Posts tagged Love
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 His writing, published and unpublished, is actually really good.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.
 



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

Jennie here.

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

I thought to myself: At last, freedom.

This was me for like...two minutes.

This was me for like...two minutes.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Why It’s Important To Be Apart:

Sometimes, You Forget Your Individuality


Source: Like Crazy (2011) movie

Source: Like Crazy (2011) movie

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

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


7 Observations of Being Apart


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

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

 

Here are my observations from our time apart so far:

1. Time moves more slowly without him around.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • What am I passionate about?

  • Where is the meaning in my life?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Time Apart In A Relationship Is Healthy


 
 

Taking time apart in a marriage is really healthy.

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

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


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? 



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

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



Five ways our relationship has changed:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. We’ve rounded each other out

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

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

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


Three ways our relationship has stayed the same:
 


1. We’re still just as competitive.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 



5 Ways to Avoid Complacency In Our Relationship

 
 

Ivan here. Just wanted to recommend John Steinbeck’s moving letter to his son on falling in love. Words to live by. And now, here’s Jennie.


Jennie here.

I’d like to begin with a truth that Ivan and I both believe: being complacent (in any way) will ruin your life.

Ivan and I have been together for almost eight years -- six years of it was long distance. Even though we’ve only been living together for the last two years, we often fear complacency in our relationship and with our lives overall.

Whenever we catch ourselves feeling too comfortable we begin to fret that it’s the beginning of the end.

Is this normal?

When it comes to relationships, complacency is more subtle and can easily seep into everyday life and begin to eat away at the foundation. Over time, it's only natural for couples to become comfortable with each other and fall into a routine. But in long-term relationships, routine can also be rampant breeding grounds for boredom, frustration, and stale ambitions. The whole point of The Origami Life is to try and craft a lifestyle designed to combat these forces.

Here are some ways we’ve managed to evade complacency (so far):

We argue for sport (and intimacy).

A habit formed in the early days of our relationship. Arguing for us is about not needing to pretend or hold back what we actually think or feel about a particular topic or issue; in a weird way, it can actually be kind of intimate and fun we're a no bullshit couple and it's much easier just to say what we're thinking (almost as soon as we’re thinking it) instead of bottling it up inside.

We breakfast together.

This is a newer activity for us but we've started to go on [very cheap] morning coffee/breakfast dates together. It's a daily cadence that jumpstarts our mornings. A 30 minute coffee break gives us a chance to talk and share goals/ideas and often spurs new creative ideas for Ivan’s freelancing and for our blog.

We try to find a purpose.

We talk about the future constantly and it actually makes us happier. In fact, having a short-term goal of round the world travel and the long-term goal of a nomadic lifestyle has really given us something to look forward to. A purpose. What kind of mindset we want to be in our relationship, careers, and finances. What are some things we’re willing to sacrifice today so that we can get to where we want to go?

We turn off all electronics by 9pm.

Most days sort of blend into the others and we’ve found it difficult to find a sense of balance in our lives. One of the things that have helped us is turning off electronics by 9pm. It gives us a chance to cut through the constant noise of politics, stressful issues, projects, work, etc. Instead, we try to read in bed (or I'll draw and Ivan reads). When we do that, it feels like we've accomplished a minor goal at the end of the day.

We write each other emails.

This is a habit we picked up during our years of long distance. We write each other emails when I’m at work and Ivan’s at home. From time to time, we'll send out a funny, quippy email with a link to something and other times, it'll be us rehashing an argument over email.

It's not easy to avoid complacency but those are the ways that are unique to our relationship and have kept us moving forward. We’d love to hear from our readers. How do you and your partner/spouse avoid complacency in your relationship or in your life?



The Origami Life - Looking Ahead at Our Goals for 2017

Happy New Year! Jennie here!

Resolutions.

We all make them, but how many of us keep them? According to a University of Scranton, Journal of Clinical Psychology study, only 8% of those who make resolutions actually achieve their goals.

That said, I’m pretty stubborn and would like to think that the goals we’ve set for ourselves this year are both specific, measurable and realistic. By the end of 2017, I’ll be doing a year in review of our goals and rating how well we did against them.

We've come to the conclusion that we need to work harder at a lot of things in 2017...

We've come to the conclusion that we need to work harder at a lot of things in 2017...

I’ll be covering our goals in the following categories in this post:

  1. Financial goals

  2. Travel goals

  3. Relationship goals

  4. Personal goals

Financial Goals

  • Save at least 50% of our salary. This past year, we managed to save 42%. We believe we can do better. This year, we’re aiming to save 50% of our combined incomes.

  • Move into a cheaper apartment. Currently, we live on the westside of Los Angeles. While it’s beautiful, convenient and close to the beach...it turns out, we don’t really care about the beach and are paying a premium for this luxury. So, we’re looking to move into a new apartment in the springtime that is $200 to $300 cheaper than our current rent. Ideally, we’ll save around $2,400 to $3,600 a year in our next studio.

  • Donate 1-2% of our (post-tax) earnings. After this election year, we thought a lot about how we want to show our support for the causes we care about. We’re putting together a list of potential causes that we’ll be donating to in our December 2016 Money Diary.

Travel Goals

We just finished up with our Death Valley camping trip in December and it’s got us excited about what’s planned for our 2017 travels. Outside of our routine visits to our families in Taiwan and the southwest, we’ve got one big travel goal for 2017!

