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spikegifted.net - Archive Q1 2004

March 2004:
- A big Happy Birthday to the Ruler_of_spike!! This is the second her of birthday in succession that I happen to be unemployed... How I would have coped without her is unimaginable. Her strength, support, optimism and her sympathetic ear have all helped immeasurably. I just wish that I can and am capable of provide the same care and support if our roles were to be reversed. Happy Birthday, baby!
- What's in a budget? A budget is the work of millions of lines of data diligently gather throughout the country by civil servants, skillfully interpreted government-employed economist and delivered by an appointed politician who may or may not have any detailed understanding of how a modern economy functions but has a political agenda to satisfy. I, personally, hates watching the budget speeches, instead I prefer reading the digested analysis of others (like the Financial Times) or dive straight to the numbers to find the answers I'm interested in. For me, the main point of the budget was that the UK government is borrowing and will be borrowing record levels of debt in the current and coming years to finance expansion of public services. Government receipts for 2003-04 is estimated to be GBP421.5 billion and public sector borrowing requirement (PSBR) will amount to GBP37.5 billion - that represents 8.9% of government receipts. At the same time, public sector net debt (PSND) will reach GBP379.7 billion (!) by the end of this financial year. If you think that sounds scary, the picture ahead is even more alarming: PSBR will only decline to GBP23 billion by 2008-09 (non-linear) and PSND is projected to reach GBP537 billion... This will represent around 50% of UK's GDP (the Treasury only provides GDP projection up to 2006) which includes an upturn in the UK and global economies. The saying that 'what goes up must come down' rings true here: somehow the UK government (current or future) will have to find ways to reduce its debt levels. If the government is committed to continue expanding public services to fulfill its election promises, the financing gap can only be filled by increased government receipts. Given the fact that the its figures have already factored in improvements in economic situations at home and abroad, the only way to reduce its debt level is by increasing taxes. On the surface, the 2003-04 budget is 'boring' but once you look deeper into the numbers, it guarantees future pains...
- The people of Spain have shown the world their desire to live in peace and have also demonstrated their refusal to give in to terror! Over two million people took part in the demonstration against terror in Madrid and millions more joined similar rallies across the country. This was a show of grieve and it was also a show of defiance - 'the terrorists cannot be allowed to win!'
- The shocking series of explosions in the Spanish capital, Madrid, has proved to us that once again the evil doers of this world is ahead of our security and intelligence community in the 'terror game'. While the Spanish authorities pointed their fingers toward ET.A., the Basque separatist movement, there is now evidence that it was once again the work of al Qaeda. Two and half years since the horrific events of September 11, the US and its allies have engaged in a prolong 'war on terror' and an invasion and overthrowing of Saddam Hussein's regime, we're nowhere closer to bringing to an end the terrorist threat posed by al Qaeda. For me, as someone who lives and work in the UK, the World Trade Center, Bali, Turkey and Iraq are all relatively far away places and the threat of terrorism has, until this day, appeared remote. However, with this series of highly coordinated bombing of commuter trains in the Spanish capital, the threat of terror is brought closer to home. With the UK being the chief ally to US's aggressive Middle East adventure, there is no clearer warning that this country is in al Qaeda's 'radar'. After two and half years of 'war on terror', is the UK is safer place to be than immediately after September 11? Only time will tell.  
- What a difference 12 months makes! I don't want to sound overly optimistic, but the job market is a completely different place. I think the fact that I've spent the past few months working in one specific and related area really helps reminding me of the credit risk skills that I once possessed. Moreover, I think that it has made me more employable in the area that I want to concentrate in and also boosted my credentials. I'm hopeful that my current bout of unemployment is not going to last anywhere as long as my last one (6 months). I'm motivated and I'm keen... Prospective employers, come and get me!!
- I'm looking for a job again... This is unbelievable! For the past few months, I've been working under a temporary contract in a bank and, today, my boss just told me that they're going to terminate the contract. According to him, they're getting a new permanent member and because of the headcount problem, I was let go to make room... I'm not entirely sure how to react to this. However, I know that I'm now better prepared than I was last year when I was made redundant and I'm confident that I'm in a position where I can find another job, quickly. If anyone reading this has a job opening in counterparty credit risk management, you should check out my CV/résumé.
- The Ruler_of_spike and I are in the process of deciding whether we want to stay in the current apartment. We've had a good look around in an area of London that we would like to move to. However, the prices the landlords and landladies are asking for are just plain greedy! It is not the case of us being unrealistic or can afford the asking price. However, we don't want to spend an exuberant amount of money for a property that is sub-standard. After much disappointment, we saw one property that we feel we can be comfortable in, but the asking price is too high. We entered an offer that we feel is reasonable (and at the top end of our budget). I guess we shall have to wait and see the response of the owner...
