Monday, October 25, 2010

My Name is Winnie, and I’m a Travelholic

It had been over a year since I last travelled, and that was back home so technically it didn’t even count. God knows I needed a vacation and gave me a good excuse to just go for it. Who could turn down a flight and 4-night hotel package for Sabah at HK$1,999?

October marks the beginning of the rainy season in Sabah, Malaysia. Yet we were blessed to have only seen the slightest of precipitation on our last day there on the way to the airport. The climate is similar to Singapore; the people are similar to Thai. As for the attractions, think rainforest meets island adventures. Plus plenty of seafood meals and foot massages.

And now, all I have to show for it are a few good pictures and the itchy peeling skin on my shoulders.

Kinabalu Park

Tanjung Aru Beach

Borneo pygmy elephant at Lok Kawi Wildlife Park

Friday, September 10, 2010

T Minus Five

...workdays till I say Bubye to what is hopefully my last full-time job. I am giddy with excitement over my future plan. Freelance is the way to go, and this time, I plan on sticking to it.

Unlike how I went freelance in the past, this time it's on my terms. I chose to (as opposed to being forced to) resign from a white-collar job to go...well, collarless. I made the decision to give up the title and a large chunk of money in exchange for control over my own time. It's the most liberating thing I've ever done without taking my shoes off.

Never again would I be caught dead trying to market an unmarketable business with a zero-based marketing budget. By no means would I have to hear another accountant tell me I can't start a sentence with "And". No more would I be constantly challenged by Miss Know-It-All – "All" except 1) who makes the iPod Touch; and 2) how to spell "Chris".

I'm not complaining. I'm really not. Every shitty job is an eye opener. I can truly say I've gained invaluable experience here over the past nine months that I just wouldn't have elsewhere. And (*accountant gasps*) for that, I am grateful from the bottom of my heart.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

I Wish for World Peace

Killing was supposed to be a last resort. If Mendoza meant to take innocent lives, he didn't have to wait 10 hours to do it; neither would he have released the old lady, the mother and her children, a total of nine hostages.

Mendoza was not a terrorist. He was not a martyr. He didn't try to take over the world. He didn't want 100 billion dollars. His demand was clear: he wanted his shitty job back.

As the hostage situation unfolded, more than I feared for the Hong Kong tourists on the bus I was sympathizing with Mendoza. All I could think of was the desperation he must've felt losing his job and his pension at such an age, even if it were a consequence of his own wrongdoing; the self conflict he must've gone through as he deduced that threatening to kill a bunch of tourists was his only glimmer of hope; the gravity of his solemnity leading up to the morning of the incident well knowing that he could end up dead by sundown.

This wasn't a spontaneous act of some teenager who's spent so much time playing video games that he one day loses sight of what's real and what's not and decides to take a knife to his mother's neck. This was a 55-year-old veteran with a wife and two children whom he once worked as an honored police officer to support. He was not a cold-blooded killer. The incident was thought out. He made a conscious decision to wager all that he had left. He just failed to realize that the lives of 15 tourists weren't enough for him to use as a bargaining chip.

"Poor handling of the hostage negotiation", "inadequate capability, skills, equipment and planning of the assault team", "improper crowd control", "inadequate training and competence of assault team leader," and "non-compliance to media relations procedures in hostage situations" would have all been good excuses if the incident wasn't dragged on for 10 hours. With that amount of time, a new assault team with younger and stronger members could have been assembled; they could have received basic training on things to look out for in dealing with hostage situations (e.g. when kicking down a door, do it in one go); additional equipment could've been sourced; they could've called a friend.

