Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Foreign-transaction fees on credit cards

I hate those stupid foreign-transaction fees on credit cards.
Friends from New York are coming up to visit, so I warned them about the foreign transactions fee on credit cards.
Visa and MasterCard charge banks 1% for foreign transactions. Initially, banks passed along merely the 1% fee. But then they started getting greedy and realized they could make a profit from it. Some of the banks now charge 2% or 3% for transactions in a foreign currency, or even for transactions that occur abroad in US currency.
Capital One doesn't charge the fee at all, so I use Capital One for all of my charges.
But I recently lost my card, so I had to use my Bank of America card, which I originally got from MBNA.
MBNA used to not charge the fee. Now they were taken over by Bank Robber of America.
They charged me 3% -- a $34.25 fee for purchase of nearly $1,200.
I was livid. I didn't even know B of A charged the fee. MBNA didn't.
I've been with MBNA since 1996, have a $30,000 credit line and have been a great customer.
But I was so mad I called up to cancel, telling them I was angry about the international fee and that Capital One doesn't charge the fee. I figured they would just credit the fee.
Customer service representative answered the phone said, "Thank you for being a customer since 1996. How can I help you?"
I told her I would like to cancel my credit card because of the fee. And she promptly canceled my credit card.
Later I called up and said instead of canceling the card I would rather just get a credit for the fee. The customer service representative told me they have been instructed not to credit that fee. I asked a lot of questions and I was persistent, but I wasn't getting anywhere.
I asked if I would get credit if I returned the merchandise. She said I would not.
I was upset. This was really the principle of it.
Then I called up and disputed the charge. The customer service representative told me that I could not dispute the charge because it was a fee.
I asked for a supervisor. He said his supervisors could not credit the fee. I asked to speak to them. He said they were busy.
I told him that the bank must allow me to dispute the fee under the Fair Credit Billing Act.
He said, "What act?" I said, "The Fair Credit Billing Act."
He came back and said that he could not credit the fee because he cannot access it but that customer service would do so.
He then transferred me to customer service. The customer service representative thanked me for being a customer since 1996 (not realizing I heard he canceled the card) and promptly gave me a refund of the fee.
I don't mind them passing along a fee from Visa or Mastercard that they have to pay. (I do mind Visa and Mastercard charging them because they make money on the transaction itself.)
Anyway, my friends charged a hotel in Whistler. Their fee: more than $55. The comment in her last e-mail: "I'm getting a Capital One card."
B of A and the others will lose customers to Capital One, which lives by its promise to not charge fees. It's the same reason is doing well. Both treat their customers right, and their customers come back.
I miss MBNA. I don't miss Bank Robber of America.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Squirrels in Montreal

I'm not making this into a squirrel blog, but as a close friend and a lover of squirrels is one of the biggest fans of my blog, I've posted some nice pics of squirrel statues from a building in Parc Mont Royal in Montreal. The building was very dark, but I did the best I could.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Banff Squirrel

Luis and I visited Banff and saw many cute squirrels, especially at Lake Louise.
Check out this other cute Banff squirrel.
As a couple was preparing to take a timed shot, the squirrel popped up in front of the camera, which zoomed in on his cute face, leaving the background blurry.
I laught at this photo every time I see it; it's now my desktop background.
Check out the full caption here.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy July 4th

This morning Luis and I said "Happy Anniversary"to each other. But we sort of forgot that it's also the Fourth of July. He's working at Staples today and I'm teaching the SAT this afternoon.

It's weird being out of the country for the 4th.

We do have a fourth of July here in Canada, you know. Did you think that the calendar goes from July 3rd to July 5th in Canada???

Yesterday, I was speaking to a PR guy in Washington State. I said, “Have a Happy Fourth of July.” He said, “You, too. Oh, no. You don’t celebrate that.”

I said, “I’m American. I do celebrate it.”

Anyway, Happy Fourth of July!

