Posts tagged Travel
5 Reasons to Visit Singapore (That Have Nothing to Do With Crazy Rich Asians)

Ivan here.

Singapore was the first country on our RTW trip.

When Jennie and I told people we were staying in Singapore for a week, the first thing they asked was, “Why? A week is too long for Singapore.” Then the follow-up question: “is it because you saw Crazy Rich Asians?”

No, we still haven’t seen Crazy Rich Asians.

 
Crazy Rich Asians Source:  EW.com

Crazy Rich Asians
Source: EW.com

 

Whether a movie boasts an all Asian-American cast or an all Somali-American cast is beside the point. In the final evaluation, Crazy Rich Asians just isn’t the kind of movie I’d go out of my way to see. Then again, I’m also the kind of asshole who resents being told what I should see based solely on what I look like. It’s almost as if the studio is saying, “This movie’s Asian. You’re Asian. What’s the problem here? Where’s my money?”

Don’t sell me on something being Asian or (insert minority identity), and therefore, groundbreaking and significant by default.

Sell me on the actual work being groundbreaking and significant.


The First Stop on our RTW Trip:

Why We Traveled to Singapore


The iconic Marina Bay Sands building at night. Singapore is much more than meets the eye.

The iconic Marina Bay Sands building at night.
Singapore is much more than meets the eye.

Jennie and I had a very practical reason for why we wanted to spend a week in Singapore:

We’re looking for the next city to live in once our RTW trip is over. And Singapore is on our list.

On paper, Singapore checks a lot of our boxes:

  • It’s a financial services hub with a growing technology and cybersecurity industry.

  • Singaporeans are well-educated, speak multiple languages and have an entrepreneurial spirit.

We also got the sense that Singaporeans actually felt the rest of the world had something to offer them. That different countries, cultures and ethnicities could *gasp* learn from each other and get along.

I know, truly groundbreaking stuff.


5 Reasons Why You Should Visit Singapore Now


1. You can have a good time on almost any budget

Singapore enjoys a higher standard of living than most cities in the world, with a GDP per capita ($55,235) that’s slightly higher than the U.S ($53,128). That said, you arguably get much more for your money relative to other places. You notice this right away as you land in Changi Airport, rated the world’s best airport by Skytrax. Immigration was a breeze and the subway (MRT) to the city center took 40 minutes and cost less than $2 USD. The public transportation system is so efficient that we never had to take a taxi or Grab (Singapore’s Uber equivalent) during our entire week-long stay.

The only thing that could break your budget is accommodation. Jennie and I were lucky in that a friend let us use his apartment while he was away on sabbatical, but it’s possible on the low end to get a dorm bed for $15-20 USD a night or a private room for around $50-60 USD a night.

Outside of rent, there’s a wide range of things you can experience on any budget. Hawker centre meals cost $3-5 USD each. If you want to live the expat lifestyle during your stay, you can - for a price. Free tours are available in different neighborhoods across the city and local meetups and the dating scene (so we hear) is quite active and diverse.  

Jennie’s Note: We highly, HIGHLY recommend Monster Tour and their free walking tours. They are truly high quality and filled with a lot of personality.

If I could describe Singapore in one word for visitors it would be: seamless. Everything about Singapore is perfectly held together and without you knowing it, there were years of thoughtful planning behind it.

2. Singaporeans are great conversationalists, ambitious, career-driven, and that’s stimulating

One of the things you hear often about Singapore is the idea of the city-state being a “meritocracy.” This means that from a young age, the education system segregates students based on test scores into different “streams,” leading to intense competition and an overemphasis on study.

Predictably, this has negative consequences, including mental health issues and growing inequality between different “streams” of students. But what the visitor actually experiences are well-educated, highly ambitious people who are knowledgeable about the world around them. Combine that with a dry sense of humor and their own brand of English (Singlish), and it’s almost impossible to have a dull conversation.

3. Foodie and hawker center culture is king in Singapore

Singaporeans live to eat - and the options in the city are limitless. A quick Google search will turn up hundreds of Singaporean food blogs dedicated to a specific niche. Everything else a visitor does in Singapore can be considered filler for the next meal.

This is a true food haven for people who want great quality food at an affordable price point. There are few places in the world that can match Singapore’s quality. More on this in an upcoming post about Singapore’s hawker centre food culture next week.

4. Exploring different neighborhoods and public spaces

Arguably, outside of the famous Supertree Grove at Gardens by the Bay (arrive well after dark), the other “tourist attractions” in Singapore are pretty sanitized and unimpressive. The appeal of the city is actually in picking one or two neighborhoods to explore for the day, choosing a few local food spots and just lounging at a cafe from midday to mid-afternoon to escape the oppressive heat. Then as night falls, join a group of locals for conversation and drinks.

This might not sound like a fun, action-packed way to spend a trip, but as two type A personalities, Jennie and I never felt close to being bored during our one week stay.

5. Singapore has modern conveniences and infrastructure that actually works

If you’re unfamiliar with Singapore’s history, you should know one thing: Singapore became an independent country in 1965; it’s a little more than 50 years old.  

Whatever the downsides of Singapore’s government (and there are downsides), it just feels refreshing to step off a plane and arrive in a city where public infrastructure actually works the way it’s supposed to. To experience even the semblance of competence and streamlined government was a huge revelation to us, and raises some questions about the American model.


5 Places in Singapore We Recommend


1. Our favorite Singaporean hawker centers & stalls

A delicious meal from A Noodle Story

A delicious meal from A Noodle Story

Learning how to order coffee at a Singapore kopitiam. Lime juice and barley drink from any drink stall.  A Noodle Story in Amoy Street Food Centre, Hong Lim Centre near Chinatown, wan tan mee at Old Airport Road Hawker Centre, and satay skewers with Tiger beer (satay stalls No. 7 and 8) outside Lau Pa Sat food court were some of our favorite food experiences. More details in a coming post.


2. Tiong Bahru neighborhood

Singapore’s hipster neighborhood. Highlights include lunch at Loo’s Hainanese Curry Rice and BooksActually, a vintage and independent bookstore store that publishes local Singaporean writers. It opened my eyes to a talented and hugely underrated Southeast Asian literary scene.

3. Bugis & Kampong Glam neighborhood

A Thursday evening starting with craft beers at Good Luck Beerhouse on Haji Lane ($18 USD), dinner at Michelin-starred Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle ($16), followed by a Korean movie (Burning) based on a Haruki Murakami short story at the The Projector ($20) - barely scratches the surface of a night out in Singapore after a long day of work.

Check out this guide from Click Network and a Singaporean local. It was actually really helpful when we planned for this neighborhood!

4. Geylang Serai district after dark

Red light district of Singapore. Grungy shophouses and late night eateries with plastic chairs and outdoor seating - all under the glare of fluorescent lights and electric ceiling fans. Cheap, delicious food, beer, and people watching in a “seedy” part of town, in a country with one of the lowest crime rates in the world.  

5. Little India

We joined a free walking tour with Monster Day Tours to get more context and local recommendations on Little India (they do tours all across the city. You should tip the guide afterwards). It was also an opportunity for us to chat with other visitors over some roti canai.


