Daily Origami 20: End of the World in Taipei

Daily Origami is a way for us to record our off the cuff thoughts, feelings and observations about the world around us. Published every weekday, Monday through Friday.


Early summer evenings in Taipei...

Early summer evenings in Taipei...

Can I sail through the changing ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?
— Fleetwood Mac

Ivan here. 

Hop on the nostalgia train as we travel back to the year 2003. Back when I was a 14 year old teenager. It was a time before social media. Before smartphones. Before blaming immigrants for all our problems was cool. 

2003 was the season of SARS. Remember SARS? It was the old Ebola. 
 

I. Outbreak


I was a sophomore attending a private international school in Taipei. The school had been built in 1949 for families of American GIs stationed at the nearby Shulinkou Air Base. After the U.S. withdrawal, it became an expensive prep school for kids of the wealthy and connected. My family was neither - but that’s a story for another time. 

Back to SARS: it’s hard to remember the general sense of panic and paranoia that was in the air. Especially in Asia - where the disease originated. And because the virus spread through the respiratory system, every cough was met with narrowed eyes. People travelled everywhere wearing surgical masks. Bottles of sanitizer flew off the shelves by the half gallon. 

SARS had a major impact on my life. In some ways, you could say that the end of the world has helped shape the way I make sense of things in 2017.  
 

II. Quarantine


It began in April, when a classmate of mine contracted SARS. We were in the same physics lab together. He was a decent guy, and though we hardly ever spoke, he definitely didn’t deserve to contract SARS (spoiler alert: he survived). 

MaxPixel.freegreatpicture.com-Sure-Sars-Mask-Protection-Mouth-Guard-Security-1954673-2.jpg

Two things happened after the government quarantined my classmate: 

  1. My school was shut down immediately for the year and our summer vacation officially began in April.
  2. I was given a “Pass” grade on the slow moving trainwreck that was my physics project.

However, my relief was short-lived. Two extra months of summer sounds awesome in theory - until you realize that you’ll be spending those months cooped up at home reading War and Peace and watching the world crumble around you on daytime television. Every channel kept replaying the same footage of my classmate being wheeled into the hospital. 

The fear was palpable. It was everywhere - and we couldn’t turn away. 
 

III. Containment


By July, SARS had been contained, taking the lives of 775 people around the globe. 

The first day I set foot outside without a mask, I remember feeling shocked at how quickly everything went back to normal. All the fear and paranoia of the past eight months vanished like a bad dream. 

The fever broke and life went on.  

Which is to say that everything has its season, and every season comes to an end. 
 



Daily Origami 19: Autumn Walks in Boston

Daily Origami is a way for us to record our off the cuff thoughts, feelings and observations about the world around us. Published every weekday, Monday through Friday.


Autumn in Boston, Massachusetts Source: Flickr - Xynn Tii

Autumn in Boston, Massachusetts
Source: FlickrXynn Tii

Jennie here.

If I could close my eyes and go back, this is what my perfect fall day in Boston would look like:

Here’s what you’d see on this perfect walk:

  • Wake up at very early and walk over to Kupel’s Bakery in Brookline; grab a bagel and small coffee.
    My favorite bagel is the scallion cream cheese and coffee.
     

  • Drop by and browse the Brookline Bookstore when it opens at 9 am.
    Ivan and I have collectively spent hundreds of hours at this independent bookstore - a hidden gem in the Coolidge Corner area.
     

  • Walk along the Charles River.
    Honestly, the perfect autumn day for me would be to walk from the Allston area, along Charles River, stopping at bench on the Esplanade overlooking the water, then continue towards the Boston Harbor.
     

  • Stop by the Bates Hall Reading Room in Boston Public Library.
    The room was created by Charles Follen McKim and oozes with creativity and seriousness of hyper-focused students/library patrons. It has a magnificent barrel-arched ceiling and gorgeous English oak bookcases.
     

  • Walk through the Boston Public Garden and Boston Common.    
    In summertime, couples get married at every nook and cranny of the Boston Public Garden, but in the fall - you see people taking a brisk morning walk, chatting with friends, and drinking coffee as the enjoy the fall foliage.
     

