Captioned images

Filed in Technology

Some of you may have already noticed. I've now added captions to my images. I think it's far superior to relying on Image Title parameters (ie, the Tool Tip text popups you usually see) and adds value to the images. I've been developing them for quite some time but couldn't get the images to centre on the page until today when a couple of nice people on the css discussion list gave me pointers. The web community is truly a great and helpful place.

I don't know how they look in IE but they look great in Opera, FireFox, Safari and OmniWeb.

A green visitor

Filed in Dogs of our Lives, Hong Kong Wildlife, Photo of the Day

A few weeks ago, I returned home with some of our children after taking them for their nightly walk. While taking their leashes off, they seemed very curious about something in one corner of the court area where our gas canisters are kept. A couple of the dogs even displayed sudden reactions to something that I could not at the time see in the dark that is night.

After letting the dogs through to the main garden area, I went back to take a look at the gas canisters. I was curious too and wanted to see what had them acting so unusually. It didn't take me long to spot the reason. A green snake was wrapped around the tap of the gas canister looking pretty scared. I guess I would be scared too if several dogs one hundred times as large as myself suddenly started poking their wet warm windy noses in my direction.

I couldn't leave him there. It was too dangerous and I couldn't be sure that he'd find his way back to the bush from whence he came, so I had to think of a way to move him. The first thing I did though was grab my camera because he was a really nice looking snake.

A green visitor

The green snake was wrapped around the tap of the gas canister, feeling just as nervous of me as I felt of him.

I don't know if it was the multiple flashes from the camera as it tried to focus on the snake in the dark, but the snake remained fairly quiet as I photographed it. I was actually quite nervous about getting too close to the snake because he was still standing in defensive mode and I didn't feel like getting bitten.

I gathered a barbeque fork and a large white bucket. The idea was to use the fork to encourage the snake into the bucket whose smooth sides would hopefully keep the snake from slivering out while I transported it back to the bush. Imagine my surprise when the snake wrapped itself around the fork and stayed there.

I quickly put the bucket down, moved around to an area of the house with better light and took a few more pictures. The pictures were ok but not great. Perhaps because of a lack of experience or perhaps because I didn't have time to set up everything perfectly, none of the photos were accurately focussed. There were still two good photos though and I'm glad I have them because the snake with its green body, yellow belly and red tail looked incredible.

Curled tight

He (probably a male because the colours are relatively sharp) wrapped himself around the bbq fork and remained there, quiet and calm.

Having taken the photos, I walked out to the bush behind our garden and positioned the fork and the snake wrapped around it near the branches of a small tree. The snake very quickly moved off into the tree and I returned home to study the photos.

I liked the photos so much that I've converted one of them to be the background on my Nokia phone. He looks real cool and I guess it's appropriate anyway because I'm actually a 'snake' person; born in 1965.

What was rather peculiar about that night was the conversation I had with our elderly neighbour that very morning. She was going on about how she had instructed her relative to cut back the branches on a couple of trees next to the path we use to come and go from our homes. She was worried about snakes coming down from the trees and biting people and I was thinking that she was worrying just a little too much. It's really strange that the green snake would appear in our own garden that very night. Weird!

The next day, our maid came looking for me and asked me to look at Beethoven. I was surprised to see his nuzzle swollen so badly but knew immediately what had happened. He didn't seem to be in any discomfort though and a call to the vet assured me that if the snake bite was deadly, Beethoven would have died within a couple of hours of the bite.

Swollen, nice and round.

Beethoven's nuzzle was quite swollen in the morning; big and round. There is no lens distortion in this photo. His nuzzle really was this big! If you look closely, you can see the two puncture marks about half way between his nose and his eyes.

It must have been the week of the local snake gathering because a few nights later, we saw another snake. While driving home late at night with three or four cars behind us, I saw something shimmering near the edge of the approaching road. I slowed down and had more than enough time to realise that it was a snake planning to cross the road. I stopped the car completely, much to the cagrin of the drivers behind us, and waited for the snake to cross the road. It was a python, probably at least five or six feet long. As he crossed the middle of the road, a minibus was approaching from the other direction. Typical Chinese people living in our area wouldn't think twice about running over a snake on the road and I flashed my headlights at the driver hoping to slow him down. He slowed but not enough and continued straight down the road. The snake was lucky. He managed to compress himself; like you would compress a spring; just enough to fit between the right and left wheels of the minibus as it passed over him, and he then continued safely to the other side of the road and climbed or rather jolted himself up the embankment and into the bush.

