LIFE LESSONS FROM TRAVELLING THE WORLD PART 3: Things That Surprised Me
You get to see a lot of weird, strange and surprising things travelling the world…
People levitating and meditating
Copycat businesses are everywhere
I saw every major franchise you can imagine ripped off overseas. It seems that as soon as something works, people immediately get on board trying to steal the idea and make it their own. I guess it’s a proven formula and saves on paying franchise fees.
Everyone loves English music
One thing that surprised me was that even countries that can’t understand English love listening to English music.
I first noticed this when I was in Thailand. Many people loved listening to English music despite the fact they couldn’t understand any of the words. I found that strange because I know I would definitely prefer to listen to music I can understand.
I remember this one particular hilarious moment where I was sitting down to eat a chicken sandwich at Subway in Coimbatore, South India, a rural town with ZERO westerners, whilst Metallica’s “Nothing else matters” started playing in the background. It made me laugh big time.
I remember the media propaganda during the late 1990’s and early 2000’s that tried to convince everyone that Chinese Mandarin would be the language of the future. I don’t think so. It’s going to be English.
Although Chinese Mandarin has more native speakers in the world, in most of the countries I visited (including China), the parents and teachers at the schools want their children to speak English because it’s a business language and they want their children to be competitive for jobs in the future.
Koreans are tall
The first thing I noticed as soon as I arrived at the airport at Seoul was that South Koreans were much taller than their other Asian neighbors (Japanese, Chinese, Thai’s, Cambodians, Malaysians, Singaporeans, Filipinos, Vietnamese etc.)
Many are 6 feet or taller. Maybe they put growth hormone in the food. I don’t know.
Most places feel like every other place
One of the strangest things I noticed in my travels was that a lot of places feel like every other place.
Honestly, half the time I was travelling I kept forgetting that I was even in another country.
Germany doesn’t feel like Germany. Spain doesn’t feel like Spain.
Even in certain parts of India like Rishikesh, I kept forgetting that I was in India.
There are exceptions to this rule, but they are exceptions – not the rule.
There is a definite familiar feeling to almost every place I’ve ever been to. Maybe that familiar feeling was just me. I don’t know. I’m not really sure.
Or maybe it’s that many towns and cities around the world aren’t really that different from one another (especially in Europe) and often have the same kinds of advertising, clothing, fashion, trends, shops, music, movies, TV etc.
One thing that frustrated me endlessly wherever I went in the world was that NO ONE was willing to take responsibility for ANYTHING. No matter what they said or did or how badly they screwed up it was NEVER their fault.
I remember walking into my hotel in Johannesburg, South Africa, when I saw the following sign just outside the front door of the reception:
The whole world is full of children who want to point the finger and try to blame everyone else for their bad behavior, lies, mistakes, screw-ups and broken promises. These days people won’t even take responsibility for killing, raping or torturing another human being. It’s not my fault. I’m not responsible. I had an abusive childhood. I was just following orders. I was temporarily insane. I didn’t know what I was doing.
The rule seems to be: If something goes right I take the credit. BUT: If I screw up – someone else is to blame!
The ‘No Photos’ rule
One thing I often found annoying and pointless on my travels was the ‘No Photos’ rule. Many famous museums around the world, especially in Greece and Italy, forbid any photos of any kind.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to fly halfway around the world to see something awesome, and then go home without a photo as a memento to remember the occasion. I’d rather be yelled at and get the photo, than to be smiled at and told ‘No photos’. In this case I think it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission. ‘Sorry’ is better than ‘please’.
No toilet paper
I used to think that toilet paper was abundant everywhere and freely available at all times to anyone who needed it. Like it grew on trees or something.
Boy was I wrong!
In China, India and throughout South America and other 3rd world countries toilet paper is NOT provided freely in public bathrooms/restrooms, hotels, restaurants etc. so you better come prepared!
I first noticed it when I was in Beijing when I saw an entire bathroom of 50+ toilets and NONE of them had ANY toilet paper.
I started getting paranoid about not having any toilet paper should I need it and I began taking it with me everywhere I went.
