This is page 12 of my diary archives. Other diary entries can be found here, Page 18, Page 17, Page 16, Page 15, Page 14, Page 13, Page 11, Page 10, Page 9, Page 8, Page 7, Page 6, Page 5, Page 4, Page 3, Page 2 and Page 1, (oldest entry).
Five days after the house was put up for sale we signed an offer, subject to inspection and financing, although we were told the couple wishing to purchase had already been pre-approved for their mortgage. Even better news was they wanted to move as soon as possible with a completion date set for 25th September. Five days after that, at the last possible moment, they withdrew the offer and all that critical inertia when the house first comes onto the market had been lost, as no one wants to view a house that is subject to an offer as most offers go through. Gazumping as it was called in the UK, accepting a higher offer after an initial offer has been agreed, is rightly not allowed here in Canada but when the boot is on the other foot, well... The problem was the house inspector, who detailed over $20k of 'essential work' that our house inspector, just two years before, didn't even mention. As with the UK, five house inspectors give five completely different reports. And being a rather immature couple they chose to believe their inspector and not our inspector, (we showed them our report), or their own eyes as it was clear that the 'water incursion in the basement' is nonsense as witnessed by the number of spiders resident there. Worse, although clear by Tuesday they were going to back out, they waited until Friday afternoon to formally do so.
Since then the number of people viewing the house has markedly dropped, just one yesterday and no future appointments planned. Stuck! Not enough money to just lock everything up and leave, yet staying here severely dwindles our money every month. I got paid by my customer this week but finances are still tight and will remain so for a little while. I am now working on the assumption that our house is going to be one of the slow ones to sell and we may have to face another winter here. There is nothing we can do about it and bemoaning our fate just makes us feel miserable.
Both of us have been sick recently. Sunday night I spent doubled up with stomach cramps as bad as anything I can remember having before. I think I have bruised my ribs from all the wretching as it is still painful to take deep breaths. Ploy has just been under the weather with a slight temperature and she also cut her tongue somehow which has made eating and drinking painful. All this is surely just a reaction to the disappointment when for a couple of days we had started to believe we were finally leaving here. Who knows what Canada has in store for us next but watching the time wasters sullenly walk around our house is doing nothing to improve our relationship with this country.
Next month I will be off to Shanghai to visit my customer there. This will be my first business trip for a long time and my first trip back to Asia for about two years. I will be putting my trip on my old Singapore air Krisflyer card which has slowly dropped from Gold card status to blue plebiscite status through non use. Now, with all the impending flights, I hope I can get it back to Gold status again as it certainly eases the hassle of modern travel.
One of those flights is to get my Thai visa from Hull, recently voted the worst UK town, although luckily I shouldn't have to spend more than a day in 'a sad story of unemployment, teenage pregnancy, heroin addiction, crime, violence, and rampant self-neglect', although that charge could be made at a lot of UK towns these days, and unbeknown to most tri-city inhabitants, (as Cambridge, Kitchener and Waterloo are collectively known), , coming to place near here soon. Having nice new pavements downtown or paving over a car park so 'yuufs' can ride their skateboards over pensioners will do nothing to stop this although the smugness of some of the people and all of the politicians will certainly stop them seeing it before it too late. Ploy treats Kitchener after dark the same way she treated Southampton in the UK after dark, a no go area unless you are in a car and even then you keep the doors locked. Let's hope we are long gone before things get too bad.
At lunchtime yesterday we turned back on the water to find we had successfully managed to install the kitchen faucet and our work on the house was complete. We spent the afternoon cleaning and dusting in our best French maid manner and in the evening we signed the papers with the agent and now our house is formally up for sale. It will be on the Internet today, a sign will be erected today and there is an open house arranged for next Sunday. Luckily we don't have to be involved in any of this and have been ordered to make ourselves scarce when anyone comes around as it makes the buyers more relaxed without our presence and it also means we don't have inflict bodily harm on them for criticising our choice in paint colours. We agreed to the lower price to try and expedite a quick sale but now all we can do it wait. For the first time in a very long time we have time to ourselves, to work on SingMai and to allow our bodies to heal from all the bruises and muscles aches and cuts that the house has inflicted on us.
Buying the odds and sods that were needed to complete the house renovations has reduced our reserves to the princely sum of $150. We probably have two weeks before we get our next payment via SingMai but actually there are some benefits to this paucity. First it has forced me to stop my habitual evening bottle of wine. I have been aware for some time that I have been drinking too much but attempts to slow it down have failed dismally as I have always had the justification that I need it to relax after the stress of the recent weeks. Nonsense of course, and it has got to the point where consumption of a bottle of wine goes completely unnoticed by the morning. So two weeks enforced abstinence can only do my liver some good and hopefully once we get paid I won't go straight back into the habit. Secondly, despite all the physical work on the house, my weight has remained about 10kg above where I would like it to be. That weight has gone on since I have been in Canada, and it is not just me, Ploy complains about it too. It is incomprehensible after all this work how we can actually be gaining weight. Ploy does not have the excuse of the alcohol and we have not been eating badly; I can only assume that Canada, as in the US, has some obesity quotient in the air, probably some mutation of deuterium caused by the kitchen outpourings of all the burger places. The only thing we can do is to leave for a place where burgers are not the staple dietary component. And thirdly, this enforced abstinence has made us look at how much we spend eating out. We regularly spend $50-$100 eating out three or four times a week and that has obviously had to stop. Instead we are inventively emptying the contents of our freezer whilst having no less enjoyable meals. That said, without the house to work on all the time, we have a little more energy to cook ourselves something come the evening. The lessons are good ones, no-one becomes a millionaire by spending at the rate we do. Once we are in Thailand we will be able to control our spending much better without a mortgage or car loan or house tax to pay out every month. A little bit of 'kee nieow', (ขี้เหนียว) won't do us any harm at all.
It is a little inconvenient as we are putting the final polish to the house before putting it up for sale this Saturday, but we agreed to look after our neighbour's dogs for a few days whilst they went on holiday. The crock labrador, 13 years old with gammy back legs who still thinks he is a puppy is enormous fun and I love him to bits. Ploy feeds him 'scraps', (she calls them leftovers - I call them my dinner), which he wolfs down in seconds. As a result when the owners come back and take the dogs for a walk whenever they come near our house they make a beeline for our front door pulling the owners behind as if they are some redundant baggage; I am not sure the owners know why that happens.
As we have been clearing out some stuff as we start packing we have also been feeding the squirrels with those nuts you buy for Christmas but never eat; for them they must think it is Christmas. One family of squirrels live in our garage but I wonder if the new owners will be as tolerant. I ate squirrel once when I lived in the New Forest, it was a tough meat and needed cooking slowly for a long time; it also stunk to high heaven and it was eventually banned from the pub where they offered it.
So the house goes up for sale this Saturday. Bread baking in oven, coffee brewing in the kitchen, scented candles wafting aromas of beavers in heat and cheese and bacon burgers around the living room, (to make Canadians feel at home), everything packed away to the point of austerity and the TV tuned in to one of those pointless 'soothing' radio channels that incessantly play music only for dolphins and those humans of lesser intelligence - everything we can do to get a quick sale has been done. The agent wants us to drop the asking price by $5k over what we had previously agreed which is a pain but as my new customer in Shanghai wants me to visit them in September the move cannot come quick enough now.
I rarely remember my dreams but one of Ploy's first actions upon waking is to consult her dream interpretation book, (the title of the book is ฝันพยากรณ์ or făn pá-yaa-gon - dream prophecy) . I don't put any store in it of course but two night's ago I did tell Ploy my vivid dream of a flood in some house I had never been in before. Apparently the dream means I am travelling to a far away country to start a new life and that life will be successful; lucky numbers are 22 and 25! A strange coincidence but both of us do get the feeling this move will be our final one and that it will be a successful one, business wise and personally.
It had to happen eventually; we have run out of money. We set a target of finishing all the house renovations by the end of this holiday weekend which we are on target to do, but it has meant using all of our money to do that before we have received money from our customers. So our bank accounts are at their overdraft limits, the credit cards are max'ed out and we are looking down the back of the sofa for our next meal. Well, perhaps not that bad yet, but we have $400 to survive the whole month until we should receive our next invoice payment and that will mean some bills go unpaid for a couple of weeks.
