Which City is Best for Me? How I Find the Best Place to Live

Today, I am not happy with where I live.

Truth be told, I never really wanted to come here to Beijing at all, except for traveling and sightseeing, but having a unique career opportunity created a chance I didn’t want to regret later. It seems, however, that the usual thing happened: while there were moments of uniqueness and connections for possible future value, all in all it has been a plodding, repetitive, slow, unchallenging, frustrating, and miserable time for me over the last nine months.

It seems that, like my hometown in Louisiana, as well as my life in the Chinese cities of Guangzhou and Taicang, life in Beijing is most definitely not for me.

So what’s the answer to my question—to your question—which city is the best for me? The best city for us is the one which meets our practical needs, primary desires, provides an acceptable level of overall safety, and has outlets for our preferred career choices or past times. Figuring out how to find the best place to live takes a bit of time, research, and patience. It is not a one-size-fits-all approach and is subjective, based on the person and his or her needs and desires.

Which City Is the Best for Me?

The best city for me, or you, is the one that:

  1. Meets your practical needs
  2. Primary or base desires
  3. Provides acceptable levels of overall safety
  4. Has outlets and options for career and/or past times

How Can I Find the Best Place to Live?

I’m not the “expert” on finding the best city for living. I can’t tell you right now that I love where I am and what I’m doing, and that I’ve reached the pinnacle of my goal after years of grueling searching and seeking, that I’m now amazingly able to reveal to you as a guru from the mountaintop. Honestly, I am still in the thick of trying to find my own “slice of heaven” so to speak, and because it’s on my mind, I decided to write this article to help myself and, hopefully, you.

From the time I was a child until now, I can remember moving from place/home to another almost 30 times. Since February of 2013, I’ve been living in Asia and have moved 8 times over the past 6.5 years – and will be moving again to Tokyo in just a few months. While each place has its benefits and drawbacks, I never quite managed to find the simultaneous combination of elements mentioned above. What I realized is that simply “following your dream” doesn’t make any sense by itself – more is needed. What is that “more?” Let’s take a look at each of the four main points, starting with practical needs.

1.      The Best City for You Meets Practical Needs – Both Public and Individual

The first thing you should consider when choosing the best city for you is how well it can meet practical needs for daily life and basic necessities. This may or may not be obvious to you but must not be overlooked; if we do not mention, consider, and discuss this point, then it could be all too easy to glance over it too lightly and wind up disillusioned with the “dream city” we decided on a whim to whisk our families off to.

The second “need” is that of the individual, because I am not you and you are not that girl who won’t stop staring at me from the corner (or are you?). The point is that while we all have a few basic, similar life needs, there are numerous differences which you would be wise to consider before you jaunt off to any particular city.

General Practical Needs

A city with good, quick, and reliable access to consumables, clothes, food, drink, transportation, basic healthcare, work opportunities, affordable housing, and acceptable schools is more like the baseline standard for an acceptable place to settle-down. This is probably not something you need to do as much digging on if you’re staying within your state/province, or even your own country, but some effort is still recommended if not required when considering a different area or larger city.

If you are looking to move to another country, then the above practical considerations become a much, much bigger deal. You should definitely spend more time to research the targeted city, country, and areas of which you are considering, and it should be easy enough to get a wide variety of opinions from people who’ve already done what you’re thinking about doing.

Tip: be sure to not get hung up on just one person’s opinion of a place. Some cities or countries may seem to have more than a few negative vloggers who are either there and don’t want to be, or don’t recommend going, or are trying to leave, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it isn’t a good match for you. Spend good time finding the most balanced, overall view you can.

2.      The Best City for You Meets Your Primary or Base Desires

As far as your unique desires and needs are concerned, this is where even the city itself, if not the area, can become really important. I’m not talking about “dreams, aspirations, goals,” or larger issues like that – I’ll discuss that below. The focus here is more connected to what you might call “comforts,” or things that, while not 100% necessary for life, are definitely necessary in your heart for complete happiness.

