The longer I stay in Asia, the more things that were initially strange now seem quite normal. Dogs and cats running around my local general store? Normal! A family of five on one motorbike? Normal! Ice in beer? Totally normal! Here are the main things that I’ve become particularly partial to while travelling and living in Asia:
1. Shoes off!
All over Asia it’s considered rude (and dirty) to leave your shoes on when entering a home. I’m so used to doing this now that I find it almost offensive when people don’t automatically lose their shoes upon entering our place! And on trips home, I find it really strange when people keep their ‘outside’ shoes on inside their own houses, especially ones with carpet. I used to do this myself but if and when I’m living back in Australia I’ll definitely be ditching mine at the door.
2. Avoiding the sun
This is another aspect of Asian culture which really gels with me. As someone with fair skin that burns and freckles quite easily, I’ve never been able to saunter around in the sun uncovered without some stinging, peeling consequences. People in Asia (particularly females) whip out wide-brimmed hats, umbrellas and even long gloves to preserve their skin from pigmentation and premature ageing the second the sun’s out. While some of this sunsmart behaviour is more about vanity than health (as they believe the whiter the skin the better) I’m following suit. Nothing to do with skin colour (I mean, a tan would be great!), but for health and preservation reasons. Now, I cringe when other westerners walk around hatless and in singlet tops in the middle of a blazing hot day, particularly if they already look sunburnt and don’t seem to care. And when at the beach, I TOTALLY get why the locals only swim in the very early morning and as the sun’s going down, leaving midday’s scorching sand to the lobster-red westerners!
3. Keeping up appearances
In Asia, people are often taken at face value – how they present themselves relates to their wealth and social status and the amount of respect they are due. While in some ways I don’t totally agree with this (in Australia, billionaires will lounge around Bondi in their shorts and thongs and that’s kind of cool!), I do see that better grooming and presenting yourself well will open more doors for you, so to speak – more noticeably so here than in the west.
4. Not losing face
Keeping your cool means not losing face, and this can pertain to any aspect of life, from altercations to bargaining in the market. Angry words don’t usually get you anywhere if a situation is a little tense, but it’s amazing what a smile can do. I need to practice this one more often.
5. An apple a day…
With the exception of dishes that are deep fried, contain animal fat or over-zealously doused in MSG, Asian cuisine is generally quite healthy. People often eat certain things because of their health properties and this is something I’m becoming more and more interested in. When an elderly local touts the benefits of a certain fruit, herb or vegetable as being “good for the heart” (or any other organ or ailment) I take note. It could be an old wives tale…or a pearl of ancient wisdom!