Feeling Safe

I’m writing this from a place where I feel very safe and have had a relaxing day. However, I’ve been thinking about this idea now for a while, so I’ll attempt to convey what it feels like to feel safe as a single mother with an 11-year old daughter traveling and what it is like to not feel safe.  I believe there is a big difference between feeling safe and actually being safe. We’re never in one place long enough to understand the unwritten cultural rules necessary to understand what really is safe and what is not.  I can only guess and go with my gut instinct.

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We left Thailand and flew into Hanoi, Vietnam.  Our 2 1/2 months of travel had, to this point, felt very safe.  I’m always watchful, but we did feel safe.  Hanoi was different for us. We stayed in the Old Quarter. It is a smaller part of Hanoi, and is exactly as described…very old. The streets are very narrow and crowded.  The sidewalks are filled with people, parked mopeds, shop paraphernalia, and people.  So, walking along the street, we were competing with mopeds, other people, garbage, puddles, cars, and buses.  There were traffic rules, I think, but we didn’t know them. There were no stop signs nor traffic lights (at least that anyone obeyed). So, we went from fairly small uncrowded places to this. It felt like a nightmare.  Most of the time, I would negotiate the obstacles, and Maritza would follow behind. Many times, mopeds or cars would zoom right up to her, feeling like they were going to hit her.  Other times, we’d cross a street, hand in hand, trusting that the traffic would move around us as we walked. It did, but halfway across the street, Maritza was on the oncoming traffic side. Every time, I would grit my teeth that she wouldn’t be hit.

Walking the streets, we noticed a more aggressive sales style compared to our travels so far. We had gotten used to smiling and chatting for a minute with salespeople.  Here it wasn’t the norm. When we would smile, the salespeople must have assumed we were easy targets.  One lady carrying a heavy basket-load stopped and put her load right on Maritza’s shoulders as we walked and then plopped her hat on Maritza. She wanted us to buy her wares and take a picture. Maritza felt quite badly and a bit scared. So, to take a break from the city, we went for a walk in the park and again were accosted by people wanting to take a picture with us and talk to us. Of course, they didn’t know we were attempting a break from the traffic and salespeople.  But, we didn’t feel very safe.

Also, in Hanoi, I felt “ripped off” for the first time on this trip. We took a lovely ‘cyclo’ ride to the Women’s museum. We had agreed for a two hour ride.  When it was nearing two hours, I indicated that he should be taking us to our hotel. However, he kept going.  I wasn’t sure what was happening. So, I assumed I had gotten the time wrong. I didn’t want to try and find our way back to the hotel alone, so we stayed on the cyclo. Our driver took us to a church, a tourist spot, but we weren’t very interested.  By the time we got back to the hotel, more than three hours had passed!  He asked for three and a half hours’ worth of money.  Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem, but it was quite a bit of money on my limited traveling budget. A lady sitting on the street began to yell at him, and he capitulated, so I gave him more than he’d asked for, but less than the total.

I was frustrated. Although, it does bring me to another point.  Women in SE Asia have watched us and looked after more times that I can count, and those are only the times I know about. We have had grandmothers join us at airport, train, and bus waiting stations.  They sit right down by us.  I’m pretty sure to help protect us. It is truly wonderful. Somehow, there is a connection between mothers. It makes me feel safe.

We took the boat to Halong Bay, which was nice. There was another French family, three Vietnamese ladies, us, and a variety of young backpackers. When we docked, we were given a choice to move to the ‘party boat’ with free beer, or stay on our boat and pay for our drinks.  The French family, Vietnamese ladies, Maritza and I opted for the ‘pay for your own drinks’ boat.  We had a beautiful cabin and felt very safe. The boat next door began to get quite loud.  Then next day, we were taken to a cave and trekking up a mountain. Both were a bit of a surprise to us. Many of our fellow travelers were rather fed up with the level of service. Of course, with hangovers, I could understand. We were given lunch following the trekking in a rather horrible hotel lobby.  Two fellow travelers had checked in and were horrified at the conditions.  Maritza and I were told that we’d be going to a different place.  So, as I ran across the road to buy a few things, the driver became rather upset at me and motioned me to hurry.  He was probably the rudest person I’d met yet.  It surprised me.  My feelings of being safe were being challenged in Hanoi and Halong Bay. We did end up at a beautiful bungalow, but knowing we had paid less than others on the same trip, it was strange.  Never-mind, we enjoyed it.

