“Where can I find a cheap hotel?”
The generosity and hospitality of the people of Asia isn’t only limited to coffee and food. I’m reminded of a trip to Sumatra in Indonesia. Again, most people have heard of or have taken a trip to Bali, but fewer people have explored the many other islands of this lovely nation. One of the greatest trips I’ve ever taken was a 4 day island hop from Bali to Flores by overnight boat. The densely populated island of Java has incredible locations like the cultural capital of Yogyakarta, and the volcanic landscape of Mount Bromo, which makes you feel like you’re on Mars. And of course there is Sumatra, where I got up close and personal with orangutans in their native habitat. After a few days in the jungle, I had to head back to the capital city of Medan, but I hadn’t booked a hotel.
As I said in the beginning, the hospitality of Asia is unparalleled when something is so special and nothing is equally as good, as evidenced when I asked a local on the bus, “Where can I find a cheap hotel?” Instead of pointing me down the street, she invited me to stay at her family’s home.
I can’t remember the girl’s name now, but I remember my stay in Medan. It was the first time I had been invited into a Muslim household, so at first I was unsure about how I should act. Were there certain rules? However, within the first few minutes, those concerns vanished because they were so accommodating and open. We had beef rendang, a traditional slow cooked dry curry, for dinner and the whole family escorted me to the airport 30 minutes away by car the next morning.
“Is there free wifi?”
If you’re still worried about whether you can get by to survive a situation with little to help you in Southeast Asia, then perhaps your first destination should be the Philippines. A country with several local languages, Tagalog being one of the most well-known, English is still a preferred language connecting all people from each of the many islands. Other than the fact that they speak English, the other thing that will impress you most about this country is the politeness. People are incredibly respectful. Every sentence is accompanied by a “sir” or “ma’am,” a “please” and a “thank you.” Whether you’re hiking the rice paddies of Luzon, soaking up sun in Boracay or El Nido, hanging out with tarsiers a small primate animal that lives in the jungles of the Philippines near the Chocolate Hills of Bohol, or swimming with whale sharks in Donsol, the people helping you along the way are incredibly helpful and respectful.
The most interesting part about the Philippines though is that despite the fact that it is still a developing country, nearly everyone has a phone and is connected to the internet in some way. If you’re ever lost, just ask your neighbor this is usually used to describe someone who lives next to you, but it can also be used to describe someone sitting or standing near you at the bus station, “Is there free wifi?” You’ll be surprised to find that here like many of the places I have already mentioned, are well connected with many more hotspots a place where there is free wifi available to everyone around the cities than you might find in Europe or the U.S.
“I’m lost. Can you help me?”
Last, but not least, I have to tell you about Taiwan. Taiwan will always hold a very special place in my heart because it will always be my first home of Asia. In 2010, I moved to Kaohsiung, the second biggest city in Taiwan, to become an English teacher. Taiwan, which speaks a softer version of Mandarin Chinese, is known for its catch phrase: “Taiwan, it’ll touch your heart.” It really is a place that will touch your heart when something affects you deeply and emotionally. Taiwan is an island nation with beaches in Kending and Waiao, large cities such as Taipei and Kaohsiung where you can get delicious local treats such as xiao long bao (soup dumplings) or pineapple cakes. There are numerous mountains for hiking (about 70% of Taiwan is mountainous), but none of these attractions can compare to Taiwan’s greatest asset: its people.
Within my first week of living there, I found myself in a part of the city, lost and unable to decipher to make sense of something that confuses you my Chinese map. A car saw that I was struggling to have difficulty doing something to make sense of the map, and they pulled over to help. In the end, they drove me home which was 15 minutes in the opposite direction of where they were headed. I have also had experiences where a delivery shop tore their entire shop apart to look everywhere in a place, usually by making a mess in order to search every little spot trying to find a particular type of envelope that I needed, and once I had a local escort me 20 minutes on foot to make sure I got to my destination okay. All of the places I have mentioned are full of wonderful people who treat their guests like royalty kings, queens, princesses, princes, etc or family, but Taiwan is definitely on top. They go out of their way to stop what you are doing in order to help another person to make sure you enjoy and come away feeling like your faith in humanity has been restored. I know mine has.
So in the future when you’re hiking Ali Shan in Central Taiwan, but have gotten off the trail, or you’re in any other place for that matter, don’t forget to drop your pride and tell a local, “I’m lost. Can you help me?” In all my years abroad and the countless people I’ve met along the way, the greatest lesson that I’ve learned is that people are good everywhere. No matter their religion, skin color, nationality or language, people are good and will help you if you ask. I can’t wait to hear about your next trip to Asia.
Vocabulary Words: Unparalleled, Get by, Tarsiers, Neighbor, Hotspots, Touch your heart, Decipher, Struggling, Tore their entire shop apart, Royalty, Go out of their way