Posts in Relationship
17 Questions With The Origami Life Couple: About Us and Our Future Plans

General Questions

About The Origami Couple and Blog


1. Who are we?

Us - drinking G&B Coffee at Grand Central Market.

We’re Jennie and Ivan, a 29 year old married couple who met in Kyoto, Japan nine years ago, did six years of long distance, then decided to sell our worldly possessions by September 2018 to travel the world. We’re both Type A personalities, which means we’re goal-oriented and try to make conscious decisions in all areas of our life including our relationship, travel and money.

Here are our Myers-Briggs personality results, which you can take here:

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Ivan: I’m very lopsided (INTJ-A).

Jennie: I’m a “Debater” personality (ENTP-A). 
 

2. What are Our strengths and weaknesses?

Jennie:

  • Ivan’s strengths: Ivan is probably one of the most intelligent individuals that I’ve met in my life (if he can let go his ego). His writing, published and unpublished, is actually really good. He has the ability to think both creatively and analytically, especially when he stays the course and doesn’t let small things distract him from his end goal.

  • Ivan’s flaws: Ivan is occasionally arrogant, uptight, and sometimes - his expectations aren’t rooted in reality. Whenever he is “right” about one or two things, he starts to get delusional. That’s why I try not to overreact when he does something really well. I already know I’m going to regret saying such nice things (Ivan: Wait, she thinks I'm a genius, right? Cause that's what I heard). I gotta keep his ego in check for the sake of our financial interests. And when I say he’s uptight, I mean he could stand to loosen up - like, a lot. Sometimes, he gets so wound up in what he’s doing or “the next thing” that he misses moments that could’ve been really meaningful.

Ivan:

  • Jennie’s strengths: Jennie has a way with people and can out-hustle anyone. Not only can she understand and empathize with people, she can tailor her message to get them to do what she wants. Despite this, people like and trust her almost instantly. When we first started dating, I thought this was a fluke. I know better now. Honestly, the ability to “get your hands dirty” and knowing what makes people tick is probably the most valuable skill-set you can have - and it’s chronically underrated by specialist-types who don’t know any better (i.e. people like me).

  • Jennie’s flaws: Jennie’s waaay too process driven for things that don’t need to be mapped out by the second. Sometimes, the answer isn't to create a spreadsheet or a decision tree. Some ideas need time to marinate in your head. She also enjoys barking orders and bossing people (i.e. me) around. So even when we have the same goals, we fight over “the best way” to get there.
     

3. What’s this blog about?

Jennie: I see this blog as a way to both keep ourselves accountable and share some reflections on life, marriage and our journey with anyone who can relate.

Ivan: The Origami Life is a minimalist travel blog with some personal finance and relationship posts thrown in. It’s also a place where we experiment with different ideas. Sometimes, we write posts just to see if we actually believe in it.
 

4. Where are we headed?

Jennie & Ivan: Anywhere in the world where we see opportunities for growth - whether that’s creative, financial, or personal. Over the next 3-5 years, we’re moving away from comfort and stability and towards challenge and risk (while doing it responsibly).  
 


II. Travel Questions for The Origami Life Couple and Blog


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5. What’s our travel style?

Jennie: I’m a type A planner who just so happens to enjoy travel. I love the idea of nailing down logistics, formalizing schedules, and putting together spreadsheets. I know that some of our readers can relate because several of you have shared some amazingly detailed and useful itineraries with us over the last year (🙌 thank you!). It brings me joy to have complete control over knowing when and where I’m going. This means that I’ve researched everything thoroughly and get to do everything I want - so I won’t leave with any regrets.

Ivan: Compared to Jennie, I’m less of a hard-core planner when it comes to travel. I like ironing out the big ticket items like accommodations and airfare, so I can be more carefree with my day-to-day decisions. When I’m traveling, I like to have one goal per day. If I achieve that goal, I’m happy. You could say I’m the more “laid-back” of the two, but unfortunately, this only applies to travel. I can be a pain in the ass in other areas.  
 

6. What do we hope to get out of our RTW trip experience?

Jennie: Although I’m treating my RTW trip as a building block for the next 3-5 years of my life, I just want to enjoy myself and experience things intensely. I’ve spent the bulk of my life focusing on “the next thing” or doing things for the sake of my family. It sounds funny but I’ve been caught up and stressed with work, family, and money for the last decade and I’ve forgotten to just be myself. For my RTW trip, I want to just enjoy whatever happens and comes my way. I want to meet people and forge genuine connections.

Ivan: In my twenties, I think I’ve undervalued personal relationships and social interactions. That’s because as an introvert, I don’t need much company outside of Jennie. Even when I do put myself out there and make connections, I can be pretty lazy in the maintenance department. People often don’t know where they stand with me. This is something I’d like to get better at: maximize the number of genuine connections I have on the RTW trip and the number of “uncomfortable” social situations I put myself in. Then I’ll pick a small handful of those people and try to be more forthcoming with what I think/feel to build more meaningful relationships. (Geez, I sound like a robot trying to be human).
 

7. What countries are We most looking forward to visiting and why?

Jennie: I haven’t put much thought into it because I still can’t believe our trip is finally going to happen. Top of mind: riding the Trans-Siberian Railway partway through China, Russia, and Mongolia. I really like train travel and loved our Amtrak trip across the U.S. we did last November.

Ivan: Rural India because of the history and because I think it’ll be an interesting challenge. I’m also attracted to sleepy backwater countries like Sri Lanka and Laos.
 

8. Are We nervous about leaving our family and our home?

Jennie: Absolutely. I’m worried about all the worst-case scenarios that could happen with my family while I’m away. And that will always be the case because I’m just that type of person. But the thing is, if I was truly scared about leaving, I would’ve never left New Mexico in the first place.

Ivan: This one’s easy. I’ve never viewed North America as home. I have no family here outside of Jennie. Most of my upbringing was in Taipei and I was educated in two languages (my parents are teachers). When I’m here, I think in English. When I’m home, I think in Chinese. Not having any roots is liberating because it often gives me a different perspective on things.


III. Money Questions for The Origami Life Couple and Blog


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9. How can we afford to travel long term?

Jennie: Outside of an aggressive savings plan, Ivan keeps an iron fist on our spending / expenses each month. Every month for the last two or three years we’ve saved more than 50% of our monthly income/salary and accumulated a RTW travel fund of $40,000, a reserve of airline points - while taking care of retirement and other future obligations.

