In Asia, I had a lot of ideas for getting involved in music. A lot of them didn’t work. I had this idea for making a music video for a piece I wrote. But the piano downstairs was out of tune and the videographer went on vacation and I ended up just sending the sheet music to my rockstar email list.
I also thought I could do a photoshoot around cafes in Hong Kong, but by the end of four months I was sick of crowds.
But in November, I was invited to Asia’s biggest music festival, where none of the headliners were Asian. That is a testament to how people crave western culture in the absence of local culture, I think. Asian society doesn’t care about supporting the arts when you are feeding your family.
I wasn’t asked to write about the festival but it was a breath of fresh air. November was probably the best time to be in Asia; the weather was not sickly humid, nor stormy, and you could run on open grass (yes!) at the festival which was the biggest luxury of all.
I’ve only heard of one band, Clean Bandit, which I loved, and remembered dancing to that. But I discovered Ratatat — Spotify-worthy, with a nice beat for when I’m writing or dancing by myself.
It was a great festival; I learned something and paid way too much for a bowl of poutine. Fortunately, the taste of home will always be worth it.
If it’s not Chinese or fast food, be wary. If it’s Chinese, be extra wary.
The university reception served skewers and grilled salmon and pasta and I spat some of it out. I don’t eat meat, but the salmon was overcooked, and had a strange taste. People had smiles on their faces but I would’ve preferred chow mein that didn’t taste like burnt chemicals.
I stayed away from Western food after that.
Seafood is stale in Hong Kong, as a general rule. I am more used to fresh-caught quality or something like that. By the end, I was relegated to meals of cereal and milk or the occasional sandwich. Okay, and Starbucks. I missed that.
When you are travelling, stay away from risky foods, like raw or extremely spiced foods that upset your stomach. I never got sick, but you don’t want to spend the rest of your trip in the washroom.
Be open, but assume everything is sketchy. In Taipei, the hotel manager tells us to pay upfront, but, wary from the Malaysian toilet incident, I say that we don’t have cash.
The toilet at our sketchy hotel in Malaysia couldn’t flush beyond the occasional rumble and the owner who came upstairs attempted to inform us that that was the way the toilet flushed: slowly. I stepped out from the washroom and wasn’t having any of that and was so utterly dismayed that Em had burst out laughing.
You don’t get a flushing toilet when you pay upfront, is what I’m trying to say.
The second morning in Taipei, the hotel staff knocks on our door at 10am; when I open the door, I’ve slipped my shoes on and my leather purse is resting on my shoulder. I tell her we are paying later after we withdraw cash, as my roommate is still in bed, genuinely intending to settle the sum that day as our stay is already halfway in, with little sketchy business.
Ten minutes later, I step into the elevator and then the creaky doors slide open one floor above the hotel entrance, where the hotel lady greets me in her sickly maroon suit. Wearing a smile, she guides me to the counter where I am asked to pay. “We just told you,” I say. “We are paying later.”
“Where is the guy?”
“The guy is staying somewhere else,” I say. I glance towards the huge security screen on the side where they monitor guests. They should know better than that.
When I return to our room with coffee and breakfast, my friend says the staff called our room after I had left. I begin to feel uncomfortable, but settle the sum in cash nonetheless and ask for a receipt. They scribble figures on a receipt book and rip it out for us. Later, we see that the receipt does not contain the hotel’s name nor address.
Anyhow, the rest of our stay is relatively smooth, albeit again being charged an almost unreasonable amount for the cab to the airport (for an unreasonable hour, with a legitimate cab company). This is the same trip where we run for our lives to catch our flight back to Hong Kong because we tried to finish our movie at the cafe and did not anticipate the lengthy security check lines.
Okay, here is a tip. If you think you might miss your flight, talk to a border officer and they will cut you through. Then you sprint like crazy.
The most authentic, exotic places are outside of Hong Kong. The city itself is an amalgam of cultures.
I saw the most amazing beaches in Malaysia. And of course, Grace doesn’t care about big city Kuala Lumpur; instead she stays on the islands where most of the locals play, which is perfect. Parasailing, jetskiing, boating, you name it, she has probably done it on those waters.
I loved that the place was not crowded nor westernized. I loved that the islands retained their customs. It was so normal for them. That made me think, what are people seeing when they come to Canada, seeing things that are my ‘normal’?
I’m looking through my photos and I see wonder. People. Culture. There was dirty and ugly and bad, but there was also good. That’s why, despite my grievances, I still recommend travelling Asia. Stepping outside your own culture is the best way to step out of the box, and absorb without thinking.
You will see the most amazing beaches, tribes, customs. You will meet people and do the strangest things you have ever done in your life. And you will either see why things exist the way they do, or return home with newfound appreciation for what you have.
What’s your favourite part about travelling? Leave a comment below to join the conversation!
Photos: Travels in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia.
Thank you to Nadia L. for designing the cover photo.