Thursday, December 13, 2007

0712132200 Job interview at Chinese Catholic girl's school

I had a job interview with the principal of a Chinese Catholic girl's school. This time there will be no second interview. Instead of showing me the door with a curt "We''ll be in touch" they showed my my schedule and starting date. I have a class on Monday 7th of January. I am to teach the Chinese Catholic girls how to read a book and sing a song in English to prepare them for their exams on January the 14th. No pressure. They wanted me to start on January 4 - but I will still be in Australia and as much as I wanted to dedicate myself to this new job, the pay doesn't justify cancelling an aeroplane ticket with a free night in a foreign city at the airlines expense. The pay is, well it depends how you look at it - as an unskilled laborer, that is a common person with simple sandwich making skills, it is not so bad. It did make me think about it this way - what is required in terms of additional years at university compared to the additional earning capacity? I have already more work lined up as an English speaking teacher's aid than I have as an English speaking computer technician.

The interview was to assess my Australian accent and assure them that I will not be teaching the Chinese Catholic girls any strange English dialect. They will see an Australian accent when I teach these Chinese Catholic girls how to sing Waltzing Matilda and Tie Me' Kangaroo Down. I was given a tour of the school and introduced to the classes - grade one to grade six. My instructions so far are that I am to speak English and read a story. Also they have an English performance every Friday at lunchtime that is also my responsibility. I have already dismissed the thought of teaching them to say "Frank Burns eats worms."
I have read the employment contract and I can leave at anytime as long as I call before 8:30 so they can arrange a replacement before classes start at 10:00. Apparently English speaking teacher's aids are difficult to find. I am still looking for a real job and so I feel a bit like Happy Gilmore who insists that he is a hockey player while he plays golf . The real employment goal is to work at Marriott Hotels. I have made it through to a second interview that will be done over the phone Asia Pacific construction manager on Monday.

Hugo is doing well at Kung Fu. I usually pick him up from school and we go to the library before the class starts and he finishes his homework for the week. Today I bought a McDonalds apple pie for Hugo as an after school snack. In Australian dollars it was $1.35. We bought two more on the way home and had them for desert while we watched T.V. Hugo has his yellow belt in Kung Fu and can do a special move called the "Golden Dragon move series one" which makes Hugo a formidable opponent.

Mash - "Dear Peggy" Season four.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

0712112130 English has two too many "to's".

The language difficulty for today is with English rather than Cantonese - English has at least two too many "to's". I had to find an address, as I keep saying, in foreign country, in another language. There is nice lady, Cora, from church that runs an agency that specialises in farming out English speaking people to schools for a reasonable fee and, considering the type of work, a decent days pay. Cora speaks Cantonese and English and told me the address as "Thirty Eight Two Forty Four" which is quite a big number but not unusual in the city. It is common to give phone numbers as multiples of tens in Hong Kong. My phone number could be said as "twentytwo, sixtysix, fortytwo, fiftyseven". (If that was my number). I searched for number 38244 on Shau Kei Wan Road and ran out of numbers at 6582. Even though I knew where I was, I had no idea where I was going. Several roads converged in a vipers nest of bridges, flyovers and underpasses and I had no idea what road went where. A few minutes before the appointed interview time I was rescued by a courtesy call from Cora that finally explained the true location of the office. Cora's office address is at number 38 - 44. A quick tram ride for HKD$2 and I was only a few minutes late.

The meeting centred around how Cora's agency can make a teacher out of a telecommunications technician - Cora asked me, as if I had planned to come to Hong Kong and be an English as a Second Language Teacher, "tell me anywhere that you have been a teacher". The job seems simple enough - I am to read stories to primary school kids and never speak Cantonese to them. The bit where I never speak Cantonese will be easy. I try to use my limited vocabulary where it is appropriate - this gives the illusion that I know the language.

Cora - "Do not let the children know that you can speak Cantonese"
Me - "That part will be easy because I can't speak Cantonese"
Cora - "I can hear you, you speak Cantonese very well"
Me - "All that I can say is that I can't understand you"
Cora - "That is what you must say to the children so that they will learn English better"
Me - "Do you want me to pretend that I can speak Cantonese, but I choose not to so that I can teach them English"
Cora - "That is what you must do. It is for the better."

A fews hours later Cora called to say that the principal of the school would like to meet me and see if my Australian accent was not too hard for the children to understand. I may have to put on an American accent.

Monday, December 10, 2007

071210 - I thought about it later.

Have you ever noticed how many comedians start their routine with the line "Have you ever noticed?"

I had another job interview today. Have you ever noticed how you can think of what you should have said after the perfect moment has long gone.

In 1990, I was being interviewed to become an army helicopter pilot and the selection board asked me, as if I was only six years old, "what is the tail rotor for?" I was dumbfounded by the fact that I was being asked such a stupid easy question. Clearly, I had not impressed these people and it was obvious that I was not going to fly an army blackhawk. That question marked the moment in time when I decided that my army career had ended. "The tail rotor counteracts the rotational forces of the main rotor" was the standard issue reply. Later, much later, I realised that I could have provided a more substantial answer - like "the seven degree upward cant of the rotor also provides eighteen percent of the total lift during the transition from zero airspeed to eighty knots" - an answer that demonstrated my knowledge and interest.

Today's dumbfounding question was "Tell me what you know about Marriott Hotels." The minimal research that I had done was to look a few websites and see what was in the news lately. I did remember that there are about 2800 Marriott Hotels in the world and that 50 of those will be built in the Asia area of the next 5 years.

Another question was about how I came to be friends with the vice president of Marriott Hotels. My immediate answer was that I met him at church, but there is more to it than that. I also know him because our kids are in the same cub-scout troop and we both share an interest in BMW motorbikes. The emphasis on the church association might make me seem like a charity case. I should have made more mention of the scouts and that I am the scout leader of the troop. The Branch President here told me on Sunday that even though it has been said that "it's not what you know, it's who you know", - who you know has to know what you know before who you know will tell who they know about what you know - you know? I have a second interview over the phone with the head of construction in Asia in the next few days.

The building had the most amazing elevators - At the lift lobby instead of pushing a button to go "up", there was a keypad to enter the floor number and then a display to tell you where to catch the next lift. Once inside, there were no buttons - because you had already told the lift where to go. This might explain this bizzare Chinese ashtray that I saw at the border between China and Hong Kong. It might be a combination of the fact that I am not a smoker and that I am in a foreign country where there are many new ideas and strange customs, but this is clearly and an ashtray that is so technologically advanced that I have no idea how it works.

In the Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Arthur Dent finally settles on an alien planet and finds out that some his ordinary skills needed for everyday living on planet earth are well regarded and valuable and he makes a comfortable living for himself by making sandwiches. Tomorrow I go for an interview at a primary school where I will speak English to those who can not.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

0712052030 - A typical day

A typical day for me now. Instead of waiting for something significant, or exciting, or newsworthy, I'll just write. Here I am in Hong Kong and everything I do is in another country. This might show how Hong Kong is different.

Today's story starts with Hugo going to scouts and playing some kind of rough-house game with scouts that are twice his size. After all the excitement was over, and while we were waiting to catch a bus home, he noticed that his phone was broken. The screen was cracked. I thought that Hugo could learn a valuable lesson by not having a phone for a few weeks while it is being repaired and this experience might make him realise that it is important to keep breakable, valuable things out of his pockets while playing a scout game that involves him being hurled around a gymnasium. Today I took the bus into the city to the Nokia repair centre. It is located in a hotel - they don't seem to have the same zoning laws in Hong Kong - people, shops and factories are all bundled together wherever it all fits. People live in the centre of the city, about a milion people. I was expecting the repair to be expensive and to take about a week. Hugo's phone was fixed in one hour and cost AU$40.

I mentioned that we were waiting for a bus - there is a bus every 5 minutes so there really is no waiting. The buses can be treated like taxis - they will stop anywhere along the route to pickup and deliver. I have not missed having to park a car. I certainly have not missed paying for petrol and tyres.

I mentioned that we were at scouts - I have joined the Boy Scouts of America as a scout leader. Hugo is also in scouts, he is a cub-scout and has earned badges for engineering and citizenship. He is working at getting the cub-scouts top award called the "Arrow of Light".

Rachel Ruby has a school excursion to China tomorrow - the trip is for 5 days where Rachel Ruby and her fellow classmates will work with Chinese orphans as part of a fascinating subject called Humanities in Action.

We are going to Australia for Christmas. We will arrive in Brisbane on Saturday 22nd of December and stay until about January 4th. In that time I am going to eat whole cans of Heinz All Day Breakfast. I would like to drive a car, which is something that I have not done in six months for a long drive somewhere.

Work - I have had a few job interviews - one particular interview was for an engineer/technician with a company that installs fancy telephones for stockbrokers. I have not had a conversation with a technician for a long time so it was good to be able to talk shop about some computer stuff. I asked to see the server room and the routers. I wanted to see the instruction manuals. I asked it they used 802.5 at all and then asked why. Either I have the job or he thinks that I am some sort of over-enthusiastic tech-loony.

