March 31, 2010

Ultimate House Buying Irony

Growing up, my brother and I had to mow our rather large front and backyards. We had a drawing (not drawn to scale) depicting his assigned plot, and mine, and we use to bicker, fight and scream over who didn't mow the inch separating our plotted chores. I can swear, even to this day, that my plot was unfairly larger than his.

I use to hate, hate, hate mowing the lawn: having to pull the cord 10 times to get it started until the cord frayed, filling it up with gas that make my hands stink, pushing its heavy carcass along the steep sides, developing calluses and then blisters from the intense shaking of the misaligned wheels, and walking in the heat and sun for hours - enough for some good ol' fashioned dehydration and violent headaches to set in. And of course, the exaggerated drama of complaining each and every week.

Well the ultimate irony is that I went to pick up a reel mower from a guy in Virginia who posted it on craigslist. By myself. My parents didn't even make me do it! And this machine doesn't even have a friggin' motor!

What's gotten into me? Have I (perish the thought) become mature?

I can't wait to have kids to inflict this nightmare on them...

March 30, 2010

First Photos of my Newly Purchased Palace

This is what the seller of the house had to say about the house I just bought:

"Bring your ideas to this as-is home and make it the perfect home for you. It has a lot of great features to offer. View online photos and call."

Let me know if you would have made the plunge to bring your ideas to this as-is home. Not sure what great features he was referring to...

Living Room
I love uber-dark living rooms. My mom nearly fainted when I told her I was considering keeping the blood red, velvet curtains.

Kitchen + Den
This is the first part of the kitchen with stove, countertops, and cupboards...

And now, welcome to the second part of the kitchen (conveniently located in a den adjoining the first part of the kitchen). Say hello to your stove and fridge!

Staircase to Upstairs
This is a view of the staircase from the living room. Now that's what I call a giant vanity mirror!

More paneling. Classy.

View into the Dining Room
Oops, tiny leak from the upstairs bathroom. Let's just paint it over mom!

Master Bedroom
Sarcasm aside, the master bedroom is pretty cool. Not sure who came up with the brilliant idea of painting the wood floor two different shades of brown though.

Guest Bedroom + Crib Room + Den
Grandma's staying in the guest room! She'll be right at ease with the curtains from the 1970s.

The upstairs has a charming den with wood panelling. This is where I can envisioning smoking my future cigars. So sophisticated!

One word: Groovy.

Here's a close up of the skylight that the owner decided to close up. He then added a fluorescent light and cheap plastic sheeting. Please note the dark specks which are carcasses of dead flies and other interesting insects.

My friend calls this the "future billiard room".

So yes, this is the house I bought.

Thank you to Ammo for braving the creepy house to take these first photos!


Oh, and also, I bought a house.

It was a pretty arduous process, and maybe one day, I'll bring myself to write it all down. Took me 1 year to find it, 3 contracts that feel through, 2 months to close, 1 month to get the money to fix it up, and so far, 1 week at my parents house while I wait for it to be liveable.

A few recommendations when looking for a house (they seem basic, but trust me, many people don't follow these simple rules):

1- Don't Buy Above Your Budget

D'uh right? Well turns out millions of people boought houses that were way too expensive for their salaries, and ended up defaulting on their mortgage. Take me for instance. My monthly mortage is probably about $400 more than it should be. I have to get a roommate. No big deal... Except that my house is in really bad shape, so until it's liveable, I have to pay to 100% of mortgage by myself. Therefore, I am living with my parents (sorry mom and dad). This is not an ideal situation, and I obviously didn't take my own advice.

2- Get An Inspection

Not getting an inspection is like buying a used car, and not checking under the hood to see if there's a motor in there. Seriously, never, ever, ever buy a house without an inspection. It's not worth spending $200,000 - $600,000 and not checking on your investment. You're paying for it for 30 years, don't be an idiot, check it out beforehand.

I got 2 inspectors, and a termite inspector. And I'm still not confident with my investment :)

3- Don't Get An Adjustable Rate Mortgage

These are loans that cost you, say 4% per month in interest rate, but can be adjusted by your bank after a certain amount of time. So you pay 4% for the first year, and then... Surprise! the second year, your bank decides to charge you 10% in interest. That kind of sucks, and your monthly payment difference can be more than you can reasonably afford (especially if you're barely making your payments with the 4% interest).

