It was a hot day, excruciatingly hot actually, and the temples at Angkor were completely filled with people, faces, and bodies moving everywhere … This was my second visit to Siem Reap and its magical Archeological Park, and I was shocked how much things have changed within only 3 years, as the famous Unesco World Heritage Site, was so much more crowded.
While at Ta Prohm (remember when Angelina Jolie jumped around some crazy temples that were being swallowed by the trees? yep that was here), I was trying to imagine somehow being like Tomb Raider, maybe get into some maze inside the temple, getting lost and being surrounded by magical trees…. Instead, I was “fighting” to be able to spot the sites as the reality was that the temple was so full of Japanese and Chinese taking pictures that I felt more like I was queuing to a Lady Gaga concert…
But quickly enough, things turned around… a lovely Chinese old man started talking to me in almost perfect English… and then, not only did I feel like Lara Croft, or actually even Angelina Jolie, as suddenly there was over 20 of his friends queuing to take a picture with me, hugging me and trying to get my attention, only because I smiled back at them and said a couple of words in Mandarin… and I was reminded of how much I really like Chinese people.
But don’t get me wrong, as cool as it is, to be made feel like a star, that’s not the reason why they started to grow on me culturally speaking…
For the past few years, I started to get used to this Chinese warming hospitality wherever I went, and funnily enough, not even 30 min later, while at a different temple, a different Chinese group did exactly the same… I remember the most hilarious thing, this Italian couple that witnessed both situations, came and asked me if I was some sort of celebrity in China as Chinese was acting like I was famous… so when I said not at all and they were just being nice because I smiled at them, answered their questions and spoke about my love for China, the couple seemed not convinced that Chinese would be so friendly “JUST” because of that.
One of the reasons I travel is because it’s fundamental I feel like I improve as a person on a daily basis. I have always considered myself open-minded, at the same time I am conscious that through life (society, media..) we are somehow imposed certain stereotypes and even some prejudice towards different groups of people… which I keep telling that the best way to get rid of them, is to travel and see with your own eyes that those are not necessarily true.
Both trips I did to China are a great example.
Initially, I had this idea that the Chinese were not necessarily friendly people, and that they dislike foreigners, and it would be very difficult to befriend anyone during my travels. And how wrong I was.
I admit it came as a surprise how friendly and smiling they truly are. From major cities to the small nontouristy towns, I made friends all around and met wonderful people, and in general, I had a country with over 1.3 billion people that would mostly smile at me. A nice and warm smile.
With time and the experience came a deep appreciation for the Chinese people, their culture, understanding their struggle but also their power and their ethics.
Why am I sharing this?
I confess I have been astonished by the recent racism and xenophobia I have seen against Chinese and orientals in general because of Covid19!
I started seeing it on social media, then read numerous articles, saw unsavory videos, and listened to some of my oriental friends, complaining they were victims of some sort of abuse.
I personally witnessed some disturbing episodes which made me despair.
While on a packed train, traveling from York to Edinburgh a few weeks ago, I noticed there was an area of the carriage that seems a bit emptier, to then notice that there was an Oriental gentleman ..so I joined him.
I found quite shameful how he was receiving weird looks and how people were avoiding him altogether. And even though I was relieved that people were not coming close to us (more space to move), at the same time I felt ashamed that in 2020 racism can be so obvious and unapologetic, which made me actually sad for him and humanity in general.
But the episode that really bothered me was while on lockdown, the few times I managed to leave the house to go to the grocery store! Now where I live, there’s this great small vegan market that happens to be an oriental supermarket, which is where I make most of my grocery shopping anyway. One of the days, after a great shopping spree as I could get most of the products everyone was complaining that they couldn’t find in regular supermarkets, as I was leaving and waving goodbye to one of the owners, a Chinese lady, saw a guy, at the door, screaming abusing words to the store. I was shocked that it was happening just in front of me. I obviously got involved and told him I was going to record him and go straight to the police, which he then left.
This is unacceptable. To Chinese. Or anyone else.
So, if you read this far, I am going to ask, please, think twice before wanting to blame this pandemic on an entire culture, community, country. There’s absolutely no reason to be racist or xenophobe on this situation or any other really.
And hopefully, I hope that someday, once the borders open and this invisible enemy is gone, you can be as fortunate as I am and visit stunning China and meet their smiley, hospitable and welcoming people.
Love and Light,