Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Easter Greetings and Flickr Galleries...

As Easter is fast approaching, I just want to wish you all a lovely long weekend :) Stay warm and dry wherever you are, and hope the weekend brings you lots of fun as well as a bit of respite.

I would like to leave you with some beautiful images I have curated from my kind Flickr contacts that are quite apposite for this time of the year. Please click on the links below to access these Flickr galleries directly.

Happy Easter :D

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Christ I spoke too soon!

About the springy good weather that is. Can't believe it is actually SNOWING outside now!!!!

Weather Update at 18:38: (I guess I should have paid more attention to weather news!!)
Irish Times: Winter Weather Expected to Return (Monday 29th March)
"After the clement and spring-like conditions of recent weeks Met Éireann forecaster Siobhán Ryan has warned people in all areas to expect a "shock to the system" as temperatures plummet from double figures to just three degrees."

Irish Times: Snow Likely Today in Many Parts (Tuesday 30th March)
"With just one day left in the month March is set to follow January and February as months with below-average temperatures making it one of the coldest first quarters of the year on record."

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Monday, March 29, 2010

Celebrating the beauty of Nature...

Our Spring this year was long overdue but finally, after much dreariness, it arrived with a bang, with much-missed birdsongs and much-welcomed sunshine and daffodils.

The beautiful weather also finally got me motivated to start on my spring cleaning this weekend (I had been meaning to do it at the beginning of March rather than at the end, but it was far too cold and miserable earlier this month). Chief tasks included the sowing of seeds and bulbs I got before and after Christmas (in addition to the usual herb seeds, I shall also attempt to grow salad leaves and tomatoes this year), the re-potting of the new plants that I got -- Lily of the Valley, two Gooseberry Invictus, Chinese Lantern and Japanese Pink Peony -- as well as re-potting my existing herbs (chillies and basil, both of these have been a little sickly) and my trusty calla lilies (these have been showing lovely green leaves by themselves despite my almost complete lack of attention over the winter months, reaffirming themselves as my truly most loyal plants).

I finally got myself enough new pots and planters for my greenery (though it baffles me why planters very seldom come with drainage holes these days, requiring the use of plasticky planter pots or my scrounging around for pebbles), but as always with gardening, I tend to dream up new things I "desperately need" each time I set down to work, and at the present time that translates to a good pair of gardening gloves. I would LOVE a good pair of gardening gloves like these gorgeous pink ones in support of Breakthrough Breast Cancer.

Will be posting pictures of how my old and new plants get on later on once I got them all nicely tucked in their little pots. In the meantime though, you have all got to watch this, the below video is absolutely inspiring:

If any of you have read Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, you would remember the Fibonacci sequence being a key to solving one of the murder puzzles. Here, rather than cheapening the mathematical sequence as a mere plot device in a third-rate popular novel, the glory of the Fibonacci sequence is properly presented in this short movie as one of the central keys underpinning nature's designs (along with the Golden Ratio and the Golden Angle, the mathematical theories behind which are clearly and helpfully explained on the film's website complete with even more elegant graphics!).

This short puts me in mind of one of my favourite places in the world, Barcelona, a city famed for its Gaudi architecture, which is in turn inspired by the beautiful geometry of nature. I remember being strangely moved by the amateurish-but-painstaking, Blue Peter-like quality of the hand-made exhibits showcasing nature's influence on Gaudi's work in the museum located at the Sagrada Familia, the huge Roman Catholic cathedral that is a big tourist trap and remains to this date a huge construction site (it is to the city's credit that, despite bureaucratic wrangling, financial troubles, and differences of architectural opinions, it perseveres, for more than a hundred years since the cathedral first started, to complete Gaudi's masterpiece, and aim to have the Sagrada Familia completed by 2026, the 100th anniversary of Gaudi's death).

(Below are some photos I've taken of Gaudi's architecture from a trip a good few years back, including the Sagrada Familia, Parc Guell, and Casa Mila. My favourite photo was of course this one I took at Parc Guell).

It is therefore no surprise to me that it is a Spanish artist, Cristobal Vila, who is behind the above mesmerizing video, as the inspiration is all around him in the modernist Spanish architecture exemplified by Gaudi's work. The music in the video is Wim Mertens’ “Often A Bird”, a very springy tune in its own right, and melds perfectly with the beautiful visualisations realised by Vila at his Eterea Studio. This short film is released earlier this month (13th March 2010). I can't wait to see what else he would be coming up with next :)

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Sunday, March 28, 2010

You go tell them bro!

Click on the image or go directly here to open it as a properly sized file. [Warning: file contains extremely foul language]

Reading the above is sweet, sweet catharsis. You cannot believe how many postgrads (yes, you read right, they are postgrads! They also have years if not decades of professional experience -- it amazes me how they could get anything done without their secretaries) STILL manage to get these basic things wrong. (Okay, not that they would use txtspk in their assignments*, but quite a number of them are still confused over the use of apostrophes and forgetting to put a bloody space AFTER commas! I mean, seriously, how hard can it be to notice these basic basic punctuation rules if you pay any attention at all when reading any sort of half-decent writing??)

I just wish I could use similarly foul language when correcting my students' papers over this kind of careless and indeed feckless mistakes. But of course I am always polite and proper (but BOY am I seething inside over having to point out their sloppy grammar yet not being allowed to sneer).

*Though perhaps in certain work environments we can't even expect this minimum level of literacy, as evident from this recent rant by a Hong Kong-based IHT journalist on her blog.

Btw**: Can anyone please tell me how can I get back past comments on my previous posts? For some bizarre reason comments made before this year have all disappeared - or more correctly, the number of old comments are still shown but the actual comments themselves have gone AWOL. I tried the Comments settings on Blogger and though it promises that the comments can always be re-shown by choosing the "show comments" option even if you hid them before, that unfortunately isn't the case here and I don't know how else to make the comments appear again. Please help.

