Everything you know about travel is wrong . . . . . or, at least, it could be wrong. Anyone who travels often enough, and daringly enough, has surely already discovered this. Pre-travel, you might believe that herds of cows don’t roam cities, that money comes only in paper and metal form, that the health of one’s father is not connected to one’s choice of footwear. Then you travel to India and step into (and, occasionally, onto) its bovine urban environment, or go to Yap where purchases are made with large rock slabs, or visit Madagascar and discover fady. (Don’t know about fady? Read on).
This is one of the true joys of travel—to shatter expectations and expand the realm of what’s possible.
In many ways, the entire travel channel of Spot Cool Stuff is dedicated to the surprising aspects of travel. For some clear examples, look through our unusual hotel reviews.
In honor of the official Everything You Think You Know Is Wrong Day, March 15th, we bring you a special post about three travel destinations—one country, one city and one restaurant—where you’ll discover that what you were certain was right is, in fact, wrong.
Fady in Madagascar
Land of taboos
There’s nothing special about doing chores on Wednesdays, going barefoot does not indicate that your father is alive and twins are not discriminated against.
Want to experience a country with cultural rules completely different from your own? Try Madagascar. The isolated island country off the eastern coast of Africa is home to 18 major tribes, each of which has their own strong sense of what is fady or taboo. Among the Bara people, a boy is not a man until he steals a cow undetected. (Coincidentally, this is also the belief among certain fraternities at the University of Texas). For a Betsimisaraka man, it is fady to wear shoes while his father is still alive. Mahafaly children are forbidden from sleeping in the same house as their parents and from referring to any part of their father’s body.
Several taboos are amusing and quirky, such as prohibitions against eating rice off a red plate or passing an egg hand-to-hand, or requirements that all chores on Wednesdays be performed while standing up. Fady can also have a dark side: twins face discrimination because their very existence is fady; in extreme cases parents murder their children if they are born on days that are thought to bring misfortune.
For travelers, it is difficult to determine what is (and is not) fady since what’s taboo varies greatly between regions. As a general rule, the system of fady is stronger in the rural areas than in urban ones. The best travel guidebook for Madagascar we know of is the recently updated Bradt guide. We suggest traveling with that and asking other travelers and village elders about what’s fady in a particular area.
When in Madagascar, you also should expect to encounter extreme friendliness and to reciprocate in kind. Denying hospitality to a stranger, refusing hospitality that’s been offered to you…throughout this amazing country those too, are fady.
Kijong-dong, on the North Korea side of the DMZ
Cities are built primarily—or at least partly—as places for people to live.
The 1953 armistice suspending the Korean War allowed each side to have one city inside the demilitarized zone. On the southern side there was already a village, Taesong-dong. On the northern side the Pyongyang government built Kijong-dong. The new city was designed to be a shining example of North Korea’s superiority. It had electricity, wide sidewalks and multistory houses with gleaming blue roofs—all rarities on the Korean peninsula in the 1950s. At the heart of the city was the world’s tallest flagpole, from which flew the world’s largest flag1.
The idea behind Kijong-dong was to show off a city so wonderful that it would entice South Koreans to defect to the North. The only problem: no one lives, or has ever lived, in Kijong-dong! The entire city is a facade. Lights turn on and off because they are set to timers. The “residents” walking around are paid actors who live in nearby (and certainly more ramshackle) villages. The houses lack interior rooms and some of the buildings have no back walls!
Visiting Kijong-dong is impossible, at least not without creating an international incident. However you can gaze upon Kijong-dong on tours of the DMZ from the South Korea side; guides will refer to it as “propaganda village.” Try to resist the urge to defect.
1 Technically, it is the world’s tallest supported flagpole; the tallest unsupported flagpole is in Baku, Azerbaijan. The flag above Kijong-dong weighs 280kg (620 lbs) and is the largest in square area. The widest flag in the world happens to be viewable from Kijong-dong—it’s on the South Korean side of the DMZ.
Ogori Cafe – Kashiwa, Japan
A restaurant of surprise meals
You are supposed to get what you order in a restaurant.
At the Ogori Cafe in central Kashiwa you’ll never receive what you order. That’s not the result of a language barrier or supremely bad service. It’s by design. Ogori works on an order-it-forward philosophy. You purchase a drink or a meal, your order is written down on a card, and then you receive what a previous patron ordered (and paid for). All the rules are laid out on ubiquitous signs around the cafe:
- Let’s treat the next person. What to treat them with? It’s your choice.
- Even if it’s a group of friends or a family, please form a single-file line. Also, you can’t buy twice in a row.
- Please enjoy what you get, even if you hate it. (If you really, really hate it, let’s quietly give it to another while saying, “It’s my treat…”)
- Say “Thank You!” if you find the person with your Ogori cafe card.
- We can’t issue a receipt.
Word of the Ogori Cafe has spread such that we expect a few other surprise meal restaurants to start popping up. Do you know of one? Let Spot Cool Stuff know via the comment box, below.
[via Cabel's Blog]
Unusual Tours: Play Golf in North Korea
Paleofuture and the Study of False Predications
Bizarre and Unusual Items You Can Buy on Amazon.com ← really!
The Japan Monkey Waiter Restaurant
Travel to Real Places Resembling Dr. Seuss Illustrations
Samsonite Micro Suitcase Scooter Review: Luggage That Moves You
Every month a group of expert, independent travel bloggers converge on a single topic in a Travel Blog Mob. Our topic for March 2011 is Everything You Think You Know Is Wrong, our salute to March 15th, otherwise known as Everything You Think Is Wrong Day. Check out the other posts in this month’s mob: