Posts in Simple Living
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 His writing, published and unpublished, is actually really good.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.
 



5 Things We Do When We're Feeling Unmotivated

Ivan here.

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

 
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 Mu, said the cat.

Mu, said the cat.

 

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

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

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

In no particular order:

1. Immigration: Detainment and Bureaucracy

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

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

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

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

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


5 Things We Do When We’re Feeling Unmotivated


1. Step away and listen to music:

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

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

2. Break from your everyday routine:

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

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

3. Exercise (strenuously):

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

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

4. Let go of aNY expectations

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

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

5. Remind yourself that everything is temporary

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

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

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

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

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


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


Short Story Intermission: Four Seasons in America
 

Jennie here.

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

Enjoy!


1. Early Spring


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

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

It read:

Homeless vet.
Any help appreciated.
God bless.

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

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

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

“I’m Asian too,” he said weakly.

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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


2. Midsummer


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“How much are these nectarines?” I asked.

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

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

“I’ve got twenty dollars,” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


3. Late Autumn


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

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

I wasn’t expecting a reply.

“Pssst!” came a voice to my right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrew Jackson and I exchanged glances. Indians.

“How much for a squash?” I asked.

“Seventeen dollars.”

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

“Wait out here.”

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

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

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

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

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


4. Deep Winter


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hey mister!”

“Yes, sir?”

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

“Okay,” I said.

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

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



Origami Letters: Too Much Memory

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

* * *


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

Jennie here. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

His grandfather was truly a larger than life character.


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


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Dear Jennie,

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

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

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

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

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

Neither my dad or I are anything like my grandfather. At least, not in any way that matters. Our lives just don't have that grand sweeping narrative running through it. And that's okay. Before he lost his ability to paint and write, I asked him for a Chinese couplet that's now hanging above my desk:

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

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


Love,
Ivan


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

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

* * *


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

 
 

Jennie here. 

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

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

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


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


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


February 2018 Money Diary: Travel Excursions and Investments In Relationships
 
 

Jennie here again!

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

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

  • Income: $8,034

  • Spending: $2,895

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

  • Savings: $5,139 in monthly savings

 

Highlights From My February 2018 Money Diary…

Without Ivan By My Side :(


 A short trip to San Francisco...

A short trip to San Francisco...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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


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

Ivan here.

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

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

Knowing all this:

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

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The Costs and Benefits of FIRE

(Financial Independence, Retire Early)


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

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

Here are the five limitations of FIRE:


5 Limitations of FIRE


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1. Not all time is created equal

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

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

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

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

2. Everything compounds over time

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

How do we put a value on that?

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

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

3. Beyond the bare essentials, money has no utility

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. We have no interest in [early] retirement

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

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

5. We’re skeptical of external measures of success

It's us against the world.

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

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

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


Our Goal: To Lead a

Well-Ordered and Time-Rich Life


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

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

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

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

You never needed permission to do anything.



Mini Post: Did You Sleep Well?

Ivan here. 

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

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



Origami Letters: Why We Started this Blog

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

* * *


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

Ivan here.

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

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

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


An Origami Letter:
Looking Out Over the Hump


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

The Challenge: Looking at the World Through New Eyes



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

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

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

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



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

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


Ivan here.

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

What we’ve learned over the past year is:

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

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


The Origami Life Update:

Rethinking the Blog, Starting a Business,

Planning our Exit


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January has been a busy month for the Origami couple:
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

   Source: Yelp ; Sunset Cliffs, San Diego

Source: Yelp; Sunset Cliffs, San Diego

Hiking and Sightseeing in San Diego:

Cheap Eats and Beverages in San Diego:

   Source: Yelp ; Phil's BBQ, San Diego

Source: Yelp; Phil's BBQ, San Diego

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


What We’d Like to Do Differently Around Here


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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Side Hustles Are Made For Modern Millennials
 

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

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

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

 

Jennie here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s when I realized something:

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

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

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

What was I going to do with my life?

What did I want to come out of it?

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

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


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) About Side Hustles


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What is a side hustle?

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

  1. Side hustles are typically not your primary income.

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

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

There are two primary reasons why people pursue side hustles:

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

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

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


Why should millennials have a side hustle?

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

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

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


Four Things That I Did That Worked For My Side Hustle


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My own experience with side hustles:

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

    What do you want?

