Part 3 of “The Traveler’s Journey: Growing Through Experiences” Series. If you haven’t already, check out the introductory post in this series here!
We are all human. We all get happy, excited, mad, and disappointed. We all have wants and wishes, and we all must make a living to survive. In many countries, like the ones we’re visiting in SE Asia, lots of people make their living from tourism. As such, on any given day, you can be asked to buy something or hire someone to be your guide or driver a hundred times. It can be incredibly tiresome and annoying. You came to meet these people and experience their culture, but all they seem to want to do is take your money. It can leave a bitter taste in your mouth. “Why does everyone just want my money?” “I just want to meet these people and learn about their culture!”. But wait, take a step back and think about that for a second… you just said you want something from them too, just like they “want” something from you. It’s at this point that you should stop and consider the situation from a new perspective.
When you visit a foreign country, you become a visitor in someone else’s home. The money you bring helps stimulate their economy and improve the lives of many locals. When you hire a private taxi for the day you are helping to send that father’s children to school, to put food on the table, to build an addendum to the family home, and to provide the many other basic commodities that we inherently take for granted. In many places, life before tourism was hard. It was hard for many people to find enough work to provide for their family. It was hard, even, to imagine living a life with the Western comforts to which many of us travelers are so accustomed. So, when new and strange people from all around the world begin to visit their country, eager to explore their home, and who are willing to pay sums of money that are far above their own means, it is natural to expect that they will form an entrepreneurial spirit. This spirit is what helps provide for their families some of the same opportunities that we take for granted. 99% of the time they are not there to try and scam you, they are merely trying to make an honest living.
It is important to remember that instead of scurrying past trying to avoid eye contact, and getting annoyed, when some local tries to sell you something, try instead to smile and say hello. If you are not interested in what they are offering, simply say so, they will not take offense. By giving them the time of day you may just open the door to the friendly interactions and opportunities you were searching for in the first place.
Story: Cultural Conversations With Ketut
Giving people the time of day can be a tedious task when you are in touristy areas as you are constantly getting bombarded by people trying to sell you their products or services. Throughout our travels, we have both been guilty of simply ignoring locals as they try to strike up a conversation in the hopes of getting you to buy something. However, with a few months on the road under our belts, we make a conscious effort to answer every person that reaches out to us, even if it is just with a smile and a “no thank you” (even better if we can do so in the local language). By simply taking the time to recognize the people who are trying to interact with us, we are encountering more friendly interactions and opportunities with locals, which is always one of our biggest goals when we travel. One such occasion was when we set out in search of the Jagasatru Waterfall in Eastern Bali.
After a lovely afternoon sunning and swimming at the falls we were starting to feel hungry and made the made the climb back up to the top where our motorbike was parked. When we reached the peak, we were greeted by a man named Ketut who’d arrived to man the welcome station to the waterfall. He asked if we’d signed in, we said we had, and he handed us each a complimentary water and offered us a seat. Though we were hungry and ready to leave, we were touched by his hospitality and the fact that he wanted to chat with us. Thanking him for the water, we sat down to take a breather from our hike up the stairs. As we did, the conversation began. We talked about the states and where we’re from, what we think of Bali, and what temples we’ve been to. Later we learned about Ketut, where he’s from, and how he’d like more people to visit this beautiful waterfall.
We also got to talking about the nine major temples in Bali and from there spun into the caste system of which there are four classes, unlike the five castes of India. Brahmans lie at the top and are the holy people comprised of priests and teachers. Next are Satria which is the warrior caste including a few royals. Wesia follows next which is made up of merchants and administrative officials. Lastly, Sudra are the peasants and craftsmen, who make up around 90% of the population. Nowadays the caste system is more of a religious feature than something used in everyday life. From our conversation about the caste system and religion, we continued our Bali 101 lesson on to learning about Balinese cremation ceremonies which take place in two parts and generally span two weeks. We ended up spending nearly an hour chatting with this friendly man.
After many months of travel, we are a lot more comfortable stopping and chatting with a local about life, travel, goals, and nearly anything in between… but that wasn’t always the case. Some conversations with locals revolve around money, and in the past, we liked to avoid such interactions for fear of upsetting someone by not buying from them (thereby passing up many genuine conversations). Where are you from? Where are you going? Have you been here? Do you need a driver? I can arrange transport? Do you need a guide? I’m a great guide… etc. It can be tiring at times as there are days where different people will proposition you to be their clients about 20 different times in the span of an hour. That said, it is important to remember that for many people it’s their livelihood, and for us, learning how to say, “no thank you” kindly while still appreciating what they’re doing is a huge skill. Plus, it’s one that will leave you, and them, in much better spirits… even if you’re not buying something or hiring them for the day.
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