MM- You spent several years in SE Asia, can you briefly tell me, according to your perspective and experience, the best and the worst side every of the ones you lived in and visited has to offer.
The places that are the biggest adventures are those that have the least modern conveniences and comforts. So this is always the conundrum. Do you want to live like a human being or do you want the big adventure? You often can’t have both. Taiwan and Korea are extremely developed, so less adventure. Cambodia and Vietnam are still raw, so it’s exciting, but you have to deal with bad internet service, higher crime rates, dirty food…a lot of potentially uncomfortable situations and conditions. In Cambodia in particular, you want a local experience but local things are often so undeveloped or ill-equipped that you wind up going to foreigner things which cost as much as they do back home but with half the quality. People think living in a poor country is cheap. It’s not necessarily. For one thing, most products are imported, so they cost more than they do back home.
Thailand is by far the best place to train. There are 90,000 professional boxers in Thailand and probably 1,000 gyms with professional training and international fighting experience. The cost of living is also very low in Thailand. BUT bring your own money. There is nearly no way to earn money in Thailand. as a fighter you will some times get as little as $90 for a fight. As a teacher, most jobs only pay about $700 USD a month.
Cambodia is an experience. It’s interesting and exciting. The fighters are good. But training is pretty basic, almost no equipment and really only one gym where foreigners can train. Learning Khmer Bokator is a good experience, though. It’s the ancient martial art of Cambodia and by learning it, you are helping to preserve the Khmer heritage.
Taiwan is good to live in. very comfortable and developed. You can earn a good living as teacher, if you have legitimate degrees and qualifications. You can train fairly well in Kaohsiung or Taipei but you can’t get many fights.
Korea is horrible. They hate you. You hate them. Everything sucks. Buildings aren’t heated. It’s lonely and awful but you can earn good money and get a free apartment. There is only fighting in Seoul. Training in Busan is less exciting.
Philippines is great for stick fighting. People are great. Crime is off the charts in Manila. There are some excellent fighting teams doing Yaw Yan, Filipino MMA. But again, bring your own money. You can get work as an English teacher, teaching Koreans, for about $700 a month. At which point you think, why not just go back to Korea? You can also get a job in a call center but you work all night, when America is working.
Vietnam: salaries for teachers are quite high but rents are much higher than in other places I have worked. In Taiwan my one bedroom apartment with kitchen and living room and garden was $220 per month. In Hanoi that would probably run about $500. There are a lot of martial arts in Vietnam. And it is an interesting, dynamic place, but there isn’t a lot of fighting.
So far, Vietnamese and Korean are the hardest languages I have ever tried to learn.
China is a good experience. You can live in a full time training school for anywhere from $300 to $2,000 a month, depending if you are a professional victim or not. I even had an invitation from a full time San Da school in shanghai for only $300 a month for room and training. That is even cheaper than what most foreigners pay for their rent. So you can find deals in China. But some people are stupid enough to pay $1,500 a week to stay at Shaolin Temple. I paid $200 a month. Again in China you need to bring your own money. There is unlimited work as a teacher, but the salary is seriously low, often $500 a month.
Malaysia is super for training. There are a few good Muay Thai and Tomoi schools in KL and Selangore. I heard there are Muay Thai camps in the north and there is silat everywhere. If you are a qualified school teacher, a licensed school teacher in your home country, you can get a job at an international school. They pay really well but it is a regular 45 hour per week job.
MM- Have you ever gone back stateside during these expatriate years? How do you feel when you go back there?
I have been back once for a book release after four years in Asia. I was useless in America. I had no function. Here in Asia I train, write and study most of the day and then work when I need to, at most three or five hours per day. In America, you have to work full time and you still can’t afford anything.
MM – Any thoughts about the switch to the Obama administration?
In Taiwan, my friends and I stayed up and watched the entire inauguration. I cried. I was so happy to be rid of Bush and I was very optimistic for president Obama. I still am. And, if called, I would drop everything and serve his administration in a second, with not a single glance backward.
MM- Seen the recent struggles of the Uyghur people culminating with violence in Urumqi and the Chinese renovation plans to bulldoze most of the historical part of Kashgar, how do you feel? I know you have travelled in the Taklamakan desert by bike and met this population long before it was lit by these ridiculous “media dimlights”?
My second book, “The Desert of Death on Three Wheels” was written about that region. I rode from Aksu to Kashgar on a Chinese tricycle. The Uyghur are a sad people. They don’t belong in China. They should be an independent country, as they were prior to 1949, when they lived in East Turkistan. Or, they should be part of Turkmenistan. I hate what is happening to them. I saw a very violent police action when I was there and it frightened me.
MM- You are Italian American and you told me you?d like to go back to Italy and study and live there for a while. What do you expect from our country? Are you aware of the frightening Berlusconi’s era, and the drastic conditions in which our ancient artistic heritage has been flushed down the toilet?
I plan to go back to Italy, teach English and study Italian and martial arts. I have been planning for years to write a book about the experience, and the title would be “Among My Own People.” Berlusconi is my hero. He is like the Donald Trump of Italy. He is a quirky, funny character who I think is a perfect politician for a country which has had 39 governments since World War II. I am extremely close to wanting to move to Italy after Christmas.
THANK YOU VERY MUCH ANTONIO, IT WAS A LONG, INTERESTING TALK THAT I WISH WILL CLEAR SOME ISSUES OR MISCONCEPTIONS PEOPLE MIGHT HAVE ABOUT LIVING IN ASIA. I HOPE THE MONKEYROCKWORLD WILL TREAT YOU AS WELL AS THE MARTIAL ARTS ONE, AND REMEMBER, YOU ARE ALWAYS WELCOME ON THESE PAGES.