  • Travel across the country by rail. Awhile back, we were inspired by Derek Lowe’s train adventures across the United States. So, Ivan and I are planning a railroad trip across the United States during the fall. Truthfully, it’ll probably be our last chance to travel domestically once we move abroad. We’re hoping to hit up new cities like Austin, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C. And we’re likely going to end up in Boston and see many of our old friends and catch some fall foliage too! I can’t wait!

Bonus: We want to try and get a quick trip to New Orleans in for the food, jazz, and history. Ivan has been wanting to go there for ages!

Relationship Goals

The big thing we noticed this past year was that we were definitely together more often but not spending enough quality time together. Some nights after work, we’d be in the same room but on separate computers -- catching up on reading articles, Youtube clips, or television episodes. We’re going to be the first ones to admit that we could use some more love and effort in our relationship.

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Instead of spending more time nursing our relationship with black mirrors, we’re looking to improve the following:

  • Power down all electronics by 9pm every day. Turns out, our lives revolve around a computer/mobile device. And it sucks. So, we’ve decided to turn off our computers by 9pm and spend time together or simply just read together.

  • Volunteer together in 2017. I believe this will be a good bonding experience for us but I think it’d be beneficial to also spend some time giving back to our new Los Angeles community where it’s filled with many issues like homelessness.

  • Be kinder to each other. This definitely manifests in different ways for the both of us but here are a few ways we’re looking to improve our relationship...

Ivan'S 2017 RELATIONSHIP GOALS:

Jennie's 2017 Relationship Goals:

I promise to pick up the scattered empty water bottles all over our apartment because Jennie hates this.

I’ll encourage (or make) Jennie go to the gym at least three times a week. Jennie also hates this.

I’ll read to Jennie at least once a week before bed because for some reason my voice puts her to sleep...
— Ivan
I promise to nag Ivan a lot less. I tend to nag but I know I can choose my battles better.

I’ll give Ivan real space for when he is reading or studying...even though I’m a social penguin.
— Jennie

Personal Goals

At the end of the day, we're two individuals with our own goals and ambitions. 

At the end of the day, we're two individuals with our own goals and ambitions. 

There’s a lot we have planned in 2018 but before any of that can happen, we need to prepare for the hard part in 2017. Part of the legwork required is having established savings for our travels and the other is creating habits that lead to stable income during our travels in 2018.

Ivan's Goals:

  1. Write and submit one new (financial or travel) article for publication every week.

  2. Complete the first draft of his 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. For reference, Ivan read 86 novels this past year.

Jennie's Goals:

  1. Practice drawing for at least 30 minutes a day.

  2. Read (a book) for at least 30 minutes a day. Hopefully, by the end of the year, I will have read at least 20 to 25 new books! Note: I'm already one-third of the way finished with my first book for the year!

  3. Exercise (e.g. go running, to the gym, etc.) two to three times a week.

  4. Send more emails/correspondences to my loved ones and friends this coming year.

So, there you have it. Our deepest hopes, ambitions, and desires. Happy new year from us to you!

 

 

Our Taipei Trip in Pictures

In late October 2016, Ivan and I traveled from Los Angeles to Taipei for our wedding ceremony.


Wedding receptions, street food, and shrimp fishing all in one day...

The two of us, waiting awkwardly as the reception room filled up.

The two of us, waiting awkwardly as the reception room filled up.

We had our wedding reception at Taipei 101's Ding Xian 101 (頂鮮101) seafood restaurant.

Ivan's family actually arranged the entire reception. We had fancy seafood as well as other delicious Taiwanese influenced dishes. I'd say the biggest highlight of our wedding (reception) day was that we finally had a chance to relax and unwind. And it was my family's first time in Taiwan; my siblings first time abroad. Everything was new for them and I wanted to share all the great things that I'd come to love about the city. So, let me warn you -- there's a lot of food. 

Since I wanted to share my love of Taipei, I thought -- what better way to enjoy a new country than by eating more Taiwanese food? So, we headed over to Shilin Night Market

And what was I most excited about?! The Hot Star Large Fried Chicken. It was hot, crunchy, fatty, and oozing with hot oil. The hype around this snack is definitely worthwhile to check out. 

Another fun thing that we did in Taipei after my wedding reception was shrimp fishing. We stayed up a little late, had a few beers, and caught a few shrimp. Sadly, the owner felt so bad for how little we caught that they gave us some free shrimp on the house. 


Another beautiful day in Taipei...

We took the subway with my family to one of our favorite areas in Taipei's Zhongzheng District

Ivan grew up in the area around the National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall (中正紀念堂). Every time we've been back to Taiwan, we come and visit this area. I love it because I get a peek into Ivan's memories and past. We could easily spend hours wandering around this area...

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A visit to this area also means that we have to visit our favorite soup dumpling place, Hangzhou Xiaolong Tang Bao (杭州小籠湯包)

We actually enjoy this place a lot more than Din Tai Fung (鼎泰豐) because it's still a family run restaurant and tastes great. 

Hang Zhou Xiao Long Tang Bao 杭州小籠湯包
Opening hours: 11:30am - 9:30pm (Opens daily)
Nearest MRT: Chiang Kai Shek MRT Station (Exit number 5 and walk about 5 mins)

If you're stopping by, I highly recommend checking out the cold side dishes, the crab roe xiao long bao, and the seasonal dishes. When we came out they had sweet pumpkin buns.
 

