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Island Life, A Perspective from Past Residents

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gonetropo
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February 1, 2015 11:00 am  

We have recently moved from St. Croix but thought someone who has the dream to live in the Caribbean may benefit our post-island living perspective.

After travelling the world and living in many exciting places, we always desired to live in the Caribbean. Now, most people would describe island living as 'paradise' but after 10 years of it, many inherit a different perspective, us included. Nothing is as good as it sounds and if you are looking for an easy life, on the beach under a palm tree, swinging in a hammock, you are truly dillusional.

Our first foray into island life occurred in the early 90's when we purchased on St. John, 1200' on a ridgetop bordering the national park with spectacular views of Coral Bay, the Bordeaux Valley and Tortola, BVI. We had constructed several homes on the beaches of the Great Lakes and thought it would be 'fun' to do it on an island. Well, it wasn't to be as the real estate market was roaring in the late-90's so we sold the property. A couple of years later we purchased an even more beautiful property in the Grenadines on a 6 sq. mile island at the time accessible only by ferry. Working in Sao Paulo, Brasil, a friend told us about his purchase on the island so we had a look and loved it.

For 5 years following our purchase, we designed our 'dream villa'. During the design phase we procured materials in South America, Barbados, Trinidad, Guyana and Mexico. Afterall, it was our going to be our final project and it had to be perfect! We stopped working at 50 so this would keep us busy for awhile. After they were selected, procurred, shipped and staged on the property in our storage building we began construction and 8 months later, moved into our home.

Of course, we made countless unscheduled visits to the construction site as we were acting contruction managers. It was well worth the expense and time as the place turned out better than we could have ever expected. We were fortunate to be able to assemble a competent and honest construction team. We had to ship every piece of furniture, appliances, personal items, tools, kitchen items, artwork, bedding, vehicle in a 40' container as there was nothing available to purchase on the island or anywhere close by. We then had to smuggle our 3 dogs onto the island as we could not find an acceptable, legal route and we were not leaving them behind....a long story and nerve racking. We had spent years researching building on an island so we were not doing this in a dream. The research paid off immensly as our villa was beautiful and was later featured in Architectural Digest and on HGTV House Hunters International.

We know many are thinking 'Wow, sounds like the perfect life....tropical breezes, cocktails, sunny days, lazing on the hammock, spectacular views....all in this stunning new villa overlooking the Caribbean!'.

What turned out not to be perfect was that we were on a 6 sq. mile island with no phone nor internet and no where to go but the beach. We could not even get a cellphone signal from the house. Who cares! The weather was near perfect and the views were spectacular!

After 1 year we were able to install satellite TV which was a major undertaking. We shipped down an 8' dish in order to capture the signal. We fought with Cable and Wireless for 3 years trying to convince them to install a landline and cable to our home. They weren't buying it even though we could see the cables from our home! We did have thoughts of tapping in to their infrastructure! We had to go into town to a friends internet cafe every morning to use our laptop and to make phone calls. Who cares! The weather was near perfect and the views were spectacular!

We had to travel on a ferry for 1 hour to do any serious grocery shopping and many times, they did not have what we wanted. After the shopping, we had someone schlep it down to the docks so we could load it on a ferry. Then, when we got to the port, we had to unload it, load the car and and take it up the mountain to our villa. It was fun the 'first time' we did it! Who cared! The weather was near perfect and the views were spectacular!

If we wanted to travel, we had to take the ferry to the main island, get a cab to the airport and then take a puddle jumper to Barbados. Sometimes, it could take 2 days to get to Barbados to just enjoy a cold Banks....but, the weather was near perfect and the views were spectacular! You get the picture, right? Island life is lot more than warm weather, pretty viewsand nice beaches! It's downright aggravating at times! Fortunately, on this little island, we had great electric service and never once had to use our generator. Has anyone heard of Gilligans Island? This was a close second.

There were a few other costs associated with living here......102% duty on vehicles, no services, high duty on anything you brought in, no acceptable clothing stores...that was delegated for trip to the States, ineffective government begging for money to keep things afloat and....nothing to do at times than to stare at the beautiful view, care for the property and go to the beach. Well, we also used to go to a lot of house parties in season and later managed the construction of several off island expats villas, just for something to keep us busy!

