A European Sort of Foreigness

By: leelefever on November 12, 2006 - 3:47am

One of my friends recently sent an instant message that said “France seems boring compared to the other places you’ve been on the trip J”. He was only kidding and it was a compliment in some ways, but I know what he is talking about.  I wasn’t too excited about Europe.  I had been twice before and it seemed a little boring and easy compared to Mongolia or China for instance.

Fortunately the reality has been much different.  I have enjoyed and been captivated by Europe more than I ever expected.  Despite being very much on the beaten track, I’ve found it to have an authenticity that I didn’t find as much in Asia, or at least it is more cleverly disguised. 

One of the major factors in the difference between Europe and Asia is the degree to which travelers live in the world of the locals.  I have found that the more I can experience the world of the local, the more interesting a place seems.  I’m not talking about hanging out in a Vietnamese pool hall or a Chinese cockfight – I mean the everyday reality of grocery stores and coffee shops.

For example, in Asia, being a white foreigner is an inescapable part of the experience. Because of the way we look, we are treated a different way.  Our world is governed by what the country has learned about dealing with tourists.  From their perspective, we only want to eat certain food, stay in certain hotels, use certain toilets and see the important temples.  This forces travelers into a bubble in places like China where the experience is well planned and every need is accommodated for.  For travelers like us, this is disappointing because if you don’t work to get out of the bubble, you’ll never see the real world.  Vietnam without a little struggle for the foreigner is not the real world Vietnam.

This is also true from an economic perspective.  The average Thai person cannot afford to experience the world of the western traveler inside Thailand.  This enables Thai tourism to focus on the western experience instead of trying to accommodate both Thai and western tastes.  Few westerners visit Thailand and stay in places that are frequented by Thai locals.  So, the experience is a westernized bubble version of the real world Thailand. Wonderful still, just not the real world.

Turning to Europe, the situation is very different for us.  Coming from very similar backgrounds and socio economic classes, we blend in with the European travelers – we stay in the same hotels, eat the same food and use the same toilets as everyone else.  The locals usually have no idea where we are from or what expectations we may have for service or facilities. We often get questions as if we *are* locals. This makes Europe more foreign than Asia in many ways.

When we visited the very familiar-seeming Germany, we found that many of the basic everyday facilities were more foreign than we encountered in Asia.  Remote controls, window blinds, showers, heaters, elevators, door handles were different in a uniquely German way.  Further, while the people often speak English, few public facilities cater to English speakers. Germany never had to create an environment for tourists from another hemisphere – they never built the bubble to make travelers feel safe. 

Without the bubble, the experience is more real.  We experience Germany, an economically similar country to the US, in the same way that the French, Japanese, Chinese or Brazilian travelers do.  The Germany we experience is the real Germany and it seems to be a uniquely foreign experience that we didn’t find as much in Asia where every country has learned how to cater to the westerners.

In short, Europe has been surprising because the reality of the traveler’s experience is so much more closely matched to the reality of the local world.

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Things That No Longer Seem Weird (SE Asia)

By: leelefever on August 7, 2006 - 5:59pm

 Since we've finally moved on from a few months in SE Asia, we're looking back at some of the almost daily things that became somewhat commonplace. 


  • Seeing 4+ people on one motorcycle
  • Seeing people ride on the roof of busses and trains
  • Geckos, geckos everywhere
  • Water hoses and buckets next to toilets
  • Having to flush a toilet with a dipper and bucket
  • Showering without a shower curtain or tub - a “wet room”
  • Seeing long pants and sleeves on the hot beach for sun protection
  • Riding in a vehicle going the wrong direction (into oncoming traffic)
  • Hearing “Hotel California” by The Eagles at least once per night
  • Hearing the band "The Scorpions" everywhere 
  • Seeing TVs in every place of business
  • Waking up shopkeepers to do business
  • Finding random people sleeping on the floors of shops, markets and even bathrooms (in India)
  • Being mobbed by tuk-tuk and moto drivers asking “where you like to go?”
  • Eating dinner with sick looking dogs and cats as an audience
  • Finding Dessert listed somewhere besides the back of the menu, perhaps with breakfast
  • Seeing bamboo poles being the dominant construction material, replacing metal scaffolding
  • People squatting everywhere, even on park benches
  • Ordering a drink as take away and having it served in a plastic bag
  • People staring at us constantly
  • People wearing face masks for protection from the sun and air quality
  • Umbrellas being used for protection from the sun
  • Animals of all sorts walking, sleeping or resting in the middle of the road 
  • Everyday being “bring your child to work day”
  • Hearing critters scurry across a ceiling at night
  • Witnessing outdoor urination

