Sunday, June 29, 2008

The joy of shopping

What is the meaning of the term "holding the bag"? And where did the saying come from? I pondered this on Saturday when some US colleagues were kind enough to take me along on their shopping expedition. Those who know me will be scratching their heads in puzzlement now: K - shopping? !#@&! … with the latter (!#@&!) being what I usually protest when prompted to go shopping.
But, hey, it was Saturday afternoon, it was Bangkok and … well, I don't have to justify this... although I realise it may be helpful later to explain the exact circumstances and reasoning - so I can have a choice on future trips. But back to the shopping.
I have never really been a shopper - except perhaps in $2 (bargain) shops and electronics stores. Dragging me around to shops for clothes or accessories or just about anything else in the world was, and for future reference, is, torture.
But seemingly not so for the three US colleagues.
Is there a cultural difference in how women shop? Is there a gender difference in how men and women shop - eg that diagram of women going into a mall and meandering around, and of me (oops, meant to write "men") who will go straight to the item to be purchased? Is there a difference depending on your initial shopping experiences? Is there a difference depending on socio-economic factors? Is there a difference based on your personality - assuming that one's personality is more than all of the above.
Hmmm. These were among the other questions I pondered in the hour that I stood outside the 2m x 3m handbag shop where two of the shoppers were ensconced. The third ventured out from time to time for air and a look at some of the other hundreds of stalls in the MBK complex. But her return was eagerly awaited - and in these times I began a new role as "look out" because it was she who was the most experienced in a skill that comes in quite useful in Asia - bargaining.
I say "new" role because after our first stop at the silk stall (30 minutes plus), and the first round of purchases, I had appointed myself "bag carrier" - that seemed to be a useful service to offer - and, as became clear the more we shopped, the ability to touch (not sure if "fondle" would be too strong here) the merchandise was key to the shopping experience. As was being able to express one's excitement - or is it something else, perhaps joy, at finding a particular item?
Have there been doctorial thesis written on shopping - and if not, why not? Can a correlation be drawn between your ability to enjoy shopping and your ability to enjoy life generally? Seize the ... day. And embrace the three shopping phrases!
"Oh my God ... the factory." Except words on paper does it no, I repeat, no, justice at all. It has to be paired with an excited gasp, voice pitched an octave higher than usual, and a sense of excitement so great that it courses through the bodies of those standing unsuspectingly too close. If this is the result of just hearing about the factory - what must going be like. Well, according to Shopper #3 it can have a physiological affect. She told me that her sister gets hit with such an adrenaline rush when she goes shopping that she has to visit the bathroom. This could explain why some of the stores I visited the last time I was in the US, had restrooms inside the store - which is not that common in Australia. I could only feel for her sister when I remembered Shopper #3's earlier story of shopping trips with her mother which was an "outing" - and the trip would be planned for some time ahead. If her sister also went on those trips, and she was affected by the shopping adrenaline rush even then, it must have made that hour-long trip to the store unbearable.
"That's a pretty colour.” The experienced shopper seems to set out with a good idea of what they will come with. On our expedition, the quarry was handbags, and a soccer jersey. The silk seemed to be an afterthought and may have been related to "bright and shiny" (B&S). B&S refers to anything that can be seen by the shopper - peripheral vision seems to work best - to draw them to it. Result: you are walking next to them talking - and ask them a question - and when they don't answer and you turn to face them you see that they are not there, haven't been for a while and may not even be visible in the distance in the direction from which you've come. B&S. And the items themselves don't need to be B&S although things that are seem to have a far greater pull. Like jewellery.
So if there is a big visual component in shopping - are people with visual difficulties able to enjoy the experience as much? Do the other senses take over for them. I know there was some touching and feeling with Shoppers #1, #2, and #3 but I didn't observe smelling or listening - to the merchandise - although that might just have been because it was handbags this time around.
"I am getting this". So, how is the decision to go from a handful of bags to just one or two to purchase, made? Well, that remains a black box as far as they're concerned. I can only speak from personal experience. It's like a set of scales: the item is on one side; without the item on the other. The side that's the heaviest wins. Now, I suppose there is actually more to it than this, and I might need to go off to the net for a look and to find out more about this “shopping” thing.

