Origami Guides: A 3 Day New Orleans Itinerary (with Local Recommendations)

Jennie here.

In early May, Ivan and I spent a fantastic long weekend attending the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. In just a few short days of hanging out in The Big Easy, this city has catapulted onto our top 3 favorite cities in the U.S. - right after Boston and Philadelphia. The city’s slow pace, melting pot of culture, food, and history makes it the ideal hub for us. In another lifetime, I could definitely see us living here.

 Jazz Fest | NPS Photo | Bruce Barnes

Jazz Fest | NPS Photo | Bruce Barnes

During this trip, we made a point of pestering every local we met to give us their favorite places to eat, drink, and relax in New Orleans, and we followed their advice to compile this three day itinerary.

Basically, we’ve asked all the questions - so you won’t have to!


Who should use this itinerary?


Solo travelers/couples on a budget who prefer to stay off Bourbon Street in favor of more “off the beaten” path hangouts.


What are the best times to visit NOLA (New Orleans)?


Before June. Our rule of thumb: go before it gets too hot and humid to enjoy the sights. We went on the first weekend of May for the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and the weather was just right.

 Crawfish in New Orleans |  Source: Flicker

Crawfish in New Orleans | Source: Flicker

 Mardi Gras in New Orleans

Mardi Gras in New Orleans

  • Crawfish boil fans: If you’re looking for a good crawfish boil, go before August; crawfish season is typically between early March through mid-June.

  • Mardi Gras or party junkies: If you want to party and join a few second lines, go during the Mardi Gras season. Be warned though - prices will double or triple for accommodations during this time period. A local Uber driver did mention that Mardi Gras lasts about a full month for locals with all the backyard barbeques and shindigs.


What is the best way to get around NOLA (New Orleans)?


Staying true to who we are - we usually go car-less in any city we visit.

 New Orleans Canal Street Streetcar

New Orleans Canal Street Streetcar

We recommend using NOLA’s public transit system. For $3.00, you can get a 24-hour pass to use NOLA’s public transit system, which includes 24 hour streetcars and extensive bus routes. Over three days, it’ll only cost you $9 a person.

We also found New Orleans to be relatively walkable in the main touristy areas (e.g. Frenchman Street, French Quarters, Magazine Street, etc). However, there are still some “shady” areas you’d want to avoid walking through after dark.

When in doubt, take a Lyft/Uber after sundown.


Where should I stay in NOLA?


I'm only going to recommend what I can stand by - unless you’re doing it “for the Gram/IG”, I don’t think you should pay for more than $70 a night for your stay in New Orleans. Think about it: how much time will you actually spend in your room?

For the budget conscious (up to $60 per night):

  1. Airbnb is a great option. We found a lot of Airbnb options under $60 a day. I would highly recommend staying in the Garden District along Magazine Street. It’s an emerging area with a growing arts scene, boutiques, and restaurants.

  2. Hostels. Our friend mentioned that NOLA has a pretty decent hostel scene compared to other Western metropolitan cities. You can check out The Broke Backpacker’s recommendations here that will suit your needs.


Thoughts On Bourbon Street


 New Orleans Bourbon Street in the French Quarters

New Orleans Bourbon Street in the French Quarters

We did the obligatory walk through Bourbon street one evening. Truth is, I could’ve lived without it. Despite its long history, you’ll quickly notice it’s just a copy-and-paste job of clubs and sleazy bars that are packed with out-of-towners.

Here’s our tip: You can do the obligatory 30 minute stroll through the main street and then walk over to Frenchmen Street where all the interesting jazz clubs, dive bars, street performances, poets for hire, and other shenanigans that are more worth your time.


New Orleans People and Southern Porch Culture


My favorite part of our entire trip was actually getting to meet New Orleanians and transplants. We found New Orleanians to be kind, warm, and unfazed by what others think of them. Our favorite type of people!

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Oftentimes, you’ll see locals leisurely hanging out on their porches having a smoke or drinking a cold beer or sweet tea. And as we passed some of these beautifully crafted homes (especially in the Lower Garden District), locals would casually say, “Hi, how are you?” or “Where y’at?” (the correct response: “what it is”). Although it seems silly to read into this porch culture, I found myself longing for that sense of community and closeness that it represents.


What we wished we’d done differently before going to New Orleans...


I think my biggest regret was not learning more about New Orleans and its history before I visited. Although I recall some basics from my U.S. history classes, it’s one of those cities that continues to carry its traditions.

