Recently in habitat Category

in habitat |

I sometimes humblebrag joke that my career consisted of being sent to various places around the world to play with excel. It had to start someplace, and it was 16 years ago that I went on my first assignment to New York. As a junior intern, it was the epitome of excitement and privilege. I didn’t know what to expect.

New York will forever have a place in my heart as the city where I saw in the millenium. New Year’s Eve I was at a stranger’s roof at a stranger’s party, having gone there with people I just met earlier that day. It was a bit surreal. All I can say about living in New York was, it was an interesting experience, it’s a place where one can very easily disappear and become invisible.

My boss called me as I was leaving so I spent a good many minutes talking to her on the (then swanky) mobile in the lift lobby. My cousin picked me up at JFK and brought me to the serviced apartment I was booked in. I stayed at that serviced apartment for 2 months, then moved to my permanent place at 175 E96th between 2nd and 3rd Ave. It was the first time in my life I rented, but even with the application form filling and not having a credit history it wasn’t as troublesome as it could have been. I was a bit clueless then, and my furniture hadn’t arrived so I moved the suitcases and boxes I had accumulated at the serviced apartment on foot about 3 blocks.

monterey01outside monterey02view

Reason I chose this apartment was I liked the bright airy feel and the beautiful view over the East River. On a clear day if I looked south from my living room I could see the Empire State Building. From the outside the building was imposing and my first thought was of a large drum. There were a lot of apartments per floor however the beauty of the cylindrical design was no one had to look at a neighbour’s apartment. I tried taping a big “X” on the living room window but it was too small to spot from the street. Hee.

It was only a few minutes’ walk from the subway and shops. My weekend routine would be wake up, read the paper and go to the neighbourhood supermarket run by Spanish speaking Koreans. More shops at 86th Street were only a few bus stops away, and since it’s only 10 blocks, on a nice day I sometimes walked down there. Once or twice I even ventured up past 100th Street in the middle of the day, I kept to the busy roads so I wasn’t that scared.

I did a lot of walking in New York. Some Saturdays I’d visit the Union Square market and then walked all the way down to Chinatown. Or I’d take the bus down to South Street Seaport and walk around there. I’ve always been a bus person because I liked looking out at the scenery, the subway had no view. In those days internet was dial-up. I subscribed to the weekend editions of the NYT and there would be small announcements of where street fairs would be that weekend.

New York was the place I learnt about food. Hours and hours of watching the Food Network and some of the enthusiasm certainly rubbed off. Food was abundant, cheap and portions huge. I thought nothing of having grilled strip steak once a week. The aforementioned Union Square market with fresh fruit & veg stalls, fresh meat and even a wine stall. Visits to the big name fancy food shops like Dean & Deluca and Zabar’s were a special day for me.


But most of the time I stayed at my little place. I might order $20 worth of Chinese take-out, gorge and then stick the rest in the freezer. When the Razor rage erupted that year I bought one and was happily speeding from the front door to the living room window, it was a good 30ft run. There was only one bedroom so my desk was at the corner of the living room. The only thing I still have is the desk. The chair, the glass cabinet, the iMac and the (gasp) cassette player, all thrown away or donated.


My assignment was supposed to be 3 years. The office was in Stamford so it was 1.5hrs by train each way every day. Once a week I’d work in the office in the city, which was at the bottom end of Broadway. My global head moved me to Zurich after one year so on 9/11 I wasn’t in NYC anymore. But I could have been.

It wasn’t long enough, one year, to live there. Took me a while to get used to it and I never made any friends. There were places I wanted to visit but I never got round to it. Fortunately in the years to come I’d get a chance to visit the US and eventually had my second US assignment to Chicago. Fewer regrets in life.

in habitat |

We always keep an eye out for property, I think everyone does that. In the course of discussions with friends, mm came across a new development in…Elephant and Castle. My memory of the area is a rundown roundabout. Of course it’s being gentrified, it’s in zone 1 so won’t escape the notice of developers.

251london 251london

The brochure is superpretty, of course, with unrealistic “indicative view” of the building and flats. The hint of Shard view, sunset and cafés. Yeah right. The cheapest are one-bedroom flats at over £600,000, nearer the £700,000 mark. Ugh.

300kdallas 300kgarage

On reddit: what does a $300,000 house look like where you are. That’s a paltry £200,000. And according to bb, it gets you a nice house in Dallas vs a garage in London. Not quite fair, comparing Dallas with London, and according to the foxtons listing, the garage has planning permission for a 2-bed house.

300kse15 300knw2

More realistic is the 1-bed flat in Peckham, which caught my eye because of the address: Bird in Bush Road, hehe. Around our neighbourhood, it’s mostly garages. The nearest is a studio in a converted house Willesden. These are almost always really small and horrible. We know better than to be deceived by estate agent pictures.

We know this already, London and the Southeast house prices are astronomical. How to be happy? Go live in the north. It’s hard to get out of the Londoner mindset though, we have a bit of ways to go.

in habitat |


I took pictures of furniture I’m planning to sell: 2 sets of bedside cabinets, bar stool, dehumidifier. I’ll post them on the noticeboard in the building lobby and online, hopefully I’ll get some profit from it. Trying to downsize.

And then I spotted this whisky cabinet on instagram. Temptation. Luckily, or not so luckily, I don’t have the space for something this size.

in habitat |

housingestateview playgroundrain

6.25km 53.08min 8.30min/km

A slightly different running route took me up past the university campus around an isolated one-way street into a housing estate. This is a small, sad housing estate served by one bus route and what looks like one or two minibus routes. There are only 4 blocks in total, making it very small compared with the sprawl of other estates. Barely any shops: one 7-eleven, one small supermarket, one atm (not even a working branch). Other shopfronts are either empty or shuttered.

Some housing estates are no-go areas because of crime. This one, I don’t think anyone goes there because there’s nothing worthwhile to visit. Elderly people sit out in the public areas just staring into space (and at me, funny, I don’t think they get many runners running through). There are a disproportionate number of nursing homes and elderly people vans.

It’s built on a hill, so there is some open view to other built up areas. Not even the trees in the foreground can lift the overall gloom and doom. An empty playground, because it’s been raining. Not slides and apparatus for children; there are machinery for exercising legs and arms—the sort of park popular with elderly people. Everything about the place is so forgotten and forlorn.

in habitat |

edecubeshelf edeairbed

Sis managed to persuade parents to get rid of some of their very old furniture. She hired movers to remove our childhood beds, two huge sideboards and several cabinets. The cabinets in the balcony and storeroom were so large that the movers had to break them up in order to move them, wonder how they got inside in the first place.

In exchange we got Sis’ cube shelves which take up the space of one of the sideboards. The other empty spaces will eventually have other old cabinets and shelves which hopefully allows space for my stuff.

No bed means I have to borrow her air mattress. It’s a big double mattress, it takes up almost all the floor space of my room. A portent of the challenges to come, I have to fit my bed into the same space.

in habitat |


I realised that in my haste to go to parents’ last night I left a plate of fruit on the kitchen counter. I never leave food out overnight, especially uncovered perishable food. I throw my rubbish out every night too.

Plus I had a load of laundry that needed to be done. So I went home for a bit, just enough time to do the laundry. Poor fridge, it’s completely not working so I turned it off. Took the remainder of the food inside back to parents’ place. Had half a dozen eggs, but no egg carton, so hard boiled them for easier transportation.

I think the decision is not to replace the fridge. Get rid of enough old furniture at parents’ place, make room for my stuff, rent out the flat. The income is enough for us to live on.

in habitat |

I was reading a book where one of the MCs went off to live in a cottage in the Lake District for a few months. Nice, nice, nice. Reminds me that I have a couple of self-catering places saved in instapaper.

orton01 orton02

In Orton, outside the actual Lake District, there’s a small cottage called the gatehouse. The bedroom is on a gallery level that overlooks the living room, there’s even a grand piano there for mm (I’ll forgive the zebra print throw). Looks very quaint and quiet. Not bad for around £500 a week in peak season, and drops to under £400 in September. Then again, it’ll start getting cold around September already.


In Bowness is the dome house which was on grand designs. I remember watching that episode, as the owners battled lack of funds to produce a house with stunning geodesic design, green roof and timber cladding. Turning part of the house into a b&b was part of the financial solution, I guess. There are 2 apartments and a studio, with lap pool and spectacular lake views. Price is something £200 per night, so in the luxury camp.


