Camera Info: Fuji Finepix A303 • Automatic Point & Shoot
ISO 100 • f 7 • 1/550 sec
Stepping off the plane in Japan one summer, I could tell it was going to be a hot day. Why? Because our translator arrived with an umbrella in tow! If you’ve hung out with many Asians, you’ve probably seen their habit of using umbrellas in sunny weather.
To many of us from the West, it’s a source of confusion. Why use an umbrella when it’s not raining? Yet my Asian friends have often been confused why we limit ours to just keeping dry. After all, if you look at the history of umbrellas, they were originally designed for shade (umbra is Latin for “shade”), a function that is still reflected in the word “parasol” (derived from the French parare, “to shield” and sol, “sun”). There are even rules on how to buy a good sun umbrella.
So what’s the point of using umbrellas in the sun? For many with fair skin, they protect against sunburn, which in turn lessens the chance of melanoma (skin cancer). To my Asian friends, there’s another reason: fair skin is a symbol of beauty. Many Asian girls avoid tanning just as much as Western girls seek it! The Chinese have a saying, “If the skin is very light and pale, it can cover up most of the ugly features you may have.” It’s also a historical belief – in the old days, peasants who had to work outdoors were always darker than rich people who stayed in their houses, so light skin became a symbol of wealth. Finally, it separates north Asians from south Asians, which I guess is a big deal to them (any feedback from my Asian friends on this one??).
How do you prefer to wear your umbrella? Why?
Camera info: Fuji Finepix A303 • Automatic Point & Shoot
ISO 100 • f 7 • 1/500 sec
You have to wonder how often locals let the tourists get away with things just for a laugh. Take my friend here. We’re in Japan, and he’s wearing a man’s robe (not meant for outdoors) and a Chinese hat. Yet the locals encouraged it (and sold them to us!). They also encouraged us to use chopsticks most of the time, and then laughed at us when we tried to use them on soup (they DID give us spoons eventually). Yeah, I think it’s a local conspiracy. 😉
No matter what country you travel to, you’re going to make mistakes and get laughed at, so it’s good to have a sense of humor. It’s also a good idea to do some research ahead of time and not make the same mistakes as everyone else. Here’s just a few examples of common tourist mistakes in Australia, Cambodia (Phnom Penh), Czech Republic, France (Paris), the Netherlands, Ireland, Iran, Italy, Japan, Portugal, Thailand, and Turkey. As if that isn’t enough, here’s a few more! So yeah, the list is pretty much endless. Good luck!
Sometimes, making mistakes can endear you to the people. For example, this forum writer uses his lack of language skills to his advantage: “Whenever I’ve travelled to a country where English is not the official language, I’ve made it a point to carry an English/<other> phrase book, and I’d always make it a point to painfully mangle the other language. Invariably, no matter where I was, someone would come up to me, gently take away the phrase book, and say ‘Wouldn’t it be easier to just do this in English?’ Usually, a bunch of the locals would come over to practice their English skills, brag about their country and ask about mine. And, all too often, some other American would burst in and bellow ‘Hey! Anyone in this dump speak ‘Murrican?’ 🙄 And, amazingly, everyone in the place would immediately forget every word of English they’d ever known. Including me.”
What’s the most embarrasing tourist mistake you’ve ever made? What have you seen someone else do?
Travel can be very addicting! So far, I’ve been to 10 countries and numerous states. Along the way, I’ve learned several helpful lessons. Most travelers have heard the country-specific advice, like don’t eat with your left hand in India, don’t point the bottom of your feet at people in China, or that the “ok” hand gesture is not so ok in Brazil. So here’s a few travel tips that could be applied nearly everywhere.
Do your research beforehand! Learn about the country’s climate, history, religion, special customs, holidays, etc.
Try to learn something in the local language before you go, even if it’s as simple as “Hello.” People appreciate the effort you make to understand them.
“When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money.” – Unknown
Cross pack! If traveling with others you trust, put some clothes & essentials in another’s bag, so if yours is lost, you have something to fall back on.
Ziploc bags are a lifesaver. Especially when your luggage falls off the side of a boat. *sigh*
Be nice to the check-in staff; it’s not their fault airlines are inherently evil.
Food and drink is a key element of hospitality in many countries, especially out East. Unless you have a medical reason, don’t turn down what they offer you.
Don’t start riots. Most people won’t like you if you do.
Don’t drink the water! Unless you have made sure it’s been purified. This includes watching out for ice cubes and items washed in local water, like lettuce.
“You’re not a traveler if you can’t haggle; you’re a tourist. But you’re also not a traveler if you haggle for six hours; you’re a cheap jerk.” – Unknown
Make sure your travel documents are correct and up-to-date, if you don’t want to be in the sequal to “The Terminal.”
What’s your favorite or most helpful travel tip? Let’s keep the list going!
At first I was confused: why would someone want to make a monument full of dead flowers? On a tour through Peace Prayer Park in Okinawa, we came across a large Buddhist temple on the grounds. Inside was a wall full of flowers, most of which were dried up. However, there were a few that remained fresh and pretty. Our tour guide told us these were prayers visitors had left for the victims of the war.
Japanese Ikebana, or the art of flower arranging, is apparently how Buddhist devotees offer prayers and help others connect with the universe. There are several schools of thought as to what elements in the bouquets symbolize and how they should be arranged. Even the flowers themselves have symbolic meanings, and are picked carefully. Many offerings include a fancy vase as well, but these arrangements in the picture often had paper scrolls with written prayers attached instead.
As for why most of these are dead? I can only surmise someone didn’t pay the housekeeping staff enough. 🙂
What’s your preferred way to pray?
Camera info: Canon Rebel 350D • lens EF 70-200mm f/2.8L
ISO 200 • f 2.8 • 1/125 sec
The incidences of cultural drift have long fascinated me. I think I get to the point of understanding a phenomenon particular to one culture, and then discover the same thing traveling somewhere else! This little statue was no exception.
Years earlier, I was traveling in Okinawa & Japan, and I saw lots and lots of Shishi (also Shisa or “lion dog”), small statues that were placed on either side of building entrances, gates, homes, etc. Traditionally, the left one would have an open mouth, and the right would be closed. There are several theories as to why they are designed that way, the most prevalent being to let good spirits in and keep bad spirits out. They are mainly found in Buddhist or Confucian areas.
The Shishi were introduced to Japan through Korea from China back in the 14th century, and the Chinese likely got it from somewhere else, since lions are not native to that area. Each country has some mythological stories as to how the creatures arrived in their area, and each designs them a little bit differently. For example, in China, they look like lions. In Japan, more like a cross between a lion and a dog. This pair (only one pictured) I found at a retreat center in Thailand, and to me it looks more dog-like.
No matter what the design, they seem to be easily recognizable whenever I travel around Asia. I just don’t think they’re as cute as the Japanese money cat. 🙂
What cultural icon are you familiar with that did not originate in your own country?