Ivan: Like I said earlier, I can be a pain in the ass in other areas.
 

10. How do we feel about reaching our $40k travel goal?

Jennie: (Deep sigh) I won’t lie, when we hit that $40,000 marker in May...I felt underwhelmed. I literally thought, “wow, so that’s it, huh?” And I think that’s because of the timing. When we hit our financial goal, we were still MONTHS away from leaving for our trip. It felt unreal and almost anticlimactic. Because the savings was always automated and I never look at our bank statements and accounts. It was never a significant part of my daily life. I was doing what I needed to do which was focusing on crushing it at work and building our business.

Ivan: This might sound like a privileged thing to say, but the money is not nearly as important as the habits you build along the way. And the realization that whatever your circumstances, there are usually ways to take back control of your life.
 

11. How has our attitude / relationship with money changed?

Jennie: I’m a lot more conscious about how I spend money now. I’m more aware that if I spend x amount on something for this month, it means that I miss out on other things that I really want to experience, have or enjoy later. But it also means that I buy or spend on things that I really want or that I love now. Having a more conscious understanding of how I spend my money has actually made me much more “fiscally literate” and it’s been a positive effect on my life. I feel like the lessons I’ve learned about money - how and when to use it and how to plan long-term actually makes me a more strategic thinker.

Ivan: I’ve always viewed money as a major inconvenience. It’s a concession I’ve had to make to society in order to keep me and the people I care about alive. The only reason I’m a “minimalist” is because I don’t like conceding much of anything. Money is only as useful as the independence it buys - to ensure that no one can ever influence how I run my life. 
 

12. What are We planning to do to make money?

Jennie: Ivan and I actually started a business earlier this year. We essentially create marketing content for cyber security startups. Due to my experience in the industry and network, we’ve got a roster of clients and plan to continue working with a multitude of security tech / SaaS startups.

Ivan: I passed all three levels of the CFA exam and am a self-taught investor. I work with clients in the VC/private equity space to do financial modeling, projections and writing investment pitches. I’m also using this RTW trip as an opportunity to interview entrepreneurs on the ground in emerging economies.
 

13. What are our next financial goals?

Jennie: I’ve been hustling for the last six years and I feel like I haven’t put much thought into my next financial goals. There’s been one thing that I’ve had on my mind - increasing our net worth / saving for long-term retirement. We’re not one of those “FIRE” (Financial Independence, Retire Early) people though. Although it’s a nice concept, I can’t imagine retiring early and if the last couple of weeks without a job is any indication of what it would be like - I’d be bored as fuck if I retired early. However, Ivan and I have a very specific number in mind for us to live comfortably and completely on our own terms; my next big financial goals is to get us there early while building up my career and potentially having a  family.

Ivan: Over the long term, the risks you take equals your reward (financial or otherwise) - provided you take calculated risks that allow you to survive the short and medium term. So, our next financial goal is to take more calculated risks and being humble in the face of uncertainty.


IV. Love / Relationship Questions for The Origami Life Couple and Blog


 Us at a wedding a few years back.

Us at a wedding a few years back.

14. Describe our marriage.

Jennie: We’re still the same couple that started nearly a decade ago. If you knew us from our early days, you’d see that not much has changed in terms of heated discussions and arguments - because it’s fun for us. The only thing that’s really changes is that we’ve become much better partners, communicate better, and know each other better than anyone else in this world.

Ivan: What she said. I do think as we grow into our new roles as business partners that we should draw a clear line between business and personal. This means carving out time that’s just for the two of us.
 

15. What’s changed about our marriage over the past Few years?

Jennie: At the beginning of our time in Los Angeles, it was a pretty tense time for us due to a big move and stressful immigration processes. But once we decided to be more intentional and conscious with our time - we started planning and spending more time together at our favorite donut / coffee shop. Ivan and still very much love each other, but I’d say that in the midst of the hustle and constant goal-setting (and goal-crushing), it’s one of our more neglected aspects of our lives. We’ve spent a lot of time at coffee shops chatting about big goals, funny stories, and strategizing on work, but we haven’t spent as much time just...being together. My hope is that this RTW trip will help us slow down a bit and continue to grow our relationship.

Ivan: I agree.
 

16. What do we argue/fight the most often about?

Jennie: Most of the time, we argue about really menial things - it’s never about the big picture. It always seems to be arguments related to our behavioral / personality preferences. For example, if I ask Ivan to do something (e.g. take out the trash, do the dishes, or put the laundry in the dryer), I mean I’d like him to do it that moment because I’m compulsive about that kind of thing.

Ivan: I don’t like being interrupted when I’m working or reading, so that’s where most of our arguments stem from. To be clear, I don’t mind noise - so long as that noise doesn’t require a response from me. I’ve gotten better over the years of not lashing out, but some snark is always going to be there.


V. Plans for the Future for The Origami Life Couple and Blog


17. What’s next for Us individually and for this blog?

Jennie: We started this blog as a means for us to communicate our lives and be accountable to our life goals. However, based on emails and we’ve received from our kind readers - it feels like it actually helps add value in some small way. That meaningful / value-add contribution has been one of the more fulfilling things that I’ve experienced over the past two years. My big goal for this blog is to continue creating content that is useful for any reader that comes across this blog. 

Ivan: I’d like to experiment with travel videos. I think understanding how to combine image and sound over time can make me a better storyteller and writer. I’ve watched a lot of “travel vlogs” on Youtube and have been pretty dissatisfied with the results. I’d like to do something different. The best way I can describe it is I’d like to have the “feeling” of the Before Sunrise trilogy in online video form. The exotic destinations should be secondary to the relationship and the conversation in the frame. Hopefully, we can make this happen over the coming months.
 



July 2018 Money Diary: Choreographing Our Move Out of L.A. (to Save Time and Money)

July 2018 Budget Summary


 
July 2018 Money Diary - The Origami Life Couple
 
  • $3,148 spent in July (vs. $2,800 budget)

  • $4,712 in monthly savings in July

  • Round the world trip savings: $40,286 (out of $40,000 goal)

 
 

Choreographing Our Move Out of Los Angeles


Ivan and Jennie here.

Moving sucks. It doesn’t matter where you fall on the spectrum: from helpless hoarder to smug minimalist. It’s like boiling a frog in 100 degree water versus 200 degree water. One pot may be twice as hot, but either way, that frog’s been cooked.

