“Where are you from?” Freedom and the Immigrant Experience
That’s all we have, finally, the words, and they had better be the right ones.
— Raymond Carver

Ivan here.

I’m back in Los Angeles, after spending the last few months in Taiwan.

On my way back to the States, I was detained in San Francisco for traveling on an expired green card. 

Let me explain:

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Back in 2015, I arrived in the U.S. on a spousal visa. Since our marriage was fairly recent, I was issued a conditional green card - valid for two years (normally, it’s ten years). I had a 90 day window prior to expiration to renew this green card by submitting another application. Which I did - promptly - on the first day I was eligible. I knew just how slow and incompetent the U.S. immigration system could be, and I didn’t want to leave anything up to chance.

Unfortunately, my application happened to coincide with a certain election and mass confusion around a certain travel ban. So here I am, thirteen months later, and last I checked, the immigration office in Los Angeles hadn’t even gotten around to my case. They were still processing cases submitted in the panic of 2016.

Before I left for Taiwan a few months ago, I called the immigration office and asked for some advice. The lady at the call center told me I could get a passport stamp at the border that would allow me to travel on my green card for another year. This turned out to be the wrong information. I don’t know why she told me this, but I guess considering my previous experiences with immigration, I shouldn’t have been surprised. Maybe that’s why I'd also printed out a form with my case number on it. Just in case. So that worse comes to worse, they could clear me through the online immigration system.

And that’s how I ended up being detained coming back into the country. I was ushered into a backroom and was questioned for 45 minutes while they verified my details.

The border patrol officer who interviewed me turned out to be a real grunt. This isn’t a comment on his appearance, but his general attitude and the way he treated people. He talked slowly, in that condescending tone some people like to use on minorities with foreign-sounding names. He used that tone long after it’d become clear that the people he was talking to (at) spoke perfect English. That’s the thing about grunts. Working in grunt-like conditions does a number on your personality. Even after I’d been cleared by the system, I had to sit there and wait for him to send me off with a lecture - like I was his son.

If I could boil down his Catch-22 argument into one sentence, it would be:

Just because you followed the rules, doesn’t give you the right to disobey the law.

“Didn’t you know that traveling on an expired green card was against the law? No, I don’t want to hear excuses. It’s the law. We wouldn’t be a country without laws. You should’ve stayed put (in LA). But you’re lucky, because I’m letting you off this time.”

He was letting me off.

I recount this story to explain something that an immigrant or minority understands intuitively upon setting foot in this country:

It’s possible to go through your entire life obeying all the rules, until that moment arrives when it doesn’t mean a thing anymore.

My Seventeen Month Nightmare:

The Immigration Process That Almost Cost Me My Marriage


Resentment is like taking poison and hoping the other person dies.”

I wish I were the type of person who could just let things go. I really do. My tendency to hold grudges is not an admirable or attractive quality. I often make it a point to remember when someone (deliberately) gets in my way. You know, for down the road. Because I'll owe them one.

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Anyway, this is a part of my personality I’m trying to fix.

What I’ve learned since arriving in North America, is that I can’t let my guard down here. At least, not in the same way that I could in Taipei. America, to me, is just another opportunity, and I have to accept all the positives and negatives that come with it.

But it’s hard to forget what I had to pay for it. January 2014 to June 2015 - seventeen months trapped in immigration limbo. Seventeen months of my life. My time. Stuck between a job I hated in Canada and an immigration process with no end in sight. At one point, they lost our paperwork, but forgot to mention this little detail until we reached out to them nearly 14 months into the process.

For a non-trivial percentage of my life, America forced me to choose between my marriage and my mental health, and I resented having to make that choice. In my eyes, the system had held me hostage, then turned around and expected me to feel grateful for it. It damaged the relationship I had with Jennie to the point where it almost cost us our marriage.

At the same time, I recognize my privilege. I know there are people today who have it much worse. I think about the men, women and children still waiting in Syrian refugee camps and it makes me sick. Because I understand it’s not just about the deplorable conditions in which they live and the indifference or hostility that they’re met with. It’s the waiting that kills you. Waiting without limit or hope. It’s a fate that’s worse than death, because at least death has certainty. Death has an end date.

Waiting is what eats you up from the inside.  

*

When it was all over, Jennie met me at the arrivals terminal at Boston Logan Airport. One of the first things she asked me was, “aren’t you happy that we’re finally together?

Happy. Happy? I didn’t say anything for a while because her question had pissed me off, and I knew an argument was brewing.

And argue we did, over and over again in the ensuing months, about the same issue. After all, didn’t we both have to wait for our lives to begin? Why was it that she could learn to let things go, while I had to make such a big deal out of it? Looking back, she was probably right. My wife is usually the more sensible one. Sure, things had been bad, but maybe I was being too dramatic. But I could only go by what I felt during those seventeen months. And that feeling, overwhelmingly, was anger.

“I love you,” I said at the arrivals terminal. “But I’m trying to decide whether this ordeal was worth it.”


Race and Freedom in America:

“The World is Going One Way, People Another”


Let me be brutally honest: whether or not America is made great again is of no consequence to me. Greatness, after all, is relative. America was “great” in the 1950s because most parts of the world were only a few years removed from being smoldering piles of rubble.

The world is different now. Better get used to it.

Of course, I’m rooting for this country. I’ve grown fond of the people I’ve met here. They have an optimism that I envy and they’re not handicapped by their failures. They have this idea that they can still make their own way in the world. These are ideas that I admire and still believe in.

But I’ve also seen their treatment of immigrants and minorities when the chips were down. What’s happening today with the Dreamers. Muslims. The Black American experience. I’ve walked through the Japanese internment camps at Manzanar. These are things that transcend both politics and administrations. And as bad as things are today, we’re currently nine years into an economic recovery. The U.S. unemployment rate is at 4%. 

I wonder who the scapegoats will be in the next recession?


My Definition Of Freedom Is Choice


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I’m not from here.

If America is one giant melting pot, I’ve got no desire or intention of melting into anything. I can only look at things as they are, unglazed by patriotism, tradition, or social mores. No subject or speech is taboo or sacred to me. These things are my business simply because I see it as my business. And if I’m interested, I’ll stay. If not, I’ll leave. But one thing’s for certain: from here on out, I’ll be coming and going as I please.

I refuse to be someone else's collateral damage. Why should we as minorities have to continually pay for other people’s ignorance or indifference? When do we get to pay them back? In that sense, I was American before ever setting foot in America. There will be no taxation without representation.

So give me liberty, or give me death.
 



March 2018 Money Diary: Job [In]security & Worst Case Scenarios

Jennie here.

And finally..Ivan is back from Taiwan after being away for two whole months.Trust me friends, I’m excited he’s back too. But before I get into the nitty gritty of everything that happened last month...I want to just pat myself on the back - it turns out when left to my own devices...

I saved a few hundred extra dollars without Ivan around. A “normal” month of spending (without Ivan) in April was pretty successful overall compared to our normal budget. I achieved this without being conservative or cautious with my spending. I just stuck to normal routines and was mindful about not going overboard when I wanted something.

Beyond normal savings - I experienced a more challenging issue this past month: potentially losing my job earlier than I’d anticipated. My mentor and direct boss was fired this past month in a power struggle, which means that Ivan and I may get to go on our RTW trip a couple months earlier than expected!

Nothing is certain yet - but I’m prepared for the worst. Ivan, however, was quick to remind me that this is no big deal.

Editor’s Note: How am I wrong exactly? With only five months left before our planned departure and $1,800 away from our 40k goal, even if we lose we can’t lose. I mean, seriously. As Jay-Z would say: you gotta get that dirt off your shoulder. 


There Are Some Things You Can’t Control:

[No] Job Security At Tech Startups


Snapchat recently laid off 220 employees in February and March and it’s estimated to save them $34 million per year in salaries, taxes, and stock-based comp forfeitures.

Were these employees surprised? Or as insiders, did they see this coming from a mile away and prepared for the worst case scenario? Although I don’t work for Snapchat - I do work for a tech startup. And here’s what I’ve learned since the very beginning of my startup tenure:

Job security doesn’t exist in tech startups and getting laid off or fired can easily happen to you.

And here’s the truth about most startups - they often embrace the idea that they should hire fast and fire fast. Most executives and high level managers may not admit it but the truth is: they have never regretted firing anybody. In fact, there’s a higher chance that they’ve regretted not firing somebody quickly enough. Although this makes sense logically speaking - it’s an uncomfortable idea that individual contributors (like myself) have to quickly come to terms with.


There Are Some Things You Can Control:

You Can Learn to Live with Uncertainty


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In recent weeks, I’ve been experiencing something of an emotional and value crisis in my job because a re-org happened within my group. It’s prompted a lot of questions about whether or not I’ll have a job in a few months or what my self-worth is to an organization.

I recently heard something that a tech executive said:

“You’re not looking for stability, you’re looking for predictability.

Predictability is the degree to which a correct prediction or forecast of a system's state can be made either qualitatively or quantitatively.

Here’s the thing though, when you have external variables involved like self-motivated human beings, emotions, and office politics...can you really have true predictability?

Well, you probably can’t have full predictability but you can make foundational choices at the beginning. For us, we chose to save rigorously and assumed worse case scenarios.

What have I learned from my job instability?

  1. The bad news, I don’t know if I’ll have a job in a month or two. I mean, does it suck? Yes. Is it bad? It could be - I mean, who doesn’t like a steady paycheck? I’ve never been unemployed or laid off in the last six years of my professional career either. So, it’s uncomfortable.

  2. The good news: Ivan and I have already planned for the worst case scenario. Because Ivan and I have built up a foundation of exhaustive budgeting, we have a cushion (e.g. our Fuck Off Fund) that protects us in situations like this.

So, what’s next?

Stay the course and continue to do what we’ve been doing: grow our business, save every month. So long as we don’t deviate too far off our normal budget, then we’re okay. I thought that I would go into panic mode (e.g. extreme savings) because of this uncertainty but we’ve been fortunate enough that this issue feels like a drop in the ocean.


Charity Highlight Of The Quarter: No Lean Season


Like I mentioned, we’re staying the course. And at the end of every quarter, we donate $250 to a charity of our choice. This month, our donation dollars are going to a charity called No Lean Season. It’s a non-profit that offers no-interest loans to poor rural households in rural northen Bangladesh during the time of seasonal income and food insecurity ("lean season") between planting and the major rice harvest. Up until this quarter, we’ve primarily focused on donating to causes primarily focused on children in Sub-Saharan Africa. So, I wanted to make sure that we’re diversifying our donations to other regions and populations of need.

 

 

Have you ever prepared yourself for potentially getting let go or fired?

How was your March budget?

Did you have any major highlights or wins in March that you want to share?

 

 


A Short Story Intermission: Four Seasons in America
 

Jennie here.

I couldn't make the posting deadline this Tuesday, so instead of a blog post, I'd like to share a short story Ivan wrote recently titled "Four Seasons in America."

Enjoy!


1. Early Spring


I walked by a homeless man on my way to the farmer’s market. As I approached his cardboard box along the wall, I’d been holding my wallet in my right hand and switched it to the left as I passed, the hand furthest away from him. I don’t know why I did that.

The homeless man asked me for some change. He’d written a sign on a piece of his cardboard box, which read like a haiku because there wasn’t enough cardboard for a sonnet.  

It read:

Homeless vet.
Any help appreciated.
God bless.

“Sorry I don’t have change,” I said, and flashed him a look.  

I’d been telling the truth - but he didn’t know that. After I’d walked about ten yards, he called out after me.

“Hey!” he shouted at my retreating back. When I stopped and turned around, he was taken aback and seemed to struggle to find something to say. Anything at all.

“I’m Asian too,” he said weakly.

