June 28, 2009

Loose Ends

I have to admit that I don't really understand the phrase "to tie up loose ends." Why do they have to be tied? I also don't understand the expression "to have your cake and eat it too." Because of COURSE you have to have the cake before you can actually eat it. The phrase makes no sense. What it really should be is "to eat your cake and have it too."

Well, we definitely ate it. And yes, there is another "Joe" in the group. He is a man. Which is why there is the "Girl Jo" distinction. Everyone in my group at work has a cool nickname, but I somehow got "Girl Jo." It was either that or "Banjo," (you know, to distinguish me from "Man Joe") so I guess I have no right to complain. Anyway, my group got me a cake AND made me cupcakes for my last day of work. You can't see it in the picture very well, but the top of the cake is an icing picture of North and South America and around the sides are the names of some of the countries we're visiting.


These past few weeks have been full of lasts: last day of work, last trip to REI, last meal at Mac's, last disc golf outing with Charlie...

The hardest part about leaving Charlotte is definitely leaving Charlie. I know I'll be able to keep in touch with everyone else, but it's pretty difficult to get Charlie to talk on the phone. For some reason, she just doesn't get the concept of a conversation. But then again, Charlie's idea of fun is sniffing her own butt. Let's just be clear that I love her despite this habit, not because of it. And even though it'll be really difficult to leave Charlie - I mean Charlotte, it also means that we're just getting that much closer to leaving for our trip.

We're going to DC on Tuesday to get a couple of visas, and so we had to take visa pictures this past week. One of the absurd things about taking passport/visa photos is that you're not allowed to smile. Apparently, they want "a neutral expression." The thought of not smiling for the pictures was so hilarious to me (I don't know why) that I really struggled not to laugh while taking them. I guess Kevin didn't think it very funny, because he gave me a disapproving look and was quite stern about the whole thing. And then he ended up looking like a convicted felon in his visa pictures. The moral of this story is that you should not give disapproving glances to your fiancée or you'll end up looking like a convicted felon.


In other travel-related news, we've pretty much decided to shell out the extra (and unbudgeted) money for a netbook. We haven't decided on one yet, but battery life and hard drive size are going to be the most important factors, so the Samsung N120 and the Asus Eee PC 1000HE are both frontrunners. We're going to hold off on actually buying one until later this summer, so if you have any advice on buying a netbook, let us know.


In other non-travel-related news, I'm sure you all know about the currrent Jon and Kate situation. I can't talk about it. It's just too hard.

Also, I was listening to the radio on Friday, and the station I was listening to was doing a tribute to MJ by playing one of his songs at the top of every hour. So the voice guy comes on and says in that deep radio voice, "Michael Jackson expired June 25th, 2009. RIP." MICHAEL JACKSON DID NOT EXPIRE. HE WAS NOT A CARTON OF MILK.


We're going to do something different today with Puzzles for Postcards, but it's just a one-off thing and only because Kevin is busy driving back to Indianapolis this weekend. Kevin usually writes the puzzles, and I just don't have the same panache when it comes to VQs. Mine are always too easy.

Puzzles for Postcards (list of winners):

Rhyme Time (solve all four):
(Example: the answer to "A Fruit Carving of a Serengeti Grazer" would be "antelope cantaloupe.")

One Who Enchants Corn Growers
The Superlative Look
A Place Where Groups of Teachers Gather
One Who Values Jackets for a Living

Scrabble Games: 55 (full log)
Zhou WPLB: 28; 367; 315; SENIlES
Kevin WPLB: 27; 368; 397; sETTINGS

June 22, 2009

The Next Chapter (Chapter 11?)

[SPOILER ALERT! This post will not be full of witty commentary and belly-aching humor, per usual. Instead, as Zhou and I begin our move out of Charlotte, this will be a reflection on my past two years here, for better and for worse.]