3 Places in Singapore We Avoided


Singapore Orchard Road - all high end shopping.

Singapore Orchard Road - all high end shopping.

1. Orchard Road

Orchard Road is Singapore’s 2.2 km stretch of shopping malls. Unfortunately, we can’t (and don’t) really shop because we have to fit everything we own inside two 40L backpacks. So for us, malls are only good for two things: air conditioning and clean bathrooms.

2. Marina Bay Sands

Marina Bay Sands (or MBS as locals call it) is owned by Sheldon Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands Corp. Mr. Adelson is known for other tasteful establishments like The Venetian in Las Vegas and an entire strip of casinos in Macau. MBS provides the essential service of redistributing wealth from the bottom 99% to the top 1%, as well as populating Instagram with infinity pool shots which, by some miracle, manages to crop out the other 976 people in the pool trying to take the exact same photo.

Singapore Universal Studios

Singapore Universal Studios

3. Sentosa Island & Universal Studios

Sentosa contains two of our least favorite activities: paying a lot of money to wait in line for a two minute ride - and being anywhere in the vicinity of a casino.

Look forward to our full travel guide to Singapore over the next couple of weeks. We’ll update the link here as well once it’s live.



August 2018 Money Diary: Preparing To Travel Around The World & Dealing With U.S. Medical Bills

Jennie here.

Hi all, sorry this post came so late! It’s been a bit of a hectic transition period. Since August (until now - early September) we’ve traveled or moved at least four times. How time flies! And now we're currently in Hawaii taking a "break" and relaxing before we begin our crazy adventure.

So what happened in August?
 


Our “New” Origami Life Begins


Last month, we shared our experience with moving out of Los Angeles. And this past month (August) marked the first time that I’ve been “unemployed” (or funemployed) in the last six years. It actually felt really strange to have 100% control of my days. For example, some days, I’d work from 6am to 8am, take a break, go running at 9am, and back to work again. There were a lot of days that were spent leisurely floating from activity to activity.

 
August 2018 Money Diary Content Image.png
 

Financially, I’d say it was a pretty solid month. For starters, because we left Los Angeles on August 1st - we saved $1,600 on rent and other bills. However, we spent about $1,900 on business expenses (including a new laptop and phone). So our spending rate was relatively high compared to the previous month. But these were also one-time, necessary expenses.

In terms of earnings, I got paid out by my company for essentially a month’s salary (yay) and Ivan and I both billed hours for our business.
 


Dealing With The U.S. Healthcare System & Financial Assistance


I went back to Albuquerque in August for two reasons:

  1. Spend some time with my family

  2. Take care of my parents’ medical bills

It’s no secret to my close friends that I grew up in a low-income household so the biggest concern for me while I travel is that my family make rational financial choices (or if not, I set things up to minimize any potential damage).

Last year was rough on my family - both my mom and dad got sick, had surgery, or went through some extended medical treatment; it was awful and more than anything - they racked up more than $15,000 in medical bills (after health insurance - land of the free!).

Spoiler alert: they couldn’t afford to pay those kind of bills.

So what does this have to do with me? Well, I stepped up and took care of the medical bills and was able to bring some of the larger institutional hospital bills down. In some instances, it was simply helping my family apply for financial assistance programs.

In the end, I was able to help my parents save anywhere between 60% to 75% on several of their medical bills. That meant thousands of dollars in savings!


What did I learn in the process of dealing with the U.S. healthcare system?


U.S. Medical and Hospital System


Lesson 1: The U.S. private healthcare system is a fucked up and completely random system.

When dealing with one hospital, I had to call between 4 to 6 different departments within their system just to verify my parents’ outstanding medical bills. Oftentimes, there are different billing departments or systems for physicians, facilities, and emergency services - AND most hospitals include “contractor” services (e.g. outsourcing anesthesiology or lab teams). It’s almost as if they just “make up a number” when they bill the patient. And if the patient can’t afford that number, they just “make up” another, much lower number. It’s completely random.

Lesson 2: You need to be informed to navigate through the system.

If you don’t validate every line item and/or talk to the right people, it’s hard to know what’s negotiable and what isn’t. So I’d suggest calling and talking (pestering) as many people as possible within your specific hospital. The system is so complex that even seasoned hospital reps can’t help guide you through it.
 


5 Tips On How To Get Your Hospital Or Medical Bill Reduced


If you’re having a hard time paying for your bills, here’s a few things to know:

  1. Always ask - even if you get laughed off the phone. Typically, larger institutions will have some sort of financial support or payments plan. Just call and ask about it. It doesn’t hurt to ask. I asked about financial assistance programs at smaller private practices but they kind of shrugged me off the phone - they only accepted payments or setting up monthly payments; they’re incentivized to get money from you before they send your bill to collections, but that usually takes a while.

  2. Most hospitals should have a “financial assistance” page on their website. In my opinion, they bury the lead when you get your hospital bill but you can definitely find financial assistance information. Just search on Google: financial assistance + [hospital name].

  3. Even if you’re not sure whether or not you should apply for financial assistance - you should try anyway. Sure, most of the applications are based on income tiers but if you’re having a difficult time (e.g. multiple medical bills, you’ve got a ton of student loan or auto loan debt, you’re recently unemployed, etc.) then it’s worth a try. You’ll never know until you ask for it. Also, once a hospital receives your application, they should put your account “on hold” during the evaluation to avoid sending it to collections.

  4. You can speak with a financial assistance support agent at the hospital. It seems like a lot of the larger hospitals will have some sort of support arm for questions and to help you manage through a financial assistance application. Call them even if you think you know what you’re doing. Ask a ton of clarifying questions.

  5. Look into your benefits, you might have support service like “Health Advocate”. There are services out there that can help you negotiate your healthcare services or look into healthcare specific questions for you.


Dealing With Pre-Departure & Administrative Tasks Before Our Round The World Trip


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Other financial highlights of our time in August:

 
August 2018 Money Diary - Good Budget Screenshot - The Origami Life.png
 
  • We were cat-sitting for my sister for two weeks while she was away in Europe. This was a nice change of pace for us since we’ll be on the move for the next couple years. Plus, the cat eventually learned to tolerate us and gave us a routine (e.g. cat-feeding and play schedule).

Savings: Half a month’s rent in Los Angeles (~$712)

  • We lost about 5 pounds each, working out and swimming in my sister’s community pool and gym. Honestly, we’re bringing our weight down for the long-term health benefits. It’s amazing how much easier it is to lose weight when you “have time” to work and focus on your physical and mental health.

Savings: Month gym cost (between $30 to $60 per person)

  • Validating our marriage certificate to begin my permanent residency papers in Taiwan. Although Ivan and I have been legally married for the last four years, we’ve yet to register our marriage in Taiwan. We decided earlier this year that we’d actually start my permanent residency process in Taiwan. Unfortunately, we had to have the Taiwanese embassy in Boston validate our certificate before moving forward.

