Posts tagged ‘2019’


You can’t bank on the Wales (or, why I closed our Westpac account)

31.07.2020

At some point as a young man, my Dad worked at a bank. He had a formal understanding of finance—despite his schooling being interrupted by the Sino–Japanese War and then by the communist revolution, he managed to get himself a qualification in economics, and had some time working for a bank.
   I was taught all about promissory notes, bills of exchange, cheques, honourable accounts, balance of payments and foreign exchange as a teenager. He impressed on me why certain things were sacrosanct in banking, the correct way to draw a cheque, and why the Cheques Act 1993 in this country was a blight on how bills of exchange were supposed to work. Essentially, I grew up with what might have been a 1950s or 1960s idea of what banking is, things that were still mostly observed by New Zealand banks into the 1980s and the 1990s.
   Today [Wednesday, July 29] I opened a new business account at TSB, with whom I had banked personally since 2007, as had Jack Yan & Associates. I will be closing the account at Westpac, because it’s clear to me that they don’t believe in the fair dinkum banking values that my father taught me. By the time you read this, the closure should be a fait accompli, as I don’t wish them to put up more obstacles than they have already.
   Westpac held my mortgage on the old house, of which I had paid off 88 per cent before I sold it. I began my banking relationship with them in 2006, for reasons I won’t go into here. My parents had banked ‘on the Wales’ when they were new immigrants in 1976, and stayed with them for some time.
   Very early on, I noticed how confusing their statements were. You can contrast theirs to everyone else’s in Aotearoa, and believe me, I know: I’ve banked with a lot of people. Trust Bank, Countrywide, POSB, National, ANZ—all the usual suspects that a Kiwi growing up in the 1970s through to the 1990s will have encountered. No, in itself that’s not a reason to leave a bank, but they seem to exist in their own bubble.
   I got caught out once or twice on not getting a mortgage payment sorted because of the confusing statements. And there was one time that Westpac decided to be relentless about it, by setting a bot on me. The bot would call at various hours hounding me to sort this out, with a pre-recorded message, and if you hung up, it would call again. And again. And again. Never mind that you haven’t had a chance to enquire with the bank as to what was going on. This amounted to a breach of the Telecommunications Act, and I put this to them before the activity ceased. And no, in itself that’s not a reason to leave a bank.
   You are stuck with the buggers, and over the years I’d make the payments. As many of you know, some of our companies’ income comes from abroad, which I always regarded to be a good thing, since it helps with foreign exchange and this country’s balance of payments. Twice, I think, I needed a top-up because a client was slow to pay, and I would clear that within 30 days. As interest rates changed (the mortgage was floating), the bank would, from time to time, send a letter saying I could reduce my mortgage payments and still keep to the payment schedule, and in 2010 I took them up on it.
   As some of you know, in 2015 Dad was diagnosed formally with Alzheimer’s disease and eventually I became his full-time carer as his condition worsened, with predictable results on my work. But hey, Westpac has all these posters around their branches with Dementia New Zealand logos telling us how great they are, and how they can help. Since Dementia New Zealand won’t acknowledge or respond to my complaint about this (Dementia Wellington, on the other hand, had), let me publicly say that this is bollocks. My experience tells me that it appears to be a feel-good exercise that counts for nowt for a bunch of arrogant twats in Australia.
   My branch was great. They were decent, hard-working and friendly people, and many of them stayed for years—always a good sign. But outside of the branch is where you’ll find the rot.
   In 2019, my partner and I found a home we wanted to purchase. After Dad went into a home in July 2018 I had begun renovating the old place anyway. The new house was a step up, and by the time we factored in all the costs, we would need to borrow under 20 per cent of the total purchase price.
   Westpac wanted to see the balance sheets, as was their right to, and I’ll say now that they weren’t rosy. Of course not, not when you’ve been a caregiver. However, by this point I had got back in the saddle, and I could show them contracts that we had secured.
   Apparently this wasn’t good enough for that 20 per cent. The fact I had been a caregiver and had an account at a bank which had a Dementia New Zealand endorsement carried absolutely no weight.
   The mortgage officer said that according to the balance sheet, I couldn’t even afford the mortgage. Turns out he didn’t know how to read a balance sheet and the ‘Mortgage repayments’ line therein. And no, in itself that’s not a reason to leave a bank.
   Apparently, the fact my income was coming from abroad was a concern. Yet it was never a concern for Westpac in 13 years when I was paying the mortgage with that foreign income. Earning foreign exchange for your country and helping with its balance of payments are, seemingly for Westpac, a bad thing. I suppose it would be to greedy Australian bankers, who love to see a weakened New Zealand subservient to other nations. If you adopt this viewpoint when examining how Australian-owned publications here behaved (I’m looking at The Dominion Post from that era), then it actually all fits neatly, given their editorial bias. And no, in itself that’s not a reason to leave a bank.
