If I’m So Smart Part Seven

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Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5, Part 6

I’d always wanted to live in San Francisco even though I hadn’t spent much time there previously. It just seemed to be the kind of place I would like. I got a service apartment and started looking for a job. It didn’t take long. Coming from a VP spot at Merrill, it took me no time at all to get a job at Schwab.

They put me in charge of the decimalization project, when the U.S. stock exchanges were converting from fractional to decimal pricing. Their theory was that this was almost the same kind of task as a Y2K project, so I’d be well-suited for it. I put together teams to work on management and methodology. I got onto some Securities Industry Association sub-committees. I was kept pretty busy.

On the other hand, I found myself in the midst of a political tug of war. My boss was a genuinely nice guy. Meanwhile the head of trading fancied himself to be another Wolf of Wall Street, larger than life kind of guy. I was caught in the middle and just wanted to get my work done.

Meanwhile I rented a house in Twin Peaks, with the hope that my wife would decide to join me in SF. With the economy booming, it was hard to find a nice place to rent. I went to this house and there must have been at least 10 other people looking at it at the same time. The owner of the house was Chinese, so I showed her my HK ID card and said she should rent to me. She asked me a question in Cantonese, I responded in Cantonese, and she said “the house is yours.”

So I had a job and a place to live but on a personal basis I didn’t know if I was coming or going. I was lonely but I didn’t want to start dating anyone because I was hoping that my wife and I would reconcile. My spare time was spent going to strip clubs, massage parlors and Taiwan night clubs (a friend introduced me to this somewhat hidden scene), all of which probably only served to make me feel lonelier. At a Korean massage parlor, the girl looked at me for a long time and said, “I’ll bet you were handsome when you were younger.” It was the first time someone had ever said that to me, but not the last.

The political mess at Schwab was getting worse but the job market was booming and pretty soon I had an offer from a start-up that was too good to turn down. This company had just closed their third round of funding and had raised a total of $300 million from top Sand Hill Road VCs. They had a veteran management team and a product that they planned to sell at a profitable price. They were offering even more money than Schwab was paying me plus 40,000 options. I accepted.

Before I started the new job I took a quick vacation. I flew out to Hong Kong, met up with my wife, and we went to Cebu together. A more permanent reunion seemed possible.

The new company was called Yipes and they were doing metro area and wide area gigabit networks. They leased dark fiber in all of the NFL cities and were building out the last mile from the fiber rings to major office buildings. I was in charge of getting all of the internal apps up and running as well as all of the external and internal web sites. It was a pretty good gig for awhile.

They kept shuffling the management team around. My first boss was one of the founders and we remain friends to this day. He got pushed aside after a few months and they brought in someone from one of the big telcos. We all wanted to hate her. The problem was she was beautiful, funny and smart. We all fell in love with her. And then she got pushed aside and this time we got stuck with the guy who was the head of the network stuff, and he was someone who was brilliant with that network stuff (he had several patents and he’s now a big cheese at Google) but had absolutely horrendous people management skills.

A little more than a year after I left Hong Kong, my wife quit her job in Hong Kong and moved to San Francisco to be with me. I was thrilled. I got her a dog and a car and things seemed to be going well for us.

She didn’t work at first. She wanted some time to get used to the U.S., which seemed fair. Her days were mostly spent taking the dog to dog parks or to the beach. Eventually she felt settled and got a job. But overall she didn’t like San Francisco and, to tell you the truth, neither did I. I was feeling as if leaving Hong Kong had been a mistake. I couldn’t really acclimate to life in the U.S. again. Getting around in SF sucked. The public transportation system couldn’t hold a candle to Hong Kong’s, it was impossible to find a taxi and impossible to park. If we wanted to try some hot new restaurant in the Mission, we would have to include an hour for looking for a parking spot. The only things I liked about SF were that you could get decent Asian food there and it was close to both Napa/Sonoma and Monterey/Carmel/Big Sur. One day my wife told me that she wanted to go back to Hong Kong and it would be with or without me. I was fine with going back but I had no idea of how to accomplish that.

My hot little start-up was not doing well. Earlier they’d turned down a $600 million acquisition offer, saying they thought the value was more like $2 billion. But they were burning through their VC money. Every building they “lit” cost them $100,000.  They built a world class and very expensive Network Operating Center in Denver that I had to visit once a month. I joked that I used to have a job that took me to Bangkok and Tokyo and now I had a job that took me to Denver. They were trying to close a fourth round of funding but it wasn’t looking good.

My wife and I drove down to Los Angeles for a week of sight seeing. I had a friend from high school, Don, living there. I knew he was at Warner Bros. but I didn’t know what he was doing there. We met him and his wife for dinner. My wife bitched about the U.S. and I bitched about my job. Don said, “Send me your resume.” “Why, what can you do?” “You don’t know, so send me your resume.” It turned out he was a senior vice president there with more than a little bit of power.

Around a month later I got a call. “Hi, this is Warner Bros. We have a new position in Hong Kong and Don says you’re the only man for the job. Are you interested in returning to Hong Kong?” Yes please.

I went down to L.A. for a series of interviews that culminated with the CFO of the home video division. I sat in front of him in his humongous office while he took phone call after phone call. He barely knew I was there. I figured I had to do something to catch this guy’s attention. I looked around the room and saw these huge framed portraits of Hollywood stars from the 30s and 40s – and one of Nastassja Kinski. So I asked about that. He stopped, looked around, and told me he’d never even realized it.

Outside of his office he had these racks that had every WB DVD. He told me that DVDs were starting to do really well for them and asked if I had a DVD player. I told him that I had three, not just one, and I had a rack of DVDs at home that resembled the rack outside of his office. He realized that I was a true movie lover – and actually there weren’t that many of those in Warner any more but he was definitely one. To paraphrase Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, it was the start of a beautiful friendship. He became my mentor and we’re still close to this day.

I went back to San Francisco. My company was doing yet another round of layoffs. I went to talk to my boss and asked him if I was next. “I don’t know,” he said. “Never mind, I’m resigning, I’m going back to Hong Kong.” He was pretty surprised.

Before I left, and before the bottom dropped out of the telecom industry, I did a very dumb thing. I exercised all 40,000 of my options. Remember that $600 million offer that the company turned down? A year later the company would be sold for $2 million plus $18 million in assumed debt. My 40,000 shares were toilet paper.

I did a quick trip out to Hong Kong to meet the people I’d be working with and stopped off in Bangkok for a few days before coming back home to pack. At which point my wife had a surprise for me. She wanted to stay in San Francisco a little while longer, so I could go out to Hong Kong and get everything set up and she’d join me a few months later. (It turned out one reason for this was because she was having an affair with a co-worker.)

I returned to Hong Kong in August, 2001, 2 years and 4 months after I’d left. It felt like victory. Plus the fact that I was managing technology for a movie company (okay, it was the home video division but it was still a major Hollywood studio) made it feel as if everything had come full circle from my days as a film student.

 

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If I’m So Smart Part Six

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Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

Wow, this is going on far longer than I expected. And it won’t finish with this part either.

1996. I leave Sybase and go to work for Merrill Lynch. Getting the job was easy. I walked into the interview and sitting there with my boss-to-be was a guy I’d worked with just a few months earlier. “I know this guy, he can do the job,” said my friend. And the job was mine.

The job wasn’t that difficult. There was this application being developed for the Operations Department. It was taking too long and the users had lost interest and walked away. I re-engaged them, got the damned thing working and delivered and everyone was happy.

Merrill of course offered a better package than Sybase, especially in terms of rent reimbursement. That 500 square foot flat in Happy Valley was fine for just me, but for me and S it was too damned small. We moved to Mid Levels, a new building with a swimming pool, club house and shuttle bus down to Central. But within six months of moving there, there was construction going on three sides of our building, with those earthshaking pile drivers pounding the area 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. We were just counting the days until we hit 12 months on the lease so we could give two months’ notice and get the hell out of there.

