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Return of the Chinese Landlord – Mike Chen’s AirBnB

4 Jan Mike Chen's Kitchen

I have been travelling with AirBnB for several years, and have made the obligatory good and bad experiences. But sometimes life still surprises me with a kick so low that it is more entertaining than hurtful. This is one of these stories, and I take it as occasion for a thorough review of Mike Chen’s AirBnB situation in Toronto, Ontario.

Personally, I don’t have high expectations when it comes to cheap lodging. All I really want is a place to cook my meals, a place to consume them, one to rest my weary body, and safe shelter for my stuff. My needs actually boil down to a clean kitchen and a clean bed room. As simple as that might seem, Mike Chen was able to disappoint on all accounts.

Mike Chen's AirBnB Rental

It looks continuous, but every store front signals one separate building. One of these five buildings is Mike’s rental place.

The Room

Let’s start with the room, because it’s the most obvious and least accessible flaw of this adventure. The mid-sized bedroom was relatively well maintained, and although both the fake hardwood floor and the old mattress were a bit squeaky, the general set up was neither uncomfortable nor out of the ordinary. The panorama was somewhat squandered by the old dresser-drawer with one out of three drawers missing. The absence of an actual dresser, and its replacement with a slightly worn display case increased the impression that the furniture was either hauled in from various yard sales, or had been acquired by a very skilled dumpster diver. Surprisingly, none of the furniture was actually dusty, except for the top shenves. You know – the places Chinese people can’t reach.

The shear fact that the heating vent in the ceiling was bisected by a hastily painted dry wall made it clear that this room had been added as an afterthought. The Chinese landlord also had also inserted a drywall ceiling, so as to block the sky light which would otherwise have provided a natural light source for my dark and sterile cell.

These general circumstances could have made my stay dull and solemn, but luckily the neighbouring house featured a constantly playing radio. Not loud enough to make out words, but sufficiently loud to recognize any song that you know. The radio literally never stopped playing, and it is only due the loud heating vent in the ceiling that I enjoyed times of relief from enforced radio play. The single small window of the room led out to the hallway, so not only could I hear all the other tenants passing by my room, I was also able to partake in their cooking efforts without ever getting up from my gnarly old chair.

Mike Chen bedroom

This bed room is not great. It’s also not unusual, or bad. Just normal, windowless Chinese rental.

Bath Room

Mike Chen Bath Room

A layer of dust, carbonate, and soap covers most surfaces to varying degrees. The top shelves in particular, because Chinese arms cannot reach there.

As in any other Chinese rental the bath room was plastered with notes, printed in surprisingly good English. One note asked “guests” to avoid flushing toilet paper down the drain, which provides you with a pretty accurate idea of the state of the draining power of said toilet. It also tells you something about the olfactory features of the bathroom: when you toss used toilet paper into the garbage bin, it is bound to develop a characteristic odour, reminiscent of any unsanitary Porter Potty or Forest Loo. Luckily, everyone ignored the paper warning.

However, in order to soil toilet paper with your rectal waste products you first have to find some, because the Chen House is one of those bring-your-own-paper rentals (which, obviously, you are not informed about upon booking). Needless to say that the bath room did not come with soap, towels, or any other kind of toiletries. The only gifts offered by management are two carbonate-encrusted drinking glasses on either side of the sink, so you could disgust the hell out of your tooth brush, if need be.

The absolute highlight of the bath room was the note on the inside of the door, saying “please help keep this bathroom clean”. A laudable notion, only betrayed by the crust of calcium carbonates covering the walls of the shower, the layer of grime on both of the cup boards, the dirt that freely floated across the floor, and the various pale greys that seemed to cover both waste bins AND the sink itself.

Mike Chen's Toronto Bath Room

Except for the floor very few surfaces in this bath room get cleaned regularly.

Cooking time

To me the ability to cook my own meals represents a vital part of the AirBnB experience. I always carry a set of bamboo cutlery, but for the actual process of food preparation I need to scout for rooms that feature a fully functional kitchen. I can’t afford to go out for three meals a day, so, yes, the kitchen matters.

Hood Fan cover at Mike Chen's

Someone actually tried to clean the cover of the hood fan. Why did he/she give up after 30% completion? Did the cleaner die or despair? We may never know.

Admittedly, Mike Chen’s place offered the most elementary equipment, such as microwave, fridge, stove, and a variety of utensils. The state of those items, however, was more than sketchy. The stove was functional, and after a quick clean-up it was ready to oblige my wishes. Yet, finding the appropriate utensils, even to cook up ordinary oat meal involved a laborious journey through the house, because the many shelves of the kitchen were nearly empty, and what little utensils were available, needed to be cleaned in order to avoid at least the most common diseases and infections.

Overall, the second floor contains six bed rooms and two kitchens, and I had to search both kitchens to collect enough equipment to start meal preparation. After finishing my breakfast I stored the pot, the plate, the chipped ceramic bowl, and the metal spoon (the single available piece of cutlery on the ENTIRE SECOND FLOOR!) in my room, so that I would not have to invest the same cleaning efforts before starting my next cooking adventure.

I don’t even want to talk about the greasy microwave, or the grimy fridge. The photos I took of the kitchen should be sufficiently scary to put you off food for a while, and induce a month-long diet on freshly trimmed tree bark. And if you lack the ability to see with your eyes, be assured that the smell of the fridge easily signals its willingness to spread diseases that the Western world has deemed extinct since the dawn of penicillin.

The general ambient of unease was artistically underlined by a variable mixture of dust, grease, and brown sauce that covered the shelves and doors of all cup boards. All this invites the general viewer to give the kitchen a thorough scrub, but with only two cleaning cloths and one towel available this effort would be rather limited in its scope, especially since all three of these rags are rather rigid, indicating that the cleaning cloths themselves have not undergone laundry for a little while.

Mike Chen's Kitchen

The remaining shelves of the kitchen are emptier than these. All are dusty and greasy, though.

Smelly Time

Talking of odours, there are a few rather uncomfortable issues to mention. Firstly the heating vent appears to feature a mediocre amount of dust, and after every heating cycle the room smells like an old sack.

The ancient hole in the wall, containing the aforementioned switch and fuse box, added to that problem. The space between the walls smelled of cold, old smoke, like a pre-war casino that has recently been unearthed by the world’s least ambitious archaeologist.

