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May 9, 2023

Alyson Shane: Living Like a Local

Alyson Shane: Living Like a Local
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I've turned into a big travel snob. The idea of jetting off to Caribbean or Central America to sit at resort and drink all day feels very... dated. If there is one thing that Anthony Bourdain left behind, it is the idea that food can unite the planet, and being curious and uncomfortable about new thing is okay. I won't even start in on cruises. How they are still a thing after the pandemic is a miracle; or testimony to how lazy we have become as a species. The idea of being trapped on ship with American chefs cooking bad American food while on shore, the Italians have their pasta, and the Spanish their tapas.

Alyson Shane loves to travel with her husband John. They have just completed their second trip through Thailand and their first through Japan. One of the things I noticed on her trip was how they made the effort to live (and eat) like a local. A lot of it comes down to where you leave your money behind. Is it a tourist trap? Are you staying at a hotel owned by a foreign corporation? Are you riding public transport? Did you go to Starbucks or the local cafe for your morning coffee?

In this episode, Alyson and I swap stories about our recent trips and discuss some of the best ways to travel by living like a local.

Alyson runs Starling Social, a company out of Winnipeg, Canada that can help you grown your (online) social reach.

You May Also Like this episode we did with James Blick where he talks about travelling through Spain.


Matt Cundill 00:00:00
IYou May Also Like a show about the things you may Also Like things like live like a Local alice and Shane was traveling in Thailand and Japan around the same time I was traveling through Spain. We both went away for multiple months and managed our businesses remotely. She and her husband John follow similar travel philosophy live like a local. Now, many of the people we know jet off to resorts and do nothing. Then there are the cruise losers. I see that as a form of smash and grab tourism. The ship docks, people get off the boat and grab things, leave behind their tummy, flu viruses, get back on the boat and repeat in another port of call. Anyhow, Alison and I are going to swap stories on how to travel and live like a local.

Alyson Shane 00:00:52
The best way to approach it is to talk about the lack of empowerment that a lot of people have when it comes to choosing a vacation and how our society frames what a vacation is. And I get the sense that it's a very North American thing. It seems like from talking to folks while we were on vacation who were from other Asian countries, traveling to other Asian countries, that it's about seeing historical sites, eating the food. Yes, maybe you're staying in a hotel, but you're staying in the city proper or whatever have you versus the North American idea that a lot of us have of a vacation, which is I want to unplug from my life. I don't want to have to think about anything. I just want to go and get daydrop next to a pool or in a pool next to the ocean. You know what I mean?

Matt Cundill 00:01:39
Absolutely. Yeah. I guess we are looking to just kind of unplug all the time when we do that. But tell me about the trip that you took. When did it start? Where did you go and when did you come back?

Alyson Shane 00:01:53
Oh, my goodness. So we left in mid January. We went to Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Japan. We spent just shy of a month in Thailand, about a week and a half in Cambodia, a couple of weeks in Vietnam, and then about a month in Japan. We got back, I believe, on March 29. So we've gone quite a while.

Matt Cundill 00:02:15
And so what are you looking to do when you go away? It sounds like food is definitely involved by the looks of your instagram and as well, visiting places.

Alyson Shane 00:02:24
Yeah. The big thing for me is I'm very interested in being immersed in a culture that's different than mine. I live in Canada. I'm very familiar with what my culture is like. As you alluded to, food is a very big part of my identity. I love cooking. I love experimenting with different cuisines in the kitchen. And when I go on vacation, I'm always looking for the best spots to eat authentic food in the places that we go so Asian food is one of those. It's hard to find the right ingredients here. And my take on it isn't going to be the same as like a Thai or Vietnamese restaurant here, but even that is going to be different than what you get over in Thailand or Vietnam as an example. So that's a big motivator for me, is eating. I also scuba dive, so going to places where I can dive and check out interesting coral formations or different types of fish is a big one. And just history, culture in North America, we don't have of a lot of the same older I mean, I haven't been to Europe yet. I'm sure we can talk about your Europe trip if you want, and all the amazing food you ate, but that's a big part of it for me as well, is I want to go to check out temples. I want to see the ruins of civilizations that came before us and experience things that I can't get in Canada. There just isn't that here. And I feel very fortunate to be able to go away and to be able to have those experiences. And those all are kind of things that encompass where I think about where I want to go when I look at going on vacation.

