Friday, August 22, 2014

I Can't Believe It's Not Better

Korean man: I'm the piece of better that is melting on the frying pan which name is you.

Korean lady: Butter.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Scam Francisco

San Francisco's red hot real estate market has drawn many rats out from the woodwork, and I am not referring to those that zip around the kitchen floors of restaurants in its historic Chinatown. While trawling the web for leads on any affordable and decent accommodation, I would sometimes find places that were both livable and within my budget. All of these turned out to be scams. The contact person would concoct various reasons as to why he could not give a tour of the place, but request a deposit or first month's rent to secure the rental property in my name. I did not fall for such tricks:

Exhibit 1 - The Turkish Family
Please be informed that the apartment is not available for immediate viewing or move-in until June 29th as the apartment is currently been occupied by a Turkish family and before they rented the apartment they requested for complete privacy which I granted. If the timing works for you and you do not want to miss renting the apartment, then you can have it reserve for you until you view/move-in with the payment of the first month rental fee plus the refundable security deposit.
Exhibit 2 - The Man from North Carolina
I will be very happy to have you as one of my potential tenants because i believe we will have a cordial relationship together. I will reserve the apartment for you till your move in date in order for you to be rest assured i want you in the apartment but i will need a serious confirmation or commitment from you because i will be coming all the way from Graham, NC to show you round the apartment/handover the keys to you because that's where i work. Secondly, as you know people are also making inquiry regarding the apartment and business is based on first pay first serve. Have had some difficulties with some tenants in the past who claim to be serious in renting my apartment but unfortunately, it all proof abortive and this has been causing some damages to me and my work because i need to travel all the way from North Carolina down to the city and i dont my coming down to the city to be like a waste of time which had happened to me in the past. There is everything needed in the apartment for you to live comfortably. Your details will be used to prepare your tenancy agreement form once we have reach an agreement. Hope you understand me clearly? Await your reply so that we can proceed further.

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Streets of Mexico

"I'm asking myself am I really doing this? Is it really the best idea to be going to Mexico with you?"

My friend Abhay was thinking out loud as we drove down the highway from San Diego to the Mexican border 30 miles away. I assured him nothing could possibly go wrong as we passed a large green billboard declaring "No guns allowed in Mexico". Not allowing an American to bear arms is the same as asking a Korean not to carry a smart phone, so a few U.S. citizens are rotting in Mexican prisons after being caught with firearms.

My friend is a cautious fellow so we did not drive into Mexico, opting instead to leave the car at a parking lot near the border crossing. We saw a stream of Mexicans heading our way and walked in the direction they were emanating from. We crossed a footbridge and followed the arrows, zigging and zagging through some pathways and past a couple of armed guards, emerging in what we realized was already Mexico.

There had been no actual border control where our passport or any form of identification was checked. We saw a kilometer long lineup in the other direction of folks trying to make their way back into the promised land. It seemed only the American authorities were interested in checking passports and verifying identities.

A few taxi drivers immediately descended upon us as we entered Mexico, offering to take us to the seedier parts of the region which old white men are apt to visit. We instructed them to drop us off at the Tijuana city center, which was not too far off from the border crossing. We paid $5 for the ride, inclusive of a $4 foreigner premium.

Tijuana was very walkable, with the touristy stretch only lasting a couple of blocks. There were a lot of dental clinics and strip clubs on each street, catering to American visitors who could not afford healthcare or happiness on home soil.

I tried to convince Abhay to have lunch at some of the dirty looking local eateries, but he wanted something clean and preferred returning to one of the tourist restaurants we had passed by earlier. We walked several more blocks until I found an establishment that was both local and clean, satisfying both requirements. I ordered an item that I had never heard of before. It ended up being a large portion of liver.

The World Cup was on and radios blasting live coverage of the soccer match could be heard as we wandered the streets of Mexico. We drifted from one bar to another, as the goalless match between the Netherlands and Costa Rica extended into extra time. The partisan crowd was disappointed as Costa Rica fell to the Dutchmen on penalty kicks. As the match ended, we caught a taxi back to the border crossing knowing full well that it would be a lot harder to get into America than it had been to get out.

As we approached the kilometer long lineup of souls waiting to enter the States, we were approached by a fellow holding a ticket to bypass the queue. Within minutes we were stuffed into a van with a dozen other people, which was something I had imagined would happen at some point during a trip to Mexico. Almost two hours later we made it to the border checkpoint.

I had prepared for a potentially long wait in line by bringing some snacks in my backpack, including some pears. I explained to the American official that my pears were from America. "Once your pears go to Mexico, they Mexican." he stated. The security personnel took my passport and made a note on their system. "Now Interpol will think I am a pear importer." I complained to Abhay. "Not a pear importer..." he responded, "A pear smuggler!"

Monday, July 28, 2014

OMG, Giardia

Now that I am living in America I am able to understand a lot of the conversations taking place around me. Nearby my apartment in the Tenderloin, many of the conversations are being had by insane members of society with themselves.

Conversations often border on the ridiculous even when the listener is not imaginary. For example, I was sitting on the steps by the water's edge at the Georgetown Waterfront Park enjoying the view of the Potomac River on a Sunday afternoon. I overheard one young woman make a eyebrow raising comment to her friend who had asked her what she thought of the view:

Whenever I see water I'm like 'Oh my god, giardia! I'm gonna die!'

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Tenderloin

I have lived a life of relative luxury most of the past 6 to 7 years, minus a nightmarish shared existence with 13 other men in a hovel in Mumbai. In San Francisco, my first month was spent in a spectacular cliffside abode in North Beach. I would wake up to a dramatic view of the monumental Bay Bridge for four weeks, but as the clock ticked away on my company housing I had to find a place of my own.

Despite a tremendously high number of drug addicts, lunatics, techies, and bums wandering its streets, a decaying transit system that last saw upgrades well before my birth, and an overwhelming scent of urine and marijuana consistently wafting through the air, San Francisco is one of the most desirable places to live in America. The city has a sizzling hot rental market, with property prices as high as many of its citizens. As the world's premier tech hub, the Bay Area draws in the best and brightest from the world, and all these outsiders need accommodation. The skyrocketing housing prices have even driven potential homeowners back into the rental market, increasing rents for all. 

During my first month in town, I spent my weekends and evenings visiting many apartments either via direct appointment with the property manager or at scheduled open houses. Most were hideous, ancient, or in shady neighbourhoods such as the infamous Tenderloin district, where Will Smith lined up for a free meal at a soup kitchen in the movie Pursuit of Happyness. The decent apartments had over 50 other applicants, some of whom boasted about their large salaries and bonuses out loud to scare away the competition. 

I also investigated a few short term sublets, but the current tenants were either clinically insane, unregistered sex offenders, or complete no shows. I was waiting for over 30 minutes for one one guy to show me his apartment and had to use the washroom in the meantime. I found a public bathroom but it was locked. About ten minutes later the door opened. I saw the couple who sleep inside were dusting off and packing up their belongings before heading out for the day. 

With my stay in North Beach coming to an end, I had to make a quick decision amongst a bevy of undesirable options (much like a Korean woman must do when choosing a mate). I settled on an apartment on the fringes of the Tenderloin. At any given time I am sure to have at least one of the following three items - Internet access, warm water, and a leaking toilet. My window faces an open air bar. It gets extremely loud during the weekends, but that at least drowns out the howls of despair, shrieks of agony, and wails of police sirens which would otherwise occupy my auditory range. 


In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of. ~ Confucius