Hong Kong iPhone Rant

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Well, not really a rant. Just frustration.

If you were to go to the US Apple web site today (as I did just now), you can buy an unsubsidized iPhone 6 and wait 7 to 10 days for shipping.

If you go to the Hong Kong Apple web site today (as I did just now), you cannot buy an iPhone 6. It just says “currently unavailable.”

I tried the system for reserving one for pick-up in a store that day. Woke up at 7:50, got to my computer and just started hitting refresh. Up until 7:59, come back later. At 8 AM, a code. You have to send an SMS with that code to Apple and they send you a reservation code. You then have to input that on the web site. But I was unable to get my SMS delivered until almost 8:20 AM. 20 minutes of “not delivered/try again.” And the result was no phone.

Apple announced that they sold 10 million iPhones on opening day. It’s probably more like, took 10 million orders. Reportedly they are manufacturing 400,000 per day through their various out-sourced suppliers.

Here in Hong Kong, those people who are lucky enough to get through buy as many as they can. (You’re allowed 2 iPhone 6′s and 2 iPhone 6 Plus’s per order.) Mostly they are not buying them for themselves. They’re buying them to sell at a profit.

Word is that all of this reselling is causing Mong Kok prices to drop, but if you consider that the top of the line iPhone 6 plus was selling for up to HK$20,000 in Mong Kok (against a list price of roughly HK$8,000), a 25% drop in price still makes it too damned expensive. And with the drop in prices, there are reports that people are now hoarding them to bring to HuangQiangBei in Shenzhen to sell there. I’ve seen friends posting photos of their purchases on Facebook. Now and then I’ll leave a comment asking if they’d sell one to me and the response is invariably, “No, I want to wait a few days and see how much profit I can make.”

Yesterday the Hong Kong police failed to arrest some smugglers who were loading boxes of iPhones onto a boat in Sai Kung at night. They left behind 15 boxes with 130 phones. Who knows how many they got away with?  We can certainly guess how they managed to get so many.

I’m not going to pay a premium to get one. And I’m not going to order one through a mobile company such as 3 or SmarTone as I don’t want to get stuck into another 2 year contract.

So I just have to wait. It’s just a pain waking up before 8 every morning and sitting in front of the computer only to be disappointed. Frustration grows and my desire to get one grows in proportion to my inability to get one.

Here’s a site that’s tracking availability of iPhones in local shops.  I have no idea of how accurate this information is.  C refers to the shop in Causeway Bay, I to the shop in IFC in Central, F for Festival Walk in Kowloon Tong.

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Of course all of this insanity is because the iPhone 6 isn’t available legally in China yet. I almost wonder if Apple has colluded with the Chinese government to make them scarce here to take HKers’ minds off democracy.

I mean, let’s face it, there is no good news in Hong Kong these days. Here are just a few headlines from today’s paper:

  • Rafael Hui got secret $11m payment from Beijing
  • Scuffles break out as students call on CY Leung to meet for talks on political reform
  • Ex-housing boss to lead arts hub (so it won’t be an “arts hub” much longer, but who ever expected promises to be kept?)
  • Thousands join Hong Kong students’ democracy protest as classroom boycott begins (okay, a grand statement, but it won’t change a thing)
  • Ex-civil servant who poured boiling water on maid avoids jail
  • Beijing to take a more active role in Hong Kong’s affairs (so “one country two systems” didn’t make it 15 years, let alone the promised 50)
  • One in five Hong Kongers “considering emigration” as pessimism hangs over city
  • Beijing shifts from indulgence to hard line on Hong Kong

And lets not forget about how last week Hong Kong’s air pollution hit new record highs as Guangdong factories went full-speed to pump out as much product as they could before the week-long break starting next week.

So yeah, I’d rather think about getting an iPhone 6 because the real news is just too fucking depressing.

UPDATE: Yes, writing this post unjinxed me. This morning I was able to get through the reservation system and have a iPhone 6 reserved for pick up today. Last night while doing some checking around, I found that local Chinese language web sites DCFever and HKGolden have hundreds if not thousands of ads for iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. While most people are asking for relatively extreme mark-ups, there are also quite a lot listed at just HK$100 or $200 above the regular list price. One sort of tip for HKGolden – if you’re trying to register there, I’m told they will actually only accept registration from certain email domains. In other words, I was unable to register using my email addresses from Gmail, Yahoo or Netvigator. One friend, who works for the local government, told me he had to use his government email to be able to successfully register there.

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iThoughts on New Apple Stuff

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First off, as most of you know by now, every year Apple announces new iPhones and iPads and every year I write “hmph, not that much, not going to bother” and then get the fever and rush out to buy it as soon as I can. So I’ve given up pretending to resist. I want the new iPhone 6.

The livestream of the Apple event introducing the new model was a total mess for the first 30 minutes. First of all, someone please tell Apple that it serves no one in any positive way to require that you use the Safari browser to view the livestream. It’s just spiteful, short-sighted, stupid.

Some brainiac had the idea that the live video would be on the top half of the web page and the bottom half would be an auto-refreshing live blog. Why they thought this needed to be on the same page, I can’t even begin to guess, let’s just say lazy thinking. But the result of bad Javascript code that wasn’t properly QA’ed was that every time the blog portion at the bottom of the page refreshed, the video also refreshed and went back to the beginning again.

Also there was some sort of error in the control booth so for the first 30 minutes or so, anyone who did manage to watch the livestream heard the Chinese translator, her voice mixed louder than Cook’s. I thought at first it was some geo-checking thing happening only in Hong Kong; it turned out it was global.

It’s really a shame that a company that’s been doing this for so long – and that was introducing what appears to be some really good stuff – should be set back by these avoidable errors.

iPhone

So the deal in Hong Kong was that 3 PM Friday, you’d be able to go to the Apple web site and reserve up to 2 phones for delivery starting on September 19th. But the store was down until almost 3:40 PM. When it did finally open, it wasn’t working properly probably due to a large number of people hitting the site.

