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Where has the clarity gone?

Filed in Hong Kong

Since owning the Canon 350D camera, I have been taking many more photographs than I've taken in many years. I have also had to spend an inordinate amount of time loading them onto my iMac, converting to tif and then touching up and converting to jpg (in three sizes). By touchup, I don't mean opening the photos in Photoshop. In fact, I don't own Photoshop. All of my touchups are done with a scanning and image processing software called SilverFast, developed in Germany and sold around the world. A lot of professional photographers know about the software; many non-professionals don't, only aware of Photoshop which by the way is too complicated for me personally; it's true.

My touchup only involves improving the colours, contrast, colour range and lighting of the photos. Sometimes, I need to adjust the white balance which in itself is a topic I plan to discuss some time in the future. It's while making these adjustments that I have become aware that almost always, nature in Hong Kong doesn't look as beautiful as the photos. It's a shame but true. The biggest factor is contrast and clarity. They're simply not there in nature.

I remember back in the days of SARS, the scenery in Hong Kong was fabulous, better than anything I'd seen in all the years I've lived here. I had to wonder why this was so and the only answer I could come up with was pollution. At the time, masses of people were staying at home, afraid to go out. Most people would continue to work to continue providing for their families but going out for entertainment or food was simply out of the question. Combined with the effects of the economic depression in effect at the time and you get a situation where the number of cars on the road at any one time was only a fraction of what would be normal.

Driving to work in the Tseung Kwan O industrial estate, the hills were green, the sky was clear blue, and sea was crisp. Just looking at everything around me was a pleasure in itself and gave me a great feeling. It's a shame it couldn't last although nobody obviously wanted SARS to last.

Pollution in Hong Kong is pretty serious now. The Hong Kong government has a rating for air pollution levels throughout Hong Kong but they are a comparative rating from low to high (the Disclaimer is interesting). The common person is never told the actual levels of chemicals and pollutants in the air. I remember a few years ago that some interest groups in Hong Kong were complaining about the rating system compared to the actual levels of pollutants. They were especially concerned about crowded popular shopping areas like Causeway Bay. People were actually advised to stay away from these centres because of the pollution levels. I haven't heard similar warnings since but can only imagine that they'll reoccur soon with the increasing pollution and extreme heat that we'll see in the coming months.

I guess we've been lucky so far this year. The extra rain would have taken a lot of the pollution out of the air and washed it away.

Industry hasn't increased in Hong Kong in the recent years so where's the extra pollution coming from? Apparently, it's coming from China, places like Gwangdong. When asked about the pollution problem, officials replied there was nothing they could do. Every developed country had gone through a highly polluted industrial development stage and China was no different. Hong Kong would simply have to put up with the pollution while it's parent grew and developed into something better. Regrettably, it's true. We'll have to wait; maybe another twenty years or more. Development takes a long time.

China has rules and measures in place to reduce pollution from factories and industries. Some of these require the use of catalytic converters to change the pollution into something friendlier to the environment and to people. Unfortunately, the catalytic converter systems are expensive to maintain and run so many of the factories in China turn them off at night to save money. At night time, the dirty pollutants can't be seen by the average person so nobody's going to report the factories for violating the rules.

Today in Hong Kong is a wonderful day. The sun is high in the sky and there's a breeze blowing through the air. Unfortunately, the hills only a kilometer away are slightly blurry to look at simply because of the pollution and there's nothing we can do;

except touchup our photos on our computers to make the world appear better than it actually is.

I had a dream

Filed in Memoirs

I had a dream this morning. I can't remember all of the details. Dreams are strange in nature, adding bits and pieces of our lives into a montage that we call a dream.

I was in a man's home. It wasn't an expensive home. It was relatively old with lots of wooden furniture, the type that you can move around, not the built-in wardrobe type. It was open with windows all around; windows with wooden frames. I seem to remember ceiling fans.

