home maintenance and evil property developers

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Our building is a low-rise with a total of only 16 flats. It started life as a co-op for civil servants. As time passed, it became privatised and non-civil servants were allowed to purchase units. There is one company that managed to buy a few units as they came on the market. They seem to be a property developer represented by an estate agent and they rent the flats out to private renters. It’s a popular rental even though the building is very old and there are no lifts. One of the most important aspect for these renters is we are in the catchment area of a large number of good schools. The developer has a total of 6 out of 16 units.

Last year, there was a government inspection of the building and as a result, there is some remedial work that has to be done. Patch the cracks on the outside wall, replace some pipes, fix part of sewage system that has collapsed. For a building this age, it’s held up surprisingly well. At an earlier homeowners’ meeting, it was suggested to take the opportunity and add a few maintenance items like re-pave the carpark (which is full of potholes), renew the waterproofing on the roof (the top floor flats report leakage), repaint interior common areas like the staircases. The last time they did maintenance on the building was over 10 years ago so it’s good timing.

The building hired a consultant to manage this project, an RFP went out, responses were received and a shortlist of potential contractors came for an interview a few weeks ago.

The representative of the 6 units told us that their client (the anonymous property developer) wants only to do the absolute necessary mandated by the government inspection. They don’t even want to paint the exterior after it’s been patched. So the homeowners association is now split into two fractions. The “original” owners like us and an outsider property developer whose ultimate motive we suspect is to buy everyone out so they can tear the building down. If they don’t even repaint the outside walls the building looks terrible and people who may want to sell can’t get a good price from other buyers so this property developer can swoop in and get the flat cheap. That unfortunately is the MO of property developers and estate agents, I’ve never come across a more unscrupulous and downright distasteful industry.

Today’s meeting is to vote on what tasks to be done and to decide on the contractor. The original owners made the effort to contact every single owner to get them to come to the meeting or assign a proxy. It was important that we get more than 6 in order for us to have a say.

The consultant conducted the vote and as expected, the property developer voted against every item that was optional. Yes, even repainting the outside walls after patching. Luckily we still have a majority so most of the optional items passed.

Our group agreed that we need to come up with a viable strategy to protect ourselves. As time passes, more families may want to sell and as soon as the developer gets more than half the units, they will have complete control over what happens to the building. Any families still remaining will be in a disadvantageous position. Hard to believe owning a flat can get this political.

where to live in the uk

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Airfares to London are reasonable right now. Virgin return in november around £600. There are additional expenses too, like accommodation and transport. But it’s tempting.

I want to travel to a few locations around the country to suss out cost of housing and what it would be like to live there. London zone 2 is too expensive, even though it’s my first choice of where to live. Where sis and Rob have bought a house, in Chichester, a 2-bedroom new build flat is half the price of an equivalent 2-bed flat in W9. I want to check out Chichester, Brighton, and the coastal towns all the way up to Kent.

Then there’s further afield, which fills me with trepidation because that’s unfamiliar territory. The West Country and Wales. Up the A11 towards Cambridge. Even further away up the A1/M1 to Yorkshire. All the way to Edinburgh. Where can I live that will make me feel like home. Where indeed.

The guardian has ten autumn weekend breaks to lesser known towns and cities and some look quite interesting. Salisbury, Aberdeen, even…Richmond which made me scratch my head. I like the look of Bakewell, hard to get to Tregaron in Ceredigion (I had to google map it to see it’s halfway between Llanelli and Aberystwyth) and Hexham in Northumberland which they described as:

a criminally under-visited county

Back to London. Buzzfeed has a list of things to do this autumn in London including the Harry Potter 20th anniversay exhibition at the British Library, £31 two-course lunch at Galvin at Windows, £38 bottomless ramen on sunday including drinks and dessert Shoryu (or £5 ramen on sundays and mondays). And I’m missing hawksmoor a great deal again.

brooding

I’ve lived with this view out of my living room (East River, NYC):
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On this street (Chicago):
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And this (London):
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WIthin walking distance to this (Lake Zurich at Tiefenbrunnen):
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image courtesy flickr user eric andresen because I haven’t scanned my pics

Running distance to this (Belmont Harbor, Chicago):
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So why am I now a prisoner in a hovel of a room where two rooms-worth of stuff are piled on top of each other and there is no space to walk more than 3 steps. Pollution so bad I’ve needed antihistammine every day for the past 6 months. Always weary of dark spots in case there are undesirable visitors. No way out.

flat errands and happy hour

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Had to go back to the flat for a gas appointment. Every time the gas supply is turned on, off or transferred they send a technician to test it, free of charge. It’s a bother, but it’s safe. I turned the supply off after he left since no one will living be there for a while.

