How This Chameleon Blends Into Southeast Asia

This start-up handholds expats lost in a foreign city

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BY Adelle Chua - 13 Feb 2017

chameleon city

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Peter Petracca, originally from the San Francisco Bay area, has always loved adventure. Before his 25th birthday he moved to New York City and then woke up one day to ask: Why am I not moving farther?

“So I bought a one-way ticket to Hanoi, Vietnam,” he says. “I had always loved the culture, the food, the architecture.”

He liked it so much he stayed.

But there were plenty of glitches. “Tasks that should have been quick and easy became major endeavors that took anywhere from half a day to two days,” he says.

For example, he did not know where to find a wok – and searching for “cooking hardware street” proved to be a challenge on Google. He needed drinking water and did not know where to find a provider. He lived three full months in an overpriced apartment.

Enter Chameleon City, a website that helps new and bewildered expatriates like Petracca adjust to their initially strange Southeast Asian surroundings. “My pain on arrival was my inspiration,” he says.


Versatile reptiles

“Chameleons have an incredible ability to quickly adapt to their surroundings and blend in. We want people to have the same ability in cities abroad.”

Chameleon City is currently in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, providing answers to all-too-practical questions as “Where can I find the freshest vegetables?” “Whom can I call to have cooking gas delivered at my house?” “How do I tell my landlord that my shower needs to be fixed?”

Petracca’s co-founder, Claire Hartinger, is based in San Francisco. A designer, she helped build the brand and the web site. An adviser, Aaron Everhart who has been living in Vietnam for more than 11 years, mentors the team. The current staff of fifteen work in shifts for 24/7 assistance.

The site launched in August 2016 and since then has listed subscribers mostly from the US and Europe – all nearly professionals working for a local company or remotely working for companies back home.

“Most of our users are looking for fun local experience, help in finding someone specific, or advice on business, health and wellness, transportation and more,” he says.

It’s currently in two cities with the steepest learning curves. Soon enough it will be in other Southeast Asian cities – they prefer not to say where, exactly, just yet, because they are still counting votes submitted through their web site – providing intelligent, on-demand, practical support to expats just like what it’s doing in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.

“With the decreased cost of air travel, rapid progression of technology, and an increase in both foreign and remote work opportunities, people are now moving across oceans instead of just cities or states,” the Chameleon web site says.


Universal tips

Petracca has a few tips for travelers who might find themselves lost as they try to blend in an area. “Try to get out of it as much as possible, as safely as you can.”

1. Learn the language

Doing so will allow you to get familiar with the everyday things that make the city not a new place to explore but a temporary home to get used to.

2. Talk to locals

Interaction is key, Petracca says. When he was still adjusting to his new life in Vietnam, he found himself lucky to have built a network among amazing locals. “They were able to help me adapt to life in my new city.”

3. Eat what the locals are eating

A city’s food is its heart and soul. What makes it unique is the blend of flavors as only its locals can know and love.

4. Explore the unknown

You have not truly traveled until you have gone out of your comfort zone.

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