Being a Black Woman in Southeast Asia
Even the idea of traveling to Asia felt so mystical. When my husband and I started planning our first trip to Asia, we decided on Vietnam and Cambodia. A friend of mine resides in Hanoi so I knew we could stay with her. I had no idea what to expect boarding our long flight to Vietnam.
Prior to our Asia trip, we had traveled to Italy together. I am African-American and my husband is White. We have no issues being a mixed couple in California. We didn’t run into any issues in Italy so my hopes were high for Asia. Spoiler alert: I did not have one issue traveling throughout Southeast Asia as a black woman. I was prompted to write this post after someone on my Facebook feed posted an article about places black people shouldn’t travel to. On the list was Southeast Asia. After the beautiful time I had in Asia, I felt that it was appropriate of me to write about my experiences dealing with Race abroad.
I felt nothing but curious love in Hanoi, Vietnam. I was able to freely move about the city wearing shorts and a t-shirt. No one hassled me. I was not cat-called even once. In fact, I feel more aware of my long legs in America than I did in Hanoi. I feel that some may confuse curiosity as racism. I had plenty of Vietnamese men and women look at my legs or look at my larger bust. I never felt that it was malicious. I simply do not look like a Vietnamese person so I cannot blame them for finding my skin tone or body shape interesting. My skin tone didn’t stop any store clerk from helping me figure out their currency or serving me like they served their other customers.
I had an even more personal experience in Cambodia. While touring Angkor Wat, I was waiting to take a photo near a particular temple. As I got into my photo pose, a Chinese women stopped walking and started staring at me. My mind started racing. “Is she judging me because I am black?” “Does my exposed skin offend her?” The Chinese tourists at Angkor Wat work hard to cover their skin from the beaming sun. They can be seen wearing sun hats, gloves, socks and lots of layers of clothing. Despite the 100 degree Fahrenheit temperature, that is how they choose to dress. Me on the other hand, I chose to wear t-shirts and shorts. The Chinese lady stared at me but my friend began photographing me anyways. After my friend put down the camera, the lady scurried over to me. Through her broken English, she managed to say, “You so pretty. Your skin so dark and nice. Can take photo?” She pointed to her husband who had now made his way in front of us with his camera. I nodded yes and he began taking our photo. They thanked me and walked away. I was in shock at how nice the lady had been! She wasn’t discriminating against me. She acted on her curiosity with kindness only. The best part? My friend was able to get a photo of me and the lady as well!
I have felt more discriminated against as a black woman living in America than I ever have while traveling abroad. It’s easy to read an article and convince yourself that what it’s saying is true but if you are a woman of color thinking of traveling to Southeast Asia, go for it! You will have a beautiful time and you may meet some people who want to touch your “beautiful tan skin.” Go with it! My favorite part of travel is meeting new people from around the world. It is acceptable to be curious and interested in the new people you meet, just like they may be intrigued by you. Don’t be scared or intimidated but mostly, do not let your skin-tone dictate where you can travel.