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spikegifted.net - Archive Q4 2006



December 2006:
Home: For the first time since we moved into our house in June, we had guests!! It was a pleasure to entertain my friends again. Ok, there were only a couple of them, but nevertheless, it was great to have visitors. They came over on Boxing Day to have lunch, which the Ruler_of_spike did a heck of a good job with the meal. Not only were they the first guests for a long time, they were the first guests since we stopped the renovation of the house. It was great to receive complements on our work.
Merry Christmas!!!
Work: This year's end has been a little different for me. Over the past couple of years, I was engaged in some transactions that were executed just prior to year-end, which meant that I was exceeding busying right up to the end. However, I didn't have any deals to look at towards year-end, or at least the ones I have been involved in were not under a lot of time pressure. So I had a feeling that I was 'left out' of the great rush. Of course, that was no fault of my own (I did finish my annual reviews ahead of time), and the deals that were being looked at were not things that I specialized in. Anyhow, for a change, I was looking from the 'outside', watching my colleagues rushing around. A strange feeling. 
Work: I had the last piece of annual review signed off! While I'd be the first person to admit that having a portion of my portfolio moved to others has made my diary substantially easier to deal with, it has nevertheless provided me with a sense of achievement to have all the reviews completed before the year-end. (Others have had to shuffle their some of their reviews to early next year to satisfy the statistics.) However, that wasn't all the work, I still had a few pieced of new business to consider. Although these were not under the same kind of time pressure as the annual reviews, they would take up substantially all my time until the end of the year. It was a great feeling that I'd "done my job", though.
Home: Finally, with the stuffed picked up by the Ruler_of_spike, we could put the finishing touches to the parts of the house that we've completed renovating/redecorating. As we've made the decision to stay in our house for the first Christmas and New Year, we had to buy a few presents to be sent abroad. That was completed in one afternoon. It was rather refreshing to only have to think of presents for a small number of people. The whole shopping experience was relatively pain-free.
Work: This year's team Christmas dinner took place in a Russian vodka restaurant, which for me was a bit of a disappointment. During the 'consultation period', a few people (including myself) wanted to have bowling (10-pin) as part of the evening. However, there were an equal number of people who just wanted to simply get drunk (how unoriginal). Unfortunately, the organizer of the event gave in to the drinkers and we ended up in the vodka restaurant. The place was a small venue and could not have handled more than two large parties. It was good to see that aside from myself, there were others who didn't drink. For the drinkers around us non-drinkers, they got themselves some extra alcohol. Lovely. Although the Ruler_of_spike had agreed to go to Ikea to pick up the bits and pieces, I didn't want to stay too long and was worried that she would have difficulties with all the stuff she was picking up on her own (some of them being rather heavy). Some people will call me boring, but watching people drink is never really my kind of thing to do. I didn't really enjoy drink when I used to drink and I enjoy less watching other drunk these days. No long after the meal was finished, I bid a speedy departure from the restaurant and left the guys to the drinking. It was the case without saying that some of the stories that were being circulated the next day were rather alarming.
Home: What was the matter with Ikea? Did they have a stock problem? We have been religiously checking their website for the few bits and pieces for nearly two weeks and they had yet to make an appearance. Finally, I called the customer service number and found that they were due in the day after my call. While it was a relieve that the stock would arrive soon, we recognize that we had to get to the store as soon as possible for they have a tendency of selling out their popular items quickly. The only problem was that my team's Christmas dinner was scheduled for the next day, which means that I had to leave the party and then heck my way to the store to get items. However, there wasn't much we could have done so we just had to make contingency plans as the situation developed.
News comment: This is a bit rich: one of Japan's most senior politicians has said the US atomic bombing of Nagasaki in 1945 was impermissible from a humanitarian point of view. So, I guess the Rape of Nanking was permissible? Or how about, the torture of prisoners of war? And the testing of chemical and biological weapons on civilian population was ok, too? Get real!!
Work: It was the office Christmas party season... Oh, how I hate those company 'dos'! What is the problem with having a well-organized sit down meal? Oh, no, that is clearly not that much fun. What we want is a buffet (and find your own seat), lots of alcohol (that's what the British would pass as celebration) and bloody loud music (as John Simpson would say: "music-free distortion"). Last year, owing to fact that the company Christmas party was on the same night as my driving lesson, I didn't go. This year, I didn't have an excuse to miss the company 'do'. Ok, I would admit that it was nice to talk to people outside a strictly work environment, but most of the conversations were 'work related'. Then, to our surprise, some senior folks of the bank entertained us with music! Scary stuff... By that stage, it was time to retire - way before the really scary stuff started to happen. Needless to say, there were plenty of funny stories to pick up from my colleagues. Just say that I was glad that I wasn't around to witness those embarrassing moments.