Here are a few resources I’d suggest before visiting New Orleans:

Book(s):

Radio / Podcasts:

Television:

  • HBO series Treme (pronounced: tre-MAY) from the series creator of The Wire (available for free on Amazon Prime Video)


How do I use this guide?


The map is divided into three color-coded areas:

  • Day 1 attractions are in Blue
  • Day 2 attractions are in Red
  • Day 3 attractions are in Yellow
  • The grey markers are for optional sites

For simplicity, we assume you followed our advice and are staying in the Garden District along Magazine Street. All currency listed in USD.


A 3 Day New Orleans Itinerary

(based entirely on local recommendations)

Day 1 (Blue): Arrival in New Orleans, Crawfish Boil, Gumbo, Boozy Bourbon Street, Jazz on Frenchmen Street, and Late Night Gene’s Po’Boys

 
 

Morning: 

  • Arrive at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport.
  • Take the short, six minute Uber ride ($5-6) to Harbor Seafood and Oyster Bar for boiled crawfish and raw oysters. We ordered fried alligator as an appetizer, and the boiled special: 3 lbs of boiled crawfish, ½ lb of boiled shrimp, 10 boiled potatoes and corn ($38). If possible, we recommend sitting at the bar to chat with the friendly bartender!

Afternoon

  • Uber to your Airbnb at the Garden District ($15-17). Drop off your things and head out on foot.
  • Follow Magazine Street towards the French Quarter, stop by French Truck Coffee ($5) for some cold brew.

  • Have dinner at Mother’s Restaurant ($20-30): Mother’s has a combination plate where you can try the gumbo, Jambalaya, and etouffee (our preference). Alternatively, there’s the always packed Cochon Butcher, a gourmet sandwich shop where you can get boudin (boo-dan).

Evening

  • Walk through and past Bourbon Street. Avoid the neon-colored daiquiris made with Everclear and the Hand Grenade cocktail - because you’re not 21 anymore and possess a fully developed brain.
  • Make your way to Frenchman Street. This is where all the great live music, jazz clubs, and dive bars are. In our case, we started at The Spotted Cat for live music, then a few dive bars later, ended up at the Hi Ho Lounge around one in the morning ($25-30).
  • Cap off the night by splitting a hot sausage po’boy at Gene’s Po’Boys ($15, open 24H). Every single local we talked to mentioned Gene’s as a great late night spot. Note: Gene's does take credit cards and make sure to ask for their homemade HOT SAUCE. A local highly recommended it to us.
  • Take the Uber home ($9-10).
     

Daily total (for two) in New Orleans:
$100-150 depending on how many drinks you order.
We stuck to one drink per establishment.

 

 

Day 2 (Red): Exploring New Orleans Cemeteries, Streetcars, Mufalettas, Beignets and Coffee at Cafe Du Monde, and Drinking Wine at Bacchanal with New Friends And Jazz

Morning

Afternoon

  • Take the streetcar to the French Quarter. Purchase a 1 Day transit pass (valid for 24H) from the street car driver ($3 per person).

  • Order HALF of a muffaletta sandwich from Central Grocery ($15). Trust me: half is all you need for two regular-sized people.

  • Take your sandwich to go and head over to Jackson Square for an impromptu picnic.

  • For dessert, there are two options for cafe au lait and beignets (pronounced: ben-YAYs): the famous Cafe du Monde or Cafe Beignet (multiple locations - we went to the one on Royal St). Which is better? We tried both and preferred Cafe Beignet ($10) because there were fewer tourists (i.e. quieter), no line for restrooms and the beignets were fluffier and fresh out of the fryer.

Evening

  • Take the streetcar to French Market Station.

  • Climb the stairs up the weird overpass, over a concrete wall, and down the stairs again to reach Crescent Park, a tranquil public space with views of the Mississippi River and the New Orleans skyline.

  • Continue walking north along the river until you reach the Bywater district - which reminded us of the New Orleans-equivalent of pre-gentrified Brooklyn.

  • Head over to our favorite spot in New Orleans: Bacchanal Fine Wine and Spirits ($40-50).
    How it works: you select and purchase a bottle of wine as you enter the store (with help from the friendly staff), grab a couple of empty glasses and head over to the back patio. Pull up some chairs and share a table with some strangers while listening to live music! There’s a good mix of locals and tourists who come here, and though it may seem daunting for introverts at first, stick with it! A few glasses of wine later, we promise you won’t regret it! Bacchanal also serves food and a fantastic meat and cheese plate you can order at the front. We recommend arriving early (5 PM) before the post-work rush.

