Warm and cold cultures

This is our friend in Ko Chang island in Thailand who built his bamboo house on the beach. His name is pronounced “Cheyap” and in the few days my friend and I stayed with him for $1.75 US a night, he so generously made BBQ for anyone who passed by, hosted jam sessions, and welcomed people to come and hang out. He is so hospitable and open and when he told us how sad he gets when people constantly come and go, I almost shed a year.

I’m back in Vancouver, Canada for one more week before I start my new role as a Marketing Executive for a travel company in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

In the year and a half I’ve traveled in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia and Mauritius (Africa), I’ve experienced the most open people and the coldest people. It’s amazing how you can really feel the openness and warmness of different people no matter where in the world you are by their body language and energy.

The funny and generous woman in the middle is Potae, as she said, “Like potato but without the ‘toe.'” She manages V.R. Guesthouse in Chiang Mai. She manages the guesthouse completely on her own so imagine our surprise when she was busy with other clients, she closed her guesthouse at the risk of missing new guests just so she could drive us 15 minutes out of own to pick up our big backpacks instead of us using our motto. Talk about exceptional service!

In the time I spent in Asia, I learned that I connect much better with the local people than I do with many expats, people from other countries who are temporarily or permanently living in a different country than where they were brought up. I found the local people I met so much more welcoming, helpful and open than many expats I encountered. Don’t get me wrong, I have some very close expat friends in Siem Reap, but they probably make up 5% of the people I hang out regularly with in town.

I was surprised to learn that I actually feel a lot more comfortable sitting around a table with local people while they are speaking their own language that I don’t understand than with a group of cliquey expats who speak English. The energy of many local people is so welcoming that it’s easy to talk to anybody. Expats tend to be more selective about who they hang out with and it often feels like you have to say something to impress them or make yourself worth to be part of their group.

A good example of the contrast between warm and cold culture behaviours was when I went to a Cambodian birthday party and then a Canada Day party the day after in July 2013. I had only been in Cambodia for a few months and when one of my Cambodian friends invited me to her birthday, I brought a cake and was expecting to see maybe 20 people or so. Then when I arrived at her house, there were probably 50 people hanging around inside her house and on the front yard with food and beer. I would have been surprised if they even had time to cut my small cake at any point in the night.

John, the guy at the bottom with the dog, is a master scuba diver, amazing musician, in the navy, has been to Haiti on a U.N. mission and a couch surfing host for the past two years in Palawan, Philippines. He has had over 300 travelers stay at his beautiful bamboo house. My friend and I stayed for a few days and when we asked if we could stay two more nights, he simply texted us back and said, “Sure, stay as long as you want.”

She kindly brought me a plate of food and everyone, 98% Cambodian, was very open and easy to talk to. What I love about the people in the country is even if we don’t speak a common verbal language, they still make an effort to try and speak to people.

When you become friends with local people in Asia, even after knowing you for less than a day, they don’t go the extra mile for you, they will do everything in their ability to make sure you are happy or get what you need. In North American culture, we often feel like we are, “bothering people” or other people make us feel that way. I thought I was a good host but now I’ve learned how much more I can do to help people out or make them feel even more welcome.

The next day, I went a Canada Day “party” at a hotel and it was so North American in the sense that everyone was in their own separate groups and not really interacting with each other. I’m pretty sure there were more people at my friend’s birthday party at her house, which is a much smaller space than the hotel.

Case and point.

Warm-cultured travelers

I was very happy to meet Lalha (right) on couch surfing in Jogyjakarta, Indonesia. She kindly hosted a few of us couch surfers, gave us rides, and spent time with us every night during the few days we were in town. When she couldn’t meet me the first day, she sent her friend to be her representative to hang out with me and offer me a place to stay.

I’m making a distinction between expats and travelers by the way. I’ve made amazing connections with open travelers around Asia and when you move where the winds take you on these adventures, you find people who share your values and curiosity of the world.

When I was in Vancouver, I loved having people at our place every week in our tiny kitchen making food together, meeting new friends and enjoying each other’s company. I told people they didn’t have to arrange a meeting time with me, they could just call me if they were around my area to simply say hi, have tea, shower or if they needed a place to crash. When I hosted people, it didn’t feel like work at all but people kept telling me I was really good at bringing people together and creating community, which I never thought of as being a talent.

When I couch surfed in the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia, I found people who were exactly like me and were even more open with their homes to new people than I was. One couch surfing host in Palawan, Philippines where we stayed had 300 people stay at his place in the last two years alone! In Tacomepai farm and Mindful Farm, I met the most open group of travelers than any other group I interacted with during the year and a half. My friend and I were only staying for a few days, but people spoke with us immediately, shared travel stories, expressed their deep philosophies around the camp fire and making meals together in the mountains.