   I know some of you in banking will be going, ‘But there are the anti-money-laundering requirements,’ which I get, but what about the idea of an honourable account? Other than what I outlined above, I was a good customer, and every other bank will tell you the same: I kept honourable accounts. But maybe honour isn’t a thing for Westpac.
   Never mind. We approached two mortgage experts who worked tirelessly for us, and whom I heartily endorse here. Lynne Russell, an old friend of mine, was the first I approached. And Stephanie Murray was referred to me by a good friend from school. Both ladies went to second-tier lenders, told us that the foreign income was the problem, and proceeded to get us the best deal possible. Stephanie won out because of the interest rate, and she noted that the lender, Avanti Finance, was quite happy because I had a good credit rating. But while most Kiwis were enjoying home loans at around the 4 per cent mark, ours was nearer 11 per cent (and this was the lower one). Stephanie, and later my own solicitor, noted that my problem was not unique, and they had clients who were also earning money from abroad who the banks shut out. This is a grand mistake in my book, because these are the very people we should be rewarding and encouraging. You’ve heard of export earners, right, banks? We usually talk about them in positive, glowing terms. Turn on the news. Get schooled.
   We still had renovations to do. At least Westpac would give me a top-up to get that sorted, surely. After all, we had already engaged a builder and he needed money for materials.
   Um, no. Westpac shut off that avenue completely. From memory they could give me a couple of grand, and that was it. This was despite my having a six-figure mortgage that I had whittled down to around a fifth, a relatively small five-figure sum. At all other times, it was fine, even when I enquired about purchasing a car. But not any more. And no, in itself that’s not a reason to leave a bank.
   Harmoney came to the rescue there and we were approved within 24 hours. Interest rate: 14·55 per cent.
   I had set up the direct debits with Avanti using my honourable (or so I thought) Westpac account.
   Except Westpac had one more trick up its sleeve. They seemed intent on making sure we would never move, so, without notice, they doubled my mortgage payments. They kept going on about how I was falling behind. No one at the branch could explain why, not even one of their most senior staff. If I hadn’t caught one of the debits, I would have defaulted on an early payment to Harmoney. Fortunately, I spotted it in time, and pulled some money from a TSB account to plug the gap.
   And no, in itself that’s not a reason to leave a bank.
   But all together, they were reasons.
   We sold the house, discharged that mortgage, and thanks to my very talented partner and her skills in money management and property investment, we managed to get our finances in order. I won’t elaborate on this since I regard this part as private, but let’s say Westpac should have had faith in us since we carried out what we proposed we do.
   It was only when the Westpac mortgage was discharged that the bank apologized for doubling my mortgage payments and gave a reason for doing so.
   Remember that letter in 2010 which said I could reduce my payments without affecting things? Turns out that affected things, and they wanted to grab what they could to make up for lost time. Not that they thought it was important to tell me any time between 2010 and 2019. They only played this at a customer’s most stressful point, and buying a house is one of the most stressful things you can do as an adult.
   So much for me being such a massive risk to Westpac. We told them our game plan to get to where we are today, and we carried it out to the letter. Two well educated, well qualified and intelligent people. Yet we were viewed with suspicion from the first moment we said we wanted a new home. So how do they treat people with less education or with a shorter history? If they are the Dementia New Zealand-friendly bank how do they treat those who haven’t had to deal with dementia? The branch was awesome and did right by us but as they’re not the ones approving things, then I can only expect that others are treated far, far worse.
   I felt they only apologized because they had thrown everything at us and realized we had a greater resolve.
   This experience teaches me that if you’ve kept up a decent history with Westpac, earned foreign exchange, and helped with your country’s balance of payments, then they will shit on you. Since sharing parts of this story on Twitter, I’ve heard of similar unreasonable treatment by Westpac toward hard-working New Zealanders. The moment they learn you need them, you’re on their radar, and they will block every avenue you normally would have—avenues that you exercised literally just months before, like the top-up. Because why have a customer who is freed of their grasp? That’s just not good for business. Better to keep them impoverished and not let them move to a nicer home. Better to let them know who’s really in charge. And, ladies and gentlemen, that explains a great deal about why foreign ownership can be troublesome in so many quarters—and why I’m happy to take this account to TSB. Thanks to Kerry Gribben and Panith Ear at TSB’s Wellington branch for sorting me out and making it totally painless. And Kerry was a total pro in not slagging off a competitor, especially given where he once worked (he didn’t tell me, but he knew a lot about Westpac’s processes!).

I had to choose a New Zealand bank on principle. The Cooperative Bank was on the radar, and they were really friendly, though I thought their charges were a little high and TSB looked better capitalized on the figures I could find. However, my respect goes to Brian Batchelor at the Wellington branch for being thoroughly professional. It would have been nice to have gone there, since Medinge Group banks with Coop in the UK, and a mate of mine who did some contract work for them says that our Cooperative (a different and unrelated entity) are genuine about their promises to customers.
   Kiwibank didn’t even reply to emails when we were trying to get a mortgage, and rejected all PDFs and ZIP files I sent their despite them saying their email systems could accept them. They just gave up all contact, so I figured they didn’t need the business. And I hear they don’t do foreign exchange anyway, which is just bizarre for a state-owned bank that should be encouraging foreign exchange in these economically tricky times. SBS had no nearby branches (technically, Blenheim isn’t that far but you can’t drive there without an amphibious car). Sometimes, you just go back to what you know.

Today (Friday), the day I am posting this. Westpac accounts shut (despite a massive queue at Lambton Quay). Really nice young chap behind the counter. Except I have 35 cheques on which I want the duty refunded. He didn’t know how to do that and wrote down the helpline number. I called that. Eighteen minutes later, the rep there didn’t know how to do that and referred it to my branch. I really need them to pay me back the NZ$1·75 on principle and then I will consider the matter closed.

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Posted in business, globalization, New Zealand, Wellington | No Comments »


Nissan’s own documents show Carlos Ghosn’s arrest was a boardroom coup

22.06.2020

I said it a long time ago: that the Carlos Ghosn arrest was part of a boardroom coup, and that the media were used by Hiroto Saikawa and co. (which I said on Twitter at the time). It was pretty evident to me given how quickly the press conferences were set up, how rapidly there was “evidence” of wrongdoing, and, most of all, the body language and demeanour of Mr Saikawa.
   Last week emerged evidence that would give me—and, more importantly, Carlos Ghosn, who has since had the freedom to make the same allegation that he was set up—cause to utter ‘I told you so.’
   I read about it in The National, but I believe Bloomberg was the source. The headline is accurate: ‘Nissan emails reveal plot to dethrone Carlos Ghosn’; summed up by ‘The plan to take down the former chairman stemmed from opposition to deeper ties between the Japanese company and France’s Renault’.
   One highlight:

the documents and recollections of people familiar with what transpired show that a powerful group of insiders viewed his detention and prosecution as an opportunity to revamp the global automaker’s relationship with top shareholder Renault on terms more favourable to Nissan.
   A chain of email correspondence dating back to February 2018, corroborated by people who asked not to be identified discussing sensitive information, paints a picture of a methodical campaign to remove a powerful executive.

   Another:

Days before Mr Ghosn’s arrest, Mr Nada sought to broaden the allegations against Mr Ghosn, telling Mr Saikawa that Nissan should push for more serious breach-of-trust charges, according to correspondence at the time and people familiar with the discussions. There was concern that the initial allegations of underreporting compensation would be harder to explain to the public, the people said.
   The effort should be “supported by media campaign for insurance of destroying CG reputation hard enough,” Mr Nada wrote, using Mr Ghosn’s initials, as he had done several times in internal communications stretching back years.

