Hong Kong + Just James = News for You (Previously the "JustJames" Blog.)

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Chapter Thirteen: Year of the Fire Dog

Chinese_womandoglgHappy Chinese new year to you! (which apparently is the real new year.) Things are fine in HK, and I absolutely love it here... anyway, the part about "earthquake" and "earth" is pretty interesting, because the Feng-Shui masters, Geomancers, face readers, and psychics here in Hong Kong, pretty much agree that the this year (Year of the Dog) will bring an earthquake (maybe in the United States... maybe North America in General... and anywhere with the word "Central" or "Center" or "Middle") starting from the 3rd month of the year (April) to the last portions of the summer (October- 7th month of the year). (I see that 1,3,7,8 are the important and key numbers of the year.) I already warned my sister living in LA... and Lillian I'm warning you too! But I have to watch for myself, Asia will also be affected by this... while Indonesia will apparently get the blunt of it, Tokyo and Hong Kong will for the first time be majorly affected, especially its infrastructure.

While the theme is "Get it fixed in 2006"... all the guys here are pretty much unanimous that this will be a year of accidents and tragedies and natural disasters, and an escalation of war (especially within the 3rd month)... that will pretty much leave the avian flu, (while still a problem), in the dust. They also agree that humanity and group spirituality will be this year's only salvation.

And that is pretty much what's going on in the year of the "Fire Dog" as they say.

Lets brace ourselves.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Chapter Twelve: Unchoreographed Blog Entry

So my friends have been bitching that I haven't really updated my blog as often as I used to... and that my blog is pretty... how should we say this... choreographed... and too tight. I guess after work I'm pretty burned out in the day (or lazy, whatever is which) to actually take the time to write my weblog about Hong Kong. In the past I have usually been very ritualistic in the sense that I would really ... REALLY... take the time to go to a coffee shop with a journal in hand (or if I really want to try, the laptop....) to choreograph an amazing piece of weblog...unfortunately in the end, it the process just hurt the whole "thing" because I would just start to put the whole blog thing off (like the gym) because it was just too much work. But now writing, (like the gym) has to really start up again. It's really unfortunate... because I always have writing in my head all the time... if only one of these thoughts can touch paper... or at least... the computer screen.

Ever since the last paragraph above... it's been three hours, and i'm tired, sleepy, and pissed off... that I have gone through about 5 different versions of this blog entry. Whatever. Basically, In a nutshell I was just writing about how I've been here in Hong Kong for about 6 months now, and I'm really really absolutely loving it.

After choking on wall-dust on a Sunday afternoon for about 5 hours... trying to drill large holes in order to put up artwork... I sat back to finally enjoy my fully furnished WanChai apartment. I then said to myself... "Nice James... here you go... you finally have your own Home."

A girl from Hawaii named Marysol moved to my firm this past week. She's pretty cool, and she's in a band! Anyway, I've been taking her around "My City" the past few days... (Yes Hong Kong is now officially, "My City") taking her to my eating places, showing her my neighborhood, and my shortcuts. She of course was absolutely impressed... and actually, so was at I at my own familiarity with the city. From drinks in Ashley Street in TST, to a loathing of drunk expats in LKF, chillin' with friends in nice private bars on Wellington, to feasting on really great Indian Restaurants in Chungking Mansions... I was now showing Ms. Mary, a Hong Kong in the way I've been living it... the way my local friends like Liz and Jimmy have done for me when I first moved here. It's refreshing to know that I can now share my city for other people the way that others have done for me... and do it with a lot of pride to spare. If only I have the time and patience, I'll probably write a blog or an entry of all my favorite local hotspots (I started, but then I deleted because there's way too much to list). Anyway, I'm just too exhausted to do all of that right now. God... I soooo love this City... by the way, in case I forget... Gong Hai Fa Choi! and Happy Chinese New Year to you!

That this blog entry really sucks. Liz knows how stressed out I got just by writing this entry. Let's see I started at 10 PM, it's now 1 AM. And what do i have to show for it? Nothing.... well something... but really not much of anything.