Work: Back in August, my colleagues and I were invited to have lunch with the head of risk in the investment bank. Owing to the lunch taking place during my summer vacation, my time at the table was re-arranged to another time, along with other absentees. Well, that lunch was postponed a couple of times and eventually ended up in the beginning of December. (Funny how time flies...) The idea was that people were given an opportunity to air their thoughts to the head of risk, off the record (what he'd announced the "Chatham House Rule"). While it was natural for me to think of our area as being a big part of whole risk department, it was still a surprise to see there were people from so many different areas of "risk". My god, you could tell how detached some of these people were from the business world, despite working in an investment bank. There was this guy from some obscure part of the risk modeling world, who commented that how someone from the risk area could not be in a position to promote cross-sell, given the 'negativity' of our department. THAT was a blatant load of rubbish! Some people have just gotten themselves so wrapped up in their own little world, they haven't a clue how to develop outside their own little area. I just had to say something to the contrary. The point was that given there were no 'relationship managers' outside the corporate banking world in our organization, people in risk would be the most appropriate group of individuals to promote cross-selling - as part of our work, we encountered, on a regular basis, patterns of our clients' needs and our responsibilities would be to inform the folks in the front office of these opportunities - providing what the front office would call 'low-hanging fruits'. Moreover, our work within credit risk ideally placed us to understand our clients' activities and also would have developed a sense of our risk appetite towards individual clients - what better position could we be in to promote cross-sell? Anyway, given such an open forum and the other participants were not that vocal (some people were happy to just sit there and some proved themselves to be ignorant), I made a few comments related to our work and our organization. All in all, the lunch was a bit of a non-event, except for my occasional outbursts.  
Work: There was something at work that has really made a lot of us angry. It might sound stupid but I made me wanted to scream - our front office were going to have their bonuses paid before Christmas while we had to wait until at least February 2007. What the heck was this??!! Why were the front office being treated differently to the rest of the bank? Were we not the same team? In his regular updates, our chief executive has been banging on about the new bonus structure and how it has been brought forward to before the year end. We have been listening to this stuff like the gospels and yet we were told otherwise. It has just been a load of smoke and mirrors. To add insult to injury, when being questioned by an MD outside the front office, the chief executive was stupid enough to say that he didn't realize anyone outside the front office would be listening to his updates. Well, fcuk, no! We merely hang on to your every word, not really listening!! I had a chat with a few trusted colleagues and we call came to the conclusion that we can't expect a good bonus after this performance. No doubt, there will be some form of an excuse for not paying us, I just didn't know the exactly wording just yet.
Home: It was the beginning of December and it was time to acquire the first Christmas tree for the house. Our local home improvement warehouse have a good stock of them and I picked up one along with a tree stand. I wasn't sure who was man-handling who, but I won by a narrow margin and managed to get the tree and stand back to the house, with a bit of a struggle. When the tree was all lined up I cut open the netting (which kept the fir gathered for easy transport) and, oh-my-god, the darn thing was huge!! While our living room is not small, the tree was just too big for the size of the room. That was a lesson for next year - watch out for the size of the base of the tree. That wasn't the last of the problem though. Just when the Ruler_of_spike finished decorating the tree (she enjoys doing that, much more than I do), the whole tree fell on its side!! Now can you imagine what would happen if we have a small child standing there? Or that the tree was loaded with lights? After consulting to the Christmas tree folks over in the home improvement store, it was apparent that the stability problem was cause by the lack of a central spike inside the tree holder to lock the tree in place. Now, why didn't someone advise me of that when I bought the stand in the first place? When I eventually bought the stand back for a refund, there was a long line of people having various kinds of problems with the same type of tree stand. Why can't people just make things right the first time round?
Home: We went to Ikea to try and pick up a few pieces before we have our first guests, but just as our luck would have it, they have no stock on all the things that we really wanted.  What a waste of a trip. The most annoying aspect was the fact that the items we where hoping to get were in stock earlier in the week, we made the assumption that they'd still be there when we get there. Well, they were not. That taught us a lesson - check before making the trip.
November 2006:
Work: The final part of the assessment process was the manager's appraisal. For some people this was considered a tricky part of the process. For me, however, I found it quite easy. The truth was that I had extensive contact with my boss and both he and I had good ideas of how I've worked throughout the year. I carried out the tasks that were given to me and I complete the annual reviews and new businesses in a timely manner. I thought I worked diligently, without making much of a fuss. I knew that I am not the ideal employee all the time for I have strong opinions about things and am not afraid of airing my thoughts. On the other hand, I tried my best and I was willing to put my hands up and acknowledged that my mistakes. In the end the manager's appraisal was relatively straight forward - no surprises and turned into more of a chat than anything else. Now, we just have to see how things turn out at bonus time.
Home: Ok, finally I got my act together and finished all the bits of painting that has to be done. It was a good feeling to move all the painting equipment from the house down to the shed. It has been nearly six months since we moved in to the house and the first phase of the home improvement project has now been completed. There are plenty of other bits and pieces to do, but they will have to wait until spring time. However, the job wasn't completed done yet. Although the renovation/redecoration did not extend to the utility room and back toilet, these rooms were in desperate need of being cleaned. So we spent the better parts of a Sunday washing away the grime that was on the walls and floors. How can anyone allow their house to become as desperate as the last owner? To think that he was living here with his two kids is just beyond believe. 
Home: Just when I thought I was through with painting for a while, we discovered I have missed out a couple of things: the kitchen window frame and one final coat on a number of surfaces in the kitchen. I didn't know whether it was due to the increasing gloomy weather or whether I was generally losing motivation after five months of weekly home improvement, I was finding it very hard to finish these last few bit. Don't get me wrong, it annoyed me that there were still other projects to do, like the bathroom, the utility room, the back toilet, the third bedroom, etc, but we have drawn a line on what we would be working on for the time being. Anyway, I just couldn't get myself to finish these last few bits... Somehow, I need to get my motivation and bring the work to the temporary stop.
Home: It has been nearly two weeks since the Ruler_of_spike went to have samples taken for the biopsy and we were just dying to find out the result. To say that I was supremely confident that everything was going to be fine would have been untrue. I found that in situations like these, it was impossible to pre-empt what might or might not happen, the only thing I could do was to be as open-minded as possible to allow myself a frame of mind that I can deal with whatever the result might be. Of course, it was easier said than done. Can you imagine my relieve when she called me after she left the hospital and informed me that everything was clear? Of course, the relieve was more for her than anything else. Although I would be indirectly influenced by whatever the result turned out to be, it would be hard to argue that the Ruler_of_spike was to the most affected by it. Of course she was nervous for all the happenings. All in all, she has been very brave and despite all the uncertainty, a tower of strength and model of courage. I'm proud of her!
Home: I took a day off work to stay at home to receive our new furniture. The delivery folks (three of them), managed to deliver the table and chairs early in the day. The chairs were easy - two chairs stacked inside each box; nothing to do, just merely moving them around. It took all three of them to pick up the table and to maneuver it to a suitable place for assembly. When they left and I saw the marking on the package, I had a small shock - the whole thing weighed around 90kg! We’re going to have a good looking solid oak table. I had the table facing upside down so that the legs could be attached. After these were firmly attached at their assigned places, I got the table to stand on its side. Finally, I somehow managed to gently put the table on its legs, I was scared that I would lose my footing and slamming the legs down on the wooden floor or allowed it to propelling me off its side. After ridding the dining room of all the packaging I move the table and chairs into position and I stood back and admired how great the room looked with the furniture.
Work: The annual "360" assessment time was upon us. The theory was that each person has to go to a selected group of people that they've worked with in the past year to obtain their feedback on the person. At a theoretical level, that appeared to the fairest way to assess the individual - by those they work with. However, as it was often the case, people just pick those who had worked well with and got their positive comments but not those who they've given a hard time (hence no negative comments). While I've a certain idea about my personal performance, it was interesting to hear from my colleagues about myself. The most bizarre one I had was the following: "professional acting and good appearance". Was my colleague thinking I should seek alternative employment as an actor or something? The flip side was that I had to provide feedback on nearly a dozen people. Although you felt that you should say something about your valued colleagues, but it was often difficult to find the time to put down extensive comments. So, I ended up just providing grading, which would be frustrating to be at receiving end. Anyhow I tried to be as truthful as I could be, given the limited amount of time I had to complete these assessments. Well, at least that was out of the way for another year.
