Just an Another Average Expat's FI Journey

Where are you and where are you going?
ira_kart
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Just an Another Average Expat's FI Journey

Post by ira_kart » Wed Apr 04, 2018 8:33 am

I expect this to be a mix of both a blog and a journal on my journey towards my FI. I have seen many journals going silent after a period of time and I believe that may happen to this journal too, but I hope to to continue posting updates here.

I have received comments from my colleagues that I use long sentences to convey my thoughts in writing, may be I am fetish about it, so please excuse :) And all of the thoughts in this thread are my own, seen from my perspective. So please do not judge, I am sure most people here are so, but just a note to emphasize.

Who - 34 yrs, ISTJ Male. Born and raised in Southern India. Brought up in a moderately religious middle class household, but father and most of his brothers were atheists and have no problems in going to religious places just to keep mom happy. I turned out to be similar character. Dad passed away due to blood cancer (may be due to his smoking habit and little bit of genes) when I was in 10th grade. So that became a big influence on my to not step in to any of the bad habits (smoke/drugs/alcohol) right on time, through my high school and college, which turned out to be good for my life both on financial savings and a healthy life. Some may not agree alcohol is bad, it's just my thought that they are a drain on savings with no nutrional value being added to the body.

I am not married, have not been in any serious relationships ever other than the usual infatuation/crush I develop for someone I meet at work, but that withers away due to "work" environment. After dad passed away, mom joined the workforce and is currently living off well from her pensions on her retirement. I do not have any dependents currently, which may change in the future and may alter my FI plans altogether. I want to be conscious to choose the partner after talking through that they are ok with my plans for future, but will see how it goes.

Graduated with Engineering degree from college with no debts/loans, possibly due to the middle class background and started working at a firm where I still work. Its been close to 12 years since I joined the company and from a Entry level Trainee I gradually moved on to carry the title of a Delivery Manager, though I do not have anyone reporting to me or manage a project. I do consulting work for clients wherever I go for work.

Where - I worked for close to 5 years in my home city in India before moving to East Bay Area, CA and later to Detroit suburbs where I earned most of my Net Worth. Eventually when it was time to bid good bye to US due to work visa restrictions and my growing disillusionment with the Consumerist rat race, my connections (talk about social capital) at work helped me retain the same position but instead of working in India, had me move to Poland. So that's where I am currently living and working in a small town Poland.

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Chris
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Re: Just an Another Average Expat's FI Journey

Post by Chris » Wed Apr 04, 2018 10:50 am

How did you choose Poland?

2Birds1Stone
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Re: Just an Another Average Expat's FI Journey

Post by 2Birds1Stone » Wed Apr 04, 2018 11:54 am

It looks like we have quite a few Poles here.

Welcome :)

ira_kart
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Re: Just an Another Average Expat's FI Journey

Post by ira_kart » Thu Apr 05, 2018 3:23 am

Chris wrote:
Wed Apr 04, 2018 10:50 am
How did you choose Poland?
It is more of a managment decision than mine, but am happy to be here, since its not expensive like our western neighbour :)
2Birds1Stone wrote:
Wed Apr 04, 2018 11:54 am
It looks like we have quite a few Poles here.

Welcome :)
Yes, I know, I saw a post from a fellow Polish gentleman in his 50's, was interested to know how to save on taxes, but that thread went dead.

ira_kart
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Re: Just an Another Average Expat's FI Journey

Post by ira_kart » Thu Apr 05, 2018 6:55 am

What - I figured out I will take a slower pace of life and grow my own foods to ensure they are clean, become at least partially self sustainable in long term. I connected with someone who is into similar line of thought about permaculture and we are searching for lands in rural India for quite sometime now. With all the "not so straight forward" way of doing business in India, it is taking forever to find it. There will be expenses for buying and developing the land, but I believe it is going to be worth since that is where I think I will spend most of my future.

I do not own any real estate. I may inherit some from my parents which may add some income when I actually take possession of them in terms of rents, but as I grow older, I want these properties to be much closer to where I will be based at, to reduce the travel part for maintenance of these properties. Having someone do it on our behalf and supervising remotely is, as everyone knows, will be resource consuming and exhaustive. So inevitably, I will have sell something which I own at a later time but I thought let me do what I like and find sustainable for now.


How (much?) - interesting part of the whole journal, is n't it?

In my stint in US where I, like millions of potential immigrants started with two suit cases and a shoe string monthly budget, lived within my means; this is the time, my elder sister got married and my mom received her portion of her inheritance pie - 300 sqft land near the old/core part of my home city, which commands a good value. I spent around 17% of my current NW to build a a three storey home (since the plot is so small for all the household "stuff", we had to go vertical) and though, we Indians are always frugal and value seekers, we spent such big bucks on the building. Given that it will be "the" home for my mom for the rest of her life, I do not have any problems on that spending. My Net worth took a hit due to this, but anyways, we need a place to crash for the night and with her nearing advanced years, she needs to be close to everything (read "core" part of the city) since both I and my sister are abroad. Also I do not own or have any real estate investments. So whenever I go home for vacation, I will be staying in this house.

Net worth - 191K USD which is split as follows

Savings Accounts/CDs/TDs- 188K USD
Employee Provident Fund (Similar to Social Security, but in India) - 3K USD

HSA- 19K USD - I have the Debit Card which was used once in India, so I think I can exhaust this for all my medical expenses till I run out of these funds wherever I live in the world. I have not included these in my net worth since these cannot be used for personal/retirement expenses.

