Dialect Magazine

JETSETTER | Jonathan DeLise

Q&A with Jonathan DeLise

Jonathan DeLise_Bagan_Temple Cordillera

Jonathan DeLise_Bagan_Temple Cordillera

What is your best travel tip right now?

I have frequently visited tropical countries (particularly in Southeast Asia), and know that the humidity/downpours can do a number on your passport, money and maps. Thus, I always take a ziploc-style bag with me (many airport security checkpoints have them) to keep these three items in.

When I say money, I mean small bills.  Most places around the world still revolve around cash, and having small bills readily available will make life much easier.  Perhaps this includes two tips!

Where did you last travel to?

Two months ago, I was in Jakarta, Tokyo, Kobe, Bangkok, Istanbul, Kotor, and Tirana.  Jakarta, Tokyo and Istanbul are three of my favorite cities around the world, primarily because of the variety and amount of food available.

Tell us about your 1st major travel experience?

Although I had traveled a bit with my family around the US and Europe before then, I participated in a homestay program in Kanazawa, Japan during the summer of 2000.  I started to appreciate Japanese cuisine during that time.  I learned about Japanese customs (how to use the ofuro) and music (we met with college students every Wednesday, whereas on the last day we sang a Japanese song to them out of respect).  

I still haven’t found a more comfortable pillow than the buckwheat hull (sobakawa) type I used, and my host mother whipped up delicious concoctions such as pumpkin and scallops, sanma (saury, a fish) and even pizza…without an oven.

What is a must have travel accessory?

Jonathan DeLise_Salar de Uyuni_Salt Hill

Jonathan DeLise_Salar de Uyuni_Salt Hill

Three parts:
The common – an adapter.  If you’re in Hong Kong, small ones (in other words, ones for just one type of outlet) are available all over the place.  Many street markets around the world sell these too.  The heftier ones are good too (I have a Slazenger-brand one), but having a couple of small ones come in handy because those fit the electronics to a tee.

The unexpected – Floss.  Coming from the US, it’s not difficult to find.  When I used to travel to Japan, the only place that I found carrying floss was an expensive “American” pharmacy in Marunouchi, Tokyo.  The more I’ve traveled around different regions of the world, the more I’ve seen floss, but it might as well be pre-shred; the quality is substantially lacking.

The not exactly an accessory – A picture of your bags, particularly if you plan to check one/more.  It’ll be easier to describe to the lost luggage staff, should that unfortunate event happen.

Do you have a favorite travel destination or experience?

Among the many random and humbling travel experiences I have, one stands out.  Wading through a flood in Jakarta to make it to the airport.  From where I stayed, it usually took 45 minutes by taxi to get to Soekarno-Hatta International.  But on 1 February 2008, it took me about eight grueling hours.  

I was feeling a bit too confident and zealous I guess, but I used three taxis, two motorbikes, a bajaj (a Tata-brand tuk-tuk) and an airport bus, none of which actually took me to the airport.  In fact, from the Pluit toll area, I walked three hours in brackish water nearly up to my waist, and then took a bike at the airport toll booth in my now stained clothes.  

The silver lining was that it was one of those rare times I bought travel insurance for an airline (in this case, Air Asia), as they let me board their last flight of the night to Denpasar/Bali, as a result of the airport being shut down earlier in the day.

What country do you live in and what is your background. What have you learned about culture from your travels?

I’m from New York and currently live in NYC.  My background is a bit of a potpourri of the Adriatic and somewhere in northeastern Europe, though relatives seem to come up with a new country every time I ask. I’ve learned quite a bit from traveling based on spontaneous conversations with locals and expats, though I’ve always focused on learning about a country/nation through food and architecture.  Those two facets of a culture continue to keep me curious, just as much as a stroll down Roosevelt Ave. and Broadway in Queens, NY does.

Have you had a major culture shock experience?

In addition to the palpable introduction to “the rainy season,” I have certainly waded through my fair share of culture shock. Formerly, I was an English teacher in a Shenzhen, China middle school.  Every month on pay-day, I was taken into an unspecified room in the school and paid in cash (currently, the largest denomination in China is still worth less than US$20); more entertaining the two times my students walked by. I taught English in Jakarta as well, and stayed in a rather pleasant kost (some say share/boarding house, to me it was more akin to an apartment), except for one major issue.  Using any of the facilities in the bathroom revealed oil bubbles and, sometimes, a smell that should have been an excellent reminder to never drink the water. I’d say the biggest culture shock – a lack of potable water – is not even cultural, but it’s a major issue to keep in mind.


In January 2012, Jonathan DeLise created a personal travel blog, http://buildingmybento.com/, and in April 2013, he started http://collaterallettuce.com/, which focuses on food and drink. He’s always open to suggestions for new topics and/or ways for improvement.


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