   Finally:

The correspondence also for the first time gives more detail into how Nissan may have orchestrated [board member] Mr Kelly’s arrest by bringing him to Japan from the US for a board meeting.

   Nissan’s continuing official position, that Ghosn and Kelly are guilty until proved innocent, has never rang correctly. Unless you’re backed by plenty of people, that isn’t the typical statement you should be making, especially if it’s about your own alleged dirty laundry. You talk instead about cooperating with authorities. In this atmosphere, with Nissan, the Japanese media duped into reporting it based on powerful Nissan executives, and the hostage justice system doing its regular thing, Ghosn probably had every right to believe he would not get a fair trial. If only one of those things were in play, and not all three, he might not have reached the same conclusion.

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Posted in business, cars, culture, France, globalization, leadership, media | No Comments »


Z cars

11.03.2020

I did say I’d blog when Autocade hit 4,100 models, which it did yesterday. Proof that the hundredth milestones aren’t planned: the model was the Changan Zhixiang (長安志翔 or 长安志翔, depending on which script system you prefer) of 2008, a.k.a. Changan Z-Shine. A less than stellar car with a disappointingly assembled interior, but it did have one thing many period mainland Chinese cars lacked: a self-developed engine.
   It shows the nation’s quick progress. The Zhixiang was Changan’s (back then, we’d have written Chang’an) first effort in the C-segment, after making microvans, then A-, then B-segment cars, with quick progress between each. The Changan Eado, the company’s current C-segment sedan, might still be rather derivative, but the pace of improvement is still impressive.
   After 1949 through to the late 1970s, Chinese cars in the PRC were few in number, with mass production not really considered. The first post-revolution cars had panels that were hand-beaten to the right shape in labour-intensive methods. Some of those cars borrowed heavily from western ones. Then came licensed manufacture (Jeep Cherokee, Peugeot 504, the Daihatsu Charade at Tianjin) as well as clones (Citroën Visa, SEAT Ibiza). By the 1990s some of these licensed vehicles had been adapted and facelifted locally. The PRC started the new century with a mixture of all of the above, but by the dawn of the 2010s, most Chinese press frowned upon clones and praised originality, and the next decade was spent measuring how quickly the local manufacturers were closing the gap with foreign cars. It’s even regarded that some models have surpassed the foreign competition and joint-venture partners’ offerings now. Style-wise, the Landwind Rongyao succeeds the company’s (and Ford affiliate’s) Range Rover Evoque clone, the X7, with a body designed by GFG Style (that’s Giorgetto and Fabrizio Giugiaro, the first production car credited to the father-and-son team’s new firm) and chassis tuned at MIRA. The Roewe RX5 Max is, in terms of quality, technology, and even dynamics, more than a match for the Honda CR-V—a sign of things to come, once we get past viral outbreaks. Styling-wise, it lacks the flair of the Rongyao, but everything else measures up.
   But the Zhixiang was over a decade before these. Changan did the right thing by having an original, contemporary body, and it was shedding Chinese manufacturers’ reliance on Mitsubishi’s and others’ engines. To think that was merely 12 years ago, the same year Autocade started.

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Posted in business, cars, China, design, interests | No Comments »


