Having been in South East Asia for over three months now I've decided I'm entitled to pass judgment on a few of the things I've come to appreciate about this part of the world, as well as those things that drive me up the wall. So here's my take on the best and worst of the places I've been so far.
I hate ... Asian toilets. After three months I still haven't quite figured out exactly how they work. However, I have learnt that toilet paper is B.Y.O, much like meat and drinks to a neighbourhood BBQ. All Asian toilets have these mysterious high pressure hoses (or "bum guns" as they're commonly referred), which apparently explain the absence of toilet paper. However, having experimented a little I still can't use one without emerging from the bathroom with wet trousers. In fact, I regularly emerge from Asian bathrooms with wet feet and trousers because someone has decided to flood the toilet floor with the bum gun. And no, I'm sorry I don't want to pay to use toilets with no seats, no toilet, no flush and no running water.
I hate ... being hassled. Whistling at me like I'm a dog or calling me "beautiful lady" will not make me anymore inclined to get into your tuk tuk/taxi/or on your motorbike. Also, when I'm riding a pushbike I clearly don't need a ride and driving along next to me isn't going to make me suddenly decide to drop my bike and jump in with you. And to the children forced to sell books and bracelets to tourists, you continue to astound me with your intelligence but I can't justify buying something off you just because you can say "G'day mate," "a dingo stole my baby" and rattle off the name of every Australian Prime Minister since Bob Hawke.
I hate ... bus drivers. Weaving in and out of traffic at high speed isn't going to get us to our destination any faster but it will probably get us killed! Most of the roads are clearly marked with two lanes, not four and driving into oncoming traffic is never a good idea. I'd like to believe that if I beep my horn enough people will move out of the way for me but I don't think that's how it works (although sometimes it does). Also, red means STOP and green means GO, red doesn't simply mean beep your horn and put your foot down. I should probably also add that seatbelts do serve a rather important purpose and aren't supposed to be removed or rendered unusable. And that nauseating smell coming from the brakes isn't normal so it might not be a good idea to continue on down this mountain!
I hate ... dirty old Western men. I've got two words for you ... GO HOME. I'm sorry, nobody believes that stunning young Asian woman on your arm or sitting at dinner with you is actually enjoying herself. Yes, we all know you're only here for one reason and it's really not nice. If you're seriously lonely can I suggest you try speed dating or RSVP.
I hate ... spitting in public (and other bodily functions). You may be feeling under the weather but you just spat on my foot and now I'm not feeling too well either. When it comes to bodily fluids in South East Asia the thinking seems to be that it's better out then in and there's no need to be discreet about it. It's perfectly fine to pick your nose whilst riding your motorbike and then pull up on a city street to relieve yourself on the nearest wall without a thought for the passers by. Mind where you step!
My previous ravings might suggest I don't like South East Asia but that would be completely off the mark, so here's some things I love about the place.
I love ... the food. Please don't feel like you need to go easy on the spice because I'm a westerner, the more chilli the better! The curries are amazing and after three months I'm still not sick of rice. I can highly recommend the salad baguettes and I'll have another fruit shake please!
I love ... pyjamas. In Asia you can wear pyjamas anywhere, at any time of the day and nobody will think you've just gotten out of bed or that you're a bit strange. Matching winter cotton pyjamas with floral prints seem to be all the rage at the moment and look mighty comfortable. I'm hoping this might catch on back home!
I love ... buckets. If you've ever been to Thailand you've probably had a "bucket" or some sort of alcoholic drink that comes in a small container similar to what you might take to the beach (rather than the variety you might use to mop the floor). I'm not sure if buckets would pass "responsible service of alcohol" regulations but they're certainly convenient because they save you from constantly standing in line at the bar waiting for drinks. They're cheap too!
I love ... the "safety first" philosophy. It's quite normal to see signage saying "Safety First" next to people welding without masks (or wearing balaclavas or sunglasses which most certainly protect your eyes), builders getting around construction sites without shoes and bamboo poles holding up entire floors of partly- constructed buildings. This philosophy means that in Asia you can do lots of things you would never be allowed to do at home, like ride around with five people on one motorbike or jump into a shallow river from a very makeshift flying fox.
I love ... my white skin. OK, not really but the Asians do! I thought I had a tan but apparently not! I continually get approached by locals who want to touch my white skin and have a photo with the tall, white foreigner. They're so obsessed with white skin here that you can't buy skin products without "whitening" or bleaching agents in them. Thankyou but I really don't think I need to be any whiter!
That's just a sample of some of the things that have, at times, made me laugh or want to cry over the past few months!