Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The pit in your stomach

I can't remember when or where I first got this feeling of emptiness.  But it comes around occassionally.  Usually it's associated with the end of a trip when I've felt a lot of growth, personal growth.  This time, I was mulling over the decision to stay in Taiwan another year or to go home.  Mentally I created a pro/con list.  It comes down to this...

Cons to staying in Taiwan -  finding a boyfriend and settling down is a challenge.  It's kinda selfish to be so far from my family (even though they are very supportive and encourage my adventures)

Pros to staying in Taiwan - I love the people, history, culture and language.  Everyday is a challenge.  I love my job.  I really enjoy learning Chinese. Traveling Asia is insanely easy and cheap.  I can easily save money and pay down my debt.  I'm really happy and cannot imagine myself back home yet.

So my choice to go home is based on wanting a relationship.  I seriously feel like going home for that would be one of the  worst decisions I could ever make.   I don't even know why I want a relationship so badly.   I've been relatively single for the last, well umm, 5 years now.  Maybe that's why...

Anyway, back on topic..   The biggest growth that's come from this trip is the realization that I'll be living in Taiwan for at least another 18 months.  And honestly, I'm pretty excited about it.

I still have the pit in my stomach.   Like, I can't waste these last few days.  I don't know what I'm gonna do in Java when my plane lands tonight but hopefully it will be soul awakening :). Looks like I'm gonna be getting lost in Jakarta hahah

Thursday, January 30, 2014

How on Earth I can afford to travel twice a year

So a while back I posted about my three financial priorities.  If I remember correctly, I struggled quite a bit with the third one.  Looking back there are no question as to why... Saving for retirement or midterm anything isn't really a priority...  Getting out of debt is number one for sure.  Every month more than half  my disposable income goes towards debt repayment.  The remainder is spent on life expenses (food, classroom supplies, clothes, etc.) and travel.  A few years ago, I caught the travel bug while backpacking in Europe.  Living in Taiwan has allowed me access to an entirely new part of the world.  My travel big did as all bugs do.. Grew and multiplied and infected others :)

Sometimes, I marvel at other people's  immense wardrobes and get jealous.  But I don't need all those fancy clothes and, for me, my money is better spent elsewhere.  In fact, I'm currently traveling with 2 pairs of shorts, two tank tops, tshirt and a dress.  I have pants and a sweater too but only because I needed them leaving Taiwan.  It's been very eye opening travelling this long with so little.  Mostly, that its completely possible, and also, I'm capable of doing it.  Anyway, long ramble short, traveling is more important to me than an expansive or expensive wardrobe.

Here's my monthly budget to help explain my saving habit that allow me to travel so much..

Salary - Gross: $2,500
Salary - Net: $2,200 (deductions include health care, taxes, rent and school lunch)

Living Expenses: $1,000 (food, cell phone, weekend fun, clothes, school supplies) **
Debt Repayment: $1,250
Savings: $500

**My living expenses are partially subsidized by a tutoring job.  I try to exclusively live off the tutoring money and bank the rest.  Normally I fail miserably at this.

So overall, about 1/5 of my salary goes to travel.  Desire keeps me diligent.  I love traveling and exploring, and I know if I'm not diligent in my savings I'll encounter more debt.  So I plan months in advance and save every penny I possible can.  And sitting here at a beautiful dive resort in Indonesia... I must say that it's extremely worthwhile.

I'm also, already, in the process of planning for a weekend getaway in Mainland China and a two week getaway to Thailand in the next 6 months.. :)

My advice to you is think carefully about what your financial priorities are.  Nail it down to 3 (or less) and then smash them with all you've got!  Good luck!

~Jenny Z

Friday, November 22, 2013

Breath, Deep Breath

One of my favourite quotes/poems...  [we'll get back to this at the end]

I am strong because I've been weak.
I am fearless because I've been afraid.
I am wise because I've been foolish.
I can love because I've known pain.
I can laugh because I've felt sadness.

Wow... today was a drama day in my life.  Sorry, this is going to be a personal post...a long, personal post... no finances involved...

Before going into details, I'm a little frustrated by people who live in a bubble.
I also am frustrated by enablers.

Okay, here we go... [This is all about an ex-co-worker of mine]

No, it is not okay that you didn't do the things you're required for your job.
No, it is not okay that you were unable to form connections with your students.
No, it is not okay that you refused to even try to be a humane person to your co-workers.
No, it is not okay that you gave less than 24 hours to your job before you flew home.

I have very little idea about what was going on in this girl's head, or life for that matter.  But it was clear that she was miserable in Taiwan.  She was beyond rude to some of the nicest people I've ever met and appeared unable to make connections with her students.  Apparently, she also decided that she didn't need to do the required material or mark her books.

