More Tattoos Than Teeth

I recently took a visit ‘home’ to Australia.  Some random, passing observations and opinions:

Prolific Tattoos: I felt a bit left out on the social scene – my pale, unscarred skin simply couldn’t compete with the body-art trend.  Everyone is inked to the max.  And I’m not just talking about small little butterflies or flowers; bold, limb or torso-covering images and statements in Old English font are leading the way.  The apparently forgetful older generation are decked out with childrens’ names/dates-of-births and the younger set have, well…just about anything.  For the gents, something prophetic about being your ‘brother’s keeper’ is still keeping the Maroubra legacy alive and bows on the back of thighs seemed popular for the young ladies.  I wasn’t really sure what to think when my father once told me that he found it sexy when girls had roses tattooed on their ankles.  (Cue awkward silence and a quick glance at my mum’s legs).

Err, well maybe just one...

Err, well maybe just one…

I guess I noticed the ink much more on this recent trip south because you rarely see tats on display in Central or North East Asia.  Those that are visible are normally showing colours.  I was on a train in Tokyo recently and a sudden carriage jolt resulted in me, luggage and all, careering into a fellow passenger, a well built young man with a haircut so sharp you could set your watch to it (thank you Grandpa Simpson).  He was none too pleased about this buffoon foreigner invading his personal space and he let me know about it.  I was a bit taken aback by this very non-standard Japanese reaction, but just before letting fly with a diplomatic, “Calm the fuck down”, I caught a glimpse of his chest through a few open buttons on his shirt collar.

You bumped into me…and now you will die.

You bumped into me…and now you will die.

Totally. Covered. In. Tattoos.  The first word that came to mind was ‘Yakuza’.  The second and third words were, ‘Uh oh’.   Luckily, I know how to say sorry in Japanese (I actually know how to say sorry in a number of languages – handy for someone like me with frequent foot-in-mouth disease).  My apology was accepted.

Getting The Girls Out: Younger ladies gather round, here’s my opinion on flashing the flesh: there is a distinct difference between sexy and slutty.  Sexy tends to involve style, and generally still leaving something to the imagination.  Things can be presented nicely without them being on the brink of falling out of your cheap, visible, K-Mart underwear.  I’m not going to deny that you see your fair share of flesh on the average night out in Lan Kwai Fong in Hong Kong – particularly during ‘Slutty Nurse’ Halloween season (in my book that slutty is an acceptable slutty because it is for artistic ‘costume’ purposes).

English: Lan Kwai Fong Street sign

This way to Slutty Nurses!

But even LKF displays more of an element of class than your average Gold Coast bar.  And to my final point – please dress for your size (see below).  Just to prove I’m not one-sided, I will direct my opinion to my male counterparts: I know fitted is the trend guys, but sweat marks through skin-tight shirts and visible spare tyres over skinny denim shorts are not attractive. At all.

Who Ate All The Pies? Whoa Australia, step away from the fridge.  Enough said.

Fluro: Bring on high-visibility fashion! Australians are appropriately embracing it for outdoor exercise attire whereas expatriates tend to file it under ‘smart casual’.  It won’t take you long in any major Asian city to spot an expatriate drinking at a bar (I could actually stop the sentence at that point…) wearing bright orange or yellow chinos.  But that’s ok, vhchinobecause they are bound to be Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger or some other known brand which qualify them as exorbitantly priced, and therefore acceptable.   Being more of a fashionista than a trendsetter, I normally fit in by copying those around me.  So I recently bought a pair of maroon coloured chinos (I didn’t quite feel ready for the fire-engine red ones) and wore them a few times Down Under.  What I do like about Australians, and particularly those Australians making up my long-time friends, is they won’t hold any punches when it comes to voicing opinions on new fashion experiments.  Lesson learnt – the coloured chinos stay in Asia.  But I hear that Gap has a sale on neon green corduroy slim fit pants at the moment so I think I’ll be getting me a pair of them!  I’m sure to get some mileage out of them in Asia…or the next time we’re in Dubai

I don’t know how to put this, but I’m kind of a big deal in Hong Kong

It has been some time since last posting on this little ditty…so what’s my excuse?  Well, work.  Truth is, I have been working.  A lot.  And although I name that as an excuse, it’s actually quite a poor one – the real truth is that I have just not made time to write about my sometimes surreal life – I was just too busy.

We all tell ourselves about our amazingly hectic existences – and trust me, Hong Kong is a great place to listen to people tell you about their busy lives.  Post work drinks in Hong Kong will often involve conversations like:

“So that’s enough about me…why don’t you talk about me for a while…”   

I'm so corporate I wear a vest

I’m so corporate I wear a vest

Before moving to Hong Kong I thought I was busy and important – but the reality is that everyone in Hong Kong is busy and important, or at least think they are.  And if they think they are then they will definitely tell you they are – especially if you get in there first and start describing how amazingly over-scheduled you are.  One-upmanship is a wonderful game to play in HK (that rhymes by the way – go ahead, say it again).  If I spent the last weekend on a work trip travelling to Korea and Japan, then the likelihood is that you will find someone who flew to London via New York to close a deal, returning to travel straight from the airport to a cocktail party for a charity to raise money for a rare endangered penguin before spending two hours in the gym and then getting a solid nights sleep of 2 hours.

