How to emigrate to the US. PART 2: Things that don’t require an SSN: Banks, renting, and utilities

This is a continuation of HOW TO EMIGRATE TO THE US (FROM CANADA WITH AN ENGINEERING DEGREE).  This post will assume you have already obtained your TN visa.  I’ll talk about the challenges obtained with settling in.  Getting an SSN takes 2-4 weeks; 4 weeks if you have a name so long that it won’t fit in form (THANKS PARENTS.).

  • Things that don’t require an SSN
    • Opening a bank account
    • Renting a place
    • Opening a utilities account
      • Electricity
      • Internet
  • Things that require an SSN
    • Getting paid
    • Health / Vision insurance
    • Drivers licence
    • Car licence plate
    • Credit card

Opening a bank account

Like most accounts that don’t require an SSN, you need 2 pieces of ID.  I brought my passport and drivers licence and opened an account over lunch.  I was late back to work because it took about an hour longer to process due to my ‘resident-alien’ status.  I opened an account at Chase (which many people recommended I avoid) because it was the closest bank.  I’ve already started looking at savings and retirement funds, but I might be jumping the gun because I should probably pay off my debt first.

Renting a place

Renting a place also does not require a SSN, just 2 forms of ID.  They do a background screen, which may potentially take longer because they pull up your records from other countries.  I looked at a total of about 15 different apartments.  Despite everyone thinking Detroit is dirt cheap, rent in desirable neighbourhoods is still considerably high.  Here is a list of different neighbourhoods I had considered living in:

  • Troy: $675-$1100/mo.  The nice apartments were 1BR, 700sqft, newly renovated, carpet floors, new appliances and hella expensive.  The cheaper places were literally walking distance from work.  It was a decent place, but I wanted a place with wooden floors.
  • Madison Heights  (1BR apartments in low, low, and highrise apartments) $700-800.  My co-workers advised against living in Madison heights because they think it isn’t a nice neighbourhood.  I honestly can’t really tell the difference.  There are a few Chinese and Vietnamese stores located on John R Road.
  • Royal Oak is supposedly the happening place in Detroit.  They have a walkable downtown area with nice sidewalks and streetlamps.  Most young professionals are moving into that area, and thus it was really hard to find a vacant apartment.  Most places had 2-3 month waiting lists.  I had found a craiglist ad to roomate with 2 other engineers in a 3 bedroom 1 bathroom house for $500.  I probably would have stayed here if the house owner didn’t have a cat.
  • Southfield. $500-600 for 1BR.  This was the pricepoint that I was trying to aim for, but Southfield is considered one of the rougher neighbourhoods in Detroit.  Most of the locals recommend living north of 8 Mile Road.
    • Fun fact:  8 Mile Road has a TON of strip clubs on it. I drove on it at night, and only the streetlights on the South side light up.
  • Ferndale is supposedly the ‘hipster area’ of Detroit.  I walked around the area yesterday, and I like it.
    • Fun fact:  Ferndale was the first city in Michigan to have an openly gay Mayor.
  • Downtown (Eastern Market). $700-$900.  I had considered getting a studio apartment in the same building as Fiona.  The building had recently been purchased by a Canadian real estate company and was undergoing renovation.  I thought the place was really nice, but the commute was a bit long (22 minutes without traffic).  During rush hour, it would be 30-40 minutes.
  • Clawson.  This is the place I decided to live in.  It’s only a 5 minute drive to work, a 10 minute drive to Royal Oak, and is considered one of the nicer neighbourhoods in Metro Detroit.  At $750, I’m renting a ‘houselet’ – a 1 bedroom house.  It’s more akin to a 1 bedroom townhouse.  I don’t believe anything like this in Toronto exists.

In the end, I learned what I really was looking for in an apartment.  It doesn’t have to be large; I was OK with a 480sqft studio apartment.  However, I wanted wood floors because they are easy to clean and won’t flare up my allergies.  A nice bathtub was a MUST.  New kitchen appliances were optional.  I would prefer a 2nd floor apartment (I feel safer there?), but will compromise with a first floor.  I wanted my commute to be less than 20 mins.  I wanted all this for under $800/mo.

