Growing up, the highlight of every year was the trip abroad. Whether that was with family or friends, the chance to explore new landscapes and cultures was something I eagerly looked forward to. I’ve been incredibly lucky to travel a range of different countries as well as with amazing friends, but there’s always an edge of anxiety when it comes to travelling and being Chinese.
Being bombarded with “Ni Hao” as I walked down the street is a relatively tame, but common enough occurrence that it is an annoyance to expect. I remember holidaying with my family in Europe, wondering where the other Chinese families were – do Chinese people even travel? Eating in restaurants or exploring the sights, our ethnicity became a spectacle, increased more so due to the fact that our family vacations usually extended to cousins, aunts and uncles.
As China grew economically and Mainland tourists began to flood popular tourist spots, I became even more aware of my ethnicity as I travelled. Keen to distinguish myself from negative Chinese tourist stereotypes I felt myself trying exaggerate my western-ness, exercising perfect English pronunciation or going out of my way to be polite. It’s always caused conflict within myself and it’s been something I’ve been trying to tackle – who cares if you want to take photos of food or use selfie sticks!?
Travelling East and SouthEast Asia was a refreshing experience for me. Even if I can’t speak the language, I can more or less blend into the crowd and navigate the streets without being harassed due to my ethnicity. Of course, the language barrier can create a whole different sense of otherness, but at least, for once, I can fit in.