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

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

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

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


* * *

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

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

* * *



The Origami Life: 2017 Year In Review & 2018 Priorities

The Origami Life: 2017 Year In Review


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Jennie here. Happy New Year!

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

We graded ourselves against our goals with the following table:


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

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

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

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










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



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

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


The Origami Life’s Big 2017 Revelation:


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

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

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

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

What were our highlights from 2017?

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

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

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

What were our lowest points from 2017?

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

The Origami Life: Our Priorities For 2018


What areas will We focus on in 2018?

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

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

  1. Personal Finance

  2. Travel

  3. Relationship
     

Personal Finance Priorities in 2018

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

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

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

Travel Priorities in 2018

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

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

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

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

Relationship Priorities in 2018

us.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

  1. We want to engage with our readers more.

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

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



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

Year in Review: Our Playlist for 2017


Ivan here. 

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

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

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

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


A Different Kind of Annual Review:

Why We Need To Be Ourselves in 2018


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

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

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

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

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

  2. People who believed the right things but did nothing

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

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


Forget New Year’s Resolutions:

Let’s Talk Values and Priorities


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

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

Yeah, a wasted life scares us.


An Origami Worldview: Fix Yourself Before You Fix The World


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

We believe that every incremental hour or dollar spent:

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

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

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

The more interesting questions to ask are:

  • Who's funding corporate power over our influencers?

  • Whose greed allowed Wall Street to earn their commissions?

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

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


A Practical Guide:

How To Be True to Yourself in 2018


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


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

" New year, new me."

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

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

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

1. Make a statement about who you are

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

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

 

 
 

Ivan's Value Statement:

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

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

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

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

 
 

 

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

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

3. Prioritize no more than three things on that list

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

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

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

4. Do the hardest part first

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

5. Grind your way to better habits

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

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

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

* * * 

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

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

* * * 



30 Things We Believe That People Might Disagree With Us On

Ivan here. 

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

I'm Not Myself Today

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

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

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

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


Money:

10 Things We Believe About Money


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Travel:

10 Things We Believe About Travel


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

Love & Relationships:

10 Things We Believe About Love


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

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? 



Origami Guides: Camping in Joshua Tree National Park

Jennie here!

It’s becoming a little tradition of ours to go camping during major fall and winter holidays. Last year, we went to Death Valley National Park and this year, we decided to get away from the city life and go camping in Joshua Tree National Park for Thanksgiving 2017. We got a bit of a reprieve from the frustrations of our daily life...while others spent time at large family dinners or shopping on Black Friday. Ignorance is bliss.


Who Should Use This

Joshua Tree National Park Guide?


 This could be you at Joshua Tree National Park. AKA - BAMF..

This could be you at Joshua Tree National Park. AKA - BAMF..

This guide is meant for solo travelers and couples who are looking to do some digital detox from our crazy world.
Oh, and travelers who are really into scrambling, hiking, or star gazing.


WHAT ARE THE BEST TIMES IN THE YEAR

TO VISIT JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK?


It depends on what you want to do.

Spring is best for checking out the blooming desert wildflowers and the Fall and Winter are best for cooler weather and stargazing. Scrambling and hiking is available year round.

Avoid summer at all cost. It’s the desert so daytime temperatures from June through August hover around 100˚F (38˚C). If you plan on going during the summer, just plan your activities early in the morning or late afternoons; drink lots of water.

Note: Thanksgiving weekend was crowded. Since most campsites inside the park are first-come, first serve, we lucked into a spot as a family was leaving. Keep that in mind if you’re planning on come out during the holidays.


HOW DO I GET TO JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK?

Do I need a car for Joshua Tree?


Yes. Unfortunately, your only option is to drive. We came out from Los Angeles but the closest airports include the following:

  • Palm Springs International - 45 minutes from park headquarters

  • Ontario International - an hour and a half from the park

  • Los Angeles International, Burbank, and Long Beach Airports are all about two to three hours away depending on traffic

Regardless of where you come in from, you eventually have to hop in a car to get around.

Since we got rid our our car last month, we opted to rent a car from Sixt car rentals and only paid $178 for five days for unlimited mileage on a full-sized car. So, we spent about $35.60 per day on a car (split between four people).


WHERE SHOULD I STAY IN JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK?


