No More Goals

I Quit: No More Goals

Brighton UK

Take life one day at a time…

I used to always be in a rush.

I had to graduate college in 4 years (I even picked a major I didn’t care about and went to Summer school a bit to make that happen), I had to put out a CD by X date, I had to be a profitable trader within 6 months, I had to go to a 1 year MBA program – because 2 years was just way to long, and I had to go NOW, I couldn’t put it off for another year.. I wanted to be a millionaire by 30, etc, etc. All of these time constraints and goals on everything…

We’re told growing up, or at least led to believe, that you grow up, you turn 18, go to college, graduate in 4 years and then get a job… and then you’re done. You’re grown up now. Or maybe, it’s get a spouse, a house, a few kids… now you’re done.. now you’re grown. Like that’s a goal… we just want to grow up, in a race to grow up before X date….

Why though? Does growth stop at 18? at 25? No? Maybe at 30?

My thinking has slowly started to evolve on this. When we’re young, we look forward to these ages 18, 30, like everything stops at that point. We can’t see past that. But, really there is no rush.

I started to realize this when I would meet with professionals in Singapore, people who had lived all around the world, in the midsts of their careers, marketing managers and MDs, CEOs, and managing partners at consulting firms, and they would give me career advice, they would tell me: “Your career is a long road. You’re still young, you have plenty of time to make mistakes…” Man, what are you talking about? I’m still young? You don’t even know how old I am! I was 26 then. I thought I was old. I wasn’t some 22 year old college grad any more…

Or maybe its some of the books I’ve read lately that have changed my thinking and long-term perspective: Radical Honesty: “everything is futile”; George Valiant’s work around adult development and the Harvard Grant studies: “Why is it we know so much about childhood development, but hardly anything about adult development? Does development stop once you hit adulthood?” The answer is a resounding “NO” by the way; Ramit Sethi’s I Will Teach You to Be Rich: short-term saving plans, long-term investing, “just get started”, what you do doesn’t matter so much, 85% of it is just getting started.

But… really I think it was the last 8.5 months I spent in Taiwan: where I started to really take studying Chinese and training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu seriously. And, I had to give up goals, because I couldn’t see them. It was just too far out, too impossible to predict. In order to take these things seriously, you just have to imbed them into your life, make them a part of your everyday. What am I supposed to say? “I’m going to be fluent in X amount of months/years”? But actually what does “fluency” even mean? I’m fluent in English and I’m currently in the UK and I don’t understand what the British are talking about approximately 20-30% of the time. And, once you reach “fluency”, then what? You stop with Chinese? Because, you’re done? Or, for BJJ “I’m going to be a blackbelt in X number of years” Man, who can predict that? It may take 7 years, it might take 20. What if you get an injury?  What does it even matter? Oh, and when you get a blackbelt, then what? That’s the goal. Now you’re done, you can stop training. Plus, when you start to take up these long endeavours like BJJ or Mandarin Chinese, you realize this whole “I’m going achieve X by date Y” is so laughable that only complete newbs really say things like this.

I’m trying to wean myself away from goals.

Not just in BJJ or Mandarin, but in everything: career, finances,…. Life.

But, that doesn’t mean I’m not still working at all of them everyday.

You get better at something through constant work, constant reassessment, constant refocus.

In fact, I’m probably working more at all of it now, because I’m learning to enjoy and experience the pursuit and process. Not chasing some end goal.

Pursuit and process.

“Goals are for losers.” – Scott Adams

 

On Day One, I Got My Ass Kicked

Not really.

I didn’t really do anything.

But, I didn’t know anything. So, I probably looked awful. Or at least I looked like the guy who didn’t know what he was doing.

But, I don’t care.

It was wonderful.

I quoted Nick on this before – when I wrote my “slapped by reality” post. I’ll drop the exact same quote in again here:

“Our local (Brazilian Jiu Jitsu) club had an horrific churn rate as new guys would come in to class and not come back. It was easy to know who would stick around – the unassuming guys who had come to learn. It was equally easy to predict the first day dropouts. They’d be wearing some tough guy clothes, perhaps insisting on wearing a coloured belt they’d picked up in a sports centre grading mill. They’d certainly have a stiff pride about them. Then one of our scrawny blue belts would wipe the mat with them. The ego death was simply too much to take. Their buffer had been overrun and their self-image could not take the real-world evidence that they simply weren’t as tough as they thought they were.”

That’s right. In case you didn’t figure it out yet – I decided to get into Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

Partly inspired by Nick’s and Masa’s assessments that training BJJ has given them discipline that has carried over into other ventures of their life.

Partly inspired by the inspiration of two of my best friends from my previous career Texas who are both heavily into BJJ nowadays. They’ve both gotten into much better shape than our days of sitting around an office all day and then heading to a happy hour to pound beers.

That applies to me as well. I was quite fat back then. In the worst shape of my life. At the age of 23.

I plan to keep it that way. I’ll never be that overweight again. I never have been since. And I never will be. Ever again.

The age of 23 – most people’s physical peak, is/will be my trough.

Anyway, back on topic.

Adding In New Habits Each Month

Who else inspired me?  Oh yeah, the other bloggers – Niall  has posted a lot about functional fitness : i.e.: being a man and not training for your “figure” or how you look in the mirror, but training for a functional skill set. In that sense – any martial art applies here. Any form of sports training really. Looking good should be a side benefit, not the main focus.

Niall also recently talked about focus, and how his current focus is on business and training (for him it was training Krav Manga while in Hong Kong).

And, Maneesh recently wrote about habits. He talks about building one new habit a month, and reinforcing last month’s habit.

What was my habit in August?  Practicing Mandarin.

If there was one thing I did everyday during the month of August, it was practicing Mandarin. Mostly pronunciation.

Damn tones pairs. Tricky bastards.

So – now what? I’ll follow Maneesh’s idea here. In September, I’ll reinforce last month’s habit – so I’ll continue to practice Mandarin everyday.

And then I’ll add something new.

But what?

Fitness was an easy place to look. I’ve been itching to get back into the gym. I haven’t worked out seriously in quite a long time. I did P90x a bit back when I was living in London, and then in Tokyo – I joined a gym. But, I half-assed it. I didn’t have a solid plan, so I just went to the gym to go.

The last time I really had a solid workout program was when I lived in Boston. And that seems so long ago.

