As I watched the driver walk away from our bus, I thought to myself… “This isn’t something you see every day.”
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When I arrived in Penang, Malaysia over a month ago, I took the Hop-On Hop-Off double-decker bus to see more of the island. I hopped on with a couple dozen European tourists and a woman visiting from Indonesia. The drive along the coast on the open-air top deck was breathtaking. I decided to stay on the bus the full distance to determine which places I would hop-off on the way back.
We had just made the turn to head the 20km back to the pick-up point when the bus made an unexpected stop. The tour assistant came to inform us that it was Friday and the driver was taking a break to go to the Mosque to pray. She then gave us the option to wait on the bus or have lunch across the street with her.
Ready to participate in any new experiences that came my way, I jumped at the chance to have the Malaysian street food awaiting us and have conversations with fellow travelers. The Indonesian woman did the same. But the European visitors were not happy.
The tour assistant spent 10 minutes trying to explain to her guests that it is important for the driver to go to Mosque on Friday, holy day for Muslims. But some people verbally expressed their dismay. Looking discouraged and overwhelmed, she walked over to me and sighed. I reassured her that she was only doing her job and she did her best to help them understand why.
The two of us proceeded across the street for lunch with the woman from Indonesia, while the rest of the group stayed on the bus. We had a lovely conversation, wonderful food, and a cultural experience that I wouldn’t have had sitting on a bus.
When in a different place or culture, it’s important to remember that things may not go according to your plans. Flexibility is a key element when traveling. And if you’re in a “saving face” culture, patience and controlling your temper is a must. Instead of getting upset in a situation, observe and learn from the experience.
Due to the connection, I made from that unexpected lunch, the Indonesian woman and I ended up getting off the bus at the next stop together. We enjoyed some time strolling through a market and learning more about Penang together. This was an experience that was worth far more than the RM 45 I spent on the bus ticket.
Instead of getting upset when unexpected things happen during your travels, remember to ask yourself: “Is this weird? Or just different?” Often times you can calm yourself down quickly when pausing (count to 10 if it works for you!) to realize that a situation may seem unwarranted, but it’s likely only different than how it happens in your culture. Check out this weird vs. different clip from Derek Sivers to see this play out in another way.
by Julie Slagter