The Kimchi-ite: Life As A Foreigner In Asia

As a tall, blonde-haired, blue-eyed, white American living in Asia, I tend to stand out in a crowd. It’s an interesting and bizarre thing that has become a part of my everyday life. Even living in Seoul, one of the biggest cities in the world, where more and more people of different ethnicities come every year, children on the subway stare at me unabashedly, store employees sometimes get visibly nervous when I come to pay at the counter and my students frequently ask me why I have gold hair.

When I was living in the smaller Fuji City, Japan, my presence as a foreigner was much more pronounced. While waiting at a crosswalk one day, a high school girl beside me turned and jumped, screeching “ah! Gaijin da!” “Ah! A foreigner!” I remember once at a hostel in Fukuoka, Japan, a middle-aged Japanese woman was asking the staff for directions to a certain temple when I popped into the conversation and told her, in Japanese, what train station it is near. The woman gave me a confused look, then asked the receptionist, “did he just speak Japanese?” To which I responded, “Yes, that’s right.” Again, to the receptionist, she replied “Wow, that’s interesting.”

Be sure to check out all the other Kimchi-ite posts here.No matter which Asian country you live in, there seems to be a certain subset of questions and comments that the foreign community constantly received. People will ask if you are capable of using chopsticks. Any use of the local language will yield extremely flattering praise, regardless if you simply said “hello” or if you gave an in depth appraisal of surgical medical equipment. Sometimes, white Westerners may get a little bit of superstar treatment, people coming up to them at bars, buying them drinks and saying that how much the Westerner looks like a movie star with a “small face” (the above photo is the result of a night like that).

But, the good comes with the bad. Once a friend of mine here in Seoul tried to set me up on a blind date with his female friends, and more than a couple turned me down simply because of the fact that I am a foreigner, saying that I am simply passing through Korea and not looking for something serious. Also, a foreigner can live in an Asian country for the majority of their life, get married, have kids, obtain citizenship, but to the public at large, they will always be seen as an outsider first. This comes with the territory. It’s important to know that people are often not intentionally being rude or discriminatory; they are just unfamiliar with foreigners. This possibly being one of the few times they have ever had to interact with one, having grown up in a homogenous society where 99% of people are of the same ethnic or racial background.

Growing up, I remember more than a few times when my teachers told the class, “You wouldn’t want to live in a world were everyone was the same race, with the same hair, skin and eye color, would you?” The truth is, not everywhere is a soup of diversity, even within the United States. The world is certainly heading in a much more connected, multi-cultural direction and it’s exciting to be bridging that gap between east and west.

[Photos by Jonathan Kramer]

10 important phrases to know before going to Ghana, Africa

10 important phrases to know in ghana africaLearning a foreign language can be difficult. And, for people traveling to Ghana for only a short amount of time, trying to become fluent in Twi, the principal native language of the country, may be a bit farfetched. However, learning some important phrases before you go can help prepare you for a more comfortable experience.

Eti sen?
How are you?

In Ghana, the people are extremely friendly, and everyone, even complete strangers, are going to ask you this. Greetings are very important in Ghana, and if you don’t want to be seen as impolite then be sure to learn this phrase and use it as much as possible.10 important phrases to know before going to ghana africaEh ya.
I’m fine.

When someone asks you how you’re doing, this should always be your response, even if you’re having a terrible day. If Ghana, people don’t share these troubles in response to someone greeting them, so no matter how you are really feeling, just say you’re fine.

Ye fro wo sen.
What is your name?

When you meet new people, make sure to ask them their name, even if just to be polite. It is more than likely that you will also be asked what your name is many times throughout your stay in Ghana, so knowing this expression ahead of time can be helpful.

Maa chi/Maa ha/Maa jo.
Good morning/Good afternoon/Good evening.

Politeness goes a long way, and when locals see that you’re making an effort to learn their language and greet them, they’ll respect you more and not look at you as a lost and confused foreigner. It’ll also help you immerse yourself in the culture that much more.

Oburoni.
Foreigner.

This is an expression you will hear a lot. And, when I say a lot, I mean at least 20 to 100 times each day. While it may sound offensive, as in many Western cultures shouting “foreigner!” at someone is taken rudely, in Ghana they mean it in a friendly manner as a way to say hello and try to get to know you. Even if you don’t want to respond to the shouts of the locals, it is nice to know what exactly it is they are yelling at you.

Wo bay jay sen?
What is the fare?

As a visitor to the country, you most likely aren’t going to have a car (and once you see the crazy drivers, traffic congestion, and pothole filled roads in Ghana, you won’t want one). Therefore, taxis and tro-tros (kind of like a packed out mini-van) are going to be your transportation options. If you are traveling locally by tro-tro, you can almost bet that the fare will be under 1 Ghana Cedi. However, if you are taking a taxi it can be helpful to know how to ask how much the trip will cost.

