358 days. 10 pet peeves.

March 4, 2009

Hello again!  I’ve been absolutely terrible about updating my beloved blog and for that I sincerely apologize.  By now, I’ve probably lost all 10 of my loyal readers, so this entry is for you remaining die-hards still peeking through the window to my world.  For what it’s worth, I’m seven days away from my one-year anniversary in good ol’ Hong Kong.  Yes, I’ve survived.

So… what have I been doing all this time?  No entries in nearly 10 months?  Where’s the love, B?

Well, work has been a major part of this absence.  I work much longer hours than Cali-time and my free time is spent unwinding away from my computer, usually on a golf course or on a beach.  My social connection is simply maintained through the likes of fb status updates and tweets (follow me at twitter.com/brcheung).  Anything that falls in between usually goes to catching up on TV or sleeping.  Such is life on the HK grind…

Since I’m not going to make the effort to recap my past 10 months in one blog entry, I thought I’d simply do a top 10 to capture the essence.  So without further ado…

Top 10 pet peeves about Hong Kong

10. Smell-o-rama

Walk down the average street and you’re bombarded by the smells of garbage, cigarettes, moldy smelling people, mystery meats, herbal medications, and the occasional stinky tofu.  The mix is tough on the olfactory senses.

9. Sticky heat

Let’s just say the combination of 90+ degrees, 100% humidity, and work attire is something I’ll never adjust to.  Add in typhoon rain and it just gets downright miserable.  Come in the winter.  Stay away in the summer.

8. Polluted air

It’s rare to see blue skies when you look out across the harbor.  Being close to all of the factories in China doesn’t help.  When the skies do clear up, it happens for just one day – only because China told the factories to hit the pause button.

7. Music (barely)

After a year on the nightlife scene it’s pretty clear that Hong Kong is the place where music comes to die.  If a jam gets played here, it means it was popular 5 years ago and has made its rounds on global top 40 album compilations.  Even when California Love gets played, “from Diego to the Bay” bears no meaning.   I shed a silent tear. 

6. MSG in food

A small dose of MSG makes you thirsty.  A medium dose makes you a little bloated.  A heavy dose gives you migraine headaches.  As a good friend would say, “muy pels!”

5. Rude service

Don’t get me wrong.   The expectation of service is one of the greatest aspects of Hong Kong.  But there’s a chain of abuse that trickles down to the lowest level, and when you come to face-to-face with the bottom of the totem pole (i.e. disgruntled waiters at cheap local restaurants) you come face-to-face with the beast of Hong Kong.  Cursing, ignoring, throwing utensils, and serving you food on dirty dishes just scratch the surface.  Who knows what happens back in the kitchen!  I can’t really blame them but it’s not a pleasant experience as a paying customer. 

4. Unnecessary service

To counter #5, some service industries go with the excessive counter-approach.  It is necessary to have someone to bring the food from the kitchen door to the dining table, but not be allowed to place it on your table?  Is it necessary to have 3 people pushing one button for you in a lift lobby?  Is it necessary to have someone stand at the end of a line with the sole job responsibility of telling you to stand at the end of the line?  The list goes on…

3. People that abuse #5 and #4

Worse than bad service or excessive service are the people that abuse service all together.  For starters, a lot of people don’t even bother to look to make eye contact with a waiter, but instead scream out across the restaurant “mmm-goy!” as if they are waiting at your every beck and call (and no one else’s).   These same people, generally middle-aged males with severe Napoleon complexes, don’t even say thank you to service people that help carry their luggage.  But the worst offense comes from mothers.  It’s not uncommon to see a mother have her maid carry her child while she herself carries shopping bags!  Which is more important – the LV or the child? Don’t answer that.

2. Personal space

Space is not plentiful.  It comes with the territory and I get that.  My pet peeve is more about the effect this has on people.  The adaptation to a highly populated city is the development of complete spatial un-awareness.  The amount of times people walk across your path unknowingly or bump into you in a crowded subway station is enough to drive one mad.  Urban Darwinism has yet to take kick into effect.

1. Impatience

Highly populated and amply serviced – the people of Hong Kong wait for nothing.  This is taken to extreme levels of neurotic behavior.  The one behavior that without a doubt takes the cake is the excessive pushing of the elevator buttons.  I’d estimate that 9 out of 10 people suffer from this disorder.  Push it once, the button lights up, and the request is made.  Push it 1,000 times and does it make the lift come faster? No.  So why do you keep pushing the buttons in the lifts then?  WHY?!?