Going to a place like Joshua Tree means that you’re looking to reconnect with nature a bit. And there’s no better way to do that than straight up camping. Choose any available campsite in the park. Most of the campsites are either $15 or $20 a night and operate on a first-come, first serve basis.

Here are a few campsites to consider:

  • Campsites at the edge of the park can be reserved in advance: Black Rock, Indian Cove
  • Campsites inside the park are all first-come, first-serve: Hidden Valley, Ryan, Jumbo Rocks, Belle, Sheep Pass, White Tank, and Cottonwood. 

If you’re not that big into nature and prefer the comforts of city life, there are a ton of nearby motels, hotels, and Airbnbs that you can seek out on your own.


HOW SHOULD I PACK FOR CAMPING AT JOSHUA TREE?


If you’re camping, these are the things you should be aware of:

  • There are washrooms AND toilet paper. Unless you’re backcountry camping, most J-Tree campsites come with bathrooms with toilet paper. However, these bathrooms are basically glorified porta-potties, meaning there's no running water or sink. Hand sanitizer is an absolute must!

  • Showers are accessible for campers right outside of the park. If you want to camp but also need to shower, there’s a souvenir shop right outside of the west entrance of the National Park and and it offers quick showers for $4.00.

  • There is NO, I repeat NO cellular service once you enter Joshua Tree National Park. Yeah, let that one sink in. Just let the smartphone go.

Most of my items for Joshua Tree camping are fairly similar to my Death Valley camping list

Here are a few items I recommend you pack:

For Your Comfort:

  • Fleece or vest jacket
  • Hand sanitizer (!)
  • Baby wipes (one pack for the face and one for...the nether regions)
  • Climbing gloves (for scrambling) - we bought cheap pairs from Daiso
  • Light blanket/throw for cooler evenings
  • Camping chairs or lightweight folding chairs
  • Wine because you don’t need to keep it cold
  • Ingredients for S’mores

Packing Food:

If you don't feel like cooking - we found the following food items worked:

  • Pita chips
  • Bagels
  • Instant oatmeal
  • Bananas or apples
  • Granola bars

J-Tree Necessities:

  • Lots of water. At least 1 gallon per person per day
  • Sunscreen
  • Sunglasses
  • Hats

Note: If you don’t have everything - don’t worry. There’s actually a Walmart Supercenter in the neighboring town. It’s less than 10 minutes away from the western entrance of the national park. And you can easily purchase any camping necessities (e.g. firewood) or modern conveniences (e.g. batteries) you might need.


HOW DO I USE THIS JOSHUA TREE GUIDE?


For simplicity’s sake, this guide assumes that you’ll be based mainly inside Joshua Tree National Park and you’ve got a car to get around.

The map is divided into the following color-coded areas:

  • Outdoor activities are in Green

  • Foods spots are in Blue

  • The Yellow markers are for optional, more obscure sites

  • Camping sites are in Purple


Outdoor Activities in Joshua Tree National Park (in Green)


  • Rock scrambling and climbing. One of the park rangers at Joshua Tree mentioned that Joshua Tree should actually be re-named “Jumbo Rocks” because that’s what is really unique about the area. Many people from all over will come out just to spend the entire weekend scrambling or climbing at this rock “mecca”.

    Here are a few suggested areas to do some light scrambling:

    • Skull Rock: Often crowded but still cool for some beginner’s scrambling (and family friendly).

    • Hall of Horrors: Steeper drops but supposed to be pretty thrilling…

    • Hidden Valley: A ton of scrambling and climbing spots.
       

  • Hiking all over the park. The terrain is significantly flatter than I’ve seen at other places but still a pretty pleasant hiking experience. We saw lots of families hiking together along several paths. For the full list, check out the National Park Service website or ask a park ranger when you get there.

    Here are a few notable hikes you shouldn’t miss:
    • Fortynine Palms Oasis: Fortynine Palms Oasis Trail is 3 miles round trip with 350 feet of elevation change. Once you get into the canyon, you’ll see a cluster of Californian palm trees with boulders and pools of water threaded throughout this strange oasis. It’s a strange sight to see.

Note: We also did the Lost Horse Mine Loop...but the payoff was not worth it. It was a pretty flat and dull trail for the majority of the hike.

