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Have you stopped blogging? Are you dead? Abducted by aliens? Held prisoner by a deranged Londoner with chronic halitosis and a peg leg? No. I’m just lazy.

London life is easy. I hate admitting this, but almost too easy. Yes, I loved to complain about life in Tokyo, and to a far lesser extent, Hong Kong, but life in the English capital is pretty smooth. Are there things to complain about? Sure. Pull up a chair. The class thing is alive and well here. It’s almost like Japan, you know, where they sniff each other’s butts to determine rank before they open their mouths to speak. And don’t let me get started on the public drunkenness and resulting debauchery. Christ. Your ideas of the English and their manners would disappear faster than a drug lord in a Mexican prison.

But my partner and I love living here. We love our neighbourhood–I now type the u in neighbourhood because I hate red squiggly lines. Those red squiggly lines make me see, well, red. It’s the computer’s way of telling you that you fucked up. “Hey asshole, red squiggly lines. Learn how to spell you stupid fuck.” My computer has such a foul mouth.

But I digress.

Due to a royal mistake which will be discussed at a later time, we are now fugitives from the law. Okay, not really. I just wanted to type that. Due to an enormous error, my partner and I must leave the country within the next two years for a, I shit you not, “cooling off period.” You see, we were given the wrong visa upon entry into the UK. And now it appears this horrible, horrible mistake can only be fixed by leaving the UK for a year. And moving to Paris makes the most sense.

Given the proximity of Paris to London and thus my partner’s job, Paris is ideal. We only live one station away from San Pancras International, the Eurostar terminus. We know how easy it is to have breakfast in London and lunch in Paris. Should my partner require face to face time in the London office, he could board the train for England and be back again in time for dinner with me in France.

So why not move back to Asia you say? Why not stop this expat adventure altogether and move back to New York? Well because my partner’s job is easier done from London, or this approximate timezone. A move to Asia or the US would be challenging to say the least. He was working London hours right before we moved here from Hong Kong. That was no fun. We were having dinner at midnight. No joke. And me, the perfect mate, would cook as always and wait to eat with him. Me. Gold star. Here.

While I try to look on the bright, the shadows loom. I mean, twist my arm. Most people would say, “Hey, it’s Paris. It’s not Mogadishu or Bagdad. You are moving to a city most people could only dream of calling home.” And of course, yes, it’s Paris. But true story, the second to the last time I was there, I turned to my parter and said, “I love visiting Paris but I would never want to live here.”

And wouldn’t you know it? God or Yoda or Joan Rivers was listening and just like that, moving to Paris became a possible reality.

London is home though. We never expected to love it as much as we do but we do. Our plan is to live here longterm, to move back after a year in Paris and settle down more permanently. I never thought I’d want to live anywhere longterm other than New York. I was wrong. I only hope we can fix it to where we don’t have to move. Paris is fine but London is London.

My partner and I boarded a flight to Tokyo at JFK ten years ago last month. And for ten years, we’ve been expats. The plan was always to move back to New York after a few years, settle down, buy an apartment, get a dog, grow organic shit on the balcony, run along the Hudson, pretend not to notice our favourite actor as she walks past us in the Village, you know, settle into a respectable middle-age New York life. But now I’m not so sure.

It bothers me that I prefer London to New York. I feel like I’m cheating on New York as I type this, like I’m turning my back on the city that opened her arms to me as I ran fleeing conservative Texas. “That’s right my little beaner, come running to Mama. She’ll love you. She’ll shelter you. She’ll nurture you.” And she did. I never knew what home felt like until I moved to New York. I remember riding alone in a taxi one evening thinking about this feeling I had. I couldn’t put my finger on it and then I realised it was contentedness. I felt content, and for the first time.

All our friends who have moved back to their respective countries miss living abroad. They’ll reminisce about the good old days wandering Shibuya’s neon maze of alleyways and pedestrian-choked street crossings; or the private junk boat day trips spent downing beers in Hong Kong Harbour, the stretch of skyscrapers and lush mountains as far as the eye can see. It’s real but it’s not. You go to work but you’re on vacation. It jolts you at first and then seeps into you slowly. The formerly exotic becomes mundane. The once imitating outdoor market becomes scouted and explored, the vendor who sells you mixed nuts and dried fruit begins to recognise you, starts to give you a better price because of your loyalty. And with each bit of acceptance and moment of familiarity, you become your adopted home’s citizen.

And then you move. Restart.

We have English friends living in Bangkok who’ve been away from the UK for nearly twenty years. They’ve lived in West Africa, Japan and Singapore among other places. And they have no intention of returning to the UK, planning instead to retire to their home in the South of France.

Most of our friends here in London are expats themselves. Don’t get me wrong, we have English friends too but this is one of the most diverse cities in the world. You’d have to go out of your way not to be friends with someone from another country.

 

In fact, my partner and I hosted a party this past weekend and the majority of our guests were not English, they were Finnish, Indian, Polish, Canadian, Israeli, Swedish, German, Jamaican, Italian and yes, American. And all of them call London home. Some have the desire to return to their home countries one day, others do not. I increasingly put myself in that latter bunch.

I’ve done this three times now. And though I’d like to stay put for the foreseeable future, if the right opportunity presented itself, I would gladly move and start again. That’s the thing about being an expat. You begin to crave the adventure.

