Nina’s Travel Rule #24: Don’t Eat Things That May Make You Poop Yourself

The Snake That Didn’t Get Away. Thanks, buddy!

I should preface this edition of my blog with the following truth: I don’t think I’ve ever obeyed the above rule.  I generally base this decision of mine on two theories:

1) Dirt makes you healthier.  This is clearly a proven fact, verified by such anecdotal evidence as the correlation between asthmatics and childhoods spent indoors playing video games; and that between my unmitigatedly fabulous health and my copious, blatant wallowing in grossness.  Like, sorry, but I am not cleanly when I travel; it’s just not worth the effort.  I once actually burnt a pair of jeans that I’d worn for about seven weeks straight while bumming around Europe because there was no chemical on Earth that could have gotten them clean.  I generally feel that three pairs of underwear will suffice for any trip, whether of known or unknown duration.  And I firmly believe that what doesn’t decimate ones immune system only makes it perkier.  You know, with the exception of mad cow ‘n shit.

2) Street food is dirt cheap and beats the pants off restaurant food. And trust me, I care.  I’ve often been accused of travelling only to eat, preferring food photos to people shots, and being generally quite OCD about putting something odd in my mouth at least every three hours. As for street meat, I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard travellers whinging about food poisoning, and almost all of them seem to have picked it up in a “clean” restaurant, particularly McDonald’s, yet I’ve never once heard of people being felled by street food.  So, as long as it was cooked in front of me, I really don’t care if it was also killed in the street or sat out in the Asian sun for a day or so, it’s surely gonna be fine…

This snake was cooked in front of me, promise! Nah, just kidding…
In fact, my only iron-clad rule regarding food is: don’t drink the water.  This doesn’t include ice, clearly, that’d be waaaay too tricky, but the rest has, over the years, all fallen by the wayside. Yup, that’s right, I eat raw veggies and salad in Mexico, I drink ice by the buckets-ful in Cambodia, I occasionally enter squat toilets barefoot.  Ok, make that ‘I fairly frequently enter squat toilets barefoot’.  And, while I may be gross, I’m literally never sick.  Also, to be perfectly honest, the whole ‘don’t drink the water’ thing has recently died as well.  Turns out the first morning you wake up hungover as hell and jet-lagged to shit in Turkey, the thought of going outside for bottled will be a bit too much to bear, and that Anatolian tap will taste like Allah’s own gift.  Also I just can’t be bothered to remember to shut my mouth every time I shower 🙂  Herewith, therefore, some of my favorite “Jesus I Can’t Believe You Ate That” moments (you, not me, I can always believe what I ate…):
  • Durian in Kuala Lumpur.  Not that it’s dangerous to your health, just that I seriously shouldn’t have put it in my mouth.  Many things have been written about the mighty Durian fruit, and not one of them comes close to describing the feeling of rotting cottage cheese smelling of week-old, rabid road-kill melting into your tongue pores.  The taste is actually nothing compared to the… texture.  Or the smell.  A fruit that requires signs in multiple countries’ train stations, airports, and malls that state things like “No durian eating in public” needs no further introduction than this:\

    The Devil’s Own Fruit. Vomit.
  • The week in Vietnam in which I ingested both snake curry and snake liquor, and then held a giant snake.  The curry was delicious and, as per my exacting standards, was chosen and dispatched in front of me.  Probably it wasn’t the best idea to eat an unidentified serpent pulled out of the very end of the oh-so-clean Mekong delta, but it was either that or rat, and I hear rat is really bony.  The liquor also wasn’t bad at all, you could hardly taste the snake over the burn of straight grain alcohol…
  • Betel Nut and Fish Ball Soup in Hualien, Taiwan.  A Chinese woman in Houston once asked me what my favorite food in China had been, and without thinking I responded, “Oh my fucking god, FISH BALL SOUP”, because it was.  This shy, retiring woman, whom I’ve hardly ever heard speak, nearly cried.  Apparently fish ball soup is quite evocative of her home, and no one she knew in town had ever even tried it.  We quickly bonded 🙂  I didn’t mention that directly after my first encounter with the FBS (and no, for you icky poos out there, it is not made of fish testicles.  Probably because fish testicles are internal, not external, and no, you really shouldn’t ask why I know that.  Think more “meat-ball”, except with fish) I had also tried The Betel Nut.  Stories abound about this interesting fruit, which looks much like an acorn and tastes much the same (yes, I used to eat acorns as a child.  Sorry).  My experience upon chewing one is that betel hits you like five pounds of espresso wrapped in a bag of coke (not that I’ve ever been hit with a bag of blow, but ya know), lights your ears on fire, then instantaneously evaporates, hence the need to continue chewing.  Interesting.  Also it turns your mouth beet red and gives you tongue cancer?  But whatever, they sell it in Taiwan on the street, from plastic roadside kiosks touted by hot chicks in booty shorts, so it can’t be all bad…