I probably need to do a little work to the flat. The main door hinge is broken and the wood pretty chipped so I may as well replace the whole thing. I’d like to redo the bathroom too but it may be costly. I’ll have a think think.

I was meeting sis for happy hour but there was a lot of time, so I stayed around to read. I only had my ex-tenant’s coffee table, but it seemed sturdy enough to sit on. Plus the beer and vitamin water he left behind were refreshment enough. The beer was mostly heineken so honestly not appealing but the vitamin water was good.

I was early getting to the hh place and they hadn’t started so I found myself at another place around the corner. They had a 2-for-1 deal which, in retrospect, wasn’t suitable because I had to finish 2 glasses of wine before going to the original place. Ah well #firstworldproblem. The hh place didn’t have any special deals, but they had canapes which made it a very popular location. They had small sandwiches, prosciutto, fried pumpkin and pasta. Enough to fill me up without needing dinner. Their wine selection was also much, much better than the around the corner place.

new look store room

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Mum’s friends introduced her to a part-time helper who can come once a week to help with household chores. We started with tidying the store room, aka the maid’s room that we have been using as store room. There is no ‘before’ pic because: a) I didn’t think of it and b) it was extremely horrible with stuff thrown all over the floor.

We threw away so much stuff! I’m so happy we can see the floor, albeit it’s 1960s style tiled floor. Most stuff we threw away are old or hasn’t been used for years. Organised other stuff that mum bought, put in a bag or box, and promptly forgot about it. That’s why we have so much toiletries, they were hidden in boxes and bags.

Next week, we’ll tackle the bridge and part of the kitchen.

organised socks

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One of the consequences of packing a uber bag is I learned about how to ranger roll clothes. It works with smaller items of clothing like thin t-shirts, underwear and socks. I’m not very proficient at rolling larger t-shirts, sweatshirts or jeans. I think it’s because I’m not rolling the initial parts tight enough so the end bundle is too fat.

I found out a way to fold socks that folds in the ankle then two simple folds. It’s different from ranger roll and results in a flatter end product. Barely takes up any space. I went through my socks drawer and refolded everything. Now it looks very neat. I’m very proud of myself.

for sale: castle plus house £550k

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Savills has the smallest castle in the UK listed for £550,000. It’s called Molly’s Lodge, a Grade II listed building in Long Compton in Warwickshire. Lots of pics at Country Living magazine. If it weren’t for the turret, it’d be a pretty stone cottage, not a castle.

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Inside, it has one bedroom, one bathroom, living room, dining room, kitchen and a metal spiral staircase. Beautiful gardens that has fruits, vegetables, herbs and a chicken run to be self-sufficient.

What grabbed my attention, aside from the prettiness of the exterior and modern interior, is that there is a second house included on the property. Can see it perpendicular with the castle on the top picture. Called Molly’s Mews it has a one bedroom flat with open kitchen, double garage and an office. Perfectly livable, and the castle can be rented out on airbnb for income. The price tag of £550,000 seems too good to be true, I guess it’s because both houses are just one bedroom. Can’t even get a decent one bedroom flat in London for that price.

sleep on the sofa

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A creepy-crawly flew into my room and even though we sprayed like mad, we can’t reach it. Hopefully the spray did the job.

I slept outside in the living room. I don’t mind, I like sleeping on my sofa; mm too, when she used to come over she’d fall asleep on the sofa as soon as she sat on it. In fact, I think I slept better on the sofa than my bed. It’s also much quieter on that side of the flat.

Lately, I’ve found it hard to fall asleep. Or I wake up in the middle of the night and can’t fall back to sleep at all. I guess I’m not alone. It’s likely sleep-onset insomnia, or I may have some negative associations with trying to sleep in bed.

It’s not ideal, to sleep on the couch. Softness of the cushions, the cloth material not suited to dissipate body heat, limited space to move are all factors that may affect the quality of sleep.