Daily total (for two):
$90-120. Again, depends on how much wine you drink.
We ordered a bottle of Beaujolais ($28), shared a cheese and meat plate with some locals ($10-15), and tipped the musicians ($5).

 

 

Day 3 (Yellow): Willie Mae’s Fried Chicken, Walking Around City Park and Sculpture Gardens, More Gumbo, and Sno-balls for Dessert

Morning

  • Have a late breakfast at the famous Willie Mae’s Scotch House (closed Sundays, $25-30) for fried chicken. In our opinion, totally worth the hype. It is extremely important to get here as soon as it opens at 10AM to avoid standing in a long ass line.

  • Walk off the fried chicken by making your way through the Bayou St. John neighborhood to City Park.

Afternoon

Evening

  • Uber out to Pho Michael ($20-25) for a (relatively) light meal before your flight. New Orleans has a sizable Vietnamese population and the bun bo hue here was legit! Alternatively, people rave about the gumbo at Chef Ron’s Gumbo Shop, located right next to Sno-La Snowball Lounge, which sells sno-balls stuffed with a cheesecake filling (we’re skeptical about this combo). We were too stuffed to try it, but our Uber driver said she goes out of her way to eat there all the time.

  • Take the Uber to the airport ($15) and fly home 10 pounds heavier.

Daily total (for two): $90-120.
Uber rates vary depending on whether you’re traveling on a weekend or weekday.



April 2018 Money Diary: A Different Kind of Life

Ivan here.

Twenty two months ago, Jennie and I published our first money diary on this blog. Back then, we had some hopes and dreams about what our life and marriage could be, a few ambitious goals, plus zero dollars saved in our round the world travel fund.

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Since that publication:

  • Our cost of living has remained unchanged: We spent $2,787 in July 2016 versus $2,815 in the past month.  

  • Our average monthly spend has decreased: we averaged $3,140 per month in 2016 & 2017 versus $2,800 in 2018.

  • Our donations to charity have increased: From $0 in 2016 to $1,250 in 2018 (to date).

  • We’ve hit our $40,000 savings goal for our round the world trip:  $0 in 2016 to $40,286 in 2018.

 
April 2018 - The Origami Life Money Diaries
 

The shift from spending $3,000 a month to $2,800 isn’t about cutting costs or making ourselves miserable. We’ve actually learned to be more efficient with where we spend our dollars, by prioritizing our spending in areas that add value to our life. For example, over the past two years, we’ve significantly cut back on Eating Out and Miscellaneous spending, and moved those savings toward Travel and Charitable Donations.  

This goes back to how we value money: it’s not about what you spend, but how you get the maximum return for every dollar you do spend by:

  1. Eliminating waste and mindless spending habits

  2. Setting clear priorities on the things that matter to you

Having met our savings goals, Jennie and I now have some loose ends to tie up - but we’re on track to transition to the next chapter of our lives by September.


I told you what I was going to do.
— Daniel Plainview, There Will Be Blood

Travel On Your Terms versus On a Corporate Expense Account


A week after I returned to Los Angeles after two months in rural Taiwan, I tagged along with Jennie on a work trip to San Francisco. As one half of Origami Partners LLC, I had a few prospective clients up in the Bay Area, and wanted to take advantage of the free accommodations to set up some meetings downtown.

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Walking around San Francisco after two months of solitude in rural Taiwan was jarring to say the least.

I don’t have strong feelings about the Bay Area. From certain angles, I guess it’s a beautiful city. On the other hand, it’s also a microcosm for the massive income inequality and skyrocketing rents we see around the world.

San Francisco is by far the most expensive city in the United States. And it’s the kind of city that makes you pay for it in other ways besides money. Personally, I think New York City fits this description as well.

To explain what I mean, I want to share what it’s like to travel on a corporate expense account. The best way to begin is by comparing the cost of two very different lifestyles...


Comparing the Cost of One Month in Rural Taiwan vs.

One Week in San Francisco with an Expense Account


 

Cost of One Month in Rural Taiwan

(self funded)
Cost of One Week in San Francisco

(with expense account subsidy)
Roundtrip Train Tickets (from Taipei):
$50

Airbnb Rental:
$238

Electricity:
$15

Bicycle Rental:
$15

Food: $8 x 30 days:
$240

Total out-of-pocket spend:
$555
Flight/airline tickets to SFO (from LAX):
$205

Hotel (fully expensed):
$1,604

Uber Rides (partially expensed):
$259

Food (partially expensed):
$558

Total spend:
$2,626

Total out-of-pocket spend:
$780

Obviously, it shouldn’t be news to anyone that living in San Francisco is more expensive than living out in the Taiwanese countryside. But just how much more expensive, is something that we don’t always appreciate until we see the numbers:

It’s more expensive to live in SF rent free for one week, traveling on your employer’s dime, than it is to spend an entire month living in rural Taiwan.