My hosts did not leave the place unsanitary, though. At least once a week someone came around, swept the floor, and infused some part of the common area with an unhealthy load of bleach. Given the choice between cockroach and airborne carcinogen I would not quite know which way to lean, but note that one can clean a bathroom without making it stink.

Now, all of that would be alright, if you could open a window, and swap the dusty, smoky, bleachy air from indoors with the dusty air from the street. But since my only window went out to the hallway it rather conflicted my nose further with the smell of cooking. At least most of the other tenants used the hood fan when they fried their morning beef, so the overall mixture was never overwhelmingly terrible.

Mike Chen hallway

During summer tenants can slouch on this dusty sofa, and stare at the twenty year old TV across the hallway. Why my room did not incorporate the rest of that sky light is beyond my understanding.

Been there, haven’t done that

Fridge filled with decaying stuff

This fridge does not contain the food of two AirBnB guests. This fridge is the result of at least half a year of ignorance.

 “Hold on!” I hear you screaming. (A remarkable feat, considering that I am writing this blog in your absence.) One might actually be inclined to believe that all of these flaws result from a temporary lack of enthusiasm regarding the health and safety of this Chinese rental dive. However, one would incline the wrong direction – the depth and extent of the dirt covering nearly every surface of the common space indicates that neither kitchen nor bath room have seen any domestic cleaning in half a year or longer.

Back when I lived in Calgary, Alberta, I supervised a house that had long-term tenants as well as AirBnB guests. From that experience I know what effort is involved in maintaining a house, and what it takes to keep its tenants happy. Ten minutes of cleaning every day already suffice for keeping most grime out of the common area. And even if you’re too lazy for that, one hour a week will keep kitchen and bath room in good shape.

My kitchen was always stocked with utensils, dishes, and a huge load of pots and pans. When someone didn’t have time to clean a bowl right away, or broke a plate, or lost a spoon, that accident never impeded on anyone else’s ability to cook, because there were always enough utensils left on the shelves, and those were always clean. Even today you can purchase a box of kitchen utensils for $10 at thrift stores or yard sales, so even IF your guests steal some cutlery, you still have plenty left.

Furthermore, having basic toiletries and cleaning equipment readily available under every sink makes it much easier for your guests and tenants to remove any dirt that threatens to destroy their comfort. The absence of buckets and clean rags made it impossible for me to give the dirty surfaces the scrub that they needed. The general state of Mike Chen’s AirBnB rental showed that little to no effort had been spent over the past year to relieve any surface of its unsanitary load.

Goemon's kitchen in Calgary

This was my kitchen back in Calgary. Mark the absence of grime, and the availability of clean equipment.

 

Chinese Paranoia

The signs of sketchy accommodation were visible from the beginning. When I told Mike via AirBnB about my potential arrival time on Saturday evening he did not reply to my electronic message. Instead, I found his front door locked and unattended. If it hadn’t been for a friend helping me with my luggage, I might have stood in the cold in front of that building for hours, because it took several phone calls to get someone to open the door for us. It is always problematic, if the landlord does not actually live at the premise, and does not have a suitable person to safeguard the front door in his stead.

It is also rather unusual for an AirBnB host to demand payment of a $100 security deposit, particularly if this is not mentioned in the online description. But it did not even stop there. When Mike’s mom finally arrived at the premise, and handed me the keys, she asked me to fill in a guest book with personal information, such as passport ID and phone number. I’m surprised she didn’t ask for my SIN card! When I asked if I could take a photo of the “guest book” she did not even hesitate to open it again, thus revealing a page filled with the personal information of a long train of other “guests” in her house. If anyone needs phone and passport numbers of international visitors to Toronto, give me a call, and we can strike a deal!

Cleanliness is not a Chinese invention

The whole affair is colourful and smelly. Much like this microwave.

Chinese Rental

Imagine you just got off the airplane, after six hours of flight and one hour of travel through a foreign city. When you arrive at your chosen dormitory you find it locked and in the dark, and without door bell. So you call up the land lord, and for twenty minutes you wait in the tea house next door for the arrival of keys. When the Mistress of Keys arrives she asks you to sign a contact sheet that contains the phone and passport information of various other tenants, and she has no issue with you photographing it. Your room features slightly broken furniture, and a whole in the wall that a house keeper needs to access infrequently in order to restore power to some rooms. When you try to relieve yourself of the burden of a long journey you suddenly realise that the toilet comes without paper, and somehow you need to clean out your crevices without leaving the unsanitary bathroom or clogging up the toilet drain. When you waddle back to your room, to carefully claim the soap from your luggage, so as to clean your welting fingers, your gaze falls upon brown pots and plates that suggest nobody has taken care of this property since at least the winter before. Welcome to Mike Chen’s Toronto!

In conclusion, the whole set-up of the house screams “Chinese Landlord Trap”. The building looks like it was built as a restaurant, but the new Chinese owners then employed drywall and a bucket of paint to compartmentalise each floor into rentable rooms. They did not quite maximise the use of space, which I am thankful for. I know Chinese landlords who would have cracked another two or three rooms out of that second floor.

In good Chinese tradition the landlord does not actually live near the property, and maintenance visits are so infrequent that you should be thankful to enjoy clean floors, and a continuous supply of warm air and hot water. Anything else would require the occasional wet cleaning cloth getting rubbed over dirty surfaces, but that is already too much to ask of someone who really just wants to make money off a property. The front of the building does indeed feature a shop of some sort, but for the entire duration of my stay I only saw the shop open when one of the tenants moved in or out.

As a result you receive living space that barely scratches over the minimum requirements of any Health & Safety inspector. There are no bed bugs or related vermin, and I guess the accessibility of emergency exits does not matter as long as you avoid setting the house on fire. But for my understanding of comfortable housing this residence falls a few miles short of its target, just about out of sight of anyone who likes to cook, or breathe deeply, or who sleeps uneasily, or people who don’t want to remove the soggy hair sieve from the bath tub to drain water from the shower.

Encrusted pot at Mike Chen's

Crusty black bottom line: the terrible state of Mike Chen’s rental place is not a temporary accident. It’s the result of considerable neglect.

PS.: As a matter of completeness I should mention that the floors of the house were relatively clean, and no bugs or related parasites could be sighted. Unsurprisingly, considering the weekly force of bleach that was employed on key aspects of the house. However, why the person who wiped the floors lived in complete ignorance of the rest of the house is beyond my comprehension.

