Free Time

Aside from my current hiatus, I’ve taken month-long breaks even when I was still employed. One of the things I most often get asked when I take an extended break from work is “Won’t you get bored with all that free time?”

This question strikes me as a strange attitude towards free time, as if it were an annoyance to be avoided instead of a resource to be enjoyed. The people who subscribe to this belief are probably the same people who watch TV all the time when at home, or who can’t imagine life without having a 9 to 5 job eating up most of their day. Those people need to find a hobby :p

You wouldn’t ask a billionaire “Won’t you get bored with all that money?” because you know there are a lot of ways to invest money, grow it or use it. Time is the same thing: a valuable resource that you can simply use in everyday consumption activities like watching TV/movies or you can also choose to invest your time in learning or creation activities that expand your horizons.

The difference between time and money is that money is a renewable resource (you can always earn more!), while time used up is never coming back. Therefore, you should value time more than money. There are some people (workaholics) who think that time spent not earning money is wasted time. But in truth, you only need to spend time to earn money enough to provide for your own needs. Beyond that, the money is simply a luxury that you need to weigh alongside the luxury of free time.

So do what I do: cherish and enjoy your free time, especially that unprogrammed time that you can spend however you wish, and make sure you spend it only on activities that are worthwhile for you.

On Working

I’ve been meaning to write about why I quit a perfectly good job I had at Azeus, but it’s been hard to articulate the reasons, in the same way I found it hard to explain to people why I didn’t feel a corporate “9 to 5” was entirely necessary at this point. Then I read a blog post today “Why I Quit A Six Figure Job” which I found to express/coincide with my thoughts pretty well on the upsides and downsides of having a job.

When I started working in 2003 I was young and inexperienced and had no idea what sort of things should be planned out in life. For the first four years of my stay there I worked hard, the job was awesome, I was working with terrific people, I was learning a lot and the paycheck was great. Somewhere around late 2006 I completed my first largish project as technical lead and I felt we had pulled it off quite well.

Fast forward to three years later (2009). For some reason, it felt like time went by really quickly and the period of rapid growth that I experienced during the first half of my stay had slowed down into a more gradual pace. Though I was still improving and learning new things, it was nowhere near the level as when I first started. I felt like I was pretty much in the same place I was in 2006, in terms of technical skill, responsibilities, etc. (Well, of course my paycheck got better…).

This is the hardest part to explain, at that time I didn’t understand it very well myself, but basically there is a trap that anyone working a “9 to 5” job easily falls into. That trap is complacency. It’s a trap fueled by the easy money of the regular paycheck. By then I would often find myself just phoning it in. Successive days would pass by where I’m just going through the motions of waking up, slogging through the commute, doing whatever needs to be done, sleeping through the bus ride home and hoping the weekend comes sooner. And whenever I tried to look down the line, imagining what the job would be like three or four years later, I couldn’t see it being any different than what it was right now.

I’m sure a lot of people (probably 95% of people or more) would have been perfectly happy where I was with a good job and a steady paycheck. But I’m a greedy bastard, I want more in life than other people are willing to settle for. I felt like if I stayed where I was, somehow the story of my life would be over, as I already knew how the future would go if I stayed.

So I forced the change. I resigned from my job and took the leap into an uncertain future. I still don’t know where I’m going, and I’m still currently unemployed, but I know I have a lot of options. I don’t have any big commitments (not gonna be married anytime soon) and I have enough of a safety net to last me a few years, so I’m in no hurry.

This post already went on for longer than I intended, so I’ll leave other questions such as “What are you doing now that you’re a bum?” (I get asked this a lot) or “Isn’t it stupid to quit your job without a plan?” for future discussions. If you found my reasons interesting though, you may want to read the discussion thread on Hacker News about Xavier Shay’s post, it’s quite interesting.

The Setup

A while back I started reading The Setup, which is basically a collection of interviews with various tech/creative guys about what sort of hardware and software they use. I always enjoy this sort of thing – it feeds my tech envy when they describe cool setups or gadgets I don’t have. (A lot of them have Macs!)

I actually purchased a new desktop computer a while back without posting any details, so I thought I’d something similar to The Setup so that I have a record of what I’m using now.

What Hardware Do You Use?