Lost in Translation

While waiting for the taxi from the hotel to breeze (L52, State Tower, Bangkok) we remembered that fire truck ladders typically only reach to L17 and then we moved on to that great disaster flick Towering Inferno, and, naturally, the theme song for the movie. A quick internet search found Maureen McGovern's "We May Never Love Like This Again", Unable to remember the tune, one of our party waqndered across to the lobby pianist to see if he knew it - no, but perhaps we could find it in the songbook he handed over - "Great Wedding Songs" - or perhaps not.

In moderation

On the way from the US to Manila recently, two colleagues travelled on the same plane – and one ended up with too little water, the other with too much. One suffers badly from travel sickness and was taking a commercially available anti-motion sickness preparation. She ended up becoming seriously dehydrated and needed to be taken from the plane by ambulance. She was rehydrated at hospital and released a day later. The other colleague suffered too much water when she had a mishap with the tap/faucet in the washroom and turned it into a gushing fountain which saturated her and the flight attendants who tried to bring it under control. She spent the rest of the flight under a blanket, wet, freezing and mostly unhappy. (And who said business travel was glamorous?)

Handy laundry hints

I have blogged previously about “breakfast shirt” but if you’ve forgotten and worn your real shirt to breakfast – there’s still hope.; It’s Tide’s instant-stain-remover-in-a-pen so you can carry it with you and just blot out stains as they happen. I had heard about it from a US colleague and while there recently, I took the opportunity of securing half a dozen of them. Now if I could have just remembered to keep one with me, I wouldn’t need to be walking around with a baked-bean stain for the rest of the morning.
And on the subject of laundry – I managed to shrink one of my shirts when I let it slip through the check into the tumbledryer. It was only 3 inches shorter than the others until I sent it off for drycleaning in Bangkok I was stunned when it returned completely restored. I decided then that I needed to do som,e research on fabric to find out why this was so. Does the drycleaning process really have restorative powers? If so, does it work with all fabrics, or only some? And what causes fabric to shrink?

Complimentary service

When checking in to the hotel in Bangkok I was surprised to be addressed as Dr. Not sure where they acquired the title from but it seemed that it would be okay to hold on to it for the duration of the stay – as long as they didn’t come knocking at my door in the middle of the night because there was some type of medical emergency on site. But it did take some getting used to – on the few occasions when I rang down for service.
I wasn’t the only one to get special treatment from the hotel. One of the HK colleagues was surprised to arrive back in her room one evening to find a birthday cake waiting for her, complete with inscription, and accompanied by a birthday card signed by several members of the hotel staff. That her birthday was in February seemed of little consequence. The next evening there was another birthday cake, complete with inscription,, but this time for another guest. She tried to have staff come to collect it and return it to its rightful owner – and she was then rewarded with a bottle of white wine for the inconvenience. Elsewhere in the hotel, one of the US colleagues, whose birthday is in April, was also receiving a birthday cake! This, though, seemed to be very small compensation for having to put up with the guest in the room next door with his or her penchant for loud music in the very small hours of the morning, and what sounded like a very bad case of “barf” on numerous occasions.

