This is the Face of a Griper

Not too long ago, we were given the opportunity to be interviewed (you can read it here). It was a fun interview and surprisingly challenging. We were asked questions we honestly never really thought about, like our definition of a “traveler.” Before the interview, we didn’t have a definition. And we still don’t. If anything, if we did have a definition, it would be entirely too broad and would probably frustrate dictionary writers.

We like to think that travelers are anyone who go outside their comfort zone with an open mind and a willingness to experience something new. Just about anybody can fit into that definition. The reality, though, is that it’s a label. “Travelers” and “tourists” are interchangeable words. There’s no point in making one’s travel experience more superior than another’s by trying to find a better label in a thesaurus. Just be thankful that you have the ability to see the world.

Young, old, professional or first-timers, people who get to travel all their lives, or people who balance work and family life with an occasional dose of traveling are all travelers. You can travel to your neighborhood park for the very first time or re-experience your hometown with a brand new mindset. But as long as you’re willing to understand the world around you and appreciate it–well–you’re a traveler (or a tourist, take your pick).

For those who can and do travel, the open-mindedness is really the key to traveling as time and time again, we’ve been happily surprised and amazed pretty much everywhere we’ve gone.

So, travelers come in all shapes and sizes and from all kinds of different backgrounds. It’s pretty difficult to completely flub a travel experience, unless you do this:

“Everyone Wanted to Take My Photo! I Felt Like a Celebrity!”

The fact is, unless you are an international celebrity, you really aren’t a celebrity. So, those people taking photos of you aren’t doing that to flatter you. They want your photo because deep down, there’s some racist reasoning behind it. You see, they think y’all look alike. We’ve heard the joke before. Anyone who has watched Rush Hour 2 remembers the scene when Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan were at the massage parlor. A mass of Triads were there and Tucker accidentally punches Chan in the face, to which he responds:

“All y’all look alike!”

That line was hilarious, but there may also be some truth to that. Ethnicities share common traits. Hollywood has favored–and continues to favor–Western ethnicity traits. If the majority of American celebrities are blond haired and blue-eyed, then guess what, we all look alike. They don’t think you’re a celebrity. In fact, they know you’re not one. I was once “mistaken” for Sandra Bullock. If I had given in to having my photo taken, that person would have gone home and my photo would have been a conversation piece at the dinner table, something they may have a good laugh about.

And, yes, sometimes you’re traveling in an area where your ethnic traits really stand out. People may want to take a photo of you. But, it’s kind of like taking a photo of a rare animal at the zoo: you’re an item to be gawked at.

So, you see, if you’re traveling and you think people are treating you like a celebrity or that you’re somehow special or adored, you’re not really traveling with an open mind. You’re traveling with a sense that the world revolves around you, when, in reality, it doesn’t.

It sucks being lumped into a category where everyone looks alike and that’s why it’s astonishing when people write article /blog pieces like this:

“These are the Faces of _________”

“…America.” Can you imagine if a writer from say…England came to the United States, took photos of willing or unwilling volunteers and then said these photos were the faces of America? The United States is a BIG place with a lot of different people. I hope that fictional English writer can accurately portray every single community and culture here in America. I hope it’s not just a bunch of photos of obese, pale SUV-drivers with a Starbucks in one hand and a Big Mac in the other.

You’re probably thinking: wait a minute, I don’t drive an SUV. Neither do I. In fact, I don’t fit any of those stereotypes mentioned above. And that’s the problem with the “These are the Faces of (Enter Country Here)” articles. They’re written by people who aren’t one of the faces they’re portraying. They’re written by people who have a preconceived notion of what these faces will look like. They’re written by people who should know better because their own home countries are so incredibly diverse that it would take an epic novel to accurately portray the faces of their home country.

“Faces of (Enter Country Here)” articles lump people into the category of all y’all look alike according to what the writer thinks they ought to look like. That’s not very fair at all and not very open-minded either. It shows that the writer failed to understand the country or city they’re visiting and that can lead to other misgivings like:

“There’s Two Chinas! It’s Called Taiwan”

Before we move forward, let’s just clear up this misconception: there aren’t two Chinas. There’s only one. Its name is the People’s Republic of China. The other country that people so often confuse is called Taiwan, despite its official name. Ask any Taiwanese person and they can tell you that Taiwan is a country with a very diverse history of dictatorship and bloodshed that got them that official name. The progress of liberal democracy stories in Taiwan are fascinating, millions of people are still struggling today trying to convince others for official independence. But calling it a second China is entirely inaccurate. It’s like calling the United States a second Canada.

We get it. Not everyone reads up on the country they’re about to visit. Sometimes, you just don’t have time to Wikipedia it. That’s fine. But, is it fair to make things up about the country? To completely rewrite its history when you tell your friends and family about your travels or when you write about it? It’s best to approach a country with an open mind than to assume something wholly incorrect about it.

The fact is, if you’re not from the country and you are merely visiting, you probably know something about it, but not everything. You probably like certain things about that country and dislike other things. You probably wish your own home country also had enter really cool thing here. But, what still remains is, you’re a visitor there and that means:

“I’m Not a Tourist, I’m a Traveler”

doesn’t really apply. If you travel, you’re a tourist. Sure, you may not join tour groups on your travels. You may dislike any kind of traveling that resembles “all-inclusive” or “package.” You may hate being stuck in or around a massive swarm of tour groups who are loud, rude and are totally in the way of whatever landmark you’re admiring. We’ve also found ourselves either speeding up to surpass tour groups or slowing down so that we don’t have to interact with them in some way.

But, do you think anyone in whatever country you’re visiting cares about your definition of a traveler versus a tourist? Anyone who goes to Hollywood and Highland in our hometown of Los Angeles is a tourist to us. Anyone who tries to “go off the beaten path” when they travel to Los Angeles is a tourist to us. Anyone who’s visiting Los Angeles is a tourist to us. Yes, you may be visiting Los Angeles as the most professional traveler in the world, but the City of Los Angeles and its residents would still like to thank you for your tourism dollars.

Your traveling abilities may be a bit more refined than other travelers, but you’re still a tourist. You don’t have to embrace the label, just accept it for what it is. You’re really no more special or less special than that guy in the big tour group. You’re just you: a person with an open-mind and an open heart who’s willing to leave their comfort zone.

An open mind and an open heart. An open mind and an open heart.

Gripe much? Maybe. This is the face of a griper.

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3 responses

  • Well written article! Not what I expected given the title but I definitely agree with everything you said. Although hate to hear that I am still a tourist hehehe 😉

  • “The progress of liberal democracy stories in Taiwan are fascinating, millions of people are still struggling today trying to convince others for official independence. But calling it a second China is entirely inaccurate. It’s like calling the United States a second Canada.”

    This definitely struck a chord with me! I hate it when people assume that Taiwan & China are one and the same (but what happens more often is that people confuse Taiwan with Thailand…). And I agree with the traveller vs. the tourist dichotomy as you describe it–however, I always thought that the difference between traveller + tourist was (to me personally)–the length of the trip. If a friend said he’s going to be backpacking in Peru for 5 months, I’d call him a traveller. If someone is going on a week-long ‘greatest hits’ of Peru; or even if he’s just going there for a week, I’d call him a tourist. But I suppose I need to work out the kinks in my personal definition…anyway, great thoughts!

    By the way, I’ve just started a little blog about Taipei (highlighting all the ammaaazing things to do there!) if you’re interested in taking a look :) Always welcome to come again!

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