I sat in front of my journal this morning, preparing to write my daily 3 pages of whatever was on my mind at that moment. It's a habit I'm trying to build, as part of my 12 week study of The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. I basically write whatever comes to mind, following my stream of consciousness wherever it wants to lead. It's not pretty, but it's proving effective in helping me recover my creativity.
Cockroaches was the first thing on my mind this morning. It was the last thing on my mind last night and it had kept me up for longer than I was proud of. We'd found a cockroach on the rim of my mug before bed. It wasn't unusual to see cockroaches in the apartment in Taichung - they are a universal problem throughout the country. But if I'm being honest, the knowledge that there is probably a cockroach in the same room as me, wherever and whenever that may be, really freaked me out.
That led to the topic of today's journal. I started thinking about what other things I'd found challenging since I'd left the comforts of our life back in London. I came up with this nine. It's not in any particular order. Most of them are silly.
#1: Cockroaches in Taiwan (cockroach singular in Cuba / Morocco)
Cockroaches are everywhere in Taiwan. In all apartments an houses. They don't discriminate, not caring if you're rich or poor, young or old. It's an equalising (is that the right word) and unifying experience for all people here. I'm pretty stumped as to why the genius nation of HTC and ASUS haven't yet figured out a solution to the pressing problem of cockroaches. I mean, why isn't this at the top of the government's priorities?!
They come in many different types. Apparently there are over 20 different species of cockroaches in the country and seven that are commonly found in homes. (SEVEN?!) Some are massive, growing up to three inches long. Others are of smaller fare, a centimetre or less, but rapid as hell. Apparently these smaller species have recently taken over homes, pushing out their larger competitors (I heard rumours that they devoured the bigger ones). In my mind these are the modern day velociraptors of Jurassic Park II.
#2: Cereal with milk and coffee
I was introduced to this monstrosity of a breakfast by some Spanish girls at a hostel in Brasov, Romania. They called it the breakfast of champions. The ultimate breakfast for the modern day go-getters that just don't have the time for a normal ceral with milk, followed by a separate cup of coffee. It looks a bit like chocolate milk though, and to be honest it wasn't too bad. But the concept I just found...challenging.
I can't believe this made it into my top 9...
#3: Mosquitoes (that don't give a crap whether you're wearing DEET and layers of clothing)
I met these buggers in Cuba, the most vicious ones during my stay in the Bay of Pigs. Apparently they make their homes in the marshlands amongst the crocodiles. Maybe that's why they have super-mosquito abilities biting through T-shirts, trousers and skin smothered in DEET.
#4: Bizarre selling techniques of Moroccan merchants
In the souks of Morocco, vendors in the souks would often call out at us "China! Japan! Arigato!" Sometimes they would shout this as we approach them. Other times it would be after we'd smiled politely at the and said "non, merci" to their "my friend, my friend, free to see, come in!"
I found it hard to understand their logic. Did they really expect us to turn around and say "well done, you guessed correctly (wrongly!) so now I'll change my mind, come into your shop and spend money as you try to rip me off"? And what was up with the arigatos? It means thank you, in Japanese. What if I'd shouted random words back? "Les singe aiment les bananes!"
Their stupidity I found challenging, as well as the flashbacks to growing up in pre-politically correct 90s England.
#5: The missed opportunities to say clever (or stupid, according to Iris) things back to annoying people
In the medinas of Morocco we'd come across teenagers and young men that would try to stop us and say "that was is closed, what are you looking for?" We'd try to go on nice strolls, trying our hardest to get lost in the medinas and these guys would try their hardest to stop us. Sometimes we'd encounter this as we were heading home after dinner. They would never listen to our reply when we'd try to explain we were heading back to our riad.
"Le sens de la vie, mon ami" is a phrase I'd looked up in preparation ahead of our final few days in Marrakech. It means "the meaning of life, my friend". I thought it was hilariously clever, although Iris disapproved. Sadly I only encountered one opportunity afterwards and I forgot what I was supposed to say. Sad times.
#6: Taxi drivers who would try to get our attention by honking at us as we walked casually on the streets of Cuba and Morocco
This would be accompanied by "taxi, my friend?" No, if we wanted to take a taxi we'd have flagged you down. "Good price for you" would come the response. This got old very quickly as a nice walk would inevitably be punctuated by a sharp honk and man shouting in a gruff voice.
#7: People talking AT you
In Morocco (and Cuba, to a much lesser extent), the hustle was strong. A lot of people were pleasant and we generally didn't mind them starting a conversation with us, although we'd turn down their products or services politely. Others would start a barrage of talking at us, so much that I'd fear for their lives - take a breath!
I'd maybe get a sentence in now and again, but they'd ignore whatever it is I said and just carry on. I'd go through "ecoutez-moi" (listen to me!), "arretez, s'il vous plait" (stop it please) and sometimes have to resort to "tais-toi!" (shut your trap)! I mean, damn these guys like the sound of their voices! I felt like I was being violated with their voice against my will.
No judgement though. Maybe it's a cultural things. Maybe they're just desperate for business (or money to go away). Maybe they're just inconsiderate douches. Whatever the reason, as an introvert I found this very challenging.
#8: Not being able to flush toilet paper in Cuba
They have bins that you put used toilet paper in. Some of them didn't have lids. Yeah, first world problems and Iris calls me a city boy disapprovingly, but I found it hard alright?!
These are tiny bits of fireworks that you light and throw onto the floor. They make a loud bang, much like a gunshot. Kids (and some young men who obviously were missing some sense) were crazy about these in Marrakech. We'd here them on every street corner, night and day.
I couldn't think of any more. I hope this doesn't sound negative or moany. I've had a fantastic time since I left London and don't regret one thing. I thought it would be fun to share some things I've found challenging away from home, in total recognition that most of these come from my very privileged background.
What are some of the things you've found hardest while travelling?