Foreigners in a country always see things that are odd to them, yet perfectly natural to the people who live in those countries. No doubt, foreigners to Canada would see oddities in my country that seem perfectly natural to my fellow countrymen.
Today, however, I will indulge myself by pointing out a few of the things that strike me as particularly odd about Asia.
In Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar, it is not unusual to see people build their houses partly or completely over water even when there is dry land nearby. Why? Beats me! But they do it so often I have to believe there is a reason for it. I took this picture from the window of a train on my way to Bagan, Myanmar.
I am delighted to tell you that I have been a millionaire several times in my life. The most recent time was 2 weeks ago in Myanmar, when I withdrew $650 Canadian from my account. This resulted in me carrying 670,000 Myanmar Kyat. This—together with the cash I already had in my pocket—made me a millionaire! When the good folks at Western Union handed the money to me, they wrapped the stacks with rubber bands and put them in a large envelope. I could not carry more than $50 Canadian in my wallet at one time or it would bulge too much. The wad of money was so thick I carried most of it in my back pack. It was even more stunning in Vietnam, when each trip to the ATM yielded 10,000,000 of their currency. A simple meal in Vietnam would always cost at least half a million!!!
This sign in a Thai hostel made it very clear that it never occurred to the author to ask the opinion of a native English speaker about this warning that he displayed so prominently. In fact, the very term “warning” made me think there may be a violent explosion lurking in my future if I were to “washing clothes” incorrectly.
Although I was always a bit too slow with my camera to record the event, it was not unusual for me to see naked boys—as old as 7 years—walking down the street with their mothers in Sihanoukville and Kep, Cambodia. I believe these boys were on their way to the ocean to go swimming. I was startled the first few times I saw the naked lads. But, at the same time, I noticed that no one else even took notice of them and it soon became commonplace for me as well.
Insects can be raised as food in farms designed just for that purpose. In fact, I visited an insect farm in Vietnam; the owner was very proud of his produce and offered free samples—raw and fried—to all comers. This photograph shows insects on the production line.
And, as you can see, insects go well with fried eggs. I’ve seen this dish on the menu several times but never had the courage to order it. The Vietnamese I spoke to told me that the insects are crunchy and quite tasty, with the right seasoning.
Potholes and sewer problems in Asia put their counterparts in North America to shame. I have seen many sewers like this one here with covers that were slightly ajar, broken, or—as you see here—completely missing. These problems with the municipal infrastructure are so rampant throughout southeast Asia (with the exception of Thailand) that no one even takes notice.
The women in Myanmar have the odd custom of smearing thanaka on their faces. I heard two explanations for this. The first is that thanaka provides protection against sunburn. Since the women only put the thanaka on their faces in interesting patterns and cover only part of their cheeks, I had trouble believing that they were solely motivated by sunburn protection. I also heard that it improves their looks. They use it in somewhat the same way that women in the West use rouge (I have to wonder what the people from Mynamar think when they see a woman from the West wearing rouge!!). Although almost all of the women in Myanmar wear thanaka, I’ve also seen the occasional man or young boy wear it. I tried it and I have to admit it was cooling.
Many shops require their patrons to remove their shoes before entering. This is particularly the case at massage parlors and hostels. I had some dental work done in a clinic in Chiang Mai, Thailand, that was every bit as modern as anything I have seen in Canada. Patients were required to remove their shoes and socks before going into the dental clinic. Although I could have donned a pair of sandals the clinic thoughtfully provided, I opted to go barefooted myself. The staff found nothing at all unusual about that.
Although long-handled brooms made in the style we are accustomed to in Canada are readily available in Asia, it is simply not fashionable to use them. Instead, people use brooms made of native materials with brushes that spray awkwardly and can be used with only one hand. The other hand, as you can see, is typically held behind one’s back. The brooms are always so short that one must bend at the waist to use them.
Governments are just as likely to take poetic license with the English language as are hostel and guesthouse owners. I saw this sign on the street in Pattaya, Thailand. Even though I fancy myself quite imaginative when it comes to the use of the English language, I have to admit that the Pattaya Police Department has far more imagination in this regard than I.
All photos by Jan Wall – All rights reserved