Hong Kong

Posts filed under Hong Kong

Piggy-backing neighbours

Filed in Hong Kong, Photo of the Day

This time last year, there was a spider population explosion. Hong Kong is host to a rather large black spider with a golden back. During this period known as 回南 'return of the southerly winds' last year, these black spiders could be seen everywhere.

This year, things are different. It might be that the weather hasn't been as wet for as long as it was last year. I remember last year and hope that we don't experience anything like it for a few years to come. It stayed wet here for almost two and a half months straight. Sunshine was rare. Water was plentiful, usually coming out of the tile floors and walls all around us. The dust mites had a great time which was unfortunate for my wife it turns out that she's quite allergic to them. She had hives for more than a month and they almost killed her; itchy red blotches all over her body and keeping her up at nights with the need to scratch.

Instead of spiders, this year we apparently have frogs. I've been hearing the ratchety sounds for a couple of weeks now but it was not until a few nights ago that I realised that the sounds belonged to frogs. We don't see many frogs here; Toads seem to be far more common; so it was surprising to realise that there were so many frogs around croaking away to each other throughout the night.

Last night, I walked out to the back garden area of our home to check on our rabbit Rose and suddenly saw one of those frogs. Actually, there were more than one frog. I couldn't resist the urge and immediately ran into the house to get my new high-powered torch (purchased in Australia) and my camera.

Here's what I saw ;-)

piggy-backing

One frog on top of the other. I remember my father telling me a few weeks ago while I was back in Australia that the female frogs are much larger than the male frogs so I suspect these frogs are mating, the male being the one on top.

For a 750x500 version, click here.

For the city dwellers, these are frogs, not toads. You can tell by looking at the feet which have suction cups on the end of the toes allowing them to climb surfaces like walls. My parents love frogs as do I.

The Chinese love to eat toad-legs, i.e., 田雞飯. I hope they know the difference between frogs and toads! If people who fancy 田雞飯 want to go hunting, I'd suggest they visit Australia. Some time ago, people introduced toads to Australia and without natural predators, their population exploded, so much so that many Australians now hate toads with a vengence. Some people even enjoy practising golf using toads instead of golf balls; not something that I personally would do.

Man on fire!

Filed in Current Affairs, Health, Hong KongTags: , , ,

True story.

It was supposed to be a straight forward operation, a small one, a simple one. Cut a small hole above the bronchial airway, pull the large oxygen breathing tube out from the mouth and push the new smaller tube in through the hole.

My brother-in-law Joe had a stroke almost two weeks ago. A blood vessel in his brain had developed an aneurism and while walking the streets of Macau, it burst, streaming blood into his brain. He knew immediately that something was wrong and asked a nearby policeman for help. He was transported to a hospital and treated. He had lost consciousness well before getting to the hospital and his situation was serious.

Fast-forward a week. Joe has been transferred to the Prince of Wales hospital in Sha Tin and is resting and recuperating in the crowded and understaffed Neural ward on the third floor. He can open his eyes but cannot move any of his muscles. He has a long way to go before he'll be normal again. His mouth is perpetually open because his jaw muscles don't respond to commands. Consequently, he breaths through his mouth but cannot moisten it or control where the saliva and nasal fluids go allowing some of it to run down the trachea and build up in the lungs. According to the attending doctor, this may have been one of the causes of the secondary pneumonia infection noted a few days later.

The pneumonia produced massive amounts of phlegm in his lungs and without motor movement or coughing capabilities, the phlegm would remain in his lungs, significantly impeding his ability to breath. Without help, he would die, possibly of suffocation. An air tube was inserted down his throat to assist with his breathing but leaving the tube there long term would probably damage his throat. The doctors therefore decided to cut a small hole through his chest into his trachea and insert a small tube. For the immediate future, this would be a safer and more convenient solution to his breathing problems.

The procedure is relatively simple. Cut a small hole through to the trachea. Pull the large tube out through the mouth. Push the small tube in through the hole. To make sure that the patient doesn't suffer from a lack of oxygen during the procedure, almost-pure oxygen is fed to the patient through the large tube just moments prior to the operation. The extra supply of oxygen is supposed to keep the patient going while the tubes are being exchanged.

