Six months in Travelling in South East Asia has taught me a lot. You have strange preconceptions about a place before you visit and it is often hard to make sense of them all until you find yourself there.
This is a list of 26 small details noticed from day to day life that I have noticed while living here. Of course some of them are slight generalisations, so try not to take them to heart.
1. Stray Animals Are Everywhere
Cats and dogs roam and laze around the streets all day and night. The first thing you notice about the cats is many don’t have tails. At first I wondered if there was a trade for cat tails in this part of the world but it turns out tails just are not that popular among kitties over here. The dogs are a lot more independent than our pet versions, they can be often seen rushing around the streets like they are late for a meeting.
2. There’s Always Room
No matter how small the mini bus looks, how many people there are and how much luggage there is, they will always manage to fit you in. I have looked on in amazement how people have piled in, sat on bags and contorted themselves into positions that look extremely uncomfortable. When I first heard a guy instructing all Asian girls to the back of the vehicle I thought it was a cultural thing, then I was told its because they were smaller and you can jam lots of them on the back seat. Kelly did not look to happy when I told her that her bum was worth 2 of the local girls.
3. There is Nothing Too Big To Be Transported by Moped
A family of four riding around on a scooter with their dog is not a rare sight in this part of the world. You can often see people managing to transport massive loads on tiny little scooters.
4. Restaurants Work A Little Differently
This one took a little getting used to. The restaurants here will often serve you your food when it is ready, even if the food for the person you are dining with is not. I often think they cook one after the other. At first we would be polite and wait for each others meal to come before tucking in but after a few weeks of eating out 3 meals a day we decided we may as well tuck in while its hot. As eating out often works out cheaper than eating in, the novelty of the dining experience soon wears off. Luckily the amount of new food you get to try is seemingly endless.
5. There Is A Code That You Soon Figure Out
“Where are you going?” means I am a tuk tuk driver, the place you are going is impossible to walk to but I can take you very cheap. “Where are you from?” means I am a tailor and you look like you may need a suit. I’m sure you can figure out what the lady approaching you saying “Hello handsome” wants to sell you.
6. You Don’t Always Get More For Your Money
Some of the least satisfying meals and hotels I have paid for have been the more expensive ones. I often find myself surprised by the quality of cheaper restaurants and find that some places just have no real added value for your money. As price is not the best indicator of quality I tend to look at other things like how busy it is and how happy the other folk look tucking in. On the other hand I am not saying the cheapest is the best option. There is something for every budget here and the cheapest can be very lousy. Paying the extra $15 instead of $12 for a hotel room can give you a completely different experience so always look for value, not price.
7. Health And Safety Is Non Existent
Ladders resting on chairs, painters standing on ledges up high and mental people climbing huge bamboo scaffolding without a rope. The idea of health and safety does not seem to exist and watching builders work can be a scary experience. We accidentally locked ourselves out of our hotel room in a high rise in Batu Ferringhi, Malaysia. There was a window open but access to it was only from a tiny ledge along the side of the building overlooking a 8 story drop. When we called the hotel representative he did not even hesitate to jump over the railing, nimbly walk along the ledge and pull himself in through the window. Our jaws dropped.
8. Fake Is Fine
Nobody seems to care about the numerous stores that sell nothing but pirated DVDs. These include not just market stalls but convenience stores and many other businesses. Fake iPhones are everywhere as well as fake branded clothing and watches. You can even openly buy fake ID. A cinema we visited in Cambodia was showing obviously downloaded movies. There really does not seem to be a deterrent to businesses making a decent amount of cash illegally.
9. Spelling Is Not A Priority
Whether on menus or shop signs, spelling which is obviously wrong to people whose first language is English, is rampant and often hilarious. Milksnake, anyone?
10. Some People Just Can’t Help Being Sleazy
Them dirty old men just can’t help themselves sometimes. I have witnessed, with my jaw wide open, western guys openly groping the local girls and women. The old guys with the cute young Thai girlfriends is one thing but some people just cannot help but treat every Asian girl they encounter like a piece of meat. Its pretty sickly.
11. Asia Makes You A Cheapskate
That cafe I just wandered away from because I felt it was too expensive? $3 a meal. In Cambodia any beer over $1 was just too much. The problem is you can get such great food and drink for so cheap that even though its just a dollar you sometimes feel you are paying double what you should be. I have become so cheap I cannot imagine paying the prices for things that I did back home. Although this doesn’t always mean you save money on beer, sometimes you just drink more.
12. You Get Used To The Strangest Things
When we first arrived the sight on lizards crawling around at eye level was amazing. I took so many photos then but now I barely even notice them. The temperature being above 30C is my new normal and cows wandering around the streets no longer phases me.
13. I’m Famous
This happened a lot in Malaysia. Random people running up to have their photo taken with me has happened more times than I can count. It shocked me at first because when someone asked for a photo I thought they wanted me to take a photo of them with their camera but no, they happily posed with me and gratefully thanked me. I must be all over peoples Facebook walls.