  • Grab a coffee at Ogawa Coffee.
    An independent coffee company originating from Kyoto. The barista here Haruna Murayama was the 2010 World Latte Champion, the first Japanese and first woman to ever win the competition. Their Boston location on 10 Milk Street is the currently only one in the US.
     

  • Grab dinner in Boston’s tiny Chinatown.
    Check out the Gourmet Dumpling House for dinner. The dumplings are quite good but Ivan swears by (and still dreams about) their Famous Szechuan Fish.
     

  • End at the evening at the North End with some delicious Italian dessert.
    Brave the line at Mike’s Pastry. Mike’s cannoli are crispy, thick, and on the sweeter side, which is probably why they’re so popular. It’s a great place to go with a crowd that doesn’t mind battling tourists for a spot at the counter.



Daily Origami 18: Limited Edition Spring in Kyoto

Daily Origami is a way for us to record our off the cuff thoughts, feelings and observations about the world around us. Published every weekday, Monday through Friday.


Where are you going?

Jennie here.

Hanami season (or cherry blossom season) is the most iconic time to visit Japan, as cherry blossoms symbolize the transience of all living things.

The first thing I associate hanami season with is Ivan. We met back in 2009, when we were both 20 years old and somehow, through a series of strange events, started dating at the beginning of spring in Kyoto.

The second, and more important thing I associate spring with are all the seasonal, limited edition snacks. Like the cherry blossoms, some of these snacks were only around for about two weeks before they disappeared from the shelves. In some cases, never to return:


Spring time in Kyoto was filled with sakura ice cream, sakura mochi, and Yebisu...


Sakura ice cream - Source: Travel Caffiene Blog

Sakura ice cream - Source: Travel Caffiene Blog

  • Sakura ice cream. It’s an understatement to say that I LOVE sakura ice cream. During my first (and so far only) hanami season in Japan, I stuffed my face with more than 20 sakura ice cream cones. By the end of April, I remember desperately dragging Ivan all over Kyoto to find the few remaining vendors that had this elusive treat. It got so bad, I remember bursting into tears when the last ice cream vendor told me that the season was over.    

 
Sakura-mochi

Sakura-mochi

 
  • Sakura-mochi (Cherry blossom mochi). These handmade and fluffy mochi are filled with sakura cherry blossom paste and wrapped in a fragrant cherry tree leaf. Need I say more? I remember eating these and sitting along the river, watching the cherry blossom petals drift into the water.

 
Yebisu beer. - Source: sapporobeer.jp/ Fun trivia fact - the character/sound "YE" (YEH) doesn't exist in the Japanese language today.

Yebisu beer. - Source: sapporobeer.jp/
Fun trivia fact - the character/sound "YE" (YEH) doesn't exist in the Japanese language today.

 
  • Yebisu beer. This one is kind of a cheat because it doesn't actually taste like sakura, but every year Yebisu beer does a cherry blossom design on its cover. If you've never heard of Yebisu beer - that’s because they don’t sell it here in the U.S.  However, it is one of my favorite beers while living abroad. Some of my best memories were of outdoor picnics, drinking Yebisu along the Kamagawa river with friends and strangers.

It’s been 8 years now since my first hanami season with Ivan but I can still remember those long walks and bike rides through various temples and districts -- trying to search for that last sakura ice cream of the season. It was the beginning of something so fresh and vibrant in our lives.

It makes me sad that we can never go back again.

 



The Hidden Cost of Home Buying

The public wants to be led, to be instructed, to be told what to do. They want reassurance. They will always move en masse, a mob, a herd, a group, because people want the safety of human company.
— Jesse Livermore

Homes & Opportunity Cost - The Origami Life

Ivan here. 

I hate to start the week with math, but that’s exactly what’s about to happen. 

A few months ago, I wrote a post titled “Why a House Is Not a Home,” and in it I questioned the conventional opinion that real estate is always a good investment. The point I made is that real estate, like any other asset, is not always "safe" and comes with opportunity costs that most people ignore. 