While you can never completely remove the stress that comes with a move, there are ways to save time and money if you plan months in advance. Considering that we’ve moved to several different cities/states/countries over the past decade, this is one area where we’d consider ourselves experts.

Jennie’s Note: Just FYI, even though everything was 100% on timeline and under control - I will tell you that Ivan did not keep his cool in the moving process. He was still super stressed during the last week.
Ivan’s Note: Like I said, boiled frogs. And since Jennie likes to complain that I never provide enough details in our money diaries, I’m going to overcompensate in this post by giving a full play-by-play account of our move:

Timeline: How We Saved Time and Money Planning Our Move from Los Angeles


1. T-minus 60-90 days: how we settled on a move-out date

IVAN: There’s never a perfect time to move. Chances are, you’re going to procrastinate until the last minute. Some landlords make it easy by having a renewal clause built into the rental agreement. You either have to renew the lease for another year or move out.

In our case, our lease defaulted to month-to-month after the first year. Not sure how it works elsewhere, but this seems to be standard practice in Los Angeles. This worked out perfectly for transients like us who were never planning on staying long term, but less so for low-income families fighting gentrification (and the lack of character, imagination, and community that, for some reason, always seems to follow wealth and luxury).

The Origami Life - Donust USA

Three months before the move, Jennie and I were sitting down to breakfast at Donuts USA,  yellow notepad and pen in hand, as we made a list of all the dependencies that were keeping us in the city (and our apartment). One thing was for sure: we had no emotional ties to Southern California.

Our single biggest dependency was negotiating Jennie’s exit from her job (yes, it’s possible to negotiate your exit. A long overdue Jennie post is in the works).

The main thing we had to consider before moving:

What was the earliest we could leave LA before our September round-the-world departure date without:

  1. Messing up Jennie’s negotiating leverage.

  2. Being an undue burden on Jennie’s family in Albuquerque, who graciously offered to take us in.

In the end, we landed on August 1st, or one month before our September departure. We gave our landlord three months’ notice as a goodwill gesture.

Total Savings

  1. Time saved from Los Angeles: a whole month of August - or 31 days.
  2. Money saved in August: $1,425 in rent + $65 in internet + $15 in electricity = $1,515
     

2. T-minus 60 days: created a moving checklist

 Source: Our actual Trello board for moving and prepping for our RTW travels

Source: Our actual Trello board for moving and prepping for our RTW travels

JENNIE: Shoutout to any Trello users out there! Because I’m a type A planning freak, I wanted to have a spreadsheet or trackable task list that Ivan and I both had access to (see image above). I didn’t want any excuses about how he “didn’t know” that we were supposed to do specific things. Although Ivan gets annoyed with my constant “let’s create a spreadsheet” or “let’s create a plan” suggestions - it ultimately helped decrease a ton of stress and work by the end of our move-out date.

Total Savings

  1. Time spent wondering whether we forgot anything. Or realizing after the fact that we forgot to cancel the electricity or the internet.

     

3. T-minus 45 - 16 days: sold our personal and bulky furniture items for extra cash

IVAN: Since we’ll be living out of our 40L backpacks for the next couple of years, this meant purging everything.

We buy furniture with the two year resale value in mind. Since we only own five articles, it’s not a huge list to keep track of. This means understanding the prevailing styles and trends and sticking to that scheme when we make furniture purchases. Jennie has an eye for this. In Boston, Jennie purchased a blue velvet couch from Walmart that came to about $400 after taxes and shipping but somehow, she managed to sell the damn thing for $250 when we moved out of Boston two years later.

Total Savings

  1. Sold $160 worth of goods on Craigslist.

    1. Bought full-size Askvoll bed frame (with the Luroys slatted bed base included) for $179. Sold it two years later for $90.

    2. Bought 2 Ikea Kallax bookcases for $34.99 each. Sold both for two years later for $30.

    3. Jennie was given an Apple Magic Mouse 2 (worth $79) and she sold it two years later for $40.

  2. Sold $80 worth of books at The Last Bookstore in July.

  3. Jennie’s pièce de résistance: Bought a Macbook Air back in 2014 for $600 (with friend’s student discount + tax free weekend) and was offered a $370 gift card from Bestbuy in 2018. Realized when we got home that the employee thought our Macbook Air was the latest version. Since we didn’t mislead anybody, we’re taking this as a bank error in our favor.

Jennie’s Note: We’ve been on a lucky streak this past year, and it’s making Ivan extremely paranoid. For starters, we got the Southwest Companion Pass offer this year, which was only available to California residents - just as we were planning on doing a lot of domestic travel. Then we got $400 worth of free Airbnb credits through this now expired offer - a couple months before we go on our RTW trip. And in June, when I treated my whole family to an expensive meal in Albuquerque, I found out afterwards that the employee had actually refunded me that amount on my credit card statement. If you believe in karma, it looks like Ivan and I are going to be pretty screwed in 2019.


4. T-minus 15 days: deep cleaning the apartment

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JENNIE: Essentially, Ivan was a huge pain in the ass for weeks about “deep cleaning” our apartment.

Here are a few useful tips we have for you:

 Our apartment...post-deep cleaning

Our apartment...post-deep cleaning

  1. Not-so-white walls: Combine warm water, baking soda, and vinegar to create a paste that will quickly clean white walls as well as brighten it.

  2. A greasy stove top: Okay, so Ivan and I aren’t great about cleaning our gas-fueled stove top...so grease definitely built up. In this instance, we sprayed everything down with an all-purpose cleaning solution and scrubbed; when that didn’t work, we used the back of a spoon to scrape off remaining greasy residue.

  3. Heavy duty mounting tape on your walls: I had double sided mounting tape on our wall for months for our “inspiration” wall and our maps....and just never bothered to take them down. We took my hair dryer to the tape and melted it and it quickly came off the walls. Total lifesaver.

Total Savings

  1. Securing our $2,098 one and a half month security deposit. At least we hope so - we haven’t heard back from our property manager yet.


5. T-minus 10 days: held a goodbye party at a friend’s

JENNIE: By now, all of our furniture except for our mattress is sold, the floors and walls of our apartment are fairly spotless. And we were onto more meta things: saying goodbye to friends and Jennie quitting her job.

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Against Ivan’s will, I set up a “goodbye BBQ” party and invited all of his old high school friends that we were close to. And believe it or not, people came in from San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, etc. We were grateful several of them could come out and spend time with us. Although Ivan doesn’t say it often, we value all the friendships and relationships I’ve maintained over the last two and a half years in California.

