Friday, July 30, 2004

Kitty rage

MacDonalds here has started another Hello Kitty promotion. Kitties of various colours (the colours of summer) are available to those who pay eight dollars extra on top of a meal. Along with the kitties, employees are wearing t-shirts saying 'Don't you just love Summer?' Probably not that much, considering the strength of the air-con inside the store. I'm sure the slogan has been transported from somewhere a little less sweaty.

I made a rare trip into MacDonalds last night to try the new green bean Sundae. It took me about five minutes to get served because a girl in front of me was doing extreme theatrics at the counter. She was about my age and was standing together with a very overwhelmed and intimidated looking boyfriend. The interaction between her and the cashier and then the manager went like this:

Girl: I want the black kitty.
Cashier:I'm sorry, the black kitty is unavailable, you can have a red or a green.
Girl: I want the black kitty!
Cashier: Sorry but you can't buy that now. You can only get the red or green one
(at this point the manager approaches)
Manager: Sorry, what is the problem?
Girl: (pouting) I want the black kitty.
Manager: I'll just bring you the red and the green one so you can choose which you like.
(manager fetches the red and green and girl spends some time in disinterested observation)
Manager: So, which one do you like?
Girl: I like the black one!

This last utterance was given three times with increasing volume as she alternately looked from the manager to the boyfriend and pouted. Finally the cashier decided to serve me while the girl contintued to look at the red and green kitties.

The green bean sundae had a pleasantly high green bean/syrup ratio (the advertisement had me worried) but the sauce was still too sweet.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

There's a long thin winding stairway without any banister...

Over the last few weeks numbers have been getting huge at the daily breakfasts at work. In response I have taken a tip from Nigerian political history and stepped up my Buhari style 'War on Indiscipline'. Tidiness is stricly enforced and everything is rationed. Gone is the buffet style breakfast we used to offer. In its place, clients have to que at the kitchen door to recieve their plates of food and portion of milk for their tea. Coffee no longer exists and fruit was limited to half a banana each today. Though bread and pastries are abundant, margarine and jam are limited to one pot and one tub respectively per day. It's tough but I'm on a budget.

Earlier this week some visitors asked if our clients have much education. The following conversation occurred this morning at breakfast:

- Mr Joe, have you read anything by Charles Dickens?
- Yes, why?
- Are you familiar with the story of "Oliver Twist"
- Yes (realising where this is leading...)
- You see, these days I am getting hungrier and hungrier but I am afraid of the reaction if I express my need. You know what happened in the novel. I don't want to risk the becoming of such a situation.
- Of course you don't. What type of bread do you want?
- That one here is fine. Thank you very much.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Tragedy and death in Ye Olde China

I went to see a new Mandarin film on Sunday. 'The House of Flying Daggers' is a martial arts film set in the Tang Dynasty. It's about two and a half characters (one is very poorly sketched) caught in conflict between the empire and an underground alliance from which the film takes its name. Like most of the Mandarin films that I have ever seen (about five) it left me feeling greatly relieved that I studied Hindi instead of Mandarin.

Hindi films are famed for their overly happy endings. When the hero dies (very, very rarely) it is not uncommon for him to be reincarnated so that he can be reunited with the heroine (or her reincarnation). In Mandarin films there seems to be a genre rule that all the main characters must die unfulfilled in very tragic circumstances.

THOFD treads a bizarre line between romance and violence 'Because you love him and not me I have to kill you' and the romance tends towards the extremely tacky 'I thought you were as hot as fire but you're as cold as ice'. If I'd seen 'Kill Bill' maybe I could say that it is KB meets soap opera set in a selection of differently coloured Chinese forests. The beatiful scenery and cool costumes certainly were the main redeeming features for me.

The other strange thing about the film was the severe 'Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon' hangover. Apart from a repetition of Zhang Ziyi as the heroine (playing a similar role), there are a couple of scenes directly lifted from the previous film. Maybe it's a genre feature of historical martial arts films but a scene where ZZ bathed in the wilderness while the long haired hero made noise to prove he is too far away to see was deja-vu all over again.

All in all, it was well summed up by the stifled laughter in the violent climax sequence and the lady behind me who muttered 'crazy!' in Cantonese at regular two minute intervals.

Saturday, July 17, 2004


I just saw an older lady with a t-shirt:
'I want be supermodel
Can you teach me.
I'll be on the lookout for one.
Meanwhile Hong Kong is recovering from yesterday's brush with typhoon Kompasu. It didn't get too close but it did cause a typhoon no. 8 signal which meant that people got to go home from work. I stayed at work but I called Daisy to ask her to shut my windows. I've left a set of keys in her shop to avoid me having to access via the bathroom window again.
I referred all the homeless asylum seekers to a typhoon shelter because I knew that they don't check for ID or passports. I just found out that there was a big drama in the shelter with the arrival of the police and then the media. Apparently a couple of them got interviewed so I'm waiting to see if something turns up in the newspaper.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

More bread

I've now been picking up the new donated bread for two weeks. It's really nice stuff and there is a lot of it. The chocolate croissant that I ate this morning was particularly delicious.

