What? I’m moving to China?

As I mentioned in my last post, there were some big changes, and reason for some blog updates.  And the cat is out of the bag.  I’m moving to China.  Well, not permanently, but for six months.  It has been a very long process to get here.  Let me tell you about it.

My new home

It all started 6 months ago in a conversation with my boss. He asked if I’d be interested in helping our engineering center in China in a similar capacity to my job here in the United States. Due to my love of international travel, I was interested. Over the course of several months, we investigated what it would take to do an expat assignment. Several others have done expat assignments in our company but none of us knew anyone that have recently done so. Because of my 50% child custody placement, I wanted to include my daughter in these travels not only to avoid any financial implications of not fulfilling my 50% duty, but also because it would be and immensely great experience for my daughter. Therefore, I had to work within these constraints of bringing my daughter for 50% of the time that I was there. The best trying to do this would be during summer break from school. While this was six months from when we started to talk about this, it turns out that it really wasn’t enough time due to all of the red tape.

My boss started inquiring what it would take to make this happen. It took four months just to work through the financial estimates to the company. This left only two months to work through the company approvals and the work permit and travel visa process.  The immigration attorney said that it would take up to four months just to process my application.  But we needed to do it in two months.

Your journey begins with MANY steps

The application process was quite long and involved.  First we had to submit an application for a “notification letter for work permit application”.  This wasn’t an application for a work permit, but a sort of pre-approval for applying for a work permit later.  In order to apply for this notification letter, there were a ton of documents to provide to the Chinese government, and an insane amount of data to provide.  Even though I’ve been working in this field for 27 years, they wanted to know my university info, my high school info, and even my elementary school info!  I had to get a thorough medical exam which needed to include chest x-rays, an ECG (electrocardiogram), immunization history dating back to childhood, and about 8 vials of blood for them to check for a myriad of STDs and other diseases.  I’m told that I’ll have to repeat this health examination once I arrive in China.  I guess that’s in case I get any new STDs in the last two months.  Once all of this information was sent to the China government, they informed my immigration attorney that they now wanted an FBI “non criminal record”.  So off to the police station to get four sets of fingerprint cards.  The ink kind…no electronic scanning.


Fingerprinted like a criminal

After the notification letter is received, I can finally apply for my work visa.  The Chinese work visa isn’t a work permit either.  The work visa is only permission to enter the country with intent to work, but not permission to work.  So with only 7 business days remaining until departure, I have to drive to the China Consulate in Chicago and apply for my travel visa, which takes 4 business days to process.  Nothing like cutting it a little close.

But wait, there’s more!

Upon entry in China, there’s several more hoops to jump through.  As mentioned, I need to get another medical exam.  Within a few days of arrival, I need to surrender my passport to apply for the work permit.  This will take up to 3 weeks to process.  Technically, I’m not supposed to work while this is being processed.  So, I guess I can go into the office and “socialize” with the team.  Once my work permit is received, then I can apply for my temporary residence permit.  This will take another week, and they need my passport for that as well.  I’m forbidden to leave the country during my first month.  They’ll give me some other form of identification to carry around, and travel within China.  China also requires that if I move (move from temporary hotel housing to an apartment), I need to inform the “public security bureau” (police station) of my new address within 24 hours.  Also, if I stay at a friend’s house overnight, technically I’m supposed to register this at the public security bureau.  I guess they need to keep very close watch on their foreign guests.

Lots of changes

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything.  The main reason for that is that I didn’t feel there was much to write about.  At least not on a regular basis.  But there’s been a recent development that will hopefully bring more regular posts.  In the meanwhile, let’s catch you up.

Changing Plans, slightly

As previously mentioned, I have a goal to travel the world in retirement, with the current plan involving a sailboat as my method of travel and home.  I had planned to not buy a sailboat until much closer to retirement, maybe about 1-2 years before retiring.  I simply didn’t want the expense.  Purchasing a sailboat earlier meant taking a bunch of money out of my investments, a growth medium, into something that depreciates in value.  I’d rather have that money grow for a few more years, as long as possible.   In addition, there are variable costs that you incur every year.  And with a sailboat, those costs are relatively high.

