Archive for September, 2010

Hong Kong II

September 24, 2010

 Wednesday, September 22

The conference sponsors buffet lunch at one of the hotel restaurants, but the first day I started at the first of the food stations and my plate was already full by the time I got to the sushi counter. Today I knew better; I skipped the first part and loaded up with sushi, sashimi and, well, just plain raw fish. Plateful of fruit for dessert, including a couple of small, crisp cones filled with blueberies glued in place with chocolate syrup. Hard to take!

I played hookey in the afternoon, went past the lantern festival during daylight to see what was there, whether it might be worth going back in the evening (yes).

Then I tried for another of the vertical hills that rises just above the city. Found lots of vertical country to walk, but because I was blundering along, didn’t get more than maybe halfway up. No problem: it’s good to get out, after having been cooped up by meetings and weather all week.

After the meetings, Intel sponsored a celebration of 500million broadband subscribers. Lots of talk about internet being comparable to invention of printing press and high-speed access being an essential aspect of the internet, some of which is even true.

Couldn’t line up Richard or Anna for the evening, but Denis and I went to the lantern festival. My favourite was the wedgwood set, although the peakcocks came a close second.


From Victoria park, we followed a trail of red lanterns to the nearby Tai Hang district, where they had a local fire dragon. This was a straw dragon maybe sixty feet long, stuffed full of incense sticks. Denis is tall enough to see over the crowd, but for me, it was mostly hoping they would get on with it.

Finally they completed the local fire dance and formed a procession that went to Victoria park, where they would repeat the dance for the rest of Hong Kong. Near the corner where I was jammed into the crowd, they stopped and pulled all of the incense sticks out of the dragon, handed them to the spectators. When we saw them later in Victoria park, they had restored the fire to the dragon; I suppose there was just too much risk to carry a fiery dragon through the streets.

After the fire dragon, Denis and I found a restaurant in the direction away from the crowds, a restaurant that had an empty table – it was already almost 11PM by then – and had prawns with all the bits and pieces still attached. I decided not to try chopsticks and attacked them with knife and fork. Blog and pictures forthcoming; worth an evening, but crowded and it was a late night.

Thursday, September 23

I lasted in the meetings until about 2 PM today, then bailed out. I decided to see whether it was possible to walk along the waterfront down at least to the main ferry terminal, and if so, and if there was still enough time, perhaps to go to Kowloon.

Well, it is possible to go along the water, more or less, but it’s not easy. You have to cross a number of major roads to get there, and once there, it is a continuing stretch of construction site. In fairness, the construction site is there for the purpose of developing an extended waterfront promenade, so I guess I can’t complain too much. Come back in three or five years, it will probably be pretty nice.

There are two ferry piers, one at the convention centre, the other at the cental station. I walked down to the central station pier, took the ferry from there. Forewarned by the guidebook, I paid an extra dollar (HK3 instead of HK2) to ride the upper deck of the ferry to Kowloon.

I had understood that Nathan road was Hong Kong territory’s main shopping street, so when I saw the Tiffany shop, along with an entire street of every brand name in the world that is willing to take however much money you are willing to spend, I thought I was on Nathan road. Not so: this is merely Canton road.

Went on over to Nathan road, which is actually much more of an ordinary shopping street. Up a block or three, under the banyan trees whose roots drip down toward the sidewalk, then back in the general direction of the ferry, but through Kowloon park. Pleasant place. It was getting dark, and I had vague thoughts about maybe hooking up with someone to go out this evening.

On my way to the ferry itself – I went back to the Hong Kong convention centre pier, a bit shorter – I saw a banner sign about resigning your membership in the Chinese communist party. Stopped for a photo, and picked up the Epoch Times, which has a nine-part series describing the crimes of the Chinese communist party.

Even though Hong Kong is a special administrative region, I was surprised at this level of freedom of speech. Congratulated the people handing out the material – even if they do have some freedom of speech, this has to take a certain amount of courage.

The convention centre is arguably the most distinctive building along the water, surely inspired by the Sydney opera house.

