Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Fish Out of Water Rule #5 Part One: Be Wary of Locals Advice

I’ve traveled around enough to not be shy about asking the locals for advice. Sometimes with my limited vocabulary, I may have to fill in the missing words with hand signs and the occasional sketch. But I’m pretty good at getting my message across. I enjoy finding spots that are a bit off the beaten path. Whether it’s a hidden church or temple, or a restaurant that features unusual cuisine, I’ve found some amazing places by asking the locals to divulge their favorite spots.

But here’s a word of caution. This strategy is not without risks. You may be led to places you’d rather not know existed and encouraged to eat things that probably should not enter your digestive system.  Most of the time I don’t regret following a locals advice, but here’s an example of a time I wished I’d been a bit more discriminating.

On a sticky summer night in Tokyo, I should have known better than to brag to a Japanese local that I was an adventurous eater. The Japanese eat more unusual things than raw fish. But when the cute guy with a big smile said in broken English, “I know place interesting food,” 

I nodded my head in anticipation. In hindsight, I probably should have been a bit more leery of the word “interesting”. 

Following the map the guy drew for me; I walked down the twists and turns of the streets in downtown Shibuya, until I came to a tiny hole-in-the-wall. The front of the restaurant, only the size of a storage shed, looked like it could hold barely twenty people. There was something charming about the brick clad facade with a large green door. Overhead hung a beat up wooden sign with a green grasshopper sitting proudly on a large leaf. The aroma of roasted meat tickled my nostrils as I opened the door. I sat down at a large bar similar to one you find at a sushi restaurant, and breathed deep. I was starving and the wonderful smells coming from the kitchen almost made me drool.

One of the chefs came over and asked me for my order. With my limited Japanese, I said, “Can I have the house special.” 

The man next to me raised his eyebrows, and said in broken English, “You like very much.”

I watched as my fellow diners enjoyed large plates of noodles with unusual shaped garnish that looked like it was moving.  Had the summer heat finally gotten to me? My diner companions seemed unfazed as they slurped up their noodles enjoying every bite.  The chef worked feverishly behind the counter arranging a group of small brown pod like objects on top of a mound of noodles. 

He presented my dinner with a big flourish and said, “Itadakimasu, dig in!”  

My mouth dropped open when I looked down at the “house special”.  The wonderful roasted aroma I had been salivating over all night was roasted beetles!     

 Moral of the story; be sure to follow Fish Out of Water Rule#5, Be Wary of Advice From Locals.  You may end up with a beetle in your mouth. Part two coming soon. : )  

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Fish Out Of Water Rule # 4 Don't Leave Home Without It!

A wonderful display of perfume in Paris 

There’s a general rule when traveling in Western Europe, you can find almost everything we have in America. So why bother to load yourself down with a bunch of crap? But I’d rather live by the old adage, “Better safe than sorry.” Especially if you are like me and have a host of allergies making life a bit more complicated.

Case in point, my recent trip to France. Although I’ve traveled quite a bit, this was my first trip to that part of the world. I didn’t really believe my friends when they told me I could buy what ever I need in France. The French are famous for their perfumes and fragrances are at the top of my allergy list. Walking into a Department store near the cosmetic counter or cruising down the detergent aisle in the grocery store, I have to hold my breath.

Whenever I travel abroad I always take fragrance free soap and lotions with me. Since I hate to loose valuable luggage space to a bunch of bottles, for my trip to France I decided to believe my friends and bring just a few travel size bottles and a small bar of soap. I needed the luggage space for cold weather clothes, as I would be staying through mid October.  

In Paris I had no problem finding fragrance free products although they certainly weren’t cheap but when I got to the south of France the pickings became non-existent. And wouldn’t you know it, my products began to run out. I hadn’t taken a bath or washed my hair in three days and thought my secret was safe.

Then my friend Joan pulled me aside. “Anne, is your shower broken?”

I looked at her puzzled. “No, why?”

Joan grabbed my arm and moved me away from our friends. “Because you kind of smell.” 

My face burned hot. How humiliating! 

I explained that I had allergies and had run out of my unscented soap. Joan assured me that the soap she had was virtually fragrance free. Not wanting another embarrassing confrontation, I gave the soap the sniff test. But as anyone with allergies can tell you, the sniff test isn’t always the best policy. In desperation I broke down and used the soap. I lathered up my right arm and waited for a reaction. Nothing. Left arm count to ten….you get the picture.  I finished and thought; yeah I’ve been saved from the stink!  My celebration didn’t last long. The next morning I was starving so I rushed to get breakfast. 

While stuffing my face with cereal when Joan asked, “Are you all right?”

I thought maybe she was commenting on my bed-head hairdo.  “Yeah, why?”

“Because your face is swollen and you have red streaks all over your neck. You look like you're ready for Halloween.” 

Moral of the story; trust your instincts and follow Fish Out of Water Rule #4, Don’t Leave Home Without It! Your complexion will thank you.