So, when I got back to Taipei, I considered getting back in the gym. I considered joining a gym and getting a personal trainer and getting back on the weights.

Then, I had a change of heart.

Why? Well, I guess partly due to the inspiration of those mentioned above: AJ, David, Nick, Masa and their love of BJJ.

Oh, and I remember another friend of mine back in Texas ranting about how the Gracie’s were the best fighters ever and no other fighting style can beat BJJ and when you look at mixed martial arts, anybody who’s anybody has solid knowledge of at least one good grappling discipline.

There’s also one other big reason for

Choosing Sports Training over Weightlifting.

There’s the social aspect of it.

Training with and against other people – you make friends. It’s a social sport, even though it’s an individual sport. That’s only natural.

I’m a very social person – I ranked as an ENTP last time I took the Myers-Briggs and that E is very telling. I talked to the counselor at UT (where I took the Myers-Briggs) and her notion of extrovert was very important to me and stuck with me, “somebody who gets energy from other people”. When her and I talked about that I recalled when I worked as a trader – a job mostly full of introverts – and I just always had to get up from my computer and walk around and talk to people. Mostly the other extroverts. The same guys mentioned above – who are coincidentally all into BJJ now.

So, I need people in my life. I need social activity. If I were to spend all of my time writing, reading, and working on the internet – I would go insane.

Weightlifting is too easy to do individually. You show up to the gym with headphones in and lift. For that reason, it’s too boring. I have enough individual things going on in my life. I need something that requires constant interaction with other people.

Preferably something besides drinking, which is just too easy to fall into as a main social activity. That winds up being costly: time-wise and money-wise. Health-wise as well. Losing whole days to hangovers sucks. Getting drunk and hooking up with random girls is fun, but I’ve done enough of that in recent years. I need something more productive to focus on.

So, I guess these recollections hit me and I remembered Masa knew of solid place to train here in Taipei, so I hit him up and sent me the info of the gym.

I hit up my boys in Texas too to get their thoughts on BJJ and getting started in it.

Putting My Money Where My Mouth Is: Getting Started & Getting Dedicated

I popped over to the gym.

Then came the next day to sit in on a class. The only idiot in the class without a gi.

I bought a 6-month membership.

6 moths? For a couple of reasons:

  1. Well, I’ve decided to settle down and stay in Taipei for at least the next 6 months (this inspired more by my quest to speak Mandarin than anything else. But, also because I quite like it here.)
  2. You get a discount for signing up for 6 months rather than doing month-to-month.
  3. And – the biggest reason is: I’ve been down this road before. Not with BJJ, but with boxing. I got all hype and into boxing and joined a boxing gym. Went 3 times a week for a month – was sore as hell at work everyday the next day. But, then when the month ended, I didn’t renew the membership. Why? “Too expensive” and “I didn’t have the money”. Playing basketball was cheaper. I was going to come back and re-join the boxing gym again when I had the funds to do so. But… I never did.

I’m determined to not make the same mistake with BJJ. This one needs a longer commitment.

DSC_0238

Time to Work

I Moved Out of Texas So I Could Read More (How to Read 30 Books in 6 Months)

 Don’t Know When I’ll Be Back Again…

Outta here…

A couple of years ago I made the decision to move away from the place where I’ve lived all of my life: Texas.

One of the main reasons I moved out was because I wanted to read more books.

I’m being serious.

Well, I felt like I was just wasting too much time driving. I know I was wasting too much time driving because I would put a CD in the deck and before the end of the day it would be back on track 1. Sometimes back on track 10.

I’m talking about 80 minute CDs here. This means I must’ve been spending like 100 minutes driving per day.

Way too much. For what? To turn a wheel around. To move my foot up and down between two peddles. How is any of this productive? How does it benefit me in the long run?

What else did I do while I was driving? Well, I would listen to music. Or I would think about things. Just flesh out ideas. Think and think and think.

I like doing both of those things. I like listening to music. I like thinking.

But, I don’t really need to drive to do either. I can do both of those just fine walking around aimlessly. Or sitting in a park.

I guess one benefit of driving is I could talk out loud to myself. But, I can also talk to myself while walking around aimlessly. Or even siting in a park. Passer-bys might think I’m crazy, but that’s okay. I used to do that in college too. My roommate back then once said he’d drive by sometimes and sees me walking around with headphones on and talking to myself. He said I was one of the few people who could get away with doing that, because people would see me and think, “oh, that’s just GP.” That’s what they used to call me back then: GP.

So I’ve been crazy. It’s okay.

Metros & Inspiration

I went to London a couple of years ago. I thought riding on the Tube was awesome.

Everybody I met in London complained about how bad the Tube was. But to me it was awesome. At least I didn’t have to drive.

I started to think about all the cool things I could do if I lived in a city with a good metro system (Americans call it a subway system). I could read more books. I could talk to random people.

I can’t do either of those when I’m driving.

I mean you can try. But, then you’re doing things like trying to get the girl next to you to write her phone number on the windshield before the traffic light turns red. Yeah, it’s not impossible. But, it’s logistically difficult.

So I sold my car and left Texas. I just didn’t want do drive anymore.

I wanted to read more. I wanted to talk to random people.

read more

Or he’ll eat you

So, I’ve spend the last two years living in cities. Big cities with metro systems. Cities where you can walk around a lot. And just explore random neighborhoods. Just wandering around random streets. I’ve never gone this way before… So then I go that way.

I’ve also been reading a lot more.

I started out reading on an iPad. Then an iPhone. I had a Kindle app. I didn’t understand why people would need a Kindle when there’s Kindle apps.

But, then I eventually did understand.

I got tired of reading on those things. So, I quit reading.

My eyes would hurt. My head would hurt.

The Need to De-Screen

Too much time on backlit screens. I would spend all day looking at a computer screen. Now, I’m spending my commute time looking at a screen too. Too much screen time.

I got sick of it. I wanted to de-screen.

When I was in Taiwan, one of my mates (he’s Australian, so I think the that’s right term) had a Kindle. I asked him about it.

Then, I read about Kindles. I looked into it. They are made to read like a book. Without bothering your eyes like a screen does. It’s not a backlit screen. It’s e-ink. But, I was in Taiwan and there’s no Amazon there. I guess because it’s not a real country. I don’t know. I didn’t know Amazon played by the UN’s rules. Actually, I don’t know what they do. How do people in Taiwan shop on Amazon? I still didn’t figure it out.

