So what did I take?
Regular Glass / Sunglasses
Noise canceling headphones
$500HKD (cab fare home from airport)
$200USD (emergency money)
15′ MacBook Retina
Canon battery recharger
2 iPad Chargers
SIM card adapter
HSBC Bank key
Mini USB cable
Passport holder & Airline/Hotel cards
All of this fit into my backpack for the trip. There was also a ‘cable bag’ that went along in the suit case with plenty of other cables and whatnot that I wouldn’t need on the short flight (4.5 hours) to Tokyo.
Fat Angelo’s this weekend having some pizza and listening to a pretty good mix of 80’s new romantics bands on the speakers. Kind of a throwback to sitting in Garcia’s Pizza back at the University of Illinois in the 80s and listening to the same music. It’s kind of funny but there are times when you are focusing on just what is front of you, like your kids or a pizza on the table and music in the air and you really start to lose track of where you are. Yes, I’m in Hong Kong, 6,000 miles from home, but at that moment, I didn’t even notice.
Anyway, now this song is stuck in my head.
Although I’ve not gotten a stamp in my passport in about 18 months, in recent years I’ve spent literally hundreds of days overseas away from the convenience of my landline phone and US-based mobile. I’ve tried a wide variety of means to stay in touch, but I think I’ve finally come up with a formula that makes a bit of sense. And since the New York Times is writing about the same thing today now is as good a day as any to share my thoughts.
In the old days, I would take an unlocked GSM phone and simply buy a UK or DE or HK SIM card upon arrival in a new country, giving me a local phone number where I could be reached. Unfortunately this did not help me with making calls back to the US, which usually required calling cards (that ended up being quite expensive). Pay as you go also was quite expensive on a minute by minute basis. For example, a week in the UK would easily run me £100 in phone charges. And added to this is the fact overseas Pay as You go numbers often disappear after lack of use of 6 months or so (which is now an issue).
Now my setup is much cheaper.
First, Skype. I have Skype, Skype Out and Skype In set up. I have a phone number in London and one in Hong Kong that people can call and it will ring on my computer if my computer is turned on. If my computer is not turned on, then it forwards to a number of my choice. I can also use my iPhone and Fring should I be without a laptop (rare). Note, both computer and iPhone require an internet connection, but since I usually have that in the hotel it’s not really a big issue.
Second, the unlocked phone is still around. I usually have that as the recipient of my Skype calls so I don’t have to pay the massive data roaming charges using my US phone overseas. I also like the freedom to call friends ‘in country’ without having to pay roaming. But now that I’m not using it as frequently the costs have definitely gone down quite a bit.
So now for international calls, I will use Skype in the hotel which is only pennies a minute, and for local in country calls I use my country-specific mobile phone. For calls from other countries to me they are routed to my ‘device of the moment’ so people can continue to reach me on my consistent Skype In number and not have to memorize whatever pay-as-you-go number I’m using at the time.
During my last week in London, my phone charges were £10 total. Quite a savings.
One thing I often notice about British expats to the US is the sort of ’shock’ at how US parents are involved in the lives of their children. Of course they love to ridicule the ‘helicopter parent’ (as do Americans) but once that formality is out of the way there is a second realization that comes as quite a punch. When they realize that their neighbor in the nicer house with the better job is actually taking three hours to help with the local school’s academic calendar, or a social function, or an extracurricular activity (instead of say going to the pub with their mates) they have a sort of ‘are we doing something wrong’ moment?
Of course with any expat there is the question of is this ‘better or worse’ which in reality usually equals just ‘different’ but today I read an article (inflammatory though it is) that points out some of the ‘differences’ with being a child in the UK and other countries. Suffice it to say the article is not at all pleased with either British parents basically leaving their kids ‘in the garden to grow on their own’ nor the social welfare state that has accepted nearly anything a UK parent can dish out without regard to the long-term impact on the children.
One interesting statistic and observation in an article full of them was this on ‘in the home’ in the UK:
Eighty percent of British children have televisions in their bedrooms, more than have their biological fathers at home. Fifty-eight percent of British children eat their evening meal in front of the television (a British child spends more than five hours per day watching a screen); 36 percent never eat any meals together with other family members; and 34 percent of households do not even own dining tables. In the prison where I once worked, I discovered that many inmates had never eaten at a table together with someone else.
Let me speculate briefly on the implications of these startling facts. They mean that children never learn, from a sense of social obligation, to eat when not hungry, or not to eat when they are. Appetite is all they need consult in deciding whether to eat—a purely egotistical outlook. Hence anything that interferes with the satisfaction of appetite will seem oppressive. They do not learn such elementary social practices as sharing or letting others go first. Since mealtimes are usually when families get to converse, the children do not learn the art of conversation, either; listening to what others say becomes a challenge.
Unfortunately, statistics in the US are still pretty poor for many a thing, from pregnancy to teen alcoholics so it’s not simply a matter of saying do this and all will be better. Materialism here is as great if not greater than back in the UK.
Anyway, worth a read.
UPDATE: Or you can just get the user’s guide to being a Chav now out on Amazon.