Speaking of toilets and things that surprised me…
India’s World Toilet College
I had a great time in Peru. I LOVE that place. Especially Cusco. It’s one of my homes away from home.
However, one of the things I like least about Peru is something called “Peruvian time”.
What is “Peruvian time” I hear you ask?
“Peruvian time” is a standard of timekeeping that the majority of Peruvians seem to live and abide by. It basically means that NO ONE (friends, family, employees, managers, clients, dates etc.) ever honors the agreed to meeting time and they will turn up whenever they feel like and sometimes not at all.
Not only are Peruvians NOT on time to ANYTHING it seems they don’t want to be. They like being late. The later the better. In fact, Peruvians give zero fucks about being on time to anything.
If you have lunch or a meeting with a Peruvian friend at say 12pm midday, Peruvians will find it perfectly reasonable to turn up at 1pm, 2pm, 3pm, later that night, the next day, a week later or maybe never. You can’t tell. The only thing you can know for sure is that they will DEFINITELY be late. But how late? You don’t know.
On top of this they will not offer any kind of an apology or explanation, nor will they text or call you to tell you that they’re going to be late so that you don’t have to waste your time waiting around for them. As someone who is always on time and hates to be late to anything, this INFURIATED me on many occasions. I don’t like waiting for anyone, and if someone makes me wait without an explanation or warning I tend to get VERY angry and annoyed with them. (It’s OK if you’re running late – just let me know).
Even when I tried to outsmart Peruvians by being late myself it didn’t work. If I was seeing a friend or going on a date, I would purposely try to be 30 minutes late so that I didn’t have to wait so long, but it didn’t work because I still had to wait for at least another 15-30 minutes.
You can’t out-late a Peruvian!
I’ve asked many Peruvian friends about Peruvian time (known locally in Peru as “hora peruana”) and why Peruvians are always late to everything and their attitude is “Why be on time? No one else is!”
The rules don’t apply here
The rules you’re used to back home may not apply in the country you’re visiting.
- ALL drugs (cocaine, crack, crystal meth, heroin, etc.) may be decriminalized (Portugal)
- Smoking weed in public might be legal (Amsterdam)
- Prostitution might be legal (Amsterdam, Colombia, Spain, Thailand)
- It may be perfectly acceptable to bribe police officers (Most of the world)
- The price of everything may be completely negotiable (India)
- People might ignore traffic signals and drive through red lights (Bangkok)
- People might purposely cut in front of you when you’re waiting in line (China and India)
3rd world countries aren’t always cheaper
People often love to boast about the cheap prices they got on their overseas holiday and how a pair of shoes only cost them $20 or a pair of sunglasses were only $3, but the truth is that prices aren’t always cheaper in 3rd world countries.
In fact, sometimes they’re more expensive.
When I was in Zimbabwe visiting Victoria falls (the largest waterfall in the world), the hotel I was staying in was charging $35 USD for a mediocre breakfast in a country where the average wage is $3.50 USD per day. Why were they charging so much? Because they could. They knew their guests didn’t want to go into the city to eat where they would be hassled and harassed nonstop by beggars and vendors so they were going to make them pay top dollar just for some peace and quiet.
When I first arrived in New Delhi, India, I needed to buy a new pair of shoes and since I was in India I thought they would be cheap. I asked my driver to take me to a few local shoe stores and one of the first stores we walked into was the local Nike shop (Nike obviously isn’t local but it was just one of many stores on the same street).
I enquired about the price of a pair of new runners and was shocked when the sales assistant told me they were $300 USD! Only 18 months earlier I had bought a brand new pair of Air Jordan’s in the largest Nike shop in New York for $140 USD.
Should New Delhi be more expensive than New York? I don’t think so!
That’s not to say that you can’t get some good bargains in 3rd world countries because you definitely can. If you shop around you can get some great bargains.
Take India for instance:
- 1-hour bus ride: 40 cents USD
- 6-hour train ride: $4 USD
- Good meal: $4 USD
- Haircut: $1.50 USD
- Good hotel $15-20 USD
Or La Paz
You can definitely get some good bargains in 3rd world countries for sure, but if you shop around in your own country you can probably buy things just as cheap. Uniqlo is my favourite clothing store ever and they sell T-Shirts for around $6 USD.
