Episode 1: Todd Williams, Associated Press Award Winner, on Living in Taipei

Todd Williams

TODD WILLIAMS’ BIO

Associated Press award winner Todd Allen Williams is a man who wears many hats. At 34 years old he has experience as a journalist, author, poet, host of a culinary travel show among many others. Having lived in California, Ireland, Seoul, and Taiwan it’s easy to say life is anything but boring for this man. Todd is currently working as an editor, and journalist based out of Taipei. 

Todd has been recognized in 2013 by the Associated Press with the Best Mixed-Media Presentation Award. He has worked with the Associated Press, Vice and Vivid Voice Media among others.  On this episode, we mention some human inspirations for Todd such as Benazir Bhutto, Bernie Sanders, and others. 

SOME OF THE TOPICS COVERED

  • Poet at heart, journalist for money
  • How Todd wants to meet every humans on earth through journalism
  • Political roots in his brand of journalism
  • What’s it like to live in Taipei
  • Reviewing Marijuana Clinics in California
  • Why is there no such thing as “The Media”

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CONTACT

You may reach Todd at his Medium and Instagram accounts

TRANSCRIPT

You can read the transcript below or download here.

Zach Ireland:

Hello, everyone! Welcome to the Expat Chit Chat Show. If you’re tuning in for the very first time, congratulations, you’re everybody because this is the very first episode! Very exciting! I’m your host, Zach Ireland. Today, I’m filling in for Billy Crystal who is currently in Hongkong dealing with the wild boar crisis. Our thoughts and prayers with Billy Crystal at this time. The Expat Chitchat show is where we will be diving into in this new age of globalization. What exactly is an expat and who are these expats? Joining me in the studio is Associated Press award-winning author and writer and self-described mid-level journalist and poet, Todd Williams. 

Todd Williams:

And who am I? 

Zach Ireland:

[laughs] Just some dude on the couch.

Todd Williams:

It’s a question that we all ask. [laughs]

Zach Ireland:

It is! Exactly. Who am I? What is this? What is this strange thing that we’re doing? [laughs]

Todd Williams:

I’ve been on the road for ten years and I found nothing.

Zach Ireland:

[laughs] Well, thanks for joining me, Todd!

Todd Williams:

Yeah, it’s good to be here.

Zach Ireland:

Yeah, I really appreciate it as this is our first episode so no pressure.

Todd Williams:

Yeah, all right. Right.

Zach Ireland:

So again, thanks for joining me in the studio. Can you describe the studio that we’re in right now?

Todd Williams:

It’s wonderful. It’s full of cats and art and the studio that we are currently in is my apartment.

Zach Ireland:

And we are currently in Taipei at the moment. 

Todd Williams:

Yeah.

Zach Ireland:

Alright Todd, so to begin this show, I’m going to start off with a very easy, easy question. A nuclear north Korea. Is this a Chernobyl idea or is this a disaster? What the Fukushima’s going on?

Todd Williams:

I’m all for it. 

Zach Ireland:

[laughs] No, I’m totally kidding, man. Could you imagine if I start off a podcast with that sort of question? What a terrible show that would be. [Todd laughs] Let’s start off with something much simpler. Where have you lived?

Todd Williams:

Where have I lived? So, I grew up in Baltimore, Maryland. Beatmore, Motorland. From there, there is a big gap of time there. It’s 18 years, it’s my whole upbringing.

Zach Ireland:

That is very Russian of you. Beatmore, Motorland.

Todd Williams:

Yeah, motorland. It is where the motor is. From there, I went to college in Ronan, Virginia. Studied for a while in Ireland. Moved back to America, unfortunately. After that I took off to the west coast where I got my first newspaper gigs. First, in Northern California, just around San Francisco then moved down to Southern California, then the person I was living with sucked so I took off to Korea.

Zach Ireland:

Oh, okay, yeah, that will do it.

Todd Williams:

[laughs] And it’s a great state.

Zach Ireland:

Korea?

Todd Williams:

California. Korea was a great time. California is a good state, I just had bad company. From there, spent few years working on a magazine. Met my wife, my best friend in life, Patty Hogan, who is a quite renowned artist. I first read about her in a magazine and decided I was going to marry her. It’s not creepy. 

Zach Ireland:

Wasn’t there a, I think there’s a song about that. Cars did that, you know? Angel is the centerfold. 

Todd Williams:

It was a—

Zach Ireland:

[sings] My blood runs cold. Angels 

Todd Williams:

But that was about an ex.

Zach Ireland:

Oh, oh, was it? Okay.

Todd Williams:

She was already naked in the magazine when I met her. By naked, I mean her art was on the walls.

