Sunday, April 27, 2008

Room-hunting in London

I am moving again.

I have taken a job in central London at one of the major engineering consultancies in the UK. I will be working in the London Olympics team.

The thought of working and staying in London makes me nervous. It is after all the most, if not one of the world's most expensive cities to live in.

I always had the impression that working as an Engineer here would be like getting used to running a marathon in a pair of Bally - cool, expensive but not purpose-built. Unless you stay out of central London and commute everyday like what most people do.

Room-hunting is a tedious task and I hate it. This is the third time I have to do it!

I have been searching in the internet for good places to stay. I have found a lot of useful resources as well as some really innovative, weird and dodgy ones:

"..don’t mind your house mates occasional walking around in the nude, and like to do so too.."

"Free accommodation in exchange for housekeeping"

"..looking for a FEMALE person (any age, any nationality) who can provide some help in the house, in return you can stay for free"

" desire is to 'let' the extra bedroom to a truly Bitchy and Super Selfish Female...You will never have to show any gratitude, never say 'thank you' for anything, never be kind, nice or respectful of Your landlord"

These ads sort of provided some form of entertainment which would otherwise make room hunting so boring and frustrating.

Yesterday I was in London the whole day to look at the rooms. I have arranged to view them on the weekend. There were 5 appointments.

I prayed that God would help make this as easy as possible because I got really fed-up having so much on my plate this week - parents coming, meetings, handing over, writing reports and sports!

The first appointment was disastrous. The landlord didn't turn up. I called and he asked for 5 minutes. 25 minutes later, no sign of him. So I went round to check the surrounding. Five bouquets of flowers on the roadside in front of the house; two written "We will miss you Nick!" and another two, "Stop Knife and Gun Crimes!" I left the place immediately.

The second appointment was not so disastrous but still. It was a house with 9 tenants and two toilets. All of them were Eastern Europeans, which I have no issues with. But I could imagine imminent communication problems. I lasted no more than 5 minutes in it.

The third appointment didn't get any better. It was a cosy place. Nice and quiet. My appointment coincided with another lady who turned up late for hers. So we were given a tour of the place together. Came the bombshell. They needed someone to move in immediately. I was looking end of May.

The fourth and fifth were a turnaround.

The fourth was in Muswell Hill, North London. I fell in love with this place immediately. High ground overlooking the City, lots of trees, very "English", great trail for running and cycling and a little on the upmarket side. I'll feel safe living in this area. I checked the price for the detached house this morning, it's around a million quid! That's crazy!

The landlord was a tiny, soft-spoken Italian lady, Maria. She was elderly but sweet. She showed me the room. The room was three times of what I'm staying now- spacious, lots of storage space and very Victorian. Reminded me lots about the first place in Reading. We got on very comfortably with each other when I told her I am a Civil Engineer and she said she was an architect. She even offered to put an A0-size drawing board in my room!

Her phone rang. She closed the mouth-piece and asked me, "Are you interested to stay here?"

I said, "Yea! If I could. I love this place!"

Then she answered the phone, "Hello? Yea?....Oh no, I'm sorry. This place has just been taken 5 seconds ago!"

I was startled. Does that mean I've committed to renting this place? As much as I would love to, we have yet to talk about the rent and the move-in date. I asked if I was the only one she was seeing. She said there were 6 others before me. She didn't like all of them.

She said, "I like you. There's this nice feeling when we talk. It's really important staying with people you like."

I agreed with her. Somehow the idea of staying with the landlady was not too appealing to me because of what happened in the first place in Reading. Oh well...

But I like her too. I was very cautious of liking the place too quickly because I needed to know what am I committing to and from when.

I had to rush to the fifth appointment and there was another guy who just arrived to view the place. Perfect timing to excuse myself. We hugged and she gave a "muak" on the cheek - typical Italian.

When she showed me to the door she whispered, "I'll rent it to you. I'll get on with this guy quickly. I'll call you afterwards." She winked before she closed the door. I left the place though still empty handed, but I felt extremely happy. I felt God was answering my prayer. It started off with a blank.

I was tempted to call off the fifth appointment because it was in Central London - Waterloo. I get quite intimidated hearing "Zone 1 or "Central" because they bring to mind sky-high rental or a "pigeon hole", stuffed with 6 tenants or so to make it darn cheap! You can hardly find an in-between.

Muswell Hill was a safer bet. When I arrived at Waterloo, I could immediately see River Thames. There was great vibe at the southbank where Waterloo is. I found my place. It was less than 100m from the bank of the river. It was a nice two-storey house. I crossed my finger and hoped the rent was not prohibitive.

Eateries at Southbank

The landlord, Hall was a young lady. She was still showing the place to a prospective tenant. I was fine with it. After all I could soak in the sun and there was a Dutch festival at the area. I kept myself occupied. This place is full of life and colour.
Looking west from southbank

Looking east

Hall called me up when she was done with the previous guy. When we went to the room on offer, I liked it immediately. Lots of light, spacious and facing the river! Deep in my heart, I wanted to move in immediately when I saw the view. Could see the London Eye! I loved this place as much as Muswell Hill. Muswell Hill is tranquil, this is lively!

As if this was rehearsed, the same thing happened with Hall. Her phone rang and she covered her mouth piece. She asked, "So, what do you think? Do you like it?"

I said, "Yea! This is brilliant!"

Hall answered the phone, "Heya, Hall speaking....Yea?...Oh yea, it's you...oh no, unfortunately the room is already taken...ok..bye!"

I was still unsure if she meant the room was offered to me.

I asked for an indirect clarification. "So...when you are ready to make a decision, you will give me a call, yea?"

Hall replied, "Oh I can make a decision now. You're the one."

I reconfirmed, "You sure you don't want to interview a few more before you make a decision?"

"You seem nice to me. That's good enough." I responded with a smile.

Then the financial bits came. It was more than Muswell Hill as expected. The thought of walking or cycling to work was too appealing. I reasoned out that I could save time and money on transportation.

We shook hands and went on with the agreement.

After this was done, I made a call to Maria and told her the "bad news". I felt horrible doing that because she turned down the other prospective tenants after me and promised to rent the place to me. All I did was ring her up and tell her I didn't need her place anymore.

Met up with Owen afterwards who happened to be in southbank at the same time. Guess he's the first person to know where I'll stay.

Now that accommodation is sorted, I am more confident of starting work in the City soon.

Smiley face showing my new address

I would have changed address three times in less than a year. What hasn't changed is that I still get to walk or ride a bike to work. And that hasn't changed since Cambridge.

It's costly to keep status quo. Don't even bother asking how much was the agreed rent! Regardless, I feel blessed with such a brilliant outcome.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Eng, ine, eri, ng?

I was tasked to talk to our Technical Information team downstairs. They work alongside the Engineers in the company. I needed to get ground levels of our sites. It was part of an exercise to determine the resilience of our assets and scale of disaster needed to cripple one of London's most vulnerable utility services. It was an extremely challenging but interesting exercise. But not until I spoke to the TI team.

**(Due to the highly sensitive nature of the subject, I apologise for the broad-brush explanation)**

A lot of what I practiced in Malaysia were based on the British system. So reading technical drawings was not an issue. However, I found it strange this time when I had to reconnect with the technical people here for some simple jargons. I wouldn't even call them jargons. They were acronyms!

The controller, Jack, spreaded the drawing on the table. "Right, let's see what we have here..."

"I'm looking for the ground levels. O here they are..." I pointed my finger to the tiny fontsize-1 numbers.

Jack stared at the drawing and then murmured, "Wait...what's this...FGL? I don't think that's...rrrright"

"FGL..that's finished ground level, isn't it? That's what I'm after" I explained.

"Ah! These guys are just being clever, aren't they!" Jack exclaimed sarcastically.

"Eh? But I thought that's universal engineering term?"

Jack was concentrating hard and looked on to the next acronym, "See here! These guys can't make up their mind. They put FGL for that, and EGL for this! That's confusing!"

"No, Jack. EGL's Existing Ground Level. It was intentional and not a mistake."

"AOD?" Jack asked.

"Above Ordinance Datum" I answered.

"Where did you learn all this?" Jack asked curiously.

"From the British!"

