“Hi, would you like any help with directions?”
I looked up from my malfunctioning phone and saw an older White woman smiling at me. I forced a smile as I replied, “No thanks, I’m fine.”
I knew she meant well but I didn’t need any help. I had spent my whole life — two whole decades — in Sydney. I knew the streets a little too well.
Why would she ask me if I needed help with directions?
I caught my reflection on my phone screen. Oh right… I’m Asian. This tight feeling began to swell in my chest. It was like a volatile cocktail of anger, frustration, humour and annoyance.
Would she have offered the same help if I was White? If the two girls with me weren’t speaking a different language?
A few days later, I felt the same feeling as I stood on the edge of a cliff. I was at Wedding Cake Rock, a popular destination for tourists and locals. My friends from the hostel were from China and wanted to sightsee so I agreed to go with them. I only wanted a few photos so I stood to the side and watched as my friends took theirs.
There was also a group of Australian teens who were growing more impatient as they watched us.
“Are they still taking photos?”
“C’mon let’s go talk to them.”
“Yeah, bash ‘em.”
They loudly egged each other on as they marched over to us. I was horrified at how abrasive they were being. But I guess they thought none of us would understand them.
“Guys, we should go. It’s getting late,” I called out to my friends who seemed unaware of the situation.
I was angry that my friends were being vilified when everyone was taking plenty of photos. It took an hour-long hike to get here, so obviously people wanted to make the most of the opportunity. But I was also annoyed because I didn’t want to miss the last ferry because of their photoshoot.
Growing up, I observed and looked down on Asian tourists. The Asian Tourist Stereotype includes taking too many photos, speaking loudly in their native language and having a lack of understanding of customs.
Wait, wouldn’t that apply to every tourist?
Unfortunately, when it’s a group of Asians, you hear the obligatory mutter about how annoying these “fuckin’ Asians” are.
A quick google image search shows exactly how people view Asian tourists.
I’m not sure what’s worse. Having a deep desire to prove my assimilation into Western culture, or the fact that I need to prove it, otherwise I’ll be deemed “another Asian tourist.” After years of self hatred, I could feel that familiar need to prove that I’m Australian. I speak English. I grew up here amongst the sweltering heat and repressed my cultural identity for years. Yet, I still get confused for a foreigner.
I’ve had people say to me “wow, you’re so Asian” for taking a photo of the scenery.
But when it’s a White person, people think “oh cool, they’re taking a photo.”
The Asian tourist stereotype fucking sucks.
I get incredibly self-conscious when travelling. I stop myself from taking too many photos. I constantly monitor myself to check that I’m respecting the culture and doing the right thing. I waste my time judging other Asian tourists for not understanding Western customs.
And for that, I’m truly sorry.
Do we have to come up with stereotypes? This harmless man is just trying to enjoy his vacation.
Tourism is a massive boost to the Australian economy but for some reasons it’s socially accepted to make fun of tourists if they’re Asian. Maybe people do it because they “don’t understand the language” or “it’s just a harmless joke” or they’re sick of Asian tourists keeping their stores in business.
It’s still hurtful and unfair.
We’re living in a globalised world where travelling has become more accessible for people. The Asian tourist stereotype should be laid to rest. We should be celebrating the fact that people want to experience different cultures.
The truth is, most people on holiday behave like this because they want to enjoy their trip.
Travelling is often a sign of wealth and people may feel entitled to jump the queue, act a little selfish, and document every single moment.
I’m going to direct this back to my fellow Asian tourists.
If you’re worried about being a stereotype, then you’re not alone. But don’t let it stop you from having a great holiday. Those photos are worth those few seconds where a White person pats themselves on the back for being right about Asian tourists. It’s completely normal to do or say the wrong thing when abroad.
Exploring a different country is hard enough without having an identity crisis every time you take a selfie or flash a peace sign.
Next time you want to have a grumble over Asian tourists, remember that they’re just PEOPLE trying to enjoy their vacation.
About the Author: Aileen Fang is a bisexual Chinese-Australian writer who is passionate about equality, personal development and puns. She spends most of her time being a creator/writer/designer at www.PositivelyLost.com.