For me, it meant that I could reach the site, could choose what I wanted to buy (iPhone 6, space grey, 128 gig)(my wife said the gold color was unlucky for me since I’d never lost a black phone and I think the Plus is too large for my purposes) but then hitting the “select” button would just bring me back to the beginning of the process again. The phone never went into my shopping cart. Note that I was trying to do this on a MacBook and using Safari, with no luck.

Over at Twitter, I saw tweets from a lot of people having the same problem.

And yet, each time as I refreshed the page, I’d see the delivery date slipping. September 19th. Then 1 to 2 weeks. Then 3 to 4 weeks. Then “currently unavailable.” The pre-orders sold out within two hours.

One friend of mine told me she finally had success when she switched from trying to order on her PC to ordering via the iPhone Apple Store app. She has multiple iTunes accounts and ordered four phones.

The major reason for this is China. I don’t believe they’ve announced the release date for China yet – probably due to extra time needed to clear some regulatory hurdles there. So that means, once again, that everyone in China is trying to get their iPhone from Hong Kong.

The Chinese language HK newspapers published the prices that the shops in Mong Kok would pay for new iPhone 6s and 6 Pluses. The 64 gig 6 Plus, for example, they’d buy from you for HK$13,000, a hefty profit over the retail price of just over HK$7,000. Presumably they will try to sell it for up to HK$20,000, at least initially.

So not only is everyone in China trying to get one, everyone in Hong Kong is buying as many as they can, figuring if they can sell a couple of them up at Sing Tat in Mong Kok, they can make a nice sum of money.

Apple does not seem to have anticipated any of this. So while the iPhone 6 didn’t immediately sell out in the U.S. (at least insofar as I can tell from the Apple blogs I follow), in Hong Kong pre-orders were exhausted within two hours, with no word as to when the process will resume.

On the 16th, you can start to use the app to reserve phones for in-store pickup. As I recall from last year, ordering starts at 8 AM and each day orders were sold out by around 8:02 AM.

Since I don’t want to extend my mobile phone contract by another two years or pay a premium in Mong Kok, if I’m going to get one then I’ve got to buy it direct from Apple. I find that I really miss my 5s (lost in a taxi in Manila in August). The fingerprint sensor was a huge thing for me. I’m almost tempted to go and buy a used 5s – the market will probably be flooded with them very soon. When I lost the 5s, I knew it was just a month before the 6 announcement, so I was hoping I could have the new one in hand soon after that. I should have known better. I think I’ll be lucky if I can find one before November.

U2

In case you didn’t already know this, U2 has their first new album in 5 years and Apple arranged to give it away for free to everyone who has an iTunes account. That’s roughly half a billion people. Billboard reports that Apple will be spending $100 million on the marketing of this album. No word on how much they paid to U2 for this.

The thing is, everyone who has their iDevice set to automatically download purchases found the entire U2 album installed on their device, essentially without their permission. This has pissed off a lot of people.

And that leaves the question – why U2? Sure, they have a long standing relationship with Apple. They can still sell a fair amount of records but they’re far less consequential or notable than they were 10 years ago or more. With Apple upping their music game with the Beats acquisition, one wonders why they didn’t pick something more current (as Samsung did with their huge Jay Z stunt). My guess is that this was chosen as an album least likely to be found offensive by most people. The album itself? Pretty much of a piece with their last 2 or 3 albums. If you liked those, you’ll like this. I’ve played it once so far. It’s okay only.

Apple Watch

Note that it’s Apple Watch, not iWatch. Looks like Apple is finally moving away from the “i” branding on mobile devices?

Ben Thompson has an interesting take on the introductory presentation.  He notes that when Steve Jobs introduced the iPod, iPhone and iPad, Jobs spent a fair amount of time describing the need for this kind of device before revealing the device itself. Tim Cook took a different approach, showing the Watch right away and leaping into the description.

On the one hand, it might be easy to say that this is because Apple can’t speak to what niche this is filling, that they’ve done it simply because they’ve sensed there’s a good potential market for one.

On the other hand, in true Apple fashion they appear to have put a lot more thought into how such a device would function than any of their competitors.

There are three different models at two different sizes each.  Apple only announced a “starting at $349″ price. They also didn’t announce the date it would be available, only that it will be out next year. I’d say they did this to get 3rd party developers working on apps and also because it will probably put a major dent in sales for Jawbone, Fitbit and all the others currently out there. Apple also didn’t say anything about battery life – reports are that it will need to be charged daily.

All of the fitness tracking stuff – well that’s a proven market with lots of players in the space already. Forget sleep tracking if this needs to be charged daily.

The stuff with doodles and emojis, I think that’s clearly meant to be pitched at a generation that has abandoned wrist watches. Give “the kids” something cool to play with and they’ll start wearing watches again.

My initial take on the watch is why would I spend $350 or $500 for a device to wear on my wrist that in large part is only replicating the functionality of the phone that’s already in my pocket? Also, these days, you buy a watch and you know it’s going to last for 2 or 5 or 20 years. Just put it on, change the battery once a year, you’re done. You know that Apple will announce new models of this every year – do you want to upgrade your watch annually just as you do your phone?

Derek Thompson over at The Atlantic has written the most interesting piece I’ve come across so far on why the Apple watch could be a huge success. He reminds us that many analysts predicted the iPhone would be a failure. And that the Watch may be a new category of technology rather than just something that extends the current category.

Our projections of a piece of technology that’s just been invented don’t matter compared to the factors that actually drive adoption, like widely read reviews and the user experience of your colleagues, friends, and family. 

Me? I’m not going to say that I won’t get one. I’m going to wait until it comes out. I want to read the reviews, I want to see how the apps are functioning and extending its usefulness.