I’ll continue for a few more days, until mentally I’m okay with being back in my room. Soon it’ll get hot and I’ll have to go back to my room to turn the air-con on.

spring clean time

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Spring clean time.

Scrubbed the hob with the brillo pads and the steel sponge I bought at the ¥100 shop. The steel sponge has a regular sponge on one side and the other feels like smooth sandpaper. It worked magic with the stubborn stains that had been ingrained in the steel parts of the hob. I haven’t been able to scrub them perfectly shiny clean, they look pretty good though. Perhaps less surprising, the hob that I use most often is the cleanest and the one I hardly ever use the grimiest. May be the heat and flame get rid of the food deposits. If only the store had more than just one of the steel sponges available; on the shopping list for next time.

Changed bedclothes too, which is a feat of engineering because I have a ginormous and heavy duvet plus 5 pillows. And barely any room to manoeuvre around my bed. Tried out this rolling method for putting the duvet inside the cover and it does work. I have to get better at flipping the corners but it’s quicker, I’m definitely huffing and puffing less, and the top of the duvet fits better.

emergency go bag annual check

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Annual check of the emergency go bag. It’s pretty heavy but manageable if need be. Everything in order, added a bit more money. Previously I had USD22, GBP22. Added $10 and £10 respectively. Added € too. Everything has gotten more expensive and more money in an emergency is needed.

Switched out the teabags and chocolate for new ones that expire later. MRE is still okay. Still haven’t added shoes like I thought about last year. I figure, in an emergency I have to make time to grab wallet, phone and put on shoes. Worst case scenario, I’m at home I’m wearing crocs.

home stuff, bbmm with mum

Homeowners’ meeting this morning, to go through the work needed after our mandatory building inspection. External walls need to be patched, cracks on common area walls, broken windows, roof waterproofing, sewage pipes and all that. Quite a lot. The contractor went through the tender items and we will need to invite for tender. There are only 16 units and one company owns 5 so it’s not a big group. Couple of things I learned. First, charge an admin fee for contractors interested in submitting a tender, to filter out riff-raffs. Second, it’s so easy to get everyone’s agreement on common sense stuff. There isn’t enough funds so the management fee goes up. Other places will need a formal quorum, vote etc. We just all said, yeah, we’ll have to increase. It’s all for the building anyway.

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Lunch at home then met mm for tea with mum. Went to the pokka café so mum can try their hot chocolate. Fancy thick chocolate in a jug that she could pour over cream, and a container of marshmallows on the side. Less rich than the iced chocolate I tried at the other café.

With mum’s card, mm was able to get her shredder, coffee grinder, alarm clock and stationery. We bought a basket-full of snacks, toiletries and miscellaneous stuff.

It was already quite late. After looking on the restaurant app and calling a few places, we ended up at another ayce japanese place. This is for shabu shabu. Extremely cramped tables but we liked it because: a) the food was good and b) the service was fast and pro-active. The usual beef, pork, seafood, vegetables. We also had sashimi. Good value, especially for dinner. Apparently the place only opened a couple of weeks ago, so kudos to them for getting it right so quickly.

washing machine, happyhour, pokehunting

No office this week, I finished my project. Still went out early to walk around and explore a supposed seel nest. Only got 2 despite walking around for more than half an hour.

Then it was a long long wait at the flat for the washing machine delivery. First I had to disconnect the old washing machine and pipes because the delivery people only deliver. Took me about 10-15mins, had to figure everything out. After delivery, another 2-3hr wait for the technician to come and install it. He told me I could have arranged for someone to disconnect for a small fee. He was quite chatty, changed the socket and installed a filter between the outlet pipe and outside pipe to get rid of the sewage smell. All done at 4pm. Waste of a day. I hope the tenant appreciates it.

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Needed something to eat and some wine. Saw an italian restaurant, Al Dente, near the escalator with 2-for-1 happy hour between 3-8. I was the only customer there. Asked for the snack menu and then the waiter said chef isn’t here yet so i said okay, no problem. He was thankful I was understanding. The house chianti was nice. When the chef came back, I ordered the anchovy butter bruschetta. Didn’t realse it’d be 6 pieces! Ordered a second round of wine, which the waiter comped. I gave him a 20% tip on top of the 10% service.

