Friday, March 25, 2011

Friday, March 25, 2011 (Hong Kong)

FIRST NIGHT OF THE RUGBY SEVENS: This is hard to capture. I will be embarrassed to say that it will take me longer to write a little about our baptism in the Hong Kong Sevens rugby tournament than it took to PLAY AN ENTIRE GAME. There were 12 games, each one lasting 14 minutes of running time (7 minutes per half; 2 minutes per intermission). Scores from last night's opening-round matches in Hong Kong Stadium were all over the map: New Zealand beat South Korea, 61-0. Samoa beat Mexico, 64-0. Australia beat Zimbabwe, 42-0. Fiji beat Malaysia, 49-0. England beat China, 59-5. But you probably know that already.
The closest games were France 12, Portugal 5; Scotland 12, Tonga 10; Argentina 22, Canada 21; and U.S.A. 24, Japan, 19.
This all happened in the space of a couple of hours. No TV timeouts; no delays of game for injuries; no 20-second timeouts for coaches. Don't blink.
Once we got inside the stadium, Sandy and I were able to watch the game with a number of people from various financial/investment businesses. All were able and willing to explain the rules of rugby and the specific strategies of the lightning-quick Sevens games.
Nestled in the middle of the evening's contests, Canada beat France in the women's title game, 28-14, establishing themselves as a solid favorite to win Olympic gold in the Rio Olympics in 2016. From our perch, Sandy and I realized that the French team was part of a VERY LARGE CONTINGENT that were IN FRONT OF US in a very long immigration line when we landed on Monday night. We did NOT hold it against them.

AMBUSH MARKETING: Corporate sponsorship is baked into the tournament. It is the Cathay Pacific/Credit Suisse Hong Kong Sevens. One of the features of the festivities is the so-called "ambush marketing" that other corporate entities engage in to glean some of the corporate attention for themselves. For example, Deutsche Bank distributed dozens, if not hundreds, of hats, fur-lined vests, woolly leggings and fluffy hats--mostly in distinctive baby blue. All had a logo. You could see them throughout the stands. Another corporation--Telstra--was a bit more outrageous. They distributed Elvis wigs and rugby shirts. We caught up with some of them in the subway after the game. They posed. I didn't check for blue suede shoes.

WORDS AND IMAGES: By coincidence, I'm in Hong Kong while copy editing for our TidePool Press a manuscript of a memoir by Marian Schlesinger that includes a section about her visit to China in the 1930s--including, using spelling from her time, Shanghai, Foochow, Hong Kong, Peking. The descriptions have helped me appreciate my little window on China in the here-and-now. In one part, she describes working with a teacher of distinctive Chinese landscape painting. His name was Mr. Teng. Here's an excerpt:
"I was running fast to keep up, as he took me over the threshold of this ancient art, taught me to draw plum blossoms, tree peonies in spring, mountains in a winter rain, gnarled pine trees, ginkgo trees, water running over rocks, bamboo stalks in the wind. Each had its ordained vocabulary of strokes. It was like studying harmony and discovering the underlying elements on which concerti and symphonies are built. Forever after, I looked at Chinese paintings with a new eye."
I've included an example (not from our book) at right.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Thursday, March 24, 2011 (Hong Kong)

A WELCOME BREAK AT THE CHINA CLUB: Sandy and I were treated in the evening to a delicious dinner at David Tang's China Club, which occupies the top three floors of the old China Bank Building. The art deco appointments, including a wonderful art-glass installation (above), were memorable. So, too, was the food. Our hostess was Elsa Cheng (shown with Sandy at right). She has had a remarkable career in the jewelry business, working for K.S. Sze & Sons since 1972.We made it through with chopsticks only. However, we found the silver ones had less purchase on the food than the replacements, which were nonmetal. Still, we avoided using forks. A small victory.
At lunch, we used forks--at the American Club in Exchange Tower No.2. The occasion was a get-together for graduates of Phillips (Andover) Academy. Sandy--a trustee emerita--spoke about her work and about developments at the school. The lunch was organized by Chien Lee. It led to an engaging discussion (about 15 were present, mostly from the finance/investing sector) about financial trends, opportunities and concerns. A great and talkative group.