It is actually quite fun listening to people telling you how significant they are – especially when it is painfully obvious they are not.  I’ve always felt that the first sign of corporate insignificance is when someone feels the need to establish their credibility quickly with their self-professed status.  Seriously, couldn’t you at least wait for the second drink to tell me your company’s net worth?  But then again, Hong Kong is not really the best environment to be humble.  Self-promotion is the first key to success.  The second is knowing lots of people.  And the third is being able to drink.  If you can do all in-excess then you are bound to be on some fast-track to a ‘regional manager’ or ‘regional director’ title.  The important thing is getting the word ‘regional’ incorporated into your elevated nomenclature.  Besides, longer titles fill space on business cards nicely.  So do Chinese characters by the way…if you want to make a business card look busy just throw in a translation.  Most impressive.

I work in a really tall building...and have my own private elevator...and my own driver...and monogrammed stationary...and...and...

I work in a really tall building…and have my own private elevator…and my own driver…and monogrammed stationary…and…and…

The irony is that, although being somewhat cynical above, I am completely engaged in these corporate games.  In all honesty, I love it.  I spend considerable time choosing and buying business shirts, and my office has many leather-bound books and smells like rich mahogany.  It actually doesn’t…I don’t even have an office in Hong Kong – but who can resist quoting the man Ron Burgundy?

"I'm going to punch you in the ovary, that's what I'm gonna do" - Ron Burgundy, the king of appropriate workplace communications

“I’m going to punch you in the ovary, that’s what I’m gonna do” – Ron Burgundy, the king of appropriate workplace communications

But the reality is that living and working in Hong Kong has actually changed some of my views on work-life.  Correction, living and working in Hong Kong coupled with the influence of my extremely non-corporate girlfriend has moved my perspective. You see, I have been known to work all the time, talk about work all the time, eat work, sleep work etc. You get the idea.  But in Hong Kong everyone does that.  The standard working week in HK is 6 days, with average daily working hours probably pushing well over 10 hours.  Prior to Hong Kong it was only the minority of my colleagues who worked these sorts of hours – now I’m surrounded by people emailing me at 1am.  I’ve started to realise how overbearing that can be, and how important some perspective is – particularly if you want things to be sustainable.

Anyway, it’s Sunday so I’m off for a few afternoon beers…right after I’ve cleared a couple of work emails…

[This post is dedicated to my extremely patient partner who is continually bored shitless by my constant work-speak]

Siege of Shanghai

Everyone will tell you that Asia is an assault on the senses – endless varieties of sights, smells and sounds.  I am not going to refute that.  No sir.  Particularly not that last one.  I said PARTICULALRY NOT THAT LAST ONE.  Sorry, with me at the moment it’s like talking to my father.  He has tinnitus – a form of industrial deafness that results in constant ringing in the ears.  Like when you go to bed after having been to a Jennifer Lopez concert (a long story) and all you can hear is that constant ringing buzz inside your head.  I now know how he feels.

Seems so peaceful from up here.

Seems so peaceful from up here.

It starts with Hong Kong, which is certainly not known for being a quiet getaway.  The city has a constant white noise background that is simply the result of masses of people, traffic and construction all within close proximity.  From a distance it sounds like the rumble of an ocean, just nowhere near as relaxing.  But up close you can really cop an earful of it.  Like when you’re sitting outside at a Soho bar and an unimpressed driver (likely a taxi) stuck in a jam doesn’t just punch out a few beeps of the horn, but holds it down for a good ten seconds.  That will teach them – not only will the other drivers know not to mess with said honker, but so will all the surrounding pedestrians, and my fellow unsuspecting bar-flies, who have had to add a ten second pause to their conversations. They may know not to mess with the honker, but the honker still sits in traffic.  So it all seems a little pointless really.  But that does not discourage the practice, nor the contribution to the noise pollution.

If you’re lucky like me, you can also benefit from an earful of sensory overload complete from the comfort of your own home!  The assault on the senses is way more effective with a jackhammer.  Hong Kong apartment owners love a good renovation – and a renovation in a concrete apartment block means weeks of happy jackhammering.  It seems that jackhammers can be used for basically anything in a Hong Kong renovation; bringing down walls, pulling up tiles, opening beers…there is never a time that a jackhammer isn’t appropriate.  Early in the morning, late in the evening and on weekends, even after the project manager has told you that no work will occur on weekends.  Apparently jackhammers are the tool of choice for a quiet weekend.  Just when you think it’s over, that teeth clenching, head-splitting reverberation starts chattering through the walls, and you start searching for the nearest happy hour.  If it’s a really special day, the jackhammer soloist will be joined by the neighbouring pole driver from the new high rise development, for a complete migraine inducing, ground shaking symphony.

We may not be able to see you in there, but there's no hiding that jackhammer...

We may not be able to see you in there, but there’s no hiding that jackhammer…

So to escape from the racket we decided to take a trip to Shanghai, stay in a nice hotel and relax.  During Chinese New Year.  We’re not very bright as it turns out.  Maybe the jackhammering loosened a few brain cells.  More likely it was the tequila shots that seem to becoming a staple part of my diet.  To be fair, we were warned that it was pretty intense in most major Chinese cities during the New Year celebrations as everyone goes a little firework crazy.  But it still didn’t prepare us for the complete bombardment that faced us on New Year’s Eve.  With the Shanghianese armed to the teeth with fireworks freely bought from street stalls, they began to let them off – initially in a restrained fashion…like teasers…but then in wave after wave of thunderous explosions that one could only compare to a warzone, if one had been to a warzone.