Te so.
Reduce it.

On that some note, as an “oburoni” you will undoubtedly be charged the foreigner price, sometimes as much as four times what the locals pay. Don’t feel bad about bartering the price down. And, once the taxi drivers hear you speaking the local language, they will be more likely to give you a fair price.

Wa ye sen?
This is how much?

Just like with taxi fare, be prepared for hawkers and market salespeople to charge you a higher price than the locals. When shopping in the markets or buying food and other items on the street, politely ask how much something is. Then, go back to the prior phrase of “Te so”, and ask them to reduce it.

Koo se.
Sorry.

As a foreigner, it is inevitable that you will make mistakes along the way. If you find you have made a cultural faux pas, just be polite and apologize.

Me daa si.
Thank you.

The people of Ghana are very friendly and will often help you figure out your way around the area and local customs. Whether someone points you in the direction of the nearest public toilet, serves you a delicious meal, shows you the local beaches, or takes you on a guided tour of one of the historical castles, show gratitude and thank them.

Lost and Liberated in the Dordogne

“I’m lost. I’m late. I’m sorry,” I blurted into the phone, in French.

Silence.

“So, Monsieur Manouvrier, if it’s OK I would still like to meet you today.”

“You are an hour late. Do you think I have nothing better to do? You Americans think you are so important?” he bellowed, barely breathing between salvos. “Do you think we are so honored to speak to an American that we will stop everything else in our lives?”

I wanted to shout, “You know nothing about me!” But since it was my last day in the Dordogne, and since I wanted to meet this man before I left, I pleaded, “Please, may I still come?”

“Fine,” he replied. The slam of the receiver reverberated in my ear before I could ask him for more directions.

As an American who had spent many years traveling in France, I sometimes felt like the honorary town piñata, enduring swing upon jab about my accent, my nationality, and the political leanings of our President who, I had constantly to remind people, was not a personal friend of mine. But despite the occasional bashing, I had also become a defender of the French, charmed by the generosity of those who had welcomed me, a stranger, into their homes, and seduced by their pervasive and earnest joie de vivre.

So, alone in a three-chimney village somewhere in southwestern France, at a crossroads, literally and figuratively, I had two choices: I could abandon this meeting altogether or I could exemplify American perseverance. Though the first thought soothed me for a solid five minutes, I folded up my map and set out, knowing that the long road ahead was more than just the one I was lost on.

***

In France, as in many parts of the world, the best information arrives by word of mouth, or de bouche à l’oreille as they say, from mouth to ear. This is how I had learned of Roland Manouvrier, an artisanal ice cream maker — and the source of my navigational woes.

I had been in the Dordogne for nearly a month researching a culinary travel book. Having amassed a stockpile of classic recipes from local chefs and home cooks, I was in search of something, and someone, a little different. One of these people was Chef Nicolas DeVisch, who had taken over his parents’ restaurant in the medieval village of Issigeac, and whose menu did not include a single serving of duck or foie gras—two mainstays of the regional cuisine. Nicolas had invited me to dinner and after several courses of his non-conventional cooking, had plunked a tub of ice cream down on the table, handed me an espresso spoon, and invited me to dig into the white creamy contents. Preparing my taste buds for vanilla or coconut, or some other sweet savor, I closed my lips around the mouthful. The cold burned my tongue then melted down the back of my throat. Nicolas’s eyebrows arched in question.

“Goat cheese?” I guessed.

“Yes, from the village of Racamadour,” he confirmed. “And you should really meet this guy before you go.”

***

After crisscrossing the Dordogne countryside for nearly two hours, I had pulled off the road to make that call to Roland. The prowess of the GPS had been no match for rural French addresses that delight in omitting street names and numbers, replacing them with titles like The Sheep Barn and The Old Mill. Finally, thanks to a helpful barista, I zeroed in on Roland’s address, given simply as The Industrial Zone in the village of Saint-Geniès.

When I arrived 20 minutes later, Roland met me at his office door wearing a white lab coat, a plastic hair net set askew atop his wavy brown hair, and a scowl. The archetypal mad scientist, I thought. For a second the story of Hansel and Gretel popped into my head. I wondered if anyone would hear me scream as Roland shoved me into a cauldron over a hot fire. Would I be his next flavor—Glace à l’Américaine?

“How much time do you need?” he barked, bursting my reverie.

“As much as you’ll give me,” I answered. Roland corrected my French.

“Because you’re late, I’m late, and I must make deliveries.”

“How about I help you? We can talk on the road,” I offered.

“Pppffff…” Roland produced the classic French noise made by blowing air through one’s relaxed lips, often done to dismiss something just said.

I followed him through his stainless steel kitchen and helped him load frozen cases of ice cream into his delivery van. As I moved them into place, I noticed the flavors penned in black ink on the lid of each container: Tomato-Basil; Szechwan; Rose; Violet; Calvados. I asked Roland if I could include one of his unusual recipes in my book.

“What do you think? I have a formula like at McDonalds? I don’t write my recipes down. They are not exact, and depend on many influences.”

“Pppfff…” he added.

We coursed the serpentine Dordogne roads, past fields of sunbathing flowers and over oak-encrusted hills, delivering the frozen parcels every 15-20 minutes. Each time Roland got back in the car, he shelled me with questions. Do you like Andy Warhol? Have you ever been to New York? Have you ever seen a real cowboy? How about a real Indian? What is the point of baseball? Each time I answered, he corrected my French, which became irksome.

I finally took a sarcastic swing back at him. “If you prefer, we could speak in English. Would that be easier for you?”

“Why would I speak in English? I am in France and French is my language!” he yelled.

My face flushed and jaw tightened. Short-fused from the incessant corrections and aching from the smile I had been faking for the last hour, I was ready to abandon this day and this ill-mannered ice cream man. I blew up.

“It’s people like YOU who give the French a bad reputation in my country. And in case YOU haven’t noticed, I am in YOUR country speaking YOUR language because YOU can’t speak mine.”

I braced myself for retaliation. Roland stared straight ahead, his hands clenching the steering wheel. After a tense ten-second interlude, he asked me about the reputation the French have in America. I told him that, though generalizing, we found them rude, arrogant, and hateful toward Americans. Roland’s belly-bouncing chuckle filled the air, but he said nothing more, not even to correct me.

We crossed a bridge and puttered down the main two-lane street of Saint-Léon-sur-Vézère, our final stop for the day. The sun was low in the summer sky and cast an ochre glow on the stone buildings. Garlands of yellow and orange paper flowers strung between the steeply pitched rooftops swayed overhead, remnants of a recent festival. We parked and found a table in the sun at the town’s only café. Roland ordered me to wait while he delivered ice cream to his brother down the street. I watched him shake hands and kiss-kiss the cheeks of a few people along the way before disappearing into a doorway. When I saw him again, he was back on the street, handing out ice cream cones from the back of his van to lucky passersby. He waved me over.

I asked him if he lived in Saint-Leon-sur-Vézère.

“No. This is where I was born,” he said.

Roland pulled out another familiar white container and scooped the bright orange ice cream into two cones and handed me one. The mandarin orange flavor couldn’t have tasted better if I had plucked it from a tree.

We drifted through the cobblestone streets of the riverside village and as I lapped up the frozen treat, Roland unlatched his memories. He pointed out the window he’d broken while trying to master a yo-yo; the home of a girl he once had a crush on; the church where he got married. We stopped in front of the brown wooden door of a village house and Roland told me the lady who had once lived there had found a rusted American G.I. helmet in her garden.

“She gave the helmet to my father and we kept it displayed on top of an armoire in our house for many years,” Roland said.

“Why? What interest did your father have in it?” I asked.

“We didn’t know anything about the soldier. Did he come from Oklahoma? Wyoming? Did he have a family?” Roland said. Then he raised his finger in the air. “The only thing we knew for certain was that this anonymous American came here to liberate France. For that we are grateful.”

Tears pricked my eyes, in part because of the unexpected provenance of this story, and in part because of the image it conjured up inside my head: a black and white photo of my 19-year-old grandfather in his G.I. helmet.

We sat wordless atop a low rock wall for several minutes, feet dangling over the Vézère River.

“Thank you for sharing that story,” I eventually said.

“Thank you for coming today,” Roland replied, in English.

A handwritten recipe for his Tomato-Basil sorbet showed up in my mailbox a month later.

Kimberley Lovato is a freelance writer based in San Francisco. Her writing has appeared in National Geographic Traveler, Afar, Delta Sky Magazine, Executive Travel Magazine and in other print and online media. Her culinary travel book, Walnut Wine & Truffle Groves, was published in 2010 and includes the recipe for Roland’s Tomato-Basil sorbet. For more information about her travels and work, visit www.kimberleylovato.com

Knocked up abroad: Turkish superstitions on pregnancy and children

Turkish superstitionsBeing pregnant in a foreign country, even as a traveler, gives you a unique perspective into a culture, their beliefs and practices, and values. While I’ve been in Istanbul, I’ve found Turkish superstitions to apply to all aspects of life, pregnancy and children no exception. Over the past six months, I’ve heard a lot of interesting customs and beliefs, some of them wackier than others. Turks love babies and tend to be deferential towards pregnant women – I always get a seat on the train and am often offered help whether I need (or want) it or not.

