How to Survive Your First Day As an Expat in Taipei

Taipei Street in Ximen DistrictYou decided to move to Taiwan for two years, solely so that your daughter can learn the Chinese language and culture. At least that is what you tell everyone. The reality is that you have been feeling the wanderlust for quite some time and you just needed to experience something different. The dullness of your day-to-day routine was about to drive you insane. This is your first time to actually live outside of your native land. You have been planning this for four years and the day has finally arrived that you set foot as a resident, albeit a temporary one, in a foreign locale. Your wife and daughter have been in Taipei for over a month and have well-established daily routines and tasks. Your only task for the day is to fight your jet lag by staying awake until bedtime. So what do you do? You have to get out and explore the city. You’ve got all day to remain awake so you need to walk as much as possible. Luckily, even though your wife has to work, you’ve got a friend who loves to explore and is also new to the city. Together you both decide to explore the historic Ximen district of Taipei. Feeling a rush of energy from pushing through the groggy stage of fatigue, and possibly from the caffeine in the tea you just drank, you brave the oppressive heat and humidity to walk and explore. Taoist prayers with baoYour first stop is the Tian Ho temple. You do not know the proper etiquette there so you just try not to offend anyone while you take pictures of the statues of the Taoist gods and immortals. You watch people try to predict their future with the buay, red half-moon shaped wood blocks that they throw on the ground to receive divine answers to their questions, and look away when they scowl that they got a bad answer and look at you as if it is your fault. Next, you find an alley that is full of fresh produce for sale. You make your way through trying to identify exotic fruits and vegetables, finally purchasing a yellow watermelon that turns out to taste remarkably like the pink version. You find that if you are a drumstick fan, you can buy the whole leg, fresh and ready to cook, toenails and all. If you are starting in the business of the vinyl, all what you need to have and learn about vinyl you can find it in Chicken legsA quick check of Google Maps tells you that the Tamsui River is only a ten-minute walk away. It looks like there is a nice park there to explore. As you approach the river, you find that there is a huge elevated freeway between you and the park and no obvious way to traverse it. After walking along the base of the wall beneath the freeway, you and your companion see a nice set of stairs that look like will take you up to the top of the wall to at least view the river. At the top you discover that, yes, you can see the river beneath you, and yes there are some stairs there to access the beautiful green park. As you walk through the park, you and your companion talk about how stupid it is to build such a nice place, next to this wonderful river, and then make it almost impossible to visit. The park is deserted and to you it seems such a waste. Then you wander on in search of a way out of this paradise of solitude and find it in an enormous set of metal doors, which, luckily, are open, next to a sign telling you that you are in a flood zone and this wall and the giant doors are all that protect the city from a watery devastation in the event of a massive storm, of which there are many in this part of the world. You realize that it is you that is stupid and you silently praise the designers of this fantastic park. Taoist temple pillarHunger is now calling so you decide to start looking for a place to eat. You find some older men eating noodle soup that looks delicious at a table on the sidewalk outside a little hole in the wall restaurant. The lady doing the cooking does it right in front of you. She doesn’t speak a word of English, so she calls over her husband who says he speaks English, but in reality, he knows as much of it as you know of Mandarin. You are trying to tell them that you are allergic to pork, an ingredient in 73.8 percent of all Taiwanese food. They smile and nod and offer some soup. You find a group of high school kids who claim to know English, but do not seem to know what pork is. Finally a girl approaches who speaks fluent English. You can now safely order noodle soup with green onions and tofu. Then, feeling adventurous, you also order a separate dish of tofu and pickled eggs. The eggs are black, but your compadre, who ate this just a couple of days ago, assures you they are delicious. And they are. The lady who prepared your meal comes over to see if you like it. “Hung how,” you reply. Taoist temple statue“Hung how chi,” she corrects you, laughing. You eat everything and she is happy. You go and pay her $3 for both soups and the tofu eggs and you are happy. You wander on in search of something new to see and mainly just try to stay awake. You walk past a group of women who seem very interested in talking to you and your friend. You realize that they are prostitutes when one tries to take your hand. You smile and wave at them with the confidence of one who has been approached by prostitutes in a foreign country before and find comfort in the fact that at least this time they are female. You decide that you need to find your favorite teashop, 50 Orchids, to get an afternoon milk tea. You go and get directions from the clerk at the 7-Eleven, a friendly lady who, at first, seems to ignore you, but then provides you with exact directions. In the meantime, you are about to learn your first lesson about Taipei: never leave home without your umbrella, even if it looks like a gloriously sunny day. Vegetables for saleThe amount of rain that falls in the next two hours is about the annual amount of rainfall in your hometown of San Diego. You decide that an umbrella would be a wise investment. Your companion, who is smarter than you, has an umbrella with him, but soon discovers that his is not waterproof. It does, however, have a nifty button that, when pushed, pops the umbrella open. He also decides that a new umbrella would be a wise investment. He opts for one that does not have the nifty button, but is, in fact, waterproof. Armed with your brand-new umbrella, you can now go to find your afternoon tea, which provides just enough caffeine to keep you awake for the rest of the day so you can sleep at your normal bedtime, conquering jet lag, at least for the first day. Read More

Book Review: Tokyo Vice

Tokyo Vice

Tokyo Vice

I recently made a career out of reading the book, Tokyo Vice (meaning, it took me forever to finish it). It took me quite some time to get through the book for a couple of reasons which I will explain in a bit, but all in all, I can highly recommend it.