**And yes I do realise the irony of using txtspk for the "by the way" expression in the context of my own rant above. My defence is two-fold: as an expression "by the way" is meant only as a quick lead-in to something else, and thus shortening the expression further is excusable; more importantly, at least I didn't type out the rest of my message in text-speak! (And AWOL is a well-recognised acronym as opposed to lazy txtspk per se)

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Friday, March 26, 2010



也偶有哭鬧,有爭吵; 但都是會過去的。




Copyright Snowdrops 2010. All rights reserved.

* * * * *

Further Viewing:

RTHK on Internet "Hong Kong Connection" 鏗鏘集 《買樓進行曲》(27 December 2009)

Excerpted from the programme blurb:

買樓 ? 不買樓 ?


買樓一個決定,如同骨牌一樣,跟工作選擇、理想追求、甚至如何規劃人生,環環緊扣。這幾位年輕人如何為著一個「家」而規劃自己的人生路 ?

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Thursday, March 25, 2010


Just thought I'd share how you'd praise somebody as 有種 in English :)

Over on LCL's blog about Sergey Brin, I commented earlier:

"I have to admit I'm having a mad crush on Sergey Brin. He has heart, brains, real guts (and by extension, balls), youth, looks, AND money. And in that order. Too bad he's already taken."

In Cantonese Chinese, the above could be translated as:


Other words for "balls" (i.e. in the sense of being "ballsy" enough to do XYZ rather than simply to denote testicles) include (to be prefaced by the verb "to have"): "gonads" (quaint term so as not to scare the kids)/"cojones" (Spanish, adopted in colloquial English on both sides of the Atlantic, though perhaps more so in the States).

And while we're on the subject of adjectives deriving from male genitalia, "ballsy" is not to be confused with "cocky". The former is a positive attribute; while the latter is best applied to someone who shall fit the epithet of a "prick" or a "dickhead" or a "jerk".

千祈千祈米亂嚟用咗"nuts"或"bollocks"呀, 雖然兩個字都可翻譯成『睪丸』, 但係意思就變晒了!(Although of course one could also describe Brin as being nuts to abandon the mainland Chinese market, but then you would be berating him for being crazy rather than praising him for having the balls to stand up to the CCP. Bollocks, on the other hand, mean something else altogether. The Americans never EVER understand how this most versatile of English swearword is to be properly used, with the result that they almost always end up having the Irish and the Brits laughing in their faces whenever they try to sound cool and say bollocks with an American accent. Best leave proper swearing to the grown-ups, kiddos.)

Okay, I have talked enough bollocks. (Seriously, I don't know what came over me. Consider this my humble contribution to public service translation).


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Saturday, March 20, 2010





直到互聯網的關係(註三),我在幾年前開始接觸到香港人(無論是在港的還是海外的)寫的中文網誌,令我有機會見識到近代的中文措詞。 不論是流行術語(所謂「潮語」)還是句子格式,令我大開眼界之餘,也益發感到自己的落伍‧‧‧








註一: 我也知道,我那低劣的中文能力不能完全歸咎於生世。 君不見在外地出生的華人也有很多具極強中文能力之仕,只可惜我不能與他們看齊。
註二: 這個嘛,說來真的一疋布咁長。還是留待下一次有機會才寫了‧‧‧
註三: 當然,在這之前我也有間中看看香港的電視(租帶或後來的衛星電視)和雜誌,但也只是片面的接觸,不像現在能夠在互聯網上較細心閱讀別人的文字。


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Thursday, March 18, 2010

A sick joke for Hong Kong home-owners...

In my previous couple of posts about first-time home-buying, I stated my tips and advice with the caveat that I don't know much about the property market in Hong Kong, if at all.

Here in Ireland, the key thing that one would check in terms of the lease documents is the remaining lease period (unless yours is a free-hold property, but this is quite rare especially for apartment properties): you would stay away from anything that has a remaining lease term of less than 90 years, if you still wish your property to be re-sellable within your own life-time.

Over in Hong Kong, it seems that one not only needs to look at one's own individual lease documents, but one also needs to factor in something which is frankly unfathomable - to what extent the HK government might, in future, decide on giving you a compulsory purchase order to facilitate some fat-cat property developer.

Choice quotes from Alice's most recent article on this over on the Asian Sentinel (Please also spend time to read her informative article on this piece of unfair legislation in her earlier blog-post):

The government-property cartel coalition has bulldozed through an unjust piece of legislation lowering the forced sale threshold from 90 percent to 80 percent of units of an old building facing demolition and redevelopment...

A secondary school student with an inquisitive mind asked Carrie Lam, Secretary for Development, a hard-hitting question at a radio forum: is there any guarantee that there won’t be future demands from developers to further lower the threshold to 70 percent, 60 percent, 50 percent?

When property prices have breached the HK$10,000-a-square-foot mark and young people’s dream of owning a home are in danger of becoming a permanent dream, and you can still hear the developer titans say they are against reviving the Home Ownership Scheme, which the government stupidly put an end to in 2002 to prop up the property market and which might be the only way out for the home-starved low- to middle-income class, you know that the WEALTHY AND THE HAVES of this society have become stone-hearted and obdurately pitiless towards the HAVE-NOTS.

Thus, it seems, not only are the majority of Hong Kong citizens of the post-70's, 80's, and 90's generations resigned to the fact that, if they are lucky enough to be able to afford a mortgage, it would be for a property for a hugely-inflated price that allows the post-war baby-boomers to indulge shamelessly in their lavish lifestyles; but even more tragically, even when they manage to get on the property ladder and even when they manage to pay off the mortgage, there is no guarantee that the property that they have acquired through decades of blood, sweat and tears would indeed be their own asset to pass on to the next generation (which is totally unlike the situation in the UK - over in Britain, the Conservatives are able to harp on about property rights on behalf of property-owning middle-classes and cry foul over any increases on the inheritance tax; over in Hong Kong, there seems to be no such thing as middle-class Conservatives, only the super-rich have any say over government policy. It seems even the "haves" in Hong Kong are doing their damnedest to harm their own self-interest - what a perverse capitalist system HK is turning out to be when middle-class interests are being usurped by monopolistic corporate interests because the latter are the real master behind the puppet administration).