Desktop – my desktop is primarily for gaming, is a custom-built setup. Prepackaged and branded desktops aren’t really popular here in the Philippines, at least among techies. I actually had my brother put this one together, just gave him the budget and told him to maximize it.

09062010075

Specs:

  • 2.67 gigahertz Intel Core i5 750, 4GB ram, 1TB HD, ATI Radeon HD 5770 (1GB onboard memory)
  • I also have a pair of crappy speakers – I have to adjust the connector every so often when watching eps because the voice tracks get filtered out for some reason.
  • I have never solved that 5×5 Rubik’s Cube.

Laptop

09062010078

My laptop is an Acer Aspire 4920G that I purchased around 2 years ago. Core2 Duo 1.8GHz, 3gig ram, 160GB HD, ATI Radeon X2500 video card. It’s old and not really that portable – I seldom bring it outside the house, but it’s a workhorse and gets the job done. It’s my primary machine at home for random internet surfing and coding; I usually have it mounted on a breakfast tray (shown in the picture) so I can use while lying down on the bed. It can also act as a secondary gaming machine in a pinch, although it tends to overheat and crash if I use it for an extended gaming session.

Gaming Console

09062010076

It’s an 80GB original model PS3 hooked up to a 22″ Samsung HD monitor. We have the Rock Band 2 set provided by chowtimer, plus a couple of arcade fight sticks for Street Fighter IV. There’s an SD-only TV beside the PS3, so we can usually watch whatever is on TV same time as playing PS3 games.

Others

  • My cellphone is a Nokia 5800. It’s handy and since I don’t text much most of my prepaid load gets eaten up by internet data usage when I’m outside of the house. It’s also my only camera, so I can’t take a picture of it.
  • For mobile gaming I have a first-generation silver Nintendo DS and a purple PSP-3000.
  • I have a couple of nonworking desktops lying around the house – we need to figure out what to do with them.

What Software Do You Use?

The desktop runs Microsoft Windows 7 Professional, while the laptop dual-boots between Windows 7 Professional and Ubuntu 10.04, which is my primary OS for internet and coding.

The programs I use most are Google Chrome/Chromium for internet browsing (Firefox if I’m doing any web coding) and Tweetdeck for the twittering. For coding on Ubuntu I have Eclipse for Java and good ‘ol gedit for Python. Any document editing is usually done using Google Docs and my email is using GMail (yeah, I like Google!)

All the images in this post are available as a flickr set:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/zroytang/sets/72157624234499706/

Coming Back to Writing

So the other day I was watching a video of Scott Berkun‘s talk about the future of WordPress:

(Go ahead, watch it first if you like, this blog post will still be here when you get back)

I loved how he delved into the history of writing itself, not just of WordPress – harking back to the days of the printing press, etc. We live in such a world of privilege where anyone with an internet connection can easily publish his thoughts and words unto a worldwide audience, and yet for many people writing is a lost art that they don’t partake in on a regular basis.

For the past few months, I’ve been one of those people, as I’ve neglected to update this blog (aside from a short spurt during the elections). I’m still actively posting bite-sized snippets of my brain on twitter and I even added a new outlet for random internet nonsense on my tumblr account Easily Distracted but I’ve been lazily avoiding the elaborate writing of long prose.

It’s easy to find excuses not to write; for the longest time I was considering switching this blog back to WordPress (I’m currently running a custom Django-based blog engine of my own creation) and changing the theme, et cetera – the sort of busy work one gets into when avoiding something else.

Have I been avoiding writing? Maybe I’d fallen into the trap a lot of people fall into – thinking that I have nothing useful to say, so I better not just say anything. There’s something about staring at a blank text box that you need to fill up that triggers a primitive part of our brains that thinks we should avoid pushing out our thoughts or opinions into the world for fear of being questioned or ridiculed. Maybe it’s a holdover from the days that elementary school English teachers would force us to write reaction papers and essays with a required number of words or pages. (Few teachers ask for an N-page paper, they know students will just cheat by using double-space or large fonts.)

I’ve also been worried about the sort of things that I write; like a lot of bloggers I somehow fell into the mindset that I should limit myself to a specific set of topics such as software development or Philippine politics or whatever. It’s a bit ridiculous, this isn’t a topical blog, it’s a personal website and I can (and should) write about whatever I damn well please.

