Obviously, when one moves from a highly metropolitan city in East Asia to a small town in Latin America, there are going to be some things that seems a bit unusual to me. However, I chose to used the word ‘stranger’, instead of ‘strange’ not only because I thought that would be more captivating as it coincides with the Netflix series (look, it got you here), but also because it’s a more appropriate word; these customs are not strange at all in the local communities, it’s a part of people’s life here. When entering into an unfamiliar community, it is important to put on the cultural relativism lenses (my anthropology teacher would be proud).
Without further ado, here’s a list of stranger things from Ecuador!
1) They don’t use the green parts of spring onions!
Honestly, this was such a big shock to me, so I just have to put it as my #1 stranger thing. My host family puts spring onion in lots of different dishes: morning scramble eggs, chicken with juice, fried beef… and I always see them cutting spring onions, but it has never occurred to me that they don’t use the green part. The great realization happened when I decided to share my home cuisine and made my host family some fried rice. They looked at me weirdly as I chopped up the top, green part of the spring onion and said, “Oh you use the green part? That’s interesting.” As a Hong Kong-ese whose family puts the green spring onion on literally everything, I took a minute to take in this culture shock. Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating a little bit but still, it was a pretty big deal for me. It’s also interesting because this stranger thing works both ways – it’s as strange for them as it is for me.
Walking on the streets is never an alone experience; you are always accompanied by street dogs. They are generally peaceful, and although I was scared of getting bit and having to go to the hospital for the 10+ rabies shot when I first arrived to Ecuador, I am now very much used to it. My neighbour’s dog, Orejas (means ears), is a rebellious teenager who doesn’t like to stay at home. Everytime I walk past his house to get to the city center, he follows me with a cheeky smile. Now my favorite café knows him well and gives him water to drink whenever he comes with me. It can be a bit annoying at times but hey, I have a friend!
3) Surprise dinner
Dinner here really confuses me. Sometimes all we have is tea and some bread, but sometimes we have a full-ass dinner with tacos or burgers at 10:30pm. I never know what to expect. Once I had 3 dinners: at 5pm because I was hungry, at 7pm because my host family was eating, and 10pm because I went to one of my extended family’s house and I just couldn’t resist the food.
Imagine Hong Kong, but instead of the endless sea of tall skyscrapers, you have mountains! I live in the Sierra region of Ecuador which literally means mountain range! Mountains surround my town so everywhere I turn, I see beautiful mountains. There’s something so soothing just looking at the huge mountains around me… I guess I could get used to that.
‘Chinese’ restaurants in Ecuador are called Chifa. The first time I went to a Chifa I was so excited for some home-food. Reality hit me hard when the food arrived and it isn’t Chinese food. I mean, I can see how some aspect of it has a Chinese influence, but the taste and the ingredients are far away from typical Chinese food; even the soy sauce is different! I guess I’ll just have to learn to be less picky about my food.
6) Perks of being a ‘gringo’
The downside of being a gringo is that you get a more expensive price at the market… But the perks of being a gringo (foreigner), is that people talk to you all the time! Ecuadorians are really nice and welcoming towards foreigners. People talk to me when I’m wondering on the streets, in the market, and even on the bus! It is so nice and very different to the big city life in Hong Kong. It is a great opportunity to practice my Spanish and to make friends. One night I find myself with a group of travellers, at a bonfire next to a waterfall, listening to some folk music and amazing stories. Although it was just for a night, it had such a big impact on me – it made me realize the endless possibilities of life.
These stranger things are really making me fall in love with Ecuador. It makes me realize the things that I have taken for granted, and also that some things don’t have to be the way they always are. So far, I’ve embraced the changes that had occurred and I am so ready for more of the stranger things that are yet to be discovered.