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It’s nearly April, a time when people in Europe start shedding their winter layers and plan trips to warmer destinations.

Whether you’re in your gap year, taking a breather 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 45 years and worked or travelled to most continents.

Everywhere seems to offer something attractively different, something fresh.

From a young age, my parents drilled into me the importance of meeting someone’s gaze when expressing gratitude, no matter how small the favour.

I Always Remember I Am A Visitor To Their Country

Traveling abroad is an open invitation to embrace the unfamiliar. 

Back in the 1970s, English tourists in Spain lamented the absence of their beloved English comforts – beers, food, newspapers, and TV shows!

I’ve stumbled upon this gem multiple times on social media, and it never fails to bring a smile to my face.

While tourists undoubtedly boost the economies of the places they visit, their impact isn’t always sunshine and rainbows.

• Some tourists see famous landmarks or natural sites as blank canvases for their graffiti or as places to leave their mark, causing damage to historical or natural treasures. A 15 year old Chinese tourist defaced 3,500-year-old Egyptian temple in Luxor with the words “’Ding Jihao was here”

• Even the Spanish have become tired of drunkenness and have restricted alcohol sales by putting a set price on booze in a string of bold measures to crack down on binge-drinking tourists.

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

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

Venice sure knows how to draw a crowd, with a whopping 30 million tourists flocking in each year. That’s a staggering 2.5 million visitors each month. But alas, amidst the hustle and bustle, those unfortunate gondolas sometimes find themselves capsized by rowdy revellers.

Meanwhile, in other parts of Italy, the antics continue. Remember the tale of the young tourist caught red-handed, or rather, red-marker-handed, carving initials into the venerable walls of the Colosseum? His wallet felt the weight of his folly with a hefty fine of Euro15,000.

And let’s not forget the Saudi visitor who decided the Spanish Steps were the perfect place for a Maserati joyride. His bumpy descent fractured two of the famous steps.

Fortunately, for every mischief-maker, there are plenty of good Samaritans out there. So, fear not, your kindness won’t go unnoticed in this world of wanderlust and whimsy.

Returning home from supper on our scooter one evening in Bali, we realised it had a flat tyre. All the local puncture repair places 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, 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 tyre repaired by 10am tomorrow morning. 

Did we know him? No. Were we impressed? Very!

The cost to us when we collected our scooter the following morning?  £2.60

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

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 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 with different meanings.

Globally it is used in sign language. In Great Britain it conveys “okay” or gives approval.  The US used to be the same but recent events have turned a 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 where you are.

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 busload of tourists from Hong Kong arrived and the passengers disembarked. 

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

Embrace 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 and restaurants service “American Food” when local coffee shops and restaurants are perfectly good.

I haven’t been in a Starbucks or any other “corporate coffee” outlet for many years.

A few years ago we flew to Australia for a month or so.  While in New South Wales and Victoria we visited a few small towns that had been overwhelmed by the bushfires. 

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

I was told not to go there as the locals were angry and view strangers with suspicion.

Not a chance – they welcomed anyone who stays the night in a hotel, eats in the cafe and just speaks with them over a cold beer.  

Spending any amount of money in a devastated community helps.

Before our visit to the Banda Islands in East Indonesia (2014) we were warned that the locals didn’t like foreigners.  

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

Everyone wanted to show us around their island.

One resident even refloated a small dugout canoe from the seabed so he could paddle us over to another island.

Now if we’d kicked anyone off their scooters or defaced their monuments, what might have been the outcome?

I probably just needed to get this off my chest!

Graeme Dinnen

Banda Neira 2014  Mother and daughter preparing to make nutmeg jam, nutmeg biscuits, nutmeg soap and nutmeg shampoo.

The shell burns rapidly making nutmeg charcoal.

Banda Neira, 2014 Going home with the kids before the heavens open.

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