FOR many of us, December marks the annual rush to clear leftover leave days and take a much needed break from the daily grind.
This writer is no exception: after months of anticipating a maiden visit to Bangkok, we decided that the ongoing protests - which paused for a truce in honour of the 86th birthday of revered King Bhumibol Adulvadei – were not reason enough to derail our plans for the City of Angels.
On the plane there, a brief conversation about our destination with Christine, a Malaysian travelling for business purposes, got me thinking: what are some habits that come to the fore when you take a Malaysian out of his or her natural environment?
Here are five ‘common quirks’ that we seem to share in an international setting.
Look ma, it’s … me!
In our eagerness to share the sights with our loved ones back home, we never fail to whip out our cameras (or smartphones) to photograph the many places and monuments crammed into our travel itinerary.
But our ‘on-site selfies’ tend to feature more of and less of our surroundings: common moves include prominently placing ourselves smack dab in the middle of the shot and blocking out the magnificent structures in the background, or posing with a yummy dish and mock-eating it instead of focusing on the food itself.
Fascination with convenience stores
Is it just me, or are convenience stores elsewhere that much more interesting? When abroad, a chief joy is to devote some time to browsing the aisles of foreign 7-11 stores or supermarkets, and leaving with a grocery-laden cart.
Many a happy hour has been spent simply contemplating the amazing variety of drinks available – packet bubble tea, collagen ‘beauty’ tonic, banana-flavoured milk! – and stocking up on the oddest of snacks to avoid incurring extra charges by plundering the hotel minibar.
Queue = quality?
If we see people queuing up to enter an attraction, the first instinct for most is to join it. The logic is (fairly) sound: if people are willing to put up with delay in an age of instant gratification, then it must be worth waiting for.
(Nevermind if you’re starving and the line outside that famous café isn’t moving an inch – hunger is the best sauce!)
Ps and Qs
Maybe it’s our inherent need to be sopan (mannered), but Malaysian travellers seem to take the trouble of learning the pleasantries native to the place they are visiting.
My travel companion and good friend Karyn has already learned how to say “thank you”(khob khun kha in Thai), and uses the expression at every opportunity.
Sometimes, all it takes to break the ice and elicit a smile from a stranger is a simple “Good morning!” greeting in a familiar tongue.
The reverse is certainly true: we couldn’t help but laugh in pleasant surprise when a friendly taxi driver boomed out a hearty “Saya sayang padamu!” upon hearing we were from Malaysia.
If day-to-day work consists of ticking off the items on a never-ending to-do list, a strict adherence to travel itineraries could well be the same drudgery in disguise.
My insistence on finding a certain restaurant in Bang Na, a district about half an hour’s drive from Bangkok’s city centre, led to long drawn travels down some strange soi (roads).
In the end, we settled for a random roadside eatery, and found ourselves pleasantly surprised by the humble but hearty offerings.
It’s a lesson I’m still learning, but it hit home last night: failing to go with the flow for fear of “missing out” on the best that a foreign country has to offer, is akin to following the same humdrum of everyday routine that you went on holiday to escape from.
What are some quirks you notice about yourself and fellow countrymen when away on holiday?
The views expressed are entirely the writer's own