We’ve collectively lived and worked in Asia for more than 40-years. After that long, one begins to wonder where ‘home’ is? Is it where you were born? Where you grew up? Where you’re living now? Or a combination of all of those? And the longer one is away from their country of birth, and continent for that matter, the stranger it can feel when you return for a visit. On this episode we’ll chat about things we’ve found odd, uncomfortable, and just plain strange about returning to the west after recent visits. Today we’re chatting about Reverse Culture Shock!

It’s easy to hate Amazon, but it’s hard to hate Whole Foods –at least a walk around it.


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Trevor: When I turned 40 I made a pie chart. Thailand may have passed Vermont since then, but even then it was only just over ten cumulative years of the 17 years based in Thailand. Otherwise, the Asia pie was split up quite interestingly between multiple stints living and working in Bali, Cambodia, Korea, Vietnam, Laos. I went back to the US every year for about a month, but I feel like my personal culture has evolved and I’m more Asian now after 21 years here.

Scott: I also find the longer I’m away (I moved here in Sept 1999), the more foreign ‘home’ feels. This is natural I guess, but I hope to spend part of my year in Canada within the next couple of years, but also feel that each time I go back, the further away it feels from who I am now. Wondering what that reintegration would be like?

Fresh fruit is much cheaper in Asia: around $0.75 in Philippines vs $5 in Hawaii.

The Good (What’s always surprising in a good way when we return to North America):

Trevor: Supermarkets – Whole Foods, Costco, Safeway. Thailand has some great supermarkets, but pound-for-pound, American supermarkets are the bomb.

Scott: I second that – really love the selection of products. Lower priced, no import tax, and there’s not just a dip, there are six flavors of the dip. Blocks of gouda and brie at a really good price. And I find that when you go to a large store, you can find what you really want, at a low price, be it plastic food storage containers, or a pair of pants (that fit) – and many options in that size – I do love the selection and prices

Trevor: It’s much cleaner back home – much of Asia is quite clean but not all. At least in Hawaii there is FAR less litter. Locals litter quite a bit more in Asia.

Scott: Nature and National Parks: they are well-signed, clean, set up to be user-friendly, maps, and of value for the cost to get in, whereas in Asia they often are not

Homelessness is more obvious if not more prevalent in North American than much of Asia.

Trevor: Lines (queues) – orderly and no cutting back home. 

Scott: sidewalks that work are pretty awesome – just strolling, no missing parts, trees in the middle of the walkway, or tiles that move and shoot dirty water all over your leg.

Trevor: Clean – much of Asia is quite clean but not all. At least in Hawaii, there is FAR less litter.  Locals litter much more in Asia.

Scott: I do like to be able to raise a grievance in my native language –in a restaurant, for example. That people won’t hesitate to speak back to you and be firm in their decision which doesn’t happen here.

Trevor: Don’t really get hustled at home, like people thinking you’re a tourist and trying to rip you off.

Scott: Much less corruption on a day-to-day level; not random fines from police while driving, a ‘fee’ needing to be paid to get your visa, or your taxes with your company, it’s nice that there are laws that are followed and maintained.

Bum Gun: Asia’s greatest bathroom invention.

The Bad (What we find shocking about how things are done in the West):

Trevor: Food costs. Especially eating out but also just buying some fruit. Granted it grows everywhere here, but Thailand is so cheap and easy to eat, any time any where. Example: in Hawaii a coconut costs $5. They grow on trees! 

Scott: Agreed, a lack of street food in the West, or easy food on the go from a kiosk; even in Japan, getting a good feed while on the way somewhere is easy and reasonably economical; Asia has food on the move figured out!

Trevor: I love the ability to get things fixed on the side of the road in Asia: eg get your pants hemmed, a key cut, your shoes fixed; quick, easy, and inexpensive. 

Scott: Opposite to the shopping is that a lot of the malls and stores seem run-down, dingy, and just not that nice of a place to be. Depending on where in Asia obviously, the malls are way nicer here in larger centers.

Trevor: Toilet paper v Bum gun. (That said – more water in western toilets isn’t so bad)

Scott: The bum gun is one of my Top 5 favorite things about many parts of Asia – why does everyone not have it? It’s savage to live without one!

Trevor: Driving. Can’t even drive now but annoying to wait at red lights etc. Even crosswalks. Seatbelts in the back seat back home is excessive. I’m an adult. I should be able to make that choice on my own. 

Scott: Double-edged sword on this one; people in Canada are ultra-friendly, but the small talk every time you go somewhere can get a bit tiring; eg. weather, your clothes, anything

Trevor: Crime – a bit more frightening at home. Sketchy homeless tweakers. Chance of a gun nut shooting up a theater. I don’t even lock up my bike in Siem Reap when I’m away. 

Scott: The size of things; you can’t just get one individual size snack, you have to buy the value size either 1L or bundled with three other pieces, a single of anything is often more than the super large one; no wonder so many people are overweight.

Vietnamese traffic actually makes some sense to Scott and Trevor after decades in Asia.

The Odd (Things that are just different and we’re not sure how we feel about them)

Trevor: Movie seating. The first time I had to preselect a seat I wasn’t sure how I feel about it. Now, I tend to like it, but not always.

Scott: Understanding everyone around you. When just sitting around you literally hear so much of what others are saying – this always throws me a bit. I don’t always want to understand what the lady at the coffee shop is saying about her date the night before. 

Trevor: Nowadays QR codes for menus in restaurants. That was a big shock. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that either. Nice to have the menu handy –if you have a phone– but the server maybe less attentive. 

Scott: The homeless and mentally unwell wandering around, particularly in Vancouver and Victoria. 

Trevor: Self-checkout and self-service. Supermarkets, airports, even McDonald’s now I think. 

Scott: Ya, I’m not a fan of the self-checkout thing, but that might be an age, or getting used to it thing?

Scott: If you ride a bike between cars people get angry.
Trevor: Unsolicited and blunt feedback on your weight, baldness etc. in Asia is something that people in the West don’t do, but I occasionally appreciate the bluntness.


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