The procedure took place yesterday in an operation room. During the operation, instead of using a traditional scalpel, the doctor used an 'electric scalpel'. For reasons not yet explained to us, the 'electric scalpel' released sparks during the operation which ignited oxygen coming out of the hole. Joe was literally on fire; for approximately ten seconds. The fire was reportedly quickly put out with water (water??). Once the damage had been surveyed and evaluated, the tube procedure was completed and Joe was once again able to breath.

The fire was real. According to the doctor, it was an accident and it was the first such known incident in Hong Kong although according to the doctor, web searches revealed twenty or more similar cases overseas. The fire produced heat and smoke, and some of it may have entered Joe's bronchi, scorching the bronchial epithelial layers. Best case scenario; the bronchi will recover without further complications. Worse case scenario; the epithelial layers swell and result in thickened bronchial walls and narrower wind ways possibly leading to further serious long term complications.

The fire was an accident. We believe that. The question though is one of negligence. In my (admittedly inexperienced) mind, I can only see two possible reasons for the fire. First, the electric scalpel used was faulty, leading to the sparks that ignited the oxygen. Second, the procedure was flawed. With oxygen pumping through it, the larger tube was pulled up above where the hole was to be cut before the cut was made and oxygen was still pumping through the tube while the hole was being cut. This lead to direct contact between the almost pure oxygen and the electric knife hence the fire.

In either case, negligence is the cause of the accident; lack of maintenance and equipment inspection in the first case, and incorrect procedure in the second case.

If we were in the U.S.A., we'd be suing the hospital. Here in Hong Kong, suing is much more complicated. That said, it's far more important at the moment to keep an eye on Joe and make sure that his road to recovery is not hampered again. Hopefully, the nurses and doctors will pay more attention to his case.

In the end though, the real criminals here are the Hong Kong Government and the Hospital Authority. While happily advancing funds to large corporate contracts for extravagant projects, and while the Hospital Authority management staff joyfully award themselves high salaries and large unsubstantiated bonuses, they continue to cut financing to the hospitals. Public hospitals in Hong Kong are now overcrowded. Even the Intensive Care Unit looked like a refugee zone with beds camped hither and thither in the hallways and in the walking areas between beds. The staff are overworked, understaffed and underpaid. This can benefit no-one.

Similar situations are building in the public school system, situations which have recently led to multiple suicides in the teacher population.

Funding and expenditure need to be controlled but there's a limit to how much you can save on staffing costs and the lives of the people have to be considered. If the government doesn't work soon to remedy the situation in a sensible realistic way, the consequences will be dire; for everyone (except the rich which not surprisingly includes those same government officials and hospital authority management staff. Maybe the middle-class citizens should be the ones making the life-and-death decisions instead of the rich.)

Married and beautiful

Filed in Hong Kong, Hong Kong Wildlife, Photo of the DayTags: , , ,

I'm always trying to get good photos of some of the birds around our home. I'd love to get a photo of the owls that live here but I've only seen one of them once in the two years we've lived here, and I've only heard them; a pair of them calling out to each other; once on another night.

Apart from sparrows, there are only a few species of birds living here. There are pigeons which are difficult to photograph because they're so easily unnerved by onlookers, and there is another species of bird, one with red behind its eye and more red under its tail. I find them especially attractive and try to photograph them whenever possible. Both the pigeons and these 'red' birds live in pairs, always with the same mate.

Hong Kong also has a very healthy population of kites (a predatory bird, similar to eagles) and I really hope to get good photographs of these birds in the future no matter how difficult it might be. Luck and timing will be a big part of my success.

For those of you not familiar with birds, the male can usually be identified by its colours. The male's colours are often brighter and stronger than the female's colours.

Married birds

Red-whiskered Bulbul 紅耳鵯

(Pycnonotus jocosus)

Date: 4 December 2005, Location: Clear Water Bay

Some birds mate for life. In this case, the male is the one looking at us from behind.

For a closer look at the pair, click here.

I hope you like the photograph. More will follow next year, especially now that I've added a 2x extender to my lens collection allowing me to get closer to the birds. I have become the proverbial hunter.

While searching for Canon links for this article, I came across references to the first cameras I ever owned. The Canon AE-1 was the first camera I remember owning, and was probably one of the best cameras I've ever used. The Canon EOS 620 was my second camera, purchased after my arrival in Hong Kong, sometime between 1988 and 1989. My EF 70-200mm F2.8L USM lens was purchased soon after and still works flawlessly today 16 years later.

