I made a post talking a bit about London but I don’t think it published properly. Anyway, you can read that before this if you want.
I’ll dive into the last post of my trip.
The dinners Song cooked in Gubeikou. I only have one picture and no close-up shots but it was always so good.
The chicken and potato curry from Saigon at the little food stall.
This pepper rice from the food court in Hong Kong.
The yukhoe sushi from Seoul.
This massive Chinese crepe from London.
The ferrero Rocher gelatto from Gili. There was honestly nothing special about it but it was hot and so just eating it slowly while sitting on the beach made the gelatto ten times more incredible.
This blueberry cheesecake cake in London with a side of soft serve. So good.
Gubeikou Great Wall. I don’t think it needs explaining.
Most relaxing part of the trip:
Gubeikou village. It was quiet and beautiful. Cold but it felt like home.
My favorite places were Saigon, Shanghai, and Gubeikou. All largely because of the people. I met lots of really great people in Saigon that I will remember forever. I met so many nice people in Shanghai and Gubeikou and it felt like a home.
Now onto the serious stuff:
There are different ways and motivations to travel. Maybe it’s to see sites and go shopping. Maybe it’s to take a picture for social media. Maybe it’s to relax in a five-star spa and eat gourmet food. You do you. But I do think travelers, tourists, foreigners need to be conscious of how they treat people.
When I was in Gubeikou, I was contemplating how to continue traveling in China. And I was like, “maybe if I become better at Mandarin, I could work in a hostel or a restaurant in the more touristic parts of China where knowing English would be a plus.” But I realized that would mean I would have to put up with sometimes very rude questions and rude people.
The bartender back in Shanghai, the one who invited me to the CNY dinner, kept being called Bruce Lee by this guy from Serbia. It wasn’t playful mocking, he was pretty mean-spirited about it. And frequently, Western travelers would loudly discuss how “The Chinese always do ____” or “The Chinese just don’t care about ___” as if myself and the people who were working the hostels couldn’t understand or weren’t even there. And I do think it’s important that they drop the word “people.” We aren’t “Chinese people” or “people who are Chinese”, we are just “Chinese”.
So I don’t know if I have the backbone to deal with the questions and the rude travelers even if I would get shining connections with a few.
I travel to meet people and talk to people. I travel because I like to just live in a place for a few days. I like going to grocery stores, parks, taking public transport, just to feel like I’m living in a place.
And of course, it comes with seeing sites, learning history, and other new and exciting things but I think I like doing everyday stuff just because it reminds me that, even though it’s new to me, it’s somebody else’s regular old home.
I maybe think travelers forget that these majestic sites and big cities only exist because people inhabit them. People created and built them, filled them with their ideas and culture, so they are also intrinsically a part of these places, if not the core of these places.
I also like traveling solo. It forces me to meet people and to be more aware of my surroundings which mean more observational. When I traveled with Jin in Seoul, I realized afterward that I didn’t really meet anyone else in Korea and my only insight of Korea, aside from my own, was his.
I also like solo traveling because I get to be around people who have no expectations of me. It’s this liberating ability to just be wholly yourself and do what you truly want to do. To not be concerned whether or not you are conforming to how your friends or family think you ought to be.
Furthermore, it’s incredibly affirming to be able to be yourself and meet people who enjoy and accept you when you are at your best, like so many of the people I have met on this trip.
I’ve been bracing myself for the after-travels blues. I know some travelers call it post-travel depression, but I don’t think it’ll be quite that extreme.
I did experience sadness when I left Colombia. It felt a bit like grief because it’s largely the emotions associated with losing people. You meet all these people and share all these experiences and most of whom you’ll never see again.
And it’s also hard because everyone asks you what it was like and is excited for you and you try to describe just how it was but words don’t do it justice. So you start feeling a little frustrated, a little lonely, and this yearning just to be back to those places with those people.
