Exercising Self-Control

>> Monday, July 31, 2006

I wasn't even supposed to be at work today. I took today and tomorrow off because I have tons of vacation time left and I am going to see Cirque du Soleil's Quidam for the fifth time tomorrow night. But the auditor is coming today and my CFO is scared shit-less, so she asked me to be here so I can help her if she needs any help, and being the nice guy that I am, I said yes.

Well, I gave all my Kobe Bouchee away this morning. I could have enjoyed every single one of them, ah... (exhale) I'm starting my diet today, ah... (exhale) I don't want to, but I have to. I got myself together and wrote down my meal plan for the next 27 days and I'm gonna share this on my blog as an oath to stick with it. Note that it is not my habit to have breakfast and I can easily take leftovers or go out and get myself a salad for lunch. So here goes:

Day 1: Pork and Cabbage -- Leftover Ingredients From the Okonomiyaki
Day 2: Chicken Salad with Apple, Pine Nuts and Blue Cheese on Spring Mix
Day 3: Cheese Burgers with Two Sunny Side-Up Eggs
Day 4: Water Spinach (Hollow Vegetables) with Garlic
Day 5: Mushroom Omelet
Day 6: Salmon Steak on Spring Mix, and Salsa Fresca
Day 7: Pork Chops with Cauliflower Gratin
Day 8: Chicken, Celery and Shiitake Stir-Fry
Day 9: Duck, Pecan and Pear on Arugula
Day 10: Garlic Chives
Day 11: Smoked Salmon on Spinach with Boiled Eggs, Tomato and Capers
Day 12: Western Omelet (Ham, Tomato, Pepper and Onion)
Day 13: Grilled Tuna with Zucchini and Yellow Squash Gratin
Day 14: Rib-Eye Steak with Asparagus and Salsa Fresca
Day 15: Wedge of Iceberg with Bacon, Pepper and Tomato, Blue Cheese Dressing
Day 16: Chicken Caesar Salad with Eggs and Black Olives
Day 17: Creole Beef (Celery, Pepper, Onion and Seasonings)
Day 18: Garlic Shrimp on Romaine Lettuce
Day 19: Pork Tenderloin with Cooked Iceberg
Day 20: Roasted Chicken with Broccoli
Day 21: Steamed Sea Bass with Shredded Zucchini, Carrots and Squash

Notice I will use some carb ingredients like tomatoes, carrots, onion, pears and apple, but I'll try to use less of them. There will be days that I would need to eat out and there will be days that I need to eat leftovers from the night before. So I guess this is okay for now. I really will need to improvise anyway. For snack, I got some mixed nuts and lunch meats and also some cheese. I also got tons of low carb diet ice tea. So, let's see how long I will last.


Last Meals Before My Diet

>> Sunday, July 30, 2006

I am planning to go on a diet for 28 days or actually 27 days. It would be the birthday party of someone close on August 27th, so my diet would end there. But before going on my diet, I need to fix my cravings first.

Growing up in Hong Kong, we had a lot of things around us that is from Japan. My mom was a big fan of the Japanese department store like Daimaru and Yaohan. I remember walking through the Hello Kitty section alert by the strange sweet plastic smell given out by the exotic stationeries. Growing up in Hong Kong, you can't avoid all the translated cartoons and comic books from Japan and, later on in life, video games. No matter Atari, Nintendo or Playstation, they are all made in Japan.

So I went to New York yesterday to get my fix before I get into my diet program. It's like going to war or something. It's not like I'm dying and it's only gonna be for a little less than 4 weeks, but you know... I've been contemplating between three different meals:

First, I really wanted to go to Ajisen and get myself a good bowl of "Tenderous Ribs Ramen", I take it with additional corn and egg. The ribs is stewed in soy sauce, brown sugar and ginger for a long time until it becomes soft and the bone almost gelatin like. It comes with a nice pork broth and teeth-bouncing ramen, not your instant noodle kinda crap. Less than $10. That's good eat, y'all.

