Coffee with Mimi: Experience how the other few billion people live

Published 8:00 am Sunday, July 25, 2021

There is no place like home as the saying goes. Your own bed is so comfy and fits you. The food is just what you like and satisfying. The daily schedule is predictable and reassuring. The neighborhood is filled with sights and sounds you have grown to love.

Yes, home sweet home. No place like it.

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But it sure is fun to find out what else is out there. What is it like to live like the other several billion people on this planet? What makes their world tick? How did they get to be like they are? What might their connection be to us?

I am a very fortunate person. I have a streak of adventure in me. I am a fairly curious individual.

If the opportunity presents itself, and the risks to life and limb seem to be pretty reasonable, I am game to check it out. Though I won’t turn down a packaged tour activity, I do enjoy a free-flowing approach to travel and new experiences.

This philosophy has served me well over the years. I have struck out on my own in Tokyo with no  knowledge of the area, no guide, or even a remote knowledge of any of the characters representing names of desired destinations on the subway.  As a result, I acquired a great set of antique keys in a shop in one of those intriguing below street level boutique areas.

However, when I surfaced, I was thoroughly turned around geographically. I figured out how to get back on track courtesy of a sweet lady who astutely observed I was confused.

As I wandered from one side of an intersection to the opposite, repeatedly stopping to stare at the street signs hoping to recognize anything at all, she kindly said something which I took to mean “can I help you?”

I did have a paper with the name of my hotel spelled out. I held it out to her. With hand gestures pointing to the subway and waving fingers indicating what I took to mean subway stops going in that direction, she smilingly led me to believe I would get there. Which I did.

When travelling, I am willing to experience non-American foods and beverages.

It is the polite thing to do when in the company of a person native to the country for sure. But even if you are on your own, really why not? After all, if you have gone to all the trouble of packing your bags and filling out all that Covid paperwork, why on earth would you eat at McDonald’s?

Here I will digress for just a few words and be honest.

I have been known to seek out the local  McDonald’s in every foreign country I have visited in my adult life. There was always a purpose in this. I am a retired teacher. You can learn, and explain, a lot about currency exchange rates and culture by buying the US equivalent of a dollar menu item in wherever you are and comparing that to what that dollar item will cost you in the good old US of A.

In one country I visited, the “dollar” item wasn’t a cheeseburger, it was a yogurt cup.

Heading back to the airport on my most recent adventure, I realized that, in a nearly a two-week trip, I had not done my McDonald’s thing.

Oh, but we purchased, cooked and ate octopus. For the record, two tentacles of octopus cost 9 Euro. Two tentacles of octopus will feed two people a decent appetizer, or serve as a main dish with a side item or two added to round out the meal.

All things considered, octopus is not a dollar menu item. In a country where a nice quantity of ground lamb, beef and pork (enough in the end to make 23 very large meatballs) will run you 2 Euro, octopus is not an average meal. It is a special event.

We ate some delicious meals in a great neighborhood tavern around the corner, a favorite of the locals. We took home leftovers both times. Octopus was not on the menu.

For that experience we had to venture into the huge central market where a walk down the aisles was mind boggling –  vendors nearly tripping over themselves to get YOU to buy THEIR wares which appeared to be the same as that offered by the next guy.

I know what food looks like in the grocery store. Each package is neatly weighed out and wrapped and labeled. In this market, queries and transactions are carried out by a time-honored method of pointing and hoping.

I think we did OK. At least we went home with the specified meat and seafood which we chose from the ice lined display tables in amounts which we waved our hands to describe. Not exactly sure how much the packages weighed. Not sure if, or when, the meat and seafood was inspected.

Not to worry: we cooked it, we ate it, we thoroughly enjoyed it. Other edible body parts of octopus will have to wait for another adventure.