I had the opportunity to travel to Singapore this past November. I haven’t spent that much time in Asia, so this trip was really impressionable for me. I was delighted by the mixing of so many Asian countries and cultures within Singapore. In addition to enjoying getting to explore a new place, eating amazing food, and soaking in the warm weather, I was very curious about how others perceived me. During my college years, as I’ve mentioned in other pages on our site, many people told me they thought I was Asian based on my eyes. It used to be insanely frustrating for me when people assumed I was of Asian descent. As I roamed through the indoor malls and outdoor parks in Singapore, I kept wondering – do people think I am part Asian?
When I travel, I like to fit in and not stand out. My goal is to be a respectful tourist and just blend in with the background to observe day to day life as seamlessly as possible. You’ll still find me at local tourist spots, but I won’t be standing on the corner with my map open, while in line waiting to jump on the open air city tour bus. As an aside, with the utility and subtlety of SmartPhones now, I suppose the classic tourist “two handed open map study on a street corner” is a thing of the past. I think I was self-conscious because I couldn’t blend in as a local as I usually try to do in my travels. It was very clear that I was not a native Singaporean based on my pale skin tone, light brown hair color, and oodles of freckles!
It’s funny to me that in the United States we really are a melting pot at times. I love how you can walk down the street in a major city in the US and you’ll have no idea based on someone’s appearance and dress whether they are a citizen, an immigrant, or a visitor. I was so conscious in Singapore that everyone knew I wasn’t from there. I am not sure why I thought this and why it bothered me so much. It was clearly all in my head. Never was I treated poorly during my trip and never did anyone call my background or appearance into question.
Earlier this year, I traveled to Thailand and I don’t remember being as self-conscious about my appearance for whatever reason. Maybe this was due to me being with my friend and Bangkok being a larger city or that we did more touristy things. While in Singapore I had more time by myself to wander the city and I was overthinking, as I tend to do. I fully recognize that these are all just thoughts invented in my mind, but…what a funny BPES problem that when Asia, I inwardly called my own identity into question. Probably more a product of my childhood and college years where so many people challenged who I was and practically argued with me that I must be Asian. Surreal. I know exactly who I am, but weird when other people try to tell you that you are something you are not. I appreciate the world is more globalized than it was 15 years ago in that no one said a thing to me about my eyes or heritage during my entire trip. What a thrill that I could walk down the street in Singapore and be accepted as a tourist exactly as I am, in all my BPES small eyed glory!