Another year. But not just another year. February 6, 2014 will mark my tenth Koreaversary. 10 years in Korea!
Ten years ago from right now, I had just gotten my passport. I had scrambled to get the paper version of my diploma, for which I had to pay a long overdue parking fine. I was living with my mom in Fairhope, getting ready for the transition. A mini-series/pilot for a revival of Battlestar Galactica had me hooked to the TV. I had almost no money left. I was running to Atlanta to get my visa papers done at the Korean embassy for my first job at a little school in Ansan called Brighton. I remember walking into that embassy and seeing the hangul, thinking, “Wow! I already feel like I’m in a foreign country. This is getting real!”
At the same time, I was scrambling in getting an attorney to reduce the already egregiously high child support. I found out after I signed the papers that the amount I agreed to was foolishly high, and it was a mistake that would taint my first two years in Korea. That later got fixed, but some damage was done already, which led to me living off of kimbap and ramen my first year.
That gets me to thinking about all I’ve accomplished since then, which I now can definitely say was my rock bottom. I had lost my career, my marriage, and every effort I had made to get it back off the ground had failed. I was faced with the hard fact that in order to pay child support the best bet was to leave for Korea. Leave my kids. That was the worst case scenario.
I’ve been asked many times why I came to Korea. All the answers I’ve given have been true. I had an interest in Korea from studying Korean history. I had no knowledge of Korean food and wanted to learn about it. I was weathering the storm in the tech industry after the dot-com crash. But out of all of those the strongest reason for separating myself from my children by a whole continent and ocean was to pay child support. The plan was to teach for a year and return. Get back into the tech industry. But that’s not how it turned out. In the meantime, I lost touch with my children, which caused everyone a lot of pain. We’re only now getting to know each other again. But we missed so many years. The kids that I knew and kept in my heart don’t exist anymore. They’re teens and almost young adults.
Seeing how far I’ve come since rock bottom, well, I could have come further, but I’m pleased. Part of it was setting realistic goals each year. The first year in Korea was to find peace. Then stability. After a few years of getting that stability, I worked on building my career, making the switch from teaching, building savings, starting the business, and now building wealth.
2013 Goals and Milestones
I’d say I came close to hitting my main financial goal for 2013, which was to be making W5 million a month by December. In the end, I think I averaged it out to 5 million a month. Some months were high and some were low.
Starting out the year, we had just returned from our big trip to America. We both were depressed. For EJ, she was sad that she saw the big houses my family members lived in and compared them to our small apartment. And we saw online the gorgeous houses we could buy in some American cities for the money we had in our small apartment. As a result, our marriage hit one of its roughest patches. She doesn’t know, but I was working on contingent plans–setting up an apartment to move to, looking into divorce attorneys. But something changed. We found new life in our relationship. I’ll admit that EJ has been the biggest challenge I’ve ever had in a partner. Sometimes the rewards don’t seem worth it. But that’s just sometimes.
In March, I participated in an article on fitness by volunteering to do a month of Crossfit. I really enjoyed it, but it was too expensive to continue. And I haven’t gone back to working out. I really need to.
This was also the year that I finally got to go to Southeast Asia. It wasn’t Thailand, which I’ve been trying to get to since I first came to Asia. It was the Philippines. But I still loved it. I surprisingly was quite charmed and want to return.
In late May, I got LASEK surgery on a whim. I found a May discount, which we all know is the BEST way to choose to have surgery. But it turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made with my body, which has been suffering from a lifetime of poor decisions. Each year, though, I’ve done something to build myself back up. 2012 was when I got every single one of my teeth in working order. The first time in ten years I actually had a full mouth of teeth. Yeah, that didn’t help my Alabama native stereotype. With my new eyes, I feel powerful. I have sharper vision than when I had glasses. It’s better than 20/20. I can wear sunglasses again! I can go swimming!