This is my friend’s Sopheak’s mom in Banteay Meanchey in north Cambodia. I stayed at their house for a few days and even when her mom was extremely busy preparing for a pagoda ceremony and cooking for her newborn grandson, I was so touched when my friend told me that her mom took hours to prepare my favourite fish amok when she found out I was coming. That is hospitality at a whole new level.

Warm and cold cultures in Vancouver

I am extremely fortunate to have grown up in multicultural cities since I was a baby. I was literally colour-blind by people’s ethnicities because people mixing was the norm. When I was in high school and only hung out with one ethnicity on the rare occasion, I felt something was missing and I asked, “Where’s everyone else?”

I have learned a lot about various cultural practices and history just from conversations with my friends and it was such a rich experience to continue to work with different cultures in my professional life as well. I’ve experienced the vibrancy, expressiveness and passion when I interacted with former colleagues from the Philippines, Mexico, Singapore, Ethiopia and other backgrounds. When I spend time with them, I feel much more openness than from many other people who have grown up in Canada.

People outside of Vancouver city, however, are generally friendlier and more open. I don’t know what it is about the city effect that makes people much more cold.

I met a wonderful married couple a few days ago who came from Iran and they have been living, studying and working in Vancouver for the last 10 years. I have only met them three times in the past few years, but I can tell immediately by their energy that they are extremely modest, hardworking and kind.

The husband told me how it is still challenging to connect with people in Canada, he said, “In Iran people speak respectfully with each other and say hi and bye in the morning. When I say hi and bye to my boss and the people I work with, they don’t even answer.” That made me very angry and this breed of people exemplifies the coldest cultures that exist in Vancouver, and it’s often created and sustained by some company cultures, particularly if you work in law or some accounting departments. Would it really be so detrimental to at least have some courtesy to greet your colleagues in the morning?

I was even more angry to learn that his wife, who is an extremely genuine and kind person, encountered repeated bullying at her work. Her husband told me, “She is such a sweet person and we are very warm people I don’t know why this happened.” I told them if the problem can’t be resolved, they have every right to look for another job and not all companies are like this. There are places with more open people and every place has its own culture.

I’ve cherished all of the people who have spent time with me, helped me and given me gifts from their hearts in Vancouver and around the world. We are all responsible for creating community wherever we are and I want to spread the characteristics of warm and open cultures that I’ve been fortunate to experience wherever I go.

 

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Lessons from our 360 km bike ride around Delicious Mauritius

Joseph and I took a detour from the coastal road on the beach to avoid riding up a mega hill.

During the five months I was in my home island-country of Mauritius in Africa, I was incredibly lucky to find out that my cousin Joseph likes adventurous activities. Out of the 300+ members in our family, he is the only one who likes to ride bicycles and do long hikes. When I say ride bicycles, I don’t just mean leisurely rides through open farms and fields. I mean riding on the roads, through the forest and new routes he’s never been on before.

Since I found out he liked biking, we have been going on bike rides almost every week. He bikes every day to work and back a huge hill that takes 10 minutes to go up, so his stamina is incredible and a hell of a lot better than mine!

The beautiful waters in northern Mauritius.

During our first ride together, we did 70 km ride and a huge climb on a big hill. Two weeks later, while we were doing a leisurely ride on the south coast and while we were starting to pack our bikes, Joseph said, “I’ve always wanted to do the tour of Mauritius.” I excitedly replied and said, “If I had known you earlier, I was looking for someone or a group of people to do the tour of Mauritius for my birth as a fundraiser bike ride! If you have time next week, let’s do it before I leave the country.” He immediately said yes and believed we could do it in two days. We decided to do the ride just five days before we actually began.

Joseph prepped our 5:30 a.m. breakfast ingredients so we would be well fueled on day one of two of our 360 km bike ride.

Our goal

Our goal was to cycle 360 km along the coastal roads of Mauritius in two days. Joseph was awesome and planned all of our break stops to make sure we were on track and where we should be every hour.

I loved the look on people’s faces whenever we told them we were cycling around the whole island. I never get tired of it. When they asked why we were doing it he said in French, “Because we’re crazy.”

The kindness of Mauritians

The man on the right was nice enough to stop, lend us a screwdriver to change a flat tire and wait patiently until we were done before he continued on his way.

Unfortunately crime has gone up the past decade in Mauritius and many people I know on the island are fearful at times to the point where they don’t really trust many people. Their fear infected me for the first two weeks to the point where I was suspicious of people’s genuinely kind gestures like when I was lost sometimes and they walked with me to show me where I needed to go.