All of the Net Worth are in either Savings Account/ Term Deposits. I do not have any investments in Stocks, which I would like to do for the last part in the "Why" (will get this up later) section. I am ashamed to have abysmal savings in the Social Security, but back then, I did not have enough awareness on how I could have used the Social Security back home to increase my savings early on when I started working, so days lost are lost, no point in crying over it. I have been saving 20% of monthly take home pay in a separate Term Deposit just to label it as Retirement funds, but given that I have decided to become FI earlier than I thought I would do a few years back, I have combined all the funds together.

The typical Indian red tape is worse to deal with, so almost all of my colleagues who started their careers with me, either dipped into their Social Security and used it for some purpose or the other now. I feel we should have personal finance in our school systems, though I do not believe in school systems either.

ira_kart
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Re: Just an Another Average Expat's FI Journey

Post by ira_kart » Fri Apr 06, 2018 3:27 pm

March Summary

Food - 169 USD
Rent - 482 USD
No other expenses

Pay - 3054 USD
Spend % -21.37

I have to cut down on cookies and ice cream addiction especially as we near summer in Northern hemisphere since they were eating up a lot of what I could save and they are anyway bad for the body.

Why do I make so many simple grammar mistakes when framing my thoughts here?
Last edited by ira_kart on Sat Apr 07, 2018 3:03 am, edited 2 times in total.

2Birds1Stone
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Re: Just an Another Average Expat's FI Journey

Post by 2Birds1Stone » Fri Apr 06, 2018 9:08 pm

Looks like at your asset level you are pretty much FI if you stayed in Poland :)

That savings rate is very admirable, how many years do you plan to keep working?

ira_kart
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Re: Just an Another Average Expat's FI Journey

Post by ira_kart » Sat Apr 07, 2018 3:01 am

2Birds1Stone wrote:
Fri Apr 06, 2018 9:08 pm
Looks like at your asset level you are pretty much FI if you stayed in Poland :)

That savings rate is very admirable, how many years do you plan to keep working?
You will be in for a total shock and surprise to your system if I reveal the cost of living back home, specifically in rural hinterlands if the needs are reduced. For someone who has lived in US for a long time and expecting "moderate" standard of living, still can find themselves living within 300$ total(rent+food+everything else under the Sun) for a family of four (2 kids included) in a not so big village in my home state (visited them last year). And even this is just too high to spend monthly for living expenses for a usual Indian villager. Talk about geographical location arbitrage.

I should have been already FI last year, I am kinda stuck in one more year "syndrome" lol. Somebody please talk me out of this :!:

On the back of my mind, thoughts are coming up to do an overland trip from here to India (either thro the so many 'tans+ China or through Africa) but the cost of pulling up such a trip puts me off everytime I come to think about it. And there is Jacob's posts about travelling, so deeply thinking about the whole travel thing.

trailblazer
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Re: Just an Another Average Expat's FI Journey

Post by trailblazer » Sat Apr 07, 2018 10:21 am

Do the overland trip from Poland back to India and then tell us about it! What a great adventure that would be. I wish I had a home village somewhere I could journey to. It can't be that expensive . . . I think that type of travel is a far cry from 7 nights in Paris in a 5 star hotel. It's an actual journey, and would take you through diverse lands. Unlike almost all other travel, that really would fall into the "once in a lifetime category." Also . . . it may get the travel bug out of your system. Personally, I often long to travel but it takes relatively little to quench the travel bug once I take the trip. I wonder if a trip like that would also end up being such a rich memory that you could almost live off the memory. You wouldn't have to travel as much in the future because you could reflect on the memory.

ira_kart
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Re: Just an Another Average Expat's FI Journey

Post by ira_kart » Mon Apr 09, 2018 8:14 am

@trailblazer - There is an old Indian saying which goes like this - "To us all towns are one, all men (human) our kin". So never feel "wish I had a home village". I understand practically, we will not feel home at all places we visit, but at least we can try to be.

I think I can claim to have been to most diverse of the landscapes while in the US. So I do not want a repeat. The 'stans looks like it will be repeat, but not Africa. And in my limited research, on an average, travelling cost is about $10K-15K per year for travelling over land. A problem which I unearthed this weekend is countries which follow left hand drive and the right hand drive. India, being a former British colony uses LHD while most of the other possible countries and Poland where I am currently living is RHD. So the car which I get here will not be saleable in India. Even if I plan to retain it, I will not be allowed to register with the Indian govt due to the "usual" bureacracy. I will research about this more in the coming weeks for any previous precedents. I do not have a particular liking to bicycles/motor cycles for the following reasons

1. these will expose me more to the environment more than a car (I know I am not coming out of comfort zone :()
2. There is such a thing called family, who will "never ever" allow me take a trip on either of these. I can try to convince them if I take this trip in a car.
3. I am already taking medicines for my knees (I think I developed some sort of issue after running two SF marathons) and I do not want to expose my joints to the more pronounced vibrations (due to road imperfections) in these than a car.
4. I need to have some sort of accomodation if I travel in these compared to a car camper. I have always cooked my own food since moving out of India, so a car can support that too reducing my expenses every night for both bed+food.

I cannot imagine myself walking like a travelling monk. Feel free to let me know if you have any other thoughts on the above.

zork97
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Re: Just an Another Average Expat's FI Journey

Post by zork97 » Sun Apr 22, 2018 7:16 am

Fellow Indian living abroad here.Good luck with your road-trip plan, give us updates as you move along. Hope we cross paths when we eventually move to India.

ira_kart
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Re: Just an Another Average Expat's FI Journey

Post by ira_kart » Thu Apr 26, 2018 7:42 am

@zork97 - I saw you are already FI and being employed by choice and staying in AR for SO. my eyes gleamed when seeing those words of you :) sure. looking forward to meeting you somewhere down the line. Road-trip part- let us see how that has been shaped in the past month in my next post.

