Wednesday, November 28

While the cat's away

Anne's been in Ohio the past few days.

I took full advantage of my temporary bachelor status by watching Dancing With the Stars two nights running.

Monday, November 26

Fucktard Friday, Simpleton Saturday ...

Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving Day (eg. a US-only holiday), appears to be gaining global traction. And Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday continue our nation's obsession with 'stupid days of the year'.

To the rest of the world I say, "Don't claim Black Friday unless you can compete with the galactic stupidity that invades the U.S., and in particular, WalMart."

I spent most of Friday clicking refresh on the Google News feed waiting for retail-rage stories.

WalMart had shootings in Tallahassee and San Leandro, pepper spray attacks in another part of California, but the winner is the security guard who choked to death a suspected shoplifter in Georgia.

In other choking news, the autopsy of a Florida man who died last month, showed that he choked to death after eating dozens of live cockroaches.

In a contest to win a python.

You cannot make this shit up.

Sunday, November 25

Simple Economics

There is literally a shopping list of items I like that Shaw's Supermarket do not sell.


And yet they sell 'You are 100' birthday cards.

How many do they expect to sell?

Even if they were the only place in the city to sell greetings cards it still wouldn't make commercial sense to sell this card.

Of course other stores do sell greetings cards, but Shaw's are probably the only store to sell them while simultaneously fisting you with (no-talent ass-clown) Michael Bolton's greatest Christmas hits.

I equate Michael Bolton with polonium, both take years off your life expectancy. Shaw's should sell 'You're going to die early' cards.

Thursday, November 15

The Border Incident

So Dave had agreed to accompany me to Shenzhen from where I would cross the border to Hong Kong.

Our driver picked us up, and we sat back for an hour and carried on chatting like we've known each other for life, rather than just 4 days.

As we pulled into the drop zone by the border crossing a lot of things happened very quickly.

I got out and noticed lots of people including officials hovering around. This is not uncommon in China. Meanwhile Dave jumped out the other side and the driver got out to help me with my heavy suitcase.

Suddenly there were guys in uniforms talking to the driver, and Dave was speaking to a guy who was flashing a leather wallet containing an official looking badge.

I stood there bewildered for 10 seconds during which I noticed that we were being video-taped by 2 other guys in uniforms.

I already knew this was not candid camera.

An official asked me to bring my bags off the road, and someone drove the car away.

Dave was explaining who we were and what we were doing. There were complications, including that Dave didn't have his passport, so we were ushered to a porta-kabin where they took my passport.

An animated conversation with lots of hypotheticals took place in English and Chinese, during which time we were filmed. There was also a guy writing down a statement.

The upshot was that we had used an unlicensed driver. But we argued, reasoned that you could pay a friend to drop you off.

Also Dongguan taxis cannot drive the whole way down to the border, so what can you do?

We were told that we were not in trouble. We asked if the driver was. Silence!

Finally they put a written statement in front of us and were 'requested' to sign it. Yes. An actual confession!

The whole thing took about 30 minutes and was more surprising than shocking. I guess I'm slightly disappointed that we folded and signed the confession. Jack Bauer in 24 was tortured (and for 20 seconds) killed and he still didn't sign a piece of paper blaming his driver.

Unsurprisingly I have no photos from this event. However, the Shenzhen police do.



Xie Xie

I had a little time for shopping today. First up I visited a tailor who is going to make me a few shirts. When I told my Dad he reminded me of the trousers his friend bought in London in the 60s. They were folded and bagged up when he bought them. Only when he got home did he realize they only had one leg.

Then I met this guy. So much stuff going on here ...


The guy on TV is the new Chinese premier. His inauguration was playing live as I taste-tested some tea.

The ebony carved board is the place where the intricate procedure of making the tea is performed. Lots of sniffs, pours, stirs, and crushes lead to a thimbleful of tea to taste. The most expensive tea I tasted was US$400 a bag. I didn't choose that one.

But I did choose an Oolong and a Pu-erh which came in a solid disc that looked like a discus.

After 12 small cups of tea, I had zero toxins inside me, so it was time for lunch again!

This time northern Chinese cuisine. More tofu, boiled peanuts, some lamb, cabbage, smaller but equally tasty dumplings all washed down with soy-milk.