But over the five months I was in Mauritius, the people I didn’t know kept being kind to me the way other local people were in every country I’ve been in. I know there are a lot of people in Mauritius you can’t trust and people get screwed over a lot by their own friends. But I seem to attract positive people so instead of just looking at the negative sides, I didn’t let excessive fears shield me from experiencing the kindness of helpful Mauritians.

Many of my relatives were worried about us riding around the island but Joseph and I both know there are kind people along the way and weren’t worried about being attacked in any way. On the contrary, the people in the smaller villages we rode through are very kind, honest and it felt much safer than being in the cities.

We road along the windy south part of the island that slowed our pace, but we kept pushing on.

Joseph’s friend joined us for the first few hours of our ride and had to go back to his home for a meeting. He unfortunately had a flat tire in the first two hours we were riding and Joseph had most of the tools except for a screwdriver. So Joseph stopped a motorcycle that was passing by and the driver was so nice to stop, lend us the tool we needed and waited patiently.

Whenever we’ve cycled in the past, I feel a warmness among people in the villages. When we stopped at a woman’s restaurant, people brought our food with smiles and kindly set up the tables for us.

The most important tool is positive energy

These are the tallest coconut trees I saw during our ride.

I know this sounds really cheesy but it’s true. We could have the best bikes, all the food we need and all the tools. But all of that wouldn’t have mattered if we didn’t have the strong belief that we could meet our goal throughout our trip, even when we had delays or when I was extremely exhausted.

I’m not nearly as fit as Joseph and we took so many breaks because I had to stop a lot, especially after some longer hills. But Joseph’s constant positive energy throughout our whole trip played a huge factor in us being able to meet our goal. He never once complained anytime we had a flat tire, took the wrong route or bad weather conditions.

As we stopped at Le Morne mountain where we saw a group of kids learning about the runaway slaves who used the mountain as a shelter through the 18th and early years of the 19th centuries. They formed settlements in the cave.

On the second day, we started riding when my body felt like it was at 60% energy than normal after riding for 11 hours of riding the day before. But after awhile, my body just kept going on for some time and it’s fascinating how much our bodies can push on after it hits a certain point.

People talk a lot about this physical and mental point when they run and they can just keep going for a long time. It’s easy to get in a reflective state when you’re bicycling when you hear nothing but the sound of wind, your pedals in rotation, and complete silence.

This is one of several sculptures that are displayed at the base of Le Morne.

Whenever we had a delay like his friend having a flat tire or we had to take an alternate route that set us back by two hours, Joseph would just turn to me and say, “This is part of the adventure. It’s a good experience. At least you can tell people the Tour of Mauritius is not easy. If there is no spice, you will have nothing to write about on your blog.”

My biggest personal challenge was at the end of the first day when we had to cycle another 2 hours than we had originally planned and rode over a continuous hill in an area called Albion. I haven’t pushed my body that far since I did a 500 km bike ride across Cambodia in 2009.

Before we began that hill, we had already been cycling for seven hours and my body was ready to push for one more hour to get to our final stop in Flic en Flac in the west. But I was beyond exhausted and just couldn’t push anymore at one point. I told Joseph, “I don’t know if I can make it to the end I think I’ll have to walk up all of the hills.”

Selfie in motion.

Joseph didn’t look annoyed. Instead he was extremely encouraging and said, “We’ll stop here, I’ll get you a soft drink. Right now you just need energy. You didn’t finish your whole plate of noodles, but I did so you just need energy. I am confident you can do it.” After I drank the soft drink I did surprisingly have a lot more energy than I did five minutes earlier when my body was going to crash.

Joseph had a lot of breaks because he would always wait for me a the top of the hill until I caught up. But never looked irritated and he always pushed me at the perfect time. After I had my minute-long breaks, he said, “Ok, ready to go?” He was never overly pushy at all but he made sure we both kept up the pace with enough breaks.

We pushed on slowly but surely and I was surprised how revived I felt. We were finally rewarded with a 3 km ride downhill, which was an amazing way to end the day.

My bike just chillin’.

One the second day we already had a two-hour delay in the first of our eight legs that we had to finish. Joseph was worried, but I said, “No worries we’ll be able to make it, we’re keeping a great pace.” We would have made it only if there were no other major delays like a flat tire. So it was my turn the second day to keep positive energy so throughout the two days we complemented teach other very well.

Our Tour of Mauritius reminded me of when I traveled and you just have to have good faith and an open mind to be prepared for setbacks. But don’t expect them to happen then you may subconsciously create that future.