Continuing my journal

Why - During the gruelling college years which I never understood why in the first place I did (may be they provided the stepping stone for my corporate career) since I do not get to use any of what I learnt in college at work for the past 12 years, I stumbled on yoga books while on my commute to and from college. I was always interested in what is that, the ancients in India had so much to talk about in sprituality and that pursuit towards understanding the true meaning of life (if there is one or are we all mortal social animals just passing our time on this (remembering Carl Sagan) dust particle called Earth in this vast Universe?!) is still in me today. With the Corporate 9-5ish job and living in a city with all the distractions around, I feel I need a much slower pace and peaceful life with silence and time where I can read, understand and practise all of it. I have tried doing yoga for the past 3 years but miserably failing. I do not know where I am failing, but a main factor I believe is I am carrying the influences of work while at home and being lazy.

Another area where I would want to focus on is my fluency in my mother tongue. Not sure where I went wrong (may be successive State defined syllabi of lesser emphasis on mother tongue in the Indian Educational Institutions), but the command my parents had on my mother tongue and its literature is something I can only dream of. I want to truly learn and taste its literature richness. May be I will get bored after a point in time, but who knows what the future has for me.

Another major factor which played a part, is the monotonous nature of my years in the US or even here currently in Poland. Since the country is well developed economically, I did not have the need to struggle for anything. Electric Power was always ON at home albeit during "worst" snowstorms, but its outage windows were minimal and small. Tap water was always available and potable right out of the tap(in US), I am boiling the water in Poland before consuming. I find oily traces and settled particles (which I have no clue of what are they) after boiling the water in Poland, but heard from a colleague that its how it is here and is ok to drink. Bills can be paid at the click of a mouse button and no more physically standing in long queues. I did all my Commute to work/ travel in cars just simply because the public transportation systems were not conducive with respect to travel time and distance. And travelling by car is really a "luxury" for most people from the rest of the world.

In contrast, while growing up in India, this is about middle class household and there is one article (I could not get a hold of it now) which questions are we really middle class at all? Anyways while growing up we have always had power cuts when there is even light monsoon winds and peak summers when there is a huge dent in power generation which happens almost every year. So every day is almost an "adventure" (read sarcastic tone) trying to eek out to the next day; Inverters/ Diesel Generators are a long shot for middle class average income household. Taps will run dry for many days in a year (becoming more pronounced these years than when I was in my teens) when we had to somehow manage it and it is not potable right out of tap, so we had to spend resources on making it drinkable. I remember hearing somewhere, the poorest in the US still have a silver spoon in their mouth compared to the rest of the world, that is the wealth of this country.

Side note: I do not want to get into how this kind of wealth gets accumulated in a single place(one country or a group of countries) on Earth. If am correct, for almost all of the first 1700 years of the 20 centuries we are in, India and China ruled the roast economically, and through so much colonisation of India (for just 300 years) and yet ongoing economic colonisation of African (or should I say world) resources, all this wealth got moved/is moving to the West(?) and now Indians like me are moving abroad away from family in search of wealth. Every great Civilisation has its day :) is what I get to think of about this wholly and summarily, I, as a measly social animal gets to pass all of this in my worldly life.

Anyways, coming back to the topic again, almost for all of my school, college and work (at Indian office), commute had always took 1.5-2 hours one way with public transport and its not always just one bus/train from start to destination. There will be couple of inter- changes in the route and couple this with the totally undependable public transport existing in a developing country and the rush hour crowds in a hot and humid climate, it is a grand recipe for a great adventure (again pun intended) which will make every day travel a totally different expeience. It will not be boring to say the least, but surely tiring and exhausting. If we have private vehicles, with the sky-rocketing fuel prices, either it is unaffordable or not allowed by family for safety reasons with the worst driver behaviour on road. Most of my colleagues immigrated to US for the follwing part in US: it is a luxury to not worry about these so called "basic necessities" of life, earn the most valued money and an American passport gets them to travel to a lot of places without worrying about visas than an Indian one, but who knows how many get to travel internationally due to the piling mortgages and responsiblities and at what cost.

And then I stumbled on online forums (real eye opener for me) where mid-30's-40's American Indians who are now in deep mortgage longed to return to India due to a number of factors hitting in their mid-life years. Since almost all these first generation American Indians were brought up in India, the immediate family bonds are strong(talk about Eastern way of a familial relationships), their teenage children are growing up in a foreign culture with their own "identity crisis : google ABCD- American Born Confused Desi" and for parents, the culture with which these teenagers grow is very different from what they grew up with, in India. Cultural differences play a huge part in these decisions and what initially lured them to the US, now becomes secondary. With the wait for Green Card getting longer and longer, running out of patience, many return to India after overcoming all the problems but once there, they cannot adapt to the Indian way since it has become foreign to them now after being away for so long and lived in an American environment. A few make a return journey again to US and for some reason or the other, I felt this dilly dallying is too much for my "short" life span in this world to deal with if I like to stay in US forever.

And finally as usual, work started to become dull, boring and unstable as I grew older and ventured into middle management. With the tanking global economy, the yearly monetary increases became very few and far. And I started questioning who is getting "financially" benefitted out of the work that I do and who is the first and the foremost stakeholder in a business. I felt it's always the share holders of the company who are given the most benefit, so even after I work 16 hours hard work a day, I may not earn much as an employee as a shareholder does in the long run. So I should stay invested more as a share holder than as a employee (may be yes), but I have this strong feeling that the whole share market is being manipulated by some one or the other in the upper rungs of the society and not transparent at all to understand what goes on behind the scenes, 2008 Financial crisis comes to mind.