If there is land somewhere, this ecocapsule from Slovakia can be a portable home anywhere. It has solar panels and a little wind turbine. The interior has a foldable bed, kitchenette and proper (probably chemical) loo. I really do like the idea of off-the grid, green homes but bathroom and kitchen facilities are important too.

in habitat |


via wired

An architectectural firm in Madrid designed this modern, efficient space from a small apartment. One half is a fixed living area (seen on the slideshow) and the other half is divided into rooms using movable walls. The kitchen units and bathroom are on either side, and 3 plywood units can be moved to create kitchen, bedroom and sitting/utility area. The room collapses when the units are moved to another configuration. The walls themselves double up as storage and closet.

Technology is such that nowadays, movable walls and doors made from heavy materials can be moved with one hand. The walls are suspended from the ceiling and move along using tracks similar to what is used in libraries and archives. The bathroom looks quite small and narrow and it can get to be a pain to raise/lower the bed everyday. These are the only negatives I can see, everything else looks super. Of course, this is pretty much only suitable for people who live minimalistically and tidy up as they go about their day.

The name of the firm is PKMN pronounced pac-man, it shows they have a sense of humour. The video is fun too:

in going places , habitat |

tor040cntower mpngra171ngralake

According to the OECD I should live in Canada and Australia. So I was wondering where exactly, which led me to think about which states I’ve visited. In Canada I’ve only visited 2 states: Ontario and BC. I’ve been to Toronto twice, neither times I’ve been that impressed honestly. Niagara Falls was impressive, I won’t want to live there. Niagara-on-the-Falls was pretty, and again not somewhere I want to live. I liked Vancouver much better and really liked Victoria, so may be somewhere on the west coast.

syd156gap mel074station

In Oz I’ve been to NSW, Victoria and Queensland. The usual suspects, Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. Since I’ve been to Sydney many times, I’m partial to it. That said, I’m not Aussie enough to appreciate the rivalry between Sydneysiders and people from Melbourne, Brisbane and other parts. I love Australia, it’s like the UK with better weather and great wine. A bit far away from everything though.


I have a map of places I’ve visited in the world, but the other big map is of US states visited. I was very tempted by the big magnetic map with magnets shaped like the various states, but too large to carry home. Lots of online map making sites though. I made one that shows states I’ve spent time (at least stopped at an attraction) vs states I’ve only travelled through. 30 states visited and 8 travelled through. I think it’s correct, I should look back to our big Chicago—>Fort Worth—>Washington DC in 2007 to double check.

in habitat |


Spotted via lifehacker is a fun little exercise from the OECD to determine which countries we should live based on how we rank important topics like housing, health, safety.

Doesn’t tell me anything I didn’t know. Canada, Australia, Norway and Switzerland come out top for me. I know that these countries have good health systems and infrastructure, they normally come out top in most satisfaction indices anyway. I will be quite happy living in any of these places. Reminds me, I need to dig out and scan pics of my apartment in Zurich.

in habitat |


The fridge is not cooling down sufficiently again. This happened in March so I tried to fix it the way the technician did it when he came to repair it.

I unplugged the fridge, took out the freezer drawers, removed the door of the coil compartment and identified the problem. The evaporator coils of the freezer were frosted over so the cold air wasn’t making it up to the fridge compartment. I used a hairdryer to melt the frost, using a cloth to soak up the dripping water. It wasn’t a serious frost problem, so after10 minutes it was okay and the food hadn’t started to defrost yet.

It’s not the call-out fee saved—it’s pretty minimal; it’s timing. I’m thinking the earliest I could get a tech out would be monday, and by then my food would be spoiled. If it were any other piece of household appliance, I would have called someone. My first instinct is always to call someone, I’m by no means a good DIYer: I can change lightbulbs and drill a hole, that’s about it. Mum and I wallpapered and tiled the bathroom when I was young but that was mainly Mum. I don’t own any power tools and i certainly cannot change a tire.

Fingers crossed, that’s the end of my fridge troubles.

in habitat , random words |

This year’s nano is inspired by a Grand Designs episode that featured two women who built a beautiful, eco-friendly, grass-roofed, larch-cladded house on the Isle of Skye. Grand Designs, for those unfamiliar, is a UK tv program that follows home building projects. While that description seems bland and boring, it is quite the opposite. Most of the homes featured are unusual, thoughtful and frankly covet-worthy.

This is one of my favourite episodes because this one was all about following and realising a dream. From a young age, one of the owners have dreamed of having her own house with a grass roof, and this is the story of how she achieved that. The episode is also about compromise, and living within one’s means. The resultant house isn’t grand: it’s only 90m2, with one bedroom and an end window that would have been spectacular if it were higher. There’s a wistful and sort of inspriing quote that comes out of this:

better to have a small amount of something you love than to have too much of something you don’t need

I also found another inspiration recently, of a young couple who build a glass house from recycled windows. It’s a peaceful, fantastic house with another story about another couple. Theirs is also about a dream, but also about creativity and finding a particular way of life.

The practical side of me questions these designs. Do houses with grass or flower roofs really work? Won’t they flood or collapse? A house with top to bottom windows sounds so precarious, surely it can’t withstand heavy rain or strong winds?

But that’s me. If everyone were like me, these projects would never have seen the light of day.

I’m almost done outlining the story. The MC inherited some land and a dilapidated hut/cabin. She wants to build her ideal house, but has to balance between her past life and lifestyle with her idealistic view of her future life. The second MC has already achieved her ideal orderly life, and she doesn’t need creativity or dreams, or so she thinks. Hopefully I can come up with some good interactions and character development. Still have to do some research into the logistics of house building, find info about where to set the story and decide on the supporting cast. The house itself will be a character in the story too, since its growth is so intricately tied to the growth of the MCs. It’s almost like I can name chapters based on each stage of the process.

in being healthy , habitat |


I live literally a stone’s throw from the pool. Some people hate it when other people use literally when they mean figuratively but if I opened my living room window and threw a stone, it really would land in the pool. This pic was taken from said living room window position.

So, I have no excuse. The pool opens at weekends during May, so I went out and did 40 laps. Breaststroke and freestyle. I don’t know if it’s even a 25m pool so I have no sense of distance. Did about 25mins. Together with shower time, the whole endeavour took less than 45mins. Again, no excuse.

in habitat |


I had a maintenance person come in to replace the seal on the washing machine door. The machine is 3 years old but there’s a lot of grunge and mould on the seal cos the tenants didn’t take as much care of it as they should have. The cause of this common phenomenon? Using only cold wash, modern bleach-free washing powder, liquid detergent and keeping the door shut all the time are the main culprits. Now I know to do a hot wash once a month, and wash bedding at higher temperatures. I already leave the door open to air every time the cycle finishes.

I tried cleaning the seal with vinegar, one of the 1001 uses for vinegar known to man. I even combined it with sodium bicarbonate. But I’m not satisfied with the results. So a new seal it is. It’s out of warranty so I had to pay for it, sigh.

in habitat |


Before filing all the receipts and stuff away, I put the cost of this renovation project in google drive. There are small expenses I must have missed, like hooks and shower curtain, stuff like that. Plus travelling costs. All told, rounded up it rounds up to £12k or $20k. Nothing immediately obvious, the project was mainly for basics like new windows, new cutrains, new kitchen (cabinets, sink, worktop, hob, oven, the works), paint, 2 new air-conditioners. Furniture unchanged, some of them have been around the world twice, proving their value several times over.

in habitat |

hkhome019oven chickencauli

New kitchen means new oven, amongst other things. Tried testing it yesterday, and was alarmed that it didn’t turn on. Called the contractor who, to give them credit, came as soon as they finished on their other job. Turned out, the fuse in the plug had blown. Easy enough fix, and now I know how to remove and re-install the oven. It’s white, btw, not sure why the pic turned out blue.

Nothing fancy as its first meal, just dinner. Herb roasted chicken leg with curry cauliflower.

in habitat |


Even though I shipped cleaning stuff like fairy liquid, ariel and swiffer; storage stuff like foil, clingfilm and ziploc bags; even toilet paper I hadn’t used up — there is still a lot of household items to buy. I don’t have a car, and I didn’t want to use delivery, so it means going to the supermarket and buying whatever I can carry in one trip on the bus. So far I’ve bought: comfort, kitchen roll, washing up sponges, kitchen cleaner, bathroom cleaner, rubbish bags, insect spray, air freshener, shampoo, conditioner, shower gel. And that’s fitting out cleaning and bathroom items.

Fitted out the fridge and freezer too. Milk, cheese, eggs, ham, chicken, frozen veg, ice cream, coke zero, olive oil, condiments all had to be purchased and hauled home. No need for snacks, s&p and tea bags, those came on the shipment.