(The views expressed in this entry do not reflect the views of any of my employers or associates and are subject to change by 2010)  


June 8, 2008

Don’t get these sweet little gems back in the States!  For those of you that know what a mangosteen tastes like, you’ll understand why I’m so excited.  For those of you than don’t know, you need to try one.

It’s like the perfect blend between a lychee, peach, and pomegranate. MMMM!




June 6, 2008

That’s the first phrase that comes to mind when I feel like I’m on fire.  Not literally on fire of course.  On fire NBA Jam style!

I guess you could say I’m getting everything I expected from Hong Kong right now.  This city truly facilitates a work hard play hard atmosphere and you learn to love it quickly.  It feels good to work hard with your colleagues and celebrate the end of a hard week in true HK fashion.  Life is always on fast forward.

A few highlights from the past month (since I’ve been so out of touch!):

I went to Sabah for Buddha’s Birthday holiday earlier in May.  Sabah is a state in the Malaysian Borneo and we stayed in the capital city, Kota Kinabalu.  The overall scene is pretty slow and local, but we had a good time hanging out at the beaches, the local bars, and getting massages.  Not like we did anything super crazy, but what happens after dark in Sabah, stays in Sabah…

The average weekend in Hong Kong has gone something like this.  Someone always has a friend in town visiting, giving everyone a reason to go out and party.  Since most bars close around 4am here, the nightlife scene starts poppin’ around 11pm and hits peak around 2:00am.  Nightlife activities range from lounges, hooka, clubs, pool, karaoke, jazz clubs, or bowling.  Of course there’s always the option to end the night with a foot or body massage.  Gotta love Asia!

I can’t really tell, but I’ve heard my Chinese is improving.  I got through a whole session with an electrician who came to fix my lights and so I guess that’s a good sign.  I’ve been learning a lot from the locals in the office who teach me the latest slang.  In return, I teach them English slang like “wurd” or all the different ways you can use the word “shit.”  It’s a nice relationship.

For sports, I’ve been running less and swimming more.  Swimming is a lot like yoga for me.  You think you’re in good shape until you try something new and a big dose of humble pie gets served.   I’m determined to improve my swim game, and of course my yoga/chai latte game.  Rock climbing is on the horizon as well.

For those that care, work has been good.  I feel like I’m accomplishing a lot and I can feel the momentum building in our office.  In fact, I’m writing this entry on the plane ride back to Hong Kong from Shanghai.  Sorry fellas, Shanghai part II does not involve any sketchy encounters with mainland girls.   Without getting into specifics, I’m currently working on an alcohol client, a coffee client, a car client, a diaper client, and a performing arts client.  In any other circumstance, mixing all those things together would be an absolute disaster, but I’m doing ok with the juggling act.

I also just finished my first speaking event in the Hong Kong market.  I spoke at a seminar on Rich Media Advertising Best Practices.  I found it interesting that not all of my jokes were received the way I expected.  Perhaps there was a language barrier?  More likely, my jokes just weren’t that funny.  In the end, the event was a success and from what other people told me, my speech went over well.  During these speaking events, I always feel like Will Ferrell in the debate scene from Old School.  I ramble out a bunch of stuff that makes sense to other people, but I have no idea what I just said.  Craaazy…

That’s all for now.  Stephanie is joining me at the end of the month!  Enjoy your time with her while you can!

The Language of Typhoons

April 21, 2008

In the spirit of the early start to typhoon season this year and me being a typhoon virgin, I’m dedicating this entry to understanding the language of these tropical cyclones.

Level 1 – Standby

This is like the warning shot.  Current conditions at this time are usually harmless, but a storm system is nearby.  I like to think this is similar to the way bird flu is announced in the local news.  You hear about a mini-outbreak in Guangzhou but everyone keeps eating fresh chickens in Hong Kong.  Life is normal.

Level 3 – Strong Winds

This is when the winds reach approximately 30mph with a steady flow of rain. Whether or not you have an umbrella, you’re bound to get soaked, but business continues as normal.  This is much like the way local people wear surgical masks when they’re sick (even though they’re still spreading germs) so they can continue to come to work.

Level 8 – Gale or Storm Force Winds

As you can see, the numeric levels share the same twisted logic as the scoring system tennis.  More importantly, level 8 (or anything above level 3) marks the point when businesses are forced to shut down by the government.  Wind speeds start to creep up into the 70mph range and it’s recommended that large windows get taped up to prevent serious breaking.  The direction of the wind becomes critical in selecting a shelter spot in your home.  I haven’t experienced one of these yet, but I’m guessing people do actually shut down their businesses sans a few Chinese restaurants that would continue serving food even if the island was sinking under water.