I didn’t believe him. He was clearly a black man and looked nothing like me. The only thing he and I had in common was that we were both looking for something to say and ended up saying words that didn’t mean anything.

* * *

The only thing in my wallet that day, aside from my identity card and a $20 bill, was a Japanese 50 yen coin. The coin was silver with a hole in the center and was worth about fifty American cents on a good day for Japanese capitalism.  When you hold it up to the morning sky, light shines through it.

It was my lucky coin. The only thing in my life I could still see through.

Besides, I reasoned to myself, this coin wouldn’t have done the homeless man any good. It wasn’t as if he could waltz into JPMorgan Chase and ask for the latest exchange rate. No problem, sir. Right this way, sir. Why don’t we take care of that for you, sir.

To give a man a fifty cent piece he could never use was the same as kicking him in the nuts and telling him “you’re welcome.”

Anyway, it’s early and I’m off to the farmer’s market.


2. Midsummer


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“How much are these nectarines?” I asked.

“Depends,” said the blonde fruit lady. “How much you got?”

I opened my wallet and took a look inside. I counted one Andrew Jackson, who still looked ticked off at me for spending his fellow Americans.

“I’ve got twenty dollars,” I said.

“Well, what do you know,” the fruit lady said, her arms opened wide like Christ the Redeemer. “These nectarines are twenty dollars.”

“What a coincidence,” I said and wondered about the wheels of fate and twists of human fortune.

“Small world,” she nodded. “So, do we have a deal?”

“Let me think about it,” I said, backing away.

“Go ahead honey, but if I were you, I would take the deal,” she said. “What we have here is a classic case of a seller’s market: price collusion meets inelasticity of demand. The demand here being your midsummer’s thirst for my plump and juicy nectarines.”

“Maybe so,” I said. “But I’m gonna check anyway. Just in case there are holes to your fruit lady logic.”

“Suit yourself,” she replied. “It’s a free country.”

I marshaled my last Andrew Jackson and we galloped back into the heat in search of Indians.


3. Late Autumn


It was getting late and there were no Indians to be found. Andrew Jackson had probably slaughtered them all.

“Nice one Andrew,” I said. “Real nice.”

I wasn’t expecting a reply.

“Pssst!” came a voice to my right.

I turned and looked down an alleyway to see a petite, dark-haired Latino lady leaning up against the wall. In the shade, I couldn’t tell her age. She was wearing tortoise shell glasses and a burgundy turtleneck. There was a Virginia Slim between her thumb and forefinger. She brought it to her lips and smoked it sparingly, as if it were the last joint in Jamaica.

“What are you skulking around here for?” she asked bluntly.

“I’m looking for Indi - I mean - nectarines,” I said. “I’m looking for nectarines.”

“Nectarines,” she repeated to herself. “It’s not the season for those anymore. It’s squash and pumpkin season now. Do you like squash?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “What do I do with them?”

“A squash can provide everything you’ll ever need,” she says. “The Native Americans used to cultivate an ancient variety of squash up by the Great Lakes. Some could grow up to five feet long. You could stir fry the flesh and use the seeds to make an orange soup that tastes mild and sweet. You could plant the remaining seeds in the soil and you’ll never want for anything again. It’ll be squash morning, afternoon and night.”

Andrew Jackson and I exchanged glances. Indians.

“How much for a squash?” I asked.

“Seventeen dollars.”

“You’ve got a deal,” I said and we shook on it.

“Wait out here.”

She ducked into a side door down the alleyway and reappeared with an tan squash the exact size and shape of a newborn baby.

I said good riddance to Andrew Jackson and she handed me three George Washingtons and the baby-shaped squash. I had to carry it with both hands it was so heavy.

“You’re a proud father now,” she said. “How do you feel?”

“Happy,” I said. “and worried I might drop this thing.”

She gave me a pat on the back as I turned to leave, “you’ll get used it.”


4. Deep Winter


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On my way home, I passed by the same homeless man and his cardboard box. He was trying not to look at me. He must have felt bad about the Asian comment he’d made earlier. Must’ve thought he’d hurt my feelings.

“Hey,” I said, after carefully setting down the squash on the ground. “I have some change for you now.”

I produced the three George Washingtons scrunched up in my jeans pocket and handed it to him.

“This isn’t much, but it’s all I’ve got left. I won’t be needing it anymore. You can do whatever you like with it. This is America, after all.”

“God bless you,” he said. “And have a nice evening.”

“Don’t mention it,” I said. “And you as well.”

I picked up my squash and kept walking. I made it ten steps before I stopped and called back to him.

“Hey mister!”

“Yes, sir?”

“Did you ever find out who won that war?”

“War,” he frowned, thinking very hard. “Which war was that?”

“Never mind,” I said, shaking my head. “Happy holidays.”

* * *

The soup was delicious. Mild and sweet, just as the lady in the turtleneck had said.

My wife and I are in bed now, our bellies warm. All the lights are turned off and out the window, beyond the city lights, we could faintly make out the stars.

“Another year’s come and gone,” she sighed as we huddled close underneath the sheets. “Feels like it all went by in a second.”

“Let’s take the baby and go somewhere,” I said. “Somewhere fresh and unspoiled by old routines.”

“Let’s talk about this in the morning,” she replied. “When we’re wide awake in the morning.”

“Okay,” I said.

In the silence, we dreamed of a new life and new possibilities. Birds were chirping, plants were blossoming, and each morning, pixies would bring us daylight from a mountain spring.

But first, a deep sleep. Please wake us when the snow is melting.  



Origami Letters: Too Much Memory

Origami letters is a series we are experimenting with, where we share moments from our relationship through a selection of letters we’ve sent each other over our four year marriage (and nine year relationship).
These letters have been lightly edited for grammar and brevity. Pseudonyms are used to protect people’s privacy.

* * *


There, sir, stop. Let us not burden our remembrances with a heaviness that’s gone.
— Prospero, The Tempest

Jennie here. 

Below is an email I received from Ivan after our wedding reception in Taipei in 2016. His grandfather came to our wedding but seemed like a completely different person from the one I'd met a few years prior. I want to share with you what it was like meeting Ivan's grandfather for the first time.

In February 2012, I flew to Taipei for the first time to meet Ivan's family. And the way things worked out, I arrived in Taipei a full two days before Ivan. So, I met his parents for the first time by myself and it was very awkward. On the second day of my trip, his mom dropped me off at his [paternal] grandparents house to meet, hangout, and well - to babysit me in some sense while she went work.

Ivan's grandfather reminded me a lot of this man: Gunther Holtorf, a man that I read about several years ago. He was a former airline CEO who had driven more than 820,000 kilometers over two decades with his wife across the world.

Let me make this clear: at the time, I spoke NO Mandarin. But fortunately his grandparents spoke two languages: Mandarin and Japanese. In broken English, Mandarin, and primarily Japanese, his grandfather and I somehow managed to get along quite well.

Ivan's grandfather was a man who had lived in Taiwan under the Japanese rule, built and owned a successful business, was a Judo master, a poet, and a painter. Oh, and he loved to boast about his prized belongings (e.g. articles about him showing Judo exercises to the Taiwanese police, a Rolex he once bought on a six month trip across Europe with his wife, and poems and paintings he'd personally crafted); he shared all his adventurous stories and gloated about his successful grandchildren. He shared things with so much history and detail. You could tell how proud he was of his life's work.

Spontaneously, after drinking lots of tea and sharing countless stories with me, he asked me if I wanted to go for a ride on his scooter. Just imagine for a moment - I'm meeting a man in his 80's for the first time and he asks me if I wanted to take a ride up to the mountains on a dinky scooter. I said yes, of course but his grandmother was pretty hesitant about letting me go. So, he drove me up to the mountains and I felt like I nearly died on several zigzagged turns. He winded through the uneven mountain road as if he were in his early 20's. And I remember that half way through the scenic ride - we both needed to go to the bathroom, awkwardly told each other in broken Mandarin and Japanese, and proceeded to spend the next 30 minutes frantically driving around the mountain pass to find a goddamn washroom. 

His grandfather was truly a larger than life character.


November 5, 2016
Subject: Too Much memory
To: Jennie
From: Ivan


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Dear Jennie,

For weeks I've thought about what I should say about my grandfather. With the end probably closer than I'd like to admit, it might be helpful to put my thoughts and feelings down in writing, so that I can come to some sort of understanding about the whole thing before it happens.

My grandfather has the early onset of Alzheimer's. Not sure how you would define 'early.' How does the brain choose which things to forget? When he was at our wedding ceremony and reception in October, he still remembered my name and who I was. I'm grateful for this, though the significance of the events were lost on him. I watched him eat the food that was placed in front of him. Dutifully, like a child.

With my grandfather, I think about what it means to have lived. In eighty five years of his life, he's raised four children, who in turn provided him with nine grandchildren. He's been rich and poor, had his triumphs and defeats, and has travelled and cultivated his internal and external worlds. He's had a taste of fame, of competition, of loss and deceit. He's bought Rolexes on a whim and travelled across Europe by train. He's held his own calligraphy and art exhibits, taught judo, and coached sumo wrestlers. He's taken to the open road by motorbike, hunted wild boar with packs of hunting dogs. He's had periods of violence and tranquility.

It's hard not to ascribe heroic qualities to his life - and these are only the stories that I know. Growing up, I probably thought he was invincible. I think what hurts most is not his impending death (which happens to everyone), but the manner in which he's fading away. Now I understand why the ancient Greeks wanted to die on the battlefield. In a way, I had secretly wished that for him: that he would get his due, that his end would measure up to everything he had been in life.  

I'm glad he won't remember the end - even if it hurts those he's leaving behind.

Neither my dad or I are anything like my grandfather. At least, not in any way that matters. Our lives just don't have that grand sweeping narrative running through it. And that's okay.

 
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Before he lost his ability to paint and write, I asked him for a Chinese couplet that's now hanging above my desk.

Translated, it reads: Find meaning in simplicity. Travel further in silence.

More than anything, my grandfather taught me that it was okay to be myself completely.


Love,
Ivan


Origami Letters: The sounds of the night: tick, tick, tock.

Origami letters is a series Ivan and I are experimenting with, where we share moments from our relationship through a selection of letters we’ve sent each other over our four year marriage (and nine year relationship).
These letters have been lightly edited for grammar and brevity. Pseudonyms are used to protect people’s privacy.

* * *


Time is the longest distance between two places.
— Tennessee Williams, The Glass Menagerie

 
 

Jennie here. 

Ivan has been away for close to two months now and I've been spending a lot of time with my family. I've been back in my hometown of Albuquerque for almost three weeks. And it's been both good and bad. I've had a lot of personal issues to work through with my family members and it isn't always easy. When I'm at home, I also see how far I've come and how far I still need to go as an individual

A few weeks ago, I was awake in my childhood home and it felt very foreign to me. It's hard to pinpoint until you actually leave and come back home but, it's funny how easy it is to pick up exactly where you left things...

I wrote down some thoughts and shared it with Ivan during one of my first few nights at home. 


