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Paddling in a sea of difference

Sleepless in Tokyo

NETHERLANDS | Tuesday, 5 April 2011 | Views [435]

The blue Facebook pages show on every hostel computer, shabby looking travelers draped themselves on the shabbier looking couch and the true backpacker – always keeping and eye on the budget – is eating cheap noodles in the hostel kitchen. I'm back to living in hostels for a while.

I’m eager to get some sleep but the jetlag and the loud snoring sounds my travelmate is producing are not humoring me. If he's lucky, he dreams about all the adventures that are upon us during our trip through Central- and South-East Asia for 6 months! Tomorrow will be our first day, which starts in Japan.

I look at the time. It’s 2 am. Luckily I did managed to get some sleep on the flight from Dubai to Tokyo.

Our neighbour on the flight, a chatty African chap from Sudan, immediately began talking to us. I inconspicuously sat back and silently listened while my mate did all the talking. A role that suits me well when I feel like it.

We soon learned that you should never ask an African man how many children he has. “I know how many children my wife has”, he says laughing, “but an African man does not know by heart how many children he has”. I wondered if this is a cultural difference or a matter of testosterone? It turned out that the last has not so much to do with it, but loyalty has. He feels responsible for every member of his extended family, from uncles and aunts to nieces and nephews.

Our worldtrip just started and already we got a lesson in culture right there and then. I did not expect our first lesson to be about Africa, but one of the great things about traveling is that it extends your world beyond expectations.

At the end of the flight we discovered that our new friend is the Sudan ambassador in Tokyo. He gave us his business card and said: “Give us a call, because in this world you can never have a friend too many”.

Soon after we arrived in our hostel, we learned a Japanese custom: 'how to build a Japanese bed'. In a Japanese style room you sleep on futons, placed on the tatami mat floor. We looked around and wondered where this do-it-yourself-kit was. We saw a low table and cushions in the middle of the room. The futons, sheets and blankets were neatly put away in the closet. Thanks to the instruction on top we learned how to pile them and make the bed look as if a local with months of experience (ok, maybe weeks) put it together.

I put my temporary insomnia to good use and start writing my blog. In just a few hours, our first day in this urban jungle of 34 million starts. Then... finally I feel I’m getting tired. Time to log off and join my travelmate by letting the adventures begin in my dreams!

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