Level 9 & 10 – Hurricane

This level of severity usually means the typhoon is coming straight over Hong Kong. Hopefully I never have to experience one of these.  I spend the majority of my days 20+ floors above ground and my escape routes would be limited in these tight confines.  There are 2 things I’m deathly paranoid about in HK so far 1) being trapped 20 stories high in a natural disaster and 2) getting hit by a double-decker bus on these tiny sidewalks.  I think about these things every day.  Seriously. 

For now, typhoons are a novelty and a potential day off of work.  Hopefully it stays that way.

hk harbour night

After the typhoon clears, the air is much cleaner.

Busy B’s

April 9, 2008

Just dropping a quick note to let you know about some of the exciting things coming up this week…

Thursday night, Kanye and N.E.R.D. will be in Hong Kong for the World Wide Bape Heads Show and I’ll be there front and center.   They’re supposedly signing autographs on Wednesday at the Ice Cream store in Central, but I won’t be able to take time off to go wait in line.  Sorry, Edwin.

kanye bape show

After that, I’m off to Bangkok for the weekend to meet up with Mr. BKK himself.  It just so happens that Songkran kicks off on Friday so I’m expecting rampant water fights on the street and 48 hours of madness.  I might as well strap my passport, phone, and money to my body (in a zip-lock) and hope to make it out in one piece.

And as Barney from HIMYM would say, “here’s the mini-cherry on top of the regular cherry on top of the sundae of awesomeness that is my life.” I just found out today that Buddha’s Birthday is a public holiday on May 12, so a few of us from work are trying to plan a trip to the Philippines. 

Bape, Bangkok, Boracay, and Buddha? Yezzir.

Rucker Park East

April 7, 2008

The weather in Hong Kong is starting to heat up, just like the competition in Rucker Park East (aka the Victoria Park basketball courts).  I know you fellow ballers out there have been wondering what the competition is like out here in HK, so I’m here to report back after my first run with the locals.

First off, the typical game is 3v3 here.  Everybody’s skills (young and old) are built around the half-court set.  Often times you’ll play with some older guys that are 80-90% from a certain spot on the floor because they’ve been practicing that single shot for years.  The younger players are starting to pick up on some of the flare of the NBA game for better or worse.  The tendency to carry and travel is quite high, and missed shots often result in phantom foul calls to save face.

I had a sense of all this before jumping onto the courts, so as we got our first game of 3v3 going, there really were no surprises.  Some of the better players out here have some pretty nice jab steps and mid range jump shots, but they severely lack in rebounding and defense.

Overall, I went 4 and 1 for the night, which isn’t bad considering it was the first time I had played in months.  I think there’s potential to find some decent competition on the right nights provided I can negotiate my way into games with my broken Cantonese. 

In the end, it was a night of decent competition, warm weather and no attitude…right up until the point I realized that my extra t-shirt had been stolen.  The shirt had no value other than the fact that it was the championship t-shirt from my UCSF rec league.  Maybe 4 and 1 didn’t pass over with the locals as well as I thought.

Rucker Park East…learn about it.

Escape to Sai Kung

April 6, 2008

I spent my Sunday afternoon in Sai Kung today.  I had Friday off because of Ching Ming holiday, so it was a great way to wind down the long weekend.  Sai Kung is a seaside town along the eastern shore of the New Territories (northeast of Hong Kong Island).  It’s a popular destination for the people of Hong Kong to get away from the concrete jungle.

Just to give you an idea of the city congestion, the core area of northern Hong Kong and Kowloon is approximately 35 square miles with a estimated population of over 3 million.  That’s about 90,000 people per square mile.  Considering that San Francisco is approximately 49 square miles with a population of 765,000, the population density is an insignificant 15,600 people per square mile in comparison.   Hence the need to escape on weekends…

Sai Kung is best known for it’s live seafood market (which I highly recommend for first timers), but I think my favorite part this time around was seeing the old seaside town that still existed amongst the budding modernization.  Tucked away in tight little alleyways, the local people still lead very humble lives.  I saw a few women washing vegetables under the faucet outside of their home because running water was not available inside.  These glimpses into old China put it all in perspective for me.  I’ll definitely think twice before the next time I take a hot shower or wash my clothes in a washing machine.