It’s a sad state of affairs that you can essentially travel the world nowadays without ever really having to step out of your own little bubble. It’s all very well that you can go to all these incredible places, throw yourself into the big wide world as it were, but in a lot of places the footprint of globalisation has stamped itself – I mean you can live in Hong Kong for example without ever needing to speak Cantonese, read Cantonese, eat Cantonese food or, in some areas, see a Cantonese person. Likewise walking through the streets of Hanoi, it’s not impossible to find yourself a Burger King or a Starbucks. Don’t get me wrong, an extended period of time in Asia without those things wouldn’t be easy. I had a friend visit the other week who is currently living in the heart of China – I’ve never seen a man so grateful to see cheddar and I’ve never seen anyone eat a burger that quickly. Hats off to him.
I do however think that to really say you’ve experienced a place you’ve got to have wholeheartedly thrown yourself into that way of life, even if just for the evening. Get to know the people, get to know what they eat, what they value, why they wear what they wear, why they do what they do. I spent some time learning about Vietnamese culture before heading out there, and I was fortunate enough to be told a lot about it whilst I was there when I arrived too. Sometimes you have to go beyond the tourist book for an authentic experience and sit down with people who live it everyday.
One of the great things about traveling is the sheer number of people you cross paths with, each with a different story, each carrying with them their little sprinkle of home culture. So, in the same way that you should be learning about the culture of the place you’re visiting, it’s also pretty cool to take on the culture of someone you happen to meet who might be just visiting too.
This is precisely why, in preparation for a great night exploring the many drinks of Hanoi, it seemed fitting to join some new friends for a game of French Beer Pong. Fortunately for these guys, I don’t consider myself too cool to sit on the floor in the middle of a bar to embrace a new culture, or for the sake of adding a new drinking game to the collection. So I sat down, followed the instructions exactly, and unsurprisingly got my ass kicked – I mean you can’t beat them at their own culture, you can only embrace it.