Knowing squat about negotiation tactics, I would imagine the first few hours in a hostage situation to be the most critical in determining the outcome. Considering the lack of action taken by the PNP during those critical hours, was it really any surprise that Mendoza reportedly "went berserk" in the end? My guess is that Mendoza, who set out to negotiate, went from being eager to calm, then anxious, and finally distressed — much like anyone would in any situation where they've waited 10 hours for something they feel they rightly deserve. Why any law-enforcement or government authority would wait 10 hours with 15 innocent lives at stake and allow a hostage-taker to become distressed and berserk is anybody's guess. No attempt was made to leverage Mendoza's act of kindness and negotiate for the release of more hostages. No attempt was made to manipulate or at least control his emotions. No attempt was made to lure Mendoza near a window so the sniper who ended up taking him down with a single clean shot could have done so a lot sooner. No attempt was made to minimize casualties.

Whether Mendoza's ordered dismissal from the force was just or he was a helpless scapegoat, it really doesn't matter anymore. But I do look forward to seeing some gutsy investigative journalism on corruption in the PNP and the Philippine government.

I am very, very sorry for the deaths, injuries and trauma suffered by the Hong Kong victims. But I am more saddened by this world that could push someone so far over the edge that drastic measures become the only measures; a world in which one's desperations could be so grave that human lives — his own or others' — could lose all value. This is happening everyday all around the world. Mendoza's plan would've been the same had it been any other tour group that happened to had stopped at Rizal Park at that moment with a bus full of foreigners, in which case I doubt the Hong Kong people would have shown even comparable levels of compassion. This could've just easily have happened in China, with a Chinese gunman taking a group of foreigners hostage. Where would Hong Kong stand then?

Seriously, can anyone fathom the perversion of a world in which it's normal for someone who barely finished highschool in one part of the world to end up hiring a university graduate from another part of the world to do their dishes? I wish to stop hearing moronic comments like wanting to fire their domestic helpers because of this incident, or swearing never to visit "a place like the Philippines", or anything about a "nation of servants".

Friday, June 4, 2010

Let's Talk Girl-on-Girl

Alright. That's it. I hadn't had a thing to blog about for the past seven months, but a comeback is in order. Why? Because I can't stand my own boyfriend, who by the way doesn't even like to read, reading that pathetic excuse for a column in that sad excuse for a newspaper (a.k.a. The Standard) and sharing that lame excuse for a columnist's "funny" "insights" with me at the end of a day like he's learned something from it.

On to the most interesting piece of news I've heard in a while: Secretary convicted of indecent assault for groping receptionist's boobs

33-year-old Ms Chung claimed she was just fooling around. The judge didn't buy it and neither do I. There has to be strong reasons for someone who's been with the same company for 12 years to all of a sudden molest a same-sex colleague, twice.

College years are there for good reasons. It's your last chance to be young and stupid (as opposed to being old and stupid thereafter), to act like a moron and try things, weird things, and be able to blame your behavior on peer pressure. For actual higher education, go to grad school. Unfortunately for some people, college is not an option, or the "phase" comes way later when the price to pay is much higher (maximum 10 years' imprisonment). I don't think it was coincidental that Chung's two offenses took place just months before she got married. It might have been an outburst of years of pent-up confusion over her sexual orientation, or she was perfectly clear all along and was making one last attempt to come out of the closet.

But let's say Chung is completely straight, there are still various logical explanations for her behavior:

1. It was recommended by the book 17 Things You Must Do Before Getting Married
Don't swear off homosexuality till you've tried. - Check

2. Wedding-planning stress got the best of her
People do radical things when they snap under stress. Some brides-to-be flee, others put their finger in another woman's cleavage.

3. She's shopping around for a boob job
She did comment on the victim's breasts "not looking fake" before making contact. Though there's no information on the authenticity or size of the victim's breasts.

4. She's soliciting a third player in the bedroom
Remember that episode of SATC when Samantha gave Richard the gift of 3P for his birthday? Investigation should look into Chung's special occasions with the hubby around the time of offense.

A follow-up article in Sing Tao interviewed a Dr Lai from the Mental Health Association of Hong Kong, who commented that in addition to "opposites attract", past research has shown the possibility of same-sex attraction, some even to the extent of rendering sexual arousal. Yes, for a report on this rare indecent assault case, they dug up past research from 1872.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Frites and the Corona Incident

This no-blogging policy at my new job is starting to bug me. When I'm spending half my time in the office, there's really not much else to think about but work. Not that I have anything substantial to say just yet (it's only been two weeks), but just knowing that I can't channel whatever I'd want to say through my blog feels like, well, constipation.

Went to Frites for the second time last night and had a slightly less enjoyable meal than from my first experience there. The house mussels are still nice but this time there were at least four dead ones in our pot that didn't open. Since their mussels are priced by weight (either one or a half kilo per order) and I figured we only ate half a kilo minus four mussels, and I was sure if it had been scallops or a crab or any other seafood they would've made sure only fresh ones were served, I asked our server if he could ask the kitchen to replace those four. The problem is, none of the servers at Frites really speaks good English. We were really looking forward to finishing the meal and going home when the manager came over with a fresh new pot of house mussels, all half a kilo of them with the side fries and rye bread. The kitchen must've thought I was either the biggest bitch or the biggest cheapskate to send back four dead mussels and request a whole new pot. The manager's explanation was that the kitchen can't cook just four mussels; they have to make the whole pot... I may be the biggest bitch but that just wasn't something I could've accepted without feeling incredibly guilty. So we kindly declined their nice gesture as well as their offer for free dessert, and ended up leaving a big tip.

So why couldn't they cook just four mussels? Practically every table in the restaurant had an order of mussels. The kitchen could've easily dumped four extra ones in the next order they prepared and scooped them out for us.

This reminded me of the Corona incident, which happened about two weeks ago over happy hour with a bunch of bananas: Brit’s and Aussi’s drinks arrived shortly after I sat down ― two Coronas. Brit looked at the bill and quickly realized they’d been overcharged. The waiter, at first not realizing that Corona was listed for $55 on the menu, went to check why the total for two had come to $124. He came back looking all proud with a revised bill in his hands, and explained that their computer was showing the wrong price for Corona and to correct this they had put a 10% discount on the bill. “Uh, but this is clearly still more than what we should be paying,” Brit had to explain.

I was too busy getting happy to follow-up with how they ended up resolving the bill. But by the time Yank showed up and wanted to order a Corona, the waiter “reminded” him that there were other beers available and went on to recite a list of alternatives. “He wants a Corona,” C said. There was a pause just long enough for all of us to exchange confused looks with everyone else at the table. Then the waiter finally said something about their computer having the wrong price for Corona. And that’s apparently enough reason to forbid customers from ordering it.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Defeating the Purpose

About two months ago I paid a visit to McDonald's in Cityplaza, where they’d adopted a single-queue system. I thought to myself “it’s about time” and stood in line behind a man while pondering the awesomeness of all the single queues I’ve ever come across: banks, airport check-in counters, Citysuper...


Standing at the head of the queue was a McDonald's staff, whose job was to direct customers in the queue to move up to the next available counter. The only problem was, she was asking people to move up to what she reckoned to be the next available counter before the counter even became available. So customers were sent from the single queue to stand in front of the individual counters in what were essentially separate mini queues. I couldn’t grasp the grounds on which this staff determined which counter would free up next, but she was dead wrong; because I ended up being served before the man who stood in front of me in the single queue, and after the couple that stood behind me.


It’s one thing to walk into a place with multiple queues and have to use my own best judgment to assess which line is likely to move the fastest ― the trick is to avoid lines with foreigners at fast-food restaurants, lines with people with bills in their hands at ATMs, lines with see-lai’s at automated customs channels, and lines with kids at manual customs counters. It’s quite another to be forced to comply with the best judgment of a high-school dropout who’s clearly pulling guesses out of her ass, witness a multinational chain completely defeating the purpose of such a simple system and wasting their underpaid manpower along the way.


Went back to the same McDonald's yesterday. To my surprise, not only is the traffic-directing staff still directing customers to move up before a counter is ready, but now there are two queues instead of one. Go figure.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Toronto

Boarding the dreaded 16-hour flight to come back to Hong Kong was quite a struggle. I can no longer justify giving up the life I could be having in Toronto to be here.

