12.24am Seattle time/ Happy New Year!

Yes, yes – I know Seattle is late to the New Year’s party, but 2011 has now arrived here as well.    The picture is of tonight’s fireworks at the Space Needle but I have to confess: from the television in my living room.  It’s cold outside!

Wishing everyone good health and happiness in 2011.

Friday/ Good-bye to all that was 2010

Still very cold and sunny .. looks like the temperature last night dipped to 23° F  (-5° C) and will only reach 36° F (2° C) today.    SOO .. 2010 is bidding us good-bye!   Shall we make like the Japanese? : drink up at year-end parties known as bonen-kai – ‘forget-the-year’ gatherings : )

For me 2010 was The Year of The Tiger, learning so much about China and about the cultural differences between East and West.   I made 8 trips there, each three or four weeks long (with some weekend trips to Hong Kong, Shanghai and Bangkok), and one trip to South Africa.    I did not learn nearly as much of spoken or written Mandarin as I wanted.   (But then one has to work for what one wants, right?).

With it being the year-end, let me quote something philosophical from an article in Bloomsberg Businessweek that profiles an Irish father-son real estate developer team, Paddy (father) and Simon (son).   During the real estate boom years they borrowed  €800 million (that’s almost 1 billion $US) from the now-infamous Anglo Irish Bank to buy hotels and build golf courses.   They are now €700 million in debt.   The reporter says Paddy now looks back and offers many philosophical asides, this one among them.  Ready? 

The illision in our lives is attachment.  Yesterday’s history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift – and that’s why we call it the present‘.

Thursday/ sunny and cold downtown

Thursday was sunny but very cold, and today (Friday) is much the same.    The Space Needle picture is from across the barber where I had my hair cut (I’m looking west toward the mountains on the Olympics peninsula), the downtown picture from across Westlake Center (chess, anyone?) and the Olive 8 hotel-condominium tower is still waiting to be filled up.  ‘Recharge, reset, repriced’ said a billboard ad on a bus I saw a few days ago, but I think it’s still going to be a tough sell.   The chatter yesterday on CNBC was all about the real estate market which is still very weak with a lot of foreclosures expected for 2011.

Wednesday/ the Microsoft Store

Well, I wanted to go check out the Microsoft Store in the Bellevue Square mall, and so I did.   Not a very good picture – I felt a little spare between all the geeks to take a picture of the store (They might think ‘What’s with this guy? Is he not used to anything?’ .. I need to ignore that of course, if I want good pictures).   But in the right corner they have a demonstration going of their new Kinect system for the Xbox.  The Kinect is a single sensor bar that contains two depth sensors, and a standard RGB camera.   It enables interactive video games with the Xbox.  Depth is a huge feature of the Kinect, and the cameras can track both your movement from side-to-side, as well as front-to-back and up and down, making the entire range of movements potentially game controls.   The Kinect also features a built-in microphone that allows voice-activated commands when applicable, and the vocal feature does pop up in games now and again.     The ‘game’ they demonstrated was a dance routine that the player needs to do, and then you get a score.   The system has been very successful, selling 2 million units in the USA so far.  (I think I read somewhere that the Xbox itself has not really made money for the company).

The rest of the store is nicely laid out with notebook computers from Dell, Sony and HP (of course loaded with Microsoft products and Windows 7), and mobile phones with the new Windows Phone 7 system on.

Tuesday/ new watch

Like my new watch?  It’s a belated Christmas present to myself.  It’s a Seiko 4R15 Stainless Steel 200m Self Automatic Diver watch.  (No, I’m not going to dive to 200m with it).  It is very heavy, and it may be too big for my wrist (is it?) – well, doesn’t matter.  I love the 3 6 9 12 numbers on it that shines in the dark, and the black and silver.

Monday/ shopping

The stout-hearted* little fellow in Pacific Place Mall is advertising the Nutcracker ballet that is in town.   I bought a shirt at Nordstrom and was shocked to pay $9 for parking in the garage downstairs (that should teach me not to spend 2 hrs at the mall !).    The parking garage is in trouble financially, since its use fell by 18% over the last 5 years.   So : will hiking parking prices help?  A tough call.

*Google’s translation of the Afrikaans word kordaat which I struggled to translate to English

The other picture is from Broadway’s new Panera Bread next to the Seattle Community College (I recommend their turkey and artichoke panini sandwich).   I bought some Sumi ink, brushes and paper at the Blick art store next to it – to try my hand at brush-writing in traditional Chinese.   Of course I will have to report how that goes.

