Here the outside of the official invitation from our client for the holiday party at the Expat Village close by. (We don’t live there, we live in Dameisha 40 minutes away). This one is Thursday night. Our own PwC team dinner is tomorrow night in Shenzhen. We are all happy to have survived today with the start of system testing – even tough we’re furiously adding final code and tying up loose bits and pieces. So : one down, four to go. Days until I get to go home, that is. Yippee !
I had a hunch I need to make it out to Times Square out by Causeway Bay since that shopping mall hosts great exhibits year-round, and I was glad I did. There is a collection of giant spray cans and figures outside to invite passers-by in, and inside the atrium of the mall there is a giant rotating wooden head, surrounded by an exhibition of giant wooden figures as well as little doll figures. The one with the bandaged head and crutch is called ‘No War’ and makes a political statement, I’m sure.
I believe the International Commerce Center building in Kowloon has now opened its skydeck but alas – the smog in the city this weekend was terrible. Check out the picture second from last that I took from the taxi on the way back to Shenzhen. The apartment buildings are about 50 stories high. The ICC building visible between them, goes up for another 60 stories : the skydeck is at the 110th floor. But of course the view can only be appreciated on a clear day.
The last picture is the view if one looks back immediately after setting foot in mainland China after customs. This building is newly renovated; on previous trips I found it covered up with scaffolding.
It should be no surprise that Christmas is embraced by the retail industry even though it’s a holiday with no religious significance in this part of the world. So here are some pictures from Saturday.
Love Christmas, Love Hong Kong (and spend money in the process, of course!). Don’t want to pay your supertaxes? Off to jail with you. (Looks like the rich are off the hook with paying super taxes in the USA anyway!). These Monopoly floor decorations in Central Station is for a promotion by McDonalds. Yes, they still sell the board game in the stores. Tai Koo station is far out east on the Island Line and there I found a nice store called Muji (behind me in the reflection) with Japanese products. I bought a white bone china dinner plate – to actually use in my apartment. US$20 for the plate instead of US$1 for a cheap porcelain plate in China BUT the China plates are not flat – it’s really a shallow bowl. AND it’s not bone China, see? The little toys clamoring for their escape is a scene straight from a Toy Story movie, also at this mall.
Click on the Visa billboard picture to get the original big size one and check it out. Surprisingly, no USA icons : no Statue of Liberty, no Golden Gate Bridge. What’s up with that, Visa? The staid and uppity Peninsula Hotel did a good job of its Christmas decorations – the snowflakes seem to float in 3D since they are suspended by thin black cables. Picture of a ‘Betty Boop’/ modern worldly girl that needs no handsome prince (is that him in the moonlight? no, looks like a monkey on the horse!) from the Peninsula Arcade next door. Finally two pictures from the mall in International Finance Centre 2. (Did Pinocchio play a trumpet in the original story? I don’t recall that he did).
It’s Friday and I didn’t think I’d make it to Hong Kong : we all really thought we would be grounded and ordered to work this weekend. We start the first round of system testing on Monday and we were struggling to get everything in place, 12 hour workdays notwithstanding. But there we were, in the van : Willem, Will and William. I hitched a ride to Hong Kong airport with the other two Wills. The first picture shows a road sign in Shenzhen with live traffic densities, the second just another Shenzhen building. Mickey Mouse in his Santa outfit is from a giant wall mural in Hong Kong train station, and the final picture is inside the train just before the last stop. For the last few blocks to the Marriott Courtyard I took the tram even though I had some luggage to handle, since the taxis were in short supply.
The blue LED light Christmas tree and Santa with a teddy bear is from the lobby of the King Key Palace hotel where I had dinner Thu night. The three of us at dinner agreed that the Christmas music played in the restaurant felt odd. On the topic of blue some of us (not me!) had to have cold showers this morning due to broken water heaters in the apartments .. brr. It’s got to be one of modern life’s indispensible luxuries : the warm shower.
Like I said before, it’s interesting to me to see what international brands are doing to increase their local appeal. This banner for Coca-cola (that I found here in Dameisha) points to a website called QQ.com with all kinds of links to comic book characters, web sites offering goodies for sale, or caricatures of (American) presidents, pop stars and actors.
This print ad is posted in the elevator in my apartment (mentos is a minty candy). So what is going on? Is the girl so ecstatically happy because of the cake with the 21 on that is presented to her? Well, no. I enlisted the help of my colleague here at work : turns out the translation of the Chinese text actually reads ‘How mentos do you want to be?/ How mentos do you want your breath to be? So now we can reverse engineer what happened. She presented the guy with the cake with the 21 on. He blew out the candles with his minty mentos breath – and that blew her away. There you have it!
