søndag 13. april 2008

I'll be back

Idle for awhile due to work schedule. Things are ok now, a new post coming soon. Stay tuned.

mandag 7. april 2008


Talking to my colleague/roommate (I rented out one of my rooms to him) yesterday while we drive to Hemsedal for 3 hours. Our topic was about him going to quit and relocate at the end of the month.

良禽擇木而棲 was spoken of a lot in ancient history how capable people serve for different kings/lords to better use their talents. Nowadays we use that in the context of corporate world. How people with talent work for companies where their talents are put into better use. For this post, we talk about how we are looking for the right place to be, not just the right company to work for, but also the best country to live, not just for ourselves, but for our family as well.

My colleague/roommate is married with a 9 month old daughter, having worked in India, Dubai, Singapore before coming to Norway. After 9 months of living here, he has realized the cost of living in Norway is too high to bear. Main reason is because the tax is heavy and the food costs are too high. Thus the high salary disappears quick after the mandatory living costs. It was extra heavy for him because his family is still living in Singapore so he has to support them.

After talking to him I realize for people like us there are just a few elements we consider when we pick the place to live.

- Job market, no job = no money, no money no talk
- Tax, not just income tax, but sales tax as well.
- Housing cost (Cost to rent, and cost to buy)
- Food cost
- Transportation cost
- Entertainment cost, (shopping, travel, etc)
- Welfare (Health care, unemployment, pension)

Noticed how culture and language is not an issue to consider, because English works fine everywhere and we are confident that learning a language is just a matter of time.

From my understanding and experience I have compiled the description of living conditions for the places I have lived in.

Hong Kong (open to correction, afterall I have only been to HK once in the past 18 years)

- Job market: It is only good if you are well educated, have connection and/or work in professional fields (doctor, accountant etc.) In the right job and in the right field there are basically no limit of how much you can make.
- Tax: It is minimal, so most of the money you make ends up in your pocket.
- Housing: It is quite expensive, median house price is 10+ years more than the median income.
- Food: It is very cheap. A wide choice of dinner for under 100 HKD a person.
- Transportation: Cheap and public transportation widely available. Expensive for car owners though
- Entertainment: Cheap if you want to buy something or go out for Karaoke, gets more expensive if you want to travel to anywhere besides China.
- Welfare, as far as I know, it is minimal, "Fruit money" at 700 HKD a month, minimal cost to see the public doctors. (Any addition/corrections here are welcome)

Basically Hong Kong is a true capitalist society where you make as much as you can with your ability and minimum tax is taken away from you to provide minimum welfare. Because of the high gini index, essential living costs are relatively low.

- Job Market: USA is big enough for everyone who strive to be successful, although it is hard for foreigner without a green card to get the job and salary they want. Salary range as low as $5.75 an hour minimum wage to ..... there is no limit.
- Tax is pretty high. 33% income tax is normal for a young worker without a family to support and now house mortgage to pay for. Sales tax range from 4% to 8%, varies from state to state. (California has the highest sales tax rate)
- Housing: Before the housing bubble bursts, median house prices in California is at about 10 years of median salary (Don't forget houses in USA is bigger than apartments in Hong Kong). Low or zero percent downpayment has made it more affordable to people than it should.
- Food, McDonalds dollar menu keeps it cheap. A wide choice of dinner for under 100 HKD a person.
- Transportation: In California, either you drive or you are as good as a crippled. Car prices and petrol prices are among the cheapest in the world. Although the reason oil price hike has made many drivers suffer.
- Entertainment: Cheap, and that include shopping and travelling within the border/Mexico. With the US dollar dropping, it costs more to travel to other continents.
- Welfare: 12 years free education. They have cheap medical plans (Medicare) but has restrictions. We the young people was taught to ignore social security (pensjon) because it won't be there when we retire due to bankrupcy. As of today, i don't know how much they get. Don't think because you pay a lot of tax you get a lot of welfare, the money are used on wars instead of domestic welfare.

Basically USA is very similar to Hong Kong, you work your way up except tax is higher. Expenses are relatively cheap to your income except for housing. If you have a way to get the green card, you can make a decent living there without problem.

