Monday, September 26, 2005 ______________________________________________________________________________

Back Story 

At around 11pm last night, Jim and I were cozily tucked in bed and drifting off amongst snippets of conversation. Then his cell phone goes off right next to our heads. Jim's not one of those guys with a melodic ring tone. Instead, he favours the no-nonsense fire alarm ring, which is practical, because you can hear it ring even if you've left it in your car 15 blocks away. I always figured that if someone calls you late at night, it's because there's something urgent/important. So he answers the phone - wrong number.

Bloody hell.

The phone rings again. And again. We're both starting to get rather frustrated, as is the person on the other end of the line. Then the weirdest question comes over the airwaves: "Are you guys living in suite 1603?" Jim takes a quick peek at the caller ID on his cell and it turns out that the guy was calling from downstairs, waiting to be buzzed in (yes, our buzzer is connected to Jim's cell).

"Yes, we're the new tenants."

"Where's Ray? We're looking for Ray?"

doot doot doot doot doot

Apparently there's a time limit on these buzzer intercom conversations. So he calls back and Jim and I ask to meet him in the lobby. Bleary eyed and not quite sure what we were getting ourselves into we dressed and lumbered downstairs. First impressions were rather scary, we saw a stocky, balding guy with a tall, well-built bald guy.

"OH MY GOD," we thought, "They're going to break our legs..." - Well, at least that's what I was thinking, I didn't ask Jim for his thoughts.

Approaching the door, we saw that they had a woman with them, late forties, neat hair and clothes. Huh. It was a family of three.

"Ah fuck," I thought, "travellers looking up relatives for room and board. Well, they're not staying here, that's for damn sure." They didn't have any bags with them though.

Jim let them into the lobby and we sat down to talk. Prior to this Jim and I agreed that we weren't going to let these people know that my parents were the landlord. We were just going to play the "blur new tenant".

"Sorry to bother you so late, this used to be where our cousin, well, he's not really our cousin anymore, where this guy used to live. You see, we were hoping to get a hold of him because he's not answering our phone calls and well, he owes us $30 000 [the next few words come out in a rush] and he's used our son's credit card, unauthorized, and he's wanted by the police because he owes alot of other people money, and I went into partnership with this guy and we've lost our house, we used to have a very nice house on Granville Street and now we have to move, I mean I went into partnership and bought a vehicle with this guy and he sold it without telling me and I didn't get any money from the sale and..." He trails off, looking as though he thinks he's said too much. His son glowers a little, his wife looks away.

"So you see, we're just trying to find him. The police are on his case, but well, we're trying to help the police find him. Can you guys tell us anything?"

Jim and I tell the standard story of the guy not paying rent for two months, the apartment that was abandoned in June (at this point he interjects with "He left for South Africa in June!"), the bounced cheques, the served eviction notices and how all his stuff has been moved out of the apartment and into the storage locker in the basement.

"So who owns the apartment?"

Jim and I look at each other. After repeated questioning and a few responses of "the landlords" and "it's privately owned", I told them that we were renting from my parents. There goes the brilliant plan of acting dumb. Brilliant Joie. Brilliant.

Their eyes light up.

"Ah!" says the wife, speaking for the first time, "then they should be more than happy to help us because he owes them money too!"

For the second time that night...ahhh fuck.

"Well," comes Jim to the rescue, "they could help you, but we really couldn't. We don't know more about the situation than we have already told you. There's nothing significant in storage - it's really just clothes and shoes."

Quickly catching on I say, "We could take your information and pass it along to my parents and their realtor, they would be able to help you better I'm sure."

Simultaneously, Jim and I remember the folder of photocopied official documents that we found on top of the entertainment unit. My parents must've missed it when they were packing up the place. Jim excuses himself to go retrieve it.

"Can I come see the apartment also?" - Husband.

WTF? Ehm, it's 11:30pm at night. How about no fucking way?

"There's really nothing to see in the apartment. All his belongings have been transferred to the storage locker in the basement and like we said, it's just clothes and shoes. Besides, our apartment is in a mess right now seeing as how we have just moved in. There's boxes everywhere."