February 27, 2018
Subject: The sounds of the night: tick, tick, tock.
To: Ivan
From: Jennie


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Dear Ivan, 
There's a grandfather clock that we inherited after both of my grandparents passed away. At the top of each hour, there are several soft full chime sounds, immediately followed by a long hour strike.
Tick, tock, tick, tock, go-ong. 
These sounds used to overwhelm me because they were difficult to ignore and sometimes, I'd lay in bed wondering where my life went wrong; feeling the heavy weight of my world.
My childhood home has three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a dining area, and two living spaces. Despite how much space we have, I can hear every conversation, movement, whisper, and continuous ticking from the clock. Nothing felt private in this house.
Anytime of the day, I could hear the criticisms about myself or about my family members. We gave each other a ton of "opinions" that felt...deprecating and eventually became self-deprecating.
In my teens, I heard a lot of this:
Why don't you have better grades?
Why can't you be more like so-and-so?
What you're doing just isn't good enough. 
You're fat. You should go on a diet. 
You have to go to a good school and get good grades. 
And in my early to mid-20s, I heard a lot of this:
What school do you go to? What are you studying?
Are you dating? You need to look prettier if you want someone to date you. 
You need to look a certain way. 
Why don't you go and be a pharmacist/doctor/etc? 
And in my late 20s, I'm hearing a ton of this:
When are you going to get married? Everyone should get married.
When will you have kids? You should have kids.
Why don't you buy a home for your family? You need a home.
Why aren't you more religious? You need to go to church.
There was a whole lot of what-you're-doing-isn't-good-enough-isms. And although I have worked through them, it was really hard to have real self-confidence when I was living at home. It constantly felt like I was being criticized because I didn't have self-confidence. I was led to believe that I wasn't good enough. 
And I only realized on the last couple of years that it just didn't bother me anymore because I simply stopped caring about what other people said or asked of me. 
And what's more, I started thinking about what I was doing well at in life:
  1. studied abroad in Japan
  2. met a partner that I trust and love
  3. no college debt
  4. well-paying job
  5. moving to a different city
  6. being thoughtful about how I can save or spend my money
  7. looking at what's next in my life for me, not for my family or anyone else's expectations
The moment that I started living for myself and listening to myself, I finally felt free. 
* * *
Anyway, I wanted to share my thoughts. As I was listening to your story about how your mom has been "suffocating" you by trying to jump onto your trip. And on my end, it didn't seem so bad but I could understand how it could be enraging in the moment. I hope you're feeling a bit better. 
Alternatively, I would also urge you to remember that your mom is going through a pretty big transition herself. 
Her entire life value has been the following: 
  • teaching kids
  • raising her own kids
  • being a good wife. 
If you think about it, she has none of those things right now. How can you decouple your self-worth from something so fundamentally part of your life for the past 15-20 years? I had a tough time doing that at a job that I've only been at two years. I can't imagine what that must be like for her.
Also, I had the strangest interaction with my sister. She had just washed her face and I jokingly commented, "Whoa, what happened to your eyebrows? Why are they so light?" I couldn't remember what her real face / eyebrows looked like behind all that makeup.
I didn't realize how insensitive it may have sounded either. And apparently, my one comment was enough to send her into an emotional rollercoaster. She started crying and saying that I was a "bitch" for "criticizing her" and telling her that she was "ugly" (which, for the record - I did no such thing). She bawled her eyes out and kicked me out of her room and now I'm on the couch.
It seemed foreign to me at first but then I realized that her self-confidence was low; as much as she pretends to be "together" she doesn't have confidence and that's in part because of all the years that she's spent around my parents. Unfortunately, even if I tell her now that it only matters what she thinks and life is not about what other people want or think of you...she wouldn't understand. She needs to be in the right place and state of mind to realize and accept that she should just not give a fuck about what people think.
But, I suppose not everyone can do that either. 
 
Love you,
lao po (wife in Chinese)


February 2018 Money Diary: Travel Excursions and Investments In Relationships
 
 

Jennie here again!

I can’t believe how quickly February has come and gone. Ivan is still away in Taiwan and currently progressing on his first fictional novel! Now let’s get to it...

 
Screen Shot 2018-03-04 at 7.38.08 PM-2.png

This is the breakdown of our income, spending, RTW savings, and general monthly savings.

  • Income: $8,034

  • Spending: $2,895

  • Round the world trip savings: $36,258 (out of $40,000 goal)

  • Savings: $5,139 in monthly savings

 

Highlights From My February 2018 Money Diary…

Without Ivan By My Side :(


 A short trip to San Francisco...

A short trip to San Francisco...

  1. Ivan has been away for more than a month and I noticed how much less I consume without him around. SO, theoretically, without Ivan I should be able to save quite a bit of cash, right?! Wrong. Ha. I actually did pretty well for the first half of February because it turns out I don’t need to eat as much when Ivan is around. My grocery spending was only $144 over three weeks in February. I realized that it was a waste for me to cook food for one so I re-allocated most of my budget towards eating out and entertainment.
     
  2. Air travel was our most expensive expenditure (after rent/bills) at ~16% of our overall spending. This month, we had a ton of travel planned and spent $453 on flights alone. The following is the breakdown of our air travel in February:

    1. My flight from Los Angeles to San Francisco: $45

    2. My flight from San Francisco to New Mexico: $6 (Fortunately, we used our Southwest airline points to cover the costs of this flight.)

    3. Ivan’s flight from LA to Taiwan: $402 (This is round trip! SO cheap)
       

  3. I still managed to overspend this month because I traveled to San Francisco. I probably spent more than $200 in San Francisco over the course of one week. Fortunately, I got to stay at a friend’s house for free so I spent $0 on housing. However, the bulk of my available budget was spent on traveling around San Francisco and networking with new contacts and potential clients at coffee shops. More on this later in my upcoming mini-travel post to San Francisco.
     

  4. I ended up overspending because I paid ~$80 for my dad’s birthday dinner. This is something that I don’t feel bad about. I went home to visit family and it coincided with my dad’s birthday. I paid ~$80 for the entire family meal for a six people. After being in Los Angeles and San Francisco...I could only think: OMG, this meal was SO affordable. We ate at my dad’s favorite Chinese seafood restaurant (even though it recently changed ownership). We ordered fried flounder, spicy eggplant, salt and pepper shrimp, and a whole roasted duck. Nom. Great food for six people in New Mexico.
     

  5. Life happens so I spent $75 on a deep cleaning at the dentist this past month. Fortunately, my vision and dental insurance is covered my current company but I still had to pay a $75 deductible during my first visit to the dentist this year.


Thoughts On February 2018 Spending: What Life Is Like Without My Partner


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Life without Ivan has felt pretty lackluster but it really pushed me to think more consciously about the things I want to achieve and still need to work on. Here are a few budget-related thoughts from this past month without Ivan:

  • Time alone is so good for the soul and for the wallet. As much as I miss Ivan, I’ve found that time apart from him has shown me HOW much money we spend as a couple. Ivan has a runner’s appetite so my grocery budget decreases by more than 50% when he’s gone. If this were a normal month at home, I would have ended up saving a significant amount.
     
  • Eating alone in public seems sad at first but it’s actually refreshing. There was a pretty sad moment one weekend where I ended up walking to our nearby Mitsuwa. I didn’t feel like cooking so I went to the food court, ordered my usual $7 “Katsu-jyu” box, and ate as I watched the Olympic curling event. At first I felt lonely but then I realized that it was kind of liberating - in a way, I was taking myself out on a date and it felt empowering. My high from my “self-date” continued as I bought some steak for myself to cook later that evening. And let me tell you, I forgot how much I love beef. I no longer eat beef because Ivan doesn’t eat it - but that’s a story for another time.
     
  • Investments in meeting new and old friends and contacts is worth every penny. I spent the majority of February attending a couple parties, going on hikes, and meeting a ton of people for coffee. I did these things to get myself out of my comfort zone. I probably spent around $150 just on new social interactions and I think it was worth every penny. I believe that so long as I’m genuinely open to meeting others and listening to them - that I will learn something new. I heard truly vulnerable and honest things from a lot of people and I realized that’s emotional-labor that is worth the investment of my time and money.

Anyway, happy savings in March! And I can’t wait to share with you a “normal” month of spending (without Ivan) in April.

  • How was your February?
  • Did you have any major highlights or wins in February that you want to share?


Should We Sacrifice Time For Money?
There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy, and the tired.
— F. Scott Fitzgerald

Ivan here.

If I were so inclined, I could convince someone to get me a job in finance within the next six months, making a conservative salary of $70,000. If I were to take this job - and Jennie continues to work at her current company - in 6-7 years we’d have enough saved to never have to work again.

This isn’t my opinion. This is math based on our current savings/spending rate - assuming that neither of us gets a single raise over the next decade. This also assumes no financial mishaps over the next five years: long term medical bills, family, layoffs, war, nuclear fallout, or having twins/triplets. But when we assume no raises, and the fact that Jennie and I are human beings and not mannequins (and won’t just let events steamroll us), I think we can manage a good portion of these risks.

Knowing all this:

Why are you and Jennie leaving for your RTW (round the world) trip at age 30 (September 2018) when you could leave at age 37 and never have to worry about money again?

business-time-clock-clocks-48770-2.jpeg

The Costs and Benefits of FIRE

(Financial Independence, Retire Early)


I admire the FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early) mindset. I think it’s a wonderful and empowering way to give people something to work towards that’s drastically different from how society teaches us to live. It’s especially useful to help people get out of debt and live within their means.

But beyond this is where I start to question its usefulness. After a certain point, you’re simply sacrificing time for money - with diminishing returns.

Here are the five limitations of FIRE:


5 Limitations of FIRE


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1. Not all time is created equal

Jennie and I view our thirties as the prime of our lives. Not just because good health is never guaranteed to anyone, but because the risks we take today have more upside than downside. We currently have no mortgage to pay, no kids to feed, and no aging family members to take care of. Psychologically, we’ll probably never be more amenable to change than we are in our 30s - less set in our ways, more open to new ideas.

And what’s the worst case scenario if we get tired of travelling and life as a digital nomad? We’d simply pick up where we left off and go back to a 9-5 job. Is that so hard in our thirties?

If someone came to us today and offered five extra years in our early thirties in exchange for 10 years of my 50s, 60s or 70s, we would take that trade in a heartbeat. That’s how we value time. You may not have the same values, but the point is that time isn’t created equal, and we shouldn’t be sacrificing it for a “number” and forget to actually live.  

Side note: I wouldn’t do the same trade for five years of my early twenties. I was an idiot back then.

2. Everything compounds over time

Not just money. Bad habits, unproductive hours, stress, meaningless relationships also compounds over time. We all know the opportunity cost of not investing: historically it’s 8-10% a year. But what’s the opportunity cost of lost time, time you could’ve used to figure out what gives you meaning and purpose?

How do we put a value on that?

It’s easier to fixate on money because it’s the most convenient thing to measure, but I think it’s a poor substitute for what we really want to do and the person we want to be.

At the end of the day, no matter how much you accumulate, money is just options on the future. By setting a goal to achieve FIRE 7-10 years down the line, all you’re doing is delaying a decision you needed to make anyway. Seven years later, you’re “done,” holding a bunch of options you could’ve used 7 years ago to do what was important to you. Now you still gotta figure out what that is. In other words, you’re back to square one - only with a few extra bytes of memory in your bank account.

3. Beyond the bare essentials, money has no utility

Daggett: I've paid you a small fortune.
Bane: And this gives you power over me?
- The Dark Knight Rises

I attended a private high school in Taipei, where pretty much everyone (else) came from wealthy families. I’ll never forget something that a friend of mine told me. It’s a statement that I’ve thought about for a long time, because I think it’s both funny and insightful.

He said to me, “there’s nothing to buy.”

It’s true. Our basic needs have stayed the same since the age of the caveman: food, clothing, and shelter. With more money, we simply invent more complicated ways to satisfy those needs. But fundamentally, they’re the same. In my opinion, the luxury mark-up for anything is just a 20% markup for quality and an 80% antidote to boredom and existential dread.  

What’s more, people allow themselves to become compromised by money. Money makes them keep their heads down, accepting the dirt that needs to be shoveled, to prop up a system they don’t believe in. So nothing changes. I understand that impulse very well: there’s a more expensive mortgage to pay for, higher end restaurants to dine at - a lifestyle to maintain.

Outside of covering my basic needs and the basic needs of my old and decrepit future self, I just don’t see a point. When you don’t need the one thing that somebody can offer, you take away their power over you. You allow yourself to become completely unpredictable.

