Kill It Through Writing

This is a story about love during the Spanish colonization of the Philippines.

There were two men who formed a common bond. Jose and Andres 1 belonged to two totally different social circles. Jose walked among the élite in society. He spoke several languages, was educated abroad and was a powerful political writer. Andres belonged to the masses, nowhere near the achievements, in education and class, of Jose. Despite this, Andres revered Jose’s works strongly. This inspired him to lead the revolution against the Spaniards despite Jose’s opposition. Jose enraged the Spaniards more with his Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, piercing the core of the Spanish’ system of governance at that time.

Both sacrificed their lives for the love of country, countrymen and freedom.  One used a bolo knife and brute physical force against the conquistadors, while the other attacked with his pen and stabbed the conquerors with his words. But one left a more lasting impact than the other.

We write diaries. We pen journals and blog entries. We shout our thoughts out loud through social media posts.

Why? Because we want our stories – real or fake – heard.

I always encourage my siblings to write in journals. We all have our own interests, and writing their thoughts on paper forms a small part of their priorities. But I always tell them (see the commanding tone of an eldest? *wink*wink*) that the benefits of writing extends far more than merely sharing their thoughts.

Writing heals.

This is the cheapest way to de-stress. It is particularly useful for those who are suffering from depression or who are feeling down.

There are times when you have no one to share your stories with. It’s when you need to grab a pen and notebook and write all your feelings down. Once you release all negative emotions, you start feeling lighter.

After a while, open that journal again and read what you wrote. You will realize how much you have changed from that person you were that day when you wrote that journal entry.

Kill those demons inside you.

Pen and notebook = Php 50 | Psychologist session = ~ Php 500 – Php 1,000 and it adds up as you continue with more sessions

Writing sharpens our minds and makes us sensitive.

When you form the habit of writing regularly, you start becoming observant about your own actions and everything around you. Your mind searches for the right words to express your feelings. You start to diversify your words in synonyms and antonyms.

The Economist article The Psychological Benefits of Writing: Why Richard Branson and Warren Buffett Write Regularly adds to this point.

Pursue the Muse as you continue to pursue your main passion. Whatever medium you use, KEEP. WRITING.

1 Jose Rizal is the Philippine national hero while Andres Bonifacio is the father of Philippine Revolution

Why I Gave Up My Variable Life Insurance (VUL) Policy

After six years of faithfully paying insurance premium for a life insurance coverage, I finally decided to surrender my Variable Universal Life Insurance Policy.

“Seriously Angel, you’ve already paid for six long years, why stop now? ”

I know, I hear you but I’m glad about my decision. Let me tell you why.

Variable Universal Life Insurance Policy is a life insurance product with a cash component to it – which we call a bundled product (insurance + cash). The cash component is the attractive feature of the VUL. It is the difference of the cost of insurance less the premium. It is linked to various financial products based on the investor’s risk appetite, and increases or decreases based on the market’s performance.

Since becoming my own personal advisor starting in May 2015, I became more aware of the importance of being on top of everything related to my own funds. I worked hard for it, I have to manage it well.

With the knowledge about the various life insurances out there, I reviewed my life insurance policy (VUL). There, I saw it with bright new eyes! Instead of paying for ten years (because I initially thought that I bought a term level insurance – do you see the importance of financial literacy?), premium payments are payable until 88 years old! I had the option to apply for premium holiday or stop premium payments at the 10th year for as long as I have sufficient fund value that can cover the monthly insurance charges to ensure that my life insurance policy (where I’m covered for Php 1,000,000) will remain in force.

Allow me to explain further.

If say, after 20 years, my fund value is already insufficient, I’ll be informed to resume paying the premiums until such time again that it can cover for my insurance charges until I turn 88 years old. It’s all in the FAQs online and even in my policy but I lacked knowledge then and thought it was a good investment for me. Now, I know better.

After a few years, Php 1,000,000 will not have the same value as today due to inflation.

Why do people buy Variable Life Insurance?