 

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Hong Kong Prices for iPhone 6 and 6 Plus

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Apple starts taking orders for the new iPhone on September 12th. You can order online starting at 3 PM that day for home/office delivery, which starts on September 19th.  Or from 3 PM September 16th you can use the Apple store app to reserve a phone for in-store pick-up starting on the 19th.

Here’s the prices for an unlocked, unsubsidized iPhone.

iPhone 6:

  • 16 gig – $5,588
  • 64 gig – $6,388
  • 128 gig – $7,188

iPhone 6 Plus

  • 16 gig – $6,388
  • 64 gig – $7,188
  • 128 gig – $8,088

I know I’m buying one of these since I lost my iPhone 5S last month. I think I will go with the “regular size” iPhone 6 – undecided if I will go for 64 or 128 gig but I suspect that 64 will be enough.

I might post some thoughts about the Apple Watch later. My initial thought is why buy something that replicates most of the functions (aside from the fitness tracking) already available from the costly device in my pocket?

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Orange Peel

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Orange Peel is a new music bar located at 38-44 D’Aguilar Street (2nd floor) in Lan Kwai Fong. A good friend is one of the co-owners, so I was invited to their soft opening last night. A lot of the people from Peel Fresco in Soho are involved with this bar, so if you’ve been to PF, you have some idea of what to expect from OP. They’re going for a more adult crowd with a line-up of mostly jazz and they’ve got a sommelier on staff so expect a good choice of wines to go with the music. There’s a kitchen there but I don’t know what kind of food is planned.

Since I was in “party mode” last night, I wasn’t going to drag a lot of heavy equipment with me, just my Sony RX100 Mark III. I didn’t want to spend a lot of time behind the camera, but I did manage to grab a couple of quick shots here and there.

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They’ve clearly spent a lot on having proper acoustics for the music, and as you can see the place is large enough to fit a grand piano – not something you’ll often see in Lan Kwai Fong bars.

I don’t know when the official opening will be, but it looks as if they’ve got live music planned for every night this week. If you’re in the area, check them out. I see they’ve got some jazz, some blues and a bit of r ‘n b on the schedule and there’s been some discussion about nights featuring bands from HK’s indie rock scene.

I think it has probably been a year or longer since I last went to Lan Kwai Fong at night, especially a Saturday night. The first thing I noticed is how many old spots have been replaced with new ones. Maybe this is old news to you but I was really surprised to see some old favorites apparently long gone.

The second thing, no surprise, is that on a Saturday night at 11 PM, the streets are packed, and the quantity of gorgeous women to be seen remains mind-boggling. On the other hand, aside from myself, I’m not sure that I saw anyone else in the street who was over 30! Either the crowd is getting younger, or I’m getting older.

At one point I grabbed a quick kebab from a new (to me, anyway) spot called TavaQuick.

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I guess that guy is quite used to drunk people whipping out a camera while waiting for kebabs to be ready.

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If I’m So Smart – Afterword

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Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9Part 10Part 11, Part 12

Thanks to everyone for the kind notes sent to me throughout my writing of this series. I heard from people via comments here as well as via Twitter, Google +, Facebook, email and even other blogs. It helped encourage me to finish the series – and to get it finished in a relatively short span of time. When I started down this road, I had no idea that I would end up writing as much as I did. And yet, as I’m sure you realize, what I have written and published here is a very abridged version of the story.

So, I hear you ask, what motivated me to write and share all of this? There are many answers to that question.

For years, people have told me that I should write a book. And it’s not just friends – I’ve had one publisher tell me that he would be interested to publish such a book, should I ever finish it. I’ve given these suggestions a lot of thought on many occasions. There’s a million reasons to write a book but the question for me has always been why would anyone want to read a book written by and about me? As vain and egotistical as I can sometimes be, why would I put in all of that effort to write something that no one would read?

Of course there is a huge market for autobiographies from celebrities and historical figures. If Bill Clinton or Neil Young writes and publishes an autobiography, they have a huge built-in audience. But I don’t think having a blog that gets between 500 and 1,000 hits a day qualifies me as a celebrity.

There are plenty of other kinds of autobiographies as well. What is their purpose for existing? These books usually have to have some larger purpose. Such a book would need to impart lessons learned or reveal details of an interesting life to an audience hopefully eager to learn about these sorts of things, whatever they may be.

So in thinking about writing my autobiography, what would be the lessons to impart? What would be my elevator pitch, the blurb on the back cover that would get people who have never heard of me interested enough to spend a few hours in my “company”?

When I was growing up, I would look out of my apartment window at the people on my block. These were mostly people who would be born, grow up, get married, have kids and die on the same street. I didn’t want to be one of them. I wanted to get as far away from them as possible – and I succeeded. I got to travel to, see and even live in fabulous places and have friends from across the globe. I got to be as comfortable on the streets of Taipei, Tokyo and Shanghai as I was on the streets of my native New York. I got to meet, date and have sex with more beautiful women than I can begin to count.

I’ve told myself, more than once and only half in jest, that the theme of my autobiography would be the tale of someone who got to live a life he wouldn’t have even dared to fantasize about when younger. And through it all, I remained a person who learned absolutely fucking nothing.

That might make for a good read.

Another reason for an autobiography might be to present a story that has a beginning, middle and an end, a story that contains a clear emotional arc, hopefully a story that might be of interest to some portion of the public out there.

Looking back at my life, one story that I feel could stand relatively on its own and that might make for an interesting read would be the story of my relationship with “T” (and long time blog readers will know exactly what I mean). That’s a story with a beginning, a middle and an end and definitely an emotional arc. There was also a lesson learned, perhaps more than one – although it wasn’t until a few years after the story ended that I truly comprehended what a colossal asshole I had been during all of this and how much of the insanity was my fault. But there is an arc there, there’s a description of a lifestyle that few have or will encounter, and there are lessons potentially worth sharing with a wider audience.

