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August 2004

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So what's been happening whilst I've been away?

Babies seem to the theme - Simon and his colleague Giles seem to have become fathers for the 3rd and 2nd times respectively. Simon is having a celebration on Wednesday, and I will try to pop along for an hour or so. Congratulations to both gentlemen and their wives!!

Simon celebrated the birth by getting his site redesigned. It looks good, but I hate the narrow column of text running down the middle of the screen on the front page - this seems to be a common problem (most of the Typepad templates have the same flaw) and I find it hard to read the text. Shaky had a design like that for a while, but has changed it a few times since and it now fills the screen. Let's not carp though - I continue to be amazed by the amount of effort that Simon manages to put into his site, which is now a year old, incidentally, and it was his fault that I started doing this (I figured if he could do it, then so could I). Plus, last time I was rude about him, I got into big trouble!

Shaky is also celebrating his first anniversary, though I had imagined that he'd been around longer. He also spends a lot of time messing around with his site, but he doesn't have a wife or kids so there is plenty of time in the day.

Phil is back in business (yes, I know this happened before I went away) and has not just redesigned his site but totally re-built it. I suppose I can just about understand that it is more satisfying to do it all yourself rather than using MT or Wordpress or Blogger or Typepad, but I would never attempt such a thing. Anyway, the site looks good, and it's great to have Phil back (even if he is threatening to run his Asia Blog awards again).

Goodness me, even NTSCMP had a decent story (about John Egan not really being a 'top' lawyer), but they really shouldn't use ideas (Hong Kong Olympic sports in full) that have appeared in Spike when they are continually whingeing about their jokes being stolen by the same publication! Funniest piece was the marvellous combination of arrogance and paranoia that has George implying that the Chinese government is deliberately meddling with their web design to sabotage the site. Yeah, right.

Some things never change.


Short intermission

Ordinary Gweilo is on vacation. Normal service will be resumed at the start of September.

In the meantime, please visit the archives, where you can read about going to the doctor, compulsory holidays for domestic helpers, getting lost, childrens parties at McDonalds, and all manner of other worthless trivia. Including, as Fumier points out, more posts about cheese than any other Hong Kong blog!

  • Life in Hong Kong

  • Hong Kong politics

  • Sports

  • Technology

  • Weaselwatch - Car Rental

    The first in what may turn out to be a series about the world's biggest weasels. This week - car rental companies.

    It shouldn't be so hard, should it? You make a booking (by phone or over the Internet), you turn up at the appointed time, they take your credit card details, check your driving licence and ask you to sign the rental agreement. Then they give you the keys and tell you where the car is parked. 5-10 minutes, and off you go.

    So how come it so rarely works out like that?

    Continue reading "Weaselwatch - Car Rental" »


    A pint of beer, some bread and a slab of your finest cheese

    The BBC report that the baguette is making a comeback in France.

    In France, that national symbol, the crusty baguette has in recent years been threatened by a decline in bread consumption and the rise of industrial-style baking.

    Industrial bread production is a curse of the modern age. These days you can buy buy bread virtually everywhere in the world, but unfortunately most of it is tasteless and has the consistency of cotton wool. For this we can thank the food scientists who developed the 'Chorleywood method' of making bread more quickly and cheaply. In Britain, industrially-produced white sliced bread is one of the items that supermarkets sell at very low prices to attract customers. This in turn has driven many local bakers out of business, especially now that large supermarkets bake bread on the premises.

    Continue reading "A pint of beer, some bread and a slab of your finest cheese" »


    Just sign here, please.

    Henry from Waah is feeling unloved right now because no-one is posting any comments to his blog. So I'll link to his post about credit card signatures, referring to this prank. I can confirm that no-one seem to care about the signature on the credit card slip.

    A former boss of mine, a gweilo with a fairly obviously Western name, used to test this out in restaurants. Waiters seemed quite unconcerned when his colleagues who were obviously Chinese signed the credit card slip with a signature that was clearly quite different. They just don't care, apparently.