One day, I overheard a co-worker talking about buying a sailboat with another partner. That got me thinking. If they would allow a third person in on their partnership, I could get all the experiences of sailboat ownership and a lot of sailing experience with only one-third of the cost. One-third of the purchase cost, one-third of the ongoing annual costs. But I could still get 100% of the experience. This would leave most of my investments intact. I thought this was an interesting trade-off in order to get this experience before I went all-in on a boat of my own. I could learn much more about sailing, sailboat maintenance as well as understand if I could really live on a sailboat long term.

I bought a sailboat

Continue Reading →

That wasn’t a vacation, it was an adventure


Well, that was quite the “vacation”.  Actually, I wouldn’t call it a vacation.  I’d call it an adventure.  My typical vacation usually consists of going to some island and generally relaxing.  I’ll sleep until I feel like getting up, maybe take in a few tourist sites, definitely a lot of beach time, and go to sleep whenever.  This vacation was quite different.

The Route

The Hot Rod Power Tour is an annual traveling car show, visiting 7 cities in 7 days, and the route changes every year.  This year was:
Madison, WI
Champaign, IL
St. Louis, MO
Memphis, TN
Birmingham, AL
Gulfport, MS
Baton Rouge, LA

The official route was about 1500 miles, driving about 200-300 miles per day.  Getting to/from the starting and stopping points is up to you and was another 1500 miles in my case.  The standard routine is:  you get up in the morning, drive 200-300 miles, attend a car show in the next town, have dinner, check out the cars in your hotel parking lot, get some sleep, and repeat.  Sounds pretty simple, and pretty interesting to be in a new town every day.

gto-new-vs-oldGTO:  New versus Old

Starting with the first evening, my buddy and I got into a late-night wrenching session (more work on the car).  Even though I sunk over $4000 preparing the car for the 3000 mile trip, Continue Reading →

Take the Road Less Traveled


There are a couple reasons why I choose to be relatively frugal.  One of them is that I like to skimp in areas such that I can spend in others.  After all, there’s only a finite money supply coming into my pockets, so I choose to spend it wisely.  And one of the best ways to spend wisely is to value experiences over material possessions.  For me, and I’m thinking a lot of others, travel is one such way to enjoy new experiences.  Memories (and photos) of a trip last far longer than that new cellphone or gadget.

Power Tour

I have spent a lot of time (and unfortunately, money) preparing for an upcoming trip.  Most of my past trips involved an airplane ride to some far away destination, usually outside of the USA.  This trip is a little different.  It’s a good old-fashioned road trip.  And it’s a road trip like no other.  It’s the Hot Rod Magazine Power Tour.  It’s packed with approximately 3000 cars that travel from town to town over the course of a week.  Seven cities in seven days, covering over 1500 miles.  As you can see in the first picture, it’s quite a parade!  There’s a lot of new cars, old cars, hot rods, big loud roaring engines, burn outs and very unique cars!  And they trigger old memories of a car once owned.  A snapshot of their previous life:  Illegal street racing, going to the (real) drive-through, sneaking friends in the gigantic trunk into the drive-in theater, first dates, shenanigans in the back seat, or previous road trips taken.

One thing that’s nice about the Power Tour is that they try to avoid using interstates and drive a lot of the state highways and local roads.  It’s a great way to see Americana, which you don’t get to see whizzing by at 75 MPH on the interstates.  It’s something I love doing whenever I do a road trip.  Take a new path to get to a frequent destination.  Stop by some mom and pop store or awesome homemade cooking restaurant.



You get to slow down and enjoy the view.  And the locals enjoy the business, the temporary excitement in town, and maybe even a new friendship.



My Memories

As I mentioned, I’ve been quite busy lately trying to get my car ready.  After all, I’m a little concerned about it’s road-worthiness, as it’s nearly 50 years old.  And it’s been 24 years since it was restored.  You see, this trip isn’t all about what lies ahead.  It’s also about remembering the past memories.  My father and I bought this car 24 years ago, and restored it together.  It’s what my dad and I did together.  We worked on cars.  We went to car shows.  He’d relive his past and tell me stories.  It was the together time that I cherished, as he didn’t have much time while working a full-time job plus a part-time job trying to provide for his family.  But we worked on cars.  We worked on his cars.  And when I got old enough, we worked on my cars.  But our last car together has sat nearly silent for the last seven years, when he passed away.  I would still visit once a year and take it to the Midwest’s largest car show, the Iola Old Car Show.  But it’s not right to have this memory (car) sit 363 days a year and only drive it 30 miles, only to sit another 363 days to be awoken again.  So last summer I bought it to its new home…my home.  And I got this crazy idea to go on the Hot Rod Power Tour.

