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spikegifted.net - Archive Q1 2008

March 2008:
Home: The British Museum has been hosting "The First Emperor - China's Terracotta Army" since September last year. This would be one of the first time examples of the Terracotta Army was exhibited in Europe and one of the largest exhibition outside China. The Ruler_of_spike and I have been wanting to go to this exhibition since it was first announced. At the beginning of this year, I went on the museum website to book some tickets and found that the only sensible time available was during weekdays after 8 pm. I booked the tickets anyway for the final week of the exhibition. We had a quick dinner in China Town before slowly making our way up to the museum. What a fantastic presentation it was. For the Ruler_of_spike it was pure fascination of the history and culture of ancient China. The fact that my family name originated from a time before the First Emperor just made the whole experience more poignant. For me, it seemed like 'squaring a circle' as I have studied and read about the history of the China since I was a little child in Hong Kong, the fact that I was too young to attend the first exhibition of these artifacts when they were exhibited in Hong Kong when I was a child and that I eventually came to see and appreciate the richness of my family's homeland in place thousands of miles from where I grew up. How unpredictable life is!
Home: While we have very different tastes in art, both the Ruler_of_spike and I are keen on acquiring original works of art. However, given our limited budget, the chances of acquiring something that we both like are limited. So when the opportunity presented itself when we visited the Polperro Arts Foundation, we knew it was one that should not be missed. It is a beautiful piece of oil on canvas, by a local artist on a local subject. We were not absolutely certain of the piece after our first visit and we spent a bit of time talking about the piece and how it would looked like in our living room. However, we were both completely sold when we visited it the second time. We could not quite believe it, we had a wonderful holiday and then we picked up an original work of art to remind us of the holiday for ever. Wonderful!
Home: After resting for the rest of the day, we drove to Cornwall on the fourth day of my holiday. Unlike last year, we decided to rent a little cottage for our trip rather than staying and "bed & breakfasts". This allowed greater freedom and provided a better atmosphere to relax and recharge. The cottage was in a little hamlet not far from the ancient capital of Cornwall Lostwithiel. From there it was an ideal location to visit many parts of the beautiful south coast of Cornwall. The weather was typical of this kind of time of the year, no warm by any stretch of imagination, but pleasant. We visited places like Fowey, Polperro, Porthallow, Lansallos, Mevagissey, Gorran Haven, St Mawes, St Anthony Point, St Just in Roseland, Portloe and Carlyon Bay. The landscape was stunning and the coast line was beautiful. The food, no matter where we went, was excellent - lots of sea food, local produce and local specialties. All in all, a wonderful holiday and it was, as usual, just too short.
Home: I was originally planning to have to spend the third day of my holiday laying the lawn. However, given my inexperience and the fact that I wasted the morning of the previous day, I had to work the third day. The spent the morning finishing laying the turf on the remainder of the garden. However, as I was getting close to completing, I realized that I was running out of turf. I eye-balled the lawn and figured that probably needed another four rolls of turf to complete the job, so I went to the D.I.Y. store nearby and picked up five rolls, just in case. To my horror, the turf from the local store was a different color to the turf from the nursery. The turf from the nursery was this perfect green while the rolls from the local store was a mix of green and yellow. It was probably owed to the fact that the stuff from the local store was not fresh and the grass was not grown on soil but compacted compose. The part of the lawn with the turf from the local store was distinctly different from the rest. However, there was nothing I could do about, I just kept my finger crossed that they would blend in later.