The real job that I want is with Marriott hotels - the interview is on Monday.

I had lunch at a typical Hong Kong restaurant today. Its like this - compare the hamburger that you get at a milk bar to a Big Mac. The milk bar hamburger is huge - it has bacon, pineapple, beetroot and a fried egg. That is what it is like when I go to one of the small restaurants in Hong Kong. I can get a huge meal of fried rice and something that surprises me. I order by the numbers - everything on the menu is food - I say three numbers in Cantonese and then see what they bring me. Today I asked for "Saam Gau Ye" which means 392 and had a fantastic meal. There were things in it from the sea and something that looked round and shiny. They serve a glass of hot water with some meals - I just see what everyone else does with it and follow like a local. I can get by with very little language skills - enough to be polite is all that I have needed so far. I always tell the good people at the immigration office that they speak English very well.

The Chinese are really polite. I have not studied Chinese history, all that I know about the history of China is what I have stumbbled on from the news, but I see it this way. The British invaded Hong Kong and took over the same as they did with Australia, New Zealand, India and other counties that play cricket. The Chinese, instead of starting a war over it, decided to negotiate with the invaders and signed a lease for a hundred years. Meanwhile the English, not satisfied with Hong Kong Island, decided to cross the harbour and setup colonies. The Chinese were very patient and allowed more land. In 1997 the Chinese, wanted the land back according to agreements. The English seemed to take great offence at this. I agree with Eric Idle - I like Chinese.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

0711042000 I have not done anything unusual

I have not updated my blog in a while because, in my opinion, I have not done anything unusual.
My typical routine day is waking up and realising that I am, in fact, in Hong Kong. Each morning my brain-hard-drive spins up and loads the last pagefile.sys from yesterday. It has continued to be a pleasant surprise that I don't work at Telstra or have to face another day working in an office.
My day starts with seeing Rachel-Ruby off to school. They have seminary in the morning at 6am so the day starts early. Hugo gets up and gets ready for school so that he is ready to step off at 7am.
My day is occupied with a few projects.
Hugo joined the scouts and as a result I have joined the Boy Scouts of America. When I dropped Hugo off, I would talk to some of the other parents. The first time that I went, a lovely lady that I had met at church, an enthusiastic relief society woman that is always happy like Carol Brady asked me if I would help organise the upcoming Father and Son camp. "Sure" says me, "what would you like me to do?" Her short reply was simple - "Organise the camp." It must be one of those "initiation ceremony" pranks that the Americans like to do to new people. The camp was scheduled in four weeks. That gave me four whole weeks to arrange everything, in a foreign country, with no contacts and with little or no language skills. The next day I get an email welcoming me to the scouts and announcing that I will be arranging the camp and to direct all questions to me. Camping in Hong Kong is catered, there is an entire service industry based around school and scout camps. I have heard of the American kids going off to camp for the summer - that is the kind of camping that they wanted. Scout camps in Australia, in Toowoomba, mean that there is a paddock with no cows in it - you can sleep there. Scout camps in Hong Kong are: "there is an additional cost of $1 for air-conditioning" and "the menu is reduced on Fridays to only 5 choices of fish, crab and caviar". One scout had a servant set-up his tent, another had a servant carry his pack. The vice-president of Marriott Hotels was on the camp with his son. We talked about camping and hotels and he is going to lend me his BMW 650GS for a week. The camp went well, although I did have a few learning experiences.
After the camp, another nice lady asked me to be the "Head Scout" - a truly charming woman who is helping out with the scouts as a parent said, in a New York accent that made me expect to see Nanny Fine, "You're here all the time, why don't you help out some, we're desperate!" I felt honoured at passing their rigorous selection criteria and beating all the other applicants due to my vast and conspicuous scouting skills. I still do not know what I have agreed to do. They say that all I have to do is be the MC at the den meetings.
I have been to Beijing. One of the many interesting things about the Chinese, is the way that they have descriptive names for everything. Beijing means North Capital. It is not named after the great warrior Beijing or the famous emperor Beijing - it simply describes what it is. There is a nice restaurant in the city called "The nice restaurant" and the one to take your family to when they are happy is called "The Happy Family Restaurant".
We went to a vast complex of ancient Chinese buildings that the emperor used during the summer called "the summer palace". The stories revolved around life, death and the incessant military coups that changed the government from classes of kings and queens to one of military leaders and finally to the people. I could imaging what it was like for a soldier to work as a guard at one of these palaces and what it would be like to be in one of their parades when the emperor himself would emerge and take the long walk to the centre of the earth to ask God for more rain. There is a place in Beijing, at the Temple of Heaven that is regarded as the centre of the earth - the place from which all measurements are made. Only the emperor can stand there, it is too sacred - here is a picture of Hugo at the centre of the earth. The Chinese call their country "The Middle Land" - another non-romantic descriptive name - and I can see why. Your home is the middle - where ever you want to go, it starts straight out your driveway.
I have stood on the Great Wall of China and according to Chair Mao, I am now "a real man".
"You're not a real man, unless you've got to the Great Wall," so said China's Communist leader Mao Zedong - inspiring his troops. I later used this experience at a school camp to help some kids with their archery.

I have started my own IT company. It all started with the fine example set by the Chinese in making a living out of the seemingly dull and routine. Little old ladies will gather cardboard in the streets, well dressed old men will hunt through the rubbish bins for aluminum and it is common for a small cupboard under some stairs to used as a flourishing and profitable newsagent. So I checked my visa to see that I can work here, printed some business cards and, as they say in France, Viola! - I am now, armed with a qualification from Brisbane TAFE, an IT professional with my own computer repair business. So far I have established a client base and started record keeping and am running at a magnificent loss.
At church, I have been called to be the clerk for the Hong Kong China district.
The district President asked - "Do you know how to use MLS?"

So, in a nutshell, every thing that I do here is like I am in another country.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

0709192200 A visit by a distinguished friend from Australia.

Recently a familiar distinguished gentleman attended church with us - it was someone that we knew years ago from Australia. He is in Hong Kong on a humanitarian "mission" of his own undertaking to buy disused Chinese apartment buildings and refurbish them so that they can be used as an orphanage. We invited our fellow countryman home for dinner and while he ate some good hearty Australian food, he told us about his plan. According to him, there are at least two problems in China that he can solve: 1) too many orphans and, 2) too many old folks. His plan is to buy a disused apartment building, refurbish and refit it and then use the old folks to look after the orphans. He told us that there were people from Taiwan that were ready to help and would like to donate to the project. The promised donations were in the order of several million dollars and the money would be donated in cash by the box full at a bank in Hong Kong. I wondered why these Taiwanese benefactors could not simply transfer the money, but what the heck, they do strange things in other countries. Our distinguished friend from Australia said that he might need some help with all this money carrying and I agreed to help him. At this stage I was too polite to tell him that the whole idea of delivering cash by the box full from flatbed trucks, in Hong Kong, in daylight, from a foreign country was a little strange. I should point out here that the security guards that service the automatic teller machines carry shotguns. He said that he would call me. He never called me. We did get a call from his wife a few days later asking if we had seen or heard from him. Apparently he left his hotel room one morning and had not been seen for three days. He was missing.

He was arrested by the Hong Kong police for depositing counterfeit money. It seems that our distinguished friend from Australia is far too trusting and accepted a few million dollars in counterfeit notes that the police described as an "average attempt" at using a color copier to print a jpeg of a Kuwaiti dinar. He remains in custody.

How did I get mixed up in this? Our distinguished friend from Australia told the hotel staff that I would pick up his luggage - it looks like he decided to hire me as a personal assistant even though I regard myself as more of a bodyguard. The Hong Kong police now have my name attached to this crazy counterfeiting scheme. My concern was that I might be considered an accomplice, so I called the Hong Kong police and asked if they had any concerns about me shifting "evidence" - it was fine by them, they had already searched the suit cases. I told the Hong Kong police that I am, for want of a better description, a "friend from church" and have never met him in Australia before seeing him at church in Hong Kong. They seemed to be satisfied and had no further questions for me. Later, I was told that he used my address on his bail application.

I was also concerned that there was now a bunch of fairly ticked off counterfeiters in town that may either want to get some return on their investment or revenge. The suitcase belonging to our distinguished friend from Australia was at the hotel and I was asked by his wife to take care of it. It did not seem like a big deal, I would like to think that if I was in a similar situation in a foreign county with no other means of support then someone from church could be relied upon to carry out a simple favour.

I was told it was one suitcase and I prepared for one suitcase. It was really two suitcases, two carry on bags and a shopping bag with "sundry items" that had been collected by the hotel staff. After stacking the cases on top of each other like two little portable leaning tower's of Pisa, I set off from the hotel and wondered if I was being followed by either the good guys or the bad guys. I was in Kowloon, on the Chinese mainland side of Hong Kong, with four suitcases belonging to a suspected counterfeiter, with visions of the Triads sneaking up on me when something unexpected happened. The handle on one of the suitcases simply broke off. The delicate balancing act that I had performed was over. I looked at the broken handle and tried to fix it. I could fix it, but I needed a packet of 12mm bolts, a torque wrench and an arc welder. I arranged the cases into a less comfortable portable leaning tower and continued in a sort of trundle along the busy and crowed streets of Kowloon in a lopsided manner. I would have made it to the taxi if the handle on the other suitcase decided at this time, when I would have really liked it to stay on, broke off.

