Nostos means homecoming

October 17th, 2015

“Nostalgia” is composed of two Greek words: the first means “homecoming” and the second means “pain”. A year seemed like an impossibly generous amount of time to travel when I was setting out, but impossibly short when I was sitting on the beach in Bali at the end of it. Although there was a lot I missed about home, I thought I would never have the opportunity to take such a long trip again, and so decided to extend it for two more years.

I returned to Shanghai and continued my Mandarin studies through 2010, traveling extensively in Asia to practice. I then took a year to do another full circumnavigation, this time including South America in the itinerary, and visiting all the scattered friends I hadn’t yet seen in the first year of travel. After three years of travel, six years in Tokyo, three years in London, and studies in France, Germany, and Shanghai, I had lived abroad for 14 years. I was ready to come home.

Some common objections to taking time off include worries that your skills will atrophy, that interviewers won’t take you seriously, and that it will be hard to explain the “gap” in your resume.

I think it is worth mentioning that exactly one person I spoke with did in fact embody all of these prejudices, but he was a rarity — most people I met when I started thinking about employment again were both enthusiastic and intensely curious about the trip, and in at least one case (Amazon), it was the single most important factor in their interest. I don’t know how many potential employers rejected my resume without contacting me, but within three months of starting my search I was in late-round interviews with Amazon, a bulge bracket bank in Manhattan, and two established startups in the fintech arena. I ended up choosing from multiple offers. I mention this for the benefit of people who might be contemplating their own extended trip — you can come back!

I took a job in Boston which had the benefit of being near my family in addition to giving me a chance to do extremely interesting work in analytics; but as is apparently my fate, after three years in Boston and a month after finally moving in to my own place in Cambridge, my new firm asked me to move to New York City. To borrow from Thoreau, “at present I am a sojourner in civilized life again”, living happily in Manhattan for just over a year now, and very, very glad I took this trip.

One year anniversary

August 1st, 2009

It’s been one year since I quit my job. I’m going to Bali on August 15 for a month to mark the occasion by learning to surf.

Taipei, Taiwan

July 23rd, 2009

The day after the eclipse, Andrew and I flew to Taipei to visit Mike, who was having a housewarming party.

Taipei is a fun city, the area where we stayed reminded me a lot of Harajuku in Tokyo, quirky shops, striking fashion, and colored contact lenses. I think it would be a great place to study Chinese. There is definitely an accent, but Taiwanese people speaking Mandarin are much easier to understand than Shanghainese speaking Mandarin.

The night before we left, we went to a party at a club called LAN in Shanghai, and met some Taiwanese who suggested the National Palace Museum as a good place to visit. So we went there, to the huge memorials to Sun Yat-Sen and Chiang Kai-Shek, and we wandered out west to the river to see the local temples, all of which had intricate carved dragons at the entrance.


We went to the top of the 101 building to see the view. There is a mediocre restaurant up there, where we had something to drink while we looked out at the lights of the much smaller buildings below. The 101 building is higher than both the JinMao Tower and the Shanghai World Financial Center, but it seems a little lonely without any friends around.

At Mike’s party, all but one of the guys were entrepreneurs. One (25 years old) owned a frozen yogurt shop, one ran a television channel, one imported wine, another imported prepared foods and exported tea. Even at the LAN party, many of the people were entrepreneurs, including a former banker who now owns a gallery in New York, and a former lawyer who makes handbags.

Total solar eclipse in Shanghai

July 22nd, 2009

The days leading up to the eclipse on the 22nd were hot and sunny, with no clouds in the sky, but it was all just a big tease. The clouds started rolling in on the evening of the 21st, and grew thicker and thicker through the night and the next morning until, just as the moon started to cross the disk of the sun, the clouds opened up and it started to rain. Nick and Max had flown out to see the eclipse, so they must have been a little disappointed. I just had to walk to the university track, but I was disappointed. It would have been cool to see the shadow of the moon racing across the earth, and to see the stars come out. There’s always Argentina next year.

It was still interesting to see all the dragonflies gather in the air and to watch as night fell for around five minutes. The building and traffic lights came on and it really looked like midnight.


A guy brought out a huge helium balloon during the darkness and set it free so that it was floating as the light came back. It was a marriage proposal! I thought that was a good idea.


The Chinese word for total eclipse is 日全食, or sun-all-eat. This sounds fairly apocalyptic. The English word eclipse is from Greek ekleipein. I remember this from Herodotus, it means “to leave out” or “forsake”.

Yangtze trip

July 18th, 2009

We got back from Hong Kong via Shenzhen on July 13th, and had a week to recover from all the recent traveling. On the 18th we took a three-hour cruise up the HuangPu to where it meets the muddy Yangtze, the longest river in China, apparently just 15 miles longer than the Mississippi.

