Getting to be OK with Gross

Getting to be OK with Gross

A vendor tossed out the remaining tea in this cup. I expected her to put it with the dirty dishes, instead she poured some new tea in it and handed it to me. Not wanting to reject her tea, I held my breath and drank it.

I like clean.  I use antibacterial soap and wash my hands more often than is good for my skin.  I make sure dishes are spotless.  I don’t eat food dropped on the floor, even if I just cleaned the floor.  If I had worn sandals during the day I wash my feet before getting into bed.

While traveling, it is not possible to have things as clean as I like.  Hand washing is not always available; I don’t know if food was properly prepared or the dishes perfectly cleaned.  It’s not possible to have anything as clean as I would want it, but that is our new reality.  Traveling forces me to be OK with what I would normally consider gross.

I have had to accept that there may be mud on the bathroom floor.  A day in the sand dunes leads to sand tracked into bed.  There are unrecognizably large insects that pass through our room.  The rats near food stalls probably scare the cats away.  “Meat” may be dog.  Snakes are food.  These things are what I would normally consider gross, but on the road I have to accept.

This is a less than ideal compromise, but there is no other way if I want to experience the culture, sights, and live a little more like a local.  The reality is that I, and most Westerners, are overly concerned with germs, dirt, and antibacterial soap. Seeing food preparation and cleanliness in other places reminds me that we can live a little dirtier and we waste a huge amount of money being overzealous in our war on dirty.

When you are eating on the streets of Vietnam, you put your garbage on the ground. At some point the person making the food has to pick it up. Does she clean her hands?

To be able to travel in most of the world we have to adapt our expectations of cleanliness rather than expecting them to change their ways.  To eat cheaply I have had to come to terms with how dishes are being cleaned.  The reality I know is that if I went to a fancy restaurant, behind the scenes I don’t know that things are being done differently.  In fact, I have become comfortable with street vendors because I can actually see how they handle food.

It isn’t going to be easy, but I think this trip will permanently change what gross is to me, for the better.

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Comments

» Mom A :
Jan 14, 2011

Staying home with your antibacterial soap sounds like a boring trade to me, too. Glad you are both proven savvy travelers. May the gut gods continue to look after you!

» Shan :
Jan 16, 2011

gross! i giggled throughout this entire post. and i thought street meat in nyc was risky!

» Amy B :
Jan 17, 2011

Just wait it gets so much better, or worse depending on your definition of clean. Glad to see your making the most of your trip thus far! Hand Sanitizer gets expensive.

» cindy :
Jan 25, 2011

Gross…..but it brings back memories of previous travels.

Sorry, comments for this entry are closed at this time.

About the Author

thinkCHUA: Photographing and documenting the world on a 3 year round-the-world trip to help future travelers discover new places, travel longer and enjoy the world's great experiences.

About the Author
thinkCHUA: Photographing and documenting the world on a 3 year round-the-world trip to help future travelers discover new places, travel longer and enjoy the world's great experiences.
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