- Job Market: Doesn't matter what you do, you make mostly the same salary at the beginning, 20 years later is what the difference lies. Rarely to see workers making more than 2-3 million HKD a year without being a co-owner of something.
- Tax: High, 36% income tax for single worker without mortgage to pay. Plus 25% sales tax.
- Housing: Even in the middle of the housing bubble, median house price is still just about 6 years of median salary. High downpayment requirement (15 to 20%) is the only thing keeping all people from affording a house.
- Food: Very expensive, main reason is the 25% sales tax, but also because salary is high. Operating cost for restaurants are high.
- Transportation: In Oslo, public transportation is quite ok, although buses and metro comes every 15 to 30 minutes. In other places a car is mandatory and petrol prices is not cheap despite Norway is one of the top 10 oil export country.
- Entertainment: Very expensive for the same reason. However, travelling is cheap as long as it is within Europe. Many cheap tickets options available.
- Welfare: This is where the tax money goes. Every citizen gets minimum 7500 HKD a month for pensjon. Citizens gets money for having child plus money for each of them (about 2000 HKD each child each month) until they become 18. Children under 7 goes to doctor for free. 40 weeks of paid labor leave for father and mother combined. Basically free to go to public universities for Masters degree and above (except for buying books and registration fees of 1000 HKD each semester). Each person needs to pay max 2500 HKD on medical expenses, anything above that is free.

Basically Norway has a socialist economy with the low salary range, high tax and very good welfare (money are mainly from tax money, but also because of oil sale). It's a very good place for people who just want enough to live and not asking for a lot more.

The above is not meant to be a research paper so all the data is based on my experience and observation. Pretty much just to want to initiate a discussion for those who has something to see and for people who lives in other places to share their situation.

lørdag 5. april 2008

Final Four

I am writing this blog as I am watching UCLA playing Memphis in the Semifinal of the National College Basketball tournament. (NCAA Tournament).

NCAA stands for National Collegiate Athletic Association and they organize all college sports. In USA, American Football and Basketball are the two biggest sport and they also generate the most money in terms of TV Broadcast rights, ticket sales and sale of jerseys.

What I am talking about here is basketball. Each school is placed in a division of 8 to 15 schools and they play each team in the conference twice a year plus about 10 games before conference games with teams from other conference. Based on the strength of teams you play, your win/loss record of the year and your performance in the conference tournament, a selection committee selects 65 teams to enter the final tournament at the end of the season, which is the NCAA tournament. Winner of their conference tournament gets an automatic entry. The rest is purely based on the committee.

The 2 lowest ranked team will play each other on Tuesday before the NCAA Tournament starts and winner will enter the main draw of 64 teams.

The 64 teams are arranged into 4 groups of 16 teams to play in 4 different regions in USA, South, West, East and Midwest. Each 16 teams in each region is given a seed number. The number 1 seed will play the number 16 seed in first round, the 2 seed will play the 15 seed in first round and so on.

The first and second round will be played in the first week and after the first 2 rounds, 16 teams (4 in each region) will remain and these 16 teams are refered to as the Sweet 16.

The winner in the Sweet 16 game will become the Elite 8 and the winner of the Elite 8 game will also mean they have won in their respective region, they get a mini celebration by cutting down the basketball net for souvenier. The last 4 team standing after the regional tournaments are referred to as the Final Four.

In 2008, the final four teams are University of North Carolina (UNC), Kansas University, Memphis and University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). Of course, I am cheering for my alma mater and this is also the third year in a row they are among the final four. (they lost in the championship game in 2006 and lost in the final four game in 2007, both to University of Florida)

A few fun facts,
- Because this tournament is always in March, it is also referred to as March Madness
- Another name is the big dance, and the weaker teams that beats the stronger teams are considered as "Cinderella"
- number 16 seed has never beaten a number 1 seed in the first round, ever, in 96 tries).
- this year is the first time ever, that all four number 1 seeds make it to the final four.
- in 2006, number 11 seed George Mason, made it to the final four. One of the most improbable achievement

Some of the highlights in this years big dance,
- Stanford (Seeded 3 in South) scored with 1.3 seconds left to beat Marquette 82-81 in the second round.
- Davidson (Seeded 10 in Midwest) made it to Elite 8, beating a 7 seed, 2 seed and a 3 seed in the process.
- UCLA beat Mississipi Valley State (Seeded 16 in West) 70 to 29 in the first round. 29 points scored was the lowest in a game since 1946.

