Chotto Matte Kudasai

At the moment, one of the biggest pleasures I’ll allow myself is eating out once or twice a week in a (hopefully) good place. I’m going to recommend three recent spots to you and then a bit of a personal update perhaps.

The first is a Mexican place that’s some out door tables in a parking lot. I know, that doesn’t sound too appealing, but when I took my wife there last week, she couldn’t stop raving about the place. It’s called Lo De Alberto and owner/chef Balam Nazar is from Mexican City, so when this place advertises itself as the “only authentic taqueria in The Philippines,” it’s probably not worth it to argue.

This was two outdoor stalls in the parking lot at City Golf Plaza in Ortigas doing cheapo local style BBQ. It’s been spruced up quite a bit and it’s actually not a bad place to hang out at after dark. The food and the drinks are really tasty (as I recall, my second time there margaritas were like P150 each but they were running a 2-for-1 special that night). The first time there I had tacos and after the first bite basically just inhaled the rest; a little bit smaller than I expected and I probably could have had two more. My second time I had a burrito, slightly different from the SF Mission-style burritos I’m used to but I’d have no problem ordering that again either.

My first night there, Balam spotted me (I guess I stood out being the only gringo sitting there) and we had a long chat. Everything is made from scratch, including the tortillas. He’s only open from 4 PM to 1 AM because at the beginning when he opened earlier, it was just too hot (even for him!) and there wasn’t enough business to justify it. This being Manila, he has further branches planned and he promised me they’d be enclosed restaurants, open for lunch.

The second is called Makansutra and if you know anything about Singaporean food at all you won’t be surprised when I tell you this is a joint venture between K.F. Seetoh and some local entrepreneurs. It’s a large space inside the SM Mega-Mall, divided up into 12 “food stalls”. I tried the laksa there, with some roti and curry on the side, and I won’t say it’s completely authentic but it’s certainly the closest I’ve found in Manila so far.

The other restaurant to mention has two names – Chotto Matte and Izakaya Sensu. I’ve been to this place in the Net Park Building in BGC three times and plan to keep going back. Not only is everything really good but each time I’ve had a ridiculous amount of food and drink and then been stunned by the low price on the bill.

My last visit, I was there with my wife and her kid. Here’s a rundown of what we had, in no particular order:

salmon sashimi

aji namerou – a nice play on aji tataki, something I almost always invariably order when it’s available.

chotto1

(all images are just screen shots from their online menu)

The very Instagram-friendly Sensu roll, which really looks exactly like this when they bring it to your table

chotto2

Their “dragon roll”

chotto3

Like the sensu roll, there’s not a lot of fish in this but the picture is accurate and it’s tasty as hell.

A yakitori sampler platter with 7 sticks, each one different

Ebi (shrimp) tempura

Chicken kara-age (sesame-coated fried chicken).

And, given that they pitch themselves as a “highball bar”, four highballs (one with my current fave Bulleit Bourbon) and a can of soda.

All of that for less than P3,600, which means under HK$600 – and our drinks alone would have probably cost that much in Hong Kong.

After we finished there, we walked around the block and grabbed some ice cream at Farmacy, which is owned by the same people behind Wildflour and Pink’s Hot Dogs, and then waited for Uber to come and bring us home.

That night (just five days ago) was an ocean of tranquility in what has otherwise been an extraordinarily stressful couple of weeks. My mother is barely eating, complains of constant pain (despite the fact that her doctor has tried changing her medication and dosage almost every other day) and sometimes just outright refuses to take her medicine. Her erratic sleep schedule means she has no idea of what time of day it is or what day of the week it is and, well, other stuff that I won’t go into.

Physically she will get better. All it will take will be bed rest. But if she was bored in Manila before this happened, now it’s really a crushing blow mentally. She has her good moments but after 16 days the terrible ones still far outnumber the good ones.

At least I can’t complain about the medical care in Manila. We’ve got a doctor who makes house calls. And next week there’s a crew coming to the house complete with some sort of portable x-ray machine so we can see how the healing is going.

I’ve got two helpers in the house now, in no small part because my mother will wake up almost every hour at night and call for the helper to help her. I’m sleeping just a few hours per night myself and rarely eating more than one real meal per day, even though I’m now handling most of the cooking for my mother since the helpers can’t make many things she would eat. They can do peanut butter on a cracker or mix some tuna and mayo; I’m not a great cook but I’ve got a small arsenal of dishes that she kind of enjoys. Roasted chicken breast with some sauteed onions and peppers, linguini with prawns, stir-fried beef with broccoli, things like that.

Also … okay I hadn’t written about this previously … my wife had moved back to Hong Kong two months ago to work, she was making literally ten times more than she would have made here from the jobs that turned her down due to her age (as in, ‘over 30’). She came back last week to see firsthand what was happening and the result was that she’s returned to Hong Kong, quit her job and is moving back here again to take charge of my mother’s recovery. Aside from me, she’s the only one who won’t take no for an answer from my mother when it’s time to take a pill or eat even a minimal amount of food. (Also she’s a much better cook – and she’ll get me back to a more normal eating and sleeping schedule.)

It’s well after 3 AM now. I should have been asleep long ago. I’m going to get in bed with the new Springsteen autobiography and hope that sleep finds me at some point.

Some Quick Thoughts on the iPhone 7 Plus

I got my iPhone 7 Plus (256 gig, black) on Tuesday. I’ve had it for exactly a day and a half so haven’t had much time to play with it yet. Overall I’m happy with the decision I made. Of course, I don’t get my phone for free like some reviewers, so I’m pre-disposed to liking it after having spent so much money.

I’ve never had the “Plus” before. It’s a lot heavier than I expected and that will take some getting used to. I appreciate the larger keyboard to type on and the screen is amazingly sharp. With my regular sized iPhone 6, I was frequently reaching for my glasses for tasks like reading and responding to text messages – I don’t think I’ll need to do that as often now. I expect the larger screen to be useful for Waze (which is one of my most frequently used apps) but haven’t driven anywhere in the last 2 days to test it out.

My 128 gig iPhone 6 was almost always full. Now I have a lot of empty space and I’m filling it up with FLAC files (from CD’s I’m ripping myself using Exact Audio Copy and some stuff that I have, um, downloaded). I’m using a free app called FLAC Player+ for playing the music on the phone and so far that is working quite well. There are ads on screen – but how often does one look at the screen when listening to music?

(Time saving tip: Since FLAC Player+ loads files via iTunes’ file sharing interface, the first time I loaded files I had 20 files that started with 01., 20 files that started with 02., and so on. I deleted everything, batch renamed files so they had the album names first and reloaded the files. Otherwise it would be a long and painful process to delete individual albums later on. It appears that playlists need to be created on the phone. I’ve been using MusicBee to make sure all files are properly tagged.)

The sound quality is just blowing me away. I’m using the Audioquest Dragonfly Red DAC and the Audio Technica ATH-MSR7 headphones and I’m hearing details that I haven’t heard in a very long time. This alone makes the upgrade worth it for me!

I have not yet tried the Lightning/Headphone adapter with any of my wired headphones. I’ll get to it eventually.

My first phone call received was a spam marketing call! The first photo taken was of my wife and it’s very sharp, colors are great.

Here’s a test image taken my iPhone 6:

img_4884

That’s straight out of the camera, no processing aside from resizing it when loading it here.

Here’s a crop – JPG loaded into Picasa, cropped, no other adjustments, exported:

img_4884-001

Now here’s the shot I took moments later with the iPhone 7 Plus:

img_4885

And a similar crop:

img_4885-001

Nothing very scientific here. Do the iPhone 7 photos seem sharper? That could be, or it could just be that I was doing both shots handheld, relatively quickly, and can’t say with any certainty that I was in the exact same position for both photos. I have not had time to try out any apps that allow for RAW capture and editing.

The 7 Plus screen is definitely sharper. So when I compare the two images side by side on the phones, of course the one on the 7 looks better than the one on the 6. That should come as no surprise. DisplayMate tested the iPhone 7 display and said it was “visually indistinguishable from perfect”.

Some people have been freaking out over the new home “button that’s not a button.” So far it hasn’t bothered me even a tiny bit. I didn’t feel much of a difference between the three different settings for the “Taptic” response so I just left it set at “1”. Setting up my fingerprints seemed to go a lot quicker than on the iPhone 6.

The iPhone came with iOS 10 already installed, but Apple had released iOS 10.0.1 almost immediately after the initial 10 release to fix upgrade issues people were having. My upgrade of the 7 Plus from 10 to 10.0.1 surprisingly may have been the most painful iPhone OS upgrade I’ve ever done. During the first attempt, response from the Apple servers was so slow (32 hours to download 2 gig?) that I aborted just a few minutes in. Second attempt, downloaded at normal speed, but some how the data on the phone got corrupted and it needed to be recovered before I could proceed.

Also pairing my Apple Watch took a long time as I had to first un-pair it from the 6, pair it with the 7, restore it from a back-up and reload the apps. Not difficult, just time-consuming.

Overall, so far I’m quite happy with it and glad I upgraded from the 6. It feels like a major upgrade to me.

 

Not At All Well

donquixote

Five days since my last post. Things are not good.

My mother fell out of bed on Sunday. She’s 95 years old. She rolled over in her sleep, rolled off the bed, hit the floor. Hard. When it was clear that the pain wasn’t going away, we got an ambulance and brought her to the hospital. X-rays revealed that she fractured her pelvis in the fall. We were given the choice of checking her into the hospital or bringing her home. She wanted to come home.

