It’s been several years since I last lived in the US now. From my first extended stay abroad (in Germany), I began to take notice of the little things that are uniquely American, but that, as Americans, many of us never think twice about. Here are the ones that continue to strike me the most now, even so many years later:
Reflexive friendliness, greetings, smiling (among strangers)
Americans have customary greetings: “how is it going”, “how are you doing”, or “how is your day”. The customary response is “good”. To say anything else would be strange, unless you were being asked the question by an intimate friend, staring deep into your eyes.
When traveling abroad, you can typically distinguish Americans by their outward friendliness and readiness to smile or laugh. For some people from other cultures it comes across as disingenuous. Being myself American, I spent a lifetime reading these behaviors and I know that they are just reflexive, and not intended to be disingenuous or fake. I don’t think much about it one way or the other, but it is often noted – even misunderstood – by people from other cultures.
Americans tip heavily compared to anywhere else in the world. In US restaurants, 15% is widely understood to be the bare minimum, and 20% is very typical. We also customarily tip for a whole host of other services: delivery, hair dressing, taxis, doormen. Tipping is so ingrained in the US that restaurants are allowed to pay staff below the legal minimum wage because it is wholly expected that tips will make up the rest. Read more
For the last several years, I have been traveling full time. It is something that changed my life and that I wouldn’t trade for anything. But with it also come challenges. There is a burden in starting over again and again every several months – figuring out a new city, developing new friendships (though I am lucky enough to be able to reconnect often with many of my friends around the world thanks to communities like Hacker Paradise and Nomadlist), finding a productive work environment, and also the more basic things like just getting phone service and figuring out transit, etc.
Of all of the places that I travel to, I continue to return to Asia as a primary home. Any other foreign passport-holder like myself living this lifestyle will tell you about the instinctive need for a de-facto home. Some place you can go to (in the part of the world you wish to live) that you always know you will be welcome, where you’ll never worry if you’ve made one too many border runs, and where you can set up some roots, even if you plan to continue traveling a lot of the time.
Spend enough time in expat circles in Thailand and you will learn about the various options for staying here long term. These include the Education (ED) Visa, Business Visa, Investment Visa, Marriage Visa (for those married to a Thai), Retirement Visa (only available to those over 50) and, finally, the Thailand Elite Visa (officially the “Privilege Entry Visa”).
I recently went through the process of obtaining the Thailand Elite Visa (Superiority Extension version) and want to share my experience, as well as thoughts about who it is good for and why I chose it. Read more
Several weeks ago I arrived on the island of Koh Chang, about a 4 hours’ drive and a ferry ride from Bangkok. For myself and my girlfriend this was a sort of arbitrary choice. We had been staying in the nearby city of Rayong, where we have friends, but knew that we may be shut in for a very long time and wanted to put ourselves somewhere where we could at least have some vague feeling of normalcy and enough infrastructure to buckle down and work on some projects. We looked at a map and Koh Chang seemed to be the only choice. It has actually turned out to be the perfect place for us in this moment.
I do think we will ultimately look back on this time as very extraordinary, and so I wanted to document what it is like to be stuck on this very small island, in the middle of the ocean, in the midst of this global pandemic.
I am writing this post for anyone with friends or family in Thailand who is wondering how the COVID-19 pandemic is being handled here. It is written from the perspective of a US expat of many years who is still in touch regularly with family and acquaintances back in the US, and who is monitoring the situation there (and here) to the extent I can.
How is Thailand Fighting COVID-19
The main tool that Thailand is using to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, which you will become immediately aware of if you set foot in the country, is control of movement (checkpoints and curfews) and temperature/health screening.
If you choose to leave your place of residence (and most people here are voluntarily choosing to do this as little as possible), you will have your temperature screened at any building you enter. Read more
Through the last year, the city of Chiang Mai, Thailand has become one of the main bases of my life in Asia. It actually took a while for the city to grow on me. If you read my retrospective article from my first visit here in 2017, I am actually kind of lukewarm on the city. There is a reason – one month is not enough time to learn what is truly great about the place. I have spent, collectively, a lot more time than that here now and I still feel like I have so much more to learn. There are many different sides of the city: from backpacker ghettos to tranquil natural sites, some of the best meals you can have in the world, in some of the best company, to also some true debauchery and darkness, that is still beautiful in its own way.
In all of my traveling, dive bars have been one of the essential ways to get at the soul of a place. Here are what are in my opinion some of the very best in Chiang Mai.
I spent the month of January 2020 in Da Nang, Vietnam, a beach city situated in the central coast of the country, roughly halfway between the capital city of Hanoi to the North and Ho Chi Minh City to the south. It seems people haven’t yet written much about Da Nang from the perspective of a long-term traveler, so I wanted to share some impressions and thoughts on my time there.
I was coming to Da Nang from Rome, Italy and expected I would have to make a stopover in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City but this was not the case. An increasing number of airlines have flights into Da Nang International Airport (DAD) including Qatar, which I was flying, and that has direct service from Doha. Furthermore, a very striking thing to me was how convenient DAD airport is – it is only a maybe ~10 minutes’, few dollars’ drive from the beach neighborhood in which I was staying. Read more
I never expected to end up in Taipei.
For the last couple of years, I have been working remote. Initially from Berlin, then for an extended stretch from Eastern Europe. For the last 6 or so months I have been in Asia.
I had come to Saigon, Vietnam after several months in Bangkok. In Saigon I had struck up a chat at a local bar with another traveler, a student Brewmaster at Olds College, Alberta, Canada. This traveler, Mike, ended up becoming one of my better friends and more reliable companions on nights out in Saigon over the weeks that followed.
I had longstanding plans to meet up with an old friend from New York in Japan after my time in Saigon, but no idea where I was heading after. Mike strongly encouraged me to go to Taipei, and offered to intro me to a Taiwanese-American friend of his who had been living there the last 10 years and could show me around a bit.
It is this arbitrary sequence of events that found me, roughly two weeks later, landing at Taipei’s Taoyuan International Airport. Read more
I’ve spent the last couple of years doing what I would call slow travel, spending periods of a month or more in different cities. This began in late 2016 with a job that brought me to Berlin for months at a time over a period of a year. I quit that job last October and in the time since have been through Europe, Asia, the US, and then back around to Europe, where I am for the next several months with no fixed end in sight. I wanted to compile some observations that I’ve made in this time. Read more
I spent the final 2 weeks of the year in Ho Chi Minh City (colloquially/formerly “Saigon”), Vietnam with a group of friends from Hacker Paradise. I wanted to share some quick impressions of the city while the experience is still fresh in my head. Read more
I have spent the past month on the island of Ko Lanta, on the Andaman Sea in southern Thailand. I couldn’t have imagined a place more dramatically different from the cities I’ve spent the majority of my time for the last decade. It’s been a welcome departure, and I’ve even managed to work while here, without sacrificing enjoyment of the natural beauty, swims in the ocean and sunset drinks.