Travel Tips Around The World

May 5 2015

India: Dina Yuen’s Trip that Made a Difference

Trips that Made a Difference is a series that features travel industry leaders and the trips that have changed their lives. Dina Yuen is a lifelong traveler who has made a career of writing and interviewing others about cross-cultural experiences. She is CEO of Asian Fusion, a food and travel website, and the author of Indonesian Cooking and the upcoming 8 Secrets of Success: The Asian American Way. We spoke with her recently about a trip that made a difference in her life. 

travel42: Where did you go and what brought you there?

Dina Yuen: I volunteered to bring food and cook for people in the slums of Mumbai and other cities around India. It was the result of a long-held obsession I’ve had with the culture there, the history and the food. I was also at a crossroads in my life, having just broken off an engagement and having had major career decisions to make. The trip was emotionally difficult in the sense that it's overwhelming  to see how many people lack the basic resources for survival – they barely have enough food and water and only the most basic shelter, if you can even call it that. But it was also incredibly fulfilling to be there.

travel42: What were some particular moments that made this trip so special?

Dina Yuen: On days when I wasn't doing work and cooking, I was invited into homes to share family meals. These people had so little by U.S. standards, living on a few dollars a month, if that. There were usually several generations living together in a house with a tin roof and dirt floors, but they would invite me in for a meal, happy to share what little they had. That kind of experience changes your heart, and it changes your perspective on what really matters in life.

One particular occasion in Mumbai stands out. Sitting on the floor, we had a meal of rice and very sparse, watered down curry with an egg. It's very different from what people in America think of as curry. I was looking at the children and the older people, noticing how their bodies looked malnourished by our standards. I was so grateful to be there but it was also heartbreaking. I wished in that moment that I had a magic wand I could just wave to make it all better for them.

travel42: How did the trip change the way you approach your life and work?

Dina Yuen: My volunteer experiences in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), Delhi and several smaller towns around southern India led me to think about setting up my company so that I could come back someday with the means to help people more, so that I would have the financial power to make a significant difference. There are so many children who are in need of a nutritious meal, shoes that don't fall apart and a decent education. I needed to get away from my own reality and see the world and how other people were living, and to remind myself that even in my own darkest moments, I needed to be of service to others who were in worse off conditions.

 If you'd like to share your "Trip that Made a Difference," please email us at [email protected]

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