Niagara Falls, Ontario

Main Street, Unionville

Wine Region, Niagara-on-the-Lake

Fort Henry, Kingston

Downtown Kingston

Fun-L-Fun, Avenue Road

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Weekend in Macau

It took seven trips to Macau for me to set foot in Wynn for the first time. We were drawn in mostly by the AC, but once inside I actually managed to find the casino hotel borderline grand. On the ceiling just inside the main entrance is a magnificent sculpture featuring the 12 Chinese zodiac animals, seemingly dominated by the tiger displaying its ferocious roar. Both the ceiling and the astrology-themed dome directly below were structured to suggest that they’d crack open to reveal something mystical. Soon enough crowds started to gather for what’s to come.

At 15 minutes past the hour, the show began. Lights dimmed and music played. Like the shutter of a film camera, the sculpture split into pizza-slice-shaped plates and slowly retracted into the ceiling to unveil a glow, which was simply a giant LCD screen displaying winding swirls of multicolored lights ― short of magical but would easily be the Mecca of any rave party. The LCD itself then split open and uncovered yet another bright light. This time it was a massive upside-down-pudding-shaped chandelier. As it lower from inside the ceiling, the astrology-themed dome on the ground split open. The crowd ooh-ed and ahh-ed as we braced ourselves for the moment of truth. Who knew the fancy 15-minute buildup would be followed by the ultimate anticlimax of a Styrofoam tree spray-painted gold rising from the underground, for people to throw spare change at. I think it’s safe to say this has constituted my WTF moment of the year.

As we window shopped our way through the Wynn Esplanade, we made every effort to zone out the rowdy chitchat in oh so many different Chinese dialects that were echoing past Herm├Ęs, Rolex and Ferrari. One conversation in particular was interrupted by the distinctive sound of someone hocking up phlegm as if from the bottom of his knees. I quickly turned around and prepared myself to dodge what flying dagger could be coming my way. I was one of at least four people including a Wynn staff who witnessed as the foamy puddle landed on the mosaic marble floors, right there in front of Prada. The shooter must’ve seen my look of disgust and kept his ears away from his phone just long enough to hear my loud exclamation of “Oh my God”, because he quickly looked away, picked up his pace and returned to his tongue-rolling prattle on his Vertu, only now in a much lower volume than before. Sadder yet, the Wynn staff was even quicker to flee the scene.

We didn't stay at Wynn, but at Rio (don’t ask) where everything screams Mainland: Complimentary breakfast with flies (Not in the food, just hovering around. Just.); hookers roaming the lobby; gamblers filling up the casinos with clatter, cheap smoke and booger darts; spitting hookers handing out business cards to gamblers; spitting gamblers in the casinos straight-out eyeing you as if ready to ask your price. What more could you ask for?

Until Cirque du Soleil debuts its second resident show at the Venetian Macau, I’m done with the so-called Vegas of Asia. Like with every other potentially wonderful thing in the Greater China Region, Mainlanders have taken over Macau and contaminated it with their sheer inconsideration for the existence of everything that’s not them.

ROARRR

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Moving Backward

I've never enjoyed crowds; I wouldn't be caught dead in Mong Kok if Jesus himself promised to make an appearance. But when they raised the reward for identifying the acid thrower to HK$900,000, I thought: Now there's a reason to start hanging out in MK more often.

The area so essential to Hong Kong's identity has long been a death trap, with sketchy small shops somehow profiting off of the latest cell phones at irresistible discounts, food stalls right next to double-decker bus stops selling mouth-watering battered organs deep fried in thousand-year-old animal fat, reckless drivers and even more reckless pedestrians roaming the streets, Hello Kitty-tattooed "landlords" cruising and cursing entertainment venues with their gangs, and menopausal women slicing passersby with flyers promoting $88 "massage" services. Not to mention druggies, pickpockets, con artists, young men carrying unsightly women's purses (sometimes for their girlfriends) and girls dragging along really, really tiny miniature toy poodles.

