Whether you’re in your gap year, having a break, or in your retirement years, travelling is a rite of passage.

I consider myself extremely fortunate to have been born in Hong Kong, lived in Asia for 35 years and worked or travelled to most continents.

Everywhere seems to offer something different, something fresh.

One thing my parents instilled in me from early on was to look a person in the eyes as I thank them, even for the smallest thing.  If their eyes are other than brown in colour, note that colour.

Always Remember You Are A Visitor In Their Country

Travelling abroad is an invitation to do the things you’ve never done. 

English tourists to Spain in the 1970’s complained at the lack of English beers, English food, English newspapers and English TV!

There’s no doubt that tourists stimulate the economy of the countries they visit, but sometimes the leave an unpleasant memory.

• A 15 year old Chinese tourist defaced 3,500-year-old Egyptian temple with the words “’Ding Jihao was here”

• Spanish hot-spots are restricting alcohol sales and putting a set price on booze in a string of bold measures to crack down on binge-drinking tourists.

• In Bali last year an Australian visitor became so drunk that he fly-kicked a man off a moving scooter before throwing himself onto the bonnet of a nearby moving car.   He spent 4 months behind bars for the damage and trouble he caused.

Here’s evidence of his lamentable evening out (0:25)

Thankfully there are many good people out there and any genuine effort made on your part is reciprocated.

Returning home from supper on our scooter one evening, we realised the scooter had a flat tyre. 

All the local garages were closed so we kept going in hope until the tyre gave up and we pulled over.

An elderly man in a nearby house near where we came to a limping halt acknowledged our plight, confirmed the garages were all closed, told us to park our scooter in the entrance to his house and then gave us the key to his son’s  scooter. 

He told us he’d have our bike fixed by 10am tomorrow morning. 

Impressed? Very!

Cost to us?  £2.60….better than priceless!

By way of additional thanks I filled up his scooter with petrol and bought some crayons and a colouring book for his granddaughter who he was looking after.

My parents retired from Hong Kong to the Algarve, Portugal in 1968, leaving there for England in 1978.  In those ten years they only came across one drunk. Turned out he was on holiday from Germany.

The world consists of many different ethnicities.  What may make sense in one community may not always make sense in another.

The OK hand gesture (pictured) in which the thumb and index finger touch while the other fingers of the hand are held outstretched is an ancient gesture.

Many cultures use it but it conveys different meanings.

Globally it’s used in sign language. In Great Britain it conveys “okay” or communicates approval.  The US used to be the same but recent events have turned this simple hand gesture into a hate symbol for white power. 

The Japanese consider it to mean that something is worthless as in ‘zero’; practitioners of yoga use it as a mudra symbolising inner perfection.  

To the Italians the significance is extremely rude, that of a lady’s private parts.

So be careful what signs you give depending on which country you’re in,.

In the 1980’s I visited the Jenolan Caves in the Blue Mountains in New South Wales, Australia.  As I was preparing to exit the caves a bus tour from Hong Kong arrived.

Despite the clear warning (in Cantonese and English) not to touch anything I watched in horror as one tourist broke off part of a stalactite, had himself photographed with it and discarded the icicle-like formation that had taken years to form, to the ground.

Embracing The Difference

We choose to visit foreign destinations for many different reasons.  I always wonder why tourists from say the USA fall back on tourist hotspots like Starbucks when local coffee shops are perfectly good.

I haven’t been in a Starbucks for many years because there are so many better coffee outlets here in Bali.

It’s much the same with restaurants.

When we next visit Australia we’ll visit some of the small towns in New South Wales and Victoria that were overwhelmed by the recent bushfires. 

I write ‘recent’ because some fires are still burning and new ones are starting.

The people in the communities there have had their lives and their income ruined and all they have to support them are promises from their government.

I was warned not to go there as the locals are angry and view strangers with suspicion. Not a chance – they’ll welcome anyone who stays the night in a hotel, eats in the cafe or just talks with them over a cold beer.  

Spending any amount of money in an economically devastated community helps.

This reminds me of our visit to the Banda Islands in East Indonesia.  We were warned that the locals didn’t take kindly to foreigners.  

When we arrived we were welcomed, taken on an impromptu tour of a nutmeg factory, given front row seats at a Muslim wedding of two people we’d never met before and invited to take unlimited photos of families.

Everyone wanted to show us around their island.

One resident even refloated a small wooden boat that had sunk in the rains so he could paddle us over to another island.

I wonder what the outcome might have been had we kicked anyone off their scooters or defaced their monuments.

“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.” Anon

Graeme Dinnen www.resourcesforlife.net