Amazing how much stuff it takes to fit out a home, and I didn’t start from scratch. Been quite a busy shopping bee.

in habitat |


It’s about time I went home, my own place. It’s great to stay with parents’ but I just spent a large amount of money putting in a new kitchen, new windows, new paint and new aircons, so I should enjoy them as soon as possible. Took the rest of my stuff in a suitcase and got the bus. No curtains yet so it will be brighter, ah well. First things: boil water, turn on the fan (the dyson will do), put fridge magnets on fridge. The kitchen is too small, so the fridge is outside next to the bar table.

in habitat |


I got home before 1pm and started sorting the kitchen and the study. Time flew by, and it was already 4pm. I thought the internet guy was coming at 4pm, so I called up the office and yelled at them. Turned out that the appointment was 2-6pm, which I wasn’t aware of. More yelling. The technician eventually turned up close to 6pm. And then we discovered I can’t get the fibre optic cable in my flat. By that time I was so hungry and dejected that I had no strength for yelling. I have to reschedule another appointment next week to install regular, non-fibre optic internet.

Sigh. Internet and cable companies are all the same, anywhere in the world. The biggest ones have an almost monopoly, they charge whatever they want, they don’t keep their appointments and installation is a PITA.

in habitat |


WTF. First I get up on the wrong day for a race; and now today I got rescheduled by the internet people. I went earlier in the week to sign up for internet and cable tv, the appointment for the technician to come was 2-4pm today. So I was on the bus at 1pm and they called, regrettably, to reschedule because the technician had transport trouble. The customer service person said he either had an accident or car trouble. I wasn’t pleased at all, because it wasn’t as if I was at home, waiting around.

Anyway, I had to continue on because the curtain person was also supposed to come to measure the windows. Thankfully, he was on time.

So now I have to go back tomorrow for internet and tv. I signed up for the 300Mbps service, my building doesn’t have the 1,000Mbps fibre yet. I’m hoping the 300Mbps as quick as they claim.

in habitat |


My shipment got delivered today. I had to battle rush hour commuters at 8.30am to get home before the shippers arrived. In the morning they unloaded all 113 items. In the afternoon, they did the unpacking. Almost all boxes were unpacked, they took everything out and placed on any available surface. I asked that they leave about 5-6 for me to unpack — small items like stationery, glassware and ornaments. The best thing is they took all the empty boxes and wrapping paper away with them.

Tiring day, although basically all I did was tell them which item goes where. I did unpack all the clothes myself. My bed is now full of clothes, towels and bed linen. That said, I’ve been standing up all day, from 9.30am to 4.30pm, only sitting for may be 15mins while I had lunch. Other times I was hanging around, moving out of the workers’ way.

Now the real work begin for me. Have to be systematic again, work room by room.

in habitat |

lights lights

I think I’ve found the lights I’m looking for. For the living and dining rooms I’ll go for the more traditional (the catalogue calls it heritage) look. For the bedroom and study it’s more contemporary.

in habitat |


I’ve made decisions or purchased everything required so far: paint colour, kitchen cabinets, wardrobe, oven, hob, extractor, windows, sockets. And now I need to buy new airconditioners for both bedrooms because the existing ones are too old. I went over to Philco and bought 2 new ones, no thinking or hesitation. Sigh. It just adds up doesn’t it.

in habitat |


The one big item I haven’t been able to make a decision on is the wardrobe doors. Can’t change the inside, so it stays being wood. This means outside, it’s better to stick also with wood. Went with mm to look at wood board samples. Walked up and down the street, then sat down for sushi with the book. I think we’re decided.

in habitat |

egyptiancotton 20yy60104

The task sounds simple. Find and decide on the paint colour to use in my flat. The flat in London uses egyptian cotton, very readily available at the likes of B&Q and Homebase. I bought a small tester pot for touching up before I left. I actually had a spare pot but who takes paint tester pots with them when they move countries?

Ah, if only.

When the contractor showed me the colour sheet available here, it turned out they don’t have this colour. I should have know, I really should have. He said to look it up and give him the code and may be he can find it. Okay, I said. I’ll go to their website.

First I wanted to find out the product number for Egyptian Cotton. Problem #1, they don’t use code numbers in the UK. Right. A little googling brought me to a huge database of colour swatches and I was able to find it, even came with the various colour coding notations:

  • RGB hexdecimal: #D6CEC1
  • RGB 0-255: 214, 206, 193
  • RGB %: 83.9, 80.8, 75.7
  • CMYK %: 0, 4, 10, 16
  • grayscale: 207
  • L: 83, a: 1, b: 8
  • hue: 37°, saturation: 10%, lightness: 84%
  • X: 59, Y: 10, Z: 84

I’m familiar with RGB and CMYK, having used them at work to define corporate colours for presentations; and way, way back when I knew how to use Pagemaker. I never got into the exact science part, of using mathematical models to describe colours. Just like fonts, it’s a topic that I have a small fascination with but no time yet to fully learn or explore.

Armed with so many different notations, I thought I was sorted so I went to local dulux, which has a nice colour palette page. HA! Problem #2, the selection for neutral colours uses yet another notation. I’d never seen this before, it took more googling to discover that it’s the munsell system, which looks academic and complicated.

Problem #3, there doesn’t seem to be an easy way of converting RGB to Munsell, I couldn’t find any free online converters. The nearest is an app (yes, there really is an app for anything), but I’m not keen on spending £2.99 on one colour. Then again, the tester pot was about £2.59 so I may be tempted.


Using the most primitive method, aka The Eyeball, I tried to find the nearest equivalent. Very difficult, The Eyeball isn’t precise enough. Back to google, and I found colorzilla, a neat firefox plugin. I scrolled through the extensive palette but none are exact RGB matches. The best is 20YY 60/104, which has a RGB value of 216:202:183 (vs 214:206:193).

Anyway, Mum and I went to a paint shop today, and all they have is the same original colour sheet that my contractor gave us. To get this 20YY 60/104 I may have to go direct to Dulux, and even if they do custom mixing it’ll cost much more. After all that, I may end up having to pick something else more generic. Just like in fashion, there’s haute couture and ready-to-wear, looks like I’ll have to go pret a peindre.

in habitat |

Met mm and did some home research. Windows, taps, door frames, handles, locks, lights, switches, measurements. Ack, so many details to think about. And that’s not including labour, I need someone for painting, and someone else for tiling, and someone else again to do the windows. Electrician I can understand, surely it’s like DIY, but it’s not.

in habitat |


Went back home to pick up letters and see the state of the place. The new flooring is great, I like the lighter wood effect. The bathroom is…okay, needs major cleaning and should last a while. The bedroom closet needs to be replaced. All light fittings are so old and grotty, but replacing them is easy. Need new windows and curtains or blinds. The kitchen is a disaster. The units are so high up that it’s impractical. The hob, oven and ventilator all need to be replaced. There is a piece of wood / laminate stuck on the washing machine (no frame, free standing) and it’s supposed to be a worktop. It’s the general sense of ugliness and lack of thought that bugs me.

So, I need the apartment renovated. Sigh.

in about me , habitat |


Been suffering from dull ear for a week, and today I finally couldn’t stand it any longer. Made an appointment with the nurse to have it syringed. She said that they don’t use syringes anymore because of the danger of perforation so she used modern probe-like equipment. The end result is the same, I can hear. The problem is, I didn’t realise the world was so loud! Just ambient sounds: the neighbours, the washing machine, Mum walking around the flat, the tv, birds outside, even the sound of my typing now, is annoying me. I live too much on my own, I take my peace and quiet too much for granted.

in habitat , objects of desire |


I go on the Metropolitan Line every day, it’s the one that goes all the way to Amersham and Watford. The trains are large and long, almost like regular railway trains and not part of the tube. TFL are gradually replacing the older trains with new ones — those are nice, bright and just seem so…modern. As part of the refurbishment, they have rescued a limited number of the distinctive luggage racks. They are not new, but

approximately 50 years old and will bear the patina of service to millions of Londoners. Scratches, abrasions, slight buckles and dents are all part of the authenticity of a decommissioned original.

I like them, and can think of where one can fit in my own home. If it weren’t for the £250 price tag, I’d seriously consider getting one.

in habitat , objects of desire |


Sometimes when I’m really, really tired, like after running for 4 hours plus, I don’t even have the energy to step into the bath and stand up for a shower. I’d always wished for an automatic showering unit, and had envisioned that it’s like a tall tub where I can sit down and the top closes at neck level, enclosing the body and automatic sprinklers do their business, kinda like a car wash for humans.

