Buying stuff from China

Yesterday I bought 10 pairs of awesome bamboo socks for $4.65, that will be shipped to my doorstep free of charge. Intrigued? Read further. Note: buying stuff online is not for everyone, and if you lack patience and are not willing to accept certain risks, do your shopping in physical stores.

Vancouver living is expensive. According to livingwageforfamilies.ca, the living wage for two working parents with 2 kids in Vancouver is $20.10/hr, with both parents working full-time. I too have been in a situation when I had to decide between buying new socks or something other than ramen noodles for dinner. However, if you have been on my blog for long enough, you know that there are ways of saving money in Vancouver. I have found yet another way, which I am happy to share.

I have been buying stuff from China for a little over a year now, and I have tried several websites. My main concerns were:

  1. Not to be scammed (e.g. pay and never see the product).
  2. Not to be “catfished” (e.g. pay for one thing, and then get something different).

I have started with the most popular sites like eBay and Amazon, but I have quickly learned that for the most part, the prices there are very close to the ones you see in stores. I still use both when I need a branded product or something specific (e.g. motorcycle parts, books, etc). Then at some point I heard from a coworker about DX.com, where he bought a tablet and a phone for his wife and mother-in-law. I have given them a try on the 30th of May, 2013, buying a memory card and the USB adapter for the car. The shipping was slow, there was no tracking number, and customer service took 4 working days to respond to my inquiry.

My other try was alibaba.com. As much as I loved having a ton of options, this website is geared towards connecting large suppliers with mass buyers; and in most cases the shipping for a smaller quantity would cost more than the product.

2014-12-10 09.34.01 amThat’s when I found Aliexpress, which is a part of Alibaba Group. The main difference is shipping: on Alibaba is not often included (it varies drastically depending on the quantity), but on Aliexpress shipping is free for most products, and the tracking number is almost always included. Aliexpress allow credit card purchases (Visa, MasterCard, Maestro), SWIFT Wire transfers, Western Union, and a few others, that are not as popular in USA/Canada. Aliexpress use Escrow, which means the payment will not be released to the seller unless you confirm the receipt or until the purchase protection expires (usually, 45 days, and it can be extended). I have made 112 orders since Feb. 9 2014, and so far have had three issues altogether:

1. Ordered 3 oil filters for my bike, and received some random plush toy. Upon contacting the seller and providing pictures, a full refund was issued, and I did not have to send the wrong product back.

2. Ordered motorcycle boots for Maria in September, and the tracking froze at being put on the plane to Canada. In mid-October I have started a dispute, and a week later I had my full refund via Aliexpress. The boots did show up 2 weeks after I was refunded, so I contacted the seller and arranged the payment with a discount for the delay.

3. Ordered motorcycle pants, which were advertised as being waterproof and having CE armour in knees. The pants were waterproof for the most part, however there was a stretching insert in the crotch area that was made out of non-waterproof cloth, and the CE armour was missing (an honest mistake, I believe). I have contacted the seller, who offered to send the product back for a full refund, or issue a partial refund and send me the CE armour inserts for knees. I chose the second option, received a refund within a week, and the CE inserts 2 weeks later.


From Forbes.com: 

“[Alibaba Group] Sales for 2014 are estimated at $420 Billion. In 2012 sales were $170 Billion. This dwarfs Amazon, its closest competitor, with reported sales of $74.4 Billion for fiscal 2013 while EBay reported sales for fiscal 2013 of $16 Billion, less than one-tenth Alibaba’s 2012 sales.”


If you plan on shopping at Aliexpress, keep in mind:

1. Do not order merchandise that is branded (e.g. D&G, Gucci), however tempting it may be. If you import something into the country, you are responsible for ensuring that these goods are not illegal to import. And counterfeit goods are illegal.

2. Remember to keep track of your orders. There are a few ways of doing it, but my favourite is Track17.net. I track my orders daily, which may be an overkill, but better safe than sorry, right?

3. Always confirm the receipt of the order in your order list, and leave feedback for sellers. If there is a problem with the sale, do not rush to start a dispute, and contact the seller first to give them a chance to rehabilitate themselves. More often than not, the seller will work with you to rectify the situation.

4. Check product and seller feedback, and the item description before ordering. Keep in mind, that Aliexpress is a marketplace; same as eBay, they only connect you to the seller. It is up to the seller to be honest when the listing is created, and the buyer to do some due diligence.

5. Search for the product to see if there are any other sellers who have it for the cheaper price. Note, that sorting by the price only takes the cost of the item into the account, so click on the Free Shipping checkbox. Sorting by the number of orders is also helpful at times, but note, that sometimes the seller will purposely lower the price to make a ton of sales, and then will increase the price.

2014-12-10 10.21.24 am

6. Mind the language barrier. Most sellers only speak basic English, and probably use some sort of online translators. There is no need to be condescending, patronizing or disrespectful. Most sellers are honest and hardworking people, so be understanding and accommodating. Keep your language simple, and be friendly.

