5 Important Things I learned in 2 Years: Life and Finances 

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I used to wonder why people would give up their sense of security to live out in the woods, give up all their possessions to travel the world, and washing dishes for a couch to sleep on.

Then I thought, hey, maybe they don’t want to have a 9-5 slave job, and let the years pass by like in a blink of an eye. Perhaps they want to be nomads and live off the beaten path.

Living minimally seems like a lot of effort when you have things. Things like a large TV, a Netflix subscription, Amazon Prime, smart phones. Though it is true that that those people described above are on the extreme end of the spectrum, it is also quite unrealistic if you have attachments. And when I say attachments, I don’t mean to stuff, I mean to your family, your parents, your friends, your neighbors, your community. There are ways to live consciously without sacrificing all of the comfort we know and love.

In 2015, i embarked on an adventure that i thought would be fun, but I realized it sort of changed my perspective. I got out more, saw more things and appreciated deeply.

Here are some insights I’ve learned along the way:

Book Trips Often, Even If They’re Short

I often go for these because they sync up with my weekends, holidays and anytime I need to maximize my time off from work. Making short trips out to local destinations gives you something to look forward to, and being the foodie that I am, another reason to explore restaurants and eateries as well as a change of scenery. I always remind myself that where you live is also someone else’s vacation destination. I could not be more grateful to live in California and soak in the contrast of being in the city all day, visit the woods, hike alongside beaches and visiting historic streets.

Stay Digital – De-clutter Your Stuff- Donate

I started keeping all of my travel itineraries on my phone. I have hundreds of e-books, and photos saved onto the cloud. They’re with me wherever I go and they take up no space. Most of everything I need to get through my day is accessible by my smartphone. Decluttering is really important – it’s something I am still working on, but since the beginning of this year, I’ve donated 40% of my clothing, bought a lot less and opted for experiences over things. I used to be a makeup hoarder and had a high monthly budget (or lack thereof..) for makeup. Now and again, I’m still enticed by a limited edition release of an eyeshadow palette. But I’ve gotten better and realized I didn’t need those things to make me happy. In fact, I purged about a third of makeup that I didn’t use but hoarded.

Be Smart About Money, and Invest

I’m not a professional investment adviser by any means but I’ve read enough about money to know that it’s something that comes and goes. In today’s society, everything is defined by those little green papers. We can’t get away from that. And I like simplicity when it comes to investing. I have a Vanguard account where I invest in mutual funds, contribute to them regularly and earn on dividends, and returns in the long-run. I choose to stick with funds that have a “high risk high rewards” because I’m at an age group where I can afford to do that. Some other reasons why i prefer Vanguard over others is that Vanguard has the lowest fees. These matter in the long run! And they have a vastly different model where once you invest in a fund, you become a shareholder of Vanguard vs a customer at Fidelity. Shareholder, not customer. Because all their funds are Vanguard index funds. That simply means you make money when they do. And hey isn’t a win-win the best win of all?

Also, Say NO to Pyramid Schemes (and weird Multi-level Marketing ones) Period. There’s no such thing as getting rich quickly. Pyramid schemes are often vague in how you earn, with weird non-quality products and services, encourage you to spend money on products, books, seminars and other BS, encourage you to prey on the people in your life, and serve to enrich the others who are in more knee-deep than you are (i.e. Calling yourself an entrepreneur when you’re only serving the ones at the top, and getting them rich). Why would you strive to prey on your friends, family and community anyway?

I would say that if your gut is telling you that something to too good to be true, trust your gut. There’s far too many people who flash around bills on their Instagram/FB who are actually truthful and enjoy what they do. 

Do Stuff

Traveling hundreds of miles away doesn’t make an adventure. Doing something does. As I mentioned, where you live is someone else’s vacation destination – do something even  if it’s local. I’ve learned that throughout this year when I visit San Francisco and make day trips out of it on weekends. I’ve spent some time biking through the Golden Gate Bridge, hiking alongside Land’s End, getting fresh crabs from Half Moon Bay and visiting museums!

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Hiking alongside beaches in San Francisco.

Biking to see different parts of the city. Jennifer Ngan Photography

Live Beneath Your Means

This was a lesson taught to me at a young age. My immigrant parents instilled that knowledge to my brother and I to always be conscious of what we spend. Living beneath your means does not mean you must live uncomfortably or restrictively – it just means you should be able to distinguish between a “want” and a “need”. For me this means knowing your fixed expenses every month, and being realistic about it. An exercise could include coming up with a spreadsheet to track your monthly expenditures to monthly income post taxes, and evaluating your passive expenses such as dining out, traveling etc. I try to book trips or buy things when it’s on sale, I get cash back and it’s worthwhile for me to experience. For me, I always make sure I can save at least 30% of my monthly income less fixed expenses to be in the safe zone. To be honest, I don’t really monitor my spendage too strictly because I am very mindful of where it goes and I trust myself that it will go toward something meaningful.

