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Archive for April, 2012

Was gone, but back now

I was gone for the past couple of weeks in Cambodia and Indonesia, but I’m back now and ready to post some more.

Whenever I travel overseas, I like to look at the various pieces of technology that people are using.  After going to these two countries in the developing world, I have two things to say:

Apple and Angry Birds.

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We were in Cambodia and we were going on a bicycle tour to Angkor Wat.  We were waiting in the hotel when our tour guide arrived, and what did he have in his hand?  An iPad.  I thought to myself “What the?  I thought Cambodia was a poor country!”  Well, perhaps it is (of that there is no doubt), but maybe this tour company gave their guides these devices.

But later on, we were walking in the market looking at all the various pieces of junk for sale.  After all, going to these countries and buying junk is a first world person’s dream.  We were browsing and I decided to buy something (I forget what) and asked “How much?”  The girl there wasn’t able to understand what I was asking so she called over the owner of his shop.  He came over and what did he have in his hand?  An iPad.

Okay, this was unusual. The owners of these shops are not wealthy; there’s too much competition and they all sell the same stuff and it’s pretty cheap.  How can these people afford iPads?  Yet afford them they can, and I also saw a lot of Apple memorabilia on the young people, too (teenagers).  Apple has penetrated the developing world.

Yet if Apple is making gains here, Angry Birds is killing it – especially in Cambodia.  I didn’t see very many of the locals with smart phones (I saw more Blackberries than iPhones or Androids), but there were tons of kids wearing Angry Birds t-shirts.  I would estimate that in Cambodia, probably 1 out of 5 kids was wearing an Angry Birds shirt.

They were everywhere.

I don’t know if they know what Angry Birds is (i.e., have they even played the game on an iPad, iPhone or Android?), but this bit of western culture has absolutely made it to the developing world, too.  I didn’t see as much Angry Birds in Bali as I did in Cambodia, but it was definitely there, too.

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Living in the west, the idea of an arranged marriage seems bizarre to me.  Why would you let your parents hook you up with someone you’ve never met before?  You’re just presented with someone and are told “M’kay, now this is the person you’re going to marry!”

Let me ask you, reader – would you trust your parents?

But in other parts of the world, this is common.  For almost all of my coworkers from India and Pakistan, it is the norm.  One of my coworkers is going to India this week to meet his potential bride for the first time, as picked out by his parents.  They’re not getting married just yet, that’s for later.

Yet as strange as this seems to me (and all you white people reading this), us westerners don’t do a great job of picking our own significant others.  40% of first marriages end in divorce (although there are risk factors).  And many other friends of mine are single into their late 20’s or early 30’s with no prospects of changing that.

I decided to ask my co-workers how the the process works.  Here’s a summary:

The families of the parents get together and start screening out candidates.  It’s not necessarily picked out from birth, and there is flexibility in it.  There’s not only one or two possible candidates.  Children are matched based upon cultural background, educational background, and other personality traits.  They are also matched based upon horoscopes (I kid you not… something about personalities based upon the sign you were born under).  Marriage is a big deal over there, to be done only once, and as evidenced by western divorce rates, people don’t always do the job right by themselves.

You can short circuit this process if you wish.  A person can get married earlier than the expected date of marriage if they wish.  But if they hit the right age, then there is an expectation of marriage (and having kids?).

As much as I wouldn’t want this process for myself, looking at some of my friends, there might be something to it if I knew my friends really well and wanted to screen someone candidates for them since their prospects of doing it themselves are most likely going no where.

Of course, having no need for this service myself, it’s easy for me to sit back and give out advice.  But on the other hand, while I was single, my friends weren’t a lot of help (read: zero help) in introducing me to anyone.  I had to do all the work myself.  But, at least I was trying.  It took a while to get the knack of it, but I finally figured it out.

But would I have wanted my friends to assist me?

I would trust people my own age to pick someone out for me before my parents.  Guys like me know what guys like me want.  I’m pretty sure that if I put my mind to it, I could help out my friends who are making little to no progress (to put it mildly).