Positive energy and encouragement will make you realize your potential. You can see obstacles as a barrier to your goal or as something you are determined to overcome so you become stronger.

I couldn’t believe Joseph slept at 10:00 p.m. after riding 11 hours and got up at 4:30 a.m. the next day. Because he was up, he prepared our breakfast, teas and snacks for the day for both of us while I was trying to squeeze in every minute of sleep I could get. Lazy. 

Having enough food fuel 

Joseph made sure that we both ate well throughout the ride and had a good breakfast and lunch. When we ride, we don’t get that hungry often, but of course we needed energy so he made sure we ate something small every hour like a chocolate bar. After my exhaustion peaks on the first day, even though I don’t usually like soft drinks, I made sure I drank one every two hours just to keep my energy up.

Finding creative solutions 

After a two-hour delay on our first of eight legs on day two, we finally arrived at the beach so we could walk three kilometers to get to the coastal road in order to avoid a huge hill climb. 

Travelers and people who live on few resources tend to be more creative and are often in situations where they have to find creative solutions to their problems. Many of my Cambodian friends are street smart. They don’t have big U-Hauls like we do in North America so they know how to use ropes and layer everything on a big wooden wagon to be able to transport the same amount of stuff. When my motto broke down, I was going to push the bike to the mechanic but my friend told me to just sit on my bike and he pulled me with one hand while he rode his motto.

When you’re traveling, you have to find out how to get around without speaking the local language or finding things you need. You learn to use images to communicate or make friends with locals who can take to where you need to go.

This was our lunch on our first day: octopus and fish curry on noodles. I was only able to eat half of the plate, which quite possibly contributed to my near downfall on the huge hill we had to climb on the end of the day. I should have eaten the whole plate for energy.

It appears as though people in Westernized cultures have forgotten how to talk to each other or seem extremely hesitant to talk to someone they don’t know. Joseph and I very similar in that we just ask for directions and are never afraid of getting lost whereas many people would freak out at the thought of being lost.

On our second day of the ride, we missed the dirt road on the map that was supposed to take us to the main road so we wouldn’t have to climb the big hill. Our backup plan was to get to the beach through the hotel and walk to the main road, but that didn’t work out because there were renovations and the whole beach was fenced off.

Stuffing ourselves with an Italian dinner after 11 hours of cycling on day one.

So finally Joseph asked a security guard to give us permission to get to the beach through the hotel because by that point, we were already two hours behind and with any more delays, we wouldn’t have made it to the end on time. The guard happened to do the Tour of Mauritius by bicycle himself and he said, “I can’t let you in but there is a small path that will lead to the beach just up ahead if you go through the trees.” We we went and made our little trek with our bikes until we made it to the beach.

Joseph said, “Even if we don’t make it by 5:00 p.m. we will keep riding until we finish. It’s not good if came all this way not to make it to the end.” His friends were taking his car down and were going to accompany us through the last part of the ride.

Slower pace wins the race

The winds blowing hard at the trees in southern Mauritius.

Joseph has been cycling a long time and on a daily basis so he knows what technique is best to reserve his energy. Sometimes I would stand up on my bike for the harder hills or not pedal for a few seconds and just let the bike to go reserve my energy.

But even if I was ahead for a bit, it wasn’t long until Joseph would steadily catch up to me and pass me. I kept thinking of the rabbit and the turtle story. Guess who was the rabbit? He said, “You have to pedal consistently at about one revolution per second and adjust your gears accordingly.”

 The final destination

We encountered almost all weathers during the two days: rain, wind and sun. If there was snow, that would be a first in Mauritius.

We were on the 12th hour of our ride and for some reason I got a burst of energy and could keep going, even up the hills. Joseph’s friends who we went hiking with in the past followed us in the truck for the last few kilometers of our tour.  It was nice to have the support of his friends of what we were doing because many other people just think we’re crazy.

When we finally did it, I got so much in a present state that even when we finished the ride it didn’t really hit me that we cycled around all of Mauritius and I was still very much in the moment. A few times in the ride I asked myself, “Why do you put your body through this torture every now and then when you could be very comfortable exercising at home or a more leisurely bike.” For me, it comes down to discovering my potential and personal satisfaction.

This is the first time I’ve ever seen fried noodles presented like this. This was Joseph’s dinner on the first day of our tour.

Joseph’s next ambitious goal is to do the Tour of Mauritius in one day! But I believe with his stamina he could do it. While we were riding he had already planned out how many kilometers he would need to cover in an hour in his head and said that he could do it in 13 hours.

