Reflecting on 5 months abroad

I haven’t set foot on US soil for almost half a year now. That time sure does go by quickly. As I finally jet my way back across the Pacific Ocean, I thought this would be a good opportunity to reflect on some of the places I’ve been, and report on what’s next.

First, a quick recap of each of the major cities I went through.

Vancouver, Canada

To date, still my favourite North American city. Haven’t yet found another that can match it in the things that matter most to me: quality and diversity of food, people, public transit, weather, and urban planning. Still planning to retire here one day. 🙂

Here are more pictures from Vancouver.

Seoul, South Korea

Super cosmopolitan and a little vain (seriously, there are ads for plastic surgery in every subway station), but Korean food is the bomb so it’s definitely worth a visit.

Here are more pictures from Seoul.

Tokyo, Japan

Sensory overload! There are so many people, lights, and activities going on that it’s hard to find any place to chill. But if you’re into nonstop touristy action, Tokyo will not disappoint. My favourite area is still Shibuya, even though a haircut there is like USD$50.

Here are more pictures from Tokyo.

Here is an itinerary for Japan if you need some ideas for your own trip.

Kyoto, Japan

The calmer, more culturally refined sibling of Tokyo – people take their time here, and sightseeing is all about temples and castles. Also a great launching point for trips to Osaka (for out-of-this-world okonomiyaki), Nara (for the aggressive deer), Hikone (for the castle), and Hiroshima (for the floating torii at Miyajima).

Here are more pictures from Kyoto.

Taipei, Taiwan

Foodie paradise. There are creations at the night markets here that I’ve never seen anywhere else, and the shaved ice is worth the trip alone. Excellent metro network and great affordability make this a place you could easily stay at for weeks (I did).

Here are more pictures from Taipei.

Here is an itinerary for Taiwan if you need some ideas for your own trip.

Tainan, Taiwan

Kyoto is to Tokyo what Tainan is to Taipei. More culture, more history, and much more laid back. I’m personally a fan of the hot springs in the mountains nearby, which are also the source of some amazing natural phenomena.

Sydney, Australia

Ah, the quintessential Australian city and a great intro to Aussie culture for anyone willing to make the journey down under. I have more insights in a separate post here.

Here are more pictures from Sydney.

Melbourne, Australia

The world’s most liveable city. What more can I say? Well, I do have a post about it

Here are more pictures from Melbourne.

Taishan, Guangdong, China

This used to be a backwater village area that lost many residents as they immigrated to the US. (Now you know why there are so many people who speak Cantonese in San Francisco and New York City.) There are still plenty of village-like areas that haven’t changed in hundreds of years, but the core of the town has developed immensely as money floods in from overseas relatives. Worth a visit only if you have family history here. 🙂

Here are more pictures from Taishan.

Hong Kong, China

A city that is not scared of building up. Perhaps the most stunning skyline you could ever take a picture of. On the ground, it’s as hectic as Tokyo – but noticeably dirtier. Imagine a typical Chinatown in the US spread across an entire island and multiply the population density tenfold and you have Hong Kong. Dim sum is excellent everywhere, of course.

#expatscrossingpaths – looking forward to this happening more often!

A photo posted by Simon Tan (@simtanx) on

Here are more pictures from Hong Kong.

Main takeaways

A few thoughts for those wondering how I’m feeling about all this travel.

The world is very big

I’ve spent a lot of energy (fortunately not that much money) exploring this side of the world over the past few months, but it’s easy to see that I’ve only scratched the surface. There is so much more out there to see, and it’s not always in the big, popular cities. The more I learn, the more I find out I don’t know – and that is a very humbling feeling.

The world is very small

Cultures vary wildly between the countries I’ve seen, but I’ve seen enough commonalities between people that I can verify the fact that every well-travelled person will tell you: Humans all have the same basic needs – and emotions like happiness and sadness exist in the same form everywhere. Everyone enjoys a good laugh, and everyone cares for their friends and family. Makes you appreciate diversity more, as corny as that sounds.

There’s no reason to settle for one “home”

Many expats will tell you that they don’t really consider their hometown their “home” anymore – and I’m getting the feeling it’s happening to me as well. But unlike most expats, I don’t have a steady secondary location to call “home” – and that’s totally fine. Actually, it’s incredibly liberating – and I very much enjoy being able to slip into and out of cities and get comfortable no matter where I am.

What’s next

Fortunately (or unfortunately), travel begets travel. The more you do it, the more you want to do it. There’s even a term for it – wanderlust – and I’ve got it pretty bad now.

Between my own personal bucket list and work travel requirements, there are undoubtedly a lot more places to go this year – and well into the future! To give you a better idea in case you want to join in or meet up (#crossingpaths), I foresee the following destinations in 2015:

  • Extended stints in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), Vietnam as Atlassian ramps up a mobile engineering team there
  • Trip to see the Great Barrier Reef while I’m nearby and it’s not as hot
  • More trips to Seattle and Vancouver for weddings in late summer
  • Trip to New Zealand later in the year (campervan roadtrip, anyone?)
  • New Years in Sydney

Nothing quite compares to catching up with old friends in new places, so reach out if you happen to be near me (or basically anywhere in Asia/Oceania) in 2015. Happy travels!

Life as an expat Atlassian in Sydney

It’s been nearly three months since I was last on US soil. My final memory of San Francisco was at a dumpling restaurant send-off from friends, and my final memory of Seattle was this Amtrak Cascades train that whisked me along the Pacific coastline up into Vancouver.

Since that day I exited the States, I have bounced around Asia for a bit and eventually “settled” in Sydney, Australia where I have begun working for Atlassian. It’s been quite a journey; here it is represented using IATA airport codes:


This is actually not the longest bout of travel I’ve had – that record was set in the 5 months after graduating from college uni – but it does represent the longest continuous time I’ve been outside of the US. In this time, I’ve experienced a lot: culture shock, sensory overload, getting way too hungry,  getting way too full, tourist exhaustion, fear for my life, serenity in a hot spring, nausea from too many hot springs, and much more. I have always enjoyed travelling, but these last few months have been extreme even by my standards.

Now that I’ve had a chance to settle down in one place for a bit, I wanted to answer the questions that so many folks have been asking: What’s it like in Australia? How is working for Atlassian?

Continue reading Life as an expat Atlassian in Sydney