To drive this point home, I’m going to provide a real life example from a recent trip Jennie and I took to Denver. 


Housing Prices in Denver, Colorado


A member of Jennie’s extended family owns a house in Denver, which was purchased in the mid 1980s for $87,000, and is now worth $400,000 in 2017, supported by the hot real estate market in Colorado (and historically low interest rates). 

That’s a 460% return. 

Here’s the thing: on an annualized basis, assuming a thirty year horizon (it was longer but let’s use thirty for simplicity), the rate of return was 5.2% per year. 

Inflation over that period was 3.5%. 

5.2% minus 3.5% nets you a real return of 1.7% per year. This is assuming the original home was purchased in cash - that it wasn’t financed with a 30 year mortgage paying interest. If that’s the case, the real return would be less than 1% - maybe even negative. But I’m an optimist, so let’s go with 1%. To lock in this 1% return, you’d need to eventually sell this house and incur costs on top of that. 

At this point, I haven't factored in any of the pros and cons of owning real estate. Like a stable roof over your head to raise a family and the advantage of using leverage to boost your net worth. I also haven’t factored in the maintenance and remodeling required on a house over thirty years. As home values increase, generating wealth on paper, the additional property taxes you pay on the value of your home is a real cash outflow. 

I don’t care about any of the above. That’s largely a personal decision to be made based on personal values. 

What I care about is opportunity cost. 


The Opportunity Cost of Owning a Home


Homes & Opportunity Cost - The Origami Life

$87,000 invested in a low cost index fund by January 1, 1987, and held through ‘Black Monday’ ten months later, the dot-com bubble and the Great Recession would be worth $1,000,000 in 2017. Even if only half of it was available in 1987, it would still net you $500,000, enough to buy a decent sized retirement home in thirty years (no downsizing necessary) - even in a period of historically low borrowing costs and historically high home prices. 

Which means historically speaking, the opportunity cost of taking out a 30 year mortgage in your 20s is anywhere between half a million to a million dollars. 

Does this mean we should bet the farm on index funds in 2017? Alas, it’s not that simple.  

However, the prescription of a slow and consistent accumulation of low cost index funds over a long period of time, through the ups and downs of the market, will almost certainly outperform real estate on an inflation-adjusted basis.

It all depends on whether we have the emotional fortitude to be, as Warren Buffett says, “fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful.” 

In practice, this means having the courage to stay the course when everyone else is calling for the end of the world. 
 


Our Takeaway


When it comes to home-buying, I’m not saying that one size fits all. I’m simply pointing out the hidden costs (and risks) of a long term mortgage.

This is just my personal opinion, but I think Americans have developed a disturbing comfort level with debt, debt that’s largely been subsidized by the federal government. This is great when interest rates are falling, but disastrous when the cycle turns or when half the jobs that exist today start to disappear

Which is to say that by taking out a mortgage in your twenties, you’re making an implicit bet on stability over growth. 

I guess it all depends on when we should value stability: 

a. when we’re young, ambitious and mobile, or
b. when we’re older and ready to settle down.

If reading this has mades you a little more unsure about the buy vs. rent decision, then good. Only idiots are certain all the time. In fact, it’s their natural disposition. And while the ignorant have always occupied a fixed percentage of our population, they seem to have grown a lot more confident these days.
 
And that's exactly when everyone else needs to get cautious. 



Daily Origami 17: Winter Commute in Toronto

Daily Origami is a way for us to record our off the cuff thoughts, feelings and observations about the world around us. Published every weekday, Monday through Friday.


One cold winter day in Toronto.

One cold winter day in Toronto.

Ivan here.

Winters in Canada can make you wish you were dead, with temperatures dipping below -25 degrees Celsius (-35 with wind chill). In places like Winnepeg, Manitoba, conditions are indistinguishable from the surface of Mars. 

In the winter, Torontonians wear one of two colours: black or grey. They are New Yorkers without the attitude, as distant and withdrawn as the British. In the mornings, the subway cars and buses are crammed with silent commuters, over half of them immigrants. The only sound that can be heard is the collective crunch of boots on ice, belonging to a distracted people with somewhere else to be.  

