bunch of photos of it, but that’s what people were doing. I couldn’t resist either and snapped a few photos. What are these forces that cause people to do odd things? Perhaps that’s part of the mystery surrounding this historic painting.

Mona Lisa Crowd Mona Lisa

After the Mona Lisa I just walked in whatever direction my curiosity took me. One of the things that struck me was that people used to actually live in the museum before it was a museum. I wondered what that must have been like, thinking about basic human needs such as eating meals and going to the bathroom. When I think about it, I just shake my head at how incredible it is.

When I read history in a book, the timeline is arranged in discrete centuries and years, in black and white. One might be inclined to think that at the end of one era and the beginning of another, things immediately changed. In reality, change happens slowly, like how it is in the present, incrementally, and almost unnoticeably. A law here, a natural disaster there, and the way people live changes. A few hundred years from now, people will look back at today and say, for example, that the internet exploded in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. To someone in the future reading a history book it may seem like someone in our time flipped a switch and turned on the internet. In reality, we know that it was built a piece at a time, adopted by sections of the population at a time, built on and accessed with different and new technologies as they were invented. It’s like trying to grasp the concept of infinity and limits in calculus, very analog. I have to crane my neck and think really hard just to keep that glimmer of understanding in my head.

And so it is with the Louvre. Over hundreds of years, piece by piece, it has become what it is today. Here is a portion of the Louvre from the 12th century:

Medieval Louvre


Later on, I stumbled into the Egyptian exhibit and saw some real mummified humans. The feeling I got when I looked at the mummy, knowing that underneath the bandages was a face, a body, arms and legs, was indescribable. And yet, I wasn’t exactly sure how I felt about these displays. I imagined the family of the deceased saying goodbye to their loved one, mummifying the body and placing it in a place where it could rest forever. I’m not sure how I would feel if someone dug up someone I cared about and put her on display, thousands of years into the future. On the one hand, I’d be dead already, so it probably wouldn’t matter. On the other, I might take some comfort in knowing that my loved one could provide a glimpse of how we used to live.

JC and I had gone our separate ways at the Louvre and had agreed to meet at a seating area beneath the pyramid, but a security guard asked her to leave as it was closing time. I must have sat there for 30 minutes (strange that no security guard ask me to leave) before it occurred to me to go upstairs to see if she was there. As long as our day had been, though, it was still going: our next stop was Galeries Lafayette, a famous Parisian department store. Since it was just a few line 7 stops away from the Louvre, we figured we’d squeeze it in.

Well, it was bad news for me as it was just too crowded and I was tired and cranky. I took the Métro back to our hotel, but not before stopping by Carrefour Express again to buy some food and wine for dinner. JC came back a little while after, and we enjoyed a relaxing night at home after a long but enjoyable day 4 in Paris.

2009 La Croix St-Louis

Next: Paris, Day 5 – Eiffel, Aquarium, Ramen, Eiffel Again

Characters from the Hong Kong Blacktop

I squeezed in a few games tonight after arriving about an hour before lights-out. Like last time, I thought about a lot of stuff on the way home. I guess I like thinking about things when I’m walking home from basketball late at night.

Tonight, I was thinking how, in life and in basketball, one often meets a myriad cast of characters. The characters I encountered tonight:

The Asshat (synonyms include jerk, asshole, dick, douchebag): I don’t know what I or anyone else on my team did to incite him, but Mr. Asshat for some reason was talking trash and being really cocky from start to finish. Remembering that this is Hong Kong, it wasn’t the in-your-face type of trash-talking, but the more sarcastic, passive-aggressive type that is so common with Hong Kongers. If you’re gonna trash talk, please do it to my face. There’s nothing more annoying than passive-aggressive trash-talking. Every time I or a teammate made a shot, he would act surprised and sprinkle in a sarcastic “wow you guys are sooooo good” comment. He also intentionally gave me a lot of space to shoot. I was pissed at myself for letting him get under my skin and rushing (and missing) a bunch of shots that he gave me. I was too eager to show him up. We lost the first game.

The other thing was, this guy was my height, but really strong. He was owning the guy guarding him in the first game, taking advantage of his strength down low. In the second game, luck would have it that I would be guarding him. I couldn’t believe how strong he was. Seriously, I could not budge the guy. Not surprisingly, he basically just camped out in the paint, but fortunately I was able to bother him enough to keep him off-balance and miss a few shots (ha!). We won the second game, and were winning the third when the lights went out.

This guy was good enough that he didn’t need to trash talk. If anything, his attitude gave us even more motivation to beat him. After the lights went out, I couldn’t resist and gave him a “man, you’re so strong, do you work out?”. He didn’t say a single word.