My inspiration is Henri-Pierre Roche. Most of you have little idea of who he was. He was a French journalist, art collector and dealer. He sold his art gallery when he was in his 60s and wrote two books. The first was published when he was 74 years old and it was called Jules and Jim.  It was a thinly fictionalized remembrance of a love triangle from 50 years earlier in his life. The book came out in 1952 and it didn’t sell very many copies. It seemed destined for remainder bins and landfills. But one day Francois Truffaut came across the book and in 1962 released a film of the same name starring Jeanne Moreau and Oskar Werner. The film is one of the great films of all time and in the ensuing 50 years, Roche’s book has been translated into dozens of languages and has never gone out of print.

I find this story inspirational on many different levels – a man who gave his life to commerce creating a piece of enduring art before he died; a work of art that was ignored for a decade and then discovered and has stood the test of time.

So I pulled together all of the material I could from my earlier blog and other sources. I loaded it all on my laptop. I’ve spent three years re-writing the introduction – and a good part of that time just on the opening sentence.

So by positioning this “If I’m So Smart, How Come I’m Not Rich” thing so publicly, it forced me to knock out something in a brief span of time. Of course it’s only a summary and I have completely omitted key events that I don’t want to be so public about – at least not for the time being. But it gives me a rough outline to work from and a treatment (along with some sample chapters that will not be posted) to show to a select audience.

Almost everything I write for the blog is a first draft. I’m not the kind of writer who does a first draft and then edits and edits and edits until something is all polished and shiny before I click the “publish” button here. I finding writing very easy. I finding editing agonizingly painful. I understand why it takes Leonard Cohen years to finish a song. I can stare at a single sentence for two hours debating the structure and the choices of words. I will work it and rework far past the point of normal obsession. And I look back at everything I write and publish here – even this stuff from the past ten days – and I’m appalled by the mistakes I’ve made, not to mention seeing 2,000 things that I could have written better. A grammatical error here, a missing detail there, an adjective repeated one time too often, a phrase that could be vastly improved upon.

Writing this, reading it, editing it is a step in confronting the issues that have held me back in life and in coming up with a plan to deal with these issues.

I understand that a combination of factors has held me back in life. The first is fear of failure, coupled with the fear of not being any damned good at anything – or worse, being unable to recognize and properly exploit those things that I would be good at. If I’ve thought about being a writer, a musician, a photographer, a fireman or an astronaut … I never fully committed to any of them. I have drifted like a tree branch in a river, going wherever the current takes me.

The second thing, very much aligned with the first, is that I’ve got too many interests. I’m a dabbler instead of a specialist; the wandering contents of this blog across ten years are undeniable evidence of that.  My attention has been so divided between so many different things that I haven’t been able to become truly great at anything or been able to exploit just one to its maximum potential.

So I regret not picking and sticking with one thing – and I regret not being good enough to take my crazy bits of knowledge of so many different things and not figure out a way to earn a more satisfying living from that. But the fact that I haven’t done it yet doesn’t mean I can’t still do it.

Okay, delete delete delete several paragraphs of morose self-pity. I’ll save it for the movie. Get up with it!

Failure is not an option. Neither is being happy with the status quo.

It’s just slightly too soon to go public with the details. Writing this, reading it, thinking it over, convinces me I will be doing the right thing. Remember back to Part 3, where I wrote:

I asked my friends what they thought I should do. All of them, even my female friends, told me the same thing. “As long as I’ve known you, you haven’t been happy. You’re still young. Do something that makes you happy.”

The fact is that I haven’t been happy in a long time (with the exception of my marriage). I have to make a change. I have to find, well, call it my “happy place” or my “mojo” or whatever term you like. I’ve lost my mojo and I need to get it back.  I’m not stupid enough to think that staying my current course will suddenly give me some different result from what it has given me over the course of the past five years. I can’t keep doing the same thing hoping things will change, that some deus ex machina will swoop down from the sky and change my life. I have to do something different.

So recognizing the need to change, I’ve put the the wheels in motion. I’m both nervous and excited by what’s coming next. I’ll tell you about it soon.

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If I’m So Smart Part Twelve

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Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9Part 10, Part 11

Continuing from the previous part, from 2011 to 2012, I had the job from hell. This place was simply unbelievable on so many levels. At the most basic, someone could be fired for going home and leaving a sweater hanging on the back of their chair. If they brought in a small potted plant to put on their desk, they’d get a warning. The bulk of the company’s business came from having a small army of people creating reports by cutting and pasting out of various Internet databases. These people had to work 12+ hours per day and frequently on weekends in order to meet their quotas. I got yelled at more than once for not requiring more weekend work from my team. The head of the company didn’t believe in giving annual raises just to match inflation. He didn’t believe in bonuses for anyone but the senior management team. And he didn’t believe in stock option grants.

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(Sorry for the cat photo but it really fits.)

I was expected to have monthly new product releases for 15 different software products, even though I had only 4 or 5 programmers on staff – and just 5 analysts to write up requirements and documentation, and just 3 QA staff. I could go on. I managed to get a lot done and I was quite proud of what I accomplished, especially considering those adverse circumstances. The turnover rate for staff was greater than 30% – and even higher on the senior management team, which saw each position being filled and re-filled multiple times within the company’s very short history.

After a year, I was fired, with no prior warning or notice. “You were warned, weren’t you?” asked the company’s HR director the day she gave me the news. Nope, I never got any warning. I reported to the head of the company and he made damn sure that he was out of town when I was given the word – no phone call, no email, basically just a “don’t let the door hit you on your ass on the way out.” He also made sure that my laptop was taken and all of my accounts were closed before I even had a chance to send a “goodbye” email to anyone else in the company.

To answer the question you’re going to ask, yes, I had indeed been searching for a new job for months – not the easiest thing to do when you’re working a 60-70 hour week under intense scrutiny but I did what I could. I’d spent months searching and in that period, not even one interview. Recruiters I’d talk to would see where I was working and they’d all say the same thing. “We know this company. We get CVs from people working there every day. What’s wrong with that place?” Or I’d be talking to a recruiter and the conversation would go like this:

Recruiter: So you work for XYZ. I know the head of the company, his name is Joe Blow, right?