This horizontal shower from German company Dornbracht isn’t quite the tub, but I think it probably makes for a far more relaxing experience. The showerheads can be adjusted as gizmodo describes, like

an inverted version of the Bellagio’s fountains, as the various showerheads can be programmed and choreographed to cycle through different intensities and water temperatures

Obviously the main surface should be warm and soft, otherwise it’ll be like laying on a marble slab. Still some tweaking needed, but I’m on board with the idea.

in evidence of my insanity , habitat |


Took this from my kitchen window a while ago. The rainbow was a bit faint by the time I saw it. The UFO looking objects are the reflections of my ceiling lights.

in habitat |

essen020living essen022living

I’ve had my eye out for new living room furniture for a while, just been procrastinating on trying to find a suitable delivery time. So finally they arrived. My cds and decorations were still in the shipment boxes so it was a relatively easy task to get them out. There’s one box of cds to sort, that’s it. Nice.

in habitat |


There was an article on BBC comparing average home sizes in several countries. There are some assumptions (age of property, location) but the message is that homes in the UK and Ireland are so much smaller than the ones in Australia and the US. It’s kind of a “duh” statement, considering the relative sizes of those countries. Seems pretty indicative to me. I’m reminded of how shocked and unhappy I was when I moved from Chicago to a flat in London that is half the size and double the rent.

AT-Chi helpfully converted the metric areas to square feet for the benefit of their US readers:

  • US: 2,300 sq ft
  • Australia: 2,217 sq ft
  • France: 1,216 sq ft
  • Ireland: 947 sq ft
  • UK: 818 sq ft

Now if we included home sizes in Asia…I’m thinking half or one-third the size of the average UK home so we should be grateful. The Belize private island I was looking at yesterday, on the other hand, comes in at about 5,000 sq ft. Still looking at those private islands.

in evidence of my insanity , habitat |

privateisland01 privateisland02

I have a weird recurring fantasy of living on a deserted island. Nothing special, just doing some fishing, tending vegetables, making a compost heap. How I got there and how I got the outdoor survival skills, well, I can just ignore those questions for being too logical. It’s a fantasy after all.

So I was looking at private islands for sale. On one end, in the affordable category at only $99,000 is the island of alligator caye parcel in Belize — or rather, a portion of the island, still undeveloped and only reachable by boat. On the other end of the spectrum is cave cay in the Bahamas. $110million gets you a fully developed estate with hilltop house, marina and airstrip. And a hotel resort complex under construction.

Heh, one can dream.

in habitat |


I gave away my living room furniture — both sideboards, the glass cabinet, coffee table, side table and small cabinet. It’s doubtful if they will survive another container move, and besides I’ve had them for 12 years, it’s time for a change.

So the task this weekend is to go living room furniture hunting. Set off early to Tottenham Court Road area. Heals is having a 50% sale, and habitat is conveniently located next doors. But I was disappointed, didn’t see anything I liked, not even the non-sales items. Surprisingly, it was at next home that I saw a few likely candidates. This is my favourite, from their Seattle range. The tv cabinet and shelf fit my current space perfectly. I’ll probably get the coffee table too. No, I don’t intend to get the big red flower wallpaper, this is just from their online catalogue.

And to totally satisfy myself, I’ll have to make a trip to Ikea to see if there is anything there that could work.

in habitat |


I unpacked, or packed away, almost all my books. Desk is done. Small cabinets are done. Filing cabinet is done. The last thing I did today was to put the sofa bed together. So now I can have guests.

in habitat |

I made a start on clearing the second bedroom. This one is the toughest because it has a mountain of boxes from both the office and the spare bedroom in Chicago. Plus the desk, the sofa bed, the bookshelf and the filing cabinet. All told, there isn’t a lot of room to move around, let alone unpack each box. Books I’m keeping go back into a box and these are stacked in the corridor. I’m in bite the bullet mode, I’m giving up most of my books.

in habitat , on the relationship front |


I got may be 4 hrs’ sleep, woke up at 6am to an empty bed. This is hard. Returned the rental car and got the bus back home. Started working on clearing the kitchen. And then the Sky man showed up. He had to come back later when my landlady was home, but the prognosis isn’t good — he can’t go out to the roof to install the dish and it’s just too much hassle. I don’t know what to do.

The only positives are: I cleared out more than 10 boxes in the kitchen and bathroom. Talked briefly with mm. Went running while the sun was still out for 5k.

Last night at the temp apartment. Finished up the chicken wings and coke zero in the fridge. Chicken wings simply have no taste without mm.

What’s that got to do with the pic? It’s the mezze lunch we had yesterday at haz, that mm took me to.


in habitat |


Signed up for sky bundle package — tv, internet and phone. Phone was mandatory for the broadband service I wanted, so there was no choice. I may not even plug the phone in. The choice was between sky, virgin, BT or getting the services separately. Virgin tv isn’t in the area yet so it was natural to get sky.

This is the one service that is comparable to chicago in terms of price. The whole package will cost me £62.50 a month, compared with around $100 for RCN without phone.

in habitat |

ldnmove001container ldnmove020container

The first pic was my container in Chicago, taken with my iphone. The second pic was my container in London this morning, taken with my blackberry. Same container. 4000 miles.

So much stuff. The crew unwrapped the furniture and took the old broken bookshelves away but everything else is stacked 3 or 4 deep in each room. I unpacked 3 boxes in the kitchen then gave up and came back to the temp apartment. I think the only way of handling this is to unpack one room at a time, then sell / give away furniture. Slowly does it, otherwise I get too depressed at the volume of stuff. Time to de-clutter my life. Though I’d never be able to live with only 100 personal items, I should aim at reducing to half of what I have now.

in habitat |


Heard today that the container has arrived and they will do an x-ray on it tomorrow. Delivery is scheduled on Monday.

in habitat |


Got the keys to the flat this morning. The agent sent an inventory expert and she went through the place with a fine tooth comb, finding every scuff mark, nick, cracked glass and imperfection. Very thorough. We’re still at the temp apartment, shipment isn’t here yet.

in habitat |

In a complete opposite to yesterday I ended up with too many choices. We started in St John’s Wood and got to see a few Maida Vale places. This felt more like “home” although the quality was also better.

This is the first time in my life that I’m in the situation of not being able to afford something. I know it sounds very contrived and I’ll not get any sympathy from anyone. But I saw this place near Warwick Avenue that is perfect. Perfect. Brand new decoration. Beautiful kitchen. Large rooms. New bathroom. Owner-occupied (ie not investment rental). Did I say perfect? But I can’t afford it. So that’s it.

The short list is a nice cozy flat in Maida Vale and a larger, lower ground one in St John’s Wood. Let’s see how it goes.

in habitat |

Met the relo agent at Belsize Park tube station at 9.45am to begin an intense day of househunting. She has a red mini and we zoomed up and down Belsize Park and Hampstead all day. Not terribly good choices, considering the price (£450-600). Most were mediocre with one downright horribly stuck in 1970s decor. There wasn’t much time to linger, just enough for me to draw rough floorplans, so no time to take pictures.

One is interesting though, it’s in a block 3mins from Hampstead Heath tube, top floor with a great view across London. The ceilings slant down, which take away a lot of wall space so it’s not idea.

Ended the day in Maida Vale. Saw one not very good one at Wymering Mansions. I asked the agent to drop me off near home and I walked up the block wishing we still had the flat. Sigh.

in going places , habitat |

ldnmove006vine ldnmove007vine

Flight was full but comfortable. We sat on the runway at ORD for a while before taking off, and there was of course the obligatory Heathrow Holding Pattern drill made us 1 hour late. Can’t complain, I got fed, watched Salt, Entourage, Glee and was the second person off the plane. A little queue at passport control and my luggage was already out when I arrived at the carousel. Just made the Heathrow Express too — sprinted with my 2 suitcases and caught the train just before doors closed. Taxi to the serviced apartment.

The place is called st john’s house, near aldgate. PT it’s not — it’s smaller, less modern, less clean. Utilitarian is how I’d describe it. There are 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms, but I don’t see any use for the extra 2 rooms. When I unpacked and got settled it’s already 4pm.