Jiufen (九份)

On our last day with my family, we took an hour long (and rickety) bus ride up a mountain to check out Jiufen (九份)

The views were spectacular but it was really crowded in the narrow alleyways, which were filled with delicious Taiwanese snack and memorabilia vendors.

If you want to see what foods you should eat in the area, I'd recommend checking out this guide from Food Republic. My favorite snack was the grilled snails!

Our last days in Taipei...

Our last days in Taiwan were spent together, wandering the streets for my favorite foods, hanging out with Ivan's family, and running last minute errands before we had to leave Taiwan again. 

Beef noodle soup from a local shop near Taipei Main Station.

Beef noodle soup from a local shop near Taipei Main Station.

We both got new bracelets from the Taipei Weekend Jade Market 台北市建國假日玉市.

Each time I come back to Taiwan, it becomes a little bit more difficult each time to leave it. At the airport before our departure, we had Mos Burger before we went through security. We sat around, thinking about our time in Taipei and we felt exhausted...and a little sad to say goodbye again.

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If you're thinking of visiting Taipei, check out some of our latest posts below.


How To Travel Without Murdering Your Spouse

Jennie here. 

Ivan and I have been together for almost eight years now. It’s insane to think that we’ve spent the majority of that time apart; it’s no surprise that during our short stints of traveling together, we’ve come to the realization that we have fairly different traveling styles.

Ivan enjoys dropping into a new place with the minimum amount of planning. He likes to explore a new city methodically, moving glacially from one neighborhood to the next, with no set itinerary outside of a handful of “must see” sites. On the other end of the spectrum, I like to know the where, when, and how of my trip down to the hour. Then I draw up a map of the most efficient route that will help me avoid the tourists and save time. Then I’ve got contingency plans just in case plan A and B fail. Because having a back-up plan to the back-up plan is totally normal, right?

You can imagine that our different travel styles have led to many arguments during our trips abroad.

Here are some tips on how to keep your sanity:


Tell each other your travel preferences.


And yes, you need to communicate this. If you’re the type of traveler that loves luxury travel (e.g. nice hotels, spas, etc.) and your spouse loves slumming it in eccentric hostels with limited amenities -- you’re going to have to find some common ground. 


Understand each other's triggers and warning signs. 


For example, do you get “hangry” when you haven’t eaten in a while? Do you snap at your wife when she interrupts your reading (*cough* Ivan)? It’s good to know what sets the other person off so you can learn to give each other space and avoid a nightmare situation. Because it will be much harder to ignore these habits and eccentricities once you’re together all the time.


Compromise. Seriously, figure out a middle ground.


One thing we’ve found that’s worked for us is to divide up our travel days so that we can each take turns being “in charge” of our travel. On Jennie days, Ivan has to go along with my militant itineraries without complaining. And vice versa. That way we each get what we want without feeling like we’re not getting the full experience.


Create an itinerary that accommodates
to both of your needs / likes / dislikes.


Create an itinerary that accommodates to both of your needs/likes/dislikes.

In our case, Ivan loves bookstores and I love cafes. So, we make it a point to try and check out at least one or two places that we love going to.

Below, are a couple of things I listed that Ivan and I both enjoy/like/dislike:

 
 

Understand each other's strengths and use them.


Ivan is the worst navigator, ever. He reminds me of P-Chan / Ryoga from the 90’s anime, Ranma 1/2. When we used to travel together, I’d let Ivan lead us...and nine times out of ten we’d end up getting lost and in an argument. In recent travels, Ivan has left most of the navigating to me. Conversely, I have let Ivan take over when my Plan A, B, and C falls through and my brain starts to shut down in panic. I don’t do well without a plan.


Schedule some time alone / apart. 


I believe in setting aside personal time for yourself. Because before becoming a couple, you were individuals first with different needs, desires, and interests. Setting aside some personal time to explore or relax and read with during travel is going to be crucial in traveling together. This way, you have time to actually miss one another and enjoy each other’s company more.


Build in relaxation days where you don't need to do anything.


Days like this are usually our cafe days together. We’d hang out in cafes, just working or surfing the net -- holding onto some piece of reality that is a normal part of our daily lives at home. This also gives you a chance to appreciate how some locals might live/work and to savor your time a bit more than usual but with a nice cup of coffee.

Origami Guides: A 3 Day Itinerary Through Okinawa (Without a Car)

Naha, Okinawa
那覇市, 沖縄

Jennie here!

After our wedding reception, Ivan and I went on a three-day honeymoon to Okinawa. Okinawa is like Japan’s younger, more easy-going brother. The language and the traditional Japanese politeness are the same, but Okinawans are also more laid back in attitude with a slower pace of living. For us, the experience was like visiting a completely different country.


Who should use this itinerary?


Solo travelers and couples who are time constrained and prefer to get around by public transportation.


What are the best times in the year to visit? 


We recommend visiting Okinawa in late October/early November to avoid typhoon season, which runs from July to early October in some years. It still feels like summer this time of year, and you avoid the tourists and salarymen who flock to the island in the spring (from March to June). 


How do I get to Okinawa? 


If you want to avoid a 40+ hour ferry ride, your only option is to fly. From Tokyo, it’s a 2.5 hour flight. Most likely, you’re going to begin and end your trip in Naha International Airport. 