4. We have no interest in [early] retirement

None at all. Jennie and I are repulsed by the whole concept. What would we do in retirement? Read all the books we’ve been meaning to read? Travel to all the places we’ve been meaning to travel to? We could just as easily do those things now. In fact, we do.

And if we’re actually working on something that we enjoy, something that’s tied to our passion, and embedded into our very lifestyle, to retire from our work would be the same as retiring from life. The things we work on now should be the things we can build upon for the rest of our lives.

5. We’re skeptical of external measures of success

It's just us against the world.

Remember that scene in The Dark Knight where Heath Ledger’s Joker sets fire to the mafia’s mountain of cash? The looks of confusion on their faces is priceless. They literally don’t know what to do next. It’s not that I want to be the Joker per se, I just don’t want to have to measure myself by other people’s metrics.

Whether you make $1,000,000 a year or have $1,000,000 sitting in your savings or brokerage account - that’s what society tells you you’re worth. You could choose to feel good or feel bad about it, but the end result is the same: your inability to decouple your internal sense of satisfaction and meaning with some external measure of value.

By making your own rules, you gain the leverage to say or do anything that you feel is right. From there, a vista of new options open up that you never thought was possible.


Our Goal: To Lead a

Well-Ordered and Time-Rich Life


Be steady and well-ordered in your life so that you can be fierce and original in your work.
— Gustave Flaubert

This entire post was just my roundabout way of saying that an obsession with anything, FIRE or otherwise, isn’t healthy. Delaying gratification to the point where you miss out on the prime of your youth simply doesn’t make sense. Or as Warren Buffett puts it, “it’s like saving up sex for your old age.”

Are the basic needs of Jennie, me and the members of my family taken care of for the foreseeable future? Yes? Then money becomes instantly irrelevant until that answer trends toward a no. If achieving FIRE happens naturally within the flow of our life and the direction Jennie and I want it to go, then that’s all well and good. But if not? We really couldn’t care less.

The narrative that people often adopt is: “If I can just get to X, then I can give myself permission to do Y.” FIRE is no different. But here’s the truth:

You never needed permission to do anything.



Mini Post: Did You Sleep Well?

Ivan here. 

Good morning. I'm in Taipei right now, where because of the time difference, it's tomorrow already. So hello from the future. Jennie doesn't know I'm publishing this because she's still asleep in San Francisco, but I felt motivated to share something that's been on my mind lately. 

Our upcoming post next Tuesday will be titled "Should We Sacrifice Time for Money?" Of course, this is a rhetorical question. The answer is no - no we shouldn't. But people do it all the time. In that sense, most people are asleep - even in broad daylight. Stepping onto the subways here, I see people dreaming the dream through smartphone screens. 

I wonder what they'll remember when they wake up? 


A Short Video and a Short Story


I'd like to share a short story I wrote a few months ago. Nothing special. It's not even 500 words. I was inspired after watching this one minute short by the late Japanese animator Satoshi Kon titled "Ohayo." Or "Good morning." 


Mini Post: Did You Sleep Well?


Good morning. Did you sleep well? Did you wake up well? Does the light and the wind, the air and the smell, all feel brand new? Is each and every cell in your body awake now?

Today, you are who you are today. This world may seem familiar to you, but let me assure you: you’ve never been here before.

Yawn as you open the door.  There’s a hallway for you to walk down and a staircase for you to descend. It’s slow going and the staircase is long and winding. There is no telling when your bare feet will touch the ground. Your legs feel noodly, like you haven’t put weight on them in years. To keep from falling, you grip the metal railings tightly, with both hands.

What might you find waiting for you at the bottom of these steps? More importantly, who?

Is this your home? Do you live alone, or with a partner? A husband? Kids? Will there be a ginger tabby cat at the landing to greet you? What will you call her?

In milliseconds, these questions flit through your mind and make their way back to my room. I catch them with a butterfly net and deposit them into manila envelopes for safekeeping. I have to do all this in pitch darkness, but I manage okay. I try to take good care of our things.

Who knows, we might need them later.  

You are now standing in a living room. You look at the furniture but you don’t recognize anything. Everything seems cloudy, covered in a thin film. You rub your eyes and the world gets brighter.

A man is cooking breakfast in the kitchen. A total stranger. He is not the same man who was here last night, but somehow, this doesn’t alarm you.

It only makes you wistful and sad.

You pull back the white curtain to your backyard and open the sliding door. Now there’s the scent of pinewood mixed with the coffee brewing in the kitchen. Sunlight illuminates the dancing dust of dawn.

A cat is meowing and soon you feel it purring against your leg. Unconsciously, you say her name: “Mariel.”

Deja vu shakes us like an earthquake. It comes for me first, as my room crumbles quickly, swallowing me up before I even have the chance to scream.

You blink twice, and we’re back together again.

I’m awake. I turn to my husband and smile before I say,“Good morning.”

“Morning,” he says, looking up. “Did you sleep well?”

(P.S. Good morning, Jennie) 



7 Lessons I’ve Learned: Taking Time Apart In A Relationship

Jennie here.

Ivan left very early on a Saturday morning. We got up around 6am and went to our favorite donut shop to grab a “last coffee date before he left for the airport. He asked if I was going to be sad without him for two months. I nodded. When he finally left, I went back to our quiet studio apartment and immediately stretched out onto my full-sized bed and rolled around - soaking in all the space and the coldness of our bedsheets.  

I thought to myself: At last, freedom.

 This was me for like...two minutes.

This was me for like...two minutes.

Yeah, so that “freedom” was very short-lived. It only lasted about a day and a half. Almost immediately, I noticed a gaping void in my life as I spent a very long and lonely night at home, ate dinner by myself, and went to our local farmer’s market the next day solo. Everything felt a little lackluster.

Here are the most frequently asked questions/comments I’ve received about Ivan being away:

  1. Why is Ivan in Taiwan for two months?
    He is fulfilling his lifelong dream of writing (and completing) his first fictional novel. He was halfway done last year but he’s finally locking in the final details in March! I’m so excited for him.
     

  2. Do you trust him to be away from you that long?!
    Why wouldn’t I? Doesn’t everyone need a break from time to time? I have complete trust in him and want to support his dreams in any way that I can.
     

  3. Are you going to visit him in Taiwan during the two months?
    Nope, I won’t. Partially because of work but also because I want to respect his privacy and his choice to write in complete solitude - which is what he needs.
     

  4. You must be so lonely without Ivan.
    No, not really. Two months seems like pennies compared to our entire lives. I mean, I miss certain things about having Ivan with me but I know that this trip and time apart is only temporary. And why not take this time to just focus on myself as well?


Why It’s Important To Be Apart:

Sometimes, You Forget Your Individuality


  Source: Like Crazy (2011) movie

Source: Like Crazy (2011) movie

Ivan and I have been together for almost nine years now. We did long distance for six years. And it’s easy to forget that before we met, before we got married, and before we lived together - we led completely separate lives, in different cities as two individuals.

So, time apart for me means that I get to be alone. And being without Ivan really tests my independence (in a good way). Ivan and I both strongly believe that we need to learn to be comfortable with ourselves to craft the lives that we eventually want to lead. That’s why we created this blog.


7 Observations of Being Apart


 
 This is what I imagine it looks like for Ivan without me ;)

This is what I imagine it looks like for Ivan without me ;)

 

Here are my observations from our time apart so far:

1. Time moves more slowly without him around.

I’ve noticed this a lot more in the evenings after work, when I’m alone. For close to a decade, Ivan has been my most intimate companion. With Ivan around, I’d normally spend time with him talking or debating, having dinner, etc. The days seem really long without him. It reminds me that time is the only currency we’re always spending that can’t be replenished. I should be more grateful and probably get more things done.

2. When I’m alone, I’m forced to think deeply about my life.

On a positive note, I get to rebuild or re-establish my sense of identity, how I process things, and how I approach my goals; it helps me refocus on my life and individual needs. However, on the other extreme (and stressful) end, I also have to face the truth about myself. When left alone to my own devices, I start to think about those existential questions and thoughts that I've been actively suppressing in the back of my mind:

  • I can't believe that I'm almost thirty now. That means that one-third of my life is over.

  • Did I spend my life in the best way possible?

  • What do I even have outside of my work? Is that where my value is? Work, work, and more work?

  • Is this where I wanted my life to go? If this isn't it then what do I want?

  • What am I passionate about?

  • Where is the meaning in my life?

3. I’m forced to be braver and to experience hardships on my own.

The downside of always being with each other is that he can become a crutch that I subconsciously rely on. When I’m on my own, I force myself to become stronger and braver.. An example of this is when I had to negotiate for a huge promotion on my own at work. Two issues came up during the process: a political issue that shifted my role and my inability to de-couple my self-worth to my job. I spent long evenings alone rehearsing and practicing very measured reactions and pitches. I did fine on my own but it felt 10x more difficult doing it without Ivan’s support.

4. I have more time to socialize, to reconnect with and meet new people.

I’ve known for the past two years that Los Angeles was always going to be a temporary pit stop in my life. I hadn’t made much of an effort to invest in relationships or friends in the city. And if I’m being honest, I thought the people here had nothing to offer me (which is clearly stupid). Instead, I heavily depended on Ivan for my social needs and it wasn’t ideal. I started to feel like I was living in echo chamber - where I was only conversing with uber-liberals at my tech workplace or I was chatting with Ivan about our long-term travel plans and goals and personal finance and investments. It all started to feel...repetitive. So I wanted to correct this by meeting new people. As I've opened up my social outlets, I realize that there is still a lot I can learn. People still surprise me.

5. I don't have to compromise on things I want.

Selfishly, when Ivan’s not around, I can do all my “secret single life” behavior without judgement or compromise. More specifically, Ivan and I have two very distinctive living styles. In case, Ivan is a “creative” and prefers to be messy with our home (e.g. he throws his dirty socks wherever, waits to wash dishes for days, etc.); for me, I am anal retentive - if things aren’t “in their place” or done immediately (e.g. wash dishes immediately, keep the moisturizer lotion in the same place (Ivan’s note: Lol. That’s very specific) , etc), I tend to lose my shit. So the moment he left, I got to organize my space exactly how I’ve always wanted to. It was a small act of freedom that I enjoyed, perhaps a little too much.

6. Daily routines with Ivan are embedded deeply into my life.

I’ve come to the realization that a ton of things don’t seem quite right anymore without Ivan around. I guess I first noticed it at bedtime - I noticed that I would subconsciously leave an open space for him on our bed when I go to sleep at night. I only notice this void with things that we typically do together: budgeting, grocery shopping, eating dinner, late night conversations, etc. It just feels like there’s a large gap in my daily routine now without him around.

7. I actually get a chance to miss and appreciate him when he’s away.

One of the best things about doing long distance for six years was having that sense of longing and appreciation for each other. You start to take that for granted when you live together. While he’s away, it’s much easier to reflect on all the ways he’s made my life and our life together better. For example, on really long days at work - when I feel like quitting or screaming into the void, Ivan will go out and get my favorite chips (Chester's Flamin' Hot Fries) and then he patiently listens to me go on a rant about work. It’s something so small but I feel grateful to have him as part of my life to share the ups and downs of this journey.


Time Apart In A Relationship Is Healthy


 
 

Taking time apart in a marriage is really healthy.

And “taking time apart” can manifest in different ways (e.g. a solo weekend adventure, friends night out, solo activities, etc). What’s important is that you take time to focus on yourself - it can help you maintain your individual identity, goals, or dreams; you also get a chance to do the things that you actually like to do. It’s refreshing to be reminded that I am responsible and in control of my own life.

