Feeling Robbed

We had a really good day today spending quality time with family and enjoying a relaxing home-cooked meal, so afterwards JC and I decided to stop by Angel’s Share, a whisky bar here in Hong Kong. After arriving in Hong Kong I haven’t really imbibed and I’d been eyeing their website for a while, so tonight in good spirits (no pun intended) we finally decided to take the plunge.

The first thing I order is the Highland Park 1997 straight from the one of two casks they have there. It’s supposed to be one of the things that make the place unique, that they have two casks that they draw limited offerings from (the other cask was Macallan 1990). I immediately notice the size of the drink, well below the midway point of the curve in the Glencairn glass (which is what I’m used to), so I sip accordingly. I figure they’re “testing the waters” and might start off a bit stingy before knowing what kind of customer they’re dealing with. I guess I should have paid more attention to when the waitress asked me if I wanted my Highland Park 1997 cask strength “on the rocks”.

Highland Park 1997 Cask Strength

Highland Park 1997 Cask Strength after one tiny tongue-tip sip.

It was my first time enjoying single malt whisky since leaving home back in August. Admittedly, I don’t even remember what the Highland Park tasted like. There was some sweetness, it was light body, and the color was pale (it was dark in this place). It was harsh at 49% ABV before adding water. I was actually more interested in the Islay malts, but I just wanted to try one of the cask offerings. So, I immediately ordered a Caol Ila Distiller’s Edition 1998. Again, I was asked if I wanted it on the rocks.

This drink was much better (to me). Leather, peat, smoke, salt air, as an Islay should be. It was pale, very similar to the Highland Park, but again it was pretty dark there. And again, the size of the drink was not generous. Again, I had to make a mental note to intentionally take smaller sips. It really took away from the experience.

At this point I was starting to get suspicious. Now, I consider myself a beginner and not a whisky snob at all, but asking me twice if I want these beautiful whiskies on the rocks? The whiskies were served in Glencairn glasses. I was given a glass of water with droppers. These are signs of a legit whisky bar. What’s going on? I told JC that I didn’t like having to nurse my drinks. I had already spent a pretty penny on two drinks, and dissatisfaction was creeping in. So, I decided to give them one more chance. I ordered a Laphroaig 18. To their credit, they didn’t ask me if I wanted it on the rocks.

The Laphroiag 18 came and went, literally. I was tired of nursing my quality drinks. I took a small sip (i.e. not my usual satisfying sip) to taste it, rolled it around my tongue, and then I said f*** it, I’m just going to enjoy this one. Two real sips later, it was gone, and I had had enough of that place. I asked for the check.

I would ask the reader to please note the timeframe in which this happened. I remember sending a message to my friend whom I’ve shared many whiskies with after I had the Highland Park. The timestamp was 10:38 PM. The end time on the credit card slip was 11:04 PM. However you want to do the math, I ordered 3 quality whiskies in a matter of 20 minutes. I think that should have raised some flags with the staff, like, I don’t know, maybe we have an enthusiast here, and that it wouldn’t hurt to give him a normal-sized pour? That’s what I would have done, anyway.

In the end, I feel robbed. I feel like someone just offered me a prime Wagyu ribeye steak dinner, and halfway through the steak the waiter comes and takes the steak away. To quote JC, she feels “cheated”. She had 2 cocktails, one of which had a rotten cherry, and again, both of them were poured very stingily. A Manhattan and an Old Fashioned are not exactly limp drinks, and she would normally be feeling something after having them, but not tonight.

The final price tag was HKD$788, or USD$101.63 at today’s rate. For that price, I could have bought an entire bottle of Lagavulin 16, with enough money left over to buy me some good chocolate to eat with it. Obviously, when you’re eating out you’re paying a premium, and if I did the math like I just did I’d never eat out. But, I believe in value, and I have paid much more to enjoy good whiskies without feeling like someone just grabbed a few bills from my wallet. I would have happily paid more and ordered more if I felt like I was welcome. And, ultimately, that’s the biggest problem I had with Angel’s Share. I didn’t feel welcome.

As I sit back in my hotel room and write this, the tastes of the Caol Ila and Laphroaig linger on my palate, and I wonder what might have been. I’m already fully sober. I would have enjoyed sampling more varieties. Will I go back to Angel’s Share? I don’t know. They do have very good variety. But, I get the feeling that they’re just like many other places in Hong Kong. They have a pretty website, and even have a YouTube video promoting the place. But when you actually go there, it’s robotic and assembly-line service. All style, no substance. Perhaps I’ll just stop by Watson’s Cellar and buy that Lagavulin 16 after all.

