Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Quick update

Just a quick update, to let my eight readers know what is going on. I have now left the Nation of Shopkeepers, and have moved north east to a country that is famous for, well not a lot, apart from the fact they eat reindeer steaks and pickled herrings.
I am isolated in a small town south west of Oslo, that is famous for its silver mines. It is dark - the sun rises at 10 in the morning and sets about half past two in the afternoon, and its cold - the maximum temperature yesterday was 4 degrees celsius (39 Farenheit to my two American viewers). Everything is expensive:- a glass of beer (not a pint) HKD62, a kebab is HKD 120 - the same price as a packet of cigarettes.
I get back to Hong Kong on Sunday, and normal service will be resumed for a week - then I fly to another cold place, Dalien - and its full of pretty girls as well, but very few with blue eyes, and blond hair.
P is missing me and my lips! Not too sure what to make of that - we'll find out on Sunday.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Panda porn pays off

Scientists say a bid to encourage giant pandas to breed by showing them 'panda porn' has paid off. They claim to have sparked a baby boom among the endangered animals by showing them DVDs of pandas mating. "It works," Zhang Zhihe, a leading Chinese expert, told the Xinhua news agency.

Pandas are notoriously poor breeders and the 'panda porn' movies were just one of many techniques used to encourage them to breed. In the first 10 months of this year 31 cubs were born in captivity in China and 28 survived, said Zhang. That's an increase from 12 births in 2005 and just nine in 2000. Of this year's births, 14 came through natural breeding, while artificial insemination or a combination of the two produced the rest.

Now comes the next test - getting the trick to work outside China. The day of reckoning will come in January, when Prasertsak Buntragulpoontawee hopes male Chuang Chuang and partner Lin Hui will mate in Thailand. "It is the same idea as chimpanzees seeing people smoke and then copying it," says the Thai researcher.

I am not too sure what to make of this, but I certainly find it quirky. So who were the panda porn stars? Who is the Linda Lovelace (showing my age, there) of the panda world? Who wrote the script?

I once got thrown out of the careers session at school for saying that I wanted to be a script writer for porn movies, but I certainly wouldn't have envisaged writing scripts for panda porn

Friday, November 17, 2006

Interstellar Day of Tolerance

Two self-acclaimed Jedi Knights want their faith to be formally recognised.
Umada and Yunyun, also known as John Wilkinson and Charlotte Law, want the UN to acknowledge Jedi is worthy of being called a religion.
It comes after 400,000 people recorded it as their faith in the 2001 Census.
They also want today's International Day for Tolerance renamed Interstellar Day of Tolerance.
Umada and Yunyun said: "For the last ten years the United Nations has marked the International Day of Tolerance. While we support this important work, we feel the UN needs to move with the times.
"Like the UN, the Jedi Knights are peacekeepers and we feel we have the basic right to express our religion through wearing our robes, and to be recognised by the national and international community.
"We therefore are calling upon the United Nations Association to change November 16 to the UN Interstellar Day of Tolerance, to reflect the religious make-up of our twenty-first century civilisation."
More people claimed to be Jedi in the census in England and Wales than those who follow Sikhism, Judaism and Buddhism.
There are also said to be 70,000 Jedi knights in Australia, 53,000 in New Zealand, and 20,000 in Canada. Source: ananova.
Well I think its a grand idea, and if I meet any little green men, who resemble amazonian tree frogs, today, I will be exceedingly tolerant towards them; on the other hand, if I meet up with two twenty-four carat plonkers, dressed in robes and calling themselves Umada and Yunyun, then they needn't expect any tolerance from me, and they won't see what's about to give them a kick up the backside. Of course if they are real Jedis, then they will be able to use the force to avoid it.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Culinary revenge is sweet

Everytime I travel to China, and my hosts take me out for a meal, they will, invariably, offer me some culinary 'delight' that, to me, is totally inedible - the last time it was deep fried caterpillars. Now, at last I have my revenge, by making my Chinese colleagues eat black pudding for breakfast, and then telling them what it is. Oh yes, revenge is a dish that is best served with a full English breakfast!

