Jun 15, 2012

Sue MacKay smiles her way around Asia

Reading: Shelter by Harlen Coben
Listening to: My DB sort through two weeks mail: mutter, mutter
Watching: the sun finally break through and expel the chill.

Two days ago my DB and I returned from a fabulous two week excursion to Singapore, Malacca, Kuala Lumpur and Phuket where we had a great time enjoying the sights and sounds that are uniquely Asia.
Except in Singapore English was definitely not widely spoken but that didn't stop us getting around and finding the places we wanted to visit. A smile always went a long way to breaking barriers between us and the locals. I've smiled in Malaysian, Thai, Indian, Chinese, Arabian, and many other languages these past two weeks, and very rarely didn't receive one back.
In Malaysia there seemed to be more mums and dads and their young children than I've seen anywhere else. I mightn't have been able to talk to them but smiling at their children as they  hid behind their mother's skirt and stared at the funny lady with red and gold hair won me a smile back every time.

Whenever we were lost - quite often as we like to explore - we always managed to find someone to point us in the right direcvtion wven with the language difficulties. We travelled from Singapore to Malacca and on to KL on the local bus. At Malacca the ticket sales lady got it a bit wrong because of our lack of Malaysian but with patience and smiles we were soon on the right bus with homemade cookies in our pack from the relieved and smiling woman. The photo on the left is looking down on Malacca.
I did lots of people watching at themarkets, airports, from our deck in phuket. All good stuff for my stories. I loved the markets, especially the night ones.
The temperatures ranged from hight twenties to mid thirties, so arriving back in NZ and winter has been a shock but at least I have the memories and those smiles to keep me warm.

How do you cope in situations where it is hard to make people undertand you?


  1. Sue, glad you had a wonderful time! I didn't know that English wasn't really spoken in Singapore. Uneducated, untravelled me lol
    Y'know, if I feel comfortable with someone who doesn't understand my language too much, I find I ramble on about everyday things so as to hopefully make them feel comfortable too. There's usually a lot of nodding and smiling going on. You're so right. Everyone recognises patience and friendly intent.
    Where's you next adventure? =)

  2. Robyn, you're right, I also ramble a bit but hopefully the tone is understandable even if the words aren't.
    Singapore was the exception. Everyone spoke English there.
    Next adventure? Paris this time next year for one of those big birthdays with a naught on the end. My DB told me to pick any city in the world and then we'd have a darned good laugh and go to Murchison, a tiny place in the back of nowhere here in the South Island that people only pass through, don't stop for more than a coffee. At least Paris is the plan so we're watching Europe carefully.

  3. Sue, what a lovely time you seem to have had. Lovely! I hope we get to see more of your pics.

    Oh, definitely yes to the smiles. Laughing at my own feeble attempts to speak other languages helps. Actually, learning just a couple of local words goes an awfully long way to breaking any ice. As does not being in a rush - taking time to look around and appreciate how wonderful the new place is that you find yourself.

    Hope you enjoy Paris. It's a recent holiday destination for us and we've had a ball staying there.

  4. Annie, isn't it funny being in the minority and trying to get your question across? I loved it. I had a foot massage in Phuket and the woman massaging me asked about some spots on my legs. How could I tell her I'd been bitten by fleas without offending? I didn't even try, just flapped my hands and said sting. And the massage continued.
    Glad you endorse Paris. I chose it as the city of romance and a writer of romance must visit there.

  5. Hi Sue - love the pics. My DH and I went to KL a couple of years ago fora friend's wedding and did the Malacca tour (I remember the old church)before we headed to Vietnam for two weeks. Lovely people. I'll not forget the Halong bay tour in a private junk - it was lovely and romantic. Had a funny moment when we got stuck in the hotel elevator between floors in Hanoi - not easy speaking into the emergency phone when we didn't speak the language or have our faithful translation book on hand. Took us ten minutes to exlpain we were stuck. Great post!

  6. When we went to Malaysia with our 7yr old golden-haired son, everyone wanted to rub his hair for luck. We found it amusing, he not so much :-/ His cap became stuck to his head, he even refused to take it off at bedtime! But our child brought out the gentleness in people and lessened the lack of language. Kids and parental love overcome all boundaries... Fabulous experience for all, especially him :-) PS - did they want to rub your hair for luck too?

  7. Oh Helen, Halong Bay is beautiful, isn't it? Went there a couple of years ago, and I know another cat, Louisa, has been there too. Laughing at you being stuck in a lift. Probably not funny at the time though. I really loved Malacca - small and friendly.

  8. Hey, Clare, can't say anyone wanted to rub my hair, though when I had my foot massage in Phuket the woman finished off with a head massage. Never quite worked how they get from feet to head in the same moment, but not complaining as it is always lovely.

  9. Sounds like you had a great time, Sue!

    Yep, lots of smiles and nods and pointing when we're visiting places where we don't speak the language! And for some reason talking louder as though that's going to make me easier to understand! Why is that! LOL

  10. What a great holiday you've had Sue!
    Smiles and hand signals are a great way to communicate. It breaks the ice. Giovanna

  11. Love that you talk louder, Sharon. LOL. And yes, we had a wonderful time. I guess it is what we make of it and I can't see the point in going that far and not having fun.

  12. Hi Giovanna. It's really like a whole new language when you actually have to think about what you're trying to get across. All good fun.

  13. Sue, loved the photos! Looks like you had a fabulous time! I've made it my business to be able to ask for beer in whatever country I'm in- any more than that and I'm flailing around doing a lot of gesticulating and smiling! But as you say, smiles are universally understood.

    Both I and my dh have visited Paris, but not together, one day we'll get there. I know you'll love it.

    And yes, I loved Halong Bay!! So serene and beautiful. But then, I loved the whole of Vietnam and would go back there in a heartbeat. (mind you, we didn't get stuck in a lift, that may have changed our perception!)

  14. Hi Sue,

    Why you do not visit Indonesia :)

    I do, sometimes make people do not understand because i speak in china's language (we called : hokkien language) and just wanted you to know that in my country we have so many different clan so we have so many language too :)

  15. Sue, your break away sounds wonderful.

    Singapore was my first "overseas" country and I loved it. I'm going again in a couple of months with hubster, our four kids and my in-laws. Looking forward to the night safari at the zoo!

    People in my house frequently have difficulty in understanding me, especially whn I use "clean", "your" and "room" in the same sentence. Threatening to take pocket money seems to leap the language barrier, though (;o)

  16. Gorgeous photos, Sue -- it sounds as if you had a fabulous time!

    Ooh, Paris next, huh? Paris was the first place I visited where I couldn't speak the language. I found that trying to speak at least a few words endeared me to the locals. Smiling definitely helped too. And as I was on my honeymoon, the smiling came very easily. ;-)

  17. Hi Louisa, yes, really looking forward to the Paris experience. But there is something special about Asia that I really love. I'll take a leaf out of your book and learn the beer word for my next trip.

  18. Hi Eli, Indonesia in on one of the lists. We didn'thave enough time to go everywhere this trip. I'm making up for lost time here, having finally got into the travelling I'd been promising myself all my adult life.

  19. Laughing here, Barb. I can still remember those words from my mother. Must be as universal as the smile. You're going to have a wonderful time away with the family.

  20. Michelle, what a perfect place to go for your honeymoon, being a romance writer and all. I do still remember school French and some more that I picked up when living in Canada but the accent will be atrocious.