Back from Switzerland

And so, I have been back from my trip of a lifetime for over two weeks, but have not updated due to struggling with various things since my return.

No trip updates for a while, until I get all the photos in one place. They currently reside in three different phones.

It was kind of a weird trip, and my Mum and I had some form of PTSD from it for about a week after we were back. My Mum had been dreaming nightly about climbing un-climable mountains, and I had also been dreaming about train rides and train stations every night. I will elaborate more when I do the trip updates, but one of the main reasons for the trip being less enjoyable then I had planned for was this – trail reviews. Don’t trust trail reviews when they say that it will be a hike grannies can do, because Swiss grannies CAN climb like goats.

I am also badly sunburnt, because I forgot to pack either sunblock or a hat, and refused to buy any in Switzerland because prices were kind of astronomical. 15CHF for a cap when I have dozens of free ones lying around at home! Thanks but no thanks! As a result, I look like I spent ten days at a beach resort instead of the mountains.

Anyway, the grand total for our trip sans discretionary shopping and gifts came to SGD 7,700 for two, which is pretty respectable. We have my mother to thank for this, since she lugged a rice cooker and about 7 dinners worth of rice all the way to Switzerland. Together with the generous breakfast at the hotel in Wengen, we managed to keep food costs way down. Frankly, it was really, really difficult to stomach the cooked food prices in Switzerland. The cheapest alternatives we could find were Kebabs at about SGD 15 each. We ate a lot from supermarket delis for our lunches, and a meal with two sandwiches and a salad would cost us about SGD 25. We checked out some Asian places, but there was no way we were ever going to be parted with SGD 25 for a bowl of beef noodles.

Frankly, I don’t know why people complain about food prices in Singapore at all. My mother told me she went on a grocery shopping spree once we came home, because suddenly everything looked so cheap by comparison.

We also spent around SGD 1100 on gifts and shopping. Dad did get his Swiss watch after all, plus another one for an Aunt of mine, and about SGD 350 worth of chocolates, wieners/cervalets and cheeses.

On the whole, it was still a memorable trip and I can now laugh at certain memories that had originally caused me to nearly cry in frustration. Switzerland is very beautiful and well run, and if I had the moolah, somewhere I would really like to live on a semi-permanent basis. Unfortunately, I don’t, so I comfort myself with thoughts of future trips back to the mountains.

Will be back with more updates as soon as I can get myself together and put together a few review posts!

….Ok, just one picture for now to stave off the anticipation…

IMG_20190915_102930_HDR

Watch out for the rest!

Dealing with Learned Helplessness

My mother recently went on a short trip to Batam with her friends, and I noticed one of her long time friends did not join the group. When I queried why, my mum made a face and said, “Oh, her husband just retired, so she can’t get away because he needs waiting on.”

The lady’s husband is a healthy, physically capable man. It was an overnight trip. She would just be away for two days! Oh, the learned helplessness of that generation of men! It makes me boil. And we have one such man in our home too.

We recently asked my Dad how he is planning to cope while Mum and I are away in Switzerland. Singapore being Singapore, food is obviously not going to be an issue. Laundry though is going to be problematic. An excerpt of the conversation went like this:

Mum and Me: Just throw it all into the washing machine.

Dad: I don’t know how to operate that.

Mum and Me: We’ll preset everything, you just throw the clothes in, add detergent, and press ONE button.

Dad: But, but, but, I won’t know which button to press…I may press the wrong button…It is just too much trouble.

Since he won’t press a button to do his laundry, the likelihood of him doing all other chores like hanging up the laundry to dry and ironing his own clothes is literally nil. Not to mention stuff like washing the toilet, mopping the floor etc while we are away.

Anyway, the conclusion to that conversation? He would just leave everything in the laundry basket for ten days until my Mum gets back to take care of it. My mum is resigned to it. She says that if he had gone with us, she would have had to deal with the same amount of laundry at the end of the trip anyway. Meanwhile, I can barely suppress my rage.