The next day, there were a group of travelers who we saw the previous day attempting to maintain a drunken stupor and climb the mountain. They got off the bus in the morning and drunkenly hugged a poor saleslady.  It was disgusting. I hoped we’d not bump into them again.

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We took the train down to the next city in Vietnam. The train felt a little disconcerting at first.  We bought our two ‘soft beds’, and waited to see who might be our other two ‘berth mates’.  As we sat there, with crossed fingers, a lovely male tour guide showed up.  Of course, he could see our trepidation, and assured us that he was a professional tour guide, and quite kind.  An elderly gentleman got in a few stops further and also seemed to be safe enough.  Of course, recent events had made me a bit jumpy, so I slept on my bag, and Maritza slept on the bottom bunk with me. It was a tight squeeze, but we slept.

The rest of our travels in Vietnam were quite opposite (minus one incident). We had an amazing stay in a peaceful quiet resort for Maritza’s birthday, quite spoiled actually.

We enjoyed the small town of Hoi An where we went walking on a night market walking street with no traffic allowed.  A beautiful lady sold us candles to float in the water as a wish or prayer. She intercepted a man who was aggressively trying to sell us a ride in his boat.  Told him off.  Later, she saw us and gave us big hugs.  Again, being watched out for by women on this trip has been an experience that is hard to describe.

The last stop in Vietnam was Ho Chi Minh.  I had heard stories of the busy, crazy big city, so I thought I was prepared. Girded up with the right knowledge to keep us safe.  We arrived at 3:30 a.m.  So, we’d been awake most of the night. It was difficult to find a taxi, and when I asked, I was shunned at the airport. So, I spent a little time on my phone trying to call the hotel, but no one answered.  Our hotel pick up never arrived.  We did see a sign saying TAXI, so off we went.  A nice young man saw us and helped us carry our luggage.  I knew it wasn’t far, so I didn’t worry.  Of course, I looked for a meter, saw it running properly, so I thought we were fine and relaxed.

We arrived on a bright street lit up with neon signs and tables full of drunk tourists, piles of wet garbage, and a closed hotel.  I panicked…just a little. The driver pointed across the street at the closed metal door, saying that was our hotel.  I looked at the meter, and it read One million, four hundred thousand Vietnamese Dong, about $63.  But, I was more concerned about where we would stay!  The image of Maritza and I sitting on our suitcases outside the hotel, in the middle of the drunken mess was a bit worrisome. I found a doorbell, and such a kind attendant answered and let us in. I paid the driver..without thinking. It wasn’t until the next morning that I realized that the driver had somehow tweaked the meter. It should have been One Hundred and Four Thousand Dong…about $7.

The people at the hotel were horrified but couldn’t do anything. Later when we left, they skilfully intercepted a scam and got us on the right but to Phnom Penh. They booked the greatest motorcycle ride around the city with two knowledgeable guides. Maritza made good friends with the people working in the hotel, restaurant, and spa there on the block. They always knew where she was. She bounced from place to place.  She was even was taken out for ice-cream the night before we left by one of her friends.

I’m not sure if you can read the differences. It was really quite up and down in Vietnam. We felt safe, then felt unsafe…from crazy tourists and from scammers. Most people are truly trustworthy. It takes some patience to be trusting and some strong powers of observation to see the systems working sometimes, but to be scammed only twice in nearly 4 months of travel really does make me, a single mother, feel safe most of the time. I think that women play a large role in this. They watch us. I know they do. Most men have gone to great lengths to help me to understand that they can be trusted.Only the cyclo driver and the taxi driver in Vietnam saw that we could be taken advantage of, and did. I will not let them destroy my memories of our time in Vietnam.

I’ve felt more safe traveling in certain circumstances that I would in the United States.  We have walked many streets at night passing other single women also walking alone. We have participated in buying and selling adventures, many forms of transportation, and stayed in many different hostels, guesthouses, and hotels.  Every one has been a safe place to stay. We have had nothing stolen. We fended off aggressive sales people, but for the most part, have only once in a demanding voice asked the salesperson to please stop.  Others have always backed away and often smiled and moved along.