There are times when you can either laugh or cry, so I laughed. To get to the taxi stand, I had to carry a little pile of luggage a few meters, leave it, and then go back and carry the next little pile of luggage until I had made it the 100m or so down the road to the taxis. There are a few things I thought would be the same everywhere in the world, and one of those things is that a taxi would take a credit card. It seems that Kowloon taxis don't. (And even if they did they would charge a return trip through the harbour tunnel.) I was "tethered" to this pile of luggage by my duty as a boy scout to do my best to do my duty, in an unfamiliar part of a different county, with the luggage of a man that I met once and is now in police custody as a suspected counterfeiter, being either watched or followed by either the police or the triads or both. It is at this point that I did something of which I am not proud. I gave up. I realised that it was not mechanically possible for me continue. I hitched up my strides, tucked a suitcase under each arm, took a suitcase in each hand and impersonated the incredible hulk for the walk back to the hotel. I then told the good people at the Shamrock hotel a bare-faced lie that I would come back for them later when I had some help.

p.s. I have arranged for a courier to deliver the cases on Monday.


Friday, September 7, 2007

0709070830 Finding a job - not just any job, a particular job.

Yesterday was devoted to getting a job - not just any job, a particular job in building engineering for a local bank. I thought that I would meet with people at church and they would have some work available - the people at church are not really employers as such. They employ entire companies. Our home teachers, for example, one is the vice president for Marriott Hotels and the other is an American diplomat that has had years of army service and speaks fluent Mandarin. He claims that his job is to "process visa applications".

Yesterday, I had to explain what 12 years of going to school means in Australia and how that might be equivalent to 12 years of education in the United States. It seems that it is not that simple. I have no idea what sophomore, freshman and junior high school means. I went to school for 12 years, then I went further - I don't know what a college is in the US - I know that it is tertiary education.

I heard a story about this:
There was an American tourist at a hotel. The hotel staff have a badge with their name and a flag showing the languages that they speak. One manager had a row of flags: The Union Jack, the tricolour, and the Italian flag. I don't remember the name of the Italian flag, but I do remember its colors - green, white, red - it reminds me of pizza with capsicum, onion and tomato. The American tourist asked if he spoke English because he could not see the American flag.

Of all the language problems that I thought I would face in a foreign country, in a strange land filled with unusual customs , I never expected to have trouble speaking "American".

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

MegaBox - the Mega shopping centre.

Things that I thought would be the same everywhere:
Elevators stop on every floor and escalators take you one floor at a time. This is not so in Hong Kong. There is a shopping centre in Kowloon called "MegaBox" where this custom is taken to another level.

MegaBox looks spectacular, it looks like a camera. Hugo spotted the place from the air when we arrived. It has a giant screen on the inside that can be seen through a five story high round window from the outside. The building is painted red, bright red.
Inside it is almost empty - there is a emphasis on how much room is reserved as unoccupied "free space". Shoppers can also go ice skating.

The escalators take shoppers up five floors at a time. The elevators stop on only odd or even floors depending on whether you catch one on the north or south end of the bulding. To get to level three, a customer has to first go to level eight in the lift then take the escalator down five floors. When taking the escalator, it seems strange to see the place that I wanted to go only a few meters away slowly disapear behind me while the being helplessly transported to the lofty heights of the "Podium Garden". Shopping centres in Hong Kong seem to put all the same products in one place - for example, at the Windsor centre, all the computer shops are on level 10 and 11. At Times Square, all the home appliances are on level 5 and 6. Parking is on level 16. There is no front door access to the footpath - the front door is a busy bus and taxi transport hub that is closed off to pedestrians - shoppers arrive by the bus-load from the nearby train station. Trying to find a shop is like being trapped in an Esher picture.


Thursday, August 16, 2007

0708241900 - Life in the Big Noodle.

I wanted to write my blog on my own computer.

Hugo and I went exploring our new neighbourhood. He went swimming in Stanley Bay which connects the the South China Sea. He braved the treacherous seas and went swimming all the way out to the marker buoy. Then, buoyed by his success, he swam out to the pontoon where he talked to the locals.

I don't need a car. The buses leave every 10 minutes and cost about two dollars AU for a trip into the city. The trains are long and leave so often that there is no timetable. There will be a train within the next five minutes regardless of what line or the time of day.
This is what it is like catching a train -

Hong Kong never stops - I mentioned that it was like the showbag pavilion at the Ekka - it is like that all the time. Shop keepers don't seem to understand that they scare westerners away - they come out of their shops if I show the slightest bit of interest in their wares. They will speak very fast and demonstrate everything. Haggling is nonsense - I don't do it and others have found that it does not work for them either. The shop keepers simply say "fixed price". There is a false rumor that people can bargain and start haggling at about half the advertised price - it doesn't work. I have found that the local shopkeepers will give me 15% off just for speaking the language. The guy at the computer shop gave me a wireless keyboard for free.

The kids are getting used to school, everyday Rachel Ruby has a story on how she has had to explain an Australian word to her American friends. "A popper? Whats a popper?" Australians hear a new strange phrase from our allies in the coalition in the war against terror and we generally think about for a few seconds and then incorporate the new phrase into our language. Australians instinctively know how to "up-size" an order and how to "increase our bandwidth" when having a conversation with an American.
Hugo is learning to speak Mandarin and can introduce himself. We tend to practice our language skills on the doorman. He is a friendly bloke, but he is realising that I can't understand what he saying. The conversations are getting shorter. Speaking the language has not been a real problem because the good people of Hong Kong speak English better than I can speak Cantonese. The kids say that I should be a Chinese comedian because when I speak to the locals they start laughing.
Things that are the same:
The weather is like Cairns or Rockhampton.
Taxis drive like they are coming second at Mount Panorama.

Things that are different:
Every night in Hong Kong is bin night.
The cyclones are called hurricanes - but they look the same.
The city smells like fried batter.
There are always crowds of people in the city. Day or night.
High rise buildings have the same dimensions as a credit card.
Traffic, as congested as it is, travels at forty kilometers an hour, I am getting used to it and now 45 km/h seems fast.
There are trams, double decker trams.
A bill or a letter is always printed on both sides - in English and Cantonese.
The shops are full - there is a great hardware shop in Stanley that is like a blokes shed. There is almost enough room to turn around.
The shopping trolleys are small - which is just as well because I have to carry it all home. They do deliver, but I am too polite to ask them to carry my shopping to the end of the street.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

0708132030 Online in Hong Kong.

Online in Hong Kong.

Rachel Ruby was saying that she is looking forward to meeting friends at school and at church – all my friends are in computer games. I miss them terribly and I look forward to installing the guys from the police force in SWAT4 and my army buddies in Black Hawk Down.

I wanted to update my blog on my new computer. The search for a new computer took a few days because of the bewildering range of options and so many from which to choose. I found a nice package for about half the price I would pay in Australia and at about half of what I expected to pay in Hong Kong.

My personal policy for computers is to stay about two years behind – the hardware is cheaper and games are available in the bargain bins, and I wanted to use XP.

As I have found in other languages, recent inventions of the last 100 years or so have the same names – accept in Germany where they simply describe the thing. In Cantonese the Chinese have a similar philosophy to the Germans and as a result a computer is called an “electric brain”.

I was determined to learn as much of the local language that I needed to carry out the transaction of buying a new computer – I managed to get what I wanted and patiently waited for delivery. Everything in Hong Kong gets delivered. Two days later the computer arrived and I was like a kid at Christmas.
Unpacked, a quick glance at the instructions as a formality, all the wires connected, I hit the power switch and was welcomed by a whirr of fans and a glow of light emitting diodes. Current flowed into the Intel Core Duo and then powered one of two high definition video outputs on the massive nVidia card.

“Give my creation life!” I said as if I was Dr. Frankenstein.

Windows XP media centre started up according to plan except something didn’t look right – the start button said “开始” Apparently, the good people at the computer shop were so impressed with my Cantonese that they sold me a Chinese computer.

Things that are the same:
The water is the same but it takes more of it to make my hair squeaky clean.
All the roads are like driving up to O’Reiley’s Plateau.
Pauls UHT milk. It is made at South Brisbane.
Australian steak, but it does cost more.

Things that are different:
The electrical plugs are different but the power that comes out is the same.
There are no water restrictions – a construction worker was hosing the building site just to make it look better.
Hong Kong is over the SARS outbreak, but Brisbane is having a Flu epidemic.
The hardware stores are packed with stuff as if it is a blokes backyard shed.
Buses are double-decker.
The supermarket shelves are devoid of “Heinz All Day Breakfast”


Friday, August 3, 2007

Arrive in Hong Kong.

Where to start?

