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Archive for December, 2010

Macau: Vegas without Elvis

I spent a few hours in Macau yesterday. I’m ok if I never return. I wasn’t impressed.

The jetfoil boat from Hong Kong is a pleasant 1 hour trip. But then there’s the fight through immigration.

Oh, you thought it was One China? No, not yet. HK and Macau still have their own immigration authorities. So even the mainland Chinese need to go through immigration. And the mainlanders are a special kind of rude in that sort of situation: they shove, cut the line, pick their nose, and generally act poorly despite the confined spaces. Maybe they do need a strong dictatorship… because these people are not at all self-governing.

In case you are not aware, Macau is known for gambling. It’s basically the Vegas of Asia. Think of it this way: Vegas casinos are an imitation of some swanky exotic locale (ex: The Venetian, Bellagio, etc.). Macau is an imitation of Vegas. A bad imitation. All of the stuff, but none of the heart. None of the sin associated with the Sin City. No Brat Packs here. No drunken, coked-up rockstars stumbling around in the lobby. You can’t even walk around with a cocktail.

There is no glitz to Macau. No one smiles. No show-girls in feathers and sequins. No one gets dressed to the nines. No drunken spur-of-the-moment-Elvis-themed-weddings. In fact, that’s the problem: there’s no Elvis in Macau.

Don’t get me wrong, you’ll get a you-tube hit off of Macau Elvis… but the spirit of The King is nowhere to be found in Macau. Apparently, there are a few “shows” to see, but everyone seems to agree that the place is mostly just about gambling, smoking, and doing some shopping. So yeah, we bailed on the whole Macau experience pretty quickly.

Viva Las Vegas!!
The Venetian lobby in Macau

 
Hong Kong Observations Dec 27-31, 2010

If you are one of those folks who gets upset about how some people take Christ out of Christmas, you will officially hate Hong Kong at Christmastime. Because shopping is the reason for the season. Shopping and food: those are the two top priorities of Hong Kong residents, and don’t you forget it.

Some observations over the last few days:

  • Brand association is the gateway to happiness and the only marker of success here. The people of Hong Kong are nuts about the Western brands. It seems that every shopping center has a Gucci store, and every other mall has a Bulgari store. If it is a brand name, it is good. And the more brand name things you wear at one time, the better. I saw many well dressed women who were over the top with the brands. One lady carried 2 Gucci purses that were roughly the same size/shape, while wearing Ferragamo shoes, and wearing Dior sunglasses all in one outfit. And those were only the brand items I recognized while standing on a street corner!
  • The food is awesome. I haven’t had a bad meal here. Everything tastes wonderful. The noodle dishes are exceptional, meat dishes are succulent, and fish is super-fresh (usually that’s because the fish was swimming in the aquarium by the restaurant entrance a few minutes prior to arriving on your plate.) The only exception to this culinary extravaganza is the realm of Chinese desserts. The Chinese don’t have much of a sweet-tooth, so stay away from the mung bean soup for dessert and get a second helping of the pork prepared with XO sauce.
  • Chinese women can’t walk in heels either. A year ago, when I visited Japan, I thought it was only a Japanese thing. Nope: it’s a pan-Asian thing. You gotta swing that ass if you wanna work it in those Christian Laboutin shoes! Oh wait… you’re a 20 year old Asian girl and don’t have an ass. Eat some more of that pork with XO sauce and work on your runway strut, ladies.
  • People in Hong Kong dress too warm. The highs over the last few days have been in the 70s – lows in the high 50s/low 60s, yet I’ve seen people (men and women) in puffy down-feather parkas or fur jackets: fully zipped up! They are way more wussy about the cold than me (I grab a shawl when the thermometer dips below 73), but even I don’t reach for my fur unless the temps are in the 20s or 30s F. My working theory is that they buy winter clothes in the brand names and just wait for an excuse to wear ‘em… 70 degrees and sunny is their idea of an excuse.
  • China is probably the main reason for gold inflation and the diamond craziness. Chinese people buy gold: it’s a cultural thing. And there are A LOT of Chinese people who have money now. The main-landers with money to spend are invading Hong Kong buying gold. Gold prices won’t drop unless China goes kaput. They are also buying into the whole De Beers marketing scam and buying a lot of diamonds, as if they were truly scarce. If you believe in China, you should be equally bullish on gold and diamonds.
  • Hong Kong has a lot of pink buildings. I don’t know why. I asked and no one could tell me. I tend to think that painting your building (business and/or residential) Pepto-Bismol pink would devalue the property, but that’s not a commonly held belief in Hong Kong. Speaking of real estate, did you know that the average HK flat is around 600sqft? And 4 people live in the home… huge highrises up to 80 stories high. I don’t think any American can truly comprehend that level of population density, not even the residents of Manhattan.

