If you’re reading this, you’re reading one of my personal posts. Last year, for the 10th birthday of the blog, I combined all ZenKimchi blogs into one, including the original personal one. I kinda hide these off to the side. But I still feel compelled to write diary posts after almost eleven years.
2014, well, I thought it was going to be a shitty year. But it had some of the highest highs as well. I first called it the Year of Death. We first lost longtime expat and Gwangju stalwart Michael Simning to cancer. He was a major positive force down there. Then Lex died in the motorcycle accident right after hanging out with us. A week after that was the Sewol. Then it really got eerie. I was greatly affected by the Sewol, as everyone else was. The route for the Dark Side of Seoul tour went by many of the protests and ended right near the hospital where Lex’s funeral was held. During the height of the protests, the dark stories I told paled in comparison to what was happening at the time.
2014 was the year of changes. We knew that it was going to be our last time in our Anyang apartment. The owners had decided to sell the place. We had gotten a car in November 2013 and had started driving around to look for a new place in Anyang. But the housing prices were getting ridiculous. Then EJ found this new place in Gimpo. I had lived in Anyang for nine years, longer than I’ve lived anywhere in my adult life. It was going to be tough to leave. But after Lex’s death, I just wanted to change everything. It was a time to let the old life die. I was surprised by how easy it was to leave. But we were going to a better apartment. It’s only in recent days that I’ve been nostalgic for Anyang.
In the change department, EJ and I had our most trying time in our relationship. She was still the same miserable angry person even after we moved to such a better place. I was thinking that nothing would make her change. And living with someone that prickly was hell. So we came really close to letting the marriage die. But I made us get counseling. Or rather, I said that we should see a counselor, or I need to move out. I think the counseling sessions helped us confront and work out some old pain and resentment we had for each other. She apologized for a lot of things. I wish we could go for more counseling, but it’s expensive. We’re busy working things out now. I hope this was just a bump in the relationship. We’ve been together for ten years now.
I got to travel twice this year. London was fabulous. Best trip I’ve ever been on. I want to return. Hong Kong was great as well, but we were so busy working on this TV segment that we could only enjoy it in bits. And the accommodations were uncomfortable.
Professionally, my goal to meet and work with Anthony Bourdain was realized. Since this was one of my big goals, I have felt that some things are ending. No, ZenKimchi isn’t ending. But it’s more of this sense of change–drastic change–that I feel the need for. After Bourdain I felt like Inigo Montoya at the end of The Princess Bride. What do I do now? Be the next Dread Pirate Roberts?
I’ve definitely retired from being a media fixer. It’s too much work for too little money. I’ve also noticed that in the politics of a media crew, the fixer doesn’t get treated as professionally as other members. So, I’m done with that.
After we moved–well, there was the Chuseok incident. It stemmed from a misunderstanding about going to visit EJ’s mom during the holiday. I had texted the idea to EJ on Monday, but she didn’t read it. Then that Thursday, she mentioned about going. And I told her I would go, but she didn’t respond to me, so I had tours to do. I couldn’t cancel them. Turned into a fight. Didn’t talk to me for two weeks. That was the breaking point for me. But I went too far. I got self destructive. I sabotaged my relationships. Particularly, I pissed Veronica off so much that we broke up our business partnership and killed Wine Down Wednesday. I wanted to break a lot of ties. In the midst of that October was happening. Not only was that our busiest month for tours, all the media projects were coming in at that time, including Bourdain. So I was working on three projects at the same time, including one of the most grueling and stressful projects, while working out whether a divorce was in the works–which I thought was going to happen, based on EJ’s demeanor.
November was decompression time. I took stock of all that had happened. I was angry and am still angry at myself for the situation with Veronica. I decided to forgive EJ and put all my effort into working on our marriage.
This year, I also met Sue and Julia while June left for San Diego. June was my big secret keeper. But my talks with Julia after our radio shows together helped me work out a lot of what was happening. And Sue rescued me in many ways. Both kept me from going too far in my silly self destructive phase. Julia’s moving back to New York in a week or so. But Sue’s sticking around. Jacco was another friend who was great when Lex died. He took over a lot of things.
Let’s go over the goals I had made at the beginning of the year and see how I did.