This week is it. Zhou and I each have four days left of work, and then it’s time to leave Charlotte and rest up before our world trip. If you amortize these four days over the next 14 months ("the life of the loan," as they say), that means we each only have to work less than one day every three months for the next year. That doesn’t seem so bad. (Oh wait, neither does working four days and then taking a year off.)

Up until about a week ago, I couldn’t have been more excited to be leaving and moving on to the next stage of my life. Then Zhou’s roommate moved out, and we started packing up stuff at both of our apartments, and I realized that no matter how exciting this next stage may be, it’s still hard to go through change. So I thought I’d take a minute and reflect on the past two years (bet you didn’t think you were getting yourself into this when you clicked on your favorite website).

Charlotte. Love the laid-back pace of the South, like the comparatively cheap housing and love the weather. There’s not a lot to do here (and golf is way too expensive compared to up North), but until recently I never really had time to do anything anyway. The best parts of the city are easily the disc golf courses and Mac’s Speed Shop. It’s just too bad that when my old roommate Matt moved out, I lost my disc golf and Mac’s buddy. If you’re reading this, Matt, you were good for other things too, but I can’t remember what.

Work. First and foremost, my advice is to not become an investment banker, unless money is the only thing that motivates you (or if the Boiler Room lifestyle intrigues you). That being said, I'm not going to dwell on the negative.

I am very grateful to be able to go on an 11-month round-the-world journey, and if Zhou and I didn’t work at Wachovia, we probably wouldn’t have been able to make these plans. Not only can we now afford this, but we also have a perfect opportunity - neither of us has a job, nor do we have any motivation to get another one.

In the past two years, I learned a lot about business and capital structures and how not to manage a company unless you enjoy bankruptcy (it sure seems like some people do). I learned about time management and how enjoyable free time really is. I remember getting off at 7PM one day last fall and not having a clue of what to do with myself until bedtime. After a few days like that in a row this spring, I quickly realized how many fun ways I could spend my time.

I learned how to prioritize - how to sift through what’s important and what’s not. I learned that even though I’m Asian, if I spend too many weeks under a fluorescent light, I will get sunburned when going outside again. And most importantly, I met a lot of people I will hopefully keep in contact with for a long time, which leads me to…

People. There are three big draws to investment banking. Two are the money. The third is the people, although this may only be true in Charlotte, as I’ve heard mixed reviews about New York. Sure, sometimes my priorities in life don’t always align with the priorities of those I work under, but (almost) all of the people who do this job are smart, driven and big sports fans. (During down times, a couple of guys in my group even organized a doubles tennis tournament and a two-on-two basketball tournament.) Plus, the floor is filled with recent college graduates who you can commiserate with when you're stuck in the office at midnight on a Friday.

The hardest part of moving is leaving behind what has grown comfortable. Yes, at one point I even got used to the weekend staffings and the repeatedly postponed summer vacation. It became somewhat easy to come home late at night, brush my teeth and go to sleep. It's nice not ever really having to look at a map, and it's nice knowing where the open places are to eat (this is much easier said than done in Charlotte, where the city's restaurants all seem to close down by 8PM). I'll miss the daily pod breaks with Katie and McGuire, morning basketball at the YMCA, Charlie, trips to the DH (our slang for the water machine) with the progressively jaded first years, and the city where we lived when Zhou and I got engaged.


As I write about what I'm leaving behind though, I then begin to think about what lies ahead*:

I guess I can get used to this change.

[* Images taken from: (1), (2), (3), (4), (5), (6)]

Puzzles for Postcards (list of winners):

When Gangster Johnny is Home Alone Anagram:

A fickle giant may help the hyena

Scrabble Games: 55 (full log)
Zhou WPLB: 28; 367; 315; SENIlES
Kevin WPLB: 27; 368; 397; sETTINGS

June 21, 2009

The Dog Ate My Post

We (Kevin) apologize(s) for the inconvenience, but today's regularly scheduled post will be postponed until tomorrow evening due to this man. The show started an hour late, and I was lazy all week up until that point. Don't worry, tomorrow's post will be extra good to make up for my shortcomings.

