Last time we covered the first five shocking realities of Southeast Asia that may make us experience (a sometimes pretty intense) culture shock when visiting.
From the mildly disgusting to the heartbreaking, in this post I’ll finish the list and let you know more about the things that bring us together as humans.
Allow me to try something different in this post, why don’t you finish reading the article and then head over to my Facebook Page and share some of your shocking Southeast Asia pics with everybody?!
6. Hairy moles
Men in Southeast Asia have almost no hair on their body, so many of them, mainly young ones, will spend her life nursing and caring for one single hair strand that comes from somewhere on her face.
Sometimes it’ll be on the chin, like a hair from a beard, sometimes it’ll come from a mole.
Yup, a hairy mole. People there think it’s charming! The longer and curlier, the more charming.
7. Table manners
To say that table manners in some of the countries in Southeast Asia are different from ours, would be a huge understatement. If you are one of those really picky people that can’t stand bad table manners (whatever “bad table manners” means in western civilization) then brace yourself for these few examples:
It’s totally accepted to eat with your mouth open and even speak with your mouth full of food.
It is also standard practice to release a loud and long burp after a meal, which signifies that the food was to your complete satisfaction.
The table is THE place to use toilet paper in some of the countries, that’s right, toilet paper is used as napkins on the table.
And lastly, it is customary for people to eat chicken or fish and spit out the bones on the floor, so that trash won’t remain in the house since the table is usually set outdoors, mostly in rural areas (though this practice can be seen in city restaurants and weddings). Also, sometimes chickens and dogs can give the bones one last go.
8. Weird food
Sure, I’ve watched the exotic foods shows in the Discovery Channel, but for some reason that always seemed very disconnected from me, like that happens in another planet.
No, no, it happens right here and Southeast Asia offers a wide range of foods that could potentially make your stomach turn.
Giant spiders, fermented fish, grasshoppers, fried swallows and swifts, frogs, dogs, cats and rats are some of the delicacies served in these countries. The good thing is that people are very accommodating and they get that we are a bit grossed out, so they won’t be insulted if you don’t try out their weird food.
Now, the more adventurous travelers would say that your trip is not complete until you have stretched the limits of your tolerance and tasted some of these… unusual meals.
Many of these customs have been used for thousands of years, for instance, fermented fish is so because there’s an increase of fish production during the rainy season.
Since they haven’t had refrigeration for the longest time, they take the excess fish and pickle it with salt and spices making it cook itself in its own juices. That way there was fish during scarce times too!
9. Live today, seize today
Like I told you about in my 4 fascinating facts about Cambodia post, some of these countries have been through the worst, have seen the bleakest of landscapes, plagued by war and famine.
So they have learned to make the most of each moment, living life to the fullest, not worrying about a future that may not come, even sometimes being careless and reckless (to our eyes) with what they have.
For instance, if food is available, they will eat it all. When they receive their salary, they spend it all at once.
Which may be quite shocking for some of us, we are taught to sow seeds for the future, to work today in order to ensure a better tomorrow, to save so that we’ll have enough in old age…
We are so worried about what’s going to happen, that we forget to live today, our thoughts are so invested in what’s to come, that we are unconcerned with what happens now.
We have so much to learn from Cambodians and other cultures, who teach us the value of the present moment, the aliveness of this minute, the in and out breath of our body, the pulsating rhythm of nature and life.
Being always immersed in thoughts of the past and future, make us immune to the exciting, vivacious reality of our life today.
10. The moral dilemma
In the end, to me traveling is about overcoming ignorance, visiting a different culture is about asking some of the most important questions of life.
We arrogant beings sometimes think we have the answers to everything, the absolute truth.
But be warned, and approach your traveling with a humble mind and an open heart.
When you visit some countries in Southeast Asia, you will be shocked to find a lot of beggars on the streets, many of them with mutilated limbs due to personal mines during times of war.
Some will beg and some will be selling different products. They will gravitate around the tourist areas, especially. The shocking aspect is the amount of people that will beg for money on the streets.
Sometimes it’ll be very small children and then when you crouch down to speak to one of them, up to twenty more will surround you, asking for money.
Another shocking thing is child labor. Child labor laws are not enforced as they should be in Cambodia and some other countries, so you see little children (even 5 years old) selling things, carrying bricks and doing some other types of work on the streets, which is something most of us would find unacceptable.
And it is, except that you need to approach it with an open mind and understand that if you don’t have any other means to survive, you’ll do whatever it takes. There is no medical insurance, there is no government help for poverty, there is no other way for now, though many humanitarian organizations are working very hard in changing this situation.
Animal welfare is not a very well-known concept in Southeast Asia. It’s very simple: You need to transport animals for consumption and those animals need to remain alive during transportation, because you do not have a refrigeration system to store them.
So, you will see pigs being carried on motorcycles, tied up, in the boiling heat, screeching their little hearts out the whole journey.
The same with chickens, the same with many other animals.
So there you have them, ten things that will be shocking when visiting Southeast Asia, at least in the very personal opinion of my friends and other sources.
What Southeast Asia is really about
But despite the shocking factor, people who’ve visited Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and the whole of Indochina, they all fall in love with the land and its people.
As one person mentioned: “They are pure in spirit” which I take to mean that they are innocent and transparent, not polluted with all the mind nonsense we entertain every day.
Isadora says they have a “large spirit” because regardless of the dark times they’ve lived through, they smile all the time and they welcome you with open arms. Sure, as a tourist you always bring money, but it’s more than that, even if you don’t have anything to offer, you are welcome with a smile, you are respected and admired.
And people there receive, they receive with gratitude everything you want to give, be it knowledge, time or yourself.
Tourists always want to come back and learn from the history of these countries, see how they marvel at things we take for granted in our daily lives.
You start to be more present and enjoy life, you start to understand the value of working hard, but also the value of rest and peace and family. You truly go back to basics, and the basics are pretty wonderful.
In the words of Isadora: “Southeast Asia is magical, it will captivate you and get under your skin and in your heart, once you’ve seen it, you won’t be able to let it go and you will always go back”.
Good to keep that in mind when planning a trip to Southeast Asia.
Have you been to Southeast Asia before?
Did you experience culture shock?
Did you overcome it? How?
Let us know in the comments field! In fact, why don’t you come and share some pictures with me in my Facebook Page!