This gross infringement of individual property rights is a very sick joke indeed, how ironic that it would come into force on 1st April, 2010.

Further reading:
劉健威×歐陽應霽 惜食→地產商治港?(
Missed Opportunity (
[轉貼] 曹仁超被訪有關香港房地產 (

Further listening:

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

More pointers for first-time home-owners...

Following my previous post about the importance of sorting out the financing and legal aspects of home purchasing, this is the second in what has turned out to be a series of blog-posts about becoming a first time home owner. My own concluding comment in my previous post reminded me of the need to speak about furniture budgets as well before going onto the actual interior design tips. So please bear with me for one more post on the so-called boring stuff (but actually I promise you it gets more interesting as the post goes on)...

In this particular post I want to talk about the importance of home budgeting. It is a topic that doesn't just require a head for figures but more importantly, durable shoe leather and a thickness of skin when it comes to negotiating prices. So without further ado:

1. Set up a spreadsheet of your home budget and decide on your dream, big-ticket items for each room in the flat/house.

In all likelihood, if you've been doing your homework on apartment prices, mortgage plans and associated financial products, like I said any serious first-time home buyers should in my last post, then you would already have stored different financing option configurations into some form of a spreadsheet, so that you can compare at a glance that, given different levels of deposits you can afford to pay, and the different mortgage options available, what price levels of housing you can afford (and what it will mean in terms of your monthly outgoings once you do take on a mortgage). This ensures that you can keep a clear head and that you won't be easily swayed by the pitches of both mortgage brokers/bank managers/most importantly, estate agents (or what you'd call "realtors" in the States)/home-owners who want to sell you their property.

The home budget here is an extension of the above. You add a new spreadsheet for each of the key rooms/areas in the apartment/house, viz. kitchen, bathroom, main bedroom, living room, dining room, study/second bedroom, etc. Then enumerate the key items that you will likely NEED to get for each room/area (i.e. unlikely to be included with the property's sale price and/or unlikely to get a hand-me-down from your family and friends, or those you are simply unwilling to use second hand).

So for instance, for the main bedroom, I listed a double bed (queen/king size depending on price) as the big-ticket item for me to buy, and listed "good" built-in wardrobes (I have quite definite ideas about its storage capacity as well as its look) as something that MUST COME WITH my ideal apartment, whilst items like chests, night-stands, curtains, dressing table, etc. are items that are negotiable (i.e. I will get if both price and style are right, otherwise I will make do).

Similarly, for the living room, I listed an armchair - specifically, a wing-back armchair - as my big-ticket dream item around which I built the rest of my living room furniture budget around, above even that of the sofa, which I was willing to get cheap; in fact, bookshelves / bookcase come before the sofa, and BEFORE the TV, the specific make of which I don't mind as long as it is HD-ready and does NOT overwhelm the room with its size. In fact, beautiful wall-paper/paint (again I have quite specific ideas about my requirements there, more on these later) comes ABOVE the telly in terms of my interiors priority, although I understand this would not be the case for the vast majority of people.

And so on and so forth. You get the idea. For each room/area of your flat, list the items you need to get in terms of priority, with the first item being the DREAM item that you've always, always, hankered after. The big-ticket item is the ONE thing that always comes to mind when you day-dream about your ideal flat, whether that is leisurely reading a book in a wing-back armchair besides floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, or lazing over a book and a cuppa in a big beautiful bed on a Sunday morning, etc. etc. If you want to create a dream home, you must hold on to these images in your head and remember what's the most important bits that you need to get to make those dream sequences come true.

One rule of deciding on whether something is really a big-ticket item (to curb all our innate greediness to want to get all our dream things in one go!): ask yourself, would I be happy to spend hours in the room if there is not a stick of other furniture around EXCEPT for my designated dream item? That is the key for me to determine that I cherish a proper armchair way more than having bookshelves, even though the latter comes quite close to my heart also. I can pile my books on the floor and I can spend ages in my living room just in my armchair with nothing else around, and I know I will be happy. That is the litmus test.

Remember: you're buying a home FOR YOURSELF. Not for anyone else, and not because it is fashionable. Go for the items you truly want, rather than because it may look respectable to others. Spend all your money on a baby grand piano if that's what would set your heart aflutter day after day, but don't waste money on a baby grand even if you have loads of cash to spare if you're only buying it for ostentatious display of your so-called taste. Your lack of taste will still show through in your home décor if you spend your money mimicking other people's tastes rather than get something that you would truly enjoy. Yes, even if that something happens to be a mah-jongg set - it would be more honest and your home would be genuinely characterful if you invest in having the space and various accoutrements for a delightful mah-jongg game if that's what you and your friends enjoy, than investing in a baby grand and letting it gather dust because you got a tin-ear for piano music. Nothing would be more tragic - for both that baby grand and yourself.

2. Hit. The. Shops. (With notepad and pens and your camera-phone)
Now that you have figured out what your big-ticket items are for each room, as well as having a realistic idea of the kinds of furniture you'd need to get, go out and hit the shops. WITH notepad, pens and camera-phone in tow.

Trawl through all the different furniture stores for the big-ticket items first. Note the style, and GO AND TRY THEM OUT. There is no alternative to just sitting on different sofas and seeing how you feel about having it foam-filled versus feather-filled; there is no alternative to actually deciding if you are okay with a double or a queen-size or a king-sized bed than going to see for yourself. Images on a screen are NO substitute to seeing and trying out the real thing.