Have you and your partner experienced this sort of situation before?
How do you handle growth and change in your relationship?
What's the longest that you've been apart?


Origami Letters: Why We Started this Blog

Origami letters is a weekly series Jennie and I are experimenting with, where we share moments from our relationship through a selection of letters we’ve sent each other over our four year marriage (and nine year relationship). These letters have been lightly edited for grammar and brevity. Pseudonyms are used to protect people’s privacy.

* * *


I had a funny feeling as I saw the house disappear, as though I had written a poem and it was very good and I had lost it and would never remember it again.
— Raymond Chandler

Ivan here.

Back in 2016, I sent the following email to Jennie with the subject line “Looking out over the hump.” It’d only been a few months since we moved to Los Angeles, and we were both starting to establish our routines. This letter was also written exactly one week before we decided to start this blog. Our first post was published on August 12th titled, “A 20-Something’s Guide to Starting Over.” It’s funny looking back on it now.

I think this letter provides readers with a glimpse into why we started The Origami Life and our hopes for it going forward.

Note: If you're interested in our story so far, check out The Origami Life: The Story So Far.


An Origami Letter:
Looking Out Over the Hump


Dear Jennie,
Got both your voice messages this morning. The first when I woke up and the second after I came back from my run. You sounded very cute in a flustered, occupied sort of way.
On my run this morning along the neighborhood circuit, I was startled by a grey tabby cat lying on its side on a corner patch of grass near a busy intersection. This was by the tennis courts of the Mar Vista rec centre. It was a strange place to find a cat, and I had to leap out of the way to avoid stepping on her. She was wearing a red collar with a silver bell on it. Her eyes followed me as I went by.
As I continued on my run, I realized that something was...off about her. It's not every day that you see a cat outside just lying there, all alone at the edge of the sidewalk. She was barely moving. She must be sick. Heat exhaustion? I decided that on my second lap around, I would stop and check to see if she was all right.
When I passed the tennis courts the second time, there were two women standing where the cat had been. They looked like mother and daughter. The daughter was in her thirties and her mother, who looked to be in her late fifties. She was cradling the cat in her arms and sobbing. The daughter stood off to the side, looking helpless.
They must be the owners, I thought. I slowed down to catch a glimpse of the cat. Sure enough, she was dead.
I didn't know what to say. A lot of questions were running through my mind. What happened? Why was she all alone on the edge of the sidewalk? Was it already sick when they brought her out or did it get hit by a passing car or a bicycle?
Was I the last person she saw before she died?
I really hope not. Startled, I had jumped out of the way and kept right on going. Never stopping for a second. It was too late before I realized that something might be wrong. Even after her death, I wanted to know the story of how she ended up there. I wanted to ask the two women what happened. But instead, I ran past them again without so much as a word.
I guess you could say that it's a fundamental character flaw of mine. Growing up from an intensely shy child, who didn't speak a word all through kindergarten and cried when my mom dropped me off, into a cold and self-absorbed adult. What business was it of mine to ask questions or express concern? What difference would it make? And so I thought and reasoned to myself, and in the end, none of the things that I thought or felt ever translated into action.
I think that's the truth of where we stand right now. Always on the cusp of something but lacking the resolve and drive to constantly move forward, to focus on the present moment and not on the past or dreams of a future where I’m free from all obligations and impositions. Me. Always me.
Is there no one else I can think about besides myself?
Running helps, I think. So does writing when I can sit down and concentrate and not worry about anything else. I arrive at some sort of understanding about who I am and can reflect on moments that would otherwise pass me by. But knowing this isn’t enough. I have to remember that actions are the only thing that matters. The only thing that counts. Putting one word after the next, one foot after another, and with hope in my heart that eventually, one of those footsteps will take me home.
Love,
Ivan

The Challenge: Looking at the World Through New Eyes



The real discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.
— Marcel Proust

One of the reasons Jennie and I were willing to wait two whole years before heading off on our RTW trip is because around the time this letter was written, we both realized that the “where” isn’t nearly as important as the “how.”

We carry the way we look at the world and our own lives wherever we go.

And we've realized that the only way to add meaning and value to something is to create it for ourselves.



January 2018 Money Diary: Made Some Money, Had Some Fun

Jennie here!

Ivan is away for two months in Taiwan to embark on his life-long goal of writing his first novel (more on this in the coming weeks). I’m filling in for this month’s Money Diary because he still recovering from jet lag.

January felt like it went by excruciatingly slow for us and it turns out it was because we did so much! If the January 2018 Money Diary is an indication of what’s to come...I’m pretty excited about what’s going to happen the rest of the year.

In January 2018, we had $5,611 in monthly savings and
are now at $34,258 in our total round the world trip savings.

 
 

Here are the five highlights for our latest January 2018 Money Diary…


 
Good Budget January 2018 Money Diary.png
 

1. We’ve adjusted our monthly expense goal: we’ve budgeted $2,800 a month for 2018.

We missed the goal by $23 this month but we’re still feeling good about this goal going forward. I think that we’ve been working really hard towards this eventual transition (AKA massive cuts to our spending) over the last two years and we’re finally getting the hang of it. I don’t even feel the squeeze anymore. When we first started, it was really difficult for me to adhere to a budget but now, it’s like drinking water or breathing air. It’s much more natural for me to think more logically about where, why, and how much money I spend.

2. We started our own business!

Insane, right? The upfront costs were charged to our December 2017 expenses but January 2018 was the first month we billed our clients under our new business: Origami Partners LLC. We now have several clients that we’re working with and we’re both excited to begin this strange, new - unknown chapter of our life. More posts to come on this in second half of 2018.

3. We went to San Diego for a 3-Day weekend and spent ~$155 between the two of us.

carne-asada-fries-2.jpg

Ivan’s old high school friends from Taiwan were having a mini reunion and I didn’t want him to miss out. One of Ivan’s high school friends from East L.A. drove us to San Diego (we covered gas) AND we stayed at another friend’s apartment for free! So the total trip expenses was primarily food and entertainment.

My general thoughts on San Diego:

  • Food is SO CHEAP in San Diego compared to L.A. Our most expensive meal was $28; we had lots of grilled meats, tacos, and burritos...And Carne Asada fries are legit.
  • San Diego is worth a weekend visit. The weather is generally warmer, the beaches are beautiful, and they’ve got gorgeous natural tide pools. San Diego was the break that I needed after a shitty work week in L.A.

4. We had a “fancy” wedding anniversary Korean BBQ lunch together for $73 (tip included).

At the beginning of the month we saved some of our eating out budget for an anniversary dinner or lunch. I dragged Ivan down to Koreatown to have an insanely decadent Korean BBQ lunch and it was perfect. The service, the amount of food...all worth it. This is as fancy as our restaurant outings get now because it’s all we really need. After lunch, we grabbed some groceries from the nearby Korean store and spent an additional $31. That’s romance, too, right? We’re living our lives together like a normal married couple. Mundane things should be celebrated too!

5. In January 2018, we started to slowly purchase our Round The World (RTW) Trip essentials.

Ivan finally gave in and bought a new $100 Kindle (e-book reader) to replace the old one he broke last year. If you know Ivan then you also know he’s the angel of death to all things technology.We also spent $210 on Uniqlo essentials for our adventures beginning in September 2018. Some of our essential purchases included an ultra light down vest and quick-drying activewear tops and bottoms. As we’re beginning to accumulate the essentials, our goal of traveling the world is beginning to feel very real and it makes me excited but also anxious to leave sooner...


Thoughts On January 2018 Spending: Treat Yourself Today


 
 

Sometimes, you just have to treat yourself.

Between launching our business and extensive preparations for our RTW trip, we sometimes forget to step back and give ourselves the chance to just enjoy our lives. Afew things got us through this long, slow month - and I wanted to share them with you:

  • We didn’t spend much money during the holidays so we jumped right into our goals in the new year. During the month of December, we didn’t spend a lot of money because we don’t really celebrate (Western) holidays. That put us in a really fortunate position to start off the year on a positive note.

  • Holiday gift cards helped us save a little money too. I got two gift cards worth a total of $50 from work in December (yay for White Elephant parties). So, I used up about $35 worth of credit on coffees and lunches from the designated cafes. It was just nice to treat myself to the occasional lunch or coffee without worrying about going over budget.

  • Ivan’s best purchase for January 2018 was his Kindle. He broke my old Kindle last year before our big train trip and has been holding off on buying a new one because he’s cheap. But he’s a writer and he needs to read; he’s already gone through most of our books in the apartment - and not reading makes him grouchy. So I’ve been encouraging him (for months) to get a new replacement because it’s vital to his work. When he finally bought it, I was relieved because he seemed little more relaxed with a fully stocked e-reader in his hands.

  • My best purchase for this month was a cheap jump rope from Daiso. Against Ivan’s wishes, I purchased a jump rope at Daiso for $1.70. It wasn’t about the money. He didn’t see the point in accumulating more “stuff”  that we’d eventually have to throw away in 6 months - but I think it was a fantastic purchase. The weekend after I bought it, we ended up competing against each other to see who could reach jump the most times. I lost. Goddamnit. However, it was really refreshing that something so small could change up our workout routine and pull us out of what could’ve been a mundane Saturday. Sometimes, you just need something minor to jolt your life in a good way.

That’s it for now folks. Happy savings in February!


How was your January? DId it go by quickly?

Did you have to re-adjust your budget after the holiday spending?

Did you have any major highlights or wins in January that you want to share?



Update Post: Rethinking this Blog, Starting a Business, Planning our Exit

Starting from today, readers of The Origami Life can count on a new post
every Tuesday - with the occasional experimental post on Fridays.


Ivan here.

Despite running a blog, Jennie and I like to keep our cards close. The risk of oversharing online is real - go too far in one direction and our life becomes performance art. We want to be thoughtful about what we put out there, and at least try to add value to a reader's life.  

What we’ve learned over the past year is:

Not every success is worthy of celebration. Not every failure is worthy of analysis.

Life is spontaneous. It doesn’t always fit neatly inside a listicle.


The Origami Life Update:

Rethinking the Blog, Starting a Business,

Planning our Exit


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January has been a busy month for the Origami couple:
 

1. We created a content plan for The Origami Life.

This year, due to an increasing workload in other areas, we want to be less carefree and more intentional with this blog. Last year, we published whenever we felt like it. In 2018, we’re setting minimum expectations so that people know exactly what they’re getting from us - and when they’re getting it.

To that end, we spent the first week of 2018 at our favorite donut shop doing a MEGA brainstorming session. We broke out the Excel (the E), jotted down themes we would focus on each month, plus a list of potential ideas for each week. We’re also establishing a regular publishing cadence moving forward.

TL;DR: New post every Tuesday for the rest of the year.
 

2. We took a long weekend trip to San Diego.

San Diego is like the boutique version of Los Angeles. Here are some recommendations from our three day trip:

   Source: Yelp ; Sunset Cliffs, San Diego

Source: Yelp; Sunset Cliffs, San Diego

Hiking and Sightseeing in San Diego:

Cheap Eats and Beverages in San Diego:

   Source: Yelp ; Phil's BBQ, San Diego

Source: Yelp; Phil's BBQ, San Diego

3. We celebrated 4 years of marriage with another fight...this time over gingerbread cookies.

It’s that time again. Jennie and I fight every single year on both of our anniversaries (marriage and relationship). This year’s argument was as stupid as it sounds. It was a fight over whether one of us (me) needed permission to eat the other’s (Jennie’s) gingerbread cookies.

Jennie’s note: He ate my goddamn cookies because I said he couldn’t. He doesn’t even like cookies. (Ivan: two cookies. I ate two) AND for good measure, he broke my cookies into 100+ pieces in a blind rage. My poor cookies...
 

