Red Sox and Taiwan

Red Sox won the World Series... again!

And as I was watching game 4 (sort of) while on the beach, I was told that I have to go to Taiwan for a case. So here I am, on Halloween night, in Taipei, writing a blog entry.

Here's a pretty cool link to how to take better pictures.


Beach Time

In consulting, when you are in between cases, you are "on the beach." What does this mean? Well, as I've found out the last two weeks, it means all the hard work you put in during the case and all those lost nights are returned to you. Which means:

No need to be in the office*
Need to work on ad-hoc stuff
Time to get life outside of work back on track

*need to be ready to report within 2 hours if called upon

So yes, I do enjoy consulting.

Meanwhile, I think I just saw Gagne warming up in the bullpen with Paplebon and I threw up in my mouth. As a rule, if you have your best pitcher warming up, you shouldn't have your worst doing the same. Red Sox are ready to clinch another World Series... or so I hope.


Wrong Kong

A trail of thought that got lost somewhere... not that you would care. But I'll post it anyway.

Hong Kong has been consistently voted the "freest economy in the world." In other words, this means minimal intervention in the economy by the government, a move coined "positive nonintervention" that is so admired by the likes of Milton Friedman (and other U of C economists, I'm sure).

If you cared to read the above link, you will easily find the reason why Hong Kong is so successful: lots of big money merchants who fled from Shanghai to HK from communism being able to do whatever they want with their money and resources with minimal intervention. This is consistent with capitalism theories on the most efficient use of money leads to the best developments in the economy. Note that the key ingredient: big money people fleeing to Hong Kong.

Yet nowadays, when I read newspapers in Hong Kong, there are complaints about everything: more freedom in elections, social services not enough, support for low income families not enough, healthcare not enough, too much pay for civil servants, too much collusion among big businesses, more support on education, reduce monopoly prices on electricity and transportation, focus on urban development undermines cultural sites, etc etc.

Therein lies one of the biggest ironies of my home country... if you are keeping tab: freest economy, limited political freedom, a very free press, and too much freedom in certain sectors of the economy.

The aforementioned complaints breaks down into this:
1. More political freedom
2. Spend more to support lower class, health care, education, etc
3. Don't collude with big business

In other words...
1. Government give us more political freedom
2. Government spend more on lower class
3. Government to suppress big business

The Hong Kong government is the favorite target of Hong Kong people (media?). I cannot argue with point 1 and 2. Note that the same people asking for 1 have been asking for the last 10 years without much push (real push... everybody wants it mentally... but nobody is moving for it... such is the Chinese culture). Those who want 2 also oppose an increase in tax to pay for it. Hm.

The next favorite son to blame: greedy big businesses. This is where I get most confused. As I wrote above, the success of Hong Kong has been the result of government not interfering with big business. Now people want the reverse. Part of the reason is that big business equals Chinese government (think about THAT irony!!) due to all the money that is made in the mainland. Part of the reason is us consumers don't want to be screwed over. Big business (read: China) is taking over and making us give them all our money!

What about the reverse: big business also gives us a lot of employment and money to spend! In fact, many economists oppose tax brackets because it encourages (in US anyway) people to play with deductibles and miss the tax bracket. Also dangerous is that it discourages business from spending the additional income on its employees because they have to pay taxes.

I wonder what the solution is. Increased government intervention runs against what made Hong Kong. At the same time, no intervention will fuel more cries from the people (media?). I believe the HK government should focus on education and healthcare. All the commercial stuff leave it up to the people and the media - they seem to have enough free time to protest against businesses. And perhaps they ought to know: it is not because the government is useless and passive (it could be... I just don't know), but also should consider that their passivity has propelled Hong Kong to its current prosperity.


On the tram back home

One nice thing about taking the tram home is that I have 30 minutes of calmness. For instance, yesterday coming back from work:
  • I think I can do this (i.e. consulting) for a while
  • How did I survive my first case without scratch
  • I have a new format for slide #4 (disrupting calmness)
  • Where can we hike this week
  • I wonder how the pictures turned out from last week
  • I miss Alan
  • I miss PNGF
  • Beach time is nice
  • I should organize something social - I used to do that a lot in Boston... what happened
  • What should I talk about with my staffing manager (disrupting calmness)
  • I should buy a new lens for macro photography... I really need one
  • A Wii could be nice at my home
  • Should I go to Mong Kok for a set of stereo
  • I need to exercise
  • Food is so cheap in Hong Kong
  • Basketball, perhaps...
  • What if the Red Sox win another World Series
  • The Pats and the Colts are playing next week. I want to see that game
  • HK TV sucks
Ops, my stop now.


