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.
Posted on July 14, 2012, in General and tagged foreign bathrooms, foreign food, General, Nancy Brophy. Linda Mercury, See Jane Publish, travel, travel tips. Dracula's Secret. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.