4. We set up an LLC and officially launched our business.

Origami Partners LLC. That’s the name of our client services company. Over the past 8-10 months, we’ve made steady progress on our goal of earning $2,500 in freelance income a month. About six months ago, we made a breakthrough, but we didn’t want to jinx ourselves by writing about it. Look for more future posts on how we’re turning a side hustle into replacement income - and breaking free from the 9-to-5 lifestyle.
 

5. We took advantage of the Chase Banking bonuses and collected $700 in January.

Chase and other banking institutions offer new account sign-up bonuses all the time. Armed with our fuck-off fund, we took advantage of these offers in January. We opened a business checking account and got $200 from Chase with a $1,000 deposit. Then I opened a personal checking and savings account and was paid another $500 - just by moving my direct deposit and our fuck off fund from one bank to another. Having a fuck-off fund: it really is the gift that keeps on giving.
 

6. We billed our first clients for the year as a business.

Over the past 6 to 8 months, we’ve been slowly building up a roster of clients that we hope to take with us on our round the world trip. January 2018 was the first month we billed them as Origami Partners LLC. It felt surreal and amazing. We’re both excited to begin this strange, new chapter of our life.
 

7. We booked two months apart from each other in February and March

Late last year, we both looked at each other and realized we had a ton of stuff to do before we leave in September 2018. So at the beginning of the year, we broke down what each of us would need to get things done. It turned out that after nearly 9 years together, both of us needed some time apart. So I booked a $400 roundtrip ticket to Taiwan (and rented a cottage out in the countryside) so that we could both get some “me” time.
 

8. Ivan’s setting aside 30 days in a cabin to finish his novel.

I know a cabin in the countryside is an indulgence, but I’m justifying this as an early 30th birthday present to myself. Toward the end of last year, I realized that I couldn’t live with myself if I went off on our RTW trip without finishing my novel. I’m 45,000 words in, and the longer this thing festers inside me, the harder I’m going to be to travel with. So when I saw a $400 flight deal to Taipei and a $235 a month cabin out in the remote countryside, I felt like I had to do it. I feel pretty grateful to be married to a partner who understands.
 

9. Jennie’s asking for another raise (because she’s worth more).

There are two ways of thinking about this: the normal person’s way and the sociopath’s way.

  1. A normal human being might say: “I’ve got 7 months left before I leave, plus the freelance income is picking up - why go through the hassle?”

  2. A sociopath would say: “When I don’t need something - is literally the best time to ask for it. Plus, what are they gonna do? Fire me so I can leave for my RTW trip sooner? Oh no. Whatever will I do.”

Editor's note: To be clear, this was Ivan's take on my raise. 

10. We booked our Round The World (RTW) first stop on September 1st, 2018

We’ve decided to head west from Los Angeles on our RTW trip. First stop: a rustic cottage in Kauai, Hawaii for 15 days.


What We’d Like to Do Differently Around Here


We think we understand the rules when we become adults, but what we really experience is a narrowing of the imagination.
— David Lynch

Confession time: on some days, I catch myself acting like a 80 year old man.

“Look at me! Look how clever and wise I am. Kids these days, they just don’t understand how the world works.”

This is the downside of having plans and routines. After a while, you start to become rigid. Too sure of yourself. Less open to new ideas. Maybe that's why I've been feeling dissatisfied with my more recent posts. I think this “rigidity” is holding me back from becoming a better writer and storyteller. Or as Jennie likes to put it: “What if you didn’t have a stick up your butt?”  

I think there’s value in creating a world and inviting readers to live in it, rather than telling them what the rules are and to not touch anything. There’s value in telling stories that make people feel something deeper than a logical transfer of ideas or that first knee-jerk response.

So that’s what we’re aiming for this year: more personal stories and more experiments on what this blog can be.

Why Side Hustles Are Made For Modern Millennials
 

You can only connect the dots looking backwards.
— Steve Jobs

 
 
  Note: I was at the “basic needs” portion of this pyramid for most of my young adult life.

Note: I was at the “basic needs” portion of this pyramid for most of my young adult life.

 

Jennie here.

Up until five years ago, I was stuck at the bottom of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. After college I moved across the country to Boston, a city where I had no family, few friends, and no professional network. I even had to get a $2,500 loan from Ivan just to stay afloat, while I worked several part-time jobs for temp agencies and Club Monaco.

I was constantly hustling, going on failed interviews, and living paycheck to paycheck before I got my first job. At the time, taking side jobs was a necessity, not an option because I had real bills to pay. Rent, utilities, public transportation, food - it all added up to so much.

When I finally had a full-time salaried position - I thought I had made it. I thought there was nothing else I would need in this life except a stable job/income.

  We've all been there, right? Frustrated and in some sort of millennial, quarter life crisis?

We've all been there, right? Frustrated and in some sort of millennial, quarter life crisis?

But, five years into my career - I became stagnant. Things felt too cushy and easy. Slowly, I forgot what it was like to struggle.

That’s when I realized something:

  • I’m not even doing what I love.
  • I’m 100% replaceable at my job.

  • Is the rest of my life going to look like this?

At any point, my job could be replaced by more senior or junior roles, consultants, contractors, freelancers, or realistically - it could be moved offshore to cheaper labor or eventually automated. I realized that I was just a small cog in the machine and I had no real power. I felt powerless and frankly - it threw me into an existential crisis.

What was I going to do with my life?

What did I want to come out of it?

Am I really going to tie my self-worth to a job?

This is when I started reevaluating my entire professional career. And that evaluation led me back to the side hustle.  


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) About Side Hustles


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What is a side hustle?

According to research conducted by GoDaddy, 1 in 2 millennials have a side hustle. There are three consistent components across all side hustles:

  1. Side hustles are typically not your primary income.

  2. Side hustles should add, not subtract from your financial stability.

  3. Side hustles empowers you with the freedom/choice to decide when, where and how you want to work.

There are two primary reasons why people pursue side hustles:

  1. Some people pursue a side hustle as a means to make some extra cash - to add to their overall net worth. More money allows you the flexibility to buy / consume what you want. For example, you need more money to take that vacation to Hawaii or you want to buy that new laptop, or you simply want to save money for a downpayment on a house. I’ve met Uber drivers who are parents that work full-time and do Uber part-time just to help pay the bills or to cover private school expenses for their children. And that’s great! More power to you if you can make that conscious choice.

  2. Others pursue a side hustle with the intention of creating financial independence and/or pursuit of a longer term passion or dream. In this instance, a side hustle is an asset that works for you; you don’t work for it. A side hustle is not a part-time job, nor is it part of the gig economy. If the intention of a side hustle is to create financial independence, then working within the gig economy accomplishes the exact opposite. In a world where technology automates and streamlines everything, most businesses that participate in the gig economy are in a constant race to the bottom. Think about how freelancers compete against each other on Fiverr (Ivan hates Fiverr and this commercial)- then imagine a version of this happening (eventually) to every industry.

Editor’s note: I’d rather clean toilets for free than let Fiverr earn a cent of commission off my back. There’s more dignity in it.


Why should millennials have a side hustle?

  • It increases your earning power and in turn - increasing your choices. It’s crucial to diversify your income/revenue streams because it ultimately means more choices. We can choose to diversify our revenue through investing in our 401Ks / retirement funds; another way to have more income is to re-invest your incoming revenue/income to fuel a side hustle or passion project.
     

  • Side hustles hedge against becoming stagnant and feeling cheated in your life. There are higher stakes when money is involved. Think of it as an incentive against continuing a mundane life where you dream about having “something more”. Think about it: are you really doing what you want to do right now? If you are, then great...but for the rest of us - a job is often just a job.
     

  • You can build something that’s just yours. Startups are cropping up all over the place to fill industry gaps and solve inefficiencies in our daily lives. However, the people who add lasting value are the ones who can find creative solutions to reimagine the norm - and doing it with their own unique twist. What you can contribute to society? Do you have a special talent or ridiculous knowledge about one subject matter? I’ve always wanted to do well at my job (and still do), but I’ve found that tying my self worth with my job just isn’t making me any happier. I want to create something that no one else can take credit for.


Four Things That I Did That Worked For My Side Hustle


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My own experience with side hustles:

  • How it began. It started when I realized that my job would always be tied to someone else’s business and someone else’s dreams. That’s when I ended up taking a real hard look at my life and what I wanted out of it. Think about it: what are you missing in your life? Do you want to travel more? Make more money? Pursue another career path?

    What do you want?

    For me, I wanted autonomy and more choice. I wanted autonomy and trust in my professional work. And I also wanted to travel and be location-independent. What’s more, I wanted the two choices to co-exist on the same platform.
     

  • How to begin. About six months ago, I started to look around in search of ‘gaps’ in the system. What could I do that was worthwhile to others, while also being fulfilling to me on a personal level? I realized that I had connections (or acquaintances) to startups that might need help with content generation. And how did I begin? I just started reaching out to several people that I knew to see if anyone would be interested in working with me. It took awhile but I started to get a few contracts. The money really wasn’t as important as proving to myself that I could start adding value anywhere.
     

  • Defining your side hustle goal. What is it that you want out of this experience? At first, Ivan and I had one simple goal: make enough cash (from our side hustles) to cover our monthly expenses (~$2,500). Once we had a number, we worked backward on how many projects and hours we would need to achieve that goal.
     

  • Being realistic about your side hustle. Let’s be real. Side hustles aren’t for everyone. And sometimes, it’s easier to just join the gig economy. But, if you don’t try...then how will you know?


* * *

To our wonderful readers, I’d love to hear about more of your thoughts and experiences on this topic!

  • Do you have a side hustle? Or are you considering one?
  • What does that do for you right now? And where do you want to take it?

* * *



2017 End of Year Money Diary: Cost of Living in Los Angeles

The Origami Life couple made some progress in December 2017. We were able to save $5,172 in December 2017 and now officially have $32,228 (out of $40,000 goal) saved for our round the world trip savings. With less than eight months left until our big trip...we're getting really excited about our next chapter!


December 2017 Money Diary

 
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The Origami Household:

2017 Financial Year in Review


Ivan here.

Total household spending last year was $37,675, or roughly $3,140 per month. If you take out the $1,000 in charitable donations, the average drops to $3,056 per month.

$3,056 per month is the cost for a married couple in their late 20s to live exactly the way they want in one of the costliest cities in the world. At this budget, we never deny ourselves anything.

This is privilege and wealth above and beyond our contribution to society.  Our financial goal for this past year was to save over 50% of our income and spend $37,000 for the entirety of 2017. We succeeded in the first (57%), but overshot the second by $675. We’re not going to beat ourselves up over this. Life happens. Nobody’s perfect.

This year, we’ll do better.


A Closer Look at Our 2017 Expenses: 

Things We Prioritized and Things We Gave Up


 
2017.jpeg
 

Jennie and I believe an effective budget includes priorities AND sacrifices.  If time and money are finite resources, prioritizing certain things means giving other things up.

Here’s a detailed breakdown of what we prioritized and what we gave up over the past year in each of our expense categories:
 

What We Spent On Rent and Bills:

$19,904 a year, $1,658 per month

 
 

We Prioritized Month-to-Month Flexibility

One of our goals at the beginning of the year was to move to a different neighborhood in Los Angeles that was: (a) more aligned with our way of life and (b) cheaper to rent.

At the beginning of 2017, we went to several showings of apartments in different neighborhoods. Then we ran the numbers, and concluded that the cost savings wasn’t worth the effort. In April, our current lease on our studio expired and moved to month-to-month. By some miracle, our landlord didn’t raise our rent this past year! With only 8 months left now before we leave LA to go on our round the world trip, we decided to prioritize flexibility over signing another one year lease.