On the plus side it is chance to tighten our belts, hopefully literally as I am using the month to try and abstain from alcohol and trying to maintain a healthier lifestyle. Actually that should also be easier with the house out of the way and just SingMai to concentrate on. For too long now we have been devoting all our time to the house renovations and SingMai has been taking a bit of a back seat, and just as it has had its busiest ever week on the website, I have a request for a new quotation from my very first customer and the collaboration with the Shanghai company is looking extremely positive. With just SingMai to concentrate on I should be able to get some real work done.
The house has been fighting back as if it senses we are leaving it. Little things like my workshop clock stopping, the fire alarm randomly sounding, the tile saw stopping working just as we needed it for the glass tiles in the kitchen back splash - all one step forward and two steps back. We won't be able to do everything we wanted to, partly because we don't want to prolong the time before we put the house up for sale and partly because we don't have the money to do it anyway. We have had to reign in our standards somewhat and make a judgement on when things are good enough. Compared with the state of the house when we bought it and even compared with other houses we looked at it seems to be 'good enough', and some parts are really rather nice, like our new kitchen and the basement bathroom. So we can hope for a quick sale, say goodbye to Canada and get on with the next stage in our lives.
I ordered twenty boxes, some bubble wrap and enough tape to wrap up the entire house and Ploy has started putting all but our essential clothing into boxes and suitcases. It seems a bit premature but we need to declutter the house for those potential buyers that seemingly take exception to our choice of flower vase. It is incredible that people buying a house are swayed to such an extent by the owner's choice in scatter cushions when those things are not staying anyway. We watch those makeover programs on TV where a team of people come into a house that refuses to sell and spend some time tidying it before selling it within a few days. We watch those programs and wonder at the comments of those potential buyers and why they can't see through the current owner's choices to what is left. I guess it counted in our favour when we bought this house as we ignored the owner's love of filth and dirt to see the potential the house had, even though it required a tad more than a vacuum and a duster to make it habitable, for us anyway. We managed to get the house at a knock down price and can therefore expect to make a little money on the sale, even in these subdued times.
SingMai has had two new enquiries in the last two days, one from India and one from Taiwan. I had been trying to keep the orders and enquiries at bay until we had completed our move to Thailand but I have changed my mind and decided we will just cope with work as well we can and not worry about where we might be in month or two's time. We are slowly building a relationship with a company in Shanghai which could prove lucrative in the months and years to come, and all of this new interest from Asia confirms our decision to head west again, or east, it doesn't really matter as Thailand is almost exactly the other side of the world.
Singapore air sent me my new Krisflyer card this week and for the first time since 2000 I am down to 'ordinary' status, those heady days of a gold cards just a distant memory. I have been putting any new air miles on the Air Canada card as Singapore air don't fly to Toronto and it has got us a few free nights in hotels but I never managed to get that status beyond 'pleb'. However just the flights to the UK to get my visa and the flights to Thailand should get us back up to silver status again and I expect I will be flying a little more frequently once we move.
One thing put aside from the packing are my Thai language books. Once settled in the country I want to try and get to grips with Thai and having a little foundation already I think this should be possible. I want to try and get permanent residency in Thailand if I can, which I am eligible to apply for after three years of living there and paying taxes there. I seem to qualify after that period on all counts except for my Thai abilities, so I have three years to get to grips with the language. But any over confidence is quickly tempered from comments such as these from one of the Thai language websites:
'When an English native speaker asks a question with a Thai lady “ka” or “yes” is used for agreeing with a person who asks the question. No matter what the question is in a negative form or not. For example, “พรุ่งนี้ คุณไม่ไปทำงานใช่ไหม” (proong nee khun mai pai tum ngarn chai mai) “Tomorrow, you won’t go to work, right?” A native English speaker would say “No, I won’t.” For a Thai girl, she will say “ka” or “ka, mai pai”. It literally means “Yes, I won’t go.” It would sound strange to English speaker ears.'
We have already met this 'strange' double negative anomaly in our daily conversations so most questions like this end thus: 'No/Yes'; 'You mean yes/no don't you?; 'Yes/No I mean't no/yes'. We get by OK, so far.
Early mornings we now see our garden residents on a daily basis keeping our grass in order; they are so used to us now they don't run away, just keeping a wary eye on us. I hope they can adapt to the new owners.
The kitchen worktops have arrived and we have been talking with an agent about the selling price which she seems to think should be a little higher than I expected but that was immediately countered by the fact, which I had forgotten, that we, as sellers, have to pay both the buyer and seller agent fees. But the work is very close to being finished and we expect to have the house up for sale by the end of this month.
I spent half a day translating my old blog entries into web pages. On the oldest page of the diary archives I wrote this:
On Friday we both fly to the US. Unhappy with my current job I have been looking around and by far the best offer looks to be coming from a company based near San Jose in California. I have mixed feelings about the move, not because of the job which sounds great, but about the upheaval, just when I thought I was putting some roots down. It was all planned out, buy an apartment here this year, apply for Singapore citizenship, work for a few a more years and then semi-retirement, writing books and articles, and with the occasional holiday in Thailand. But work was getting to the point where I was regularly considering increasingly exotic ways of killing my management and marketing colleagues and I decided this was not healthy (for me).
Three years later and I find myself moving again but this time with a difference, we are moving to something instead of to nothing. We already have a house in Thailand, we just need to make it a home, and we have a car there. I am not moving to new job with all the uncertainties that brings but instead I am taking my job with me, with all the uncertainties that brings. I feel excited by the move in the same way I was excited when we came here but this time the move feels more permanent; our future is now in our own hands.
I don't feel any sense of regret moving again even with all the effort we have spent on the house. We have turned the kitchen from a wreck to a show home but I still don't feel any regret in moving. Thailand is not so much a new beginning but a continuation of what we have already started here but hopefully under more favourable conditions. There will be challenges certainly, for me learning the language to a competent level instead of just the smattering I have now will be a huge problem but reward will be worthwhile, I have always wanted to be fluent in another language. We have a potential collaboration with a company in Shanghai that will be much easier to manage from Thailand. And I am sure our quality of life will be higher, both in terms of what money we earn going much further, but also in terms of our personal time together.
We have started collecting boxes and newspapers for the packing and already my books and CDs are packed away ready for the trip. Let's hope all that work on the house means we can make a quick sale and start the move soon, this time with no mixed feelings.
Two weeks since I last wrote anything in this diary, yet the time has just flown past. Work, I'm glad to say, keeps coming in for SingMai but we are also trying to keep going with the house renovations. The basement bathroom is close to being completed as evidenced by comparing this photo with the one on the post below.
However, but not really surprising, is the fact that everything is taking longer than expected. The bathroom's latest hitch is the lack of a proper flange for the toilet which means we have to excavate the drain. Overall though we are pleased with our progress and the kitchen work tops arrived on Friday which, although they have yet to be installed, does make it feel we are so close now.
Saturday was a SingMai day so Ploy took a day off from the housework to go into Toronto with a friend. When my brain started freezing up, which it does by about 5p.m. these days, I had a bath and decided to go out somewhere for dinner. I chose this restaurant which I hadn't been to for while and selected the Boston Bibb salad as my starter, (mandarin orange segments, stilton cheese,
red onion, pecans and orange pomegranate vinaigrette), followed by the Ahi Tuna, (peppercorn, fennel and coriander seed
crust, ponzu sauce, sautéed julienne vegetables, and coconut
basmati rice). As most people were sat outside I couldn't indulge in my usual people watching exercise, and as the ubiquitous flat screen TVs were showing nothing of interest I just let my mind wander aimlessly.
