Saturday, 31 August 2013

What I have in common with Jack Reacher

If you're not familiar with the excellent Jack Reacher series of crime thrillers by Lee Child, I highly suggest you get hooked: for sheer gritty detail and page-flipability, they're hard to beat.

In short, every book revolves around the central hero of Jack Reacher, an ex-military hard-ass who's wandering America, trying to just enjoy life but always drawn into solving other people's problems. Jack's unique in that he doesn't believe in working in a fixed job, owning a house, or surrounding himself with the trash that you and I are told we should desire. Apart from the great action, it's a refreshing narrative.

I'll be honest with you: in my 28 years in this world, I still haven't figured out why it's taken the shape it has in the glorified 'Western' world. Post-modern cynicism mixed with battle-weary religion, rampant capitalism, crashing poverty, the all-pervasive fear of crime, and above all else a culture of individualism.

Seriously people, in 200 000 years of humanity have we still not figured out some way to live together harmoniously? If you step back out of the rat-race for a bit, it's mind-boggling.

In a mini-string of stories I had published on a Romanian news site, I wrote that the desire to emigrate has had a significant impact on my view on life's challenges and my priorities. A spin-off of this is my view towards worldly possessions - you seriously start analysing every item you want to buy, asking yourself if it's something you'd put in your single suitcase of no more than 30kg when the chance to emigrate finally arrives.

I hate the fact that I have to live in fear of fellow human beings, all sharing this journey with me. I hate the fact that I'm meant to want a dream which is a plain lie - the majority of the world's population will never be so much as middle-class, never mind wealthy.

As a side-note about me, like so many other avid Grand Theft Auto fans around the world I can't wait for the imminent release of Grand Theft Auto V. That said, I'm desperately looking for a television which will be big enough to do the awesome graphics in the game justice, but cheap enough to feel disposable (because it won't fit in my suitcase - see analogy above). No luck yet.

However, this drove something home for me: you can buy a flat-screen TV for R3 500, R6 000, R16 000, R25 000 or R200 000! Yes, as you go up the price ranks you get 3D, bigger screens and internet-enabled 'smart' features, but really ... the easy observation here (if you step back enough to see it) is that you'll always be wanting a more expensive TV, and feeling rubbish about the one you have. The same thing goes for the car you drive, the house you live in, the clothes you wear, or where you sit in an airplane (economy, business class, first class or private jet!).

Don't get me wrong: I'm not a monk, about to quit my job and go live in a monastery. I like the human comforts as much as the next guy, and don't see anything wrong with wanting better for yourself - I just think humanity as a whole has lost the plot. That message was also driven home by the excellent movie I watched last night: Elysium.

We live in a world where people are starving of hunger, and other people are buying Bugattis. We live in a world where young kids are trying to support their extended families but cannot find jobs, while Robert Downey Junior earned $75 million last year. We live in a world where the US may invade Syria, because the Government may or may not have gassed a lot of innocent people with chemical weapons.

This isn't a world I want any part of. I certainly don't want to spend the next forty years of my life paying insurance, buying increasingly higher-priced consumer goods and just supporting the system happily.

For me the real problem is that The System, such as it is, is geared at splitting all of humanity up. We don't feel like we're in an extended family of 9 Billion people - we feel like we're trying to find a peaceful zone in a hurricane of humanity. Why is that?

Greed, weak political leadership, a corrupted social fabric ... blame it on what you will, the equally obvious observation is that it doesn't have to be this way. The way the world is now is just one possible outcome of a galaxy of options, and we continuously renew it through our support of the existing systems.

I'm not the first person to reach this realisation either. You just have to look at all the riots to realise that the next World War isn't about country vs country - it's about people as individuals against anybody they deem to be The Enemy. When you get enough of those individuals grouping together, the ramifications get serious real quickly: assembly plants shut down (there's a current automotive strike organised by unions in South Africa), private property is damaged, and police turn on the very people they're meant to protect.

It's all too Judge Dredd for me. Why can we group together to express our anger through violence, but we cannot unite to express our shared empathy for each other and work towards complex solutions? Sporadic acts of charity flit up here and there, but it's clear that it's way too little, too late. How do you choose which beggar to feed out of millions? How do you choose who to give a job to, out of a lost generation?

