Weird and wacky Southeast Asia: a photo gallery

Sometimes you come across things that don’t fit into any proper blog post but still blow your mind. Our journey through SE Asia offered a bumper crop of those, so here I present my personal photo gallery of 10 assorted weird and wacky SE Asian sights:

1) I probably never would have noticed this vehicle, which was UBIQUITOUS in Cambodia. But Steve, who’s astute about such things, immediately identified it as a Camry, a brand that Toyota has never sold outside the United States. Equally weird, the horde of Camrys plying the Cambodian streets and byways are all 10-15 years old, and they’re universally in mint condition. One of our Cambodian guides said they typically cost about $8,000 (and remember that Cambodia is one of the poorest countries on earth). In the US, a comparable one would run half that price or less.

2) The Southeast Asians aren’t the only ones posting bizarre images on toilet stalls. I’ve puzzled over this (lower) Japanese one before and only this trip, while passing through Narita International, did I learn it means the stall is equipped with a fancy toilet that can spray warm water “for cleansing of the buttock.” We had a short connecting time, so there was no way I was going to test it.

But I’ve added some new ones to my collection:

Here it’s the central right icon that disturbs me. No use of hand brooms on your shoes? (The image on the right clearly is intended to prevent actual showering with the hand-held spray hoses that almost all stalls are mysteriously equipped with.)
We found the following affixed to a public toilet outside one of Bangkok’s most visited temple complexes:
But what does it mean??? I can only guess:

Men can use this toilet. Women can too. You can pee standing up. You can pee… squatting? You can wash your hands. Sit on the toilet. Squat on the toilet. (Really?) You can throw up in it? Kick it??? You can change your baby’s diaper or breast feed (…maybe?) You can take your wheelchair in? Throw something in a waste basket. And that huge image — perverts are allowed???

3) Not only bathrooms have that certain je ne sais quoi when it comes to scatological iconography. We captured this one attached to the dashboard of the taxi that picked us up at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport:

No doubt about its meaning.

4) The only way I can imagine any death-defying babies besting those in Vietnam is if the babies actually were driving the mopeds themselves. The wee one in this photo is hardly the youngest one we saw, but usually we were too slow to photograph them — because we first had to stifle our gasps and close our jaws, which were gaping open. Not only are these youngsters NOT riding in their National Highway Traffic Safety Administration-approved car seats, restrained by seat belts, but sometimes Mom was only holding on to them with a single hand, while Junior bounced up and down on the seat on his tiny toes. Some infants were too young to hold their heads up, let alone bounce.

5) You might think the only weird or wacky thing about this sign is that the beer is so cheap, but you’d be overlooking the fact that we took this picture in Cambodia. It was on the very touristy Pub Street in Siem Reap, but pretty much every price of everything we saw or were quoted anywhere in that country was in dollars. Sometimes we got riels (the official Cambodian currency) back as change; a 1000-riel note is worth about 25 cents. But ATMs all dispense crisp, clean $100 bills. Sometimes 50s and 20s. Basically, the whole society has acknowledged that their own money is about as important as the penny is in America, thrown up its collective hands, and switched to dollars instead.

6) This is Tucker, my Labrador Retriever. We didn’t see him anywhere in SE Asia, but we did see a fellow who looked like his younger brother looking very sad in a very small cage in Hanoi. We also saw heartbreakingly tiny and pathetic puppies for sale on a market street. We had a very, very strong suspicion they weren’t destined to be canine companions; one restaurant not far from that street had a whole section of doggy dishes on the menu. I am aware that some people in China and SE Asia eat dogs, but when I saw that menu, I was too upset to try to photograph it. I felt almost as revolted as if the menu had a selection of delicacies prepared with human meat. I don’t know if this is weird or wacky, but it’s certainly one of those sights that tell you you’re no longer in Kansas (and it’s a good thing your friend Toto isn’t either!)

7) If I were less ignorant about world religions, I would doubtless be blase about this sight of a lingam, which we photographed in one of the Angkor temples. I’d think, ‘Well, duh! Of course it’s normal to have statues of penises inserted into vaginas all over your place of worship.” Actually, most of the phalluses (the linga) have been stolen by vandals over the centuries. But their female counterparts, the yonis

are still everywhere, looking very lonely and reminding you that these folks had a very different view of sex than most of the Christian churches and Muslim mosques I’ve visited recently.

8) A broader awareness of religious practices also might make ancestral shrines seem mundane. They ARE mundane throughout SE Asia. Many are erected outside homes, but some like the one in this photograph (taken in the lobby of one of our Vietnamese guesthouses) are indoor fixtures. The incense stick was burning. The offering on the right was a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. (I guess there’s nothing wrong with smoking if you’re already dead.) And the ice in the glass of Coke on the left was fresh.

9) Central Siem Reap has a lot of fish tanks next to benches and adorned with signs offering a pedicure and foot massage all in one. The idea is you put your feet in the tank, and the creatures in it (“pepper fish” was one variety, we were told) instantly swarm around them and begin nibbling on the dead flesh. I paid $3 (“for as long as you want!”) and made something of a spectacle of myself whooping about how much it tickled. (It never hurt, but the feeling ranks very, very high on the weirdness scale.) In defense of the fish, I must say my feet did feel a bit smoother than normal when I got in bed that night.

10) Some fish eat. Many, many get eaten, including this assembly on Steve’s fermented chocolate and rice porridge dish. Breakfast of champions, Filipino style!

2 thoughts on “Weird and wacky Southeast Asia: a photo gallery

  1. Doris Fuller November 10, 2014 / 12:09 am

    This is definitely fun and a nice wrapup with all those delicious miscellaneous threads. The signs are AMAZING!!!

    Sent from the mobile device of Doris A. Fuller, with apologies for any resulting typos or formatting


  2. czatkin November 10, 2014 / 4:57 am

    Great collection of culture-gap photos! The fish-chocolate-porridge made by stomach flip-flop.

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