More importantly, note the prices AND dimensions AND delivery costs AND storage costs (if applicable). Ask the shop assistants when they would usually have their sales in the year (in Ireland, there's always pre-Christmas sale, but the REAL sales happen in January and February, which are much better value than the summer sales, so if you can try to time your apartment purchase to the sales time-frames you will save a bundle, or else factor in the extra costs - whether in terms of normal prices or storage costs - into your budget).

After you've checked out the price and style ranges of the big-ticket items for EACH of the rooms/areas of the apartment, then check out the price and style ranges for your second tier items on your list, and work your way down until you have an idea of what each of the item in your To-Get List for each of the room would cost in addition to what styles/functions (if electronic appliances) are available.

ALWAYS record these into your spreadsheets for each room after hitting the shops, because pretty soon your head will be overwhelmed by all the different pricing and models available and it would all be a muddle if you don't get it down. It goes without saying then that, in addition to taking your cameraphone, notepad and pen, the easiest is to always ask the sales assistants if they have any brochures/literature/catalogues/handouts on their items. There is no need to bring a tape-measure with you, as 99% of shops will measure the item for you if they don't already have the measurements, but of course there's no harm bringing one along either.

As you do the above, not only will you begin to develop your preferences for what would suit you as you try out the different options available in the shops. More importantly, you will gradually begin to get a general sense of what each room will cost for you to furnish, and can begin to mentally calculate your trade-offs options for the furnishing in each room. That is, you have a real sense of being able to answer for yourself, if I were to get this brand-new desk for my study rather than using an old desk, it will mean that I would likely have to give up on getting a nice chest of drawers for my bedroom, is that what I am prepared to give up?

Doing Steps 1 and 2 would prevent us from spending all our money on second-bests and any impulse-buying we're prone to do as we encounter all the amazing styles and ranges on offer. It also helps us clear our minds of any idle but impractical fantasies we may have about particular furnishing styles, so that you could discover, for example, that perhaps the all white minimalist look is all good in theory but not something you could feel truly comfortable in, or that the idea of of a dressing-table is all very romantic but is not something you'd likely have the space in order to do the piece justice and show it off properly, etc. etc.

3. Supplement the above with desk research.
Of course, in this day and age one doesn't just rely on one's shoe leather for everything. There is the Internet which could and does save us a lot of legwork. There is also tons of interiors magazines with lots of tips and advice about different colour schemes, how-to-bring-a-room together, the latest interiors design trends and styles and so on and so forth. Of course, there are also lots and lots of really informative blogs as well, like the ones I have already recommended to MBBB in a previous comment reply.

The magazines and the blogs are great for giving you inspiration, especially if you start this process with vague ideas about your likes and dislikes when it comes to home furnishings, and/or simply don't know how a given room of a given size might be furnished that makes it liveable as well as practicable. Small apartments and small houses - over 90% of what any one of us could afford as a first-time buyer - pose interior design challenges that particularly require careful planning, which could only happen when one is fully briefed on the furnishing options available out there.

Being inspired is one thing, but deciding what would suit you and a particular flat is another. It is therefore important to keep meticulous track of items that inspire you and sort them by mutating styles. Here, I don't mean so much about keeping note of the general prices and dimensions of the key pieces as mentioned above (we could spend forever just inputting to the spreadsheet then!), but to clip and store images that conform to your ideal home in a systematic, easily-traceable way.

In my computer, I have a folder called "Ideal home images", in which are organised sub-folders for each of the rooms/areas of the apartment ("bedroom", "kitchen", etc.). These room-based folders are for me to store room-based images that inspired me when I come across them on web-sites or blogs. And then I also have a collection of folders that are item-based, e.g. Chairs and Sofas and other Seating, in which I kept all the images clipped from websites of particular furniture items (as opposed to entire room views) that fall under that category (the reason why this is such a broad category is that, as I discovered when I start collecting my images for my mental mood board, there are creations that fall between the stools so to speak, e.g. when a chaise longue became the half-way house between a chair and a sofa, or when a dining chair could work just as well as a desk chair, so I stopped considering what type of seating the particular piece is meant to be for but concentrate instead on identifying its visual form). I arranged these item-based images not by name or date or website address, but by their visual style, so that as I scroll down the folder I can see all the clipped images of all kinds of chairs I have come across that range from the upholstered, country styles to the shiny, leather, modernist look.

In this way, I begin to develop a sense of what is best-in-class for my taste. So that, when I see a particular piece, not only could I place it as belonging to one or other of established interiors design styles, or a particular synthesis or mutation of these, but I also begin to develop a sense of how good that piece is given the design tradition(s) from which it derived its design feature(s); and more importantly, to what extent its design expression is suited to my own preferences, now that I have a sense and a vocabulary of the different design styles out there.

For example, for the wing-back armchair, whilst I know I am automatically looking at country styles given the nature of the piece itself, but through desk research above, I began to appreciate subtle differences between English versus French country styles (to reduce it to a brief and blunt statement: the former is plainer, sturdier, more "honest"; the latter is prettier, more ornate and slender, more feminine). More importantly, I know which of these I personally prefer, having seen enough of these different styles being expressed in different forms.

So when I finally see a piece that fulfils my ideal type of a wing-back armchair (as pictured below, from that most English of retailers, Laura Ashley), and it being my big-ticket item, I had the confidence that I knew I was getting the right piece for me, even though I hesitated over the price and the particular fabric (I waited until the January sale to get it and deliberated for weeks over the final fabric choice!)

So that's another 3 pointers for first-time home-owners, and I haven't yet quite gotten to the meat of the interiors tips yet. I hope the above however are interesting thoughts even if they might just sound like total common sense. I will stop here and pick up this subject again another time!

