Saigon vs Chiang Mai (winner: CNX)

Chiang Mai, Thailand is one of my favourite places in the world. After arriving yesterday from Saigon, I immediately noticed the stark constast between the two places. Saigon is loud, crazy, bustling, dangerous, a concrete jungle. And hot. Really freaking hot.

Chiang Mai is less of all of that, in every category. It’s not too loud, a little less busy, not very dangerous, and instead of concrete jungle, it kinda feels like the city was built in an actual jungle. There’s trees, greenery, plenty of wats (Buddhist temples) just about everywhere you look. It does gets hot here, and it feels a bit more humid, but it’s worth the tradeoff, in my opinion.

I don’t ever want to go back to Saigon for a long, long time, if ever. This is my 3rd time in Chiang Mai, and I’m falling in love with the place all over again.

Today will be dedicated to finding an apartment and renting a motorbike. I got a horrible haircut in Saigon 2 days ago, so I’m also gonna have to get that fixed soon. (I look like Chet from the movie Weird Science. The only fix at this point is to get it all buzzed off.)

I’m also excited to see all the places that I loved to visit when I was last here 3.5 years ago. It’s really been too long between visits.

Some things have changed. May Kaidee’s is a favorite vegetarian/vegan restaurant that I sought out yesterday, and apparently they moved to a different location. There’s also a new mall which was built on the corner of Nimmanhamen and Huay Kaew Road. I still haven’t been able to check out all my old hangouts yet. A big surprise is seeing all the touristy places which cater to Chinese speakers. I’ve seen way more Chinese on signs and advertistments than I ever remember seeing in the past.

What’s really surprised me the most is that so much hasn’t changed. Kad Suan Kaew mall is still standing, and it still looks like a giant semi-abandoned warehouse. Aum vegetarian restaurant is still exactly where it was by Tae Phae Gate (eastern gate) of the old city, and they’re still serving the same fare (“The One” smoothie w/spirulina was a hit waaay back in 2012, and apparently still is). But now they have quinoa dishes too.

The Wawee coffee on Nimmanhaman Road is still there, as is the Starbucks just down the road and on the other side. But they now serve cold drinks in re-usable cups with a message to “go green”, and some suggested up-cycle ideas (e.g. make the cup into a planter). They still don’t have soy milk though. (Sigh. Some things *never* change.)

I’m most excited to go visit Pun Pun vegetarian restaurant (both locations), which is one of the best places I’ve ever eaten. Thai food really is the best food in the world. And Free Bird Cafe was another favorite, but less dependable. Are they even still around? Gotta find out.

It’s such a crazy juxtaposition, Saigon and Chiang Mai. If you can handle riding a motorbike in Saigon, then you’ll be totally fine in Chiang Mai. Really, you won’t have any problems at all, except maybe getting used to driving on the other side of the road. I don’t even think I could find kombucha in Saigon. I lived there for 3 months and can’t tell you where to get it (ok, I can tell you where you *might* find it). But here I can find it in several places, usually homemade.

Prices seem a bit lower here, for everyday things like bananas and coffee. The city is a bit nicer in general, amenities are higher quality. It’s much less dirty than Saigon. Maybe that’s not a fair comparison as Saigon is a much bigger city, but then again, I couldn’t find too many areas in Saigon where it was very clean, and I visited a lot of different places during my three months there.

The people seem friendlier here. I have a theory about the collective Vietnamese psyche in general, but I’ll save that for later. Truth be told, the food in Vietnam isn’t that great, and it’s really not healthy. They eat white rice most everywhere. If only they could make one small change, and use brown rice instead, I’d have eaten at the small cơm tấm places a lot more. But I don’t want the blood sugar spikes and low fiber content from eating pure white rice, versus brown.

CNX has more Westerners in general, is more touristy, and definitely has more of a health-conscious Western tourist subculture, at least in the old city area. It’s really nice.

