Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Are you well balanced?

For some odd reasons, I suddenly thought about the concept of work life balance and it reminded me of a blog entry written by my friend a while ago titled: Work, Life, Balance and More Work? I am personally a supporter of work life balance. As mentioned in the article attached, people tend to be questioned when leaving on time (well, early to some) but honestly, it is not a competition or what I like to call survival of the "latest." Get your things done and leave! Getting your tasks done and leaving on time does not translate to anything negative, it can be viewed as being efficient, productive and performing beyond expectations (terms to be used during your quarterly review). Of course there are occasions whereby you have to work OT to get certain projects done but on a all year round basis? Maybe that is the case for you but I still believe that the lack of work / life balance often results in the decreased productivity.

I do understand that the need to perform OT has more or less become part of the working culture in Hong Kong especially during tough economic times. However, no matter what the reasons are, try to give yourself a little break once in a while to think about how you want to achieve a work life balance. No one is suggesting that it is an easy task but do give it a try. What I like to do sometimes is to find a quiet place (on a best effort basis especially in Hong Kong) and just relax.

Monday, June 29, 2009

A meaningful job?

This blog is inspired by Daisy Lancashire's most recent blog post regarding investment bankers whereby she briefly discussed about a book titled The Accidental Investment Banker: Inside the Decade That Transformed Wall Street by Johnathan A. Knee. I read this book a while ago and I have to say it was both entertaining and enlightening. By reading this book, you would get a better understanding of what exactly an investment banker does or at least based on author's own experiences. Whether you think compiling a 50+ pages pitch book merely for the purpose of showing off is a meaningless job or not, it is for you to judge. In terms of how true the job nature is, only investment bankers themselves can give you any justifications. I am not an investment banker, but I do believe that there is always a reason for things and investment bankers have their fair share of sacrifices doing their job.

Anyhow, Daisy's entry reminded me of another book of similar genre titled: Liar's Poker by Michael Lewis. Majority of the book focus on the author's experiences as a trader. This book was first published in 1989 and what I found most interesting is the author's detailed discussion on the creation, development and the rise of the home mortgage securities / bonds trading within investment banks back in the EARLY 1980s. The sudden rise in the mortgages department within investment banks was sparked buy the establishment of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae whose main objectives were designed to guarantee the mortgages that did not qualify for the Ginnie Mae stamp. Well, shall I call these types of home loans sub-prime mortgages? You bet you can! As the author states, "once [these sub-prime mortgages] were stamped [by Freddie Mac & Fannie Mae] ... nobody cared about the quality of the loans. Defaulting homeowners became the Government's problem." I think the rest is history. A highly recommended read indeed !

The Accidental Investment Banker: Inside the Decade that Transformed Wall Street by Jonathan A. Knee (Oxford University Press, 2006)
Picture obtained from: Barnes & Nobles

Liar's Poker by Michael Lewis (Hodder and Stoughton, 2006)
Picture obtained from: Hodder and Stoughton

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Transformer? ... Translator please !

Please don't get me wrong, I love the new Transformer movie. A 3 hours long movie that seemed too short indeed. In my opinion, it was well directed and action packed !! However, there is an apparent flaw in the movie that truly disappointed me, especially from a movie of this scale. The flaw I am talking about is the opening scene in Shanghai. Yeah, I think most of you who know Chinese know what I am about to say. The Chinese word of "POLICE" on the side of the police helicopter is in "traditional" Chinese (ie: 警察). O yes, a "traditional" Chinese word in the heart of mainland China where the official written language is "simplified" Chinese. That's not all, another flaw is that in mainland China, police is called 公安 and not 警察.

A multi-million dollars blockbuster and no one in the production team care to spot this flaw or care enough to correct it? I am no expert in computer graphics, but I believe the changes required to make sure correction is definitely easier than the scene where the Autobot is humping against Megan Fox's leg !!

Added 29 June 2009:

I have to apologize for the above post / entry. As informed, 警察 is the same in traditional and simplified Chinese. In addition, there exist both 警察 and 公安 in Mainland China. They both represent POLICE in the general sense, but in terms of differences, there are various interpretations:

(1) 警察 is a collective term used to describe the POLICE force which include 公安. In other words, 公安 is a sub-division of the POLICE (警察) forces that manly deals with civil matters within respective provincial boarders.

(2) Based on historical development, the newly introduced term 警察 is gradually being used to replace what is formerly known as 武警 which was formed or derived from part of the PLA (People's Liberation Army). In other words, 警察 in this context would handle mainly criminal related matters.(I guess to fight off Autobots, it is indeed a criminal matter!)

Confusing indeed ! One thing for sure, I was wrong in judging the validity of the terms used in the movie without doing much research myself. With that taken into consideration, two thumbs up for the movie ! (plus a valuable lesson about structure of Mainland China's POLICE force as well)

> Poster obtained from MoviePosterDB.com
> Copyright by respective production studio

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Status Anxiety? ... you? me? All of us?

I am currently reading a philosophy book titled Status Anxiety and came across a few passages which I like to share because I think many of us who live in Hong Kong can relate to this at some point of our lives. First of all, ask yourself whether you have Status Anxiety? ... My answer to this question is: of course I do.

Over the last several centuries, particularly the last several decades, most developed societies enjoyed "an extraordinary increase in wealth, in food supply, in scientific knowledge, in consumer goods, in physical security, in life expectancy and economic opportunity." However, with such material advances, there is "a rise in the level of status anxiety" among us , "a rise in the level of concern about importance, achievement and income." The author further explains that:

A sharp decline in actual deprivation may - paradoxically - have been accompanied by a continuing and even increased sense of deprivation and a fear of it ... These feeling of deprivation may not look so peculiar ... [because] ... our sense of an appropriate limit to anything - for example, to wealth and esteem - is never decided independently. It is arrived at by comparing our condition with that of a reference group, with that of people we consider to be our equals. We cannot appreciate what we have in isolation, or judge against lives of our medieval forebears. We cannot be impressed by how prosperous we are in historical terms. We will take ourselves to be fortunate only when we have as much as, or a little more than, the people we grew up with, work alongside, have as friends and identify with in the public realm.

... If we have a pleasant home and a comfortable job, however, but learn through ill-advised attendance at a school reunion that some of our old friends (there is no stronger reference group) are now living in houses larger than our own, bought on the proceeds of more enticing occupations, we are likely to return home nursing a violent sense of misfortunate.

... It is the feeling that we might be something other than what we are - a feeling transmitted by the superior achievements of those we take to be our equals - that generates anxiety and resentment.

In my opinion, Hong Kong i a breeding ground for Status Anxiety in a massive scale - even worst than the US. For some odd reasons I still do know understand, many people carry the perception that Hong Kong allows the generation of unlimited expectation. Don't get me wrong, such expectation can be a positive motivational engine to attain greater achievement in life; however, it can also be a factor behind the increased level of status anxiety among us. Solution? I am not that far in the book yet but this is certainly something worth reflecting on. Now, ask yourself again, do you have Status Anxiety?

The above excerpts are from Alain de Botton's Status Anxiety, Chapter on the Equality, Expectation and Envy. (Penguin Books, 2005)

Photo from http://www.alaindebotton.com/

Sunday, June 14, 2009

What if ...

What if the number of buses running in Hong Kong are reduced by 50%? In such a case, what would happen to ...
  • ... the Air Pollution Index (API) in Hong Kong?
  • ... the overall air quality?
  • ... the noise pollution?
  • ... the road side temperature in high-traffic regions like CWB or MK (especailly along Nathan Road) or TST?
  • ... the traffic conditions in the following areas? ie: Nathan Road (MK), Queen's Road Central (Central), Cross Harbor Tunnel, Hennessy Road (CWB) and Canton Road (TST).
I really wonder what if ...

Thursday, June 11, 2009

So Wrong ! So Wrong !

Which comes first? The chicken or the egg? I certainly don't have an answer for you. However, what I do know is that the current commercial process of producing chicken in a chicken hatchery is just so wrong !! (assuming what is in the clip below remains true and I have a feeling that it is) ... judge it for yourself ...

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A Random Walk around TST

While passing by Ocean Terminal on my way to dinner, realized that there is a floating international book fair on a cruise ship docked at the Terminal. Its name is MV Doulos. With more than 30 mins to kill before dinner, walked on board (with a $10 Fee that is) for a little tour. Apparently it is one of the world's oldest (or THE oldest) active ocean-going passenger ship.

What I really wanted to visit was the bookfair but somehow the designated path makes you walk pass / around the deck before leading you to the fair location. O my, the fair is being held under a tent without any air condition! The area was smaller than what I expected and for those looking for a wide selection of books, I am afraid this is not the place to come. What they do offer is a selection of books in the subjects such as sports, hobbies, cookery, arts, education, children and Christian books. If you are interested in any of those, this would be a nice place to take a walk. However, for book lovers, the location + the lack of air conditioning cause the environment to be very humid and hence might affect the paper quality of the books. Just a note I thought worth mentioning.

Anyhow, on my way out I got the chance to take a picture of a junk across the Victoria Harbour in front of the Convention center while a Ferry was crossing by. the thought of how the old meets the new came to my mind. I know it is kind of lame to say it but hey, that was what in my mind at that moment. After dinner, the sky was very clear and I got to take a very nice night scene of Central with MV DOULOS in it. What is the picture on the right? It is the billboard in front of the 5 Flag Pole / Pier. Have you ever seen it as blank or without any Ads? It was the first time for me and I felt weird seeing a blank billboard at this prime location.

Monday, June 8, 2009

How to Overcome Difficulties in Life ...

