The importance of language and the experience

Surprisingly the place where I thought the most English would be spoken, Hong Kong, is the place where we've encountered the least. (We're now in Saigon, and so far, so good…) I've been thinking about my problem early on during this trip with the crab, and I think the language difference contributed a great deal to the experience. It wasn't that I was just overwhelmed by the crab, it was that I also felt totally isolated. Before I ordered it, I'd tried to ask the server if it was difficult to eat, but the communication barrier was too great. So I ordered it anyway. And when I was stuck, I didn't really feel able to ask anyone for help or direction.

While I love that travel can make even the most familiar tasks unfamiliar and challenging (say, going to the bathroom when it turns out to be a squat toilet where there's no toilet paper…), it also has a way of majorly bumming me out. Sometimes the ability to do basic things, things I take for granted when at home, can be overwhelming when that ability is lost. Like when you've got some food and you don't know how to proceed (be it crab or some strange container of soup), or when you discover a different type of squat toilet in a new country and realize you only mastered one kind and now there's a new one to figure out and you just really want to pee.

In Hong Kong the day after the crab dinner, we ate lunch at Spring Moon at the Peninsula Hotel. While the food was great, the best part for me was being able to communicate with the staff. I'm a very social person, and being able to communicate and share experiences makes dining more enjoyable for me. At Spring Moon, the server took the time to explain where the tea we were drinking came from. He told us why it smelled as it did, how it grew, how it was an organic tea, etc. And that vastly improved my drinking of it. I like to extend the experience of eating through knowledge. And crab night, I couldn't do that. That's what made it so bad. Well, that and when I touched the slimy claw.

The good thing is that most of our other meals have been more successful, either because the language barrier wasn't as high, or because I ordered something I knew how to eat, or I was just feeling better. The same thing happened to me in Paris before I spoke French at all, but doesn't happen much anymore. It's just part of travel I suppose, and there are ups and downs, good days and bad. If everything were the same as at home, there'd be no reason to leave. So don't get me wrong, I relish the hairy crab experiences and the squat toilets at the temples. It makes the non-hairy crab and the toilet seats all the sweeter in the end.