Sitting in Singapore, my 17-year-old daughter, Piper, and I are reflecting on the many things we’ve learned along the way of our trip to Asia. It has been an epic trip, taking Piper back to her hometown where we adopted her nearly 17 years ago. We will take moments, lessons and insights of the heart back to the states with us, but we’ve also picked up a number of quirky cultural tidbits, including the following hodgepodge of facts and insights:
- In China and other strongly influenced Chinese-culture countries, they don’t have a fourth row on planes or fourth floors. In high rise buildings, they skip the entire 40s, in fact. The reason is that the number four sounds a lot like the Chinese word for death — it’s unlucky. Much like, we don’t have 13th rows on airplanes or 13th floors in buildings.
- At any given moment, there are about a thousand vessels in the Singapore harbor with a ship arriving or leaving every two to three minutes.
- Singapore is the cleanest place I’ve ever been. It is spotless — everywhere I visited. Of course, they take littering seriously in Singapore. Earlier this year, someone was slapped with a $300 fine (that’s about $218 in U.S. dollars) for shooting a couple of rubber bands onto a road. The second-offense fine for littering is $4,000, and the third offense comes with a $10,000 fine.
- Vaping is illegal in Singapore.
- Hong Kong is amazing. As a friend said, in many ways, it’s like New York City — times 10.
- High speed trains are the way to travel. They’re comfortable and so much less stressful than planes. In the scheme of things, they take about the same travel time as planes once you incorporate the time spent at airports.
- The seat space on some Asian-based airlines is even less than their American counterparts. Recovering takes a while.
- The decision to take a 40-minute ferry ride to spend a day at a spa on an Indonesian island is a wise one.
- Prime shopping time in Hong Kong is after 9 p.m. My local Hong Kong friend theorizes that because homes in Hong Kong are so small, people stay out late to enjoy open spaces.
- Hong Kong is so dense that space is difficult to come by. Many apartments are 300 square feet total and sell for the equivalent of $3,000 a square foot.
- In China, before anyone eats grapes, they peel each individual grape — no exceptions.
- Hong Kong is made up of 263 islands. The main part of the city comprises multiple islands. Tolls for individuals to cross the bridges are steep, encouraging mass transit. Otherwise, taxis and ferries are cheap.
- Indonesia, by the way, is an archipelago with 18,307 islands, according to the CIA World Factbook.
- Chinese people are not allowed to use Facebook or Google. They generally use an app called WeChat to communicate. WeChat has a feature that can automatically translate English to Chinese and vice versa. Based on personal experience, do not rely on this app to translate taxi destinations accurately. (We were in a bind and it was our best option.)
- Chinese air conditioners are just not the same as ours. Hong Kong’s and Singapore’s are much better than China’s.
- In Hong Kong, we went to a traditional dim sum restaurant with local friends. They used the first pot of tea to wash the chop sticks and small bowls. In fact, they used part of the second pot of steaming tea to complete the job.
- I cannot underscore the value of having a local resident show you their city. We are so grateful to our friends who took their time and energy to share their homes, food and culture with us.
- Hiring guides is not to be underrated either. We primarily used a site called Viator to plan most of our excursions.
We also learned the value of being flexible with our plans. I had researched extensively for the trip and made a lot of plans. On a couple of days, we had to change course. Knowing that’s always a possibility is a good thing — even when we’re not traveling.
Soon, we’ll head home and Piper will start her senior year of high school. The journey continues.