The next day she was still in a lot of pain. I called the doctor to get a prescription for something stronger. The doctor gave it to me, told me to only give her one pill that one day, no more, which I did, but the doctor did not warn me that one possible side effect would be confusion.

So by Monday night my mother seemed to have no idea of what had happened to her or where she was. She kept trying to sit up in bed and said let’s go home. I assume she means New York.

Tuesday, less pain, but barely eating or drinking. Today, maybe a little bit more but still not enough. I keep telling her if she doesn’t eat something, I’m going to bring her back to the hospital. She doesn’t want to go back but now alternates between thinking that she broke her knee instead of her pelvis and wondering why if she fractured her pelvis they can’t put her in a cast.

Her doctor will do a house visit on Friday.

More than anything else, the accident has my mother seriously depressed. I look at her and it’s like looking at a light that has gone out. I keep trying to tell her this is very minor. She doesn’t accept it. In part I know she’s upset over doing this in the first place (this is the first time anything like this has happened to her).

I don’t think the ER doctor gave such great advice on how to care for her at home. I don’t think he took her age into account in terms of that or the medicines he prescribed. Some of the advice given to me by her regular doctor, as well as things I read on various web sites, almost directly contradict a lot of what he told me.

On the other hand I am thankful that this happened (1) here in Manila, where she is not alone and has me and others to take care of her (I can’t imagine what would have happened had this occurred in the Bronx, where she lives alone) and (2) that this happened on a Sunday, so we were able to get to and from the hospital in reasonable amounts of time.

 

dali16

But think about that last bit. I have to be thankful it happened on a Sunday rather than another day of the week? Too many things in Manila are getting to me.

I mean, last week, I had a wonderful meal one night with a visiting friend. But how often can I tell myself that fabulous food (and drink) at bargain basement prices or living in an amazing house is enough to make up for the issues one has to deal with here on an almost-daily basis?

This month, I’m now a victim of some insane new traffic “scheme” that forbids me from driving my car out the front gate of our village three days a week between 6 AM and 11 PM. My village has a back gate – one that opens into traffic that is totally gridlocked every day and adds an extra few miles to any journey I might want to take. It’s not even clear that the Pasig TPMO has the authority to do this but apparently there is no effective mechanism for protest, no way to file an injunction in some court to repeal this, and my neighbors seem okay with bitching and moaning on Facebook but not actually taking any action. Is this really the sort of thing that adults should put up with?

Extra judicial killings have topped 3,000 in three months. Duterte seems intent upon offending the U.S. and moving the country closer to China. Fine, let him, he’s the elected president, doesn’t mean I can’t be worried about it.

That’s why the two images of Don Quixote (first by Picasso, second by Dali)(wondering if the Picasso one would make a good tattoo?). I feel like an old demented guy hopelessly tilting at windmills, the whole metaphor thing about fighting things that I am powerless to change and maybe fighting the wrong things in the first place.

Or maybe I’m just in a bad mood that will pass after a couple of shots of bourbon.

[Post should end there but I keep going just because.]

Speaking of which I’ve been watching a lot of really bad movies the last few days. One is called Bullet to the Head and stars Sylvester Stallone and Christian Slater and Jason Momoa. I watched it because it was directed by Walter Hill who was so great in the 80s (The Driver, The Warriors, The Long Riders, Southern Comfort, 48 HRS, Streets of Fire, Crossroads) and no, it does not in any way represent a return to form for him. The movie features eternal dialogue such as “Guns don’t kill people. Bullets do.” and “When I want your opinion, I will buy you a brain.” (Okay, that last one is a little bit funny, I guess.)

But in the movie, Stallone’s character will only drink Bulleit Bourbon. He goes into bars, orders it, if they don’t have it he pulls a huge bottle out of his cargo pants. Over the top paid product placement, I’m sure.

But I just discovered Bulleit Bourbon earlier this year. I saw it on a shelf and the bottle called my name.

bulleit-bourbon

Frontier whiskey? Yes, I believe I will. I’m really loving it. If I’m in a bar and they have it (not many do) that’s what I’ll order now.

(And no, I’m not being paid anything to mention it here but if someone from the company stumbles across this and wants to send me a case or 12, I won’t complain.)

On those rare occasions when I go to bars recently, I’ve taken to ordering shots of whiskey on the rocks. No soda, no coke, just straight up booze on ice. (Except on my last two visits to Chotto Matte, where they have a very appealing selection of highballs on the menu.) For whatever reason, beer and wine put me to sleep almost immediately while I can go all night when drinking distilled spirits.

