Well it’s been a little over six week since I left Brooklyn “to get my life” to travel to Southeast Asia. As of today I’ve spent 25 days throughout Vietnam, two weeks (too long) in Cambodia and 36 hours in Bangkok, Thailand…whoa!
As an African-American female from New York City who was partially raised in the South (Georgia standup!) I represent many things as portrayed by both the media and within my community and in my mind— Africa, America, capitalism, slavery, style, sex, hip-hop, education, beauty, ignorance, college graduate, street smarts, New York City, Soul Food, southern values, wordily, mouthy and Brooklyn (the list goes on but I’ll stop there.)
As a BLACK WOMAN WITH NATURAL HAIR — if you think folks in America find this “natural stuff” fascinating, scary, beautiful, disgusting, outrageous, fad-like and trendy then you can only imagine the responses of those who while also BROWN rock a more SILKY texture.
As a professional Blogger, techie, writer and critic of pop culture and style — which results in me being a solo female traveler and entrepreneur in one — even Westerners are constantly curios as to what I do and how I do it. (Translation: “Honey, do you really make money off the Internet?”) So popping out my laptop in various cafes has resulted in impromptu Social Media lessons, explanation of Blogging and locals secretly (well not very secretly) peeking over my back to see what I’m working on.
As I was contemplating taking this trip and musing about it with a friend of mine (also a black female) one of her top questions was: “Dang, Naj, are you going to feel weird being the only black person out there?” (I’m paraphrasing, but y’all get the gist.)
And I turned to her and said: “I don’t give a shit about that stuff…if I did I would never travel. Hell I would never leave Bed-Stuy.”
In other words ya’ll, "I don’t worry about being the only raisin in a cup of vanilla yogurt.” — Najwa Moses
Honestly, traveling through Southeast Asia as a Black Woman has kinda made me feel like a Rockstar.
Do I stand out? Hell yes.
Do they point and stare and giggle and tap their friends to look? You betcha.
Have whole families stopped eating to turn around and stare at me walk by? Absolutely — happened the most in Saigon, Vietnam. And it tends to happen more in the countryside (but heck that could be said for all small country towns worldwide. Folks in small town USA stop and stare when ambulances come by.)
Have I’ve been followed for several blocks because people are curious — super curious? Yes ma’am.
Have I had my hair — grabbed, tugged, pulled and asked if “it was real” (without my permission mind you) YES. YES AND YES. I’m rocking Kinky Twist extensions by the way…so my answer varies depending on my mood and the NATURE OF THEIR TONE.
Now in NYC —AMERICA— the hair pulling, tugging, touching would probably result in a fist fight— because everyone should know better.
The craziest moment was having a woman (secretly) slide her arm against mine and ask her friends who was more brown —ROFL. We were damn near equal in shade.
Now full disclosure— I work in entertainment. I live in NYC. I’m an on-air talent and over the top personality. I’m VERY comfortable with being stared at
. CREATING SPECTACLE IS AN ART FORM IN NYC. Quite literally a SPECTATOR SPORT.
So some people couldn’t handle this and some could. I was also SPIRITUALLY PREPARED
for this…so I find it funny …most of the time.
But here’s the flip side to this:
As soon as I catch people staring — I smile and wave - they giggle and smile back.
I’m JUST AS CURIOUS ABOUT THEM
. If you follow me on Instagram
you’ll see the photos I have of their homes, their food, their street life, the kids, the alleys, their monuments, their fashion, their decor, their homeless, their families, hell I probably would photograph the color of their poop just to see. (J/K) So I get it— we ALL kinda DIG EACH OTHER.
The teens and the kids— LOVE HAVING SOMEONE to practice English with.
The tiny kids literally run behind and toward me blowing kisses. SOMETIMES their parents raise their hands to their mouths and then have the baby throw me kisses.
Border officials, police officers, kids, store owners, fashionistas and general randoms alike will yell out at any point and time: “Madam, Laideee” I like your hair! It’s beautiful!”
The STREET KIDS remember me even if they’ve only seen me once (and these kids are selling $1 yarn bracelets to hundreds of tourists daily)
Men and women alike give me freebies — from extra coffee to extra fruit to extra food to sometimes placing me in front of other customers. to offering me free manicures so they can have someone to kick it with in English.
I’ve had fly Vietnamese girls who work in various fields slip past the other English speaking customers and come up to me to chat and talk about life in general, men, love and careers, invite me to celebrations, their homes and various local parties. And it’s more than just wanting to practice their English because frankly they can do that with an Australian, Canadian and an English person.
‘Cause here’s the deal folks— they are so curious to see another BROWN person, another BROWN women and someone they think is immediately young, hip and stylish.
So yea…I feel kinda like a ROCKSTAR most of the time…while of course fully understanding that I can never “go under the radar”.
Now does that mean everyone is a smiling, pointing nice person? No.
Does that mean I don’t pay “foreigner tax” i.e., shit being way overpriced specifically for me because I’m a “rich American”? No.
Does that mean I haven’t encountered people who were “bitchy, rude and blunt” with no provocation from me? No, but I keep it moving.
But I’ve experienced the extra compliments, the extra warmth, the extra smiles, the extra helping
to get me to my destination, to my taxi, up the stairs with my heavy suitcase. The little gifts slipped into my hand, once I’ve purchased something. The delayed surprised and curious reaction to my American accent, the delight of a fashionisto having someone from New York to trash talk “fashion” with. The pleasure across the face of the Vietnamese manicurist as having someone who gets what a “cool spring color” is. The pregnant Vietnamese entrepreneur who loves Susie Bubble and gets a kick out of the fact that I too have attended Fashion Week as a blogger.
The new found respect in both men and women, when they discover that I’m a solo female traveler.
If I were to generalize the people of Southeast Asia from what I’ve seen so far it would be — sweet, aggressive, hard-working with a strong sense of humor.
Black folks, my folks, those of us from the African diaspora, naturalistas, female travelers, curvy girls - I’m telling you to come on down — you’ll most likely receive more love than not — and real talk these Southeast Asians look like many of us. The full cheeks, broad noses, pouty lips, curvy hips, brown, brown, brown skin, that internal swag that people of color carry with them universally. Honey, it’s all up in the mix here (even if they don’t know it.)
But here’s the caveat — I truly believe that the energy you put forth is what you’ll get in return. I rock a pink rose quartz stone which symbolizes love and positivity. I walk around thinking positive, filled with love and curiosity while also pushing through fear, exhaustion and frustration on a daily basis and hence I truly believe it’s the reason why I’m getting so much love in return.