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Hong Kong

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One minute snippets of life in Hong Kong, my new Youtube series

I took the kids out the other day for a photo walk, trying to teach them some principles of street photography by walking around the city and observing all there was to see.

“Take photos of the unusual, the fascinating, the unique, the strange, the weird. Whatever it is that catches your eye, try to take a picture of that”

So we walked through the wet market in Hong Kong, where fish lay on the boards before being cut, pieces of meat hang from dirty hooks cut by men with a cigarette behind their ear and a cleaver in their hands. Noodles are stacked high and stretched long as they are made in the shops and sent to restaurants nearby. Neon lights calling out for everything from foot massages to yummy bakery goods, which also filled the air with the sweet smell of freshly made treats.

And after nearly 20 minutes of this, my boys had yet to take a single picture.

“What’s wrong?” I asked. “I said take a picture of the unique, the strange, the fascinating things you see on the street and here we are in the land of noodles and neon and you haven’t taken a single photo.”

“Well yeah dad, we see this everyday”….

It was then I realized my kids really do call Hong Kong their home.

But for me it is still rather unique. So I’ve decided to start some Youtube videos of the “everyday” that we see here in Hong Kong. My new set is in a playlist on Youtube called “One Minute Hong Kong”–one minute snapshots of life from the city I now call home.

Feel free to take a look.
[iframe src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/videoseries?list=PLNmehJDsxSj8pMCQ85SimnIZvCsfr53dl” width=”560″ height=”315″ ]

 

 

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Where to find the INVADER art in Hong Kong – 2015 Edition

IMG_2815The French street artist INVADER has come to Hong Kong several times, but this last month he came ‘officially’ as part of an organized show at the PMQ gallery. There his works hung on well lit walls with tour guides and a gift shop, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t busy again on the streets of the city.IMG_2840IMG_2860 IMG_2815IMG_2825
INVADER launched a new wave of art on the city streets, and my kids took an immediate liking to finding every single one of them. The other day we did a city hike through the streets of Sheung Wan and managed to locate about 7 of the 20 or so new works with several more now on the agenda for our next hike.

As if that wasn’t enough, the kids are now trying to recreate as many Invader works as possible, along with a few original designs of their own. Arsenal man was a big favorite, and the boys are already asking how I can attach it to the wall. Thankfully they don’t know what grout yet, so we’ll make do with something a little less permanent.

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Arsenal Man in tiles.

I created a Google Doc with a location list of all INVADER work in Hong Kong that is still visible, but haven’t gotten around to finishing the map just yet.  Feel free to take a look and follow the invasion around the city.

World Cup Countries by Population

Hong Kong, with 7.2 million people and a FIFA ranking in the 100s or so is nowhere near getting into the World Cup Finals this year, but it got me wondering if it is just a matter of not enough people to field a team or something else.  So I did a bit of Googling and came up with this list of countries in the World Cup finals, ranked by population.


OVP 468X60 (set 1)

in millions

USA 318.2
Brazil 202
Nigeria 173.6
Russia 146
Japan 127
Mexico 119.7
Germany 80.7
Iran 77.5
France 65.9
Italy 60.9
England 53
Korea 50
Colombia 47.7
Spain 46.9
Argentina 42.6
Algeria 38.7
Ghana 27
Australia 23.5
Ivory Coast 23.2
Cameroon 20.5
Chile 17.6
Holland 16.7
Ecuador 15.7
Belgium 11.1
Greece 10.8
Portugal 10.4
Honduras 8.5
Switzerland 8.1
Hong Kong 7.2
Costa Rica 4.66
Croatia 4.2
Bosnia-Herzegovina 3.79
Uruguay 3.2

 

 

Would be interesting to do a list of countries by number of soccer pitches. I think HK would be at the bottom of that one, probably even behind Vatican City and Monaco.

The US Census did an interesting graphic on the World Cup and population. Let me see if I can get that in here too.

wc

Hydroponic vegetable grocery opens in Hong Kong

While walking through Causeway Bay and Wanchai the other day, I noticed a new store with a bright green color.  Farm Direct is a new grocery selling locally grown hydroponic food in the center of Hong Kong.

Given my interest in home hydroponics and my wife’s new found interest in food safety, following some rather silly stuff going on in the mainland, I went in to check out the crops.

They had a few types of lettuce and bok choy on offer, both items I’m hoping to grow in my own home setup once I get off my butt and get it running. They also had a few imported things like blue berries and tomatoes, but I decided to go only with the fresh local stuff.