Sidebar: If you’re wondering “Why write a blog at all?”, try reading “You should write blogs” by Steve Yegge.. Looking over his reasons why not to blog, I don’t even have the luxury of claiming I don’t have enough time, not since I quit my job. (Hmm, I should probably write about that in a future post…)

So anyway, let’s put this ramble to an end. I’ll be writing regularly again for now, probably five times a week. Wish me luck!

Elections 2010 – Annoyances

Expect long lines, hot and sweaty rooms and maybe disorganized Comelec. Here are some other annoyances I encountered (just a quick brain dump):

  1. The Comelec BEI and volunteers may be uncoordinated. I went to a waiting room at the first floor and got a number and was told to wait for my batch of 10 to be sent to the voting room at the second floor. After about an hour, we found out the voting room wasn’t aware numbers were being given out and had let some people start voting already. We went upstairs flailing like an angry mob and were fortunately given priority.
  2. People (i.e. idiots) keep trying to get ahead of people who were there before them, adding to the confusion. I was especially annoyed at a bunch of senior citizens who pushed ahead of us in line and saying they should be first because they were almost fainting from the heat. I understand that old people deserve some consideration, but even after they were told that they would be processed after the current people in line (about five people, including me) they still went ahead and basically forced the Comelec people to process them.
  3. Because there were a lot of idiots trying to get ahead, and of course the people in line being angry about the idiots, the Comelec BEI were quite flustered and themselves frustrated at the situation. They’re not used to handling this many people – I remember during previous elections it would take us twenty minutes tops to get in, fill up the ballot and be done. This time it took me about an hour once I actually got into the voting room.
  4. As a software engineer, I hate inefficiencies and there were quite a number in their procedures. The “book” of voter registration records for each precinct was needed in two queues – the one for getting the ballot and the one for putting the thumb print and indelible ink. So if you were in one queue and the voter book for your precinct was being used in the other queue…you’d have to wait! It seems they also
  5. PCOS machine glitches – happened twice, once before I went into the voting room and once while I was in line to put my ballot in. Apparently the machine only needed to be rebooted.

Overall it took me around 2 hours, including the stupid waiting period caused by #1. I cast the 26th ballot in my clustered precinct, I’m not sure how it’s possible to finish 1,000 voters at this rate.

Despite all the problems, don’t forget to thank the Comelec staff once you’re done, they’re overworked and underpaid, they could use the boost.

Good luck to those who have yet to vote, may your experience be smoother than mine.

Elections 2010 – My Ballot

For President, I’m voting Dick Gordon, because I believe that the Philippines should be a meritocracy where people are chosen as leaders based on the strength of their accomplishments and qualifications.

For Vice President, I’m voting for Mar Roxas, as he’s simply the most qualified and with the strongest history of government service. The E-VAT thing is actually a plus for him, as it shows he has the capacity to make difficult decisions if needed.

For Senators:

Sonia Roco: I believe she will live up to the advocacies espoused by her husband the late Raul Roco (whom I voted for in 2004). Focus: Education.

Risa Hontiveros: A solid history of advocacy and support for pro-people legislation during her two terms as AKBAYAN party-list representative. Focus: Healthcare, Women’s Rights

Neric Acosta: Former teacher and three-term congressman of Bukidon, with legislative history focusing on environmental concerns. Focus: Environment

Martin Bautista: A successful doctor in the US, decided to come back to the Philippines to offer to serve the country. Focus: Healthcare, including reproductive health

Alex Lacson: I have to admit, I’m only voting for him because of his book “12 Little Things A Pinoy Can Do To Help His Country.” I’m a sucker for anyone who is able to point out to Filipinos that change has to start with ourselves, even with little things. It’s good to have new faces in the Senate instead of just the same old trapos. Focus: education, employment.

Adel Tamano: Originally I wanted to avoid voting for any NP candidates, given how ticked off I am by MV. But unlike the presidential race which is all-or-nothing, I prefer giving other parties some space in the senatorial race so that the Senate won’t be a rubber stamp of the administration. Tamano is a good choice, he’s another former educator (was head of the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila) and adds representation for Mindanao

Pia Cayetano: The only other NP senator I’m voting for. Her advocacies include health, education, environment, youth and women’s empowerment.