Friday, April 18, 2008

80,000 Self-Torture places filled in 24 hours

Anyone would balk at the idea of walking a mile to work or the train station. Imagine asking you to do that 26 times back-to-back and then say, "Hey, thanks for doing that. Now please pay £1 for every mile you've done!" How would you feel?

But that's exactly what more than 120,000 people are now fighting for in order to be given the chance to do that!

I received the London Marathon newsletter that all of the 80,000 online entry ballots in the first phase have been snapped up in 24 hours.

A further 40,000 will be up for grabs on 21 April with 5000 through paper ballot entries. Overseas runners can call to pre-register at 020 7902 0200 on the same day.

This could potentially mean more than 120,000 runners will be vying for the 26.2-mile self-torture next year! Since it's a ballot, only 1/3 would make it to run! Put simply, only the chosen ones get to self-torture. Err...that's sad, right?

What's wrong with these guys??!!!! Why would anyone pay £26 to inflict torture to their bodies? £26 can buy two weeks' worth of groceries from the Tesco's Finest range.

Marathon races defy human logic. We can neither say more than 120,000 people are indeed suffering from a self-harm psychological disorder nor running is the manifestation of "self-aggrandisement" of what runners couldn't achieve in other more selective sports e.g football, rugby or cricket.

Somehow this was what I questioned when I joined the Pacesetters Athletics Club Malaysia back in 2002. It didn't make sense at all.

Now that I blog this, I realise this would be the same question people will ask me. "Why do you want to run so far?" At first, it was difficult to imagine doing a marathon. Then it was difficult to imagine not doing it anymore. This week, it was extremely difficult to imagine if I didn't become part of the 120,000 "mentally disorder" people. I didn't want difficulties imagining things anymore. So I signed up for the ballot. Now I just hope I am one of the chosen ones to self-torture in 2009.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

London Marathon 2008

Finishing time: 3hr 28mins 23secs

This year's London Marathon is different from last year's in several aspects:

1. This is a wet marathon. 2007 was the hottest in history.

Buckingham Palace

2. This is the centenary of the London Marathon. The medal turned out to be really cool.
3. This year's finisher's T-shirt is white. Last year was black!

4. Didn't get to meet Cambridge or familiar runners this time
Runners' area. Buckingham Palace in the background

The drinks stations were well placed and the distance markers accurate. I was not exhausted after the race. In fact I ran a further 4km to cool down post-race.

Before I get too long-winded in this report, most of the stuff were pretty repetitive and can be read from the 2007 report.

And before I lead you on any further, I just remembered point number 5: I didn't get to run this year. :(

P/S: London Marathon 2009 registration for ballot is out!

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

You don't vote me, I don't friend you!

A storm is brewing in Malaysia.

TV3 is playing the racial cards. Politicians of the weaker National Front is picking on a particular group. Even if you have skin as thick as Samy Vellu's, you could still feel the heat, based on the asinine and bias news reporting.

The sudden upheaval of the pig farming issue in Selangor is a case in point. Approval of land use was obtained on 30 January 2008. I wonder why they have made this into a big issue now. It's past 3 months!

TV3 playing with racial issues

I would rather avoid passing any judgment on this sensitive matter. But when Noh Omar, one of the less bright MPs of the National Front, mentioned that "the pig farm can be relocated to Pulau Ketam where there is a majority of Chinese", you couldn't help but think of him in either character; a racist or thick. "Singapore would have reared pigs if it could be done efficiently", confirmed he was the latter.

Noh Omar

MCA became vegans after their shameful defeat, so they are sending this with love...

Observing the political development from outside Malaysia, the National Front did sound like, "You don't vote me, I don't friend you!"

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Oh! And Before I Forget...

Winter has officially ended and we've already turned our clocks an hour ahead last week. Much of the lower half of the UK has been experiencing a mild winter this year. It was as if Mother Nature has forgotten this part of the country. I've also kept away my winter jacket and brought out my hoodie.

And just as England was looking forward to Spring, Mother Nature only remembered this morning and said, "Oh! And before I's some snow for you, England!

Outside my room window

Outside where I stay. Edwardian architecture turned white.

(All pictures enlargeable)

Rear elevation of my where I work. Nice building eh!

Side elevation of the office

River Thames

What? Hello? What was that you were trying to say? Hello?

Peek-a-boo! I see you!

