People in the food service industry are generally highly skilled and dedicated to routinely accomplishing the incredibly difficult task of creating a wonderful dining experience for every single guest day after day. While I often discussed the need to be careful in overvaluing what amounts to one opinion more or less, I always appreciate when someone sharing my chosen vocation is recognised for their superior contribution to life on earth. Continue reading
I write this as followup of our personal tragedy involving the SPCA, to further record their continued deplorable actions, both as a public service, as well as a timeless reminder of their behaviour, lest as this orb spins we grow forgetful, and thus forgiving.
After sending my letter to the SPCA, The SCMP and The HK Standard (two English language newspapers) I received a reply from an SPCA staff, Judy Wan, and I quote:
Your message is well received with thanks.
While we are investigating the subject matter, please accept our apology for any inconvenience caused to you.
Dear SPCA, Until today I was a proud and vocal advocate of SPCA, as well as a life member, and a regular financial supporter having given tens of thousands of dollars to you in the past, as well as homing several animals. That all ended with your recent deplorable actions, which I have every reason to take very personally. Continue reading
Dear Park N Shop,
I have been a resident of Hong Kong since 1994. I adopted Hong Kong as my permanent home by choice, pay my taxes, abide the laws, vote in our elections, take interest in public discourse, provide jobs to others, and started a family here. Up until this month, (and especially yesterday), I placed Park N Shop high above your most direct competitor, Wellcome. For nearly 20 years you were my store for groceries, and housewares. My family and I spend about HKD 10 to 12 thousand per month in groceries, and probably 5 or 6 thousand more each month in wine, medicine, personal care, and appliances. I’m sure the 15 thousand dollars or so we spend on your brands is by no means a high amount, probably average, and so I don’t expect special treatment for my business. However, as of yesterday I will never again shop in one of your stores, and will try to avoid all of your brands (Watson’s, Fortress, Watson Wine, etc) as well. Indeed I will become a strong critic of your business. Why? Because your staff have twice now humiliated and accosted me for using a shopping cart, something that in my mind is a basic feature for any retail food transaction.
My first experience with your apparently new shopping cart policies was at the Hang Hau superstore, in Mid March. I had spent about HKD2,000 on groceries and after paying was taking them to my car in the mall car park. To my complete surprise one of your security guards, who was only able to speak a few basic words of English, and did not appear to have the most basic customer service skills, rudely accosted me outside your shop in the mall, in front of the next-door Fortress shop. He bluntly told me I could not take the cart out of the store. I told him that was ridiculous and that I was taking the groceries to my car, in the car park, where there are dozens of the same carts waiting to be recollected. He obviously didn’t understand what I was saying but was blocking my way. He continued to say something in Cantonese, which apparently was that I could not take the cart. We had become a spectacle in the mall with other shoppers staring at us so, I demanded that he go get the manager. When he left to do so I continued on my way to the lifts and into the car park. There, I put my groceries in my car and brought the shopping trolley to the area the mall had set aside for them. There I saw, again, the dozens of your shops carts waiting collection.
I thought nothing more of it and assumed that some overzealous new staff had simply made a mistake. I could not have believed how wrong I was in this assumption!
Yesterday, I had need to go to your Festival Walk branch. First because the day before I had bought a dehumidifier from you sister brand Fortress, and it needed to be exchanged. Second, I needed to stock up our cupboards for the long weekend and planned to do my shopping in the Superstore there.
I arrived in the car park and saw countless Park N Shop shopping carts littered about the car park. Given that the dehumidifier was quite heavy, I placed it into one of the carts and used that to take the machine up and through your store to the Fortress. The Dehumidifier was in a new box and still had the large, orange fortress security tags on it, quite clearly visible.
I exited your store into the mall and was just about to enter the Fortress store (only 10 or so steps from your main entrance) when a Security lady (again with no English language or customer service ability) accosted me, speaking to me in Cantonese, the message (if not the words) was loud and clear: I was not allowed to take the shopping cart. I told her I was just returning the dehumidifier to fortress and then was coming to the Park N Shop to buy groceries. She probably didn’t understand, but was not dissuaded and continued to hold on to the cart insisting I return it to your store (though again I had gotten it from the car park, so she was basically asking me to do your own work for free). I asked several times for her to get the store manager she refused. She let go of the cart so that she could use her mobile phone. I quickly completed the last few steps into the Fortress shop to conduct my exchange. Again assuming this was some overzealous new staff, and that the matter was over.
After a few minutes the security woman, along with a older male security staff came into the appliance section of the Fortress where I was making my exchange. They brought a oddly dressed middle aged Chinese lady with them who was clearly not an employee of your company. They again insisted I give them back the cart and the Chinese lady who they had brought with them, started shouting at the top of her voice that she was their witness, that I, a foreigner, was abusing Hong Kong people and the laws of Hong Kong. She continued on like that for some time, I have very interesting video of her antics. Meanwhile the two security staff continued to shout at me in Cantonese, I assume they were insisting that I return the cart. The Fortress Manager intervened, and eventually the strange lady left the shop, but the security guards remained unyielding in their insistence that I could not use the shopping cart though I clearly (with the help of the Fortress Manager (Gary) explained, that I had taken it from the car park, and was planning to use it to shop for groceries after I completed this exchange.