Matt Cundill 00:03:49
So the word vacation, where we're from, we're in western Canada. It seems that the crown jewel of those vacations is to go to Mexico, go into a resort, stay in the resort, get shitfaced, go home.

Alyson Shane 00:04:02
Yeah, that seems to be the mo for a lot of folks. And I'll be honest with you, I have never wanted to go to a resort. This might be offensive to some people, but I really think of resorts as like daycares for grown ups. You show up, you don't have to think about anything. Your bed gets made for you, your room gets cleaned for you, your food's taken care of, your drinks are taken care of. We actually got married on an island in Belize, Key Cocker. It was about 45 minutes off the coast of Belize, and Keycocker is like, about as close to a resort as you can get without going on a resort. The island is just tourism, it's just fishing, ecotourism, snorkeling, scuba boats, whatever. But that's all it exists for, really. It's just for tourists. And when I say it's like almost a resort in the sense that it's just the locals who are there to help you have a good time and other tourists. My husband and I thought that that would be a good water wings for a lot of our family members who haven't traveled outside of Canada and were nervous about going somewhere that wasn't a resort, regardless of the country the resort was located in. And one of our buddies, after the fact, turned around to us, and he was like, yeah, Peacocker was pretty great and all, but really sucked having to carry my wallet around all day. Really, that's your indication of whether or not you're having a good time on your vacation is, like, you have to manage your own shit. But I think, like I said at the start, a lot of people, when they think about what a vacation is to them is not thinking. It's just shutting off your brain and just sinking down into, like, an amoeba state where everything is taken care of for you. And maybe that vibes with some folks, but it has never been something that's interested me in any capacity at all from a personal perspective, not to mention the ecological and the social aspect of it. Right. Like, I'm sure we'll talk about that.

Matt Cundill 00:06:00
Yeah, well, there's a huge trickle down effect when you go to just sit at a resort. And sometimes I'll ask people and I say, Tell me about the people you met. And they just talk about the staff that they met really, at the resort. But there is I mean, that money that you spend at the vacation goes to a large corporation. It does not go to help out the place where you visited.

Alyson Shane 00:06:23
And that's one of the things that really bothers me about resort culture in particular. I remember when we took our first trip, we went my boyfriend at the time, husband now, we went to Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala, and we just stayed at Airbnb the entire time. And I remember talking to some locals in Belize about how resorts were starting to open up in the country, and their perspective on it was, it's great that some outside money is coming in, but it's basically just a black hole of money that then gets taken out of Belize. As you said, these companies are generally not locally owned. They're usually international conglomerates, or in a lot of cases, they are in the States. And in some cases, they do provide a little bit of employment. But that's not meaningful employment in the community. You have to go, you have to live on the resort. The people who work there are separated from their friends and their family. And one of the things that I've heard from folks in those communities where resorts have started to pop up and provide opportunities for employment is that they showcase their culture in a way that doesn't feel respectful. But when you work at a resort, that's your job. You don't get to decide whether or not you're participating in the Big Fire show. It's just part of what you're doing there. Right. So, yes, you are glimpsing part of someone's culture, but you're not really interfacing with it in a meaningful sense. It's just consumerism applied to it in a different context. There's a lot of negatives to resorts beyond just, like, on a personal level, what travel can do for a person. But yeah, it was definitely not great.

Matt Cundill 00:07:57
And shout out to all the steel drums in all the Caribbean nations and the only place you ever find the steel drums are at the resort.

Alyson Shane 00:08:05
Yeah, and I mean, I can definitely say I saw some great cultural moments in Vietnam especially. There is a crazy amount of busking, tons of that. I mean, everywhere. But like Vietnam and Japan really stood out. There's a lot of busking, people singing on street corners, dancing, doing tricks and things like that. So if you want to see parts of people's culture, there are opportunities to do that that don't involve staying on a compound, basically, because that's what you're doing, right? Like you're in a compound separate from everything else. And I've had people say to me, well, like, oh, you can book a tour through the resort and yeah, you can, you're going to be paying top dollar for that and you don't have the option. I know a bunch of people who live in Mexico and work with resorts in various capacities, whether that's photographers or tour guides and things like that. And the resorts make the choices. Same with a cruise. When you go on shore, if you want to take a tour, they've already decided who is going to do that for you. And it depends on your values, I suppose. But I, in a lot of cases, like to shop around, I like to look at different reviews and I like to get a sense of I don't want to be on a bus with like 40 other white people. There are other options that are available to you than the one canned thing. And it's nice to have that option, at least for me personally. That's something that I look for when I'm traveling that you're just not going to get staying on a compound where everything is already predecided for you. And that's one of the things too, about resort culture that you don't think about. So on resorts, drinks are often included, but if you're going on a cruise, cruises often don't include it. Or if you're thinking about things like just thinking about cruises and that type of ecosystem as well, like you have to pay for WiFi. You don't have the same amount of options with food. And so I'm a big Anthony Bourdain fan, that probably comes as no surprise, and he has a very good quote about how you think think about food when you go on vacation. And one of the things that people often say to me when I say I eat where the locals eat, like you just said, I look for places where there's nobody who looks like me. I want to go somewhere where I feel kind of dumb because I look completely different from everybody there, because I know that's where the good food is going to be and it's going to be really cheap and it is across the board, but a lot of people will say, well, what about food poisoning? I don't want to get food poisoning. If I go to a place that serves tourists that in theory, they go, well, that's a safe place for me. If I eat at the hotel, the hotel is going to make sure that I'm taken care of. And there's a great Anthony Bourdain quote about this where he says, eating where the locals eat means that there's going to be a care and consideration into that food that you're not going to get in a tourist trap or a restaurant in the hotel because those people are feeding their community members, they're feeding their neighbors. So if Stall in Thailand starts getting people super sick, well, that Stall is not going to be around anymore, and that's somebody's individual livelihood. So they care a lot more about that than a hotel or somewhere like that, where you're just a name. You're just a name on the ledger. You leave when you leave, you eat at the buffet or you don't. They don't care, right. Versus somebody who is putting time and care into building a reputation within that community. And I remember that's a very long version of a very short quote. I remember reading that, and it really resonated with me. And it's something that I tell people all the time when I'm traveling and when I talk to people about the type of travel that I like to do.

Matt Cundill 00:11:28
Speaking of Anthony Bourdain, I guess I marvel the most at how he avoids airplane food so successfully.

Alyson Shane 00:11:36
Okay, one thing on airplane food, I will say airplane food is airplane food. No matter where you go, it's not going to be the best quality. But North Americans get ripped off. Oh, my God. You take like a 1 hour flight in Asia and you're getting a snack there's, drinks included. The quality and the quantity of food that you get for free on every flight is just offensive. I feel like North Americans get ripped off so hard and love us, but we have such superiority complex over other parts of the world, and we're the ones consistently eating worse, less natural food, paying more for it, and getting way overcharged on things like flights, luggage, alcohol. I like to travel. I save money like I'm saving money when I go on vacation because I'm not staying on a resort and I'm eating where the locals eat. And I'm not going out to drink at a bar every night. I'm going to 711 and getting a 9% tall boy for like a buck 50. You know what I mean? Because that's what the locals are doing.

Matt Cundill 00:12:38
Yeah, absolutely. And it never used to be that way. And somewhere along the path, likely in the 90s, corporations began to really find new ways to gouge us. And it happens continually over and over again to the point where I'm wandering around Europe and saying, europe never used to be cheaper than North America, and now it is. And I just realized, you know, if I play this right, I can spend two months here. Oh, and I did.

Alyson Shane 00:13:04
Yeah, that's exactly what we did, too. I will say we spent more on this trip than we were planning to, but we did every tour we went on, every tour. We checked out every ruin. The last time we were in Thailand in 2019, we spent a lot more time just in the city hanging out, that type of thing. And like you just said, if you're smart about it, the most expensive part of your vacation is your flight. And that's been across the board. It's interesting that you mentioned that Europe isn't as pricey as you thought it would be, because I had the same experience in Japan before we went to Japan. And even since everyone that we talked to is like, oh, so expensive. Japan is so expensive, and it is not. I would say accommodations were probably a little bit pricier, but Japan is a first world country. You're staying at nicer spots. Even the airbnbs were a little more expensive. But food is still super cheap. Alcohol is super cheap. And I think if you go in there expecting to pay tourist prices, you're going to sort of naturally gravitate to places that and I mean, Japan's sort of an outlier in that there isn't a lot of touristy stuff after being in three countries that are very friendly to tourists. It's not that Japan is not friendly. It's just that their economy doesn't seem to rely on tourism as much, and so there's less English signage. It's a very different vibe. But that doesn't necessarily mean that it was way cheaper than I thought it was going to be. And like I said, I think the big money saver there was just because we ate at local restaurants, we had to go to places, we had to point at the menu, because you don't know what it is, and you hope Google Translate got it right. Yeah, it's harder in some places. It's in a place like Japan to have a vacation where you shut your brain off. But I would argue that that place in particular is the opposite. But it depends on the type of trip you want to have, and it depends on the type of experience you want to have when you leave your home country. Right. I think that that just really comes down to the individual and to what you want to become accustomed to and what you are willing to become accustomed to.

