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#RealTravel: I Moved to Southeast Asia and Never Looked Back

We know that real-life travel isn’t what you read about in glossy magazines or see on the Travel Channel.

We want to hear what it is like when you — our readers — go on vacation.

What motivates you to take a trip, and how does it change your life? In this new Yahoo Travel series, we get the low-down, along with all your tips and strategies. If you’ve got a trip that you think Yahoo Travel should spotlight, tweet us using the hashtag #RealTravel.

#RealTravel: I Moved to Southeast Asia and Never Looked Back

Singapore expat Jenny Mizusawa, taking a cooking class in Penang, Malaysia (Photo: Jenny Mizusawa)

Who: Jenny Mizusawa, 33. Last November, I was offered an opportunity I couldn’t refuse. The ad technology company I work for asked me to relocate from New York to Singapore and take on building a sales and account management team in-market.

Why: The timing was very “door closing, window opening” for me. I had just ended an eight-month relationship with my boyfriend and I loved my company, but after three years was feeling restless and needed a change. The option to move came at the perfect time.

Related: I Scrapped My Job and Headed to Bali

pottery class Chiang Mai, Thailand

Taking a pottery class in Chiang Mai, Thailand (Photo: Jenny Mizusawa)

Where: Singapore in Southeast Asia. I jokingly refer to Singapore as “Asia Lite” because it’s everything you would want from Asia but just extraordinarily clean and organized. The sun rises at 7 a.m. and sets at 7 p.m. every single day year-round in Singapore. The low is 70 and the high is 90 every day, and if it gets down to 70 it’s shocking. It hits 90 every day … but it’s never 100. It’s like “Bio-Dome” except, thankfully, I’m not stuck with Pauly Shore! And Changi Airport gives me a quick escape route if I want to change it up for a weekend. 

Travel Inspiration: A normal weekend is a friend saying, “There’s a cheap flight to Malaysia — who wants to go?” The last trip I went on was to Ubud in Bali with a co-worker. If we were in New York City, and a co-worker said, “Hey, how about the two of us go to Martha’s Vineyard?” I’d probably raise an eyebrow and ask why. But here, hopping on a plane to explore with pretty much anyone you know and like makes sense. If someone says, “I want to go to Bali” and you say no, it’s your loss.

Related: 5 Beautiful Bali Hotels Under $100

Bali shop

A shop in Bali (Photo: Jenny Mizusawa)

How I Changed: I have a lot more focus here than I did when I was in New York. I like the person I am here. I like that I am doing things and having different experiences and making the most of each day. Here, I also give myself a little more credit for the time off I take. If I am working two 18-hour days and I want to leave early on a Friday to meet a friend in Penang to go to a textile exhibit, then I will. I also spend more time doing things for myself than I did before. I eat the foods I want to eat, I cook when I want to. And I’ve lost my fear of missing out. If I don’t feel like going out, I have no problem saying, “Have fun — catch you next time,” and then doing whatever I want.

Why I Love It: Living abroad is different than traveling abroad. It’s all about finding your new normal. I’ve found my new morning coffee ritual: iced coffee from Flock. In Singapore, it’s 90 degrees every … single … day. I suck it down during my 10-minute walk to the train to avoid the $500 fine for eating or drinking on public transportation. I know it probably sounds weird, but one thing I really miss about my daily Brooklyn-to-Manhattan commute is just standing on the swaying subway, drinking hot coffee from a cardboard cup and zoning out.

Singapore

Right across from my office, this is the view on my walk to the Raffles MRT when I take the train home. (Photo: Jenny Mizusawa)

What I Don’t Love: Not just knowing where to go. After almost seven years living in New York, I had all my spots sorted out: Weather Up in Prospect Heights for cocktails and conversations at the bar, VON in Manhattan for a more casual crowd and maybe an impromptu dance party downstairs, back in Park Slope to Commonwealth for hanging out with friends in the backyard. Here, it’s still a learning experience, and sometimes I have to learn the hard way. One night, a fellow New York transplant and I decided to try and find some good spots to meet people. After some Internet searches, we had a loose plan and were feeling pretty confident that we had a fun night ahead. When we got to the place I’d picked, it was completely empty except for the Singapore version of the von Trapp family singing the whole time. Basically the opposite of what we were looking for. As were the next two bars we checked out. Sometimes you get a big fat reminder that no, you are not home anymore, and you have no idea what you’re doing. 

