Gas Station Identity Crisis

No, this story isn’t about gas prices, road trips, or Big Gulps. This is a story about identity, or identity crisis if you will. The other day, I was at the gas station, minding my business, grabbing a quick snack, and filling up my car. It was a routine trip to get gas until it wasn’t. Standing in line and waiting for my turn to pay, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around to see another patron grinning ear to ear. “Dave!” “It’s been forever, man! How are you doing, buddy?” Puzzled and confused, I didn’t know what to say. I had absolutely no idea who this character was, yet I was about to be on the receiving end of a solid and energetic bro hug. I thought about going along with the story and being “Dave” for a few minutes. Still, I quickly realized that wasn’t going to work, especially after he started reminiscing about the time in high school “we” headed out to Wendover, Nevada, for a weekend of drinking, gambling, and testing out our fake IDs.

After hearing all about what “our” old crew was up to, I finally came clean and told him my real name. He, of course, thought I was kidding, and when he pressed me more about old memories “we” shared, I had to remind him that I personally wasn’t there. When I humbly told him that I wasn’t from Utah originally and that I grew up overseas, specifically in Hong Kong and Taiwan, he stared at me, stunned and angry. He then told me that I was being an ass, that I was much cooler in high school (no argument there), and then walked off while flipping me the bird.

While I should have been shocked, this wasn’t the first time I’ve been confused for a local somebody, only to be accused of being smug and making up an international story. I laugh off those moments now, but truth be told, for a long time, those same moments triggered a yearning for a simpler upbringing and identity. Growing up overseas was fantastic and something I don’t regret at all, but that type of rearing can shake your true sense of identity and belonging.

As a kid, I couldn’t wait to get stateside in the summers so that I could be “American,” only to realize fast that I didn’t quite know what that meant. That feeling continued into college, and as a collegiate athlete, the game was the same, but I had to learn how to acclimate to my teammates and the surroundings. Despite having great teammates and friends, I was an outsider looking in and constantly trying to find balance and acceptance, which I still struggle with today.

This may shock many who know me now, as I view myself as more outgoing and appreciate great friends and enjoyable chats. Still, when the subject turns to me, I do anything I can to change the topic or get out of the conversation altogether. Odd, I know, but the idea of even small talk about my background, whether to friends or even a gas station stranger, still makes me sweat. It’s genuinely not a matter of arrogance, but more so that lingering childhood fear of not being understood, believed, or validated. I think to a degree, we all simply want to be seen for our true selves, even when that self can be a bit complicated. Like many others that grew up like me (Third Culture Kids, or TCK’s for short), my story is just that. It’s not better or worse than anyone else, but an identity story, nonetheless. 



So long, Jumbo.

Jumbo is no more. That’s the text message I received from a childhood friend last Sunday night. It caught me off guard at first, as I had just gotten home and was smack in the middle of unpacking from a weekend trip while also thinking about my dad being it was Father’s Day. Oddly, I was and still am surprised at how hard the news hit me because it wasn’t like losing a family member or friend. For the unfamiliar, Jumbo was an iconic floating restaurant in Hong Kong for almost fifty years, serving royalty, dignitaries, and laymen like me. Yet the story didn’t stop at just the closing of its doors. A few days later, it was reported that while being escorted out of Aberdeen harbor to an undisclosed location, Jumbo capsized and sank deeply into the South China Sea, gone for good.

Maybe it was fitting that I heard the news on Father’s Day, as one of the most incredible memories I have of the Jumbo (and there were a lot) was when my dad tricked me into eating the eyeballs of the fish we had ordered. He had me believe that doing so was good luck and a rite of passage for young men in Asia. Never one to question why, and being a naïve ten-year-old celebrating my first double-digit birthday, I ate those eyeballs like a champ. Realizing I had been dupped and wanting the rubbery taste of eyeball gone for good, I reached for the closest beverage at the table, chugging my dad’s frosty San Miguel beer, much to my dad’s surprise, the entire wait staff. Suffice it to say the rubbery taste was gone and replaced by a solid head-to-toe buzz.