Tokyo Vice is written by Jake Adelstein, the only American to ever work as a journalist inside the Tokyo Metropolitan Police press club. It is a unique insight into Japanese culture that few Westerners will ever get to see.

My View of Japan

I have been to Japan twice and loved the country. The people are very friendly, the organization, efficiency and cleanliness are only rivaled by Singapore and Switzerland, and it is overall very safe. The citizens follow the rules.

On the metro, there are signs that prohibit talking on one’s cell phone while on the train. No one talks on their cell phones on the trains. On the escalators, the people who just want to ride stand on one side so the people who are in a hurry can walk up the other unimpeded.

I have a friend who’s then husband used to regularly forget his backpack on the train in Tokyo. It was returned to him every time.

It is one of the safest countries on the planet.

Jake Adelstein’s View of Japan

Not everywhere is perfect, though. Tokyo Vice reveals another side of Japan. One that is seedier. One that is unknown to most tourists.

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5 Ways to Make Traveling with Kids Easier

Kayaking Thailand

Kayaking Thailand

Traveling with kids is absolutely nothing like traveling alone or with a significant other. It is a completely different experience. Unfortunately, a lot of the time it seems like it might have been better to stay at home. This does not have to be the case. With the right planning and preparation, traveling with kids can be quite a fun time for everyone, including the kids. It has taken us awhile to get our routine down so 1) we don’t have to bring so much stuff and 2) we have a good time with as few meltdowns as possible. In fact, we are always adjusting our routine and thinking about ways we could improve for next time. The most important thing that you can do to get kids used to travel is to start them young. Make it so that they cannot remember their first trip, that they have always been a traveler. This accomplishes a couple of things. The first is that they will not be scared to fly or to be in a foreign country. They will also be used to being away from home, so it will just be a normal event for them. It is just something that they do every so often and they will look forward to it. Funny food will excite them rather than disgust them. There are many, many things that we do to get our little one ready for a trip, but we have listed here the five that we consider the most important. Read More

Less Clutter–More Money for Travel


Walking in the Dolomites (Italy)

This article was written for We have reprinted it here for your convenience, but you can view the original article here. In our ongoing effort to provide minimalist travel tips, here we present five things that you can do this week to reduce your clutter and save money so you can travel more.   Decluttering your life can seem, well, impossible at times. Or, more likely, it is a project you will start on this weekend, or next month, or when you get back from your vacation this summer. There is always that elusive start date that seems to eternally slip away like a mirage in the desert. The key to decluttering is to start small. Here I present five things in order of difficulty (simplest to most difficult) that you can do this week to start you on your path to a clutter-free life. Read More

How to Save Money at Restaurants

Food Republic

This week’s post is another in our TravlMor series on how to live a minimalist lifestyle so you can afford to travel more often. If you enjoy this article, please see the links at the bottom of this post for more in this series.

How much food do you throw away? If you are the average American, you probably trash about 400 pounds of food per year. How many actual dollars do you intentionally throw away? My guess is none. But if you are wasting that much food, you are throwing away dollars every week that you could be using to go visit Borneo.

FriedRiceWhen I was growing up, I heard the same thing from my mother that most people my age heard from theirs, “Eat everything on your plate. There are starving kids in Africa/China/India that don’t have any food.” At the time, to be completely honest, Africa/China/India was such a nebulous concept that this line of reasoning did not really work for me. My world was my family, school, neighborhood and friends. I had no idea what kids in other countries were like and did not think about them much.

The point of this post is not to talk about starving children. The point here is to do what your mother told you and eat all of the food on your plate. Every time.

So how do you do this without getting to be 400 pounds yourself? Have you seen the portion sizes that restaurants give you? How can someone eat all of that food in one sitting?

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5 Songs That Inspire Travel

This week I wanted to lighten it up a bit and just provide a bit of travel inspiration instead of any minimalist travel how-to advice. Sara and I are fortunate that we share many, many common interests. Our taste in music, however, differs dramatically. She likes goth, punk and industrial, whereas I prefer Buffett, Ben Folds and hippy music. I thought it would be fun to share with you my Top 5 Inspirational Travel Songs. Maybe I can convince Sara to come up with a Top 5 list of her own. Please keep in mind that these songs are my opinion and I realize that music is a personal choice. Everyone has their own Top 5 Travel Songs, so I invite you to leave yours in the Comments below. And so, without further ado: Phil's Top 5 Inspirational Travel Songs Read More

Minimalism and Family Life

Minimalist Family

This is the fourth in a series of posts about minimizing your lifestyle choices so that you can travel more. Last week’s post shows a good way to ease into minimalism.