Humanity needs a new medium to communicate. Social change won't come through a Facebook group, however. A Facebook 'like' doesn't equate to a commitment to turning your world upside down in favour of long-term change. By 'upside down' I'm not advocating that we all return to an agrarian barter society - although the thought is appealing at times - but rather that we just find a way to work together, instead of laughing at each other cruelly through puppet politicians and the glossy pages of gossip magazines.

Who's with me?

For a start, I suggest we find some way of truly eliminating hunger or the fear thereof. It's as elemental as needs come, and the truth is that there still aren't enough soup kitchens for the poor (in 200 000 years!!!). If as an entire species we're not afraid of starving to death within two weeks if we 'fall through the cracks', I think it will have a landmark change on our collective psyche. It's something concrete to aim towards.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Does your world-view reflect you or the world?

Something I've often reflected on is where one draws the line between healthy optimism and living in denial.

As a South African, it's something you ask yourself a lot. Do you keep a running total of all the potholes in the street as you drive to work, and allow each one to make your mood a little bit worse - arriving at your office depressed and angry? Or do you set out from work with a plan to avoid the worst potholes, and rather admiring potholes which have been filled?

This can be applied anywhere, of course. What weighting do you give to your experiences? Are you depressed if you get cut off in traffic, AND the ATM you try using isn't working, AND your cellphone call gets dropped by the network, AND you buy a sandwich is stale, AND you realise you cannot afford that thing you really want?

Or do you manage to view all of these incidents separately instead of cumulatively, and measure them against all the times you had a great time driving and singing to your favourite song on the radio, AND you withdrew money effortlessly from ATMs, AND you had ate really great sandwiches, AND you spent hours talking to people you care about on your cellphone?

It's difficult to find balance in our own lives, and far more so when we try to present any semblance of the 'truth' to other people. All we can hope to represent is the truth for ourselves at this very moment, in this context, in this society, in this country, given our current emotional state.

Obviously the thing that got me thinking about this was disagreeing with a certain author about a certain book he's written about Romania. It turned out to be a collection of a wide range of negative microcosms, and in my view (right now in this country at this time given how I'm feeling - lol) it's insanely difficult to present an objective snapshot of a country.

If you think about it, you could write a book about all the experiences you feel and thoughts you have while drinking your morning cup of coffee - clearly summarising years' worth of experiences in a foreign country into a few hundred pages is going to be an exercise in omission rather than inclusion.

The same thing goes for this blog, of course. I'd like to think that as I learn about Romania, my 'voice' and insights into the country change. There are a million ways to emigrate to a country, so my experiences are only going to be informative in that they happened to me, rather than that they'd necessarily happen to you (e.g. if you're not married to a Romanian woman, you're going to have a very different path in).

All the way back in April I said in an e-mail that this is what I was really hoping for, when I looked in vain between travel guides for any mention of Romania at all between 'Portugal' and 'Rome':
I've realised that what I want from Romania I'm not going to find in a book. At least, I don't think anybody's written the kind of book about Romania I'd like to read ... a road-trip across Romania, heavily illustrated with photographs, details about every area visited, a little bit of historical background, discussions with Romanians about life in Romania ... and maybe a nice DVD packaged with it featuring video footage of the trip.
Here's to hoping I get a chance to write that book, and am lucky enough to find a distribution agent for it. I just don't know if the world is ready for a Romania without Dracula and an over-riding focus on Communist throwbacks in it - the sad truth is that the real, rich, vibrant and complex truth of a country gets lost too easily, especially when commercial interests are involved. For now, blogging it is :)

Friday, 23 August 2013

Humour for a Friday

It's a Friday, so nobody wants anything serious now, right? Right. I give you this YouTube vid, featuring Kia's old mascots on a slim-down session:

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Language Woes - Part II

Yes, I know I've already blogged about some Romanians' creative use of English, but I ask you with tears in my eyes, why is Ikea's Romanian website only in Romanian?

