This article was first published in March 2014.
When I first landed in Asia, it seemed an exotic new world brimming with potential. After seven years of wandering, I learned that those assumptions were true. Living as an expat in Asia gives you more freedom than western cubicle life offers. Based on my experiences, I wrote this article to boil down the benefits enjoyed by expats in Asia.
Humans are born with a shared biological disposition that transcends cultures and epochs. In zoos, animals taken out of their biological comfort zone break down. In modern culture, humans outside their biological comfort zone also suffer. Both mental and physical suffering is a central part of modern western life.
Escaping the ills of western capitalism
In Western consumer culture, the driving goal is to build wealth. Schooling has become an industry instead of a service. Students are the commodity. Schools run for profit, generating college degrees that determine social standing. Courses focus on narrow economic, scientific and technological paradigms.
As kids grow up to become cubicle workers, the only role left for them is to consume.
Over the past twenty or so years, Asia has provided an alternative. Moving to Asia and immersing in the cultures yields many benefits that will change your views about the world.
Benefits of expatriating to Asia
Westerners who move to Asia will get to live on the fringes of their new culture. It’s a unique state of limbo. You live within a culture, but never as a part of it. Rather, you become a tolerated alien. This “expatriate trail” covers all of Asia. Along that trail, you can enjoy personal freedoms that don’t exist in your own culture.
Asian societies are set in their ways. PC culture does not exist. Rather, 5,000 years of spiritual and moral development form the bedrock of societies.
Men are masculine and women are feminine. Children frolic in the streets. The elderly enjoy safety and respect. Peace on the streets is the norm.
That is why so many westerners who move to Asia never return home.
Western life is stressful
Instead of culture shock when landing in Asia, many report culture shock when going home for a visit. That’s when they notice how limiting western society has become.
Life is individualistic and focused on non-spiritual trappings like fame, fortune, and conquest. People have lost their connection with nature. Life is stressful.
For example, in America, anxiety disorders are the most common type of mental illness. Over 40 million Americans older than 18 (18.1% of the population) suffer from anxiety. In early 202, the American obesity rate also topped 40% of the adult population for the first time.
- Mental Problems: 18% of the American population (40 million) suffers anxiety. 43% take mood-altering prescriptions. 42% of young Americans use recreational drugs.
- Obesity: 40% of U.S. adults (78.6 million) and approximately 17% (or 12.7 million) of youth aged 2-19 years are obese.
- Poor work-life balance: modern corporate work means long hours and short vacations. As prices for food and housing have gone up, wages are stagnant.
Asian culture is the opposite. It has a rich history, spiritual roots and a collective awareness.
Asians themselves often find the collective aspect restrictive. Indeed, in Asian school systems, the nail that sticks up gets hammered.
In contrast, western expats can live in these places as aliens. They can enjoy the benefits of social collectivism, without the obligations.
Asia has 5,000 years of cultural depth
The cultivation of rice began in China around 6000 years ago and in India around 4,000 years ago. Buddhism emerged soon After. Rice cultivation took hold in India around 4,000 years ago, and Hinduism emerged soon after.
Hinduism originated around 5,000 years ago. 3,000 years ago, Buddha’s teachings extended the Hindu philosophy into Buddhism. Both Hinduism and Buddhism share similar core beliefs:
- Reincarnation: humans who lived well will upgrade into a higher form. Humans who failed to lead good lives will regress, sometimes into animal form.
- Self-defined enlightenment: each person has their own unique path and purpose in life.
- Suffering: attachment to the physical world is the root of all suffering.
- Distorted reality: the physical world is a distorted reflection of a larger spiritual reality.
- Meditation and yoga: bring greater clarity of mind and union with the universe.
- Enlightenment is inevitable: all living spirits will reach enlightenment — even if it takes many incarnations
Those beliefs boil down into the pillars of the Asian cultural heritage:
- Collectivism: Asians are a group-oriented people. They place emphasis on family connection as the major source of identity. In traditional families, the parents define the laws – the children must obey. During crises, individuals show self-control, strength and inner stamina.
- Indirect communication: lack of directness preserves preserving harmony. This is more culturally important than getting the exact truth. Body language, eye contact, intonation, and silence are as important as words. Further, Asians often smile or giggle during conflicts. Usually, they’re trying to deflect, rather than mocking the situation.
