Goodbye RV, Hello Christmas in Boston

I sold my Rialta motorhome a few weeks ago.

After two years, it was really difficult to sell the RV. I didn’t really expect any serious buyers when I put up the Craigslist ad, and she wasn’t on Ebay. My plan was to postpone any decisions until the Spring.

But, it turns out there was an interested buyer. He showed up on a Sunday to take a look. He called two days later. And a few days later, I gave him the keys, and he gave me cash.

In the end, I realized my current lifestyle was not suitable for living full time in a RV. If I didn’t work a full time job and stayed on the West Coast then maybe RV living would work. Up until the end, I still thought about traveling south for the winter…it was the right decision though. Even during my western travels, I thought about selling her. But I still miss her. Walking down streets, I automatically still look for parking spots and have to remind myself that I don’t own a RV anymore.

Soon after selling the RV, I moved to Boston into my friend’s new house.

Tonight, all of us went out for Christmas dinner in Boston’s Chinatown. Every single restaurant was packed full with mostly Chinese people.

It was about two years ago that I drove the RV back from South Carolina through rain and snow. I was scared, excited, and anxious about what the future would bring.

But it was nearly 12 years ago that I flew to Boston by myself and fell in love with the city. Later, I would visit again when I was applying for colleges. I knew I wanted to live here, but I ended up going elsewhere repeatedly.

Now, the RV is sold. After two and a half years jumping around the United States and living way too long with my parents, I have a long term home again with some excellent roommates.

In some ways, my daily life now is far better than it was in the RV. Some of my closest friends live nearby, and I love the neighborhood. Yet, in other ways, it’s a lot more boring. There’s no more excitement of constantly traveling. Most days are the same as the one before.

It’s exactly what I need and want right now.

Florida: My Second Home

Continuing series of posts covering my two years around the United States with my Rialta RV

September 2011
Historic Lake Eola

Immediately after arriving in Orlando, I started looking for a new place.

Initially, I was going to move into a bland apartment complex located far away from downtown Orlando. The rent was cheap, the lease was monthly, and my room would have A/C. But, there was nothing in the neighborhood and indeed was in a borderline area.

I continued searching and found the perfect house. A room in a two bedroom house located in historic Lake Eola district in walking distance from the downtown city. I would subletting from another guy whose lease was expiring by New Years so he only needed someone for four months which was exactly how long I planned on staying. Nearby, I could walk to the downtown bars, Lake Eola itself (which is the iconic symbol of the city of Orlando), grocery stores, and restaurants. The area itself was beautiful with red brick paved streets and palm trees overhanging the sidewalks.

The house inside was just as good. I was able to purchase a bed from my sub-leaser and was allowed to use his desk as well as all his kitchen utensils for free. My roommate was a quiet, professional guy in his mid twenties. I never saw him, and he never made any noise.

Lake Eola & Downtown Orlando, just minutes from my house

Lake Eola & Downtown Orlando, just minutes from my house

Life was good. I started exercising on my own at a local LA Fitness. I meditated regularly with two groups including an Insight Meditation group in Winter Park on Wednesdays lead by Peter Carlson and a Kwan Um Zen (Korean sect) on Sunday evenings in walking distance from my home. Often, I would take walks around Lake Eola, drink tea at Dandelion Cafe, or eat pho at one of the several Vietnamese restaurants. Every weekend, I would walk to I-Bar and dance at Backbooth bar where my new, Orlando friends congregated.

Despite a rocky start in Florida, everything seemed to be going pretty well. Little did I know that life was about to throw me some harsh surprises.

The Joy of Going to Sleep Exhausted

What’s your idea of a good workday? Do you value producing good work, having a fun time, spending time with loved ones, or doing activities you enjoy?

At this point in my life currently, my focus is on producing good work. I understand that this is not universal among all people, but as a young, ambitious man with a lot of goals, my decisions and values revolve around producing good work.

I wasn’t always like this. In fact, I’m still evolving from my past emphasis on leisure and novelty towards consistent, good work.

I remember years ago, I went to an undergraduate, research conference. The keynote speaker spoke about the hard work involved in organizing the conference. But, then, he remarked what a blessing it was to end a day feeling exhausted from good work. To lay one’s head and fall asleep immediately with a sense of satisfaction. A satisfaction that does not stem from acquiring fame or wealth but from having done a good job.

This idea of the virtue of tiring work in itself was a revelation to me.

Growing up, I had watched many adults including my parents toil every day in their small businesses. My parents were proud of the work, but at the same time, I saw a lot of bitterness and stress. Like many immigrant families, the prevailing feeling was that my parents worked so hard so that their children could get a better education and have less exhausting, lucrative careers. Personally, as a child, I blamed the excessive amount of work for a lot of the family problems. Our business was the reason why my parents had to work late, why they couldn’t attend school activities, and why they fought over finances. This experience also shaped my earlier values away from entrepreneurship and hard work in general.

