Saturday, 28 April 2007

Deal Done

Again the old Chinese wisdom of "The boat will set its head straight when it comes to the pier", meaning problems will be sorted out consequentially when it comes to the breaking point, was proven to be true and faithful.

An off-topic note though: I don't really like the so-called English translation of "cross the bridge when you come to it". The meaning just doesn't seem right.

Anyway.

Life is like a naughty boy who always catches you by surprise. When I was still hanging around in the middle of nowhere, as if I were awaiting something to happen, all of a sudden the developments moved so fast that I almost failed to catch up.

Everything began when my phone rang on Monday afternoon.

It was my property agent. She was a small, pleasant middle-aged woman. She understands how small my budget is and yet how picky I am. She had shown me to about 10 apartments but only one of them passed my first round of inspection. However, it was still carrying a price tag that was far beyond my budget.

Given the current positive market sentiment, when people are buying and selling without paying too much attention to the prices in real terms, I was struggling whether or not to ask my agent to bargain with the landlord of the shortlisted apartment. I need a substantial discount of about eight percent at least, which is somewhat aggressive under the current circumstances. With my incapability and negative experience in bargaining, I had no confidence at all in achieving a mission impossible.

The agent asked me whether I would like her to speak to the landlord for a better deal. Of course, why not?

Two or three hours later, the agent called me again, saying that the landlord had agreed to reduce the price to suit my budget. She asked me to meet her and the landlord in the evening to sign the tentative agreement and pay the initial deposit.

Surprisingly, I was not very excited hearing the news. Perhaps I was a bit too shocked. It was just too good to be true. And I couldn't help thinking whether there was anything that might have gone wrong.

Even when I met the landlord, an old couple who was selling one of their properties to invest in the booming Mainland China market, I was not sure whether it was a wise decision for me. At the same time, however, everything went so smoothly that it just seemed there was no better alternative, at least in the foreseeable future. We had no difficulty at all in agreeing on the price, the date of completing the transaction, the date of handing over the keys and so on, as if we have known each other for a long time and were ready to make any compromise that would seal the deal.

I can't really tell how uneasy or even intimidated when and after I signed the tentative agreement. Perhaps I was still unsure whether it was the right decision. Perhaps I was thrilled at the speed things went and the outcome it turned to be. Perhaps I was overwhelmed by the strong sense of commitment I have been longing to take up for years. Perhaps the reality of making a childhood dream come true was too much to absorb in hours and days.

Knowing myself, however, perhaps it was just that I have been thinking too much.

Monday, 23 April 2007

In the Mood of Moodiness

I know I can blame the disgusting weather. I know I can blame stress. I know I can blame the poor quality of sleep. I know I can blame the many things out there that have been bothering me for so long and yet have shown no sign of resolution.

But I know, for some reason, that the sum of all these is not the complete attribution to the lingering inertia. I have a gut feeling that there is something else, which I still haven't got any clue what it is all about.

I'm not sure if I would ever have a chance of identifying what it is, let alone taking actions to address it. I just have no clue at all about what to do.

Perhaps I'm the kind of person who never really understands how to appreciate the beauty of ambiguity. While so many people out there seem to enjoy and even go that far to participate in the creation of ambiguity in almost every aspect of life, I'm glad that I have achieved some success in resisting the temptation of doing so. Interpretation of arbitrary words and gestures without any chance of being told the answer is by no means my favourite mental game. In my ideal world, things and people should be clear, precise, straightforward and no-nonsense. Not that I'm too dumb to understand what is truly at stake, but that the process requires so much more time and effort that should have been more effectively utilised elsewhere.

Now that it seems the inertia that has been on and off for six months will lead me to nowhere. This is why it bothers me that much. Over the last couple of months I have virtually done nothing. My long-standing interest in reading, studying, travelling, movie-going and among others, seems to have drained away silently. I have been making an effort to continue reading, but the pleasure is by no means comparable to what it genuinely was. While I plan to visit Japan for the first time and have redeemed a ticket, I haven't started doing any research or background reading as vigorously as I did in preparation for the first trip to Korea two years ago.

The same level of inertia also applies to the enjoyment of films since childhood. When I attended the film festival three weeks ago, I felt like fulfilling a commitment for someone else rather than for my own sake. I still couldn't believe that I had completely forgotten about two European titles at the film festival that ended two weeks ago. Even more surprisingly, when I finally remembered late on that evening that I was supposed to attend two screenings, I didn't even bother to get cross with myself. Perhaps there was a tiny tint of "what a waste of money" inside me, but not anger or regret in any sense, for sure. "So be it," I told myself, as if I didn't book the tickets on my own in the first place.

This is not the first time I am exposed to such moodiness. It's just that it has never been haunting me for so long, and to an extent that deprives me of my interests that have been built all through the years.

What should I do?