Two Weeks In, My Hopes and Dreams

2 weeks in, I find that I haven’t done that much, and yet time seems to have flown by. What could be causing this phenomenon? Now, I’ll take a look back, and take a look inward.

My Daily Routine

What has my daily routine been like? Generally, I wake up pretty early, always before JC, and then I prepare to leave the hotel room to either exercise, eat breakfast, or hang out at Starbucks like I am doing today. Afterwards, it’s back to the hotel to shower and then decide with JC what we’re going to do that day. Mostly, it’s figuring out where to eat, and then basing our plan on that. We’ve patronized various malls only because we wanted to try a restaurant there. We don’t like walking around outdoors in the heat, so we try to stay inside.

If I take a step back and evaluate my time here based on what I just wrote, it looks like I’ve been living a carefree and stress-free life for the past 2 weeks. So why doesn’t it always feel that way? Fourteen days is not a short amount of time, and yet it has been a blur. It’s as if they never happened. Taking another step back (I’m going to fall if I take another step back) and looking inwards at myself and the kinds of things I’ve been thinking about, I find that I’ve been looking too far ahead to the future and therefore neglecting the present.

Running Before the Catch

In football or basketball, players will sometimes be wide open and unguarded when a pass is thrown at them and still end up dropping the ball. This is because they’re thinking about running before they’ve even caught the ball. Because they had already shifted their finite amount of focus and mental energy to sprinting downfield or getting in that killer first step, they did not have enough left to actually catch the ball, a task which requires just as much (if not more) mental energy to achieve.

I have been doing the same thing. Even though this is supposed to be a leisure trip, one last trip around the world before settling down and building a new life, I’ve been much too focused on the building-a-new-life part. I’ve been worrying about how to open a bank account without a permanent address, how to pay rent, how to transfer money from the U.S. to Hong Kong, how to dress for a job interview. I’ve been worrying about trying to fit in, consternating myself trying to figure out when to speak English and when to speak Cantonese, worried about how others will perceive me (and us).

To further the basketball analogy, fully enjoying life now is akin to catching the ball, and driving the lane is settling down. You can’t have one without the other. The whole point of taking this time off is to rejuvenate myself so that I’ll be ready to take on the challenge of uprooting myself and resettling in a foreign country. Without being fully rested and mentally ready, how can I hope to achieve my hopes and dreams?

Graduation Anxiety

I still remember my first day of playschool here in Hong Kong. For a memory that is so far in the past, what I remember most clearly is not what I saw or what I did, but how I felt: anxiety and fear of meeting other kids, getting into a new environment. Over the years, I’ve had similar feelings any time I’m about to, to use a gaming term, level up. When I was in middle school, I looked at high school as some really advanced place and freaked out about joining the fray. “Would I be able to keep up? Will I be smart enough or cool enough?” It was the same when going from high school to college, from college to the workforce, and now I’m feeling it again getting ready to transition to a new life.

I see the locals focused on making money, sailing yachts on the weekend, wearing nice suits and driving nice cars, and I can’t help but feel small. I feel self-conscious when I walk around Beverly Hills-style malls. I see job ads for advanced positions that match my skillset, but look at entry-level positions instead because I’m afraid I won’t be able to keep up. It’s like the night before high school graduation all over again.

Well, maybe I wouldn’t take it that far (back). I am now more knowledgeable about myself, more comfortable with myself. I have my own set of values. I know what I can bring to any organization. I also know that having negative feelings is part of being me, that I can have these feelings without succumbing to them. It’s about what I do, not what I feel. A lesson that I will always remember from speech class is that most people (i.e. anyone not named Bill Clinton) get nervous before giving a speech. People get butterflies in their stomach. The key is to use knowledge to get those butterflies to fly in formation. With knowledge of subject, knowledge of audience, and knowledge of self, giving the speech will not seem so scary. As I’m about to graduate to the next level in life, I’d do well to keep this lesson in mind.

In the end, I know where I want to be. I’ve pictured it in my mind countless times. JC and I in our cozy little flat, in our little tiny living room, sitting together and watching TV after dinner. It is summer time and the weather is hot, humid, and miserable, but inside my Hong Kong home I have air conditioning. The next morning we’ll go to work and look forward to doing it all over again. I know where I want to be, and I know how to get there. Now, it’s just a matter of doing.

