Monthly Archives: April 2001

Another ten-course meal

Today, I’m at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology for the first day of the W3C Advisory Committee meeting. It’s wonderful to have high-speed connectivity again (dial-up access from the hotel is a drag), and I’ve enjoyed catching up on what you’ve been writing over the past few days.

W3C always feeds us at these meetings; today’s lunch was yet another ten-course meal (and now they expect us to be awake for the afternoon sessions?). Most of what’s on the regular menu includes shellfish, which I can’t eat, so I’ve been eating at the vegetarian tables. And it’s all been delicious (well…there have been a couple of dishes which I’d describe as “interesting”), so I don’t think I’m missing anything by sticking to the vegetarian offerings.

I don’t know how students here manage to stay focused on their work when they see views like this one!

858 hkust view: Tonight, we have the official meeting dinner at Ocean Park. I’m almost dreading it — if the welcome dinner and lunch were ten courses, what will the official dinner bring? Am I up to the challenge? Will I still fit into my clothes afterwards? Tune in later, for the exciting answers!

Doubletake Department

I had to think several times when I saw this sign on a Coke machine at UKHST:

855 octopus: At first, I thought that this was some sort of reference that was lost on Americans (I just don’t think of “octopus” and “quench your thirst” in the same breath), but after careful review, I realized that they were referring to the stored-value Octopus Card which is mostly used by the local transit systems.

I also had to think a bit about this sign:

860 warden: But I’ve read enough English mysteries set at colleges to realize that in this context, a “warden” is not someone in charge of a jail, but rather someone we’d call a “dean”.

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Sunday — shopping day

One of the side effects of being trapped in the Advisory Board meeting all day Saturday was that I missed calling home when I planned to, and when I got back to my room, there was a message from Diane asking me to call. So I did — and woke Diane up because it was 2:30am in California. I think she was glad I called, but it would have been far better had we been able to get in touch a few hours earlier (or if I had been able to call when I’d originally promised). And I couldn’t call from my room, anyway, because the hotel charges an outrageous fee for international calls — and they also levy a heavy surcharge if you dial the local AT&T access number, so I felt compelled to go to the lobby and use a payphone to avoid being ripped off.

I decided this was not a good situation; the obvious way around this was to get a local mobile phone. I’d spent part of Friday trying to get my UK phone unlocked so I could use a local provider — I even checked the Web for ideas, but all I found were people asking how to get their phones unlocked and no answers. So I decided to buy yet another phone.

I wanted a cheap phone, but one that I could take with me on future trips, so it had to be a dual-band GSM phone. And it had to be unlocked, so I could buy a local SIM in other countries — this turned out not to be a problem; unlike the case in the UK or US, almost all phones sold here are sold outright, and you buy connectivity separately.

I followed a very careful procedure to decide where to shop — I rode the elevator to the ground floor, went out the front door of my hotel, turned right, went to the first phone shop I found, and asked for the cheapest dual-band phone they had. Five minutes later, I was the proud owner of a Mitsubishi Trium — as a properly suspicious consumer, I did make a point of checking out the phone to make sure it worked before I left the shop, and it did.

But when I tried using the phone from my room, I discovered that the phone wasn’t just inexpensive — it was cheap. When I made a call, the phone made funny buzzing noises, as though a circuit board was vibrating; I hadn’t been able to hear the problem in the shop because of the noise there, but now it was obvious.

I was afraid I’d be stuck with the problem — many Hong Kong electronics shops are less than scrupulous (it’s not unknown for a customer to get back to the hotel and find that they’ve bought an empty box). But I decided to go back and complain anyway.

And much to my surprise, the shopkeeper was actually helpful and willing to work with me. At first, he thought the problem might be the quality of the network connection, so he lent me a SIM for a different network and had me make a test call — I couldn’t tell if there was a problem in the shop, so he let me take the phone back to the hotel to try it; it didn’t help.

So then he let me take several different phones back to the hotel to try them — without holding anything as security other than the old phone. I was impressed; I know that I certainly wouldn’t have gotten anything like that service at Fry’s!

Eventually, I bought a much higher-end phone, a Motorola P7689. The phone works nicely and has lots of nice features — I wish I could use it at home, but that would require changing my US mobile service to a GSM provider, which would be a hassle; and GSM service in the US is still pretty spotty.

[Added May 1st: The shop at which I bought the phone was Motech Phone, Shop 22, Ground Floor, Star House, phone +852 2972-2988. I'm still happy with the new phone, by the way.]

