Saturday, August 13, 2011

What Not to Wear... to a Thai Wedding

It's been a whirlwind few weeks! Since my last blog entry, Justin and I embarked on a trip to Vietnam, Thailand, and Scotland, and we returned back to New York on Wednesday. We leave today for our road trip around the U.S. and I promise I'll be blogging lots more on this leg of our travels.

Here's a rundown of our adventures by the numbers:

  • 12 modes of transportation (No joke. I even consolidated a few that fell into a similar category. The full list includes plane, taxi, van, individual motorbike, motorbike with truck seating on back, motorized boat, junk-a type of boat, sampan boat, bicycle, kayak, foot, and a giant cow-shaped bus named Irene.)
  • 1,498 photos (150 are posted on a new Flickr set, which you can access here, but more are available on request!)
  • 5 cities (Ho Chi Minh City, Hue, Hanoi, Bangkok, Edinburgh)
  • 10 flights (I'll spare you this one!)
  • 5 currencies
  • 2 weddings (a Thai wedding and a Scottish wedding party - 2 vastly different experiences)

But as I've learned from traveling, it's not just about how much you see, eat, or do - but what you learn along the way. Particularly with our Peace Corps departure on the horizon, I found the trip to be an opportunity to learn some valuable skills that I'll keep with me for Morocco and beyond. I have shared these skills below.

1. Patience, Humility, Humor
We came to Vietnam only knowing how to say hello (pronounced seen-chow) and thank-you (pronounced kahm-uhn). When faced with many situations in which our counterparts knew very little to no English (shopkeepers, local food vendors, taxi drivers, etc), it was really a test of patience and humility in trying to communicate. Lots of smiles, some pointing, and a bit of charades helped us along every single time.
Mr. Khanh, one of our new friends along the way
(this is in the Mekong Delta)
2. Cultural Awareness and Sensitivity
Here's where the title of this blog entry comes into play. In Thailand, I joined the bride on her wedding morning for manicures. On the way there, I happened to mention that I would be wearing a black dress that evening (in discussing potential matching nail colors) and I watched as her face turned white. As I soon learned, it is bad luck to wear black to a wedding in Thailand. Fortunately, Bangkok is FULL of shopping malls and I was able to very easily find an alternative dress in the 18 available minutes that I had (not exaggerating on that time!). So no big damage done, but I found myself ashamed and embarrassed for not educating myself about Thai culture relating to the wedding ceremony. This is a huge lesson that I will take with me to Morocco - keeping an open mind and recognizing that what may seem appropriate to me, might not be so everywhere else. At lease I did get a very cute dress out of the whole situation :)
In my decidedly NOT black dress
(this is actually at the Scotland wedding party, but can't find one from Thailand)
3. Determination and Persistence
Twice during our trip, Justin and I were determined to track down different sites in Vietnam - an old pagoda, and a lake in Hanoi with a drowned U.S. B-52 fighter jet jutting out from beneath the surface. Both are a bit of a long story, but the short version is that for both sites, our tour book did not have a correct map and we found ourselves circling for hours in the Vietnamese heat/rain to find these places. In both instances, we regrouped after the first day of looking and found alternative ways to track them down the following day. And both were very, very worth the effort!
Hoan Kiem Lake, with the B-52 fighter jet in the middle
I had a few others in my notes, but given that I have to begin a 3-week drive around the country in 10 hours, it's probably about time to sleep. I'll be blogging throughout our road trip, so more updates to come soon!

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