I arrived in Vietnam five days ago. Once I settled into my hotel room, feeling hungry I decided to go and look for some food. I had been walking down the street for five minutes and realised that I hadn’t seen another white person yet. 30 minutes later and still no one else but Vietnamese people surrounding me, making me a little nervous.
I told myself “this can’t come as a shock to you Stacey – you are in Vietnam after all”. I am by no means racist; I love to travel in order to experience new cultures and societies, but before now I found it impossible to avoid other tourists and for some reason this made me feel at unease.
Part of me wondered if it was the warning bells ringing in my head from people back home in the UK who had little or no experience of travelling. My family especially were convinced that I am sure to get kidnapped because of my blonde hair and blue eyes, but I had even walked around at night here and no one seemed the littlest bit interested in packing me into a van. Anywhere you go in the world you have to be careful, so this didn’t seem any scarier to me at all. In fact far from danger, everyone around has been perfectly friendly, but I continued for a couple of days, struggling to shake the feeling and I had to think why this bothered me so much.
I then thought about when I was in high school in the North East of England, which was full of white students, until one-day two pupils (a girl and a boy) from Zimbabwe were transferred and happened to be in my year. I remember everyone was so fascinated with them. We had no intention of hurting them but wanted to talk to them and show them around. It makes me think now how it must have felt for them being in a completely new environment, where they couldn’t help but stand out.
I think that is what the issue is with me right now. I’m in a new place and I don’t like the thought of standing out so much and feeling like I don’t fit in. In the estate I lived on, there was no cultural mix then (shockingly this still hasn’t changed too much) and I think you get too used to comfort zones. It may have been a natural craving to have a similar face take the edge off, but it certainly doesn’t help that the media try to shock us into staying only where we feel secure and familiar. We hear so many bad things about Asia that it’s no wonder there aren’t as many tourists as I expected here in Vietnam.
I don’t usually like a lot of attention on me, but I’ve embraced it to meet the locals. I still however, feel very guilty walking into a shop or café and being treated as though I am a Princess. I feel guilty about previously feeling out of place when these beautiful people are trying to make me feel at home. I feel guilty because the majority of thoughts, in the UK, are that everyone out here just wants to sell or traffic us, meanwhile the exact same issues are happening right there in our home country.
I just want to help spread the word to people, especially woman, who are often told its too dangerous to travel alone, that it’s worth getting out of your comfort zone. Every single country has its dangers so it’s important to keep your wits about you wherever you go. Its nice to be content but its incredible to find something amazing and see how inviting the world can be.
A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people – Mahatma Gandhi