The content of each post is solely written by that contributor and only expresses the contributor's personal views. Each post does not represent the views of all the contributors or Women of Color Living Abroad as an organization. Each contributor is speaking from their own person experiences and/or perspective.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Friendships Abroad: Four to Make and Four to Break

By:  eternitysojourner

The folks you meet living abroad can be a mixed bag of nuts.  Most are sane and sober, fun to be around, and generally good company.  Others have issues, are clearly fleeing from their past demons, and make you wonder how they ever passed a background check.  Meeting all of them, in all their various shades and personalities, is part of the experience of life abroad which should not be neglected.  Being a hermit is no fun but if you happen to be abroad, take note of four types of friends that are worth keeping and four others that might be best left behind.
Veteran Expat
Meeting someone who was once in your shoes but navigated their way through the expat transition is a great resource.  They’ve been inconvenienced by the fine print you failed to read and generally have realistic expectations about life in your new home.  Whether you want to get a local driver’s license or find your favorite treat from back home, they are usually the go-to person and can show you the ropes in the process.
Everyone needs a local resident friend for a variety of sticky situations you may encounter.  Sometimes, the job is simple, like needing a translator or negotiating a reasonable buying price, but more than this, a friend who is a native of your new home can introduce you to a world that can be difficult to access without them.  Invitations to their family or communal gatherings can give you cultural insight and teach you how to relate to your new neighbors.  Many sincere people with good intentions have offended others or embarrassed themselves in cross-cultural interactions, and a reliable local friend can help to keep both to a minimum.
Whether you’ve suffered a headache or heartbreak, a nurturing presence can help you make it through.  They bring you soup when you’re sick or pick up small gifts to make you smile and generally brighten your greyest days.  After birthing my first child abroad, I was grateful to have stand-in family members visit me with gifts, cook food for our family and offer to clean our home.  Their gestures helped smooth out a challenging transition, and these are the kinds of friends everyone needs in their life.
Kindred Soul
Finding a companion to enjoy your favorite hobby, pastime, or quirky indulgence with is a great ally in living abroad.  While nature lovers almost always want a buddy to hike, climb, or snorkel with, even introverts can appreciate a friend or two who shares the same interests like reading, cooking, or watching episodes of your favorite sitcom series.  In my little town, we’ve formed a Raw Food Club.  We meet monthly to share new raw recipes and enjoy a raw meal together.  While some of us have nothing else in common with each other, it’s still great to have a common point of connection that we all benefit from.
This is the grumpy expat who has nothing positive to say about anything, ever.  They complain about work, the weather, and everything in between.  They don’t like locals or expats, going out or staying in.  They can’t be pleased, and they’ll only bring you down with their gloom-and-doom outlook on life.  Living away from home is difficult enough without the perpetual grey-tint the pessimist will add to the sunniest of days.  Try to keep them at a distance, unless you’re planning an optimistic intervention.
Oh, the dreaded parasite.  Even when you don’t have money, fame, or resources that anyone would want to extract, the parasite will mine your very being, draining your emotional and spiritual reserves bone-dry.  They are always taking and never giving in their presence and will ultimately leave your battery empty.  Watch for them carefully and don’t let them sink their fangs into your skin.  The Middle Ages are over and blood-letting by leeches is no longer the cure-all, okay?
Trouble Maker
This special somebody is always plotting something.  They can’t seem to follow the rules, no matter what the circumstances may be.  If this rabble-rouser wants to keep your company, be prepared for a penalty:  a night in jail, being kicked out of an establishment, or public shame.  Even silly, innocent pranks have turned into avoidable melees.  They get a kick out of telling outrageous stories, taking taboo pictures, and just generally being a nuisance. If you want to keep your image and repute in good standing, let the risk-taker paint the town red without you.
BFF Seeker
Unlike the Parasite, the BFF seeker is not trying to drain all that you’ve got but rather trying to bond the two of you in permanence.  They make clever suggestions like matching tattoos, becoming roommates, and opening IRAs together.   They’re usually innocent in their pursuit, but if you’re not in the market or on the market for being that one soul-mate-type friend that has to be anything and everything the other friends wants and needs, you might be in trouble.  Research suggests that it’s harder to find a best friend after your twenties.  Mostly because people become more settled in their values and views which makes them more selective about who they befriend. Also, your time and energy may become consumed by familial relationships and obligations.  This is all perfectly natural, which is why cultivating a network of friends to serve as a composite best friend may be a more efficient way to build friendships. 
The nature of life, especially life abroad, is very transient.  People come and go, sometimes without notice, so consider cherishing the friendships you have and what they mean to you at that given time, without a binding condition that the relationship must last ad infinitum.  If you do find a friend for life in your travels, that’s great, but be prepared for friendships that may only last for a given season, circumstance, or country.  Be open to the dynamic nature of life and let people flow in and out as needed.


Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Carmen Sandiego Sightings: THAILAND

By:  Brittany S

Out of all the countries I have visited, Thailand is my favorite!  From the food to entertainment to general affordability of everything, Thailand is a wonderful place to be!


agoda.com!  You can find amazing deals... (Amora Hotel)

We couldn't afford the other place soooo...

Our second place...like a 1/3 of the price but in the same neighborhood.

Well I guess THAT idea is out the window... -_-

WHEN:  July 2011, 5 days

WITH:  My Korean-American "little brother!"

WHY:  Well...you've seen "The Hangover 2" right?