By the way, for those of you who don't yet know, I got a summer job at The Vancouver Sun. It's going great. I love it. The paper has a hiring freeze. So I'm filling in for people who are on vacation. But it's full-time for the summer.

I'm applying for a teaching jobs in the fall.

Luis is still processing his papers to get his licence (<==Canadian spelling) in medical technology.
Oh, by the way, we filed a discrimination complaint with the BC Human Rights Tribunal against the guy who refused to rent to us because we're gay. Even though we're obviously not going to take the place. we want him to know he can't do this.

That brings up the fact that we found a place with an incredible view in Burnaby, which is a city next to Vancouver. We're less than 10 minutes from the SkyTrain (subway) which would bring us downtown in less than 30 minutes. It's more of a hike, but we got a two-bedroom for less than we are paying for a one-bedroom now.

Anyway, enjoy your barbecues.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

I'm confused, are you a woman?

We're looking for a new apartment. I was working and Luis was off for the day, so he looked on his own. He saw a beautiful apartment.
Just look at this kitchen...
This is an apartment in a home. An Iranian guy owned the home and arrived here about five months ago.
Luis kept "my husband."
Finally, the guy said, "I'm confused. Are you a woman?"
And Luis placed his two index fingers together, and said, "No, we are together and we are both men."
This part isn't as funny because the guy was reluctant to rent to us. He said he had to talk to his wife and mentioned he had an 8-year-old kid. Luis said he wasn't nasty; he was ignorant at worst and naive. Our current landlord is Iranian and was actually relieved when we told him we were getting married, I guess figuring it showed some stability.
Oh, and did I say there's an ISLAND in the kitchen??? OMG!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Vancouver stars in The Bachelorette

Bachelorette Jillian Harris invites 13 lucky guys to her hometown of Vancouver

Tune into The Bachelorette on City TV, Monday, June 8 at 8pm PT & ET / 9pm MT / 7pm CT

VANCOUVER, BC: Tourism Vancouver and The Fairmont Hotel Vancouver are proud to announce that Vancouver will be featured in the June 8th episode of the ABC primetime hit The Bachelorette.

read more

Friday, May 29, 2009

Luis during a day trip we took to Whistler.
Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

on the subject of medical mishaps

Last week I prepared some delicious lentil soup with carrots, celery and garlic. It smelled so good. But when I got near it, part of my gums in the front of my mouth got a little tight. That night, Luis prepared rice with sausage. When I ate some, it had the same effect and then two glands under my chin started to grow and grow and grow. They were bigger than a Lindt truffle (yummy) and smaller then a plum with the consistency of plums. I didn't have to tell Luis what was happening; he could see them growing bigger and bigger.
I went to the hospital. It turned out that my salivary glands in my mouth were somehow blocked, and so the saliva was building up in my salivary glands.
So just the smell of soup set me off as my salivary glands starting producing saliva.
I have to have a scan Friday to see if I have a stone in my salivary glands. The docs said it's not dangerous.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

A little accident

I had a little accident on Monday with a mandolin slicer. I was slicing a cucumber and I accidentally sliced off a piece of my finger.

I never knew that a piece of skin could actually look like a tiny piece of ginger, but that's exactly what it looked like.
The bleeding just would not stop, so I went to a nearby medical clinic. The doctor put on a bandage, and as he was cutting the tape he also cut my finger with the scissors.

Luis, being a medical technologist who has seen a lot of bacteria under the microscope, really freaked out upon hearing that a doctor's scissors pierced my skin. So, on Luis's advice, I called up the doctor and asked him what precautions I should take. He was really trying to say that I shouldn't have to worry. I told him I would really like a hepatitis B shot. So I had to go to a nearby hospital's emergency room to get a hepatitis B shot. They also gave me a tetanus booster.
The doctor at the hospital told me that the doctor who cut me was totally irresponsible in not explaining to me the risk factors. But the hospital doctor also explained to me that the risk of contracting something from a scissor that's mainly used to cut tape is as close to nil as possible.