At one side of the flat, I was able to through the window see strange things that looked like trees except that they were huge hanging mobiles planted in the ground; very artistic and very typical of the man's nature. A few seconds later, the mobiles disappeared and there were instead tables spread out in a 'U' shape, tables big enough to seat 12 people each. It was a restaurant, a Chinese restaurant, with fanned paper napkins, pink actually. There was a 鬼佬 sitting at one of the tables and a waiter serving him. I suddenly remembered the restaurant that I'd seen downstairs. It was the same restaurant although if the dream was reality, it wouldn't be possible; for the restaurant to be both downstairs and at the back of this man's home somewhere up in a high-rise building.

I turned around and we were sitting down at a table having dinner. The man's wife, 曾華倩, perky and sprite as ever, was there sitting to the left of me. The man's personal assistant and one other person were there too. One talked about computer problems (職業病?) and then the man asked his assistant about a problem he was having with his music composition program. Although the man had retired from professional singing, he was obviously still deeply involved, writing his own music, possibly for others to sing.

I was petrified. This man was one of the greatest. We had known each other although only for a minute far far in the past but he was still a great man. He wasn't my idol but he was still wonderous. I had nothing to say but they didn't seem to notice. While talking about the music composition program, I had the urge to offer my computer help but repressed the urge because more than appreciation for my computer skills, I wanted the man to appreciate me as a friend, if not now then later.

Suddenly, as is common in dreams, I was in the kitchen in front of the dish washing basin. I was washing a cup, at least I thought it was a cup. It turned out to contain dish washing powder used in commercial dish washing machines like the ones I attended while studying at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. I looked over to the right and there was a huge commercial dish washing machine, probably the same size as the one I used at the Baxter College dormitory at the university. Of course, this was the man's home. There shouldn't have been a commercial dish washing machine here but this was a dream. Anything goes.

曾華倩 came in and told me that I didn't have to help with the dishes. Somebody grabbed a couple of bottles of beverage from the fridge and then we were in the adjoining room, like a dining area but not the one where we had dinner. The man was there and I was beginning to calm down and become comfortable around him. He looked great, the way I remember him from our time together in Sydney many years ago. We picked up our brown bottles of beer from the table although my bottle mysteriously became a clear bottle of 7-up or something similar.

We talked a little.

And I woke up.

After playing with our dogs in the garden, I went back to our own kitchen and began making a cup of coffee with our Breville coffee maker. Suddenly, one of the man's songs was in my head and it's still there as I write this prose:

風繼續吹 不忍遠離
心裡極渴望 希望留下伴著你
風繼續吹 不忍遠離
心裡亦有淚 不願流淚望著你

過去多少快樂記憶 何妨與你一起去追
要將憂鬱苦痛洗去 柔情蜜意我願記取
要強忍離情淚 未許它向下垂
愁如鎖 眉頭聚 別離淚始終要下垂

Some men are truly great.

Time to let go (The pup, Part#2)

Filed in Dogs of our Lives

Getting him to the vet to get his rotting skin treated was a challenge. After giving the pup three sleeping tablets that the vet had given me, our visitor refused to sleep. In fact, he only displayed just a hint of drowsiness. Half an hour later as instructed by the vet, I gave him another two tablets. Now he was feeling sleepy but still refused to lie down. His survival mode was in full gear and there was no way he was going to let me put him into a car.

The following day, I talked to the vet and was given another seven tablets to try again. Back at home, I wrapped five of the tablets in cheese and gave them to the pup. An hour later, he was feeling the effect but was still in full control. I gave him the other two tablets and waited another half an hour.

the young wandererBy this time, it was obvious that I was going to need to get a muzzle onto the pup or I'd never get him to the vet. However even after seven tablets, his survival mode was still running strong and he'd bite at the muzzle every time I approached him. He even chased me around a couple of times, extremely annoyed that I wouldn't stop following him around trying to muzzle him.

After an hour of following him around in the midday sun, I had no choice but to try something else. He loved food; he didn't get much when he was out on his own; so I decided to try to get him into a cage.