Electricity and Internet

So far, I’ve opened 2 utilities accounts: electricity and internet.  Electricity is handled by DTE energy, one of Detroit’s biggest employers.  Internet is handled by COMCAST, apparently one of the USA’s most evil corporations.  I didn’t have an SSN number, so I had to drive to midtown Detroit to the DTE office to open an account.  Along the way, I saw this:

The sign says:  Shay's candy shack.  Not sketch at all!
The sign says: Shay’s candy shack. Not sketch at all!


It was surprisingly easy to open an account at Comcast.  However, it seems like they are really big and don’t communicate much between divisions.  I opened an account and scheduled for someone to come install the cable.  I had a second person call me and ask if anyone was still living there, because there was still and account associated with the address.  They also said that I could install the cable myself by picking it up from one of their stores.  Just as I was about to go pick up the modem, a third person called and told me that it was required that I get the cable installed.  I’m thankful I listen to the last person, because the cable guy took about 90 minutes and a lot of swearing to get my internet up and running.

I’m that much closer to being an American.  Just kidding.  I’m going to permanently be a resident alien.

Detroit is pretty nice when you look at it from Windsor.
Detroit is pretty nice when you look at it from Windsor.

Detroit: Downtown; Eastern Market

In my previous post, I mentioned I have 3 friends in the state.  I met Fiona in highschool, and now she is attending dentistry school in Detroit.  We walked from her place just across the street to Eastern Market.

Eastern Market is in downtown Detroit, where people tell me I should not go.  The locals I have talked to say that I could get robbed, or my car will get broken into.  Through living in a big city, travelling through 3rd world countries, and poorly picking my social groups, I have developed a pretty high tolerance for sketchiness.  Downtown is pretty nice!

Eastern Market was only a walk away (walkable area!!!).  It’s basically a huge farmers’ market, surrounded by small independent stores.  It’s the Detroit equivalent of the St. Lawrence market.

2014-10-04 16.54.46
It’s not usually this dead. We just came 30 minutes after closing.


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This place is HUGE. Fiona told me that they set up hot tubs here in the Winter and watch sports games.

We randomly walked into a store which sold surplus work supplies:  chef’s uniforms, scrubs, pots/pans, etc….  She said she had lived in Detroit for 30 years and never had any problems.  I am absolutely sure she is street smart, but perhaps people’s perception of downtown is different than reality?  While trying to figure that out, I found this crime map of Detroit.  Apparently, there is crime everywhere, not just downtown.

I felt a connection with this place.  I’m used to the bustling downtown life, with walkable areas and an array of shops at my fingertips.  Maybe I’ll move here?

2014-10-04 17.26.55
View from Fiona’s apartment. You can see Windsor from here!

2014-10-04 17.26.59

Detroit: Day 1/(possibly infinity)

First impressions

There aren’t as many streetlights as there are in Toronto.  Driving around in the dark, is well…dark.

Ever hear of a Michigan left?  Sometimes you cannot make a left hand turn, so they replace it with a legal U-turn followed by a right hand turn.  I guess it makes linear traffic flow better, at the cost of less space efficiency.  The GPS also has no idea what to call these roads, so it just refers to them as ‘road’.

Michigan left. It’s called a Michigan left because this seems to be the only place where it is implemented.

Mundane tasks

I arrived in Troy around 1PM today and immediately went to the doctors office to do a drug screen.  This place looks like it does mostly physiotherapy related activities.  On the form, there was a box specifically for drug screening, so I assume they do it quite often.  There were a lot of blue collar workers at the office, and a few people who I suspected really did do a lot of drugs.  I overheard a young guy say that he was there for the ‘hair test’, and that he worked for GM.

My drug screen only consisted of a urine sample.  I was surprised that they didn’t also do a hair test, because the GM young guy said that he was here for a ‘hair test’.  Is GM stricter on drugs?  Did he get busted?

I then proceeded to the Somerset Collection Mall to try and buy a phone.  It’s very nice, and extremely upscale.  Somewhat comparable to Yorkdale, except Yorkdale is much flashier.  They have conveyor belts to bring to between the different sections of the mall.

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This is a horrible picture of downtown Troy, taken from the Somerset mall bridge

This mall isn’t anywhere near as busy as Yorkdale, likely because: (i) it doesn’t have any low-end stores, (ii) it only sells clothing/accessories/furniture, (iii) it isn’t connected to a subway station which attracts hordes of bubbletea-craving preteen girls.

