Travel… It can ‘make & break’

International living (especially in 3rd world nations) introduces you to world conditions that you might be uncomfortable with or psychologically disturbed by.  But with the challenge comes opportunity for personal change as growth comes through new experiences.

When you move to a new country, eating becomes a thrill as you relish in new flavours and tastes.  Driving becomes a challenge as you encounter new rules and conduct (or lack of, here in Vietnam!)   A trip to the supermarket introduces new sights, colours, customs and culture.  It’s these things that shape us and open our minds.

I’ve been in Bến Tre, a coastal province in the Mekong Delta, South Vietnam for 13 days now.  On day 2, my colleagues all said, “you will get sick, just like every other foreigner.”  I thought, nope, nothing’s gonna batter this immune system.  Low and behold, 3 days ago, wham, it hit me like a rock… Nausea, abdominal cramps, followed by vomiting, diarrhea, and weakness.  A bug, a parasite, a virus, whatever it was, it was vile!

I knew about some mainstream take cares: avoid ice, use bottled water, clean teeth in bottled water, take caution with street food etc.  But I guess it was unavoidable.  Is it because many places, specifically food venues, have no safety standards for storing and preparing foods, that raw meat are lingering all day in 25-35 C heat or that a lot of the food comes from China illegally and is of very low quality?  I don’t know, but I’m still positive about having a good gastronomical experience here in Vietnam.

Reflections from that:

  • If it tastes gross, just leave it. Your stomach will thank you for being a bit impolite later by not trying to turn itself inside out.
  • When in Vietnam, or Asia for that matter, pick where you eat with an eye on cleanliness.  Often the street food is fresher and tastier than in a restaurant, and if you pick a place that is well patronized, you should be safe.
  • Best way to work out if a restaurant is good or not is to eat in places that are busy with plenty of locals eating in it.
  • Buy fresh foods from the supermarket.  The market is exotic, yes, but also unhygienic.
  • Just let the illness or bug ride itself out.  Taking medication to stop whatever is going on will only delay the bacteria being forced out of your body.  I didn’t take any medication and fully recovered within 2.5 days.
  • Re-hydrate with H2O or fresh coconut water.  I always crave apple juice when I feel like this and that helped as well.  Bananas are also great and bland foods that won’t upset your stomach.
  • Get enough sleep!
  • Don’t rush back to the gym, but build up to your workout routines. I did a morning Vinyasa yoga flow today and felt right back to my normal self again.
  • Pay attention to nature’s protectors.  Lime, chile, vinegar, garlic, ginger, turmeric and galangal are natural antiseptics.  Those ingredients come together to kill potentially harmful bugs and bacteria. Along with the herbs, you’ve got a powerful phytochemical mix in your food.
  • Take care of your gut health – support the good bacteria by eating nutrient dense foods (think whole, unprocessed, properly raised and antioxidant-rich foods) and adding probiotic foods to your diet (sauerkraut, kimchi, pickled veggies, etc.), and not feeding the bad bacteria, which love sugar.
  • Distract yourself from your symptoms…  Thank you my lief 😉
  • Finally, be cautious but not paranoid; eat and enjoy the food. If you happen to get sick, well it’s just bad luck but don’t let it ruin your whole trip or view of a place.

Lessons learnt, and to be honest, I seemed to have bounced back feeling stronger and more rejuvenated after that sudden bout of food poisoning.

Living abroad has provided me, and now ‘us’ (my fiance and I) with enriching, rewarding exposure to life, in all its varieties.  It shapes who we are; tests our relationship; teaches us to be patient; makes us reconsider our attachment to things and  appreciate a whole lot more, and that’s why we choose “the road less travelled.”  Equally important, we see those attitudes reflected in our future children; the next generation.

Another thing I’m grateful for this week – Lunar New Year! (A very big deal here in Vietnam.)   Let’s see what inspiration I can draw during the week-long holiday, and what traditional foods I unearth – there’s a bunch of old-aged Vietnamese dishes I’m still longing to try.

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