Zach Ireland:

Yeah, her heart was bare. You saw all of it. 

Todd Williams:

Yeah, we went back to the states for a while. I worked at the Des Moines Register which is where I ended up winning an Associated Press award by accident.

Zach Ireland:

Congratulations!

Todd Williams:

Thank you. Did that before the age of 30 which was cool. Not a lot of people get that recognition at that age then we moved to Taiwan. 

Zach Ireland:
That’s fantastic. That’s such a, so start out in the States so we had Baltimore then California then Korea and now were in Taiwan, now in Taipei. It’s absolutely wonderful and so how would you describe your job title? What’s your job title?

Todd Williams:

I always say that I’m a poet at heart but I’m a journalist for the money which is a really fortunate way to be that I get paid for my words and that’s all I do for a living. 

Zach Ireland:

That’s wonderful. That really touches on, because a lot of people ask me, a lot of young people come to me on my social media accounts and they say, how do I get a job? How do I do what I love? And I always tell them, the job that you do doesn’t necessarily have to be your absolute life passion but as long as it allows you to do what your passion is then you’re fortunate. Would that fit you?

Todd Williams:

I would say that right now, people our age, my age, anyway. You’re much younger than I am. People my age at 34, will hit me up, and they say, “How do I become a journalist?” And I say, “Well, first, you start at your high school newspaper” [laughs] and then they realized that they’re screwed. [laughs] Like no, it doesn’t happen overnight that everybody gets a wind that they want to be a writer, they want to be an actor, they want to be a podcaster. That’s just not the way it works. I would encourage everybody to do it but I would say start early and show your balls.

Zach Ireland:

Show your balls?

Todd Williams:

Yeah, I mean, literally, to managers.

Zach Ireland:

Oh, literally, show your balls to managers.

Todd Williams:

Yeah, just show them your balls and they just give you writing assignments. 

Zach Ireland:

For the record, for the listeners at home, I, personally, do not recommend exposing your genitalia to people but you know, like all roads lead to Rome, I guess. There’s more than one way to skin a cat or skin a potato. Sorry, PETA. [laughs] So your self-described job title is you’re a poet at heart who is a journalist to pay the bills?

Todd Williams:

Right, yeah so currently I’m a senior editor in the magazine division of an app in Taiwan. 

Zach Ireland:

Okay.

Todd Williams:

Where I write about travel. I’ve been a travel writer for years now for different publications like Vice. I’ve worked in Village Voice Media, a couple of different places but right now, I found myself settled in an app in Taiwan which I think the digital age is really bringing about like I’m an editor but I’m also the tech guy. I need to figure out how to put things online which, when I first came into my role, I’m thought I’m always doing print journalism. I will never be one of these online people. I’m not a blogger.

Zach Ireland:
Screw the new age! It’s all made by witches anyway!

Todd Williams:

Right! And I was right on that cusp.

Zach Ireland:

All those ones and zeroes.

Todd Williams:

The zenial cusp of Gen X where it’s all you sit down and read the newspaper. Millennials where it’s all on the phone. At 34, we’re right on the cusp of, “Shit, I need to learn this and I need to do what was done in the past as well.” I prefer print but I’ve discovered that I get paid for online get picked up by print publications and that gives me satisfaction and I also get paid twice which is great. [laughs]

Zach Ireland:

That’s so incredibly true because there’s something about, as of right now in 2019, people over 30 have a lot of issues with “I need to touch it, I need to feel it” and me being 29, I have that with certain things as well like BitCoin, I’ll never fucking understand BitCoin because I can’t touch it, I can’t feel it but I [00:06:59]

Todd Williams:

And you’re not libertarian. [laughs]

Zach Ireland:

Yeah. That will do it. But then for my generation, for example, me, I haven’t had a computer in ten years because I have a computer in my pocket. I’m literally recording this right now on my telephone.

Todd Williams:

You just gave it away.

Zach Ireland:

Oh no, listeners at home, this is a very big setup.

Todd Williams:

[00:07:15]

Zach Ireland:

Massive, massive. No, I find that fascinating. I find that fascinating. Tell me something about your job that you love. What’s something about your job, what sparks joy with Todd?

Todd Williams:

What sparks joy?

Zach Ireland:

What sparks joy?

Todd Williams:

So we’re in here in the studio with Marie Kondo. Everything that doesn’t spark joy is always thrown out the window. I love Marie Kondo and she’s always throwing things away that don’t spark joy. What does spark joy is I became a journalist with a simple goal of I want to meet every human being on earth.

Zach Ireland:

I remember that. When I first met you, you said something like that in very drunken slurs. 

