Thoughts on Mexico
Culture is like,… well culture is many things but, one way to describe culture is to say it is like an onion; there are many layers that go deeper and deeper. The first time visitor to a new country/culture will see the things on the top layer. Further visits or longer stays in that culture and one will slowly discover the deeper layers to the culture.
When we visit a country for the first time we SEE many things. Those things that are the same or similar to our own culture we do not take much notice of because they are familiar and known to us. It is the new, different, and unusual things that we notice most and become inspired by. This is one aspect that makes travel exciting and remarkable.
I first went to Korea in 1987. In the seven weeks I was there I saw many new things. Things that impressed me, amazed me and opened my mind to different ways of viewing the world. My second trip to Korea was in 1988. Then, I saw and learned much more. I was experiencing some of the deeper layers of Korean culture.
Soon Jeong and I travelled for a full month in Mexico. There were many things that surprised us because they eliminated our (my) image of Mexico. Mostly what got eliminated was the stereotypes of the people and country…. the images that are created by Hollywood.
Mexico is not all desert and dry dusty places with catus. There are beautiful high mountains with pine trees, cold weather and snow. There are gorgeous golden valleys and rolling hills covered in a wide variety of catus. There are cultivate fields of Agave plants that are used to make Tequila and Mescal. Rivers that cut through fantastic gorges and provide a home for crocodiles and vultures. White sandy beaches that melt into crystal blue oceans and urban mega-cities that are surprisingly beautiful.
There is so much more to Mexico that we did not see but, here are a few of the things that stick in my memory. Keep In mind, this was essentially our first trip to Mexico. (I do not count my trips to Tijuana when I was 18) I would categorize these things as the surface layer of Mexican culture.
* Speed bumps: They are everywhere. They are a cheap and easy way to control traffic speed. Every little town has speed bumps spaced maybe 2 or 3 hundred meters apart. Some of the speed bumps are home made as well; large lumps of cement that local people have laid down across the road to slow traffic. They are irritating to me because they prevent one from travelling at any respectable speed. (Which is what they are designed for) When you are trying to travel from one place to another, and you are on the national highway, you can only average about 40 km (24 mph) per hour! Speed bumps, I admire their simplicity and efficiency and at the same time I hate their efficiency.
* HOT Spicy food: We never found it. Every restaurant, and every meal we had Soon Jeong asked for something hot and spicy. Nothing on any menu we found was even remotely hot. Even dishes that waiters told us were a HOT dish… ha!…Catsup has more spice to it. Yes, they have Jalapeno, Habenaro, and Tabasco peppers in Mexico, but we never had food that was prepared with them. We always had to ask for picante salsa (hot sauce) which even that was not that hot. Where is the hot spicy food Mexico is famous for?? Maybe its and American myth????
* History: Mexico has one of the great ancient civilizations of the world; Mayan. If you come here and see some of the ruins you certainly will be amazed at the advanced level of culture the Mayans achieved. Their engineering, math, science and agriculture skills were highly advanced. They had the concept of zero, long before any European civilizations thought of it. Their social structure and religious beliefs provided a foundation in which great cities like Uxmal, and Chichen Itza could be built.
Layer on top of the history of the native Indians is the legacy of the Spanish. Everywhere you go you can find old colonial cities with churches and buildings dating back hundreds of years. Lack
And to my own surprise, I learned about the Aztecs. Since elementary school I have known of the Aztecs. The big surprise was that they were a flash-in-the-pan compared to the Mayans. The great empire of the Aztecs only lasted 200 years! 1325 is recognized as the beginning of the Aztecs. Hernando Cortez and less than 200 of his Spanish Conquistadors arrived in 1519 and by 1524 there was virtually nothing left of the Aztecs or their empire.
The Mayans lasted thousands of years with a Pre-Classic period, Classic Period (300-900 AD) and a Post-Classic period (900-1200 AD). The Olmec people, considered the Mother Culture of Mexico date back as far as 1200 BC.
* Toilet seats. Specifically the lack of toilet seats. Some places we went to had no toilet seats. I wont say many but enough to take notice of it and to know its not an unusual thing. Rest rooms had the usual Western style sit-down toilet… but often, no seat?? Why not? A plastic seat cant cost that much? Or why doesnt the seat come with the toilet when you buy it? What do the Mexicans do just sit on the rim? Squat? I never asked about the missing toilet seats. I am more content to let the subject remain an amusing mystery to me.
* Color: The traditional clothing and textiles were so wonderfully colorful. Vivid colors. Lots of the decorations were very colorful as well. It was a delight to see and photograph.
* The people: Soon Jeong and I met some really nice people there. People we call our friends now. We hope to see them again in the future.
* Sticky couples: This is a term Soon Jeong came up with. It refers to a couple who are in love and they continuously embrace, kiss, and fondle each other so tightly, they appear to be stuck together. People in Mexico are not shy at all about affection in public. You can see couples everywhere hugging, cuddling and kissing. When I say kissing I am referring to the full range of kisses; the peck on the cheek, the quick kiss on the lips and the long passionate kiss.
This is not just young people either. Everybody …young, old, big and little, love has no restrictions. It was nice to see people not afraid to express themselves. For the most part sticky couples didnt really surprise or bother me… to a certain extent. One day while riding on a bus to Monty Alban in Oaxaca there was a couple sitting behind Soon Jeong and I. They were non-stop kissing; smooch, smooch, smack, smack, smack, (in Korean) Chock, chock, chock. It was so much it sounded like they were eating some sticky gooey candy.
One things for sure, no visitor to Mexico will ever accuse the people of being cold and un-passionate.
A real bargain: The best bargain we found was the subway in Mexico city. You could travel on the entire subway on any of the 9 lines and change as many times as you wanted for only 2 pesos. (about 15 cents)
From past travels I have come to know that what one learns about a country and culture continues long after ones passport has been stamped with the exit visa.
Im really looking forward to learning more about Mexico. There is SOOOO much there. We will be return Im sure.