Here I Go Again?

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.

 

Minor IT Mishaps and More Fun to Come

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.

 

What Should I Call My New Blog?

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?

Hongkietown is 10 – Hello, I Must Be Going

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.

Next Week – Hongkie Town’s 10th Anniversary

It may be a bit hard to believe, but December 4th will be the tenth anniversary of my first blog post. I will be marking that date with a major announcement.

Back in 2004, I was addicted to blogs especially other blogs written by people in Hong Kong, and wanted to contribute with my own. I decided that I was going to write about my almost-nightly adventures in Wanchai and hold nothing back (except real names). So I launched the blog on Blogger. My first post started off like this:

Friday night. Well, after midnight so Saturday morning. My ex calls me from Malaysia. She’s drunk. She says we should sign the papers and go through with the divorce. Since she seems to want it so badly, I say no. Kinda like George in Seinfeld, maybe finally I have hand. And a man without hand is nothing.

And then it went into details about the rest of my evening, most of which was spent at Fenwick’s. It took about one week for Hemlock to notice me and include me in his blogroll:

New! Depressing! Not suitable for kids! Man goes to Wanchai pick-up joints trying to get laid, only to trudge home alone in the early hours. Night after night. Presumably, he gets lucky sometimes but is too exhausted or tasteful to tell us.

After that the hits just kept on coming. (I got my revenge. Years later we were sitting in a bar and I told him that I loved his “We Deserve Better: Hong Kong Since 1997″ book and that I keep it in my bathroom.)

Back then, I thought I had to supply new content on a daily basis in order to attract an audience. Since I wasn’t having “adventures” every night, by my second post I was also writing about movies, music, gadgets, basically anything that came to mind.

In 2006 I received an invitation to start the “Spike” column at BC Magazine, something that continued for about four years. I enjoyed writing that column and I enjoyed being somewhat “famous” in Wanchai.

But also in 2006 i started to question the wisdom of being so public about my nocturnal activities. I knew all along that if the company I worked for at the time was to find out about my blog, I’d lose my job. And for awhile I was okay with that, but as the blog increased in popularity, so did the risk level. So at the end of June 2006 I deleted everything and started over. (I thought I’d backed up everything before I deleted it online, only to realize several years later that I was missing about 6 months’ worth of blog posts from 2006.)

In 2009, I left Warner Bros., I started PASM Workshop with friends, and I moved the blog from Blogger to WordPress and its current location. I ported everything (July 2006 onwards) from Blogger to here, so all of those posts can be found here. November 18, 2009 was the date that I went live on HongkieTown.com.

By then, my life had changed in many ways. I was no longer at Warner, the company I’d hoped to spend the rest of my career with (until they decided to out-source most of their IT) and I was no longer spending my nights in Wanchai; at this point I was living with the woman who is now my wife.

Obviously these days I don’t blog as often. The landscape has changed and somethings that in the past might have been posted here were instead posted to Facebook or Twitter. And others just never made it … when I look at all of the posts here via the WordPress admin panel, I see so many that are drafts that I finished but decided not to post and drafts that I just never got around to finishing.

I admit I’m in a bit of a funk at the moment. I haven’t shot anything significant since the HK Tattoo Convention back in August, I abandoned my Hong Kong Women With Tattoos project, and I haven’t touched the guitar in a couple of months. I’ve been busy putting something else together and I’ll have more details on that next week.

You Gotta Love the Hong Kong Public Hospital System

What’s the best thing about the public hospitals in Hong Kong? In true Hong Kong fashion, it’s the price. It seems as if anything you need to get done there costs just HK$100 (approximately US$13). And, yes, you can pay using your Octopus card. I wouldn’t be surprised if a heart transplant costs HK$100.

About three months ago I fell down on Nathan Road. Okay, I admit it, I had been drinking (I hardly ever drink alcohol any more and as a result when I do, my tolerance is way down and I keep forgetting that). I was crossing the street, I stepped up on the curb, turned my ankle and came crashing down on my elbow. I could wiggle my fingers and toes so I figured that nothing was damaged.