The debasement of pop music

Filed in Hong Kong, MusicTags: , , ,

The other night, I heard a professional singer recording for a music show. He was really good but I couldn't help but wonder if he was singing a song or singing a vocal exercise. The vocal range of the song was extreme with rapid movement between real voice and falsetto notes.

Popular music in Hong Kong has lost any sense of feel. In an effort to differentiate themselves, singers have moved to songs making heavy use of falsetto. First there was one singer, then another and then another. Even Jacky Cheung was persuaded to follow suit. The apparent opinion is that if you can't sing falsetto, then you're not a professional singer.

Listen to the Hong Kong pop charts today and you can't help but get the feeling that all the music came from the same computer program. It's monotonous and boring, and it's therefore no wonder that the singing program 名曲滿天星 on TVB Sunday nights m.c.'d by Miss Wong 汪明荃 is getting such high ratings. It's the only place in 'broadcast' town where you can hear real music sung by real singers.

Unfortunately, this is just one symptom of today's society of mass production, mass distribution and unjustly elevated corporate profits, and it's happening in all fields of life, not just music. People are being conditioned to accept lower quality product while thinking that it's better and sometimes even paying more for it.

What used to be solid wood tables is now cheap particle wood with thin laminate. What used to be metallic cups and bowls that lasted for years without wear and tear are now plastic cups and bowls that scratch, bend, melt, fade and may even indirectly cause the extinction of mankind via lower sperm counts caused by the man-made oestrogen used to make most of today's cheap plastics. Where we used to have a huge variety of tasty fruit and vegetables to choose from, we now; thanks to huge supermarket chain profiteering; only have access to a small variety of food which supposedly looks perfect but tastes like cardboard (except in Europe where they insist on only buying food that tastes good regardless of how it looks). Yet we are told that the standard of living is improving, and that we're better off than we've ever been before.

There's not much we can do about it, except perhaps to wherever possible refuse to buy product of lesser quality. Unfortunately, people in general are weak and easily moulded to do the bidding of the corporates so I have no idea where this will all end except to help the rich get richer while the poor continue to get poorer.

We’re all equal. NOT.

Filed in Hong KongTags: , , ,

When our previous helper left us to go back home and re-marry, she introduced her friend to us, one who was very eager to work for us. In fact, all of her friends wanted to work for us because we're fair to our helpers. Apparently, many Hong Kong people aren't.

The new helper has proven to be great to have around. She has no problems with our dogs, loves to take them on their walks; even though it requires three trips per walk, two walks per day; works consistently all day without any prompting and keeps our flat cleaner than our previous helper. All in all, we are lucky to have her.

She became sick a couple of days ago; vomiting, headache, dizziness. I took her to a doctor in a near-by clinic. The doctor; a youngish thin man with unbrushed long 60's type hair; said it was gastro-enteritis and prescribed vomit-suppression tablets and pain killers. He said that gastro-enteritis was virus related so taking antibiotics would not help. (antibiotics only kill bacteria. you knew that right?)

The next day after one day of rest, our helper was still just as sick with the same vomiting, nausea and headache symptoms, and one extra symptom; pain in the back of her neck. I took her back to the clinic and we saw a different doctor because the first doctor wasn't in. This doctor; a more doctor-like late twenties early thirties lady; told us that the virus had entered our helper's intestinal region and she would need stronger medicine; including antibiotics (antibiotics? but… now I'm getting confused).

Today, our helper still hadn't recovered. We don't expect instant recovery. My wife had severe gastro-enteritis a few months ago and it took her four days in hospital with a drip and injected high-strength antibiotics to get her up and around again. We do however expect a little improvement each day. What was weird to my untrained eye was that lying down, our helper looked fine. She even felt fine. It was only when she sat up or stood up that the nausea and vomiting began.

I decided we needed better expertise on the matter and called my favourite doctor; someone who studied one year ahead of me at the University of New South Wales in Sydney Australia and excels at everything he does. He constantly amazes me. When he heard about the neck pain in combination with the other symptoms, a light turned on and he immediately suspected meningitis. Only a blood test would be able to confirm it.