Home: Day two... I called the nursery that was supplying the rolls of turf, all 75 of them. However, I was informed that they would not be delivered until the afternoon. They couldn't tell me what time the delivery was likely to be made. So I took advantage of the free morning and did some errands. I also invested in some gardening equipments like a wheelbarrow, gardening hose and various other bits and pieces. Noon came and went and I still had not received the turf. I called the nursery again and pleaded with the guys there to have the driver to deliver the turf to our house as soon as possible. Then the truck showed up. The turf were neatly rolled up and they were spread over one and half wooden pallets. Some of the turf was so fresh that they were only cut earlier in the day and they were still soaking wet. The driver, having other deliveries to make left the pallets on the front drive and got on with moving the rolls of turf. I lifted the first roll and (Oh My God!!!) it was heavy! Each of them must have weighed at least 20kg and to add to the fact that they were wet, they stuck to each other. I had to move each of them off the stacks on the pallets, through the porch to the back garden to the waiting wheelbarrow, moving the wheelbarrow to the front of the lawn to stack them back up again then back for the next few rolls. It took me over two and half hours to clear the front drive. After I cleared the front drive, I could close the front door and get on with laying the lawn. Of course, each roll had to be lifted off the stack back onto the wheelbarrow to be moved closer to the patch where it was due to be laid. Then the rolls were lifted off the wheelbarrow and moved into position. I tried hard to make sure that all the edges met with its neighbor. It was back-breaking work. I've spent too many years sitting behind a desk and pushing a keyboard and am no longer built for such work. After four and half hours, it was too dark to work and I only managed to lay around 60% of the lawn.  
Home: On the Monday morning, the tiller and the roller were delivered to our house. The tiller had a petrol-driven engine and I made a lot of noise and vibration. I changed into my dirty clothes and put on my walkman and I was off. First, I had to mow the grass down as far as possible, so that when I came to tilling the soil, there would be as little grass as possible. Unfortunately, it has been raining in the previous weekend and the grass was wet and the soil was damp. I had to clear the mower blades several times of grass and soil. Very messy it was. After putting away the mower, it was down to business with the tiller. For the first couple of minutes, it appeared to be an easy task, just let the engine run and I walked behind it to guide it round the back garden. However, the blades of the tiller was not penetrating the surface of the soil and it was not doing what it was designed to do - digging into the soil and turning it over. I discovered that by pulling on the handles, I would stop the forward progress and allow the blades to dig into the soil, but it was really hard work. I took frequent breaks as my arms were hurting like mad from pulling on the handles of the tiller to make sure that blades were doing their jobs in the soil. After about five hours of work, what used to the lawn appeared to be a sea of mud. I filled the roller with water and pulled it around in the hope to level out the soil as much as possible. By the time this was finished, I was worn out. In the evening when I drove to pick up the Ruler_of_spike from the train station, I could hard grip the steering wheel. May be the extra money for the gardeners was worth it...
Home: Despite all that going on in HK and at work, the Ruler_of_spike and I still needed some down time. Similar to last year, we decided to visit Cornwall around the time of the Ruler_of_spike's birthday. Additionally, Easter being so early this year, we took advantage of the public holidays to maximize our time from London. As I had some holidays carried over from last year, and they had to be used up by the end of March, this was a good time to use up these allowances. However, as the Ruler_of_spike as fewer days of allowance and she didn't have many days carried over from the previous year, I ended up having three days at home by myself. Then a bright spark came to me: Why didn't I spend the three days at home to lay new turf on our back garden? We have previously asked for quotes from gardeners to undertake such a task and after being told that they ranged between twelve hundred to fifteen hundred pounds, we laid the idea to rest until we have better financial resources. However, I have been doing some research and discovered that we could actually do the job ourselves at a fraction of the cost. Most of the money was for labor (and their experience, of course). So in the beginning of the month, I ordered all the necessary things - tiller, roller and turf - and planned to complete the job in those three days.
Work: The pressure was unrelenting. Back in late January, I got involved in a structured finance transaction. This was a complex tax-driven transaction which involved many different risk areas. However, I would be the person ultimately responsible to present the transaction to senior management. On top of my regular portfolio of counterparties (although these have been much trimmed down thanks to the credit crunch), I had new clients to review and negotiate legal documentations. I was now falling behind in my annual review schedule, as the new transaction has taken up much of my time because the many changes that were continual as the deal evolve.
Home: My uncle, who was doing a super-human job of looking after my mom over and above his everyday work, informed me that mom was in a very serious condition - she was very weak with high fever and very low blood pressure. The nurse in charge told them that she might leave us any moment. Mom has very strong inner strength and doctors had saved her live several times during these four and a half months. One time after another, she survived. The doctors administered some even stronger drugs to ward off the pneumonia and to calm her fever. She was on the verge of a coma. However, she was in a serious but stable condition.
