Thursday, May 11, 2006

Dear Ashley

Dear Ashley,

Daddy is in London to work from Monday to Friday. It has been like that for 5 weeks now. Without you and mommy around, I could hardly enjoy the city. London is a big city. It is supposed to be lively, fun, vibrant, cultural, elegant, cosmopolitan and on and on the list does not stop. But none of these are relevant because you and mommy are not around. Everyday I start early and stay rather late at work. Without you’re your lovable distractions, there is not much to do other than working harder. After work I eat as simple as possible, sometime sandwiches, or a take away fried rice, or a bowl of noodle shop. I do not need fancy food because my dear daughter and wife are sharing it with me.

I have also been busy looking for a house and more importantly school for you. For days I have to view properties, I would leave work earlier. However, it will be quite late when I get back to the hotel room.

I have been in central London once, but I did not feel I was part of it. I remembered I could only see people flashing in front of me, walk next to me, and passed behind me. They were flat, have no face and soulless. Maybe I am who is soulless, right? All these people were simply meaningless to me. And for that reason, I absolutely have no interest of them.

Ashley, daddy is not sad or down or depress. In fact, I am living a happy life in London. What I really want to tell you is how much I miss you here. I am now sitting down at Starbucks. There is a girl around your age buying a drink with her mom. She is an adorable and beautiful girl. She is curious but also very polite. She reminds me of you, and how much I miss you. I feel that it is very important for me to have both you and mommy around. When you are here, colours become colorful. They are no longer just a name.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Home searching

Home searching has been quite hectic since moving to the US and the UK starting in 2000. When we moved to the Bay Area then, the occupancy rate was 99%. Literally an accommodation was taken up the moment it was emptied. It is like the hammering game – You are holding a hammer in front of a table with many holes. Something, like a fake mouse will pop up from one of the holes and you have to react quick enough to hit its head to get a point. Home searching was similar to that at that time. I felt that I could not drive fast enough to put my deposit to any place, decent or not! It was a crazy time, but I survived.

It became better afterward when we moved to San Francisco after the Dotcom bust. It worsened again when we moved to London in 2002 at the peak of this property cycle. Everything was so expensive in London. We had to work really hard in a short period of time to find an affordable place for three of us, without knowing London very well. We did find a place in Wimbledon in the end, with a week to spare.

We moved within Wimbledon once. It was a problematic move since the housing agent has screwed up the move-out date. In the end, we had to move one week earlier, meaning that we had one less week to find something more affordable.

Moving from Wimbledon to Glasgow was relatively easy, although we had a very short fixed time. We were extremely efficient. In less than 72 hours, I had to see around 18 houses and made a decision. After seven months, we had to leave that house. That was another chaos. We started our search relatively early, but we could not find any house big enough for us. It was amazing considering the time of the year. Well actually, it was probably because of the time of the year (in July, by the end of the summer) that made it difficult to find a decent place. Most landlords would have let their house in early summer. So we had to settle with a half decent one.

Now, we are moving back to London. It is no easier than any of the previous rounds. The property market has been staying high in the past memorable years. People are talking about a slow down, but the rental market is staying hot. A small house with 3 bedrooms anywhere in the outskirt of London can normally rent around £2000 each month. It is not even within central London. So it has been a lot of hard work for me.

Having to work in the morning, and then to view properties in the evening, and to achieve these without having a car, is in fact extremely energy draining. To add to the complexity, we have to find a school for Ashley. So we have to find a location with good schools around. In London, the level of school can vary a lot, and school places are limited. It is a ridiculous system. I am sure I will talk about it some day. So everyday I was exhausted in the evening when I am back to the hotel. I could hardly enjoy any evening at all.

Finally, I have seen a few places today, relatively affordable, though at the high side. Nevertheless, there are a few options. Nothing is finalized yet. It will be soon, however. The next thing is to negotiate the rent. Hopefully the home searching will come to a conclusion in the coming few days. The next thing to struggle is finding a school for Ashley. Oh dear …

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Finally it is a Friday again. This is a short week, but still it only seems yesterday that I flew here from Glasgow. Today is a day I call it highly efficient. The work and travel schedule have been very tight. I have to attend a full day meeting about an hour west of London by train. Then I have to cut through central London to take a train (another hour) to the Stansted Airport which is at the north. Time was very tight but luckily everything works just fine. Considering the transportation in London, it is actually quite remarkable. This is my lucky day!

London has been warm in the past few days. In fact, the whole Britain was hot. All of a sudden, we are in summer. Wearing a jacket suddenly becomes odd. Most people are showing as much skin as possible. It was only 4 weeks ago that we were stuck at Ben AÂ’an next to Loch Katrina and not able to get to the top because of the snow. It was the same time where the whole countryside was completely white. Last Monday when we stayed at home, I suggested to turn on the radiator because we started to feel cold. Within a short week, the temperature has been doubled. Well, I have no complaint, just amazed with the difference!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Is Daddy coming home?

I am working out in London during the weekdays. Every time when I am away, however, it always seems to be a mystery to a 4 yr old whether daddy will be going back home or not. Ashley would ask mommy when I will be back, or lately, is he going to come back?

For adults, we have easily taken things for granted. Then we forget to cherish what we have already had. It is something to learn from the younger ones. Ashley's simple wish is to ask parents to be around her and she treasures those moments. To think deeper about it, who said that daddy must be coming back home? There are so many things that may go wrong in the modern world, right?

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Long weekend at Cairngorm

Last Saturday was a long weekend. As part of our retreating plan from Scotland, we decide to make good use of all the weekends to see as much of it as possible. And we decided to go to Cairngorm and its surrounding town called Aviemore last week. The weather was the Scottish weather at its best - blue sky, warm sunshine, breezy wind ... You name it, you get it.

We originally planned to take the Funicular up the mountain. However, by the time we settled in the Bed & Breakfast and arrived the funicular station, we have already been too late for the last ride. It has been a long day driving and it would have been disappointing if we had to go back to the hotel immediately. So we decided to walk a little bit. Looking out, Loch Morlick is far down the mountain. It is elegantly sitting between the breath-taking rolling mountains. We have been there once with Kar-Soen and Hedy. There is a stone path in water and one can literally walk on water away from the beach. I took Ashley there last time but she said she has forgotten about it.

For the spectacular sceneries in Scotland, the best is yet to come. So we walked alongside the mountain. Just turn around from a corner, we have the snow ridge right in front of us. It is majestic, grand, huge ... but surprising accessible. It is intimidating but yet welcoming. We feel we can get up there, even with a little girl. We didn't because the sun was starting to set. We had to return home. Bonnie, however, has gratefully decided that we should come back again the next day. Life is full of surprises and this is one of those :)

We went back the next day. Bonnie was leading. Yes, I can tell she is thoroughly enjoying the mountain and the weather. And it is quite a mild path for her. We did not go up to the submit for not having the right hiking gear to walk on snow. However, Ashley has remarkably walked for over 4 hours. She is a strong little girl. For the whole trip, she did not ask me to carry her at all. Wonderful girl she is! Sometimes it leaves me wondering why other parents would rather sit their children in a stroller, which is troublesome for parents and not healthy for children, than ask them to walk more often by themselves. The only economic reason for a stroller is probably for shopping. In the countryside, you do not need a stroller. It is probably why we do not use one anymore.