I knew we have pythons in the neighbourhood. I just never expected to be lucky enough to see one. My only regret is that I wasn't able to get out of the car and take a picture. I don't think the cars behind me would have appreciated the wait.

It's a rather interesting neighbourhood when I think of it. We have snakes, interesting birds (there are a few very unusual birds I'd love to photograph if I ever get the chance), monkeys, large spiders, large lizards and even wild bores (ie, pigs). There are also some very interesting flying beetles, one variety of which had relatives in the local news a few weeks ago when it was reported that the furniture in the new Disneyland hotels was being eaten from the inside out. They beetles are called wood borers and I've observed them making homes in the bamboo in our garden. I find it interesting to watch them using their bums to block the entrances to their nests in the bamboo when it rains. Maybe I'll show you photos of them at a later date if I can get a few great shots.

Quiet on the blog front

Filed in Technology

My apologies to those of you waiting and hoping for new articles from me. I've been very busy over the last few weeks with computer upgrades and developments. I've also spent considerable time watching Dragon Ball Z and am currently spending every night at TVB working on a new series in which I only have a few scenes but because of the martial arts involved; I'm not the one fighting; require an exorbitant amount of time filming every night from five or six in the afternoon through to five or six in the early morning.

It is quite normal for me to require a rest after a period of being very busy. The computer upgrades and work I've done over the last few weeks took a lot out of me and I've not had the mental energy to write anything for the blog.

In addition, I've thought about the blog a lot and really want to avoid writing about daily trivial events. Some people have commented that blogs are digital diaries. I disagree but at the same time have to admit that it would be far easier for me to simply write about where I'll be and what I've eaten rather than about larger issues in general. I don't want this blog to be trivial so I've decided to keep triviality to a minimum. That means that articles won't be appearing frequently but those that do appear will hopefully be of a better quality and hopefully worth reading.

One piece of news. I've been asked to write a column for a local free newspaper called am730. My articles will be published once or twice a month and I'll copy them here as well after they've been published in the newspaper. Writing the articles will be difficult to say the least because the articles will be in Chinese, and they'll need to be interesting. Hopefully with time, my Chinese will improve, and hopefully, my readers will be patient with me in the early stages as I get adjusted to the new challenge of writing in Chinese.

Incidentally, if you are one of those loyal readers who visits my blog every day hoping to see a new article, remember that you can subscribe to the blog using the grey Bloglet subscription form under the Archives list to one side of the blog. Once subscribed, you'll be automatically notified by email of new articles posted to my blog.

Thank you everyone for remaining interested in my blog. I'll post again soon.

A friend leaves

Filed in Hong Kong, Life

One of our friends left us today. We took her to the airport and watched her leave after being a part of our lives for the last two years.

Asih; that's her name; was originally hired to look after my mother-in-law who with serious symptoms of diabetes and heart disease needed 24-hour care. Shortly after hiring Asih, my mother-in-law passed away.

Our own maid's contract was almost up for renewal and for various reasons including the fact that Asih could speak Cantonese, we decided to let the other maid go and stick with Asih.

Most Hong Kong people would already realise that Asih was Indonesian. Many Indonesian maids speak Cantonese while most Philippino maids has no knowledge of the language.

I've always considered Asih to be my mother-in-law's parting gift. From the first day, Asih almost never frowned, was almost always happy and generally was great to have around the house.

When she first began working for us, we moved my mother-in-law and Asih into our flat so that my wife could keep close to my mother-in-law. At the time, we already had eight dogs and Asih was pretty scared of them. Over time though, that changed and she became the dogs' best friend. Over the last two years, most of their walks have been with Asih with me only taking them out at night time. Almost all of their baths were done by Asih and almost all of their meals were organised by Asih. In addition to the usual dog food, Asih prepared beef heart rice once or twice a week for them using beef hearts that my wife took the time to buy each week from the local markets; the hearts by the way are very heavy.

Shortly after moving to our current address; two days before Christmas actually; Asih had an accident while taking the dogs out for their walk. While holding their leashes in her right hand and using her left hand to close the gate behind her, one of the dogs stood up and lunged forwards away from her. The unexpected and sudden jolt pulled Asih full force into a concrete pillar and she snapped one of her front teeth.