This concludes the Why part of my journal.

ira_kart
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Re: Just an Another Average Expat's FI Journey

Post by ira_kart » Mon Apr 30, 2018 4:43 am

April Numbers

Spend % - 21.41

I bought Kgs of all kinds of nuts for long term daily consumption which spiked the spend by a nice percentage. I got so much excited to see 1 KG packets of nuts at Auchan Supermarket since the last four months experience left me thinking Europe is totally opposite to the big packets of food available in US. No travelling expenses, since office building is a stone's throwaway from home on Main street; No gym expenses as I am more into yoga and try to do every day or once in two days.

I am feeling happy to have not consumed ice cream when all the people I see on the weekends have an ice cream cone in their hand. Somewhere I think I came out of that addiction in the past month. I am yet to find Non Dairy ice creams which is what I am used to consume since becoming vegan.

No movies as anyways I will not understand the language. I tried enrolling in a language class, but the medium of instruction is Polish for teaching Polish. How in the world they do that? I had this notion in my mind that for learning something new, it should be taught in a language understood by the learner. Fortunately for them, almost all the students are from neighbouring countries which all belong to Slavic language family unlike me who comes from far away land and does not have anything related to even the Indo-European language family.

I have no interest in bars/dance clubs, may be I am out of that age group and always preferred a calm night.

No eat outs, since I find them incredibly expensive. For the amount I spend on one lunch eat out, I am buying veggies for whole 2 weeks.

Travelling - I am already spending a lot of public holidays at home and holidays are not spread out here through out the year unlike the US. I felt they are most concentrated in the first 6 months and leave the remaining 6 months with a paltry one or two until December for the Christmas break.

Overland Trip- How much a mind could change in a span of month? A lot. From a Toyota LC60 or 80, my mind moved to a bicycle mode of travel. From my pre-2011 years to the roughly 6 months I spent in India in 2017 the Indian bureacracy has gone from bad to worse and the road sense has turned worst. When talking with a couple of colleagues last year while at my Indian office, they strongly emphasized nothing has changed all thru the years. They did not have the same experience as me being out of the country for 6 years. One simple behaviour I noticed off the bat on my first days riding through my home city in 2017 was nobody stopped their vehicle behind the stop line or Zebra crossing for a stop light. In fact, they were in the middle of intersection or even blocking the other half/oppsoite lane the of the road. When I left India in 2011, this was not surely the case. Almost everyone stopped behind the stop white line and may be while the signal turned yellow on its way to green, many will slowly inch past the line. Remembered LA city Street signs to not block the intersection at any point. Highways rides are still the same, but the inner city rides has definitely turned southwards. May be the fear of the trafffic police has become nil or everyone is in a hurry to reach somewhere or the world has just started to spin a lot faster in these years for India? I could not find the reasons for this drastic change in behaviour.

Regional Transport Offices which registers the vehicles in each Zip Code is one of the worst departments to deal with in India. I do not want to deal with them at all if not for the once in a decade driving licence renewals. So the SUV/car option is virtually dropped for now due to the different side of driving followed in former British colonies and the ROW.

Walking - I felt it is too slow for travelling the return journey and though I have run two marathons, I do not prefer doing any form of long distance walking/running again.

That leaves me with either a bicycle or motorcycle. I am an absolute 0 when it comes to DIY skills on either of these. So choosing between the two became easier. Though motorcycle will help me get faster, a bicycle is a heck lot easier to fix if something breaks and the concept of "Slow" travel will be really missed with a motorcycle. I went through some drastic changes in the way I think of exposing myself to the real world. I always grew up within the safe comforts of four walls and a roof around me and had never come face to face with real fear or out of comfort zone.

Only after the 20th mile in both the marathons, while slowly hitting the wall, I felt my real core out. It yearned for more energy, control of brain on my muscles, more clear sight before me, something to overcome my primal fear of collapsing right there on the road unconsciously. May be I came to realise there is nothing to lose when I had nothing to start with. I used to always remember if I die doing those week long road trips in US, I did it while doing what I loved the most. That was the time, the Ferguson protests were in full swing and my family strong discouraged me to not do these extended trips alone. Being a brown naturally has its own fears in a foreign land when the society is going through some hard and trying times.

Also motorcycles will transfer the vibrations from road imperfections to my arms at a much faster rate than a bicycle. I felt a slower transfer is better compared to a machine gun like transfer of energy.

Knee pains - This is where I think I have majority of work to do to make sure I do not aggravate the pain by pedalling long distances.

Bed+ Food - I have never camped outside, so this will be another area where I need to develop skills. Indian way of cooking have always been elaborate, so got to find a cheat without reducing my calory or nutritional intake.


Researching as many bicycle trips as possible with weather/gear and there were many who did these trips along a very similar route. I have always wanted to visit the Angkor Wat complex in Cambodian jungles to see the giant faces sculpted on stone. So instead of taking a sharp turn from China through Nepal and enter India, thinking of going all the way touching Vietnam, Cambodia and returning via Thailand, Myammar aka Burma, North East Indian Frontier states and finally skirting the South Eastern Coast of India to reach home.

I see no point in trying a cheap bicycle for shorter trips before indulging in a expensive shopping spree to buy gear of quality. So thinking and sleeping through these thoughts on spending some big numbers on the gear.

Convincing the near and dear ones remains a lofty task at hand and have no clue on how to tackle this. One simple question is why to exit a well paying job and travel into unknown lands?