February 2008:
Work: It was time of our annual disappointment - bonus and and promotion announcement. I, along with some of my colleagues, was perpetually perplexed by the process. It would appear that promotion were not based on the merit on the individual, but all relative to other promotion candidates. In another word, it was entirely possible that a candidate has had good years, year after year, yet there were always better candidates to be promoted ahead of him/her and lost out as a result. Additionally, it would appear that the appraisal process had very little influence on promotion, so what was the point of having the appraisal at all? The worst part of the process was that when we asked for our manager's guidance on how to achieve promotion in the coming year, the responses were typically vague. I thought 'woolly', 'unspecific' and 'lethargic' were the most appropriate descriptions. Having been working in investment banking for over twelve years and having spent much of my time within credit risk management, I can say that I'm tired of being messed about for something that I feel I deserve.
Home: My uncle wrote again to inform me that mom, although not in a coma, was very critical as described by the doctor in charge. The reason was simple, the on-going pneumonia has weaken her lungs so much that it was very unlikely for her to breathe on her own. Luckily, she was not conscious of all these difficulties. The antibiotics had not been able to function due to the weaken state of her body too. The doctor were considering to try to perform the tracheotomy and hopefully the air passage would easily cleared but of course this was not the ultimate medical intervention in mom's case. My relatives were all feeling very helpless at this point of time from a human point of view. I guess I was in an even more difficult position - being in the UK and not being able to be at the side of mom at her hours of needs. On the other hand, what could I do aside from moral and 'spiritual' support? To add to that, I dreaded to see my mom in such a state. When I went back to HK back in 2006, I saw how poorly she looked. That was not how I would like to remember my mom and I much prefer to remember her from a happier time...
Work: The auditors were roaming around our department. There was nothing malicious about them, they were just doing their jobs. However, given the pressure that we have been under, this was just not what we were looking for. Out of my portfolio of counterparties, they picked out three of them which they wanted to pay particular attention to. Fortunately, I am pretty good with keeping things up to date and filing relevant communications and other things, either in physical or electronic forms, so the files were of no problems at all. What we all found hard to handle was that the auditors nit-picked their way through our work. It has been difficult enough to do our work on a day-to-day basis, now we had eyes behind us and we had to justify our actions on events that could have been nine months in the past. They also interviewed us on all the files that they pulled out and quizzed us on all manner of things. I was glad when they were all over - which meant that we could concentrate on our jobs again. 
Home: We went back to the department store in Kingston to return the kettle. That could potentially turn into a rather embarrassing situation: "Sir, why do want to return the kettle?" "When the lid doesn't close." Can you imagine? Luckily, the store was easy on us. They commented that they haven't experienced any other returns due to the lids didn't close properly. Oops! Well, I guess we were the only people unlucky enough to have a latch system that didn't work properly, or the other customers just lived with the defect. Anyway, we picked ourselves a new design, this time with a twist-lock mechanism on the lid. I'm happy to say that the new design work well and we have no complaints. Moreover, given that there was no rugby match in Twickenham, we had a relatively smooth journey to and from Kingston. 
Home: Happy Chinese New Year!!
Home: This kettle business was getting to me! After the rugby match, we tested the kettle. Well, it worked, but it was too clever a design for us. You see, it had a spring-loaded flip-lid opened by a latch. Simple enough in itself. However, the flip-lid did not travel back far enough, so when we poured water out of our water filter, there was little room for error. To make things worse, after the kettle boiled and cooled, the latch did not latch properly, so the lid remained opened and we had to hold it down until the water boiled again to allow the spring-loaded latch to spring back into the lock position. It was just too much trouble for the simple task of boiling water. It had to go back!