Not wanting to feel left out, one of my travelling companions was well keen to get amongst the firework lighting action.  His partner was not so enthused as she was understandably concerned about her boyfriend returning to Hong Kong with all of his digits. Understandable again that she didn’t see the funny side of our “it’s all fun and games until someone…” jokes.  I’m not sure how many people do lose eyes, fingers or entire limbs letting off home cooked fireworks over Chinese New Year, but in a country with this big a population it must run into the millions.  Nonetheless, male travel companion wore his partner down over three days and eventually got his wish.  And let’s be honest – it was bloody good fun.  The only sustained injury was to my already fragile hearing.  By this stage letting off a ‘double happiness’ cracker sounded to me like someone stepping on bubble wrap.

But like my father I have embraced the selective hearing diagnosis.  I hear remarkably well when offers of food or drink are being yelled…but can barely catch a word when it relates to cleaning.  WHAT…YOU WANT ME TO WASH SOME BITCHES?

Well…I suppose…if they’re dirty.


Almost Famous

“Excuse me sir.”

“Yes, hello.”

“You look like someone famous. A movie star.”


I’ll pause the dialogue at this point.  Firstly to explain that I’m positive I don’t look like anyone famous.  But let’s not kid ourselves, it’s flattering if someone tells you that.  Flattering enough that you want to continue the conversation just to find out which dashing movie star you might resemble.  In all truth I would have preferred to be likened to a rock star.  I’ve always harboured a secret desire to be the lead singer of a rock band – someone who could smash out a decent power ballad to a moshing crowd, but be just as at home wooing the ladies with soothing acoustic tones.

So be able to do two things at once.  Imagine.

So cool…to be able to do two things at once. Imagine.

You know, someone like Chris Cornell or Dallas Green – people who don’t need to be able to play an instrument, but can just because they’re cool and can do anything – people who can drink a bottle of whiskey and still remember all the words to a song.  The only song I can remember the words to after a few beers is “Sweet Child O’ Mine” by Guns N’ Roses.  And that isn’t very helpful at karaoke – I can’t sing and even if I could, I’m not cool enough to pull it off.  But I digress.

It was my first trip to Shanghai.  We’d arrived late and had decided to have a quiet drink at the hotel bar before turning in.  One of the Chinese bar staff had cornered me to kindly point out;

“Yes, you look like that famous American actor.  The one in lots of action movies.”

“Brad Pitt? I get that a lot.” I don’t, but I was enjoying myself.

“No, no – he does lots of fighting action movies. Ahh I know, it’s Jason Statham!  I thought you were him, you look just like him.  I think you would do very well with the ladies!”


This isn't me...although the body is close.

This isn’t me…although the body is close.

I didn’t have the heart to correct him on Jason Statham’s nationality, nor on that fact that I look nothing like him and have an Australian accent.  The only thing being close to a likeness with his comparison was that I hadn’t shaved for a few days and that I did well with the ladies (in my younger days).  Just kidding…I’d actually shaved that morning.

It’s nothing new that Asians think that westerners all look alike.  But with a fascination of western films and the increased ease of access to these movies, every westerner suddenly becomes a possible celebrity.  Particularly in more remote cities that don’t see many waiguoren.  Friends of ours were telling us recently of their visit to a Chinese city where they had been mistaken for a famous couple.  Being one of few foreigners in the city, they had already received their fair share of attention during their stay, but on one particular ferry trip things got a bit out of hand.  The local Chinese on the ferry had begun crowding around them and things were getting heated as people started to push and shove each other out of the way to gain access to take photographs.  It being the middle of winter, our friends were rugged up to combat the cold with heavy jackets, scarves and hats.  They also had sunglasses on – the large fashionable type.  Worriedly they asked their Chinese host why things were so manic on the ferry with all of the attention.  Highly embarrassed, their host explained that people thought they were Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes!

Help us out a bit here Tom...keep your hat on.

Help us out a bit here Tom…keep your hat on mate.

Scenes from the Mission Impossible movie had been shot in Shanghai and it was known that the celebrity couple had been in the country.  Our friends got a bit of a giggle out of it and decided to stay behind the hats and sunglasses – mercifully for the local crowd because without his hat, the Tom Cat fraud is actually completely bald!  The revealing of the unlikeliness to Tom Cruise may have caused a riot.

As I recently sat in the open plan of a Hong Kong office, a Chinese employee approached and handed me a piece of paper.

“Excuse me, are you him?”

...And this isn't me either.

…And this isn’t me either.

It was the picture of Neil Patrick Harris I’ve attached to the left.  Admittedly I was in a suit…but that’s where similarities end.  Consider how alike Jason Statham and Neil Patrick Harris are and you’ll get the picture of how broad the celebrity comparisons can be.  So I’m wondering how this could work in my favour…to live out the rock star fantasy.  If the Chinese aren’t too worried about the details of how close westerners actually resemble a celebrity, then maybe they won’t be too worried about how poorly I sing.  Surely I could just jump on stage at some club and imagine being adored by the crowd as I thrashed out a few unharmonious numbers before the bouncers got me.  I did once dance on stage in front of about a hundred people in Beijing.  It was after a belly dancer had called me up to join her. I was a hit with the Chinese men in the crowd.  Or was it the bikini-clad dancer?  Whatever – rock on China!

Booty From The Block

This is what happens when you have spare time in Hong Kong. Friends start asking you for favours.  Favours like attending Jennifer Lopez concerts.  In my book that is a pretty big favour to ask.