Todd Williams:

It was a bit slurry at that point. But yeah, I have a very genuine interest in humans and I like almost every person I meet. There is something interesting about everyone. I can say that there are groups of people I dislike but when I meet an individual, I feel like you really get to the core of who they are and that works for me both in journalism and in poetry and when I read something I want to feel the exact same way the person was feeling when they wrote it and that’s the way I write. I want them to hear it in my voice so I think it’s a human connection that journalism brings and getting out of political journalism did that for me.

Zach Ireland:
Yeah. I think there’s something very beautiful and very true there as well and not to get too deep on it but it’s easy. You say you hate groups of people but you like individuals because there’s always something there and I think that there’s something very true to that because when a lot of times in this very caustic political climate that we have, it’s easy to say, “Oh, I don’t like republicans, I don’t like democrats, I don’t like liberals” or “I don’t like X, Y, Z, sort of group” but then you meet this person individually, and then they become, they’re no longer republican but then they’re Dan from Ohio or something. Where can they find you? Where in social media are you? Are you and Instagrammer, are you a Facebook guy? Do you want people to find you in social media?

Todd Williams:

You can find me through previous articles. Just google Todd Allen Williams. Through Vice or DeepBlu. I don’t really have much of an Instagram presence. My Facebook is all private. 

Zach Ireland:

Oh, crap.

Todd Williams: 

Partially because I started getting hate mail because of articles I had written and

Zach Ireland:

I understand that.

Todd Williams:

Like I told you before, I became a writer so that nobody ever sees me. When I was doing stand-up comedy, my audience could look at me directly and just hate me right there.

Zach Ireland:

I understand that. I keep my Facebook on private as well. Okay yeah, there you go, guys, go ahead and google Todd Allen Williams and DeepBlu and you can find his articles. What is something not everyone would know about your job?

Todd Williams:

Well, that it’s a job.

Zach Ireland:

Yeah?

Todd Williams:

[laughs] It’s a job. 

Zach Ireland:

Elaborate on that.

Todd Williams:

That pay wall when you see Washington Post, Al Jazeera, New York Times, “You’ve met your article limit for the month, pay one dollar.” That actually puts a roof over my head? It’s an actual fucking job that there’re actual people doing. Your content is not yet produced by AI. It will be eventually and I will retire at the beach. A beach that is as clever as me.

Zach Ireland:

Ah, those beaches.

Todd Williams:

Yeah, love those beaches. Yeah, I mean, it’s really hard.

Zach Ireland:

That’s so interesting. Do you get that cut of commission when you pay that $1  to subscribe to New York or whatever? Do you get commission from that when it’s a specific article?

Todd Williams:

Yeah, I wrote an ad 20 years ago and it runs again, even then, I’m getting a 25-cent check.

Zach Ireland:
But that ad’s for 7 billion people.

Todd Williams:

Years ago, I did some ads for alternative energy on the side while being a journalist in LA where my apartment was 1,800 a month. At that time, they were paying me, I think it was a thousand a week, which was sweet but you still get commission in the end and it all adds up. Everything you did in the past is your retirement and you work hard for it. You meet the people and human interactions is really hard for me. I have anxiety but at the same time I want to meet these people, I want to do everything. It’s going out there and getting information to people. This brings it back to it is a job.

Zach Ireland:

That’s so true because, I think, a lot of time in the creative field, in the arts, in the artistic world. A lot of times people can think that, “Oh, well, I can do that,” For those of you at home listening, who may not know, I work as an actor and a talk show host for my main gig, I guess, and this is just for fun. But a lot of people, they’ll approach and they’re like “When I was in high school, I did theater”, “When I was in high school, I was in the journalism team” or things like that.

Todd Williams:

When I was in high school, I played football [laughs]

Zach Ireland:

But it is true! 

Todd Williams:

It’s so different now. I’m not Ray Lewis. [laughs] You can’t look at me and tell that.

Zach Ireland:

But it’s so true that a lot of times that people forget that this is a job, it’s an actual career that we went out and did and I’m assuming with your job, you don’t have a 401k, right?

Todd Williams:

No! No! You’re in the freelance jobs. Retirement? No! As an expat in Taipei, it was only made possible a year ago that expats in Taiwan could get retirement at all.

Zach Ireland:

Oh, wow. That’s so interesting.

Todd Williams:

So you can get a pension plan but only if you have permanent residency.

Zach Ireland:

Oh, okay. That’s something that we’re going to have to address on a later podcast about setting up medical insurance, setting up retirement and things like that in a foreign land. Yeah! That’s something that I still struggle with like, man, I haven’t had insurance in years and that’s something that we can talk about something too. That actually leads really well into my next question. What annoys about your job?

