Monday, October 18, 2010

Introducing: Gargantu-Pad

During my recent hostel, I mean hospital, visit I was forced to wear pads the size of Texas.

It's longer than my forearm:

...and the fat part of a tennis racket

It overshadows our ipod docking station...

...and makes normal-sized paper look like an index card.

My shoes are tiny...

And so are V's!

A few more and I could ship wine back to the States!

Or it could double as a towel for my umbrella.

Our longest remote and a standard DVD don't even come close!

Wait - my laptop is almost as big.  (Please refrain from ipad jokes.)

Finally - something comparable!  The pad they made me wear is the same length as my cutting board.

Around 15 inches, to be exact.

A 15-inch pad... is meant to be worn by an Amazon, not a tiny Asian.  How on earth do these fragile birds walk around in these things?!

I'm hanging onto these bad boys in case I find myself in a MacGyver-esque situation.  If nothing else, I'll use them to wax my car or mop my floors!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Problem with a Small Town

Hopefully, you've just read about my hospital experience below.  If you haven't, read that first then come back here.

We love where we live, but it is a far cry from New York City and its lovely anonymity.  Here, I'll see the same person 3 times a day - and this person lives on the other side of the island!  I used to live in the same building as good friends of ours and could go 3 weeks without seeing them.  I also used to be able to roll out of bed and walk my dog in the morning - PJs on, breath all stinky, eyes still caked shut and not worry about running into people.  Here, I know I'll see at least one person I have to have a conversation with during Victor's 7am bathroom break.

This small town lack of privacy was hugely exacerbated during my recent medical issues.  Here's how:

1. As I'm being loaded into the ambulance, the security guy in my building comes running out, pokes his head into the ambulance and asks what's going on.  V and I give him a short run-down and I just know this news will be all over our building by tomorrow night.  (I know this because I get my best gossip from one of the security guards!)
**This would be the same in NYC.  Our building guys were the biggest gossips.

2. There are frequent "Anybody know why an ambulance was called to Onda Court?"-like postings on The Forum every day.  These are inevitably followed by 20 posts with various theories, rumors and very rarely factual reports.  It's an online version of Pearl from 227  - hangin out the window in everybody's business. I just couldn't wait to read what they were going to say about me.
**No one else on the Upper West Side would have any inkling (or care) about my situation.

3. I go to our local doctor's office here for a follow-up visit and am seen by the nurse who just so happens to be in all of my exercise classes.  So now she knows all my business.
**I never saw my NYC nurses or doctors anywhere but inside their offices.

4. A woman I'm doing some charity work with also works in the doctor's office as a receptionist - so now there's a chance that everyone else on the planning committee know what's up with me.  (To be fair, I don't think she'd ever say anything, but it's going to be weird sitting across from her during meetings knowing she knows my medical business.)
**People at work in NYC only knew what I chose to share with them.

While I do love where we live, in situations like this I crave the anonymity of a big city.

My Night in a Chinese Hospital

Remember when I told you not to eat durian and not to get offended when Asian people smile during tense situations?  Here's another one for your Asian Survival Handbook:  Don't go to a Chinese hospital.  I don't care if you're having a heart attack, try your damndest to get the ambulance to take you to a Western hospital.  Trust me on this one.

I won't share why I was in the hospital, but there are so many comical (and educational) moments from my recent adventure that I just had to share with you.  I'll start from the beginning...

We live on an island with no cars and no hospital.  I'd always thought, "What will we do in an emergency? Where will we go?"  Then I pushed that thought right out of my mind because we're young and healthy, so who cares?

Which brings me to the scene in our apartment around 11pm on a Tuesday night - V and I freaking out about what to do and who to call during our medical crisis.  None of the doctors here have after-hours services or numbers; mine has an answering machine which directs you to an ER nurse's station at a Western hospital. After hearing the issue, this nurse told us to call 999 - not 911 - and have an ambulance take us to an A&E (Accidents & Emergencies) not an ER, immediately.