Now the first thing that comes to mind is why didn't the second doctor at the clinic think of the same thing. Apparently, neck pain combined with headaches, nausea and fever (and no diarrhoea) are classic symptoms of meningitis. I always viewed cheap clinic doctors as being sub-class doctors with their multitudes of tablets and their cheap rates (admittedly one of my own perhaps unjustified prejudices). Where my favourite doctor charges a minimum of HK$500 per consultation and includes one or two high quality medicines, these other doctors charge HK$170 per visit and include five or six medicines. Who needs five or six medicines? It's pretty obvious that first, many of the patients expect more medicines (more is better, right?), and second, the medicine is low quality so more is needed to cover the various aspects of the sicknesses. Yesterday, a friend of mine; a local Hong Kong girl with a baby boy who occasionally needs to visit the doctor; said she never expects to get better quickly when she visits these doctors. The medicine seems to only be sufficient to prevent the illness from getting worse but that's it. I'm apparently not the only one who has this view of the cheap doctors.

(To be fair, the doctors may have been right. Our helper's symptoms could be related to lots of different ailments and illness. We won't know if they were right until later.)

So one call to my favourite doctor and we discover that our helper might have meningitis. Now while I try to care for everyone in our family equally, I admittedly don't want to spend money that I don't have to. To confirm meningitis, a blood test is needed and I know that getting that blood test at our favourite doctor's clinic would be expensive. The alternative was to book our helper into the local hospital. She's down there now waiting in Emergency with my sister-in-law.

One strange thing occurred during the conversation with my doctor. After explaining our helper's case to him and talking about the meningitis, he said with some degree of emotional charge "so what do you want? I can't tell you that there's nothing wrong with her.". Weird! To my mind, this could only mean that he occasionally gets requests from employers who want him to say that their helpers are faking their symptoms, don't need treatment and are in fact ok to work. That's a sad reflection of the state of helper racism and prejudice in Hong Kong.

When I called my wife to tell her about the possibility of meningitis and the need for our helper to stay in hospital, her first reaction was dismay and concern for our helper. Her second and almost immediate reaction was disappointment because there would be no-one to perform normal household duties and because we'd need to care for our helper. My wife is a great person; she really is; but she grew up in an environment where helpers are treated as work objects. Her family never had helpers because they could never afford them, but many of the people working with her have helpers including one of her best friends and that's where the problem is.

One of my wife's friends and one of my wife's sisters living in another part of Hong Kong both treat helpers like slaves. They expect the helpers to work full speed all day long, listen to their every demand, never make mistakes, never take holidays, and never expect any niceties. My wife's friend already thinks my wife is wrong because we pay our helper full wages and give her all of her legally required holidays. When she overhears that we might be placing our helper in hospital my wife is planning to cook congee for our helper, she looks at my wife with confusion and objection. Why would we do that? Why would we place our helper in hospital cook for our helper? Why should we care so much? The normal behaviour would be to get the cheapest medication available, keep her at home and preferably keep her working while she recovers.

Words are rarely spoken between my wife and her friend about these matters but the looks and feelings are clearly there and it affects my wife. The people around her make her feel inferior, weak and taken advantage of because she treats her helper as a human being, almost as an equal. For my wife, it's even more difficult because on the one hand, she faces these people; people who matter to her; who treat their helpers as inferiors, and on the other hand faces a husband who dislikes any sound, word or action from his family that portends to prejudice or unfair treatment of others. My wife is in a very difficult place.

My sister-in-law just called from the hospital. The doctor doesn't think it's meningitis. He's not even going to test for meningitis. I asked him over the phone if he would take responsibility if it turned out to be meningitis. He didn't like the comment because it questions his judgement. In turn, he indignantly expressed to me questioning curiosity that a doctor would diagnose meningitis from the symptoms. In his mind, headache, neck pain, nausea, fever and vomiting did not mean meningitis. We'll see. In the meantime, they're going to xray her neck to see if anything has been damaged physically. They won't be testing for meningitis. I hope he's right. If he's wrong, it may have dire consequences for our helper.

This whole situation shines light on two persistent problems in Hong Kong; the treatment of helpers by their employers, and the existence of low-quality private doctors when the government is trying to implement a new system to force more of the general population to seek private doctors rather than use the Out-patient and Emergency sections of the public hospitals. Both problems will be impossible to solve and difficult to improve.

