Expat@Large

Hongkers Time

Posted in Hong Kong, long time no post, work by expatatlarge on April 9, 2012

E@L feels comfortably at home with the jarring discomfort as his rattling red taxi bounces from tram-track to barely-repaired pothole down Queens Road West towards his hotel in Sai Wan. (Sai Wan? you scream, WTF are doing out there?).

He is trying to get a 3G signal is what. What is with this place and roaming?

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E@L may have time to relate somethings about this breif sojourn to his old stomping grounds tonight (it is lunch-time now, nearly the hour upon which he has to turn up at work – a seminar in one of the big hospitals just up the hill.)

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Time. How to measure it? Why to measure it? E@L was on the walking machine thingie at the gym for the last 4000 drops of water, half an incense stick and several cms fall in a iron ball attached to an escapement mechanism listening to this…

IOT with Melvyn Bragg

Measurement of Time 29 Mar 12
Thu, 29 Mar 12
Duration:
42 mins
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the measurement of time. Early civilisations used the movements of heavenly bodies to tell the time, then mechanical clocks emerged in Europe in the medieval period. For hundreds of years clocks were inaccurate but now atomic clocks are capable of keeping time to a second in 15 million years. Melvyn Bragg is joined by Kristen Lippincott, Former Director of the Royal Observatory, Greenwich; Jim Bennett, Director of the Museum of the History of Science at the University of Oxford and Jonathan Betts, Senior Curator of Horology at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich.

Podcast – 20MB)

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Horology. There’s a term to conjure with.

OK talk to you a leap-second later, your favorite horologist,

E@L

Laos Trip – And Cambodia or Not?

Posted in cambodia, holidays, Izzy, laos, work by expatatlarge on November 13, 2011

Early next year The Croatia Backpacking Team (TCBT) (+1) are planning on a reunion tour of Cambodia and Laos. Izzy and The Tall Man will be crashing at E@LGHQ over New Years Eve.

I am concerned about the timing of this however, as it means I will be out town for close to 6 weeks, from the week before Xmas in Australia (at home with the FLOs), OK, NYE in Singapore (yawn), then there is the Indochine trip, and finally I am booked (and paid up) for a ski trip to Sapporo over Chinese New Year.

Yes, I hear you crying for me. Life’s a bitch for Expats.

In order not to upset the people who pay me so outrageously, I have been thinking that I really should be available at least sometime in that period, so I was pushing lips close together, scrunching up my shoulders and 99% decided to be somewhere near the office in the first week of the year. This means that I would be forced (by my own decision) to skip the Cambodia section of the tour and only meet up with the TCBT in Luang Prabang in southern Laos on the 10th. Have never been to Laos, so…

Part of my reasoning for not being too concerned about missing Angkor Wat, etc… is that I had a holiday in Cambodia 11 years ago. We (my friend Homey and I) had a mildly happy pizza, stayed at the Sharaton[sic] hotel and I paid way to much for a worker in the AEI from the ‘Disco Club’ in the basement (immensely gross and amusing story about this), and we had a great time overall. Got a $5 shopping bag of dope, looked for AK-47s in the market but didn’t see any, were stunned into silence by the horror, the horror of the Tuol Sleng museum.

At Siem Reap we were hijacked from the airport by a taxi-driver called No-one (his parents were killed in the Killing Fields, no reason to dispute this, and he was never named), and I say hijacked as I saw, as we drove away, three other cardboard greeting signs with my name on them. This was back in 2000, just as the new tourist hotels were under construction. We did the usual circuit of temples with No-name as a guide, stared the Bayon faces, stood next to the wall swallowing roots of the giant figs. In those days elephants were walking across the bricks of certain temples, you had to clamber up muddy slopes and grasp at exposed tree roots to get up to the Wat across the way from Angkor, the road across the river was only partly restored and Angeline Jolie hadn’t yet raced through the non-existent water-market on a jet-ski (or whatever)…

But I’m having second thoughts about my conscientious inclinations, my loyal employee guilts. This is because I have been re-reading the notes from a friend of mine who did an extensive trip into Cambodia and Vietnam in August. Due to work commitments (new product cross-training, couldn’t avoid it!) I missed his 50th birthday party in Sihanoukville. He had a great time, met his current girlfriend in Vietnam, and did some fascinating travel writing – he loves his food in case you don’t notice – and this has whet my appetite for repeating the trip to Cambodia after all. (As has looking back at the astoundingly poor quality of my old photos – nts: bring the good camera this time!) And then there’s something about the prospect of 50c beers and $1 massages…

So, sigh, thinking seriously of dropping the idea of the lone week at work after all and taking the entire month off for a trip with my dearly beloved TCBT.