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Sunday, March 14, 2010

因為今天是母親節*... [updated with English version]





擴闊視野, 有信心


--Copyright Snowdrops 2010. Creative Commons 3.0 License (Share with Attribution, No Commercial Use and No Derivative Works).

Because Today is Mother's Day...

Any fool knows
Your mother is a woman.
But have we ever considered
Our mothers are also human?

Women's rights
Are just a type of human rights.
Don't ever mistake feminism
As some kind of vengeful Bobbitism.

The world's already full of chaos and injustice,
Wars started cos of land, oil, and religious fundamentalists
Why would you want to add to the mess
By picking fights over something as innocuous as one's sex?

Every single one of us was born
As either a Kong girl or Kong boy
There's really not much point
In feeling superior over marital status, age or sex.

Every single one of us is an apple
In our mothers' loving eyes
Do yourself proud
Go after your dream
Believe in yourself
And ignore others' stares.
Being happy in who you are,
Is already the best present for our mothers.

And please remember: never treat yourself or others
As a piece of roast pork or worse, a mere consumer product.

-- Copyright Snowdrops 2010. Creative Commons 3.0 License (Share with Attribution, No Commercial Use and No Derivative Works).

*Today's Mother's Day in Ireland and the UK. Feel free to circulate this with attribution when Mother's Day in Hong Kong rolls around in May.

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Some small pointers for first-time buyers...

In response to the promise I made to Myblahblahblah a couple of weeks ago about doing a post on my experience of interior decorating, I've finally managed to get around to typing this up (although various paragraphs have been storing in my heads since, in addition to the bookmarking of sites).

Sincere apologies MBBB for the delay -- it is absolutely inexcusable that "a couple of days" became "a couple of weeks"! Very sorry. (But today's been a marathon blogging day for me! 3 posts in one day when I normally manage about a post a week if I'm lucky. This is a first.)

Anyway, I meant to say that this is actually quite a timely post because my brother just bought a place with his girlfriend :) The sale went through late last month but as usual with these things, it's been months of activities (if not years of passive planning) before it came to fruition. So MBBB I'm really happy to hear that you've been keeping your eye out for apartments now even though the price levels aren't right yet. The months and months that I've spent trawling through interiors sites, furniture and homeware stores and show apartments and indeed negotiating with various banks and mortgage brokers really paid off when I was finally in a position to act.

I'm going to sum up my tips in an easy list form. Obviously the tips listed here are not meant to be exhaustive and the important caveat is that they are all just based on my own personal experience, hard-won though that was. If others have different ideas please do share them in the comments as I would love to be able to pass them onto my brother also :)

But allow me to first share a couple of non-décor related advice. I know it's probably of no relevance to you MBBB as you probably are well-versed on the financial and legal side of things, but I thought I'd include them here as well because getting the financial and legal things well sorted means you're more than two-thirds of the way to happy home ownership. (And because I know how easy it is to ignore the financial and the legal issues and just concentrate on the fun side of interior design, but that would be a BIG mistake indeed for a first-time buyer.).

So please note that the "you" used in the sentences below refers to a general "you" rather than you specifically, MBBB :)

1. Do take your time and don't feel under pressure to act.

The mantra is that "if it's meant to be it will happen." This sounds rather counter-intuitive and seems self-defeating but please do hear me out. Obviously you do all your due diligence and pre-sale prep as much as you can (more on this later), but at the end of the day an apartment sale is a transaction between two parties and you have as much right as the other party to walk out on the deal if things aren't right and vice versa. Don't feel induced into buying something whether because of a perceived time pressure or because of perceived limitation of your options given your budget. You are going to have to literally live in the place and it is important that things felt right. But don't feel disheartened either if a deal falls through -- it's happened to me and I made the decision to pull out as it was becoming clear that it was getting nowhere and it was one of the best decisions I've ever made in my life.

2. Get a good conveyancing lawyer.

I'm not sure of course about the buying situation in Hong Kong but I assume you have a system quite similar to the British like we have here in Ireland for the buying and selling of properties. I'm not sure about the lawyerly profession in Hong Kong either of course, but there might be cowboys operating who specialise in preying on first-time buyers. Be clear about the level of access you can have with your appointed lawyer (if committing your business to a law firm), don't be fobbed off with just the legal secretaries, and a good firm would have checklists in place for both clients to ask of the other party, the property, and of themselves as clients, and could provide you with time-frames for the processing of different steps as well a briefing you on what those steps are. Be clear about your own list of demands (more on this later) and make sure that the lawyer dealing with your case are informed of these as s/he would be the one helping you scan through the lease documents and other agreements. Don't be afraid to fuss, which is the Achilles' heel for a lot of first-time buyers. Ask questions when you don't understand the legalese and don't be afraid to push for explanations if things have been stalling (I'm not sure about Hong Kong but it generally takes about 8 weeks for sale to be completed here, I imagine Hong Kong being the highly-efficient city it is this time-frame would be completely laughable, but it is the reality here and a lot of times it may go on even longer than that, and you have to not to be afraid to hassle your solicitor to get him to hassle the other solicitor representing the other side). They are supposed to be providing you with a professional service and they would act like professionals as you're paying for engaging them on a professional level.

3. Go around the banks and building societies and/or get a mortgage broker to do some legwork on your behalf.

I know this point sounds prosaic especially to smart Hongkongers who are well up on all the various banking products, etc. etc. If you're a stereotypical Hongkonger then you don't need me telling you this (or indeed any of the above, come to think of it). So again I'm not sure how much this would translate to Hong Kong. But my basic point is that, for a lot of first-time buyers, they might not realise that it's not just about getting a mortgage (which in turn means getting the best rate for the term that you desire given the deposit that you can afford). There are also associated financial products like household insurance and life assurance, and whilst I don't know anything about the mortgage products in Hong Kong, it's really worth doing one's own homework on these. A mortgage broker comes in really handy also who could help you cover some of the legwork (although you have to know with whom he's affiliated with and to what extent his coverage of these banks' products are representative of all the products on offer). And a good one (and I was blessed with one such mortgage broker) would be very helpful to sort out and keep track of all your mortgage application documentation and being able to follow up directly with the loan officer on your behalf.

