Friday, June 22, 2012

The Shenzhou has landed...

... right below my apartment. In a shopping mall. Want proof?

Sure, it's a little worse for the wear, but it's been IN SPACE, people. (photo courtesy Mrs. Blog)

Apparently they're setting up for a big exhibition about the Chinese space program. The capsule is the only artifact actually in place at the moment--there's not even a sign on it--so I can't wait to see what the rest of the display will entail.

China has come a long way in terms of space exploration, and recently became only the third nation to successfully dock two spacecraft in orbit. It is roughly where America was in the early 70s, and that's not a diminuative--what they're doing takes a ton of engineering and science expertise. Seeing an exhibition of the technology that got them where they are will, I'm sure, be fascinating... and I can see it on the way to pick up our morning pastries.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

This won't hurt a bit

I have a confession to make: I never visited a doctor in the UAE that I was not forced to. I got a physical because it was required for my insurance when I first arrived; I got a blood test because the government wanted to make sure I wasn't importing any horrible diseases.

But beyond that, I stayed away. This was partly because I didn't have any serious health issues, but mostly because I did not fully trust the system or my health insurance. In my work I encountered enough stories about badly trained doctors--or worse, doctors who had been kicked out of their home countries for some serious screw-ups--to make the idea of scheduling an appointment unappealing. Judging by my co-workers' experiences, a trip to the clinic was a bit of a dice-roll. Some people got good care, others got terrible care and just about everyone complained about Daman, the state-owned insurance company.

There's a lot more to say about health care in the UAE, but that isn't what this post is about. It's about Hong Kong and my first trip to a doctor here.

And I can sum that up easily: it was excellent. The office was clean and modern; the doctor was from Hong Kong but had trained in Britain; the process was efficient; the paperwork minimal. I literally had to sign one form and everything was taken care of. No money changed hands at all, not even for prescriptions. (I realize that for the Brits in the audience--wave so I can see you--this is not novel. But for me it most certainly is.)

The major difference from medical care I have gotten in the U.S., which has been excellent if not always easy to access, is a focus on treatment rather than prevention. It was my first time there, but no one measured, or even asked, my height and weight. The doctor took an extensive oral history from me, but his main concern was why I had come to see him and what he could do to fix me.

Like I said, all in all a great experience. It can be intimidating, at least mentally, to put yourself in the care of a physician in a foreign country, but this felt entirely comfortable.

I know I have a tendency to, shall we say, extrapolate good experiences; I didn't know what to expect from my visit, which made expectations easy to exceed. So this is not to say that there aren't bad doctors and decrepit offices in Hong Kong. But knowing you have someplace good to go for health care takes a little bit of the sting out of living far from home.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The PLAN and the albatross

Ever since Mrs. Blog and I arrived in our apartment, our view of the harbor has included one constant (besides the harbor and Kowloon on the other side): a giant catamaran cruise ship anchored right outside our window.

At first it was cool, in a "I've never seen a catamaran that big in person" kind of way. Then it just got annoying, in a "this stupid ship is ruining the view" kind of way.

Last night, as the Typhoon Signal 3 was raised--indicating "strong wind"--I saw something amazing: the catamaran, lit up like a Bun Festival tree, motoring away under its own power. This was more notable to me than it probably should have been, but the boat had begun to feel like a giant, white, in-no-way-like-a-bird albatross, hovering near our building for no discernible reason.

This morning it had been replaced by:

 PLAN party cove?

Although in Chinese culture just about everything has significance in terms of luck, good fortune, wealth, I'm not sure what to make of these two ships, which appear to be assault landing craft. They're at anchor, and definitely not landing or assaulting anything, so that's good. But there is speculation that the Chinese military is putting on a show ahead of Establishment Day on July 1--that's the day Hong Kong was handed back to the Chinese. Every year, apparently, there are huge pro-democracy marches here on that date, as masses of Hong Kongers take to the streets to make it as obvious as possible that they are very happy with the "two systems" aspect of China's official One Country, Two Systems policy toward its special administrative regions.

Mrs. Blog and I will be in the United States of Awesome, unfortunately, and won't get to witness the marches--a form of organized protest we most certainly did not witness in the UAE, where life is perfect and everyone loves the sheikhs. But at least we can say we had a good view as the People's Liberation Army set up its front-row seats for the big day.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Offensively Sweaty Gweilo II: This Means Warm

(This is part of an occasional series in which I, the Offensively Sweaty Gweilo, answer questions both real and imagined from the world of Hong Kong)

Q: Dear Offensively Sweaty Gweilo: So, I see you are walking a lot more slowly now. (But still in a straight line! Oh well, you're getting there.) Has this helped your offensive sweatiness at all? Summer is upon us, after all.

A: You noticed! Although I can manage to make it most of the way to my office on foot without spending too much time outside, the last few blocks from the MTR station to my office are exposed. Some days that means getting wet. Lately it has mean getting sunned on. So I have tried to follow your implicit advice and slow down. This has definitely reduced the OS part of OSG. I'm also keeping close watch on whether it offers me any kind of new perspective about rushing through life, running to get to work, real Ferris Bueller-type stuff. I'll keep you posted.
Q:What if you're not going to work? What then? I would suggest stopping in a shady park and practicing tai chi or honing your sword work.
A: Mrs. Blog and I have hiked up into the hills with no particular destination in mind other than a nice spot to eat lunch. And honestly, when you're surrounded by greenery, with the hum of the city reduced to, well, a more distant hum, there's no point in moving fast unless you're trying to get away from another hiker who is, for no discernible reason, blasting Cantopop from a tiny speaker hanging around his neck. We have also taken nice walks around our neighborhood, traipsing through the waterfront park. Tai chi or sword spinning or even some kind of fan-based martial art all look inviting when you practice them in such pleasant surroundings. I'm going to start small, though, and try out all the bizarre exercise equipment built into the park first. Like the revolving platform that you stand on and twist from side to side... what exactly does that do?
Q: Yo, OSG: Hot enough for ya?

A: Come on, really? First of all, pretending you have uniquely great/terrible weather is kind of universal. Humans just need to believe that they have something to brag about, even if they're bragging about basketball-sized hail or frying eggs on the sidewalk. So not only is Hong Kong not superlatively hot, you're not even superlatively bragging. Now. Having said that, yes, it IS warm, but Mrs. Blog and I just moved from the desert. A mere 90 degrees in June makes me want to go to the pool, nothing more. Speaking of which....

Q: Dear OSG, we have all noticed you commenting on the lack of lounge chairs at the pool. What's the problem here? What kind of Gweilo madness is it to go to the pool but not want to get in the water?

A: You have keen eyes. Mrs. Blog and I have indeed been scoping out the pool. And it's not that we don't enjoy swimming--we do! It's a perfect activity for a slow-walking summer day. But consider how you could prolong the pool experience and heighten its enjoyment by adding, say, a book or a nap to the mix. Neither sleeping nor reading work well underwater, but in a lounge chair on a hot day? Oh, yes. Give it a shot... you won't regret it. Unless you get sunburned, which is something the OSG has always fought a losing battle against. But that's a question for another summer day.

As always, keep the questions coming! Possible topics for the next installment: A day at sea on a junk, the prevalence of water balloons in Hong Kong culture, and whether I cool down when I'm visiting America.