Blog

Short blog posts, journal entries, and random thoughts. Topics include a mix of personal and the world at large. 

But a recession is coming

I am ready and itching to head off on another travel adventure. It’s been a solid two months since my return from Japan, and as typical with the ebb and flow of these things, I’ve physically and mentally recovered, and recharged to set off again.

Of course, I don’t have nearly that much freedom from work to be able to skip town every two months, nor do I have the appropriate budget to do so. Indeed, the trip to Japan drained quite a bit of my cash reserves; a stash that was already lower than previous years due to my purchase of the GT3. I’m going to need at least a few more months to store back up the reserves, so even though I’m pining for another escape, the smart thing to do is to enact austerity.

Besides, I’ll be making my annual trip back home to China come the end of December. What’s another three more months of waiting, honestly. More importantly, homecoming trips don’t cost me any money because our family uses the proceeds from our rental property in China to fund it. Otherwise, I don’t think I’d be making the trip this year.

Because the recession is looming, and I think it’s important to batten down the hatches for such an event. Perhaps it’s idiosyncratic to my San Francisco locality, but I am seeing the recession signs all around: vacant storefronts, restaurants closing down, houses not selling, and rooms not renting out. Things definitely don’t look as prosperous as the stock market and unemployment numbers would indicate.

There are similar signs as well in an area near and dear to my proclivities: the automobile. The recent car auctions in Monterey back in August saw a 34% drop compared to 2018 results. You know things are turning sour when ultra rich people are holding off spending their free cash. Just yesterday, Subaru announced its first month of decline in sales after a streak of 93 months (almost eight years!) consecutive growth. That’s the proverbial canary in the coal mine stuff, and the entire auto industry in a downturn now.

I don’t think I’ll stop traveling if and when the recession happens, god willing that I myself don’t get laid off from employment, but for sure I need to build back up the war chest so to speak, for the next rainy day.

Anywhere you go, there you are.

Will the Hong Kong passage be open?

I have a selfish concern regarding my annual year-end trip back home to China. As per usual, we are flying into Hong Kong and then taking the train into Guangzhou. Normally there’d be no problem with this, and I’ve always enjoyed spending a bit of time in the city before heading for true home. This year, however, as you may all know, there’s massive protests going on in Hong Kong, and as it stands right now, I don’t see it abating any time soon.

So the selfish question is: am I going to have issues getting through Hong Kong? I mean, protestors did shutdown the airport a few weeks back; it’s difficult to predict if it will escalate back to that level again. I’ll be slightly annoyed if my well-prepared travel plans get altered due to the protests.

That is not to say I don’t sympathize with the people of Hong Kong in fighting for a no strings attached governance from mainland China. As a person who lives in the free West, I think democratic values and basic freedoms are worth fighting for, and if Hong Kong feels like this is the moment to die on the proverbial hill, then all the power to them. One can certainly disagree with the protestor’s tactics or their demands in general, but for those of us on the sidelines looking in, I think we have to remember that we don’t live in Hong Kong, the protestors do, and I trust they’d know best what they want for their future.

That is also not to say I’m antagonistic towards China. Guangzhou is my hometown, and I have many family members there; I am not going to state (or tweet) anything negative towards the communist government that can potentially get me banned from entering my home country, to be cut off from my extended family. That is my skin in the game, and the incentive is to preserve my entry and exit privileges. I simply want to make a trip home every year without fuss.

Because of the situation in Hong Kong, this year we are not heading into the city proper, and instead, taking the shuttle bus to Guangzhou right at the airport. It’s a shame because I absolutely adore Hong Kong, and would have loved to sightsee there for a few days.

Maybe next year.

I don’t care if the reliability is highly suspect: Apple’s ‘butterfly’ keyboard is wonderful to type on.

Post-travel depression

I don’t really get post-travel depression; not even for Korea, a country I finally visited in 2017 and was highly anticipated I literally ticked off days on the calendar. But after this recent trip, it’s quite serious.

I really miss Japan.

It’s been more than three weeks since I’ve return to the States, and I’m still hankering to be back in that wonderful country. Undergoing the process of editing all the photographs I took certainly hasn’t help: every new picture is a stark reminder that I am no longer there, and instead, back to the reality of my regular everyday life.