 

My partner and I spent a week in Paris in April. You know. Like the song? April in Paris.  Someone forgot to remind Paris it was April because spring had not yet arrived. It was cold, rainy and overcast for most of the week. We live in London so we’re used to this kind of weather. You just don’t want it following you to fucking Paris.

Many years ago, my partner lived in Paris. He was studying French at the Sorbonne. He lived in a house in Montparnasse owned by a kind, elderly lady who opened her home to foreign students. He became a friend of the family and is still in touch to this day.

Paris helped define my partner. It was his first big city, real city. He grew up in suburban Florida so you can imagine. I’ve learned not to roll my eyes when he over pronounces French to be funny. I imagine that had we known each other back then, I’d have slapped him or made fun of him. I hate pretentious people. That’s why few of my friends are gay.

But I digress.

My partner and I have taken to exploring cities as if we lived there. You know how you spend your Saturday afternoon exploring more of Brooklyn or heading up to north Chicago just ’cause? You try a new restaurant, pub or go back to the place where they know your name and pretend you’re not a raging alcoholic. We did this in Rome last year, Istanbul in February and Lisbon in May. Christ I’m lucky. Why am I always so high-strung and tense?

Most days in Paris were spent exploring, urban hiking as I like to say. We did our best to avoid touristy areas and museums. We both love Luxembourg Garden and the Saint-Germaine-des-pres. I love Saint Sulpice Cathedral. That square in front is just wonderfully local and urban.

Our friend’s flat was in Belleville near Parc des Buttes Chaumont. Nice park. Great views of the city. Very few tourists. Belleville is a middle-class neighborhood filled with immigrants from the Middle East, North Africa and China. A lot of observant Jews too. Artists and hipsters are sprinkled about. It’s kind of like the Lower East Side before it became saturated with people who use summer as a verb.

Four days into our trip, I was getting the impression that my partner wasn’t enjoying himself all that much. He kept giving me mopey face, kept saying that next time we visit we should plan ahead more. Incidentally, “we” means “me” as I don’t work and have time to “plan more.” I reminded him that “we” didn’t want to plan, that the idea was to just wander and explore, find new restaurants, parks, streets, neighborhoods.

“Yeah, I know, but…I just feel we haven’t really been doing anything.”

It was clear Mopey McMopster needed some perspective.

“Didn’t you tell me you had one of the best meals of your life two days ago? Have you not had fun trying to look nonchalant as we breezed through those sketchy neighborhoods? That shirt you bought from the nice girl at that Italian shop wasn’t good enough for you? That cafe with the best people watching not fun enough? All those stretched faces, spoiled kids, stilettos, rich daddies and nanny’s on the verge of suicide not hilarious enough for you?”

“I feel like Michele from Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion where she tells Romy that she didn’t know high school wasn’t fun until she told her. I’m having a blast in Paris. Think of all the things we’ve done? And we still have three more days! What? Do you want me to take a picture of you wearing a beret, a black and white striped t-shirt with a baguette under you arm and a glass of red in your hand? So we didn’t make dinner reservations at places ahead of time. Big shit. I didn’t want to. So we didn’t know what exhibits were in town. We didn’t really want to go to museums on this trip anyway. We were going to live like a Parisian. You know?”

He laughed and agreed. I got off my soapbox and ordered him to order us another glass of wine. Can’t let his French get rusty.

The next day, we left the hovel on the 5th floor and checked into charming Hotel des Nations Saint Germain on Rue Monge. It’s located near the Sorbonne. My partner enjoyed showing me around his old stomping ground. We stumbled into theme bars (think teddy bears) and into an open mic night at a jazz venue. I was too tipsy to attempt Sinatra or Holiday but will return one day. You’re backed by a live trio! Just put a glass of scotch in my hand and I’m a cad or a diva.

Was it a perfect trip? No. But it was Paris. It was April. And we had a great time.

Tips:

Hotel Des Nations Saint-Germain: Slightly nicer than your average three star hotel and soon to be remodeled. The friendly staff is helpful and attentive. Some rooms are bigger than others. We had a smaller room but faced Rue Monge and had a juliet balcony. Nice.

Le Bonaparte: Elegant corner cafe in Saint-Germain with friendly waiters (odd for Paris) and zero attitude. I ate the best omelette I have ever had there (the one at the Metropole Hotel in Hanoi is a very close second). This cafe is a great people watching spot so do yourself a favor, order a bottle of red and linger.

Le Square Trousseau: My partner had one of the best meals of his life there. Great public square too. Urban. Local. The restaurant had zero tourists. Our waitress was friendly and there were vegetarian options for me. We lucked into this place but I would make a reservation, especially if you plan to visit on the weekend.

Twenty one years ago I made a promise to my two best friends in college that we would turn 40 in style. Mission accomplished.

I chose Nice because it covered most of the bases: beach, architecture, food, gambling, culture, vistas. We’d later find out gambling was a bit of a bust but the beach. The beach!

I told my friends that their gift to me would be the cost of the flight to Nice. My partner and I would rent the flat. American Express recommended Riviera Holiday Homes. I took one look at the pics of the selected flat online and said done. It was a gorgeous four bedroom penthouse with a wrap around balcony, high ceilings, big windows, a table that seats eight and a baby grand piano. It was so nice not to have to eat out every night of the week. I mean, my two best friends from college were there with their partners–it was always going to be about playing Hearts at night anyway. We’d play Hearts back in university because if you were too drunk or stoned to play your hand, you’d only hurt yourself, not your partner like in Spades.