Also, the host was readily approachable (via digital message), and when I asked for a one-day extension of my stay it was granted within twenty-four hours. My damage deposit was returned without hesitation, and the web camera that was mounted in the kitchen made me feel a limited amount of security.

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Jurassic Park – A Fallen Kingdom

12 Oct Tyrannosaurus bust from the times of Jurassic Park

There is much good to say about “Jurassic World – Fallen Kingdom”. There is also some monstrous mischief one can point at. But I am not here for that. Instead, I want to provide a brief discussion of the plot and the cinematic backdrop of that movie, and their implications for the direction of the franchise. And maybe, if Universal listens, the Jurassic Future may be bearable.

I recently saw a Facebook post in which a fan asked the following question: “The Rock, or maybe Jason Statham? Who do you want to see in Jurassic World 3?” Apart from the general idiocy of selecting actors before you even have a plot and a setting for a movie, this question sums up nicely into what kind of abysmal chaos the Jurassic franchise has been tossed by recent decisions of its prime shareholders. The Jurassic World has been degraded to a string of action movies with dinosaurs, not unlike that dreadfully plot-twisted TV show “Primeval”. What once was the epiphany of novel dinosaur media has become a rather ordinary dinosaur thrill ride, in which it is no longer heresy to ask “What if the govenator had shouted ‘Mr Hammond, get to the choppa’?”

Tyrannosaurus bust from the times of Jurassic Park

Jurassic Park is so dead that you can hang it on the wall. Except, I no longer want to.

If you have deep moral concerns when you imagine Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sly Stallone harking through the next Jurassic movie, and tossing about their Action Movie punch lines, you most likely have a deep and comfortable relationship to the original Jurassic series. So do I; having been a grand fan of Jurassic Park since its inception in German cinemas in 1993. To date it remains the only movie that I saw twice in a movie theatre, and I am an incredibly picky consumer when it comes to buying cinema tickets. So, you know this topic is very dear to me.

Jurassic World (JW) was a great movie, and a good addition to the franchise. Even though I hated the trailer, I bought the Collector’s Edition BluRay. Because the movie turned out to be filled with Jurassic Moments, little details and ideas that were plucked directly from the original film, or even from Michael Crichton’s novel. You see those old jeeps in the run-down shed, or the string of boats floating down the jungle river, or the dino heads peaking through tall grass, and as a fan you are immediately pulled into a hodge podge of fond memories. Fallen Kingdom (JW2) serves those fond memories as well, but it is a lot less sneaky and artsy about it. JW provided its own story, and occasionally strew in a few sprinkles of magic Jurassic dust. JW2 looks like the directors added those sprinkles as an afterthought during the editing process, and as a result you spot flaring sparks of reminiscence in every scene. Contrastingly, JW kindled a barely noticeable flame that constantly nourished your inner fan fire.

Jurassic World Evolution

Jurassic World worked so well because it used the given dimensions of the Jurassic Park for its own plot. Fallen Kingdom destroyed everything, and dragged the remainders along.

This is all the more disappointing when you realize how well the movie actually starts. The first two acts are nearly a perfect remake of Jurassic Park 2 (JP2). Ian Malcolm ranting, old billionaire chanting, a Track & Rescue mission for the dinosaurs, a hunter consumed by his pride and his lust for trophies, and even the lost girl found its way into the script (and the writers prepared a slick way of pointing her out to the audience). Everything down to the betrayal in the jungle was a magnificent rehash of JP2. It was beautiful. And it ended so abruptly, so heart-wrenching melancholic, with the destruction of Jurassic Park, both physically and mentally.

The ending of Act 2 (the volcano exploding) would have created the perfect metaphor, because the kingdom has fallen, both that of the Jurassic island, as well as that of its brilliant creator, Steven Spielberg, the man who directed such a startling bright light onto the original trilogy. The path leading up to this point was speckled with coprolites (fossilised poop), but all the previous directors pulled through with their respective agendas, and they created an inclusive universe for every dinosaur fan to enjoy. And then JA Bayona cocked it up, by prolonging our agony.

Act 2 should have marked the imperfect ending to an imperfect era. The mess at the mansion that is to follow the dinosaur theft would set a great premise for a totally new start on the Jurassic franchise. We meet mostly new characters, new buyers for the dinosaurs, new uses for the genetic research, new cinematic environments, new villains … you could not be much more different from Jurassic Park without selling those dinos by the bucket at KFC.

Jurassic Park - A Fallen Kingdom

This is where Jurassic Park should have ended, so as to start the Jurassic World on a fresh set.

“Jurassic Park is dead; long live Jurassic World.” That should have been the cut. I would have agreed with that message. If the directors had just continued on their new path, all the old JP-fans would have seen their dreams die in the wake of a volcano. A sad, yet satisfying end at the hands of a higher power.

Alas, they didn’t. Instead of creating a clean cut between Old and New the directors deemed it appropriate to prolong our misery by dragging our good old Jurassic Park into the sinister new mansion, and beat it around until all the main characters succumbed to the dreadfully dour, marketing-oriented piece of dinosaur merchandise that appears to define all movies and other monster media since the turn of the century.

With the auction and the emergence of arms dealers JW2 had its plot set, and would have gotten away as a cool monster movie. But instead of letting JP-fans weep their bitter-sweet tears of discontinuation, the directors dragged the twitching corps of Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece into the studio light, walked it around on puppeteer strings, and applauded its endurance. The second half of JW2 would have worked well without the raptor clicking its claw in close-up, without the raptor chase through the dinosaur diorama, without the jammed door of the food elevator, or any of the other elements that the directors stole right from the bleeding corps that was once the pinnacle of dinosaur entertainment. Some scenes look as if the directors tried to cram in as many ideas from the original film as they possibly could, just to drag along the maximum number of old Jurassic-Park-fans, although the latter were already kicking and screaming when the Big Game Hunter tried to pull dragon teeth on Isla Nublar. JW2 is more of a Jurassic Remake than a solid self-sustained movie. And I effing hate needless remakes of great movies!

Jurassic World - Fallen Kingdom kitchen scene

Seriously? The kitchen scene? Again?! – At certain points it feels as if the producers tried to remake Jurassic Park and Lost World into one movie.

