Favorite Nineties Music

Just like the “golden age” a decade earlier that produced many of my all-time favorite tunes, the nineties were a time when plenty of great music — at least to my taste — was produced.

Fuel – Shimmer

New Radicals – You Get What You Give

Semisonic – Closing Time

Tonic – If You Could Only See

Blind Melon – No Rain

Third Eye Blind – Never Let You Go

The Cranberries – Linger

Alice in Chains – No Excuses

Dishwalla – Counting Blue Cars

Garbage – Only Happy When It Rains

Goo Goo Dolls – Naked

Live – Selling the Drama

Radiohead – Thinking About You

Smashing Pumpkins – Disarm

Gin Blossoms – Found Out About You

Juliana Hatfield – My Sister

High School Reunion

My wife and I recently watched The American Reunion, the latest sequel to the American Pie chain of films I have come to consider as one of my most favorite movies (along with Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and 3 Idiots).

The timing of the movie couldn’t be more perfect for me. My high school class will celebrate its 20th year this year. This year also happens to be the 15th anniversary since college graduation. Sadly, I am not coming to either simply because there is no reunion being organized. It seemed that I belong to a batch of classmates who don’t care much about reminiscing what may be called “golden years”. Or at least don’t consider them as priorities.

I was not in the photo.

As I left the doors of Holy Cross of Mintal to pursue bigger dreams, I had this feeling that one day, I will be back in the campus and reunite with friends some ten or twenty years later and wait for my turn to narrate my journey so far.

High school life has been one of the most memorable moments for everyone, including me. Mimicking teacher mannerisms, school breaks and outings, revelation of crushes over a game of spin a bottle are among them. High school reunion is a perfect dose to take a break from the so-called real world and possibly discover a long-kept secret revealed during those half-drunk conversations.

“Jonathan was a black belter”.

“We composed a TV commercial featuring the surnames of Ms Genise, Ms Miclat, and so on.”

“I just couldn’t tell that seatmate she has that awfully bad breathe”, referring to someone who was conspicuously absent in the gathering.

We could print shirts simulating the activity colors worn every Wednesday — especially made for the reunion. We could sing ‘To Christ Through Mary’ and award a prize to someone who can name all class sections during our time or remember names of subject teachers. We could play a trivia game: what is Sr Anne Marie Noveda’s middle name. What is the name of the shop guys hang out and watch VHS shows during lunch break. Who is the starting point guard of the basketball varsity. Who was the reason why the horizontal bar was eventually removed near the acacia tree. We can play games we actually played during intramurals from dodge ball or scrabble.

Lots of ideas brewing in my mind.

hcm_logoJoanne and Aldrin, our valedictorian and salutatorian respectively, could do a speech or, in the case of Joanne, do a live phone patch from her humble abode in Phoenix, Arizona if family and work load would deprive her attending the event. We can invite and honor our teachers, from Ma’am Alminaza to Sir Valero and from Ma’am Macaresa to Ma’am Recla. We would also do a special tribute to those who moved on, notably Sir Roland Picar.

Lots of ideas in my mind.

When I left HCM, we used to have those mini reunions during birthday parties, beach parties and karaoke sessions at Torres Street. Those parties evolved during times when we started to drift apart by means of some of us marrying early, others pursuing careers outside of Davao and eventually leaving the city for good. With nobody leading the way in organizing this so-called grand reunion, the idea fell out of our priorities, overlapped by more serious responsibilities in life: work and children.

One day, Sheila, a batchmate now based in Montreal, Quebec sent me a message proposing the idea of a reunion during their vacation in Davao. We started to inform classmates to scout for places, organize program and at least make this gathering a decent one. I was willing to book a ticket and make the trip. After all, this is what I’ve been waiting for. Dismissing earlier “reunions” held a year removed from high school would be justified if we stage a more meaningful event 20 years since singing Theme from Mahogany.

But for some reason, Sheila removed the Facebook event indicating that the event is cancelled. With my time divided between brutal stretch of work and family and community responsibilities, I find it hard to carry out organizing the event myself.

So memories won’t be relived this year, our turn to have a milestone reunion. Never mind, there’s 25 years, 50 years. But who knows who’ll be left behind to join the party or remember those funny high school anecdotes we used to poke fun at.

Why Olympic Winners Bite Their Medals?

