Southeast Asia is mainly composed of two geographic regions:
Mainland Southeast Asia where Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar and West Malaysia falls under. While Indonesia, East Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines, East Timor, Brunei, Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Christmas Island comprises Maritime Southeast Asia.
I was riding a GrabCar earlier on my way to the Chocolate Factory when the driver tried to start a conversation. He barely speaks English but he tried his best. And I tried my best to understand him. I’m not sure how well our conversation went but it always ended with laughter. And it hit me. I never had any language barrier problems until this recent trip to Indonesia.
It started on the plane when they gave us a paper to fill out. To my surprise, it was in Indonesian (locally known as Bahasa Indonesia) and there was no English translation. I asked one of the stewardess if they had it in English and again I was surprised when she said “no”. I wonder how many people encountered the same problem that I had?
Being my resourceful self, I tried to translate it. Failed attempt. I couldn’t understand a word. So after a lot of awkward glances and looking around, I finally asked the person next to me to translate it for me. Which she did and I am so grateful! They were pretty basic information that I could’ve easily filled it out if it was in English.
But the hardest part I had conversing with were the drivers. They speak little to no English and sometimes they go out of the car to find someone who understands English and let them translate it to them. I can’t count how many times I’ve said “Sorry”, “Yes” and end it with a smile whenever they try to talk to me.
Well anyways, I learned from those experiences that I need to know some basic phrases or words next time I visit another country.
So how does it feel to travel to other asian countries when you’re asian? Here you go:
I get mistaken as a local. A lot. Which could be a good thing and a bad thing.
Good thing because most prices/rates are different for locals and foreigners. Bad thing because you won’t be able to understand if they try to talk to you.
When I don’t speak, people always talk to me in Indonesian while I was in Jakarta and even now in Yogyakarta. I politely say “Sorry, can you say it in English please?” They smile and usually say “Oh, English, wait.” Then they call someone who knows how to speak English. The same thing in Thailand and Malaysia sometimes.
I can adjust better than some people.
Now this can be tricky because every country is different but since we almost have similar climate, it is a bit easy to adjust especially with the heat compared to those from Western and European countries (if you’re used to a cold weather, summer heat might be too much for you). As for the food, I love spices and strong flavours so I really enjoy trying new cuisines. But I know some people who have a hard time adjusting to the food because they don’t like the smell or the taste of certain spices.
The only downside is that I don’t know if there’s any seafood (I’m allergic to shrimps, crabs, shellfish, shells, squid and the likes) in it especially in small food places. I usually just go for the obvious like chicken, beef or any vegetable dish. I remember ordering a korean pancake which I was excited to try (mind you, it wasn’t cheap) but it had slices of squid in each slice *sobs*.
My favorite dishes so far are: Fish Tom Yum, Stir-fried or Soup Kwetiau/Kuy Teaw, Beef Rendang, any kind of mutton and vegetable dishes.
I don’t get eek-ed easily.
Dirty streets, grimy loo, pollution, heavy traffic, reckless drivers, rodents, insects and all the icky stuff. I can’t say I am used to it but I have experienced and seen these most in my life so it doesn’t bother me too much. Except for roaches. I kennot (slang for cannot). I find it quite amusing to see the faces of some foreigners when they see something for the first time or something that’s new to them. And I am sure I look just as amusing when I see something for the first time too.
I’m less afraid to explore.
This is probably one of the good things when you look like the locals. You don’t really stand out much from the crowd so you’re less likely to gain attention or being scammed. It is really sad when I read or hear stories about foreigners getting scammed or robbed. This could happen to locals too but less likely. The only thing that gives me away is when I open my mouth and say something in English. LOL.
I’m more cautious.
Now I’m not always cautious since I am a firm believer that everything happens to you for a reason. If something happens, then it was really meant to happen whether it’s good or bad. But I know some things and circumstances can be avoided too. What I mean by this is that, coming from a country who has crimes happening here and there, you pretty know the basics. Not use your phone while on the street or public transport. Secure your belongings. Not flashing your money if you’re gonna pay for something or put them all in one place. Take your valuables with you wherever you go. Maybe street-smart is the right word.
I won’t make this post long because I’m so tired from exploring De Mata Museum earlier. But before I end this article, do you have any travel tips or stories? I’d love to hear them in the comments below!
-RJ Lyn xx