Am I crazy? (What a dumb question.) I abruptly but not quite frivolously quit my job on Friday, handing in my obligatory 2 months notice. The Boss was pretty dumbfounded, and so was I. I explained that I love the office and the job. I love Hong Kong. But I keep feeling that I’m marking time. Without being at least semi-fluent in Mandarin all my aspirations for growth in Asia are limited. And I won’t attain fluency here in HK. I admit, there was a “catalytic incident” that inspired me to send the email: I got offended, deeply, and felt the situation was not worth enduring. No, it wasn’t that bad, and if I wanted to stay in HK I would have just let it go. But, with my current state of mind, the incident shouted out to me, Why bother putting up with this? There was a non-incident on Friday, and my expat colleague blew it up into Mt. Everest. My Boss apologised for him and said this kind of behaviour was symptomatic of this fellow’s lack of tact. He kept telling me how good I am at my job, that I will not like Shanghai or wherever it is I am going, how HK is the place to be. It’s a tough one. I like my Boss and all the people, even my insulter (one of the best PR practitioners I’ve ever known), and I do like the job. But there really is no growth for me, and this painful episode just pushed me to make a decision that was probably inevitable. I am now investigating employment possibilities and language schools in Shanghai, Beijing, Taiwan and Singapore. Any suggestions?

[5/29/2002 7:51:53 AM | richard HK]
Shanghai. There seem to be no jobs there for expatriates at the moment and I am so depressed about this. I’m sending resumes out but it’s always the same : “We are seeking local hires.” I don’t blame them, of course. My last resort will be to just pick up and move there for a while and knock on doors for work. It’s been done before!

I’m doing okay at work, but HK seems to be in a state of perpetual decline; the only things going up seem to be unemployment and suicide rates. Yesterday I read how a 28-year-old man who had lost his job killed himself because he couldn’t bear to go to the welfare office, fearing he would lose face. How horrific. So I think I want out. China is the place. If you are reading this, any suggestions? Please send to!

Just made plans to visit Kaohsiung in two weeks, and want to get back to Thailand. Now, if I could get a good job there I’d probably grab it.

[5/28/2002 12:39:18 PM | richard HK]
Work headaches. They are cracking down somewhat, trying to make everyone more “billable,” but the effect might be a negative one, with a sense of fear instilled and a reaction from clients who think they are being nickled & dimed. Must be extremely sensitive to these things, especially when in the midst of an ever-deepening recession.

How can it be that a classical music devotee and scholar of the music of Wagner and Mozart — how can it be that I can’t get the bubble-gummish music of Abba out of my head?? Ever since I saw Mamma Mia in London, those songs have been ringing in my ears non-stop. It seems I pick a “song of the week” and focus on it for a while. Now it’s “One of us is changing” (so beautiful) and before that it was “The Name of the Game,” which I used to think was a pretty bad song (I love it now).

Here is one of my essays on HK, written about a month after I moved here:

Hong Kong Diary, Part 2

It was nearly midnight and I was walking down the street in fashionable Lan Kwai Fong, where the beautiful people in Hong Kong go to drink and eat and be seen. As I stumbled toward the MTR station (the HK subway), in a doorway ahead I noticed a young couple engaged in some very heavy petting and kissing. The man was energetically kissing the neck of his impeccably dressed girlfriend, who was running her fingers through his hair. Normally this wouldn’t be that noteworthy except for one further observation I made as I got closer: As they were making out in the dark doorway, the young man’s hands exploring every centimetre of his partner’s torso, the object of his affection was engaged in a lively conversation on her cell phone. Her young playmate didn’t seem to mind at all, and seemed to be rather oblivious of the fact that she was yakking away throughout the intimate scene.

Perhaps the first observation a Westerner makes upon entering Hong Kong is the ubiquity of the cell phone. Everyone has one. It is rare to be anywhere in Hong Kong without hearing a cell phone ringing somewhere. Everyone chooses a distinct ring, otherwise you’d never know if it were your own phone ringing or someone else’s. My own cell phone rings to Beethoven’s Fur Elyse while a colleague’s down the hall plays Mozart Rondo all Turca. Some play pop songs, others strange and intrusive sounds designed to penetrate the noise of the subway and the street. No matter where you are — restaurants, elevators, trains, buses, movie theatres — there is guaranteed to be a cacophony of cell phones ringing and singing and beeping. During one recent ride on the MTR I counted no fewer than 13 people in one car talking on their little phones.

In the United States only 40 percent of the population own mobile phones. In Hong Kong it is above 80 percent. Elderly women shopping in the run-down little market near my apartment hold the little shopping basket in one hand, their phone in the other. It is a social phenomenon that, for whatever reason, has taken root more firmly in Asia than anywhere else. (I witnessed a similar phenomenon when I was in Singapore two years ago, and I’m told it is likewise in Taiwan and Japan.)