We Gave Up (Most) Subscriptions

Outside of essentials like internet ($65 per month) and phone ($60 per month), we stay away from paid subscriptions of any kind. Ok, one exception was Costco ($55/year), but since Jennie got rid of her car, the savings on gas becomes irrelevant to us in 2018. Therefore, Costco is getting cancelled. 

The reason businesses love the subscription model is the reason we hate it. Paying someone for the privilege to consume (in time or money), with fees that are renewed automatically whether we’re using it or not? I’ve got a better idea: why don’t you pay me? Because unless your business offers something I couldn’t live without, you need me more than I need you.
 

What We Spent On Groceries:

$3,683 a year, $306 per month

 
 

We Prioritized Cheap, Fresh Produce

In Southern California, we have an embarrassment of riches in terms of cheap, fresh produce available at farmer’s markets year round: black kale by the bunch, every variant of orange and stone fruit (e.g. nectarines, plums, and pluots) in the summer, and avocados the size of softballs.

We Gave Up Meat & Poultry

If I were to give a rough estimate, I’d say we consumed 50% less meat in 2017 than we did in 2016. While I’d like to say this was for ethical or health reasons, the truth is far less mature and admirable: we just don’t like handling raw meat when we cook. It wastes time and makes us lose our appetites. We’ll still order meat when we eat out though.
 

What We Spent On Education & Investments:

$3,527 a year, $294 per month

 
 

We Prioritized Functional Investments and Passion Projects

Expenses in this category include the following:

  • Educational fees (eg. Ivan’s final CFA exam fee and immigration processing fees)

  • Jennie’s art supplies

  • Ivan’s books

  • Round the world trip gear that we’re steadily accumulating in preparation for September 2018

At the beginning of 2017, Jennie created a list of ALL the items we’ll need for our round the world trip (Jennie’s note: Because I’ve got foresight and I’m awesome). Then it was just a matter of setting up automatic price alerts (we recommend Honey) and waiting patiently for the right deal to be delivered to our inbox. Because we planned in advance, we were able to take advantage of retail pricing strategies, instead of letting retail take advantage of us. I follow a very similar approach for travel hacking and airline points. Our tip? Have a plan and work backwards. The longer you can wait on things, the cheaper you can get them for.

We Gave Up on Style and Fashion

Any sort of investment in style and appearances took a backseat in 2017. We spent less than $500 between the two of us on clothing this past year. As it turned out, nobody noticed - the staple items in our wardrobe worked just fine.
 

What We Spent On Eating Out & Entertainment:

$3,215 a year, $268 per month

 
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We Prioritized Mom and Pop Restaurants

Jennie and I define “fine dining” as any meal over $40 per person including tax and tip. As the Koreans in K-town have figured out, one way to increase the razor thin margins in the restaurant business and lower your overhead is to set up shop with your family.

We Gave Up Fine Dining and Social Drinking

Both of us feel uncomfortable being waited on for different reasons: Jennie because of her experience waiting tables when she was a teenager, and me because I like being left alone.

We’ve also stopped spending money on social drinking. Outside of a glass of wine, beer, or Soju to make food taste better (eg. spicy food, barbecue, seafood), social drinking is an oxymoron for me, since I grow quieter and less sociable the more alcohol I consume. Then I fall asleep. In Jennie’s case, her tolerance just isn’t what it used to be.  
 

What We Spent On Travel:

$3,106 a year, $259 per month

 
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We Prioritized Family and Domestic Travel

We went on 7 trips this past year:

  1. San Francisco (twice)

  2. Denver for family (twice)

  3. Taipei for family (Ivan only)

  4. Albuquerque for family (Jennie only)

  5. Camping in Yosemite National Park w/ friends

  6. Camping in Joshua Tree National Park w/ friends

  7. Cross country train trip across the USA (8 cities in 15 days)

Seeing as how both of us might be gone for a very long time starting September 2018, we prioritized family and North American friends this year. This had the unintentional benefit of saving us a lot of dough on accommodations.

We Gave Up International Travel

 
 

For now. We’re giving up international travel for now.
 

What We Spent On Other Miscellaneous Items:

$2,052 a year, $171 per month


We Prioritized Breakfast Together

On average, we spend $7 per day, five mornings a week, for breakfast and coffee together. Jennie and I have grown quite attached to the Cambodian husband and wife team that’s running our favorite donut shop, and we’ve made it our personal mission to transfer all of our miscellaneous budget to them.

It’s nice to walk into a place and be treated like regulars. The donut shop in the morning is also where we come up with most of our ideas for this blog.

We Gave Up Processed Junk Food

 
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Sort of. Jennie has a Shin Ramyun and Hot Fries addiction so she’ll buy a bag every now and then. For me, it’s all about gummies. Not for the taste or sugar - I just like to chew on stuff. My favorite is the Haribo Egg (Oeufs au Plat) Gummies I discovered on a trip to Paris in 2016. They’re tough and have the consistency of rubber (which is good because they last longer).

And that’s our financial year in a nutshell!

* * *

What are some things that you’ve prioritized in 2018? 

What are the things you’re willing to give up for it?

* * *



 

 

The Origami Life: 2017 Year In Review & 2018 Priorities

The Origami Life: 2017 Year In Review


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Jennie here. Happy New Year!

It’s that time again - another new year to look forward to. So, how did we stack up to our 2017 goals that we committed to in January 2017?

We graded ourselves against our goals with the following table:


The Origami Life 2017 Goals 2017 Assessment Reasoning / Explanation
Personal Finance 1. Save at least 50% of our salary.
2. Move into a cheaper apartment.
3. Donate 1-2% of our (post-tax) earnings.
A+ Boom. A+ because we did everything...except move into a cheaper apartment. In the end, we realized that we’ve got less than a year left so the costs of moving outweighed the savings and convenience. Alas, the ever shifting priorities of our lives...
Travels
1. Travel across the country by rail. A+ This was meant to be our “goodbye America” tour so it felt great to achieve this goal last year.
Relationship 1. Power down all electronics by 9pm every day.
2. Volunteer together in 2017.
3. Be kinder to each other.
A- We totally failed the powering down of electronics by 9pm. Korean dramas are an unhealthy addiction.

However, we did make another change in our relationship - we went running together every week and also had coffee/breakfast together every morning without electronics. We decided to get healthier together and we also chat a lot more about our day ahead and what’s on our minds. This has fundamentally improved our relationship.

On the volunteer front, we’ve put in at least 5-10 hours a month in volunteering between the two of us since April 2017 (mostly Ivan) - with the exception of October when we went on our three week train trip.
Individual Goals / Personal Goals Jennie:
1. Practice drawing for 30+ minutes a day.
2. Read (a book) for 30+ minutes a day.
3. Exercise two to three times a week.
4. Send more emails/correspondences to my loved ones and friends.

Ivan:
1. Write and submit one new article for publication every week.
2. Complete the first draft of my novel by June 1, 2017.
3. Study for the final CFA exam for at least 30 minutes per day.
4. Run two to three times a week.
5. Read 52 long novels by the end of this year.
D










C
Jennie:
So I’ll give myself like a ~3 out of 4 on this one. I achieved the exercise and reaching out to friends more in 2017, but dropped the ball on my creative ambitions (drawing and reading). Now that exercising has become a healthy part of my weekly routine, I want to use 2018 to re-focus my efforts on creative endeavors. There was a concerted effort here and I actually learned a lot about my shifting priorities.



Ivan:
I managed to complete 60% of each goal. For example, I wanted to write 80,000 words for my novel, but only managed 45k. I ran 1-2 times a week instead of 2-3. I read 32 novels this year instead of 52. My freelance goal changed partway through the year when I picked up some large clients and projects - so my publication goal went out the window. I studied for and passed my final CFA exam.
All in all, to say I’m not happy would be an understatement. Obviously, I didn’t follow my own advice about priorities and spread myself too thin (again). I’ve taken steps to fix this and to tie up loose ends in 2018. More on this in a later post.

At the beginning of last year, we were feeling pretty gung ho about our ambitions and our potential to achieve EVERYTHING. And well, it didn’t go perfectly as planned but we managed to achieve most of the important priorities we had together. If I’m being kind, I would give us an overall ‘B’ or ‘B-’ for the year but there’s definitely some room for improvement in 2018.
 


The Origami Life’s Big 2017 Revelation:


If you have more than three priorities, you have no priorities at all.
— Ivan (guy who didn’t listen to himself)

We had two major realizations this past year as we were working through our goals and priorities:

  1. We realized something towards the end of 2017 - we can’t do it all. And, if we’re being honest, some priorities changed and new goals emerged throughout the year. If there’s one thing we’ve learned, we need to pare down our goals.
     

  2. New year, new me’ isn’t a real thing. Instead of being different people, we need to be ourselves more completely in 2018, and boil things down to the essentials of what we truly value. You can read Ivan’s introspective end of year post here - he covers a different kind of annual review.
     

What were our highlights from 2017?

  • Personal finance: We saved 57% of our income in 2017. It was difficult but we did it. We’ve set ourselves up for an easier transition this coming September as we plan to leave for our round the world trip.
     

  • Travel: Our biggest highlight was traveling across the country by Amtrak train. It was probably one of the most inspiring and productive trips I’ve ever had. I got to meet strangers on a train and we reconnected with a few friends along our pit stops.
     

  • Relationship: We started running together in the mornings. I still hate this but it’s actually helped improve our overall productivity, health, and relationship. We’re choosing to be more intentional with our time together.
     

What were our lowest points from 2017?

  • Slumps happen. Ivan and I both experienced slumps at different parts of the year - for me, it came during the summer and for him, it was the start of winter. There were several tough weeks that we had to work through on our own. All you can do is acknowledge that you’re in a slump and work yourself out of it. And remember, it’s okay to fall into slumps because it’s a natural part of life. Do you know anyone who is 100% on their game all the time? If not, then be kind and give yourself a break.
     

The Origami Life: Our Priorities For 2018


What areas will We focus on in 2018?

This year is about leveling up on the foundation we’ve built over the last year.

We’ve found that keeping to a handful of specific and high level goals/priorities gave us a lot of focus and room to grow this past year. And we will continue with the following categories in our annual goals/resolutions post:

  1. Personal Finance

  2. Travel

  3. Relationship
     

Personal Finance Priorities in 2018

  1. Decrease our annual expenses from $37,000 down to $36,000. Last year, we managed to save more than 50% of our annual income and it felt amazing. This year, we’re challenging ourselves to scrimp a little more and bring our total annual expenses down to $36,000 for the entire year - that’ll be about $3,000 a month - including charitable donations.
     

  2. Continue to donate 1-2% of our (post-tax) earnings to charitable causes. After the 2016 election year, we thought a lot about how we want to show our support for the causes we care about. And we’ve been fortunate enough to actually donate and be more intentional about giving to causes we care about.

    You can read more about our 2017 donations (and Money Diaries) here:

Travel Priorities in 2018

We have had one major travel goal for the past two years, and 2018 is the year when we finally set off!

  1. Before we both turn 30 this year, we plan on leaving for our Round The World (RTW) travels by September 1, 2018. We’ll travel for 15 months or until we get tired of living abroad.

It’s almost unreal to think that the past two years of saving, getting healthier, and living more intentionally and minimalist/simple lives has been leading up to this one goal. We haven't purchased our one way tickets yet but we've planned out all the steps leading up to this big life change.

Some of the scarier steps here include quitting / giving notice at a well paying job, saying goodbye to loved ones, and preparing for a life abroad and living out of a 40L travel backpack.
 

Relationship Priorities in 2018

us.

We’ve had a tough year because we’re both overachievers and control freaks who want things done a certain way. This led to a lot of arguments between us over who was “right”. It was hard. We had a lot of good days but when some days got tough - they got really tough. For example, when I was going through a slump and had a challenging or when Ivan had an unproductive writing day - we argued a lot on those days.

