Ethiopian Identity / Language / Travel: China

Tourist Me

Most of the time, I belong to the category of people who, when they are visiting a place as a tourist, do everything in their power to not appear to be a tourist.  That includes not walking around with a camera dangling from my neck or wrist, not taking snapshots of every damn thing with said nonexistent camera, not having a look of wonderment and discovery fixed on my face (caused by wonderment and discovery) and most definitely not constantly referring to a map which I keep rolled up in my hand (the one that’s not handling the camera).

All this is usually caused by pride, or a fragile ego, or both. Usually, it’s because I need to maintain some kind of cool factor. It’s my trademark, didntcha know? There are of course the other times, (listen up Bali) when it’s a way of holding on to a shred of my sanity by escaping the the hawkers’ space-age technology tourist-radar.

Then come the odd times when doing the exact opposite – going overboard in displaying all signs of touristiness – becomes very necessary. It becomes a statement which I can feel compelled to make, depending on where I am visiting.

When I walk through a city such as, let’s say for the sake of example, Hong Kong, I slowly become aware that the other tourists (99% Americans, .5% Europeans, .5% other: Japanese, Indian, Middle Eastern) are looking at me just as much as they’re looking at the skyline, the Hong Kong Museum of Art exhibit, the flowers, the giant Buddha at the Po-Linn Monastery or the bronze Jackie Chan statue on the Avenue of Stars. Now and then, I am acutely aware (and believe you me, this is not delusional paranoia talking, you develop an antenna for this after Wenzhou) that the only “landmark” behind the person who has chosen to pose for a photo precisely in front of where I happen to be innocently buying some street food (flattened dried squid, if you must know) is me and my curly wind blown hair and brown skin – the only such specimen for miles around.

Sure, there are other Africans in downtown Hong Kong. They are in a one block area, maybe two blocks, teeming with ethnic food supply stores and cockroach infested dirt-cheap hostels and guesthouses. So, even though it can get exhausting, as a bonified African tourist I feel compelled to represent, hell flaunt, my odd-one-out position.

I stop at every intersection to wave my map around like the green yellow red flag whether I’m lost or not. The rest of the time I roll it up and clutch it like a relay baton. I keep my camera out at all times. I snap photos of the most mundane things. I read every line of every plaque. I keep that look of wonderment and discovery on my face, walking around looking up up up as much, if not more, than around. I walk extra slow, I stroll, and I say “It’s okay, take your time. Have a good long look”.

2 thoughts on “Tourist Me

  1. From my experience there, I voluntarily attest on your behalf that it was not at all paranoia and that you are, in fact, often a “landmark,” a tourist who herself is an attraction.

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