Words don't do justice to V's "conversation" with the Chinese 999 dispatcher.  I think the call took longer than the actual ambulance arriving.  When they arrived, the very sweet Chinese EMTs informed me that we were going to Princess Margaret Hospital.  "Sounds pretty Western," I thought.  Um, no and it was a 45 minute drive!  Not sure what they would've done had I needed critical care.  Seasoned expats here say they'll wait for the ferry (could take up to 30 mins) to take it to Hong Kong Island (another 30 mins) and drive to a Western hospital (another 30 mins).  What once seemed ridiculous now makes perfect sense.

We arrive at the hospital and I'm placed in a cubby hole (you can't call something without walls a room, can you?) with a man who I'd estimate to be around 105 years old, wheezing loudly and sounding like he's about to die (literally).

Oh but wait --before that, as I'm being wheeled in, this old Chinese nurse comes up with an ear thermometer and shoves it in my ear so hard that I jerk my head away and yelp, "ouch, that hurts!"  Completely unfazed, she shoves it in even harder yelling "TEMPERATURE!" I then have the visceral reaction of slapping her hand away from my head.  She grabs my arm and tries holding me down, like I'm some pscyh patient.  (V is checking me into the ER so I'm by myself dealing with this crazy lady.)  I yell again, sitting up this time, ready to come to blows with this lady if I have to (I must have a good 40 lbs on her) when a young nurse and doctor step in and (I'm guessing) tell her to stop in Cantonese.  She then proceeds to (again, guessing) curse me out in Cantonese.  The only word I can make out is "temperature" but there are lots of mafiosa-like hand gestures that universally mean "fuck off".

Another key learning - little Chinese ladies are surprisingly strong.

Yes, I did think about getting up and walking out at that point.  (I can hear you asking the computer this right now.)  But, I figured I'm here, I'll have a few tests done and be on my merry way.

Except that instead I sat in my cubby hole listening to a man wheeze for over an hour.  The doctors took one simple test and then admitted me upstairs to the hospital.  "Aah, here's where things get better," I think.  Now I leave the ghastly "general population" and get my own room, dedicated care, etc.

Wrong again!  I'm given hospital issue PJs (the only redeeming part of this nightmare as they are cute and comfy flannel PJs -- could've been Land's End!) and led to a room with 10 beds in it.  First I'm asked what kind of food I eat - and when I respond "Western" they inform me that option is gone so I'll be given a Chinese breakfast.  (Just when you think hospital food can't get any worse...)  V is sent home and I spend the night in a hospital room (actually, more like Army barracks) with 10 other women.  There are no walls or curtains between us, so I could literally reach out and hold hands with the women on either side of me.  I didn't.

As you can imagine, it wasn't a good night's sleep.  The lights were on, women were snoring, machine alarms were going off intermittently and nurses were coming in and waking us up.  At 6:30am - after not having been seen by a doctor once this entire time - I go to the nurses station and ask what the deal is.  I'm informed that I won't be seen by a doctor until well after 9am and start doing the math.  My regular doctor - who speaks perfect English, understands Western care and knows my history, will be in her office by 9am, so I check myself out, despite the protests of the nurse.  I want to get out of there before my Chinese breakfast arrives.

Looking back I realize that what should've been a medical experience was really just a night in a cheap hostel.  The only upside (besides the PJs, which I contemplated stealing but then thought about all the people who'd worn then before me and got really grossed out) was that the entire night cost me $200HKD or around $28USD.

Later that morning my regular doctor laughed when I told her I'd stayed overnight at Princess Margaret (and she's local!)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Somebody call OSHA

...because this is what passes as construction "safety" over here.

Yesterday I walked past a house in our neighborhood that's under renovation. The construction guys had ripped out all the interior doors plus some large pieces of wood and instead of throwing them in the dumpster, they created this "ramp" by piling them all on top of each and nailing them together.  Yes, I actually saw someone nailing this mess together.