So, then I looked up Kindles in Japan. Japan has become my go-to place to buy new electronics, because everything is so cheap here. I don’t know why. Maybe because the Yen is falling to pieces. I don’t think that’s the whole story though. I don’t know why really. All I know is when I bought my MacBook in Japan it was $300 cheaper than they are in the US.

So, I looked up Kindles. The new Kindle Paperwhite was $120 in the US, but only $70 in Japan. So, I waited until I got back to Japan to get it.

Actually, I think the money I’ve saved on my MacBook and my Kindle has probably paid for my plane tickets to Japan. But then again everything else in Japan is twice as expensive, including food and transportation, so it probably doesn’t work out if you actually take into account everything and do the math. Ahh, well… forget your numbers.

“You can make numbers do anything you want them to do. Including make yourself sound like an idiot.”

By the way that quote is from Kobe Bryant, so I should credit him for it. I don’t even like Kobe Bryant, but that’s a great quote. It’s even better in context. The context is: Kobe was on a radio show talking about how good Larry Bird was and that people seem to have forgotten how good Larry Bird was. And, some guy tweeted something like “if you look at the numbers, Larry Bird wasn’t even that great of a shooter.”  See. I told you it was even better in context.

Anyway….

 The Goal: 30 Books in the Next 6 Months

read fast 4

Clockwork…

Since getting the Kindle I’ve definitely seen my reading go up. I’m finishing a book every couple of days now. And, I try to keep at least 5 unread books in waiting. That way as soon as I finish one, I can flip through and have a decent choice based on how am I’m feeling to determine what I read next.

I’m nowhere near Scott Young’s or Claire Diaz Oritz’s pace. I’ve only read about a dozen books in the past 9 months. But, that’s partly because I’ve still gone through 3-4 months periods without really reading much at all.

I’m actually starting to realize those kinds of numbers are possible.

For myself, I’m setting a goal to read 30 MORE books by the end of the year. Yeah, 30 books in 6 months is quite a jump from 12 in the past 9 months, but I’ve put some “hacks” in place to help me get there.

And, I know how to get there:

  • Keep my work locations and home location separate. Don’t work from home. Home is a place to relax. There’s an old saying “don’t shit where you eat” – rather vulgar, but it gets the point across. So, that means I have to have a daily commute. Commute on the metro everyday. This not much else to do on the metro but read, so this forces a good everyday reading habit. Especially now that I have a Kindle.
  • Spend weekends outdoors. I need to get away from the computer more. Get away from work more. And just overall relax more. One way to do that is to spend more days in the park on at the beach. Since I travel a lot there’s almost always a new park, a new beach, or even a new temple or something to explore. So, at least one day a week, I’m going to just leave my computer behind and head out with only my book and my camera. Relax and read.
  • Take advantage of reading time wherever and whenever. Another good thing about having a Kindle and having a daily reading habit as mentioned above is I’m going to wind up getting really into a book. And not want to set it down. If I take advantage of this by just dropping by a cafe and continuing to read when the mood strikes me, I’ll be able to chill there for a couple of hours. Then, I’ll really get through books in no time.

Yeah. 30 books in the next 6 months. I’m going to make it happen. Which means I’m also going to stay out of Texas.

child

Explore the world, travel and read…

[randomtext category=”Post Sigs”]

Accounting is Boring: How One Woman Broke Away from Taiwanese Norms, Traveled the World, and Started Her Own Business

“We think of success as only measured by your money. / But, money never lasts. / In fact, it’s only last / on the list of impactful things you can ask for / …So, with that – we need us a plan…” – Wale, The Perfect Plan

Welcome to The Many Faces of Success Interview Series: a reoccurring interview series focusing on success in many forms. From entrepreneurs to writers, to travelers who are just living the life they want to live…in this interview series I sit down with people who are living and defining their own success on their own terms, people who I find inspiring, and whose stories I find interesting enough to share here.

In today’s post I sit down with Heather Ma: an inspiring traveler and young entrepreneur from Taipei, Taiwan. Heather is the CEO & Founder of  her company, Solo Singer Life. She owns and operates two hostels catering to backpacking travelers, and a quaint but rather dynamic hotel in the Beitou area of Taipei, perserving some the culture and community of the heyday of Beitou: The Solo Singer Inn, which opened in its doors in September 2012. Her next project is a nearby cafe in Beitou that she plans to open within the next few months.

Heather Ma

Heather Ma

I caught up with Heather in the lounge of The Solo Singer Inn, where she was able to share her story about her beginnings as an entrepreneur and how travel has inspired her life and business.

[LENGTH: Approx. Read time: 27 min.
This is one of my longer posts here on the blog. Some stuff from the interview with Heather was cut – but I kept what I kept because I liked her story and obviously found it interesting.
Short Version: 4-Minute Video at the Bottom
If you really want a much shorter version of her story, or just a quick gist of it – scroll to the bottom of this post – I’ve included a 4 minute video: a Blackberry Taiwan web commercial she appeared in that tells essentially the shorter version minus most of the details.]
———————————

The Backstory: Her Inspiration & Business Beginnings

.

William: Okay, so you own hostels and a hotel here in Taipei. Can you tell me a bit about your story: how it all got started?

Heather: My story?.. okay.

I graduated in accounting and I was mostly a regular student. I think I was pretty normal, especially coming from a Taiwanese education background which doesn’t encourage you to think independently early on.

But, at that time I think I made a good decision to travel for a year. Because, my imagination was after you start working you won’t have the time and if you have family – it’s even worse: time-wise and flexibility-wise, not life-wise. (laughs)

So, I decided to do that. It took me one year to persuade my Taiwanese parents.

I started in Europe. I spent 6 months in Western and Central Europe and 3 months in Britain, basically because of visas and Europe is also an easy start-point for a young traveler.

And, then I was thinking where else to go.

I bought a one-year ticket, but I wasn’t sure if I could travel that long. But, if you don’t try, you never know. Now, after 9 months I was thinking about where to go. It’s pretty hard – when you have Taiwanese passport its pretty hard to get landing visas or you have to apply for visas. At least back then. Now, its getting better and better.