As a foreigner with a non-Turkish husband, I’ll be exempt from many of these traditions, but enjoy learning about each of them.
The nazar – don’t leave home without it
If you’ve been to Turkey, you’ve undoubtedly seen the nazar boncuk, or evil eye, everywhere. The blue glass stone is put on doorways, cars, jewelry, and anywhere else it can be attached to. There is no religious significance and not many people still believe the old superstitions, but the tradition remains. Few Turkish parents would let their child out without a nazar pinned to their clothing for protection from evil spirits.

Beware of cold
Nearly every illness in Turkey will be attributed to cold drafts, and this means many Turks will not use air conditioning in summer, and bundle babies even on the hottest days. Cold floors are repeatedly the culprit, and women should avoid walking barefoot to avoid infertility, miscarriage, and just unpleasant gas. Mothers-to-be should wear slippers to avoid lectures from Turks. After birth, the mother should continue to stay warm while breastfeeding, as cold milk will result in a stomachache.

On food
My favorite Turkish custom has yet to happen for me, but it’s said that if a pregnant woman smells food, she must taste it. In theory, waiters might chase pregnant women down the street with a food sample to avoid bad luck. If you crave sweet things, you’ll have a boy; sour food means a girl. A lot of red meat will result in a boy, mainly vegetables, a girl. If a pregnant woman eats eggs, the baby will be naughty. Any particular food cravings may result in a birthmark on the baby in the shape of the food. I’ll keep you posted if I have a badly-behaved set of boy-and-girl twins with pickle-shaped birthmarks.

Be careful what you look at
According to Turkish custom, pregnant women should look at nothing but pretty things while expecting, for fear that the baby could take on unpleasant characteristics of an ugly, disabled, or dead person. Trips to the zoo are limited too, it’s bad luck to look at bears, monkeys, or camels. It is said that if you look at a person often, the baby will resemble them, so keep watching Mad Men if you want a handsome boy. For extra measure, once the baby is born, never call him cute or pretty, best to call it ugly so that the spirits won’t make it so.

Cutting the cord
When the baby is being delivered, fathers will choose a secret name and tell the doctor, who will whisper it into the baby’s ear as she is born. After birth, the umbilical cord has to be properly disposed of, and where it is buried will influence the child’s life. Bury it outside a mosque for a devout child, at a medical school for a future doctor (I’m guessing Harvard must have a lot of umbilical cords in the grounds). Circumcision practices are a whole other story, but they happen much later in life for boys and involve little sultan’s costumes.

Visiting the baby
Traditionally, new mothers didn’t leave the house for the first 40 days of the baby’s life, but this is rarely the case today in Turkish cities. Baby showers take place after the birth in the home of the new baby. New parents should provide small gifts for guests who visit the baby, such as chocolates or a sachet of herbs. In return, guests bring pieces of gold for the baby (also common at Turkish weddings) and drink a special drink, Lohusa Şerbeti, to welcome the newborn.

Sweat the small stuff
Most of us have heard that pregnant women should be careful coloring their hair (it’s really fine, just avoid getting color on your skin), but many Turks also believe that cutting the mother’s hair will cut the baby’s life short. Speaking of short, don’t measure the baby, lest he stay short-statured. Finally, they may be small, but don’t think you can just step over a baby: it’s bad luck for you as babies are considered to be angels.

Many thanks to my Turkish and expat friends at the Sublime Portal for their stories, input and advice!

Gadling readers, what beliefs are popular in your country or places you’ve traveled?

[Photo courtesy Flickr user Camera on Autopilot]


Want more Knocked Up Abroad? Check out the first few installments here, and stay tuned for more on travelling in the second and third trimester, where to do pre-baby shopping, and more on having a baby in a foreign country.

Universal Orlando announces Mardi Gras concert lineup

Universal Mardi Gras concert lineup

Thirty Seconds to Mars, Ne-Yo and Blake Shelton are among the headliners just announced for Universal Orlando’s Mardi Gras this spring.

The 2011 Mardi Gras celebration happens on weekend nights Feb. 12 through April 23 at the Universal Studios Florida theme park in Orlando, Florida.

Here’s the concert lineup:

  • Feb. 12: Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons
  • Feb. 19: The B-52s
  • Feb. 20: KC & The Sunshine Band
  • Feb. 26: Pitbull
  • March 5: Lynyrd Skynyrd
  • March 12: Foreigner
  • March 18: Neon Trees
  • March 19: Thirty Seconds to Mars
  • March 25: OneRepublic
  • March 26: Blake Shelton
  • April 1: Sean Kingston
  • April 2: Ne-Yo
  • April 9: Lifehouse
  • April 16: The Beach Boys

Universal’s Mardi Gras also includes a nightly parade with floats designed by Blaine Kern Artists in New Orleans, and, of course, lots and lots of beads.

A “French Quarter” street party serves up cajun food and musicians playing blues, jazz and zydeco.

Universal Orlando’s Mardi Gras is included with regular theme park admission to Universal Studios Florida – no separate ticket is required for the concerts.