Thursday, December 27, 2012

Goodbye to Books & The Cascades

Boxing Day is not a holiday we celebrate in the USA, but on this December 26th, I packed up two full duffel bags worth of books and donated them at a local book depository.  I noticed later that it was on behalf of a children’s reading program; I don’t think the kiddies will get too much out of Karl Marx or Emile Durkheim.   

That said, it was good to continue to pare down the library.

I’m starting to do some things here for “the last time.”  For example, 4 of the last 5 winters I’ve been here in Washington State, I have traveled up to the Upper Skagit River Valley to view the bald eagle migration.  Although I didn’t see as many this year as in years past (six of em; I counted), their majestic presence was no less impressive.

To think, six months from now, I may be making videos about elephants instead of eagles.  In fact, I had my formal telephone interview with the head recruiter at ATI and I think it went very well.  He informed me they had 20 applicants for 5 remaining spots in the program; I suspect that might have just been a sales line used to ensure my enthusiasm, but it may also be true.  I’m waiting to hear on my application’s final status. 

I recently upgraded my video editing software, and I’m still learning about it’s capabilities and interface.  So, there are a couple glitches in this video of my Boxing Day adventures.   Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Not Caring = Thinking Outside the Box

My upcoming move is consuming most of my waking thoughts.  Now that’s entered the next phase, in that I’ve obtained the resources to make it happen, applied for the ATI program in Thailand and have a specific date that I’ll be moving on, I can’t seem to dwell on anything else. 

This of course, changes how I feel about my present job.  Mind you, I am a dedicated worker.  I’ve been trying just as hard as I always do to perform my best at work.  Certainly, my sales numbers remain amongst the best in the district, but inside, my attitude has been altered.  

I want to leave my current job on good terms.  Who knows?  When I come back to the USA, I may want to work there again.  That said, I have been feeling a little freer to be myself at work instead of playing the role of consummate sales professional.  I’ve been doing stuff in regards to merchandising and utilizing our resources that I just feel need to be done without worrying whether or not they are “company approved” or whatever.  I then share my ideas and projects on the company intranet. 

Ironically, this has gotten me some attention outside my store as someone whose willing to “think outside the box,” and a real go-getter. Ha! 

For example, here for the holidays, I have done something to my uniform that is definitely NOT to dress code.  I figured, if I have to wear a red vest all the time, why not make it Santa-fied?!  Cut some strips of fake fur I got from the local fabric store into strips and pinned them on the hem of the vest.  

My co-workers think I’m nuts, and I thoroughly expected the store management to tell me to remove my modifications… but it’s been 4 days now and they’ve said nada!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Now, I'm Going to Thailand

My first real decision about how to proceed in this plan of mine to go and teach English overseas is to choose a school from which to earn a professional certificate to “teach English to Speakers of Other Languanges”.. AKA a TESOL certification.  Now, there are LOTS of sources out there from which to earn a TESOL certification.  I’ve found internet-only courses for as little as $180 that will grant anyone one of these necessary credentials.  Locally, the University of Washington offers a certification which when done on nights and weekends, would take me 18 months and cost over $3000. The former example is pretty much useless in the country where I want to go.  The latter is a bit overkill and more than I can afford anyways. 

Wait... Why can't I just Photoshop this image and put my name in it?
 It’s generally agreed  internationally that the ‘gold standard’ of certifications are the Cambridge University issued “CELTA” and the equally well regarded version of the same thing issued by London’s Trinity College.  Both of these British institutions offer these certifications worldwide, including a couple places here in Seattle, but they require 6 weeks to 3 months of full time education, i.e., you can’t have a job like mine and be able to be a fulltime student at the same time?  Not to mention that their tuition requirements are $1300 to $1700! 

Heh.. they didn't even spell "Center" correctly.

What to do? 

Looking closely at various teaching jobs in the country I want to eventually end up in, Indonesia, I see that the better paying jobs want you to have some kind of TESOL certification which incorporates at least 120 hours of in-class learning as well as a significant amount of in-person, real life experience teaching in schools.
120 hours at 40 hours a week is 3 weeks.  120 hours at say, 5 hours a week is 4 months…  I was hoping to find a course like the latter where I could spend a semester or so part-time and still be able to work.  