Home: For a change, we had a weekend that wasn’t dominated by painting. Now, that was a rare thing! Originally we were thinking of importing our dining table and chairs from France. However a new store had just opened near London which seemed to offer just the kind of furniture we wanted and within our budget. The only problem was that this store was near the Lakeside shopping mall. This would have been a ‘day trip’. It took less time than we anticipated to reach the store, which involved taking a train to London Bridge, then walking up to Fenchurch Street, taking a train to the depth of Essex, followed by a 20 minute walk from the station, through some malls and parking lots. It was well worth the trip, though - we found the table of our dreams (and the chairs to go with it). The Ruler_of_spike was surprise by our eventual choice of the table as she had very different ideas of the kind of table we would invest in. After all the excitement and anticipation before getting to the store, we found our trip back home a lot longer than our outward trip. I think we were just plain tired. Before the weekend was out, I varnished the floorboards one final time after a gentle sanding. The room was ready!
Home: The day of the biopsy finally arrived. The Ruler_of_spike has made that journey to the hospital so many times in recent months, she was dreading to go there again. At least she wasn't required to wait long after she got there. They took four samples from her for the test. I was relieved to have had from her after the procedure was completed. When I got home in the evening, the Ruler_of_spike showed me where the medical folks took the samples. The entire area sounding it was all bruised - it was literally "black-and-blue"! Now we had to wait for the results. When is this going to end? 
Work: After the credit due diligence, my boss and I wrote up the call report. For me, at least, I had a good idea what our conclusion would have been before the meeting. Well, I am the responsible analyst after all. Anyway, we had responses from various business areas who actually have a relationship with the client (or are thinking of starting a relationship), unlike Mr. Negative. The responses were overwhelmingly positive. The senior risk managers were convinced and we managed to save a piece of good business, over some knee jerk reaction. For all those who were concerned, it was a mighty relieve. I felt good that we managed to do something positive. Moreover, I felt that I had learnt a lot from my boss - how to deal with senior risk managers (appeasing them) while working on our own case at the same time, given that we had confidence in our own assessment of the client. It has been an interesting exercise.
Home: Looking at the dining room, it was obvious that two coats over the lining paper were insufficient, so I reluctantly pulled out the rollers and paint brushes once again. Moreover, I had to cover the ceiling also, so that was a full weekend of painting. The final coat on the walls was no problem, but the coat on the ceiling was more demanding. It wasn’t the case that I had to paint upside down. I’ve done that for many rooms already, so that was no big deal. The difficult was in the fact that I had to smooth out part of the ceiling first. In our first viewing of the house, there was a hole in the dining room ceiling! I was around 40cm by 25cm, so there was no hiding. It was due to a small leak in the bath tub in the upstairs bathroom. The previous owner had patched it up before we moved in, but it was a real “patch up job”. A decorator, he wasn’t! So I had to smooth out his patch work before I put the coat of paint on the ceiling. What a royal pain in the backside! The Ruler_of_spike also helped out by painting the skirting boards and the stair case. To add to the painting work, I also sanded the floor boards and applied a couple of coats of varnish to the wood. All in all, a fun weekend of home improvement! When was this going to end?
October 2006:
Home: Mom was finally out of the hospital! That was a very good sign - the hospital would not have allowed her out if there was any doubt about the stability of her health. However, she went from the hospital straight to a medical care residence. Given the state of her health and her inability to look after her own welfare, it was highly unlikely that she would ever be allowed to go back there. Joyous on the one hand, but very sad on the other.
Work: At last, the schedule date of the credit due diligence was upon us. I think my client performed very well. No doubt the questions we asked had been asked many times by other concerned bankers, but they showed that they were competent, the business was sound and their temporary blip was not deterring other counterparties from doing business with them.
Home: Now, there was the ‘rubber meets the road’ moment - would the lining paper hold up with the paint going on top? Given that the previous weekend ended on such a high, I was almost dreading to apply the paint on the paper. Conveniently (and I really mean that), the Ruler_of_spike went up to complete some quick shopping before I started, so I was on my own to savor my moment of triumph or to face defeat. Well, I had one wall covered with paint by the time she came back... and when she entered the house, she saw me with my head in my hands! She thought I got some bad news regarding mom while she was out, but it was the wall/wallpaper that was driving me to despair! Soon after the paint was applied, the lining paper started showing bubbles and there were a lot of them, all over every part of the wall where paint had been put on. I felt completely helpless, with only the thought of having to strip and reapply the paper all over again. Then the Ruler_of_spike came out with the most logical piece of advice - given that we had no experience with wallpapering, why didn’t I pay a visit to the local D.I.Y. store and seek some advice. What a bright spark! But I was afraid to go, for I was dreading what the advice might have been: “Son, you sure have screwed this one up!” I couldn’t even imagine how I would’ve reacted. Luckily, the lady advised that I really shouldn’t have worried - just make sure that I didn’t spend time watching the paint dry. After receiving her reassurance that what I saw at home was nothing out of the ordinary, I went straight home and plastered the rest of the dining room walls with paint and then another coat once it was dried. Given time, the bubbles disappeared and the wallpaper flattened out again. Relief all around, particularly for the Ruler_of_spike for she was really think that I was being driven mad by the stupid lining paper and paint.
Home: Back in September, just before I left for Hong Kong to visit my mom, the Ruler_of_spike went to her first consultation for the cancer scan. As it turned out, it was not the scan but a 'chat' about the upcoming scan. We were not entirely certain whether that was the best use of everyone's time, but what the heck, it was just part of the process. In the beginning of this month, she went to the hospital again to have the real scan. Needless to say, it was not a present experience leading up to the event - a few nervous days prior to the date. To add to the misery, after waiting for the result, the hospital informed her that it was necessary for her to return a couple of weeks later to carry out an ultrasound test for there was something that they could not fully determine. We were at the end of our nerves. More sleepless nights leading up to the second set of scans, and more waiting for the new set of results. Why do hospitals take so long to get the results back to their patients? Surely they recognized how nervous their patients were and the prolonged the process, the more psychological harm they do to their patients! Anyway, the ultrasound results showed that there was a fatty collection that would require further checks. So the Ruler_of_spike has been booked to have a biopsy. Christ! Are they kidding or something? With all that was going on in Hong Kong and at work, I was just jumping around with nerves and impatience. This was just adding more to our worries. Like they say in movies - "we don't need that"!!
Work: There was a conference call between risk management, the primary client business area and Mr. Negative about the future of relationship. There was nothing new in the call, just reiteration of previous positions. This would have been classified as a complete waste of time. However, just when all sides seemed to reach their stated positions (ie. deadlock), my boss pulled out the master stroke - why do we conduct a credit due diligence and get reaction from all sides of the business? (Now, why didn’t I think of that?) Unfortunately, the senior management of the client was not available until late in the month, we could not get the job over and done with. On the other hand, I strongly believe in my credit work and that the client’s underlying credit quality remained strong and the spot of bother was nothing more than a temporary blip. I couldn’t wait for the visit to take place.
Home: Of course, there was nothing predicable in mom’s illness/recovery. She was back in intensive care briefly - another bout of high temperature caused by more lung infection. She has been in two courses of antibiotics already and further course would only reduce the chance of these drugs being effective. The doctors knew that, and so it was a relief to that by the time my uncle informed of mom’s stay in the intensive care unit she was already returned to the normal ward.
Home: So lining paper it was... Armed with some advice from my friends and colleagues, some new tools from my local D.I.Y. store and rolls of lining paper, I was off to my latest home-improvement weekend. I managed to complete the papering in one weekend, which was quite rewarding. Ok, I’d be the first person to admit that it was not the most professional of wallpapering job (hey, I don’t do that for a living), I thought I did a good job, given that it was my first try. The Ruler_of_spike was full of dread as she was scared that I would not have the patience to finish the job. I think I won the ‘patience game’ this time. Moreover, the appearance of the room already improved by merely covering the walls with the lining paper. We were beginning to imaging how the room would look like once we complete the paint work.
Work: While my boss and I have been trying to find ways to sustain the business with our slightly troubled client, the primary client business area in my bank was making some rather lame attempt to justify its business. In a rather ordinary note to senior risk managers, these folks gave, what could only be described as, some ‘woolly’ statement about their confidence in the client and the relationship. What I was looking for some strong statement, but instead I got something that was not better of reiteration of known facts. I really wish these folks could stick their necks out further than that.
Home: After seeing the grime reality of mom’s condition, it was refreshing and reassuring to hear from my uncle that she was making some progress towards recovery. Of course, any progress was small and slow, but at least her conditions did not decline any further.
Home: Painting, painting and yet more painting... We’re both getting rather tired of painting various parts of the house. After finished painting the new shelving units in the living room and the under-stairs cupboards, we have the daunting task of painting the dining room. Given the state of the walls, with some brand new plaster work (owing to damp-proofing and re-plastering), fillers (patched up holes) and partly stripped old paint work, getting a uniformed surface will be a difficult task. The building gave us another piece of useful advice - cover with walls with lining paper before painting. What a stroke of genius. At least that will give us a chance to get an even finish. However, lining the walls would be an interesting task as neither of us have any experience in wallpapering. The fun is just beginning!
Home: We were back painting the house. The Ruler_of_spike had done a whole load of work while I was away, but there was still more painting to be done to the new shelving units. I would be the first to admit that painting is not the most leisurely of pass-time, but having all this painting to complete was good – it took my mind of my mom’s condition in HK and allowed me to relax from the pressure of work.