I created the first snowman that was so small, it pales into insignificant in this picture.

So I made a bigger one. A really huge one!
Meet Mr Straw Berrynose!

And his mangled form...

Saturday, April 05, 2008

The Eurotunnel

I made a second trip to Paris last weekend by bus.

I am not really a bus person and anyone would most likely balk at the idea of sitting through 8 torturous hours on an A3-size seat when one can take the Eurostar at a quarter of the time. But for the adventure and experience of getting into the Eurotunnel by road, it's worth every minute. Besides you arrive way before the cock crows in Paris and the only noise to crack the silence of dawn is probably the bus that rumbles us in! So you can have one full day in Paris.

The Eurotunnel experience was incredible. It's an experience no one should miss when going to/from Paris or before the company shuts down by its mounting debt.

I had initially thought the bus would drive through the 31-mile tunnel. But when the bus drove itself into a big container with blinding luminance, like you would imagine in a scene of Knight-Rider driving itself into an Alien-vs-Predator spaceship, only then I realised that all vehicles would be transported the same way as would all passengers from London's St Pancras International - through rail. Vehicles are carried across by this humongous Eurostar-looking carrier into Calais, rather than driving through it.

In the spaceship docking facility

I still can't figure out how this would make business sense at all. First of all, it's energy intensive. It will probably sap a large part of what's produced at the nuclear power plant. Secondly, it's a terribly long wait for other vehicles to pile up the coaches before it could move. Yes, it will no doubt reduce the possibility of tunnel inferno or accidents in the tunnel but they can't be enough to justify such huge investment cost. This is no wonder Eurotunnel is running at a loss averaging €200m (RM1billion) every year since 1994! Believe me, 14 years of losses is enough to build 14 LDP Highways in Malaysia and still have some pocket change to pay bribes to the authorities.

The gap that's left between the carriage wall and vehicle

Even though past involvement in tunnel construction in Malaysia has helped me appreciate the numbers put behind the design of this tunnel, it doesn't take much for non-technical people to understand about the waterproofing abilities and strength to hold everything up, under a depth of more than 60m below sea level. That's like piling a 20-storey building load on top of a concrete pipe that is likely to transport another 3tonnes per meter of live loads in it!

That's a great engineering feat!

Friday, April 04, 2008

Do or Not Do?

I just received news that a Swimathon Challenge is coming up in 2 weeks. It's a fund raising event organised by the Marie Curie Cancer Care.

They have several distance to choose from to suit different swimmers' ability. I am thinking of swimming for the maximum distance, 5km. I know it sounds insane but it's something I feel strongly that I can do.

After all, I've done a 6.5km open sea swimming challenge (Kapas-Marang) before back in 2005.

Because it's a fund raising event, I need to commit a target for the event. I have my doubts even to raise £100. Feeling defeated even before the battle has started. What a loser right?

Thing is, I like challenges and I like swimming. If I can do both for charity other than personal, that'd be wonderful.

Or maybe I should send an email to my colleagues to each sponsor me £2?
Or maybe I should send an email to my former coursemates in Cambridge?
Or maybe I should write in my Facebook wall to ask for donations?
Or maybe I should hope to find a £100 note on the floor tomorrow?
Or maybe I should give up?
Or maybe I should put up in the blog and hope for things to happen?

How ah??? Do or not do???

Sieving A Bin Of Vomit

It's one of those rare occasions when I decided to check the "Junk Mail" folder in my Yahoo Mail account. I have to-date 6456 mails which have yet to be cleared.

As I browsed through the pages, I recognised some familiar names. When I clicked on them I realised these were important mails that have been filtered into the Junk mail folder.

Actually I did have a job offer from Malaysia that I have been telling everyone that I had been unsuccessful. Actually I did have more birthday wishes than I expected. Actually I did have a reply from the queries I sent to the mobile phone company. Actually I did have a reply from the Borough Council.

It's aweful the Spam filter did not work as effectively as I expected. Now the function seems like a bane to have because I need to go through the list of mails again. I have to pick out the good from the disgusting ones like body augmentation ads, notifications of my million dollar windfall, female rentals, medical products, dildos, etc etc.

Thanks to the Yahoo efficiency now I have to go through the trouble of sieving a bin of vomit!