A few years ago, some hippie sell-outs from the West Coast came up with a billboard to sell beer in Vancouver:

There are only two things on a winter commute that makes living worthwhile: 

1. A "Double Double" from Tim Hortons

Source: CBC.ca

Source: CBC.ca

A double double is Canadian for a coffee with two cream and two sugars. 

Before 2013, and its belated adoption of the coffee sleeve, Tim Hortons served its scalding hot coffee in two stacked cups, making it a double double in a double cup. 

This means when Roll Up The Rim season *rolls* around (Editor’s note: bite me), commuters get two chances to win a brand new SUV. In other words, a chance to swap the crowded TTC subway platform for the million vehicle pile-up on the Gardiner Expressway. 

Source: blogTO

Source: blogTO

2.  Jamaican Patties

Like a Midwesterner’s idea of Florida, Jamaican patties are small pockets of Caribbean sunshine in an otherwise cold and dreary winter.

They come in beef, spicy beef, spicy chicken and vegetarian, and taste almost as good as the crack Rob Ford smoked while he was mayor of Toronto. 
 



Daily Origami 16: Summer Monsoons in Albuquerque

Daily Origami is a way for us to record our off the cuff thoughts, feelings and observations about the world around us. Published every weekday, Monday through Friday.


Where are you going?

Jennie here.

The summer monsoon season in New Mexico is my favorite time of the year to be back home in Albuquerque. As heavy clouds roll in, you’ll see the locals quickly scatter home in their pickup trucks and cars to avoid the imminent storm. I love staying home and listening to the torrential downpour and the rolling thunder, and watching as lightning illuminates the purple sky.

It’s really something else. I guess that’s why they call New Mexico the Land of Enchantment.

Need some ASMR? Here you go:


When I think about New Mexican monsoon season, three things come to mind:


1. Any local brew from La Cumbre Brewing Co.

They specialize in a handful of beers and don’t do any fancy marketing, just beers served and made the best way they know how. This brewer is a true testament to New Mexico because true natives are low-key and don’t need all the bullshit marketing.

2. Dion’s green chile pizza.

In New Mexico there is only one eternal debate that happens between locals: Red or Green? Chile is the way of life here and you’ve got to pick a side. I am a green chile advocate and junkie myself. And the best way that I enjoy my New Mexican summer nights are with Dion’s “The 505” pizza because it’s the best you’ll ever have.

Note: Their menu changes daily.

3. Shaved Ice from Pop-Pop’s Original Italian Water Ice

God I love this place. It’s been over a decade since my first gelati at Pop-Pop’s but it’s still this affordable, small, hole-in-the wall Italian ice dispensary with Philadelphia sports paraphernalia all over the walls. And it’s still the perfect antidote to beat the summer desert heat.

My personal favorite: half strawberry lemonade and mango gelati. It’s the perfect combination of sweet and tart and reminds me of the happiest moments that I had growing up in this strange city.

For me, these things mean a perfect night at home gazing up at the stormy New Mexican sky.



Daily Origami 15: Freeways

Daily Origami is a way for us to record our off the cuff thoughts, feelings and observations about the world around us. Published every weekday, Monday through Friday.


Where are you going?
Two young fish are swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”
— David Foster Wallace

Ivan here.

Consider the American freeway. Authorized by the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 under the Eisenhower administration. Completed 35 years later. It runs 47,856 miles and accounts for a quarter of all vehicle miles driven each year. 

When the U.S. Interstate was first proposed, it was met with almost universal approval. Until of course, they started building it. 

Family businesses, entire industries and towns along the old highway system soon realized that they were about to become drive-by country. Inner cities hollowed out as capital (and tax dollars) moved out to the suburbs. Big box stores and shopping malls started popping up, paving the continent over with parking lots. 

I’m only trying to illustrate the other side of progress. In 2017, progress has made it possible to drive from coast to coast in under 48 hours. But progress also means we can speed across this country without seeing any of it. 

Not if we don’t want to. Not if we aren’t paying attention. 

