Chinese, happiness

Life: Just got threatened by the property agent

P1080772 by shimmertje
P1080772, a photo by shimmertje on Flickr.

So we thought we'd sell our place, maybe use the money to move into a smaller one that's more central. The first step, we agreed, would be to contact a few property agents and find out the next steps. My brother had recently worked with one, and my mother knew the one who had sold her neighbour's house; there are any number of who are in the property business so we had quite a few numbers to choose from.

We hadn't called anyone when one called us - the one my mother knew. He came right over, talked to the other half, and said he'd be back with some papers to sign the next morning, before I left for work. Papers to sign? I thought we were just figuring out what to do. We've never sold property before. What papers? I didn't have time in the morning to read through anything in any case.

In the meantime my mom says she will come over to help clean up the place. Clean up the place? Uh-oh. We've got boxes from several moves ago. There is A LOT to do if we are to spruce up the place. This is going to take months to declutter, if not longer. Selling a place suddenly seems like a lot more work than asking a property agent for help.

So this property agent comes over the next morning and there are two documents, one for an exclusive agreement with him, and another a checklist detailing everything that has been explained. I tell him I'll need time to look at the papers, that we are going to talk to some other agents, that we might not want to do anything exclusive. He seems surprised. "But I paid $200 for the valuation," he says.

What valuation?? I'm not even sure if it's a tactic to keep us as a customer. I ask for a receipt. I say I'll go down to the nearest office or call to ask to cancel the valuation, but am told it's all done online and through the system via the agent, so as the home owner I can't intercede. The agent says he'll check on that.

At this point the decision could have gone any way. We wanted to meet up with some other agents and see what they said, see who we might be comfortable working with, but certainly this first agent was still in the running though this valuation matter seemed to be jumping the gun.

I later learn that all property sales of this nature will require a certified valuation, but we never said we were working this one agent and certainly had never signed anything to this effect - there are two owners to the property, surely we both need to sign any documents.

Next up is a call from the valuer over the weekend. He asks to come Monday morning. A workday. He also explains that the valuation is only valid for 3 months. We might not have the house decluttered properly in 3 months, and just before the weekend, the other half has received news that he could be travelling soon. So no one at home to take care of valuers or potential sales people during working hours for some weeks at least, possibly longer.

"We might not be able to sell the place until a bit later," I tell him.

"Oh, in that case I'll take you off my list. You can talk to your agent about getting the money back," he replied.

When the agent calls again we explain this to him - it's not like we don't want to sell but circumstances are now different and we might not be able to go ahead for some months yet, but it's looking like it'll definitely be after the 3-month expiry date. He says he'll check on getting his money back.

Turns out the money paid for a valuation is non-refundable (he said), but in the meantime the other half is rather upset that this agent seems to have jumped the gun. We didn't sign anything, we didn't know a valuation was required and that it cost $200, and the valuation wasn't even done; why should we pay anything? What if we were still selling and had decided on another agent? It all sounded quite fishy.

So today the agent tells me he applied to do the valuation in good faith and surely I don't want to spoil my reputation by not refunding him the money. "If you want to be chow kuan (bad attitude) and just don't want to pay, then just say so," he said.

"I don't want to pay. We didn't sign anything, and we didn't know about this cost," I said. "The valuer didn't even come."

"How can you be so dishonorable to cheat me of just $200?" he blustered, adding a few other choice words, none of them guaranteed to change my stance. I felt like he didn't want to approach the other half and had decided I would be more easily cowed and therefore a better target for recovering his money.

But if I had ever considered using him for any property decisions, his behaviour had completely changed my mind. If this is the way you are going to settle disputes, I'm simply not comfortable working with you, or recommending you to anyone else.

I do understand that the money comes out of his own pocket and he spent it in 'good faith' at a time when we were serious about selling the property. But even so, the onus is on him as the agent to explain that there is going to be this initial charge for valuing the property and that all co-owners of that property have to agree to it; that if we choose not to sell the property after all that this money needs to be refunded to him directly or to his company.

I wasn't even there to listen to his checklist and the other half is certain that such permission or understanding was never sought. It would probably have been fine if we had gone ahead with this one agent. But now.. even if we could.. why would we?

Click on the picture to view it in larger form or to view the folder of pictures of Dubai in 2009. We're talking about selling of a Singapore property and of someone whose company's website says he's from "one of the largest property services companies in the world". I can only hope that this is not the way other people in the same company do business.

Chinese, happiness

Tech: Pinterest

IMG_3845 by shimmertje
IMG_3845, a photo by shimmertje on Flickr.

So I joined Pinterest a few days ago, and have been captivated ever since. People talk about it being addictive, and it is. Much more so than Facebook or Twitter.

Think of Pinterest as a collection of personal pinboards. You pin pictures from websites on these pinboards, separated by category. Each picture is linked to a bookmark for the site it came from. In this way you can collect a whole lot of visual bookmarks for things you want to remember - recipes, photos, craft ideas, something you want to buy.

You can also check out other people's "pins" and repin them onto your own boards. Don't worry about where to find the best recipe, household tip or craft idea, because someone else already has it bookmarked on Pinterest and you can find it easily by looking at the most popular pins, or searching for it with the friendly search engine.

Pinning is simple - you drag the bookmarklet onto your browser, and that's it. Click on 'Pin It' every time you see something you like, and it goes straight onto a board of your choice. If you haven't got one that's appropriate, you create one on the spot. You can follow your friends or complete strangers and view what they've just pinned. You can follow a subset of their pins if your interests don't overlap completely. And if someone repins your pin, or likes your pin, or comments on your pin, or follows you, Pinterest can send you a quick email to let you know. It is all oriented towards getting you to check out new pins and adding them to your own boards.

Pinterest has been called the hottest new social media kid on the block, and I am helping it get there with my enthusiasm. Pinterest is all about me and my interests and how I can learn more and find people with the same interests, and it's clear everyone else on Pinterest feels the same way.

There is a dark side though. Pinterest is not for everyone. It works for visual things like crafts and cooking, clothes and cars. It might not do so well with items which are not so visual. I'd say that the majority of Pinterest users are ladies who like photography, cooking, art, and crafts. But they also like shopping, and this is something businesses can well exploit.

Second, the pictures on Pinterest are extremely high quality. They are almost always crisp, clear, colourful, and wonderfully composed, because these are the pictures that catch everyone's eye. The moment I saw them, I saw that Flickr's groups are dead. I run a number of colour-coded groups on Flickr, and here is Pinterest doing the same thing, but in a much simpler, me-oriented way. Why send pictures to a group on Flickr when you have Pinterest to show off what you like instead?

Third, and definitely the most disquieting. Pinterest needs fairly large pictures which are typically captured straight off websites. There is a copyright problem here that photographers can do little about. Instead of being able to sell a picture, Pinterest just helps you copy it off Flickr or wherever and pins it onto a Pinterest board, after which it can get repinned and repinned again. The ones I take off my own Flickrstream are 640 x 480 pixels. Good enough to print in a small size.

Unfortunately I don't see this problem going away. Photographs are intellectual property that come with a price. As a photographer it cost me money to buy a camera, maybe lenses, arrange to go somewhere, decide on the subject, exposure, lighting and composition, and then take a picture.

It's my decision as the photographer whether I want this picture to be free to download copy and edit. It may not be my decision alone if there are people in the picture, designer furniture, and so on.

But Pinterest disregards this as it makes it easy to grab any picture I put online to be used for its purposes. It's not the only site doing it, and people don't really think about this very much as they share their pins - and I've repinned my share of them.

While I'm not a commercial photographer, I don't think my pictures should be reused commercially for free. I only pin the pictures I don't think have commercial value. The ones which do.. I don't pin. They're still public though which means that anyone else could pin them if they wanted. If I made them private, nobody would see them. Quite a catch-22.

I don't have an answer for this, except to say that commercial photographers have good reason to worry.

Click on this picture to view it in a larger size or to get to the folder of pictures of life in Singapore in 2011.

Chinese, happiness

Stationery: Typo

IMG_4872 by shimmertje
IMG_4872, a photo by shimmertje on Flickr.

Is this cute or what - my brown paper shopping bag from Typo actually looks like an envelope. Nice deals on pens (they were on sale).Click on the picture to view a larger version or to get to the folder of pictures of life in Singapore in 2012.

Chinese, happiness

Birds: Jacky

IMG_4643 by shimmertje
IMG_4643, a photo by shimmertje on Flickr.