We’ve had several great trips and memories from our time in SoCal:

  1. Daily coffee dates at our favorite donuts shop.

  2. Christmas in Death Valley National Park.

  3. Thanksgiving in Joshua Tree.

For Ivan, he uses too few words to express his gratitude for his friends. Eating BBQ and watching some dorky high school films that they wrote/directed/edited over a decade earlier was another way to say thanks for hanging out with us and that we valued our friendships.

Total Savings

  1. Well, we put in a lot of effort here into planning the little shindig, but it was worth the investment to spend time with some of our good friends.
     

6. T-minus 7 days: donated the remaining unsold (but useful) items and saying Goodbye to Los Angeles

IVAN: Jennie scheduled the mattress for pickup three days before we officially moved out. Fortunately, L.A. has some great city services for bulk item pickup and recycling. For our 72 hours in LA, we slept on a mattress topper and a yoga mat we purchased from the Japanese dollar store Daiso.

Before her last day of work, Jennie also dropped off our rental internet router and I spent the remainder of the day getting rid of and donating any final knick knacks left in the apartment.

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On the last day in our sad and empty L.A. aprtment, we took our remaining chairs and set them up outside of our community hallway and balcony. We ordered takeout, listened to Twin Peaks: The Return OST (this series still haunts me), and chatted at length while we watched our last sunset in L.A.

Total Savings

  1. Fortunately, we had paid rent through the end of July and were able to stay at our apartment until August 1st - without paying extra.
     

In summary: we've left Los Angeles and we're moving on

And there you have it - our long goodbye to Los Angeles with tangible savings in time and money over the past three months. Now, we’re onto the next chapter in our lives.

We don’t plan on looking back anytime soon.


 

Goodbye Los Angeles: Lessons on Moving, Traveling and Selling Our Worldly Possessions
A story has no beginning or end. Arbitrarily, one chooses the moment from which to look back or from which to look ahead.
— Graham Greene, The End of the Affair

Ivan here.

I had a hard time writing for this blog in July. A couple weeks ago, Jennie suggested that I do a “Pre-departure Diary” summarizing our experiences in LA and our two year journey in preparation for our RTW trip.

But even as I sit here typing on this yoga mat in the middle of our empty studio, I have no idea how I feel. To be honest, things have worked out so perfectly and according to plan that it scares me.


The Origami Couple - The Story So Far & What’s Next


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Since I can’t process anything at the moment, let’s just stick to the facts of our story:

  • June 2015: Ivan lands in Boston, ending six years of long distance

  • March 2016: Jennie and Ivan move from Boston to Los Angeles

  • April 2016: We discuss the idea of traveling the world for a year

  • August 2016: We start The Origami Life blog and set a two year goal

  • April 2018: We save up $40k in travel funds and $2,500 per month in freelance income

  • July 2018: Jennie quits her job. We give notice to our landlord, sell our things and leave LA.


Over the next few months, our plan is to:

  • August 2018: Spend 3 weeks in Albuquerque so Jennie can spend time with family

  • August 2018: Travel to SF for a week for final face-to-face client meetings

  • September 2018: off to our first stop on our RTW trip: Kauai, Hawaii


5 Lessons on Moving, Traveling and Selling Our Worldly Possessions


While I have no further comment on Los Angeles, I do have some thoughts about the logistics of the move itself:
 

1. Our lifestyle in Los Angeles wasn’t as “minimalist” as we thought

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It’s true - we only owned five pieces of furniture in Los Angeles. But during the move, the amount of knick knacks we found in our apartment seriously stressed me out: notebooks, never used. Papers, brochures and advertising. Piles of clothing. Wires and chargers for electronics that no longer worked. Then there were the odds and ends we “saved” because they had “sentimental” value.

Not gonna name any names, but one of us has a lot of sentiment.

After we sold, donated, or recycled most of the useful stuff, Jennie and I decided to “digitize” 90% of our memories by taking pictures of each item and then letting them go. The last 10% was what could fit inside one small carry-on luggage - to be stored at her parent’s place in Albuquerque for a later time.
 

2. We’re still not very good at "playing house"

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Laundry is my least favorite chore around the house, followed closely by cooking. I don’t mind washing the dishes or sweeping the floors precisely because they’re mindless. I can do them while thinking about something else. But laundry and cooking involves interruptions and willpower. It’s not possible to do these things in your spare time. They are activities that expend mental energy. Energy that, in my opinion, could be more profitably deployed somewhere else.  

Don’t get me wrong - I do them anyway. All I’m trying to say is that I’d rather not spend so much time on things I don’t value. Maybe it’s a sign of immaturity, but I’m very much looking forward to 15 minute laundry by the sink and not needing to cook 4-5 days a week.
 

3. We’re not convinced by the cost vs. quality debate when it comes to buying new things

They say you get what you pay for. To an extent, I suppose that’s true. But the further from the midrange you go, the less relative qualities matter. This makes sense because raw materials are only a small fraction of the cost of production. What’s leftover is design and brand. I for one, give zero fucks about brand. If I wanted a story, I’d just write one. As for design, is there an objective difference between the best that money can buy and the second best that money can buy? And if it’s all just preferences and self-expression, I’d rather express myself in ways that don’t cost me both my time and my money.
 

4. We’ve probably outstayed our welcome in Los Angeles by 2 to 3 months

Being responsible adults can be insufferably boring at times. Jennie and I achieved the goals we set out in this blog three months earlier than our September 2018 plan. Ever since, we catch ourselves staring at each other over breakfast and wondering:

“What the fuck are we still doing here?”

There was some discussion about Jennie quitting her job back in May. I mean, do we need to be adults all the time and tie things up into neat little bows? To quote Bobby Axelrod from the entertaining series Billions: “What’s the point of having fuck you money, if you never say fuck you?”

In the end, we decided that relationships are the reasons (not to say fuck you). You never know where certain relationships can lead you down the road. And a person with a reputation for burning bridges or disappearing can’t be trusted with anything of value.  
 

5. It’s a relief not knowing what the future holds

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For some time now, Jennie and I have known that all of the goals we set out two years ago were within reach. We might not have been there yet - but we could see the light at the end of the tunnel. Everything was working on autopilot. And that was comfortable - for a while. The satisfaction of having turned an initial conversation into a reality.

But soon, we found ourselves missing the uncertainty of a new beginning. That hopeful/fearful feeling of facing the unknown. The thrill of the pursuit. It doesn’t matter what we’re pursuing so long as it’s challenging and meaningful. For us, the pursuit and the journey is all there is.

I realize now that this is why we’ve been struggling to “sum things up.” We’re sick of talking about what we’ve done or are going to do. We’d rather just be doing it. We’re looking forward to having a new blank page - and all the possibilities that come with it.

Finally, another chance to start over.



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.

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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 (just about) 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.



“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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In 2015, I arrived in the U.S. on a spousal visa. I was issued a conditional green card, valid for two years, where I had a 90 day window before expiration to "lift the conditions" on my card by submitting another application. Which I did, promptly, on the first day I was eligible. I'd had first hand knowledge of how slow and incompetent the U.S. immigration system could be, and I didn’t want to leave anything 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 applications 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. 

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 problem with grunts: working in grunt-like conditions does a number on their personalities. 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:

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 matter 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 how I was made 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 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 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 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's collateral damage. Why should 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 this country. There will be no taxation without representation.

So give me liberty, or give me death.
 



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)


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 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?


The Origami Life: 2017 Year In Review & 2018 Priorities

The Origami Life: 2017 Year In Review


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Jennie here. Happy New Year!

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

We graded ourselves against our goals with the following table:


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

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

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

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










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



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

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


The Origami Life’s Big 2017 Revelation:


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

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

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

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

What were our highlights from 2017?

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

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

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

What were our lowest points from 2017?

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

The Origami Life: Our Priorities For 2018


What areas will We focus on in 2018?

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

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

  1. Personal Finance

  2. Travel

  3. Relationship
     

Personal Finance Priorities in 2018

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

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

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

Travel Priorities in 2018

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

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

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

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

Relationship Priorities in 2018

us.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

  1. We want to engage with our readers more.

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

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



30 Things We Believe That People Might Disagree With Us On

Ivan here. 

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

I'm Not Myself Today

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

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

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

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


Money:

10 Things We Believe About Money


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Travel:

10 Things We Believe About Travel


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

Love & Relationships:

10 Things We Believe About Love


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

So what do you think about these statements?

Feel free to disagree! 

Also, what are some of things you believe that most people would disagree with you on? 



4 Working Women And Their Thoughts On Children
 

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

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

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

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

Woman working

These are their thoughts:


 

1.

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

 

2.

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

 

3.

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

 

4.


So where does this lead me?


8 Years Together: What’s Changed (And What’s Stayed the Same)

A few weeks ago, Ivan and I celebrated our 8th anniversary together. Since Ivan has been away in Taiwan on a cross-country cycling trip, I’ve had some time to reflect on our relationship. In response to Ivan’s “Why We Always Fight On Our Anniversary” post, I wanted to share ways our relationship has changed and stayed the same over the last eight years together.



Five ways our relationship has changed:


1. Small moments matter a lot more to us now than grand gestures.

When we were in a long distance relationship, every little thing felt like a grand gesture (e.g. visiting each other, flowers sent to the office, fancy dinners, etc). Now, the most memorable moments are those mundane/in-between moments we spend together. Activities like taking long walks together or having coffee in the mornings has made a lasting and positive impact for our relationship. The little things help us stay connected and I value the social capital that builds up from these moments much more than the big moments now.
 

2. Our arguments have become MORe trivial (and get resolved faster).

A great example of this is when I drove Ivan at the airport last week. Ivan started getting irritated with me because he was anxious about getting to the airport on time but I kept getting lost (even with the GPS on). So we started bickering. By the time we got to the airport, both of us were annoyed. Afterward, I seethed all the way through heavy LA traffic and when I got home, I saw that Ivan had texted me and apologized for losing his temper. I instantly forgave him. Problem solved.

I may be biased because we argue all the time, but I think open conflict is healthy in a relationship. Stuff doesn’t accumulate, everything surfaces. We’re forced to deal with our issues head on. Once you sort through all the important stuff (i.e. life goals and priorities), you start to realize that being right on the small stuff isn’t worth the hassle.
 

3. We’re more in tune with each other financially.

We’re more focused on planning for the the future as a couple. When I say this, it’s mainly about financial stability. We check in frequently about savings, investments, short-term goals, and long-term goals together; it’s probably been the best change in our relationship because we’re clear on expectations and the type of future we want to have together. A clear example of this is what we’re cutting back and saving more in order to reach our $40,000 savings goal for our year long round the world trip. This simple but clear financial goal helps us map out things we both need to do in order to be successful.
 

4. It’s More difficult to Keep our relationship Fresh

This is still a working item for Ivan and I. When we were living apart, it was a lot easier to set aside an hour or two to Skype each other. Now that we’re living together, it’s tough to spend quality together without life getting in the way. It seems like we’re constantly boppin’ around grabbing groceries, going to appointments, or working; by the end of the day, it’s exhausting to prioritize our relationship. Even though I personally think there’s more to be done on this front -- Ivan and I have begun to lay the foundation work by grabbing coffee together in the mornings (without distractions) and that’s helping a bit.
 

5. We’ve rounded each other out

From the very beginning, Ivan and I were complete opposites.

Ivan used to be a lot colder and more distant from other people. On the other end of the spectrum, I was always a little too emotional in my arguments and opinions. Over the years, we’ve had practice in improving those characteristic flaws and now Ivan’s EQ has improved (slightly) and I’m more rational/logical in my arguments (significantly).

Note: The emphasis on "slightly" and "significantly" were all Ivan's edits... - Jennie


Three ways our relationship has stayed the same:
 


1. We’re still just as competitive.

The friends and family that know Ivan and I well understand that both of us are obsessed with being “right” and “winning” an argument. Early on, we constantly debated/argued to see who could get the upper hand. We even made wagers -- and Ivan always takes them because he thinks he’s always right.

One time, Ivan lost a game of poker to me (because he was on a long winning streak) and ended up wearing a maid’s outfit to the movies with me in Japan.
 

2. We’re still our own person, with our own goals.

One of the primary things we’ve been adamant about since we’ve been together is being our own person. I’ve met several couples where over time...you become a single unit with no real ambitions or distinguishing qualities. The problem with this is that over time, you lose what makes you unique and start to become defined by your significant other.

For us, being partners means first establishing who you are as an individual. You don’t want to live every waking moment for the other person. Instead, it’s about establishing personal goal and space to evolve as an individual. We can support one another but it’s so important to have something that is solely yours.
 

