How to Kick Ass This Christmas

Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gimmeahug/4209857179/sizes/m/in/photostream/There’s a scene in Jurassic Park (which is my all-time favorite movie btw, sooo awesome) where the owner of the park, John Hammond, gives a tour of the velociraptor pen to a bunch of visitors. You don’t actually get to see the raptors – they’re hidden by thick foliage – but you do see a poor cow, strapped to a harness, slowly being lowered into the pen.

And then you see the thick foliage shaking vigorously, and hear the distressed cries of the dying cow over the unearthly shrieks of the raptors and watch the horrified looks of the visitors, and then… silence. The harness is extracted from the pen and you realize that it’s reduced to tattered little pieces of cloth.

Jurassic Mall

That’s kind of like what the mall was like yesterday. I went down to Raffles City to meet a friend for dinner, and for a moment I thought I was in the wrong place because it literally looked like feeding time at Jurassic Park. First, the place looked like it got hit by a meteor. There was stuff everywhere, and hordes of panicked crowds running around. Ryan from MoneySmart tells us that this is actually a devious psychological tactic to get us to buy more. (“Messy” is usually associated with “cheap”, even though the actual price will probably be your first-born child)

Then there were all these macho dudes all wandering into jewelry and bag shops looking slightly dazed, trying to figure out what to get for their girlfriends. One by one, they were picked off by sly-looking salespeople circling them like sharks before convincing them to buy another overpriced bag/necklace/diamond ring.

And there were the ubiquitous Christmas carols like, everywhere. Now don’t get me wrong – I love carols – but it gets really trying when you hear a pseudo-jazz band butcher Jingle Bell Rock for the 273rd time. Nobody else seemed to mind because they were too busy climbing over each other to claw their way to the sale rack at Robinson’s. They made the Jurassic Park velociraptors look like a bunch of fluffy little bunnies.

Have Yourself a Merry Overconsumerist Christmas

Christmas used to be awesome, dude. It used to be so full of anticipation and magic and laughter and joy. But those damn malls crept into the place where they store the Christmas love and decided to destroy the crap out of it. They taught us that we don’t need love and joy during Christmas; what we need is an iPad so we can play Angry Birds on a wide screen at home instead of spending time with our families.

The problem, as blogger Johnny B Truant points out, is that Christmas has become about forced consumerism, where we kid each other into buying things that none of us would normally bother to get for ourselves. Like I shower all year round with a $10 bottle of shower gel, I don’t actually need that $70 Body Shop gift pack consisting of Shea Shower Cream, Body Scrub and Beautifying Oil, topped off with an Ultra Fine Lily (what the heck is an “Ultra Fine Lily” anyway?).

And then I’ve got to reciprocate and risk my life battling the Jungles of Orchard Road to get you an ugly tie that you will probably never wear, except maybe at your funeral.

The Best Things In Life Are Free

But dude, I hear you say, it’s the thought that counts.

But as Truant mentions in the same blogpost, if it’s the thought that’s so important, why do we have to spend a whole bunch of money to buy stuff? That isn’t thinking, it’s buying.

The stuff that I love most comes really cheap, or absolutely free. Like lunch with good company (we can split the bill). Or watching old movies in bed. Or playing Taboo while drinking cheap beer and eating Red Rock Deli chips. Or a chillaxed Saturday morning run. Or a $4 iPhone case. Or helping to repost or retweet my blogposts if you’ve found them useful. 🙂

Love from friends and family, comfort food, and the satisfaction of knowing I’ve helped you out in some tiny way. That’s really all I need, and it wouldn’t change even if I had a million bucks.

How to Celebrate Christmas, FaReals

1. Let’s forget the malls and the stores this year, and the obligatory Secret Santa game where everyone gets weird generic gifts. Instead, use the money and throw your family/friends an awesome dinner party, a potluck, or a games night (copious amounts of alcohol optional, but definitely recommended).

2. Do something that you’ve never done before. My girlfriend couldn’t think of anything she wanted this year, so I’m offering to cook her dinner (which is a helluva big deal to me because I never cook. Hey, stop judging, I gotta start somewhere.)

Okay that’s just the basic – I’m sure some of you are already awesome like that. But if you really want to step it up this year…

1. Talk to your friends and family, or send out an email or a Facebook post. Tell them not to give you any gifts, but instead donate they money they would have spent to a cause you support like Project: Flight. (Started by fellow Penn alum Albert Pak!)

2. Do something awesome and make it fun. Today, I heard about a kid who spent $600 bucks buying ice cream for foreign workers in Singapore who might be spending Christmas away from their families. And how awesome is it to be Ice Cream-Giving Santa Dude for a day?

Your awesome project doesn’t even have to involve moolah – you could do something entirely silly like Improv Everywhere’s High Five Escalator. It’s not going to change the world, but at least you’ll be giving people a little sliver of happiness, which is what Christmas is really all about. 🙂

Think about it, and go DO it. Merry Christmas everyone!