After solving the phone problem, I went out with one of my W3C colleagues and wandered through Kowloon for the rest of the day. We even did a little more shopping. At times, we picked random stores just to get into an air-conditioned environment (the weather reminded me of South Florida, and why we no longer live there), but Carl did have some goals in mind, so we spent quite a bit of time in various branches of Yue Hwa Chinese Products.

Then it was back to the hotel and back to work — the W3C Advisory Committee meeting began at 6pm with the New Member orientation (as an Advisory Board member, I felt an obligation to be there), and then the Welcome Dinner. We had a fairly simple dinner, just ten courses (fourteen or more courses are not unheard of!); I ran out of gas after eight courses, and called it a night.

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A short Saturday entry

I’ve seen none of Hong Kong today — for two reasons.

First, today was the W3C Advisory Board meeting, so I spent almost the entire day in a small windowless room in the hotel. It was a productive meeting, but, except for lunch, we could have been in any small windowless room anywhere in the world. Lunch was location-specific — we had a multi-course Cantonese meal. Most of the courses had shellfish, so I opted for the vegetarian alternatives, which were very tasty and filling. I suspect I’ll be having a lot of vegetarian food on this trip.

The second reason I haven’t seen any of Hong Kong is the weather — it was foggy when I got up and foggy when I returned to my room after the meeting. If I squinted really hard, I could tell that there were some buildings across the harbour, but I had to use my imagination, too.

Tomorrow should be better — the W3C Team will be rehearsing for the Advisory Committee meeting, so I’ll be free until evening; I plan to go out and play tourist again, probably with colleagues from the Advisory Board.

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Shabbat Shalom from Hong Kong

I was out quite late Friday night, celebrating; late enough, in fact, that I didn’t want to stay up to edit and annotate the pictures I took yesterday while sightseeing, but I’ve finally gotten caught up, and the travelogue appears below.

After playing tourist all day, I went to Shabbat services at the United Jewish Congregation of Hong Kong. It was a fairly small group because it’s a four-day weekend here, but it was a lively service anyway. And going to services gave me a nice feeling of connectedness, even though I was almost 7000 miles from friends and family.

Oh, and the celebration? After services, several people went to dinner at a nearby Italian restaurant, Pasta e Pizza, and they invited me to join them. The food was good — one of the pizzas used Thai basil and was absolutely delicious — and the company was pleasant.

Shabbat Shalom!

Friday’s travelogue

Friday morning arrived a bit earlier than I wanted — 4am, when I woke up very hungry (the cookie I had for dinner was not enough, I guess). Luckily, the minibar in my room had snacks, not just drinks, so I was able to have a nosh and then got back to sleep until the alarm sounded at 7:30.

It took me a couple of hours to deal with my e-mail and have breakfast, but eventually, I was ready to handle the day’s business — wandering around Hong Kong while adjusting my body clock, so I’d be ready for the W3C Advisory Board meeting on Saturday. I decided to try the walking route through Kowloon suggested in the guidebook I’d picked up (Fodor’s Hong Kong).

The route starts at the Star Ferry dock, right next to my hotel. The Star Ferry crosses Victoria Harbour, which is a very busy harbour — there are vessels going in all directions almost all the time.

829 hk from waterfront 2.:

The next stop on the tour was the Victoria Clock Tower, which is the last remaining part of an old railway station.

833 victoria clock tower 4:

After admiring the Clock Tower, I continued along the waterfront. There’s a two-level walkway; I walked along the upper level and gazed across the harbour to Wanchai, where I’ll be spending next week at WWW10. In particular, I’ll be spending most of the week at the Convention Centre, the large building in the center of the picture below.

835 hk from waterfront 4:

I went back to ground level, to wander around the Cultural Centre. Sudenly, I was set upon by maurauding gangs of English students who had been given the assignment to interview tourists about their experiences in Hong Kong. I’d only been on the ground for 14 hours by this time, so my experiences were pretty scanty, but I was happy to help them out as best as I could — but my price was a picture.

837 with my interrogators:

The tour left the waterfront at this point, and so did I. I walked up Chatham Road South, entering a far more commercial area, There are so many shops and businesses that the building fronts don’t have room enough for signs, so they extend over the street:

838 signs on granville:

Some of the signs made me wonder:

839 yuppie sauna:

I decided not to find out just what a Yuppie Sauna was; I also declined to take up any of the invitations being thrust into my hands to visit tailor shops — I wouldn’t mind having some shirts made while I’m here, but there’s probably a better way to decide where to have it done than to pick a random shop.

