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My impending debt freedom

Three hundred and ninety-five dollars. That’s all I have left to pay towards my education loan. 아싸~!

This means that very soon, I’ll be…DEBT-FREE. I feel like this word deserves sparkles and rainbows around it or something. It’s the ‘magical’ status I’ve been working towards since I started working 7 years ago.

Technically, I won’t be completely out of debt due to the recent taking over of my parents’ remaining mortgage, but that doesn’t count as debt since I’m paying for it out of my CPF with money I’ve saved over the years and will never get to touch until retirement age anyway.

Alhamdulillah, I’m also happy to have ZERO consumer debt at this point. My credit card balances are all zero and I don’t have any other short-term consumer loans.

Now I can concentrate on saving for the long-term – something which wasn’t easy to do when I was trying to pay down my debts in the past 4 years or so. It made more sense to hack away at my debt than to save for retirement or long-term goals. Now that I’m free to save 30-40% of my net income, it feels crazy good!

I don’t mean to say it’s terrible to be in debt. Debt allowed me to achieve my life goals (like getting a higher education) while supporting my family at the same time. When managed well, debt is beneficial. Especially for someone like me with a huge ego (haha) who would never ask my parents to support me financially while I pursue tertiary education. I was never an academic star, so scholarships were out of the question. Education loans were my gateway to a university education and am I ever so glad I had that option!

While in Seoul in October 2011, our travel party of seven (including a toddler) stayed at Namsan 2 Guesthouse for 7 nights. Namsan Guesthouse has 3 separate buildings on the same street, with Namsan 1 being the oldest and Namsan 3 the newest. We chose Namsan 2 as it had larger 3-person rooms and ondol heating (which Namsan 3 lacked), and was closer to the subway station compared to Namsan 1.

Rooms

Our group split into 3 rooms – one 3-person room and two Twin B rooms.
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Restaurant Guide for Muslim Visitors to Korea
I discovered this gem while browsing through KTO’s website today. 😀 Seems like this is a newly published e-book, as it’s dated 2012. I don’t see any way to download it at the moment, so the only option is to read it online. Click over to the E-Books section of KTO’s website!

Using my iPod Touch as a learning tool was not one of my original intentions when I purchased it. I started out using the iTouch as an entertainment device, but in recent months it seems that its primary function has evolved into a Korean study tool for me! It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that 80% of my Korean study these days is done through the iTouch.

Between work and school, I hardly have any time to sit down and study Korean (except during semester breaks). In a typical week, only one to two hours can be spared on uninterrupted self-study, usually during the weekend. Sometimes none, when deadlines abound. This is where the weekday morning commute comes in handy! I used to spend the time reading, but sometimes the train is so crowded you hardly have space to hold a book in front of you. Since my main Korean learning materials are audio- and video-based, the greatest advantage is that I can carry them all with me in one slim device.

Without further ado, I shall introduce the tools I use for my mobile learning of Korean:

Podcasts

One of the best things about podcasts is that you don’t have to manually download each episode as it is released. Once you’re subscribed to a podcast using iTunes, the software will automatically download new episodes for you. I configured my iTouch to auto-download new podcasts from my MacBook during the sync process, so the only thing I have to do manually is plugging in my iTouch, really.

The podcasts I currently subscribe to, in order of most frequently listened to (iTunes store link provided):

  1. Talk To Me In Korean
  2. KoreanClass101.com
  3. Korean – Survival Phrases

iBooks

Audio and video lessons are usually accompanied by downloadable lesson notes in PDF format. Although I do usually print out the notes (for my sit-down study time), it’s not practical to take them everywhere, especially on crowded public transport when you can’t even take them out to read.

My solution was to download the iBooks app (it’s free), import the PDFs into my iTunes library on the MacBook and configure my iTouch to download books in my library during the sync process. When you open iBooks, you’d be able to see the PDFs. The app serves its function well as a basic e-book reader; you can bookmark pages and search for text within a PDF. Although the iTouch’s screen size was not built for reading, it’s good enough for skimming Korean lesson notes which are usually just a few pages long (short?). In landscape format, the screen is large enough to read short texts comfortably. iBooks also has a zoom function, in any case.

