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This is page 4 of my diary archives. Other diary entries can be found here, Page 18, Page 17, Page 16, Page 15, Page 14, Page 13, Page 12, Page 11, Page 10, Page 9, Page 8, Page 7, Page 6, Page 5, Page 3, Page 2 and Page 1, (oldest entry).

 

 

Tamboon

Ploy told me yesterday that she had dreamt of her mother and father and it had made her realise that she had not given 'tamboon', (merit), at a temple for them since we came to Canada. In Singapore you are reminded of these things all the time; for example at the Chinese Ghost festival. Through tears she said they must be hungry and we must give tamboon today. So we have a kitchen full of food to give to the monks at our local Laos temple. There is a Thai temple which we have yet to visit in Niagara Falls but Ploy is happy that we just visit the local one.

Our poplar tree came down on Tuesday with breathtaking efficiency. It look less than an hour to turn a thirty foot tree into a few logs and a great pile of wood chips.

I have been a bit irritable this week and I can't put my finger on why, although yesterday, having woken at 3a.m. I then went back to bed at 6 and woke at 10, slept two more hours in the afternoon and then slept soundly all night. Same old trouble I expect. This AdCom and Humanitarian Committee work is taking up an increasing percentage of my time and next month I have to travel again for another meeting, (to Denver). SingMai continues to be busy on the website without getting any more firm enquiries and I am not sure why. Obviously what we are offering is not what people were looking for but I think the advertising link is explicit enough. 80% of people only look at the first page but 20% go further yet still don't find what they want. I guess I just need to get some more products out there, but they all take time to design properly.

Of course another thing they take is money and we are going to have to bite the bullet and spend some money to complete some of them. Trying to do all of this, and continue refurbishing the house, whilst also saving, is almost impossible.

We had our first telephone conference on the Humanitarian committee this week and I was glad to find that this is not just a paper exercise. The aim is to listen to the problems that NGOs are finding, us making proposals how they might be solved, we choose the top three that we think will make the most impact and turn them into products. So we actually produce something, and something that will help. It does feel good to be part of this. I even asked a couple of questions at the conference that were described by at least two people as "excellent" which made me feel better, participating as I am with people that have more letters after their name than Ploy has in her Thai name. We will have a face to face meeting in November at the Academy of Sciences in Washington which will be quite something I expect, I might need to buy a tie, although I guess the NGOs attending will all be dressed in flak jackets and hippy T-shirts with 'Down with Bush' emblazoned across them.

And at the same time as all of this I now have an increased workload for my day job, not before time to be honest and the work is interesting, but obviously that also eats into my time. So just at a time when I need more hours in the day I have gone and knackered myself. I know Ploy senses this as she was out late last night spreading the wood chips over the bare patches of our garden, i.e. all of it. It is a temporary measure but it does help to make things look better for zero investment except our time.

There have been a number of news stories this week that have caught my eye. British Airways, my least favourite airline, announced an annual profit of 883M pounds, an obscene result. (Actually even the BBC uses a small 'm' to announce the news, £883m, am I the only one that gets annoyed when people use the wrong suffix, 'm' is milli for God's sake and whilst a profit of 0.883 pounds could be newsworthy I think it is not intentional). The CEO announces he will not take his annual bonus of 700,000 pounds which is extraordinarily magnanimous of him given what his salary probably is, and the fact that he was in charge over the debacle that was Terminal 5. At the same time rising fuel costs, BA explain, mean that prices will have to increase for the next year. Why? To maintain the same profit, but why do they have to make this obscene profit. This of course also applies to most companies, from Microsoft to the oil giants. What do they do with that profit?

Of course some companies plough it back into research and development - although this doesn't seem applicable to BA - but for even the most forward thinking that is only 30%. Staff bonuses; well BA say their staff will receive 35M pounds in bonuses, less than 5%. And dividends to the parasitic shareholders, an undisclosed amount.

Of course the company needs to keep some fund in case of emergencies, probably buy some new planes, that sort of thing. But otherwise why have such a level of profit. Why not reduce the profit by charging less for the fares or better, putting less seats on the planes so flying in economy is not akin to being a battery hen. How about funding research into more efficient engines? How about just being philanthropic and giving the money to cancer research? Of course the shareholder would not allow this; fine for some other company they would say, but not the one I invest in. The whole structure through which companies start up and grow, and the investors get rewarded needs to be overhauled. As long as the aim of any company is just to keep people who have no interest in a company, other than what it earns for them, happy, then things will never improve.

The next time I am flying cattle class for twelve hours, drinking the cheapest plonk it is possible to buy and eating indescribably awful food, yet having re-mortgaged my house for the privilege, I will give a thought to those parasites, sipping their Chateauneuf du Pape, driving their Porsche's, and wearing their Armani suits who have brought this about.