Lura Lee and Olivia Bui at Victoria Peak in Hong Kong

Photos uploaded (but not sorted and edited yet): lura.smugmug.com/travel

 
Be a Guerrilla, not a Carny!

Massively annoyed. Honestly, it’s only possible to annoy me at this level before I get my morning coffee down my gullet.

I walked over to the shopping center near my home in Del Mar, CA and got a coffee from one of the major coffee chains. Outside, there were some women dressed in red sweatshirts talking to folks and showing off a new product: coffee cozys.

They were nice enough 50-year-old housewives. They chatted me up and lavished love on the dog, in a Christmassy tone. Then they began the full-court-press: selling the product in the most obnoxious fashion. It was all features, benefits, close-quarter selling. All push, no pull. Simply put: they used carny/gypsy techniques. In order to end this assault and drink my drink in peace, I was forced to buy the product.

So, ladies… here’s the thing. Yes, you got me to pay for the product, but your marketing technique was so bad that I made a point of calling you out online. Ouch! The digital age hurts sometimes, doesn’t it?! Anyway, I suggest reading up on guerrilla marketing in the digital, social media marketing age. No carny “burn the lot” sales techniques. If you had been giving away that product, I might have had a completely different reaction… maybe even given a glowing shout out on INeedCoffee.com, a website I co-founded, which is frequented by thousands of people in the coffee industry. But now? No, not so much.

By the way, the product (hotcupcozy.com) is basically a neoprene sleeve for coffee, made of the same material as an entry-level wetsuit. It’s overpriced ($7) And, although it might keep my drink hot a little longer than normal, I’m the kind of consumer who usually completes a drink before the need for a cozy. Sorry, I don’t seem much of a future for this product in this venue. Certainly not at this price-point.

 
2 New Paintings

Here are 2 paintings… eventually, I will also paint one in yellow painting. That way, I’ll have the series in primary colors.   More of my artwork is available for viewing at lura.net/art.

Red Circles Blue Circles

 
Why $200K won’t cut it

I have absolutely no bona fides when it comes to economics, but I know this: $200K as an individual and $250K as a married couple isn’t rich. In fact, that amount of money will only get you most of the way there with regard to covering your own personal responsibilities without incurring additional debt. It definitely doesn’t make you rich.  I am massively annoyed by the populist nonsense being bandied about by my Democratic party.  Where have all the sensible moderate Democrats gone?

First, let me say that I haven’t made $200K a year yet – as a W2 employee or otherwise. But I am striving to get there and go beyond that amount. I own a company and want to have larger revenues and hire employees. I want to be able to pay myself at least $200K a year and pay a few other people $50-150K a year.

But let’s be clear: $200K as a salaried employee won’t buy you the capacity to do anything that really mega-wealthy people do.  You can’t forgo looking at airfare prices. You can’t go out and buy the new BMW 7 series with cash. You can’t say to your kids “go to whatever college you want” and back it up.  And no one is lighting cuban cigars with $100 bills when you are taking home $200K as an individual or $250K as a household.

Let’s break it down.   Here’s a calculator that I used to ballpark the amount of take-home pay on $200K a year as an individual.  This is with the “Bush tax cuts.”   On $200K, as a W2, an individual gets a paycheck of $9.5K a month in California.

If you want to have a chance to make that kind of money in a W2 job, you’re probably going to need to live in a metropolitan area, such as a California city, Chicago, NYC, or Boston where it costs a lot to own and service a house. Realistically, mortgage + upkeep + real estate taxes will likely run your household about at least $4K a month in a metropolitan area. (As a side note, this is why renting is such a good idea right now.)