Matt Cundill 00:15:09
You said Google Translate. Now, I was practicing my Spanish in Spain, and it went so far, and then I realized I really haven't downloaded Google Translate. And there you were in Japan using and singing the praises of Google Translate to bailing you out. So for anybody who is worried about going to a country where they don't know the language, how helpful is it?

Alyson Shane 00:15:29
It was super helpful. I don't know how we would have gotten around Japan specifically. Everywhere else was fine. Thailand, Cambodia, as a quick aside, cambodians speak better English than so many English speakers that I know, exceptional English. But in Japan in particular, google Translate is a lifesaver. I will say that, especially in larger cities like Tokyo and Osaka, there's a lot of English signage, especially in the subways and things like that. But it is a big boon to have because Japanese is very hard to read. I will say, though, going with a couple of phrases kind of like, you said you were practicing your Spanish, like sumimasan, which means excuse me, or like little things like that. Like, learning a couple of words goes a really long way, and I think that it's interesting. I feel like I'm talking about Japan a lot, but I feel like there are some parallels around people's fears about traveling to new countries and the politeness of Japanese culture. Before we went, a lot of the blogs I read online said things along the lines of japanese people are rude to you. They don't want you there. They're not going to be helpful to you. And I had the total opposite experience. I found that the Japanese were among the friendliest, like some of the friendliest people that we met. And they are very, very willing to help you learn their language and figure it out. But they don't want to embarrass you. They don't want to make you feel embarrassed because you don't know the language. And conversely, if they don't know English, they get very timid about it because they don't want to feel silly and they don't want to be embarrassed themselves. And my sources from this is some friends of ours who've lived in Japan for like, 20 years and kind of spoke to us about what it's like there. But yeah, Google Translate is a lifesaver. There is literally, in my view, no excuse to not go somewhere anymore. Because even if it's not, like, perfect, I definitely didn't order the bukake noodles for lunch. I don't think that's the same. But it really does make a difference. And what we would do is we would take a picture of Google Translate, or we would write something out in English and then show them, and it would show them the Japanese or read it back to them. And even if it's not getting the syntax perfectly right, it's a good way to kind of cross those linguistic barriers and be able to have discussions with people and to communicate. So, yeah, definitely a big boon for sure. Don't know what we would have done in Japan without it.

Matt Cundill 00:17:44
And a really simple hack to getting outside the resorts is Airbnb, because chances are good that there's going to be a local involved. And by the way, that local person will point you to the local establishments.

Alyson Shane 00:17:59
I would say, actually. So Airbnb has really beefed up in the last couple of years. I mean, I haven't taken a trip since the Pandemic started that was my first time leaving Canada since 2020, like January 2020. So Airbnb has its listings, of course, but it also has Airbnb Experiences. So I would say some of the airbnbs we stayed at, the people running them are a little more hands on. Some are a little more like turnkey. It really depends. I like the turnkey a little bit more like I like renting an apartment or doing something similar. Not like staying in the main floor of someone's house. It depends. But when you're doing more turnkey style, you don't have that opportunity. And some people, especially if they're super like ESL, aren't as forthcoming with those suggestions. Some really are, but Airbnb Experiences has tons of that. And we booked a lot of our tours through Airbnb Experiences because it's such an easy way to tap into what locals in the area are offering and not rely so much on big tour companies and things like that. So that was, again, sort of being a value driven traveler. That was something that was really important to me. And the most memorable tourism experiences we had were ones that we booked through Airbnb Experiences as well. So the options are out there. You just have to be willing to do a little bit more legwork in order to find them for yourself. You may also, like supports Podcasting 2.0, so feel free to send us a boost if you are listening on a newer podcast app. If you don't have one, you can see a full list of them@newpodcastapps.com.

Matt Cundill 00:19:35
So why are we so hooked on cruises and how do we get off the boat?