Miriam Santiago: A lot of people don’t like Miriam for various reasons (luka-luka, madaldal were some of the reasons people cited), but I’m not the sort of person to dismiss someone just because she doesn’t follow social conventions. Miriam has been around a while and doesn’t take any BS from anybody. Her presence in the Senate will keep people honest because she likes to call a spade a spade. At the very least, it will keep the Senate interesting. Focus: ???

I’m stopping at eight senators for now. None of the others particularly appeal to me.

For Mayor/Vice Mayor of Quezon City, I’m going with Bautista/Belmonte, mostly because I trust that Sonny Belmonte wouldn’t choose idiots to take over after his well-respected term as mayor.

For Congressman and District councilors, I’m abstaining. I don’t know who the candidates are, and even worse, I’m voting in a different district than where I’m currently residing, I have no right to decide the fate of district 3.

For party-list, I choose AGHAM party list (same one I voted for last time). It’s sad that they are supporting Villar, but I’ll just overlook that since I’m strongly leaning towards their Science and Technology advocacy. S&T; isn’t usually a concern of ordinary Filipinos, but that’s something that has to change as it’s one of the ways we can climb out of where we are now and attempt to become an industrialized country.

Whew, composing this post took a while. I have to admit some of my choices were rushed (particularly for Senator), as most of my decision-making energy was spent researching the Presidentiables. Although things can still change between now and Monday, this will probably be close to my final ballot.

When Your Wallet Gets Stolen

December 17th. It was around 10pm, I was getting off the bus carrying a box of ensaymada in my right hand and using my left hand to make my way down the crowded aisle despite the speed and turbulence of the bus ride. As I alighted off the bus, I felt movement in my left pants pocket, where my wallet was. As soon as my left hand was free I checked to find my wallet missing and looked back accusingly at the mass of unfamiliar faces crowded along the door of the bus. One man whose face I couldn’t see extended an arm and pointed out into the crowd. There’s a man running, he said, that’s who you’re looking for. I look around like an idiot, and the bus goes on its way. There was no running man, my wallet was lost.

I later learned from a couple of other people that it was a known modus operandi. Simply, a group of around ten guys rides a crowded bus and they all stand around near the exit, waiting for victims, ones who look distracted and are thus easy prey. This sort of thing seems to happen a lot around Christmas season.

Despite my anger at myself for being so easily distracted, as soon as I got home I took stock of the wallet contents and took the necessary measures:

Cash: I had around 1.6kphp in my wallet at the time. Can’t really do anything about that. Luckily I seldom carry cash larger than that.

Credit Cards: I had 2 credit cards in the wallet, one was the card I used regularly, and one was a new card a bank sent me unsolicited and I had never used (but I put it in my wallet anyway). I called up the banks to have both cards blocked and to get a replacement card for the one I was using. Damage: 400php replacement fee.

ATM Cards: Originally I was thinking the ATM card wouldn’t be of much use to the thieves because of the PIN, but I was convinced to go ahead and cancel it anyway. It turned out to be a good choice as I found out later my bank’s ATM card was also a debit card. Damage: 150php replacement fee for the ATM card.

IDs: My company ID was in the wallet, I would have to get it replaced. Damage: 200php for replacement and getting new ID pictures.

Insurance Card: My health care insurance card was there also. Damage: 150php replacement fee.

Receipts: I had a couple of reimbursable (with my company) dinner receipts in the wallet, damage: 400php in lost reimbursements.

Other papers: I also realized my most recent payslip was in the wallet, which would contain my bank account number. This was dangerous, since given the bank account number, my signature (from the company ID, credit cards) and sufficiently gullible bank personnel, an over-the-counter withdrawal from my bank account might be possible. The next day I spent two hours at the bank opening a new savings account, transferring the remaining balance and asking my company to have the payroll go into the new account. Damage: Two hours of time.

So, the total losses were around 2.9k, plus a few hours of hassle. It’s not as bad as the last time I was the victim of petty theft, so I’m mostly just annoyed at how I let it happen.