Me: Yes, I report directly to him.

Recruiter: So why are you looking to leave?

Me: Joe Blow

Recruiter: Say no more, I understand.

So now I’m out of work again. I got a few interviews here and there but no offers. I tried to put myself out there as a consultant or a contractor until something more permanent came along but, as hard as it may be to believe, I was not successful in marketing myself. I picked up one gig from a friend which was good for about HK$5,000 per month. I picked up a freelance thing writing web site copy, another couple of thousand per month.

I reached out to everyone I could think of, both in Hong Kong and globally. Some offered to help – and did – and others were indifferent. I knew that I had hit the point where my age had become an issue. I was competing for positions against people 20 years younger than me. In many cases, I think the depth of my experience scared companies off, some thinking that I’d be too expensive and they wouldn’t be able to afford me, so why even bother to talk to me? Also I think that my self-confidence was at an all-time low, only natural coming from a job where I was abused on an almost daily basis by a tyrant whose main interest was building up a company on an unsustainable business model to the point where he could fool someone into buying it and give his staff a final screwing. As one friend put it, I was starting to smell desperate, and that’s never a good thing when you’re looking for a job.

Hong Kong is an expensive place to live. We downsized – we moved to a cheaper place, we stopped going out, but I was burning through my savings at an alarming rate – and I had never saved a lot to begin with. I didn’t touch my pension plans but I went through everything else and soon I had to borrow money from my mother.

I ended up being out of work for nine months. Finally I came across a job posting on LinkedIn from a company I knew. I called up one of the founders and said, “what about me?” We met for lunch the next day and the following day I received the job offer. The thing was, I told them what I was making in my previous job and was initially told that it “shouldn’t be a problem.” But when the offer came through, it was 25% lower – which meant that I’d be earning almost exactly 50% less than I had been making 5 years earlier. But I had no choice. There were no other offers or even interviews coming up. I had to accept this one, and I did. It was painful – I’d downsized a lot but not quite that much.

I will say this about my current job. The place is run by humans and run for humans. In the balance of things, I learned long ago that given the choice between a pleasant place and tiny salary vs. a hellhole with a larger salary, I’d opt for pleasant almost every time.

December 2013, I got married for the third time. We went to Paris for our honeymoon in January. I’m determined to make this one work if for no other reason than I’m too old to start over again if it doesn’t!

This more or less brings me up to the present time. Stay tuned for an epilogue or afterword in which I’ll discuss my reasons for writing this twelve-part series and in which I might reveal some of what’s coming next for me.

 

 

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If I’m So Smart Part Eleven

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During the 00′s, in all those years when I was being as bad as I could possibly be, I kept telling myself that I was looking for a relationship. I dated a lot of women, but I always ran away from them on even the slightest pretext. I went through this phase of dating women in Shenzhen because I could spend the weekends with them but they couldn’t come to Hong Kong and see what I was doing the rest of the time. I dated several Hong Kong women and I dated a TV star in Guangzhou. But none of these lasted more than a couple of months. I wasn’t ready to be in a relationship yet but I was fooling myself.

As time passed, I realized that my lifestyle was starting to yield greatly diminishing returns. I was going out more, I was drinking more, I was spending more money, but I was enjoying it a hell of a lot less.

My mother didn’t know very much about what I was doing but she asked me an unexpected question: Don’t you miss intimacy? I told her I didn’t, but the question stayed with me. I thought about it a lot and I realized that I might be ready to make a change.

The change finally happened because of K, a fabulous woman – beautiful, educated, “age appropriate” – whom I met at the end of 2007. For a brief while it seemed as if she might be the one. I think even she saw it that way. Any time she would drink more than a couple of glasses of wine, she would look at me and say, “You’re going to have to marry me.” But the next day she’d always deny it.

I wrote a column about our relationship in BC Magazine.  I even took a solo trip to Bangkok (medical reasons) in which I pointedly did not have sex with anyone, in part to prove to myself that I could do it.

But the relationship onlyly lasted for six months. Looking back, I think the novelty of the thing was what fueled those first few months. We were each so completely different from anyone the other had dated before. Once that novelty started to wear off, perhaps the writing was on the wall. She had, early on, told me that she didn’t want to date an only child when she found out I was one – “they’re so selfish with their time,” she said, and that probably turned out to be true, although I denied it vehemently at the time. She had two young children and they scared me. She dumped me, we reconciled, and then we parted again.

But this at least told me that I really was ready for a relationship again and not just saying it. I think I’ve been better in each relationship I’ve been in. I’ve matured from a selfish asshole into a not-so-selfish asshole. I’m more able to put myself into the shoes of the person I’m with and treat them as human beings and not just as objects or accessories.

This is something I just read tonight, from I’m Your Man, a biography of Leonard Cohen that I am absolutely loving:

“Everything changes as you get older,” Leonard said. “I never met a woman until I was sixty-five. Instead, I saw all kinds of miracles in front of me.” In the past, he had always viewed women through his own “urgent needs and desires,” he said, “and what they could do for me.” But in his midsixties – which roughly coincided with Leonard leaving the monastery and his depression starting to lift – “that started to dissolve and [he] began to see the woman standing there.”

A bit too egotistical for me to compare myself in any way to Leonard Cohen? Of course. Yet those words and sentiments describe me as well.

So in the summer of 2008, I proceeded slowly with someone I had met a year before. We accidentally bumped into each other on the street one Saturday afternoon and later I thought to myself that I would take a chance with her. See, it’s easy for me to find someone I can be with for an hour or a night, but I have always found it difficult to find someone I can be with for more than a couple of days at time. We started with a weekend, then with a week, then with a month. The first year was difficult, the second year even more so … in December 2013 we got married.