But enough about my first beer, as this is supposed to be my goodbye memoir to a floating restaurant. As an ex-pat kid in Hong Kong in the 1980s, Jumbo represented much more than just a good meal. It was a metaphor for the times, as it was half museum and half nightclub.  More than anything, I remember the energy of Jumbo as no matter how many times you went there for a meal, no two visits were ever the same. You knew you were in for a culinary treat and cultural experience as soon as you arrived. Jumbo was a go-to for birthdays, friends and family visiting from out of town, and many other celebratory occasions. Realistically, there was never a wrong reason for enjoying Jumbo, but that’s not to say we went there a lot. Jumbo was mystical and intriguing, even for someone as young as I was.

Decorated in neon lights on the outside, the inside was full of fancy Asian artifacts, colorful paintings, round tables, and oversized chairs. The amazing smells of Cantonese cuisine coming from the central kitchen, the sounds of patrons enjoying both loud conversations and laughs, and the sight of the wait staff moving in sync as they took orders and delivered meals to the many. As fast-paced as those nights and meals would go, for whatever reason, the memories I return to appear almost in slow motion.

While I was fortunate to visit Hong Kong a few years ago, I never did make it back to Jumbo. Like so many childhood memories of Asia, I assumed it would always be there, and I’d eventually return. What I would give for one more round of Dim Sum, sweet corn and crab meat soup, king prawns, or Peking duck, all washed down, with another frosty, albeit legal this time, San Miguel.

To borrow a quote from a family friend, “Jumbo was truly a fixture of life in such a magical city.”  That is so very true. Goodbye, Jumbo, and thanks for the memories.



Photo courtesy of Mohamed Nohassi

A new year rings in a lot of reflection, hope, and potential for better days ahead. Like so many, 2021 was rough for me as I battled setbacks, frustrations, and personal loss. The new year is supposed to be about fresh starts, optimism, and change, yet two weeks into 2022, I’ve keep catching myself reflecting on the negative that happened over the last twelve months. I admit that being human can be hard at times, especially when dealing with things out of one’s own control. Wheels spin, rabbit holes get fallen into, and seeing the light at the end of the tunnel seems like an impossibility, especially the more we crave stability. We want things to instantly improve or a return to a simpler time, but that’s not reality or how life works, unfortunately. In other words, we can’t go back and there’s no speed up machine to the future. 

Truth be told, I’ve been guilty of wanting to be somewhere else, doing something else, and whether intentional or not, I’ve also taken others for granted. I’ve pointed the finger and used specific situations as the scapegoat for my own frustrations. Yet if 2021 taught me anything, it was the notion that nothing is promised to any of us. Pandemics can remain, health can quickly turn, plans can be altered quickly, and constants can crumble. We tend to overthink and worry about things that really don’t matter instead of living in the now and simply being at peace with not only who we are, but where we are. I’m not saying we shouldn’t continue to dream big and better ourselves, because we absolutely should. We must have goals and dreams, as that’s what keeps the human spirit thriving. What I mean is that instead of dwelling on the past and desperately craving the future, we should put more energy into being present in the moment. Live for today, that is. Love harder. Care deeper. Listen more. Judge less. Have fun. Take risks. Let go of grudges. Travel. Stop blaming. Start living. Obviously, I’m not reinventing any wheels regarding those suggestions, as we’ve all seen and probably read them before, but seeing and doing are two separate things. If you don’t like where you’re at, change the circumstances. Period.

While I’m not one to make detailed resolutions for each new year, I do believe in making changes. Loss can open the eyes to regret and regret is something I’d like to avoid more of this year. Letdowns and misfortunes happen to us all, but it’s how we respond that determines the progress we make. Hiding behind our stumbling blocks only intensifies our willingness to dwell on the past instead of focusing on the good. Using our setbacks as motivation for change starts by taking ownership and with a new year upon us, no time is better to act upon than right here and right now. Someone I respect greatly recently told me that it’s alright to give myself permission to be a little selfish if that means creating space and the right frame of mind for me. That’s something I couldn’t agree more with, as change takes time. At the end of the day, most people are dealing with things the rest of us know nothing about, so while working on ourselves this year, let’s also be kinder in general. Simply stated, life is short, so just enjoy the ride a little bit more.