Confirming What I Already Knew

Ploy, armed with her new work permit, went out looking for a job last week. But everywhere she went it was the same story; because she wasn't a permanent resident, even though her work permit is valid for nearly three years, they didn't consider her. She could find work in a restaurant, but she already tried that and like most restaurants world-wide, they are underpaid, awful hours, with no overtime, and no benefits like sick pay or paid holiday. One agency she went to gave her a test, not just mathematics and English which others had given her - and which she passed - but questions about factory safety which she failed, and by all accounts so did almost everyone else. Why didn't they give her something to study first, but then the test favour those, Canadians mostly, that already have worked in factories and know the regulations. It was clear she was being discriminated against.

I mention this because this, 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.

Yesterday we worked on clearing the garden and by the end of the day were able to look back and congratulate ourselves. The front of the house is looking very good and as the day was sunny and warm everything was right with the world. Perhaps I am trying to do too much too soon. Ploy is right to challenge me over moving as she would certainly support me if I decided that is best for us.

First PR status in Thailand is some mythical beast that no-one ever seems to have achieved. Without that I am left with visa runs and visits to the police, for the rest of my life; and who knows if those rules may get harder. Then there is the question of house ownership as I cannot, as a foreigner, own property in Thailand. And then there is the problem of running a business there with all the difficulties of getting parts, of getting reliable post and Internet access that I just take for granted here, and trying to do this with only a cursory knowledge of the language. So Thailand is not really an option and I always knew it wasn't. But still that doubt remains.

It has brought home the difficulty of being an immigrant, even in a country where I have a command of the language. Although our situation is voluntary it is not as though we are a drain on society here. In this area, with town names such as London, Kitchener and Waterloo, with the Mennonite farmers on our doorstep, with a high university intake, with a large number of Laos and Vietnamese people, almost everyone here is an immigrant. And even though I speak the language somehow I don't quite feel part of the place. Our neighbours are lovely and cut our grass for us yesterday, (well the bit that looks most like grass), and one or two at work always take the time to chat over coffee, but Canadians who have been here for a generation or more do not understand how difficult it is. Like most countries Canada is getting concerned about immigration, which seems extraordinary when there is talk of a brain drain and this huge country has a population of just half of Britain's.

In Britain immigration is a hot subject and given the shortage of land and the xenophobia of the people I can see why. But Canada is a land of immigrants, (mostly), so it makes the difficulties we are finding all the more inexplicable. But perhaps I am over-stating the case. We do have a nice house here and maybe that PR status will come quicker than we thought - we are being told it can take two years. And we do have our garden.

'Jai yen' as Ploy would say, take it easy and things will sort themselves out.

PRs and Visa and Work Permits

Ploy's visa, which allows her to stay in Canada, runs out at the end of this month. I have the five pages of the application form to fill in, plus copies of bank statements and tax returns, plus a cheque for $650. This will be the third visa for Ploy since we arrived here just 16 months ago. We have just received her second work permit which took five weeks and cost $1000; we are using immigration lawyers because the procedures are difficult to find and confusing and in some cases, although not the latter two, my company will pay.
I am on my second work permit, because of the change in the company last summer. My work permit is tied to the company, I have to apply for another one if I leave, yet strangely Ploy's is not, she is free to work for anyone. Her new work permit expires in just over two years time.
We have also started the application for permanent residency. This is another ball game altogether, the level of information required is ridiculous; for example every house I have lived in, including the months and years I stayed there with no gaps, from when I was eighteen years old. We also have the problems of the lack of Ploy's birth certificate and we have to get a sworn statement that she does not have one. And we have had numerous e-mails to Ploy's daughter to get details from her because she has to be included in the application even though she is living in Thailand. And all of this will take two years and cost over $5000.

This is one aspect of Canada I do not like and it contrasts so much with Singapore. From memory our work permits took two hours and cost $20 each. I think they were valid for five years. We achieved permanent residency within a year of moving there and did the application ourselves and apart from getting a couple of certificates translated from Thai it was quite straightforward. It seemed the country wanted you and did everything possible to make it easy to live and work there. So despite the fact that I, as a UK citizen, do not need a visa to stay here, everything seems to be done to make working here as difficult as possible.
I don't think I am an undesirable, I pay my taxes, I am starting up my own company that may employ Canadians and contributes a little to the Canadian economy, I have bought a house here and I intend to apply for Canadian citizenship and make this our home. We like so many things about Canada, but this constant fight with immigration bureaucracy is driving me to distraction. It especially irks given the high student and immigrant population of this area. The photos are from our garden which I have been trying to make some effort to clear up. It had been a dumping ground for the house debris and a lot of the plants and hedges were more dead than alive so I have just been cutting them down. But it is hard work, harder than the house renovations but luckily coinciding with our visits to the  chiropractor so we get our money's worth out of him. And it is surveying our work on the garden that that reinforces the good side of moving to Canada, a garden we could not envisage owning in Singapore.

