After living abroad for nearly a year and half, I recently visited the US for Thanksgiving. So I had a chance to stop and reflect on my journey, and I wanted to share my reflections here.
The past year and half was rich with experiences that I would never even have dreamed of having back in the West. But I also have more questions about what to do with my future than answers.
Coming back to the US was surreal, with some minor bouts of reverse culture shock. Coming from Asia, where storefronts, cafes, houses, and apartments are tightly squeezed together with little or no space in between, seeing so much open space between houses and stores felt strange. I appreciated the peace and quiet — a nice break from the Asian chaos — but I also felt the isolation that I used to feel. Don’t get me wrong, the first world comforts were quite nice. The American food was as greasy, filling, and fattening as ever. Seeing family and friends was cathartic and uplifting.
Sometimes I wondered if I made the right choice. But more on that later.
Now I’ll talk about the highlights of my journey, and some Q&As.
Favorite Highlights of My Journey
- Meeting other expats has been great. Sometimes we go to the gym together, doing boxing and weightlifting. Craft beer sessions, partying, big sushi or BBQ dinners, exchanging business ideas, motivating each other, giving each other advice or pep talks. That alone has proved the worth of this forum.
- After barely learning how to ride a scooter in Thailand, I took it up for a day ride up a 4,000 foot mountain on steep and narrow roads with hairpin turns and potholes that could swallow entire cars. Some sections of the road had nothing preventing anyone from going over and taking a fall down the cliffs. One little mistake, forget about it. But the views from the summits were amazing. Oh yeah, and I did get lost on the way back. Only after a few painful minutes of trying to use rudimentary sign language and blurting out a few random Thai words with the locals, did I find my way back to the town. If you told me two years ago that I would be doing this, I would have laughed and called you crazy.
- Visited lots of temples in Thailand, including the Wat Phra Kaew and Grand Palace in Bangkok, Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai (that was an epic ride), Wat Rong Khun (white temple) in Chiang Rai, and the Wat Phra Mahathat in Khon Kaen (where a hot Laotian girl accompanied me). While they were amazing, there were far too many tourists for me to really appreciate them to the max, especially at the Grand Palace and Doi Suthep. I just wanted to take in the peaceful atmosphere that a Buddhist temple has to offer on its quiet days, but I was surrounded by harried tourists with selfie sticks rushing from place to place on a frenetic schedule.
If you have all the time in the world, or you make time for it, you can afford the luxury to just stop, take a deep breath, and really take it in. That makes for a much better travel experience than scurrying from one landmark to another and only having selfies to show for it in the end.
- Went on a backpacking journey through Northern Thailand and Isaan, both with friends and solo.
First, we got a group of friends and drove up to near the Laos border high in the mountains, filled our stomachs with juicy moo kata (Thai BBQ), and drank beer into the wee hours. After only a few hours of sleep, we hiked about 700 meters up the Phu Chi Fa mountain at 4 am. Bundled up in surprisingly cold weather, we walked on a narrow dirt path with slippery rocks with nothing but a small flashlight and a cup of hot coffee. Upon reaching the summit, we witnessed the most glorious sunrise I have ever seen. The morning sun painted the skies with yellow, orange, red and violet hues over a sea of gently rolling clouds with some mountain peaks poking above the cloud layer.
If, in the midst of a cool crisp breeze with the smell of pure fresh air, you could capture that exact moment, absorb it in full, and frame it, it would be one you would look back on and say, “this is when I’ve made it. The world is truly my oyster.”
- Went fishing with my Vietnamese girl’s father and brother, and helped them harvest avocados, coffee beans, and passion fruit from trees in their farm. Helped them prepare dinner and I learned more Vietnamese in one hour than any other time.
Then my girl and I rode by coffee and tea farms taking in the earthly smell surrounded by mountains. Some of the best coffee I’ve had there was weasel coffee. It’s where weasels would eat the most ripe and juiciest coffee berries, and then they poop the coffee beans out. Somehow their poop preserved and added to the rich flavor of coffee within the beans. I’m not joking. Go ahead and google it.
- Cruised on beach roads on a 125cc bike with my girl in sexy jean shorts hugging me from behind, her hair whipping into the wind. Laid on a remote beach to relax with drinks and crystal clear waters. Drove up the mountains to watch the sunset over dinner.
Dipped into hot mud baths in steamy springs and played footsie with her underneath the gooey mud. Watched her get out of the bath with mud streaming down her butt and legs. After spending a good hour in the hot muddy springs, jumping into the refreshingly cold water under a waterfall really gives a nice energizing jolt to the body.