I write in part because of the fear that is instilled in so many people in the U.S. I find myself horrified that most of my students carry guns in their cars to college. I talk about having dogs to live in the middle of the woods, not for protection against wild animals, but protection against intruders. I would never walk down a street in Mpls or St. Paul with just Maritza alone at night. People warned me to be careful in that big bad world I was going to be traveling in…and we haven’t found it. I felt unsafe when I was scammed, but I have, for the most part, felt more safe here than I do in the U.S. It really is a shame not to travel because of a fear of being unsafe. I pay attention, of course. But to trust and find trustworthiness has been the norm.

Signed, A Single Mother with an Eleven Year old daughter…A Duet in Discovery safely in South East Asia

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The Good Stuff

After our two weeks in Chiang Mai, we headed off to Chiang Rai. We decided to try a hostel this time. What a wonderful decision! It was a bit tough to leave Pim in Chiang Mai. Maritza was going to miss her, but they can keep in contact.

The hostel was full of people coming and going.  I ended up enjoying it because Maritza was having so much fun.  One night, each backpacker was quietly sitting and reading or working until Maritza passed around popcorn, and soon we were all talking with each other. We went to the White Temple with a French girl. She had grown up in New Caledonia, so when I said I grew up in Papua New Guinea, she didn’t even blink, which the most common reaction. It was a good day.

In Chiang Rai, the night market is small with live entertainment every night. It was a small safe place to walk around.  We had no need for tuktuks or songhiews.  Maritza spied a tiny puppy in a moped rental office and went in to give some cuddles, and thereafter, she had to stop when we walked by.  The puppy’s owner let us borrow it for an hour the night before we left.  Talk about ‘good stuff’. We filled ourselves up with puppy smell, kisses and cuddles.  Was a bit hard to walk back down the hill to return him.

The decision to take a slow boat to Laos, I thought, was well-informed.  It wasn’t quite as well-informed as I planned. We had two large suitcases, but I was told that this wouldn’t be a problem.  It was a problem.

The boat trip was okay. Maritza had fun. It really is quite a party.  It goes for two long days, wth a stop in a little village, PakBeng, about half way.  The village stays awake waiting for the boat, gathers up all of the passengers and whisks them up the hill to shower, eat, and check into a guesthouse room.  Of course, they are also well-prepared for those who want to party all night.  It was a boat full of noisy excited backpackers on the first day, but the second day of boating was rather more quiet. I’m glad we tried, but lugging the suitcases up the hills was not much fun.

Luang Prabang is in the mountains of Laos. It was one of my favorite places so far.  I don’t think we stayed long enough.  It’s a bit more touristy and pricey than Vientiane, the capitol. This time we also stayed in a guesthouse/hostel, and met some great people. A French traveler, who helped most kindly with our bags, connected with Maritza.  We hope to see him and his girlfriend again somewhere in Vietnam, Cambodia, or Bali. I loved the waterfall, countryside, cafes, and night market here.

A nine hour bus ride to Vientiane from Luang Prabang was a bit tough.  It was a hard to find good stuff for me as the bus began to overheat and the air con was turned off. The windows didn’t open, so we were sweltering. It was beautiful to look at the mountains. A bit hard to take pictures because we were being knocked from left to right as we went around tight corners up and down the mountains.  One good thing…neither of us has had motion sickness!

Given our success with hostels, we tried another one in Vientiane.  This hostel was a busy one.  Maritza thrived.  She would tell me stories at bedtime of all the people she was meeting….their names, hometowns, where they’d been and where they were going.  She learned to play pool and danced the nights away.  The backpackers at this hostel liked her too and would seek her out for conversation. The people who worked at the hostel were from Vietnam.  So, Maritza learned some Vietnamese, played boxing, ate at the family dinner table, and again, it was hard to leave.

The bus trip from Vientiane to Udon Thani was a breeze. It was only three hours including the border pass! You can see what Maritza did on the trip.

We were picked up by my student/friend’s parents. Mr Bajong and Mrs. Darunee Chatpaitoon. Poom, my student, arranged this visit. New, another student who is from Udon Thani has also introduced us to his parents. We’ll spend the second half of our week with them.

Primarily, people make up the good stuff.  Maritza is a perpetual optimist and friend-maker. I know I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again. I would not find nearly as much good stuff if I were traveling alone.