4- Get a Realtor You Like

This is important because, when you're looking for a house, it feels like everyone's out to get you. Seriously, the termite man wants you to buy a warranty (even if there's not one termite to be found), your loan officer and realtor makes a huge cut from your closing costs, your contractor overcharges you to fix a leak, and your friendly neigborhood services provider reminds you that your tiny uncut plot of lawn can cured and cut for a monthly fee of...

Well you get the point. Many people's salaries hinge on your home purchase. So do yourself a favor and pick a realtor who can tell you the truth about houses (not just praise them), explains the process of home buying patiently, has time to show you around neighborhoods you like, and can recommend contractors/appraisers/inspector without pushing their services on you.

I started with an nice realtor who just didn't have enough time to show my places. She was often 30 min to 1 hour late, and obviously didn't know the more "up and coming" (sometimes downright ghetto) neighborhoods I wanted to visit. She would spend the first 10 minutes of each car ride speaking to her daughter on the phone in an annoyingly gushy baby voice (ok so that last one is not a deal breaker, but man was it annoying).

My current realtor was honest with me in letting me know what was a good deal, could sense when I was just forcing myself to settle on the wrong house, was encouraging when I lost bids on contracts, and was available to me by phone and by email for the most inane questions on home buying.

VoilĂ !

All things German

So, we have a family friend staying at the house for a few weeks, who's German. I never really thought much about Germany, save for those torturous hours in high school trying to learn the language of France's neighbors.

All of a sudden, every since his arrival, every article and conversation seems to talk about Germany. The Economist published a huge issue devoted to Germany, the Express yesterday had several funny vignettes about Germany, and my father was comparing the pros and cons of Germany cars this morning.

On a seemingly unrelated note, I receive a word a day from an online feature called "A.Word.A.Day." from This week's theme? All words borrowed from German. I swear, this is true.

Wednesday’s Word


(got-uhr-DAM-uh-roong, -rung)

noun: Complete destruction of an institution, regime, order, etc.

Thursday’s Word


(ray-AHL-paw-li-teek, ree-)

noun: Politics guided by practical considerations, instead of principles or ethics.

From German Realpolitik, from real (real, practical) + politik (politics).

Coincidence? I don't think so.

March 03, 2010

My sister's adventures in Wadeye, Australia - part 2

From my sister's latest email:

Hi guys,

So the university decided to pull me out (kicking and screaming!) of Wadeye. I'm pretty gutted, but I respect their decision. For the duration of my placement, I'll be working at an aboriginal clinic in Darwin. It'll be interesting to compare and contrast what I've seen there and what I'll see here.

While I was up there, I did an interview with my friend Marc about my first impressions. I thought you might find it interesting:

She has very interesting observations, check it out above!

March 01, 2010

My Funny Valentine's

Two top pictures taken by Ammo

So I thought my Valentine's Day would be sad this year, given that I've been single for longer than I can remember...

But instead, I went cross-country skiing with a friend in the Adirondacks. Unfortunately, it turns out that cross-country skiing is completely different from downhill skiing, and there was a lot of falling down involved. It was mostly OK, until the last fall, which felt like my bum dropped from 1,000 meters, straight onto a sheet of iron (turns out I fell from less than 2 meters on ice, but hey I'm entitled to be dramatic).

Fortunately, my friend braved the Emergency Room and waited for me while a reeeeally cute Physician's Assistant took me through to be X-Rayed. And checked out my bum. That's right, you read it right. A cute PA checked out my bum on Valentine's Day. And no, it isn't a script from "Day of Our Lives". This happened in real life! To me! On Valentine's Day!

The conversation went like this:

PA: [to my friend] Does your friend have a bruise on her backside?
Guy Friend: [Embarrassed shuffle, extreme staring at the floor, reddening face, followed by "..errrr"]
007 in Africa: Actually, that's my friend. I don't usually ask my friends to check out my bum. [Shamelessly] Do you want to see it?
PA: Yes.