Hey, it works in India.

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A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how the wife and I go to her parents’ place for dinner many weeks and that this is an advantage of being in the relationship I’m in.

Well, I’m going to clear the air a little bit and there is one drawback.  Sometimes I receive unsolicited financial advice.

During the same dinner evening, we were talking about various things.  The bulk of the conversation is in Taiwanese and is over my head.  I know a handful of words and phrases, but that’s barely anything.  Sometimes I hear an English word and I can sort of work out what’s being said but for the most part, I’m like <chat, chat, chat, chat, Facebook, chat, Miyuki Buffet, chat, chat, Singapore>.

But sometimes the conversation is in English.

We were talking about home loans and my father-in-law encouraged the wife and I to pay off our mortgages as soon as possible.  We were even advised to trade off travel plans and instead put the money towards the mortgage (between the wife and I, one of us needs more convincing than the other; I’ll leave it to you to guess which one that is). 

I don’t know why, but I’m not a big fan of receiving unsolicited financial advice.  In the Asian culture (maybe Taiwanese), it contrasts heavily from American culture in that it isn’t a normal way of life to have a mortgage for 30 years.  Asians will try to pay it off as quickly as they can.  I say fine for them.

But I’m white.

The wife and I have two mortgages to pay – her place and my place (I call it that for the sake of convenience).  We have plans to pay off her place in 3 years or so, maybe a bit more.  We could then, theoretically, pay off my place faster, but I’m disinclined to pay it off aggressively.

Why?

Because it’s worth so much less than I paid for it.  The place next door to me sold for a bit more than 1/3 of what I paid for mine.  I will never be able to recover what I’m paying for mine if I want to sell it down the road.  I’m basically overpaying for something that isn’t that valuable (similar to how Microsoft wanted to pay $44 billion for Yahoo in 2008, whereas they are now worth $18 billion).  What is the motivation for me to quickly pay off something that I will never recoup?  Why throw good money after bad?  I’d rather strategically default than pay it off aggressively.

Even more than that, I discovered that I didn’t like taking financial advice from someone who was not a professional.  My co-worker (Dr. No) tried advising me from time-to-time, and I didn’t like his sanction either.  It turns out I don’t like anyone’s advice unless it agrees with what I’m already going to do, or it has a strategy built on sound principles in direct contrast to my own plans.

Many years ago when I was getting interested in the topic of money, I used to wonder why people never discussed money.  I thought that I would never be the type to clam up about it and instead be open about my situation. 

Turns out that’s not the case at all.

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I’m now at day 7 of this stinking cold!  Even worse, I made a trip to the doctor today.

I made that decision based upon last night.  My throat was sore, and it was worse because of all the coughing I was doing and it hadn’t improved much (usually day 6 is past the worst of it).  But in the evening, my throat started feeling worse.

And worse.

In fact, it got so painful that I couldn’t swallow at all.  Or even talk.  It made it’s way to the 3rd worst sore throat I’ve had in my life (the other two being the time in England I got sick, and the time in Australia where I got a throat infection).  And this one nearly worked its way to number two.

I woke up at 1:30 in the morning because my throat was burning.  I got up and made my way to the kitchen where I still had a bunch of painkillers from my surgery last December (I used only one).  I pulled them out and had a 600 mg Ibuprofen tablet (triple the dose of a normal tablet) and swallowed it with some water.  The pain at swallowing was intense.  I made my way back to bed and went back to sleep… after the drugs kicked in.

And that’s what prompted me to go to the doctor.  I’m leaving the country in a couple of days, and my throat hadn’t improved and had gotten worse even though all of my other symptoms are better.  I got an appointment today but fortunately my throat is feeling way better (no doubt the drugs have helped).  The doctor’s diagnosis?  It’s a bit swollen, it’s not strep throat, and will probably continue to heal.

