Wearing pajamas in public, and other things I miss about Asia

“Are you crazy?!” the Irish teammate asked me the other night at our club fundraiser. ”How can you not love Paris?!”

“I don’t know,” I shrugged, “Maybe it’s because I’ve never been a Francophile, or –”

“Well I fookin’ hate the French, but I still know that Paris is the best city in the world!”

———

I have this conversation often. Most people understand the sentiment and let it drop; others simply know better than to waste time arguing.

Just like with people, you can’t help which cities you fall madly in love with — and which cities, no matter how good they look on paper or how hard you want to like them, end up being relegated to the friend zone. It doesn’t help that I moved here for a job, to chase my career; not because I was desperate to know what life in the City of Lights was like.

Paris is like an uptight platonic friend. The city is nice enough, but it doesn’t wow, inspire, or amaze me.

Asia is my love; a laid-back companion who’s always up for a wild adventure. Asia makes me feel alive.

———

I’ve tried to put a positive spin on it, but there’s only so much positivity that can get you through the days. I’ll feel better if I just finally admit it: I miss Asia a hell of a lot.

Good Eats

Here are just a few of my favorite foods: Hot pot. Fried rice. Yang rou chuanr (lamb kebabs). Dim sum. Chilli crab. Pad thai. Spring rolls. Pho. Xiaolongbao. Tom yam. Lanzhou noodles. Kongxincai (water spinach). Dumplings. Fresh fruit juice. Mapo tofu. Any kind of tofu. Anything on a stick. Anything sold from a cart on the street. Jellyfish. Fish soup. Fried green beans. Spicy and sour cabbage. Bok choy. Rice cakes. Red bean ice cream. (YES, I LOVE RED BEAN ICE CREAM.) I honestly can’t go on, this is making me cry.

In 23 years I’ve never gone this long without proper Asian food, and would gladly give up baguettes for the rest of my life just to have access to these dishes again.

Low Cost of Living

“But Edna, you’re so dumb. You can find half those foods in Paris!” That’s true, but a bowl of pho costs me €8. The same amount of money could buy me three meals in Singapore, or six meals in China. Taxis and metros are also cheaper; as is rent in a number of Asian countries. There’s also generally a high wage-to-cost-of-living ratio, so as an expat, your money goes further.

Frequent Dining Out

Our favorite noodle place in Singapore

I am a terribly unimaginative cook. But because I can’t afford to eat out every day, I’ve had to learn to feed myself. So far I’ve gotten really good at frozen pizzas, paella from a bag, and boiled sweet potatoes. But I can’t manage anything with more than five ingredients (of which two are almost always pepper and Tabasco). I would much, much rather go to a hawker center or noodle shop, where I’ll be spoilt for choice and someone will cook the dish with infinitely more skill than me. And because of the cheap cost, it still runs less than me buying the ingredients myself, and wasting time trying to figure out if the potatoes are done yet.

Expat Crowd

Paris and Asia draw entirely different expat scenes. I’ll delve into this more in a future post, but the main difference is that Paris expats are more settled down, more “mature”; having kids and businesses and grown-up things like that. Asia expats generally aren’t as settled, and spend more time walking on the wild side.

Not-so-Fancy Architecture

I used to complain about temple fatigue in Asia; not knowing there was something worse: cathedral fatigue. I’m all for simple; the buildings in Paris are way too detailed for my taste. I miss wandering through aging French Concession alleyways or Singapore shophouses; maybe I’d like Paris better if the city residents hung laundry off their fancy ornate iron-wrought balconies.

Cheap Travel

I once found a round-trip flight from Singapore for $48 and later that week I was in Borneo hanging out with the orangutans; I could do weekends in Thailand or Vietnam for $200 — including airfare, accomodation, and food. In Europe, just getting to another country sometimes costs that much. I do far less traveling in Europe than I did in Asia, and it’s giving me cabin fever.

Everything about the Metro

I understand Asia has much newer metro systems, but just because the Paris metro is old doesn’t give it a free pass to smell like pee or have bums sleeping in it all the time. Also, there’s no air con in summer and no heat in winter, which only adds to the misery. And the seats! The Paris metro has the most inefficient seating arrangement I’ve ever seen. The OCD/germophobe in me really misses sparkling clean, pleasant-smelling, well-seated metros.

Convenience Stores

When I forget breakfast, or need another can of beer, I can’t just dart into Family Mart or 7-11 and grab a pack of onigiri or some cheap roadies. I miss seeing those little shops, and hearing their annoying door bells, because they are well and truly convenient. Partly because they are….

