Random thoughts – Asia travel edition

view from Taipei Marriott

I have been on the road in Asia for the past 10 days and by the time this post goes live, I will be in the air, on my way back to Vancouver. For this trip, I landed in Hong Kong last Tuesday night, had meetings in Hong Kong the next day, then hopped over China to stay in Shenzhen Wednesday evening. On Thursday I had multiple meetings in Shenzhen and went back to Hong Kong Thursday evening. I then went into my company’s Hong Kong office Friday morning to give a presentation before heading to Hong Kong airport to catch a flight to Taipei. On Saturday, I had dinner with three of my cousins and their families. It was really nice to see them again and it was amazing to see how quickly their kids have grown. After dinner, I mentioned to one of my cousins that he’s famous as he has appeared on Business Insider. He laughed and told me to continue writing.  Then Monday to Thurs was jam-packed with customer meetings in Taipei. It felt like a whirlwind tour…because it was!

 

Collecting points and status because they are worth it.

I’m currently in the middle of the Marriott Platinum Challenge, where I need to have 9 stays at different Marriott properties within 90 days to become a platinum level elite member for next year. Thanks to hopping around Hong Kong and Shenzhen, I quickly racked 3 stays in 3 nights. To increase my stay counts, I decided to switch between the two Marriott hotels in Taipei to get another 3 stays in the bag. So in 10 days, I had gotten 6 stays. This means I only need 3 more stays to complete the challenge. With some business trips lined up already, I should be able to get 3 more stays within the 90-day duration.

Crazy things one would do to get status eh?

But having the Marriott elite status is totally worth it. For examples, you get guaranteed late check out at 4 PM, lounge access (if the property has one), free breakfast, and bonus Marriott reward points. The late check out at 4 PM has been really useful for both business and personal trips.

Between credit card sign up travel hacks and collecting Marriott points through business trips, we went to Maui for 12 nights in February and saved ourselves over $10,000.

So yes, collecting points and getting elite status is worth it.

 

The price for being away from the family

While on the road, I have been having Skype video calls with Mrs. T, Baby T1.0, and Baby T2.0. The first night I was away, both kids were crying for me during bedtime, so Mrs. T asked me to call them to say good night. Both kids clearly have missed me the last 10 days, especially Baby T2.0.

As a parent, you might not realize how big your kids have grown until you are away from them for a few days. Talking to Baby T1.0 via Skype made me realized how awesome his conversation skills have become. Each time he would explain to me all the things that he did during the day with great details, like building Lego, tending our cat, and making bread at my parents’ place. He even started using words and phrases like “Yup,” “Wait a minute,” “eh,” etc. I laughed at how he said the word “yup” because that’s exactly how I say it. He definitely picked that up from me.

Like father like son right?

On the other hand, Baby T2.0 has been speaking more and more words, as well as longer sentences. Whenever I talked to her, she would keep saying “Daddy come back,” and “Daddy sleep with me.”

She’s such a daddy’s girl.

Talking to Mrs. T and the two kids over Skype during this business trip made me reflect a bit. Typically, as one goes up the corporate ladder, one is expected to travel more for business. Many of the directors and executives are often on the road for an extended period of time.

I’m nowhere close to the director and executive levels, but as I get more seniority within my company, I am being asked to travel to meet customers. Right now business travels are manageable but I do wonder if there’s a limit to how much I travel.

If you may recall, I asked a hypothetical question in the Financial Independence Retire Early is nonsense post…

Would you accept this job offer?

  • Working from home, flexible hours
  • Working with people across multiple time zones
  • 10-12 hours of work each day (50-60 hours a week)
  • 50-70% travel is required (within NAM and internationally)
  • A base salary of $200k USD per year
  • Up to 15% annual bonus
  • Health coverage + extended health benefits
  • 401(k)/RRSP contribution matching up to 3%
  • 2 weeks vacation

I think 50-70% travel is a deal breaker for me, given the two little kids at home. And I would not be able to see Mrs. T all that much. It would harm our relationship, I think.

However, what if we change the question a little bit? What if your current job will pay you 25% more of your current salary but requires you to travel 10-20% more, while all the other work benefits and conditions stay the same. Would you do it?

Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy business travel, meet customers, and give presentations. But as both kids get older and understand what it means when their daddy goes away on a business trip, I am beginning to question how much travel is too much. A 2 or 3 day trip is usually not a big deal, but multi-day oversea international trips are getting tougher. Fortunately, I don’t do too much multi-day oversea international trips just yet.

 

The cashless society… Is this a good thing?

When I was in Shenzhen, it was very easy to differentiate me from all the locals. No, not from the clothes I wore or how I spoke Mandarin, but from the fact that I was using cash and credit card.

According to my Chinese coworkers, China is quickly becoming a cashless society. Rather than using cash or credit card to pay for things, people use their phones. When riding a taxi, people use WeChat and many different apps to pay. This is the same when you are in a restaurant or in a store.

downtown Shenzhen

downtown Shenzhen

Whenever I pay with cash or my credit card, people would look at me funny.

