These important questions were presented to me almost every time I was in some mode of transportation; taxi, motorcyclo or motor scooter on my recent trip to the Philippines.
I soon adopted Elizabeth Gilbert’s approach on her Eat, Pray, Love trip when asked about the whereabouts of her husband. I too invented a wonderful husband that was working in the USA and understood my need to go on a vacation. With each short trip from point A to B, my imaginary husband morphed into someone I would like to meet if he wasn’t completely fictional. It became a game for me and much more fun than trying to explain my two marriages and divorces.
Traveling as a solo woman in some countries is less about the danger and more about pure, unadulterated curiosity. Local men in small villages are baffled and have never traveled anywhere and seem to find single women doing this by themselves a strange phenomenon. When friendly women on ferries or local buses sat next to me, wanted to chat and asked that question, I told them the truth. They seemed to accept the fact and were maybe even a bit envious knowing they would never have that kind of freedom living in a small rural area without many options.
With complete nativity, one of the first questions out of strangers mouth, “How old are you?” was a bit shocking at first. When I told the young driver of the motorcyclo cab, that just for his information, it is considered rude in the USA to ask women this question. He clearly couldn’t understand why. I tried to explain that women of a certain age were sensitive about this. The blank expression on his handsome, open face told me this did not register one iota with him. Of course, in Asian countries, older is better, as age gives you wisdom and automatic respect, so I can understand his confusion. It’s not the youth-worshipping culture Westerners are used to.
The upside of this is before I told any of them my age, I asked them what they thought mine was. I was guessed between 30 and 12 years younger than my age, seriously! I really believe they were not trying to come on to me or flatter me, they just don’t have any concept of what women on our side of the globe do just to maintain ourselves. Fitness programs, healthy eating, well, most of the time, beauty treatments at salons or spas, the quest for lotions and potions that promise results, choosing flattering clothes and of course, thinking positive thoughts. LOL! When I had this age discussion with another driver who patiently drove me from one ATM after another looking for one that would recognize my debit card and spit out some money, I felt we had bonded a bit after the third ATM. The discussion continuing between stops for the quest of the elusive Philippine Pesos, I told him that I ate a plant-based diet, no meat for many years, as opposed to a heavy diet of meat and rice like in the Philippines, regular yoga and meditation and very little alcohol. He confided that he had cut out meat and alcohol himself a couple years ago and felt much better for it. It was a sweet moment of connection and some commonality with a stranger on the other side of the world. It seems no matter how much I travel or where all people are pretty much the same. They all respond to politeness and a smile in kind.
The next ATM stop liked my card and gave me the Pesos I needed. Even though I didn’t get to the second ferry terminal in time for my trip to the next island and had to sleep on the metal seats until 4 am the next morning, I still considered it another good travel day.