Expenditures: $15 fee for our application; $7 for postage via snail mail

The bureaucracy is expanding, to meet the needs of the expanding bureaucracy.
— Oscar Wilde
  • We had to send additional evidence for our U.S. immigration application. Let’s put this into perspective, we sent in our application to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services in 2016 and they just got back to us and requested for MORE information. Basically U.S. Citizenship and Immigration was telling us: “because of our delay, you need to provide us with more evidence of your marriage for the period of our delay...so we can spend even more time reviewing that evidence”.

    Two years and counting. We begrudgingly sent in more information to cover the last two years to showcase that our marriage is still legitimate. Le sigh.

Expenditures: $7 for postage via snail mail.
We had to bite the bullet and send it in but really, it cost more than $7 - more like it cost $7 and two years of dignity and patience lost.

  • We got global health insurance and life insurance. While I dealt with my parent’s bills, Ivan took care of our health and life insurance for our RTW trip. For our global health insurance, we went with Cigna which cost about $142 per month for the both of us (excluding U.S. coverage except for short visits). For context: the cost of getting coverage in the U.S. was equal to coverage for the rest of the world combined.

Expenditures:
$1,700 per year (for both of us) with a $1,500 deductible and 20% copay (excluding the U.S.)
$18 per month for life insurance (I consider my family to be dependents in the event that something happens to me)  

  • A relative died in August and I had to get my dad and uncle last minute flights to Florida with points. Fortunately, we had points to spare. We were also reimbursed by my uncle for less than the carrying value of the points. But family is family. And some things are more important than money.

Earnings: We received cash for $650 - minus last minute booking fees of $160 equals $490.

 

That’s it for this month's Money Diary! Tune in next month for our first month of a traveling money diary.



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 Reasons Why Travel Is Expensive and How We’re Making It Affordable

Ivan here.

We haven’t published a travel post in a while, though we’ve been doing a lot of it this year. In the past seven months, we’ve made eight trips out of Los Angeles: San Diego, San Francisco (twice), Albuquerque (twice), Taipei, New Orleans, and in July, Portland, Oregon for a wedding.


Cost Breakdown of Our Portland, Oregon Trip


Downtown Portland, Oregon

Downtown Portland, Oregon

Jennie was a bridesmaid for the weekend, so we didn’t get to explore the city as much as we wanted. But we still ended up enjoying ourselves anyway: we had the reception lunch on a boat going down the Willamette river, sampled different food carts downtown, went to an Oregon winery and a Portland Timbers game, and I found a book I’d been looking for at Powell’s Bookstore.

Here’s the full cost breakdown for our 3 day trip:

  • Winery and limo ride for the bride. Split evenly between the bridesmaids: $300

  • Gift registry for the bride: $100

  • 2 nights at an Airbnb: $150

  • Taxes and fees for 2 round-trip tickets (we used the Southwest Companion Pass and paid with points): $25

  • Food + other costs: $200

Which is a total of $775 for a long weekend. Pretty reasonable by American wedding standards (though I’d argue those standards are arbitrary), but it made a significant dent to our $2,800 monthly budget. But fuck it, we knew this was coming and had planned for it. Relationships are more important than hitting a number. At least that’s what Jennie tells me.


Why is Travel So Expensive?


This segues into the topic of this piece: why do so many people think that travel is expensive? Now I’m not going to argue that it isn’t, because obviously, travel involves privilege. What I am going to argue is that most people’s expectations of what travel “should look like” makes things far more expensive than it needs to be.
 

5 Reasons Why Travel Is So Expensive

I can understand why a two-week vacation in Europe costs more than two weeks living at home. But I don’t know why the same vacation to Mexico or Southeast Asia should cost more. That doesn’t make any sense.

Here’s what I suspect:

Traveling isn’t the expensive part - the “vacationing” PArt is.

For some reason, people treat “vacations” as something separate from their everyday life. Whenever I hear the phrase “you’re on vacation. Live a little.” I can’t help but wonder - what does that say about the life that happens before and after the vacation?

Here’s a “vacationer’s” idea of what travel looks like. It goes a long way to explaining why people tend to overestimate the cost of traveling abroad:
 

1. They travel when everyone else is traveling.

Spring and summer breaks, festivals and national holidays are the only times that some people are able to take vacations. To make matters worse, people tend to gather at a few “trendy” Instagrammable destinations. By the laws of supply and demand, this means that businesses there can charge these customers whatever they want.
 

2. They book things impulsively.
 

Source:   Google

Source: Google

Since fuel prices are way below its peak in 2014, airline tickets are cheaper than they’ve ever been in history. Low cost airlines are now advertising sub $400 round-trip tickets to Europe and Asia. It’s like Black Friday every single day of the week, which makes it harder for travelers to stay disciplined and on-budget. “Amazing deals!” make people forget that flights are only a small fraction of the total cost of their trip.
 

3. They overload their itineraries.

Cramming too many activities into 1-2 weeks is the quickest way to spend the maximum amount of money for the maximum amount of stress. It’s a trap that all beginner travelers fall into. A few years ago, this was us.
 

4. They pay multiples of their rent for accommodations.

The human brain has an uncanny way of putting the same thing into separate mental buckets. Here’s a question: what’s the difference between the nightly rate you pay at a hotel and the nightly rate you pay for your apartment (i.e. your rent divided by 30 days)?

I’d argue that not only do they serve the same purpose, they’re also redundant expenses (whereas food purchased in a foreign currency is a substitute for your grocery budget at home). Yet in practice, people are willing to pay 3-5x multiples for one, but not the other.
 

5. They tailor their trips around other people.

Traveling with friends sounds like a fun idea - in theory. But this assumes that you know your friends as well as you think you do. Jennie and I have been together for almost a decade, and we’re only just starting to get a handle on how the other is going to react under stressful conditions in a foreign country. In our case, we’re fortunate enough to have overlapping travel styles and interests. But if you like hostels and street food and your friend has a taste for boutique hotels and Michelin star restaurants, then brace yourself. And your wallet.
 


5 Ways We’re Making Our RTW Travels More Affordable


A big part of this blog is about making conscious decisions to achieve the things that we want out of life - even if this means taking the slightly unconventional route and thinking differently.

Here are five ways that Jennie and I are making our RTW trip more affordable:
 

1. We’ve mapped out shoulder & off-seasons for every region in the world.

Instead of traveling when everyone else is traveling, we’ve given ourselves the flexibility to go where the herd is thinnest. The trick is to avoid peak season and map out the shoulder and off seasons for every region in the world.  

For example, here are just some of the places we’re thinking about visiting:

  • September/October in Eastern Europe

  • January/February in India

  • May/June in East Africa

  • November in Japan

  • Christmas in Vietnam

When we have a rough idea of where we’ll be throughout the year, it opens up our budget, allowing us to be more spontaneous (and carefree) with our daily decisions.
 

2. We’ve built up a reserve of airline points to avoid paying last minute prices.

The great thing about having a two year plan is that we’ve had a longer runway to visualize our end goal and work backwards. For example, Jennie and I like to travel slow, so we can work off the following assumptions:

  • We’ll be traveling to a new country every 3-4 weeks.