I placed food in the cage. He was definitely interested but didn't know how to get in. Being careful to maintain a safe distance from him, I turned the cage until the door was facing him. Joy of joys! He walked into the cage. Unfortunately, it was a small cage and his backside was sticking out through the door. Tentatively and apprenhensively, I pushed his backside into the cage hoping that he wouldn't turn around and retaliate. Success! He was in the cage and the door was closed. I could breath easier again but I couldn't relax just yet. I had to get him to the vet as soon as possible while the tablets still had an effect on him. Together, our maid and I placed the cage into the boot of the car (the cage was too big to fit in the back of the car) and I scootted off to the vet.

A few hours later, the pup was doing well. His skin had been cleaned up and he had been de-sexed because it would be difficult to get him to the vet again. The vet said he was a very lucky pup. Even though the skin was very bad and foul-smelling, the screwworm flies hadn't found him. He was fine.

A few minutes later, we carried the pup back to the car, still in the cage for safety sake. While talking to a friend who had just driven by, the pup; minutes after being anaesthetised; stood up in the cage, turned around to get more comfortable and laid down again. This was one tough pup!


The pup's rotting neck
Back home again, the pup rested for most of the day and ate a little food. The next day, it was obvious that he was well on his way to recovery. He was happy and full of energy.

It was at this time that we realised he had never played with people. He didn't know that our skin is soft and persisted in biting too hard when playing. One of our neighbours was familiar with the pup and was interested in adopting him. Unfortunately, they have a nine-month old baby and adopting a dog with a biting habit; even though it was just being playful; wouldn't be a smart choice.

The biting problem was a serious one. Part of it was his lack of knowledge about people. Part of it was that he still needed to protect himself. He was always on guard and wasn't yet ready to trust anyone. He had after all been dependent on himself for most of his life. The biting had to be solved though. I tried the 'ouch' method with only minimal success. I needed a better solution and fortunately found one; diluted vinegar!

Dogs hate vinegar. It irritates their sensitive noses. We placed two spray bottles of equally diluted vinegar around the house and garden. Whenever he tried to play too rough, we yelled NO at him while spraying the vinegar in his direction. This would accomplish two things; he would quickly learn that the biting is wrong, and would associate the word 'no' with unwanted behaviour. In later stages, the word 'no' could be used without the vinegar.

Jump to the present. The pup has made excellent progress. His skin has healed and his hair is growing back. He almost never bites, and never hurts us even when he does. He's healthy, energetic and happy. He never goes to the toilet in the house and he's even ok walking on leash! That's pretty amazing for a wanderer dog.

Now it's time to let him go. We already have ten dogs. It would be unfair to my wife and to the dogs if he stayed. Furthermore, if he stays any longer, he and I both will get too attached. We gave him a new beginning. Hopefully, someone can now give him a new home and a new life.

The new owner will need to be experienced with dogs, and preferably already have one or two dogs that the pup can play with because he's young and loves to play.

One thing is for certain.
Whoever loves this pup will in return get a very loyal dog.

If you or your friends are interested, please email me asap.

Pushing too hard

Filed in Health

Sometimes, the harder you try, the worse everything gets. I equate this situation to pushing on a door to open it not realising that the door opens inwards toward you rather than away from you. In such a situation, pushing on the door will obviously bear no results no matter how much energy you use (unless you're superman and you break the door down completely). The only way through the door is to relax and give the door space. You'll then be able to open it (by pulling) and move through.

I had depression for two to three years. My father had a mental problem called burnout syndrome (a very general term) for a couple of years. In both cases, trying to overcome the problem only made it worse. My father had to stop all forms of work involving thinking for six months to a year. During that time, he worked on a potato farm. I wasn't there for that part of his life because I was studying at university so I don't know exactly what he was going through. This rest time however was the only chance he had of recovering. For me, relaxation was also imperative. If I ever exerted myself, my body would relapse into a situation worse than previously. I simply had to accept the situation and move on slowly.

Friends and co-workers at TVB didn't understand. They simply told me to 'buck up', 'encourage yourself', 'stop being so lazy' and other similar statements usually with good intent but unwanted results. Even my doctor didn't believe me. It's unfortunate but true. Until you've suffered this type of problem, you'll never understand its effects or its reality.

