Saturday, April 5, 2008

Things I am starting to craveeeee

So I've been here for about 10 weeks so far and as much as I am enjoying it I am definitely starting to absolutely crave some of the comforts of living in the good ol USofA.  Once you realize you can't get certain things any more you start to want them more then you freaking realize - anyway below is my non-sentimental list of things that I need more then life itself, in no particular order... first person to send me something on the list gets a (fortune) cookie!

Pizza- let's just say the pizza here tastes like absolute ass, if they were to blow torch an Ellio's I would be more inclined to eat it 

Sports Center- I haven't seen a sports highlight that didn't involve badminton, soccer or ping pong since I got here, yuck

Ginger Ale- I don't even drink this at home, but damn do I want some of that ginger goodness

A blonde- yeah you heard that right, I want a blonde... NOW!

Miller Lite- Tsing Tao is not the official beer of the Philadelphia Eagles, and I would not even wish it to be the official beer of the Dallas Cowboys, as much as I hate them... it's like drinking asian piss, which coincidentally you may be able to do in Thailand.

PTI- I might miss Kornheiser and Wilbon more then my own parents (jk, kind of... haha)

Degree Stick Deodorant- all they have here is that ick Gillette clear gel which is like rubbing lube under your arms, I am now a spray on deodorant guy... and I do not like it one bit

Bonzai Burger from Red Robin- pretty self explanatory, I'm tired of the bacon rat burger from cafe de coral

A shower bigger then 4 sq ft- or a smaller stomach so I can fit inside

A decent vodka tonic- I swear to god it's like ordering the most complicated drink ever imagined, I think all of the bar tenders over here are people who have failed at EVERY possible profession, then they hire them as bartenders... they absolutely blow.

2 ply toilet paper- the TP available in the stores I believe is better known as 1 ply extra grit sandpaper

An apartment building that does not smell of incense constantly- not too much to ask

General Chow's Chicken- JUST KIDDING!

An 8 hour work day- hahahahahaha... we can all dream

Sunday, March 16, 2008

and the pics...

to da beachhh

So after a long weekend, i was greatly anticipating the entire weekend being spent at the beach.  After seeing what the HK beaches looked like two weeks ago with my voyage to Shek-o I decided quickly to become a beach bum and I did not disappoint myself this weekend.  I went to back Shek-o on Saturday.  While it takes about 15 minutes longer to get to then the tourists beach (we will get to that in a minute) it is defiantly worth the trip out there.  First off, the beach is relatively un-crowded, its really for the 'people who know' so you don't get a ton of tourist action, its mostly filled with ex-pats and some locals who are looking for the clean water, a beer on the beach and a cool town to stroll through.  There is a bar right on the beach which you can't beat and no one could care less about bringing food and beers down to enjoy on the sand.  There is also this cool little village right outside of it where you can literally get anything you would need for the beach; water, food, magazines, towel, bathing suit sun tan lotion...  you name it you can get it there.  Which is nice cause you don't have to bring anything with you to enjoy an entire day at the beach.  We had a real nice day and I got a sexy sunburn... my body looks fine, but of course I forgot to lotion my feet (where is the asian foot massage when you need it?!) and now I literally can't wear shoes.  I wonder what the thought is on working barefoot tomorrow.  Anyway, good times at Shek-o, my adopted beach.
Then Sunday (today) we decided to head down to Repulse Bay (not repulsive, bad name choice) and let me tell you, this is where the action happens.  On the plus side its really quick to get to, its about $2 and 20 minutes max to get there and has a store to buy stuff plus decent bathrooms and showers.  Its a really big beach and has really calm waters, I can see floating around there all day once the water warms up.  Here's the catch tho, it is the beach where all the tourist groups get taken to and let me tell you... these are not your normal tour groups.  I am sure you are all thinking about pastey europeans flocking en masse to the beach (there were some) but these tourist are SOOOOO much better.  The real show begins around 2pm when the busses LOADED to the brim with mainland rural china-men show up to the beach- Dressed in SUITS! ARE YOU EFFING KIDDING ME?!  Haha, it was literally the funniest thing I have ever seen, hundreds upon hundreds of chinese people dressed in their sunday/communist best walking in the sand in black lace ups and with tie, dress shirt and suit jacket on- did I mention its about 80 degrees outside with 90% humidity?  
Anyway the fun didn't stop there, not a chance.  First they all arrive and immediately start throwing sand at each other.  Something tells me these cats never saw sand before, cause I'd say at about age 1 every kid is yelled at for throwing sand.  Well these guys pretty much thought it was snow and were throwing it in each others faces, down their backs, in their hair... all until they realized the pain of getting sand in your eyes.  Lets just say I pissed myself watching- 2 times, right in my bathing suit.  So once they realized sand is best appreciated on the ground they moved to the water.  Now you would think everyone realizes that #1, water in the ocean moves and #2 water is inherently wet.  If you are from main land china tho, you def do not know this.  First all these people went down to the water, again fully dressed, and ended up getting their shoes soaking wet because one, they walked right up to the water and then a wave crashed and they all freaked out cause they were soaked.  Eventually, they wised up tho and took off their shoes only to squat down and pat that water like a dog- it was unbelievably amazing to watch.
Once they finished being amused with Gods wonders of the earth they moved onto what must be, in their eyes, the greatest invention of all time- WHITE PEOPLE.  You would think these people had never seen a white person in their entire lives, maybe they had not, but lets just say I felt like a celebrity for a good 45 minutes.  I'm laying on a towel with a few friends and up come a throng of chinese people, pointing, staring and yelling at us... it was bizzare.  Eventually they all walked over and started begging to take pictures with us.  In their suits they would all sit down, put their arms around us, we would give peace signs, thumbs ups, number ones signs and all yell "CHEESE-OOOO" every time they took a picture.  Then it started to get really sexy, as the china-men started asking the girls to take 'separate pics' with them while the ladies all wanted pictures with the hulking man beast that I am.  We decided to have a little fun with them, I started flexing, getting down on all fours to let them sit on my back, picked on up in my arms, and generally had a good time with them.  It got a little weird once they started poking my nipples and bully button and stuff but we got them back by making funny/obscene gestures into their cameras for pictures, (lets just say they had never taken a picture giving the peace sign while sticking your tongue through it until today) which they unknowingly made right along with all of us.  It was a fantastic day all around.  
Anyway, that's all I got for now, but here are some pics from the last couple of weeks, hiking, Shek-o, Macau, Repulse Bay and a little of Stanley Market.  