Places That Open on Sundays

On the one hand, I kind of like that Parisians take the time to truly enjoy their Sundays, and not have the day blend into the rest of the week. But every damn Sunday: “Crap. I’m craving x. Is the Franprix still open?” or “Hey Friend, I’d love to meet up at that restaurant you recommended — but first, we need to check if they’re open on Sundays.” Come on.

Cats

Look at this cutie I found in Koh Phi Phi. How can anyone not be a cat person?

I’m a cat person. Paris is a dog city. We don’t mesh.

Dress Codes

Parisians are so damn put together, with their neon skinny jeans and denim jackets and delicately-applied make-up. When I’m heading out for training, I don’t care how I look in my gym shirt and shorts — but others do, judging by the looks I’ve gotten on the metro (to be fair, Singaporeans are like Parisians in this respect; I only got away with the outfit in China). And when I’m feeling rough around the edges and just want to pop out for some coffee or bread, I don’t have the energy to put together an acceptable outfit just to be seen in public for a few minutes. I miss a society where wearing pajamas in public is acceptable.

Attitude

Good lord Europe is in a depressing state these days. Austerity this, Merkel that, double-dip recessions and the state of the euro…it’s no wonder the skies are always gray, they’re simply reflecting the moods of the people on the continent. And of course, as an American, I love to smile and to see smiles, and Parisians aren’t the most generous with their smiles. Meanwhile Asia is just more laid-back: you’ll never lack for smiling faces and friendly people, not to mention a less depressing economic climate.

Chaos

This is what I miss most. Paris is too high brow for me, I think. I miss chaos. I miss daily wtf? moments like finding a shark tank in the middle of the street, or a man dangling a live turtle on a stick for no reason. I miss go-kart tracks that recklessly sell you beer between races. I miss feeling like Frogger every time I try to cross the road. I miss playing street food safety roulette. I miss walking outside my door every day and wondering, What’s going to go wrong today?

What do you love about Asia? Or, what else is there to love about Paris that I might be missing?

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Comments

  1. Susan says:

    I know I gave you a hard time about missing Asian food while in Paris via Twitter, but I do understand what you’re talking about. One of the things that I’ll be sure to miss about Asia is the quick, cheap, yet delicious eats. At least in Thailand, paying less for a meal means you’re more likely to talk to the person who cooked it, and probably his or her Auntie. Cheap eats in the western world generally always mean terrible quality. I fantasize about the Hawker Center as an exportable business model to the states and elsewhere…

    • Edna says:

      Yes, I love the interaction you get too — my juice man in Singapore didn’t show much emotion, but he always gave the tiniest smile when he saw me and I really appreciated that. I don’t think hawker centers could compete with food courts in the US though, Americans like their Panda Express too much…

  2. I understand where you are coming from. Lots of people love Shanghai and Tokyo and yet while I like them I am not enthralled with them.

    My top favorite cities: NYC, HK, Las Vegas, Bangkok, Beijing. =)

    • Edna says:

      That’s funny, because I’m absolutely in love with Shanghai. Just goes to show — to each his own! I do love NYC and HK though, I think I could live in either of those cities and be quite happy.

  3. Louise says:

    I can’t wait until you’re back in Singapore and start writing about how much you miss France, haha :)

  4. mariflies says:

    I just love your blog! It makes me smile every time I see your name pop up in my email :) Great post. I have a list of about 20 countries that I plan to pick at least 5 from to go teach. Asia has been high on that list the whole time and now I’m even more excited. If you were in charge of picking where I go 1st and 2nd, where would you put me?

    • Edna says:

      Thank you, that is so, so sweet! Different countries suit different people — some are more a young people’s game, others are for the more mature. Knowing that you’re a proper teacher, I would probably put you in Japan or Taiwan — but for the countries I’d actually suggest you live in to teach, I’d say China or Thailand :)

      • mariflies says:

        China and Thailand are in my top 5!
        Japan was but I heard that as a 40yr old female I would be at the bottom of the payscales. I want to teach, but I need to pay off student loans too.
        I turn 40 during the time we’ll be in Prague. I’m so excited about that! I would call myself young still :)
        I love getting advice from people who have been where I want to go. Congratulations again on your engagement. So happy for you!

        • Edna says:

          Thanks again :) I didn’t know that about Japan — in that case I’d definitely recommend China or Thailand! I’ve met people from allllll walks of life teaching in those countries. Plus the food is great (which as you know is super important to me!) Keep me updated on your travel plans!

  5. Joslin says:

    You hit the nail on the head on one of my biggest pet peeves about Europe. I can’t get anything done on a Sunday! Oh sure, there are a few places open, but it’s places that sell things I want versus things I need. I should get my husband to ask to be stationed in Asia next time around.