The pains didn’t go away so after two months, I went to the hospital. They took two sets of x-rays, I spoke with a doctor and they gave me four or five different kinds of pills. HK$100. I had a small fracture on the bone just above my ankle; no damage to my elbow visible in x-rays. They also gave me a follow-up appointment 3 weeks later with an orthopedic specialist.

That follow-up was today. The form tells you that if you’re 15 minutes late, you won’t be seen, so be on time. Nothing there about what if I’m on time and they take more than 15 minutes to get to me. I was on time, even a little bit early. After paying my HK$100 I was taken to a waiting area with 30 seats and at least 60 people waiting.

After 75 minutes, my number was called. The doctor looked at my ankle and touched it once. He said no operation needed. He offered me some pills for the almost constant (minor) pain I’m in but I told him that the ones they gave me last time did nothing. I asked if they had anything stronger. No. Morphine? No. Medical marijuana? No.

Then I said, but what about my elbow, that hurts more than my ankle. He looked at it. He touched it once. He pronounced me a victim of repetitive stress injury. “Tennis elbow.” But I fell on it. Tennis elbow – what’s your job? Computer crap. Tennis elbow.

Okay, so what can I do about it? They can give me a splint. You mean like the support bandage thingie I got from the drug store? No, something a little bit stronger. So he gives me a piece of paper and off I go to the occupational therapy section. After ten minutes there, they give me a piece of paper telling me to come back in 3 weeks. I say to them, all I need is a splint, I can’t get that today? No. I’m in pain, I can’t get something today? Come back in 3 weeks.

And that is one of the reasons that private doctors and private hospitals continue to flourish in Hong Kong.  If you want to get an appointment the same week or you want a doctor to spend more than a minute with you, you have to pay. The public hospital system is over-burdened and constantly challenged by over-worked staff – there are continual shortages of doctors and nurses both because of budget constraints and also the inexplicably controversial issue of bringing in medical staff from abroad.

My company does supply me with medical insurance. And if I go to one of the doctors or clinics on their list, it’s often free. But my experiences in these clinics has been no better than the service I get in the hospitals.

So sometimes I’ll go see my own doctor, most often a Scottish gentleman with an office in Clearwater Bay. He charges between $750 and $1,000 a visit (my insurance will reimburse me around $200) but he’ll spend half an hour with me. And if the pains haven’t improved in the next couple of weeks, I suppose I’ll be giving him a call.

CDs for Sale

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.

It Has Been a Week

And by that I mean an extraordinarily busy and stressful week. Lots of catching up to do (and several different topics in this one post).

In part, I’ve been dealing with the after-effects of the death of a cousin. This particular cousin was born just two months after my mother and the two were best friends their entire lives, and by “entire lives” I mean that they were best friends for 93 years.  My father used to say that if one of them went to the toilet, she’d have to call the other and tell her about it.

IMG_0094-001

There was concern over how my mother would handle the news. I’m halfway around the world and have no brothers or sisters. Thankfully I’ve got some amazing cousins. A lot of time spent on emails and phone calls and planning to ensure that my mother would not be alone when she got the news.  Fortunately she seems to be coming through it okay, at least in the short term.

I spent a lot of time in Manila recently, very busy in terms of work and personal stuff, and staying in a hotel with really shitty Internet, basically only fast enough to deal with email. So I’m just getting caught up on all of the news of the past days now.

Friday night I went walking through the “occupied” area of Causeway Bay. It was quiet. Probably no more than a few dozen protesters camped out. It’s possible that there were more people taking pictures of the protesters than protesters themselves.

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(A replica of the giant banner that was hung from Lion Rock earlier in the week.)

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(The original banner on Lion Rock, photo from the NY Times.)