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Cultural Competency

Okay.  I feel the need to write about this.  I may ramble a little, but hopefully, some of these ideas spark some conversations or thoughts. I think it may be in response a little to my post about Rules. Since we’ve been here, many of our experiences have been attempting to understand the rules.  However, there is a difference between a respect for cultural rules and a disregard for rules! Maritza has a highly tuned in sense of cultural appropriateness. I’m not sure if she got some of this from me, or if it is part of who she is.  She doesn’t like to be inappropriate. She is a great observer of people. 

 

My own sense of cultural sensitivity probably comes from growing up inside of many different cultures. I remember as a young girl learning to wear skirts in our village instead of shorts.  I had grown up to the point of needing to cover my thighs (appropriate clothing for women in our village). I also remember figuring out what to wear in Micronesia. Dressing appropriately was a safety issue. It was appropriate there as well to cover my thighs.  Cultural dressing customs are important around the world, aren’t they? In America, women cover their upper bodies, but can leave their arms exposed in hot weather. Men can take shirts off, but not inside a store or at the dinner table. There are signs posted to wear shoes inside of stores.  Here in Thailand, it is common to take shoes off before entering a store. There are rows of shoes outside stores.

In Thailand, most women cover their upper arms and thighs. I’ve seen so many instances of travelers (foreigners) wearing tank tops and short (very short) skirts and shorts. I’m not sure I completely understand the point of this. Is it an unawareness? Is it a blatant disregard? Is it done in defiance (it is hot)? Or is it done from a lack of awareness (didn’t read the guidebook or look around)?

What do we expect from visitors to the United States? I’ve heard that we expect them to not wear their cultural head coverings. I’ve heard that we expect women to wear tops (not only bottoms). I’ve heard that we have rules about wearing shoes and shirts in stores. We expect that people don’t splash water on the floor in a public bathroom. We expect people to talk at an appropriate level. There has been quite a bit of talk recently about ‘foreigners’ coming to America.  It hasn’t all been nice. So, I’ve been thinking about the other side. What about ‘foreigners’ traveling in other countries?

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How do we present ourselves in a country that is much more culturally singular, not as diverse?  What do we do?

As we were waiting for the bus, foreign women would walk by in tank tops and short shorts.  One tall lady with very long bare legs stood inches from a man’s face. He looked away embarrassed. Did she not notice? As I looked around, I saw that all women other than foreigners were wearing pants, long skirts, and shirts with long or short sleeves. There were so very many foreign women wearing short shorts and tank tops.  Did they not notice? Thai men and women sat a little apart from each other, quietly talking, as they waited for their bus.  Several foreign men and women had their arms around each other, kissing, or touching each others’ bottoms.  Did they not notice people looking away, embarrassed?

Why does it seem that foreigners expect to have the comforts of home? Why does it seem that they should feel cheated when having to pay .50 cents more for a ride on a songhiew (public transportation with negotiated prices for rides.) We are the visitors. Shouldn’t we be grateful and respectful guests?

I’ve been asked about whether or not I am cheated as I travel. The answer must be, of course.  Although, I’d say that as a guest, I should pay more. Think of it this way, my hourly wage (around $20) can pay for a night’s lodging, an hour long massage, taxi rides to and from a street market, breakfast, lunch and dinner, and drinks for an entire day here.  How much are people actually making off of my one hour wage?  Of course, I should expect to pay a little more as a visitor.  I really shouldn’t have a hissy fit when I’m asked to pay .50 cents more to ride into town than my local neighbor. It is appropriate.

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I also think that we should pay attention to the tone and volume of our voices when traveling. If everyone is fairly quiet and uses a gracious and self-effacing tone of voice, then it is our obligation, as guests, to take the same tone. I have not seen one instance in our travels so far where a local person has raised their voice and gotten angry.  I have seen the frustrated mocking voices and facial expressions on local salespeople at foreign ignorance. Two men from Denmark were asked to please lower their voices on the bus yesterday.  The bus was very quiet, and they were quite loud.  Did they not notice?

It is common for salespeople in street markets to say “Sawassdee (hello)”, “Welcome”, and “Please take a look at my stuff.” How many people ignore these requests!  How hard is it to turn around, say “Sawassdee”, “Krap Khun Kha (thank you)” and “You have beautiful stuff!” How rude we look as we ignore these cordial invitations and walk away without looking the salesperson in the eye and saying “Sawassdee”.