Most importantly, having your mortgage pre-approved and knowing exactly what financing options you have available to you is a BIG bargaining chip when it comes to choosing the right place for you. At the very least, it affords you a level of comfort knowing exactly what your own parameters for price negotiations are.

So as you can see obviously now, over here in Ireland, unless you're extremely financially secure, one rarely just goes out and buy an apartment at the drop of a hat as a first-time buyer, but I'm not sure of course if this scenario is the same in Hong Kong. That said, people do sometimes pay down an initial deposit (aka "booking deposit") to secure an apartment quickly to get it off the market, but this deposit is refundable within a cooling-off period minus a small charge to the estate agent (if applicable). Again, not sure if this is the same in Hong Kong.

The key thing is that, doing one's homework on the financing and legal sides makes it easy for one to decide to pay down a deposit when one finally finds a place that feels just right. Indeed, knowing your financial options inside out makes it easy to decide on a furniture budget, which is one of the first key things that you've got to decide anyway before choosing what style of furnishing may best suit a particular flat and indeed your personal style.

Okay, finally, let me get on to the fun tips of interior design and home décor :) Methinks I should actually write these now actually in a separate post as I don't want the above serious tone about the serious bits of home-buying to hang over me while we're on the fun subject of interior design. Especially this post being quite long-winded as it is! Sorry!

So onto the next post! (I may not get to finish it and post this by tonight - I'll see how far I can get it written up - but be sure it's on its way!).

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The Art of Sandwich-Making...

As Paddy's Day draws near, I am away from the office on leave (but also work from home at the same time). It's been an interesting experiment of deciding what my "working lunch" would be these couple of days. It seems my appetite is miraculously whetted by the idea of a humble sandwich and a cuppa even though I do have other alternatives, and this is despite the fact that I often dream of having a hot lunch and a proper sit-down meal when I do have to work in the office.

So the below is going to be way underwhelming and definitely embarrassing (pour moi) to any readers from Hong Kong who are used to taking pictures of mouth-watering delicious food even for what they consider to be a very mundane work lunch. I guess you have to work here to appreciate how happy I was to discover that I could get freshly-made egg salad in a chilled carton from the local supermarket to take home as a sandwich spread. Gosh, I almost jumped with joy when I saw this (sad though I know how this sounds!)!

You see, ever since I stepped out into the working world, in my first corporate job where we were located out in the sticks, we either get pub lunches or invariably, it would be a sandwich, whether you make it yourself or if you queue and get it from a nearby sandwich shop. We always had pub lunches on a Friday, but during the week it depended if there were other guys around or else my boss and I just got ourselves a sandwich. It was thus that I had experimented my way through different sandwich filling combinations at the local sandwich shop, and thus come to the infallible conclusion based on cast-iron evidence that the best sandwich filling consists of: butter, egg salad (also known as egg mayonnaise, a heavenly blend of crushed boiled egg, mayonnaise, and maybe herbs and tiny tomato chunks), ham and cheese.

I can NEVER understand why people would go for a BLT (bacon, lettuce and tomato) sandwich on sliced white bread (rather than say, using baps). The sliced tomatos are a good idea in theory only, as in less than two minutes the bread would have become soggy from the leaked moisture from both the tomato and the lettuce, and nothing is worse than a soggy sandwich. The bacon strips then invariably become too chewy and hard to manage when covered with soggy bread. The whole thing is a grotesque exercise in unfulfilled expectations. (And if you do use baps, yes, they contain moisture better so the whole thing is at least not falling apart in your hands, but jeez, they just end up like diapers absorbing all the liquid, is that what you want for your lunch?)

Also, here in the shops the sandwich makers will always ask you if you prefer butter or mayonnaise on your sarnies. The beauty of having egg salad (aka egg mayonnaise) is that you could have both without making the whole thing disgusting. You can butter your bread, spread egg mayo on them, and the egg mayo adds a softness to your sandwich that is heavenly when combined with sliced ham and cheese (as the latter on their own are just way too dry), but done so without the risk of sogginess posed by incorporating tomato slices.

Of course, one may say ham and cheese sandwiches are boring (and indeed all sandwiches are BORING in big capital letters). Ha! That is only because they don't know how to do them properly. A classic sandwich done properly is a thing of beauty. And thus I am really glad my lunch today consists of the following:

Ingredients: Egg salad from Superquinn; Sliced Leerdammer cheese from Marks and Spencer; Crumbed cooked ham (100% Irish and traceable from farm to fork); and Flora.

Closer look at the divine egg salad (the quality of a sandwich shop can be determined by the quality of their egg mayonnaise. This tub from Superquinn doesn't disappoint at all).

This was finished off with a kiwi, just to get one of my five-a-day's.

I felt really good about the fact I could recreate my idea of a perfect sandwich in the comfort of my own home, now that I don't have to make egg salad from scratch. I really should make sandwiches more often.

Okay, I should really not faff around anymore taking pictures of my boring lunch and just go straight back to work :P

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Excerpted from Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex...

DSC_0185, originally uploaded by Snowdrops in Spring.

Thanks to the kind comment by Alice on my last post, it's got me thinking that there is indeed a serious lack of education about women's rights (or perhaps any kind of civic rights) in Hong Kong. She made the brilliant suggestion that Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex should be required reading for all secondary school girls in Hong Kong.

