Anywhere you go in the world, ways of life are unique. Sometimes the variance is large while other times it’s only minor lifestyle differences. The act of travel reveals that there’s always something noticeable. That’s one of the fun parts of it. Katie and I just returned from spending two years in SE Asia and during that time many of the differences in lifestyle became normalized to us. After being back in the States for a few weeks, I distinctly notice a number of the things that you probably take for granted. It’s the benefit of having a fresh basis of comparison.
The very first thing we noticed upon landing was the difference in mattress firmness. We had a 30 hour travel day to get back to the Midwest, so we booked an airport hotel to get some rest upon landing. Our king size mattress was sooooo soft and comfortable. Many beds in Asia are quite firm, and even the ones tailored towards Western sleepers weren’t anywhere close to this one. It was pretty great.
We also noticed right away just how much easier it is to do just about everything when the tap provides potable water. Food prep becomes way simpler. We can clean our vegetables just by holding them under running water. If I’m thirsty, I can just turn on the faucet and stick my head under the tap. Even teeth brushing goes smoother. The on demand availability of potable water is probably the biggest thing we took for granted before leaving. It’s a true luxury.
Speaking of food prep, all kitchen work is much easier in the US. Almost every countertop in SE Asia was at about my mid-thigh. While I’m no giant (almost 6’ tall), I’m much taller than the average middle-aged Asian woman that the counter heights are geared towards. That means that chopping vegetables, washing dishes, or doing anything else in the kitchen is at a much lower level than in the US. I just kind of got used to bending over a bit to do things like wash dishes, but it sure is nice not to.
We now have screens on our doors and windows! This is one difference I never could rationalize since screens are so cheap and mosquitoes are so plentiful. But for whatever reason, screens are extremely rare in SE Asia. Windows are always just open to the elements and therefore need to be shut before dusk to keep those blood sucking, Dengue-carrying parasites at bay. That was one of the best parts about renting our last apartment – the high floor was above the mosquito level so windows could be kept open well after dark. With a screen that could be everywhere, but it just doesn’t work that way.
Another shocking thing was finding sugar or honey just sitting in a kitchen cupboard. It would be unthinkable to have anything sweet not sealed tight inside of a ziplock bag in SE Asia because some ant or other bug is going to find it. And depending on the size or persistence of the colony, sometimes all food needs the protective plastic bag, sweet or not. It’s just a fact of life in the tropics that you’re going to be sharing your space with more insects. At least there are geckos to eat some of the ants and other bugs. That’s a decent trade off as they are super cute.
I can now buy eggs in sets of 12 again. They never caught on to the idea of a dozen in SE Asia, so eggs are sold in round numbers of 10. Which probably makes more sense, but it’s not what we’re used to. Apparently the concept of a dozen is a holdover from old England where eggs were sold for a penny each and 12 pennies equaled a shilling. So 12 was a round number for the currency at the time.
We are also adjusting to keeping our eggs back in the refrigerator again. Of course, that difference isn’t a big deal considering the absolutely humongous refrigerators that are ubiquitous. We can easily fit all of our produce, eggs, and anything else into our refrigerators now. The large ones we encountered in SE Asia were only about 60% of the size of the ones I’ve been using since we’ve been back. Many were much smaller than that. Even our airport hotel room with the tiny kitchenette had a monster refrigerator. It’s kind of nice!
And now when filling that fridge with produce from a grocery store, we don’t have to pre-weigh it. In SE Asia, all produce must be weighed separately before going through the checkout line. Grocery stores have a dedicated produce weighing area that needs to be visited before paying. We adjusted quickly to this segregated method, but periodically we’d notice someone at checkout that missed something from their basket that needed to be weighed. So it wasn’t uncommon to see someone running through the grocery store with some produce in order to get a price sticker on it, and then running back to the till. Sometimes it was even me doing the hustling.
There are other things that we’re getting used to, like driving a car again after not doing so for 2 years. It’s not quite like riding a bike, but it’s pretty close. And of course there’s some sticker shock at how much things cost, even for minor medical items. My trip to Walgreen’s the other day cost me about $20 instead of what would’ve been $2 for the same stuff in Vietnam. But for the most part, it’s not that hard to transition back to a US lifestyle for a bit.
It’s quite interesting to look at the familiar through fresh eyes. Appreciating life’s little things is something that I deliberately focus on, but I haven’t even had to try lately. It’s a pretty rich lifestyle that we have access to in the US, filled with tons of luxuries that are easy to glance over. By traveling, I’m now noticing all of these little differences which really helps put things in perspective. I can even drink a beer in the shower again.