Where should I stay in Okinawa? 


For the Budget-conscious:

  • Myplace Guest House - If you’re comfortable staying with shared rooms, then Myplace Guest House is the place to be. And at a hard-to-beat price of ~$24 USD per night, it’s hard to complain. Also, it’s great to keep in mind that these hostels also have fantastic partnerships with diving/snorkeling tour groups and plans that often include island hopping, rental gear, lunch, and transport back to your hostel.

Moderately Budget:

  • Estinate Hotel - For a single standard room, the prices in November ranges between $70 to $79 per night. This being our honeymoon, Ivan and I were looking to take it easy and go a little bit above our normal budget. We booked our stay with Estinate Hotel (through Agoda.com) for three nights in Naha. The total (including taxes) came to $77.80 USD per night. The room was small, clean and had everything we needed.


How do I use this okinawa guide? 


The map is divided into three color-coded areas:

  • Day 1 attractions are in Blue
  • Day 2 attractions are in Pink
  • Day 3 attractions are in Orange
  • The grey markers are for optional sites

For simplicity’s sake, this itinerary assumes that you’ll be based in Naha City.

Note: Feel free to add this map to your own Google Map list. You can also filter out different days of this guide on the map by clicking the top left icon on the map title bar.


Day 1: WWII, Soba, Castles, and Gardens in Naha, Okinawa (BLUE)


Note: Remember to show your Yui Rail Day Passes to get admission discounts for several attractions in Naha. Discounts will vary, but you will save a few dollars at each attraction.

Morning

  • Purchase the Yui Rail One Day (~$6.40). When you arrive at Naha airport, the first thing you should do is follow the signs to the monorail station and purchase your Yui Rail Day Pass from the machines outside. This pass not only gives you 24-hour access to the monorail but also provides discounts to several attractions. There’s also a two-day option for those that are less time constrained.
  • Begin your day early and get to the Former Japanese Navy Underground Headquarters (Tomigusuku) (opens 8:30am - 5:30pm). Out of all the attractions, this was probably our favorite. The only word to describe it is eerie. It’s also not for the faint of heart. You can actually walk through the system of underground bunkers and tunnels where the Japanese made their last stand in WWII. The bullet holes on the walls are from the soldiers who committed suicide. A lot of local Okinawans died here and it’s a disturbing reminder of the horrors of war.
    Note: This place is a bit of a pain to get to because it’s not close to a monorail station. I’d suggest taking a taxi from Onoyama Koen monorail station. 
  • Lunch at Shuri Soba ($4 - $6, opens at 11am - 2pm -- or until they run out; closed on Sundays). Hop on a train and head over to Shurijo (aka Shuri Castle) station to grab a bowl of Okinawa soba at Shuri Soba (首里そば). Okinawa soba is like the best of both worlds between ramen and udon. The broth is light, the noodles chewy, and it’s usually topped with marbled cuts of pork.
  • Stop by Sairaiin Temple (Free). Located right across the street from Shuri Soba. This Buddhist temple is not a tourist attraction so much as a window into the spiritual lives of Okinawan suburbanites.
  • Shurijo (Shuri Castle) (~$7.50; opens 8am–6:30pm) and the Tamaudun Mausoleum (~$3, opens 9am - 6pm). Honestly, we weren’t all that impressed with Shuri Castle. The majority of the castle was completely ‘modernized’ and rebuilt due to the destruction from the war. It’s an obligatory stop more than anything. The Tamaudun Mausoleum (玉陵) on the other hand, which houses the royal family of the Ryukyu Kingdom, is well worth seeing.

Afternoon

  • Stroll through Fukushu-en Garden (Free; opens 9am to 6pm, closed Wednesdays). Hop back onto the monorail and head towards Kencho-Mae Station (県庁前駅) and take a five-minute walk to the garden. It’s nice to get away from the hustle and bustle and you won’t come across many other tourists.

Evening

  • Stroll around Makishi Market (Free, unless you buy stuff; opens 8am–9pm). For anyone interested in checking out souvenirs, I’d check out this market. But I’d definitely urge anyone to beeline straight to the Fish Market. You can check out vendors and fresh seafood; you can also buy seafood and have it made right in the building! I actually saw the largest lobster that I’d ever seen in my life in one of those tanks.
  • Dinner at Yunangi (opens 12–3pm, 5:30–10:30pm, closed on Sundays). If you’re up for trying anything, you should order the dinner set menu for about $27. You’ll get everything including: chanpuru, pig ears, tofu, grilled fish, braised pork, miso soup, and rice. It’s very filling and is a perfect amount for two people.  Get there early, it gets crowded early and often.
  • Get a Single or Double Scoop of Blue Seal ice cream (hours vary by location). The quintessential Okinawan ice cream chain. A daily of our visit. Our favorite combination was Okinawan salted cookie and beni imo.
  • Check out Parker's Mood (opens 10pm - 1:30am). A jazz club hidden on the 5th floor of an apartment complex. There’s usually live music between 9:00pm and 12:30am, but I think the owner, who’s an amazing jazz guitarist, just plays whenever he feels like it. We love jazz so we sat and listened for a few hours and chatted about our lives together while enjoying a local Orion beer and ume-shu (plum wine).

