Shortly after my graduation, I hopped on a plane to Ecuador without any expectation or idea of how my life would be over there. I had only one main goal which was to be able to speak Spanish before I leave that country. While I have improved my Spanish, I have also had the opportunity to interact with locals from different strata of society and experienced the best Ecuadorian hospitality. Here are few things that I find them oddly lovely and want to share through my writing, if I can speak about them, the list goes on forever.
1. A “banana” republic
I think the name somewhat gives you a hint of what I am talking about, please put aside the term in political science or economics, I mean it literally - a banana loving nation, yes, bananas and plantains are present in every daily dish: fruit dessert (as what I usually think of bananas), soup, main course, sweet and savoury snacks, ice cream, etc. The amount of plantains and bananas that I consumed in my first three weeks living in Ecuador could be more than the total amount in a year that I tend to consume. Although I’m not a big fan of bananas, I do like Ecuadorian creative ways of cooking and eating plantains/bananas.
2. Guilt-tripping labels on every package.
Alto en azúcar
Alto en sal
Alto en grasa
Thanks to these hard-to-be-ignored labels on every edible product, I've contained my sweet tooth pretty well in Ecuador. I'm not sure if this tactic, according to my quite keen observation, works on the local. That habit of slipping the last sweet package next to the cashier before checkout, I'm sure you know what I'm talking about, has been controlled incredibly since I came here too. There hasn’t been any clear explanation that I could learn from the local about based on which standard these “high in sugar/medium in salt/ low in grease” are. Admittedly, these labels made me feel like an informed consumer, being aware of what I was purchasing, even though it was just an illusion.
3. Lunch is the main meal of the day and wholly full of starch.
This main meal comprises a soup, a main course, a glass of juice and a dessert respectively. Several times I was jaw-dropped by the amount of starch on my plate, which came in with both pasta and rice, not to mention sometimes mashed potato was served as sauce and the soup had plantain and corn in it. Ecuadorians don’t like vegetables very much; few pieces of tomatoes, green peppers and onion with some lime squeeze are enough green on the plate. Ecuadorian diet is not so healthy but I do love how people always finish the abundant amount of food and still can go on eating, nothing will be wasted.
4. Un poco/ Por quito (little) never means like what I picture it in my head
Whenever I said “Un poco, por favor” a plate of rice always came at a double size of Asian standard measurement. Ecuadorians don’t take “Un poco arroz” as a thing, “Un poco arroz” means a few grains of rice less I guess, because it’s impossible for them to think that there are people who don’t eat rice. In Vietnam, we do consume rice and even rank second in the world in rice export, but we don’t eat rice as much as Ecuadorians do. Almost all food & beverages in Ecuador are served in big size for me, and I do enjoy that when it is juice, ice cream or fruit.
5. Hola! Cómo estas? - Speak madly fast Spanish
Moving across the world to Ecuador, I found nothing more exciting than immersing myself in a Spanish speaking environment and learning the language by daily exposure. Regardless of my effort to pick up the language every day by talking to random people about everything, it was still very intimidating whenever a local responded to my usual greeting “Hola! Cómo estas?”. Their spoken Spanish sounded like bullets flying furiously out of a machine gun and shot me in the brain that made every nerve stop working and I became mute. Spanish-speakers generally speak fast I think. No matter how many times I tried to say “mi espanol no esta bien, habla despacito, por favor!!!”, I found no difference in their speed, or maybe for a few seconds it seemed like they slowed down but the confusing look on my face always made them speed up for some reasons. What I like the most about Ecuadorian people is that they don’t get discouraged or bored easily when talking to foreigners who barely understand the language. They would even repeat the story many times until I could nob my head and say few words to respond to their story. I’ve learned so much Spanish in these social contexts.
6. My typical asian face still stands a tiny little chance of being a local here
Ecuador has a diversity of races and cultures. It is home to people of various ethnic origins that can be traced to one or more of three geographical sources of human migrations to its modern territory: the pre-hispanic indigenous populations, the europeans and the sub-saharan africans. Ecuadorian culture is a whole range of cultures mingled together, representing every level of its very stratified community. In one oral traditional event where the senior shared their stories and passed down the values of the community that the young should be aware and protect, I was mistaken for being a quechua.
7. An animal-loving nation
Sorry for the mentality of comparing between countries in which I was born and bred and those I’ve lived in. Everyone has that I believe, only by traveling and immersing ourselves big time do we learn not to compare. Believe it or not, you will hardly find animals walking/flying freely on street, in unprotected area in Vietnam because they mostly end up in "Dac san" (Specialty) restaurants. I saw so many stray animals on the street in Ecuador, some nice passers-by would feed them and/or play with them. Some of them would just relax in the middle of the street and the vehicle had to treat them as a pedestrian. I have no intention to say that Vietnamese don’t love animals, we do. We have pets and consider them as friends. However, there is still a big population of Vietnamese that like to try everything or so-called delicacy from the nature. If you ask “Why”, it's a long shot, but I personally think the reason could trace back to our history of thousand-year wartime and the Vietnamese famine.