In Saigon, I struggled to find any books in English, and when I did, the selection was scarce. There are plenty of book stores in CNX where I can find any type of book imaginable in English. Sure, of course they have Thai books. But they also have a nice selection of English books. (It’s equally easy to find English-language books in Bangkok.) It’s almost impossible in Vietnam. Things like this are what make it so difficult for me to imagine living in Vietnam full-time. Little things, which add up.

Ok, that’s it for now.

Least-Expensive Fruit Stands in Taipei

A Fruit Stand in the area of Dalongdong Temple, Taipei City
A Fruit Stand in the area of Dalongdong Temple, Taipei City

Being vegan who likes to eat raw whenever possible, I eat a lot of fruit.

Of course, Taipei doesn’t have too many raw food cafes (any?), but it does have a lot of fruit to offer. tropical fruits and the same “regular” fruits that we get at home (my favorite is dragonfruit — 火龍果).

But I can get expensive to eat a lot of fruit, and even in Taipei, fruits aren’t exactly cheap (not like in Thailand anyway). So I started to make a mental note of all the least-expensive places to buy fruit in Taipei. I don’t like to use the word “cheap”, because of connotations of low-quality, and the fruit is the same quality pretty much wherever you buy it here.

Here’s one just next to Longshan Temple:

No. 1, Lane 224, Xichang St, Wanhua District
Taipei City, Taiwan 108

This one was the 2nd-lowest prices I’ve found. The lowest? Here, by the Dalongdong & Confucius temples:

Lane 259, Dalong St, Datong District
Taipei City, Taiwan 103

To determine the expenses, I’ve used a simple test: the red dragonfruit test. The lower the price of red dragonfruit, the lower the price. Most of the fruit prices follow suit I believe, but the red dragon fruits (aka pitayas) I know for sure.

Taipei – initial experiences

Wow, just wow. Where to start?

Taipei is a bit like I expected for an Asian city. Small shops everywhere, no obvious zoning considerations at all, general Asia street smell…

I found a nice tea house in the Yongkang street area (Da’an district) while I was walking around and — wait for it — waiting for another tea house to open. Guess the early bird gets the worm? Finding True Heart teahouse was a breath of fresh air.

True Heart Tea House in Taipei
True Heart Tea House in Taipei

Like any Asian city, Taipei is bustling, always moving, and I haven’t really had the chance to stop and take a moment. Tea time was time to do just that. While drinking tea (a Taiwanese oolong), I had the realization that our bodies are royal temples — not to be abused any longer!

Also had a vision of what I want to become — my “true destiny”, or something like that. Very zen, mindful, and always with tea. Serving tea. I want to help people become more mindful and aware of the now, and take time from the hectic hustle-and-bustle of the modern Western lifestyle. Not 100% sure how it will play out, but I think that I want to have a tea house, or maybe a Zen eco-village, or both. Some mixture of all that.

In other travel news

I’m extremely grateful to have Skype’d with Brittany this morning. Haven’t seen her face in about 3 days, so nice to finally see her (and our kitty).

Finally found a café to settle down in and get some work done. Trying to just slow down from the hectic travel life (always moving, always things to take care of) and just focus on getting my work done.

Hostels can be both good and bad, and I think the reason most people stay in them is the low price for some value. But the money in running a hostel is in groups of people — the numbers. And for an introvert like me, forced group settings like this just… suck. Most hostels are not good for actually getting things done. So I’m looking to find a short-ish-term apartment somewhere in/around Taipei.

I also brought too much crap with me, as I knew I would. Too many clothes, bulky items that I brought “just in case”. Been down this road so many times. I know better. :/

Ok, bye.

Refresh Yourself in the Airport

When traveling long-distance flights with multiple connections, I always feel 100% better after refreshing myself, changing my socks and shirt.

I’ve found that it’s generally easier if I can locate the family restroom, then refresh in there. I’ll wash my feet, dry them with my Packtowl, then put on a fresh pair of socks. I also will wash/rinse my armpits and apply fresh deodorant, and change my shirt. The aforementioned Packtowl is wonderful when traveling.