It occurred to me that I had, in fact, ordered a vegetarian starter and I thought of the increasing number of people I know that have become or already were vegetarians. When I met Ploy she didn't eat beef but did eat pork, chicken and seafood, (she now eats beef as well - it was just a passing fad), whereas I have always eaten meat and fish whilst at the same time ridiculing those that order a burger and then carefully take out the limp piece of lettuce and slice of tomato with the same look of disgust they might reserve for a cockroach. I should also mention my claim to fame - I have never even set foot in a McDonalds, ever, and I don't see why people frequent such establishments. In Canada we have our own version of McDonalds, Tim Hortons, which is more of a coffee and donut place but we also have Arby's and Wendy's, (which ironically advertises its fast food as 'waaaay better than fast food' which I assume just means you wait much longer for the same crap) and Harvey's and, well the list just goes on and on. If I go out to eat I prefer to make more of an event of it; if I want a fast snack I will make a sandwich at home.
But I digress, I was just trying to emphasise that I love food and one of the highlights of my day is a leisurely lunch or dinner with Ploy, or even by myself if need be. It is for this reason I could not become vegetarian as so many foods that I love would be prohibited and I am too selfish to give them up. And why would I choose to that anyway? Most vegetarians I know choose that diet for one of two reasons, health and cruelty to animals. I thought the health thing was up in the air and I haven't seen anything that firmly demonstrates vegetarianism is the healthier option - even if they did it wouldn't stop me as I tend to go with the whole life balance thing, eating a nice meal, whatever its dietary consequences has benefits in helping you unwind, making you feel better and more able to face what life may throw at you. Don't vegetarians need to balance their diet with supplements anyway or face losing all their friends through their abundant consumption of lentils and nuts. I always get the feeling that vegetarians do not actually enjoy food because if they did how could they make the choice to limit themselves to aubergine bakes for the rest of their lives.
The second reason, and I think the most prevalent in my circle of friends, is the issue of cruelty to animals, as if eating meat and fish is an automatic endorsement for animal cruelty, in fact the more cruel the better is inferred. It surely goes without saying that I do not endorse the treatment that some animals have to endure. We may kill the animals for our food but let's at least let them live a good and healthy life beforehand and kill them as humanely as possible. There is a danger here that vegetarians can take a holier than though attitude to us fish and meat eaters, that somehow they are little more civilised than us. The issue of taking supplements, and the anatomy of our bodies indicates we are meant to eat meat but of course, we should be open to change as society improves. We used to stone people to death but hopefully today, as we become more civilised, we can reserve that for people with MBAs only. But making a moral change is a little different to altering our body's anatomy. And how far do you take it anyway. I always buy free range eggs but I wonder if all vegetarians make that effort. Eating meat and fish does not automatically mean we endorse animal cruelty. I don't want to see geese force fed or piglets separated from their mothers at birth or chickens injected with antibiotics. Indeed, as one who eats meat and fish I feel probably even stronger about these things because, whilst being cruel, most of these things make the food taste worse.
It is possible to have respect for animals both while they are alive and whilst you are consuming them with a bernaise sauce; one does not preclude the other. I am not one of those lily livered meat eaters that eats pre-packed supermarket food without any knowledge of where it comes from. I can skin a rabbit and pluck a pheasant and can wring a chickens neck if need be, but even having watched a deer be butchered I don't think I could ever give up that venison steak with a blackberry sauce.
Another order to SingMai and all the work on the house has left me with no time other than for eating and sleeping.
All the kitchen cabinets have been installed and we have a quote to get the electric outlets fitted and wired up; a rather unexpected $4000! Everything has to be done to code and what was there before was the antitheses of that with outlets just by the sink and no separate runs for things like fridges. I could try and do it myself but as we are selling soon, if the buyer's house inspector spotted anything wrong, we would be caught in that bartering and may have to drop the price by much more than $4000, so we will have to just bite the bullet. At least we can break it into two parts.
Work was also started on the last big job, the basement bathroom. We can't even call it that, it is a shell as it has no walls - they were stripped out because of the leak, which must have been there for years judging by the papier mache consistency of the studs and the drywall. I fitted an extractor fan and removed the death trap of the light fixture above the shower cubicle, or where the home made cubicle used to be and we have now put the ceilings back. However it took me all day to replace the shower tap; one of those simple jobs that just got bigger and bigger. Any bigger and I would have had to hire a digger to replace the water main in the street. But done now and I just have to put the studs and walls back, paint the drywall, tile the floor and fit a new shower, washbasin and toilet, a breeze after everything else we have done. It would be good to get the house on the market soon as all the houses hear us have now sold, including the one that looked like it would be on the market forever. Also our garden, which constitutes the cut back remnants of the previous owners jungle is in bloom and looks quite nice.
Ploy has been feeling the work and had taken the weekend off - we spend a lot of time comparing bruises. She has also been showing a lot of interest in the death of Michael Jackson, asking me every day what news is there on the cause. He was never a favourite of mine but I can't deny some of his songs are catchy, his videos quite superb, (especially an hour long thing called 'Ghosts' which I had never seen before but they keep showing here now - sort of Thriller like), and I think he could well be one the greatest dancers of the twentieth century. Naive would be the best I could describe for his choice of the people to advise him, Uri Geller popping up like a repeat case of clap within minutes of Jackson's death, mourning the death of his 'close friend' when by all accounts Jackson hadn't talked to him for six years after he persuaded him to do the interview with Martin Bashir, another person you would cross the Pacific to avoid, which led to the child abuse court cases. I prefer to avoid calling entertainers geniuses, especially today when any fifteen minute celebrity who is able to tie his own shoelaces is given that moniker, but he could be up there with Sammy Davis Jr., although given choices Sammy would always come out in front for me.
Today I went to post a demonstration board to a company in Hong Kong. Reluctantly I chose Federal Express - I say reluctantly because the agent shop I use failed to put a parcel out for collection just before Christmas and then denied it was ever there and accused me of failing to bring it in; 'Are you sure it was this store, there is no parcel here. Oh, here it is'. I could have lost a customer because of that. But I thought they were probably best - or perceived the best - to send it abroad. So after filling in the forms and the customs declaration they then enter the same information on the computer. 'What country is Hong Kong' asked the pre-pubescent girl behind the counter. '
Hong Kong' I replied. 'No Hong Kong is the city' she replied. 'Hong Kong is both city and country, although the country might be China'. 'We don't ship to China' she stated. 'Oh, well then Hong Kong, Hong Kong as in Singapore, Singapore'.' No', she replied, 'I need the city within Hong Kong'. 'There is no city within Hong Kong, Hong Kong is the city. Try New Territories' I helpfully suggested' or just put the street address, it is the Hong Kong Science Park which I think is probably well enough known'. 'I can't do that she replied, 'I need the city in Hong Kong. Branch always to beginning of conversation until an interrupt occurred which was the small part of my brain still alive trying to remember the word for the killing of Fed Ex employees -0 I decided either 'Fedicide' or 'Exicide': I picked up my rejected box and left. Where next, I wondered, annoyed at having wasted forty minutes of my decreasing life span. Ah, the Post Office, ever reliable but maybe they send it so quick, no matter. So in, what was now torrential rain, I drove to a post office; one of those that had been shut down because they were unable to allow the 750 sq .ft. minimum requirement that was now mandatory for my less than 1 sq.ft parcel, (see diary entry below). Now I was tad frustrated but remembered UPS which I hate but now slightly less than the Canadian Post and Fed Ex in that order. They accepted the postal address, I filled in all the forms and apart from a strange conversation over expected delivery dates, ('it will be delivered Saturday' - 'Saturday here or there' - 'Here' -'But that is Sunday there and I am sure they won't be at work then', I paid more and went for Thursday, here, Friday there), paid the exorbitant $136 for my tiny lightweight parcel without insurance and went home in the same thunderstorm.
Canada's persecution of us continues unabated. Let me give you an example from just one day.
Firstly I went into my local post office to post a letter only to find it is closing down. The post office is shared with a pharmacy and the counter they have is now deemed too small and has to be at least 750sq.ft. for the Canadian post to allow them to keep it going. The pharmacy is only just over 750sq.ft in total so they have no option but to close it at the end of this month. So are six others including the 2 next nearest us for the same reason so without a car it would now mean the nearest post office is 8km and two bus rides away. Good to see Canada following the UK example. There was a petition but that will change nothing of course. It is difficult to see the reasoning behind this as to keep that single counter for a year costs the owners $47,000 and the support from the post office has to be minimal. Whilst this maybe only a mild inconvienience for us it is a worrying sign that Canada views Britain as some kind of model to follow in all things, shutting down railways, shutting down post offices, social disintegration is just around the corner.
