When I first started my journal entries of Europe, I started a halfhearted attempt at writing travel tips. I think I got about one or two in before before I forgot about it. Having time to reflect on that trip, and the many more since then, I have compiled the following list as advice for fellow travelers:
1. "Steal" A Hotel Business Card
This may seem a little strange, but these can actually be very helpful. Imagine this: you're halfway across the world, alone, and you don't speak the language. You've just had a long day shopping, eating and exploring and now, exhausted, you somehow managed to hail a cab. But the taxi driver doesn't speak English, and you don't speak their language. You can't describe your hotel, and you probably don't remember the name of it. What do you do? You hand them the hotel's business card. Not only can the taxi driver see what your hotel is called, but he can see the address of it.
2. Photograph Your Food
In many parts of the world, restaurants advertise their food outside, either on posters or in display cases. Some of it might even look appetizing! But how do you tell the people inside that you want the strange food item you saw outside? Simple. You take out your camera, take a picture of it, and when you go to take your order you show them the picture. They probably already know you're a foreigner, and it's probably best you don't try to explain what you want to eat it to them (because that's painful for all parties involved). If you have a picture of the item, they know exactly what you want, and you'll get exactly what you ordered... which brings us to our next point:
3. Don't Ask, Just Eat
You order your food, you wait, and it finally arrives. It's a steaming, hot, spicy plate of... something. Yuck. What is that? Is that what you ordered? It must be, but it just looks so... wrong. Maybe you even have somebody local with you who knows the dish, and they promise you it's good. You could point at the different objects and ask what they are (that's seaweed, that's octopus, that's quinoa and that's decoration; don't eat that), but that's kind of embarrassing. You're a world traveler; don't ask, just eat! Millions of people eat that same dish everyday and they survived. Maybe you won't like it, but there's a chance you will. And you're half way across the world. Get out of your comfort zone and eat something weird! If you weren't into that, why are you traveling anyway?
4. Bring Two Of Everything
If you read my article about London, I'm sure you read about when my power converter caught on fire and short circuited the hotel. That was devastating, but thankfully there was an electronic store a block away that had many more converters, and the hotel staff were able to flip the breaker and restore power. But could you imagine if that happened in a country where you don't speak the language? How do you explain to somebody that you were using your hair straightener and had your converter on the wrong setting and ignored the smoke until your converter blew up and the power went out? There's no easy way to explain that. So, to avoid that, you bring out your second converter and carry on, and let somebody else complain about the lack of power...
5. Don't Donate Abroad
You know who has lots of money? Tourists. You have so much money on you that it's easy to give some away. Like to the poor woman in London, who was giving away little purple flowers for any donation to help "the children", or the inspiring artists in New York who will try to con you to buy their mediocre rap CD. Everywhere from the subways of Paris to the streets of Ottawa, people will be asking you for money. Don't give it to them! If you want to be a charitable person, give your money to people in your own community, or to an organization that helps people in need. Charity is a great thing, but not when you're traveling. You're pockets aren't bottomless, and you might just need that extra £40.
6. Listen to Your Mother
Your mom has seen a lot and lived a bit longer than you. She has a few gems of timeless knowledge. If a strange Japanese man drives up to you and offers you a ride in the suburbs of Kyoto, what do you say? If a sketchy man in the queue for the Vatican offers you a "cheap and quick" way to get in, do you trust them? Your mom tells you exactly what train to take to get to your hotel after a long flight across the Atlantic Ocean, do you follow her directions? I'm not the best at following this rule, but had I done that, I probably would have experienced far less problems.
7. Be Respectful
You're a tourist, and as a result you're going to make mistakes. Maybe you forgot the tea ceremony directions and you didn't turn your cup counterclockwise before setting it on the floor, or maybe you pointed while in Hong Kong (which is rude) or you saluted a little extravagantly while in Germany (which is very rude) or maybe you didn't give your change to some pushy Frenchman in the subway (which apparently is extremely rude, according to him...). Whatever you do, try to be polite about it. You probably hear how "disrespectful" foreigners are in your country, so why would you want to be just like them? Take off your shoes, wash your hands, bow, be polite, don't use the flash on your camera when you're not suppose to, stuff like that. This isn't your country, this isn't your culture, this isn't your home. You're a guest.
8. Ask Questions
Did you know why there's no seagulls around the Empire State Building? Well, I didn't, and I asked. I didn't know there was a bald eagle that sits at the top of the building and swoops down and kills any bird that comes near. That's cool! I also didn't know what that abandoned building was across the East River in New York was. If you have a question, just ask!