  1. They don’t have the time and energy to do what a financial advisor does. This was me six years ago. I was focused on my career and I entrusted the knowledge and management of the life insurance I bought to the financial advisor who sold me the VUL. The upside was, it started my conscious effort to save more to pay my scheduled quarterly premiums. I was able to save enough to keep me afloat until now while on a “gap year”. The downside was I wasn’t too involved. I wasn’t aware of other possible life insurances that offer the same coverage for less.
  2. They are looking for a life insurance coverage and it’s the first thing marketed to them. It’s not just me. I have friends who also have VULs. I just recently shared the information to my brother and a friend who have VULs too. I remember talking to a financial advisor (before I became involved) and learning that it’s their entry-level product before they can get licensed to market other products. So of course, it’s what they sell to potential clients which translates to big commissions on their part. Investors trust their financial advisors because  they are experts about the product.
  3. They believe it’s a good investment for the future, and if something happens to them, their families are protected. But aren’t other life insurance products too?

My top three reasons why I ended my policy:

  1. I don’t like to resume paying premiums say, after ten years, once my fund value can’t cover the premium payments anymore after I opted to stop payments. Anything can happen. Markets crash; thus, prices fall which equals lower computation of fund value (NAVPS * # of shares). By then, I should just be reaping the benefits of my investments.
  2. I can buy a cheaper term insurance for the same coverage, and invest the difference. Level term insurances (i.e. 5, 10, 15 years to pay, etc.) have cheaper premiums over variable universal life insurance for the same life insurance coverage.

Here is a tabular sample:

Type Annual Premium Coverage
VUL (flexible premium payments) 24,600.00 1M
Term Life (Php 1,500/mo.) 18,000.00 1M
Difference 6,600.00 invest in financial products (mutual fund, stocks, bonds, etc.)

What if I tell you that you can even buy an annual renewable term life insurance in the Philippines for the same coverage starting with an annual premium payment of Php 3,200 (Php 270/mo.) only for a 30-year old?

3. I would like to be in control as to where I invest my funds. It is fun being on top of everything. Business/Finance News has become my front page. I joined finance forums and read finance blogs daily. It may seem a boring topic but it is essential. Believe me, it is!

I already received my cash surrender value which is lower than my premium payments for the six years that I kept my VUL but that is fine for me instead of expecting probable resumption of premium payments in the future. Now, I bought a term life insurance and invested the difference on mutual funds.

Suggestions:

  • Do attend financial literacy seminars. I can never stress enough because it changed my outlook immensely. It’s really useful in deciding what to do and where to invest given all the available options in the market (including scams!). Knowledge is power!
  • If you have a VUL, review your policy. Review all FAQs and ask your financial advisor or the insurance firm’s customer support about anything unclear to you.
  • Talk to your insurance agent about this and check on other alternatives. You may opt to change your policy to level term insurance and invest the difference.
  • Think long term and see what best fits you. VUL may not have worked for me but it might work for you.

Notes:

  • All life insurances are term insurances.
  • All investments have certain risks depending on the chosen fund’s or investment’s performance linked to the financial market’s performance

X: Fritz Villafuerte also shared his thoughts on his preference of term insurance over variable universal life with clips from three renowned finance advisors in the Americas in his website. Check it out here.

Xs: We continue to spread financial literacy in the Philippines. For Baguio and Benguet, take the online financial survey and choose your preferred schedule for the free seminars here. You may also reach me through my email angelpakinkin@gmail.com or mobile +639391742286 for those interested to attend the Manila seminars or those in Asia as we have offices around the world. :-) 

Travel Photo 1: The Masked Rider

This is one of my favorite people photos.

I hurriedly took this photo while on a quick stop in the pothole-filled alternative road on to Myanmar. I thought I took a blurred shot but glad it came out well.

The young man waited patiently by his motorbike as the buses, trucks and taxis slowly passed by. He went the opposite direction.

He is the best representation of a Burmese man with thanaka on his face for sun protection, and wearing longyi instead of the modern pants.

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What can you say about the photo?

Kindness of Strangers: The Two Uniformed Thai Men

While travelling, you will realize that you will never be alone. There will always be strangers willing to lend a helping hand when you need it. You just need to ask.

We arrived in the Mae Sot Border in Thailand after a week of excursion in Myanmar. We decided to work our way up north before crossing to Laos. Chiang Mai came next in our itinerary.

Looking for the bus station proved challenging when we went to the plaza. For one, Mae Sot’s vicinity was quite confusing. Add to that the challenge in communicating with locals since English is not their official language.