Second, I really wanted a nice bowl of "Scholar" congee and a small plate of soy sauce fried noodles from Dai Wong. It's something that I always loved and since I've reached New York where the food is a lot better than my town, I figured I should get it while I can. Some people will shun "Scholar" congee and it is an acquired taste. But once you are used to the idea and the taste of it, you won't want any other kind of congee, I swear.

Third, I really wanted to go to Matsushima over at Mitsuwa and get myself a great bento box. It looks like a bento box but it is so much more than that. There's vegetable and shrimp tempura, a root vegetable stew, different sashimi, sushi and roll, salmon teriyaki, seaweed salad, miso soup and salad and it also comes with a view of the whole Manhattan and the Hudson. For $40, it's well worth the price.

So I settled for the ramen, and then went to Mitsuwa Supermarket in Edgewater. The place is like a holy land for us Asians. The little parking lot they have is always full of cars. It attracts people from an 150 Miles radius, people like me would travel 3 hours distance just to get there. After the Ramen, I wasn't hungry anymore but I still had a chocolate parfait anyway. It's whipped cream and chocolate syrup on top of vanilla ice cream more chocolate syrup and cornflakes in the bottom.

As for shopping, I got some cabbage, pork and two okonomiyaki kits to make my last meals before the diet. Also I got a few onigiris to tie me up. I got a box of 15 Kobe Bouchee and 8 Kobe Financier from Kobe Fugetsu-Do with the intention to share them with my colleagues. I still don't have a clue of how I can do it logistically. Since these pastries have liquor in it and there's alcoholics amongst my colleagues and I probably don't have enough to share. They cost me $2 a piece and they are the most phenomenal pastries I've ever had in my life. I already had 3 Bouchees and a Financier. The rum raisin pastry cream in the Boucher is sandwiched with the light-as-air, powdered sugar "muffin tops". The honey buttery Financier is like a regular pound cake the size of two fingers, but yet the taste is so much richer.

I'm going through my collection of Mr. Ajikko again, that's probably why I had those cravings to start with. The cartoon that inspired Iron Chef has inspired me to make Okonomiyaki at home. Tomorrow, I'll try to get rid of the remaining carbs I have at home. I hope I can lose some weight.


Tell Me If You Don't Find This Ridiculous

>> Friday, July 28, 2006

You know, ever since I have my own blog I have been kinda obsessed over it. Everyday I thought to myself: "What should I write about today?", it certainly added some context to my, otherwise, empty life. I drag along my laptop to random coffee shops and type away for hours at times. The staff there don't mind, I make sure I get a cup of tea or soda every so often, and usually they are not that busy anyway.

Every morning, I wake up, get ready for work, I have a habit to turn on the TV, see how the weather will be and then turn to NBC for their Today Show. I like their Today show because of the short segments they have, it's short, concise and to the point; it works for people with ADD like me. Sometimes, they even have some great singers, like Tony Bennett, Alicia Keys, Mary J. Blige, performing live for them. It's like a concert and I don't have to pay.

Well, this morning I was watching the show again and saw a segment and I thought: "Bingo! Blog material!" Don't get me wrong, it's not something as outlandish as mummies coming alive, but they are selling packaged ice. It's not those one two dollars a huge bag kinda deal. They are selling it in nice little plastic trays with spring water inside for $5 and you, my fellow consumers, are suppose to put them in your freezer and wait until they solidify. So they sealed them up with a lid and give them names like "Aqua Ice" and "True Blue", big f#@king deal. I can buy a bottle of spring water and make ice with it and I would still have save a couple of dollars. Are they kidding me with this? And yes, the ice is in water form when you purchased them. The whole concept is just so stupid that I wonder why haven't I came up with it first. And I'm sure there'll be a bunch of assholes buying these "liquid ice" and stick in their freezer. Give me a break, just give me a break!

I mean, they came up with canned mountain air a few years ago but this is taking it a little too far. Mental note: My next project is to manufacture a spring-water-toilet-flushing-system and make a bundle out of it.


