Tag Archives: asia

Investing in China ETFs: It’s Complicated

Whether or not you believe in any specific countries’ ability to economically eclipse the U.S., it’s common investor knowledge that one should diversify internationally in case sh*t hits the fan in America.

In many cases investing in a good general international index fund, like Vanguard’s Total International Stock Index Fund (VTISX), checks off the global diversification box. Yet for others taking educated bets on particular regions may be ultimately more lucrative. Given China’s fast-growing economy, I wanted to do a bit of research into investment opportunities for the average investor to take advantage of China’s potential reward. Of course, investing in a young market has its many risks. My goal is to educate myself on these so I can invest wisely in the country (I already own a small amount of HAO — China Small-Cap ETF, but nothing too significant yet.)

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Total Cost of My Trip to Asia: $3000

My friend and I decided to take a trip overseas to celebrate our looming old age (i.e. turning 30.) Being as we both wanted a bit of culture with a tinge of relaxation without breaking the bank, all while not going completely third world, we settled on the ever-so popular Thailand.

Other than the flights, the trip could have been extremely cheap, but we decided to splurge here and there. The good thing is that splurging in Thailand is still extremely affordable. For example, on a day to myself I spent $60 on a THREE HOUR massage. It’s possible to get massages for $5/hour in Thailand, but this was in a reputable establishment. So that gives you an idea of how affordable a vacation is there.

One of the reasons our trip cost more than the typical trip to Thailand was our limited time and desire to “see everything.” Thailand is a small country compared to America, but it’s still too big to see without spending a significant amount of time traveling via ground transportation or paying for flights. After losing the two days of travel time each way, my friend had only seven days to spend with me on the ground. I decided to stay a few extra days to get my flight’s $$$ worth. Even so, taking on the role as travel planner extraordinare, I wanted to put together an amazing trip for both of us while we both were temporarily expatting. We went all over the place. Chiang Mai, Bangkok, Phi Phi, Sukothai, Krabi, Chiang Rai… and we did see a lot. It cost us. But it was worth it. Continue reading

Planning a 2-Week Trip to Asia for under $2500

While $2500 isn’t cheap, it’s not bad for a 2-week trip to Asia. My long-time friend and I decided we are going to make the most of the last days of our 20s by teaming up on a trip to somewhere in the far east. Well, that’s what we started with. We didn’t want to spend more than $2000 (but realizing flights from her city are $1500 we bumped this up to $2500) and we wanted to go for 10-15 days. She can do 10, I can do 15, so I quickly decided to stay on a bit longer since the flight was the biggest cost and I wanted to spend more time there once I arrived.

I’m pretty much an OCD trip planner. I’m not sure why I enjoy planning trips so much because I still get stressed during the trip that all the plans won’t work out. But I love knowing what’s coming next. At some point I’d like to take one of those “just go abroad and roam” type trips, but I want to make sure it’s in an area that I feel comfortable. Being as this is my first trip to Asia, I want the details – or at least the “where am I sleeping at night and how am I getting there” situations figured out.

Given that we want to keep costs low, and it’s both of our first international trips to Asia, we opted for Thailand. It seems this is a good “get your feet wet” city for Asia, and tourist friendly. Plenty of culture in the north, and if the rainy season doesn’t ruin it, some time at the beach. As of now, the plan is for me to travel on for 5 days on my own to end up in Singapore, where my flight back to the states will be. I was able to book a multi-city flight into BKK and back from SIN for $1050. Well, I have that flight on price lock as I try to sort out details with my friend to convince her to take the flight that connects onto my flight before heading over the Pacific. Unfortunately, she’s coming from a non major east coast city so her flight is $1500, unless she wants to travel on some creepy airline that has 3 stops and leaves from JFK – that is actually $1100, so it might be better for her, but she still has to get to JFK and for us time is very limited.

Once in BKK, I plan to have us stay a few days in the city to explore, and then to head north to Chiang Mai and/or Chiang Rei, possibly for a hillside trek, since it seems to be the thing to do there, other than wandering around and taking cooking classes. I think we’ll head back down to Bangkok, spend a few days exploring the cities on the way back down, and potentially spend the last days together on a beach — though that would be October 6-8 and that sounds to be the end of the rainy season on one coast and the start of it on another. I don’t mind a little tropical shower but if it’s just pouring cats and dogs the whole time a beach isn’t that fun. Trying to get some more information on this time of year and which beach would be best there.

