Archive for June, 2009

Yesterday AM and I were surfing for the top sites on the Internet and came across very interesting statistics. Of course Google had to be # 1 – no one can come close, not even Facebook. Yahoo #2, YouTube #3, Facebook #4. East Asia uses the Internet the most – of course a population of over 1 billion in China helps. My favorite site is Amazon.com – the company can do no wrong in my eyes. It is the perfect example of a site done very well, and completely customized for the user. One month Amazon is the #1 retail site, and the next Ebay.

I really like that Amazon has started streaming/renting movies as well – I cannot wait for their collection to increase. I get all music downloads from Amazon now. I don’t like iTunes at all and Amazon will give it a run for its money.

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This weekend I have to catch up on movies. I want to watch Hangover and Stoning of Soraya M. Stoning is a depressing Iranian movie – I love Iranian movies. They are so simple, realistic, and heart-warming… Children of Heaven is my favorite.

I know somehow AM will get me to go to Transformers. I don’t want to go – could not stand the old ones. I know he will try to get me to go with him. I have no problems with him watching his movie and I mine on my own. Its better than having to sit through something I don’t like. A few weekends back he took me to Terminator Salvation. I liked the movie (surprisingly), but he took me to watch the 10:30pm show! Yawn. I usually like action movies, but I am so over the fight between machines and what not. Its so over-done. I wish AM would just go with his friend, but he will take me damn it. Bloody hell.

Last week he brought a DVD for Taken – the movie was absolutely pathetic, and the only saving grace was Liam Neeson. It started off promising. Liam is an ex-spy who has marital problems (cliche). He tries to get close to his teenage daughter and left his job. His daughter goes to a foreign country with a friend and is kidnapped. Liam’s ex-wife is married to an extremely rich guy, but is not over Liam – she keeps throwing her resentment in his face. The plot could have gone either way – the daughter was kidnapped due to Liam’s occupation, or due to her stepfather who did some underhanded things in business. But no – the plot was that she was kidnapped by people who sold such young girls into prostitution. Haa – American girls kidnapped for prostitution? How unrealistic is that? I mean, the entire country would go into an uproar if that happened, especially to someone so rich and powerful. Liam alone rescues her. AM liked it because of action. He likes anything remotely close to action, regardless of the plot. I could not stand it after 30 mins and tuned out.

I also watched Nothing But the Truth. I like Kate Beckinsale – she is a good looking average actress. The movie is based on a true story. Kate is a journalist who exposes a woman as a CIA agent, but refuses to divulge her source to the court when summoned. She goes to prison for over a year and still does not reveal the source. In the end she reveals her source in exchange for only 2 years of imprisonment versus 5. The worst part was that the source was the agent’s daughter who went to the same school as Kate’s son. I mean, would any kid be held responsible for telling someone that her mom is a CIA agent? And Kate went to prison for it for one year, abandoning her own son and husband. On top of that, the CIA agent is shot dead. Completely ridiculous. The movie is based on Valerie Plame who was a CIA agent. The difference is that Valerie was not shot dead; Judith Miller, the reporter, did not write the story about Valerie’s being CIA, but did provide the story to the writer; Judith went to prison for 3 months; and Judith was proved to be a liar – 10 of her articles did not have reliable sources.

I watched Andaz Apna Apna and Awara Pagal Deewana on YouTube. Andaz… is such a timeless classic – it leaves me in splits even today. Another funny classic is Hera Pheri – I love the Akshay and Paresh Rawal. Andaz… made me want to watch Lagaan so AM and I are doing a movie and pizza night. Amir Khan is by far my favorite actor, and I truly respect his dedication to movies – he cannot do a bad movie.

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Almost every American in a casual environment wants to know how I met my husband. I tell them “arranged”, and internally laugh at the look on their faces. Its always different, probably like I am an alien or something. And they are polite enough to try not to show it. Its very very funny actually. When I first moved here, I was embarrassed to say that my marriage was arranged, because it sounded so unromantic. It was also a concept that I disagreed with till I met my husband and liked him unexpectedly, and decided to go for it. Of course there is always peer pressure, but you can always say No.

Given the high divorce rates, its not such a bad idea – prenups are worse and a great way to kill all romance and companionship. Prior to marriage you know that the guy is well educated, earns reasonably well, and comes from an educated family. When you are married, you have to make it work no matter what. Well at least you have to give it a 200% because stakes are higher when you are married than when you just have a live-in relationship. The commitment level is more, so the success rate is higher. If it works, fine, if not, fine. At least you tried. Its not a bad way to meet a good guy.

Anyway, back to my American friends. I no longer feel embarrassed because it is what it is, and I don’t expect others to understand. If they don’t understand, its their problem not mine. AM and I are happy, and I am grateful to my parents for having found me the right guy after seeing so many guys and families. I find the process of explaining and watching reactions incredibly entertaining though.

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There is so much paperwork to deal with for renovation. I finally got an expediter to start the paperwork. I need to get approval from the Department of Building to get started on the construction work. An expediter is someone who will do all the paperwork for that and speeds up the process – not sure how! My architect is working with the expediter and coordinating paperwork such as drawings and plans. The third person is a certified architect or engineer who needs to stamp the documents. I just found out that my architect is actually a designer and so cannot stamp the documents!!! I clearly recall asking her whether she was a certified architect, but I don’t remember her answer. Its sooooo damn unnecessarily complicated.

My architect/designer will send drawings to the certified architect who will give his feedback. For example, all doors should be ADA compliant (layman terms: all doors should be wide enough for someone on a wheelchair to enter). The designer will make changes accordingly and send plans to the expediter. The paperwork will then be sent to my building board of directors who have to sign everything, and will then be filed with the DOB. Then we get construction permits for the work to start. This process will take at least 1 month. In the meanwhile, AM and I will sign the contractor’s contract and give him a deposit. He will then get plumbing permit. All these permits, contractor’s insurance, proof of certification, etc. will be submitted to the Board of my building prior to commencing the work. Phew!

The good thing about India is that you can put some “paperweight” to get work done faster; this country has more rules in place…

AM and I decided not to consult a lawyer for the contractor’s contract. The vultures have already squeezed enough out of us, and our friends did not consult a lawyer anyway. But I wonder – what will happen to our deposit and construction if tomorrow our contractor becomes a lunatic, or runs away, or gets hit by a bus (touch wood)? He has been fine for the 1+ year I have known him, but you never know. With people like AM and I who luck does not favor, you just never know…

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How shall I tell thee of the inefficiencies of Time Warner Cable? Did the MBA degrees from Ivy Leagues amount to nothing that the management is so dumb? Will TWC be another company swallowed by recession due to inability to handle size and inefficiencies?

I wanted cable installed in my new apartment, and scheduled an appointment with TWC for 6-9pm. Its amazing how every time I schedule any appointment with companies, servicemen come at the last minute. So the TWC guy came at 9pm exact. There was some issue with cable in one room, so I asked him to walk across into another room and install it there. But he could not do that because the instructions did not say so. I called the company but they would not budge. They asked me to reschedule. Such a bunch of morons running the company! I have heard from others how TWC would rather you reschedule than add to/remove from instructions. They probably end up paying a lot of money on customer service calls and servicemen. In India, I would just put a Rs. 100 note in the guy’s hand and he would do the needful. Not so here. I have been using TWC for years, but maybe its time for a change. I had sworn off Verizon due to their crappy service 5 years back, but maybe its time to reconsider since Verizon is the best.

Two years back my Internet service went caput. I called to schedule a service, but TWC could not send someone for a week!!! If there is one thing I cannot live without, its the Internet, and I am not the only one. In a recent study, Internet is the last thing people would give up in recession. Anyway,I tried really really hard to get TWC to send someone earlier. I spoke to the supervisor and called several times to speak with different people in the hope that someone would have mercy. Embarrassingly enough, I even pretend-cried on the phone saying that I needed to work from home, to no avail. I am sure they must be used to people acting crazy on the phone – people have admitted as much on forums about crying for TWC to resolve Internet issues at the earliest. To TWC’s credit, I have not had any more repair issues in five years – I hope I did not jinx it!

