I left on my trip today. Having been overseas before, I felt somewhat at ease with the idea of traveling abroad, particularly since I lived in Asia for a number of years. However, others on the trip with me felt some apprehension about getting sick (something quite natural) and had received suggested immunizations before leaving.
In the first city I visited, I traveled downtown by bus to have dinner and then went out to visit some of the local sites. I was surprised at the number of people selling their goods in different marketplaces, and I quickly figured out the custom of haggling over the price before you buy something. And even if you feel you're getting a good deal, you might try walking away from the merchant, and there IS the chance that the shop owner will call you back and even lower the price more in an attempt to get you to purchase something.
No matter where I found myself today, I noticed a number of people who just stared at me as I walked by, like I was an alien from another planet. Although it felt somewhat disquieting at first (particularly in the swimming pool locker room), I realized that my presence was perhaps an oddity with so few foreigners in that area. In fact, the people were just curious, and I was even able to strike up a few conversations with some of the locals, giving them opportunities to practice their English. In the end, I came to the conclusion that such situations gave me a chance to be an informal ambassador for my country.
Everyday brings new discoveries, and I'm learning how to navigate the road system. I found that crossing the road isn't as easy at it seems. Bicycles, buses, people, and taxis fill the streets, dodging each other with constant narrow misses, yet in many instances, the flow remains constant. And, in spite of the seemingly chaotic conditions, people go about their business as if, well . . ., everything were so routine and blase. I, on the other hand, tried to dart in and out of traffic to cross streets, weaving back and forth, to get to the other side. It was a little scary at first, but I quickly got the knack of it.
I am preparing to return back home tomorrow, and one thing I have discovered . . . something more important that all of my other experiences . . . has been that there are often more similarities than differences between cultures. Regardless of language and culture, all people have a desire for friendship that bridges any cultural boundaries. The people I have met have been wonderful hosts and friends, and I will treasure every moment of the trip.