Racism Abroad.

Throughout all my travels in my life as an Asian American woman, I’ve learned that, yeah, sure Americans are loud, self-righteous and racist. People tend to cringe when they see a bunch of Americans. And growing up in Westlake Hills, TX— I can say we are definitely racist. Not just the Texans but also those “self proclaimed woke” people in Portland (where I went to Montessori school as a toddler and went back for college). But the thing is, I think we are one of the least racist countries in the world—it’s just that we, in our typical American flair, make a big fucking deal out of it. And we should. And at least we are having a dialogue. It hasn’t always been the best dialogue or the most constructive but at least we are willing to say, “there’s racist fucks here” and our racist fucks are willing to say “hell yeah imma racist fuck and I even got a permit to march around public streets to express my racist hateful views”.

In other countries, racism is sometimes less obtrusive but just as, if not more, obstructive as some people don’t even know they are being racist (especially in countries that aren’t as diverse as the US). In some countries, they feel they are too polite to be racist (what a vulgar term)—UK, my side eye is at you— that there is no acknowledgement or dialogue around a very present issue. In other countries, racism is so pervasive that it’s not even a thing to get mad at but the norm.

But what other country has so many people willing to speak out against a misguided POTUS and question the justice system—that which is here to protect us from ourselves and each other. Hell, what other country has football players, heroes to so many children, say enough is enough? Whether this is outrageously unpatriotic (or an extremely patriotic gesture as the First Amendment is at the heart of every American), I’m not here to say. All I can say is that at least Americans are not afraid to make a public statement that—hey—there’s racism and it’s not ok.

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Bourne Abroad

I love The Jason Bourne movies (except the last one was a bit drawn out). I don’t know about you, but the ability to speak different languages, travel incognito, and just be an all around badass is pretty damn awesome.

And I think it’s also fitting that Jason Bourne struggles with his identity.

I’m not sure struggle is the right word but while I’m here traveling, I find odd comfort in going to Chinatowns. I sometimes staunchly argue that I’m Japanese-Taiwanese to annoying men who hit on me at bars or pigeon hole me as “Chinese”, but in Chinatown, I’m “one of them” and I like it.

When I head to Chinatown, there is something familiar. I know how to speak the language and I know many of the cultural etiquettes. I’m no longer this random American in the Netherlands or the UK or Italy. It doesn’t matter if I can’t speak the native language of wherever I am traveling because most of the time, neither can they and we communicate using my rusty Mandarin.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like the Chinese in Chinatown welcome me with open arms. They’re brisk with me the same way they are in Beijing. The same way they are in Chinatown New York or San Francisco or Houston.

Chinatown Amsterdam

(Chinatown Amsterdam)

There is also something culturally cool about visiting Chinatowns around the world. Each local culture seeps into the Chinatown and each difference in the Chinatowns are reflective of city or country it’s located in. Having lived in Beijing, I use that as the “control” group. And every difference or change in the food in the different Chinatowns embodies the local produce and culture around that Chinatown. There really isn’t anything else in the world like this. For example, bread is in almost every culture in the world but it all has different roots, different ingredients and different ways of baking. With Chinatowns, the Chinese culture all started in one place. And each iteration of Chinese culture in Europe or the Americas or Latin America, etc. shows how each Chinese group of immigrants was influenced by the history and the culture of the country it is in.

(Chinatown Milan–Sriracha is a universal source of deliciousness!)

I mentioned this to a coworker of Turkish descent living in Berlin. He said he likes to try kebabs in all the different countries he’s visited (including in South Africa where he owned kebab restaurants) because he can see how each Turkish community’s take on the kebab after being influenced by the local culture.

It’s interesting how one of the best ways to experience culture is through the food (or the culture that was influenced by the local culture as represented in the food).

Good thing I love to eat!!

 

Packing.

Looking back on the past 2.5 months living abroad, I can’t tell you what you need to pack but I can tell you what you DON’T need to pack. And that’s about 80% of what you think you will need.

When you’re traveling as much as I was, you tend to live in a t-shirt, travel tights, sneakers, a sweater and Northface jacket (since it’s winter). In the summer, it would probably be everything sans the sweater and jacket. And it’s true, you only need one week’s of clothing since you actually do find time to do laundry.

