I've lived in Asia for nearly two years now. I knew little about the region before coming here, so some things I saw in Hong Kong or elsewhere in the region really shocked me or left me scratching my head.
So without any further ado, and in no particular order, here are the 9 things you should know about Asia before you get here.
1. The major cities in Asia are very densely populated
So if you don't like/ aren't used to crowds, you better get over it. There are tons of people EVERYWHERE. ALL THE TIME. Hong Kong, in particular, is a fast-paced city, so these zillions of people have places to go. So if you are dawdling/loitering in a public area, you better move and get out the way before you get steamrolled!
2. Many of the major cities in the region are VERY polluted.
Don't believe me? The World Bank did a study in 2007 and found that 19 of the world's 20 most polluted cities are in Asia. If you have respiratory issues you will probably have a hard time here. My first week in Hong Kong, I had a terrible sore throat that I thought was due to a cold or flu. I was told that it was because of the pollution in the air. Yikes. Many many days in Hong Kong are hazy and grey, not because of cloud cover, but because of the pollution from factories that has blown down here from mainland China.
3. Labour is cheap.
You probably knew this already. Why do you think your favourite clothing brands have their big manufacturing plants in Asia? Why are all of your housewares made in China? But you are not a huge company like Nike. So what does cheap labour mean for the "little guy"? Well, everybody in Hong Kong has a cleaning lady. You don't need to be rich to have one. I am FAR from rich, but I have one (though they are referred to as "helpers" in Hong Kong) that comes to to tidy at my place once a week. 90% of my friends do as well. People here have nannies and drivers. It is normal. Back home, only rich people have these things. It took a while to get used to the idea.
4. They use bamboo for scaffolding. It is apparently pretty strong and flexible.
Don't know what I mean? Google "bamboo scaffolding in Asia".
5. Don't smoke? Don't like smelling other people's smoke? Then you might not like Asia. People smoke a LOT here.
In fact, Asia has the highest percentage of smokers worldwide. I don't smoke. This rampant smoking is a problem for me when I leave my house. You smell cigarette smoke everywhere. In hotels in Beijing and Cambodia I have had to ask to switch rooms, because even the non-smoking room they gave me stunk of cigarettes. Eww!
6. Scared of critters? Get over it. The roaches are HUGE here.
Actually, I haven't taken my own advice. I am still afraid of the huge roaches here. When it is humid and damp outside there are tons of them. The species that they have here is the "American cockroach"(don't click the link if you're squeamish!), which is bizarre as this is Asia. Even weirder, I've never seen an Asian species cockroach here. The things that make you go "hmm"...
7. If you are different and travelling in rural part of Asia, be prepared to get stared at.
This really goes for many rural areas in the world. But if you are a person of a darker hue like myself, or fair, or blonde, or red-headed, be prepared to get a LOT of attention. In Cambodia and Thailand people shouted out Obama. In Korea and China, people have touched me or pulled my hair without asking. I think it's hilarious, but some people do not.
8. You will get fat here if you're not careful.
Food in Asia is goooood. And greasy. And fattening. And filled with MSG and preservatives. I don't really fancy Chinese but am a sucker for Thai and Japanese and Korean barbecue. I have put on weight without paying attention. Watch your calories (if you care). Eat in moderation to avoid blocked arteries and the like.
9. Don't come during rainy/typhoon/monsoon season.
I think that's pretty self-explanatory. Different countries in the region have different times when they have icky weather. Having lived through a couple of Typhoon 8s in Hong Kong, and having narrowly escaped the Super Typhoon Megi in the Philippines when I was there in October of 2010, I offer these words of wisdom: Don't do it!
Written and contributed by Oneika Raymond