I will explain.  A mate of mine sells advertising and wanted some photos/film of the pre-show adverts he had booked at the Jennifer Lopez concert in Hong Kong this week.  I have to admit to being somewhat hesitant about the idea, Ms. Lopez isn’t on my high rotation list on iTunes…and I have a reputation to uphold (I know that’s hard to believe).  But I didn’t want to let my mate down – so off I headed to the Asia World Arena.

Things are certainly much easier at big concert events when you have a Working Pass – basically an access-most-areas tag that allows you to wander around the backstage, VIP and all seating sections.  No questions asked.  Respect.  I didn’t even feel guilty as everyone else around me with a Working Pass rushed about actually doing some work, or acting like they were working whilst talking on walkie-talkies.  I did consider asking for a walkie-talkie to give myself some more credibility as my single hand-held digital camera wasn’t exactly screaming “professional photographer”.  But then I didn’t know who I would talk to, or what I would say: “We need a club sandwich and a bottle of beer to the least-working-working-pass holder…stat”.  Roger that.

My intention was to get in, take the photos/film and then get out – thus avoiding any screaming fans, crowd crushes or enduring my ears to any pop music that might influence my otherwise alternate tastes.  So after grabbing the footage I found myself backstage and looking for the exit.  At the same time that Ms. Lopez and a large group of back-up dancers were huddled together behind the curtain doing their pre-show pep-talk/prayer.  It was easy to tell who the back-up dancers were – they were the topless guys with six-packs (an obvious back-up dancer prerequisite), and scantly clad women.   Well…I guess I had time to hang around and watch a couple of songs…

“Don’t be fooled by the rocks that I’ve got…Used to have a little, now I have a lot” (deep lyrical content my friends…deep)

But when the concert began, I found it hard to leave.  If you haven’t already, you’ll now form your opinions that I really am a closet JLo pop music tragic…but I’m actually not.  What was mesmerizing was less about the music and more about the…well…booty.  I was booty-struck.  No wonder that particular booty is so famous.  And doesn’t she put it out there!  From the first song, the forty-something JLo was in a body suit that didn’t leave much to the imagination.
 I guess she knows her audience.  I also knew them, because just behind me in the first seating section I was subjected to repeated screams of “I love you Jenneeeeeeeeeeee” and “Over here Jenneeeeeeeeeeee”.  This was soon joined by the much more amusing calls from a male fan: “We love big booteeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee” or just a more simplified “Booteeeeeeeeeee”.

Is this what you came for? Is this what you wanted? Errr…well, yes! Booteeeeeeeeeee

Well they got what they paid for.  There weren’t many routines where the booty wasn’t being shaken about like some weapon of mass distraction.  Or wasn’t on show front-and-centre through an impressive amount of wardrobe changes.  And this is where the backup dancers really earn their keep – they have to keep the crowd entertained while the main act goes and changes outfits again, and again.  I haven’t been to any pop gigs before (unfortunately I was busy during Britney’s last tour) so I was amazed at how frequently this happened.  I couldn’t help but think how much more value you get from a rock concert where the main act just stands (imagine a Dave Grohl or Maynard James Keenan power-stance) and delivers for 90 minutes.  But I guess those bands don’t (generally) have scantly clad backup dancers holding audience focus to allow a change into a fresh black t-shirt.  The dancers successfully held my focus – so mission accomplished I guess.  However, did they or the hypnotizing booty keep me from leaving early and avoiding the post-event MTR rush? Not on your life.

Oh – and don’t tell anyone about these photos.  The one express order I was given when asked to go to this gig was that I wasn’t allowed to take photos of the main act.  It’s not like you can’t see everyone’s phones on record in the bottom of these photos, and at one point Ms. Lopez did grab someone’s camera to take a self-portrait before handing it back.  But anyway…secret squirrel…what if I don’t get asked to the One Direction concert? I’d be more devastated than an Australian HSC student next year.

TITGRABing in Vietnam

I write this from the balcony of a decent hotel in the Old Quarter of Hanoi’s Hoan Kiem district in Vietnam.  I am dressed in no more than a white bathrobe and maroon slippers, courtesy of the hotel.  I am trying to prevent the pleasant Autumn winds from blowing open my attire and flashing my frank and beans to the people on the busy street below.  I am holding a beer in one hand and balancing a laptop on my knee.  I look like a classic western wanker.

I won’t deny it – I prefer the comfort these days.  I won’t try to build credibility by telling you of all of my past travel adventures, but let’s just say that I’ve done the budget international travel thing.  And now I don’t have to.  I want things to be clean, comfortable and quiet when I retire at the end of a day.  I worked for it  – don’t judge me…or the guy in the photo above…he also worked hard for his mid-morning nap.

However, I still believe in the experiences and goodness that only a cheap dirty street stall can bring.  I’m definitely not above squatting on a plastic stool and savouring the local cuisine.  And for this, Hanoi is perfect.  Simply walk along the endless maze of streets and alleyways and you’ll find them.  The places filled with locals sitting on tiny stools that look like they would be more appropriate in the local kindergarten.  You can’t actually tell where the food is coming from – but it’s on the table in front of people.  Find a space, pull up a stool, sit down with your knees above your ears and wait.  It’s not like you’re not going to be noticed by the order-taker – you’re not sure if it was the camera, the blonde hairy legs, or the smell of hotel soaped skin that gave your non-local status away – but you’re already being stared at by the other patrons and street vendors have flocked your way trying to sell you everything from helium balloons to panadol (original GlaxoSmithKline recipe I’m sure).  By the way, you’ve generally taken off the robe and slippers by this stage – unless you’re in a really attention craving mood.

