Sunday, November 24, 2019

Life in the US - 5 Year Reflection

24 November 2019 marks 5 years since I packed up my life in Malaysia and relocated to the US. It felt like 5 years flew by in the blink of an eye, but looking back, I realized that I've actually done and accomplished a lot over the last 5 years. Thanks to this blog, I've been able to document most of my experiences/life in this space. To commemorate this milestone, I decided to write this post to reflect on the highs, lows, and everything in between. =P 

The learning curve was pretty steep in the beginning, but overall, the first 3 years went well. I was able to progress in my career, earned a promotion and some good bonuses along the way. I also constantly remind myself to be thankful for having a good job

If you've been following my blog (i.e. nobody), you'd have noticed that I've had few rants about work this past year. As much as I try to stay positive, it got to a point where I was feeling overwhelmed, stressed-out, and burnt-out. As the saying goes, when it rains, it pours, then it floods, and I was paddling through piles of 'human-created sh*t'. In an environment where the ground was constantly shifting beneath my feet, and the bar kept being raised to an unrealistic level, I started doubting the sustainability of this path.

Just as I was feeling absolutely knackered, a great opportunity popped up internally at the perfect timing. The company was scaling up its Center of Excellence (CoE) and was looking for individuals to join the team. Best part of this role, it's completely remote! Thanks to the crappy busy season, it was a no-brainer for me to submit a self-nomination and try out something different. I've stuck it out long enough (about a year) through sh*t luck and adversities, putting my life and career on hold. It was time for a change. 

Perfect opportunity at the perfect timing

Now that I'm 2 months into this new role, I'm glad to report that work life has been pretty awesome! This work from home gig is perfect for a homebody like me. No more commutes, sleep-in every morning instead of wasting time making myself presentable to clients and co-workers, dress comfortably for work (read: pajamas), no need for face-to-face interactions, listen to music without using earbuds, have dinner with hubby every day, and work when I'm most productive (at night). Don't get me wrong, I'm still working a lot but I don't mind putting in more hours in exchange for the increased flexibility. I don't want to sound boastful, but I'm truly thankful for all these.

Quote to share: Adversity is like a strong wind. When things aren't going your way and backing out is not an option, you just gotta keep moving forward, even if it takes twice the effort and twice as long. 

Apart from routine health exams, dental cleaning/fillings, my wisdom tooth removal, and hubby's shingles, we've been able to stay away from the doctors. Food, exercise, and practicing gratitude are our three main pillars to stay healthy, physically and mentally. I'm totally guilty on the exercise part, especially after cancelling my gym membership 3 years ago. =P However, we've been doing pretty good with our food, and I take all credits for my cooking and meal-prep efforts every Sunday over the last 5 years. Tell me about discipline and consistency. =P

For the first 3 years, we were also gardening and growing our own food but we decided to put a halt to it because our low consumption is not worth the effort and time, for now.

Now that hubby and I have lived together for 5 years, we learnt that we are actually a lot more compatible than we initially thought! While things have remained stable and uneventful for the both of us, there have been a number of significant changes (i.e. marriages, divorce, new additions, deaths, illnesses, etc.) on both sides of our families.

These events are great reminders for us to cherish and spend time with our loved ones while we can. Life goes by fast and people aren't around forever. As such, we have been intentional about spending time and making memories with our families, and I'm glad that I've been able to travel back home at least once every year to spend time with my family.

I'm thankful to have had the opportunity to travel a pretty good bit for work and leisure over the past 5 years. No doubt, the lucrative credit card sign-up bonuses here in the US have definitely made my hobby a lot more affordable. We've used airline miles and hotel points to travel to 17 countries (including a Round-the-World adventure) and lowered our out-of-pocket expenses substantially. I'm also glad to be able to share these travel hacking perks and make wonderful memories with loved ones. =D

Coming from a developing country and living in a low cost of living area, I acknowledge the privilege and am cognizant of how one can build wealth exponentially quicker in the US as compared to the rest of the world, that's if you are smart and intentional about your money. The path to building wealth is simple (not necessarily easy). Spend "significantly" less than we earn, invest the difference, rinse and repeat. It takes years of patience, discipline, contentment, and intentionality to get to where we are. We're currently in the boring optimization stage of building our nest egg, and things are just chugging along. Thanks to years of being mindful and intentional about money, I'm officially in the MYR double comma club and own a paid off apartment.

Blog - I'm still blogging but it now comprises mainly of trip reports and quarterly updates. I created a new website in 2017 but haven't been inspired to write much this year. I blame it on work for sapping my creative energy, mental capacity and brain power. =P

Green card - The entire process took 4.5 years, but I'm sure glad and relieved to finally receive my employer-sponsored, employment-based green card this past June.