From the outside it looks like there was no passion or effort going into her teaching.

Worst of all, she emailed on a Sunday to say she wouldn't be returning.  Monday was chaos.  There were no plans and her classes were days, if not weeks, behind.  Makeshift supplies were called in and interviews were conducted immediately.   We were all scrambling to make up for her sudden disappearance.  I have no idea what her students were whirlwinding through.

This morning she posted on facebook about people being selfish for leaving their car running in a parking lot.

I should have walked away.  
I should have let it go.
I should have at least sat on it before commenting.

But I couldn't hold back and commented that I thought she was selfish for leaving her students and coworkers as she did.  That she had no right to judge others that way. (I also kindly, though some what sarcastically, put in a part about having to work on my own judgments)

Well, by golly, that started quite the stream of positive message aimed at her and a few distasteful comments back at me.  I don't really care about the rudeness aimed at me.  They weren't here. They didn't see her in, what is likely/hopefully, the worst teaching of her life.  What I was so upset about is the encouragement.  Enabling someone to make bad decisions is almost as bad as making bad decisions.

Don't get me wrong,
I understand my life is very different from her life.
I understand she was unhappy here.
I understand what it's like to be unhappy.  How miserable life can be.
I understand that sometimes you feel like you have no choices and cannot escape the walls.

I also know that everyone involved is actually better off now.

But seriously, give notice to your coworkers or at least leave lesson plans.  OR PAGE NUMBERS... anything..  Think about your students...

If you think I was upset by all that HAHA I laugh at all of that now...  She claimed "personal reason" and we all assumed she'd finally realized and accepted her misery and returned home...
She admitted, on her own blog, that she went home because of severe acne and a new chemically caused dimple in her cheek that she wants cosmetically filled.  And that by goodness, maybe you think she's vain but her "emotional health is important".  To which people commented things like "just do what you do, people will hate and be angry and sour because they're miserable and unhappy in their own lives."

For the record,
I don't hate her.
I don't disagree that emotional health is important.
I don't think that leaving on a whim because of acne and a dimple is anything but selfish...

Being honest, I actually feel bad for her.  I feel bad that she is so miserable in her own life. I feel bad that she is so absorbed in physical appearance, she cannot enjoy life.  I feel bad that her chosen career makes her miserable.  I feel bad that she cannot see it.  I feel bad that people are enabling her self-absorption..

Now to clarify.. and because this blog is about me, not anyone else...

I am very happy and satisfied with my life and my choices (on a large scale, maybe not my comment this morning..).  I wish that everyone could find that happiness and feel fulfilled.  I wake up most mornings asking why life is so beautiful and why I am so blessed?  I have a roof over my head, food in my belly and amazing friends/family...  and really, everything else is just the little stuff.  I honestly couldn't ask for more in my life.  Except maybe the elimination of my debt magically (hey gotta throw some finances in..)  When I'm teaching, I fall into this timeless zone of pure bliss.  My students, as crazy as they make me, are my pride and joy.  Cliche as it may be, their successes are my successes and their failures are my failures.  I've taken them under my wing and every single day, I work my butt off to do right by them.   I feel so fortunate to have this happiness in my life.

To close, I fall back to the poem I posted at the beginning.  I've definitely had my fair share of struggles through life.  I've figuratively and quite literally (by an abusive boyfriend) been kicked down and had the life choked out of me more than once.  I've made bad decisions.  But I'm stronger now, I'm happier now.  I explore life with all that I can, because I know how precious it is.  The hard times make me appreciate what I have now, what I've worked so hard to get, that much more rewarding.  I can be fearless because I know what scares me.  I know what terrifies me.  I know how far I can push myself.  But I also know that I can survive outside of those limits.  I can fight for myself, for my life.  When pushed, I can and will not let anything stop me... my will to live and live well is way too strong.  I'm proud of who I am, and I'm determine to push myself on to be a better, less selfish person.   Life cannot hold me down :D

Lastly, I truly hope my ex-co-worker, and all others suffering, can one day fight back and feel true love and happiness!  Because gosh-dangit... its a good place to be...

~Jenny Z

Thursday, November 21, 2013


I love cooking.  I love trying new recipes.  I love family style dinners.

In teachers' college, I developed a good group of friends.  We cooked dinner together, family style every Sunday.  I loved that.

In Taiwan, many restaurants operate family style.  Your table orders a bunch of different dishes and then everyone shares.  I love it.

What I've really missed here is cooking.  There's a kitchen at my apartment but its communal, and it's extra inconvenient.  So I bought a hotplate about a month ago and then struggled to find a pan that would work.  I didn't realize that induction elements required a special pan.  Anyway, problem now solved.. I can smell a delicious meal cooking as  I mark books and listen to music.  Plus Facebook is open and I can blog... all things I can't do in the communal kitchen.