The check-in guy told me there’s a Tesco’s nearby, but I walked 10mins in all 4 directions and can’t find it. It’s not on google maps either. I ended up going to a pub and getting a pint and their dinner special of pork loin at £7.95. Spent the evening watching tv and playing on the computer. Wifi is included, that’s the only advantage this place has over PT.

in habitat |

The neighbourhood residents group organised a community garage sale today. For $10 they handle the permits, printed maps and distributed balloons for marketing. Coincidentally, my immediate neighbour is also participating, and another neighbour brought her stuff over so we had a 3 family-2 garage sale. Convenient for shoppers.

I have a lot of junk. It wasn’t difficult to get 10+ boxes of stuff I want to sell — stationery, kitchen stuff, games. I’d prepped over the week, sticking prices and set up the tables yesterday. People came in waves. The early birds looked like professionals! Then there were the families having a nice time. I didn’t have many problems, one old lady paid me $1 in loose change, including 20 pennies. I was tempted to not sell to her. Then this guy came with his dog and I didn’t let the dog inside the garage and he left in a huff. Did I care that I may have lost his business? Not one single bit. I asked all dog owners to leave their dogs outside. Dog owners need to learn to respect other people’s wishes and property. The sense of entitlement and arrogance is astounding.

I didn’t sell everything. What I really wanted to sell, my glassware, didn’t attract any buyers. It was the same with my neighbour, people just weren’t interested in glassware. Ah well. All in all, I made $172.50. Subtracting the $10 fee and $5 for labels, quite a nice profit.

in habitat , wheels in motion |


With all the excitement about parents visiting, going to NY and Niagara, I forgot to mention that our basement tenant moved out and I got the garage. It just fits my little car.

in habitat |

My landlady was showing me around the garden apartment — the previous tenant had moved out, and she and her husband were getting it ready for the new tenants. As is the case with the whole house, everything was well designed and full of great details. Thom is an architect after all. She was showing me the windows, which she called european style. Whoa!! These are exactly the ones I had in Switzerland. Wonderful, wonderful engineering and design. They open normally, but turn the handle up and the top of the window tilts away from the frame. It’s safe and allows air to circulate. A little bit of googling brought me to some youtube videos, and the knowledge that they are called tilt turn windows here.

in habitat |


I got this rocking chair and table at ikea. The plan was to get an armchair for the bedroom, but I got sidetracked in the garden furniture section. There’s actually a full-sized lounge chair I want, but it’s way too big for my car. I like this rocking chair, it’s comfortable and pretty.

in habitat |

Contrary to certain stereotypes I’m absolutely crap at DIY. I can change lightbulbs, wire a plug and assemble Ikea furniture. I don’t own a drill. Tinkering with my car? Forget it. I don’t even know how to change tires — I know how to check oil level and refill windscreen wiper fluid, that’s it.

So the w.c. has been dripping for a while — a steady drip drip sound, but no visible leak. I googled a bit and it seems the most obvious culprit is a leaky flapper valve. There were so many to choose from at home depot I got the most generic looking one. Now I have “change toilet flapper valve” in my repertoire of DIY activities I can do. Yeah, yeah, I know. It’s pathetic. It’s like someone getting excited they can add “whisk eggs” to their cooking abilities.

in habitat |

There are only 3 of us in 3 apartments. I wonder why sometimes it’s difficult to coordinate laundry. I wanted to do laundry on Tuesday but the guy in the basement was using it. Then yesterday my downstairs neighbour came back from being away and was doing his laundry. So finally I get my turn today. In-unit laundry was the one item I compromise on when I took this place. It’s not a huge deal though.

in 101.1001 , habitat |


I did this ages ago, long before they got packed up in the shipment. I haven’t had plants for over a year, but these nice aluminium planters are ready for next spring, if I decide to grow anything.

in habitat |


I ordered this last week, and scheduled to take today off so it can get delivered. Plus it’s nice to have a Friday off. Officially it’s called the bongo gunmetal high dining table, in reality it’s more a bar table. Came in 5 huge boxes full of thick cardboard. Took me almost 1.5hrs to put together. Not complicated, just fiddly with lots of allen keying. Larger than I thought, may be the kitchen is smaller than I thought? So now I can’t run all the way from the study to the living room, have to make a detour.

in habitat |


I’m very comforted to find that the Ikea shopping experience is similar anywhere in the world. The difference is mainly to do with size of the store, which affects the inventory available. The one here at Schaumberg is the largest I’ve visited, it being the US after all.

I got there early. First stop was the restaurant for meatballs — it’s been a while and I was totally happy to find out that it’s on special for just $1.

On my shopping list were: sofa bed, small table, rug, kitchen table & chairs, floor cushion, dessert bowls. Obviously can’t buy all of them, but I wanted to see what’s available this season.

In the end, I did buy the sofa bed, the Beddinge system to be exact. Imagine when I took the stuff to my car to find…the box was too long, even with the back seats down. Yikes!!! So I drove home very slowly and carefully with the boot door open and held down by a piece of rope. It wasn’t too bad. My downstairs neighbour helped me take it upstairs, thanks Dave.

Assembly was a doddle. Oh, I also got a couple of square cushions to go with it. And a 3-cushion system for the floor in the bay window. I saw the kitchen bar table I liked, that will have to be another trip.

in 101.1001 , habitat |

pan006bath pan005kitchen

I left my flat in the good hands of my parents, who I trust to have better taste than me. Mum did call me a couple of times to make decisions on colour and materials.

So both the bathroom and kitchen were renovated. The pics above were taken just after the movers left in April. The ones below are new. There’s also really beautiful new flooring and closet doors. Papa and Mum made good choices.

pan014bath pan012kitchen

in habitat , outside interests |

cablebox01before cablebox02after

Sooner or later, with all the gadgets we own, we end up with a mess of wires everywhere. There are plenty of cable organisers around. I bought 3 of these cableboxes for: a) their aesthetics — they’re well designed, almost Swiss; and b) their capacity. I was able to fit a wide surge protector, the mbp adaptor, the airport, stiff cable wires, adaptor for the modem and usb charger for the iPhone/iPod into the box. Impressive.

space01before space02after
While I was on their website, I ordered a spacestation to replace the usb hub and other wires for the mbp. This one isn’t as useful as I thought, and since I already have a coolsink, the “prop the end of the laptop for cooling” bit is less relevant. Still, looks nice.

in habitat , how the day went |

I haven’t had a whole weekend at home since I moved in, and I’m still waiting for that full weekend. Nevertheless, i had a full day at home, which is a small blessing. Went to church in the morning, cos I promised I would. Supermarket on the way back, then it was reading, cooking, watching tv, laundry, ironing, messing with the iphone, websurfing. Still languishing in a weird combination of loneliness, solitude, uncertainty and irritability. Difficult to shake off.

in habitat , how the day went |

I ordered a chairmat and in/out trays from staples. On the website I could print and sign a “driver release form” so the driver can leave the goods on the porch. But they decided to use ups instead, and the driver left a card instead of the stuff! Anyway, I signed the release at the back of the ups card, and they were delivered today.

In other news, I had bought a new 26” tv over the weekend. I briefly thought about the $299 Dynex (Best Buy own brand) but finally went for the sony, which was $479. When I plugged it into the cable box, there was no signal. Argh. So I had to make an appointment with the RCN guy to come in. He said there’s something wrong with the HDMI port, but got me hooked up using component cables. I still get the hi-def channels, so i’m not bothered. I have 4 yr extended warranty, so I can take it back for repairs whenever I feel like it.

in habitat |

This is the weekend of the BIG shop. We went first to Target where I spent $180 on top of the $360 I spent a few weeks ago:

  • floor lamp for living room — with 5 heads
  • floor lamp for bedroom
  • small step ladder
  • extension cord
  • swiss ball and mat
  • bin with cover

After dinner we headed to Best Buy:

  • Sony Bravia 26” TV for study - $480 plus $70 for 4 yr warranty
  • iHome deck for iPod — this will take the place of my trusted clock radio - $99.99

I also bought a HDMI cable and iron from Walmart. Total spending for the day: $870.

in habitat |

I’m sitting at my desk and my comfy Aeron chair as I type this.

According to TDP, unpacking uses 270 calories an hour. So I think I did like 4 hours today, so I spent like 1080 calories. I definitely didn’t manage to eat all of that back.

Plan of action was room by room, and I got a lot done:

  • finish unpacking all the suitcases
  • 3 loads of laundry
  • loaded up the dishwasher
  • moved sideboards
  • glassware in hutch
  • kitchen is done
  • most books on shelves
  • filing cabinet done

I even partially unpacked the Keller box that came with me from Zurich — a couple of beautiful Le Creuset oven dishes, more kitchen stuff. Only stationery that goes in the desk and shelves in the study left from this side of the apartment.

