story by Liesel Schmidt • photos submitted
What do you get when you combine the explorative palate of Andrew Zimmern, the magical exploits of Harry Potter, and the domestic prowess of Mr. Mom? Toss in a funky beard and glasses, and you’ll end up with the fascinating man who goes by the name of J.M. (James Michael) Bush, a somewhat quiet moniker for someone as multifaceted and creative as he. Such qualities have served him well in his life, both as a father and as a writer, as he uses his own everyday life as an expat and travel-bug to spin tales in the pages of his fantasy adventure novels and fuel the articles he writes for his popular website “Eat Play Write Travel.”
As a Claim Processor for State Farm Insurance in Duluth, Georgia, Michael might never have imagined that his wife’s work as a teacher would one day take them to Southeast Asia, trading the comfort foods of the South for the exotic spices and unfamiliar flavors of countries a world away and setting off a flurry of international travels that would introduce his family to countless cultures far different than those of mainstream America. But just as any good story is never truly predictable, life can change course in an instant to become an entirely new adventure, unlocking doors and dreams that far outshine anything you might have ever thought possible.
For Michael, that’s what keeps his life so rich; and that adventurous spirit and global perspective is something that he hopes to foster in his two young sons as they grow into adulthood. He’s learned much in the school of life, and he consumes each day with gusto—sometimes quite literally—believing that lessons can be taught in each new experience and that differences should never mean divide. “For me, travel is about broadening your world view,” Michael explains. “It’s about gaining a more global perspective. I don’t want my kids to be afraid of the world around them—I want them to see many different cultures and taste all their unique styles of food and experience the differences between America and the rest of the world. Most importantly, I want for them not to be afraid of these differences.”
The writer’s own foray into the foreign truly began in 2011, when his wife took a position as special education teacher in China. Over the next four years, the couple traveled around Europe and Asia, all the while toting around a little boy whose wide-eyed wonder at it all fueled their desire to learn everyday. After welcoming a fourth member to their little family, the Bushes left China to live in Penang, Malaysia, where they have been living the lives of locals since 2015.
Michael’s work as a writer has greatly benefited his ability to live anywhere; but it has also allowed him to stay home with his two sons, now aged seven and two. While his eldest is enrolled in the school where his wife works, his youngest is in an English-speaking daycare—and both children are learning and playing everyday right alongside kids of other cultures and backgrounds to develop language and social skills that many Americans never have the opportunity to explore.
One of the greatest ways to experience a new culture is, of course, through their food, though that sometimes takes quite the need for an open mind and a sense of daring. But Michael has both, and he’s taken more than a few bizarre bites ad written about it all to give his readers a true taste of a world far outside their own. “Here in Malaysia, I’m obsessed with a dish called roti canai, which is basically just Indian style flatbread cooked on a flattop grill and served with a bowl of curry. I prefer mine with the fish curry,” Michael says. “I also love a Malaysian dish called laksa—which, here in Penang, is a spicy bowl of noodles bathed in sour fish stock. The aroma is so strong that you either hate it or love it, and it makes my mouth instantly salivate! In China, I love this late night street food known as shao kao. It’s made of meats and vegetables on skewers that are cooked over charcoals; and as simple as that sounds, it’s incredibly flavorful, cheap, and addictive.”
Above all else, Michael’s time as an expat and a traveler has inspired him to see things from a new perspective. “Throughout so much of my travels, I’ve been absolutely amazed by the ways that shocking poverty can live right in the midst of major affluence,” Michael recalls. “But no matter how bad these people had it, they still smiled and laughed and enjoyed life. I’ll always remember their attitudes being so positive and their happiness so genuine.” Regardless of border lines, language barriers, and cultural differences, genuine happiness is a way of life to be sought out and explored, to be tasted and savored and shared…and that’s something that Michael hopes to give his readers, one adventure at a time.
To learn more about J.M. Bush and his recently released debut novel Storm in Shanghai, visit