I never used to go to the doctor for a cold when I was younger even though I got sick more often.  I don’t know if it is true or not, but it sure feels like my illnesses are worse now.  I went to the doctor in 2005 or 2006 because I had a cough that lasted throughout the summer.  I went to the doctor in 2008 because I had a cold that was bothering me.  I went to the doctor in 2009 because I caught a cold and the cough lingered longer than I thought it should have (lasted two weeks).  And now I’ve gone again in 2012.

Am I becoming wimpier?

Or maybe I’m becoming smarter, because each time I go, it’s because the symptoms I have are worse than normal (I didn’t go to the doctor when I got sick in 2010, nor this past February).  And, I didn’t seek medical attention in 2001 for my worst cold ever which was a mistake.

The problem is that each time I go, nothing is ever done.  It’s always “Yup, you’re sick and the symptoms are just worse this time but it’s not out of the ordinary.”  Why am I even bothering to go if it’s just a run of the mill cold?  Is my immune system breaking down?  Or am I getting older?

Man, I hope it’s not that.

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Still sick

Well, I’m still sick.

I know it’s only been two days, but I haven’t gotten much better since the onset of the sore throat four days ago (this is the fifth day of symptoms).  In fact, I feel worse:

  • Throat is still sore.
  • I have a runny nose such that my nose is getting red and raw from wiping it so much.
  • I am coughing.
  • I have nasal congestion but not as bad as six weeks ago.

The symptoms are not as bad as some of my bad colds, but it sucks that I haven’t really improved much.  Like most colds, there’s usually a period of time where you feel horrible and I haven’t come to that yet.  Yet, I was hoping that this might be a sickness that lasts maybe a couple of days and passes.

Nope.

I hope that this current state is the worst and that this is the peak.  I have to recover soon – I’m leaving the country in 5 days!

There’s a saying:
"Left untreated, a cold will last a week.
Treat it and it will last 7 days…"

Great.

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Foods I no longer eat

Thinking back to my previous post about oatmeal/porridge, I started thinking about foods that I used to eat when I was younger but don’t anymore, along with the reasons for giving it up.

  • Coke and Pepsi – I used to drink these drinks all the time, mostly for lunch and dinner/supper although sometimes I substituted milk instead of a carbonated drink.

    However, that changed when I moved to England.  I would still drink Coke or Pepsi for lunch but I cut back on having it for dinner.  I would try to drink it only once per day.

    Fast forward a few years and once again I was drinking those drinks regularly.  I decided one day that I was going to drink less of them.  I wasn’t intentionally doing it for the health benefits although I knew that they weren’t healthy.  I then set myself a quota of drinking them once per week.  It’s now rare that I even do that.  Ever since I cut back on drinking Coke and Pepsi, I find that I don’t even miss them.  I prefer water, and it’s much healthier, too.

  • Orange juice – This one was painful to give up.  I love orange juice.  I used to drink it every day.  But last year as I started paying attention to my diet, I realized that orange juice is full of sugar.  I knew that before, but I rationalized it with “But it’s natural sugar!” 

    That doesn’t matter.  Sugar is sugar, whether it’s natural or whether it’s grown from sugarcane and then added.  Drinking orange juice is barely better than drinking Coke or Pepsi.  So once again, I gave it up.  And the truth is that now I don’t even miss it.

  • Perogies – Perogies are a food from eastern Europe and my parents love them.  They are basically fried dough balls with stuff inside them like sour cream, or cheese, or some other rich-in-carbohydrate substance.


    Whenever it snowed, my dad would go and get out the snowblower and clear out our driveway, and then he would clear out the neighbor’s driveway – an elderly widow.  In response, she would bake us a great big bag of perogies.  My parents would rejoice.

    But not me.  I never cared for them.  And it’s not that I didn’t try.  I would eat them because there was nothing else, but I found them too doughy.  Since I moved to the US five years ago, I have never eaten a single perogie and I don’t miss them.  I have no craving for them.

  • What’s odd is that the composition of perogies is similar to dumplings and I love dumplings! So much! They taste was different to perogies, though.