Then when I got home, in the post was a a letter from the life insurance company we were hoping to use saying, (after four month's deliberation), they have refused Ploy's application for life insurance - no reason given although she has an all clear from the immigration doctor's extensive tests that we know they asked for a copy of. My life insurance was allowed but I didn't take the offer up because of the impending move. I hate to offer the UK up as an example of anything, but if you enquired about any form of insurance there your telephone wouldn't stop ringing and you would have a queue of at least a hundred rabid agents parked outside your house for a year.
And in another letter I found that the credit limit on one of my credit cards, already a miserly $3500, (taken out when I was in full time employment), is being reduced to $2900. It is paid off every month and I have never been late paying it so again I can't understand the reasoning behind this unless it is I have shown undue responsibility and caution.
However, work on the kitchen has been going well which means all of this will soon be behind us; Ploy is grouting the floor tiles today and all the upper kitchen cabinets are installed. Another week and it should be done, barring the electric which we have to get a man in for, and then all that remains apart from some tidying up here and there, is the basement bathroom and laundry room - a breeze after what we have already done.
Work on completing the house renovations continues apace. After some debate we decided to buy the kitchen cabinets from an end of line offer at Home Depot. It means we are limited with the range and colours but as we are only finishing the kitchen to sell, and they look fine anyway, we plumped for them, saving ourselves thousands of dollars. Although at the moment we are missing three doors which have still to be unloaded from the lorry, so we have to go to the store to check everyday or go for the more open plan, breezier style kitchen. The bathroom tiling has also been finished and at this rate we think we could finish everything by the end of this month if our bodies can take the strain; we are both feeling a bit sore after all this physical work.
I have been looking into the visa options I have for Thailand. An e-mail to the Thai consulate in Ottawa has so far not got any response, not surprising given that it took four weeks for Ploy to renew her passport with them. Their website, a clear contender for the worst website in the world contest, states they only give visas to Canadian passport holders and there are no forms available for download. However the Thai consulate in Hull, UK, has lots of clear information, downloadable forms, and says it offers a 30 minute turnaround for the visa if you make a prior appointment, so I might be bound for the UK. I did also find a posting on the Thai Visa forum that indicated that the multiple entry non-immigrant 'O' visa, which is what I am after - is no longer offered in Canada. Now that would just about put the icing on the cake.
This relationship thing with Canada is strange and I can't really work out why things have soured so much between the country and us. When I read of this report on how peaceful a country is, showing Canada at no. 8, (no.1 being the most peaceful), and Thailand at no.118, below Iran, I wonder what exactly I am letting myself into. There are hundreds of these reports that usually put Canada near the top of 'best quality of life' countries or the 'longest life expectancy' country, the same reports that put Thailand somewhere near the bottom. Yet for us, life expectancy aside as we don't know that yet, it is the opposite. The bureacracy that we have found at every step here is stifling. We sensed it when it took over 2 months to get our intial visa and work permit to come here, and it was not just the length of time but the attitude of the staff. And every time I re-enter Canada I get the same questioning and puzzled look as they scrutinise my work permit; why don't they just come out and say 'bugger off', it would be more honest. There was the hassle with Ploy's driving license which we just gave up with in the end. The PR application was the final straw.
Then there is the throttling income tax and sales tax. And worst of all there is the lack of fun; at least for us. I fail to see the fascination with BBQs and we don't have any friends to invite anyway. For Canadians BBQs seem to constitute at least 50% of their leisure time. The other 50% is watching or playing ice hockey, a pointless sport invented by Canadians because they are useless at any other sports. Yet they don't actually win at that either so the players have taken to bashing one another's brains out instead of venting their anger on the puck. The sports news, even in the close season, prefers to hype some under twelve girl's ice hockey match from two years ago, (including actual video of the game), rather than some other minority sport like the French Open tennis final or the football world cup finals. The winter Olympics - which everyone knows is only held so nations that can't win medals at the real games have a chance to win a silver coated chocolate imitation medal - is promoted on TV every minute of the day and has been since we arrived here as it is in Vancouver next year.
In Thailand people sit down to have meals with friends instead of standing up picking off the charred skin of some unrecognisable meat. In Thailand people know something about rugby and football, (not soccer as they call it here); real sports. They have a football team and tennis players that win matches sometimes. In Thailand they occasionally win medals at the real Olympics and if they want to beat the crap out of each other they do Muay Thai with hands and feet instead of using hockey sticks against fibreglass helmets, (although sometimes, when things get really heated, they throw off their protection and fight man on man, although it looks more like two eight year old girls pulling each others hair in a school playground). In Thailand people know that fish does not have be battered and deep fried to be edible.
In Thailand we can relax, and I think that is the biggest thing. For the same length of drive it is from our house here to one of the towns on the shore of Lake Huron, we can drive from our Saraburi house to the beach at Jomtien, feeling your body relax in the humid warmth, eat fresh crab in the evening for $5 and stay overnight in a decent hotel for $25. Perhaps one reason we are feeling this disquiet is we haven't been able to relax here, to sit on our porch doing nothing, absolutely nothing.
Our permanent residency application for Canada has been refused on a technicality. A letter from immigration dated 19th May but not received until 2nd June asked for yet more information about who is the legal custodian of Ploy's daughter. It seems clear that they have mistranslated the information we already sent and the further information they are asking for we just don't have. All of this is academic anyway as they require a response by 19th June which we couldn't comply with in any case. Why the haste after the best part of two years. Why the pedantry when neither Tang Mo or us have any wish for her to come here anyway. And as they point out, when she becomes eighteen in a few months the question of custody becomes redundant. If we had not already decided to move to say this would be irritating would be to put it mildly. Even the UK was not as officious as this; even if we had been able to answer this question there is no indication we would get PR then. I don't know what we have done to Canada but it clearly doesn't like one, or possible both, of us. The feeling is mutual. But as Ploy optimistically pointed out, perhaps this means we don't need to pay our taxes.
So on the subject of moving on we have decided to go to Thailand instead of Singapore as we can move there more quickly without the need for us get the employment passes. I will have to organise a work permit for myself but that should not be too difficult. Two reasons stand out as to why we had not chosen Thailand before, the political instability and the perception of SingMai's customers for us operating from there. The latter I am less concerned about now as all but one of our customers have purely been e-mail/telephone transactions and as long as these two are reliable I don't believe it matters where we are. As for the former, well things are quiet at the moment but could easily blow up again although the effect on us and SingMai may not be that noticeable; it could get a lot worse when the King dies. But if things do start to get out of hand, we still have the option of moving to Singapore. And on the plus side this move saves us a lot of money. We already have a house in Thailand with a little bit remaining to be paid off on the mortgage and a car which is totally paid for. We would like to get a proper kitchen built in our house but that is easily paid for in the savings on not having to rent an apartment in Singapore. We also save in either not shipping our furniture to Singapore or buying new again, indeed we should make a little money in selling what we have.
We are thinking that we might buy an apartment in Bangkok where we can run SingMai from during the week because of the better Internet connections compared with our slightly remote house; Ploy is not even sure she can get a cable connection there, we have never had either telephone or Internet installed. But the details can be worked out as we go along. As it stands we have a furnished house that we can just move straight into as soon as we are able to leave here. We just need to keep the orders coming in, and get them delivered, and finish the house renovations. Is this the final decision?
Our bath had one of those plastic liners inexpertly glued over the original tiles. We had planned to remove everything and tile the bath but now we just want to do the least that makes it presentable so we can sell the house. The liner was glued very firmly on and little could be done to tidy it up, it was split in some places and the various pieces did not line up properly so I decided to pull it all down. That left us with some presentable, albeit rather old style, flowery tiles - and some gaps where the tiles had been pulled off with the plastic. Ploy didn't like the tiles so we looked to see if we could paint them but a quick experiment proved that instead of old style flowery tiles we would have old style flowery tiles that had clearly been painted over. So Ploy spent one Sunday chipping away at the tiles until we were just left with drywall, and some holes where the drywall and tile were removed together. And no hot water.