I did bring my gym clothes, but they doubled as travel clothes. I had to bring 1-2 work outfits for the times I planned on spending in the office abroad. I also brought one cocktail dress and all my other dresses stayed stuffed in my suitcase. I had 1-2 “out on the town” outfits and a bathing suit (which I forgot to bring with me to the thermal baths in Budapest). I also brought a waterproof iPhone case (which I also forgot to bring with me to the thermal baths).

I brought vitamins, toiletries and melatonin (a must have with all the traveling, coffee chugging, late night working, etc. that happened). If I had to do it again, this is what I would pack:

3 cotton t-shirts

10 pairs of underwear (just in case you don’t get to the laundry. I brought 20–way too many)

1 pair of sneakers

1 comfortable pair of heels

2 workout tights (double as travel clothes)

2 work dresses (the type you can wad into a ball and still wear the next day without ironing that might also double as a brunch dress)

1 skirt

1 blouse

1 pair of jeans

1 pair of shorts (I have running shorts but girls can get away with yoga looking street clothes)

1 bathing suit

make up, lotion, allergy medicine, vitamins, melatonin, tooth paste, tooth brush (I also brought all my samples from Sephora since they are easy to pack and are within the liquid allowance)

headphones, power bank, phone, and laptops

If winter:

1 Beanie

1 Northface jacket

1 sweater

1 scarf

socks

That’s pretty much it. I could fit this  all into one backpack and one carry on rolly bag. If you aren’t going to be visiting the office like me, then your life will be easier since you can ditch all the work clothes.

clothes(The above was pretty much my travel uniform during the winter)

Budpest.

I can see why this ranks highly on Nomad List’s cities for digital nomads. There’s a huge expat community and everyone pretty much speaks English. Every bar, restaurant and cafe has free wifi (though it wasn’t fast enough to download my work email on my phone). It’s affordable though not incredibly cheap (not like Warsaw).

I first stayed near the river that separates the “Buda” portion from the “Pest” portion and it was gorgeous. The castles, buildings and bridges were beautiful to look out on. Other than that, it was very commercial and a bit boring. There is a huge shopping area full of tourists and overpriced stores. Tons of high end hotels and white linen restaurants that were bland and over priced.

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I then moved to the Jewish Quarter in District VII and I could tell right away why this was the “hipster”/night life area of Budapest. There were tons of “ruin bars” and the nightlife went on and on and on. I visited one of the largest outdoor bars I’ve ever been to (Szimpla Kert). It was on Lonely Planet’s top 100 bars. It was cute. It was different. It tried very hard to be different.

It’s what Portlanders and Seattlites would make if you gave them a huge outdoor area with tons of different rooms to decorate (though probably with fewer scabies). There is a huge line out the door if you get there after 9pm so if you just want to go and check it out, get there a bit earlier and walk around. There’s already tons of people inside earlier in the day grabbing a drink and having what seemed to look like a deep philosophical conversation.

Surprisingly, Americans weren’t the loudest ones there–the Brits definitely were!

 

I also visited the outdoor thermal baths in Budapest. I’m not one for touristy things so I had mixed feelings but afterwards, I was very happy I went. Everyone seemed to be in a great mood (not sure if it was because it was in the dead of winter and freezing while running back and forth from the lockers to the baths) that I really enjoyed myself. You don’t need to pay extra to get your tickets earlier. The line went pretty fast and they accept cash or card. I suggest getting a “cabin”, which is no bigger than a bathroom stall but you can change in there and it locks so you can keep your things inside. Remember to bring your own towel and flip flops. You can rent towels there but I brought mine from the AirBnB (which were bright green so it made it super easy to spot them when I ran out of the bath back into the building).

 

I did go to the beer bath and it was a bit boring and overpriced. I could see it being fun in undergrad with a big group of people as you get all you can drink beer for the 45 minutes you are soaking but I found it boring.