And now he knows the routes and where we took wrong turns. I was really happy when he said, “I think I will take your idea and do a fundraiser when do the tour. People have done the Tour of Mauritius but I’m not sure how many people have done it in one day. That will get attention.” It was really sweet when he told me, “When I do the tour I will think of you and miss you. Whenever I take a break I’ll be on a hill and looking behind to see if you are coming.”

Joseph has been very easy to travel and cycle with because we are both easygoing, open-minded, adventurous, unafraid of getting lost, social with new people and have the same determination to try an ambitious goal just to see if we can do it. One of the world’s great snowboarders Travis Rice said, “You don’t know your full potential until we push ourselves to find it.”

So go out and discover your potential. 

 

 

Gifts from the heart

As I grew up in Canada, I became used to people giving me generic birthday cards, good luck money or easy-to-give gifts. At home I keep two piles of cards: one pile of generic cards and another pile for people who wrote me cards with personalized messages.

It’s not that I’m not grateful for what I have received in the past. It’s just a totally different feeling when people give you gifts from their hearts and when they consider what you like. I have received the most genuine gifts from all of the countries I have traveled in and I have carried those gifs with me everywhere. I have dumped clothes and things I didn’t need to lighten my load as I moved from place to place, but I kept every item people gave me to remind me of the wonderful memories we had.

In Western countries, we’ve been mistakenly trained to show how much we care about people through gifts, often mindless gifts. The best gifts don’t necessarily have to be something someone bought. They can be something that is handmade or an act.

Here are just some of the gifts people have given to me as I traveled Southeast Asia that I will keep with me for the rest of my life.

I met my friend Kathy randomly at my friend’s small Cambodian restaurant in Siem Reap in 2013. Because she was alone, I offered to take her around for two nights during her stay. Before we split up, she invited me to visit her in Bali, Indonesia.

I took her up on her invite and flew to Bali to meet her. By the time I landed, I had only known her for three days. We had a very memorable two weeks together and among all of the things we did, part of our bucket list was her making me this beautiful anklet with the shells she picked up in Bali beaches.

After spending just under three weeks of time together in person, she is one of the handful of people of all the people I know who regularly keeps in touch with me.

One of my best friends made me this going away package before I left for Cambodia. It included these pictures, a letter of support and a USB stick with other pictures of our great memories. What a fantastic friend.

We met some wonderful families in Marinduque, Philippines who became our adopted family while we were there. Two of the moms kindly picked up these shells from the beach and gave it to my friend and I as a souvenir.

This was my going away souvenir from the NGO, PEPY, I volunteered for during my nine months in Cambodia. Everyone wrote wonderful notes. This banner will go up in my room.

One of my closest friends in Cambodia was very busy planning for her wedding so I thought it was very touching that she still had time to think of my going away gift. She even asked her very talented and crafty brother to make an envelope for me to put her gift in.

My friend Phai owns a small restaurant in Cambodia and they made the best stir fried yellow noodle I ever had. I always ate at their place and they were so kind to invite me to their home town south of Cambodia. While we were at the home, he gave me his shirt as a souvenir.

When I went to my friend’s Cambodian engagement party in Phnom Penh, I brought some pens and paper for the kids to entertain themselves. I was really amazed at their ability to draw these wonderful images and kept them as a reminder of their playful presence and my time with them.

My friend’s adorable Cambodian niece wrote me this in Phnom Penh.

A wonderful farewell note from one of my closest friends in Cambodia before I left.

A note that brought me to tears before we left Marinduque. “Dearest Melissa and Zu,

It’s so hard to say goodbye, feels like I’m crying, tears on my eyes keep falling while writing this letter. I’m sure I will miss your company. Take good care of yourself, the two of you, stay safe.

I felt so said right now cuz you are leaving but happy inside that I meet friends like you, we maybe belong to different country and have different culture, but we have the same heart that love to have a friend and meet someone like you two.

I hope that you’ll not forget that you have family in Philippines I’ll be your nanay (mom) always. Take care and I hope you will be back to see us again. Thank you very much for friendship. Hope to hear from you when we are far apart.

Stay sweet Melissa and Zu, I love you.”

My friend and I met an incredible young 16-year-old boy who works so hard every day on the farm in Marinduque, Philippines. Even though we didn’t share a language, we laughed, danced and watched movies together. He has many skills, including origami apparently and made me this boat.

This is my friend’s Cambodian wedding invitation. In Cambodia, you actually don’t given an invitation to your close friends, just the ones who aren’t as close. I wanted one as a souvenir so she kept one for me.