    The price is right (if you're an American)

    After my discovery that Hertz customers pay less if they claim to be from the UK, The Guardian reveals a similar discrepancy between prices offered to UK and US customers for the Eurostar cross-Channel rail link. Tthis time UK customers lose out to the Americans. but Eurostar are defending their pricing policies:

    The train operator said it was within its rights to charge different amounts. Spokesman Paul Charles said: "You get a difference on prices for training shoes, clothes and other things around the world. Everyone has different prices for different markets. A pair of jeans in Gap will be a different price in New York versus London and we are no different."

    Mr Charles added Eurostar had no objection to British customers registering to pay in dollars and pointed out the non-flexible, standard fare started at £29.50 one way. The US fares start at $45, which is under £25.

    Of course they are entitled to charge what they want, but his argument doesn't really stand up to close scrutiny - prices for identical products in London, New York or Hong Kong are justified by the variations in rental and labour costs, whereas everyone who buys a Eurostar ticket is travelling on the same train service. However, it is undoubtedly true that this is a common business practice, just one example close to home being Japanese visitors staying in Hong Kong hotels (at least prior to the handover) paying more than other people for the same hotel rooms.

    I guess the reality is that few people will bother to compare prices and so will be none the wiser about these pricing strategies. More than that, pricing for rail and airline tickets is very complicated, so you will very likely have passengers sitting next to each other who have paid wildly different amounts depending upon when they booked, whether they want a flexible ticket, special corporate rates and all manner of other variables apart from which country they booked from. As ever, the message is caveat empor.


    Read all about it - tree stolen

    I am no longer a regular reader of the SCMP, but I do sometimes buy it on Saturday. I'm not sure why, though. Yesterday, the front page of the 'City' section (Hong Kong news that is too dull to go in the main paper, plus features and sport) looked like this:

    The top story was Concern mounting over pre-court tipples (shockingly, lawyers are sometimes to be found drinking at lunchtime), then there's Man's hand chopped off in attack at Mongkok restaurant (chicken feet are one thing, but I draw the line at someone else's body parts in my dim sum), and Authority restricts steroid use in treating Sars (maybe it's not such a good idea to give people high doses of drugs that might cause serious harm). Plus a court report about a 16 year-old who stabbed his pregnant girlfriend with a fruit knife, with the wonderfully droll line: "Turning to see her lover holding the bloodstained knife, she asked him why he had stabbed her." As I think we all would if we found ourselves in similar circumstances. An hour or so later she went to hospital for treatment, which gives you an idea how serious it was.

    There was also a picture from the 'Miss Hong Kong' pageant, which means that thankfully I have managed to avoid watching it for another year. I did catch a few seconds of one of the irritating comedians being rude and patronising to one of the contestants, but that was all. How is this possibly a news story?

    The dullest and funniest story is reserved for page three. It seems that someone has stolen a tree (worth HK200) from park in Kowloon City. Well, the story says that the tree is worth $200, but that property developers pay tens of thousands of dollars for good specimens, so I'm not sure what to believe. Surely it's worth whatever someone is willing to pay? I have an idea - perhaps the LCSD should start selling these trees if they only cost a couple of hundred dollars and are worth so much to property developers.

    This is what makes the SCMP such an enigma. Is it a serious paper that prints important news and analysis, or is the equivalent of the Chingford Weekly Examiner running stories about lost dogs and stolen property? Well, given the relative priorities given to these stories, I think I'll go for the latter.


    EPL on Cable TV - sofa, so good

    Well, the EPL season has started, and we finally get to discover what joys Cable TV have in store for us. First impressions are reasonably favourable, all things considered.

    It seems that they will be showing 7 of the 10 games from each weekend's fixtures live (including two simultaneously as ESPN/Star Sports did), and then repeating these games endlessly on the new EPL channel (63). Then, joy of joys, the three games that weren't shown live will be be slotted into the schedule towards the end of the week. So, I think that this means that every game will be shown in full, which is certainly more than ESPN/Star Sports were able to offer last season. It's also more than is available in the UK (though extended highlights of all the games are now available the same day).