The bruschetta was filling enough to serve as dinner, so I went to a new area by the harbour that saw 4 porygons one day last week. Didn’t get lucky, walked to the end of the path and back. Got some various pokemons, probably should have stayed longer. At that point, I’d walked 10km for the day so I wanted to get home.

washer, library, happyhour

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The tenant emailed to say there is something wrong with the washing machine, a puddle of brown water in the drum. It’s time to replace rather than try to get it fixed. In the long run, it’s better for my wallet and time. I went to the electronics shop and bought one that was fairly cheap with good functionalities and the longest warranty they had. Not a bad price $3600. Siemens.

Had time to wander around. Ran some bank errands, went to the library to look at travel NZ books and to make notes.

Was meeting mm and her brother for happy hour. We said between 5-5.30, I got there quite early at 4.40. But they didn’t show up till around 6, I was pretty annoyed. But nothing I can do. I can’t change her, she’ll always be late. I would have been sitting at another hh place myself anyway.

Dinner with her family. Sat with the nieces and nephew and they told us lots of jokes. Useful day.

flat maintenance, bbmm drive

Had to go to my flat in the morning to meet the handyman to sort out a couple of things. Apparently the aircon switch doesn’t work and there’s sewage smell in the bathroom and kitchen. The aircon didn’t work because the tenant had the unit in the off position!! I wonder if he’s ever seen a window aircon unit before, I bet in LA he has central aircon.

The sewage smell was due to stagnant drain. It’s the floor drain next to the bathroom that I never bother with. I’m supposed to pour water down it occasionally. So when the handyman did that, it solved the problem. I went out to the supermarket and bought a large bottle of disinfectant and now the bathroom smells nicer. The kitchen smell was due to the washing machine drain and the handyman told me to get some electrical tape and seal it off.

Met mm for lunch. Went to the DVD place and got The Fall s1 and 3, have to order s2. I wanted The Librarians but they don’t have it. Mum and I were watching over the weekend and looked interesting.

Grotty weather, drizzle and rain. We collected mm’s car that was at the dealer’s and drove out to the beach. Normally at the weekends it’s bustling. Today we were hard pressed to find a store that was open. Had ice cream and a beer. Walked around the village but retreated to the car when the rain got heavier.

Home for dinner.

utilities change name

Called up the utilities companies to change to my name. All different procedures.

Electricity customer service advised me to not change for another month. When the next bill arrives, call up to cancel the autopay and let the deposit pay for the bill. Then change name. I thought it was great advice.

Gas needed a fax or email with all sorts of certificates, include proof of relationship. Really? But then once I emailed it was done quickly.

Water took my details over the phone and that was it.

getting the flat ready

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Long, busy, tiring but productive day.

The fridge delivery people called at 12pm asking if I’ll be there in 20mins. Even though the arranged time is 2-4pm. I said no, it’ll take me an hour to get there. The cheek.

Mum and I took a bunch of cleaning materials (I took a big bag already on wed) and today’s aim is to clean the flat until it’s as clean as we can get it. Mum tackled the bathroom and I got started in the kitchen. After I finished the kitchen I washed the windows inside and out and mopped the floor. The fridge people came at around 2pm and I’m liking the fridge I bought.

The dry cleaner rang the bell mid-afternoon too. I expected him to deliver the curtains tomorrow but bless him he got it done today. Perfect, this means I don’t have to come back tomorrow. We spent quite a bit of time getting the curtains back up.

By 5pm we’d been working non-stop for more than 3hrs. Everything was done except we needed to get a drain filter for the bathroom. Tired already but we persevered. Walked to the nearby hardware store. It was dinner time so we had noodles and treated ourselves to dessert at this 100+ year old dessert place. Mum had almond soup and I had sesame soup.

Walked back home, got the filters in and final cleaning. We did really, really well today. Thanks, Mum for helping!!

rent, bbmm hunting chatting

A long, long, long day but productive. Went to the agent’s office first thing to sign the offer letter. Then I was going up to the flat and he kindly offered to drive me since he has to go do the inventory list. I took down the curtains while he was doing that and he offered to drive me to the dry cleaner’s.