Cameras away

Me ... addicted to technology? Possibly, but last week I realised just how much I do rely on some types of technology. We were sightseeing in Bangkok and after our first stop, Grand Palace, we moved on to the Teak Palace. The first thing you had to do was surrender your electronic items - camera, mobile phone, anything with image-capturing capability - water (well, they were two of the four things with a big cross through them on the wall behind the security guard) - and it was being enforced, although I didn't realise how much until after I had surrendered the phone, the PDA, the keyboard, the camera, the camera (I was carrying Chaim and Five) and ... okay, I really just handed over my backpack and bumbag rather than handing over every item individually. And then moved to the security checkpoint where, uncharacteristically, I was the first of our group through, so they were then warned that there would be a pat down and touch up (there really was no need for them to touch my bottom ... I know there's a bit of it but I think it's obvious that it's me!) and a walk through metal detectors. I'm not sure what would have happened if any of us had not relinquished our electronics and other valuables (hold on to your ticket) when asked.
So, one more stop (shoes off), a short wait for our English-speaking tour guide (or guides as it turned out) and we started the tour proper. And not a camera in sight. No way to record the five differently coloured areas in the building; no way to get a photograph of the wheelchair the King of Siam (not to be confused in any way with the man/men that Deborah Kerr and/or Jody Foster came to love and cherish - because that's the movies!) used back in the early 1900s. The tour was kept to the corridors but there was plenty to see - typewriters - a collection of older-style ones (reminded me of my early thoughts of being a journalist - more for the ability to be perched in front of and pecking on the keys of a typewriter, and, in the days when it was still socially-acceptable yet incredibly bad for one's health - a cigarette. Ahhh, those were the days.)
Ivory, formal reception rooms, four-poster beds, fire extinguishers in glass cases, exquisite chandeliers, coloured venetian blown glass - some 4ft tall - imagine transporting that half-way across the world in an old clipper ship - crocodile skulls, a WW2 machine gun and helmet, a model replica of the Bridge over the River Kwai - and the photographs dating back over 100 years, and the filigree carving, and the removable yet quite secure (and zipped) carpet protectors, the spiral staircase, different styles of hinges .. the list goes on but, unfortunately, most of this will be lost to me because I don't have the photographic memory that others do. I guess that's why I take photographs - to be able to remember it and evoke feelings of time and place.
And I would have made notes as we went through - except my phone (where I am writing this now) and my PDA were securely under wraps in Locker 101.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Another blog plug

My travel pics blog has been updated to include photos from a day's sightseeing in Thailand yesterday.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Blogging in Thailand

Bangkok - and why not to consider starting a new blog here if you don't speak the language. I didn't strike this in the Philippines*, but the labels on the Blogger web pages are in Thai here - not once you're in your own dashboard, but certainly on the log-in and welcome screens. I didn't go the next step and try to create and customise a blog - because I'm fairly sure they would be all the way through - and even if you knew them well enough to navigate through them (since the bits would probably still all be in the same place), from that point on, your new dashboard could still be in Thai - regardless of where you were.
* Well, I wouldn't have then ... it would have been in the Filipino Tagalog ... and since I looked up the spelling for that via Google, I know now that Google defaults to Thai here also.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Floor show

One hotel - two water incidents ... what are the chances of them being related? Remember the problem with my toilet overflowing at the hotel a couple of the days ago? The next night, one of the US colleagues, here for the same training workshop as moi, was awakened by the sound of water dripping in her bathroom - lots of it, coming (possibly gushing) through the light fitting above the sink. I joked with her the next day that she might have been in a room under mine - if it ended in a 4. I don't think I was really surprised when she said yes - except she was two floors down, rather than on the floor immediately below mine. All I can say, it must have been pretty bad being in the 4 room on the intervening floor.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Blog plug

And don't forget that Day In Focus, the photo blog, is up and running again (okay, I'm not exactly sure how long I will be able to sustain it for but it's okay so far!)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Taking the plunge(r)

I wish I could say it was my heart overflowing with the milk of human kindness at 7 this morning but alas it was not so poetic. Suffice to say and without going into details it was the toilet in my hotel room. Exactly not the thing you want to cope with first thing in the morning - certainly not before breakfast. But the hotel plumber was on the scene quickly and housekeeping must have come at some point because when I arrived back this afternoon it was as though it had never happened. I'm not sure what I expected the plumber to bring with him but what he arrived with all he had was a toolbelt with a wrench or two - and the big guns - a hotel laundry bag which held a big black plunger - which did the job admirably.

Life stories

Some writers say that their works are at least semi-autobiographical. The question I am pondering is whether it is ethical to use biographical information in one's writing? Can you include information about people you know/have heard about and record it as fiction - or do you need to categorize it as being factual? And if you do, do the players need to be identified, and openly credited, or is it okay to appropriate pieces of their personal histories as indicative of the human condition and experience? Does it matter if the publishing forum is public eg in a blog - or private correspondence? Or is it the intent that matters? Does it vary depending on the subject matter eg a story they would tell about themselves - or one they would not reveal? Is it an invasion of privacy? Or is there a point when someone else's life events can be recorded as background to your own story because the consequences of their actions have flowed through to you? Isn't it amazing the questions that surface when you're revising your CV? (Just kidding - it's not for my CV - I just happen to be working on that at the same time.)