Not to say my life sucks; far from it. This isn’t the typical sort of post-travel depression where the person who returns from vacation cannot bear the mundane grind of his life, that the travel destination is so awesome and spectacular that regular life becomes comparatively worse. Then the person struggles through it, holding back the anguish long enough to make it to the checkpoint of the next vacation, and the cycle begins again. That is indeed a stressful way to live, and if you so dislike your job and/or life, you really should make a change. Let the sadness be the catalyst.

In my particular case of post-travel sadness, it is because the culture of Japan fits me so absolutely well. No other place I’ve been to have I felt so familiar and at-ease, where the surroundings feels just right, and the mechanics of life there super in-tune with my personality. I concede that recency bias may be playing its usual tricks, but honestly I can say that perhaps in another life, I’d be living in Japan full-time. It is that special of a place.

A subject I shall greatly expand upon in the dedicated photo stories article on the entire 9-day Japan trip, an article I’m very looking forward to writing. Stay tuned.

A sight you definitely won’t ever see back in the States.

My brother graduates from college

Yesterday my brother who is 10 years my junior graduated from university, so you can say I’m particularly feeling my age today. Despite my in-jest adverse feelings, I am supremely happy not only for my brother, but for my parents as well: both their sons are now fully adult, and their sacrifice in raising us is at a symbolic and tangible conclusion.

Next step for them is probably retirement soon, so they can do a bit of traveling. Us millennials aren’t the only ones affected by social media and its related ‘fear of missing out’ pangs: my parents get it as well. A lot of my uncles and aunts have retired already, and they spent their leisure time traveling within China and around world. The pictures from those trips gets uploaded to social media, and from viewing them my mom particularly gets low-key jealous of those opportunities.

Now that my brother is finally finished with school, likely forever, I think my parents have more freedom to retire early, should they choose. It’s definitely a decision to think over properly, because the “grass is greener” effect is strong; traveling is immensely rewarding and fun, yes, but what about the rest of the time when there’s nothing to do - no work to go to? I think that’s something to visualize and plan out before taking the step to retire, because being home all the time may not be as ideal as imagined.

But that’s for my parents to figure out. As for my brother, his unfortunate selection of sociology as a major means it’s going to be tough for him to find a solid-paying job. The real-world application for a sociology degree seems quite limited beyond working for non-profits or a teaching position, and we all know how meager those jobs pay. Not to say money is everything, but we do live in San Francisco, currently one of the most expensive cities in the United States, and the world.

Besides, if he’s to feed his car addiction as I have done, he’s going to need to make some money for sure. Congratulations and the very best of luck to my not-so-little-anymore brother.

UC Santa Cruz: a beautiful campus nestled within a redwood forest.

Booking a room and renting a car in Japan

My friend and I are planning for a trip to Japan (finally!) in the third week of July, so periodically I’m going to talk about some of the process on here (trust the process).

A few weeks back I ranted about how it was cheaper to fly to Japan from LAX than our local airport SFO. The savings from flying out further south is quite significant, which is just as well because the next item on the list after plane tickets is accommodations, and it’s expectedly expensive in Tokyo.

It’s also astonishingly small. I’ve dealt with land scarce cities before, namely Hong Kong, but even the tiny hotels rooms there are generally larger than the ones I’ve browsed around Tokyo. Japan’s idea of a hotel room with two twin beds is an area that’s just big enough to fit two beds nearly stuck together, and not much else. Sure hope you didn’t pack a lot of luggage!

Obviously, the western branded hotels are slightly more hospitable to our American sensibilities of personal space, but those are prohibitively out of our price range. The space situation on Airbnb is better than hotels if you choose to rent an entire home, but even there you should plan to be somewhat cozy with your chosen roommate. The place we reserved is nevertheless appropriately tiny, but at least the two beds aren’t directly adjacent to each other.

Small living spaces is indeed how Tokyo manages to cram over 13 million people within its city limits.

After we sorted our living situation, the focus turned to renting a car. Now it must be said that we fully realize the public transportation system in Tokyo is robust and envy of the world, and we will be utilizing to the maximum. However, there will be a few days where we plan to leave the capital for the countryside, and the original plan was to rent a car because I’ve always wanted to drive on the wrong side of the road in a foreign country.

And as a car enthusiast, I really wanted to visit and drive on the famed Hakone turnpike, a toll road that absolutely requires a car.

Upon further research, it turns out it’s highly not recommended to drive anywhere within or near Tokyo. The grid structure is practically a maze, and the signage isn’t the greatest if you don’t know Japanese. Getting lost is almost guaranteed. Yikes.