You have to respect that kind of ingenuity, although I wouldn't be caught dead walking on the thing.

The big question is - will they pull those doors up at the end of the job and put them back in the house?? Knowing this town, my money's on "YES"!

UPDATE:  Today I walked by the same house and they had set up a new ramp configuration.  I didn't think it was possible to top yesterday's masterpiece, but I was wrong!

They now have the dumpster lined up with the stairs and have created an elevated ramp using 2 layers of trash cans and wood planks!  Just to prove me wrong, a man with a trolley full of debris walked right over it with a big smile on his face.

Only in Hong Kong, folks...

The Land of Missed Calls

We've covered food, television and personal hygiene -- I think you're ready for what they call telephone "etiquette" over here.  Where do I even begin???

Let's start with "Hello" -- or, as they say, "Waaaaaaay?" It gives Ed McMahon's "Here's Johnny" a run for its money as the longest one-syllable word on the planet.  To top it off, when I respond with "Hello?" the person repeats themselves, so I have this conversation at least 3 times a week:

Phone rings; Me: "Hello?"
Person: Waaaaaaaay?
Me: Hello?
Person:  Waaaaaaay?
Me (very annoyed): Helloooo?
Person: Speak Chinese?
Me: No
Person: CLICK

Even more baffling is when I answer the phone with the very clear English greeting of "Hello?" and the person just launches into some spiel in Cantonese.  They're talking like a mile a minute and I literally have to cut them off by yelling into the phone, "I don't speak Cantonese" multiple times.

Now all of that is just child's play compared to what really gets my blood boiling:  no one in this country leaves a message.  This is frustrating for two reasons:

1. You take the time to leave someone a detailed message and they don't even listen to it.  Half the time, they don't even know you called.

2. You get 5 missed calls and no voicemails.  This leads to the dilemma - do you call up the missed calls and have the awkward conversation of "You called me; who's this?"or do you let it go?  In the States, this comes off as pure desperation. Someone so starved for attention that they have to call wrong numbers and missed calls just to make sure someone wasn't trying to reach them!  Here, however, it's standard business practice because otherwise you'd spend all your time being a stalker and calling someone 200 times before they picked up.

Today, for instance, I stepped away from my phone for an hour and came back to see 4 missed calls (all different numbers).  Since these could be potential work calls, I decided to swallow my ego and call them back.  Here's what ensued:

THEM: Discovery Bay Transportation Service
ME: Hi, someone from this number called me and didn't leave a message.  My name is XX and my number is XXX.
THEM: Hold please.
THEM (after long wait): No one here called you.
ME: Yes, they did.
THEM: OK, give us your name and number and we'll ask around.

I call up the second number:
THEM:  Discovery Bay Transportation Service

This has to be a joke, right?  Or in the very least, a gross exaggeration.  No, all 4 numbers (which strangely were all different) rang back to DB Transportation.  And each time I called, the person there had no idea who I was or what I was calling for.

Five minutes later, my phone rings and it's someone from DB Transportation - a guy I had spoken to about an event I'm planning.  He copped to being my stalker and apologized after I explained what I had been through to try to call him back.  Since it was work-related I didn't have the balls to ask him what he had against leaving a message.

In the end, I have to ask myself -- if you're not going to leave a message why activate your voicemail at all?  Why not just text??

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Oz: Land of Sunshine, Hungry Jacks and Dead Kangaroos

We finally made it to Australia - and Oz didn't let us down!  The sunshine, topography, cuisine and people are gorgeous - and so much more than we envisioned.  As was the cost of food!  A can of Coke out of the vending machine cost $3.50.  Breakfast for 2 people from the corner deli (we're talking small coffee, small bottle water and small tasteless pastry) was $35!  If you're planning a trip to Oz, start saving now or find a bank to rob!

It was all worth it though for views of the Opera House, beaches and iconic Harbor Bridge.