The flight over was good. We sat at the back of plane - close to all the ammenities and I could see if the engines were on fire. Old saying - "A plane never reverses into a mountain." I saw the western edge of Cape York drift by at 800km/h and be replaced by the blue waters of the Gulf of Carpentaria. After a few hours Rachel Ruby kept asking "Are we past the Phillipines yet?"

The temperature in Hong Kong let us know we are in a different country. The extra polite Chinese people that took us from the airport to the hotel were wearing suits when it was 40°C. They have fairly relaxed seatbelt laws in Hong Kong - only the first five people have to wear them.

Hong Kong on a Saturday night - it was like the showbag pavillion at the Ekka. Crowds of people for miles.
We ventured out for a few blocks to find some traditional Hong Kong food but there were so many resturaunts, eateries and cafes that we could not decide. The fragrant aromas of the kerbside eateries introduced themselves at strategic moments untill finally at 11pm we went to McDonalds.

The next day we met with the relocation consultant and she showed us where to get our Hong Kong residency cards - I was wondering if the good people in the ruling communist party wanted to know about my army service. It was a tense moment for me when the officials took my passport as part of the proceedure. It had crossed my mind that they might keep it and take me inside for a quick chat about why I wanted to be in the Special Administrative Region of the peoples republic of China and perhaps give a polite beating. We, and about 1000 other people that day were treated like royalty.

Learning the language. I can only speak a few words - and I can only reply if they ask the right questions.

Things that are the same:
People - two arms, two legs etc.
Cars - most of the cars are taxis. No one drives in Hong Kong - there is too much traffic.
Bottled water.

Things that are different:
Chinese food.
The sounds that people make when they talk.
There are no houses - the urban landscape goes from jungle to high-rise at the property border.
The factories are in high-rise buildings - we went to furniture factories on the 23rd floor.
IKEA is open untill 11pm.
The supermarkets are the same as convenience stores - the prices are more but we actually pay less.
The toy shops sell guns. (8mm Air pistol replicas)
When its hot, the men dont roll up their sleeves - they roll up their shirts so that their tummies show.
The shop keepers yell out to get our attention - if I don't haggle they give me 15% off anyway.
The roads are for people - if a car wants to use it, then the swarms of people simply part and let a car through while the people fill the space left in its wake.
They drive on the same side of the road but they walk on the opposite side of the footpath. As a result, I keep bumping into people.
Local calls are free and there is phone coverage everywhere - even in tunnels - even on a video call.
The internet does not slow down at the end of the month.

Friday, July 13, 2007

070713 One week to go.

The house has another contract – unlike the previous people, the current buyer seems to be a reasonable chap and is from Toowoomba. He has accepted the fact that the house is twenty years old and has some imperfections.

The previous buyers seemed to think that I was personally commissioned to create their dream home and sent me a list of demands with the shortcomings of my design. They asked that, among other things, the back fence be replaced simply because it could not be determined whether it was made from treated timber. The reason that we have a fence is to mark the property boundary, keep intruders out and to provide some privacy. These people seem to think that the purpose of a fence is to provide something that termites can’t eat.

They proposed that I lower the price significantly.

I have some experience with negotiating with major telecommunications carriers and one of the neat tricks is to never say “no” and be the reason for the end of the deal – I would always say “yes - with conditions” . They could to accept one of these:
1) I will fix every demand on their list – in return they will pay the full advertised price.
Or; I will agree to the reduction – in return they must settle in seven days.
Or; I will not do anything and let the current contract run its course.
Or; NO!

My eldest son passed his license test on Wednesday. Short story – he will get the car while he finishes school while we are in Hong Kong. This must be a dream come true for a young man. He will have an “all expenses paid” car and his parents are not only out-of-town but completely out of the country. As a way of reducing the stresses on him during his final year of school, we have decided to pay him not to go to work at the local shops.

Friday, July 6, 2007

0707060800 Two weeks to go.

Two weeks to go.

The house has changed in character. Although the house is not empty, there is less furniture, and things are in the wrong place waiting to be picked up by their new owners. We have all noticed that there is now an echo. The kids are sleeping on mattresses with their clothes sorted into neat piles of "give to friends", "lifeline" and "pack". My only daughter has three piles of clothes that are all seven times bigger than her suitcase.

Last night we had dinner at a good friends house - a traditional Australian barbecue. (I will have to get a barbecue when we get to Hong Kong.) It was a "we-will-have-to-have-you-over-before-you-go" dinners. It was good to have a long talk about previous jobs and how, generally speaking, all that we can expect, is the unexpected. He used to work for a major American bank as an IT guru where he had decision making authority and a budget. He has had a roller-coaster ride through various jobs since. At one time he was working for a small company that makes patio enclosures. He now has a good job working on the IT systems used by the emergency services. The point is - of all the jobs that I have ever had, I have left for the same reason - I didn't want to do it anymore. It sounds like I am lazy but it has to do with challenge. I started the job two years ago when it was a major career change. The crazy company has had two "restructures" in two years, i.e. when a manager can't do his job properly so he changes everyone else.

We had another building inspection yesterday - this guy understands Australian Standard 3660.1 regarding termite protection. We can only wait and see if the current owner does not get scared witless by the fictional horror stories conjured up by these "inspectors".

The bank called and presented me with their problem - seeing as we are selling the family home, what will we be using as security on our investment property? Banks will only loan 80% of the value of the property - so I made up a valuation figure that I thought would be about right. "I'll just check that", said the friendly and helpful staff as she sweetly tried to dash my hopes of keeping an investment property, and looked up the average market value of recent sales. In a few seconds that seemed like hours, the happy voice says that that figure is a bit conservative and we will be able to break even with a small additional payment. The happy voice then said a number that I usually associate with sports cars.

Monday, July 2, 2007

0707022200 Garage sale. Everything must go.

Garage sale on Saturday. We advertised our garage sale in the local paper, the add said "Saturday morning - moving overseas - everything must go." People turned up on Friday night and more people turned up at five o'clock on Saturday morning. I asked them if I could at least have breakfast first, they sat on the front steps and watched me through the kitchen window. The kids were woken up on Saturday at 05:00 and told to get out of bed so we could sell them - not them the kids, them the beds. A garage sale is one of the most degrading experiences. Our meagre possessions on display as if they were actually valuable - we sold some good stuff for a reasonable price and some I simply gave away rather than haggle. By twelve noon we left everything in the driveway with a "free to good home" sign. I see it this way: either I can take it to the tip, I can pay someone else to cart it away, or I can charge someone else to take it away. It was to my advantage even if I gave it away. We used the "proceeds" to all buy new shoes. Now the whole family have Converse "chucks"of various colours and styles. As a startling coincidence, my wife, daughter and youngest son have the same sized feet.

The next step in the move is to sort out our clothes- keep, pack and then give away.

Back to work tomorrow - I had Monday off to be inoculated against foreign diseases.

On June the first it became a law to have a smoke detector in rental houses. I was really dreading going over to our investment house because the kind and simple folk that live there always complain and ask me to do something. I left two smoke detectors and a fire extinguisher with a letter explaining the whole thing at their letter box. Sure enough, a few hours later I get a call that something else needs to be fixed. I can see why landowners always increase the rent.
I tried to be a "good landowner" and gave them no rent increases for two years - they currently pay the lowest rent in our town. A local real estate agent has said that I could expect about half of what I get again. One local real estate agent was criticised for asking for rent by tender. That agent is making a fortune. When the lease runs out, I am letting him manage the place.

Friday, June 29, 2007

0706291300 The Cat - Free to good home

The cat.

Free to good home.
We put an add in the local paper for a home for our cat. We are very happy that our thirteen year old cat will now live with a retired old lady that will take care of her. We delivered the cat to her new home and Lori, the new owner came out to greet us. Lori is a Mori – the first clue was her tattooed face. Please excuse my ignorance here, is it called a Ta Moko or a Tupu? (I will gladly be corrected on this.)

This is a file photo what Lori may have looked like about 70 years ago.
I passed the cat over to Lori and the cat struggled for about three seconds and then settled into Lori’s huge Mori arms. The cat relaxed and stayed with Lori until we left.

The kids were sad when Lori rang, but the next day, just before we left, they seemed fine. I do hope that we have not imbedded some deep resentment in our kids and they send me to a home in a similar fashion when I am too old.

0706291200 Not Negotiable.

Our house sale has “fallen through” again. This is not altogether a bad thing. The buyers were plain silly. The contract was worthless – it depended on the buyer selling their home within 21 days and settlement within 45 days. There was no commitment by the buyers. They had a clause where they would not have to pay for the building inspection if I cancelled the contract. It turns out that their house has an illegal veranda built over an easement.

These people inspected the house as if I had just finished building a spec home for them personally. Then they made a list of what was missing from their imagined “dream home” and then tried to charge me $11,000 for the perceived shortcomings. They included $2,000 for a pool cover – I had never mentioned a pool cover in any advertising, conversations or promises. They seemed to think that I had to indulge their every whim and desire – including selling them a piano.

They replied, through the solicitor, that their proposal to change the contract was “not negotiable”. Did they think that I was going to take the contract to a bank and cash it as a cheque? The term “not negotiable” ended the contract. All I had to do to get out of their crazy terms and demands was to say “no”. They refused to allow any middle ground and as a result they have wasted money on a building and pest report for a house they will never own.