I take it all back, Romania. Give me your bravely misspelled words and creative grammar! At least I can figure out what you're saying, whereas on the IKEA page I'm hopelessly lost. My Romanian lessons haven't extended as far as 'bed' yet :/

Why does a South African care whether a multinational furniture chain in Romania has an English-language version of their website? Simply because I'll be visiting Bucharest in December, and I need to buy a bed (not all foreigners stay in hotels *gasp*). IKEA had been recommended to me by an expat for being conveniently close to Otopeni airport, but after this I don't know.

Anybody know 'sleeping bag' in Romanian? LOL

Friday, 16 August 2013

An Open Letter to UKIP

This is an open letter to Nigel Farage, leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party, partly in response to this article and more broadly to his generally thoughtless and hurtful use of untrue stereotypes around Romanians and Bulgarians to ultimately leverage the UK out of the European Union.

16 August 2013
Dear Nigel

I understand where you're coming from. You're a politician, desperate for any leverage which will assist you in swinging the public opinion towards supporting you. For better or worse you want to get the UK out of Europe, and you've decided that stoking fears about Romanians and Bulgarians will help you get there.

Personally, I cannot forgive you for that. It's a cheap and de-humanising tactic. I'm not afraid of Romanians, and do you know why? I'm married to a beautiful example of the country, a woman who would certainly change your close-minded perceptions of the country single-handedly, and I count many others as friends and professional colleagues. The same goes for the Bulgarians I've met.

Am I being unfair towards you? I don't think so at all. Look at your latest comments in the article I refer to above. You talk about how you're 'saddened', refer to 'unlimited numbers' (of what, exactly??? individuals?) and describe all Romanians and Bulgarians as 'unskilled migrant workers'.

The funny thing here is that my wife lived in the UK for eight years, contributing to the economy and its people in a range of positions - certainly not as the unskilled (and lost to boot) taxi driver or manual labourer you've referred to previously. She was there perfectly legally with an Indefinite Leave to Remain.

When we met and got engaged - I'm South African, by the way - it posed the obvious question: so what now? Long story short, the great UK was happy to take hundreds of pounds from me with no refund when I applied for a residence visa, and rejected my application outright within a week without so much as contacting me personally. 

I knew where I wasn't wanted, so instead of running back to the UK and begging for them to reverse their decision, I took it on the chin (a good British attitude you'll appreciate no doubt). South Africa was willing to see the value in my wife (a Romanian) that the great UK didn't in me, and allowed her to join me here.

For reasons I can't go into detail about now, the time has come for us to move on. South Africa ultimately doesn't want us either, or me - as a citizen of the country. This saddens me, but I'm not looking for your sympathy. Racial politics is something which transcends even xenophobia.

My wife was in favour of us re-applying for entry to the UK, and I am personally against that. Not only do you damage the UK's global reputation with your thoughtless views towards Romanians and Bulgarians, but I'm sure that in a heartbeat you'd express the same sentiments towards me personally as a South African.

The UK doesn't deserve my wife or myself. It doesn't deserve our education, our skills, or our years' experience. It doesn't deserve our talents, our creativity, our hopes and dreams. This is something we were both at various times contributing directly to your country, or willing to bring to it. First the UK's Border Agency and now you have shown us the error in our ways.

I'm happy to take my wife back to Romania, and accompany her there. I'm under no illusions: life will be challenging and economics will be dire. However it always is, isn't it? Even in the great UK, the welfare state. Even in the US, with its first world status a facade built on shaky debt.

The plus is that Romania is a country with people who reject the cliches you and your ilk throw at them. It's a developing country, whereas the UK is a stagnating country which people like you are pushing over the brink by denying those eager and willing to work an opportunity to. It's easier for UK citizens to cripple the system with their laziness and welfare payouts - you're only too quick to ignore that damage.

My wife is the easier target for you, and so am I. Don't get me wrong, however. Despite everything I've said here, I don't hate you. I'm the one who's sorry for you and the tired old drum you feel that you have to keep on beating. It's ultimately going to doom the UK, and at the very least it has cost you everything my wife and I could and would have brought to the country and its people.

