The Problems With The Lack Of Representation Of Asian Travel Bloggers Or Travelers In The Media
Where does your mind jump when you think of an Asian travel blogger or “Asian tourist”?
Selfie sticks, bus tours, peace signs, and giant DSLRs, maybe? Google Images just about summarizes it…
Well hey guys, my name is Christina Guan… and I’m an Asian tourist.
I’m also the full-time Chinese-Canadian travel blogger behind Happy to Wander, which means yes, being an Asian tourist is my actual career.
Over the years, I’ve snapped up my fair share of adventures, from sailing around Croatia, working on cruise ships in 13 countries, scaling some of Europe’s highest peaks and road tripping through the Dolomites. I’ve lived abroad, speak multiple languages and document my travel experiences for a living.
… But most people who pass me on my travels won’t believe these things are true.
Instead, when they see me, all they see is another Asian face for them to barrage with “Ni haos”, “ching chongs” and snooty, judgmental stares,… An all-too-common reality for many Asian travellers, myself included.
That’s why I’d like to address not just the blatant racism that “Asian tourists” are subject to, but how the travel industry works against us, and what I think we can do about it.
NOTE: The term Asian is incredibly broad. I speak mostly from my experience as a Chinese-Canadian who gets mistaken for Filipina ridiculously often. That said, most of these observations speak to those of East Asian descent, although I’ve heard similar complaints from friends who are all different kinds of Asian. If you have stories to share, I’d love to hear about them in the comments!
But first, a little more about me
Once upon a time, two Chinese immigrants made their way to Canada in search of a better life for their future family. Knowing zero English, they worked their way up from minimum wage roles at McDonalds and local hotels, eventually saving enough to open their own restaurant.
… but things took a turn for the worst, because a short time after, they gave birth to me, a fat little trainwreck that provided regular heart attacks and enough sass to last ten lifetimes.
I was born in Vancouver, but spent most of my life in Burnaby, a colourfully multicultural city where I was surrounded by people who looked like me or came from a similar background. Virtually every friend I grew up with was the child of an immigrant, mainly of Asian or Eastern European descent.
This meant a few things… first of all, class potlucks were totally lit. They were like the UN of party snacks. But secondly, I never really experienced racism. That is, not until I started travelling.
NI HAO NI HAO! Traveling while Asian: A Brief Summary
Travelling abroad was the first time I realized I was different and treated accordingly.
My first time in Europe, “ni haos” and “konnichiwas” would follow me wherever I went. This was the first time I witnessed innocent greetings being weaponized as agents of mockery and belittlement. Little did I know, these microaggressions would become just as commonplace as tacky keychains or criminally overpriced airport food.
I mean hey, a fun drinking game for Asian travelers would be to take a shot every time one of the following happens:
- Someone randomly shouts “ni hao” or “konichiwa” at you for no reason
- Someone continues to guess your identity like it’s an effing game show. China? Japan? Philippines?? Ugh. “I’ll take ‘none of your damn business’ for 200, Alex”.
- You hear “but where are you REALLY from”
- Someone straight-up does not believe you when you say where you’re from (apparently someone who looks like me can’t possibly be from Canada)
- You feel the need to police yourself and be on good behaviour just to prove you’re not one of “THOSE” stereotypical Asian tourists, the ones that arrive loudly by the bus load, pillaging department stores for Louis Vuitton purses
Not a great drinking game actually, because we would probably all just die.
I’ve had boys shout “NICE CHINESE PUSSY” at me while walking down the street. I’ve had people assume I was a prostitute while holding hands with my White boyfriend. I’ve been called chink, cheap and “SO Chinese” (as if that’s the worst thing in the world)… and that’s not even half of it.
This is the reality that horrible stereotypes like “the Asian tourist” have helped cultivate. I’ll be honest though: I’m not angry about this because of my own personal experiences. My brushes with racism and stereotyping, while abundant, have been nothing compared to some of the stories I’ve heard from my fellow Asian travelers. As a Canadian Native English speaker who passes for mixed thanks to my perma-tan and double eyelids, I don’t even get the worst of it.
I’m angry for people like my parents, who feel obligated to tip extra and whisper everywhere to avoid people thinking they’re too cheap, or too loud.