I’d recommend packing a change of clothes in your personal bag, which I do.

But since I also don’t check bags, I have everything that I need with me at any rate, whether packed in my personal bag (smaller) or my carry-on (bigger, mostly clothes and laptop).

After a quick 10-minute refresh in the family bathroom, I always feel so much better, cleaner, and ready for the next leg of the journey. This is especially true after 6+ hour, long-haul flights.

In transit to Taiwan

The last 2 weeks of life have been a complete blur. I’ve been running around like crazy trying to get loose ends tied up in Arkansas, get assets moved around and re-allocated, and sell my big stuff (e.g. car) that I won’t need abroad.

Right now I’m in the Narita airport in Japan, about 80 or so km east of Tokyo.

And unlike my last short visit to Japan, this trip’s layover is only about 3 hours, so there’s really no time to get out and see any of Japan. So I’m staying in the international terminal, getting some food in my stomach and waiting for my evening flight to Taipei.

If I hadn’t already booked the flight all at once, I might have broken it up and stayed in Japan for a few days, then flown out. But then I’d want to spend quite a bit of time in Japan once I was here, see lots of sights and things. Maybe one day soon, before I leave Asia.

Oh yeah, I bought a one-way ticket to Taipei. I’ll be traveling around Asia, working on building my own living out values that I believe strongly in. Such as mobility, financial independence and freedom, and monetary freedom (achieved via FinTech such as Bitcoin and Dash). I also just freaking love east Asian culture, food, mindset, and the cities. Ah, … the city.

My wife is still in the US. For some, that causes heads to turn. Others seem to be a bit more understanding. For various reasons, she’s staying back in Arkansas, but mainly it boils down to:

a) the cat
b) her personal development

She loves her pet cat that she’s been with for about 16 years and doesn’t want to leave her. Precious (the cat) gets really depressed when my wife is gone for long amounts of time (over a week or two and gets really bad). Her health deteriorates. We’ve almost lost her a time or two, and we’re pretty sure it’s got a lot to do with Brittany’s presence.

She also feels the need to stay for reasons of helping certain individuals, and building her own sense of independence, which she’s never really had and is the next stage of personal growth for her. So that’s that. It’s been difficult not being able to communicate with her, but we texted briefly a bit ago. We plan to meet up in a few months once we’ve both accomplished what we need to.

I’ve got a bit of personal development to do as well, mindfulness being one of my primary goals for my own.

I just realized that I’ve gotta so see about changing my seat to an aisle seat, so I’m gonna leave off here. But since I’m trying to be prolific, just gonna go ahead and ship this one out the door.

Thanks for reading, and please drop me a note if our interests align, and you’re in Taiwan within the next few weeks or months and wanna meet up.

Crazy side note:

I met a couple (Jonathan and Rachel +1 cute baby boy) flying from XNA (in Arkansas) to Taipei, same exact route as me. Crazy. I never would have thought that I’d have the exact same itinerary as someone else originating in Arkansas and ending up on the other side of the world. Small world.

How to Get Your Passport (for US citizens)

US Passport
US Passport

Note: I wrote this back in 2010. I think the fees might have increased, and I’m not sure if the links are all working now. Get the book, not the card. The card is useless. Oh yeah, now you have the option to get the 26-page or the 52-page version. I don’t think there’s a price difference, so just get the 52-page version. Trust me on this one.

I’ve been accused of writing too much before {by James}. If this page is too long, skip to the good stuff.

Ever wished you could just pack up and take a nice week or two in Europe, the Caribbean or even somewhere more exotic, like say… Tahiti? The good news is you can, because you live in a “free” country, in a modern society, and although you may not describe yourself this way, you truly are wealthy compared to most of the rest of the world. All you have to do is schedule your vacation, book a flight and you’re off!

Oh, no, wait, you can’t. You can’t leave the borders of this wonderful country because you’re too damn lazy to take a few extra steps and get a small document which allows access to virtually any place on earth.