 Because sunsets in Joshua Tree are that gorgeous. #nofilter

Because sunsets in Joshua Tree are that gorgeous. #nofilter

  • “Garden” viewing at the Cholla Cactus Garden. I actually found this view to be the most breathtaking outside of the sunsets at Joshua Tree. There’s something unexpected about seeing a vast stretch of these prickly cacti at J-Tree. Walk through it and tread lightly. You’ll probably get some needles stuck at the bottom sole of your shoes.
     
  • Sunsets at Joshua Tree National Park. My favorite moments were sitting on some large rock/boulder and just watching the sun slowly set after a long day of hiking and running around. And with no internet or cell service, I felt even more relaxed about the entire experience. It’s the type of beauty that makes you think about the big questions in your life.
     

  • Stargazing in the winter and spring months. If you can plan your trips around meteor shower events, I highly recommend spending it at Joshua Tree. There are also guided stargazing experiences at the Sky’s the Limit Observatory & Nature Center on most Saturdays. Check out the NPS website for their tips and tricks on stargazing at Joshua Tree.


Where To Eat At Joshua Tree (in Red)


We came during Thanksgiving so...unfortunately for us, nothing was open on Thanksgiving day. Our group ended up eating out at IHOP when we arrive and cooking food the rest of the trip.

Here are a few notable spots that came highly recommended:

  • Joshua Tree Coffee Company: Organic coffee roasted in only small batches. From what I’ve read this cafe is the perfect way to kickstart your morning. Sip your cup of joe on the attached patio deck as you get caffeinated and plan for a full day in Joshua Tree.

  • Crossroads Cafe: I got several recommendations for Crossroads Cafe from several trusted Angelenos. This place is right outside the west entrance of the park and offers filling meals, friendly service, and great options for lunch or breakfast.

See the shared map for a few more food suggestions. 


Stranger, More Obscure Activities

Near Joshua Tree National Park (in Yellow)


Everything I’m listing below are just free experiences because...why the hell not?

  • World Famous Crochet Museum: Essentially, a small shrine dedicated to the cozy art of crochet.

  • Noah Purifoy's Outdoor Desert Art Museum: 7.5 acres of "Environmental Sculptures". There’s something extremely sad and strange about the entire experience in the middle of nowhere.

  • Desert Jesus Park: A 3.5 acre sculpture garden park; I only found out after but the statues were moved here in 1951 by the local church. Words I’d use to describe this place: eerie, odd, creepy, strange...

  • Bob’s Crystal Museum: An eclectic “cave” with decorated crystals by Bob Carr in the middle of the Sky Villages Swap Meet. Worth a gander.

  • Cactus Mart: Eclectic and you can create your own mini-cacti garden at $0.59 a piece. A steal if I ever saw one.

* * *

Have you been camping at Joshua Tree National Park before? 

What did you and your group do differently?

Did you come across any unique experiences?



 

 

Why Should We Care About What People Think?

“But how will this look?”


Ivan here.

Thanksgiving is coming up, bringing families together to celebrate the anniversary of when a boatload of immigrants crossed the Atlantic to settle in Plymouth, Massachusetts, where they proceeded to take jobs and land away from ordinary, working class Americans.

But I’m being petty - which is the opposite of what this holiday is supposed to be about.


The Least Productive Question In the World


For obvious reasons, my family doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving. The closest Taiwanese equivalent is the Mid-Autumn Festival, which is held in August or the eighth month of the lunar calendar. On this holiday, we Taiwanese like to take our flip flops and plastic footstools to the river to stake out spots for an impromptu, hobo-style barbecue.

But no matter what the holiday season, it’s always stressful when extended families come together. We’ve all got our own ways of dealing with this. I can’t speak for Jennie’s side of the family, but there’s one thing my family does that I have no patience for, and it starts with a single question:

“But how will this look?”

This is the question that sets most people off on a path to making one bad decision after another.

Here are some examples taken from our life:


1. What Will People Think

When They See My Wallet?


Here’s a picture of my wallet.

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I’ve had it for almost ten years. It looks like it'd been chewed on by a dog for at least that long. It’s too bulky for most of my pockets and I can’t keep coins smaller than quarters or they’ll fall out of the ever-expanding hole.

the-origami-life-my-wallet-pt2.JPG

But it’s my wallet, and I like it.