The tuk-tuk driver we asked directions from told us that we can walk to the station, giving us directions on how to go there. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to find the terminal. Luckily, we met two soldiers, one in his twenties and one in his 40s, who seemed to be waiting for something by the latter’s car. We again asked for directions. In broken English, the older soldier asked us where we were headed. Upon knowing of our destination, he looked at his watch and discussed with the younger soldier. After which, he motioned for us to get into his car. We took from his gestures that they would bring us to the terminal. They caught us by surprise on the unexpected invitation. He insisted despite our refusal on the grounds that we just wanted directions and we might be bothering them should we ask for more than that. I was also hesitant at first to enter a private car with strangers but eventually, we took the offer.

They brought us to the Green Bus Terminal where we bought our tickets with ease. All eyes were on us when we alighted from the vintage car of two uniformed personnel. I felt special even for a short time given the service we received in exchange for a simple question. The people might have thought we were guests receiving special treatment from the government. I was just glad we finally bought our tickets for Chiang Mai. We thanked them and informed that we can commute back but they again insisted to give us a ride back.

We thanked them once again when we got off at the place where we initially met them. I later learned through my brother that the older soldier held a Master Sergeant rank. He saluted them both to the delight of the soldiers.

We never expected such hospitality especially coming from uniformed personnel. We were thankful we met them that day and we hope that the good deed they accorded us will go back to them tenfold as we also learned to pay the generous deed forward.

Financial Literacy = Financial Freedom

Here’s a bit of a confession.

I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Accountancy and I worked in Finance afterwards. Even if I’m single, I bought life insurance for my family’s protection. I have no debts. I had savings, some of which I used to travel in South East Asia for a few months. Some, I am using to work on personal projects while I’m on rest mode for a year. I don’t have a place of my own so I don’t worry about rent. I also don’t own a car so I don’t worry about oil prices. These are not priorities for me at the moment but it will be in three years’ time.

Why am I saying this? Because just when I thought I am managing my finances well, I learned that I am still missing on some important aspects.

I am pretty sure, a percentage of single career-driven women can relate to my situation. Our advantage is most of us don’t carry big responsibilities so we can make decisions on our own. Still, the question lingers if we are really well on our way to a stable future.

How about for parents who carry bigger responsibilities or students who are about to graduate and join the workforce?

We have these current scenarios:

  • There are people with investments, insurances, savings, properties and businesses where some lose or go bankrupt.
  • A percentage of employees live pay check to pay check.
  • There are people with outstanding loans (student loans, credit card debts, unpaid mortgages, etc.) who are still deep in debt.
  • There are people who borrow money to pay previous borrowings. Remember how the Greek Debt Crisis happened?
  • Only 7% of the world’s population are billionaires 2 while 19% are millionaires 3.

The problem is only a few set time to learn about financial management. Schools really don’t teach us practical money management tips. There are only a few institutions that provide financial literacy seminars to their employees. Unless we’re personally interested to educate ourselves, we won’t be able to better our current financial situations.

Why is financial literacy important? Here are the three major reasons:

  1. Money without financial literacy is money gone soon.Robert Kiyosaki

We’ve heard about famous artists, athletes and businessmen who grew rich but ended poor. We may also have friends and relatives who experienced the same situation. They may have made bad investment decisions or changed their lifestyles drastically to align with the increase in their earnings that without noticing it, they suddenly found themselves with little or no money.

This is also the problem with the working class. There is a tendency for most that when their salaries increase, which always happens yearly with added bonuses, they also change their lifestyle because they know that they can already afford a more expensive car, gadget or condo. Then when they get hit hard, they complain that their salaries are still not enough to compensate for their current situation. Does it ring a bell?

Planning is a key ingredient in building wealth. We always plan for our ideal future. But financial literacy should come first before planning; otherwise, our plans may break us.

2. Majority have no healthcare protection in their senior years.

We look at retirement as a distant future that we don’t need to worry about just yet. Maybe when we turn 40 or 50, that’s when we worry about it. However, retirement is relative. The known retirement age is 60 or 65 but we are seeing people who retire earlier in their 30s and 40s.

Here’s an eye-opening survey about the situation of Filipino senior citizens:

PH Survey

Where do we want to belong in the pie?

While we’re still young and able, we must envision our dream retirement by building a solid financial foundation now.

I plan to retire at 45 years old. I still have time so I’m making ways now to make that a reality.

3. Scams

If we read the news, we learn of various scams that rob people of their hard-earned money. Ponzi schemes, double your money in a month, 30% gains for your investment in three months, etc.