If I succeeded that, I celebrate with ice cream.

 It’s the little things 🙂

Having an English Degree: Why Does it Matter in the “Real World”?

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One question I get asked a lot as of late is, why did you study English and why is it that you’re an accounting professional and not a…. teacher, or a novelist? Poet? How can you be both? “It’s the total opposite.”

The yin and yang, the duality….that’s why.

While that may be somewhat truthful, that answer will garner weird looks.

How many of us will say that the career paths we’ve chosen are far from what we’ve studied at University? I am sure plenty of people can relate to that statement.

But it seems, sometimes I need to mightily defend the study of English.

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Falling From the Penthouse: Working, but Traveling for Leisure

There is something so flawless about friendships and making friends isn't there? The human emotion + the need to connect. Not too long ago I stood in the elevator of a hotel feeling like a rejected girl because I wanted to be friends with someone who just didn't reciprocate. I felt strangely out of place and sad because I tried and tried and maybe my heart was in the right place but somewhere there was a disconnect. It was not mutual despite our conversations and seemingly good place. I ended the night by humming to Hey Jude while accepting the fact that not everyone will want friendship. Sometimes it just is. And you must let it go. Let it be. I still learn those lessons today, and probably will for many years. We often create our own heartbreaks through expectation. And what else is there to do after letting go seems to fail us? Hopefully we become better humans for it, and hold onto what's left of our hearts. --- Part 2/3 creative writing project

It’s no secret I enjoy traveling, and stay-cationing and planning my next little getaway. Because I work full time in a career that isn’t travel related, and doesn’t require much, if any, traveling, a lot of people often ask how i get to travel as much as i do while holding down a corporate job and having to be in the office during the weekdays.

Getting out there has always been a priority for me. Whether it is visiting another state, spending time in the next big city or slipping away into the woods, travel opportunities do not end when you choose to have a career. I get that there are people who quit their jobs and become nomads from country to country, washing dishes for a couch, backpacking their way through the world, but it is not a reality for everyone and there are people like you and I who want to sustain our professional careers without sacrificing our love to travel.

Here are some pointers that have worked for me in the past.

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You May Say That I’m a Dreamer

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When I was five, I struggled in kindergarten because I had a hard time understanding and speaking English. All my life, I only spoke Cantonese at home, and going to school was terrifying as it was brutal. The teachers suggested to my parents that I should stay behind, and take another year to catch up. My immigrant mother did not budge and knew that I will grow into it. She wasn’t worried.

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Writing As a Form of Meditation Through Self Reflection

Sometimes I lose touch with reality from stress. Getting flashbacks from things best stored away. I don't have a "method" to deal with triggers. It just is. I like to say i am above work stress, but I am not. Why does it matter really? It doesn't. In hindsight, some things are out of our control. I just wish my mind and body could agree. But, it is a brand new day... ☀️

There are pens and pencils that litter coffee table. Notepads and sticky notes shoved in every drawer and corner around my desk. Notes on my phone far too plenty, with new things added daily. Phrases i like, buttery rich words, pictures, artwork, lyrical sentences in the abstract nature, verbs, idioms, and sentences in every literary technique. A string of favorite quotes for artistic merit. All of that far too precious to be without.

This mess, if you look hard enough, is evidence of self reflection. It’s all in the trying to fall asleep thing at night, the restlessness, the sometimes-anxiety that comes and goes. The lying awake at night; that turns into midnight stories, short fiction. Creative writings. They are the scattered thoughts and dialogues of someone far too empathetic to let things go. And someone who wants to make sense of it all. Not through logic, no, but through the heart.

Most of my writings is a series of reflections, thoughts and musings. They have all my initials attached in some form or another. Sometimes I write things that resemble the symbol of ugliness but it is a representation of the things I’ve felt, and written in anger or frustration. There are words I’ve written, letters that are laced with scars and heat of the moment observations. The unwavering honesty is what makes the words authentic, true. Though exposed, and the exposure is then what makes a person naked.

In moments like those, it requires strength to emerge from the shadows. Shadows of shame and guilt. To truly recognize those written words, and understand that I am the imperfect person standing, it is recognizing that imperfection is just a side effect of the human condition. In that sense of reflection, it is a humbling realization to acknowledge my flaws before those I want to be the Most Perfect For.

I started journaling since I was in 7th or 8th grade, and continuously kept journals (both paper and online) since. What I realized when I went through more than a decade of old notebooks and writings was that I kept beating myself up for not being good enough, and never being the person that I wanted to be. Maybe it’s the angst of growing up, or it was self reflection.