But let’s not forget the school debt that you probably have.  You likely racked up $100K in school debt in order to earn that diploma that enabled you to get the $100-200K job.  Because, if you haven’t noticed, a college education and/or graduate degree seems to be pre-requisites for applying to any really high paying position now-a-days. (Hey, I didn’t say it was right or good… I’m just noticing reality.)  If you have this problem, you are servicing debt to the tune of about $2K a month for 15+ years.

A child adds childcare and child-related expenses.  A person gets some sort of federal offset for adding a person to the bottom of the pyramid in the Ponzi scheme that is the Social Security system — but that offset doesn’t even come close to offsetting the monetary cost of children.  Let’s estimate $500 a month for a kid. I think that’s low, but you need to decide how much you’re going to put away for Jenny’s college fund yourself.

$9.5K minus 4K, minus 2K, minus $500 = 3K.  A modest car payment + insurance + gas for the car will run about  $600 a month.  Let’s put Costco, Vons, Trader Joes and Jimbos down for $250 a month – assuming that you eat at home a lot. A dog runs at least $100 a month (after accounting for annualized costs.)  Cable, phone…. maybe another $150. You need to spend some money on your appearance, and maybe want to go out to a movie night every once in a while.  Life insurance? Wait… did you say that you want an iPad for Christmas? OK… let’s just round up to $1.5K easy. Leaving you with $1.5K a month.

But don’t forget about retirement! The remaining $1.5K gives you $18K a year to invest. You can fool around with pre-tax or post-tax calculations and you might eek out a bit more. Regardless, using reasonable (one might even say conservative) estimations, you’d need to somehow manage to have upwards of 3.5 million by retirement age if you want to maintain the nice-but-not-luxury lifestyle to which you have become accustomed.  I plugged in the numbers, included a fictional already-existing nest egg and pretended that fictional person would be making $200K in an uninterrupted stream throughout the 30 years left of their career. (Ha! who does that anymore?)  Regardless, the truth of the matter is that investing $18K a year isn’t going to cut it.  In fact, this CNN retirement planner/calculator estimates only a 3% chance of making it… that’s if you are in the happy, healthy position of making $200K a year and putting $18K a year away for retirement with a passive investing strategy.

So here we are.  As I mentioned at the beginning, I’m not making $200K… but that doesn’t matter because making $200 as an individual only gets you most of the way to being able to take care of your own sh*t.

The hard, cold, lonely reality is that if you are in your wage-earning years now you are not only responsible for your own present and retirement, you are also propping up Social Security for an enormous population of baby boomers, funding bailouts for all sorts of companies, funding the cost of 2 (seemingly unending) wars, and trying to stay afloat within the midst of a rampant national/global debt crisis and economic firestorm.

And, let’s not forget, I started out with the “Bush tax cut” numbers.  Now the political discussion of the tax system wants to “repeal the Bush tax cut and make the rich pay their fair share,”  which is to say that those numbers will get even more onerous. The thought of it all is rather crushing. I don’t mean to get all Atlas Shrugged on ya’ll but come on!

So please, before anyone gets on the bandwagon of increasingly progressive taxation intended to soak the so-called “rich”… you might want to figure out how much money you would actually need to make in order to cover your own lifestyle completely throughout your life.  Leave a little room for striving, and stay the hell away from small businesses.  Because if you don’t, you might find that no one is incentivized to create situations where anyone makes more than whatever the ceiling is before there is a negative incentive.  Wouldn’t it be ridiculous to be offered a $225K a year job and find yourself saying: “Thank you for the generous offer. I’d rather make $199.99K and have another week of vacation time.“?

 
Tabata: The Most painful workout ever

The reason why modern people need to “work out” is because we’re not laboring anymore. We’re not hunting, gathering, farming, or carrying water. Thus, philosophically, I tend to look askance at any workout that doesn’t look some sort of movement that mimics the ancient types of labor.

Somehow, I got roped into doing a Tabata class. Tabata is described as intense weight training, combined with circuit training. But the class I was in was 45-minutes of medium weight, high-rep insanity!!! In my estimation, Tabata has no relationship to anything that anyone would do in a pre-industrial world.  This workout was utterly modern and highly influenced by too many 1980s aerobics classes.

I am so unbearably sore, I’m having a hard time standing up.  Life is not good right now. Bleck!   Worst workout ever.

 


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