Get your passport.

How to get a US passport for US citizens living in the US. Originally written for my friends in Northwest Arkansas.

Here’s the official web page that has all the details. I have meticulously combed through the details & pulled out the important stuff.

  • 2 passport photos
  • 1 copy, front & back, of Arkansas Driver’s license on standard 8-1/2 x 11 paper
  • Form DS-11, printed & filled out but DO NOT SIGN IT
  • certified birth certificate {with raised seal}

You can go to Walgreen’s to get your passport photos. Just walk in, say you need passport photos, and they will know what you’re talking about. They cost like 5 bucks or something.

You can get your driver’s license copied at Office Depot. There’s one by the Atlanta Bread in Rogers.
{You will also need to bring your driver’s license to the post office later.}

Oh yeah, print & fill out form DS-11 but DO NOT SIGN IT. you must sign it in front of the person at the post office that accepts your form. This is very important.

Oh, BTW, when filling out this form DO NOT SIGN IT YET. Just wanted to state that another time to make sure it got through.

How much will it cost?

There will be 2 fees:

  1. The first fee is the “application fee”, and is for your passport itself, and any check/money order should be made payable to “U.S. Department of State”.
  2. The second is the “execution fee”, it is for the acceptance facility, e.g. the post office.

Application Fee for adults: $110
Execution Fee: $25

These must be paid with 2 separate forms of payment. They don’t allow you to write one check for both fees.

I believe a money order will work as payment for both of these, you can go to the bank & purchase a money order for $110 and a separate one for $25.

It really shouldn’t take more than an afternoon or 2 to get all this stuff together & get to the post office. The hardest part would be getting the official birth certificate (with raised seal) if you don’t have one at home somewhere.

The Easy, Step-by-Step Version

  1. Find an official certified copy of your birth certificate with raised seal. Ask your parents if you don’t have one or don’t know.
  2. Go to Walgreen’s and get 2 passport photos.
  3. Go to Office Depot and get a front and back copy made of your Arkansas driver’s license {important that it is Arkansas}.
  4. Print and fill out this form, but DO NOT SIGN IT
  5. Purchase two money orders from your local bank. One should be for $110, and the other should be for $25.
  6. Take all these documents along with your Arkansas drivers license and money orders to the Bentonville post office. Rogers is just ghetto. Talk to the person at the front, tell them you want to apply for a passport, show them all your documents.

That’s it. You’re awesome.

Photo by bryansblog

Finally, some solid goals.

Sunset on a Highway in Alabama
Sunset on a Highway in Alabama

Feel like I’ve had a breakthrough tonight. Maybe it’s a combination of being alone for a few hours (INTJ – I charge up on being alone), or maybe it’s the slight lift that I got from the cup o’ tea that I had a little bit ago, but it’s starting to click.

For years, I’ve wanted to “travel the world” and be mobile, yet make an income at the same time. But it was so hard to envision without getting a time-consuming and draining customer support job.

Re-reading that last paragraph, makes it look like I haven’t traveled much. I’ve been to Europe 3 times, Asia twice, New Zealand twice, Canada 3x (spent a month in Quebec), Central/South America for 3 months… I’ve traveled a bit. But my bank account always goes down, and I’m not able to spend the time I want traveling, for as long as I’d like.

Since my eyestrain has gotten progressively worse over the past year, I’ve wanted less and less to spend any time in the computer, much less try my hand at getting a remote software development job. And reading over those job postings makes me want to vomit. Every time.

“Consulting” was the holy grail… the one thing I could do while traveling the world, keeping my eyesight and staying free. (Freedom is my highest value.)

I always wondered how they do it — I have a mentor who’s been traveling the world and consulting for near 10 years now — he can easily make $5-$10k in a month, no problem. Much more these days I’m sure.

Tonight I was reading over some of his old writing today, some articles from 5-6 years ago… then it clicked.

He talked about wanting to have a 10x return for his work… e.g. if he charged $75 per hour, then within a year, he wants that client to receive $750 worth of value for every hour they’ve paid him.