Let's hope UCLA wins this one and the whole tournament.

below is a video of how UCLA beats Gonzaga and it's top scorer of the nation (Adam Morrison) after being behind the whole game. (Good to see UCLA win and sad to see Adam cried like a baby)

Sad news: UCLA lost to Memphis 78 to 63 in the Final Four game. (Kansas beat UNC 84 to 66 in the other game). Oh well, always next year.

torsdag 3. april 2008

Failing to prepare is preparing to fail

This quote is from the legendary basketball coach from my school UCLA. His name is John Wooden, 97 years old and still alive.

This quote is running around inside my mind today because of a bad day at work. All the deadlines coming to me almost at the same time and none of the work is done. Just wish I am not a procrastinator. So the last resort is to call my evening part-time job that I am sick and cannot go to work today to squeeze out more time and go help my parents on Sunday instead of Saturday. That's the price to pay when you are working 3 jobs, you get the money and you are messing with all 3 of the jobs plus your health.

Speaking of John Wooden, he brought 10 national championships to our school (including 7 in a row from 1967 to 1973) He still goes to as many home games as his health permits.

onsdag 2. april 2008

Snow Mountain

Pictures of a snow mountain

I had to go somewhere with my dad in late April 2007 and we just decide to try our luck by going through this mountain for a little shortcut. This road is closed during Winter and have just opened again after easter (early April for 2007).

It wasn't much fo a shortcut since the road reminds me of Akina (For those who have watched Initial D), full of hairpin curves and I wasn't able to go higher than 30km/hr for them. However, the view was great and the trip was worth it. For the big plain of white, it isn't just snow, but it is a frozen lake which in turn was covered with snow. I will try to make a trip up there this summer and post new pictures (that is if I have time to go up there again, it is 2.5 hours away from Oslo).

iPhone 奇遇記

So I received my iphone yesterday (a gift from my friend), unlocked to be able to use any sim card. Of course stupid me the first thing I did was to plug it into my computer and when itune opens, it locks my phone again. Great! At first I just wanted to pay someone to help me unlock my phone but for 750HKD + 30 min drive I just would rather tough it out and do it myself. So I went online and found this forum that has a great guide of how to do it.


It is in Norwegian, but here are the steps for those who want to do it as well.

- turn off the iphone and put your sim card (deactivate the security code) into the iphone
- Download iPlus 2.0c and unpack it to desktop folder
- Download the newest iTune
- Make sure when you do connect the iPhone, connect it directly to USB (not via USB hub)

- Open iPlus folder and run DFU.cmd
- Connect the iPhone
- Wait till the command prompt window closes
- Start iTune
- Choose the standard choices for the pop ups (if any)
- Click "Restore"
- Choose the standard choices for the pop ups (if any)
- Wait for about 5 minutes and you should see one error on computer screen that says your phone card is not supported (don't worry, your phone is not unlocked yet, of course your phone card is not supported)
- go back to iPlus folder and run iPlus.cmd
(if you get the error message "USBMuxListenerCreate: No error":, close the command prompt window, run FixUSBMuxListenerCreateError.cmd, and run iPlus.cmd again.)
- just wait until the process is done and your iPhone is unlocked!

It took me about 15 to 20 minutes in the process (not including time for downloading the files)

Foreign Language part 3

So I graduated from university, got a couple of crappy jobs (that even has nothing to do with my major) and when I realize a quarter of my life is gone and I have achieved nothing and no improvement in sight. I decided to move back to Norway to give it a shot.

The biggest problem I face if I move back to Norway would be the language. It would be hard for someone to imagine moving to a foreign country for 11 years and forget their Cantonese. It's true that you would never forget your mother tongue, but as for Norwegian, which is a second language to me, it is definitely possible since I have only used Norwegian twice in 11 years (Once in Epoct center in Disney world, Orlando and the other time when I overheard someone speaking Norwegian). Well, I have decided to put that aside till I go back since English will get me around.

