A European girl in Southeast Asia

Up until now I’ve been writing about the wonders of SE Asia. It really is magical. However, don’t get the impression that it’s all fun and games here. Especially because I’m a girl, moreover, a city girl. I’m adventurous and all but I do like to look girl-like as well. Let’s just say that in my time on the road looking girl-like has been pretty tough. Before leaving I had carefully considered what and how to pack in order to make it as easy as possible for my small back to carry my backpack. And it weighs only 9 kg so yes, you can applaud me. A women that managed to pack only 9 kg of stuff for months of travel deserves a Nobel prize. I might as well add that I only have one flip flops and one pair of sneakers. And as hard as it is for me to admit and to ruin my hardcore traveler image, I love shoes. I really, really, really love shoes. Hair! Hair is also an issue. I am a person who brings her hair straightener to archaeological excavations. So you sleep in tents for months, work in caves or in the field, dig all day, you have one toilet for 60 people, but yes, you bring your hair straightener, cause that’s crucial in archaeological dig. Well, I didn’t bring it to my Asian adventure either!

And so I went with a few things but a lot of eagerness to discover new places and cultures. And I did, I discovered that in SE Asia no matter what you do, you sweat sooo much (especially during rainy season). All the time, every minute, even if you just had a shower. Your clothes stick to your body and stay like that for the rest of the time. You feel sticky all the time. And you’ve only brought a few pieces of clothes with you so you have to wash them all the time. Your feet? They’re black and dirty no matter how hard you try to avoid that. You’re walking through SE Asian streets, and the dust, the dirt and the smog just stick to your sweaty feet – so you look like a gypsy. The hair? It gets frizzy from all the humidity so you cannot avoid looking like a french puddle. It sticks to the back of your neck, it sticks to your face and it’s quite annoying. And even when you do take a long time to make yourself look nice and to have nice hair, you’ll probably end up getting to the city on a motorbike so forget about the hair you’ve imagined for that evening. I can assure you that the motorbike ride leaves you with the firmest hairstyle ever. It makes your hair firmer than the Schwarzkopf all condition Taft hair spray. So there you are with your clothes stuck to your body, motorbike hairstyle, black feet… And you go to have a nice dinner in an Asian restaurant. Not only can you not compete with the beautiful SE Asian women, which seem to be completely unaffected by the dust, motorbike hair or sweat, but now you have to try looking normal using chopsticks. And when you don’t have a natural talent for it or you haven’t lived in Asia for a while, it might just be that there’ll be more food around you and on your clothes than in your mouth. I, for instance might be mistaken for a baby while eating with chopsticks. A baby with funny looking hair.

My favorite discovery in SE Asia though are the toilets. Oh, the toilets seem to surprise me each and every day. You have to pay for most of them. Then you enter on your tip toes and try to get out as soon as possible. With the positions I use in order to avoid touching any surface in there I might as well be the inventor of toilet yoga. You can forget about the paper, soap or a towel, that’s for sure. And when you travel with a group of guys who don’t have to practice toilet yoga due to simpler anatomy of men, you can’t complain about it either. Then you’d be this princess that’s used to toilet seats of gold. So you pretend you’re hardcore, that your ties don’t hurt after your toilet yoga performance and carry on. Plus the food here, as fantastic as it can be, can also confuse your tummy and make you a very frequent user of these first class toilets. You might as well end up with a gold membership card.

Till a few days ago I’ve managed quite well with the clothes and the shoes that I brought. And then I stumbled. I stumbled like a typical woman. I’ve entered a store with wonderful, wonderful shoes in Ha Noi and bought a pair. A pair of lovely, classy, pointy shoes, which I cannot possibly wear around here no matter where I go. Would I go trekking in them? Or to the beach? Oh, the perks of being a woman!! Why do we buy stuff?? So now they’ll just take some space in my already full backpack and I won’t be able to wear them. However, someone once told me that one should both be able to wear the fanciest suits and to sleep in tents in the middle of nowhere. If that’s true, I’m doing quite well.

Traveling can be hard sometimes, you’re facing conditions that you’re not used to and that can be very unpleasant. I’m sitting here, in a bar in Hanoi, writing. I have a motorbike hairstyle, clothes stuck to my body and dusty feet. My computer seems to react to the humidity and the dust so it decides to freeze and shut down every now and then. I have slept no more than 4-5 hours each night for the past week. However, I’m not tired, upset or stressed. Cause the other things that I’ve seen and lived here defeat everything that might seem lousy. I got lost the first day I arrived. Lost in the streets, in a non touristic part of the city, when it was getting dark, with no one there who can understand a word of English. I had ended up in a horrible motel, God knows where and did not know what to do, so I sent a message to a Spanish guy I had spoken to on CouchSurfing. We had never met before, but he responded instantly and said he’ll help. He found where I was and made the motel people give me my money back (cause they ripped me off). You don’t meet people like that every day, that’s for sure. Thanks primo!! Walking through a park in Hanoi, I saw and old couple sitting on the bench. They were talking and laughing wholeheartedly. They must have been at least 80 years old. The old man held the old lady’s hand. They’ve arrived to the park together on a motorbike. They seemed like teenagers in love. I don’t know whether they were in love with each other, with the beautiful day in the park or with life, but they were in love. They made my day. Yesterday, at Halong bay, I met a young Italian man. He came to Vietnam to volunteer. He will not travel around or see a lot, he has just flown to other part of the planet during the only two weeks he gets free from work, to go to a village and help Vietnamese children with disabilities. When he finishes doing that he will return to Italy to work, and his next holiday will be in a year. This morning the Spanish guy and I had breakfast in the street. We went to a lady that he likes to call his Vietnamese grandma. She is around 90 years old and has lived through a lot, including the war. When they were getting bombed, she’d run around the streets with a big blanket in which she’d put all the little kids she’d find in the streets and carry them on her back to a safe place.

Meeting all these wonderful people, hearing their stories and seeing how nothing is worth as much as a kind word, a touch on the hand, a hug or a smile, makes not only my travel worth it, it makes my life worth it. Just like everything in life, our travels can sometimes be hard, but the emotions, situations, people, sights, laughter and hugs you get from it, cannot compare to anything. With my horrible hairstyle, clothes sticking to my body, shoes that are just making my backpack heavier, chopsticks that I use so poorly and toilet yoga I shall continue my journey. Because what I feel traveling is true happiness.


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