You can’t imagine, through this circus show, how embarrassed and humiliated I was. A rather large HK Citizen of foreign birth, being ridiculed and abused in public by your security staff and the strange lady they had brought in with them. It was awful. Finally, to make them go away I gave them the shopping cart and Fortress staff helped carry the very heaver dehumidifier down to my car.
I then when to Park N Shop to see the Manager, Monic Yim, to complain about the event. She was polite, and apologetic, but it seemed there was nothing that could be done, It seemed to me that she has no authority over the security staff. I did not buy any groceries from your store, and told the Manager that I never will again. I did go to a Wellcome shop later and no one abused me in any way. They were rewarded by HKD2,300 of business. I’m sure they than you.
From my perspective, you have recently, and dramatically changed your policy towards shopping carts. They are your carts and you have every right to do so. But I for one will not give you my money again, if I can manage it. The policy at least in action is absurd, and the skills of your staff to carry it out is not just awful, but bordering on criminal.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
I am now forty-eight. Recently, I have been struggling with a series of ideas and decisions that could change my life dramatically. I have made some decisions in that regard. Probably all the important ones are done…anyway…I remain uneasy, though, from the opposite direction.
I was presented with an astonishing and intriguing offer, by a close friend, some weeks ago. The offer (believe it, or not) was that I become a top-tier executive for a start-up holiday airline in a US territory serving the Asia region. This offer would have nothing to do with food & beverage, but would require me to move myself and eventually my family to a new location. It would require doing all the hard things I have done before: Living apart, taking risks, going blindly and boldly where I had not gone before, thinking fast while on the run, and learning a whole new world, in every way.
At the same time, astute followers may have noticed that in the past half-year I was reaching the end of a thinking process where I was realising that the term Chef may no longer apply to me. Not so much what my heart said, but that the common use definition had become something so foreign to what both my own and the historical definition was, that I was unemployable and to some degree had disdain for the way the world had decided to pigeon-hole my vocation. That is something I have been struggling with for probably a decade, all the while having the lines of demarcation moved back…losing ground slowly, being painted into an uncomfortable corner, finding myself making “chef of the gaps” arguments, even with other chefs.
So, I was giving up on my childhood dream, and at the same time being offered entrance into an incredibly new and wild ride. Something as strange and unexpected to me as the time I casually sent my CV to a small company in a place that I didn’t really even know how to find on a map. A place called Hong Kong. The stage was set, the chambers primed for a radical and dramatic change of course. The shot was made…and the powder fizzled.
As the eve of my departure (literally) rapidly approached I got a severe case of cold feet. Pure, animal, gut instinct began to overtake the thought processes of both my life partner, and myself. A sense of foreboding started to loom in both of us. We tried for more than a week to logic our way around our discomfiture, even creating elaborate decision matrixes in excel to try to weigh the pros and cons rationally. Logically, there seemed no good reason to consider aborting the plan. But, the visceral self was unsatisfied by all such appeals to logic.
In the end I aborted the plan, and am moving back into the circle of the chef as it is now supposed to be. There was some relief in the gut, but now the logical brain, is uneasy with the decisions made. This is tough for one who tries to exercise his rational self against the inherent biases and dispositions of the more primal responses we are all heir to. It is also tough for a person who knows that there is no real risk in life. We came from nothing we end with nothing, and the time in between is fleeting, no matter what.
As Don Draper from Mad Men once said: “It’s your life. You don’t know how long it’s gonna be, but you know it’s got a bad ending. You’ve gotta move forward…as soon as you can figure out what that means.”
You were born, and so you’re free, so Happy Birthday!
Who is he? An exile. Which must not be confused with, allowed to run into, all the other words that people throw around: émigré, expatriate, refugee, immigrant, silence, cunning. Exile is a dream of glorious return. Exile is a vision of revolution: Elba, not St Helena. It is an endless paradox: looking forward by always looking back. The exile is a ball hurled high into the air. He hangs there, frozen in time, translated into a photograph; denied motion, suspended impossibly above his native earth, he awaits the inevitable moment at which the photograph must begin to move, and the earth reclaim its own….His home is a rented flat. It is a waiting room, a photograph, air. ~ Salman Rushdie
Today marks the eighth passing of “International Chefs Day” as proposed and promoted by the World Association of Chefs Societies. It also may as well mark another turning of the seasons in my seemingly endless exile from chef-hood.
It has been a long and fallow drought my friends. Much has happened in and around my life since I last posted here, some of which I will share in coming days, and some will probably need be kept top secret for years to come.
But first, and without further ado, I present the new web page (pictured left). Tell me what you think, please?
WTF!? WTF!? WTF!? I’m Srsly WTF!?
Cold and flu season makes travel less fun. I caught some form of infection either during or just before our flight that has manifested into a nasty head cold. So we spent our morning figuring out what medicines would give relief, they are all different here than at home in Hong Kong. Which reminds me that I should write a post later on the dramatic differences between the USA when I left 18 years ago and now. If I ever do return to reside here I am going to have some adjustments to make. Continue reading