The husband persists. Jim uses the cats as a further excuse ("It would really upset the cats.") and leaves quickly.

"So can you see the water? Is the apartment nice?"

"Yeah, you can see the water. I like it, it's a beautiful apartment."

"Can I come see it please? I would really like to know how nice it is."

The wife smacks him and glares, "It's late, and there's nothing to see in the apartment."

With this he seems to realise how odd and intrusive his request is and looks sheepish for a moment. As we wait for Jim to return all three family members regale me with tales of the accomplished con man that he is. They estimate that his debts total about half a million dollars and they seem to know many people who have lost their homes, jobs and businesses to this guy. They even have the requisite scammed single mother tale. Wow. Maybe that's why he had so many nice suits and snappy pairs of shoes. He was a con-artist and that was his costume. Our original conclusion (still bolstered by the fact that he had men's fitness magazines where you would usually find Playboys) that he was a homosexual might have been premature. Also, the family (through sources unknown) have ascertained that he's returned from S. Africa and has been in Vancouver for 3-4 days now.

Jim returns and I can tell how tired he is from the way he carries himself as he approaches us. I take that as a cue to wrap things up promptly. We hand over the documents, exchange numbers and wish them luck. The husband seems to want to stay to continue telling us stories about the previous tenant's villany but his wife pulls him away, reminding him that we have to sleep. Jim and I give her a grateful look.

"Just remember," the husband says as he's parting, "if this guy shows up for his stuff, don't tell him that your parents are the landlord. Just act dumb, then call the police." - Sounds suspiciously like Jim and I's original plan for the night. Thanks for the advice, buddy.

So we crawl back into bed, and I drop an email to my dad letting him know what happened. This morning, my parents called gave the same advice about acting dumb. Look, Jim and I came up with that idea in the first place, ok? It was just hard to adhere to because we were practically thrown out of bed into a strange conversation. *mutter* My mom also revealed in the phone conversation that they've learnt that they're not the first landlords to be cheated by this guy.

All this just makes me really glad that Jim and I insisted on sleeping on our own bed (we moved the bed he was sleeping in out). With all the hijinks this guy was up to, can you imagine what his bedfellows must've been like?


posted by Joie! at 11:13 AM

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Thursday, September 22, 2005 ______________________________________________________________________________

Extolling the Virtues of the Singapore Education System. (Or, at least the system I was put through...) 

I was really really really bored in Hearing Science today. That coupled with the fact that I had just bought a half-price set of colouring pencils (Staedtler Ergosoft, set of six, in case you were wondering) and the results are on the left.

The reason I was so bored was because the prof was going over the properties of log (log10, to be precise) and how to derive values for various logs if you just memorize a few log values. That should take 15minutes to cover in class. It took instead a solid half hour. Confident that the class had grasped the concept of the logarithmic scale, he then moved on to an equation (to calculate decibels from either intensity or pressure). If the class understood how log worked, then comprehending the pair of equations (they were really the same equation...) should have been just a hop skip jump away. It wasn't. The rest of the class (another half hour) was spent by the prof fielding questions from people who just couldn't wrap their heads around it.

Having gone through the Singapore school system, I was whispering (in Mandarin no less!) disbelieving comments to the Chinese national beside me. After a while there is only so much you can say, so we just started preempting the prof's responses. Under our breath, of course, we didn't want to seem snooty.

Having doodled a little in Hearing Science, I wanted to continue in my next class, so I did. Acquisition of Phonology is actually a really interesting class. However, there is little notetaking to be done on account of the fact that the Powerpoint slides are available on the course website. Usually, the notes that I take in that class involve adding to the material already available to us. Today, either there wasn't that much supplementary material in class or I just wasn't paying enough attention. Either way, the study skills that I acquired and honed after having been put through the mill in Singapore will help me salvage anything I've missed.


posted by Joie! at 7:17 PM

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Monday, September 19, 2005 ______________________________________________________________________________

Many Things 

I know it has been a while since I've posted, but I assure you, I have had many good reasons.