That’s it. That’s the secret to consulting — leaving people better off than if they’d never hired you to begin with. In his case, much better off. Another thing he mentioned — as he was calculating what he needed to meet his goals.

First, he calculated that he wanted to bring in $6000 per month. So he did some brief calculations:

$20 / hr for 300 hours. 75 hours per week. Too many hours.
$40 / hr for 150 hours. 37.5 hours per week. Still a lot of hours, esp. for consulting
$75 / hr for 80 hours… that’s 20 hours per week. That was plenty of time for him to work on other projects as well as meet his income goals.

That’s when it hit me – I don’t have to try and throw myself into building a business 100% of the time every single day. That’s why I’ve been burning out for a year. That’s also why I haven’t been able to stick with a goal. Jumping around, different goals, choosing what seems easiest at the time vs doing what I’m passionate about.

Building a business (which means I can leave and still get income) vs starting a service which requires me to work for continual income (consulting, coaching).

I can do both.

Finally, feel like I’m developing some solid goals… steps for reaching exactly what I want. Discovering that I can achieve what I want, because I’m finally starting to realize what that is.

At this point in my life, I want to be spending about 20 hours / week consulting, coaching, for income. Improving the lives of others and making sure that all my clients get at least a 2-4x return for their investment, if not much more. I’m shooting low now, as far as return goes. I will be satisfied if my current clients are getting 4x return, even a 2x. Because I know that as I improve, so will those results. A 10x return within a few months’ time isn’t out of the question — as long as I stay on a tight feedback loop with lots of iterations. And getting $150 in value for $75 is still a bargain.

I also want to be able to put another 10 – 15 hours per week into building a business, systems which run even without me there, or initially with minimal input from myself. I realize that it will take 100% input at first and that number will gradually decrease as the business improves.

I also want to invest time per week (another 10-15 hours) into developing myself. Learning languages, reading about history, business, negotiations, building skills.

This seems like a lot of time, but 2 hours a day is 14 hours per week. Between reading, learning language and cultural interaction, that would be a minimum number for me, for self-development.

So, official 1-year goals, to have achieved within 12 months from today:

* ~20 hours per week consulting
* 10-15 hours per week building a business
* 10-15 hours per week in self-development (includes language, skills, etc)
* $50k in the bank
* mobility (freedom to go wherever)
* started my business and have all business banking/credit set up


* Credit score above 780
* Semi-fluent in another language (which depends on where I’m at)
* Lamborghini parked in front of my mansion (well it would be nice to have)

Almost Christmas!

Update: After 3 months, I have finally received my refund from JetStar. I still can’t recommend that anyone ever give them any of his/her hard-earned money, though. #worstcompanyever

It’s been a while since I’ve posted on here.

Our last post left off with us in Chiang Mai, Thailand, about to complete our one-month stay in our apartment. Since then, Brittany and went all the way through Malaysia to Singapore via train from Chiang Mai. It was a long, multi-stop journey. We first went from CM to Bangkok, which took about a day (24 hours. We took a sleeper). Trains in Thailand aren’t that great, and stop a lot. For apparently no reason. For hours at a time. After a night’s rest in Bangkok, we took another train to Penang, Malaysia, also on a sleeper.

We found an awesome boutique hostel in Penang called Ryokan. So we decided to stay 4 nights there in total. The food was good. Penang is famous for it’s food. Then we took a train to Kuala Lumpur.

Kuala Lumpur is the capital of Malaysia, and has everything anyone could want (if you know where to look). Chinatown is nice. There are malls with high-end designer stores (Gucci, Louis Vuitton, etc), as well as inexpensive (almost slummy) open markets with character (look up Chow Kit).

Overall, Malaysia was a big surprise for us. It was wonderful. The people speak English (Malaysia is the former British territory called British Malaya). It’s like a big melange of Muslim, Chinese, Indian and Malay culture. Who almost all speak English, at varying levels. The Malaysian infrastructure is great (especially compared to Thailand).

