Upon arrival to Beijing China, there was a tension in the air. It wasn’t the humid weather or the rain. It was that feeling you get, when you realize that you’ve locked your keys in your car, and you just heard the door click shut. The feeling of, “oh crap”. All you can do is accept that it happened and now you have call AAA. Except you realize that your phone is with your keys inside of the vehicle. This feeling is one of panic and inconvenience. Couple that feeling with the stares of strangers around you, who will not let you use their phone to call for assistance. Once I stepped off the plane, every eye fell on me. Not in a good way either. I was being gawked at, fingers were pointed, laughed at and more than I can care to remember, phones were pointed in my direction. As if to share the pictures or videos that were taken of me, with the stranger’s friends and family. I was shocked that fingers were being pointed at me and people were laughing at me. The only comparison I can make, is how we visit a zoo or circus and we encounter something foreign. I was made to feel like a spectacle and an object of ridicule. Mind you, I had not even collected my luggage yet. If I could have gotten back on the plane back to the States, I’m sure I would have. Day 1: Beijing Luckily we arrived late in the evening. So all that was to be done, was find a taxi to our hotel. You think finding a taxi is hard as a black person in the United States? Try getting one in Beijing! You might as well be invisible. The amount of times I was waved off from a taxi driver, is more than an amount of times that I’ve seen Mickey Mouse wave to every single child that walked through Disneyland on a summer day. Luckily my travel companion is Chinese, but me being her companion, worsened her opportunities of getting an actual taxi. After 45 minutes, we were finally greeted with a smoke-filled taxi. Our hotel was in an obscure place, so getting drenched in the rain was not a fun way to end our night. Luckily there was a late night market/fruit stand, so I could get some snacks and fruit.
WARNING: Do not be fooled by “Classic American Flavor” Lays Chips. They are not what you think they are. With their bright yellow bags disguised as Lays Classic. It’s a lie! A sham! A ruse! I was hoodwinked and bamboozled! These olive oil cardboard crunchies crushed my spirit more than the air to chip ratio. I think it was the universe telling me to eat fruit instead. So that’s what I did. I angrily ate my mangosteen fruit and drank what I presume to be Chinese wine. Finally it was time for bed. I dove excitedly onto my bed and was met with the world’s hardest surface. Surely this wasn’t the plush bed I was promised on the website. The only thing I could compare this mattress to was the concrete slab in front of the hotel. Come to think of it, I think the sidewalk had more cushion. I know I shouldn’t mix alcohol and pain meds, but I took an Advil to numb my now throbbing knee. I have a bruise and my leg is sore. Not the way I like to get sore in the bedroom. Day 2: Going to a Wall. I heard it was Great!
So the Great Wall is over 10,000 miles, but don’t be mistaken by thinking it’s a short cab ride away. Up the mountains, through the woods and to Mordor we go! Once I was dropped off at the parking lot to take a bus to the Great Wall entrance, I decided to use the restroom. If you’ve never seen a Chinese toilet, you’re in for a surprise. I hope you practiced your squats. Small tip: Always carry your own toilet paper, public restrooms DO NOT have tissue. I’m serious! I’m not talking about running out and needing more. There isn’t a place for the paper. Drip dry or bring your own. You have been warned!