Day 2: Going Outside of Naha - Aquarium, Aimless Wandering, and Simple Meals (PINK)


Morning

  • Take the Yanbaru express to Northern Okinawa (~$18 one-way).  The two hour bus ride will go from Night Takahashi (Tomari Port Tomarin) at (departing at 6:56am) to Churaumi Aquarium (arriving at 8:58am).
    Note: If you miss the scheduled bus, there won’t be another one for about two hours. Check the bus schedule here. And the last departing bus headed back to the Naha area is around 4 - 5pm.
  • Arrive at Churaumi Aquarium (~$17 admission; opens 8:30am–5:30pm) Get there early to check out the main highlight of this aquarium: The Kuroshio Sea Tank. It’s Japan’s largest aquarium and is full of diverse marine life.

Afternoon

After staring deeply into one of the world’s largest marine tanks, try wandering around the area and villages outside of the aquarium.

  • Grab a quick lunch at Coco Shokudo (コッコ食堂 ) (~$10; opens 11am - 5pm, limited hours on the weekend). The humble family-owned restaurant serves dishes centered around eggs.
  • Walk along Emerald Beach and take in the ocean scenery (Free).
  • Enjoy the gorgeous gardens at the Tropical Dream Center (~$6.30 and ~$3.30 if you visited the aquarium; opens 8:30am - 5:30pm).
  • Bise is a small village by the Aquarium and known for is its little alleyway that is flanked by Fukugi trees (Free)
  • Take a 20-minute walk to Bise no Warumi to experience a private beach where the Gods first descended. (Free)

Evening

  • Head back to Naha via the Yanbaru Express bus (~$18 one-way). Leave around 4:30 to 5pm and get back into the city around 7pm.
  • Grab a simple dinner at Mikasa near the hotel (less than $10). Huge portions and the restaurant is open relatively late; finish up and get ready for an early day tomorrow morning.

Day 3: Beautiful Beaches, Relaxation, and More Okinawa Soba  (ORANGE)


Morning

Early Afternoon

  • Pick an island and go snorkeling. If it’s still warm enough to swim, I’d suggest checking out one of the Kerama Islands for some snorkelling or diving. The islands are so beautiful and the water is super blue and clear. Choose any of the islands to settle into and you should be able to rent snorkeling gear for about less than $10 USD. Ivan and I spent $80 USD for an umbrella, chairs, and snorkeling gear.
  • Relax for a few hours. It’s vacation after all. Swim, snorkel, and soak in the beautiful son, clear waters, and likely a sparse/tourist free beach.

Evening

  • Take a ferry back to Naha and walk towards Makishi Market for a bonus Okinawa soba round (~$3.60, opens 11am - 5 or 6pm, depends on the mood of the owner). Soki Soba (aka Country Side Public Market on TripAdvisor). The place is small and seats about 10 people. A bowl of soba is super cheap! The broth is light and fragrant and the pork meat practically melts away in your mouth.
    Note: If Soki Soba is closed, head over to our alternative soba restaurant here: Gabusoka Shokudo Miebashi Ekimae
  • And to finish off the evening -- do whatever floats your boat after swimming and travelling for several hours. In our case, we grabbed some more delicious Blue Seal ice cream. Yes, it’s that good. And a perfect ending to our Okinawa trip.

We hoped this was helpful! If you liked this post, be sure to check out a related Okinawa post we published titled "11 Things We Like and Dislike About Okinawa"



October Money Diary: Our $10,000 Destination Wedding
 
AUGUST MONEY DIARY-3 copy.png
 

Summary

Ivan & Jennie here (back after a two week absence). 

We held a wedding reception in October. Our wedding reception. It was a bureaucratic redundancy more than anything, since we had already eloped in a courthouse ceremony in Boston two years prior. 

There was also the practical matter of our families having never met. Jennie’s family, originally from Vietnam, lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico and hasn’t set foot outside the U.S. in over 20 years. My family lives in Taipei and has no real roots in America. It didn't make sense for them to make the uncomfortable 14 hour journey to attend a one hour wedding reception. 

Our compromise was to hold the reception in Taipei. My parents (as the hosts) would cover the cost of accommodations and the reception. Jennie and I would cover her family’s flights both to Taiwan and to Vietnam, where they would spend three weeks ‘back home’ visiting family and paying their respects at the graves of Jennie’s grandparents. 

Planning a $10k Wedding Reception

A wedding typically isn’t about the two people getting married. Because if it was really about what Jennie and I wanted, there would be no wedding at all. We were pretty happy with our elopement at Cambridge City Hall because it suited who we were.

No, this wedding was strictly for our families. And that’s who we invited. Our immediate family. Meaning no second cousins, no long lost uncles we’ve never heard of, no friends or co-workers of our parents. Basically, if we have to draw more than two lines to get from us to them on our family tree, they were not invited.

This also meant no friends, which simplified things immensely. We didn’t have to invite people just to be polite. Nobody got hurt that they didn’t get to be the best man or the maid of honor. Our guest list was limited to those related to us by blood.