- 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
The tour business did increase. I haven’t done the numbers yet to see if they went up 20%. They haven’t gone up as well as I had hoped. But I did start getting some freelance help, and that has helped me add more tours. I did kill the Noryangjin tour because it was so unprofitable. We did create the Korean War and Hongdae tours. Hongdae is low overhead, and it was sort of doing okay. Korean War hasn’t. I need to promote it more. With Jason helping on the Dark Side tour, I was able to offer it all week long, but people generally didn’t take advantage of it. We’re developing a chicken and beer tour. And one of the restaurants on the BBQ tour went out of business, so we need to rework that. And I’d like to somehow revive the Noryangjin tour.
- 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
In the end, we were down a few thousand dollars. The May one on the balcony of Dongdaemun Marriott blew us away, but the December one sucked out any success. We were having too many events in the red to make it worth all the work.
- Write that cookbook
- I’ve been asked by an international publisher to make a cookbook proposal. I need to really concentrate on completing that.
Yeah… uh… never did that proposal. I kinda want to self publish instead. I’ve worked more on the books, but more on that later.
- 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.
I didn’t invest more money like I planned. But one of my stocks went up over 140%. I feel more comfortable about investing now.
- 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.
That didn’t work out as well as I planned either. Man, I’m not doing well with this, am I?
- 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.
As I mentioned, the owners didn’t give us that option of renewing our lease. We got this Gimpo apartment instead. Didn’t buy it. Same jeonse arrangement. But EJ learned a lot about Korean real estate after this experience.
I’m going to keep my goals focused this year. I hit some personal goals and milestones in 2014 that I wasn’t expecting, and that changed a lot. But the other big change is that I lost my main job at Korea DMC this week. That was my steady paycheck that left me free to pursue everything else. So I’ll be constrained a bit. But it also pushes me to become more independent and take more risks. So many people I know have done well by taking scary risks–the Vatos guys, Linus, Dan Gray. All my freelance work will keep us afloat. Yet the nature of freelance work is its instability. So it’s a good time to implement these goals.
- Passive income – Each year, since I’ve come to Korea, I’ve had one main goal, and I’ve usually hit that goal. This will be the year I’ll plant the seeds for more passive income. This is my retirement plan, as well. Then again, if I’m successful at doing any of this, I likely won’t have the desire to retire. I’d already gotten a taste of it with my stocks. It’s time to get out those e-books. I’ve had a few friends do well by self-publishing books. I have the advantage of ZenKimchi to promote the ones I publish. I need to get this started. I’ve already outlined a media plan. Since I’ll have some free time on my hands, I have no excuse this time. And I’ve proven it to myself that I can do it. I wrote that book in 2010 for that publisher that went out of business before publishing it. I need to do what I did then.
- Next phase of tours – Last year I got freelancers to help. I hope to make it so that most of the tours will be done by someone other than me, so I can concentrate on the business side. And even though I’m personally retiring as a media fixer, I may still put together teams if media outlets contact me.
- Restaurant? – I’ve been thinking about this one for a while. I don’t think I’ll open one this year, but I’ll put out feelers. I likely will do some pop-ups. Again, time on my hands.
- Improve Korean – I keep promising this. One year I’ll accomplish it.
- Improve health – It’s a common new year’s resolution. I made a major stride in taking care of myself soon after we moved here this summer. I started a serious running regimen and eating regimen that I maintained until all the craziness in October. I want to start that again. This year I had hit my health goal of improving my sleep. I have a CPAP now, and I’ve gotten used to it in the past six months. In earlier years, I’d gotten all my teeth fixed and have gotten LASEK surgery. It looks like each year I improve myself physically in some way. This year, I really want to put off this weight and make running a regular part of my day.
- Start exit strategy – I’ve decided that, with all this change, it’s time to start laying the foundation for the big change–leaving Korea. That’s the goal behind the passive income and the next phase of the tours. I’m planning, in the long term, to create multiple income sources to support us when we leave Korea. We don’t know where we will go, but we’ve discussed possibilities and even stages. As in, being near family at first and then moving somewhere else. I’ve even played with the idea of moving to London. The ideal situation is to somehow be able to go back and forth between Korea and America. Jian needs to leave Korea before middle school. She’s already getting stress from–KOREA!
I’m happy to be rid of 2014. Even the highs were tainted. I don’t want another year like that. Right now, things are looking scary. But I also feel that signs are pointing to this being an important year.