In the film industry there’s a saying “never work with children and animals”. The unpredictability will kill you.
In travel there’s an equally dire warning “never travel with babies and mothers”. The predictability will kill you.
But I like a challenge and I’m not one for conventional wisdom anyway, not when conventional wisdom would have me stuck behind a desk, hot stove or wiping someone’s behind right now.
So I thought to myself, why not invite my mum for 2 weeks in Thailand? I quickly patted myself on the back for not inviting her to Cambodia, where I was actually headed. Too many bad roads would kill her back and our relationship.
So I met up with her in Bangkok. I quickly upgraded my hotel, from one that has to tell guests not to bring their “lady friends/boys upstairs, to one that has a concierge who is already planning upgrades to your travel and transport plans. “Thank you but we’re just going to walk. Yes, all 3kms of it.” (I thought he was going to do me in for pensioner abuse.)
It’s been five intense, but not tense, days. In that time we’ve walked and boated and eaten our way through Bangkok and done the usual bus-boat-taxi overnight trip to Koh Tao. So we’re slowing it down right now before we head for the hills and Chiang Mai.
A good time to reflect on the lessons learnt. Five things I have learnt from travelling with my mom:
1) Mom’s can still surprise you: I tried to shelter my mom from Ko San Road. In fact I booked us a hotel so far away from it that we ended up in another expat party zone that I didn’t know existed ( Soi 11 anyone?) . But in the end money and convenience drew us back to the enclave and we ended up finding a better vibe in a quiet street a few blocks away from the madness. And when I took my mom to visit the famous road by day and by night, she surprised me. She saw it for its vibrance and colour. ” What fun”. She enjoyed its street food and got into the bargaining. She didn’t turn her nose at the cockroaches on a stick or the ones scuttling past us when we sat on the pavement eating our street food. I guess it’s all fun if you’re just passing through. So I was equally surprised when she came out of a restaurant toilet and said “oh no, i can’t do that. Is it all going to be eastern toilets?” Go figure. Not predictable after all.
2) You are forced to be a tourist. Travellers hate to be thought of as tourists – those two vacationers with more money and longer itineraries than they have time to enjoy. Too cheap or snobbish to visit the main temples, the traveller likes to hang out and absorb culture through osmosis ( but really through coffees, lassis and beers). But when your mom comes, you have to visit the Reclining Buddha and the Grand Palace (actually we skipped this pricey number in favour of a massage later on. 1000 baht can get you a lot of muscle manipulation on the streets). “The mom” is the best accessory because you can take as many silly photos and visit as many “highly recommended” places all in the name of “showing your mom around”. So your street cred is still in tact.
3) Grey hair gets respect. I started noticing something when I was negotiating taxi fares. They would often shake their head at my price but when I pointed to my mom, standing all forlorn on the pavement, they would suddenly agree . I think she must have reminded them of their hard working mothers (which women in the East usually are) and thought that she should get off her feet. It happened more than once, so now I eagerly summon my grey-haired woman when we need a discount.
4) Praise comes standard with the mom model. As a solo traveller you get used to taking responsibility for your bad decisions and not getting any recognition for the good ones. Even blog readers don’t comment so much. It’s a lonely planet indeed! But when your mom is around, she thinks you are amazing, just for booking a bus boat combo ticket. She marvels at your bargaining power and praises your knowledge of quaint restaurants and top attractions (she is yet to come across Trip Advisor). Even the photos you take are “so smart” and “amazing”. A girl can get used to having her own praise singer on standby.
5) You realise how much you have learnt from travelling – how to negotiate with taxis, when to bargain and when to pay full price, which restaurants will offer good prices, how to avoid extra costs and seek out freebies and bargains. the countries change but the systems and scams share some commonalities, which you have already uploaded. So it’s often a plug and play situation when you land in a new place. Give or take a few costly mistakes. Mom’s notice this and are quick to point out this knowledge and role that they don’t see you play out at home. You watch their mistakes and understand the rules they broke. But you also get to see them approach situations with a wide eyed wonder and naevity that you will never get back. So there’s a tinge of sadness there too. But it’s brief because for your mom is always on “praise my daughter” day, so inevitably there is a compliment waiting for your around the corner.
Musing on the sounds of the sea lapping softly gently right near me…