Future Prevention and Mitigation Activities:

  1. When I know I’m going to be taking any form of mass transit or going to crowded places, I’ll carry my wallet and cellphone in my belt bag instead of my pockets. The belt bag is much harder to steal and it’s bulkier so it’s a lot harder to hide.
  2. Take pictures of each ID/credit card (front and back) and store those pictures in a safe place, encrypted behind a secure password (i.e. not on Flickr). Having the images makes it easier to have those cards blocked and also makes it easier to remember what stuff you had in the wallet.
  3. Don’t store receipts and payslips in my wallet, especially anything with bank account numbers. I’ll probably find a place to store them at work or inside a more secure container in my bag.
  4. Get additional IDs. I don’t have a driver’s license yet, but I’ll look to get one next year. Having more IDs makes it easier to establish your identity when you need to apply for new accounts or block existing ones.

Hopefully the above story, information and tips help someone avoid any other such misfortune in the future.

Thirty One

Days seem to fly by at such an unforgiving pace. Has it really been thirty-one years now?

I have a lot to be thankful for the past thirty-one years. Family, friends and other wonderful people that provide love and support; a roof over my head, three square meals a day minimum and a nice, stable and well-paying job. For all of these, I am thankful.

One would think that at such a point in my life, I would be very satisfied for having been so blessed.

I was never one for being so easily satisfied.

I remember when I was in high school, I made a bet with a classmate that I would be able to become president of the country before he could. Our wager was worth one cubic meter of solid gold.

A few years back, I made a wager with an officemate who was about to leave my company to go independent; I bet that I would become famous before he would. To win the bet, one would have to be named person of the year by a major international publication such as Time or Newsweek.

I’m still a dreamer, I always have been. Since I was young I’ve dreamed of accomplishing something great. I think everybody has a dreamer inside them, especially when they’re young. But as we grow older and face the different trials and tribulations of life, they start to chip away slowly at our dreams. Everyday we make some simple decision that trades a part of those dreams for something pragmatic.

But dreams have a way of being overtaken by real life.

We tell ourselves we’d just be working for a year or so, until we figure out what direction I wanted my life to take. We have so many options in this day and age; never has the barrier for entry into freelancing, entrepreneurship or innovation been so low. One year passes, then another and then yet another. But we still don’t know where we want to go.

We say to ourselves; it’s okay, I can work on my dreams in my spare time. I’ll write a chapter a day. I’ll code a few portions of my revolutionary web service after I get home. I’ll do design work on my game on weekends. I’ll brainstorm business ideas on the way to work. But when we come home from our daily grind, we’re dead tired and just want to relax, or surf the web, or play games on our consoles. I’ll start tomorrow, a familiar mantra. And days turn into weeks and turn into months and into years.

I need to get some experience first. I just need to save up some more money. I’m already doing pretty well, why ruin it? I’m pretty lucky to have a well-paying job in this economy, I’d be foolish to take risks now. I have bills to pay. These are the lies we tell ourselves when we find ourselves wondering what happened to our dreams, when we wake up to find ourselves trapped in the loop of ordinary life.

And we end our days, humble and simple, having lived an ordinary life. Just another statistic in human history, just another cog in the great wheel of destiny. And we tell ourselves more lies. I could’ve been great. I never had any opportunities. If only I had gotten a break.

For many people, this ordinary life may be enough, and that’s great for them. They will live out their ordinary lives with their ordinary ending and grow old and raise their kids and enjoy the company of their grandchildren and they’ll be completely happy and satisfied with that.

Again, I was never one for being so easily satisfied.

Thirty-one years now. Days flying by at an unforgiving pace. How will I find myself spending the next thirty-one?

Casual Fridays?

Here’s the scenario: Last Sunday in the early morning, there was a fire in our office building, which hit some power stuff in the basement. So yesterday (Monday), the whole building was running on generators without air conditioning. Last night, we were notified that the power was back in the building, but just in case, we should come in to work in casual clothes (“dress down”), normally reserved for casual Fridays/Saturdays.

Now, this got me thinking: what’s the rationale here? Do we get to dress down because it might be hot? There was like a week long period during summer that the building air conditioners were 50% malfunctioning; it was pretty hot then too, so that’s probably not the reason.