So I have started to apply for jobs 2 months before I go back just to make sure I have some interviews lined up the moment I arrived. I made sure I send in my CV in English plus I use English in all communications so that they would know that I cannot Norwegian. It worked fine for one of the company, while for the other company, Geodata, the interviewer was not aware that I cannot Norwegian and when I walked in for the interview, he greets me with "Velkommen" and I immediately thought to myself "uh oh". He started to speak and I just have no idea what he was talking about until I told him in my broken Norwegian that I have just came back after 11 years gone and that I need time to learn Norwegian again. So instead he uses his broken English to introduce the company to me and the interview was fine.

Eventually I was hired by Geodata, it has about 100 employees with 2 from India who cannot speak Norwegian and the majority of them are fluent in at least Norwegian and English. My direct supervisor has only one major goal for me for the first 6 months and that is to learn Norwegian. He even told my co-workers to only speak Norwegian to me. It was a good decision by him. My Norwegian is slowly coming back to me, although not as fast as I have hoped, but they noticed the improvements. Once again I put myself in the situation of a conversation and force myself to use words that I have forgotten. My co-workers are nice and patient enough to help me in the process.

The challenge of learning Norwegian again this time is different from the previous times. Before, I never knew the words and I just need to find out and remember. Now, for some of the words, I knew it before, need to just find out what it is again and remember. However, after living in the US for 11 years I have also learned their way of speaking and although most of the terms are similar, there are just certain expressions that doesn't exists in Norwegian. I used to say: "It would be great if you can ....." and I just can't find a similar expression.

Well, a year have gone and now in 2008 I would say I have no problem with communicating with Norwegians but comparing to how my Norwegian was before I moved to the US, I still have a long way to go.

This series is suppose to share my "struggle" to learn different languages at different times. For those who are in those struggle themselves, just hang in there.

A couple of things I would like to add that I forgot to mention in the posts....

- During the early 1990s in Norway, students begin mandatory English education at 4th grade. That means they start learning abc at 4th grade. So it isn't a surprise that my English is at 5th or 6th grade level when I go to US to begin 9th grade.

- One of the thing I used to do when I first moved to Norway is to turn on the radio and try to hear as many words you understand. It is a good way to measure how well you know the language. Of course, watching TV would give you the same result.

- From my horrible SAT Verbal score, I think one of the main reason I got into UCLA is because of the essay. The topic was about how this, how I had to learn 2 languages almost from scratch. Since they like diversity. So for future students who are looking to apply to UCs, write about your struggle would give you some extra points.

tirsdag 1. april 2008

Foreign Language part 2

So in 4th of July, 1996 I flew to USA to continue my study. Just in time for high school. I remembered the date so well because my flight arrival was delayed due to fireworks (4th of July is the national day of USA, also known as Independence day). At least this time I can understand what the pilot was talking about. So it was a good thing.

I didn't get my shock until my entrance exams to a private high school (at that time it wasn't sure if I can enroll in a public high school despite the fact my aunt/guardian is a tax payer). The result shows that my writing skills is equivalent to a 6th grade student while my oral skills is equivalent to a 5th grade student. Basically, I have a long way to catch up.

Luckily I was abled to enroll to the local public high school (saving my parents a few thousand dollars a year) and the first day of school arrived. Everything seems normal except the school system is different. Students go to different classrooms for different class instead of the teachers moving around. That is not a big issue for me, and I soon adjust to it.

Although someone claimed that my English is 3 to 4 grades behind (I start school as a 9th grade student), I was able to understand what most teachers talk about and a couple of friends were nice enough to help me out (I am always blessed to have friends who helped me out in the transition. Joakim, Knut Erik are my two friends who helped me out in Norway, whereas in USA, a friend name Nima helped me out a lot). Although I can understand my teachers, but my English deficiencies shows in a couple of areas:

Interaction with fellow classmates, biggest problems I have was slangs. It took me awhile to realize that the term "It is bad" actually means "It is good". Plenty of street language that I would never learn in books are introduced to me.