You're not the only one that suffers though. Everyone around you suffers too, especially your family.

What I realise now that I didn't understand then is that we're not in complete control of our emotions even though we'd like to think we are. The chemicals and hormones running through and controlling our bodies have far more control over us than our minds. Sometimes, there's nothing we can do about our behaviours.

There are many situations where it is better to stand back a little than to push forward. There are many people who you'd like to convince to behave differently but it won't happen just because you talk to them or encourage them or perhaps even try to force them. For example, one of our dogs is scared of oncoming cars. Every time a car approaches, he dodges off into the roadside grass and pretends to be looking for something. He hopes that the car won't see him and will consequently leave him alone. We tried desperately to change this behaviour. We tried yelling at him, comforting and reassuring him and even complementing him. Nothing worked. It's not a behaviour that's going to change overnight, if at all. It's a part of his makeup and we'll have to accept it.

People can be the same way. If you know someone with a problem that presumably they should be able to overcome by will power alone and nothing you've said has changed them in any way, don't try so hard. Instead, stand back and support them by simply being there when they need you. With the reassurance they gain from knowing you're there for them, they'll relax over time and they'll then have the ability to change for the better.

This is obviously very difficult to understand. I know because it's extremely difficult to explain. I can only hope that my examples helped you to understand at least a little.

Important. Not all depressions are the same. Not all depressions are mental although the symptoms might be. Not all depressions can be solved through psychology intervention. Most importantly; with depression, nothing is at it seems.

I've been there. I know.

Thank you all.

Filed in Miscellaneous

My wife and I have been overwhelmed by the support expressed by the people of Hong Kong and of Chinese people around the world. I have received comments and emails from Hong Kong, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and other countries. The world wide web has really affected the way the world works and communicates. It's phenomenal.

Thank you to everyone who has left comments, written email messages or simply visited this blog. I truly appreciate the support. I'm still digesting everything and the final affect won't be fully understood for a long time to come.

Many people have commented that they are in similar situations to myself. They live overseas in a strange and foreign community. Some are students. Some are working, but they're all working and in some cases struggling to adapt and integrate.

I remember a non-Chinese lady I met outside the local ParknShop store one day last year. She had a baby in a pouch on her back, two doberman dogs on leash and three heavy shopping bags. She asked me to help her place the shopping bags on her arms because her hands were busy holding the dog leashes. She didn't drive. She chose to walk. I commented on her predicament and she answered, very wisely; "there are no shortcuts in life".

This statement stayed with me. It applies to all of us. Many people are having difficult times. I have friends who like myself have struggled for many years, especially so since the 1997/8 economic meltdown in Hong Kong. We don't give up though. We carry on, ever hoping that tomorrow will bring good news.

I'm pleased and surprised that my life is giving moral support to other people who are themselves struggling. This was totally unexpected and unintended. All I can say to these people is exactly what many people have said to me in recent emails; never give up.

The people of Hong Kong have faced many difficult times. Time and time again, they have proven how tough and resilient they are. This is one of the reasons I admire, respect and have a fondness for Hong Kong people, no matter where in the world they may be located. Hong Kong people are special.

I have a personal adage:
"Today's pain, Tomorrow's gain", or
「今天的痛苦,明天的獲得。」

(P.S.: 這個網誌所有的中文是我自己想,自己寫。真的!)

Take care; all of you.

Mac OS X “Tiger”

Filed in Technology

Many people know that I'm an avid user of Apple computers. I've been using Apple computers since around 1989 when I purchased my first Apple computer, the IIci. Actually, it wasn't my first Apple computer. The first Apple computer I ever owned was a IIe purchased, used and sold back in 1983 before the first Macintosh was ever released.

desklamp iMacThese days, I'm using a 'desklamp' iMac with a 17" screen, running Mac OS X 10.3 "Panther". It's very solid. Applications almost never crash and when they do, they have no affect on other applications running at the same time. At this very moment, I have only seven applications running, but there are usually in excess of 15 applications running at any time including email, web browser, text editors and photograph processing applications.

