Originally hailing from Chicago, Chris moved to Seoul in early 2008 as, you guessed it, an English teacher. Always keen on trying new things and experiencing the local culture he spent his downtime frequenting local festivals, steadily exploring more obscure destinations around South Korea.
In the five years of living in South Korea he met the love of his life, got married and authored numerous books for foreigners wishing to learn more about the country.
Attracted to the weird, wonderful and outright bizarre attractions that the world has to offer, Chris created the website One Weird Globe. Right now the content is heavily focused on Asia, featuring things such as hell temples, museums dedicated to toilets, phallic shrines and a whole lot more.
Today we had the chance to chat with Chris and find out a bit more about his nomadic lifestyle.
Our Interview with Chris Backe
BT: First off, please tell us what drew you to living a nomadic lifestyle.
Chris: If you had told me in 2008 (when I moved to Korea to be a teacher) that I’d be living abroad as an expat/nomad, I’d have asked you for your supplier. After a few years living in Korea, I began to see the world as my oyster. Everyone says that at college graduations and such, but few even get the passport necessary to rock it.
We move to a new city (and sometimes country every 3-6 months these days, after spending 5 years in Korea and 2 years in Thailand. Since we’re more likely to stay as tourists now (and less likely to jump through the hoops of a business/education visa unless it’s really the only way forward), that tends to limit the time we have.
BT: What training & qualifications (if any) did you need before working as an English teacher in Seoul?
Chris: At the time, you needed a Bachelor’s degree in any discipline, teaching experience was desirable but not required, you had to like kids, and you had to be willing to relocate to Korea. Things have tightened up a bit since then – there’s a lot more native English teachers living in Korea now, so most schools don’t perceive as much a need to hire from abroad. If you’re looking, be prepared to show certifications – Koreans love those.
BT: Why did you decide to start writing? How did you get started?
Chris: My friends in the US were a bit surprised I was moving to Korea. More than a few people asked if they had internet ‘over there’. I said I’d keep a blog about the travel and adventures of living abroad. This was 2008, so not everyone was doing that yet. A couple years in, I began to realize a lot of people were reading it – without promoting it I had several thousand hits a month, which grew to as much as 50,000 hits a month at one point.
BT: Are you making a living off your blog? If so, how long did it take before you started to see results?
Chris: 2016 will be the year it happens! There’s a ton of money-making strategies with blogs, and to be honest it was never a super-high priority considering the ways most of them worked. Either you’re making a bit of coin from sponsored posts (which risks getting your site penalized by Google) or banner ads (which people are blind to)… I haven’t nailed this one yet, but I’m going to.
BT: You now seek out ‘unusual experiences’, what’s the most unusual thing you’ve done?
Chris: In 2013, I re-branded from ‘Chris in South Korea’ and ‘Chris in Thailand’ after realizing I didn’t want to start a new website for every country I lived in. They got merged into ‘One Weird Globe’, and the focus shifted to the weird, the unusual, and the bizarre. The most bizarre place thus far? Probably some of the hell temples around Thailand (be aware some of these posts are not suitable for work). The umbilical cord shrine (suitable for work) gets honorable mention as well.
BT: Now that you are married, what is the biggest difference in the way you travel?
Chris: No more strip clubs? LOL. There’s a natural adjustment you make whenever you begin traveling with someone on a steady basis. We started taking weekend-long trips while we were dating, realized our styles were a great fit, and for the most part wanted to go to the same sorts of places at around the same pace. This is important – if one of you wants to go hiking while the other would rather peruse an art museum, you’ll have to adjust to make both of those happen.
To be sure, one isn’t necessarily better than the other. I had a blast traveling while single, traveling while dating, and am having a blast traveling while married.
BT: How did you find living in South Korea as a foreigner? Were there any challenges that you experienced and if so, how did you overcome them?
Chris: South Korea is as first-world as anywhere else in the world. It’s super-easy to get around, you can learn the crazy-looking alphabet in a matter of hours, and there’s tons to see and do.
That said, the hierarchical / Confucian structure puts you as the foreigner near the bottom of the totem pole. A lot of foreigners have issues with passive-aggressiveness coming from the locals, or seemingly innocent questions that mask more than a bit of ignorance (“Can you eat spicy foods? You can use chopsticks?”). The average English level is… lacking, making it difficult to have a lot of meaningful conversations with locals.
Most expats adjust by learning Korean or hanging out with expats / other native English speakers, and every expat I met in Korea that had been around for awhile found a way to vent/blow off steam that didn’t jeopardize their job. Joining a band, taking pictures, writing… they’re all good ways to get your mind off that crazy kid in your class…
BT: You recently moved to South America, what is one thing you miss about living in Asia?
Chris: The bum zapper! It’s a culture shock moment for many Westerners when they enter a public bathroom and don’t see toilet paper inside. Just a water jet. They approach it… gingerly… and a surprising number begin preferring it. I’ve only seen it in Asia, but you end up feeling cleaner with less of a potential mess on your hands.
BT: How has living overseas changed your perception of the world?
Chris: You have to get outside the system to see it objectively. Whether that system is, say, American news, or the way in which locals treat foreigners, it’s far easier to see how things get twisted/distorted/biased. I’m far more open-minded about different ways of working, living, and adjusting to how things are.