Thumbs-up for Thomas and Professional Painting & Decorating Ltd. in Wellington

09.02.2020

On Linkedin, they say you shouldn’t connect with people you haven’t worked with, although in the early days of the site, there were some of us keen to connect with the “power connectors”, those who had amassed lots of connections. Who knows if they really had worked with that many people? But before we knew much about social media and one’s regular tribes, some of those numbers looked really appealing. In later years I found myself disconnecting from them to give Linkedin visitors a more accurate picture of who I had actually worked with; and sadly, in some cases, disconnecting from people I really had worked with because I noticed my contact list was getting raided by newer power-connector wannabes.
   But here’s someone I haven’t connected with on Linkedin, as I assume he isn’t on it (based on a fairly comprehensive search): Thomas Nguyen of Professional Painting & Decorating Ltd. And you know he must be good if he’s wound up getting a blog post about him.
   Thomas has been working on my partner’s rental property, both inside and outside. He’s proved to be reliable and accommodating. And when another contractor—who I still don’t think knew what he was doing—screwed up his part of it and walked off the job, we asked Thomas to finish things up, which he and his team did.
   So far he’s stuck to his quotes, been very flexible as we asked him to do extra things, and he’s even gone above and beyond in a couple of instances. He’s taken all feedback on board, too, like a real pro. Even his SMSs are well written!
   No surprise he’s received four 100 per cent ratings on No Cowboys.
   We checked out some of his earlier work before we hired him, so we aren’t one-offs.
   He’s been going for five years and relied on word of mouth to get business. I told him I had a particularly big mouth when it came to Twitter, but a blog post seems less fleeting, and more sincere—we really do think highly of him. If you need someone in the Wellington area, Thomas and Professional Painting & Decorating Ltd. are highly recommended.
   Daniel at Harrisons has looked after us on the carpet front and he’s also proved capable and friendly. Out of the carpet people we’ve approached, he’s also been the best, though admittedly you don’t have as much contact with the carpet sales’ rep as you do with your painters.

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Posted in business, marketing, New Zealand, Wellington | No Comments »


Netflix spams, Amazon doesn’t care

07.02.2020

It pays to have some ground rules when dealing with the internet. A very big one that I’m sure that you all observe is: don’t do business with spammers. If a Nigerian prince tells you he has $5 million for you, ignore him.
   There are tainted email lists that have been going around for years. I used to have filters for all sorts of permutations of my real address, back in the days when we had a “catch-all” email. My address definitely wound up on a South African spammers’ list in the late 1990s or early 2000s, and to this day I get South African spam from some respectable looking companies that took an unethical shortcut in compiling their targets. There’s a third where the spammer has confused the ‘company’ and ‘first name’ fields that began doing the rounds during the 2010s. All so easy to spot. If they claimed I signed up to their list, and don’t know my first and last names, then there’s a massive clue right there.
   This all begs the question of why a company with the size and reputation of Netflix feels the need to resort to such lists. Here’s the fourth one this Gregorian calendar year as they up their frequency of spam:


Netflix spam, shown actual size.

   There’s a thread online where one netizen was told by Netflix that someone else had signed them up, which is incredibly unlikely, and more likely an excuse to cover one’s dodgy behaviour.
   These began in November 2019 for me. The ‘This message was mailed to […] by Netflix because you created a Netflix account’ is untrue, and if it were true, how come there is no email confirmation of this account creation in any of my emails from 2019? Surely if you created one, Netflix would confirm your address at the very least? And if they don’t, then that’s pretty poor business practice.
   This isn’t a phishing attempt, as the links all go to Netflix and it’s come from Netflix’s account with Amazon, who doesn’t seem to do much about it. If you’d like to see a similar one, someone has posted it online at samplespam.com/messages/2019-07-20/V801I2196eM554074 but where they have a header line with ‘00948.EMAIL.REMARKETING_GLOBAL_SERIES_CORE_2_DAY_4.-0005.-5.en.UA’, mine has ‘00948.EMAIL.REMARKETING_GLOBAL_SERIES_CORE_2_DAY_4.-0005.-5.en.US’. (Netflix thinks I live in the US.)
   There’s no reply on Twitter. Nor was there any reply from this email that I sent to privacy@netflix.com last November:

The people they claim are in charge of privacy don’t care about privacy.
   I shan’t subscribe to Netflix any time soon because of Internet 101. If they don’t care about your privacy now, they’re probably not going to care about it after you’re a customer. In the 2020s, with people more sensitive about it, it’s foolhardy for Netflix to go against the trend. Right now, their email marketing has all the subtlety of a cheap scammer’s—just with nicer presentation.

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Posted in business, internet, marketing, USA | No Comments »


Give me a break

23.01.2020

From an Automotive News interview with Yves Bonnefort, CEO of DS.

   Um, that’s called a station wagon or estate car, mate.

