I have never been anywhere in Asia. I have traveled a ton though, knowing that I love embracing and getting to know other cultures. I have also eaten my fair share of spring rolls, pad thai and Thai iced teas to know that I love Asian cuisine (and that is the important stuff, right?)
Living in Europe has offered us more traveling than we could have imagined, but it was time to spice it up (literally…Germany doesn’t know how to make spicy dishes!). Not that cathedrals and castles aren’t amazing, but here in Germany, even in the summer, it doesn’t get hot (like we are talking, melt your face off hot) so why NOT go to Thailand?
I have had all of the absurd, stereotypical images of Asia floating around in my head. Don’t lie, you probably do too. I had the tune of that horribly cliched “Asian Rift” ringing in my mind http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tV0P62T9_kY and, for some strange reason, the scene from Lady and the Tramp http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fxpN2XrYDLM song is on repeat in head and I expected to see rice on every corner as soon as landing the plane.
As we stepped off the subway train in the middle of Bangkok, there was no Asian music (sad, I know). However, there was a blast of heat that immediately made me start to sweat accompanied by the most amazing smells….but don’t walk too far, because then suddenly you might get a whiff of something horribly foul, but just keep walking and deliciousness will come back (it was an awful cycle!). I was blinded by fluorescent and neon flashing digital signs coming at me from every billboard. I was here. I was in Asia! So much of what “Asia” was in my head (minus the Asian jingle) was true!!! I didn’t stand out as a tourist because of my giant Nikon camera (no, it was my blinding white skin from months of gray, clouded over Bavaria that did that) and there were actually handfuls of school girls all over the place. Maybe my stereotypes (while still a complete stereotype and therefore maybe not completely appropriate) wasn’t too far off base! *Yes, I am well aware that everything I just said sounded extremely cliche and possible offensive. However, I was amazed at how many stereotypes are slightly based on truth (for ANY culture).
Walking by street vendor after street vendor I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a plate of noodles and it was like my dream come true with so many skewered meats marinating waiting to be grilled up in front of me! Best of all, you didn’t have to walk far to get a delicious, creamy Thai iced tea.
The problem with going someplace so different from what you are used to is that it can be very overwhelming. Not only do we not know the language, but the characters of writing are not even in our familiar Latin script, so I can’t even pretend to sound out words if I wanted to. Then there is the whole question of etiquette. It is not unknown that other cultures have different ways of greeting and interacting people socially, but it was unknown to me how to actually do this without causing offense. Luckily, putting your hands together and bowing to another person is easy enough and if you throw in a smil, maybe they will not realize you don’t know how to say a basic “Hello” or “Thank you.” Luckily for me, the Thais were so kind, generous and accommodating (and many, if not most, knew English) it was still easy enough to get around. As long as you are ok with pointing or gesturing, smiling and knowing that you may get something on your plate that you were not expecting, then all is well.
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