We worked a lot with international projects this year. Men’s Health. The New York Times. The Washington Post. National Geographic. The National Geographic TV show was a good time, and it was a good paying professional project.
In late summer, we took over Linked Seoul when the founder Devin Rupert left Korea. With it, we took over the monthly Wine Down Wednesday event. As of now, we’ve had two slightly profitable ones and one big unprofitable one. So we’re breaking even now. But we just had a serious meeting to plan for 2014, and this is one that will turn out well in the end.
In October, I almost had a trip lined up to go to New York. Nonetheless, that was my busiest month yet. The Dark Side tour combined with the BBQ tour earned a ton of money, which helped me nab my financial goal for 2013, along with my radio gigs. I had jettisoned the last things that I was doing that didn’t generate income, like my writing for 10 Magazine. That was a good four year (unpaid) run.
This was my most homesickiest year yet. When we returned from America, I had to get out of Seoul. The Philippines trip helped me with that. October through Christmas really got me. EJ and I watch this TLC show about first time home buyers, and we look on that with envy. It really makes me want to return.
Jian had a big year. She graduated from diapers. She started regular pre-school. Her Korean is WOW! Her English is getting there as well. She’s developed such an independent personality. I love watching her play. And I love being involved in her play. She expresses herself assertively.
I was so involved with my 2013 goals that I was surprised at the emptiness I felt about 2014. I had accomplished much of what I had set out to do. I had no plan for 2014. So I need to put out a plan here.
- Increase tourism business by 20%
- Kill unprofitable tours
- Create more no-overhead tours like Dark Side
- Promote Dark Side all year long–heavily–while also making it available more times during the week
- Sadly, that might see our focus move away from food tours for a while, since the overhead eats the profits
- Build Linked Seoul
- Make Wine Down Wednesday profitable at a 2:1 ratio, as in, two out of every three WDWs should show a profit.
- Build traffic to the Linked Seoul website. I have plans for this site if we can get traffic on there.
- Create more Linked Seoul related events
- Position Linked Seoul as the means for expats to move out of English teaching and into professional careers in Seoul
- Write that cookbook
- I’ve been asked by an international publisher to make a cookbook proposal. I need to really concentrate on completing that.
- Have at least $6000 in investments. As of this writing, I have $2000 invested in a couple of stocks, and they’re doing very, very well. Averaged +18%. The last time I was into stocks was the heady late ’90s when I lost my sanity and some money by day trading. This time, I’m more sober. The day trading strategy was to sell winning stocks to buy more stocks, and sell those to buy more stocks. The current philosophy is to not sell until we actually need the money itself. I only buy stocks with new money I’ve earned outside the market.
- Have elementary fluency in Korean. This is a pact I made with EJ on New Years Eve. It’s pathetic that I’ve been here ten years. I’ve studied Korean for slightly over that amount of time, and my three-year-old daughter has already surpassed me. I have been blaming it on my age. That is a factor, but the greatest factor is me not studying. I’ve tried all these methods, but sitting down and studying–either through self study or classes–has always bumped me up to the next level. I’m planning to do this through books, websites, podcasts, groups, and possibly classes or tutoring. They have tutoring available for expat spouses. Yes, it’s meant for Vietnamese brides, but I still qualify.
- Get closer to buying a house. As of this year, we both are in our forties, and we still don’t own our own place. We’re kicking ourselves for buying our car with cash. We were just being proud for saving up that much money. But by doing so, we now don’t have adequate downpayment money for something like a housing auction, which we’re finding is an interesting option. I still think we’re in a housing bubble. Some reports are saying that apartment prices are going down, but we think that’s just for high end places. Mid-level apartments are still rising. And with household debt higher than GDP, even my instincts are saying something’s gotta give. Our lease is up in July this year. We’ve been feeling the pressure. Last week, EJ made the suggestion of renewing the lease for one more year, and I felt better. That gives us some breathing room to save. But with Jian growing up, we need to get a bigger place.