This post is part of weekly series titled Character Tuesday, where every Tuesday I bring you a story about (a) unique individual(s) I’ve encountered. Like I always say, life can be good or bad, but as long as it’s entertaining, that’s all you need. This series is meant to celebrate our quirks and idiosyncrasies.
For this Character Tuesday we’re taking it back to Southeast Asia, list style! Our trip (read posts about Southeast Asia here) was full of fascinating people, in many senses of the word. Cultural barriers and communication faux pas led to hilarious circumstances with locals. Or, rather, hilarious interpretations of locals. Fellow travelers also make it to the list, as sometimes I had to take a step back and stand in awe. It’s amazing how creative, ingenious, and often downright ridiculous humans can be. Sometimes I look around and I’m so proud to be a human among so many exceptional ones (again, in all senses of the word). So here’s to them.
1- Man dancing to Puttin on the Ritz (Bangkok, Thailand)
I was terribly sad to have missed this unique performance. The following anecdote comes from my sister, Jennifer. While she visited the Chatuchak Market in Bangkok, I was throwing up from a DIY barbecue and simultaneously in pain from strep throat (great way to end my adventure). But, I’m glad she didn’t have to stare at me all day, and therefore got to witness one of the best performances of her life.
She has declined (for now, but we’ll see about later) to reenact his performance, so I will relate what she told me. Jennifer explained that there was a Thai man at a booth in the market making paella. But it wasn’t a normal cooking class. It was a choreographed cooking drama to the song “Puttin on the Ritz.” She said the man would do a dramatic turn and with a surprised face fling throw vegetables and spices into the paella. Ingredients were thrown in in between dance moves. It sounds exceptional, and if I wasn’t barfing I would have loved to see it.
2- Sii from Tiger Tours (Luang Prabang, Laos)
Sii was our guide through the jungle outside of Luang Prabang (see photos and story here). He’s a character because his version of normalcy felt so out of our reach. Through our one day trek through Hmong and Khmu villages, we spent much of our time one-on-one with him. We asked a lot of questions (he was a lot more informative than our guide at Happy Ranch in Siem Reap!) and he was great at explaining cultural differences. We also were curious about him. Sii was a young man with a small stature and spiky black hair. He wore flip flops through the weeds, mud and elephant poop.
“What do you like to do for fun?” we asked him. “Oh sometimes I wake up, and I just run for three, four hours, then I go home and eat, then I’ll go play soccer with my friends.”
What? Three or four hours? Is this normal? Isn’t he tired? We felt so weak in comparison as we were struggling through the midday heat in the humid Laos jungle. He must have thought we were pathetic. In his off time, he also likes to listen to a lot of slow music. Some of his favorites are James Blunt and Train.
3- Gentlemen that says “That’s right!” (Somewhere between Hue and Hoi An, Vietnam)
A kind and patient gentlemen, Nguyen was the man who welcomed us into hotel when we unknowingly (randomly) stopped there on the road from Hue to Hoi An (read more about what happened to us here). He responded to everything we said with “that’s right,” but as if it was written in all caps and with an explanation mark. Enthusiasm is one of the most beautiful things we have in this world, and I’m happy he shared some with us. We needed it to get through the rest of our sickening car ride to Hoi An.
4- Scott and Ross (Hoi An, Vietnam)
Scott and Ross were two hilarious actors from Scotland. They played off of each other in a constant entertaining game of who can make the most references, voices and impressions. Being with them was like getting in for free to the best improv comedy. We never stopped laughing the whole three days we spent with them.
5- Marco (Siem Reap, Cambodia)
Marco was an Italian we met in The Siem Reap Hostel. I slept in the bed above his in our six person room full of personalities. like Scott and Ross, Marco had an exceptional sense of humor. We were fortunate to share a room with Julian, a 20-something, Tinder loving, workout obsessed German. Like any good physically fit German, Julian traveled with his TRX Bands and demonstrated workouts for us. Unfortunately, the truth was…Julian kind of said some things that made him come across as a chauvinist dick (while these don’t define him as a person, they do make for some laughs).
Marco was especially annoyed with him, as Marco was naturally warm blooded and Julian had a problem with the air con. Marco’s sharp sarcasm and irritated undertones warranted some harsh comebacks that Julian didn’t notice but we certainly caught on to. After Julian left the room, Marco would retreat to Julian’s TRX bands and impersonate him doing “shoulder exercises, back exercises…”
6- Andy (Siem Reap, Cambodia)
As you know from this post, we stayed in Siem Reap way too long. Which meant that although Andy also slept in our room, he never crossed paths with Marco. That would have been a great pair. Andy makes this list for his blatant honesty. One of the best things we heard him say was “Yeah, once I had a date so bad we just decided to give up on the date and go to KFC.” I can just see the romance reigniting as you share your chicken bucket…
7- Little person selling gum (Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam)
Vietnam is full of street hustlers. Just take a look at any of my whiny posts of Hoi An or an article I wrote for Pink Pangea. Along the backpacker district of Ho Chi Minh City, there were plenty of these types of sellers. Instead of fruit or boat rides, the vendors in Ho Chi Minh walked along the outdoor seating of bars and restaurants with dried fish and octopus, random party supplies and gum. One of the gum sellers was a little person, who dressed similarly to a clown. Although it is probably demeaning to say, I have no other words to describe her than absolutely adorable. She knew and used this to her advantage.
She had a pixie cut, a bright pink rain jacket and white sneakers. She walked quickly and almost appeared to be miming. Perhaps it was because she didn’t speak English. We were sitting with two Germans having a beer when she approached us. She held out the gum in front of us and batted her eyelashes with a radiant smile. “No, no, thank you but I don’t want any gum,” we said. She lifted her fist up to her eyes and pretended to cry. Then she stood for a few more minutes hoping we’d change our minds. After a few more minutes she decided to try the next table, and skipped away happily. She would look back at us on occasion and give a giant grin.
8- John Wayne of Cu Chi Tunnels (Cu Chi, Vietnam)
John Wayne. Interesting for him to pick his nickname from an American. After all, his personal vendetta was against my sister and I, solely for being from the United States. We were two of the three people from the U.S. on his tour of the Viet Cong’s underground tunnel system. Therefore, his targets for backhanded comments and subtle anger regarding what had become of his country when the U.S. invaded. He spoke with a “cockney” accident, so to the dismay of the three East Londoners we shared the tour with. While on the bus on the way to the Cu Chi Tunnels, Jennifer and I were chatting with some Germans. Because he was behind us, we didn’t hear him starting to speak. He finished speaking and approached us after. “You need to listen to what I say,” he reprimanded. It didn’t feel great to be ridiculed in front of the entire bus. I was so weirded out by the availability of guns at the Cu Chi Tunnels that I made the following YouTube video:
9- Lance (Koh Phi Phi, Thailand)
This list won’t be complete without a mention of the most absurd friend we made. This outrageous Kiwi has made an appearance on this blog several times already, and for good reason. He was the backbone of our Phi Phi naughtiness (you heard about him in this post about the fire performers and this post on Vodka, the beach dog). He’s the man who is never seen clearly in photos because he’s always moving and says things like “same same, but not different at all.”
It’s hard to articulate why we find everything that comes out of his mouth funny. It could be his strong accent, his strong irritation at certain people we met (“…ugh, that guy Mike is THE WORST!”) or his heartfelt affection towards others (“Fabio is A LEGEND!”). He’s the type of person that despite all of his mess, seems to always pull it together.
Featured photo: My sister being a character herself in Hue, Vietnam.