At the winner’s podium, while the spotlights, cameras and eyeballs are focused at them, Olympic winners must be living a dream. Or finally validating that hard work and sacrifice eventually pays off.

Oh Jin Hyek of Korea bites his gold medal after winning the men’s Individual Archery gold medal match on Day 7 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at Lord’s Cricket Ground. Photo credit: London2012.com
We can only hope all those who trained and sacrificed hard get the same reward. But there can only be one winner, and two sidekicks in the podium.

But it seems that a common scene that triumphant grins in front of the camera also come with pretending to chomp on their hard-won medals.

David Wallechinsky, president of the International Society of Olympic Historians, says it’s merely to satisfy the requests of media people, limited with options to create a more eye-catching image.

And why not? Medals are likely hung on winners’ necks by the time photo sessions take place so there’s a few options to do with those medallions. Cover one eye? Kiss the metal? There’s not a lot of options around. So taking a bite at their prized possessions becomes among the most popular things to do, along with raising the flowers/teddy bears that come with these medals.

Cuba’s Leuris Pupo bites his gold medal, during the victory ceremony for the men’s 25-meter rapid fire pistol event at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Friday, Aug. 3, 2012, in London.
“It’s become an obsession with the photographers,” says Wallechinsky, co-author of “The Complete Book of the Olympics.” “I think they look at it as an iconic shot, as something that you can probably sell. I don’t think it’s something the athletes would probably do on their own.”

Biting medals could signify ownership — teeth marks serve as signatures — and even if those marks won’t show, it may improve the value of a medal “once bitten by then Olympic champion and now a sports legend” should the medals find their way at Sotheby’s.

Is it a case of curious athletes who wish to verify if gold medals are pure gold or are replicas of golden chocolate coins? Many Olympic winners may not be aware, but this year’s gold medal consists of 1.34%, or about 6 grams, of gold. The remainder is 93% silver and 6% copper, according to a CNN article. Testing medals for authenticity is perfectly fine; it just so happens that winners get to test them while they pose for photographers. For the record, solid gold medals were only offered in 1904, 1908 and 1912 Olympics.

U.S. gymnasts McKayla Maroney, Kyla Ross, Alexandra Raisman, Gabrielle Douglas and Jordyn Wieber bite their gold medals at the Artistic Gymnastics women’s team final at the 2012 Summer Olympics, on July 31, in London. Matt Dunham / AP
Winners biting their prizes aren’t limited only on Olympic medals or happen only in the Olympics. Rafael Nadal admits that he prefers to biting his winning trophies than kissing them. Sadly, injury deprived from from taking part in the London Olympics and get a chance to bite a medal at the podium.

As Olympic winners sing their national anthems, pose with silver and bronze medalists, photographers may shout “bite your medal” and athletes would gladly oblige. Hopefully, over excitement doesn’t ruin the party. Biting your medal a bit too much is more likely to crack a tooth than bend a medal.

Price Tag Tricks Consumers Need to Be Aware Of

‘Multiplication and Division’ Price Tags

I need a proof the old price stood before this discounted offer came out.
When shop owners stage their “massive discount” offer, they must think that buyers are compelled to buy because a) this is a once-in-a-lifetime offer of 95% off, a HK$10,000 to HK$500 deal, b) the offer is so irresistible that even if it’s not immediately useful, it may prove its worth later. But who knows this price is just artificially inflated and reduced to the price very close to its original?

I need a proof the old price stood before this discounted offer came out.

Commonly seen: At various types of shops that announce they have a huge, eye-popping sale.

‘Misplaced Products’ Price Tags
These are large price tags that are irresistible from a distance and therefore becomes a magnet for buyers. I noticed this at an H&M shop in Tseung Kwan O, while window shopping with my wife. From afar, the price of a blouse looks attractive. But when we approached it, a fine print below the huge label indicates that the price isn’t for the blouse, but for the shorts found nowhere near the label.

There is a reason why text above price tag is so tiny.
There is a reason why text above price tag is so tiny.[/caption]

Commonly seen: Clothing shops? But I could be wrong.

‘On Sale, Oh Just Kidding’ Price Tags

Look, ma. 0% discount!
Photo credit: Jozelle Gabriel.[/caption]Look, ma. 0% discount!
Photo credit: Jozelle Gabriel.