So how did it go? Well, the reception went great. Everyone had a good time. Okinawa was an okay time too, in case you were wondering. But since this is a money diary, we're going to stick to breaking down the various costs of holding a family only, destination wedding in Taipei, Taiwan: 


What We Spent

Six Multi-City Tickets to Taiwan and Vietnam ($2,000)
Wedding Rings ($1,000 purchased two years ago for our elopement)
Clothing for Wedding ($200)
Photography ($0 - our families took some great candid photos) 
Homemade Wedding Invitations ($50)
Four Day Okinawa Mini Moon ($1,000)

Total Cost For Us: $4,250


What Ivan’s Parents Spent

Hotel Accommodations ($2,000)
Pre - Reception Tea Ceremony and Dinner ($500)
Lunch Wedding Reception at Taipei 101 Restaurant ($4,000)

Total Cost for Ivan’s Parents: $6,500


Total Cost for Wedding: $10,750
Total Value of Red Envelopes Received: $8,000


This left us with a $3,750 surplus after expenses. After returning a portion of this to help recoup Ivan’s parents, and considering that the wedding rings ($1,000) were a cash expense incurred over two years ago, we wrapped up the whole affair slightly ahead. 

Family obligation? Check. Now we move on with our lives. You know, the part that’s actually important: our day to day marriage. The one that’s supposed to end when one of us dies - not when they close the bar.

Expense Breakdown

1. Rent and Bills ($1,674.90)
Nothing new here. 

2. Travel ($558.41)
Okinawa expenses. The airfare and hotel costs (around $400) were logged to prior months. 

3. Groceries ($226.50)
About 2.5 weeks worth of groceries due to travel. 

4. Eating Out & Entertainment ($262.50)
It was a lot cheaper eating out in Taipei. 

5. Savings, Education, and Investments ($329.21)
Ivan ran his first marathon in October. Included here are registration fees, a one night hotel stay and other marathon related purchases. We also bought a cheap video camera to document our Taiwan and Okinawa travels. 

6. Miscellaneous ($155.79)
Mainly souvenirs, parking, and airport food. 

7. Life Happens ($180.00)
Last minute blazer from H&M and Jennie’s wedding dress. We bought items that we would wear again (as opposed to thousand dollar museum pieces). 

Why Eloping Was the Best Decision We Ever Made

Jennie here.

Ivan and I are leaving for Taiwan in a few weeks to have our “official” wedding reception with our families (a small tea ceremony and lunch). This reception comes two years after our unofficial “elopement” at Cambridge City Hall in 2014, where we signed our marriage paperwork (unbeknownst to either of our families).

“We made the decision to elope not because we thought it would be romantic but because it was practical and the right choice for us. ”

We made the decision to elope not because we thought it would be romantic but because it was practical and the right choice for us. The courthouse ceremony was a no-nonsense affair with just a few of our friends in attendance. It cost us $35 to secure a marriage license and the ceremony lasted ten minutes. After it was done, we went and had some ice cream at Toscana’s at Kendall Square. Then the next morning, Ivan flew back to Toronto.

We thought it would be best to celebrate once Ivan moved down to the U.S. Unfortunately, we had no idea that the immigration process would take 17 months. The trauma of bureaucratic limbo left us both exhausted and resentful. Which is why it took us two years to finally organize a simple reception so that are families could meet for the first time.


Here are the three reasons why elopement
was the best decision we ever made:


1. It saved us a boatload of cash.

Did you know that in 2015, the average cost of an American wedding was $31,213? That’s insane. Having experienced a lot of financial hardship growing up, spending even a third of that on a one-time party just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.

“Marriage shouldn’t be about what you can afford - it should be about what you actually want.”

And you know that rule about the groom having to spend X months of his pay check on a diamond ring? Well, that’s the single most arbitrary fucking thing I’ve ever heard in my life. It makes me angry that some people actually buy into this stupid marketing scheme. Marriage shouldn’t be about what you can afford - it should be about what you actually want. If you truly need that $15,000 ring to feel appreciated, then okay, you do you. This is a judgment free zone. But with societal pressures these days, I feel it’s become harder for couples to separate the expectations of others from their actual wants and needs.

In contrast, our elopement cost us less than $1000 including the wedding certificate, swanky hotel room, clothing, pre-courthouse sushi, and post-courthouse ice cream. It was fantastic and I’m never going to look back and regret any of it. There’s still many more years to continue celebrating our marriage.

2. It gave us time to plan a zero cost international reception for our families.

The other added strain for us was that both of our families lives on different continents. So, we knew we'd have to either choose one country to celebrate or do multiple receptions. In the end, we chose to do just one reception in Taipei, Taiwan (Ivan's hometown). We bypassed a lot of unnecessary tradition in favor of giving our families time to finally meet and to go an on an extended vacation in a new country. With Ivan's foresight, we managed to pay for entire family's flights and hotels almost entirely through frequent flyer points. And with the "red envelope" money, we received from our extended families, we expected the small tea ceremony and family-only reception to pay for itself.

3. We wanted to focus on being together, not succumb to social pressures of how things ‘should be done’.

"By skipping the wedding in favor of a city hall elopement, we embraced what our marriage was supposed to be about: us.”

Spending six years apart in a long distance relationship helped us clarify the things that we actually wanted as individuals and a couple. A formal wedding just didn’t make our list.  Marriage was never going to change what actually mattered: living our lives together. For us, a lavish wedding takes away precious time and energy from focusing on the things we actually value (e.g. traveling and exploring new places together, financial stability, etc). By skipping the wedding in favor of a city hall elopement, we embraced what our marriage was supposed to be about: us.

