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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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