I Have Been Learning Chinese (Mandarin)

October 6, 2017 Posted by Tyler Cruz

Shortly before our first Chinese homestay student arrived about a year and 4 months ago, I decided that I would try to learn Mandarin.

I decided to do this for a few reasons. First, he was studying English and I thought it would be nice if I learned Chinese at the same time. Secondly, I have always been interested in learning Asian languages – I’ve just always thought it was a cool skill to have. Lastly, there are a LOT of Chinese where I live, so I figured it wouldn’t be a bad thing to learn.

Below is a video I recorded a while back (perhaps 10-months ago or so), so please excuse the poor audio quality as this was recorded on my webcam mic which is horrible.

There are subtitles available in the video, but you may need to manually enable them:

(Note: You may need to visit the post directly at TylerCruz.com if you’re reading this via e-mail or RSS in order to see the video.)

你好。 我的名字是Tyler。我住在加拿大。我学习中文为六个月了, 但是我觉得它很难。我从来不去过中国。再见大家.请订阅.

Unfortunately, with language, unless it’s your native tongue, if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it. And since I haven’t studied in probably 8 months now, I’ve already forgotten so much of what I learned.

I’m sure if I started studying again that I’d pick it up fast, but it is disheartening to know how easy it is to forget information you worked so hard on learning. The same goes for French – I was forced to study it in school from grades 7-12 and by the end my French writing and reading (my listening was very poor) was quite good but now I’ve forgotten probably 80% of what I had learned!

My Mandarin Learning

First, the amount of Mandarin I learned was very limited. While I’m “speaking” in the video, I could only really come up with super basic sentences on my own. When I studied, I spent the majority of my time learning vocabulary.

With Chinese, you have to memorize countless characters, many of which don’t mean anything by themselves at all and are actually just radicals. The radicals have a meaning, but aren’t an actual word. Radicals are then combined together to make a symbol which represents a word. You therefore have to memorize a different symbol for each word – it’s not like English or French where you only need to learn 26 letters of the alphabet. In Mandarin you need to learn thousands of “characters”, then associate each character with a pronunciation, then associate both with the translation!

I used the free language learning website and app, Memrise.com – primarily the app. I would lie on the couch or bed and just learn word after word. I eventually learned approximately 1,000 different words (although many of these were radicals, so not actual words yet), although now I probably only remember 300-400 of them.

Anyhow, I highly recommend Memrise. It’s similar to Rosetta Stone but completely free, and mostly run by the community. There are countless courses there and you can learn any language, or even non-language courses such as chemistry or botany.

Many of the words overlapped between courses, but in total I ended up memorizing around 1,000 words.

My Korean

Back in 2002-2003, before it was popular and “cool”, I had studied Korean. This was also before apps existed, and so I had to learn the hard way, through books and the help of some kind Koreans.

I got to a pretty decent stage at one point – being able to read and write at about a 1st-grade level, but of course I haven’t studied Korean in well over a decade so unfortunately most of what I learned has been lost. At least I can still read phonetically (my Korean pronunciation is pretty good).

Goodbye Chinese, Hello Vietnamese

I stopped learning Mandarin maybe around 8 months ago, mainly because I had studied it so much that I got tired with it, but also because both of our Chinese students are now gone.

We now have 4 Vietnamese students and so I am actually starting to study Vietnamese now! Who knows how long I’ll stick with it – but learning the fundamentals of a new language is always the hardest part, so hopefully if I get past the fundamentals then if I stop later, I can always return and pick it back up without too much added trouble.

Posted: October 6th, 2017 under Personal 1 Comment

I Say “Um” Too Much (and What I’m Doing About It)

October 3, 2017 Posted by Tyler Cruz

As you may have noticed, I have been recording a lot of videos lately – a lot more than I ever have in the past. This is partly due to me being more comfortable doing so with my new webcam and audio setup, as I used to take out a camcorder and tripod to do them!

One thing I’ve noticed when editing and playing back my videos is just how often I say “Um” or “Uh”. I say it so often in some videos that it is extremely annoying and distracting. Now that I’m aware of it, I am trying to rid myself of this bad habit.

In my video below, I talk about this more, as well as some of the tips and tricks I’ve learned to try to help combat this verbal faux pas.

(Note: You may need to visit the post directly at TylerCruz.com if you’re reading this via e-mail or RSS in order to see the video.)

The YouTube video I reference in my video can be found here.

Posted: October 3rd, 2017 under Videos 6 Comments

Pros and Cons of Running an Airbnb

September 30, 2017 Posted by Tyler Cruz

In my “So What the Hell Happened Part 4 of 5: Airbnb” post, I shared my adventures running an Airbnb.

In this post, I will outline the pros and cons of running an Airbnb listing. As a reminder, I’ve been using the service for just over a year, although just during the summer months. I also host a large “room” from within my house, so it is not a separate apartment or full house. I mention these things because they could affect the pros and cons as they are completely different types of listings.

With that being said, let’s get started.

Cons

Cleaning After Guests

Our guests have for the most part been quite clean. We have been lucky in that we haven’t had to deal with any really gross bathroom or bedding situations. At worst, the toilet might be moderately dirty and the tub have a fair bit of hair. So it’s not so much an issue of guests being really dirty as it is the constant repetitive task of cleaning itself.

Each guest turnover means a new complete cleaning of the room. So the guest may have arrived at 11pm and left at 6:30am the next morning, but that still means that you need to wipe things down, vacuum, make the bathroom spotless, put everything back in its place, and then do a ton of laundry (towels and ALL the bedding).

It’s almost fun the first few times, but then it quickly gets old. You could hire somebody to do this for you, but what happens if they don’t show up or are late? You could risk a horrible review and non-payment from a guest. And it will also take a huge chunk out of your profits, and is really only possible in listings that command a high price tag ($100+ a night).

Checking in Guests

While I enjoy meeting new guests, it can also quickly get old to have to go through the same routine for each new guest during the check-in process. I greet them, show them their room, then give them a tour of the rest of the house, explain the house rules, ask about their trip and answer any questions they have… it just gets a bit boring after a while.

In addition, I don’t like having to wait for guests to arrive. It means I cannot leave the house until they arrive, and often guests will be late or even early.

Sharing a Kitchen

Not all listings will share their main kitchen with guests, but many like ours will if there is not a kitchen within the room or suite.

While guests don’t eat with us, it still means having to co-ordinate who will be cooking when, and it also means that one party will end up having to eat extra late (especially since the one party will not only cook, but cook, eat, then wash the dishes). This is not usually an issue for short-term stays, but for long-term stays it is, as guests are more likely to be cooking for themselves.

Setting Up Breakfast

Again, not all listings will offer breakfast, but we do. What we do is set up a huge breakfast spread the night before (so we don’t have to get up extra early) – this means making sure the kitchen is clean and then setting out the huge spread. It’s not that difficult to do, but it’s just one more thing that you need to do.

Angry Neighbours and City Bylaws

We haven’t had any issues with angry neighbours, apart from the next door neighbour politely asking me to have our guests refrain from parking in front of his house (which I’ve gladly obeyed). But other neighbours may not be so forgiving and could complain to the city or your strata if you have one. In fact, running an Airbnb may straight up be illegal in your city or within your strata/HOA if you have one!

Start-up Costs

If you plan on having 5-star ratings, you will need to make sure your listing is very clean and has everything a guest may need. This includes a quality bed, preferably new or newer, brand new sheets and bedding, proper towels, and then little things such as disposable shampoos and soaps, drinking glasses, etc.

This is only a one-time expense for the most part, but cannot be ignored.

Shakey Customer Support

I have not had to contact Airbnb support yet, but I subscribe to the /r/airbnb subreddit and have read a lot about their support leaving a lot to be desired – namely giving hosts the runaround when responding to queries. I have not experienced this first hand though. In fact, come to think of it I actually did have to contact their support once, and that was because I saw somebody had copied our address and house photo – likely to create a fraudulent listing, and Airbnb took down the listing and banned them about a week after I reported them.

