Traveling offers a rich tapestry of ‘a-ha!’ moments interspersed with insights borne out of a feeling of affinity with fellow human beings one meets along the way. In my own travels, I always cherish the pleasant surprises, the unexpected detours, the altogether new tastes and sounds, and other eye-openers that one can only get from traveling and, most importantly, interacting with the locals. Here are some memorable moments:
1. In Rewalsar, Himachal Pradesh (about six hours’ drive from Dharamsala in northern India), upon learning that I was Filipino, a jolly Tibetan man exclaimed in Filipino, “P_____ina!” (a common cuss word that I’d rather not translate) before bursting out into childlike laughter. He would explain later that it was the first Tagalog word his Filipino friend taught him when he was studying in the US. Why am I not surprised?
2. Koreans, especially the elderly, will shake their heads and fret if you don’t mix all the ingredients of the bibimbap (literally, ‘mixed meal’ or ‘mixed rice’) well enough. “Mix it well, like this,” our prodded and proceeded to blend the vegetables, egg, and red sauce all together until the rice dish was one, big, happy mash. And, yes, it did make a huge difference and tasted really good.
3. One of the most beautiful places in the US is Palouse, located in the northwest covering a land area of over 3,000 square miles. The sprawling land found in three States — Idaho, Washington and even Oregon — is best seen on a leisurely road trip and looks like a three-dimensional painting featuring miles and miles of undulating hills with multi-colored patches of pasturelands, as well as wheat and rapeseed fields. One of the best places to view this endless piece of wonder is at Steptoe Butte in Whitman County, Washington.
4. There are ways to get around your tight meal budget when in Tokyo. You might want to try the food section of department stores in Tokyo, especially around lunch or dinner time, where you could sample free offerings, from flavored pop rice and sushi, to yakitori and desserts. Depending on your appetite, these free samplings can easily satiate hunger pangs. Still hungry? Then go to any mom and pop noodle shops and for an average of less than 1,000 yen (US$12.50), you could treat yourself to a steaming bowl of honest-to-goodness ramen noodles.
5. In Jakarta, if they learn you’re Filipino, some older generation Indonesians will suddenly belt out old Eddie Peregrina (a famous Filipino singer and actor in the early ’70s) songs, as well as Filipino icon Freddie Aguilar’s hit song, “Anak” (Child). The thirtysomething age group, on the other hand, can sing from rote memory the telenovela song, “Pangako Sa Iyo” (My Promise to You). It turns out that hit Filipino TV series and music have quite a big following in Indonesia. Now, if only we could say the same thing for the entertainment industry’s Indonesian counterparts.
6. When in Vietnam, do as the Vietnamese do — walk, don’t run, when trying to navigate a road choked with hundreds of motorcycles and bicycles. Chances are, say the locals, you’ll get run over if you try to make a dash for it like a headless chicken. The motorcycle drivers already know how to evade you the best possible way if you just continue to walk calmly and slowly.
7. Mr. T, a Lao biologist who trained in Bulgaria, who operates the Organic Mulberry Farm and Cafe in Vang Vieng, Laos, has some very interesting stories about the Filipinos’ bravery and dedication to their work. Over cups of mulberry tea and freshly baked baguettes, he talked about his memories of the Vietnam War and his Filipino doctor friends who were part of the volunteer peacekeeping group assigned in Vang Vieng, and who all helped treat war victims.
8. Filipinos who don’t gamble but troop nonetheless to casinos in the US are only after one thing: food, and lots of it… and at very cheap prices too. The idea is to walk past the gaming machines and look for the buffet offerings. Favorite items on the menu? Steaks and desserts.
9. The secret is in the sauce when it comes to loving or hating ‘exotic’ insects. The fried silkworms in the streets of Seoul tasted quite bland and dry because it didn’t come with any sauce, while the fried grasshopper being sold in Thailand tasted great with its light soya sauce-based dip. Definitely the sauteed crickets of Pampanga are one of the tastiest I’ve ever had, followed by the giant ants’ eggs in the Mountain Province that tasted exactly like sour green mango.
10. Best snack food for a short trek up Mt. Tamalpais in California’s Marin County in the summer? Trader Joe’s organic Turkey Jerky, a pound of cherries and spicy (or candied) pecans.