A friend of mine hitchhiked on a sail boat from England to the Carribean. Because, every year when the trade wind comes a lot of people do that. And, when you have a smaller boat you need a hand, because you need to have somebody to watch the boat 24 hours. So, I tried to do that, but I didn’t succeed because I went there in the Winter and it wasn’t the trade wind season. I walked form port to port and I couldn’t find one doing that. I even bought a sailor’s book on how to tie the knots and all the different things, but it didn’t work out. So, like a regular backpacker I took a flight to Central America.

That was Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. That was a very big difference [from Europe].

For all the travelers its the same: when you go to a very different place it just blows you away. Right? But, in all the different places you can always see something thats seems universal: the values they are pursuing From the rich people, from the poor people, from the developed or undeveloped. I guess if you immerse yourself in a very different environment it always makes your belief in humanity more firm.

So when I came back to Taiwan, there was one thing I was even more sure about and that was I won’t do an accounting job. This was so much more fun than accounting.

Then some of my friends that I met on my travels came to Taiwan. I started to look for a hostel for them and couldn’t find any. At that time Hostelworld probably lists 5, maybe 10 hostels. And a lot of them are either pretty old or it’s the YMCA. So, I’m thinking about: I might just start one of my own.

So, I just started it.

Yeah. You just had the idea and did it?

Yeah. So, I was looking for spots. There was actually one hostel nearby, but they moved away because the landlord just kept on raising the rent. And the place they moved to was not as ideal as before and they also had more problems with the landlord. So, my first takeaway was that I should have my own place  rather than just rent one.

I was very lucky because at that time there was the mortgage bubble, the credit bubble. Meaning they trust you a lot.

Oh okay. So it was easy to get a loan…

It was very easy to get a loan and they’re even willing to give you more money because they believe the property value will go up so fast, that they’ll be able to make it back within maybe half a year.

So, I got all the money that I needed. I didn’t spend a penny of personal money because I also didn’t have any money at that time.

And when you try to start something completely on your own – on my own meaning also maybe with friends, but without experts helping you or professional companies backing you – you count yourself as free labor. And your friends.

We did everything on our own. Starting from drawing the floor map, finding construction workers, and overseeing/supervising the construction and then from cleaning, from marketing, from overnight. Everything.

And, I did that for a few years – for two years.

For two years? Just staying in Taipei and running the hostel?

Yeah. And then I wanted to travel again. I went to China to travel for 2 months. That was the first time I could leave for this long a period of time. Because, you know when you finish a one year trip any trip thats shorter than one month is not a trip. Well, it changes, for me right now it’s 2, 3 days or something and it’s a trip. But, I tried very hard to make this trip two months. And China is really – especially when you first go there – its really breathtaking. Its so different. So I was thinking to really know this place you have to live there. So I started looking for a job thats ideal enough for me. So, that I could stay in China.

Two Years in a “Real Job”…. in China

And, I found a job in Education. Market Development.

And the job was very ideal. Not because it’s education. I didn’t know much about education. But I got to travel all over China.

Almost all the businesses in China can be franchised. So, even from dog washing to maybe, maybe just providing pure water. Every little thing can be a big chain. So, education was of course a big thing because of Chinese parents, to them only education can give you opportunity.

So, it was a very good industry to get in. And, also I would say education is relatively milder – in terms of the intensiveness of the culture shock. Because, you’ve heard a lot about all of the things that you need to do when you do business in China. Education is relatively better in that sense.

In those two years I traveled in probably about 100 cities in China.

And, then…. I came back.

China

China

Yeah. What brought you back?

I really liked that job, but the reason I come back was because I thought I had to choose one industry that I will love to spend my lifetime in. And I felt I should chose this industry before 30.

So I came back.

Ok. So, what was happening with the hostel when you were in China?

My friend was running it.

Ah, I see. So, two years in China. You got to travel around. Surely you were influenced by that trip somewhat. What were your biggest takeaways from working there?

Well, my boss in China was one of the people who gave me the most influence.

First, he knew I was going to work there for only one or two years. Not long. But he still shared everything with me. He did not hide. Also he knew that I really loved traveling, so he told me – on every business trip, as long as you’ve finished your work you can take a couple of days off and do some personal travel in that city.

There was also once that I represented my company to a University to give a speech, but I screwed it up in a very bad way.

It’s a University in Taiwan, and it’s a very good University. And at that time a lot people are saying that the problem in early education industry was – cuz Taiwan’s birthrate is dropping so there are fewer and fewer kids, so the scale of the school is getting smaller.

Also it’s a free market in Taiwan, so if you’re doing a good job, then your competitor can open a school next door, immediately.

The kindergarten teachers are always the youngest, the least experienced, and the least paid. And, you can think about the situation now. From 0-6 is a key period of your life and you’re going to be influenced by these inexperienced teachers who are probably spending their whole day worrying about their love life. (laughs)

They have all sorts of different problems.

But, in China I saw a good business model in education. And I saw a very good balance between making money and education ideals. So, I thought, “if you can – if theres an opportunity for you guys to go there and see a totally different education market. Its such a good opportunity.” So I went there to the University and I introduced the job side – the market.

But, it turned out the head of the department, is someone who is very… very very high into German philosophical education. She does believe in education – she doesnt really care about the job side, the market side, and so on… the practical side.

So, I was talking about something that she really doesnt care about, so she thinks I’m very unprofessional and I’m bringing wrong information to the school and so on. She as her beliefs. Which makes sense, but I think students need more opportunity.

Anyway it was pretty bad. She said pretty harsh words to me. And I was representing my company. So, after I finished the speech I just emailed my boss and said “I’m so sorry. I screwed up and I don’t know what to do.”

And he just said, “there’s a saying: 一樣米養百樣人 [ yīyàng mǐ yǎng bǎi yàng rén: one kind of rice can raise one hundred kinds of people.] So, we can never please everyone. As long as you did it correctly and thats how it is.”

So, he didn’t blame me for anything. He just gave me a lot of thoughts for work and life. And that influenced me a lot.

Changing Taiwan’s Tourism Industry: A Different Way to do Hotels

.

 Ok. So, you came back from China to chose one industry to stay in. To chose your focus. What happened next?

After I came back, since I was running the hostel previously, it was pretty natural for me to think about running another place. At that time I was thinking about another hostel. But, by then… I was not only a backpacker.