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Duty Free Torture

The only good thing about having "enough" stuff to carry while travelling is that when I see things I really really really want in the electronics section of the duty free shop, I know I can't fit it in my carry-on luggage. Which is probably why they have the carry-on luggage shop next door ... I was wondering about that only a little while ago: "why would they have the luggage shop within the airport when you're already travelling with carry-on luggage?" But that would explain it, ie something to put the new electronics in. Hmmmmmm. But it's okay, I'm being incredibly restrained. I haven't bought the My-Vu glasses with inbuilt video screen for personal viewing eg in bed; nor the SD card video recorder (just like a VCR); nor the multi-source charging apparatus for multiple devices. Pics of these devices hanging in store in situ (as opposed to on the hotel bed at my next port of call) will be posted shortly. That (sniff) is all.

Google and me in the US

I love this feature on Google (via the iPod Touch) where you can press the virtual button and find out where you are. At the moment I am apparently near Milbrae, California, at the Airport - and amazingly I am. [It doesn't say that - you have to zoom out from where it has you located and work it out that way (if you don't already know).] This, of course, means that the San Francisco leg of my tour is now over and while here I was able to do everything I wanted to do (except perhaps Oakland Zoo) and was pleased to have had the opportunity of meeting with various people within the Company to network and chat about possible career options once I leave my present posting. That, being able to work face to face with the Project team, and finally being able to share a meal with US-based colleagues has made it a very satisfying, if tiring, interlude between Manila visits. (if you're reading, thanks F for making it possible!)

Friday, June 13, 2008

Spinning a tail

It's happened. I've become a regular at Seattle's Best - I have recognized one of the other customers - she was in here on Sunday doing a Sudoku. She is now sitting with a group of spinners - some of them with spinning wheels. It's quite amazing because just today a work pal was telling me that she would like to do spinning - and that she had a project in mind. I've never seen a spinning wheel in action in real life and wondered how it works. I am kind of listening in as a woman, obviously an experienced spinner, explains the working of a spinning wheel (I heard the word "gears"). I'm now waiting for the practical demonstration as the same woman says she has spun (digging into bag) silk and merino. Just from a casual observer point of view it seems that these Americans are way more into craft.
Certainly in all the coffee shops I've been in (and that would be a lot!), this is the first one I've shared with three spinning wheels ... and a couple of knitters. The group was kind enough to let me take their picture - and told me that there is a company (VIP Fibers) that had a booth at "Stitches" which will spin your dog's fur into yarn. Imagine that! And also that there's a spinner/knitter from Australia who does a podcast that at least one of them listens to.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Gas gauge

Gas is a big issue here in the States judging by the number of people talking about it. In fact, I've overheard more conversations about affording gas - and that's conversations not just comments - than any other individual topic including the Obama/Clinton political posturing. As I crossed the multi-lane highway on the way to work this morning, I realized that there is no easy answer on this one. Tomorrow I'll check to see how many of the hundreds of cars that pass by as I wait to cross (run don't walk or at the very least push forward briskly) the road has more than one person aboard. Sigh - another of the challenges of modern living.

Grand plans

The internet service provider for the hotel offers 24 hours of free wireless Internet access. This is tied to the device rather than a user name and password which means that since I have 3 wireless-capable machines, I should be right for 72 hours access! It did seem a little excessive when I packed but it's all good now (as long as it works) thanks to Mini, Palm and the iPod Touch - which shall remain the Touch rather than the iPhone following today's announcement from Apple that iPhone version 2 will launch on July 11. If it had been available from my current mobile phone provider I would have had a hard decision to make (well, a period of intense techno lust at least - oh wait, that's there anyway).

Monday, June 09, 2008

In the news ...

Lynda Carter, better know for her fictional television alter-ego of the 70's Wonder Woman, has been in the news recently. As reported, she was alone in a boat, without a mobile, when she saw a body floating in the Potomac River (Washington, US). She called out to nearby fisherman to call police, and then waited until rescuers arrived and directed them to the body of Helen Johnstone, 47. A cause of death is yet to be released.