Ok back to the restroom conundrum. As I leave the porcelain hole that was my toilet, a family approached me and just starts posing for pictures. My hands are still moist from washing my hands and attempting to use the mountain air to dry them. But that didn’t deter a random family from posing with smiles and peace signs around me. Not cool guys. After what felt like forever, I was ushered on a bus towards the entrance. The bus screamer (guide) proceeded to spout historical facts in Mandarin, whilst yelling at people for talking and asking questions. Luckily there are signs in English, Russian, Japanese & Korean, once you exit the bus. So all hope isn’t lost. Remember, everything cost money and China. The Great Wall, even though it’s a wall, you have to pay to see it. But duh. That’s not what I’m irritated about. What I’m irritated about is that I can’t go to one of the Wonders of the World without people treating me like I’m an animal or a freak show. As I ascended the stairs to the Great Wall, I was taken aback by how immaculate it was and the history of it. But I couldn’t even take pictures and enjoy it, without some stranger shoving their camera in my face or touching me! Why would anyone think this is acceptable? It’s not the culture or social queues, it was the fact that I was not seen as a human being, to be treated as such. I was seen as less than human, point blank. It’s hard to brush off the awkwardness and the rising anger I was feeling. Of course the vendors were nice, because they wanted my money. But even then, I was asked, or should I say my travel companion was asked, “is that all her hair?” A question I thought was reserved to be asked by white women in the States. I’m slowly learning that ignorance spans further than the Becky’s I deal with in Los Angeles. Of course after the question about my hair is asked, it’s like a magnet is created, that causes the questioner to reach out and try to touch my hair. I would have made Neo from the Matrix proud, with the speed of my aversion from the constant hands coming towards my hair. I never understood the link between seeing someones hair and the random hand trying to touch it. I would never touch another human or animal, just because I was curious. Little did I know, it was about to get worse. Wayyyyyy worse. Oh, I almost forgot. There was a woman changing her what look like a five-year-old child’s diaper on the steps of the Great Wall. There’s a beautiful monument that has plenty of bathrooms and she’s just changing a dookie diaper like she’s in a bathroom at some McDonald’s. The lack of respect was astounding. And yet I was the one being gawked at. As if I were changing the child's diaper. Day 3: Rickshaw tour, Peking duck, and sightseeing Let me just say this, if you’ve never had a rickshaw tour you most definitely have to try it. It’s an entire back door of the amazing history of the Hutong District. One man will take you around and show you the alleyways and the back doors of Beijing history. I was humbled to see that multiple families live in small spaces that were once for servants or higher ranking officers to the Emperor. The only plumbing for the residents in the Hutong District is in the community washroom and toilet. Coming from America, that situation sounds like a nightmare. But somehow these people make it work. Once the tour is over feel free to explore the waterfront shops and smell the lotus blossoms at the bank of the lake. Or at least try. If you’re a person of color, take notice the sound of cellphone cameras whilst points and stares are aimed at yours truly. Now you may be thinking, “why not just stare back or say something”? I’ll tell you now, it doesn’t work! You can lock ocular devices with another person and they don’t care. They just stare harder. Try as you might to crack a smile or make a gesture as to say, “why are you looking so hard?!” It won’t work. They will continue to stare, take pictures and giggle, as they walk away. If I come back, I will make sure to bring a spray bottle. That way I can spray people in the face and say “NO! Bad local. Bad!” I’ll let you know how that goes. No, I’m kidding. Firstly, I won’t be returning on the foreseeable future. Secondly, I don’t want to end up in Chinese jail. I’ve seen the film “Broke Down Palace”. I’m too pretty to be in a jail eating rice & having a roach crawl in my ear. Hard pass!
Many times my travel companion walked up to strangers that were speaking about me and told them in their native tongue that it was rude and mean to say what they were saying about me. Although she would not repeat what in fact they were saying. What struck me as odd, was the fact that these people are stepping over sewage a who knows what else, but they look down their noses at me. Me, who didn't say a rude remark about the smells or about the starving animals and people in the street. So as I’m walking with my friend looking at the all the shops, I can’t help but think, “Why should I spend my money in a country where they treat me like dirt?” So guess what? No matter how cute something was, or how a sparkly trinket caught my eye. With the exception of food and vital caffeine, I kept all my Yuans in my pickpocket proof fanny pack. Yes, I wear a fanny pack! They are cute and practical. For y’all Europeans, it’s a bum bag or a hip purse. I know what y’all think a fanny is! I refused to line the pockets or the local merchants that were snickering about me right in front of me.