Just in case our eyes are oriented that the sight of a yellow-labeled product signifies a sale item, let’s try to re-calibratethem. That’s because sometimes we just focus on what a product costs more than how much was cut. In such cases, we could fall prey on a strange tactic: they are no different at all. See the proof below, from a neighborhood 7-Eleven outlet.

Commonly seen: At convenience shops where people go because they need to buy, and don’t care to compare price elsewhere.

Look, ma. 0% discount!
Photo credit: Jozelle Gabriel.
‘Outright Deceptive’ Price Tags

This is probably the most difficult type of price tag deception to deal with. This type of price labeling happens on products that need to pass through the weighing scale such as meat and vegetables. While I see no problem with meat products labeled with price per pound and equivalent price label after being weighed, one experience buying a Taiwan cauliflower at Park N Shop reveals that the price that appears on the package isn’t the actual cost of the commodity. And it didn’t indicate (at least in English terms) the price is per pound. Passing through the cashier, we realized the real value. Hong Kong has its product labeling law, but it’s more about guidelines on printing nutritional values than guidelines on price tagging.

Commonly seen: Supermarkets

Certainly there are various ways shops employ to make their goods look desirable and influence impulse buying: lighting systems, skinny mirrors, product placement and attractive mannequins. But I think pricing products influences greater than all the others. Becoming a smart buyer is easier said than done, but with the examples shared above, we become more discriminating customers.

We know a bit of arithmetic, but still…

A Golden Era for Hong Kong’s Property Owners

I mentioned a while ago about soaring home rentals making living in Hong Kong more challenging than before. This phenomenon appears to apply everywhere that the idea of moving out to a more reasonable accommodation seems no longer practical.

But while home renters find it a challengs coping up with rising property rates, property owners are basking in an era that promises plenty of opportunities.

For instance, it was an opportunity too irresistible to pass up for Lam Shek-yam, the owner of Leighton Bakery in Causeway Bay’s Matheson Street. With heavy heart, the owner was forced to give up selling his popular egg tarts and sausage buns to accommodate a tantalizing HK$140 million (US$18.04 million) offer for his shop location. He has been doing good business with satisfied customers for the past 28 years. For fans who will miss this spot, a sister outlet further still serves local favorites.

But who would take a pass at such ridiculous offer, especially when they realize Mr Lam bought that prime location for just HK$13 million (US$1.67 million) in 1996? Curiously, the location isn’t far away from that ‘crazy’ offer I thought about several years ago. But now I realize it’s the rule rather than exception because the area is considered one of the world’s most expensive places to rent retail spaces.

As property owners like Leighton Bakery’s Lam Shek-yam is cashing in to Hong Kong’s property boom, those who are renting their premises are in a tough position to deal with negotiating rents. There’s little doubt owners are demanding increases, as the market dictates, it’s just a matter how considerate or outrageous these raises may actually be.

The high rental rates has made Causeway Bay’s relocation turnover rate quite high, a boon for the moving business. Indonesian restaurant 1968, Time Square’s UA Cinema and Japanese restaurant Wallmann Market within the neighborhood were all ousted because of the same reason.

If big name businesses are not immune to soaring rental rates, let alone smaller players. And if these soaring rental rates are slapped at small businesses like local cha chan tengs (tea restaurants) or noodle shops which can’t significantly raise their menu prices, they are forced to move out (towards less conspicuous places) and make way to those who can afford the rate. The bottom line is that if someone is willing to take the price, no matter how high it may be, the owner is poised to keep it that way.

I can only imagine the Causeway Bay of the future as home to luxury boutiques, jewelry stores, luxury restaurants and outlets of big chain businesses. Devoid of small tea shops, bakeries and noodle shops, the area can then truly embellish its title as a pure shopping destination. But that’s not what we want.

Good Times at Philippine Consulate in Hong Kong

While I hear many Filipinos have bad experience with Philippine embassies and consulates in various places, I can’t necessarily say the same thing with Hong Kong’s post.

Slow processing of requests, indifferent staff or simply unable or unwilling to attend concerns of nationals are often the root cause of animosity towards Philippine consulate or embassy staff.

A friend in Sydney thinks Philippine consulate staff over there act like gods and work at their own pace — slow and inefficient. A schoolmate in Singapore laments the poorly organized passport renewal process, which saw applicants form a long line outdoors, and left many of them give up meals just to keep their positions.