When you're next in South Africa, come for tea to discuss this further (yes, how British I know). Tell my wife to her face that she's an unskilled migrant that the UK should protect itself from as a top priority. There's a good chance we'll be in Bucharest by the time you get around to doing that, so we'll introduce some other real life Romanians. They're not all called Vlad, just in case that was another one of your fears.

Yours truly,

Leon Schnell

PS: I'm going to e-mail this to the only address I could find for the UKIP (there are only contact forms on your website). Maybe it gets through to you, maybe it doesn't. I tried.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Idea Share: Donating Money To Charity

I don't know what life is like where you are, but here in South Africa there is a desperate level of poverty and the consequent number of beggars at street corners (not as many as there actually could be) or the phenomenon of the car guard (people who spend their days in car parking lots and are intended to assist you in reversing out of your parking bay and nominally protect your car from random vandalism in return for small change).

A little while back I came up with an - given my last post, what I think is fairly original - idea to solve the growing problem of never having cash or coins on me, because I pay for everything by card. I dusted the idea off, and posted it here: Making Donations Easier

I'm sure this isn't a thing which is specific to South Africa, so a system like this would be equally applicable pretty much anywhere in the world. If the idea strikes a chord with you and you are technically able to develop it further, or want to invest money into it, you're welcome to use my idea. The only 'payment' I ask is that you let me know how the system goes, and that the idea always remains as a profit-free initiative to benefit the needy.

Good luck!

Monday, 12 August 2013

Somebody else has already thought that!

There are a few truisms I've figured out in my old age (ok, so I'm not yet 30, but who's counting?). The first of these is that there will always be somebody richer and somebody poorer than you - a LOT richer and poorer, both ways. The second is that there will always be somebody healthier and somebody sicker than you ... it's like all those male models with their ripped abdominal muscles put me off exercising altogether, but at least I'm better off than that one guy with the peg leg and the foggy eye.

The third, however, is possibly the most frustrating of all: whatever you're thinking, somebody has already thought it. Honestly, anything. When one of my University professors once told all his students 'There is no such thing as original thought - all you're doing is regurgitating somebody else's ideas', we all wanted to rebel. The older I get (so so OLD), the more I'm willing to concede that at best, original thought is very very VERY difficult to obtain, and even if you do manage this rare distinction, you're likely to see your original thought unknowingly copied by somebody somewhere else.

Why am I sharing this now? Two discoveries just today of somebody having gone where I wanted to go before me, before I knew I wanted to go there.

Firstly, like all good little bloggers, I've been considering the future of this humble blog. A quick Google search confirmed what I'd already guessed: hundreds of bloggers have grown out of Blogger before me, and all of these appear to be advised to move towards their own domain and the WordPress platform. That's ok, I'm prepared to follow the herd, but that's not what smarted worst.

No, what smarted worst is discovering that already exists. And yes, it's somebody else's WordPress blog. And - insult to injury - they never made a single post, since initializing the platform in March 2012. That strikes so close to the bone because it wasn't until December that I even thought of the title 'Reillusioned' for my little blog here, and until now when I decided to migrate to WordPress. Pipped to the post on both scores!

The second realisation is that another dream of mine has also been dashed. When I was informed by Dreamhost that was unavailable, I immediately searched for another magic string that had been knocking around the back of my head, hoping to one day be born into a website I've been thinking about: Yes, you guessed it - it's already been taken.

Here's the stinging part: it seems like an awesome site! The Romanian flag, proudly displayed; the stories of inspirational Romanians; the beautiful photos of Romanian landscapes (oh man I can't wait to visit in December!) ... all present and accounted for. Pretty much everything I'd been thinking about, although my version would have had a brighter colour scheme (take THAT originality!).

Back to the drawing board on all counts, it seems. I still want to upgrade to WordPress, but I'm going to have to select some URL that nobody will ever have thought of or ever want to copy in the future. I'm also going to have to think of an equally awesome future-proof idea for the website, because even the idea for this site is going to become a bit moot once I eventually move to Romania.

You've been warned. If you ever type in and come up with no results, try

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Learn Romanian

My latest (expensive) habit is learning to speak Româneşte. As I think I've said elsewhere on this blog, I've so far found the Pimsleur Method to be the best by far ... there's just something rewarding about breaking simple words up into syllables and repeating them, and building up into full sentences. I bought the course through Audible - first lesson for free here! - and used iTunes to copy it across to my iPod (I find that a lot more accessible than listening at my PC).