I had problems finding a cellphone here.  They had an Apple Store and Windows Store, but I just wanted a T-mobile/Verison/Sprint  They just had designer clothes, and fancy furniture.

I saw a few Asian couples there.  Heard some Korean, and some Mandarin . I’m not alone.

2014-10-02 15.46.50
This mall is as nice, as it is dead.

I hopped over to the Oakland mall, which the GPS predicts is 10 minutes away.  It took close to 30 minutes in rush hour traffic to get there.  Horray, city of driving.

I bought a Nexus 5 from a TMobile dealer.  They have a $50 unlimited everything plan with no contract, so I bought the phone and prepaid for 1 month of service.  Having a phone has made my life significantly easier.  Prior to that I was lurking around Starbucks to leach their free wifi.

I’m staying at an air BNB, by a woman who teaches kindergarten in downtown Detroit.  She says it really takes a special kind of person to teach that group.  I like her.  She’s really hospitable.

I misread an ad saying there is a Salsa night in Royal Oak.   Apparently, it’s Wednesday night at Woody’s diner.  There are actually quite a few salsa clubs in that area.  I drove around the area and got a feel for the place.  I like it much better than Troy.  It has sort of a Danforth/Uptown Waterloo feel.  It has a medium density of midrange shops, good number of bars and restaurants, and SIDEWALKS WITH STREET LIGHTING.  I’ve heard that all the yuppies are flocking to the area.  Since I’m going to be a yuppie, I might just jump on the bandwagon and get a place there too.

It was raining, so no pictures 🙁


Halloween has been one of my favorite holidays.  Ever since I was a child, I had always participated in the ritual of dressing up.  This is one of the only holidays where it is encouraged for men to wear make up; I am no stranger to face paint.

I’ve noticed the last few years, the emphasis on Halloween has strewn away from trick or treating, and towards halloween parties.  By convention, it is inappropriate for adults to show up at strangers doors and ask for candy.  Instead, it is expected that one should conceal their identity and get as drunk as possible because nobody will recognize you.

Halloween in Beijing was interesting.  Halloween is only really celebrated in North America; it is just another day in China.  Luckily, there is a strong expat community, so there is always some house party to go to.

2007:  Halloween in Beijing.  Tomas (afro) won the best costume contest.  I’m supposed to be an Italian gangster, but I’ve never seen Tony Soprano do that pose.


During my first few years of engineering, I couldn’t really spend a lot of time on costumes due to usually having a few midterms the week of Halloween.  Even if I didn’t get to go out the night of, I would still dress up to get in the spirit.

2007:  1st year engineering.  Notice the hard hat, and the streetcar in the background.  I wore this to lectures.  It was really REALLY hot.


2007:  This is actually the first time I met Thuy.  I was also supposed to be studying for an exam and threw this costume together with whatever I had in my closet.  I was supposed to be an "engineer", but ended up looking like one of the village people.
2007: This is actually the first time I met Thuy. I was also supposed to be studying for an exam and threw this costume together with whatever I had in my closet. I was supposed to be an “engineer”, but ended up looking like one of the village people.


2009:  Jack-sparrow inspired pirate.  Notice my mom's costume.  She made that by hand!  Ricky on the right is also very crafty with a sewing machine
2008: Jack-sparrow inspired pirate. Notice my mom’s costume. She made that by hand! Ricky on the right is also very crafty with a sewing machine


2009:  I'm pretty sure I didn't go out to a club in this getup.  I mean, this is a costume my mom made for herself.
2009: I’m pretty sure I didn’t go out to a club in this getup. I mean, this is a costume my mom made for herself.

I believe I’ve gotten better at dressing up.  Or perhaps I’ve just learned how to put on makeup.

2010:  I believe this is one of the most (unintentionally) creepy costumes I've ever done.  I learned an important lesson that night:  do not buy the cheapest facepaint on the rack.  I think I ended the night looking like a crack addict.
2010: I believe this is one of the most (unintentionally) creepy costumes I’ve ever done. I learned an important lesson that night: do not buy the cheapest facepaint on the rack. I think I ended the night looking like a crack addict.

This is probably the best costume I’ve ever done.  The chinese shirt cost me about $20, the wig another $20, and I bought the fan in China for less than $1.