In Little India, we did walk away.  I wrote about it in the Rules.  But, I think maybe I was wrong to give this advice to Maritza.  I’ve had a more pleasant experience, turning around, saying “Sawassdee, you have beautiful stuff!”. Maritza has noticed the difference as well.

I wrote about Maritza’s bouncy, joyful, busy self surrounded by the still and quiet people in the subway in Singapore. I’ve relaxed a little. Her joyful dancing and determination to become friends with everyone creates more authentic experiences .Last night, we were supposed to be having a relaxing, calm, quiet massage, but she giggled, danced, and bounced the entire way though.  The result was a friend who laughed at her, taught her to count in Thai, and gave her a hug as we left. If she had lain there quietly with her eyes closed, appropriately, she wouldn’t have made a friend.  She thought it was the best massage ever.

We might wonder, why wear hot clothing? Why talk softly? Why be nice when feeling frustrated? Why not touch each other in public when in love? Why pay attention?  (It is hard work…as indicated by my Rules blog). How is it possible to understand and follow every culturally appropriate rule?  It isn’t.   But, if Maritza and I pay attention and are open and friendly, I think we’ve at least shown that we respect our status as visitors and guests.

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That, I know from experience, is important!

Pushing Limits and Finding the Silver Lining

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From Langkawi, Maritza and I flew to Bangkok via Kuala Lumpur. We had a great little nest in the airport in Kuala Lumpur.

From there, we hopped in a taxi to our hotel, King Royal, with a massage salon, hair salon, and a street food buffet outside. Maritza bravely tried the rooftop pool, but it was awfully cold. Our room was huge, and in true Thai fashion, beautiful.

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Maritza got a cold the day after we arrived, but slept through the long taxi drives to a floating market and back to the train station.

SAM_3568Since we had to wait an extra day for the train, I searched for and found half price tickets to Siam Niramit, a small village replica downtown Bangkok with a spectacular show depicting the various cultures and historical and religious traditions of Thailand. We even managed to navigate the sky train and subway. Of course, she made a friend as we waited for the shuttle bus to the subway. We were glad to attend, but it was a bit tough for Maritza to be feeling miserable. So, we had hour long massages in the middle of the night after the show and went straight up to bed.

Before we headed to the train station, we enjoyed a hair cut.  In Thailand this means, several shampoos including head massages, several conditions with head massages, and a long brush and cut.  Quite puts a person to sleep.  We even napped before a final packing to get to the train. Check out our laundry.   I paid about $5, and it all came back folded so very pretty. Here is also a picture of our ‘stash’ for the long train ride.

We got on the train a little early and found our spots! This time we knew how to buy the 2nd class sleeping seats. (Two years ago, we bought 3rd class seats on an 18 hour train trip….meaning regular airplane style seats for 18 hours without air conditioning, seriously uncomfortable).  We were in a ‘women and children’s’ car, so no men allowed! We bought some orange juice and mixed fruit to enjoy while the other passengers got on board. t Maritza was thrilled.  She had her very own cubby on a rocking train.

I slept fairly quickly, but the attendant told me that Maritza slept very little.  She wandered around a bit, had some snacks that we’d brought along, and watched all of the movie Little Women. The bathrooms in the women and children’s car was spic and span.  It even smelled good. In the morning, we brushed our teeth and packed up our stuff.  We put away our night time socks and packed up our backpacks. They brought us the Western breakfast of toast, eggs and orange juice. I’m not sure how 1st class would have been different.  We felt quite pampered. Finally, we arrived at the Chiang Mai station.

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There we found a red bus driver who took us right to our condo where Lin, the condo owner, met us with instructions.  We’re the first people to stay in this sweet tiny condo. It was all ours! She gave us lots of instructions, which I was worried might go right through my tired brain. We had several security codes to remember and keys not to lose or forget.

However, after a shower, we felt awake and ready to shop. I knew that for our two week stay, we’d need a few things like towels, a pan (for pancakes), and some groceries.  We weren’t sure how transportation worked, but we felt ready to take a little walk to a store and find these things.