Of course, there’s the front side — living and dining rooms still to be done. It’ll have to wait till I’m back from London.

in habitat |

Car came over at noon to help me move my stuff from PT. I was lucky that I got a luggage cart, they ran out after I got mine. So I loaded 5 document boxes, 1 duffel and 2 suitcases into her car. Off we go!

Lucked out, got a parking space opposite the house. Unloading didn’t take long. OMG I have SO MUCH STUFF. There’s things everywhere, it’s amazing. Didn’t know where to start — living room? Dining room? Kitchen? Bedrooms? Study? But first, lunch. Walked over to Hamburger Mary’s and we each got a big burger. Nice.

Then I got to work on the rest of the clothes and Car helped put the bookshelves together, then sorted fiction from non-fiction.

We worked steadily till 5-ish, then headed out to Target. I spent $360 on a whole bunch of stuff — a vacuum cleaner, mop, broom, a Magic Bullet, electrical cords, laundry detergent, shampoo &conditioner, drinks, and a Queen sized airbed with electrical pump.

Too tired to do much after getting some dessert and shower. Still a long way to go, sigh.

in habitat |

I just realised, this will be my last night at PT. 5 months. Wow.

in habitat |

So I left the mbp’s adapter at home yesterday, and had to shut down early. Went over after work to get it, and while I’m there I tried to make a dent in the unpacked stuff.

Two hours later — clothes off half the bed into 1.5 closet and part of the drawer unit.

in habitat |


So the shipment got delivered today. The crew arrived at 9am, driving the container right up the street. Luckily there was enough space for it to park. They put protective covering on the staircase and the hallway, then started unloading. I was responsible for checking off the items as they arrived upstairs and directing the crew which room to put it in. 160 items took till lunchtime to unload.

balmoral102boxes balmoral106boxes

The crew ate their lunch in the truck, and I ate mine sitting on one of the boxes. The one with the footrest, I think. I brought chicken salad with me from PT. After lunch was the big unpacking. Everything got taken out of its box and onto whatever flat surface was available — the floor in the living room, kitchen counter, books all over the study and clothes on the bed. At least it’s all out, and they took away the packaging.

balmoral116bed2 balmoral118study

It took me 2 hours to clear half the kitchen. I was pretty exhausted, and I’m lucky that I can still stay at PT. It’ll take many many hours of work, it’s okay, I’m so glad I have my stuff.

in habitat |

Finally, i have a place to hang my hat. I officially took over the apartment today, picking up the keys after work. The shipment will be delivered on Tuesday, good timing.

I brought a Puma bag of stuff like toilet paper, towel, crocs and some snacks. Then after i put everything away i went to the supermarket nearby to get liquid soap, cleaning stuff, more snacks, milk and cereal.

It’s a nice place.

Oh, and I’ve been meaning to post this trib story about the area. A local architect describes it aptly:

the street isn’t that wide, the buildings are rarely over three stories. You almost could describe it as cozy.

Me? I like all the trees on the street.

in habitat |


I signed my lease today. Start 1 June. Then I managed to borrow keys to look around and measure spaces for my furniture. I think I’ve decided mostly where i want to put them.

balmoral014living balmoral012living
So here’s the living room, with what I’m calling the “outside” and the “inside”. The outside has the beautiful round bay window and the restored original fireplace. The inside is where i’ll have the sofa, cabinets and tv.

balmoral022dining balmoral051kit
Moving on is the dining room with its built-in hutch, and the kitchen. All the expected appliances are in the kitchen, which has a ton of light because of the skylight.

balmoral041bath balmoral044bath
The bathroom is really decent. Lots of attention to detail, original-looking fittings, and heated floor.

Beyond the kitchen is the sunroom, which I’ll use as study. Then outside is the balcony, very large and full of potential for window boxes and outside furniture.

Anyway, here’s the full set at flickr

in habitat |


I got the apartment. Just some formalities to go through with the landlord checking, but seems like they’ll take me. Later this week we’ll set a time to sign the lease. Yippee.

I’ll take extensive pictures later, but here’s the outside.

in habitat |

I faxed the rental application back. Spent the day showing my colleagues the place, they all seem to approve my choice. Now it’s waiting.

in habitat |


Today was an intense flat-hunting day. I diligently wrote comments, drew floorplans and twittered my progress all day. Unfortunately the tweets never came through, so I summarised in a spreadsheet. The first 2 are the ones I saw earlier, today’s selection starts at #3.

I had set up 2 sets of appointments with 2 different agents, and then the flat I saw yesterday that I called up the landlord myself.

Olga from apartmentpeople took me to 8 apartments. She did her homework, and most were good. The funniest one was the one that was really big at $2500 and was supposed to be empty. But it was full of stuff! Then she called in and found out it’d been rented. And the landlord never told the agency and never went to get the keys back. I saw one vast duplex that was frankly too large for me — I’d never go up to the attic floor and it’d be both a waste and scary.

The one I really liked was 1625 W Ainslie. It was airy, bright and has a homely feel. The dining room with its weird glass doors and the tiny spare bedroom were the cons. This was the one I held onto when I went to the second appointment.

Troy from homestead took me o 4 apartments, one of which Olga also showed me. That was the best one of the bunch.

The one at 1420 W Balmoral I saw yesterday on my way to brunch. On the website, it looked very well cared for, even with a floorplan [pdf] that saved me from drawing anything. It did not disappoint. The owner is an architect, and they’d saved the building, gutted and refurbished it. Everything was clean and new. The only cons I can think of is laundry in basement, and too close to the houses next door.

I thought about it all the way back on the train. There’s nothing much wrong with the Balmoral property, so I called the owners back and indicated my interest. Now I have to go through the application process, hopefully it goes smoothly.

in habitat |

1453 W Carmen, 3 bed 1 bath, $1350

I spotted this on craigslist and contacted the management company directly. They have a lot of stock, but only this one available in June. It’s in a nice tree-lined street in Andersonville, just off Clark.

location — walkable from Metra, Brown Line, just off Clark in South Andersonville
trees on street
laundry in unit
there’s an extra room / storage area next to kitchen

grotty — that was the first impression of the outside, and the overall impression
small — i showed the link to mm this morning and this was her comment
dark — on raised ground floor, not enough light
only one bathroom, and it’s small
closet space, but no substantial storage like a linen closet
cramped street, off-street parking looks like it’ll be a fight
grotty — this is enough to put me off

in habitat |

Foster at Damen, 3bed 3 bath, $2000

Went to see one flat today, the first one in my househunting. Saw it yesterday online, and Car’s cousin helped me with the appointment.
The place is in Lincoln Square / Andersonville. I took the Brown Line to Damon, walked 15mins. Total door to door from PT was around 75mins, that’s pretty long. The flat is part of a converted house, they call it a condo here. It’s a duplex on the ground and lower ground floors.

good sized, 1100sqft on each floor
3 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms
open kitchen
washer dryer in unit
big family room in basement, i can convert it to a gym
third bedroom in basement with bathroom, great for guests
newly renovated, clean
parking included

two floors can be creepy
lots of work to clean
at an intersection and bus stop, busy and noisy outside though can’t hear it inside
opposite a school
long walk to station
not much nearby, small local grocery store, chinese takeaway, bar, that’s it
a little expensive
owner prefers to sell, so what happens after the lease expires in a year?

in habitat |

The tiles are cracked, the corners are grubby and there’s stuff everywhere.

I slept in my own bed with my duvets. I sat comfortably in my own chair. I’m not wearing the same clothes I’ve been wearing for 3 months.

I miss being home.

in habitat |


via digg, a very interesting view on the real estate market around the world - what can USD150k buy around the world? Among the selections: a 3 bed 3 bath house at Villarrica Chile, a 5 bed 3 bed house at Jeffrey’s Bay South Africa and a 4 bed 2 bath house at Bali.

in easily amused , habitat |

population density

bb guest blogger Charles Platt has been making charts.


This one I love. A visual representation of relative population density.

To create this chart I turned to the CIA Factbook, where I looked up the populations of various nations and then divided this number into their land area (excluding lakes and rivers) to get the number of square feet available per person. I represented the results in squares that are all drawn to the same scale.

It’s an average, of course. Many countries have areas of low population density (like mountains etc) and the vast majority of the population live in urban cities. Still, a good chart.