I don’t know why anyone thinks this is even acceptable. It is not even the disproportionate amount of housework that women undertake that I am talking about. It is the fact that a human being is allowed to be so shamelessly lazy and dependent until he/she loses the skills for independent living.  And while I see this typically in older generation men in my part of the world, I understand that in certain parts of the world, the younger generation is also being brought up to function this way – to always need someone else to do the dirty work for them; otherwise they literally cannot survive.

I also confess to having a secret fear that my father would outlive my mother, because it will be expected that her drudgery will become mine, being the single unmarried daughter still living in the immediate vicinity. For a long time, I almost hated my sister for getting married and moving to the other side of the world, because she just took herself out of the running for this role. And I also secretly blamed my mother for enabling my father to this extent.

If my father was really sick and unable to do things for himself, it would be one thing. Having to wait hand and foot on a healthy person physically capable of independent living is another. I had a taste of it in January this year when my mother went away and I loathe the thought that there is a chance I would be looking at years of this if ever my mother passed on before my father did.

Oh, and don’t ever try to suggest paying to outsource the work. “Why waste the money when we (as in “people other than myself”) can do the work ourselves?” and “You think we’re made of money?” are common refrains.

I guess I could just not do it, if it comes to that, but decades of conditioning has made it such that I feel extremely unfilial even just thinking about not taking care of my father that way. So I guess I am adding to the enabler train and resulting wreckage, huh?

Until I can comfortably convince myself that leaving my Dad to his own devices if Mum is not around anymore, is acceptable, I just try not to think about it too much, except rage in small doses when conversations like the abovementioned crop up. In between, I just try my best to enjoy my own independent living.

And for those who have yet to reach this point of dependency, I would exhort family and spouses to please, please stop enabling the learned helplessness for everybody’s sake and teaching the new generations that such thinking is acceptable. Note to self and all: No one ever died doing a little laundry.

August 2019 Update – An Irritable Month

Actually, the month of August itself has not been so bad, but I am feeling cranky right now from a combination of things, so that is going to colour the whole of this post, unfortunately. No sunshine and roses for this one, hey?

Anyway, the first reason for my crankiness is disturbed sleep. Two of my tenants have taken to sleeping in the living room for reasons only known to themselves. This means that we have one door between us instead of two, which means less sound insulation. As a result, I have been woken up by alternating phone alarms since 5.30 am for several mornings already, and every single time I fall back asleep, I get woken up by another alarm, until I am wide awake at 6 am, with nothing to do. I finally fall asleep again near 7 am only to be woken by my own alarm. I hate losing that 1.5 hours sleep for nothing. To add insult to injury, those responsible didn’t even wake up until about an hour after the first alarm sounded! I have no idea why they set the alarm so early! And now, I have to draft a courteous message to the culprits when all I feel like is bawling them out for the inconsideration.

The other reason for my crankiness this morning is that someone saw fit to slash my new shoes at my own doorstep over the weekend. I still haven’t gotten over it. It is one thing for someone to come along and steal the shoes. That would have been an opportunistic crime; I would still have lamented the loss but move on. This slashing feels very personal, and I now feel targeted and unsafe in the very place that I should feel safest in. I feel quite violated in a sense. I had planned for CCTV installation in next year’s budget, but now I feel like I have to do this now.

And the worst part is that my mind keeps churning around the questions “WHO?!” and “WHY?!”. Is it one of my tenants? My neighbours? Did I look at somebody in a wrong way? Forgot to smile and sent a resting bitch face to someone? The kids who were being rowdy outside my house and whom I asked to keep their voices down? Their offended parents? It is very disconcerting and unsettling to feel that there is someone out there who probably hates your guts but you have no idea who it is. And I hate being unsettled.

And now for the other major happening this month. I went to the A&E for suspected appendicitis or intestinal blockage about two weeks ago. The blood tests and scans are all clear though, so I was sent home with painkillers after 8 hrs of discomfort in a plastic chair and $600 on my credit card. I am still having lingering pains now and then, so I plan for more specialist investigative works after my Swiss trip. More money down the drain but if it all comes back clear, it is money well spent, I guess. Anyway, you will find few real complaints from me with regards to our healthcare system. We all know the mess that is US’s system and my sister has nothing too good to say about the UK NHS, so I guess we are not badly off in comparison.

