By Kayce Tiongson
Asia can be an overwhelming and confusing place for Westerners. A well-planned itinerary is helpful for anyone who plans to have a spotless trip. Yet even with the internet’s vast amount of information, the real experience only comes once travelers set foot on foreign land.
Napkins (or tissues) are king in the West. On the other side of the planet though, one may find a lack of tissue paper in restrooms. This can come as an inconvenience and culture shock, especially when travelers find themselves welcomed by the squat toilet which can be found not just in rural areas but in some developed cities too. The squat toilet may be a sign of backwardness but it’s not so bad — in fact, some travelers find it interesting and even humbling especially after being in the middle of city life’s hustle and bustle for too long. Carrying a pack of tissue all the time is the way to go not only for “restroom time” but also when you’re out and about, backpacking in Asia’s mountainous regions or island-hopping.
Asia may have the most “ancient toilets” in the world but this must be mentioned as well: it also has the most futuristic one. Where? Japan! At first glance, the “Super Toilet” looks just like the one in your home but it comes with an array of additional features such as seat heating, massage options, water jet adjustments, automatic lid opening, and automatic flushing. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Japan someday releases an anime or a mascot inspired by the Super Toilet.
From beautiful sunsets to flooded streets
Asia is well-known for its pristine islands, coconut trees and colorful sunsets, it almost feels like rain is rare in the continent. It is advisable to bring an umbrella — a foldable one would be your best bet — in case it suddenly rains. Several countries in Asia, especially those in the South East, have “wet season” from June to October. Umbrellas are readily available at many convenience stores. You might want to buy the clear ones; they can be a prop for your next impromptu Instagram photoshoot. As for footwear on rainy days, the locals like to carry with them an extra pair of flip-flops especially when storms and typhoons are more frequent. Ladies can choose rubber flat shoes or sandals while men can opt for clogs. Wear loose clothes and stay indoors at noon when the weather is hot and humid. Grab this chance to enjoy authentic Asian summer treats; every country has its own version of shaved ice desserts.
Communication and Internet
Getting lost in a foreign place is the last thing we want on vacation but how do you roam around a city dotted with unfamiliar signs and symbols? One of the easiest ways to have internet connection is by buying a local SIM which you can use as long as your phone is unlocked. If you want more options, you can rent a pocket wifi such as Skyroam which works in over 190 countries. For travelers who will not be on the internet 24/7, there is KeepGo which offers prepaid data by gigabyte usable for a year after purchase.
There will be cars — too many cars!
One of the most unpleasant things you can experience in several big cities such as Taipei, Tokyo and Jakarta is traffic jams that can last for an hour or more — enough for most people to lose their cool! Leaving at a much earlier time is advisable to avoid being late and missing out. Punctuality is also highly valued in the east. In fact, being late for a restaurant reservation is considered rude in places such as Japan where tardiness can cause you to lose your table.
Impress the locals when dining
You might have seen the Japanese slurp noodles noisily as if they haven’t eaten since morning. This may appear as a lack of manners to some but relax! Slurping is a casual way to express appreciation in Japan, a gesture that’s acceptable when eating noodles on the streets or in informal settings. The noise can be thought of as the unspoken but audible version of “This is such a hearty meal and I’m letting the world know how much I love this hot bowl of ramen.” There are claims that the combination of air (slurping) and liquid (noodle soup) enhances the flavor. Others say that the noise comes naturally, that there’s no other way to eat noodles with chopsticks other than to slurp. Whatever the reason is, feel free to slurp away on the right occasion!
There are many intricate drinking and dining codes to know and understand from the proper way of using chopsticks to hand gestures. When drinking sake (Japanese rice wine) with ochoko (Japanese traditional sake cups), it is proper to pour sake for others and let them return the gesture to you. Never pour sake for yourself. Ochoko are small, so guests will constantly check each other’s ochoko and pour sake for each other. This encourages friendly interaction among the guests. Holding your ochoko with both hands when receiving the sake is also considered polite. But times are changing and a more relaxed stance toward serving and drinking sake is becoming the norm.
Eating with chopsticks can be confusing to tourists. One way to avoid embarrassment is to think of them as “sacred utensils” — no drum rolls, no pointing and no licking! Enjoy brunch in a Dimsum restaurant? Cantonese people believe drinking tea is helpful to digest the foods with bold flavors and lots of umami. If you love tea and want a refill, do this trick: leave the teapot lid open. Being mindful of those around you is always well-received. There is a strong sense of family and the locals are more than eager to welcome you in their circle.
Asia is home to some of the world’s friendliest people and they are more than willing to embrace your presence as long as you come with willingness to understand their home.
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