Tag Archives: culture

BLOG: Things I Miss About Home

I find living abroad to be immensely pleasurable. I love being an outsider in a culture that is very foreign to me, as being in this position gives me innumerable opportunities to discover and see new things. Living in a foreign place also allows me endless material for observing and writing. There are, of course, some things I miss about home, which is Portland, Oregon, but could more generally just be the United States. There are the obvious things, like friends, family and home cooked meals, but there are also some other things I’ve been thinking about lately that I do not get in Kathmandu.

Here are a list of things I miss about home:

1) Being able to walk in a straight line

Must dodge sacred cows.

I miss being able to walk in a straight line, on a straight path, without having to constantly be on the lookout for obstacles to dodge. Whenever I walk in Kathmandu, I feel like I am in some sort of bizarre, real-life video game where I must dodge things ever 10 seconds including dogs, people, food carts, motorcycles, taxis, rickshaws, feces and 6-foot deep sewer holes in the sidewalk. While it can be entertaining and stimulating sometimes, I often long for the peaceful, straight and uninterrupted paths and walkways of home.

2) Walking on a flat surface
This one is sort of an extension of number one. I miss walking on flat surfaces, like flat sidewalks and roads. In Kathmandu, the sidewalks are in such poor conditions that I often feel that I am “urban trekking,” constantly going up and down uneven pieces of sidewalk, hopping over piles of bricks, spanning lakes of stagnant water and traversing heaps of sand. I miss the flat, wide sidewalks of Portland where there is more than enough room for people to walk.

3) Being anonymous
I know I said in the beginning that I like being an outsider and that’s true. But, there is something to be said for being anonymous in a crowd. In Portland, or most places in the U.S., I can just disappear in the crowd. If I’m walking in Portland’s busy Saturday Market or through a street fair, no one gives me a second look. I’m just another person. Here in Kathmandu, people stare at me EVERYWHERE I go. I often travel unaccompanied and I know many Nepalis may think this is strange, especially in the countryside, but I get stared at intensely even in the city. I miss the ability to be anonymous and disappear into a crowd.

4) Not being stared at
This is an extension of number three. Never being anonymous means always standing out in the crowd. It may be because I have light hair and it may be because I am young-looking and travel alone most of the time. Whatever it is, people, especially men, stare at me all the time. It is a rather disconcerting and uncomfortable sort of stare, a kind of stare that feels like it pierces your skin. The staring by men is a part of this culture that makes me feel extremely uncomfortable and annoyed sometimes. When I am walking, I often try not to notice it, but other times it is simply impossible to ignore. I’ve developed a rather bad habit of very conspicuously staring back at people whose eyes are fixed on me, even to the point where I turn my head so as not to break eye contact as I walk by. I sometimes wonder if this habit will someday have reprecussions, but I sort of want to make intense starers feel the same way they are making me feel. I know I may be an oddity here, but I miss never being stared at in Portland.

5) Being safe alone at night

I know I am not safe everywhere in Portland alone at night, but in most places I feel fine walking by myself. In Kathmandu, I absolutely do not feel comfortable EVER when alone at night. My level of discomfort at night has increased since three years ago. I don’t know if this stems from what is probably my increased level of rationality from when I was 20 years old, or if it is from the constant warnings I get from locals. Everyone says: “No matter what you do, do NOT walk alone at night in Kathmandu.” I’m not the type of person who gets easily scared about travel warnings, but this is one that I will follow. Kathmandu has received a deluge of people migrating from rural parts of the country and perhaps because of this, now has had increased crime rates and problems with drug addicts. Rather than take my chances, I prefer to be home when the sun goes down. So, I miss being able to walk around at night with no problems or fears like I can in Portland.

6) Clean air

Clean Air... Yum

Portland has crisp, fresh and clean air. Kathmandu does not. I miss the clean air of Portland and not blowing my nose to find it black from pollution, dust and smog.

You Know You’ve Backpacked S.E. Asia When…

You know you’ve backpacked Southeast Asia when…

1) A large percentage or your grungy travel shirts are emblazoned with local beer logos, including this one:

2) You’ve drank a cocktail or two out of what normally would be considered a child’s beach toy:

Sangsom Whiskey Buckets (photo by Kullez-flickr)

3) You know that the term “Yellow Bible” has nothing to do with religion:

Lonely Planet's "Yellow Bible": the holy grail of SE Asia travel books.

