20 weird habits of expats living in Southeast Asia

Don’t let Southeast Asia scare you. There are tons of expats moving to Vietnam, Thailand, and other countries every year. And we are not only surviving–we’re thriving! All it takes is some innovation to stay healthy, deal with bugs, cope with the humidity, and more!

  1. Unplugging your water cooler so you can sleep at night. If you have a water cooler inside your apartment that is. It’s really quite convenient to have water delivered to your house in Vietnam! To avoid waking up insanely early, I also recommend keeping a fan as white noise to drown out Asia’s worst early-risers: roosters.singapore fines weird laws durian no smoking sign funny travel southeast asia
  2. Using surge protectors for all your important electronic items. If you haven’t been, and all your electronics are starting to whack out…well, be aware that the socket voltage is likely different from that of back home. Consider buying local products or buying a surge protector for each item.
  3. Capping your toothpaste. Always. You never know what could get inside–humidity, insects, worms….Yes, worms. More on that later.
  4. Keeping food waste in the freezer. Only until you have a chance to throw it in the bin outside, of course. This is to prevent a swarm of sugar ants from taking over your house.
  5. Drinking small amounts of water throughout the day. First of all, you’ll never have to pee if you gradually sweat it out. In this way, humidity is a blessing wherever public bathrooms cost money. Secondly, keeping from diluting your body helps prevent hyponatremia.
  6. Holding on to your stuff. As you walk the streets in Southeast Asia, it’s important to keep a tight grip on your bag and to be aware of your surroundings at all times. The distracted, oblivious targets are usually the ones to get stolen from. Why? Easy targets are the better targets. It’s an unfortunate truth. At the same time, however, it’s important to be ready to let go of your stuff, rather than getting dragged on the ground by a heartless thief on a motorbike.
  7. Keeping your money in your pants or elsewhere, underneath your outer garments. Personally, I always keep an amount of emergency money hidden on me. That way, I’ll always be able to pay my way home, even if I’m robbed of everything else. I only carry my debit or credit cards on certain days, and if I do, they are always in my wallet belt.
  8. Absorbing the atmosphere more often than using your camera. Why? Because the atmosphere is enthralling, and getting your flashy electronics stolen will ruin the moment.
  9. Disinfecting restaurant and stall utensils with limes (Vietnam) or tea (Hong Kong). I would say this is more of a practice than a necessity, but it can’t hurt to wipe off any residue of people’s germs, air pollution, or bad water. (During a mani-pedi in Ben Tre, I even had my nails “disinfected” with limes.)
  10. Walking through crazy traffic. Cars, motorbikes, buses, trucks, backhoes, rickshaws, talking bicycles, everything. After a while, you go numb. It’s still important to remain watchful, though. (Vietnam, Philippines, Thailand)
  11. Shrugging off inconveniences and bad experiences. Running late. Stuck in traffic. Broken-down bus. “Oh, well. It’s Vietnam,” is something all of us here in Ho Chi Minh City say.
  12. Asking where people are from–always. You can never tell with these expats. Even the ones who look and/or sound like you could be from elsewhere entirely. I’m renowned for mistaking Canadians for Americans and vice-versa.
  13. Using a VPN to text or call back home for free. Google Voice is one great way to keep in touch. It provides a free local number that allows your friends and family to contact you directly from their phones. As long as you use a US IP address to connect to the internet, any calls to a US number are free. VPNs are also great for security in areas where Internet fraud is a real danger!
  14. Washing your raw vegetables with GSE, hydrogen peroxide, or bleach. Be sure you research how to use these substances properly, so you won’t poison yourself.
  15. Occasionally drinking sports drinks and ORS solution to stay healthy and keep hydrated.
  16. Keep your toothbrush inside a case. See #3 and #17 to understand why.
  17. Brushing your teeth or rinsing your retainers/dentures with bottled or filtered water. I’m paranoid about this ever since the Philippines. In Las Pinas City, tiny worms showed up in my retainer case. You can imagine how I reacted when I realized I already had one of my retainers in my mouth. Anyway, I assume this happened because I used nothing but regular tap water to rinse my retainers.
  18. Keeping natural skin care products in the fridge. They will keep longer this way! Remember, the hot and humid weather could greatly decrease the shelf-life of your best makeup.
  19. Getting up super early to beat the heat or the afternoon rain. (Ho Chi Minh, Kuala Lumpur)
  20. Following weird laws or customs, or otherwise adopting habits that used to seem strange. Living in Vietnam is turning me into a very direct person–that’s how everyone communicates here. In Thailand, I’ll have to adjust what I wear to avoid offending the people currently mourning the passing of their longtime king. In Singapore, I readily accepted the fact that one could be heavily fined for bringing a durian on the subway. (You won’t catch me with a whole durian anywhere.)

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