One day we were walking around in Macau. I stopped in front of a hotel to look at the poster for their sauna. “You know, you can get a hand job in there,” she said to me. “What? Come again?” That’s how little I knew at the time. “Go ahead, give it a try.” See, she had this idea that all white guys in Asia cheat on their girlfriends and wives and that I would do it too. She figured as long as I was going to do it, she didn’t want me to lie to her about it. So she told me to go ahead but set some rules – don’t do it too much, don’t do it with anyone I know (only with hookers and sauna girls), tell her every time I do it, and don’t forget about her. Looking back on it now, I should not have gone along with this, but I didn’t know at the time that I would get so far out of control. More on this later, maybe.

Meanwhile, S was unable to find a job and she was getting pissed off. She was bored and every time we did a visa run, they’d give her another month but the questions got tougher and more personal. Finally she’d had enough and gave me an ultimatum – either we get married or she was going back to KL. So we started planning the wedding.

We did the usual Hong Kong thing: pre-wedding photos in a studio, ceremony at City Hall, dim sum lunch at Maxim’s at City Hall, 12 course dinner in a Cantonese seafood restaurant in Mid Levels. My mother flew in from the U.S. and at some point during the dinner, my now-wife pulled her aside and told her, “I know you don’t like me but I’m married to your son now. Anything bad you say about me to him, I’ve asked him to tell me. So let’s just get along, okay?” Or something like that. We were all pretty drunk and used the turntables on the big round tables to play drinking games until closing time for the restaurant. It was a great night.

Back at Merrill, with one successful project under my belt, I was promoted to Assistant Vice President. Someone resigned, I got their job, and suddenly I was in charge of all back office technology in Hong Kong. I was an AVP and I had VP’s reporting to me. So I got promoted to VP, got an office and got a bigger package just when it was the right timing to get the hell out of Mid Levels. We went to Kennedy Road in Wanchai, a great huge flat in an older building. Our flat had a sauna in it. No shit, a small room off the kitchen lined in whatever the hell kind of wood they used for saunas. Flip some switches, turn some valves, sauna. Our landlady, who liked to come to parties at our place, told us that almost every night she and her husband would be sitting in front of the TV and at some point he’d yell out, “I’ll bet that gweilo’s using my sauna right now!” Our landlady was pretty hot. She came to all our parties. And every time, one of my friends would get drunk, get to flirting with her, go a bit too far and discover that she was quite the expert martial artist.

At this point, Merrill also put me in charge of all technology support for all “tier 3″ countries in Asia. At the time, this meant Korea, Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, India. I managed the set-up for new offices, trade floors and data centers in Manila and Taipei – both of which were completed on time and under budget and worked flawlessly from day one. Then I worked on the tech part of a merger after Merrill bought a bank in Thailand. And I traveled to Jakarta immediately following the anti-Chinese riots so I could sit with my staff there and make sure they were okay; they gave me a tour of the burned out areas because they wanted people to see it and tell the world about it.

So I was traveling constantly. And I was partying constantly. I was infamous in Merrill. It got to the point where guys would come home, tell their wives they had a trip to X, and the first thing the wife would say was, “Is Spike going? If he is, you can’t go.”

I was writing down all of my adventures and, since this was the 90s, I was emailing my tales to a select group of friends. Unfortunately, on one of those trips, my wife got bored, sat down at my computer, and started going through my Sent folder in Outlook. The marriage survived that – and I should have taken that as a sign of how much she loved me, but I was too stupid to realize it at the time. I also deleted everything in Outlook – no back-up. So all of those tales are long gone, except for a few memories.

Anyway, here’s one story I can share. The Thailand project was almost done and my wife had just quit her job. I told her to come to Bangkok with me, that she could spend all day in saunas and shopping and we’d go out every night and then we’d stay through the weekend for sight-seeing.

The first night in town she said to me, “Okay, I want to see what you do every night. Take me to the places you go to.” Gulp. I wasn’t about to do that. So I took her to Patpong and we went into one of those bars where the girls did things with ping pong balls and darts. We sat there for awhile and watched. She turned to me and said, “This is really boring. I can’t believe this is what you do every night.” Well, she had me dead to rights, and I confessed that it wasn’t. “Well, tomorrow night you better take me to where you really go!”

So the second night we went to my then-favorite spot, the Long Gun on Soi Cowboy. We’re sitting there and she says to me, “Some of these girls are really cute.” Duh. “That one over there, she’s not with anyone, call her over, buy her a drink, I want to see how you operate.” Um, no. “If you don’t do it, I will.” And she did. She brought the girl over to our table, ordered a drink for her, put the girl’s hands in my lap, my hands in the girl’s lap. And then she started talking to the girl. She wanted to know what it was like to work there, all the details. My wife could speak a little Thai and they started becoming friends.

Soon, this girl invited all of her friends over to our table. One of the other girls was having a birthday and before we knew it, we had 20 girls, birthday cakes and bottles of champagne. But all 20 of these girls were talking to my wife; they all completely ignored me. “See that guy over there,” my wife said, pointing at me. “That’s my husband. Next time he comes in here, take good care of him!” Oh joy.

The third night, she was sick and didn’t want to go out. I told her we could stay in and just watch TV. She wanted to sleep and told me I should go out, but she gave me two rules: don’t fuck anyone else and when I come back, tell her everything I did. So I went back to the Long Gun.

I walked into the bar and every girl in the bar came running up to me. “Where’s your wife?” “She’s not feeling well, she’s back at the hotel.” And they all ran away. Except for one. We’d spotted her the night before. Her face was so ugly and her body was so bad that we’d named her Optimistic, because the thought that she could earn a living this way with those looks had to be an act of pure optimism. So I let Optimistic sit with me and I bought her a drink. “Let’s go hotel,” she’d say. “Nope, sorry, cannot.”

I got back to the hotel and my wife was sitting up in bed, feeling better. “Now tell me everything you did.” When I got to the part about sitting with Optimistic, she got real quiet. “What’s the matter?” “Okay, let me get this straight. You went to a bar with 50 cute girls and you chose the ugly one.” “Yeah, it was no temptation this way, I thought you’d be happy.” “You went to a bar with 50 cute girls and you chose the ugly one. And you chose me. Are you trying to tell the world you think I’m ugly?” She jumped up on the bed and started beating me and screaming. Each word was punctuated with a punch. “Next! Time! You! Go! In! There! You! Go! With! The! Cute! Ones!”

The happy times would not last. First, I was put on the worst possible project. I was put in charge of Y2K for the entire region. It was a miserable project that no one wanted to be involved in. Plus, I hadn’t realized that as an expat, I couldn’t remain where I was forever. At the end of 1998, my boss came to me and told me he’d done the budget for 1999 and he was moving me to Mumbai. I told him that there was no way my wife would follow me there so I didn’t want to go. He said that I wasn’t in the Hong Kong budget and if I didn’t want to go to Mumbai, I could go back to New York, but I didn’t want that either. So he did an incredible favor for me. The Asian financial crisis was starting to hit, they were laying off hundreds in the region, and he laid me off so that I could get a huge severance package, which included relocation back to the U.S.

Staying in Hong Kong wasn’t an issue. My wife was working steadily and I could have gotten a dependent visa through her. But it was, as I said, the financial crisis. There were no senior jobs to be had in banking IT in Hong Kong, at least none that I could find. I got tired of sitting there every day doing nothing and reading about how in Silicon Valley programmers were getting BMW’s as signing bonuses. So I told my wife that I’d be using my relocation package to go to San Francisco, where I had family and friends and there were presumably jobs to be had.

There was one problem though. She’d gotten very tired of my constant misbehaving. And I did something very, very bad at a party in our flat one night (which I won’t go into now). Just to be clear, the problems weren’t all caused by me. She had issues (it wouldn’t be fair for me to detail them here) that she refused to deal with and that had somewhat distanced me from her. So she said that she wouldn’t be going to the U.S. with me, she was going to stay in Hong Kong. We were splitting up. We divided up our stuff – half to go to the apartment she’d be renting, half to be shipped to the U.S.

I spent my last few nights in Hong Kong in a harbor view room at the Grand Hyatt, very depressed. My last night in town, I went to Ricky & Pinky in Wanchai and got my first tattoo. I just picked something off the wall – a dragon wrapped around a crescent moon.

I’m sitting there getting tattooed and this gorgeous girl walks in with four guys. They sit down and start talking. She comes over to me and says, very sweetly, with an American accent, “Excuse me, where are you from?” “I’m from New York City.” “Well why the fuck don’t you get your fucking tattoo in New York City then motherfucker?”  “Um, er, uh, I live here.” “Oh.” She went back to the four guys, they talked for a bit and left.

The tattoo guy asked me if I wanted any writing to go with the picture. I thought, it’s my last night in Hong Kong, I didn’t know if I’d ever be returning. I told him to write “Hong Kong” in Chinese.

And so, 1999, almost exactly four years from when I first arrived, I got on a plane and left Hong Kong for what I thought would be the final time.

 

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Are They Really This Stupid in China?

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From the SCMP:

The business community must be protected when Hong Kong introduces universal suffrage, which is why the nominating committee and functional constituencies are needed, a mainland legal scholar says.

Wang Zhenmin said the business sector could not be drowned out by the crowd when “one man, one vote” arrives, because their role in keeping Hong Kong prosperous was vital to the city’s future.

So I guess the answer is “yes.”

Because in countries that do have one-person one-vote, businesses are suffering?

Or perhaps because he thinks that people might vote against their own best interests, they might elect a candidate who might cause damage to their employers?

Or is he saying that the best interests of businesses are diametrically opposed to the best interests of people and that those business interests should be protected at the expense of people?

I mean, why the fuck would this dime store shyster law professor think that the best interests of Hong Kong are somehow different from the best interests of Hong Kong people?

My mind, it boggleth.

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If I’m So Smart Part Five

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aka The Never Ending Story?

Part one, Part two, Part three, Part four

This entry covers just one year. I tell people I was reborn when I moved to Hong Kong and I mean it. My first year in Hong Kong, despite some notable lows, was one of the best years of my life.

April, 1995, I arrive at Kai Tak with two suitcases and a backpack. I’m ready to start my life in Hong Kong. But when I arrived, my boss had an unpleasant surprise for me. In order to get the New York office to agree to transfer me, he had to agree to loan me back to them. So within days of arriving in Hong Kong, I was on a plane back to New Jersey. I spent several weeks in a miserable roadside motel in Jersey, right in the middle of the state, too long a drive to go to either NYC or Philly, night after night alone in that motel watching TV. I was feeling pretty miserable.

I got back to Hong Kong from that and within days they put me on a plane again, this time to Kuala Lumpur. I had never heard of Kuala Lumpur. I had no idea where it was or even how long it took to get there. I had to look it up on the Internet.

I went down there for some meetings with a Malaysian bank. We had one person stationed down there on the project, a nice Jewish Canadian guy and his wife, and they took me around a little bit, showing me the sites. The KL branch of the Hard Rock Cafe was in the lobby of the hotel I was staying in, so that gave me a place to hang out – and my first experience with an Asian hooker. I’m not going to go into any details here. I’ll just say that I was lonely, it was my birthday and I thought it would be okay to buy myself a present.

Finally in June I got back to Hong Kong and could start putting together a life there. I found a small apartment in Happy Valley. It had a view of the race track (everything except the finish line) and since my office was in Times Square, I could walk to work. It was a furnished 2 bedroom flat – they told me it was 700 square feet but I think it was closer to 500. The living room was furnished with all this junky stuff with plastic horses heads. The mattress was so bad that I had to sleep on the floor; finally I bought my own mattress but the landlord would neither collect the old one nor let me toss it, so it filled up the 2nd bedroom almost completely.

I started making friends in the office. I told the local guys, “When you go for lunch, please bring me along. You don’t have to go to any special place, you don’t have to order any special food, you don’t need to talk in English.” “Really?” “Really. I want to learn by going where you go and seeing what you do.”

There was also a Canadian guy in the office who’d arrived just a few months before me. He taught me his “restaurant game.” Pick a side of the street, pick a number – for example “left 5.” And then go to the 5th restaurant on the left no matter what it was. It worked out quite well for us.

There was, naturally, an incredibly beautiful local woman in the office. It was all I could do to keep my tongue from hanging out of my mouth whenever I saw her. I found out that her father owned the franchise for a major automobile brand in Hong Kong. I asked her if she ever dated white guys and she said no. I asked her why not. “If I dated a white guy and my father found out, he’d take my car away, and I could never let that happen.”

A few months went by and I was sent back to Kuala Lumpur again, this time with 3 other guys from the Hong Kong office and this time for a month. The first great thing about this trip was that the hotel was a block away from Jalan Alor, a famous night time food street. We went there every night and ate like kings for very little money.

One restaurant on the street was called Fatt Tuck Choy. We sat outside and I noted that our waitress was extremely cute. We came back two nights later and before we sat down, I walked up to her and asked, “Did ya miss me?” and without missing a beat she nodded her head and said “yes.” The next time we came back she came right up to me and asked, “Did ya miss me?” and I said, “Of course, that’s why I’m back!” I thought this might get interesting.

Our first weekend there was a three day weekend. We woke up the morning of the holiday and decided to rent a car and go up to Cameron Highlands. We went to various car rental agencies, none of which had cars available, which left the four of us standing around just cracking insane jokes. Then I said, “Hey, our hotel has a travel desk. We’re staying there for a month. They have to figure something out for us.” The woman at the travel desk was wearing the shortest possible skirt and the tightest possible blouse. Every joke we made, she threw right back in our faces and topped. And after telling us we were all insane, she somehow managed to find a rental car for us. This woman, S, would become my second wife.

So we get in the car and for some reason everyone decides I should drive. I had only driven right-side drive once before in my life and that was ten years ago. Within 15 minutes, I managed to hit a bus – a bus that was standing still. The entire left side of the car was smashed in, but not bad enough that we couldn’t still use it for the weekend. We had our weekend in Cameron Highlands, driving through rainforests and touring tea plantations and staying in little shacks. It was great. When we returned the car, S just looked at us in disbelief. I paid for all the repairs and it was all cool.

Every time I’d go through the hotel lobby, if S was at the travel desk, I’d stop and talk with her. At the same time, I was also trying to pursue the waitress from Fatt Tuck Choy. It turned out her family owned that restaurant. She was going to university during the day and waitressing at night, and would only agree to meet me in the afternoons for coffee.

For the following weekend, one of my companions and I booked a package for Langkawi. But before the trip, one night, my 3 co-workers went out without me to a nearby bar. When they got there, they saw S, who was ruling the pool tables. They each took turns playing pool with her, buying her drinks and hitting on her. They all struck out. But they told me she asked them, “Where’s the other guy, the crazy one?” That was enough for me. I had to ask her out.

When I went to the desk to pick up the Langkawi tickets I asked her out on a date. She said she was working half a day on Sunday, she knew what time my flight landed, and if I could get back to the hotel before her shift was over, she would consider having dinner with me.