We had along several IKEA backpacks to carry things home. Off we started! Luckily, we bought some better walking shoes in Langkawi. We found an ATM for money right away and thought we were on a roll.  I didn’t realize how far out of downtown Chiang Mai we were.  We kept asking people along the way for a supermarket, but they weren’t sure exactly what we were asking for.  After hiking for about 3 kilometers (thinking that the supermarket must be just around the corner), we found a little outdoor market. We did need a toilet, so were pointed towards the toilet just beside the market stalls, in the midst of the slabs of beef, fish, and durian. Yup, it smelled pretty strong. We bought our way in (less than one cent).  I decided to use the squat toilet, and Maritza went to the Western style toilet.  As I finished, a lady waiting was horrified at my uncouth non-washing of the toilet.  So, I apologized, embarrassed at not knowing how, and scooped some water up and threw it down the toilet. She kept yelling at me, so I shrugged my shoulders as she threw three scoops of water on, around, and over the entire toilet and floor.

 

Off we trudged to the Tops Supermarket, just down the road. A few kilometers further down the road, we finally arrived. We bought our vegies, fry pan, towels, cereal, milk, shampoo, and conditioner and stuffed our IKEA backpacks.  Everything fit, and as we had a coffee and ice-cream before heading back out, I hoped we’d see the tuk tuk sitting there to take us home. Of course, there was no tuk tuk waiting.

Instead of standing there, we decided to start walking. After a kilometer or more of hiking with several pounds of provisions (think fry pan, milk, cabbage, carrots, shampoo, and conditioner), a tuk tuk stopped  We explained that we needed to get to Himma Condo.  He didn’t seem to know where we were going, and we weren’t 100% sure, but hopped in anyway.

As we rode along, we started recognizing places we’d just walked by.  There was a 7-11 (of course, there are 7-11’s on each block or so), another ATM, places with mopeds for rent, and many many places we recognized.  As we kept going, we became pretty sure that he’d passed our place.  He made a U-Turn and let us off.

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Thinking that our place was just around the corner, we resumed hiking with our heavy backpacks.  This time, I began to giggle in frustration.  Maritza was hiking like a trooper (remember, we’d just hiked over 5 kilometers to get to the supermarket, and now we were hiking again with heavy backpacks under an extreme lack of sleep the night before on the train). We passed a 7-11, mopeds for rent, and many ATM’s…..still not seeing our condo. Finally, we sat down to rest and have another cup of coffee. Later we went back to this little coffee shop retreat and became friends with the owner, Pim.

After fueling up, off we went, trudging along kilometer after kilometer. All of the sudden a huge sign appeared (HIMMA PRESTIGE LIVING).

IMG_20160202_192049991We were nearly home. We trekked up the driveway, peeled our backpacks off, and put our tired feet up.

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The point of this blog was enjoyment. Maritza managed to enjoy Bangkok even through a cold.  She slept on the train, and I limited our activities. Even though the train really wasn’t luxurious, we both enjoyed the little cubbies for sleeping, reading, snacking, and watching movies.  It seems everywhere we go, Maritza manages to find friends and enjoys meeting people. And even though it was a terrible several hour long trek to the supermarket, we managed to laugh later at not knowing how to properly scrub down the squat toilet. We rested in a beautiful little coffee shop where we found a friend, who would become an important part of our time in Thailand.

It is possible to find silver linings!

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Ahhhh. The Ocean.

Somehow, the ocean is soothing and relaxing. My father’s sister, my auntie Elaine died this week and we were a bit tired of big cities, coming from the back woods of Minnesota, so, we needed a little healing and soothing for our tired big city blasted souls.

The taxi dropped us off next to a little shop on a busy beach street.  He said the hotel was just around the corner.  We dragged our suitcases over a construction site to check in.  Our room was pretty nasty. It faced the street and was covered in pretty bad smelling carpet.  I wasn’t sure we’d want to stay for long. After getting a bit upset with the ladies working at the front desk for not paying attention to our desire to move to an sea view room if we could stay longer, they found us a sea view room. I apologized later for my rude American behavior.

It was quite safe to walk across the street where we had some Pad Thai, Sprite, and Heineken. In the morning, we checked out of our disgusting room and moved to the seaview room.  Check this out!

IMG_20160127_182740515_HDRThey had found us the best room in the entire hotel! I’m sure of it.  Of course, I went to apologize from my rude behaviour and was forgiven.

For three days, we swam in the ocean and the pool. Worked on planning the next legs of our journey, made friends, walked the street, watched people, and ate yummy food.