Asih was a happy girl and the last thing we wanted to take away from her was her smile, so we decided to take her to our regular dentist and fix her up as best as we could. Our dentist was amazing. He was able to use a new solution to extend and remould the broken front tooth so that it was almost impossible to tell that it had been broken. An xray showed that the root of the tooth had also broken straight across but the dentist was able to re-glue the root by carefully injecting a special solution into the root of the tooth at the break. The result was a tooth that even today is strong and always ready to smile. Consequently, Asih remained a happy person, always ready to show that great smile of hers.

It's unfortunate that in Hong Kong, many people mistreat their maids. The maids are forced to work from early morning to late night, sometimes without a break. Some maids are not allowed to take off the mandatory one-day-a-week holiday, and some; most notably Indonesian maids; are only paid half the legal minimum wage by their employers who conspire with the domestic helper agency to defraud the maid for their own financial benefits. Many people believe that there is little to no racial discrimination in Hong Kong but at the same time consider the Philippino and Indonesian maids to be far beneath them. In many cases, the only difference between the maids and would-be-slaves is their salaries. It's cases like these that we see otherwise civilised people behaving more like animals than people. It's unfortunate and depressing.

Asih left us today to go back home and care for her own sick mother. We will miss her but we'll see her again soon. In September, she will be getting married, and I'll be there in her home town to see the wedding and share the occasion with her. It'll be great fun.

Like my father, I like to go to non-modern places, walk around, watch the people, and observe the architecture and environment. I don't mind sleeping on the floor. I don't mind not being able to stand in a shower to bathe. I don't mind that there isn't any air conditioning, and I don't mind eating different food. I love the experience.

It's rather disappointing that most tours from Hong Kong to any other place in the world try to organise Chinese food for the tour group. If you're travelling to another place, why aren't you trying the local food? In addition, the Chinese food that is arranged for the tour group is usually sub-standard to keep costs down. On the few tours that I've taken with my wife to various places in Asia, we've often chosen to leave the group during meals and find our own food. On at least one occasion, it saved us from indigestion. While we were eating authentic Indonesian Indian food, the tour group was eating bad seafood at a Chinese restaurant and they all came down with diarrhoea.

I leave for Indonesia in the middle of September. I'll be met at the Bali airport by Asih and her family and we'll then take a privately booked minibus for a seven-hour road trip to her home town. I'll be there for four days, just enough time to see the wedding and enjoy the scenery, after which I'll return to Bali to join my wife for another four days before coming back to Hong Kong. I'll be taking my camera so I'll have plenty of photos to show everyone when I get back.

We will miss her here though. Her energy and her happy personality lifted spirits in our home and that will be greatly missed. But I'm happy for her.

Take care Asih, and have a great life.

Jason (The pup, Part#4)

Filed in Dogs of our Lives

A couple of weeks ago, Jason was hit by a car. That's his name, Jason. We were trying to avoid naming him because it would mean that we'd end up keeping him, building an attachment to him that would be difficult to break. So instead of naming him, we were calling him "number 11" 「十一號」. It then occurred to me that this was worse than naming him because it inferred that he was going to be our eleventh dog, so we named him. I wanted to name him Lucky because I think he's been lucky to have met us, to have survived the screwworm flies and to have made it this far. My wife didn't like the name though so I asked her to come up with one of her own. She named him Jason.

We hadn't taken the time to train Jason on a leash. Actually, I had taken him out a few times on leash without any problems. He would tug hard in different directions, look back puzzled at the leash and then eventually realise that he wouldn't be getting away so he'd relax. Unfortunately, we normally take five dogs out at a time so adding Jason to the bunch was not an easy thing to do. I was ok with it because I'm a big guy but our helper wasn't up to the task. Nevertheless, Jason liked to follow us out on our daily walks.

Dad with Jason

It was while on one of these walks that Jason got hit by a car. The helper came back after the walk and told me how she heard him yelp and saw him do a summersault or two before getting up and bolting off down the road. He didn't come back and the helper couldn't find him.

That night, I walked down the road four times looking for him, calling his name and whistling for him as I walked. It was raining the fourth time I walked down but the air was warm and getting wet was not my primary concern.

I had to give up and come back home, hoping that he hadn't been seriously injured and that he hadn't collapsed from internal bleeding.

It rained heavily that night.

Around three in the morning, I heard his signature bark. Ever since we had him, he would race outside to take his walk and do his business and then race back to the outside of our garden gate and bark to let us know that he was back. Eventually, I was able to teach him to run around to the front gate where I'd let him in, but waiting and barking at the garden gate was still the first thing he'd do each time he returned.