The Follower: don’t know if he was associated with Mr. Asshat, but we all know his type. He was trying to be like Mr. Asshat but not pulling it off very well. The bully always has his followers. This guy was a decent shooter but not very mobile. He kept calling ticky-tack fouls that would never be considered fouls outside of Hong Kong. I was getting frustrated so after I got slapped in the hand and saw the shot was going to miss, I called a foul. Of course, Mr. Follower would be the first one to animatedly dispute it on the grounds of it being late. I didn’t argue it but I did think it was funny how he could get so worked up over a late call yet not bat an eyelid at calling fouls if I so much as breathed on him.

The Black Hole: As I said, we lost the first game and I was very motivated to not let it happen again. During that first game, one of my teammates had made a few shots in a row so I deferred to him a little bit; I passed him the ball every time he called for it, which was basically every possession. When I had an open shot, he’d call for the ball. When I grabbed a rebound, he called for the ball. After he passed me the ball, he called for the ball.

When you make a bunch of shots in a row, perhaps you have the clout to do something like that. On the other hand, after you miss so many times (including air balls) that no one can remember when you last made a shot, then perhaps it’s time to stop telling other people not to shoot (and to stop shooting). Seriously, after those first few shots, this guy became stone cold, was getting killed on defense, and yet was still calling for the ball and telling me not to shoot!

In the second game, I was naturally upset after having lost in such a manner, and decided to assert myself a little bit more. I played lock-down defense, hustled, and grabbed rebounds. I moved around on offense a lot and pretty much got open all the time (remember Mr. Asshat didn’t think I was good enough to guard). Well, Mr. Black Hole didn’t pass me the ball. On some occasions, he didn’t even take out the ball (another HK-bball oddity) and just started dribbling! Do you know how frustrating it is to run around on offense getting open, only to have your own (mediocre) teammate never pass you the ball? I hold the ball after grabbing a rebound to slow myself down, ignoring Mr. Black Hole’s orders to not shoot the ball. A couple of jab-steps later, I pull up and SWISH a shot in Mr. Asshat’s face. Game on.

The Player: Not to have only bad things to say about people, the other guy on my team was a player. At the beginning of the second game, I was pretty much the only one going full speed, obviously because I was fully motivated, and because Mr. Asshat’s team thought they were unbeatable. In my experience, when people aren’t taking the game seriously, going for the hustle plays and playing hard defense wakes them up. Well, Mr. Black Hole thought he was good, so he didn’t need to go full speed. Mr. Player, on the other hand, heeded the call honorably. He drove the lane so many times and finished every single time, and he’d make the pass at the appropriate time for a wide open shot on my end. It was a pleasure teaming up with Mr. Player. It was so much fun stopping the other team, making shots, and completing no-look passes that I didn’t even realize it when we won. I had just made a shot and was heading up top to take out the ball when Mr. Player told me “game already”. Game indeed.

Another note about Mr. Black Hole: At first, I thought Mr. Player was Mr. Black Hole’s friend because he referred to Mr. Player by name, but later I found out that they were unassociated. Before the first game, Mr. Black Hole had also introduced himself to me. Now I know why, it’s so he can call you by name when he insists on the ball!!!

Do any of the characters above sound familiar? Do you have a Mr. Asshat at your company? What about a Mr. Follower or a Mr. Black Hole? Wouldn’t it be nice if all your coworkers were like Mr. Player? I’ve always thought that basketball can serve as a microcosm for real life.

Other Thoughts

One of my biggest misconceptions about people is that everyone is the same. I always expect everyone to be polite, to be honorable, to have the same basic values. When that doesn’t happen, I get flustered, and my fight-or-flight response is triggered. Look at what happened in game one. I did not expect Mr. Asshat to behave the way he did, and as a result my blood started pumping, too much adrenaline started flowing, and I couldn’t make any shots. Similar things have happened to me outside of the basketball court.

Recognizing this, I can start finding ways to mitigate the effects. It’s not easy, though. It’s just like the “wake up at noon and feel pathetic” thing that I had going. I’m actually a lot more comfortable with that, but it’s been an ongoing process. When I feel the negativity edging closer, I remind myself to ask “why do you feel bad about it?” and then I realize that there is no reason to be negative. I try to be more objective about it, to look just at the facts.

The fact is not everyone shares the same values. Some people have no qualms with using sleazy methods to get ahead in basketball, and in life. Remember that Mr. Follower didn’t bat an eyelid at calling fouls. Well, he didn’t bat an eyelid at cheating, either. He would try to lower our buckets when we called out the score (something not uncommon in basketball, unfortunately).

Final Thought

Last year I wrote that I regretted acting like an ass on the court after a ticky-tack foul. This year, I say that there are some things in life that are universal, that it doesn’t matter where you are in the world, that if something’s wrong, it’s wrong. No hiding behind “cultural differences”. Hong Kong basketball players need to get out from under their rock and realize that they are weakening their own level of basketball when they call those ridiculous fouls on every little bit of incidental contact on every single possession.