An example could be that you really want to be somewhere with good access to foreign or import supermarkets. If you’re from a larger city, then you might overlook this aspect by accident and then be disappointed after you’ve already committed and moved. This type of occurrence is especially high when you move out of your country.

I’ve met more than a few foreigners in Asia who are stuck on the local KFC, McDonald’s, and Pizza Hut because they didn’t think about their location too much when they moved over and accepted a job. There are some nice things about a smaller city in Asia, but access to foreign style foods isn’t typically one of them!

3. The Best City for You Provides Acceptable, if Not Excellent, Levels of Safety

Again, this may seem obvious, but the truth is that many people overlook certain aspects of the “safety” issue, being concerned with only one or two particular facets of safety in a city or country, without considering others until they’ve already committed.

First, we need to consider which safety issues are most important when choosing a city to live in.

What Safety Issues Should I Consider When Choosing a City or Place to Live?

Would you believe that from the time I was a child, I’ve moved more than 25 times? In my childhood, my parents moved us around a lot for various reasons, mostly related two “the big 2,” meaning money and work (the lack thereof). My dad was a steel worker with no advanced education, so when the manufacturing jobs fled to China, it started us on a type of forced traveling lifestyle as we attempted to go where the work was.

The result was that we often couldn’t afford to stay for long and were kicked out or forced to move more than a few times, and other times we had no choice because my dad’s new job was far away in another city or state. The other result was that I have been exposed to various aspects of life in different cities, which has been further built upon as I’ve lived abroad for almost seven years now.

Safety itself is an issue of which I’ve become familiar, as I’ve moved about and had to deal with my fear directly, and sometimes alone. “Safety” isn’t simply about the absence or low instance of crime – it is much more. I would argue that a safe place, area, city, or country would do well in several areas, from the obvious to the not-so-obvious, such as:

  1. Crime
  2. The Natural Environment
  3. The Manmade Environment
  4. Pollution
  5. Healthcare
  6. Government
Crime – the Primary Safety Consideration when Choosing a Place to Live

Everyone wants to be or at least feel safe where they live, and chief among the safety list above is basic insulation against various forms of crime.

Theft, robbery, burglary, murder, gang activity – the list of offenses is quite long – these are all things we would prefer to stay away from, right? (I hope so!) Just how “safe” is the city you are thinking about moving to? It’s probably just a simple matter of looking up as much info as you can until you’ve got a good grasp on it, but one of the main things to consider is how that city or country style matches up with what you’re used to.

Here’s my own personal example:

When I first moved to China, the city I arrived in was Guangzhou, which is a large city located in the south of China, a short train ride from Hong Kong and Shenzhen. Where I came from, we definitely had some thieves, criminals, and “bad guys” who would seize the right opportunities to relieve you of your stuff (or cash), but Guangzhou took the pickpocketing and thievery to a whole new level.

Within just a couple of months, I was pickpocketed on the subway train more than once, given fake money, and had my brand-new bicycle’s chain cut right in front of a security guard and policeman. Needless to say, the loss of a phone, sunglasses, money, and my bike – under the noses of corrupt policemen and guards – was more than enough to get me angry about China and feel that every place was just like Guangzhou. I left out of anger and swore I wouldn’t come back.

Luckily enough, I calmed down and after a few months between Thailand and Japan, I realized that I should give China another go but move further north this time. I settled into Taicang, located in Jiangsu Province, which is very close to Shanghai. This was more of a small city feel, with a much lower level of thievery and relaxed environment. After spending many years in China, I have still never found any other place to be as bad as Guangzhou when it comes to thieves.