Related: Living Abroad: A Nomad’s Guide to Home-Loose Living

Where I Live: I live on my own in an older conservation building, which is a bit uncommon around here. Most locals live with their families until they are married, and most expats choose to live in a souped-up condo building. But that just wasn’t for me. In the end, I looked at 30 (30!) apartments and, after a lifetime of living in old buildings, I guess I am just most comfortable there. My 1930s walkup is where I am making my new home.

A Day in My Life: Tiong Bahru is home to one of the older wet markets and hawker centers in the city. I have a ritual now where on either Saturday or Sunday morning, I go to the wet market to buy veggies, fruit, and eggs for the week. I love talking to the farmers there, who are always so nice. When I have questions about anything, they usually launch into a recipe, pointing out all the other stalls where I can buy each ingredient. I also always pick up a fruit I’ve never had and a mixed bouquet of orchids for $10-15. 

Singapore orchids

Orchids from the local market — not bad for 10 Singapore dollars (Photo: Jenny Mizusawa)

I’ve been making traditional Singaporean dishes like prawns with salted duck egg yolk, courtesy of my egg man who taught me how to tell the difference between local Singaporean eggs and Malaysian eggs (a white stamp on the shell) and gave me a recipe for peanut and pork rib soup. The peanuts were right out of the ground stalks, with leaves and everything, so I had to get them. I asked the veg guy what to do with them and he told me, “Pork rib soup!” All I needed to do was show the woman at the pork stand the peanut bunch and she immediately pulled out pork rib, explaining the recipe while she cleavered the meat up. When I’m not working (which I do a lot — that’s kind of why I’m here, after all) I try to seek out other Brooklyn-esque aspects of Singapore. 

Singapore

Saturday morning ritual of making breakfast and planning trips (Photo: Jenny Mizusawa)

Favorite Local Spots: I love our local bookstore, Books Actually. It is just fantastic. It’s a cramped shop that is floor-to-ceiling with just about everything you could want, including a couple adorable cats wandering about. I’ve gotten some books, and there is a room tucked in the back with all sorts of vintage items. I got a big metal platter that I’ve put on a plastic stool for a bedside table and some old photographs that in theory will be an art project (but in reality will probably just be found by some future great-grand-something and throw the family into confusion about who these people are and are we related to them).

When I Felt Far From Home: Not to contradict myself, but I do have fear of missing out with the Western Hemisphere. I miss my friends and family. I hate being 12 hours ahead and group emails come in the middle of my night. I am always the last to know when my nephew does something new, a friend got engaged, or someone is having a baby. Social media is a dual-edged sword in that I get to see everyone, but when pictures from a dear friend’s birthday at Astoria Beer Garden popped up, I did get that little lump in my throat.

Boracay, Philippines

Taken from the boat that took me to Boracay, Philippines (Photo: Jenny Mizusawa)

What I’ve Learned: Being in Asia, being in an emerging market, I have access to people and conversations I wouldn’t have access to in the U.S. The digital community is small in New York, but it’s huge compared to Singapore, where everybody knows each other. Being here gives me the opportunity to talk to leaders I might not get exposure to in the U.S. and I’ve been able to learn a lot from the people around me. My world feels smaller in some ways, but my career opportunities have opened up. Plus, I get to travel to gorgeous places like Ubud in Bali and Boracay in the Philippines on the weekends. I am more OK being by myself than I used to be. Yes, I miss home. But there’s still so much to explore.

As told to Corynne (Steindler) Cirilli

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