While I’m self-aware enough to know that I’m both stubborn and a cheapskate, those aren’t the reasons why I still have this wallet. I have this wallet because Jennie bought it for me in Kyoto nearly ten years ago for 1,000 yen ($10). I like the yellow-checkered pattern (or what’s left of it). I like that when I showed it to an old friend from our Kyoto days in Chicago last month, he laughed and remembered the exact store I got it from.

Why should I apologize for the things I like?

A few years ago, I was in the Toronto financial district, about to pay for lunch with a few co-workers. I whipped out my wallet from the inner pocket of my Brooks Brothers jacket.

“That’s your wallet!?” said the sales guy in the Hugo Boss suit.

“Yep,” I said.

“No offense buddy,” he said. “But that’s disgusting. You should invest in a Louis Vuitton.”

“I don’t know,” I said as I paid the tab. “I like it.”

There was no point in arguing, but if I had to explain it in sports terms so that he might've understood - here’s Odell Beckham Jr on Twitter:

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2. What Will People Think

Seeing Us At a Bus Stop?


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Jennie got rid of her car recently, which means we’re back to using public transit and ride-sharing. This is strange for Los Angeles. Very few people here ride public transit unless it’s the only thing they can afford.

But the neighborhood we live in is actually perfectly situated for public transit. There’s an express line running right past our apartment that takes us to Venice Beach in 20 minutes, Jennie’s office in 30 and downtown L.A. within the hour. There are also four grocery stores and a farmer’s market within a five mile radius - more than accessible by a $5 Lyft ride. We are very “lucky” because early on, we made conscious decisions about where to live and how much space we actually needed.

It was early afternoon on Friday. Jennie and I were waiting at a bus stop in front of a run-down Carl’s Jrs. We were planning to run some errands and get some camping gear for our upcoming trip to Joshua Tree.

Weekend traffic had already picked up. An obnoxiously loud sports car inched by. All that horsepower, no room to run. I watched the middle-aged man in the driver’s seat, and fantasized about sitting across from him at a poker table. His psychological profile must be practically childlike. It’d be like taking candy from a baby.

“I wonder what people think driving past us,” said Jennie, interrupting the royal flush I was on the verge of making.

Here, I saw my opening to quote my favorite character from Game of Thrones:

“A lion, Jennie, doesn’t concern herself with the opinions of the sheep.”

Editor’s note: I rolled my eyes.


3. What Will People Think When

We Turn in Empty Bottles at CVS?


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Tap water is completely safe to drink in Los Angeles, but has a strange aftertaste that lies somewhere between chlorine and rust. Our apartment is also a pre-1970s structure and has lead pipes. For those reasons, Jennie and I started buying bottled water from Costco since moving from Boston.

This leaves us with the problem of getting our $0.05 deposits back for our bottles. We drink a LOT of water, so that’s about $10 a month worth of deposits.

Luckily for us, there’s a CVS right next to the Japanese grocery store we shop at that takes bottles. Perfect, I thought. We can get our deposit back without going out of our way.

Jennie was more hesitant. The thought of standing in line at CVS just to get $10 triggered some flashbacks of growing up in poverty.

“I’d do it myself,” I said. “But the limit is 100 bottles a person and they only take bottles on Sunday.”

“It just brings back bad memories.”

“Okay, so what do you want to do? Just throw away $10? Not a great message to send to all the poor kids out there: Ten dollars? No thanks. Too embarrassed.”

“Why aren’t you embarrassed?”

“Because I’m going to do what I want, when I want. What everyone else thinks is irrelevant.”

“Besides,” I added. “Most people are just like you and me - they’re too busy thinking about themselves to worry about anyone else.”


So, What’s the Right Question?


I used examples from our life to illustrate something that we all struggle with. That is, understanding the fine, virtually indistinguishable line between:

  1. What we want

  2. What we think we should want

Do I want an expensive sports car because I enjoy driving and appreciate fine automotive engineering? Or because I think chicks will dig me in this car and that an outward symbol of my success will compensate for my inner feeling of inadequacy?

Do I want a big house because I plan on raising a large family and the price tag is well within my means? Or because I always imagined myself as an owner of a big house that’s the envy of my family, friends and neighbors?

And on and on it goes. For everything.

This is just my personal opinion, but I think the more we think about “how something looks,” the less likely we are to end up making the optimal decision.

Because the right question should always be:

Does this add value to my life
and the lives of those I care about?”