Being away from home is always challenging because of the things you miss: your friends, your favorite foods, the familiarity and comfort of home, etc. And I miss all those things. But no one wants to hear about that.
A couple people have asked what things I miss that I didn’t expect to or that are unusual. Well, I don’t know what other people consider unusual. I’m coming to realize that my perceptions aren’t always in line with others’. But before we get into a debate of what the definition of ‘weird’ is and whether or not I fit in it (that would be a short discussion), here’s a list of the things I miss that may or may not be weird.
I miss my car, Shifty. Yes, I named him. Yes, it’s a he.
It’s not that I miss the car itself… the poor thing has had a rough life and isn’t in the greatest of shape thanks to me. But I miss what he represents: the freedom to go wherever I want, whenever I want. Out here on the road, we are at the mercy of bus and train schedules and routes, people vomiting next to us on winding mountain roads, rocky boat rides that remind me why I never pursued a career as a pirate, and AirAsia flights (my god, I’d have more leg room if I squished myself into a carry-on bag). I miss the convenience that comes with having a personal vehicle and the ability to just hop in and go directly where I want to.
credit and debit cards
At home, I never used cash. I always paid with plastic (don’t worry, I always paid the bill off in full). But I never really paid (ha, pun) that much attention to how much I was spending because all it takes is a swipe of a card. Out here, I haven’t used my credit card once. That little old lady running the papaya salad stall isn’t going to accept plastic for anything. Most of the countries we’ve been to run exclusively on cash. We withdraw cash from ATMs (we have Charles Schwab checking accounts that reimburse all our ATM fees!) and pay for everything in paper.
This is a challenge for me because I can no longer mindlessly just buy things. I am actually paying (ha) attention to how much I spend and sticking to a daily budget. And I have to keep track of a stack of cash along with the other million things I’m trying not to lose. I’m sure this is all good for me, but can I please just give you my credit card and take things?
The worst are coins. I can’t handle coins, and I have to fight the urge to fling them on the ground whenever someone hands them to me. For the first time in my life, I have a change purse. I’m not even sure who I am anymore.
We haven’t found any Fireball Whiskey out here. We have been drinking a healthy amount of local booze, but I could really go for a fireball and ginger.
I never would have guessed this, but Southeast Asia is really hot. Really, really hot. We sweat constantly, and the worst is when you step out of the shower and are already immediately sweating again. I have never worn tanks so often in my life. I don’t care if I look like a bro.
We have had a few chilly days during our travels. It got “cold” in northern Vietnam, the rice terraces in the Philippines, and in Hoi An (central Vietnam), and I was glad to have my fleece then. Hilariously, the coldest I’ve been on this trip has been on buses where they just blast the A/C and everyone resorts to tearing off the curtains and jamming them in the vents to stop the rush of freezing air. Beyond that, I don’t think we’ve experienced temperatures below 50F.
I miss being so cold that I just want to curl up in bed in my down comforter with a cup of Irish coffee or hot chocolate and Baileys. I miss wanting to want to sit in front of a roaring fire. I miss all the powder in the mountains, and I hate all of you that keep posting amazing pictures of the pow.
shower curtains & toilet paper
And not having the toilet be soaked from the shower.
The vast majority of bathrooms in Southeast Asia are a combined shower and toilet. There is usually no partition, just a shower head and sink and toilet and drain all in the same little room barely larger than a telephone booth. This means that anytime anyone showers, everything gets soaked. It also means that when you go to the bathroom, you should always have sandals handy (footy? I am full of terrible puns today).
When we stayed with Thiti, I was excessively excited because our bathroom had a shower curtain (and floor partition) in it which meant that only the shower area got soaked.
Toilet paper is also commonly missing from bathrooms, even at some hostels / hotels. We are accustomed to preparing a couple wads of toilet paper for whenever we go out because we know we can’t rely on other places to have any. Also, some places ask you to pay for the bathrooms. It’s always a tiny cost, almost always under 25c USD, but I find this infuriating. Once, in Vietnam, I paid 2,000 VND (less than 9c USD) to squat on a couple of bricks and pee on the floor.
napkins & paper towels
Little pieces of paper are not napkins. Neither are little one-ply pieces of tissue paper that the natural oil from your hands will inundate. In Vietnam, both of these types of “napkins” were prevalent and useless. The paper was little squares of thick stock that didn’t absorb anything. Wiping your lips with it only resulted in re-arranging the location of the food on your face. And the little pieces of tissue paper were useless because you can only grab one square at a time, and it took about 50 of them to wipe anything off. At the end of our meals, there would be a ridiculous pile of crumpled or wadded up and slowly disintegrating tissue.
Paper towels are basically non-existent in Southeast Asia. When you wash your hands, there’s nothing to dry your hands off on. You just shake them off and carry on with your day. Good thing it’s so humid that nothing ever dries.
I miss being able to chat all day with my friends.
The 15-hour time difference isn’t super conducive to conversations because one party is always drunk. Google Talk was my main method of communication with friends near and far, and now that I am not frequently online at the same time as everyone else, I don’t get to hear the day-to-day chatter (ha!) and all the little things that make life interesting.
cooking for ourselves & grocery stores
This wouldn’t be unusual for many people, but neither Matt nor I cooked very much for ourselves at home. I wouldn’t say that I’m bad at cooking, but…
It’s not a strength of mine.
We eat out for almost every meal, and they are usually incredibly delicious. But sometimes it would be nice to know exactly what is going into each meal. Even if it is burned or charred beyond belief. And there’s just something nice about preparing a meal that we’re missing out here.
Also, I miss going grocery shopping. We don’t do any of that on the road, and it had been a long time since we’d even been in a grocery store and not shopping at a convenience store or a little stall on the side of the road. When we stayed with Thiti in Bangkok, we went to a Big C supermarket, and I was immediately overwhelmed. I just wandered the aisles aimlessly, marveling at how many choices I had.
Well, that’s about it, kids. I’m off to go get a Slurpee. I really hope they use filtered water in these machines… keep an eye out for that in a coming post, things i really, really miss: potable water.