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Macau: Canto-guese for 'Where is the Venetian?'

So I spent Saturday in Macau, the Portuguese/Cantonese gambling island an hour from Hong Kong by ferry.  I went for two reasons, to get my visa stamped so I can finally become a resident of Hong Kong and also to see what the 'Vegas of the East' is all about.  It was a nice place, and apparently has 42 casinos, but my only question is, where are all of them?? Macau is 9 sq miles, with a second island that also has some of the casinos, the Venetian being one of them so the problem you run into here is that there is no 'Vegas strip'.  There are groups of 4 to 5 casinos and then the next group is a 10 minute cab ride away.  Lets just say that this isn't really conducive to gambling/sight seeing when you want to play and drink and not worry about getting from one place to another.  There are three main sections on Macau and then a 4th on the other island.  You have the old casinos in one area, which are old but the coolest buildings from the outside, then you have the crappy casinos no one goes to, then you have the new ones like MGM Grand and the Wynn, (both of which were sick by the way), and then on the 4th island there sits the Venetian, the biggest casino in the world and the 2nd largest building in the world.  the MGM, Wynn and Venetian were unreal nice- the Venetian almost felt like you were in Venice... almost.  The coolest part was really feeling like you were outside in the day time when you were actually in their place at night.  The shopping at the Wynn is better then any mall you have ever seen, even better then the shopping in Central HK- its every high end designer you have heard of all on one floor of the casino.  The gambling at the MGM is by far the best. 

Now, I have not been to Vegas before- but I have heard of it from some fairly reliable sources.  My knowledge of the Vegas comes primarily from Oceans 11, Sagar/The Ben, and The Sports Guy- all of which I think give fairly accurate depictions of life in a gambling meca; Crime, Strippers and Gambling from the respective sources.  Crime in Macau seemed to be at a minimum although I did not walk around alone, but there are def some shady areas, espescially because the casinos are so far away from each other there is a lot of walking to be done.  There was also a noticeable absence of strip clubs, I saw a total of 0.  My question is this, do they not have them because strip clubs are not popular with Chinese or do they not have them because no one wants to pay to see A cup boobies?  I'll go with the latter, but I guess it is a good question to ask in my Chinese cultural emersion classes... I will let you know what they say!  The gambling here also was much less social then I remember in AC.  These people here all believe that they are God (or Buddah's) gift to gambling.  Everyone knows how to beat the casino and if you played a hand and lost, they knew how you woulda won but just 'forgot' to tell me.  Needless to say there was much yelling at the tables from patron at the dealers and a lot of people gambling with what I believed to be their children's allowance/food money.  Most people took it so seriously I think because they were gambling with every penney they had.  For as high end and high stakes gambling as you saw people undertaking, some of the people were wearing literal rags... and loving every minute of it.  I stuck to baccarat and roulette most of the day and ended up about $400 US.  I did try the roulette trick of bet 50 on red, loose then double the bet to 100, loose and double to 200, loose and double to 400 thing till eventually you win and win back the original bet plus 50$.  It did work and I think I ended up 150 (3 series of wins) but lets just say I had a somewhat nerve racking bet at 400$ when I was thinking I'd be out a total of $750 and have to risk another 800 just to win back $50... prob not the smartest thing but if you  actually have the balls to do it with real big money I guess you could make some quick cash if you did it once and didn't get hit with a streak of 5 blacks in a row.

