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Confessions of a Failed Internet Hustler – Part 1

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Before continuing the RV Saga, I thought it would be nice to explain what I was doing with all my time besides the RV in the past 2 years

I was a hustler, an internet hustler. Or, I’m the one that got hustled. For over two years, I learned all the ways to make money on the internet. I know both the ways of the “whitehat” and “blackhat” wizards. I can explain the legitimate way to monetize a blog or start an online shop. I also know the ways of the online hustlers including the spam emails, porn websites, and those free iPad surveys. If you had asked me five years ago, there’s no way I would have endorsed any of this. Back then, I was clean, straight as an arrow. In the beginning, it started off with good intentions. I just wanted to make a profitable online store. But the dream of fast money quickly hooked me in to darker methods. This is my confessions of a failed internet hustler.

Academia's Best Looking Ivory Tower

Academia’s Best Looking Ivory Tower

The Problem

It started in the midst of an identity crisis at the beginning of my graduate program. I went into academia to become a professor so that I could enlighten young minds to think for themselves. I was inspired by my past teachers and mentors who had done the same for me. Once in graduate school though, I immediately felt out of place. I kept reassuring myself that I just needed more time, that I would adapt. It’s the same way that beaten wives tell themselves it’s their own fault for being hit. Of course, a lot of graduate students feel like a fraud starting off, but I wasn’t even interested in the content. I remember asking my professor what the hell is this Reason with a capital R that everyone is talking about? He asked me what I thought it meant… Another professor I could not respect at all and openly challenged him in class. I ended up getting a B in that class which is really a D in graduate school. After months of agony, I submitted to the fact that I wasn’t cut out to be a humanities professor. This academic life wasn’t for me, at least not in this field. I felt horrible and anxious. I had spent the past two years to go to graduate school and now I felt like it was all for nothing. I spent the next year redefining myself in the opposite direction.

The Gateway Drug

The Gateway Drug

The Gateway Drug

One of my biggest changes was a growing interest in business and entrepreneurship. In the beginning, I picked up Seth Godin’s “All Marketers Are Liars” from the college library based on its interesting title. The book challenged my rational way of looking at business, products, and the world. People don’t think rationally. We buy into stories. We choose and buy things that make us feel good. It’s why inferior products, leaders, and life decisions often win over the better options. [On a side note, Seth Godin is a great writer, I’ve read almost all his books and his blog. Highly recommended.] Later, I read 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss. The book’s thesis is that anyone can join the new rich by quickly starting an online business that once established will generate profit automatically with minimum work by you. It was a revelation; my gateway drug. I was hooked. I wanted to find and make an online business to replace my day job and allow me to live the adventuresome, world traveling life I knew I deserved and wanted.

A growing market

A growing market

My First “Business”

My first business idea was a Korean clothing, online shop. At the time, there was only one serious website where you could purchase Korean clothing. The only other competitors were on ebay or had horrible websites. I could make a better website, have better prices, and offer an American presence. I was so excited and certain that this was a sure hit. I told everyone about it. Even my parents were excited.

Who wouldn't pay $55 for this?

Who wouldn’t pay $55 for this?

I spent my entire Spring break just doing research. There were so many questions. How do you process credit cards? Well, you could do Paypal, Google, or any one of dozens of credit card processors. How do I even make a shop? Well, there’s free ecart software like Magento or even shop hosting companies like Shopify. What about custom fees for shipping Korean clothing to America? Well, technically, the custom fee must be declared and paid by the buyer. But if you ship the box as a “gift” then no one pays anything unless your package is randomly inspected. Of course, under the new Korea – United States Free Trade Agreement, these tariffs will soon be eliminated.

In the end, the shop was dead before it ever got of the ground. My brother in Korea wasn’t very excited about the idea. More importantly, I couldn’t figure out how to get around the international, high shipping cost. It was a catch-22. To get reduced shipping costs, you needed more volume. So, I gave up on it and moved onto to faster, darker paths…

In the next post, I’ll talk about the various methods I learned about and some that I tried including my full time Philippines worker. Also, how to protect yourself from them.

Florida Conclusions

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.

December 2011

I lived in Florida for about four months. I went for physical fitness training that never happened and just stayed for the adventure. Although I drove down with the RV, I ended up renting two different homes instead.

Orlando, like most of my trips, was a mixed bag. On one hand, I made some new friends, joined a meditation family, and grew as a person. On the other hand, I got robbed and had a number of lonely, frustrated nights.

I meet a lot of people in Orlando in the strangest of places. Once, I got invited to a pool BBQ party while I was trying to buy a Craigslist blender. My closest friends were the most unexpected mix including a tattoo artist, unemployed guitar player, and self-proclaimed nightlife mayor. For an intellectual, Asian nerd with a Masters in Philosophy, this was a new experience. Despite our differing views, I really did like them all and received some of the greatest kindness and generosity of my entire life.