I was offered a ticket to a box at the Macau Grand Prix, today. Of course, I am unable to attend, as I am still here in England - but to make it worse my boss declined on my behalf because it breaches our ethical policy, well, he thinks it does. What a killjoy.

The training is not going well; all my trainees are making mistakes that they shouldn't, but, then again, its better that they make these mistakes now, during training than in the real world where these kinds of mistakes kill people.

Perhaps, the black pudding is affecting their minds!

I am still alive...

... but, I am stuck in a B+B in England where the internet connection keeps disappearing like a rat up a drain pipe, and to be honest, I am just not in the mood for bloggingl as my Chinese football team is making my life a misery, but hey ho - back in Hong Kong in, um, 2 1/2 weeks!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Romance of the English countryside

For the first few days of my stay in the UK, I am staying at the Anchor Hotel, which claims to have been “a regular haunt for Dick Turpin, which might explain a pistol found hidden in the rafters, bearing the chilling inscription, 'Dick's Friend'”, the hotel also claims to have “witnessed the blossoming romance of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor”, whilst they were filming at nearby Shepperton Studios. whilst they were filming “Cleopatra”.
Unfortunately, she became ill, and the English weather hindered her recovery and the whole production had to move to Rome.
This interesting little anecdote is about the only redeeming feature of this picturesque, but mediocre, boarding house that masquerades as a hotel.
There are hordes of these places around England, that market themselves as wonderful places to stay, but whose features include:- tatty carpets (often tattoed with cigarette burns), cheap doors that are not hung properly, worn towels and sheets, bathrooms slightly smaller than an aircraft’s toilet, a television that is small, poorly tuned and attached to the wall on a poorly fitted bracket, a selection of toiletries and coffee making ingredients that were obviously on special offer from the local cash and carry.
These establishments usually have one redeeming feature, however; and, that is their breakfast. The full English breakfast I had today was matchless:- scrambled eggs with a perfect consistency, great bacon, a proper English sausage, a grilled tomato and some fresh mushrooms along with some black pudding. For those of you who don’t know about black pudding, it’s a pigs blood that has been boiled, and is mixed with cereals, and enclosed in intestine – it may sound disgusting, but I love it. I wonder whether Richard and Liz had black pudding with their breakfasts together?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Perfidious Albion

Well I made it to Perfidious Albion in one piece, and as a bonus, no screaming babies! Mind you I did have a passenger with a bladder problem sat in the window seat, clambering over my legs every couple of hours.
When we arrived the pilot told us that it was a “tropical six degrees Celsius”. Tropical is not the adjective I would use to describe the grey, miserable climate at Heathrow at 5 o’clock in the morning in fact I would use a term like cheerless or wretched.
After a quick shower I picked up a hire car and came to the UK headquarters of Pipe Flange Welders International. The usual procedure is you hand over your pass from the local office, and receive one for this office that lets you on site. But they have changed the process and now someone must vouch for you, so the question is, who would be on site at that time in the morning, who would remember me. Every name I mentioned didn’t appear to be on site. Finally managed to get someone who assured reception that I actually worked for this company and I was allowed inside the hi tech, glass and steel sepulchre that houses our company. Walking around I noticed a few changes like more pictures on the wall, and new coffee machines – but here something’s haven’t changed, one of the machines was out of order and the coffee still tasted absolutely awful.
My body is now trying to tell me to go and get some rest, but I am trying to resist, because I know that if I lie down now, then I will be wide awake at 3 o’clock in the morning. That wouldn’t be too bad in Hong Kong where there are still places open at that ungodly hour, but here it’s a different game all together. So I have got to hang on until a reasonable time, then I can take my melatonin tablet, and hopefully, by tomorrow I will be right as rain.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The World's Favourite Airline? Not mine!