Avoid other westerners if possible.  If there are other westerners in a local street stall it will be because of one of two reasons.  First scenario is the stall will cater for westerners, likely have an English menu, inflated prices and sometimes even change the dishes to suit what is expected that foreigners will like.  In this situation it is still possible get a reasonable dining experience, but the worst thing is the heightened likelihood of more westerners surrounding you during your meal, meaning you’ll probably have no choice but to overhear the middle-aged Midwestern American couple talk about their yard-sales and how none of the younger generation are attending church anymore.  The second scenario is that the other westerner diners are actually like you and wanting an authentic meal, or they may even be living in the city – in this instance neither will want you coming and spoiling it.  It’s not like there aren’t options…forge your own path…just forge it somewhat carefully when crossing the road.

The motorbike and moped chaos that defines Hanoi’s streets really is intense.  There is no avoiding it – with street stalls and parked mopeds taking over all available pathway space, you are forced to walk along the street.  This is considerably easy when compared to the herculean task of actually crossing over to the other side.  Here’s some advice:

Step 1. Take out insurance.  It really is a free-for-all and all-for-one – no prisoners will be taken on these roads.  I knew of an Australian traveller who arrived in Ho Chi Minh City one night, stepped out of the hotel the next day and promptly got hit by a motorbike breaking her leg in two places.  Straight to hospital and straight back to Australia.  Not my definition of a happy snap!

Step 2. Time your run with others and keep them on the leeward side of the traffic flow.  If you can’t visualise this then you’ll understand once you put it into practice.


Step 3. There are no gaps in traffic, so don’t wait for one.  Take one step at a time and let the motorbikes make their way around you.  Act confident – they can smell your fear.

The other favourite for a city like Hanoi is to find a stall on a busy street (not hard) that offers the option of people watching whilst being served the other great consumable that makes the world go round…beer.  Keep an eye out for a Bia Hoi (literally a draught beer stall) and just let the wonders of the Vietnamese world pass you by.  Here’s a suggestion to aid observation and therefore justify constructive alcohol consumption – keep an eye out for The Impressive Things Going Round on A Bike (TITGRAB):

TITGRAB #1: Eight kegs of beer – one man, a motorbike and a very happy customer on delivery.

TITGRAB #2: One Water Buffalo – not easy, nor comfortable for the animal, but quicker than waiting for a truck.

TITGRAB #3: The entire family – pretty common TITGRAB in Vietnam…best way to get the wife and three kids from A to B. Helmets not always necessary which is disturbing when the World Health Organisation list Vietnam’s road toll as an ‘epidemic’. Heroes wear helmets, especially in a country with over 33 road fatalities per day, 12,800 traffic fatalities per year and a further 10,200 non-fatal traffic injuries per year.

TITGRAB #4: Six dogs.  As one local kindly put it to us; “They’re on a one-way journey”. Best not to think about it while guessing the meat in your street stall noodles.

Food and drink aren’t the only things you can get on the street…you can also get a very thorough hair cut!

Hair Today…Gone Tomorrow

It’s your time to shine.  You’ve got a big night out planned and you’ve spent hours getting ready.  Okay, you’re a guy so you’ve spent minutes getting ready.  You’ve treated yourself to a new shirt (one that came folded from the store so you don’t really need to iron it) and you’ve even put on some fancy eau de toilette (you’re so French…so chic).  You’re looking good, smelling good and feeling good.  Confident.  Ready to be the life of the party.  Let’s face it: you – are – a – stud.

And then you feel the tickle…

It’s just on the end of your nose, like a feather has brushed the edge of your nostril…

You’ve left the house and there’s no mirror available…

And so it begins.  The dilemma.  Is it the emergence of a dreaded booger?  Your worst nightmare as you walk in to the party with everyone turning to watch your studly entrance – and you with a chunky one hanging out of your nose.  Or is it just a stray nose hair flirting with the edge of your nostril, and therefore nothing really to worry about?  But without a mirror how do you know?  Do you start picking around, running the risk of dislodging more?  Or worse, if it is just the nose hair, rummaging around may actually dislodge a booger that would otherwise never have made an appearance.  Dammit…you should have bought that nose hair trimmer when it was on sale with the toenail clippers.

These are real life issues people.  And thankfully there are real life professionals to help out.  Just think – a swallow of your ‘manly’ pride and a quick stop into a beauty parlour would have left the inside of your nose booger and hair free.  It would have been safer than the suggestion from an old colleague of mine when I worked in Ireland who said he just waves a cigarette lighter near the end of his nose to singe away any unsuspecting nose hairs hoping to see daylight.  Second degree burns yes, but troublesome nose hairs no.  Irish ingenuity aside, where would we be in this modern day and age without the tireless efforts of those in the beauty industry? We’d be without muscle definition.  Without revealing swimming attire.  Without record-breaking cyclists or swimmers.  Let’s face it, we’d be slower, less attractive and overall less evolved.  Essentially still beating our hairy chests with our soiled, un-manicured hands and picking fleas off our partner’s hairy backs.

The beauty and personal care industry is flourishing in the Asian region.  Year on year sales growth continues, partly due to inflation on unit prices but also largely due to an increasing tourism market, particularly in Hong Kong.  The market’s confidence in Hong Kong’s quality assurance in the beauty and personal care sector makes it a popular destination for beauty tourism, particularly from mainland China.  People know that when they come to Hong Kong for pectoral implants, that’s what they will get – they won’t be leaving as a member of the opposite sex (that costs extra).