Work continued on as it always did. Except things were changing at Warner. My boss, roughly the same age as me and someone I considered a friend, died in his sleep one night. My mentor, the CFO, left Warner after decades there.

Meanwhile, people had stopped buying DVDs. Just a few years earlier, home video accounted for 60% of the studio’s revenue and making DVDs was a lot like printing cash; people couldn’t buy them quickly enough. But now DVD sales were falling through the floor and neither digital nor Blu-Ray was picking up the slack. Warner had to make drastic changes.

First, they shut down a significant portion of their operations in Asia. With the exceptions of China, Australia and Japan, all of the other affiliate branches were shuttered or converted to digital-only. A few hundred of my friends got laid off.

At the same time, they made the decision to outsource almost all of their technology support globally. I could understand outsourcing infrastructure support but they also laid off all of the application support people, people who had a better understanding of business operations than most of the business people there. More than 1,000 Warner technology people got the axe … and I was one of them.

I was treated very fairly throughout this entire process. I was given six months’ notice and a huge retention bonus for sticking out those six months, as well as a more-than-reasonable amount of severance pay. I was told there was no job for me with Warner in other locations (I didn’t really want to leave Hong Kong, but I asked anyway) and because I’d been hired on what were essentially local terms (and because by now I had HK permanent resident status), there was no relocation package.

But I wasn’t too bothered by this. First, I used some of my severance pay to join some friends in opening a photography studio, PASM Workshop. At the time, I did it in part to support my friends and in part to give me a place to hang out that wasn’t a bar. And hanging out at the studio re-awoke my interest in photography and gave me another creative outlet.

Also, the former president and former CFO of Warner were starting up a new business. They had signed deals with almost all of the Hollywood studios plus Microsoft and Intel. They told me that once it got off the ground, they would hire me to run Asia for them – not technology in Asia, the business in Asia. This looked like it was going to be a dream job for me.

And then a few months later the entire thing imploded. It was not going to happen. I was left feeling pretty crushed – and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

I’m not really superstitious, but sometimes I think I must have done something to give me seven years bad luck – let’s say it started on the day I got notice of the upcoming layoff at Warner, roughly March 2009, so sometimes I fear I’ve got another two years to go before my luck changes. No, I know, you make your own luck. But it seems to me that in the years since then, good breaks have been few and far between. There’s been the photo studio. There’s my wife. But very little else.

So now I had to find another job. Something came my way rather quickly and I took it. I shouldn’t have, because it was with a local Hong Kong company, but I had never worked for one of those before and I didn’t realize what that might mean. I think I should have held out for something in a multi-national. But I knew several of the people at this company and it seemed like an interesting opportunity. So despite a huge cut in pay from my previous job – roughly 35% – I went with it.

I spent a horrible year there. First off, I was in “operations” rather than technology. The duties of the job were poorly defined, the landscape kept changing, and I wasn’t really allowed to do any of the things I might have done well. Second, I think I was pretty horribly treated at this place – I’ve written about it in some detail before.

I did catch a break of sorts. I got my next job before I left this place, so there was only a week between jobs. Another low-paying job with a local company that treated its staff like shit, it actually made the previous place appear reasonable. To put it another way, this is pretty much a direct quote from the president of the company to me. “When I ask you why you didn’t do the thing I told you not to do, and you tell me by quoting my own words back to me, it makes me feel bad, so stop doing it.” That was one of his better moments.

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If I’m So Smart Part Ten

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Allow me to digress and talk about the blog that you’re reading right now.

Hongkie Town got its start on December 4, 2004, over at Blogger. Let me tell you why I started it.

The first reason is the most obvious. I was reading a lot of blogs. And one day I told myself, “I could do this,too.” I wanted a creative outlet to contrast with my day job. The question was, what would I write about? What could I contribute that would be different from all of the other blogs out there?

The answer soon became obvious to me. Every book store at every airport in Asia has a section called “Asian Interest.” I spent a lot of time in airports and so I spent a lot of time in those book shops and picked up or at least looked at many of these books.

I felt that most of these books were essentially the same. They’d be written by some American,  Brit or Australian guy who came to Asia as an expat. Once here, each guy thought he was the Marco Polo of sex – that he discovered sex. And then his next thought was, “This is fucking amazing! I can’t believe it! I gotta tell the world about this!” Followed by, “I’m educated. I’m a lawyer (or a banker), I can write a book!”

Those books were almost always the same. A detective story. Pulp fiction. Expat goes to Bangkok/Manila/Hong Kong/Phnom Penh and falls in with a bad crowd, falls in love with a hooker, starts doing drugs or drinking heavily, goes missing. The wife back home hasn’t heard from the husband and hires a private detective to go find out where her husband is. The private detective goes there, falls in with the same bad crowd, starts doing the same bad things. At the end someone is always dead or a hopeless drug addict or a homeless bum. A morality tale.

This pissed me off. I knew plenty of guys who were living this lifestyle and not suffering any ill effects – well, at least nothing as drastic as was being portrayed in those books. Mostly they were just falling in love with the wrong women and spending way too much money.

So I wanted to tell a different story. I wanted to tell the story of what this life was really like, from my perspective and personal experiences - and not anonymized to any extent beyond changing the names of the people.

And so I went public. My first blog post appeared on December 4, 2004. As you might guess, it didn’t take too long for the blog to start catching peoples’ attention. And most of the feedback I received was positive. First of all, I was really interested in writing about the women and their lives and how they found themselves in this line of work, and I was pretty good at getting them to talk to me about it. I never posted any photos of women and I never referred to women as bitches or ho’s.

Something totally unexpected happened. I started getting emails from women who were curious to meet me. I even had one or two local feminists write to me – and it wasn’t hate mail.

I never wrote about the sex. I think I just didn’t see myself as a good enough writer to make that part interesting. People are interesting, everyone has a story to tell, and that’s what I concentrated on. Blog readers would write to me and ask me to describe the sex but how many different ways are there to write, “and then we fucked”?