4) You have a scar or two on your body from intertubing in Vang Vieng, Laos:

Zip line on the Nam Song River in Laos (Photo by: lanz-flickr)

5) You think street Pad Thai is just about as essential as water:

Street Pad Thai in a wok (Photo by: Charles Hayes-flickr)

6) You don’t think a 17-hour bus ride is particularly long, anything over 30-hours might be pushing it, though:

A bus in Laos (Photo by: joaquinuy-flickr)

7) You’ve grown used to cockroaches and have even snacked on them once or twice:

Cockroach (Photo by: Anil Jadhav-flickr)

8 ) You’ve seen some of the prettiest men ever:

Lady Boy in Patpong, Thailand (Photo by: fitri.agung-flickr)

9) You’ve often found yourself wandering malls just to take advantage of the air conditioning and clean bathrooms:

Mall in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (Photo by: Julien Menichini-flickr)

10) You consider a tuk-tuk ride across town a sufficient alternative to using a hair dryer:

Tuk-Tuk ride in Thailand (Photo by: bfick-flickr)

11) You know it’s not uncommon for there to be three 7-11s within a two block vicinity:

7-11s are everywhere in Thailand. (Photo by: iaminthailand-flickr)

Excellent Reader Suggestions:

Here are some extra hilarious ones via Epic Asia Travel readers. Got some more? Make sure to comment below!

12) You start to believe the hose is better than toilet paper after all (Suggested by Jon):

Asian toilet with hose (Photo by: wonder-flickr)

13) You realize that a scooter can easily carry a family of four whilst the driver texts (Suggested by Jon):

Family on a Bike in SE Asia (Photo by: emilio labrador-flickr)

Thailand’s Lady Boys

It’s the witching hour in Thailand.  It’s around 10 p.m., right when the night life starts pumping, the Beer Chang flows freely and the country’s signature sticky, sexy heat bears down on merry revelers, preparing for the night ahead.  Neon signs buzz and blink and the waitress brings another round of drinks.  From down the soi, a lithe young woman walks towards the bar.

Someone comments, “Wow!  Look at her!”

It’s true.  Look at her is right.  Her skin is the perfect tone of brown, her arms are toned and lean.  She has long, silky black hair that cascades down her back and she’s wearing an impossibly tight pink mini-dress that not many people in the world could pull off.  Her cleavage bursts from her dress top and the strappy white stilettos fit her feet like gloves.  The woman looks at men seated at the bars with a cloyingly sweet, flirtatious gaze.

She walks closer.  That skin!  That hair!  She looks like a model.  She comes closer still.  Wait a minute… What’s that on her throat?  Is that…. Really?… An adam’s apple?

It's a man... It's a woman? It's a lady boy!

It turns out that in fact, this beautiful, gorgeous, model-of-a-woman is in fact not a woman an at.  She’s a man.  She is a Thai lady boy.

Lady boys in Thailand, also known as Kathoey, cannot be defined with one definition.  Some lady boys have had sex changes to become women, some have simply had breast implants to impersonate women, and some simply dress like women (but continue to have all the requisite male body parts attached).  It’s not uncommon to see a group of lady boys out on the town in places like Phuket, Pattaya and Bangkok.  The tall-tale continuously floats around: the foreigner who had a steamy night out with a gorgeous Thai woman, took her back to his room only to find out that, in fact, she’s one of the infamous Kathoeys.

Whether this is true or not, lady boys are an integral part of the Thailand experience.  Lady boys can be seen in bars, flirting with men, dancing in cabaret shows and performing in various events.  Many foreigners are fascinating by this group of people: not exactly men and not exactly women.  The Kathoey subculture is especially fascinating because of their acceptance by other members of Thai society.  Despite the conservative country, lady boys are very open about their sexuality and have no problem flaunting their fake breasts or their smooth nether regions.  The Buddhist religion is often credited as the reason for the acceptance of sub-groups like lady boys in Thailand.

Many people have seen drag queens in their own home country, but Thailand’s lady boys are a special breed because of their seamless beauty and charm.  The smaller stature and fit bodies of Thai males makes those that choose to become lady boys seem even more convincing: a good majority of Kathoey’s are very beautiful and convincing women.