The worse part of this particular evening, was that no matter how mad I became, I couldn't lash out because it wouldn't make a difference. After some overpriced mediocre Peking duck that my travel companion insisted was “the best ever”, and watching the World Cup, I decided to go back to my hotel. Queue the never ending quest for the elusive polite taxi driver. That only took 20 minutes of walking through the dark to find one this time. So I’ve got that going for me. Back at the hotel, I had a decent night's sleep on my wood block and mentally prepared myself for the next day. Day 4: Tienanmen Square, the Forbidden Palace and the Temple of Heaven Just so you know, Tiananmen Square is gigantic, it’s 109 acres! I had no idea the scale of this place, luckily I was wearing comfortable shoes. Here there are armed guards with rifles and metal detectors. I could only assume it was to deter any terrorist attack. Once through security, you get to walk through a garden towards the palace gates. For some reason the Beijing population relies on QR codes for payment and information. A person can pay for food, taxi or goods, simply by scanning a QR code. It’s kind of a hassle, since the Chinese government restricts the internet access, so downloading a QR reader is not an option. And adding a foreign credit card to anything is damn near impossible. I tried to ask for help from one of the employees and he literally turned his back to me as if he didn't see me.
So in the spirit of being a broken record, I was stared at and pictures were taken of me, with the even more laughter added to the soundtrack of my vacation. Luckily at the entrance of the palace, we were greeted by a tour guide that spoke English. For $20 USD we were given our own 2 hour personal tour encompassing the history within the palace walls. The entire time, I refused to look at the people who were taking pictures of me, because I wanted to appreciate and live in the moment.
After a fantastic tour, we decided to brave public transportation and see the Temple of Heaven on the other side of the city. After about 30 minutes on a train, we arrived to find that the temple was closed for the day. This led us to going to a shopping center and buying a few trinkets for our friends and family and of course to have Starbucks. The fun part about Starbucks is that in every country, the menu is different. So I got the opportunity to try some fantastic teas and jelly drinks. I had made up in my mind that I would wrap my hair as a way to minimize the stares. Mind you, there were plenty of Chinese people with an assortment of the rainbow throughout their tendrils, but I figured my sparse pink streaks intertwined with my Afro was what was causing the attention and stares. So begins the feeling of being super aware of my skin color and how a communist society views me. Coupled with feeling that I had to hide who I was, in order to just be left alone and rendered invisible to the prying Chinese eye. I felt like I had to hide within myself, and that's a horrible feeling.
The next day we were off to the airport and off to Hong Kong. Day 5: Hong Kong
Warning! If you are not from a state that gets hot, humid and rains a lot, then be prepared for the weather in Hong Kong. We arrived in the early evening with scattered thunderstorms and the temperature was 90° and very windy. Sadly my first pair of sneakers were soaked and the night was just starting. Hong Kong reminded me of downtown Los Angeles or New York City, lots of flashing lights and people walking at all hours. We had decided that we could save money and stay at an Air-BnB, which was a huge mistake. The “Spacious Studio with Private Bathroom”, turned out to be a small room that didn’t fit our luggage and the shower was directly over the toilet. I’m all for immersing myself in a new experience, but a room without air conditioning in the humid weather and zero space for my luggage, quickly changed my lodging plans. The picture below was the small closet room. See how the bed touches the bathroom wall and the front door cannot open fully.
Note: If you travel with someone, make sure they understand that the trip is for the both of you. Lest have your trip hijacked and being pressured to go see people and places that you otherwise wouldn’t. I’ll get more into that later.
So after an hour of figuring out the lodging situation and changing, we were off to visit some of my traveling companion’s friends that reside in the city of Hong Kong. Me being the person I am, agreed to the dinner plans, thinking that I would do the same if I visited a country where I knew someone and they were only 30 minutes away. Only after being lost in the rain and my second pair of shoes were soaked through, did I learn that my travel companion had just seen this particular friend 2 weeks ago in the States! So I was rushed, got soaked and lost, so that she could say hello to someone she had just seen. To me that’s rude to the person you are traveling with. And should have given me a hint as to what I could expect from this person. When we could have had a dinner that was close to our new hotel and have the opportunity to change out of our soaked clothes. Maybe this section just comes from irritation rather than inconvenience. After dinner we finally head back to our hotel and I can get into dry clothes after almost 5 hours. Day 6: Over It!