Langkawi was a pretty strange place. The Malaysian government was trying to pitch it as a tourist destination but there wasn’t too much there at the time. The first bad news was that the hotel had screwed up the reservation. The only room they had for me and my friend had just a single queen sized bed, which we had no choice except to share. It was especially pleasant the second night, when he started having stomach problems.

Anyway, the first night, I’d noticed a sign for some sort of disco. I walked half a mile down the road back to that sign, which pointed to a trail that led through the woods. After walking through the forest, I came to a barn. There was a guy sitting in front of the barn wearing a sport jacket and tie. I paid the cover charge and went inside. There was a stage, a lot of tables and sofas, a few waitresses and me. After awhile a band came out on stage and played a song by Fleetwood Mac and a song by Santana and then everything after that was Malaysian pop songs. After an hour, not many people had shown up and I left. I got back to the main road and got chased back to the hotel by a pack of wild dogs. I stopped in at the hotel bar where there was a Filipino band playing American country and western songs.

The next night, my friend was sick and there didn’t seem to be anything to do or anywhere to go. I walked across the street from the hotel to this small roadside restaurant. Everyone was sitting outside watching a really bad VHS bootleg of a really bad movie. I stood there for a few minutes. No one saw me. Finally I cleared my throat. Everyone jumped up and stared. “Um, er, can I get a coke?” They got me a coke and got me a chair and put me in the front row and I sat there and watched the rest of the movie and played with the kids.

Finally, Sunday, fly back to KL, taxi back to the hotel, me staring at my watch hoping I’d make it back in time. S was still there and we went out for dinner and talked non-stop through the evening. The next day, I called her to ask her out on another date. “There’s something I didn’t tell you last night,” she said. “What? You’re really a man?” “No. I’m married.” Oh. She went on to explain that she liked having western friends because she liked the western sense of humor and if I wanted to go out with her as a friend, that would be great. Oh.

And then, back to Hong Kong. I was ready to take my first Asian vacation and decided to go to Phuket. I also signed up in advance for a scuba diving course. And then I thought to myself, “Hmmm, I know there are girls in Bangkok but maybe there are no girls in the rest of Thailand. Maybe I should invite someone to join me.” So I called the Filipino girl I’d met in February. I told her that I would pay for everything. I also warned her that I would be taking scuba lessons every day but she would be free to sit by the pool and order poolside service to her heart’s content. She agreed to join me.

I got there a few days before she did. I was staying in Patong Beach. Yeah, I figured out what’s up there pretty quickly. Two days later, my friend came to join me and I also figured out pretty quickly that inviting her was a mistake. She did nothing but complain and we couldn’t wait for the trip to be over and to get away from each other.

Back to Hong Kong and back to Kuala Lumpur. S saw me at the hotel and kept after me to go out for dinner or a drink. I kept trying to get out of it but she kept after me and finally we started going out as friends. I kept thinking that I liked her too damned much and thought that maybe her marriage was on rocky ground, or perhaps I was just hoping it was.

About a month later, we went out for dinner and got pretty blasted. Then she took me to a nightclub where her best friend worked as a hostess. I was surrounded by gorgeous women and had to work overtime not to stare at anyone other than S, and these girls were trying their hardest to distract me too. And then, around 2 in the morning, S ended up back at my hotel room.

So now I’m back in Hong Kong. S and I are talking on the phone for hours every night. There was no Skype, no nothing, I was spending thousands per month on phone bills. Every weekend I’d fly back to KL. The problem was that since she was a travel agent and her husband was a tour guide, they were both known in every 5 star hotel in town. So we stayed in love hotels and snuck around hoping that we wouldn’t be spotted by anyone she knew.

But one night she said she wanted to take me to her favorite restaurant. She said they were like family there, that she had known the family that runs the place since she was a little kid and played mah jong with them on a regular basis. Can you guess which restaurant it was? Yeah, it was Fatt Tuck Choy. We get there and the whole family comes running out but they all ignore S and coming running up to me and hugging me. All except for that waitress, who refused to come out of the kitchen the whole time, just sticking her head out now and then to stare at us.

A few more months passed and S decided she was going to get a divorce and move to Hong Kong to be with me. I told her that I figured that even though she had no college, since she spoke ten languages she could probably find a job easily enough. This did not turn out to be the case and so every month we were doing visa runs to Macau.

Meanwhile my work was now keeping me in Hong Kong. I did little bits and pieces of things for the Hospital Authority, the Police Force, Octopus Card and the Jockey Club. I wasn’t working on anything substantial and I was getting bored and it probably showed.

I tried switching over to pre-sales but it wasn’t a great fit either. Then things went seriously south. We had a client in Hong Kong who was having a huge performance problem. It was something that I could have solved in a one minute phone call. But the sales guy on the account wanted to sell them a consulting engagement and I was forbidden to just give them the solution on the phone.  All I could say was, “Yes, I know how to solve it, you have to pay US$2,000 a day and I’ll come in and fix it for you.” And they couldn’t understand why we wouldn’t do it for free. So they called up the general manager and complained.

He brought me into his office along with the sales rep. He started yelling at me, saying that I can’t talk to a big customer like that and that maybe it was time that I should return to New York. You’d think the sales rep might have spoken up at that point and said, “he was just following my instructions.” No, that dickless wonder sat there and stared at his shoes.

So the GM finished his explosion, the sales guy was quiet and I said, “It’s okay, I’ve got another job. I’m giving you my notice right now. And by the way, ask idiot over there why he’s not telling you that all I did was follow the instructions

I hit my one year anniversary there and my boss said it was probably time for me to go back to New York. I told him, “That’s okay because actually I was going to resign today. I’ve got another job.” And I did.

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Translating Hong Kong

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I’ve been told that Hong Kong slang changes so rapidly that machine translation cannot keep up with the pace of change. I keep encountering these translations when I’m looking at reviews on Open Rice. I don’t put much stock in any of the reviews there – I use Open Rice for addresses and opening hours and usually the photos are enough to tell me what I need to know.

Anyway, when I was in London I had this Swedish cider one night, Kopparberg, and I really liked it. I didn’t think I’d find it back in Hong Kong but sure enough it’s here. They’ve got an ad in this week’s HK Magazine listing the bars that stock it. One is a restaurant in Tai Wo, just 10 minutes away from me. The restaurant name is Loosen. I don’t think I could come up with a worse name for a restaurant if I tried. User ratings total out so far at 3 yummy, 5 OK, and 4 get me out of here. No English language review but several in Chinese. Google translated them for me. Here are some of the reviews, with some bits I’ve put in bold.

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After the first one, such as the left front of spaghetti.

amount Wusuan much, but because the Department of Cream Sauce relations department, the Department for me to talk about Lebanon just good, but if a man should eat Well enough! 
first bite down to taste …. 
@ @ Link salty o both?! 
taste salty, but how many have expected, there are a lot of mushrooms with bacon, and finally I have tan lines food dish …

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This restaurant location is not in the downtown area, unless it is the gall bladder, or are more difficult to find, has opened half a year, always wanted to try - decoration good, very style.

Honestly not clear hand in hand to fight what is not hit big difference, this is a soft cow Hamburg has gravy, hash browns is to the other ingredients and is not due to a folder, dispensable. Postprandial attached coffee produced by the coffee machine, do not fall under the expectation is not bad, a little smell of coffee, it is easy to drink. The price of lunch at Tai Yi injustice, we can say value for money, but not excellent.