My one issue is that the course starts out with verbal only, no reading component, but according to the guide notes by the time I'm at the end of my 30th lesson I'll be reading to the same level as I can speak (you're meant to have one lesson a day). With chunks of five lessons in downloadable format costing $20-$30 each, I can see that this is going to run into an expensive little exercise! In fact, it's like audio-crack, because you're not allowed to stop once you're hooked ... err, progressing well. It might be a better option to go for the full course at $173, but if you're like me you'd probably first want to check that the teaching method works for you.

This makes me think that there's a lucrative market out there for Romanians who're willing to compile their own courses and sell them. Everybody has access to a voice recorder of some sort these days. The one irony I've noticed is that the Pimsleur course I'm using is graded 'Phase 1', but there's no 'Phase 2' or 'Phase 3' on their website. I guess that's an interesting side-note, that even one of the leading programme suppliers out there hasn't really managed to get around to producing anything past the conversational level for Romanian ... yet. Budding entrepreneurs, now is your time! And when you do produce something, I'll be your guinea pig (quid pro quo for the business idea, etc etc) :)

Friday, 9 August 2013

An ode to journalism

Ok ok, I understand that if you're not in Romania, then my whole backwards-and-forwards of 'I'm coming to Romania, I'm not, I am again!' doesn't really have much relevance.

Good thing then that I've got something else I have to talk about: what being a journalist means to me. I've gone the whole hog: four-year University degree, and over five years' experience since writing for both newspapers and magazines, now culminating in me being a magazine editor.

Journalism isn't one of those sexy careers, is it? Everybody knows that all journalists are cynical hacks who'd sell their mother up the creek for a photo of Kate sunbathing topless, and you'd better never trust anything you read in any newspaper - those are all written by spotty interns fresh out of school, or retired people who couldn't find any other job to keep them in a fresh supply of cat food.

To understand why I'm a journalist, you have to go back to High School, where I was always a strong writer, managed to get a couple of poems and short stories published in some anthologies, won two separate writing competitions which got me an all-expenses paid week-long trip to visit the journalism department of a University a long way away, and then a year's worth of free tuition at that same University (no prizes for guessing that's where I ended up studying). My grandfather - the father-figure in my life after my parents were divorced and I was raised by my mother - was also a newspaper editor, so you could call my fate sealed.

Only it wasn't that clear-cut for me. I actually was good at accounting as well, really good. I chose as my venue for job shadowing PriceWaterhouseCoopers, where I spent a week trailing after a chartered accountant trying to figure out what was going on. I had my heart set on studying a B.Commerce degree at an entirely different University.

One snag: during the whole week I job-shadowed that position, the only time the accountants in the office laughed was when one threw a stapler across the office to another, and that guy dropped it.

Now you might consider that a really weird deal-breaker, but remember in High School none of us know what we want to do with our lives, once we grow past the fantasies of working for NASA (yes, I seriously had that one). I knew I didn't want to be a vet, or a doctor, or a fireman, or a policeman, or any of the other off-the-shelf careers you're shown in those little 'pick your career' handbooks which are meant to help but only make the decision harder.

I don't actually intend to give you a blow-by-blow of my career here. As careers go it has been pretty exciting, starting off at the newspaper my grandfather founded (sadly the year after he died), then moving from a sleepy coastal resort town to the big mean streets of Johannesburg, then getting tired of chasing fires in the distance and having to photograph people seconds after tragedy (my personal worst commission: being asked to rush off to the site of a reported drowning to see if I could get a photograph of the boy's body being wheeled out by paramedics).

Needless to say I grabbed the chance to enter the higher-paying world of automotive journalism in a heartbeat, and the job contradictions haven't ended: I've often reflected on my peers pathetically describing cars they could never afford on their journalists' salaries as 'affordable', and been frustrated myself by driving luxury test cars which I myself could never afford on my present trajectory. Breaking into being an editor before I'm thirty is another nice step up, but it's another glass ceiling as well: from here there's divisional editor, and then nothing ... not at my current company, anyway).