Even in Hong Kong, my HK coworkers were paying taxi fares directly from their phones. It’s so much more convenient than carrying cash or credit cards around, they said.

But is using your phone to pay for things a good thing?

Hong Kong

At the 2016 Canadian Personal Finance Conference, Pret Banerjee was one of the keynote speakers and he talked about behavioural finance. Basically how our everyday behaviours affect what we do with money.

One of the things that Pret explained was that we touch our phones probably hundreds of times each day. Meanwhile, we probably touch our wallets for maybe less than 10 or fewer times a day. So when you take out cash or a credit card from your wallet to pay for something, you need to actively think about the purchase, especially when you need to enter your credit card pin. Because you touch your phone hundreds of times a day, when you use your phone to pay for something, you just tap and go. There’s no longer the need to consciously think and analyze your purchases. You just tap and go and forget the rest. Pret argued that by using your phone to pay for things on a daily basis, you probably would spend more money than relying only on cash and/or credit cards.

So I do wonder, do people in China and Hong Kong spend more than say 10 years ago when phone payments were around? I think this would be a very interesting study to perform.

Personally, I think behaviour finance is a fascinating topic. This is why I really enjoyed reading The Behaviour Gap. If you haven’t read the book, I highly recommend it.

Speaking of behaviour finance, controlling human emotions is extremely important when it comes to investing. You certainly don’t want to panic and sell your investments because the market is down 10% or more in a day. As a long-term investor, it’s important to control your behaviours and emotions. Only invest with money that you don’t need to access for the next 5 years, and always ask yourself these 3 key questions before investing.

Losing 10% of your portfolio value in one day is terrible. But what’s even more terrible is taking a 10% realized loss, sit on the sideline because you are afraid of further losses, and losing the market recovery completely. This is exactly what happened to many people after the 2009 financial crisis. Even over 9 years later, there are still people afraid of investing because they believe the market will come crashing down the very next day they invest their money. So they continue to wait and miss out on all the potential gains.

Remember, in the long run, the market goes up. Invest for the long term and forget about day trading.

 

Financially Independent via geoarbitrage… a Taipei example

Back in April, I mentioned how we can be financially independent today via geoarbitrage.  While in Taipei, I have confirmed once again that the cost of living in Taipei is much cheaper than Vancouver. For example, I went for a traditional Taiwanese breakfast on the weekend and ordered two egg pancakes (Dan Bing/蛋餅), a baked wheat cake with Chinese doughnut (Shao Bing You Tiao/燒餅油條), and a cup of soy milk. This was a pretty big breakfast (I was hungry, after a good workout) and it only cost less than $100 NTD (around $4.35 CAD or $3.30 USD). Later when I went to Starbucks and ordered a medium latte, it cost me $135 NTD (for some reason Starbucks is expensive in Taiwan compared to North America). I couldn’t believe that my HUGE breakfast cost less than a cup of coffee!

Similarly, I was able to find cheap local Taiwanese dishes for less than $200 NTD (~$8.70 CAD or $6.70USD) for lunch. If you were to purchase similar dishes in Vancouver, they would cost you much more than $8.70 CAD, probably in the $15-20 CAD range.

View this post on Instagram

Yum yum! 😁

A post shared by Bob Lai (@tawcan) on

View this post on Instagram

😁😍😤👍

A post shared by Bob Lai (@tawcan) on

When I went to an authentic Japanese ramen shop for lunch one day, a bowl of ramen and a plate of gyozas cost $330 NTD (~$14.30 CAD or $11 USD). To give some perspectives, a bowl of ramen typically cost around $12 CAD + taxes + tip in Vancouver. A plate of gyozas usually is around $8 CAD or so.

The prices in Taipei may not be Thailand cheap cheap, but certainly cheaper than Vancouver.

One thing to keep in mind is that Taipei is supposed to be much more expensive than the rest of Taiwan.

Another thing to keep in mind is that just like any cities, you can find really really expensive restaurants if you desire. For example, I saw a Japanese restaurant nearby my hotel with very high ratings on Google. When I looked at the restaurant website, I was quick to realize it was way out of my price range. The Japanese kaiseki costs $6,500 NTD (~$282 CAD or $218 USD).

Wow!

You won’t find me in that kind of expensive restaurant anytime soon.

However, I am convinced more than ever that financial independence through geoarbitrage is indeed possible.

When you open yourself to opportunities, you will find an endless amount of opportunities.

When you limit yourself and put restrictions, you will find that opportunities are hard to come by.

Be open and be flexible in life.

