Sunday, December 25, 2011

Homeless cats

We have seven cats on the farm so there is always an excess of cat biscuits and leftover cat food around. Due to availability of cat food, stray cats are often attracted to the house and are very difficult to chase off.

Many of the stray cats are very agressive and they bite our domestic cats leaving large gashes and gouges across their face. Because of this problem, whenever we see a stray cat, we have to chase them away. I usually don't feel sorry for them because they're so agressive but this past year has seen a new skittish arrival.

We've christened him as 'Tom Number 2" because he looks very similar to Tom with his white fur and ginger splotches of colour. We've tried to chase him away thinking that he bites our tame cats however after many failed attempts, he still remains on the peripherals. He waits until our cats are fully fed and then comes skulking to polish up the leftover food.

Now we don't chase him away anymore because he's not as agressive as the other strays. Infact, he is rather timid and always looking very pitiful. I've been feeling so sorry for him these past few months. He looks really scraggly, is always hungry and today, I noticed that he has one eye that looked infected or blinded and he had a huge gash on his left cheek. My heart melted and I felt so sorry for him.

My mum and I know that he skulks in the background waiting for leftovers and to discourage him from attacking our cats, we put out excess cat food so that he can have some leftovers to eat and doesn't attack our cats simply due to hunger. Today for the first time, I looked him in his eyes and he looked back at me very pitifully from his hiding place. Two eyes of different colours. I filled a bowl with some cat biscuits for him and for the first time, he got his own dish instead of eating leftovers.

Homeless cats and homeless humans. Being homeless is a sad state to be in. I see our cats being so well fed and loved and I see Tom Number 2 being unloved, a stray that had been left to fend for himself but it appears that he hasn't acquired the agression to survive as a homeless stray. We haven't chased him away for a few months now- instead, he's been partly adopted into the family because mum and I put out extra cat food on purpose knowing that he will come and polish up the leftovers.

I know that there's been a new, large black stray in our vicinity and he doesn't look timid or afraid. He's agressive and isn't afraid of me when I try to chase him away. Makes me wonder if the black stray has fought and gouged Tom Number 2's face since they both vie for the leftovers...

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas: Filing cabinet, renovations and plants

In two more hours it will be Christmas Day. I was at the shops earlier this morning and it was insane. So many people buying so much food. That's awesome because I know retailers have been struggling for a while now and that a huge section of our domestic economy in terms of employment labour.

May everyone have a happy and safe Christmas. Don't drink and drive is all I've got to say about the 'BIG' day. Eat, drink and be merry. Personally, I'm certainly looking forward to a day of relaxation after all the hard work that I've been contributing across various facets of my life these recent six months. It's been emotionally and physically exhausting.

This past week alone, there have been two days where I've had only three hours sleep each night. Last night was five hours. I've got a major sleep deficit to catch up on. Does anyone else burn the candle on both ends like that? Late night and early mornings. Despite today being Christmas Eve, I was at my folk's IP(investment property) all day doing a lot of scrubbing, cleaning, vacuuming and carrying out a lot of broken plasterboard that the builder left in haphazard piles.

Here are a few photos across the last few months because I've been such a poor blogger - something for you to look at if you're spending Christmas catching up on your reading =)

I bought a proper dedicated filing cabinet to file my personal paperwork and it is the BEST thing that I've done for myself:

Starting my compost bins and converting foodscraps from landfill into nutrient rich compost. This diverted approximately 5 to 7 of these tubs worth from landfill every week:

Balcony garden- a large time sink for me but I really love plants =). I've identified the some of the plants that I'm currently growing for you:

Got the gardening and plant fever from my folks and what they do on their farm:

Unfortunately my laptop is giving me the **** right now because it keeps overheating and shutting down so I bid you adieu and a merry, merry Christmas =)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Speculating About The Sydney Housing Market

Another weekend flashing pass with more BBQs and dining out with friends. More conversation about everything and anything, however I'll make particular mention about the property speculation that some friends were discussing.