For dessert, molasses-coated deep-fried banana. I joked that they had finally chosen something I didn't like. I hate banana!

And then it was back to the office to say my 'thank you's.

My Chinese co-workers have proven to be hard-working, polite and thoroughly welcoming.

Not quite the end of story ...

Wednesday, November 14

Let's do business!

A number of milestones today.

I interviewed a potential new hire, who knew very little English, but understood brand guidelines, variable elements, common die lines and crazy vendor timing.

We got along famously.

This is a shot from the bathroom, where thankfully they keep the window open, and burn incense. 

Today they installed a western style toilet on our floor instead of the hole everyone else uses. 

They've yet to install toilet paper. Or soap.

On the brighter side, also on our floor is a model agency, so there's a ton of awkward, giggling, cute girls (you so tall sir!!) and hipster-in-the-making boys with intentionally uncool eyewear.

Another great lunch. Excellent sushi, the eel being the highlight. I was told that during the recent territory dispute between Japan and China the restaurant posted a sign saying they were Korean.

This afternoon Dave and I had a meeting with a company with contacts in the local government.

Despite not speaking much Chinese, I understood most of the meeting. You just watch their hands, maintain eye contact ... and then turn to Dave for a translation.

We even exchanged business cards.

Afterwards I walked around the new part of Dongguan. They are building a brand new city of glass and steel buildings with wide boulevards. There is some serious retail here, and even better infrastructure. Dongguan will be a major city within 5 years.

At dinner I heard a terrible story about a dog being poisoned and sold for meat. After I ate. Good thing, bad thing?

Tuesday, November 13

Get it on

Dave met me at the hotel today and we walked to work.

I'm in China half a world away (and 13 hours) from Boston, but I'm seriously enjoying myself. It already feels like home, and after our new office party in La Jolla last week I'm beginning to enjoy the idea of multiple locations.

I have a desk, a powerful computer, and a stack of work to do.

Dave is from Vancouver, but the rest of my co-workers all come from different parts of China, and have spouses/family/kids back home who they only see a few times a year.

For lunch the whole team take me for some incredible local cuisine, plus a couple of dishes from other parts of China. Bobo is from Sichuan province and he orders a spicy fish-head dish while Shanghaiese Enson picks the biggest dumplings I ever saw. 

I get complimented on my chopsticks skills and also a nod of acknowledgement for my approval of the Pu-erh tea.

On the elevator ride back to the 6th floor I notice the manufacturer is Schindler. Yep, Schindler's Lifts. OK, so I made the same joke in New Zealand a few years ago, but it's worthy of a recycle.

Speaking of recycling, the local supermarket charges for carrier bags. I love this. It's just like Whole Foods, only cheaper. Way cheaper.

I announce to everyone that I'll be walking back to the hotel on my own tonight. It's only a 15 minute walk.

Well 15 minutes if you go the right way. Instead I head off on a different street with flashing billboards, crazy traffic and cyclists carrying 2 passengers.

It takes some time and a few short cuts down some darkly lit streets, along the way I see a wine shop called Simply Red.

After an hour of humid walking I get back to the hotel.

Shower. Sleep.

Monday, November 12

Mainland


Well after calling 852-22161026 a bunch of times, the airline delivered my bag just before midnight, and then after a short nap, a FaceTime with Anne, and a round of ironing! I checked out and waited for my colleague Dave to arrive.

We'd only seen each other's passport photos so we did a good job of picking each other out in the lobby, and after a quick car ride and train journey it was time to cross the border.

Like a bad spy movie you go through Hong Kong passport and customs and then walk through no-man's land towards the Chinese officials.

Oddly, the Chinese immigration officials have a "How did I do" electronic voting box on each counter with a grade of 1 to 5. As if you'd give them a one.

And then you hit the chaos of Shenzhen. The air smells different and the humidity seems worse.

Stood in line for a taxi I encountered possibly the worst ever beggar. He walked towards us, and then knelt before me and starting doing an amateur dramatics boo-boo style of crying as he jangled his cup in front of me. When I didn't comply to his wishes, he stood up, walked to the next line and began his routine again.

The taxi was only going a few miles, because we have ourselves 'a man' to drive us to Dongguan.