Mostly the only hate mail I received was from guys who said I was giving away all of the secrets and screwing things up for them. How dare I tell the world what was the best bar on a given day of the week and time and screw up their good time? I ignored those comments.

Back then, I thought I had to have new content every day, in order to keep people coming back. I didn’t go out every night and even when I did, not every night was an adventure worth writing about. So I started “filling in the gaps” with other stuff – record and movie reviews, politics, basically anything else that was on my mind when I had a few spare minutes. I mean, it was my blog so I could write about whatever the hell I wanted to write about, it’s just that I ended up writing about a greater variety of topics than I’d originally expected.

That led to my having a regular column in BC Magazine for around 4 years, until the publisher and I had a major falling out. I’m pretty proud of that column, I think a lot of my best work was there.

When I started writing the blog, my idea was that I was going to stay out of relationships. But it wasn’t too long after I started writing that I found myself in a relationship, one that I did write about for awhile, in great detail. But clearly it wasn’t in line with my original intention.

Also, at one point I got “caught”. I’d written about a night with one woman and it turned out that one of her friends read the blog, was able to figure out who I was writing about and showed it to the woman in question, who was quite unhappy about it. No big scene, she just asked me to delete the post about her and of course I did.

But It finally dawned on me that one day I could just as easily get caught by someone who worked at my company. The blog was relatively popular and the stats showed that I had a truly global following.  If someone at my company found out, I would lose my job. Was this worth losing my job over? Definitely not.

And so I deleted all of the old stuff. I wish I could say I had saved all of it before deleting it – I thought I had, but a couple of years ago when I started going through my files, I discovered there were some big chunks missing. Some of it I’ve been able to recover, some of it is gone forever.

Of course the blog continues to this day. I still hear from people who tell me they “miss the old blog.” My response is always “thanks but I don’t live that kind of life anymore,” which is true. I moved on from that scene years ago. Regrets, I have a few, but I did what seemed right to me at the time, both in terms of the lifestyle I led and also in terms of writing about it publicly.

We now return you to our regularly scheduled program.

 

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Is Anyone Surprised?

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I mean, did anyone really think that Beijing was going to allow Hong Kong to have truly open elections?

That doesn’t mean we don’t have the right to be pissed off and to continue to protest. But anyone who was surprised by Sunday’s announcement must be living in an alternate reality.

(I wanted to write more on this but just no time at the moment. I didn’t want to let this pass without at least some sort of comment because it’s huge. It could be a tipping point or a watershed moment or whatever other cliche you want to apply.)

Just one other thing. I don’t get why people get upset about the earlier announcement that any candidate must love their country. Tell me an election anywhere where the candidate gets up and says, “The United States sucks, vote for me!”

It’s just the way in which Beijing defines patriotism. For them it’s unquestioningly following what you are told. Most of the rest of the world sees patriotism as standing up for what’s right.

Anyway, let’s see what rights Beijing takes away next, and how long it takes them to do it.

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If I’m So Smart Part Nine

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In 2004 and 2005 I worked on a massive project. Warner decided to do a home video distribution joint venture in Mainland China. I was involved in most aspects of the project, and it was a godawful mess.

The CFO asked me what kind of person we should recruit as MD of China. I told him it should be someone born in China, educated in the US or UK and with some western work experience before returning to China. This way the person would understand the local market and the western way of doing business. We found a great guy who matched this profile.

But for some reason Warner decided to put the global head of supply chain in charge of the project overall. He was a former head of sales and didn’t have a great understanding of how things operated in China. He thought it was like the U.S. – in the U.S. the stores couldn’t stock our DVDs fast enough and they were used as loss leaders to get people into the stores. In China, no one gave a shit about legal DVDs – our licensee there was charging the equivalent of US$15 for a DVD, compared to the $0.50 you’d pay on any street corner for pirate copies. The few stores in China that stocked legal DVDs didn’t put them up front by the entrance or the cash register, they were hidden away in the basement. This SVP thought he could dictate commercial terms on our DVDs to the major Chinese chains, all of whom told him where he could stick his DVDs.

Our China MD was great. He knew business – and he also knew how to work hard for 12 hours and then gather up everyone in the office and go out and party for another 6 hours. It would get to be 8 or 9 PM and he’d gather up all the women in the office (and me) and we’d go out to consume massive quantities of food, drink and fun. But he was getting frustrated. He’d ask me why we hired him, with all of his experience and knowledge, and then try to dictate to him how to run the business, especially when he knew we were wrong. He resigned after six months.

He was replaced by a guy from the UK who had been to China once as a tourist. But the new guy followed orders. I also grew frustrated with the supply chain SVP because he didn’t believe in using project plans. Our weekly conference calls went like this: Dept A: we are three months behind schedule. And then two hours spent with all the other department representatives asking how that would impact their project schedules. I kept asking for a consolidated project plan to make management easier. He kept telling me he didn’t like Microsoft Project.

I moved most of my Hong Kong team to Shanghai to work on the project and tried to move there myself, getting a service apartment near the office. Then regional management asked how I could manage the region from Shanghai (um, email? telephone?) and made me move back to Hong Kong.

One adventure (out of many) that I’ll share. There was this place, I think it was called Malone’s. Great burgers and a Filipino cover band. I’m there one night having dinner and I see this gorgeous Chinese woman at the bar. I also see at least 10 different guys hitting on her and all striking out, so I don’t even bother to try. A few hours later I’m at California, a disco owned by some of the same people who owned the place of the same name in Hong Kong. I knew one of the owners, so I had a member card. I’m walking past the dance floor and I feel a tap on my shoulder. I turn around and it’s that same Chinese woman I’d seen earlier in Malones. We dance, we drink, we talk. She tells me she’s from Hong Kong, works in the fashion business, and is in Shanghai to meet some designers. I’m thinking, “Great, she’s hot, she’s from Hong Kong, maybe this can turn into something.” Around 3 AM we head back to my place. We get to my place, get in the door, and the first thing out of her mouth is “Amy no money.” Well, it’s 3 AM, I’m drunk and horny and open to suggestions. Except her suggestion was that I should give her 3,000 RMB. My suggestion was that she should get the hell out of there but she wasn’t leaving. We negotiated. We argued. I think we finally got tired and passed out. The strangest thing is that she kept texting me for another two years telling me how much she missed me.