Walked back to the hotel, thinking I’d stop in at an Indian restaurant, or maybe just a steakhouse, if I happened to see one. But I didn’t. Ended up at the Dickens Pub in the basement of the hotel, where I had two half-litres of Erdinger Dunkel with fish and chips. Looked through the material I had collected, which is just a bit long on diatribe for my taste. Not that it’s wrong: for example, they point out that a measure of civilization is the degree to which it renounces violence. It’s published by people with western names out of New York, so the local (and worldwide) printing and dissemination may be the limit of local involvement. Still, it’s freedom of expression, and that’s significant! They have a local editorial insert claiming to have distributed hundreds of thousands of copies in Hong Kong already, many of which surely have found their way back into PRC by way of the forty thousand Chinese tourists who visit every day.

Friday, September 24

All of the Broadband Forum meetings concluded yesterday except for some wrapping up, so I went down for breakfast, but didn’t bother with any of the meetings. I didn’t spend as much time in Kowloon yesterday as I thought it warranted, particularly since I see a number of pedestrian streets on the map, so I took the ferry across and explored again.

On my way to the ferry, I passed the restaurant that Jaume told me about, Fuk Yuen. When a group of colleagues went out last night, Tom refused to go to a restaurant whose name insulted him. He was serious! On the other hand, they ended up in a Japanese steak house that sounded very good. Maybe I’ll try for it tonight.

I noticed on the map that there were a number of pedestrian-only streets, so I tried to seek them out. Good thing to do. Clothes, vegetables, fine. Meat and especially fish, not so fine.

Along Reclamation street, I found the jade hawkers’ market, some of which was pretty interesting. One vendor showed me an English-language sign that said I was his first customer of the day, and for good luck, he needed to give me a special deal. Thank you. Good-bye.

 Wandered around for an hour or three, until my feet got sore. Found a hardware district. Hardware? Yes, and specialized. You want fan belts, there’s a store that specializes in fan belts. Bearings? A separate store. Extrusions? Its own store. Springs? Springs!? Yes, of course.

Headed back toward the ferry, stopped in Kowloon park, where there was a flamingo colony.

Spent some time photographing ordinary people, just for fun. Well, pretty women, actually.

Back to the hotel mid-afternoon, sore feet. A few telecons, that may result in going to Aberdeen (south coast of HK island) tonight. Had a beer with Denis, who is on his way to Kowloon this evening.

My colleagues checked in from the top of Victoria peak. They were going on to Aberdeen from there, and rightly. I asked Jaume for the name of last night’s steak restaurant, since I had already discovered that there were at least a dozen Japanese restaurants at 491 Lockhart road. Sweetheart Garden, second floor. It was okay, but salty, and if that’s representative of Kobe beef, I’m not particularly impressed. On the other hand, it was only HKD113, so it could hardly have been the best possible cut of Kobe beef.

Hong Kong

September 19, 2010

Friday, September 17, 2010

On my way to Hong Kong. My flight was at 1, so I went for a short hike, up Spring Ridge trail at Windy Hill, to Skyline and back. Interesting to see a plume of smoke from Palo Alto, which I later learned was a house fire at University and Hale. Roger was going to give me a ride to the airport, so I called him and advised him to take the Embarcadero exit from US 101. No problem.

Roger dropped me at the airport with plenty of time to stop in the Red Carpet club and get a glass of a really fine red wine (Sequana?). Did a certain amount of work while I waited for the plane.

Saturday, September 18

Had an empty seat next to me on the flight, which is about as good as it gets. The next seat beyond was occupied by a friendly Vietnamese woman, going home to see her family for the first time in the three years she has been in the US. She lives in Orlando, spent two years learning English, then wanted to open a restaurant, discovered the barriers of American laws, but now has the restaurant going. She said it was a small restaurant, ten tables; I asked whether she had to close it to go on vacation. No, she said, she has a manager to keep it going. Good for her.

Flight arrived right at 6. During the pre-landing announcements, I’m sure someone said 6 AM, which I couldn’t believe, and sure enough, it was 6 PM. Sunlight all the way, but not for much longer. Took a while to get through passport control, but it was easy to find the prepaid hotel shuttle counter, where half a dozen other Broadband Forum people were also waiting.

The bus left at 7, and it was 8 by the time I was settled in. Long ride, part of it past what has to be one of the world’s largest container ports. Amazing! A bit hazy or foggy, so the views of the city from across the water were not what might have been expected.

Definitely British in background. You alight from the bus, the triangular signs along the road say Give Way, and of course we drive on the left.