This would be an okay tradeoff if traveling on an expense account was all it was cracked up to be.

But it isn’t. Maybe it feels amazing at first, but slowly, hedonic adaptation kicks in. Which is to say that when you start getting used to driving Ferraris, anything less than a Mercedes will make you feel like a peasant. And if someone gave you that Ferrari for free, it wouldn’t mean anything to you at all.

Traveling for free on someone else’s dime makes things less rewarding - not more.


My Takeaway from Two Different Ways of Life:

Life in the city versus life in the countryside


If we truly want to treat money as a “vote” for what people and society value, it’s hard not to look at that $2,626 number spent in just one week in SF and realize how absurd it is.

$2,626 says nothing about anyone. It’s just a number that gets moved around faster so people can drink slightly more expensive wine and eat at slightly more expensive restaurants. It could easily have been $5,000 or $10,000. It makes no difference because human beings were barely conscious in the decision making process at all.

$2,626 is just stimulation for the economy - so the poor can get by and the rich can get used to (and grow bored of) slightly better versions of what they already have. 

*

By writing this post, I’m not advocating that everyone retire to the countryside and start living off the land. I would be a completely useless farmer.

The larger point I'm making is that these are two lifestyles on opposite ends of a wide spectrum. And having experienced two starkly different realities back to back, I now have a better idea of which direction I’d like to move towards.

 

5 Reasons Why Our Marriage Works

Ivan here.

The title of this post is like hanging up a “Mission Accomplished” banner on the deck of a U.S. aircraft carrier. It’s tempting fate, by inviting complacency, leading eventually to a divorce.

The fact is, no marriage is perfect and every relationship is a work-in-progress. Ours is no different. But having spent the past nine years together, and six of those years surviving a long distance relationship, we thought we would give our perspective on the reasons why we think our marriage works.

`

5 Reasons Why Our Marriage Works


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1. Having shared values is more important than having similar personalities or interests


A few mornings ago, Jennie and I noticed something about our interactions with the Cambodian husband and wife who run our favorite donut shop:

“Do you ever notice that they’re more relaxed and chatty around me than they are with you?” asked Jennie.
“Now that you mention it,” I said, taking a sip of coffee. “Yeah, that’s kind of upsetting. I come here more often than you too. Sometimes they see me twice a day.”

Life isn’t fair. We can’t all be short and peppy Asian girls, brimming with optimism and empathy. One of Jennie’s superpowers is that she can meet someone for the first time and make them comfortable enough to spill their deepest, darkest secrets - like they’ve known her their whole life. I’ve seen her do this many times. Frankly, it’s manipulative, but as a writer, I’m also jealous. I want to learn people’s secrets…

[Editor’s note: It’s not manipulative. It's called genuine interest and empathy.]

On the other hand, I’ve found that people are not as comfortable around me. I don’t give off many verbal or non-verbal cues of interest (even though I’m usually very engaged!). Sometimes, when I’m in a conversation, I have to remind myself to smile.

But despite our personality differences, Jennie and I operate on the exact same wavelength. This is because we have almost identical values. While we’ve definitely worked at this over the course of our 9 year relationship, the similarities were there from the beginning:

  • We both have problems with being told what to do.
  • We don’t like being tied down.
  • We like to challenge everything, and
  • We’re willing to do anything to get what we want.

You don’t need to have similar personalities or interests to make a relationship work. Those are just details. Having similar values means that we both want to move in the same direction.


2. Different backgrounds and perspectives can often be complementary


I have no idea what it’s like to grow up poor or to experience racism. But collectively, we do. Jennie has no idea what it’s like to live and work in a foreign country, or to plan your financial future out in decades. But collectively, we do. Whenever we have different opinions about a person we just met, I usually defer to her opinion. Whenever she’s trying to figure out the best way to communicate an idea, she usually defers to mine.

Having worked part-time service jobs since she was 14, I trust that Jennie has had more exposure to different types of people than I have, and understands what makes them tick better than I do. Having had a lot of time on my hands to sit around in air-conditioning (Taipei summers: would not recommend) and read and write all day, I know how to communicate an idea with clarity. It’s the only useful skill I possess.