It’s also a mourning of possibilities. For me and how I like to travel, it’s the end of this mini-life. A life where I go to the grocery store where they stock fresh perfect croissants, where I eat my breakfast in a bakery and read my book on the bus or metro. Where I can walk through the Chinatown of London and feel like this small ethnic enclave is my home away from home.
Instead of becoming the new staff with Song and Jim, I have to go back. Instead of staying in Hong Kong and seeing my roommates daughter, going to the weekly exchange meeting with her, I have to go back. Instead of staying with the friends I made in Saigon who live there, I have to go back. It’s these tantalizing possibilities of a different life that is lost.
And so it’s a bit of a mourning of lost possibilities.
It doesn’t have to be. I know one of my friends who were from Texas, traveled to Colombia, continued to Asia and is now living in Korea. I know of people who book a one-way ticket intending on settling in the first place they find a job. But there is something pulling me back from that kind of spontaneity.
I worry that this coming period will be worse than with Colombia because of how personal it was for me.
However, my last day in London, I plopped myself in a variety of cafes and coffee shops and read through all of Between the World and Me and then went to the release party of the newest issue of daikon*.
At the release party, I talked to other Asian European people and listened to their readings. Overall though, it was just a party of like-minded people drinking beer and eating pizza in this pub. They had their inside jokes, people were hugging each other of excitement and love, and people were being silly and sarcastic. It felt like college again with the excited young people who had a passion to make a difference. It reminded me that there are communities of people like me out there in these big cities. I just have to find them.
I want to note that I’ve commonly heard people from the UK say they don’t have a race problem, they have a class problem. But I went to this pub where daikon* was being held in a lower class part of town and it was predominately Asian and black people. It felt like the communities I tended to find myself at in the US, communities that formed because of combined racial and economic segregation.
Between the World and Me
This book soothed me for the same ways why I decided to get a minor in Ethnic Studies and why most of my friends come from Ethnic Studies classes.
And Coates touched on his college experience and what this specific education on race formation and understanding our racialized identity means.
It began to strike me that the point of my education was a kind of discomfort, was the process that would not aware me my own especial [American] Dream but would break all the dreams, all the comforting myths of Africa, of America, and everywhere, and would leave me only with humanity in all its terribleness. And there is so much terribleness out there, even among us. You must understand this.
And it wasn’t college and being surrounded by fellow liberals that brought this out. I remember very clearly when Katie was called Mulan by that guy all the way back in elementary school. When my friend Dora kept being called Dora the Explorer and teased in Spanish and she told me she hated it when we were sitting alone in the monkey bars. I remember feeling more comfortable being around Arie because she was also Asian in kindergarten. Being catcalled and followed by cars waiting for the bus when I was around 14. When Katie was mistaken as dad’s wife when she was 13 years old on the flight to Cancun and then looking it up later and finding that many Asian American adoptee girls have stories of being mistaken as their white dad’s (bought) wife. When one of the first people I had a crush on told me I was pretty for an Asian girl and I knew it was an insult at the time but accepted it as truth. I remember Katie and I were walking around a mall in Portland that summer we spent at Heidi’s and we both turned to each other and said how we had never been around so many other Asians before. I remember being followed by one of the store attendants in a Macy’s store when I was around 13 or so and feeling so confused as to why it was happening to me. I remember someone yelled gook at me from their car and I thought it was funny because they couldn’t even use the right slur (gook usually specifically refers to Korean people).
So me wanting to go into Ethnic Studies and me continuing to read people like Coates is not an obsession or a begnin interest to learn more about race formation, but me just trying to understand my world because it seems like my world is so different from the most of my family’s world.
I know I could be described as a radical, a lefty, some person who fights for racial justice (and it’s true, these are all apt labels). But I also just view myself as a person who is tired, fatigued.
