Tag Archives: expat lifestyle

Expat Archetypes

Here are a few archetypal expats I’ve met, or been, during my time in Asia. Personally I’ve passed through several of these archetypes. I’m guessing that’s not unique. 

The Burner: People who wash up on Asia’s shores because they can’t stay in their home countries. They end up here because of bankruptcy, divorce, legal problems, etc. They’re jet-setting losers. The Burner usually does well. Asia is a second chance and they’ve got the smarts and life experience to take advantage. They’re a personal favorite, they have the best stories, just crank them up with a couple drinks and let ’em fly—entertainment all night.

Characteristics: Alcoholism, frown lines, a brooding thousand yard stare, and cargo shorts; barely repressed rage directed at the West.

The Irrationally Angry Foreigner (IAF): Chronically incapable of adapting to change, they lash out at any differences from their perceived social ideal (the West). IAFs are raging assholes, totally lacking self-awareness, and assuming themselves the only right-minded people in a nation of idiots. It’s annoying—even Tom Cruise is mindful enough to know he’s short and crazy. Avoid IAFs at all costs. They’ll drag you down to their level, and have you violently raging about how much better Western grommets are than Asian grommets. The fury that burns brightest is the briefest—thankfully IAFs don’t last long. They either get over it or get out.

Characteristics: The red-faced pedestrian punching the taxi grill while bellowing at the driver for some perceived infraction is an IAF. The foreigner in a pet about pedestrian rights and pitching parked bicycles off the sidewalk is an IAF. They’re everywhere.

The Backpacker: Present throughout Asia in their current iteration since the late sixties, they’re traveling through seeking experiences they can afford. Northeast Asia is the wrong part of Asia. Coming here for budget travel is like going to Dubuque, Iowa for the opera. The Backpacker can be annoyingly cheap as they try to make their exit date. They were responsible for many Asian stereotypes of Westerners when I arrived. My sense is this is changing as Asia gets more sophisticated in its view of foreigners and stereotypes evolve.

Characteristics: Backpack adorned with flags and vibram-soled sport sandals. They’re in wonder of everything, knowledgeable about nothing. Usually they’re fun for short periods.

Subset: The Begpacker funds their international backpacking by begging as they go. Recognizable by their cardboard sign, alms bowl, and ability to relax on any piece of shopping district sidewalk. Generally they’re young, white, and ridiculously entitled; you’d have to be to fly from Europe or N. America to Laos or Cambodia and beg from subsistence farmers. They’re the unsolicited dicpic of expats.

The Addict: From the kindergarten teachers on speed (children love it) to the drunk falling off his barstool, they are our ever-present id. The expat life—if not actively promoting it—certainly aids addiction. It’s a bit like the military; lots of young people, free from family constraints, far away from recognizable societal guardrails, in an unknown land where the party runs 24/7. The most common entry level expat job, cram school English teacher, [inadvertently] promotes the party life. Most of the work is from 3:00-10:00pm. After work, what are you going to do? You’re making relatively good money and can sleep until mid-afternoon, for many the answer is clear. It can be vertigo-inducing after spending your teen years in Bumblefuck, USA. For some older expats the party never ended.

Characteristics: They travel in fun-loving packs, and can be seen in large numbers in their native habitat—bars and clubs. They’re great fun to be around. To find the related subspecies, Homo Hungoveris, The Addict’s less charming cousin, check buxibans in the afternoon.

The Slut: Some men arrive here specifically to bag Asian women. I’m not talking about normal guys who arrive for a long-term stay desiring an active social life. No. I mean guys trophy hunting and collecting beaver pelts. These guys are young, dumb, and full of cum. They’re very predatory. Honestly I’ve never seen this behavior so blatantly displayed outside the expat community. I suppose it exists everywhere, but the phenomenon is on crack cocaine here. I suppose the expat lifestyle’s freedom from social restrictions, combined with a depersonalized view of Asian women as easy china dolls, allows it to flourish. Amazingly, despite being as charming as an abscessed perianal boil, some of these guys get more ass than a toilet seat. Toxic masculinity exists for a reason I guess.

Characteristics: Men with hyper-aggressive banter, heads on a swivel, and eyes on pinions. You’ll find the Slut hitting on your mother-in-law, the hottie in the bar, their students, or the local obosan collecting trash. As one told me, “always be closing.”