We learn from each other, ask each other for advice, and openly disagree. Through this process, Jennie makes me a more well-rounded and empathetic human being, whereas I challenge her to think and act in a way that’s true to herself.

Because of these differences, we’re able to draw on a larger sample size of experience to make more informed decisions.


3. Being able to say anything to each other and trusting that it comes from a good place


We argue - a lot. Sometimes, a brainstorming session for our business or this blog feels like open-hand combat while scaling Mount Everest. We both have to bring the big guns and artillery to an argument, because otherwise, one person is going to roll over the other.

The motto for our relationship should be:

If you give me an inch, I’m going to try to take the entire mile.

Arguing a lot means we end up saying some unsavory and uncomfortable things to each other. Not going to lie - stubbornness ensues and feelings get hurt - but eventually, we come around to the idea that what the other person says (usually) comes from a good place.

It can be small things. I remember in the beginning of our relationship, Jennie had this habit where she’d agree with someone just to seem agreeable. It’s the sociable side of her that wants everyone to have a good time and feel comfortable. Usually, this is fine, but I draw the line when she starts agreeing with something she obviously doesn’t believe.

“ Is that what you actually think? Because I know you said the exact opposite to me. So either, a) you lied to me or b) you just agreed for the sake of being agreeable. I can’t trust you if it’s the former. The latter makes you look weak and spineless. Stop doing that. ”

Or how about this comment Jennie made before I headed off to Taiwan?

“ Recently, I’ve noticed that you’ve been taking your lack of productivity out on me. I didn’t do anything wrong. You’ve just been lazy and not producing like the professional you’re supposed to be. And I don’t appreciate being treated like this. ”

And those were the family-friendly versions of what we said. But at the end of the day, no matter what was said, we both realize that we’re on the same team. This means that we can be brutally honest with each other to make the team better.


4. We’re able to function together and independently


If there’s any upside to spending six years doing long distance, it’s that we were both forced to develop and grow separately. Both of us have 4-6 years of working experience under our belt in our areas of specialty. We had social lives apart from each other. We could get ourselves set up in most cities around the world with food, shelter, and a job.

We don’t have to be together - we chose to be together.  

I think psychologically, this is an important distinction. Because how else would I know Jennie isn’t just with me because I’m familiar or for lack of a better option? Or that she’s scared of what life might look like without something she’s “used to” or “depends on”? The idea of being someone’s convenient or default choice is upsetting.


5. We’re not influenced by people’s expectations of what a marriage is


The institution of marriage is not sacred to us. Had it not been for the fact that one of us needed to immigrate in order to live together, we probably wouldn’t have married so early in our twenties. I guess the best way to put it is:

We would’ve stay unmarried for as long as the tax advantages of marriage were less than the expense and hassle of holding a wedding.

Even after we married, we had no expectations of what married life “should be like.” What should the husband or man be responsible for in a marriage? The wife or woman?

Our approach was pretty simple: I’m me. You’re you. And we’re going to figure out exactly what kind of marriage we want that works for us, and we’re going to make conscious, rational decisions to build towards that.

Everything else is just noise.



5 Things We Do When We're Feeling Unmotivated

Ivan here.

Having spent all of my life in a big city, I never pictured myself moving to some remote village in the countryside to raise kids and grow a vegetable garden. In this fantasy, Jennie and I would adopt a pair of cats - one black and one white. We’d name the white one Tofu, and the black one Mu, the Chinese character for nothing, or nonexistence.

 
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 Mu, said the cat.

Mu, said the cat.

 

That way, when the white cat jumps on the black cat, they'd essentially be canceling each other out. A block of tofu plunging into the abyss.

This desire to “escape” pretty much sums up Jennie’s and my mood over the past few weeks, and is the reason why we haven’t published anything. Don’t get me wrong - we tried. We must’ve written 3,000-4,000 words between the two of us, each word as fucking meaningless as the next. Words tinged with cynicism and frustration with nameless “people” and you know, “society,” and claims about “the world” not backed by any sort of data. 

But I guess readers are looking for a more concrete explanation. I wish I could put my finger on one thing, but I think there are multiple factors at play.

In no particular order:

1. Immigration: Detainment and Bureaucracy

Following my detainment at the border, I scheduled an appointment at the LA immigration office to sort out my expired green card. This was when I learned that the normal processing time for new green cards had moved up to 24 months (from 12 months). This means Jennie and I are guaranteed to be interrupted on our RTW trip, and will be forced to fly back to the U.S. for (yet another) round of interviews.

