Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Today's post is to show off the new house we are building. It should be ready in late February.


The plan

First of all, we discovered a really nice home design in a subdivision that we weren't crazy about. Then we looked at another neighborhood that the same builder was building in. Of course, the nicer subdivision didn't offer the design we liked from the previous neighborhood.

Then a miracle occurred! The builder was actually flexible and allowed us to build the house design we wanted in the better neighborhood! We got a corner lot, and built the house we wanted and we'll even get a yard for the cat! The builder even let us mirror the design to get the windows on the open side of the house, allowed us to fix the only design flaw (no pantry), to tile the whole downstairs (except the living room) and to move the crown molding from the eat-in-kitchen/dining area to the living room, where it will be appreciated. All these changes were for little or no cost.

We just can't wait for this house to belong to us.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Merry Christmas week - and a shopping story

Two Christmas parties down, none to go. The countdown to Christmas day has begun. Christmas shopping is done, mostly done by my wife, but with some exceptional help from myself, plus the presents that I got for her, which (if I do say so myself) are outstanding.

It wasn't long after I met Bernie that I discovered that she's one hell of a shopper. The definition of 'good shopper' is NOT 'one who shops long and hard and comes home with a stack of boxes and a long credit card bill'. Bernie is a great shopper because of the following:
1. She doesn't buy something if she doesn't really want it/need it.
2. She HATES paying full price, or even a significant percent of full price.
3. She does the research before she buys.

It's my belief that the Asian culture she grew up in is the cause of these wonderful traits.

A quick anecdote:
When I travelled to Malaysia to get married, Bernie and I decided that we would buy her father a new computer so that she could use the internet to webcam and chat with her parents properly once I got her back to the US. Bernie, her cousin Felicia, and I went to Low Yat Plaza in Kuala Lumpur to have a good, no-name computer built for us. This place is amazing, by the way. Imagine a 6-storey mall with the top 5 floors being competing computer stores (the bottom floor is competing cell phone stores). We spent the morning gathering price lists from the various places, spent lunchtime comparing them, then targeted the best 3 places after lunch to negotiate.

Malaysia is a neat place to shop in the first place. Most stores have somewhat negotiable prices, but they at least start you out with a labelled price tag to go by. Then you ask for a "discount", and they write it down on a pad for you. Then you ask for the "best price", and they write something different on the pad. You can haggle down from there if you are good, but you eventually settle on something around 80% of the price tag. No sales tax either.

Needless to say, being Asian helps. White Americans don't get the best prices, but that's to be expected, and it's fair, since we are already reaping the benefits of a 3.8-to-1 currency advantage, dollar to ringgit.

OK, on with the story. Bernie and Felicia sit down on barstools at the counter of the computer shop, with me standing behind them. This young sales guy comes up and I start out telling him what components we want in this computer. He adds it all up and gives me a price. Now the ladies start in on him, in Cantonese. I don't know any Cantonese, but I must be psychic, since I can tell that the ladies are telling him what a horrible person he is and how he must think we're stupid and how we should report him to the management of the mall for giving us such an oppressive price on this PC that is for Bernie's poor lonely handicapped father (he isn't) whose only wish in life is to communicate with his only daughter. This takes all of 10 seconds, and the ladies grab me and start to leave towards the next store.

The sales guy calls us back (big mistake). He scratches off the price he wrote earlier and lowers it by 15%. (Bad move...shows weakness). The ladies smell blood and start in on him again. The guy blushes (I had no idea Asians could get red in the face), and lowers his price again. I'm just sitting back and enjoying this show - it's hilarious. Bernie and Felicia are playing 'good cop, bad cop' with this kid. I figured that Felicia would be the bad cop, but to my surprise, it's Bernie! My dear, sweet, quiet bride-to-be is giving this poor kid 6 different kinds of hell, while Felicia is batting her eyes at him and buttering him up. Anyway, we eventually get the kid down to his rock-bottom price, and he even tells us to buy the computer case from the place across the hall to save 20 ringgit, since they have one cheaper and better than his, and to bring it to him and they'll put the PC together for us for pickup in an hour. I get the feeling he's doing his best to placate us just to get away from us by this point. Anyway, we agree and I sign the papers, finally. I haven't said a single word since the beginning.

During the hour that we wait for them to assemble the PC, he calls Bernie's cell phone and apologizes, but the DVD drive we wanted, he doesn't have in black...would we accept a gray one? I can just see him cringing while he explains this to Bernie. Bernie says yes, but asks for additional discount on the drive...which she gets. We pick up the PC at the assembly shop on a different floor, and wave to the poor guy on the way out of the mall.

(We ended up getting a nice high-end customized PC with name-brand components for less than $300 US)

Bernie's pulled off some good bargains in the USA since she got here, so I don't even worry about letting her have money. In fact, she can shop with me any time. Coming from a guy, that's high praise.

Monday, December 05, 2005

90% nice weekend

I darn near had a perfect weekend. More on why it wasn't perfect at the end of this post.

On Friday, Bernie and I waved a tearful goodbye to my mom and dad, who are vacationing for 10 days in Williamsburg, then cooked our dishes to take to Chris and Elizabeth's Christmas party in Raleigh (Apex, actually).

We got up early on Saturday (10am, ha ha) and got in the car. Despite a couple of unscheduled stops (Bernie is still a little car-sick), we got to Chapel Hill and had lunch with some old friends at the Malaysian restaurant there (Penang - wonderful, authentic, and inexpensive) then made it to C&E's house by 3 in time to help out a bit before the party began at 7. We didn't have much to do, actually, so it was nice to relax a bit before the rest of the crowd arrived. After several hours of great food and company, and Elizabeth's "evil santa" gift exchange, we went to spend the night with two more old friends.

On Sunday morning, we had breakfast with Phil and Selena and had a great time - reminding me of how much I miss all my friends in Raleigh. We went and visited Bert for a while, dropped off a Christmas present from my mom at one of her friend's houses, then went shopping at two Asian grocery stores. The Asian groceries in Charlotte really stink (literally), so we save up for our trips to Raleigh to stock up. The trip home went pretty quickly and Bernie didn't have any car-sickness, so thumbs up on the whole weekend to this point. Once we got home, we took advantage of my folks' absence and made dinner our way - in the rice cooker.

One of my greatest pleasures in life is using my rice cooker. When I first got this device, I wasn't convinced I'd use it. In bachelorhood, it turned out to be a great time-saver and I fell in love with it. Throw in rice, liquid up to the mark, and whatever tasty leftovers there might be in the fridge, close the lid, and press the button. 20 minutes later - dinner! Since I've been married, Mom has been doing all the cooking in her kitchen, so it's been in storage. We got it out of storage last week and Bernie and I finally got to use it last night. Bernie had leftover corned beef hash from breakfast (not my favorite, but it is tailor-made for the rice cooker, being very fragrant and flavorful), and we added turmeric and used garlic chicken broth. It turned out great.

Now, of course, it was time for fate to intervene with some bad news. I'd had it too good for too long.

Dad calls and says that the realtor that is representing our buyer for my Raleigh townhouse has sent us the inspection report, and it has something about codes and firewalls in the attic. Despite the fact that my townhouse is 30 years old, and that other units have been changing hands for all that time in the same condition, the inspector apparently thinks he can force us to comply with 2005 building codes. Now I'm pissed off. The law says that houses must comply with current code at the time they are built, which this one obviously was. What idiocy! And now the realtor says that even if we choose to terminate the sale, we'd have to report these items on a disclosure report to future buyers. Sounds like a shakedown to me. Thus ends the nearly perfect weekend. Grrr.

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