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Seychelles Bottle Deposit

Seychelles Bottle Deposit

on Apr 23, 2014

I am known to be compulsive about recycling. In my mind it is one small and easy thing that we all can do to make a small difference in the world for our future generations. So, when I saw crates containing empty beer bottles at the local market in Seychelles, I took note. It meant we could recycle our empty beer bottles at the local market! Somewhere in our first five days in the Seychelles, I read something online about a 2 Rupee bottle deposit on the local beer, Seybrew. This prompted my search on the label for any indication of a deposit or refund, but I found nothing. Of course, if we would have received an itemized receipt for our purchase, I would have looked there too. However, receipts are virtually non-existent here in the Seychelles. The deposit turned out to be less than $.25 USD per bottle. So in the grand scheme of things, it’s mere pennies compared to the high cost of everything in the Seychelles. However, the budget conscious, coupon-cutting side of me thinks that every little bit helps! Regardless, my mind was set on returning our empty Seybrew bottles for the greater good. If we received money back, then it would just be icing on the cake! Praslin Local Market On the island of Praslin, the local market was only a few meters from our accommodation. After a long day of fun and sun at the beach, we stopped here to grab a few Seybrews and some snacks to satisfy us until dinner. I must say that after a day in the heat and humidity of the Seychelles, a cold local brew can be quite refreshing. The cashier at the local market “rang up” our purchases by typing the costs into his handheld calculator and then flashed us the grand total. Seeing a credit card machine on the back counter, Kevin attempted to pay via credit card, but was denied. The clerk said they didn’t accept cards … so what was the machine for? Confused, we dug deep into our pockets to find some of the local currency, Rupees. The cashier made change, we collected our purchases and made our way back to our...

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Nuances of Foreign Grocery Shopping

Nuances of Foreign Grocery Shopping

on Mar 14, 2014

About twelve years ago, I took my first ever trip abroad to Ireland for business. My Irish colleagues were fantastic hosts and went the extra mile to ensure that my stay was enjoyable. In addition to being tour guides and accompanying me throughout my stay, my colleagues educated me on some of the nuances of foreign travel, like weighing and tagging produce at the market before proceeding to the checkout. During my stay in Ireland, a colleague enlightened me on the expectation that produce should be weighed and tagged prior to proceeding to the cashier. It was an odd concept to grasp at first, only because the process of purchasing produce in the U.S. differs in a couple ways. First, scales do not print price tags and second, cashiers weigh the produce for you. This was a handy lesson for our subsequent travels throughout Europe, as it appeared that weighing and tagging produce was the standard. However, during our three month stay in New Zealand and Australia, we felt right at home making our way directly to the cashier without having to weigh or tag our produce. And thus, we quickly reverted to our old habits. Once in South Africa, we were quickly reminded that shoppers need to tag their own produce. We did our shopping and then proceeded to the cashier at a local Cape Town market. We had a pair of un-weighed and un-tagged bananas! The failure to comply to the local custom drew an immediate reaction from the clerk. Whoops! If our accent did not give us away as tourists then our failure to comply with the standard procedure certainly did. Our options were limited. Either we forego the bananas or we venture back into the store to correct the situation. I offered up an apology and since we were short on time elected to abandon our bananas. We are not always fortunate enough to have locals help us navigate new cities, so, it was a good reminder for us to be more observant of our surroundings. Sometimes the best way to learn the ropes is by quietly observing locals and then mimicking their behavior. On a subsequent visit to the market, we watched locals take their...

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First Impression of South Africa

First Impression of South Africa

on Mar 10, 2014

First impressions can set the tone, affect an experience and impact potential outcomes. A bad first impression can be difficult to overcome. And though we have all be told not to judge a book by its cover, we tend to make quick assessments of people, places and things—which ultimately formulate our first impression. We are less than twelve hours into our first visit to South Africa, and yes—right or wrong—I have formulated a preliminary impression based on our very limited experiences and what we have heard and read. Granted … a little sleep deprivation may have also had an impact on our initial impression, but here are few things that we noticed on our first day among South Africans. No Nonsense People seem to be very direct. Small talk is not welcomed and interactions are limited to only what is necessary to complete the required task. For instance, when clearing customs this morning, the agent managed to complete the whole transaction without saying a single word to either Kevin or myself! He gave us several very gruff looks, repeatedly banged random keys on the keyboard and pointed a few times before stamping our passports and allowing us to pass. It’s All In The Tone The delivery of a message is almost as important as the content contained in the message. So far, we have picked up on some underlying tones during interactions that have left me with a slightly unfavorable first impression. On our inbound flight from Perth to Cape Town, both Kevin and I were surprised by the demeanor of the flight attendants. The flight attendant that served us was very abrupt. It was almost as though providing us with a drink or meal was an inconvenience to her. She seemed to say all the right things, however, the underlying tone when asking if we needed anything seemed a bit condescending. Customer Service We come from a culture where making customers happy is important—especially in the service industry. Granted, good customer service is relative to your geography, but our expectations for certain brands are pretty high and we’ve found those expectations fall short in other parts of the world … they don’t seem to have a world-wide standard. One...

