Been too long in Asia?

The Island newspaper here is available online and is one of two Sri Lankan newspapers I check pretty much on a daily basis. The Island is also available on local newsstands where its relative popularity (at least among English speakers) compared to the government organ The Daily News is demonstrated every day by the fact that the Island always sells out much more quickly than the Daily News. So reading the Island online is a more reliable way to keep up with its lead stories.

However, there is a downside to reading the Island online. The Island has a humor columnist who goes by the name of Nuri Vittachi. Humor is a tricky business but I’ve found that Vittachi manages to be funny on a pretty regular basis even with the pressure of a daily column. But the online version of the Island makes a mistake by not clearly identifying his column from among the other articles on the site. The online paper just lists the titles of the available articles and since Vittachi’s humor tend to the dry side, the titles most often do not give a hint to the humor contained within.

I got lucky the other day though and found Vittachi’s column about how you could tell when you had been in Asia too long. It seemed so apropos of our leaving and many of his “signs” rang so true that I thought I would pass it on to you all. Here it is, reprinted without permission (in the Sri Lankan spirit):

Signs that you have been living in Asia too long

My wife and I lived in a hotel at one time. Eventually we moved out and found a normal home. I was shocked to come home from work the first day and find that no one had folded the end of the toilet paper into a neat little triangle for me. “We are not animals,” I remember shouting at my wife. It took some time to realize that hotel life had changed my perception of what was normal.

In the same way, Westerners who spend a long time in Asia find themselves “going native”. One English friend went back to London after several years in Vietnam. Staff at Harrods, a fancy store, told her the price of the scarf she was looking at. She laughed scornfully in their faces, offered 20 per cent, and then marched out of the shop. Only when she noticed that staff failed to follow her, reducing the price at every step, did she recall that you just don’t do that sort of thing in London.

These memories were triggered by a letter I received from reader Jo Bunker, who has been living in Hong Kong for many years. “My list of signs you’ve been here too long would look like this,” she said. “You find yourself wondering how your friends back home can possibly survive without a rice cooker; you seek out a Chinatown when on holiday; you are shocked and suspicious when someone holds a door open for you; you manically over-pressing the ‘door close’ button in the lift; you peer over people’s shoulders at their account balance in the ATM queue; and you sneer at anyone who orders sweet and sour pork in a Chinese restaurant.”

Laurie Ashton, a Canadian who moved to Sri Lanka, wrote in her blog that she knew she had lived there too long when she stopped taking pictures of water buffalos mingling with traffic.

For Westerners in general, here are 12 Signs You’ve Been in Asia Too Long. 1) You find yourself bowing slightly when you are introduced to someone. 2) You don’t think there’s anything weird about eating a tenderloin steak with a side of rice. 3) You think of a motor scooter as a family vehicle for up to nine people. 4) You own more ethnic clothes than any of your Asian friends. 5) If you find a bug in your food, you pick it out and keep eating. 6) You no longer close your eyes when the driver of your auto-rickshaw cuts in and out of lanes missing other vehicles by a millimeter. 7) It now seems natural that breakfast buffets feature fried noodles, rice and curry. 8) When someone asks you a difficult question, you see the usefulness of responding with a South Asian head-wobble. 9) Using cutlery to eat feels weird. 10) You’re not particularly bothered when rural people defecate behind the nearest convenient bush. 11) You now really like foodstuffs you once thought weird and disgusting, like bitter melon, stinky tofu, lime pickle and stewed taro. 12) You are no longer too embarrassed to admit to other Westerners that you have servants.

But next time you visit your home in the west, remember not to defecate behind the nearest convenient bush. Especially not near Harrods.

If you want to contribute to the Island’s online ad revenue stream, you can click on the link to the article here. If you want to upset the woman in your life, read her today’s article.




  1. Varuni said,

    June 15, 2009 at 3:13 pm


    Just an excellent article that you have chosen at the right time. Is this the final blog posting? You seem to have adapted well to the Sri Lankan (and South Asian too) culture. I enjoyed and learnt more about intercultural issues reading your blog. Hope you enjoyed the stay. Wish you and Kris a prosperous and a peaceful future.

    Bon Voyage.

    • Tim said,

      June 16, 2009 at 8:07 am


      By answering all my pestering questions, you taught me a great deal about intercultural issues as well. Thank you.

      My rate of posting has definitely decreased, but my intention is to document our year up until the time we return home. So expect some posts about our trip home starting with my sister’s arrival (on Saturday!) and our “safari” to Yala. Also I have not finished my tales of Pakistan. So I’m not quite done yet.

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