With my luck, had I really been hanging around MK I would’ve escaped the plummeting loudspeaker just so I’d be back a couple nights later to get run over by the minibus. With my ear-raping noise cancellation earphones pumping phat tunes on my eardrums, I probably wouldn’t even have seen it coming. And with my luck, the odds of my in-case-of-emergency person being able to fork out over HK$20,000 for the doctors at QEH to start administering Novo Seven on me before I bled to death would be pretty slim.

I used to think there were only two places that would allow public hospitals to put money before someone’s life: China (they’ll need a deposit before you could even be admitted) and the US (“Sicko” stirred up more sympathy from me for Americans than did the re-election of George W. Bush).

How the hospital authority in Hong Kong could’ve allowed the existence of such a lethal gray area in something as fundamental as the protocol on administering necessary drugs in life-or-death situations is beyond me. Was it not one of the first (hundred) things to consider before playing doctor? Makes one wonder what would’ve happened if the victim had no family, or the family couldn’t afford the meds.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Simma Down Na

So someone decided to go medieval on my doorbell yesterday at 8:53 in the morning. Big mistake. But with the time it took me to fight to keep both eyes open long enough to not drift back into my sweet dreams, peel myself out of bed and prepare for the reciprocation of medievalness in the event that there wasn't a fire in the building, of course nobody was there when I got to the peephole.

Turns out it was our downstairs neighbor complaining about our supposedly dripping AC. After harassing my doorbell to no avail, he/she complained to the security guard.

I'm sure our landlord will find someone to come check out our AC soon enough and fix whatever dripping there may be. Until then, the fan will have to do. It's no biggie, really. But the only thing I could think of when I learned that someone was bitching about our AC was how we've put up with the dripping of someone else's AC from upstairs night-after-night since temperatures started flirting with the 30°C mark, and how it has never even occurred to me to complain.

I thought long and hard about the process of attaining this level of serenity as not to be bothered by the minor things that could drive some people crazy. Minor things like the rhythm created by falling droplets of dirty water hitting the AC that’s mounted on the window against which your bed is placed ― a rhythm that’s just slightly faster than your pulse and starts making you nervous once the lights are out because it resonates like the beat of the background music in the first kill scene of a horror movie, and throughout the course of the night bullies your heart rate into syncing with it.

The thing is, with a “Fortress” brand AC that’s at times as noisy as my washer on its 900-spin cycle, my upstairs neighbors’ ACs could’ve been popping out gobstoppers for all I know. It’s only when it occasionally quiets down that I manage to hear the soccer fans' uproar from the cha-chaan-teng across the street in the middle of the night.

Ironically, one of the first things I’d had trouble adjusting to when we first moved to Toronto was the deafening silence at night. The ticking of the clock in our living room would echo through the house and that would be the only sound we hear until the birds start chirping at dawn.

We have birds here in North Point too. One in particular has a distinctive call that sounds like a defective noise-maker and starts at precisely 4:07 every morning, as if to warn nocturnal creatures like me of the impending sunrise. We also have dogs, one of which must be the victim of serious neglect as it’s heard either whimpering or barking at any given time. Unfortunately, the surrounding buildings create such an echo in the area that I can’t make out where the cries are coming from.

I’m surprised that the familiar clacking of mahjong isn’t heard more often here, considering how local the residents are. More often I just hear my next-door neighbors conversing in Hokkien, and their toddler running around the apartment in her squeaky shoes (they like to leave their front door open to let air circulate). Then there's 1305 banging their metal gate close and sending shudders down everyone’s spine; 1304 coming home and giving verbal commands through the door to his wife inside to let him in instead of using keys or the doorbell; and occasionally, 1303 blasting Alan Tam’s hits from the 80’s on his stereo that sounds like it could be from the same era.