I originally envisioned this vacation as more of a cultural tour. You know, a tour of this church, that museum, this vineyard, that scenic village. But mid/late September is still beach weather in the South of France. And with those clear blue waves lashing at the stoney beach, how could you not want to just dive in? Or at least wade in. The waves were rather cold and I have a fear of the water, Jaws and turning into shark poop.

The first full day we headed to the beach. Now that our median age is approaching forty, the six of us opted for a private beach. Managing hard, round stones only armed with a flimsy beach towel is fine when you’re 20, not so fine when you are 40. The first private beach we chose was Castle Beach, at the far left side of the beach. There was some loud competition taking place on the boardwalk and we wanted to be as far away from the noise as possible. Good reason. Lousy result.

Castle Beach is the beach I think gays go to thinking that because the service is brusk if not rude, and the lounge chairs only somewhat comfortable, that it’s somehow chic. The eccentric hostess with the cute dog should have tipped me off. They nickel and dime you to death. Because it was the last beach until you hit the rocks, getting into the water was tricky. We saw one older couple call for help when their soggy bathing suits threatened to weigh them back into the surf. It’s more dangerous than you think. You’d go from ankle deep to shoulder deep in one step. Not my kind of beach. And at 110 euros for six people, not worth the money.

We went to the beach on our second full day too, this time at Hotel Plage Beaux Rivage. Much better. Much! At 105 euros for six people it was slightly less than Castle Beach but the lounge chairs were big and comfy, the wait staff was mostly attentive, the beach was easier to access, and that catty gay attitude was nowhere to be found.

As a gay man, I really dislike that whole attitude thing. It’s old. Tired. Of the six of us, four of us are gay. One is bi and the other is a straight guy. There is a reason my two best friends from college are women and not men. Attitude. Sure, I can dish it out when needed but ugh. Why bother? I’d rather stick to gay women and straight men. Little attitude, better drinks.

We got some looks on the beach. None of us is shy about being affectionate, not that we do anything more than hold hands occasionally or give a quick kiss. You’re on an exclusive private beach in the South of France for God’s sake. I guess it’s not everyday that a gay couple, a lesbian couple and a mostly straight couple holiday together. But I digress.

We went back to Hotel Plage Beaux Rivage three more times. Again, Nice became a beach holiday. We did the Matisse museum one afternoon. I Love Matisse. And we took the train to Monte Carlo one day for lunch. The ride was nice, but Monaco was not for me. It was very cold and soulless after Nice. It’s like where the super wealthy go to flaunt being super wealthy. No real street life, all cars, cliffs and narrow corners. We were happy to get back to Nice.

For my birthday dinner, we went to L’Univers de Christian Plumail. It has one Micheline star and was reviewed as not pretentious, not super expensive and spot on for the value. It was fantastic. They easily accommodated my vegetarianism. Some courses were left as is, some were tweaked and my main was a delicious improvisation of seasonal vegetables, garlic and mushrooms. I even got to blow out a candle in my dessert after the host serenaded me with the Happy Birthday song. Normally, I’m not a fan of this sort of thing but you only turn 40 once. I really wanted to live it.

The night before I turned 40 was one of the nights we ate in. We played Hearts at the table, drinking wine, vodka or beer, munching on baguettes, cheese and fruit. My friends had secretly bought several pastries earlier that day and when the clock struck midnight, we had a mini fiesta. I blew out my improvised birthday candle and took in all the love. I know I’m a cynical bastard, but I’m also gregarious, friendly and kind. I like to think that’s why I’ve gotten so damn lucky. My health, a great partner and amazing friends. What more does one need?

My favorite memory from the trip will be us in the surf, shoulder deep, laughing and talking about the past, the future, the afternoon sun reflecting off the water, the hills and peaks in the distance, the taste of salt water in my mouth.

Since November I’ve spent more time in London than I have in Hong Kong. So although I’ve been living in London for two weeks, I’ve actually spent a total of about three or four months here (give or take a couple of weeks). My life a blur of airport lounges, martinis and mummified mornings.

I’m doing all the things you do when you move to a new country. I’m just doing them by killing more trees. My God do they love to push paper here. If I’m not completing one form, I’m opening up another.  It took four tries and one small forrest to open up a joint account with my partner. And I’m learning that securing a new place to live is the mental equivalent of an obstacle course. This would be so much faster in New York or Hong Kong. Cities where real estate agents and landlords play fast and loose with contracts. London is more like Tokyo. Every little “i” must be dotted, every detail fretted over.

So as first impressions are lasting impressions, I’ve already formed some opinions that will now be hard to shake, both good and bad. The good far outweighing the bad. Thank God.

First, they love their pubs here. And I love that they love their pubs here. I’m not much of a beer drinker but I’m on board with any society that believes in a pint or two at lunch and several more after work. As in Japan, the locals bond with colleagues over drinks. Yes, I know most people do this the world over do but believe me, the British and the Japanese have perfected it. When the weather turns warm and the clouds clear, you’ll see people cut out of work early just to enjoy a beer with their mates. Everyone is laughing and drinking and you can’t help but want to join in on all the fun.

Of course the flip side of this is that some people can’t hold their liquor and/or don’t know when to call it a night. Vomiting, shouting, fighting, smashing glass, that fleeting warm afternoon can lead to a night of drunken, mean-ass zombies looking for a fight and a fag. And by “fag” I mean cigarette.