Saving My Jaw Line

>> Thursday, July 27, 2006

I started growing a beard 4 years ago, when I went back to Hong Kong for the first time after I left. I forgot to bring my shaving kit. And since I was only back for a little more than a week, I didn't care. It suited me, I wanted to look carefree and it added a little maturity. Without it, I looked like a kid. I was just promoted to be a director in my company, some facial hair certainly helped me especially when I was talking to my clients. It makes me look more authoritative, you know.

When people asked me why I grew a beard, I told them it was for sentimental value. It's sort of like a souvenir from HK for myself, it reminds me of my friends and also signifies how we have all grown up and began the next stage of our lives; careers, marriage and children. Of course, that's the gist of it. But then, there are always another side to the story...

I was skinny as hell growing up in Paris. After my mom passed away, I moved back to HK to live with my grandma and uncles. She experienced WWII, so it is her belief that we should eat while we have the chance. She trained me to finish everything on the plate. I was basically the "trash can", whatever she can't finish, she forced it down my throat. Not before long, I was overweight. Now, I'm a tall guy so it doesn't show that bad. But from years and years of living with my grandma, I got brainwashed into feeling guilty if I can't finish what is in front of me. Til' this day I can still hear her saying about "The starving children in Africa." I honestly don't know how I helped them by eating everything in sight. "If there's a war happening here now, you won't have anything to eat and then you'll know!"

I thought by escaping my home in HK, I would be able to control my own diet but then somehow I learned how to cook. They say you gain 15 pounds when you go to college, because you are eating junk all the time. They called it the "Freshmen 15". Let's say I've gain more than that. I was 175 pounds in my high school years, now I'm at least 50 pounds heavier. My jaw line is slowly disappearing, my stomach is growing to be a perfect round. I've tried going to the gym, but I'm not motivated at all. I keep gaining muscle weight and the cardio is driving me crazy. I need some brain stimulation and being on the treadmill is so boring that I keep on doing stupid calculations of steps vs. calories vs. time so I go completely berserk.

The only thing that seems to work is Atkins, I've been on it before for two weeks straight, I lost 10 pounds. Of course, I go through sugar cravings and carbs cravings, it has strange effects on my digestive system and I gain them all back when I sink back into the chocolatey goodness, but it worked. So that's what I'm gonna do for the next four weeks. No rice, no noodles, no breads, no sugar, no fruit and no root vegetables. No soda or juice. Just regular vegetables, preferably greens, and meat, fish, cheese and eggs. Although if I'm having salads, I'd like to have a little bit of tomatoes and dressing. I know it's kinda against the rules but I need something to take my mind off the greens. I'll try to choose some low carb dressing like blue cheese or Caesar. I'm gonna start on Monday and I'll try planning the menu for the whole month so I know what I'm doing and not stray too far from this plan.


Mother Goose

>> Wednesday, July 26, 2006

There's a young mother working in my office that keeps inviting me to have dinner with her family and I'm trying to find every excuse I can to decline her invitation. "I'm on a diet!" I said. I'm not even making an effort to lie anymore. I find her annoying. She has made every decision in her life just because she craves for attention. I get annoyed easily with people like her. She likes to tell people stories that she finds funny and interesting while fails to deliver. In meetings, she tries to give you her opinions in any issue but then she'll start rambling on and on until finally she forgot what her point was. Four years ago, she married a Chinese guy then they had two children. She brings them to work and breast-feeds in front of everybody, comes to work only when she feels like it and leaves early. Her children are in an age that they run around our office. Noe, she brings them to meetings, so they can scream and yell and disrupt everybody. But yet she acts like it's normal and children are supposed to yell and scream. While I don't debate that is what children do and mothers should spend time with their kids, I do dislike the fact that she brings them not only to work but to meetings, and some important meetings where our clients and work partners attend. Her boss is an idiot, so that's why she gets to do that and not get fired in the process.