Todd Williams:

What annoys me about my job?

Zach Ireland:

Not talking about other people. What annoys you about your job specifically? We’ll get into other people.

Todd Williams:

I would say that it’s pretty fluid at this point. At this point, I’m also an editor. I get to manage what I do. Editors never really bothered me but the pressure that they got from middle men when I started bothered me. It’s like I want to go review this play, and the editor says, “Here’s the money to review that play and it’s how much you’re going to get paid for the article” and the middle man says, “We don’t want that.” So dropped contracts are annoying. The people of money who wanted the thing and they see the thing and they don’t want it and maybe at some point, because I sucked. Maybe I was bad at it. I started as a political journalist, moved into arts, because I didn’t want to have a heart attack. Moved into travel because it’s easy [laughs] but yeah, just—

Zach Ireland:

That’s so interesting. I never would have thought of it that way because—

Todd Williams:

Hunting down payment.

Zach Ireland:
Because my job, in particular, usually it’s like, okay, I have this contract and if I’m not what they want within the first week or something like that then usually I get dropped but once the product’s done, they have no right to say, “Okay, I don’t want this anymore” but with you sometimes you turn up with the final product and they’re just like “No,” and then you just don’t get money?

Todd Williams:

We don’t want it anymore.

Zach Ireland:

And then you’re just screwed? Do you even get percentage of that money?

Todd Williams:

No.

Zach Ireland:

No?

Todd Williams:

No. Sometimes they just disappear.

Zach Ireland:

Wow.

Todd Williams:

Not anymore. Not at this age but at a younger age.

Zach Ireland:

Younger age being like what? Like ten years ago?

Todd Williams:

When I was ten.

Zach Ireland:

Oh, okay.

Todd Williams:

Yeah, yeah. When I was ten, I was a little journalist.

Zach Ireland:

Todd’s 20 years old right now, by the way.

Todd Williams:

Yeah, like ten years ago. Fresh out of the university.

Zach Ireland:

Oh so it’s not necessarily a timeframe now like this being 2019. You’re talking about when you were a younger person then it’s…

Todd Williams:

Yeah, when I was younger. I got screwed over a lot and I would say another thing that really was horrible about that is that it gave me an attitude that I never had before. I would just be like, yeah, I mean I lived in northern California. I occasionally did reviews of marijuana clinics and it’s like, you go to restaurants, you get free food, you get to a marijuana clinic and you get free pot and I get free pot and not the money from the article so now I’m stoned and broke. Sounds like being 22. [laughs]

Zach Ireland:

Screw it!

Todd Williams:

At least the pot was straight.

Zach Ireland:

Though I haven’t personally experienced this, I’ve read about it in many books [Todd laughs] Yeah, that’s also something about the arts in general. It’s a lot of times you get paid in experience, you get paid in booze or pot or shoes but you know, my landlord doesn’t accept pot, booze and shoes as payment.

Todd Williams:

Oh and I would say a thing about working right now, in my position, specifically, in oceanic journalism is that people take you out for a lot of seafood dinners.

Zach Ireland:

Oh, okay. Yeah, yeah, yeah

Todd Williams:

Which is I’m not opposed to seafood.

Zach Ireland:

But not every day?

Todd Williams:

But when you’re working in something like SCUBA diving where you go to look at animals and talk about the animals and talk about saving the animals and then they take you out for seafood and they’re in the same industry. That’s kind of a weird thing and it might be unique to this region that they do that but when I interviewed Paul Watson from Sea Shepherds on the Steve Irwin, their ship that they’re now scrapping, they serve vegan sushi. So they make vegan sushi. Everybody in Sea Shepherds is vegan. I’m not but I think that if you work in that field that passionately, you shouldn’t take me out for seafood dinners.

Zach Ireland:

I can definitely understand that. So we kind of talked a little bit about earlier about one of the things that you want people to k now or not everyone would know is that this is a job so here is something that, I think, is going to spark joy for you. An opportunity to tell the people, is there anything that you want non-writers to know about writing? People who are not in your field to know about your field.

Todd Williams:

There is nothing called the media.

Zach Ireland:
Okay, elaborate.

Todd Williams:

I mean, the media is a blanket statement. I avoid Facebook arguments but if somebody says “the media” and say, it’s like a friend’s aunt or like the cousin of Billy from high school. There’s nothing called the media but people say the media is full of lies.