    • Edna says:

      Oh that’d be nice! Haha, can you actually lodge requests like that with the US military?

      • jossiejk says:

        We can try! They fill out a dream list with their top choices. Of course the joke is that you’re dreaming if you think you’ll get your base of preference. But then again, Italy was on my husband’s list and we got it!

  6. Erica says:

    I feel the same pressure to be put together all the time here in Japan, too. Though I don’t always cave ;) Actually, reading this reminds me a lot of living in Tokyo, except that we have more combinis that sometimes I get indecisive about which one to go to.

    I’ve never lived in Europe, so I can’t properly empathize, but they both seem to have their own unique charm- whether that is compatible with an individual is a different story. At least you can knock it now that you’ve tried it, right? :)

  7. Ann Mah says:

    This was very heartening reading as I prepare to leave Paris (and eventually move back to Asia — hello, Beijing 2014!). Lots of excellent points here — I miss the spice, the energy, the possibility..! I have to disagree, however, about the metro, at least in Beijing. Riding the subway there is like being shoehorned in a loafer that’s two sizes too small. Six years later, I’m STILL scarred! :)

    • And I must add that the near-death trampling we experienced in both Shanghai and Beijing gave us new appreciation for the Paris system where pushing and shoving is part of the game but people will holler before anyone gets hurt :)

    • Edna says:

      Thanks Ann! I didn’t realize you were going back to Beijing in 2014. Though in the meantime D.C.’s Chinatown isn’t the worst substitute; my family and I used to drive down there (or to Philly) when we were craving some reminders of China — especially around Chinese New Year or Mid-Autumn Festival!

  8. Ashley Bruckbauer says:

    Love this post! I had the reverse experience going from Paris to Shanghai. I definitely agree with you about the cost of living and street food in Asia though. I’m sure you’ll miss the easy access to (and relative cheapness of) quality cheese and wine when you’re back in Asia. I look forward to your upcoming post about the differences in the expat communities. I found them to be worlds apart.

    • Edna says:

      I did admit that in my previous post about things to like about living in Paris — the cheap yet delicious wine is probably what I’ll miss most (now what does that say about me?). I’m not the biggest cheese fanatic so while it’s nice to have around, luckily I won’t have cravings for it.

  9. Jessica says:

    Urgh I’m so with you on the Sunday thing, Spain is the same! And Paris is too high-brow for my tastes too. It’s really beautiful, but it’s definitely missing the craziness of other places. Sounds like Asia might be a good bet for my next adventures, though I’ve never been.

  10. Katie says:

    You pretty much summed up all of my apprehension regarding our eventual move back to Geneva. Life in SE Asia is just so much easier than in Europe. I don’t know how I’m going to handle having to cook every night because a cheap meal out there is 100 Francs and I’m pretty sure I’m going to go stir-crazy after being spoiled here by being able to just take off whenever and wherever we want. You’re completely right. $300 USD here covers everything for a week’s trip to Sumatra. In Geneva it covers two round trip train tickets from Geneva to Zurich and one meal out with a couple drinks while you’re there. You’re not giving me high hopes that I can get Asia out of my system before we have to go.

    • Edna says:

      $300 for a week in Sumatra?? That’s brilliant! All I can say is, if a move back to Europe is inevitable, appreciate Asia and get the most of your time there while you still can! I certainly didn’t appreciate it enough until I left.

      • Katie says:

        I wonder how much of it, at least for me, is a “the grass is always greener” type of thing. There is a lot that I miss about living in Suisse romande: proper seasons, easy access to French grocery stores containing incredibly inexpensive wine, leaves changing colors in the fall, a glass of vin chaud and a bubbling pot of fondue in a make-shift outdoor restaurant as the snow falls, being able to walk anywhere in the city without turning into a sweaty mess two minutes in, being able to get back to the midwest in under 10 hours… Maybe I’m just really good at complaining.

        • Edna says:

          Seasons! I did forget how much I missed seasons when I lived in Singapore — unfortunately, Paris has been stuck in the same season since March so I still don’t remember what they feel like.

  11. Milsters says:

    Omg!! This is EXACTLY why I started the Ethnic Dinner Nights here in Paris. I was missing real, authentic Asian food! (And Latin food, for that matter.) Why don’t you come for one of them? I did a couple of posts on some Asian Ethnic Dinner Nights we had here:

    http://littlepiecesoflight.blogspot.fr/2012/04/ethnic-dinners-toshis-mayukos-gyoza.html

    http://littlepiecesoflight.blogspot.fr/2012/03/ethnic-dinners-chiawens-malaysian-night.html

    Send me a msg on my blog or on email if you’re interested in coming!!

    x Milsters

    (http://littlepiecesoflight.blogspot.fr/)

    • Edna says:

      What?! I can’t believe I didn’t know about these earlier (and that I missed out on takoyaki)! I would LOVE to join in, I’ll send you a message.