ABOVE: A photo of my flat... fully freakin' decked out. The House is now a Home.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Chapter Eleven: Thornhill

I woke up at 6 in the morning... and for the first time since arriving a week ago... i’ve started to feel something for this house.

Going back home for the Holidays are both unquestionably always surreal as it is oddly reaffirming. While "reaffirming" may not be the exact word to explain the good part of it-- it is true that while so many things change out there in the world... I know that when

I return to Thornhill, this house, and this small Texan town, that things have never changed much… if at all. The mall will always have the same layout and configuration, the same Banana, a bigger Gap, and maybe a new Starbucks. The kids are still the same… but, sluttier than I remember being. Four Star Coffee Bar will forever be there, the same Reading Room, the same German Chocolate Cake, the same artwork from High School friends hanging on the wall (the art still looking high school even though they just did it like last year), but it’s just under new management… for the third time. Then there are the same Holiday parties, with the same crazy extended family…

Things are as they were. But at what price is it to keep the past?

Two days ago, one of my two elder sisters and my brother-in-law managed to make their escape from the house. (They’ve escaped many times before… we all have at one time or another.) With them they carry the last of their things from storage… and now they have nothing left of their past within the house. Two weeks ago, they began to pack… uncovering moldy and dusty boxes untouched for about two decades… going through all types of sentimental junk.

It’s now 6:30 AM, my throat is killing me with all the dust. Everyone is asleep and this house and I are at once alone. We are half awake sitting still in silence… one, listening, to, the, other. I listen to the hum of the heating system, the beep of the oven clock, the sound of the wind… curious to the stories it has all the possibility of telling. Can emotions and sentiments bleed out of the woodwork? Is it possible for the past to resurface and resurrect in the way that we all yearn for? Is this why each year (for the most part) we are willing to play along?

Half of the furniture have been moved around or sold. As it exists, the house is empty and starved… standing clumsily in the dark morning’s night. Christmas decorations are still wrapped as they were before Christmas arrived and left, stacked in boxes; ready to be shipped to some unknown Christmas heaven where all discarded decorations go. The tree stands there like the house, in place, but unadorned save for one white pearl necklace… a strand of white lights newly purchased from the neighborhood Wal-Mart.

The tree, the ornaments, the house have no say in the matter. They do not have a choice. Boxes. Boxes of all types old with mold, wet, and torn lie haphazardly across the floor. Its contents to be thrown away or moved into new boxes and to be taken away like my sisters have done. The house has given up these things back to us. It has no say in the matter.

Old photographs, old journals, old comic books—one by one, bit by bit, my old life once again breathes as it rearranges itself in my mind and on the floor. I’ve begun packing as well.

It’s strange to conceive of the fate of all these things. Christmas this year was really never any “less”. Everyone was modest, humble, and in the act of senseless preparation. New stories were revealed in the appropriate manner… last confessions were shared. This happened in between the acts of cooking, eating, filling, TV watching, brushing teeth, and packing. The sense of urgency that was expected didn’t exist. The house refused to let us feel in that way.

I take this moment to sit here and listen to this house. Naturally in waiting, I already knew what it had to say… that we are all moving forward into our second lives that may or may not include Thornhill. I take this moment to pray for this house… and for its foundations and its walls… when foundations and walls were what each of us needed most.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Chapter Nine: The Kid Shines Through.

Bruce jumped around from place to place showing me all the coolest videos and DVDs at a joint called "Kubrick" in Yau Ma Tei last night. It was a pseudo-store/cafe/ with a library just for indie films and rare movies from around the world. For a measly hundred bucks a year you can eat as many of these treasures as you want for free. In front of me, a selection of Almodovar, Fellini, Tufault, and Godard enough to make any fanboy melt into the ground.

I hate to say this, and it's not a bad thing-- but Bruce remindds me of a 15-year old kid-- me at 15 actually, the one who went to Art School in Rhode Island and I just got started emersing myself in independent films, a place like this would have made me jump around like a crazy nut as well. They didnt have anything like this in Fort Worth-- these movies would be little getaways from the world of Albertson's Grocery Store, Gap, and Body Shop. Funny, the only thing that moved were the sides of my lips... forming a smile... smiling at Bruce and a thought of myself ten years ago in the anticipation of taking one of these videos home just so I can get away from all of it.

But I AM away. I'm in Hong Kong... at the other side of the world... or... the opposite of New York... and more than the opposite of Texas.. Yau Ma Tei or Temple Street Night Market, was the type of vibrant place-- an exotic place, even for the HK friends I've made since the three months living here-- that I saw in movies about Hong Kong in my comfortable couch in Fort Worth. Whether it was a surreal representation of a Wong Kar Wai film, or a gritty and slick version of an action flick, or a cute mess of a place as in a Sammi Chung romance, this place was it. Vendor's tables selling all types of random things from China, from Argyle wool sweaters, to droopy bags, from action heroes, to alarm clocks, you can find it here.

As for food, it's everywhere. The tables spill on out into the street, and the crowd--- mostly the young, the single, and the hip eating fast street food where quantity, efficiency, and flavor is the find-- over cleanliness and hygeine. Empty unoccupied buildings on street level give way for makeshift seating areas with carts on wheels that can deep fry anything from tripe to fish balls. Y
ummy! I was living in it. I was in it. That was what I came to HK for! The crowd, the smells, the taste, and the vibrancy of the whole thing. Eveything is sort of unfinished, or in the process of forming... which is pretty exciting. Anyway, the young kid in me was slowly peeking out which was nice.

A friend told me that I should looking into the "PAC" system. "P" stands for Parent, "A" stands for Adult, and "C" stands for Child. All of us (people) have to apparently have some variation of PAC. Ideally it would be equal amounts of all three... 33/33/33%. PAC has its good parts as well as its bad. The "P" or Parent, would be the parts of ourselves that would take care of us, take ourselves to the doctor, clean our house, fix the bed, do the laundry. The bad parent however would be the parts that would be brutal... brutally unforgiving, brutally manipulative, brutally sets boundaries, and is the punisher of meny self-defined faults. "A" or Adult would be the parts of us that would go for a career or find a job, or go to school... basically to earn the money to pay bills, make the balances work, etc. The bad adult would make a life that revolved around finances, would create debts, would or would not pay the bills, would choose to hurt others.. etc. The "C" or child, would be the playful kid... the self that would go out with friends, would go to the movies, be the creative one... or the one who procrasinates on Sundays for a newspaper, a magazine, tea, and a scone. The bad child would live in excess-- would only want to be heard but not listen, would be dramatic, would drain energy from themselves and others around them.

When my friend told me that I really should evaluate this "PAC", at first I could not grab the concept-- but ever since I realized how far removed I was from my 15-year old self last night at Kubrick... the whole thing started to make sense. Anyway, somewhere from high school, through college, and finally in New York... the kid or the child just stopped having a voice... at this moment I think the adult has an overwhelmingly neurotic control over the other two with the parent in cahoots to keep the kid quiet. Some things have to change. Just a thought.

Kubrick -
Cafe, Magazine Shop, Bookstore, DVDs, VCD's of only World Indipendent Films. Membership fee $100 HK.

YAU MA TEI (Temple Street Night Market)
- District with a whole bunch of Market vendors, and food stalls. Pretty funky scene.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Chapter Eight: Twelve Commandments for that Sweet HK Life.

It's been an extremely long time since I've blogged... to the point that I was pretty unsure what "chapter" I was on. Technically it's been almost 3 months, but not quite yet, since i've arrived in Hong Kong. Within that time frame, I was able to win 2nd Place in a competition in China through my firm, relax somewhat in a dissappointing trip back to Manila, loved and lost, and make it into a local architecture magazine. Fun, fun, and then some. It's been so much fun that another Cornellian, Alida (who has yet to call me), followed me here soon after to start her job at HOK HK. Anyway, so many lessons I've learned since arriving... and so many stories to tell... but wait, how can I fit about two months of witty banter into one chapter... simple, bullet style! (In no particular or apparent order.)

1. Thou Shalt Not DIS Disneyland HK.
Yes, Disneyland opened in Hong Kong, har har. Sure, I dissed it. But I went yesterday on a company outing and had a fun time. Everyone rode Space Mountain twice, including me... who knew, and I hate roller coasters too. But oddly enough, Winnie the Pooh's Wild Ride gave me the most whiplash than any other ride, even Space Mountain. Plus you get to ride the fun Disney Train to get there!

2. Thou Shalt Take A Leisurely and Non-Stressful Approach to Furnishing Thy Apartment.

Cimg1261Link: IKEA Hong Kong
Link: Goods of Desire G.O.D.
Image: My Living Room.
You just moved to Hong Kong, and you end up moving into a sweet but unfurnished apartment. But you want to furnish it all at once, what to do!?... DON'T. and STOP. Don't furnish your apartment all at once. Take your time, go to Ikea, G.O.D., or Aluminum several times... and let each purchase sink in. My apartment is officially done today, and it took like two months. Decorating and deciding the "LooK" is stressful enough.. especially if the building has no elevator. Make sure to compare prices!

3. Thou Shalt Apply for a Local Credit Card from a Local Bank!
There are soooo many deals if you carry a local credit card! From Yoga, to Gym, to Ikea, to G.O.D., to SmarTone Vodafone. You get stuff cheaper with a specific card, you pay in installments, and you just get plain better deals. Sure the APR and annual costs are outrageous, but it should be fine if you pay your balance on time.

4. Thou Shalt Live in a Building With Local TV Reception.
Link: PCCW NOW! Broadband TV and Internet
Link: TVB Pearl
Yes, I don't get basic broadcast TV because my apartment building doesn't have a regular antennae. When I lived in a Serviced Apartment, I had Pearl Broadcast TV Channel, which had the best shows. Now I get broadband TV, but only subscribe to one channel... Star World. Yo. Star World has worse shows than PEARL. For some reason Star purchases the most random shows from the United States to air... so, for the past two months, i've been watching TV shows from the States I would have never thought to watch until I started subscribing to Star World: Becker, Medical Investigation, 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenager Daughter, TNA Wrestling Explosion... there are others which are less crappy, Less Than Perfect, Life with The Kelly's, Desperate Housewives, and the Practice comes to mind. The real surprise is that I actually enjoyOne Tree Hill. But unfortunately they don't show OC. Oh well... local TV is great if you have it. comes to mind. The real surprise is that I actually enjoy

5. Thou Shalt Know Many Locals Who Go to California Fitness.
Link: California Fitness
Gym membership in HK is a must. Yoga is a must. Know someone whose been a member for 4 years at least. Know a really famous sales person. Drop their names when you apply for membership. Be patient. Act like you know what kind of performances they're going to do next to get you to pay the worst price to join. Be patient. Smile a lot and Keep saying you need a day to "Think It Over" before you sign a contract or have them take your card to charge whatever amount on it. Make sure you don't sign a contract unless you're happy with the terms. Remember there is a "gweilo" price and a "local" price. And don't go to the California Fitness in Wanchai.

6. Thou Shalt Not Go to Causeway Bay or Central to Shop on Sundays (or take a Tram to get there.)

Dayoff1Image: Sunday at Foster's HSBC Tower in Central.
Unless you want to be crushed by hundreds... sorry, THOUSANDS, of short Indonesian and Filipino women on their day off... DON'T GO!

7. Thou Shalt Stand Up for Worker's Rights... (Your Right to Leave the Office at 6PM)

Enough said. Your life in Hong Kong just doesn't consist of work. You need to be well rounded if you want to have a healthy and fullfilling life here.

8. Thou Shalt Not Kiss Strangers or Expats at Parties.
Link: The Body:HIV/AIDS Resource
Link: The Resource Center Hong Kong
Link: Planet Yoga in Central
Just don't do it. I did it... and I had a panic/anxiety attack for the next week... which required me to go to the Doctor's Twice, take two yoga lessons, inquire about therapy, and take an HIV test. Well... if you're more balanced or more-well rounded than I am, then maybe you'll be okay. Otherwise... don't do it.

9. Thou Shalt Relax, Take, a Break, and Meditate.
Self-explanatory... go to the gym, go to Yoga, or windowshop... go hike up at the peak, watch a movie. It's an important and vital part of the city life, take the time to just rest.