Home: The reason I missed the first half and the beginning of the second half of the England-Wales match was in fact an ingenious of planning. Not!! Our old kettle, which we bought just under five years ago was causing us problems. It still boiled water and it was efficient and neat. However, the lid was coming loose and where was nothing that could be done to fix it. There were days we could not close it. So late on that Saturday morning, we decided to drive to Kingston to visit a department store. (Sorry, I know we live closer to Croydon, but I just can see ourselves doing shopping there...) The traffic was horrible. A trip that, according to Google Maps, should have taken 25 minutes, took us over 90 minutes. Now, I know that the timing on Google Maps can be a little on the tight side, but taking over three times the amount of time was a little ridiculous. Ok, there was a little bit of road works, but nothing really bad. It was only after we got to Kingston that we realized it was the start of the Six-Nation and England was playing at Twickenham. Imaging rugby fans from all over the southeast of England pouring into the southwest of London. Needless to say, I was frustrated by the traffic. We picked our choice of new kettle (which we both thought was a very neat model) and waded through the traffic back to our home. Finally, I could watch the rugby.
Home: It was the Six-Nation Tournament again. After the poor showing in last year's Rugby World Cup, Wales has changed their coaching team again, this time hiring a Kiwi with an English assistant. No matter, what nationality the coaching staff didn't bother me single bit as long as they can get the get performance out of the available players and win test matches. This year, the opening match was against England in Twickenham. Wales haven't beat England in Twickenham for twenty years and with poor performance in the previous autumn and a new coaching set up, the outlook was not great. After the first half, there was nothing to suggest Wales could do anything to upset the World Cup finalist. Thank god I missed most of that drivel. When I switched on the TV, it was fifteen minutes into the second half. Then, as if they were putting on a show for me, Wales scored two tries on quick succession and never looked back from there and England was out of the game. What a stunning victory that was.
Home: About a month ago, my uncle informed that my mom was back in hospital and her condition was critical in many aspects. I received yet more bad news from him. It would appear that mom was actually well enough to be discharged from the hospital and return to the nursing home. However, a nurse from the nursing home called and asked for permission to send her back to the hospital because she just could not breathe properly and the oxygen pressure in her blood went down to 70%. The respiratory specialist said he has to perform a tracheotomy to help her breathe and she was again in critical condition. She was in an isolation ward with no visitation allowed. Later a nurse called and said that they would have to administer a kind of booster to strengthen her lungs. Likewise, the additional procedure could also be dangerous. I just hope that this is just another trial she has to go through to return to the road of recovery. My mom is a determined and courageous person and I am confident that her will to live will overcome these obstacles.  
January 2008:
Home: As a first-time car owner, I have never brought a car to service before. So when I first booked a service and a MOT test (it actually mean the Ministry of Transport test), it was a bit of a novelty. Before I even took the car to service, I realize that there were a number of things that would need fixing. Most of them were visual stuff and they would be fixed depending on the price. I got a call midway through the day and was advised that there were a number of things would need fixing, but none of them were critical. Knowing that I had better things to do with the money, I chose not to fix most of them. Even with limited amount of work, the final bill still came to somewhat higher than I've anticipated. At least it's done and it's out of the way for a while.
Work: For those who live in the real world, this would worth a laugh: our all-seeing, all-knowing internal audit has decided to carry out an audit on our area. Now given that we’ve been involved non-stop in managing our bank’s risk since the beginning of the sub-prime RMBS crisis (and still heavily involved in other credit work), it was rather rich for the senior management to want to find out if we were coping with the additional workload. Of course, having visiting auditors would add to our workload. I just hope that they wouldn’t be too intrusive and occupy too much of my time.
Home: It has been a while since I got bad news from Hong Kong, but then just before the end of the first week of the New Year, I got an update from my uncle. Mom has been in and out of hospital in the second half of 2007 and then she was in the hospital for over a month from end of November. All admissions had been related to her lungs. On the day I got the update, she was discharged from the hospital in the afternoon. However before she was due to leave, they found that she was not breathing well and she again had high fever, very probably related to pneumonia (again). Owing to her weakened state over the past couple of years, her lungs have been repeatedly infected and she has suffered numerous bouts of pneumonia. The doctors repeated prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection, but as time goes on, they have been relying on stronger and stronger drugs to help her. It was the opinion of the doctors that eventually even the strongest antibiotics would not work for her...
Home: Happy New Year!!