Fortunately I have voice dictation software because it is very difficult tight with a huge bandage on a finger. But if you do you see some strange words appearing on my blog it's because I'm using this voice dictation software that sometimes makes mistakes.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Documentary; Whistler

Luis and I were filmed yesterday for a documentary about same-sex couples from the U.S. who go to Canada because one partner can't sponsor the other for U.S. residency.
Then in the afternoon our friend Ken, Luis and I drove to Whistler for the afternoon and evening. It was so beautiful. The entire ride up there is gorgeous. It really is the case where the journey itself is part of the trip.
We'll post pictures soon.
I have been so busy with the follow-up for my career planning class. I narrowed the careers down to a career in radio (probably starting as an associate producer and then reporting and eventually hosting a program); author and professor.
I've already begun research for a book. I'll give more details another time.
I worked at the local public radio station for two days as a freelance associate producer, but then the company announced massive layoffs. I might get more work there this summer.

Monday, March 23, 2009

New York comes to Vancouver

A TV show called "V" shot a pilot in Vancouver, around the corner from us.
Click on the photo below, and see if you can spot anyone you know in some the photos...
A pilot

Monday, March 16, 2009

Separation Anxiety

What a great editorial in the Washington Post ...

Separation Anxiety
Gay couples should be allowed to stay together in the United States.
Monday, March 16, 2009; Page A16

THE UNITING American Families Act would allow gay and lesbian Americans and permanent residents to sponsor their foreign-born partners for legal residency in the United States. The bill, introduced last month in the Senate by Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and in the House by Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), would add "permanent partner" and "permanent partnership" after the words "spouse" and "marriage" in relevant sections of the Immigration and Nationality Act. If passed, it would right a gross unfairness.


Monday, February 16, 2009

Vancouver Pics

We are really close to snow-capped mountains, lovely fjords and beautiful islands.
Here are some pics we took yesterday. It was just a matter of a half hour to an hour to reach these places.
Here's a map where we took the pics.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Blame Canada

When the plane had to land in the Hudson, Canadian geese were blamed for the crash. Now, with the crash in Buffalo, a Canadian plane was at fault. What is this? "South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut?" Blame Canada!!!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Attn. Rich's Nieces and Nephews

I bet you're thinking, hey, my uncle went to Canada. I want to freeze my butt off, too. (Actually, as I've said on this blog, the weather is quite mild in Vancouver, unlike the rest of Canada.)
In any event, here's an interesting bit of information. Applicants for permanent residency get five points for having a blood relative who lives here as a permanent resident or citizen. So while the article below just deals with uncles, it would apply to brothers and parents, too.
See this article, which just appeared in Metro newspaper, for more information.

Neighbours who are happy campers

No wonder I love camping. I've been going camping since I was a kid and have had such a great time. We even went camping with our neighbours. A former neighbour just forwarded me this article, written by another neighbour.
Click on the article for a close-up view.
(For my new readers, yes, that's the British/Canadian spelling of neighbour.)

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Our Medellin photos

We have edited, captioned and posted our photos of Medellin, Bogota and Cartagena.
If you place your mouse over the photos, you can click to pause or go backward and forward.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Canadians for Obama

I'm going to watch the inauguration on the big screen - in a movie theatre. The event was organized by Canadians for Obama and Democrats Abroad. I'm going with my friend Kieran. Luis, unfortunately, has to work as an extra tomorrow and Wednesday. Get this. This movie needed a reporter, and they chose Luis. They didn't chose me. I guess Luis looks more like a reporter than I do. But part of it may be that we told our agent that Luis is available whereas she would have to check with me first because I've been busy with SAT tutoring and freelancing writing.
In other news, we were visiting our friend Kieran tonight, and when we came out, our car was not where we parked it. Oops! I parked too close to the nearest road. What pisses me off was that I was parked in an area marked for 1-hour parking. The sign was very close to the corner with just enough room for two cars. I guess it's really only enough room for one car.
I got a ticket for parking within 6 metres of the sidewalk of the nearest crossroad.
We paid $62.90 (Canadian, of course, so deduct 20% for US dollars) to pick up our car from the impound lot. Separately, I'll have to pay a $45 ticket.
The impound lot was in a part of the city I had never been to. On the way back, I was turning left when I suddenly realized I would have turned into a one-way road. So I made a quick decision to make a U-turn at about the same time that I spotted the flashing lights of a police car behind me. I couldn't believe it.
The officer was so nice. He just asked me what happened, and I explained that we were just returning from picking up our car from the impound lot. He said he wasn't going to give me a ticket. At least we got a break that time.

