Why are there no napkins in Asia?! (and other observations)

I post this while sitting in a dark hotel room (blackout this morning) on a rainy day in Battar Bazar, Nuwakot, Nepal.  It’s where we’re staying during our build with the Fuller Center this week.  Internet is shoddy to say the least-seeing how we currently don’t have power.  I’m using a hot spot created by a friend from his cell phone with a sim card. We’re currently waiting out the rain before we determine what to do with our day.   So, here’s a post I drafted about a week ago on some observations from the first half of my trip.  More Nepal stories to come…eventually.

Halfway through this journey, it seems appropriate to reflect on and report some observations.

It’s hard to get a feel for local life and culture without seeing the inside of residents’ homes.  I really want to see the kitchen table, the bathroom, and how space is allotted. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think that all Chinese homes have a lazy Susan on the table.  I mean, not all American houses are the same, but you know what to expect, and how space is allotted speaks to our lifestyle and values.

And bathrooms… I don’t get it.  It’s the most basic human function.  We all have it in common.  So, how did we evolve to a point where some squat, sit, use paper, or not, and the water spray/bidet.  I will always find wet bathroom floors gross.  And charging for bathroom use.  I mean, I guess we kind of do that in the States when we say that ‘restrooms are for customers only,’ and it does cost money to have a stool and water and paper. But, I guess I feel like if you charge a fee that there are those who will choose not to partake, relieving themselves where it is free.  I didn’t see (or smell) this in Singapore or Malaysia really, but there were some suspicious puddles in underpasses and pedestrian bridges; I guess we have this in the States too.

I have now chugged 4 liters of water in Asian airports due to unexpected security-Hong Kong (last trip), Beijing. Singapore, and Kuala Lumpur.  You’d think I’d know by now that just because I got off the plane with water doesn’t mean I can just get on the next one, or even get off with it.  In Singapore, there was no ‘security,’ just customs at the gate.  There are, however, military police with automatic weapons at the ready roaming around.

Eating has been less fun than I anticipated.  I get stressed trying to find a place to eat, deciding what to eat, figuring out how to communicate that, and then figuring out the ‘right’ way to eat it.  I know this last part shouldn’t matter as much, but I’m left handed and constantly wonder what people think when I use my ‘dirty’ hand to grab things.  Rice in a bowl, eat with chopsticks; rice on a plate use a fork and spoon-and the spoon is king here-not the fork.  It’s a two handed method where the fork is used to shove food into the spoon.  But I haven’t figured out, or seen how people deal with pieces of meat that require cutting.

And the napkins.  Quite simply, there are none.  The fried chicken place had on the tables the equivalent of a small tissue box that dispense one small square of tissue paper at a time.  The Korean BBQ had a dispenser on the wall.  I can’t even try to understand this.  Is it a conservation effort? Are Americans just that sloppy? I feel like I’ve had sticky fingers for 2 weeks.  Perhaps related is the amount of, as mom might describe it, ‘snotting’ that I’ve observed.  I haven’t seen a person use a tissue or a handkerchief to take care of sinus issues.  Instead there’s a lot of ‘throat clearing’ and the nasal inhale.  I’m pretty sure the guy in front of me at mass in KL did the good ole snot rocket.  I was glad that at the sign of peace, there were no handshakes, just bows.

It took me a bit to realize that restaurant service is a bit more ‘on-demand’ here than we are used to.  Never has someone come after food was delivered to ask if everything is ok.  This also means they don’t offer the bill unless you flag down a server and ask.  During the meal with students, that nominated the tallest bit with the longest arms this duty.  This puts in perspective why people may display this ‘rude’ behavior back home.

Also, drinking with meals is not the same here.  I’m used to drinking a giant glass of water with each meal.  Here, I may get a juice glass-sized beverage to last the duration.

Is ‘bless you’ in response to a sneeze American? My guess is European (getzunheit), right? I noticed this in China, but during check in in Singapore, one of the staff sneeze, I, by instinct, responded with ‘’bless you.’ The two staff members looked at each other, laughing and saying something I didn’t understand.  I wasn’t sure what was going on, else I would have asked.

Americans stand in lines while the rest of the world ‘queues up.’

Also, why do Asians not seem to wear sunglasses?  Keep in mind, I have spent most of my time on the Maylay peninsula-not far from the equator.  I’m putting on sunscreen everyday, my feet have a nice summer-time chaco tan, and it seems no one wears sunglasses here.  There’s a ‘spectacle hut’ in every Singaporean mall.  I must be missing something.

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