E@L

On The Road Agin’

Posted in travel trouble, work by expatatlarge on July 18, 2011

I had three days in Barcelona. Then I spent some time in Berlin with a friend from Singapore who’s living in Lubeck. Two weeks in Croatia with Izzy et al: Split, Brac, Hvar, Korčula, Dubrovnik (clubbing with Izzy and Vicky, time of my life and no chemicals). That was OK, that was brilliant.

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From those heady days in the sun and rain, I came back for two weeks work in Thailand; Chiang Mai, Khon Kaen, Bangkok. Stepped off the plane then and turned around for two weeks in Australia: Sydney, Brisbane, Sydney again and back for a day in the Gold Coast.

I’ve just finished(? No i haven’t!) packing for the next trip, five days in Tokyo. After that it’s three days in Bangkok. And after that three weeks in Australia. Followed by another week in Bangkok giving training on a product I won’t have played with except for one of the three days coming up…

I tried to count the Singapore (home) days in this period but I have too many fingers to get a number even close.

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Once upon a time I would have been astounded by a schedule like this, and yes, the Europe trip was off the edge of the Holy Scale of Greatness, but this jumping around for work is a pain.

I can’t do any tourist stuff (not that un-jaded enough to really care about that – one more night market and I’ll go… somewhere else) and I am usually left to my own devices.

That is dangerous because I tend to turn my thoughts inwards and get philosophical. OK, I get a bit … I was going to say depressed, but that’s harsh. Things are sad when you are by yourself for a extended periods in the evenings in unfamiliar hotels. You feel sad. Lonely. If it wasn’t for the constant sex it would be depressing.

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A boy from little old Geelong going to all these places? Amazing. Sometime I lie by the pool, any pool, anywhere, but preferably and rarely by the pool at my apartment, and smile for no obvious reason, even permit myself a small giggle. This is my expat life, how can I complain?

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A drive to Melbourne, Colac (mother’s family’s home town) or Ballarat was a big deal when I was kid. When a cousin moved to Queensland, there were hushed debates and whispered discussions at family gatherings (the usual hatches, matches and dispatches). Bit funny, that. Why would you go all the way to Brisbane? Strange man.

btw: Sex for sale in Geelong was to be had at Lorraine Starr’s massage parlour and exclusive (homeless bums usually not permitted) brothel. Several of my cricket team members held gold cards for the place.

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OK, it’s midnight, enough waffling (to keep myself off Facebook), back to packing as the flight is at 9am. Trying to decide what I’ll forget this time. [My Suica card – Japan rail card with stored credit.]

E@L

A Typical Morning’s Work

Posted in breakfast, Thailand, travel trouble, work by expatatlarge on June 27, 2011

What is it with breakfast?

Take the breakfast buffet as the Pullman in Khon Kaen. There is enough food here for the hungry German participants in a major convention, but there is no major convention. There are about four of us. Huge serves of veggies, salads, meats, soups, cheese, fish (last night’s sushi? no thanks) are lying untouched in bain-maries and on plates all around the place. Who is going to eat all this?

Let E@L think of the mathematical description of this inverted homeopathic situation — How about the ratio of unnecessary food to guests decreases according to the inverse exponential of the number of guests. A graph that slides from a number approaching infinity at the Y-axis (when there are zero guests) in a curve down to the X-axis (Y=0) as the number of guests approaches an appropriate number for the amount of food, and it then goes -Y when there is not enough breakfast. (Tom, am I anywhere near right?)

E@L makes barely a dent in this Siamese Babette’s feast. He has a bowl of muesli, diced fruit and yoghurt, and he dehydrates two pieces of wholemeal bread in the “toaster”. (What? No Vegemite?) The seventeen staff give him a Sawadee as he leaves for his 9am pick-up.

Outside, the poor struggle for 30Bht or so to get a bowl of noodle soup or a som-tam at the roadside stalls (and bloody delicious they are too).

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E@L’s sales guy has a gleaming black Beemer. It looks new, but shows 260,000km on the clock. He drives like Mark Webber in pole position, and E@L is thrown several centimetres into the faux leather seat as we accelerate up the nearly empty main street. This is OK except that the dashboard displays a *CHECK BRAKE FLUID LEVEL* warning in read-me red. E@L points this out.

“Fluid leaking, ABS dual system,” he says.

“Are we able to stop?” E@L asks, somewhere between amused and fearful for his life.

“Yes,” he replies and smiles. E@L wonders about emergency evacuation to Singapore.

That conversation was a lot of English for him. Almost everything E@L says to him is answered with a faux smile and “Yes.” E@L is not saying this as a criticism, as his Thai, despite 13 years of visiting Thailand is a pathetic nit noi, mak.

“I couldn’t get to sleep last night. There is a club somewhere, boom boom boom, music,” complains E@L as a way of making conversation in the dreadfully quiet car.

“Yes.”

“Are there girls there?”

He is silent.