After one night at a decent hotel, I got to finally stay in a hotel that made me feel like I could finally relax. The section of Hong Kong was interesting. There are clothing and shoe shops, as well as shops that sold doors/windows/flooring and more. I got to wander around the shops for a few hours before heading back to the hotel. The next day, we were supposed to visit my travel companion’s dad in Guangzhou and have dinner. I was already put off a bit when I was told that this section of China was the “Chocolate City” and that there was “a lot” of Africans in this city. Not to be rude, but I couldn’t care less if there were Africans or not! I was here to visit China, not blend in with the rest of the darker population. It was a little insensitive to assume that just because my skin is chocolate, that I would want to be surrounded by people who are supposed to look like me.
So after an almost getting on a train for an hour to the Shenzhen border, a 2 hour taxi ride to the train station, it’s only then did my travel companion tell me that she didn’t know if we needed to take a train or a bus to Guangzhou. There were taxi drivers that refused to take us on our journey, hired cars that wanted to extort us for almost double the regular rate and a bus ticket seller that rudely let us know that the next bus was in an hour and it would take almost 3 hours to get to our destination I had enough. 2 more hours had slipped by during the time at the train station and it was now 7:30 pm. I finally spoke up and made the point and said that I didn’t go on this vacation to be taken from one place to another and not actually see the sights. So far, most of my money was being used for taxis and train rides to places that were not on our agenda. Soon after that, we headed back to our hotel.
For those of you keeping track of the hours, that was 1+2+2+2+1= 8!
That was 8 hours of an entire day that I spent money and literally got to do nothing but sit on my ass as a result. By that time, I hadn’t eaten anything, with the exception of my protein shake that morning and needed dinner ASAP, before I ate the face off of the next person that looked at me sideways. Of course when we returned to our area, most of the shops were closed and I settled on a bowl of bland noodles and a piece of fruit.
Day 7: Rushing for no reason
I awoke the next morning extra early so I could actually take the day to shop, since I had been rushing around to see people and train/taxi rides to nowhere for the past few days. My travel companion insisted that the shops would be open by 8am since they are dependent on tourist dollars. WRONG! It was a Monday, so all of the shops were closed until 10am. I got the pleasure of walking down the streets and looking at the closed metal shop gates and a few fruit vendors were setting up. So after 2 hours of taking in the scenery, I walked around and power shopped for and hour before heading to the train station to embark on yet another 2 hour taxi ride to the airport/train station.
Now happy readers, is the story I was saving for you…My travel companion had decided to extend her trip for 5 more days, to go see her father that she lives with and sees every day and to visit some other parts of China. So that meant that I got to try and navigate through a country that treats me like less than a human and makes me feel physically and mentally unhappy. This person, who has been witness to the way I was being treated, decided that, "screw it, I'm going to leave Lando at the airport for 18 hours alone". So here I am in an airport where a random man points at me and uses the N-word. Make no mistake, it was towards me since there was no one else around. This was indeed the icing on the rice cake. Luckily I got a hotel room next to the airport to avoid people and taxi driver hell.
While at my hotel, I decided to go swimming at the indoor pool. I was the only one in the pool until one gentleman walks in with his towel and book, makes eye contact with me and shook his head in a "no" gesture, with his mouth agape and turned around to leave. I could have let that reaction get to me, but I was beyond the point of caring. Seriously, did he think my blackness would contaminate his entire being. I happily swam around for almost an hour to clear my head before heading up to my room.
After a night at the most comfortable hotel and spa, I was happy to pack my bags and show my backside to China.