One of the reasons why the old JP trilogy worked so well was the fact that it was a self-contained series of movies. JP2 made a story mistake by moving things out to San Diego, but we forgive them, because the King-Kong-type chapter ends with a happy happy reunion on a beautiful tropic dinosaur island. Apart from that single hick-up all the story of the original films developed on the Jurassic islands. Even Jurassic World stuck to that plan. The old directors knew that once they moved any part of the main story off to the continent, there was no way of keeping it there. I mean: the biggest conceptual cliff hanger in JP was a can of Barbasol that rolled out of the hands of a dying computer technician! Spielberg made it very clear that everything that happened on the island also stayed on the island.

But, no, executive producer Bayona had to set them dinosaurs free in North America, so now those critters are everywhere, can develop any sort of plot, lean into everyone’s life. Until now Jurassic Park had its own little domain – an island off the coast of Costa Rica. But with the resolve of Fallen Kingdom it has infested an entire continent AND the oceans, so very soon we will see a Resident-Evil-type plague of monster lizards, with all of its incongruity and plot insanity. Have we learned nothing from reloading the Matrix?! The bigger any given movie universe gets, the less believable becomes its actual scenario, because the directors start to toy with forces that they do not comprehend, and can never hope to control.

Jurassic World - Fallen Kingdom characters

Fallen Kingdom showed much potential for interesting character development. Unfortunately, most of them just ran about, and died.

The whole string of Jurassic Park movies has always focused on questions of morality. Questions such as: Should we necessarily utilise the genetic powers we are given, and what responsibilities come with such a re-imagined genesis? Even JP3 juggles with philosophical topics: how much harm can a small property transgression do, and how many raptor eggs can one steal before nature bites back? If you look closely, the dinosaurs were always used as vehicles to transport an overarching discussion about the powers of nature and man.

“Fallen Kingdom” tosses most of these greater goals out of the window, and replaces them with a dumb fight of Good Vs. Evil; Team Owen Vs. Arms Dealer. The movie blatantly moves the franchise into the genre of action movies, terminating all of the moral discussions that the dealings around Jurassic Park ever started. As mentioned earlier, I am cool with that termination. The franchise deserves a new start. But you pricks are founding your new movie on the heritage of a film that isn’t even cold yet, and you frequently point at the twitching corps, asking us to love both of you equally. That just doesn’t work, guys!

Jurassic Park Triceratops

Jurassic Park took its time. Neitehr the characters nor the dinosaurs were rushed through the film. This “contained” drama allowed the viewer to appreciate the film.

Jurassic Park could have died with this movie, and the world would have been all the better for it. You would have lost some of the old fans, but most of them would have followed you into the brave new world. However, the executive producers kept resuscitating the original film, no matter how brain-dead it already was, and that was awful to watch. The Fallen Kingdom could have marked the beginning of a new Jurassic era, but instead of allowing the old king of dinosaurs a dignified death the directors rather kept violating its unconscious body.

The next producer will have to make an executive decision on whether to continue this dreadfully puppeteer dance with the dead, and keep alienating the fans, or lay its carcass to rest, and create a new universe. It is too late to take a step back. We can’t just imagine that JW2 does not exist, much like Star-Wars-fans cannot un-see Jarjar Binks. I therefore propose to start anew, and allow the fans to regroup around a fresh franchise. Let Jurassic Park die. And raise a new Jurassic Kingdom in its place.

#TheDonald – Why hating the USA is helping them

12 Feb Capitol Washinton D.C.

Before the 2016 presidential elections Donald J. Trump was a gruffy old arse without remarkable accumulations of manners or knowledge. Directly after the election he upgraded to insufferable narcissistic dictator. The hurricane of negative emotions that has been blowing across the world since then came not unexpected. However, what really grieves me about this situation is the tremendous amount of time that goes into useless protests and demonstrations against the orange mop in a suit. Below I tell you why.

blog-trump1-8

Criticism of President Trump has been running wild on the interwebs, but I doubt it’s a solution to the actual problem.

The Facts, as far as they still matter

Donald Jesus Trump has been elected president of the USA. He took office in January 2017, and is now abusing his new super powers to turn his country into a fest of government-sponsored lunacy. Obviously, the elections that bestowed those powers upon him were rigged, and the babbling orang-utan will soon launch an official investigation into that topic, or so he promised. But for the moment we have to accept that the elections were held under the law, and their results are therefore legally binding. #TheDonald is the legitimate president, so you cannot protest his position of power without protesting the electoral system, and thus the very foundation of that country.

If you are a US citizen, protesting Trump as president questions the legitimacy of your own electoral system, thus undermining the authority of the state. It comes just short of treason, and the fact that many Republicans have engaged in similar talk over the past two decades does not actually help your case. The rest of the world sees you protesting a democratically elected leader, thus confirming the insanity of your people as a whole.

Lately many non-US citizens have begun voicing their protests as well. Among others Germans, Australians, and Scots have been noticed to engage in demonstrations opposing Trump’s presidency, and thus the US-American electoral system. In themselves, attempts to introduce civility and democracy into a land of gun-slinging savages may be deemed noble quests, as long as one refrains from physical negotiations. However, they remain a criticism of the structure and organisation of the electoral system. You cannot protest President Trump without protesting the democratic mechanisms that voted him into power. Doing so as a foreign nation displays a level of egocentricity that is I) typically US-American, and II) frowned upon. So, don’t.

Finally, that lunatic with the dead animal on his head is as likely to give up his presidency as he is to birth a social health plan, or a self-conscience of hair style. Since stripping Trump of power is the ultimate goal of the recent protests towards his person, these protests are utterly pointless. So, please, stop wasting everyone’s time, stop protesting the electoral college of the USA, unless you see a chance of actually changing it.

Capitol Washinton D.C.

The Capitol back on the 4th of July 2016. Washington D.C. was still kind of sane back then.

#TheDonald as a voice

The problem with Trump’s presidency is not merely the president himself. His entire cabinet is comprised of haters, Nazis, idiots, and industrial lobbyists. The majority of his supporters are ill-informed, badly educated bigots. You may recall that nearly half of the voting population consciously checked his name off a list of eligible candidates when they were asked who should become president. His powers were bestowed upon him by the people. Those people are still out there. They are US-American citizens. They retain the right to vote, and most of them remain as ignorant as they were before Trump’s move into the White House. Most of them still believe that they will build a multi-Billion-Dollar wall, and that Mexico will pay for it. Most of them probably believe that Hillary Clinton makes it rain and hail in New York, whenever she is not busy sending government secrets to ISIS. Protesting Trump will not smarten those people up.