3. We still love each other a lot, in spite of our flaws.

I still love Ivan as much as I did when I first met him. I love him more because I’ve grown to love and accept him as he is. He and I have a lot of faults and I know we’re not perfect people, but we’ve learned to accept one another as is. That’s key. It’s difficult to find someone who will love every good and bad aspect of you as a flawed human being.

 



Why We Always Fight on Our Anniversary
What we're like when we fight...
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
— Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr

Ivan here. 

On April 4th, Jennie and I celebrated our eight year anniversary. For some strange reason, we always cap off our celebration with a huge fight. Jennie claims it’s my fault. I’ll let you be the judge.

Before I get to this year’s train-wreck, let me give you a recap of our last two anniversaries:


April 4, 2015: Six Years Together


This was back when we were still living apart, caught up in a seventeen month long immigration nightmare. I was living in Toronto. Jennie was in Boston. Let’s just say we were thinking some un-American and politically incorrect thoughts at the time. We were also running out the rope on a six year long distance relationship. All because some incompetent nitwit sitting in a cubicle somewhere had lost our paperwork. 

A month before our anniversary, I told Jennie I couldn’t bring myself to visit her that year. I informed her that I wasn’t going to set foot on American soil if it meant buying yet another round-trip ticket back to Toronto. The very thought made me physically ill. To make matters worse, I told her not to visit me because I knew that in my mental state, we were just going to end up fighting. 

Needless to say, Jennie didn’t appreciate my candor and we ended up fighting on our anniversary anyway. Except instead of fighting in person, we did it over Skype.

So well played on my part. 


April 4, 2016: Seven Years Together


I’m pleased to report that our seventh anniversary was not my fault. Jennie and I had just moved into our new Los Angeles apartment. We were in a new city and were both adjusting to our new environment. Jennie had a brand new job. I was writing more than I ever had in my life. We were feeling great.

A few problems though. We had no furniture in our apartment as our bed wouldn’t arrive for another week. We also had no power because the last tenant was late in paying his bills. Because our anniversary fell on a weekend, we had to wait until Monday to call the power company to maybe send a guy over at the most inconvenient time possible. BTW: if this were Taipei, I’d be able to walk down to my local 7-Eleven, pay my electric bill by machine and the lights would be back on by the time I got home. 

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We must have gone somewhere for dinner that year, though neither of us remember where we went. All we remember was coming home after charging our phones at a nearby Starbucks, getting into an argument about nothing in particular, then falling asleep on a pile of cardboard boxes. The weak, flickering flame of the candle we lit that night felt like a metaphor for our marriage. 


What Happened This Year


The week leading up to our eight year anniversary was lovely. We had breakfast together every morning before work, trading memories about all the wonderful things we’ve experienced together since we started dating on a perfect spring morning in Kyoto, Japan. We both agreed to keep this year’s celebration low key: a sunset walk to a nearby sushi bar we’d been meaning to try - a small, unassuming place run by a Japanese husband and wife team. The restaurant even had a clock that ran counter-clockwise. Isn’t that poetic? Like going back in time. 

When the day of our anniversary arrived, I was juggling a few deadlines and had also committed to a volunteer session that afternoon. Originally, I was under the assumption that Jennie would be at work, giving me time to take care of business before she came home.

What I didn’t account for was Jennie being a klutz and trying to off herself with a shard of glass to the wrist. 

Now I don’t expect applause or anything, but for context: I’d been doing all the cooking, cleaning, and laundry for the week that Jennie was incapacitated, all while trying to keep up with a mounting pile of work. By our anniversary, I was feeling worn out and irritable. Meanwhile, Jennie felt increasingly neglected as I went about my tasks, barely acknowledging her existence. 

That afternoon, after three hours of unsuccessfully trying to instill a love of reading into a group of eight year olds, I arrived home exhausted, but looking forward to some quality time. We took our sunset walk to the sushi bar, sat down and placed our orders. 

The conversation that ensued went something like this: 

Jennie: Tell me something. 

Ivan: What? 

Jennie: Tell me your favorite memory of us. 

Ivan: Wait, I thought we already did this. You know, this past week over breakfast?

Jennie: Yeah, but today is my anniversary. 

Ivan: Our anniversary. And I know. That’s why we’re sitting here having sushi.

Jennie (eyes narrow): Is it too much to ask for you to just come up with something? 

Ivan: I've already told you my best memories. Now it just feels forced. Besides, I’m tired and all talked out today. Can’t we just do that thing where we look deeply into each other’s eyes and lapse into a comfortable silence? 

You can imagine what happened next.


My Three Takeaways about relationships and arguments


1. Expectations are corrosive

I hate how certain days are “supposed” to be more romantic than others. Valentine’s Day, for example. Total bull-crap. It’s like we enjoy setting ourselves up to fail. I've had a great time with Jennie over the past eight years. Why should we have to get our hopes up for one day out of the year? 

2. Focus on the journey over arbitrary milestones

We were never more appreciative of each other and happy in each other’s company than during the weeks leading up to our anniversary. It felt great. I may not be that bright, but it’s almost as if the process (i.e. spending our days together) is more important than some arbitrary milestone. 

Btw: I feel the same way about birthdays. Why is being born such a great achievement? What did the baby do in the delivery room that’s so worth celebrating?

3. It’s (probably) my fault

I’m just a stubborn guy with a bad temper who prefers to be left alone 90% of the time. I should feel lucky that someone wanted to marry me in the first place. The most practical solution to avoid future blow-ups would be to refrain from standing on principle and just do the little that’s asked of me, right? 

Probably.



5 Small Occupying Moments of our Week (03/19 - 03/26)

You know how everyone’s always saying seize the moment? I don’t know, I’m kinda thinking it’s the other way around. You know, like the moment seizes us.
— Richard Linklater, Boyhood

Ivan here. 

For those who haven’t seen Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, go check it out. It was filmed over the course of twelve years and lends new meaning to the phrase “boy, time sure flies.” Pun intended. 

To the critics who complained that the movie was boring: so fucking what? Some of my best memories are completely mundane. April 2009. Osaka, Japan. Jennie falls asleep on my shoulder while we’re riding the subway. We weren’t in a hurry, so I didn’t wake her when we arrived at our station. We rode the same line back and forth for an hour and a half. 