Now, if you are aware of such a phenomenon BEFORE you go to a city like GZ, then you could be ready for it, if only a little. I, sadly, was not, and my friends didn’t warn me (they dropped the ball on several warnings, actually, and it cost me money, time, and trouble as a result). I wouldn’t say that GZ was “dangerous” as in physically dangerous, but for someone who appears to be an easy or weak target, it’s darn possible that someone will try to snatch your bag or pickpocket you. If you can handle it, the be my guest. I’m smarter now than before, but I still have no desire to live in such a place again (Tokyo, anyone?).

The Manmade and Natural Environment, and Pollution

Another thing to consider as it relates to safety is the environment around you. Some of this is just natural and cannot be changed much, if at all, but other things are manmade and may or may not affect you in various ways.

Take the city I live in now, for example: Beijing. It is large, famous, and has many sights to see. There is a rather large community of expat workers here, and it is one of the top two most popular cities in China for foreigners to live and work.

However, while it is not the worst, it is also still notorious for pollution and dust storms. The winds can get really gusty, and with the roads being so dirty – both naturally and due to constant construction – it’s practically a must to be wearing a face mask and some type of eye protection on many days. I drive an electric motorcycle myself, and there is absolutely no way that I can do that without something protecting my face and eyes, in addition to my helmet.

Depending on where you’re thinking about going, part of this safety is the condition of the public space, including bridges, transportation, buildings, roads, etc. Many people don’t think too much about these things unless they’re moving to a 3rd-world country, but if you’re planning on making a place your permanent home, then you should absolutely look into these things.

Healthcare – Not always a necessity, but definitely important when the time comes

If the crime is low in your city and the environment is relatively safe, then it’s unlikely that you’ll need to venture to the hospital very often for anything serious. However, if you choose a city which, while generally safe, has no reasonably-skilled hospitals or they aren’t well-located near you, then if you have an accident it could be quite a disaster.

I don’t know about you, but I myself am more of a self-diagnose kind of guy in most things. Apart from acute problems or emergencies, I tend to stay away from the doctors and just trust my instincts with natural treatments, fasting, massage, acupuncture, etc. However, if I were to get into an accident, I would definitely want to know that there is a hospital nearby with a skilled staff on-call 24-7. If you don’t consider having a competently-staffed hospital nearby your future home, then there’s a chance it will come back to bite you later.

You can tack on things like medical insurance/coverage as well, but this could also tie-into the government policies below. I’m personally not for gov having control or say-so in this area, and would rather just handle it privately – but that’s just me.

Government – a very important consideration for the best city to live in

Again, if you are looking to be in a city or country long-term or even permanently, then you should consider the government style, its policies, political parties predominantly in charge, taxes, fees, rights, etc.

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve spent the last several years living and working in China and will be moving back to Japan permanently in January. Why am I moving? Glad you asked. The short answer: government BS.

The long answer is that the advancements I wish to make in my life are hindered by the policies here, not the least of which is internet censorship. However, in a more authoritarian or even totalitarian-style system, there is never any guarantee of your rights or even safety, especially if you’re a foreigner. For me, I simply feel that it is no longer a really good time to be in China, but I hope that things will change for the better.

Nevertheless, a country that stomps so heavily on freedom of speech and is against people with contradictory opinions is not really a place I can stay in permanently. Due to the very fact that people here – local or foreign – can get into a good amount of trouble for simply speaking their mind is reason enough for me to consider leaving.

There are other government-related things to consider, such as in the US where some cities are actually doing much better than others. Take for example some of those cities in the northeast which force you to have a licensed contractor for every little thing you want to do to your home, whereas several other states are more open and free, allowing you to do much of the work yourself, barring certain safety concerns such as electrical work. Why is this a safety issue? Well, think about it.

4. The Best City For You has the Best Career For You, as Well as the Best Past Times

It’s easy enough to get a job and have a hobby or hang out with friends. However, if you are asking the question of which city is absolutely the greatest option for you long-term, then you are probably giving stronger consideration to your career and free time than the average bear.