IMG_20160126_112443123_HDRI find it very soothing to cry in the ocean, and I did. I mourned for Auntie Elaine and missed my dad, mom, and sister at the funeral. Maritza and I had time to talk about expectations and our different needs.  A Jellyfish stung my foot on the first day of swimming. The pain was pretty incredible, but we found ‘beach boy’ friends who cared for us. Even on the last day, they swam in the pool with Maritza and felt sad about her leaving.

She thoroughly enjoyed herself here. She swam for nearly three days straight.

I drowned the jellyfish sting pain in a huge latte at Starbucks.  It worked.

We really slowed down, connected, and readjusted our expectations.

By the time we left for Bangkok, we felt refreshed and soothed.

Rules

I’ve been thinking about rules. Of course, Singapore has quite a few rules. But as we headed to Malaysia by bus, I began to think about when we encounter lots of rules, it becomes difficult to understand which ones are bendable or breakable, and that seems important.

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We began the ‘backpacking’ part of our journey in Singapore.  We booked a ‘luxury’ bus to Malacca, a historic ‘small’ town in southern Malaysia. My first impression of not understanding the rules came quickly. The taxi driver dropped us and our luggage off on what looked like the side of the street downtown Singapore.  As we looked around, we found that we were indeed next to a bus.  However, upon asking if this was the bus we were to take to Malacca, we were abruptly answered, “You wait.”  So, we found two other young ladies with backpacks sitting on the lawn next to the bus on the side of the street, and decided to sit down next to them to wait, as instructed. It was the bus to Malacca, Malaysia, and we did get on. The seats were quite comfortable, but at this point in our journey, it didn’t seem luxurious.

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Our next encounter with rules came as we wondered whether or not to open our snacks and water. There was a large sign at the front of the bus telling us “No Food. No Drink.” But, our research had recommended that we bring food and drink for the 4 hour ride. Other passengers broke out their biscuits and water, so we did too. We found a ‘breakable’ rule.

As we left Singapore and crossed into Malaysia, the bus stopped at immigration. We wondered whether we were meant to take our luggage off of the bus. We asked again, and again, were rather abruptly told, “Follow your friends!”. So we did….with our luggage. Guess that was the rule because as we followed the fellow backpackers, the departure cards for Singapore in our passports were taken, and our passports were stamped with Malaysian visas.

 

Our hotel in Malacca had a lovely small swimming pool on the roof.  One of our favorite times to swim is in the rain, and it poured, so of course, we went swimming.  Within 30 minutes, we were told (kindly, this time) that we couldn’t swim in the rain. Must have been another rule (yes, I know about lightening).

It seemed difficult for both of us in Malacca to figure out the rules.  We seemed to both be looking for some space to be “us” and have time within our own ‘rules’.

This is important. I thought about the rules we have in our family…our little two person family and larger family. This is an easy space to live in because we understand the rules.  We also don’t have many “Do This Properly and Don’t Do This” type of rules.  (Thanks, mom and dad).

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Down Time

I began to think about religious rules. Much of Malaysia is Muslim, that has often seemed to me to be a religion with many rules. Sometimes, we could hear the Call to Prayer which was calming and beautiful.  We stopped whatever we were doing when we heard it and listened. It did spark many conversations about rules.  What did it mean to pray? Why wear head coverings?

It seems that the fewer the rules, the easier it is to live.  The Call to Prayer was beautiful, but beauty of religion gets lost in the rules. We were happy to appreciate the beauty of Islam.

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We took the bus next to Kuala Lumpur. Again, there were so few explanations of the ‘proper’ way. We guessed and watched.  We met an American family there, but again we recognized that our family rules are different from another family’s rules, even within a similar cultural background.

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One of our outings in Kuala Lumpur took us to the National Mosque.  This was a wonderful experience for me. It was the first time I’d ever been in a mosque. The rules within the space disappeared.  Strange, isn’t it?   It was a calm place to gather, sit, and pray. Maritza even sat on a massage chair for tourists while we were walking around.  The people working at the mosque were welcoming and helpful, willing to answer our questions and let us enjoy the beautiful space!