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Department of Noma it really incredible, the first tease to fight food critic! Not even a fitting beginning to see a mistake, recite try to live it. I have to have four people sitting on a low left unattended for some time over the menu and I have to, to be called the canal until the first carry than I can count, you see new restaurants are considered secondary.After Dixia seats are a few cards GOD Figure attract, and then Dixia prices are Wusuan level. Honestly, the Department of Tai Li stresses eating a grilled meal $ 178 $ 98 food a Spaghetti Wusuan department level. You sell it a price I Do not ask you to take food, but the department should not even hard to eat. I left two to four people called three mature mature generous pork chop a generous eye of a seven day activity Alessandro Carboni spaghetti, after dumping dollars on the side of the side and so on. Waited and waited 20 minutes left Ciwu Duo, etc., began to have a little patience Well. Why is a soup-resistant neither Li Han, I have to pour more than five minutes. Well is preparing to ask the Drainage can be left GOD soup to drink than I lived generous first time, LOADS OF JOY Link canal began to slowly tighten over Lebanon. A soup generous big fine …… Well critical, a generous drink slightly warm near freezing. Count, I waited soup Nuisance baa requirements Haonai finally left on my way La generous entrees.

 It is not a Noma, no longerhuffyhuffyhuffyhuffyhuffysadhuffy

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Well, you get the idea. The idea I get from the reviews is that people are accusing them of serving frozen food. Whether that’s true or not, there are 490 restaurants in Tai Po and those that are serving western food mostly range from acceptable to horrendous. (Backyard Bistro the sole exception in my experience.) At this point even a branch of Ebeneezers would be a step up.

 

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If I’m So Smart, Part Four (!)

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Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

And the story continues ….

So it’s 1994 and I get the call that my dream is coming true and I will be going to Tokyo. Ten days, all expenses paid, teaching two classes at a western bank. I’m giddy with excitement.

And then a moment of panic. I’ve never had sushi in my life. It didn’t exist in the U.S. when I was a kid and it wasn’t something I sought out as an adult. It was something I made bad jokes about. (“If I’m going to eat at a restaurant, I expect them to cook the food.” Rim shot.) But I figured I didn’t want to embarrass myself in Tokyo and I’d better do something about it before I got there.

I got in my rental car and drove down to Atlanta from Norcross and stopped at the first sushi place I could find. I sat down and told the waitress, “I’ve never eaten this in my life. Give me an assortment and don’t tell me what anything is.” I was afraid that lifelong built-in prejudices would kick in if she told me that something was octopus brains or guppy gonads. She brought me a plate with 8 different things, I ate them all – and liked them all. “Okay, tell me now, what was the pink one, what was the white one ….”

When I arrived in Tokyo, I was the epitome of the dumb American tourist. “Oh look, they have trees!” My hotel was on the dividing line between Shinbashi and Ginza, if I recall correctly. I dumped my bags in the room and hit the streets. It was night time. I walked around with no idea of where I was going. I met some Japanese businessmen. They were already drunk and it was a scene from every guidebook you’ve ever read. “Can we practice speaking English with you?” “Okay.” Laughter. “Where are you from?” “America.” Laughter. “What do you think of Japan?” “It’s beautiful.” Laughter. Apparently I was the funniest person they’d ever met. But not funny enough for them to invite me to join them for a drink. Oh well.

I got to the office the next day just in time for lunch. “We’re going out for lunch. Do you eat sushi?” “Of course!”

It turns out I wasn’t supposed to go to the local office. They were quite unhappy to find out that the Hong Kong office had booked a Tokyo job. Well, no one warned me.

There was one American working in that office and he took me around Roppongi that night. Mogambo, Geronimo, Motown House, Baccarat, all the popular gaijin spots.  It was really easy to meet people and make connections. There weren’t as many westerners there as there are today. So if you were in a bar and saw another white guy, you instantly had something in common and would start talking. And one other thing I found out – white guys were in season. We were the latest fashion accessory for Japanese girls. Having a foreign boyfriend was seen as a desirable thing, and they went out in packs in Roppongi hunting for us. At least, that’s what I was told.

The next day I started work. Midway through that morning, an earthquake hit. It was the first earthquake I’d ever been in. It was a small tremor, nothing to worry about, but my heart leapt into my mouth as my students all ran to the window to watch the other buildings sway back and forth. I got over it quickly enough. The next time there was an earthquake and everyone jumped up, I looked at them and said, “What’s the matter? It’s just an earthquake. You have them every day. Sit down. Back to work.”

Nights were a drunken haze. For most of my first week, I was the ugliest Ugly American ever to go to Tokyo. Every night I got drunk and every night I acted like a total asshole. It took about a week for me to settle down. I scolded myself. “What the hell is wrong with you? Why are you acting like this? What gives you the right? Just because you’re in a foreign country? Because these women are Asian?” I calmed down and went back to being myself and almost immediately after that I found myself a Japanese girlfriend.

Actually, she found me. The temperatures in Tokyo were running above 40 degrees, even at night. One night I barely made it up the stairs to Geronimo. I walked in, closed the door, and collapsed against the wall in a puddle of sweat. This woman at the table right next to where I was schvitzing invited me to sit with them. She was cute but her friend was even cuter. The only problem was that she was passed out. She woke up eventually and the three of us went to Gas Panic to dance. And at some point the cute one, the one who was passed out earlier, asked me if I wanted to meet her the following night.

My friends told me, “She’s Japanese, she’s not going to show up to meet a gaijin alone. She’ll bring a friend.” She showed up alone. And we were together a lot after that. She was a nihilist. She always dressed all in black and wondered pessimistically what was the point in almost everything. But she was also as sweet and as nice as anyone you could hope to meet. One thing I remember – one day we went walking through a Japanese garden and an elderly Japanese man came up to us. She translated for me. “He’s wondering if you, as a foreign barbarian, can appreciate the beauty of a Japanese garden.” I smiled and told him I thought it was really beautiful. That made him happy.

I finished my work after ten days. I didn’t want to leave. I had some vacation time coming so I just stayed on. I moved to a cheaper hotel with a tiny little room that didn’t even give me enough space to open my suitcase; I had to drag it out into the hallway. Every morning I’d check my bank balance and my vacation balance and push back my return flight by another two days. I met a much-younger Jewish Canadian woman and started spending a lot of time with her. I was surviving on McDonald’s every day, the cheapest thing I could find, until I finally discovered ramen shops. I think I had ramen 3 meals a day for the rest of my stay there.

I don’t remember exactly now, but I was there for somewhere between 3 and 4 weeks. I finally ran out of money and ran out of vacation time and had to go back to my empty life in New York. I said goodbye to my new friends and told them I’d be back.

As it turns out, it was four years until I got back to Tokyo. I stayed in touch with both of those women via letters for years. I never saw the Canadian woman l again. It was 4 or 5 years until I saw the Japanese woman again, and at this point I was married to my second wife. We still traded emails from time to time until she got engaged. Her fiance found out about me and somehow felt threatened by our platonic friendship and wrote to me, asking me to stop emailing her. I figured if she found someone and she was happy, I was happy for her.

I was determined to find a job in Tokyo and move there. I called headhunters like crazy. I sent my resume everywhere. Nothing. Not even a nibble.

And then 5 months later, someone pointed out to me that the company I was working for had an opening in their Hong Kong office. The job requirements fit me to a “t” – they wanted a Principal Consultant who was also an architect. As near as I could tell, I was the only person to apply for the job. I think I was the only Principal Consultant in the company who was single and free to make that kind of move. Plus the Hong Kong office remembered how well my Tokyo gig had gone for them.

I thought to myself, “Well, it’s not Tokyo, but it’s closer to Tokyo than New York.” I told my company that I’d never been to Hong Kong, I wasn’t sure if I would like it, and would they fly me out there for a week so I could check it out and see if I really wanted to move there. They agreed.

So in February 1995 I made my first trip to Hong Kong. I felt comfortable from the minute I landed at Kai Tak. I knew no one in Hong Kong, but someone in my office in New York had a friend there. He gave me his number and wrote to the guy to tell him I’d be coming. My first night in Hong Kong, that guy brought me to Wanchai. At Rick’s Cafe, he ran into a girl he knew, and she was there with a friend. That friend and I hit it off pretty well. My friend dragged me to more bars until finally I told him, “I’m still thinking about that girl at Rick’s. I’m gonna go back and see if she’s still there.”