When I asked a native why everyone seemed to need a cell phone, he looked at me in dismay. “Don’t you get it?” he asked. “All they care about in Hong Kong is money, and they are afraid that if they miss a call they might miss an opportunity to make more money.”

Was he on to something? Is the cell phone craze just a symptom, a reflection of a broader and more deeply rooted social trend in Asia, i.e., the worship of money (which is not necessarily a bad thing)? Mainland China, too, has been bitten by the money bug, and it is this love of commerce and profit that will apparently make China the world’s next great power. It doesn’t take a newcomer to Hong Kong long to realize that the city lives and breathes money and opportunity. With more Rolls Royces per capita than any city on earth, millionaires live here in abundance. There is no capital gains tax, no sales tax, a small 15-percent flat tax on income and a strong sense that anything goes when it comes to making money. “The wild, wild East” is what my employer calls Hong Kong.

I’ve been here a month now, and for half that time I’ve been down (but not out) with the flu. My one consolation is that everybody else seems to be down with the flu as well. I’m told that Hong Kong is flu capital of the world, thanks to its high humidity and heat, which together form a breeding ground for mold and rot. Then there is the constant and sudden change from the high heat of the outdoors to the ice-cold air conditioning of Hong Kong buildings. This apparently causes a shock to one’s system and further encourages those little flu bugs to flourish.

And still, for all its oddities, for all its cell phones and diverse strains of influenza, I am definitely in love with this little city-state, or whatever Hong Kong is. My office provides a breathtaking view of the spectacular harbor, and just beyond the skyscrapers one can view vast expanses of lush green mountains. For all the buildings here, more than 70 percent of the land remains undeveloped, and I’m told that hiking in the hills is one of the most enjoyable ways one can spend the weekend. I’ve discovered lots of new restaurants where I can eat cheaply (at least relatively speaking), and despite the fact that everyone here is in a hurry and rudeness is taken for granted, there are a lot of wonderful people here, some of them right in my office. I shall elaborate with my next instalment, but now I need to take my flu medication.

[5/27/2002 7:47:56 AM | richard HK]
It’s been a long time. I was depressed to see that someone chopped out a big slice of my last entry and posted it on a local site for expats, but I guess that’s always the risk with a public weblog. I went to Shanghai last weekend for one of the most interesting and unforgettable trips of my life; the entire trip report has been posted on TW, with all the details.

Meanwhile, I got really pissed at the way people push me whenever I step out of an elevator or subway car — they believe they have to run in before the people get out, not realising that this only slows things down for everyone. I guess it’s “a cultural thing.” I posted this on TW recently and was amazed to see how many locals agree with me. Here goes:

Hong Kong: I love it, but…

It was all over the newspapers last week: Movie theaters and concert halls throughout Hong Kong will soon be implementing a new technology that will block all mobile phone and pager signals in their auditoriums, ensuring that the audience can enjoy performances without constant interruptions from chirping pagers and phones that burst into song. This was great news, but it was also depressing: Theaters were forced to adopt this last-resort solution for the simple reason that there are always a few selfish people who, despite the pre-show requests for silence, refuse to turn off their phones, terrified at the prospect of missing that one all-important call. When I say always, I mean always. It is taken for granted that whenever you go to a movie here, without exception, there will be at least two or more phone interruptions to ruin the show for everyone. The ringing is bad enough. But since the people who leave their phones on are self-centered and rude, they feel it is their right to answer the call and sit there in the theater and talk, as though they’re in their living room. It’s hard to stay absorbed in the film when someone behind you is shouting into his phone in Cantonese.

This is just a manifestation of a far broader issue here in perennially noisy, crowded Hong Kong. When I decided to move here more than a year ago, a Hong Kong native I know said I was crazy: “People in Hong Kong are so rude, they are uncultured, the streets are always packed, the air is polluted, it’s always dirty and the cost of living is the highest in the world.” (He had some good points, though I feel the positives here balance if not outweigh the negatives: great food, great location for Asian travel, many nice people who nearly all speak English, low taxes, bountiful shopping and entertainment, etc.) The point about rudeness is what’s on my mind, because it is so ubiquitous, and it’s a bit startling to a Westerner, and even to other Asians from outside Hong Kong.