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15 Comments

  • Reply
    Joe
    June 7, 2018 at 6:16 am

    That sounds like a super busy trip. I’m sure your family is happy you’re back. I haven’t been away from our son since I retired early 6 years ago. That’s a great perk of early retirement. You have more choices.
    Taipei sounds nice. We visited about 10 years ago and everything was cheap compared to the US and Canada. The local food was very affordable and interesting.
    As for more business travel, I don’t know. At this point in my life, I don’t think it’s worth it. I wouldn’t have minded it when I was young.

    • Reply
      Joe
      June 7, 2018 at 6:28 am

      Oh, I think paying by phone is a great fit for China. They need to become a consumer society. For us, I don’t think it’s a good idea. That’s making it too easy to spend money.

      • Reply
        Tawcan
        June 8, 2018 at 9:19 am

        Hi Joe,

        It was a busy trip and the family was very happy that I’m finally back. 🙂

        Taipei was very nice indeed but this time around it was too hot for me (in HK and Shenzhen too). Taipei was definitely cheaper than HK if you stick with local cuisine.

        Apparently counterfeit money is a major problem in China, that’s why people now rely more on phone payments rather than cash transactions.

  • Reply
    Kevin
    June 7, 2018 at 1:20 pm

    Hello, we are planning a trip to Europe next year (Turkey, Greece, and Italy) and wondering what is the best options for accommodations. Given the recent news on Marriott/SPG (and changes to AMEX Starwood) I am wondering which credit cards and or hotel loyalty program to look into.

    • Reply
      Tawcan
      June 8, 2018 at 9:26 am

      Hi Kevin,

      If you can travel hack and get Marriott/SPG points, that might be worth looking into. Having said that, I think Airbnb is a great option.

  • Reply
    May
    June 7, 2018 at 5:19 pm

    Paying by phone is super convenient. I would love it for sure.

    For Canadian to retire in a foreign country where the living expense is less, I think the biggest concern is health care.

    • Reply
      Tawcan
      June 8, 2018 at 9:27 am

      Call me old-fashioned, I still like paying with cash or credit cards. 🙂

      I don’t know other Asian countries but Taiwan has excellent & affordable health care.

  • Reply
    GYM
    June 7, 2018 at 9:57 pm

    Mmm your food pictures look SOOO good.

    50-70% of travel is a lot of travel!! One of my friends is a Director for a huge US company and he is away from home for about 50% of the time. That would be really hard on the family.

    Business travel has its perks though, like collecting Marriott points! 🙂

    • Reply
      Tawcan
      June 8, 2018 at 9:30 am

      I sure enjoyed Taiwanese food on this trip. 🙂

      Yea 50-70% of travel is way too much. I think I do about 10% travelling right now so I can’t imagine doing more than that.

  • Reply
    Mr. Tako
    June 8, 2018 at 1:56 am

    Wow, that sounds like quite a trip. I bet it was really tough to be away from the kids and Mrs. T so long. I know it is for me whenever we’re separated for a couple of days!

    It’s interesting to see the big price ranges in Taipei. I figured it would be an expensive tier-1 city, like Tokyo, San Francisco, or Vancouver, but those prices are really not that horrible.

    These days, we’re thinking a quieter and smaller city might be nice longer term. Someplace a little warmer and a cheaper, but with enough diversity to keep things interesting.

    • Reply
      Tawcan
      June 8, 2018 at 9:34 am

      Hi Mr. Tako

      It was quite a trip, it’s nice to be home, finally. 🙂

      For the most part, I think Taipei is very affordable. My coworkers were telling me that you can rent a furnished 2 bedroom condo for <$800 CAD pretty easily. Food is also pretty cheap. But I guess people don't earn as much money in comparison.

  • Reply
    PP Gal
    June 8, 2018 at 9:17 pm

    Same thing here. I like technology and I can’t leave the house without my phone, bus pass, and wallet. With those three essentials, I can survive roaming the city of Calgary. I can use the phone as GPS but not for paying. I don’t even trust Siri. Is it a millennial thing? It’s more of a security issue for me.

    • Reply
      Tawcan
      June 9, 2018 at 10:56 pm

      I have found myself relying more and more on my phone but nothing wrong with going back to the basic – paper and pen. 🙂

  • Reply
    weenie
    June 21, 2018 at 9:52 am

    Your trip sounds exhausting and I bet you and your family were glad when you got home!

    I’m in HK again soon for a holiday so will check out the cashlessness you mention! Although when I was there last year, I didn’t really notice people paying with their phones, but saw that many were paying with their Octopus travel card, which is something I do when I’m out there – I load it up and use it like a debit card.

    I’m still a cash and card person, don’t use Apple/Google pay or contactless – cash and card means I can keep track of my spending easier! Although I have just downloaded a banking app which I hope to use for my travels but it’s not linked to my main bank account.

    • Reply
      Tawcan
      June 21, 2018 at 10:56 am

      I was using Octopus card as well but many of my co-workers were using their phones to pay taxi fares.

      I don’t use Apple/Google pay either, I’m old fashioned that way ha!

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