Peter Kowalke

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2018 Year in Review

By on December 28, 2018

Welcome to my annual year-in-review post, where I answer the question, “Where in the world was Peter this year?”

It was a busy year. Are you ready? Here’s the story.

Thailand and Cambodia

Rafting in Chiang Mai

I started the year in Bangkok with an all-nighter. In many ways, this set the tone for the year. I wasn’t up partying: I was racing to meet a work deadline! This year I pulled all-nighters on Christmas, New Year’s Eve AND my birthday. Hat trick!

Obviously I needed more balance in my life, so in January I started experimenting with vacations and a reduced workload. I pampered myself at a boutique hotel in the Cambodian capital on Phnom Penh, then headed to Thailand’s favorite tourist city, Chiang Mai, so I could ride elephants and scout the city as a possible site for a relationship retreat.

While I was in Chiang Mai, I also kicked off the test run of my relationship coaching subscription service, The Joy Love Club, hosting weekly webinars that lasted through April.

Philippines and Malaysia

Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur

February was coaching and writing in Bangkok, but I slipped away for another trip in March. This time it was a few days of sightseeing and good Halal eats in the capital of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur. I followed this up with several weeks in the big Philippines cities of Manila and Cebu City.

The Philippines is like a second home to me, so I generally treated it like a change of location more than a vacation.

Roasting a pig (lechon) in Cebu, Philippines

Thailand, Round 2

Writing a tech article for Ziff Davis on the train

I stayed in my Bangkok apartment most of the spring, coaching full-time and writing up a storm. A new editorial client needed some highly technical white papers and blog posts that I couldn’t hand over to my writers, so I took on the work myself. Apparently I have become a domain expert on enterprise resource planning software (ERP).

One of my clients, the tech publisher Ziff Davis, also handed me a new writing beat. Whereas before I was writing about IT security and ERP, the new beat has me covering marketing for small businesses. Perfect! I needed that for the Joy Love Club, so now I get paid to work on stuff I already wanted to explore. The only thing better is when my editorial business handles writing for relationship coaches.

Hello, China

Tina and me at the Forbidden City in Beijing

Just as things started to get ugly between the U.S. and China, I got my 10-year China visa.

Now I know that plenty of Americans visit China, and it sounds inconceivable that China might revoke active visas. But I’ve seen enough to know that this is a false sense of security. China also is the last part of Asia I don’t yet call home. So, for the next few years I’m going deep on China, exploring the massive country one city at a time while relations still are good.

For my first China trip, I explored Shanghai and Beijing in May with a close college friend who knows Mandarin and grew up in China. We had passively been planning this trip for more than 20 years.

San Francisco, Seattle, Cleveland

This year I spent just 30 days in the United States. That was not the plan.

After Beijing, I flew to San Francisco for my usual visit of several months. But three days into the trip, I awoke with the realization that I was only a few weeks shy of counting as a U.S. citizen living abroad. And for those who have never been an American living abroad, that’s huge from a tax perspective (read: the tax savings is more than my total spending each year). I knew this because one of my clients is an international tax accountant.

So I cut short my trip. I crammed all my client meetings and social visits into a single whirlwind month, then headed to Canada in early July. I live nowhere, but officially I now live in Bangkok.

Canada, Eh?

Toronto: New home?

Almost everything I do has at least three uses, so my surprise relocation doubled as a scouting trip. If I permanently relocate abroad, I will augment my time in the U.S. with a Canadian home base so I have the option of additional time in North America. These are the contortions of international life.

I spent July at a rented apartment in Toronto learning the city, hosting family from nearby Cleveland, and working on a project to digitize my old hardbound journals. During this time, I also expanded my coaching practice to include growth coaching since the relationship with self is a critical part of the relationship with others. This part of my practice grew well all year.

Playing with Jen (and her doll) at Toronto’s waterfront

Settling in Thailand, Round 3

Bangkok on a Saturday morning

Enough travel! I planted in Bangkok for the rest of the year, working on the Joy Love Club launch, hiring staff, and refreshing my business processes. I moderated the long hours with an NFL addiction and the renewal of my portraiture hobby. For the first time in five years, when a devastating backup accident wiped out a year’s worth of photos, I am now regularly posting pictures online again.

In August I also set up an online scheduler for friends and clients. It works like scheduling an appointment at an Apple store, with the person picking the time and everything else getting handled by the software. Friends are finding it much easier to reach me by phone since I put in the system, and even my Dad is calling me again. Big win on that project.

Don’t Forget China (Rounds 2 and 3)

Zhu Rong Palace on top of Heng Shan mountain, China.

Even with me bedding down in Bangkok, I still made time for China. The clock’s ticking, and China is a big country.

In September, I visited Chongqing for a leisurely vacation. There I found the most amazing mystery fruit that nobody yet can identify.

In October, I began studying Mandarin and co-authored a book that helps Chinese natives speak with an American accent (client project).

Then in November, I made my third trip to China, hiking Heng Shan Mountain with locals and exploring Mao Zedong’s hometown near the city of Changsha.

These are places mostly visited by domestic tourists, and I didn’t encounter any foreigners on either trip. But that was the point: These are authentic Chinese cities, just like Pittsburgh is arguably a more authentic American city than cosmopolitan New York. I’m learning China one city and one WeChat vending machine purchase at a time.

Up Next

Chilling in Shanghai

The Joy Love Club launch. My big project is a vitamin that keeps relationships healthy. The subscription service will launch in 2019 and probably dominate my professional life for the next several years.

More team. There will be a hiring binge within the next 12 months because of the Joy Love Club. Watch for more faces and more ongoing communication from me this year as the backend stuff is handled by others.

San Francisco Return. One week in San Francisco last year? Raise your expectations for 2019.

Have We Talked Lately?

Because my Ziff Davis beat has me immersed in marketing, I know that no blog post is complete without a call to action. So here’s my call to action: Have we talked lately? If not, send me an email and let me know how you are doing. Maybe we’ll even schedule a call using my new online scheduler.

Thanks for reading!

A big thanks also to my friend and fellow world traveler, Blake Boles, who inspired the format for this year’s post.

Peter is a relationship coach, writer/producer, and R&D monastic. He splits his time between San Francisco and Asia. Read more about Peter.