Monday, December 22, 2008

Review of 2008: Success or Not?

A nice shaded place for a rest on a warm day (near the southern end of Cheng Ching Lake, Kaohsiung)

Many people set goals for themselves at the start of a new year. Well, I did not have a blog then, and in any case I did not write down any goals, even though I may have kept a few goals to pursue somewhere in the back of my mind. In some ways, then, it is not very easy to determine whether I had a successful year or not. However, given that I did not articulate the goals clearly then, I can perhaps express the goals I think I might have set in terms of the results achieved. In this case, I may be able to record some achievements after all.
While at the beginning of the year, money had a very prominent role to play in terms of how I thought I should define success, there is clearly more to life than just money. At times in the past (usually when it appeared I had sufficient to cover immediate daily living expenses), I often regarded making money as a necessary evil (often due to having a boring, time-consuming job) in order to have what I needed to do something interesting in the little time that I had left. While with any work there is the inevitable frustration and boredom, I fortunately seldom have to think like that nowadays.
Hopefully, there will also be some spare time to understand famous historical Chinese writings such as this one which hangs on my study wall.

I have recently been reading a book entitled "7 Principles for Creating Your Future," by James Semradek and Michael Butler. It is "light" but thought-provoking reading. Since both authors are fairly successful management consultants with their own business, they view a successful life (and by implication successful steps along the way) as the ability to integrate a good family life with business and financial success, with sufficient time left over to enjoy family vacations, remain physically fit, be debt-free and able to "pursue one's dreams". They even provided a table in which we can grade things like the success of our business, relationship with spouse, kids, etc. While the authors appear to be able to give themselves an "A" or higher for everything, at least I can try to see if I am any better off now than I was at the end of last year (or is everything just "F"?!).
The Grand Hotel, Kaohsiung (overlooking Cheng Ching Lake from the other side)

While the family members are much more objective in terms of determining how I scored in that area, I realize that at least where I am at present, there is a certain trade-off involved. This time last year (December 22), we were close to finishing the fairly extensive repairs on our older Taipei apartment, had already started packing our things and our new house in which we are now was more or less ready for occupancy (various cupboards, a solar energy water heater, the kitchen equipment, etc. had been fitted). So I knew 2008 would be a year in which we would have to continue to spend a lot on our new house (furniture, curtains, lanai wrap-arounds, etc.), and we also were uncertain as to whether to sell the old apartment.
Anyway, we moved down south at the end of January just in time for the Chinese New Year with my in-laws who basically all live there, and then life mainly consisted of getting on with work to buy the things we needed. In March after not having swum for nearly 8 months, I checked out a nearby indoor pool and soon was swimming there every day. At the pool I gradually got to know some people, and apart from those people, I did not really get to know anyone else (except for a few at the local church we attended), mainly because I just work at home.
One can still eat fairly well on a limited budget by eating fruits that are in season.
It was probably the end of October when I first started to think we had bought everything we needed for the house, although shortly afterwards I realized that we were not quite there yet. However, reaching that realization and also discovering the outdoor 50m pool in scenic surroundings gave me a new lease of life as it were. In October I also started to focus more on changing my swimming stroke (with the help of Karlyn Pipes-Neilsen's instruction DVD), so that I could say I swam pretty solidly from the beginning of April to the end of November. During the last few weeks I have been a little hampered by the colder weather (which makes swimming outdoors a bit more of a challenge), and also the fact that for the last week or so I have been affected by a cold or flu or whatever, which had kept me off swimming for a week and on several occasions I just have not felt comfortable eating. I am glad, however, that I was able to get through over eight months of swimming without troubles like this.
So to sum up, the year has been quite a busy one as regards work, but I have managed to continue to swim fairly seriously and, as for family times, at least I have spent much of my time at home each day even though I have not have had a lot of time to actively engage with family members (like watching TV together, or just hanging out). There has been little activity in terms of family vacations, although the four of us did spend a couple of days traveling around the southern tip of the island in July.The benefits of walking - this spectacular view of Taipei was discovered on a relatively clear day.

I have been very fortunate to have had interesting and convenient work to do, which has enabled me to work from home, and I have not had to look for a job since moving from overseas to Taipei last year or from Taipei to Kaohsiung this year. So while there has been a lot of change in my life in terms of where we have been living and the people we see each day, my job is the one thing that has remained stable.
As the year draws to a close, it will soon be the time to list some realistic goals for next year. By realistic I mean that I need to recognize the constraints on my time and budget. Earlier this year, for instance, I found that every time I wanted to engage in some sporting activity with foreigners in Taiwan, there were always so many incidental expenses (in addition to having to travel half the island to get to some venue). With my Chinese friends here, costs are always kept to a minimum. They understand the value of money much better.
One thing I have learned over the past year is that it is relatively easy to life cheaply and comfortably here (e.g., by living in a nice house like ours, cooking one's own food, riding a bicycle or using public transport, etc.). However, once one wants to live on a higher level (e.g., like shop in department stores, drive a nice looking car, or fly overseas), costs suddenly increase exponentially. While trips involving flying have their place, they need to be planned and thought out very carefully, otherwise many of the smaller gains built up over a long period can be completely wiped out.
If overseas travel is beyond one's budget, one may be able to compromise by going somewhere local (this beach is two hours by car from our home)

Therefore, one of the types of trips I am interested in, which has become quite fashionable these days, is to travel by bicycle right from the time the aircraft lands in another country, and to travel from one place to the next, taking photos, keeping up with the world through the Internet on a laptop computer, and even (for people like me) continuing to work several hours a day in the private guest houses where I will stay as I travel. In that way, I can integrate vacations, pastimes (like learning about other cultures, e.g., Japan) and the reality of a job and, if family members, can come, too, then family life as well! Well, that remains a dream, but one I seek to pursue.

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