Once we finish on the beach, she’ll head back to BKK to head home, while I have another 5 days to get myself to Singapore. This is where the trip can get pricey for me. I’ve been daydreaming about spending time in Borneo with the Orangutans, either in Malaysia or Indonesia, but I’m not sure this makes sense for the trip. It is probably most sensical for me to fly from BKK to Kuala Lumpur for a quick exploration of the main Malaysian city (since the border of Thailand and Malaysia is supposed to be not very safe right now), then take a train down to Singapore, where I can spend my last 2-3 days exploring in a city known for its safety and, of course, English language, so I feel comfortable in my final days of exploration after a somewhat long trip.

I have a feeling if I love this experience as much as I think I will, I’ll be back, so I don’t need to cram everything in. I’d like to get a taste of Asia so when I do find the opportunity to take a longer sabbatical and hop around for 3 months or so, I’ll have an idea of where I want to go and where I don’t want to go.

It has been a while since I’ve really looked forward to anything so I’m extremely excited about this, and it feels amazing to have something this big to look forward to again. I’m scared too, but not that scared, I’m more nervous about being out of the office for two weeks straight and for the team to realize they can function without me, or worse, that they can’t. :/ Well, I’m not sure which is worse, but either isn’t a good thing. I potentially could work the last few days in Singapore, at least a few hours, just to make sure nothing is falling apart. Or I could come back earlier like my friend and just go for a week and a half, but that seems silly after spending over $1000 on a flight.

There’s so much still to do to prepare. Other than finalizing our flights, we both need to renew our passports asap, figure out immunizations (and the cost to get them – I probably need a ton, I haven’t had shots in years), and of course, plan the details of the entire trip. I don’t really have time for this, but planning trips is a hobby of mine so it’s fun to do before I fall asleep at night. The Internet has such a wealth of information, I can’t imagine planning such trips in the days of only Fodors travel guides. Especially when trying to travel for relatively cheap — without any crowdsourced reviews, it would be much more scary.

Have you been to Thailand or Singapore? What do you recommend we see?

 

Quit Your Job and Travel the World for a Year

Ayutthaya, Thailand

It’s a romantic notion. Walk into the office one day, your desk already packed up and straightened from the night before, computer hard drive emptied, and you tell your boss you’re done. It’s not that you hate your job, or that you aren’t doing a good job. It’s just that you’ve realized you’re only young (or young-ish) once and you want to explore before it’s too late and all the responsibilities of being an adult (ie parenting) tie you to one spot. And you’re gone.

They say do what scares you the most and you’ll rarely regret it. (How can I do that when I’m scared of everything?) I should start jumping out of airplanes and sign up for that one-way trip to Mars. But, in reality, traveling the world for 3-6 months isn’t that crazy. People do it all the time. I’m looking at my life these days and thinking, what am I working for? Maybe it is just to save for a house and a family that may or may not come in the semi-near future. I don’t know. It might just be that I’m burnt out. That my best work only comes when I feel part of something that isn’t just a basic business but instead a challenge as part of a small team, a puzzle to figure out. But I’m getting to the point where I’m spent. Not on my job, per se, but on my career choice du jour.

But I digress… the point I was making is that at some point in the next 1-3 years I need to make a drastic change anyway to get myself on a career path in product management or user experience design. This may require going back to school for an MBA or masters degree, or it might just be getting a lucky break in a junior-level role at a company that doesn’t require engineering experience for product management. Or I just learn to code. Regardless, a drastic change is imminent. That could be at 31, 32, or 33. But, alas, that’s also the age I’m “supposed” to be having children. That’s a very drastic change in and of itself.

My goal now is to at least go to one new place for 2 weeks each year until I have kids. This year the plan is Thailand. I’m a bit of a workaholic so it’s hard to put down the computer and relax, but god I need it. I’m going with a friend who has committed to at least an 8 day trip in October. I’ve made a tentative agenda. All we need are our tickets and we’re gone. That’s what got me started thinking… it’s so easy to make a plan and be gone… how hard would it be to not come back?