The walking tour continued through commercial areas, over to the Golden Mile on Nathan Road. Eventually, the book directed me to Kowloon Park, which was a wonderful oasis in the midst of the commotion.

842 context of fountain in kowloon park:

Last year, I’d bought a GSM mobile phone while I was in the UK; it was very handy to have there, but Orange doesn’t yet offer international roaming, so I’ve been unable to use it elsewhere. I knew that electronics shops here sold pre-paid SIM cards so that you could have a local Hong Kong number on your phone, so I brought the phone with me to see if I could use one with my phone. But when I tried using a local card, the phone displayed an “Illegal SIM — enter code” message. I hoped that someone would know how to unlock the phone, but I guess I was going to places which were too reputable to know such things, and after trying a few shops, I decided it was time for lunch.

One of the things I’d been asked by the English students was how well I liked Chinese food. I hadn’t had any yet in Hong Kong, and thought I should fix that situation. Fodor’s recommended the Happy Valley Noodle and Congee shop, which was conveniently located across the street from my hotel. I got there towards the end of the lunch rush and had to share a table — fortunately, the guy I shared with didn’t smoke and spoke English, so we had a pleasant conversation. I decided to stick with something familiar and ordered chicken with cashew nuts, and it was excellent.

After lunch, I went back to my room for a break. I looked across the harbour and thought it was time to visit Hong Kong proper. I splurged for a first class ticket on the Star Ferry (HK$2.20, about 30 cents US) so I could ride on the top deck (riding down below would have saved HK$0.50, 7 cents US).

847 star ferry from star ferry:

The ferry crossing only took a few minutes, depositing me in the heart of Hong Kong’s financial district, which, like all such, is populated largely by enormous bank buildings, with a few small buildings thrown in for contrast.

848 banks a plenty:

Where there’s money, there are places to spend it. The Landmark is a luxury shopping center, with stores like Christian Dior, Kenzo, and Tiffany. There’s also a Pizza Hut, which struck me as an odd thing to find in such exalted company, but I guess even rich people gotta eat.

People also have to get around — and in Hong Kong, they use almost every conceivable means. There are subways, taxis, ferries, and trams; like the Star Ferry, the trams are two-level, but I don’t think there’s a price difference for the two levels.

850 tram:

One of the problems with Hong Kong is air pollution — it’s so bad, in fact, that they devote expensive downtown real estate to pollution monitoring stations. This one is right across the street from the Landmark.

851 pollution monitoring station:

And here ends my Friday travelogue; from this point on, I spent my time going to and from Shabbat services.

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UA 805 to Hong Kong and the first few hours there

This was the first time I’d planned to fly United in International First Class — I’d gotten an operational upgrade on a flight from Amsterdam to Dulles a few years ago, but that was on a smallish plane (probably a 767, though I’m not sure any more), and the flight was marred by having the sinks not work in the F and C lavatories. United offered passengers in F a confirmable upgrade as a makegood, which I eventually got to use — I wonder if they gave anything to the people in C. But I digress.

This flight was supposed to be on a plane with sleeper seats, and when I checked in at the counter, the agent said that was the case. But ten minutes later, after I cleared security and walked to the First Class lounge, the situation had changed; the agent there told me that they’d had to change equipment to a non-renovated plane. I don’t know if I would have spent the miles to upgrade if I had known there wouldn’t be a sleeper seat, even though I wasn’t planning to sleep going West anyway; but I decided I didn’t want to try to switch back to Business. As things turned out, I don’t have a seatmate (First Class is just slightly more than half-full), which is nice; Business Class is nearly full, as usual — only six empty seats.

The entertainment system isn’t working quite right on the plane, either — there’s no audio programming (but the movies work), and there’s a horrible noise everytime they use the PA. It’s worse in coach — there’s no audio at all, so unless you can read Chinese subtitles, you can’t tell what’s going on with the movie. They made an announcement that they’d be giving out vouchers in Hong Kong because of the problem with the movies.