So a change of plans then: we are going to rent a car closer to the turnpike, and instead will travel to Hakone via the reliable and fast bullet train.

Much more to come!

I think more people should buy cars in colors that isn’t a shade of white, silver, gray, or black.

SFO vs. LAX

I am in the midst of planning for my usual summer holiday, and this year the destination is the isle of Japan. My friends and I are targeting the third week of July for this trip, and the obvious first order of business is to secure our flights. So on to Google Flights I went and executed a search for nonstop flights from San Francisco to Tokyo.

Sadly, the results were shockingly expensive.

For sure it was never going to be cheap flying to the other side of the planet, but nearly $1,800 for a roundtrip fare in economy is incredibly high – I can fly to Singapore for not much more. That fare is simply too rich for our group, especially considering Tokyo’s cost of living is world-famous for not being cheap in the slightest. We can’t blow a massive part of our budget on airfare alone.

An alternative plan, then: we dared to look at one-stop flights. As a general rule I’m wholly against routes with layovers, principally because it’s an enormous waste of time to be hanging out for hours at a transfer airport waiting for the connecting flight. Vacation time from work is already precious as is (thanks, America), so if I can pay a bit more to save time, I almost always do.

Unless of course the nonstop flight is untenably expensive. For the trip to Japan we found a one-stop flight for significantly less at $1,200 that involved a layover in Incheon, which honestly for me isn’t the worst thing in the world. I still hold fond memories the South Korea trip two years ago, so the opportunity to spend a bit time in that country again draws no protest from me.

My friends and I were all set on that itinerary, except I remembered that we are heading for Los Angeles only two days before the departure date, so what if we flew out of LAX instead? Once again to Google Flights I went, and to my utter surprise and indignity (at SFO), a direct flight from Los Angeles to Tokyo is even cheaper than our one-stop flight out of San Francisco.

What the heck!?

I understand there’s a larger Japanese population down south, but Japan is a popular travel destination for persons of all ethnic backgrounds, so I’m really quite miffed at why a direct flight out of San Francisco is some $600 dearer. In a childish protest sort of way, that’s not fair!

It’s an easy choice then for us to fly out of LAX. We’re still very ahead of the SFO-HND route in cost after accounting for the additional rental car down to Los Angeles and the flight back to San Francisco on the return. More importantly, we get a nonstop route over the Pacific, which is just the ultimate.

I can and will go back to South Korea at another date.  

Rolling clouds over San Francisco.

Priorities change

In a few weeks’ time I will be once again traveling back home to Hong Kong, performing the annual pilgrimage to visit family on my dad’s side. These past few years I’ve been on quite the travel binge, and the trip back home at the end of December crossing over into January marks the culmination and the beginning of a year’s worth of journeys. I’ve said to my friends that my favorite spot in San Francisco is the airport’s international terminal, where anticipation and excitement for the trips ahead is at its most palpable.

I have to say the feeling is surprisingly different this year. No question I am happy to spend time with family, especially those whom I only see once a year, but the run up to this year’s return home has a slight bit of dread to it. I found out the reason why when I started doing my usual preparation of buying necessary supplies and moving money to travel accounts: this trip to Hong Kong will cost money.

What a stupid thing to say; traveling inherently costs money, doesn’t it? Why am I loathing to spend when this trip has been booked since January (got to lock down those cheap airfare prices). Just the past few years alone I’ve spent easily into the five figures on travel, so what’s the problem now?

Right, I’m saving up for a 911.

As they say, priorities change. Since 2014 I’ve been on a bent to maximize travel opportunities, so most of my discretionary income was allocated towards that. Partly why I switched from a Subaru WRX STI to a Mazda MX-5 in 2015 was because the latter was cheaper to run and maintain, therefore more money towards trips. Now, the situation has reversed: austerity measures were put on traveling (I haven’t taken one single trip this year), and the growing cash reserves is earmarked towards cars.

The Hong Kong trip this year is going set me back a bit on those cash reserves, which I think is why I’ve been ambivalent about it rather than pure delight of years past. I’ve had a good run in seeing the world these past couple of years, but it’s time to switch primary focus back to another love of mine: cars. For sure I still love traveling, and there’s still many places I haven’t been (not one foot in European soil yet); surely I’ll get back on that train in a few years’ time.

For now, it’s 911 or bust.

The best colors for an instrument dial: black face, white letters, red needle.

The best colors for an instrument dial: black face, white letters, red needle.