 

Beer is super cheap, like in most places. Wine was expensive (and often they charged you per dL, which is the size of a shot) and liquor was very expensive (especially if you wanted a mixer as you had to buy the mixer separately). 26850201_10154969900141300_8153351677462708224_n26952694_10154962983131300_3585496453126029312_nA guilty street food in Budapest is called langos. It’s a hungarian type pizza and it was delicious. The bread has the consistency of a funnel cake but it was savery. The traditional topping is with cheese, sour cream and garlic. And it was amazing.

 

I first tried to order one in a sit-down restaurant on a street that looked like the Budapest version of 5th Ave. After the service was super slow, I bailed and found this street vendor and it was one of the best things I’ve had. Another great little restaurant is a chain restaurant called Hummus Bar and this is where my love affair with shakshuka began.

19554959_10154968869441300_3696104756419948964_nIn short, I would have liked to spend more time in Budapest exploring the city and meeting more expats/digital nomads. It’s a very cute city and they love Star Wars there as well as Irish bars!

 

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And it’s a very beautiful city…

26733329_10154968892071300_7676550172811181588_n(Opera House)

Tourist tip: Unlike US or UK, you will need cash on you as not all bars/lounges accepts card. I would say that outside of the commercial/hotel area, about 60% of places take cards. Of the places that do take cards, they take Apple Pay or Android Pay so you never have to whip out your card (much like in the UK).

Cabs are relatively cheap but make sure they turn the meter on. Late at night, the cab drivers sometimes don’t turn it on and then try to overcharge you by about 300-500%. If you complain, they often times all of a sudden knock down their asking price because it’s probably a highly illegal practice. There are a few cabs that say they take card but then when you get there, they pretend they don’t and try to take you to an ATM. Don’t do it. They almost always have a credit card machine that they whip out after you threaten to walk off.

Slacker.

I didn’t do much writing. Besides posting pictures without commentary on Facebook, I didn’t do much around sharing my travels throughout Europe. I think it’s because I worked full time–actually, more than full time. Once people from my company in London found out I was in London, they asked me to join calls and flip contracts during UK working hours and then I had to buckle down to work late into the night keeping US hours. It was tough. Especially since my US hour don’t end at 5pmCT. Often, it ends at 7pm, which is 2am UK time.

In short, I was exhausted. I was exhausted traveling during the day and then buckling down in the hotel to work through the night. I didn’t always get up early enough to do something during the day (and besides grocery shopping and errands, there really wasn’t much to do during the day). Sometimes, I was just happy to sleep until noon to get ready for the work day at 2pm (8am CT). Other times, I would make the mistake of looking at my work email at 10am and then felt the stress pour in of the work day–which is tough to put aside for 4 hours until your work day really starts.

In short, my next trip will be to Latin America, where it is easier to keep US hours. I am thinking Mexico, Colombia, Nicaragua or Guatemala. My Spanish is appallingly and embarrassingly terrible for having grown up in Texas and worked in Latin America for three years out of Miami. I’m hoping with Google translate and immersion into Spanish speaking culture, I hope to pick up some conversational Spanish.. but then again, keeping 50-60 hour work weeks tend to kill these side projects since all you want to do at the end of the day is veg out.

Loud Americans

I used to say, in a derisive way, that whenever you travel, the loudest and rowdiest group at any restaurant or bar abroad is filled with your stereotypical red blooded Americans. Other cultures are loud, but there was something about those boastful arrogant Americans that made me want to distance myself from “them”. And they weren’t always frat boys. They weren’t always Republicans. Sometimes they were Asian Americans but whoever they were, they were always the loudest (and often times the most disrespectful) fucks no matter where you went.

But honestly, I sometimes (and that’s “sometimes” underlined and italicized) miss the bluntness. The honesty. The unapologetic “being yourself”. Okay, not the arrogance that we are the best mother fucking country in the fucking world with the best most fucking beautiful chocolate cake you’ve ever seen and eaten by a deranged lunatic with small hands. Not the disrespect towards other cultures, including the ones within our borders. Not the hate we’ve been preaching lately and the anti-gay, anti-women, anti-baby elephants and anti-saving the environment nonsense (wow–that doesn’t leave much left. Yay, White Men! You win–again). I mean, on an individual level– to be yourself even if you are a loud, arrogant twat. (I feel like America bore the nightmare that is the “millennial”).