Zach Ireland:

Sort of in the sense of when people say the media they mean like, “Oh, The Illuminati, the lizard people,”

Todd Williams:

Yeah. For instance, I shared a picture the other day and I said, “This is the biggest pod of hammerhead sharks I have ever seen” and somebody commented on that, “More fake news from the media” it’s like what does—you’re just yelling at all of us! No, no, no, these are real hammerhead sharks, I swear, they’re not robots. They’re floating around on your flat earth and they’re just doing their thing.

Zach Ireland:

The global flat earth society.

Todd Williams:

I put tinfoil in all of them which sent off their natural sonar and I sent them on their way but it was okay, they were only 200.

Zach Ireland:

But I mean we can’t, at the end of the day, Todd, we can’t trust you because the listeners at home are ingesting the media from a person that works in the media being interviewed by someone who works in the media. Okay, here’s a question for you. You kind of touched on this question earlier but what’s, in the interest of exploring what expats are in this global age, in this new age of globalization, how do you self-identify? What makes Todd Todd? Where are you from? What’s your background?

Todd Williams:

I’ve always found myself to be pretty fluid. Like I mentioned earlier, I played football in high school. I felt that was important. I was also writing. I was also in the band. I was the only person on the football team who had to run during the halftime show, get into the band outfit, play his trumpet and get back into the football game so I just kind of like to be everything. I’m a doer. I’m always active. 

Zach Ireland:

So artistic and blue collar at the same time?

Todd Williams:

Right, yeah. I mean, there’s nobody that I’m for. I mean, ultimately, at the end of the day, I am just some dude from a working-class part of Baltimore who learned how to do a thing he loves and applied himself while a lot of other friends went to college or died or I mean, yeah. It’s just, there’s nothing I really identify as. Fluid situation to situation and certainly, I’m a progressive dipshit from suburban America but also, very much a city guy who’s found a voice and in particular with my current books of poems about the part of Baltimore I grew up in. It’s fifty poems and they’re all about people I know who have died. So I’m giving a voice to people who never had one. I guess that’s what I identify as now? Just a guy with a voice doing something that I hope will help people.

Zach Ireland:
Cool. Wow. That got deep. I like that. Thank you for sharing that with us Todd.

Todd Williams:

Yeah, [laughs] thank you.

Zach Ireland:

Wow. Through podcast, friends are becoming closer friends. That’s a lot. Moving on to something a little bit lighter, do you want to plug that book at all or you’re currently working on it?

Todd Williams:

The book that I’m working on? It’s called Songs for Dundalk and while I’m doing higher level journalism, I also have written for my local newspaper in my little corner of Baltimore called Dundalk. One I gave my mom for her birthday called ‘Always a Dundalk Boy’ but the further I get from home, as an expat, the more I feel myself drawn back there. Not that I’m going to go back but that it’s more of a place that I loved than it was when I was 18 and left for university.

Zach Ireland:

There’s something really, there’s something there that ties a lot of us, not just as expats, but us in our 20’s and 30’s, the further we get away from home, the more we identify from where we left because I find that a lot with myself as well. When I was living in Nebraska, I couldn’t wait to get out and now that I’m further and further away I find that there are a lot of things that bring me joy and comfort from the Cornhouse Crusade so there’s something for you when you say Dundalk, that’s where you’re from right?

Todd Williams:

Yep.

Zach Ireland:

Okay so you identify as a Dundalk boy, in ways.

Todd Williams:

I grew up catching crabs, steaming them, going fishing, all the typical things that you do as a working-class kid but then also have the opportunities to study under some of the best teachers ever. Politicians, some of the best poets, like Benazir Bhutto came to my school and gave a powerful speech before she was assassinated and Edward Said and all of these people I’ve met. Ben Cardin who is senator for Maryland now and I’ve had the opportunity to work my way up and meet this people. The biggest asshole was Ralph Nader. I love him but…

Zach Ireland:

What makes him an asshole? What makes him identify as an asshole?

Todd Williams:

He was very dismissive of my questions but I also think he’s part of what turned me into a journalist that when I talked to him I was 19 years and I learned that I was going to have to be a lot more specific and ready to talk to people like him.

Zach Ireland:

Were you asking questions that weren’t specific enough and he was being dismissive and rude?

Todd Williams:

Right.

Zach Ireland:

But that’s not what… I hate that when people get to a position where they think, “Oh, I can just write people off.”

Todd Williams:

Especially people you completely agree with.

Zach Ireland:

Yeah, or even people with such a young age, I mean you’re 19 years old. You don’t have your shit figured out. You don’t, you haven’t gone through the trials and tribulations of being a journalist to ask the hard-hitting question. Fuck that guy. 

Todd Williams:

Meanwhile I’ve been in Bernie Sanders’s office before.