Anyway, Macau was a good place but I have a feeling it needs another 10 years before people are coming back and saying 'that place is sick, I can't wait to get back there' while at the same time saying 'that place is sick, I can't believe I made it out alive' like most stories of people coming back from Vegas.  The ferry ride was cool and very cheap, round trip for about 40 USD, but the real way to go is by helicopter, its about 150 round trip and you get there in 15 minutes... ballin.  First person to come out and wants to hit up Macau get a ride in the Heli. But it did give me a nice taste in my mouth for gambling (or was it the Chinese cigarettes you are forced to smoke at the tables?) and am looking forward to plowing my way through Vegas soon.  Who wants to meet up on my flight back?

The whole pay per channel TV cable package (you only pay for the channels you want to have which does two things, lowers you bill considerable and only has channels you actually want to watch on you TV) is a good and bad thing at the same time.  When I got my package I got the channels for the news, HBO, Discovery package (I'm a nerd like that) and sports.  Thinking I was cool and all I watch are stuff on those channels I thought I would be good to go.  Strike that was the record, I must watch a lot of terrible TV at home because I find my self barely watching TV at all because what is shown is just TERRIBLE.  Sports is primarily badmitton (fun for about 20 seconds) news is state run commie Chinese lies, Discovery just shows 24 hours of 'How do they do it?" (I think I know how they 'do it' about every possible invention of all time, does anyone need to know how they make a suzie-bake oven or a nuclear reactor or a slinky-dink? because I am pretty much an expert on all of the above) and HBO is a constant mess of Steven Baldwin straight to DVD movies (if you did not come from America or know about American culture, I think you would consider Steve-0 Baldwin on par with Tom Hanks, Clint Eastwood or Ron Jeremy for terrific actors of our generation).

Speaking of the Sopranos and HBO in general, there are no F-bombs and nudity allowed on TV, (only one of the HBO's allows it), which makes the Sopranos VERY interesting to watch. If you have ever seen 'Casino' on cable you know where I am headed, but there are so many 'mother frickers' and 'fork yous' and 'go french your self' I don't know what is going on half the time when I am watching.  The best are the scenes when Tony is getting heated in the Bada Bing, when he is yelling at everyone that they are a 'mother fricker' only you can't even tell who he is mad at because there are boobies behind said 'mother frickers' head so the 'mother frickers' face gets blurred out with it.  At this point, the Sopranos looks like a delusional mobster semi-cursing at a bunch of possible ghosts.  But on the flip side, Sopranos just started to air here, so they show two episodes a week from Season 1 Episode 1 and will continue for the full year till all 80 odd episodes are shown, much better then 7 season over 10 years to show the 80.  

Alright that's all I got for now, I'll post pics later on tonight from the hike and beach last weekend, Macau and my now semi furnished apartment.  It's coming along, but working 80 hours a week isn't helping much... 

justin 'slowly becoming attracted to the local asians' rowley

Sunday, March 2, 2008

business man by week... beach bum by weekend

Night one in the apartment lead to the inevitable questions- do Chinese people EVER sleep?  As we all know when a man moves into a new apartment the last thing he is to buy are curtains.  Even the name evokes wuss-ness yet they are somewhat necessary to have something covering the windows.  It does make them look nicer plus as much as I love my own naked body I am not sure all of HK wants to see it (well I am sure that most of HK wants too, just not all).  Anyway, as I head off to bed at about 2am after coming in from the bars, I go and shut my lights off and what do I notice?  That even with my lights completely off the guy next door to me (across open space, but our windows lines up perfectly) still has his lights on and guess what? its makes my window as bright as day.  SAWEEEEEET deal.  

Anyway, I'm drunk so I figure I can fall asleep but anyone who knows me knows that I am the worlds lightest sleeper ever and yes, the sunny day at 2am was keeping me wiiiide awake.  Now it's not like noise which you can ask people to turn down and I am clearly not this china-mans mother so what do I decide to do?  Clearly not sleep on the couch or just man it out and try to get some shut eye, I decide that since I had bought a hammer earlier in the day that the best course of action would be to take my new bath towels and nail them to the window frame.  Perfect move Justin.  Anyway, lets just chalk that up to inexperience drinking Asian liquors. 