No such courses exist around here.  It’s either full immersion into the learning to teach or a useless internet certification that might get me a job in Korea or China (two countries notoriously desperate for English teachers) but not where I want to go…

I’ve found something better.  The 3-week 40 hour a week thing followed immediately by a teaching job in SouthEast Asia. I’ll get my TESOL certification with all the prerequisites for hours and in-class experience,  and immediately start earning experience that I can turn into a better job later. I won’t have to worry about how to mix working fulltime with going to school, nor struggle to figure out how to pay a month of USA expenses without income while I learn here.  

Best of all, I get to go learn my new trade in a little place called Phuket, Thailand. 

If you’ve not heard of Phuket (prounced FOO-ket, not fuck-IT, although the punning possibilities therein are endless), it’s one of paradises of Southeast Asia.  It’s the Bali of Thailand.  Beautiful beaches.  Laid back culture.  Very friendly people.  After completing my education on a BEACH SIDE resort in Phuket, I will be stationed at a yet-to-be-determined school in Thailand.  I could be teaching adults English, but more likely, children.  The pay is US $1000 per month during that latter period, and whereas I make that now every week, accommodations are paid there and the cost of living is significantly less.  You have to complete a one semester contract as part of this deal, which costs $980 up front, plus I gotta buy my own plane ticket (US $800). 
I’ve always wanted to see Thailand. Not only does this educational opportunity totally fit my needs as a modern working American living paycheck-to-paycheck, I should be able to leave there (if I want to) and move on to Indonesia after a year without having to have dipped into my financial reserves, and Thailand to Indonesia, heck, if I were going to Northern Sumatra, I could swim there!
The program in Phuket begins April 15th.  This shortens up my timeline significantly. Lots to do!  Lots to get rid of.

Oh, I might as well put this out there now, now that there is a definitive plan with this...  Would anyone like to adopt a wonderful, loving, independent, fluffy and mild mild mannered 6 year-old female kitty cat? 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Not Buying Stuff

So I’ve made plans to move to Indonesia and get a job teaching English some time in 2013.  This has changed my perspective on so much here in the last month since I’ve made these plans.  I’ve gotten rid of a lot of stuff.  Sold a few things and only acquired stuff that I’ll be able to use overseas.

What’s really most interesting as I move forward in this plan is how it effects my immediate acquisitive nature. I work in retail. I see stuff. I think I’d like to buy this stuff.  It’s kind of weird when my natural American instinct to buy stuff is stifled by this upcoming deadline to reduce my personal belongings to two suitcases worth of stuff.

As I wrote about in THIRST, I bought some poinsettias which I expect to live behind my new laptop (my desktop died 3 weeks ago which is why I haven’t posted on this blog) for a couple weeks, and then they will die.  It’s a good metaphor for my life right now; I’ve got the short-timer  attitude in everything in how I approach what I do, what I buy and how I live.

Attention friends and family who are thinking about Christmas gifts: I can’t take it with me.

Per Murphy’s Law, I expect I’ll find girlfriend sometime in the next few months who I’ll have to feel bad about leaving when I go.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Cutting Down on the Crap

As much as I want to be prepared mentally, financially and logistically for an immediate move overseas, realistically, my plan has me 6 to 10 months away from relocating overseas. 

Phase Two:  ???
Phase Three:  Profit!!

Okay, so my plan may not be as simultaneously simple and/or incoherent as the Underwear Gnomes, but I do admire the singlemindedness in their focusing on their goal.

Here’s my Underwear Gnome plan:

Phase One:
Receive pension plan settlement from former employer.(6 weeks)
Phase Two:  Use funds to study English taught as a foreign language.  Earn professional certification. (2 months)
Phase Three: Engage various overseas employers to solicit optimal employment contract (1 month) negotiating new Indonesian laws about degree requirement.
Phase Four:  Find home for cat, pack up last of remaining belongings, drive to California, put stuff in storage under long term contract.  Ask relatives to send me the stuff later I cannot bring on the plane.
Phase Five:  Move to Indonesia.  Find home, pembantu, sepeda motor, istri.
Phase Six: Profit!!