Anyway, after seeing 4 days of KL, we took the last leg of our train trip to Singapore.

Singapore is a huge city-state (‘state’ in this sense meaning ‘sovereign nation’). It has a lot of nice parks, flora, and almost the same mix of culture as Malaysia. Almost everyone speaks English (even better than in Malaysia). There’s a lot of Chinese influence/culture in Singapore. We found a few tea houses and some nice inexpensive Chinese vegetarian restaurants in Chinatown, which was clearly our favorite place in Singapore. Chinese vegetarian restaurants are almost 100% vegan, actually. We bought some delicious jasmine green tea in a tea shop before we left. Then we took a place to New Zealand.

Oh, and I strongly suggest, no matter who you are, or how much money you’re trying to save, don’t ever fly JetStar. No matter if they’re the only direct flight to your destination or not. Just don’t. We had the most horrible experience with them ever, and almost 2 months later, I’m still trying to get my $1419 NZD (New Zealand Dollars) back from them. From a fully-refundable ticket that I purchased with my own money, for a flight that I will never use. Which I was forced to purchase, or else they wouldn’t let me board my plane to New Zealand.

The only contact numbers you will ever receive from JetStar go to a call center in Manila, where the people there have little power to help you get anything done. I will repeat: Do Not Ever Fly with JetStar, ever.

New Zealand is beautiful. We loved everything about it, except the prices. And the tourism. Everything is so damn expensive there (hostels, food… tours to anything, which are mostly a waste of time and money anyway…).

We saw the movie set where they filmed for Hobbiton/The Shire for LOTR and The Hobbit. It was beautiful. Too bad it’s all just a movie set. They have real vegetable gardens, flowers, roses, trees, a lake, and a fake metal tree on top of Bag-End.

The farmer’s markets were the best we’ve been to. We went to the Saturday market in Tauranga and the Sunday market in Hastings. Hastings was probably my favorite. I think the combination of landscape/climate is what makes the markets so great. And the food. And coffee. Coffee is a big deal in New Zealand. Every small town in NZ has at least one espresso shop. The farmer’s markets even have at least one, sometimes more, espresso stands. Since they can grow just about anything, they have it all. Local lemons/limes/oranges. Local avocados. All types of green vegetables, swiss chard (which they call silverbeet), beets (which they call beetroot), bell peppers (capsicums), zucchini (courgettes), onions.

People in New Zealand have a very pro-NZ, anti-everything-else mentality, so if a farm or business is “100% NZ owner/operated”, then it’s seen as superior, or something. I think they call it pride. I call it nationalism.

Unfortunately we didn’t get to see the south island. (Again. I swear I’ll see it some day.)

Now we’re home. It feels great to be home again. To be able to wear more than just one pair of pants all day, every day. To be able to drive to the store. Or to drive anywhere. It’s nice.

We started eating a lot of winter squash, because it’s now in season. And delicious. I’ve been saving seeds from the organic fruits of heirloom varieties we’ve been eating. We’ve tried several, and we now have our own seed packets made up. The great thing is that most winter squash have about 200 – 250+ seeds in their seed cavities.

For example, I just rinsed and laid out 233 seeds from our most recent squash, the Kabocha (like a little green pumpkin). These 233 were the viable seeds. I threw away the runts and the not-quite-formed seeds. I can’t think of any profession other than farming/gardening (aka agriculture) in which you can get a 233% return in a year.

The end. Ok, bye.

Thailand – September 2012

My wife and I have been in Thailand for over a month now. We will be in our apartment until around October 9th.

Thailand is a beautiful country in SE Asia. The Thai culture is predominantly Buddhist and very conservative. The landscape is beautiful and the people always have a smile. But Thailand is not what it used to be. It’s not as inexpensive as in the past. Tourists are everywhere. This country loves tourism (but not necessarily tourists — just their money). Although Thailand is the “land of smiles”, I get the feeling that a lot of the Thai smiles given to the farang are not genuine. I’ve seen Thais turn from really “helpful” to quite nasty when they realize they won’t be getting any of your money.