If you feel the urge to voice your anger about Donald’s bigotry, here are two directions that would dramatically increase the impact of your shouts.

Celebrations in front of the Capitol back on the 4th of July 2016.

Celebrations in front of the Capitol back on the 4th of July 2016. Happy US faces; sane people in Washington D.C.

1) Protest the words, not the speaker

In the past few weeks alone the stuffed wig that runs the USA has deprecated various countries, religious groups, social classes, and trades. If you are a breathing inhabitant of this planet, chances are good that you should feel offended by several of Trump’s remarks, speeches, or decrees. Feel free to voice your concerns. Be loud and concise, otherwise the simple mind of the general Trump sympathiser won’t comprehend your complaint.

US-citizens usually sue you over a hot coffee, but whenever Trump points his stubby digits at specific people, and calls them liars, murderers, or thieves, they usually just let it slip, under mildly uttered protests. Take it to court guys! When the orange fluff publicly suggests that a) your dad killed a former US-president, or b) your newspaper lied about his hate tirades, or c) citizens of your country are terrorists, and therefore should not be allowed to travel to the USA, he then bullies you. Tell him off! Don’t let #TheDonald spit in your face without demanding a public apology. Bullies are not to be tolerated, especially if they work for you!

The White House in Washington D.C.

The White House in Washington D.C. harbours not just the president, but rather a whole range of government officials.

2) Protest the country, not its speaker

Donald Judas Trump has genuinely been elected the primary speaker of the United States of America. Not all US-Americans agree with that decision, but the decision was reached through use of a democratic process, according to law, and is therefore legally binding, and representative of the opinion of a significant portion of the US population. Tell them what you think of their decision. Tell them in uncertain terms.

Trump speaks for the USA, so by law his country is accountable for his actions. You are not going to help the US by letting them get away with that poor electoral decision. Hitler did not invade half of Europe all by himself; he had public support, and without breaking that support the Allies would not have been able to crack the occupation by Nazi-Germany. Just the same, solely tagging Trump in all international loathing is not going to defeat the idea that all Muslims are terrorists.

If we consistently shame the USA for the travesty that they brought upon the world, they, as a whole, might consider changing their ill-informed opinion. But we have to be consistent in our message; otherwise it will be brushed off like dad’s annual proclamation against ice cream in spring.

The Korean War Memorial in Washington D.C.

War has been a permanent companion of the USA. Even war on itself.

The USA are not victims

I don’t hate all the people of the USA; I don’t have that much spare time. I have many US friends, and I know that the US people are divided over many issues, just like any other nation on this planet. But just like any democratic nation state, the US employ publicly elected representatives. And recently those representatives have spoken as if the rest of the world consisted mainly of beggars and criminals.

Countries are responsible for their spokespersons. You can’t seriously expect to stop Russia from invading other parts of the European East by criticising only President Putin. Putin did not invade Crimea; Russia did.

Thus, I hereby kindly request that you redirect the hate and frustration that you feel towards #TheDonald, and put it to better use. When the US government cancels your health care program, demand it back from them. When the USA declares that all citizens of your country are a threat to US security, demand a public apology from the US government. If the White House threatens to send armed forces into your country to fight your “bad hombres”, request clarification on what many diplomats would consider a declaration of war.

In the words of the great Danny Schmidt: “why is the cracker in the White House not impeached?” Because apparently nobody actually tries, even though the entire White House is “guilty by association” (Danny Schmidt: man of many moons).

My point is this: hold the government responsible for government actions. Do it now. Before #TheDonald starts throwing nukes your way, single-handedly.

2016 Retrospective – Why death is not the end

1 Jan Fire in Calgary

“The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend.” Robert Jordan is long gone from this world, but with The Wheel of Time he has left the world one of the best book series that the realm of Fantasy could ever imagine. And as the Gregorian calendar turns another full year we ask again whether anything we did will pass to legend, or if all we did was to feed the squabbling turmoil of the moment.

 

Shades of Black

To many the year 2016 will be something that they would rather forget. For instance, we saw the rise of right-winged populist politics, “the end of democracy” as left-winged populists called it. The British UKIP party celebrates itself for dragging Great Britain into political isolation. A notorical liar, despised by his own party, led the conservative Republicans to victory in the USA. And Putin’s military forces helped Assat’s band of alleged war criminals to reclaim the iron throne of Syria. Now, all of that sounds horrible to the thinking one who feels. But will we remember any of it long-term? I doubt it.

Horror is not something that people try to hold on to. It is something they try to forget. Twelve days ago a Moroccan asshole stole a truck from a Pole (Oh, the irony!), and drove it into a Christmas Market in Berlin. That guy killed about a dozen people, and is widely acclaimed to be a formidable terrorist. But who will remember him for it? Who but religious extremists will see his actions as memorable?

Christmas markets continue to exist. People continue to enjoy themselves outdoors. Except for those directly involved in the attack nothing has changed. Populist spokespersons often proclaim that “once the terror is at our door, it will be too late”. However, now that the terror has smashed our neighbour’s face in we still consider it a long distance away. We refuse to be afraid of it. Hear that ISIS; you cannot prevent the Western World from being jolly!

Not even two weeks have passed since that Islamist killed a dozen shoppers, yet most Germans don’t recall the name of the attacker, or even the specific Christmas Market that he blundered into. The terror is here, and we know it is real; still we try to forget, not to remember.

 

Fire in Calgary

Photo reporters flock around catastrophes, because they generate interest. But long-term those negative images don’t hold.

Evil never prevails

That is why terror organisations such as ISIS, UKIP, or AfD (our modern German Nazi party) are bound to fail. They pull off a few media stunts, blast a hole into our political fabric, and keep themselves in recent memory. But as the years go by they degrade to another speck on the colourful tapestry of world politics. People do not remember the destroyers. They commemorate creators.