2. Complacency: We Are Ready To Embark On Our Next Adventure...

We just hit our two year mark in Los Angeles. For readers that have been with us since our first post, 24 months is pretty much our limit for how long we like to stay in one place. These days, we’re restless, irritable, and frankly, a little too safe and comfortable.

3. "Meritocracy": BULLSHIT and EGO As A Substitute for the Work and Ability

You don’t need a Pulitzer Prize to know that the tech industry can be a pretty inhospitable place for women. Even so, we sorely underestimated how clique-ish and fucked up Silicon Valley could be.  To quote the iconic monologue from the movie Bladerunner: “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe.”


5 Things We Do When We’re Feeling Unmotivated


1. Step away and listen to music:

Music is a reminder that no matter where you are in the world and how you’re feeling about humanity at the moment, there are people who exist “out there” who have the ability to create beautiful things, and if you’re able to appreciate and be moved by that beauty, then maybe, just maybe, that ability to create something beautiful exists inside of you too.

Then, all of a sudden, you’re not just some mindless cog in the machine, slaving away at a 9 to 5 when you should be on your RTW trip already. You’re a human being who can still feel something that transcends your current surroundings. And this is a wonderful thing.
 

2. Break from your everyday routine:

After my appointment at the immigration office, where I learned that the normal processing time had doubled, and that some beaten-down public servant in Nebraska was still processing applications submitted under a different President, while the portrait of the sitting one leered at her from a gray and hopeless wall, I decided that instead of retreating back to my apartment and stewing over it, I needed beer. Now.

That’s how I ended up eating mediocre Chinese food at Grand Central Market and knocking back watered down Budweisers at 11 in the morning. The Brazilian brewer who now owns this iconic American brand had cut so many corners that it was now impossible to get drunk off of this beverage. But it didn’t matter. I was drunk on rebellion.
 

3. Exercise (strenuously):

I haven’t done this yet, but I will have by the time this post is published. The best way to get rid of frustration and/or complacency is to find a track or open field somewhere, and just sprint until your lungs give out and your legs are so sore you just want to curl up into a fetal position on the field because you don’t have the energy to make your way home.

This is also a reminder that there are people out there who actually have to physically work for a living, and that whatever perceived injustices you think may have befallen you is not only insignificant, but borderline imaginary.
 

4. Let go of aNY expectations

One of the main things I learned after spending a month writing in the Taiwanese countryside is that it’s absolutely possible to work and produce without motivation. It’s actually one of the hallmarks of being a professional. First, you just have to let go of any hope or expectation that the work will be any good, or that you have any semblance of an image or reputation to uphold, and the words will gush out of you like groundwater.

Just remember to filter out the raw sewage after it’s all said and done.  
 

5. Remind yourself that everything is temporary

Here are some photos I took from my antique iPhone 4 during my month-long stay in Chishang Township in Taitung county, a sparsely populated region on the southeastern seaboard of Taiwan.

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I plan on writing a detailed post on the things I did there (in Tatung), but I can say with certainty that I’ve never felt more creatively rejuvenated by an experience. So rejuvenated in fact, that I thought I could carry that feeling of lightness and productivity with me when I returned to Los Angeles.

But of course, the exact opposite happened: I completed my backlog of client work with excruciating difficulty, I missed two blog post deadlines, and wrote zero more words of fiction. The time I spent in rural Taiwan seemed like a whole lifetime ago. How could I ever have been so relaxed, productive and spontaneous? To use the military slang, Jennie and I now find ourselves firmly “in the shit.”

But then again, won’t this moment be temporary too? In the grand scheme of things, won’t this final stretch be something that quickly fades in memory?  If so, then what’s the use of complaining and acting as if things will never change?

It’s better to remind ourselves that all the good or bad things that have happened to us, as well everything that has yet to happen, is all temporary. The most important thing is to stay focused on our long term plans and goals and to navigate this rough patch with at least some semblance of patience and dignity.


All these moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.
— Roy Batty, Bladerunner


“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 I'd only been married for less than two years, I was issued a conditional green card, valid for two 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, if I were stopped at the border, they could clear me through the online system.

So 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 whether they know it or not, 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 on June 1st, 2015. 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 still trying to decide whether this ordeal has been 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 them 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?

 

 


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

 
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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...

 
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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?

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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 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


creative-business-layout.jpeg

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 be