Expectations are a kind of prediction – some people can have wrong expectations and then be disappointed. I have heard that the happiest people are those that expect nothing. This sort of person is constantly pleasantly surprised by the smallest things.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

0706240800 Less than one month to go.

The house has been sold again. The deal is not as good as we wanted – the buyers need to sell their house as a condition of the sale. We have a contract – the worst thing that can happen is a good thing.

The house has furniture that must go to rightful owners and the kids have no idea that all that stuff will not fit into one suitcase. The school holidays have started and now it is time for the kids to empty their rooms. Toys – it seems to me that kids grow to a certain age when the only toy that holds their interest is a computer. This is the age when all the plastic parts, cards, boxes and papers can be thrown away. My youngest son, who will be 11 in October, has reached that age. He has abandoned all other forms of entertainment with the introduction of a bargain priced laptop.

I gave notice to quit my job – four weeks to go. They have decided on a replacement – a contractor. The five year plan for floorspace and infrastructure management for the state of Queensland is now in the hands of a contactor that is leaving in 11 months.
My one-up” manager called me into his office and asked if I wanted a farewell morning tea. The guy can not even make a decision on holding a morning tea.

My dear wife, who is as a matter of fact, not just my personal opinion, a world class teacher, has left the school.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

0705232200. The Most Technologically Advanced Timberyard on the Planet.

House repairs for the sale. The retaining wall needs to be replaced.
When my wife, who is, as a matter of fact and is not just my humble opinion, a world class teacher said that the retaining wall needed to be fixed, there was a mention of a reputable construction company and a reasonable price. At that stage I was looking forward to having the repairs. Somewhere the project was changed into a home handy-man project with me and our good friend and neighbour doing the job.
I have what I call “project panic” – it is an uneasy, uncomfortable feeling when a job has to be done but is not yet done. When I am committed to the task, but I have not even started it – that is when “project panic” is the worst. I get this project panic when I have make a meal for the family. I get it when I make the kids lunches in the morning. I get it a work when I am given a new project. It goes away when the job is finished. I have learned that the best way for me to alleviate project panic is to start the research and make a plan. Yellow pages and Google. Timber yards are not well known for their ability to take up the latest advances in technology – some do not have web pages or on-line ordering. Some did not even have an email address. I would have to talk to them on the phone the old fashioned way. I don’t enjoy talking to strangers, and I don’t like being questioned on subjects about which I know very little.
I wasn’t looking forward to calling them because I really do not know that much about timber. I picked a business out of the thousands available because their business name mentioned treated timber - the others just mentioned “landscaping”.

“I would like to buy 63 meters of treated timber for a retaining wall please”
“Yeah – what type of timber are you after mate?”
“Treated timber – 50 by 700 and in a convenient length”
“We do 2600 and 1800”
“Hang on – quick calculation - I’ll need four of the 2600 and about 24 of the 1800”
“Right then”
“Do you deliver?”
“Yeah, cost ya, $25 for local - $35 for further”
“Twenty five dollars... that is a bargain, I’ll have two at that price”
“Is Friday afternoon convenient?”
“Yeah Friday is good”

He told me the price and I instantly knew why people choose to make a retaining wall from timber instead of something more durable like concrete, steel, old tires or discarded carpet. Timber is cheap – the stuff, and I mean this literally, really does grow on trees.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

0705200845. Take me to the river, drop me in the water.


Yesterday, the fish that belongs to my youngest son, died. Although this is a bit of a relief that we did not have to find a home for it, it was a terribly sad occasion.
There are few options for a dead fish – bury, flush or bin. This special little fish would get a burial at sea – or at least a burial in the river.
Since we needed a break from packing, and it was a relaxing kind of Saturday, we decided to give the fish a decent funeral. It’s little dead carcass was delicately lifted out of its former watery home, resplendent with coloured rocks and full length mirror, and with as much dignity as we could muster for a dead Mexican fighting fish we gently wrapped it in some clean white paper towel. And then in a hygienic plastic bag.

Nearby is a mighty river that plys its way through the land dividing shires with authority, providing vital water for agriculture and has a convenient boat ramp. The sun was shinning, the birds were singing, the breeze was breezing – all was good with the world as we drove to the little place that would become a permanent part of our memory as the place where we had the fish funeral.

We stood at the waters edge, in the mud, under the shade by a tree and said a few words about the role of pets in our lives and how the happy little fish never understood that it was always looking at itself in the mirror – it would even go behind the mirror to see if the "other fish" was there. It did this every day for years. We found it amusing, the fish was probably terrified.

The sad little package of dead fish and paper-towel was lowered into the river while the gentle flow of water held it in a slow graceful turn. This event was not exciting enough for our youngest son - so he unwrapped the fish and put it in deeper water to be carried away by the current. He was quiet on the way home but said he would like another pet – an ostrich.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

0705192200. We go to Hong Kong in 9 weeks.

Nine weeks until departure.
We have started packing the house. The school called and said that they are having some trouble finding a three bedroom place for us. We looked up the three bedroom units on the South side of Hong Kong Island and they are spectacular.

House for Sale.
We thought that we were smart by not using a real estate agent. We had a buyer sign a contract within one week of advertising. That is the job of the real estate agent – however the deal fell through due to a particularly picky building inspector.
The biggest mistake we made in the house sale was to change our add on so that it said “under contract”. We would have other buyers lined up – just in case.

The building inspection was harrowing. The inspector was a stocky little builder that was almost clever and had no social skills and a particular annoying trait of not knowing when to stop talking. I don’t know what a building inspection is supposed to do, but I am sure it is not to insult the home owner by picking on every thing that he can find – even if the house was build to standard in 1985 that does not apply today. I am sure that he is not supposed to persuade the buyer in a decision either way. For example – the building inspector correctly stated that the beams for verandah are supposed to be, according to the standard, according to him, 600mm apart. Some are 650mm apart. If he stopped talking after that he would have been fine. Instead he started up a fictional “what if” story about if there is a board with a knot-hole and if someone over 200kg steps on it, then they might break through and fall in up to their knees. Not a comforting image to put into the buyers head.
The electrician said that I have 4 circuit breakers that are made by a company that went out of business four years ago – am I supposed to watch the ASX for the business failure of every company that makes circuit breakers and then replace them?

The contract was cancelled for an unspecified reason – the buyer simply said that one of the four inspections was unsatisfactory. The buyer is an electrical technician that services medical equipment and is scared of earth leaks. He went white when he saw the 240V lights in the workshop simply plugged into the power point.

All the inspectors are fear merchants.

We are now replacing the retaining wall in the garden and fixing the leaking shower.

Speaking Cantonese.
I can ask questions but I can’t understand the answers.

Friday, May 4, 2007

0705032000 Selling the little car.

We have sold the house, now we are selling the cars.

We have a little Hyundai that we have neglected by not having it serviced for over 6 years.
We tend to run our life on a “run until failure” maintenance program.
Everything that has ever happened to that car seems to be caused by us – it has never spontaneously failed due to manufacturing defects.

The timing belt needed to be changed 100,000 kilometres ago.

It burns oil at such a rate that it never needs changing. Last year the engine started to cough and splutter so I changed one of the spark plugs.

I bought some new tyres for it the other day – the mechanic said “you certainly got your moneys worth out of these tyres” he said as he rubbed his hands around the tread that had worn down to the wires.

It has some kind of dent or scratch in every panel.

The radio doesn’t work.

Alex bumped a shopping trolley into the tail lights about 7 years ago.

I bought a new battery for it once.

We ran it out of petrol on a hot summers day and it ruined the fuel pump.

I overfilled the oil and the extra oil leaked out onto a rubber engine mount and after a few months the mount crumbled away – this made the entire engine move around so much that it changed out of fourth gear when we accelerated.

When my dear wife, who is, as a matter of fact and not just my biased personal opinion, a world class teacher, would arrive home - I could hear the ratchet as the handbrake was “applied” even when I was sitting inside the house. After a time the handbrake was pulled out of the floor. I complained to the dealer and they welded it back on for free.

It has served our family well, it has carried us to school and work diligently and tirelessly for years, we have laughed and cried while travelling as we stared out its windows at this great wide brown land while its little motor purred away taking us on our holidays, we filled its little back seat with boxes as we shifted house, it has carried our weekly groceries safely home in its little boot. It waits patiently for me everyday at the train station car park like a little dog with big moist eyes, staring into the distance for a sign that its master will return. The little car has remained loyal to me after my fling with a motorbike - we will sell it as parts to a junk yard because our registration laws will make it uneconomical to maintain.

Farewell little car.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

0704242200 Real Estate Agents

The house is for sale and we have an inspection on Thursday at 5:30pm. We listed our house online with and had the first call the next day.
Real estate agents are a mystery to me – I don’t understand how they justify their cost. We had an agent knock on the door and ask if we were planning on selling in the near future – I asked him what was it going to cost me to sell the house. He worked out that it would cost about $10,000.