In October, we’ll have a brief tea ceremony and reception with our families. And after that, comes to real fun — spending time with our families, more traveling, exploring, and delicious food in another country!

We’re coming up on our three year anniversary of our elopement in January 2017 — still exploring, still happy, and still in love.



Jennie's Marriage Decision: 5 Reasons Why I Married Him

Jennie here. 

If it hadn’t been for Japan, Ivan and I would have never met. It was pure coincidence that we both ended up studying abroad in Kyoto in the fall of 2008. A few weeks after we met, the global financial system imploded (and our scholarships lost 40% of its value overnight). We were 20 years old. Just kids. Looking back, it’s still crazy to think about.

When Ivan and I started our relationship, I had no intention or plans of getting married. We thought it was just a summer fling, but after a few months together, I realized there was something more.

We were a pretty unlikely couple. From the outside, what most people saw was two people who were constantly at odds and pushing each other’s buttons. We had a lot of fun but there were a lot of tough times too. We struggled through jealousy, loneliness, and misunderstandings during our times together and apart. 

While I’d like to tell you we now understand each other completely, that simply isn’t true. We’re constantly growing, changing, and re-adjusting. A marriage isn’t easy but Ivan ticked a lot of my personal criteria that I knew would make me happy in the long term. 

A very real and intimate photo of us right after we exchanged wedding rings at city hall. I was so happy at that moment.

A very real and intimate photo of us right after we exchanged wedding rings at city hall. I was so happy at that moment.

So, how did I know that Ivan was the right partner for me?

1. He challenged me constantly.

From the very beginning we challenged each other’s beliefs, philosophies, and actions. On the outside, it looked like a lover’s (or hater’s) quarrel. And because Ivan is well-read and analytical, he liked to question everything that I said or did. We used to argue over everything, from why we made certain choices to what made good books, movies, or music, etc. And although that’s still part of our daily routine, it’s become more of a fun routine of verbal and intellectual sparring; it keeps us alert, makes us stronger as individuals and has actually made our relationship better.

2. Life together would be filled with adventure.

Traveling and exploring different cultures has been the one constant in our relationship. One particularly memorable moment was when Ivan took me on a date to Heian Shrine (平安神宮, Heian-jingū) by bicycle - except we got lost and never made it there. He has the worst sense of direction of anyone I've ever met (and had too much ego to ask for directions). What should have been a 45 minute bike ride turned into three hours of aimless wandering. I remember feeling so exhausted and frustrated by this “date” that when it started raining (during the hot and humid Kyoto summer), I just broke down and cried. Ivan felt so bad that he said he would do whatever I wanted to make up for it. Randomly, I told him to dip his feet into a random fountain in front of a love hotel. And he did it. We never made it to the shrine together but looking back now, we found out so much about ourselves and each other. I laugh just thinking about it.

3. Even the small, mundane moments became meaningful.

A few summers ago, Ivan and I took a train ride from Florence to Cinque Terre in Italy. It was a long train ride and eventually, Ivan fell asleep while I read a book. Having him there by my side made the entire experience better in some way. I didn’t appreciate it as much when I was younger but I recall a lot of long walks together or trains or bus rides. Some of my favorite moments are when we would sit there in silence, watching the passing scenery.

4. We have similar priorities in life

Deep down, I wanted to be with someone who had their own ambitions and goals in life. Someone who was as independent as me who could appreciate the urgency of living life and achieving something real. When I met Ivan, we often clashed but I knew that our Type A personalities would lead to interesting experiences because neither one of us could accept failure. We wanted to be “high-achievers” in our own right.

5. He accepted the entire Jennie package.

There was one evening early on in our relationship where I remember laying out our individual intentions, flaws, and past memories. There was a lot of personal stuff that we shared that made me realize that Ivan was unapologetically himself, and it made me feel comfortable to be that way too. I’m a perfectionist who is also bossy, petty, sarcastic, spiteful, ambitious, high-strung, an occasional bullshitter, and arrogant. I have positive attributes as well but Ivan has to put up with the negative stuff on a daily basis because it’s just part of the Jennie package. Somehow he manages to understand the intentions behind my actions and loves me all the same.



Marriage Podcast: A Six Year Long Distance Relationship #LDR

If you subscribe to iTunes then check out their channel here!

Jennie here! 

A few weeks ago, we were lucky enough to be featured and interviewed on a Brooklyn-based podcast called The Paper Year. Evan and Caitlin started this podcast in order to document their first year of marriage together and to chat with other married couples about their experiences. 

So, how did we get on this podcast?

I was a huge fan of their podcast since they started and really admired their ambition to start and run a podcast together! So, I reached out via email and told them a little bit about our (slightly Kafka-esque) long distance relationship and marriage. And a few months later they asked us to be on the podcast! I had to twist Ivan's arm to get him to agree to the podcast but, in the end, we both decided to put ourselves out there. 

It was our first time podcasting and we had a great time speaking with two strangers we had never met over the internet. Anyway, make sure to check out the podcast (linked above) and read a few of the highlights below.


Highlights and Quotes from the Podcast


It was a Kafka-esque immigration process...like [the short story] In the Penal colony where the guy is getting hole-punched by the machine...
— Ivan
 

Lessons Learned From Our Long Distance Relationship (of 6 Years)

  1. Not all love stories are romantic. Yeah, so our relationship started off because of a drunken kiss. Who hasn't experienced that? In the end, we ended up together and that's romantic and real.
     