I must clarify that I am not a perfect person. Like my wife and many others, I too would not like to see one of our helpers get pregnant requiring three months of paid pregnancy leave. It would be very inconvenient, both from a financial point of view and from a housework point of view. For this reason, many Hong Kong people including my wife and I are very wary of potential helpers who have never married or are developing relationships with a man either here or in their home country. Some Hong Kong people even worry when their helpers go home for holidays each year. It's impossible to know if they'll come back pregnant. I fully believe and understand that it's their right to have a family and raise children. Nevertheless, it would be very inconvenient if this were to happen during their time with us.

Sickness is entirely different. No-one wants to be sick and everyone should be entitled to treatment and rest while sick so as to recover as quickly as possible. There's nothing you can do when a helper gets sick, nothing except to accept the situation, realise that it's hopefully temporary and plan as best you can how to handle the housework that needs to be done while your helper is sick. The way some people view their helpers, I wonder how far they are from saying "put her down and get another one". Harsh? Exagerated? Unrealistic? Definitely, but look up the term 'genocide' and then tell me what you think.

I'm fortunate. My wife and her two sisters living with us have very similar attitudes to my own and that's something I treasure. Within this family, we'll look after each other. If our helper lives here, then she's part of the family; even if she is the hired help.

Update(Tues, November 8, 2005)

Our helper is back home. While the doctor and nurses were examining her, she was vomiting and crying from the headaches. My sister-in-law showed them the medicine she has been taking over the last two days which at least proves to them that we didn't take her to the Emergency ward without trying other venues of treatment first (something I'd like to talk about; perhaps later). While taking her pulse, her heart rate for a moment was only in the mid 30's which was quite a shock to the nursing staff, motivating the doctor to ask for several indepth tests including an ECG (electro-cardiograph) and blood tests. They also gave her injections to ease the pain and nausea.

All tests were negative. She doesn't have meningitis, but she doesn't have gastro-enteritis either. In fact, they don't know what's wrong with her. She has new pain killer and vomit-suppression medicine and is back here with us at home, resting. If she doesn't get any extreme headaches or nausea, she doesn't have to go back to the hospital until next Monday for a checkup.

And she has a doctor's slip giving her three days sick leave ;-)   We thought that was funny because we would never require her to work before she's recovered, and because I usually forget that we truly are her employers and not just her 'family'.

TVB series. They’re special too.

Filed in Hong Kong, TVB (H.K.) 香港無線電視Tags: , , ,

With reference to the TVB soaps, there are a few things I feel I should say, especially after reading the comments to my previous article Hail Hollywood TV.

First. Most of the main actors and actresses are really very good at what they do. Working for TVB is not easy, especially for them. While filming any one series, the average main actor works 18 hours a day and sometimes more, averaging perhaps just 2 or 3 hours of sleep a night. Between scenes or between showers, they have to read their scripts, understand what's going on and work out how they're going to act the scenes. They carry their own scripts around with them (these days usually in an aircraft hand-luggage suitcase on wheels), remember what clothes they wore for each scene and do lots of other stuff that the actors in Hollywood never have to worry about. It is also not unusual to get the scripts only hours before the scene. That makes it very hard for the actor and there's nothing they can do to change the situation.

When working on location, the meals provided by TVB are usually low-cost rice boxes, usually Chinese BBQ assortments so that everyone will have something acceptable to eat, occasionally something a little more special like 茶餐廳 spaghetti. No seating is provided so the actors either eat in the minibuses or sit on any available surface while eating. Actors in Hollywood get buffets.

At the same time, the actors and actresses still have to master the politics of working for the dominant television company, making sure that they're friends with the right people and don't tick off the wrong people. Rumors includes gifts to higher ranking personnel and sometimes other more personal things. These artistes, as a friend of mine calls them, work damn hard. They're worth much more than they're paid by TVB. If they worked this hard in Hollywood, they'd be USD millionaires. Unfortuantely, their contracts make it extremely hard to work with non-TVB productions so it's very difficult for them to make decent money outside of TVB. Occasionally, they'll get one or two well-paid commercials to supplement their incomes.

Incidentally, there is no such thing as residuals in Hong Kong so the actors and actresses make nothing out of a series if it's re-broadcast anywhere in the world or if it sells on VCD or DVD.