“So that includes the legals and the conveyancing, all title searches and council approvals including an add in the local papers and a sign for the front yard?” asked me in a manner that must have seemed to him naïve and stupid.

“No, you will have to pay for the legal work, unless you do it yourself – and we charge and additional fee for advertising” was his smug answer.

“What does the $10,000 cover?” I ventured, expecting that a real estate agent was needed in the sale of a house. We do need real estate agents don’t we? Surely they are needed – don’t they have some legal powers like auctioneers? Nope. Not at all. Not even bleedin’ close matey. They are parasites.

“That is my commission” was his timid and slightly embarrassed answer.

“So I pay for everything that needs to be done, including advertising and then give you $10,000?”

“Yes, that’s right – but you can save $400 by doing the legals yourself”

I showed him the door, and then the driveway. He then tried to convince me that I should not only use a real estate agent, but that I should use him, as the best agent around, by showing me how much money he had taken from his last victims. One entry stood out among the others - $0.oo – it was from a colleague of his who could not be charged for “ethical” reasons.

For $10,000 I want it sold in 10 days with a penalty clause of $1000 a day.

He did not take up my offer.


Friday, April 20, 2007

0704201800 Two months to go.

Cantonese lesson on Tuesday night – I was wrong about Cantonese having one word for everybody else in the world. There is another prefix that means two or more people. “Dei” So a group of people would be “Nei dei”. My Cantonese class had to perform a small play to practice. First we had to write the play, then star in the play, write the theme song, sing the theme song… The group to which I belong decided to perform a parent/teacher interview. I was the child and had the only comedy line. “I live at home”. That is enough Cantonese for me for one week. I now have three months to learn enough to navigate, buy furniture and get a job in the telecommunications industry.
Cantonese for telephone is “Din Wah” it means “electric speak”.

My motorbike was sold today. In these days of scams, thieves, and blaggards it is hard to know who to trust. I must have rocks in my head to do this, but I sent my motorbike off in an unmarked moving van before the money has been deposited into my account. I believe that the bank will transfer the money overnight. Why does the bank do this overnight? Why does Santa and the Easter bunny work overnight? Why, in olden days, did the baker and the milk-man deliver overnight? The interesting question here is, where is the money – it left his account about 12 hours ago. The interesting question is interest. My dear wife, who is, as a matter of fact, and not just my biased personal opinion, a world class teacher, said that I was wrong to let it happen. She is right. I trust the guy. Tomorrow the money will be in the account and all will be well in the world. The guy that bought the bike called again tonight to see if all went well with the pickup. Apparently he is a boat salesman. He will be at the Gold Coast in May for the Sanctuary Cove boat show. His brother bought a K1200S today also. Same colour.

The packing boxes arrived. We now have a directive: everything we own goes in the box, the suitcase and a pocket. Everything else is sold, donated or chucked. No exceptions.

The carpet cleaner arrived today – I had forgotten all about it. All of a sudden I had to clean up the bedrooms of two teenagers, pick up my own things and shift all the furniture out of the lounge room. The stairs did not require any special attention. The house looks bigger with no furniture.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

0704151600 Can you send the bike as an email attachment?

I received an email offer to buy my motorbike. I think that it is a scam.

  • The email is from a hotmail account.
    They want the bike for an “expedition” in New Guinea.
    They want a shipping address with a phone number.
    They want to send a cheque made out by the US federal treasury who are , so they claim, funding the expedition.
    The bike will be picked up by a courier, so they claim.

It is obviously a scam but I would like to see how far they can go without actually getting the hardware. I will have to meet with someone at sometime during the transaction.

Friday, April 13, 2007

0704121900 Road Trip

No Cantonese lessons this week, but I did have to explain some simple Cantonese words to the family on the farm.
I like the way the Cantonese language has one simple word for “everyone else in the world”. Regardless of gender and number one simple word for: you, them, those, He. She, ya’all, everybody – one word - Nei.

My trip to Melbourne was a fabulous adventure. I decided to adopt a “free range” approach to the trip planning. I would simply head south until I saw some water. If it was the Tasman Sea then I would go right a bit, and if it was The Great Australian bite then I would go left a bit. It was not that relaxing in practice – I had to make decisions on the correct, most efficient route while in a strange town, at a roundabout, often with full laden semi-trailers bearing down on me, with their exhaust brakes growling and wisps of smoke emanating from the trailer bogies. I sat in the middle lane thinking – Newell or New England? I went through Sydney. Rain, night, lost, Sydney traffic – it was a fantastic adventure. While riding in the rain through Sydney traffic, I was reminded of what it is like to really want to go home. Home or relief was 1000km in opposite directions. I was at the half-way mark in Sydney when I finally saw reason and bought a map.

I have heard of the interstate rivalry between the Victorians and the New South Welshmen – I didn’t think that it extended to the point that the road signs in New South Wales do not even mention Melbourne. That is how I ended up in Sydney – I just picked a place further south - which is also how I ended up in Canberra - which in turn was instrumental in how I ended up in the Snowy Mountains.

The gloves that my mum gave me 20 years ago were perfect – the trousers that I wear in tropical Queensland were doing a great job of covering my nakedness, but that’s all. I arrived at a motel in the Snowy Mountains at midnight, and due to shivering uncontrollably, I must have looked like I was either drunk of having an epileptic fit. I could hardly sign the book. The room had no working heater. It had an air conditioner – yes I checked if it was reverse cycle – it wasn’t. The broken heater was located under the desk and when I tried to operate the thing it merely blew out a whisper of slightly colder air. I had a hot shower and went to bed.

NSW have an interesting way of ensuring that all travelers slow down to less than 100km/h before every town. They, that is the NSW traffic authority, do this by installing a speed camera on the road into the town. A traveler simply meanders through this at 80km/h then speeds up again when they have passed the camera. The Victorians have a far more diabolical scheme - they have two cameras at a known distance and average the speed between observations. This ensures that hundreds of kilometers are covered. I hate the Victorian system, but I love how its done. There is nothing a traveler can do to escape. When confronted with such a scheme, you might as well just stop and have a picnic.

There is a certain amount of preparation in every project, either in the design or the implementation. The free-range approach to route planning means that the preparation time is spent in the autopsy – how to avoid the same mistake next time. The instructions for the return trip were simple and easy, they were given to me by my sister who wants to be, or may already be, depending on who you ask, a truck driver – she said, “take the Hume then take the Newell”.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

0704041800. What colour is nine?

The Australians have a saying “what you miss out on at the swings you will pick up again on the roundabout”. The Koreans call this “Ying and Yang”. The French say “Some good, some bad”. The Chinese say “You bad boy – you go to jail”
I have 900 hours of sick leave at work and I quit in about 60 days. These seemingly independent facts will soon become relevant.

I arranged to work three day weeks with the aid of a powerful letter by a doctor. When questioned about this by a supervisor, I replied that it is personal. Within weeks of taking two days off every week I received a letter from the pay department saying they had audited my superannuation and I have been overpaid since signing an AWA in June 2000. They want the money back. Swings and roundabouts. Ying and Yang.

Easter holidays.
My long awaited life-long dream of riding a motorbike on a grand adventure will come true over Easter. The last time that I decided to ride a motorbike to visit relatives across an entire state and half way into the next one was called off due to bad weather. That was about 20 years ago. Back then, I was riding across the Moonby Ranges and it was freezing. The summer-weight and ventilated motocross gloves I was wearing were doing a great job of making me look good, but that’s all. I stopped on the side of the road and warmed my hands on the exhaust pipe of my Yamaha XT 600 and decided that I would have to do this on another day. A few weeks later my mum gave me, as a Christmas present, a great pair of leather touring gloves. They are gorgeous genuine leather with sheepskin lining. 20 years ago. The gloves have been kept in my sock drawer in 14 different houses since then. My secret plan was that “one day” I will wear them on my BMW touring bike and ride off for a fabulous adventure. It will happen on Friday.

Speaking Cantonese.
I don’t know how little kids can learn a language so fast. Kids can speak their native language better when they are three months old than I can speak Cantonese after six months. I can almost count to ten in real time.
Try this experiment at home – get some coloured pencils and write the word “Blue” in red, write the word “Red” in Yellow, write the word “Green” in blue - you get the idea. Now ask someone what colour it is. There will be a tiny delay while their brain processed the fact that the color is not the word. That is what it is like to learn another language – everything has to be processed twice. We did phone numbers in class on Tuesday. I kept thinking in Russian. My brain knew that I had to translate from English, but there was a half-a-second delay while my brain sorted it all out. The stressful part of the class is when we have to write our answers on the board. My approach is jump up with an answer that I know is correct and then appoligise for being out-of-turn. We had to introduce ourselves in Cantonese – I don’t speak to people that much in English. The next trick will be write the numbers in Cantonese and in a different color.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

0703250800 Saturday – the day of work.

I had to match the color before I could paint the hallway. The hardware store can mix a can of paint in any color - the only problem is that I needed a sample. A sample of a clean bit. This means taking a piece of the wall to the hardware store. It needs to be the size of a 50c coin, although a 5c coin will do. If I have to remove a piece of the wall, I might as well take a bit that is convenient for me, so I chose a comfortable height in a well lit and ventilated area and cut out a neat rectangle. This sample was carefully put into a clean and sturdy cardboard envelope and packed into a sterile zip lock bag. This matchbox sized piece of paint was treated like evidence in a murder investigation.
The process at the hardware store is a standard issue application of computer wizardry. Amazing. They scan the color sample and the machine mixes the paint. Viola! – it is done.
The color matched so well that I can use the paint on small sections, with out having to paint the entire wall and the wall that joins on the that wall and the bit that joins that wall and so on until you find that have to paint the entire inside of the house including door and window frames. Then the outside, the fence and the driveway.