Alyson Shane 00:19:40
Okay, I get the sense that the cruise, it feels like a step up for people from a resort. A resort, you're in a static place, you're on a compound. And I mean, a cruise is just a compound in the sea, but I think because it goes from place to place, it gives you the illusion of experiential travel in a way that a resort doesn't. A resort is like you said, you go to the resort, you stay on the resort, you get wasted on the resort, you go home. Right? Hopefully you're not too hungover on the trip home. But a cruise goes from place to place and they're typically a little bit longer than the average person is going to stay on a resort. Like, most people, at least in my experience, most of the people that I know who go to a resort go for like a week. Most people aren't doing two weeks on a resort because, let's face it, it's boring. It's boring to just get daydream. I mean, listen, I love a good day drink, but very few people I know want to do that for two weeks solid and pay $100 per person to leave the resort for like 6 hours, right? A cruise, on the other hand, even though, like I said, it is a compound, you stop at a couple of places. And I have very mixed feelings about, oh, you have 8 hours in Rome. Have fun. You're not really going to get an authentic experience of a place when you're on a timer. You have to spend at least a day or two there, at least a whole day somewhere to at least get a sense of it. But like I said, I think that it's because you get a couple of different stops, and it's the illusion of deeper travel while it's still getting funneled back into your safe, like white people boat.

Matt Cundill 00:21:14
The white people boat.

Alyson Shane 00:21:16
I don't know. And I mean, I'm sure that folks of other skin colors take cruises for sure, but when I look at pictures of cruises, I looked at some data on cruises just to be prepared for this discussion. And I don't know, anecdotally it seems like it's a lot of North Americans who just want, like I said, the illusion of going somewhere fancy and not having to think about it. Kind of like a cruise is like a Kantiki tour, but not for teenagers. And on a boat, it feels like.

Matt Cundill 00:21:46
And not to be lost in that is that you get on a cruise. You might be going around the Mediterranean and visiting Portugal and Spain and France, but those are American chefs who are cooking American food for the people on the boat. That doesn't sound very good. Those are, like, three of the best countries to have a meal in, and.

Alyson Shane 00:22:04
You'Re getting the watered down version of it. And I can say from experience, when we were in Thailand, there was a seafood place. We were on an island called Copanyan, and my husband was like, oh, it's got a crab on the outside. Let's go check it out. And every time we walk by, I was like, It's only tourists, dude. It's just tourists in that restaurant. And he really wanted to try it. He's like, how bad could it be? And it was the worst food we had in Thailand was that restaurant. The fish was dry. Part of it was undercooked. The portions were way like north. They were like American sized portions, which is unusual for Asia, at least in my experience. And it was just bad because there's no love going into that food. Like, we kind of talked about earlier that Anthony Bourdain quote and kind of what you were alluding to with. Like, the chefs are there to cook for those tourists. They're not engaged in doing an amazing job. They know that the people eating there are a dime a dozen, and they're just there to just pump out food as fast as possible and hopefully not get anybody sick. Not a great value. Prop.

Matt Cundill 00:23:08
I've gotten this far in the conversation, and I'm really beginning to think that the idea and the premise of live like a local travel outside of the resort, I think it does have a lot to do with food. And I wonder if we're just sort of divided into two groups where the people who don't like food will just stay on the resort and they're good with that. Because what I see from you on your Instagram is that you go to Thailand but you cook Thai at home. And I look at that and I go, I don't think I can get that in any restaurant where I live. And I myself bring home Spanish recipes all the time. And I'm cooking Spanish stews and I'll make samarejo or gaspacho or Spanish tortilla gets made, which is a Spanish omelet. But all that happens all the time. So you bring that home with you. And I think the connection to food and travel is quite deep.