I watched Sleeper, which was funny, though it’s really dated now — not because of the future scenes, but because of all of the references to things happening in 1973 (and Diane, you’re right — Jeffrey’s not ready to see it quite yet!). I also had lunch; here’s the menu:

  • To Begin: Roasted prawns with vegetable Napoleon or Sliced Parma ham with grilled asparagus. [I passed on that course.]
  • Garden Fresh Salad, which was mostly lettuce with one tomato and a couple of olives.
  • Main Course:
    • Filet mignon with chanterelle mushroom sauce, with basil mashed potatoes and zucchini puff
    • Salmon and sea bass in a zucchini wrap, with Israeli couscous and tomato basil sauce
    • Golden sesame chicken with citrus sauce, with fried rice and a vegetable medley
    • Stir-fried pork with bell peppers and Shanghai noodles, with shiitake mushrooms and Chinese seasonal greens

I chose the salmon and sea bass, which was pleasant though somewhat dry. I asked for steamed rice, as well, which was pretty gummy, so I wound up eating the couscous and found that I liked it.

I only paid attention to the white wines; they had a Hanna Russian River Valley 1998 Chardonnay and a Meursault 1999, Bouchard Pere et Fils Burgundy. I chose the Burgundy, which was very smooth and tasty; I’d be happy if I can find a bottle at home.

And I quite enjoyed the Sandeman’s Porto with the cheese course. The ice cream sundae was OK, too, but not as good as the Porto and cheese.

They aren’t boarding Godiva chocolate any more; the best mid-flight snack is M&Ms. But they had a chicken entree left, so I had that as a second meal; it was OK, but not outstanding — the fish was better.

The pre-arrival meal is a choice of New England clam chowder with shrimp and mixed pork, or a fresh seasonal fruit plate with creamy yogurt. I’m up for the fruit.

I asked the purser for a copy of the Business Class menu, and now I’m happier that I upgraded. The entrees were BBQ short ribs with Robinson’s special sauce, stir-fried scallops with Szechuan garlic sauce, and roasted chicken with green curry sauce. And instead of a selection of cheeses, the only offering was whipped pesto cheese with sauteed sliced bread — I can’t even picture that!

I should have had my camera out when we were flying over California; the wine country looked just beautiful. But I didn’t, and much of our trip was clouded over, but I did get a few shots of the Kuskokwim River in Alaska, near latitude 62N, longitude 155W.

Kuskowim 4:

It sure looked cold down there, but not as cold as my first sight of Russia, near Provideniyn, just after crossing the Bering Strait.

Near Provideniyn, Russia:

Then I waited until the plane crossed into the Eastern Hemisphere and celebrated by watching Bedazzled, another movie that Jeffrey is not ready to see (but I enjoyed it; I’d like to see the original).

As I write this, we have 5 and a half hours left in the flight; we’re still over Russia, just west of Japan.

The rest of the flight continued uneventfully; eventually, we arrived at the new Hong Kong International Airport, and I took the Airport Express to Kowloon and my hotel.

The Airport Express is interesting — it’s very modern, very clean, connects with free buses to get you to your hotel, and is fast. It’s also cheap; my ride was HK$80 (about $11 US), compared to the hotel shuttle bus at HK$125 (which would have taken longer, too). They have a very simple four-stop system, and an interesting indicator of where you are on your way.

airport express:

And now I’m in my room at the Marco Polo HongKong, with a truly wonderful view across Victoria Harbour of Hong Kong Island.

from my room:

The Star Ferry terminal is ten floors below me; I’ll go over to Hong Kong island tomorrow. Right now, it’s been a very long day and it’s time for bed.

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Perspective

Kaycee, I hope I’m never called on to show half as much courage as you and your mom have been, but if I am, I’ll be better prepared from seeing how you’ve faced up to the situation.

Off to Hong Kong

This posting is coming from the United First Class lounge at SFO, while I wait for my flight to Hong Kong in an hour or so. I decided to splurge and use miles to upgrade all the way; the plane is supposed to operate with their new sleeper seats, but I when I checked in, they told me there’d been an equipment change and I’ll have to put up with “regular” First Class seats. I hadn’t planned to sleep in this direction anyway (when I fly west, I try to stay up until bedtime at my destination; that’s usually the way home, which makes it a bit easier because I have all sorts of real life cues that aren’t there when I’m away), so I’m not too disappointed — but I hope they’ve got the sleeper seat on the way home.

The First Class lounge is head and shoulders above the regular Red Carpet Clubs; for one thing, it’s quiet and uncrowded. And there’s food (noshes, not full meals; I don’t think I’m likely to starve on the flight anyway). And the bar is open and free, though that’s not of much interest to me at the moment. I probably could get used to travelling like this.