So, my coccyx is broken and it hurts like hell to sit down, get up from sitting down, bend over or reach objects that are placed beyond my reach, but it doesn't matter. It's been the best Valentine's Day so far :)

PS: We drove back home a day early, and I've been sitting on my donut pillow (essentially a rubber, air-filled pillow in the shape of a donut) ever since. We got a gigantic piece of pizza, made some salad, and drank corked wine (that's me trying to driving the cork INTO the wine bottle - just my luck).

My sister's adventures in Wadeye, Australia

All pictures taken by Victoria

This is a recent email from my sister about her first week working in a clinic that serves Australian Aborigines in the city of Wadeye, in the Northern Territory, and her unfortunate experience with being robbed. She seems in the good spirits though.

From Wikipedia:

Wadeye (pronounced wod-air-yer) was formerly known (and is still often referred to) as Port Keats. The town is remote, situated on the western edge of the Daly River Reserve more than 200 km south west of Darwin, with road access being cut off by flooding during the wet season. Year round access is via light aircraft or coastal barge only. At the 2001 census, Wadeye had a population of 2,322.


Wadeye is mainly inhabited by Indigenous Australians. It is the largest indigenous community in the Northern Territory. The inhabitants include seven language groups, the main language that is spoken being Murrinhpatha.

It reminds of my time in the field, and I thought I would share her adventures…


Hey guys,

Sorry about the scare last night.

So just so everyone knows what happened:

I was woken up by my bedroom door creaking.

By the time I realized I was awake, I jumped up and ran to the front door-- which was wide open.

Then I started noticing things were missing: the TV, my pens, sugar.

Then I called [007 in Africa], who told me (very sensibly) to call the police already.

I called the police, they came over, with my TV in tow (found on the side of the street as they were driving over!)

Today I called University of Darwin to tell them what had happened. I also went back home and jimmied the lock... the door opened easily. Also my set of keys didn't include a key for the padlock. I called the university back, who said they're already sent a man to fix all of these things.

I also filed a police report. Everyone at the clinic was really supportive, and tonight I am crashing at a young nurse's house, whom I met and got along with really well over the weekend. If or when I go back, another nurse told me that I could borrow her dog until I feel comfortable (yay).

Soooo that's where everything stands with THAT. About the community itself, I am going to be a little lazy and copy and paste from another email that I've just written:

"I've been lucky here so far. I went to check out the footy [soccer] yesterday and met the village elder, who's invited me to go fishing today (it's too rainy though-- got to watch out for crocs, so maybe next week). The nurses and doctor at the clinic are truly phenomenal. It's so inspiring to see what they do -- for so many people -- with so little. It's funny; people who come out this far are either really great, or seriously sketchy.

I had dinner with some local white people, only to realize quite early on that although the wife was lovely, the husband was 1) Christian fundamentalist, and 2) exceptionally racist. Some gems of that evening include:

"Yeah [my wife] has been trying to learn the local language. Me, I couldn't care less. I don't think they should be teaching it at school at all. I mean, who speak Murrinh-patha anyway? It's useless. They should just speak English, it's the dominant language anyway."

(I stayed mostly quiet because I'd just landed in town and I was at their house, although I did mention that he should be wary of saying such a thing to anyone Polish, for instance).

Here's another local [friend 1] who set up the footy games 3 years ago. It's amazing how the town's changed since then; Wadeye use to be dangerous. I mean, it's still not rainbows and butterflies, but at least on the weekends everyone rallies around their teams, gets exercise, and has something social to do. They still do riot over footy... but far less than they used to riot over, well, anything. There are also some gangs in Wadeye, and a lot of the things we see at the clinic are fights over girlfriends and ex-girlfriends, in young adults. We also see a lot of sick, sick babies. And, of course, everything else: fractures, diabetes, foot sores, heart attacks...

[Friend 1] loves it here. He's been adopted--literally. He has a skin name and a totem and an indigenous mother.

As for the Intervention [name of the project] so far? I've heard mostly good things. It was bad at the beginning-- undoubtedly, especially for everyone who remembers the stolen generation-- but from I've heard said, there's been a real effort to speak to local elders, see what they feel is needed, and work locally. It's also poured in a lot of money in general, which was seriously lacking before then (the [Government from the Northern Territory] is pretty shocking). However, it has added a lot of bureaucracy and heaps more agencies, which can be a hassle. I'm keeping my ears open to try to get a better picture of what's really happened with the Intervention.


[007 in Africa’s sister]