Anyway, that is about it for the bad parts, thank goodness. Life goes on otherwise. My sister and her family are in Singapore this week, so I get to see the bundle of energy that is my nephew. Never in a million years would I have thought that I would ever be enamoured by a baby, but I guess I just have not met one cute enough yet before this. My nephew is apparently a little flirt and stops whole shops in their footsteps when he goes out. My sister said a stranger followed them down several aisles in the supermarket just to play peek-a-boo with the baby.

In just over two weeks, we go on our Swiss trip of a lifetime, and that is something to look forward to, but I have trouble conjuring up much enthusiasm for that at the moment. The excitement of the planning stage is all gone, and I am currently viewing the trip from a “must-do chore” perspective. I sure hope this doesn’t persist and that I get back some semblance of enthusiasm before we fly.

So yeah, it has been a little depressive this update huh? I guess things can’t always be great, but I can’t help but think if life somehow thinks I have got it too easy the last one year and it is time to shake me up a bit. I have gotten soft mentally in the ease of the last year, but I am definitely not on the lookout for any challenges, so I hope this is the extent of it. If I only have to spend money to solve the problems, I will count myself lucky.

Alright, I need to be off to see if the cobbler can do anything with my poor slashed shoes. More later when I am in a better mood.

A Question of Moral Education?

Yesterday, I gave up my seat to an elderly man in the train. He turned around and chivvied his young grand-daughter into the seat. She looked to be around seven to eight years old and quite sturdy, and in my opinion, fully able to stand for the duration of the train ride. Certainly more capable than her old grandfather. Not only that, the grandfather still held the heavy school bag despite his grand-daughter being seated; the girl did not attempt to relieve him of the burden.

This makes it the second time this happened. The first time round, the grandchild snatched the seat the moment I stood up to let his grandfather take the seat. This was a sturdy lad about eight or nine, but the grandfather had no objections. He even took out the child’s toys from the bag to ensure the child had his entertainment, while holding on to the heavy school bag himself.

I wonder what kind of moral education both parents and grandparents are providing these kids at home. Aren’t these situations perfect for teaching the kids respect for the elderly, starting from their own grandparents? I would have had the mother of all scoldings if I had dared to even consider taking a seat from my parents, not to mention my grandparents at that age.

With the MRT getting exceedingly crowded, there have been many complaints about young people not giving up their seats for the elderly. After bearing witness to the above situations myself, all I have to say to the elderly making the complaints is: You created the situation. If you didn’t teach your children/grandchildren the correct thing to do, don’t complain when the offsprings of your compatriots don’t do the right thing either.

I also confess to being exceedingly reluctant in future to give up my seat to grandparent-grandchild combinations after this, like I am somehow contributing to the over-pampering of an entitled next generation, and I am too shy to speak my mind to the grandparent in question.

What would you do?

July 2019 Update – A Mishmash of Thoughts

It has been a while since I updated, due to a bout of prolonged flu and some general laziness.

Random updates and thoughts regarding things that have happened in my life since the last post (that I am just to lazy to devote individual posts to):

  • All the Switzerland trip planning and bookings have been completed, many excel sheets later. It was done with quite a bit of exclamations over prices in general, but still, it is ALL DONE. The damage to date is S$6,200 for flights, accommodations and rail passes for two people for nine days. I really doubt we can just spend $400 per person on food for the trip, because it is Switzerland, so I guess we will end up blowing my initial budget of S$3,500 each. In fact, I have all but thrown the budget out of the window after all the research, but I am challenged to see if we can make it within $4K each including shopping. Yep, no Swiss watch for you, Dad.

 

  • The daughter of my parents’ close friend passed away suddenly. She was about my age and allegedly passed on due to stress and exhaustion related issues. I think this incident convinced my parents for a while that my simple, downshifted lifestyle is not that bad at all if it kept me healthy and happy, though my mother started making comments again last weekend about my non-achievements. Oh well.

 

  • For the nth time since I started working for my recruiter boss, we have been given age constraints for hiring. For really, really senior C-suite positions no less. The ageism is really bad; since when did 45/50 years old become the end of the runway for people? And we are living so much longer! So, take it from someone in the front lines, try to FI as early as you can, because you may be forced to RE whether you want to or not.