There too were many wonderful experiences 'living on the small rock'. The locals were helpful, friendly and accomodating. If you needed something done around the house and you did not feel like doing it, it was simple to find experienced help at a bargain price. We were somewhat south of the advertised 'hurricane' zone which was comforting. The fruits and vegetable were fresh, plentiful, inexpensive and available year-round. We had a butcher on the main island who would bring us beef and pork tenderloin over on Saturdays and we would pick it up in the port on the dock. The cost, $4.00US per pound! So inexpensive that we ground up beef tenderloin for hamburgers as we could never purchase hamburger and when you did find it, Alpo had a better taste! Fresh tuna, kingfish and mahi were $2.75US per pound. Another great benefit was that the property taxes on our villa were $10EC per year or $3.74US. Pretty reasonable for a 7 figure villa on 2 acres!

Now, we are sure that this lifestyle doesn't sound bad to people living in a frigid area doing the 9-5 grind but after a couple years, you are dreaming of a mall, a traffic jam and an Outback Steakhouse! We NEVER thought we would say that! You have to be able to live comfortably and island living IS a constant challenge?

So, after 3 years of all this fun, we sold our villa in 2 months and moved to St. Croix. It took us 7 months to move as we had to wait for the purchasers to have their alien landholders license issued by the government. Basially, a stamp on a piece of paper by some lifetime government worker so that they could collect 20% of purchase price for doing absolutely nothing. Sound familiar? Totally ridiculous when they were also going to get 10% of the purchase price or the property transfer! Ah, the innefficency and corruption was running ramped. Who cared! During the entire wait, the weather was near perfect and the views were spectacular!

We weren't quite ready to move back to the States and decided to move to St. Croix where we had long time friends. Someone should have slapped us! We also figured that being a territory, it would have better services, more selection, and easier travel opportunities. Oops, wrong again! We were seriouly mistaken, even after all of our experiences.

Our original plan was to rent a property and NOT purchase anything! Well, that lasted for about 3 weeks when we were talking to a friend and they suggested that we have a look at an estate that was available and required a lot of work. An understatement! Well, we could not resist so we negotitated an attractive offer and got ourselves another huge project. I am constantly reminded of this decision and told that I am a 'dunderhead' for doing it.

Consequently, we find ourselves on yet another island with worse services, higher costs, and less customer service than the third-world country we came from! But, who cares! The weather was near perfect and the views were spectacular! Shortly after arriving we were appalled when we heard the delegate to congress was proud that 39% of constituents were receiving SNAP. Really! That's to be proud of? Our heads were exploding!

We loved living on St. Croix, primarily because we made some wonderful friends and we didn't have to work there. There were a lot of fun things to do and great people to share the experience with. When we first arrived, the economy seemed to be fairly robust. Christiansted was busy on weekend nights which was fun. Lots of restaurants to go to and a bit of shopping. We went to Frederiksted Jazz and the Lost Dog for pizza every month. We used to love The Case Place, Bachus, Zebos, and the South Shore Café. We loved every minute of it!

Then, the bottom literally seemed to fall out....then Hovensa shuttered it's operations. It began to feel like living in a ghost town. We heard automatic AK's going off nearly every night and especially on New Years Eve from the hills above Christiansted. One night, we woke up to automatic weapons nearly outside our window as thugs robbed our neighbor, and we had friends visiting from the mainland. Now, do you think they were surprised? In the 6 years we were on the island, we knew 4 acquaintenaces who had been murdered. Heck, it's the only 4 people that we have known in our lifetimes that had met this fate.

With aging parents in the States who were unable to visit due to the island healthcare situation, a summer home in South America that was difficult to visit, dismal services, high food costs, little selection, and many friends leaving, we made the decision to move on. Yes, it was difficult as St. Croix had some special hold on us. even with all of it's quirks. Fortunately, we were able to sell our property in a relatively short time and were able to break even, not something that most are able to do. Well, that is if you don't count our labor.

We always will have great memories of island living but are at the point in our lives now where the only island we want to visit is Australia. We have never returned to our home in the Grenadines nor will we likely return to St. Croix but the memories, experiences, and friends we have had the opportunity to meet along the way, have been priceless and will always be cherished by us.

