In response to the confounding internet phenomenon of over-romanticizing travel, below is my interpretation of the “Stages of Cultural Adaptation” chart:
- (1) Futile, apocalyptically stressful attempt to do 2 weeks worth of work in 3 days.
- (2) Anxiety about Zika and Dysentery.
Arrival Abroad/Honeymoon Phase:
- (3) “Fuck yeah, this bag of indeterminate fried things is 4 cents.”
Culture Shock Phase:
- (4) “Someone is slowly and systematically stealing my underwear from this Vietnamese laundry.”
This is a true story. Please see what I wrote in 2008 about my experiences with underwear theft during my study abroad experience in Vietnam:
Two weeks ago, I became very disillusioned with my inability to maintain a steady, reliable supply of underwear in Vietnam. I had just washed my clothes at the giat ui – a place which will now be referred to as the black hole of Jen’s multi-colored floral undergarments. In my confusion, I decided to count my underwear, a rather awkward scene in and of itself since I was both counting them and folding them into little squares because I am an awkward person.
As it turns out, currently walking the streets of Saigon is a small Vietnamese woman adorning my pink and blue speckled cotton fruit of the looms. On one hand, I am an advocate for Vietnamese people wearing underwear. It is a good thing. On the other hand, I am not a fan of Vietnamese people wearing my underwear – and if they do, they should at least ask before deciding to put them on, thereby allowing me to stare at them for being nuts and, to an extent, very Vietnamese.
According to the inventory of my folded square underwear (it saves room), the giat ui has been stealing underwear from me. This has been a consistent trend since they have also stolen underwear from the other Americans on this trip. Not socks, not shirts, not pants. Underwear. The best part of this story is that none of us know where else we can possibly go to wash clothes and thus drop our clothes off every week at said giat ui knowing that we will suffer further underwear depletion due to the underground world of pastel panty trade in Vietnam.
- (5) “I found a trusted supplier of new underwear, but my American body only fits size 6XL.”
Here is the second part of my harrowing tale of the underground underwear theft circa 2008:
Facing a shortage of underwear, I ventured into the supermarket to purchase more. Complicating the process is the fact that my American, calcium fortified diet has afforded me, in the words of my sister, Asian J-Lo-esque “Bronx booty magic”. Yay calcium! Although this bodes well for long motorcycle rides, it makes things infinitely harder when one must purchase underwear, resulting in situations like stretching underwear in the middle of Vietnamese supermarkets or, as I would like to call, a typical Sunday morning.
Vietnamese people at the check-out counters have a tendency to judge people for their purchases. On one particular Sunday morning, I was in need of underwear, water, and crackers. This story ends with the check-out lady looking at me with amusement as she scanned my underwear, my Aquafina, and my saltine crackers. If I had enough Vietnamese in me, I would have looked her in the eye and said, “Why yes, I eat saltines and drink water in my underwear. Thanks.”
Pre-Return Ups and Downs Phase:
- (6) “Oh! Meat on a stick.”
- (7) Shitting in a literal pile of Chinese garbage.
Also a true story:
After a long hike through southwest China’s Tiger Leaping Gorge, I hastily consumed a very greasy, satisfying bowl of fried rice. I proceed to a tour bus en route to our hotel nearly 2 hours away. Within 5 minutes of sitting, I develop painful, debilitating pains – the kind of pain one obtains when you ravenously consume dubious bowls of fried rice. I can best describe the pain as feeling as if a wild, rabid raccoon was stuck in my bowels and desperately clawing it’s way out – and down.
My partner, who is fluent in the Chinese dialects of Cantonese and Toisan, knows approximately 10 phrases of Mandarin. She somehow strings together a few of these phrases to successfully halt the bus so that I can scamper to a bathroom stall in the middle of a rural market. In my anxiety about holding up a bus full of Chinese people, I am too nervous and ultimately fail to go to the bathroom. I return to the bus. The pain returns. I teeter on the edge of exploding.
A sweaty, painful hour and 45 minutes later, I cannot hold it anymore. My partner convinces the driver to let us off in middle of a street, in an unknown town, in the middle of China with 10 phrases of Mandarin known between the two of us. I desperately search for a bathroom. There are no bathrooms, but there is most definitely a field of garbage.
End of story.
- (8) Hella fluids.
- (9) “I feel like I am going to die of dysentery.”
Return Home/Missing Other Culture Phase:
- (10) “Life was so care-free abroad, except that time I almost died of dysentery.”
- (11) Full-blown travel superiority complex.
Editor’s Note: I will be traveling, developing new materials, and intensively working on a new digital and audio project in the months of July and August. This blog will be back in weekly form on Monday, 8/28. I’m looking forward to sharing more then!