This past week, Jennie and I described the following experiences in Los Angeles: 

  1. Commuting home in rush hour traffic
  2. Getting stuck at a Target checkout
  3. Killing time on a Sunday afternoon
  4. Having lunch with co-workers

The experiences themselves are nothing special. But it’s the things you notice along the way that we want to hold onto.

Things we want to remember. 
 



Daily Origami 14: Cafe Gratitude

Daily Origami is a way for us to record our off the cuff thoughts, feelings and observations about the world around us. Published every weekday, Monday through Friday.


Jennie here.

A few weeks ago, I was invited to have a long lunch with a handful of my co-workers on a slow Friday at work. As my company is based in the Venice Beach area, I had anticipated ending up at some healthy, vegan-friendly, and slightly overpriced restaurant. And oh was I in for a treat. We ended up at the famous Café Gratitude known for their 100% organic and healthy vegan and raw gourmet food.

And what should one expect at Café Gratitude?

  1. To be warmly welcomed by a handsome host - with an effortless man bun and exotic accent.

  2. To see the words "I adore myself and everyone else." inscribed across the mirror of the women’s bathroom.

  3. To order in positive affirmations and receive affirmations in return.

What do I mean by ordering in positive affirmations?

Every single menu item is named after a positive affirmation (e.g. “I am Dazzling” is a caesar salad, “I am Community” is a quinoa bean bowl, etc). And part of the experience is to order as stated and when your food arrives, the same affirmation is repeated back at you.

We sat outside on the beautiful open patio and here’s how our table ordered:
 

Co-worker #1: “I am Reborn.”

Co-worker #2: “I am Pure.”

Me: “I’ll just have the caesar salad.”

Waitress: “Okay, you are Dazzling.”

I squirmed in discomfort. 
A few moments later when our orders came, our waitress returned the affirmation to each of us.

Waitress: “You are Reborn. You are Pure. And you are Dazzling. Would you like the question of the day?”

My co-workers nodded.

“What brings you clarity?”

She smiled mysteriously and sauntered off.

As my co-workers thought about their answers to this reflective question, I watched a homeless man out on the street as he walked past the patio. I know you may be thinking that I’m making this up, but this actually happened. It was absurd.


Café Gratitude is an “expression of a world of plenty” and invites patrons to “enjoy being someone that chooses: loving your life, adoring yourself, accepting the world, being generous and grateful every day, and experiencing being provided for.

But if you ask me, it’s less about health and veganism and more about clever capitalism. You’re literally paying someone else to give you permission to love yourself.

To sum up my experience at Cafe Gratitude: I am not Convinced.



Daily Origami 13: The Perfect Rotisserie Chicken

Daily Origami is a way for us to record our off the cuff thoughts, feelings and observations about the world around us. Published every weekday, Monday through Friday.


Ivan here.

Sunday is our designated lazy day. It’s the day we clear our schedules of everything: work, exercise, errands. While neither of us are particularly religious, we follow the whole  “rest on the seventh day” ritual religiously. 

If it’s good enough for God, we reason, then it’s good enough for us. 

The possibilities of doing nothing are endless. We try to sleep in late. When this fails, and our biological clocks wake us up at six thirty anyway, we resign ourselves to a three hour nap in the afternoon. 

We rarely go out on Sundays. Instead, we lie in bed watching hundreds of Youtube videos until the sky changes color. Then Jennie might catch up on her Korean dramas, while I read pulp mysteries where I’m not invested enough to care if someone gets murdered or if the killer gets caught. 

When we get tired of this, and it’s hot in our apartment, we’ll strip down to our underwear and lay sprawled over our furniture like a pair of dead fish, cursing like sailors about how we live in Satan’s asshole and how we hope whoever’s driving that obnoxiously loud motorcycle outside dies in a fiery crash without injuring any innocent bystanders, but in a rare twist of fate, runs over his grandmother. 

Mostly, we talk about whatever comes to mind. When we’re feeling really unimaginative, we’ll talk about whatever’s in our line of sight. 

Cue the rotisserie chicken.