And that’s another thing that fucking bugs the crap out of me, while I’m at it. Chotto Matte is a franchise from Tokyo, opened here by a company called The Raintree Group. This place opened in July but go to their web site and they don’t have the place listed. This is not some fly-by-night operation. They run the Discovery Suites chain here, four “food parks” and eight other restaurants. Bad web sites seem to be a common theme of local businesses here.

I’m just so tired of amateurs and people doing what they think is the bare minimum they can get away with.

Another example. The Halal Guys. The fast food concept that originated in a food cart on a midtown NYC corner. The franchise for the Philippines was bought by the people behind the Fully Booked book store chain. And when the first branch finally opened here, it was fabulous. I was eating it twice a week and would have gladly had it even more often than that.

But within a few months, quality fell off a cliff. The Mega Mall branch I think originally had an average rating of over 4 (on a scale of 1 to 5) on Zomato. Now it’s a dismal 2.1 and their 2nd branch has just a 2.2. More rice, less meat, and not as well cooked. I’m pissed because this is the kind of food I often crave and now I probably will not be going back to them.

(And yes, if you’re wondering, I’m screaming more about restaurants than about politics because foreigners screaming about politics isn’t a welcome concept here. Don Fucking Quixote indeed.)

 

Which iPhone Will I Buy?

You all know I’m an Apple fan boy. And yet last year, for the first time, I did not automatically upgrade my iPhone when Apple released the 6s. I still haven’t gone for it.

I believe I will buy the iPhone 7 though. I think the differences from the 6 to the 7 are substantial enough to convince me to pull the trigger. Longer battery life, better screen, much improved cameras, faster CPU, waterproof-ish.

iphone7-plus-select-2016

I’m not at all bothered by the lack of a headphone jack. First of all, there kind of is one with the adapter cable. More importantly, ever since I bought the Dragonfly, I’ve been connecting my headphones to that and then connecting that to the Lightning port via the camera adapter – a little bit kludgy looking but sounds fantastic. Any of my wired headphones will work this way (although the mike and volume controls on the cords will no longer work)(and presumably the new way of connecting wired headphones to the iPhone 7 will have the same impact) and I do have one set of Bluetooth headphones, the Parrot Zik (version 1).

Here’s one of many round-ups detailing all the new stuff. Here’s another.

There are just three things I have yet to figure out. First, the color. Black or jet black? Hard to tell the difference from photos but the Apple web site notes that the back of the jet black model will be more inclined to show scratches.

Second, I have the 128 gig iPhone 6. 96 gig of the available 114 gig is filled with music – 9,423 songs at the moment. Isn’t that enough? Would I ever really need more than that? Well, I would if someone ever releases an app that played FLAC files. (VLC does, but with a horrendous interface.)

And then, do I need the larger Plus model? One huge use of my phone is running Waze whenever I drive anywhere. The larger screen would definitely help there. And I’m definitely intrigued by the dual camera set-up on the back of the Plus.

Pre-orders start at 3 PM HK time today (September 9th). If you’re buying one, which one are you getting … and why? And any readers who have the 6 Plus or 6s Plus, how happy with that are you compared to the standard sized model?

P.S. I have the Apple Watch and I wear it almost every day. I saw nothing that makes me think I need to upgrade to the Apple Watch 2.


UPDATE: I went for the iPhone 7 Plus, 256 gig, black. I want the bigger screen, I’m intrigued by the camera set-up, you can never have enough storage, and I think the “black” (as opposed to “jet black”) looks cooler.

The online confirmation that I got when I placed the order said delivery between September 28 and October 4. The email confirmation I received an hour later said delivery between September 19 and 21. I guess I’ll find out soon enough.

If I’m So Smart (Afterword) – What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been

(Two years ago I wrote a 13-part autobiographical series on my old blog called If I’m So Smart, How Come I’m Not Rich? It was written right before my move to Manila. When I started up this blog, I thought I brought all of the old Hongkie Town content over here, but I just discovered that for some reason, almost none of my 2014 posts are here. So I’m republishing this series for those of you who joined me here “in progress.” I’ve rewritten some pieces here and there, threw in a few new bits, and this final part is almost completely rewritten.)

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9Part 10, Part 11, Part 12

After completing the original series of posts in 2014, I hinted at changes to come. A change did come – I moved from Hong Kong to Manila.

As I’ve explained in the past, the primary reason for this move was economic. I never bought a place in Hong Kong when prices were cheaper and I had the money and I don’t expect that I’d ever have the money to buy something now given current prices and trends.

On the other hand, I could afford to buy a nice house in the Philippines. I reached the age where I figured it was “now or never” in terms of being able to get a mortgage. I did some quick calculations and saw that I could not afford to pay rent in Hong Kong and a mortgage in the Philippines at the same time.

