My travel habit probably started when I was three or four years old. One of my earliest childhood memories was taking a cross-country trip to visit my grandmother for Christmas (or some other holiday). I spent a lot of time in my youth staring out the windshield of my mom’s truck going from horse show to horse show, I left the country for the first time when I was in high school. I joined the military after high school, and of course that led to even more overseas travel and working in foreign countries. In 2005 I took my first overseas contract job working in Antarctica. I started traveling for extended periods after that and haven’t looked back.
Even though, technically, I had lived in foreign countries during my time in the military I hadn’t really experienced life in a foreign country the way that the people from there do. Living on a military base shares many similarities with living in the U.S. The food is familiar, the products in the store are familiar and things work just like they do back home.
One year ago, I took a job overseas, working and living in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. The challenges of living in a foreign city turned out to be pretty grand. Things that I would take for granted in the U.S., e.g. trash removal, mail service, grocery shopping were done differently, and in a language I didn’t understand. The food smelled bad, and was unfamiliar. The products in the grocery store were strange and I damn sure couldn’t read the labels. I became overly self-conscious about my consumerism at trash time. It was the strangest thing. You see, there are no dumpsters in Taiwan, instead, the trash trucks circle the city playing ice-cream truck music and everyone rushes out to the street with their bag of garbage to throw in the truck. Every day when trash time would roll around, I would grab my massive bag of trash and share an elevator for 24 floors with my neighbors who barely appeared to consume anything. For every 40-gallon hefty I filled up, my neighbors filled up something that was equivalent in size to a sandwich bag.
When my job in Taiwan ended, my wife and I moved to Hunachaco, Peru. Huanchaco is a place that I had traveled to once before. The differences that I am noticing between traveling in Peru and living in Peru are pretty immense. Eating in Peru isn’t expensive, and if you’re o.k. with goat stew it can be downright cheap to eat in Peru. Hostels and hotels in Peru don’t tend to have kitchens because it is so easy and convenient to eat out. But, now that we live here, and saving money is a greater concern, I’ve had to explore shopping
for food at the local mercado. If the food had packaging, I could probably safely say that the packaging and labeling were different, but alas, it’s not packaged at all. Fruits, veggies and grains are all easy enough, but meat is something else, entirely. I don’t know how to ask for “rack of goat ribs” and I wouldn’t know what to do with a whole chicken, on full display with half-formed eggs still attached. What is the best cut of manta ray?
From a previous post about moving overseas:
I don’t know how to butcher a chicken. It’s not pre-packaged for me in Styrofoam and plastic wrap. I could very well starve to death, not for a lack of food, but for a lack of knowledge.
I will admit this, however, the lack of packaging on my food sure has cut down on my daily waste. Also, consider this interesting fact about Peru: You can’t flush toilet paper. The plumbing simply can’t deal with it. Now, if you’re traveling and staying in hostels or hotels and forget, or simply blow it off, no big deal, right? If somebody else’s plumbing gets clogged up, it’s not really your problem is it? But when you live here…I don’t even want to try to negotiate with a plumber.