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 ...