It was definitely worth it, though we had some difficulty finding the correct dock behind all the shoreside construction for the World Expo in Shanghai. We found it just in time, and enjoyed the view of Pudong on the way out and the Bund on the way back. The cost was 150 RMB.


This is the lighthouse that marks the boundary between the two rivers — I didn’t have my camera, so here’s the credit.

East meets West

July 16th, 2009

Back from Hong Kong on the 13th. Some time ago I accidentally bought tea-flavored toothpaste. Even though I can read the tea character, I didn’t look at it. I bought it assuming that the green leaf was mint. I also found coffee-flavored gum.

My favorite so far, though, is the Spicy Dried Pork Donut that just appeared at Mr. Donut. I’ve tried to get a picture twice, but they store the advertisements away when it rains and it’s been raining recently.


Chew this and your breath will smell like coffee…


July 4th, 2009

On the 4th of July, we took the ferry to Macau for a day trip.


My newest T-shirt.

We had Pasteis de Nata, just like the ones in Lisbon, and a tasty Portuguese-style filet sandwich. We wandered around the many casinos after Andrew’s girlfriend helped him find some closed-toe shoes so the casinos would let him in.

The most impressive was the Venetian — it’s so huge. I won $300 at poker, then lost it learning to play craps. This is my second craps experience (the first was in Vegas with Manny), and I’m 0-2.

The facade of St. Paul’s is worth visiting. It reminded me of St. Dunstan’s in the East in London, only without the greenery. We saw some girls using YMCA arm-spelling to write MACAU with the facade in the background.

I’ve been to several Portuguese or Portuguese-influenced places now: Macau, Lisbon, Brazil, and Goa. There does seem to be a representative character. I would like to know if it extends to Chinese people in Macau taking siestas.

WWJD – What Would Jackie Do?

July 3rd, 2009

We went out Friday night in Hong Kong and were up late into the 4th of July Saturday. We had a couple of friends showing us around the bars of Lan Kwai Fong, then a club called Privée, and another called Beijing. The last two were extremely crowded even though it was almost four in the morning.


Anyway, the highlight of the evening was that I got into a fight with a group of guys in the club called Beijing. Basically they started pointing fingers and yelling, then one guy tried to kick me, then the rest jumped in. They didn’t make a coordinated effort, instead they sort of presented themselves one at a time and tried to hit or kick me. This was lucky for me because with the strobe light on and the music going, it was very hard for me to tell which of the people in the crowd were part of the group trying to get me. Chris was there but didn’t see what was happening, so couldn’t help.

I ended up with a bruised forearm (from blocking a kick to the head!), and a bruised shin (one guy kicked me in the shin when the strobe light went out), but I didn’t get hurt otherwise, even though there were four of them, and I didn’t have to hurt anyone badly. My kung fu was stronger than their kung fu, and I was a lot bigger.

The management came finally, threw those guys out after some discussion, and bought us champagne. I asked if this sort of thing happens regularly, and they said, “Some locals just don’t like gweilo.”

Hong Kong

July 3rd, 2009

On July 3, we walked across the border to Hong Kong. You have to fill out two or three forms on each side, and there is this no-man’s land in the middle where you’ve filled out all your forms to leave China and haven’t filled out any to be admitted to Hong Kong yet.

On the Hong Kong side, you can just get on the metro and ride in to Central.

We stayed for the first few nights on Ice House Street, which is right in Central, close to where I met Tibor and Eric for drinks on the roof of Prince’s Building. For the rest of the trip, we stayed at the YMCA in Kowloon, which has a spectacular view.

Looking at a trilingual map, I saw that the simplified Chinese for Kowloon is 九龙, which means “Nine Dragons”. Dragon wouldn’t be a very useful word to learn in English, but it’s very handy in Chinese.

We went to see a New York comedian named Ted Alexandro for a very funny show, and made it to Lan Kwai Fong or Wan Chai most of the nights we were there.

Hong Kong, like Singapore, is small enough that you can run into people you know randomly. We were there for just ten days this trip, but it happened several times.


July 2nd, 2009

It’s about a third cheaper to fly to Shenzhen and walk across the border than to fly direct to Hong Kong, so that’s what we did.

We arrived very late on July 2 (actually the morning of July 3), and stayed at the Queen’s Spa, a Chinese version of a Japanese onsen. For about USD $20, you get access to the various pools, free fruit and frozen yogurt, recliners with individual TV’s, and a place to bunk for the night. Most of the movies playing on TV haven’t been released yet.

There must be a fair amount of crime in Shenzhen because all the doors and windows up to the fourth floor are covered with metal grills.

We had lunch at a place across the street from the spa — it had a different loss leader every day: one dish that only cost one yuan (about 17 cents).