I like to think about my life as a series of steps, paths, and bridges. You could say that it’s sort of like following a map, except that you have to study, research, and build your map before you can actually – and successfully – pilot your way through to where you plan to go. Choosing the best city for your career is an important step in that.

Several people in my family and friend circle back in Louisiana don’t understand why I moved to China to teach English after I finished-up my university studies. They knew that I wanted to make films, and though I’d made a few short films in my hometown, I decided to get out of there and head to Asia. The truth is that I didn’t want to go the traditional route and I also knew a few people who had become disenchanted with the entire “Hollywood” dream. I didn’t want that – I wanted my own way.

The problem is that I didn’t know the exact steps I needed to take to get there, but I did know that I wanted to get out of the US for various reasons, but one of them was that eventually I wanted to live in Japan. I wasn’t happy in my hometown and never planned to return once I got out, but I even decided that staying in the US full-time wasn’t in my heart anymore, either. For personal happiness, I wanted a home and life in Japan, and for career happiness, I wanted to make films.

Today, while I’m still not the owner of my own full-time, professional film production studio, I have definitely managed to map-out a course for my life and career, which has been playing out steadily over the past years. The steps I have aren’t necessarily going to lead me to be an internationally-famous filmmaker – they might – but they are definitely a more solid plan than I’ve had, and will definitely lead me to a place that is much better than where I was before.

Robert Kiyosaki said that “JOB” means “Just Over Broke,” because without a job you are broke, so essentially having a job keeps us from being poor. However, poverty is not simply the absence of money but a mindset, so personal improvement must be made. By identifying the steps which preclude the place you want to be in your life and career, you can, essentially, reverse engineer your personal map to find out what steps, paths, and bridges will help get you there.

As you develop that map from your target back to your feet, then you’ll know which steps you need to take first, and that will definitely help you to find the right city for your next few steps, next few years of steps, or long-term, permanent steps.

Hope this helps you and best of luck in your journey.

Your Problems Are Too Big For Me – Why Do Some Friendships Fade or Die?

As I edge closer to the exact middle of my forties, I find myself looking at and thinking about the same situation I’ve been pondering for many years now: why aren’t my best friends from high school, who were easily my closest buds, still at least on occasional speaking terms with me, if not still involved in my life?

In the photo above, you can see me with two of my best friends in China, Niki and Jean. As of 2019, we’ve been friends for about four years and have done many things together, sometimes just us three and other times with our larger group of friends. Two years ago, I led a group of five Chinese friends that included Jean for a special one-week trip in Tokyo, including Christmas Morning at Mt. Fuji! This year, the three of us will visit Osaka and Kyoto for Christmas!

Due to some recent news I saw via Facebook, I was prompted to entertain a certain question again about my buds from way back when:

Why Aren’t My Friends My Friends Anymore?

As I edge closer to the exact middle of my forties, I find myself looking at and thinking about the same situation I’ve pondered off and on for many years now: why aren’t my best friends from high school, my “fun squad,” who were easily my closest buds, still at least on occasional speaking terms with me, if not still involved in my life?

Why is it that the closest me and my old crew get now is maybe a Facebook connection, but whenever I decide to fire a message over it gets “seen” but never a reply? Did I really screw up too badly all those years ago – or since – or is it all related to those infamous words I heard from my ex-best friend’s brother after he ghosted me: “Your problems were just too big for him?” (more on that later).

So why do some friendships fade? Why do many or even most friendships fade? The primary reasons why friendships don’t last include lack of bonding, no forced commitment, individual, social, location, and even career changes. Other, more specific reasons may include natural results based on our ability to be more selective than we were as youth.

Today, there is even scientific data available which reveals that friend changing is actually a lot more common than you may realize – I know I was. Actually, when I sat down to write about this article, I had no solid answers as to why I have been feeling the way I do about these changes in my old friendships. Furthermore, I have been dealing with fresh, new feelings of discomfort due to some recent happenings which I think should actually cause me only joy – but I would be dishonest in saying that all I feel is happiness.