Well tonight I am going back to England, not because I want to, I don’t, but because I have to. My company wants me back in the UK for a meeting. Now their policy is that staff should only travel if it is business essential. Ha! With umpteen thousand people in the UK working for us, why couldn’t one of them do it?
Anyway the long and short of it, is I will be availing myself of the delights of the business class lounge at Hong Kong Airport, before going onboard to be welcomed by a homosexual in grey flannel trousers, and I will know that effectively I am back in the UK (scones for breakfast, anyone?). Of course British Airways has changed the name of business class to club class, does this mean you have to join the club to fly in this area of the plane, of course not and it means that people can bring their babies in there, which are essentially a huge lung covered only in a light veneer of skin. It is simply not fair to impose your screaming child on other people, people who have paid thousands of pounds for a flat bed and therefore the promise of some sleep. British Airways does not allow you to smoke while on board, or carry knitting needles or have sexual intercourse with other passengers. You are also not allowed to board if you have shoes with explosive soles or if you’ve had one too many tinctures in the departure lounge. And if you make any sort of joke, about anything at all, in earshot of the stewardesses, you will be tied to your seat as though it was the fifteenth century, and you were in the stocks – but screaming infants, that’s fine!
So, after the twelve hour torture tube, where life is only made reasonable by immersing your taste buds in some half reasonable red wine, I will take advantage of the arrivals lounge at Heathrow where I can use the “refreshing power showers, business facilities” and fill my guts with “a choice from the breakfast buffet”.

Next time I will look at flying Virgin, where at least I can get a massage, and prop up the bar on the flight, or I could go by train.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Quick review of the weekend

I went out with P on Friday night, we started out at Carneggies, which was fine - P managed to throw her pint over me, and the staff were more interested in clearing up the mess on the bar and floor, than helping me to dry off. Some plonker went on one at the staff because the packet of cigarettes he had left on a table had gone, and there were only two cigarettes left!
After that, we went to 109 bar; its the first time I had been there, and it seems OK. I was sat at the bar, when suddenly the aircon unit in the ceiling decided to spill water all over me! It was going to one of those nights! After that P wanted to go home, so I walked her home, got a snog on her doorstep but nothing more, so I thought I would wander back to Neptune II.
There I met someone, who they say "could fire Donald Trump", and someone else, who they say "does not see like humans do, instead he sees numbers in green scrolling down". I didn't stay there too long.
Saturday morning I woke up with a sore head, but wanting to make the most of weather headed out to Hong Kong Wetlands Park. It was a really nice day out, and I would have enjoyed it a lot more if some Bozo (me) hadn't forgotten to put the memory card back in his camera! Still its a nice place to go, and educational to boot. Although it was busy, it wasn't packed out, and could move around easily and get to the hides.
Sunday, I carefully put my memory card in my camera, and headed up to the peak for a couple of hours. Having taken the tram down again, I wandered through Central, including a motorcycle show at Chater Road. Then I wandered up to LKF for a liquid lunch, then up through the zoo, and back home.
In the evening I went over to Kowloon to see the light show - glad I have seen it, but not the kind of thing I would want to see again.
I will try and get round to posting some of the pictures I took, but don't hold your breath. It was nice to be a tourist for a weekend.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Grateful, not disappointed any more

Well, I mulled it over for a while, then went back and bought the zoom lens I was after - what made it worthwhile was buying the 1.4 times teleconverter, which was a couple of hundred bucks cheaper than in the US, so put them both together and I got a good deal. I know the teleconverter will make the lens even slower (you lose a f stop) but I like it!
So I did an experiment from my apartment balcony.

This is the view from my balcony with a 'normal 50mm lens. In this photo you can see alot, but the Cheif Executive's building is quite insignificant.

OK here we are at 135mm, which was the greatest focal length I had before. The building is clear but you can't see too much detail, such as the flag flying on top of the building.