  2. Manage expectations – with yourself and each other. In our case, we created a "social contract" to solidify our expectations and plans together. We talked about how often we'd see each other, how often we should evaluate our relationship, etc. This contract helped us communicate better and carried us through various milestones together. 
     
  3. Be realistic about your budget together. Can you really afford to see each other? We were two broke students who couldn't see each other often because it was expensive. Over the course of six years, we spent upwards of five figures on visiting each other.
     
  4. The immigration process is probably one of the toughest experiences you'll have as a couple. For Ivan and I, we had no choice but to immigrate and begin that process together – otherwise, it would've meant the end of our relationship. The 17 month process was long, hard, and emotionally draining. 
     
  5. Independence is crucial to the success of any relationship. Throughout our relationship, we prioritized taking care of ourselves first because we did not want to be defined by our relationship. We wanted to have our own projects, hobbies, and distinctive goals. Ultimately, prioritizing ourselves helped us become better partners.
 

He was so drunk...he was swimming on his bedsheets because it had dolphins on it...
— Jennie
We will chase down a goal until it’s dead.
— Ivan

5 Lessons We Learned After Six Years of Long Distance

Ivan here.

Jennie and I spent six out of the seven years doing long distance, separated by borders and oceans. For months on end we were thousands of miles apart, fourteen hours away. Years passed, as the Earth spun indifferently around the Sun. 

It takes a certain type of personality and mindset to make long distance work. Though it may seem romantic looking back, trust us when we say that in reality, it’s a torturous grind. Technology makes it easier, but communication between two human beings is and will always be a flimsy, makeshift thing. 

There are no short-cuts. Here’s what we’ve learned having come out of it (relatively) unscathed:

1. Start with the end in mind

Distance is a cold bitch. It doesn’t care what your relationship deserves. If you don’t have a plan, you’ll probably fail. 

We were college students when we met. When we graduated, both of us needed jobs and the idea of going through the long (and expensive) U.S. immigration process while looking for our first full time jobs seemed like an unnecessary handicap to place on ourselves.  

Instead, we decided to pick a coast for our job search. I ended up in Toronto. She was hired by a company in Boston. A two hour plane ride wasn’t so bad, in the grand scheme of things. We had a plan in place to sign our marriage paperwork and start the immigration process within the first two years. And aside from the soul-sucking, wrist-slitting, bureaucratic shit sandwich that is US Customs and Immigration, that’s pretty much how it went down. 

2. Be ruthlessly practical

At the time we started long distance, we’d only been together for about three months. Our time abroad in Kyoto was nearing an end and we sat down and talked about the current and future state of our relationship. 

The thing about a LDR is that you’re either all the way in or out. There is no middle ground. There’s no waiting to see what precious flower will blossom from your relationship. 

More important than the decision to be in a long distance relationship was the fact that we wrote down (on a piece of paper) some hard rules about not dragging on a relationship if we were unhappy. If it wasn’t working, we’d give each other an out. We kept ourselves accountable by doing monthly check-ups to discuss what went well or poorly; it kept us honest. 

3. It’s better to over-communicate (but be kind)

Communicating is probably the #1 contributing factor to the success of a LDR (or any relationship for that matter). Of course, we love each other and that’s important but without the basic foundation of communication, we would have never made it through the six years apart. Early on, it’s tough to be honest because as individuals, you’ve probably kept the majority of your personal views/opinions to yourself. That doesn’t jive in a long distance relationship. 

Unless you’re telepathic, your partner isn’t going to understand what you think, want, or need. So do yourself a favor and be honest with each other about when you’re happy, upset, surprised...pretty much every emotional component of the spectrum should be verbally communicated as soon as it surfaces. And be honest if you need some  space from each other as well.. We’ve had plenty of arguments go from bad to worse in less than 5 seconds because one or both parties wanted to be as hurtful as possible in the heat of the moment. 

4. Be prepared to make hard sacrifices

Although we knew that sacrifices were an inherent part of any relationship, we weren’t 100% prepared for how much it would cost (in time and money) or the toll it would take on our social lives.

Time and money

LDRs are expensive time and money sinks. For our first year, we had to navigate the distance between North America and Asia, and then Canada to the US for our last five. As two broke students, we tried to see each other every couple of months. Those round-trip tickets alone would cost at least $300 - $400 each, not to mention trying to cram every minute of quality time together into the span of a week. 

Social life

Our LDR meant a lot of Skype/video time together in the evenings, almost daily when we could manage it, or emails/phone calls on days that we couldn’t “see” each other face-to-face. It meant we had to really prioritize or plan around our social life that made us both happy and that was tough at times. It forced us to strike a balance together and apart. 

5. Be honest with yourself

Finally, it’s important to try to distinguish between what you want and the lies that you choose to tell yourself. 

Are you only in this relationship because you’re afraid of hurting the other person? Or that it might jeopardize your mutual friendships? Or that you’ve invested too much time and energy into it to back out now? Are you only in this relationship because you’re scared of the unknown?  

It’s not OK to live your life on someone else’s terms and there are no legitimate reasons for you to stay in an unhappy situation. In our experience, living for appearances or making decisions based on the expectations of others is responsible for a lot of unnecessary suffering.  That’s why it’s important to be able to look yourself in the mirror and really hone in on what you want.