Scams involve millions of money pooled from individuals and groups. The surprising thing about this is most investors are well-educated, moneyed people who fall into the trap of enterprising individuals and groups promising high returns.

Get-rich-quick schemes eventually make you lose all or a significant part of your finances. A promise of high-yielding interests in a few weeks or months is too good to be true. We must all remember that money takes time to grow.

We have to invest time researching about possible investment opportunities before banking on it. We work hard for the money. We must take charge and handle it well.

Sources:

PS:

While I am blogging (working on a soon-to-be-launched self-hosting site – woot!), roaming and trading, I am also a broker of International Marketing Group (under World Financial Group) conducting free financial literacy seminars in the Philippines.

For more information about our FREE financial literacy seminars in Baguio City and Manila, you may contact me via my email angelpakinkin@gmail.com or call/text me on my mobile +639391742286.

Let’s build!

The Land Problem: A Tale as Old as Time

What would you do if someone told you that your land is not your own? How would you feel if they become immediate owners of what you thought was yours?

Throughout history, kingdoms fought against kingdoms to expand their territories.

Land ownership is a common issue of farmers and tribal people until today. Farmers till hectares and acres of land they don’t own. They borrow to buy supplies for their crops – even though unsure of the result come harvest time – and rent lands to farm for their living. Tribal people get displaced from their own lands, inherited from their forefathers, through the issuance of land titles declaring ownership of property. What would they know? Land ownership before was mainly pointing in directions to determine one’s territory.

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I walked along a lane of makeshift tents beside the Mahabandoola Gardens near the Yangon City Hall. Red banners with various pleas covered the walls of the temporary shelters. There were locals on hunger strike, demanding the government to return their land. There were children, old men and women, families living for more than a week on that spot while the barricaded city hall remained indifferent. They have been displaced from what they called home.

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With nowhere to go, they decided to seek for mercy from their own government to give them back what they own. I can only speculate the government’s stand on the matter as how other acquiring institutions around the world backed their actions. “But what’s ownership without title?”

Who knows? I’m just a mere visitor, unaware of the other side of this issue.

And so, the common people continue to hope that one day, they can be granted back their own properties.

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The Three Myanmar Men

Locals are a perfect source of information about a country.

I learned some information about Myanmar through the three men I met: a lad in his teens, a guy in his mid-twenties and a man in his late thirties to early forties. Names have been changed to protect their identities.

LIN MAUNG

I and my brother agreed to separate for a day. My feet slowly led me to the Mahabandoola Gardens facing the city hall where I met Lin Maung, a gentle, tall and good-looking young man in his mid-twenties. The meeting started with me randomly asking a stranger the name of the garden before I saw the landmark description. He approached me as I rested for a while after walking around the park. He apologized for the wrong information he gave me about the park, and corrected it afterwards. Then the conversation started.

He accompanied me to a small restaurant to sample a famous local noodle soup. Then we walked around the city while sharing thoughts about his country.

He started talking about Myanmar Politics and how the youth today are actively revolutionizing traditional thinking and norms. I saw that firsthand when I attended an underground punk concert and open garden concert to celebrate New Year’s Eve. While it is true that majority are still wearing longyis and thanakas, there are a growing population of young people who are slowly opening up and setting trends through fashion, music and ideologies. He wore jeans, chequered top, rubber shoes and a cap. It was far from the longyi-clad young men I saw around. He said he didn’t feel comfortable wearing longyi that day due to the heat.

I initially hesitated to ask further about politics as I read about how sensitive the topic is inside the country. It becomes disadvantageous for the local should they get caught by the government. Lin assured me it has already become an open topic. I presumed, in Yangon at least.

He also had good command of English. The Burmese, surprisingly, despite being isolated and sanctioned for several years, are better at speaking English than its South East Asian neigbours. He informed me that he learned it by reading English books. Some learn it in the monastery, and by watching English movies and talking to foreigners.

We saw sparkling jewelleries traded in the Bogyoke Market. He told me that the jewellery area in the market place also doubles as a meeting point for secret rendezvous. Older women looking for affairs with young men come here. When they see someone they like, they drop a red rose. If the young man is interested, he would pick up the red rose and follow the woman.  He said it was hearsay and will remain as is until proven true.

We walked past a cinema full of movie goers waiting in line. An enticing comedy movie poster hung in an old theatre. Lin told me they are also fond of comedies.