“Girls, ladies, at the club?”

“Club? Ladies, yes,” he says and smiles again.

E@L’s evening is sorted.

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True to form for E@L’s hospital visits to inconveniently distant places, the customer will not be available until tomorrow. “You free morning,” he says. “I pick you afternoon, we go KKU.”

They head back to town, but E@L sees the turn-off to his hotel whiz by.

“Where are we going?” E@L asks.

“Service. Car brake problem.”

“Well, do you really expect me to sit and wait for your brakes to be fixed?”

“Yes,” he says. It that yes, I do want you to wait, or yes, as in I have no idea what you just asked?

“Can’t you take me back to the hotel?”

“You want go hotel?”

E@L nods with an incredulous eyebrow raised.

“OK, I pick you up afternoon.”

“What time?” E@L asks.

“Yes,” he answers.

E@L holds up his watch and tap it. “What time will you pick me up?”

He smiles and nods, he gets it. “Seven,” he says. He corrects himself, “Twenty o’clock.” Then again, “Twelve.”

E@L smiles and pats him on the shoulder. “OK, see you midday.”

“Yes,” he says.

~~~~~~~~~~

E@L has time to write this blog and to charge all of his gadgets. Excellently typical morning on the road in Thailand.

E@L

The Best Of Times, The Worst Of Times.

Posted in AK-47, Bangkok, beggars, capitalism, Dickens, soldiers, work by expatatlarge on October 10, 2010

Every day I walk past where a leather-faced, one-legged woman sits on the footpath. I think of her as old, but she might be my age or she might even be my mother’s age. Her skin is so dark. There are several men in pink/orange vests hanging around nearby, drivers for the motor-cycle taxi “stand” under the steps to the elevated crossway. They hog the shade and chat. She sits on a piece of cloth, next to a phone-booth, in the sun. (I count nine public phone booths in this section of footpath.) Her good leg is tucked underneath and her plastic prosthesis is extended into the path to draw attention, but to not block anyone, well not much. She holds her mug out in the stumps of leprosied fingers. Sometimes I drop some coins, 10 or 15Bht, or maybe a 20Bht note into the cup. No-one else does this that I have seen, not even the Buddhist Thais. I am her target demographic.

I take the SkyTrain down to Asok, change to the MTR underground and head to Silom for a day at Chula Hospital. Soldiers in camouflage uniforms, hard black hats with tight chin-straps, large guns, shiny boots and gaiters. There are security gates, metal detectors. One soldier waves me away from the glass-enclosed entrance foyer. All the doors are blocked, save one in the basement of the car-park. He indicates for me to go around. I say no: I must wait for someone here, but he insists. I too insist though I don’t have a gun to support my argument. There are some chairs near a drinks machine and some soldiers are taking a rest. I indicate that I will join them, wait here. I take a copy of the IHT out of my Samsonite satchel in order to finish the Sudoku puzzle I had started at the breakfast buffet in The Landmark. The resting soldiers smile and nod hello. One moves over a seat to give me room, moves his AK-47, so polite. The soldier who had tried to get me to go to the other door waves to say it’s OK, he smiles. The Royal Niece is upstairs having her goitre removed.

I come back via Siam Station in the early evening, change trains around 6 o’clock. Music plays over a public speaker and thousands of commuters stop, everyone a statue. It seems weird to me, this frozen state, this nationalism.

At the very top of the stairs that I take down from the Nana station is a Sootra juice and herb drinks stall with a display of brightly colored plastic bottles of juices in crushed ice, and more in a refrigerator behind the server. I indicate a bottle of the chilled passion-fruit and beetroot juice, for 20Bht. The server is on her mobile phone, talking. She is only watching me out of the corner of her eye while she places a bottle in a plastic bag and takes the 20Bht note I offer.

At the bottom of the steps another beggar, a much younger woman, is seated. She holds a cup towards me in wai-ing hands and pleads with big eyes. She has a comatose infant draped across her lap. I walk past her, glowering, whatever change I have loose (maybe 20Bht) is still in my pocket. Within a second I feel guilty for my disgust and a second after that, I don’t. I was unjustly accusing her with my glare and no doubt it made her feel bad, or maybe not. I know that while it is not her fault that she is so desperately poor that she has been given this drugged child to hold in order to grab at my sympathies and that post-colonial (not that Thailand was ever colonized) guilt, and that neither she nor the child will never see again any of the money that is placed in her cup.

As I slide past the motorcycle-taxi drivers, I hear a cackling laugh up ahead. The drivers are sauntering, hovering from foot to foot, joking with someone. It seems weird too, like there was stand-up routine and I couldn’t understand the patter. The cackle is coming from the one-legged beggar, still in her place by the phone-booth. She spoons some curry out of a plastic bag into her toothless mouth, grins gleefully back at her friends, the laughing drivers.

We are all in this together, we all have a role to play, we are all doing our jobs in the Dickensian City of Angels.