It’s still a nice place to visit, but I could never live here.

For one thing, as a person of European descent, no matter how hard you try to integrate into Thai culture, you will never be 100% Thai because you don’t look Thai. You could speak perfect Thai, follow all the cultural norms, rules and guidelines, pray at all the same temples as the Thai, even have a Thai spouse, but you’re still a falang to Thai eyes. It’s like Japan in that way. I would guess most Asian cultures are like this.

One of the good things about Thailand is the lack of the nanny state. For example, vehicular safety devices (e.g. seatbelts, helmets) are not required by law. Or maybe they are (I have no idea), but they’re not really enforced. You won’t get pulled over for not wearing a seatbelt or not wearing a motorcycle helmet. If you get injured, well it’s your fault for not wearing your safety device.

Another thing is less government regulation (or maybe it’s the same as the previous item). This inherently means more of a free market. When my wife and I got our apartment, it took about 1/2 hour to get all the paperwork signed and be shown up to our unit. We didn’t have to have any specific VISAs in our passports (we are here on the standard tourist stamps you get at the airport/border crossings). It didn’t matter than we were foreign — in fact, that’s kind of a good thing here. Thais assume that falang have a lot of money (and they do compared to most Thais), and that they are just either tourists or retirees. Which is true for the most part. These assumptions make certain things a lot easier (like not having to show proof of income/bank statements).

Chiang Mai is nice, but we’re ready to leave Thailand. We’ve been ready since about a week or so ago, actually. About 4 weeks in Thailand is really all we needed. Things are more expensive here I had imagined (and more expensive than when I was here 8 years ago). We’ve seen temples, sites, ridden a 125cc motorbike all over town, taken a cooking class, and eaten more vegan Thai food that we ever thought we’d eat in our lives.

As I write this, we have less than a week before our apartment lease expires, so we will be traveling again very soon. Probably to Kuala Lumpur for a few days and then to Singapore. I’m really looking forward to it, as I’ve never been to Malaysia or Singapore.

*I use “farang”/”falang” interchangeably in this post. Since Thais have a hard time distinguishing between the L and R sounds, you can say either and they will understand. It means “foreign”, and refers to people of European ancestry.

Japan – initial experiences

I am in transit from London to Auckland, with an 8-hour layover in Tokyo, so I thought that I might as well explore the city a bit. (As of the last 10 years or so, as US citizens we no longer need a special visa to enter Japan.)

Japan is unlike any of my recent (within the last 5 – 6 years) travel experiences. For one, I cannot speak or read even a little of the language. This has led to some unexpected things. For one, I withdrew about 10 times what I wanted from the ATM (about $600 instead of $60). No worries, I can change it back at the end of the day.

Also, after waiting about 10 minutes to use the Citibank ATM, I walk just around the corner (as in, like a 10 seconds walk around the corner) and spot an HSBC ATM (which is the card I use). Could have saved another couple of bucks had I known about it.

Note that I will get screwed on the exchange rate when I change back my remaining 50000 or so Yen at the end of the day… still, you live & learn. And since I am learning from these experiences, I don’t consider it as money lost. It’s an investment in my education.

But mostly it’s a strange experience for me being in a foreign country and not knowing anything about the language or really how to communicate with people other than in English. I just have to hope that the Japanese with whom I speak have some knowledge of English. I guess this is how it feels to be a foreigner in a completely foreign land. Not a bad feeling, just different. On the plus side, it kind of forces me to rely on other people and to communicate with them (asking questions, etc), which is good because I love interacting with people.

And for me, that’s what travel is really about, anyway. Not the sights, museums, architecture or even the landscapes in a certain place. It’s about the people.

I still need to get out & explore Tokyo a bit. And learn the Japanese characters for “milk”, “egg”, etc so I know what foods to avoid. I’m right now sitting in a Starbucks at the Tokyo Narita airport.