  • Potato soup – This is another food we used to have a lot when I was younger.  It’s made just like it sounds – a bunch of potatoes and a couple of other ingredients are tossed into a soup and sometimes the broth is thick, sometimes it isn’t.  It doesn’t matter because I don’t eat.

    But I’ve discovered that there’s a lot of soups I don’t like.  The truth is I prefer soups that don’t have a lot of stuff in them like tomato soup.  I like tomato soup with soda cracks.  I don’t like minestrone soup.  I like onion soup.  I don’t like onion soup with tons of stuff in it.

    Since becoming more nutrition conscious, I’ve discovered that potatoes are not the healthiest vegetable.  They are full of starch and your body doesn’t process them very well.  Since learning that, I’ve cut back on baked and mashed potatoes (which I only rate rarely), french fries (which everyone knows aren’t good for you anyhow), and potato salad (which pained me to do).  But if I’m going to be deliberate about what I eat, then the good has to go with the stuff I don’t like.

  • Macaroni and cheese – Ah, the staple growing up food of every white child in Canada and the US (don’t know about Asians and black people).

    People always like to denigrate macaroni-and-cheese and say “Oh, I’m going to have to live off of mac-and-cheese.  Woe is me!”  I don’t know what those people are talking about, I always liked the stuff.  It’s pasta, cheese and milk – basically a carbonara sauce.  What’s not to like about it?

    Except that pasta is high in carbohydrates, and powdered cheese is heavily processed and stripped of much nutritional value.  I made the decision to cut back on it (it’s not on the banned list).  I can’t remember the last time I ate it.

    The truth is that whether you eat macaroni-and-cheese from a box, or you go to Olive Garden and order a linguini carbonara, you’re not doing your digestive system any favors.  I decided to reduce my pasta intake, and that includes this food of mine I enjoyed while growing up.

Those are some foods I no longer eat.

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I can’t believe it.

Two days ago, I woke up with a sore throat.  It wasn’t too bad and I was hoping that maybe my throat was dry.  Sometimes that happens over the course of the night.

My hopes were dashed.  My throat felt worse the next day and I started to get a runny nose.  And today, my throat is even worse and I have a runny nose and slight stuffiness. 

This is frustrating because after having a clear 2011, I’ve now been sick twice in the past six weeks, and we’re less than four months into 2012.  Even worse, we’re scheduled to go to southeast Asia next week (i.e., I got sick 9 days before the departure date).

I can handle being a little sick while traveling so long as I don’t have a sore throat and I don’t have sinus congestion (the two symptoms I have now).

Stupid viruses.

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In my previous post, I wrote that the wife likes oatmeal and I do not.  Allow me to explain further.

When I was growing up, we called oatmeal “porridge.”  We used to have it on Saturdays or Sundays when my dad would make it.  It wasn’t every Saturday or Sunday, sometimes we’d have bacon-and-eggs.  But my parents would make it and we would eat it.

My dad told the story that they used to have it nearly every day when they were kids.  My aunt has confirmed this and doesn’t eat porridge either, saying “She had it enough as a kid and doesn’t feel the need to eat it now.”  In other words, she doesn’t like it.

I don’t like it either.  I never did.

The only way I could eat it back then was by putting spoonfuls of brown sugar on it.  Put in the milk, put in clumps and clumps of sugar, and then eat it.  It was the only way to make it taste acceptable.

I don’t like the goopy taste or texture of porridge/oatmeal.  It grosses me out.  If I absolutely must eat it, then I’ll eat it. But I’d even choose to go without porridge and be hungry before I’d choose to eat it.  Now that I am an adult, I won’t eat it at all (and no one can make me).  I tried to buy some of those Quaker Oaks and the maple and brown sugar one was alright… so long as I put lots of brown sugar on it.  But that’s really unhealthy.

I have a dilemma – either eat porridge and put piles of sugar on it thereby nullifying any possible health effect, or don’t eat it at all.  I chose the second option.