Also know that sometimes the bargains you get in 3rd world countries aren’t worth it. You might buy a cheap suit in Thailand for only $200 that quickly falls apart and only lasts for 1-2 years. It might actually be cheaper to buy a more expensive suit in a 1st world country for $800 that is better quality and lasts longer. Sometimes the cheapest option actually turns out to be the most expensive.
The honking in India
I’d heard that the driving in India was crazy but since I’d been warned about it my expectations were managed and it didn’t bother me when no one obeyed the road rules or when we would nearly get into a head-on collision.
The honking on the other hand is CRAZY.
The motto of India should be:
“I HAVE A HORN AND I’M NOT AFRAID TO USE IT!”
Indian drivers LOVE to honk at ANYONE and ANYTHING for ANY reason.
I HATED the honking in India but unfortunately it’s necessary because cars frequently cross lanes and cut in front of you without looking or signalling, so honking is required as a communication device by drivers as they approach other vehicles and pedestrians just to say ‘watch out’, ‘I’m here’ and ‘don’t cut me off’. Also many pedestrians will just start walking on the road without looking to see if any cars are coming.
If you’re going to India I’m warning you now: Be prepared for the honking. I wish someone had warned me. It’s extremely unpleasant. When going for a walk you have to be prepared to completely let go and accept endless nonstop deafening honking every second and if you resist it you’ll go crazy and probably want to hurt someone.
Some Museums are almost interesting
I’m not a fan of museums. Museums are boring dammit.
You know it and I know it and don’t pretend otherwise.
I was shocked to discover however that some museums are almost interesting.
I’ve been to some of the biggest and best museums in the world and I’m still bored by 99% of what I see, but some things were actually pretty cool.
Especially some of the incredible sculptures at the Louvre in Paris:
Again I NEVER said museums were interesting.
I said that some museums (0.01% maximum) are almost interesting.
Sometimes you get to see something cool like a dinosaur:
Or maybe some amazing art:
But mostly its just a bunch of boring or weird stuff like this:
Everyone lives in the world’s ‘best’ country
Do you live in the greatest country in the world?
You do right?
Of course you do.
Almost every country I visited believed they lived in the greatest nation on earth.
Americans think that they live in the greatest nation on earth.
Chinese people think that China is the greatest nation on earth.
Indians think that India is the greatest nation on earth.
Italians think that Italy is the greatest nation on earth.
Japanese people think that Japan is the greatest nation on earth.
Koreans think that Korea is the greatest nation on earth.
Many other countries feel exactly the same way.
How did they know that?
Had they travelled the world and seen a bunch of other countries to compare?
Were they basing it on any real world facts, statistics or experience?
They just ‘knew’ it was true.
Their government had told them that it was true and believed it. Why? Because they wanted to. It made them feel good. No need to see anything else, no need to go anywhere else, we are the envy of all other nations, we live in paradise, we are God’s chosen people and we live in the greatest nation on earth!
Growing up in New Zealand I was told that New Zealand was the greatest country on earth too. I guess it’s just what governments tell their people to make them feel good and to build up national pride. Still it seems a little dumb to me. I’ve never been patriotic. I consider the whole world to be my home. I don’t get it when I see Americans say “I’m from (insert city)” way too proudly with a smug look on their face.
I’m not saying you should be ashamed of where you come from, but to me it’s just stating a fact, not a bragging right.
This is part 3 of a 9 part series: Life Lessons from Traveling the World
Life Lessons from Traveling the World – Part 1: Don’t believe the hype
Life Lessons from Traveling the World – Part 2: Wherever you go, there you are
Life Lessons from Traveling the World – Part 4: Highlights of the trip
Life Lessons from Traveling the World – Part 5: My favorite travel destinations
Life Lessons from Traveling the World – Part 6: My least favorite travel destinations
Life Lessons from Traveling the World – Part 7: Travel tips – Part 1
Life Lessons from Traveling the World – Part 8: Travel tips – Part 2
Life Lessons from Traveling the World – Part 9: Why you should travel the world
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