To experience Kathoey culture for yourself, some good places to meet them are Phuket, Pattaya and Bangkok.  For a real show, buy a ticket to a lady boy cabaret: a show where kathoeys sing and dance in amazing costumes.  For a more up close and personal understanding of lady boys, have a night out on the town and see if you can spot the beautiful women who is actually a man.  Strike up a conversation and fall under their flirtatious charms!

At a Kathoey Cabaret Show in Koh Tao, Thailand.

At a Cabaret Show.

Lady Boy in Chiang Mai. (Photo: www.flickr.com/photos/martinamor/476495698/)

The Mekong Delta

Mekong Delta VietnamAs a thick fog rises over the brown, meandering web of waterways, locals crouch on the back of their boats, faces shrouded in the shadow of conical rice hats. In the Mekong Delta, it is as if highways have materialized into a network of muddy canals, streetlights have changed into billowy palm fronds, and the urban ruckus of car honks has morphed into warbling birds.

The lush Mekong Delta spans 13 provinces at the southern tip of Vietnam and is home to about 16 million people, roughly 20 percent of Vietnam’s population. The Mekong River begins on the Tibetan Plateau and flows through SE Asia, splitting in Vietnam before spilling into the South China Sea. Although the Delta lies only a few hours south of Ho Chi Minh City, the people of the two areas enjoy drastically different lifestyles. Ho Chi Minh City boasts a 24/7 cacophony of honking and urban bustle, while the Mekong Delta lulls visitors with an infinitely slower pace of life.

Rice cultivation thrives on the Delta’s moist land and almost half of the country’s rice grows here. Because of the tropical environment and ideal growing conditions, the fruit farming business on the Delta yields luscious coconuts, mangos, longans, and dragonfruits. Fishing the vast waterways is also lucrative. According to Mekong River Commission, up to 1,700 species of fish live in the Mekong River, around 120 of which are commercially traded.

The people of the Delta have adapted their lives to the water. Everything floats-houses, markets and even gas stations. The Mekong Delta is famous for its floating markets, especially those in Cai Be and Can Tho provinces. Atop the murky Mekong waters, hundreds of local merchants meet every morning to sell brilliantly colored fruits, vegetables, and fish from their boats proving to be a unique spectacle that draws foreign tourists and photographers daily.

How To Get There:

The Mekong Delta is readily accessible from Ho Chi Minh City.  Although the Mekong Delta is steadily developing, there are not many places for tourists and travelers to stay overnight.  It may take some extra planning and money, but staying for a few days at the Delta is possible.  Most people decide to go on a full-day trip.  Almost every single tour agency based in Ho Chi Minh City offers some sort of day trip to the Mekong Delta, which includes transportation to and from, food for the day, boat trips and water.  It is best to shop around a bit for a good deal because prices vary.  Once a tour is booked with a specific agency, they will likely offer a morning pick-up service at your hostel or hotel, or you’ll have to meet them at the company headquarters.

The ride from Ho Chi Minh City to the Mekong Delta takes about an hour and a half, depending on how bad traffic is.  After the car/van ride, the next leg of the journey is by boat.  After all, the Mekong Delta is a series of tiny islands, so boat is the way to travel.  A large boat takes travelers from the dock on the mainland to a dock on the Delta where people transfer to a smaller boat that can maneuver through the muddy waterways.

What To Do at the Delta:

Travelers who take a day trip to the Mekong Delta will largely have to follow the itinerary, so this means not a lot of time to wander around aimlessly.  While organized tours can often be annoying and over-planned, tours to the Mekong Delta are actually quite nice because of the level of difficulty presented by the geography.  Because the Mekong Delta is so fragmented, this means that to get from one place to another, a boat is almost always necessary.  The organized tours will have small and medium sized boats ready for you to hop from one place to the next.  Some things to do and see while at the Mekong Delta:

•Go to one of the candy factories.  There is one major candy factory on the Mekong Delta, which most tour groups hit up.  You can watch the workers as the mold the soft candy into tiny pats, and of course, sample their product.

•Eat some fresh fish.  You’ll likely be “set free” for lunch in one of the local restaurants.  A large portion of people living on the Mekong Delta make their living fromMekong Delta Fishfishing, so the fish is guaranteed to be super-fresh and delicious.

•Try a plate of fruit.  The huge variety of fruit grows on the Mekong Delta, from pomellos and guava, to bananas.  A fresh plate of fruit makes for a great snack after hours of tour-group extravaganza.