Thursday, April 30, 2015


As I started my travels to Asia at the developing SE end of the spectrum, Hong Kong represented the first real stay (I don't count airport layovers) in a successful, highly efficient, dynamic city where everything works. It was a breath of fresh air to be able to walk along (albeit at a quick pace, to keep up with everyone) and just trust that there will be order.

The city wasn't even as loud as I thought it would be.  And if you walk along the very pleasant pathway by the water in Central, it can actually be quiet.  Amazing considering the density of the population around you.  I wondered whether the elderly fisherman I saw there actually ate what they caught.  Was also surprised with the number of fairly serious looking runners pounding it out on the path at lunch time.

I was also expecting an energy of aggressiveness from the population in general, as I had assumed that the "time is money" belief would translate into behaviour.  However that was not the case.  I found the energy of most people to be very private, even when they were motoring along at a really quick pace.  Didn't get jostled around either, on the MRT or even at the busy Mong Kok markets.  Found people to be productive, busy doing their own thing. 

Even facial expressions rarely revealed discontent or exhaustion as I had heard about the typically long work hours.  Impatience sometimes, when I couldn't make up my mind what to order or when I wasn't able to express with hand motion what I wanted when our languages didn't match.

Speaking of language, Cantonese can definitely come across as harsh, even if the message wasn't intended to be.  That didn't discourage me from going for what I wanted.  In general, this isn't a culture of overt welcomes and smiles (unless you are at a higher end establishment), like you come to expect in North America.  You may be taken back from what may come across as a "take it or leave it" attitude but it didn't bother me.  They seem to be doing fine just the way they are.

On the weekend, I noticed high numbers of mainland China visitors, which changed the feel of the city somewhat in the more touristic areas such as Tsim Sha Tsui.  The amazement I saw in their eyes reminded me of how I felt walking along Bloor St in Toronto after my music classes at the conservatory.  Back then I dreamt of being able to shop at those exclusive shops.

There exists a huge discrepancy between the rich and the poor, and it was common to see elderly men and women (80+ yr old) working as sidewalk cleaners, garbage sorters, even pushing large carts.  At first it bothered me until I realized that most, if not all of them were in good spirits. I was told later that people would rather work than to accept social assistance whereby there is a strong negative connotation.

Hong Kongers seem to be fairly pragmatic and resilient with no negative stigma with respect to working at an advanced age.  When I walked through Sham Shui Po, an area known for early government public housing initiatives, there were historical narratives scattered around proudly showcasing their historical area development.

The dense and tall towers there were a stark contrast from the neighbouring affluent Kowloon Tong district, where streets are named after flowers.  If I did my conversion properly, I saw a real estate ad for a 100 square meter condo for the equivalent of 3 million USD.

With respect to education.  I believe it is fairly common knowledge that the school system and curriculum in Hong Kong is quite advanced and there is very high pressure to succeed academically, to the point where suicides can occur if key exam scores are not high enough.  Apparently it has since been realized that the death of driven and smart young people isn't great for societal future so it is supposed to have improved. 

Because competition into university is extremely tough, with very limited spots, there are a great number of young people, highly intelligent who do not get accepted and cannot afford to go to school abroad. And a lot of those bright young adults end up in the service, hospitality, sales industries with systems in place to reward great performance.  Being helped by ones who could easily kick my behind academically was an unusual realization.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Changing Thoughts on a Full Retirement

In the few years that I have been blogging, it has been an interesting observation that the target age of early retirement hopefuls keep getting younger and younger as I've found myself, the last couple of years, gradually leaning the other way.

I no longer desire to totally leave my work and be at home full time, even though it would potentially open up the option of "unlimited" travel.  The trips I have taken in the last few years have shaped me in ways I had not expected.  And I welcome growth, even if it means not continuing to trace the same paths again.

Early in the life of this blog, I yearned for such a quick departure from the work "grind".  I was feeling discontented with a wide number of things and wanted an escape.  And it felt desperate enough to be willing to consider living extra "small" in order to achieve it. 

What has changed?

  • Four years of working part time.  
  • Getting gradually caught up and rested (key point). 
  • Reacquainting myself with my inner capacity and energy level.
  • Becoming physically stronger and eliminating foods that my body reacts to.
  • Challenging myself to stretch beyond what I believed to be possible or comfortable and succeeding.
  • A feeling of productiveness, linked to increased energy. 
  • Going through the exercise of a relocation which taught us much about work, ambition, purpose. 
  • Not wanting to always live in a secure bubble.
  • Not wanting to necessarily be away all the time either.

