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Friday, December 23, 2011

Prince and the Pauper

Giving a nod to Mark Twain for such a title!

If you are taking the time to read my musings on life, travel, poetry and everything in between, then you are probably familiar with Mark Twain's tale of The Prince and the Pauper. In short, a poor kid and a rich kid switch places and experience the world through each other's eyes. I am now living this tale! The only difference is that I am playing both roles.

Life in Busan, South Korea was pretty good. I worked about 14 hours a week (of course I am talking about actual work. The rest of my time was spent looking busy). I made some of the best friends and acquaintances a guy could wish for. I was able to express my interests in poetry and music. I lived near a couple of beaches. I had a decent apartment in one of the best neighborhood for going out, Kyungsung. And generally, I never really had to budget or think about money.  I was a prince!

This life continued while I traveled around SE Asia to places like Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, northern Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia again! I saw everything. I did everything. I ate everything. I drank everything. I had a pretty flexible budget for travels when I embarked on this latest adventure. And like the Prince, I never thought about money or what it means.

Of course, like most tales, there was a complication or two that sent me on another path. My goal was never to travel forever. Part of my time moving about SE Asia was devoted to starting a business (plans on hold for now), and finding a new country to settle down and teach English for a bit. As I made my way around the map, I found plenty of places that were almost perfect. Everywhere has something to love.

Great beaches

Amazing view.

Breath taking sunsets.

Rustic charm.

Meandering rivers.

Hidden gems.

And urban flair.

It's been one hell of an adventure!

While I would not trade a single moment I have been blessed to have, there is a cost to seeing and doing everything: money. Several months of spending money and not making money, a missed flight, getting scammed here and there (never for a lot of money), eating out and never cooking, buying art and shipping it to the States, renting motor bikes, and having my fair share of massages (it really is hard to say no to a 1 hour foot massage for $6), and a few other financial complications have drained the budget that I never really paid attention to anyway.

Before I knew it, the Prince was running low in the old Royal Treasury Department. So I had to get back to thinking about the one thing I would never like to think about again - money. Skipping a lot of details that I hope to cover in future blog posts, I settled on Saigon, Vietnam as my new home.  I was woefully unprepared to move to a new country -

When I sold all of my belongs and moved to South Korea 2 1/2 years ago some of my friends said it was a bold and courageous move. I never really saw it that way. After all, in Korea teachers are supplied with a free and furnished apartment, a decent salary, health insurance, a pension, bonuses, and if you are lucky, an ample amount of vacation days with which you can travel - and I did! What was to be afraid of? Sure, I did not know a single person in South Korea and I was moving far, far, far away from my friends and family, but all the survival stuff was pre-packaged.

Spending several months living out of a back pack and then moving to the last country on your travel plans is a totally different experience! I soon realized that this transition abroad - from abroad - was gonna take some work.

Things I needed:

  • place to live
  • a job
  • a second job
  • a third job
  • a motor bike to get between several jobs
  • a mobile phone (lost mine in Laos)
  • internet (helps with finding jobs)
  • professional clothes
  • criminal background check ( I am a teacher and need to prove that I am not on the lam)
  • original university degree
  • letters of reference and recommendation
  • food
  • beer (job hunting is stressful)
  • laundry services
  • taxis (until I get a motor bike)
  • good walking shoes (remember, no motor bike)
  • non travel sized personal grooming supplies
  • language skills
As you can imagine, most of the items on this list are not things that your keep in your backpack while traveling SE Asia.  As I began checking things off of my list, I quickly realized that the remaining travel budget I had saved and the list of things I needed, were not going to be friends.

The Prince becomes the Pauper.

I am still busy checking off the things on the list. Got a few big ones done, like the job and second job. Still looking for a third (possibly as a drama teacher). But as my progress in my survival checklist proceeds, I have become increasingly aware of the price of things and what I can and cannot afford. And surprisingly, the low cost of living of Saigon can get much lower once you are off the tourist path and into living mode.

For example:

Coffee at a normal place with an English menu - $1.20 Coffee from a Vietnamese street cart - $0.55.
Mini hotel - $10 -$20 a night, apartment in non tourist area - $200 a month
Dinner at an average place - $5, Dinner at a place in an alley off the beaten path - $1.50.
Beer at a bar - $1.00, Bia Hoi (made fresh every day!) - $0.30 a pint.
Taxi - $2 - Hopping on the back of a moto bike - $0.50 - $1.00.

This list can go on for day, but I will stop here. You get my point. Life in Saigon is cheap when you are backpacking. But damn, when you are up against the wall trying to go from backpack to bedroom, you can really cut some corners!  I have been cutting corners for about a week now. Hopefully my checklist will continue to evaporate over the coming weeks. It will be nice to see the Royal Treasury start to rise again! 

When I started writing this post, I totally planned to write more about the Pauper version of myself, but now I sort of don't want to do it. Like the Buddhists say, nothing is permanent. So I will stop writing for now and go meditate on how to make tomorrow awesome!
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