Pretty tired; I bought enough to eat from the hotel room’s minibar selection and crashed.

Sunday, September 19

Up an hour early because my alarm incorrectly thought there was daylight saving time here. Breakfast is only available at 6:30, so it was an opportunity to check email and look through the tourist bumpf. My room looks out over the harbor, but the view is constrained by projections in the hotel itself to a fairly narrow slot. ’Tis okay.

Breakfast: a big plateful of protein followed by a big plateful of fruit. Asked the waiter what that green star-shaped fruit was: he said it was star fruit. Oh, okay. Skipped the core, which looked fibrous – the waiter agreed that it was – the taste was a bit on the sour side. Okay, but probably not one of my favourites.

Met Anna coming in from her morning run, just as I was going out. She said it was hot and humid; she had felt as if she might faint on her run. I invited her to come wander with me today, but she said that Mike, Richard, Arlynn and herself had thought to go to the giant buddha today. She invited me along, but giant buddhas don’t appeal that much, so I skipped it.

The view from Victoria peak is supposed to be the standard Hong Kong classic. People go there on the funicular, which I think is supposed to be the steepest in the world. As you would predict, I thought it might be interesting to see if it’s possible to walk up. (Jumping ahead of the story: yes, it is.)

I’m somewhat handicapped by not having more than the throw-away tourist map, but I figure Victoria peak is the high point: how hard can it be?

The real Hong Kong starts just a block from the hotel. It’s as gritty as any city.

Hot and sticky, indeed.

I walked parallel to the shore for a while, then started angling my way uphill. One interesting difference from home is that the construction scaffolds are made of bamboo.

Found myself in Hong Kong park, a pleasant place. There’s a conservatory of plants, which I skipped, since it only opened at 9, and I didn’t want to wait around that long. Further on, there’s a walk-through aviary, also opening at 9, but it was only a fifteen minute wait by now. Pretty interesting place.

From there, I made my way to the Peak tram station, thinking there might be a trail just parallel to the line, but if there is, I didn’t find it. What I did find is the Old Peak road, about as steep as any road is ever likely to be. The sidewalks gave out as the density of buildings dropped off, and the corresponding reduction of traffic made it okay to walk in the road.

Eventually came to the upper tram station, started what I think is the peak loop that people recommend. It seems to be about 3 km, more or less level, and the implication of that is that there is a lot more mountain further up. After about a kilometer, I found a stone-paved trail going up, so of course I took it.

Gets to be hard work. But up by the radio towers was a little park garden, very pleasant.

Okay, now I have to get down, preferably without destroying any connective tissue. The only shoes I have are Birkenstocks, and it would also be good not to destroy them.

I was rather hoping to find a few beetles and maybe a mantis, but the selection of small animals was pretty limited. Butterflies and dragonflies, a few spiders, that was about it.

I ended up coming down Lugarno road, a gentle and very scenic walk through the woods, which eventually dropped me out at the point where I had departed the ring trail to try the stone-paved trail to the peak.

I had taken a bottle of water from the hotel, and refilled it once already, but I was dry again. Fortunately there was a little picnic area at the junction where I could refill it yet again. Then on down the paths, considerably steeper now, steps in many places.

Very pretty, and not that crowded. I was alone for many minutes at a time. As with the SF bay area, it’s hard to believe you’re within a handful of kilometers from millions of people.

It was great to hike in the hills, in the woods. But I was also ready to get back into the city, when at last I came down a flight of steps that would have had Friedrich in a cold sweat, and rejoined the city streets near Hong Kong university.

It’s a long way back to Causeway bay, where my hotel is. The water bottle is empty again, it’s hot and muggy, and I actually feel like I did a certain amount of exercise today. The mountain is only 550 meters high, but it was steep and a hot and sticky day.

Especially as I worked east through the city, I kept encountering streets that you couldn’t cross at grade. Going up and down the steps to the overcrossings started to become a nuisance. I suppose someday Hong Kong, and maybe many other cities, will have separate levels for motor vehicles and pedestrians, and never the twain shall meet.

Our Munich friends encouraged pictures of people, just ordinary people, so I tried it. Mostly in markets, street markets and produce stalls.