So this is Jacky. He or maybe she is a hill mynah. The object he is standing on is a crystal sculpture from Liuligongfang. It's a block of crystal with a sculpted leaf in the shape of a bowl on top, and a green frog trying to climb in at one side. I suppose you're to use this particular Liuligongfang piece for paperclips or some such. We use it for Jacky to stand on.We have several other Liuligongfang pieces decorating Jacky's room, where they are safe from Sieben.Click on this picture to view it in larger form or to get to the folder of pictures of Jacky.

Chinese, happiness

Food: Vietnamese rice rolls with smoked duck

IMG_4485 by shimmertje
IMG_4485, a photo by shimmertje on Flickr.

We made these at Coriander Leaf cooking school for corporate bonding, but with boiled prawns, shredded carrot and white radish. I decided my protein would be smoked duck, crisped up a bit in the frying pan with some garlic, abalone sauce as the base, shredded white radish (they were selling them for loheis) and blanched baby pea shoots for colour. It didn't take long - dip the rice paper into a bowl of water, place on a plate covered with a wet towel, add ingredients, and roll.Click on the picture to view a larger version of the picture or to get to the folder of pictures of life in Singapore in 2012.

Chinese, happiness

Life: Names

IMG_4633 by shimmertje
IMG_4633, a photo by shimmertje on Flickr.

Yep, I bought Paris and Spellbound. I didn't check their names before I got them though.Click on the picture to view it in larger form or to get to the folder of pictures of life in Singapore in 2012.

Chinese, happiness

Life: Red packet trends

IMG_4869 by shimmertje
IMG_4869, a photo by shimmertje on Flickr.

Married people give unmarried people red packets filled with money for luck during Chinese new year. This year's red packets were by and large big enough to place money inside without folding the notes. I also noticed that you are now expected to seal the red packets with a simple slot rather than using glue as in the past.Click on the picture to view it in a larger form or to get to the folder of pictures of life in Singapore in 2012.

Chinese, happiness

Tech: QR codes

IMG_4631 by shimmertje
IMG_4631, a photo by shimmertje on Flickr.

You know they've made it when you see them on something like baby soap.Click on the picture to view it in larger form or to get to the folder of pictures of life in Singapore in 2012.

Chinese, happiness

Recipe: Ratatouille

cro 039 by shimmertje
cro 039, a photo by shimmertje on Flickr.

PL recently sent me that chain mail letter where you send one recipe over to a handful of people, and stand to receive hundreds of recipes in return.I told her I wasn't doing it - the first and last time I'd tried, I didn't get any recipes back at all. Which reminded me that I had been making a lot of ratatouille at one time, because I love it, and that I'd better blog about the recipe (again - I did blog in October 2007) before I forget it altogether. So here's the email I sent out to others in response to the chain letter, dated October 2007:

"I made this twice recently so I can kinda remember what I did, and I happen to like it. I'd never made it before but my husband wanted to know what it tasted like after watching the movie. I'd only had it from a can, and appropriately enough, started off using a recipe off another can. I had to adapt it a little since I'm not really into cooking. If you're not familiar with ratatouille you get a kind of soft but textured vegetable stew; if you prefer your veggies crunchy or raw then this is not for you.

1 green pepper (you can also add a red pepper if you like, it's just that green peppers are cheaper at the supermarket here)
2 zucchinis, any size
1 eggplant, any size
1 big tomato or 2 smaller ones, and tomato puree if you like it really tomato-ey
1 big onion or 2 smaller ones
mixed herbs, to taste, optional
sugar, optional
salt and pepper to taste
1 stock cube
about 2 tablespoons of olive oil

Slice pepper(s), onion(s) and tomato(es).
Dice zucchinis and eggplant.
Drizzle olive oil over eggplant. Sprinkle some salt as well if you like.
Heat oil in a pan large enough to hold everything and fry onions for a while. They don't have to get soft or brown or anything.
Add tomatoes and peppers and stir for a while. They don't have to get soft or anything.
Add zucchinis and stir until everything's mixed well.
Add eggplant and and stir until everything's mixed well. You can lower the fire as you like to reduce spattering.
Add seasonings, smashed up stock cube, herbs, and keep stirring
It's done when the zucchini and eggplant look fairly cooked.
Leave the whole thing to cool for a while. The zucchini and eggplant should be fully cooked by then.
Eat hot or cold, alone or with meat, bread or pasta or rice."

Click on the picture to view a larger version of it, or to get to the pictures of life in Brisbane in 2007.