social graces

Travel Etiquette

I just returned to Shanghai with a 14+ hour flight and before we left the ground I almost blew a gasket! It had to be the worst flight ever. Travelling on a small piece of metal hurtling through space which is already cramped and crowded you need to think about fellow passengers and not to mention customer service.

I have learned travelling with Chinese is just like trying to get on the subway metro. It becomes survival of the fittest. Push, shove and why wait for others to get off before getting on? If you are polite and orderly then you will miss the train. Before the attendants are even at the gate they line up waiting to get on the plane. Umm has anyone told them the little piece of paper called the boarding pass is guaranteeing them a seat and place on the plane? I don’t understand the logic of lining up when seats are called by row to help ease the flow of boarding. I have started to do the same now only because if you wait for your seat chances are there is no room for your carryon luggage. A few times it has to be stored 5-10 rows away from where I am sitting which is fine until you try to retrieve it. Soon as the plane stops moving they are up out of their seats pushing to get off the plane. What is the hurry? You can’t go anywhere until the doors are open! So basically I end up waiting until the flight is almost empty to get my things. Patience is not in their vocabulary 😉

SardinesFlight

This flight I was caught a little off guard and they started to board soon as the attendants arrived. I was also leaving from Toronto and last flight in January anyone who tried to board ahead of their called rows was turned away, so I didn’t feel the urgency to get on just yet. Lesson learned; never assume things will be like last time! I thought we were on a larger plane with over 60 rows of seating, so I got in line when they called my row in the 40s. Once on the plane I realised I was sitting at the back and ¾ of the plane was already on board! While still waiting in line the last rows were called and the remaining passengers tried to push and cut into line ahead of the other passengers who were already waiting. Common courtesy is just not observed.

As I tried to fight my way upstream to my seat, through the many people blocking the aisles who seat rows had not yet been called, the people behind me were close enough I could feel them breathing down my neck. As I stopped and waited patiently for the blockers to rummage through their carry on the people behind me began to push. Really where do you want me to go? Should I trample the other passengers? After about the third time I said out loud ‘Really? You need to push me? People are in the way’. The people behind me backed off ever so slightly.

overhead bin cartoonI got to my seat to see all the overhead compartments stuffed full. No one put anything under their seats and large carryons (most people had 2 plus a large bag of duty free). Obviously the carry on luggage rule was not carefully monitored. I asked the flight attendant to help me find space and she said go back and look closer to the front of the plane. I said ‘No I don’t think I need to put my luggage near the front when there should be space here. I boarded when I was suppose to and all the others came on early and took up all the space. That isn’t right.’ She just walked away. Great customer service… thanks for your help. Did she come back later to see if I found space? No of course not.

Thank you to the kind gentleman who tried to help me squeeze my bags into an overhead bin, but there was just no room. He also had an unfortunate situation where his wife and small baby were near the front of the plane and he was near the back. The flight attendants said there was nothing they could do since the flight was pretty well full. I doubt they asked anyone to move. I am sure if someone knew the situation they would have helped. I also had asked for an aisle seat hoping they could do something at check in. After explaining I was travelling alone, needed to get up and move around and needed close access to a bathroom I was told I had a window and that was a good seat. Again thanks for your understanding and good customer service.

Now just add a small wheelie bag and purse to the picture and you will have my view.

Now just add a small wheelie bag and purse to the picture and you will have my view.

With no other option and I wasn’t about to try to swim back downstream I shoved my small wheelie bag under the seat in front of me along with my purse. In an already small environment I now had no leg room. Good thing I am short and I am not claustrophobic because this would have put me over the edge. My seatmates came along and luckily didn’t have large bags. They settled in and it started to snow, so the long flight was about to get longer as we had to go to de-icing. Luckily it was a light snow and hadn’t had time to accumulate so the icing process only took a few minutes.

Soon as we were in the air the fellow in front of me reclined his seat and immediately started to snore. Could this get any worse? As it would have it yes. I had difficulty sleeping due to my cramped positions and my body just ached and was all tingly from pins and needles. My body was finally tired enough to sleep through the pain. Not long after I got some sleep my snoring friend kept opening the window to see outside even though the night lights were on. The blinding light woke me up from the 2 hours of sleep I managed to get. He had to have opened the blinds at least 3 times. Hey buddy yes it is still sunny… just like it was 15 minutes ago. I guess he already slept 7 or 8 hours and didn’t notice the other sleeping passengers around him.