The only thing I would add is that it should be required reading for all boys and girls, as there are much within it which would lend itself to opening the eyes of hitherto unenlightened men. And indeed, it would be futile if only women are enlightened rather than men when it is the latter who hold the cards. (Even in Brazil, guys are familiar with de Beauvoir's works, as shown by the comment on my Flickr photo above, which was uploaded quite some time ago. So why not Hong Kong?)

So I have taken the book down from my bookshelf again (and yes, in the photo below, that is indeed a McDull calendar I got from Hong Kong last summer :D And I think the quote on the engraved stone is rather apposite for the current post!)

I thought perhaps I could quote some passages from the book which may be of interest to both men and women, especially if people are put off by the 2-inch-thick veritable brick of a book. (Somebody should include excerpts from this book as required essay reading for the secondary school syllabus!).

Anyway, the below are among my favourite passages:
At the beginning of the nineteenth century woman was more shamefully exploited than were male workers. Labour at home constituted what the English called the "sweating system"; in spite of constant toil, the working-woman did not earn enough to satisfy her needs... It is understandable that they made haste to get out into the factories; besides, it was not long before nothing was left to do outside the workshops except needlework, laundering, and housework -- all slave's work, earning famine wages... The employers often preferred them [women] to men. "They do better for less pay." This cynical formula lights up the drama of feminine labour. For it is through labour that woman has conquered her dignity as a human being; but it was a remarkably hard-won and protracted conquest (de Beauvoir, 1949[1997]: 144, emphasis added).
But a woman hardly has means for sounding her own heart... For a great many women the roads to transcendance are blocked: because they do nothing, they fail to make themselves anything. They wonder indefinitely what they could have become, which sets them to asking about what they are. It is a vain question. If man fails to discover that secret essence of femininity, it simply because it doesn't exist. Kept on the fringe of the world, woman cannot be objectively defined through this world, and her mystery conceals nothing but emptiness (de Beauvoir, 1949[1997]: 288, original emphases).
Furthermore, like all oppressed, woman deliberately dissembles her objective actuality; the slave, the servant, the indigent, all who depend on the caprices of a master, have learned to turn towards him a changeless smile or an enigmatic impassivity; their real sentiments, their actual behaviour, are carefully hidden. And moreover woman is taught from adolescence to lie to men, to scheme, to be wily. In speaking to them she wears an artificial expression on her face; she is cautious, hypocritical, play-acting (de Beauvoir, 1949[1997]: 288, emphases added).
But the Feminine Mystery as recongized in mythical thought is a more profound matter. In fact, it is immediately implied in the mythology of the absolute Other... In the same way it is true that, beyond the secrecy created by their dissembling, there is mystery in the Black, the Yellow, in so far as they are considered absolutely as the inessential Other. It should be noted that the American citizen, who profoundly baffles the average European, is not, however, considered as being "mysterious": one states more modestly that one does not understand him. And similarly woman does not always "understand" man, but there is no such thing as a masculine mystery. The point is that rich America, and the male, are on the Master side and that Mystery belongs to the slave (de Beauvoir, 1949[1997]: 288-289, emphasis added).
Man would have nothing to lose, quite the contrary, if he gave up disguising woman as a symbol. When dreams are official community affairs, clichés, they are poor and monotonous indeed beside the living reality; for the true dreamer, for the poet, woman is a more generous fount than is any down-at-heel marvel. The times that have most sincerely treasured women are not the period of feudal chivalry nor yet the gallant nineteenth century. They are the times -- like the eighteenth century -- when men have regarded women as fellow creatures; then it is that women seem truly romantic, as the reading of Liaisons dangereuses, Le Rouge et le noir, Farewell to Arms, is sufficient to show. The heroines of Laclos, Stendhal and Hemingway are without mystery, and they are not the less engaging for that. To recognise in woman a human being is not to impoverish man's experiences; this would lose none of its diversity, its richness, or its intensity if it were to occur between two subjectivities. To discard the myths [of and about women] is not to destroy all dramatic relations between the sexes, it is not to deny the significance authentically revealed to men through feminine reality; it is not to do away with poetry, love, adventure, happiness, dreaming. It is simply to ask that behaviour, sentiment, passion be founded upon the truth (de Beauvoir, 1949[1997]: 290-291, emphases added).
I hope the above quotations would also clarify for those who happen to labour under a misapprehension that feminism is about "doing without men", that nothing could be farther from the truth. I hope you can all see that now.

Thanks again to Alice for her kind suggestion, I actually really enjoyed re-reading some of the above passages. We can do it boys and girls!

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Sunday, March 07, 2010

Arrrghh.... why did I have to go and watch that??!!?? [Updated]

I didn't know why I searched on the Youtube that Tuesday's Report from RTHK TVB in spite of my Internet curfew... Anyway I was weak and I did and I now wish I could gorge my eyes out, so desperate was the show that even as a mere spectator I feel compelled to engage in self-harm just to block out the memory of having watched that crap.

The whole thing is so cringeworthy I actually had goosebumps watching, and that soundtrack, oh my fcukin' god, DIRE would be extremely kind as an adjective. Oh and not to mention the obvious bias when all the women being interviewed have to report their age whilst the only man asked for his view didn't bother having his age reported alongside his profession.

Please get this straight people - the women featured on this show in no way speak on behalf of all women, married or single. So they dated a bunch of bottom-feeding losers who used them to cheat on their wives and/or who cheated on them by using other desperate needy women, but please don't insult our intelligence that they've somehow turned this into a self-empowering "experience" by becoming even more desperate and needy. GET A GRIP WOMAN. You can have a life without trying to constantly attach yourself to a man. Think about it. The market ideology doesn't and SHOULDN'T be applied to relationships. If you see yourself as a product that must be sold, then no wonder you attract numbskulls who only see women as property and status symbols. Don't kid yourself that you'll find yourself a decent partner rather than being treated as the doormat that you've become when you don't even have an iota of self-respect* to begin with. And please do yourself a favour and don't generalise the wankers you've ever met as being the epitome of the entire male of the species.