In another story, I have decided to become a beach bum on the weekends.  Today I went on a hike with the work crew on Dragon's Back (or spine or something like that) which runs on the top of the hills down the eastern part of the island.  Let's just say hike is not the proper term, I felt like we were trekking through the jungle of Vietnam on top of Mt Everest.  Anyway, once the 1.5 hour hike was finished (yes, 1.5 hour hike) we ended up down at Shek-o beach, which is amazing.  Once we got there we went into the market, bought a ton of meat and fish and skewers and then rented a little bbq pit and all sat around cooking meat.  It was awesome but the best part of it all was finding out how nice the beach is here.  Literally I forgot I was in HK, imagine being able to take a 20 minute subway ride in NYC and suddenly being on a beach in the Caribbean.  That is pretty much what this is like - and because it is so nice I have decided to dedicate my weekends to laying on my ass in the sand.  The place was unreal, you have the little market where you can buy food and beers and just go out onto the sand and hang out.  Anyway, if you need me on the weekends you know where to find me...

Alright, that's all I got for now, I am still busy setting up the new apartment but I did get a sick TV... 30", more then enough for my apt, flat screen HD and guess how much? $260... pretty awesome, one of the many reasons HK is fantastic for shopping.  Send ideas on where I should travel to over easter...


Saturday, February 23, 2008

pics posting #3 - The new apartment

Pics uploaded... shots from the Kowloon side looking back at HK, ferry ride, the apartment and the battle of Causeway Bay... new post tomorrow

Friday, February 22, 2008

Justin's Tale of the Bank and the Cougar

So no post for the past two weeks, last weekend was just too busy trying to find a place to live.  The housing crunch here is unbelievable, between the massive amounts of people, the super high percentage of ownership and the enormous rents, it was a challenge to say the least.  The good news is I found and closed on a place- not without a little help though.  Here is the tale of the Bank and the Cougar.

To start off the ordeal let me preface this by saying PNC might be the most dreadful excuse for a bank that has ever existed.  To start, they do not do international wires from a checking account... seriously?  So, wiring money from the US to HK was out of the question on my own.  Then, PNC requires 3 weeks for an international check to clear, really three weeks? But we aren't done yet, nope; So you also can't close a bank account from overseas, wire funds to another US bank account same day or have someone initiate the wire on your behalf, even if you are on the phone with them. They also don't have a 1-800 number open 24 hours a day, no PNC thinks 12 hours is more then enough.  But the real kicker is once you finally jump through all the hoops and blow all the whistles, you can only move $2,0000 per day and a max of $5,000 per 30 days! Let me put this plainly to PNC- GIVE ME MY MOTHER-EFFING MONEY!  I can not wait to return home to close that account, moral of the story never trust Pittsburgh.

To round the story out, I basically did not have access to the three month rent I needed to put up in cash or check to close on the building.  PNC's suggestion? Withdrawl the funds from the ATM... at that point I almost bought a plane ticket home to blow their building up (just kidding, I am not a terrorist- kinda). First of all I am not paying 6% per transaction X three months rent and also, of course PNC has an international cap on how much money you can withdrawl a day as well.  BRTUAL.

To make a long story short I did not have the HK money needed to sign on the apartment, I had the cash, it was just stuck in America, being held hostage by PNC- what's a guy to do?  Well luckily JPM hooked me up with the biggest cougar of a rental agent the world has ever met.  Late 30's, tall, blonde, kiwi and newly divorced I could not have been hooked up with a better agent in HK.  Needless to say we have spent about 5 days together hunting around the city and I have to say she has grown quite fond of me.  We usually grab drinks after hunting for the apts and on the day when we found the place and decided to close on it the next day we went to have a celebratory toast.  So one drink turned into 5 and the next thing I know she was a might bit drunk.  It was at about this time that she offered to put up the first month for me in cash!  I couldn't believe my luck, I was not sure how I was going to get the first month covered, which would have cost me the first rights to the apt (the other two months were aided by the help of wires back and forth between myself, my parents and the bank here... thanks parents!) and along comes a woman who has too much to drink and decides to lend me a few grand in cash!  Only in HongKong... anyway, I'm off to pick up the keys in just a few moments and hope to christen the apt with the cougar kiwi agent- haha.  I will post pictures of the place in my next post.

The place is decent, nothing fantastic but also not dreadfully small which is fairly common here.  I have ranked my apt at about a 7.5/10- decent location, only about a 10 minute walk to work, decent size, about 150 sqft bigger then I thought I'd be living in (but still only about 550swft total), and a pretty nice actual apt.  The only downside is the building is kinda ehh- its like a 25 year old building, but I guess that was the big compromise- it was either move into a newer building, but super small living space, or move into an older building and have a bigger apt.  Overall I was fairly happy with the choice but can't say I wouldn't look for a different place when my lease runs out at the end of the year.

Another post to come!