7. If you do not understand something, contact the seller before you make the order. This will show how easy it is to get a hold of the seller in case something goes wrong.

Top 5 Christmas Attractions in Vancouver

lat year I had a post about the Top 5 Christmas Attractions in Vancouver, which is still valid. However, given that this year I have already covered the Vancouver Christmas Market, I decided to focus solely on the Christmas Lights in Vancouver this time around.

So, without further ado, here are the Top 5 Christmas Lights Displays in Vancouver:

5. Canyon Lights at Capilano Suspension Bridge (North Vancouver).

Admission: GA $32.50, discounts available for youths, seniors and kids. Family pricing available.

I have not been on the Capilano Suspension Bridge during the Winter months per se for a number of reasons, overpriced and overrated being among of them; but, alas, there are lights; and, therefore, I oblige by adding this to the list.

44. Bright Nights in Stanley Park (Downtown Vancouver, Stanley Park).

Admission: by donation (benefiting BC Professional Firefighters’ Burn Fund).

Stanley Park Bright Nights are really nice! There are not a whole lot of people, the lineups are not that huge, and the lights are really pretty. Admission by donation is also a nice touch.

 

33. Van Dusen Festival of Lights (Vancouver, Shaughnessy).

Admission: GA $15, discounts for youths, seniors and kids. Family pricing available.

My first visit to Van Dusen was back in 2011, and I have visited it every year ever since. The admission isn’t hurtful, the park isn’t that busy; and there are so many paths! The only downside is that the garden is in an odd location with not a lot of transit access, and unless you are driving, getting there may be a bit tricky.

22. Dundarave Festival of Lights AKA The Forest of Miracles (West Vancouver, Dundarave).

Admission: Free. Donations are encouraged (benefiting The Lookout Society’s North Shore Shelter).

This will be my first time at the West Van’s Lights display – I just had no idea that there was something of the kind. For better or worse, this is the least popular Christmas Lights display, as far as I am concerned. Interesting-looking nonetheless; I am planning on visiting it over the weekend, if the weather permits. Trip report will follow.

1. Trinity Street Lights (Vancouver, Hastings-Sunrise).

Admission: Free. Donations are encouraged (benefiting The Bloom Group, helping Downtown Eastside homeless).

Trinity Street Lights are my absolute favourite. They are quiet, tasteful, and within a 20 minute walk away from my home (a little more if Maria decides to wear yet another one of her 1000 high heels). What started as a friendly competition between neighbours, turned into a fairly famous display, and a lot of people come to see it.

One thing that needs to be mentioned: DO NOT PARK ON TRINITY STREET IF YOU DECIDE TO DRIVE THERE. Local residents have to deal with the high foot traffic already, so be a sport and do not abuse their generosity by parking in their spots. There is plenty of parking available on the nearby streets.

My personal favourite from the last year

Pet-friendly apartments in Vancouver

_20141125_081630

Our dawg Lady

Pets are our family.  If you think otherwise, then maybe you should reconsider owning a pet, period. However, BC housing rules make it up to the landlord [in most cases] to allow pets in the living space; so the biggest reason why the owners have to give their pets away is because the new place they are moving into does not allow pets.

The more pets you have, the slimmer the chances are; and with a dog, it’s the toughest. If you have just moved to Vancouver, be prepared to pay more in rent, and possibly spend a month or several crashing on your friend’s couch. I know I sound like a party pooper, but it’s a reality and I wish someone had given me a heads up.

According to my recent web search on PadMapper, less than 15% of all rentals are pet-friendly (a surprising amount of landlords claim to have allergies, poor souls).

1-br apartments for >=$1,800 that do not allow pets

 

1-br apartments for >=$1,800 that do not allow pets

1-br apartments for >=$1,800 that do allow pets

However, I have some good news: online ads don’t cover 10% of pet-friendlies. The places that don’t reek of feline urine don’t advertise because they don’t have to, there’s a lineup to get in.

So, pet owners, I might have some tips for you after all:

1. Be extremely diligent about checking all the major websites. By diligent, I mean every free moment that you have, you should be searching. I would search twice an hour, at the beginning and the half way mark. I would call and email immediately for any place that looked half way decent. I’m not joking, our current place we called 17 minutes after the posting went up. The place we called before was already promised to someone else, 30 minutes after the posting.

2. Walk around the neighbourhood, and search for buildings that do not have “No Pets” signs.

3. Reply to all ads that do not say “no pets”, “NP” or “N/P” (an abbreviation for No Pets). Give them a benefit of the doubt.

4. If you want to go an extra mile, get references from your landlord for the pet; take your pet to a behavioural training, so you have a certificate to show; offer to leave a pet deposit.

5. Worst comes to worst, walk around some of the more run-down neighbourhoods (West End and Marpole come to mind) to look for people walking their dogs. Politely ask if they’re renting in the area because you’re currently looking to rent a place that will accept your dog and not having much luck.