Sometimes, I wish I could remember what I was thinking in those moments. How did I feel? What observations did I make about the people around me? What did Jennie and I talk and laugh about afterwards? 

Why doesn’t anyone capture these moments before they slip away? 

That’s how this series was born. An experiment. A weekly log of small insignificant thoughts, observations and moments which occupied us for a little while. 


Ivan's Moments


1. Small Dogs

They call a Chihuahua and Dachshund hybrid a Chiweenie. I Googled it. I also Googled: “how much chocolate does it take to kill a dog?” Because this week, I seriously contemplated lobbing a piece of Lindt 99% dark chocolate into one particular backyard. 

The yard in question lies along my jogging route and belongs to the most loathsome creature I’ve ever met. As a rule, I dislike small barky dogs. I also startle easily. Because this Chiweenie is usually hidden behind a wooden fence, it never fails to scare the living wits out of me.

Last week was the final straw. I finally had proof that this little shit had it out for me. On my Friday run, I saw the biker ahead of me whiz past the yard, followed by a jogging couple. Not a peep from behind the fence.

It was waiting for me. 

2. Dave Chappelle walking away from $50 million

 Would I have walked away from $50 million? Choices, right?

In 2005, comedian Dave Chappelle walked away from a successful show on Comedy Central and a $50 million contract. First, he fled to South Africa and just hung out for a few months. Went to the mall, did normal things. Then he retreated to his farm in Ohio, where he would remain for the next decade. 

I was reminded of this story after watching Chappelle’s two Netflix specials this week as well as this moving interview with Maya Angelou. 

I understood his reasons perfectly. Sometimes we all gotta learn what we can and can’t live with. But that doesn’t mean that doing what’s right can’t be an ordeal, that you can't second guess yourself at every turn. Rich or poor, young or old, we’re all in the same struggle of making sense of our lives - and we can only do it one fold at a time. 

3. Midnight in Fatburger

 Jennie's attempt at portraying my midnight snack.

During the 17 month immigration process, you could’ve gauged the state of my depression by the number of pizza boxes and takeout containers lying around my apartment. My low was probably finishing two family-size boxes of Chips Ahoy chocolate chip cookies (the chewy kind) in a single sitting in the dead of a Toronto winter. No, I didn’t have milk. 

For a variety of reasons, last week wasn’t great. So I found myself dragging Jennie to Fatburger at 11pm. I ordered a turkey burger (I don’t eat beef), onion rings, and an extra order of fries (also for me) while Jennie looked on disapprovingly. As we waited under the fluorescent lighting, our clothes soaking in the smell of burning flesh, I opened up my Goodbudget app and logged my purchase under Eating Out & Entertainment. $15. In the comments I wrote,“Fatburger, you fat fuck.” 

On our way out, we passed a man parking his car in the plaza parking lot. He took one look at us and said, “you folks look exhausted.” Jennie smiled. I kept walking.


Jennie’s Moments


4. EntertainmenT Hospitals

The other day, I called a hospital within my insurance provider network to find a new primary care physician. Here's how the conversation went:

Me: Hi there, I'm looking to become a new patient with Dr. XYZ. Is she accepting new patients right now?

Admin: Why yes, of course! What part of the entertainment industry are you from?

Me: Huh? Oh, I'm not in the entertainment industry.

Admin: Oh, sorry, but we only cover those who are part of the entertainment industry...

Me: Well, I got your information off of my provider network.

Admin: There's nothing we can do. Sorry about that. 

What makes people in the entertainment business so special? 

5. Venice Beach STing

My office is in Venice Beach. Sometime last week, I was walking back to our office with a colleague from coffee, when we saw a swarm of police officers and cars surrounding an RV that doubled as an mobile recycling service for the homeless. 

I quickly walked past as my colleague was trying to get a ton of photos of the neighborhood disturbance; as we got to a door some guy in a bulletproof vest walked up to us and completely unprompted, started telling us everything. 

Random police officer: Yeah, you’re okay. Just completed a sting. We just busted people trying to sell dope to our undercover guys.

Me: Oh, well, thanks, I guess. 

Random police officer: Yeah, they were selling dope. There’s been a lot of auto-thefts in this area but now we’ve got the culprits. And we’re taking away their kids too.

He smiles, proud of himself.  I didn’t say anything.

Random police officer: Well, uh, you’re good to go. 

First of all, what was he bragging about? Second, why was he divulging this information to me? Nobody asked him. Finally, why did everyone in my office seem to take such visceral pleasure from this incident? 
 



5 Consequences of Living in a Bubble

Ivan here.

April marks our one year anniversary in Los Angeles and already we’re starting to feel restless. As compulsive movers, this typically doesn’t happen for another 6-8 months. All of a sudden, the thought of spending another 17 months in one place fills us with dread. 

Recently, we’ve begun to suspect that our neighborhood might have something to do with it. Living in West LA has struck a nerve. We’ve allowed ourselves to get too comfortable. There’s a reason they call it La La Land. It’s too easy to sweep problems under the rug here. Everything in Los Angeles is room temperature. All the time. 

I’m not saying we’re above any of this. I took the PBS “Do you live in a bubble?” quiz and my score was 5 out of 100. 0 presumably means I'm The New Yorker logo: man with upturned nose, powdered wig under a top hat, examining a butterfly through a monocle. 

When I think about life in a bubble, I'm reminded this passage by a one-time LA resident: 

 
They were never young and will never be old. They have no beauty, no charm, no style. They don’t have to please anybody. They are safe. They are civil without ever quite being polite and intelligent and knowledgeable without any real interest in anything. They are what human beings turn into when they trade life for existence and ambition for security.
— Raymond Chandler
 

5 Consequences of Living in a Bubble


1. The Grand Canyon between thought and action

People in LA are generally in favor of immigrants and refugees. Just enough to allow them to stay and continue building our homes, cooking in our kitchens, and tending our gardens. But God forbid they raise our taxes or move into our neighborhood!

George Orwell took the cynical view that liberal elites sympathize with the poor, but not enough to do anything about it - the sacrifice to their way of life is too high a price to pay. Liberal values, loosely held, means having the right opinions among friends and acquaintances. Outrage becomes the antidote to a problem we were never committed to solving in the first place. Instead, we write a clever piece of satire on McSweeney’s and have a protest before happy hour.

It’s hard to rally against a system in which we are the primary beneficiaries. It’s a constant uphill battle to divert time and money from disposable pleasures to things that actually add value to the lives of those around us.  