Shakespeare, I actually have to read "Romeo and Juliet" in my 9th grade English class and act out a couple of scenes. I was totally clueless what he was saying. Honestly I didn't improve too much over the years since when I read "A Merchant of Venice", I was still pretty clueless.

My English didn't improve too much over the years of high school except for communications with friends. The breakthrough came in my 4th year when I joined the Constitution Debate class. For preparation they filmed me talking thus I can hear myself talking and then find out my weaknesses. At the same time I get to practice to speak in front of other people. It was then my oral English begins to improve significantly.

I have friends of different races, my best friend is from India, a group of Russians I hang out with and of course, friends from Hong Kong and Taiwan as well. I notice in terms of oral English, people from Chinese speaking countries are worst. It isn't surprising since Chinese students seeks out other Chinese students and would only interact with them with Chinese. In this environment, it would be impossible for their English to improve. So to all students out there, if you would like to improve your English, you must find ways to use your English. Learning it in classroom is useless. Living in an English speaking environment is the best way to learn English.

There wasn't much English to learn in university since my major was CSE (Computer science and Engineering), but after 11 years in USA, my oral and written English is considered native and I achieved that by having friends of different races, and not being afraid to speak out and get embarrassed.

Foreign Language part 1

Well, at the beginning of this blog I would like to write some introductions about me so that reader would have a better idea of who I am and what I have been through which in term will allow them to enjoy my posts better (hopefully I would have the energy to keep writing)

I was born in Hong Kong in the early 80s, went to an English primary school for a few years before moving to Norway. Spent a few more years there before moving to USA to continue my education. After giving up on the job market due to outsourcing, my poor grades and the fact that I don't have a green card, I decided to move back to Norway last year. So basically, I have to learn a new language 3.5 times. (Chinese, Norwegian, English and Norwegian again).

Part one of this series will focus on my experience in learning Norwegian from not knowing a single word. Part 2 will focus on my experience in learning English in USA while part 3 will be about me learning Norwegian again right now after spending 11 years in USA forgetting Norwegian.

Learning a new language is difficult, and it always amazes me how the people from ancient time can wander off to a foreign country and learn their language without dictionaries, audio tapes or even a translator.

My first encounter with Norwegian happens the moment the plane is about to land at the Oslo international airport in 4th of January, 1991 (at Fornebu, the airport has moved to Gardemoen in 1998). After the usual announcement by the pilot about "We are approaching the Oslo international airport bla bla bla...." then followed by what was suppose to be the exact translation in Norwegian except I don't understand a word of it.

When I stepped out of the airport with my mom and my sister, I thought the Norwegian people are poor, how just some of the signs have the full spelling of the "OUT" sign. The other ones would have "UT" instead. It wasn't until a few weeks later that I realize that in Norwegian, ut means out (for those who wonders how to pronounce that, it pronounces "üt").

Because me and my sister do not know Norwegian at all, we were placed in immigration schools to learn the language, at least enough to survive in regular school. On top of that I got a book and an audio tape from my dad. It is definitely fun at the beginning, since everybody in the classroom are immigrants and we would have different ways to interact with different people. We would speak mandarin "very basic mandarin" with the 2 sisters from Taiwan, English with the brother/sister from Turkey and a boy from Iraq. As for the older boy from Somailia, I can never communicate with him and our ways of interaction is limited to only fist fighting.

So me and my sister stayed in the immigration school for the rest of the school year and we then transferred to regular primary school after summer vacation. The positive, more children to play with and finally a true classroom environment. The negative, the language problem. I can barely understand what the teacher and classmates say. Of course, it is just a matter of time, and getting laughed at by your classmates definitely helps. It makes me remember the words better.

Overall it took me 2 years to learn Norwegian from nothing to be able to communicate with Norwegian people without having to worry about words. Also because I was little, I could actually eliminate my accent (Study shows that children use different regions of brain for learning different languages while adults use the same region for different languages, thus making it harder for adults to learn a new language).

After taking care of the spoken language, the writting language is yet another challenge. Since Chinese doesn't have past tense, future tense and even English doesn't have different "gender" for nouns. It does took me much longer to learn the grammar. In fact, I wrote my first grammar error free essay for the last assignment before I go to USA to continue my study.