This card was made by one of my closest friends in Cambodia and filled with messages of thanks and good luck after I finished my volunteer term. I rarely get handmade cards and among my friends’ very busy schedules, I appreciate this a lot.

More cards from the people I worked with at the NGO in Cambodia.

We met another incredible and passionate friend in Manila, Philippines who volunteers a lot of her time for children and older people. She also runs a business selling Hello Kitty merchandise. She was really sweet and before we left she said, “I don’t know how to describe my feeling. I’m very sad that you’re leaving. Next time you can meet the older people they will be very happy to see you.” In addition to making us some wonderful meals, she gave us this pen and valentine gift before we left.

One of my great friends in Vancouver was so sweet to make me a CD of great house music to take with me before I left for Cambodia last year. She was my regular club buddy and we would dance hard at the club.

One of my Cambodian friends has a very unique talent for making crafts and was so nice to make this for me as a souvenir before I left Cambodia.

My cousin’s 6-year-old daughter really impressed me with her level of consideration. Whenever I leave, she said she will miss me. She asked her mom if she could give two of her jewelry pieces and when she gave them to me, she said in French, “This is so you will remember me.”

The birthday card my cousin’s 6-year-old drew for me.

My 9-year-old niece Wendy made this bracelet for me.

My friend Katherine came to visit me in Mauritius and was so kind to give me this necklace from South Africa.

I celebrated my first birthday overseas in Cambodia and I didn’t have a lot of friends yet at the time. I asked staff at a hotel called Golden Temple if I could have my birthday lunch at the restaurant. By that time the staff only knew me for a week.

Within two hours of me calling them before lunch, they quickly rushed out to buy me a gift and wrote me birthday wishes. I couldn’t believe they went out on their work shift to do such a kind gesture after knowing me for such a short time.

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Birthday bracelets from some of the staff from Golden Temple Villa.

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Another birthday gift in Cambodia.

Another birthday gift in Cambodia.

I had a wonderful time in Laos and one of my local friends there so generously gave me one of her necklaces. It was too big a gift for me but she insisted and said, “Please take it, it looks nice on you.”

My friend Sopheak in Cambodia kindly gave me this necklace as a going away gift.

My Cambodian friend gave me this necklace before I left.

A going away gift from a Cambodian friend who always helped me with technical problems and was a great guy.

This is from the most well-behaved four-year-old I have ever met in Mauritius. When she came to stay with me by the beach, she kindly drew this for me. She said in French, “Before I go to sleep many nights, I think of you.”

I’m very lucky to have moms around the world and that includes my home country Mauritius. When I stayed with my friend who was visiting at my cousin’s place, she always bought food for us and left us these notes to eat up.

Koko’s recommended stay in Palawan: JLC Guesthouse

JLC Guesthouse is very clean and well-managed.

We booked two nights at JLC Guesthouse and it was so refreshing to meet the wonderful family who runs the place, particularly after a bad guesthouse experience in Manila.

The owners Jeanette and her mom were the first people who kindly greeted us, showed us a clean room, and we quickly became friends with them. We laughed at how different Palawan feels compared to Manila. There was Wi-Fi in the lobby and I spent a lot of time chatting with Jeanette and passing time.

Saying goodbye to our new friend Jeanette who manages the JLC Guesthouse.

JLC is walking distance from the main road and has a better price that many of the guesthouses in the area. It’s also close to Mugnet Cafe, a fantastic place to get great quality drinks, use Wi-Fi and see our couch surfing friend Jonathan play at night.

We introduced one of our friends that we met on the beach to JLC and she immediately liked it and switched guesthouses to stay there instead. They provided free coffee and tea as well.

I highly recommend JLC if anyone is looking for a comfortable place run by honest people, a good location, a good price and Wi-Fi.

They didn’t take it personally when we told them we are staying at a couch surfer’s place the rest of our time in Palawan but we kept going back to JLC just to visit them and say hi. The day before we left they said they’ll miss us and that we were always welcome.

 

 

Our awesome couch surfing host in Palawan

My friend and I were very fortunate to stay with Jonathan, one of our incredible couch surfing (CS) hosts in Palawan, Philippines. Almost every time I make a request to couch surf wherever I am, I usually message women first if I’m looking for a place to crash. But Jon had almost 300 positive references from other couch surfers, so figured this was safe since no women were able to accommodate my friend and I.

I love this bamboo colour.

On the map his place looked quite close to our guesthouse but we didn’t realize the last part was on a bumpy road, which is quite hard for our motto taxi to drive through. It was getting dark and we were unsure of the area and I thought, “I hope this is a real place.” Jon lives next to the navy base and only he and other employees are allowed to drive on a specific road.