I recognised the bark, went around to the garden gate and let him in. It was raining but he was fine. The next morning, we discovered in the better light that he had a scrape on his face, just above the cheek bone. Otherwise, he was in great health. This was one amazing dog. Sleeping tablets can't put him to sleep and cars can't kill him.

He was lucky. That incident with the car taught him to be wary of cars. Prior to that, he would walk all over the road, ignoring each and every car and truck that went past. It was as if they didn't exist and I worried about him often. Now, he was scared of the cars, so much so, that he refused to go with us on our walks. After getting to the top of the village road, we'd continue on our way and he'd backtrack back to the house and wait for us there.

Over the last couple of weeks, he has continued to improve, becoming less and less wild. He still likes to nip when he plays with us; especially me; but it's just fun and he's not trying to hurt anyone.

We placed advertisements to find a new home for him in the local ParknShop store, and on the windscreens of the cars parked in one of our village car parks but no one called.

Jason was staying with us.

Then a week ago, a young girl asked us about Jason. She knew an old lady who was looking for a new dog. One of her dogs had just died and the others were aging. She had had lots of experience with dogs so dealing with somebody as lively, strong, rough and playful as Jason wouldn't be a problem.

Yesterday, I silently took Jason out the front gate leaving everyone else at home. I opened the car door and he happily jumped in. It was difficult keeping him still and in the back seat while driving to the pier in Bak Sha Wan 白沙灣 but we arrived safe and sound.

We got out of the car and walked over to where the ParknShop store used to be. I couldn't see the girl who had organised to meet us there but she might have been late. We walked around a bit with Jason excitedly trying to go everywhere and smell everything all at the same time.

And then we saw the girl. She was waving at us and walking up from the end of the pier. We walked down to her. Her strong sun-tanned shirtless husband took Jason's leash from me and began walking him down toward the end of the pier. Jason didn't mind that somebody else was holding the leash and continued to try to go everywhere and smell everything.

When we arrived at the end of the pier, they began going down the stairs to a waiting motor boat. Jason was scared out of his mind because he'd never been on a boat before and never been down stairs near water. He did get on the boat though with some pulling from the man and he stood on one of the middle benches, slightly off balance but doing ok.

He was going to a new life, a life on a fish farm, something I'd never imagined. It wasn't going to be a posh life in a home with canned dog food. It was going to be a life where he wouldn't be allowed indoors, where he'd be eating rice and bread for most of his life, and where he'd probably have the best time of his life running around everywhere, getting exercise, playing with the other dogs and possibly riding boats with his new owners every chance he got.

Of course, what happens next is unknown to me. I can only hope that he'll be fine but I instinctively feel that he'll have a wonderful life.

I miss him though. It was a tough time we had together; meeting him on the road, trying to get him to the vet, teaching him not to bite so hard, to be softer and easier with us humans and trying to teach him to be a better dog.

I watched the boat with its single bright light as it headed out to sea under the darkening sky. For ten minutes, I watched before it turned left around an island and disappeared from sight.

I sought out the girl today and asked her about Jason. She said he's fine. He's tied up away from the other dogs to prevent fighting at this early stage but he's eating well and not making any noise. They're quite surprised by his good nature.

She said I can visit him. I'll give him two weeks to adjust and accept his new environment and owners, and then I'll visit.

It'll be great to see him again.

SPCA Angels for Animals nomination

Filed in Dogs of our Lives

遠道由澳洲而嚟嘅特產 - “我”,今次專程上到丹麥名產 呢架可能係世界上最好嘅的士,為嘉士伯fans提供港式「吹水」服務,仲介紹各款地道港式食物,話俾大家知究竟香港可以幾國際化得嚟又本土。立即上我Facebook睇full version啦!

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可唔可以有澳式魚蛋

SPCA Angels for Animals nomination

Filed in Dogs of our Lives

My wife and I have been nominated as SPCA Angels for Animals this year. We will be talking about our pet and animal relationships at Tai Po on August 7, 2005.

I have made comments about the SPCA is past articles. Those comments are unfortunately true, but I have been able to talk to various people at the SPCA and have found out more about what happens at the SPCA and why with regards to abandoned animals. I'll write more about this later.

Ouch!

