The importance of feedback

While holidaying in Bali, we went to a rather fancy restaurant to try out the Ubud version of fine dining – I was really curious to see if they would be as good as the places we have in Cape Town. The price was comparable given that it was heading into peak season and the average cost excluding drinks was R1 300 (including a mandatory 21% tax + service charge). However, that, and the exceptional presentation of the food, were just about the only comparable things between that restaurant and the many places I’ve been to back home (La Colombe, Fyn, to name a few).

I was excited to go to this restaurant – it had many great reviews and accolades. My first impression was indeed a good one. The menu came hidden in a beautiful ceramic box underneath a tray of edible flowers. The staff sprayed some seasoning on the flowers and once the petals were eaten away, it revealed what was in store for the night. In true fine dining fashion, it consisted of 6 or 9 courses of vaguely descriptive dishes.

There were a number of tasters outside of the menu and some were quite inventive, such as this … thing, which for a lack of a better word, was just some lemongrass sticks dipped in honey and something sweet, hidden in a giant foliage of leaves. A feast for the eyes but not so much for the palate.

 

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The actual courses were underwhelmingly small. Minute. Quantum. I wondered how anybody could be full afterwards, even with all the sides that came with. I’m a rather tiny human and I was starving at the end of the night. And no, your eyes did not deceive you, below is some carrots, in a gigantic bowl, and a whole lot of sodium. In fact, I couldn’t taste much of the food’s natural flavour because every dish was so darn salty.

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I’m usually not one for complaining, and I wouldn’t have said anything if it weren’t for the fact that I got sick from eating the food. Probably from the above oyster dish… or perhaps from the complete juxtaposed flavours that did not complement one another. My tummy was probably wondering what the fudge was going on. For example, the one dish was to inspire a combination of hot and cold. They put some sorbet in a hot soup… totally weird!!! Plus 1 for thinking outside the box but minus 5 for not checking with the 5 senses (including common sense!).

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Usually after a meal at a nice restaurant, I’m left feeling satiated and… happy. But not this time. It was a bit of a let down and a few hours later, I was feeling so ill, I couldn’t sleep. At 1 am I promptly vomited everything I’d eaten that night.

The very next day I emailed my grievances to the owner, who kindly offered to refund me (but also stressed that they won’t be changing the menu because most people don’t complain). She also asked why I didn’t say anything to the waiters – and that, I think, circles back to the point of this post. Often we try to avoid any sort of confrontation. In this case, it was further spurred on by the fact that the staff couldn’t speak great English and half the time I couldn’t understand what they were saying. And so, the easiest thing to do was to nod, smile and say thank you.

Of course, there is also a balance between giving appropriate feedback and complaining incessantly about every little detail. I think it is important to be honest whilst trying not to be petty at the same time. If the food hadn’t made me sick, I probably would have just chalked it up to a bad restaurant selection, but in the end, I’m glad I spoke up. It took about 2 months for the money to be refunded – and at one point I thought I wasn’t going to get my money back. It took a number of emails and hassling on my part – but it finally came through.

We are incredibly spoiled in Cape Town. We have some really amazing restaurants and if you go during one of their winter specials, it’s an absolute steal.

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A simple rule

I once read somewhere that the best diet is the one you can stick to. It sounds simple and yet I’ve seen it many times where people go on these crazy month long diets where they hate every moment of it, only to pick up the weight they’ve lost soon after ending the diet.

Sometime last year, I noticed that I’d been putting on weight. Nothing drastic, but at one point, I’d gained ±3kgs in the space of a couple of months. I realised my metabolism wasn’t as fast as it used to be and so I tried a brief stint of intermittent fasting.  It lasted no more than a few weeks because the hunger in the mornings was just too overwhelming that I couldn’t think about anything else other than food. At which point I realised, constantly watching the clock and constantly weighing myself is a little crazy.

Through the many hours of reading about intermittent fasting, I’ve also learned a fair amount about sugar, calories and exercise. A general rule of thumb is that weight loss is 75% what you eat and 25% exercise. And so, I’ve come up with a simple rule for myself.

I’ve loved sugar and sugary things all my life – and I know that to give up sugar completely would not work. I would end up hating my life. Not to mention I would also have to give up on all my food adventures, that would just be too sad. So I decided that if someone gave me something sweet, for free, then I could have them. Otherwise, I won’t. So each time I walk down that isle of chocolates and confectionaries, I would resist the temptation to buy something for myself.

I still order dessert when I am out for dinner with friends, and I still drink wine (but no soft drinks). With no other lifestyle changes (keeping exercise the same), I have managed to lose the weight I picked up last year, and some more. Because I get a fair amount of treats at work, I am in no way depriving myself of something I truly enjoy. Sticking to this rule doesn’t feel like a chore, and even when I cheat a little, it is easy to go back to it.