The pieces of my life pie are once again re-distributing itself.  It's a "good problem" to have.  It means I'm continuing to develop.  My perception of time is changing as well.  Suddenly becoming acutely aware of both the length of it as well as its finite aspect.

A new found optimism perhaps?  I don't know that it is so simple for me to pin point.  I'm feeling just how long time can feel.  An offshoot could be just how much more I can do with it.  A vast difference from what D used to hear me ask in an exhausted and pent up way -- "If I quit, will we be OK?"

During the 2 weeks I was home in Dec, I was able to rest, sleep, reflect, eat, relax, read, learn, play the piano, practice the violin, do ballet exercises, sketch, work out, walk, bike, row, do errands, connect with friends, journal, cook, do dishes, re-organize, all in one day and still felt like I had time and energy on my hands.

After the first few days, I found I didn't need any extra hours of sleep as I wasn't expending as much energy as I do when I work or travel.  I've never been one to sleep extra, just for the sake of sleeping.  Because of that, I was able to stay up till 3:30 am easily without feeling tired.  And then sleep for maybe 5 - 6 hours before getting up again.

That certainly wasn't the case a few years ago, when I longed for enough time to do even a quarter of the list above and felt like I wanted nothing but the luxury of unlimited time to enjoy all of it.  And assumed I would need at least a decade's worth of it to finally catch up with myself. 

Most important of all, It never entered my consciousness that I wouldn't need to be fully retired to reach this state.  As all I could remember was the overwhelming feeling of being boned tired, upset, weary and fed up.  Being completely out of balance and miserable, even though I was doing good work.

And for sure I'd never thought I would find myself saying now, "I'm sure glad I didn't quit!".  I know I've mentioned in the past that my current schedule could very well be my mid way answer to "retirement".  It was just a thought at that point, something that looked good on paper.  But the difference now, is that I feel it.

Currently I cannot imagine every day of the rest of my life like the 2 weeks described above during Christmas.  It was productive and fulfilling but I need more than just at home reflective and self improvement time as I'm no longer in "recovery".  Since being back to work (remember it is 12 hrs in office + 8 hrs admin a week), it feels more balanced, a large part I feel, because I'm contributing and making a difference.

For sure it would be different if I had parenting roles.  Right now I don't and may never.  And I don't wish to just keep adding new hobbies -- Already have enough of those.  And adrenaline rush experiences aren't really the things that can drive and sustain me for the long term either.

Please note:  I wasn't feeling dissatisfied nor moping around at home during my Dec holidays all grumpy because I wasn't elsewhere.  And I'm definitely not a naturally hyper or agitated person.  I was in good spirits, just a little bored after a couple of weeks.  My mind needed more.  Sure I would have preferred if D wasn't sick and had the same amount of time off so we could have both been able to have fun.  And for sure, I was not suffering.   

No, I'm not aiming to work more.  Not at all.  I like my current schedule and the freedom it affords me time wise at home and financially to save, see the world and give back.  I like how I do not need to burn up savings to realize my ambitions.

I also like being self sustaining.  The feeling of independence and control.  Being able to do meaningful work is an incredible bonus.  The amount of retirement savings we'd need if it were to incorporate all the extras I want to do now and later would not make sense, nor be fair to D.  Much easier when I can take care of this area on my own.

The ramifications of this realization is wide ranging for us.  For most of our years together, we have talk about and dreamed of an early retirement move somewhere.  My job is very location dependent whereas D can transition to location independent contract work.  With me potentially not seeing a near end to my career, it means we are going to be here for a while, which changes the game for D.  So we've had to talk about how it will affect him and what he had in mind for retirement.

Being stationed in our current home location doesn't disappoint him.  His timing for retirement won't change.  He'll just have more freedom to be more mobile when the time comes.  It'll be my turn to watch him fly off to pursue his goals.  I'm excited for that day to come for him.

The biggest issue D has outside of maintain satisfying work, is re-discovering whether he will be able to participate in his beloved sports to the extent he'd like.  For most of everything else, I wouldn't classify him as an "all in" type of person.  But with respect to sports, he definitely is.  This year will be quite telling as he "cautiously" (my optimistic word, not his)  reintegrates himself into the activities and races he assumed would be an integral part of his free time.  He wants to someday be able to go around the world for a year, chasing the snow.

Our plan was to put the cottage up for sale in the spring, but we're not sure anymore.  If hard core skiing and biking is no longer part of D's future, he doesn't want to be out there (that's what he is emotionally expressing right now) so having access to beach, water and trails might be good.

May even make sense to upgrade to a better place.  However, I still love waking up out west and being high enough to see the peaks poke up above the clouds.  That has not gotten old for me.  The light and air up there is magnificent.