As with all things old, including me, they work until you disturb them when it becomes impossible for them to return to their previous purpose. In this case. removing the faucets meant that the deteriorated washers broke up and clogged up the tap so no water could get through. So before we did anything else I had to buy a new faucet for a sixty year old tap, but luckily we found one sufficiently close in dimensions to work. And then we went out and bought the same type of tiles as we have in the rest of the bathroom to do what we originally had decided not to do, and tile the bath and shower area. So we have done the first row, the difficult one with all the cutouts and the one that has to be approximately horizontal and hopefully we can finish the bathroom by the end of this week.
Of the three houses near us that are for sale two have sold with only the most expensive remaining, and they failed to sell last year and pulled it off the market so maybe there are ghosts in the house or a terminally flatulent dog; obviously something is putting buyers off that house. If we can sell our house with the same sort of price the closest one to us sold for, which is nearest to our own house in age and style, then we will be happy, and a tiled bathroom should help sell it more quickly hopefully.
SingMai has a new order, or an e-mail confirming we will soon receive one which, if I understood correctly, will mean one of our products will eventually be a very small element of the international space station which is rather cool, to say the least. So the move to Singapore is on track, the forms are printed out and I just have to write a business plan for SingMai.
Of course, if you read any of these business gurus today, a business plan is the first step, and possibly the only step, required for a company today. Actually making something and selling it comes much, much later, if at all. With a good business plan* you can get the interest of investors and angels who will lavish money in your direction for a small return of a majority interest in your company. You will be relegated to the sidelines whilst they bring in 'experts' who know nothing about your market and product but are friends of the investors. In just a short time you will be lucky to own anything of your company and will just be a salary-man working for the very crappy managers that you originally left your day job for. Part of this is the new $1M rule, which means it is impossible to start a company without at least this level of funding. Starting a company with just your own $25k of savings clearly shows you are not serious, after all this is not debt and you shouldn't think of it as such; it is, like the people who borrowed money to buy houses they couldn't afford, Money That Doesn't Need To Be Paid Back.
So we 'chose' to grow organically as I think they call it, which is now the only way to grow as Ontario have banned pesticides and non-organic fertilisers. It is a shame they don't ban these parasites either. Of course if you don't actually have any new ideas and you want to start a company because of 'get rich quick without effort and I have no talent' reasons then investors are a godsend. But if you want to run a company because you feel you have an idea or two, want to be away from the corporate nonsense and earn enough to be comfortable without screwing anyone and everyone, then orgaic is the way to go.
Investing in small companies seems anathema to Canada, (whereas Singapore offer tax incentives to start up companies); big business is the way to go and if it pollutes the environment then so much the better. If I remember the numbers correctly that is why Canada is lavishing $10.5B on GM here so that 85,000 workers can remain employed until GM fails completely in about three years time. The Prime Minister admits it is highly unlikely that 'loan' will be paid back. Given that GM appears to have $163B in debt that would also seem unlikely to me too, but I am no financial expert. Why don't they just pay the workers that sum of money, about $123k each. That surely would be enough the keep the wolf from the door, give them time to find another job, retrain, pay off their mortgage and retire or buy a dog and learn how to play the harmonica badly. And in three years time you won't have 85,000 suddenly out of work and claiming employment insurance with no chance of finding alternative employment. Instead, given guidance and rules, those $123k handouts might have meant a number start their own companies, pay taxes, employ people. Even more radical would be the idea that some of that money should be used to remove the reliance on car manufacturing that this region has as clearly there is something of a sea change going on, a watershed that Canada seems reluctant to embrace. What next? The US buying less of Alberta's gas and oil? Surely not!
* By 'good' I mean having no foundation in reality. Investors want that next Google or Microsoft so if you present a realistic plan that means in five years you will sell maybe $10M/year and employ maybe 25 people they won't even look at you. Not sufficient return on their investment they will say and they are taking all the risk aren't they, not you apparently. Business plans are the new fiction.
Only one thing slightly tempers our move back to Singapore, and that is selling the house we have invested so much time and effort into in return for a rented apartment. We did the same thing in the UK, selling what was a run down house we had spent time and money renovating just one year after we bought it. We bought this house nearly two years ago in a much worse condition than the one we had in the UK and have spent untold hours trying to bring it back to its former state. Not a room has evaded our attention except the main kitchen which we have just started working on. But this room will be different.
Instead of choosing the design we would have preferred, dark wood cabinets, gas hob, those small glass tiles for the backsplash, we are finishing this room only with the aim of being able to sell it. No bright colours, birch cabinets, no ice dispensing fridge,an electric stove instead of gas. Just clean, functional and fit for purpose, although a purpose to which most Canadians we have met do not use it for, their lives being dominated by supermarket microwave offerings, takeaways and BBQs.
Kitchens and bathrooms, the two rooms that sell a house so we are repeatedly told. Well the bathroom will just be tidied up, no relocating the bathtub or replacing the plastic with ceramic tiles, just some fresh paint and grout.
Inside at least that is all but we are trying to tidy up the garden. Apart from cutting down the dying poplar tree and spreading its wood chips all over the garden we have done little outside. Before we sell I have been trying to encourage the little grass we have to grow whilst Ploy has been trying to evict the dandelions. I do not have green fingers of any saturation; the grass seed I throw around just lies there as if it knows it is just food for birds and fodder for the squirrels and it is not worth the effort to actually try and grow. I water it and feed it and try and coax some life from it but it lies on the bare ground like some morning after from a bird orgy.
One success we have had is the apple tree which in its first year produced a variety of worm ridden, rotten apples straight from the bud, a testament to organic farming methods. After some deep root fertilising and some indiscriminate pruning this year the tree is a glory to behold. It is shame we can't take it with us. One down side of all this moving is missing seeing the fruits of your labour. In the UK we planted a garden full of daffodils but moved before the following spring. Here we will move after completing our first proper kitchen. Ploy says she doesn't miss the house in the UK and I guess it won't be long and this house will just be a directory of photos on my laptop. But I guess it is not possible to move anywhere without leaving a little bit of yourself behind.
You may have read about the imprisonment of Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi after the bizarre visitation of one John Yettaw. Reading about this idiot, it seems he has tried to see Ms. Suu Kyi before but his motives are unclear. I can't help but note that he is reportedly a Christian and maybe a Mormon; enough said although probably more pertinent is that he is clearly a complete tosser.
There is no doubt that this man has given the Burmese generals just the excuse they needed to arrest Ms. Suu Kyi, one almost wonders if they paid him to do this as his previous attempted visit also came towards the end of her ''legal' period of house detention; however the Generals found a different excuse to hold her for another year. And in any case I am sure they would have found a different excuse this time, at least until after the elections that are tabled for next year.
The whole situation is almost like a Brian Rix farce. What sort of bubble are these generals living in? They have this 'Law to Safeguard the State Against the Dangers of Those Desiring to Cause Subversive Acts' under which Ms. Suu Kyi is being held which carries a maximum penalty of five years without a trial. That is due to end at the end of this month. So why don't they change the law to make it ten years? That would seem simple enough. Is it that they fear how that would be perceived by the rest of the world? So tinkering with the law they see as illegimatising their dictatorship, yet falsely imprisoning Ms. Suu Kyi in the first place on some trumped up charges, or killing Buddhist monks after they peacefully protest, or failing to react properly and decently to the cyclone does not.
Reactions to her arrest from other countries is predictable, The US is 'deeply troubled' whilst the UK is 'deeply disturbed' and the UN expressed 'grave concern'. Reaction from Asian countries is predictably more muted with neighbouring Thailand, speaking on behalf of the Asean group of countries of which Burma is still a member, expressing 'concern'. From China there is no word. But it is difficult to see what can be done. Sanctions don't work, there only needs to be enough food to feed the generals and keep them in their lifestyle, sanctions only hurt the people not the generals. If any Western government were to try to instigate an uprising within the country, first a great deal of innocent people would likely die, (and it is clear this would be against Ms. Suu Kyi's wishes), and also there is the question of what reaction this would bring from China. That said, it is unlikely that China would do more than express their displeasure and maybe it would sour relationships and trade with the West for a while, but surely that is a price worth paying. Maybe it is conceivable that China could be brought on board, but if not who cares, they need trade with the West as much as the West needs trade with China. And as for the deaths, well the people who drive the tanks and hold the guns are the Burmese people. Once it became clear who was going to win and the generals' hold over the army was severed I doubt they would kill their own people. These generals are cowards, scared witless by a frail 63 year old woman, frightened by their own people. Surely it would not be too difficult to bring down their ivory tower. They even make it easy for us by sitting in a row and wearing silly hats.