| |
| | one-hour parking
| | | |
| | \/
| another |
| car |
| |
| |
| |
| our |
| car |
| |
| |
|-crosswalk |-------------------------
| | nearest sidewalk
------ -------------------------

Friday, January 9, 2009

vancouver, here we come

We head back to Medellin on Sunday, then leave for Mexico City on Tuesday, where we have an overnight layover. We'll be back in Vancouver on Wednesday.
On Thursday, I'll be meeting with an SAT prep company about teaching the SAT. I'll also be getting back into my freelance writing.
Luis is finalizing his application for his equivalency in medical technology. He sent 200 pages describing his coursework to the Canadian Society of Medical Laboratory Technology, and fortunately, they said he doesn't have to translate all of it -- just the part related to medical technology. It costs 15 cents a word to translate documents, and the translation must be done by a translator certified in Canada.

Roaming around Cartagena

On Wednesday, we went swimming here on the beach right by our hotel. Luis was amazed at how well I could body surf, but I've been doing that since I was a kid going to Jones Beach. It's difficult to teach someone exactly how to catch a wave. But I showed him a bit and he caught a few waves. The waves are big enough but not too big here, so it's a good place to learn bodysurfing.
We had a nice dinner with the Canadian couple at Cafe del Santisimo on Wednesday night, then they headed back to Bogota for their trip back to Canada.
Yesterday we went on a nice tour to Isla del Encanto (Baru), one of the islands on the archipelago of the Rosario Islands. Luis took a tour from that island to go snorkeling. I went swimming.
The tour included a great lunch of fried fish, platanos, rice, salad and more. (Notice that every blog entry of mine mentions food.) There really weren't any waves on the island; it's quite calm.
After, we walked around the walled city. It is absolutely stunning, and I would recommend this city just for the walled city. It reminds me of Old San Juan, the old section of Puerto Rico. All of the balconies remind me of New Orleans. Plazas with fountains dot the downtown. And pedestrians walk atop the wall surrounding the city. There's also a cafe on the wall that we plan to visit today.
Today, we're going to spend the entire day in the walled city.
There's also a 45-foot volcano (yes, 45 feet) about an hour from here. The ashes have mixed with water, and it's now a mud bath with lots of minerals. We haven't decided if we'll make that trip.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

city tour of Cartagena

We did a nice city tour of Cartagena today. The walled city is really nice from what we saw, and I can't wait to see more of it just by strolling around.
The tour was in a chiva, which is a typical, colorful Colombian bus used in the country to transport animals, fruit and vegetables on the roof and people inside. Today, they've become a big part of tourism in cities.
We went up a large hill outside the city to a monastery. It had an amazing view of the city. We also went to a fort and traveled through the narrow hallways deep down into the fort. It was somewhat steep and at points slippery and wet, and I just kept hoping I wouldn't fall on my ankle that has finally healed from the fracture just over a year ago.
We also went to an emerald factory in the town after. That was just for the gringoes on the tour. I guess they figured we would buy emeralds. There were a lot of beautiful ones, but we didn't buy anything.
We met a nice Canadian couple on the tour. They live along Lake Ontario a couple of hours east of Toronto. We're going to go to a restaurant with them tomorrow night.
So glad that we've settled into a new hotel.

we escaped...