Anyway, the project finally completed – my parts were done on time and under budget – and the office opens for business. Everyone flies out from Burbank for the opening party, including the CIO who hates my guts. He walked around the office, followed by his little entourage, inspecting everything, looking for something he can use against me. Finally, not finding anything else, he asks me why I chose the tax reporting system that was being used. I told him, “I didn’t choose it, the Chinese government told me which system I had to use.” But this guy was obtuse. “Well, surely they gave you a list of choices and you picked one from the list, why this one?” I told him there was no list, this is China, the government doesn’t offer a choice. He didn’t get it. We did the same dance three or four times, surrounded by people, until others also spoke up to set him straight. It became another reason for him to hate me.

Having the Shanghai office gave me a small advantage. I was able to enroll at Fudan University to study Putonghua. I could go to class for three hours in the morning and then work in the Shanghai office in the afternoon. I stayed in the Foreign Students Dormitory (US$400 for a month) and bought a cheap bicycle for getting around.

My first day at the school, they asked us each what Mandarin we knew. I knew only one complete sentence and I said that and they thought I was an expert. They put me into an advanced class. I had to beg for three days to be put back into a beginner class.

Everyone else in my class was a university student from Europe, part of a larger group, there for the summer. They’d all go out together after class, more than likely speaking their native language to each other all day long. I’d go out alone and had to use what I was learning. Lots of conversations with taxi drivers on my way to the office – they always figured I was a professor and were always surprised to discover I was a student. And when I’d tell them what I was studying, I’d get additional lessons in the taxi.

You probably won’t be surprised to find out that I managed to find a girlfriend in Shanghai, a sweet young woman who didn’t speak any English. This really gave me incentive to up my game. She would laugh like crazy when helping me study, telling me that it was the kind of basic stuff they teach to five year olds. Even though I ended up getting sick my last couple of weeks there and missing a lot of classes, I passed the final and got my certificate.

I also got to be friendly with Koji Hase, the co-inventor of the DVD. Koji was at Toshiba at the time. He was the head of their CD-ROM division. He had an idea – get the CD-ROM drive out of the computer and the office and into the living room. But he’d need software for that. At the same time, Warren Lieberfarb (the founder of Warner Home Video and its president for 25 years) knew that the rental business wasn’t cutting it for Warner. VHS tapes sucked and no one was buying laser discs. He wanted a new format. Koji called Warren and suggested they meet to discuss a new idea. Warren said that he would give Koji 30 minutes. Koji figured this was a big enough idea and he flew from Tokyo to L.A. for that meeting. He walked into Warren’s office – there were 2 sandwiches and 2 bottles of water on the table and Koji thought, “that’s it, I’m really only getting 30 minutes.” Eight hours, and several bottles of wine later, they had an agreement and the DVD was born. Toshiba and Warner would share the patents for the DVD, something which brought Warner billions of dollars. Warner later fired Warren for demanding his share of those profits (long story for another time, it involved the whole mess that got created when AOL bought Time Warner).

When Koji left Toshiba after 30 years, Warren hired him at Warner as head of Asia Pacific. Koji knew nothing about the business. Warren said, “Don’t worry, I’ll teach you.” And then Warren got fired. All of the other executives in the company looked at Koji, this brilliant sweet guy, and thought his English was funny and ignored him. Then Koji made what was seen as a major error – one which I won’t go into now but which cost the company a few million bucks in Japan. Koji was convinced he had done the right thing but the pencil pushers back at HQ didn’t agree. He was pushed aside as head of the region and given a “window seat”  - a job with nothing to do, the ultimate insult in Japan. He’d never much liked me; he thought I was pretty strange, and I probably was. But I always made it a point to stop at his office whenever I came to Tokyo to say hello. No one else was doing that anymore. “You know I never liked you, why do you always come to my office to greet me?” And I said to him, “You’re Koji Hase. I wouldn’t have a job if it wasn’t for you. I don’t care about the others, I want to show you the respect you deserve.” We became drinking buddies, going to these expensive bars that I could never afford and letting the nights go by consuming bottle after bottle of whisky and soju, having what at least seemed like deep philosophical conversations.

With the successful launch of the China business, and my large role in it, I thought I was going to get promoted to VP. Then they promoted my counterpart in EMEA to VP but not me. I asked where my promotion was. And I found out that both the CIO and the supply chain SVP had blocked it. I’d made some pretty strong enemies.

So I started job hunting. I found something. Something that looked pretty good. Since my boss was a friend, I told him what was going on. He begged me to stay. He told me he’d get me the promotion I deserved. I turned down the other offer and stayed. He didn’t get me the promotion. To be exact about it, instead of being promoted to Vice President, I was promoted from Director to Executive Director, with no increase in salary. All I got out of the deal was a new business card.

(All of us Directors in the technology group in WB always had the same request – a business card that just said “Director” without mentioning our department or anything else. The request was always rejected.)

So I was pretty pissed off. But I managed to rationalize it. I was making a relatively large salary. I loved the people I was working with. My job wasn’t very difficult or stressful. (Asia represented around 10% of the company’s gross revenue. My boss was kept busy dealing with issues from the US and EMEA. As long as no one in Asia was complaining about me – and they never had any cause to – he basically left me alone to do my thing.) So I figured to myself, okay, I’ll just ride this out for a few more years. I’ll get my finances straightened out, sock some money away, and probably be able to retire when I’m 60 or 62.

But as they say, if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.

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