Friends who have bought property have nothing negative to say about property- only loads of positive comments and experience. One friend who bought her town house for $465k (ish) said that she was so glad that she bought because merely two years later, she would have been priced out of her suburb with town houses in the very same block recently sold at $600k (ish). She'd have to save $135k in two years if she had decided to delay her purchase.

 Friends who have not bought any property are saying that they believe property is overpriced and that they'll wait for it to go down before buying.

Since a house purchase is on the cards for the forthcoming 2012 year, I can't deny that those speculations have plagued my mind somewhat. I can't tell what the future holds and judging by the disastrous financial performance by plenty of traders, fund managers and economic forecasters - neither can they.

But you know - the waiting game has never really paid back. The action and execute methodology works significantly better. Property prices were appreciating around 2003 in Sydney and I was bummed that I missed that boom. I thought, well it's stable again and not going anywhere with the glut of rental properties(particularly city apartments) around. A two bedroom, one bathroom and one carpark apartment in Sydney city were selling for $360k in 2007. Around 2008 it reached another few years of price increases. Fortunately I had my finger in the pie by that stage.

2011 - that same two bedroom, one bathroom and one carpart apartment in Sydney city are selling for $600k. $240k price appreciation in four years.

During recessions and bust cycles - at the most, the prices have stabilised, dipped a few thousands and in a few short years later, continued their strataspheric climb.

Unless unemployment and redundancies make the rounds down under in Sydney, I can't see house prices crashing 30 to 40%. Not when I know that so many of our friends have so much money. All around me, I see friends spending lavishly, dining out frequently and heading overseas for month long trips. As long as people are employed, house prices will be rather stable - that's my chrystal ball. It's only overpriced or crashing if people can't afford to buy property and the glut builds up. But Sydneysiders are on relatively huge incomes compared to other countries and until a significant number of working professionals are made redundant, I don't see the impetus for a property price crash.

Check back with me in 5 years time to see what has happened with the property market. Will it be up or down or going sideways? Who knows?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Negotiating for credits on bills

Sometimes I have to call our vendors and ask for credits. It's such a tough gig since I know that we incurred the bill and yes, we are partly responsible but then again, the excess usage charges are ridiculously over inflated and astronomous and their email reminder system didn't work.

Today I phoned XYZ(telecommunication company) and asked them to kindly credit the $308.29 excess charge. The lady on the phone was tough. Usually if I ask nicely for credits from anyone, they usually roll over and give me my credits. This lady was holding out all the way.

This is what it took to get a $231.22 credit:

1. "I'm sorry, it's a valid charge- you used it so it's payable and I can't give you any credits" (insert rebuttals)
2. "I'm sorry, look the most I can give you is $100 credit off the total" (insert more rebuttals politely about the exorbitant charges and how their reminders didn't work and someone should of advised us etc etc)
3. "I can't help you any further, all I can credit the account is $100" (can you escalate this to a department that has more authority?)
4. "There's no other department that can do that. The maximum credit that I can give you is 75% of the $308.29 usage charge and that's it. I can't credit anything more than that. No-one here can credit more than that, I'm sorry" (this is good enough and I've spent enough time on the phone for the negotiations)

So that was it. From a $356.29 bill to $96.07. It took 15 minutes to negotiate for a credit of $231.22. If you view it from the company perspective, their system didn't function as expected and thus the excess data usage was incurred. On the other hand, yes the data was used so fair enough that we(company that I work for) pay something.

It's not easy negotiating. From experience, I know that there if there's any unfair or exorbitant charges that obviously has a lot of profits built in, then there's room for negotiations and credits. Even when you're at the shop buying things- the higher the markup, the more discounting potential.