The GRE
As I have mentioned multiple times, I was scheduled to take the GRE test on the 10th of September. Which meant that my 21st bithday (on the 9th mind) went largely uncelebrated. I did attend my own birthday party on the evening of the 10th, but it was uneventful and certainly not what this section is about.

Being that the GRE is computer based, I received the scores for my two multiple choice sections immediately. With 670 Verbal (94th percentile) and only 710 in Quantitative (72nd percentile) I must admit that I'm a little disappointed, but those scores are still good enough to get me into top programs. You might be wondering why my quantitative score is higher, but at a lower percentile. Easy, a clean 10% of everyone gets 100% in the Math section. Miss one question and your score drops to 710, and very steeply down the percentile rankings. So I missed one question, I've been told that my score is not worth beating myself up over. I'm trying to believe the same thing.

I'm still waiting on my essay scores - out of 6 - (Analysis of Issue and Analysis of Argument) but I feel great about both. I think I definitely scored a 5 on either if not an outright 6.

My position at UBC
Due to an administrative screw up, I did not get a position as a TA in Ling 100. However, due to the unexpected overenrollment in one of the Linguistics core courses, I am a TA for a 300-level course. I am still working at the lab for free, lending a hand with the ongoing experiment and the online course that I helped set up. I don't mind working for free, especially because if I don't get another TA-ship next term, I might just get paid to work on the website like I was going to this term.

So far, it's been really thrilling to think that I'm an acutal TA(Teaching Assistant, for the uninitiated), more so because it's an upper level course. Last Friday I held my first office hours and I've just almost finished marking the first quiz. Initially I was rather unnerved at the prospect of being a TA (seeing how I had completed that course only last fall) but three weeks into the term, I'm really comfortable. There hasn't yet been a question I can't handle (granted, not that much has been taught) or a student that doubts my ability (granted, not many of them know that I'm an undergrad).

Graduate Level Courses
I'm officially registered in Audi 514 (Hearing Science). I needed to get the instructor's permission for this course and it wasn't easy. He refused my request at first, partly on the grounds that I had no Physics in my academic background. That, of course, is bullshit. I got an A2 for my Physics 'O' level, which converts to a first or second year Physics course here. Instead of taking my word for it, he made me prove it with copies of my transcript. I was insulted, to say the least - why on earth would I lie about something like that? The worst part about his "Physics requirement" (that almost had me mailing the Ministry of Education in Singapore) is that we have spent all the class time so far talking about the difference between vectors and scalars, what speed is, what frequency is, what a wave is...etc. Why on earth does anyone need a Physics background if you are going to exhaustively cover the basics? I think this guy is an idiot. If not for the hoops he made me jump through to get into the class, then for his confusing manner that leaves me befuddled about Physics principles that I once understood.

I'm also taking another grad course, but I'm not registered in it. Rather, I sit in on the class and absorb what Eric has to say. It's a course in Phonetics, but Eric only lectures for one and a half hours each week. All the students in the class are expected to take Ling 316 (the course that I'm a TA for) in addition to Eric's lectures. I sit in because I'm interested in the technical side of acoustics and I think I'm a useful link between the two courses. I feel really awkward knowing that I am a TA to several grad students, but I hope that I'll get over it in time. I'm even considering registering in this course for credit, but I'm not sure how that would work.

The Move to the New Apartment
It's finally happened. Jim and I are living in the heart of downtown Vancouver. In fact, if I look to my left now, I can see the Burrard Inlet, which opens into the Pacific. Sure, the view is slightly more obscured by highrises that weren't there in the years before, but it's still something to look out your window at a large, calm body of water. Of course, this means that I'm a mere four blocks away from the seawall, which is a long, flat walk which winds through Stanley Park.

All things considered (i.e. all the sections above this one) the move went well. Jim singlehandedly packed and moved all the stuff that is in this apartment. We have about a box and a half left of loose ends in our old apartment and I still haven't changed the addresses on the various services we subscribe to but for all intents and purposes, we have moved. I mean, our cats are over here!