 

  • I tried the low information diet a while ago and I really didn’t like it, because I felt like an uninformed swine during conversations. And I also feel that more information gave me more control over my life, whether that is true or not. However, it is very hard for me to read/listen/watch any form of news or reporting these days because there is just no good stuff happening anywhere, and I get so sad. What to do about this?

 

  • I just realized (about 30 seconds ago) that the anniversary of my moving out of my parents’ place passed three days ago. So I am just over one year into living on my own, and I am alive and well, thriving and happy. Yay!

 

And…that’s it. Till the next time, folks!

Vacation Planning, Family Updates and A Baby At Home

I just charged about $2,800 to my credit card. The Swiss trip is confirmed, but it will just be my mother and I. My father decided not to go due to a combination of frugality, reduced mobility on his part and food concerns. I confess to being much relieved and a little guilty at being this relieved; my father is not easy to travel with, but it would have been nice to bring him to one of the world’s most beautiful places just one time.

There is more planning to do and more money to spend. I am planning to spend 2 nights in Lucerne and 6 nights in the Jungfrau area, staying in Wengen. Got to get the Airbnb settled by this weekend. Already, it seems that there are not many choices remaining and they all seem so expensive. I am hoping to get something around $150 to $180 a night for Wengen, but if I want to stay within Lucerne central, its going to cost me about double that, so I am still looking around. If any reader has recommendations, do comment! I need all the help I can get.

In other news, my sister was back for the last two weeks of May with my four month old nephew. Despite their complaints about the inconvenience of her traveling alone with the baby and wasting money etc, my parents were over the moon at seeing their only grandchild. My father literally can’t stop playing with baby to eat, so mealtimes were interesting. The baby is awfully adorable – endorsed by this aunt who is normally quite meh about babies and kids in general. My sister says she gets stopped a lot on the streets once people get a gander at his face, and he is absolutely charming with strangers.

I am very happy for my parents that at least one of us has decided to go the kids route and given them a taste of grandparenthood; and lessen my own guilt at my childless choice somewhat. In addition, I was feeling quite resentful at being left alone with the potential responsibility of two aging parents in Singapore, while it appeared that my sister lived free and easy in UK (well, it seemed that way in my mind). Seeing my parents’ joy with the baby has lessened the resentment quite a bit. Since she has given my parents something that I couldn’t (and wouldn’t) provide, and would have the responsibility of the kid for at least the next two decades, it now seems only fair that I take up the responsibility of my parents’ care when the time should come.

At any rate, these past two weeks have been great for the family. We are all together again and at peace with one another; there is joy at the new adorable addition; and we are all financially secured and reasonably healthy. There hasn’t been this much laughter at home for a while.

My sister and nephew are back in UK now, but they’ll be back with my brother-in-law in August, and after that, there is the Swiss trip in September. So many things to look forward to! And I’ll stop this update on this upbeat note. Till the next time, folks!

Financial Status for Jan-Apr 2019

It’s time to share my financial status again! Welcome to the oversharing club!

Below is a snapshot of my averaged monthly income and spending from Jan to April this year.

Income

  • Rental                                                : $1350
  • Salary and Bonus                            : $1560
  • Gifts                                                    : $  280 (Great Big CNY Ang Baos from various)

Fixed Expenses

  • Housing (Prop Tax, SS&C)             : $    50 (Lower than usual thanks to Government rebates)
  • Utilities                                              : $  130 (increasing monthly, only saved by Government rebate in Mar)
  • Health Insurance (OOP)                 : $    12
  • Whole Life Premiums                     : $  780
  • Endowment Plans Premiums        : $  630 (Savings)
  • Investment Retainer                        : $  190