Keep in mind: often times, the “No Pets” thing is just the landlord trying to ensure that their highly in demand unit is kept up to par. If you’re a good tenant, pay your rent on time, place is kept clean, no one complains about you being loud and obnoxious, and you want to get a pet after staying with them for a couple of months, a lot of landlords would rather deal with the liability of a pet than lose a good tenant.

P.S.: Caprent buildings are pet friendly, as well as Gordon Nelson. Most in the West End. If you know any more, make sure to leave a comment below. Let’s help each other out.

P.S.2: There is a Facebook group “Pet Friendly in Lower Mainland“, where people post seeking and renting ads.

Can a Landlord Sue a Tenant for Mold Growth?

Disclaimer: Mold cases can be complex and this short article is not meant to replace legal advice.


Can a Landlord Sue a Tenant for Mold Growth?


If you suffered from any illness due to mold contamination in your rented home, then you could sue your landlord for compensation and damage. All you need to do is to provide evidence of mold contamination and a report from a home inspector which confirming the presence of mold in the rental home.

However:

While I am not a lawyer and this article is not meant to provide legal advice, the tenant could actually be responsible for the said mold growth.

Before a tenant rushes to break the tenancy agreement, sue the landlord, and boast about it on social media, they should try to understand why the mold had grown in the first place and whether their actions or inactions would make them held responsible. Similarly, before a landlord accepts responsibility for the mold growth or blame it on their tenants, they should understand the cause of growth.

Keep in mind: the presence of mold is not always the landlord’s fault and responsibility. Your landlord could sue you if they could prove that the mold growth was due to your negligence.

And your negligence may include:

  • Noticing the mold, and not notifying your landlord in a timely manner; thus making the problem worse;
  • Causing property damage, leading to mold growth;
  • Living the lifestyle, causing and promoting mold growth, e.g. showering or cooking without using ventilation, or partaking in other activities that contribute to generating excessive moisture.
Reference: http://www.moldbacteria.com/mold/can-a-landlord-sue-a-tenant-for-mold-growth.html

ICBC motorcycle road test

VR-tjeFAlJAQuite some time back, I wrote an article about getting a motorcycle license, and steps involved.

This Friday, November the 14th, I have taken and passed the motorcycle road test.

Initially, I wanted to film the test on my helmet cam, but did not because my only curved mount is glued to my summer helmet, and it was too cold for the dirtbike-style helmet that day (I’ll probably keep it stored until April or May of the next year).


ICBC Class 6 motorcycle road test


Length: about 45 minutes, mine was from 2.20 pm to 2.55; including the test itself, the feedback from the instructor, and getting my picture taken for my new licence.

Cost: $35 for the test, $75 for the license. The $75 is only due of you pass the test. Once issued, the license is good for 5 years.

Location: my test was taken at Port Coquitlam ICBC at 1930 Oxford Connector. This was my second test at this location. Normally, you need to wait a few months before the test date, but I was able to book a test with a week’s notice.


How to book a road exam: online at ICBC’s website or by phone. If you do not show up, or cancel your exam within 48 hours or less prior to exam date, you will still have to pay.

If you are mobile, it is best to let the ICBC call center agents decide where to book you, as they will be able to book you the soonest possible date. My preffered locations were North Vancouver and Burnaby )for the proximity to my work and home), but I took my test in Port Coquitlam.

This was my second attempt at this test – fist time I was failed for (get ready) being overly cautious, more specifically, going 30-40 in a 50 zone (80% of the time we were in the residential area, and I thought it is better to be safe and not too go too fast with kids around, but the results of the exam determined that was a false assumption).

Before we left the ICBC parking lot, the examiner gave me a 2-way radio (similar to the ones that truck drivers use). She explained that I am to listen to the instructions (which were told twice), and to tap on the helmet if I did not hear clearly. During the test I was supposed to ride at a normal speed, pretending I am riding solo – this means no waiting or slowing down, unless specifically instructed to do so. examiner rode as a passenger in the car behind me.

She checked the hand signals (left/right/stop), and the functionality of the safety equipment (signal lights, low/high beams, horn and kill switch) and off we went. I rode a few blocks on the main road (Lougheed Hwy), and then was routed towards residential block. Repeatedly going through the stop signs, in and out of the school zone; parking on a hill, starting on the hill; hazard perception (“tell me what hazards you see on this [empty] street”); merging in and out of traffic and reverse parking in the end.


 Tips and pointers:

1. Know all the road signs. Speeding in a school zone is considered a dangerous action, and you will automatically fail should this happen.

2. Check if the motorcycle functions correctly. If something isn’t woking right, you will not be allowed to take the test.

3. For insurance (and I hope for ethical reasons also) trick questions and requests are not allowed; e.g. they will not ask you to do a left turn on the intersection where left turns are prohibited.

4. Look out for signs and keep as close as you can to the speed limit, if conditions permit. I am not sure if they will let you travel at a slower speed if it is raining, etc. – it is best to ask your examiner.

5. Take your exam on a 200+ cc bike. If you take it on a smaller displacement bike, your license will have additional restrictions.


P.S.: Went to see “Dumb and Dumber To” – it sucked.