It doesn’t take long to figure out this is a growth market.  There is a salon on every corner and advertisements in every form of media; skin rejuvenation, laser hair removal, cellulite removal, body contouring, lymphatic drainage, dermal fillers, mole removal. I’m not even really sure what much of that means.  And sometimes it’s best not to know – like the advertisement I saw that promoted treatment for skin tightening: “It’s as easy as one, two, three; just pop a pill into your mouth, take it down with water and watch your skin firm up over time.”  Ok, simple enough – but then I looked into the small print – which diligently informed the reader that the popped pills would include a cocktail of ingredients including collagen and hyaluronic acid.  If you’ve read any of my previous posts you’ll know I’m no detailed researcher, and certainly no doctor, but a simple online look-up of hyaluronic acid (say that ten times on a Friday afternoon after post-work drinks) revealed that it is an important component of cartilage, contributes to wound repair in skin and has been used effectively in surgery – particularly eye surgery.  It is used in the cosmetic industry to correct soft tissue defects, augment lips and reduce wrinkles.  It may also be involved in the progression of some malignant tumors.  If I had my choice between this stuff and botox, I’d take neither.

One thing I do know is that you would definitely need a laser to remove some of the hair on my body.  I’ve pulled out nose and eyebrow hairs that have the texture of steel wool.  Seriously – you could add them together and make a wire brush.  If you didn’t have a laser, you’d at least need tin snips or better yet bolt cutters.  Don’t even start me on the hair that is guarding my ear (yes, I said “ear”…not my “rear” – that’s another issue not quite as close to my heart…boom boom).  Similar to my reluctance to popping pills, I just don’t like the idea of a laser being used on my hair sprouting body parts, even if there is a special: “Laser Hair Removal 50% Off!” So are you going to get 50% of the stuff off, or do I get a discount on the price?  Actually, if you can manage to get 50% of it off I’ll pay full price.  Do I get to choose which 50%?  I wouldn’t want to be swimming around in circles the next time I’m in the pool with Michael Phelps.  That would be embarrassing (unless he’s been to a College party first).

But the entertainment is in the marketing.  After reading the advertisements I thought to myself, this blog post is going to write itself.  So I’m going to let it with some of my favourite marketing hook lines.  If you aren’t rushing down to your local beautician to get lasered, poked or pricked after reading these, then all hairless hope is lost on you.

  • If comic books have taught us anything, it’s that getting zapped with mysterious rays always gives you crime-fighting abilities—in this case, superhuman smoothness.
  • A waist too thick may lead to difficulty fastening seat belts at amusement parks.
  • Unlike hugging a big fluffy dog, holding a hairy person tight in your arms does not usually result in pleasant feelings and a happy bark.
  • Like an acrylic bathtub, improperly maintained skin can wind up dull, cracked, and littered with derelict rubber duckies.
  • Desert dwellers prize the camel for having the endurance to conquer the sands and the eyelashes to conquer their hearts.
  • Slim faces find it easier to squeeze through the bars of jail cells and to fit in various masks upon escape.
  • Issac Newton discovered gravity when he was hit in the head by a falling apple, but only began to truly fear it when he noticed his sagging jowls. Reverse the Newtonian process now!
  • Like lawns, hairdos require regular trimming and a few strategically placed plastic flamingos to enhance their beauty.

 Remember people, “Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve attention.”

Room For One More?

Happiness is two people in a shower.  Strange comment I know.  But you know I’m right.  Well, that is if you are one of them and the other is of your choosing (I’m assuming my opening comment would not count in prison).  “I never thought we would have an apartment in Hong Kong with a shower big enough to fit both of us…” states my partner on one of the first nights in our new Hong Kong home.  Ok – read into that what you will – but I will justify it (and the PG rating of this blog to date) by claiming that showering together saves water.  Although I am continually telling my partner that I am very, very dirty.  Cough.  Silence.

Ok – with that awkward start out of the way I will get to the point of this post, the positives and negatives of our newfound apartment living.  And our big (ish) shower is definitely a positive.  However, often with a positive comes a not-so-positive (a negative in some vocabularies)…but let’s keep it simple, with monosyllables:

Pro: Our space-saving bathroom has a hot water system built into the ceiling.  You have to switch it on about 5 minutes before you want hot water.  This has allowed us the space for the shower with two-person-potential.

Con: Once switched on and filled up, the hot water system leaks through the ceiling into the bathroom.  To be specific, it drips over the toilet area.  Therefore if your timing is bad and you find yourself sitting down (with a newspaper in my case) before a hot shower, you need an umbrella (or a laminated newspaper).

Considering the apartment is newly renovated and actually quite modern, we mistakenly thought this issue would be a concern for our landlord.  Not so.  After reporting the issue, our landlord sent her maid over to clean the ceiling/floor.  That was it.  No investigation into the cause of the issue, no preventative measures…just a simple wipe over with a cloth.  We call our landlord a lot.