She was still there. We drank and talked some more. She was a television producer from Manila, visiting Hong Kong on a business trip. We went to the MTR to head back to our respective hotels. On the train she turned to me and said, “I’d invite you back to my hotel but I’m sharing my room with someone.” To be honest, I’m not sure that the meaning of that sentence really registered with me. Without stopping to think, I replied, “I’ve got my own hotel room.” And she said, “Okay.” And came back to my hotel with me.

So now my first day in Hong Kong is over. I’m thinking that I’ve lived in New York for decades and can’t meet a woman to save my life; I’m in Hong Kong one day, I know no one, and I’m getting laid. Yes, I can live here.

Of course I wasn’t going to tell them that in the office. I wanted to let the entire week go by before announcing my decision. My future boss decided to play tour guide and show me some of the other benefits of Hong Kong. One day we were walking around Aberdeen. He suggested we should go to Lamma for seafood. We just missed the ferry so he suggested that we get a sampan. We found one, got in, and the woman took us out of the harbor. Then she put on her coat, rubbed cream on her hands, handed me the tiller, pointed out into the fog and lay down and went to sleep.  So now I’m driving a sampan through one of the most congested shipping lanes in the world and it’s so foggy I can’t see where I’m going let alone what’s around me. Somehow we made it to Lamma. We had to wake the woman up because we couldn’t figure out how to cut the engine. She asked if she should wait to give us a ride back. “What, you’re gonna want another nap?” I asked.

I’d made a little list of ten things to do to see if I could survive in Hong Kong on my own. One thing on the list was to have a dim sum lunch by myself. I walked around Causeway Bay and Wanchai and couldn’t figure out which restaurants served dim sum or would even speak English. Finally I passed a restaurant that had a “Welcome” carpet in front. “English! I’ll try here!” I went upstairs and waited. I saw other people coming in and getting seated by the hostess. I thought to myself, “Jeez, is this like Tokyo, they don’t want to deal with foreigners?” I went up to the hostess and said, “What about me?” “I thought you were waiting for other people,” she replied in perfect English. Of course. Because who goes for a dim sum lunch alone? She seated me at a big round table already occupied by a couple in their 70s. They saw how clueless I was and helped me order and showed me how to eat, even sharing some of their food with me. Yes indeed, I could live in Hong Kong.

So that was it. Back to New York and two months to get ready for the move. I got rid of a lot of stuff and put almost everything else into long term storage. I arrived in Hong Kong in April 1995 with just two suitcases, ready to start my new life.

 

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Is CY Leung Stupid or Just Spineless?

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Here comes another rant ….

CY Leung is the third Chief Executive of Hong Kong. Each Chief Executive, appointed by the Chinese government in a sham “election,” serves several official purposes. Unofficially, they would appear to serve the purpose of being a running dog lackey puppet of the government of China. And apparently each one has been given the specific task of making their predecessors look better through their own ineptitude. Tung Chee-Hwa made Chris Patten look good by comparison. Donald Tsang made Tung look good. And now Leung has got people thinking that even if Donald Tsang was a corrupt scumbag, he was better than Leung.

The Chief Executives are not elected to their post by the people of Hong Kong. They do not have to stand for reelection by the people of Hong Kong, therefore they have no obligation to heed the opinions of the people they ostensibly represent.

Leung delivered a speech yesterday that was so full of lies that one can only assume that he is either an idiot or just reads off whatever piece of paper some other idiot in Beijing hands to him without question.

Excerpted from the SCMP:

The Basic Law does not stipulate that the city’s electoral system must meet international norms, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said yesterday, 

One might think that a man in his position would know the Basic Law by heart.

Article 39 
The provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and international labour conventions as applied to Hong Kong shall remain in force and shall be implemented through the laws of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. 

So what does the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights have to say?

PART I

Article 1

1. All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.

That’s pretty unambiguous, isn’t it?

By the way, take a look at this part of the Covenant:

PART II

Article 2

1. Each State Party to the present Covenant undertakes to respect and to ensure to all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction the rights recognized in the present Covenant, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

Hong Kong has legal and institutionalized racism. Ethnic Chinese who wish to become Hong Kong citizens are allowed to retain their prior citizenship, whether it’s from the UK or the US or Equatorial Guinea. Those who are not Chinese have to renounce their present citizenship to become a Hong Kong citizen.

I mention this because of another section of idiot’s Leung’s speech.

Leung said Hong Kong was a unique society in many ways – including granting foreign permanent residents the right to vote.

“If the election in 2017 must fulfil international standards, should we deprive foreigners who are among the 5 million qualified voters … of the right to universal suffrage?” he asked.

First of all, no. There are other countries where permanent residents who are not citizens have the right to vote. Second – define the difference between “citizen” and “permanent resident.” I am a Permanent Resident of Hong Kong. My only home is here. All of my possessions are here. I work here. I pay taxes here. I have unconditional right of abode here for the rest of my life. The one thing I don’t have is a Hong Kong Passport – and that’s because I don’t want to renounce citizenship from the country of my birth. I think there’s a lot more of us who would take the extra step to become a citizen if the laws were not so discriminatory.

Last but not least on the above and really insulting. Definition of foreigner: A person born in or coming from a country other than one’s own. There are plenty of Hong Kong citizens who were not born here. Including Chinese. Granted, this may be a poor choice of words by the person who translated the speech. It’s just a mindless choice of words.

More from the SCMP:

Occupy founder Benny Tai Yiu-ting said there was no doubt that the contents of the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a United Nations treaty signed by Britain, had been carried over by article 39 of the Basic Law.

“Local courts have cited the covenant in many cases when assessing whether our laws meet international norms,” Tai, a law professor, said.

“The Leung I know cannot have such a poor understanding of our law. Otherwise he is deliberately distorting the concepts.”

I don’t think CY Leung is stupid. And actually, he’s probably not spineless either. He’s doing his job, which is to represent and protect the interests of Beijing in Hong Kong. I wish that he could come up with better defences of his bullshit and not insult the intelligence of everyone within earshot. No, he’s not stupid, he’s not spineless, he’s just evil.

You want my opinion? You’ve read this far so I’ll assume you do. Until China’s system of government changes, Hong Kong will never have true universal suffrage. Beijing will make vague attempts at appeasement by giving us the semblance of free elections, but they will always come with strings attached – both to the elections themselves and to those who get “elected.”

Just because I think it will never happen doesn’t mean that we have to keep our mouths shut and accept the situation. It is our duty as citizens (or permanent residents) to speak up against inequity and injustice wherever and whenever it occurs. That is the real definition of patriotism.

Besides, in my opinion the biggest threat to Hong Kong isn’t Beijing. The biggest threat to Hong Kong is the ever-increasing levels of corruption thanks to the mega-real estate companies that really own and run Hong Kong. They are embedded at every level of our government through appointed representatives and bribes. The end result is laws that favor the rights of these corporations and a government that turns a blind eye to the way in which they do business, all at the expense of the majority of the citizens. Break up these cartels and Hong Kong would be a far better place.

This is why these businesses are so vocal in their support of the status quo and so vehemently opposed to protests such as Occupy Central. They know that if Hong Kong really had a truly representative government, their days might be numbered. But actually not. All around the world, mega corporations have more power than governments. The Cheung Kongs and Sun Hung Kais would still rule here; it’s just that their cost of doing business would go up as they would need to bribe more people.