I’m having my first salad tonight. Will see how it goes. If you want to check it out yourself, it’s at 425 Lockhart Road, at the border of Wanchai and Causeway Bay, just behind the Wanchai Fire Station.

Here’s a neat video I found about their farm in Fanling.

 

Replacing the Peak Tram cable

Was walking past the Peak Tram station on Barker Road when I noticed something pretty odd. The cable that pulls the tram up to Victoria Peak was pulled off the tracks and laying on the road, in big segments.

Apparently this is “Spring Cleaning” week for the Peak Tram. Both carriages are in a state of repair at the stations, and the cable was hauled off and cut into smaller segments so that it could be trucked away.

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The cable is actually quite a few smaller cables twisted together.  I counted 6 coils wrapped around one. Each of the 6 coils had 19 strands inside. Sort of puts to ease the thought of the cable snapping one day.

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Michael Palin in Hong Kong

Had a neat opportunity this week to meet up with Michael Palin, formerly one of the Monty Python crew and now a well-known world traveller and documentarian. He was in Hong Kong to promote his friends new opening at the Hong Kong Maritime Museum and also to do a book signing.

I managed to grab a few books, both Around the World in 80 Days and his recent book Brazil which I sent away as gifts. I also grabbed the Monty Python autobiography, which I had him sign to “The Dead Parrot”. He added “just resting” at the end. I then asked if he had seen the famous Nigerian Internet Scammer version of the Parrot Shop but he said he hadn’t. I told him to look it up on Youtube so maybe he’ll get around to it.



 

Pretty nice evening. Sometimes we do get some celebrities over here in this land of finance and shipping containers.IMG_3775

Go away kid you bother me.
Go away kid you bother me.
To the Dead Parrot, just resting.
To the Dead Parrot, just resting.

Rental Cars in Hong Kong – A guide for Americans

There really isn’t much need in renting a car in Hong Kong. The public transit is good, and taxis are cheap and plentiful. If you are looking for something a bit classier, you can even get a car service to drive you basically all over the island and into nearby Shenzhen China if you want.

But sometimes you might want to drive just for the sake of driving–to bring back a little of that automotive-induced freedom that you had in the USA.  Just head out for the weekend listening to some American guitar rock and getting away from the chaos of living in one of the most crowded places on Earth.

Good luck with that.

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Not Hong Kong.

You’re driving in a city with roads laid down by the British (i.e. redefining stupidity in urban planning) with fellow drivers who, to put it lightly, haven’t been driving all that long, and then having to rent a car from an ‘American’ company run by a bunch of Germans.

Relaxing? Ha.

First things first: what’s in your passport, and what is in your wallet? If you are a visitor to Hong Kong, you can rent a car on your US drivers license relatively easily. However, if you are a resident, in possession of a Hong Kong ID card, you’re going to need a Hong Kong drivers license.

Renting a car has two familiar options, Hertz and Avis. But while the name and logo looks familiar, under the surface things are quite a bit different from renting in the USA. The forms are different, the concept of “collision damage waiver” non-existant, and the process far more complicated than the rather seamless operation you’ll encounter at even the smallest airport in the USA.

You’ll be asked for a very large deposit, something like $15,000-$60,000HKD ($2,000-$8,000 USD), that will be placed on your credit card at the time of rental. Be sure to tell your credit card company there might be a “hold” like this placed or you won’t even get out the door. There also isn’t really the concept of a “Collision Damage Waiver”–paying a little extra each day to cover the potential for scratches, nicks, and bumps. Instead they have a deductible of about $2,000USD that you are on the hook for right off the bat.

This means when you get your car, and when you return it, give it a thorough review. Looks for scratches, door dings, and other imperfections from the previous renter. Also check the rims as they often get scratched up by folks who are still learning how to park.  Unfortunately, given the size of the average parking space in Hong Kong, the chances of you getting a scratch or door ding is actually pretty high.

That’s an interesting point–there aren’t that many places to park on the island. Street parking is comical–essentially non-existant in many of the areas you want to visit, and parking garages, while they do exist, can be expensive and a bit of a maze. If I had to guesstimate, I’d say the average parking space gives you about 6-10 inches on either side of your car to fit in. That means no wildly throwing open the door when you arrive (something you might need to tell the kids about) as chances are you’ll be parking next to some wildly overpriced imported car.

It also means you have to figure out what to do with the car overnight. You can park it in your building, if you have a space, but most of the street parking doesn’t allow overnight parking, or if it does, requires you to be up and moved by 7:00am. Before we found a spot in my building, our rental cars would go back down to Central and stay the night in the IFC building or near the United Centre, where we found overnight spots for a flat “night” rate of about $70HKD. Most places take Octopus (and only Octopus) for parking so before you do a weekend rental you might want to top up your card with a few hundred dollars. You should also put a hundred or so in coins in your car for tolls, especially if you’ll be using the tunnels.