Case in point: Hong Kong’s superb subway system (called the MTR) is a real pleasure, marred only by the behavior of some of its riders. “Let the passengers off,” blare the loudspeakers as the train approaches, a request that is almost completely ignored. As the doors open, the waiting mob tries to squeeze into the doors, going head-to-head against the poor passengers trying to exit. It happens every time, and I wonder why there is so little respect and courtesy for others. After all, even in New York City, subway riders extend basic rules of civility toward one another. Someone told me it had to do with the sheer number of people here, that there¡¦s always a crowd and that has generated an “every man for himself?mentality. That’s too bad, because it looks terrible to the outsider who watches, somewhat amazed, as a little old lady weighed down with shopping bags stands in the MTR, and none of the young people who managed to get a seat offers her theirs.

When someone bumps into you on the street in Hong Kong, they rarely say anything like “Excuse me” or “Sorry about that.” I guess it’s just a fact of life that when streets are always this crowded, this thick with unending throngs of pedestrians, you are constantly moving from one bump to the next, always pushing, slamming, evading and strategizing in your mind how you can most effectively wind your way through the masses. There’s no time for “Excuse me’s.” Every man for himself.

Perhaps the example that is most likely to raise culture shock to new levels is the way cars in HK interact with pedestrians. The pedestrian has no rights, and must always be on guard; the cars here simply do not stop for them. In Japan, in New York, in California — everywhere else I have ever been, in fact — motorists extend basic courtesy to pedestrians. Here, if you are crossing the street (even at a corner) and a car approaches, instead of slowing down, the driver will hit his horn and accelerate, forcing you to run. Someone at my office said the only reason they don’t mow the pedestrians down is that they’d have to take time to wash off the blood and repaint their fenders. Again, this could stem from the fact that there are so many millions of people in this microscopic city, and if drivers were always deferring to pedestrians they’d never get anywhere. Drivers are as rude to other drivers as they are to the pedestrians. The concept of “merging” or “right-of-way” is anathema to the local mentality, and cars are constantly scrambling to stay ahead. So when lanes converge at a tunnel, for example, it often seems as though a driver would rather give up his life than let another car in front of him. Twice now I thought my life was over as my taxi driver had to slam on his brakes to avoid smashing into a car that decided my taxi had no right to merge into his lane.

I can go on and on. The way some people insist on cutting into lines, pushing their way onto escalators, never acknowledging that there is anyone else on the planet but themselves…. The “rudeness thing” is probably the most common source of dismay to newbie expatriates here, and I wonder if I will ever really get used to it. Articles appear in the newspapers about it now and then, and public officials will write op-ed pieces admonishing their people that such rude behavior could alienate Hong Kong from the international community. It doesn’t seem to have made much of an impact so far, so for now I just gird myself for battle whenever I go onto the street and remind myself, “Every man for himself.”

[4/21/2002 8:19:32 PM | richard HK]
It’s been several weeks. I went to London the day of my last entry and never returned (to my blog). The trip was great; we saw shows every night — Mamma Mia, This is Our Youth, Iolanthe, Shockheaded Peter, Stomp — and more museums and churches than I can count. Great weather, great hotel location (beds and rooms were too small), good food, all in all a good trip. London is still too farking expensive.

So I’m back in Hong Kong and the much anticipated humidity and heat are starting to rear their oppressive heads. It was a boring day today, focused on “meeting my goals” — getting laundry done, going shopping, writing a new article, updating my online and print journals, reading more of my book of the month (At Swim, Two Boys, absolutely astoundingly beautiful, pure poetry, whole sections written in flawless and tear-evoking iambic pentameter). Boring stuff. Went to a real old-fashioned onsen last night for yet a little more culture shock.

I’ve been here now for one year and four weeks. I love it. I hate it. I miss home and the people and cats that I do so love.

The police called me on Friday and told me the criminal who robbed my flat had been found guilty and sentenced to 9 months. He said I’d probably get my watch back in two weeks, after his time to appeal expires. I’ll believe it when I’m once again wearing it on my wrist.

[3/28/2002 8:40:32 AM | richard HK]
I give a media training today (an over-priced PR service that is full of sound and fury….), then I have dinner, then I pack for my trip tomorrow to London — one week away from this nerve-smashing jungle. I will be flying on Cathay Pacific’s over-advertised “New Business Class,” and I have never been so excited in my entire life. Ha.

Sorry, can’t go on any more (no, not with life, just with this blog); have to run to work. Maybe I’ll check in later today.

[3/27/2002 8:24:48 AM | richard HK]
The II (illegal immigrant) who stole my watch and computer and jade ring and more has already been sentenced to 9 months for doing this to someone else (exact same trick) and he goes on trial this week for yet a third robbery following the same pattern.

I had to go back to court again yesterday, and the case was finally closed — I should find out about the verdict later on today.

[3/26/2002 8:28:15 AM | richard HK]
Tuesday morning here in HK, and I have to go back to court once more. Definitely not a comfortable day.