Somehow, the Underwear Gnome plan seems a lot simpler.

Now, one thing I can do NOW that will, at the very least, give me a feeling of moving towards my ultimate goal is to pare down my personal possessions.  I can’t bring a U-Haul onto a plane to Indonesia.  Any personal effects I ship to Indonesia are subject to an import duty of up to 100% of the item’s value plus the cost of shipping…

So, looking forward to sometime in 2013, I picture myself leaving Seattle with a single van-full worth of me-ness, having a plane ticket to Jakarta departing from SFO or LAX in hand, and looking for a storage place that I could reliably leave stuff for one, three, five or even 20 years.  Once I’m ready to leave, I’ll sell my van, get on a plane and go.  Once in my destination, if I feel I am in a place I’ll want to stay for a while, I will ask folks here in the USA to please ship me some of my stuff I’ve left here.

Today was my first purging/paring day.  My goal was to reduce my personal possessions by 10%.  On a future date, I’ll cut another 10%.  Then another 10%.  Ultimately, I’ll get my stuff down to one AstroVan worth of crap.

I dumped about ten pounds worth of books into the unmanned book donation kiosk (I’m sure I’ll be visiting it many more times in this paring process) and donated a desk, bookshelf, juicer, miscellaneous games, wall art, toys and various other personal items to Goodwill.

Lastly, I returned a guitar that was given to me by a former roommate.  He was happy to get it back.  Also sold him my keyboard & stand for $50. Gave him a guitar stand for free.

My most poignant observation in this process had to do with how easy it was (and will be) for me to throw away crap from my deep storage about which I had to ask myself, “why have I toted this stuff around  from place to place over the last X years?!?

All I can think is that it is a lot easier to justify to oneself the logic of carrying around penny whistles, New Years Eve memorabilia, games you’ve never played, cordless phones and fax machines from one place to another or one decade to another. I got rid of a lot of stuff today, and had only one answer as to why I've held onto a 1990 fax machine...I
t’s one thing to hold onto something when you move across town.  It’s another thing altogether as you plan a move across the planet.

Renewing the Passport

Joko in 1986.  Jakarta.
I don’t remember what my first passport looked like.  My parents must’ve gotten it for me as I first left the country as a high school exchange student in 1986 at the age of 16.  Twenty-six years later, it was time for me to renew my passport as a first step in my goal of traveling the world teaching English. 

One thing that is kind of ironic and/or fitting about me launching this new blog about paring down my life in preparation for a major change is that I have been inspired by the blog: Merikay’s Dream has Ten Wheels.  See, I can’t help but think that MY blogging history inspired Merikay’s blog (written by my mom) and that my preparation for leaving the country parallels their preparations for life as full-time RVers (I know I won’t be trying to store any of my stuff at the family homestead now!).

I recently went through some documents in my filing cabinets and realized I had stuff that dated back to the early 90’s.  I am capable of holding onto shit for decades.  One thing I didn’t have that I would need to re-new my passport was my original birth certificate. I wrote my mom and told her that I was now, at 42 years of age, ready to take on the responsibility and ownership of my own birth certificate.  May not sound like such a big deal, but I’d think that a birth certificate is just as much owned by the mother as it is the child.  I certainly don’t remember feeling anything arising from its issuance.

A few days later, I received via certified mail a couple packages which included not just my birth certificate but all kinds of other stuff that was “mine”, but I’d never really owned.  The original script from a movie I wrote when I was 11.  An elementary school ‘yearbook’.  Letters and pictures I’d sent from Indonesia when I was 16.  My high school diploma.  My official university degree.  It feels like a torch, my torch, has been passed.

When payday came and I had the resources I needed, I gathered up all my relevant documents, downloaded and filled out the forms for a ‘new’ passport (as my old one was more than 15 years old, I was ‘new’ again) and headed down to the US Post Office this last Saturday to file my application.  After waiting in line, I was informed that they didn’t do passport stuff at the Post Office on Saturdays.  Sorry.  But… down at the Lake Forest Park (the next town over) city hall, they did. 