Weird pricing schemes

I got myself a TV over the weekend. What I couldn't figure out is the following paying options:
  1. Pay $10K now
  2. Pay $10K in 12 monthly installments, interest free
  3. Pay $10K in 18 monthly installments, interest free
  4. Pay $10K in 24 monthly installments, interest free
Is there something U of C didn't teach me here?

(by the way, I added a tag for "consulting" so I can keep track of my comments on general business suggestions and questions. This particular pricing scheme seems to be out of whack with whatever the company is trying to do)


White Food in Yellow Land

First things first, congrats to Tufts Jumbo being mentioned in a sports column!

BSLW once commented that Hong Kong has no good white food, just like Chicago has no yellow food. I set off to prove him wrong.

First stop was Le Mieux Bistro, tucked inside an industrial building in Chai Wan. There are many restaurants like this now because of crazy rents in Hong Kong. Good chefs find a cheap location and set up shop inside and rely on word of mouth to get business. Unlike many HK restaurants, they rely on price rather than turnover to stay afloat.

Here's the menu: Sashimi of scallop, Japanese Angel Prawn, slow cooked salmon and sea whelk, seafood raviloi (their spelling mistake!) with tomato lobster sauce, roasted Australian beef tenderloin and sword fish loin, chocolate cake with raspberry sorbet. Coffee or tea. All for $33.

Definitely the best sashimi I've had in years. The shrimp beats (gasp!) Oishi's. Extremely fresh and well put together dish. The seafood ravioli had very good sauce... and I forgot what was in the ravioli. Beef was so so - threaded beef isn't my type of steak. But the swordfish and dessert were excellent. Okay, so I do realize that this verdict supports white food is no good in HK... but at least the dessert was on par!

Cooked shellfish, sashimi scallop, salmon, and shirmp

Second testing grounds was Caprice at Four Seasons. This French bistro opened not too long ago and has been touted as one of the best in Hong Kong. Indeed it was. In addition to the appetizer (escargot and warm foie gras) and starter (lobster and seabass) and dessert (Rasberry dessert) we (PNGF and I) ordered, we also got pampered with small food items in between.

The escargot came in soup form. There were some escargot in the asparagus-based soup and there were also three wonton-type escargot that you can dip into the soup. The asparagus soup was very well made and the taste of the escargot was better than most I've tasted in Paris, mostly because the flavor of the escargot was not overpowered by garlic oil. Rather, the asparagus soup brought out the ever faint flavor of the snails.

Warm foie gras wasn't bad. A bit too mushy for my tastes.

The seabass was a good dish. Most seafood dishes in Hong Kong are with the very high standards that locals have set up (not so much for Japanese food, I don't understand why). Fresh seabass cooked to perfection.

The star of the night was the lobster though. It was well cooked and served with a vanilla foam. The sauce was both from the lobster oil (in lieu of butter sauce) and a hint of vanilla. I thouroughly enjoyed this dish. Something was missing though: only one claw could be found! I know that the lobster tail is where all the meat is... but still... I'd like to see both claws. Given all my Boston experiences, I think this one comes damn close (Boston ones are old school and would never try anything adventurous like this).

Lobster was comparable to Boston ones
And the little dishes that they serve in between dishes wasn't bad either. The following is the last one served up after our order of dessert AND a free sample of chocolate.

Marshmallow dish was satisfying (I couldn't wait to take pictures...)
Last but not least, I also went to Cru, apparently a frequent visit for bankers in Hong Kong. I've been there twice and both times I was led there by someone working for a big bank. I remember the sesame tuna was good, as well as the prawn skewers (a bit on the salty side for me) and pumpkin salad. I ordered a seafood pasta dish that was quite well made. But the key to the night was the Mars Bar Cheesecake. I'll let the picture do the talking.

Mars Bar Cheesecake is evil

I'd say white food is quite good in Hong Kong. Now I am craving for a decent piece of steak.


All roads lead to the office

I'm evaluating how I should get to the office from my home, and I've broken them down into three categories (remember, I bleed consulting): speed, price, and comfort. This is from fastest to slowest.
  1. Taxi: fastest at about 15 minutes, cost $30, and always entertaining while listening to the driver bitch about whatever
  2. MTR: about 30 minutes, cost $4.6, likely inside a cramped cabin followed by walking on busy Central streets, lots of trains so no waiting
  3. Tram: at about 35 minutes and $2, I can always get a seat and enjoy the breeze... though it is truly old school without air-con and wooden hard seats (by the way, the tram is surprisingly fast because it has its own tracks and not slowed by traffic)
  4. Bus #5, 5B, 18: at about 40 minutes and $3.7, they bring me right up to the building like a cab, I usually can get a seat on the bus too
I picked... tram. There's something about riding an old transportation vehicle and enjoying the old districts zip by you while enjoying the breeze. Just love that feeling.

And the fact that I will be spending about $40 on transportation to work per month. Sometimes, being cheap excites me. I can't explain it. Maybe I need a raise. haha.