Coming from a backpacker, and then traveling in China I became a business traveler, and after I started working in China, I started realizing that my time with my family is so limited. Even if I spend every day with my family, you can still count how many years to go. So, I decided to travel with my mother, because my father is…. pretty sick. He had an organ transplant. To be safe, he cannot travel abroad. So, I decided to travel with my mother abroad – once a year.

So I also experienced another type of travel. When I’m traveling with my mother, I plan it better and stay in nicer places. Visiting relatively safer, more glamourous places.

So these three types of trips gave me different takes on what traveling and tourism should be like. So, even though I was thinking about running another hostel, I found this place.

And, the first time I saw this place I thought when I left, “Oh my, what a terrible place! I’m never coming here!”

This place? [references to the hotel we are sitting in]

Yeah. Because, its hidden in an alley. There’s no way to find your way. When you first come here it looks so sketchy. When you are carrying luggage you get lost – for 15 years – and you want to kill someone, anyone you see on the street. And, if it rains – because the cars cannot stop near the front door – it will be even worse.

So… I crossed it out .. I said no on this place.

But for some reason, after awhile, I took my friends here. And, they are doing creative jobs, or they are artists, and they gave me a totally different view on it.

“You can say.. its retro, but its historical, it has some cultural, grassroots culture in it, it has all sorts of different aspects”…but no business aspect.

No business aspect?

No, of course they didn’t care about that.

But, it gave me an inkling of.. it gave me a brand new view on this place. And, I started to think “maybe we can have something totally different.”

Also at that time I visited a lot of other old hotels. And I realized that in Taipei most of the old hotels are already destroyed. There are a few lucky ones that are renovated by hotel groups. They are renovated in a completely new way.

And the rest of the hotels are staying there because the owners are probably too old and they don’t like changes. And they still live in the good old times – back when they made a lot of money.

So, I started thinking.. you don’t have to change it completely, you only change the bad parts, but you preserve the good parts – which you don’t see in the new hotels these days – it will give people more confidence in themselves and have economical value because you can raise the room rates.

Also, its another option on urbanization or urban renewal.

So, thats how it started.

So you were going around looking at different hotels that were for sale? This was a hotel before?

Yeah, it was a hotel for 60 years. And, before, when Beitou was its primetime there were tons of different hotels like this. But, Beitou area suffered 2 big changes.

One is the ban on prostitution. Because theres the hot spring, and hotel, and business people, and all kinds of different services and of course prostitution makes the most money. But, about 20 years ago Taiwan put a ban on prostitution.

And then, 10 years ago there was SARS. And it was the last straw.

All the industry in Beitou, because if there’s no tourists, there’s no hotel, no business, no nothing. So there was a lot of construction that stopped in the middle…. in New Beitou area because even if you finish construction there still won’t be tourists.

So, in the primetime there were big and small hotels, but after that a lot of hotels, the small hotels, cannot survive. So they all closed. So now there are – in Beitou there are only two hotels like this.

And one is already agreeing on building big buildings for the real estate developer. And the other one is this one.

So if we don’t do this, then in the future, people won’t have these kinds of hotels.

So, what kind of hotel is it?

I would say because its hidden in the alley. Its very very quiet because its hidden in the alley, so a real estate developer would see less value in developing this. So, the community, the neighbors, they are still pretty original.

I say they are original in the sense of the way they live. They still hang their underwear all around, in front of your window. They are really direct. They really care about you. They wish you the best. If you do something wrong, they come here the first moment and then shout at you, but the next moment they just forget and move on.

So its very easy to live here.

And also, because the cars cannot drive in, its very quiet at night.

A lot of people say its hard to find a hotel where you can still sleep with your doors open. In the morning you’ll probably be woken up by birds.

There are two abandon houses around here. Both are interesting. One is a Japanese-era building, so you can still see some historical culture. And the other one has a big, big tree coming out from the middle of the house.

So, its very ery different.

It’s Taipei, but it’s not Taipei 101. It’s not all the international chain, 5-star hotels. It’s just a kind of forgotten, untouched corner. Which is nothing fancy. Which is as simple as your most basic need.

Ok. So, what’d you do when you bought the hotel? You said you wanted to keep the old that was good and renovate fix the bad.. what was the plan there?

So the plan was this: to keep as much as possible. But once you do it, you know preservation is not as easy as you think.

Especially when you first come into a space that is going to be renovated halfway. It’s hard to decide which part you are going to keep and which part you are going to destroy. Because when everything is renovated the things that you preserve might look terrible, might not fit in.

Also, the problem with old buildings is not its style.. it’s its sanitary or safety part. Very weak roof, or leaking wall, or molded wall, dirty washroom, and so on. All these things cost a lot of money. But after you spend that money you won’t see any result because it’s not visual, it’s not aesthetics.

So, yeah… it was very difficult. We spent a lot more money than we thought. A lot of people that did this say it actually costs more money than just knocking everything down and rebuilding everything. Because when you do preservation you spend a lot of time figuring out what to keep and you have to mark it, because when the construction people come into tear everything off they have to spend extra minutes checking what part I have to take care of. And once these things are taken off you have to find storage. Then after all the construction, when you put them back you realize a lot of things are not functioning and you need to fix them but the parts are gone. Nobody manufactures the parts. So, you might have to use your creativity. You might have to handmake something.

So that’s a lot of extra money you might have to put in.

But, a lot of people come inside and they will say “oh, it looks pretty retro. You have the very old, retro marble floor, you use maybe some old furniture” but being retro is actually not our theme.

“To have the heart to treasure everything we own” is what we want to present.

All the old things, or all the old furniture, or material that you’re seeing. You’re thinking beautiful. You’re thinking retro. You’re thinking it has a meaning of time, history. It’s because our ancestors and our parents and grandparents are using it very carefully. When there is not so much production. When every object is precious and because they treat everything carefully and they treat it with respect. And no matter what we have nowadays – even if its something you don’t like – even if its fast food culture – or, industrial mass production, whatever – If you can treat it with respect, if you can treasure whatever you have, then our offspring can still enjoy the legacy. At least they can see our footprint.

That’s what we want to promote.

A Glimpse of The Solo Singer Inn

A Glimpse of The Solo Singer Inn

Ok. And how long has this hotel been open?

We started last September. The first operation. But it took us almost 6 months to renovate.

And business is going well now?

It’s getting better. Slowly.

What do you do to promote it and get the word out?

Yea, um.. I think we didn’t do a good job in marketing at the beginning. Not because of the content, but because of the speed. We were not sure how much we want to promote this place because its very organic.