For two years, I worked with the SilverFast scanning application from Lasersoft Imaging so I know my way around scanners pretty well. I recently switched to digital photography when I purchased the Canon 350D. One of the reasons for this was that it simply takes too long to scan film. Scanning one roll of 35mm film can take hours, even with the latest Nikon Coolscan 5000ED film scanner (I own the Coolscan 4000ED). Of course, I'm extremely finicky about my photos so I take time to make sure that every scanned photo looks as good as possible.

Last month, just one day prior to my birthday, Apple released the next version of Mac OS X named "Tiger". I would usually update my computer almost as soon as the upgrades are released but I'm taking my time this time. Tiger is a big upgrade and I'm definitely going to upgrade. With the new version of iSync, I'll finally be able to synchronise my computer's calendar and address book with my Nokia 7610 phone (although I wonder how many of my customised phone entries will get synchronised). And the ability to search for and find anything anywhere will be a big efficiency boost with the use of Spotlight.

For now though, I'm going to wait. The first version of Tiger was rushed out the door, possibly to increase company earnings for the current quarter, and possibly to get broad public beta testing done before the upcoming developers conference. Whatever the reason, I don't think people should upgrade to Tiger just yet.

iBook_green I've read that update 10.4.1 is coming soon, possibly next week. I've also read that it only fixes three dozen or so known bugs. To me, that's not enough knowing the number of bugs reported on the Macintouch and Macfixit sites. I'll probably wait until 10.4.2 is released before I take the leap and upgrade my computers; including an aging but still totally usable green 'clam shell' iBook.

Since I'm talking about Apple computers, it might be prudent of me to mention that there is a Macintosh User Group here in Hong Kong. I was a member for many years and still attend their meetings from time to time. I have quite a few friends in the group, and quite vivid to me at this very moment is the memory of being at a HKMUG meeting when news of the 911 attack was broadcast on television. The meeting was stopped and all attention was cast to the television as we watched the second plane hit the towers. I'm very cynical when it comes to 911. I believe Bush shares much of the responsibility for the attack but that's a sensitive issue and one which I'll not discuss at this time.

In any case, hold off until 10.4.2 before upgrading to Tiger; if you can stand the wait.

Count your lucky stars (The pup, Part#1)

Filed in Dogs of our Lives

Count your lucky stars that you're not married to me. My wife has a hard time putting up with my idiosyncrasies, habits and overall behaviour. She puts up with it because she loves me. There's no other way she could stay married to me for these seventeen years.

Case in point: Tonight, I finished "Perfume" 香水 rehearsals (you remember, the play that you're all going to see because you just know it'll be great!) and was home in time for dinner. My wife though had spent the day out and wasn't home yet. It was also our maid's day off so there wasn't any dinner to speak of. I knew this in advance though and had already planned to order pizza from PizzaBox where I can always get a large pizza for half price as long as I pick it up myself. It's a good deal.

Anyway, on the pavement next to the main road just beside the car park, I noticed a scruffy dog sitting there, apparently waiting for its keeper to come home. I tried taking a couple of photos with my new Canon 350D and then drove off to get the pizza. The photos didn't work out because it was far too dark for the camera to catch anything without blurring.

A few hours later after our family had finished our pizza dinner, we took our dogs out for their nightly walk; five at a time (only possible because we use Gentle Leader collars; not to be confused with the Halti which I don't like as much). Upon returning home with our five dogs, the other five were already home, standing at the fence and barking down the back path. I've heard their barks enough to recognise which barks mean what. Based on their barking, there was probably a dog down the path. I looked and sure enough, there was a dog lying on the paved path down near the neighbour's house.

Wild dogs and semi-wild dogs would not sleep on that path. It's too exposed and insecure. I suspected that the dog was weak. I also recognised it as being the one I saw earlier up on the road near the car park. So I gathered some dog food and took it down to him.

I'd never seen the dog before, and even though he was wearing a collar, there was no way to know if he was friendly or not. You have to be very careful when approaching strange dogs, and you need to note all of the signals that dogs give off to each other. This dog stood up as I approached but he wasn't scared; just a little nervous. When I put the food down in front of me, he started eating almost immediately.