I don't think my challenges are unique by any means: I'm pretty sure all careers have their own inherent contradictions (the old adage of the shoemaker's children never having shoes pops to mind). I'm not trying to discourage anybody from journalism either, because in retrospect I do think that I've got the type of personality which would have suffered if I was pinned behind an office desk endlessly trying to achieve balance in the corporate ledgers.

Here then, for would-be journalists, are the best parts of journalism:
- Being granted front-row or behind-the-scenes or VIP access to pretty much anything
- Walking through town the day your newspaper is released, and seeing people everywhere at coffee shops reading and discussing the news stories you have written
- Seeing the pride that people you interview take in pinning up or framing stories you've written about them, or the relief they feel when you pay an interest in exposing the injustice which is troubling them
- That moment of unbridled creativity while you're pondering the best way to write the intro to a story, or a catchy headline

That's pretty much it, I'm afraid. Depending on who you are, it might just be enough. If you're genuinely curious about everything, if you genuinely have a do-gooder attitude about recognising others' accomplishments and righting wrongs, and if you're genuinely extroverted enough to walk up to anybody and strike up a conversation for them (what helps is realising that they're more intimidated by you than you are of them), then journalism might just be your thing.

There's a long list of negatives you have to deal with as well. This starts with ageing editors with their fixed mind-sets and unreasonable expectations, to those sub-editors from hell who will re-write any story of yours no matter how well it was written, to the universally poor salaries relative to your other professional colleagues, to the relatively flat career path (you're a junior or senior writer or an editor, that's it), to the general dearth of feedback from the readers you write for (you'll slave over a story and have it forgotten in time for the next edition), to the moral and ethical objections towards advertisers dictating copy results.

These aren't the sorts of things you'll get any value out of, if anybody came to you in high school during one of those career talks, and tried to warn you and encourage you simultaneously. What do we know in school of finding creative means to express ourselves in jobs which can easily become mundane?

The biggest risk journalists currently face is the lack of respect publishers (their employers) have for their skills. At worst, you'll be treated as somebody to fill the space inbetween the adverts, and at best you'll be viewed as a multi-tool capable of performing all odd-jobs. The requirement for journalists to start selling advertising, leveraging their relationships with corporate decision makers, is simultaneously common-sense (companies in difficult financial climates need all their employees to contribute to the bottom-line) and ridiculous (you wouldn't ask a salesperson to write a story for you, so why is the inverse acceptable?).

That's before we get to the requirement for blurring of journalistic roles. If you can write, you can also take photographs, hold a video camera, engage in social media, update websites, put out press releases and think up advertising copy ... right? As a journalist you'll end up looking at your publishing company's accountants or designers or salespeople with a measure of jealousy, as their talents in their individual fields are satisfactory to your company, and you're asked to keep on producing and performing far beyond anything you were ever trained for.

Thinking about this last night, I realise it's a sign of our changing times. We don't want expensive speciality stores anymore: we all frequent mega-stores which discount everything from socks to salad. We don't want a cellphone to make (gasp) phonecalls: we want one which takes great photos, browses the internet, sorts our e-mail and edits our documents. Is it any wonder that our employers are treating us as employees in the same manner?

When it comes to traditional careers like accounting or clearly-defined roles such as designers, these new-thinking employers are a bit flummoxed. Should they be asked to help with the office admin, or should they assist with packing boxes? Would their skills better translate into also making coffee for guests, or decorating the reception area? All of these are seen as lowly tasks, and nobody would dream of asking an accountant or designer to try to sell an advert to a client.

How about that guy in editorial? You know, that guy who knows those people, with the out-going personality and the flair for writing? Sure, he can sell! Sure, he can help produce multimedia content! He can do anything (but we'll still pay him peanuts *wink wink, nudge nudge*).

Welcome to the new and scary face of journalism. It's everywhere.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

And so it begins

With my wife and I watching prices escalating with every passing day, we took the plunge and just bought our plane tickets to Bucharest in December (the image is a screencap of that e-ticket)!