  • Over the course of a year, that’s 10-15 one-way flights

  • We can divide these flights up into three different categories:

    1. Transatlantic flights

    2. Flights between neighboring continents

    3. Short-haul flights within the same continent

For us, it was just a matter of figuring out, on average, how many points does each flight cost? We added them up, multiplied by two - and voila! - that’s the exact number of points we’ve saved up over the past two years.

If everything goes as planned, I don’t expect us to pay out-of-pocket for flights for the first 8-12 months of our RTW trip.
 

3. We’re canceling our lease and reducing our overhead to (near) zero.

Our rent and bills living in our Los Angeles studio adds up to about $1,600/month. With the RTW trip, that drops to $200 per month with our phone bill ($50/month) and global health insurance ($150/month). Every other expense is variable and completely within our control.  
 

4. We’re taking advantage of long term stays to lower our nightly rates.

In most places around the world, we shouldn’t have to pay more to live abroad than to stay at our $1,400/month Los Angeles studio.

To give you an example: in November 2018, Jennie and I are staying in a Kobe, Japan international sharehouse for $1,000 a month (around $33/night - and this includes utilities and wi-fi). We get a private furnished room, with bathroom facilities and a social area. And we actually get to live like locals for a month instead of having to move constantly from place to place.
 

5. We prefer traveling to friends instead of with friends.

Jennie and I have enough trouble agreeing on things between the two of us. As a compromise, we’ve had to divide up our travel days in half (Ivan days and Jennie days) so that we can take turns shutting the hell up and learning to take direction from the other. An additional person requires more compromise, and more compromise can get expensive fast. This is the main reason why we prefer traveling to where our friends already are, rather than bringing an extra set of preferences along.



The Origami Life: 2017 Year In Review & 2018 Priorities

The Origami Life: 2017 Year In Review


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Jennie here. Happy New Year!

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

We graded ourselves against our goals with the following table:


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

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

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

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










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



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

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


The Origami Life’s Big 2017 Revelation:


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

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

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

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

What were our highlights from 2017?

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

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

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

What were our lowest points from 2017?

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

The Origami Life: Our Priorities For 2018


What areas will We focus on in 2018?

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

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

  1. Personal Finance

  2. Travel

  3. Relationship
     

Personal Finance Priorities in 2018

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

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

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

Travel Priorities in 2018

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

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

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

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

Relationship Priorities in 2018

us.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

  1. We want to engage with our readers more.

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

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



30 Things We Believe That People Might Disagree With Us On

Ivan here. 

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

I'm Not Myself Today

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

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

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

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


Money:

10 Things We Believe About Money


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Travel:

10 Things We Believe About Travel


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

Love & Relationships:

10 Things We Believe About Love


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

So what do you think about these statements?

Feel free to disagree! 

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



Mindfulness: Seek New Experiences

Daily Origami is a way for us to record our off the cuff thoughts, feelings and observations about the world around us. Published every weekday, Monday through Friday.


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We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.
— Jawaharlal Nehru

Ivan here.

India has a special attraction. Out of all the countries in the world, it’s the most foreign to us. There’s so much left to discover.

My exposure to India has been limited to what I’ve read or seen on film. I remember reading an illustrated edition of the Ramayana in high school, and noted its similarities with the Taoist legends I grew up with. Then there’s Satyajit Ray’s The Apu Trilogy, and of course, Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited (an underrated and unfairly maligned movie).

Finally, there’s the economics of India. While China and the West are aging, India is only getting younger. Did you know that half of India’s population is under the age of 25? That their median age is 29 years old?

According to accounts from other travel blogs, India is also a place which sharply divides travelers. It’s about the furthest thing from a vacation you can find, and has all the grime and sweat, poverty and exploitation you’d expect from a rapidly developing country.

In any case, we think the risk of stepping on cow dung or being incapacitated by “Delhi belly” are ones worth taking.

I’d prefer it over gentrified Brooklyn or a stroll down Abbot Kinney Blvd for a $5 coffee or a $10 juice. To paraphrase the writer Raymond Chandler, we’re unwilling to trade life for existence, ambition for security.

Because nothing grows in safety.

 

Our Los Angeles Bucket List: 60 Things To Do Before We Leave

Jennie here.

Assuming we leave by our deadline of September 1st, 2018 (and not earlier), Ivan and I have exactly 530 days in Los Angeles before we give up everything and start our trip around the world.

Since there’s a 0% chance that we will ever settle down in Southern California again, this will definitely be our last opportunity to experience the city of Los Angeles and get the most out of our time here. 17 months may seem like a long time, but when you think of it as all the time we’ll ever have, there’s the added urgency to appreciate every second of it.

In that spirit, I went ahead and created a bucket list of things that Ivan and I are interested in doing before we leave. In keeping with our travel style, I deliberately steered clear of some of the touristy areas.

Griffith Observatory

Here’s the list and what we’ve covered so far:

  1. Enjoy happy hour drinks and live jazz at The Varnish.
  2. ✅ Catch a live Jazz at the Blue Whale Bar in Little Tokyo.
    Jennie's thoughts: This was fantastic! I LOVED this jazz bar -- it was intimate and so refreshing to see some fresh jazz groups play live.
  3. Watch a movie and picnic at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.
    Ivan's thoughts: we saw Casablanca. Bring a picnic blanket to sit on, some wine and cheese, and dress warmly!
  4. Check out the abandoned LA Zoo.
  5. ✅ Listen to music and buy a record from Amoeba Music.
    Ivan's thoughts: I bought a copy of Curtis Fuller's Blues-ette. Five Spot After Dark!
  6. ✅ Check out Angel's Flight.
    Jennie’s thoughts: It wasn’t functional while we were there but I hear they’re opening it up again because of La La land; it’s in a state of disrepair currently and seedy
  7. See the "modern" art at Bergamot Station.
  8. ✅ Visit the Caravan Bookstore.
    Jennie's thoughts: the owner here gave us some really great advice about traveling across India!
  9. ✅ Buy and sell used books at The Last Bookstore.
    Ivan's thoughts: Selfie taking tourists wouldn’t get out of my way near the second floor decorative book arch of “who gives a shit?” Otherwise, there’s a reasonable selection of used books. 2.5 out of 5. Like most things in downtown LA, everything is covered in a layer of grime.
  10. Check out the goods at Historic Core Farmers Market in Downtown LA.
  11. Lounge around The Huntington Library, art collections, and botanical gardens.
  12. ✅ Go to both of The Getty museums.
  13. ✅ Travel outside of Los Angeles on the metro line.
    Jennie's thoughts: we went to San Diego. 
  14. Drive around Mullholland Drive.
  15. See what's what at the Santa Monica Camera Obscura.
  16. ✅ People watch and listen to live music/musicians at Union Station.
    Jennie’s thoughts: Ivan and I sat here for a few hours just people watching and talking. We even got to listen to some random person play piano for the public!
  17. ✅ Take a photo at the Bradbury Building.
  18. ✅ Bike or walk along The Strand (along Venice Beach, Santa Monica).
    Jennie’s thoughts: Pretty nice intro to LA as a whole. It’s fantastic to walk along the beach early in the morning when the city isn’t hustling and bustling yet.
  19. Somehow score a chance to tour SpaceX.
  20. ✅ Go to LACMA during a free day and check out the art exhibits.
  21. Meditate and visit the Self Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine Temple -- apparently this is where part of Gandhi's ashes were spread.
  22. ✅ Eat sushi at Sugar Fish
    Jennie's thoughts: Hands down the best affordable sushi that I've had in the U.S. 
  23. ✅ Have a meal at The Grand Central Market.
    Jennie’s thoughts:  Meh. The lines aren’t worth it if you ask me.
  24. ✅ Enjoy dim sum in the San Gabriel Valley / Arcadia area.
    Jennie’s thoughts: It’s a trek from the Westside but definitely a worthwhile area if you’re craving decent Chinese food.
  25. ✅ Get the chicken and waffles at Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles.
    Jennie’s thoughts: Delicious, salty, and probably heart attack inducing.
  26. ✅ Eat delicious Japanese food in Little Tokyo.
  27. Queue up for street vendor Corn Man's cheesy, buttery corn goods.
  28. ✅Drive to and eat Ave 26 Tacos on a spring/summer night.
  29. ✅ Enjoy SOMI SOMI's taiyaki ice cream delight.
  30. Try Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken.
  31. Eat Japanese/Italian/WAFU pasta and baked goods at Spoon House Bakery & Restaurant.
  32. ✅Try tsukemen ramen at Tsujita LA Artisan Noodles Annex.
    Jennie’s thoughts: Overhyped. There’s better ramen elsewhere and not worth the lineup.
  33. ✅ Try fresh pasta dishes from Pasta Sisters.
    Jennie's thoughts: Still prefer Italian food in Boston, but not bad!
  34. Take a tour of Huy Fong Foods, Inc. (aka home of la Sriracha).
  35. Check out and tour Meiji Tofu, where they still make tofu the traditional way.
  36. ✅ ✅ Go to The Broad and check out the Infinity Mirrored Room exhibit.
  37. Spend an afternoon getting lost at The Museum of Jurassic Technology.
  38. See the Space Shuttle Endeavour installation at the California Science Center.
  39. Go paddle boarding with whales in Redondo Beach.
  40. ✅ Enjoy the sunset and “star party” at Griffith Observatory.
    Jennie’s thoughts: Probably one of my favorite sunsets in LA.
  41. ✅ Trek around and camp at Joshua Tree National Park when there's a meteor shower.
  42. Weird hike to Rustic Canyon’s Nazi Ruins “Murphy Ranch” in Santa Monica Mountains.
  43. ✅ Hike the trails of Santa Anita Canyon.
  44. Do the cliche hike up to the Hollywood Sign.
  45. Commit and do a 10 mile hike to the Bridge To Nowhere.
  46. ✅ Hike up Runyon Canyon. Apparently very popular and worth the hype.
  47. Eaton Canyon hike to get to some gorgeous 40 foot waterfalls.
  48. ✅ Relax and lounge for a day at one of Malibu's gorgeous beach spots (e.g. Zuma Beach)
  49. Be in awe of the "Lost Sunken City".
  50. ✅ Take a road trip along the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) through to San Francisco.
    Ivan's thoughts: We took Amtrak along the PCH. Does that count? 10/10! Google Coast Starlight Amtrak. 
  51. Do a random road trip to Wayfarers Chapel.
  52. ✅ Watch a double feature at the New Beverly Cinema.
    Ivan's thoughts: We saw a double feature of Die Hard/Die Hard 2 on Christmas Eve, Thunderbolt & Lightfoot/Desperate Hours, and a John Cassavetes double feature (Opening Night/A Woman Under the Influence), oh and Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch on Thanksgiving. Love this place!
  53. ✅ Take a tour of the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Fascinating architecture.
  54. Enjoy a cheap show at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre during a weekday.
  55. Watch a movie at a drive-in theatre (e.g. Vineland Drive-In or Electric Dusk Drive-In Theatre).
  56. ✅ Watch a show and check out the interior of The Orpheum Theatre.
    Jennie's thoughts: Pretty gorgeous venue. I ended up going to a DragCon show hosted at the Orpheum Theature with an old friend. 
  57. ✅ Pathetically trek up the Santa Monica Stairs.
  58. ✅ Drive by the Chandelier Tree in Silverlake.
  59. ✅ People watch at Santa Monica Pier.
    Jennie’s thoughts: I sort of regretted this immediately because it was just SO crowded. Probably not going back, especially during the Thursday Summer Concerts.
  60. ✅ Walk through and enjoy the fancy houses and bridges/canals in [America's] Venice Canals.
    Jennie’s thoughts: Surprisingly...few people still know to check out this area. It’s gorgeous and wonderful to walk through on any day of the week.

AUGUST 2018 UPDATE: We managed to cross off 35 items (out of 60) before we moved out of Los Angeles. 58% - not too shabby!



4 Reasons to Delay Gratification (And Choose Purpose)
I do the same thing over and over, improving bit by bit. There is always a yearning to achieve more. I’ll continue to climb, trying to reach the top, but no one knows where the top is.
— -Jiro Ono (Jiro Dreams of Sushi)

Ivan here. In 18 months, Jennie and I plan on leaving for our round the world trip. 18 months is a very long time.

A longer wait than cup ramen. 

A longer wait than cup ramen. 

Then again, $40,000 is a lot of money to save.  The math seems reasonable: $100 a day times 365 days plus $3,500 for emergencies equals $40k. 

But you want to know a secret? 

We probably don’t need that much. 

Scratch probably. We definitely don’t need that much. In fact, if we were to leave tomorrow armed with our current travel fund ($11,000) and our fuck-off fund, I’m 100% positive we would have enough financially to travel the world for an entire year. 

So it’s not about the money. Then again, when have the most important things in life ever been "about the money?" So what’s really keeping us in Los Angeles? Are we scared to take the plunge? Are we over-planning and wasting the prime years of our youth?

The short answer is we’ve come to value the pursuit as much as the thing we're pursuing.

1. Resolve vs Impulse

Travel bloggers like to say you don’t need to be rich to travel. So stop making excuses as complainey internet people about how expensive it is. Just buy a one way ticket. Today. What are you still doing here? I said now. 

They’re right about one thing - you don’t need to be rich. You do however, need to be privileged. This means no debt, kids, no family or health problems.

Unfortunately, that’s just not the reality for the majority of people our age. Even more unfortunately, solving these issues take at least some planning and time. The good news is you can make it work if you want to (and you prioritize it). 

Basically, we're saying how you arrive at a decision is as important as the decision itself. 

If you have $20,000 in student loan debt compounding at 6% interest, it’s probably not a good idea to YOLO your way to Regretsville. I mean theoretically, I could airdrop into the Sahara Desert with nothing but the clothes on my back, and pull a Bear Grylls by drinking my own urine - but that doesn’t make it a great idea. 

2. Take the Time to Figure Out the Why

This is just our opinion, but traveling to find yourself is a crock of shit. That’s the Eat, Pray, Love method and we really hate that book.  If you don’t know what you’re about and why you do the things you do, then how the heck is getting food poisoning in India supposed to help you figure things out? 