Alyson Shane 00:23:56
I think that that's a really good assessment. And I really think this comes down to just a lack of exposure to other cultures. And North America in particular is very isolated. Like, Winnipeg has more restaurants per capita like Winnipeg, where we are, has more restaurants per capita than anywhere else. It's for sure Canada. And I can count on my hands the amount of people that I know outside of my immediate friend group, who would ever order from a Cambodian restaurant, right? People just aren't we're not taught to be adventurous because we're not naturally exposed to as much type of food. And let's face it, the food that we eat in North America is good. I love a burger, but it's a lot of saturated fat, it's a lot of carbs, it's a lot of salt, it's a lot of addictive basic flavors and combinations. I'm sorry. Like, putting some applewood smoked cheddar on a burger, in my view, doesn't make it all that fancy. It just means you put a different cheese on it. It's still a burger at the end of the day. And the unfamiliarity with and kind of like what I was saying in Japan. People don't want to seem silly, whether that's the Japanese sentiment or somebody who wants to take a vacation and have a break or go somewhere different doesn't want to go there and feel embarrassed or stressed or not know how to do something. And food is a big part of that. It can be really intimidating to go somewhere and not know what's on the menu or to go somewhere. And I go to a stall in Thailand and I point at the thing and I just get what I get right? I am not a huge fan of chicken feet, as an example. I don't love chicken feet. I've had them several different ways. And I had like four or five times in Thailand, a soup just came with chicken feet in it. The picture didn't have chicken feet, but they're there. And if you're not willing to or if you aren't used to having to push that boundary of your comfort zone, something like that can feel really overwhelming. And I know for a fact people. Would look at my Instagram stories and go, oh, God, I could never eat that. Or, oh, you ate like, lung or liver or tripe. And that's what people eat over there, and we're just not exposed to it. A good example of that, actually, is we have a couple that we know who had kind of invited themselves along on our trip with us, and it didn't wind up working out. It's probably for the best. We travel very differently. We had had them over, and I said, okay, I'm going to share with you my travel trello board, because if you're doing multi countries, you have to be organized, you got to plan in advance, whatever have you. And our friend's wife was like, I want to show you the number one place I want to go in Vietnam. And she punches it into YouTube. And she didn't have the country right. It was in the Philippines, which is not the same, but the place that she was most excited to go in Asia was a 14 story buffet. It was the world's largest buffet. And I was like, I'm not eating there. I'm not traveling halfway across the world to eat at a buffet like you're saying. I don't know. To sort of circle back to your point about buffets, I think buffets continue to exist because they give the illusion of choice while also allowing you to sort of stick within what makes you feel safe. Because this chick is not going to the 14 story buffet and having, like, oxtail soup. She's going there and she's like, there's a whole floor of cheese. That's too much cheese. We need that much cheese. We watched the video, and I pointed out that it was in the Philippines. And I said, this YouTuber has another video. He's like a food blogger where he's walking through Vietnam and there's a couple of really famous food streets in Hanoi and he's eating all these desserts. And all the desserts are like they're little custard. So it's like custard with jackfruit, custard with a red bean mash or whatever they use over there and all these different types of desserts and custard. And we're watching the video and she's like, oh, that all just looks disgusting. When we go, we'll just go eat somewhere where there's normal food. And I couldn't help it, Matt. I was just like, Bitch, that is normal food. That's what they eat there. Come on. It's intimidating for people. And the assumptions that we as North Americans make that our food is like the normal food, I think, makes it harder for us to feel comfortable pushing those boundaries because we haven't had to. If you haven't been able to afford to take a trip to Asia until you're in your 30s or your late twenty s, you may have never experienced anything like a chicken foot in your soup. And yeah, I think there's just a lack of adventurousness there.

Matt Cundill 00:28:27
What was the most challenging thing you ate?

Alyson Shane 00:28:31
I don't know. I don't really feel like I was super challenged on a lot of stuff. The only thing that I didn't eat a lot of was we were at this little stand up bar in Kyoto, and John just ordered it was like a grilled fish, and it was like a whole grilled, like a little sardine. And it wasn't that they were bad. I just wasn't vibing with the texture at that point in time. So I had, like, one to be polite, I eat a lot of fish. I feel like that was the one that I just wasn't vibing with in that moment. I don't know if we really had anything that I didn't like. I'll eat anything. Once we ate sea urchin, which was very interesting. I'd never had it before. Have you had urchin before?

Matt Cundill 00:29:09
Yeah, outside the marketing Cadillac. Somebody was cutting it up nicely.

Alyson Shane 00:29:13
Okay, I'm curious. Describe to me what eating urchin is like. What does it taste like? What's the texture like for you?

Matt Cundill 00:29:21
Not memorable. It just was fine. I just preferred the oysters.

Alyson Shane 00:29:27
Oh, God. Well, oysters are in a whole different category. That's totally different.

Matt Cundill 00:29:30
Yeah, I mean, it's got a nice texture, sits on the tongue, it's soft, and that's about it.

