Forms of identification: Jodi Ettenberg
Jodi Ettenberg with Pa-O tribeswomen in Burma.
Irreverent responses from our favourite travel ninjas.
Name: Jodi Ettenberg
Title/bio: World traveller, marshmallow enthusiast, writer and former lawyer
Twitter/website: @legalnomads and legalnomads.com
Born in: Montreal, Canada
Currently living in: Just about everywhere. No home base at present.
1. Where would you rather be right now?
Eating at a street stall in Bangkok. Preferably pad pongali, with chicken.
2. You’d be mortified if people knew you did what when you travelled?
I lift up my feet every time I’m on a flight and it’s about to land. I get antsy waiting for us to get closer to the ground and have to make sure my feet aren’t on the ground when we touch down. I’ve got no idea where this came from and I’m not a superstitious person, but it’s definitely something ridiculous that I do, without fail.
3. Your most stranded, “oh-my-[deity]” travel moment:
Waking up on a boat in Indonesia to find that our captain had fallen asleep and gotten us stuck in a village’s fishing net at 4 am. This was preceded by a harrowing shot through the rocky Sumbawa Straight, with the boat tipping so close to the water that all of us aboard would roll onto each other (awkward!) each time it perched from side to side. Not my best wake up call.
4. Best (or worst) person/people you’ve had to sit next to while travelling:
I really enjoyed my companions on the Trans-Siberian trains, especially as we approached Mongolia. With weeks of hop-on-hop-off train travel, there was a huge cross section of different people to learn from. Especially enjoyed the Russian family who made me sandwiches and tried to teach me Russian, the soldiers who were intent on having me try vodka with them and their wives and the gargantuan (both close to 7 feet tall) guys who kept trying to bench press me in the dining car, to the waiter’s dismay.
5. Strangest meal abroad:
In Mongolia, I stayed with nomads in the Gobi desert and on the second night there, they decided to kill one of their sheep because they had guests. But they were interested in a truly participatory process, so I was asked to help before the meal was cooked. It was a fascinating – and quite unusual – introduction to nomadic life in Mongolia.
6. If someone was visiting your town, what’s the one thing you’d show them?
I have a small food obsession, so I’d likely take them on a culinary tour of Montreal, from bagels to great ethnic eats, to smoked meat and poutine.
7. Your most embarrassing travel faux pas:
When I was in Burma (Myanmar), I had a longyi made on my second day in the country. It was a great way to blend in (within reason, of course) and people seemed genuinely enthused that I was making the effort to dress like a Burmese woman. However, the longyi is essentially a tube of fabric that is cinched tight on one side and folded to the other side of your waist, kept in place by tucking the edge into the waistband. This was well and good until I was in a boat full of Pa-O tribesmen in Inle Lake and stood up too quickly. My longyi got caught on a nail and dropped to the floor. I can guarantee none of those elderly Pa-O have seen a white woman’s behind before, but I certainly gave them something to talk about in their villages. And from then on, I also fastened the longyi with a safety pin.
8. Material thing you miss the most when away from home:
Two things: the smell of pine trees and crazy sharp cheddar cheese.
9. Coolest mode of transport you’ve taken:
In Burma, I decided to take a three-night ferry boat down the Irawaddy because a solar eclipse would be viewable on the second day, and the eclipse’s central line cut a path straight above us. Not only did I get to watch an eclipse with a boat full of Burmese, but the captain had me singing karaoke (through the PA no less), the chef pulled me behind his table to fire up the giant wok for cooking and I ended up on my last day sitting with the crew and sipping Kachin whiskey. Everyone thought it was hilarious that I was Burmese sized but a foreigner, and I somehow became the boat’s unofficial mascot in those few days aboard.
10. Lay on us a priceless bit of travel advice or wisdom:
You never need to plan as much as you think you do. Get your basic research in order – know the history of the country you’re visiting, understand the basic social mores – but leave a wide berth for getting swept up in the magic and newness of the place after you arrive. It’s much more fun to plan only the skeletal details and make your “what’s next” travel decisions based upon the foods, experiences and people you meet as you go.