Thursday, October 26, 2017

Six and a Half Years Overseas. My Expat Greatest Hits.

I have been an expat for the past 6.5 years.  Three years in London and then three and a half years in Singapore.  In two days, I will move back to the United States.

Here are a bunch of my most memorable times and places over past 6.5 years.  In no particular order.

Attending the Edinburgh Theatre Festival (twice).  The craziness everywhere.  Performers on every street corner and seeing 3 to 5 shows every day.  Amazing. This included seeing some of the worst performances ever.  But also some of the best.

Speaking of performances, here are some of the best, most memorable and worst shows we saw in London or around the UK:

Best Shows:

  • Sweeney Todd (twice) - with Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton.
  • RSC production of 12th Night at Stratford upon Avon.
  • Mark Rylance as Olivia in 12th Night at the Globe.  Stephen Fry played Malvolio.
  • Kevin Spacey as Richard III at Old Vic.
  • Hip-hop Othello at the Globe.  This was a group from Chicago(?) and pre-Hamilton.
  • Faust opera directed by Terry Gilliam.
  • Arcade Fire, Mumford & Sons, Beirut, & Vaccines concert all in one day at Hyde Park.
  • Mikado - the 'hotel lobby' version at English National Opera.
  • Radiohead concert at O2 (twice).
  • Chimerica at Pinter Theatre.
  • Old Times (twice) and the actresses alternated roles at different performances which completely changed the show.  Which is why we saw it twice. At Pinter Theatre.
  • Cantina & other shows by the same Australian group (whose name I can't remember) at South Bank.
  • David Tenant as Richard II.

Worst Shows:

  • God of Soho at the Globe (we left at intermission).
  • Much Ado about Nothing at Old Vic - this is shocking because it starred James Earl Jones and Vanessa Redgrave; and was directed by Mark Rylance.  But somehow it was still terrible!
  • THE ABSOLUTE WORST: A teenage stand-up comedian at Edinburg Fringe Festival.  It was in the basement of a pub and it was set up so that the exit was across the stage...  So we had to stay and suffer through the whole thing.  Ugh.

Favorite and Memorable Places and Times

Zenrin-Ji temple in Kyoto.  One of the most peaceful places on earth.  It was raining on my first visit, which meant the place was nearly empty.  But all the walkways are covered, so the rain didn't matter, it just added to the peace and zen of it all.

Maya's birthday at the Tuscan Villa with a bunch of friends from Seattle.  This was a big birthday party which brought together about 19 people, some old friends, some meeting for the first time, and put us all in a big villa in Tuscany together for about a week.  Somehow everyone got along great and had a wonderful time seeing the sights, eating the food, and (of course) drinking the wine.  Specific memories are the full-town Saturday market in Arezzo, and the towers of San Gimignano.  And our big home-cooked dinners.

MesaStila Resort Java (4 times).  Alice's favorite spot in Asia.  A wonderful relaxing resort on a coffee plantation in central Java.  The beautifully manicured grounds set in the middle of the wild jungle makes this a great getaway.  Mix in the daily activities like yoga, coffee tours, workouts,  walks, and then of course the hammam and spa and, well, ahhhhhhhh...

Hoi An, Vietnam (twice).  Such a beautiful town.  Visiting first with my family and then again with Alice and friends gave two different and equally wonderful visits.  The history and beauty with friendly people, good food, and the chance to have a new wardrobe custom made, and you're all set.

Bicycling around Yangshuo.  This was kind of a magical afternoon bicycling through the karsts.   This is a beautiful town that, by day, has bustling little tourist shops and restaurants and then, by night, turns into a party town.  But the main draw for me is that this is some of the most beautiful scenery in the world.

Exploring Delhi.  Delhi is overwhelming in every way all at the same time.  It must be experienced, and it will never be forgotten.  Love it or hate it, can't get enough or can't get away fast enough, Delhi (and India in general) cannot be denied.  Shout out to Reality Tours & Travel who are amazing!

Seeing the Taj Mahal.  Again, this must be experienced to be understood.  We've all seen hundreds of photos of this building, but that is not the same as seeing it for real.

Angkar Wat, Cambodia (twice).  The temple complex that other temple complexes aspire to be.  Again, you have probably seen pictures (whether you know it or not) and you've seen it in movies, but none of that is the same as seeing it and wandering through it for yourself.

Akihabara & Otaku/Nerd Culture Tour, Tokyo (twice).  I did this once with Alice, and then went back again with Michael and Shawn.  It may just be that the shock-value of the first time through makes the tour with Alice a lot more memorable to me.  Note: 'shock-value' is not the right word, but the first time, I went in having no idea what to expect and therefore got the full dose of deep-dive crazy modern Japanese nerdism for myself.  The second time, I went back so that Mike & Shawn could experience what I had the time before, so I experienced it through them more than 1st hand.  Also, the first time though had the benefit of the post-tour concert that our guide told us about, but was not part of the tour.  The concert was free, in a small 50-seat room, on the 5th or 6th floor of a shopping building.  The group was a Magic School themed (Harry Potter rip off) J-pop girl group.  The singing was live to recorded music, it was fully choreographed with theatrical lighting.  And the show lasted A FULL NINETY MINUTES!  Not the fifteen-to-twenty that we were expecting for a free mid-afternoon concert in a mall. 
Following on my deep-dive analogy from above: If you plan on diving for 20 minutes and end up staying for 90; you're gonna get the bends.  We did.  But we survived.