HOW:  Cebupacificair.com


This was the second leg of my 3-country trip (Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam).  The original plan was that there are 3 of us traveling 4 countries that we wanted to visit (but my friend lived in the last one), so we each would plan one.  I planned the Philippines, my friend "Ann" was going to plan Thailand, "Cam" Laos, and my friend residing in Vietnam would show us around there.  Well that plan quickly fell apart.

While we were in the Philippines, Ann backed out of the rest of the trip because she was unable to access her money from her Korean bank account.  We were very sorry to hear this and tried our best to accommodate her, but we were unsuccessful.  This forced Cam and I to figure out a new game plan on the spot.  Not only did we have to cancel Laos (because we could no longer afford it with only two people), but Ann didn't have anything mapped out for us to do in Thailand. :-(  So, after Cam and I bought a last minute plane ticket from Thailand to Vietnam (money that wasn't in our original budget), we said goodbye to Ann (who decided to stay in the Philippines a few more days) and headed to Thailand.

While we were at the airport, we made a new friend.  "Brandon" was on his way to Thailand to have a few suits made for his brother's upcoming wedding.  He was quite familiar with Bangkok and helped us to feel a little bit more at ease about going there.  When we arrived in Bangkok, we shared a taxi with Brandon to his hotel.  Unfortunately by now it is after midnight and we don't have a place to stay.  We searched around the area and every place was in the $100s USD or all booked up.  We eventually returned to Amora Hotel and stayed the night.  Brandon told us about agoda.com and he was able to book the room we paid about $80 USD for about $40/night.  What a steal!  But, since we had to pay full price (and now only with two people), we couldn't stay there a second night.

The next morning, Cam and I set out for a PC room so we could search for things to do.  Now that we were not going to Laos, we needed to stay in Thailand for five days.  We spent at least a day of it trying to figure out what to do. :-(

We spent a lot of time walking around our area discovering new things and taking in the sights.

Just walking down the street drinking from a coconut...no biggie.

Near where we were staying...somewhere in downtown.

We eventually found another place to stay that was about 3 minutes (driving) from Amora Hotel but sooooo much cheaper (see top.)  We also figured out the light rail transportation system.

Would you like to have a seat?

My Korean-American friend was mistaken for the locals in EVERY Asian country we visited.

We lucked up and stumbled upon an AMAZING show called "Siam Niramit."  It is by far the best live performance I have seen that did not involve words.  We were able to:

  • walk around a traditional Thai Village.
  • interact with and ride elephants.
  • shop for souvenirs in unique craft stores.
  • take pictures with people in costume.
  • enjoy a pre-show performance in the courtyard.
  • enjoy a 5-star buffet.
  • enjoy entertainment during our meal.
  • sit in VIP seats.
  • and of course, enjoy the show!

All of this was for about $70 USD!  WOW.  I am so glad we found that and I HIGHLY recommend it to anyone who decides to go to Bangkok.

This elephant kept following me around the facility!  This is WITHOUT zoom.

Just hanging out on an elephant...la la la...

Live entertainment before the show.
5 Star Meal included with my ticket!

More pre-show entertainment.

Mmm...something is strange here.

Our little "Taste of Home" was not so familiar...


We shopped at MBK Center and Siam Paragon...with Brandon!  Cam ended up getting a couple of suits made from Brandon's tailor.  We also ended up having a drink and dessert with him and riding in a tuk tuk.  He told us that it is fun to get in two different ones and tuk tuk race.  If you saw the traffic and the size of the tuk tuks, I don't think you would try it.

Riding in a Tuk Tuk!

I love when traditional and modern exist in the same space.

Mango Sticky Rice:  one of the most simplistic and delicious desserts I have had in a long time.

Our new friend recommended this to us!  Thanks!

Thailand is famous for its "LadyBoy" population.  I am sure you can figure out what that name implies.  We attended the "Calypso Ladyboy Show," a late night cabaret. 

Beautiful isn't she?  She is a "Ladyboy"
My fav act of the night...quite the sense of humor.


Well if you think he's still alive, now you know where to find him.

We visited another spa (sorry I can't remember the name of the spa, but it was wonderful!), but while I was there, I found a few bites on me.  Something about the tropical weather, or sleeping in cheap motels, or SOMETHING.  I got bit and didn't even know.  Oh well.  It wasn't deadly.

Sometimes you find mysterious bites on your back. -_-

We decided to end our trip by spending time at a Jazz Bar for dinner and drinks.

Live jazz!

So I had ONE drink and was giggly.  Darn Blue Hawaii.

  • Had some type of plan--as I said, my friend bailed and we had nothing.  We spent half the trip trying to map out what to do and how to do it.  I guess if you want to make sure everything is taken care of, you should have your own plans just in case.
  • Piggybacking off the previous one, we took tuk tuks and taxis to places (super expensive) that we could have taken the MRT (metro) to instead (super cheap).  Lesson learned.

  • Make sure that you know if your credit card works in the other country.  Sometimes your cards are only national, regional, or fully international.  DOUBLE CHECK.  Also, let your bank know you will be traveling abroad so they don't lock your card.
  • Check the weather.  The last day we were there, it poured down a lot.  The day we left, it flooded.  The same thing happened in the Philippines.  Know what kind of weather to expect and pack/plan accordingly.
  • Know how to barter.  A lot of the souvenir purchases (Thai pants, elephants, etc) are sold at stands on the streets or in little booths in malls.  They always mark up the price.  Shop around to different stalls and make them compete against each other.

OTHER COUNTRIES VISITED (click the links to read about my journeys):  The Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan (Tokyo), Thailand (Phuket), Singapore, Malaysia, Japan (Okinawa)