Zach Ireland:

I hear recently, like, I hear from people who worked closely with him that he is a dope dude.

Todd Williams:

Wonderful. I’ve not met him and I’ve been in his office and there’s little corners of it where you can see that he’s still a college kid from Vermont. There’s a Ben and Jerry’s donation in his office.

Zach Ireland:
Oh, that is so sweet. A very close friend of mine from high school then later in college, Morgan [00:24:59] Morgan Waters, they worked with him on the Denver office, I want to say, and they go on and on about how great a person Bernie is.

Todd Williams:

Right?

Zach Ireland:

This is not…Not that I am, or am not feeling the Bern.

Todd Williams:

No political endorsement. He’s just a great dude.

Zach Ireland:

No political endorsement. I just hear that he’s a mensch as they say. So getting on this topic but I think you already addressed it a little bit but I want to hit on it and this is a question that every single expat hates. This is the question that we hear from cab drivers, from people in bars, like literally every person that you meet on the street and it started in a thirty-minute answer. Now, we have it worked down to about 1 minute or even 30 seconds. What brought you from where you were to where you are? What was the moment that you became an expat? What brought you from California to Korea?

Todd Williams:

Tim Russert died. 

Zach Ireland:

Okay.

Todd Williams:

During the 2008 election, Tim Russert…

Zach Ireland:

Tell the people at home who don’t know who he is. Also, tell me because I don’t know who Tim Russert is.

Todd Williams:

He was a political journalist from MSNBC. He was a huge hero of mine and covering the 2008 election, he was variably walking from office to office and his last words were something along the line of like, “Hey, how’s it going?” to another colleague. A couple of offices down, he went into cardiac arrest and he was just going office to office, saying hi to people. He moderated one of the debates between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, I believe, and I decided I couldn’t put up with it anymore.

Zach Ireland:

It being?

Todd Williams:

Political journalism in America and I had already decided doing arts journalism. I was doing a little bit of politics. First time I was ever on the radio talking politics was on the Todd Feinburg show in Boston when I was 23. He said “You’re Todd. I’m Todd and this is the only thing were ever going to agree upon.” He comes on right before Rush Limbaugh.

Zach Ireland: 

Oh I love it.

Todd Williams:

Or he used to anyway.

Zach Ireland:

My father, to this day, on long road trips and he’s trying not to fall asleep, he’ll listen to Rush Limbaugh because it makes him so angry. Its someone to just sit and argue with. It’s the funniest thing to see this midwestern Nebraskan dad

Todd Williams:

He just keeps cursing in the car.

Zach Ireland:

Oh, he’s cursing in the car. He turns bright red and he’s just yelling at the radio.

Todd Williams:

That’s why I needed out. I realized that if one of my journalistic heroes, I wanted his job. I wanted to be on meet the press. I wanted something like that and instead, I decided to take a more casual route. Travel journalism. Focus on the arts. Run an art studio overseas. Work for magazines overseas. Get uninvolved in politics. I don’t know how old he was when he died. It was somewhere around 50 

Zach Ireland:

That’s still so young for a cardiac arrest.

Todd Williams:

But he dropped dead in the office and I realized it was because of the election.

Zach Ireland:

Yeah, it’s the age-old adage if you work for a living, why kill yourself working?

Todd Williams:

Right, which is why I went the Anthony Bourdain route of why kill yourself working?

Zach Ireland:

Oh there you go!

Todd Williams:

Oh shit!

Zach Ireland:

Oh no. Oh, Anthony. That really hit the expat really hard. Alright so, what are some of the challenges about living in Taipei?

Todd Williams:

Compared to a lot of Asia, not many. I feel like I’ve been around enough of Asia to know that one, as a travel journalist, Taipei is central. Taipei, Taoyuan Airport. Formerly called Chang Kai Shek after the dictator, renamed under the DTP and they still fight over that which is outside of my realm. They don’t even care that I’m here. Nobody stares at me on the train. Nobody really gives a shit that I’m here. I work at a tech startup and honestly, I work in a row of tech startups and hostels and you can’t tell the difference between the people. Yeah so about living in Taipei, the only thing that really bothers me is that people walk slow but don’t reflect different parts of island culture. They don’t do anything else slowly. You get to the register at the store and they automatically want to rush through. 

Zach Ireland:

Oh yeah, they just throw things at you?

Todd Williams:

Yeah, yeah, yeah. And that’s alright. Henry Rollins was here and he said in Rolling Stone, he had his change ready when he got to the register, his exact change but like Henry Rollins said, other than that life in Taipei is slow but as a very tall person who walks quickly, that gets annoying but I’ve always said about Taipei, if that is my biggest complaint, I’m fine. 

