5 Things I Miss About Asia

When I was in high school, daydreaming about traveling, it was all about Europe: The romance; the beautiful languages; the elegant old architecture. Asia never really held any appeal for me, and it wasn’t a place I ever imagined myself wanting to visit. Like so many other people, however, I was eventually drawn to Asia by the low cost of living and traveling, as well as the cost-saving benefits of taking a teaching job. Somewhere along the way, Asia became not just a convenient place to base myself, but one of the parts of the world I know best and one that I miss the most.

Every day was a Surprise

I lived in and traveled around Asia for a little over two years, so I’m often pegged as the “Asia girl” – it’s the most common topic I’m asked to write about for my freelance work and it’s the place that friends and acquaintances are most likely to ask me for advice about. This still feels kind of strange because even after spending so much time in Asia and mastering the basics of a few languages, I still don’t feel like I really “get” Asia.

I would think I had a general sense of the cuisine in one country, then suddenly discover a new dish I had never heard of before; I would think I knew the most important social customs, then find out I’d been (often embarrassingly) making some awkward faux pas for ages without realizing it; I’d study a language for months, then learn some common expression that I’d completely overlooked. My schedule was pretty mundane and routine in a lot of ways when I was teaching, yet every day still felt like an adventure because Asia constantly surprised me.

The Food

It’s obvious, and it seems like pretty much everyone is obsessed with Asian food, but I had to point it out anyway: The spicy curries, the savory soups, the ridiculously-fresh sushi, and the juicy tropical fruits.

Beyond the food itself, I miss the whole culture of food in Asia. In Southeast Asia, I loved how the streets would be completely deserted in the afternoon and then in the evening, everything would become crowded, bright, and animated when everyone came out to eat at the night markets.

I miss asking for a plate of pad see eiw at those open garage-like homes with grills out front that I could never be sure were actually proper restaurants. I loved traveling to different provinces and regions of countries, finding out that each place specializes in a particular dish.

The Amazing Value

The word is out: Asia is generally insanely cheap. The longer I was there, however I realized that it’s not so much the prices that are great as having the option to pay for only the basics.

For pocket change, I could take the train from my little Thai hometown to the beach a few hours away. The train was hot, rickety, and broke down frequently, but I rarely minded because the ride barely cost anything. That kind of train doesn’t exist in Canada – you can only take the sleek, fast, air-conditioned train, and you have to pay to enjoy those extra comforts.

I could find a windowless guestroom with a rock-hard mattress for $10, but sometimes that was all I wanted if I wasn’t planning to spend much time in the room anyway. In Canada, the minimum I could pay for a room would probably be closer to $30 a night, but I’d be paying for all kinds of amenities I don’t really need.

I miss the spectrum of options that exist in Asia that make it so easy to save money if you’re happy to simplify and live with a little less.

The Way It Challenged Me

Growing up in Canada, I was used to living among people of diverse races and cultures. It was therefore pretty jarring to arrive in Thailand and not only find that I was literally one of maybe five foreigners living in a small town, but to have people unashamedly and openly talk about my race. I got scammed a few times before I realized I couldn’t necessarily trust a taxi driver not to speed away with my change the way I could at home. It was difficult to learn how to be a little more wary of people and to let racism roll of my back without becoming jaded by all of it.

I wish I could say I always handled it gracefully, but I didn’t. But I’m still so grateful for the way Asia constantly threw my subtle prejudices back in my face, and pushed me to forgive people who didn’t always immediately seem to deserve my understanding. I didn’t start traveling just so I could skip around all day being coddled by friendly locals and easy circumstances; I wanted to be dragged outside my comfort zone.

Asia has its smiles-and-rainbows moments, but it can also be startlingly raw and real, and I loved it for that.

The Way It Was Home

 

Right now I’m home in Canada for Christmas, and I find myself wandering down the Asian food aisles in the grocery store, walking wistfully through Toronto’s Chinatown, and smiling when I pass a sushi restaurant. Asia didn’t really feel like home until I left it.

Asia still feels unknown, but after spending far more time there than anywhere else over the last few years, I feel a weird sense of familiarity with the region’s totally unfamiliarity.