When I first met her, she wasn't like this. She was this little single, considerate Russian girl. It shows what marriage and kids will do to you. We used to hang out with his now husband and do dinner parties at her place. I was the one who cooked all the time. Her husband went through a phase that he had absolutely no income, and was building major credit card debts and nearly had to move out the place that they were living. Yet she insisted on buying the most expensive clothing and strollers for her kids, because she had a tough life and now she wants to make sure her kids have the best. I can understand that but she needs to live by her means, I'm sure her kids life will not be that great after the credit card companies repo those stuff and they have to live in a tiny place because they have bad credit and needs to sell the place that they are living in. But it's her life, I can't teach her how to live it. It's just kinda messed up, that's all.


The Uniter, The Divider and The Decider

>> Tuesday, July 25, 2006

"I'm a uniter, not a divider." George W. Bush described during his presidential campaign in 1999. I forgot what he was referencing at that point of time, but he may not be wrong at all. Well, he is further dividing the country into the rich and the poor; fading out social security and medicare, granting tax cuts for the rich. He is dividing the country to pro-religion and pro-choice; retracting abortion rights, refusing to legalize gay marriage, claiming god spoke with him to initiate the war on Iraq, disregarding science and even human evolution. He also managed to drive the country into intellectuals and blind followers; attack Iraq for 9/11 when fifteen of the nineteen hi-jackers are from Saudi Arabia. Did the States asked the richest country of the world to explain why? No, we need their oil. When the Dixie Chicks spoke out against the president and pointed out that Americans should not blindly follow the administration and not questioning the facts, they became the traitors. Well, f@#k you Toby Keith. A public apology to admit that you are the stupid red neck that we thought you were would be nice. If anything George W. Bush has managed to unite, he managed to unite the whole world against the United States. He managed to make the whole country feel like they were duped.

He's current approval rate is 35 percent. That makes you think, doesn't it? How do they get this approval rate? Nobody I know were surveyed about this. What population composes this 35 percent? Military freaks? Homophobes? Bible thumpers who are too scare to find out humans came from apes? I have a colleague who's an environmentalist, an alcoholic and a swear by the book republican. She's our CFO. There's no way I can convince her that there's something wrong with the administration right now, she won't hear any of it. She argues that if John Kerry or Al Gore had been the president, it wouldn't have made a difference and only industries (Republicans) can have the power to help the environment, while individuals (Democrats) can't do much by themselves. If that's the only choice we have (or you have, I don't consider myself American yet), I'm scared.

But I do think anything is better than George W., Watching him on TV is like watching North Korea's Kim Jong-Il. Let's see how big of an idiot can he make himself into this time. I'm not from here and still I get embarrassed. How can you Haliburton contracts of everything when you have heavy ties with that company? How can you not be responsible for ignoring warning signs of September 11 and ignoring the evacuation procedures for Katrina? How can you have a deficit and still giving big tax cut and hope for the "trickle down" effect? This president has failed his country for so many levels and yet he has got a 35 percent approval rate? Approval for what? This country deserves better.

I do think in order to become the president, they should at least get an IQ and an aptitude test. Hell, if I need to go through exams after exams and my university is not even offering me a job. Now we are rounding up immigrants and sending them back home, holding a child or two on camera to speak against stem cell research. Everything is a press opportunity, everything is a prop, and all for the wrong reasons. Where's the dignity? People should be mad as hell by now, but there's no consequences to his actions. And that's why I'm never fond of politics and politicians. Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.


The Mirage that is Sixty-Six Million Dollars

>> Monday, July 24, 2006

Every year around my birthday I buy a lottery ticket, thinking someone in heaven will reward me for being a good boy again for yet another year. It's like making up a list before X'mas, hoping that Santa will forgive the bad things I've done during the year and give me something nice.

So I bought a ticket Friday after work. For me, it is not about winning, really. Of course, winning would be nice. But for a measly $5, I get to imagine what I'll do when it does pay off. It's far more entertaining than a movie. I don't even have to be educated to know that my odds are against me. Then, every math course I have ever attended, the professor always spend a little time to tell you what the odds are for winning the lottery. Last time I check is around, 14 million to 1. But I always thought that if somebody has to win it, why not me? You can never win if you don't play, you know.