The experience has been priceless and we would not change a thing!


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Alana33
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February 1, 2015 11:54 am  

Thanks for sharing your adventures in island living with everyone.
Hope your next adventures and endeavours will all be good.

As I get older, stateside living begins to look more attractive.
As long as no snow is involved!


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robert.hamic
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February 1, 2015 1:07 pm  

I'm pretty sure that the OP has a unique and different experience that most don't have. Living in a multi-million dollar villa on a secluded island has its drawbacks. I'd assume that shopping, travel and internet availability would be researched prior to building a house. Of course businesses would close on St. Croix, acknowledging that the primary employer (Hovensa) went out of business. This might also lead 39% of constituents to apply from SNAP so that they could feed their families. That's what it is for. I think the elected official's comment was taken out of context, but I could see how she would be proud that needy families were taking advantage of a government program. People usually do the best they can by choice. They make sacrifices if necessary. We all live where we want, as Americans. I have lived all over the US and I can say that depending on where you live, gunfire on New Year's Eve happens. Unfortunately, murder also happens everywhere. In a small place, where rich and poor people live in close proximity, different realities converge. That is just the way it will probably always be. The main takeaway I had from this post is that if you want close, abundant shopping and a multitude of restaurant and travel options; life on a Caribbean island might not suit you.


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Alana33
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February 1, 2015 2:20 pm  

Granted, gonetropo has had the financial ability that many don't and won't but some of the issues with island living remain the same for everyone, whether rich, middle class or poor with lack of options, poor services, high prices, crime, dysfunctional government, day to day living, etc.

As a very long term resident, over the decades, I can say that we've all see many people come and go with few remaining permanently.

Reasons vary from "just can't hack it," to wanting better experiences for kids with schooling and activities, aging parents, lack of health-care options, high costs of living for just about everything and, of course, crime.

Of course, "The weather was near perfect and the views were spectacular! " However, one can't survive on almost perfect weather or spectacular views, alone.

Everyone has dreams and expectations and sometimes, if you're lucky and resilient, they coincide with reality. If not, one moves on, hopefully, with an appreciation of where they've been, what they've experienced and a new excitement of where they're heading next.

"Island life is not for everyone."

Do enjoy it while you're here.


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East Ender
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February 1, 2015 6:04 pm  

I appreciate the reviews of people who are leaving or have left, as it gives a balance to the process of relocating. Good luck, tropo, in your new ventures.

P.S. When we were sailing in the Grenadines, I fell in love with Moon Hole. I thought (for about 3 seconds) how great it would be to live there....;)


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vicanuck
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February 2, 2015 12:12 pm  

A great post...I'm sure I will write something similar about St. Croix if and when I leave.


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gonetropo
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February 15, 2015 10:04 pm  

We appreciate the kind words! Like everything in life, some decisions are more difficult than others and deciding to relocate from St. Croix was one of them.
We remain dismayed at the fleeing of many of our friends and the closing of so many businesses. We do hope for the best for the island and the residents. St. Croix always seems to be on a roller coaster!

We are enjoying our new adventure in South Carolina. We do miss the balmy temperatures and tropical breezes but sunny and 65 is not to bad either. Also, $2.39 milk and $1.78 gasoline aren't bad either!

We have been here for nearly one month and had our first power disruption! It lasted 3 seconds and shortly after it occurred, we received an email from Duke Energy apologizing for the outage and explaining why it occurred. We had forgotten what customer service was all about.

Best of luck to you all!


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soccerrprp
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February 15, 2015 10:34 pm  

gonetropo,

Thanks for that. I am not certain, as we plan/research as to whether we move down to the USVI, how to take your post. I am not certain if you made efforts to integrate more with the locals or not. It is my experience, as a peace corps volunteer, that many expats with wealth or financial opportunity typically spend less time trying to involve themselves with the local population, focusing more on establishing and maintaining relationships with other expats. I assume that many of your friends who left were expats?

If we move, we won't have a business interest. Our family goal is to inject our talents to making the entire community better, not just for the expat community. We won't have the money to buy, invest in villas.

For middle class families trying to make the move, what would you recommend based on your experience?

As others have suggested (and my wife), if it doesn't work out, we will not be chained to staying. We should view it as another adventure? Perhaps, but we are hoping for a long-term, successful stay.

