My primary reasons for travel manifest themselves on a daily basis. The time to make connections with people and places – time I would normally lack in everyday life, with an everyday routine. The patience to handle – and even enjoy! – a roundabout transportation route to a different destination than the one that I initially requested. The ability to focus on learning new words in new languages, thereby shining a brighter light on the locals in a new country. But I derive the most pleasure from the exquisite overlap of cultures that occurs in almost every country that I’ve devoured thus far. From the dichotomies and quirks of the Philippines to a 20-minute conversation with a 4-year-old in Beijing about why I was not wearing socks, endless pleasure – and great stories – are always born of these chance encounters.
Culture Clashes Make Travel More Interesting
The most recent manifestation of such an entertaining cultural rarity occurred in Mataram, Lombok. I had just summitted Rinjani and was limping through town in search of a pharmacy to appease my aching (and bleeding) feet. I finally found one directly across the street from the Mataram mall, and spent 1/2 an hour bandaging and cleaning my feet in the pharmacy itself, much to the consternation of the pharmacists. In the process, a random older white guy came in, glanced dismissively at my feet and informed me that if I peed in my hiking boots before I started hiking, I’d never get blisters. I nodded at him slowly and he left without purchasing anything. The pharmacist looked at me like I was insane, and I assured him I would be peeing only in toilets, not in my boots. He was appeased.
But that’s not the culture clash part (though it was objectively mind-boggling). That came a few minutes later when, my feet safely wrapped in layers of gauze, I hobbled across the street to Mataram Mall to get a bite to eat. In the main concourse, a fashion runway had been set up for what appeared to be a bridal fashion show. The show hadn’t started yet but on the runway were about half a dozen women, all dancing their hearts out. To the Black Eyed Peas song My Humps. That’s right: 6 fully covered, veiled Muslim women in the extremely conservative town of Mataram were getting down to a song with the following chorus:
“My hump, my hump, my hump, my hump, my hump,
My hump, my hump, my hump, my lovely little lumps. (Check it out) .”
with an especially poignant verse of:
“What you gon’do with all that junk?
All that junk inside that trunk?
I’ma get, get, get, get, you drunk,
Get you love drunk off my hump.
What u gon’do with all that ass?
All that ass inside them jeans?
I’m a make, make, make, make you scream
Make u scream, make you scream.”
It is times like these that prove travel does not need to be about exciting places or adrenaline rushes. While I’ve had my share of both, moments like this one in Mataram will remain etched in my brain because of how enjoyable it was to have witnessed them. Given that few people spoke English in Mataram, I assume no one (not the dancers, nor the organizers of the fashion show) had any clue what Fergie was singing. And it’s probably best that no one knew what the lyrics meant; in a city (and culture) that frowns upon bare shoulders and any touching by the opposite sex, a song inviting a man to ‘scream’ at a woman’s lady lumps wouldn’t go over well at all!
We may not have similar cultures, or congruous belief systems, or even foods that are alike. But we sure do like the same music.