Since we now have have more than we need for breakfast we have started a new program. Anyone who wants bread in the evening can come and pick up a small bag between 5:30 and 6pm.

When I announced this last week I made it clear that people can't eat the evening time bread in our centre. There are usually classes going on at that time and a second mealtime would induce chaos.

When I announced the arrangement someone called it 'take away'. More like 'take and go away' I said. The name stuck and people now turn up at 5:30 saying 'Mr Joe, I want to take and go away'.

Rules make life so easy. So does free bread.

Friday, July 09, 2004

'The little colostomy bag that could'

Earlier this week we had a long anticipated raid by police who claimed to have had a complaint that there was someone on our premises without a valid visa. Ha ha. Just the one dear?

We have a policy of not opening the door to police but on that occasion a client (and a visa-less one at that!) had already let them in. Seeing the police, my colleague leapt up and stretched out his arms across the hallway, blocking them from entering any further.

One officer then tried to push past but my colleague lifted up his shirt to show his colostomy bag, the result of a recent operation. He warned them that they better not try to force past him.

It was then that the senior officer lifted up his own shirt, 'you call that a colostomy bag? THIS is a colostomy bag...'

No, just kidding. On seeing the colostomy bag the officers stayed where they were and agreed to speak to our boss on the telephone. I don't know if it was sympathy, shock or fear of a legal suit but they left and the colostomy seemed to have saved the clients who were in at the time.

The next morning one of them said to me 'Sir, yesterday Mr B stop police. If no, police arrest me. (If) Sir here, what sir do?'. I confessed that sir probably wouldn't have produced such a good result.

Anyway, yay to Bill and his colostomy bag. I did seek his permission to write about it seeing that he reads this blog :)

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Elaine and Bill Clinton

A few weeks ago I went to pay my rent and had a nasty shock when the real estate agent, Elaine, told me the amount of my electricity bill. Since my room is one of four in a subdivided apartment, the real estate agent takes charge of the account with the company and charges the tenants at her own (increased) rate using small meters installed outside our respective doors.

I protested that I could not possibly have used that much electricity since I hadn't used the water heater or the air conditioner all month. Realising that she was looking at the usage for room A and not room D, she apologised and recalculated my bill as $HK18. She couldn't believe the amount and recalculated twice, only to find out that she was correct the first time.

I assured her that I use very little electricity and her disappointment at her dismal cut was overtaken by the first sympathetic feeling I have seen her express towards any being other than her cats. She looked me in the eyes and said, 'poor boy, so young and so hard life...'

Anyway, after a couple of weeks the heat became too much and last week I decided that I would start using the air conditioner at night. Even on a low setting it worked too well in my little room and I woke up in the middle of the night last Thursday very cold and searching out my blanket from the wardrobe.

I came home from work the next day sniffing and by Saturday I had fever. I then settled down for several days recovery at home with nothing in the way of entertainment except Bill Clinton's autobiography, lent to me by a friend just a few days before. Unable to sleep properly, I spent two days drifting between reading and shallow sleep filled with nightmares that I was about to be defeated in the Arkansas Democratic primaries by an evil but popular segregationist. Luckily my health has recovered before Lewinsky et al. entered the plot.

On Sunday night I thought I was past the worst part but I woke up after an hour of sleep feeling sicker than ever. I was convinced that it was the feeling of imminent death from SARS, avian influenza or something else that you can catch by pressing lift buttons that haven't been wiped with bleach since they were pushed by a farm animal from Southern China. I dragged myself downstairs and found one of my friends in the park to go with me to hospital.

After a whole range of tests the doctor pronounced that it was just flu. I must have looked very disappointed because she looked at me and then came back with five different types of symptomatic medication which I'm planning to donate to the clinic at work. Actually I was upset that I'd suffered nothing more than the effects of Sudden Acute Desire For Air Conditioned Extravagance.

More on Bill Clinton's very detailed autobiography later...

Friday, July 02, 2004


I'm so excited! After a few rejections and a lot of waiting, I just got a phone call from a classy bakery who have agreed to donate us leftover bread.

This means an end to the mouldy bread we are getting third hand from another charity. It also means (hopefully) an end to me slaving over hot porridge only to drown in the subsequent flood of complaints.

Not only is the bakery very classy but it's also conveniently located, less than ten minutes walk from Chungking (Gateway, for those in the know). Plus they want us to collect before nine in the morning, perfect timing for breakfast. I can't wait for this weekend to be over so that I can go and do the first pick up on Monday!

Now I'm just waiting for my boss to fork out $HK500 for a thirty person rice cooker...