Possible Bad Guests

I had had a guest that I did not particularly care for (he was rather rude), but other than that I have been lucky. If you screen your guests by making sure they only have positive reviews and avoid first-time guests, then it is pretty rare to get bad guests.

That being said – they are out there. I haven’t had any, but I’ve certainly heard my fair share of horror stories. Stories that include blood, semen, broken and stolen items, guests that try to bring in more guests than what was agreed, etc.

So the possibility is certainly out there if you’re not careful in your screening process.

Pros

Money

I only have 5 pros listed compared to 8 cons, but this is a huge pro and the primary reason why people become Airbnb hosts – the money.

In my opinion, Airbnb is one of the easiest ways to bring in a significant amount of extra money that I can think of. Our 1 listing alone brings in $1,000 a month profit. So running Airbnb for even just a few months can yield you enough money to go on a vacation, install air conditioning in your house, or pay the mortgage.

Meet People from all over the World

If you’re a social person or enjoy other cultures, running an Airbnb listing will have you meeting and talking to people from all over the world. We’ve had people from the United States, Canada, the UK, Germany, Ireland, France and other countries I can’t remember off the top of my head.

Simple to Get Set Up and Started

If you’ve decided to go ahead and start your very own listing, after creating your listing by adding photos, a description, and other details (you will want to take your time during this initial process), the approval process should only take a few days or perhaps a week, and then you’re all ready to go – you could have your first booking the very next day even. So if you’re reading this and decide this is perfect to you, it’s possible to have a few hundred bucks in your bank account by next week!

Very Good Website

Overall, I am quite happy with Airbnb‘s website and app – there are numerous ways to communicate with guests, all of which are very quick and easy to use. They provide a lot of listing customization options such as being able to select various cancellation policies, add extra costs such as cleaning fees, and adjust your listing’s price based on the weekend or other factors.

I’ve had a fair number of older guests who have had no problem using the website and app, which says a lot.

Receive gifts

Occasionally, you will have guests who bring or leave you gifts! We’ve received postcards, cookies, snacks, a full Chinese meal, flowers, and one old German lady was even determined to give me a kiss on the cheek during their checkout (BTW, she was also in her 70s and absolutely crushed my hand when we shook hands).

In addition, I’ve heard that Airbnb occasionally sends out gifts to Superhosts, such as brand new mattresses – I have yet to receive anything yet though (It’s super easy to become a superhost though, which is probably why. Plus, I think they mostly send out gifts to hosts in major cities like New York).

Conclusion

Airbnb can earn you a fair bit of extra cash, but it still takes some effort to manage a listing unless you have a high booking rate for a listing rate $100+/night where you can then hire somebody to manage and clean your Airbnb unit for you.

Posted: September 30th, 2017 under Miscellaneous 2 Comments

Broken Link Checker Plugin Review

September 27, 2017 Posted by Tyler Cruz

My blog is 12 years old with over 1,100 posts. Naturally, I have many dead/broken links as a result.

I’m not sure if cleaning up those broken links has any SEO benefit (I’m assuming it must have at least some), but I know that I don’t want dead links on my blog as it will only make my older posts seem even older than they are, as well as lower its credibility.

Fortunately, I found an awesome free WordPress plugin that does everything I was looking for and then some. The plugin is called “Broken Link Checker” (how ambiguous, eh?), has over half a million installs, and is regularly maintained and updated.

Here’s a short screencast review of the plugin I recorded:

Here’s the screencast (you will probably want to watch in HD full screen to be able to view it properly):

(Note: You may need to visit the post directly at TylerCruz.com if you’re reading this via e-mail or RSS in order to see the video.)

Anyhow, I highly recommend this plugin if you want to find and clean up broken links on your WordPress site.

Posted: September 27th, 2017 under Blog Related 1 Comment