THE 'IT TAKES LEATHER BALLS TO PLAY RUGBY' CROWD IS TAKING OVER HONG KONG FOR THE WEEKEND: Hotels are filling up here in Hong Kong. The attraction: the Hong Kong Sevens, the rugby competition that some consider the top annual sporting event in Asia. The co-leaders are New Zealand and England. Somoa is in third place. The Hong Kong teams--men and women--are above. The men are in Pool E (with South Africa). The USA is in Pool B. I'm sure there is a "Group of Death" in this, but I have no idea which one it is.
I do have an idea about a player to watch--20-year-old Declan O'Donell. According to this morning's South China Post, he has "Ferrari-like acceleration, a gravity-defying sidestep and balance and power to burst through tackles." I hope it doesn't end up like the only Ferrari, I'm familiar with, the 1961 250 GT Spyder California--from "Ferris Bueller's Day Off."
Part of the promotion included the manufacturing of an extra-large rugby ball, which is about 2.9 meters high, 4.7m long and 2.9m in diameter. It's made of authentic rugby-ball leather and can hold more than 3,300 regulation rugby balls inside. (That's a promotional photo above.)
Sponsors Cathay Pacific will auction the ball to raise money for the Hong Kong Red Cross, which will, in turn use it to help those affected by recent natural disasters in Japan, Yunnan Province in China and Christchurch in New Zealand.
(NOTE: Sandy and I bought tickets for the games for Friday and Saturday. Must find a rule book.)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

YOU GOTTA LOVE THE SOUTH CHINA POST: Had a real treat today. Flipping through the South China Post, I cam across a very tight and tidy comics "section". It included only FOUR strips. One I'd never heard of: Pooch Cafe. It also had Doonesbury and Non-Sequitor, two very enjoyable cartoons. The fourth one? Hold on. It's "The Best of Calvin and Hobbes," which, obviously means it must eventually reprint EVERY ONE of those spectacular entries. I hadn't seen Calvin in a while. Glad he's alive and kickin' in Hong Kong. The strip dropped from syndication in 1995.

CATCHING UP: Sandy and I got a chance to have lunch with a Cornell friend and fraternity brother Bob Hinkel. We grabbed a lunch in a corner table of a second-floor restaurant featuring a BELGIAN menu. My hamburger had beetroot hidden inside. None of us had the Zee Brugge Burger. Then Bob took us up to his office on the 52nd floor of The Center. It had a sweeping view of the waterway between Hong Kong and Kowloon. It's a new spot for him, but he likely won't be in that office all that often. Bob travels a lot (COO for Asia Pacific Energy, a company of Husky Energy). If he's not in Hong Kong, you might be able to find him in Calgary or Houston or somewhere else.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tuesday, March 22, 2011 (Hong Kong)

THE 'HONG KONG FOR DUMMIES' TOUR: To get my bearings, I started re-reading James Clavell's excellent Tai-Pai. I found myself still immersed in the 1840s by 9 a.m. There's got to be a better way to learn about Hong Kong, right? Why not go outside?
So to fast-forward my knowledge of the city, I took a guided bus tour of Hong Kong's main island. No Kowloon. No New Territories.
We zipped up a hill, right by a fabulous house that we were told was used in the filming of Soldier of Fortune. I took one picture on the fly (right). (Note: Someone with plenty of time on his/her hands dutifully isolated some movie stills that show the house. (I think it was the house of Hank Lee, the character played by Clark Gable.) It was too misty to get a good view of the city from the heights (above). But I did get hornswoggled into buying a PLATE with my picture taken on the summit, complete with mist in the background.
Don't tell Sandy, but she might have to unwrap it on the morning of December 25. On the other hand it might not survive the trip back to Singapore. It's quite breakable.

ON TO ABERDEEN: Later in the tour, we tootled through Aberdeen Harbor in a tourist-fueled sampan. I think we were in a well-protected typhoon haven, which is designed to provide protection for boats when those storms roar through here. We passed by numerous floating homes. One, which was either one of those residences or an idle fishing/work boat, housed a young man who was enjoying a smoke (right). We drove around the famous floating Jumbo restaurant (below).
After the harbor, we walked through a jewelry-making workshop in Aberdeen and then across the southern coast of the island past Repulse Bay and Deep Water Bay. We stopped at Stanley, to allow time for shopping at the town's market. I wolfed down a Belgian hot dog on the shore before catching the bus back to the city.