2011:  From this point on, I’ve done couples costumes with Thuy.  This year I was the zombie emperor and she was my concubine.  You can buy Chinese clothing surprisingly cheap in Chinatown.



2012:  This year I was a vampire and she was my victim.  If you are ever a vampire, make sure to draw the widows peak into your hairline!
2012: This year I was a vampire and she was my victim. If you are ever a vampire, make sure to draw the widows peak into your hairline!

Doing a group costume is actually a lot of fun.  The theme was ‘army’ and people generally have different ideas of what that means, so there is a lot room for creativity.  I jokingly wanted to do a Chinese military costume or a confederate solider, but I was discouraged to do so.

2013:  This year was the first time I've ever done a group costume.  it's also the first time I've ever been allowed to bring anything gun-like into a nightclub!
2013: This year was the first time I’ve ever done a group costume. it’s also the first time I’ve ever been allowed to bring anything gun-like into a nightclub!

I think its much easier to do costumes as a guy.  There is no real pressure to be ‘sexy’.  As you can see, most of my costumes have been rather silly.  But sometimes you can mix silly and sexy:


Sexy banana.  Really ...?
Sexy banana. Really …?

Moving in and living by yourself

I finally moved permanently into my Waterloo apartment!  So far things have been… interesting.  The apartment doesn’t have as much thermal mass/insulation as my house in Toronto, so it changes temperatures very quickly.  I’ll usually be sweating during the night, but freezing just when it’s time to wake up.

I managed to move pretty much everything with two van trips.  Here is a comparison of my old living conditions, and my living conditions now:

My room in my parents house
My new room in Waterloo
My crappy bed

As you can see I took a lot of my posters to cover up my walls.  The landlord agreement says that you aren’t allowed to hammer nails in the walls, but after looking around I managed to actually recycle some of the holes.

As for food, I’ve managed to actually do most of my own cooking.  I got a bunch of cucumbers and eggplants from Thuy’s mom, but I’ve never actually cooked with these in combination.  Here is my result:

First attempt at improvised stir frying

Stir fry the eggplant first, then the cucumber, then add sauce.  The sauce was whatever I found in the fridge:  soy sauce, sriracha, canola oil, pepper, kraft sweet and sour sauce.  The taste and texture was pretty good… on most of it.  The eggplant skin was somewhat more fibrious than I expected.  I think this dish was actually more tasty as microwaved leftovers.

The closest grocery store to my house is a Sobey’s, so when scoping it out earlier this week , I bought 8 Michealina’s frozen food packages because they were on sale for $1.  I just realized that each of those packages are only about 300 calories, so it is definitely not enough to call it a meal.

Does this meal planning scream out bachelor?

Two days later I needed groceries again, but Sobey’s is expensive as hell, so I tried the (much farther away) Zehr’s.  Zehr’s is a brand of Presidents Choice, and is about as expensive as a Loblaws.  I’m glad I chose to go Zher’s because I found out about Conestoga Mall, which should satisfy almost my every need.

Groceries attempt #2

I got some tomatoes, bananas, cheese and bread… mostly breakfast stuff. I also managed to buy a much needed new pair of NB running shoes on clearance for $50.

I’m worried about my surgery in January, so I’ve decided to start eating protein supplements to gain some weight so I’ll have something to lose during the time I am healing.  I went to Popeye’s supplements and asked what would let me pack on the pounds as quickly as possible.  He reccomended mutant mass, if I didn’t care if it was “clean” mass.  I bought a fibre supplement as well to throw into the mix.

Living by yourself isn’t bad.  It just requires some practice.

Achalasia Update: Meeting with surgeon

After two years battling dysphagia, regurgitation, and spitting up foamy messes, I’ve  finally gone and met a surgeon.  I was reccomennded to Dr. Carmine Simone by my  GI specialist, Dr. Sam Friedlander.  It took about 3 weeks to get an appointment with Dr. Simone.

Dr. Simone went over the procedure, and basically told me what I already knew.  From my tests I had zero peristalsis and a LES pressure slightly above the mean. He recommend that I get a laparoscopic Heller myotomy, but without a fundoplication due to my complete lack of peristalsis.

I’ve booked the surgery for January, as to not interfere too much with the school term.  Apparently the doctors do not perform surgery during exam/christmas time, which basically makes them unavailable for most of December.