Alyson Shane 00:29:35
I found it dissolves. It's almost like a very soft like a pudding. Almost like you put it on your tongue and it kind of just dissolves right away. But it's got this muddy, earthy texture to it, and it definitely took some getting used to. Like, the first time I had it, I was like, oh, okay, so that's urchin. Let's have another one, and just acclimatize my palate to it. I'm a pretty big believer that if you are determined enough to like something, you can learn to like any food. We do it with beer, we do it with coffee, we do it with lots of things. Here in North America, you can easily get over looking at a piece of liver or eating lung or something. It's just a matter of wanting to.

Matt Cundill 00:30:14
I think more often than not, when I look at the cuisines between North America and anywhere else in the world, I will look at Italy or Spain, where you'll get a tomato and it's just a tomato, and they will cut it. And then you might put a little salt or olive oil on it, and that's it. And in North America, everything has 50,000 ingredients. I'm not quite sure how we ever evolved into chicken parm, casserole, added cheese, extra just piles of this ingredients thrown. My birthday lunch was lamb, and it had salt, pepper, and lamb, and it was delicious. So I'm not sure how we got here in North America by just constantly bombarding everything with ingredients, and most of which are not healthy or natural.

Alyson Shane 00:30:56
Coming back to talking about North American food and the basis of it, it's carby, it's salty, it's very basic in a lot of cases. And I think that when you're starting from a foundation that's kind of bland, adding anything to it feels fancy. And we're used to things that fall into that category. So more cheese, more sauce, things like that, versus, like, Thai. The concept in Thai cooking is there are I cannot remember what they are right now, but there's, like, the five major flavors. It's like salty, tangy, vinegary, sour. And, like, umami, I think, are the five. And the way that they think about their cooking is every bite should be different. So you have your regular bowl of noodles with your stuff that goes in it, and you're supposed to mix it all up. And then there's pricknon plais, which is the vinegar soaked chilies. And it's just like a vinegar sauce. And there's another one that's a similar name, and it's like fish sauce. There's like fish sauce, chilies and vinegar chilies, and then just like, a bunch of vinegar soaked jalapenos. And you pour a little bit onto different parts of your bite in order to enhance flavors and have an experience of a meal that is varied and that is engaging with every bite that you take of it. And I think the North American tendency to just throw a cheese on it or, like more maplewood bacon or whatever have you, just comes down to the fact that we're fundamentally afraid of mixing flavors and being uncomfortable with a lot of the food that we eat. I have a lot of cookbooks in my house. Some of them are Thai, some are from places like, I'm getting really into Iranian and Mediterranean food right now. I just got a tajin, and I love it. But I have a book by a popular author. She runs a website and pinterest called Half Baked Harvest. And her stuff is great. Don't get me wrong, it's super tasty, but it's all comfort food. It's like six cheese pasta, or it's like something with, like, eight different it's all cheese. It's all carbs, it's all cream. And I hate to say this, this is maybe like a spicy thing to say, and you can, but no wonder we're all getting fat over here. All we're doing is eating processed, heavy, carb loaded meals, and then we drive everywhere. The food that we ate in Asia, in Thailand and Cambodia and Vietnam was super noodle heavy. It was carbs every meal. But the freshness of the food was completely different than what I'm used to here and then go to Japan. And that's just like a whole other universe. The quality of the food there is so good, the freshness of the food. And everybody in Japan, especially, they walk. I read while we were there that the average Japanese person walks 7000 steps a day. And that's like living in Tokyo or like any major city. You just walk to the store. You walk to the restaurant. You walk to meet your friends. You walk to the subway. And the way that they think about eating is not just like a meal to get through. It's these long, drawn out. I'm sure you probably saw some of that in Europe. There was someone on Instagram I saw went to Italy last year, and she was saying, as a solo traveler, she really struggled with that, because in Italy I'm just going from her experience, she said, you go and you sit, and it's like an hour, hour and a half. You're not there to blow through something or just consume it as fast as you can. You're supposed to enjoy it. You're supposed to take your time with it. I get the sense that that's something that comes through in other cultures that is just kind of missing from a lot of what we have here. And there are exceptions, of course, but I feel like a lot of North American culture is just how many addictive elements can you throw onto this basic item in order to make it seem palatable? Shove it in your mouth and go watch TV or scroll on TikTok.

Matt Cundill 00:34:36
The only overweight people are other tourists from North America. That's it?