Macritchie Reservoir & Pulau Ubin, Singapore.  Especially the monkeys and monitor lizards.  The wild boars on Ubin.  And the very rare hornbill birds and otter.  The best ever was when we would catch a family of moneys on the move jumping from tree to tree over a little cove of water on the side of the lake.  These were also our little pieces of jungle relaxation in the city.

My first day exploring Hong Kong.  After a half our or so, I thought to myself "Hey, I think I could live here." Then a few hours later, meeting up with Alice after work and the first words out of her mouth were, "Hey, I think we could live here." If, sometime in the future, the opportunity presents itself... You heard it here first.
A specific memory:  My first lunch.  This was before I began learning Mandarin.  I stopped into a cafeteria style restaurant.  It was crowded, and I was seated at a 2-person booth across from a Hong Kong businessman wearing a suit.  It would be unusual in America to seat strangers at a small table together, but it is quite common in many other places in the world.  I pick up the menu...all Chinese with no pictures.  I sheepishly look at another menu, also all Chinese with no pictures.  There is short pause and then the businessman says, in nearly unaccented English, "What would you like to have for lunch?"  That's how a city can make a good first impression!

Best Meals and Favorite Restaurants:

Food & Drink Part 1. Fine dining or special occasions:

  • L'Auberge.  Putney, London.  Our go-to restaurant for special occasions in London.  We spent birthdays, anniversaries, & one new-years eve there.
  • Locavore.  Ubud, Bali.  Ate there once on Thanksgiving 2015 with Alice's parents.
  • Restaurant Andre. Singapore.  My birthday 2016.  The most expensive meal I've eaten (so far).
  • Dinner by Heston Blumenthal. London.  My birthday 2013.  An amazing meal.  Especially the Meat Fruit appetizer.
  • Le Petit Prince. Paris.  Every visit to Paris included (and will include) a meal here.
  • Namaaz.  Jakarta.  I ate here as part of a guys party-weekend.  So much fun.  So delicious.
  • Bijindori.  Tokyo. (twice)  Chicken Sashimi!  I wouldn't trust very many places to serve me raw chicken.  But I trusted this restaurant.  And I'm glad I did.
  • 福和慧 (Fu He Hui). Shanghai.  Vegetarian restaurant with impeccable style, service, and food.  Alice and I ate here on our last evening in China (so far).

Food & Drink Part 2. Everyday great food:

  • The Indian Food Stall at Balestier Food Center.  Right next to our apartment, and plenty of vegetarian choices for Alice.  We ate there countless times.  
  • The Popiah Food Stall at Balestier Food Center.  Formerly the stall at Lavender, this is well known locally and has won awards.  The awards are well deserved.
  • Jolly Gardeners.  Putney, London.  Our go-to place for beer and pub food.
  • Nickeldime.  Novena, Singapore.  Our go-to place for beer and pizza.
  • Original Sin.  Holland Village, Singapore.  Vegetarian Mediterranean food.
  • Tian Tian at Maxwell's Food Center.  There is much debate, but I think this is the best chicken rice.  You could argue that other places do the chicken better, but nobody does the rice better.
  • Gaby's Deli. Leicester Square, London.  The best place in London for a falafel sandwich.
  • L'as du Falafel.  Paris.  The best place outside the middle-east for a falafel sandwich.
  • Founder Bak Kut Teh.  Balestier, Singapore. Delicious "pig bone tea" in some of the best soup broth I've ever tasted.

Food & Drink Part 3.  Where to get good craft beer in Singapore

  • Little Island Brewing
  • Brewerkz
  • Nickeldime
  • Tap
  • Thirsty
  • Smith Street
  • Five Marbles
  • The Armoury
  • Bottle Shop
I only included Singapore here because the 'where to get good craft beer' situation in the UK has improved so dramatically in the past few years since I moved away, that I can't offer any real info on the current state of things.  When we were there, our favorite craft beer brands were Kernel (our #1 pick), Brew Dog, and Meantime.  I'm sure there are many more great choices there now.

I Guess I need to write a Part-2

As I was looking for pictures to post, I was reminded of so many of our travels through Europe that I had forgotten to mention.  London and Europe got short-changed here because it was all a few years ago now and harder to remember.  Some of the highlights that I forgot to include yet are:

  • The trip to Greece, especially Santorini and the small village on Crete.  
  • Our many trips to Paris to enjoy the cafe culture, food & wine, and museums.  
  • Bruges and all the great Belgium beer there. 
  • Our trips to Barcelona, and the trip to Malaga and Seville! 
  • The whole 3-week language immersion at CLI in Guilin, China.
  • Discovering Dennis Severs' House.
  • Christmas in Morocco.  
  • So much more, so much more!

I'm sure there are many things that I missed for have slipped my mind as I type, but I'm going to post this and worry about that later...

What is my proudest achievement?  Learning Mandarin Chinese and getting certified HSK-3. (Hopefully HSK-4 sometime next year...)

And what will I miss the most about living overseas?  My identity as an expat.

Angkar Wat

Angkar Wat


Magical Girl J-Pop group


Monkey at Macritchie 

12th Night at The Globe



Hoi An




Hong Kong

福和慧 restaurant

Edinburgh Fringe Festival

Edinburgh Fringe Festival.  Me & Katie Schnauzer.