The location of this apartment is a dream come true. For me at least. Jim's commute is about an hour long, plus or minus traffic. Jim does appreicate the gym in the building though. For my part, I love having everything within walking distance and how easy it is to get to UBC. The location is great, but the state of the apartment is a completely different matter. The washing machine and dishwasher which we had coveted for so long are both busted. The washing machine leaks and is possibly under recall. The dishwasher runs fine, but with no water. To compound matters, we were unaware that either appliance was faulty. We now have a comforter and a sheet in a tub of soapy water that we cannot drain (except onto the floor beneath it) and full dishwasher with dirty dishes that has had all the food matter baked into it.

Regular readers of this blog might readily point out that Jim and I have often gone long periods of time without doing either laundry or dishes. That may be true (and we were hoping to change that with the ensuite machines), but we have never gone long periods of time without hot water. That's right, at this moment, there is no hot water in this apartment. To shower, we boil water in our 1.5L electric kettle and pour it into a large Home Depot bucket and temper it with cold water until we have the temperature right. (We have the bucket in the first place because Alton Brown recommended that we brine a turkey in it. Yes, it is clean.) We then bathe using vessels to pour water over our heads ala water rationing excercises. I have half an ear out for the kettle as I type this - I'm boiling water for Jim's shower.

This post has been long enough. I'm about to walk down to the many restaurants in my neighbourhood and pick out a new one for dinner. We've eaten out for the past three days due to the fact that the kitchen is hardly in order yet. I was worried that that might reek havoc on my diet, but despite the fact that the food I have eaten thus far are not kosher, I've still lots 3lbs over the three days and am still burning plenty ketones. I'm going to have to eat out again tonight, but I don't really want to push my luck. First priority is getting the kitchen in order so that I can go back to my strict, strict diet.


posted by Joie! at 6:07 PM

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Saturday, September 03, 2005 ______________________________________________________________________________

Fall Start 

One of the first things that I had to wrap my head around when I moved to Canada was the idea that the year did not begin in January, but in September. Fiscal years were September-August, school years began in the fall, projections were written up just as leaves were falling off trees. I didn't understand it. Why start your year when the world around you has just started to wind down?

This year, however, it seems like my rhythms have accepted that the year starts in the fall. Subtle changes in the air, the slow creep of sunset into the afternoon hours, the re-emergence of coats and sweaters from the back of the closet...as the hot summer days melted into cold drizzling rain and the sun lost enthusiasm, I felt charged, excited, ready to start something new.

Initially, I was surprised. Of late, I have been feeling frazzled and in dire need of a time-out. I have been to the beach only twice this summer, once when I was technically working. I have spent my sunny evenings in the lab, working late and then rushing home to prepare a meal for myself. My weekends have been filled with errands and study attempts with varying success. Week after week of routine and months pass unnoticed. I was dreading the arrival of fall, because I had squandered my summer. Yet when fall arrived, there was no weight in my gut, I felt no sorrow. Fall is here and I am not in mourning.

The conclusion of summer also brought an end to my position as a Research Assistant at the lab. When I walked out Friday, it felt strange to think that next week I will walk into a classroom in the mornings instead of opening the lab. I still have a position there, I have been put in charge of an online course that I helped hash together, but it is only for 12 hours a week, nothing close to the hours I have been logging. I only felt a small sense of loss, which evaporated quickly when I thought about the classes I was about to embark upon.

In addition to the various core courses I have to complete, I will be taking a course from the graduate department (I needed the instructor's permission to take that class - boy did I have to kick and bite to get that OK)and a course in children's literature. I can't recall a year yet that I have been so psyched to kick off. I didn't get the TA-ship that I was hoping to get for Ling 100 due to an oversight, but I suspect that I might still have the opportunity to TA in the second term. At any rate, the online course that I am attached to involves dealing with over 300 students, so I might just have my hands too full.

Also coming up quickly is my GRE date, scheduled for Sept 10th. Which is what I should be studying for right now. Wish me luck.


posted by Joie! at 6:13 PM

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