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we have officially left hong kong for awhile.  the movers came, we packed, they packed, and almost all of our remaining stuff disappeared into boxes, headed for a big crate that will fit into a bigger container that will sit on a bigger ship that will cruise the bigger oceans headed for the united states of america.  we said goodbye to as many friends as we could see in our remaining days and promised to be back sooner than later.

i’m not much for goodbyes – i would rather just say hello again when the time comes.  alicia managed to sort out some get-togethers though where we were able to see lots of people and enjoy some last bits of hk, including having my cousin come through for a couple of days just before we left.  he managed to get me up to the peak for midnight tour which i had not yet experienced and thoroughly enjoyed without the normal crowds.  it was a fitting way to end my most recent stint at work.

tiburon hills

we arrived in tiburon a few days ago, and have been pushing through kai’s jetlag with mighty resolve.  i think we are close.  in the meantime we are enjoying the clean environment here.  the autumn air is so fresh and crisp, the leaves trickle down from the trees and the smell of eucalyptus has already inspired me to take a couple of nice runs.  we hit in ‘n out right off and marvelled at the offerings at the grocery store.  has it really been that long?  i guess i adapted to hong kong life a little more permanently than i expected to.  we’ve been gone for three and a half years now, and i am sensing that there will be an adjustment period before we are as comfortable again here.

we are looking forward to a nice thanksgiving with the family, and wish the same to all of you.

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i attended part of barcamp hong kong 2008 today and learned about a lot of cool new stuff.  among the things catching my eye was a demonstration of an open source app called levelhead, created by julian oliver of australia as a spatial memory game.  i’m not sure whether this would more accurately be considered art or a game, but there is no question that it is cool.  it’s actually been around for about a year so i may be late to the party.

it is setup by using cubes with barcode-like designs imprinted on each side.  these are viewed with a webcam and the app decodes the bar code into a game screen.  each cube represents a room in which a small figure resides.  by tilting, flipping, and moving the cube, the figure will walk in the direction you choose.  the object is to pass through appropriate doorways in a given amount of time.  that’s probably a pretty crappy explanation, so check it out in the video below.

levelHead v1.0, 3 cube speed-run (spoiler!) from Julian Oliver on Vimeo.

kai goes to the pool almost every day.  if we’re not careful, he will make a beeline for it without worrying about things like shoes, clothes, etc.  he has a swimsuit and lots of sunscreen to help protect him from the powerful hong kong uv exposure.  it’s been fun to watch him try to swim, blow bubbles, and splash around with the older kids.

i also included a couple of shots of alicia and kai – both my favorite people!

or so they say.  i have a cold and have been busy conquering the world, so you’ll have to check these photos out as a placeholder until i post again.  around the house in repulse bay.

we recently noticed that the tap water coming through our brita filter has slightly yellow tinge.  this was confirmed when we drew kai’s bath and saw a more focused color.  ew.  after checking around, it seems this is considered safe (hmmm…) and results from the age of the pipes.  i’m not too worried, but we have transitioned to bottled water for most of our drinking needs.

in my travels i have seen many different levels of water cleanliness.  in italy we stayed near a lake that was considered to be the cleanest in europe.  one local resident told me that it is so clean, you can swim out 10 meters or so and drink it.  wow.  i remember being in egypt and watching a dead mule floating in a river lined with trash that two kids were bathing in.  i drank water that smelled like fish from a well in the philippines.  a common warning to me here is that i will be prone to balding because my head goes uncovered in the hong kong rain (made acidic by air pollution).

according to the economist, bottled water has developed into a 60 billion dollar industry.  why are people willing to pay for something that comes free from the tap or the ground?  i think most of this results from a perceived level of cleanliness and (more importantly) uncleanliness.  but the fact that we may be deciding between mineral or distilled while much of the world has no options is distrubing.

i came across a fantastic book, put out by blue planet run foundation.  it contains unbelievably moving images and some great education on water around the globe.  it is a fantastic coffee table book available from the website at $45, but we do not drink coffee or have a coffee table.  i do have a macbook though and fortunately it is available as a high resolution pdf e-book.  even better, amazon is offering it as a free download here.

images sourced from the book.
keeping the dirty water where it belongs

keeping the dirty water where it belongs

the answer to this really depends on your situation.  riding out a direct hit typhoon in your hong kong flat is totally different than getting smacked around by 130 kph winds and sideways rain in your nipa hut in the philippines.  the hong kong observatory issues warnings such as the following (appropriate for the current signal 3):

1. You are advised not to delay in taking all precautions
to protect your home or property. Make sure now that all
loose objects are secure. Porch furniture, flower pots and
other objects likely to be blown away should be taken
indoors. Check again and make sure all windows and doors
can be securely locked.