And I stand by it.

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The wife and I are both North Americans, but even between us we each have our own culinary preferences.  She’s Asian (fasian) and I’m white and therefore we both prefer some things over the other.

There are a number of things we have in common:

  • We both like Thai food.
  • We both like Indian food.

  • We both like all kinds of meat – beef, pork, chicken and turkey. 

But there are differences between us:

  • We both eat rice, but the wife likes it more than I do.  She’d eat it 3x per day every day if she could.

  • We both eat pasta and noodles, but like different kinds.  I like American noodles but only certain kinds, whereas she prefers any type.  She also likes wide noodles which I do not.

  • I like classic American food more like hamburgers, hot dogs and pizza.

  • She likes oatmeal whereas I actively try to never eat it again if I can.

  • I like bread more than she does.  Way more.

  • She eats cereal any time of day whereas I will only eat it in the morning. I also eat toast for breakfast whereas she rarely does.  I also put jam on my toast whereas I don’t think I’ve ever seen her do that.

  • We both like dumplings, but only she likes the brand/version that we get from Trader Joe’s.

  • She likes fruit more than I do (but I still eat fruit) whereas I like vegetables more than she does (but she still eats vegetables).

  • We both like fish, but she likes crab and lobster and I do not.

  • We both like Ritz crackers, but I eat them way more.  I also eat way more peanut butter.

  • If I hadn’t given up sugary drinks like Coke and Pepsi, I would be drinking them way more.  I think I’ve seen the wife drink carbonated sugar drinks 5 times since I met her.

  • We both like coleslaw, but I eat it more than she does.

None of these are ever a big deal.  When we go grocery shopping, we just get an additional thing of what the other likes and then the other person rarely eats it.  But we still eat mostly the same lunches, just different dinners (which we would have to do anyhow since we work different schedules).

This also reflects different cultural backgrounds.  My diet is “whiter” whereas hers is more Asian.

It’s a neat comparison.

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A couple of weeks ago, the wife and I went shopping to the local grocery store.  We were meandering through the aisles and came to the bakery and the wife asked me if I wanted to get a bun.  I replied “M’kay.”

She reached forward towards the sweet buns, and I thought she was getting two of them.  I thought to myself “Oh, you’re getting two of those?  Alright.”  I don’t really like sweet buns that much; I need bread to be bread, not with sweetness or sugary stuff tossed in.  It’s just not my style.

However, she didn’t take two buns out, she only took one for herself.  “Do you want one?”

I said “M’kay,” and proceeded to pick out another different bun for myself.  So the situation is this: she got herself one sweet bun, I got myself a normal one.

Later on that afternoon, the wife was having a nap while I was working on the computer.  I began to get hungry and wandered to the kitchen where I looked for something to eat.  I meandered over to the buns sitting in a crinkly plastic bag.

Now, I couldn’t really see through the bag clearly, I could only tell that there were buns in there.  And here’s where the weird part takes over – in my mind, I recalled back to the events earlier in the store and the one that played forward in my memory is where the wife got two sweet buns.  Even though she only got one, I thought that she had gotten two.

As I reached into the bag, I thought to myself “Well, even though I don’t like these sweet buns, I’m hungry and I guess I’ll eat it.  The wife can eat the other one.” I withdrew one of the “two” from the bag and ate it.

Later that evening, the wife asked me “Did you eat my bun?”  I went back through what I had done and scanned my memory.  I knew I had eaten the sweet bun, but I then suddenly realized that my earlier memory of her buying two of them was not correct; I had only thought she had bought two of them because I thought she was going to buy two of them.  And my disappointment that might occur overrode the actual event was what actually transpired.

A false memory supplanted a real one.

I started to laugh at myself.  “Um, yes I did.” I then tried to explain what had happened.  A fake memory inserted itself into my recall and then my hunger drew from it.

The wife just rolled her eyes and shook her head.  And she always warns me not to eat her bread anymore.

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