    Betel Nut. You can’t tell, but my mouth is bloody red…
  • Ceviche in central Costa Rica.  I really didn’t see what the problem with this was, I mean who wouldn’t use fresh fish for ceviche anyway?  It’s not like the shack we were eating in had a fridge or anything, so clearly it had to be fresh?  Also the owner, who had given us a ride to his shack / gator farm, as well as quite a large quantity of free tequila, said it was the house special!  And, finally, it was amazingly good, so I must have been right?!
  • Fish tacos in Minneapolis.  Like, big whoop!  Except… They were home-made fish tacos.  That I’d brought from Austin, TX.  Four days previously.  And left in the corner of a hotel room, un-refrigerated, to serve as sustenance for a week-long conference in grad school, at which I could afford either liquor or food, but not both.  I mean, is it my fault I chose not to take my departmental IT guy’s advice: “just drink, you can always put out for food”??  I’d take week-old fish-tacos over whoring myself for dinner any day.  Probably.  And clearly “not drinking” was not on the cards at this event…  God my room-mates were unhappy!
  • Now, the raw bacon-wrapped shrimp I ate in Monterrey, Mexico, was really a surprise.  A friend and I (I love you, Danny!) had both ordered bacon-wrapped shrimp, cause who wouldn’t want bacon-wrapped shrimp when available?  Yet, as the other twelve people at dinner with us all obtained their meals and started raving, and we sat there shrimp-less for what was starting to push an hour and a half, these shrimp grew in my mind into an even more unimaginably delectable feast.  They finally arrived after we’d inquired only twice, and it was clear after half a bite that they’d been forgotten, then thrown in the deep fryer still frozen.  And in their rush to feed the fat Americans, those shrimp sure hadn’t been cooked.  Too late!  No mere raw shrimp could stop a Nina from inhaling her bacon! Fully agreed, we both polished off our plates to the last molecule, then washed them down with more tequila.  Never tasted better 🙂
Fish Balls! Fish Balls!

In an effort towards continued full disclosure, however, I will admit that I’ve had absolutely indescribable food poisoning while travelling twice.  Which is really quite a good record, considering how much random shit I eat.  The first incident I blame on the town of Phuket, aka The Worst Place In Thailand, if Not the Planet.  Yeah, I know, everyone says it’s gorgeous and shit, but that’s only because they got a package tour and didn’t go anywhere else.  That or they’re blind, deaf and unnaturally interested in free sex with thirteen-year-olds.  Topping off my dislike of this fat-man’s-paradise is what happened when I’d almost escaped.  Upon arriving at Phuket Airport, I realized I was bloody starving and purchased the only food available, a seriously unhappy ham sandwich.  For eight fucking dollars.  Like, eight dollars in Thailand could have bought me an entire thirteen-year-old and her sister as well, but I didn’t really have any choice at the time, as I was there to catch a four-hour flight to Hong Kong and tend to get really bitchy if I’m not fed frequently.  Plus I had nowhere to stay in Hong Kong yet and was flying home the next morning…  So I purchased the damn thing and had a bite.  And thought, hmm, this does not taste correct… Then ate the whole fucking thing because:

a) I was starving, and

b) Did I mention I paid EIGHT INCONCEIVABLE DOLLARS for that goddamn fucking old-ass ham?

