Hello all! I was sick for a little more than half of this month. It was miserable and sobering, but fortunately the Chinese doctor at the local hospital made quick work of my sinus infection and now I’m back on my feet. I’m on the long road to the Spring Festival right now, when we plan on jetting over to Japan for some potentially pricey but still ERE-style R&R. I’ve sent my first test chunk of cash home to the US, and also bought some bitcoin and etherium. I’ve also once again realized I need to increase my income! I wish you all the best and hope your own ERE journeys are continuing to inch towards your own pull-the-plug date.
Updates in November
- Cured a persisting sinus infection with the help of the local Chinese doctor
- Downloaded several new games
- Received a nice free dinner from some locals at a fancy restaurant
- Winged my first private school class to great success
- Said goodbye to a local who is off to Australia <3
- Transferred a test amount of money back to the US
- Learned about Chinese cuisines
- Finished mapping the demo part of the game
- Savings rate: 86.85% (see below)
Food spending was high again, but I ate a lot healthier so I think it is acceptable. There were a couple nice dinners as well included in this. I’m thinking I may want to break down my food spending into restaurants and groceries to get a better idea of where my money is going.
This will be my average spending/month, at least when buffered by a couple private recordings as it was this month. I couldn’t save as much as last month since, as I mentioned, my new monthly income is lower since I have less part-time classes.
As I start to pay off my loan, I suspect this net worth graph will be the best one for maintaining morale. It will continue to rise while my assets graph will be fluctuating rapidly.
I’m soon to send money home and convert most of my cash savings to pay down my student loans, which means my assets will be taking a hit probably in the next update. As you can see, I’ve already sent a test amount of $1000 home which brought up my USD category. In December, you’ll see a new asset category of cryptocurrency as well as a dip from my USD and RMB categories as I start paying down the student loans.
Cold from October: After 3 weeks with a persistent cold, I finally went to the local hospital. It was very efficient and the walk was less than a mile. Turns out I had a sinus infection, bacterial, and was given some antibiotics, painkillers, cough medicine, and two days off from work. I finally started to feel better after the round of medicine and short reprieve from 55 screaming Chinese kiddos, and I feel back to 100% now. It cost ¥180 and apparently I can get some of that reimbursed by my social insurance.
Game-making: I got a lot done while I was sick, but in the last week or two I’ve spent more time playing games than working on mine. I’m not the best at setting deadlines for myself, but I do still plan to finish it, it is just a matter of when the creative bug bites again. So far I’ve got the script and the maps for the demo finished. Now I need to copy over my battle system from my original project, and set up all the little events for cut scenes and the like.
Travel plans: A friend mentioned he would be traveling to Japan this Spring Festival and that the plane tickets from Hong Kong were cheap. We looked into it, and round-trip airfare will cost <$200/person. A “budget” travel blog suggested $70-$90/day, but I think we’ll do it for less. The budget isn’t as much an influence as our cats, but we’ll probably only stay for a week at most.
Exercise: I haven’t committed to anything yet, and I still would like to. I was going to start running again, but my running shoes from 2012 have started to come apart. A new pair online in the same style would probably end up costing around $100. A gym in the neighborhood would run something like $15/month or maybe a little less, but I’m not too interested in joining
Diet: I felt an urge to improve my diet after being sick, and have been pretty consistent. Mostly I’ve simply avoided the simple carbs and convenient restaurants around here, opting for salads, whole grains, and fruit when preparing food myself, and avoiding the noodles and rice (most of the time) when eating out. As long as I don’t repeat October, I think its a success.
Expat friends: I’ve had some pressure and guilt from the expat friends as I haven’t been out with them for a while now. It doesn’t help that it is almost always a night out drinking downtown, which costs 10-20x more/beer than a beer from the local supermarket and also incurs a taxi fee since a late night means no cheap metro rides home. On top of that, long nights aren’t really my thing anymore since I usually just wallow in self-pity and guilt the next morning.
Beer pong tournament: Related to above, we are thinking of hosting a small beer pong tournament with a cash prize. It would only be a few teams so our apartment is big enough. This would help earn us some quality time with our friends, while still fitting our budget of supermarket beer and no commuting costs. If we win, it could even be seen as an investment.
Tabletop gaming: I found a tabletop WeChat group for Shenzhen, and then shortly after for one even more specifically for my local area of Shenzhen. This only happened this week and I’ve already got a good old D&D group in the works. We’re meeting tomorrow and I won’t have to DM which was never a possibility with my other group of friends since none of them knew the game well enough.
Role models: Several indie game makers have made my inspirational list of successes to look up to. One is the maker of a game called Undertale and another made a game called Stardew Valley. Their skillset is above my own currently, but something that would be more difficult to replicate is their dedication. The latter allegedly spent more than 5 years of a full-time job’s worth of weekly hours to finish his, whereas I lose focus almost as soon as I open the program.
Learning Chinese: I’ve totally abandoned learning Chinese in the past couple months. I think this has to do with not having long metro rides where all my crummy American phone’s data could handle was an offline flashcard app. My Chinese is still miles above the average foreigners, especially from the West, but I can’t help but get helplessly lost after the first minute of conversing with a local.
Part-time: The twice/week part-time is still going great. It is very easy, and the students are well-behaved. As I may have mentioned before, they’re the same age as my public school, and they’re from there, so I don’t really have to adjust at all. Given how much material my school provides (activity book, flash cards, audio clips, pupil’s book, an interactive DVD, teacher’s book with lesson plans, and a supplementary book of additional worksheets), I gave not preparing a lesson plan a try. It actually went super well, better than my prepared lessons even, so I plan on continuing to forgo the lesson plan for the time being.