First World Problems and Third World Problems: A Matter of Perspective
In the third world, particularly in large SEA cities, you have more pollution, traffic, less space, noisier neighbors, and the list goes on. Just going on a grocery store run or making sure your mail gets delivered can get incredibly inconvenient.
Not to mention the corruption and how they apply laws in SEA. The corruption has not directly affected me yet, but it’s only a matter of time. I’ve heard stories.
And health care is a huge one.
Some private clinics are excellent with first-world standards (or even better). They are a bit expensive, but still quite a bit cheaper than in the West.
But in the public or state hospitals, it’s not enough to just say they have an “overcrowding problem”.
These places are packed to the gills with sick patients, overworked medical staff, nauseating scents, agonizing language barriers, and worried family members. You might think you’re mentally steeling yourself for what you might possibly see, but if it’s your first time inside a third world jungle hospital, you will be horrified.
Hallways full of beds with patients so sick they’re slipping in and out of consciousness, having no idea where they are or what’s going on around them. Imagine walking down that hallway, refusing to touch any metal or plastic surface, holding your breath to keep the smell of death out of your nostrils, and going into a small inpatient room with 20 beds, all occupied, with a group of doctors performing open heart surgery right in the middle of the room with all these other patients in there!
Really makes you think.
By moving to a third world country from your home country, you’re essentially trading one set of problems for another. If you have the patience and keep an open mind, and remind yourself why you left in the first place, then you can manage this new set of problems just fine. With the cute and feminine women and a more patriarchal society, it can be worth it. Just get a good health insurance plan and tell all your friends to not let anyone take you to a jungle hospital if anything happened to you.
Developing a social circle is tough in a country that isn’t your own, especially if you’re an introvert like me. Having a crew of forum members in the same city or country, even those just passing through, is invaluable.
Learning the language is also crucial. It will open so many doors that you never knew existed, and that other foreigners will never have access to. If you’re worried about declining foreigner value in the country you’re in, just make the effort to learn the language and you’ll shine. It’s not easy though. Many foreigners take the path of least resistance and bring their entitled attitude with them. It’s really no wonder many locals view foreigners with an undercurrent of disdain lurking just beneath superficial respect and admiration.
I’ve seen how parents discipline their kids out in this part of the world. If they do in the US what they have done, they’d probably be in jail. Parents are the ultimate authority and kids must respect their elders. Any disrespect tends to be met with a quick and decisive smack right across the face. In one case, I’ve witnessed a girl chasing a dog and her father got angry. He clobbered her in the head with a stick, yelled a few angry words, and shoved her into his house. It was a shocking contrast to to how parents “discipline” their children in the West using safe spaces, candy bribes, and empty threats knowing they could be jailed if they actually followed through. It’s really no wonder kids have no respect for their parents in the West.
Is being an expat all it’s cracked up to be?
My short answer? Yes and no.
I’ll start with the arguments against location independence, or rather, expatriating to a country that’s not your own.
- Lack of roots. You may make friends with locals, but you will never truly be an “insider”. The only people they consider insiders are those they went to school with and grew up together. Where did you grow up with your friends and maintain lifelong friendships? Your home country. You will always have roots in your home country no matter where you go in the world.
- Relearning a different language and culture than the one you grew up with. Just learning the mannerisms or how to order in restaurants is not enough. You’d have to go deeper into the culture, learn its history, and understand why they do things their way. Many expats I’ve met don’t even bother learning the language and culture. Maybe they’re just lazy, or maybe it’s too difficult? I’m only scratching the surface at the moment.
- Difficult to rebuild your social circles in new places outside of this forum. While this forum is invaluable for maintaining some semblance of a social life while abroad, it’s also important to make friends with locals and develop a local social circle. This way, you have more connections and are more antifragile.
- Can get homesick, especially around the holidays in your home country. Imagine seeing photos of big Thanksgiving dinners on your Facebook feed while you’re cooking a meal at home for yourself, and maybe some random plate you invited over for the night? Not a good feeling.
- Very difficult to open foreign bank accounts if you are an US citizen. Not impossible, but your hunt for a bank willing to work with you can take days, even weeks. The IRS has the entire planet within its chokehold. Many banks don’t even want to bother with Americans because of the onerous IRS reporting rules. I have to report and/or pay tax to the IRS no matter where I am, and I have to look into double taxation agreements in the countries I live in to avoid paying taxes twice on the same income.
And now I’ll go into the pros of location independence:
- Freedom, obviously. If you don’t like a place, you can always go somewhere else. You can travel wherever and whenever to find a place you like, or just for the travel experience.