June 14, 2009

We're Famous!

I'm not a writer. I majored in Computer Science and Math, so the only "writing" I did all through college was coding programs in C++. I am trying to garner your sympathy for churning out profound, insightful and hilarious material for you almost every week. Because I'd much rather be solving math equations.

Zhou and I happened to connect with a guy named Andy Hayes last week. (Yes, the Andy Hayes. If you Google his name, he's the one who comes up first.) He's a professional travel writer and photographer and the mastermind behind this site. Word of our site's immense popularity must have leaked across the pond to Scotland, where he is located, as he begged us to be featured in his weekly Thursday "interview with a celebrity." Ok, ok, you caught me - we submitted our blog to his carnival, and he reluctantly said he would do an interview with us.

Andy was a pleasure to work with this week, and we were very happy with the end result of the interview. Through the process I explored his site quite a bit, as it is full of helpful travel hints and great pictures taken throughout the world. A few of my favorite posts were:

The Best of Asia
A Photo Tour of New Zealand
Interview with Gary Arndt

I usually try not to shamelessly cross-promote, but usually is a very forgiving term. Also, the time that I would normally spend writing this post I spent doing the interview, so the links are a good way to lengthen this week's short post. And with that, we'll leave you with a link to our interview with Andy.

Oh, and a Cool Runnings video, just because.


Puzzles for Postcards (list of winners):

Consonantless Ice Cream Flavors from Ben & Jerry's:

ee oe aeioe ea
eaoia aie
oee oee uuu
iaie ie eae

Scrabble Games: 55 (full log)
Zhou WPLB: 28; 367; 315; SENIlES
Kevin WPLB: 27; 368; 397; sETTINGS

June 7, 2009

Unique New York, New York

"This is your one opportunity to do something that no one has ever done before and that no one will copy again throughout human existence, and if nothing else, you’ll be remembered as the one guy who ever did this, this one thing."

After Natalie Portman says this in Garden State, Zach Braff responds by making a weird noise and moving his index finger a couple times. When I think of doing something that no one has done before and no one will ever do again, I usually think a little bigger than this (although definitely not always - during high school lunches I used to make mashed potato sculptures that I'm sure no one will ever duplicate). I've finally figured out what Zhou and I can do that no one else can: travel the world for 11 months.

Oh wait, lots of people have done this. And lots of people will probably do this in the future. This is easily going to be the most life-changing year of both my and Zhou's life, yet in order for Zhou and me to do something new or make an impact, we'll have to do more. I feel like this is a great opportunity for us to do something meaningful, if only we could figure out what that would be. I'll start figuring the only way I know how: by writing a blog post about it.

Here's the plan: To get the blood flowing, I'll first write about a few things I've done in the past that have been completely unique, and that will segue into some great - make that spectacular - ideas for Zhou and me to make our trip memorable for more than just ourselves.

Let me think...

My family recently took a trip to Las Vegas to celebrate both my brother's 21st birthday and my mom's birthday (I won't say which one, but I will say that the background idea for the present was things in multiples of 50).

As part of my mom's present, I gave her $20 and a card. (For you younger readers, I would advise not to give cash presents to your parents unless there's a good reason for it. Like this.) In my mom's card, I wrote a poem outlining how exactly she had to spend the $20. Along the way, she had to answer a couple random questions that would eventually decide whether or not she would wind up with any money. At the end of the card, everything was explained to her: she would get four chances to turn $5 into $500 at the roulette table. In each of the four, she would bet in the exact same pattern: red, 2nd 12, red (this was what her responses determined earlier), then on her birthday numbers: 10 and 18. If she happened to hit this exact order, she would be $500 richer. If not, she would have hopefully had some fun. After all, everyone loves roulette!