This is how I felt only more confined being at the window and having my carryon underfoot.

This is how I felt only more confined being at the window and having my carryon underfoot.

In my already cramped position I noticed my middle seat mate had the legs propped up on my luggage which as you recall was under my seat. She had lots of space on her side, but I guess thought I needed less. At the end of the flight an announcement was made to stay in your seat if you needed assistance and a flight attendant would happily help you. Well sitting at the back of the plane I couldn’t get out and I had to wait for my seat mates to leave so I could pry my things from under the seat. Did any attendants come to see if I needed assistance? No of course not. They were all too busy gathering their things and leaving the plane. I left BEHIND some of the flight crew. I guess the announcement is not put into practice, but sounds like good customer service. I have done a lot of travelling in my life and this had to have been the worst flight with common courtesy and customer service I have ever had. Maybe if I put it out there in the universe people will stop and think about travel etiquette… Here are a few things for travellers to think about.

1. Carryon luggage – if you have more than 1 bag stow one under your seat so others have room for their things.
2. Think about packing light and not carrying all your belongings on the flight with you.
3. If you want people to fly your airline again acknowledge them and be kind, don’t ignore them and walk away. Maybe they wouldn’t be so grumpy with you if you treated them like a valued customer and wanted their repeat service.
4. Wait for your seat row to be called before lining up to get on the plane and the airlines should reinforce this.
5. Personal space… in an already cramped environment need I say more?

Now this may not be the worst travel horror story, but having back trouble and requiring to move every 2 hours or less, leaving my husband in Canada (and hopefully seeing him before July) and dealing with family illness back home I was sensitive and emotional as it was. All the small things built up and made the trip back here alone difficult. (And I didn’t even get into the taxi situation once I arrived in Shanghai…).

All images from Google Images.

What is your worst travel story? Or what can you add to the travel etiquette list?

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Categories: Chinese Adventures, post a week, social graces, travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Cooking & Final Thoughts: More on Vietnam

Can you tell we really loved Vietnam? Who knew such a short vacation that was mainly spent lazing by the pool would amount to 4 posts! God help me if we ever go away for a month… you would never hear the end of it 😉

The last full day in Mui Ne was an unexpected adventure and my favourite. It was not what I wanted to do, but I am so glad I did because it made the trip so much more enjoyable. John inquired about cooking classes and they were offered at the hotel. He wanted to sign up, but for some reason we could not at that time and had to come back the next day. It was nearing the end of the trip and panic was setting in that soon I would be back at work and up to my eyeballs in things as the school year was winding down. I wanted to savour every last minute of relaxation and sunshine that I could. We didn’t go out to the dunes as we had hoped -couldn’t give up an entire day of R’n’R for an early morning and long day in the oppressive heat. The last day I planned to go to the spa for a massage and read and John would do a cooking class. That was until they signed us both up. Quickly I jumped in and said NO I am not interested… just John. They informed him the class either couldn’t go ahead as planned with only 1 student, or he would have to pay double (for 2 people). He was going to pass on things since he knew getting away was a much needed escape for me. I didn’t want him to miss out, so I agreed to join. The happy employee signed us up and gave us the details in where to meet and what time the next day. I was very touched that John was willing to so easily give up what he wanted for me 🙂 He is such a keeper!

The next morning we finished our breakfast (more pho -yum) and went off to the lobby to start our cooking adventure. We waited for the cook to arrive and then we would be off. First they would take us into town to buy the ingredients and then return and cook. We had a private car with driver to take us, the cook and a tour guide. I felt like royalty with all the attention… Our tour guide pointed out things along the drive and answered questions about what we saw. She informed us of the building going on at a large development on a hill overlooking the sea just before getting into the beach area (in which a cemetery had to be moved to a new location!), pointed out some places of interest and asked us about our home country. Soon we were in town and left to walk in to the wet market. Our guide told us to watch our belongings and they helped us cross the chaotic street as we entered the crowded market area. Vietnam is a very safe place, but like anywhere pickpockets are always on the lookout for an easy target and foreigners are viewed as rich and good prey.