I go out to work on Monday morning
Tuesday I go off to honeymoon
I’ll be back again before it’s time for sunny down
I’ll be lazing on a Sunday afternoon
Bicycling on every Wednesday evening
Thursday I go waltzing to the zoo
I come from London town
I’m just an ordinary guy
Fridays I go painting in the Louvre
I’m bound to be proposing on a Saturday night
(There he goes again)
I’ll be lazing on a Sunday lazing on a Sunday
Lazing on a Sunday afternoon
From ‘A Night at the Opera’ (1975) by Queen
All the pictures are from the Sheraton Dameisha where we had an expensive Sunday lunch this afternoon in the Capri restaurant, which also allowed us to go outside onto the ocean-side deck and the private beach of the hotel. A wedding ceremony was scheduled for later, as can be seen from the picture with the chairs on the beach. (Note to self : the hotel has only 368 rooms, not the ‘more than a thousand’ I told my dad on the phone today). The little fruit balloons I hold up in the last picture is part of my prize I won in a raffle contest : a free future Sunday brunch at the restaurant !
It was a beautiful day outside .. low humidity and mild temperatures. The pictures are from my (fourth, I think) visit to the Outside China Town East theme park here in Dameisha. The first picture shows the entrance; the second is of a billboard showing that a ‘snowy’ Christmas 2010 has arrived in the park as well. However, there’s little evidence of that inside : a snowflake decoration here and there, and a layer of ‘snow’ on some roof tops is about it ! I don’t know the guy on stilts or the young woman posing with him. The next picture shows Dameisha in the distance. The last picture shows the latest real estate project which has been completed : the Ocean Crown. Buyer beware!
Friday and I decided to stay put in Dameisha because I need to get the last of the jet lag out of my system and I have to do a few hours of work tomorrow. I’m not a workaholic! but we are going to leave the China team behind here between Christmas and New Year’s Day to continue in our absence – and they need to have good instructions and data in the test system. Tonight a few of us went to the Sheraton hotel here for a beef burger and a beer. The lobby was decorated with Christmas paraphernalia – that’s a ginger bread ‘house’ with ‘snow’ on the roof. The WATERSKY OTEL is across the street from the Sheraton. I liked the golden neon sign at the entrance.
Since I got back after my two-month absence here on the project I have had to catch up on a lot of discussions that happened outside e-mails and teleconferences. We still live in the real world, and there will always be a need to be physically present and look someone in the eye to understand exactly what is going on.
Ready for today’s treat from work? Selection of high quality ingredients create fantastic taste and strong feelings of softness and happiness .. : ).
Here’s last night’s dinner .. my stand-by New Orleans style chicken sandwich from KFC with fries and a little custard pie. Then it was on to the grocery store for a few items. Check out the ‘unusual’ cereal flavors from Heinz : Fish and Vegetable, Black Rice & Date. Yes .. Heinz makes much much more than just tomato ketchup! (No, I didn’t get any to try! I brought some Pronutro cereal from South Africa).
I made it to Bangkok at 6am local time this morning, and then on to Hong Kong. There I paid $20 for a shower (completely worth it), met a colleague from PwC Singapore and our driver took us across the border to mainland China, and to the office to work for 3 hrs. So by this time – 9 pm China time, Johannesburg lies very far behind me ! My apartment is in decent shape. I had to throw out all the perishables in the fridge since the power went out or was turned out by the cleaners.
Pictures : Ndebele dolls from the ‘Out of Africa’ store at OR Tambo airport; World Cup 2010 paraphernalia are hanging in there – last call, I think; the Thai bird that brought us to Bangkok parked at the gate at JNB airport, and inside Bangkok airport making the connection to the flight to Hong Kong.
Back to work! I’ll take the very short hotel shuttle to the Gautrain station which runs into O R Tambo airport here in Johannesburg, then ship out Hong Kong via Bang Kok on Thai Air. Here is where I usually post a route map but below is the best I could do with the Thai Air website. Note to Thai Air webmaster : move Johannesburg down from Zimbabwe into South Africa on the map! : )
A few pictures from today : my hotel is right across from the Johannesburg Stock Exchange; Use only what you need exhorts Eskom the national electric utility; and since the hotel shuttle from the airport was pretty expensive I had to go and do a test run on the new Gautrain. The Sandton station is just around the block from the hotel and the airport is three stops away. The system is set up the same way as in Seattle and Hong Kong : buy a magnetic card for a nominal fee, and top it up at any station’s ticketing machines. Tap the turnstile reader with the card to register your departure point and tap the exit turnstile reader at the arrival station. The fare is calculated and deducted from the card. A one-way fare from Sandton Square to the airport is R100 (US$15) : not cheap by South African standards, but a cab ride to the hotel will cost at least US$ 50 – and besides, if you intend to fly for transport* you can definitely afford a $15 train fare! The train’s inside is very nicely appointed in a gold, blue and cream color scheme and the seats are very comfortable. The train hits 160 km/h (100 mph) for short stretches between the stations and runs very smoothly. Very nice! The last picture is a view of the old rail track from the elevated Rhodesfield station.