Audiobooks / Audioblogs

When I want to study Korean but don’t feel like listening to lessons, I turn to audiobooks or audioblogs to listen to natural Korean speech. The podcasts I mentioned above include such materials as part of their lessons, but there are also standalone apps that serve as audiobooks with additional features. My favourites are the audiobooks by Talk To Me In Korean. They come in the form of apps (downloadable from iTunes Store) and standalone MP3 + PDF format. (I bought the app format to avoid dealing with multiple files.) TTMIK’s audiobooks are not only of great quality, the stories interest me – perhaps because the authors (TTMIK teachers) are also young working adults living in a metropolitan city, like me. 🙂

The tools introduced here are those I use on a daily basis to study Korean during pockets of free time I have throughout the day. I also use other apps occasionally to supplement my learning on the go, but I shall save that for another post. 😉

The iTouch has truly been invaluable to my Korean language learning. Without it, I would’ve struggled to achieve the consistency and rhythm of studying Korean on a daily basis, and I doubt I would’ve improved as much as I did in recent months. If you’re a busy bee like me using your mobile device as the primary means for language learning, I’d love to hear from you!

When I first started planning for the trip to Korea, I did consider taking up one of those “free & easy” packages offered by travel agencies. The benefit of these packages is that you can book your flight and accommodation in one place at one time, and then forget about it, since the agency makes (almost) all the arrangements for you. On the other hand, the major downside is the limited selection of airlines, hotels and travel dates offered by these agencies. I’m no experienced traveler, but having planned a couple of “budget trips” before, I knew I could get better deals elsewhere. Perhaps, being somewhat of a control freak when it comes to my finances also made me want to get the best bang for my buck. And I did, scoring round trip tickets to Seoul in October for under SGD 500.00 per person!

How? By booking Singapore > Kuala Lumpur > Incheon tickets (and back) on AirAsia when it was having a big sale back in December 2010. The exact amount paid per adult was actually SGD 478.98, which is inclusive of:

  • Airport tax
  • Flight insurance
  • Baggage fees (15 kg to + 20 kg fro)
  • Convenience fees
  • Pick-a-seat fees

It also helped that the price for the KL to Incheon flight was in Malaysia Ringgit, so we managed to save more thanks to the strong Singapore dollar. In fact, you could save even more if you opted out of the extra services like pick-a-seat, baggage and insurance.

At present, there aren’t any other budget airlines flying directly to Incheon from Singapore, so that was the best we could get. In my opinion, the biggest downside to the arrangement is the hassle of having to check-in twice – once at Singapore/Incheon, and again at Kuala Lumpur – because AirAsia does not provide their flight connecting service (called FLY-THRU) for this route. Perhaps another minus point is the total traveling time, which would take about 12 hours. This isn’t an issue for me and my family though; we’re looking forward to exploring KLIA with whatever little time we have in between the flights! 🙂

If you’re planning your own trip to Korea (or anywhere, really) and looking to fly cheaply, here are a few tips I would suggest:

  1. Subscribe to email newsletters of budget airlines and/or follow them on Twitter or Facebook to be informed of the latest deals.
  2. Wait for their sales, which are usually held at the beginning of the month. I think AirAsia has a big sale on all their flights every quarter or so.
  3. Book at the start of the sale period, if possible. Tickets to popular destinations run out fast, and prices increase without warning within days or even hours, so don’t take too long to book them once you’ve decided on the dates.
  4. Don’t attempt to book during peak online traffic hours, i.e. lunchtime or between 6:00 PM to midnight. In fact, during sale periods, some websites might be busy all day! I would recommend you prepare all necessary documents before going to bed, and then wake up at dawn to do the online flight booking uninterrupted. (Don’t end up like me – after painstakingly entering the details of all 7 people in my travel group, AirAsia’s website hung up on me, and I had to do it all over again. I only learnt the lesson after experiencing it thrice.)
  5. Read the fine print! Budget airlines do not provide many of the basic services you may be used to with full-service airlines. As you can see, I even had to pay for check-in baggage per person per flight. So, read the FAQ before you buy any tickets.

Disclaimer: I’ve never flown with AirAsia before, so I can’t comment on their service. That’ll be done in another post after I return from my trip! 😉