I think it’s a pretty good sign when I say that 2008 has been a good year so far, perhaps one of the best. I mean, if you’re really living it up, then the best should be up to now, right?
2009’s coming up.
These last few months haven’t been particularly ‘productive’ but I’ve really, really enjoyed the downtime from the hustle and bustle of employed life. In the last little while, I’ve had the chance to
- get back into playing piano
- get a bit better at the guitar
- renew my library membership (and pay of 7$ of fines outstanding from over a year ago apparently)
- get back into cooking
- get back into video gaming
- get back into organizing my finances
Music is one of those things that’s a lot more fun when you really have nothing better to do.
I suppose it’s one of those things about my personality– I don’t like being told what to do, because if I am, my natural reaction is to want to do it less. That includes when I myself am telling myself “if you don’t pick up that guitar, your calouses will wear off and you’ll have to hurt yourself all over again to get them back.” That makes me not want to do it. But if I’ve got a free day (which has pretty much been every weekday since I left Korea) it’s easy for me to just pick it up for a little stint here and there every day.
It’s strange but after having played guitar and understanding a bit more theory about arpeggiated chords it’s actually become easier to play piano. I’m currently working on figuring out how to play this on piano, just by ear.
As to the library membership, well, it’s been a long time since I’d been in a library. Having lost my card to the Bibliotheque Nationale de Quebec (BNQ, “the Quebec National Library”) I had to pay to have a new one made for me. While in Korea, I passed through one once but didn’t really bother. I used to go to the bookstore in CoEx mall at Samsung station (yes, there’s a station called Samsung in Korea, and yes, it’s named after the brand) to read English books every now and then, and that follows in the tradition of spending a lot of time at Indigo’s here both before and after Korea.
But it’d been a long time since I actually stepped into a library. Before I worked at the hospital, I worked at a library. I think that working at the library coincided with a time in my life when I really enjoyed reading. I kinda fell out of it during the hospital years, because that’s when my university studies were coming to their close and the work at RsM was getting complicated. With all the homework and term papers constantly at my heels, reading just wasn’t fun anymore. Why? Well, to follow the profile, it’s because I was told to do it.
So most of my trips to Indigo were actually just to read mangas or comic books. While in Korea, that’s when my subject target changed a bit, because I’d just read a bit of any non-fiction book that I could get my hands on because it made for interesting class discussion materials– whether it was about Korean culture, North American culture, photography, traveling, ballet, kendo, pottery, gardening– whatever. It was the first time that I really started reading just about any random thing off a shelf. It didn’t matter if I didn’t become an expert at any of it, beacuase they were really just doorways.
It’s an interesting turn of events to actually want to pick up paper in my hands to read given that this is the age of information technology– everything is as easy as googling. To the point where “googling” is now a common use verb.
I think it’s through teaching that I really rediscovered reading, to be honest. It actually, finally made it useful for me to have been in all those literary criticism classes back in univ, and it made me want to read something for myself and not just for others.
I’ve recently picked up Williams’ Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. Yes, I know it’s a videogame. I’m reading the novel.
Star Wars books aren’t exactly things I pick up because I appreciate the fine writing (sarcasm). I read them because they’re fun. Much like how Dragonlance books were my thing back in the day. It’s just nice to have some continuity even if it’s only the shared physics of several fantastic books.
As to cooking, well, I did a fair amount of cooking in Korea but my style of cooking is really no style at all. I basically make myself balanced meals that are low in fat, high in carbs and fibre, with balanced vit and min content and not more protein than I need. It wasn’t to the point of being mathematical, but it was certainly methodical and I felt that having control over my diet really made me a more sharp person, ready to ‘run and gun’ whenever it came to anything.
My diet here in Montreal is very different though. In part, it’s because of the difference of prices and ingredients, that will tend to steer you towards buying some things more or less than others. For example, beef in Korea is ludicrously expensive compared to Montreal. Actually, in general, anything fatty and really tasty (both in grocery stores and in restaurants) is more expensive in Korea compared to Montreal, but that’s mostly due to regional differences. My diet is also different because of my family. Either they’re cooking what they like, or I’m cooking not just for myself but for everyone– and they wouldn’t eat the kinds of things that I would prepare for myself. (Not that this is a Korean issue– even prior to Korea, most people wouldn’t eat my cooking.)
Most of what I setup for myself to eat (and I purposely use the word ‘setup’) is gagued in terms of what serves my body’s current needs. And sure, many people will tell you that it’s not impossible to eat healthy and effectively while still having good tasting food. It’s just that I don’t really care about cooking delicious food for myself. And it’s not that I don’t appreciate it– if anything, it makes going out and eating that much more enjoyable!