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Posted in business, cars, France, marketing | 1 Comment »


Twitter also tracks your preferences, even after you opt out of ad customization

18.01.2020

As with most platforms, I selected, on Twitter, that I didn’t want my advertising to be personalized. I don’t mind them making a buck, but I do mind them tracking my preferences, just as I did with Google and Facebook.
   Google lied about its advertising preferences from 2009 to 2011 till yours truly busted them, and Facebook lies by continuing to compile preferences on you even after opting out, repopulating deleted preferences in some cases, and now, blocking you from making further edits to them. I was surprised that Twitter had a bunch of options I never saw beyond that old ad preferences’ one till I happened across them after clicking ‘Why did I see this ad?’ You can find this here.

   Go a bit further to this link, and there they are, nearly 500 preferences linked to me, compiled even though I had opted out of personalization—making Twitter just as bad as Facebook.


   What do I do? Exactly what I did on Facebook: I deselected each and every single one. Twitter doesn’t need this to market to me. Frankly it’s enough that it has my IP address and it can geo-target. It doesn’t need any more precision than that. I get to the bottom of the page, having done them all:

   And just like Facebook, within hours it has reselected over 400 of them, repopulating preferences and overriding what the user wants.

   In fact, some were being reselected within seconds, but I put that down to the fact I was using a cellphone. As of this writing, the second deselections have been done on the desktop.
   This is simply not right, but we have been seeing signs in the latter part of the 2010s that Twitter is as bad as Facebook, with its love of bots, bigotry and its mass censorship. Now it’s as devoted to selling its users as the rest of Big Tech. The net result is I’ll begin limiting my time on Twitter because its privacy intrusion has gone too far. It cannot be trusted. It will probably become a work tool as Facebook has, where I do little of my own stuff, and only serve my clients; or I simply have automated content.

I suppose you can always say, ‘Well, at least it’s not as bad as …’ and on that note, I checked in to Facebook to see if I could post a question on why advertising preferences were not editable.
   Eventually I found four others had managed, after wading through Facebook’s many layers of pages before getting to one where you could pose a question, to ask the same.

   Except none of them are clickable to a question-and-answer page. They all take you to a Facebook Business advertising queries’ page.
   Therefore, I asked the question even though it had already been asked. I doubt I’ll hear back, as I noticed that on the same visit, Facebook had censored two of my earlier responses.


   Why? They reveal that Facebook’s platform is buggy, that I was unable to do some things on pages that it claimed I was able to do.
   All I can say is that this is petty. Facebook: for the last 15 years your platform has been buggy. Everyone knows this. Covering up a couple of comments made in your own forums, comments that are truthful and actually helpful to others who encounter the same thing, doesn’t make your platform any less buggy. But this is the Zuckerberg way: all-too-precious, wimpy against criticism, with a self-belief that not publishing something will make it go away. I mean, it’s worked against equally wimpy governments. It is a page out of the Google playbook, too: its forums are full of cultist believers who ask, ‘How dare you question our god?’ when you post about bugs. However, it alienates users.
   It’s probably why the old Getsatisfaction Facebook forum was closed down, because it revealed so many bugs about the system.
   I’m hoping the 2020s will see some sort of mass rejection of these Big Tech social-tracking platforms, but I thought that would happen years ago. I was wrong. There are still good people on them but there are also good people on Mastodon and elsewhere.

PS.: Here we are, four hours later, after I unticked all the preferences. At least 300 of them have been reselected by Twitter. So it is like Facebook. Once again, we have to say to a US Big Tech firm: stop lying. Your claims about your settings are bogus.

P.PS.: Day two, still fighting Twitter, which reticked a lot (but not all) of the preferences. Still in the hundreds.

P.P.PS.: Day two, two hours later, 107 reticked:

P.P.P.PS.: Day four:

P.P.P.PS.: Day seven, still battling:

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Posted in internet, technology, USA | 2 Comments »


Alone again, naturally

12.01.2020

Looking back over the years
And whatever else that appears,
I remember I cried when my mother died
Never wishing to hide the tears.
And at fifty-nine years old,
My father, God rest his soul,
Couldn’t understand why the only lass
He had ever loved had been taken,
Leaving him to start
With a heart so badly broken
Despite encouragement from me,
No words were ever spoken.
And when he passed away,
I cried and cried all day.
Alone again, naturally.