*which reminds me of my experience this morning at British Airways’ security check point at Cape Town this morning. I only had to take out my notebook computer and my Blackberry. Didn’t have to take my shoes off, nor take the bag of liquids out of my computer bag. Walked through the metal detector, the bleep + red light went off, but I was just waved through by the attendant. On top of all that I unintentionally smuggled in a 1/2 bottled water tucked into the side of my backpack that I was not called on either .. whoah !
The time has come to pack up again .. staying overnight in Johannesburg tomorrow night, then to Hong Kong via Bang Kok on Monday. About the same time as from Seattle, but this time I fly west.
The Arizona Spur is one of a franchise, the South African equivalent of TGI Fridays, where we had dinner last night before the movie. A few other South African artifacts : I love the GPS coordinates on my new Cape Town t-shirt, and the moo-vuzela that the cow uses to trumpet its cheese; and the hand-made African wire-and-bead reindeer looks a little lost. Can you blame him – this far south with Christmas less than a month away?
It has been a very long time since I saw an Afrikaans movie in a theater, and tonight I did : Liefling the Movie. It is an Afrikaans musical with English subtitles, and on track to become a blockbuster South African movie. Think Mamma Mia! the ABBA musical – it’s about the same. The picture below shows the romantic leads. The movie was made on a tiny tiny budget by American standards : R 5 million (US $800,000).
The original song Liefling was recorded in 1972 by Gé Korsten (album cover below).
Below are the opening lyrics of the song. Overly simplistic and dramatic, one could say – but consider this :
[Source : Wikipedia] In the 2002 Currie Cup final against the Golden Lions, a South African Rugby Union player Derick Hougaard broke Naas Botha’s 15 year record for points scored in a Currie Cup final of 24 by scoring 26. This feat at the start of his career and his excellent goal kicking success ratio during the following years earned him the accolade Liefling van Loftus (Eng. ‘Sweetheart of Loftus Versfeld Stadium’) in Pretoria. Each time Hougaard scored points for the Bulls at Loftus, the chorus of this song was played in the stadium.
Which reminds me of Simon and Garfunkel singing Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you (Woo woo woo) in the song Mrs Robinson (1968).
Liefling 1972 (Kunze, Maffay, Toerien)
Jy weet dat ek nie sonder jou kan bestaan nie You know that without you I cannot exist
Jy week dat jy ook nie alleen kan bestaan nie You know that you too cannot exist on your own
Dit weet jy goed You know that well
Liefling kan ons nie maar vergeet en vergewe? Sweetheart could we not forgive and forget?
Liefling ek kan nie sonder jou verder lewe Sweetheart I cannot carry on without you
Dit weet jy goed You know that well
[Source : Wikipedia] Thanksgiving Day is a harvest festival celebrated primarily in the United States and Canada. Traditionally, it has been a time to give thanks for a bountiful harvest. While it may have been religious in origin, Thanksgiving is now primarily identified as a secular holiday. It is sometimes casually referred to as Turkey Day.
In Canada, Thanksgiving Day is celebrated on the second Monday in October, which is Columbus Day in the United States. In the United States, it falls on the fourth Thursday of November.
The precise historical origin of the holiday is disputed. Although Americans commonly believe that the first Thanksgiving happened in 1621 at Plymouth, Massachusetts, there is some evidence for an earlier harvest celebration by Spanish explorers in Florida during 1565. There was also a celebration two years before Plymouth (in 1619) in Virginia. There was a Thanksgiving of sorts in Newfoundland, modern-day Canada in 1578 but it was to celebrate a homecoming instead of the harvest. Thanksgiving Day is also celebrated in Leiden, in the The Netherlands. A different holiday which uses the same name is celebrated at a similar time of year in the island of Grenada. There is no Thanksgiving Day or equivalent thereof in South Africa.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone !
Mooi berge means ‘beautiful mountains’ and is the name of a farm stall outside Stellenbosch known for its colorful scarecrows and metal artwork in and around its strawberry fields. (Confession : the pictures are actually from Tuesday, when it was very windy). The best time of year to visit the Cape Town area is well into the new year, as late as April.