In my case, the goal is simple. When I grow up, I want to live up to my full potential as a writer. Logic dictates a writer gets better by running as many inputs (books, travel, experience) through his/her personal bullshit machine (style), to churn out as much meaningful output as possible (words). 

In Jennie’s case, she wants to travel because growing up in a poor family, she never had the chance to do something just for the sake of doing it. There was always this nagging sense of guilt. She wants to find out what she can accomplish without that cloud hanging over her head. 

3. Have we Earned It?

It’s a question few people ever stop to ask themselves. As everything in the world gets easier and more accessible, we’ve become the worst kind of takers and consumers: ones with no intention of giving anything back in return. 

My theory is if you can’t put in at least 12 months of work into something, it probably wasn’t that important to you. It’s one of the reasons this blog exists, because we believe things worth doing require commitment. Frankly, if we give up on this blog before September 2018, we don’t deserve to go. 

There aren’t many things in life I can definitively say are true, but one thing I know is that after my marathon, the first sip of water behind the finish line tasted like elixir sent by the gods. 

4. Travel won’t make us happy

Whatever you were struggling with back home, chances are you’re going to carry it with you when you travel. Same goes for work, life and family. I think many people falsely assume travel is going to fix something. From our experience, travel only amplifies. We want to get our mind, our relationship, and our finances right before we set out (in that order). 

5. Nor is travel the end goal

You never arrive, you’re always becoming. The world isn’t something you can cross off like a grocery list. You don’t get extra points if you’ve been to more countries. Only the process counts. The process of slowing down, appreciating every waking moment, while constantly learning and iterating. 

And maybe through this process, we'll be able to build a life together that we can be proud of. 



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.


Origami Guides: A Local's 3 Day Itinerary Through Taipei

Taipei, Taiwan
台北市, 台灣 

Ivan here. 

Taipei is the gateway drug to Asia. It’s Japan without the rigidness, Hong Kong without the hyperactivity, and China without the pollution.  It’s also one of the most socially liberal democracies this side of the Pacific. The people here are warm, friendly, and laid back. English signs are everywhere and everywhere is just a subway ride away. 

What’s the best way to experience Taipei? 

Glacially. With a beer in one hand, a snack in another, and a view to look at. Maybe a good conversation if you're lucky. For me, I’m just happy to be part of the scenery. I’ve learned that that’s all it takes when I’m in Taipei. Because being home is enough.  

Who should use this guide/itinerary?

Independent couples or small groups (i.e. 3-5) who are looking to avoid the crowded tourist traps in favor of a slower and less conventional way to experience Taipei. 

What’s the best time of the year to visit? 

Avoid the summers and typhoon season, which runs from June to early October. Taipei in the summer is a humid and miserable experience. Like swimming through the intestinal tract of a gassy farm animal. Also, steer clear of Chinese New Years, which runs from late January to mid-February. 

Where should I stay in Taipei? 

Stay within walking distance of Taipei Main Station. From there, it’s less than a half hour subway ride anywhere in the city.  

For mid-range accommodation, we’d recommend the Cosmos Hotel ($100-120) for maximum comfort and convenience. More frugal, minimalist alternatives include the Star Hostel ($60-70) and Meander Taipei Hostel ($60-70)

How do I use this guide? 

The map is divided into three areas by color: 

  • Day 1 attractions are in blue
  • Day 2 attractions are in red
  • Day 3 attractions are in yellow
  • The gray markers are for optional sites

Note: For simplicity’s sake, this guide assumes that you’re staying at either the Cosmos Hotel or within walking distance of Taipei Main Station. All prices below are in USD.

A Three Day Taipei Itinerary

Day 1 (Blue) 

Morning

  • Land in Taoyuan International Airport. Follow the signs to the buses and take the Kuo Kuang 1819 Express Bus ($4) which takes you straight to Taipei Main Station and lets you off right across the street from the Cosmos Hotel. The journey takes 45 minutes. The taxi is more expensive ($35) and is only 15 minutes faster. We timed it. IMPORTANT: By mid-2017, the long-delayed subway line should be open, which will take you from the airport to downtown in under 35 minutes.  
  • Arrive at the Cosmos hotel. Freshen up. Then head out to explore the surrounding area. Lunch nearby at Liu Shandong Beef Noodles ($5-7), a local hole in the wall serving piping hot bowls of beef noodle soup. 

Afternoon

  • Book an appointment for a body and foot massage to relax after an international flight. The most popular is Manyi Ting Massage Parlor ($30 per hour), but we recommend the smaller, family run Jingqi Massage Parlor ($30 for 90 minutes). To get there, take the escalators down into Taipei Main Station from the Cosmos (Exit M3) and follow the underground signs to Exit M8. Cross the street, make a left. The place should be on the second floor up a narrow flight of stairs. The staff there speak English and know what they’re doing. Feel born again. 
  • After the massage, take the subway a few stops down to Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall (free). There’s a changing of the guard ceremony every hour from 9 to 5. 

Evening

  • Dinner at Hangzhou Xiaolongbao ($15-20) for soup dumplings. We prefer this place over the more prestigious, Michelin star rated Din Tai Feng ($25-30).  Prestige is basically another way of saying that everyone else thinks a certain way. When it comes to food (as opposed to the laws of physics), this is both irrelevant and meaningless. 
  • Take the subway north to Jiantan Station. Exit 2 leads you to the Shilin Night Market. It’s gotten touristy (and crowded) over the years, but it’s still the best that Taipei has to offer. Get there well after dinner (8 or 9). 
  • Time to go late night shrimp fishing. Take a taxi from Jiantan Station ($8-10) and ask your driver to take you to Zhishan Road Section 2 (‘Zhishan lu er dwan’), where you’ll see a row of buildings with large indoor pools. These places have similar prices and are open twenty four hours a day. Grab your bait and fishing pole. Drink your weight in Taiwan beer as you wait for the shrimp to bite. After you’re done, you get to clean and cook them yourself on an open grill. Don’t worry, there’s staff onsite to help the beginners and the squeamish.
  • Taxi back to the hotel and pass out ($15-20)
Din Tai Fung (Taipei);  s  ource: Tripadvisor

Din Tai Fung (Taipei); source: Tripadvisor

Shilin Night Market;  source: Wikimedia Commons

Shilin Night Market; source: Wikimedia Commons

Day 2 (Red)

Morning

Afternoon

  • Take the MRT to Zhongxiao Fuxing Station. Follow these directions to get to Jiufen Old Street. The bus ride should take about an hour. We recommend going to Jiufen on a weekday to avoid the crowds. The scenery allegedly served as inspiration for Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away. Our favorite thing to do in the afternoons is to find a cafe with a nice view to watch the sunset. 
  • Grab a taxi and head over to the nearby Houtong Cat Village. The name says it all. This sleepy former coal mining town is now overrun by cats. Everything here is cat themed.
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Evening

  • Take the final half hour taxi ride of the day to Keelung Miaokou Night Market. Keelung is a small port city about a 45 drive north of Taipei and Miaokou is probably the most “authentic” night market in northern Taiwan. It’s renowned for its cheap, fresh seafood which is cooked to order (crabs and shellfish).
  • Walk along the harbor towards Keelung Railway Station. Take the train back to Taipei Main Station ($4-5)

Day 3 (Yellow)

Morning

  • Breakfast at hotel or take an order of Taiwanese savory breakfast crepes to go from Dasifang Egg Pancake (大四方蛋餅). The old man who runs the stall is the real deal and typically drops the mic (closes up shop) by 10 am. 
  • Skip the Taipei 101 Observatory (not worth the $20 admission) and instead hike up Xiangshan (free) for a nicer view. It only takes 20 minutes to reach the summit. 
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Afternoon

  • Lunch at one of the many basement food courts beneath Taipei 101. Snap an obligatory photo in front of the building as you leave.  
  • Head over to MRT Taipei Zoo Station. Follow the signs to catch the Maokong Gondola (closed on Mondays) up to Maokong scenic area, known for its teahouses.  