The train is a popular mode of transportation in Myanmar despite its age. The cars and rails needed a whole lot of repair and maintenance. We saw families waiting for their scheduled departures as we entered the area.

The conversation shifted to religion. Lin told me eye-opening facts about Buddhism in Myanmar. As with neighbouring countries with Buddhism as their major religion, boys and young men enter the monastery to get free education while they serve as novices or monks. He became a monk for seven days. That is the shortest time that someone can enter the monastery. He only wanted to experience life inside the monastery.

He also told me that anyone, including tourists, can wear a monk suit in Myanmar. Locals use this strategy to ask for alms on the street. An outsider can identify a real monk through hygiene. Real monks have clean face, hands and feet as part of their vow and practice. They also do not ask for money from the community; instead, they ask for food or other non-monetary alms.

I thanked Lin for the company. My perception of Myanmar changed after sharing stories with him.

U YE

U Ye is the manager of the cheapest accommodation in Old Bagan. He manages a three-storey guesthouse in the heart of the dusty heritage zone. His wavy black hair complimented his wrinkled, gentle-yet-commanding face. Despite wearing a longyi, his stance is like that of a rugged warrior when he stands with arms crossed on his chest.

We visited Bagan for the temples. Our arrival timed with their Moon Festival; thus, it was a busy week with hundreds of locals flocking temples to pray, and foreigners riding e-bikes visiting the large expanse of the site.

Mr. U remained calm as he addressed the staff to clean up immediately after check out of guests in anticipation of tourists arriving anytime. He also had that friendly demeanour that made foreigners comfortable to talk to him.

I struck a conversation with him on the day of the main festival. I and my brother chose not to go around in e-bikes due to the traffic and daredevil driving of the locals. Everyone honked continuously and raced past each other on the narrow roads. Driving alongside them meant possible accidents and we didn’t want to risk it.

I asked if he was going to the temples. He said he won’t be able to due to the busy guesthouse. He wasn’t able to attend the celebrations for two years ever since he managed the guesthouse.

We talked about education in Myanmar. All of their subjects are taught in Burmese. They are starting to teach English in high school more thoroughly than before. Girls and boys use white tops and green bottoms as their official uniform until high school. Even teachers wear the same colors to identify them from the rest. Women teachers are required to tie their hair. They are not allowed to wear any make up nor heeled shoes. This is to set an example to the students to be decent while in school. They can wear anything they like when they are outside school premises.

He also gave me some insider information about marriage. It is a known situation in high schools that high school boys sometimes get attracted to their young lady teachers. If they like a lady teacher, they wouldn’t hesitate to court her. The same is true for male teachers courting their female students to whom they’re attracted to. Most of these courtships end in marriage. According to him, student-teacher relationships are accepted in their society. Despite having romantic relationships, these partners don’t show it in school. However awkward, there were situations where the teacher had his boyfriend/girlfriend student in his class.

Mr. U also speaks Japanese fluently. It is one of the reasons why many Japanese tourists choose to stay in the guesthouse than in the nearby hotels. He told me he learned it by initially listening to their conversations and picking up some words. It took him more than a year to start conversing fluently but it paid off. It is one trait I’ve observed from locals in Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar who wanted to venture into the tourism industry. They want to learn other languages to gain advantage by being tour guides to foreigners.
He sent us off well to our next destination before catering to the rest of the travelers occupying the guesthouse.

KAUNG MYAT

We rested for a while on top of one of the tallest temples in Old Bagan when Kaung approached us. He is a lanky boy with a cheerful smile. He also spoke good English which again, he said he learned by talking to foreigners visiting the temple.

He initially tried to sell us postcards with the famous landmarks painted on the covers. We have already been sold these kinds for the nth time so we declined. Setting aside his business, he drew some paper money out of his pocket to show us. He said it was his collection. He individually told us the countries and currencies in his collection. Foreigners gave it to him as tokens, maybe because of his bright personality. I was also drawn to his sociable attitude. Unfortunately, we didn’t have any Philippine Peso on hand. After a few conversations and photos, I gave him a key chain I bought from Thailand while my brother gave him a Thai coin. He delighted on his additional collection as he thanked us before leaving.

He said he wanted to study outside of Myanmar when he grows up to better his English. We encouraged him to. For now, he continues to study in his place while earning some cash from selling postcards to foreigners.

I hope he makes it someday.

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