First off, I’m actually from Taiwan
Alright, I know you’re like wait what? But you said, “travel story” in the title. Quick three-second life story: I’m half Taiwanese, half Ghanaian, grew up in Taiwan, moved to the States at 17, and have now been living here in California for 5 years. (Here’s more info about me)
So what I meant by traveling to Taiwan, is basically “Traveling BACK” to Taiwan to visit my family. However, as you can probably realize by looking at my profile picture. I’m not exactly what you would expect a Taiwanese chick to look like. Nope. Not at all. I have a full head of quite tightly-coiled 3C curly hair, and on top of that, I have medium-toned melanin-rich skin. My father’s strong African genes definitely won this one haha! Obviously, growing up in Taiwan was quite the challenge due to all the looks and stares I would get on a daily basis, but that’s a story for another day.
Now, let’s proceed with my travel story
So last summer, I decided to do an internship in Taiwan and also use that time to visit my family. And of course, to commute to work from my grandma’s house, I had to take the metro. Ugh, public transportation, my biggest nightmare. It’s a love-hate relationship actually. I love saving my coins by sharing a ride with hundreds of people, but the accidental eye contact every two seconds from a different stranger is just too overwhelming for my introverted ego. ESPECIALLY! When I’m in a country where seeing black people is like witnessing the total solar-eclipse or seeing a two-headed turtle. Okay I’m exaggerating a bit but you get the point.
This day, as the metro train stopped in front of me, I knew it was going to be an uncomfortable ride. It was packed to the rim. However, there was no choice, I desperately wanted to go home and binge some Youtube videos. So I took a deep breath, and in I went. Immediately, I spotted an open space wide enough for me to stand. It was situated right in front of this couple comfortably-seated in their spots. As soon as I walked up in front of them, both of them gazed up at me. Literally at the same time! I thought to myself, “Ok, that’s a normal reaction, don’t be bothered”. But the clock started to tick in my head as they continued to STILL fix their gaze on me. Soon, it became an extremely uncomfortable stare. And I started to feel a rush of hot air up my entire body.
Things got weird real fast
As I was about to get off at the next stop to avoid this awkward situation, guess what. Their mouths started to move as they looked up and down my whole body. I said to myself, “You know what, I just might stay an extra stop or two to hear what you guys have to say”. Since they had absolutely no idea that I spoke fluent Mandarin, they were chatting away and commenting on every part of my body. “Wow, look at her braids, I wonder if she washes her hair at all”, the woman said. Her partner responded as if he knew how black hair works, “Oh, I don’t think she washes it at all”.
Then, they proceeded to take a hard stare at the red nail polish on my toes. “Hmmm, that’s a nice color for her dark skin, what do you think?”, the woman asked her partner. “It looks good, I like it!” the man responded while his eyes started to fix on my exposed legs in the summer heat. “She has really long legs, I think black people all are pretty tall. She might be from Africa. Or maybe American”. The conversation between them went on for no joke, at least 10 long excruciating minutes. The whole time, I didn’t know whether to laugh or be weirded out by this situation. Never have I ever been this up and personal while strangers literally have a full-on discussion about me. Very cool.
The classic borderline racist comment
The whole time they were talking, I was rooting for them to not say anything overtly racist because I for sure would not be able to contain my poker face. But just when I thought the conversation between them was winding down to a “nice ending”, they decided to hit me with the “Well, I think she’s quite pretty for a black girl. Black people don’t tend to look so good”. Ummm well, thank you so much for this disgusting backhanded compliment!
I know that in Taiwan since foreigners aren’t common, some people can be clueless in terms of how to interact with foreigners. And this lack of interaction can also lead to ignorant comments, which I understand. But at that moment, I was quite upset. I don’t remember saying anything to this couple except for giving them a hard stare in the eyes before getting off immediately at the next stop. Thinking back, I wish I would have stood up more for myself and my black people, and use my multicultural experience to educate them about blackness and its beauty. But hey, I wish this couple all the best, and hopefully, they will be enlightened one day.
I still have tons of love for Taiwan
You might say I’m biased, but even after experiencing tons of experiences like this in my home country. It is still my favorite place on earth. Sure, some people are ignorant, but that’s just how it is in every country around the world. Check out this post by Lauren Juliff where she shares her travel story and why she also thinks Taiwan is her favorite country ever. Sorry for shamelessly promoting my home country, but I truly think it doesn’t get enough credit for how amazing it is. Many people confuse it for Thailand, which is alright since Thailand is pretty cool. But I wish that in the near future, the world will know where Taiwan is on the map. And lastly, this travel story and other similar encounters only represent less than 1% of my life experience in Taiwan. I won’t let a few bad moments define my love for Taiwan, and I will continue to spread positivity about this beautiful little island in Asia.