10 Things You Will Learn After Traveling in Southeast Asia

by | Jul 30, 2012 | Reflections, Southeast Asia | 2 comments

Southeast Asia has a special place in my heart and I think it always will. When I first decided to try out traveling, I told myself I wouldn’t return to a place I had visited before until I had gone to all seven continents. Well, this summer I went back to Thailand for a second time. And during that trip I started to try to plan how I could get myself back there next summer. There is just something about that area that draws you back again and again. It could make you stay forever. Southeast Asia has also taught me many things. About myself, life, other cultures. Here are the top ten:

1. NEVER TAKE TOILET PAPER FOR GRANTED. Seriously, the amount of times I found myself in a washroom, whether it be a western toilet or the dreaded squat toilet, without toilet paper was far too many. I have learned to always carry a roll of toilet paper in my purse if I’m traveling in a developing country. Or a small packet of tissues or kleenex, which are much more discreet. It’s far better than rummaging through your purse for a random receipt to use, that’s for sure.

2. COLD SHOWERS CAN BE ENJOYABLE. And preferred. There comes a time when you’ve been walking around with a backpack on your back, shirt soaked through, eyes stinging from the sweat dripping in your eyes, and all you want is an ice cold shower. At home, this works the opposite way. My showers are burning hot and any limb that is not under the water has goose bumps. In Southeast Asia, any limb out of the refreshingly cool water is hot and humid feeling.

3. TIME MEANS NOTHING. Life moves at a slower pace over there. There is no rushing for deadlines. Scheduled appointments are really only a guideline. The person you’re meeting with might just need to go have one last cigarette outside before he meets with you. Sometimes, this kind of atmosphere is really awesome. Usually, I do like it. But sometimes, when you’ve slept in and really need to be somewhere, like to catch a flight, it can be frustrating. Time also means nothing in regards to scheduled transportation times involving buses and trains. They are frequently, if not almost always, delayed. Get used to it. Grab a fruit shake and wait.

4. FLIES ON MY FOOD IS REALLY NO BIG DEAL. My falafel was being made infront of me and flies were everywhere. Flying around my face, the cooks face, her hands, they rested on the pile of lettuce, pickles and other vegetables. They went for a ride on my pita as it was passed from her to me. But you get over it. Soon it becomes almost… normal.

5. ANGER GETS YOU NOWHERE. In the Western world, people get angry. They yell that there wasn’t the right amount of cream or sugar in their tea. They yell because there’s no cheese left on the shelf. They’ll raise their voice to an absurd level and argue about something to someone that usually has no control over that situation. In other parts of the world, it gets you absolutely nowhere. If you’re upset about something, all you need to do is remain calm and try to explain yourself. Even if you have to try saying the same thing with different wording ten times until they understand. And then, they still might not get it. But if you yell, they will think less of you and they will walk away. Or laugh at you.

6. AIR CONDITIONING IS MY BEST FRIEND. I can’t handle just the fan rooms. Waking up with my hair stuck to the sweat on my forehead. My sheets damp, skin damp, hair never actually drying in the humidity. I could have handled it if I had just stuck to fan rooms and never had the experience of the air con rooms. But I did experience air con and after that, the fan was not enough. In my last few days I splurged by spending twenty dollars a night on a guesthouse. Private room, air con. After the first night I thought twenty dollars was too much, so I switched to a fan room for half the price. I spent that evening laying motionless on my bed in nothing but a bikini top and underwear, hair tied as high on my head as possible. It was so bloody hot, it was disgusting. The next morning, I switched back to the air conditioning and embraced the freezing cold.

7. DRINKING BEER MAKES YOU FRIENDS. It’s true. The easiest way to make friends is to sit in the hostel common room or whatever social area they have(chances are they have something of the sort) with a local beer in hand, sitting in a circle while someone plays the guitar or plays cards and tells stories. Or has ice cube wars. I don’t even like beer when I’m at home, but when I travel it’s almost the only thing I drink. Well, until the buckets are introduced.

8. THE HAPPIEST PEOPLE ARE THOSE WHO LIVE SIMPLE LIVES. Most of the locals in Southeast Asia don’t have a lot. Their closets are not full of clothes, they have no ipads or all of the excess that we have here. They live simply. They have little possessions and little money, but they are always smiling. Thais, Cambodians, and Vietnamese people are truly some of the kindest, happiest people I have ever met. We could really learn a thing or two from them.

9. VEHICLE HORNS CAN BE USED TO EXPRESS SOMETHING OTHER THAN ANGER. Who knew?! Here in Canada the only time people honk their horns is if they’re really unhappy with the person infront of them and are in a fit of road rage. I generally don’t use my horn because my first car’s horn was broken, so I rarely even think to. But in Southeast Asia, that is the music of the road. Music.. or the reason you will go deaf in one ear as a bus flies by you with the horn honking for a full minute. But over there, they use the horn for everything. They honk if there’s something in their way, they honk to let other drivers know that they are coming up beside them, they honk even if there is nothing to be seen for miles!

10. ALL ABOUT ASIAN ELEPHANTS. Yeah, that’s a big reason why I want to keep going back. Whoever has read this blog from the beginning has read my posts about the Elephant Nature Park. But really, Southeast Asia has taught me a lot about elephants. Particularly their rapid endangerment. While there was once over 100,000 in Thailand alone, there are now only an estimated 3000-4000 left in Thailand. Only about 30,000 globally.

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