The path was rather steep at that spot and the food bowl was round so it needed supporting to prevent it spilling over. As I stretched my hand to steady the bowl, the dog curled its lips and gave a soft growl. I knew this message but I wanted to steady the bowl anyway. He took a soft nip at my hand. Note the word 'soft'. Dogs have excellent control of the pressure they use when they bite. He nipped my hand with just enough pressure to warn me off but not enough to hurt me in any way. He had proven that he was friendly.

While feeding him, I noticed two patches behind his head and down his back where the hair was wet, matted and sticking up. It wasn't a good sign. If the wetness was from rain or water, the hair would be wet and flat, not sticking up. Sitting there a few minutes was more than enough to expose me to the smell that the dog was giving off. Something was very wrong.

I grew up on a farm in a small town called Gympie in Queensland, Australia. Growing up on a farm in the bush, you soon learn to recognise the smell of death; ie, the smell of rot. The smell coming from this dog was not the same but it was similar. Combine the smell with the wetness and the way the dog shook its head every few minutes and you could almost be sure that he had a case of flesh-eating-flies; ie, Screwworm Maggots 舊世界螺絲蟲蒼蠅(蛆症金蠅).

After eating the food, he became very friendly, so much so that I was able to coach him back to our back yard and get him into a steel cage we have there. I gave him some water and he basically settled down. Our dogs didn't exactly like having a strange dog in the yard but they can't do anything while I'm around. Beethoven; our #1 dog; has stood inside our door looking out at the cage outside at least three times tonight though so he's really keeping watch on the new dog.

So what to do? He'll need surgery. He might need to be put down. Last year, our vet told me about the maggots. Whatever you can see on the surface, you can be sure that the damage is three times as bad inside. I remember seeing a dog die just over a year ago in another village where we lived. It died from maggot infection which was so bad that one of his back legs had literally fallen off. Flesh-eating-maggots are a real danger for wild dogs because they are sure to get involved in fights and there's no one around to cover up the wounds after the fight; perfect targets for maggot carrying flies. (See this "Kit for Detecting Flesh-Eating Maggots" article by the U.S.A. government to get an idea of the severity of the problem and danger. See also this note on Hong Kong's government site.)

We'll have to take the dog to the vet tomorrow. There's no question about that. We'll probably have to give him sleeping medicine so that we can carry him to the car and to the vet. Then we'll have to see what the vet says.

If he eventually recovers, we still can't keep him. We already have ten dogs and that's bordering on crowded in our 700 square-foot home with a 1000 square-foot garden area. No, we'll have to find him a home or give him to the SAA. The SPCA is out of the question. Friends have told me that the SPCA routinely hands unattractive and sick animals over to the Agricultural Department which normally has them put down within days of receiving them. You'll never read about this though because they have an excellent marketing department and tight control of the press in Hong Kong; unfortunate but true. The SAA on the other hand has an excellent reputation, especially among the artists and animal lovers at TVB where I work.

So you can imagine what it's like to be my wife; or maybe you can't. A stray animal approaches the house and I'm concerned about its well being. Fortunately, the three pups growing up next to one of the car parks in our village are doing extremely well with help and food from other people in the area. In other words, there are many other people that care as much as I do. That's a good thing.

We'll know the condition of the dog better tomorrow, providing I can get some sleeping medicine for him. I'll keep you updated.

In the meantime, go and see our play "Perfume" 香水 if you have time. I think you'll enjoy it. The whole team has done an excellent job with this play.

The big 40!

Filed in Life

My birthday is just one day away. On Saturday, I will hit the big 40.

I don't know if I should celebrate or not. 40 is a big number. Fortunately, many in the Chinese culture believe that 40 is just the beginning of a man's life. I tend to think that this will be true for me too, with far more opportunities and experiences to materialise in the coming years. Call me an optimist (and a cynic but that's another topic) but that's what I feel.

So, Happy birthday to me, and also to Esther, a good friend whose birthday is also on Saturday, just a couple of hours before or after me; not sure which.