I would really like to bring back my weekly new recipe that I started in fourth year and continued in teachers' college.  I found so many great, and a few awful, meals that way... maybe now that I have this kitchnette problem solved!

~Jenny Z

Monday, November 18, 2013

Three things I'm going to mad about when I get back to Canada

So I'm enjoying being so focused on blogging again.  It was quite the adjustment, starting real adult life I mean. So now, somehow, I've got the time to blog again... *big smile*

I think it may also be due to the fact that for the first time in about two years, I feel like I'm not swimming upstream just to make my minimum payments.  So I can finally relax and think about other things...

Alas, I got on the thought of things that will make me very angry when I get home...

#1 - Increased Rent
Right now, I pay less than $300/month for ALL of my housing costs (rent, heating, water, internet, cable, etc.)  Paying even $600 isn't going to be pleasant, and to get a decent place in many parts of Ontario (specifically Ottawa) I'll be looking at paying over $1000. EEHK

#2 - A real cellphone bill
Right now, I pay as I go.  I have the crappiest ZTE phone alive. It makes calls and texts.  It has an alarm clock.  Best of all, it has a sick Panda Game that almost rivals Snake and Pong.... Before you get excited or mad at me, I said ALMOST!  Although I have an iPhone, I choose to not use it.  Instead, I pay $30 every FIVE months.  Yes, $30 every 5 months.  Even for the crappiest plan in Canada, I'll be looking at that every single month.  Don't even wanna think about what it'll cost to get internet and data and whatever else you kids have these days.

#3 - Transportation Cost
No lies, I currently pay zero dollars to get to work.  There is a free bus.... YES, FREE!  It's because I live in a small town (of 600, 000) so we get sweet perks.  I know, I don't think 600, 000 is small either but when you have 32 million people jammed on an island smaller than the size of Utah, that's what happens!  I've been recently debating buying a scooter.  Today, I think it's a bad idea.  Yesterday, if I had the cash, well let's just say that by the end of the day I wouldn't have had the cash and would have had a scooter instead.

So there you have it.  Three things I'm really not looking forward to having to pay for once I get home...

I guess, "C'est la vie!"
~Jenny Z

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Financial Priorities

Yesterday, I read an article about financial priorities.  The gist of the articles was that you can only really truly focus on three things at once, and until you determine what those three things are you'll feel uneasy, guilty and/or lost about your finances.

Well, by golly that got me thinking... Without a shadow of a doubt, I know my first two priorities but the third one is a bit more difficult...

Priority #1 - Pay off my Debt
This is by far my first priority.  I make fairly large sacrifices to my living to be able to send home $1,700 every month (three months in a row now!!).  This has allowed me to, finally, have a bit of a cushion in my savings account ( I have about a month of bills available to me :D).  I, also, pay anywhere from $15-$300 extra on all my payments every month.  I pay extra for three reasons, first it gives me peace of mind.  When I moved to Taiwan, I shut down some accounts with balances and lost the ability to see them online.  So by paying more, I ensure that I don't accidentally pay less than my minimums (I also call the bank each month to confirm but that's a hassle, though I do like when they say "Ms. Z. you've made significantly more than your minimum, no need to worry.).  Second, it's just a smart idea, even $15 extra is bringing me closer to my goal of being debt free a little bit faster.  Third, I'm a bit OCD so I round up and make them "pretty" numbers (must end in 50 or 00 haha).

Priority #2 - Travel
A few years back, I got the travel bug.  Actually, I inherited a lot more money than any 22 year old should and was in an unhappy relationship that I couldn't get out of.  So I stuck enough money for a semester of school in a savings account and bought a ticket to Europe... then as I blew the rest of the money in Europe, I caught the travel bug.  A semester off school, 13 countries and 3 months alone to think will do that to you.  Despite my debt, I don't regret, not even for a second, taking that trip.  I learned more about the world and myself in that 3 months then I ever could have if I'd stay in the comforts of Ottawa, unhappily coupled up and 20K less in debt.  

Now, as I live in Taiwan, I am extremely happy with my life.  Last school year, including Taiwan, I added 6 new countries to my list.  This year, my goal is three more.  Some days, I kick myself for the extra debt that moving around the world and traveling this much has brought me.  Most days, I'm extremely happy and thankful that I am able to make the memories. I cannot wait for Chinese New Year when I'll add the next country to the list.  I also do make a conscious effort to pay for the majority of my travel expenses cash but things like plane tickets and hotels often require a credit card, and the only one I have than isn't block has $15K on it already... not a happy place to be adding more debt to.