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Two years ago in Rangoon, I met a toothpick-thin, boisterous young Burmese man called Somerset. He had conferred this nickname on himself at age sixteen, after renting a collection of stories by W. Somerset Maugham from one of the bookstalls on Pansodan Road. By memorizing sentences from the collection, Somerset taught himself a somewhat formal and archaic English. Then he moved on to Charles Dickens. His identification with the works of these long-dead British writers was total. “All of those characters are me,” Somerset explained. “Neither a British nor American young man living in the twenty-first century can understand a Dickens as well as I can. I am living in a Dickens atmosphere. Our country is at least one or two centuries behind the Western world. My neighborhood—bleak, poor, with small domestic industries, children playing on the street, the parents are fighting with each other, some are with great debt, everyone is dirty. That is Dickens. In that Dickens atmosphere I grew up. I am more equipped to understand Dickens than modern novels. I don’t know what is air conditioning, what is subway, what is fingerprint exam.” Dickens In Lagos – Lapham’s Quarterly

.

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E@L

Smaller Is Beautifuller

Posted in beer, capitalism, economics, stuff I should shutup about, vegemite, work by expatatlarge on April 4, 2010

There was great show about the decline of British industry on BBC TV just a minute ago, but on their website they say something else was broadcast. Did I really see it? Did it makes a noise? It certainly did.

The final concept on the show, after all the gloom of walking through the empty shells of extinct (read gone overseas) industries, was ‘sustainable capitalism’, supposedly based on the lessons of nature!?

It ended with interviews with the managers of several small companies in West Wales (that hub of business innovation) which work towards the optimization of profit and the flexibility that offers, rather than trying to screw everybody tight in order to maximize profits, i.e. to become uber-rich through shares and fantastic bonuses while everyone else becomes unemployed. They say that this latter goal gives big companies no room to move and, it goes without saying (though I’ll say it), destroys familiar social standards.

How? One major culprit in this fragmentation, but by no means the only one, is the effects of the global labour pool, of which I too am a participant. Because of this traditional jobs and career paths fall away and the family unit is broken apart when the breadwinners have to move around continually to find work. Not to mention the boom in coolie Asian or East European labour (though I’ll mention it).

And then there is the destruction of the environment which is never factored in to these companies’ bottom-line equations, and the bringing on of the end of the world as we know it, resulting the bleak choking post-apocalyptic death of our grandchildren (if the No.1 son and GF ever get a move on).

No, it is not communism. It is common sense.

And it’s not new. Small IS beautiful.

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It seems true to me anyway.

Until our uber-rich bonus-bloated aging CEO of the company that was my first expat posting stood to receive $35m in the deal, enough to fund his retirement home in the penthouse of the Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong, allowed it to be swallowed by the K-Mart of medical giants Philips, the first small(ish) company that I worked for was brilliant, apart from the traitorous CEO obviously. Everyone knew everybody (except the CEO); it was a casual Seattle-based environment; paperwork was minimal; unhelpful “management trainings” were eschewed; things got done through casual requests to the key people; employees stayed in their chosen roles for as long as they wished and therefore maintained a high level of expertise and then thy moved up if they wanted to, through their skill and experience and (for those who could find him) sucking up to the CEO.

Other companies called it “the farm” because of its laid-back attitude.

Everything in Philips was, by contrast, all glass and blue steel, formal and impersonal: they never knew what my skills actually were – REAL manager in an area I knew nothing about? no fucking way! – and the back-stabbing (including by the CEO) and politics was claustrophobic. The only benefit I gained from Philips was that I met some wonderful people, many of whom are still great friends, despite my move to Singapore.

But my current role in this small(er than Philips) Japanese company is much like I had in the farm. Apart from the games I play on my business card (I managed [ho! I must be a manager after all] to get away with claiming a bullshit “manager” role last time), nothing much happens formally except as one would expect within the structural anachronism of the Japanese company; paperwork is non-existent to minimal; they respect my actual skills and try to leverage them and I hope to have this low-stress job for as long as I want it (and the Yen eventually comes down). If my company goes under, it will be because it over-reaches itself in tough markets like Australia and the US, where Philips reigns due to its median-level pricing and the good technologies (all from one great [French Canadian] engineer, actually] that were inherited from my previous company.

It is in the lunge to get bigger that most smaller business fail.

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Or maybe, in the interest of destroying the global labour market from within, I should go back home now, give up my low-stress job and my *immense* salary (no shares, no bonuses) and tax benefits so I can be marginally employed, watch the five channels of Australian free-to-air television, wash down my vegemite sandwiches with VB, pick fights in pubs and argue with the neighbours, in the great Aussie social tradition?

At least they speak English there (depending upon my choice of suburb).

E@L