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The Verdict on Vegemite

The Verdict on Vegemite

on Mar 4, 2014

This week marks our last week in Australia and with only days remaining we still hadn’t tried Vegemite. It’s not quite on the same level as  the kangaroo, but it’s still a major icon of Australia. If you ask an Australian about it, they all seem to love it, but confess that it’s an acquired taste. Even on our previous two visits to Australia, we happily avoided it. I’m not sure why it’s taken us so long to “give it a go” as they say in Australia, but I think I was held back by a couple things. The Name is Perplexing Vegemite? It sounds like a mixture of vegetables and some sort of tiny insect. It’s neither … so seriously, where’d they get that horrible name? My curiosity got the best of me and I had to research it. It turns out the name originates from a contest in 1923 where the winning name was drawn from a hat. There’s a similar product called Marmite which probably influenced the entries. Every time I hear the name, I can’t help but think of composted vegetables and insects. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Then again perhaps it’s better than calling it what it actually is … Yeast Isn’t a Flavor The Vegemite labels have used “concentrated yeast extract” to describe the product. I don’t know about you, but yeast flavored anything sounds about as appealing as thong sweat (take either meaning of thong you want). Vegemite is actually a byproduct of beer. It’s the leftovers of the brewing process so it’s simply dead yeast and such. I’m a huge fan of of brewing–Australia has some great micro brews–but eating the leftovers and dead cells from fermentation just doesn’t sound good and to be honest, I’m not sure how anyone ever sold the idea. But hey, I didn’t love beer the first time I tried it and that certainly has changed, so perhaps there’s hope for spreadable yeast too. Despite my perceptions of the name and flavors, the makers of Vegemite must be doing something right. The bright yellow jars take up loads of shelf space at the market right next to the peanut butter. Plus they sell over 22 million jars of the stuff...

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Tipping Not Required

Tipping Not Required

on Jan 20, 2014

One of the first few questions that we have when arriving in a new country is always about tipping. Are we supposed to tip? If so, who do we tip and how much?

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Walking Down Under

Walking Down Under

on Jan 13, 2014

Throughout our travels, our most frequent mode of transportation has been walking. We often debate the unwritten rules of the sidewalk and wonder why walking in some foreign cities can be so challenging! My assumption has always been that the flow of pedestrian traffic on sidewalks should mirror the flow of road traffic. If cars drive on the right side of the road then pedestrians should walk on the right side of the sidewalk. If cars drive on the left side of the road, then pedestrians will stay on the left side of the footpath. When passing people, again the rules of the road apply. Where cars drive on the right side of the road, slower traffic stays right and cars pass on the left. And visa versa, where cars drive on the left, slower cars stay left unless passing, then you do so on the right. It sounds so logical and simple, right? Then why do we find ourselves constantly doing that awkward shuffle with oncoming pedestrians, trying to figure out how to avoid a head on collision? My observation is that, more times than not, in countries where people drive on the right side of the road, you will find pedestrians walking on the right side of the sidewalk. However, in countries where cars drive on the left side of the road, walking on crowded city streets is an absolute nightmare. It feels like a constant game of “chicken.” Each person keeping their stride, staring the other person down, trying to see who is going to bail and give the other the right of way before the head-on collision occurs. The larger the city the more frustrating it can be to walk down the street. I am sure there are many flaws to my theory of unwritten guidelines for pedestrian walking. Although most people know the rules of the road, how many people actually follow them? I mean, how many times have you sat behind a car going slow in the fast lane? Some people are clueless, some think rules do not apply to them, while others just simply do not care. Maybe the same is true when it comes to pedestrians. It seems that I am not...

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Where’s the Turkey?