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(UPDATED) 2nd International Hong Kong Tattoo Convention 2014

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I was traveling last year when Hong Kong’s first tattoo convention was held. Fortunately I was home this year for the 2nd International Hong Kong Tattoo Convention 2014 and wasn’t going to miss it. Here’s some shots from the show, a whole lot more can be found over at Spike’s Photos.

Even though I’ve got 8 tattoos myself, I’d never been to a tattoo convention before. This one was everything I would have expected, and I mean that in a good sense. There must have been at least 100 booths representing tattoo studios – mostly from Hong Kong and China, but I also saw a selection from Korea and of course Japan. Given the vogue for Asian style tattoos, I think any American or European tattoo lover would have killed to be here. One Japanese studio had a guy doing tattoos using the traditional stick method. (I’ve got two tatts done by monks in temples in Thailand using stainless steel rods and yes, it’s true, you feel this a hell of a lot more, but you also feel connected to a more ancient tradition.)

Each studio and artist had their portfolios on display and of course lots of people were getting new ink during the convention. Some booths had their prices posted, mostly HK$1,500 per hour. Some studios were also selling t-shirts, posters, stickers, books and even a few small toys.

I talked with several of the artists and grabbed the business cards for all the HK studios. I had to work really hard to not give in to temptation to get something new there and then.

Other rooms had displays from companies that manufacture and distribute tattoo supplies – needles, ink, after-tattoo skin care products, magazines and so on.

Food was represented by Boomshack, from the terrific Austin Fry (he started Brickhouse in Lan Kwai Fong; I know he’s moved on but can’t recall the name of his latest place). He was doing some gourmet burgers but the real deal here was his fried chicken and waffles, so good I brought some home and my wife, who usually says she doesn’t like waffles, scarfed hers down in a matter of seconds.

Unfortunately I couldn’t stay as long as I liked, which meant that I missed the nightly awards ceremonies and, more important to me, the bands. There was a stage sponsored by VANS with more than half a dozen bands appearing daily (different bands each day).

And, yeah, I confess, so many beautiful women I quickly lost count.

The convention was held August 23rd to 25th at Innocentre in Kowloon Tong. I went on Saturday; I really wanted to get back there again on Sunday but it just wasn’t possible.

All in all, this was really a terrific event, everything that I think one of these things ought to be. It’s great to see this as an annual event in Hong Kong and I can’t wait for next year’s convention.

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If I’m So Smart part three

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Part 1 here, part 2 here.

So now it’s the beginning of 1990. I’ve graduated Columbia but I have very little confidence in my new computer skills. My professor, the one I’d met a year ago at that dog and pony show, kept telling me that I knew a lot more than most people. I didn’t believe him until I went for a job interview at Barclays. I’d used my final project from Columbia as “proof” of past work and the guy who interviewed me stood me up at a white board and grilled me about it for two hours. “I wanted to hire someone with more experience but you know this stuff better than anyone else I’ve interviewed.” The job was mine.

So there I am, on the eve of my 36th birthday, with my first suit and tie corporate job. It took some getting used to. At the time my hair was down past my shoulders, I had a beard and an earring. I wore 3 piece suits but wore sneakers for my commute and often would forget to change into the dress shoes that I kept in a drawer in my desk. “How’s it going Spike?” a VP asked me one day in the hallway. I knew how he meant it so I turned around, looked him in the eye and said, “Thanks, I’m keeping that.” And I became Spike.

At first, the work there really sucked. The new projects I was hired to do weren’t approved and I was doing maintenance on crappy little applications that no one used or cared about. My boss’s boss took pity on me and gave me some marginally less boring tasks to work on.

Fortunately, I smoke. Back then every floor had a smoking room. I’d go for a smoke every hour and I met every other smoker in the bank. The guys who worked in the cubicles next to me knew no one and were known by no one. I was popular. I was told by more than one person that I was the first IT guy they’d met who had a personality.

The first thing I learned in the smoking room? Business trips. This VP told me he was going to London. “For vacation?” “No, it’s a business trip.” “Who pays for the plane ticket?” “The bank.” “Really? The hotel too?” “Of course. All my meals, too.” “I want that!” I realized I could see the world and get someone else to pay for it.

Soon, they were putting together a team for a major new project. Everyone knew me, so I got to be on this project as the development DBA. I’d been with the bank for a year and suddenly I was designing the database for the entire commercial loan system, which they were going to migrate from mainframes to client/server. They took my design and put it in front of a committee for a week to poke holes in it. There were no holes to be poked.

So now I’m going back and forth to London on a somewhat regular basis. I’m staying in a service flat in The City. The guest register indicated that the prior occupant of my room was J.G. Ballard. It was actually a horrible place. Everything closed at 7. When I needed to do laundry, I grabbed my stuff, got on the first bus that came by, sat on the top deck and got out when I finally spotted a laundry place. Everyone else in there was a Cockney. They were quite amused to have a Yank in the shop and kept trying to stump me with their accents and rhyming slang but I already knew most of it.

One night I went to a party. Everyone else at the party was couples. I felt like sticking needles through my eyes. I sat on the sofa, alone, beer in hand, wondering how I could get out of there and where else I might go. Then this beautiful woman walked in through the door. “Please don’t let her be here with a guy.” Right behind her – another woman. How was I going to talk to her? What could I say? Within minutes M came and sat down on the sofa next to me. “I heard you’re American. I just came back from a trip to New York City. I miss it so much and I love your accent. Can we chat?” We sat on that couch talking for five hours and I took her home.

For whatever it may or may not be worth, up until that time – for 14 years, in fact – I had never cheated on my wife. But I was an ocean away, this girl was easily one of the most beautiful women I’d ever met, she was an artist, and she had that accent. When I had the opportunity, it never even occurred to me to say no.

I flew back to New York and tried to write it off as a one-weekend stand. But I couldn’t stop thinking about her. 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.” When I suggested a separation to my wife, she told me we should just get it over with and get divorced. It was completely amicable. We divided up our stuff and got our downstairs neighbor, a lawyer, to handle all of the legal bits and pieces for us.

I wrote a 20 page letter to M explaining the situation. Her friends were all telling me, “You know she’s not well, right? That she can’t work, that she sees a shrink 5 days a week, she’s on all sorts of medication?” Well, she was a poet and I just thought that’s how poets are. I told them, “Yes, I know, but I seem to be good for her. She’s normal and happy with me.”

And after she read that letter, she pronounced it the most beautiful letter she’d ever read and said that I should get back to London as quickly as possible. And so I did. One image I will never forget is her waiting for me at Heathrow. She was wearing a torn green sweater; the holes in the sweater revealed a bright pink bra underneath. Her skirt couldn’t have been any shorter. Her stockings were ripped and she had these great boots. A real gorgeous British punk artist.

I stayed at her place (a council flat I think it was called, government subsidized housing). She had books stacked floor to ceiling along every wall in every room.  We talked about art, we talked about literature, we talked about politics, we talked about having all her friends over for dinner to meet me and renting a car to go to Wales to meet her family. And then on the 4th day we woke up and she didn’t know who I was. She completely freaked out and started screaming at me to get out of there. I didn’t know what to do.  This was totally beyond the realm of my experience and completely unexpected.  I panicked.  I got out of there. I checked into a hotel and then kept calling and calling until a day later her sister answered the phone. “Why did you leave? You never should have done that. Now she never wants to see you again.” And I never did see her, or even hear from her, again.

I sat in the hotel for three days, not eating, not sleeping, just drinking and playing R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts” over and over and over again. I finally recovered, went back to work and a couple of weeks later I flew off to Amsterdam and a haze of beer, grass and hookers helped me put all of this behind me.