After Kuala Lumpur, which is a huge city, we hopped on the ‘luxury’ bus to Penang, Malaysia and found that this bus really was luxurious in comparison.  The seats went way back, a lady next to us had studied in Connecticut and was amused by our questions about the ‘rules’ and answered kindly, we were given sandwiches and water, and we even had internet!

Our first ever stay in an Air Bnb was very relaxing. Our friendly host showed us our room, our fabulous lounge and the massive swimming pool.  He took us to dinner and helped us acclimate to the rules of Penang. Maritza and I ventured out via Uber (a technologically impressive car service) twice. Both experiences were comfortable.  However, most of our time in Penang was spent ‘de-stressing’ from the experiences with rules.  Here we didn’t have any new and strange rules to figure out. We swam, worked, washed clothes, and had gentle dinners ‘out on the town’. We even took a long trishaw ride around Georgetown.

Our last stay in Malaysia was at the beach. Here we ‘let loose’. The place is full of tourists! All kinds of tourists!  Each with their own rules.  It was relaxing in a different way.  Here, no matter what we did or wore, we fit right in.  Maritza found some beach boy brothers to tease, and I swam in the healing ocean. I think it deserves a post all by itself!

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We’re off to Bangkok and the train in Thailand. I’d say we’ve learned to keep rules simple! Good lesson.

Differences and Diversity in Singapore

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We arrived in Singapore on Monday around noon and left via “luxury” bus to Malaysia on Thursday at 11:00 a.m.

So, the two full days we spent in Singapore were mostly for me to take Maritza to a few of my favorite places.  On Wednesday, we started with walking a few blocks to the MRT (public underground train system). It is a sterile efficient system. We really are in this picture…if you look very closely.

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We started out in Singapore with coffee on Orchard Road.  Maritza and I talked about commerce as important in Singapore, so that’s what we were looking at.  Our coffee, green apple smoothie, and muffins were very expensive.  We did some people watching and saw all colors of hair, styles of dress, and heard many different languages. As we sat there in the café sweating, we also saw people wearing sweatshirts and jeans. How different from our tank tops!

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Our feet grew terribly sore from walking on the hot cement. It is so different from walking on the earth back at home, or even the snow.

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We did a little shopping in the ‘cheap’ mall. When we walked in, we stood in the middle a looked at the many floors of stores.  Maritza even attempted a barter! She didn’t win.

As we got back on the MRT, I noticed such a difference between my outgoing exuberant daughter and the still and stoic MRT passengers. She is certainly full of loving life.  I was happy when a boisterous family got on!

The second day we were in Singapore, I wanted to show Maritza Little India and Chinatown. However, since we didn’t need the entire day, we spent a little time doing some work by the pool. What a difference in motivation to do math when she can take breaks by the pool!

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In the afternoon, we went off to Little India and Chinatown.  Of course, we were looking at the differences in these two pieces of Singapore.

We even found some differences in Little India!  We started out by going to the Tekka center right next to the MRT station. I had forgotten that the main floor was full of food – apples, oranges, durian (oh, the terrible smell), meat of all sorts, animal heads, noise, and humid heat. It was far more smell than we were able to stomach. Normally, we chew gum while walking around smelly places, but gum is illegal to sell in Singapore, and I didn’t have any in my bag!

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Luckily across the street was a little colorful bazaar that smelled like incense.  It was shaded and cooler. We drank some cola while three giggly girls gave Maritza a beautiful henna design on her hand. They promised to look us up in Minnesota when they visited.  One girl said we’d remember each other’s faces and find each other. It was a bit difficult for Maritza to understand that it is acceptable to say “no, thank you” when accosted by aggressive salespeople and walk away. To her this seemed rude.

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She finds it hard to understand how dancing on an MRT is rude, yet saying ‘no, thank you’ and walking away from a friendly person is not rude.

We found the most perfect place to eat and rest our aching feet. We sat in the shade at a street restaurant and ordered mango lassi, butter chicken, rice, butter nann, and yogurt cucumber salad.  You can see that we both loved it.  Slurped up every last drop!

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So, as pungent as Little India was, Chinatown was colorful! We purposefully went at night. It was different from my own memory.  Our feet were so sore by this time, that we did pay for a foot reflexology.  Not quite the same as a massage, but we were able to continue walking for a while. We meandered through the noisy crowds, bought a little monkey for Chinese New Year’s Year of the Monkey.

That was our time in Singapore.  As expected, full of diversity and differences!