On May 16, a group of 15 UW-Stout students and professors, including myself, left the airport in Eau Claire and began our journey to Asia’s World City, Hong Kong, and later to what’s known as the Heart of Asia, Taiwan. The study abroad program, Travel Media Writing, was hosted by two university professors, Jerry Hui and Greg Schneider-Bateman.
The following post is the second of a three-part series of interviews with professors and students, along with my ideas, observations, feelings and reflections.
Sometimes you feel like a an unwanted stranger in a different country. Some places draw a clear line of separation between locals and visitors. Jerry Hui inspired my change in perspective, allowing me to see past the tunnel vision of my very American eyes.
Hui referred to this as “the raw side of things.” To be in a country that is not your home can be difficult on many levels. There are language, cultural and historical differences. Transportation, dining and bathroom etiquette is not the same as it is in Wisconsin. Of course, our looks always scream “DIFFERENT!” We are simply learning as we go through first-hand experience.
However, we couldn’t fully understand what we saw, because we were viewing life in Asia as travelers. It took a conversation with a native to consider a more accurate interpretation of culture. Well, of “their” culture. Hui could see practical impatience, and a hardened attitude shown by Hong Kong locals. In a way, they were allowing us to see what they wanted us to see, a utopian world of friendly, welcoming neighbors. However, like any other country, happiness is impermanent.
Then we arrived in Taiwan, a country Hui was not too entirely familiar with.
“I too was a guest and it was very clear to (Taiwanese natives), especially once I started speaking,” added Hui. Although Hui speaks Mandarin and was born into an Asian culture, Taiwan’s culture is unique and sets the island apart from other Chinese-speaking societies in the region.
According to Hui, the feeling of being a guest has not faded. However, there are areas where Hui can feel at home, even a few places here in the United States, as he chuckled saying “…China town.”
Separation seems inescapable when introducing yourself to another culture. After traveling from place to place within Asia, Hui would stumble upon more nontraditional hotspots in Hong Kong. In one case, he walked into a more American-influenced restaurant where there were more white faces than you would normally see in a day walking the streets of Asia.
“I almost could immediately feel the same kind of attitude that you cannot put a name to. It’s not so strong to point racism, but there is that unspoken attitude that you are the sore thumb in the room,” Hui said.
When he left, far enough away to be sucked back into more traditional areas, the feeling dissipated.
By Shannon Hoyt, UW-Stout PCEM major