We invited 20 artists to come and renovate the place. But we asked them to not renovate it in a designer’s way. Because a designer’s way is very easy to predict. Especially, a designer hotel. Big pattern here, or the thing is red, or the thing is graffiti, or whatever. We wanted them to design a place where they would love to stay in to write, to paint, to work, to live. For a long time.

So we don’t want it as a theme hotel. And we don’t want artists to design it as a museum by putting a lot of art everywhere. So its very very low key.

Even the composition of the artists are very organic. Some people heard about the hotel project. Some are friends’ friends.

But anyway, we weren’t that sure about how much we wanted to market. Which was a mistake. When you’re running a business you promote a half-year early. Early before operation. But we started too late. So at the beginning almost no one walked in. It was only us.

And, also… I think we, the thing we want to promote, is not so as obvious as the visual stimulation. It’s very psychological and mental. So it also takes longer.

We realized foreigners like this place more than Taiwanese people. Because Taiwanese people might think this place is too normal for them. But, for foreigners, especially global travelers, who have seen a lot of cities, and they have stayed in all the nice hotels, but they are all the same. They want to stay in somewhere thats authentic. Somewhere that’s very different. Somewhere unique.

But, reaching out to international travelers takes a little longer because at the beginning its always the local media.

Oh ok. So you have gotten some local media coverage?

We have gotten a lot of local media coverage. Because, as I say, we are the first hotel project thats renovating in a preservation way.

It’s funny because at the time when we did renovation there was a big new headline that urbanization, urban renewal is causing a lot of problems for the right of people to live in their own house. Because there is ruling saying that if more than however much percentage of people agree on the rebuilding thing, then you have to agree.

So they buy people out and tear their houses down?

The law is changing so I’m not sure anymore. But you can think about two parties: one is the real estate developer and of course the goal is the make as much money as possible.

And the other side is either preserving what we had: be it historical ruins, be it our own houses. “Do I have the right to stay in my own house? I want to stay in my own house. I don’t fancy any high-rises. My own humble place is the best.”

So it’s kind of two opposite directions. If the law, if the government, is not handling it well then it’s very easy to have some conflict.

So, there was a big case happening in that time. Our existence – providing another option, providing an opportunity, to also keep the value high, but preserve what we have – destruction is not the only way to recreate – think this concept attracted a lot of people.

“I Hope They Are Not All Like This”: Clientele in the Beginning

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Ok. So backtracking quite a bit – what about when you first started, with the first hostel? Did you have to do a lot of promotion around it?

Yeah, also at the beginning we also didn’t have many customers. So we spent a lot of time playing Mahjong inside with our friends so we don’t look so pathetic.

And, I still remember our very first hostel guest was somebody coming from America. Who was a complete couch potato. He stayed there 5-7 days and only on the couch. Watching TV and complaining how bad the TV shows are.

I was really scared. I hope not all customers are like this.

He didn’t travel around Taiwan or even Taipei at all?

Not at all. Usually he’d go out twice a day to 7-11 to get some food and come back to watch TV. Enjoying 7-11 food.

Ok. Well, that’s an interesting vacation.

(laughs). But over time, I guess. Right now the business is stable because we’ve been running it for a long time.

How long?

6 or 7 years now.

Ok. And it was always two hotels?

The second one started when I was in China. I came back and saw that they were renting it so I just asked them if they could rent it to us.

Ah, ok. So, you just kind of added it on to the business… 

Yeah.

“Ta-Dah! Here’s My Cafe!”: The Next Venture

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So what about.. now, there’s a cafe coming? Tell us about that…

Yeah, nearby!

Nearby here – its only 5 seconds away. Yeah, I was just planning. Designing is a very painful thing to me. Creation is a painful thing to me. It’s exciting because of the unknown, but it’s also very painful, because you are the one who’s going to decide what its going to look like, and I like possibilities.

So, once it’s done, its kind of fixed.

I like a space with a lot of possibilities. So my design is always very basic. I really hate design that is very ornamental – like a lot of patterns, like burrough style, or some ancient style, strong color. Because it kind of limits the human touch.

I like an empty place, and over time with people bringing stuff in, with people stealing things away (laughs) and with people leaving messages on the wall.

You just like to see how a place organically develops..

Yeah, but its very painful in the process, because you tell people, “tah-dah! This is my cafe!” and it looks so boring. So empty.

So you’ve already secured the place and now it’s just about getting it up and running?

Yeah. Well, we have to start construction soon.

The Cafe, Now.

The Cafe, Now.

So what are your plans for construction? Tearing down walls and building walls?

So there’s no extra wall now. There’s just a very long, narrow space. With a restroom and a kitchen.

We are going to serve some simple food. Simple set meal. Mainly tea. Only simple coffee, but more tea options. And, some events.

Interesting. So when do you expect that to be open?

Maybe in 2 months…. and I’ve been saying “2 months” for about 3 months now.

You have a name yet?

Solo Singer Life.

Ok. So, its tied in with the hotel in that sense.

Yeah.

The “Fall” & The Importance of Family

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Hmm… lets see what else can I ask about.

What do you expect in an interview? If there’s nothing spicy coming out, you’re not going to stop? “Tell me how hard did you fall?”

What..??

There’s some journalists that like to know how hard you fell and they will make you look very glamorous and successful.

Ha. Did you fall? Was there a fall?

(laughs). Of course.

No. I think the biggest challenge was my father’s health. Because he was so hard working. He’s gone to do dialysis for a very long time since I was very young. But you never realize his organ could stop functioning. And when he went for the transplant it was very very bad. There were a few times where we’d get notice from the hospital, where it’d be: “come here to prepare for a funeral” and things like that.

So, when you’re so close to death, it really changes your life.

So what was it actually?

He had kidney problems. And, a long time ago people didn’t know there was Hepatitis B and C. There was only a Hep A check. And for early stage dialysis you need to inject blood… I don’t know how to say it, infuse blood? A lot of people at that time got Hepatitis C. Hep C lasts for a few years and then your liver will get hardened and it will stop working.

And that started happening.. when? When was that?

10 years ago.

Life is very short.

So now you started doing one trip a year with your mother?

Yeah.

global shaper hubs

Young People. Shaping the World.

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Any other traveling that you do now?