Sunday/ 这是从ATM假注

I finally got all my ‘paperwork’ processed – the pile of mail, receipts from my trips and collectible little items such as stamps and currency notes.  The little ‘charm’ stamps were handed out in Hong Kong at the 7-11s when big purchases were made (big being relative : more than US$10).   The other two pictures are close-up inspections of my R200 (US$30) South African notes.  In May of this year all pre-2005 notes were recalled by the South African Reserve Bank due to concerns with counterfeit notes in circulation.  It’s actually a problem in China as well – and as we tell each other at work there : what to do if the ATM spits out fake notes?  1.  You have to recognize them as fake, 2. The bank is probably CLOSED and 3.  Better learn to say  这是从ATM假注 Eng. This is fake note from ATM : (

Saturday/ Capitol Hill walk

It’s Christmas Day, but that doesn’t mean we all have to stay inside, right?  The streets were very quiet, but I still got some worthwhile pictures on my Capitol Hill walk.

1.  As far as I can tell the car is a Pontiac Silver Streak from 1948 or so;  2. The T-Rex is terrifying the humans, but it’s a tall tale at the Twice Sold Tales bookshop : there is no fossil evidence that dinosaurs and humans co-existed on earth; 3. Bottle-cap artwork at the construction site of the Capitol Hill Light Rail station (Jim Morrison of The Doors?);  4.  The digging for the station looks like it’s now 5 or 6 stories deep (see the faint yellow backhoes or scrapers far down?;  5.  Mr Squirrel was stealing bird seed.

Thursday/ a new bank for Seattle

Here’s a nice bit of artwork on a card that arrived in the mail to introduce Seattle residents to Umpqua bank.   Click it to enlarge it.  They got most of Seattle’s icons in : salmon, kayaking, sailing, a few Boeings, Pike Place Market, a woman holding an umbrella, the Pink Elephant carwash sign (see it?), the Space Needle (OF COURSE) – but how about a coffee bean or the Starbucks lady? Speaking of the Pink Elephant carwash sign – I need to go and buy myself a proper tripod for night photography for once and for all and go shoot the pink neon of the elephant next week when I have a little time.

I dialed into the China conference call again today and they all yelled ‘Merry Christmas! for the Americans on the call’ and giggled.

Tuesday/ life begins at 46



The blow-up Santa above is from a house here on 17th Ave.   We are generally NOT going overboard with Christmas decorations here in Seattle !    There is an interesting international study mentioned in the Economist’s year-end issue : happiness in life follows a U curve with the low-point at 46.  Mid-life crisis and all that.  After 46 a person’s happiness generally increase into old age.   So I guess that is why Santa is VERY HAPPY.   (A somewhat dainty jump he makes, is it not? – throwing away the Christmas cane! I’m just not sure why he is jumping over someone’s NOSE!)


Monday night/ Winter Solstice

It’s actually Tuesday morning, and I heard on the radio while driving today there was a full moon tonight (I couldn’t see it) which went through a total lunar eclipse, and all this during the winter solstice : the first time in 375 years that all three events coincide.

[From www.timeanddate.com] The December solstice occurs when the sun reaches its most southerly declination of -23.5 degrees. In other words, it is when the North Pole is tilted 23.5 degrees away from the sun.  On this date, all places above a latitude of 66.5 degrees north are now in darkness, while locations below a latitude of 66.5 degrees south receive 24 hours of daylight.

The sun is directly overhead on the Tropic of Capricorn in the southern hemisphere during the December solstice. It also marks the longest day of the year in terms of daylight hours for those living south of the Tropic of Capricorn (hello everyone in South Africa, lucky devils! 🙂 . Those living or travelling south from the Antarctic Circle towards the South Pole will see the midnight sun during this time of the year.

On the contrary, for an observer in the northern hemisphere (that would be ME!), the December solstice marks the day of the year with the least hours of daylight for those living north of the Tropic of Cancer. Those living or traveling north of the Arctic Circle towards the North Pole will not be able to see the sun during this time of the year.

Sunday/ packing out

The first item is a pencil holder, a gift each of us got at last Thursday’s dinner.  It was nicely packed and sturdy and survived the journey here.   Not so the bone china tea cup made in Japan : ( .. I should have padded it much more since it’s very thin, as the broken pieces show.    Bone china is a type of porcelain that is composed of bone ash, feldspathic material and kaolin.   The English potter Josiah Spode is actually credited with the final successful formula, around 1789 to 1793.