With over a million Filipinos, Saudi Arabia may have been among the most heavily-critized posts. From failure to assist abused domestic helpers to hard to reach hotlines, staff and officials often receive such harsh words from frustrated Filipinos.

In some cases, fed up citizens have taken their complaints to another level. When a Filipino domestic helper in Hong Kong tried to seek advice from a Labor Attache for employer abuse, she was met with stern reply that prompted one of her friends to record the whole conversation. The incident prompted local Filipino groups to voice their displeasure at how officials treat overseas Filipinos, more popularly known as OFWs, the widely-acclaimed modern-day heroes. Although many might wish to label the government officials and diplomats as the same, some complaints also get acted upon. Erring officials get recalled from their posts.

Personally, I think it’s unfair to pin the inefficiency of the system towards the staff who are tasked to implement them. If the Overseas Employment Certificate — a document that proves legitimacy of a Filipino working abroad, thereby granting him travel tax exemptions — is clearly a time-waster. But it still needs to be part of a vacationing worker’s experience, and going ballistic in front of the counter attendant over matters beyond his or her capacity doesn’t help at all.

Maybe we are just good at looking at mistakes, but often fail to offer ‘sensible’ suggestions. (The emphasis is aimed at those who offer ridiculous ideas.)

Over the years, I have ocassionally visited the Philippine Consulate in Hong Kong to renew my passport, to apply for OEC or get documents notarized. In my recent visits, I observed than staff are more approachable and speak more politely. In short, they’re easier to deal with, despite their apparent hectic day at work dealing with people who may be carrying frustrations at work and regional personalities into the Consulate office.

Just today, my wife and I went to apply for e-passport, we found ourselves waiting for our turn at a small room with data capture machines. One of the staff was out for a while when Consul General Noel Servigon came in and asked us about our appointment schedule. Apparently, wanting to ensure our appointment should go as scheduled, he called on another duty officer to take over the vacant machine.

And while waiting for my wife’s turn to finish photo taking and with documents in hand outside of the room, one female officer proactively called my attention and advised me promptly on where should I go next. Sometimes we just need to appreciate these little gestures and not just when someone responds to our call.

Overall, I am impressed.

Surely, there are still people who will find the operations less than impressive or staff members less approachable — I might observe them personally in the future — but I see good progress going on. Whether consulate folks underwent customer services seminar or just acted out of good intentions to serve Filipinos in Hong Kong better, I see the improvement and keep up the good work.

We acknowledge the improvement and soon I hope I’ll hear similar feedback about Philippine consulates and embassies elsewhere.

7 HK developments to look forward to in the next 8 years

For a city whose face is always changing as we speak — construction is going on above and below the ground — Hongkongers may not be surprised with the transformation going on. But still, it is worth noting that new projects still attract attention. Let alone the city’s execution of bold plans that could change the way we live.

I remember when Tseung Kwan O line was launched in 2002, people flocked into Tseung Kwan O residential areas after feeling great relief and convenience being connected by rail. By then, I become aware of the impact a major project brings to people.

So in case you are not aware, these are the upcoming projects Hong Kong is busy working on.

1. West Island Line
If you are familiar with western frontier of Hong Kong island, it’s hard to imagine that the current Island line can only go as far as Sheung Wan, leaving Sai Ying Pun, Kennedy Town and Pok Fu Lam residents to contend with tram and bus routes. Now currently under construction are extensions of Sai Ying Pun, Hong Kong University (not to be confused with the University station located in Shatin) and Kennedy Town.

Expected Year of Completion: 2014

What this brings: The completion of this project could mean fewer bus routes serving the enormous West Hong Kong population as residents are giving up on traffic congestion in favor of the subway. But this could also mean more crowded stations. For example, if I were from Sai Ying Pun going to Kowloon, I’d normally take the KMB 101 route. But with a faster alternative, I’ll go in favor of the subway train even if it meant I am giving up my nap in a comfortable seat in the bus.