The house is nearly ready for sale – nearly. My dear wife, who is, as a matter of fact and not my biased personal opinion, a world class teacher, says that we will put the house for sale after Easter. That should give us about three months to find a buyer and grind as much money as we can from them. Negotiations will be simple – pay the advertised price.
We have found a place for our eldest son to stay in Australia while he finished his year 12. A great family from church that also have a son the same age. He will have his own car and an expense account. What a life. He had better do well in his final year.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

0703242130 Yellow is one of the Windows 3.1 colors.

As you can see from the add on this page, I am selling my gorgeous BMW K1200S. I put it in for its 30,000km service on Thursday to make sure that it is good enough for some unknown buyer. I have replaced the oil, the coolant, the filters, the front tyre and the brake pads.

We are all familiar with the process of authorized dealers – you take in your car and they try to find something that they charge you $1000 to fix. Its like a game - except it uses real money. The BMW dealer called me:
“Your brakes are shagged” says the voice of the BMW qualified service technician. “Do you mean that the brake pads have reached the end of their service life? – or is there a problem with the ABS, the brake pressure servos or is it a mechanical problem with the mounting? Can you be more specific?.
Five seconds of silence.
“Umm the brake pads are worn down and the metal has scored the disk, you will have to replace it.” Came the reply.
I have a personal policy that when these people find a problem AND they offer to solve it by the most expensive method, then I will not give them the job. A scored disk is not a problem. The bike will stop. It might squeak for a few days, but it will still work.
“Is that really necessary?” I ask, knowing full well the answer is no.
“Well it….might umm…” replied the technician.
“You can replace it, but you will have to make it a gift.”
They are not acting in my best interest. First of all they try the oldest trick – the ol’ brake-disk-needs-replacing routine. I am insulted that they think that I am that stupid. They could have asked if I wanted it machined, or tell me that it will be alright until the next service or at least tell me the cost. He never once told me the cost – only that it was “shagged” and that I was going to pay for it.

I now have to update all my adds with the 30,000 km service completed with new tires and brakes. Next month I will ride it on a 5000km return trip to Victoria.

One day at work I was asked to research and then buy a data-projector. My research suggested that a Sony was the best deal at the time. The managers said that I had to buy one from our contracted supplier. My decision was overridden. The projector was “procured” from our contracted supplier at twice the price. A few days later one of the engineers asked me to look at the projector because they could not get the color right – it would not make the color yellow.
I tested it and sure enough, I could not adjust it to make yellow – it would make light green, but not yellow. 20 electrical engineers tried and failed. I returned it and they said that I should have bought the next model up – it makes yellow.
“Do you mean that out of the 4096 colors it claims to be able to make, that yellow is not included?”
“Well; it….might ummm..”
“One of the primary colors is not included?”

They replaced the unit with a more expensive one that makes yellow. It broke down two days later. An overheating alarm triggered an automatic shutoff.
I returned it, and now I get to the point of this story. When I returned the faulty projector, they said that I had filled in all the forms correctly. Now here is the point.
“Aren’t you ashamed that your customers know how to do that?” I asked.
“What do you mean?” As if this was a strange question.
“A customer should never see that form. Your managers should never see that form. If a customer brings back a faulty projector, you should be scratching your heads in bewilderment that one of your best products has actually found its way back to you in such a state. If there is a problem – you should go to them and replace it, apologise for the inconvenience – then take the faulty one away.”

After that, when it stopped working, I would answer with: “Your problem, I wanted a Sony.”

p.s. Electroboard have stopped selling LightPro projectors.


Wednesday, March 21, 2007

0703212100 We live where?

We have four months today. My dear wife, who is, a matter of fact, not just my biased personal opinion, a world class teacher, called me at 11:00 to say we have exactly four months to go.

I had my weekly Cantonese lesson and it was going well until I had to remember the word for “New Zealand”. My mind went blank and the class was looking at me. I would be better off not learning any Cantonese and pretending to be deaf. I keep saying things like: “You can hear I’m Cantonese” and “You can’t hear, I’m not me”. The Cantonese teacher, Ma Tai Tai, says to not be offended when the locals laugh at me, it will not be because they think I am stupid, they will laugh because I will be saying something funny.

I bought a Cantonese phrase book to help – I would recommend that if anyone wants to learn Cantonese, they should get a language course with a tape or CD. The way that the language books write the words phonetically is like learning a second language so that you can learn a third. There are a multitude of ways that the various companies try to use symbols to indicate the correct tones. They use phonetic romanised Cantonese, but they are different for each publisher. There are also variations depending on the target audience – one book has examples for ‘young people’ that are saying completely different things.

A language book by itself is useless without a recording of how to say the words in the right tones. Cantonese uses sounds that do not naturally occur in English.

Cantonese has the same word for ‘Australia’ and ‘Beer’. To the Cantonese speaking Chinese people, Australia is ‘Beer land”.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

0703200530 Cantonese classes on Tuesday nights

Learning Cantonese.
I look forward to my Cantonese classes on Tuesday nights. My goal today is to learn how to greet Ma Tai Tai in Cantonese with something witty and intelligent. The Chinese, according to the University of Queensland course notes, don't have a way of saying “good afternoon”, but instead they greet each other with a question about what they think they are doing – for example, I would greet Ma Tai Tai with the Chinese version of “Teaching us today?” or “Have you been shopping for Dim Sun?” This way of greeting someone from Australia, with a question about what they are doing, would prompt a response like: “Where's your badge constable?' or “Do I ask you about your love life?”

Sunday, March 18, 2007

0703181700 Handy-man jobs.

Cleaning up the house for selling.

Handy-man jobs around the house are satisfying to complete when I have the right tools, a budget and someone else who knows what they are doing.
Our good friend came over to help me do some handyman jobs on the ever increasing to-do list of things that must be done before the house can be listed for sale. I had to replace a timber step and replace a tile on the bottom step. The tiles for the bottom step are no longer available so I decided to replace all the tiles with paving bricks. It looks better and is not as slippery.
The timber steps needed to be replaced and the others needed painting. The undercoat was a hideous florescent green. My dear wife, who is, as a matter of fact and not just my biased personal opinion, a world class teacher, asked upon seeing the work in progress, “Whats the deal with the steps?”
As a result of the timing of this work the whole family were not allowed to use the stairs and also not to use the bottom doorway – we were trapped by wet paint and wet cement. Obviously we just took bigger steps to go through the bottom door.
Here is a link to the steamer trunk on ebay:
I have no bids, but there are a 4 people watching and at least one person asked for its dimensions.
Or search here - Listed in category: Home & Lifestyle > Furniture > Bedroom > Dressers, Drawers, Chests

Friday, March 16, 2007

070316 I know that I don't know.

Learning Cantonese in five months.

I had another Cantonese lesson today and noticed something about the character of the Chinese people and their language - the Chinese seem to always refer to themselves in the positive. For example – we say “I don’t know” or “I don’t think that I will go” or “ I don’t think that you understand. The Chinese say – “ I know that I don’t know” or “I know that I will not go” or “Can you, [can] not understand?”
The news today reported that the Chinese have passed a law that allows them to own private property. I know that I don’t know how this may effect the economy in Hong Kong, but I know that I know that I want to go – can you, not understand?

What I planned to do: –

· Paint the bedroom.
· Cook a chicken dinner.
· Get a passport picture.
· Drop off a visa document.

What did I do:
I was sort distracted – but I did cook a chicken dinner.
It all started to go awry when I could not remember my brothers birthday that was needed for a visa application. I know that I don’t know why the immigration department of the Chinese ruling party want to send my brother a birthday card. A simple family-three-generations group sheet could have solved that problem but it was easier to call my sister and ask her. While I was on the phone I remembered that I had her violin that she received as a present when I was five. I decided to return it promptly and post it immediately. The violin distracted me from taking all the important the forms with me.

What I plan to do:

Paint the bedroom.
Make spaghetti for dinner.
Drop the kids off at ballet.

What I did do:
I was more determined and organised.
· Painted the bedroom.
We are now one step closer to selling the house. The room looks great, like we are in a new house or a hotel room or a new hotel room. I would have never finished the painting if we were not leaving. I always imagined that I would have plenty of time to fix up the place. Cleaning up the house so that it is ready for sale reminds me of renting a flat and the owners are coming over for the six-monthly inspection. Those inspections are so degrading.

· Made spaghetti for dinner.
I made a standard issue camp spaghetti and cooked it all day in a crock pot.

