I have a confession to make: I’m sick and tired of Eastern Europe. Several years of traveling around Eastern Europe, followed by several years of living in Lithuania and then about a half a year of living in Ukraine wore me down. I got tired of the Soviet architecture. The non-ending snowy winters. The permanently sad and depressed people.
I got tired of countless emails from guys asking me for advice on picking up Ukrainian women—guys that have no interest in learning about the country or its culture. I got tired of guys emailing me and telling how “vindictive” and “manipulative” Russian or Ukrainian women can be. I was even more tired of guys emailing me their sob stories about how their “dream Ukrainian girl” left them for another guy after they got married and her rich “sponsor” brought her to his rich Western country. I don’t mind giving advice to fellow men, but I can’t help someone if they’re approaching me with such negative and defeatist attitude. I can’t help someone who doesn’t want to be helped. (Though, I will stress that dating in Ukraine and Russia is not for rookies.)
Most of all, I was tired of Ukraine and Eastern Europe in general. I was tired of seeing its people being deceived and manipulated by corrupt politicians with three citizenships and villas in Spain, Italy and Switzerland. I was tired of having countless discussions about how the “the bright future is just around the corner.” I was tired of the “beggar mentality” where people, instead of solving their own problems, are begging EU or America for money. (When did EU or America ever “help” anyone? When did capitalists ever give away their capital without seeking a higher return down the road while holding the country’s future as collateral?)
So, I did what I always do when I’m tired of a particular place and need a new perspective: I bought a one-way ticket to the most random place in the world: Bali, Indonesia.
It was a freezing and snowy morning as I got into a taxi enroute to Kiev’s Boryspil international airport. After arriving, I promptly checked in for my flight to Indonesia. Twenty one hours and two stopovers later—one in Istanbul, Turkey and another in Jakarta, Indonesia—I landed on the beautiful island of Bali.
It was midnight when I landed, and although I couldn’t see the surroundings yet, I immediately knew I had landed somewhere special. The following morning I woke up and saw the paradise in all of its glory. This was heaven. The people were some of the most friendliest I’ve ever met; I haven’t seen people smile as much anywhere else and certainly not in Eastern Europe.
After spending a month there, I headed to the southern part of the island to be closer to the beacher. After two months of living on this paradise, I was ready for another change, so I booked a flight to Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Thailand exceeded all my expectations
I’ve learned early on that the greatest rewards exist for those who don’t follow the herd, but sometimes you have to go where the action is. One such place in Southeast Asia is Thailand’s fifth largest city, Chiang Mai. It’s currently being ambitiously called “The Digital Nomad Capital of The World.”
For a city with such a braggadocious tagline, I naturally approached the once sleepy town with skepticism. However, after spending here just a few days, I knew right away that this place is special.
This isn’t my first trip to Thailand; Thailand was the first Asian country that I visited back in 2004. Back then it was a relatively sleepy little town overcrowded by backpackers with dreadlocks looking for banana pancakes. Man, how times have changed.
There are huge malls everywhere. Lots of affluent young people sporting iPhones 6 and 6 Plus. Fantastic coffee shops that rival even the most hipster-filled American cities. Lightning fast Internet (the coffee shop that I’m sitting at now has 20Mb pipe; the co-working space I was hustling in yesterday had a 50Mb pipe).
And those backpackers looking for banana pancakes? They’re making $5,000/month running their SaaS company (or a similar business) while working at cheap coffee shops or co-working places.
Life was never this easy
Chiang Mai is world’s apart from the bustling capital, Bangkok, but it has absolutely everything one might need. It’s the perfect city for living or for bootstrapping your own business. All that’s missing is the beach, but that can actually be a blessing in disguise.
Then there’s the amazing food, the night markets, the electronic gadgets. I seriously don’t know why I avoided exploring Asia for so long. My heart maybe still in Latin America, but Asia feels fucking amazing right now. Not sure when I’m going back to Eastern Europe.
If there’s a word I can describe my life here it would be easy. Everything is super easy. The apartment I rented is huge and spacious and has everything I need. There’s a laundry downstairs. High speed Internet. All for only $250/mo. I’ve been getting around town on speedy 125cc motorbike (an upgrade from the 110c) around town that I fill up once a week for just $2.50.
I don’t remember the last time my life felt so easy. It wasn’t this easy in Latin America. It wasn’t this easy in Europe. And it definitely wasn’t like this in America. Easy. Everything works.
Where else in the world can you get so much value for so little? This is the question I keep asking myself pretty much every waking moment.
But what I like best about Asia isn’t the fact that my life is super easy. It’s also not the night markets or the delicious food. It’s not the 20Mb-30Mb Internet that’s available in almost every coffee shop or restaurant. All of that stuff is great, but that’s not even close to the best part.
Asia’s Winning Mentality
What I like best about Asia is the mentality. There’s none of that “beggar mindset” that I’ve experienced in Eastern Europe—from Lithuania and Latvia to Moldova and Ukraine. None of that “bailout” or “financial assistance” bullshit that you read everyday in the newspapers. None of that melancholy, hopelessness and despair. No one here is trying to immigrate to some richer country like America, UK or Denmark. No one is asking me “if living in Europe is better than living in Ukraine” or “how many years does it take to get a US citizenship.” I can’t tell you how sick and tired I was of all that.
Eastern Europe is dying; Asia is flourishing. Asians are building their own future. They’re innovating. They’re growing. They’re creating endless value. I can give up traveling and live in Chiang Mai for a year without missing anything useful.
Why didn’t I take seriously Asia before? Why wasn’t it on my list? I really have no idea. There’s so much value here in Asia that doesn’t exist in America or other rich countries.
If there’s one thing I learned from spending so many years in Eastern Europe is that something just ain’t right with the whole region. Something is rotten. For a region that’s gifted with so many intelligent people (at least the ones who didn’t immigrate to Israel or USA), it should be doing better than it is. After all, Communism collapsed more than 25 years ago, so saying that it needs time to get its shit together doesn’t make much sense. It has had enough time. How much more time does it need? Another 25 years? 35 years? A European country?
Don’t get me wrong. I love Ukraine. I love its people. I love its survival mentality. After all, I’m Eastern European by both birth and spirit (so please don’t bother emailing me and telling me that “I don’t get Ukraine, blah blah”).
But something just ain’t right when I visit a “developing” Asian country like Thailand and can have a higher quality of life than in “developed” country like America; where my hard-earned dollar goes further than pretty much anywhere else in the world. Ukraine, on the other hand, is stuck between a difficult past and an uncertain future: Asia is moving full speed ahead.
And in this stage of my life, Asia’s mentality and value is exactly what I need.
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James Maverick used to work in a cubicle as a code monkey in Silicon Valley. Then, in 2007, he quit his job and a one-way ticket to Brazil. Ever since, he continued to travel, visiting over 85 countries and living in more than a dozen of them. He loved his location-independent lifestyle and has no plans to live in America.