Planning a trip to Asia? There are some things you should know.
I lived in Hong Kong for two years, from 2009 to 2011. I knew little about Asia before moving there, so some things I saw in Hong Kong or elsewhere in the region really shocked me or left me scratching my head. So without any further ado, and in no particular order, here are the nine things you should know about Asia before you go.
1. The major cities in Asia are very densely populated, so if you don't like/aren't used to crowds, you better get over it. There are tons of people EVERYWHERE. ALL THE TIME. Hong Kong, in particular, is a fast-paced city, so these zillions of people have places to go. So if you are dawdling/loitering in a public area, you better move and get out the way before you get steamrolled.
2. Many of the major cities in the region are VERY polluted. Don't believe me? The World Bank did a study in 2007 and found that 19 of the world's 20 most polluted cities are in Asia. If you have respiratory issues you will probably have a hard time there. My first week in Hong Kong, I had a terrible sore throat that I thought was due to a cold or flu. I was told that it was because of the pollution in the air. Many many days in Hong Kong are hazy and grey, not because of cloud cover, but because of the pollution from factories that has blown down there from mainland China.
3. Labor is cheap. You probably knew this already. Why do you think your favorite clothing brands have their big manufacturing plants in Asia? Why are all of your housewares made in China? But wait. You are not a huge company like Nike. So what does cheap labor mean for the "little guy"? Well, many people in Hong Kong have a cleaning lady. You don't need to be rich to have one. I am FAR from rich, but I had one come to tidy my place once a week. Ninety percent of my friends did as well. Many people in Hong Kong routinely have nannies and drivers. It is normal. Back in Canada, where I'm from, only rich people have these things. It took a while to get used to the idea.
4. They use bamboo for scaffolding. It is apparently pretty strong and flexible. Don't know what I mean? Google it.
5. Don't smoke? Don't like smelling other people's smoke? Then you might not like Asia. People smoke a LOT there. In fact, Asia has the highest percentage of smokers worldwide. I don't smoke. The rampant smoking was a problem for me every time I left the house. You smell cigarette smoke everywhere. In hotels in Beijing and Cambodia I had to ask to switch rooms, because even the non-smoking room they would give me stank of cigarettes. Eww!
6. Scared of critters? Get over it. The roaches are HUGE in most parts of Asia. Actually, I didn't take my own advice. I was and still am afraid of the huge roaches in Hong Kong. When it is humid and damp outside there are hordes of them. The species that they have in most parts of the region is the "American cockroach" (don't click the link if you're squeamish!), which is ironic as this is Asia. Even weirder, I've never seen an Asian species cockroach here. The things that make you go "hmm"...
7. If you are different and traveling in rural part of Asia, be prepared to get stared at. This really goes for many rural areas in the world. But if you are a person of a darker hue like myself, or fair, or blonde, or red-headed, be prepared to get a LOT of attention in Asia. In Cambodia and Thailand people shouted out Obama when I walked past. In Korea and China, people have touched me or pulled my hair without asking. I think it's hilarious, but some people do not.
8. You will get fat here if you're not careful. Food in Asia is goooood. And greasy. And fattening. And filled with MSG and preservatives. I don't really fancy Chinese but am a sucker for Thai and Japanese and Korean barbecue. I put on weight without paying attention. Watch your calories (if you care). Eat in moderation to avoid blocked arteries and the like.
9. Don't come during rainy/typhoon/monsoon season. I think that's pretty self-explanatory. Different countries in the region have different times when they have icky weather. Having lived through a couple of Typhoon 8s in Hong Kong, and having narrowly escaped the Super Typhoon Megi in the Philippines when I was there in October of 2010, I offer these words of wisdom: Don't do it!
Read more of Oneika Raymond's adventures abroad on her blog: www.oneika-the-traveller.com