I subscribed to T1 at Starbucks and used Internet there till I got my service. Its kind of silly but I cannot spend a single day without the Internet. The only time I can do without is when I am in India, where it takes ages for pages to load unless I use it early in the morning. I am from a small town and my parents rarely access the Internet, so service sucks.

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In New York or maybe US, there are lots of vultures waiting to squeeze every last “drop” of your money. I am renovating my apartment, and everyone wants money. To start with, while closing my apartment purchase, I paid a lawyer, mortgage broker, and someone who helps in transfer of title. AM and I were sitting in a room with the seller along with both lawyers, seller broker, mortgage broker, and title transfer person. Our lawyer asked me to pay $200 “gratuity” to the person who helped in transferring the title. I have no idea why. We did not work with a buyer broker, so the entire 6% of sale price went in the seller’s brokers pockets – usually buyer and seller brokers split half. BTW the buyer has to pay for buyer and seller lawyers. Fucking American rules! Why the fuck should I have to pay for the seller’s lawyers?

For renovation, we have to pay the architect cum designer, contractor, expediter who files plans with the building department, application payment to the building management, and engineer to inspect the work and stamp their approval. The architect, contractor, and expediter each has his/her own recommendations on whom to work with for engineer, expediter, architect, contractor, etc. Its crazy! All vultures want a share of your hard-earned money. How can I forget the building Super, who may want something on the side?

My architect/designer is pathetic and spacey. She made mistakes with measurements, plans, and location of specifics. Had I not decided to confirm her measurements, I would have decided on the wrong appliance sizes which would have been costly. She is extremely forgetful and distracted, and doesn’t give two hoots. She also doesn’t make good recommendations. She suggested Viking microwave because it does not jut out like other microwaves. Viking costs a lot of money and its quality is not that good. I did not have many options because every architect our friends have worked with has been like that. Usually architects charge 15% of construction cost, hence its in their best interest to increase the cost and prolong construction time. We found one who was willing to charge by the hour. Her floor plan is good, but details really bad. Now we are wondering whether to go with her recommendations on expediter and engineer or our contractor’s.

Our contractor comes highly recommended. We reviewed several contractors. One thing about Americans is that they are GREAT salespeople, which is not always a good thing. Sometimes they focus more on selling and less on substance. I contacted My Home US. The guy came and gave his pitch, invited me to his showroom, and walked me through the entire workspace and office – a good 1.5 hours. He tells me that he will send me a plan with detailed costs, and sells the entire time. Anyway, when it comes to walk the talk, he sends a plan with $2,500 retainer cost for a designer who will come with me to showrooms to pick and buy materials. I know exactly what I want and I don’t want to pay for a designer. All his talk amounted to nothing. Which is why I am inclined to go with the expediter and engineer recommended by my contractor because they are all Greek. I cannot handle another American salesperson. I like my Greek contractor, who has no qualms about walking into my new apartment and saying “Your plan for the bathroom is bullshit.” I have arguments with him when we disagree, and our friends have told me to be very adamant and specific before any piece of the project begins because he can be stubborn. But I prefer an honest bloke to someone who will suck up to me and not have the guts to tell me when I am wrong.

I will save my comments on American salespeople for another post – don’t even get me started.

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Another milestone in my renovation project – I made one more decision!!! Should kitchen cabinets be pull-out or not? Fancy kitchens nowadays have pull-out cabinets that look pretty cool. But are they really functional?

According to Gardenweb forums, always have pull-out drawers on base cabinets. That way you don’t have to bend down and make your way through the clutter to the back of the cabinet. You can just pull the drawer out and pick your utensils. Of course the drawer height has to accommodate utensil height. For cabinets above the counter, pull-outs are not a good idea. One, space is not fully utilized because if you pile things, they may fall during pull-out. Two, things may fall down each time you pull out. So above-counter cabinets should not be pull-out. Next decision for me is – should I have a special place for small appliances like mixer, food processor, coffee maker, etc.?

AM tells me that I better cook if I am spending so much on the kitchen. Even if I turn one burner of the stove on, some of the money will be well spent. Haha. Some New York kitchens are as small as closets, while other’s are fully-furnished chef kitchens with top-of-the-line appliances. But NOBODY cooks in New York… everyone eats out. And yet when looking to buy apartments people look at kitchens first…

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