I also asked Dr. Simone what he though about POEM as a surgical technique.  He said that there were POEM trials held by Dr. Marylin at another hospital in Toronto, and that he would not recommend it.  He also said that his opinion was biased, gave me Dr. Marylin’s contact information, and suggested I should contact him myself.

I will be continuing reciving treatment from Dr. Chen at AC99 until the surgery.  I’ve had noticeable improvements since I’ve started acupuncture.  Next week I will be starting a combination of acupuncture and herbal extracts.  Dr. Chen seems to think he can restore peristalsis, so I will continue with his treatments.

I also requested a second manometry test to see if the acupuncture has had any unbiased measurable effect.  However I believe I was put on the low priority waiting list for this test because I had it done once before.

Looking back

The great things about blogs is that they can be a window to the past.  Just some excerpts from my previous blog posts (from 3 years ago) taken hilariously out of context:

From “WTB>Girlfriend”:

I want a girl who…:

-enjoy sex

-enjoy make up sex

-enjoy “I feel like doing it just because” sex

-enjoy “FUCK, I’m stressed but let’s do it anyway” sex

-enjoy forgiveness sex

-enjoy sex


-knows that going to gym once will not make you bulk up like Arnold

From “Monday after long weekend sucks.”:

Future goals:

Get a plastic sword for costume… face paint some scars?? I want a giant scar across my chest.? I might be wearing less than some girls on halloween.? Might be chilly…

I seem to have been doing the:

What did I learn today?

What happened today that was unexpected?



Future Goals?

format quite often.  Although kind of bland, I actually kept it up.  Maybe I’ll do that again.

Captain’s log, stardate August 14, 2012

I’m starting to blog again to keep people updated about my life.  I’m moving to Waterloo in two weeks, only an hour an a half away from my family, which gives me just enough distance to fall out of touch.  This will be the looking glass into my life.

I guess I never really stopped blogging, just repurposed it.  I like bloging because its a way to organize thoughts that can be accessed anywhere.  I’m still getting used to wordpress, but I can tell you it’s a definite improvement over the last blogging webapp I used.

For the last year or two, I’ve been writing in paper journals.  There are some things that are just easier to write in pen.  Plus, since I’ve started working as an engineer, my sketching has improved.  Sketching on a computer just isn’t the same.

Looking back to some of the posts I made before, I can tell I’ve definately changed.  What the hell was I thinking posting that bad poetry in the last post?

Anyway, I think an appropriate first post should be where I am currently in life:

Well to start off, it’s a week to my 25th birthday.  I haven’t planned anything for it yet because I’ve been worried about my health for the last month.  I’ve been battling Achalasia, and I’ve lost 16 pounds in the last month.  I seem to have it under control now, but losing that much weight that quickly gave me a serious shock.

I’m currently working as a Battery Engineer for Magna ECar systems.  Without giving too much away, I’m working on lab scale battery manufacturing process development. I did my PEY year here, and decided to come back just for the summer to get some extra experience and make some money.  I was also considering taking the summer off, but ever since PEY, I’ve become accustomed to living with an income.

I’ll be starting a masters in Systems Design Engineering in September.  I applied to Waterloo SYDE in my final year, but not for this project.  I got scouted by another professor because I had interest in optimization and had some experience in electric vehicle modelling.  I’m really glad that I got scouted for this project, because looking back I don’t really think I was all that interested in the program that I applied for.  I’ll be working on a project for Toyota, and will be optimizing the Prius powertrain.  Horray!

This will be my second time moving away for school.  Compared to moving to China, I think this time will be more challenging, but less adventurous.  Since I’m living in an off campus townhouse, I’ll be doing grown-up stuff like paying hydro bills and cooking.  I’ll be paid a research grant by the university, but it probably won’t cover ALL my expenses.  Still, I’d like to give financial independence a shot.

My hobbies change over the years.  Currently I would say my hobbies are: dance (popping, house), music (classic rock, dubstep, house, hiphop), anything sci-fi related (reading ecotopia, watching futurama).  I’ve lost a lot of weight so I’d like to start going back to the gym religiously like I used to.  Autonomous vehicles also have caught my eye, and I might be trying to learn a little more about that in the near future.

… and thats me in a nutshell!  I bet I’m going to look back at this post 2 years from now and laugh at how naive I was.