(all figures in HKD)


Michael Clayton, and more on Lust, Caution

Michael Clayton

When I heard that the writer of Bourne series worked even harder on the script of Michael Clayton (George Clooney), I decided to go see it with PNGF even though I had no idea what it was about. I knew it had something to do with lawyers... so it's got to be some struggle between good and evil. Someone mentioned it was Oscar-worthy too.

Well, I came out the theater satisfied while slightly disappointed. Satisfied because there were some fine performances and the movie was overall captivating and meaningful. Slightly disappointed because it was so predictable. (Not Oscar worthy, by the way... maybe the supporting cast)

Back when I worked for AG, one of my colleagues decided to go to public policy because she often found that our clients are not "worth defending" because they make so much money. This movie would be perfect for her.

Anyway, the movie is less about the evil corporation. Michael Clayton is the focus of the movie. The movie is about the transformation of a person. A series of events have planted the seeds for Michael's transformation and one big change just lit the fire (quite literally). I think one of the key questions I came out asking myself is how long can one person be in a shitty situation. Michael kept taking it in the movie: from his friend, his boss, his firm, his client, his family. In fact, this is a man who takes shit for a living. Reason? Because he has bent over and accepted it. I will not be that person... and I also thought seriously on whether I will be the person who gives shit. No answer on that one yet.

Verdict: Go see it.


Last time I mentioned excessive sex scenes in Lust, Caution, an anonymous comment linked to a HK commentator who discussed why the sex scenes were necessary. My response: yes, for some audiences. No, if those scenes switch the attention to sex - something we as humans do on a regular basis. People in Hong Kong make this into such a big deal. Sure, the three scenes have more love involved progressively. I think that's quite obvious. Some of the positions are quite provocative and have meaning of more compatibility between the two characters. I understand all that. What I also understand is that the focus is shifted to the superficial visual understanding of the story. Most of the audience come away talk about balls and boobs and sex. And that bothers me.

May the record show that Lust, Caution is not about sex! It is about forbidden love and how love does not trump all. Reality does. Situation does. Fear governs the male lead - the scene where he dives into the car in escape ranks as one of the funniest moments in such a serious movie. Love and loyalty governs the female lead - her constant struggle between the sides is painful to fathom. Patriotism governs another male lead - he is so blinded by the grandeur of nationalism that he misses the love that is in front of his eyes (which could have ironically saved everybody).

Yet when push comes to shove, reality takes over. People die because of love. People survive because of reality. And that's what Ang Lee is trying to tell us.

Fortune Telling

Funny how I've been in Hong Kong for years and never visited the legendary 黄大仙 (Wong Dai Sin - literally the Great God with a last name Wong... why am I explaining this!?) temple. The temple attracts many to go and make peace with the gods after their regular work day… and of course learn their futures from the nearby fortune telling stalls.

Honestly, I didn't know what to expect. I've always associated Wong Dai Sin with lower class Hong Kong. As a child, I learned that the temple is chaotic and there's a lot of smoke from all the praying. I knew there was an MTR station to it, but I didn't know exactly which line it was on or how far it is (I got crap from FK and DT when I thought it was in the New Territories � it's actually in Kowloon).

Anyway, I've never thought of the Taoist temple as a tourist attraction. Since one of my aspirations while in Hong Kong is to follow the guide books and experience Hong Kong as a tourist, a visit would be quite novel.

So last weekend, PNGF, who's over here for 10 days, and I went together disguised as tourists. There's something unsettling when you walk out of an ultra modern subway system and an old temple sits right next to it… together with a bustling mall (some stores selling incense, no less).

Colorful entrance to the temple

The temple itself is very colourful (pardon the English � the Brits have it right). There are a few of them littered around the premise and each one of them represents different gods. The Confucius one is for education, for example. There's also a deceivingly peaceful pond and garden tucked behind the temples � don't miss it because it's very rare in Hong Kong to be able to enjoy a peaceful moment within the city. The main temple is where all the action is �people offering fruits/food/whole pig (cooked) to the gods, incense burning everywhere, people on all fours praying, people just praying, children running around as grandparents try to make them pray. Quite a scene.

The main temple and all the praying patrons

However, the real deal in Wong Tai Sin that attracts all the tourists (I'm guessing this is a relatively new thing for HK tourist…?) is the fortune telling. Here's how it (the simple version) works:

  1. Get a bamboo container that has many bamboo sticks inside � if you are facing the main temple, the booth is on your left
  2. (You can also get the instructions there if you are confused as to what to do)
  3. Kneel on your knees facing the temple � anywhere will do
    Ask the gods a question, any question (e.g. what does my career in the next 2.5 weeks/months/years look like? Should I move to a new apartment? Is my partner having an affair? Is surgery going to cure my friend's cancer?)
    Shake the bamboo container facing up (if in doubt, observe others)…
  4. …until ONE bamboo stick falls out
  5. There should be a number (1 to 99 or something) on the stick; write down the question and the corresponding number
  6. repeat the question, shake, write routine until all your questions have been asked
  7. Take all your questions and numbers and head to the fortune teller!
  8. They charge HKD30 per question… and they will upsell you with more fortune telling stuff

Back to our fortune telling adventure. 很邪 (very supernatural/superstitious):

I shook mine good while concentrating on my question… and the stick with the #38 fell out.