10. Thou Shalt Not Join Cults.
I was trying to find spirituality outside myself... and the guy at the office who kept taking me to go these meetings is sooooo good at persuasion. I went to some and realized that jeez..."what the f*ck am I doing here saying all these things to all these people?!" and they really didn't mean well... they think they're better than everyone else because only they have this one valid special relatonship with God and everyone else is blind or going wrong. I like how I've been livingwith my spirituality thank you, and I like who I am, and I like how I deal with it my day to day life just fine. I don't need anyone telling me that they're way is better, righter, and the only way. As soon as they started talking about the fact that all Palestians should have been killed years ago and that people who are homosexual are just sinners who look for flesh and not spirituality... I was about done... I'm going to miss the food though.

11. Thou Shalt Be Adventurous in Thy Cuisine Choices.
Try to avoid Delifrance, McDonalds, and Cafe de Coral. It's been tough and difficult for me because they're all in my building... BUT... try to step out and ask for a Yingman or English menu and try new things. Starbucks is alright... it falls under Relaxation and Meditation.

12. Thou Shalt Befriend Locals... Cool Ones.

IMAGE: Karaoke at Red Box Until 5 AM... I was probably singing Jay Chou by this time.
Two words... Lady Liz. Lady Liz equals hundreds of Cool HK local friends and hours and hours of hip Karaoke bars. Right Liz?

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Chapter Seven: The Ghost of Gao Jin's Flat

Cimg0734The building recedes back from the street quite inconspicuously. The front gate has rusted. It's a wonder that a digital keypad even exists to let someone in, it just doesn't fit. Relative to the buildings in front of it and beside it, this six storey building is quite humble. It also belongs to the era of old Wan Chai. Wan Chai is a district in Hong Kong Island, and is probably one of the last bastions of old Hong Kong... the kind of Hong Kong that Mr. Wong Kar Wai would take great pains to resurrect through cinematography and digital detail. As of the last few years, the government has taken a very proactive urban renewal position... it wants to force Wan Chai into the present, whether it means forcing out residents, bulldozing existing buildings, and transforming the scale of its maze-like neighborhoods... the Wan Chai that exists in the present, as how it existed in the past, will soon disappear in the sea of new development.

My building may or may not exist in ten years time, but something tells me that the flat I've moved into was here from the get go, and was a character of Wan Chai's creation. I expected to pay about $800 to $900 US in rent fees a month, this centrally located flat popped up when a friend from work found it just walking around. A sign for $650 US a month is a steal relative to Hong Kong Island's rising real estate market rates. (Let's think of Hong Kong Island as Manhattan... and let's think of Wan Chai as the Lower East Side, or Alphabet City...) The price of my centrally located apartment is rare and I just had to grab it. Plus, it's next to work... so I wouldn't have to commute everyday (as much as I love taking the Subway.)



It was a cold and rainy Thursday night. With my suitcase in tow, I finally leave my serviced apartment and move into my first flat ever. This place is the first place (outside of school) that I can call truly mine. After an exhaustive rise to the third floor with my belongings, I finally made it to my place. This is officially Gao Jin’s (my Chinese name… it means Strong and Tall) flat. No matter whom it once belonged to in its very old, and I’m sure telling, history, this place is now, officially MY place… or is it?

This building lacks an elevator. Check. This building is dark most of the time. Check. The first floor flat at the top of the stairs as one walks in is boarded up and sealed. Check. The second floor flat is overflowing with more Filipino immigrants than a 400 sf foot flat should and could handle. Check. The dog in the flat above mine always barks at the slightest noise… including me. Check. And I’ve finally moved into my apartment and I haven’t heard from my own parents in what feels like weeks… check.

But my flat… at least my flat is new. At least my flat is beautiful and I think it’s perfect… and it’s spacious. New paint, new tiles, new accessories, and a great floor plan. What’s the catch?