Thanks again for your experience.


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JohnnyU
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February 16, 2015 12:11 am  

Wow...


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CruzanIron
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February 16, 2015 12:14 am  

gonetropo,

Thanks for that. I am not certain, as we plan/research as to whether we move down to the USVI, how to take your post. I am not certain if you made efforts to integrate more with the locals or not. It is my experience, as a peace corps volunteer, that many expats with wealth or financial opportunity typically spend less time trying to involve themselves with the local population, focusing more on establishing and maintaining relationships with other expats. I assume that many of your friends who left were expats?

If we move, we won't have a business interest. Our family goal is to inject our talents to making the entire community better, not just for the expat community. We won't have the money to buy, invest in villas.

For middle class families trying to make the move, what would you recommend based on your experience?

As others have suggested (and my wife), if it doesn't work out, we will not be chained to staying. We should view it as another adventure? Perhaps, but we are hoping for a long-term, successful stay.

Thanks again for your experience.

This is America. People that move here from the mainland are not 'expats'.


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East Ender
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February 16, 2015 12:28 am  

Ditto the "expats" comment. When you move here as an American, you are just moving to a territory of America, you are not expatriated. Now a territory is NOT a state, and you will be reminded of that many times, but it IS America.


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speee1dy
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February 16, 2015 11:24 am  

you would be hard pressed to find someone from the states who has NOT integrated with the locals . that statement seemed like you think just because they have money you felt they were "above" hanging with people who were born here. Did i take your comment wrong?


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Alana33
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February 16, 2015 12:33 pm  

We have been here for nearly one month and had our first power disruption! It lasted 3 seconds and shortly after it occurred, we received an email from Duke Energy apologizing for the outage and explaining why it occurred. We had forgotten what customer service was all about.

Must be nice! Just had an outage on Valentine's on parts of STT that affected 10,000 customers (plus STJ) that lasted from 2pm to 9pm, at least in my location, and the new WAPA spokesman, Jean Greaux is quoted as saying it was a "4 hour duration." Obviously, the guy can't count.

Would be nice in these situations if they alerted radio stations or sent out emails letting consumers know cause, affected areas and anticipated duration so people can plan accordingly.

I know, dream on!


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STXBob
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February 16, 2015 12:52 pm  

Sometimes during an outage, WAPA updates a "special message" on their customer service phone line. Often, they don't.


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Alana33
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February 16, 2015 12:57 pm  

I checked the special message on the phone line and it had not been updated since Jan. 28/29th.

WAPA leaves us in the dark, literally and figuratively.


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OldTart
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February 16, 2015 1:53 pm  

If you don't have power backup then radio and computer aren't options. In any event, I guess I've lived here long enough that I don't get all in a twist during a power outage. I DID call WAPA when I had a restaurant to run and power went out as knowing approximately how long the outage was going to be was essential to deciding whether to stay open or close up.

But after the other night's rain I figured power would likely go out at some point. During daylight hours I took advantage of the wet soil to pull weeds and trim some bushes. When darkness fell I enjoyed the glow from my solar lights and a couple of candles. Gas stove provided me dinner and after that I sprawled out on the sofa with a cup of hot chocolate and relaxed to the happy chirruping of the tree frogs. No worries. I can wait until the next day to read how and why. All good.


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soccerrprp
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February 16, 2015 2:30 pm  

My apologies. Of course we are not "expats." It is clear that the USVI is in many ways NOT LIKE THE MAINLAND, culturally, amenities-related, convenience, etc. As many describe it, it does seem like being in another country at times. I will try to refrain from using the term expat. But it is my understanding that there is an obvious expat community there, so the term would apply.

I am much more interested in how people view and interact with the USVI. We may all be Americans, but I suspect that some do have an "expat" mentality.

Anyway, thanks. Seeing the perspective of others is important in our decision to or not to move forward.


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OldTart
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February 16, 2015 2:52 pm  

But it is my understanding that there is an obvious expat community there, so the term would apply.

That makes little sense either since the majority living here are US citizens.

From Wikipedia: "An expatriate (often shortened to expat) is a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country other than that of their citizenship."

What "obvious expat community" do you think is here?