2. Kwun Tong Line Extension
In late 2010, then Chief Executive Donald Tsang approved the construction of the Kwun Tong Line Extension. This means the existing green line which currently spans from Tiu Keng Leng to Yau Ma Tei will have two more stops: Whampoa and Ho Man Tin stations. According to MTR’s official site about the project, it takes about five minutes from Yau Ma Tei to Whampoa. For someone traveling from Central to Whampoa, via the Tsuen Wan and Kwun Tong line interchange would only take about 17 minutes which is unimaginable at the moment.

Expected Year of Completion: 2015

What this brings: After losing one transport link when Star Ferry ceased operations from Central to Hung Hom, Whampoa becomes more accessible especially to those whose who despise unpredictable bus schedules.

3. Express Rail Link (XRL)
The Express Rail Link West Kowloon Terminus is subject of controversy but also featured as futuristic and surreal looking. Speaking of superlatives, its vast expanse is considered the largest underground high-speed railway in the world at 4,628,481 square feet, which hosts to trains that operate up to 200 km / hour and serves 10,000 passengers per hour per direction. It also costs a staggering HK$62.4 billion in 2009 prices. Traveling from Hong Kong to Guangzhou currently takes a little less than two hours. But the launch of high-speed trains at XRL, it will be cut down to a mere 48 minutes.

Photo credit: aedas.com

Expected Year of Completion: 2015

What this brings: This express railway network hopes to save 42 million hours of travel time, translated to HK$87 billion in 50 years of operation while enhancing Hong Kong’s stand on environmental protection as railway travel produces less emission than aircraft. Its construction benefited some 9,000 workers while additional 2,000 jobs in clerical and professional staff. This could also spur economic activities in tourism, catering and retail industries which could generate thousands of jobs.

4. South Island Line
It’s not only the folks at Kennedy Town and west of Hong Kong who were left out with the existing railway structure of the MTR. Southern District has also been unable to take advantage of railway efficiency. No wonder the only way to get to Ocean Park, in Aberdeen is through CityBus’ route 629. But that issue has long been resolved as construction of the South Island Line is now underway. Ocean Park, Wong Chuk Hang, Lei Tung and South Horizons will be named stations in this subway line along with Admiralty, which also serves as interchange station to Shatin to Central Link.

Expected Year of Completion: 2015

What this brings: Travel time is greatly reduced. Once this line is open, travel time from Admiralty to Ocean Park will just be 4 minutes, while travelers from Admiralty to South Horizons will only spend 11 minutes travel time. (Enough of that dreaded Aberdeen Tunnel.) By completing this line and the long-awaited Shatin to Central Link, Hong Kong’s definition of travel efficiency will reach a higher level. Imagine the hassles of traveling from South Horizons going to Shatin at the moment. The new line should significantly cut travel time.

5. Hong Kong Zhuhai Macau Bridge
Due for completion in 2016, the Hong Kong Zhuhai Macau Bridge is a 29.6 km dual 3-lane carriageway which connects Hong Kong, Macau and Zhuhai, three major cities of the Pearl River Delta. The project was conceived to mitigate increase in traffic of people and goods between Hong Kong and neighboring areas.

Expected Year of Completion: 2016

What this brings: More efficiency in movement of goods, labor and capital across the whole Pearl River Delta region. Travel time between Hong Kong and Zhuhai or Macau in this 29-kilometer bridge (one of the longest in the world) would be cut from 4.5 hours to 40 minutes. But among the perceived drawbacks of the project is that some tourism areas currently experienced by patrons of Ngong Ping 360 cable car could suffer as Hong Kong’s section of the bridge will be developed.

6. Wan Chai Bypass
Hong Kong is infamous for narrow roads and thus becomes a main reason for traffic congestion and inability to construct supplemental facilities such as bike lanes and accessibility areas. With the dual 3-lane 4-kilometer Wan Chai Bypass, traffic will be alleviated in the Gloucester Road – Harcourt Road – Connaught Road corridor, giving an option for motorists to take this alternative route between Central and Causeway Bay, which further connects to Island Eastern Corridor.

Expected Year of Completion: 2017

What this brings: The creation of the Wan Chai Bypass not only eases traffic within Central, Admiralty and Wan Chai areas. It also creates additional space for recreational facilities in the reclaimed area. Travel time is considerably reduced between Central and Eastern District of Hong Kong island. However, this could encourage presence of
more vehicles and increase roadside emissions unless the government has measures in place.