This year we’re trying to work on our individual priorities to help improve our overall relationship together.

Here’s Ivan’s relationship priority in 2018 for my sake:

  1. Be nicer and don’t take my personal frustrations out on my wife: I have a problem with my temper and I’ll be the first to admit it. Apologizing immediately afterwards doesn’t make things better either. Most of the time, it’s not even Jennie’s fault. I’m just a control freak with dictator tendencies who gets extremely irritated with interruptions - especially if the work isn’t going well.  

Here’s my relationship priority in 2018 for Ivan’s sake:

  1. I will give Ivan more space to himself. We live in a studio apartment together and it’s hard to have space, but what I realized (real late) was that Ivan needed complete and total privacy to write his fiction. He’s an extreme introvert and is just the type of person who needs time alone in a room to be productive. This year, I will be more considerate by way of giving him more space to just be.


Looking Forward To Another Exciting Year in 2018
...While Also Being More Realistic


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So, that brings us to the end of our post. I’ve aired some dirty laundry and have shared our faults with all of our Origami Life readers because I think that being honest with you, helps us be honest with ourselves too.

So thank you for an amazing 2017, for reading our posts, and for sharing this experience with us.

  • How was your 2017? 
  • Are you superhuman and achieved everything you set out to do? 
  • And what’s on your priority/goals list for 2018? 
  • Do you have any tips or tricks on how we can achieve our priorities this year?

And this leads us to one final priority we want to share with you:

  1. We want to engage with our readers more.

As we move forward with this blog, we’d love to understand what you take away from our blog posts. We want to learn more about you and figure out ways to improve our content so that it positively benefits your lives as well. Feel free to email us - we read and respond to all of your emails and comments! Let us know what you think or questions you might have.

Good luck and we can’t wait to share our 2018 experience with all of you.  
 



How to Be Yourself in 2018
Say what you are. Not what you would like to be. Not what you have to be. Just say what you are. And what you are is good enough.
— John Cassavetes

Year in Review: Our Playlist for 2017


Ivan here. 

Good music is like a shortcut to the subconscious. A decent musician can walk to places that a writer has to sprint to.

So before I give you all my paragraphs about how I felt about 2017, here’s a playlist Jennie and I compiled for the year -  one song for every month. Most of these songs are from albums we loved that came out this year - mixed with some 80s synth pop to drown out the internal screaming.

How did 2017 go for me personally? Jennie and I will have another post to go into the specifics, but to sum it up, I’d say it probably went better than I feel about it at the moment. As usual, I found myself making the same mistakes, disregarding the same advice that I'd easily hand out to others. Again, I bit off more than I could chew and had to scramble during the second half of the year to snatch partial victories from the jaws of overwhelming defeat.

But this post isn’t about me - it’s about all of us.


A Different Kind of Annual Review:

Why We Need To Be Ourselves in 2018


If I could summarize 2017 with one statement, I’d say that this was the year when two worlds collided: the world of our beliefs (i.e. how we’d like to see things) and the world of consequences (i.e. what we actually did about it)

When optimism (or delusion) meets reality, the effects can feel quite disorienting.

In 2017, we saw case after case of people who spent their careers signaling truth and decency, but in the post-Weinstein world, we’ve discovered that when the chips were down, a lot of people failed to be neither true nor decent.  

More specifically, I’d divide these cases into two camps:

  1. People who believed the right things but did the exact opposite

  2. People who believed the right things but did nothing

In a way, it’s healthy that we’re starting to see things the way they truly are. It’s brought us closer to a shared version of reality. To quote Annie Dillard, “how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

It’s a shame so many people had to get hurt before we’re finally coming to our senses.


Forget New Year’s Resolutions:

Let’s Talk Values and Priorities


Appearances and signals of virtue/prestige/credibility/success is the exact opposite of how Jennie and I would like to conduct our lives.

Neither of us want to wake up one day and realize that we weren’t the people we claimed we were, that our values and priorities never translated into anything that we ended up doing. Or worse, that everything had been an act - a play we put on for other people because it looked good - that there were no real principles or values underneath.

Yeah, a wasted life scares us.


An Origami Worldview: Fix Yourself Before You Fix The World


Our lives are composed of a finite series of choices: of how we spend our time and how we spend our money.

We believe that every incremental hour or dollar spent:

  1. stands for something beyond that hour or dollar
  2. has consequences on the wider world around us.

Enough people spending their time a certain way adds up to a certain type of culture. Enough people spending money adds up to a market with certain types of incentives. And when you add everything up, we’re all invested (or complicit) in the system we’ve created and the future we’re creating.

It’s easy to point to the monsters around us and use them as scapegoats. Our elected officials are owned by corporate interests. Wall Street is greedy. The President is narcissistic and ignorant with a limited attention span. Congrats, we’ve now established that monsters will be monsters. What do you want - a Pulitzer Prize?  

The more interesting questions to ask are:

  • Who's funding corporate power over our influencers?

  • Whose greed allowed Wall Street to earn their commissions?

  • And are we really in a position to criticize narcissism and snap judgments on Twitter?

At the end of the day, the best way to fix the system is to fix ourselves.


A Practical Guide:

How To Be True to Yourself in 2018


Within ten days you will seem a god to those to whom you are now a beast and an ape, if you will return to your principles and the worship of reason.
— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations


At the Origami Life, Jennie and I try to take observations (or criticisms) and transform them into something constructive and practical.

" New year, new me."

From reading the most common resolutions of 2018, we get the impression that people are hoping to become totally new versions of themselves, as if a switch will flip, and the world will suddenly change on January 1st.

But none of these things will happen if we continue to live with the results of other people’s thinking, with the narratives of ideology and battlelines, of performing our lives in front of an audience - instead of thinking and feeling as individuals.

If anything, instead of being different people, we need to be ourselves more completely in 2018, and boil things down to the essentials of what we truly value.
 

1. Make a statement about who you are

Before you figure out what you should do, first you have to decide what you stand for. What do you value? It’s rare that I meet a person who deep down, doesn’t want to do the “right” thing. But how can we know what the “right” thing is with all the noise around us?

One exercise I like to do is to summarize what I value in a single sentence, then I’ll ask myself ‘Why?’ three times in a row.

 

 
 

Ivan's Value Statement:

The thing I value most is independence - the ability to make choices, to add value to the lives of the people I care about.

  1. Why? Because I have a problem with authority and groupthink.

  2. Why? Because I value individuals and their freedom to say or do whatever they like - even if it’s misguided - as long as their wrongness comes from an honest place.

  3. Why? Because life is absurd and meaningless, and since everyone must be going through the same thing, it’s important to be true to ourselves and to empathize with others.

 
 

 

2. List all the things that are stopping you from being that person

List out all the instances in the past year where you fell short of who you imagine yourself to be. This could be anything from purchases you made, time wasted on something, things you wish you could’ve said, relationships you wish you could’ve started/ended.
 

3. Prioritize no more than three things on that list

One of the least appreciated things about personal growth is that you can’t have priorities without sacrifice. It’s literally in the definition: if certain things are more important to you than others, then it’s equally important to STOP DOING the least important things.

In 2018, people around the world want to eat better, exercise more, spend less money, pay down their debt, get more sleep, read more books, learn a new skill, get a new job, make new friends, and find a new hobby. Well, which is it? Some of these goals are clearly contradictory.

If you have more than three priorities, you have no priorities at all.
 

4. Do the hardest part first

The hardest part is starting something. Not tomorrow, not next week, not when you’re sufficiently prepared or running out of excuses. Today. No matter how small the step.
 

5. Grind your way to better habits

I have this theory that we’re defined by what we do when we have little incentive to do anything. Doing something when everyone else is equally motivated is called “breaking even.” We don’t go anywhere when we break even - we’re just catching up to the average.

Everyone is filled with hope and optimism on January 1st. Everyone is signing up for that gym membership, cranking up that Mint app, or waking up at the crack of dawn. But when reality sets in sometime in February or March, we find ourselves staring into the abyss. This is the abyss created by January’s expectations and the reality that change is almost universally slow and painful.

And what we choose to do when faced with that abyss will mean everything.

* * * 

On that happy note, what are some things that went well in your life over the past year?
What were the things you struggled with?
What’s your perspective moving into 2018?  

Jennie and I would love to hear from you in the new year!

* * * 



30 Things We Believe That People Might Disagree With Us On

Ivan here. 

I don't know if it's the sun setting by four in the afternoon, but for the past few weeks I've been suffering from my annual, end-of-the-year case of writer's block. Whenever this happens, I try to get myself out of the rut by substituting quality for quantity. For example, here's a not-very-good poem I wrote titled "I'm Not Myself Today":

I'm Not Myself Today

These hands are some guy's hands
These thoughts are some guy's thoughts
My days are shown on rerun
In a land that time forgot

I'll keep these fingers moving
Through the silence in the air
Past the age of politeness
Beyond the point to care.

Another thing I like to do is make lists - tons of lists - about anything that crosses my mind. Taking a page from Silicon Valley, I've compiled a list of 30 things Jennie and I believe that people might disagree with us on - categorized by the three subjects we cover here at The Origami Life: money, travel and love. 

Keep in mind that while Jennie and I really do believe these things, the truth is probably a bit less black-and-white. 


Money:

10 Things We Believe About Money


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  1. Most people don’t make choices, but are forced to accept their circumstances.

  2. Every household should operate like a lean, bootstrapped business.

  3. Maintaining a fuck-off fund is more valuable than anything money can buy

  4. Beyond the basics (food, shelter, physical/mental health), most financial problems we experience in the developed world are just weaknesses.

  5. Investing isn’t about maximizing your return, but about minimizing your mistakes.

  6. Buying a home early in your career may be the right purchase, but is rarely a good investment.

  7. The financial success of others wouldn't hurt if you were secure in yourself - and shouldn’t influence you to make stupid and unnecessary gambles (*cough* bitcoin).

  8. Following the herd and consuming for appearances is a long term recipe for pain and unhappiness.

  9. Frugality and long term thinking could solve most of the world’s problems (eg. some of the US's money problems are actually consumption problems). 

  10. Money is not that important or interesting. People also need less of it than they think to lead fulfilling lives.


Travel:

10 Things We Believe About Travel


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  1. You are a consumer and tourist no matter how you travel. 
  2. Authenticity in travel is probably overrated. 
  3. Finding your authentic self is definitely overrated (‘you’ is not a static concept and ergo, impossible to find).
  4. If you’re from the developed world, traveling abroad is objectively cheaper than your normal life.
  5. Never setting foot outside your country/state/town is almost the definition of ignorance (while being able to is the definition of privilege). 
  6. Staying connected to your phone is the best way to disconnect from the moment.
  7. At some point, the number of places you’ve visited is inversely proportional to the depth of each experience. 
  8. Just because something is local or “part of the culture” doesn’t mean it’s good.
  9. Places, people and things are as meaningful as our mindset and degree of openness. 
  10. Take your time. Nothing good gets away.

Love & Relationships:

10 Things We Believe About Love


  1. There’s no such thing as ‘the one’ - only opportunity meeting circumstance.
  2. Arguments are the healthiest thing for a relationship.
  3. You can only compromise on details but not direction (if you want to go east and she wants to go west, compromise means you never go anywhere).
  4. There should be no restrictions on what can or can’t be brought up in a marriage.
  5. Feelings matter - but only after everything has been laid out on the table. In marriage, personal truths that aren’t expressed have no merit.
  6. A good relationship means two people being themselves completely for long periods of time and not hating each other for it.
  7. Sometimes the best thing you can do for your partner is nothing.
  8. Time apart from each other is both healthy and necessary.
  9. The secret to marital bliss is to consistently outperform low expectations.
  10. Most relationships don’t last forever; forcing it or pretending will only make things worse.