And one that suggests I am soon to trade up by a huge factor when I move to Chicago. Huh. I doubt I’d be getting an apartment 20,000 times larger.

in habitat |

I need a bigger place, there’s hardly any room to walk.

in habitat |

chi460apt chi463apt

I finally loaded the pictures of presidential towers to flickr. I took these as soon as I got in, before I dumped stuff all over the place. Can still see my jacket and luggage in some of the pics. This apartment is in the same tower and has the same layout as last time, only it’s 3 floors higher. I like the rectangular table vs the round table cos it’s flush against the kitchen counter and I can use that side. The bathroom also has shower doors instead of curtains which is sooooo much better.


The bed onlly comes with blankets, but I use the bed cover as quilt and it’s fine.

in habitat |

So, no turning back. I was at the US consulate today to hand in my visa application. No special process, just going from counter to counter and waiting to be called. Straightforward and the people were helpful. i should get my passport back in a few days with the stamp.

Did I pick the right city?

Well, according to this businessweek article on the top 10 cities of where Americans want, or not want, to live, it’s a toss up. The human capital institute conducted a survey where 2500 participants were questioned on how willing they were to relocate to 40 cities. They were then asked to choose the top 3 attributes for each city, then the scores weighted and added.

How interesting that the most favourite and least favourite city is the same one.

  1. new york
  2. san diego
  3. san francisco
  4. las vegas
  5. los angeles
  6. seattle
  7. denver
  8. phoenix
  9. chicago
  10. boston

  1. new york
  2. detroit
  3. los angeles
  4. new orleans
  5. chicago
  6. washington dc
  7. las vegas
  8. cleveland
  9. dallas
  10. miami

It can only make sense if it’s New York. My impression is that New Yorkers and non-New Yorkers alike have a love-hate relationship with the city. And that is exactly how I feel too. NYC is exciting, unique, uniquely exciting, cosmopolitan, full of opportunities, the centre of the universe (even with the current financial crisis) and has the best of entertainment and restaurants. It’s also expensive, crowded, very tough to deal with mentally, has high crime, rude inhabitants and it can be very lonely to live there.

Seems like more people don’t want to move to Chicago than do. Reasons to move there were cited as affordability, entertainment and opportunities. But the downsides apparently are environment, climate as well as affordability. Interesting. Is the weather really that bad? It’s cold, but so is all of New England. It’s not that windy. I laugh, it’s like people saying London is foggy. Such a myth. Granted, I’ve not had to experience having to commute in the snow, so I will reserve judgement. As for affordability, I don’t think I’ll have issues on that front. My yardstick is New York, so I’m bound to be pleasantly surprised.

in 101.1001 , habitat |

hkhome011pillow hkhome012pillow

I needed to get new pillows cos the old ones are 10 years old and have gotten soft. I’ve been using the neck support pillows for a long time. The old ones I got from a regular store, it’s the first time I’ve seen them without the cover and it turns out that they are a sponge.

The new ones, on the right, are memory foam pillows by tempur. Needless to say they’re stiffer and more supportive, not only cos they are new but I suppose the technology is better.

in 101.1001 , habitat |


The air-conditioner in my bedroom should have been replaced 3 years ago, I just never got round to it. Lately it’s been making such a racket that I have difficulties sleeping (jetlag notwithstanding). Once I decided, I acted quickly. Went to the electronics store on Tuesday and bought 2 — one for the study too since it’s as old as the one in the bedroom. Originally they were supposed to be delivered yesterday but it got cancelled because of the typhoon. Today they arrived. It took the technicians about an hour to install both, they even took the old ones away.

All in all, a nice deal. I didn’t get fancy ones, just store branded. It’s fine for the time being.

in habitat |


It’s getting hot. Even with the aircon on, I get suddenly hot, especially at night. May be I need one of these aircon beds. Japanese of course.

in habitat , money business |

Almost four months after I paid off my mortgage I finally got all the title deeds from my solicitor. Oh man it’s a huge pile of documents. It’s not just a certificate that says I’m the owner, it’s the entire history of the property. The first document dates from 1951 that details the allotment of the plot by the government and its first purchase. Then various owners before eventually being sold to the developer who built the current building. The owners before me had the property for generally a year or so — probably speculators or landlords — before it reached me. It’s interesting to follow the story of the apartment, all 4.5” thick of paper.

For me, the most important document is the Release letter from my bank, that I am

FREED AND ABSOLUTELY DISCHARGED or and from the said Deed and of and from all principal, interest, and other monies thereby secured and all claims and demands for or in respect of the same or in anywise relating thereto

A very happy “woot!” is in order methinks.

in habitat , objects of desire |

Since Mum is here with me, I have a twin hotel room. I haven’t been sleeping very well because I’m not used to sharing my sleeping quarters with anyone, so I hear her whenever she moves around.

Plus, it’s been a long time since I slept in a single bed. There’s not enough room! [/whine] Another reason I’m looking forward to going home, I need my nice queen bed to roll around in. Sometimes I sleep horizontally, sometimes diagonally and there were periods when I slept with my head at the foot of the bed.

Talking about bed sizes, I’ve always been confused about the difference between UK and US bed sizes. I never got what “full size” meant. It’s most relevant when I’m buying bedsheets and similar. So, I looked it up.

  • smallest 3’ wide — US tends to call these twins and are 38” wide; UK calls them singles and are 36” wide
  • middle 4’6”-ish wide — this is what Americans call full and British / Europeans / Australians (ie the rest of the world) call doubles
  • the big 5’ wide one — this is the queen size, and what I have. Sometimes in the UK it’s called a king
  • the super large 6’ wide one — this is the luxurious king (sometimes super king in the UK) that are found in hotels

I don’t want to get into California Kings, Olympic Queens, Small Singles, Long Kings and all the variations.

Standards, people. Standards.

in habitat |

This is US-centric but interesting in a now-where-could-i-live-if-i-moved-to-the-us kind of way. Find Your Spot is a quick online quiz that will

provide you with a tailored list of the best cities and small towns that fit YOU. Compare the perfect hometowns and undiscovered havens that match your interests. Dig deeper with colorful reports, job listings, and more.

It starts with the basic question:

  • I like a major metropolitan city
  • I enjoy medium-sized communities
  • I like smaller towns and communities

and continues with questions about preferences for weather, culture, education, pets, outdoor activities, religion, affiliations, even types of geography to be avoided (volcano, desert etc). It’s not all relevant, so I put neutral to items like education. My highest preferences were: city, access to a major airport, lots of public transport and proximity to a major medical center. I wasn’t entirely surprised at my recommodations, though a little surprised at how East Coast focused the list was.

  1. Providence — very interesting because of all the places in the US, Rhode Island is where I have the strongest family roots. My grandmother was born in Newport and my great-aunt’s family live in the Providence area.
  2. New Haven — mmmYale. I can live with this.
  3. Worcester — I’ve never been to Worcester, neither the MA nor the Midlands version. Nor have I had any strong penchant to visit. I’m guessing like most New England cities it’s a cultural and nice place.
  4. Chicago — awwwwwww
  5. Milwaukee — hmm. isn’t Milwaukee kinda boring?
  6. Hartford — okay, another New England city. I think there’s a theme.
  7. Boston — has the highest average home price on this list: $461,500. Gulp.
  8. Kansas City — and Kansas has the lowest average home price: $140,000. If the rate of growth is reasonable, may be an investment city? um, no.
  9. Pittsburgh — screams “steel” to me, and I’m really not a shiny metal type of person.
  10. Carlisle — this is one city I’ve never heard of. I may have driven past it on the way from NYC to Chicago. I wonder why it’s on my list?
  11. Long Island — well okay! Live near my cousin, that’s good.
  12. Minneapolis — I should know more about Minneapolis but all I can think of is that this is where Miss Alli used to live. See how big a fan I am?


New York comes in at #16 and there are no cities on the West Coast. May be it’s because I said I don’t like hot weather and I like skiing.

The site has more information on homes, job search and for a fee detailed information. Nice.

in habitat |

I can’t spend any more money on big ticket items this year. So far I’ve bought the macbook pro and spent quite a fair bit when I was in the US (Century 21 is such a huge temptation). Last week I paid for an Aeron chair and yesterday I put down the deposit for a 37” LCD TV. The chair should be delivered next week and the TV, I have to wait till the beginning of Sept!