Alyson Shane 00:34:41
Yeah, the locals. It was extremely rare. I am always hesitant to say that out loud, but a fact is a fact, and we can talk about diet and culture and body acceptance. I don't think any of that stuff is bad or taboo. But I do think it's useful to look at how other cultures approach things like day to day lifestyle in terms of walking, building for accessibility and walking and healthy lifestyles and the type of food that they eat. The same article that I was reading about Japanese folks walking 7000 steps a day, there is a city in Japan. I forget what it's called now. It's not one of the major ones, but they were, like, leading in the country for stroke, and people there were dying at a pretty rapid rate. They had the highest stroke in the country, like racist stroke in the country. And the mayor of the city was like, what can we do to help people be healthier? So they installed 100 walking paths in the city, did a big promotion to get people out walking. Go out with your friends, walk with your family, walk your dog, whatever. And this city now boasts the highest longevity, like the longest lifespans in Japan. They completely turned it around by just focusing on walking and making their cities more walkable and encouraging people to get just it's like low impact exercise. We don't have a culture of that here.

Matt Cundill 00:36:00
Our North American eating culture has actually devolved into where the corporations have defined it. So you go to a restaurant, the first thing they do is they'll put a napkin on the table and give you the menu, and they'll ask for a drink. Now, that part is not different. In fact, in Spain, you have to be ready with your drink or they will scowl at you, because dime, survey, savino, whatever it is that you got to get moving, where it breaks down is once the food arrives in North America, there's always somebody who will ask you how the first few bites taste, which is part of the process. It's sort of the beginning to move you along. And really the process. They want to flip the table at a lot of restaurants and they want you out. And in Spain and a lot of parts of Europe, you sit there and nobody will ask you to leave. You can sit there for four or 5 hours and carry on and go right through dinner if you want. And in fact, if you ask for the check, they're pretty slow about bringing it because they assume you're also living quite slowly.

Alyson Shane 00:36:56
I will say streetcar culture, of course, is very different. You're eating on the street and you're kind of just going on and doing your thing. But I had very similar experiences in the sit down restaurants that we went to when we were traveling. I really noticed that a lot in Japan especially. And I think just because their culture is so different, thailand is very tourist focused. So if you go somewhere and you aren't looking for places that are more local focused, you're going to have that experience. Someone will come around, someone will ask you that type of thing there's that like the turnover they're looking for that turnover versus the leisurely experience of enjoying a meal that is more common in other places. For sure. Yeah, definitely. That's a good point. I don't know that I got asked that maybe more than once over the course. And I think it was actually at that touristy place on Copanyan. Yeah, that's kind of it. That's so funny. I hadn't thought about that.

Matt Cundill 00:37:49
Where's your next trip going to be?

Alyson Shane 00:37:51
Probably back to Japan. I don't know. We're considering a few options. I would love to go back to Asia. The food there is so good. So probably we're thinking maybe South Korea and then spending like a more vacationy type in Japan. We jumped around a lot. I would love to spend more than like a week in each place. So maybe spend two weeks in Tokyo, go up to like I really loved Osaka. The reason that I say it that way, when we were in Tokyo, we were drinking in an area called Golden Guy, which is this very old part of the town, part of the city. And the bartender was from Osaka, and he asked where we were from and I said, we've been to blah, blah, blah, Osaka. And he was like, Osaka? And I'm not sure if you've seen Brooklyn Nine Nine, but there's a scene in Brooklyn Nine Nine where one of the characters sons, the name is Nikolaj, and they go back and forth. It's like Nikolaj. He's like Nikolaj. He's like nikolaj. That was me doing this. But two shots of tequila over the course of an afternoon. So the pronunciation for Osaka is, like, burned into my brain at this point, but kind of bringing this back full circle. Those are the types of memorable experiences you are never, ever going to get on a resort or on a cruise because you're not going to talk to human beings who aren't paid to be nice to you. That bartender didn't have to talk to us, but he did. And we have this wonderful memorable experience as a result of it that you're just not going to get if you go for, like, a prepackaged or a compound type. I don't even know if I'd call it, like, a trip. It's just like an away time, you know what I mean?

Matt Cundill 00:39:29
Alyson, thanks so much for doing this. I appreciate it.

Alyson Shane 00:39:32
You're welcome. Happy to be here.

Matt Cundill 00:39:36
My thanks to Alyson for joining me on the show. Alyson runs Starling Social, a company based in Winnipeg, Manitoba that can help your company grow your social reach. If you'd like to partner with her, I've left links in the show notes. This episode was produced by Evan Serminski and edited by Mathune Varma and built for your ears by everybody at the Sound Off Media Company.