When we finally arrived at his place the first night, we walked into his beautiful bamboo house. He gave us an orientation of the house and we found out there were a few other couch surfers at his place. He was very easygoing, has a calm energy and gives people the freedom to go in and out as they pleased. He has had over 300 people stay at his place in the past two years!

Why he wanted to host

Jonathan performs weekly at Mugnet Cafe and has an incredible voice among many other talents.

When I asked him why he wanted to be a CS host he said, “I was talking to a French girl at a vegetarian restaurant and she told me about it. So I started a profile. But it was very basic, I didn’t have a picture. Then people started responding and I said, ‘oh it’s serious.’”

He has new people almost every day and I asked him if it was tiring and he said, “Not yet, I have time.” I told him it was a nice set up because people can come in and out he said, “I like meeting new people. I want people to have their liberties when they are here and feel like home. If we have a curfew, then it’s not fun. If I had to do that, then I wouldn’t be a couch surfing host.”

When we needed to extend our stay by a few days, he kindly said, “Of course, stay as long as you want.”

A diverse background

This is Jon’s outdoor kitchen and where we cooked our last meal with our other couch surfing friends.

He was such a unique character with a diverse background. He used to be a monk, works for the navy, was employed by the UN in Haiti for a year, has a background in electrical engineering, a singer, Master scuba diver and a vegetarian (which is very rare in the Philippines). While we were staying with him, he actually had a year off from his work so he was working on building his own dive shop.

While Jon was working for the navy, he was deployed to serve in UN doing logistics for 21 contingents, which could have as many as 155 people. He said every year two people go for peacekeeping missions. He applied and he was one of four candidates left and he was the most junior. Often senior people get the positions but the position was in his field. He was also in charge of welfare and when UN diplomats came, he would be the one to pick them up.

Jamming and dancing

Jon is our couch surfing host with the dog. The rest of these lovely folks are our couch surfing friends who hung out with us the week we were in Palawan.

The first night we stayed, Jon was kind enough to invite my friend and I to see him perform at the cafe and ended up dancing at another place. Jon had an amazing voice and was a wicked dancer. He has been performing weekly at the cafe since 2007.

On our last night in Palawan, Jon was so nice to open up his home and let us bring a few of our couch surfer friends to cook at his place. After two hours of cooking, we all jammed together and Jon and our friend Ira sang a beautiful duet. It was a perfect way to end the night at his place.

Our wonderful couch surfing friends and chefs Earl and Lia. They are amazing young adults who were so considerate, mature and great cooks.

 

 

Don’t let fears shield kindness

People bartering on the streets of Port Louis, the capital of Delicious Mauritius.

Right now I’m in my birth country Mauritius, a small island-country, off the south-east coast of Africa.

I’m sure most of you know people who are so paranoid about the world that they over shelter their children and tell them all the scary stories about how they will be killed, attacked or rape if they mingle with the wrong people. No exaggeration.

Even though for the next few months I’m living in the same country as some people here, we live in completely different worlds. In their world, people constantly at risk of getting mugged, attacked and people outside their circles cannot be trusted. I feel guilty that I let some people’s irrational fears led me to create an unnecessary guard during my first two weeks here. What I’ve experienced so far in Mauritius on the street, public transit and financially destitute communities is nothing but genuine kindness and people who are helpful.

The most vibrant and funniest women I’ve met in Mauritius. They love to joke, dance and have big hearts. They were teaching me how to dance saga, a catchy traditional dance style in Mauritius.

My grandma lives just 15 minutes from the city centre so I just walk around only in the daytime. It’s true that in Mauritius, it’s not generally safe to walk around or go around at night unless you have a car and with a group of people. But in the daytime, common sense will protect you.

In my first two weeks trying to navigate Port Louis, when I got lost, I asked a man for directions and he kindly offered to walk me part way to my direction. I made sure I held my valuables tight and prepare for the worst and even thought, “I shouldn’t let him walk me all the way, then he’ll know where I’m going and what if he and other people try to steal something later on. I don’t know what it’s like here.” As soon as I knew where I was, I thanked him for his help and continued on.

But he is not the first person to be so kind to me and I realized that I got sucked into other people’s unjustified fears. I’ve been traveling on my own for a year and a half, and like anywhere else, I use street smarts and my intuition to judge who I can and cannot interact with.

Packed van coming back from an all-night beach jam West of Mauritius under star-covered sky. While most people don’t go out past 6 p.m. in Mauritius, if you find the right crowd, it’s safe and fun.