I made my way slowly down the escalator and was in M&S when the agent called again. Did I have a spare key so the tenant can drop a few bags there? Sure, I said. They were meeting at Starbucks nearby so I popped over. Met the tenant, an analyst with a fixed income trading house specialising in distressed loans. Young, smart guy. He gave me the security deposit in an envelope of cash. I had to rush to the bank straight after the meeting finished.

globeleatherjacket globecarrotcake

Met Sis for lunch at the Globe. I had grilled leatherjacket, a white fish not unlike sea bass. Carrot cake for dessert and a glass of pinot noir too. Needed the rest and food.
Nice to chat and some things she said made me reflect and think of what I’ve been feeling and what I can do to help myself.

Bus to Ikea to get shower curtain and a towel for the tenant. His serviced apartment finishes on saturday and his shipment doesn’t arrive till October. I’ve been in his shoes. He asked for a towel, and it wasn’t expensive.

Met mm and bought fridge. Spent a while at the shop dealing with the fridge. Also saw this fabulous Bosch food processor that had both of us tempted. We were strong and decided to think about it hahaha.

Late tea / early dinner at toast box. We chatted and chatted and when we turned around it was past 6pm. Thought we’d walk around but ended up looking at the map and going after a kadabra, then a lickitung. Camped out at a gym to sneak in to get the 10 gold. Quick dinner at a food court, more chatting. It was almost 10pm. Went to the gym again to make sure mm gets her 10 gold, that was more involved, I had to fight to weaken the incumbent before she could sneak in.

Got home at 11pm, having been out since 9.30am. Still lots more to do in terms of flat.

someone wants to rent my flat

Conference call this morning was quite long, two hours. Got quite a bit done and discussed, so it’s all good.

Got an email in the afternoon that someone is interested in renting my flat. Yay!! I looked at the offer letter and agreed to it quickly. The rent isn’t as high as I’d like (it never is) but it’s been empty and in the long run it works out.

The tenant is a single guy who recently relocated from LA and he doesn’t have too many requests. Provide fridge, provide shower curtain and do cleaning. So Mum and I went to the electrical shop to look at fridges. I had one in mind but the salesperson suggested another one. Marginally more expensive but much bigger. Seems reasonable. I’ll go get it after the offer letter is signed and I have the deposit. Shower curtain from Ikea is no problem. I called up a cleaning company and their quote is astronomical. Mum and I will probably go ourselves.

sell old furniture

Some people came to look at our sofa set that we have been trying to sell for ages. These have been with the family for something like 40 years. Not exactly antique. We didn’t take them to the UK so they literally have been in the flat since they arrived. Parents took good care of them.

One three seater sofa, two armchairs, two side tables, one coffee table.

The people were buying for their new house, which is very damp so need to use these type of wood. They saw our dining table set and wanted it too. So we said yes. Price isn’t okay, I’m happy we got some money but I think Mum expected more. No one wants this type of furniture to be honest, you can’t pay me to take them.

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Cancelled my gas account, since the flat is empty. Went to the market, bought some veg. Made beef stew in the overnight vacuum pot.

Trying to go about normal life.

trying to sell more stuff

Continuing to sell stuff. Posted a bunch of stuff: small gift items, kit camera lenses, the camcorder that I never use, sellable clothes, small furniture and my tv. Most people were interested in the small items, not a lot of bite for furniture.

Someone whatsapped me about the tv and the convo that followed was bizarre, in full glory below. I don’t know if it’s fat fingers or someone dictating to Siri or using a translation input or simply poor English. I’m still scratching my head. The bad news is, I didn’t sell the tv although someone else came to pick up the free tv stand later.

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moving day

The movers showed up at 10am, and started packing the things I hadn’t. Plus wrapping the furniture in a mixure of large cloth and plastic wrap. Seems like for local moves there is no need to wrap furniture in cardboard.

Sis brought me lunch and watched as the last boxes were brought downstairs. The medium sized lorry was just not enough to take all items so they ordered a small van. There was enough space for me to go with the lorry, and I was also able to navigate.

Not a lot of space in parents’ flat. The intended space clearance was not successful. I was able to fit bedroom and study furniture in my room so at least that’s a plus. They piled boxes in any space available. A bit depressing, thinking about trying to fit everything in. Sigh.

running around day

A busy running around sort of day. Had to wait in the morning for a buyer for one of the microwaves to come by. The first interested party dropped off the radar ignoring me so I contacted the second person interested. She quickly sent her helper and we got the microwave in the taxi pronto.

Then took the useless printer, the old MSI netbook and a bunch of firewire external hard disks to the recycling centre. Those were the ginormous ext HDs that were 500MB, a big thing in their day. I’m too frugal to take a taxi so the netbook and ext HDs were in my backpack and I was carrying the printer on the bus.