Now, I have fitted the zoom, and taken it out to a focal length of 300mm, which is supposed to be this lens' sweet spot.

Now we are out at 400mm focal length, and for instance, I can see the fire extinguisher on the flat roof by the door.

This is with the teleconverter fitted, giving a focal length of 640mm. Hmm I am really happy!
Now I just need to go out and take some interesting pictures! I'm glad I bought the lens.

With a heavy load on a long journey

They say that there are two dimensions to learning Mandarin: i) Reading and Writing, and ii)Listening and Speaking.
I have been concentrating on the former, because, its easier, more useful to me, and I enjoy talking to people more than writing (now, that's an admission from a blogger!).
Given the numbers of Chinese language blogs I don't see how my being able to write Chinese will improve things.
My refusal to bother with Chinese characters really gets my Mandarin teacher upset: "you will learn so much more about Chinese culture if you can read and write Mandarin" OK some of the simpler characters, say 3 or 4 brush strokes I can handle, but when you get chareacters like
亀 I just draw a blank
Finally, I have moved onto book 2 of the Survival level, and it has been hard going - my Chinese colleagues insist on speaking English and won't let me practice my Putonghua, I am not getting across to the Mainland as often as I would like, and I am only having one lesson each week for two hours.
But I now have a new tool to learn Mandarin, which is Chinese podcasts, that I download for free from www.chinesepod.com, stick them on my iPod, and when commuting to and from work I can listen to Ken and Jenny discussing Chinese phrases.
The podcasts come in four levels:-newbie, elementary, intermediate and advanced. By far the most podcasts are in the newbie level, which suits me just fine.
Sometimes, I even have the coincidence of hearing a podcast that relates to the lesson I just had, for instance yesterday in the lesson I was learning about the seasons and weather; then, walking to work today the key word in the podcast was leng (3rd tone) meaning cold, so I am going about the office asking everyone "ni leng buleng?", and they all think I am mad!

My boss is in the UK at the moment and has been talking to the HR department (dangerous!), so , sends me an email asking how long I wanted to stay in Hong Kong, and what did I want to do after I left Hong Kong. Well I have only been here part of a dog watch, so it seems a bit early to be thinking of moving on, but in my company foreign assignments tend to last for upto three years, and foreign assignments are hard to come by (3% of the staff world wide are on foreign assignments, and the number is going down), so I reply to him – how about I stay here for another twenty years and retire, but at the very least until 2010. He seems happy with that plan, which to me is great, and means that I can settle into life here in Hong Kong, and carry on learning Mandarin. Of course, just because he thinks it is a good plan doesn’t mean that it will pan out that way. I have seen too many instances of people getting settled into a new role and beginning to make things work well, and then they are moved on to pastures new.

Anyway the weekend is coming up, so a few drinks with P tonight, and see what happens next!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


I had been thinking about getting a new lens for my camera, and was taken with the zoom lens shown above. Its a 100-400mm zoom lens made by Canon, and is pretty good if a little bit "slow" with a maximum aperture of f4.5.
So I did my research, and you can get this in the UK for the equivalent of HKD13,000, but if you are in the USA, you would only pay HKD10,900. So after work yesterday I wandered along to Stanley Road and walked into a shop and asked the price of the lens, and I nearly fainted when he told me it was HKD17,000! Then a lady comes out from behind the curtain and says "No, the 100-400 is HKD11,700", so I asked her which lens was 17,000 dollars and she told me it was this one.

I didn't think that I really needed the 28-300mm zoom, and having done a quick conversion of the 100-400mm lens into US Dollars, and, not being in the mood to haggle, walked out of the shop, and walked up to Lan Kwai Fong for the happy hour at the Bulldog Bar. LKF was just getting ready for the halloween celebrations, so not being in the mood for a crush, I headed home early for some yellow chicken thai curry.