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Far from the Maddening Crowd

May 4, 2010

It’s the first day of your trip, a trip you should have taken a long, long time ago. You’ve chosen a new continent this time, different to anywhere you’ve been before; and you’re excited. New place, new smells, new sights. Your feet are dying to pound the pavement and explore. Feeling relaxed for the first time in a while, refreshed from a good sleep, you carelessly step out of the hotel and into the street.

And then, something happens.

Your head begins to swirl, your eyes start to glaze and you can feel an unfamiliar tightening in the chest. Frightened you stand like a statue, your feet cast in concrete. People are buzzing around you, their faces look similar: dark hair, dark eyes, faces round and alert. They swiftly move past, speaking words you don’t hear. This is not how you imaged it would be, ever. Resigned you retreat back into the hotel in need of a seat and solitude. This is, along with your new destination, your first time in such a crowd.

Welcome to Asia.

by Cate

It’s been a year since I last stepped foot on Asian soil. Yes I miss the place, the countries, the cultures but not the crowds. These I’ve said my farewells, I’ll revisit them from time to time but that’s all.

Crowds are not an Asian phenomenon they occur everywhere, but the difference is crowd behaviour: the movement within the group, the flow, the pace and the sheer numbers. These factors have managed to overwhelm even the most desensitized people including myself.

But I’ve learnt one crucial thing about crowd control — patience.

Golden rule 1: work the Tao!

Unless you are absurdly stupid, don’t force your way through a dense crowd. Become one with crowd, think Tao and go with the flow. Personally I’ve found Asians good at working large-scale crowds, they’re aware and accepting, never pushy or angry.

Sometimes though the only way around a crowd is through it and this is when you can become a virtual icebreaker. Be gentle but strong, never look into peoples faces because you end up walking into them and they you. This doesn’t mean you push, oh no, like an icebreaker you should part.

Golden rule 2: know when to hold and when to fold

Like many Westerners I was brought up on guilt and the notion that if you don’t know how to react — be polite. My first experience in Asia taught me a lot about the downfalls of being polite. I stood back so others could pass, I never walked side by side on a busy sidewalk, nor did I cut in front of another person.

Again like Westerners who did this, I felt good about being polite but quickly realised I was getting nowhere fast.

Know when to use the polite card and your actions will be rewarded, but also know when to fold the manners away for safe keeping. There are differing levels of politeness, just because you stand back for others doesn’t mean you’re a winner. You could end up spending the entire day doing this.

by Cate

Golden rule 3: it’s about timing

Find the hours in the day, the days in the week, the weeks in the month and months in the year when crowds are small or non-existent. Then make your move. Beaches aren’t packed all the time, shops become busier during sales and on weekends, and lunch hours in business districts pack out eateries. Bars bustle from Thursday to Saturday but slow down on Sunday.

It’s about timing, ask the reception staff in hotels, or expats living around the area. Asia is not loud and busy all the time.

by Cate

Golden rule 4: plan well

You simply can’t avoid those happy holiday-makers who create their own crowds within a crowd. Theme parks, cinemas, shopping centres, galleries, museums and historic attractions are packed during the middle of the day but empty out near closing time. Know what attractions will likely be busy, then make a plan.

By Cate

Of course you could spent the entire trip on a beach in the middle of winter, during a storm, far away from anyone and anything. Less maddening perhaps but that depends on how you define maddening.

Caffeinated Traveller

  1. May 5, 2010 2:42 am

    I’m with you on saying my goodbyes to Asia, with the exception of Japan. What I couldn’t get accustomed to was the body contact with so many strangers in public places yet it seems very natural to them.

  2. travelforaircraft permalink
    May 5, 2010 7:45 am

    I found the minor bumps and collisions to not really be a bother. Since they weren’t intended to be rude I didn’t take exception. I’m also much bigger than most Asians and they tend to bounce off of me, as well, so I found them to be amusing.

  3. May 5, 2010 8:42 am

    Gourmantic – yes that was creepy and suffocating for me too!

    Bear – they bounced off you?? Any broken bones I wonder?

  4. May 5, 2010 9:13 am

    That last photo reminds me of if the crushing crowds at so many tourist sites in China, especially the Forbidden City in Beijing (complete with flag waving, matching baseball cap wearing Chinese tour groups – urrgh!).

  5. Catherine permalink
    May 5, 2010 12:14 pm

    Great tips – the golden rule of timing is so pertinent for the art of crossing the road in Ho Chi Minh city – also love that photo of the beach with all the belongings as much part of the crowd as the people….

  6. May 5, 2010 6:49 pm

    Wow. I never realized the crowds in Asia were that serious. THese tips really sound helpful, I’m sure I would have been one of the people being polite and getting nowhere!

  7. May 6, 2010 11:11 am

    The first photo took me back, it’s worse than New York. “Be gentle but strong…” Love that advice, it can be used in so many situations. Thanks for this article, it opened my eyes on how to handle myself in a crowd.

    BTW, great blog title.

    All the best – Maxi

  8. May 6, 2010 11:15 am

    Catherine and Liz – oh yes the traffic in Ho Chi Minh, plus China, Hanoi, hmm I think the list grows.

    Fly Girl – yep that would be Asia, but if you go there expecting crowds you may not get them.

    Maxi – You are welcome!! I know I also have to follow my own advise 🙂

  9. May 6, 2010 2:40 pm

    It can be hard to get into the rhythm of Asia, but once you’re in– you’re trapped! And it can be hard to leave Asia behind. As much as I really am enjoying my time in the US, and part of me really just wants to stay, I am looking forward to getting back to Taiwan in just over a month’s time… -X

  10. nerdypremedprincess permalink
    May 6, 2010 3:07 pm

    Cate! Leave soe room in a trunk for me next time. I can fly for free! LOL Thank you for the comment on my blog, if it’s alright I’ll stick you on my blog roll. I love travelling. I need to go back to Peru some day and visit my extended family on mom’s side again. Have fun, your photos are great!

  11. May 7, 2010 12:07 pm

    Xander – I’ve been reading your posts and it looks that you have been enjoying Taiwan a lot — home away from home I guess. True about being trapped there, something in the culture thinking and life; or water. Enjoy the US.

    NPP – Thanks!! How cool to have Peruvian blood in the family, such a rich culture and of course, a free place to park for a while. I’ll see you either there in Peru or somewhere else (but not a hospital)


  12. May 16, 2010 11:34 pm

    One of the most insightful posts on Asian travel I have read. I like the pratical elements and tips. Travel can be inspiring, but only once you have the basics work out, like actually getting from point A to point B. Thanks for this post, I will recommend it.

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