(US) 5 Days Before: Survival Mode On

2 Travellers, 2 Backpacks, 1 Month in the US!
2 Travellers, 2 Backpacks, 1 Month in the US!

We finally began packing our backpacks for our coming month in the US. Six days before the trip – not bad. I’d usually wait until the day before to pack. I attribute this change to my wife.

Packing is a dreadful thing, only slightly less dreadful than unpacking. But this time it wasn’t quite as dreadful as before when we packed for our shorter trips. Length of stay abroad apparently improves my attitude towards packing. I think I’d attribute that to our general excitement knowing we’ll be spending a month traversing the ends of the United States. That’s always been the trip to make in my gullible, easily indoctrinated head.

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My Dog Brownie Might Be Buddha

Brownie, my toy poodle, might just be Buddha. I seriously think that to myself about once a week.

I’d be sitting in bed with my laptop thinking what I should be doing first and what’s next in a list of 5 things to do, and I’d find him lying with his belly on the floor next to me resting his jaw on his little paws, eyes wide open and looking at me as if asking, “Lost in your mind, again?”

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Ferriss, Fussman, Ali, Tyson: The Day I Became Fascinated By Boxing

It was 8:30pm when I entered into the Youtube search bar: “George Foreman vs Muhammad Ali”.

Earlier in the day I was driving around Singapore as a deliveryman for a friend’s company. Manual transmission is interesting until I got the hang of it again. Then, it began to require almost no cognitive resources at all. My hands and feet were on autopilot and boredom soon kicked in.

I plug in my headphones into my smartphone, hooked it up to the in-car charger and placed it on the dashboard as a GPS. And I tuned in to my favourite podcast, the Tim Ferriss Show. Today’s guest was Cal Fussman, someone Tim Ferriss introduces as one of the world’s greatest question-askers.

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Should You Go All-Out to Renovate Your First Home?

From Quora

Should you renovate the whole house at once or little by little?

Let’s start by clarifying your situation.

Do you have the option of living elsewhere during the renovation, like your parents’ home or a rented place? Your question only applies if the answer is yes. Otherwise you’ll have no choice but to live in the same home while it’s undergoing renovation! (Seems like I’m stating the obvious, but I imagine some of us should consider our personal circumstances–eg. can I live with my in-laws for a while?–as a prelude to your question).

Ok, with that out of the way I’m going to try to answer your question with a combination of (objective) consideration and (subjective) experience.

I got married last year to my wife at the age of 26, and I’m incredibly fortunate to have parents who paid a significant portion of our mortgage for our first home here in Singapore (where property prices are astronomical; either that or wait 3-5 years for a built-to-order [we literally call them that] flat subsidised by the government).

But to save money we decided to think up the interior design of our new home by ourselves (ie. we didn’t engage anyone to do anything for us except for hooking up some light fixtures). It helped that we both appreciate interior design and thought we had enough taste between us to be able to make our home look decent. So began our journey.

Due to our circumstances (I don’t dislike my in-laws), my wife and I had to move in early. For the first 2 months whenever the sun set, our day would end because there were no lights around the house, just wires dangling from the ceiling. I remember these days fondly now and sometimes when I walk down our small walkway I smile, satisfied with what we’ve done to let there be light when the sun is resting.

Moving into a bare 110 sqm apartment also meant that in our sacred master bedroom–seriously, isn’t that the room that the heads of the house get to sleep in?–we had to sleep on a thin mattress on the floor that we borrowed from my parents. Between no light evenings and sore backs, we prioritised spinal health and quickly got down to choosing and buying a good king-sized bed (of course!). It came about a month into our stay. We still love having it.

The renovation process went on for 6 months, little by little, like building a castle with lego. Each piece that we deliberated and finally decided to buy/make, we’d carefully put up. We took special care because it took us time and effort to source for each lego piece. Overall, we saved a lot of money (in the region of tens of thousands) by:

  • Not engaging an interior design specialist ($1,000’s saved there)
  • Ordering stuff online whenever possible (our king bed was ordered online)
  • “Importing” things like lighting fixtures from our trips to China at less than half the retail price in Singapore with similar quality (you don’t necessarily have to go to China if that’s out of the way, but go to a city with lower costs of living) – you’d be surprised at how much you can pack into a big roller luggage!
  • Learning to do things on our own, like working with plaster to put up roman pillars, drilling and installing curtain rails and storage racks, buying from IKEA and personally putting furniture together
We pasted our own wallpaper! (Yes, including that one on the ceiling)
We pasted our own wallpaper! (Yes, including that one on the ceiling)

In hindsight we are immensely satisfied with what we’ve done with our home. Not only did we save a couple of thousands of dollars, we became more than home owners – we were home makers. This made the new home feel much more like our home. In Singapore and, I imagine, many cities around the world, this is the closest thing to building your own home.

Oh, and because of our experiences, we relish every opportunity–hopefully without being insufferably self-satisfied–to tell friends whenever they visit of the countless stories we collected

Of how we quarrelled while having both hands in the air attempting to paste wallpaper on the ceiling with perfect alignment while sweat rolled down our backsides, how we dreaded working with those hollow plaster roman pillars because we had no freakin’ clue where to even begin and how they ended up sitting on the living room floor for months before we ever did anything, or how we spent New Year’s Eve lying on a cheap mattress looking at each other saying how lucky we are to have our own home (and living in the master bedroom!) before eventually dozing off, until the entire neighbourhood went “3… 2….. 1…. !!!” and momentarily woke us up. We just laughed and went back to sleep.