Variable Expenses

  • Transport                                          : $  100 (high due to a few $20 cab fares in Jan and Feb thanks to having to ferry luggage to and fro my parents’ place and the airport and some CC refund issues.)
  • Internet                                             : $    42
  • HP                                                       : $    37 (higher thanks to UK trip in Feb – wasn’t prepared enough)
  • Food (At Home)                               : $   170
  • Food (Out)                                         : $    26
  • Snacks                                                : $    30
  • Paper Goods/Maintenance             : $    30 (high due to a laptop repair in Feb)
  • Personal Care                                    : $  810 (horribly high since I front loaded the skincare products and facial/massage package. Won’t have to pay again until next year hopefully.)
  • Clothes and Bags                               : $   80 (purchases during the UK trip – Desigual was 50% off!)
  • Medical                                                : $   25
  • Entertainment                                    : $   10
  • Gifts and Charity                                : $   95
  • NTUC Membership                             : $    9
  • Family Spending                                 : $ 105 (Paid for some odds and ends and treats for parents including UK trip travel insurance)

Net Balance                                                : – $ 171

Yup, overall I went into the red for these four months. On a scale of 1 to 10, I am perhaps about 5 on the level of concern I have on this overspending. A large part of it was the front load on personal care stuff and some one-off costs, though I also had some reasonably large cash gifts and some government rebates. I am still expecting to be overall in the black based on the yearly budget numbers. I might have to end up drawing from savings to pay for part of the Switzerland trip rather than cash flowing it though.

I would also like to trim the snack bills to below $15 a month going forward. I had no issues with snacking during unemployment, but that changed when I started work. I suspect the computer is just not challenging enough to keep me from boredom and when I get bored, I want to eat. Make no mistake, I enjoy the routineness and slight boredom of the work, because – no mental stress! I have had enough brain challenging work to last me a lifetime. But it makes me want to suck on candies. I am trying to get around that by bring lots of fruits to work. One day I actually ate three apples in the course of the workday, not including the cherry tomatoes I had for lunch, and I still wanted chocolates. I shudder at my sugar intake.

Also, I am seeing monthly increases in utilities usage for the past few months and it does not seem to have stabilised. This I am extremely concerned about. January was about $115 and April hit $155 for water and electricity combined. There has been increased electricity use due increase air-conditioning use as a result of the hot weather in the past couple of months. Water was probably due to increased cooking activity by one tenant. Another tenant just joined the cook-at-home gang this month, so I can’t seem to stabilise the utilities usage at a predictable level. This is worrying for me. I don’t want to restrict anyone’s activities, but if the total starts going past $160, I would have to start tweaking my overall budget and put some restrictions on the cooking.

Other than that, I will just continue on the general path I have set out for myself and budget hard for the Swiss trip and hope to be budget neutral at the end of the year.

Assets as of April 30, 2019

  • Home Equity                                    : $400,000
  • Cash                                                   : $  18,000
  • Endowments Plans                         : $  87,500 (not including unconfirmed bonuses)
  • Stocks & REITS                                 : $  57,000
  • Equity and Bond Funds                 : $241,500
  • CPF OA+SA                                        : $ 179,000 (Most of it is in the SA)
  • CPF Medisave                                   : $ 54,000
  • Whole Life Insurance                     : $81,000 (This is the surrender value of all my policies at this point without accounting for unconfirmed bonuses)

Total Net Worth                                        : $1,118,000

In terms of assets, things were generally going in the right direction for these months, i.e, up, except for home equity.  The valuation value on SRX plunged almost 50K in March and I haven’t actually investigated why. I am not quite so concerned, since my original plans were to hang on to the house until I pass on. As long as my rooms remain rented out, I am a contented puppy.

It remains to be seen what the recent Dow plunge and the trade war threats will do to my numbers going forward though.

And there you have it, there is not much excitement in the numbers these days because things are mostly stabilised and on auto mode, as they should be.

I will update again as I see fit, probably once the Swiss trip numbers are firmed up. Happy number crunching!

Planning To Go For A Vacation

I have been doing research for a Switzerland trip in September.

Unless most people who seek out FIRE, extensive traveling was never part of my RE plans and my budget reflects that. I used to want to travel in my youth and young adulthood, but I have since figured out that those urges were more to get away from my general life at that period of time, than really wanting to get to somewhere. Those days, I would have been happy to go on a 12 hr plane ride, get to the destination, and get on a return flight immediately. The plane rides, with nothing to do but eat, sleep, read and watch movies, were legitimately some of the most stress free periods of my life.

