The big trip of my year was the Silk Roadistan Tour — a 3.5 month excursion where my boyfriend and I set foot in Turkey, Italy, Kyrgyzstan, China, Mongolia, Russia, and a day in Thailand.
Obviously, life and culture differs greatly from that of America and Australia, and these are just a few of the things you could bring to the table in these countries and realize, in fact, that they do not mesh well… at all.
Being vegetarian. (Kyrgyzstan, China, Mongolia, Russia)
These cultures revolve around meat — so much so, that when you tell people that you don’t eat meat, they just don’t understand. My friend was straight-up vegan before going to Kyrgyzstan, but had to settle with vegetarian there in order to live. That was hard. They would simply take noodles that had been cooked in meat fat and pick out the meat pieces thinking that was OK. Wow.
In addition to relying on meat, these countries love the more strange cuts of meat and parts of the animal body. I know it’s great to eat all of the animal, but I’m very squeamish and particular about meat. Russians eat a lot of tongue (or so it seemed), China cooks up intestines and basically anything, and Kyrgyz and Mongolians boil sheep heads and serve the eyes to guests of honor. Dear. God. And let’s not forget about horse milk and horse milk tourism.
That said, the larger cities in these countries will have more options for vegetarians, and I was surprised that we even saw a vegan restaurant in Ulaan Bator!
Reading books on buses. (Turkey, Kyrgyzstan, China)
Even in Turkey we found it interesting that no one was reading books or magazines on long, long bus rides. We rode on several 10+ hour rides, and it seemed the majority of the people on board would just sit there and stare out the window! The same for travel in Kyrgyzstan and in China.
I’m all for a good zone-out session, but to go on painfully long journeys without a source of entertainment seems strange. I’m guessing that most of the people know how to read…
I never would have thought about how pulling out books would make us stick out like sore thumbs!
In some of these places, like Kyrgyzstan for example, the roads would have been too horrible and bouncy to even consider trying to read.
Finding English books. (All)
If ever there were a reason to get a Kindle, it would have been Pat and I’s book collection, and our lack of being able to replace said book collection for new books when traveling. To top it off, Pat is the fastest reader I know! He’ll demolish a stack of books and then make fun of me while I’m still on the first one.
We continued to carry around several books simply because we wanted a chance to exchange it in a hostel or the like for a new one, but that was a lost cause. How many hours were wasted on seeking English books to just discover we had been directed to a book on teaching English grammar? I cannot answer that question.
Asking people if they speak English. (China, Mongolia)
I feel like there are a surprising amount of people who speak English now in Bishkek and larger cities of Kyrgyzstan. Actually, random people came off the streets to greet us in English and spit out their 2-3 sentences worth of phrases.
But, asking that question in places like… Kashgar, China or Mongolia or smaller cities in Russia, and we were met with confusion.
I did tell you about our food ordering fails and language mishaps in Western China, right?
Wearing flip flops. (Italy)
Italy was, and still is, a stylish destination where things like flip flops are not proper attire. But, in Russia, you don’t fit in unless you’re a man that wears tank tops, board shorts, and flip flops.
They got to Pat, too.
Expecting to find real toilets. (Mongolia)
Expecting to have toilet privacy. (Mongolia, China, Kyrgyzstan)
Communal trough toilets, stalls with no doors, and having to go in open fields. As a female, these situations can be straight-up nightmarish. If you travel with a big scarf or pashmina, and have a close friend with you, they can work as a nice little guard when you have to go in open spaces. Again, read this article on toilet adventures to see what I’m talking about.
Being a tall white girl on crutches. (China)
Wow. The stares poor Paula got in Beijing were out of this world! She had a blister get infected and was told to use crutches for a while. As she was already a tall white girl, she stuck out a bit. Add crutches to the mix and she got the watching eye of everyone. Apparently no one uses crutches in China? Or I really don’t know why so many people would watch her every move like they did!
Not being married at age 25+. (Kyrgyzstan, China, Mongolia)
Ugh. Have I not had enough conversations about being unmarried in these countries to learn my lesson and lie? Bleh. From weird taxi sex talk to Pat being deemed unmanly, we’ve had our share of experiences involving the fact that we are not “officially” married. Who gives a crap?!
Oh to cultural differences. What are some interesting things have happened on your adventures, and where? I’d love to hear about them!