Our living room dining / work desk
Our living room dining / work desk

So, I’ve very haphazardly described the pros and cons of renovating bit by bit. While I don’t have personal experience renovating a home without living in it, I can tell some of the most obvious pros and cons, especially when juxtaposed against the bit-by-bit approach.

PROS (of a big renovation project where you temporarily live elsewhere)

  • No bad air to breathe in (dust, toxic gases)
  • One-off house moving instead of frequent smaller moves (especially shifting things from one room to another)
  • You don’t have to live in an inconvenient transitory state (if you’re both living where you currently are)


  • Less memories embedded in or associated with parts of your home (this is going to be true even if you did do some of the renovating yourself because you won’t be seeing little changes in your home everyday)
  • Typically more expensive, especially when costs are added up (ie. contractors, electricians, interior design specialist, etc.)
  • You have to put up with either: (1) living in a rented apartment, or (2) with either of your families

Back to your question. Should you carry out a big renovation project in a short span of time or take it one step at a time?

I think you should discuss with your fiancee what you’d each be doing (together or separately) in either case. Then ask yourselves whether you’d be happy or stressed living in a transitory state where various things are missing (you might get backaches sleeping on cheap mattresses, for example), knowing that you’d probably save some money and have a lot more memories (fond or not, you decide; but stories are what we live for) if you did.

All the best! Remember to savour this phase while you’re at it – once you’ve crossed the chasm of living in the master bedroom, you never go back!

Oooh, Yeah! And… It’s Gone

I’m trying to understand something…

I get very excited when I read certain books. Recently it’s been Seth Godin’s series of books on marketing and other interesting ideas. I just finished We Are All Weird.

Seth Godin's interesting book We Are All Weird
Seth Godin’s interesting book We Are All Weird

Getting through the book was a breeze despite his unorthodox way of organising his thoughts (I imagine it’s a lot more haphazard than most people can accept). It’s a book that got me excited many times, with his repeated (successful, in my eyes) strikes against mass marketing and the call towards tribal marketing.

His books are not the only ones that elicit (imbue?) excitement from me. Reading Cal Newport’s So Good They Can’t Ignore You and Adam Grant’s Give and Take, among other books with interesting ideas, is like going through an inspiration rollercoaster.

But that’s the thing I’m trying to understand… I’d get excited and before I know it, it’s gone. I can’t remember what exactly it was that got me excited.

It always originates from an interesting idea that is put forward by the author(s), but the excitement comes from a synthesis of that idea along with the multitudes of knowledge and at-the-moment thoughts I have in my mind.

It’s a little like travelling. You get a sudden rush of inspiration when you visit some place you’ve never been before, smell things you’ve never had a whiff of before, talk to new types of people you’ve never met before.

I think these moments are interesting and inspiring precisely because of the other sporadic ideas we have in our heads at any point in time. Without their messy mixing we’d not arrive at insight. Sentences on a page delivers a message, not an insight. Insight is arrived at, not delivered.

So the analogy of a rollercoaster ride is perfect. The build-up of excitement is great, but you can—and you will—just as easily lose it. Before you know it, you’re at the bottom of the rail, unsure whether you’ll be making another ascent (and loop!) or you’re going back to the start/finish point.

My problem is stopping to capture the inspiration before it disappears. Often times I’d have to get to the end of the chapter before writing down my thoughts (and follow-up actions), just because it’s more methodical. In my mind I think, shouldn’t I give the author a chance to explain something properly before jumping to a conclusion?

Alas, these are different issues. I can allow the author the space to argue points before judging his ideas. Inspiration to take action, however, is transient, and must be held on to to be developed further.

I’ve just got an idea for storing my ideas involving a physical box and post-it notes. I’m going to try it out and if it’s any good, write about it here in the future.

Pursuit of a Memorable Life

You're not going to forget this
You’re not going to forget this

“Wow, the past 5 years went by too fast…”

“How did that happen?”

“Where did all those years go?”

Asked such a question before?

Me too. I’ve asked variants of this question a few times in recent years as I move past the care-free days of my early 20s. It’s not a question I ever came up with an answer to, though.

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A Year Later, I’m Still Not On Top of Living On Our Own

A year later I’m still getting used to having to do my own… everything.

My wife and I moved out of our parents’ in October 2014 so it’s been a little over a year now that we’ve lived on our own. You know, underpants in the walkway and all.

It’s nice to have your own space. Heck, it’s privilege and a dream come true for us and I imagine, any newlyweds. You get to do the aforementioned, for one, and there’s no more brushing up against different egos. (Except for your partner’s, of course, which ought to be sort of your alter ego anyway.) That was such a nice change.

But more than a year into managing our home—cleaning, tidying, stocking groceries—I’m still learning everyday to accept that this is my new life and learning to handle it.

Handle it.

Handling it means knowing when to do a grocery run (when the stock is low but not so low that we’d go hungry or too high that we would be overstocked and waste food). It also means remembering when we last swept and mopped the floor, changed the sheets, the type of bulb that our wall lights use and whether we’ve paid the bills.

For a 26 year old, I must admit, that’s quite a lot to ask. (Am I the only one that feels this way?) But like I said, I’m learning to handle it. I’ll soon get up to speed.

To be honest, though, I thought I’d be a pro by now. Maybe I’m still just a boy. Perhaps I want to be one, and let mum handle it all for me.