I can't describe what looking at those two plane tickets means to me. They're return tickets, so it's not like it's the start of a new life for us, but I sincerely hope it will result in that ... and re-booking the same flights, only one-way this time, in December 2014.

If you've followed this blog at all, you'll know that I'm tired of writing blog posts, endlessly hunting for Romania next to all the travel books for Rome (never found it yet), and listening to my wife recall fond memories of her childhood in a land I haven't been able to visit until now.

I've won a special grant from Romania, which while not covering all the costs, certainly goes a long way there. It's essentially going to turn my visit in December into a working holiday, where I do what I do best as a journalist, and you can bet I'm going to be sharing all of that on this blog. It feels great, because it's like Romania as a country is inviting me to be there, instead arriving as just another anonymous tourist.

If you see some guy running around Bucharest with the widest grin, snapping a billion photographs and looking slightly awe-struck at the same time, with a Romanian woman in tow ... chances are, that's me and my wife. Man, I cannot wait to post a photograph to this blog of Romania that I've actually taken myself!

Let me end off on that great note, but one other little detail: if you want to follow this story but don't have time to keep checking back, I'd encourage you to subscribe to it by e-mail (the widget is in the sidebar to the right). I have no control over that list, but you'll end up getting every new post a day after it's uploaded here.

Until then, papa (hey, I've gotta start dusting off my Romanian again!)

Friday, 2 August 2013

How to finance emigration?

As I think will be pretty obvious, humans are fickle. No sooner had I resigned myself well and truly to staying in South Africa on this blog, when I got the chance to visit Romania this December (from my previous post). I'm more hopeful than ever that it will be everything I've ever ... hoped for (hope and emigrating are forever intertwined), so that it will justify relocating as soon as possible (yes, that's logical!).

To make this blog a bit more interactive, I'd really like to hear from other expats how they managed to bridge the financial gap. I don't know about you, but I'm finding my current life extremely difficult to give up: I'm halfway through a two-year cellphone contract (minor), I have a six-month rental lease (slightly more serious), I'm nowhere close to paying off my car loan (everybody here in SA has car loans because new car prices are so high), and then there's things like my study loan and a little bit of bank debt to settle.

In short, The Real World is like a giant mud pit, and even if I DID get a wonderful job offer, I don't want to move countries and then end up paying off debt or for contractual commitments of things I don't even have anymore! Moving countries really does seem like starting off from a blank slate, and I've long since given up the hope of getting on a plane with much more than the clothes on my back and a suitcase of knicknacks.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not your average unskilled migrant hoping to find a job and Pamela Anderson's telephone number overseas. I've got a University degree, am a magazine editor, and earn enough to live a decent life in South Africa. Only, as is the case in most places, saving in any substantial manner is next to impossible ... instead I'm working diligently on paying down all my debt, so that I can remove the last chains which bind me to the country.

I'm lucky in that I've got a squeeky clean credit record (I just checked today again, lol), never having missed a payment. As much as none of us ever want to take credit, you'll probably know times when you just have to - in a way you're borrowing from your Future Self as much as you are from the bank. I wouldn't want to borrow from the bank, but when I'm borrowing from myself in the future, then hey, in my books that's fair. Only thing is, they never warn you that a side-effect of credit is irrevocably tying yourself to your country.

It's as frustrating as hell, innit? There should be some legal clause where you hand over your bank cars and car keys and home keys and anything else at the airport when you emigrate, and the Government just takes it all away. What a joy that'd be! Somehow it feels like that should be enough: it's only where debt is concerned, taking everything away is actually unfairly empowering :/

*sighs* I envy those toddlers who can kick and scream and daddy will make it all better.

So again, how did you do it? Did you save? Did you carry debt across to the new country and pay it off remotely? Did you just default on your commitments? Or maybe (and I suspect this is a big reason) you had family who just gave you money to help you start your new life? 

I actually think there's a job opportunity here, or at the very least a great idea for a charity. If I ever become obscenely rich, I think I'll start a foundation which offers interest-free loans to international emigrants, allowing them to settle their old debt, with repayments only after they've found stable employment. Some people need bread, and people in my boat need a time-shift for their credit.