The Maya, Inca, and ancient Egyptians all believed in something bigger, and modern man remembers them, because of the things that they created to glorify their makers. Few people recall the Mormon’s “Mountain Meadows Massacre”, despite its vileness. Yet, most North Americans know about the Mormons, because they are impressed by their huge and glorious temples that seem to pop up in everybody’s neighbourhood.

 

Goemon5 CD release poster

2016 saw the release of my first album. THAT is something I will remember.

Creators that last

That is why our children won’t remember ISIS, or UKIP, or Donald Trump. Because they have not (yet) created anything of value. They have not moved the world forward and therefore won’t stand the test against time. As soon as any of them dies their remnants will quickly be ground down and carried away by the great wind that rose in the Mountains of Mist; doomed to be forgotten as Ages come and pass.

So, which memories of our recent history do we keep alive? We will remember Malala Yousafzai for her courage; for wanting an education so badly that she faced gunshots to obtain it. We hold George Michael in memory for his work towards public acceptance of homosexuality, and for that horribly overplayed Wham! song.

may-meltdown

Rollerderby rules. Enough said.

So, what of 2016?

2016 is a year of personal victories. I will remember it as the year that I released my first album, and the year I created my first professional music videos, in collaboration with multi-talented Natasha Sayer. It is the year I found Rollerderby, and watched the Calgary Allstars win Silver at the Championships. Granted, it’s a year of personal memories. But this is the kind of selfish positivity that hurts no one, and is far more encouraging than mourning over all the great musicians who are no longer with us.

Thus, I encourage you to do the same. If you can’t find any global and ground-shaking occurrences that keep the year 2016 in your positive memory, rather pick some personal ones. Come on, there has to be something about this year that you liked! Keep that one in mind. Stay positive. There is always tomorrow.

Moving Hassle III – The Aftermath

25 Dec Autumn in my German backyard

So. I left the house on 24th Street NW. After five years of timely rental payments and an unmatched dedication to keeping the house clean and cozy my landlady Cavan and her agent Jim basically harassed me out of the building. As it looks, there still remains legal fallout.

Jim's move-out notice

Two of the notes that my landlady’s agent Jim taped to my front door. In his best hand writing as well!

As you recall, I did not pay rent for my last month, August 2016. I used the damage deposit in lieu of last month’s rent. In doing so I followed the advice of the previous tenant, and what a clever decision that was! My lease ended more than three months ago, and to this day I have not received a move-out report, or any other news regarding my deposit.

However, on move-out day I did receive a copy of a court file. The “court application” basically opened a court case that circles around my rental payment for August. Apparently Cavan did not agree with me using the damage deposit in lieu of actual rent. Yet, instead of telling me so, she decided to ask for her money in court.

The last pages of that document actually contain my latest e-mail to her, which states that a) the rent exceeds the deposit by $220, and b) I paid some $800 worth of materials that really Cavan should have been accountable for. Whatever happens with that case (and I am not sticking around to find out), my arguments are already in the file. The case could not be any more convenient for me!

 

Monetary Considerations

Now, court work is not cheap, and certainly not free. Jim paid an application fee of $250 for opening that case. Considering that the maximum amount of money he can possibly make with this case is $220, the whole process seems to bite its own tail. Like a snake that somehow got addicted to pain. Then again, that describes Jim pretty well.

I will never read the whole file, because it becomes repetitive and boring within the first two paragraphs. But in an idle minute I flipped through it, and the second page offers something of a redemption. I was invited to state my “side of this matter before the Court”, on the morning of September 1st. Obviously, I do enjoy court talk as much as the next masochist, and I certainly welcomed the opportunity to “communicate” with Jim under adult supervision. Alas, I did have one or two more things to do before leaving Calgary, and my departure was already scheduled for September 2nd.

So … No. I did not go to court one day before leaving the country. I just couldn’t be bothered. Instead, I biked some fifteen kilometres through Calgary, returned a book to the library, returned my internet router to Shaw, took some pretty photos of the city, and deposited my bike at a friend’s place.

I may never fully understand Jim’s motivation behind filing that case. Especially since he already knew that I was leaving the country, potentially forever. But, yes, next time I’m in town there may or may not be a court case regarding my rent. We may never find out. Or even care, because I do not intend to go back and ask. And I seriously doubt that the border personal will deny me re-entry for denied rental payment.

Calgary Downtown

Even during a thunderstorm the skyline of Downtown Calgary has some grace to it.

All the stuff

As I mentioned, Jim proved to be a considerable ass, and Cavan, in her infinite wisdom, sent him around multiple times to harass us. He did not even take the house keys that I offered him, even though he did not have any of his own. To this day he does not have keys for the front door, at least not from anyone I know.

Since we were booted out in such a rude manner we obviously contemplated legal options of making the returned house a sour win for our master and mistress. As you recall, I had acquired a lot of furniture for that house, and didn’t want to give any of it to Cavan. I’m not a revengeful person, but she just didn’t deserve any more good from me than I was legally obliged to offer.

One might imagine that a money-driven landlord would sponsor his own collection of moth-infested mattresses and chewed-on desks, but in this case one would be imagining wrongly. Out of the dozen mattresses, same number of chairs, and half that number of desks none were owned by Jim or Cavan. Just about ALL the furniture in that house had been organised by the previous tenant or me. I tried selling stuff on Kijiji, and even hosted a multi-day super-bargain garage sale. But after two months of effort the house was still stuffed with items and furniture that rightfully belonged to me.

During their hasty move-out many of my house mates actually packed up as much stuff as they could carry, just to leave less behind. “No, I don’t eat toast! Maybe I can fry a steak in that?!”

Yet, furniture and kitchen utensils still bloomed on every carpet when I revisited the house in a last attempt to wreak havoc. Must. Leave. NOTHING!

The new living room of Cavan's house.

This is the living room I left behind. It came a long way from that shabby house I took over.

Hello Friend!

Alas, my AirBnB guest Gilles was still booked in, and needed final attention. Gilles had just singed a lease agreement for a three-bedroom flat that was to house himself and his wife. For his misfortune and my amusement the flat came unfurnished.

For our mutual benefit Gilles found visual comfort in the furniture, utensils, and house hold items that my ex-house was pickled with. A few phone calls and several Canadian bills later a moving van stopped in front of the house, and removed every scrap of usable house hold item in my possession. Gilles got his furnished apartment. I got my grand finale. A beautiful magic trick that left Cavan and Jim a clean, yet utterly unfurnished house. One that they don’t even have keys for.