I was thinking about redecorating, since the place is kinda falling apart:

  • huge cracks in the bathroom tiles
  • bathroom water heater about to come off the wall
  • grouting all worn down
  • kitchen cabinet doors need replacing
  • new worktop for kitchen
  • new flooring for the whole apartment
  • living room curtain rail has fallen off
  • install some sort of curtain or blinds in the study
  • air conditioners should have been replaced 2 years ago
  • closet doors are warped
  • fix that water leakage from the tap / pipe outside the bedroom
  • new paint, possibly rewiring

I don’t think that can be done till next year. Sigh.

in habitat |

It’s still stiflingly hot. So I made some iced tea for the office — Earl Grey, lemon, mint and 7-up. Bought the mint as a plant from the supermarket.

Back home, I planted the mint plant. My window boxes are very bare, almost all the plants from last year had died off. With the coming of summer I should plant some more, but with my travelling schedule I’m not sure if it’s a good idea. At least the mint should survive, they’re quite hardy.

I love gardening. Miss my alpine rock garden and my strawberries and tomatoes. But that was a long time ago, sigh. The price of going outside to deal with plants? I now have raging hayfever. Everywhere itches, I’m sniffing and my eyes are sore. It’ll be at least another half hour / hour till the triludan kicks in.

in habitat |

A view of the pool.

Ambivalence. I don't like Hong Kong. Too crowded, too polluted, too materialistic, no emotional depth. Yet I find myself there again and again primarily due to personal reasons. So I'll just have to make my own fun.

Most of the time I'm sitting at my desk looking out to the pool. There's enough space between the podium and the fence to protect against noise. The windows are mirrored one way - I can see out, but people can't see in. By day I watch the people swimming or sunbathing and by night I watch the illuminated buildings not so far away.

For Hong Kong standards it's a decent sized place, the best feature is the big bedroom. There's not a lot of space to put a dining table, especially since the new bookshelf is now in the space previously occupied by the shoerack.

There's too much stuff lying around to take decent pictures. I'll get round to it. Eventually.

rob road floorplan

in habitat |

Brand New New Yorker.

New York will forever have a place in my heart as the city where I saw in the millenium. New Year's Eve I was at a stranger's roof at a stranger's party, having gone there with people I just met earlier that day. It was a bit surreal. All I can say about living in New York was, it was an interesting experience, it's a place where one can very easily disappear and become invisible.

It was the first time in my life I rented, but even with the application form filling and not having a credit history it wasn't as troublesome as it could have been. Saw about a dozen apartments before deciding on this one at 96th Street. I lived in a temporary apartment a few blocks away initially, perhaps familiarity with the immediate area was a factor. Dunno.

the big drum can be seen all the way from 86th

Reason I chose this one was I liked the bright airy feel and the beautiful view over the East River. From the outside the building was imposing and my first thought was of a large drum. There were a lot of apartments per floor however the beauty of the cylindrical design was no one had to look at a neighbour's apartment. I tried taping a big "X" on the living room window but it was too small to spot from the street. Hee.

It was only a few minutes' walk from the subway and shops. My weekend routine would be wake up, read the paper and go to the neighbourhood supermarket run by Spanish speaking Koreans. More shops at 86th Street were only a few bus stops away, and since it's only 10 blocks, on a nice day I sometimes walked down there. Once or twice I even ventured up past 100th Street in the middle of the day, I kept to the busy roads so I wasn't that scared.

I did a lot of walking in New York. Some Saturdays I'd visit the Union Square market and then walked all the way down to Chinatown. Or I'd take the bus down to South Street Seaport and walk around there. I've always been a bus person because I liked looking out at the scenery, the subway had no view.

New York was the place I learnt about food. Hours and hours of watching the Food Network and some of the enthusiasm certainly rubbed off. Food was abundant, cheap and portions huge. I thought nothing of having grilled strip steak once a week. The aforementioned Union Square market with fresh fruit & veg stalls, fresh meat and even a wine stall. Visits to the big name fancy food shops like Dean & Deluca and Zabar's were a special day for me.

But most of the time I stayed at my little abode. I might order $20 worth of Chinese take-out, gorge and then stick the rest in the freezer. When the Razor rage erupted that year I bought one and was happily speeding from the front door to the living room window, it was a good 30ft run.

monterey floor plan

living room makeshift study

living room view

Did I mention how much I liked the sunlight coming through the whole apartment all day? The view wasn't bad either, I could see the Triboro Bridge which was a sight during the day and at night.

On a clear day if I looked south from my living room I could see the Empire State Building.

in habitat |

Life by the wild stream.

The first week in Zurich I was staying at the Schweizerhof and everything was so unfamiliar, I didn't even dare go on the tram so I walked. It was the first time I lived someplace where I didn't know the language. True, everyone in Zurich spoke English but hell, I couldn't speak German. I couldn't read the signs or know what other people were talking about.

Even with the language barrier I felt more at home there than in New York, the first thought when I landed at the airport was elation that I was back in Europe. The buildings and roads and the way people behaved, it was European, no question about it. But I can't exactly put a finger on how European, it was just a very strong feeling. I gradually got used to blocking out what other people around me were saying. And I learnt enough Swiss German to take care of daily stuff.

I only saw 4 apartments and I could easily have chosen 3 of them, they were all nice. Where I finally ended up was even better than I thought, the reason I chose this apartment over the other 2 candidates was because it was within a very short walking distance of a Coop and the tram stop. The others were on bus routes and not as convenient. Little did I know that I'd managed to secure a place in Seefeld, where good apartments were rare as gold dust. Luck, pure luck.

outside view outside view

It was one of four apartments in that house, nice and cosy on a quiet street. One apartment per floor, plenty of space. And our own basement storage space for boxes, suitcases and booze. And the basement was never dark or creepy, it was always clean. The washing machine was in the basement too.

Now let me stop here for a bit and talk a bit on the rules about living in Switzerland. Most people rent, property is expensive to buy. Leases can generally only be terminated each April and October although dates are becoming more flexible, I started my lease in August and terminated in February with no problems. Depending on how strict the building is (and by extension neighbours) there is a ban on doing laundry, cleaning and any noisy work on Sundays. Some buildings the laundry facilities are only "open" up to around 10pm. The most extreme case I've heard of is no flushing of the loo after 10pm for fear of waking the sensitive neighbours who might have already been in bed (!). Seriously.

Garbage must be placed in specially designated, and expensive, garbage bags. This goes along with the principle of "polluter pays" - the more trash you generate the more you expect to pay in disposal services. Makes a strange kind of sense. Garbage must also be sorted properly, items that can be recycled like glass, tins, pet bottles, batteries and the like should be removed and placed in appropriate recycling bins. Every couple of weeks is the newspaper collection, the paper must be stacked neatly and tied with string for easy collection. Once every month or so is the cardboard collection. Failure to comply with these garbage disposal rules will bring on the wrath of the dreaded garbage police and a hefty fine. To be honest, after a while it becomes automatic and it's all towards a better envrionment anyway.

wildbach floorplan


Back to my apartment. Reason I knew immediately it was the place: gas hobs, carpeting, wall panels and wooden ceiling panels. Oh and the fabulous dark wood, fully equipped kitchen with the did-I-mention-them-before gas hobs? Most places have electric and having gas was an absolute godsend. The kitchen opened out to a large dining room and that's where me and my friends spent most of our time. To have a semi-open kitchen/dining room was so great for dinner parties, once for dessert I made everyone make brownies there and then and it was a blast. I moved to Zurich without possession of a dining table and I was glad my friends forced me to buy one so they can fully utilise it. Hee.

TV wasn't interesting, and there were limited channels I could understand, so the living room wasn't used that much. Eventually I gave the blue carpet away because it didn't fit in the space. It had windows on 2 sides and would get both the morning and afternoon sun. The view out during snow time was pretty good too.

living room oh how I miss thee my dining table living room, other side bed, chest of drawers, nothing much else

many hours spent there
Bedroom was a boring square shaped room. I only had the bed and chest of drawers there so it really wasn't interesting at all. The study was the bigger room of the two. I had the second closet, desk, bookshelf, my entire X-files collection on the floor and my rug in the centre and there was still plenty of space left. It was the one room in the apartment that didn't have open views, from the window facing my desk I could see what the neighbours were up to very clearly.

Usual place to shop was either the Coop near work which was open till 8pm, for special foods either Jemoli or Globus. Not much point going to the Coop at home during the week cos it closed at 6pm, it was useful on a Saturday if I need something quick. Oh yes, shops close early in Switzerland and only shops at train stations and airports open on a Sunday, and only to sell certain stuff. Immaculate planning is usually required. Most non-food shopping, like clothes and books and shampoo and even getting a haircut I would do in London. I kid you not. I would fly back to London at least once a month, it was so easy to just book a flight on the net and fly the same day.