Posts tagged ‘family’


There goes the neighbourhood

05.03.2021

Demolition has commenced on 1–4 Māmari Street, across the road from where I lived for over three decades.
   I’m not against change and my feelings toward the development have already been recorded here.
   It was with a tinge of sadness that I saw the demolition crews there and the only wall left standing was part of the north side to no. 4.
   Right now the sections, littered with debris, are letting in plenty of summer sunlight.
   But not for long.
   I’ll remember Gus and Lyna Bourke’s place at no. 2 which I understand they bought after the war. Lyna was widowed by the time we met her in 1983, and she had an incredibly low-mileage silver Hillman Hunter in the garage. As her eyesight failed, the car stayed in there, and it was in incredibly good nick by the time she passed in the 1990s. We always had good chats and Lyna was our “neighbourhood watch” as she kept an eye on the street from her living room.
   Frank and Carol Reading and their family at no. 3 were probably there for a decent half-century, and they were incredibly good neighbours. Frank passed only a few years ago but they had wisely bought the Bourke residence as well in the 1990s, plus no. 4 decades before, so I imagine that made life easy for the developers who only had to purchase from two sellers to build on the site.
   We visited the Reading house many times over the years to help each other out, and that was the great community we had in the cul-de-sac back then. On our side of the street there were frequent chats over the fences with nos. 12 and 14.
   The old street changed a lot when both nos. 10 and 11 went on the market in 2018, then it was our turn in 2019. And now it has had its biggest change in probably a century as those old weatherboard bungalows from the early 20th century were demolished.
   I realize same-again McHouses aren’t everyone’s cup of tea but as one famous architect recently told me: it’s hard to get creativity consented. And the demand is there, so this was inevitable. I already felt that the old street was a memory, but one that could be refreshed on a revisit; but now it really is a memory. Contrast this with the other neighbourhoods I’ve lived in Wellington, which have remained largely the same, or were subject to far slower developments after our departure.
   Just as well I got the neighbours together in 2011 to stop the council taking away the right turn into the street. With 24 dwellings there in the near future, they’re going to need it more than ever.

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A post shared by Jack Yan 甄爵恩 (@jack.yan)

And yes, the above video was on Instagram, which is going the way of Myspace and Facebook, I believe. I haven’t been on there for nearly a fortnight and the feed held little interest to me. Near-daily ’Gramming from 2012 to 2019 was enough.

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


Helvetica in metal, 1985

03.03.2021

This was the back of Mum’s 1985 tax assessment slip from the IRD. Helvetica, in metal. The bold looks a bit narrow: a condensed cut, or just a compromised version because of the machinery used?
   Not often seen, since by this time phototypesetting was the norm, though one reason Car magazine was a good read was its use of metal typesetting until very late in the game. I know there are many reasons the more modern forms of typesetting are superior, least of all fidelity to the designed forms, but there’s a literal depth to this that makes me nostalgic.

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Posted in design, New Zealand, typography, Wellington | No Comments »


From one émigré to the Lais, leaving Hong Kong for Scotland

31.12.2020

This final podcast of 2020 is an unusual one. First, it’s really directed a family I’ve never met: the Lais, who are leaving Hong Kong for Glasgow after the passing of the national security law in the Chinese city, as reported by Reuter. They may never even hear it. But it’s a from-the-heart piece recounting my experiences as a émigré myself, whose parents wanted to get out of Hong Kong because they feared what the communists would do after 1997. Imagine heading to a country with more COVID-19 infections and lockdowns and feeling that represented more freedom than what the Chinese Communist Party bestows on your home town.
   Secondly, it’s in Cantonese. The intro is in English but if you’re doing something from the heart to people from your own home town, it’s in your mother tongue. It seemed more genuine that way. Therefore, I don’t expect this podcast episode to have many listeners since I suspect the majority of you won’t know what I’m saying. They are themes I’ve tackled before, so you could probably guess and have a good chance of getting it right.
   If you know the Lais, feel free to share this link with them.

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The Grundig parts’ cache time capsule