- It is hard to appreciate how nice the weather is when you're working. However, London and the southeast of England have enjoyed a couple of weeks of very good weather - cold but clear - the best winter days I can think of. We even enjoyed a bit of snow flurries last Sunday.
February 2004:
- The level of xenophobic reaction in the UK resulting from the imminent entry of 10 Central and Eastern European countries is beyond comprehension. I'm guessing that this sudden bout of xenophobic reaction is largely due to the popular press and right wing groups. However, this hysterical reaction is largely misdirected. Since the fall of Communism in the late 80s and early 90s, significant changes have taken place in many CEE countries, including the 10 new entrants into the EU. While it is correct that there're still some very poor areas in these countries, it is quite another to assume that people would want to come to the UK. The main origins of immigrants (legal or otherwise) are from countries other than these 10 EU entrants - the Middle East, North Africa, the former Soviet Union and other places further away. If the government is interested in stamping out racism in this country, the first thing it can do is to remove the UK's cultural xenophobic believes. Otherwise, the population's insecurity will constantly preyed on by opportunistic groups with extreme views. Moreover, the UK runs the risk of losing out to other existing EU countries in attracting the skilled workforce available in the new entrants and the cheap labor who's willing to come to the UK to make a living.
- The brother of the Ruler_of_spike was in town for a few days with his wife and daughter. It has been such a long time since I last saw them. I'm just amazed by how quickly time has gone by - it didn't seem like such a long time ago, but I last saw them together back in March 2003. Since meeting the Ruler_of_spike, I have spent summer holidays and Christmases with in Brittany, but it has been over a year since I went over there. Something has to be done to change that...
- Finally, after over 5 weeks of waiting, I went over to the jeweler to pick up the Ruler_of_spike's engagement ring... It is stunning! The assistants in the jeweler were all crowding around to take a better look at it and even one or two of the customers. Although we have lots of opportunities to look at the diamond before leaving it at the jeweler to have the ring made and stone mounted, we could not imagine how amazing it looks.
- Happy Valentine's Day
- 19 Chinese illegal migrants, working as cockle pickers, were killed or drowned in Morecambe Bay in Lancashire, after becoming trapped by rising tides in freezing sea temperature. There was speculations of these unfortunate people being forced to work there by gangmasters and triads. Moreover, the inhuman living conditions these people were subjected to and the extreme low wages earned by these people were revealed. My initial reaction was one of sadness for the people who lost their lives and their families that they left behind. However, as time went by, my sadness turned into anger. My principal anger is not directed at those exploited them - they are simply the terminal of these migrants' journey. No, my anger is reserved for the Communists Party of China, which for over five and half decades has fail to improve the living standards of the vast majority of people in the country where these migrants came from. While I choose to live and work in Europe and have never set foot in the People's Republic of China, ethnically I'm still Chinese. It pains me to see people of Chinese origin have to resort to living and working in near-slavery conditions in a foreign country for a 'better life' and millions of people in the country being unemployed and living in inhuman conditions, while their government spends billions of dollars into its space program. How can a government (and a party) who cares more about holding on to power and improving its prestige than the people who it has responsibility to remains in charge of a 'people's republic'? Something horribly wrong has happened and this cannot continue. The ultimate responsibility of this tragedy is not the people who exploited the illegal migrant workers, but the leaders of China.
- I think this is the first time I've seen a Super Bowl in February. No matter. What an amazing match up! The Patriots and the Panthers spent so much time beating each other up with their defenses, yet still managed to score 61 points between them - against the expectation of a low-scoring defensive battle. This has to be one of the most entertaining, and one of the the most closely contested, Super Bowl I've seen... It was well worth staying up till 3:30am to watch to its completion.

January 2004:
- My disgust of the Hutton Report can best summed in the following article in the Guardian: "If it went to the West End they'd call it Whitewash", which is in line with other papers' comments.
- Are we talking about the same inquiry here? After waiting for weeks and months, Lord Hutton, the high court judge appointed by the Prime Minister to look into the circumstances which led to the death of the government scientist Dr. David Kelly, has delivered his report on the inquiry. During the inquiry, we read the transcripts, we saw the coverage and we heard the commentary, and yet, the final report seems so far away from what we heard. In his report, Lord Hutton slammed the BBC and yet made little or no criticism of the government, the PM's advisory circle and the Ministry of Defence. As far as I'm concern, and may be others, the judgment is just plain one-sided! Is this 'justice'?
- The 'Big Freeze' is on... For those not living in the UK, this is probably no big deal, but for the Brits, having a few centimeter of snow is enough of an excuse to shut down the whole country. I don't get it - I'm paying a princely price to use public transport, yet if the weather is too hot, too cold, too wet or too dry, we have service disruptions! Why?