Here is a random assortment of observations and stories from our trip:

On the flight there I had another language barrier situation.  Ordered my meal and then couldn't for the life of me figure out what was in my salad (see below).  The printed menu said "surimi" which I'd never heard of it, so I asked the stewardess (YES, stewardess - when did that become a dirty word??)  She didn't know the word in English, so I asked, "Is it a vegetable?"  She replies, "Yes, vegetable."  Except that it's not. Turns out "surimi" means imitation crabmeat in Japanese.  Blech.

Once in Oz, the same commercial for a gardening center kept playing on TV.  I can't tell you how odd it is to hear "Plant your tomatoes now and they'll be ready by Christmas."  The whole southern hemisphere thing is wacky!

Have I mentioned that my husband has turned into a marathon machine?  The real reason we went down to Sydney (other than so that he could be the first Birardi to step foot on the continent) was so that he could run in the Sydney half marathon.  I've lost him to wholewheat pasta and hours of hip flexor stretching, so I enjoyed the pay-off of seeing him finish in record time!

Check out what the Aussies call Burger King and Rice Krispies:

I've officially become a hot-blooded Hong Konger because there was a large clothing differential between me and the locals on Bondi Beach.  Here I am in a leather jacket and jeans (the scarf that I took off for the picture is in my bag) while there were multiple chicks frolicking in the ocean in their bikinis.  Usually I'm the maniac wearing open-toed sandals in snowy December.

If you do happen to find yourself in Bondi, make sure you check out Icebergs - a swimming club whose pool might be the coolest I've ever seen!

I know the term "meat pie" doesn't sound very appetizing, but trust me - this Aussie treat is DEE-LISH.  It's like a full Thanksgiving meal (beef, mashed potatoes, peas and gravy) in a tiny little puff pastry cup!

Now onto the low point of the trip...  We decided to drive from the Blue Mountains to Hunter Valley.  I was nervous and slightly giddy about driving on the "wrong" side of the road.  Can't tell you how many times Vin yelled, "You're veering off into a ditch!" All the internet reports said it was a picturesque journey through the Aussie countryside that's not to be missed.  Our trip was a 5 and a half hour nightmare that included some carnage.

The first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth (you get the picture) kangaroo I saw in real life were all road kill  The first living kangaroo I saw hopped out in front of my car, which was going 50 mph on a 2-lane road.  With a car behind me and one in the oncoming lane, there wasn't much I could do besides lay on the horn and pray for the best.  (My Aussie friends say this is the worst thing you can do as the roo just freezes up.) Vin and I both closed our eyes on impact, so didn't see anything but did feel the ba-bump, ba-bump as our car went over him.  That's right, I killed a kangaroo.

Can I just take the time to point out that I drove in the US for 16 years without hitting anything and manage to take out a kangaroo less than a week in Oz?  Here's me smiling minutes before "the incident":

Kangaroo hit-and-run aside, Sydney was an incredible trip!  I will definitely go back (and promise not to step foot in a car!)

Sunday, October 3, 2010


I now work with someone named Baba.  As in the nickname you give to a child's bottle.

He's a grown-man.

I don't know.  I just don't know anymore.

Chinglish TV shows

Channel 100 features all Cantonese-speaking shows.  The funniest thing is that many of them have English names -- corny English names like "Have a Nice Day" and "Home Sweet Home".  Now I have no idea what's discussed on these shows because they're all in Cantonese, but I get such a kick out of the commercials for the shows because they sound like:

"wang cha shin wan tau gang wok you Have a Nice Day shui san wing jon chu lok"

From the commercials, it doesn't look like Home Sweet Home has anything to do with homes, either.  Which makes me wonder if these people know what these freakin' phrases mean.    Maybe it's like all the idiotic Americans walking around with Chinese tattoos on their lower backs.  Someone told them they mean "peace" and "strength" when really they mean "idiot" and "fat-ass".

Getting back to HK TV, the show that REALLY freaks me out is called "Medical Check-up Horror Show".  I am not joking.  What on earth could this show be about??  I don't even want to venture a guess.