For example, there is little direct incentive for us to donate our time to charity vs. staying at home and literally throwing hours of our life away on Netflix. Living in a bubble means having to battle the cognitive dissonance we experience when faced with the choice of doing what’s good versus what’s easy. 

2. Lack of empathy

In our neighborhood, there are more pet shelters and animal hospitals than homeless shelters and human hospitals. What we spend on our pets could conceivably feed a family of four abroad for years. 

A few weeks ago, Jennie told me a story about how some in her office were debating how to rescue a half dozen newborn puppies from a homeless couple. It’s easy to be cynical and say that people value animal life over human life. I’m not sure that’s true. I don’t think our urge to protect the defenseless makes us assholes - just lazy. A suffering animal is the easiest thing there is. It will never demand anything we aren’t prepared to give. 

3. Our IdentitieS Are For Sale

I’d like to think that individuals are more than the sum of their social, political, and gender identities. These days, I’m not so sure. What started as a righteous battle against bigotry and discrimination has devolved into a series of political hot takes, backlash, and backlash to the backlash. 

What makes us individually unique has been drowned in ideology. Our hopes and aspirations melted down and fed into an amorphous group that needs us to think and act a certain way. Please, somebody tell me what I should be offended by. 

Joining “a movement” means letting yourself be defined by someone else. It’s relinquishing control over your life. As a capitalist, there is nothing noble or true in this world that can’t be perverted and exploited for monetary gain. Consider the proliferation of products, advertising, and content that openly panders to the personas we choose to adopt. 

4. Trivial Things Become Important

Everyone seems to be in a rush somewhere. We’re too busy for the people who matter. We're connected and yet are left feeling utterly alone. How else could this article make it to the top of Medium? What are other people working on in coffee shops? Such a simple question, and yet so very...profound. 

By the way the coffee shop in question is called Deus Ex Machina: Emporium Of Post Modern Activities.

                Lord give me strength. 

               Lord give me strength. 

5. Self-congratulatory tolerance and enlightenment

Much like this entire post, we’re good at pointing out hypocrisy but terrible at providing concrete solutions. Unfortunately, there are no easy answers. Neither Jennie or I have got a clue, and as the name of our blog suggests, we’re literally making it up as we go along. 

The only practical takeaway from this is that perhaps it’s time for us to move. In the interim, let’s try not to lose our sanity as we both pine for Timbuktu. 

Hey, can you keep a secret? We’re trying to organize a prison break. We’re looking for, like, an accomplice. We have to first get out of this neighborhood, then this city, then the state, and finally, the country. 



A Male Millennial’s Perspective on Having Children

This is Part Two of a two part series where Jennie and I debate the pros and cons of having children. For a measured and mature response to this issue from a woman’s perspective, please read Jennie’s post here. You’ve been warned. 


Ivan here. 

Life is a dubious proposition. Consciousness - I think we can all agree - was not a great idea. And yet when I think about the prospect of bringing another life into this world, I can’t help but wonder:

Maybe some mistakes are worth making. 


To be, Or Not to Be


We all know what life is: a rollercoaster ride. Everything is uphill from ages 0 to puberty before we make the swift descent into adulthood. Then we’re just a few loops and pirouettes away before the ride comes to an abrupt halt. Hear that whooshing noise? That's time carrying you past a lifetime of loss and disappointment. 

I know I’m skipping a few steps, but who would put another human being through all of that? Think of the children. Growing up can be the ultimate tragedy.

This is just an opinion, but having a child may be the most selfish decision two human beings could make. Not only is there the implicit assumption that your genes are worth replicating, there’s the hubris of thinking that your offspring has a rightful claim over the world’s scarce and diminishing resources.  

There’s the love argument, I suppose. But what is love if not a pair of eyes to watch you die and someone's hand to hold as you're doing it? And why do I even need a kid for that when I’ve got Jennie? The actuarial tables say she’s going to outlive me. 


4 Reasons Why Having a Child Might Be A Good Idea


1. At least it won’t be boring

I can show it all the wonderfully sad and sadly wonderful things about life before I peace out. There’s also the added benefit of living vicariously through them and seeing the world through their eyes. Can a few precious memories compensate for a lifetime of loss and suffering?

2. It’s not coming out of my body

The only point I’m making here is that the physical toll taken on my body will be minimal. I don’t agree with people who say that fathers are just as important as mothers. No matter how hands-on I end up being as a parent, the fact is nothing’s going to be coming out of my body and nobody’s going to be pumping me for milk.  As such, I have the luxury of thinking about this as a win all around. And that’s why Jennie has ultimate veto power on the kid decision.

3. To balance things out

Not going to mention names, but some people shouldn't have children. In fact, it seems like the less qualified you are to be a parent, the more you end up procreating. Now I’m not saying these kids are doomed necessarily, I’m just pointing out that they’re up against house odds. 

One way to make the world suck less is if more responsible parents started having kids to offset the irresponsible ones. We don’t need to match them one for one. Who can keep up? 

4. To add beauty and surprise to our lives

This may sound hokey, but if life really is a box of chocolates, you can rest assured that I will be trying every single one. As hesitant as Jennie and I are about having children, it could turn out to be the best thing we ever do. The trick, I think, is to have low expectations and we’ll always be pleasantly surprised!  


Life is a question of nerves, and fibres, and slowly built-up cells in which thought hides itself and passion has its dreams. You may fancy yourself safe and think yourself strong. But a chance tone of colour in a room or a morning sky, a particular perfume that you had once loved and that brings subtle memories with it, a line from a forgotten poem that you had come across again, a cadence from a piece of music that you had ceased to play... I tell you, that it is on things like these that our lives depend.
— Oscar Wilde

My Verdict in 2017


In all seriousness, having children at this point is a binary decision for me; I see myself having either no kids or exactly one kid. Both scenarios provide Jennie and I with sufficient wiggle room to continue crafting our “Origami Life” without making too many compromises. 

Besides, if I’m thinking about my time as currency, I’d rather be really good and focused on one thing than mediocre at a whole bunch of things. Timing is also an issue. I can’t foresee us doing as much traveling in the first 3-4 years of a child's life (it won’t remember anyhow), so we would have to hunker down somewhere for longer than usual. 

Anyway, that’s where I stand at 28. Jennie and I will check back in a year to see if anything’s changed.

How about you? How would you break down this life-defining, terrifying, do-or-die decision?