Posts filed under General

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'.


Filed in MiscellaneousTags: ,

I'm guessing it's the hair spray from last night.

A few minutes ago while I was attending to Rose our new companion after reenforcing a suspended cupboard in our kitchen that didn't want to stay suspended, a bee started flying around my head much closer than I would deem normal. If you don't aggravate a bee, it won't generally sting you so I stayed still and let it be, thinking that it'd fly away. I was wrong. Instead of flying away, it settled on my nose! After walking around there for a few seconds, it took off, flew around my head a few more times, landed on my ear very close to my ear-hole, took off again and then landed on my head, just above my hairline. I then walked into the house with a bee crawling through my hair.

I was rather astonished at how sticky his feet were. Many insects use small hairs on their feet to adhere to surfaces. Obviously, those hairs work really well. They were so 'sticky' that they almost stung as he walked around up there.

I walked back outside the house and he flew off again, this time far off into the neighbouring trees.

But now he's back! While I'm sitting here typing this, he's (from memory, all worker bees are male) flying around above my head making a very loud humming sound.

Now he's at the door and Siu Bak 小白; our second dog, our first bitch; is very intent on catching him as he flies by. She's already made several attempts to catch him but without success. He's a little too high up for her.

It must be the hair spray. I was filming last night at TVB and didn't wash my hair afterwards because very little hair spray was used. Apparently, bees like it. If he comes back again, I'll be forced to wash my hair, even though it's only two in the afternoon. Who'd have guessed that a bee could compel someone to take a shower???


Filed in General, Memoirs, Music, Press, 中文文章Tags: , , ,




Our classroom, theatrette

The classroom in which Elizabeth's class was conducted was originally a small theatre probably used principally for viewing movies; possibly film clips of Lee Strasberg's lectures recorded before he died. I say this because there's a hole in the wall behind the curtains, a hole through which a projector would have projected the clips. Lee Strasberg's lectures are now shown in a newly renovated theatre called the Monroe Theatre, named after Marilyn Monroe, once a student of Lee Strasberg.

For a 750x500 version, click here.








Filed in General, Memoirs, Music, Press, 中文文章Tags: , , ,





這個課的老師是一個很精神的八十五歲的名為 Elizabeth Sabine 的女人,恰巧跟我一樣是澳洲人。由於她的年紀不少,所以有時候就會忘記了她剛剛說的話而不知不覺重複說一次,可是她非常可愛的,而我們每個學生都喜歡她。

Elizabeth and Me

Elizabeth was a wonderful person. As far as I know, this was the last class she taught at the Lee Strasberg Institute.

For a 750x500 version, click here.

她教的是唱歌的技術。她曾經在澳洲,英國,美國,甚至香港(還沒有現在的灣仔的時候)都唱過歌,所以對唱歌非常熟悉。學校請她教唱歌的目的卻不是希望學生們能唱好歌,而希望學生們能學怎麼大聲說話。 Elizabeth 的名氣就是來自教人怎麼大大聲聲唱歌,也因為這樣而得到她的花名,就是「The queen of screech」。

一課為三個小時。首四十五分鐘就是鬆身和開聲的練習。十五分鐘休息已後,學生們就一個一個地在班學生們前邊跟一個鋼琴家唱歌,一邊唱一邊聽著 Elizabeth 的指示。

老實說,一般學生選擇課目的時候也都會選擇一兩個不用做那麼多功課的課文,甚至希望可以不上課也有。Elizabeth 的課就是這種課,所以很多學生就會當她的課是一種娛樂,一堂 karaoke,不用學甚麼東西,不用主意老師的指示,不用為了下次上課而作準備。Elizabeth 都知道這一點所以每次遇到努力的學生,她就會特別用心去教那個學生。

Elizabeth coaching one of my fellow students

Elizabeth would coach each of the students as they sung their chosen songs.

For a 750x500 version, click here.

And then there were eight.

Filed in Dogs of our Lives

Last week, we had an appointment with friends for dinner in Sai Kung. We left home early expecting to arrive in Sai Kung with plenty of time to look for a metered parking space (very hard to come by in Hong Kong) only to find ourselves at the end of a queue of slow moving cars waiting their turn for the round-about. We were almost to the round-about when we noticed something unusual in the driveway to the left of us; a small white rabbit.

It was clearly out of place and confused, skipping up and down the driveway, absolutely unsure of where to go. I immediately steered the car into the driveway and got out of the car wondering how I was going to catch the rabbit. As I approached the rabbit, guards in charge of protecting this very expensive home were wondering why an unauthorised car had parked in their driveway. As one of the guards opened the gate to request ("command" might be a better word) that I leave, I pointed to the rabbit upon which he closed the gate and left us alone.

Our new rabbit friend

She's definitely cute; white all over with black bands around her eyes and two black spots on her back.

For a 750x500 version, click here.