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Sri Lankan High Country and Kandy

By: leelefever on March 12, 2006 - 4:01am

The high country of Sri Lanka really blew us away.  It's a land of tea plantations, high mountains, cool air and the second largest city in the country, Kandy. We'll say more later, but here are some pictures from the few days that we were there.

This is Sachi at one of the real highlights of the trip- a place called Worlds End in the Horton Plains National Park.  We got up at 4:30 am to hike up to this spot for sunrise.  The park is a flat plateau that dramatically drops off 900 meters to the valley floor.  Pictures can't capture it.

We stayed at a hotel called Ambiente in the town of Ella, which is situated in Ella Gap, a valley leading out of the high country.  When we got there,  Mervin, our driver pointed to a waterfall and said that it is much bigger when it rains.  It rained that afternoon and we couldn't stop watching it grow from this:


To this:



Bargaining is a Learning Process, Kandy, Sri Lanka

By: sachilefever on March 8, 2006 - 8:14pm

Bargaining is a way of life here, as it is in most of Asia and other parts of the world. We, and most Americans, are just not good at it because we've never really had to do it on a daily basis. Or maybe I should say hourly basis. Everything is up for bargaining - Food, crafts, hotel rooms, tips for the people who store your shoes at the temples. It's a little exhausting just because on top of trying to bargain smarter, we have no notion of how much things should cost. We know they raise the prices for tourists (sometimes even 3 or 10 times the local price), but knowing what we should pay as a tourist is a tricky deal. I think you need a driver to clue you in or just spend enough time in a city or country to get a feel of the markets.

Lee has been learning to bargain better. I think he did well in Singapore, but we're still getting used to the price conversions here. For the price of a collared dress shirt in the US, you can apparently buy a nice wardrobe for a year here - as a local. After every transaction, Lee just shrugs his shoulders and guesses the price sounds right. We feel much more like tourists than anywhere else so far. We'll figure it out more as we go.

Sri Lanka Check-In

By: leelefever on March 8, 2006 - 1:53am

Sri Lanka is even more foreign than I imagined.  We've hired a driver named Mervin who is driving us arond the island.  It's a good thing too because if we had to drive here, or even take the bus, it may be a life threatening experience.  The barely two lane roads soemtimes become six lanes, packed with busses, cars, three wheelers and trucks.  Is really amazing to watch.

The people are wonderful - very laid back, friendly and interested in all things western.  We are as foreign to some of them as they are to us and it is a weird feeling- almost like celebrity.  We have not met a single American here, but there seems to be some Englidh, Dutch and German tourists.  The tsunami was a major hit on the local tourist economy, even though the vast majority of sights were untouched.  Terrorism has been a worry in the past (before 2001), but things are peaceful now and we feel very safe.

As you might imagine, Sri Lanka doesn't have a big Internet Cafe culture, so our posting has been a bit lax. But, we're taking lots of pictures that will appear here on the site soon.

Yesterday I rode an elephant into 6 feet of water and almost had a sandal stolen by a monkey.  Today I wore a sarong at a Buddhist temple. Sachi is recovering from a small stomach issue, but is almost at full strength again.   

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Sri Lanka Info?

By: leelefever on February 27, 2006 - 7:34pm

As I mentioned earlier, we have arrangements to head to Sri Lanka for about 10 days, starting on the 4th of March. We had no idea we might go, until we talked to an Englishmen that highly recommended it and then did some research.  So, we're going.  This flexibility thing is nice.

We've added a new Country Page to the Member Travel Experiences for Sri Lanka. If you've been, or know people that have been, tell us about it. Comments on this entry work too. Thanks!

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