I don’t really imagine I’ll be going back to Asia anytime soon (although you never know), but it’s only a matter of time before I visit again.

 

Jessica Dawdy

Jessica Dawdy is a serial expat who has been slowly working her way around the world since 2011. She’s lived in 7 different countries, doing everything from painting houses to teaching English. Catch up with her travel stories and expat adventures at Ways of Wanderers. Read more about Jessica here.

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22 thoughts on “5 Things I Miss About Asia”

  1. tinkerbelljayne

    I miss Asia too. I miss the food more than I ever thought I would. Prior to my backpacking trip I thought I didn’t like Asian food (bar a greasy Chinese) but traveling around that part of the world made me fall inlove with the cuisine, its amazing.
    This post made me really want to go back and do it all over again! I LOVE ASIA!
    x tink x

  2. Great post! I lived in Japan for six years, and I’d say out of everything you mentioned, your first point was the number one thing I missed when I left. To call it “randomness” is playing into the hands of those who stereotype Japan as “wacky”, but there is something about the unpredictability of Asia that other parts of the world just can’t beat. Every day and every corner can turn into a surprise. I ended up making the decision to leave Japan and head to Europe after I found that your last point ceased to be true; it was no longer challenging. No matter how much you love something, you reach the point where it’s just time to move on.

    1. I agree – moving on is just a part of life. But the time comes no matter where you are.
      I lived in Thailand for a year and being back in England has shown me how full of surprises it was over there, and how routine everything is here. Amazing how happy a little bit of unpredictability can make us!

  3. Fab post, Jessica. I’ve never really explored Asia (beyond a brief few days in Singapore), and I’d love a chance to. I’m a bit like you were, I think – don’t really know a lot about the continent, and never really imagined myself being there. But I’ve heard good things, and I’m always a sucker for value-for-money. Thanks for the inspiration! 🙂

  4. OMG, loved reading this article. I’m headed to Asia in February for a few months. It’s going to be my first time there and I just can’t wait.

    Do you have a favorite country or place?

  5. Went to Asia for the first time last year (Korea) and I’m definitely missing the food. Toronto has a great Koreatown, but it’s definitely not the same experience.

  6. Aww this is such a great post dear! Even as an asian, i have SO MUCH i don’t know about asia.
    But just as how you feel foreign in asia, when i travel around europe, I’m constantly being thrown curveballs as well, but this really is the best way to learn about life and people!

    X, Carina

  7. Oh the food!!! I had never even tasted Korean cuisine before I moved there to teach English. I remember my first meal I could barely eat with chopsticks and was spilling things all over myself. Oh lord. Thankfully I learned quickly because Asian food is delicious. I often think back of my time there as an expat/traveller and feel so fortunate to have had those experiences. The frustrations of my job and random racist experiences have faded to the background of my memories.

  8. So true. I miss south Asia like crazy. America is too lacking of chaos to me my home. But the good kind of chaos, that challenges you (as you said!) and forces you to battle with it, until you become slightly an expert, and then new chaotic obstacles appear. Oh asia….

  9. I have to agree about the food. And it is not just about how it tastes but also how the food is eaten. It is like everything is culture-based. So cool to understand different cultures.

  10. I miss asia so much that it is painful to think of the fragile memories. I moved there with my parents for about 8/9 years. I moved back to the UK where I first lived to study, alone. I always remembered it to be a place that was mystical, and friendly. No matter where I was in Asia, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Thailand, Singapore the basic line of respect and friendliness was always there, even for strangers. Rarely any crime. Cities may have been overpopulated, but people had time for others, the ability to help others with dreams, unlike London/NYC where everything is a race to get to the top. The food was always amazing, real food for cheap. Even more the crowds of people who came out at night with families, boyfriends, always dressed up. Something about the love between spouses seemed more truer. The people in perfect clothes and makeup, was so comforting. You would always see at least one lady, dressed in lavish pearls and diamonds, expensive lace with a styled poof wherever you went. I do miss that elegance. I was always a foreigner too there (I am south asian, I wasn’t east asian) but they always treated me like family. I obviously do love the UK too, to some extent, but I will always have a special part of me for asia.

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