2. Since seas are rough, you are advised to stay away from
the shoreline and not to engage in water sports.

3. Fishing vessels not yet in typhoon shelters should seek
shelter without delay. Check again that all deck fittings
are firmly fastened. If available, heavy anchors should be
prepared and used in addition to regular anchors.

4. Listen to your radio, watch your TV or browse the Hong
Kong Observatory’s web site for information on the tropical
cyclone.

so really unless you are an extreme surfer, balcony gardener, sampan driver or window cleaner on ifc 2, there’s not a lot changing for you at the moment.  the typhoon signals in hong kong tell you how strong the wind is.  there are actually five levels of storm signals – 1, 3, 8, 9, and 10. these pertain to the strength of the wind and proximity of the storm. in the last few years we’ve been here, we have experienced a handful of 8’s and quite a few 1’s and 3’s. 9 and 10 are really destructive, and i have yet to experience those (and will be happy not to).

typhoon nuri's track

typhoon nuri's track

the last signal 8 we had a few weeks ago created some serious howling in the building. you can imagine a city full of extreme high rises getting slammed by high winds.  not a great time to relax in your 80th floor penthouse.  the gusts can get strong enough to break windows, and that’s where things really start to fall apart.  normally the power stays on, offices shut down and people go home, and everyone takes a little break.  actually the last part isn’t totally true – the internet slows to a crawl and the phone lines get all jammed, since people are still frantically working to connect with the rest of the world unaffected by the typhoon.

it looks like we’re on track for a direct hit tomorrow afternoon by typhoon nuri.  i figure i should put this up now in case we lose access.   will keep you posted on how things shape up around here.

update:  as of 7:40am, we are at signal 8.  i woke up to some howling gusts (and blueberry muffins!).  it’s looking pretty grey and wet.

update 2:  as of 1pm, we are still at signal 8.  i’m now aware of every non-sealed part of the flat, each of which is advertising itself to me by a high-pitched whistling sound.  a friend trying to fly out was invited to the airport by cathay pacific, and his flight was cancelled on his arrival – sounds like the airport is pretty much shut down for the next 12 hours.  water dripping off the roof flies down the side of the building very fast, only to fly up the side of the building second later.  this results in a curious flotation of droplets right outside the window.  like rain in space.  there is a large construction crane i can see that is swinging around – i guess it’s working like a weathervane so that it doesn’t come crashing down.  no people/cars in sight outside.

update 3:  as of 1:40pm, it is now signal 9.  my first ever.  we are now being warned to stay away from windows.  we are not that high up, but high enough that it makes me nervous to hear small rocks bouncing off the windows.  still on track for a direct hit.

update 4:  as of 6pm, we are in the eye of the storm.  it is eerily silent outside, with a misty rain falling and no wind.  the storm is pretty much directly on top of us at the moment.

update 5:  as of 7:30pm, the bottom half of the storm came in with a bang: two flower pots on the balcony (sheltered!) blew over with a smash.  will need to clean that up later.  winds are not as steady but stronger gusts.  nuri has several hours more to blow based on the timing of the storm’s first half.  i wonder where the birds go during these things?

update 6:  as of 10am, we are back to signal 1.  just a light drizzle now, but lots of debris on the road, in the pool, on the balcony, etc.  total damage consists of two broken flowerpots.  there were some injuries as a result of the storm – a surfer went missing, a man had a glass ceiling fall on him, and around 70 other people were treated for injuries.  this was the first signal 9 in five years.

so said the creators of beijing’s weather these olympic days, and so they were granted.  between traffic reduction, cloud seeding, and the instantaneous greenery which sprouted all over the city, beijing has been hard at work to ensure that these olympic games will not be remembered solely for the pollution which until now has clouded beijing’s skies, obscuring views and resulting in blackened kleenexes.  [i know, gross but true.  hey, that’s what mucus is for.]  today was an outstanding day weather-wise.