Cue the rotisserie chicken.

This past Sunday, we found ourselves talking about rotisserie chicken. As luck would have it, we happened to have one from Costco sitting on our kitchen table. Here are the snippets from that conversation:

“What’s for dinner?”
“Pasta alfredo with mushrooms and black kale. We can throw some chicken in there.”
“The chicken we bought from Costco?”
“Yeah."
"Ugh. You know what I miss? That rotisserie chicken from Carrefour in Paris. The best chicken I’ve ever had.”
“It was a small chicken. Actually, it was probably normal-sized. Not jacked up on all those PEDs like you find here.”
“Yeah.” 
“....”
“....”
“Speaking of chicken, did you hear about that place on Venice Beach that makes Peruvian-style roasted chicken? It’s like this hole in the wall place. People say it’s pretty legit.”
“How much is it?” 
“Thirteen dollars.”
“For a whole chicken?”
“Yeah.” 
“Wow. Now I kinda want to go get that.”
“But we already have a chicken. It’s sitting right there.”
“....”
“....”
“Hey, you know that fancy chicken restaurant we never went to in Paris? The one with the Michelin star? What’s that place called?”
“Le Coq Rico.” 
“I heard they opened a restaurant in New York City.” 
“Yeah? How much does it cost?”
“I don’t know.”
“Google how much it costs. Now I want to know.”
“I’m looking at the NYC menu….the cheapest whole bird they have is 98 dollars.”
“Fuck. That’s like $140 after tax and tip.”
“But it comes with salad.”
“Fuck the salad.” 
“....”
“....” 
“Tell you what, I’d pay $200 right now if I could turn that Costco chicken over there into Le Coq Rico.” 

That’s when we started laughing at the absurdity of it all. Thinking about all the chickens we couldn’t have instead of making do with the chicken we’ve got. 

Some days, we catch ourselves acting like overprivileged assholes. 
 



4 Working Women And Their Thoughts On Children
 

Last month in Denver, Ivan and I had the privilege of reconnecting with two of our closest friends we’d first met during our study abroad in Japan over eight years ago. Now they’re married to each other and live in New Zealand, with three beautiful sons (a set of 1 y/o twins and a 4 y/o).

Since then, the child question has been occupying my thoughts.

I’m turning 29 years old this year and my answer to children is still: “not now”. Oftentimes, many women have given me the well-intentioned “You should have kids. It’s the best thing you’ll ever experience.” However, I thought it was interesting to share the unadulterated feelings of current mothers who are working and raising their kids at the same time.  

I met most of these career-minded women on my recent trip to Las Vegas for a tech conference.

Woman working

These are their thoughts:


 

1.

Just know that if you have children, it’s like being in prison for at least 20 years...and sometimes I think to myself, I should have raised my kids differently.
— A stay-at-home mom in her 50s, with two children in their early 20’s.

 

2.

I didn’t know that my kids could be such assholes. They just continue to ask and ask for more money. And of course, you want to give them everything in the world, but did they have to end up being such little shits?
— A recruiter at a tech company in her late 40s, with two boys in their mid to late teens. We were at a party and she was a little tipsy.

 

3.

While I’ve been traveling, I think that my missing him (her baby) has seeped into my subconscious. I had a dream the other night where I was chasing my nanny (who was holding my son) through the crowded streets of Hong Kong. I kept running and running until I finally caught him. In the dream, I sobbed so hard as I held onto him….I’ve never thought I could love anyone so deeply as much as I love my son.
— A communications director in her mid-thirties with a one year old son. This was the first time I had heard such an honest and sad account of guilt that working mothers feel.
I don’t regret having my child at age 38. I was lucky because most of my friends tried for several years with no results; some of them even had to go through the painful experience of IVF multiple times... Because I had my son so late, I got to accomplish all the things that I wanted and I continue to move forward because I’m more than just a mom.
— A former CTO and current founder of a new consultancy in her mid-40’s with a 7 year old. This woman’s path was the one I gravitated the most towards. That said, I might not be so lucky to be able to have a kid at 38.  

 

4.


So where does this lead me?