The question is: why do we have a regular office dress code (ours is “smart casual”) and a different dress code on arbitrary days (“casual Fridays” or “when the air conditioning breaks down” or “if we have bowling in the afternoon”)?

Actually, why do we have office dress codes at all? The easiest answer to think of is that management wants us to “look professional”. While I don’t necessarily agree with that (especially at my work since we aren’t usually meeting with clients or anything that remotely requires being impressive), I will stipulate that there are certain benefits of having everyone in the company wearing a certain level of attire; it can provide a certain sort of ambiance that makes people feel more professional and thus conducive to work.

However, given that, why do we have dress-down days? Does it imply that during those days it’s okay to be “less professional”, or to work less? If not, then why aren’t we allowed to dress casually all the time?

Obviously, I would prefer to be allowed to wear whatever I want; wearing comfortable clothes is a lot more conducive to work for me than “looking professional”. But again, I will stipulate that not everyone may think this way.

What do you think, dear reader? Dress-down days: yay or nay?

Sometimes You Just Go Where Your Feet Take You

It’s 8:30 pm on Friday. I step out of Maxim’s, a fastfood place near the office in Hong Kong. I flew in to HK the morning of the day before, and had given a presentation over a conference call on Thursday night. This was the only free time I had during the entire trip since I had to fly back the next morning. I decided to take a walk for maybe an hour or 30 minutes, to savor the cool night’s weather before going back to hot and humid Manila the next day.

I remember the view from the 22nd floor office that the harbor was nearby. I figured I should get a closeup view of the harbor, something I had not done before. So I walked in the general direction of where I thought the water would be. The chilly wind of fourteen degrees bit against my cheeks as I navigated the North Point side streets.

Eventually I found myself following a road of decommissioned cars and abandoned taxis underneath one of Hong Kong’s many flyovers. I was certain this road would lead to a view of the bay from the ground. As I approached, I saw that the walls nearby were filled with colorful graffiti, reminding me of gangland streets in old 80’s shows. A faint whirring sound could be heard and as I got nearer I saw there were two middle-aged men towards the entrance of a small yet brightly-lit cul-de-sac at the end of the road. One of them was holding something in his hands and seemed to be controlling a nearby device. The source of the whirring sound had been a model helicopter, and he was flying it around at a low altitude. The two men glanced my way as I passed, but otherwise paid me no heed.

I watched their helicopter for a few minutes, fascinated. I’ve never seen one of these in action back home, and I wondered why these men participated in their hobby in these abandoned corners. I shrugged and headed to the end of the cul-de-sac. There, near a metal railing bordering the asphalt and the water’s edge, another two men lounged lazily on wooden benches. Standing against the railing were two twelve-feet long steel poles. Ah, they’re fishing, I thought to myself. They didn’t look like they did this for a living, so I assumed they were hobbyists who only had this time of night and no other nearby source of fish. I watched them for a while, amazed that the harbor actually contains catchable fish. I wonder if Manila Bay has any fishermen?

It’s 9:00 pm. I’m walking along a sidewalk following a metal railing tracing the water’s edge. Above me, the same flyover carries numerous vehicles to and from Hong Kong’s busy districts. But around me, it’s dead quiet. Mostly. The only other people nearby are a young couple walking ahead of me obviously taking an enjoyable moonlit stroll along the otherwise abandoned road. The girl, wearing a vivid red sweater laughingly teases the young man and they rush ahead. I hope I didn’t scare me.

As I follow the coast I begin to see boats. Dozens of them, some no larger than an automobile. Most made of wood and apparently barely floating. Some have people sleeping in them and I wonder whether they live in those boats by choice or maybe it was difficult to find somewhere to live on Hong Kong’s streets? One of the boats has a lantern and is moving in parallel to where I’m walking. I wave to the grizzled old man manning the boat and he waves back.

I walk some more, and the sounds of busy city life are slowly catching up. In stark contrast to the lonely sidewalk I had been following, the lights of one of the commercial districts had come into view and I could catch the names of several familiar companies atop tall buildings in the distance. I step onto the sidewalk beside a busy coastal road and find myself welcomed by the lights and sounds of fast-moving vehicular traffic.