Also, I was regularly attending sittings with the local Vipassana and Kwam Um Zen schools. I chanted, I meditated, I bowed, and ate with them. I told them I would be going soon and was very thankful to feel like I was part of a family in the short four months I was there. My meditation is a defining and important part of my life, and it feels so nice to meet another that shares that quality.

Of course, it wasn’t always great. I had some horrible living situations. My original plans for fitness training were immediately cancelled. I got robbed which shattered my sense of safety. There were some really lonely days wandering the town by myself. Nothing makes you feel lonely like eating at a restaurant by yourself. There were a lot of nights talking to people and just going nowhere. It took a month before I ever talked to anyone at the meditation places.

Nevertheless, I grew and learned a lot. I went there without knowing a soul. I forced myself out of my comfort zone such as teaching myself how to ride a bike, doing couchsurfing for the first time, and just saying yes to life. After Florida, I believed I could survive anywhere. Although I was sad to leave, the robbery had shaken me up too much, and I didn’t feel like finding another random home to stay. I wanted to go home and focus on work again.

On the way back home, I made a few stops. I spent a day in the Gainesville Zen Center. I would meditate with the Tallahassee Zen group and sleep in my RV by the train tracks. The manager the next morning kindly inquired about my status before I promptly left. I spent a week in Birmingham spending Thanksgiving with an old friend in a sports bar. Finally, I stayed with another family in Atlanta before doing the long journey back home for Christmas.

Despite all the ups and downs, I felt a great deal of peace and equanimity after Orlando. I kept in mind a Zen teacher’s words, “I don’t know, and that’s okay.” Likewise, I had a new perspective that it is ignorant and arrogant to speak negatively about Life as if I were the Master and Life, the Servant. I am just the wave, Life is the Ocean. No matter what happened, there I was. Still alive. Still capable of laughing and connecting.

However, I would decide afterwards that I was done with random Craigslist roommates. I would only stay with friends or by myself from then on. In the next year 2012, I spent a few months in Delaware puzzling over my future fate. Eventually in the Spring, I visited Korea for my brother’s wedding, moved to Boston for a while, and then got back in the RV in earnest to travel west for the Pacific.

Winter 2013 Update : Lack of Writing

I can’t believe I’ve been living in Boston for three months now. It certainly doesn’t feel that long.

One reason is because I have a lot of old friends in Boston which has lead to less novel experiences. When I was living in Florida or on the road, I felt compelled to always be doing something since I didn’t know anyone.

Don’t get me wrong, it is very nice to have close friends nearby. But, there is always this dynamic of growth vs comfort.

So, I haven’t been writing much lately. The RV Odyssey already feels so long ago. The TV show, The Office, has a joke that Andy comes back from a sailboat adventure, and he wants to tell everyone all the insights he had on his trip but already forgot them. I feel the same way except I just don’t feel as inspired anymore.

Nevertheless, I plan on continuing my writings soon and at least finish the RV saga. Only got eight months of story to get through, and half of it is uneventful living at home. I’ve got a lot of material already written, just need to polish and finish it.

Like any blogger, I’m always wondering how much to reveal about myself? My public writing versus my private journal. I think my heartfelt writings where I wrote without any filter resonate more, but there’s always that nagging future worry of the wrong person reading it.

Actually, the real issue is wanting to project a positive life image. When in fact, most of life is rather mundane, challenging, or painful. And it’s hard to write about that kind of life in an engaging way without being boring or coming off as a victim. Most people want to read about successful stories, want to idealize someone as a role model they can identify with and follow. I know I’ve done it before. Hell, everyone does. To a certain extent, I think it’s necessary and healthy. But why can’t we have heroes who also have flaws, who are also human?

I’ve spent years trying to master my diet, exercise, productivity, doing side businesses, living in a RV, and so on. I’ve covered a lot of ground which I’m happy about, but I often judge myself harshly for not meeting my original goals.

So, going forward, I want to finish my writing of the RV sage of 2012 as well as cover a lot of my past successful and less successful mastery attempts like internet businesses or exercising.

Florida: I’ve Been Robbed

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

Late October 2011

“Hey boss, sorry to call you like this on a Sunday night. Umm, the thing is….

well…

I just got home. And I think I’ve been robbed…

They got my laptop…

So, yeah.

Sorry.

I don’t store passwords on my computer, but, we should probably change my company password…”

That was a Sunday night returning home to find my house door wide open. Someone took all my electronics. No signs of forced entry. But I should trace back to the beginning a month before.

In October, my ghost of a roommate decided to leave abruptly. This left the guy I was subleasing from, Matt, in a bind since his name was on the lease. But, he quickly found a new roommate, a coworker at his sandwich shop job. He was a tall, blond surfer looking young guy with a motorcycle and a great love for reggae, weed, and women. Probably in that order.