I feel better already after writing this. With one week left in Hong Kong, I’ll be sure to make the most of it.

Best Hope for Mankind?

At the Republican National Convention last week, John McCain said:

I trust Mitt Romney to know that good can triumph over evil, that justice can vanquish tyranny, that love can conquer hate, that the desire for freedom is eternal and universal, and that America is still the best hope of mankind.

As I watched the speech live on television, I cringed every time Senator McCain used one of those oversimplified buzz-terms that make Americans look so foolish: “good can triumph over evil”, “justice can vanquish tyranny”, “love can conquer hate”. But best hope for mankind? Man, that is over the top.

My family moved to the United States when I was at the tender and impressionable age of 10. I attended middle school, where we learned American History, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, how all men are created equal and how we all have the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I learned and believed that America could do no wrong, that we were the best country in the world. I would have wholeheartedly agreed if you told me back then that America is still the best hope of mankind.

Then, September 11 happened. Or, to be more accurate, the aftermath of September 11 happened. I cheered when we sent troops to Afghanistan to hunt bin Laden. We were going to get him. It was going to be an in-and-out operation. I defended my country when people I knew attacked the United States and its policies, telling me how much they hated the country. I thought they were hypocrites to be living in a country they hated.

Things began to change when I was told “you’re either with us or you’re against us”, when not supporting an attack on another sovereign country became “unpatriotic”, when Sikhs in turbans were mistaken for Muslims and attacked with no rebuke from the government, when enemy combatants were held indefinitely and tortured at Guantanamo Bay. I wondered what happened to those values that we supposedly held so dear. Did they only apply when we wanted them to apply? Perhaps, after all, those people I had defended against weren’t the only hypocrites.

I don’t know why it took so long for me to see the hypocrisy. It wasn’t like I hadn’t learned of the eradication of Native Americans, Manifest Destiny, slavery, or women’s suffrage (or the lack thereof). Maybe it is because the notion of a society based on the Founding Fathers’ ideals is so appealing that it’s easy to overlook the warts in our history. Or, maybe I just grew up and realized that there is no such thing as a masterpiece society.

There is no doubt that America is a great country. People still want to move to America in droves. Where America could use some help, however, is in how it tells other people what to do and then doesn’t follow through itself. Not leading by example. Do as I say, not as I do. When other countries and cultures, some of which have been around for thousands of years, hears an American telling them that 200-something year-old America is still the best hope of mankind while America is still mired in so many problems of its own, it is understandable if they do not listen. I’d even forgive them if they laughed at us.

At the end of the day, we are all citizens of Earth and we are all in it together. This has never been truer. In the past century, technology has made the world much smaller. Sovereign states are no longer as sovereign as they once were. No longer limited to just goods, information and ideas also flow across borders; if the information or idea is sound, no one needs to be told to adopt it. And if we really are the best hope of mankind, then we can do it with a little less arrogance and a lot more humility.

One Week Stream of Consciousness

We’ve been in Hong Kong just over a week now. Here are some of my current thoughts.

After all my time traveling, I still haven’t figured out the best way to pack. Maybe it’s because my mindset is always different: sometimes I think I’ll need something, and other times I think I won’t. But there are some essential items that I now find I cannot do without, so it’s best to write these down for future packing reference.


For shaving, I’ve always been a razor and cream type of guy. To the uninitiated, all razors must be alike. I mean, it’s just a blade, right? That’s what I thought, and I couldn’t be more wrong. I find that the Target disposable blades I’m using now irritate my face while providing a less-close shave. I have to double-back and shave the same area more than once, causing more irritation.

When I was packing, I did consider which blade to bring. Do I bring my Gillette Sensor Excel with some extra cartridges, or do I bring a couple of disposable Target ones, and throw them away when I’m done so I won’t have to carry them around? I realize now a serious flaw in my logic and thought process. How much is the weight of “carrying around” a single razor blade compared with the daily irritation of shaving with an inferior blade?!?! That’s the question I should have asked myself back then.

So then, the next question is, why don’t I just go to Wellcome or PARKnSHOP and buy me a new razor? Well, here’s another tidbit for the uninitiated: because Gillette razors are super expensive. Over the years, I’ve learned to ration my use of razor cartridges. Sound crazy? Go to the razor section at Costco and see for yourself.

