Joe Choi's Stories and Advice on Writing, Health, and Living a Happier Life

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Why Traveling Long Distance for Love is a Bad Idea

The bar had no name. It was a hole in the wall in a narrow alley near the old Soviet quarters where I lived in Moscow. There was just a sign outside that read “bar” in red spray paint. Or, “бар” in Russian. The inside was surprisingly nice out of touch with the surrounding area for sure. They also had a good selection of alcohol and traditional Russian drinking snacks. An older Belorussian couple from Minsk owned the place.

They had a 20-something blonde daughter who was either engaged or married to someone back in Minsk. But nevertheless, she still went out with one of my American friends.

Outside the bar there was an outhouse, but the regulars there never used it. Everyone just pissed in the bushes. When I went to use it once, someone pulled me aside and showed me the bushes.

So from then on I’d drink a whole bunch and then pee in the bushes like the regulars.

The regulars were a bunch of characters. One time, I remember a group of guys coming back to the bar in defeat.

“We walked all around the neighborhood and couldn’t find any willing prostitutes,” one of the guys said.

“Hey! Girl! Davai vodka,” another guy shouted at the bar owners’ daughter.

I was an outcast at “the bar.” I was the strange foreigner who ventured into the crevices where foreigners usually don’t go. I became one of the guys when I drank down vodka AND beer in front of everyone and impressed them.

“Wow, vodka and beer? Without any chasers? How do you do that?” they’d ask me. I just shrugged my shoulders to create mystique. They didn’t know this was a skill American college students developed in their first year at school.

I started sitting with the regulars just trying to pick up much of the conversation as I could with my limited Russian. We would sit there until the wee hours of morning drinking, eating, and bullshitting. Then everyone would leave altogether. And just like that, I was alone. So I’d walk back in the dark to my old Soviet living quarters and pass out asleep.

Eventually, I caught on to the routine. The guys would drink until their wives called the bar and told the Belorussian owners to tell Volodya, Viktor, Alex—or whatever the hell their names were—to come home.

I formed a hypothesis that Russian women tolerate way more shit from their men than American women would be willing to.

Other clues that lead me to this brilliant–maybe true–hypothesis:

Once, I saw a pretty, blonde woman with legs like a model who had a black eye and a cigarette burn in her cheek holding hands and walking with some chap in the Moscow metro. I can only guess the story there.

Another time, I saw a guy who had his shirt off with blood dripping down his chest. He had his arms raised out to his sides like he was Jesus on a cross. He was mumbling something and there was a pretty young girl tugging at his arm telling him to “snap out of it” and “come back home.”

I wanted to land a trophy wife during my time there even though I was only a 21-year-old college student. I figured it would be the best shot I had. My thinking—according to my hypothesis above—was that these girls are used to putting up with a lot of shit so all I had to do was give them less crap and I’d be a good catch that they weren’t accustomed to.

I tried asking out as many Russian women as possible. I even asked one to come on a weekend trip to the beach in Sochi after meeting with her once. She said no.

Eventually, I did meet a Russian girl and we’d meet up just about every night. I stopped going to the bar. I stopped purposely hunting for crazy adventures. It was only dinners, cafes, and nice walks with the new girl.

I was sad the day I left Moscow and her. We kept in touch and a few months later she told me she was traveling to Tokyo. I wanted to see her so I called my dad. “Dad, I need to visit Korea and Japan. Can I have some of your flyer miles?” I asked him.

“Why do you need to visit?” he asked.

“Long story,” I said.

And without putting up much of a fuss, or asking more questions, he gave me some of his flyer miles to cover my trip. I just had to pay the $200 in taxes or something. Not a bad deal.

Tokyo was a disaster. I tried to get close to her, but she wouldn’t give me the time of day. After one failed attempt at a kiss I walked through the streets of Tokyo and started tearing up. Then, it started pouring outside and I got soaked from head to toe. I walked in to an internet café, all drenched, and I was still tearing up a little after a full day of rejection.

A Japanese girl with pigtails dressed in Hello Kity garb looked at me. “It’s the rain. I swear,” I said.

I don’t think she understood what I said. But I logged into my email and wrote the girl I traveled across the world for a heartfelt letter. She never responded.

Years later, I was living in Brooklyn when I got an email saying she would be in New York and that we should meet up. I said okay.

This time I was over her so I just got shitfaced and made an ass out of myself wherever we went. I went to a bar and just drank and made her sit there.

Occasionally, I’d acknowledge her and ask her a question or two. “That’s your coworker you came here with? Is she married? She’s fucking hot.” Then I’d go back to drinking and staring at the television.

We continued on from the bar and ended up in Times Square. With naked cowboys, people selling boat tours, homeless guys peeing in alleyways, and comic book characters standing on the corners, Times Square is the hardest place in the world to draw attention to yourself. But somehow I managed to do it. I don’t remember how exactly. But it all ended right there. She walked down into the subway back home and I went my own way. That was the official last time I ever saw or heard from her.

I had to get even for the shitty time I had in Tokyo when I went to see her.

I was the dirty, drunk, bad guy.

And it felt great.

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