The two of us got along well enough and hung out sometimes. He wasn’t very organized, loved to party, but he was also really easy going and had a big heart.

But, one Wednesday evening, he brought a “friend” over. An older, homeless and unemployed guy who believed he possessed clairvoyant intuition and healing massage powers.

After he gave my roommate a massage, they went out to drink somewhere. But, this crazy guy came back at midnight in a panic about his lost medicine pills and a sickening tightness in his chest. He slept on my roommate’s bed, and the next morning called an ambulance. That was the last I saw of him.

A few weeks later, a bill came from the hospital. His ER visit cost over ten thousand dollars. He lied and gave our address since he clearly couldn’t afford anything.

My roommate regretted bringing him over.

I thought that was the end of it. But one Sunday morning, there were numerous odd signs in the house. First, my roommate was scared that his “friend” had broken in and stolen his cellphone. Second, there was a puddle of water spilled in the living room and a smoked cigarette in the toilet.

I brushed it off thinking it was the antics of my reckless roommate. After a few weeks, the truth was revealed that he was a real bum. He couldn’t pay rent and had been accused of stealing at work. Matt, the man on the lease, got in numerous arguments with him with each side threatening to call the police. In a desperate plea for cash, my roommate tried to sell his beautiful bicycle to me for less than $100 bucks.

Meanwhile, I tried to remain aloof and neutral, wondering how my luck of roommates was so bad in Florida.

The next day I went to my usual Sunday Zen night of meditation. Afterwards, Matt called me about the next roommate coming soon while I walked home. That’s when I noticed my side door was open…

I thought, “maybe my roommate came in a rush and took his possessions and left with the door open.” But then as i looked around, I noticed all my electronics were gone. My laptop, my friend’s digital camera, my Kindle, and other items. All gone.

A little later, my roommate actually returned home to pickup his stuff. In a state of shock, distrust, and anger, I asked him twice with cold disbelief whether he stole my shit. He was adamant that he didn’t do anything and blamed his old “friend”. He asked if I wanted a hug?

I never figured out what happened. I hate to believe my roommate who I lived with for a month would be capable of stealing. He was a fun loving guy, and I never once got a bad vibe from him. Even threatened with eviction, he reacted with injured pain rather than anger.

On the other hand, it could of been that homeless guy who had been in the house before. He could of easily climbed in through the bathroom window that my roommate chronically left unlocked.

My first reaction was to call my boss to let him know about the robbery. Then I called some of my Orlando friends to find a place to sleep and reset my online passwords.

The robbery was the last straw and marked the beginning of the end of my time in Florida. I would never feel completely safe in the house again such that for the remainder of my time in Florida, I would sleep with a hammer and a knife under my pillow. I know it was completely irrational and useless, but somehow, having them made me feel better, safer. Also, I would leave my backpack in my RV whenever I left home. Ironically, a year later, I would be robbed again except this time it would be my RV.

Another irony was that I had done a short, one day Zen retreat on the previous day, Saturday. At the end, the Zen master instructor gave a short talk. She said we meditate because something went wrong in our lives. That meditation training helps us recover in times of stress, lost, and hardship whereas most people would automatically react and lose their minds.

At the time, I thought her talk was a negative perspective on meditation. It was warranted considering the teacher was going through cancer, but I thought I also do meditation to be more alive, more aware, and more joyful.

But 24 hours later, after feeling peace at my Sunday meditation, here I was in a state of anger, shock, and fear. The teacher was right. Life, ever full of surprises both pleasant and painful, was teaching me the lesson I had failed to listen to the first time. It was almost funny to me.

I was robbed. Worst of all, I’m pretty sure whoever robbed me was someone I had known. My evaluation of the basic goodness of most people was challenged.

In perhaps the greatest irony, my next roommate who would move in just a few days later turned out to be an ex-con. If there was going to be a stereotype for a big, scary, and uneducated black guy then here he was. Yet from asking me for numerous favors though, I never had any issues with him, and he was just a good guy trying to get his life back together. Heck,, I meet his entire family and gave his homeless friend a ride. He loved to talk about girls with me. Despite his physical size, I saw him anxious and vulnerable a lot of times wondering if he would get a job or where to go.

A week after the robbery, I would have a heated argument with Matt about me leaving a month early, and him talking about keeping one’s word. I was pretty pissed off that he said that considering his former friend had bailed on him as a roommate and then his next tenant didn’t pay rent.

So, as the perfect Orlando winter climate began settling in, I was ready to leave Florida. I wanted to return home to recover where things were boring, safe, and predictable. By mid November I left behind Florida forever for Birmingham where I would spend Thanksgiving with an old friend in an empty sports bar.

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.