Filed in Current Affairs, Hong Kong

The price of petrol has just gone up in Hong Kong; again. We're now paying HK$12.66 per litre for normal grade petrol and HK$13.44 for high grade petrol. It's very expensive here but the oil companies don't mind increasing the price every chance they get anyway.

The latest excuse for increasing the price was the world wide cost of oil which recently hit US$61 per barrel, possibly the most expensive it's ever been. It's good and it's bad.

Caltex & Esso

It's good because it means that people will be more conscientious about the cars they buy and how much petrol they consume. It's good because more people will begin buying hybrid cars which are more environmentally friendly but still a little more expensive than a straight petrol burning car. It's good because institutions and companies working on engines that burn water rather than petrol will have more funding and more opportunities to finish their developments and release the final product onto the market.

It's bad because it's affecting the world economy. With higher oil prices, the only winners are the oil distributors and drilling companies. Everyone else loses. Companies' profits decrease. People have to spend more on petrol leaving less for other purchases. Overall, people have less to spend and that hurts the economy and everyone working within the economy. That's why the stock market is still not returning to healthy normal levels; although healthy might not be the proper word to use for a market where almost every company is over-rated.

Current petrol prices For years, we have heard rumours of people, inventors and companies who have worked on alternative engines, who have made progress and then been either bought out by the oil cartels or assassinated by the oil cartels when they refused to sell their inventions. Today's world is probably twenty years behind what it could have been in technological advancement if all of the world's inventions were allowed to be used and produced, including countless inventions not related to engines. Has anyone heard of the light bulb invented in Japan that doesn't burn out? No replacements needed. That was bought out real quick.

Another rumoured invention was that of an advanced passenger aircraft invented by a scientist in Holland, apparently for the U.S. government. The aircraft used advanced technologies to fly from Europe to the U.S. in just a few hours. That kind of invention wouldn't last long in today's world though. With all of the airlines heavy in debt paying large mortgages on their current aircraft, the last thing they'd want to see is a new airline using planes that can fly four times faster for the same price. They'd all be out of business quicker than you can fry an egg, and the banks holding their mortgages definitely wouldn't like that. Boeing wouldn't like it either and since they're best friends with the U.S. government, nothing that could hurt Boeing's earnings would be allowed onto the market without a major war.

HK$12.66 is a lot of money to pay for petrol. Our car is a very comfortable albeit slightly ageing car with a three litre engine. To drive my wife to work in the morning costs around HK$83 including tunnel fees. That's a little shocking. It's no wonder smart people use the public transport here when they can. Add to that the cost of parking should you want to park your car at or near the office and you'd need to be a millionaire to survive through the year.

As a rule, there is no free parking in Hong Kong unless you're in the countryside. Parking in the city costs anywhere from HK$20 to HK$30 and more per hour. A few car parks even charge HK$50 per hour. That's a lot of money. During SARS and the economic depression, people stopped driving so competition began increasing among car parks. Consequently, a few things occurred. First, the hourly fee came down; just a little. Second, the car parks began using deceptive advertising. Their fee boards at the car park entrance would show the fee in large friendly letters. It was only after turning into the car park enough that you couldn't back out again that you would discover that the large friendly fee was per half hour, not per hour. It's now common for all car parks to advertise half hour fees rather than hourly fees. In some ways, it's good for the drivers because we can pay per half hour rather than per hour. Overall however, it's still more expensive than it used to be. Some car parks are now charging per quarter hour with a minimum charge of one hour. That gets rather complicated to calculate if you're in a hurry.

The charge-per-half-hour method used by the car parks is similar to the deceptive pricing methods used by the local supermarket chains, most notably ParknShop; owned and run by the infamous Li Ka Shing. They frequently put products on 'special'. If they change the prices frequently enough, people lose track and begin to think the prices really are special when they've actually been increased. My wife and I only buy a few things from ParknShop so we have excellent mental tracking of the prices. For some products, we watch for the fair dinkum discounts and then buy enough to last until the next discount; for example, washing powder and long life milk (fresh milk is way too expensive here).

Everybody loves to increase their prices. The local banks just announced service charge increases due to 'increasing operation costs' even though they continue to profit billions of dollars every year (which is why we keep our savings in bank equities rather than bank accounts). Oil companies increase their prices all the time, usually in response to crude oil price fluctuations. Unfortunately for us, they almost never decrease their prices, even when the crude oil prices fall. Anyone want to guess what the oil companies will do should the crude oil price come back down to US$50 per barrel?