Considering Gilbert O’Sullivan was 21 when he wrote ‘Alone Again’, it’s a remarkably mature lyric, particularly as he didn’t know his father well, and his mother was alive when the song was penned.
   But it is my current earworm and with a slight change in the words, it reflects my mood.
   Of course I’m not “alone”: I have a partner and a network of friends, but there is an element of loneliness as part of the immigrant experience that hardly anyone talks about.
   When you emigrate to parts unknown with your parents, and you don’t have a say in it, you arguably have a different perspective on your new home country than someone who perhaps chose to go there, and you certainly have a different perspective to someone born and bred there.
   I’ve never blogged the full story though most of my friends know it.
   There is a photo somewhere of my family as I knew it at age two or so: my parents, my maternal grandmother, and me. At that age, I knew there were other family members—paternal grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins—but this was my immediate definition of family, and I held on to that for a long time. Certainly it was my definition during my formative years.
   I came with my parents and not my grandmother, landing here three days shy of my fourth birthday.
   When my grandmother arrived in March 1978 under the family reunion policy, my mother and I being her only living descendants, I felt ‘the family’ was complete again.
   Immigrants will probably tell you, more so if they are not of the majority race, that they have a sense that they need to face life in this new country together. That most of the people around you won’t be able to share the experience you’re having, because you’re making sense of it through a different lens. We spoke Cantonese at home, and we will have talked about the odd customs of the people here, from the stupidity of the colloquialism bring a plate to my parents needing to fight for the Wellington Hospital Board to give my mother her correct pay (something which ultimately required the intervention of former mayor Frank Kitts). Most of your peers wouldn’t know what it was like for a white person to tell your Mum and yourself to go back to where you came from. Or to be denied service at what is now Countdown on account of your race.
   Repeated experiences like that give you a sense of “the family versus the world”. Happy ones naturally outnumber negative ones—by and large, New Zealanders are a tolerant, embracing people—but it’s probably natural for humans to build up some sort of defence, a thicker skin to cope with a few of the added complications that the majority don’t have to think twice about. It’s why some of us will jump to “racism” as an explanation for an injustice even when the motives may not be that at all. It’s only come from experience and reinforcement, certainly at a time when overt racism was more commonplace in Aotearoa, and more subtle forms were at play (as they still are with decreasing frequency; hello, Dominion Post).
   As the family’s numbers dwindled, it impacts you. It certainly impacted my father in 1994, in the way O’Sullivan’s song says, and as “the last man standing” there is a sense of being alone. Never mind that my father had aphasia in his last years and couldn’t respond intelligibly when I spoke to him: the fact he could hear me and acknowledge me was of great comfort. He understood the context. And frankly, precious few others do.
   Other than aunts, uncles and cousins, the only time I really get to use Cantonese now is at shops where Cantonese speakers serve me. The notion of an ‘Asian’ invasion where you’re walking the streets not knowing what’s being spoken (I’m looking at you, Winston) is rot. You feel the loss of identity as well as your family because identity is relative: while you have a soul, a deeper purpose, that is arguably more absolute, you answer who you are in relation to those around you. I am proud of my heritage, my culture, my whakapapa. They identify me to the rest of you. Each of you holds a different impression, part of the full picture, just as in branding. The last person who understood part of my identity, the one relative to my immediate family who came with me to this new land, is now gone, and that cannot be reclaimed.
   Therefore, this isn’t solely about the passing of an elderly man and the natural cycle of life. This is about how a little bit of you goes as well. Wisdom tells you that you form another part of your identity—say how I relate to my partner, for instance—and in time you rebuild who you are and how you face the world. However, that takes time, and O’Sullivan might be an earworm for a little while longer.

