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Observations from the Orient

Although I spent the first 13 years of my life in Indonesia, I never really traveled through the archipelago. My mother was a born traveler, but my father was never interested in going to see places. The furthest we vacationed to was Jakarta, located on the West side of the island of Java. Sometimes I would join my cousins and go to Bali. Most of the time, we opted to stay local and visit the cottage country, a 2-hour car ride from our city, Surabaya. Even so, my parents never allowed me to venture out on my own – I was always chauffeured to places and interactions with the locals were kept at a minimum; the segregation between the Chinese and the indigenous Indonesian population was, and still is, glaring. So, when Claire and I traveled throughout South East Asia (SEA), I learned just as much as she did about the quirks of the locals:

– You ALWAYS bargain, especially when you are shopping at a traditional market, which inevitably you will do, considering SEA is peppered with markets. Forget shopping malls, the markets are where things go down! We’ll save the technicalities of bargaining for another post. Hey, maybe I’ll even get Claire to write a guest post, because, you know, she’s such an expert.

– We developed the ability to spot scammers: Oh, you happen to be sitting by your tuk-tuk when we walked by? What’s that on your hand? A Tourist Map? And now you’re telling me that the Grand Palace is closed? You’re English is so darn good! Spotted: an unfolding scam. Say thank you and walk away. It is rather disappointing, but some locals have conjured very elaborate schemes to fool you into spending your money on scams. Be aware and use your common sense when you are offered with seemingly too-good-to-be-true deals.

– Claire was considered as, um, how should I say this, exotic, and as a result, she gets all the special treatments, like monks taking pictures of her and locals staring point-blank at her.  I, on the other hand, resemble the locals in every single city – Hong Kong, Penang, Kuala Lumpur, Hanoi, and Bangkok – I might as well just morph into a chameleon or something.

Photo by Claire

– Squat toilets are better than sitting toilets in so many ways. No explanation needed here.

– 3 words: Mango Sticky Rice. Basically, it is glutinous rice drizzled with sweet coconut milk and topped with a sweet, ripe mango – truly a piece of heaven on earth (especially the one from a street stall by the market in Hat Yai).

– Charade is a universal way of communicating. It would be beneficial for you to hone your Pictionary and charade skills before you embark on a journey to South East Asia. The first night we were in Hong Kong, Claire stepped into a local pharmacy, hoping to find a medication for her sore throat and plugged nose. With nobody speaking English and no English labels on the products, we had to demonstrate the conditions through our actions. I’m just glad nobody video-taped us that night.

– Mother Earth probably wept when she saw how many water bottles we went through in a day (at least 4 or 5, each). As much as I wanted to help save the environment, it was just not possible in SEA. I am so glad to be back in Toronto where drinking water straight from the tap is not going to give you a severe case of diarrhea (oh, the things I take for granted!).

– Asians LOVE their Angry Birds – they’re everywhere, literally. Thaipusam Festival? There’s a guy selling Angry Bird balloons. Temple souvenir store? There you have it, Angry Bird keychain. Supermarket? Yup, Angry Bird underwear.

Anything else to add to the list?


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