Quite the contrary, actually.

Though I am definitely happy to see my former friends succeed, I cannot help but feel disconnected from them at best, but also I have to admit that I even feel forgotten, ostracized, abandoned, and even sometimes outright insulted – or used. It would be easy for me to go down the road of paranoia, as has been the road many in my family have walked for decades.

They always feared the worst when it came to what others knew about our home – what the living conditions were like and what went on there – and they had good reason to be worried, in all honesty. However, they always went overboard with their imaginations and efforts to censor my openness about it, concerned only with the appearances and never the harsh reality at home, sadly.

One big, happy family, right? Right. But perhaps I digress. Please allow me to share a little bit about my personal experience. Perhaps somewhere in there you can find yourself on one end or the other.

Do Family Problems Cause Friendship Problems?

I start off with this question because in my mind it goes straight to the root of practically any long-term, ongoing, repeating, or otherwise life-encumbering or even debilitating issues we may have. After having been through a traumatic childhood, lots of moving, loss of friendships, over 50 job changes, a divorce, and having my daughter taken away, I can assure you that it is a primary culprit.

What is the link between childhood or family and problems in relationships, especially friendships? Childhood problems are imprinted into the mind and become not only long-lasting and difficult to overcome, but they are insidious in that they are often overlooked, unseen, unconsidered, or looked to as an afterthought. Upbringing and family interaction style directly affects our individual mechanisms for socializing, forming, maintaining, and even ending all sorts of relationships, including friends.

I am no psychologist. Truth be told, I took a few psychology classes at my university and have studied the topic here and there, but do I really need to wave a degree at you to convince you how deeply affected we are by our childhoods? Perhaps it goes without saying but, again as I mentioned before, many people look to it as an afterthought so I will mention some key points here.

You may or may not think that your parents or family was “good, pretty good, so-so, okay,” or perhaps downright “groovy.” All right, I get it – good for you! Many people don’t get that so consider yourself one of the so-called blessed ones. While I recognize that family life growing up was definitely not the worst, I can assure you that it was more than just “quite bad.” I’ll save the details for another time.

I know for a fact that my problems at home bled over into my friendships in more ways than one. Actually, it creeped into all areas of my life and I was regularly embarrassed, emotional, rejected, ignored, defensive, cautious, scared – or one of many others. There were times when I just couldn’t seem to get my friends to understand – but did I really need to? Looking back, I still don’t know that answer.

I actually ran away from home – twice. I feel that I wasn’t loved and accepted for who I was or wanted to be, and was really craving some good, positive attention that just wasn’t afforded to me. As the middle child and second son, I neither got the respect like my older brother nor the spoiling like my younger sister. To make matters “worse,” I just wasn’t into the type of country boy lifestyle that my dad was, despite my love for nature and being out in it. I wanted to camp, travel, ride ATVs, and make trails, not hunt animals with guns and bale hay on a farm.

I was essentially an outcast at home. I felt, for pretty much all of my life, that I was born in the wrong place, at the wrong time, and in the wrong family. I truly was the black sheep in many ways, and there was no shortage of family around me to make me feel and know it.

This outcast feeling and need for acceptance led me to occasionally act out in silly ways to get attention. I wasn’t what you would call a troublemaker, because I actually did have a quiet, sensitive nature most of the time. However, when it came to competition – especially in things I did well or loved doing – I would work hard and could excel enough to best most anyone around. Contrary to what I saw in the movies however, being the best player on the team didn’t actually garner me popularity and girls.

I could just feel that I was still the smelly poor kid who didn’t belong. Still an outcast, even in high school, even though I was in my element on the baseball field or basketball court. It didn’t matter if I was fastest, it didn’t matter if I could score 30 points in a game, and it didn’t even matter that I could draw, tell stories, or even shoot and act in our own short films and videos. It still felt like I wasn’t really accepted.


