Buffalo Tours’ Managing Director Matt Masson has called Asia home for 13 years, living and working in various destinations throughout the region. We sat down with him to discuss how living and travelling in Asia has changed him and how those changes manifest in those who travel here.
How long have you been living in Asia and what first bought you here?
I have been living in Asia for 13 years now. This has been mainly in Vietnam and now Singapore for the last 18 months. I started out as a tour leader running small group tours in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand on a short term contract and then never looked back.
What is it that you love about Asia even after all these years?
It may sound clichéd but the people are what makes it special. The doors to people’s homes are normally open in most parts of SE Asia, and you are still welcomed with genuine hospitality.
Is there anything that still surprises you about living here?
Yes, there are so many weird and wonderful things to discover; from water buffaloes being carried on the back of motorcycles in Vietnam, to the extreme politeness of Japanese people, and the bizarre foods eaten in parts of China.
If you are not being surprised in Asia, you need to get a bit further off the beaten track
How do you think living in Asia has changed you?
Moving from Australia, a large and relatively underpopulated continent, to Asia, which is teeming with people, was a big shock. It took me a whole year to adjust to life in Vietnam where there are 90 million people and almost as many motorbikes.
I had to be patient in my early years as I didn’t know the system, so until I spoke some Vietnamese and basic phrases in other languages, it took much longer to get things done. I would like to think that my time in Asia has made me more resourceful. It has also helped me to be more open-minded when meeting people and not to judge them at face value.
Do you think you have a different view of Asia than when you first arrived?
Yes, over the last 13 years it has slowly evolved. I didn’t have much knowledge of Asia while growing up in Sydney in the 1980’s and 90’s, apart from what I had read in history or travel books.It was not as multi-cultural as it is today, so I had limited exposure to Asian people & the world was not as connected as it is today with social media.
Ever since travelling around Asia, I have been in awe of its incredible diversity. If you consider the range of nationalities, and then the sub-ethnicities and regional differences from China down to Indonesia, and from India across to The Philippines, from an anthropological perspective it blows you away. I don’t think any other part of the world offers such a spectrum, and from that mix of many people living together, values such as family focus, compassion and tolerance are borne.
Have you picked up any habits from living in Asia?
I used to be a night owl but am now an early bird, as first thing in the morning is one of the best times to be out and about. Also, an appreciation for Asian cuisine is a habit that has me well and truly hooked. From Japanese ramen, to Thai curries and Vietnamese fresh spring rolls, I would find it impossible to live without these dishes in my life.
When we say ‘change travel change lives’ what comes to mind?
This phrase embodies two main elements. Firstly, the opportunities the travel industry provides to the communities we are in, both in terms of people who work in it and also those who it then support indirectly. Secondly, the travelers themselves who often find Asia such a life changing experience and an assault on the senses.
How do you think Asia changes travellers who are here for only a short time?
It depends on the country they visit and how much time they have. People often whet their appetite on a shorter stay, perhaps a business trip, and then come back for a longer, leisure visit once they know which country or region they wish to delve deeper into.
What is it about Asia specifically that has the power to bring about change through travel?
I think it comes down to the people in Asia generally being so hospitable and curious to meet and engage with travelers. You cannot help but let your guard down and open up to new experiences and new ways of thinking.
Do you have your own story of travel in Asia changing you? Share it with us in the comments below, or on Facebook and Instagram using the hashtag #ChangeTravelChangeLives.