I’m sure they solved both of those problems, and billed someone for it. But, man, did I ever sleep well.

Moving Hassle II – Move-Out Day

18 Dec The new living room of Cavan's house.

As described in the last blog post, I once rented a house on 24th Street in Calgary NW. For five years I laboured to keep that house clean and comfortable. At the end of August 2016 I returned it to the hands of the landlady Cavan and her property manager Jim. I did not expect any thanks from them regarding the time and money that I spent on the house, but I was not prepared for the harassment that came with move-out day.

 

The new living room of Cavan's house.

This is the living room I left behind. It came a long way from that shabby house I took over.

As mentioned, Cavan was not quite happy with my proposal to use the damage deposit in lieu of rental payment for August. The way she communicated that with me was by sending Jim around, ten days before September. Jim stood at the doorstep, together with his brother, and handed me a move-out notice, signed by himself and witnessed by his brother. At the same time he told me that I could not use the deposit as rental payment. Upon me telling him that I already had done so, and he was free to argue his case with me, Jim just said: “I don’t discuss with you. I am just messenger.”

He spun around three times in his black leather shoe, and vanished in a puff of smoke.

 

Law and Disorder

Call me naïve, if you must, but until that day I believed that a land lady needs to provide thirty days worth of notice to usher a tenant out of the property. I told my house mates as much, and they agreed. Thus, we all just continued living in the house. Let Jim come around, and stalk around the house, he didn’t have any legal right to touch us! Or did he?

Well, at the very least Jim reserved the right to be obnoxious. One week before move-out he came around again, telling me that I had to leave, and I should call the legal service. He actually gave me a phone number, scribbled into the corner of a sheet of paper that already contained a hand-written move-out notice, two addresses, and multiple signatures. I posted a picture of said paper, so you can try for yourself to decipher any of the symbols imprinted on it.

The phone number did not actually lead anywhere, and when I pointed that out in an e-mail later that day, Jim sent me another number. That the second number did not work either should not come as a surprise.

Thus I went back to my travel preparations. Afterall, my plane was to leave Calgary on the 2nd of September, so there was little time to waste on pointless arguments with the “messenger”.

 

Jim's move-out notice

Two of the notes that my landlady’s agent Jim taped to my front door. In his best hand writing as well!

All the young boys

Meanwhile, all but one of my house mates confirmed moving plans of their own. The only one who didn’t was our resident hospital doctor. Believe it or not, he was the only one who could not afford to pay the deposit on a new room. Yes, the payment for new doctors at the Foothills Hospital is THAT shitty. Not to mention the student loan agencies that subtract their monthly contributions from his pay cheque, the very second that he deposits it. But on to other problems.

At that time I had four house mates. The doctor, unable to relocate. One who moved out that weekend, because he did not want to deal with Jim any more. One made arrangements to move across the street into his old home. And one confirmed a new place, but only could move two days after move-out day. Yes, week days are genuinely bad for hauling stuff around.

On top of that I had two AirBnB guests scheduled. One was in town for a conference, and was scheduled to leave on the 30th of August. The other was a visitor from France, scheduled to move in on the 30th. And stay until the 1st of September. Considering that I was supposed to hand over the house on the 31st, one might expect trouble from that time table.

 

Goemon5's moving boxes

Until two weeks before I left Calgary I was still packing. So, no, I did not pay too much attention to my landlady’s squabbles.

Return of the Jim

Sure enough, on the 31st Jim knocked violently at the door, no later than when he was summoned. He really wanted to visit at noon, but I told him 4 p.m. was a more suitable time. My five years of training him paid off, and he arrived as told. That visit consisted mostly of myself and one house mate sitting on the sofa, asking him to settle down, and discuss matters with us. Meanwhile Jim was hectically flailing his little arms about, telling us “You have to move out. You cannot stay here.”

He even managed to call the tenancy hot line of the City of Calgary, and demanded that the man on the phone explain to me that I could not stay. Which he did. Apparently once a lease agreement runs out, the landlord can set you on the street overnight. So, yeah. Be aware, Calgary tenants!

How we were to leave the house in the blink of an eye, considering that we did not have the ability to move our possessions before the weekend, might have been an interesting question to answer. As was the matter of cleaning and packing while Jim was doing his best to stand in our way. But never try to use logic on a Chinese demon; you might as well try to argue with a Trump. It only pains your brain.

At that point we had quite enough of Jim shouting at us, so I made one last attempt to fill in the move-out report, and other paperwork that he wanted. I even picked up the keys for front door and tenant rooms, dangled them in his face, and asked him to take the house.

As loud and insolently as he demanded everyone out before that, when I showed him the keys he just as quickly turned on his heels and swirled out of the house. Leaving the keys in my hands and yelling the magic formula “You have to move out; You cannot stay here,” he evaporated before us, leaving behind another assemblage of Chinese runes on paper, and the faint smell of burned sulphur.

 

Cavan Yee and friends

One of the few surviving visual documents of landaly Cavan Yu (left), seen here conspiring to move some yet uninvolved people.

Enough already!

Jim returned twice more that evening, shouting and harassing as before. I was tempted to shout back, just to get the attention of neighbours and coppers, but unfortunately I had better things to do. Departure from Canada was two days away, and I still had to finish some business, and pack some stuff.

I decided that it would be best if I moved out on the spot. Fortunately, I have friends in Calgary, and Jon and Donna were both happy about me staying as a guest in their homes for one night each. With myself gone I hoped that everyone else in the house would be able to sleep quietly. As the only tenant on the lease I was the only one who could be made accountable for poking imaginative holes into cardboard walls. So, with me gone there really was no point in harassing anyone else.

I packed all of my belongings into an armful of bags, and hauled it off to Jon’s place, where I spent the next few hours I) packing my luggage for the flight, and II) playing some games with Jon and Dave, in a farewell to seven years Calgary experience. It wasn’t what I thought my move-out day would look like, but it certainly beat harassment from Jim.

 

Moving out apparently had some positive effect on the situation. Everyone was motivated to leave the house quickly after me, and Jim only shouted at the neighbourhood once more that night. Even though I returned to the house multiple times over the next two days, I never saw him again. That would be the end of it, but we still need to resolve the matter of keys, furniture, and my AirBnB guest from France. I shall do so in the next blog.