Christalmighty, it's as if women's lib has COMPLETELY passed the Hongkongers by. Once upon a time (pre-1997) Hong Kong women were among the most liberated among Asian countries and that fact was actually celebrated as an indicator of the progressiveness of Hong Kong society (I distinctly remember watching an RTHK documentary about it). Nowadays Hong Kong society prides itself on adopting highly denigrating "popular slang" from such beacons** of gender equality as mainland China and Japan. What depths could we not plumb given another 10 years, perhaps by then Hong Kong women would faint from being overcome with gratitude and their parents weep with tears of sheer joy if a rich and powerful man so happen to deign to choose them as one of his harem of many concubines/wives?

Oh but hang on a second, hasn't this already happened?

But then what could one expect eh, when the city was handed back to a motherland where girl babies are regularly drowned for their lack of societal value. STILL. IN THIS DAY AND AGE. Accordingly, I guess it is entirely reasonable** to expect Hong Kong women to prostrate themselves in humble humility for being allowed to live past the age of one, not to mention being given the same educational and labour opportunities as their male counterparts (I mean, how dare they compete on the same level as men?**). In this vein it is entirely politically-correct to say that it's these women's own fault for not realising that they exist to serve the needs of men and that without a man in their lives, they are absolutely nothing. Nada. Zilch.** And it is good that the Hong Kong women featured in this RTHK TVB show finally saw the error of their ways now, even though it was a bit too late for them.** I mean, gosh, the majority of Kong girls just don't have a friggin' clue how lucky they are, right? They should learn to know their place sharpish if they don't want to be left forever on the shelf like the demonstrably failed women profiled here.**

I'm just soooooo glad I don't live in Hong Kong since I came of age***. Married or single it makes no difference - women are getting a really shitty deal the way HK society is going.

*Not to be confused with the arrogance of youth.
**In case you have a sarcasm detection failure, these words are being stated here with COMPLETE AND UTTER disdain.
***And here I thought Mad Men was meant to be about an earlier time in America. I'm glad I can enjoy the world of Mad Men from a distance afforded by the women's lib movement, a right I didn't realise would perhaps need to be treated as a luxury if one were in Hong Kong, if this RTHK TVB show is anything to go by. But perhaps it really was just an off-day for the RTHK team for producing that tripe ("documentary" could scarcely be applied to this particular output of theirs if one were being honest). I do sincerely hope this is the case even though it is also sad to see the state of RTHK documentary programming sinking to such lows.

Thanks to Nicole and SC for kindly pointing out that Tuesday's Report is actually produced by TVB. Well in that case, it figures. Sad still to think that their news production department seems to have been taken over by their drama department. I mean, ferchrissakes, did they not realise that nobody wants to watch their cliched serials any more, so why would they think applying the same cliches from their soaps to their documentary shows would help? Journalistic ethics aside, it doesn't even make sense from a business point of view, or is TVB so confident about their dumbed-down audience that they think any guff would do?

[Update: Tuesday, 9 March, 2010]

Meanwhile, elsewhere, over in America, Kathryn Bigelow, the ex-wife of James Cameron*, became the first female director to win the Academy Award for Best Director since the Oscars were first held some eighty-odd years ago.

Being true to her art, she never let her gender get in the way of her directing a macho war movie. And being the class act that she is, she blithely ignored all the Hollywood gleeful gossipy portrayal of the Oscar competition for Best Director, in which her ex-husband also happened to be a fellow nominee, as being a showdown between the exes.

Does she care what Cameron thinks? No. It's obvious she's moved on ages ago. But in her acceptance speech, she thanked him along other fellow nominees for being an inspiring director. Nothing more, nothing less. She did not let self-pity get the better of her since her divorce. And if she once harboured deep bile against Cameron, she did not let it show. Just the way it should be.

And does she let the fact that she is single and a woman get in the way of her fulfilling her dream? Why would one even ask such a silly question these days? It's finally become a non-issue. Again, just the way it should be.

Moral of the story (especially to pre-enlightened Hong Kong women existing still in the 21st century): Don't become a trophy wife. Go get that trophy yourself gurl!!!!

*I just realised also that it was remiss of me to describe Kathryn Bigelow first and foremost in terms of her ex-husband, rather than as a renowned and respected director in her own right. Sincere apologies. (In my humble defense, I was trying to draw a stark contrast between the divorced women featured on the TVB show, who are clearly still smarting from being dumped by their ex-husbands/ex-boyfriends, versus those who never let their marital status and past relationships become an issue that constrain them from leading a fulfilling life, as in the case of Bigelow). Of course, from now on, no-one would ever dream of referring to Kathryn Bigelow as "the ex-wife of James Cameron" anymore. And what a great thing that is :)

[A further update]

In addition to the Ming Pao article that SC kindly linked to in the comments, I also stumbled upon an informative blog-post by the Duke of Aberdeen on the etymology of the term "中女". Oh, no wonder the market connotations have been bought wholesale in the gender war, when the term itself originated from the meat market of Hong Kong prostitution. In that case, as the Ming Pao author noted, love does not come into the equation at all.

Okay, I have wasted enough of my time on this topic. If I realised it was a TVB production earlier, I wouldn't have bothered catching it on Youtube, thinking it was some ground-breaking documentary (in fact, justifying to myself that I needed to watch it despite my Internet curfew!). Note to self: beware of the source!

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Where are you from?

Que sera sera...

Feed my pet!

Currently getting stuck in...

Have just finished...

Me, Anime...

A bunch of snowdrops by any other name...

S is for Sweet
N is for Natural
O is for Open-hearted
W is for Worldly
D is for Dedicated
R is for Romantic
O is for Original
P is for Perfectionist
S is for Special
What Does Your Name Mean?