Just completed the book titled Consolidations of Philosophy and would like to share a few passages I consider worth our thinking on the topic of treating difficulties, pain or obstacles in life. In the chapter Consolidation of Difficulties, the author uses the philosophy by Friedrich Nietzsche to explain the relation between pleasure and pain in life. A simplest explanation is that pleasure or fulfillment in life is to be 'reached not by avoiding pain, but by recognizing its role as a natural, inevitable step on the way to anything good.' In support of this mentality, the author references an excerpt from Michel de Montaigne's famous work Essais of which explains that 'the art of living lies in finding uses for our adversities':

We must learn to suffer whatever we cannot avoid. Our life is composed, like the harmony of the world, of discords as well as of different tones, sweet and harsh sharp and flat, soft and loud. If a musician liked only some of them, what could he sing? He has got to know how to use all of them and blend them together. So too must we with good and ill, which are of one substance with our life.

In other words, we should embrace ourselves for difficulties and realize that painful experiences or displeasure are all part of our life experiences. According to Nietzsche, pleasure and displeasure are closed linked:

What if pleasure and displeasure were so tied together that whoever wanted to have a much as possible of one must also have as much as possible of the other ... you have the choice: either as little displeasure as possible, painlessness in brief ... or as much displeasure as possible as the price for he growth of an abundance of subtle pleasures and joys that have rarely been relished yet? If you decide for the former and desire to diminish and lower the level of human pain, you also have to diminish and lower the level of their capacity for joy.

I am not suggesting whether the above theory or philosophy is correct, all I am hoping is that for those who are experiencing tough times (and that would definitely apply to myself as well) can apply a view onto this difficult period as Nietzsche's displeasure in life. Instead of trying to avoid or feel sad and embarrassed by it, treat it as a learning opportunity or as the author simply puts it in a single sentence: 'we should not feel embarrassed by our difficulties, only by our failure to grow anything beautiful from them. After all, as the author further explains, 'not everything which makes us feel better is good for us. Not everything which hurts may be bad.'

The above excerpts are from Alain de Botton's The Consolidation of Philosophy; Chapter on the Consolidation of Difficulties. (Penguin Books, 2001)

Photo from http://www.alaindebotton.com/

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Beautiful Side of Hong Kong?

Without much to do on a Sunday afternoon, I took a walk along the TST harbor side and took some pictures. It was a nice day and for some reasons, I actually enjoyed the view. Maybe it was because of the lack of fog over the skyline. I am sure many of you have seen or have taken one or two pictures like the above; but have you ever wonder if this is the true side of Hong Kong? I also took two pictures at night (see below) along the Victoria Harbour; the one on the left reminds me of those readily available post cards everywhere; but in my opinion, the one of the right should be the true picture of Hong Kong.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

What is Common Sense?

I came across the following few passages from a book on the concept of unpopularity and realized that many of us, in more than one occasion, would fall into the perception that what is believed by the majority would somehow translate to be correct, just or even as common sense.

Every society has notions of what one should believe and how one should behave in order to avoid suspicion and unpopularity. Some of these societal conventions are given explicit formulation in a legal code, others are more intuitively held in a vast body of ethical and practical judgment described as 'common sense' ... ... ...

The same concept would apply to how we try to please everyone or to avoid being unpopular. Many try not to go against what is popular even though there exist doubts. The author describes his basic reactions to many daily activities with priority on the perceptions of 'common sense' and popularity in mind.

In conversations, my priority was to be liked, rather than to speak the truth. A desire to please led me to laugh as modest jokes like a parent on the opening night of a school play. With strangers, I adopted the servile manner or a concierge greeting wealthy clients in a hotel ... indiscriminate desire for affection. I did not publicly doubt ideas to which the majority was committed. I sought the approval of figures of authority and after encounters with them, worried at length whether they had thought me acceptable. When passing through customs or driving alongside police cars, I harbored a confused wish for the uniformed officials to think well of me.

... ... ... Our will to doubt can be just as powerfully sapped by an internal sense that society conventions must have a sound basis, even if we are not sure exactly what this may be, because they have been adhered to by great many people for a long time. It seems implausible that our society could be gravely mistaken in its beliefs and at the same time that we would be alone in noticing that facts.

It is so true indeed. However, the more important thing is why that is so and how things can be changed. Deriving from Socrates' philosophy on popularity or unpopularity, the author, following a Socratic method of thinking, came up with the following summary (or at least what I think is the summary):

What is declared obvious and 'natural' rarely is so. Recognition of this should teach us to think that the world is more flexible than it seems, for the established views have frequently emerged not through a process of faultless reasoning, but through centuries of intellectual muddle. There may be no good reason for things to be the way they are ... ... ...

... ... ... The validity of an idea or action is determined not by whether it is widely believed or widely reviled but by whether it obeys the rules of logic. It is not because an argument is denounced by a majority that it is wrong nor, for those drawn to heroic defiance, that it is right.

Next time when you come across something which is considered common sense by the majority, try to question the logic behind it as well as the reasons for it to be so. Any act believed to be right by most is not necessary the right thing to do. I am going to start doing that myself when there are doubts.

The above excerpts are from Alain de Botton's The Consolidation of Philosophy; Chapter on the Consolidation of Unpopularity. (Penguin Books, 2001)

Photo from http://www.alaindebotton.com/