There are enormous numbers of people just sitting around, in the parks, on the curbs, everywhere. I notice, of course I notice, that most of them are women. No idea whether this is just a normal Sunday afternoon practice with all the men home watching football on TV, or whether something special is going on.

Back to the hotel somewhere around 3:30. I had thought to visit Kowloon today as well, but had neither time nor energy. First stop in the hotel room was for a big drink of water! Much better! Then some photo editing, a bit of napping.

Around 6, I went to the Dickens bar in the cellar of the Excelsior hotel. As you would expect in any respectable English pub, they had Erdinger Weissbier, dunkel. Not too bad. Had they asked, I probably would have ordered fish and chips and just eaten there as well. But they didn’t invite me to eat.

So I wandered around the neighborhood a bit. Hot, muggy, bustling, jam-packed crowded. The sushi restaurant I had noticed this morning had a line out the door, so I’m not going there. But the world trade center just across from the hotel had a number of restaurants in its air-conditioned convenience, so after fifteen minutes in the real world, I went there.

Thought I might try a Japanese restaurant, but everything seemed to be breaded and deep-fried, so I ended up at Rice Paper, the next-door Vietnamese restaurant instead. Not bad at all. Star fruit in salad was better than star fruit stand-alone.

And tomorrow the meetings begin.

Stanford medical center II

September 12, 2010

In a previous post, I described the disastrous adventures of a friend of some considerable years, whose broken hip was diagnosed by Stanford as shingles. It was a full week after the fracture before he had surgery to replace the hip.

He is at home now, walking a little, but still weak. Considering the care he got at Stanford, he is lucky to be alive.

Not content with botching their initial treatment, Stanford recently contacted him to see about making an appointment for his hysterectomy. Hey people, did you notice that pronoun? HIM!

My initial take on this story was that Stanford might be a good place to go if you needed a heart transplant, but not otherwise. I think even that assessment may be far too generous. You can probably even get better heart transplant treatment elsewhere nowadays. Go to Stanford only if you have no other choice whatever!


September 11, 2010

Cycling alone, or hiking alone, gives me time to roll things around in my head. I had previously defined a blog category called libertarianism, but that seemed too much like some kind of political party. I changed it to liberty, but that still seems too political. I have better things to write about than politics, or at least other things to write about.

While I certainly approach political issues from a libertarian viewpoint, I wanted a tag that allowed me to talk about issues wider than politics. Thinking about the blog posts I have written, or not written, it ultimately seemed that I wanted to write about civilization.

By civilization, I mean the way in which we humans live together, how we share rights and responsibilities, what we should expect and what we should object to, how we deal with one another on a voluntary basis for mutual benefit, how we deal with each other on an involuntary basis to the disadvantage of at least one party and often both. How people and organizations far exceed our expectations (think REI), and sometimes a particularly noteworthy example from the much longer list of cases where people and organizations fall far short of what may already be minimal expectations (we don’t expect much from government, but we often get even less).

Under the civilization tag, I can talk about philosphy, sociology, economics, politics, and any kind of anecdotes I come across, of exceptionally fine or exceptionally reprehensible behaviour.

That’s what I want.


Munich 2010

September 6, 2010

Wednesday, 25 August, 2010, to Munich

The quarterly FSAN (and ITU) meeting was in Munich this time, so Jacky took a few days’ vacation and came along. We came early so we could spend some time together and with our friends. Friedrich and Petra very kindly offered us bed and breakfast, and spent a lot of time with us.

Jacky flew on my frequent flyer miles. We flew through Chicago, had good seating from San Francisco, but we were in the last row of a full flight on the long haul to Munich. Not much sleep.

Thursday, 26 August

Friedrich was at the airport to meet us, and thank you very much. He took us to Allach, where we dropped off our things. Without sleep, we didn’t think we were up for a very adventurous day, so we went to Nymphenburg and the adjoining botanical garden and wandered around. Very nice.

Abendbrot zuhause. We are doing our best at remembering our German, and talking mostly in German. We are actually managing to discuss some real things, albeit not in really complex detail. Good for us!

Friday, 27 August

Today we went to Nürnberg to see a museum. What? A museum? Us? And it isn’t even raining, well, not very much. But it was a railway museum. Oh, okay, that’s different. Interesting place.