Eventually all of the pieces were in place and we made the move in January 2015. At this point we’re a year and a half into a five-year mortgage, so we’re getting there. Once the house is fully paid off, when and if I ever retire, I will be able to live comfortably enough off my pension and investments. I expect that I will keep myself occupied with photography and writing and maybe becoming better at cooking.

Continue reading “If I’m So Smart (Afterword) – What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been”

If I’m So Smart (Part 12)

(Two years ago I wrote a 13-part autobiographical series on my old blog called If I’m So Smart, How Come I’m Not Rich? It was written right before my move to Manila. When I started up this blog, I thought I brought all of the old Hongkie Town content over here, but I just discovered that for some reason, almost none of my 2014 posts are here. So I’m republishing this series for those of you who joined me here “in progress.” Note that if you read this two years ago, there won’t be any new content (aside from some minor corrections and style edits) until the final “chapter.”)

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9Part 10, Part 11

From 2011 to 2012, I had an even worse job than the one before. It started off well enough but went rapidly downhill. I was head of technology for a global compliance firm, founded in Hong Kong, that was offering advisory services as well as a suite of applications meant to help corporations with compliance and due diligence.

This place was simply amazing, and mostly not in a good ways. Someone could be threatened with being fired for going home and leaving a sweater on their chair overnight. If someone brought in a small potted plant to put on their desk, they’d get a warning. I got yelled at more than once for not requiring more weekend work from my team. The head of the company didn’t believe in giving annual raises, he didn’t believe in bonuses for anyone but the senior management team, and he didn’t believe in stock option grants. The incentive for working nights and weekends was … well I’m still struggling with that one. As you would expect, the turnover rate for staff at some points was greater than 30% – and even higher on the senior management team, which saw each position being filled and re-filled multiple times within the company’s relatively short history.

Even so, the first six months of the job went well enough and over the course of a year I managed to accomplish a lot. I re-organized the various IT teams to streamline the product development process. I instituted new change control procedures for production deployment. I started a customer help desk. I brought in someone to completely redo the UI/UX and bring 15 disparate applications into a unified Version 2.0. I built up an off-shore development center in Clark. And I designed a middleware platform allowing our software to connect to a number of commercial applications and databases.

Not bad, huh? But something changed after I was there for half a year and I don’t think it was me.

I was expected to have monthly new product releases for 15 different software products, even though there was no product roadmap, I had only 5 programmers on staff (which is why I did the ODC) – and just 4 business analysts to write up requirements and documentation, and 4 QA staff.

After a year, I was fired, with no prior warning or notice, for no reason that I was ever made aware of other than that the CEO no longer liked me. “You were warned, weren’t you?” asked the company’s HR director the day she gave me the news. Nope, I never got any warning. I reported to the head of the company but he made damn sure that he was out of town when I was given the word – no phone call, no email, basically just a “don’t let the door hit you on your ass on the way out.” He also made sure that my laptop was taken and all of my accounts were closed before I even had a chance to send a “goodbye” email to anyone else in the company.

To answer the question you’re going to ask, yes, I had been searching for a new job for months – not the easiest thing to do when you’re working a 60-70 hour week under intense scrutiny but I did what I could. I’d spent months searching and in that period, not even one interview. Recruiters I’d talk to would see where I was working and they’d all ask the same thing. “We know this company. We get CVs from people working there every day. What’s wrong with that place?” Or I’d be talking to a recruiter and the conversation would go like this:

Recruiter: So you work for XYZ. I know the head of the company, his name is Joe, right?

Me: Yes, I report directly to him.

Recruiter: So why are you looking to leave?

Me: Joe

Recruiter: Say no more.

So now I’m out of work. I had a few interviews here and there but nothing even close to an offer. In addition to looking for full time work, I also tried to put myself out there as a consultant or a contractor until something more permanent came along but, as hard as it may be to believe, I have never been good at marketing myself. I picked up one consulting gig from a friend which was good for about HK$5,000 per month. Another friend steered me towards a freelance thing writing web site copy, another few thousand per month.

I reached out to everyone I could think of, both in Hong Kong and globally. I knew that I had hit the point where my age had become an issue. I was competing for positions against people 20 years younger than me. The fact that I wasn’t fluent in Cantonese or Mandarin was another strike against me. Hong Kong was becoming more reliant on the mainland and the majority of job postings required candidates to be tri-lingual.

In many cases, I think the depth of my experience scared companies off; thinking perhaps that I’d be too expensive so why even bother to talk to me? Also I will confess that my self-confidence was shattered, which I think was only natural coming from a job where I was abused on an almost daily basis. As one friend put it, I was starting to smell desperate, and that’s never a good thing when you’re looking for a job.