Off to Lake Forest Park! (which, as an aside, is one of the loveliest names for any town I’ve ever heard)

At city hall, I sauntered in and signed up on the waiting list to be seen for my application.  There were only two parties in front of me.  The first was a woman with her 4 children.  Her husband joined her during her processing.  They had no paperwork filled out. No photographs taken.  Their application took 40 minutes.  Next, we had an elderly couple whom I am guessing came from “one of the -stans”.  They spoke next to no English and I got to listen to them agonize to one another over each and every box of the form as they filled it out in the waiting room.  It was somewhat interesting as the husband would read out loud each box of the form “PERMANENT MAILING ADD-ER-RESS IF DEEFERENT FROM ADD-ER-RESS LEESTED ABOVE”, then they’d  begin a dialogue in their native -Stani tongue, and audibly fill out the form  before continuing.  

The two parties in front of me took an hour before I got to the nice city hall lady in charge of taking my app.  Unlike the previous two parties, I didn’t even get to go “into the back”.  Everything was in order; it took me all of 2 minutes to file my passport application. 

I've been reading a lot lately about the inefficiencies of the Indonesian bureaucracy as it relates to passport and immigration issues.  Implied therein is that it's somehow better in the west.  No.  Here's what I've experienced: bureaucracy anywhere takes time & patience. You can educate yourself as to what is needed and what documents to bring all you want, but your time waiting will not be determined by your own preparedness, but by that of those in front of you in line. 


Hitting Reset On the Game of Life

The Maytag Repairman was one of the first casualties of my paring down of possessions
Here I find myself once again turning the page and beginning a new chapter in my life.  My existence on this planet has, over the course of my 42 years, been much like a video game.  It’s been an enjoyable challenge.  In choosing the ’settings’ for my game of life,  I shy away from difficulty settings that are TOO hard, but get bored with the same old monotonous easy, predictable stuff.  When I find myself stuck in a ‘level’ of the game that I find fatally displeasing, I can always reach down, hit the ‘reset’ button and start over.

After I got to the next ‘level’ of my life a year and half or so ago, with my return to the appliance sales biz at Lowe’s, I was more than grateful for the achievement, and the generous pay.  Earlier this year, my income was cut by 35% due to a change in the company’s compensation program, and it’s taken me 9 months to decide to do something any person would have done on the day the change was implemented in a more robust economy and left the place.  You cannot cut someone’s pay by 35% and expect them to just take it.  No lube or nothing…

I could have worked the rest of my life for the Lowe’s of 2011.  The Lowe’s of 2012, in their pursuit of the “experience of the future” (actual corporate speak we use), has rejected the need for sales professionals, so I will reject them.

Nothing is really me holding to Seattle.  I have no family here.  No girlfriend or wife.  Few friends.  I pay low rent on a really crappy apartment and live a tolerable yet uneventful existence.  At work, I labor in anticipation of my days off.  In my early 40’s, I am not waiting around to die.  I’m pretty proficient at having a positive mental attitude about any situation I am, even if it doesn’t necessarily deserve it, so whereas I could stick around here and just get by, I know in my heart it is time, once again, to lean over and click the reset button on my video game of life. 

The cool thing is that not only can I hit ‘reset’, but I can also put an entirely new game into the machine.  My new game is going to be teaching English overseas.

I recently fell into the means by which to finance an education in Teaching English as a Foreign Language.  A few months from now, I will have the  professional certificate to teach English that is a requirement to get a job in most (but not all) foreign countries.  After that, I am not 100% sure where the next level of my life will take me, but as I write this new blog, I’ll probably be sharing every aspect of how that decision will be made with you all here. 

This blog will be about the challenges, stories and milestones as an American man pares down his life in preparation for moving overseas...

I invite you to follow along and be part of the process…


I thought I was going to retire there. I was the senior staff member. I'd been there longer than anyone. It. Is. Not. Fair.  But on the ...