After the museum, we wandered through the town for an hour or two, up to the Burg and around. Jacky and I came here fifteen years ago, and I had the recollection that it was okay – but not more than that. Nürnberg is actually a very nice city, well worth a visit.

Two of the bronzes around the town caught our eyes, the Narrenschiff, ship of fools, and a bronze fountain, the Ehekarussell, a group dedicated to marriage, with a poem by Hans Sachs, der Meistersinger von Nürnberg.

In the evening, we four went to their favorite Indian restaurant in Dachau, a place called Shalimar. I was surprised that the proprietor called them Ihr and Du, but they later explained that they had gotten to know him very well. He had given them a full course in Indian cooking in his kitchen, had visited them at home. Okay, the Du is justified. Nice.

They have also met a lot of people and made friends through the Volvo Forum, in which Friedrich holds a position of some responsibility, helping to organize events, keep the money sorted out, and such.

Saturday, 28 August

Today was for Kloster Scheyern. Friedrich took comp time to be with us the last two days, but this is the first day on which Petra was able to join us. We thought if it rained, we would go to the Audi museum at Ingolstadt, but the weather was fine. Cool, mostly cloudy, an occasional raindrop.

Our friends bought a case of Kloster Bier, took it back to the car, and we went for a ten km hike or so in the woods. Very pleasant.

We took some lunch at the Klosterstubn, wandered the Kloster church, which was a bit less grandiose than the usual Bavarian baroque, and returned to Munich.

We thought to go to Schloß Schleissheim in the afternoon, but no sooner did we get there than our friends got in touch with Doris and Wolfgang, and we went over to their place in Garching for a brief afternoon chat and drink. 13-year old Lukas was worried about having to speak English and with Uhus who were definitely not Cool anyway, so he took his I-Pod and went over to his friend’s house.

Friedrich and Petra had a golf lesson and went out for the evening. We could have walked along to a nearby neighborhood restaurant, or scrounged from the fridge, but we had eaten enough, and really wanted no more. Mostly, we needed to catch up on sleep.

Sunday, 29 August

Anna was flying in this morning. We moved into the conference hotel, the Holiday Inn opposite the Gasteig. We met Thomas, Doris and Wolfgang, and Anna at 10. Lukas and his friend were invited, but thought the Parnachklamm would be boring, so they didn’t come along.

Eight of us, two cars. It was rainy as we drove toward the Alps, but mostly sunny by the time we reached Garmisch-Partenkirchen.

Great Klamm!

We stopped above the Klamm for lunchies. Some of us went down from the top to a bridge that  runs across the narrow part of the gorge for a few photos, then we all returned through the Klamm, the same way we came.

Went to a Hofbrauhaus near the Holiday Inn, where we first thought to eat outdoors, but it was getting chilly and we were happy to go inside. We are still a bit short on sleep, and Anna had had only two hours sleep or so on the plane, so after lots of talking and eating (and drinking), we all said our good nights and called it an evening.

Monday, 30 August

We have two narrow beds in our room. Cozy to share only one of them between the two of us.

Massive tour group in the breakfast room, all getting ready to leave. We hope it won’t be like this every day, but you never know. (It was in fact better until Friday, when another tour group came through.)

My meetings start at 10, so Jacky and I went out for a brief walk after breakfast. Chilly and breezy, we only went as far as Isartor, then returned through the museum and discovered a pleasant little parklet with trails coming up from the river to our hotel, which stands at the top of a low hill.

We had a separate conference in the next-door Novotel, whose conference facilities seemed much nicer than those at the Holiday Inn. Also less expensive, and the hotel itself seemed nicer. Somehow the FSAN people seem to have made the wrong choice.

Internet access at the Holiday Inn is also pretty unsatisfactory. They charge by the minute, with a max of EUR22 per day, which is expensive enough that we connect, download email, disconnect. In the ultimate irony, the service provider probably gets ten percent as much revenue as if it lowered its prices to a flat rate of, say EUR10 per day.

The meeting ended around 4:30. Jacky was back at the hotel room, and we went out, wandered around the Viktualienmarkt, Marienplatz, Odeonsplatz, the Theatinerkirche, all the old places. Nice to see them again.

Cold, windy, rainy. Great summer!

It was just starting to think about raining again when we got back to the south side of the Isar and stopped into the Chopan Afghan restaurant, which we had noticed this morning. Pretty good. They didn’t accept plastic, so we used most of our remaining cash.