Am I The Reason Why My Old Friends Aren’t My Friends Anymore?

I know now, as I have for years, that my outcast feelings were all just feelings and not necessarily truth, primarily in my friendship circle. There were many times when my friends said either honest, sincere, and even positive things to me which I’ll always remember.

I remember my friend Jon complimenting me once because he didn’t understand why I was so good at lip-syncing to a song for our music video while moving around, “doing stuff.” He praised me another time for a simple, improvised “tumble” I did for the first complete short film we made and sent to a film contest. They may seem like simple things, but I have always remembered them and treasured them. Jon and I used to dream about working on films together some day, and we made an agreement to “pull the other one up” when one of us finally made it. Now, I haven’t talked to him in years, and though I we were able to have a good meetup when last we met, I still feel like I did too many things wrong in our relationship.

And it wasn’t just Jon – I feel that I did this in pretty much all of my relationships. However, was it really all ME? Or how about this question: did any of us actually do anything wrong? Or were we just “kids?”

I really valued and loved my friends – I honestly cannot say that enough – and I still do. As I sit here and think about them all, I have to admit that I really miss them and wish that I could make them smile and laugh again. I miss taking the exit to Dallas with Jason, shooting a sketch comedy or music video with Jon, performing a bad rap with James (my bad, not his), listening to Iron Maiden with Steele while playing Street Fighter II, laughing at Josh’s portrayals of our teachers, fishing with Tony but catching nothing, jumping off of buckets with Kevin to dunk the basketball, or even occasionally getting invited to Brock’s to play on the Genesis (well, to watch him play, anyway).

The times we spent making videos, short films, sketches, music videos, talk shows, visiting the city for films, staying the night, camping out, and of course playing Dungeons & Dragons – these were precious moments and are special memories for me. They are not what I would call my “glory days,” and I don’t yearn to go back and live them again as most do (unless I could correct all of my errors and move out from my parents’ home!), because I look to my future as the highlights of my own personal life.

However, I do recognize that the times I spent with these guys as the absolute best times of my childhood, hands-down. I suppose they have no idea just how much they really meant to me during those years, giving me such an outlet during what can only be described as a terrible home environment. It was difficult for me to put on a confident, skilled, and confident – if not adept – persona for them, but I often feel that perhaps in my zeal to win them over and impress them, I indeed left a mark on their memories – but not one of such a degree of positivity that I had thought, or hoped.

Am I being too hard on myself, or placing too much responsibility at my feet? Should this even matter anymore? Is it common or just natural for us to not be close? Did the relationships really on matter on a deep level to me, i.e. “one-sided?” Or am I just being paranoid to think that they are all still connected, on speaking terms, or what? Am I being silly, is there nothing in me to correct, or is this good therapy to consider a way to fix it and correct myself?

This is a big topic and as I’ve just started thinking about it, I have to say that I’ll need a lot more time to process it and work it out. In the meantime, I hope that it has given you something positive to think about if you can understand some of the feelings I have, because trust me, you are most definitely NOT alone!

I’ll be back later to discuss this friendship topic some more!

Hello Friends & Welcome

I live outside my home country of America, and though I understand and respect–to a degree–the various countries and systems on earth, I do not claim to support them nor wish them ill.

What I do wish is for all people to be shaken hard enough to awake from their slumber. As an amateur filmmaker, this is my priority and it is my dream that my legacy will be the greatest filmmaker who ever lived, not because I entertained everyone so skillfully, but rather that I was able to turn each person’s gaze onto the most important things and effect the most beneficial changes we could possibly know.

If you have a heart, then we can be friends, for we are already family. If, however, no heart can be found within you, then I will put you behind me with all haste for I will give no ground to those who would attempt to corrupt my purpose in any way.

Indeed, to raise your hand up against one’s purpose when one has decided upon its completion is futile.

-Brandon A. English
March 12th, 2018