Traveling Like Natives… by Nancy Brophy

Linda Mercury and I had lunch the other day. Both of us have traveled extensively in luxury and not. We’ve both seen Europe, but she’s been to Eastern Europe while I have spent time in Asia.

Perhaps it is American to state that we are women who planned our trips. We studied the culture, the museums and the heritage before the plane ever touched down. And we were eager to experience other lands from their perspective not just that of a tourist. On one hand that sounds great, but the truth is there are lots of things one is never prepared for in a foreign country.

Bathrooms. In Hong Kong, at one restaurant you chose the amount of toilet paper you needed from a roll outside the door in the main dining room. In Chiang Mai, Thailand the toilet paper was a garden hose. Very refreshing. In France, the facility was two-foot pads and a hole. I have toilets where you balance you feet on the rim (or where we would have the seat) and squat. In a nutshell, this is not me – not even the hip, cool, liberal me.

Linda, on the other hand, couldn’t get the hang of bathrooms with attendants requiring payment. Although she was similarly flummoxed by coin-operated stall doors that required exact change, when she had no idea what each coin represented. And she confided, this is particularly bad when one is doing the bathroom dance to get in.

We wanted to board an overhead train in Tokyo. I knew where I wanted to go, knew how much money it required, had the exact change and yet, still couldn’t operate the ticket machine. When rattled, speaking slowly is not in my skill-set.

I am not the guy on the food network channel that eats everything. For the most part I don’t eat street food. I don’t tempt the fates with the opportunity to get sick. I avoid ice, shower with my mouth closed and brush my teeth with bottled water.

We were in a market in Asia during a particularly hot day and saw red meat being butchered. No big deal. Except where was the refrigeration to keep the bacteria away? Some one commented that surprisingly enough there were no flies.

Because, we later found out, they use DDT to keep them away. I’m feeling healthier all ready.

I try to avoid street food, although I have made some exceptions. Pickled herring in Amsterdam, lamb souvlakis in Greece, and miang kum in Bangkok to name a few. But where I threw caution to the wind was the Thailand floating market. I will buy anything from anyone who is willing to bring a boat along side my boat. The best thing I can remember eating were coconut pancakes, which were slightly bigger than a dollar coin.

I met a man last week, who worked as a civilian contractor in Afghanistan. He spoke about traveling in areas where standing out as a westerner is a bad thing. In Middle Eastern airports he recommended not speaking English loudly to your traveling companions and the importance of paying attention to your surroundings.

If wishes came true, I would see every land and experience new cultures, but I would want to return home every so often if for no other reason than for a decent bathroom. I don’t know that I could be a permanent ex-pat. But there are days I have fantasies about running away.

Linda probably doesn’t. Her book, Dracula’s Secret, the first of a trilogy is now available for presale. Check it out.

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Posted on July 14, 2012, in General and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Ah, Nancy! I’m buying you a drink one day so I can soak up your stories!! LOL.

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  2. For a moment I was totally jealous that Linda got mentioned in your blog but I’m proud to say I have no foreign bathroom stories to contribute to this post. 🙂

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  3. All I have to say is…traveling in England is a lot easier 😀 Someday I’d like to tackle Australia…

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  4. You bet I have fantasies about running away! But I’d have to take everyone with me or I’d not have anyone to compare bathroom stories with.

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  5. Okay, I am leaving the international travelling trophy for you two. I thought I’d had issues with the vinegar wine at breakfast, while in the Julian Alps, but now I thank God for flush toilets and TP, no matter how rough it was…

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  6. Memories…(sing along) pressed between the pages just like flies. Bathrooms are definitely different everywhere, particularly Asia and the Middle East. Another thing to be wary of is booking accommodations online when you don’t know the country. Let me give you an interesting story of my one and only Hong Kong trip (about 6 years ago).

    I’d always been told how cosmopolitan Hong Kong was–a bit expensive–but lots of good deals. So, I confidently searched Travelocity for a stop over hotel that was “reasonably” priced on my way to Australia for two weeks. The resort on the website said “short train ride from airport to close in island with beautiful views of the beach.” Um…kind of stretching it.

    Train ride was 20 minutes. I caught the last ferry to my “resort” island at 11pm after a long flight from the West Coast. I got on the boat and realized the passengers were all the service workers leaving the city for home. No one spoke English and I spoke no Chinese. After the first 20 minutes of the ride I began to panic that I was on the wrong boat, would end up on the wrong island and have no way back until early morning. This was not the “short” ferry ride I expected. I stood for the 45 minute ferry trip, because I couldn’t sit with my big a** suitcase packed for two weeks of training in Australia.

    I got off the boat and attempted to ask for my hotel by the English name. After everyone gave me that combination of pity-stare with slight smirk for the crazy-white-woman-with-big-suitcase look, someone took pity on me and in broken English explained I had to walk up this cobble street until I got to the end. She then headed for home on a bicycle. Did you know suitcase rollers don’t work so well on cobblestones?

    Three quarters of a mile later I arrive at my “resort” hotel on the other end of the island. Literally the very end. I could definitely hear the waves crashing all around me but couldn’t see a darn thing–not a lot of electric lights on the island. At 1am I finally got checked into my room with rock-solid bed (it felt like I was sleeping on a rock with sheets), the waves crashing outside my window, and your typical tropic temperatures and humidity. Did I mention my flight out of Hong Kong airport was at 6am?

    After enjoying my resort for three hours, I hauled the suitcase back in the dark to the first ferry at 4:30am which would get me back to the train to the airport (great to see and smell the interesting things roasting for breakfast near the Ferry so early in the morning) and barely made my flight. I laugh about it all now, but there really was at least an hour of absolute terror both riding the ferry and hauling that suitcase down cobblestones at midnight. Now, when flying somewhere new, I always ask for recommendations from people I know.

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  7. Gina Fluharty

    All I read was that you had lunch with someone other than me and I think that’s wonderful for Linda (can’t wait to read that book) and that I need a date with you. I’m buying.

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