    The English commentary still comes from the same team, but this time with the added bonus of expert analysts. Last night's game between Palace and Norwich had Trevor Francis alongside Martin Tyler. So, nothing to complain about there (if we choose to ignore my opinion of Tricky Trev).

    The presenters in the studio were smartly dressed and there was no sign of any comedy or light entertainment, so perhaps they have taken on board the criticism of 'Euro a Go Go'. My wife said they talked rubbish, but what does she know? Anyway, I don't really care as long they don't dress in orange and green clothes and jump up and down excitedly.

    So certainly a lot better than my worst fears, and I really don't think there's too much to complain about.


    Is she really going out with him?

    I can spot a theme when I see one, and Mia over at Discombobulated is obviously uneasy about the tendency of Western men in Asia to hook up with young ladies who are half their age (and a quarter of their weight).

    Recently she was unhappy that a fortyish male friend of hers has acquired a 22 year old girlfiend who doesn't speak English.

    Prior to that she highlighted an article that appeared in the world's dullest newspaper about the plight of single Western women in Asia. The full article seems to be reprinted here (amazing where the AWSJ syndicates their material).

    For Julie Sleva, a Canadian citizen who is an executive with L'Oreal, the French cosmetics firm, the dream becomes hollow when she leaves her office. Although young and by any definition attractive, Ms. Sleva has had to face the often lonely life of a Western female expat professional on a continent where men rule the roost -- a life with no serious relationships and rarely a date.

    [..]

    Marisa Vidaurre, director of St. John's Cathedral Counseling Services in Hong Kong, says that Ms. Sleva's story is one she has heard time and again from her clients. "What they relate to me is that expat men are not interested in women who are going to be challenging," she states. "A lot more Asian women culturally find it easier to make men feel better about everything they do. It's hard for a man to resist when every word out of your mouth is a pearl of wisdom and every joke is funny." Beyond dating, she points out, "if you're an expatriate woman, you find that a lot of the expat social life is geared toward families. Schools and sports become social forums."

    Why, then, do many expat women not move back to the West? One reason, Ms. Vidaurre says, is that "your career track can be quite rewarding in Asia. When you go back, you are one among the many. It's harder to do special things."

    Elderly, overweight, bald man with an attractive young girlfriend. A very common sight in Asia, and I think we all know what the two parties want out of it, and I suppose both are happy with the arrangement. However, like Mia I tend to regard this as something of a freak show, all the more so when the gap in age and attractiveness is so significant, and is presumably only "balanced" by a disparity in disposable income. Or am I being too cynical?

    The point made by Marisa Vidaurre is presumably one that Mia endorses - that expat men are not interested in women who are going to be challenging, and prefer a younger less demanding companion. As she says of her friend and his new "soulmate":

    Even the fact that she doesn't speak English and he doesn't speak her language isn't standing in their way of true and everlasting love.

    However, it's certainly not a universal truth - not all men are like that. There are plenty of Western men in Hong Kong with wives or girlfriends who are a very long way removed from the other stereotype of the obedient girlfriend who has nothing else to do than look after her man (and spend his money).

    It reminds me of the BBC documentary a few years ago (I think it was part of Louis Theroux's Weird Weekends series) about men who travel from the UK to Bangkok to find a wife. Again, the deal was fairly well understood, but it appeared that in many cases the men weren't able to deliver on their side of the bargain. When the wives arrived in the UK they had to confront the reality of life in Stoke-on-Trent or Solihull with a deeply boring man living in a very ordinary semi-detached house. Oh, and most of them didn't even have much money. No prizes for guessing how that one worked out.


    Boss Swap - Lee and Bryan

    The third programme in the ‘Boss Swap’ series was undoubtedly the most interesting, mainly because it actually had a point.

    The formula so far has been to take bosses working in broadly similar industries but with contrasting management styles and see how they cope in a different environment. This time they took it a stage further and also chose two very different industries (manufacturing and advertising). The risk was obviously that both bosses would struggle in businesses they knew little about. In fact, the story of the programme was that one of them struggled and the other flourished.

    Continue reading "Boss Swap - Lee and Bryan" »