As an Asian going to all sorts of weird places around the world, I am often reminded of my race and skin color.
It’s not because I usually end up with sunburn whenever I go for these trips nor is it because of the racial diversity I see in some of these places. The sunburn – I couldn’t care less – while the latter actually gets me thinking more about how people have so much in common despite their differences. But when I hear random comments from people based on where they think I should be from, my reaction ranges from genuine laughter to sheer disappointment! I have had quite a few race-related encounters in my travels, which I can conveniently bucket into the funny, the annoying and the downright insulting.
In places like Iran, Turkey or even in rural parts of Europe, people often greet me with ni hao or more commonly, konichiwa. Based on what people perceive when they see me, I’m automatically thought of as being from Japan or China. I don’t really see this as a form of racism but rather as a form of curiosity by people who don’t encounter that many foreigners. In my earlier days, I would take the effort to retort and tell them where I’m really from.
But the replies would often end up like this, “The Philippines? Where is that?”
I would try to to later explain where my country is located, and how it’s situated in Southeast Asia. I would sometimes add in where I currently live (Singapore), hoping that would help them get a clearer picture of where my part of the world is. But oftentimes, people get the same perplexed look when I tell them about Singapore. So now, I don’t really bother explaining unless I go into an actual conversation.
Another funny encounter I had was with this group of Korean fanatics in Uzbekistan. I was literally followed across several blocks. I thought taking pictures with them would do the trick but didn’t seem to work. Throughout this misunderstanding brought about by the lack of a common langauge, I felt bad that they had to walk for over a kilometer with me. Sorry ladies, but I’m not Korean.
How to deal with these types: Smile back and greet them in their local language. These people are often more curious rather than racist.
I don’t know if it’s just me but “chang ching chong” seems to be a consistent remark that uncultured people in Europe use to direct at Asian-looking peoples. I’ve had people shouting this to me at the plaza in Salamanca, in Krakow, in the old town of Tbilisi and also in Vienna. Compared to the funny remarks I described earlier, the chang ching chong group isn’t even in the least bit curious about where I’m actually from or care if their remarks make sense. When I try to tell these decriers about my real country of origin, they usually attempt to mock by repeating what I just said. No, you can’t be from The Philippines. In their minds, there is only one country in Asia and that is China. And maybe also Japan.
Thankfully, this rarely happens and the folks I’ve met in Europe have been exceedingly warm and accommodating. That being said, it’s still noticeable enough and occurs on average, at least once each time I go to Europe.
How to deal with these types: Give them a dose of their own medicine. Address them by acknowledging and repeating “chang ching chong” alternately in exclamatory and interrogatory form as if these were REAL WORDS in your own language until your decriers get freaked out! 🙂
The Downright Insulting
Ironically, my most insulting experience so far relating to racism happened not when I was traveling but right where I currently live!
I was waiting for a bus which took a long time to arrive. I was talking on my mobile phone and a lady came up to me to strike a conversation. Later on, she asked where I was from. So I told her.
“But you’re not a maid!” she exclaimed.
Stunned, I didn’t know what to say right away! The lady seemed to be implying two things. Not only did she think that most if not all Filipinos are domestic helpers (I have the utmost respect for domestic helpers but this generalization is offensive), but given that maids are usually females, did she also think that Filipinos are of a single gender? Perhaps she was more surprised to find a Filipino male than to see one who’s not a domestic helper! My thoughts ran deep as I tried to reconcile this imbecilic and illogical remark.
How to deal with these types: __________________________ (fill in the blanks)
Seriously, while it was a rather unpleasant encounter, it was an isolated one. I have been living where I live now for more than 6 years and never encountered anything remotely like that since. In fact, I feel well-integrated here. There are the occasional curiosity-driven remarks by people surprised to find a Filipino of Chinese descent, a point which usually serves as a great conversation starter for me anywhere in the world. These are easily addressed by the gentle reminder that the Philippines, too, can be a multiracial society.
Any travelers out there with racist encounters before? How did you deal with them? Happy to hear your thoughts!