Wednesday, September 24, 2008

After the Record Rainfall...

... comes the massive clean-up. Most of Puerto Rico woke up to sunshine today, after several days of cloudy skies and heavy downpours. I have never seen so much rain here, and I don't think many people were expecting to see so much of it either. There was no warning of massive rainfall and there were no evacuations prior to the arrival of this tropical storm. According to the local papers, Puerto Rico got hit with 26 inches of rain in 24 hours this past Sunday. This is the worst rainfall in 100 years in Puerto Rican history. Sadly, four people died and there are thousands of flooded homes. The hardest hit areas were the Southern areas, such as Patillas, Guayama and Yabucoa. The image on the left was taken in Cabo Rojo, in the Southwestern part of Puerto Rico.

San Juan was largely spared of the awful wreckage which can be seen throughout many parts of the island. As I flipped through the papers, I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw the terrible images. The governor is asking for help from the Federal government, and has allotted $50 million in emergency funds for the affected zones. He has also declared today a tax-free (IVU) day in order to "help those affected." Isn't this just the strangest way to help the victims of a flood? Well, it is an election year. Perhaps, a more effective way to help the general public is for the government to implement a better system of informing and evacuating the areas which will most likely be affected, as well as the flaws in the infraestructure and structural system in the island. In general, flooding in Puerto Rico is actually quite common whenever there's a heavy downpour. There is obviously a serious problem in the planification in which some residential areas, roads and highways were constructed. I am no expert in these matters but, evidently, the sewage system throughout many parts of Puerto Rico also needs to be examined.

(Photo Credits: Tony Zayas/El Nuevo Día, Heriberto Castro/Primera Hora, respectively)

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Puerto Rico's Housing Market

The U.S is not the only country in the world to be experiencing major problems in the housing market. Puerto Rico also has its fair share of challenges, albeit on a smaller scale than those found on the mainland. Compared to the U.S, in general, housing prices in Puerto Rico didn't go through the roof. However, the past 10 years or so, there were certainly quite a bit of construction throughout the island. The good is, real estate prices haven't fallen drastically. For those who are interested in buying a property a Puerto Rico, especially for first time homebuyers, now may actually be a good time.

On Saturdays, El Nuevo Día and Primera Hora, both have huge housing classified sections. Just flipping through you'll find the many attractive offers available. One of the most frequently advertised includes the joint Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and Puerto Rican government's $25,000 cash advance for first time homebuyers. This offers only applies towards the purchase of a newly built house or condominium. This offer, as of right now, is available until the end of this year. If the purchaser qualifies, and accepts this government incentive, he or she is legally bound to hold onto the property for at least three years. So, don't think about doing a quick flip around.

Housing prices in Puerto Rico vary widely, depending on where you're interested in buying. The general rule is, the further away from San Juan, the more affordable. If looking for a home near the beach, Fajardo, Dorado, and Cabo Rojo are some of the most popular areas where you can find some reasonably priced homes. Currently, housing developers face a huge challenge selling homes above $300K. As in the U.S, you'll find developers offering a variety of amenities, from credits on closing costs, kitchen appliances, etc. Obviously, desperate times calls for desperate measures.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Living in Puerto Rico: Likes and Dislikes

This afternoon, after nearly waiting for two hours at one of the CEE's offices, I finally got my voter registration card! Unfortunately, practically anything dealing with the local government must be done in person. This includes paying any applicable property taxes, license renewal, etc. If you ever find yourself having to visit a local Puerto Rican government agency, be sure to bring something to read.

Patience is indeed a virtue, especially if you live in the Island of Enchantment. Today, while I was waiting for my number to be called, in order to get registered to vote, I couldn't help but think about all the things I disliked about Puerto Rico. However, before I go off, let me start with the positive:

Things I like about PR:

1) The weather: I can go running all year long!
2) The people: I have been rescued by complete strangers.
3) The beaches: PR is surrounded by some of the most gorgeous beaches!
4) Spanish (or Spanglish): my Spanish has improved a lot (I think) since I returned.
5) Last, but not least, my family!

Things I dislike about PR:

1) Lack of diversity: as I am of Chinese descent, people often stare at me, and are shocked when I tell them that I was born here! Yes, I know, they're just curious.
2) Government: inefficiency seems to be the rule of thumb, hence the yearly deficit.
3) Customer Service: something left to be desired for.
4) Driving: the only thing that is super fast and quick in the Island of Enchantment.
5) Flooding: often happens in many of the major streets and roads after a heavy downpour.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

2008 Elections in Puerto Rico

For those who can vote in Puerto Rico, and have not yet registered, September 15th marks the last day for you to do so. Note to self: must go register! This will be the first time in which I get the chance to vote in the Island of Enchantment, and it should be interesting. On November 4th, just like in the U.S, Puerto Rico will be holding its general elections. The governor of Puerto Rico, and the mayor of San Juan, amongst many others, are up for re-election.

These elections will also be historical, because for the first time in Puerto Rican history, the ballots will also be in English. This was quite a controversy, since many Puerto Ricans thought it was a waste of money and unneccesary, since the large majority of the population speaks Spanish. However, an estimated 14% of the people living in Puerto Rico speak English, or another language. I don't see why something as important as a voting ballot shouldn't be translated into English, especially since Puerto Rico is officially part of the U.S.

Comparing the elections both in the U.S and Puerto Rico, there are obviously many differences and similarties. Many of the issues which concerns Americans, such as the economy, health care and education, are also shared by Puerto Ricans. On the other hand, I see Puerto Rican politics as having more mud slinging. This year has been especially grim. First of all, the current governor, Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, has been charged by federal authorities with over 20 counts of fraud, conspiracy and other campaign finance-related crimes. His opponent, Luis Fortuño, was enjoying a comfortable lead in the polls. However, he may be hurt by the recent corruption scandal of a local senator from his own party. Puerto Ricans are very loyal to their political parties, which are dominated by the Partido Nuevo Progresista (PNP) and the Partido Popular Democrático (PPD). Looks like we'll have quite an interesting election this year, both in the U.S and in Puerto Rico.

(Images obtained from and, respectively)

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

At the Peak of the Hurricane Season

Those who live in the Caribbean tend to get a bit nervous this time of the year, because September is the peak of the hurricane season. For the North Atlantic, which pertains to Puerto Rico, the hurricane season officially begins in June and ends in November. Historically speaking, the months of August and September have been the most active. Here's a list of some of the major hurricanes and storms which have hit the Island of Enchantment:

1) Hugo, September 17th &18th, 1989, Category 4
2) Marilyn, September 15th & 16th, 1995, Category 3
3) Hortense, September 9th & 10th, 1996 , Category 1
4) Georges, September 21st & 22nd, 1998, Category 3
5) Jeanne, September 15th, 2004, Tropical Storm

Just like millions of others, I was nervous about Hurricane Gustav. After all, the scars and bad memories left over from Katrina are still deeply etched in the minds of so many. Thankfully, Gustav did not wreak as much havoc in New Orleans. However, we are just now entering the month of September and it looks like quite an active hurricane season. The National Hurricane Center and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have a lot of up-to-date information, as well as tips and advice on how to deal with a tropical storm or hurricane. For the moment, I have my fingers crossed hoping nothing comes directly our way.

(Images obtained from the National Hurricane Center,