Monthly Archives: May 2012

Stressful Jobs

What’s the most stressful job in the world? Is it an Air Traffic Controller? I was a stockbroker for 25 years, 11 of those years on the noisy and seemingly chaotic Trading Floor. Was that stressful? (Ummm, sadly no – actually, it was mostly smoke and mirrors.)

I needed to know, categorically, the most stressful job. And so, of course, I turned to the keeper of all knowledge: Google.

Now I will defer to some obvious ones: a soldier in a war zone; police; firefighters, etc – it’s some of the others I found that astounded me.

In no particular order, here are some allegedly “stressful” jobs:

Taxi Driver. Oh, really? You’re sick of receiving abuse for not knowing where you are going, and being told you smell? That’s an easy fix; buy a map, and a can of deodorant.

Senior Corporate Executive. Yep, banking that fat check every month must be a burden for you. Add to that, managing the junior executives, who do all the work while you take all the glory – and the cash – it must be terrible. Please go to the mirror and take a good, hard look at yourself.

Public Relations Executive. Ok, I get it: you have a client – a high profile: Sportsman / Actor / Corporation. Your charge has been busted: urinating in public / caught with a kilo of cocaine / polluting a beautiful river – and you are urgently needed to put a positive spin on it, and/or make it go away. Now is the time to slap yourself into reality.

Photojournalist. If you are in Africa, trying to photograph a large carnivore having a toilet break, I get it. If you are the guy that lives in a tent in the arctic, filming polar bears tearing apart seals a mere 50 meters away, hats off to you. If you are punched in the face for trying to take a picture of a celebrity picking their nose, step this way for another whack. You’re an idiot.

Airline Pilot. Oh, I see. You get on the plane and strap in. The aircraft takes off itself, the autopilot flies it, and then it lands itself. Ok, ok, stop your whining, I concede – if you are in charge of the plane that loses a wing, then sure, that’s stressful, (but only for 2 or 3 minutes…). The reality is, however, that statistically: if you fly every day, your chances of being in the hot seat of a plunging plane are 1/31,000. You’re a passenger with a better view and a fancy hat. Deal with it.

So what do I think is the most stressful job? I was walking along the other day, when a harried, sweaty man approached. Here was a man with a pressure cooker job. Using nought but foot power, he had a trolley stacked five high – with bags of ice. It was 35 degrees, and he could literally see his product disappearing.  But with stoic determination, he pushed on.  Was he actually stressed? Who knows? But I certainly was, watching and willing him on.

So next time you feel stressed (apart from you soldiers, police or firefighters), think of iceman, and his vanishing inventory.


Wrong Turn

Public transport in Hong Kong is truly the most efficient and the best way to get around. Except: when you get on the wrong bus.

I have lived in the same apartment for close to 5 years. I have travelled countless times by bus and mini-bus. I have it all worked out. I know the bus numbers, and where they all go.

The other day I saw quite the odd thing. I had decided that morning to make up for several days of unhealthy eating and get myself to the gym. As I stood waiting, along came a bus, but the familiar number I had caught for years had an additional “P” after it. “A new route“, I thought with interest. Thinking the bus couldn’t possibly deviate far from the path of the “P” free version, on I hop.

Next thing I know, the bus is going off the Island and straight into the central tunnel. Anyone unfortunate enough to travel through Hong Kong’s central tunnel at any time of the day or night will agree it’s a nightmare. At peak hour, it’s an abomination. Furiously pressing the stop button to avoid the “Tunnel of the Damned” it was apparent there was no stop to get off before the bus entered the darkness. Into the abyss I went, popping out the other side what seemed like some days later. Being reasonably intelligent, I got off at the first stop. For my next trick, I tried to get on a bus going the other way, back onto the Island. No problem, it was just myself and 3 million other people travelling that morning. By the time I got to the gym, it was 1½ hours after I had left home for the 10 minute trip.

It doesn’t end there. The very next day I decide it was much safer to stay in Mid-Levels and so was heading to my favourite coffee shop. There out front was our local councillor, spruiking for re-election. Being a civic-minded citizen, I took his pamphlet. Settled in with a coffee, I decided to read the flyer he had given me, rather than use it as a coaster. There it was, mocking me. Number 1 on his list of achievements: “Successful introduction of the 103 “P” bus service, bypassing Admiralty, Wan Chai and Causeway Bay and going directly to Kowloon”. Here was the man responsible for stealing 1 1/2 hours from me.