All went well for approximately three hours and 58 minutes, and then all went… not so well.  By the time we landed, I had decided that death would be arriving imminently, if not sooner, and that there was really only one solution.  So I had the airport tourism chick book me in, as I put it, “the closest hotel to this exact spot”, which turned out to be a Novotel.  If you haven’t stayed in one of these, or only the ones in Europe, I’d highly recommend the one on Lantau island, Hong Kong.  It was like a high-tech fairy tale of automation.  It was pleasantly staffed, beautifully arranged, and magically operated by touch screen, like, the whole hotel.  Not that I appreciated any of it, since I spent the next 12 hours alternately throwing up on myself and, umm, something even less pleasant.  About 4am, after waking up from a three-minute nap to discover that I had vomited all over myself and my lovely bed, in my sleep, I gave up on the whole “living” thing and crawled into the shower, where I finally passed out, head in the drain, water running.  I’d really consider it fairly lucky though, as I’d thankfully recovered enough to make it on to the shuttle to the airport in the morning before running back to evacuate.  And no, for those of you wondering, I did not tip whatever poor maid had to deal with what I’d left her, as I’d spent every last cent to my name checking in.  And I’m still sorry about that, dammit!  Long story short, I did not find it appropriate when the flight attendant in first class (yes, I blew my entire collection of frequent flyer miles bumping myself up to first for the flight to Newark, and it remains the smartest thing I’ve ever done) half-bitched me out for going to the bathroom with no shoes on.  I believe my answer went something like, “lady, you don’t know from what I’ve been walkin’ through for the past two months, not to mention the past twelve hours; your bloody bathroom floor’s gonna make my feet cleaner“.

Snaaaaake Liquoooooor….

The second time this horrible experience engulfed me was in Siem Reap, Cambodia.  After a whole day spent traipsing around Angkor Wat (lovely, btw), we engaged in some bucket drinkin’.  You know, the big ones.  Full of liquor.  Well, I engaged in quite a bit of bucket drinkin’, anyway (I love you, Auwowa, you’re so smart!!).  And I know exactly which bucket did me in, cause only two of the five of us spent the next day in a state similar to what I’d experienced in Hong Kong.  Well, if only from the anterior end, anyway.  So clearly it wasn’t the eight bazillion buckets we drank, or the five Angkor beers (wow.  so gross.) the Last Coloradan Standing and I consumed sitting outside the 7-11 with some locals, no, it was definitely the bucket he and I split to start the night.  In any case, I managed, in the next 24 hours, to thrown up in:

  • My hotel room
  • Siem Reap Airport (Which was so super nice!  Really lovely little airport 🙂
  • The Thai Airways flight to Bangkok (Super sad!  Their food is so good!)
  • Bangkok Airport
  • The Thai Airways flight to Surat Thani
  • The ferry to Koh Samui (not over the side, but in the toilet, thankfully…)
  • The Koh Samui ferry terminal squat toilet and…
  • My hostel in Koh Samui

I stopped puking after that.  After two days of regained health I took myself to the Full Moon Party.  Which is a whole ‘nother Vomit Tale…

The point of ones travels is often to enlighten, to expand, to enhance the horizon.  To perhaps learn something life-altering, or maybe just novel, or at the very least semi-useful in future.  Have I learned anything while gorging on indigestible; unrecognizable; un-, half-, over-cooked; or otherwise unimaginable foodstuffs in every random street I’ve visited?  Maybe.  If so, it is this: if you wanna get the most out of life, sometime you gotta poop yourself.

Rice Wine (yes, the brown stuff, aka Everclear) and Vomit Tea (aka vomit tea) in Vietnam?

2 thoughts on “Nina’s Travel Rule #24: Don’t Eat Things That May Make You Poop Yourself

  1. You need to be called out on this… I remember going to Bali with you earlier this year and something similar to these last events occurred again… In fact I have the doctors certificate from the Bali airport doctor to prove it…


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