Over the last few years, minimalism has really taken off as a movement. There are tons of articles and blogs out there which espouse the virtues of a minimalist lifestyle. Unfortunately, most of them are written by young, single men or women. There even seems to be a competition as to how few things they claim to own, usually trying to reach the magic number of 100 items or fewer. There are arguments as to whether a toiletry kit counts as one item or multiple items. Seriously.

I do not want to denigrate these enterprising youths, but a lot of their ideas and articles just do not apply to me and my situation. I have a wife, a 17-year old daughter, a 6-year old daughter and an ex-wife. I also run my own business with my wife. I will never, ever own fewer than 100 things. It’s not going to happen.

I do regularly read blogs like Zen Habits by Leo Babauta, whom I respect immensely as he lives in San Francisco with six children, no car and blogs full-time. Last summer, he traveled to Europe with five of his children and only carried a 16-liter backpack. For reference, a 16-liter backpack is about half the size of a typical backpack that college students use on a daily basis. He’s got some great ideas and I recommend that you check out his blog if you haven’t already. He will show you how to take minimalism to the extreme with a family.

I, however, subscribe to Aristotle’s philosophy on the Golden Mean. I prefer moderation when I do almost anything and find that even as a minimalist, I enjoy some comforts.

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How to Get Rid of Your Stuff – The Ease-Into-It Method

Somewhere in Rome

This post is the third in a series called TravlMor, which is designed to show you ways to redesign your life to enable you to travel more often. Currently, we are concentrating on how to reduce the number of things that you own so you can have more money to travel. You might want to check out last week’s post for a more extreme method of how to get rid of your stuff.

If you know that you want to minimize the amount of stuff in your life, but don’t know how to even start, this is the place. Last week, I covered an extreme method to go about this, but honestly, this is not practical for everyone. This week, however, anyone can take advantage of the techniques we share and in a few weeks or months can make a dramatic difference in their lives.

I have found that just a few hours work in this area makes me feel so much better by relieving my stress. When my house is full of clutter, I have a certain amount of tension that never leaves. I think I have a mild case of obsessive compulsive disorder. Once I organize and get rid of the clutter, the tension magically leaves and I can truly relax.

I have noticed that I have a threshold that I can bump up against and can handle the added stress of stuff. However, just a slight increase in the clutter will set me off and I cannot function until I get things squared away. Sara and I have a term for this. We will ask each other if the other is feeling “dzzzt”. As we say this the one asking kind of shudders all over like they are being shocked. It’s easy for Sara to tell that I’m dzzzt because I get very grumpy and short with her. The only thing that can help is for me to get things back in their place.

Sometimes, though, the task can feel overwhelming. There is just so much clutter that I don’t really know what to do.

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How to Get Rid of Your Stuff – The Extreme Method

Waiting on a Train

This post is the second in a series called TravlMor, which is designed to show you ways to redesign your life to enable you to travel more often. Currently, we are concentrating on how to reduce the number of things that you own so you can have more money to travel. If you have not read the first article, you might want to check it out. Don’t worry, it’s not too long. One quick note. Sara tells me that she is afraid that people will think we are wacko after reading this. So, please, don't think we are wacko...

For the sake of argument, let’s assume that you have decided that you want to get rid of all of the superfluous stuff in your life. Well, you have come to the right place. I can say from lots of experience, that getting rid of stuff is one of the most liberating things you can do. For me, it is like lifting a burden from my shoulders. Now, truthfully, I think I might have a problem with this sort of thing. If I did not have a wife and two kids, I quite possibly would not be satisfied until I had nothing but what could fit in my backpack. Sara keeps me under control and let’s me know when I’m going overboard on getting rid of things. Sometimes, she lets me run wild, though.

There are many ways to get rid of things, but for the sake of space, I am going to cover two:  the extreme method and the ease-into-it method. I have experience with both. I prefer the extreme method myself, but either way works.

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How to Develop the Minimalist Mindset

Bicycle at the Grand Canyon

This post is the first in a series called TravlMor, which is designed to show you ways to redesign your life to enable you to travel more often. We begin by concentrating on how to reduce the number of things that you own so you can have more money to travel.

In order to travel more often, it is necessary to prioritize the things in your life. If travel is important to you, then it needs to be one of the things that comes first when you are spending your money. In other words, the more you spend on other things, the less you can afford to travel.

To save more money, it is helpful to develop a “minimalist” mindset. The minimalist movement is really catching on these days and there have been several good books written about it lately. The concept is very simple to explain, but sometimes difficult to implement.

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