Filed US tax returns for my last year's pay in US and after refunds were deposited, remitted all the USD I had in US bank accounts to India. HSA $ alone stays in US, not sure if its safe to leave it there long term for access issues though at the moment, I have access to it through my debit card. NOt sure of what the future holds for me, so will leave the HSA as it is for now. Also I do not know if its legal to transfer the HSA $ out of US into some other account.

"Dumb" Blonde at work - Somewhere, I have lost the characteristic in me to stereotype others based on their external features. But this girl at work last week got on my nerves for almost a stupid reason. Though I have tried to reason with her multiple times on a certain work problem, she kept on replying with her same logic. After a point, I started laughing at myself for talking to such a person and she took it as an insult when she was talking seriously. She informed point blank that this is unacceptable in Polish culture to laugh at the opposite party when talking. I thought Oh girl, you are totally mistaken. I am laughing at myself for talking to you. Then I had a word with her manager who straightened things out, but the experience left a bad taste. I felt is nt human nature to laugh when we think someone is so stupid irrespective of whatever culture we may all belong but they are taking it as insult to themselves? May be it will work while watching youtube videos to laugh within the confines of a private space, but not in a public work environment. A valuable lesson learnt in a hard way.

ira_kart
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Re: Just an Another Average Expat's FI Journey

Post by ira_kart » Mon May 07, 2018 6:01 am

Running into visa issue - I hold a National D Type Visa in Poland currently and this allows me to travel within the Schengen area without any need for an additional visa. There is no concept of Sabbatical in my employer's policy and so would have to exit the organisation if I want to travel by land on completion of my assignment here. Problem - If I quit the job, HR will be revoking my work visa since they sponsored it and so I will loose the legality of my stay in EU. I am not sure if I can apply for a Schengen tourist visa since I already have a Work visa currently in EU. I will be needing visa for crossing Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece for a possible exit to Turkey. Google search has not yielded much positive results. Has anyone or any of your friends gone through a similar situation?

Found a Trek touring bike on a local classifieds for around $1K. Plan to visit the owner's place this weekend. I find it just awesome to see Europe's investment on Public transportation systems.

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Bankai
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Re: Just an Another Average Expat's FI Journey

Post by Bankai » Mon May 07, 2018 7:09 am

ira_kart wrote:
Mon Apr 30, 2018 4:43 am
I am yet to find Non Dairy ice creams which is what I am used to consume since becoming vegan.
Hi ira_kart,

You can make your own vegan ice cream if you have a blender. What we do is freeze very ripe bananas and blend them in blender until they reach ice cream like consistency. They are great just like that, but you can also add other frozen fruits for flavour, or for example matcha tea.

How do you find living in Poland compared to US? Do you find dealing with the ever-present bureaucracy challenging?

ira_kart
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Re: Just an Another Average Expat's FI Journey

Post by ira_kart » Fri May 11, 2018 3:13 pm

woah - how time flies fast. We are past 1/3rd of the month already.

@Bankai - I do not own a blender/mixer and have never felt a real long term need to invest in it for the Indian cooking I do, so your recipe is for some time in the future. But going by what I visualise in my future Indian kitchen somewhere in the long forgotten villages, it will be a either a mortar and pestle or the indian style large grinding stones traditionally used by grannies in Indian kitchens long ago. When the electric mixers/ blenders made their way to Indian kitchens and cooking/eating food became "fast" to cater to the urban class, these stones were used for wringing the clothes when washing and when washing machines found their way to the Indian homes, these stones found their final resting place :( in the gardens. Many families still have them lying somewhere in their gardens covered by the foliage.

When you say bureaucracy, I believe you meant the one with the government. So my response will incline towards those experiences.

I have been treated with respect and helpful responses both the times I went to State (Government) offices. May be its because of the "foreigner" tag I carry on my "brown" skin and they want to project a "being nice" outlook of their country.

The first time I stepped into a State office is for registering my place of stay, kinda linking my name with it with the City officials. I did not understand why should I do it. Renters never do that in India and I never did it in US. May be its a relic of the Soviet past? While sharing these feel good experiences of dealing with Government officials with my local colleagues, they shared their opposite (as you say) experiences of never ending bureaucracy of the government and its functioning. But I feel, being brought up in such a country will make us more resilient in life. If we settle in a developed country where everything is "spoon fed", well and good, we will treat it as luxury, but as in my case if I have long term goal of settling in my home base, Let me be one of thousands who try to change the very system for better in the future and not "escaping" to some developed country.

My colleagues were not so positive about Police forces too (specific about this due to the current Conservative government in power/the hightened emotions of the extremist forces within the country and police is mostly the first who gets into resolving a local trouble) and hinted at pervalent culture of working around things instead of going the straightforward/legal route at all levels of society. India is similar to Poland in this aspect, but I believe US is different when it comes to this area - only the highest levels of society engage in working around things through lobbying and $ while the remaining sections of society are largely straight forward. My colleagues were concerned about my safety and asked me to carry my passport all the time when outside of my home. I do not find it convenient to have my passport "book" yeah, it looks like a mini note book in my pant pockets all the time till now particularly in summer when I do not have the extra pockets of my Carhartt jacket.

The second office I went is the local employment office and after some back and forth miscommunication, it appeared I do not have to do anything with them. I did not want to apply for residency permit when I already have a visa since I do not intend to live here long term. Again smooth and nice people.

I think I added my initial impressions somewhere in this forum here you go - viewtopic.php?f=1&t=9782. But expanding on the experiences of an Indian expat as follows.