Private tutoring: I’m still flirting with the idea of having a few students for a 1 hour or less class out of the apartment, a few times per week. A cautionary friend that I typically don’t agree with much of anything on has mentioned that one of the biggest benefits of teaching through an institution vs. privately is dealing with the parents. Aside from her point, I can’t think of too many downsides. 5-6 students out of the apartment could net at least ¥1000/hour. Financially at least, it is very tempting.
Game-making: One back-of-the-mind incentive to finishing my game is being able to show it to a game studio as an in for a job in the game industry. I would likely need some C++ or other programming courses on top of that to be competitive, but there’s some conflict there because the program I’m using is in JS. Programming is one of the few, marketable “hard skills” that I’m interested in now because of this.
Resume: When interviewing in the past, I always get asked, “So, I noticed your last few jobs you’ve only worked at each for a few months. Why is that?” The implications of the question are obvious, and my own noncommittal work history can be seen in a few other journals here of people around the same age as me. Thankfully, I’m finally satisfied enough with my current position that I know I’ll at least finish the whole year, and maybe even sign up for a second.
Training school: Every now and then we get approached to start a little business with a Chinese friend/colleague. I don’t have much information to go on with regards to the financial upsides to this. The only relevant thing I have to say is that a colleague got approached for joining in a partnership with a training school he has worked at now for about a year, and they’ve offered him something like ¥30,000/month if he accepts (which he doesn’t plan to).
Recording: Recording is the glorious under-qualified job that a well-connected native speaker can hope for while in China. All these schools need native-speaker audio for their English tests and we’re lucky enough to have a friend who’s literal job is fulfilling that demand for native-speaker voice recording. At ¥200-¥300/hour, it is easy money. We usually spend 3-4 hours there, and the pay is per job, so if the recording goes smoothly then we finish early. Right now, we're doing one every other week or so. I don't know how long this will be a consistent source of income, but we do enjoy it now.
Programming: There is a school right down the street from me that teaches programming. The courses take 4 months at 10 hours/day and cost 6500 USD. That price tag and time commitment is ridiculous considering there are free or low subscription cost ways to study programming online. I’ve read C++ is one of the best languages for people interested in the game industry, but the program I’m making my game in uses JS.
Paychecks: I made ¥2000 from my new part-time, and ¥2000 from two private recordings. The public school paid ¥10350 after housing and bills were taken out.
Savings rate: My savings rate at the top is misleading. What I list is how much I’ve left of what hits my bank account, but we receive a housing allowance, which we never see since it pays our rent. Actually, if you include it, our savings rate is much lower. This month, for example, taxes, wifi, and rent took ¥3650 out of our earnings (each). Our actual salary is ¥11500 + ¥2500 housing. This means, my actual savings rate this month was something like 70%. Taxes we can’t do much about, but if we adopted more affordable housing, we could have a savings rate closer to 80% at our current earning level.
Living costs: Savings rate aside, when you consider I’m living in a perceived low COL country, my spending on living expenses of ~¥4500/month or ~$684 is overwhelming. Part of that has to do with living in a large 2 bedroom apartment, and the other part has to do with being in a 1st tier city.
Progress towards ERE: Let’s assume my target were $250,000. If I continue as is, I’d not reach ERE soon enough for me. I could take on private classes, enroll/study some C++ then go home in search of some programming job, put every waking hour into making a game and hope to make it big, or teach at a new company/school next year that requires more hours but pays something like 2-3x what I earn now. Committing to all five of the above would likely do amazing things for my savings rate, but leave me feeling burnt out.
Transferring money: One difficulty with earning in one country while saving in another is transferring money back home. There are options like bank-to-bank wire transfers, Paypal, and even Bitcoin. The best option I’ve found lately is using something called AliPay. Unfortunately, foreigners can’t use it for sending money abroad, but the locals can, and I’ve sent a test bit of money home now through a friend.
Cryptocurrency: If I took my $6200 liquid in January 2017 I’d be at something like $60000 in Bitcoin today. Thus, I’ve decided when I transfer money to the US, some will go into cryptocurrency while the majority of it goes to the student loans.
Financial goals: I’m interested in designing a sort of personal road map to ERE. Long-term goals could include things like paying off my loans and various passive income milestones, like food for life, food and rent for life, food, rent, and discretionary money for life, etc. These may help me stay motivated if I end up committing to earning more money (and seeing my leisure time decline).
Permanent life insurance: I plan to liquidate this finally because it has not been giving back and I don’t see much value in the actual insurance side of it. I pay roughly $57/month and the pitch is that around the 5-7 year mark it should start earning more than the monthly premium. Unfortunately, my current (3rd year) monthly cash value increases have only increased $8 over the first year monthly cash value increases. As for the insurance side, if all goes according to plan then my dependents won’t need this small policy. As well, I don’t really think anyone deserves a windfall, and I imagine I won’t feel too much guilt one way or the other when I’m dead.
Final thoughts… November was a bit of a slog, which was expected, and not so bad as far as slogs go. It is the month where nothing happens for a foreign teacher. October starts with a 1 week vacation, but then its a long rest of October, all of November, December, and half way through January before the Spring Festival starts. I’ve heard its all downhill once November ends due to the Christmas holiday and New Years breaking up the monotony. Even given the uneventful nature of the month and my illness for nearly 3 weeks of it, life isn’t bad. My public school is low stress, my part-times are accommodating and easy, and there’s a lot of time for personal growth. The latter is what I really need to start capitalizing on to make the most of my time here. Having an easy life like now and looking back on a month of leisure with little to show for it makes me a bit uncomfortable.