Shamefully, but only out of practicality, the first thing I ate in China was a wrap from Starbucks, washed down with a latte. Don't worry I'll be eating crazy shit later.

video

The hotel is awesome, and then it's off to work. We bought ourselves a photo studio a few months back, and it was time to meet my new colleagues, Terence, Carol, Enson and Bobo.

Their English is sooooo much better than my Chinese (Mandarin or Cantonese).

To finish off my day Dave takes me to an English themed bar. To be authentic, and remind myself of when I worked in London, I order a pint of London Pride.

Luckily it's off, so I grab a Guinness.

Back at the hotel, it's time to check-out the good stuff. Next to a yoga mat in the closet is a gas mask. And in the mini-bar, M&Ms and a questionable jerky.


Sunday, November 11

Speed tourism

I had 5 hours to see Hong Kong.

Here's a selection of what I saw, learned, heard and sometimes smelled.

This is the building that Batman jumps from in Dark Knight.

Obviously I did some Photoshop work here ... the sky was not as blue as that.

Being a Sunday, all of the domestic help women (mostly Filipino) sit out on the pavement and catch up on their week. It's like a convention of cute homeless people enjoying a picnic.

I saw a wedding party having their wedding photos shot by the harbor.

The pro photographer was super angry that tourists kept walking in front of the bridal party.

The old British governor's house with a replica Cenotaph outside. Being 11/11 I was reminded that my grandfather who fought in WWII was stationed in Hong Kong.

The Lippo Building looks like a bunch of koala bears hugging a eucalyptus branch.

If koalas were blue and made of glass.

4 and death sound alike in Chinese. So most buildings do not have a 4th floor.

The ATV Mr Asia tour was in town. All looked like twinks.

You catch the boat from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island from Stanley Ferry. Stanley Ferry is also a small part of Wakefield close to where my parents live.


Many businesses have the word fook and ho in them. I am a child.

There is a 45° funicular ride up to Hong Kong's highest point. Once you get out there are 8 floors of retail connected by escalators. That's when you remember you are in the capitalist part of China.

Once you get up there the view is incredible. I wished Anne was there with me, but in a strange way ... she was.

Afterwards I made my way back through the retail maze for the train. There was a 45 minute wait in line. It appears OK to burp loudly in China with no hand on mouth or excuse me. Although farting appears to be frowned upon.

5 days earlier while reading the news, Anne had said to me, "I'd avoid any public ferry between islands in Asia - they always seem to sink".

I thought of this as 700 (admittedly light in weight) Asians headed for one side of the boat as it docked.

After which I headed back to the hotel and walked through the attached mall that had Prada, Gucci and Versace stores. My overriding thought ... I hope my bag arrives soon because if I have to buy new clothes I can neither fit, nor afford these clothes.

You're staying here?

Disheveled and bagless I arrived at the swanky W Hotel.

The bellhop looked surprised I was staying here.

It appeared everyone was involved in an Armani fashion shoot as chill-zone cocktail house-music filled the air-conditioned lobby.

"No bags sir?".

Need I go on?

The room was like the future, everything was automated or vacuum packed.

Here's the reveal.

Yes. I know how fortunate I am.




video


Hong to the Kong

So to be honest I had planned to take the train to Hong Kong, but feeling sorry for my bag less self I hopped into a taxi.

As the ride began I sat back waiting for that moment you go round the hill and see the skyscrapers.

But it never came, so instead I became obsessed with the fare clock that appeared to be going up at an alarming rate. I did a quick calculation of the fare, and then did that glance in the wallet, and thumbing of the notes, when you already know that you only have a bit more cash than the clock reads.

We went past my wallet amount, and now I'm thinking, "Fucking hell - $200 for a cab?". It was another 5 hyperventilating moments before I noticed a thin line on the fare clock separating the last digit. Relieved that I had been multiplying the fare by 10, I relaxed, sat back and just then I saw the island of skyscrapers for the first time.


Saturday, November 10

Goddam Guam

After 12 hours in the air, the plane found it's way to the tropical island of Guam. At least I presume it did, because when we took off they announced there would be no in-flight TV working, and when we landed it was dark outside.

So for now we had 10 minutes of leg-stretch in an airport lounge of a tropical island.

There's a Home Depot close by.

Back on board, and with the doors shut, they announced there was electrical problems and we would be delayed ... for 3 hours. During which time we had to stay on the plane.

As the sun rose I can tell you that Guam looks lovely ... from a plane.