The language barrier is just too high in "current" Poland for someone who does not know Polish. The younger generation can understand and speak Engligh unlike the older folks. State offices are filled with old people mostly (from the Soviet era?) and that does not make a great atmosphere to engage for foreigners. But luckily, I had the opportunity of getting help from the few younger team members within these Government offices and so everything went good.
May be some 20 years down the line when these old officials retire, then the government offices will be a great place for services from a foreigner's perspective. And even for younger gen, Engligh is just another subject in school unlike in India where English is the medium of instruction for all subjects in addition to being taught as a separate language subject for its grammar in most or many private schools. I have a cousin who had gone to Public school in my home state where everything is taught in my mother tongue and I know how much he suffered in his Engineering college and in job interviews due to the lack of English language fluency. It played out in my mind when talking to these young Poles. So, obviously many Poles are envy on my English language fluency on the street. I felt, oh come on, English is just a language and not a skill. In India unfortunately, it's considered as a skill and it is not helping the poor in the long run. In US, obviously I didnot have any problems when it came to communication, though the accent will make the understanding part troublesome, but once it is cracked, it will be easy going. After so many years in US, my accent moved from being "Indian" and started becoming somewhere in the middle between Indian and American to the point that I found fellow Indians totally incomprehensible due to their fast paced and "cute" English and Southern American English likeable. One Korean world bicyclist noted she faced the same language barrier while in Poland compared to other nations, but she rated Russia as having the highest language barrier in her journey.

Due to the well known historical reasons, Poland happened to be one of the highest homogeneous countries in world (like Japan?). Though I feel empathetic when looking at the locals for all the suffering gone through the last century. Sometimes, I felt I just wanted to hug the locals for having put up with both the West (Hitler's Germany) and the East(Soviet) both of which turned out to be external forces. For this reason, I find the people so much kind and welcoming to the point that I cry in my heart due to overwhelming emotion.

Being so much homogeneous, I am seen as an exotic human being, yea, you read it right -"exotic". Somewhere I remember, in Finland or Norway or in England (not sure though), there used to be an exhibition during colonial times of people from Africa being shut in cages and showcased around the cities for being exotic. Everyone on the street gives me a second look and kids give the most precious look (I love this) at me of their life since that may be the first time they see someone different from all the people they have seen till then. Some parents make sure their kids look at me to "expose" them to "my skin color", so I find it amusing to walk on the streets. So, this brings in a lot of difference between the US and Poland. While working in Michigan, I have been to the most "whitest" regions of the State and can still feel like within the next few days, I will surely see someone from any other race. Not in Poland. It's like a sea of whites and I will be like a dot in the sea. It does not mean I do not see any people of other races, but it is very rare. For all those Westerners/Whites who go to India and filming/sharing their stories of the "Starry" Indians, this will be how the Westerners react on seeing an Indian; aha face palm moment, is n't it?

On the other hand, I feel the Polish girls are incredibly beautiful. Of course, "beautiful" is different for everyone, but I like girls/ladies with not much/no make up and may be from the nature of being frugal passed down the generations, I do not see Poles wearing much make up. So that make me go "aww, she looks elegant and gorgeous" whenever I walk the streets and it happens quite a lot. And not many are tanned again, due to the less "Sun" time in this part of the Earth and do not like to go to salons for tanning. So these two differences stand out from my experiences in US. But again I think because of being so much homogeneous, finding love is proving to be so much difficult for me here. Since I live in a small town, I got to accept it.

I see a lot of variety of dresses girls get to wear here. I am not aware of their names, but the various styles of cuts/buttons/zips/enclosures is just mind boggling. Compare this to Indian streets, you will see a lot of colorful dresses but of the same style. In US, the style is little spiced up but still meh compared to what i see here both on streets and in office. These women definitely has a taste in selecting and wearing them. Talk about being a fashionista.

Smoking - I grew up in India and lost my father due to Cancer at an early age. We felt its always his smoking which caused it and through these years, being Indian, I felt smoking has reduced a lot among the Indian populace. May be its no more done in public after a law banning it in public and away from gatherings. So Indian men may be smoking discreetly. Again, traditionally, women did not grew up as smokers in India. May be we can call it male chauvinism or women are considered as the guardian of the household and being considered as property rather than an equal entity, they are restricted from getting this habit while growing up. I am talking about the pre-90's India, not the current one:). In US again, I didnot see much people smoke. While in CA, this is stark. Almost none smoke among the local population, may be the ultra -conscious attitude about health and environment from the Californians be the factor. While in Michigan, I used to see some smokers here and there but overall again, the percentage is negligible. In Poland, it is not, I see a lot of people smoking and lot of women smoke too. I do not know from where everyone gets this habit here though. One German world traveller noted that once she crossed into Poland and travelled all the way through Central Asia, she noted the increased percentage of smokers and the restaurants filled with cigarette smoke.

The economic divide is stark and huge. You can see luxurious coupes and SUVs strolling by and old poor grandmas, selling really beautiful and vibrant flowers on the street at the same time. A lot of times, I felt bad for seeing old people in such a state and wanted to help them monetarily and did so once. I see many old grandpas begging, which I hate seeing, looked a lot like India. While in US, I had very small opportunities for these encounters due to (can/should I say) compartmentalisation (ghettoisation) of the society and cities(?) I heard from my colleagues that the 20 years back, this level of luxury is just unbelievable and a lot of older people find it really hard to accept the current state of living. The younger generation is earning and spending a lot aping the Americans is what I heard at work.