Day 8: Leaving Satan’s Taint
Just an FYI, when you travel abroad to China, you are not allowed to get your ticket or check in until the day of your trip. And even then, you may not get your ticket to go through security until 2 hours before your departure. So prepare yourself and those who travel with you. Bring snacks!
After I received my ticket I was ushered the escalator to nowhere (where I heard someone refer to me as a monkey in broken english), it was seriously dark as I descended to the bowels of the airport. Only then do I see a literal light at the end of the tunnel and there was my ticket counter. I had 2 hours to kill, so I decided to read my book as a way to avoid the stares that I felt on the back of my head. While reading I hear a squawk and felt wind over my head, that was comparable to a banshee flying and looking for its prey. I look up and see a giant bird swooping down on different passenger’s heads! There were screams and flailing of arms. So I did what any sane person would do, I opened my umbrella and continued to read my book. All while the town scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s, “The Birds” was reenacted. It was mildly entertaining and probably the highlight of my day.
After the time that we were to board our bus that would take us to the plane, there was an announcement that the flight was now delayed. Queue a flood of people swarming the ticket counter and yelling while shoving their tickets in the poor airline employees face. I waited until the crowd died down to use my translation app on my phone to inquire if I would make my connecting flight. As I held my phone to the employee, she simply swatted away my phone like I was the swooping bird. So after calling back to the states to get my friends and family to speak with my airline, I was assured that my connecting flight would indeed wait on me. The thought of spending another night in this country, broke me out in hives. After 4 hours and a gate change, I boarded my 1st flight to leave.
I have landed in Chongqing and rushed through customs, being that I was the only person going through, I thought I was lost. But luckily I was in the right place and my flight was leaving in an hour! So I find my gate and look for a wall socket to charge my phone and see my first fellow black person! Now, usually I don’t seek out the only other person of color in a room, but I bee lined my chocolate ass so fast towards this smiling face. This was the first smiling person that I had encountered in over a week, that wasn’t laughing or pointing at me. I think she knew what I felt because before I introduced myself she said, “Girl, I know”. And thus, led to a budding friendship and understanding. I poured all my emotions and tales of horror to my new friend’s ears. Only to be met with sympathy and understanding. Funny enough, she and I were in the same row on the airplane, so every now and then we would catch each other’s glances and giggle at the stories we shared earlier. It was interesting to hear that she went through the same experiences that I did.
So I am unsure about public etiquette for everyone, but I think we can all agree that you SHOULD NOT clip your fingernails in a public place. Surprisingly I saw a woman clip all of her nails on the plane. Sharp shards of nails flying everywhere and there she was clipping without a care in the world. It was pretty gross.
Day 9: Home at Long Last
So after a very long plane ride, I was never happier to hear “Please put your seats in the upright position and make sure all tray tables are up, as we prepare for our dissention into Los Angeles” in my entire life! Finally, my trip was over! I think I was the happiest person to go through customs and skip my way to baggage claim. The nightmare was over!
I have never encountered an entire culture that is so rude. Racism in America is bad enough, and I never thought that I would see anything worse. This trip almost broke my spirit and forced me to become less of myself while I was there. It was disheartening because I was looking forward to this trip and wanting to learn so much about another culture. After returning to the States, I saw so many videos about how it is to be Black in China, all of their stories paralleled my own. I decided to write about my experience as a form of self-therapy, because I found myself being so angry and hating the Chinese people I encountered. I know I shouldn’t hate anyone based on the way they treat me, but it is a struggle. I have not spoken to my travel companion, as I am still very upset about the events that transpired on our trip together. I need time to self-heal and to reevaluate this friendship. I have been told by numerous people, that a friend should never abandon someone, especially in a foreign country where the person being abandoned doesn’t feel safe. So, pick your travel campanions very carfully.
This trip has taught me how NOT to treat others. And to never take advantage of the fact that I can walk out of my front door and not feel like an object of ridicule or hate.
Feel free to leave your comments or experiences below or email me. The only way to get through something, is to discuss it with someone else. The solution is out there, but where it is exactly, I don’t know.