To extend my imagination, I would intentionally not check the results. It was suppose to draw Saturday night and I still didn't find out the winning numbers yet. Deep down, I know that I have wasted another 5 bucks. But it's fun to imagine. Hell, I'm not even an U.S. citizen. If my number does match (cross my heart and hope to die), I'm not even qualify to claim the prize. I would have to find somebody else to claim it and then I'll have to share it with that person. That is, if he doesn't grab my ticket and run. I already made a pact with my friend, if it ever happens he'll claim it for a quarter of the winnings.

As long as I don't check the numbers, I can think about how to spend it if I had won. Again, that's what I paid my money for. The jackpot this time is for something like $110 Million, given if they pay you part of it every year for the next 30 years. (Now come on, who wants that really?) If you want it paid all at once like I do (and every sane person in the world would!), you'll get $66 Million. After paying tax, it's probably around $44 Million.

I would immediately hire myself a lawyer, and accountant and a financial adviser. Pay off my student loan. Spend $2-4 Million to buy myself a house or a loft in the city. (The real estate has recently inflated) Give my grandma a quarter mil for raising me, give my three aunt and two uncle each a hundred thousand. Give the uncle whom I hate fifty thousand dollars. Help my friends out if they need help paying their mortgage or get them a car. I will go back to school, study culinary arts and restaurant management and opening up a nice restaurant according to my idea. Of course I would be in charge of it, but then I would go to school to fulfill my other interests and potentials like photography and various arts.

I would be use about $15 Million to acquire a property by a beach to be my summer home. The rest, say another $15 Million, half of it is going to savings or IRA and the other half would be used to invest for my retirement. I had known the potential of Yahoo and Google or even Martha Stewart when they first came into the stock market. If I had money then, I wouldn't be thinking about buying lottery tickets now.

So that's my $5 dollars for you. Thinking about who to give money to and who to not give money to because they treat you one way or the other. I am still thinking about whether to check the results or not. It's like mental-masturbation. It's the best 5 bucks I've ever spent, really.


Born In The Cancer-Leo Cusp

>> Sunday, July 23, 2006

Some of my friend would shun me right now to bring up such a superstitious topic. But I have always been intrigued with these superstitious things. How can you tell people's future or even put people in different categories just because they were born in a certain time or look a certain way? The theories maybe too hocus-pocus and raggedy-ass (forgive my language), but just the fact that there are theories like that is intriguing. Humans are always trying to explain the unexplainable.

Us Chinese has the Chinese Zodiac, twelve different animals each represents a different personality for people born under the corresponding year. Details can be found in every American Chinese restaurant. An interesting read, really. I'm under the sign of the Rabbit, like everybody else born in the year of 1999, 1987, 1975, 1963, etc... It's supposed to be the luckiest sign in the Chinese Zodiac. The rabbits are supposed to be kind and intelligent. Not much bad things are said about the rabbit, so I can enthusiastically admit that I am one.

When I was 6, my mom went to a Chinese "astrology" master with me in Paris. These masters usually can do a few things. Based on your date and time of birth, they can “calculate” your life for you. They can read your palms and your face and tell you your past and your future. They can also come to your house and rearrange your furniture based on your time of birth to maximize your “Chi”, so you can live a better life. The master told my mom that she will encounter a big health crisis when she turns 37 and if she can escape that trouble her life will be an easy street. My mom died when she was 35. I was bugging him for a reading of my own, my palms didn’t have much lines to speak of during that time, in fact, my life line didn’t grow until after I was 18. “It is not decided yet”, one of my Taoist grandaunt said. During that time, the master said I would encounter a “cherry blossom theft”, which means that my future love interest will rob me blind or marry me for my money and leave. He also said for me to be careful when I cross the street or I’ll be run over by a car. I wonder if that’s why until this day I still can’t drive.