This leads me to observation number two. People love smoking here. Like most big cities in the industrialized West, they can’t smoke in their office buildings so they do it outside. Same for pub crawlers, restaurant goers and club kids. Everyone is outside lighting up. I like their defiance. In New York, smokers are banished to the outdoors in an attempt to help make them stop. In London, you get the feeling that it’s more a way of life than a bad habit. They smoke, so they go outside. Not, Mayor Bloomberg’s frowning Dear Leader shaming everyone into behaving the way he wants them to.

And if I’m going to include, drinking and smoking, I might as well include eating. Hong Kong was a sea of mostly mediocre restaurants. Yes, there were good ones too, but then you’d have to pay up. Tokyo was the land of excellent restaurants that were all mostly expensive. You pay for what you get. New York is and was New York, a mishmash. And that’s what it’s like here. I’m surprised by how many gastropubs there are in London. I’m not talking about places back in the US that claim to be gastropubs but are really just bars that serve bad food. I’m talking real gastropubs. That whole movement to elevate British food with locally sourced ingredients is now a way of life. That and you have a bunch of gastropubs that experiment a bit or take standard dishes from other countries and just do them right. I highly recommend The Eagle on Farringdon Road. Great local place with excellent food. And there are always vegetarian options.

A good friend of mine back in Hong Kong said that most people gain about 15 pounds when they first move to London because of all the cakes, pies and pastries. She’s from Pakistan, married a funny English guy and used to live here. I didn’t really believe her at first but she’s right. If you have a sweet tooth, the UK is the place to be. I find myself staring into bakery windows, wiping the drool off my chin. If I could, I’d place my hands behind my back and plunge my face into a gooey chocolate cake, the icing like heroin, the chunky bits of chocolate like crack, an orgasm for the palate.

But thanks to an iron will and a determination to lose a couple of pounds before my birthday, I’ve actually lost weight. My resolve actually scares me. I basically eat very little if anything during the day and have a sensible meal at dinner. Sensible as in mostly fat-free and usually vegan. Of course, my iron will implodes when a bottle of vodka or red wine is opened. Hell, I’m sipping Cotes du Rhone right now. But I digress.

The thing I most appreciate about London right now is the weather. I’m wearing a sweater and it’s July. Now, I know most people would disagree with me, but I love sweater weather. Even in summer. Does it get old? No. What gets old is not being able to walk a few blocks without turning into a pile of sweaty goo, your shirt clinging to your back, your underwear a moist snack cake, your face dripping of moisturizer and that shit you use to make the bags under your eyes disappear. That’s what gets old. Hong Kong summers were a long nightmare of embarrassment and rage. London summers are like winter days in south Texas. And there is light in the sky until about 10pm. The joy.

Aside from paper pushing, form completing and forrest destroying, my only real gripe so far is the service industry. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all bad. I’ve had some great experiences at shops. restaurants, bars, museums, supermarkets. But I’ve also had some really bad ones. This one bitch had the never to glare at my partner after he failed to follow protocol at our local Waitrose supermarket. I smiled but I wanted to smack the ugly right off her face. I explained later to my partner what he did wrong. I had to learn it the hard way. Something about how you put the groceries on the shortest conveyor belt in the history of the world. I’ve decided not to lose my temper or tell anyone off until I’ve lived here at least six months. That way, I’ll know more or less what I’m talking about.

They might speak English in London but if you are an American, you must understand that the UK is a different country full of different ways of doing things. It’s a different flow, a different rhythm. And right now, this American is loving it.

A few weeks ago my partner asked me what my favorite non resort hotel was. “Easy,” I said, “The Metropole in Hanoi. That was like staying in a museum.” Incidentally, resort hotel would be The St. Regis in Bali. That place was heaven on earth. When my partner reminded me that it had been exactly a year since Vietnam, we began reminiscing about all the places we’d been to in the past year: New York, Chicago, Mexico City, Sydney, London, Singapore, The Philippines and of course Macau. “Hey!” I said. “We’re jet set.”

We laughed and then I said, “Oh my God, we are.”

I’m very lucky to have found a great guy who has a good job that requires him to live and travel internationally. First it was Tokyo, now Hong Kong and soon it will be London. But having that luck and ability to travel isn’t everything. You’ve got to make it work for you.

First, join an airline loyalty program. We’re on American Airlines which is part of the One World Alliance. This includes Japan Airlines, Cathay and British Airways, very convenient airlines for us. You have to choose the program that is right for you, where you live and where you want to travel. And it doesn’t have to be an airline that uses your airport as a hub. Check out an airline’s website, see if it flies or easily connects to the destinations you’d like to visit.

We chose American simply because they had this deal whereby you could fly to Europe for free provided you flew twice to either California or Florida from New York. This was not long after the terrible tragedy of 9/11. The airline industry was still reeling and making very attractive offers to join in order to boost sales. My partner and I signed up for the American Advantage program and booked a trip to San Diego. He later had to go to Florida to see family so I decided to a fly to San Francisco for the night. I literally arrived in San Francisco, went to a cabaret show, had a very late dinner and then hopped into a cab back to the airport. Done. Free ticket to Europe.

After moving to Tokyo, we continued to stay loyal to American and One World. One day at Kennedy airport loyalty paid off. I was told by the American agent that I had reached Gold status which meant that I could go through the much shorter security line and would be accumulating 500 mile upgrades thereafter.  Soon, I reached Platinum status and was enjoying Admiral’s Club access, partner airline lounge access too. Now I use my upgrades domestically to travel first class and my miles internationally to travel business class. I get to have a glass of bubbly before the flight and sleep horizontally over oceans.

