Many of our readers will know that best-selling author and renowned speculator Doug Casey inspired this project (in fact, it's based on his International Man book by the same name first published in the late 70s).
Doug was one of the earliest modern advocates of internationalization – both as a way to generate wealth but also to enjoy a more interesting life. It's a point he has made many times over the years whenever someone complains that there aren't enough opportunities around him.
It's a lesson that especially applies to young people as they are in the unique position of having limited connections or commitments at home.
Unfortunately, as is human nature, people are often afraid to leave what they know for something they don't. Most ignore Doug's advice and stay rooted deep into their own little patch of the planet.
Not Patrick Lee, however. He actually took the original International Man's advice and completely changed his life for the better…
Journey to Jakarta
International Man: Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself?
Patrick Lee: Sure! I'm pretty much like any other 20-something recent graduate. I was underemployed when I was employed and spent just as much time looking for work than actually working.
I studied economics and minored in statistics, was a collegiate athlete at a D1 school (UC Davis), and made the dean's list. That really just shows how little use degrees are these days. I've been interested in living and working in Asia for a few years, and recently I decided to go for it, and have had a fantastic time so far. Although I'm not completely settled, I doubt many people have had as a successful time landing on both feet in a different country that speaks a foreign language.
IM: How old are you now?
PL: I'm 24 years old.
IM: Did you head out alone, or with someone else?
PL: I went out alone. I did meet my Indonesian cousin who was on holiday in Jakarta. I was planning on moving on to Kuala Lumpur, where I have family, and then maybe Thailand later on. But my cousin introduced me to some of her friends and asked them to look out for me. Soon enough, Jakarta went from being a stop on the way to Malaysia to becoming something of a second home.
IM: What made you choose South East Asia?
PL: I became interested, at first, mostly because some investors who I trust are raising their children there (like Jim Rogers). I think that during the time where I'll be working – sometime in the next twenty or thirty years – Asia will really mature economically. Moreover, I knew that now is a really ideal time to travel for me; I'm young, I don't have any ties to really anything, and most importantly, I was lucky enough to get through college without any debt or student loans. So there was little pressure for me to take up a job that paid well, but offered little else.
Also, I didn't like the way the United States seemed to be going. Too many lawyers, wars, and inflation for my liking. As a libertarian, it was probably easier to say goodbye to the social circles I belonged in than if I was something more sensible. Even though I had great friends, I was already lonely in thought, and figured that I might as well feel out of place someplace actually interesting.
I also figured an American degree would be worth much more in Indonesia than in the US, and I would stand out rather than blend in.
Furthermore, I thought that being Asian American would help me make friends. I've been surprised at how easy it actually is to make friends here. People are kind of curious as to why a young guy of Asian descent decided to leave America and “go back” to Asia, as the current trend among nearly everyone here is to somehow make it to America.
I read Doug Casey's article on Fresh Starts, and theoretically, everything made more sense. I could actually see how it was possible to improve my life by living elsewhere. My grandmother, who was then in critical care, passed away a few days later… Suddenly, something inside me clicked. I wanted to go. After talking to my sisters and cousins, I was convinced to actually do what I thought was right, and I announced to my family and friends that I was planning to leave as soon as I could manage.
I really like Indonesia. I'm fascinated by most everything I see. Even dreadful things like the traffic are fun to watch. There are virtually no rules on the road. Everything is very free here. I never feel like I need a hall pass to do anything. You are responsible for yourself and it feels good.
As for the weather, I don't know why, but I find the grizzly heat and the humidity here enjoyable. And I love the food as well. Indonesia is something of a heaven to somebody who loves spicy curries, juicy coconuts and unrecognizable seafood.
The people here have been impressive as well. They park their motorcycles and leave their helmets on their bikes. No locks. I think that speaks very well of the attitude people have here. Many other places don't have that kind of trust.
IM: What has surprised you the most about the country so far?
PL: There has been so much that has surprised me, I'm not sure where to start. I know I got a little lucky, making friends with great people. Because I'm staying in a fashion designer's house, there are usually exceptionally beautiful women coming in and out of the house. I've been hanging out with one of the most famous actresses in Indonesia, and I had no clue who she was when I met her.
Probably the biggest surprise came after a few days, when people started telling me I could model (apparently, Indonesians think my mixture of Chinese and European descent is attractive). Sure enough, three weeks later I was in front of a camera with a beautiful model shooting for an Absolut ad. It was for the release of a new vodka in Indonesia, and as one of the models in the ad, I found myself thrown in a room partying with some of the richest people in country. I never expected anything like that before I left.
IM: Does Indonesia strike you as being a very entrepreneurial place? If so, does that also apply to other young entrepreneurial folks like yourself who don't have Asian features?
PL: Yes, my impression is that it is very entrepreneurial. People love talking about business ideas – what you can import into the country… if they would work or not. I'm not sure if it is just the first people I've met, but people take you much more seriously here when you say you want to start a business than in the US.
The people here are very hard working, humble, but also entrepreneurial. You hear stories of people who sell noodles on the street, and end up making enough money to send their kids to the US for education – not a cheap thing to do especially as foreigners. People can feel the wealth here I think.
For people who don't have Asian features, being successful isn't impossible; I have met some white Australians who have done well starting hotels and restaurants. As an Asian, it probably is a little easier getting a foothold in society, but I don't think its any overly difficult obstacle to overcome here. Not everyone here loves non-Asian foreigners, but a lot of Indonesians do.
IM: What – if anything – do you miss from America?
PL: I miss mostly my friends and family, of course. I keep in touch with them via my blog, as well as skype. That helps a lot.
As for anything I'm missing… a lot of the Western lifestyle you can get in Jakarta. I ended up watching English TV on a couch, and eating pizza, soon after I arrived. If I had to choose something, I guess I miss the air in California. I wish there were less pollution here and bugs. I get eaten alive by all sorts of them when I don't cover myself in repellent.
IM: Have you found there are many expats in town? Have you even looked… or… do you prefer to hang out with the locals?
PL: I have met a few Indonesians who went to school in the US and have spent a significant amount of time there. They are fantastic people to talk to. I also made friends with an expat at a party who works at the World Bank, and we had lots of things in common to talk about. But mostly, I have been hanging out with locals. We can communicate in English, usually, but the locals have also been patient enough to help me learn the basics of Behasa. I've only been here a month now, and I do plan on seeking out expat spots.
IM: Can you imagine yourself living in Indonesia for a while?
PL: If I can figure out a better way to avoid mosquitoes, I can see myself living here and being content. There is so much activity in Jakarta and it seems to me full of life. Once I have a little more income, and my visa has changed to something more long term, I'd be happy to live here at least a year.
IM: Any advice for people thinking about heading out overseas, but who aren't sure how to start or what to do?
PL: I would say just go for it. Most of the information you can find on your site. I think a lot of it is small things that are holding them back – the fear of doing something both different and risky. And for me, I made a lot of excuses to myself not to go. I needed to do this or that first, but really, a plane ticket is all you need (maybe a VISA and passport as well). It doesn't cost an arm and a leg, and while it's nice to make a lot of preparations before you go, I don't think it's absolutely necessary. Talk to as many people as you can while you're there. You can figure a lot out as you go.
Don't let small things hold you back, and be sure to have a little bit of fun along the way.
IM: Is there anything else you want to add?
PL: For me, Indonesia is the land of opportunity; my life has changed completely since I left. Which is funny, since my mom thought the same thing about the US when she left Malaysia in the late 70's.
IM: Thank you Patrick.