I will admit though that cooking for my family, which happens pretty often since I’m home all day and they’re all coming home from work or school, is a nice change of pace. It gives me a responsibility.
Gaming is something I went cold turkey for about a year. Nintendo DS doesn’t really count as gaming, because I never played anything in lockdown mode. I mean, the NDS is designed to be fun and portable– that means that the average game isn’t the sort that you’re likely to be playing 6 hours in a row. The worlds have become distinct– console titles on the other hand have, I feel, become more emersive and require more dedicated time than in the past. I’m not talking about length of game– I’m talking about the pace of events, such that they influence your ability to put down the controller and say “okay, that’s it for now.”
Basically, an NDS game is portable and fun, but not as ‘engaging.’
Being back though, i’ve had the opportunity of catching up. I’ve come to understand frankly that there’s no sense in trying to deny myself gaming. I went a year without a console and I thought that I’d grow out of it. I didn’t bring a console to Korea (Chuck had just bought me a brand new PS2 slim to boot, since I burned out my previous PS2 and that prevented me from finishing FFXII) because I feard that it would keep me in my apartment. And I didn’t miss gaming so much in Korea because frankly, it was mostly impossible: I’m first and foremost an RPG player, and that’s just impossible if they were all written or dubbed in Korean.
Or… perhaps it’s not that I didn’t miss it. It’s simply that even if I did, I didn’t have a choice. When you really consider it, the fact that I got an NDS was probably a cry for help, because at least with the NDS I could download North American or European titles that were in English or French.
Now that I’m back, I’ve had the privlege of playing a fair number of great titles. There were a few bust ones, but overal, I think this is a part of me that I cannot deny, nor will I grow out of it any time soon.
While I was in Korea, I mostly was just sending my money back to my sister who held on to it for me and just invested it in some balanced funds. Now that I’m back and have some time on my hands to do the research, it’s come time to start looking at more specific investment goals.
I’ve long been awaiting it since their first foregrounding in the early and mid 2000s (though they’d been around for at least a dozen years before that), but something that caught my eye back then were “Ethical,” “Green” or “Sustainable” funds. The idea is that these sorts of mutual funds invest primarily in companies that are responsible. These companies aim at developing markets or technologies that are related mostly with sustainability and environment.
Of course, you could argue that it’s all a marketing scam or something. But I did some of the homework now, and really, it’s my opportunity to put my money where my mouth is. I’m always talking about sustainability and responsible practices– but now I’m actually betting (some) of my hard earned dollars on it. Previously these sorts of funds weren’t available to me because I had closed my TD Waterhouse account, which was the only one that allowed me to purchase funds from financial organizations outside of it’s own family. But now, it seems to have caught on with other banks as well. My current bank, Bank of Montreal, has as of a little while ago introduced the Sustainable Class Fund and the Climate Class Fund.
After doing some research, both into the numbers and just in general catching up on current events, I’m now invested with the remainder of my uninvested Korean earnings.
Just to give an idea of what “Green Investing” is all about:
Forbes.com: How did you first get interested in green investing?
Robinson: From 1979 to 1983, I was working with a company in Vermont called Garden Way, which sold everything you needed to be a gardener and to be self-sufficient. I worked as the CFO. I learned that you could be socially and environmentally responsible, and it didn’t have to impact the bottom line. The largest product line we had was a garden tiller. We took used tillers and re-manufactured them. One lesson learned: It doesn’t have to be new to be profitable. You can reuse pieces of equipment and resell them at margins that are attractive.
As a money manager, what did you take away from that experience?
I wanted to integrate environmental thinking into the investment process. For the first seven years, it meant screening things out, screening out weapons and tobacco, any company that had a product that was detrimental to people’s health. Then I made the decision in the early 1990s to focus Winslow just on green investing. Companies were going public that had a real green product or service. There weren’t many of them, but we switched from screening out to screening in.
We broke the universe into three categories: the “dirties” we avoided, and the “greens” we wanted to own. And then we filled out the portfolio with “cleans,” meaning they weren’t part of the solution but they weren’t part of the problem either.
Does green investing still make sense in today’s choppy, uncertain market?
Absolutely, and here is why: Let’s face it, we are in a no-growth environment. But the fact of the matter is that when you identify green investment areas, clean energy and healthy living, these are all still growing. Their growth may be less, but if you are in the water filtration business, as an example, or solar, wind or energy efficiency businesses, you are growing. If you are selling organic foods and promoting healthy living, you are in a growth area. For every green problem, there is a solution, and they are growing.