Wishing you and yours a happy 2022 full of health, happiness and change.


Family Time.

Yesterday was Christmas and while I’ve had plenty of them, this one was different in that it was beautifully mellow with a pinch of emptiness. I got to spend the day hanging with my wife and our dogs, opening presents, downing champagne, and eating strawberries while watching a plethora of cheesy television. It was also the first Christmas I’ve spent in a while without snow, and more significantly, the first Christmas I’ve spent with both of my parents now gone. My parents loved the holidays and instilled in my brother and me early on the importance of giving to others rather than receiving, especially this time of year. While it was a bittersweet day, it was impossible not to reflect on the influence of family and how much mine has and will continue to mean to me.

Like everyone, my family is beautiful, complicated, opinionated, and strong. We fight (literally), we love but more than anything, we have each other’s back. I was lucky enough to have a brother, cousins, aunts, and uncles that I still got to see and mingle with over the weekend (both in person and zoom). While a lot of the conversation was poignant in that we chatted a great deal about my parents, it was still calming knowing that others were feeling the same way that I was. It wasn’t all melancholy, as we laughed plenty, sipped strongly, and hugged even longer than normal. That’s the only way we know how to do things, especially during the holiday season, and it was greatly appreciated.

I was also happy to chat with my “chosen family” both near and far and old and new. Some called just to check in, some called to talk football, but even more simply sent messages and well wishes. From a group chat with friends from my overseas school days to college buddies, former coworkers, and even those I’ve coached with over the years, it was good to not only connect but reconnect and laugh. I also had the good fortune of getting to spend time with my wife’s family, who not only treat me as one of their own but simply accept me for who I am. I value my “chosen family” just as much as I do my blood relatives, as both hold a significant hand in who I am today and who I strive to be tomorrow.

That said, while I’m indeed a work in progress, I have been incredibly blessed with those that I have around me. While I am guilty of focusing on the negative every now and then, especially when life gets a bit complicated, I do indeed have a lot to be thankful for. I’ve failed at times both professionally and personally, but I can say without a doubt that I hit the jackpot when it comes to surrounding myself with quality people. I still have a lot to improve on, growth to make, and consistency to practice, but all in all, I’m doing well in the life department.

Here’s hoping your holidays have been full of family time, happiness, love, and perspective.


BenThere S2 E13: 4th Generation TCK, International Businessman, Husband & Father, Tim Brantingham.

Tim Brantingham

Tim Brantingham is a US passport holder but has lived most of his life in Asia, having been born in Taiwan, with 12 years at Taipei American School (TAS); and having worked the last 30 years in Taipei, Shanghai, Hong Kong and now Tokyo. Tim comes from a line of American missionaries and is the fourth generation of American to live and work in Asia—his kids are the fifth.

Tim went to the College of William and Mary in Virginia, and has graduate degrees from the University of Hong Kong and Oxford University. He is a co-founder of Brantingham & Carroll International, which he runs with fellow TAS classmate Matt Carroll. They have an engineering, manufacturing and supply chain business working mainly in renewable energy. They also dabble in craft beer and venture investments.

Tim is married to another fellow TASer, Mariko Dose, and together they have three kids attending Nishimachi International School in Tokyo.

Watch as we chat about TCK life, being a 4th generational TCK, raising TCK’s, family life, studying at Oxford, acclimation to ones passport country, international schools, travel, mentors, international business, craft beer and much more!

Tim can be reached at:



#tck#tcklife#taipeiamericanschool#travel#family#business#craftbeer#writing#oxford#internationalschools#passportcountry#mentors#Asia#Taiwan#HongKong#Japan#acclimation#chosenfamil #benthere

S2 E13, Tim Brantingham

BenThere S2 E 12: Mentor, Educator, Counselor & International Traveler, Merilyn Franz.

Merilyn Franz.