27.12.2020

When Dad was made redundant from Cory-Wright & Salmon, which had purchased his workplace, Turnbull & Jones, he bought all the Grundig equipment and accessories, thinking that he would find it useful. And for a while he did. The odd one he cannibalized, while the parts were used and adapted. Cory-Wright wound up contracting him for all the servicing of Grundig office equipment—principally dictating machines—and actually wound up hiring three people after they realized all the things Dad actually did there.
   He was quite happy to go to work for himself, as he picked up contracts with other firms as well. Some were companies who had gone to him at Turnbull & Jones anyway, and upon being told he had been let go, sought him out. But in the long run Grundig proved to be a fraction of what he wound up fixing, and it was the Japanese brands that I usually saw at home in his workshop, along with Philips (and no, the Japanese brands were not more reliable). Like many hard workers with a customer base, he did far better in self-employment than he did as an employee.
   Which brings me to this post. You could say this cache of Grundig parts is part of my inheritance, but what to do with it? The trouble with being in New Zealand is that there’s no Ebay—we’re told to use the Australian one if we wished to sell, except none of the postal options apply—and outside these shores no one’s heard of Trade Me.
   I’d like to sell the bits though I haven’t done an inventory yet. That was one of my favourite things when I visited Dad at Turnbull & Jones: he kept an inventory of all the items in his room and I used to make new ones as a fun activity. I marvelled at the new packaging that Grundig introduced, and this probably got me in to German graphic design.
   Here’s one item for starters: the wall box (die Wanddose) for the central dictation system (Central-Diktat-Anlage), Typ 593. I have at least five of them, boxed. This was opened for the first time when I took the photo, between 40 and 50 years after it was packaged. That’s the original rubber band as it left the factory in Germany. Some have already been opened. I’ve microphones, foot controls, complete machines. Suggestions are welcome, especially if someone might find it all useful. Those mics are going for €12 on Ebay in Germany, and mine are new. If anyone out there ever wondered, ‘Is there a lost cache of Grundig parts out there?’ then I have your answer.


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Forget the stereotypes: how immigrants write with English as their second language

12.09.2020

How interesting to find a photocopy of a letter my Dad wrote to the Department of Social Welfare in 1986, to apply for National Superannuation on behalf of his parents.
   We had been here less than a decade, but, frankly, Dad’s correspondence was always like this. The whole idea of immigrants coming to Aotearoa with limited English always smacked of racism and intolerance to me, and this letter illustrates that it might actually be our linguistic superiority in mastering another tongue that has racists and xenophobes worried.
   There are some minor errors here, and he could have used a few commas instead of full stops, but it’s on a par with period correspondence from native Anglophones.
   I still have this Underwood typewriter.

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Posted in New Zealand, Wellington | 2 Comments »


Podcast for tonight: behind the scenes on The Panel

28.08.2020

For your listening pleasure, here’s tonight’s podcast, with a bit behind the scenes on my first appearance on RNZ’s The Panel as a panellist, and ‘I’ve Been Thinking’ delivered at a more appropriate pace, without me staring at the clock rushing to finish it before the pips for the 4 p.m. news.

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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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Going beyond a blacked-out image: thoughts on Black Lives Matter

04.06.2020

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#blackouttuesday in support of Black Lives Matter. It was the only blacked out media I found on the phone. Recorded in our conservatory one night.

A post shared by Jack Yan 甄爵恩 (@jack.yan) on

Usually I find it easier to express myself in written form. For once, Black Lives Matter and the protests in the US prompted me to record another podcast entry. I’m not sure where the flat as and the mid-Atlantic vowels come from when I listened to this again—maybe I was channelling some of the passion I was seeing in the US, and I had watched the news prior to recording this.

   My Anchor summary is: ‘Personal thoughts in solidarity with my black friends in the US. Yes, I posted a blackout image on my Instagram but it didn’t seem to be enough. This is my small contribution, inspired by a Facebook post written by my white American friend Eddie Uken where he reflects on his perspective and privilege.’ Eddie’s Facebook post, which is public, is here.

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Live from Level 3

03.05.2020

Finally, a podcast (or is it a blogcast, since it’s on my blog?) where I’m not “reacting” to something that Olivia St Redfern has put on her Leisure Lounge series. Here are some musings about where we’re at, now we are at Level 3.

   Some of my friends, especially my Natcoll students from 1999–2000, will tell you that I love doing impressions. They say Rory Bremner’s are shit hot and that mine are halfway there. It’s a regret that I haven’t been able to spring any of these on you. Don’t worry, I haven’t done any here. But one of these days …

Perhaps the funniest Tweet about the safe delivery of the British PM and his fiancée’s son, for those of us who are Clint Eastwood fans:

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Light humour, dark copy

24.04.2020

I really love Hong Kong 漫畫 or manhua, and found this in one of the boxes from the move.

   This was before the days of our having a computer scanner, and I had photocopied it out of a magazine or newspaper. There were years the copier was on the blink and everything would come out way darker than it should be—it was only with a bit of photo editing in a modern program that I got it looking better.
   I swear that copier had a psychic circuit like the Tardis. My father was a technician and knew his way around the machine but could never find anything wrong with it. It was fine when new but there were years everything came out too dark. After my mother passed away, the machine went dark instantly. After a period of mourning, without warning, it brightened again and all was back to normal. The computer monitor at the time did the same thing: I had to set it to its maximum setting to see the screen properly. And around the same time, it fixed itself, and I could turn it back to where it was. Gadgets in mourning.
   Usually you just hear stories of light bulbs frying but we were more high-tech.
   When Dad’s Imac gave up the ghost days after he died (actually, that was the first time we tried to switch it on after he passed away), I didn’t bother trying to get it fixed. I had a sense it wouldn’t be worth it.

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