Monday, March 21, 2011 (Hong Kong)

IT REALLY DID HURT THE EYES: While on the flight from Singapore to Hong Kong, we spotted a gentleman wearing an indescribable shirt-shorts combination. While it defies description, it could be photographed. You can see it at right.
He looked like a refuge from one of those high-school Clash Days. What's admirable about this is that this gentleman simply did not care what others might think of his choices. He strolled around the plane without a care in the world. I think that's called "self-actualized." As far as I know they let him through immigration and customs.
The fact that he was heading to Hong Kong, one of the great tailoring/bespoke centers means there's a chance he would get some advice at his destination. Of course, Hong Kong has quite a non-conservative fashion side. (I would know, right?)

CRANE WATCHING TO BE SUSPENDED: Those of you looking for investment guidance through the Singapore Crane Index Limited Economic Indicator have to wait a week. I'm sorry to leave crane-watching up in the air like this, but I am in Hong Kong, far from the Tanjong Pagar terminal. However, I did take a photo of the cranes just before we left and saw that THREE CRANES were UP. They are circled in yellow in the photo above. This means that Monday turned into a very busy day at the terminal. No idea what it looks like on Tuesday morning, when I am typing this.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sunday, March 20, 2011

NIBBLE, NIBBLE, NIBBLE, TICKLE, NIBBLE: Last night, after dinner, Susan, Deb, Sandy and I ducked into a Kenko FISH SPA at the Marina Bay Sands Casino. I had never seen something like this before. The closest was watching a preview for Piranha III (or something of that ilk).
The key operators here are so-called "Doctor Fish" (garra rufa). As the picture shows, they swarm over the available skin and consume things we don't know are there. Total symbiosis on this one. They like it. We like it. The owners of the spa like it. Seems to be a big breakthrough of some kind for Deb. This was NOT necessarily her idea. We were in there for about 30 minutes. Each of us had access to a waterproof laptop so we could keep an eye on Libya. In another "pool" a youngster was DOING HIS HOMEWORK while the fish dined.

THIS IS WHY SOME CALL IT SWINGAPORE: Deb, Susan and Sandy took a break at the Raffles Hotel and got into the tourism mode. They got the obligatory Singapore Slings and whiled away some time on a very hot day in the courtyard of the hotel. By the time we were at the fish spa, I'm sure the drink had worked itself nicely into the blood stream and provided a little jolt to the Doctor Fish.

HOW I ALMOST THREW MY LIFE AWAY AND NEARLY BECAME AN ACCUSED LITTERER IN SINGAPORE: While emptying my pockets today (in a frantic search for our apartment access card AND our two MRT passes), I came across a brochure from The Workers' Party. It focused on the party's "Your Vote Is Secret" campaign (right). I recalled that I had picked it up from the floor of one of the subway cars on Saturday. I don't normally pick up trash like that, but I felt compelled to do so. Here's what happened:
I noticed a folded up brochure on the floor of the subway car near Sandy. I thought that perhaps she had dropped it. I bent down to pick it up, saw it was a brochure from The Workers' Party, figured Sandy was not doing any electioneering and dropped it back on the floor. At THAT EXACT MOMENT, another passenger spotted me dropping it. Furthermore, ANOTHER passenger helpfully pointed out I dropped something. Even though IT WAS NOT MINE, I figured I couldn't leave it there. I was the last one to touch it. That probably made me the official OWNER of the brochure. Technically, that also likely made me a LITTERER. And there are BIG FINES here for littering. (First-time offenders face a S$300 fine.) For all I know, those two "helpful" passengers were undercover litter agents. So, I said, "Thank you," picked up the brochure and stuck it in a pocket.
So, during some downtime today, I read about the party. And I Googled it.
I love the first sentence of the Wikipedia entry: "The Workers' Party of Singapore is one of the largest opposition parties in Singapore, with 1 of the 84 seats in the current session of Parliament of Singapore." Hmmm. "one of the largest opposition parties" ... with ONE SEAT.
Anyway, the lead question of the Q-and-A brochure is quite interesting:
"Why does the election official call out my name and voter number at the polling station before giving me the ballot paper? I find it unsettling."
I think I would find it unsettling. But this is evidently done so party representatives can check off names and ensure that people don't vote twice.
Anyway, I've read the brochure. Now I have to find a trash can. Fortunately, we keep a small one in our apartment.

A NICE BOUNCE BACK FOR THE CRANES: Crane watchers are pleased this morning to report that the number of DOWN cranes is UP, which is a sign of business at the Tanjong Pagar terminal. Today's Singapore Crane Index Limited Economic Indicator allows crane watchers to relax.

Date: March 21
Time: 8:00 a.m. (Singapore time)
Cranes Up (bad): 13
Cranes Down (good): 14
CRANES MISSING (neutral): 1