The feeling of being alone in a foreign city is unforgettable, especially for someone like myself who grew up in a family that didn’t let her cross the main, slightly busy road that split her suburban development into two, despite her promise to look both ways and be extremely cautious. I’ve always loved traveling but in small doses. Traveling independently has never been my style. I attempted it once, after working a project in London one summer I visited a friend in Berlin, took a flight to Faro Portugal to see another friend, and spent exactly 24 hours on my own on a bus to Lisbon, and wandered around the city for a night and a day before heading home. Come to think of it, I also spent a night and day alone in Haifa, Israel, where I stayed at a hostel and wandered alone down a street at night trying to find a beach area only to give up and take a cab home after getting cat called one too many times for my own comfort.

I’ve discussed the possibility of doing the travel for a year thing with my boyfriend, but it doesn’t seem to make sense as he has not held a full time job yet and is just on the beginning of his career path at 31, while by the end of this year I should have a quarter million dollars, or near that, in overall investments and savings, and think this accomplishment deserves a bit of a break at 30 to reward myself for being semi frugal through my 20s. I’d like to get to $300k before doing this, but there’s never a really good time to just stop what you’re doing and spend money instead of earn (or at the best break even) for a year.

Money stretches reasonably far in Southeast Asia, and I’m fine sleeping in hostels as long as they aren’t infested with bugs or rapists. There’s this little itch in the back of my mind saying don’t come back. Just go. Do what scares you. Take as long as you need. Prepare yourself for true adulthood. Stop leeching on to inspiration, be your own inspiration. Be terrified. Live.

I dream of traveling through Malaysia, volunteering at an orangutan orphanage, then maybe heading out on a trek with a group I find, enjoying sunrises and sunsets and mosquito repellant. Or maybe spending time in Japan and experiencing a culture more sophisticated than American society, eating Sushi every day and drinking Sake every night. Or wandering the Great Wall of China by myself, just like I did when I took a train from Lisbon to hike Sintra’s Moorish Castle, only wishing I had someone else there with me to share in the excitement of being in a completely amazing place so rich with history and stories.

Sintra’s Moorish Castle, outside of Lisbon, Portugal

Only, when I looked around, there was no one there to share in my excitement… except a bunch of other tourists speaking a motley array of languages I didn’t understand. I found it was a struggle to enjoy anything for myself without having someone to share in the moment with. As I glanced around, I studied the stones under my feet, the view of the castle on the hill, the feeling that any moment if I were to fall to my death from the short jagged rocks keeping me from smashing into pieces in the wilderness below, I might be at peace with my fate.

Being alone for just 24 hours wore on me. I waited in line for a bus back to the train, and then, if memory serves me correct, attempted to wander up to the main castle in Lisbon, getting myself entirely lost in the narrow, winding, and steep city streets, only to arrive at my destination just as the castle park was closing. Apparently the castle in Lisbon, unlike in Prague, has closing hours.

So I found myself eating alone at a Portuguese restaurant, probably one designed for tourists, a few steps backwards down the street. Alone, I sat and listened to conversations, occasionally in English, and attempted to enjoy being by myself. I never could. I wanted more than anything to talk to the tourists who spoke words I understood, but I was too shy, to socially anxious to make contact. So I remained alone for the night, finishing up my meal — I have no recollection of what I ate on the entire trip to Europe outside of one plate of extremely fresh shrimp complete with eyes that I devoured on my first night in Faro, sucking the juices out of their poor little heads — and wandered back in the darkness down the city streets, afraid I’d be entirely lost for the evening and end up murdered in some alley. As I quickly paced down the cobblestone roads, it briefly crossed my mind the death in Sintra would have been tres more apropos for my desired melodramatic moment of mortality.

Tease Bakery, Lisbon

Somehow I found a tram, which, as I do with trams and buses in foreign cities, I get on, and allow them to take me to wherever they might take me, as long as I’m convinced there is a stop nearby that can get me efficiently back to where I started. It was a yellow tram, filled with drunk tourists and locals alike, pouring out, nearly tackling the driver by accident at each sudden stop. When the tram stopped near Rua do Norte, the most fun of the drunks got off, and this was my sign to step of the tram and follow them to their destination. It turned out that the tram had taken me to city center, and a hip little neighborhood filled with evening entertainment. Alone, I was too shy to go into a pub, so I wandered around and peered into store windows. I found an adorable cupcake bakery called Tease – The Rock and Roll Bakery which I immediately fell in love with, and was determined to marry after devouring the most incredible Nutella cupcake I had ever tasted. I made a decision then and there that while I could not marry a bakery if I was ever to be married I would need to identify a way to ship a hundred cupcakes from Portugal to my wedding venue. Oh, and another hundred for my guests.