Zach Ireland:

Yeah, so please talk about a couple things that you love about Taiwan. Love about living in Taipei.

Todd Williams:

Well, I wrote this more eloquently the other day. I’m not an orator. I’m a writer.

Zach Ireland:

I’m not a master debater but I’m a cunning linguist.

Todd Williams:

We live, Patty and I, in the middle of downtown and the ocean. Within a half hour, I can get to my job. Within a half hour, I can get to the ocean here in Taipei.

Zach Ireland:

That’s beautiful.

Todd Williams:

Hour and a half, rapid train ride, I can get to the other end of the island. Things are so convenient here. People are so polite. Everything’s congenial. Like I said my only complaint here is people walk too slow. So nice.

Zach Ireland:

Which is nothing in the grand scheme of things.

 Todd Williams:

They walk too slow in front of me and that pisses me off if I’m getting to work or getting anywhere but I can get to the ocean, I can get to the mountains. I can go anywhere and be accepted and most people on our street know English. I know we live near Shilin night market, a tourist area. I would say Taiwan really embraces you and from the first day that we got here, we went out to dinner with friends who introduced us to Taiwanese friends and one said, how long are you going to stay here? I said at least five years and he said, I hope you stay longer.

Zach Ireland:

That’s beautiful

Todd Williams:

And now we’ve been here for six years and he lives in San Fran. [laughs]

Zach Ireland:

It’s funny. Alright, because for me, what makes a place isn’t necessarily the place, right? It’s all about the people.

Todd Williams:

Right.

Zach Ireland:

And every people, every culture has eccentricities, has some quirks. Give me something that is uniquely quirky to the people of Taipei. Something just kind of like, “Oh, it’s so different than what we do back home,”

Todd Williams:

Uniquely quirky to the people of Taipei

Zach Ireland:

Like people in Nebraska say [00:31:46] instead of wash or people from the Midwest in the united states when we accidently bump into people you say ‘op’.

Todd Williams:

Chabuduo culture.

Zach Ireland:

Chabuduo. Chabuduo, for the listeners back home is like “oh yeah, it’s close enough.”

Todd Williams:

But it doesn’t mean, it’s not looked at as a bad thing. It’s like, “Oh, you have a stain on your wall. Let’s put tape on it. Chabuduo.”

Zach Ireland:

Oh, chabuduo

Todd Williams:

That’ll do.

Zach Ireland:

Just sort of like, that’ll do, pig, yeah it works.

Todd Williams:

Our plumbing was bad once and the landlord just says, “9 in the morning, there’s going to be a guy walking on your roof on a Sunday. He’s going to wake you up but that’ll do,” and I think that’s really unique here that it’s just when we talk to Taiwanese friends about chabuduo, when we complain about it, it just means, yeah, it works.

Zach Ireland:

It works so what you complaining about?

Todd Williams:

You woke me up at 9 in the morning but does it work? Yes.

Zach Ireland:
Yeah.

Todd Williams:

Pretty unique to Taipei.

Zach Ireland:

That is. I love that.

Todd Williams:

It’s not like other parts of the region where they either get it done or not. Here it’s like we’ll get it done on our time.

Zach Ireland:

So we’re reaching toward the end of the podcast because I don’t know if you guys have the attention span to listen to an hour or 30 minutes or what’s going on with this podcast, really. So, we’ll just end with some sort of last-minute advice. Todd, what would be some advice that you would give to people back home who are thinking about moving abroad or who are thinking about just leaving their own country and exploring something new?

Todd Williams:

Do it.

Zach Ireland:

Yeah?

Todd Williams:

Do it. Honestly, don’t give in to the excuses. Just do it. I have people who say “Oh, I’d move abroad but I love my family.” “I’d move abroad but my job is good.”

Zach Ireland:

Yeah. “I’d move abroad but I don’t have enough money.” “I’d move abroad but oh, how do I get a stable income?”

Todd Williams:

Finding enough money is a legit excuse but you will.

Zach Ireland:

Yeah.

Todd Williams:

But I love my family? So does everybody abroad. I have a good job. So did a lot of us.

Zach Ireland:

I think a lot of people, because I hear that excuse a lot from my friends back home who they say, “Oh, how could you do this, don’t you love your family?” Of course, I love my family but if there was an emergency that happened right now and I need to be back in Nehawka, Nebraska, it would take me tops 20 hours to get there.

Todd Williams:

I could hop on a flight.

Zach Ireland:

Yeah, exactly. People tend to think of distance as being so far and yes, in the literal thing, yes, it is very far but in this modern age of fast track railroads, airplanes…

Todd Williams:

Distance is not removal.

