He Said/She Said: Blending into Asia

He Said/She Said: Blending into Asia

There are many sides to every story and so we will be bringing you our  two unique perspectives on a selected topic each week, of course just like in real life the wife gets the last word.

HE SAYS….

At home, in the land of German and Scandinavian descendants, I stand out because I look different.  While traveling though, my dark enough skin and black hair allows me to blend into crowds throughout the world.  People don’t assume I’m American, or from a Western country at all.  Even so, with Asian people the world over, if I don’t open my mouth, I could very well be a local.  This has garnered hellos in various languages I don’t know and locals’ kindness.  I have never had a problem asking for directions in English in Europe, even in France.  Overall, my half-Asian, half-white background gives me a nice cover wherever I am.

This all breaks down when LOCAVORista is walking beside me.  Her blonde hair and fair skin attract attention everywhere we go.  Men make cat calls, small children emerge from their doorways to see and vendors appear from nowhere to offer their wares.  I have been robbed twice while traveling, both times with her.  Let’s face it, my wife blows my cover.

There is nowhere that this is more apparent than in Asia.  Everywhere people think I am a local as long as I say nothing.  A few people were actually convinced I was Vietnamese and just didn’t know it.  When I walk the streets it is completely uneventful, nobody tries to sell anything to me and if I inquire to purchase something I often get the local price.  For example, I needed to get some anti-malarial medication and went to a local pharmacy in Luang Prabang, Laos with LOCAVORista.  The “pharmacist” showed me the box and quoted 10,000 Kip per 10 pills.  Not having the money at the time, I returned by myself later to purchase it.  I smiled at the same woman who quoted me the price earlier, picked up the package from the shelf and asked “how much?”  She responded 5,000 Kip per 10 pills.  Same quantity, same person, same thing, half the price, because that’s the “local price”.

The differences in treatment can be amusing or irritating.  Because I occasionally get to see behind the curtain, the differences in how locals deal with Asians and Westerners frustrates me.  I think it is most maddening because I get treated differently if I am alone or walking with a blonde.  At the same time, I realize I get to occasionally come out ahead due to this and most tourists don’t…let’s be honest, I didn’t argue with the pharmacist about the lower price.

SHE SAYS…

At home in the States or in Europe I blend right in, but in Asia I am a celebrity.  The locals react to me as if I am a white, blonde woman visiting their country simply for their gawking pleasure.  Men will make eyes at me and cat call, yelling something in a foreign tongue I can’t understand and probably don’t want to.  Some brave children even run up and touch me running away giggling.  It brings back memories of visiting Japan as a kid where complete strangers would request to have their picture taken with me or would touch my blonde hair for good luck.

They seem to especially think highly of my husband thinkCHUA as it is rare that an Asian man “scores” a white girl.  Typically the older white man is seen with a thin Asian woman on his shoulder not the reverse.  Not only do they stare at me as if I am an exotic pet, but they give thinkCHUA the nod as he clearly has a special skill in picking up blonde women that they only wish they had.  Not that I mind playing second fiddle to my husband as he gets all the attention for clearly being suave enough to get a white woman, but fending off the lady boys can be a problem.

Being that thinkCHUA is half Asian and half white he has the coveted lighter skin that all Asians work so hard for by using a myriad of whitening creams and diligently covering up their skin when out in the sun.  His lighter complexion has garnered attention from the massage therapist that we both visited in Luang Prabang who commented “You are very attractive” to my husband before taking him to a private room for a massage.  He also caught the eyes of a couple lady boys in the village we stayed in on our last trekking tour.  Our guide informed me that one of the lady boys was interested in my boyfriend, to which I quickly corrected him; “he’s my husband, we are married.”  The guide laughed and relayed the information to the interested men/women.

It is most hilarious or frustrating depending on my mood to experience first hand the different treatment that thinkCHUA gets when walking through a market or purchasing items.  He is often quoted the local price while I try in vain to bargain even close to the price he is quoted the first time.  It’s worse when I’m not interested in buying anything as I am constantly hassled “buy something, you buy something” and small children selling bracelets will tug on my arm or pull my shirt while thinkCHUA walks past these same vendors unencumbered, almost invisible to them.

While each of us struggle to find our place in the ever changing landscape of Asia we do enjoy being able to experience our travels from both perspectives.  Every now and then LOCAVORista’s blonde hair helps us open a door that might be closed to other travelers or thinkCHUA’s Asian appearance gets us a behind the scenes look that we wouldn’t have otherwise had.

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Comments

» dad :
Mar 19, 2011

that was fun……..will be interesting to read this article from Australia perspective…..certainly reminds one of the stereotypes/racial profiling/bigotry whatever, we all experience and personally fight daily…..off to see Noah with his new “looping” show at Aster with Kelly and Sahill who just returned from India…..not as exotic as your culinary taste treats, but had breakfast at 46th St.Patisserie today……spring may be coming, 50 degrees today…..be safe love you dad

» Katie :
Mar 19, 2011

Matt didn’t just “score” a white girl, he “scored” Erica, a girl that is worth a double take no matter the race of her partner :)

Cute article. Miss you both!

thinkCHUA Reply:

Katie, Erica is pretty great.

» Jon :
Apr 7, 2012

I just read your post, very amusing.

“It is most hilarious or frustrating depending on my mood to experience first hand the different treatment ” Yes, I’m a tall, blonde male living in the Philippines, married to a Pinoy and I get all that. I don’t really have any problems in Manila, which is pretty cosmopolitan, but you go anywhere provincial and it can be a nightmare. Children, running up and touching you, being shouted “Hey Joe” at, girls, gays and ladyboys making blatant overtures, everybody trying to sell you something. I just wear a cap now and sunglasses to try and lower my profile.

LOCAVORista Reply:

Jon, you feel my pain! The sunglasses and hat are a great idea, as a woman in India I opt for a scarf over my head concealing my blonde hair, which helps alot. In general I find it pretty funny, but the constant touching and request for photos does tend to get old…

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About the Author

thinkCHUA: Photographing and documenting the world on a 3 year round-the-world trip to help future travelers discover new places, travel longer and enjoy the world's great experiences.

About the Author
thinkCHUA: Photographing and documenting the world on a 3 year round-the-world trip to help future travelers discover new places, travel longer and enjoy the world's great experiences.
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