I find that I don’t crave sweets as much as I used to. I am eating more fruits (blueberries!!! and watermelons!!!!) and drinking more water – because let’s face it, ordering booze just because everyone else is doing it, is lame. I’d rather have some H2O from the tap thanks! :D

A semi-victory

The past two months I have been embroiled in a passive-aggressive battle with my bank, FNB, over a little operational mishap. I have complained tirelessly to my friends, but spoken words are easily forgotten, whereas written ones last for as long as I pay my subscription fees.

Basically I had asked my private banker to get the forex team to offer me a better rate on one of my foreign payments. I was told to specifically decline the quote that I got via the online banking portal (which I cleverly screen-shotted), and it confirmed that I had successfully declined the quoted rate and that the workflow would be saved in the “Maintain” area for future use.

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However, the next thing I knew, I had gotten a payment confirmation for a rate that was higher than the quoted rate. Imagine my WTF… I immediately emailed my private banker, who passed it on to the forex team… but after waiting over a month, I still had not received a call. Further emails to my private banker were ignored.

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Eventually, I emailed the generic contact address and got a call from a very unhelpful lady in the forex department. She told me it was simply their process to execute an instruction that was below the threshold for preferential rates… and upon learning that the payment I made was 1 CENT below the threshold, I was rather peeved at the fact that my banker did not inform me of this.

Even so, they still should not have executed the instruction without my approval of the rate. For context, it was a payment to my dad which I could have made at any time, and had they told me they could not give a better rate than 14.5544, I could have waited a few days, weeks or months even and done it myself via online banking.

Eventually, after uttering “The Consumer Ombudsman” several times, they offered to waive my monthly account fee of R360. At which point I said hell no, the money I lost from this exchange rate fiasco was way more than R360! I needed to be put in a position closer to what I would have been in, else the Ombudsman will be getting a complaint from me. (For what it is worth, SA has a pretty good deal when it comes to protecting the consumers.)

Round 2, they offered to waive 2 months’ bank charges and also promised for all future forex payments I would be getting a preferential rate regardless of the amount. And so, the forex saga ends with a semi-victory.

A less experienced me probably would have taken the R360 waiver and called it a day. But it really is nauseating how corporates try to take advantage of consumers and sweep their mistakes under the rug. Urgh. It saddens me that it has to take a mail to ceocomplaints @ fnb.co.za before anybody even contacted me.

Back to Blogging! (and Back to Mac :D)

After a lengthy hiatus – most of it due to my stupidity of spilling water all over my MBP and electrocuting it – I am finally back. This past year has kept me busy, but I am officially on leave for 2 weeks so I can dedicate some time to my blog, which I feel I need to keep going to justify the money I pay to WordPress each year.

It took me over 6 months to replace my MBP and I’ve learned some good lessons from this.

  1. Insurance is there to limit the risk, not so that I can make money off the insurer based on the likelihood of making a claim.
    I decided not to insure my MBP because “what the heck for?”. My household items are covered and I rarely take it outside the house. I acted based on what I thought was the probability of something happening, as opposed to the value of the item. As it turns out, people spill water / liquids on computers all the time, and MacBooks are notoriously expensive to repair. In my case it was dead on arrival.
  2. Waiting for “What if there is a better special next time?” is not a good way to do shopping.
    Before I got my MacBook Air, there was a R4K special on the 2017 12″ MacBook. I did not get it because I knew Black Friday was coming and there could be other discounts. Well, it came and the laptop I wanted was not on special. Closer to Christmas time, the 2018 MacBook Air was on sale for R1.5K cheaper, and I thought… maybe I should wait till January. But there is no guarantee that the price will come down much from the current retail price and at this stage, I had been without a laptop for half a year. Yikes!
    And so I decided to just get it because waiting for a special is similar to thinking there is a better man out there for me. There definitely is, but sadly no certainty as to when that will come, and I am not prepared to wait another day.
  3. No point getting the old  model – there is a reason why they are so heavily discounted.
    When the new MacBook Air came out, Apple placed a massive sale on the 2017 MacBook Air (R10K vs R20K on the new model). I had the biggest internal debate because that is a huge price differential. In the end, I decided not to get the old model because, in actual fact, the 2017 model worked off a 2014 processor, had a keyboard that did not work so well, and had old ports that were quickly being phased out and replaced by USB-C.

Of course, there is one last logical fart that I have not addressed, which is the absurdity of wanting an Apple computer over another brand. But I do love my Apple products and how they sync so beautifully with each other. Not to mention I have one in pink gold. *Swooooon*

 

Ridiculous Tuesday: Parking mishap edition

Brace yourselves, this may even be worse than that time I got a $78 fine for taking too long to walk to the parking meter…

Working at AG has many perks, but free parking is not one of them. Because I’m lazy AF, I generally load the maximum amount allowed onto my parking card. But due to the V&A’s incompetence, they haven’t been able to take credit card payments on their parking machines for quite some time now. Since I’m so used to loading the default amount, I forgot to check how much cash I had before I started loading the money. As it turned out, I didn’t have R1359 cash in my wallet (go figure). So I had to cancel the transaction and start over. BUT instead of returning my 4 R100 notes which I HAD JUST PUT IN 10 SECONDS AGO, I got 2 R50s and 2 R40s in change, and the rest came in R5 coins. It honestly sounded like I had won the slot machine at Caesars, the only thing missing was the flashing lights.

At this point, it was hitting 8:15, and I am a stickler for being on time.  (I literally was only late for work once and that was when my car wouldn’t start.) I was on the verge of returning another day but … those damn R5 coins. My tiny handbag wouldn’t have survived being weighed down and stretched out by those meddling coins. So I spent the next 5 minutes putting them back into the machine. Thankfully nobody was waiting behind me, or I would have died of embarrassment -_-.

 

Buying a flat: the good and the bad

Owning a property is one of those integral steps to becoming an adult, along with marriage and babies. And like the latter two, buying a property is incredibly difficult to accomplish alone (in Cape Town at least). Luckily my parents were kind enough to help me with a large deposit, otherwise I would have seriously struggled. I still wanted to maintain my lifestyle. After all, I didn’t study my butt off to become a professional only to be crippled by debt and have to live like a pauper.

I was lucky enough to get a flat in one of these new developments that are now popping up all over the show (Obs, Woodstock, etc), and here’s my experience:

  1. It takes longer than they say. My block was meant to be completed in March 2017. Hand over only took place towards the end of November 2017… So always take the completion date with a pinch of salt.
  2. Budget for extra costs. Shortly after signing, I was given the option to upgrade some of the finishes (like the counters, floors, have double glazed windows etc). They could easily add up to an extra R100K.
  3. Rather put the deposit in your own savings account to earn better interest. The default option was to have the deposit kept in the lawyers’ trust account, but they offered a measly interest (I think it was around 2.5%). An alternative to that was to keep the money in a normal savings / fixed interest investment account and have the bank issue a property guarantee. I ended up putting the deposit in the FNB money maximiser account where the return was around 7%. It made a sizeable difference given the amount of time it took for the developer to finish building the block (±2 years). If you have a large deposit, it’s definitely worth while doing that. I chose the FNB money maximiser because they guarantee that you won’t lose your capital.
  4. Be aware of the recoupment if you are claiming the UDZ benefit. One of the top marketing ploys is they tell you about the UDZ tax benefit where you can claim up to 55% of the purchase cost as a deduction over 20 years which is not ring-fenced. But they don’t mention the recoupment… ie When you sell your property, any deduction you’ve claimed previously on the property is added back to your taxable income in the year of sale. Of course, there is still the time value of money and if you’re a savvy investor, it is still better to claim the deduction now and pay the tax later. Having said that, the equities market is difficult to predict and if you are looking to flip in the short term, it probably isn’t worthwhile claiming this deduction.
  5. Don’t forget about the primary residence exclusion. Unless you’re uber rich and have many properties, it is probably better to live in the flat and claim the primary residence exclusion (R2m of the capital gain is disregarded on the sale of the property).
  6. You’re buying it new, don’t settle for damaged parts. When I got the keys to my flat, my dad noticed two small chips in the bath tub. The agent suggested they repair the bath tub but my dad insisted that they replace it. We bought the flat new so shouldn’t have to accept anything that is broken or sub-standard. After some to and fro, they eventually agreed to replace the whole thing.

All in all it’s been a good buy. It was quite easy to find a flat mate due to the location. While it sucks to still be sharing an apartment, it helps a lot to have that extra income. And now that my folks are back home, I can finally feel like a proper grown up. :-D

It’s not me, it’s you

Maybe if I say it enough, I will believe it and it will actually be true. Or maybe that is just a whole lot of BS conjured up to make us feel better after a break up. In some ways I truly feel I have given my all, I tried to bridge the non-compatibility issue, tried to be patient, tried to convince myself that I needed to make it work. But after all the trying, I was still sad and angry that he couldn’t meet me half way.

I went back and read some of my older poems and nothing much has changed. Still the same ol’ theme. Take this for example… written 6 years ago and still as relevant and appropriate today as it was back then. Often it does feel like I am the common denominator. Maybe I just keep going for the wrong men… whatever it is, it has brought me back full circle. Back to cooking for one.

It’s funny how the days leading up to a breakup, my mind is filled with negative thoughts and yet the minute it’s final, I want nothing more than to be back to where we were. Maybe I should take a break, but the truth is, I hate being single. I miss having that person whom I can message all day and not feel guilty for interrupting. I miss the cuddles, the contact.

I kind of knew from the beginning that we weren’t well suited for each other. I don’t know why I kept it going – in some ways he pushed for it and mislead me. I let him convince me that it could work even though deep down I knew it couldn’t.

I don’t know how to meet people organically any more. Not convinced that that will yield a different result in any case. I used to think I was too picky and therefore give up too easily, but now I actually think I’m not picky enough and end up settling. Like the bff says, I need to be a reacher. Need to find someone who’s better than me in most regards. I guess this is as good a challenge as any.