Hong Kong is an expensive place to live. We downsized – we moved to a cheaper place, we stopped going out, but I was burning through my savings at an alarming rate – and I had never saved a lot to begin with. I didn’t touch my pension plans but I went through everything else and soon I had to borrow money.

It ended up taking me nine months to find another full time position. One day I spotted a job posting on LinkedIn from a company I knew – one of the co-founders was someone I had worked with a Sybase almost 20 years before. I called him up and asked if they would consider me for the role. We met for lunch the next day to discuss it and two days later I received the job offer.

The thing was, I told them what I was making in my previous job and was initially told that it “shouldn’t be a problem.” But when the offer came through, it was lower, a lot lower. I had no choice. There were no other offers or even interviews coming up. I had to accept this one. It was painful – I’d downsized a lot but not quite that much.

Three and a half years later, I’m still with the same company. On the positive side, the place is run by humans for humans. In the balance of things, I learned long ago that given the choice between a pleasant place and small salary vs. a hellhole with a larger salary, I’d opt for pleasant almost every time.

On December 1st 2013, I got married for the third time, to the woman I’d been living with since 2008. I had to postpone the honeymoon by one month but finally we went to Paris. Even though it was January and freezing cold there, the trip was too brief but we loved every minute of it. Our third anniversary is a few months away and I’m determined to make this marriage work if for no other reason than I’m too old to start over again if it doesn’t!

This more or less brings me up to 2014, when I first wrote this series. At the time I hinted of big changes to come, and as you probably know by now in January 2015 we moved to Manila. In the final section I’ll discuss the ensuing two years as well as some insights into why I’ve written and published this.

If I’m So Smart (Part 11)

(Two years ago I wrote a 13-part autobiographical series on my old blog called If I’m So Smart, How Come I’m Not Rich? It was written right before my move to Manila. When I started up this blog, I thought I brought all of the old Hongkie Town content over here, but I just discovered that for some reason, almost none of my 2014 posts are here. So I’m republishing this series for those of you who joined me here “in progress.” Note that if you read this two years ago, there won’t be any new content (aside from some minor corrections and style edits) until the final “chapter.” Actually this chapter contains one previously unpublished story.)

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7Part 8, Part 9, Part 10

During the 00’s, in all those years when I was being as bad as I could possibly be, I kept lying to myself, telling myself that I was looking for a long term relationship with a woman. I dated a lot of women, but I always ran away from them on even the slightest pretext. I went through this phase of dating women in Shenzhen because I could spend the weekends with them but they couldn’t come to Hong Kong and see what I was doing the rest of the time. I dated several Hong Kong women, some expats and even a TV star in Guangzhou. But none of these lasted more than a couple of months, most never made it past the first date.

As time passed, I realized that my lifestyle was starting to yield greatly diminishing returns. I was going out more, I was drinking more, I was spending more money, but I was enjoying it a hell of a lot less.

My mother didn’t know very much about what I was doing but she asked me an unexpected question: Don’t you miss intimacy? I told her I didn’t, but the question stayed with me. I thought about it a lot and I realized that I might be ready to make a change.

The change finally happened because of K, a fabulous woman – beautiful, educated, cultured, rich and “age appropriate” – whom I met at the end of 2007. For a brief while it seemed as if she might be the one. I think even she saw it that way. Any time she would drink more than a couple of glasses of wine, she would look at me and say, “You’re going to have to marry me.” But the next day she’d always deny saying it.

I wrote a column about our relationship in BC Magazine.  I even took a solo trip to Bangkok (medical reasons) in which I pointedly did not have sex with anyone, in part to prove to myself that I could do it.

But the relationship only lasted for six months. Looking back, I think the novelty of the thing was what fueled those first few months. We were each so completely different from anyone the other had dated before. Once that novelty started to wear off, the writing was on the wall. She had, early on, told me that she didn’t want to date an only child when she found out I was one – “they’re so selfish with their time,” she said, and that turned out to be true, although I denied it vehemently at the time. She had two young children and they scared me. She dumped me, we reconciled, and then we parted again.

But this at least told me that I really was ready for a relationship again and not just saying it. I think I’ve been better in each relationship I’ve been in. At least I hope so. What’s the point in failing if you don’t learn something from it? I’ve matured from a selfish asshole into a not-so-selfish asshole. I’m more able to put myself into the shoes of the person I’m with and treat them as human beings and not just as objects or accessories.

This is something I just read tonight, from I’m Your Man, a biography of Leonard Cohen that I am absolutely loving:

“Everything changes as you get older,” Leonard said. “I never met a woman until I was sixty-five. Instead, I saw all kinds of miracles in front of me.” In the past, he had always viewed women through his own “urgent needs and desires,” he said, “and what they could do for me.” But in his mid-sixties – which roughly coincided with Leonard leaving the monastery and his depression starting to lift – “that started to dissolve and [he] began to see the woman standing there.”

