Have you ever traveled to another country and felt paranoid that something terrible will happen to you—like losing your passport, being robbed, or having your government shutdown while you’re gone? This week I’m in London visiting my sister Shirley, who has been living in the city for over two years and has settled well into British life. She calls apartments “flats” and never visits the dentist to clean her teeth. But traveling can be a really terrifying experience for some Asian-Americans, like my mom who always assumes that anything which could go wrong will go wrong. Of course, she was also purse snatched in Paris so maybe her fear is justified. Here is how I avoided getting stabbed, punched, wanked, arsed and flogged while in London.
You already look British, now act like one
London is a diverse city of over 8 million people. 21% of Londoners are of Asian descent and more than 300 languages are spoken in this city. There are even British hipsters, who are culturally and fashionably identical to American hipsters: both love skinny jeans and are equally unemployed. In fact, British people look strikingly American. I’ll never say that to a British person though, because that’s exactly the kind of behavior that would get you stabbed in the first place. So if you’re in London, relax! There’s no need to worry about standing out like a Yankee tourist in Piccadilly Circus, no one will even notice you’re there (unless you happen to say something stupid like “When do the Seattle Seahawks play Manchester United?”)
Flaunt your broken English, it’s a real asset
If I had gone to bed in Seattle and magically woken up in London, I would not know anything was out of the ordinary. There would still be rain and clouds, a Starbucks on every corner, and broken English everywhere I went. For example, while walking to the British Museum I passed by Muslim women, African men, Asians and other Europeans who were all speaking British-English mixed with their own cultural accents. It was a surprisingly beautiful cacophony of sound. I felt right at home. That is, until everyone started saying incomprehensible things like “You got a serious case of the collywobbles” and “I was knackered after a weekend in Soho.” If everyone in London would stop talking for like three minutes (and act super non-committal about everything), then it would totally be Seattle. So don’t let language prevent you from engaging different cultures and serving as America’s ambassador abroad (unless you’re Dennis Rodman, then stay home).
Hide your passport and reveal your nationality strategically
One of the most frustrating things about being an Asian-American in the United States is that not everyone thinks you’re American. If I had a quarter every time someone asked me where I am from, I’d have enough to hire Justin Beiber’s minions to carry me up the Great Wall. Fortunately, when you’re an Asian-American in a place like London, you can be anyone you want to be. If you get into trouble for driving on the wrong side of the road, just tell them you’re from [China/North Korea/insert oppressive Asian nation here]. Not only will you be protecting America’s interests, but you might get yourself out of a ticket too. On the other hand, if you do something so amazing (using the word “football” correctly), so spectacular (drinking a Brit under the table), so extravagant (being knighted by the Queen), then tell them you’re a proud bloody Yank and put America back on top.
While these tips will help you avoid getting stabbed (it’s worked for me 100% of the time so far), they won’t guarantee a fun or memorable experience while you’re abroad. There will always be an element of risk when you break your routine and step into the middle of a new culture. But isn’t that the point of travel and exploration—to expose yourself to new challenges and ideas? For Asian-Americans, our bicultural identity affords us the opportunity to represent multiple facets to our rich heritage. At the same time, being able to travel the world is a privilege onto itself, one that we should take advantage of while we can. So don’t be that Asian who only meets other races through World of Warcraft (elves, dwarves and trolls are not real!). Take a risk, get unsettled and introduce yourself to the world (and please don’t get stabbed in the process).
What do you think? Do you have any tips for safe and rewarding travels?