These photos were taken during a visit to a Buddhist Temple in Central Java. After visiting the temple, I went to a nearby restaurant which did not cater to tourists – it just served good, everyday Indonesian food.
Travel: The Food
After getting a large scoop of steamed rice you select from the platters and bowls of food, pointing to whichever ones you want, which are then added to your plate (in the Philippines they call this a point-point restaurant, for obvious reasons). There is always a variety of fresh tasty vegetables such as eggplant, okra, green beans, steamed pumpkin and some that you have probably not had before, such as cassava leaves and bitter melon.
There are also different dishes of tofu, dahl, lentils and beans. Finally, for those wishing more concentrated protein, there is usually fish and chicken, including the feet, heads, fins and other bits and pieces which, if fixed properly, are tasty.
Nothing goes to waste. It may be crunchy, and spicy; just eat it! It cannot be more revolting than a bloody steak to someone not used to eating flesh from the rear end of a cow. Have it with a cold beer and I guarantee you will love it, or learn to.
As I ate my chicken, feet and all, with rice I thought back on some of the more unusual things I have eaten over the years. One of the worst, or I should say least inspiring, were the military MRE’s (meals ready to eat, or as us old-timers still say – rations).
Mind you I was happy to have them when we were under siege by both rebels and military for weeks in a UN compound in Sudan, but they were made bearable only by the occasional mangos, bananas and pineapples smuggled in by sympathetic locals. (I must do a blog entry on the varieties and culinary delights of MRE’s.)
The best was French (of course) with lamb casserole and lima beans, the Indian was also passable, and the American ones were notable for the small cans of beanie weenies and peanut butter crackers.
Travel: The Culture
All that ruminating made me think how, like food, there are certain things shared by all humans. As you travel more, experience different cultures and people you begin to realize these underlying shared things are actually very similar everywhere. They concern basic needs and functions of the human species, and while it may appear on the surface that they are very different from country to country and culture to culture, they are in fact very similar.
They begin to blur over time. They are what I call the great equalizers.
Travel: The Experiences and People
Which brings me to the title of this blog entry. One of the main benefits of travel is that it opens one’s eyes, fills your brain with so many experiences. As travel becomes a way of life, you make friends (and I don’t want to say enemies; let’s say adversaries) in every culture and place in which you spend more than a couple of days.
I learned early that to truly feel at home in a new place you have to do a few things; get sick, lose your heart (okay, flirting will suffice), and get lost. You can no doubt add your own list of must do’s.
And what do you learn from all this living? Well, what I have learned is that what is the same or similar between humans wherever they might be constitutes roughly 90%, and what is really different is 10%. The remainder is due to the fact that some people are just different and probably don’t really fit in anywhere.
In other words, scratch the surface and underneath the patina of culture, humans are the same delightful, interesting, disgusting animals everywhere. They all want similar things, such as security for their family, hope for the future, and some dignity.
And that is the underlying truth, the starting point if you will for my writing. In addition to traveling, I also write and hope to introduce you to some of my efforts as we go along.