- Relaxed perception of time: Asian life works on a polychronic time framework. This sense of time is more connected to natural rhythms, the earth and the seasons. Polychronic cultures view time as being more flexible. Since life isn’t predictable, neither should a schedule be.
With income to support yourself, Asia offers a low-stress lifestyle. Switch off your logical brain and cruise on values that transcend culture.
Here, you can learn an appreciation for peace, privacy, freedom, safety and respect. This might be why people in poor Asian countries can have less but still be content. Even if making just enough to scrape by, family and social circles provide support. Government intervention in lives is secondary.
Traditional gender roles
Western culture diminishes men, mutates women with flawed empowerment and encourages gender confusion. Consider gender roles in television comedies. Most have smart, witty, attractive women married to inept, overweight, immature men.
For egalitarian benefit, hyper-conscious semantic regulation has weakened men. Modern thought pushes men away from alpha instincts into neat boxes of beta behavior:
- Afraid to take risks: countless men are stuck in job they don’t like. To survive, they need to blend in. That makes men unadventurous and lacking big-picture ambitions. Instead, they live in fear of making mistakes.
- Followers not leaders: orporate cultures force men to adopts inauthentic personalities. They follow the popular trends and can’t seem to make firm decisions.
- Resentful: weak men feel that society is to blame. They resent others and the world for having what they do not. These men will sabotage situations to “get back” at people they feel wronged them.
- Passive Aggressive: hese guys will pout, ignore and use hostile jokes. When called out, they will play the victim until they can change the subject.
Expatriating to Asia is an escape. It’s an escape from the rate race, high prices and limited lifestyle choices.
Here, foreigner aliens are welcome. You need less money to do more things. Life operates at a slower pace.
Nothing is rigid in Asia. Billions here are still trying to figure out their way. There is no “supposed to”. Every day is a new learning experience.
Instead of getting asked “What are you doing”, you will get asked questions like “Where are you from?” Innocuous interactions build up until you start re-thinking your core principles.
At the same time, you can expect to meet many other westerners living similar lives. This becomes a melting pot that you can found most evenings in local expat pubs. If you’re new to the scene, find the pubs and pull up a stool.
In short order, you’ll make the connections you need to get plugged into life.
Ask around and many long-term expats say the same. Work-travel time spent in Asia can be the most meaningful and fulfilling of your life.
Cheaper and healthier food
Americans build their cities around cars. Asians build their cities for people. On Asian streets, good food is never far away. Every big city has supermarkets, healthy street food and lots of cheap restaurants.
Losing weight in Asia is simple: eat local and limit alcohol intake. You will look younger, have more energy and save a load of cash.
Freedom from corporate propaganda
Immediately off the plane in Asia, you become immune to ads, because you won’t understand any of them! After around six months, the effects of western propaganda will start to wear off. Ad jingles will stop playing in your head. Your favorite TV shows will lose importance. You will decide what to eat on your own.
The result is you stop feeling the urge to impulse buy. That makes it easy to flow into a minimalist lifestyle. Accumulating things will no longer make you happy.
Asian expat life for men vs women
Asian women are pretty, petite, and comfortable in a feminine role. For single Western men, Asia can be a paradise of women more than willing to pamper them. Most know how to cook and are happy to play the role of a traditional woman.
With money, old, retired white men have their choice of young women to look after them. In exchange, the young lady counts on money for the present and also her future.
Challenges for expat women in Asia
Single expat women have a harder time in Asia. A big part of the expat experience for many women is to learn how to spend time alone.
Hong Kong psychologist Melanie Bryan works with many expat women in Hong Kong. She noted: “I see women drink more. I definitely see them depressed.”
Luckily, Asia is a wonderful place for personal growth. Without western diversions to hide behind, you will learn more about yourself. Since the work-life balance is better here, you will have more time to ponder the big picture.
If the benefits of expatriation connect, take action to make it happen. But take note: whatever mental baggage you have will come with you.
Many strive for their dreams in Asia and fall hard. Some become homeless. Others veer off the rails of sanity. Some even get killed. (Brits murdered on Thai beach, expats murdered in Asia, expats knifing expats).
Beyond the risks is the chance to immerse in waves of exponential possibility. If you take your shot, there’s a good chance you can find what you’re looking for.