Met mm for a quick lunch at a Japanese place. She had grilled mackerel and I had chirashi set. We caught up and it was good to just spend a little time together.

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Hurried back home, collected the dehumidifier, sled and lawn chair. Called a UberVan to take me and the really heavy stuff to sis’ place. I’m teenager sitting tonight while Sis and Rob go to a school parents’ event. In theory my niece is old enough to stay at home on her own, but I guess it gives Sis and Rob peace of mind when I’m there. I really only read, watch tv and cook dinner. Dinner tonight was vegetarian tray bake: potato, sweet potato, cauliflower, red onion, whole garlic, halloumi and olive. It was very nice, if I say so myself. And I got compliments from everyone, Rob even got second helpings when they came back from the meeting. Nice way to end the evening.

packing, getting ready for move

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I’m home to sell stuff, and to prep for the move. Throwing away as much as I can, I downsized a bit when I moved to London from Chicago (half the size for double the rent) and now it’s time to downsize even more. There is no reason one person should have so much stuff.

I asked the movers to deliver boxes ahead of time so I can pack; they’re doing that on Thursday. In the meantime I found some existing boxes and managed to start with packing. These boxes represent the contents of my 4 small cabinets and my desk.

In addition I threw away 4 rubbish bag full of useless stuff.

selling stuff

I’m going to move to my parents’ permanently. It’s not worth keeping my flat empty more than 50% of the time when it can be rented out.

Though in theory everything from my flat will fit into parents’ flat, it will be cramped. So I’m selling stuff. There’s not a huge second-hand market here, but Sis suggested posting on the local expat forum’s classified section.

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First to be posted are two sets of small cabinets that were bought almost 20 years ago. After 2 complete trips around the world, they are still in good condition. I posted the 2-drawer set and got responses within a few hours. Sold to the first person who contacted me. To the second person I said I have a 3-drawer set, will she be interested? Yes, so I didn’t even need to post it. The first buyer sent his maid over today and we got the units into a taxi for her to take home (they’re only 5 mins’ walk away). The second buyer will pick the units up next week.

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Thus encouraged, I will post more stuff this weekend. Microwaves (one from Switzerland, one from UK), candles, prints, chairs, two Ikea side tables, wireless router that has never been used. Not expecting a lot of money; every little will go towards the cost of the movers.

I remember an ex-colleague said she’s addicted to selling stuff on ebay. Now I can see why. I’m mentally going through the content of my flat and figuring out what else I can sell.

new york nostalgia

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.

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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.

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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.

monterey20plan

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.

 

$300,000 property

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.

furniture reshuffle

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.

home for a bit

fridge

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.

all technicians are late

hkhome019fridge

There seems to be some sort of universally acknowledged rule, that if you need to make an appointment for a technician to come to your home to fix something or to set up something like the internet, a) they can only offer you a vague, not useful time range; b) they are always late.

I spent the whole day waiting for someone to come fix my fridge. When I came back from shunde wednesday night, I discovered that the fridge and freezer had stopped working sometime between Monday afternoon and Wednesday night. The light was on in the fridge compartment so it wasn’t the power supply. For good measure I reset the fuse box of the whole flat. Nope. Everything in the freezer had defrosted so I had to throw most of them away, luckily I didn’t have ice cream that would have made a mess, or raw meat that would have smelled. I did however have some leftovers from the restaurant yesterday and some fruit that is barely surviving at room temperature. It’s hard not to have a fridge in 33ºC weather.

Anyway, the appointment was 1-4pm. I waited, and watched tv, and did a bit of TRX. 4pm rolled by, of course he hadn’t showed up. I called the service centre and was told he was still stuck at another job and it’d be an hour. Sigh. When will I ever get to be the 1pm appointment?

Almost 6pm and still no one. I called the service centre and no surprise they’re gone for the day. I called up the sales department and wouldn’t let them fob me off. I told them I was aware they were the sales department but if there was someone there who could help me please. To their credit, they found the appointment in the computer and rang the guy for me.

