Moments | September 22

New series! Each week, we’ll share little moments, thoughts and stories with you.

Durians...an unusual delicacy in Asia. Note the special "TRANSPORT" bag.

I’m sitting in the airport right now, about to board our 36th flight. Root figured this out the other day. I knew it was a lot but wow!

Durians. They’re this crazy looking fruit that people are obsessed with here in Asia. They look funny, they smell funky, and the taste…..ugh…no, just NO. And don’t you dare put that in my coffee. That is just wrong. They smell so bad that you see these “no durian” signs in hotels and subways. Tonight we checked into a nice hotel in Kuala Lumpur (cashing in on our Starwood points!) and they had this cartoon art piece about durians over our bed. Ha. I guess it’s an acquired taste?

Speaking of things that make you cringe, we saw our first bed bug a week ago. Yeah. We checked into a hostel and settled into a simple private room with double bed. We did a quick check of the bed and all seemed OK so we went out for the day. When we returned later, I noticed a small bug crawling on one of the pillows. Given the colored, quilt-like bedding, it’s amazing I even saw it. Root took a quick photo, killed it, and then looked up bed bugs on the Internet. Yup – no doubt at all about it – a bed bug. {GASP!} A second later we were packing up and out of there. After checking into a nearby guesthouse, we inspected every inch of our bags and things and did not find any other bugs. Wheh. We were freaked out.

According to this artwork over our hotel bed, we shall become enamored with the taste of durian in the long-term.

While we were in Penang we were lucky enough to experience two special annual events – Malaysia Day and Twa Peh Kong's Procession of Poh Hock Seah with some 55 decorated floats. During a speech someone gave at Malaysia Day, the only words the speaker said in English were significant. “Diversity is our strength,” he said. Of all the places we’ve traveled, Penang is one where we’ve seen a distinctly unique blend of three cultures living harmoniously together – Malaysian, Chinese and Indian. Plus there’s the European influence from the days of colonial rule. So it’s an interesting place to visit and so nice to witness these communities co-existing peacefully when so much of the world news these days is reports of religious and ethic wars.

One of the floats we saw at Twa Peh Kong's Procession of Poh Hock Seah.

Street art in Penang representing its unique blend of cultures: Chinese, Malay and Indian.

Speaking of culture differences though, a couple of nights ago something happened that I found bizarre, comical, deflating and maddening – all at the same time. We walked into an Indian restaurant in Penang. Right away, three men scurried over to us, anxious to welcome and accommodate us. “Yes sir…right this way sir…” they said to Root and smiled politely. A waiter came over with an iPad to show us photos of the menu items via a mini slide show (pretty cool) and described each dish as he swiped through the photos. But he was only looking and talking to Root. I had to strain to see the iPad because he was holding it at such an angle to only show Root. It was like I was completely invisible! I spoke up to ask a question and order my own food, and then the waiter did actually speak and make eye contact with me, but what the….? I don’t remember this happening in India, but I do recall a couple other times this sort of thing happened. In both Istanbul and Bali, the taxi drivers only addressed Root. One time I told the driver where we wanted to go and established the cost and as soon as we were off it was “Sir, where are you from…” proceeding to chat with Root. I thought this was especially funny since Root was tired and didn’t feel like talking at that moment but I was also really really put off. I guess I’m not worthy, as a female? What is this?

I am personally offended by this  ;-)

But here’s the thing. Somewhere I read that when you travel far from home and things seem backwards or wrong…seek to understand before you judge. It’s great advice. Every corner of the world has its own unique customs, challenges and history that combine to make things the way that they are, and people behave the way they do. It’s not that you can’t have an opinion about it, but realize that you’re not at home and these differences should be taken into context and respected. I’ve learned that eye contact has strong implications in almost every culture and vary extensively across the globe. I’ve learned that physical contact (even a hand shake) with a person of the opposite gender is considered inappropriate in Hindu and Muslim cultures. Still, should I interpret that waiter ignoring me as a sign of respect or disrespect? Let me know your thoughts below.

Till next time,
Beth