Perfecting Inside

March 18, 2014

My apologies to readers expecting stories from the Philippines. Although I’m having an excellent time, inspiration for blogs has not been striking. In general, life here, on the surface at least, reminds me a great deal of Thailand. Similar climate, the same plethora of fruit, and beautiful sandy beaches. However, what really makes my mind associate this country with another of a completely different culture and geography is the contrast between inside and outside.

As Americans, we often spend the majority of our lives bouncing from inside to inside, and detest any exposure to the elements. One can wake up in an air-conditioned home in 43-degree heat (Celsius, you philistine), walk directly into a car without leaving the house, have the car ready to our environmental specifications in a matter of minutes, drive to work, perhaps park underground, and reach a desk without ever breaking a sweat or being aware of the world outside the walls.

To many of us, this seems perfectly normal. As citizens of a 1st-world fully developed nation, we feel we have the right to our luxuries, and this includes total control of our environment. However, this is not to say outside is lacking in its own control. As dirty as you might think the streets of New York or Los Angeles are, we generally have a large outside presence: the width and condition of streets are regulated, room is allotted for the occasional patch of green grass, and shop owners and automobiles can’t simply do anything they like to achieve their ends.

I’ll give you an example. In Beijing, no one would look twice at a taxi running a light, veering onto a sidewalk. Or a street food vendor pushing his cart far into the road simply because he feels like it. Or a mountain of garbage placed in a high-traffic area. While you can certainly find taxis, street vendors, and garbage in any major US city, the chaos involved when one steps outside is minimal. When compared with other countries, sidewalks are clean and order is paramount.

So, with all this chaos on the outside in countries like China and the Philippines, how does the inside compare? It’s definitely not the best analogy, but think about a well known retail chain like Starbucks. Obviously, they are EXACTLY the same no matter the country. But to find a clean indoor space with comfortable chairs, regulated display cases, and sanitary conditions serving food? While this is standard practice in the US, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and Korea (among others), and such places do exist in developing nations like Peru and the Philippines, they are the exceptions, not the rule.

I say all this not to apply everything outside of developed countries is dirty, smelly, and unappealing, but just to illustrate how I feel when I travel to different countries. In Japan, everything is so pristine on the inside, stepping outside onto a nice street, even in the middle of Tokyo, isn’t a huge shock to the system. However, when I’m staying in the nicest hotel available in Tagbilaran, Bohol (Metro Center Hotel) and finally step outside, it’s a bit jarring, dodging tricycles and not having a consistent place to walk. It’s one of the reasons I prefer to stay in non-air conditioned simple lodging when I’m in countries like Thailand; the less contrast between my inside and outside worlds, the easier it is for me to enjoy myself and actually experience a new culture.

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