Sometimes it is a sad thing, the realization. The realization that you are not how you want to see yourself. That you’re better, or your idea of yourself is much better than who you think you actually are. But this is part of the journey and it takes a special lens to see through the distortion. The mess. When there is evidence of reflection, creation, improvement, it is okay to see past it. I learned that writing, in any form, is a form of meditation. It helps with cultivating awareness to your thoughts and actions, seeing things for what they are and being okay with it. Writing it down, structuring those sentences, mapping out the timeline, and simply letting it flow through inertia

And to quote one of my favorites – “Good Luck Exploring the Infinite Abyss”

Goodnight.

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A Dream in a Dream in a Dream

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I’m wide awake, restless yet warm. I dreamt of you, just minutes before, still feeling the graze of your sweater on my skin. And your brown eyes burning into mine.

It was early morning, quiet and dark. We were both walking in tandem, breathing in the dewy air, the scent of jasmine prominent around us. Not one who is much for words, you say nothing but you smile that secret smile, and I, smile back and rest my head on your shoulder. We walk together, arm in arm flowing through. There is no destination. We just keep going.

Then it becomes a silent evening in, and the only sound is the turning of pages. We glance up and look at each other occasionally, smiling that secret smile. You’re working on a sketch, a drawing of sorts that you’re drawn to. Something you saw in a dream or a place, and trying to interpret that meaning through colors and shades. I am reading a book – and very much caught in the story, telling you about it when there is a pause in background music. You make predictions, and we laugh helplessly. My legs are resting atop yours, and I’m wondering how effortlessly easy this is. Us.

We both fell asleep with your sketch book in hand. I wake for a few minutes to spend that precious time with you – soothed by your steady breathing and strong arm resting under my head. When you open your eyes, you blink out of that dreamy shadow of sleep, and looking as if you’re seeing the world for the first time. In this quiet moment, time is still. The background music a mere blur of thumps and crescendos.

And within this moment, the quiet speaks the loudest. And it is within the presence of your quiet that I grow closer to you.

exploring and wandering, time a non-issue.

Jennifer Ngan Photography
Intersections.

My life lately, and particularly last year, was defined so much by movement – flying, driving, planning a destination, getting there, leaving, exercising, running. Repeating. As I’m writing this, I am sitting in an empty, overly bland airport in the middle of LA on our nation’s biggest holiday. With all the movement, what i am trying to get close to is the feeling of warmth and prickles of moving butterflies in the pit of my belly.

Coming back to visit my parents is always an interesting feeling. I always see the contrast of a life that I’m leaving behind, even if it’s only for a few days. And the feeling is reversed when I fly back to the Bay Area. I feel very much like I miss both, though the feeling of acceptance is in neither cities. Yet the familiarity of both cities is very much like home. But I feel the most “at home” when I am constantly moving – from place to place, exploring and wandering, time a non-issue.

4:30AM

 

Monochromatic for days.
Monochromatic for days.

I feel like I’ve spent a majority of my life waiting. Running, with no promise of an end in sight. Watching, though no light at the end of the tunnel. Waiting, while I get smaller and smaller, drowning into oblivion. 

So this explains how, while waiting for an Uber to pick me up at an ungodly 4am hour, staying still is not my strong suit. I was tired, but fidgeting, anxious then pensive, casually switching every few minutes. In a moment’s notice, i made some herbal tea and proceeded to wipe down the kitchen counters. 

4:30am is a moody grey, with skies devoid of any real color. The marigold leaves on the ground can hardly be seen at that hour. I am the only one outside, and despite my dismal view into the empty road, I can hear the idling engine of a car that sounds a few yards away, overworked and begging for rest. 4am doesn’t care what weather related disorder you have or how dark it is outside. It is, afterall, 4am. All will be forgotten when the sun rises.

Fast forward several hours later, and I am at my parents’ home. I’m focusing on the late Saturday morning, curled up in my bedroom floor with iced coffee, and soaking in the light streaming in from all three windows. It’s quiet and calm here, an acoustic rhythm strumming in the background. I am thoroughly appreciating the nothingness – I suppose this is what they mean to stay in the moment and relax. I could be the only person awake, or the only person writing about this moment. If right now is a color, it would be a golden peach glow with orange edges.

Mind’s Contents vs Consciousness: Meditation and Thoughts

Jennifer Ngan Photography
I tend to be a thinker. Over analytical and often scatterbrained with questions, ideas and sometimes delusions  far-fetched idealism or the opposite of it. This often means i stay up into the wee hours of the night, thinking about things that become a distraction when I should be asleep, deep in slumberville. In the mornings (i actually am a morning AND night person), I tend to wake up fairly early, and go about my day. It’s not always healthy, and I do suffer from self-diagnosed anxiety, which stems from childhood (I guess? Because Carl Jung says so). Which led me to the wildest Friday night ever. Seated (somewhat guided) meditation.

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