You might think I was partially responsible, having been the one who actually got on the bus of misery, but I didn’t see it that way.  Luckily for him, my civic mindedness hadn’t quite translated to my registering to vote. I will be fixing that.

But really, the public transport system in Hong Kong is incredibly organized. Millions of people each day use the trains, buses, mini-buses, taxis, ferries, and trams. That’s an enormous volume of people efficiently moved about each day.  That I was able to visit, however unintentionally, Kowloon and get back onto the Island in less than two hours, through probably the most congested tunnel on earth, and in peak hour, is remarkable.

I really should grab that councillor, hustle him on the “103 P” bus and show him.


Living the good life – dead

My Barber smokes.

I don’t mean he’s a smokin’ good barber, I mean he smokes, or at least he used to, while cutting my hair. These days, Hong Kong is a bit more ‘smoke-free’, and the poor fellow has to go outside to destroy his lungs. Still, I do love the pragmatic nature of Hong Kong Chinese. To him, in the smoke anywhere days, it was perfectly straightforward: I needed a haircut, and he needed a smoke. To do both at the same time was perfectly logical.

Have a think about religion – don’t worry, this wont be controversial – the Chinese, many of whom are Taoists, have quite a tradition. They burn things the deceased might need in the afterlife. I am guessing in the old, old days, this meant a cow or a goat might go up in flames, with a spear and maybe a loincloth – no need to be nude in the hereafter.

These days life is a bit more complicated, and so the pragmatists got the idea to burn effigies’. Brilliant. If you head to some of the markets around Queens Road West, you will witness one of the great sites of the Special Administrative Region. Paper and cardboard things to burn – literally anything you can think of. In 2 minutes, I jotted down just what I could see from across the road: A television, toaster, shirt and tie, dog, cat, Peking duck, pool table, car, boat, mobile phone, gas bottle, laptop, reclining chair, video camera, air-conditioner – (in case you head down rather than up), a racetrack diorama, McDonalds meal – (big mac, coke and large fries), drum kit – and for me the piece-de-resistance, a revolver. I suppose if you don’t have enough friends to send you all the goodies you need, stealing afterlife goods at afterlife gunpoint makes perfect sense.

This pragmatism even extends to businesses. Shops open and close; move and renovate; all at an alarming rate. If you leave Hong Kong for more than a week, watch out. Upon your return, things will have changed.

A recent family holiday saw us arrive home ready to greet our friendly neighborhood storekeepers. My first issue was the video store: it was now a gift shop. (Ummm, what about my deposit?). Our local foot-rub place (where we had decided to take the “fantastic deal” on a block of foot-rubs) was now a camera store (the man declined to do my feet). The most remarkable change was our local organic fruit and veg place – which had become a Real Estate agent – and was in the process of being closed down itself. Admittedly we were away for quite a few weeks, but still!

Hong Kong is an ever-changing landscape. That’s the beauty and the frustration of it.  Buildings make way for bigger buildings; the harbour makes way for, well, more buildings (the Government promises: next time, they will build a park…) If you meet anyone who has been away for a few years, they may not recognize anything. The Island foreshore will undoubtedly be 100 yards closer to Kowloon, their favourite restaurant will now be a 7/11 and the 1 bedroom flat they rented in 1990 will now cost them five times as much.

But still, amongst all this change, the Chinese have some wonderful rituals and beliefs. Buildings, shops and smoking barbers come and go, but when it’s all said and done, the ancestors still need to eat.  Burning a paper KFC effigy for the great grandmother will always get you in the afterlife good books.


Geographic Malfunctions

Do you know where Australia is?  Would you like to know?

I was in my travel agent’s office the other day and saw an imposing poster: “European Package” it proudly proclaimed in 3” letters. Below were the glossy photos to entice you to visit the wonder that is Europe: The Eifel Tower, Big Ben… and a kangaroo.

OK, for full disclosures sake, I’m an Australian. I am also a realist. Australia is right down the bottom of the list when it comes to globally significant countries. But people, we are not in Europe!

