Sunday, April 02, 2006

It's The Little Things...

As we take leave of Asia and journey the hemisphere way south to New Zealand, Andy and I collaborated on a list of random things for which we're very grateful and wanted to share.

The following are items which we've encountered on a near daily basis for the past 3 1/2 months and missed greatly or felt thankful for on our home turf. It's so funny how simple and basic they are...things which rarely enter our mental space and recognition at home in the States but are noticeably present--or really, un-present--in our travel lives.

Enjoy -- and go use these things with a new perspective!

Sewer Covers = Yep, that's right. We're thankful for anything that shields us, to put it bluntly, from falling into shit and smell on the street. In Laos and Cambodia, open sewers gape left and right on the roads and pose precarious, smelly threats to the traveler. You learn to look in EVERY direction when walking and crossing, being especially vigilant on a street corner where these open pits of stink, bacteria, waste and toxic nightmare lurk, unmarked, uncovered and ready to swallow your innocent sandaled feet! I got out of a cab in Vientiane and was wrangling with my pack, not noticing the open sewer with pasty, oily, inky foul water next to me, and almost took a nasty plunge when I got situated and stepped forward. Had it not been for a tall, stray piece of bamboo submerged in the muck (perhaps as some sort of warning marker?) that I grabbed onto for dear life, I would have had a supremely shitty experience.

Shower Curtains = Shower stalls and curtains do not exist in the guest houses and little hotels in which we've stayed for between $6-$20 per night in India, Laos and Cambodia. Instead, your bathroom has a shower head and knobs mounted on the wall between or across from the sink and toilet. It's one big room for showering and when you're finished, it's totally wet, wet, wet on the floor, walls, ceilings, toilet seat, etc! Somehow, we've found this diminishes the sheer pleasure of a shower because you're wiping the whole room down and not wanting to use it for a few hours afterwards.

Paper Napkins = Ahh, absorbent, soft, lovely paper. Don't ever take it for granted again! And napkins -- so much bigger and better than a roll of pale pink toilet paper sitting on your restaurant table. India has plastic napkins that are less absorbent than cement, and felt about the same on sunburned skin. And mentally, we just can't our heads around the toilet paper on the dinner table in Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. You're constantly pulling strands of TP out of kleenex box-like dispenser to wipe curry off your sticky fingers and it feels strange rather than satisfying.

Fixed Prices = EVERYTHING in Asia and India is negotiable for locals, even in supposed "fixed" prices shops! And as a White Westerner/First Worlder, we never pay the same as locals...always more. We yearn for a nice pink price tag sticker that shows what we and everyone else pay at the register, and eliminates the necessary mental psych up for bargaining.

Flush Toilets & Toilet Paper = Though we moved away from the squat toilets of India in Laos and Cambodia, that doesn't mean the porcelain stand ups that we're familiar with flushed themselves! That's right...many a restroom has a toilet and large container, sometimes a bucket, other times a tiled bin mounted on the floor beneath a primitive faucet, full of water. With a bucket or ladle floating in it. One uses this reservoir of water to scoop into the toilets and flush them manually until the toilet water is clear. In many countries, you also use this extra water to douche yourself clean with the left hand, thus negating the need for toilet paper. I love toilet paper, however, and live to see giant rolls of it in a land of flush toilets!

Heinz Ketchup = There is truly no substitute. No other ketchup or tomato sauce competes. It makes everything from chips to eggs to toast to bland fried rice taste better. We found a bottle of it in Cambodia, paid $6 for it and it's traveling with us!

Liquid Soap = Most restrooms and communal washing sinks in Asia have bars of soap sitting in mushy puddle of water for your use. It's awesome that soap is alive and well and ready to disinfect us, and many come in pretty colors like pale yellow and fine scents like jasmine. But, somehow, the moist, community, gunky bar of soap seems less appealing and sanitary than liquid soap and we ache for plastic containers of SoftSoap or wall-mounted white dispensers that you push with an easy flick of your hand, never touching anything unexpected or squishy.

Hand Dryers = Like the communal soap, the communal hand towel is big in SE Asia. We found "the basin" in restaurants from Bombay to Bangkok, Phnom Penh to Luang Prabang, and happily washed up before meals and after temple outings. However, there are never hand dryers -- only a single damp, saggy cotton hand towel that looks like it saw better days in your college dorm room waiting for you, and everyone else, to dry their hands upon. Sigh...ugh. Another concept that it's just hard to get your head around and feel good and clean about. Never-ever have I wiped my hands on my pants so frequently!

Hot Showers = Hot usually means one things in SE Asia and it's the weather, not the water temperature. If you pay extra for a room with "hot water", you hope for the best which is warm to lukewarm, and it's all coming from a little electric heater unit mounted on the wall next to the faucet fixture that lights up a red button when plugged in and ready. I know, I know -- electricity and water all in the same shower and bathroom. It doesn't compute!

But then, neither does Asia. And that's the beauty and bitter-sweetness of it.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just wanted you guys to know that we had meatloaf tonight with Heinz ketchup and it was great! Thanks for the list...we are so lucky!
Love, Wendy

12:30 AM  

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