Humph Dies

Humphrey Lyttelton has died. I only saw him perform once, at the Edinburgh jazz festival. I am not a great fan of traditional jazz but couldn't miss the opportunity to see him. It was great evening, full of humour and fantastic musicianship.
However I know Humph mostly for the greatest radio program in the history of, well, radio; I'm Sorry I haven't a Clue. This program, uniquely British in its use of innuendo, has had me in tears of laughter. I guess the program will be stopped now as it will be impossible to find a replacement for Humph; somehow he managed to maintain that aura of not wanting to be there through all the years the program was on and his silences were often the funniest moments. It is a redit to the people involved in the show that they never attempted to transfer it to television, allowing Samantha and the laser display board to remain in our minds.
I read somewhere that Humph also refused either an MBE or OBE although he never spoke of it. That is an indication of the depth of the man as his upbringing would suggest privilege. So while the recipients for these awards gets increasingly longer, populated as it now is by lollypop ladies, over-paid and talentless celebrities and darts players, Britain's greatest ever jazz trumpeter is not amongst them.

Putting Something Back

I had an e-mail asking for volunteers.

'Technology has the potential to transform the way we address the world’s toughest challenges.  But, this will only happen if innovators know what technological tools in-the-trenches humanitarian workers truly need and field workers know what innovations are technologically possible.  Unfortunately, there is a chasm between technological innovators and humanitarian field workers which almost always prevents this from occurring.  To bridge this gap, the UN Foundation, the Vodafone Group Foundation, and the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the world’s preeminent technical professional society, are working together to create the Humanitarian Technology Challenge (HTC). Powered by the vision of becoming the world’s leading campaign to equip humanitarians with technology innovation to address the world’s toughest problems, HTC will provide humanitarian experts in the field of health and emergency response a forum to present core issues they deal with in the field, and then work with IEEE engineers to create or modify sustainable technology solutions to address the challenge.  This is not a campaign with a goal of developing innovative technology for the sake of research and development.  Instead, HTC will provide a platform to address large development issues and match them with sustainable technology solutions.' 

In short I applied and have been accepted without being completely sure what it is all about. No doubt all will become clear in the coming weeks. As far as I can make out a small group of volunteers from each section of the IEEE will react to problems that the Humanitarian workers encounter and see if we can offer solutions to them. It sounds interesting and might actually be something that might make a small difference.

Finishing what we Started

The work is starting to mount up again.

I have advertised SingMai on Google which I hope will bring in some more enquiries, (the second order is still serious), but equally it also means I need to prepare some more products. I have a new development platform ready to be manufactured and I also have quite a lot of work to do on some new IP cores.

Additionally my profile at my day job has increased noticeably as I volunteered to design something new for them which has been enthusiastically accepted. It means I don't have to travel the world on those field trials either which is a huge relief, but it is quite a lot of work none-the-less. Volunteering for work and then complaining about doesn't seem to make much sense, but I needed to know I had the security of regular salary for a while yet.

My AdCom work is also increasing and I have volunteered, (although has not been accepted yet), to be a link between our society and a Humanitarian society, sort of adviser as to how technology can help their NGO work.

Of course the work on the house also continues although there are no huge jobs left, at least not any I am going to attempt. Ploy is so happy with the basement kitchen that she says I don't have to worry about finishing off the main kitchen, which is just a bare shell. Well not yet anyway. But there are a lot of small jobs left and some not quite so small. I really want to get my workshop up and running in the basement so I can do more work from home.

Ploy was talking last night about opening a B&B. She mentioned it before and I do sort of understand; we are still waiting for her work permit so she is a little bored. But I don't think I can face refurbishing another house and I reminded her that are visiting a chiropractor next week as both of us have persistent aches and pains, (and the exploratory visit showed we did have some serious misalignments). We both dream of that house by the sea, (or lake), and maybe it will happen but for now I will just be happy to finish what we started.

Renovation Part 16

Ever the romantic, for our wedding anniversary we went to Ikea. A bit of careful searching can find things there that we cannot find anywhere else, and the house is mostly at that nice state now where we can buy small things for it that make a big difference.
The walls are still mostly bare so I was on the lookout for some paintings. Ploy found some wavy looking mirrors to put by the main entrance and I mooted over buying a rather large print of my favourite building, the Flat Iron building in New York. Ploy persuaded me to buy it but as with all things Ikea putting the frame together and fixing the print was not so straightforward; Ikea seem to prefer to have some childlike cartoons instead of a few written instructions and I can never tell the difference between the one with the cross through it and the one without.
But it is now in place and it has made a big difference to our dining room. Today I fitted a range hood to our basement kitchen and tomorrow I hope to fix Ploy's mirrors and fix some shelves in the workshop in the basement. We have a great sense of achievement now about what we done with this house and although there is quite a bit still to be done the end is very much in sight.

 

Opening myself up to abuse

My Diary has been just that, a diary, a journal of things that interest me, things I have read, and the things that Ploy and I have been up to.
Although I do publish my e-mail for anyone who wishes to comment, in reality that just means I get an in-box full of adverts for Viagra, girls that want to meet me, Rolex watches and opportunities to see Britney Spears' bazookas.
I subscribed to a blog a while ago with the intention of writing about art history, but I found I didn't have enough energy to keep it going, so instead I have decided to move my diary across to it. So here it is, the first entry.

Everything should remain as before and the content will be the same mix of irrelevance and nonsense, the difference is it is much easier for anyone out there to tell me what I write is nonsense. Go on, enjoy yourselves.

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