I saw a lot of luxury cars being driven as taxis. The first time I sat in one of those, I pinched myself to believe its happening and true. I have never seen (in US and India) luxury brands like Mercedes and even their best classy vehicles like Kompressors being driven around as cabs. Never ever period. But in Poland, its quite common. When I asked how much mileage the driver gets, he casually informed around 12/13 per litre. Unbelievable for me. That is the only and I believe that will be the only time I got to travel in a Mercedes Benz. When questioned, my colleagues shared that lot of cars being driven here are driven in from Germany and actually discarded there. Due to the high expenses of repair there, they drive it to Poland, repair with the "inexpensive" labor and sell it here. I remember one comment from him that Russians while returning from Germany, took two cars with each of them and while passing through Poland, left one here lol. Poles surely make out the best of all situations whatever they have been through :) Lots of Skodas, Peugets, Opel, Citreon. None of these brands are in US market. Opel exited the Indian market long ago and it was a warm nostalgic feeling to see lots of Opel Astras around. On the cars topic again, small cars(hatchbacks) and station wagons rule the road here unlike the sedans and trucks in US and like the hatchbacks of India. Toyotas are pretty popular too just like environment conscious California :)

Streets/lawns and the environment cleanliness are ok unlike the "extra clean" US. I have never seen top soil on the sides of streets in US. Mostly ground will be covered by wooden chips which will be dark brown/black in color. Poland tends to let the soil visible on the street sides.

Buildings are infamously Soviet/ mass industrial style. Huge and not tall apartment style buildings everywhere. I started having a personal dislike after sometime due to the excessive dose of this style. In US, it will be McMansion style individual residences which made me dislike the local communities.

Crossing the streets, Poles are super casual, while poor me, after so long in the US, is so much careful (to the point of being paranoid) to make sure no vehicles are on either side. I have to loosen up a little bit, but I think it helps to be safe than sorry.

Since I live in a small town, Indian spices and vegetables are both hard to get and expensive. I had to order them online from a Warsaw Indian grocery store. This would not have happened in US since the diversity factor plays a bigger role there :) From the "limited" variety of veggies I could find at the local stores here that I am aware of used in Indian cooking or am used to cook in Indian style, I am kind of getting home sick way sooner than I usually get.

Religion - I grew up in the most diverse spritual environment of most religions of the world which India offered. so not much surprise in this department considering Poland is conservative and follows the oldest denomination of Christianity since I am already used to this from my school days of studying in a Convent and calling all the celibate female teachers as "sisters" and Principal as "Father". The public display of Godly imagery to show their faith is something which is more pronounced here compared to the "hippie" and "mostly atheist" California and conservative Michigan where I used to work. India is filled with Godly imagery to the brim but the diversity factor evens out the focus so much that our mind will not identify them as one of the defining aspects of the country.

Indian "Curry" Smell - I understood the significance of the Indian curry smell in Poland. If you do not know, Indians use fingers to eat food traditionally and after finishing lunch, if I do not use soap and just use water to wash my hands off, the moment I enter the office space, I can really sense the smell of the food sticking with me. So I will have to rush to the restroom for washing off the smell using the soap. I have never felt it in the US may be, US work environments became multi-cultural(?) and the environment here is still virgin? aha :) :lol:

Talk in their mother language while in a group- If two colleagues share a common mother tongue while in a conference call/meeting or on a lunch break, I see people here and in Germany talk in their language between them in the presence of others who do not understand their language. I think this will be considered rude in one of my previous work assignments in California. All conversations while in a group/meeting must be carried in a known language to all is a meeting etiquette I remember hearing and following while in US, but it appears to be a common practise here. this is just an observation.

Cold Nights in apartment - The district heating provided by the government here is turned off at the start of Spring and so for the early Summer/Spring nights when it is still very cold, I found myself shivering through the night. Many times, my ribs would start shivering even under a woolen blanket. So I had to pull out my sleeping bag and it appears this is a common practice here either to use more blankets or use a personal heater/radiator. A sleeping bag stops the loss of body heat well and so it really is helping a lot for the past week or so. I remember hearing from the same Korean cyclist (above) that she felt European homes are a lot colder during the nights while the Russian ones are a lot warmer due to the high energy cost in EU and less cost for the same energy in RU. While in US, the apartments I rented always had a thermostat and so temperature was always controlled no matter whatever be the weather outside. In India, we do not need a space heater unless we live in the Himalayas or the hill-stations of the Southern India.

That is all I remember and recollect and hope to add some more in future.

wolf
Posts: 558
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Location: Germany

Re: Just an Another Average Expat's FI Journey

Post by wolf » Sat May 12, 2018 2:39 am

Thank you ira_kart for these observations. It was a good read, that has depth. Always good to read about something that is experienced first-hand. Take care!

2Birds1Stone
Posts: 227
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Re: Just an Another Average Expat's FI Journey

Post by 2Birds1Stone » Sat May 12, 2018 7:12 am

As a pole who was born in NY but spend ~3 months a year over there for almost 18 years I can really appreciate your description. It's very very accurate. When I was a kid, I spent most of my time in Rzeszow in the southeastern region. I remember my cousins telling me that there were all of like 5 families of non-white nationalities among a population of ~150,000 people. That's changed a lot, but it's still a very nationalistic place right now.

I'm not sure if I could live there permanently year round. Winters are very grey and dreary.

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Bankai
Posts: 152
Joined: Fri Jul 25, 2014 5:28 am

Re: Just an Another Average Expat's FI Journey

Post by Bankai » Sun May 13, 2018 3:04 pm

That's a comprehensive report, thanks!

I emigrated from Poland over a decade ago, and whenever I visit it's always interesting to see how much Poland changed in some areas, while others seem to be unaffected by time.

