Wednesday, March 28, 2012

What March Madness looks like from the other side of the planet

On Sunday night in the U.S., Kansas and North Carolina played in the Elite Eight of the NCAA basketball tournament.

On Monday morning, I watched the game live.

Right now, Hong Kong is 12 hours ahead of the east coast, meaning a 4 p.m. tipoff in St. Louis equals a 5 a.m. alarm clock for me. It's a little surreal. Hong Kong is a bustling place; some nights it doesn't seem to sleep. But by 5 a.m. on a workday, it's pretty quiet. As I set up my laptop in our living room, nothing was moving outside except the gentle waves on Victoria Harbor.

It was an exciting game. Yet at this hour, and with Mrs. Blog fast asleep in another room, yelling, cursing or even whacking my forehead was a bit to boisterous. I resorted to sending frustrated e-mails to friends in the U.S. who were watching the game too.

If you squint really hard at the upper-right-hand corner, you can see me in my living room.

But the quiet was also helpful. During timeouts, I could look out the window at the lights across the harbor, watch the sunrise start to paint the edges of the sky, and take a deep breath. (It also helped that I planned to go back to bed after the game, meaning no coffee and a lower heart rate)

In the end, Kansas pulled off the upset, beating a UNC team with perhaps a half-dozen future NBA players on its roster. And as the sun rose, I took a deep breath and smiled: KU was going back to the Final Four.

Of course, that means I'll be awake again early on Sunday morning.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A dream crashes to earth

Last week, I saw a video of what appeared to be a guy living out the fantasy of every aviation dork: he strapped on wings, started flapping, and took off. I was ready to post, in glowing terms, about what that meant to this particular aviation dork.

But then I learned another bit of information: the whole thing was staged.

Bummer. Because as you can see above, the (CGI) stunt looked pretty awesome. Oh, well. It's only a matter of time, right? Until then, a guy can dream.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Movin' on in

At this point, I have been in Hong Kong a month. Some things have been remarkably easy--getting our HKID cards, for instance, was not only free, but literally just a matter of waiting in a couple of lines. Other things have been joyous discoveries, like realizing that not only is the Thai place across the street better than any Thai you've had in the last three years (looking at you here, Abu Dhabi), but a meal costs less than a U.S. movie ticket.

There has been plenty of exploration, both literal and metaphorical. Mrs. Blog and I have literally been from one end of the island to the other, plus a few extra islands, and most of the travel was in search of a couch.

Our original living room seating, before we got a couple of chairs (not pictured).

That proved somewhat frustrating. It's not that there aren't lots of furniture stores, but more that the couch we wanted did not seem to exist at a price that would not look out of place on a new car. Then we found one, but it wouldn't fit in our elevator. Eventually we bought a custom-made piece, which sounds extravagant but really isn't, because everything is made in China.

And wait a second, that's where we are! So problem solved.

But living in China--even the Special Administrative Region, which is quite special indeed--is not without its challenges. Shopping for anything, not just couches, can be an adventure if you go at the wrong time. And basically, "wrong time" means "anytime when most people are not at work. Go at noon on a Saturday and you just might find yourself surrounded by a few thousand of Hong Kong's 7 million people.

Throwing elbows for... sponges, I think.

The good news for us, though, is that we have several grocery stores, malls and markets within a 10-minute walk of our front door. In fact, with minimal effort we could get inside one mall without ever going outside.

Abu Dhabi had a lot of malls, too, though, so I don't want anyone to get the wrong idea. It's not like these malls were created because people needed places to go. It's more like almost every doorway at street level leads to a shop anyway, so it makes sense to concentrate them in massive vertical spaces. Hong Kong is a hive of commerce.

That said, it's also a city that knows how to have a good time. The food here is phenomenal--we ate at the world's cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant the other afternoon, spending perhaps US$20 for a dozen delicious dim sum dishes. There are bars all over the place. And a massive race track in the middle of the city, at which we spent an evening enjoying cold beer and colder luck.

Foreground: horses. Background: skyline. Not pictured: HK$10 bet on a losing horse.

To sum up: Hong Kong is an amazing place, with all the energy, excitement and frustrations of a big city. We're right in the middle of things, even if our apartment is not. And when we finally DO get that couch, we'll have something to look at:

Victoria Harbor, and behind it, Kowloon side.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The continuing saga of the not-so-secret J-20

Mrs. Blog and I are settling into our Hong Kong penthouse in the sky (OK, apartment halfway up a high-rise), which is excellent news and something I plan to write about when I have a bit more time. The NCAA tournament is about to start, too, which is also excellent news and a sign that I am about to trade some sleep time for basketball time—thanks a lot, guy who invented time zones.

All this settling in, though, means I now have a tiny bit of time for one of my favorite pursuits: gawking at airplanes.

That’s the new Chinese J-20. It really does look like a movie prop, doesn’t it? Slick. Although the more experts have gotten to look at it, the less stealthy it would seem to be. Check out the size of those big, radar-reflectin’ canards!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

What's in a name?

The answer really depends on what you're looking for. If you're like me, and just got assigned a Chinese name on your business card, you're looking for the characters that make up that name. A simple proposition, right? Yeah, there it is on Google, "most commonly used Cantonese characters"… oh, wait, there are 3,000 of them.

Google translate: also no help.

This is no knock on Google; Chinese is an enormously complex langauge with characters rooted in all kinds of things, from direct visual representation of their meanings to phono-semantic compounds, which I'll let you go ahead and look up on Wikipedia. There does not seem to be an easy way to translate a proper name, even though all the characters in my name allegedly mean something.

And since the Internet has failed me and I only have a printed version, I guess I'm left with simply describing it to you.

In Chinese, my name is (Cross With an Upward Carat Next to Upside-Down Capital T With Small Extra Crossbar Halfway Up) (Cross With No Top and Upward Carat and Apostrophe Next to Top Hat With Two Stripes) (Gently Curved Upward Slash Crossed by Upside-Down, Backwards Capital L).

Pleased to meet you.