CPA - Spent a year studying while working full time and successfully completing 4 exams for CPA without failing. Glad to have that out of the way within 1.5 years since I moved here and I'm done with all exams. =)

All in all, the past 5 years in the US had been great and I look forward to accomplishing greater heights in both work and life in the next 5 years!

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Fall 2019 - Rainbow After the Storm

After almost 9 months of crappy busy season, I'm glad that it's finally over and I can finally take a breather! We spent the first half of September hopping around Asia before returning to work and officially started my new role.

My new role is completely remote and it's pretty awesome. I'm a homebody and am perfectly fine not leaving the house all week. =D I still work a lot and have to hop on calls at night with my team in Manila and San Jose, but I don't mind putting in more hours in exchange for the flexibility.

Sept 21 (Sat): Visited the Space and Rocket Center for free thanks to the Smithsonian Museum Day. The last time I visited this place was in 2008 when I first arrived Huntsville.

A bit of history on how Huntsville became the Rocket City.

Oct 3-11: Spent a week in Atlanta instructing training. Of course, my laptop decided to give me software issues when I needed it for the training. Had to switch to a new laptop and was doing data transfer as I instructed training. =.=

Room-hopped within the same hotel.

This hotel is pretty cool but it's definitely not for people with fear of heights.

Pretty sunrise and sunset in Atlanta.

 The evening Hors D'Oevres at the M Concierge Lounge in this hotel is pretty good.

Since the training crossed over a weekend, hubby came to Atlanta to visit over the weekend. Use my Marriott Suite Night Awards to upgrade to a Junior Suite, and received some surprise gift from the hotel.

There's no Ikea in Alabama and the one in Atlanta is the closest, so we decided to go check out some bookshelves. We then went to Super H Mart to shop for some Asian groceries, and had dimsum for lunch.

Spent some $$ on home maintenance/improvements in October...

Oct 1 (Tues): Spent $700 to get the 3 trees in our front yard removed, to avoid the roots from causing any future damages to our house.

Oct 12 (Sat): Bought and assembled the Ikea bookshelf and shelves from Lowes to display hubby's toys.

Nov 2 (Sat): DIY installed the security system and bought some LED bulbs (buy 1 free 1) to replace the bulbs around the house.

Cash outflows continues with another round of shopping on Uniqlo...

Uniqlo's free shipping is a trap that I happily fall into. :P

Ok, we've spent too much $$, now back to saving money with Sunday meal-prepping.

Sept 22 & 29 (Sun): Bakuteh, stir-fry pork and veggies, egg roll with mushroom, pasta, meatballs.

Oct 2 & 13 (Sun): Pan-fried potatoes and sausage, stir-fry veggies, bakuteh, stir-fry beef, fry egg with red onion.

Oct 20 & 27 (Sun): Pan-fried potatoes and sausage, tomyum seafood noodle soup, stir-fry veggies, chicken herbal soup, stir-fry chicken, fry egg with red onion.

Nov 3 & 10 (Sun): Stir-fry potatoes and sausage, stir-fry veggies, tomyum seafood noodle soup, baked chicken, egg sandwich, fry egg with mushrooms.

My new nightly routine...entertain the kiddos. =P

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Asia Hopper 2019 ✈ 10 Hours in Tokyo

Our 2019 home trip gave us the opportunity to hop through (and visit) 5 Asian cities within 2 weeks. Our itinerary consists of a mix of countries that I've already visited in the past but it was nice to revisit these places with hubby and MIL, and most importantly spend time with families!

Aug 31: Seoul
Aug 31 - Sept 7: Taipei
Sept 7 - Sept 8: Hong Kong 
Sept 8 - Sept 15: Penang
Sept 16: Tokyo

Our fifth and final stop on this Asia Hopper trip brought us to Tokyo. This long layover was not on our original itinerary, but we changed our flights and added this stop for free, thanks to a flight schedule and route change by United. That's one of the benefits of booking our flights early (9 months ahead for this trip), as there's a high chance for a flight schedule change before our travel date, which gives us the opportunity to relook at new routes and pick one that works best for us at no extra charges. =P 

Sept 15 (Sun): Penang - KL - Bangkok - Tokyo

First time traveling on Thai Airways. Our flight from KL-Bangkok departed at 9pm and I was impressed that they served dinner on this short 2 hour flight. However, I wasn't impressed with the layout of Bangkok airport, a whole lot of walking without travelators.

Sept 16 (Mon): Tokyo - Denver - Huntsville

Arrived Narita airport at 8am after our 6-hour redeye flight and was welcomed by crappy rainy weather. =.=

Crappy weather aside, we also received a very 'Nintendo' welcome by Mario. 

Hopped on the 9.19am Keisei Access Express train from Narita airport to Asakusa station. This train is a good choice to get into Tokyo quickly (1 hour) at a reasonable price of $12. 