· Dropped the kids off at ballet.
I often get a can of lemonade and a mars bar when I am waiting to pickup the kids from ballet and one day when they came out of the class they saw me with the goods. I stood frozen in my tracks like a rabbit staring into the headlights of a truck while they descended on me asking if they can have some. I bought them all their own and it started a tradition. Today I let them catch me with the goods again. As they climbed into the car I said that it would be rude of me to finish my drink in front of them. They were so polite and said that it doesn’t matter – that is when I pulled out the shopping back with enough for everyone.

As part of divesting ourselves of all worldly goods, I put our steamer trunk on eBay. The steamer trunk needed a story to make it interesting and appealing to a potential buyer. link -

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

0703142200 These are a foo of my favorite things

I finally started my Cantonese course at UQ.
Lesson one – choir practice. The Cantonese language, sorry dialect, can be described as a language made by singing. We studied two words for two hours – foo and fun. There are five tones and when the whole class practice a word together, it sounds like a Chinese version of the Sound of Music.

Fooo - a fear, a fear of frogs,
Fooooo - some trousers full of legs.
Foo - some wine that turns you red
Fooor - the flat spot on your head.

And so on.

The language has a logical word order that makes sense when it is explained from the Chinese perspective. There are no plurals.
For example if you have, say, a car, then it should always be called a car. If you have two cars then why should the name of the first thing change from car to cars because the same thing is next to it, or even more confusing, if you happen to be the legal owner of more than one and even the other one is not in sight. You would tell someone that you have "cars". To the Chinese way of thinking, this is like changing the name of your first child when you have your second. Things are always called the same name.

Even though there is no alphabet, they have 19 sounds that make the language. English has 40 sounds (some say 41).

There are 12 of us in the class and all are learning Cantonese due to a wife, girlfriend, boyfriend, girlfriend or lover. One has a Vietnamese husband and would like to speak to her inlaws in their language, another has met a girl in Hong Kong and another boy would really like to.

I have a friend at work who went to China for work, met a girl, fell in love, returned broken hearted to Australia and then dyed his hair black before returning to China to meet her parents. He learned Mandarin, the official Chinese language, and is of the opinion that Cantonese sounds like chooks squabbling. His reasoning is that Mandarin is "better" because it has nine tones, while Cantonese has only 5. Why he finds this important may become clear to me later, but for now five ways of saying “foo” is enough of a challenge.

For all the fuss the Cantonese language makes over the tones, it is remarkably tolerant of what letters are used. The letters “L” and “N” seem to be interchangeable. I was learning from some tourist tapes and learned the phrase “how about you” (Nay ne) – then our Cantonese instructor, Ma Tai Tai, pronounced it as “Lay Lee” and said this was acceptable. At this stage I really didn’t believe that I was getting my moneys worth from this. After comparing notes to the Lonely Planet Guide I found that Ma Tai Tai is correct. In a convoluted way, I was sure that the problem was caused by Ma Tai Tai having a Chinese accent while she was saying the Cantonese words while speaking English. If I know what I mean…

Sunday, March 11, 2007

0703112230 Where are my keys?

We have decided to go to Hong Kong five days earlier. The school at which my dear wife will teach has given us three days in a Hong Kong hotel – we will pay for another couple of days. The practical side of this means that we can all go together as a family on the first trip. My eldest son has to finish year 12 in Australia in November. We are going to arrange for him to finish the last week of the term four days early and then be with us for the two week break in August. He then has to return to Australia to complete the last term of high school while staying with a family from church. He will have a car – our 2002 AU III falcon – as a “P plate” driver.
This may be a challenge for him. He will be trusted to stay with a family church with his own car, drive himself to school and other commitments while studying to successfully complete his year 12 certificate.
We have yet to ask a family at church if he can stay with them. It is on our “to-do” list. It is not a subject that we can bring up easily. We thought it might be easier if we put an add in the ward newsletter –“ Free to good home – one cat and one boy. Cat has own food, boy has own car.”

For our move to Hong Kong we will have to pack as if we are going on a week long holiday and then pack up the house as if we are moving. Seeing as we are selling all our worldly possession, we roughly estimate that 12 packing boxes would be economical. The kids get one box.

In any other normal move, the kind where we have simply shifted to another city or in some cases a few kilometres within the same town, I simply loaded the car with boxes of stuff and ferried them to the new place until it was done. There would always be a strange box of stuff that missed out on being packed – it might be the cleaning chemicals under the laundry sink, or the contents of the dryer or even a box of books and papers in the garage – this time there can be no other stuff. We pack for a holiday, then pack for moving, then clean the house for settlement and go to the airport. This move raises some interesting administration questions: Do I take the mop and bucket to the airport? What will I do with the vacuum cleaner? I have thought about hiring a mini-skip and leaving it in the driveway for the last big cleanup into which I will dump all the stuff that is no longer economical to maintain.

We have decided that nothing in the kitchen is worth taking. Every appliance will be cheaper to replace than it would cost to send over. Most of it was made within site of Hong Kong in China. There will be no box of groceries, no esky with the frozen food, no box of half used condiments and no box of heavy box of pots and pans. All will be replaced on arrival. Everything.

When we are at the airport waiting for the plane, we will have no keys. No keys for the little car, no keys for the big car, no house keys for the upstairs doors, no keys for the downstairs, no chapel key, no keys for the rental property and, for me particularly, no keys for my motorbike. None.
We will have everything we own in our suitcases, a few boxes of personal possessions on their way via courier and the largest number we have ever had in the credit column on our bank statement.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

0703102000 Saturday is handyman day.

Some friends from church dropped in at 9am to see if we had anything left over from our garage sale. The house was in no fit state to receive visitors but seeing as we are all friends I invited them in. They wandered through the house as if it was a Myer store. They picked things up and looked under them for price tags. They measured the fridge. They asked if I would sell the stockman coffee table. They asked how much for the piano, but stopped talking when I told them. They asked me if that was the only dining table we had. I sold them a writing desk and gave them a bookshelf. The price sticker was still on the writing desk from the garage sale and so they insisted on paying. I felt a little awkward because I have already called lifeline to have the stuff taken away.

Today I was talking with my dear wife - who is, as a matter of fact, not just my biased opinion, a world class teacher - and said that it is time to put the house on the market. “But I want to fix it up first” was the reply. “Dear wife, it is time to sell. It is a quarter past March already”. My dear wife then finished the curtain project that has been in the boot of the car for two weeks waiting to be taken to a professional for help. After dinner she continued scrubbing the walls with sugar soap which is a tradition when moving out of a house.

Today I replaced the shower head with a new water-saver and the kids don’t like it. Water restrictions allow 140 litres per person per day. I have asked the kids to have navy showers. My daughter complained the shower-head does not let enough water to come out to wash her hair and that she will have to use the sink. My eldest son has already worked out how to adjust the flow so as to make the water-saver function useless. I think he just takes the whole shower-head off.

I replaced the screen door downstairs. It is a fun job when the right tools are used. Get the little wheel-on-a-stick and enjoy it. Don’t try this job with cutlery.

The key to any project is the budget - a plan without a budget is a wish.

Water saving and level five restrictions.

Friday, March 9, 2007

0703092130 You light up my life.

What did I do today to help us get closer to Hong Kong?

I picked up another passport today. We now have four out of five. The passport office was not so intimidating today, the place has become familiar, the strange computer screen at the front door was cooperative today and it welcomed me by name. One small problem – only one of two passports were ready. Due to their efficiency, the other passport has already been posted and is due to arrive on Wednesday next week. Handy tip for getting a passport – if they ask for a departure date, tell them that although you may be departing in a few months, your visa application needs to be in by next week. It must be a trigger for them to make your request happen faster. Don’t ever tell them that you are organized enough to make plans 6 months ahead. The passport people are your friends. The friendly and courteous staff asked me for some identification. “ I have the ultimate in personal identification”, toots me. “I have (dramatic pause) an Australian Passport! “ and added a footnote that it was issued by this very office.

Fix the house.
I took the afternoon off for some “personal administration” and went to the hardware store for a few things that I need to fix up the house. I needed a light fitting for the passage – the last fitting was cooked into a crumbly powder from the heat of a new low power globe. I know enough about 240 volt AC power to know that I don’t know enough about it. My eldest son told me that the earth leakage circuit breaker does not protect the light circuit. I didn’t know that. He is a clever young man and I wonder what else he knows - do the science teachers tell kids about this at high school? I have worked as a telecommunications technician for 20 odd years and I am familiar with plugs, sockets and connectors and so I should be able to install simple light fitting that has only two wires – one of which can kill me. The first surprise came when I saw that the fitting has four connections. AC mains has three wires – what is the fourth connector used for? I carried on regardless by duplicating the previous connections and, standing on a chair, in the semi-darkness, with my trusty screwdriver, tried see the tiny markings on the back of the socket that are written in brown on a brown background. Active, Earth and Neutral – connected. Now I’ll see if the light works – I put the globe in and closed my eyes in case it exploded. It lit up instantly. Great, it works - and then it occurred to me with a sinking feeling - I had been working with live wires.