All our phrasing-race relations, racial chasm, racial justice, racial profiling, white privilege, even white supremacy- serves to obscure that racism is a visceral experience, that it dislodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscles, extracts organs, cracks bones, breaks teeth. You must never look away from this. You must always remember that the sociology, the history, the economics, the graphs, the charts, the regressions all land, with great violence, upon the body.
The point of that quote is not the top portion about words, but the portion about the violence on the body. For Coates and black people, it’s often death. For Asian women, it’s statistically sexual and domestic abuse (21 – 55% of Asian women in the U.S. report experiencing intimate physical and/or sexual violence during their lifetime, based on a compilation of disagregated samples of Asian ethnicities in local communities.). But it’s also the fatigue, an anxiety, a loneliness, a lifetime of impacts. Racism, race, discrimination isn’t just facts and figures, something to analyze, but affects the person over and over again for their whole life and after.
But the book also resonated with me because I found parts of Coates experience that I saw bits of myself in. On journalism and interviewing people, he wrote:
…I found that people would tell me things, that the same softness that once made me a target now compelled people to trust me with their stories.
And that’s been something in this trip that has confused me. I’ve been told a lot of stories and people have opened up to me. Many, if not almost all of these stories, I haven’t shared here because they were entrusted to me. But I wondered why me, why would they tell me things so personal to me or invite me to their family dinner?
And Coates talked about his trip to France and how what differentiated him in France was his American accent, not his dark skin. Much of his trip to France spoke to mine in East and South East Asia. I would take a quote from it but it’d be that whole section so I just recommend you pick up his book and read it.
But overall, the book left with some last words. I wouldn’t call it hope. It was, and what much of the book talked about, the idea of community, your people, home, The Mecca and most importantly being wholly yourself. In Coates’ message to his son, this is a black man. For me and how I can identify, it’s a Chinese American woman who was adopted.
Perhaps that was, is, the hope of the movement: to awaken the Dreamers [oppressors, those who created The American Dream, white folks], to rouse them to the facts of what their need to be white, to talk like they are white, to think that they are white, which is to think that they are beyond the design flaws of humanity, has done to the world.
But you cannot arrange your life around them and the small chance of the Dreamers coming into consciousness. Our moment is too brief. Our bodies are too precious. And you are here now, and you must live- and there is so much out there to live for, not just in someone else’s country, but in your own home.
And I like this because I’ve been caught between Chinese and American, adoptee and citizen and immigrant, that I’ve felt I had to compromise myself particularly to appeal to white America.
One of the things that have been stuck in my head is something someone said to my friend who is mixed, Asian and white. He was told that he was “just Asian enough.” And that’s how I feel many of the people close to me feel about me. I’m Asian so I fill their minority card but I’m not that kind of Asian who slurps their food, speaks Chinese, has slanted eyes, eats smelly noodle dishes, and comes from a family of un-American Others.
I would always say “I’m Chinese but I’m adopted” as if to exempt myself from being Chinese. And I knew it was me trying to fit in, trying to be the “just Asian enough” person because then maybe I wouldn’t receive the racism. But that’s not how it works.
And so Coates’ words speak to me because I’m tired of the splitting of the self I’ve done, that’s been done to me.
I’m at somewhat of a transition in life now. I have to find a job and I’ve been more preoccupied with where this job will be located than the job itself. I’m quite aware that the people I want to surround myself with are people like me, not necessarily Chinese, but people of color who understand this constant struggle.
People like the people at daikon* who were not just Asian, but all sorts of different people with similar values but most importantly, there to celebrate Asian people as they are.
I’ve consistently felt like America has not been my home and maybe it’s because I’ve been around people and places that make it hard to call it home.
They made us into a race. We made ourselves into a people. Here at The Mecca, under the pain of selection, we have made a home.
So I have hope that I’ll find a home, make a home, find a people. I’ll hopefully travel again, maybe not this much of a travel, but a good travel.
Thanks for reading this. Thanks for listening and commenting. Thanks for being there.
My flight back to Denver boards in three minutes.