You won't find something like this from Hong Kong rental companies.
You won’t find something this nice from Hong Kong rental companies.

The choice of cars is generally pretty good, with a number of recent model Japanese imports such as Toyota and Honda. There are minivans available that fit upto 7, but if you are thinking of renting one and moving a couch or a bed you’d probably be better off renting a cargo van (the Hiace). If you really are out to impress someone, you can rent some higher end Mercedes and BMWs and the like, but for the price it’s probably easier to just hire a limo / car service for your business meeting / hot date.

Roads in Hong Kong were initially laid down by the British, which means, in short, it’s pretty stupid.  They are narrow, poorly marked, and likely to change to one way or two way at the drop of a hat. They also drive on the wrong side, which really isn’t as much of a problem once you get used to it, but you might find yourself thinking a bit backwards when it comes to “going around the block” (a maneuver that is necessitated by dropping off people and picking them up).  In the US you have this mental idea of ‘right-right-right’ and I’m back here again. But with the drivers on the wrong side it’s a left-left-left. Often times you can mis-plan things while heading down the road only to get to the end and find there is no way to cross over given the lines.

On the island, there are several routes in which you can get trapped–you’ll have to drive an additional 10-20 blocks just to turn around given the lack of turn lanes and one way streets. While trying to goto Sheung Wan one day I finally found a place to turn around in Kennedy Town. Yea, it can be like that.

One other point, lines. Lane discipline is strictly enforced, not just by the police but by the “rules of the road”. You’ll often see cars stopped on a road waiting to change lanes, despite open roads ahead, because at the point they are stopping it is the ‘last chance’ to change lanes without violating a solid line. While lane discipline and lines exist in the US and most people follow the rules, in big cities it’s a bit more lax than it is here.

Once you do get off the island, it’s probably a good idea to have some idea of where you are going. If you want to head up to Sai Kung for example, take a look at the map and the Google street view of some of the major turns you’ll encounter. Often times the roundabouts and other exits are not marked as well as you might hope, and you’ll be coming on these at a good clip and need to decide “yes/no” in a hurry.

If you do manage to get off the island, don’t forget that many places are a bit restricted for cars. Lantau is basically a no go, and some of the country parks will close off roads on the weekends for hikers. For example Monkey hill in Kowloon is a great day drive during the week, but during the weekend it gets nuts with the tourists illegally feeding the wild monkeys and them jumping all over the road. Probably better just to stay in the parking lot inside than attempt a drive down that path.

Eventually you’ll return the car and go through a bit of an inspection. If they see something they’ll flag it at the return and then call you in a day or so with an (overpriced) estimate for the repair. You’ll then hail a cab that smells like whatever the driver ate for lunch and head back home, remembering you once had a car in this city but are now back in taxi/bus/MTR hell.

 

How to Sign Up for Weibo in English

UPDATE: Through a little URL sniffing I found this English-sign up page.

More and more I’m hearing folks ask me how do you sign up for Weibo in English, so I thought I’d make a quick little guide with the help of my translator (i.e. wife).

The easiest way to do this is to download Google Chrome and get the translation extension that will translate, on the fly, any webpage.  Now the English-Chinese translations are never quite perfect, in fact, they’re usually quite a bit worse than say English-Spanish or English-French, but you can get the general idea of what is going on through those plug-ins that will do the translation for you.

If you don’t have Google Chrome, here is what the first two pages say when you get started with Weibo.

Goto http://www.weibo.com

Click the Blue button at the top right.

 

That will take you to the details screen, where you enter the details as follows.  When you click the submit button at the end, you’ll get an activation notice saying that an email has been sent your email address.  Click the link there and you should be good to go.

 

 

 

Now, as for who to follow, I’m creating a list of English-speaking Weibo users on another site.  Will have that up shortly.

 

Hong Kong Air Pollution app is now online.

Well that only took about a year.

When I moved to Hong Kong the air pollution that month was quite obscene.  Schools were closed and outdoor activities around the city were cancelled as the air pollution indexes officially “topped out” in both Hong Kong and cities across the mainland (due to pollution, some weather, and a bit dust storm up North).  Unfortunately I hadn’t a clue what the Hong Kong Air Pollution Index meant, and what was the difference between a reading of 100 or say 200 (on the scale of 500).