A bit too egotistical for me to compare myself in any way to Leonard Cohen? Of course. Yet those words and sentiments describe me as well.

So in the summer of 2008, I proceeded cautiously with someone I had met a year before. We accidentally bumped into each other on the street one Saturday afternoon and later I thought to myself that I wanted to see where things might go with her, assuming she was also willing to try, which she was. It’s easy for me to find someone I can be with for an hour or a night, but I have always found it difficult to find someone I can be with for more than a couple of days at time without wanting to run away screaming. We started with a weekend, then with a week, then with a month. The first year was difficult, the second year a little easier … in December 2013 we got married.

Work continued as it always did. Except things were changing at Warner. My boss, roughly the same age as me and someone I considered a friend, died in his sleep one night. My mentor, the CFO, left Warner after almost three decades there.

Meanwhile, people had stopped buying DVDs. Just a few years earlier, home video accounted for 60% of the studio’s revenue and making DVDs was a lot like printing cash; people couldn’t buy them quickly enough. But now DVD sales were dropping through the floor and neither digital downloads nor Blu-Ray was picking up the slack. Warner had to make drastic changes. However I was unprepared for the extent of changes they decided to make.

First, they shut down a significant portion of their operations in Asia. Affiliate branches in Hong Kong, Taiwan and the Philippines were shut down completely. Korea stopped doing physical distribution and went digital-only. Only China, Australia and Japan remained. A few hundred of my friends across the region got laid off.

At the same time, they made the decision to outsource almost all of their technology support globally. I could understand outsourcing infrastructure support but they also decide to get rid of almost all of the application support people, people who had a better understanding of business operations than most of the business people there. More than 1,000 Warner technology people got the axe … and I was one of them.

I was treated very fairly throughout this entire process. I was given six months’ notice and a huge retention bonus for sticking out those six months, as well as a more-than-reasonable amount of severance pay. I asked about relocating to another location but was told there was no job for me anywhere else – keep in mind that my boss had died, my mentor had left the company, but both the CIO and the head of supply chain, people whom I had frequently argued with, were still there. And remember back to 2001 when I insisted on being hired on local terms? They did, and my severance package did not include relocation back to the U.S.

Initially I wasn’t too bothered by this. First, I used some of my severance pay to join some friends in opening a photography studio, PASM Workshop. At the time, I did it in part to support a friend’s dream and also in part to give me a place to hang out that wasn’t a bar. And hanging out at the studio re-awoke my interest in photography after so many years.

Also, the former president and former CFO of Warner had an idea for a new business. I flew to Los Angeles to meet with them. They had signed deals with almost all of the Hollywood studios plus Microsoft and Intel. They told me that once they got it off the ground, they would hire me to run Asia for them – not technology in Asia, the business in Asia. This looked like it was going to be a dream job for me.

And then a few months later the entire thing imploded. It was not going to happen. I was left feeling pretty crushed – and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

I’m not really superstitious, but sometimes I think I must have done something to give me seven years bad luck. Let’s say the start of those seven years was when I got my notice from Warner. I know, you make your own luck. And I’ve had some in the past seven years – finding three jobs when I needed them (even if they were not ideal), my bills always paid on time, the fun I had at the photo studio, definitely my marriage.

But now I had to find another job. Something came my way rather quickly and I took it. Actually I had two offers and perhaps I chose the wrong one. It was with a local Hong Kong company. I had never worked for a Hong Kong company, always multi-nationals, and I didn’t give too much thought to the potential differences. But I knew several of the people at this company, including the CEO (who was and remains well-respected in his field) and it seemed like an interesting opportunity. So despite a huge pay cut from my previous job – roughly 35% – I went with it.

I spent a horrible year there. First off, I was in “operations” rather than technology. The duties of the job were poorly defined, the landscape kept changing, and I wasn’t really allowed to do any of the things I might have done well. Second, I think I was poorly treated at this place from day one – I’ve written about it in some detail before.

I did catch a break of sorts. I got my next job before I left this place, so there was only a week between jobs. Another low-paying job with a local company that treated its staff like shit, it actually made the previous place appear reasonable. To put it another way, this is pretty much a direct quote from the president of the company to me. “When I ask you why you didn’t do the thing I told you not to do, and you tell me by quoting my own words back to me, it makes me feel bad, so stop doing it.” That was one of his better moments.

If I’m So Smart (Part 10)

(Two years ago I wrote a 13-part autobiographical series on my old blog called If I’m So Smart, How Come I’m Not Rich? It was written right before my move to Manila. When I started up this blog, I thought I brought all of the old Hongkie Town content over here, but I just discovered that for some reason, almost none of my 2014 posts are here. So I’m republishing this series for those of you who joined me here “in progress.” Note that if you read this two years ago, there won’t be any new content (aside from some minor corrections and style edits) until the final “chapter.”)