9. Explore Lots, But Know When To Leave
Unless you're traveling to a war zone, you don't expect trouble. But, unfortunately, it does happen. When you feel unsafe, get out of the area. It's great to see the slums of London or the shadowy streets of Kowloon, but if you start to feel uneasy, leave. This happened to me while in Rome, when an army jeep with the Bio-hazard symbol stamped on it pulled up and guards with M16s hopped out. That was my cue to get the heck out of there. Same with when I was in New York during the premier of World War Z. The crowd was exciting and fun, but then the NYPD showed up and started setting up barricades, it was time to go.
10. Get Lost
Seriously. Yes, you'll have fun in the tourist traps of every city, but if you really want to explore a country, go someplace different. Go up that side road and wander around Rome for hours, miss your stop in Paris and end up in some distant village, wander into the senior citizen Buddhist temple in Tai O, visit the sex theatre in Amsterdam. Why not? Why have a million stories just like every other traveler out there, when you can have your own?
And, as always, a big thank you to my sweetheart Jessica Nuttall for proof reading a countless number of my articles. I couldn't do any of this without you. I love you.
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Imagine the bustling streets of New York, then times it by ten. Add a dash of Chinese culture, a wallop of nature and half dozen fish balls that don’t actually contain any fish, and you have the beautiful city that is Hong Kong.
At 7.2 million people, Hong Kong is a dynamic city with an incredible history, towering skyscrapers and a unique mix of English and Chinese that can’t be found anywhere else in the world. While Hong Kong has existed for a millennium, it was officially founded in 1842 to solidify a truce between Great Britain and the Qing dynasty of China during the First Opium War. A decade after the British took control of Hong Kong, the Black Death swept into China, killing hundreds of thousands of people. It would remain part of Hong Kong’s life for a century.
During World War II, Hong Kong was captured by the Japanese. For three years and eight months the British-Chinese culture of the city was destroyed, replaced with Japanese text, language and art. The booming city of 1.6 million people was slashed to only 600,000. Japanese occupation was incredibly harsh for the Hongkongese, being the darkest part of their history. Japan ceased occupation on August 6th, 1945, in response to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. For forty-two more years, Hong Kong was controlled by the British, with the reunification between Hong Kong and mainland China finally occurring in 1997.
The Island of the Dolls is in Xochimilco, a borough south of Mexico City. While it would be faster to take a car from Mexico City to Xochimilco, the traffic is dense and the roads are very congested. Instead, if you're going there, I'd recommend taking metro, which is easy and the cheapest in the world. What you gain in comfort, however, you lose in speed, as the train ride takes about 2 hours.
Mexico City and Xochimilco both sit in the Valley of Mexico. Until about a millennium ago, the whole region around Mexico City was surrounded by a massive body of water. Over the centuries due to both climate change and interference by humans, most of this water has dried up, for the exception of Xochimilco. With networks of canals crisscrossing the borough, car transportation is difficult and water transportation is essential. I'm sure there were motorized boats somewhere in the waters of Xochimilco, but I never saw any. Instead, canoes and rafts are common on the water. However, the most popular vessel is a trajinera – a colourful gonadal-like boat that is pushed along the water with a wooden pole.
Xochimilco is known worldwide for their Floating Gardens market, which are essentially canoes floating down the canals, selling wares to tourists on trajineras. These include things like food, drinks, silver rings, trinkets, ponchos and sombreros. Occasionally other trajineras full of Mariachi bands will approach tourists and offer to play beside them on the water.
Just over a year ago I wrote an article about the glockenspiel that once stood in downtown Regina. I had fond memories of the glockenspiel as a child and was sad when they took it down to renovate the park. I was even more sad when they didn't put it back up, and I was angry when I discovered it was sitting in a junkyard (sorry, outdoor "storage facility") for the past ten years. That article got a lot of attention, from both the public, the city and the press. Today, efforts are being made to restore the bell back to its original location.
I'm telling you this because preserving heritage – may it be a 25-year-old bell, or a fourth century building – is important. Without heritage, we lose who we are. Often, the desire to move society forward steps over the heritage and causes it to get lost. As impressive as tall glass buildings might be, nothing is better than a smoky red brick structure.
Saskatchewan is beginning to realize how important this is – and thankfully it's happening now and not in a few decades after everything is gone. But, our neighbours have been on the heritage preservation band train for several years now, especially in Alberta.