Buying the Pork

Immediately we saw fluffy little yellow chicks for sale at the entrance. I was falling behind and didn’t want to get lost in the maze of stalls, so I missed a great photo-op. Inside the dimly lit market stalls were crowded in every available space with produce, meats, cloth and other necessities. The ground was stained and soiled from years of debris. We squeezed through the narrow aisles and followed our cook who knew where to get each ingredient. As she went our guide kept a look out around us to keep us safe and explained things as we went. Locals often sat on their table tops squeezed in with their wares since there was just no space to spare and allow them to stand. It was hot and humid outside and inside the tarps and thin roof the heat was oppressive, but they didn’t seem to notice with their long sleeves and pants. Before going I had read that they are modest and don’t dress in tank tops and low-cut outer wear and frown against those who do. Many of the locals wore brightly coloured patterns of matching pant outfits (t-shirt like top with short or long sleeves and pants) in the same pattern/colour or sometimes mismatched pattern or colour. Younger Vietnamese wore jeans and more modern t-shirts.

 

This is what I imagined the Chinese Wet Market to be like but wasn’t. This one was crowded, smelly and somewhat dirty with scattered bits of produce, blood and guts tracked into the floor. I was SO glad I opted for the running shoes today and not the flip flops! The market was a hive of activity where people were buying and selling their daily needs and moving goods in and out. When we stopped to buy some meat and shrimp. As the cook asked for what she wanted, as the guide told us she knew this stand was of good quality. The seller pulledout a large knife and quickly slammed it into the meat and cut off the requested amount. I was glad to move on from the meats and into the spices and vegetable section.

This one grandma?

The colours were so vibrant and the smells much more pleasing. Actually the smell wasn’t as bad as the fish market I went to in Granada, Spain if memory serves me correctly. That stench was unbearable and lingering everywhere, and this was just a bit unpleasant as you went by the meats. As the cook bought some carrots, cucumbers, taro, mint and other items I snapped up pictures and took it all in. We became the tourist attraction as we did not fit; I felt like an example of ‘what is wrong with this picture?’as people did a double take on us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After our whirlwind tour through the market we were back outside in the sunshine. Our driver had to drive around to meet us, so they took us to a temple to get out of the hot sun and see all the worshipers. It so happened this was a Chinese temple, or many Chinese worship there. Our guide told us today was busy because it happened to be a full moon, a day for them to pray for good fortune. Later I remembered it was also Qing Ming Festival and this may have also been areason it was busy. Many people were inside the temple with incense which they held near the middle of their foreheads and rocked their heads back and forth as they prayed. Certain statues were spread throughout and people gathered near them and touched them, which was a ritual we didn’t understand. You could see the worn areas from many hands caressing the statues. I felt like we were intruding and I didn’t venture far past the door and took a few pictures before our air conditioned comfort was waiting for us.

Little girl waiting for her parents as they worship

The temple

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back at the hotel we were given a break while cook prepared the ingredients. We sat by the pool for a few minutes before heading into the restaurant. To our surprise everything was cut and ready for us, we just had to do the assembly! We were making 2 style of Vietnamese Spring Rolls (yum!) Cook cut some large rice paper into triangle shapes and we added our ingredients and rolled the spring rolls up like little cigars. We made some with pork (for me) and others with

Making the Cold Spring Rolls

shrimp(for John). These would be deep-fried slowly in a warm oil. When we used that up we turned to cold spring rolls which were more vegetable with cucumber and mint and would not be cooked. As time went on I got better at rolling – cook who did not know English laughed at my first attempts and even made me do a few again. John on the other hand did well first try -show off! As we worked on the cold uncooked rolls our guide fried up the first batch and by the time we were done we had our meal! They treated us to a table for 2, an amazing cold iced tea (chamomile maybe?) and we ate our creations. Oh they were delicious! As I write this my mouth waters. I really enjoyed the cold ones, so refreshing on a hot day. Fully stuffed we enjoyed the rest of our day by the pool.

 

The next day we were checking out and heading back to Ho Chi Minh City. We spent our last hours by the pool catching the last rays before a long drive. Back in Ho Chi Mihn we wandered the streets and alleys near our hotel and bought a few souvenirs. We learned that many things are made locally and provide people with work and much-needed income. I bought a lovely woven yarn scarf, John a few t-shirts and an interesting purse with embroidery. There was other handicrafts and art work, but we packed light and had nowhere to put it without the purchase of another suitcase, so we had to pass.

The next day we had to leave early so we turned in for the night. The next morning we checked out of the Liberty hotel, the same place where we stayed when we arrived. It was a simple hotel, cheap, without frills and good enough. Breakfast was included and we had to check out before breakfast began so we thought we would have to forgo our free meal. They were kind enough to offer and pack us a little meal to go! Loaded into the taxi we wove through the dark early morning streets as the city began to come alive. Motorbikes loaded down with supplies and materials were being transported to the local markets before opening time and large blocks of ice sat on doorsteps to help keep meats and other items cold. As the sun started to rise we reached the airport and it was time to say goodbye to Vietnam.

Vietnam is considered third world, and doesn’t have all the frills that other international big cities may have, she certainly isn’t as sophisticated and rich as Shanghai… but there is a hidden beauty, an inner light that shines through that made me fall in love with Vietnam and definitely want to go back and see more…. the terraced rice patties, historical tunnels from the war, the floating markets and revisit the beautiful beaches.

Stay tuned for more next time…

Categories: Culture, everyday occurances, Photography, post a week, social graces, strange adventure, teaching overseas, travel, unique experiences | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Under Pressure

Thank you to all the new readers, followers and “likes” I have picked up over the last few weeks as a result of the weekly photo challenge and the ABC award (thanks again Jennifer). As I sit here and watch my blinking cursor flash and wait to move across the page I feel the pressure to write something smart, fun, witty, clever and entertaining enough to keep you wanting to come back to my humble blog. With new popularity comes more responsibility and pressure to write and not just ramble on…

This blog was a result of coming to work overseas and keeping in touch with friends and family. I didn’t think I could do it, but with the encouragement from Amy and Mary I decided to give it a try. Each week I would have some hits and a few comments (thanks Freda & Leslie). The response that someone ‘out there’ was reading was enough to keep me going. I now enjoy writing and try to write something funny about our travel adventures so far from home. Writing has kept me sane as things don’t go as expected and common sense is not the norm here… experiencing these frustrations just make us giggle and say “now that will make a good story for the blog !”

I just reached a few blog milestones… 90 posts and 20 likes! Now this is #2 today. I did another weekly photo contest with the theme “through” be sure to check it out 🙂

So onto this week’s musings…

When we are away from home we sometimes get baffled by how different things are and experience culture shock. Some cannot handle the differences and complain about everything and question the diversity rather than revel in the experiences and soak up the culture. For some there is no place like home, but for others seeing what is out there is what gives us energy and excitement.  My husband and I are pretty open-minded travellers and rarely if ever have we been upset about the differences we experience in travel. The most important thing travelers must pack, and many forget, is an OPEN MIND.

In China even the simple things never work all the time or as planned. It is a part of life and you get used to it. Sure it gets frustrating when you hit print and go up 1 floor to retrieve your documents only to find it not there… When you switch on the light and it doesn’t go on… you go to have a shower and the city has shut off all the water for a few hours without telling anyone… But give it time and try again and it usually works the second or third time around.There are so many things we take for granted and until it doesn’t work we forget how easy we have it back home.

There are a few things that you sometimes cannot live without. No matter how much of an open mind you have there is somethings that you cannot compromise… mine is bathrooms and facilities. Going to a public washroom here you are taking your chances. Many are those little foot rests with a hole or if you are lucky enough to get a toilet bowl, chances are it won’t have a seat. Paper – forget it… you must carry little packs of tissues with you at all times! Stores sell those little 8, 10 or 12 packs of tissues like crazy! The smell is also disgusting. It always smells like sewer. Besides that you cannot flush paper here so the discarded tissue is in a basket or garbage can beside the toilet which doesn’t help the smell. For some reason the floor is always wet… I wondered why and if you watch the toilet habits here maybe it would explain a few things. Once in a long line for the ladies toilets a mother came rushing in and decided not to wait or ask to go next. Instead she pulled her kids pants down and she went on the floor! The cleaner yelled at her, but that did not matter. No one else batted an eye… common occurences? I guess so. A friend of John’s works for IKEA here and they said parents do the same in the store. They tell them that it is NOT OK, but they say my child had to go. I guess they don’t think ahead or make their child hold it until an appropriate location can be found. Children go wherever they are …

Traditional Split Pants

Traditional Split Pants

… street, store it does not matter. This is why those split pants come so in handy! Just last week at the grocery store a dad was holding his child over a potty! It looked like a little dog water bowl… I want to know where he emptied it! John once saw a man holding his son up to a garbage can and the child was like a mini ‘fountain’. It doesn’t stop there as grownups do the same. Many taxi drivers work 12+ hour shifts and use the bushes as their urinals, some places more than others… just use your nose and you can tell where. I am sure the street vendors do the same. Now I understand the street cleaners  and big water trucks that come and hose down the roads everyday.