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9

Allow me to digress and talk about the blog that you’re reading right now where this was originally published. I published my first post on Hongkie Town in December 4, 2004. Let me tell you why I started it.

I was reading a lot of blogs and one day I told myself, “I could do this, too.” I wanted a creative outlet to contrast with my day job and I’ve always written. From my college days up through the 90’s, I wrote for a variety of music, film and home video magazines. I hadn’t really done any writing after I moved to Hong Kong in 1995, and I was starting to miss it. The question was, what would I write about? What could I contribute that would be different from all of the other blogs out there?

The answer soon became obvious to me. Every book store at every airport in Asia has a section called “Asian Interest.” I spent a lot of time in airports and so I spent a lot of time in those book shops and picked up or at least looked at many of these books.

Most of the books were essentially the same story. They’d be written by some American, Brit or Australian guy who came to Asia as an expat. Once here, he thought he was the Marco Polo of sex – that he discovered sex. And then his next thought was, “This is fucking amazing! I can’t believe it! I gotta tell the world about this!” Followed by, “I’m educated. I’m a lawyer (or a banker), I can write a book!”

Continue reading “If I’m So Smart (Part 10)”

If I’m So Smart (Part 9)

(Two years ago I wrote a 13-part autobiographical series on my old blog called If I’m So Smart, How Come I’m Not Rich? It was written right before my move to Manila. When I started up this blog, I thought I brought all of the old Hongkie Town content over here, but I just discovered that for some reason, almost none of my 2014 posts are here. So I’m republishing this series for those of you who joined me here “in progress.” Note that if you read this two years ago, there is some new content in this “chapter”.)

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8

In 2004 and 2005 I worked on a massive project. Warner decided to do a home video distribution joint venture in Mainland China. I was involved in most aspects of the project, and it was a mess. The only question remaining in my mind is how much I should reveal.

At the start, the Warner CFO asked my advice on what kind of person we should recruit as the managing director of the JV. I told him it should be someone born in China, educated in the US or UK and with some western work experience before returning to China. This way the person would understand the local market and culture as well as the western way of doing business. We found a great guy who matched this profile.

Our new China MD was great. He knew business – and he also knew how to work hard for 12 hours and then gather up everyone in the office and go out and party for another 6 hours. It would get to be 8 or 9 PM and he’d gather up all the women in the office (and me) and we’d go out to consume massive quantities of food followed by massive quantities of whiskey in the local discos and clubs. But as time went by, his frustration level was increasing. He’d ask me why we hired him, with all of his experience and knowledge, and then try to dictate to him how to run the business, especially when he knew we were wrong.

Continue reading “If I’m So Smart (Part 9)”

If I’m So Smart (Part 8)

(Two years ago I wrote a 13-part autobiographical series on my old blog called If I’m So Smart, How Come I’m Not Rich? It was written right before my move to Manila. When I started up this blog, I thought I brought all of the old Hongkie Town content over here, but I just discovered that for some reason, almost none of my 2014 posts are here. So I’m republishing this series for those of you who joined me here “in progress.” Note that if you read this two years ago, there won’t be any new content (aside from some minor corrections and style edits) until the final “chapter.” Actually this chapter contains one previously unpublished story.)

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7

Now it’s August 2001 and I’m back in Hong Kong. When it came time to negotiate my deal with Warner Bros., I remembered what had happened to me after three years at Merrill and so I told them that I did not want an expat package. Of course I wanted them to pay for my relocation and of course I needed them to sponsor me for an employment visa, but I didn’t want the rest of the usual expat benefits – housing, tax equalization, home leave. When they asked me why, I told them the truth – that I loved Hong Kong and wanted to stay there and didn’t want to get moved around every three years. I told them don’t give me expat benefits but give me a higher salary to make up for it. They went for it and actually I think they were pleased.

The way my job was explained to me, I was going to be the only IT person in Asia (aside from a few desktop support people here and there). I was to go around to each country in my region (which initially was Hong Kong, Korea, Japan, Philippines, Australia and New Zealand) and send all their IT requests back to the international support team in London. My boss was against my traveling at all but the CFO understood that in Asia, things were done face to face and not over the phone. He called my boss and told him, “Spike travels where he wants, when he wants, you have no say in it.”

I quickly found out that their IT support model wasn’t working. The London team was so busy handling requests for Europe that Asia was being ignored, there were service requests that had been in the queue for a year or more. So working with the CFO, I put together a plan to build an IT team in Asia. We settled on a total of 15 headcount, split between Hong Kong, Tokyo and Sydney, to handle all of the application and infrastructure support.

Continue reading “If I’m So Smart (Part 8)”