Evening

  • Most of the teahouses in Maokong are touristy. Locals prefer the mile long hike away from such establishments to Yao Yue Teahouse (open 24 hours). It’s the perfect place to while away an afternoon brewing your own tea leaves from traditional clay pots, playing cards and eating tea infused dim sum while enjoying a gorgeous view of the city.  Watch the sunset and wait for the city lights to come on. It’s magical.
  • Make your way back to the Maokong Gondola (shuts down by 9 pm). The ride down in the darkness will take your breath away. 
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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.

11 Things We Like and Don't Like About Okinawa

Ivan here!

Last month, Jennie and I traveled to Naha, Okinawa for a three-day mini-honeymoon. Here’s a list of things that we liked and didn’t like (in no particular order). 

 1. Okinawan banjo

The sanshin (or “three strings”) is an Okinawan instrument covered in python skin, which makes for its distinctive sound. This music was playing all over the island - at restaurants, convenience stores, and from loud speakers in front of street vendors as we slogged past under the midday sun. It made for a pretty memorable soundtrack. Like being in a fairytale about an island long ago and far away. 

2. Coloring within the lines

One of the quirks about Japanese society is that people are - for lack of a better term - hopelessly square. Ask the average customer service rep to buck company policy and watch them try to process this troubling development. It’s like throwing a rock into a still pond. 

Here’s what must go through their minds: 

  • Good customer service is very important
  • The rules are very important
  • The customer requests that I break the rules in order to provide good customer service 

Like Fermat’s Last Theorem, these three statements do not compute.

Here’s how a Japanese person would get around this: 

  • This customer will experience good service if I break the rules
  • This sets a dangerous precedent that will prevent me from providing good customer service in the future
  • Therefore, for the sake of good customer service, I must defend the rules with my life

3. Okinawa soba 

 
okinawa-soba-724986_1280 copy.jpg
 

I love Okinawa soba. It’s simple, cheap, and unspoiled by commercialism. This means that when you walk into a noodle shop on a random street corner, you can still taste the difference because the people who serve it still give a damn. The lightness of the broth, the chewiness of the noodles, the tenderness and fat content of the pork. It’s a dish that’s still tied to the Okinawan way of life.

4. The Japanese 4-hour workweek

In Japan, lunch is usually served between 11 and 2, and dinner between 5 and 8. Some Okinawan restaurants observe these business hours religiously. This means that for the more popular establishments, you either show up to find out that there’s an hour long wait or it’s completely empty because it’s 3 pm and they closed an hour ago. And since Jennie and I have this rare illness where we'll bleed to death if we’re in line for more than thirty minutes, this severely limited our options. 

5. Returning home

Every five years, Okinawans from all corners of the globe return to the island for a giant celebration call the Uchinanchu festival. A full week of events are scheduled, complete with opening and closing ceremonies. It was fascinating to watch the kids, their small faces pressed against the glass, as they rode the monorail from the airport into the city for the very first time. 

6. Parker's Mood Jazz Club

It makes me sad when I think about Parker’s Mood Jazz Club. We rode the elevator to the fifth floor of a shabby looking residential building and found the place empty. We were the first (and only) customers of the night. This was 9 pm on a Friday night. Inside, there were comfortable fifties style leather seats, candles and iPad menus on every table. Two female bartenders in white dress shirts, black vests, and bow ties were polishing the crystalware behind the counter. The live performance that night consisted of the owner, Kousuke, on jazz guitar and his friend on the piano. As they ran through their set from Charlie Parker to Thelonious Monk for an audience of two, you could tell that they still loved what they did. They just wanted to play for as long as they could. 

7. Okinawan office wear

The kariyushi shirt is a uniform of sorts in Okinawa. Basically, it’s a rip-off of the Hawaiian aloha shirt. It's mandatory attire for salarymen, government office workers, and even newscasters on television. Everyone looked like they were on a mandatory vacation. 

8. Kokusai Dori (International Street)

 
 

A copy and paste job of souvenir shops and overpriced restaurants. The noise and neon signs trick tourists into believing that they're having loads of fun, when what they're really doing is emptying their wallets on crap they don't need. Every major city in the world has a street like this. Nevada has an entire city.

9. Back Alleys of the Makishi Public Market

The further you venture away from Kokusaidori, the shabbier the surroundings. No guidebooks will lead you here. An old lady sells vegetables from a mat, which doubles as her living room. The local seafood bars and family run soba shops here barely get any customers. Walking through these back alleyways, we got a sense of how people actually live, and the income disparity that still exists between Okinawans and Japanese mainlanders. 

10. Former Japanese Navy HQ

This was a sobering reminder of what Okinawa went through during WWII. We walked through underground tunnels that housed Japanese soldiers prior to their surrender. Everything was left in its original condition, even the shrapnel and bullet holes on the walls where officers committed mass suicide. In a note to the Japanese government, the commanding officer asked them to remember the horrors of war and the sacrifices made by the Okinawan people. 

The other day, I overheard a conversation at an L.A. coffee shop about Mel Gibson’s new movie Hacksaw Ridge.  I’ve transcribed their conversation here without comment: 

"What war was that movie based on?” 
“I don’t know. I think it was either the Korean or Vietnam War. They mentioned Okinawa.”
“Okinawa? I’m like 99% sure that was the Korean War.” 

11. Blue Seal Ice Cream

 
 

Born on the U.S. military base, Blue Seal Ice Cream soon became an Okinawan staple. Our favorite combinations were Mango with Ube, Okinawa Salt Cookie with Beni Imo, and Okinawa Taro Cheesecake with Sugar Cane. 

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"



What We Miss About Taipei

Jennie here!

Taiwan has really rekindled my love for travel. Recently, I’ve noticed that I’ve gotten too comfortable and forgotten how much I miss the feeling of getting lost in a foreign city. Last Sunday I landed back at LAX, but my mind was still back in Taipei, wandering its hurried streets. 

I wanted to share with you some of the things I miss about the city:

  1. The ease of getting around (without the need to drive). 

    The Taipei MRT System is pretty much the best thing about the city. Seriously. I’ve thought about this a lot.  It’s a modern, award-winning subway system that will take you almost anywhere you want to go in this city within minutes. Navigating it is simple, convenient, and cheap. And it’s never late. If you’re staying near Taipei Main Station, you’re never really more than 30 minutes away from any point in the city. And the best part? You’ll get a chance to rush through crowds, people watch, and occasionally get a little lost in the excitement. You could never do this sort of thing in Los Angeles. For me, I spend more hours in LA traffic than I do living in the moment. Being in Taipei gave me back some valuable hours of my life.
     