So I did some investigating and found the issue of air pollution and how to measure it is highly complicated and controversial.  Hong Kong’s standards were decades out of date compared to new scientific evidence on the effects of pollution, and promises to upgrade continued on and on again.  I decided there had to be an easier way to know if it was safe to send the kids outside or not.

I built a Hong Kong air pollution website which is primarily a math exercise.  Those looking for funky graphics will find themselves sorely disappointed.  But it enabled me to get a handle on the math behind air pollution equations, and from that I was able to start displaying the air quality in Hong Kong by using other standards from different countries.

“This would be a cool app” I thought, and started on the path of teaching myself how to develop an iPhone app.  I got pretty well along, with one or two major hitches, so I decided to hire a freelancer.  That went badly.  We didn’t communicate well and promises of “another week, another week” stretched into months.  I finally gave up and hired a professional software company that was able to put out a finished product in very quick order.

So now the Hong Kong Air Pollution app is online and ready for business.  And just in time for the release, the air quality in Hong Kong has mellowed quite a bit.  A monsoon hangs over Hong Kong keeping the air pollution down and interest in monitoring somewhat subdued.  But I’m sure in a few weeks we’ll start to peak up against the warning limits once again and we’ll start to see some more downloads.

The app is free on the App Store, but feel free to click the ads if you want.

 

 

Elephant Walk in South Korea aimed not only at the North, but all of Asia

In yet another “we’re still here” messages, the US Air Force conducted an elephant walk of F-16 fighters in Korea as part of an exercise.  An elephant walk is what guys called it when planes were lined up along the taxiway heading off on missions back in World War II and the name has stuck ever since.

 

 

Over the past few years, we’ve seen the US play a more active role in Asia, primarily as a counter to China.  On July 4, 2010, the South China Morning Post, in a likely ‘leaked’ story wrote about three US Ohio-class submarines simultaneously appearing at ports throughout Asia.  In the last year the US has also decided to play a role in the South China sea / island disputes, and recently signed a new treaty with Australia on the positioning of US Marines down under.

Is this just a coincidence this photo is out and on the net and getting talked about?  Possibly, but even if it is the case that this is just random, I don’t think the policy makers mind too much the connection of this photo with the other actions going in Asia today.

Here is the full pic from Flickr:

Massive crowds on hand for iPhone 4S launch in Hong Kong 24 hours prior to sale.

Mother and child sleeping in line for an iPhone 4S

I can’t begin to accurately describe the scene on the walkways outside the Hong Kong Apple Store.

Last night, an unofficial line of about 400 people was broken up by police and security details as the lack of organization and chaos was leading to some tense scenes, even some fighting.

Today the lines are back, and organization is being forced on those waiting by the police and security officials.  “Cattle pens” have been set up to keep the iPhone line sitters from milling about, cutting in line, getting distracted, etc.  Police using crush barricades have made nearly 45 pens along the Star Ferry walkway outside the Apple Store, and are filling each pen with about 20 people.  When someone tries to leave a pen to go to the bathroom or get some food, security officials photograph them with a digital camera so they will be allowed to re-enter their sorted pen.

But this isn’t enough.

The 45 pens stretch nearly the entire distance of the Star Ferry walkway to just a few hundred feet from the ferry entrance.  The surging mass of 100s who have yet to be penned are now stuck behind the last pen and the entrance to the ferry.  Security officials (including some from Apple) are now building new pens on the other side of the walkway to shepherd in the waiting masses.

The scene is pretty surreal.  These are not “Apple Fanboys” by any stretch, but low income migrant workers from places like Pakistan, Indonesia, etc.  There are men, women, old grandmothers, even some infant babies who are bundled up tight for the long night ahead.  There are also plenty of wannabe-Triad boys, gathered together with funky haircuts and tattoos, many of them with their faces covered by surgical masks (and it’s not because they have a cold).  Each iPhone they are able to buy will bring a profit of about $100US, which is the same as a weeks wages in some of the lower income jobs in Hong Kong.  If the limit is 5 iPhones per person, they’ll each clear a month’s worth of work so you begin to understand while they are willing to sleep outside all night.
 

'Blue Berets' of the PTU squads arrive

UPDATE 5:00pm:  I added some more photos from this evening.  Police have dispatched a platoon of riot police known as a PTU unit.  The line extended at one time down the ferry bridge and onto the street, but after some reshuffling of the ‘pens’ they seem to get everyone back up on the bridge.  It also appears that they are not allowing anyone else to enter the line, but I can’t tell if that was a temporary thing or permanent change (my Cantonese isn’t that good).