If you go to any of these life-calculating masters, they will tell you more of less the exact same thing given that you gave them the same date and time and place of your birth. Funny fact, they count from standard Beijing time, if you were born in New York then you’ll have to add 12 or 13 hours depended upon whether it is the months under daylight saving time. According to the Chinese, there are five basic elements that make up everything; Metal, Wood, Water, Fire and Earth. They benefit each other; Water creates Wood, Wood creates Fire, Fire creates Earth, Earth creates Metal, Metal creates Water. They also eliminate each other; Water destroys Fire; Fire destroys Metal; Metal destroys Wood; Wood destroys Earth, and Earth destroys Water. My life is based on Fire and lacks Water, the master says. When my uncle visited two years ago, he asked his friend to re-calculate my life for me and based on a basic floor plan of my apartment, his friend suggested me to paint my apartment red (fire) and put my bed on a diagonal angle. While I don’t object painting my place red like a heavy cocaine addict would, but putting my bed in a diagonal angle in an already small apartment is the stupidest thing I have ever heard.

I’ve been to a tarot reading with a former colleague of mine two years ago. It’s one of those restaurants that featured a tarot night on Mondays by a reader named John. I had hoped that at least he would call himself Juan or Ricardo or Mr. Creole for a strange convincing flare but he’s white and worse… blond. I didn’t ask him any specific question and he did not tell me anything exciting, so I guess I should stop buying lottery tickets. In no way he can predict the future as accurate as my mom’s master, but he sounds like a psychiatrist giving me advice in life. It’s not black magic, but it could be helpful in a sense.

The whole thing about astrology is pretty much a self-fulfilling prophecy. I was told that I’m born on July 23rd at 2:00 am, most magazines put my birthdate on the Leo side and some put my date on the Cancer side. When I grew up I thought I was a Leo, so growing up in Hong Kong I developed some Leo traits. I was the self-proclaimed leader of my pack, I’m never afraid to give my two cents on every matter, I was socially active, basically a loud mouth. Now, I take hospice in my home, I cook, I stay home building and protecting my nest… all the traits of a Cancerian should have. But then I cleaned the dishes every night, so I could have been a Virgo, I’m dependable like a Taurus, I’m fair like a Libra and I can be sensitive like a Pisces.

If there’s a point to this, I wish to show more of my Leo traits in the future. I think I shine best when I’m outgoing and sociable.


The Last Days of Being 30

>> Saturday, July 22, 2006

Time goes really fast. I can still remember the summer I spent with my uncle and his sun catching snails (escargots) for dinner after the rain in the southern province of France, or the countless bus trips throughout Europe that me and my mom shared. I can remember walking with my friends one New Year's Eve along the waters of TsimShaTsui East or the night we spent in an arcade gallery with my other friends blowing our allowance on those fighting games and shooting games. I was never good in competing, I always go for those quiz games and mahjong games where I play alone. I'm an intellectual type, you see... (Haha... laughing at myself)

I turned 18, then 21, then 25 and last year around this time I turned 30. When I was asked to write those "When I grow up, I want to be..." papers in primary school, I never had a clear image of what I'm going to be. I was going to be a cop one year, just because I didn't know what I wanted and a policeman seemed to be the right thing to say. I was gonna be a singer (lol) another year, the teacher wrote me a comment and told me to be realistic. I'm an IT director now, yippee.

They bought an ice cream birthday cake for me yesterday at work. They sang the song, I made a wish, blew out the candles and cut the cake. My birthday is not until Sunday. One of my colleagues brought her two granddaughters Diannah (dee-annah) who is around 8 and Shaiann (shy-N) who is 4. They drew me 4 birthday cards with crayons and lots of Disney-princesses stickers on them. (Lol... as if...) I was touched. Shaiann looked at me all googly-eyed the whole day. I think she must be really excited for me, because it was my birthday. I used to think that when I was small, just because it is my birthday I'm the most special/important person in the world. I wanted to tell her it isn't so, but I was too stunned with the fact that a little Boricua is actually excited for a Chino. At some point in a person's life, birthdays will become less and less significant. Less, it becomes a mockery of all the thing that the person should have achieved, but hasn't. I thought I would have owned a home by now, if not, at least realizing some of my dreams or potentials. I thought I had so many talents.

