After traveling to several different locations in the world, I’m realizing it might be an “American thing” to want a lot of ice in my drink. Though I can confidently say I’ve since adapted my preferences and am able drink a beverage with little or no ice, I still like certain drinks to be cold in temperature. This includes (but not limited to) soda, milk, and water.
I’ve learned that I need to specify when I want my drink to be cold or that I’d like it to be served with a cup of ice. If not, there’s a good chance I’ll receive a room-temperature Coca-Cola or a glass of tepid water. Sometimes, my request for a cold beverage can be met…and sometimes…well, that’s not even an option.
The year was 2010 and my husband and I were visiting some friends living on a small island in SE Asia. The whole island is very rural and life is simple. There are no malls, no fancy restaurants, and no supermarkets. There are only “mom and pop” shops, small convenience stores, and a breath-taking view of the Indian Ocean.
The food selection is pretty much the same no matter which tiny restaurant you choose to eat at. The meat choices include fried chicken pieces (there’s no rhyme nor reason to how they chop up their chicken) and fish (head, eyeballs, bones and all). These meat options are usually already pre-cooked or soaked in a very spicy mixture. This was usually true for their veggie options as well. Spicy is the preferred taste of the people. Unfortunately, it was not my preferred taste. It’s still not, but my tolerance of spicy food has greatly improved since this particular summer.
Usually, my only other option was to order a ramen noodle-type meal with a side of sliced cucumbers and a fried egg. This tended to be spicy as well but a lot more bearable. I learned to really enjoy the cool taste of a cucumber after each bite of spicy noodles. However, on one particular occasion during this summer visit, this very same meal caused me to break down in tears.
It wasn’t just the meal but the entire situation. We were on an island, near the equator, sitting in this little restaurant with no AC and no fans, and I was wearing long sleeves, pants, and a head covering out of respect for the culture. My go-to noodle meal had just been delivered to me and I took my first bite. Immediately, my mouth was on fire. Apparently the cook decided to “spice things up” and mix in some chopped peppers to my noodles. I knew better than to drink a soda with spicy meals and milk wasn’t an option on the menu, so I asked my husband to order me some water. While waiting on the water I tried one or two more bites of my meal before deciding to take a pause until my glass of cool, refreshing water arrived.
You can imagine my disappointment when I was given a glass of water with steam coming from the top. STEAM. This water wasn’t tepid…it was burn-your-tongue hot. I was supposed to relieve the torched insides of my mouth and throat with a boiling hot glass of water?! This seemed like some sort of cruel joke to play on the unsuspecting foreigner. I had sweat dripping down my body with no relief from the heat in sight and now I was adding to the discomfort. That’s when the tears welled up in my eyes.
“Why would they give me boiling hot water to drink?! Who drinks a cup of plain, hot water,” I vented to my husband.
He had already lived on this island for a year before we got married and informed me that they boil the water to clean it. And since lunch time had just started, the water hadn’t had time to cool down yet.
It’s probably not a good time to share that I cried, especially when this whole series is encouraging you not to lose hope. But sometimes, you can’t help it. Sometimes, letting out the tears is exactly what you need to do to get through the moment and move past it. My husband was so kind and didn’t make me feel one bit guilty for not being able to finish even half of my meal. I felt terrible for leaving a nearly-full plate of food on the table but forcing myself to eat it would have only made things worse.
Though I was quick to complain during that meal, I’ve learned to appreciate when hot water is offered to me. At least I know it’s clean. I know now that the person offering me the hot glass of water is taking care of me and not offering me dirty water. It might not be the cold, refreshing beverage I was hoping for but it won’t give me parasites either. Silver linings, people. Silver linings.
Have you ever had an unpleasant meal? How did you handle it? Have you become tolerant of (or maybe even enjoy) certain foods in your country?