As The Smiths once sang, "Sheila take a bow", and our flight attendant Sheila was lovely. Plying us with drinks and snacks the whole time we sat at the gate. I even had a chance to chat, something I usually hate, but Sheila was an interesting diversion in an otherwise back-aching delay.

A full 17 hours into flight, we took off again for Manila. The fella in the seat across from me had an iPhone, iPad Mini, and iPad, and on both take-offs he ignored the requests to switch off electronics. Every 3 seconds he would swipe his finger on his iPad to play a shot, then pull his glasses down from his forehead to look out of the window, only to push them back a few seconds later. He repeated this move for a good 20 minutes. He also looked like the little naked chap who jumped out of the trunk in The Hangover.

In front of me, an American guy who looked like a model from a middle-aged clothing catalog (rugged middle-aged with salt and pepper hair) decided he needed to switch shirts, so he just stood up in the middle of the aisle and changed. As he stood there with no shirt on he even had time to ask Sheila for a second cup of coffee.

And so into Manila. By now I had missed my connection to Hong Kong, but Sheila let me know I would take the next flight ... as would my bag.

After landing I was walked to the departure lounge, by-passing passport control. With me was a woman who looked like a cross between Dolly Parton and Barbara Windsor. In other words, 4ft 10" in height with comedy sized tits.

She was not happy. But she'd be even unhappier in about 3 hours time.

On-board to HK, I was sat next to a guy who looked a lot Dick Cheney.

As you fly from Manila to HK you can see the sea below and hundreds of huge ships ferrying about freight.

Once in HK, passport was a breeze, but when the bags hit the carousel 3 of us were left waiting. Cheney, Tits McGee and me.

I'm somewhat of an expert at losing my bags in China, so with a Zen-like calm I hit the rost ruggage counter. "Dude you're calm", I imagined them saying as I described my bag.

Meanwhile tits was going full pelt at the kid behind the counter with the Chinese comedy villain beard.

Behind us Dick Cheney just glared.

"How long you in Hong Kong for Mr Taylor?"
"One night - tonight. Then I head for mainland."
"Oh. Difficult"
"Indeed"

I headed for the taxicabs full of confidence I would be wearing the same clothes for the next 4 days.

So I set the date of this post at November 10, but because I crossed the dateline I never encountered this day, jumping straight from the 9th to the 11th.

Friday, November 9

San Diego Serenade

Today we dined for lunch at a rooftop restaurant overlooking the Pacific.

I had the fish tacos, which always makes me laugh. Firstly because of I Love You Man, but secondly because when asked to cook 'the meal of her life', a soon to be eliminated Top Chef contestant chose fish tacos. And speaking of Top Chef, I had a perfectly prepared ceviche to start with. I've never seen a badly done ceviche on that show, or a badly cooked scallop for that matter.

Enough fish talk, it was time to pump up the tunes and drive up to LA. With GnR and The Doors blasting from the stereo, and the sun shining, life seemed pretty perfect. Four hours of LA drive time traffic later, plus an altercation with a homeless guy at a gas station I rolled into the Budget Car Rental listening to Edith Piaf whose depressing vocals matched my mood.

The  shuttle bus driver asked me three times if I was really flying Philippine Airlines. He was probably surprised that I only had one bag. At check-in I've never seen to many suitcases, taped up boxes, hampers and ottomans.

The guy behind the counter was shocked that I was only 'passing through' Manila. Sorry guy behind the counter.

I was traveling Business Class so I was invited to the Lounge on the 4th floor. Very specific. 4th floor, not 5th.

Turns out the 5th is for the classy airlines, and the 4th for the airlines you never knew existed until you added '4 stops' into Travelocity.

Even as I headed back down to the terminal the elevator by-passed the 4th floor 3 times, such was the importance of the 5th Floor business class passengers. To pass the time I ate a bag of complimentary almonds. Might as well spend their money.

The gate was a cacophony of noise, and across from me sat this lady, playing some stupid slot-machine game replete with chink-chink noises. (Last time I can use chink in a sentence for a week).

I heard, "At your convenience Business Class passengers may board", so I walked behind a lady in a wheel chair, but when I handed the attendant my ticket she shouted, "You not disabled sir, use other line". Convenience my arse.