- 'Opportunity' has landed! I didn't mention the landing of the first of the two NASA Mars rovers ('Spirit') earlier owing to my poor planning - by the time I thought about writing something about it, it was old news (case in point: I've had a panoramic collage the landscape at the Spirit landing site since January 16th. Anyway, successfully landing one rover on another planet can be a fluke, but getting two down is just an amazing combination of research, engineering, planning, execution and adventurism. Congratulations!
- Happy Chinese New Year!!

- Today is probably the most miserable day I've had since returning to work... However, it is not entirely related to my work. It's bonus time at my workplace and there're a lot of happy looking people walking around. Since I'm on a temporary contract, bonuses are not something I need to worry about. This is such an alien idea to me since the last time I was working on a contract basis was back in 1996. Basically, I need to find a permanent position somewhere along the line!
- As I've known for a long time, I'm not very good at expressing my own stresses and frustration. While, at times, I can be very vocal about some of my feelings, something always get left behind, sitting there, grinding on me. While this was ok in my more youthful years, over long periods of time, it manifest in unsuspected ways. A few years ago, I was going through several bouts of for irritated bowel syndrome. However over the past 18 months, the syndrome hasn't resurfaced. Suddenly, it came back again this week... While I can take drugs to calm my syndrome, I must find other ways to solve this problem on a long-term basis.
- Once every four years or so, a city from the UK launches a bid to host the next but one Olympic Games; usually the bid will go on with large dose of enthusiasm until the it is beaten by other more favored locations in the world and the UK bid team will limp back to lick its wounds. This time round, it is the turn of London. However, I strongly believe the UK entry has a chance in getting through to the final round! The bid is organized, with government backing and appear to have be financed. While there are still many difficult hurdles to overcome and many highly credible competition to beat, London may have a chance to shine on the international sports stage.
- This is the first time I have a piece of jewelry made for someone. Of course, I've bought jewelry for people before, but having one made is an entirely different experience. You don't get the 'instant gratification' of buying something off the shelf. However, since this is the engagement ring for the Ruler_of_spike, as far as I'm concern, having to wait a little longer is not an issue. The jeweler has made a sterling silver mock-up of the ring and this evening I brought the Ruler_of_spike over to the jeweler to try out this mock-up. Wow!! We've looked at the stone numerous times between me acquiring it and getting it over to the jeweler earlier this month, we never had the full sense of how it would look like when it's properly mounted in a ring. Having a mock-up made and have the stone temporarily in it just gives us the first clue as to how the finish product will look like... Needless to say, both the Ruler_of_spike and I are very happy with what we saw!
- This week has been a bit of a strange week at work... While I've been back in a credit risk role for nearly three months now, I'd the first person to say that I'm not as sharp (from a credit risk angle) as I once was. It is strange... I hear about transactions being discussed and I have a rough idea about them, but on the other hand, I simply can't immediately remember the mechanisms, the characteristics, the parts where the risks are, etc. Then I listen in a little more and some details comes back, slowly. Since the middle of December, my work has changed quite significantly. In the first few weeks of my new job, the work was designed as a bug-fix. However, in the past few weeks, I've been involved in some real credit work. It's not the 'heavy stuff', but it's real credit work, nevertheless. While I think I have a good idea as to how to do the credit work (it's just a matter of relearning old skills), I still don't know how the place ticks, institutionally. However, a big part of any job is knowing how the place tick and I'm still running round in circles at times.
- Happy Birthday, Mom!!
- Having spent Christmas and New Year with the diamond for the Ruler_of_spike's engagement ring sitting in the apartment, I finally arranged a meeting with the jeweler to have the ring made and the stone set. Since I was going to meet with the jeweler after work, it basically meant that I had to carry the stone into work. To say that I was a little scared was an understatement! I was sweating bullets!! Owing to the small size of the Ruler_of_spike's ring finger and the size of the diamond (the original ring has been designed for a stone that is quite a bit smaller than the one I got her), the jeweler has to make a new mould for her ring which means additional time required to have the ring made. Anyway, we've penciled down a time in a few weeks' time to have her over to the jeweler to try the ring on before setting the stone. We're both very excited to see the finished product...
- Today is the first time in over two years that I, as a Washington Redskins fan, have a reason to celebrate. Joe Gibbs is going to return to Redskins as Head Coach. While this event in itself doesn't guarantee a return to the glory days (four Super Bowl appearances and three victories in 11 seasons), it is still something every Redskins fan can cheer about.
- Alright!! At last, someone with his/her head screwed on right has come up with the very solution to the British liberal sense of obeying traffic laws - bill them! Bill them till they remember. It is completely unimaginable that the spokesperson of an motoring organization was actually caught on a TV interview saying that the traffic wardens do not show any leniency when dealing with minor motoring offences. Well, buddy, it is exactly because everybody is committing minor offences which makes the streets of London as congested as they are! I say "Bill 'em!!"
- Happy New Year!!