...from costa del sol
we have renamed it costa del hole, or costa hell hole. at the top of the hotel is a pool which has a roof over part of the pool. the roof has a gigantic hole visible from the ground of the 14-floor hotel, or you might say, hole-tel.
i am so glad we escaped. i will never break the law. Prison food is probably just a little better than food at costa hell hole, and I could never stand to eat such food for an extended period. They even had terrible scramled eggs. they looked really white, and luis said they had no flavor.
today we're doing a tour of the walled city.
we're looking forward to enjoying time in a hotel that doesn't smell like fish.
the Caribe is much nicer. and the lobby has decent air-conditioning, too.

Monday, January 5, 2009

we arrived at Costa del Hell

Someone recommended the all-inclusive Costa del Sol in Cartagena to us. I was reluctant because it was the bottom-tier hotel and there´s no food worse than an unlimited amount of bad food. We made the reservation through a travel agent who also said it was a good choice. We were traveling the day we made the reservation, so I didn´t have a chance to go online and check out
Boy, did I make a mistake.
Last night, before leaving, I had a chance to check out tripadvisor´s reviews, most of which said the place was awful, except for a few that seemed to have been written by the hotel manager.
We arrived, and the smell in the lobby that we were warned about was there. The floors were dirty. We immediately inquired about switching hotels, and we´ve spent our first day doing that.
Then we had lunch. There literally put out potatoes that were just boiled, just plain potatoes. There was pasta that I swore had no sauce whatsoever. Then Luis said there was a light sauce and I saw some garlic but couldn´t taste anything but pasta. There was a decent chicken dish.
I saw the Pepsi machine (i would have never booked there if I knew they didn´t serve Coke). But even worse, they soda machine didn´t even work. They had one bottle of soda in a plastic 2.5-liter container. When they ran out, the woman had to get permission from a higher-up to open another bottle.
Right now, I´m in the office of Caribe, a very nice hotel, while our travel agent looks into switching us to this hotel. Avianca, who put together the package deal, says there is availability starting tomorrow.
gotta go to avianca to change our reservation ASAP
more later.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Happiest People in the World

Here´s an interesting Business Week piece about the countries with the happiest people.
Canada and Colombia made the top 10 list. The United States falls behind at No. 16. Maybe that´ll improve on Jan. 20.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

the food of colombia

To the surprise of many people, Colombians do not eat spicy food. Colombians like very mild food. And Luis´family doesn´t even keep pepper on the table.

I´ve been amazed at how fresh all of the food is here.

At a festival, a guy prepared limeade from fresh limes and a machine that crushed the long pieces of sugar cane to squeeze out the cane juice.

This photo to the left isn´t just a fruit stand. It´s also a sit-down restaurant for fresh fruit. They produce amazing plates of freshly cut fruit with fresh cream and ice cream. It was so delicious.

I´ve enjoy many tropical fruits, many of which I can´t even remember the names. One piece of fruit looked like something that would come out of the stomach of a character in Aliens. Inside, it was full of gel-covered pits. You eat the pits and all. It was absolutely delicious.}

One day we stopped at a roadside restaurant for chocolo. I was full but I told Luis´family I always have room for chocolate. I was mistaken. Chocolo is a crispy pancake. The cook put whole grains of corn into a machine, which mashed it to a thick mixture. He then added a little bit of sugar and formed pancakes, which he cooked on pots over coals. They were absolutely delicious.

The strangest thing I´ve eaten so far would be Gelatina de Pata, which is a taffy apparently made from the cartilage in parts of a cow´s leg. (I think mostly the knee.)

Luis is holding a guanabana he found on a tree at his brother´s property.

Chorizo sausages are delicious.

Some empanadas, with cheese and arepa (the corn pancake), some beans and hot chocolate made from melted chocolate, milk and sugar.

Chicarron, on the right side, is fried pork.

on the left is fresh aguacate (avocado), some fried plantains, rice and a arepita (a small crispy corn pancake). See the banana on top right. Colombians eat a banana with many meals (during the meal, not after.)