Born in New Mexico, Merilyn Franz called Phoenix, Arizona home for 35 years prior to becoming an international educator. With her husband Derryl, Merilyn enjoyed three years at the International School of Bangkok, nine years at Taipei American School, and three years at the American School of Bucharest, Romania. Incredibly grateful for her years living overseas, and never one to slow down, Merilyn is currently retired living in Independence, Oregon and stays busy as a hospital volunteer while also helping at food banks. She has four adult sons, one adult stepdaughter, fifteen grandchildren, and fourteen great-grandchildren. Sadly, Derryl (known as “Coach” to many of us that knew him), passed away on January 18, 2018. Derryl is missed terribly, but ever the optimist, Merilyn continues to feel blessed by the people met and over-the-top life experiences they shared together.

Watch as we chat life, the international experience, international schools, family, Derryl, acclimation, culture, travel, life now, optimism and much more!

Mrs. Franz can be reached at:



BenThere S2 E12, Merilyn Franz.

BenThere S2 E11: TCK, Award Winning Artist, Singer, Musician, Mom & Wife, Angela Soffe.

Angela Soffe

Angela Soffe is an award-winning artist raised in Asia and now based in Washington state. Known for her intimate vocals and piercing lyrics, her songs are morsels of real life wrapped in honest Americana. Her recent album, “Second Wind” won the nomination for “Americana Album of the Year” by the Independent Music Awards 2019. Her new single, “Rocks” also won the Great American Songwriting Contest in 2019. Her work and story has been featured on independent films, commercials, and podcasts worldwide. She’s recording and releasing her next album in Nashville, TN in 2021.  

Watch as we chat about growing up in Asia, travel, acclimation, cultures, family, music, songwriting, pursuing dreams, plus an acoustic performance of her hit, “Rocks” at the very end of the interview!

Angela can be reached at the following:  


Instagram- angelasoffemusic 



BenThere S2 E11, Angela Soffe Interview.

Music Video of “Rocks”

Official Music Video, Angela Soffe “Rocks”

BenThere S2 E10: Global Citizen, Architect, Designer & Twin, Valeria Lie Alonso.

Valeria Lie Alonso

Valeria Lie Alonso is co-founder of the international design studio Lie Alonso alongside her twin sister, where they create transcendental spaces and pieces in the realms of architecture, design, furniture and aviation. Daughters of the New World, born and raised in São Paulo, Brazil, the twins’ ancestry stems from a Spanish father & Surinamese-born Hakka Chinese mother.

Having lived in Brazil, United States, and now in the United Kingdom, she has developed international multimillion-dollar projects from concept through completion, managing affluent & Forbes 500 clients while coordinating projects with various teams and companies worldwide, expanding her experience in industrial design and the luxury market. Previously, she worked for two of the largest business jet manufacturers in the world, Embraer Executive Jets and Gulfstream Aerospace. During this time, she directly engaged in winning international sales and delivery campaigns, traveling the world guiding clients through the extensive process of personalizing aircraft interior and exterior designs.

Valeria has uprooted her life twice, first by leaving her career in Brazil, and then again in the US to pursue her dreams and aspirations. She immigrated to England right before Brexit and COVID-19’s lockdown, where she reunited with her twin and has been focused on building their life long vision, celebrating their heritage through their multidisciplinary practice.

At Lie Alonso, their creative philosophy represents a fusion of influences, developing unique spaces and pieces that transcend the classical and contemporary ages, with a sophisticated approach and a sense of ease and wonder. Their deep connection to distinct cultures brings an intrinsic way of understanding clients’ needs and desires, envisioning global perspectives, and uniting multidimensional aspects into rich cohesive designs, full of personality, charm, and effortless presence.

Watch as we talk culture, home, traveling, chasing dreams, starting an international business, family, global perspectives, and much more!

Valeria can be reached at:


Instagram: valerialie


#globalcitizen #travel #brazil #unitedkingdom #USA #international #culture #globalperspectives #home #internationalbusiness #architecture #design #twins #dreams #relocation #family #benthere

S2 E10, Valeria Lie Alonso