Ploy and I had a fight yesterday. It came out of the blue, it was not one of those fights that fester, belching occasional tuts into the air before finally erupting in
blaze of expletives
and accusations. No, this one came right out of the blue. Everything seemed hunky dory and then all of sudden I was the cause of everything wrong with the world. It started with the fact I bought this house without properly bartering for it Ploy style, which means taking the offered price, suggesting one tenth of that, rebuking the next offer of 80% of the price with an appropriate gesture, insisting again on one tenth and walking away without the sale being made, even though we wanted the said item, and having some abuse being shouted at us from the said shop owner. But it moved on from there and eventually became a shouting match, well shouting from me, stony silence and tears from Ploy.
We rarely fight, in fact I can't remember the last time we even had a minor dispute, certainly not something that required calling Kissinger in for. It was relatively quickly resolved as luckily Ploy didn't realise the new door knob on the bedroom door actually has a lock on it and so I brought her a hot chocolate and we sat, or half lay actually, and talked. And talked.
It is not a surprise actually. Both of us have been feeling the same frustrations and Ploy is even less able to do anything about them. Although Ploy was initially reticent about moving back to Singapore she quickly warmed to the idea, as fast as Canada became a country of some annoyances to being a country she 'hated'. She had started packing her bags before I pointed out that we are not in position to leave yet. The scenario goes something like this. We have a loan on the car so we cannot sell the car until we pay the loan. We don't have the money to do that until we sell the house. But if we sell the house we have nowhere to live, except maybe the car, although running SingMai from there could be tricky. In the meantime what with paying all our bills and the mortgage, the money from SingMai steadily trickles away, or gushes is probably more accurate. We can't sell the house anyway until we finish the renovations, and in particular the kitchen - which needs money of course. Money that would come from SingMai if only people would pay me.
And through all of this snakes and ladders game that is our life that tease that is Singapore keeps beckoning. Sorry, just remind me again what the personal tax rates are in Singapore; oh yes, just a quarter of what they are here for the same salary except we don't need to pay ourselves such a high salary in Singapore because the cost of living is so low and we don't need a car, unlike here where just going to a nearby shopping mall by bus requires Ploy to hire a sherpa. And yes you are eligible for the SHIFT housing scheme again so we can get a 4 room HDB apartment for S$1500/ month and out total outgoings would be less than half what they are here. And then there are the tax incentives for SingMai, money the Canadian government would prefer to give to the auto industry so its dehydrated, near dead body, is allowed to squirm for a few more minutes, giving hope to the stupid that a recovery is just around the corner.
So we have set the target of moving in the spring of next year but it does depend on a number of things and they all have to happen for it to happen. We had a friendly realtor look around our house last night to tell what she thought we must do and what we don't have to do to sell. There are three like houses for sale near us and none of them has sold yet. In the spring things might be a little better, or they might not. I don't want to move to Singapore with no money, get stuck into renting with no prospect of ever being able to buy. We are too old for that now and this move really must be our last. So it needs to be planned and timed properly, but it also needs to happen, and soon.
When we first moved to Singapore, in February 2004, I already had a job offer from an established company there so getting an employment pass was straight forward. With all our current indecision over where to live I had looked on the Singapore economic development board's website to see the requirements for moving to Singapore with our company, SingMai. It appeared that a minimum investment of S$1M was required to achieve permanent residency based on your own company, something we were somewhat short of, by about S$1M. But I wrote to them anyway and they sent back a series of links which I initially ignored thinking they were the same as I had already discovered.
But I yesterday I followed them only to find that it is possible to get an employment pass based on having your own company. In this case just S$3000 per person is required, and that is only needed as a bank security so you effectively get that money back. The requirements for the company seem straightforward, especially as we are not a start-up but already have a number of customers. So Ploy and I talked all of yesterday and we have a plan. I will move to Singapore to establish SingMai there and get apartments organised etc. That move will be as soon as possible, once current orders are completed and we are paid for them. I will then close SingMai in Canada. Ploy will stay here and we will divide our house so Ploy lives in the basement and we will rent the top two floors out. I don't know how long we will do this for, but certainly until we have tried to maximise our equity in the house by completing all renovations and waiting for the markets to recover somewhat, maybe two to three years or maybe longer.
Ploy will of course visit me in Singapore, probably for all of the winter if necessary, it depends what sort of tenants we can find. I don't like the idea of being apart so much but it seems the only way to ensure our future and in three year's time everything should be perfect, the company established in Singapore and our house in Thailand being our weekend retreat.
The last six months we have had all of these possibilities rattling around inside our heads, it seemed there was no perfect solution. We sell up everything here, lose a lot of money on yet another move, and move to Thailand where we can live cheaply, but can we really run a business from there, and what would be our customer's perception of us working from there; would it damage us? Then Hong Kong became a possibility but that is a new country for both of us and Ploy's Chinese is Mandarin, not Cantonese, so doing business there might be difficult for both of us. Singapore didn't seem an option and Ploy had reservations about returning to Singapore, albeit tiny ones. So we stay in Canada, but neither of us are entirely happy about that as I have written before, without ever quite being able to put our finger on exactly why. If I had to have chosen a perfect solution it would be the one that we have stumbled upon, business in Singapore, home life in Thailand.
I am almost frightened to write this down given all our changes of mind over the last few months but I do think this might finally be the answer.
I had a telephone call with an ex business associate this week. He has left his long term job to start his own company in Hong Kong. I have long believed that our main customers would be found in the Far East and he reminded me that to do business there, you need to have a presence there. I knew that from my previous role as technical support for marketing; business in Asia is very much a hands-on affair so whilst I can get orders from Europe and the US without even visiting the customer, in Asia that is not the case.
So we are considering moving to Hong Kong to establish SingMai there. My friend will introduce us to some prospective customers and he may even be able to get some R&D money from the Hong Kong government. I never saw myself as living in Hong Kong, and longer term I doubt that is where we will stay, but as a base to grow SingMai I think it is ideal, and it is not so far from Thailand so I believe we can start to share our time between the two places, slowly spending more time in the latter.
Ploy, of course, is excited about the possible move. We have never really settled into Canada without ever really being able to put our finger on why. I know I am frustrated by the bureaucracy, from life insurance to getting (or not getting) a family doctor, to Ploy's driving test, and of course the permanent residency application which is still hobbling along. For Ploy it is really the social aspect. In Singapore and Thailand there was always something to do in the evenings and weekends and it was affordable to do it and the weather encouraged us to do it. How I miss wandering along Clarke Quay or watching some live band in Brix or wandering around Bishan Park in the dusk. Or in Thailand we could just eat out every night if we wanted, or travel down to Bangkok, go to Spassos or one of our favourite restaurants, stay the night in a hotel and still have spent less than we we spend on a very average meal here. Just sitting on our veranda in Thailand, people watching, or watching a thunderstorm roll in with a beer and book is a lovely way to spend an evening. It is still too cold to do that here and our evenings are spent watching NCIS and the news.
In fact the weather is also a big factor in our discontent I think. When the evening weather man proclaims that today was a 'beautiful day', a day where the temperature struggled to get to 12degC and was accompanied by a very cool wind, I must admit I start imagining all sorts of grotesque things to do to him. Yes it was sunny, but what is the point of the sun if it doesn't actually make anything warm.
Without an obsessive love of ice hockey our social life here seems limited to the odd trip to Toronto, walking along one of the beaches, (usually accompanied by a freezing cold wind), or eating at Red Lobster. I expected to like Canada more and I am far from a party animal, but I have to admit, Canada is boring and that is probably the real reason we are looking to leave.