Television in HK leaves much to be desired. CNN and BBC News (which is pretty good), a lot of vintage National Geographic shows, a lot of cooking shows and HBO and that’s it, unless you speak Chinese. I don’t think I can offer an effective blog until later today, after court and after I’ve seen the newspapers. So I shall return with the full story.

[3/25/2002 10:19:21 PM | richard HK]
Day five, and I am so exhausted I can scarcely keep my eyes open.

I leave for London on Friday for my Easter holiday, and it won’t be a day too soon.

[3/24/2002 3:43:38 PM | richard HK]
Day 4 of my new blog-life. Today is the beginning of the rest of your blog…..

Hong Kong is shrouded in a dull grey overcast, and its been raining on and off all weekend. I’ve now been here a year and 12 days, and while it’s been an incredible experience, surpassing my hopes and dreams, I’m getting anxious. I want to move on, maybe to Shanghai or Bangkok. Unfortunately, jobs are no longer in abundance as they were three years ago, and many of my friends in the US are out of work and feeling quintessentially grim.

I am supposed to write a column for my friend’s Web site, but I just can’t seem to get motivated. Not that that is a new phenomenon with me — finding motivation and energy is my life quest, my impossible dream. So often I just say, “Why bother?”

Watching Stephen (my older brother) pass away five years ago really made my Miltonian tendency to “stand and wait” more acute. It made everything seem sooooooo meaningless. I mean, Mr. Healthy, playing volleyball after work and making millions of dollars and not smoking and never indulging in anything to dangerous — I mean, why of all people should he, at 44, get lung cancer and die so quickly?

Luck, fate, providence, destiny….and there I am, the family rogue who will try anything and everything once (and even twice if it feels good), I walk away fit as a fiddle as Stephen’s ashes are spread around his favorite corner of Central Park. How ironic can it get?

[3/23/2002 1:43:34 PM | richard HK]
Okay, this is my third try. Other blogs have lavish graphics, gorgeous fonts and layouts and are replete with fascinating links that would take a lifetime to surf. And my little universe is so…naked. What can I do? I’m an Internet cretin and I don’t know how to add links and upload photos and all that stuff.

I am doing now what I do best: procrastinating. I have a Mandarin lesson in an hour and should be studying. My flat is in chaos, clothes and books and papers floating in a sea of anarchy. And here I am, blogging, and I’m not even sure yet what blogging IS.

am alone here in Hong Kong and crave some intellectual company, someone who loves great music and books and conversation and haute-cuisine (like cheeseburgers). One more year to go here, then back to the States and to my home in Arizona. Can I ever re-adjust? I wonder. OK, time for Mandarin studies. Zaijian.

[3/22/2002 1:11:05 PM | richard HK]
Well, it’s now my second attempt at blogging and, sadly, I feel I still do not have the hang of it. I have read blog after blog, and am not yet sure what the whole pupose of this is. But then, if so many people are doing it, there must be a reason and I should be doing it too, right? I’ve always believed in conformity and following the crowd.

I read lots of these, and I have to say I often detect a lack of intimacy and, at times, sincerity. I sense that some are using this for their 15 seconds of fame (it’s the age of Internet-time), stepping onto the soapbox and screaming the first thing that comes into their heads. I guess that’s okay. It’s just that, being the romantic that I am, I prefer deep psychological exploration, profound inquiry and, as I said, a touch of intimacy. Alas, born in the wrong century….

[3/21/2002 2:11:45 PM | richard HK]
My first blog, right now, right here. If someone had told me ten years ago I would be sitting in a Hong Kong skyscraper blogging on my lunch break, I wouldn’t have believed him. I came across this site after reading an article by Andrew Sullivan (whom I still haven’t forgiven for his fawning and unending praise of George W. Bush), and I found the idea intriguing. I’m not sure whether I understand it yet, but hopefully I’ll get the hang of it in time.

To introduce myself: I do public relations in Hong Kong. I was in journalism for several years, then fell into high-tech public relations back in 1989. My background is in classical music and German, and my great passions are the operas of Richard Wagner, European history, great books (Brothers Karamazov, Austerlitz, Women in Love, Porttrait of a Lady, Madame Bovary, The Great Gatsby, The Master and Margarita, etc.), most classical music (with a particularly soft spot for Mozart, Bach, Brahms, Faure and Dvorak, but I love all great classical music), writing, cats, The Practice and The Simpsons, and surfing the web aimlessly. Did I mention Wagner? It is more than a passion, it is life itself. Sometimes as I listen to His music I am certain there are nuances and meanings and harmonies and orchestrational inspirations that are heard by me and me alone, they speak to me with such a deeply personal voice, and I am lifted up, transported….

I guess that’s enough for now. I am under intense deadline pressure, preparing to get my client on CNBC tomorrow, and the frantic emails are flying.

How’d I do for my first time?

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