Or, should I do anything at all to begin with?

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

《憶江南》兩闋(並序)

金蛇郎君夏雪宜與溫儀之故事,篇幅雖短,實乃金庸武俠難得之佳構。予少時初讀《碧血劍》至此,手不釋卷,惋嘆再三。近日得睹內地武俠劇《碧血劍》而重溫之,不覺感慨萬端,良久未能釋懷,遂為賦以寄一二。

花吐艷,無奈又逢春。不悔東風桃結子,冰心一片託郎君,淚眼送黃昏。
孤雁渺,暮色映殘身。始信真情金不換,空言重寶贈佳人,遺恨有千鈞。

Sunday, 8 April 2007

A Bitter Pill to Swallow

How much does it take to shatter someone's dream? Just a split second.

How long does it take for that person to recover from the overwhelming disappointment and frustration? It depends, but it certainly takes some time.

Thanks to my friend, a financial planner, who pours a timely basin of cold water over my head to remind me about my financial situation at a time when I was a bit hyper-excited over the recent opportunity of buying a new home.

After a detailed analysis, the figures showed me that my finances are far from adequate to realise my childhood dream. To be precise, I thought I could have afforded something decent and spacious, just like the cosy and neatly laid-out apartment of about 600 square feet in useable area with a huge balcony that faces the Harbour.

But actually I don't. With my revised budget, I am left with very limited choices among old buildings (built 30 years ago or more) or pigeonhole apartments in the downtown. Otherwise I will have to consider satellite towns in the New Territories, such as Tung Chung and Tuen Mun, from where it takes at least an hour to reach the heart of the city.

Perhaps I have gone a bit too far, but I really find the hard facts a terribly bitter pill to swallow. Things that have kept me happy all these years are now no more than strangers on the street. Before the Easter holidays, I felt so upset and frustrated that I didn't want to do anything. Not even drinking. Not even going to the film festival. I went that far to have missed two films that were screened at Cultural Centre last Thursday, and, worse still, I didn't give it a damn when I found out that I have completely forgotten about them.

All these years I have planned for the purchase and worked hard to attain my goal, and when I was a few steps away from the finishing point, I was told that I am still not good enough. Then the finishing line is pushed away from my sight. Now I have no idea what will make me good enough. What I'm sure is that what I'm looking for is not unreasonable. It's just that either the prices have gone outrageous or the useable area, if this term ever exists, of many recently built apartments is appallingly small.

My frustration due to a strong sense of urgency is not easily understood. There are friends and relatives around me who never seem to understand how eager a single woman turning 35 at her next birthday to have a home of herself, where she can truly relax and enjoy, undisturbed. There are very good and practical reasons to buy at mid-30s. For one thing, most mortgage period lasts for 20 years at least. This means the earlier you get started, the earlier you can repay the loans, hopefully long before retirement. For another, it takes much more courage to take up such a financial burden at a later age, when your career path, in most cases, starts turning downward. By that time we should, ideally, spend more energy thinking about retirement rather than repaying mortgage loans.

Unfortunately only a few of us live in a carefree ideal world, and I'm by no means one of them. For a person who is most likely to stay single at least in the foreseeable future, thinking about buying property and retirement is never too early. Yet this means I can be facing two financial challenges at the same time.

More importantly, the ownership of a property gives me a remarkable sense of security that I have been dying for. I can't think of any flaw of having one's own property except the courage to take the financial burden, which should be carefully assessed and calculated anyway, but I can certainly tell you how helpless and insecure it can be to remain a tenant for a lifetime.

Half-jokingly, some friends suggested that I should look for the significant other to alleviate my financial burden of repaying the mortgage loans. Pardon me girls, but this really sounds ridiculous to me. Do you think it is fair to get someone on board for nothing but to help pay your bills? Is this what you believe a lifetime partnership is for? Is this how love should be measured, if any at all? At the end of the day, I'm convinced that these are completely separate issues that should never be mixed up.

More people around me take a step forward to challenge my stubbornness about buying my own property. Why bother, they ask, when I can still live with my family.

Paradoxically, this is precisely why I am so desperate to move out. For those who do not appreciate the importance of privacy as much as I do, I find it really difficult to carry on with the conversation. All I can say is that everyone is in a unique situation that can hardly find a duplicate elsewhere. It is not surprising that they don't understand, and so is that few people are able to give impartial and sensible advice based on reason but not personal experience.

I can't remember for how many years I have been trying to strike a balance between personal pursuits and the practicalities and limitations of life. Words can't really tell how frustrating it is to learn that most of your efforts throughout the years are meaningless, if futile at all.

I know I need to adjust my financial strategies sooner than later to catch up with the gap as much as possible. Before that, however, I think I should spend a bit more time overcoming the emotions. Again, it is a bitter pill that is really difficult to swallow.