7. Shatin to Central Link
This line serves to ease passenger traffic from Hong Kong’s northern districts to the business district but also helps connect existing lines to a major transport hub. The route is divided into two segments. The Tai Wai to Hung Hom segment will connect Ma On Shan Line and West Rail Line at each end, forming the East West Corridor. The remaining Hung Hom to Admiralty segment will become the extension of East Rail Line. As Hung Hom serves as Hong Kong’s main terminal for intercity trains, the Link will boost accessibility for people traveling to and from mainland cities.

The new Hung Hom Station concourse after improvement works.
Photo credit: mtr-shatincentrallink.hk

Expected Year of Completion: 2020

What this brings: This eases the traffic congestion at Kowloon Tong, a hub that links both East Rail and Kwun Tong Line as the Link’s East West Corridor utilizes Diamond Hill section of the Kwun Tong Line. So if I wish to go home in Tseung Kwan O from Shatin, I’ll be making an interchange at Diamond Hill and don’t have to pass by Kowloon Tong, a preferred hub for people taking the Tsuen Wan and West Rail Lines. The establishment of this line also aims to reduce roadside emissions so let’s hope that objective will bear fruit.

As we await the completion of these projects, it is best to plan ahead and think how they affect our lives in the future.

Rise in MTR Escalator Accidents Prove Safety Measures Not Working

South China Morning Post reports that escalator accidents at subway stations have increased in frequency during the first half of 2012 compared to the same period last year. Such is the unfortunate outcome despite the MTR’s efforts to encourage safety of the riding public.

Various signs — from body parts to the standard signs — have been in place at the base, top and midsections of escalators. On top of this, the ever-present voice-over “please hold the handrail” in three languages keeps an otherwise quiet MTR station noisy that regular riders find them annoying. They may be intended for newcomers, but I bet majority of passengers are frequent riders of the train.


If those warning signs and reminders aren’t enough, human “ambassadors”, designated staff whose job is to gently remind careless users to take extra care — holding the handrails is the first step.

But still, records show 474 accidents that took place this year represent 21.5 per cent increase compared to last year.

21.5 per cent increase in escalator accidents to 474 incidents in the first half of the year compared to the same period last year – launched a four-week safety campaign yesterday. Red-shirted safety “ambassadors” at 50 stations will remind commuters to take care.

Maybe there is just too many passengers outmaneuvering each other during rush hour — or folks too fixated with smartphone games or Korean drama that MTR escalator safety is just relegated as second priority — that . I tried, in vain, to search for statistics behind the numbers but failed so far.

Maybe people are too sensitive holding public handrails dating back to the trauma caused by SARS, bird flu and randomly sneezing/coughing passenger that cleaning the handrails multiple times in a day won’t be enough to prevent spread of germs. The last time I checked, Crocs continued to sell that specific sandals positively identified in one of MTR’s safety signs as possible causes of accidents among children.

Or is it about how MTR’s escalators are designed and constructed that is prone to accidents regardless of places, demographics or amount of safety precautions are in place?

So far MTR is embarking on another round of campaign, this time employing human “MTR ambassadors” to help remind users to be more careful when riding the escalator. I hope this works.

If not, shall we take Plan Y, where escalator belts are fastened into each user before riding the escalator. Or Plan Z, which is phasing out all escalators and replace them with elevators and staircases.

What Hong Kong Black Travel Warning?

The Philippines may still be in the black (severe threat) for travelers in Hong Kong, that may just exist in the Security Bureau’s website. That’s because everyone is open to defy the so-called advice. A prominent placement in The Standard’s ads section is the “More Fun in the Philippines” campaign of the Department of Tourism along with package tours to Bohol, Palawan, Boracay and other wonderful attractions.

Hong Kong defines “black” travel warning as severe threat that comes after the unfortunate outcome of the hostage-taking incident on August 23, 2010 that killed several Hong Kong tourists.

Serious hostage-taking incident happened in Manila on 23 August 2010, residents should avoid all travel to the country; those who are already there should attend to personal safety and exercise caution.

Can’t blame the government for exercising caution to its residents, but does that mean we will restrict people from making travel plans, at their own risk?

Paired with Syria, a country often mentioned in global headlines, the Philippines gets an unfair category. A red warning (significant threat) would have been more realistic. But what ratio of the population checks the Security Bureau’s website before making travel plans anyway?