however, i am here in hong kong, where the impact of beijing’s anti-pollution measures is unlikely to be felt.  but we too enjoyed a spectacular day and, upon realizing it would be so, we decided to hit shek-o beach this morning. it’s a beautiful drive out to shek-o, and it’s much less crowded and polluted than deep water bay or repulse bay.

i’m still getting used to looking at things from a parental perspective.  i walked down with kai to the beach at the bottom of the road here a few weeks ago and quickly realized that despite its convenience, the rocky waterline just off the smooth white sand was less than ideal for kai to play in.  great for sunbathing, not so great for a one year old.  also there were an abnormal number of 20-30 year old local guys hanging out in their speedos.  next beach please!

so back to shek-o.  it’s a 15 minute drive from south bay, and about the same from repulse bay.  you can take a citybus out there too from central.  at the end of the road, just past the beautiful golf course, is a parking lot which was full by 9:45am.  if you drive, your other options are street parking (never sure of the rules for that) and paid parking – there is a $30/hr lot and a few smaller lots which charge a bit less.  pick up a blow-up raft/ring/insect for cheap from the store on the roundabout and head on over to the beach.

wide and white, the beach looks beautiful the moment you step on the fine, powdery white sand.  you can rent an umbrella and chairs if you want, or just enjoy the warm sunshine and emerald waters.  this is definitely one of those places where you can get to on a nice day like today and feel like you are in another country on vacation.  and it’s great for kids!  there are gentle waves that make it fun to play around, and i was still waist-deep about 10-12 meters out.  there are several swimming platforms too.

within a few minutes walk you can eat snacks, have a barbecue or do some bouldering on the beautiful rocks surrounding the beach area.  shek-o country park is just a little ways up the road if you are inclined to do some hiking.  anyway, we’re definitely sold and would love to go again if anyone is up for it!  here is some of the evidence of our fun morning.

i recently crowd-sourced an answer on where i should be looking to discover new music.  the majority of answers pointed back to pandora, a great product that serves up custom playlists matched to your listening preferences.  unfortunately, if you live outside of the united states (which we do), pointing your browser to pandora’s site gives you the following message:

This is quite annoying for those of us who still want to enjoy the fabulous algorithms that help us discover that next beat.  So here is a helpful workaround for those of you afflicted with the same problem, courtesy of wired.com.  happy listening.

train driver

train driver

kai doesn’t, but i do.  i had to pull it out of the dusty recesses of my wallet, as it has not really seen much use in the past three years.  you may remember that we most recently moved from discovery bay, where only buses and golf carts ply the roads.  it has to be one of the only places in the world where you can pay USD$770 a month to lease an EZ-GO (and that doesn’t include green fees).

as a side note, the “driving licences” here in hong kong do not serve the same function they do in the united states.  my california license serves as my primary form of identification.  here in hong kong, residents have a government-issued identification card which you need for everything important.  as a result, the driving licence incorporates no fancy technology, nor has the government seen fit to consult a designer – it looks like something a young kid could duplicate at kinko’s in a few minutes.

sample hong kong driving licence

sample hong kong driving licence

needless to say we did not have a golf cart, but since we have moved to the south side of hong kong island kai has dutifully accepted his place in the car seat and watched as i drive us around.  finally all of the steering wheels found on rides and children’s playgrounds were put into context, and he is happily grabbing on to them and pretending like he is driving.  this is complete with the vrooom humming noise and button pushing.

i use to say that driving was one of the things i missed most when we moved here from the states.  it is still fun, but i have a tough time missing the expensive tanks of gas and maintenance costs.  luckily public transportation in hong kong works really well and is pretty cost effective – we try to help with the environment and our bank account and use it as often as possible.  i’m interested – have rising costs caused you to decrease your driving?

hong kong bentley

hong kong bentley

how not to trick out your new bentley.  unless it’s temporary for halloween.  yes, there are matching orange accents on the interior.

or…unless you are one of these guys:

jersey baby...

jersey baby...

inspiration

"Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking, and don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it."

~ Steve Jobs

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