As I crossed the bridge, I passed upon a fenced-off section at the water’s edge and inside spied something mounted upon an elevated stone platform. It was covered in a blue tarpaulin but once I was close it was obvious what it was: it was a cannon! A nearby marker told me it was the Jardines Noonday Gun, a relic from the olden days that was still occasionally fired for charity. I wanted to see what it looked like, but the metal gate leading into the area was locked. I tried to push the images of FF7’s Mako Cannon out of my head.

I walk past a large dome-shaped building near the coast. The sign at the gate tells me it’s the Police Officer’s Club; I guess the police are well off in Hong Kong. Beyond that there was a lot filled with ships hulls partially built and mounted on elevated rails. Some sort of shipyard I guess. Perhaps the police officers liked to ride yachts. I walked around to the other side of the fenced-off building and I saw inside a strange thing: there large, parallel beams inside a lowered area perhaps some fifteen feet below, and bright lights were emanating from the cracks in between. I peered though the metal link fence and recognized the sounds of cars whizzing by below and I realized that I was looking down at the Cross Harbour Tunnel. If I jumped down below I could cross into Kowloon!

It’s almost 9:30pm and I’ve been walking for an hour. I thought I should start looking for a way back, yet I didn’t want to merely retrace my steps. I was already near a commercial area that seemed to be quite far from where I started. Eventually I came upon a cemented footbridge that would let me cross to the other side of the busy highway, and I figured that was the way I would go back.

I climbed up the steps and found myself crossing a quiet yet well-maintained walkway, well above the busy traffic I had left below. I saw the AIA tower in the distance and figured I could use it as a guidepost to find my way back. I stepped down at the other end of the footbridge and find myself crossing a familiar looking road underneath yet-another flyover. My suspicions were confirmed when I followed some lights and saw that I was in the middle of one of Hong Kong’s famous commercial districts – Causeway Bay.

I’ve been here before, but not at this hour. I’m walk past the crowds and follow the lights, eventually finding myself in the midst of a street market in front of the Sogo department store. The signage and lights in this area are impossibly bright for the time of day, making you wonder whether they had received the memo that dusk had already come. A lady carrying a microphone and wearing a neon green jacket was glancing around at the crowds, accompanied by a cameraman. Some TV reporter perhaps? In any case I didn’t feel like giving an interview. I walked on.

Exiting from the World Trade Centre building, I found that I had been walking in the wrong direction, away from AIA tower. No doubt distracted by the bright lights of the commercial district, I resolved to make my way back as I was now getting the urge to take a leak. >.<

It’s 10pm now and I’m close to getting back. I cross some streets and find myself walking through some sort of large park. I pass by several clusters of teenagers, busily chatting away on park benches and also a number of old people, apparently taking their night-time jogs. A lot of people are also walking dogs (I wonder why they do all these things at night), and I pass by a smallish lady with a gigantic St. Bernard, perhaps larger than me were he not on all fours. I considered petting the beast as I passed, but wasn’t sure if I could afford being pounced upon by such a huge canine.

I stop to watch some kids playing on swings nearby, and beyond the cluster of treetops inside the park I spotted the familiar glow of the AIA tower, now closer than ever. I realized that I must have been walking through Victoria Park, the only large park near North Point, and I was close to getting back to my quarters. Sure enough, crossing a few streets later I found myself raising my hands in triumph. Fortress Hill!

It’s 10:30 pm and my feet are killing me. I manage to get back to my room at YesInn, dead tired. Yet slightly amazed that I was able to walk so far in the dead of night; I’m not sure I would have dared all those side streets I wandered through had I been in Quezon City. The nights in Hong Kong feel safer somehow, for even the loneliest alleys were brightly-lit. I was also a bit disappointed that nothing more exciting had happened during my walk, perhaps that’s the tradeoff for the safety on the streets.

I was dead tired and prepared for bed. Still, I was glad for the chance to walk and be distracted and not having to think about life’s worries. There’s a lot to be said for aimless wandering that many people would not understand.

The next day I would return to Manila, back to the grind of everyday life.

Author’s note: I wish I did have something more interesting to write about, but it was really a short, uneventful two-night stay in Hong Kong. Still, I felt I needed to blog about it, so that I have a record that I was in HK at this time. For more small details on my trip, I’ve been posting on twitter.