Re bureaucracy, this is by and large a relic of the previous regime. Pre 1989, a government official (even mere clerk in a local office) was above 'normal' citizen. Nowadays they are supposed to be public 'servants', but most still consider themselves better than a normal person. Many people were saying that time will change this and as new people take offices and old people retire, public institutions will become more like in Western Europe (i.e. officials are there to 'serve'). However, after 29 years not that much changed.

It's so much easier to deal with anything government related in the UK. Example: I can just log in to my tax account on the government website and I can see what were my taxable earnings and how much tax and national insurance I paid since I came to the UK. It also tells me how many years of contributions I have towards the state pension. If there were years where I didn't pay enough, it tells me what extra contributions I need to make for those years to count towards the state pension. On the other hand, my mother recently reached retirement in Poland, however she's not receiving the right amount of money, because apparently the records of her contributions for some years are missing. She was kindly told by the officials that she needs to go to archives (you need to make an appointment and pay a fee to enter these) and locate her records for those years herself.

Re the English language, pre-1989 Russian was pretty much the only choice of foreign language in schools. This changed and now you can learn 2 languages in most schools - while Russian is sometimes still an option, most schools offer English and German nowadays. However, when English was first introduced to schools, there weren't nearly enough teachers, and by necessity, most English teachers were poorly qualified. The homogenous nature of Poland meant people neither felt the need nor had an opportunity to learn/practice foreign languages. This especially applies to English, where unlike say US or India, Poland didn't have historic connections with Britain.

It's really nice that you took an effort to learn about Polish history and heritage and you understand the implications of Poland's difficult geographical location. History, especially recent, is very important for many people in Poland. The same applies to religion, however new generations more and more open-minded about this.

I can't say much about fashion, but I agree Polish women are beautiful. Also, Poland is a couple of decades behind the West in the obesity epidemic. Lots of people still cook at home and fast foods and takeaways are not as ingrained in everyday life yet.

Economic divide is indeed very strong, especially between biggest cities and the province. However, there aren't that many beggars, at least compared to the UK for example. Last year we spent 2 weeks in Poland (mostly in Warsaw) and I can't recall seeing a single one, while every day on my way to work I see beggars every 50 meters here in the UK. Maybe it's different in smaller cities though.

Interesting to read your observations. Have you been to any of the bigger cities yet?

ira_kart
Posts: 42
Joined: Wed Mar 14, 2018 7:55 am

Re: Just an Another Average Expat's FI Journey

Post by ira_kart » Mon May 14, 2018 8:50 am

Thank you Wolf and 2B1S.

@2Bird1Stone - Is there a saying in Polish or in any other European languages that with one stone, I am going to hit two birds on a tree which is what I assume you mean by your user name in this forum? In my mother tongue, it is a popular saying, though instead of "bird", its "mangoes", so it goes like this, with 1 stone, I am going to hit 2 mangoes on the tree".
Bankai wrote:
Sun May 13, 2018 3:04 pm
However, after 29 years not that much changed.
So what are we doing to change it? I am sorry for being blunt, I am not questioning you or any other Polish expat. This is more of a question which I ask myself whenever the temptation of settling in a foreign land comes to me since I am an expat too. India is very similar to Poland when it comes to bureaucracy/ corruption.

Remembering some of M K Gandhi's words - be the change you want to see in the world and if the problems took generations to manifest, is it judicious for us to expect them to be resolved in a couple of decades? Every country goes through a transition. I remember this vivid moment from my 2016 Thanksgiving dinner in a remote cabin in Tennesse. I was vegan for 10 months then, was visiting the Smoky Mountains NP and my AirBnB host was kind enough to invite me to her Thanksgiving dinner. While on the table, we were talking about my veganism while roasted Turkey is being served to others :), and I shared that I felt that nothing has changed in the world since I became vegan and I was starting to question if me being vegan is going to change anything at all in this world in my lifetime. Thats when a 70+ yr old gentleman friend of my host softly responded "you are no more part of the problem" and did not utter a word after that. These words had a profound impact on me. Relating to this short encounter, I understood if I settle in a well developed nation, I am not being part of (leading) the change I want in my country. I will surely lead a very comfortable life in my new so called home, but am I not avoiding to give back to my motherland which gave me the environment to grow and became the one I am today but still escape it at the end? Just a thought to ponder.
Bankai wrote:
Sun May 13, 2018 3:04 pm
unlike say US or India, Poland didn't have historic connections with Britain.
True, a little history lesson for the un-initiated - English and other European languages were taught in Indian schools to benefit the Colonial masters for doing easy business through the various East India Companies (English/ Dutch/ Portuguese/ Spanish/ French) in India and not to uplift the poor out of poverty which they caused in the first place. Note when I say Colonial masters, it means the locals who are employed are called "Servants of the Empire" and when these countries gained independence, they are called "Government Servants" or "public servants". So my understanding of "Public Servant" does not really mean "serving the public", though that is what they are expected to do. When India liberalised in early 90's, Indians capitalised on their English literate skills and with comparitively lower wages, it soon became the IT outsourcing capital.
Bankai wrote:
Sun May 13, 2018 3:04 pm
Interesting to read your observations. Have you been to any of the bigger cities yet?
I love the city squares here in Poland and the sorrounding softly colored buildings/ churches. The Church bells are so much soothing to hear, makes me nostalgic about the temple bells back home of the bygone era when the noise pollution was less and allowed us to hear them while still at home and which I missed in US may be due to less number of Churches wherever I stayed there. I expect my stint to be short in Poland and I plan to FIRE on my return to India, so not sure if I want to save every last cent or tour Poland when I am having the chance right now. Also, I did hell lots of road trips in 2016-17 in US (since I know I will be returning in 2017 and do not want to miss a chance to tour that vast country) and so I am yet to be bitten by the travel bug.

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