Since my return to the Western, civilized world, I’ve taken joy in noting differences between the things I’ve seen and done in the past 5 months in Southeast Asia and those available to me here. Some were immediately recognizable and even predictable because there are just some things in Asia that you never get used to. For example, folks in England – and most parts of the US- tend to drive in one SINGLE lane- ALL THE TIME! If they miss an exit they more often than not go to the next junction and turn around, rather than swerving across traffic and road barriers or slamming on the breaks and reversing down the highway. They stop at red lights, and sometimes even yellow ones! They break for pedestrians!!! And my favorite -though I have to admit I miss the breadth of symphonic possibilities the Asian horns have to offer – I haven’t heard one single “HONK” in the past week. Not one! Instead they politely pass and merge only when it’s safe to do so, and always ALWAYS give a polite (silent) little wave as thanks, and another to acknowledge the first, as opposed to the endless, even continuous honking on Asian roads. To their credit, despite constantly feeling like each ride was only a few upside-down loops short of a theme park ride, I never saw an accident the whole time I was there. I did also travel a lot at night.
I’ve been to the grocery store twice; the first time I was so giddy I almost giggled a few times and I’m sure the locals must have thought I’d escaped from the mental hospital or had sniffed some glue before my outing. I stared, possibly open-mouth (Hannah-style) at the array and even prices. Much to the annoyance of my friends – I’m sure, though they insisted otherwise – I pointed at things, especially fruits and veg, and exclaimed things like, “$5 for a pound of apples!? You’ve got to be joking! I used to buy that for 50 cents!” Not everything was as expensive as I thought it woudl be, thanks mostly to the year spend in Australia where they pay far more for food than the US (and in many cases the UK), and our occassional trips to western grocery stores in Asia, where you could nab a jar of peanut butter for $6 or a box of cereal for only $10.
The most delightful differences are the ones that come as a surprise. It may come as no shock to you to learn that Asians are typically much shorter than westerners. Blame it on (poor) nutrition and/or genetics, but I found myself, at only 5’6″ to be well above average. There were many times when I towered over everyone around me, the tallest person in the temple, park or bus. The design of bus seats and stairs in particular suggest a much shorter consumer market. After a while you get over the novelty and forget about, though still feeling somewhat confident that if someone tried to mug you (they never did, thankfully) you could probably take them. I haven’t been out of the house much (mostly because it’s really stinking cold here), but last night we went to a shopping mall filled with thousands of holiday shoppers and I was filled with a sense that something wasn’t quite right… something was different. I felt small and vulnerable. At first I thought it was because of the sheer number of mad consumers surrounding me, but I realized after a few moments that it was because almost everyone over the age of 14 was actually much bigger than me! Comparatively I WAS small and vulnerable! Even pimply-faced teens towered over me and grown men cast shadows over me like giants! With their arms loaded down with sacks and their baby strollers (something SE Asians apparently DON’T love, as I never saw any there) ploughing their way through the crowds, innocent English families took on a rather ominous quality. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen some tall people in the past few months, after all there ARE other Westerners in Asia, and I’ve been in crowds and I’ve even seen an occasional fat person, but to be surrounded by so many of them, and all at once, was quite a shock to the system! It didn’t help that they all had those crazed looks people get on their faces during the holiday season when trying to find the perfect gift for people they never see and don’t even care for, while their children, cranky and whiny, and yanking on them and running around the place like smacked-out little monkeys. I’d come to take for granted that my own stature was rather imposing and powerful and have been reminded that I am not. I’ve also been reminded that I hate Hate HATE shopping malls, especially at the holidays. Even if they did have an Urban Outfitters.
big girl, little lady, Thailand