American dream

To think Americans get the opportunity to do this all the time. I am sitting in Seattles's Best Coffee cafe within the Borders Store in San Ramon, California. I know I'm here because I was playing with my iPod Touch Google feature to see how far I am from Mt Diablo when I hit an on-screen button I've never taken notice of before - and it zoomed in on my present location. I am not quite sure how it did that - and it is quite amazing when you think not only can I tell where I am - but it would allow others to track the device as well and, obviously, me with it. There could be privacy issues here - as with a recent exercise in a non-American yet industrialised country where people were "followed" by tracking the bluetooth from their mobile phones. But back to the reason for this post - does it get any better than sitting in a coffee shop, reading the National Enquirer (wow - are there some stories in there or what!), and catching up with email and blogging. The other amazing thing about this coffee shop is how many people are in here - reading, writing, studying. I'm lucky enough to have secured a table today - but you can see that it would be easy not to. And another thing about Borders - it reminds me of an episode of Seinfeld (George Costanza wouldn't like it) - there is a notice here saying that only books that have been paid for can be taken into the restroom.


I wouldn't have believe it, but there is something quite satisfying about taking time out to do the washing. That was my primary activity this morning - get the washing done. I didn't realise that it would be such a wonderful experience: putting the washing on, then into the dryer with it - or on to hangers for the non-tumble gear. (This is also important because I am in the throes of learning a new habit - hanging not draping.)

Personality tests

With the outplacement exercises I am currently doing, one is psychometric testing - to help me understand my strengths and weaknesses and gauge apptitudes in my work/persona. Rather than working my way through the pre-prepared booklet - with a Kiersey personality profile orientation - I suggested that perhaps I could do the test someone recently sent me: Which Simpsons Character Are You? They didn't think so - which is a shame because having done an online Kiersey-type online profile recently, both it and the Simpsons test yielded the same result. (While it may seem that I have been doing much personality testing, I did the initial one out of curiousity to see if my profile had changed since I last looked some years ago.)

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

PICC of the bunch

The Philippines International Conference Centre will host a very special group on 14 June. Now, don't get too excited ... wait for it ... yes, for a special one-night only performance ... it's the Osmonds formerly Brothers now Family, because Marie will be there as well. Swoon. Alas, I will miss the performance by a day and a bit.

Out and about ...

... or "third time lucky". I have finally managed to see a little more of Manila than the inside of the office or the route from the hotel to the office. (I'm not counting the forays we made out to restaurants during previous visits as they were in the dark!)Today (Monday) I managed to fit in a 4-hour city tour of Manila - finally giving Chaim and 7 something to feast their collective lenses on - and it was good. The other tourists were Americans - three from one firm, two from another - and they were decent company, especially as most of them had a functioning sense of humour. The itinerary - in no particular order: Pacific Plaza (home of Imelda Marcos - where she lives on Level 43 because 7 is (we were told by our Guide) her lucky number; the American military cemetery; the Mall of Asia (biggest in Asia and third largest in the world); Intramuso - the walled city; the son of the Sultan of Brunei's humble house (re-defining the meaning of double storey) - which I have since been informed (through a curtain of giggles) is the Sultan's mistress' abode. And I also finally managed to get to see the Bay - although I'm fairly sure there are two of them - but that's another story. We parked across the road from the Film Centre - scene of a horrific building accident while it was under construction - with a scheduled build of only 77 days ("lucky" number). There are apparently a few buildings around Metro Manila which had a build date of 77 days including the Philippines Convention Centre. But only the Film Centre is said to be haunted - as the story goes, once the building had collapsed, Imelda Marcos arrived on the scene and offered each of the families 1 million pesos if they agreed that a rescue effort not be mounted. The country was under martial law at the time so it probably would have been difficult to refuse the offer. No-one did; and new concrete was poured over the top of the collapsed structure and building recommenced. The version the tour guide told had workers able to hear the screams of the victims as they built. Not surprisingly, and the amount of time has been verified by in-country colleagues, the Department of Finance that moved into the finished building stayed there only two months before the "disturbances" aka hauntings, drove them away.