Saturday II/ Seattle

I’m home ! !   Yes, it’s still Saturday, since we crossed the International Dateline from east to west.  As I sat here on my couch woozy from the flying it was hard to believe it was ‘this morning’ that the tall apartment buildings in Hong Kong flashed by driving out to the airport where I snapped the cute Canon printer billboard.   We left a little late (the flight path picture shows our arrival) and I had to run to make my connection at Incheon airport.   I think the held the flight for us, though.   South Korea continues to be in the news over the latest spat with their aggressive neighbor to the north.   Seoul is uncomfortably close to the border, as the map shows.

Saturday/ HongKong> Seoul> Seattle

We made good time through the Shenzhen traffic and the two border posts just at sunset yesterday (first two pictures) .. a bunch of us is here at the Courtyard Marriott, some (me!) leaving today and some tomorrow.    The blurry picture is our arrival into Hong Kong last night and the bad boy International Commerce Center building teased me with a glimpse of it that I caught just before we entered into the Western Harbor tunnel to Hong Kong Island.

I could not check in on line but Asiana Airlines wishes me a Happy Happy Christmas.    Seems a requirement that even a cartoon Santa character needs to have a thick white moustache, right?

Friday/ heading out tonight !

We had a great Christmas dinner hosted by our client company at the Expatriate Village here next to the power plant.    There were several French countrymen attending as well – some of which had been here a long time already with the first of the units put in operation back in 1994 !   The French guy sitting next to me worked at Koeberg (South Africa’s only nuclear power plant) and (of course) liked the South African wines : ).    Most of the US team members are heading out today.     We are squishing in as much work as we can, handing over some responsibilities to our PwC China colleagues to hold the fort while we are away over the Christmas break (there is no Christmas in China, really – and the Chinese New Year is only in February ). 

Pictures : 1.  Dameisha bus stop this morning at 6.30am.  Some road-side trees on the right were blown over by the storm wind of Wed night.   2.  The stuffed Santa Claus himself got blown over, but was back at his post by the Expatriate Village this morning.   3.  Interesting diamond-shaped casing on a new administrative building close to where we work.

Thursday/ inner and outer Mongolia

The wind howled around the corners of the apartment building all last night, setting off car alarms (but there were no barking dogs, the way there is sometimes!).    Looking at Hong Kong observatory’s map, it’s a north wind which makes sense because it’s cold and the temperature here dropped to 7 º C (44 º F).   It has already snowed in Shanghai – early for this year, and since Beijing is further up north I’m sure they have had lots of snow already (not to mention many places in the USA!).    Our newest PwC colleague that joined the project is from Mongolia and at Tue’s team dinner he explained to us the difference between inner Mongolia and outer Mongolia.   Ready?  Inner Mongolia is an autonomous region inside China, and outer Mongolia is today its own country Mongolia, just to the north of inner Mongolia. 

Wednesday/ honey and fish

Over the hump!  Two work days to go.  The honey is tasty! It’s viscosity* is quite lower compared to what I’m used to at home.  (I always think of the word viscosity when I see honey).   The tins of canned fish I bought in Hong Kong last weekend.   (Confession : I buy the ones with the pretty pictures on the outside, like the Indian guy presenting his curried mackerel).

*Viscosity is a measure of the resistance of a fluid which is being deformed by either shear stress or tensile stress.  In everyday terms (and for fluids only), viscosity is “thickness” or “internal friction”.   Thus, water is “thin”, having a lower viscosity, while honey is “thick”, having a higher viscosity.



Tuesday/ Futian district of Shenzhen 深圳市

These pictures are all from around the restaurant where we had our team dinner Tue night, in the Futian district of Shenzhen. 

Pictures :  Those are little Santa Clauses on my head, and reindeer horns worn as a ‘scarf’ by my colleague;  yes –  that’s Harry Potter on the display screen for the movie theater inside Coco Park shopping mall;  plenty of bars such as the Lili Marleen bar and 1877 bar; some skyscrapers at night time are lit up with cool lighting like the diamond pattern on the building in the distance.

P.S.  The blue and red figure from Sunday’s post is Pres. Obama, of course .. did you get that? (I didn’t at first).  In American politics blue means Democratic Party and red means Republican Party.