My partner is now Executive Platinum at American–the bastard. This means they actually smile when they kiss his ass. I joke but I am a bit jealous. His tier means a lot of perks for me too as his traveling companion. Four free international upgrades. The bonuses, like gravy.

Second, join a hotel loyalty program. Again, choose a program that is right for you and where you want to travel. I suggest doing some online research. For example, the Hyatt brand does not have many beach resorts or properties in Europe or Asia but it does have some key city hotels and even a few marque properties–the Park Hyatt in Tokyo is simply amazing.

My partner and I decided we would join the Starwood program. Starwood hotels include W, The Westin, Sheraton and the St. Regis. We chose the program because it was easy to use accumulated points towards free stays. There are few restrictions or blackout dates. And given the names of the hotels in their portfolio, you can always count on finding a Starwood property on a beach or in a city. And they have a number of hotels and resorts in Asia too.

Now I know the Sheraton isn’t anyone’s idea of living the high life, but I must say the Westin does a good job. Their “heavenly bed” is well, heavenly. And the perks you get for keeping your gold level status mean you get free room upgrades, late check out and lounge access. W hotels are great if you are in your 20s, early 30s or are desperately trying to be hip in your 40s and 50s. That  ship has sailed for me. I prefer the St. Regis. Classy, elegant and sophisticated, the St. Regis does it right. It’s on par with a Four Seasons or a Ritz Carlton. The more expensive the property, the more points you accumulate. The more points you accumulate, the more nights you have free. We paid quite a bit for our four wonderful nights at the St. Regis Bali but then used the accumulated points towards a free weekend getaway at the Westin Macau–our preferred non casino hotel. Peaceful, with views of the South China Sea and within walking distance to Fernando’s restaurant, the Westin Macau is the perfect weekend retreat from hectic Hong Kong.

While I suggest being as loyal as possible when flying, I recommend being a whore when staying. If you are not staying at a hotel in your program, join that hotel’s rewards group too. You’d be surprised the number of incentives they give you. Of course, only join if it’s a hotel brand that you could see yourself staying at in the future. In addition to the Starwood program, we are members of the Shangri-la and Hyatt programs. Shangri-la because we currently live in Asia and they have many properties here. Hyatt because our preferred hotel when we’re back in New York is the Grand Hyatt or the Andaz. Incidentally, the Andaz is a great, fairly new Hyatt launch. We were upgraded to a swanky suite in September. We had a group of friends over for drinks to share the space. It was a perfect night.

Third, get the right credit card. I know some people like to bray, “Oh, and I have no annual fee!” I say, “Yeah, then you have the wrong card.”

Get an airline or hotel credit card that compliments your airline or hotel program of choice. These are mostly free and your charges translate into points. I have a credit card linked to my American Advantage account. The points ad up quickly and it’s very straight forward. No questionable moves on the part of either the bank or the airline.

American Express is one of my best friends. You pay for it, but it pays you back. I have a platinum card. Do I have to pay $450 a year for the privilege? Yes. Do I get free travel, concierge, insurance, premium access to special events, lounges, etc? Yes. It is amazing the number of perks AMEX gives you.

First, you get a $200 credit in airline incidental charges. And we all know the airlines love to charge for their incidentals. Second, you get access to the airline lounge corresponding to the airline you are flying, even if you are traveling coach. Third, you get access to the AMEX travel website. If you book your hotel through them at one of their “fine hotels and resorts”, you get free upgrades, breakfast, dinner, lounge access, late check out, hotel credits (usually totaling $100) and sometimes a free massage. You even get free nights. For example, a hotel might be running an exclusive AMEX special whereby you stay three nights and get the fourth free. We’ve taken advantage of that perk many times.

The hotels listed in the American Express “fine hotels and resorts” are choice hotels in choice markets–Four Seasons, St. Regis, Mandarin, Peninsula, St. Regis. When the weather is cool, our preferred Macau hotel is the newish Mandarin near the historic center. We stay three nights, pay two. In St. Regis Bali, we stayed four, paid three. In the Four Seasons Mexico City, stayed seven, paid five. In Tokyo…

AMEX pays for itself. And no, I’m not an employee of American Express.

Lastly, check the internet for hotel deals. The Four Seasons, Mandarin Oriental and Ritz Carlton often run their own stay four, pay three schemes on their respective websites. Some hotels like the Four Seasons and The Peninsula are not owned by a larger, more accessible brand (Marriott owns Ritz Carlton, Hilton owns Conrad, Sheraton owns St. Regis). For these hotels in particular, it’s best to check their websites for deals. Why pay full price for five nights at a Marriott when you can pay four and stay five at a Mandarin?

I rarely travel coach, rarely stay at average hotels and have cashed in points for free international biz class tickets and luxe hotel rooms. I’m not special and my last name is not Warbucks. I just know how to work it. It upsets me when friends and family don’t pick an airline or hotel awards program. You are literally throwing money away if you don’t. Hell, I recently flew round trip biz class on Cathay from Hong Kong to New York for free. Free.

And remember, always have the glass of champagne they offer you on the plane before departure. If things go boom in the sky, you don’t want your last thought to be, “I should have had that glass of champagne.”

