2nd March 1996
The 10th of March marks a year since we left home. It has gone very quickly for us - so much has happened. However, before telling you about recent events, I must thank everyone for the flood of letters and cards that we received at Christmas. It was reassuring to know that we have not been forgotten.
I was amused that, with a few notable exceptions, when we know a couple, the letter was written by the woman. I can relate to this. In the 3 Christmases after we got married, I was never sufficiently organised to send Christmas cards and Lan ended up writing cards to my relatives which I would sign. I thought it was more embarrassing to send nothing than to have my wife graciously do it for me. I now see that I was not alone in this problem. In fact, we received one letter that began, "xxxxx [her husband] has never written a personal letter in his life and I doubt he ever will"! I will treasure that for a long time. Since we have been away I've had more time as we have very few friends here and it is so much easier if you can write to everyone at once.
Lan left for Spain on Feb 24 to fix up some software that her American employer sold there. When she left it was to be for a month, then when she arrived, Lan thought it could be 6-8 weeks and it is possible that she will do similar work in Portugal and Belgium. Lan has now almost joined the global jet-setting elite - I say almost because she flew economy class and finds that she is working very long hours. The Spanish work day is also no good for a "morning person" like Lan as the locals get to the office at 10am, take a long lunch but then work late into the night.
I finally have a visa that allows me to work and get paid. Previously I could only work. You may recall that I started on the basis that the company would apply for a visa and I would not get paid until the visa was approved. If the application failed, I would leave with just the experience but if it was approved, they would have to pay me back for the work I had already done. They seem to be reasonably happy with me and offered me a retrospective pay rise (I would have been underpaid by American standards).
It will take about 18 months before I am fully paid back and I think I will be ready to come home not long after that. Since we now know that we are not moving out immediately, we bought ourselves a $118 VCR (an open box special), an amplifier and I'm about to get some speakers so that we can listen to our CDs on our portable player.
We also flirted with the idea of buying an apartment rather than renting and spent one weekend looking at what was on the market. Actually, we thought of buying a condominium. The word apartment is only used where a company operates a complex of perhaps 10-20 buildings each with say 20 apartments, all rented. When I called the bank and said I wanted to borrow money to buy an apartment, I was put through to investment loans - they thought I wanted to borrow millions of dollars. When they found out that I just wanted one residence, they seemed disappointed but gave me another number to call. When I called it, the lady said "I don't think I've ever heard of anyone buying an apartment". I could tell that she thought I was an idiot. After getting past her, I spoke to someone who suggested I come in to see him.
I spent more than two hours with him and he seemed to be impressed with our income and lack of debt (average household non-mortgage debtcar loans, credit cards etc. is now over US$10 000) but it was a waste of time. The bank won't lend to foreigners unless they can prove that they can stay for 3 years. We can't. Our employers can apply to renew our visas but there is no guarantee that they will, or that the visas will be approved. The 3 year rule is silly as we wanted to borrow a small amount and could pay it back in just over a year. It seems that American banks only set up mortgages and then they sell the mortgage to a mortgage company which holds the deeds on the property. These mortgage companies apparently wont buy a mortgage unless there is at least 3 years of revenue in it. This is quite different to the ANZ which held the title deed for our house in its vault. I assume other Australian banks operate the same way. It seems more sensible as the American banks are then just "middlemen". Incidentally, most American home loans are at a fixed interest rate with a 20 year loan now offered at 7.375%.
For this and other reasons such as the hassle and expense of selling, we have decided to continue renting. We will probably move as soon our lease runs out on April 9. We could stay till October but this place is too big for just the two of us as it has 2 big bedrooms plus a study, 2½ bathrooms (the ½ has no bath or shower), a double garage and a basement (even most Americans don't seem to put anything in their basement). It is also US$1000 per month. We took it because it was the first nice place we found. Still, expensive is relative. We have friends living in Tokyo and their apartment, which at about 120 m2 is big by local standards, costs US$5000 per month!
Keep sending your mail here. I'll have our mail directed to the new place for a few months after we leave.