It borders on a national obsession, recounting stories of tourist misconceptions. I have personally been told, on disclosing my nationality, that my English is quite respectable – in that slightly loud way people like to talk to non-English speakers, (as if volume is the secret to learning languages).

There are some outstanding stories from the Sydney Olympics in 2000 – Tourists turning up with Austrian currency and complaining the Vienna Boys’ Choir was nowhere to be found, questions to travel agents asking if milk was available – or should they bring their own; and my personal favourite (although I suspect apocryphal) is the story of the American lady who turned up for her Olympic experience – in Sydney, Nova Scotia.

So here it is folks: Australia is an Island in the Southern Hemisphere, we are a multicultural society where English is the official language, you can’t walk from Sydney to Perth, unless you want to die, as in between is an extremely large desert. There are no kangaroos in the streets of Sydney, (but quite a few in the restaurants, if you catch my drift). It is stinking hot at Christmas, and while it’s true we have a fairly large group of poisonous snakes, spiders, plants, and fish, you are unlikely to meet them sipping on a latte in a Melbourne café. (Yes, we also have coffee in Australia).

I do wonder in the Internet age why there are so many people who simply don’t know where things are. I perfectly understand why you wouldn’t know where Lichtenstein is – I don’t know myself, but geographically, Australia is the 6th largest country in the world, more than twice as large as India and 48,000 times bigger than Lichtenstein.

Australia is also a delightful place to visit, the people are friendly, and the weather is excellent. Remember, we speak passable English, or at least our version of it, so don’t be surprised at my superb grasp of written English, (but I concede if you are an English teacher, you may be thinking the opposite). So don’t be fooled by your Travel Agent, kangaroos are not European.

If you want to go to Australia, or simply impress your friends by knowing where it is, follow these straightforward instructions:

Log on to your computer and open Google maps.  Go left at America and when you get to Japan, head south. It’s the huge place at the bottom (no, not the Antarctic, you have gone a country too far!)


Please, like, like me.

How do you, like, like the way, like, that young folk, like, like to like say “like”, like all the time… me neither (or: yay! Go America! If you’re under 25)

One bonus of the ‘like’ phenomena is it makes conversations impossible to understand by non-likers, like me. It could quite possibly have military applications; sort of like World War 2, when the US Marines used Navajo Indians as radiomen. Their native language was so rare that the Japanese could not decipher a single word of it. Like, wow man.

I can personally attest to the strength of this unbreakable “like” code having listened to many conversations in coffee shops (or ‘the office’ as I like to call them) and have never been able to unravel the content. I get ‘like’ overload extremely quickly and confused remarkably easily. That would come as no surprise to my friends who may hypothesize that I spend a remarkable amount of my life confused. In any event, be that as it may, it is an excellent tool to confuse parents, I suppose.

My interest in this is not for the purpose of America knocking, which oddly seems quite popular at the moment; my interest is in the fact that this ‘like’ trend has swept the world. America seems to have an inexhaustible supply of fads that the rest of the world craves. It’s not just fast hamburgers and blue jeans the world craves; it’s language, as well. In Australia recently, I listened day after day to Aussie school kids over use of ‘like’ – just like their TV hero’s. This may just be another generation gap (try saying “hey, that’s cool man”, to a teenager, and they will look at you like you’re a 48 year old weirdo).

Hong Kong trends (and there are many of them) tend to stand out. That’s partly due to the closeness that we all live in and partly due to the eclectic nature of Hong Kong. Anything and everything goes here, like the fact you can wear fury boots and hats in November, even if it’s 30 degrees Celsius (86 F), as long as the calendar says it should be cold. Fads from all over the world can find a comfy home here; despite a population density of about 8 people per square metre of land, there is plenty of room for every imaginable craze.

So the “like” fad is not so bad I suppose, kids need to have their generation thing. My Dad thought Elton John was just another loud lair ruining a piano, not the Mozart of my time, tinkling classics that will outlive us all.

So should I be a bit more proactive and try to decipher the like code? Maybe, then I can talk to young people about that and many other fascinating topics… ummm, no, that would be seriously uncool, man.

But if you like, liked this post, or like understood like any of this, feel free to like, like it…like.


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