  2. Feeling safe, even at night in Taipei.

    On the second day of my trip, I woke up at 5 am, unable to fall asleep from the jet lag. So I wandered around the streets near Taipei Main Station alone. I could feel the heat and humidity seep up from the dark pavement. The streets, which are usually teeming with people and speedy scooters/mopeds, were completely empty. The only people I saw were the ones camped out at a nearby 24-hour Mcdonald's; it was full of sleepy patrons -- likely homeless or students waiting for sunrise. Taiwan is probably one of the few countries in the world where you’d catch me wandering around alone at 5 am.

    Clearly, I’d only do this because the crime rate is extremely low and street crime (pickpocketing, mugging etc.) is practically unheard of. As a woman, I feel especially safe, and I have no problems with walking around the city proper at any time of day or night without reservations. Keep in mind, though, that I’m comparing this to American cities that I’ve lived in like Los Angeles and Boston. Without a death wish, you’d never catch me wandering alone around LA past midnight.
     
  3. Taipei’s hectic city vibes.

    On the surface, Taipei may seem like your typical modern city filled with skyscrapers and busy/hard working commuters, but at night Taipei turns into a city packed with wandering locals and food stalls. The often crowded night markets leave you wanting much more than what you had initially set out to eat. You could never find this sort of foodie hub in the U.S. Also, maybe I’ve got some deep rooted masochistic tendencies but I enjoyed crossing the busy intersections as fleets of scooters chaotically and gracefully weaved in and out of traffic, nearly taking down pedestrians down in the process. The congested streets only add to the quick-paced ambiance and perfection of the hectic city of Taipei.
     
  4. Communicating in a foreign language. 

    Despite my year of training in Mandarin during high school, I’ve clearly retained little to nothing in my conversational and negotiation skills. Things that I actually enjoyed in Taiwan was constantly hearing a new word or sound while nervously ordering food items from busy street vendors and convenience stores; oh, and horribly failing at negotiating the price of an item of clothing. You don’t need to know everything that’s happening but you can definitely enjoy the experience of being lost and vulnerable. It was also strangely fun to wander the streets with Ivan, conversing in English and knowing that no one else had any idea what we were talking about. Now that I’m home in Los Angeles and back in my comfort zone, it feels strange to be among people who can understand every word I say. Where did all that confusion and excitement go? 
     
  5. The diversity (and accessibility) of food in Taiwan.

    Taipei is probably one of the top street food cities in the world. Any Taiwanese night market is going to be packed with people. I enjoy walking through the narrow walkways and looking for the next Taiwanese snack that I’ve never tried before. There are endless possibilities. You can even find some pretty bizarre options like snake blood or turtle soup. And although there are some diverse food hubs peppered throughout L.A. (e.g. Koreatown, Little Tokyo, Little Ethiopia, etc.), it’s just not the same because of the distances I’d have to travel (by car). It’s a 45-minute drive just to get a decent bowl of pho.
     
Can You Plan a Round the World Trip on a Budget? (Part 1 of 2)

How does one plan a year-long round the world trip? How do you even begin?

One thing’s for sure, going into this without some sort of budget buys you a one-way ticket down Poverty Lane en route to Regrets-ville. 

 
 

You heard the man. So let’s play a game. Shout-out to The Ringer for the inspiration.  

The Rules

Pick 10 countries on a budget of $50
Must circumnavigate the globe at least once
Avoid doubling back
Minimize the number of flights
Maximize the number of continents

The Prices

The following values are based on a combination of cost of living, The Economist’s Big Mac index and subjective factors to adjust for traveler prices. For example, Tanzania is an $8 country because climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro is crazy expensive. 

It does NOT reflect how much we value each country. With that caveat out of the way, let’s play. 

$12 countries (Scandinavia)
Switzerland, Iceland, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Monaco

$10 countries (Western Europe & Oceania) 
Australia, New Zealand, Canada, United States, Italy, United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Austria, Germany, Ireland, UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, Israel

$8 countries (Asia Pacific, Mediterranean, and Islands)
Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, Spain, Portugal, Pacific and Caribbean Islands, Ghana, Tanzania, Mauritius, Maldives

$6 countries (Eastern Europe and Middle East)
Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Poland, Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Balkan countries (Croatia, Serbia, Albania etc), Greece, Bulgaria, Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Oman

$5 countries (Industrialized Africa and South America)
Ethiopia, Kenya, Zimbabwe, South Africa, China, Mongolia, Taiwan, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Belize, Chile, Mexico and Central America, Peru, Bolivia, Morocco, Algeria, Egypt

$3 countries (Southeast Asia & Africa)
Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia, Myanmar, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka

$2 countries
Rest of the World


Ivan’s Round the World Itinerary

Depart from: Los Angeles, California (September 2018)

 

  1. Czech Republic ($6)
    Train journey across Eastern Europe. It’s probably smart to ease into the trip to get ourselves acclimated to traveling. Don’t want to get sick on our first month. 

  2. Greece ($6)  
    This was Turkey originally until the recent Istanbul bombings and the attempted coup. Might be fun to run a marathon here. 

  3. Ethiopia ($5) 
    Ethiopia is the second most populous African nation after Nigeria, which was my original pick until Boko Haram (aka those asshats) showed up and ruined everything. It’s also the only African country that has never been colonized, which is pretty cool. 

  4. Tanzania ($8) 
    Jennie, we’re going to turn thirty by 2018 - not getting any younger. This is our time to climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa. Only downside here is that it’s probably way more expensive than we think. 

  5. Sri Lanka ($3) 
    I’m super fascinated by the Buddhist majority on this island.

  6. India ($3) 
    Another epic northbound train journey. 

  7. Nepal ($3) 
    I’ve heard the Nepalese are some of the most amazing and resilient people despite poverty and the recent earthquake that devastated their country. I want to find out what their secret is. 

  8. Interior China ($5) 
    Everyone goes to Bejing and Shanghai, but Sichuan and Yunnan are super underrated provinces. I’d also like to see Tibet if the Chinese government would stop being total dicks about it (forcing you to take guided tours, imposing large deposits to ensure you’re on your best behavior). 

  9. Vietnam ($3)  
    Jennie, it’s your people. And pho. Would be interested in traveling from North to South.

  10. Japan ($8)  
    There’s something poetic about ending the trip in the city where we first met. 

Total: $50, 6 Flights, 4 Continents

Jennie's Feedback

I’d like to put it out there that I have NOT officially agreed to climb Mount Kilimanjaro (Ivan: booooo). That’s going to be toss up at this point in time. Sell me harder on this idea of climbing up for days...without showering. I like the majority of your itinerary though. 

Closing Thoughts

Stay tuned for Jennie's round the world itinerary. In the meantime, how would you plan your round the world trip? Let us know in the comments below!