The best part of business class is the quiet humming of perfumed air conditioning. You're not rushed to put your hand luggage in the overhead while some passive aggressive douche behind you nudges into you. And after a nice chat with the Filipino guy next to me, I put on the Top Cat eye mask and headed off to sleep for 7 hours.

Next stop Guam.

Chicken Tonight

So tonight I fly from LA to Manila via Guam. Not sure if we even get off the plane in Guam.

I looked up why we stop in Guam and this is what I found.

Category II is an FAA way of categorizing an airline in terms of reliability and safety. Unfortunately, PAL and other Filipino airlines get this rating. One of the restrictions for being Category II is that you cannot change your aircraft while you are given this distinction. So while PAL did buy the Boeing 777, capable of making it non stop with a full load, they can't fly it to the USA, just yet.

So there you have it, I fly in to the Philippines on a dodgy plane. The airport itself is one of the worst in the world. Here's the best photo I could find.

My hope for this flight is to avoid 2 things. Sitting next to a caged chicken, or an angry Filipino lady with an over-sized sun-visor.

Everything else will be a bonus.

Contrast

I'm lucky enough to be staying in a beautiful boutique hotel overlooking the ocean in La Jolla today.

My delicious breakfast of eggs, coffee and freshly squeezed juice was enhanced by the incredible view ... and three angry Jews discussing the nuclear obliteration of Iran.

"The Jews and the Persians go way back", stated one of the guys in his incredibly loud baritone. So although I learned that the native people of Israel and Iran have a common bond stretching back 3,000 years, I was left in no uncertain terms that this breakfast cabal wanted nothing less than the total destruction of "those fucking pricks".

Slightly scared, I went back to staring out to the Pacific and enjoying my first cup of the day.


Thursday, November 8

Downton Abbey Marathon

I don't know what the draw is for a show featuring a dithering but nice Englishman and his smart American wife.

We powered through Season 3 in the past week, for which I thank Anne.

She would have much preferred to watch an episode a week during the cold winter, but I was impatient to finish the show before my trip to China.

It means we've watched the series before it hits the US in January. If only we knew someone who watches the show here, we could tease them with plot lines!

Wednesday, November 7

Observations from an election

It's possible to ignore the whole thing
Until Monday Night Football I went the whole election season without listening to either candidate. What they were doing on Monday Night Football is still a puzzle to me, although either of them could replace the bumbling Chris Berman.

Compliments are free
Last Saturday a kid with a clipboard rang our doorbell. Because of Hurricane Sandy our doorbell is once again on the fritz, and it currently plays America the Beautiful. When I hear this tune I instinctively look up to see if 5 fighter jets are flying over a SuperBowl stadium.

The kid wanted to know if "we could count on your vote for Obama". After a few other easy questions he complimented me on my garden.

2 days later an old dear caught Anne at home and pulled the same compliment. We figure they have a list of compliments on the clipboard.

"You have nice teeth", "Those jeans are flattering", and "Nice garden". It didn't go unnoticed that Anne and I got the garden comment.

It's Cambridge for Atheists' sake
Jimmy Savile and Gary Glitter could run on the Democrat ticket and Cambridge would still vote Blue.

Get yourself in the sticker business
We all got "I voted" stickers at our polling station. Someone has to design and print those suckers.

Repetitive Strain Injury
The ballot is Tabloid/A3 size. We didn't just vote for PotUS, we had a long list of governmental positions to vote for, from Senator, through City Official, down to the guy you cleans the office (obviously a Democrat because you cannot get an Old White Guy to do this job).

Then you flip the ballot over and vote on Assisted Suicide, Medical Marijuana and 7 other brain-teasers.

MIT not Mitt
Apparently a kid in a MIT T-Shirt was turned away from a polling booth because they thought he was politically supporting Mitt Romney. Stupid on two counts. Nobody from MIT has ever voted Republican.

Karl Rove is a c*nt
As CNN announced that Obama was projected as the winner, I flicked over to see how Fox News was handling the disgrace.

Fox News had announced that Obama was the winner, but then about 5 minutes later Karl Rove argued they were wrong.

For the next 30 minutes the Fox anchors were sent on a merry dance to talk to the Fox statistical experts to explain how their bank of experts with the computing power of NASA could announce such a thing, when it was obvious that Karl with a $1.99 calculator knew better. He didn't know better.