Travel For Lower Cost Than Low-Cost

Read a great article by Christopher Elliot today, titled Ridiculous or Not? Low-Cost Airlines That Cost More. It gave the example of how Southwest, one of the most popular low-cost airlines in America, sometimes has higher fares than full service carriers like US Airways. It gets away with this because it labels itself as a “low-cost” airline, so people generally make assumptions that it’s cheaper than the rest and don’t bother doing their research.

The lesson here is that we should always do our research, and never make assumptions. Full-service carriers regularly do promotions that can make themselves cheaper, or just slightly more expensive, than low-cost carriers. Some tips to get a cheaper fare:

1. Sign up for an airline / travel agent’s newsletter to get wind of new promotions

2. Travel during traditional lull periods – avoid peak seasons like summer or Christmas holidays

3. Research carriers that don’t have a strong presence in the country you’re flying from – they’re more likely to drop their fares to grab hold of more passengers since they don’t have a home ground advantage.

4. Book your ticket in advance. Seats go on sale as early as a year in advance, and that’s one of the cheapest times to buy. Prices generally climb when you get closer to the departure date.

5. Check the news for any big carriers operating into a country for the first time. It’s likely that the other carriers will drop their fares because of the increased competition.

How I Save Hundreds of Dollars a Year On Books

Fun fact: It takes TWICE the amount of time for me to commute within Singapore from Yio Chu Kang to Changi (25km away) compared to someone commuting from New Jersey to Manhattan (67 km away). I know, it really defies the laws of Physics.

Anyways, I love the fact that it takes me 1.5 hours to get to work in the mornings because it gives me a long, uninterrupted stretch to read. Other than doing the gungnam style in the middle of a crowded subway and embarrassing my friends, reading is one of my favorite hobbies in the world. And it’s way better than playing angry birds or watching Korean dramas.

Another fun fact: Reading can make you rich. The average person reads one book a year, while the average millionaire reads two books a week (Though their reading lists probably consist of titles other than Harry Potter).

The only problem with reading? Physical, paper books are crazy expensive, especially in Singapore where book prices are marked up to ludicrous levels. Libraries help to get around this issue, but popular books are usually almost always loaned out, and it’s a pain to refer back to them once you’ve returned them. When I first started work, I used to go to Borders to browse through entire books over the course of several months. I know, I know, Borders is bankrupt because of people like me.

 E-Readers for Voracious Readers on a Budget

And then I discovered the Amazon Kindle. I wasn’t the first to jump on the Kindle bandwagon – I had my reservations about e-readers too – but buying a Kindle two years ago pretty much changed my life. Since then, I’ve quadrupled my reading from 1 book every 2 months to 2 books a month, spending an average of less than $8 on each of them.

Price

My Kindle has saved me hundreds of dollars on reading. Ebooks are way cheaper to produce than physical books – there are no printing, distribution and storage costs, so cost savings are passed on to consumers.

I did the math: A Kindle device costs between $69 – $139 USD, depending on which version you get. In 2 years, I’ve downloaded 49 books for an average price of $8. Assuming that I bought those same physical books for $25 retail at a bookstore (pretty conservative considering some books can go up to $50-$70), that works out to savings of $833 over 2 years. Amazon also regularly promotes good-quality books for free (yes, free!!) or for a nominal price like $0.99.

 Convenience

The Kindle weighs lighter than a paperback, and is even smaller in size. This, in addition to being helluva sexy, has the advantage of allowing you to bring your books everywhere.

The only time I really get to read is when I commute, so I like having my books with me all the time. This also allows me to devour a book bit by bit in those annoying pockets of time when I’m traveling short distances, like a 10-min bus ride.

Common Objections to Getting an E-Reader:

“But I really like the ‘feel’ of a real book”

Okay you’re not buying a G-string here, why are you feeling up your book for, you perv? E-Readers are more like real books than you think – they use a technology called E-Ink, which looks and reads just like real paper and doesn’t hurt your eyes when you read.

Besides, the “feel” of a book is overrated – After reading a Kindle for 2 years, I can honestly say that I don’t even miss physical books anymore. And is the enjoyment of turning a page really worth $400 a year?

“But I already have an iPad”

Zomg. Every time I hear someone say that, I feel like running into an Apple store, stripping myself naked and yelling, “YOU CAN’T COMPARE AN IPAD TO A KINDLE!!!!” The two devices are made for very different purposes: the iPad is made for media – videos, internet, games, and pictures, while the Kindle is made for reading. Period. You try reading the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy on an iPad with a backlit screen and tell me if you don’t go blind in the process.

So how do I get one?

If you’re in anywhere in the world besides Singapore most countries, getting a Kindle and downloading books from amazon.com should be pretty straightforward.

If you live in Singapore, getting and using a Kindle is a little more complicated, but it can be done. Jeffery’s blog provides excellent instructions on how Singaporean users can obtain one and download books (scroll down to the section on “How to get a Kindle in Singapore”)

Also, you could totally go with other e-readers besides the Kindle (Eg Barnes and Nobles’ Nook is a good choice), but I just picked Amazon because it has the best selection by far.

Happy Reading! 🙂