My colleagues took me out to a Chinese-owned Japanese Restaurant that I liked and then my best friend took me out for dinner in a nice Hawaiian-themed restaurant. They know I like to eat and I did enjoyed myself. It's nice to go out sometimes.

Do I feel older? I felt a lot older when I turned 30 last year. Now, I'm here in a coffee shop working on this blog. It's raining outside. Sitting in this chair, sipping my Darjeeling, looking at the light coming from the street, I feel kinda of content.

...the rain is slowing down, I can't wait to get home.


The Coffee Break Accumulation

>> Friday, July 21, 2006

So, I've been thinking about my future. Rare, I know... but I've got to think about it someday. Owning a house would be nice and I also got this concept for a restaurant that I think would work. But since I don't have the capital or much savings to speak of, I've got to find out how I can realize my dreams.

I've been keeping tracks of my financial spending, after my efforts all I found out is that I do spend a lot. I think in some subliminal it changed my spending pattern. I'm not the person who spends all he earns anymore, and I quit buying extravagant gifts for my friends and colleagues on their birthdays and such. (since there's not much reciprocity going on) Honestly, I think keeping tracks of my finance is how I manage to have some savings in my bank account. Although, it is nowhere near how fast I want it to grow.

From my college years, I have accumulated some credit card debts. Although it has all been paid off by now, I have gotten through some hassles along the way. I imagined my credit score to be extremely horrible, but last year when I checked I was surprised to find out that my score is in the average, around 650-683. I understand now that if I want to own a business or a home in life, I will need to depend on getting a loan from a bank, and that largely depend on my banking and credit records, some things that the credit card application assistant with the tiny free radios standing on the side street of my campus failed to mention 7 years ago. After learning the lesson with the credit cards, I cut them up and stopped using them altogether. But now, if I want to improve my credit scores for my future's sake I must start using them again.

Saving money seems to be the other way to go. Somebody like Albert Einstein has said that he couldn't believe accumulated interest is an amazing concept. A sum of money goes untouched in the bank for decades will accumulated into a very large sum. I think it that largely depends on the interest rate, and how frequent the interest is accumulated, and the trick here of course is for you to not touch it.

There is an advice that financial consultant always give out to people and they often use coffee as an example. If you have a habit of spending $4 each day on a mocha-frappa-chai-whatever, and if you abandon this habit and just drink water (which is better for you anyway), you'll be saving $4 a day which will amount to $1,000 - $1,400 a year. Cigarettes would be another good example. You don't even have to quit that habit, reduce the frequency would help too. I'm thinking what kind of habit of mine can be reduced to save money. Dry cleaning would be one of them, I spend an average of $20 per week on dry cleaning. Although, I don't enjoy ironing clothes. Taking a cab to work is another habit of mine, I should just wake up earlier and walk to work, it's just a 25 minutes walk, I can use the exercise and it's an extra $6 everyday. Maybe I should stop drinking soda and juice with my meals, I don't do that often. I bring my lunch in most of the time, I only buy a bottle of tea when I don't bring lunch. So potentially, I can save anywhere from $2,500 - $3,200 a year from changing these habits.

I guess I better start applying for a credit card. Maybe something that would give me mileage or points for hotel rooms. I don't think I'm going anywhere, but at least there is some incentives to it. Who knows? Maybe further down the line a bank would like my idea and give me a loan. Maybe I'll own something nice for a change.


The Time, The Place & The Person

>> Thursday, July 20, 2006

I've been in the States now for almost 10 years. I first started out going to school in Rhode Island, and for my graduate in Pennsylvnia, found a job and stayed with it for the past 5 years. My employer was kind enough to sponsor me for a working visa, and we have been working sparsely together to get me to the way of a proper green card.