PNGF shook hers and it took a while; many bamboo sticks stood out and finally one came out: it was #38 also!

Guess who pitched the Red Sox into the ALDS that day? #38 Curt Shilling! This is all making sense!

Back in reality, we were wandering to the fortune telling stalls and we picked one that indicated that he spoke English. I hide my Cantonese and asked for a fortune telling session, and he led us to another lady.

She sat us down and picked out a piece of paper that corresponded with #38 (that's right, PNGF and I both got the same paper), which is a medium lucky number. On the paper was a poem about a famous idealist poet 陶渊明 who quit his job and went to live on a farm because he didn't want to compromise his morals in politics.

Basically, this is how the fortune telling works: the lady answers your question based on the story on the paper. In our case, since the story is about someone who won't compromise and took the unemployment route instead, then:

If you asked about love, then don't argue or else things won't go right
If you asked about health, don't do the surgery
If you asked about career, compromise a little bit
If you asked about moving homes, don't force stuff in the new place

Though I won't tell you what my question is, with #38 and Mr. "I'll quit if it's too much reality � and I'll be quite well off without reality," you can imagine my fortunes aren't exactly what I wanted to hear. I need challenge, I need change.

Hong Kong, a mix of modern and traditional, east and west


Good Question, Shmoo

Reporting from Hong Kong:

It is now 12:32am and I've just decided, based on Shmoo's comments, that I will not not blog (always wanted to use a double negative). I've also decided that I need to leave work now and not post blogs via emails when I can do so back home in a few minutes.


Blogging at work

Not that I'm supposed to do this... (hey, you know me - I love controversies!)

Recently, we (as a firm) have been granted access to Gmail and other internet email sites. However, I still don't have access to blogger (the working site for blogspot) at work. Hence I have resorted to using the email to send a blog post in. The downside? Can't do pictures. Not that I have much anyway. Herein lies one of the biggest downsides of being home: you don't tend to carry a bulky camera around a town you call home... yet I digress.

Work's been busy. So blogging will end (today).


Restaurant story

It's been a while since I've had an "all went wrong went wrong" story... so I'm not about to start. But this encounter at a Japanese restaurant is pretty funny.

BL and I met for lunch somewhere in Causeway Bay. The Japanese restaurant isn't well known for sushi so we ordered some cooked dishes. Among them was a sizzling plate - you know, the ones where you put the meat on a piece of metal that's either heated or on top of some heating device - with beef tongue.

Turns out the dish was a hot metal piece on top of a gas stove. The dish arrived with an array of sauces. The waiter came over immediately to warn us that the sauce is not to be put on the sizzling plate because it causes a lot of smoke and sometimes customers drip the oil on the gas stove and all hell breaks loose. Okay, we got it. No sauce on plate. He repeated the instructions once more.

The problem was obvious from the on set. With no oil on the cooking device, the meat was going to stick onto the plate. And it did... and our chopsticks couldn't tear one piece of beef tongue from the plate because the sizzling metal wasn't fixed and efforts to turn the beef kept bringing the stupid plate as well. So... what to do? I got a piece of napkin to wrap it around the handle of the metal and hoped to turn the meat before the heat got to my finger.

Naturally, the napkin dipped a bit too much and caught fire from the stove. Unfazed, I tried to blow it out... which of course didn't work cus I'm adding oxygen to the fire. Hmm... the fire is burning through the napkin and is getting hot on my finger.

Remember the sauce that came with the dish? Readily available, this liquid seemed like the perfect cure to the fire in front. And BAM! The flame went up a few feet. That quickly got the attention of the waiter and one of them came rushing in with an extinguisher and spray that shit all over our food as BL and I dove for cover.

Or at least that's what would have happened if this were a Mr. Bean movie (tons of those floating around HK for some odd reason). I placed the burning napkin on the table and extinguished the fire using the bottom of my glass, which was filled with water. I didn't want to use the water cus it might splash back on me. haha.

Sorry, I wish it were more dramatic too! Also as important is the speed at which the waiter rushed over to help. This dish has clearly presented problems before...


Tech Support

The survey sent out from tech support was for a survey to rate their services. One question caught my eye though:

"How is your hardware?"

It's good, thank you very much, it's good.