Pro: Our über modern flooring consists of white ceramic tiles.  They make the apartment look more spacious than the 600sq ft. would otherwise have you believe.  Considering that in 2010 (couldn’t be bothered looking for more recent data) more than 90% of Hong Kong’s population lived in apartments smaller than 700sq ft. I figured we are ‘average’ (my way-above-average partner does not deserve that descriptor at all).  And ours is only a 1 bedroom (yes the real estate picture says 2 bedroom but they meant “1 bedroom plus nook”) – I suspect many of the residents quoted above are fitting more than two people into their 700sq ft. or less.  Sure, more people could fit in our space, and when visitors arrive I am sure they will sleep in the ‘nook’ – but there will be no secrets.  None.  Already we have experienced the joys of such close confines…although it means you can sit on the toilet and still see the TV with the door open (no more missing key plot points in that feature presentation), it also means that the morning after a curry dinner can be…ah…hmm…memorable for the other habitants.

Con: (back to the white tiles) The flooring is killer under bare feet (I can hear the sniggers of my tradesmen mates at home as they label me “princess”).  In bed at night my throbbing feet feel like they have endured foot-whipping torture all day.  I am sure this is contributed to by the fact that I am walking up and down the steep hills of Hong Kong in a pair of deteriorating thongs (flip flops for you non-Aussies).  Said footwear no longer have any grip left on the soles so are about as useful as tying two bars of soap to the soles of my feet.  And haven’t I suffered during the wet.  People look at me with frowns of disgust as they watch me trying to crawl up slippery concrete paths, whilst thinking to themselves; “…how disgraceful, drunk at this hour of the morning!“  I’m too busy trying to gain traction to explain that I only had two beers at brunch.

So I’ve even bought loafers to combat the problem (is that more laughter I hear from the home-boys?)  That’s right, all I need now is a pair of bright orange Ralph Lauren chino pants rolled up at the ankle to complete my expat kit.  I’m sure to offend with my opinions of expat fashion so I’ll blog about that another day to ensure I don’t miss anyone.

Cricket anyone? Over the fence is 6 and out…and you have to buy a new ball.

Pro: We have a 200sq ft. terrace.  Yes, if you’ve done the math it means our terrace is one-third the size of our entire apartment!  You could play cricket out there (hallway cricket rules).  And there are benefits to being on the ground floor.  In the recent Signal 10 Typhoon Vicente that hit Hong Kong in late July, our terrace collected everything that was blown off the surrounding structures in our neighbourhood.  This debris included sheets of metal, chunks of concrete render and plenty of tree branches – but it also included a jacket and some women’s underwear.  Unfortunately not my partner’s size, nor mine.  But now I can’t wait for the next typhoon – I need a new pair of thongs!

**By the way the building in the photo below is not our apartment block, but I just love the old nestled amongst the new.

From The Heavens Above

There is nothing quite like the feel of a cold drip of air-conditioning runoff.  Refreshing? No. Surprising? Not in this city. Disturbing? Yes.  Whilst the initial contact with a cool droplet of water from the heavens is welcomed in the stifling humidity of an Asian summer – the thought of it coming from the antique air-conditioner on the 70th floor of the high rise towering above does not evoke positive thoughts.  I instantly think of the word ‘legionnaires’.  Funny enough, that word provokes images in my mind of Frenchmen in khaki uniforms and top-hat caps.  However, we all know I am talking about the apparently well-known story of Legionnaires Disease being contracted from air-conditioners. Well I did some research – albeit basic investigation using the University of Google – and the bacteria causing the disease is indeed partial to the favourable environment of the cooling waters in air-conditioners.  I will add credibility to my desktop (read: half-arsed) research with common claims by both Australian and British health authorities that the water contaminated by the bacteria is spread in aerosol droplets and that people both inside and outside affected buildings are at risk.  You don’t even need to take a big gulp of the stuff – all you have to do is breathe it in.  So gawking tourists below a landmark building with heads turned skywards, mouths open, passing comment like “how amazing” are at no more risk than the unsuspecting passer-by pedestrian just trying to figure out which side of the path to walk on (see Keeping Left).  Men are affected more than women – and middle-aged men who are heavy drinkers are more at risk.  Oh dear – not good for a 35 year old male in the Hong Kong drinking scene.  Although that’s probably all gross generalisation – surely any self respecting Legionella bacteria falling straight into the mouth of an elderly female tourist is going to have a field day.  Still, my advice is don’t look up.

In our first week of moving to Hong Kong my partner got conjunctivitis.  The Edinburgh educated doctor (he gave us business cards) informed us that it most likely came from a splash in the eye.  Like I said – never look up.  But keeping your head down isn’t all that easy – curiosity causes you to look up even if it is simply to determine whether it’s raining or just the love of an old air-conditioner.  We live on the ground floor of an old apartment block surrounded by not only our buildings higher floor air-conditioners but also those of the surrounding apartment towers.  I’ve honestly thought it has been raining a couple of times when I’ve walked onto our terrace…only to look up.  You can imagine my horror at the realisation of where the ‘shower’ was coming from.  Cue flashing images of Frenchmen in uniform!!  And the air-conditioning use is constant in summer – and why wouldn’t you have it on all the time – it’s bloody hot. Many people leave the air-conditioning on even when they’re not at home – I think it also helps combat the onset of mould which is another wonderful side dish that is served with the humid weather.  It reminds me of a story a friend of mine in Dubai told me.  Apparently it is relatively common in the Middle East to leave the car running with the air-conditioning full on even when you’re not in it.  Shopping centres are full of empty, running cars.  This would light up the eyes of more than a few criminal types where I’m from – but the penalties for theft in the Middle East are so severe that the risk of the car being stolen are nil.  And there’s certainly no shortage of oil (well, at least not for the next 20-30 years anyway) so why not.  I guess.  Does anyone care about the environment?