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Catching up on the weekend's play-by-play

We started Saturday as usual, with Torah Study at temple; then I was the
lay leader for the minyan service. I think it went fairly well, if you
ignore my forgetting to put my kippah on until the Haftorah was being
read (and I think I’m the only one who noticed, anyway). Next time,
though, I’ll practice the part of the Torah Service that only the leader
says; it’s hard to read those lines of
Hebrew while juggling the siddur and the Torah!

After services, we had a long lunch with some of our friends from
temple at Max’s Cafe in Saratoga; we
didn’t plan for it to be a long lunch, but the service was a bit on the
leisurely side. Then we paid a long visit to Barnes & Noble. And I
can’t remember what we did after that — it was, I’m sure,
inconsequential.

On Sunday, both Diane and I went to the Y and worked out while Jeffrey
was in Religious School; then we helped
Diane Reese celebrate her
birthday. She didn’t know we were going to help her celebrate — she
thought going to lunch with her husband was celebration enough. But by
the time they returned, her house had been invaded by many of her
friends, waiting to surprise her. And we did; when she walked in, she
saw Jeffrey playing quietly with her sons — I couldn’t see her, but I
heard her say “Hi” to him in a very puzzled voice, trying to
figure out what was going on. So the rest of us popped out and said
“Surprise!”, then settled down to demolish a wonderful chocolate cake
(thanks, Brad) and icecream (thanks, Eric). Later on, Diane introduced
us to PsychoBabble
(so far, I haven’t gotten any votes while playing, though I have been
able to pick out the winning sentence fairly often). And towards
evening, many
of us took advantage of the wonderful weather to enjoy the hot tub. Not
a bad way to spend a Sunday, even if I didn’t get anything accomplished.

Today, it was back to work and school; volume 21 of the original Star
Trek series showed up in today’s mail (though its release date is
tomorrow), so we watched The Trouble With Tribbles after dinner.
Then Jeffrey and I watched the last half of The Weakest Link — I
still haven’t decided whether I like the show or not, but it is
definitely interesting.

Tomorrow, I pack for Hong Kong.

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Reunited

Jeffrey returned from Science Camp this afternoon. It was pouring rain, his clothes and suitcases were muddy, he said the food was bad, and, to add insult to injury, they even had a dance last night that they had to go to! All about what I expected to hear (except for the dance).

Tomorrow, I’m lay leader for shabbat minyan; it’s my first time doing it, but I don’t expect to have much trouble; it’s not nearly as hard as actually reading the Torah would be.

Shabbat Shalom!

Wines of the Week

1999 Trevor Mast Four Sisters Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon: I didn’t like this wine at first — it seemed awfully sharp. But it was drinkable, and remained so even after opening (and resealing with a Vacu-Vin); if anything, it improved over the days it took us to go through the bottle. I wouldn’t put it high on a list to buy again, but I wouldn’t turn up my nose at it, either.

2000 Fontana Candida Pinot Grigio: Neither Diane nor I liked this wine at first, and as we finished our glasses, our opinions didn’t change. We poured the rest of the bottle down the drain. Not recommended.

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So far, so good

Diane and I managed to cope with having to choose a restaurant on our
own last night; I think we’ll be able to handle the experience for the
rest of the week, too.

The house did seem unusually quiet this morning, though (in the past,
when Jeffrey’s done a sleep-over, it hasn’t been on a school/work
day) — and we even managed to leave for work about 15 minutes early!

Hal says “I really like the idea of virtual diapers”.
Just wait till you experience the real thing!

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Temporarily childless

Jeffrey, along with the rest of the fifth grade at his school, is spending the rest of this week at Science Camp (also known as “Outdoor School”). The scene this morning at school was somewhat disorganized, as kids showed up with sleeping bags, suitcases, duffles, and whatever else they could carry; at 8:30, the teachers told the kids to come into the classroom and leave their stuff on the blacktop. Oh, and by the way, say “bye” to the parents.

So we’re on our own for the next few days; I suppose we’ll be able to cope.

In England, they do it for &163;10,000

We watched The Weakest Link last night; I don’t know if I want to watch it again (though it does have a certain perverse fascination — as they say, “like watching a train wreck”), but I am certain that I don’t want to be a contestant — not even for a possible $1,000,000. What amazes me is that BBC is able to attract contestants for the original show with a top prize of just &163;10,000 (about $14,300).

Catching up on community

Congratulations, Hal and Audrey. Having a child will change your life (but you’ve probably heard that before).

And congratulations to Maria on passing the bar. Becoming a lawyer will probably change your life, too.

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