The Earth Muffin: All expat archetypes are annoying in their own way, but my choice for most annoying are Earth Muffins. They’re here on a spiritual journey of self-discovery and tofu. The magical mystical East is the place to find both. I guess what bothers me is they take Eastern religion, philosophy, and mysticism, add a gloss of new age spirituality, and masquerade it as depth and meaning. It’s a mish-mash of bullshit. The Earth Muffin shouldn’t be confused with people earnestly studying religion, meditation, qigong, kung fu, or whatever. You can find The Earth Muffin in the park doing their own creative take on Tai Chi because, “it is all about spirituality and individualism—not a set form—but free-flowing energy and communing with the universe.” [Read in a laidback, yet pretentious voice].

Characteristics: They look like they went on a granola run, got lost, and ended up in Asia. Male—Man bun, Thai print harem pants, embroidered Hmong satchel, day old granola in the hair, and morning tofu breath. Female—virtually indistinguishable from the male, except smelling of patchouli.


I can think of more archetypes, but this is too long already.


I Shan’t Return: A Canadian Expat’s Reasons for Staying Abroad

I’m a Canadian; but, I’ve lived more than two-thirds of my adult life abroad. With the exception of a year and a half in Canada, since graduating university, I’ve been living elsewhere. After finishing my Master’s degree at the University of Saskatchewan, I spent a year teaching in South Korea, which was enough to convince me to look for work in Canada. Looking for work in western Canada during the mid-1990s recession was enough to convince me to go back to Asia. I’ve spent the last 20 years in Taiwan.

Sakuras and Taipei 101. Darren Haughn©2015.

I am exceptionally grateful to my adopted country. Taiwan took me in and gave me meaningful employment at a time when that was not available in Canada. Beyond work, I’ve had the opportunity to build a life, marry, own a home, engage in hobbies and travel – all the things, big and small, that add color to a life. I’m not convinced that would have been possible if I’d remained in Canada, certainly it would have taken much longer. For these reasons, Taiwan has a place in my heart exceeding that of my home country.

However, lately my wife has been advocating moving to Canada. I’ve had a knee-jerk negative reaction, but apparently, “No damn way,” is not a well-reasoned argument. So, I’m going to try to elucidate the case for not returning to Canada.

I’ve spent my adult life living in Asia as a minority in race, ethnicity, language, culture, size, weight, etc. I am a true outsider in a way that few North Americans, with our racial and ethnic diversity, can really understand. When I do something – anything – everyone notices. Simply walking down the street can cause mass rubbernecking among the locals. Being the “other” is core to my existence and a huge part of my self-definition. If I’m not an expat then who am I? Moving back to Canada would constitute a huge existential challenge.

Perhaps that’s a bit ephemeral; in a practical sense, what would I do in Canada? My last job there was working as an editor for a long defunct newspaper. I cannot create an acceptable Canadian resume. There’s a 20+ year blank spot. For all a potential employer knows, I might have just got out of prison after a long hitch. The long-term expats I know, who have tried to return to Canada, have met blind resistance at job interviews. Most interviewers cannot see the diverse range of skills and personality traits required of long-term expats. They see only something new, strange, and scary. The best an expat can hope for is that the potential employer will simply ignore the last however many years of his life. Most who return to Canada find themselves moving from a professional career path to a janitorial position, and bounce back to Asia, much poorer for the experience, but a bit wiser.

What about simply not seeking work? Retirement sounds good, but who spends their entire career in a warm climate and then retires to a polar region. That’s a special kind of stupid. Likewise, you shouldn’t retire to a place with a higher cost of living than where you worked. The economics simply don’t work. It is more logical to either retire in Taiwan, or move to a cheaper and warmer country, perhaps in South East Asia, Latin America, or Spain.

Finally, economic well-being has been elusive. Asia is full of Canadian Generation Xers, I’m one. When we finished our educations, Canada was a jobs wasteland for degree holders. Many lost a decade or more trying to get their careers going. It has been a real challenge to build job stability and prosperity because of the place and times I come from. It took a solid 17 years to work myself into a satisfactory job. Geographic stability has likewise been difficult to achieve. I had to trade geographic stability for a chance at economic comfort. It is only in the last few years that I have felt myself putting down real roots. Part of that process has been marrying a wonderful Taiwanese woman. I am loath to simply throw away these hard won gains, and repeat the same pattern over again.

At heart I love both countries – but, it’s Taiwan for me.