Back at work, I was supposed to get promoted to AVP for my work on that big project. My boss loved me. She looked like a very proper British lady but she’d regale me with tales of going to see the Sex Pistols wearing nothing but garbage bags. She told me that she and her husband decided that I must have some British blood in me. I knew she meant it as a compliment. The Americans working for the bank all thought, “Oh, I work for a British bank. I have to be very reserved and proper!” But the Brits didn’t have that baggage. They were wild and crazy and fun and I fit right in with them.

The VP who was assigned to give me that promotion was the same guy who’d first called me Spike. He called me into his office in New York one day and here’s what he told me. “They tell me you should get a promotion. Looking at your work, there’s no doubt you should. But you’re weird. If I promote you, everyone will ask who promoted that weirdo? And then they’ll look at me. I’ve been here ten years and no one looks at me and I want to keep it that way. So no promotion.”

So I asked my boss to move me to London. She looked around and said there was nothing in London but there was an architecture position in Manchester. I hadn’t been there but I thought, why the hell not? So they started pulling all the paperwork together. And then the bank laid off 5,000 people in the UK. “We can’t very well bring you over here after just doing that, can we?” My boss told me she’d be leaving soon and that I should probably consider looking for another job as well.

Back in New York, I had this contractor working for me. He was an ex-NYC cop on a disability pension, with movie star looks. He spent his summers in nudist colonies. The winters were spent having weekend orgies at the nudists’ homes. He invited me to join in and even fixed me up with a secretary from another department – he said he’d been telling her about these parties and she was interested to check it out and needed a ride. J was blonde, pretty and had an amazing body. It seemed like a good deal to me.

I picked her up and we drove two hours to the party house. Maybe you won’t be surprised when I tell you that there was almost no one there even slightly good looking or remotely fit (aside from the guy who worked for me, his wife and my date). There were 50 people fucking in every nook and cranny in the house and I felt absolutely no urge to join in. J was also just watching from the sidelines and I thought, “She’s my date, this might go somewhere, I should just stay with her.” So I sat out the festivities.

The next day, driving back home, I asked J what she thought of all that. “I’m glad I saw it because now I can pray for all those people.” Maybe that should have set off some warning bells. But within a short span of time we were a couple.

(Six months later J and I went to another orgy, this time a private party in a lower Manhattan bar. We’re dancing and I tried to grab her and she said, “Stop, everyone’s looking,” and I said, “No one’s looking at us, they’re all too busy fucking.” And when I looked at a naked woman dancing next to me, she said, “You’re looking!” and I said, “Of course I’m looking, she’s right next to me and completely naked, what do you expect?”)

Since she lived in Jersey and I lived in Queens, I moved to Jersey to be closer to her. We were always together. Everyone assumed we would get married. But she drank. Every night. She drank cheap wine; $5 for a gallon in a cardboard carton lined with plastic. And once she got drunk, she was a mean drunk. She was an abusive drunk. I told her that I couldn’t put up with it, that one day she was going to have to choose between wine and me. Finally one night she passed out at the dining room table in the middle of sentence. When she woke up I told her, “It’s clear that you’ve made your choice. We’re finished.”

At this point, I’ve left the bank and I’m working for Sybase, a database software company. I got hired as a Senior Consultant. You’re supposed to get at least a week of training when you start, but on my first day they sent me out to a project at Pepsi. This was the biggest project I’ve ever been involved in – before or since. It was the redesign of their entire North American soft drink ordering and delivery applications. There were more than 600 consultants and contractors working on this. Fortunately for me, 5 of them were also from Sybase, and they covered for me until I got up to speed. I didn’t get that first week’s training until I rolled off the Pepsi project after 9 months.

I became a performance and tuning expert. Every day I’d have to read through 500 to 1,000 pages of printouts of application code, looking for ways to optimize it. Yawn. But I had a direct line to the guys who wrote the SQL Server code and they gave me all the inside tips. The work itself was boring but Pepsi was a fun place to work. Right in the middle of a huge park. All the free soda you could drink or carry home. Free Lays potato chips and Doritos. The employee cafeteria was all KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, since Pepsi owned those at the time. The only thing we couldn’t get was the thing we needed most – Stolichnaya Vodka, which Pepsi was distributing in the US until someone decided it was bad for their image.

I did really well at Sybase. I won two “consultant of the quarter” awards. I was the regional lead for their Replication Server product and helped write the training course. I co-wrote the Sybase project methodology. I did six projects at AT&T. I did one project at Lehman. The guy at Lehman offered me a job and when I turned them down I got the “you’ll never work in this town again” line. Instead I got promoted to Principal Consultant and led what I was told was the most profitable project the consulting division had ever had.

All well and good, except that my social life had dwindled down to zero. There was an Olympic swimmer but that didn’t go very far. I was spending all of my time working and commuting. I was living in Jersey, doing projects in Jersey or a plane ride away, and a big night out for me was browsing in a local book store and having dinner alone in a diner (one that later appeared in many episodes of The Sopranos).

I was, in short, absolutely fucking miserable. I was in beautiful, exciting Norcross, Georgia working on another AT&T project in the factory where they were manufactuing fiber optic cable. I got a call and was told that Sybase Hong Kong needed someone to come out there for a couple of weeks and was I interested?  Um, Norcross Georgia or Hong Kong, which would I pick?

Then it turned out that I wouldn’t be going to Hong Kong after all. I’d be going to Tokyo. Why was the Hong Kong office booking a Tokyo assignment? I didn’t ask. Tokyo was #1 on the list of places I wanted to go to. I thought it was so far away and so expensive that I’d never get there in my entire life. And now I was going to go there for 10 days, all expenses paid.

I was ready.

 

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How Dare They?

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From the SCMP today:

Unmarried couples should not enjoy the same staff benefits as married people, as this would burden small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and go against traditional family values, businesses have told the equality watchdog.

Basically, what they’re doing is attempting to use a so-called moral judgement as a guise for what they really are – fucking cheap.

Nine SME groups, citing financial reasons and moral judgment, voiced opposition yesterday to the idea of employers granting the same medical, housing and other benefits to both married people and de facto couples who lived together.

There were grey areas, they said, pointing to how the government might define couples and whether this would cover both heterosexual and homosexual cohabitation.

Gay marriage isn’t legal in Hong Kong. So not providing this is further discrimination against gays.

“It is difficult to define cohabitation. Does it simply mean two people living together?” said Jimmy Wan Hoi-hung, founding president of Hong Kong Greater China SME Alliance Association.

“We businessmen need to calculate costs. This increases uncertainties.”

That’s the standard Hong Kong argument. “We can’t do it because it’s hard.” And it’s also the Hong Kong standard of being against something without really understanding it. And it’s also the Hong Kong standard of putting businesses before people.

What should have been a review of anti-discrimination laws turned into a chorus of complaints that the commission had failed to reach out to small firms and consider their difficulties.

But a commission spokeswoman said the proposal was intended only to provide protection from discrimination for de facto couples who were “in committed relationships similar to a marriage but [who] do not wish to become married”.

Any such protection would be bound by a clear definition of what constituted that relationship, she added. Hong Kong has yet to draw up a clear definition of a de facto relationship, but under Australian laws, it refers to a pair living together on a genuine domestic basis.

Factors taken into consideration include the duration of the relationship, common residence and degree of financial dependence. Australia initially covered only heterosexual relationships, but added protection for same-sex relationships last year.

Ah Hong Kong, forward into the past.

BTW, time for another “Shut the fuck up Jackie Chan.” His kid got busted for pot in Beijing. Chan is all over the media apologizing and saying how ashamed he is. If the man had even one ball, what he should be saying is, “Marijuana is harmless and has been proven to have numerous medical benefits. While other countries in the world are now legalizing this or reducing penalties down to the equivalent of a parking ticket, China remains in the dark ages. Shame on China. I’m so embarrassed by the Chinese government and I stand by my son who did nothing wrong.”

As if.

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