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Posted in culture, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Wellington | No Comments »


Switching to Opera GX from Vivaldi: I needed the better type rendering

10.01.2020

Surprisingly, Vivaldi hadn’t notified me of any updates for months—I was on v. 2.05, and had no idea that they were up to 2.10. Having upgraded manually, I noticed its handling of type had deteriorated. Here is one paragraph in Lucire:

   My font settings had also changed.
   Coincidentally, I downloaded Opera GX last night to have a go, and it displays type in the way I’m used to:

   Since both are Chromium-based, and Opera is sensitive about privacy as Vivaldi is, I decided to make the change and see if I like the new browser better. I was used to Operas of old being independent, not Chromium-based, but the good news is I could use the same plug-ins.
   I’m missing Vivaldi’s easy screenshot process and its clipping (Opera GX has something similar but introduces an extra step of saving the file) but so far the browsers aren’t too different in terms of everyday functionality. Opera GX’s extensions’ window isn’t as well organized and I have to scroll to tinker with the settings of anything later in the alphabet.
   The unchangeable dark theme takes a bit of getting used to (but it matches my laptop, so there’s that), and there’s a GX home page that’s superfluous for me.
   I don’t need the built-in ad blocker out of principle, but I do have certain anti-tracking plug-ins (e.g. Privacy Badger) that I was able to install from the Opera shop without incompatibility.
   Hard-core gamers may like the CPU limiter and RAM limiter, to make sure the browser doesn’t eat up capacity for their games. It’s not something I need concern myself about, but I can see it being handy. I remember when old Chrome (many years ago) and Firefox (more recently) began eating memory like crazy with my settings (no idea why), and this would have been useful.
   But as someone who reads online a lot, it’s important that type is properly handled. I don’t know what Vivaldi has done to its type rendering, and that’s probably the biggest thing that tipped me in favour of change.

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Posted in design, internet, technology, typography | 5 Comments »


Carlos Ghosn redresses the balance

10.01.2020

It’s been fascinating to watch Carlos Ghosn’s press conference in Beirut, and subsequent interviews, confirming my own suspicions back in November 2018 (as Tweeted and blogged).

   Criticisms of Japan’s justice system don’t just come from Ghosn. There was Mark Karpeles, who endured 11 months awaiting trial in Japan. From the Asia Times:

But Karpeles didn’t confess. Prosecutors kept re-arresting him and denied his lawyer’s request for bail again and again. During his incarceration, he suffered mild frost-bite, malnutrition and sleep disorders and went slightly stir crazy. He finally won bail in July 2016.

and:

It didn’t surprise me that the police and prosecutors didn’t want to find the real criminal: I had seen it before in the 2002 Nick Baker drug smuggling case. In that case, Japanese prosecutors declined evidence from overseas police agencies that supported Briton Baker’s assertion that he had been framed by his traveling companion. Their aim in the case was simple: conviction.

   The criticism isn’t coming only from foreigners. Carlos Ghosn’s own lawyer in Japan, Takashi Takano, recalled on his blog:

「・・・残念ながら、この国では刑事被告人にとって公正な裁判など期待することはできない。裁判官は独立した司法官ではない。官僚組織の一部だ。日本のメディアは検察庁の広報機関に過ぎない。しかし、多くの日本人はそのことに気がついていない。あなたもそうだ。20年間日本の巨大企業の経営者として働いていながら、日本の司法の実態について何も知らなかったでしょ。」

「考えもしなかった。」

「逮捕されたら、すぐに保釈金を積んで釈放されると思っていた?」

「もちろん、そうだ。」

「英米でもヨーロッパでもそれが当たり前だ。20日間も拘束されるなんてテロリストぐらいでしょう。でもこの国は違う。テロリストも盗人も政治家もカリスマ経営者も、みんな逮捕されたら、23日間拘禁されて、毎日5時間も6時間も、ときには夜通しで、弁護人の立ち会いもなしに尋問を受け続ける。罪を自白しなかったら、そのあとも延々と拘禁され続ける。誰もその実態を知らない。みんな日本は人権が保障された文明国だと思い込んでいる。」

「・・・公正な裁判は期待できないな。」

   The Asia Times story has a translation, and you’re free to copy and paste into a translation service.
   As someone who follows the car industry, and holds business and law degrees, this case has fascinated me far more than any Instagram caption from the Duke and Duchess of Sussex—and it will also be interesting to see how Renault Nissan Mitsubishi deals with the fallout.

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Posted in business, cars, France, globalization, media, TV | No Comments »