Where’s the Turkey?

on Dec 31, 2013

Visiting a local market can be a fun cultural experience. Over the past six months we have spent many hours shopping for food in local markets. Although our grocery list does tend to have the same core ingredients regardless of where we are, we have found that the options available can vary in every city and country. We spent two weeks touring New Zealand in RVs with 12 friends from home. On arrival, we went to the local grocery store to stock up on some basics to allow us to make breakfast, lunch and a few dinners in the comfort of our RVs. In preparation for the visit, I had made a first pass at creating a grocery list, which we reviewed and revised on the way to the store. We divided the list into three parts and set out to fill our carts. We had no issues filling four carts, and gained a lot of funny looks along the way. Shopping for 14 is far different than shopping for 2! There were a number of things from the shopping experience that collectively surprised our group. Among those was the lack of availability of turkey meat. Granted, we eat turkey a lot in the US. I mean we have a holiday nicknamed “turkey day” where our custom is to eat turkey. Turkey tends to be the lunch meat of choice. Likewise, our stores offer ground turkey meat as an healthier lower fat alternative to ground beef. However, what we learned is that you will not find turkey in stores in New Zealand. Neither the deli nor the pre-packaged lunch meat carry turkey as an option. Over the course of the next five weeks, I found myself browsing the deli and pre-packed meat isles in New Zealand to find turkey. However, there was no turkey to be found. The primary deli meat available was ham in every flavor and style. They did have roast beef and roasted chicken but the selection was limited and the price of the chicken was far more expensive. On our arrival in Melbourne, I was so excited to see turkey at the deli counter that I almost ordered some without considering the price. Luckily, Kevin...

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Two Minutes For Elbowing

Two Minutes For Elbowing

on Oct 19, 2013

After more than ten days in China, I have officially reached my threshold of being elbowed, shoved and run into. In Western cultures these actions are considered rude. Even in the sporting world, many of these actions would result in penalties. In hockey, throwing an elbow would get two minutes in the penalty box! However, I am starting to believe that pushing, shoving and elbowing are normal and accepted behavior in China. More than any other destination, China has exhausted me both mentally & physically. Each day I look forward to retreating to our accommodations as I know that it will provide the much needed “time out” away from the crowds of people, the pushing, the shoving and the elbowing. Each day, I think my tolerance level decreases. Today while visiting the Terracotta Warriors, I hit my threshold. I was ready to send more than a few people to the penalty box for elbowing! Confined Spaces The Terracotta Warriors draw a lot of tourists to a small confined area—and most of the tourists are Chinese. There is a wall around the warriors and many people try to view and get pictures from the same platform. As a result, there is a constant stream of people pushing their way towards the front to score a clear and unobstructed photo. In another building, glass cases showcase a few of the warriors so people can view them up close. In this area, it is not uncommon for people to step in front of you, push you or elbow their way forward. I even attempted to stand back and observe from a distance and was unable to avoid  physical contact. The Breaking Point My breaking point happened on the stairway. I was coming down while a large tour group was going up.  They came at me four across—each one with headphones in their ears and cameras around their neck. I got squeezed to the edge and up against the wall! To stick with the hockey metaphor, I was checked against the boards. Things changed from that point forward… I am ashamed to admit it, but I began to intentionally cock my elbows outward and  walk with intent for the remainder of the time. I...

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Famous for a Day

Famous for a Day

on Oct 16, 2013

While traveling in Northern China we got a small taste of what it might be like to be famous. We found ourselves drawing a lot of undue attention. It felt like we were constantly on display—on the subway, in the train station, walking down the street, in restaurants, nearly everywhere we seemed to draw attention. From an early age, I was taught not to attract undue attention. Unfortunately blending in for us was impossible in China. I was also taught that it isn’t polite to stare. Apparently, that’s not something they teach in Chinese culture. We stood out and we knew when people would stop, stare and even take pictures of us! On the Subway We used the Beijing subway system frequently. Since we typically were the only Western passengers on the subway, we would draw lots stares. The most uncomfortable situations were when people would continue to intently stare at you even after you made eye contact with them. The Chinese would win a staring contest in any international competition. On the Train We spent a very long Sunday afternoon on the train traveling between Beijing and Datong. Many of the other passengers were surprised to see two Caucasians seated in their car. The teenage kid seated next to Kevin could hardly take his eyes off us during the six hour trip. He was interested in every move we made. We also had women stop and stare and then wave their baby’s hand at us to say hello. At the Train Station On our arrival in Datong, there were multiple groups of people congregated outside the train station. Datong doesn’t get as many tourists as Beijing so we definitely stood out here. We noticed many groups shift their attention towards us as we approached. This time, in addition to stares, we saw several people snap our picture with their cell phone as we passed by. I hope we looked good…maybe we ended up as a post on Renren (China’s Facebook clone). On the Street Even on the street, people would approach us and boldly strike up conversations in English. The conversation would commonly start with, “hello? hello?” or “where you from?” While walking through a park in Beijing,...

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