Priority #3 - Saving
This was a hard one to pick.  I juggled between healthy eating, my classroom and saving for a while.  But in the end saving won.  I don't eat particularly healthily here, partially due to the language barrier and the cultural differences but mostly because I just don't cook often.  I love teaching and quite often I hit the stationary stores and/or Carrefour (like Walmart) and buy many, many things that I could live without but think will improve my teaching and my student's learning.  But, in the end, I decided that my priority was saving and the classroom purchases fall under discretionary spending.

When I graduated Grade 8, my dad gave me the worst and best gift ever.  He gave me $500 in a trust mutual fund (worst because what does a 12 year old want with money that can't be  touch?? Best because it taught me about saving and the patience required to see growth).  It was a fairly safe mutual fund that saw small but consistent growth throughout my high school career.  When I turned 18, my dad turned the investment over to me along with a similar gift that my grandparents had set up when I was born.  Between the two mutual funds, I suddenly had $3,000 in my name to do as I wished.  

I immediately decided that I wouldn't use the money for school or my debt.  I earmarked half of it for retirement and the other half for "something special".  I also started contributing to both accounts monthly.  I have stopped my contributions a few times and have withdrawn from both accounts.  Multiple times from the "something special" account (I bought my mom an oven, my MacBook for school and my plane ticket to Taiwan) and just once, for my final semester of school, from my retirement fund.    But, for the past 18 months I have been back to contributing monthly.  These are automatic contributions that are so normal to me now after 7 years, I often forget about them.  I'm really glad that I developed this habit of saving so young in my life. I know that it will allow me to do amazing things once I'm closer to my goal of being out of debt.

So there you have it, my top three financial priorities and some explanations behind each one.  Other things that might make my priorities lists later in life are Professional Development, Saving for a House, Retirement Savings, Playing the Stock Market, Children, Healthy Eating, Car Fund.  But who knows where life will take me and my priorities from here!

Love as always,
~Jenny Z.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Living abroad and paying off debt back home (My Wire Transfer Intel)

So two things you likely know about me if you've read at least the last two posts... I am from Canada but currently live in Taiwan, and I have about $50,000 (CAD) in debt.

Although,  my overall debt has remained stable at 50k, due to the visa that I ignore haha, I have made payments, ranging from $600 to $1,250, every month since coming to Taiwan. That means that every month I somehow need to get my Taiwanese pay check into my Canadian bank account.

Just like anything else, it became routine after I'd done it a few times, but I had no idea what to do when I first got here and even contemplated MAILING $2000 (CAD) worth of Taiwanese bills back to my dad in Canada.   [I didn't do that, though one time I did mail $200 CAD back to him, but that's another story]

Alas, instead of mailing 60,000NT, I read up about internationally transferring money and learned about wire transfers.  Being completely honest, I'd heard of wire transfers before, but I thought they were just what rich money launderers used hide the money in Switzerland or the Cayman Islands.  And I am definitely not rich...

But easy as pie, when I called my Canadian bank they quickly provided me with a Swift Code and a Canadian Clearing Code.  They also confirmed my account number, their official name and address as well as associated charges.  Done in about 5 minutes!

Then, I headed to the bank in Taipei (where I was living at the time..) OMG. Thank god for patience and, surprisingly, rude people... The woman and I spoke in broken bank lingo for a good 4 hours minutes and finally sorted out what I wanted thanks to an eavesdropping security guard.  I gave the woman all of the necessary information, my passport and the cash.  Photocopies of my documents done, cash counted and I was on my way.  If I spoke Chinese or she spoke English, it likely would have taken about 10 minutes to do.  Bless the eavesdropping security guard it wasn't too painful!

I have now transferred money from 3 different banks here in Taiwan and also almost from a Western Union.  It's the same process at all of them and as my Chinese improves, it has become much less frustrating.  Also, the bank I now go to is small and friendly, so they recognize me and give me tea {yay}!

One warning, the reason I walked away from the Western Union transfer was the cost.  I usually am charged about $6 by my Taiwanese bank and $10-20 on route charges depending which banks the money goes through to get to my Canadian account.  The Western Union charge was well over $100.  For some reason, I remember it being $500, but I was only sending $2000 home so that seems impossibly high.  Either way, I urge you to go to a local bank to do any transferring and always ask the charges before hand!  Do your research before and don't be afraid to walk away if its unreasonably high.

Just to recap...
1. Call your home bank first.  They will quickly give you all the information you need.
2. Go to the foreign bank (with someone who speaks the language if possible).
3. Complete paperwork, show id, pay fees.
4. Check your accounts incessantly as you wait anywhere from 12 hours-5 business days.
5. Smile when it arrives and pay your bills back home!!

I hope this is helpful!
-Jenny Z