What was I thinking?  This was nearly 3000 miles!  In the last 7 years, the car has only seen around 300 miles total!  In the last 24 years, the car has only seen 6000 miles.  And I want to put on 3000 in a week?  I couldn’t help but think that dad might roll over in his grave.  But then, maybe he’d be proud that I’d be out enjoying the car, showing it to others to enjoy, and not rotting away hidden in a garage.  Maybe it’s a great way to relive some of my memories with my dad.  Maybe dad would “ride along” with me and enjoy it too?

It’s not an inexpensive trip.  Getting the car ready, just doing some maintenance and replacing some old parts (like 24 year old tires!) cost $4000.  (That’s a fraction of what the car is worth, so it’s not a ton in the big picture…not like sinking $2000 of repairs into a car that’s only worth $2500 when fixed.)  The trip itself won’t be cheap either.  3000 miles at around 12 MPG and it has to burn premium fuel is about $800 in gasoline, plus 7 nights in hotels (mostly budget hotels….Super 8, except one night on crazy Beale St. in Memphis) and 7 days of dining out.  This trip will be more expensive than most of my international trips!

I know that a frugal lifestyle shuns car ownership due to the costs.  I still like to think that being frugal allows us to be able to spend money wisely elsewhere.  This car, this hobby, and this road trip is one of those places I choose to spend wisely.  It’s a way for me to keep my father’s memory alive, and to make new memories of my own.  How do you assign value to that?  One more thing.  This isn’t the typical car where you lose nearly 20% of it’s value just by driving it off the dealer’s lot, or losing nearly 90% of it’s value in 10 years or less.  Since we’ve owned this car, it has tripled in value.  So while there is some maintenance, storage and insurance costs, one could consider it an investment.  As such, I’ve actually included it’s value in my net worth, because it’s a fairly large number.

Here’s a picture of my(our) car…  a 1966 Pontiac GTO Convertible, with the original 389 c.i. engine.  Vrooom.


What are my early retirement goals?

my-goalsSince it is important to set goals, I thought I would proclaim mine here, so you understand where I’m coming from and where I’m trying to go.  Unfortunately, I am not yet at the start of my 5 year plan, but I’m getting closer every day.  While I previously didn’t do any calculations to determine the feasibility of my goal, I wanted to retire early.  From a fairly young age, I arbitrarily picked (guessed) age 50.  I know that’s not extremely early, but it’s far earlier than most colleagues retiring around age 62 with reduced Social Security benefits or age 66 with full benefits.  And it’s far younger than any one I personally know…until I found out former co-worker Jeremy from GoCurryCracker retired at age 38.

Goal Reset

Somewhat recently, I had to completely reset all of my plans.  Just about 2.5 years ago, I had a very large set-back to my plans.   Continue Reading →

Setting Goals for Early Retirement

goal-plan-2In the words of the Twisted Sister video I Wanna Rock, “What do you want to do with the rest of your life?”  That’s an excellent question.  We hear it throughout our lives.  We are asked as little kids, “What do you want to do when you grow up?”  We are asked in a job interview, “What do you see yourself doing in 5 years?”  It’s good to have goals.  Without goals and something to aspire to, how do know what to do to get there?  While it’s good not to have every minute of your life planned out, I don’t think it’s good to live life completely aimlessly either.  Of course goals can be specific, but they do not need to be.  The further out, the more generic they can be.  As time passes, you can refine your goals.  As you do more research, you can refine you goals.  And of course, just like a kid who’s asked what they want to do when they grow up, even adults are allowed to change their minds.

I have a goal of early retirement.  That is my goal.  Knowing that this is my goal, it means I need to work towards financial independence.  I want to be FIRE.  Financially Independent, Retired Early. Continue Reading →