It was still drizzling when we got to Asakusa at 10.30am and the place was crowded! If given a choice, I'd definitely visit this place either early in the morning or at night.

We didn't linger long because the crowd and the rain were huge turn offs. It was also difficult to take any nice photos with such crappy weather.

We then walked over to Ichiran at Asakusa for lunch at 11.30am. Surprisingly there was no line and we didn't have to wait at all! This Ichiran has both table seats and booths, which is slightly different from most Ichiran with only 'anti-social' booths. As you can see, we all enjoyed the Tonkotsu ramen. =D

After a satisfying meal, we hopped on the metro to Akihabara. Once again, I'm impressed by the efficiency and quality of public transportation in Japan. The train display provides so much useful information for commuters in multiple languages. 

This stop was mainly for hubby (game boy). Specifically two retro game stores - Super Potato and Surugaya. Hubby is familiar with these two stores because he bought a few things from them 2 years ago. He did his 'homework' prior to the trip so he knew exactly what he wanted to buy.

One last quick stop at the arcade to play Mario Kart before heading back to the airport. 

We had quite a mad rush to catch the 2.17pm Limited Express train back to Narita airport because we'd have to wait another 30min for the next train if we missed it. W'd still have enough time to catch our flight at 6.10pm even if we missed the train, but I had my reason to not 'waste' another 30 minutes. 

Because I'd much rather spend 30 more minutes in the United Club lounge. =P We made it back to Narita airport at 3.30pm, and had approximately 1.5 hours to take a good shower and grab some food at the lounge before boarding our 10-hour flight to Denver.  We used the United Club Pass that came with the United Explorer credit card to access the lounge.

Since we were flying United, I had zero expectations for this flight. The flight was indeed 'United' standard. But at least we were lucky to have a row of 3 seats to ourselves so I creatively made this poor-man's 'suite' with the extra!

That's all for our 2019 Asia Hopper trip! Big thank you to hubby and MIL for their willingness and patience throughout this 'travel bootcamp' and keeping up with the busy itinerary, hopping through 10 airports and 12 flights in 17 days!!

Asia Hopper 2019 ✈ Penang

Our 2019 home trip gave us the opportunity to hop through (and visit) 5 Asian cities within 2 weeks. Our itinerary consists of a mix of countries that I've already visited in the past but it was nice to revisit these places with hubby and MIL, and most importantly spend time with families!

Aug 31: Seoul
Aug 31 - Sept 7: Taipei
Sept 7 - Sept 8: Hong Kong 
Sept 8 - Sept 15: Penang
Sept 16: Tokyo 

One of our main stops during this Asia Hopper trip was none other than HOME! For the last few years, I've made it a point to travel home once a year. However, this year was an exception because I have just traveled back home 2 months ago, and this was my 2nd home trip for the year. This trip was relatively shorter than the 1st trip as we had already been traveling for a week and we have limited vacation days, unfortunately. I'm actually glad I got to travel home twice this year for various family members, birthday, wedding, illness...well spending time with family in general.

Sept 8 (Sun): Hong Kong - Singapore - KL - Penang

Instead of a 4-hour direct flight from Hong Kong to Penang, our journey took almost an entire day (12 hours), hopping through more airports and flights, before we finally made it to Penang at midnight! Don't judge what we ate upon arrival in KLIA...haha!

Sept 9-15 (Sun-Sun): Penang

The last time MIL visited Malaysia was 6 years ago (for our wedding) so it was nice for the family to see her again after so many years.

Same kiddo, different! Expectation vs. Reality. =P

Glad to play with these lil' munchkins...they were definitely cheekier than 2 months ago!

Family + Food = ❤

Friends + Food = ❤

Unfortunately, the haze was pretty bad when we were there (thanks Indonesia) so minimized our time outdoor.

Fixed my cravings and went to town for some famous street food.

Glad to catch up with paternal side of the family...

...and maternal side of the family. =)

Attended cousin's wedding at E&O hotel

Congratulations to the lovely couple...Fu Aun and Lisha!! 

Everyone looking all handsome, pretty and cute...gotta take more photos!

We're all officially old enough to be served tea. =P

Love this photo!!

Can't get enough photos with my loved ones. =D

Time to eat...

Nom, nom, nom!!

Poor little boy was admitted to the hospital for a few days (which explains his not-so-happy face during the wedding). Glad to see happy boy back in action!

Stopped by grandma's and grandaunt's before heading to the airport.

Thanks to big bro and SIL for fixing another of my craving before we left!

Mom and dad sent us off at the airport. Had a quick catch up with cousin and her bf in KL airport before they head back to Perth and we continue our journey to Tokyo!

That's a wrap for our week in Penang! Home trip always fly by so quickly but I'm glad we got to spend a good bit of quality time with family this time around. Take care y'all...till we meet again next year!