- Networking on a global scale. You can develop networks anywhere you go and they may open up opportunities for you outside of your own country.
- Can date non-westernized girls from any country you like, in their own home countries. This is a big one for guys like us. Even when we do find success in Western countries using game, it’s often not worth the effort. If you’re location independent, why make things harder on yourself by dating Western women?
- Cost of living arbitrage. If you have a decent business or are making some money, you can always find a place where you can spend less than you earn. As your income goes up, you gain more options on where you can live without draining your savings.
- More socialization and having a more interesting life. In the first world, everything is so structured. Everything seems isolated. People do their own thing. They don’t really interact with each other like they do in Asia. Westerners are very individualist, which can be socially isolating.
- If you miss home, you can always book a plane ticket back.
Do I miss America?
Other than family and friends — with that out of the way, I only miss some aspects about America, but not the rest.
- I miss the four seasons.
- I miss being able to go outside for a walk without soaking my clothes in sweat.
- I miss snow, especially big snowstorms that dump tons in my home state every few years.
- I miss the diverse landscape the US has to offer — beaches, mountains, hiking trails, etc.
Here’s what I don’t miss:
- I don’t miss the individualist culture.
- I don’t miss the “me first” mentality.
- I don’t miss the fattening western diet.
- I don’t miss the high cost of living.
- I don’t miss the entitled attitudes of some Western women (incidentally, their attitudes are even worse when they travel to countries like Thailand or Vietnam, where their SM value is much lower).
- I don’t miss constantly censoring my own words for political correctness.
Am I ever going to move back to the US?
Not if I can help it, but I’m not permanently ruling it out. Only under extenuating circumstances would I come back. If my mom gets terminally ill, if I have a special needs kid, my business goes belly up with no savings left, and the like.
If I DO come back, it will probably be in a medium sized city with adequate amenities with a moderate cost of living and healthier/fitter people. Places like Denver, Reno, Flagstaff, or Salt Lake City come to mind.
What’s most likely is going to happen is that I will stay in Asia and make enough income to get by for the rest of my life, and start businesses there if possible. I’m warming up to the idea of either getting a second passport or opening a new company offshore, but the financial barrier of entry for a second passport eligible to me seems too high right now. That may change in the distant or even not-too-distant future.
What’s in store for my future?
Honestly, I’m already thinking about moving to a 2nd or 3rd tier city just to get away from the pollution and traffic.
Things change a lot in Asia. I’m getting a bit concerned about increasing Western influence as feminism may be starting to creep in. Still, I’m considering the possibility of marrying and raising a family outside of the US. If I decide to marry and have a family in Asia, then that opens a bunch of whole new questions. Will we have enough money to support our kids, especially when they go to school? Will my wife stay at home or work, or both? Should I teach my wife how to start a business so she could stay at home with the kids as well? I don’t like the idea of my wife being a housewife who does nothing at home. I want her to do something. Then there’s also the question of whether we should stay or go back to the US. It’s easy enough to say “I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it” but it’d be nice to think things through first.
However, I’m also leaving open the possibility of staying single for the rest of my life if my current relationship doesn’t work out.
The cost of living in developing countries, while low for now, may increase in the future, so my income would also have to increase to keep pace. If I decide to raise a family in Asia, my primary concern would be education and healthcare. But that’s at least a year or two away, if ever.
Don’t be surprised to hear of me moving to a smaller 2nd or 3rd tier city within the next year or so. The older I get, the more peace and quiet I want. In the meantime, I will start working on becoming more antifragile when it comes to finances.
Knowing what I know now, what would I have done differently?
Not much, actually. I might have given myself more time to travel to other places like Japan, EE, Bali, etc.
One thing I would have done differently is to really school myself on expat taxes. What’s taxable and what’s not. Which types of incomes fall under the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion, and which types don’t.
I might have been more aggressive early on about setting up a second overseas business with an offshore bank account.
Other than the financial and tax stuff, there’s really not that much I would have done differently. I was well prepared for this. I kind of knew what to expect out of becoming an expat.
Do I recommend doing what I did?
It depends. But but if you do, don’t do it just for the girls. Do it for the right reasons.
Also don’t do it because you are trying to “escape” something — be it family problems, cultural rot, terrible women, or cultural marxism.
You don’t want to run while looking behind you. You need to look ahead. You need to have something to look FORWARD to. Banging lots of women doesn’t count.
Even if you just want to learn more about yourself in unique or unfamiliar situations, learn how to bootstrap your business in a lower cost of living area, or gain travel experience and good memories, those are much better reasons than girls.
This was a huge huge gamble I took, and it still remains to be seen whether it paid off. So far things are looking good.