I also travel a bit for the Global Shaper Community. That is a World Economic Forum community. A new community thats coming out of WEF. The organization structure is half of the organization are members, and the other half are constituents.

And the member half is the corporates. They have to pay huge member fees. That includes all the big companies you can name: Coca-Cola, McKinsey, BCG, Accenture, etc

Constituents are people that are determined to be beneficial to society or are the driving forces of society. So they have technology pioneers, spiritual leaders, and young global leaders.

Young Global Leaders are the people between 30-40 year old.

So most of the groups are defined by what they do, but there are two groups defined by age, and of course you still need to go through interviews and et cetera. But Young Global Leaders are 30-40 and Global Shapers are 20-30. And they started [Global Shapers] 2 years ago without very obvious instruction on what you have to do as a Global Shaper.

There is the age limit and then there are the hubs. The definition of a hub is a city. So, Taipei is a hub, Tokyo is a hub, Austin is a hub. And every hub needs to run its own projects that are beneficial to your society. To your community.

I was the founding member of the Global Shaper Taipei hub. So at that time I traveled a bit to conferences.

So you go to other hubs and meet with them?

Yeah, depends. Usually, they have a regional meeting. Or they have meetings on certain topics.

I went to Bangkok last year for ASEAN counties. I also went to Geneva for curator training. These were also, I would say, life changing experiences for me.

Especially the ASEAN trip was mind-blowing. Because we are still seeing the mentally that Southeast Asia is slow. People enjoy their life, take their time and work-wise just take it easy. But, its not true. They are doing everything to catch up. Their GDP growths are amazing. Their governments are trying so hard to make a difference. So, it was some picture to me.

Also, meeting the fellow Shapers is a big thing to me. In the meetings I met a lot of big people including the prime ministers of all the ASEAN countries, and also Aung San Suu Kyi, who, at that time, traveled outside of Myanmar for the first time in 24 years. I put a picture of me and Aung San Suu Kyi on Facebook. That is when I suddenly had a lot of new friends requests. People don’t remember my name, but I’m the person who took a picture with Aung San Suu Kyi.

Aung San Suu Kyi

Heather & Aung San Suu Kyi

But, actually what matters to me the most is the fellow Shapers, not the big people. Because knowing that someone has a similar background and they’re about the same age, they have so much motivation, they have such a big vision, they’re doing great things and have firm beliefs -it’s really something.

Ok. So what else are you getting involved in? It seems like you’re always asking questions and fishing for ideas. Are there other business ventures you’re interested in?

I don’t know. I love tourism. I think that is the for sure thing that I’ll do for my life. But, I’m also very interested in tech.

I follow tech pretty closely. I’m not an engineer and I don’t know any coding language, but to me tech is really something that’s driving human direction. But how do you define tech? I’m not sure. If you’re not coming from that background, then tech is only about actual needs in your life.

So, I don’t know. I’m still seeking… to see what’s more fun to spend my time in….

 

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For more on Heather and Solo Singer Life, check out TheSoloSinger.com

 

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Getting Started in Mandarin: How I Learned Basic Chinese Script in Only 2 Hours

In Japanese, Getting Started is Easy

Or least knowing where to start is easy. When learning Japanese, you should start off learning hiragana and katakana – the Japanese phonetic scripts. They’ll get you started in the language and get you away from romanization quickly.

I must say, I’m not a big fan of romanization attempts in Asian languages.

romanization is the representation of a written word or spoken speech with the Roman (Latin) script or a system for doing so, where the original word or language uses a different writing system (or none). – Wikipedia

Not a fan may not even be the best way to say it. I grossly dislike romanization. At most its inconsistent, and I think it muddies the language you are trying to learn because it imposes English inconstancies and difficulties onto the new language when they shouldn’t be there at all. No – other languages are much more consistent with their sounds – English is a hack job. (more on this in about 2 paragraphs)

So, one of my first goals when learning Japanese was to learn the phonetic scripts first. That way I would never ever have to use Romaji (romanization of Japanese characters).

Just say no.

Just say no.

Learning a new phonetic script is not as hard as it sounds. You learn which characters represent which sounds. Think of it like learning a new alphabet.

You already know the English alphabet (basically the Roman alphabet), but as mentioned above, the sounds aren’t consistent in English. English has 26 letters in the alphabet, but way more than 26 actual sounds (every vowel has at least 2 sounds: think the ‘a’ in apple vs. the ‘a’ in ate, the ‘i’ in did vs. the ‘i’ in like, some consonants have more than one sound as well: sometimes ‘c’ sound like ‘k’, sometimes it sounds like ‘s’, there’s other sounds not accounted for in the alphabet at all like: ‘ch’, ‘sh’, ‘tion’… et cetera.) I can’t imagine how frustrating it must be to learn English as a second language. All those of you are learning English or have learned it: I applaud you.

The inconsistencies in the English sounds drive me up the wall when you try to romanize languages that actually have consistent sounds. I think this makes things more confusing. Yes, the argument for romanization is that you already know the Roman alphabet and it allows you to read and therefore use the new language from day 1. But, I think that’s the lazy man’s way and you’ll just run into more problems down the road. It’s best to learn to read a new phonetic script and get away from English biases as soon as possible. You don’t want them seeping into your new language.

For Japanese this is easy: it has a phonetic script, hiragana, which is the base of all Japanese words. You can write any Japanese word in hiragana if you wanted to. Cool. I like that. From day 1 you’re away from English and away from the monstrosities of romanization.

Ditto for Korean… Hangol is phonetic. (I don’t know any Korean at all, but learning Japanese has made me interested in Korean. It’s on my radar as a possible future target language to be acquired soon. Why? Because the grammar is similar to Japanese and like Japanese it has its own unique phonetic script. Albeit, Korean has a lot more sounds than Japanese does.)

But, what about Chinese?

It’s not phonetic at all. No, Chinese characters are all logograms.

logogram is a grapheme which represents a word or a morpheme (the smallest meaningful unit of language).

Chinese characters represent things – but you can’t look at them and sound them out like you can phonetic scripts. So, how do you learn these damn things? Sheer memorization? Sounds painful and a bit difficult. Attaching new sounds to a new phonetic script is one thing. Attaching new sounds to a logogram is quite another.

Not a phonetic alphabet.

Not a phonetic alphabet.

Hmm…. so what are our options here?