Second, the TVB series are never going to compare in terms of quality to those made in Hollywood. TVB is the dominant television station here and no other television company can compete. The audiences crave non-stop for new series and TVB doesn't buy series if they have a choice so they make series non-stop as fast as they can, but there's no competition, so the quality doesn't need to be great; just acceptable. The actors have no time to prepare for their scenes so you'll rarely see their full acting potential. The writers never have time to contemplate the scripts so you'll never see their full potential either. The directors and their assistants rarely have time for sleep and are as fabulous as anyone else could be under the circumstances.

Third, Hong Kong people are different. The daily pressures of work (with super-human requirements and usually more overtime than is healthy), travel, crowding, pollution and mortgages means that they don't want to think when they watch tv. Hence, many Hong Kong people really enjoy the non-intellectual TVB series. I remember hearing one couple tell me how much they loved to watch a show on TVB just before they slept. To me, the show was garbage with corny scripts and extreme over-acting, but to this couple, it was just what they needed to get a good laugh and put the daily pressures out of their minds before sleeping. I'm pretty sure that TVB knows what the audience wants most of the time. In this respect, there are a few actors at TVB who are really good as making the audience laugh and I think they're a valuable asset to TVB. One that immediately comes to mind is 梅小惠. She's one very clever girl.

So while Hollywood productions are obviously better than TVB productions in many aspects, there are still many things about TVB series that deserve respect. For many people, Hollywood series will be the preferred choice. For others, TVB series will do more to brighten their lives if even just a little and that makes them worthwhile.

One last thing. Within Hong Kong are many many very talented actors, actresses, directors, writers, camera-men, lighting technicians and others related to the film profession. With the right opportunities, without a doubt, they could create films and television shows equivalent to those produced by Hollywood. Unfortunately, the market was damaged by greedy members of the profession who wanted to make a quick buck. The market was also damaged by piracy, initially by protected powerful syndicates in China and now also by various internet technologies. Without a market, these talented people can do nothing. My hope is that the internet will change this situation soon, that new online markets will emerge allowing Hong Kong-made film and television to be sold and seen all around the world. The introduction of video to Apple Computer's iTunes store may be the beginning or a new era in television and film distribution. I hope so. I truly want to see Hong Kong's film and television industry thrive again soon. The world of film wouldn't be the same without it.

It’s official. Hong Kong’s a part of China.

Filed in Hong Kong, Photo of the Day

While driving on the expressway to Causeway Bay 銅鑼灣 to make some arrangements for my trip to Indonesia next week, I couldn't help but notice that the sky was very unattractive. It looked pretty much like the skies you'd see in big China cities like Guangzhou 廣州. I really wanted to stop on the expressway and take a few photos but the policemen wouldn't have liked that.

Later on, on my way home, I couldn't resist the urge to try to get a few photographs. I surmised that the North Point ferry pier 北角碼頭 might allow me to get far enough out into the harbour to be able to see Central 中環 around the expressway. I was wrong but the view wasn't too bad anyway and I came away with a few reasonable shots. Since I published 'blue-sky' shots yesterday, I thought I'd share these with you asap so that you can see the contrast.

Orange Tsimshatsui

The business district of Tsimshatsui 尖沙咀 never looked so bleak.

For a 750x500 version, click here.

During my eighteen years here in Hong Kong, I have observed the skies becoming more and more polluted. I remember in the early years that we lived out in Tai Po 大埔, driving in to work in the mornings, I used to be able to see Lion Rock Mountain 獅子山 very clearly. In the latter years, Lion Rock Mountain was simply not visible at all. The same thing is now happening all over Hong Kong and I fear that blue skies will become a true rarity.

Orange harbour

That's Hung Hom 紅磡 district on the left and Kowloon City 九龍城 on the right with multiple cranes working hard on top of a new development at the Kowloon City Pier 九龍城碼頭.

For a 750x500 version, click here.

I guess Hong Kong is now officially a part of China.

It’s official. Hong Kong’s a part of China.

Filed in Hong Kong, Photo of the Day

今日為勗勵軒輔導中心做嘉賓,幫手推介‘無睹工作間計劃’。好開心可以再次睇到Kolor樂隊的表演。勁pro!

#canto-popIsCool

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