Monthly Archives: November 2010

Out of the Blue

A lot of people hoped I would write a book that describes, in step-by-step fashion, exactly how to locate and plan a short-term overseas posting–essentially, “Working Vacations for Dummies.”  However, this is not a realistic possibility since each specialization will have its own unique assortment of foundations, grants, agencies, and programs–what may work well for a surgeon might be meaningless to a ballet dancer  The real trick to finding a working vacation is not so much knowing exactly where to look but knowing exactly how to respond when that exciting travel/work opportunity appears out of the blue.

For example, just last week I received the following email from a colleague at Gustavus Adolphus, a liberal arts college in nearby St. Peter, Minnesota:

Seeking Software Engineering Lecturers in Vietnam

XXX University is seeking software engineering lecturers at its campuses in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh city.  This is a good opportunity for anyone looking to experience Vietnamese culture and participate in the development of one of the fastest growing economies in the world.  Positions are available both for full-time staff or visiting lecturers working either part-time or for one or more semesters.

What a superb opportunity–a paid, one semester (4-6 month) working vacation in Hanoi, Vietnam, one of the most charming cities in all of SE Asia.   The unexpected appearance of this type of announcement is not all that rare; I receive them a few times a year.  What is rare, however, is the motivation to go after it–the desire to add something new and exciting to your life.  I hope that my book will give you both that level of enthusiasm and the information needed to pull it off.

Monkey Business (Quite Literally)

One of the great pleasures of extended travel is the chance to get off the beaten path; to see those unusual, wacky sights not included in Fodor’s or Frommer’s but which can remain in your mind long after the “biggies” of the local travel scene have faded into oblivion.  That is exactly what happened to us on a visit to the Kayabukiya Tavern in Utsunomiya, Japan, 50 miles north of Tokyo.

Fuku-chan Serving Ruthie Some Sake

We were told about this tavern by our son, Ben, who initially saw it on the ABC-TV series, I Survived A Japanese Game Show.  It is a sake house where the waiters are, honestly, macaque monkeys.  The animals bring hot towels before the meal, as is traditional in Japan, serve beer, sake, and hot tea, collect the bill, and bring change.  They also accept tips, but not cash–only edamame (soy beans).   The monkeys are actual employees whose hours and working conditions have been vetted and approved by both local authorities and Japanese animal rights organizations.  When we saw it on You Tube we knew this was something we had to experience for ourselves.

Fuku-chan Joining Us At The Dinner Table

We stopped at the restaurant on our return from Nikko, a major tourist center near Utsunomiya and had the privilege of enjoying drinks and dinner served by Fuku-chan (F) and Yat-chan (M) as well as meeting their two young off-spring who are being groomed to be the next generation of waiters–when it comes to monkeys, it is easier to breed new employees rather than hire them

So Far, But Yet So Near

Skyline of the Modern City of Kuala Lumpur Where I Worked For One Week Prior to Going to Japan

In the spring and summer of 2001 Ruth and I spent eight months in Kuala Lumpur, the longest of any of our fourteen working vacations.  We had a superb time, and our stay was filled with fun adventures, trips around SE Asia, even political intrigue–check out Chapter 10 of the book for those rather unusual details.  However, because of the length of our stay we saw much of what the country has to offer, and when I accepted the invitation to be an external examiner and return to Malaysia some of my friends were a bit surprised.  What they didn’t understand is that sometimes you accept a posting not only because of where a place is but also because of where a place is near.

In 1991 I spent a month in Japan (described in Getting Out of That Rut) but, sadly, without my wife–the only extended trip I have taken without her.  I promised her that someday we would return so she could see what she missed from twenty years ago.  This trip to Malaysia was the perfect opportunity.

The Atomic Dome in Hiroshima, One of The Few Building Standing After the Bomb. It Is A National Historical Monument.

The air route from Minneapolis to Kuala Lumpur is via Tokyo.  Once I accepted the school’s offer I asked my hosts to extend the layover in Tokyo on the return trip from four hours to twenty-one days!  They were happy to oblige, and I ended up with a free ticket to Japan. I did the same thing a few years later when I accepted a six-week working vacation in Mongolia that included a glorious fourteen-day stopover in China

So, when planning a working vacation don’t just think about places you want to see but also places that are nearby things you may want to see.  This way you get a “two-fer” all for the price of none!

I’m Back…

Hello again, dear readers.  I just returned from four glorious weeks in Malaysia and Japan ready to renew blogging and eager to again share with you my techniques for finding no-cost, short-term travel adventures.

The Faculty of Information Technology at MMU Where I Spent One Week As External Examiner

I was in Malaysia as the external examiner for the Faculty of Information Technology at Multimedia University (MMU) in Cyberjaya, a new, high-technology city about 25 miles from Kuala Lumpur.  (Note: An external examiner is an artifact of the British system of higher education.  The examiner goes to the school, reviews the program, and makes recommendations for improvement.  It is like an accreditation visit.)  I previously had worked at MMU for eight months in 2001 as a Visiting Professor under the auspices of the U.S. State Department Fulbright Scholar program and, because of their familiarity with my work,  was invited back as an external examiner.  My airline ticket, all living and travel expenses, and an honorarium were included, and it was sufficient to allow me to add a three-week stopover in Japan on the return trip at little cost to myself and my wife who met me in Tokyo.

The Luxury Resort Where I Stayed in Malaysia. Trust Me, I Don't Usually Travel LIke This!

This experience highlights one of the best ways of locating a working vacation–keep in close contact with institutions where you have previously worked.  Assuming you did a good job the first time, and assuming that money is available, there is a high likelihood they will invite you back for a second visit–working vacation redux!   It worked for me, and it can certainly work for you.

My New Travel Book

My book, On The Other Guy’s Dime, is available in paper and e-book formats from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Apple.  Read about our adventures on Facebook and follow me on Twitter: