My friend and I were driving through north Laos at the end of my trip, and I asked why there aren't any homeless people. He told me that the Lao people are heavily devoted to their families. What money is made from working at the market or fields is then used if a family member is sick or needs a better place of shelter. It struck me how compassionate that is and something I don't see enough here in the states.
The first difference I noticed was they drive on the flipping wrong side of the road! It took me weeks before I could drive anywhere without holding the steering wheel in a death grip. Second, they have a pub in every village where the locals go to hang out at the end of the day and blow off steam, which does wonders for human relationships within the community. Third, the English language is a lot different over there. You quickly learn that asking for French fries will get you dirty looks, and you best adapt to the local custom of calling them “chips.” They call semi-trucks “lorries,” and a whole host of other small vernacular variations.
What was the most interesting thing you saw or visited and why? The most beautiful thing I saw there was a giant fountain in Parc de la Ciutadella. We went on a bike tour of Barcelona and while we were biking around we stopped in a park to walk around. There was a fountain in the middle of the park that was very elaborate and absolutely beautiful. One of my other favorite stops was La Boqueria. It's a famous market on Las Ramblas that has all kinds of different stands. Some have exotic fruit, some have hand-made candies, and some have different smoked meats and local cheeses. The whole place was filled with vivid colors and amazing smells.
What differences stood out to you the most? One evening, right before we were about to explore the night market, we had to have a group meeting. Everyone met in the 16th floor lobby of our hotel, and immediately you could sense that something was wrong. Our group leader explained to us that the government banned singing for an unknown amount of time. This was obviously disappointing, as we went to China to tour and sing in various locations, but it was much more than that. Our leader explained to us that we were not to talk about singing or if anyone asked why we were visiting that we had to make up an alternate excuse. He explained to us that the communist government is notorious for placing cameras behind mirrors and various places inside of buildings.
What differences stood out to you the most? Quality of life. Our tour guide took us through an area that we would certainly consider the "slums" of New Delhi. But for them, it was just a normal neighborhood. It was massive, and the streets were so narrow that only about three people could walk side by side. Certainly no cars (not that it matters, no one living there could afford a car). Our tour guide was taking us to visit his grandmother's home, which was large by the "slum" standards. There are about 16 people in his family living in a space of probably 1600 square feet. One sink, no mirror, and the kitchen the size of a coffee table. But I experienced zero pity - everyone looked happy.
I must say, however, I felt quite at home wherever I went, and not once did I feel out of place. The ebb and flow of the culture was welcoming to me. The people there understood the meaning of hospitality. Sharing one’s wealth with another has long been an ancient symbol of friendship. These amazing people shared just that: their homes, their food, and their smiles. The landscape and community were new to me, but they never truly seemed “unfamiliar.”