Along the way, I have my doubts of whether I really want to be an US citizen. I always thought Americans are pompous and in some ways naive and selfish, also I grew upset with a government that made decisions based on lobbyist contributions, which to me it does not differ far from corruptions. But then, what country would allow me to be the person I want to be? What neighborhood would give me the space that grants me peace and privacy? I long for Hong Kong where my friends are, where things are modern and exciting, but then my family is there and the limited space I can own would drive me insane. Should I go to France, where my estranged father and his family are, learning back my now forgotten French so I can roam in complete isolation? I've been to Canada a few times and it is a very nuturing environment where everybody seems so much nicer, but is it just because I was a tourist? Can I really pay 50% tax in exchange of a better quality of life? Should I even consider Argentina, where my prospect of a love life may one day returns and resides? And I thought I already have experienced all the culture shock one person should endured for a lifetime. Although I claimed to have a talent in learning languages, I doubt that I have the patience for a developing country. Am I too old to start anew?

I went to my immigration lawyer yesterday with my boss to discuss my application for a green card. My ex-lawyer wasn't responsive enough, she has been dragging me along for years beating around the bushes, not returning e-mails or phone calls. She likes to see herself as an extremely important and unavailable person. She get her stuff done, but on her own schedule and she certainly don't have time for me. But then I'm not her boyfriend, so I hired somebody else. My immigration lawyer now was recommended by my other lawyer friends. My friends gave me a list of 12 reliable lawyers, his name was on top of the list. "He's good, but it comes with a high price tag." They warned me. My company is paying for it, so I didn't care. This guy updates me every single week, reliable guy really, experienced and know every single law changes within the week of the change. I don't think I can get anyone better than him. The drawback? When we meet he only looks at my boss, seldom address me directly. Maybe because my boss is paying him so he think my boss is his client instead of me, maybe he's a racist. But if he gets me a green card, he's my best pal.

First, I need to get a labor certification which takes 4 months to get ready and, on average, 3 months to process. Then, we can proceed to a petition and a green card application, which takes 6 to 12 months to process. So we're talking about 19 months in total. I asked him whether I can change jobs and how long I have to stay with the same organization. He told me if I get a similar position then the application won't be affected and he also says the employer is acting in good faith to get me the green card, so although it is not legally binding, it'll be nice if I at least stay for a year. I did ask him right in front of my boss though. They are not good questions to ask, but I did because I need to know these things. I don't have much loyalty with this organization, sure they are nice enough to me, but there's too much stuff going on that I can't agree with and it's my belief that I will have a better future or at least compensation, if I go elsewhere. But for the next 19 months, I will endure. I'm not saying that I will stay here, at least not this city. But then I have made so many acquiantances here, it will be hard if I left and have to rebuild my social circles again.


The Measure of Being A Friend

>> Tuesday, July 18, 2006

A friend recently wrote me an e-mail thanking me for being there for him when he's going through a difficult period. He was trying to get an apartment for him and his girlfriend and paid half of his down payment in a rush because the place he found was highly sought out. He was depending on his mom to help him with the rest but did not tell her in advance that he needs the money or that he was gonna move out for that matter. Understandably the mother was quite upset and refuse to help him out, and of course he got upset as well finding that his own mother would not help him and that he will lose his down payment if he could not come up with the other half. And so he turned to his friends.

Most of his friends did not offer to help him, or maybe they couldn't help him. We are not talking about a small sum of money. We, collectively, are in our late 20s and early 30s. If we are talking about savings, I doubt we have much to begin with. So I can understand why no one offered to help, besides, most of them are thinking about marriage and owning their own homes, so I couldn't possibly fault any of them.

When my friend came to me, I did offer to help him. I'm an only child and he is like a brother to me. We went to the same school together. I was there when his dad pass away, and he was there whenever I feel down. We see each other nearly everyday including weekends and holiday. He plays a huge part in my childhood/teenage period. Although I don't have much, I offered my help, but at the end his mom changed her mind and helped him out. And I'm glad she did.

Now, he feels offended and betrayed by his friends. In his e-mail to me, he's questioning why these people called themselves his friends when they won't help him when he's in trouble. Like I said, everybody has their own life and situation to take care of, it's not that easy to help somebody when you don't even know if you can take care of yourself. Friendships cannot be measured by money, thoughts should count. I think I live in the past a lot, especially after I moved to the other side of the globe, I'm constantly thinking about my friends and the good times that we had together. I hope I never lose that.


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