The day I signed my contract, about two weeks ago, I had a strange dream. I dreamed about a new place I was moving into, that was strangely being flooded by some weird and thick yellowish liquid that oozed out of its floorboards. My mother was waiting for me outside and I just couldn’t and wouldn’t allow her inside until I knew for sure what was causing the ooze to occur… and more specifically, how to stop it. But I couldn’t stop it. It kept on flowing out and flowing out with no end in sight. It smelled like urine, and felt like acid. And then I woke up. Had I made a mistake? Did I move into this too fast… way too soon?

With all my stuff all over the floor and my bed ready made… I finally called it a day and treated myself to a late first shower. The water was warm in the way that calmed me. The day was difficult, and my project was tiring and exhausting… I was glad to be home.

As I moved into my room, I turned on the AC unit. For some reason the air was so thick in there you can slice it with a knife. And then I sank into bed but for some reason I couldn’t sleep. I tried listening to my iPod, I tried reading the Ikea catalog for the umpteenth time, and I tossed and turned. Something was wrong. I was feeling dizzy and tired, and heavy… but still I couldn’t sleep.

The next day I rushed to work, exhausted from the night before. I dressed quickly and left the flat without turning back. Something was wrong and I didn’t know what it was. On the way to work I saw a Buddhist temple, and realized that the building had so much history. All of a sudden, thoughts were bombarding my mind… why did the agent lower the price of the apartment so quickly? Why were they eager to rent it? Why was the flat completely remodeled? And most importantly, what lies beneath the new polished tiles?

All these thoughts filled my mind, and for some unknown reason, I have yet to receive a text message from my own mother. I wanted to talk to her. I wanted to let her know that I’ve moved in, that I was “fine”. But I also wanted to know if there was something I should be doing to bring in the good spirits. Was my flat haunted?

After a grueling conference call, I finally let my team members at work know about my flat “issues”. I told them about the fact that I wasn’t able to sleep… and that something wasn’t right. All these thoughts were in my mind and I was asking people where I could get a priest to bless the house. I was even thinking about Asian horror movies like “The Grudge” where an American family moves into a seemingly perfect home, but all end up dying horrible deaths in less than a day… or even “The Eye”, when a woman who gets her eyesight back, realizes that the people she sees within her building are not alive. Was I in an Asian horror flick?

A clairvoyant friend told me that when a space has been empty for a long time, that certain spirits tend to move in. It was up to me to get rid of it in one of three ways… either by throwing a big party, buying goldfish, or getting a cuckoo clock. (Well I knew for sure that the cuckoo clock could be me and she was just trying to send me a message.) In any rate I decided to stop freaking out, and after work, I gave it a second chance.


After work I decided to buy a couch and moved it in that night. With my nice modernist couch in the space, the flat seemed almost accommodating in the way that it wasn’t the night before. I placed a floor lamp beside the couch and arranged all my things… and I waited. Nothing came. The weird energies and vibe I felt the night before didn’t exist in my second night. I took another shower and decided to pop in a DVD. Everything seems fine. And then I went to sleep… and rather quickly.

What happened between the night before and the next day? What happened to the ghost? What happened to the spirits? The air was alright, and everything seemed quite… okay. Today I moved in a TV and got my stuff laundered across the street. I’ve finally settled at home.

There are no ghosts and no evil sprits. The only thing that was haunting that apartment was my stress and my anxieties moving into my first apartment. Of course being in my first place… in a different country obviously brought on the stress and the anxiety I didn’t know I was feeling and it channeled itself into something completely silly. I did question my decisions and my choices… and it’s easy to fear that the whole thing was a big mistake… the housing contract, the job, the whole move. But moving into this flat made my life a bit more permanent than ever before… like “housing contract permanent”. So what of the dream? What did it mean? Well who knows what dreams really tell us… but for sure I was worried about my first contract. I just want my place to be nice and comfortable especially for the next couple of years. The only thing that is haunted in that place is my thoughts, and my fears, and my worries. I have to remind myself that I deserve this apartment, I deserve this new life, and I deserve the renovations, the new paint, the new polished tiles, the furniture, the bed.

Then what is the catch? Why is it all seemingly perfect?

Maybe, just maybe, because it is… perfect. (Bat maybe the catch is… is that it doesn’t have an elevator… but that I can certainly deal with.)