Fix: shut up and shave, or pay up.

Paper (not portable computer) Notebook

Despite having my laptop and smartphone, I find that I still like to write notes down by hand. When I was at work, I would carry my notebook with me everywhere, and soon everyone else was doing the same thing. It’s just quicker and easier to jot something down versus having to type it into OneNote or Notepad or something. Maybe it’s easier now with tablets or phablets like the Samsung Galaxy Note, but I think I’ll stick with my notepad.

Easy fix: buy a notebook.

Big and Multiple Monitors

This happens every time I travel. I miss my multiple monitors. It’s so much easier for multitasking. When I’m doing my finances, I can have Excel on one monitor, and my browser on the other. It would be nice, even if I didn’t have a second monitor, to have a high resolution screen for the same purpose. Resizing windows (or, in Windows 7, Windows key+left/right arrow) is almost as convenient. Unfortunately, not many reasonably priced laptops have high resolution monitors currently (my laptop is 1366×768), so unless I want to lug around a 24-inch 1920×1200 LCD, I don’t have many options.

Fix: Hurry up and settle down, get a job, buy monitor(s).

Digital Movies

I think this market is one that the movie studios are really missing out on. Sometimes I’ll get the urge to watch an old movie that I have on my media server at home, but I won’t be able to because I haven’t copied it onto my laptop, and I can’t just walk into a store and buy the DVD because my laptop doesn’t have an optical drive. If I want to download the movie from Amazon, I’ll have to wait hours (actually, is that even possible? Streaming might be the only option). It would be so awesome if I could just walk into a movie store and buy a USB stick that has the movie loaded onto it already. Or, bring my own USB stick to a vending machine, pay the licensing fee, and then copy it onto my USB stick.

Alas, due to the greed of people (whether it’s the pirating consumer or the endless-profit-seeking movie studio), this will never happen. It’s like insurance. Buzzwords and terms from school come to mind: imperfect information, tragedy of the commons, etc.

Fix: Beyond my comprehension.

That’s all for today, more tomorrow on how America is still the best hope for mankind.

Take a Hike

Another early morning this morning, but a much different feeling as I probably had around 11 hours of sleep. It was a great feeling, the cobwebs were gone, the fog was gone. We had another McDonald’s breakfast (nothing else open at 5 AM and nothing like Filet-O-Fish at that hour) and then JC went back to the hotel while I explored the area. My goal was to make my way up the hill to the park I saw on the map.

Breakfast at McDonald's

Macaroni in soup, available at your local HK McDonald’s

I wanted the most direct route and I figured that footpaths and stairways would not appear on Google Maps, so I headed in what I thought was the best direction. A steep street (Kai Yuen Street, 繼園街) with a stair-step sidewalk looked promising, but after I made my way up I found only culs-de-sac and dead ends (<– is that redundant?).

Not a Through Street

Not a through street

Having learned my lesson, I backtracked and consulted Google Maps for the best guaranteed route. It was basically one giant switchback (Pak Fuk Road, 百福道) with no direct path. Of course, being the man that I am, I didn’t follow the map. I saw a flight of stairs heading into the trees and took it, and it turned out to be a private staircase leading up to a private residential estate with a mini koi pond.

Koi Palace

No, I’m not here to feed you.

Once back on the switchback I noticed a bunch of really nice housing estates. I looked closer to see if I could peek inside, but most of them had their shades drawn. There was one with a globe on the bay window ledge, another with anime posters displayed for the world to see. I imagined myself living in one of those units someday. It probably wouldn’t be hard with a two-income household.

The complexes got nicer as I got higher, and then I realized I was in a fancy area of town known as Braemar Hill (寶馬山). It’s interesting how one part of town is really gritty, and a few minutes up the street is a luxury residential neighborhood. I encountered quite a few seniors out for their morning walks. I thought about Hong Kong a few decades ago and how these seniors had contributed their bit to society and now get to enjoy retirement.

Looking Down from Braemar Hill

Looking down from Braemar Hill

Finally, I reached another dead end, and the park I was looking for was right next to it. There were more seniors doing their daily routine in the playground area. Further down, I saw a path leading into a wooded area, but I had been walking for a long time and the sun was rising higher, so I decided to head back.

There is more to explore in and around the park. Something to look forward to in the coming days.

Choi Sai Woo Park