14. Its OK To Eat Western Food And Even Fast Food While Abroad
When I first arrived here I feasted, I tried all the Thai food I could handle and fell in love with it. After about 4 weeks I looked at a Menu and I really wanted Spaghetti Bolognaise. I felt a slight guilt but soon realised that even at home I ate a large variety of foods. I would never have English food for 4 weeks in a row. A single week back home would be a mix of Indian, Mexican, English and Italian foods so eating a few different kinds of foods here was not something to feel bad about.
Fast food is the same. People give travellers a hell of a hard time for eating KFC while abroad and while I’m not saying its the best of food having KFC or McDonalds abroad is exactly the same as having it at home, a guilty pleasure. I heard someone argue that you should never eat fast food whilst abroad and that you should always “eat where the locals eat.” These places are full of local people like any McDonalds in Western countries are and I am under no pretense that the locals don’t have some of the same unhealthy food weaknesses as we do.
15. Travellers And Tourists Are The Same Damn Thing
You know when you enter a country and you enter on the tourist visa? That’s because you are not there on business, on a diplomatic mission or to play a concert. You are there to see the country, to explore the cities, to take pictures, try local food and maybe relax by a beach. Constantly bitching about tourists being a pain in the ass is weird because you are one of them. When talking to other people you refer to yourself as a traveller and you are quick to add you are living like a local because god forbid people think you are a tourist.
Now I get it, you want to see local things, eat local food, get to know a few local people and show respect, so do I. I also realise people have different priorities than me, different comfort zones and different goals than my own with their travels. I am not any better than these people, its just a different style of travel.
Tourist is what people use to differentiate between good travellers and bad travellers , a pretentious way to set yourself above the other folk to try to make yourself feel better or more of a local. The trouble is they are usually chatting to me in a bar, full of other travellers talking about their 1/2/3/6 month trip around 10 countries. Does that sound more like a local to you, or a tourist?
16. Fishermans Pants Only Look Good On Fishermen
I just don’t like them. It’s pretty amazing to see people’s transformation over a couple of days in South East Asia from smart casual westerner to scruffy looking slob. I admit I have been guilty of this myself but you will never find me in them pajama looking monstrosities.
17. People Can Sleep Anywhere And Everywhere
On their cars, on the floor, on benches you will see local people catching a few Z’s at any point of the day.
18. They Can Really Over Do It With The Air Conditioning
The worst culprit for this is malls and buses. A big mall will be colder than winter in Canada making me wish I had brought a big coat. The buses will have the air conditioning pumping through relentlessly even at night. The worst part of this is when my ears start to hurt. I can handle a bit of cold but the overzealous air conditioning gets Kelly whining like nothing else. I always thought Canadians could handle a bit of cold.
19. They Frickin Love Malls
Some of the biggest and most amazing malls I have ever seen are here in South East Asia. They build them huge and stack them on top of each other and they usually contain food courts, cinemas and even theme parks.
20. There’s Not Much That You Cannot Buy
You can really over think packing for Asia but in reality they have pretty much everything you can get back home. I see people listing bug spray on their packing list and paying much higher UK prices for things that you can easily buy at any shop when you get here.
21. Bargaining Is Fun or It’s Not Worth It
I have already admitted being cheap so the opportunity to save a few Baht by talking the price down can be appealing. The idea is not to get the price as low as possible (the guys have to make a wage) but to pay a price you are both comfortable with and happy to shake hands. I have seen people getting pretty stressed and agitated when bargaining and its really not worth it for a dollar or two if you do not enjoy it.
22. It Feels Very Safe
I was a little concerned before coming here about safety but I honestly feel safer here than I do walking the streets back home. Of course there is still crime and you do have to be careful as you be anywhere but there is a much hyped travel threat that I have just not witnessed. The main cause of injury I see here is stupidity. Drunkenly riding scooters topless down dusty roads is a common story told by backpackers looking a little worse off. I trust hotel cleaners as much as I would anywhere and people tend to be genuinely happy to help you if needed.
23. Laundry Magicians Exist
These guys are amazing. You take them 3 bags of laundry and they send back one, yet everything is still there. The people here are the best folders in the world and compact your clothes into the tiniest space all for about $1 per kg.
24. People Appreciate A Smile
While bargaining, booking into a hotel or just talking to locals I’ve found they really do respond well to a nice smile. Many of the people here can be seen wearing massive grins like they don’t have a care in the world and they like to see other happy people. I am a great believer that the more positive you are the more positive things happen to you. This can be difficult when my natural default mode is grumpy (especially in the mornings) but its always nice to be nice.
25. The Language Barrier Is Disappearing Fast
When I first arrived I was shocked at just how many people spoke English, from conversational to fluent. Language has not been a barrier at all in our trip. Then you talk to children who now often learn English in school from a very young age and realise that the language barrier is only going to be less of a problem in the future.
26. I am Rich
This was a hard one to admit coming from a relatively low income working class background. When I see the living wage in some places here and the amount of poverty I soon realised everything I took for granted. I am very rich, I am fortunate to have grown up with what I did. Yes, there will always be people worth more and less money than me but I now feel pretty high on that scale.