Technician showed up around 6.15pm. The fix took him all of 10mins. Apparently the timer on the thermostat flipped and was stuck at the off position. Argh. He also told me to leave an even larger gap between the fridge and the wall to let the heat dissipate. Strange, because my fridge isn’t in an enclosed space, but whatever. At least my food isn’t going to spoil anymore. There’s nothing in the freezer apart from dried food and film (35mm film, from pre-digital camera days) so I’ll have to do a mini shopping run soon.

the end of an era

I’m vindicated. There’s science behind why this 100% introvert doesn’t like speaking, can never come up with a witty repartee and generally has lousy comic timing (or any sort of interaction timing). Another thing I hate is phone calls. The stupid phone rings, and we’re expected to drop everything and respond immediately, without knowing what the other party wants. At least with caller display, we know who is calling.

I don’t do voicemail. Even when I was at work. I had to be subtle about it, but I managed.

24telephone

I was the first one in my family to ditch my landline. In London I was forced to sign up for a landline because BT bundles it with internet. I hardly ever answer the phone anyway, so landlines are useless to me. When I was in the mood and bored, I remember having a grand time winding up this PPI scammer who called, so much so that he hung up on me. Victory!

It’s truly the end of an era when this week, my parents cancelled their landline. Generally the older generations tend to hold onto older technologies because they are used to them. But as my dad said, when almost 100% of calls on the landline are telemarketers or estate agents, then it’s a waste of money to keep it.

My dad is a very very late adoptor of technology and even he has a mobile now, albeit an old nokia non-smartphone. I notice they still have the Pavlovian response to phone calls, mum gets all upset and uptight at missed calls, whereas my iphone is permanently on DND. Anyone who wants to reach me can whatsapp (no one uses text anymore). Even email is passé.

There a small tinge of sadness. We’ve had our parents’ number for over 40 years. Phone numbers used to be 6-digit, then 7, then 8. It’s a good number, but it’s time to let it go.

Now if only the government will pass legislation restricting telemarketing calls on mobiles, the world will be a better place.

small apartment moving walls: I’d live there

madridaptwals

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:

 

where shall i live?

oecdbetterlife2014

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.

i fixed my fridge

fridge

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.

murphy’s law vacation variation

busbreakdown201405

Of course, if something can go wrong, it will go wrong. Especially just before I go on holiday. Last time the fridge conked out, luckily there was enough time for the repair person to come, and it was just the fridge not the freezer. This is one time I’m glad we buy european appliances from a reputable dealer rather than from the high street.

Over the weekend, my hot water heater stopped working. It’d been raining very, very hard for the previous few days so moisture might have seeped into the heater and affected the pilot. The ceiling light next to the heater blew out too. Again, luckily the heater was from the gas company and I was able to book a repair appointment. Their earliest slot is on Tuesday though, so it’s been cold showers or going to parents’ place. It’s started to get warm, 30°C so cold showers isn’t a problem.

Then tonight as I was heading home, the bus broke down. The first sign was when it was turning from a side road to the main road and it slipped backwards. I didn’t think large buses had manual clutches — a normal car may slip when we don’t engage the clutch properly but I would have thought buses are automatics. The driver tried to start the vehicle multiple times, to no avail. We couldn’t have broken down at a worst place. The side road is narrow and connects from a large main road. It was useless to get off the bus, go to the next stop and wait for another bus because all the other buses were stuck behind our broken down bus. Not a great picture, but behind the #103 (our broken down bus) are all the others #23, #40 etc that could have gotten the passengers on their way. Luckily I was near enough home to be able to walk, even though it was 1.5miles, uphill, and it was hot, muggy and drizzling.

I got home, plugged into my mba and was greeted by a server error. No internet connection. What!?! The airport was on, network diagnostics showed wifi was working and connected. It was definitely not the wifi because both iphone and ipad worked. Seems to be a sporadic problem. Solved by shutting down and restarting. Phew.

Lesson learned: things will go wrong at inopportune moments. There is usually a silver lining though, so don’t panic (and carry a towel).

curvit shower curtain hooks

I hate shower curtains. They get icky and grimy and wet. They flow inwards and cling to my arms when the shower is on (there must be some physics that explains this). Anyway, I hate shower curtains.

In the absence of shower doors, because installing it will involve $$$ and a workman, I wanted to get a curved shower rod which gives more space in the shower. Problem is my shower rail is L-shaped, and I have yet to see an L-shaped curved shower rod.