Moving Hassle I – Five years of Cavan

11 Dec Cavan's living room

For five years I was Cavan Yu’s tenant. Five years of timely rental payments, house repairs, and unasked favours. You’d think that landlady would be thankful, and let it show, but no, not Cavan. The only reason she was able to maintain that house on 24th Street in Calgary NW was my dedication to cheap and simple living conditions, and yet, after five years of service Cavan basically booted me out. For anyone who asked about the weird occurrences during my last days in cowtown, here is a brief account of the happenings that carried us to Move-Out Day.

The back of Cavan's "house"

House is actually a misleading term. It’s more like a bungalow, containing little more than the six bedrooms and two showers.

 

The Players

Cavan Yee is a middle-aged Chinese woman with a Canadian passport. She lives in Vancouver, and owns a house on 24th Street in Calgary NW. Since she only visits Alberta once a year she needs 1) someone to rent that house, and 2) someone to manage it. From 2011 to 2016 person 1 was me. Person 2 was also me, although landlady Cavan continued the contract with her property manager James “Jim” Wong. In those five years that I rented Cavan’s house I barely saw him four times total, and that was for the better. What Jim lacks in respect and attitude he makes up for with a sense for money, and a willingness to extort it.

I rented Cavan’s house starting September 2011, and Jim visited twice that month. Mostly to waddle through the house in his shoes, check the house for things that I could repair, and scribble numbers on doors. I told Cavan that Jim was a nuisance, and he immediately popped out of existence.

Cavan has a rather distant relationship with reality. Most of the year she appears to live in some parallel universe, and her annual descent into the human world is always trifled with oddities. From an artist’s perspective it is fun to see reality bending around her, but as a tenant I often felt uncomfortable in her presence.

Once a year I singed a new lease agreement with the landlady, and about that often I called the contracted maintenance man to perform some random handyman stunt. Most of the important repairs I made myself, but anything that involved replacement of parts was a job for Jim’s handyman. Dad taught me the job of the plumber, but he also showed me how to delegate costs.

And, of course, twice a year Cavan contacted me to fuzz about a weed complaint that she received from the Calgary Police department, because I let the grass on the front lawn grow longer than 15 centimetres. Yes, there is a law for that.

That was the limit of my interactions with my “authorities”. A few signatures, a phone call, and a couple of e-mails. Beyond that I never had a bother with my Chinese landlady or property manager. Communication with either of them was so draggingly difficult that I rather made repairs myself than tried to communicate with them. I replaced the kitchen counter, installed a new washing machine, stove, carpets, and ceiling lights; and cleaned that shabby excuse of a property more thoroughly than anyone before. Cavan’s house was well lived-in, but apparently within twenty years of rental agreements I was the first tenant to actually care for it.

Cavan's living room

When I moved into Cavan’s house it was full of surprises. Like a Chinese cyclist who trained and yelled in the living room.

 

Take-Over Time

None of that mattered when my final days as tenant were approaching. I invested a lot of time, effort, and money into cleaning, repairing, and redecorating that house. I started with a house that people literally avoided at Halloween, and transformed it into a sought-out property for students and seasonal workers. [I know exactly what you are thinking, but you would not doubt me, if you knew Cavan.] Thus, I did not even intend to return the house to the hands of Cavan. Instead, I tried to convince any of my Calgary friends to take over the lease. For once I did not want the house to return to its former state of disaster. On the other hand, I rented out sublets to students, which allowed me to live there for free. That is a pretty good deal for a struggling musician or graduate student, and I wanted to pass that on to someone else.

However, nobody was interested. For over a year I was searching for a prospective new tenant for the house, but no-one claimed the prize. The most prominent reasons for rejecting my proposition were responsibility and effort. Well, yes, if you want to make money, and you are not a CEO, it usually involves taking responsibility, and putting in effort. Yet, in this particular position you did not really have to do much, because at the low price that I offered the rooms for, I always had plenty of prospective tenants to choose from. Life without house mates is nearly unaffordable for most graduate students, but at least I had my pick of the litter, and most of my house mates put in considerable effort to keep the house clean. Still, not a deal that anyone else wanted to pick up.

Kitchen Repairs

Among other things I scrubbed off the old kitchen counter and installed a new working plate.

 

Cavan’s Peril

Cavan knew that I was leaving Canada in autumn 2016. She tried to convince me to stay, mostly because every time she gets in touch with reality, the pattern births another abyssimal monstrosity; like Jim. Thus, six weeks before my scheduled departure I sent her an e-mail phrasing the latest state of affairs. I) I really was leaving this time, despite all the non-existent job opportunities in Calgary. II) Nobody wants to take the lease from me, so you better keep looking for a tenant yourself. III) I resolved my Canadian bank account, so you can’t deposit the cheque for August rent. [Whoops!] IV) Considering that I invested some $800 worth of materials, and twice that amount in work hours into this house, I will use the damage deposit in lieu of the rent for my last month.

Yes, there is a $220 difference between damage deposit and rent, a deficit to be picked up by Cavan. But seeing that a) I took over a house that was not rentable at all, and b) I am giving you a house that the new students will flock to (September marks the beginning of fall term), you are still getting a mighty sweet deal.

Cavan’s reaction was lost in the blight. I never received a single answer from her again. Nothing to say whether or not she found my proposition acceptable, or had any further worries about my move.

The new living room of Cavan's house.

This is the living room I left behind. It came a long way from that shabby house I took over.

 

Eventual Feces hit the Fan

Four weeks before move-out day one of my house mates had the brilliant idea to call the property manager Jim, and ask about his plans for September. He and Cavan both immediately started negotiations with my house mates regarding their potential stay. Obviously they never came to terms, because neither of those two figures is able to communicate in understandable phrases, and Cavan asked more rent per room than the house was worth, without somebody like me actually maintaining it. So, the negotiations just died away. People wanted to remain in the house, out of convenience. But no-one wanted to put up with Jim, because clearly he was just grabbing for money, and had no intentions of ever attending to anyone’s needs.

Thus, ten days before my move-out day, Cavan sent me an e-mail, informing me that she expected to get her house back at the 31st of August. Just like that. But if you think this would mark a clean cut in our long-term rental relationship, you better prepare yourself for a blast, when next week we talk about the great harassment of move-out day.