On her first try, we were in one of the smaller, dirtier casinos, and clearly she lost. We decided to up our game and head to New York, New York. We found an open table, and she slapped down the $5. The roulette guy looked incredulously at her, as if to say "do you not realize where you are? I wipe my butt with $5 bills, and I'm just the roulette guy." We all decided to ignore his steely glare. Two spins went by, and my mom had quickly turned the $5 into $30. She shoved it all on red, Steely quickly shoved back $60. As the card dictated, my mom couldn't leave now - she then had to put $13 on both 10 and 18. As she nervously pushed the chips back onto the table, the dealer began to put on his friendly face, no doubtedly thinking he should begin gunning for that big tip.

The wheel spun in what seemed like slow motion. My mom was ready to walk out with just the $34 she had won. What a present that would be! The ball rattled around the numbers, bouncing in and out, never settling. Pretty soon a large crowd had gathered. I think I even saw Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley in the background, their eyes growing wide in anticipation. The ball finally stopped, to a huge gasp from the crowd. 10! It had fallen in the 10! Pete Rose gave Art Schlichter a mighty bear hug. Steely, his jaw agape, pushed my mom's winnings to her. She tossed him a couple chips before high-fiving Phil Ivey and cashing in her winnings.

Wow, that got out of hand quickly. The point was that this card and present are an example of one of the unique things that I have done in my life. I don't think that anyone has ever done that before (including winning the money), and I doubt anyone will ever do it again. Even if someone else comes up with the game, there's only a 1.75% chance that their mom will win.

[As a side note, I got Steve an iPod Shuffle, which he broke within six months. However, he has recently made up for it by tying Paul for the blog competition lead.]

I was going to write another story about something original that I have done in the past, but not only are you probably not paying attention to this post anymore (if you are, thank you for letting me indulge myself over the last several paragraphs), but also I don't think I have any other unique stories, unlike this guy:

So how will Zhou and I make a lasting mark on our trip? Not many people get a chance to do something like this, so we'd better make the most of it.

Several of our friends have spent time overseas doing volunteer work, mainly in Africa. While this wouldn't be all that unique, I definitely would feel like I made a difference. One of the things I'm most looking forward to on our safari is our day or two meeting with children at an African school. I hope that the short time that we'll have there will be enough to make an impact. It's unfortunate that we won't have enough time to actually volunteer while in Africa, and, for that matter, at any of our stops. The way Zhou currently has the trip planned, there isn't a minute of free time anywhere.

In researching different details of the trip, we have come across people who have found unique ways to leave a mark. For example, in Cuzco, Peru, a lady founded Nino's Hotel, where all profits go to children's aid projects also started by the hotel's founder. Also, here in the States, for every pair of shoes that Tom sells, he donates one to a child in need. Although the shoes don't look all that comfortable, the idea is definitely unique and is a good way for Tom to leave a mark. (Ok, I saw this while watching the Super Bowl, not researching for the trip, but I really like the idea.)

Perhaps we can follow in Angelina Jolie's footsteps to make an impression. No, not by stealing Brad from Jennifer (I still don't know how Angelina did this) and having a million babies. Instead, by using the celebrity we have found since starting this blog to do good in the world. The only problem with this idea is that I use the term celebrity very loosely. And not in Angelina's case, but in ours.

(If only...)

The more I write, the more I realize that we won't be able to plan out how we will differentiate our trip from those who have done the same thing before us, or who will do so after. When we first decided that we would take a year off to travel, I secretly hoped that I would find my calling while on the road. I never once hoped that I would find it while blogging about what we would end up doing on our journey. Hopefully a year from now we will have done something meaningful.

And if not, I can always pee on a yak.

[Editor's note: the below anagram has now been corrected, even though Steve already solved it without all the letters]

Puzzles for Postcards (list of winners):

A Lyrical Anagram From Every Party Since 1981:

Roaming vast land
Will wilts... ill
Long Journey

Scrabble Games: 50 (full log)
Zhou WPLB: 25; 368; 355; REPOsED
Kevin WPLB: 25; 368; 339; BRAiSED