I’m angry for people like the Asian girl I saw taking a selfie in Cesky Krumlov, only to get swarmed by a bunch of rowdy idiots harassing and taunting her, yelling “SELFIE” as they invaded her personal space just to mock her.
Most of all, I’m angry for the countless badass Asian travelers who face this sort of discrimination on a daily basis, who get treated like they’re inferior for no reason other than they’re Asian, and ALL “Asian tourists” are meant to act a certain way.
So, is Amplifying Diverse Asian Voices the Answer? Where Are The Asian Travel Bloggers?
Okay, I could whine all day about the injustices of the world, but I like to think part of the solution could be increasing the representation of Asian voices in travel media.
Sometimes, it feels like Asian travel bloggers are invisible, despite the fact that there are thousands of us. Even more troubling is the fact that local voices in Asian countries are regularly cast aside in favour of expats and the like.
I realized this one day when I naively decided it’d be fun to Google “Asian Travel Bloggers”. The results left me distraught, confused and in need of multiple adult beverages.
Here’s what I found:
- Google’s #1 search, “The Best Asian Travel Blogs to Follow in 2017” featured a list that was majority white, with a focus on expats
- Google’s #2 search result brought me to an article by “The Asia Collective” (a Singapore-based agency) titled the 20 Best Female Travel Bloggers You Must Follow. Each one was tall, blonde, rocking a bikini… a surplus of hats and IG husbands with 16 pack abs. 20 names, not a single Asian travel blogger. Not a single one.
- In this article, of the “9 Best Travel Bloggers in Southeast Asia” – only 2/9 were Asian
- Even this Culture Trip article about the best Asian Travel Instagrammers features nothing but White people.
The Need To Include Asian Travel Bloggers
And okay, sure, some might say that this isn’t a racist thing, that most of the local Asian bloggers don’t blog in English, or that foreigners are more keen to read a foreigner’s experience that would be more relatable. Some might also say that these lists are not exclusively lacking in Asians – they’re missing in diversity of all shapes and sizes. Yes, these are all fair statements.
But these statements don’t fix the problem, which is that there are so many wonderful, talented Asian voices that are regularly cast out of the spotlight for no apparent reason. And if you think I’m exaggerating, fight me on this one: Even this post via Expedia’s HomeAway “Singapore’s Best Travel Blogs”, which (thankfully) does have a fair share of actual Singaporean bloggers, lists their #1 blogger as a Russian travel blogger who had a grand total of 1 article on Singapore at the time the list was published. One article.
And while we’re in full rant mode, can we please appreciate how those “POC you must follow” lists, AKA 2018’s favourite clickbait, usually throw in like… one token Asian, and that’s it?
It’s BS like this that breeds a horrible nagging feeling my Asian peers and I know too well: a feeling that no matter how hard you work, you’ll never be recognized as one of the “big names” in the industry.
A few months ago, my mom even apologized for the fact that I wasn’t White. She told me “you would just have so many more opportunities that way”. How infuriating, heartbreaking and baffling is it that a mother would ever need to apologize to her child for the colour of her skin?
These are just some the unique struggles of an Asian travel blogger… and that’s not even including some other struggles that I could never begin to comprehend, such as having a weak passport or weak currency that limits mobility.
But where’s the Asian pride though?
I have to admit: in some ways, we are our own worst enemy.
Travel media has traditionally been (and still is) a very White dominant industry. But at a time when the Black travel movement is bigger than ever, and like, every second magazine is publishing “POC you must follow” articles, it might be tempting to think that things are getting better.
Sadly, that’s not really the case for us Asians. We don’t celebrate ourselves with awesome hashtags like #blackgirlmagic… We don’t band together and bask in the glory of our Asian-ness. In fact, we’re barely ever vocal in standing up for ourselves.
Asian pride honestly isn’t a thing.
And I think this lack of pride is common among the children of immigrants. With me for instance, as an Asian-Canadian, much of my “success” growing up hinged on my ability to simply blend in and assimilate. I even used to be a self-proclaimed “banana” (yellow on the outside, White on the inside), almost as if that made me better than other Asian people because I acted White. I refused to speak Chinese and hated doing things that were “too Asian” like shopping at Asian malls or bringing rice to eat for lunch when the other kids would be eating sandwiches.
