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CDs for Sale

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I’ve been collecting CDs for 30 years and music for most of my life but now it’s time to start clearing things out. I’m selling off more than 2,600 CDs and I’m asking just HK$20 each for more than half of them. I’ve got almost any genre you can imagine (except for death metal and polka) – rock, jazz, folk, classical, soundtrack, comedy, blues, reggae, world, even a bit of local pop.

You can see the entire list here. Or you can send an email to hongkietown at gmail dot com for the most updated version.

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Rafael Hui’s Music & Video Collection For Sale; Mine Too

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A few days ago, the SCMP reported that former government official and convicted felon is selling off his collection of 11,000 CDs, vinyl lps and video discs (LDs? DVDs?) now that he’s bankrupt and with debts of HK$75 million.

Hui gave up his entire music library, the fruit of a collection craze since the 1960s, to trustees John Lees and Mat Ng of JLA Asia after the High Court declared him bankrupt in November last year.

Ng, managing director of JLA Asia, said they had been advertising in newspapers and on a website to sell the music and film records, which were divided into 11 categories according to the genre. The trustees had also contacted individual collectors to inspect the huge collection.

“We have received some offers and are still open to accepting more offers,” Ng said.

“We prefer to find a single collector to buy the whole lot, but we may also split the collection into two or more batches if that can achieve a higher sale price.”

HMV Hong Kong product manager Michelle Tang said she had inspected the lot. “The collection is very old and in very bad condition. We have little interest to submit a bid,” she told the South China Morning Post. “Hui seemed to have bought the music for his own enjoyment.”

All these assets were part of the lavish lifestyle Hui testified to leading. He freely indulged in his fetish for classical music, resulting in the collection of 10,955 discs – mainly vinyl LPs – that includes 6,323 classical music albums, 965 titles on operas and ballet, 1,330 jazz and blues records and 835 rock and pop discs, many of which are Beatles albums from the 1960s.

There are also local discs, including 140 LPs by Canto-pop singers such as Alan Tam Wing-lun, Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing and Anita Mui Yim-fong.

The hobby cost him millions of dollars. He admitted spending HK$200,000 in a single day buying albums, and going on overseas trips for opera concerts that cost more than HK$200,000.

He said Hui liked to shop for records during lunchtime. Hong Kong Records, HMV and smaller shops in Admiralty and Wan Chai were his favourites.

An employee at one of the stores said Hui came at least once a week when he was in government, but had not visited since his arrest in 2012. “He spent almost HK$10,000 per visit. He likes to order whole collections or some rare copies of classical music, and he bought mainly vinyl.”

My collection isn’t quite as massive as Hui’s. I never spent HK$10,000 per visit to any shop, anywhere, at any time. But I did work in the music industry in the 80s and the home video industry in the 00′s, and wrote for various publications on and off since the 70s, so I’ve had periods in my life when a fair share of free stuff was coming my way. Even so, over the years, I spent way too much money feeding this particular addiction.

I sold off most of my vinyl in 2001, just before moving to Hong Kong for the second time. (I still have a few boxes, mostly oddball items and rarities, a bunch of picture discs and shaped discs, a few autographed records here and there.)

I’ve got somewhere in the neighborhood of 6,000 CDs and I’m trying to unload roughly 2,500 of them prior to my move to Manila. I’ve probably got around 3,000 DVDs and maybe another 500 or 1,000 Blu-Rays and am putting together a list of what I plan to sell of those. Then there are 200 or 300 laser discs – I’ve also mostly held on to a few real oddball items there, such as an edit of Godfather 1 and 2 that never appeared elsewhere on video and a once-very-sought-after THX demo disc, amongst others. No idea what I’ll be doing with those.

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Sony Embarrases America

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So in case you’re one of the three people on the planet who don’t know about this yet ….

Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg directed a little film called The Interview, starring Rogen and James Franco. In the film Franco is a TV news guy, Rogen his producer, and they get a call to go to North Korea to interview Kim Jong-Un. The CIA then convinces them that during the interview, they should assassinate Kim. And, as we now know, in the film, they’re successful. The film was to be distributed by Sony Pictures.

When word of the film got out, North Korea called this film an act of war. As the release date got closer, Sony Pictures got hacked – big time. The first sign of this hack was when perfect quality DVD screeners of 5 other Sony films, some not yet released in theaters, appeared online. These included Fury with Brad Pitt, the new remake of Annie, and the very well reviewed new bio-pic Mr. Turner.

That was quickly followed by massive releases of internal Sony information – including salary information on Sony executives as well as huge numbers of internal emails containing all sorts of embarrasing information.

A group called the GOP – the Guardians of Peace – took credit for the massive hack and public release.

As the release date for the film got closer, the GOP started threatening violence. They announced that any theater screening the film would be the victim of an attack reminiscent of 9/11. Following this threat, 5 major theater chains in the US that had previously booked the film announced that they would no longer show it. And following that, Sony announced that they were canceling the film altogether – no release to theatrical, home video, cable, nothing. Sony would be writing off somewhere in the neighborhood of US$100 million.

Here’s the red band trailer for the film.

In the wake of all of this, Sony declared that North Korea was the source of the hack. The United States goverment has gone along with this, and now the FBI has said they believe it was North Korea. There have been newspaper headlines about the U.S. government considering what new sanctions they might apply against North Korea in retaliation.

Some theaters were going to substitute screenings of 2004′s Team America: World Police, from the South Park guys. And then Paramount got scared and wouldn’t release prints for screening.

So ….

The first thing is: It doesn’t matter if you’re a fan of Seth Rogen or not. It doesn’t matter if you were anxiously awaiting this film, if you thought it was going to turn out to be a piece of crap or if you never heard of it or couldn’t care less.

You might ask, why risk the lives of hundreds or even thousands of people over a movie? It’s just a movie.

But what has really happened is that major U.S. corporations have allowed themselves to be blackmailed and controlled by anonymous hackers, who may not even be a government organization, they might just be a bunch of kids. This is a first amendment issue. Even if you feel the theaters were justified, Sony had many, many other ways to release this film and give a big middle finger to North Korea and try to recoup some of their investment. Hell, given that they’re prepared to kiss $100 million goodbye, they could have just torrented the film.

Instead, expect plenty of others to try similar stunts in the future now that the precedent has been set. This year it’s a movie. Next year another movie, or a TV show, or a book, or just some expression of some minor idea that upsets the Grand Poobah of Absurdistan or some 14 year old kid spending too much time in his bedroom because he didn’t eat all his vegetables at dinner.

Marc Rogers, one of the world’s leading hackers and security experts, provides some analysis and comes to the conclusion that the hack was not the work of the North Korean government. He thinks it’s an inside job.

One thing I read that Rogers doesn’t mention in his article. Earlier this year Sony hired PricewaterhouseCooper to conduct an IT security audit. This audit, delivered to Sony in September, identified major security holes. It would have been impossible for a large corporation (or even most small or mid-sized ones) to fill in these holes in such a short period of time.  The hack, just two months later, went after some of these holes.

Meanwhile, everyone from George Clooney to Alan Dershowitz is weighing in on this. (Dershowitz: “This is Pearl Harbor on the First Amendment.”) (Michael Moore: “Dear Sony Hackers: now that u run Hollywood, I’d also like less romantic comedies, fewer Michael Bay movies and no more Transformers.”)(Bill Maher: “Is that all it takes – an anonymous threat and the numbers 911 – to throw free expression under the bus? #PussyNation“)(Neil Gaiman: “So SONY fight back by canceling The Interview, thus proving to the hackers that hacking & threats work very well? That may prove an error.”)

If you’d like to read a very geeky breakdown of the events, along with all sorts of relevant links, then check out this long article at Risk Based Security.

One thing is for sure – this is a big mess that will only get messier.

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Our Search for a Home in Manila – Part 2

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Continuing on from here ….

My wife and I gradually reached a mutual understanding in terms of what we were looking for in a house. As close as reasonably possible to my office in Ortigas. A minimum of 4 bedrooms, one of which had to be on the ground floor since I’m trying to get my mother to live with us (or, even if she doesn’t join us, my wife reminded me that I’m getting old and might not be able to walk stairs much longer. Thanks dear.)

After a lot of web searching and some initial viewings of properties, we decided to concentrate on a place called Greenwoods Executive Village. This sits on the border straddling Pasig and Cainta. The main entry gate is 8.9 kilometers from my office according to Google – the drive can take anywhere from 20 to 60 minutes depending on route and time of day; a taxi ride is under 150 pesos (around US$3).

I’m told that Greenwoods is the second largest residential development in Manila (the first being BF Paranaque, southeast of the airport). It’s 20 years old, there are ten “phases” and the later phases are just starting to get built out now. No one could tell me how many houses are in the development – 500? 1,000? Could be. There’s a club house with a pool and a small commercial district with an odd but useful selection of shops inside the development.

You can buy a plot of land and build a house, for yourself or just to try and flip it in a year and make a decent profit.  If there are any restrictions on design, I couldn’t tell. Every house is different, which is a good thing in my opinion.  The price range on houses seems to run from 4 or 5 million pesos up to around 15. The 15 million peso places, few and far between, might have up to 5,000 square feet of floor space and a pool.

We must have looked at at least 30 houses. At the end of my first trip, I saw one that I really liked. So the following week my wife came back with me and we met with the owner to make an offer. The problem was that our agent was a total idiot – a woman in her 40s (or 50s?) who picked me up with her husband in a broken down heap of a car with no air conditioning.

When we asked her how much of a discount over the asking price we might be able to negotiate, she said that we might be able to get 10%. She had never talked to the owner though. So when we met him and tried to get him down from his 6.8 million asking price, he told us the biggest discount he would be willing to consider would be 25,000.

During the negotiation, the agent just sat there looking at her mobile phone. She never tried to intercede on our behalf or offer any advice. I thought the owner was taking the piss, figuring I must be some rich white guy. (I would much later find out that discounts above 200,000 are rare there and this guy had already come down that 200k.)  So we exchanged business cards, shook hands and I waited for him to call me and tell me he’d come down a bit. Instead, two days later, he emailed me to let me know the house was already sold.

Meanwhile the agent kept sending me messages that I needed to send her 4,500 pesos so that the bank could do a pre-appraisal on the property. What property? We had no agreement to buy it. And she asked for that money again even after the owner told us the place was sold.

Another month down the line, I was ready to put in an offer on another house (using a different agent, of course). This one had a different problem. Someone had already put in an offer on the house and paid down 50%, but they were unable to come up with all of the papers the bank wanted for the mortgage after 4 months, and so the owner started advertising again. I could understand this – she wanted another buyer locked in before kicking out the first one. So she assured me that the contract stipulated 60 days to close the deal, it was now 120 days, and so she was ready to inform the first buyer that the contract was cancelled, refund the money and sell to us.

You can probably guess what happened here.  She used my offer as leverage to get the first buyer to finally come up with all the paperwork. Less than one week after making our offer, and after being assured that the house was ours, the house was not ours. I told the owner in an email that she had lied to me and used me. She responded, “I’m sorry you feel that way.” Meanwhile this agent on this deal never once reached out to me, never said “sorry the deal didn’t go through,” never said “let’s work together and I’ll find you another house.” Crickets.

So, more trips. And finally a third house, with a third agent. Someone else had put in an offer on this house. But, as I later found out, they didn’t have the 20% down payment and they were trying to negotiate terms on that with the owner, who wasn’t inclined to go down that road. So I came along, I had the 20% down payment in cash for them, and within a week I had verbal approval from the bank for the mortgage. So finally the deal was done.

Here’s what we got:

DSC01633

The plot is 150 square meters, roughly 1600 square feet. The floor space is 270 square meters, roughly 2900 square feet. Four bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, living room, dining room, kitchen, family room, separate maid’s quarters. Parking for two cars. Small garden areas front and back of the house. A view straight to Ortigas from the balcony.

The master bedroom alone is 220 square feet (not including the walk-in closet and a bathroom with two sinks, separate tub and shower). Large kitchen? How does this look?

DSC01622

The price was roughly 90% cheaper than a village house in Hong Kong (probably 95% cheaper than a village house in Sai Kung). So yeah, we’re extremely happy.

Last week we signed all of the papers and paid the full down payment and closing costs. It will take a few weeks for everything to go through and for the title to be in our names. So, from the time we started seriously looking until we had a deal, a mortgage and all of the papers signed was under six months. I’m glad it’s done.

The plan now is to leave Hong Kong at the end of January and stay in a service apartment near my office until our stuff arrives. That 2-to-4 week waiting period should give us enough time to get the place set up with air conditioners, water heaters and most of the other stuff we plan to buy locally rather than ship over.

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Our Search for a Home in Manila – part 1

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I’ve been wanting to write about this as it was taking place, but didn’t because I wasn’t ready to announce that I was planning to leave Hong Kong until everything was in place. Now that it is, let me share some of the story with you.

(This is going to be a large post, so I’ll split it into 2 or 3 parts. This might be useful information for others looking to buy a home in Manila.)

Around 10 years ago, my friends in Manila kept telling me I should buy something there. They would point to new buildings going up in various locations or give me a call when prices dipped (along with the economy). But 10 years ago I wasn’t considering living in the Philippines. The economy has been going strong there for the last several years and prices now are roughly triple what they were 10 years ago. Sadly I can’t go back in time and buy something in the past.

We actually started looking about 2-1/2 years ago. The idea at first was just to have a place there so we’d have our own place to stay for our increasingly frequent visits as well as a place to retire to in the distant future. We didn’t have a clear idea of what we wanted or our budget but even then I knew I wanted to be in Manila and not in some province or on some remote island.

We did a bit of looking around and came across this development from Ayala (the largest real estate developer, among other things) called Ametta Place and we were about to sign a contract for a 183 square meter townhouse when I lost my job. (Well, I didn’t lose it. It’s still there. Just someone else is doing it now.)

Things have obviously stabilized for me in the past couple of years and, as I’d previously written, it was getting to be “now or never” time – even if it meant leaving Hong Kong in order to make this happen. So we started looking again over the summer.

My favorite place in Manila, for many reasons is The Fort, aka Fort Bonifacio, aka Bonifacio Global City, aka BGC, so it was the first place I thought about living.  We looked there (and also in nearby Rockwell).  Serendra (another Ayala development) would have been my first choice, but two (or more) bedrooms there was out of my budget. We did find a nice 90 square meter two bedroom condo there in a different building. We were all ready to sign the papers and buy it, until it turned out that the owner wouldn’t budge from his demand for a 50% down payment, rather than the usual 20%.

We looked at some condos from the major developers. There was one that was using Paris Hilton as their spokesperson and yes, we actually did look at model apartments for that. Then there’s a company called DMCI. They’re kind of middle range developers and they always advertise “resort amenities” at very affordable prices. We saw what this meant – huge swimming pool and lots of green outdoor areas combined with tiny concrete apartments with tiny windows, dark and depressing.

As time went by, we agreed that my wife’s daughter would live with us and possibly my mother as well, so it became clear that we’d need more than two bedrooms. A larger apartment in the Fort was out of my price range. And at this point my wife decided that we had to buy a house and land and not an apartment. For her, it was non-negotiable.

I didn’t have a big problem with that decision. I’ve lived in village houses in Hong Kong for the past 7 years and much prefer it to an apartment. No waiting half an hour for an elevator when the dog needs to go out and pee (or when I come home and need to pee!). Lots more space. And a potentially better long term investment. (The only issue is that in the Philippines, foreigners can only buy condos, they cannot buy land. This meant either buying it in my wife’s name or forming some sort of corporation to buy it. In the end, both of our names are listed on the title and mortgage.)

Real estate shopping in Manila is different from Hong Kong in some ways. In one way it’s the same – the major developers own the shopping malls and so every mall has kids trying to force brochures into your hands and get to to agree to look at model apartments. (In some cases, the model apartments are in shops in the mall, so you don’t have to go anywhere to get some idea of what they’re selling.)

Of course with the large developers, you’re not just buying a flat or a house. You’re paying for their heavy overhead – their executives and office towers and marketing and all those kids handing out brochures in the malls. But once you get away from the large developers, finding out what’s available becomes much more difficult. They don’t have large chains like Centaline with shops on every corner. There are ads in newspapers but the ads are like “House for sale. Pasig. Call xxx.” No size, no price, nothing. There are some “buy-sell” magazines, but that’s not much use when you’re trying to do your search from another country.

So I looked at all of the developments from the major developers and wasn’t quite seeing what I wanted. Then I found various useful web sites, the best of which was probably OLX, a local variation on CraigsList with ads for everything from houses for rent and sale to all sorts of services and used goods.

There were several problems with OLX, the first of which is that the site requires you to have a Philippines mobile number to register with them. Without registering on the site, you cannot send messages directly to advertisers.  Many of the agents have an email address on their profile, but most didn’t respond to emails. I only got quick replies to SMS messages.

One thing that is the same as in Hong Kong is that most of the ads are fake. You call or text in response to a specific ad and you’re told that house is already sold but they have 20 others just like it that they can show you. Also there are few if any exclusive listings. 20 agents will post ads for the same house – and if the house gets sold by one agent, it takes awhile for the other 19 to find out about it and take their ads down.

Last but not least, good luck trying to sort out the good, knowledgeable agents from the bad. Just like anywhere else, there are a handful who seem to really know what they are doing and can offer good advice and guidance; there are plenty more who are complete idiots who probably never closed a deal in their lives.

Our search was further complicated by the obvious fact that we don’t live in the Philippines yet. I had one slight advantage - although my business travel budget for the year included just two trips to Manila, my boss agreed that I could work from the Manila office as long as I was paying for the additional trips myself. So while I had to spend a bit of money, at least I wasn’t burning through all of my vacation time.

Of course paying my own way meant staying in cheaper hotels than my company would normally book me into, but that wasn’t anything major. I haven’t worked for a company with a 5-star travel budget in 5 years. I found a place walking distance from my office (The Malayan Plaza), rooms (including a basic kitchen set-up) were just US$50 per night – and that included swimming pool, breakfast and shit-slow internet. (We stayed there again this week – no studio apartments available so a one bedroom set-up was US$75 per night.)

Given that this is the Philippines, where things rarely seem to go as planned, and that I could only make brief visits there, I wasn’t certain if I could find a house and get it locked in within the time period I’d set for myself.  I was successful. I’d guess that from the time I started searching “seriously” until everything was signed, sealed, delivered was roughly 5 months.

More to come ….

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Here I Go Again?

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I’m just back from Manila. We closed on the house this week. All of the papers are signed. Down payment is done. I’ll write more about the search and what we bought a bit later on, but first …

Earlier in our house search, I didn’t want to put in an offer on one house that my wife liked because I couldn’t get a clear answer on internet service at that location. (As it turns out, the house we finally got is a much nicer one that that one.) Aside from all of my normal internet activities (which require bandwidth of at least 5 Mbps), I will be able to work from home a fair amount of time each week and need to ensure good connectivity.

But as our search stretched into months and the probable move date got closer, internet connectivity dropped in importance. Getting the space we needed in the area we wanted within our budget became the priority.

So the house we bought is a new house on a new street in a massive development. It occurred to me that the various telecomms companies may not have built out their lines to this street yet. I looked at the house immediately behind mine and saw that they had a small satellite dish from Cignal, a company providing the usual batch of channels ranging from CNN to HBO. They might be using this signal because there’s no cable from Sky (that cable company also offers internet) or they might be using it because it’s relatively cheap.

And (dammit!) I forgot to use OpenSignal while at the house, an app that would allow me to see which provider had the strongest signal at that location. I don’t even know if there is any 4G signal there at all; my only option might be the far slower 3G. It will have to wait until the next trip.

I could be in the same situation I was in two years ago when I moved to Lam Tsuen and had to wait a year until PCCW got some copper lines out to my home. I have this image in my head of me buying a 4G pocket wifi, finding some place where the signal is strong, and sitting in my car with a laptop for an hour every day grabbing all of the stuff I want.

This last trip, we stayed in a relatively cheap hotel with shitty internet. Download speed of 0.4 Mbps. It was so slow I couldn’t really go through my daily newsfeeds in Feedly, it just took too damned long. But as I discovered on Saturday morning, it was fast enough for me to do a one hour Skype call with the president of my company.

I’ll get by.

 

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Minor IT Mishaps and More Fun to Come

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I’m turning into Expat@Large (I guess you have to be friends with him IRL/on Facebook to get the context).

I’ve got the iPhone 6, running the “latest and greatest” version of iOS. I flew from Hong Kong to Manila yesterday (closing on our house this week). During the flight, I swapped SIM cards, from my HK SIM to a Philippines SIM. I’ve done this many times before. But this time, as soon as I swapped cards, my phone said, “Activation required” and I was hosed for several hours after that. Swapping cards back to my HK card didn’t clear that. And I’m flying a budget airline (Cebu Pacific) so there’s no WiFi on the plane. All of my music is on my phone (I don’t have any on my iPad), a first world problem to be sure but still quite the annoyance.

Once we landed, I didn’t have enough load on the Philippines card to connect to the internet for activation. My phone settings are “no data when roaming internationally” so putting the HK card back in didn’t help – not that I would have wanted to because I can only guess what the data charges would have been with three hours worth of emails and other notifications streaming in.

So it had to wait until we reached the hotel, until the room was ready for check-in, until I could get my laptop unpacked and on the net. I couldn’t use the WiFi in the hotel for this purpose because the hotel uses an antiquated WiFi system that allows you to connect but then requires you to bring up your browser to actually login and use it.

Speaking of which, here’s my internet at the hotel:

Speedtest_net_by_Ookla_-_The_Global_Broadband_Speed_Test

I mean, what year is this, anyway?

To add insult to injury, the hotel WiFi only allows you to connect one device per room to their WiFi. Try to connect with a second device and the first one gets knocked off the network. This is in an era where most people are traveling with more than one internet-capable device (laptop, tablet, phone, etc.) and multiply that by the number of people in the room. You can “buy” additional connections for 200 pesos (HK$35) per day but even that price is too high considering the shitty speed you get.

This morning, I’m unable to get on their WiFi with even one device. “Unable to join network” over and over. Call the front desk. “I’m sorry sir. Our IT person arrives at 10 AM and we’ll check it then. Sorry for the inconvenience sir.”

Using my iPhone as a hotspot gets me moderately better speeds.

Speedtest_net_by_Ookla_-_The_Global_Broadband_Speed_Test

And this is not some remote out-of-the-way location, I’m in the middle of Ortigas, one of the major business centers in Manila.  (An iOS/Android app called Open Signal is showing that Smart gives the strongest signal here, Globe is a close second and Sun is barely in the game.) With Smart you get unlimited internet for 50 pesos a day or 999  (HK$173) a month.

This led me to checking on what kind of internet speeds I can expect to get in my new home. I’m told that I can get Sky – they provide cable TV and also cable broadband. (That’s assuming they reach my house – it’s a new house in one of the newer phases of this development. I’m having nightmares thinking that it could be a year or 5 until they run whatever wires they need to run to get to me.)

“Sir, you can get Sky internet,” every agent said to me during my search. “You can get 3 Mbps! Will that be sufficient sir?” No it fucking will not but it is certainly better than nothing, if I can get it.

Sky charges 999 pesos per month for 3 Mbps. Their web site shows higher speeds available but no information on if those speeds are available at every location or just select areas. If you want 5 Mbps, that doubles the price (but not the speed, obviously) from the 3 Mbps service, P1,999.  10 Mbps doubles the price again to P3,999 (HK$696 per month); 16 Mbps takes you to P4,999 (HK$870 a month), and so on, up to 55 Mbps for P9,499 (HK$1,650) per month. 112 Mbps is P19,999 (HK$3,480 per month) and 200 Mbps will run you P34,999 (HK$6,090) per month. Certainly this is a better situation than it was just a few years ago, when home internet speeds were measured in Kbps, but keep in mind that if you live in HK, in some areas you can get 1 gigabit per second for HK$199 a month.

I’m guessing this will be a lot of fun for me in the months to come.

 

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What Should I Call My New Blog?

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As I previously mentioned, when I make the move from Hong Kong to Manila, it won’t make much sense to continue under the “Hongkie Town” name/url. I thought I’d open it up and let you folks make some suggestions.  I’ve received two so far:

  • The Flip Side – that appeals to me but it’s too commonly used and isn’t available, unless I want to add a .ph to the domain name, which I’d rather not do.
  • Phili Bluster – not crazy about the “bluster”; thought about the alternative “Phili Buster” but I’m not Buster, I’m Spike! Plus given the alternate spellings, people might think it’s Fili or Filli or Philli – too confusing.

I’ve registered one domain so far – SpikeInManila.com – which isn’t especially clever but does pretty much tell you the story.

I’m open for other ideas. Any other suggestions?

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Hongkietown is 10 – Hello, I Must Be Going

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Today marks 10 years since my first blog post. (See here for more details on that.)

And so, on the 10th anniversary of the blog, it’s as good a time as any to announce that I will be leaving Hong Kong after just over 17-1/2 years here. I’m moving to Manila at the end of January.

I don’t want to be overly dramatic about this but it does represent a seismic shift in my life. The reasons are purely financial – Hong Kong has simply gotten too expensive for me. I never bought a place here back when I could afford one and I will never be able to afford to buy one again. I can’t imagine retiring here and paying Hong Kong rents, or retiring into some government subsidized 300 square foot shitbox. Whether I should or should not have bought a place back when I could have afforded to is immaterial; I didn’t.

I can afford to buy a place in Manila, and quite a nice one at that, close to my office and more than 90% cheaper than a similar place in Hong Kong.  But I cannot afford to simultaneously pay rent in Hong Kong and a mortgage in the Philippines. Add in the age factor – in another year or two, I’ll probably be too old to get a mortgage. It was becoming clearer that it was a “now or never” situation.  And so it’s now. The house is chosen, the down payment made, the mortgage approved, the final papers will be signed before the end of the year.

For the past few years, to paraphrase LCD Soundsystem, Hong Kong I’ve loved you but you’re bringing me down. Hong Kong today is not the Hong Kong I first moved to in 1995 and it is not the Hong Kong I returned to in 2001. It is a territory that is managed by the rich for their own self-benefit. Hong Kong has a government that is controlled at every level by China and the billionaire property developers and has a vested interest in keeping things as they are or in tilting the field in their favor even further. There is no indication that things will change for the better (or my perception of that) in the near or distant future. “Patriotism” has been defined as maintaining the status quo rather than striving for improvement.  I increasingly feel that Hong Kong residents are like the frog in the pot on the stove – the pot starts off cold and the frog never notices how hot it’s getting until it’s too late and the frog is boiled alive.

I don’t mean to go off on a rant here (which I did, but since deleted).  I’ll simply say that Hong Kong is great if you’re rich. It sucks if you’re poor or middle class. This land was not made for you and me.

Yes, I do get that the Philippines is a third world country, or at least several orders of magnitude behind Hong Kong in many ways. I’ll probably find just as much to complain about there, possibly even more. I am not going to pretend that it is some kind of South Pacific island paradise.   I understand that there is crime, corruption and poverty, not to mention an infrastructure badly in need of renewal and upgrade. I know it is the natural disaster capital of the world. I’ve been traveling there on a regular basis since 1997 and I believe I have a good idea of what I am getting into and what the challenges will be.

If I was a millionaire, I might have chosen another destination. Tokyo or Paris or London or even New York. On the other hand, I’m comfortable there, I can find more of the things that I like there (even if some of them are relatively trivial, like Krispy Kreme or Dean & DeLuca), and I can go out at night for a fraction of the cost of going out in Hong Kong.  English is more widely used there and American brands are more widely available. I’m married to a Filipina so a permanent visa is not an issue.

I will still have the same job with the same company and I expect to be returning to Hong Kong every month or two for the foreseeable future, which means lots of opportunities to see friends and I can maintain my PR status.

I’ll still keep writing and photographing but I don’t think it will make sense to have a site called “Hongkie Town” when I’m based in Manila. (I don’t have an idea yet for a clever (or a stupid) name for a Manila blog. Any suggestions?)

I want to keep all of the Hongkie Town content online and available but the odds are that I will move it to a different hosting arrangement. This domain is for sale (along with honkietown.com, the most frequent misspelling of hongkietown.com) if anyone is interested in it.

(I’ll also be selling off quite a bit of stuff before the move – CDs, DVDs, books, furniture, appliances, car, the usual “expat leaving” stuff.)

So there you have it. In less than two months I’ll be saying so long Hong Kong, and thanks for all the fish. It’s been a slice. And thanks to all of you who have kept coming back here and reading my stuff and leaving your comments.

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Thank You Morton’s of Chicago

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For our first anniversary dinner my wife wanted steak. I initially thought about us going to Le Relais De l’Entrecote. We’d been to one of their branches in Paris during our honeymoon and I thought it would be a nice bit of synchronicity to hit their Hong Kong branch. That was until I found out they don’t take reservations.  I was concerned that we would arrive there and there could be a long wait for a table (it’s new here and HKers love to hit new places) and then we’d either wind up standing there waiting for a table for 30 minutes or choosing some nearby place at random. Not a great idea for a special dinner, right?

So I booked a table at Morton’s. I asked for a window seat, which they said they couldn’t guarantee, and I asked them to try as it was our anniversary dinner.

We arrived a bit early and our table wasn’t ready yet so we went to the bar. For my wife, the bartender’s special concoction and for me, a classic dirty martini (which they call a Mortini but it drank just the same). Fifteen minutes after we arrived, still no table, so we told them it didn’t have to be right next to a window as long as it had a view. (The Hong Kong branch of Morton’s is on the 4th floor of the Sheraton in TST, facing Victoria Harbor.)

And here’s what we ate (sharing everything). Oysters Rockefeller, Caesar salad, a 24 ounce porterhouse steak, creamed corn, mashed potato with horseradish and bacon. All of it was fabulous (actually I wasn’t that in love with the horseradish mashed potato, a plain one would have been fine by me). The steak was the star of course. Perfectly cooked, as you would expect in a steak house.  It was so tender and tasty that even though I’d asked for some English mustard on the side, I ended up never touching it. For me, this was one of those time when the saying “the banquet is in the first bite” wasn’t true because we ate slowly and savored every mouthful.

I actually hadn’t been to Morton’s in at least 7 years and I recalled that if you wanted a souffle for dessert, you needed to order it well in advance, and I wanted one of those because my wife had never had one and I know they make them good there. When I asked how long in advance I should order it, the waitress told me we were getting one on the house because it was our anniversary dinner – I asked them to please make it chocolate.

When they brought out the souffle, it had a single candle in it, and they’d written “Happy Anniversary” in chocolate on the plate. Before we could blow out the candle, the waitress pulled out a camera to take our picture as another “gift.”

As I said, my wife had never had a souffle before, and she found it pretty amazing. Two and a half hours after we got there, I asked for the bill and along with that, they brought me an 8×10 photo inserted into a card “signed” by all of the Morton’s staff.

The bill for what we had was HK$1,950 (including 10% service charge and I added in a nice tip on top of that) .  Morton’s isn’t cheap. But when you consider that the two cocktails alone were $300, I thought the price was quite reasonable given what we ate, the size of the portions and the quality of the food. The whole experience added up to a memorable first anniversary dinner indeed.

(No food photos. It was our anniversary dinner. I wasn’t gonna go, “hold on honey, let me get a shot of those oysters before you mess ‘em up!”)

 

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I Got the Kindle Voyage – And I Love It

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I used to read a lot of books – and then one day, for some unknown reason, I just seemed to stop.

Let me back up a bit. My father was a book wholesaler. Growing up, I’d come home to find cartons of books on our doorstep – many publishers would mail us their new releases each month. Or I’d go to see my dad at his warehouse and he’d give me an empty carton and let me roam through the place and fill it up. He always looked at what I was taking but never told me to put anything back. I don’t think my parents cared too much about what I read as long as I was reading. In my teens and twenties, I read mostly science fiction. Now I almost never go near the stuff but Philip K. Dick remains my favorite author to this day.

When I traveled, whether it was for business or pleasure, it was always a struggle to decide how many books to take with me vs. the weight of the books I’d need to carry. Living in Hong Kong, which has mostly shitty English-language bookstores, any trip to a country with a decent bookstore always meant filling up my suitcase with books on my return.

I remember the first e-book reader I came across, years ago. It was from Sony and I thought it was fabulous, but it cost $400 and I thought that was just way too high. I bought the Amazon Kindle 2 when it came out in 2009 but I thought it was kind of clunky. And while I was never bothered by the lack of a built-in light on real books, I didn’t like having to keep a reading light on (or buy a clip-on light) to read from this. I used it sparingly for about a year and then pushed it to the side.

I thought the iPad was the answer. I’ve bought almost every generation of the iPad, loaded each of them up with a couple of hundred books, and then hardly ever read them. I thought I might go back to reading physical books again and bought a few when I was in London a few months ago – all of which are sitting on the floor by my desk, unread.

I’m very aware of the fact that my mother who is 93 and has macular degeneration still manages to read a book a day, thanks to the fact that on the Kindle every book is a large print book. She thinks the Kindle is a miracle.

Then a friend posted on Twitter and Facebook asking about buying a Kindle. Some people, myself included, advised buying an iPad because it could do so many other things on a single device. But he bought a Kindle anyway and I found myself looking at reviews of the latest models. Amazon released the Kindle Voyage at the end of October and the reviews were pretty spectacular. And so when my wife asked me what I wanted for a present for our first anniversary, this is what I requested.

The Kindle Voyage is relatively expensive. It’s about double the price of the Kindle Paperwhite. But I reasoned that I was going to use the same one for several years so I wanted the latest and greatest. In the U.S. the Kindle Voyage sells for $199 “with special offers” – on screen ads, or $219 without the ads. That’s for the WiFi versions. If you want 3G, that adds another $70 to the price. Amazon won’t ship the Voyage to Hong Kong but there is a Hong Kong distributor – and a much higher list price, around HK$2580 (roughly $335).

Shop around a bit and you’ll discover that you can find the Voyage for as low as HK$1990 – but that just comes with a 7 day shop warranty. The one from the Hong Kong distributor with a full warranty can be found for as low as HK$2,180, and I managed to negotiate a bit further and get it at HK$2,130. I balked when I saw it was the version with ads but I was told that’s the only one that’s being sold in Hong Kong.

First off, this thing is almost insanely small for what it is. 6.4 inches tall, 4.5 inches wide and just 0.30 inches deep. It weighs just 6.3 ounces. It fits in the inside pocket of my jacket and I barely know it’s there. Here’s the Kindle Voyage next to my old Kindle 2:

kindle

It blew my mind when I realized that the screen on the Voyage is actually the same size as the screen on the Kindle 2. But it’s so much easier to read.

It has an amazing e-ink screen. At 300 ppi, it’s almost 50% sharper than the previous Kindle Paperwhite. It has a touch screen (the lack of one was another reason I hated the Kindle 2, it just seemed too kludgy and non-intuitive to have to move around the screen with that tiny joy stick) and it also has these essentially invisible buttons on the sides that Amazon is calling “Page Press.” You can touch the screen to turn pages or press these buttons. You get a bit of haptic feedback on the Page Press thing, but I find I prefer touching the screen.

Battery life is said to be 6 weeks (with reading 30 minutes a day, WiFi off, light at a medium setting). Storage is 4 gigabytes; I’ve got about 250 books on it at the moment and I’ve barely begun to fill up the memory. I got a “smart cover” that functions similar to the iPad’s covers; turning it off and on when I close and open the cover.

The other advance is the front-lighting system. You can adjust the brightness via an onscreen menu, or you can use something Amazon is calling “adaptive lighting”. There’s a light sensor built in and it will adjust the light relative to the light around you. In practice so far I’ve found it to make the screen slightly dim for my liking so I haven’t been using it too much.  There’s another feature you can toggle that will gradually dim the light when you’re reading at night, also supposed to be good for your eyes but I haven’t tried it yet.

I was worried about the ads, but they don’t appear on screen when you’re reading a book. They take up the entire screen when the Kindle is “off” (the e-ink screen uses no power when the light is off and you’re not turning pages) and there’s a small banner across the bottom of the screen when you’re looking at the list of books in your library. So it turned out to not be an issue for me.

Here’s the main thing. The iPad was really terrible for reading in bed at night. Even though I’d adjust the light on the thing, it was always too bright and my eyes always got tired after 10 minutes of reading. I found that all of the iPads (I currently have the iPad Air first generation) were too heavy to hold comfortably while lying down and reading. And my wife would complain that the screen was lighting up the room too much and making it hard for her to fall asleep.

The Kindle Voyage is so light I can hold it in one hand and not notice the weight. The e-ink screen and the light they use are easier on my eyes so I can read for much longer without getting tired. My wife isn’t complaining about it being too bright.

And I’m reading again. At the moment, I’m halfway through Stephen King’s latest, Revival. The physical book is 421 pages. I’ve read the equivalent of 200 pages in the past three days and barely noticed it. (The last book I read was My Lunches With Orson: Conversations Between Henry Jaglom and Orson Welles. I read that on the iPad. It was 335 pages and took me almost a month.)

So basically I feel excited about reading again. I’ve only had the Kindle Voyage for a few days but if feels as if my “reading life” has been rejuvenated and I think this is a feeling that will last.

From what I’ve read in various reviews, if you already have the Kindle Paperwhite, then think twice about doing an upgrade. But if you’re buying your first e-book reader or upgrading from a much older one, then the Kindle Voyage is the one to get. I’m completely satisfied with mine.

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