In minor news, “musician” Kenny G was photographed viewing the protesters in Admiralty earlier in the week.  Stunningly, this upset the astonishingly insecure Chinese government. Apparently they feel their country of 1.5 billion people might be threatened by images of a second rate musician who is inexplicably popular in their country looking at some students participating in a bit of nonviolent protest.

And so Mr. G hastily announced that he wasn’t showing support for the students, he was just there as a tourist. Presumably he did this because he had some upcoming concerts in China and didn’t want to see them get cancelled. Which makes one wonder – does a man who has sold more than 75 million albums around the world need an extra million or two so much that he’s willing to throw away any presumed principles to get that money? At this point he’s not already rich enough that he can’t risk getting banned in China?  Kenny G, go home.

(NY Times: Stars Backing Hong Kong Protests Pay Price on Mainland) (HKSAR Film No Top 10 Box Office: Anthony Wong: Without Dignity I Would Rather Not Eat This Bowl of Rice.)

Of course the biggest thing that happened while I was away was C.Y. Leung’s explanation that Hong Kong can’t have true democracy because Hong Kong has too many poor people and majority rule might mean that the majority gets what they want and that the minorities (translation: the rich and the super rich) would be under-represented and might somehow suffer.

It’s a tacit admission that Leung (and those who came before him) have done nothing to deal with the issues of poverty and inequality in Hong Kong. They don’t have to, because they are not elected, and so they are not accountable to the general population.

Leung said that if candidates were nominated by the public then the largest sector of society would likely dominate the electoral process.

“If it’s entirely a numbers game and numeric representation, then obviously you’d be talking to the half of the people in Hong Kong who earn less than US$1,800 a month [HK$13,964.2],” Leung said in comments published by the WSJ, the FT and the INYT.

It’s a stunning display of ignorance of how democracy works in other countries. Because most if not all democracies will put laws in place to protect the rights of minorities (and by “minorities” I don’t mean “billionaires,” I mean ethnic, gender, religious and so on).

Let’s look no further than the United States. How do the minority rich protect their assets there? First of all, by donating massive amounts of money to finance the campaigns of the candidates they like. It works. The Koch Brothers. In the United States, huge numbers of people vote in favor of tax regulations that only benefit the rich and are actually to the detriment of the poor. The Tea Party. There’s no reason this wouldn’t work in Hong Kong.

Oh, I get it. The rich might have to spend one or two percent out of their billions that they don’t spend today in donations to candidates. But it’s something they’ve already been doing for decades one way or another. The British rich started it, the Chinese rich just follow their lead. Hmm, foreign influences? (SCMP: How Hong Kong’s business elite have thwarted democracy for 150 years.)

For once, Big Lychee says it best. “It is stunning and grotesque to see a Marxist sovereign power declare that its mission is to shield a small, mainly hereditary, landed oligarchy of hyper-wealthy from the poor (not to mention a large chunk of the in-between middle class).”

Now, a few excerpts from an interview that good ole CY did on ATV a week ago.

Leung: So we have a situation where one side wants civic nomination and the Basic Law doesn’t allow for it. And therefore some students have actually come up to say that we should amend the Basic Law. Now we all know … (Host: That’s never gonna happen.) Ever since the Basic Law was promulgated in 1990 and came into force in 1997, it has not been amended.

Which is not entirely true. There have been additional “instruments” added, reinterpretations and decisions. So the mechanism does exist to do this. I am not aware of anything that says that the Basic Law is carved in stone and cannot be amended for all eternity.

A constitutional reform of this nature and scale is pretty unprecedented in Hong Kong and the world at large, and we could expect controversies.

“Unprecedented in … the world at large”? Oh, like when women were given the right to vote in other countries? I’d say the precedent is there in every country. A constitutional amendment to free the slaves maybe? And as for the “we could expect controversies,” what’s the issue there? We don’t have a “controversy” right now? Why does avoidance of controversy take precedence over trying to get things right?

There is obviously participation by people, organisations from outside of Hong Kong, in politics in Hong Kong, over a long time. This is not the only time when they do it, and this is not an exception either.