In the past fortnight Hong Kong has registered it’s highest smog/pollution readings since 1999 (if you don’t count the sandstorm effects in 2010:  We were in Sha Tin on the worst day and had walked to the top of the Ten Thousand Buddha’s Monastery, which consists of more like 13,000 Buddha’s (no I didn’t count…I read that somewhere) and a somewhat dispiriting climb up 400 steps.  Upon arriving at the top, and between gasps of smog filled air, we commented to each other about how good the views will be.  But our expectations of a decent panoramic of Sha Tin were shattered thanks to the pollution that made it difficult to make out anything much past the pagoda.  Interestingly enough, the air cleared somewhat as an afternoon thunderstorm rolled over the hills and rain clouds absorbed some of the infected air. Ok I’m exaggerating – it was probably more the effect of the accompanying breeze with the storm.  But it still gets you thinking about what is coming down from the heavens above when it rains in a city with such an impressive pollution problem.  Again, my advice is don’t look up. 

Keeping Left

It’s hard to know where to walk in Hong Kong.  You’d think the pure masses of people would provide direction guidance simply by allowing you to follow like a Lemming. But its not actually the case – either that or I am not reading the signals correctly. There’s plenty of opportunity to test pedestrian traffic theories where we live, close to the world’s largest escalator and always walking on designated pedestrian paths and pedestrian overpasses without traffic interference. And there is certainly no shortage of people.

The paths and escalators have two-way flow of foot traffic, which you think would be simple enough.  If logic prevailed then one side would be for one direction and another for the opposite.  And then within the particular direction you are travelling in, there would be a side for slow walkers and a side for over-takers.  Simple right? Like a four lane highway with two lanes in one direction and two in the other.  Why then wouldn’t you also just follow the same rules as the traffic, which in Hong Kong is on the left.   It is not so – the ‘no walk’ lane in the escalators is on the right. So if you are oppressed by the heat (completely understandable in these summer months) and prefer to let the escalators do all the work for you, then you stand on the right. Overtaking strictly on the left.  But it seems that without the guiding confines of an escalator, slow walkers on paths are left in a dazed and confused state of random side-to-side sauntering that exactly mirrors the overtaking efforts of those walking behind who want to pass.  Uncanny.  And annoying.  It’s the same when walking towards each other – with no central line to separate the opposite-flow of traffic, people come at each other in random fashion.  Imagine the field battles in Braveheart or Gladiator, but with people charging at each other in suits and armed with laptop bags and smart phones. You can bet that the person oncoming who you are trying to avoid will pick the exact path as you.  Be prepared for the inevitable collision-avoiding dance that looks like you’ve just started a modern jive flashmob. It doesn’t even have to be crowded for this to occur – walking to a touch football game in Happy Valley tonight I did this exact awkward dance with a girl who was the only other person walking towards me on a three metre wide footpath. However there was no one else to join our flashmob so I would describe it as having zero impact on entertaining the surrounding public – I’m actually not sure that two people are the minimum participant numbers for something to be defined a flashmob, I will have to check wikipedia.  Additionally, I’m not sure that a street sweeper and a guy in a parked taxi would even classify as ‘surrounding public’.

People have told me already about the extremes of pedestrian interactions in what they term the ‘Hong Kong Hello’ – where every passing person bumps shoulders without any apology (or even buying you a drink). And they tell me it can happen at 5am if it’s only you and one other person on the street. I haven’t had many of these experiences (I am yet to be either getting up at 5am, or returning home at 5am) but one can only hope that if it does happen a lot then one will develop a callous on each shoulder. I can see where the problem comes from – complete self-absorption.  So many busy people, so many places to go, so many messages to read!  It is comical the number of people reading their iphones, blackberrys, ipads and kindles whilst walking.  I can understand if you are in the slow escalator lane, letting the machines do the walking for you – even I have been known to use this ‘down time’ to check messages.  But when walking down a crowded footpath? Really?  Do you really expect everyone else to get out of the way while you finish the end of that obviously riveting chapter on you e-reader?  Or better yet, making sure you don’t miss that ever-important sitcom – people love watching television programs on their smartphones!  Even whilst walking.  Maybe this isn’t that unusual – I did have a friend at home who would watch a miniature TV whilst on the drive home from work, whilst driving.  TV watching walkers are relatively harmless with this perspective.  Unless it’s raining and they are trying to also hold an umbrella – that’s when someone can really lose an eye.  My advice, wear glasses whilst walking in the rain even if you don’t need them to see – it will save you shopping for a pirate patch later.

There are definitely times where the pure volume of people will negate the luxury of choice for anyone wishing to pick random walking directions.  We learned this the hard way one day when exiting the Wan Chai MTR station on the same day of the Hong Kong Book Fair.  We were following the crowd no matter where they were going – but they were definitely going to the Book Fair because that’s where we ended up.  It’s times like this where you have to suppress any feelings of claustrophobia and try and be happy about ‘going with the flow’.  It actually gives you time to check out all the t-shirt messages that currently dictate Chinese fashion.  What is popular is a simple message on a t-shirt – some of note that I’ve seen are:

  • ‘Think less stupid’,
  • ‘It’s the economy stupid’,
  • ‘I’m a businessman’,
  • ‘Just make it work’, or simply
  • ‘Just kill me’

I’m currently designing one that says ‘Keep Left’ and is simply printed with an arrow.