  12. Ahhh I just find this such a shame because SO many people (including me) would kill for a visa, job and the opportunity to live in Paris. Sure, it’s super different from Asia–but I think that you just have to embrace that difference and enjoy it while you’re there. France is actually one of the best places to eat at home–so much fresh fruit, veg, cheese and baguettes you can find at your local market! And the Sunday thing can be super annoying, but I think it’s awesome that the employees get a day off–and you can almost always find a tabac or tiny grocery open if you REALLY need something! If not, soak it up as a day to completely relax. (Although just wait until August when everything shuts pour les vacances!) I think more than anything what I love most about Paris is the inspiration: you know that you’re surrounded by buildings and cafes and parks that have inspired some incredible writers, artists, musicians. At the very least, your dislike of Paris is providing plenty of writing fodder :)

    • Edna says:

      I know, trust me it makes me feel so guilty sometimes. Thanks for defending Paris, I know there’s a lot to love about it and I should be appreciative. Though as for the food, I grew up on Asian cuisine — meaning no bread or cheese in my diet. So while it’s nice to have them around, they’re not foods I feel strongly about and I can’t really appreciate them (the wine is a different story though). Plus I really enjoy Sunday brunch and it was a relaxing thing to do in Shanghai or Singapore, but in Paris I’d feel weird going to brunch, like I’m making some poor waiter be the exception and work when the rest of his friends and family aren’t.

  13. ChinaMatt says:

    8 Euros for pho? I pay $5 for a giant bowl of it down the street here. For a little more money I can get an awesome Sichuan meal too. And you’re absolutely right about missing those daily crazy moments–I sometimes get those here in Jersey City, but they’re not as amusing.

    Try Panama next, you might enjoy it more.

    • Edna says:

      Haha Panama doesn’t have as strong an Olympic connection I’m afraid, so don’t see myself moving there anytime soon. But central/south America are definitely on my list to visit.

  14. GQ says:

    Uptight platonic friend, huh. Now that you mentioned it, I felt the same when I lived there. Haha. I love Asia for it’s food of course. It’s the only place where $1 can stretch so far.

  15. Ayngelina says:

    Wow Asia to Paris that is such a drastic change.

    The food in Paris is pretty damn good and the rudeness is kind of amusing?

    • Edna says:

      Funny thing is, I haven’t encountered much rudeness here at all (just one waiter in six months)! In fact, one time, a guy saw I was lost in the metro station and he walked me to the place I needed to be. I just wish they’d smile more!

  16. roamingtheworld says:

    I enjoyed this post and appreciate your honesty. You know what you like and what you don’t and more importantly, what doesn’t feel right! Like you say, you don’t always choose what city you fall in love with. I loved Paris when I was there for 8 days but have no idea how it would be to live there. I’ve certainly had my ups and downs living in Spain and admire the expats that can live here for many years. Unsure if I could do it.
    I hope you’re able to get back to Asia soon. How much longer is your contract in Paris? Any plans for returning to Asia to work again?

    • Edna says:

      Thanks! I think I could have loved Paris as a visitor, but it’s doesn’t seem as impressive as an expat. My contract here is until the end of the year; I don’t know that I want to go back to Asia to work again so soon — I’ve seen a good bit of the continent and would like to explore more of Europe/South America before returning to Asia. I could see myself settling down there though to be honest, so I know I’ll eventually be back.

  17. Great minds think alike Edna! I loved your list and how much it overlapped with mine – my original list had, like, twenty-nine items including meat curing in the open air, the Shanghai metro, and hong shao rou.

    Paris is undoubtedy lovely to visit, but live there? No thanks. I’ll take Asia any day, it’s where I also truly feel alive!

    • Edna says:

      Thanks Fiona! Glad to see we’re on the same wavelength :) Next time I’m in Shanghai let’s definitely go for hong shao rou!

  18. Emily says:

    I couldn’t have said it better if I had tried. All these things are the same things I hated about Paris when I arrived. People really do look at you weird and treat you poorly if you aren’t completely dressed (including makeup). As far as the expat crowd goes, I’m only familiar with the Paris one, but one girl I met at a party was completely uninterested in my friend (who is way cooler/funnier/prettier etc than me) because my friend wasn’t sure how long she would be in Paris for. The other expat told me after my friend got off the metro, that she doesn’t bother making new friends unless they are here to stay, because she was tired of finding new friends only to have them leave a few months later.

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