Yes, there is documented “participation” by organizations from outside of Hong Kong. Beijing.

(NY Times: Beijing is Directing Hong Kong Strategy, Government Insiders Say)

(Yeah, I know I’m being a bit disingenuous. Hong Kong is part of China. But if Leung wants to say “outside of Hong Kong,” shouldn’t we take him at his word? And Hong Kong is, oddly anough, also part of the world. But this is all consistent with Chinese strategy, to denounce “foreign influences” when those opinions are at odds with the party line.)

Host: So you haven’t answered the question. Will there be a violent crackdown? You say multiple rounds of talks. You have to observe law and order in Hong Kong. How do you do that? Will the Police one day say, okay, enough is enough, it’s gone off for too long? How long can you tolerate this?

Leung: I shan’t use the word crackdown. 

Uh-oh.

Meanwhile, Legco panels have voted down requests to investigate C.Y. Leung’s HK$50 million pay off from an engineering firm in Australia, There was no suitable explanation of this decision, at least not in the SCMP. This despite reports that he tried to get an additional HK$37 million in payoffs from that firm.

Only one thing is clear. Beijing will not give the students what they want. And the students will not back down, at least not so far. But it has to end, one way or another. There has already been too much violence. But as cynical as I am, I remain an optimist at heart. And I am fervently hoping that this will have a peaceful conclusion. If true democracy seems to be an unattainable goal for 2017, what is the government willing to offer and what are the protesters willing to accept in order to bring this to an end? I wish I had an answer to that. I wish that anyone had an answer to that.

Now I Feel Dumb(er than usual)

iphone

So I got my iPhone 6 on Wednesday. On Friday morning, I dropped it. It dropped onto the pavement, screen side down. The above is the result.

Well, okay, people drop stuff every day. Just my bad luck that I dropped an iPhone that was only three days old. Made somewhat worse by the fact that I managed to lose my iPhone 5s less than two months ago (though I never spent any money to replace it, knowing the iPhone 6 would be coming soon).

Here’s the painful part. When I bought the phone, I bought one of those oversized Otter cases (the Otter Commuter). It’s a case that has one case within another case and edges that extend higher than the phone screen for maximum protection.

Then on Thursday I decided that case was too chunky in my pocket and got a cheapo slim plastic case. If I’d still been using that Otter case on Friday, probably the phone would have survived the drop just fine. (And no, I don’t mean this to be an advertisement.)

No, I didn’t want to go to Mong Kok and get some cheapie repair job done. Not for the screen, which is so important. And who knows if those shops even have spare parts (original or otherwise) for the iPhone 6 yet?

So I called Apple support. I was told that I couldn’t just walk into a store with the broken phone, I needed an appointment. Then the guy on the phone couldn’t locate the Hong Kong Apple stores (because the call center isn’t in HK, naturally). He asked me for my postal code. So I told him where the stores were. And all 3 Apple stores in HK are fully booked for the next 6 days (no big surprise really), which is as far in advance as that system can show.

Apple has third party authorized service centers, so the support guy gave me the details on those. I called them first to get the story. They’re not doing replacement parts, they’re just issuing new phones. And I would have to pay HK$2,920. And wait 3 business days. Well, either that or junking the thing, so of course I’m going to go for it. (And, when you think about it, it’s a decent enough deal that I can pay roughly 40% of the original price to get a new one when I’m the one who messed up the original.)

I get to the repair place. I go to the counter and show the girl the back of my phone first. “iPhone 6!” Then I turn it around and point at the screen. Her mouth drops open. I ask, “Am I the first?” And they all laugh.

Then the girl panics. I’m guessing she’s used to dealing with yelling foreigners and has already anticipated my response when she tells me what I have to pay. So I look at her and say, “I already know.” She lets out a huge sigh of relief.

So now … waiting for the call to get the replacement. And not going to cheap out on the case for the next one.

Sigh.

If I’m So Smart – Afterword

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.