A year of radical change: 2014

This was a year of a radical change for me.

  • Had a great vacation in Vietnam
  • Relocated physically and financially to Vancouver
  • Bought a car in Vancouver and gave it to my wife πŸ™‚
  • Passed a knowledge test to get a driver’s license
  • Joined Amazon Canada
  • Visited a bunch of places in British Columbia
  • Helped my wife to find a job in Vancouver
  • Visited Seattle and met Andrey πŸ™‚ Will spend more time in Seattle the next year
  • Qualified for a mortgage here
  • Found a great priced and perfectly located 2 bedroom condo in New Westminster
  • Bought thisΒ condo in New Westminster and moved there, locked sub 3% interest rate for next 5 years
  • Became a pet owner (my wife brought a pink sphynx from Russia)
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Trip to Seattle

Here are some nice photos from our trip to Seattle (November 18-23, 2014):

Evening and night views of Seattle:

Seattle Museum of Glass:

Seattle Museum of Flight:

Seattle Aquarium:

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Don’t talk to police

Quite an interesting and entertaining video about undesirable legal implications of talking to police.

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Be an Owner!

I am terribly sorry for not writing here for a very long time indeed, but there are so many things I am currently running and I don’t have enough time for writing decent posts 😦

However, a few days ago a couple thoughts and observations came to my mind and I’d like to share those with you.

At Amazon, a company I work for, we usually try promoting sense of ownership. You don’t ‘shoot and forget’, but you build and maintain, you develop what you initially came up with. And this is a positive thing even though some people like switching to something new.

When you think of ownership in a larger scale, you look at people who live close to you and who live in the city, you might not immediately notice how much do they own their life. However, deeper I dig, more ownership I find in Canadian folks, compared to ordinary people in Russia, a country where I have grown up.

Most people in Russia live in what Canadians call condominiums. The most important part understanding condominium is that it is not about the structure of a building, not about how many units it has. Condominium is basically a legal form of shared ownership. It can be a small place with two apartments, a low-rise 3-storey wooden house or it can be a high-rise apartment building. The core thing about condominium is it’s like a small corporation of people who own it.

Condominium is normally managed by some company which collects maintenance fees from condo owners. This company reports to owners in a form of meeting minutes where they refer to decisions they make (mostly related to how maintenance budget is spent and what type of maintenance is needed short and long term). Portion of maintenance fee always saved in contingency reserve fund (CRF). Any decisions related to how large these fees should be and whether to collect additional money on some large renewals or spend money from CRF are made on annual general meetings where each owner has a vote. There is no such notion of state funded condo repairs or third-party payer system where you don’t pay for repairs in your building, but someone else is on a hook to provide you with these repairs.

I am telling all this because in many ex-Soviet countries it is different. You pay some small fee to municipality and they put all these monies into a pot. Then they spend it on repairs they find to be necessary in buildings you have never lived in and hardly spend anything on repairs in the building you actually live πŸ™‚ However, when all the pipes start to leak and stuff starts falling apart, municipality claims it has no money to fix all this and asks government to help them out. Normally this takes forever to find money and eventually things get somewhat ‘fixed’ once in 30 years. During good times amount of under-maintained buildings goes a little down, in crisis times buildings are only repainted every 10 years and some band-aid type of fixes are done when something starts to leak.

Because of this system in ex-Soviet countries, old buildings interiors might seriously deteriorate:

And because of owners are so much detached from maintaining the building, when you buy a real estate in Russia you look for new buildings first πŸ™‚ In old buildings people usually look at only the apartment itself. A technical condition of a building they plan to live in is barely a subject of their interest, unless it clearly represents a risk to their live right now. In this sense it is not a condominium at all, this is some unfortunate multi-family semi-social housing.

The most striking thing is a difference in amount of money collected for maintenance here and in Russia (as an example). My experience shows here it is about 3 times more expensive. Average monthly fee here for 70 sq. meters unit would be more than $300 CAD. However in Canada you get more for your money as well.

People who live in the building, whether they want it or not, have to treat their unit as an asset. And this asset can go up or down in value based on many factors. For instance, if the building you live in gets older and doesn’t receive proper maintenance a buyer who you will try selling your unit will inspect all building documents and find out that maintenance is not adequate. Council meeting minutes, annual budget and other papers will reflect this and current size of the CRF will show that community of owners is not proactive. Which will mean that in future, there will be either maintenance fees hike or buyer might be assigned to fund a portion of a looming large repair.

The difference is striking. It is not uncommon to see condominium common areas as good-looking as this even in older buildings:

I might write more about real estate here in Canada, but it is not the point. The point is ownership. If you don’t really own a thing, you don’t care. If you treat what you work on or live in as an asset, you don’t ignore what is the right thing to do.

Be owners of your life. Ciao, until the next time πŸ™‚

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Hiking in Vancouver [2]: Rivers and Waterfalls

A couple of weeks ago we visited two places: Shannon Falls and Brandywine Falls. Both are very beautiful.

Here is a selected set of photos for you on Flickr:

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Hiking in Vancouver [#1]: Three simple trails

I’ve been pretty reluctant to post updates here for a number of reasons, but one thing worth mentioning is hiking. Hiking was something we did every weekend for three weeks in a row πŸ™‚

Vancouver has many places around to walk and hike. We started with simple trails and we enjoyed it! Since weather here is still great it would be a serious crime to waste such an opportunity πŸ™‚ On top of this, hiking is cheap! You generally don’t need anything, and it is good for your health!

The most amazing thing about hiking trails in Vancouver is that at some point not only these places were spotted and promoted among public, but all paths, wooden bridges, stairs were constructed for public use. And it is almost all free of charge!

Capilano Canyon

A first trail. Very simple one, but quite beautiful. Here is a site of this place, the place is pretty popular, visiting it is free of charge. You don’t need any tickets, just show up! It’s about 30 minutes of driving from Vancouver.

Sea-to-Sky Gondola

A second trail, very-very beautiful. The route to the place from Vancouver is fabulous. This was the second most beautiful road trip in my life after the trip from Santa Cruz to San Francisco via 1st Highway in California.

The place itself is a highland trail, you can visit their website here. You can start small and ascent and return by cableway, it would cost about $30. Then you are free to complete a small trail.

Alternatively, if you really want to test yourself and save a little money of tickets you can climb on your own for 6 hours and then return by cableway. 6 hours worth of difficult trail should be… fun! πŸ™‚

The place is about 1 hour of fabulous drive from Vancouver!

Quarry Rock

Another nice trail close to Vancouver. 30 minutes of driving and you’re there. The place is very close to a shore, when you get there you can observe fabulous landscape and a bunch of yachts parked near by the rock. The whole trail is about climbing up thru the forest. Many people do this with their dogs πŸ™‚

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Canadian banking [#3]: A tablet from TD Canada Trust

TD Canada Trust was a bit behind RBC delivering me a Samsung Galaxy Tab4, yet the last week I got one as well.

The same tablet is pending for my wife πŸ™‚ We decided to take all of these tablets and gift them to some relatives or friends in Moscow πŸ™‚

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