Since the pieces of my life fell into the correct places, I have stopped experiencing travel urges.

That said, there are still a couple places that I would really like to experience at least once. In no particular order, the Tyrolean Alps, the Swiss Alps and the Scottish highlands. These places have two things in common – mountains, and a particular book that mentioned them.

The other thing is that I have very little time left to bring my parents places where they are unlikely to visit by themselves, due to language issues. Both don’t speak or read much English and travel groups don’t always offer the best experiences.

So I decided that do or die, this would be the year I visited one of the places on my short list and bring my parents along for the ride. I happen to have about 2 weeks in September available as my boss will also be on her family vacation, so we will be closing the office anyway.

We would probably be spending about 10 days on a Bernese Oberland focused trip, maybe see a bit of Lucerne if we have time. Peak season would have been just past in September so it will not be so expensive and crowded, and the weather is still borderline acceptable. I just hope we don’t get too much rain. I chose Switzerland for the ease of getting around with older folks – love me some punctual trains, boats buses, since I can’t drive for love or money. I hope I can do it for not more than $3500 per person.

I will be back with more updates once I get the details fixed up. I am getting really excited just writing this down, so maybe I am not so immune to holiday travel as I thought?

Happy Belated Birthdays to Me

I have been slacking at blogging again. It’s peak period at the office, at least until after the 3rd quarter of the year, so I haven’t had time to write at work. And I find the time too precious at home to devote to writing when I could be doing much more enjoyable stuff. Like chasing the episodes of that Qing dynasty court drama…

Let’s see how much I can squeeze in while my boss goes for a snack…

My birthday was last month. It so happens that my Chinese lunar birthday fell on the day before my Gregorian calendar birthday, so I sort of had two birthdays in a row, which made me feel extra special this year.

I haven’t felt like celebrating my birthday for quite a while. Past years’ birthdays have always felt like a reminder that my life was quickly going nowhere. No achievements to celebrate and nothing to look forward to.

It feels like a grand rebirth this year. I feel like I finally have exactly what I want and where I want it. I have my own paid off home, finances are looking ok, family relations are great. I have security and happiness.

Oh yeah, I also did a simple blood test around the same time. Everything came back fine. I used to have high cholesterol, and it has gone away. So yeah, looking good on the health front.

I actually stopped to think about how things could be improved from the current situation and nothing really much came to mind. Well, I would like to be fully FI but that is only 6 years away, and with my current job, 6 years is doable. At least I don’t feel like I will be looking out from behind bars when I think of working those six years at my current job. Other than that, I want for nothing else.

I really feel very, very blessed. It has been a long road to get to this place. But I am here now, and enjoying every minute of it.

So, happy birthday again to me, and may all my birthdays find me as happy as I am on this last one.

Cold Office Woes

I just finished sunning myself for about 20 minutes on the balcony of my office premises.

For people who know me, it is hard to believe I would actually actively seek the sun. I am deathly afraid of heat, and tend to perspire at the drop of a hat.

But yes. Since I started work in this office, I have had regular sunning sessions.

Blame the central air-conditioning at the office.

I never had much love for central air-conditioning. Invariably there would be someone complaining about being hot at one end of the room while others have to bring in winter coats at the other end of the office.

I, personally have always managed to park myself at the colder end, but was mostly comfortable with a cardigan. Until this office.

I currently wear three layers of clothing when I am in the office. And make a lot of hot tea for warming my hands. I am, for the first time in my life, sick of tea. I would have brought gloves too, but can’t type with them on. It is so ridiculous that I have to go to such means to keep warm, in Singapore of all places!

Numerous complaints to management have not yielded a permanent solution. I kind of understand that central air-conditioning balancing is an art, and if they accommodate me, someone in another office might roast.

Hence the need for periodic sunning.

Anyway, these days, I kind of have a lot more sympathy after this for those foreigners who come to our shores and insist on sitting al-fresco for lunch and lying out in the hot sun on the beach. A bit of heat and sun now and then is really a luxury.

And after all this typing, I need to make another cup of tea…