My dad recently came to visit my partner and I in Hong Kong. Mom stayed at home because she’s claustrophobic and scared of flying. You would be too if you had been in a commercial plane crash landing and an elevator accident. She’s fine on four or five hour hops but anything longer than that and she starts to stare at the exit door longingly.

Dad arrived earlier than anticipated. I felt like a bad son when I realized he had been waiting for me just outside of customs. I’d actually arrived an hour early but was killing time at an airport bar. Typical. I grabbed Dad’s suitcase and we jumped in a taxi. I could tell that he was very happy to see me and very excited to be in Asia for the first time. After over seven years in the Far East, I just couldn’t move to London without insisting he come to visit me. He’d already been to South America and Africa. I wanted him to step foot on the Asian continent too.

But what to do? You can’t exactly go bar hoping with dad. Besides, I don’t go bar hopping anymore. That ship has sailed. I of course was prepared with my own list of what to do.

Top Ten:

1. Star Ferry: This is a no brainer. In a city with countless ferry rides going every which way including the Chinese mainland and Macau, this is the classic journey. In under ten minutes you make the trip from Hong Kong Island to the Kowloon Peninsula. It’s like going from Manhattan to Brooklyn but on a grander scale. When your dad is back home watching a travel program on TV, he’ll smile and say, “I did that”.

2. The Peak: Another no brainer. It’s arguably the best vantage point from which to view Hong Kong. Spectacular! From the skyscrapers of Hong Kong to the skyscrapers of Kowloon, the harbor that separates them and the green hills and mountains that surround them. Just try not to go on a foggy day. You won’t see squat. Unfortunately, it was foggy and rainy during my dad’s entire visit. I took him up to the peak anyway, showed him a picture of what he would be viewing had a cloud not descended from the sky. Incidentally, you don’t have to go to the tourist trap Peak Gallery to view the skyline. There are parks and trails with equally impressive vistas of the city up there.

3. Kowloon Public Pier: Another vantage point from with to take in this amazing city. You’ve seen it from the top of the peak on the Hong Kong side, now see it from ground level on the Kowloon side. If the peak offers a more gestalt overview, the pier offers a more immediate engagement with the city. You feel the pulse, see the ferries, hear the crowds, the noise.

4. Mid-level escalators: Only in Hong Kong would an open air escalator be a tourist draw. It’s funny because when we first arrived, I thought this “ride” was pretty cool. It is the longest outdoor escalator ride (it is divided into many sections) in the world. But as a resident of Hong Kong, the novelty quickly faded. I regard the escalators as nothing more than a way to get from point A to point B. Only when we have visitors and I’m taking them around town do I think, “Wow, this is really cool”.

5. The markets: The outdoor markets are part of life in Hong Kong. Some are touristy (the night market), some are not (in and around Gough Street), and some are stinky (Des Voeux Street West Dried Seafood street). There are many markets where locals pick up fresh produce, flowers, meat, etc. I recommend the one in Wanchai, although the one around Gough Street is more scenic. Cat Street is a great place to shop for novelty items in an outdoor setting. If you want to buy legitimate antiques though, just walk up the stairs from Cat Street to Hollywood Road West. While not technically a market, this patch of Hollywood Road offers a number of upscale shops and art galleries.

The second half of the list is more personal. Yes, Hong Kong is an exciting place to visit, but it’s not exactly teaming with world class museums and world renowned parks. You have to tailor the experience for the guest. In this case, my dad was game for anything I wanted to do, so I took him to the places that I like to frequent.

6. The Peninsula Hotel: Worthy of every accolade, this grand hotel never fails to live up to its praise, especially at Christmas when a gorgeous tree, meticulously adorned, graces the historic lobby. You can have high tea here but I recommend after dinner drinks. While the martinis might not be the coldest or biggest in Hong Kong, the handsome interior of this gorgeous lobby filled with live jazz will whisk you back to another time. Skip the Felix bar and restaurant up top. It’s overhyped and touristy. The main lobby is where you want to be.

7. Morton’s Steakhouse: This is where we go before a nightcap at the Peninsula next door. You might think it’s odd that a vegetarian would be promoting a steakhouse. Think again. This vegetarian enjoys crisp salads, delicious sides and the biggest, coldest martinis in Hong Kong. And on top of that, you get a view of the harbor from the wall of windows in this fourth floor restaurant. Make reservations in advance, request a table by the window and dazzle your guests with the nightly 8:00pm light show over Hong Kong harbor. Is it cheesy? Yes. But all the main buildings in town participate and the show lasts for fifteen minutes. You can be a kid again. A kid with a very cold, dry martini.

8. Shopping malls: Hong Kong used to be known as the place to go for cheap designer knockoffs. Those days are long gone. Today, monied mainland Chinese tourists take shopping holidays in Hong Kong. They spend three to seven days sprinting from high-end shop to high-end shop, dropping loads of cash in the process. I recommend Elements in Kowloon, or my personal favorite, Pacific Place in Hong Kong–the “old” standby newly and tastefully remodelled. After a day of shopping, I suggest a late afternoon cocktail in the main bar of The Upper House hotel for gorgeous views high above the city. Chic and minimalist, this place oozes no-nonsense sophistication.