Instead, I sought out the easiest route in my life whether it was academics or work. For me, leisure time was a great luxury and prize that I safeguarded and hoarded. I hatred any challenging work whether it was learning piano or doing research.

Also, when you see work as a necessary evil, you value a job based only on its financial rewards. I think this is the reason why most employees seem lazy and do the bare minimum with their work. Their thinking is constituted by, “why should I do more work if I’m not getting anything (i.e. cash) out of it?”

Starting in graduate school, my perspective shifted dramatically especially on entrepreneurship and work. I realized that leisure by itself is boring. The pinnacle of success isn’t showing up to an office and having nothing to do. It’s being able to choose when to go to the office and have engaging, creative, and meaningful challenges to solve.

I think a lot of young people having never engaged in meaningful work or thinking such work is not a realistic career option end up chasing after get rich quick schemes. I know I fell into that camp early on. On my RV adventures and research for internet marketing, I came across a ton of people who dream about generating passive income and having the freedom to pursue their real “passions” which usually involves traveling.

Having traveled a lot though, I can say traveling is really great but also can be just as demoralizing. If anything, you experience the highest highs and lowest lows. It’s rarely ever boring, but it can also seem rather meaningless at times.

In the end, I believe there’s a distinction between working hard and working smart. The ideal career or work involves both where you put in a lot of hours and also use your intelligence to solve ever harder challenges. The problem with my parents was that the nature of their work never changed. The problem with get rich quick schemes is that they promise a smarter wy to get wealthy without the hard work, but that’s impossible.

Furthermore, attaining great leisure can be rather meaningless by itself. I see young people my age who willingly choose a life of vagabond homelessness and wonder how could they prefer that? Freedom is good only so far as you can exchange it for meaningful responsibilities. A lot of people in fear or confusion end up believing that they don’t have any freedom and instead spend their time on mindless consumption whether it’s surfing the internet, excessive amounts of video games, or being addicted to news and gossip.

These days I aim towards what the keynote speaker said. I want to continually be building every day. I aspire to be a producer rather than a mindless consumer. I want to work hard with a laser focus but also work smarter with projects that deepen my skills, relationships, and knowledge. By no means, am I perfect at any of this. But at the very least, I’m cured of that early cynicism and and servant-like mentality that values work only as a means to a salary.

Florida First Friday: Best & Worst Night

This is continuing in a series of posts going over my past two years traveling around the United States in a RV

First Friday in Florida
August 2011

I’ve made it through five days in Florida. Despite my fitness training plans being on hold, I decide to stay in Florida and look for other ways to stay productive. This includes meeting new friends and doing a lot more group meditation.

Friday night, I dress up in my finest, green dress shirt, dark jeans, and black dress shoes. It’s a young professional style I inherited from two years living in Washington DC, but I later find this look does not work very well in the Orlando crowd.

When I enter my RV, I find that my charge controller is hanging from the wall. Somehow, three of the screws had popped out. While mounting the controller back to the wall, I strip down my boxers in the humid RV. After a hour, I finally succeed, but I’m sweating head to toe.

I wonder, should I still go out? Yes.

I find a parking spot a few blocks from the downtown bars. As soon as I turn off the engine though, I hear a loud pop like a gun shot…Was that me? I see a cloud of smoke coming out of the hood along with a hissing sound of air escaping from somewhere. This is not good. No, No, no, no. Everything’s going to shit.

I open the hood to discover there’s this one pipe with a valve end missing. Air is escaping with cold liquid flying everywhere. Eventually, all the air and liquid is fully exhausted.

Looking around the block, I spot the exploded remains of what was the pressure valve. On my phone, I google the part number (Ranco sp3-h1025) and discover it’s a trinary pressure switch for the A/C.

I suspect that the cause is that I had gotten the freon refilled before this trip, and the mechanics probably overfilled it despite my repeated warnings. At least, I’m confident that the engine is fine even if my A/C is blown again.

Now, it’s midnight. My hands are dirty. I’m beyond the point of frustration and stress. I decide, I don’t care, I’m going to have a good night. All these problems piling on me beyond logic actually help me reach a mindset of, “I deserve a good night, nothing can possibly faze me now.”

Walking towards the bar, I compliment this guy’s shirt that says, “It’s not a competition” on the back. Then, this couple including an older, Indian woman starts talking to me. We do the small talk game, and I mention I’m a Buddhist, and she says she’s from Buddha’s home village. She’s also very touchy. But they’re going one way and I’m going another. I’m in a good mood though.

Inside the bar, I sit by the bar and start talking to 3 guys drinking Yuenling asking if they’re from up north since Yuenling is a Northeast favorite. I befriend these guys and chat with anyone else that comes by the bar.

I say to one of the guys, Jeff, that there must be one fair maiden for me somewhere in this bar. He starts pointing to girls and looking at me.

Eventually, I move across the bar to talk to a pack of girls with a particularly cute, short brunette.

We make our introductions and are having a grand time when suddenly the girl I was talking to walks outside to the patio with her friends following. I’m left confused standing by myself next to the bar.

I’m partly angry because I thought things were going well. So, screw that. I go outside too with my back to the brunette just inches from me. But instead of addressing her, I immediately begin talking to this chick with a nose piercing and dyed red hair, “Hey! I had to say hello. Your hair is so crazy and awesome.” Her name is Bri. She’s hanging out with her sister and sister’s boyfriend.

As if this was a game, the brunette girl suddenly appears out of nowhere and starts talking to Bri. Later, she even gets Bri’s number. I’m still not sure what was going on here.

Unfazed, I move on to talk to the sister, Alexa, and boyfriend, Cedric. I find that all of them just moved to Orlando two weeks ago from Kansas. All of us get along really well. We swap numbers towards the end of the night with a promise to meetup again soon.

As it turns out, we end up hanging out a lot the next three months.

Despite the numerous setbacks from going out, I ended up meeting my closest friends in Orlando that first Friday night.

Going to Florida: My First Home

This is a series of posts following my two years on the road…although most of that time was not spent on the road at all.

August 2011
Moving to Orlando

I’ve always been a physically weak guy. I want to blame my genes, but my mother’s side of the family are practically giants by Korean standards. On the other hand, my father and his father were stick thin like myself. Because of my tall, lanky appearance, my parents nicknamed me beansprout as a kid whereas other kids teased me that I must be malnourished. But, no matter what I ate, I was always thin and felt insecure about my appearance.

By graduate school, I noticed for the first time that despite my thinness, I also looked kind of fat. My stomach giggled, I didn’t have an athletic build. So, I hired an undergrad student personal trainer. Towards the end of my first workout session with her (yes, it was a girl), my body was so exhausted that I fell to the ground in a daze. My vision was completely blurred to the point of being practically blind for several minutes and feeling nauseous. After a month, I stopped my sessions with her.

Most gyms and personal trainers as I would learn aren’t really worth their salt. Like most items in our consumer culture, they’re created to sell you a dream, an idea of who you are rather than any real, end results. It’s not just their fault. A lot of people don’t have the patience or dedication to really get the real results too. Fortunately, my apartment complex had a great gym that was always empty, and I slowly overcame my fear of the gym until I finally felt at home in one.

I mention my interest in fitness because it was the reason that drew me to Florida.

One of my dreams of the RV had been the ability to travel to experts and masters to learn from whether it was a Zen monastery in northern NY or a hacker school in San Francisco.

I spotted a blog post by Drew Baye, a well known personal trainer and former body builder. He was looking for case study subjects for his upcoming book. He would train people for three months in exchange for being put on public display. Immediately, I emailed him and asked to be signed up. He agreed as long as I could get my butt to Orlando by the time the program started. My friends all joked that I would return unrecognizable as a meat head.

Yet, I had zero friends in Orlando. I didn’t know much about Orlando apart from Disney World. It was definitely the biggest life change up to that point. I would learn a few lessons from Orlando including the confidence that I could make friends anywhere and survive anywhere.

In addition, my friends at the time were moving all over the place. Some of them were on a long term Europe tour. Another was teaching English abroad. Others were starting graduate school. With everyone moving and progressing to new stages of their life, I felt an itch to also be doing something, anything.

So, a week later, I drove my RV from Delaware to Orlando. Along the way, I said goodbye to my old friends in Washington DC, couchsurfed in Richmond, danced in Raleigh, and toured Savannah. I never really fell in love with the south apart from the charming beauty of Savannah.

Unbeknownst to me, my trainer had emailed me the day I had left Delaware to warn me that the program had been cancelled. I didn’t see the email. A few days later, I’m sitting in my new home in Florida reading this email in dumb amazement. My sole and only reason for moving to Orlando had been cut short before it ever began. This was freaking nuts I thought.

While driving down, I found a house through craigslist to rent month to month just three miles from downtown Orlando. The summer heat would of made living n the RV a complete hell even in the night.

When I arrived in town, I was shocked to find my new home was hiding on the “wrong side of the tracks”. Every other house on the street had a metal, high fence. The main street was dotted with strip clubs, gun stores, liquor shops, and prostitutes on the road. My new roommates were a high school student, his older, gay companion, and a young girl working at Disney Land. Later, an older man working as a linecook at a fast food joint would join our motley crew. He rented what was basically the size of a large closet. It was definitely a large change from my college and graduate school days of artists, scientists, yuppies, hipsters, and geeks.

To keep things exciting, my room lacked an air conditioner, the kitchen lacked a stove, and three of my roommates (the gay couple and the girl) shared a single bedroom. Although I got along with everyone at the house, I, immediately, knew I wanted to leave.

One day, I returned home late to see dozens of police cars and firetrucks at the gas station across the street from my house. My roommates told me that a drunk women had driven her minivan directly into a gas pump causing a gas explosion. I left a few days later.

Ironically, my next home in the beautiful, historic Lake Eola area would turn out to be the more dangerous place.