Related posts:
* Ask and you shall receive
* Asking for higher interest rates on my funds
* Maximising interest on your savings

Monday, December 12, 2011

First They Killed My Father: Loung Ung Book

Cambodia's sad history and the genocide

'First They Killed My Father' is a historical autobiography about Loung Ung's war experience. Most people would consider the title overly dramatised but the sad fact is that it was a reality for many Cambodians. Loung Ung, the author writes about her horrific experience during the Khmer Rouge/Killing Field period and her journey to America as a refugee.

Despite sharing the same surname as Loung, I don't think I'm related to her -but how would I know since I lost three grandparents to the Khmer Rouge genocidal period and no one really knows our ancestral details in great depths since my Aunties and Uncles were also in their teens and early 20s when the genocide happened? All I know is from what my parents told me about their experience, their losses and the saddest and most miserable years of their life.

To analyse the entire book, I could write another book about it really. How Loung's family and her experience during the starvation, famine, disease and deaths paralleled my own parents journey of loss, death and fear during those same years. I love Australia. I love its freedom, friendliness and the democratic society here. Whenever I hear misguided people arguing in favour of communism and how they believe it's such a Utopic concept - it makes me angry and pity them for their ignorance. If only they had read about how communism failed the population of Russia, China, Cambodia and Korea. The misery that it inflicts.

Pol Pot - what an asshole, dickhead, prick, insane killer and murderer of two million people. I don't normally use profanities in my posts but his regime and horribly misguided ideas resulted in the death of many people including some of my own grandparents, aunties and uncles. And as I delve more deeply into my heritage about Cambodia and the horror that he and his regime inflicted, the more it makes me angry and realise how stupid and evil we can be as humans.

Cambodia and the classes of wealth

If you don't know much about Cambodia, it's a South East Asian country that was previously so rich in history, culture, mineral and agricultural wealth. With rivers, lakes and a coast line, it used to be abundant with wildlife, jungle, fish and food. The society was and is very much class based. It was previously a French colony so many Khmer people (the ones that survived) can speak, read and write fluent French. My parents were also educated in the French language alongside Khmer (the Cambodian language) and a minor Chinese dialect(Teo Chiu). Nowadays they speak English and can't understand why we can't be multilingual like they are.

The whole communism period was an uprising by the peasants and the outcast Khmer Rouge(direct translation is Red Cambodians/Red Cambodian Army). Due to the US bombing the crap out of the Cambodian countryside in their fervour to destroy the Vietnamese soldiers, they bombed Cambodia too. That was why it was so easy for the Khmer Rouge to evacuate the cities. They used the excuse that the US army were going to bomb the cities and they all needed to evacuate for three days. My mum to this day, still harbours deep regret about her immaturity during those years - how she was young and naive and took only some clothes and some books with her when she should have taken as much food as she could possibly carry.

How three days turned into five years of torture

The Khmer Rouge told the evacuating civilians that they could return to their homes in three days but it was all lies. The three day lies were only the beginning of the five years of torture, famine, hunger, starvation and overwork that was awaiting them in their future. Nowadays, noone could pull that type of lie anymore because we have mobile phones, internet, media and we are all much more informed due to technology. Imagine the mid 1970's when the only news were predominantly print media publications. If you had no media and all you knew was that your country was being bombed and were asked to evacuate by soldiers, what and how much would you pack if they said it would only be for three days? All those who refused to evacuate were eventually killed and shot by the Khmer Rouge.

The mass murder of the educated, teachers, doctors, wealthy affluent families, politicians, religious and or business owners

Do you fall into any of those categories? If you do, imagine if you and all you know who fit into those categories were persecuted, tortured and killed? That's what happened to my mother and father's family. They were killed and even the children were killed incase they grew up and took revenge for the deaths of their parents. They killed all the educated and anyone who could be intelligent or influential enough to create uprising and revolutions.