9. Stanley: On the opposite side of Hong Kong Island sits a former fishing village that is now home to a number of expat families, as well as heaps of tourist and local friendly bars and restaurants. A taxi will get you there faster but I recommend the Number Six bus. Take your guests up to the second level and try to get a seat up front. It’s Hong Kong’s version of a Disney ride. You’ll leave Central Hong Kong and climb up the green mountain, skyscrapers below, before slowly descending into Stanley, gorgeous vistas everywhere you turn, high-end condos perched along the sides of mountains.

10. Macau: I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Macau as a Hong Kong asset. More than just the Las Vegas of Asia, this place offers a unique blend of East and West, Portuguese and Chinese. Sure, you can gamble at night if that’s your thing but I highly recommend grabbing a map and visiting the historic sights of this amazing city. Everyone loves Fernando’s restaurant, but I’d also include a dinner at Club Militar. Good food, great setting. And nothing beats The Wynn casino. Big and vibrant yet classy and sophisticated. Oh and the casino’s Cinnebar makes a mean martini.

We’re supposed to leave Hong Kong in the next few months. I’ll miss this place, definitely more than I missed Tokyo. But who knows? We could find ourselves living here again sometime in the future. Life is a adventure. Live it.

After over seven years in Asia, my partner and I are finally moving. I say “finally” because seven years is a long time in my book. Hell, we were in Tokyo for four years and that was two years too long. I damn near lost my mind. Who am I kidding? I did.

If you had told me twenty years ago that I’d be spending my 30s in Asia, I would have told you to pass the bong. Fast forward two decades and I sit alone in my Hong Kong living room, 32 floors above the noise of the city, the busy sidewalks slowly calming as night falls.

This move has been in the works for some time now, but I’ve learned not to take these things too seriously. For me, it’s not a done deal until I’m on the plane headed for my new home, glass of champagne in hand, looking out the window at clouds. And where is this new home exactly? London.

That’s right. We’re moving to the land of merry men, Jack the Ripper and Madonna. Tally-ho! I’ll be a chap, not a chav. Drink tea instead of coffee. And say things like “Bloody Hell!”, “God save the queen.” and “Shall we have a fag?”

But I’ll believe it when the plane takes off. You see, these things have a way of changing. We could be moving back to New York. Yes, back to New York. In which case I’ll return to saying things like “Fuck off!”, “You’re not the boss of me.” and “Gotta cigarette?”

And therein lies the rub. You see, I miss New York. Last night, my partner and I were talking about Alicia Keys after we saw her perform at Whitney Houston’s memorial (still can’t believe she’s gone) and he put on “Empire State of Mind“. Now I’m not into hip hop, but what a catchy tune? Jesus, I sound like some old fuck. “Catchy tune” my ass. That song is the bomb, yo!

But if we go back to New York, the adventure will end. I hate saying that but I kind of feel that way. No more exotic vacations. I’ve been able to travel to places like Bali, Malacca, Hanoi, Nagasaki and even North Korea–I stepped over the border in Panmunjom. I’ve got to say Cape Cod looks like a hell of a let down after you’ve sipped a margarita on a beach in Bali while a volcano appeared in the distance as the clouds dispersed. Don’t get me wrong, Cape Cod is great, fine. It’s just not Bali.

Moving to London would mean the beginning of a third adventure. I envision a train trip from Istanbul to Prague via Budapest and Vienna; a week exploring northern Portugal and the northern Spanish provinces of Galicia and Asturias; a holiday traveling Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. You see, there are exotic vacations to be had in Europe.

I’ve been bitten by the expat bug. I’m not sure I want to settle down just yet.

I used to tell my partner that when we returned to New York, that would be that, we would never move again. I no longer feel that way. His experience in the world’s financial capitals means his career could take us back to Asia, keep us in Europe or even see us in a BRIC country. Brazil? Wouldn’t mind that at all. Me in a helicopter in Sao Paolo. Yes, I see it now.

But all I have to do is hear Billie Holiday sing “Autumn in New York” or watch the beginning of “Manhattan”, or hell, the ending. And then I miss living in the greatest city in the world. New York City.

I’ve been to paradise, but I’ve never been to Mayfair.

I finally made it to London earlier this month, tagged along on one of my partner’s business trips. Nine days of walking the streets, getting a feel for the city, soaking up the culture, the sights. I walked from South Kensington to Soho. Islington to Shoreditch. Central to Belgravia. Mayfair to Maide Vale. I walked so much that one evening my knees buckled and I had to stop at the Savoy for a Grey Goose martini. OK, three.

English friends warned me: London is terribly expensive and gloomy.

American friends warned me: It’s a low-rise more expensive New York with ugly people.

All I could think was, “Miss Piggy in The Great Muppet Caper!!!”

By the time I arrived on a BA flight form Hong Kong at four thirty in the morning, I was expecting “City of the Walking Dead” or surly, disheveled Oompa Loompas in Burberry trenches. Our room wasn’t ready when we got to the hotel so we walked down Piccadilly. Let me tell you, it was “City of the Walking Dead“.

The tube station had just opened and people who had stayed out all night were staggering back to the metro. I saw one girl slump down near a guardrail and vomit, a guy smash a bottle on the street, and a man fast asleep on the sidewalk in a sleeping bag. We walked back to the hotel. This is London?

After a hearty breakfast, we stepped out again and walked through Green Park, the fall leaves cracking under our feet. The sunrise had brought out the runners, baby strollers and jet lagged tourists whose rooms were also not ready. We passed Buckingham Palace, walked through St. James’s Park and watched the beginning of the Armistice Day commemoration. This was more like it.