I do miss how Americans tell you where you stand. And I miss being able to be blunt and telling others where they stand (especially the latter–you’ve got me). With the obnoxious arrogance, there is a refreshing amount of honesty. Who knows why–maybe because we are the arrogant school yard bullies that we can say whatever we are thinking with no filter. Or maybe because politeness didn’t get us our independence but telling some island dwellers that their tea sucks and we won’t pay their taxes anymore did (well, not my relatives–mine we busy tending to rice patties and petting pandas–those unbelievably cute yet mean little oversized Oreo rodent bears).

Don’t get me wrong. America is like that loud, bright television blaring at 4am at night when you’ve woken up from passing out because you’re piss drunk but you can’t find the remote and desperately want it to shut the F up so you can get some sleep…but I do like just being told straight up if I’m being a twat (and even more so the ability to tell someone else that). I find the honesty of Americans refreshing, especially when I meet them abroad (it’s like, thank you! Someone’s finally saying WTF they actually mean. Though our level of inebriation may have something to do with it.)

Im honestly not a fan of the neighbor who brings chocolates as an excuse to tell you that your party last night kept her up and she’s going to lodge formal complaints against you if you do it again but hey! here’s some sweets so we can all be fake and “civil” (she’s trying to kill me with diabetes and cavities–which may be a probable sinister plan–who knows? And that’s my point. Why don’t I know?)

Why not just come over and tell me to turn the music down? Hell, why not tell me in real time you need me to STFU? Whats with all this politeness veiling the fact you plan on effing me over? (I’m looking at you, Brits).

I sometimes prefer the drunk and rowdier-than-a-group-of-old-Asian ladies at a mahjong table in any corner of the world with no care in the world because…’Mercia. Fuck yeah.

Oh Canada!

I know I may get some criticism for this but my first impressions of riding the bus to city center in Liverpool, UK was that it looked like west coast Canada. It looked differently familiar. Yes, people drove on the other side of the street, but the houses, the streets, the trees with red and orange leaves reminded me of British Columbia. Even the circular street signs reminded me of Canada. I don’t know if this makes me seem ignorant comparing Liverpool with British Columbia or if it’s human nature to want to find similarities in different/new experiences with old familiar ones to make us feel more comfortable but I felt like I was on a bus in the northwest.

For those of you who don’t know, I grew up in Portland and my childhood was filled with crisp fall air with beautiful red leaves that my mom and I would arrange in butterfly or flower shapes between to sheets of wax paper that we would iron and then hang up on my windows (very much resembled stained glass– at least that’s what the 5 year old me can remember). I also went back to Portland to attend Reed College for another four years of what was probably the most transformational years of my life. Four years in that strange yet compelling institution was just enough. A bit longer, I know I would have grown to loathe it. A bit shorter, I would have felt I was missing something.

Anyway, back to my story, I remember going to Vancouver, BC with my parents and walking around the tall buildings. I walked those same streets with noticeably more taller condos as a wide eyed, wild, naive and over confident (and extremely obnoxious) college student. Done with Portland, I lived in Seattle with frequent trips to BC. Even when living in NYC, I made a trip to Vancouver and Whistler for a few weeks (and that was after an entire state bar association actually decided to license me–I’m as confounded as you). Something about Vancouver and the Pacific Northwest always felt like “home”. Who knows– maybe because the first memories I was old enough to remember are of the Pacific Northwest and every stage of my life has seen me in PacNW or BC.

And so it was very striking to me that Liverpool reminded me of Vancouver, BC. With its side streets and hipster neon bars, its large sports bars, cheesy clubs and outdoor drinking areas…And the quiet chilly politeness of the people also reminded me of the Pacific Northwest. There is a reason people refer to the “Seattle Chill”. Don’t get me wrong, a drunk group of dock workers shared their hookah with me but the down home gritty real friendliness or connection I felt from locals in Beijing or Latin America taking me (pushing me, really) into their homes, feeding me, asking invasive questions about my marriage status and reduced child bearing years was lacking.

I can see how I probably sound: Texan goes to Liverpool and thinks it’s Canada. Sounds like a King of the Hill episode. But I kind of like it. It’ll be our little inside joke when we talk about going to Liverpool, Canada (and there actually is one in Nova Scotia).