With the taste of Nutella and soft, moist white cake lingering on my tongue I wandered back somehow to my hotel. The next day I believe I took a tourist bus around to ensure I got a good taste of not just cupcakes but also the city before heading back to the airport for my flight home. This day was more relaxing, I was more of a traditional tourist, I was exhausted from the stress of being alone, and got on and off the bus to explore a few museums and key sights. The daytime was less threatening, I enjoyed walking through the outdoor area before entering the Berardo Collection Museum, observing a very passionate dance class of those who clearly knew what they were doing and those who didn’t. The vibrance of life shook me far more violently than any painting I saw thereafter in the museum itself. The moment shot me back to the time I was on a ferry crossing the Adriatic from Croatia to Italy, bustling full of Italians who were loud, excited, and singing the whole way over, and I realized just how stale and sad American culture is in comparison to the vibrance of many cultures who aren’t ashamed to burst out into song and celebrate life.

It’s funny how moments like this are the ones I remember, as most of my life has faded into one big blur between beds. I know that in order to keep living, in order to stay out of depression, I must force myself into new experiences frequently enough to remember that I am, indeed, still alive. I must be careful, too, that the choices I make for these experiences are wise, it’s all too easy to fall prey to the lure of newness, to be entranced by the adrenaline rush of making a decision and failing to think through the consequences. Leaving a job to travel the world for a year may sound terrifying and exhilarating and maybe like the right thing to do, but when you’re earning $100,000 per year and you are approaching 30 and trying to save up for a family that you may or may not want to have, it may not be.

All I know, is if I’m going to do this, even for 3 months, it has to happen soon. Not today. Not in 2013. Possibly never. Or, I should listen to that voice in my heart that seems to always lead me to the right choices, no matter how wrong they may be, to learn more about myself, and to grow into the strong, confident woman that I thought I’d never be able to become, but who is, in fact, the woman who, deep down, I very well may be.

 

 

 

 

You Can’t Scoff at Deal or No Deal if you Play the Stock Market

Have you ever watched Deal or No Deal? If so, how frustrated do you get when the contestant is offered a really good amount from the banker and then the contestant goes on to play against the odds and ends up with a measly ten bucks?

Watching the show it’s easy to think, gee, this person is an idiot. But how different is that from playing the stock market?

Of course, stocks have a lot more math to them. The odds aren’t so clear cut. Each company has its own risks and it’s own potential for success.

But when it comes down to it, you either believe in a company or you don’t. You believe that in box #1 there is a goldmine and you stick to your gut or you change your mind and hope you’re right.

Obviously you can’t control the stock market, but I never realized just how vulnerable it (and the American dollar) was until recently with this huge recession going on.

I can’t figure out if my stock investments are bad choices or if the recession will just have to work through my piggy bank before my stocks can start growing, and hopefully returning to their investment value and exceeding it. Still, I have my doubts I’ll see that money again.

As I’ve said earlier, my Sharebuilder account is where I can play the stock market for the long term. I’m not day trading… which maybe is a bad thing, given the recent performance of my GLD holding. It was up to over $100 a share just a day ago and now it’s down to $93 a share. My $49 profit has widdled away to $6, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it goes negative soon either.

Meanwhile, all of my other funds are performing miserably. One of the other reasons I started my Sharebuilder account is to diversify my portfolio internationally. I’ve got random bits of stock in Brazil, India and the rest of Asia (coal and cleantech stocks) — all ETFs. I’m hoping that if the US crashes and burns maybe these other economies will survive and even grow. I believe that the future for the US economy may not be so bright. China and Asia are gaining power by the millisecond. I can’t imagine that the US will be able to keep up. I think over the next century the US is going to lose some of its superpowers, for better or worse. I believe there’s going to be a big war at some point down the road that’s going to hit all of the world’s economies much worse than the Iraq war. There will probably be more attacks on America, and there will be a third world war. I just don’t see how it’s possible to avoid it. Scary, but I think it’s probably true.

Of course war times, historically, are usually good for the economy, right? Well, except this Iraq war doesn’t seem to be living up to that. So I don’t know. I can’t really guess the future, but the way the world is right now, and the way people are so stupid and stubborn and violent, I can’t see us avoiding some huge conflict for much longer.

I’m not sure how that will effect my stocks. If I survive through such a war… maybe a diversified portfolio will be a good thing to have?