But on another level, there’s also an unwillingness to talk about these things because we’re raised to hate vulnerability. In Chinese, we talk often about the idea of “losing face”, which refers to being in a situation where you’re harming your reputation and your pre-established position in society. In a way, Chinese culture primes us to hate shame and avoid it like the plague.
So we’re conditioned to never talk about it.
… And it’s for this reason that being an Asian travel blogger can feel so lonely and isolating.
Why the world needs to hear from more Asian travel bloggers
Let me quickly break down why all of this matters, and why you should care, whether you’re Asian or not.
No matter who we are, we need role models that look like us
Representation (or lack thereof) shapes us as people. Especially when we’re young.
I know this because Asian stereotypes heavily shaped my life growing up and I still feel its effects today. For instance, I grew up thinking it was normal that Asian people didn’t go camping, skiing or hiking. In my mind, those were “White people” things. I never stopped to think maybe it’s because these activities take lots of money and leisure time, two things that aren’t exactly abundant among immigrant parents. As a result, I never thought I could be athletic or adventurous… and I never tried.
But I don’t want young Asians growing up to think like this, to think that they’re not meant for certain paths simply because of the colour of their skin.
That’s why I’m more devoted than ever to being a positive role model to the Asian community, to show them that there’s a world of possibilities out there, including becoming a reckless and financially unstable travel blogger if they wanted.
Recognition of Asian voices is key to eradicating stereotypes
While casual racism against Asian tourists (and Asians) remains commonplace, the reality is there are literally thousands of us out there who are proving that the “Asian tourist” doesn’t have a single look or type of behaviour. Are there annoying Asian tourists? Absolutely. But there are equally annoying tourists from everywhere.
I truly believe that the more Asians we have churning out stereotype-defying content, the more people will stop seeing us as one-dimensional anime characters to look down on. Our collective voices can help shape a new image of the Asian tourist, one that reflects our true diversity and strength. The first step is, of course, finding these voices, recognizing them, and amplifying them when we can.
Asian perspectives are unique
Last but not least, I’d like to think that people read blogs or follow “influencers” because they offer a unique perspective of the world.
So why do we keep spotlighting the exact same stories?
I will readily admit that some days I become a total cookie cutter insta-bitch in a vain effort to fit in with the IG masses…
But hey, instead of avoiding differences, maybe we should be trying our hardest to cultivate and showcase them.
This is why: my experiences as a female Asian travel blogger (often solo) will be drastically different than a blogger of another background. For instance, Caucasian backpackers who frolic around Vietnam might rave about “the amazingly smiley locals” while those same locals might sneer in my direction thanks to my tan Asian skin (a direct violation of their beauty ideals of paleness). Both of our experiences are valid and would be helpful to different audiences.
That’s the beauty of blogging.
The world needs Asian travel bloggers… just as they need bloggers from all sorts of backgrounds and experiences. There’s a very real danger though when we routinely exclude some of these voices in the spotlight, and yes, brands… I’m looking right at you.
… So now, what do we do about it?
There are so many talented and creative Asians in the travel space, and quite frankly, I’m sick of them getting zero recognition.
To my fellow Asian travel bloggers and creatives: I urge you to be more vocal in representation and equal treatment. In that process, make an effort to uplift and support your peers. Pass opportunities onto them and praise their good work when you see it.
To the rest of the world, here are some easy, actionable steps that I think could make a huge difference:
- Ask yourself “how can I help support Asian voices in travel media?” Even if it’s to leave a comment, acknowledge their talent, pass their names on to people who matter, whatever it is – even a small act can make a difference
- If you’re putting on an event, recognize that maybe some representation would be good in speaker or panel positions
- Think about how you can amplify local, lesser-heard voices. For example, do you have a sweet guide to Singapore on your blog? Awesome, maybe think about supplementing your content with links from local Singapore bloggers. Is a friend asking you for travel tips? Consider linking them to a local resource
Small changes like this may not seem like much, but I promise they’re a step in the right direction.
About The Author
Christina is a Chinese-Canadian travel blogger who is terrified of exercise, responsibilities and talking about herself in third person. Originally from Vancouver, she chased her happily ever after to Europe, where she is likely chugging a beer as we speak.
To make Christina feel important, read Happy To Wander for filterless oversharing or stalk her on social media below: