Characteristics of a Great Travel Partner

10 Mar

Duncan is the perfect travel partner. The sights, the people, the food, the entire culture are his within days. After three weeks in Thailand he was wearing a sarong and communicating with Thai people in their language.

Crossing a bridge in Sukhothai, Thailand on New Years Eve

His success with this kind of submersion is partly guts. One time when we sat down to eat a meal in Sukhothai, Thailand, I mentioned to him that one of the ladies at the other end of our table has nice style. “Tell her,” he suggested. When I laughed the idea off, he turned and interrupted their conversation with, “My friend likes how you look.” He added in some Thai too, saying what I bet was “You’re a pretty lady.” Then all the girls stared at me, waiting for me to confirm what he said. As you can see in the photos, Duncan took many interactions to the next level. If we ate somewhere along the side of the road, he ended up taking photos with the family and getting an address so he can mail them copies.

Even when Duncan lacks the vocabulary to communicate with someone, his conversations rarely stall or sputter out.  However, when I’m determined not to let a language barrier keep me from conveying something, I often resort to a sad game of charades or Pictionary, such as “moo”ing to say I want beef, drawing pictures of chickens popping out eggs, and sketching a heating pad complete with wall socket and heat rays (it took a lot of humiliation and time before I got my heating pad by the way).

Duncan is also full of charm. I repeatedly saw him smiling, complimenting people, and taking a genuine interest in them. Moms in the Philippines were literally trying to marry off their daughters to him after one conversation. Maybe this speaks more to their desperation than to his charm,

This mom and daughter made us pad thai and something else scrumptious. Every meal in Thailand was beyond my previous idea of delicious, other than when we ate at a restaurant of my choosing one night. Seriously, that was the only mediocre meal I had in four cities.

but even my own mom is proof. She’s not trying to marry me off, and she’s not desperate, but she called me one evening when he was over here. Pretty soon they were on the phone together laughing. “Your mom is really cool,” he told me afterwards, about three times. And the other day when we were riding bikes, he wanted to swing by this Vietnamese sandwich stand that he had not been to in some months. He treated the lady like his long lost sister.

Since I don’t have as much guts or charm, I just copied Duncan’s. This is why the only Thai phrase I remember is “handsome man” which sounds like “low mock mock.” Just so you know, there is very little chance you will get the tones correct, so think twice before trying it out at your local Thai food restaurant. Anyway, Duncan said, “handsome man” to about every male we came in contact with regardless of whether or not it was true, so I started to do the same when I saw how many smiles we were getting.

Okay so he has guts and charm, but it’s more than that. Trust me. I came here with some of that, but it wore off when that cashier started to give me the evil eye for never knowing what she was talking about when she said, “Would you like a bag?” after each transaction. In Taiwan, they always ask because they usually make you pay extra for the bag, and they’re trying to save the Earth, unlike some countries I know that hand out bags like they’re cheap plastic bags. Anyway, after about the 15th time I shopped there, she was probably hoping I’d have learned those words, but no. And honestly, I still don’t know them, but I can recognize them if they are uttered after I purchased something and the cashier’s hand is beginning to reach under the counter. But Duncan is a completely different type of person. When he came here from America, he didn’t know Mandarin, only Cantonese. He dove right in, taking a class and practicing constantly. Now he’s so gung ho about Mandarin he’s always talking to me as if I know it too. I’ve become accustomed to tuning people out, though, so it’s not a problem.

He didn’t know a single word of Thai, but I bet before he left the Bangkok airport upon arrival, he knew at least five phrases. By the time I met up with him, he was able to have a conversation with every Thai person we happened to make eye contact with.

Duncan in the back of a truck (a taxi service)

It helps that Thai people are really nice and relaxed, but I only learned three phrases due to this, and I forgot them all two days later. Thai is a tonal language, with more tones than Chinese, and judging from all the smiles he got, Duncan was right on with his tones.

By the end of the trip, I almost felt like I should pay him for being my tour guide. He said I was a good travel partner too, though and that I didn’t complain much. Then he changed it to, “Well, you didn’t complain at all.” Well, whatever, but setting the bar at not complaining is pretty weak; what I’m more concerned with is gusto. I know for certain that compared to him, I was a wallflower, yet thanks to him, this wall flower saw the real Thailand, not just the glorious beaches and Europeans on vacation. The type of vacation we had is my favorite kind. As many of you know, for this kind of vacation, your travel partner must be someone who is not content sitting right on the surface of a place, following the beaten path. There’s a reason the path is beaten though; leaving it requires guts, charm, and sometimes an affinity for languages. However, if you find yourself Duncanless, you can always drink. Let me know how that goes.

Taken after spending the day with elephants.

Duncan at a temple in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Check out his awesome pants (about five USD)

A Chinese temple in Mae Sot, Thailand

As I said, store owners become more than that when you’re with Duncan. This is a clothing store in a market area.

You can just barely see the yellow paint on one girl’s face. It’s a natural paint that the Burmese people wear as a sunscreen and for beauty. The grease covering my face is my expensive “natural” sunscreen from the U.S.

This is a search and find for Duncan’s face. It’s the inside of that CD Christmas tree that we took some photos in front of with Freddie and Wai.

Duncan was on a hunt for the perfect sarong. First, we sorta needed to find out how one ties such a garment.

Like a good friend, I began pointing out sleeping men in the market so that we could take our time in staring at their method of tying the sarong. Turns out they all do it a little differently.

As Duncan attempted to haggle the price down, this store owner was giggling and giggling about… his Thai? His audacity? The fact that he’s buying a sarong without knowing how to tie one? I’m really not sure; maybe she just thought he was cute.

After he agreed to buy it, we sat there as she sewed it into a sarong. It was just a sheet of fabric at first, and when she finished, it was a circle of fabric. Basically, you grab extra fabric in each hand near your hips and you somehow (this is the part we were unclear on) tie the two excess handfuls together. As you can see in the first photo on this post, he got it all figured out.

After I returned to Taiwan, Duncan went on to Lopburi, Thailand which is known for it’s Macaque monkeys that roam freely around the center of the city.

Fun times!



Oh dear.

That looks much healthier. And look, the father is even checking for flees. That looks like a real healthy family right there.

Wow, check out Dad’s concentration.

I am going to guess that Duncan got himself invited to this big family feast somehow. Oh wait, I think this is probably a temple. People put food on this table to be blessed. 


8 Responses to “Characteristics of a Great Travel Partner”

  1. Ed March 10, 2012 at 10:06 pm #

    Traveling with the right person/people can make a trip fantastic. I’m glad you enjoyed your experiences in Thailand. Good friends are priceless.

    Enjoy your time with Jade.

    Love, Dad

  2. Jeanne March 11, 2012 at 10:30 am #

    Hey, I wrote a really great comment but it disappeared. I shall try to recreate it.

    This is a great character study and I felt like I really got to know Duncan through your descriptions of him. I agree that he is very easy to like, based on that simple phone call. (Duncan, don’t forget you are invited to stay at our place any time you are in Texas.)

    The pictures of the monkeys hanging on people give me the creeps because that happened to me once and I didn’t like it at all. Plus the monkey bit me but I can’t say where.

    I love you!

  3. Duncan Chui March 13, 2012 at 6:23 pm #

    Emily Clark… I am honored. We (Emily and Duncan) just walked into a shop today and ended up drinking tea, eating snacks, and taking pictures with the owners today! =) So funny! I was lucky enough to read this post right next to you! I had a great time traveling with you in Northern and Central Thailand. I wish your vacation was longer! It was an extraordinary experience to share and dive into the Thail culture with you. I’m glad that you enjoyed it as much as I did. The more I travel, the less I know. I can easily forget about the photos I took in front of a thousand year old temple, however, I will never forget about the conversations and experiences I had with my travel partner and the locals!.
    Mama Clark, I’m coming.. be ready!

  4. Bill March 13, 2012 at 7:10 pm #

    That’s my brother! you described him perfectly. He also never hesitates to help a stranger, and drags me along too! He makes everyone a better person and brings smiles around the globe.

    • Duncan June 9, 2014 at 5:22 am #

      Thanks Billy.. I do remember that night!!!

  5. Sandra Uceda June 17, 2014 at 4:47 pm #

    Yes!! Duncan Chui is an awesome travel partner… I visited him in NYC, we went to eat Chinese food for dinner and sat with some Italian tourists. By the end of the meal we were invited to the loft party they were attending. Unfortunately we couldn’t make it. We also traveled to El Salvador (my home country) and we had a good time, eating and drinking cervezas (to kill the germs he told my mom).
    Im glad you got to enjoy the fringe benefits of being his travel partner 🙂

    • Duncan June 22, 2014 at 11:10 pm #

      WOW, I don’t even remember this… I vaguely remember this. WOW women remember everything… Thank you, I’m flattered. And yes, traveling to El Salvador was so fun. I would like to return to your country with you. That was before I became a true backpacker. Next time we go, let’s travel to more places. Sandra, you should meet me in Spain. Drinking beer and alcohol does kill germs hija!

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