Another time I went the wrong direction and I asked a woman in her 50s where to go. She said, “I saw you walking up the street and the other woman sent you the wrong way. If I didn’t have to be at a meeting I would drive you myself.” Then she took time to draw me a map of where to go. She was really sweet.

There are so many busses around Mauritius and it’s not always clear where to go, so I always ask. I asked an old man about the bus before everyone got on. Before he said down, he asked if he could sit beside me and I said yes. He told me a bit about his life, and where he grew up. He got off a few stops before mine and he told me to enjoy the rest of my trip.

I’m not naive of the dangers that exist in every country, but there is a difference between being cautiously prudent and being unjustifiably paranoid. Irrational fears create an unnecessary barrier to experiencing the kindness of people who live next to you.

Our lovely couch surfing friends we miss so much that we met in the Philippines. We became instant friends after meeting in the travel community. Good energy attracts good energy.

 

Delicious Mauritius 101 from slavery to independence

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One of the many beautiful beaches in Delicious Mauritius.

I’m just going to do a blanket apology for all future delays in posts because it happens every now and then when I’m caught up catching up with friends and family wherever I am. Sorry. The last two weeks I’ve been posting from my birth country Mauritius, a small island-country 2000 km off the southeast coast of Africa. No, I’m not in Malaysia, Mauritiana or Madagascar. Memory trick: Delicious Mauritius.

Most North Americans have never heard of the country because it literally is a dot on the map, but many Europeans are familiar with Mauritius because it is often a resort heaven and getaway for tourists. But there is so much more richness and diversity than its beaches.

The island is fortunate to be sheltered from the open sea by the world’s third largest coral reef. The island has 330 km of coastline and you can drive across the island within an hour. Not so big.  I was born in the capital Port Louis in 1985 and after a short two years, I moved with my parents to Vancouver, Canada in 1987. I’ve come back to see hundreds of relatives a few times since I moved to Canada and it’s always fun house hopping.

Language and mixed people

My cousin playing with his band at a live show in Quatre Bornes, Mauritius.

English is the official language, but Creole and French are spoken more often every day. Creole is a French-based language, but I compare it to being like French slang. There is no grammatical structure and people write the way they talk. Delicious Mauritius is known for its diversity of people and religions. Hindus, Muslims, Creoles, Chinese and Tamils live side by side relatively peacefully. The diversity is definitely reflected in the variety of food that is sold on the streets and cooked in homes. You can eat food with Creole, European, Chinese, Indian and Muslim influences.

Tourist books will talk about the diversity of Mauritius but of course they won’t tell you about tensions or divisions among different ethnicities. Creole people have been historically marginalized and there are generations of poverty among the creole population that still exist today. I went out with a friend who has grown up in Mauritius and he told me there are even hierarchies among Creole people. I will learn more about the day-to-day dynamics as I spend more time here.

Sometimes I feel a bit disconnected from the past of our ancestors the more I travel because after seeing cultures with strong traditions and maintaining their language, the more obvious it is I am a product of past colonialism. I’m mixed Chinese and Creole (and probably another ethnicity I don’t know about), but I’ve grown up speaking English and French. It’s not that I don’t appreciate those languages, but it’s a reminder of some lost languages as the generations have passed. I really appreciated going to places like Indonesia where there are literally hundreds of languages spoken in the country.

Colonial past

Delicious Mauritius is a very young country that gained independence in 1968. I just learned the country was discovered by  Portuguese navigator Don Pedro Mascarenhas in 1505, but Portuguese people did not settle on the island. The Dutch colonized Mauritius from 1638 to 1710 and left Mauritius after to a neighbouring island called Reunion.

In 1715 the French renamed Mauritius Ile de France (French Island) in that period. Like in Reunion and the West Indes, French created a plantation economy in Mauritius built on slave labour. By 1777, 85% of the population were slaves from West and East Africa, Madagascar and India.

In 1810 the British took over the island and by the 1830s, slavery was abolished and plantation owners began bringing Indian labourers to replace them and they would soon become the majority on the island. Because they were isolated from the British and French-speaking elite, they took up creole as their day to day language.

Making more friends

Wonderful girls I’ve recently met who are very fun to hang out with and know all the great beaches and local spots.

The last few times I’ve been to Mauritius, I’ve always just stayed with my relatives, whom I love seeing and are extremely hospitable. For this trip I want to also expand my circles and meet more people from other cultures here and spend more time learning about their lives the way I did with people in Asia. It’s really fascinating to watch Indians, Chinese, mixed and black people all speak Creole around the island, it’s quite a fun language. I mostly speak French but I’m trying my best to learn Creole while I’m here.