Raining as we returned to the hotel, where we stopped in the lobby for a Dunkles – the Afghan restaurant had no alcohol. Back to the room to mellow out. Jacky flies home tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 31

Jacky left for the airport after breakfast, and I headed into my meetings. Trouble with wireless acess in the meeting room. By the end of the week, they had it working reasonably well, but it was pretty frustrating throughout most days.

It turned out to be a pretty nice day. After work, Denis K and I went out wandering. I had thought to go find the graves of Ohm and Fraunhofer, but it was getting a bit dark by the time we got to that neighborhood, so I gave up on that objective. In any event, we came upon the Jewish museum, new since last I was in that part of the city. Next was Sendlinger Tor, the Asamkirche and Asamhaus, which are always fun. And of course, I added on the Theatinerkirche as a constrast with Asamkirche.

We ended up at Wok and Roll, a restaurant that has Chinese cuisine on the first floor and Japanese on the Erdgeschoss. All you can eat sushi for EUR17. Pretty good.

Wednesday, September 1

A day of meetings, followed by an organized tour to Aying, where we spent the evening at the Ayinger Brauerei. Big place, lots of stainless steel. Although they admit that it’s only a mid-size brewery in terms of its competition, it is nevertheless big enough to produce one and a half times the entire consumption of Oktoberfest in a year.

Anna learned how to pour beer vom Fass, without having foam all over the place. She commented that with her new skill, she could get a job as a barmaid if she ever got laid off.

Late when we got back, as always in these things. Fortunately, I had escaped from the last of the afternoon sessions for a nap.

Thursday, September 2

Looked like a pretty nice day, but it was almost 6 by the time I was able to get out. Started off with Jeremy and Denis, thought it might be interesting to go to Schwabing. Near the university, Jeremy succeeded in getting in touch with half a dozen friends, and begged off to go spend the evening with them.

Meantime, Denis was on his cell phone, also arranging something. Will I end up doing this on my own? We veered off to Amalienstrasse and found an antique books dealer, where the proprietor handed Denis a ready-packaged roll, which Denis later told me contained old maps.

On to Schwabing, where we wandered for a while, then saw a restaurant advertising Tibetan food. No idea what that would be, but we gave it a try. Not bad.

On the way back, we stopped here and there to try for some night photos of the usual suspects.

I especially liked the eye charts in one shop just below the hotel.

Friday, September 3

Last day of meetings, the ITU interim session. Pleasant day when finally we broke up around 5. I walked to Isartor S-Bahn and bought an Einzelkarte, EUR2.40. Had to wait awhile for an S-2, but once on the train, it was fast and easy to Allach, where Petra and Friedrich were waiting.

I suggested Shalimar, the same Indian restaurant as before, and Doris and Wolfgang joined us. This time, Lukas came along too (13 years old, independent, bored by Uhus). A good evening of food and conversation.

Saturday, September 4

After breakfast, Friedrich and I wandered around Allach for a while, then went to Aumeister, a Biergarten in the Englischer Garten. Doris and Wolfgang were supposed to meet us at 10, but we were late and they were later. Wolfgang rode his mountain bike; Lukas declined to spend the day walking with Uhus in the rain. Too bad for him.

We walked an hour or so in the Englischer Garten, stopped for possible lunch at Milchhäusl. But the grill was not yet hot, and I was getting fidgety about having enough time at the airport, so we skipped it. Caught the U-Bahn back to the north, bid Doris and Wolfgang good-bye and drove with Friedrich and Petra to the airport.

There is a large covered terrace between terminals 1 and 2, surrounded by a number of businesses. We went to Airbräu, an on-site brewery, where we (I) had spareribs and a Weissbier. Ganz angenehm.

I was frisked twice on my way through security, but … oh, well. No big deal.

Nice to be on my way home. The world was overcast until we reached Baffin island, where there were great views of glaciers. Toward the west end of the island were hundreds, nay thousands, of round craters, some of them filled with water. Glaciers don’t leave behind round depressions, but I never heard of volcanic activity in this part of the world. No idea how to interpret the underlying geology.

Jacky was waiting for me at the airport. Home to unpack, check the email, crash into bed. Great trip for both of us.