Over the coming days there were reunions with old friends: the girl who saved me from drowning in Palau Tioman, Malaysia and her family; my partner’s former work colleagues who got married and now have a family; a surprise Tokyo reunion of friends who had also lived in (endured) Japan.

I met a new friend too, well new friend of sorts. She had worked for the company that helped my partner and I move from New York to Tokyo seven years ago. And while I’d never actually met her, we had stayed in touch over the years via email and facebook. Strange how you can feel you’ve been friends with someone for over seven years without having met them in person.

And while it was all very very, most of my time was spent alone. I visited the Tate Modern, the National Gallery and Harrods. Read the FT while dining at several Indian and Lebanese restaurants. Walked up and down Marylbone High Street, popped into this great bookstore, Daunt Books, where I picked up Diane Keaton’s recently published memoir. Strolled along South Audley Street, passed the US Embassy and some very stately homes and embassies.

People warned me that Londoners could be rude. I didn’t find that. Well once, this crusty old white guy tending bar at a pub in Notting Hill. People warned me that London was gloomy and wet in the fall. While it’s true that during the colder months the sun just hovers above the horizon and never really rises, the light it shines makes the city mysterious and romantic.

I knew London was multicultural but was amazed at just how multicultural it was. Half the people were not white. Me and my multicultural “what the hell is he?” face fit right in. I knew London had a lot of wealthy Saudi and Russian people, but again, was amazed at just how much money they had. These people aren’t old money tasteful rich, they’re new money showy rich, pretentious posers in Prada and Pucci.

On my final evening just before heading out to the airport for a late night flight back home, I had a martini at the Palm Court Lounge. Nine days had flown by so quickly. Our room at the Park Lane was big enough to feel like I had been staying in a small apartment. I didn’t want to leave. London was beginning to feel like home.

I’d come here to check it out, see if it could be our new home. I’d arrived with few expectations other than to see Miss Piggy climbing a wall and riding a motorcycle. Now I was convinced this should be our next move. Possibly.

On the taxi ride back to our flat in Hong Kong, I was stunned again by the audacity of this city. Skyscrapers rising above hills, mountains rising above skyscrapers, the harbor threatening to wash it all away. The ferries, barges and bridges linking everything together however tenuous. The beautiful chaos. Maybe I’m not ready to leave just yet.

My partner and I returned from Mexico City with our heads intact, more or less. The lesser half was hit hard by the altitude. Two kilometers high and then you have to deal with the smog. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have made our first two days there so intense. We walked all over Chapultapec Park and the Centro Historico. Our third day was spent cooped up in the hotel room, me on the computer, he in bed acting like a heart-worm stricken puppy on his last legs.

I was shameless when I booked the room, telling the hotel that we were in town to celebrate my 39th. And God bless the front desk staff at the Four Seasons because a deep, rich, decadent chocolate cake was waiting for me when I arrived. What a great way to start a week in DF.

Biko deserves the hype. I hadn’t had a meal that good since my man turned 35 last year and we went to Oso Ristorante in Singapore–he was there for work and I wasn’t going to let him celebrate a birthday alone. Pujol was good too. My guy ate a baby corn skewer slathered in mayonnaise and ants. I watched.

The Condesa neighborhood was incredibly surprising. It felt like Park Slope and the East Village had a baby. Young families, hipsters, gays, musicians all enjoying Sunday brunch and then a walk through the park. Parque Mexico was gorgeous! I still can’t believe how much more livable Mexico City has become. Between the free bikes and cleaned up city center, DF is becoming practically European. No severed heads here.

For me, this trip was about revisiting old haunts and making new memories. But I was brought back to an afternoon in 1994 when we passed through this one neighborhood close to the hotel. I was going to a party just outside fashionable Polanco on a Saturday. One of my dad’s colleagues was having a drinks thing at her flat and she invited us. I’m not quite sure why my parents didn’t attend. The party consisted mostly of embassy personnel and some local business people. It was a very low-key, casual thing. Luis Miguel had just released his monster album Romance and the hostess was playing it on her CD player (remember those?).

The song La Mentira had just come on when I made my way to the balcony to watch the sunset. Back then, the smog was terrible and people used to call the sunsets “chemical sunsets” because you’d sometimes get these weird, otherworldly but strangely romantic glows. One of the marines invited to the party approached me. He was just as handsome in casual clothes as he was in uniform. I pretended not to know him but I had seen him before in the embassy–I have a thing for military uniforms.

I remember how confident and direct he was. I like that. A real turn on. Because I was unsure if he was gay or not, I was surprised when he steadily steered the conversation towards my looks. I was so taken aback that I can’t recall exactly what he said, I just remember his smile and intense blue eyes, so fixed and sincere. Even now I get a bit giddy thinking about it. He really took a shot. I’m not a gay who wears his gayness on his sleeve. It could have backfired horribly.

Maybe it’s better I didn’t pursue it further because that afternoon, that moment, will forever be with me. I’ve heard some really bad pickup lines over the years. But no line, even a good one, can compare to a steady gaze, a firm handshake and a relaxed confidence. That said, the whore in me wishes I had taken that marine into an empty bedroom and rewarded him for his confidence.

I don’t miss the casual hookups and one night stands of single life. That was fun when I was in my 20s. I do miss the flirting. Strange how something so silly can be artful when done well. I’ll always think of my marine when I hear La Mentira. We’re still out there on the balcony in Mexico City enjoying the chemical sunset.