Today is our seventh wedding anniversary. I've written many times before about how Ploy has changed my life, and for the better, and how she continues to inspire and rejuvenate me, especially now we have our own company as our only source of subsistence, so I won't repeat ad nauseum how much I love her.
So we went to Ottawa for a long weekend, a drive of some 550km. The hotel I had booked, using the last remains of our air miles, I latterly found out had some terrible reviews. However it didn't turn out as bad as expected and on the first night, tired after the long drive and all the long days preceding that, we had a really nice meal in the hotel restaurant with exceptional service from the Brazilian born, Yugoslavian brought up, UK educated, French speaking Canadian waitor.
The Saturday we walked across the Alexandra bridge from Quebec back to Ontario. Our first stop was the By Ward market which I could have happily stayed in all day, if only to stand outside the cheese shops salivating. I saw my first Wensleydale since leaving the UK but as it was still early morning I decided to not buy immediately and ended up going home without any. We also spotted a restaurant, or more particularly its menu, which became our dinner engagement that evening. If I had to devise a menu to tickle Ploy's tastebuds it would be tuna carpaccio followed by crispy duck with foie gras and there it was on the menu, and it certainly must have been good as both starter and entree were consumed without allowing me my ritual tasting, (Ploy always offers the first fork to me which I am unsure is a loving gesture or because she thinks her food is poisoned). If you wanted to know I had octopus with chorizo sausage to start - probably the only octopus I have ever had that wasn't like chewing on a tyre - and almond crusted breast of chicken.
We ate Japanese food for lunch, a bland seafood udon soup but some excellent sushi rolls and then found both a second hand book store and a second hand CD/LP store. I managed, largely through the rudeness of the staff when I enquired about where the art history section was, ( a reminder we were so close to French Canada), to not buy anything in the former, but succombed in the latter. Unable to find the number 2 bus stop which we were informed would take us to Chinatown, we took a taxi there instead. Ottawa's Chinatown is small and very run down but we wandered around some of its stores - well all of its stores as it happened - before returning to the market by the number 2 bus which did indeed prove go there.
Ploy went off to a shopping mall whilst I retired to the Highlander pub where I indulged myself in Murphys and some bar banter which was fun. The hirsuit, kilt clad barman who went by the very Scottish moniker of Dave, was quietly busy whilst always ensuring those at the bar were not allowed to wallow in their own miseries; we even had a resident drunk who proceeded to tell me more times than I can remember that he twice been to Kitchener, albeit the last time being over thirty years ago, and he couldn't remember the name of the hotel he stayed at except it began with the letter 'v'. I must have been a good mood as I didn't find him even remotely annoying.
We had planned to stay out and enjoy some live music but after dinner we got a taxi back to our hotel and Sunday, after an average breakfast with atrocious service, was spent returning home. We had chosen to 'enjoy' breakfast at the hotel rather than torture ourselves with the highway food offerings which constitute a smorgasbord of burgers at Wendys or burgers at Arbys or burgers at McDonalds or 'subs' at Mr Sub or subs at SubWay. And then there is Tim Hortons where we can choose either burgers or sandwiches or lots of things with sugar coating. Oh I forgot the wraps which are the inferior ingredients of the subs wrapped around by a stale flannel like object that purports to be the titular wrap. So to avoid that we had gongealed scrambled egg and barely warm ham although thanks to my rugby skills I did manage to get some coffee out of the waitress; we were not allowed access to the coffee jug ourselves as I guess we were not part of the coffee union and not trained in its usage.
Breakfast aside it was a lovely break and something we should repeat more often.
Just as a historical note, I noticed there was an Ogilvie road in Ottawa and little enquiry shows there was an Ogilvy (English spelling) department store there and there are several Ogilvie businesses in Ottawa. As I am always on the lookout for rich ancestors that do not have offspring to share their millions with, I think we will return to Ottawa again.
In 1951 6% of the people in the UK believed in astrology and 7% in tarot cards. Fifty eight years later, after science has unravelled DNA, landed men on the moon, given us computers in almost every home and the Internet those figures have risen to 22% and 15%. 55% believe in heaven and 70% in the human soul. The report does not offer an explanation for this other than 'The enlightenment optimism in the ability of science and reason to explain everything ended decades ago'. The strange thing is science has answered a lot more questions since the 1950s so this increasing belief in mysticism must come from something else, after all people of the 1950s, coming on the back of world war and looking at the possibility of an imminent nuclear holocaust, surely had more reason to look elsewhere for some point to life than we need to have now.
Personally I see these figures as further indication that society today, especially Western society, is unwilling to take responsibility for its actions;.everything is the fault of someone else. Global warming - it's those greedy Chinese; economic crisis - it's those greedy bankers; increasing crime - its all these immigrants. One thing is sure, nothing is my fault. So I borrow amounts I can't afford and fill my credit card debt to bursting, I turn up my heating rather than put on a jumper, I throw litter out of my second car because others do so why shouldn't I and I turn a blind eye when I see some kid steal something from a shop, good luck to him anyway. I am consumed by jealousy as I see people with no ability parade their millions on my television screen, or MPs fiddle their expenses but get away with it or stock market bears embezzle millions but do not get drawn to account or watch footballers of less than average ability get paid more in one week than I could ever earn in years; these people have less education than me - why are these people not me!
I am unempowered, I can vote for idiot 1 or idiot 2 but what difference does it make, I can go on a protest march only to find some security camera captures my photo and I cannot get credit anymore, I can write letters to my newspaper but the editor only publishes those that agree with the owner's political affiliations. There must be more to this, some point to it all. How we deal with unempowerment is probably at the root couse of why people, and at a guess the less educated people, are turning to mysticism to give them some point to life.
Even on the back of a World War the people of the 1950s had reason to believe in the future and they believed science was the answer even though it had also produced the very means to end the future. Now I don't see what our vision is anymore. World peace seems more distant now than it was then with increasing xenophobia and religious extremism. Instead of science leading to increased secularism and rationality we now have increased extremism, creationists and the Tony Blair foundation. How did that happen? A politician who came to power with the Obama effect, who 'does not do religion', who led the UK into wars it could ill afford and who managed to bring even less credibility to politicians, if that were possible, is now telling us it was all a dream and in fact he always wanted to be a religious zealot all along, especially if, as with all evangalists, it allows me to feather my nest. This man is especially to blame because when he came to power he gave hope that things were finally going to change.
Why, after fifty years, has science been able to progress despite every attempt to quell its advances by starving it of funding, yet society has gone off down some dark alley such that Tony Blair is forgiven by most and allowed to travel the world as some new messiah rather than being locked up in a tower and the key thrown away as an example to all. Two words from the quote above explain it all, 'enlightenment' and 'optimism'; somehow we have allowed ourselves to enter a new dark age of pessimism.
The decision was made and we have started planning for our move to Thailand. It is just too late for us to start our lives in Canada. We have no savings, we have the mortgage on the house and a loan for the car. And now we are reliant on building our business up as our sole source of income as Ploy has no job, yet if we use the SingMai income to pay off our debts we are taxed at 46%. Instead we can go to Thailand, our house is almost paid for, the car is ours and our cost of living is very small. Almost all our income is ours with tax rates being so low. It allows us to put some money in the bank for our retirement. So we decided to move as soon as was sensible, maybe in one or two years time. I even found this course at Chulalongkorn University where I could continue my art history studies. All was set fair.
Although I closed the TypePad blog there seems one page left up there, a remnant from almost one year ago, and I noticed this comment:
.... together with the constant hassle of getting visas, permanent residency and driving licenses for Ploy have made me wonder if Canada is right for us. Should SingMai take off I would have a problem as my work permit is tied to my day job company and my permanent residency application is a points system which doesn't give points for self employment and I may not achieve the total required to qualify. It has brought home to me that this is not my country, or Ploy's for that matter. We can buy a house and car here, but if I lose my job I would find it very difficult to get a work permit, although I can stay here as a British citizen. Ploy's work permit and visa are tied to mine. It is a constant worry and one we didn't have in Singapore as we could achieve PR status so quickly. So I was thinking of selling up and moving to Thailand; I could run SingMai from there, we have a house and car there and some equity in our house here; we would be fine. I talked to Ploy about it but she is adamant she doesn't want to return there, she feels our future is here.
One year later, yet we still do not have permenent residency, Ploy still does not have her driving license and Ploy still cannot find a worthwhile job. In fact now I don't have my salary things are actually worse, and our house has also dropped in value. Every day that we stay here we seem to be getting worse off. But then this morning I read of the latest round of protests in Thailand and some of the doubts I had about moving there have come back. Where we would live, in Saraburi, we are unlikely to be personally affected, but there seems a real possibility that there could yet be a civil war there. The deposed prime minister, Thaksin, still has enormous influence over the people there and seems to be inciting some of the protests. There is a clear and apparently irreconcilable rift that is affecting the people, the army, the royalty and the police. Each past coup, of which there have been many, has usually resulted in a settled society, until the next coup at least, but this government was self appointed, not elected - and if elections were held they would not win - so where do they go from here. What Thaksin did was fracture Thai society to achieve and maintain his power. He may have been right to reduce the power of the army and the royalty and he might have achieved it were it not for feathering his own nest so extravagantly. But as a job half done he has left a disease that could well prove to be terminal. It is likely that when the king dies things will come even more to a head. Who knows what pressure there is from outside of Thailand with the West's continual insistence on 'democracy' being observed, which currently it is not. Now this Asian conference has had to be postponed there is an increasing risk that Thailand will be isolated, from the West and from its near neighbours. And where will they go from there?
So we seem a bit stuck between a rock and a hard place. We can do nothing for now, selling up here immediately would mean us being in Thailand with almost no money. So we have to wait and see and maybe things will become clearer in the coming year or two.
Both Ploy and I have had something nagging away at us. Ploy, who can sleep through plague and war without a problem, has had her nights interrupted the same way I usually do. But neither of us has been able to put our finger on what it is. We have a bit of money in the bank now and still some orders to fulfill so I don't think it is SingMai and our reliance on its income. Ploy's lay off looks permanent and it doesn't look likely she will find anything worthwhile in the meantime but she spent the first eighteen months here without a job and she was sleeping fine then. Ploy has her driving theory test next week but like me, exams don't worry her.
I don't remember exactly how we came to the conclusion now, and we came to it independently, but we have decided that our future does not lie in Canada. In a complete about turn we have decided to go to Thailand to live, in three years and four months time to be precise. Canada is not a place to retire to, the cost of living is just too high, and we are too old to be a part of the rat race, even if we had ever wanted to join it. When we came to Canada we noted how laid back it was compared to Singapore but after two years here we have noticed that we are actually finding it more difficult to relax here than we did in that fast paced city. Assuming we don't join the crazy eighteen hour a day, six day a week regime of some in Singapore it becomes a question of what you actually do with your time off and that is where Singapore wins every time and that is where we are finding it difficult in Canada. For six months of the year we are in winter, (and the late snow of this week probably reinforced our decision), and we are not one of those people that regard winter as a chance to go out and do winter activities. In Singapore and Thailand the warm evenings encourage you to go out. At weekends there are so many places to go, Thailand even more so of course. But Thailand really is the place to go when you want to relax; I still have fond memories of sitting on our house veranda with a cold beer and a book watching the sun go down or watching the thunderstorms. After all Canada was meant to be a stopping off point to California originally. In no way do I regret not moving to California, but it is a fact we did not choose to come here in the same way we chose to go to Singapore.
Singapore would be an option but now we have recinded our permenent residencies there Thailand becomes the more obvious choice. We have a house there, and land, and Ploy has a natural right to live there of course and I can easily get a visa based on my marriage to her. Why the 3 years and 4 months, well that is a target based on the time when we have to renew our mortgage on our house here. It gives us time to do a few more things on our Thai house, like make the kitchen bigger - fine now for the few weeks we spend there but not for full time living -and also to finish our house here and hopefully let the house prices recover a little bit. And also, again hopefully, SingMai will be stable by then without immediately disrupting it with a move. Ploy plans to start a noodle shop in Thailand to also bring some money in.
We both had objections to living in Thailand. For Ploy she saw it as a place of misfortune where all the bad things in her life had happened. But she now thinks that being with me will change her luck there. For me I worry about all the political unrest and how it would be possible to run a business in a country that is so corrupt. But then at least the Thai prime minister was not caught short in the bog at the G20 conference, and Ploy tells me the corruption is less apparent when you actually live there, we are not running a bar after all and I hope to have some mastery of the language before I go there to live, which should help.
So that dream of a beach front house, with time to write all those books I never write, may yet be coming true. Of course it could all change again but for now it seems a plan.
Yesterday Ploy persuaded me to take the day off and for us to go out somewhere. The day was chilly but sunny so I looked for somewhere new to go. We usually go towards the small towns on the shoreline of Lake Huron so this time I thought we would head south west to the shores of Lake Erie. A quick search on the Internet found Port Stanley which seemed the right distance and being a sleepy fishing village at this time of the year, promised the find of a discrete little fish restaurant.
The trip down was lovely, quiet roads that allowed me to mostly rely on cruise control and just sit back and enjoy the view. We were being guided by our GPS but as usual, as soon as we get within the vicinity of the lakes it complains about a lack of map data. Both my GPS units have done this, I have no idea why. Anyway it meant we missed the restaurant I had programmed in but we did find another one easily enough and as it was already 1.30p.m. we hungrily climbed the steps. The meal was a disappointment, nearly everything fried in stale oil with little of interest on the menu. A shame as we watched the fishing boats go past from our lovely elevated window view.
After the meal we wandered across to the train station. There is a vintage train that runs a few miles through the woods to St. Thomas. The train is run by volunteers and runs on the stock and train lines of the original Port Stanley to London train route that was closed in 1984. The train ambles at walking pace through the woods, past their stockyard and stops at this time of the year at Whyte Park where they have some other restored stock, the most interesting of which was a 65 ton snow plough.
After wandering around for a while we then take the trip back and on our return drove down to the large sandy beach. There were quite a few houses for sale in the area, one in particular caught my eye backing directly onto the beach. Ploy didn't seem so enthusiastic though as she is not a fan of sleepy towns and is more of a city girl. I guess, from the all the mostly closed beach front restaurants that this sleepy town is far from that in the summer. Disappointing though that we never did find that intimate fish restaurant cooking whatever the fresh catch was that day, so we drove home and gorged ourselves on sashimi by way of compensation.
As if having to rely on SingMai to put food on the table is not enough, we have now decided that Ploy should also start her own company up. Her 'temporary' lay off from her job has become somewhat permanent and little else seems to be on offer except sub minimum wage, cash in hand, kitchen jobs.
It is not as if Ploy hasn't run her own companies before; before I met her she delivered fish balls to the markets in Bangkok, ran her own restaurant in Cambodia and helped out running a casino and then after we met she started her own civil engineering company and made custom silver jewellry. It seems silly to consign her to working for someone else. It has taken me 51 years to realise I am not actually very good at working for others and I think Ploy has much the same problems.
So we have been throwing a few ideas around and have come up with doing Thai themed dinners, cooked at your house, for those intimate little soirees. I don't know if it is going to work, but I have good feeling about it, and by restricting ourselves to dinners I will be able to help her. Nothing ventured, nothing gained as they say, and with care there needs to be only a little investment up front until we have proved the concept. I have started drafting the website, Ploy's kitchen, and Ploy has started work on the menus and the costs. We haven't even settled on the name yet, Ploy rather likes Aroi dee Thai kitchen (delicious) whereas I fancy Pom Poie Thai kitchen (plump).
Most importantly of all, it has got Ploy energised again as she not really your stay at home type of girl.
After almost exactly one year of writing my day to day thoughts on the TypePad Blog I have decided to return them to whence they came, my website. I have copied all the old material across but it will take some days to get it all formatted again and get the photos up. However it needs to be done; in writing on my Blog I have completely ignored the website, some pages have not been updated for over a year.
So I am back, with a new colour scheme that is a little more discrete and a new type font. You can still comment on the posts if you wish, my e-mail address is at the top of the page.