My parents said the only way to survive those years were to pretend to be only a poor farmer or servant and pray that no-one recognises you and your lies. They had to hide the fact that they could speak, read and write in a few languages, hide the fact that their parents owned properties, land and that they had servants. Hide the fact that they were educated and prayed that no-one would recognise them and report them for reward - a measly amount of food reward. If you were caught hiding your knowledge, they killed you and they killed your family. They pretended to know nothing, the less said the safer it was.

They split up families and used that as threats used to punish you if you misbehaved. If you misbehaved, the threat was that they would kill your siblings and family in the other 'camps'.

The starvation and deaths

My mum tells me about how they laboured in the rice farms for 12-15 hour days planting and growing rice which were mainly for exporting to China so that Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge regime could pay China for their guns, ammunitions and financial loans. She said that they laboured in the hot tropical heat every single day for five years and each day, they would get one small bowl of watery porridge.

Have you ever dined in a Chinese restaurant and they give you those tiny bowls to eat your rice and food from? My mum tells me that they were fed a small bowl with about 1 tablespoon of rice in that watery mix for each day of back breaking labour and that was all they were given to eat. That's why so many Cambodians eventually perished from starvation, disease and overwork. There were no more doctors, nurses nor medicine since they were anihilated and murdered already. And any doctors or nurses that were able to survive were hiding their knowledge and experience due to the fear of being found out, tortured for more information and then killed.

My parents tell me about about their escape into Thailand's refugee camps and the mass graves they passed along the way. The stench of death and the fear of landmines, being tortured and being shot if they were caught.

The present and the future

Only by being aware of our past and spreading the knowledge can we prevent this from happening again. This is my homage to the future. May we all live to remember the suffering of the past and remember to treat our future respectfully and not wage war on each other. There are wars, suffering and repression being waged in Iraq, Burma, parts of South Africa and elsewhere in the world. I wish it would all end. I wish the world could live in peace and harmony.

Loung Ung's book strikes deep chord within myself and reminds me of my own family's history and the challenges that they faced to be standing here. It reminds me to not be selfish and donate, lend a helping hand and to always remember that no matter what I believe my sufferings to be, I am fortunate and I have nothing to complain about. I do wonder if she is somehow a relative of mine or related to me somehow and whether some of her losses in her book are also some of my family's losses.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Arthur's Bavarian Bakehouse: Tasty But Poor Service

One of my colleagues was raving about the sourdough and pies that he bought from Arthur's Bavarian Bakehouse so I was very eager to visit the store to try their goodies for myself. The shop had artisan breads alongside the wall, pretzels dangling from the ceiling and an array of Northern European baked goods on tables.

I bought some pies, a pumpkin and fetta sourdough, vanilla kipferls, macarons (yea I know they're French and not Bavarian but they're in fashion right now in Sydney and most bakers are cashing in on the macaron wave).

As the greyish, blond haired lady tallied up my purchases, I was holding a $10 note in one hand and about to get the rest when she finalised the total. Instead she turns around and says in a cranky rude tone, "That's not going to pay for it!"

Well duh. I work with numbers all day for a living so I should know better than most folks how numbers work. The total was around $31 and I had $10 in my hand thus far. I was clutching $10 because originally I was going to buy only two pies and got slightly carried away. Her tone and manner was abrupt and rude. We had driven there specifically for the bakery and to be subjected to rude service made me want to put everything back on the shelf and leave.

Although this is the most challenging retail season because shoppers are predominantly tired, cranky and harrassed doesn't mean you should be rude to the ones who are polite just because you're in a foul mood. I've worked in retail before when I was a student and I have always tried to be polite, helpful and kind to all customers despite how challenging some of them are occasionally.

Christmas is drawing near and yes, I know the car parks at shopping centres are full, there's bad traffic jams and dazed fatigued shoppers stumbling around everywhere. Is this any excuse for poor service?

Rudeness isn't going to buy you any customers and ongoing sales. The pies had tasty fillings but the dough pastry was still slightly uncooked. I would rather spend my money at my local bakery where the staff are always friendly, kind, helpful.

This must be the silly season for poor service. Sigh.