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speee1dy
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February 16, 2015 5:39 pm  

re read my above post.


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TommySTX
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February 16, 2015 5:48 pm  

I understand what you are trying to say soccerrprp. Of course there are no American "expats" here by dictionary definition but your point is well taken. I do think there are some people that originated on the mainland that live like an expat would in the Bahamas or another non-US owned island. I don't know if that's a good or a bad thing but it's just a natural occurrence because many will continue to feel like an "outsider" for a long time after moving here. Some people jump right in and get involved, others came here to retire, so their main focus is having fun and relaxation. In that sense those that are here for relaxation and retirement may find themselves running in the same circles of others doing the same. Others that are here working to make a living here jumble into the local community a bit quicker it seems. That's my observation of things so far here on STX.


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soccerrprp
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February 16, 2015 6:17 pm  

TommySTX. Yes, that was what I was trying to convey. Not one's national status in this case, rather, one's general ability, willingness to be a part of a community that is clearly different from what he/she is used to.

Thanks OldTart. Is suspect it has to do with the common misuse of the term expats for even US citizens who live in the USVI.

Here are some examples: http://www.islands.com/best-islands-live-expats-life-st-john-usvi
http://www.islands.com/live-life-expat-growing-st-croix-usvi
http://www.expatsblog.com/portal/american/in/us-virgin-islands

Anyway, as US citizens, we should not refer to ourselves as expats. Understood.


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Juanita
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February 18, 2015 10:47 am  

I'll share my perspective as a past resident and a second honeymooner. We lived in the islands for 17 years, both St. Thomas and St. Croix. When we left STX, over three years ago, I swore I would never come back. There wasn't anything so horrible about St. Croix, it was just "time" to go back to the states and enjoy some conveniences, lower electric bills, lower food costs, better customer service, road trips, cheaper flights, medical care, etc., etc., etc. Well, I had to eat those words. It has to do with a real estate deal that didn't work out as planned.

We have been back on island for 3 months, and as I said in my first statement, we are in the second "honeymoon" stage. You know, when you first get here, it's all wonderful. The people are so friendly, the beaches are great, you shop the local markets, eat the local food, never miss a jump up or Art Thursday. That's where we are now, except I can skip jump ups!

I am, surprisingly, not hating it!! It's been like coming home. Even people at the grocery store have greeted us like old friends. The same people who were always so aloof before. We have been getting the same reaction everywhere we go. At the AgFair we were welcomed back over and over by locals. We weren't sure they would even recognize us, but they all did, with big smiles and hugs. It was great!!

When I went to WAPA, they were even delightful and helpful. So far I haven't had a problem with customer service anywhere. Just the opposite. That begs the question....Is it them, or is it me? Maybe, since I am in the honeymoon, I am more receptive and friendly myself. The customer service has always been there, you just have to be open to it????

I don't know how long we'll be here, but we will make the best of it. There were things we didn't do in those first 17 years that I plan to do this time around, like a Reef to Ridge dinner, a horseback ride through the rainforest, more beach time, but definitely some more local things, too.

And, to top it off, just got my wapa bill. It was $106. My FL bill last month (with tenants in our house) was $67. Very similar usage, but I'm HAPPY with it! May it continue......


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East Ender
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February 18, 2015 11:57 am  

Juanita: I find that people think of you as "on" island or "off" island. If someone sees you after a couple of years, they assume you were off island and are happy to see you. One of those quirky things about life here...

Also, I think that many government offices have stepped up their game over the recent past (5-10 years). It is much more pleasant going to motor vehicles, for example.


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STXBob
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February 18, 2015 3:13 pm  

When I went to WAPA, they were even delightful and helpful. So far I haven't had a problem with customer service anywhere. Just the opposite. That begs the question....Is it them, or is it me? Maybe, since I am in the honeymoon, I am more receptive and friendly myself. The customer service has always been there, you just have to be open to it????

It's probably you. You reap what you sow. Congratulations on your new outlook!


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Gumbo
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February 18, 2015 9:49 pm  

In my 6 years of living on STT, things seem to be improving too me. I do see a lot of people giving a good effort in some places. Customer service and friendliness of people here really does seem to depend on my attitude. So too a large degree you get what you give I guess.


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