Then I saw this idea on indiegogo, of shower curtain rings that pushes the curtain outwards to give more space. $35 for a set and $55 for two. Comparable to the curved shower rod with the advantage that existing shower rods can be used.

The project isn’t very well funded right now, less than 5% with 15 days to go. I wish there were more funders, then I’m more comfortable at putting my contribution in. Thinking about it.

happily indoors

geir031hut

Chicago is frozen and much of the UK is flooded. Here it’s been cold enough for 2 duvets and a fan heater. Today it’s almost t-shirt weather but I would still much rather be anywhere but here. I haven’t been outside since Friday, and I’m perfectly happy to stay indoors for days. I guess I don’t suffer from cabin fever a lot.

nano 2013: building a home

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.

old persil

swisspersilbox

Mum decided to clean out her place. It’ll be a gargantuan task because I don’t think she’s ever thrown anything away. She started with the storeroom and uncovered loads of clothes, decorations and stuff that needed to be trashed. There was also a box that appear to contain my stuff. Wow, things I wasn’t able to take with me to Chicago and have forgotten about — mostly small electronics like kettle, iron, stick blender. Plus a 3-pack of Persil. Yes, washing powder. Since the packaging is in German, it must have been from Switzerland, which means it dates back to 2001. Yes, 12 year old washing powder that my old-old company paid to ship across continents and sitting in a box at my parents’ place for 5 years.

It’s not money or action figures but hey, I was just running out and needed to get washing powder next time I’m at the supermarket so I save a buck or two.

pool invaders

poolinvaders

Remembering that I live next to the pool, sometimes I get disturbed by people and staff walking and talking outside. In the middle of the night, this couple decided to sneak into the pool. 12.30am. And the pool is closed, and covered as it’s only open at weekends during May. These two were smoking, drinking, kicking the water and chatting. I watched for a while, annoyed that they’re out there: I hate when people loiter outside at night and I don’t feel completely safe until they’re gone. But they weren’t doing anything, I lost interest and went back to bed.

p.s. yes, topless.

swimming

robroadpool001

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.

downsizing

nyc062room

I had this sudden thought in the middle of the night, that I don’t need an apartment this size. It’s 780 sq ft gross, which is small by UK and US standards but a good size here. I remember mm saying that I only used 1/3 of the space I had in Chicago, which was true. And now I have space left over in my bedroom and dining room that sits empty. Over the last 2-3 years I have gotten rid of a lot of stuff — went from 4 bookshelves to 1, gave away furniture, shredded old paperwork, binned loads of clothes. I still have too much, I think.

I wonder how it’d feel like to truly downsize.

There are a whole slew of websites and experience sharing out there. It’s not just about getting rid of possessions, it’s adapting a change in attitude. I guess in the beginning it may mean throwing more stuff away, or something small like planting herbs in window boxes. Then may be it will grow to something big like buying a smaller place and renting this one out (financial security is a must have). The end goal? Less noise in my head, more focus, less anger, healthy body.

clean and walk

sunrise007nikon

In the morning I did a fairly deep clean, the sort that involved dusting the top of cabinets and vacuuming behind furniture. More strenuous than normal cleaning; with all the furniture moving I was sweating up a storm. At least the flat is cleaner now. The new lighter floors means I can see every single speck of dust, which bothers me more than it used to. May be our standards of housekeeping change over the years.

Weather was nice, the sun was out and it wasn’t too cold. Went out for a walk, and ended up walking for over 2 hours. Went to this store called Gateway, which I think is trying to emulate Costco — they even have Kirkland branded stuff, bulk buy sizes of cereal and everything is displayed in a warehouse-like basement space. Prices are high though, higher than supermarkets, probably due to shipment. More attracting expats who miss home than bargain hunters. Things like A&W root beer, jello, cranberry sauce, steak rub seasoning that isn’t available at normal stores.

The rest of the day was spent watching a bunch of Man vs Wild episodes. My Sis gave me a flint and a credit card sized survival tool, she’s always on about survival in the wilderness. I keep thinking, it’s more likely that we’d need urban survival tools rather than in the wilderness. Like if there’s a natural disaster or alien attacks like in the movies. It is worth packing an emergency bag, time to do some research.

vinegar washing machine

18boring

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.

home renovation

homerenovation

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.

new oven

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.

fitting out

cleaning

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.

home

hkhome019fridge

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.

standing tired

standingtired

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.