Zach Ireland:
No, its not. It’s more about time because when I was living in Lincoln, Nebraska and my family is living in Omaha, Nebraska, it will take me an hour to get home. Okay but if I was living in Chicago and my family was in Omaha, if I hop onto a plane, it will take me about the same amount of time to get home if we’re talking literal travel so just because I’m what? 7,000 km from Nebraska right now doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m days and days and days away. If an emergency happens, I could be home within 24 hours.

Todd Williams:

You’re 7,000 from Nebraska? I’m 12,000 from Baltimore.

Zach Ireland:
It might be a bit more but I don’t know. We’re just guessing but that’s some really good advice and as far as money goes, I agree with that. If you only had 300 dollars in your bank account, of course, that money is going to be an issue but I think a lot of people get in their heads that they need to save up like tens of thousands of dollars if they’re going to move to Seoul or they’re going to move to Istanbul. It’s never that much.

Todd Williams:

If you have a college degree, you can get a job that pays you to move elsewhere especially in Asia during, what Time magazine 2002 dubbed, the Asian century. There is more money here than there is in the West and its up and coming and you will not believe what is going on on this side of the world until you get here. Shanghai makes Los Angeles look like Flint, Michigan.

Zach Ireland:

It’s a hard drink of water. That’s a little bit heavier than this one but no, you’re absolutely right and when I first arrived in Asia, Beijing. I arrived at Beijing international airport.

Todd Williams:
And the lights were shiny

Zach Ireland:

Oh they were so bright. [Todd laughs] There is no speck of dirt on the ground.

Todd Williams:

If I can make it here, I can make it anywhere.

Zach Ireland:

Anywhere. That is so true now and I absolutely detest and hate air travel back in the united states. Absolutely hate it and it seems so unnecessarily dirty. Like Delta Airlines, aka [00:36:26], its garbage its absolutely garbage.

Todd Williams:

Once my mom flew in, she flew United.

Zach Ireland:
Oh God.

Todd Williams:

And now she’s flying Korean air.

Zach Ireland:

Good. Thank God, she’ll love it.

Todd Williams:

And the last time I flew United and I said, “My headphones are broken,” and they said, “That happens sometimes.” I said, “If that happens in Korean Air, they will come back and bring you three pairs of headphones.”

Zach Ireland:

Absolutely. I flew, what was it? Taiwan Air, Taipei Air something. I flew into Guangzhou and then my screen didn’t work and I just moved to the seat next to me and I was totally fine and they asked me “Why’d you move?” and I said “My screen didn’t work,” and listen, maybe a two-hour flight and these people were going back and forth trying to make sure that this screen worked that I didn’t even need anymore but they were just so offensively nice about it. Once it actually worked then of course, I moved back just like be nice. But then that sort of thing happens in Delta, United and sorry about it, whoops and also the flights are twice expensive over there.

Todd Williams:

My mom was surprised she gets 2 free checked bags.

Zach Ireland:

Cute. I love that.

Todd Williams: 

And she turns 70 today. 

Zach Ireland:

Yeah and she’s coming in town in a week?

Todd Williams:

 She’s coming in town.

Zach Ireland:

That’s beautiful and her birthday’s today?

Todd Williams:

Yeah, happy birthday, Mom

Zach Ireland:

Happy birthday, Mom. Here’s to you. Clink, clink. All right, what did we learn? Today, I learned sometimes writers just gets contracted for a bit of work and all of a sudden, their whole job is ripped out from under them and they have no way to collect their money. I also learned that podcasting is a great way to connect with friends. I’ve learned a lot talking with you through this. We spend so many nights just kicking and hanging and didn’t chat this deep.

Todd Williams:

I enjoyed it.

Zach Ireland:

I enjoyed it immensely.

Todd Williams:

Yeah, it was a good time.

Zach Ireland:
I think I also knew this to a degree but pontificated a lot more on the idea that the further we get from the place we grow up, the more we identify with that same place. That was…

Todd Williams:
We can do more about Songs for Dundalk later.

Zach Ireland:

Yeah, a Dundalk talk.

Todd Williams:

Yeah, Dundalk talk, yeah.

Zach Ireland:

Yeah, these are many of the things I learned and I hope you guys, you listeners at home, learned a lot of things about what it is to be an expat in this regard. Todd, anything you want to say signing off?

Todd Williams:

You always miss home but where the hell is it anyway?

Zach Ireland:
But where the hell is it anyway? All right, see you guys next week.

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One Comment

  1. keaidid
    April 3, 2019
    Reply

    Thanks for bringing us so much wonderful chat show

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