Well, for most learners, its back to romanization. The most common romanization for Chinese being pinyin. Very common, very widely used. I don’t like it. What else is there?

Tim Ferriss actually recommends going with Gwoyeu Romatzyh on his blog, saying: “If you go after Mandarin, choose the somewhat uncommon [Gwoyeu Romatzyh] over pinyin romanization if at all possible. It’s harder to learn at first, but I’ve never met a pinyin learner with tones even half as accurate as a decent GR user.”

Interesting. But, No.

GR is just so rare and so hated by most Chinese language learners that its just a pain to deal with. Plus, it’s also painfully harder to learn.

Ahh, I guess pinyin is the best bet, despite my hate of romanization. If only Chinese had a phonetic script like Japanese does….  If only

Taiwan to the Rescue

And then a miracle happened. Well, not really a miracle, but I learned something new.

The other day I was chatting with a few Taiwanese and expats here in Taiwan and I learned about bopomofo. Also called Zhuyin fuhao.

Bopomofo is.. exactly what I was looking for. It’s a phonetic script for Chinese, developed around 1910, that all Taiwanese children learn in order to learn Mandarin sounds. Every Chinese character, or logogram, can be built phonetically using bopomofo. The Taiwanese actually use bopomofo to as their main input to type and text with. It’s apparently a lot faster than typing and texting using pinyin (less input involved).

Bopomofo, the full character set.

Bopomofo, the full character set.

Best of all? There’s only 37 characters! That’s less than Japanese! (Hiragana has 47).

“Only 37 characters? That sounds simple, I could probably learn that in less than 2 hours” – me and my big mouth.

“2 hours? No way!” – My Taipei friends. “Maybe a couple of days or something. We know you know how to learn stuff fast, but not that fast.”

And the challenge was started.

“You don’t think so? Ok, then, I’ll do it tomorrow.”

The next day, I sat in a coffee shop for a couple of hours and knocked it out.

How I Did It: Materials & Method

Genius? Not at all. All method.

First off, I knew I needed proper material and I had an inkling for what kind of material I needed.

I started with Wikipedia – the Wikipedia page for Bopomofo has stroke order. Great. Now I can learn how to write it quickly.

Ok. With learning how to write covered, I still have 3 more skills to focus on: recognition, speech, and listening.

Speech and listening you only need two things – audio (listening) and the balls to say everything out loud (speaking). Even if this means you’re in a coffee shop alone and you look like a crazy person talking to yourself. It’s okay, I’ll be that guy today. I found the audio here.

Next, and maybe most importantly: reading and recognition. For that I need two things – a context to digest the new information quickly (see: my post on Acing Accounting courses) and repetition to keep it fresh and beat it into my memory. I have favorites for each:

For context in a new language  I prefer mnemonics – for this I used Memrise, because it gives me a chance to basically outsource/crowdsource actually building the mnemonics thus saving me time. Memrise Bopomofo here.

For repetition, nothing beats Anki. I found some bopomofo Anki decks, but I didn’t find any with audio. All the ones I found went from pinyin to bopomofo. That completely misses the point. The whole point in learning bopomofo is I don’t want to learn pinyin. So, I had to create my own bopomofo Anki deck. (Feel free to download it here.)

Now that I have all of the material I need, it’s time to get cracking.

I start off with an internet browser open with 3 tabs: one for Memrise, one for the audio, and one with the Wikipedia stroke order. Oh, and most importantly, a cup of strong coffee (I prefer an Americano, black no sugar.)

Start from the top. Which each character I repeated this exact process.

The initial “learning” process: 

  1. Start in Memrise and use the order given there.
  2. First character – find the audio. Listen and repeat it out loud. Listen and repeat. Listen and repeat.
  3. Then, mnemonic time: either I like and accept the one given in Memrise or I create my own. 
  4. Then, I listen to the audio again, repeat again, and flip over to Wikipedia tab.
  5. I note the stroke order and write out the character 5 times.
  6. Back to audio. Listen and repeat again.. then on to the next character.

Repeat these 6 steps, 37 times = one for each character. It’s systematic yes, but it works.

A quick note about mnemonics: when you’re trying to create memories the easiest to remember are those that are either disgusting or sexual. (Either this is the case for everybody or I just have a sick mind.)

 

This character is pronounced like "luh". I'll never forget it.

This character is pronounced “luh”. I’ll never forget it.

Getting through all 37 characters in this fashion takes me a little over an hour.

After going through that process – it’s time for a break. I leave the coffee shop and go do some other things and come back to the studying process later. Gotta let the new information settle in.

A few hours later and now that the longest part of the process (creating mnemonics) is out of the way its smooth sailing from here. This also means I’m done with Memrise. It’s all Anki, handwriting, and vocal production from here on out. (I find Memrise’s typing requirement both painful and useless – handwriting is way better for memory and I’ve already incorporated that into my process. I also like Anki’s use of Spaced Repetition better than I like Memrise’s.)

So, Anki deck loaded, it’s basically the process above, minus the mnemonic part.

The “building by repetition” process:

  1. Starting in Anki, the order is randomized now, which is good – I’m being tested a bit.
  2. First character, if I recognize it I pronounce it out-loud  if not I flip the card over and then pronounce it out-loud.
  3. Then I listen to the audio and pronounce it out-loud again. Trying to mimic the “native pronunciation” I’m hearing.
  4. Now, I write it out 5 times. I try to go from memory with the stroke order if I can. If not, I have the Wikipedia tab open somewhere.
  5. Listen and repeat one more time. Click on Either “again”, “ok”, or “good” depending on how good I feel about my knowledge of this character and when I want to see it again.
  6. Next character. Repeat.

After getting through all 37 characters this time I have a solid base and am already starting to feel like I “know” them. And, I’ve impressed myself by being able to write the characters on paper from just hearing the sounds – an added test I put in at the last minute. Initially, I was only going for recognition, but I figure its a better base to build both recognition and production skills. The Anki review took less than an hour.

Approximately 2 hours of work and I’ve learned bopomofo. I take another break and catch up with my Taipei friends and watch a movie. After the movie, I have them quiz me in various ways. Of course, they try to make things difficult, and its not perfection (and they give me a hard time for the mistakes), but I’m satisfied. The knowledge base is there and I can now read and write bopomofo.

I can now move onto to learning Chinese characters without ever having to deal with pinyin or other annoying romanization attempts again. And that was the whole goal.

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