The rabbit was injured looking as if it had been hit by a car. Catching it and picking it up was not a problem at all. I later realised that the rabbit was probably in shock at the time making it easier to catch. I placed him on newspapers behind the front passenger seat of our car and drove off to Sai Kung for dinner. That night after dinner, we took him home with us and placed him in a spare cage.

The next day, we fed and looked after him. His injuries were more obvious in the daylight. He had cuts, scratches and grazes down one side of his body, and an injured eye that was completely white and didn't look too healthy. One side of his head appeared swollen and slightly lop-sided as well. He obviously needed treatment and we didn't want to keep him unless we had to so we dropped him off at the SPCA. I made it a point to inform them at the SPCA that we'd look after the rabbit if nobody else adopted him.

After the SPCA's doctor had examined the rabbit, they called to tell me that he was going to be ok and didn't need any treatment although he might eventually need to have his eye removed. Where I had surmised that the rabbit's injuries had been caused by a car, the doctor thought he had probably been attacked by dogs. Unfortunately, the SPCA didn't think he was suitable for adoption because of the bad eye and the unattractive injuries so he'd be put down if we didn't take him back.

Rabbit injuries

Probably attacked by dogs, she had cuts, scratches and grazes down one side of her body, and an almost completely white injured eye. Today, one week after this photo was taken, most of the hair has grown back and the white is going out of her eye. However, we still can't be sure if she'll be able to keep the eye.

And the doctor told us one more thing. The rabbit was a girl! (Apparently, it's very difficult to differentiate girl rabbits from boy rabbits and usually requires close experienced examination.)

So we now have a girl rabbit staying with us. She might belong to someone in the neighbourhood where we found her so we're putting up advertisements in the local ParknShop but I think she'll probably be here for the long haul. One good thing about keeping her is that we now have sexual balance in our home. With four women, one man, seven male dogs and three female dogs, the males outnumbered the females. With the rabbit, males and females are now equally matched. That has to be a good thing right?

Today, one week after finding her, the rabbit's doing really well. The doctor had told me that she might not regrow hair in the injured area down the side of her body but in less than one week, she has already grown most of it back and she's quite pretty. Her pink nose is really cute and almost never stops moving. She's especially cute when she's washing her ears and face. It's the first time I've ever been this close to a rabbit and I'm enjoying the experience.

Our dogs are absolutely captivated by her. Unfortunately, it's more than curiosity. If she ever escaped from the cage, she'd almost certainly be killed by our dogs. I remember watching Beethoven sitting in front of the cage and watching her on the first day she stayed with us. Beethoven; normally very quiet and gentle; was shaking all over with the excitement and anticipation of being able to catch and kill the rabbit. It wasn't a pretty sight but there's very little you can do without time and training. Killing cute furry animals is part of their nature. Beethoven is getting used to the rabbit and behaving much better now but there's no way I'm letting the rabbit out of the cage any time soon. For extra safety, I'm the only one here allowed to open the cage.

Rabbit curiosity

All of our dogs were extremely captivated by the rabbit and very very curious. The dog in this picture is David, the oldest of four brothers and sisters found as pups in a bush near our home. He's very gentle, playful and loving, spending a large part of his free time lying on the floor next to my feet while I sit at the computer.

For a 750x500 version, click here.

I'm hoping that her eye will heal but there's still a very good chance that it's permanently damaged and will have to be removed. Even so, she's very cute.

We haven't named her yet. Any ideas?

Song: The Nearness of You

Filed in Memoirs, Music, Music: My SongsTags: ,

My next am730 article is just about finished. Part 1 was published a week ago and Part 2 should be published next week. I'll post the full article here after am730 has published it.

This am730 article mentions a teacher I had the fortune to meet while studying at The Strasberg Institute in Los Angeles last year. Her name was Elizabeth and we had a wonderful time together. One of the songs I sang during class that she particularly liked was "The Nearness of You", a wonderful song published way back in 1937. I'm going to record some of my songs and post them here on the blog and I thought this song would be a good start.

This song was recorded in September of 2004, just after returning from Los Angeles. Both the piano and voice are mine. With only three months of piano in my pocket, it was the beginning of a new life in music for me.

I hope you like it.

The Nearness of You as sung by Gregory Charles Rivers, September 2004.

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.

Motorola’s ROKR iTunes mobile phone

Filed in Technology

My wife and I looked at the new Motorola ROKR iTunes phone today here in Hong Kong. We weren't impressed. The plastic used to build the phone was... too plastic! I wondered if it would survive even a single drop to the ground.

My wife who has been using a Nokia 8310 since I can't remember when decided to buy the Sony Ericsson W800i instead. While almost twice the price of the ROKR, I don't think we made the wrong choice and I'm sure it'll work well for her for many years to come.

And it's fully supported by Mac OS X's iSync so what else can I say.