Another thing we take for granted is toilet paper and tissues. They are not the same as home. Tissues are so thin you can see through them so god help you when you need to blow your nose. They try to trick you with the same name brands sometimes, but they are not comparable. Itchy, scratchy sand paper just doesn’t cut it… after trial and error we finally found one that is acceptable and although we are tempted by cheaper prices, or one on sale we have learned the hard way that it just isn’t worth it.

So what thing can’t you live without when travelling?

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more…

 

Categories: Chinese Adventures, Culture, everyday occurances, post a week, social graces, strange adventures, travel, unique experiences | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

All a Matter of Perspective

By now many of you may have seen the Chinese video of the small child being hit, run over and killed by a van. Many people around the world have reacted and wondered how this horrific event could have happened. Let me play ‘devil’s advocate’ as I explain something from another point of view. We have seen this video and reacted from a Western Perspective through the cultural norms we hold as a society and define events such as this. I am not saying in China this is normal or accepted, but things are sometimes very different here. Before we judge and jump to conclusions we should try to understand the rules and norms of another culture that can be very different from ours.

When I first arrived in China I was afraid to cross the street; pedestrians DO NOT have the right of way and cars, bikes and mopeds often ignore traffic signs and signals. Lights seemed to be a mere suggestion and the size of vehicle and decibel level of a horn gave right of way. I soon learned that you must be very aware of your surroundings and continue to look and watch for traffic on streets, sidewalks and around every corner. Major intersection lights are often obeyed, but side streets may not. People do not look for traffic and use mirrors or shoulder check, but instead rely on others to beep to tell them of their location. Horns tell other motorists and pedestrians to look out. Streets are busy and sometimes waiting is not an option, so if there is space to squeeze through and jump to the front of the que than do so.

Slowly more and more cars are taking over the streets and traffic is a nightmare…. you think the commute in North America is bad? Many streets are not always equipped for such traffic. The result is many blind spots and traffic flow are obstacles in the way. Not to mention the completion for space from many modes of transportation all sharing the same roads. Bikes and motorcycles weave between cars because they can. Where we live in Shanghai, streets are wider and well-marked, but smaller villages, towns and older parts of cities do not have the luxury of rebuilding streets and must navigate and use what is there. It can cause many traffic issues that we never have to experience.This does not excuse the driver, but merely offers an explanation of how something like this could have happened.

Some people may question why was the child alone? Well again things here are different and we must understand before we pass judgement. Children are rarely in daycare. I am not even sure if there is such a thing. I see happy grandparents parading children down streets, through parks and in front of apartment buildings. I assume the grandparents care for the small children if both parents are working. If a grandparent is not available the children go to work with the parents. From small babies to small pre-school aged children I have seen children at their parents place of business. Now I haven’t seen this in larger stores, but markets, fruit and food sales  people who sell their wares on the streets  often have their children with them. The children amuse themselves with toys, sitting in strollers or wandering close by. These parents are often the lower-income earners and busy trying to make a living. The child is not being ignored or abandoned, always with in close proximity of a parent, but not under the same eagle eye we have on our children. Again is this wrong or merely different? These parents are no less responsible as this is their way of life and earning a living. The children have a bit more independence and know to come when a parent calls.

For another point of view read this news article from the Washington Post:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia-pacific/toddler-in-china-hit-by-2-cars-then-ignored-dies/2011/10/21/gIQAmamL2L_story.html

Global News also reported on this event and a Chinese-Canadian was quoted in how the West has viewed this incident and portrayed it in the media as China being “uncivilized”. Read more at:

http://www.globalnews.ca/chinesecanadians+grieve+for+girl+hit+by+vehicles+question+western+media+coverage/6442504032/story.html

This is exactly my point. We often view things from our own perspectives, knowledge and prejudice and then are quick to jump to conclusions without considering other points of view. Our culture and society shapes who we are and how we think. How can we judge another culture from our perspective and not consider theirs? The media perpetuates this and often shapes our views. This is where we need to be critical thinkers and not accept everything we see and hear.

Many locals are also upset by the incident and questioning their moral fabric of what has happened or should have happened. A few ‘bad apples’ should not shape our opinion or understanding of another culture, location or event without knowing and understanding all the facts. I certainly am not saying I am above this and all-knowing because I live here and completely understand the culture. I am only asking, as I always do, for people to keep an open mind and try to understand what it is like from someone else’s perspective before making judgements and jumping to conclusions.

Stay tuned for more…

Categories: Culture, everyday occurances, social graces | Tags: , ,