What Travelling in Asia Will Do to You

Thank you so much for your love and care.

I didn’t know if I was ready to tell everyone yet, but if anything, saying it on my blog to so many people has helped me accept it. And I never want to say something like this as an announcement. We are not announcement type of people; have never been and never will be.

Okay, so I am trying to write. I am trying to think of a funny story to tell you, or maybe an idea about music. It’s surprisingly hard — I can remember the last time I laughed, and believe me when I say that I used to laugh a lot. There is the sarcastic laugh, the cynical laugh, the awkward laugh, and of course, the happy laugh.

You know how when millennials used to declare they were lost in life, they would apply to law school? Well, Asia is the new law degree. The less familiar you are with Asian culture, the more you will lose yourself, and conversely, the better you will learn to find yourself.

While everyone is rah-rah about travel, there are things that many overlook when embarking on a journey across the world. So let me tell you about Asia, as I have recently returned from four months of travel.

Here is what travelling in Asia will do to you.

What travelling in Asia will do for you

It will validate you. When I was 8, I attended Chinese school five days a week in Chinatown, right after public school. So I was in school from 9 – 6pm. One Chinese teacher wielded a bamboo stick for the bad kids.

I learned a lot by reading subtitles on TV shows. I can tell you it’s a great way to learn a language without doing the research, but make sure the subtitles are in the same language as the dialogue. You don’t want to count on a translator’s grammar.

You can do the same thing with music — follow the score with your finger as you listen, and the nuances in each interpretation might surprise you. I was following a score once and the pianist skipped an entire section in a prelude (skimming through the comments, no one had noticed) and I felt like Mario in a video game, racking up secret jewels behind the wall.

Chinese school was in the heart of Chinatown and so there were lanterns and lion dances and tiny markets. Few people outside of these circles spoke of these festivities and in school we studied Chinese New Year as an event; there was mid-autumn festivals and assorted wraps that my grandma made on the island. I didn’t have many Chinese friends beyond grade school.

These shrinking crevices in my life were embarrassingly Chinese and I didn’t know what to do with them. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the food and culture in the moment, and I was the speediest dumpling-maker, but that wasn’t “normal” or mainstream in the society I was in. So for years I’d try to pretend it didn’t exist outside of family.

It was the opposite with piano, where everyone was comparing exams and competitions.

It was a piece of my life that was never ‘mainstream.’ Now that I think back, to be thrown into a place where everyone was acting more Asian than I ever was, so fresh-off-the-boat that they aren’t even on the boat yet, I was living a dream.

If you’ve never experienced Asian culture, you might find yourself adopting a new way of thinking.

What Travelling in Asia Does to You

What Travelling in Asia Does to You

You will be baffled by how people lead their lives. You might rethink what it means to be happy and fulfilled, because you realize that someone out there would be thrilled to stand where you are, even at your lowest point.

People will be working their entire lives at the fruits market in Malaysia. Or striving to toil 7 days a week in an office building in Hong Kong, doing paperwork to answer a boss who holds their life on a leash. Or making a living by scouting girls who are too drunk at the club to notice them stealing their phones and wallets. Or not being able to speak their minds because they are a girl or because their culture forbids it, or both. Or never being able to see outside of their country because they don’t have a visa.

I couldn’t fathom doing these dead-end activities for a year, let alone the rest of my life. But, when you have never known anything else and your family is going hungry, you will do whatever is in your power.

It is not my place to pity people; I travel to observe. Still, I can count on one hand the people I pity.

The fresh grad name-dropping his paperwork job in Hong Kong, expecting to become the life of the party. Honey, if money is the only thing that makes you attractive, you need to fix your life. And your attitude.

The dainty girl whose sole goal in school, or at work, is to marry a rich man. This is wrong on so many levels; I have met so many Chinese and local Hong Kong girls who quietly slather on beauty products and speak in falsetto (when they happen to speak).

What Travelling in Asia Does to You

What Travelling in Asia Does to You

When the local girls didn’t want me to teach English, they wanted to be around me like I exuded fairy dust.

A group of expats and exchange students were getting to know each other in Hong Kong, and this is not surprising, but we were joking around and someone said to me, “In Canada you are kind of Asian, and in Hong Kong you are kind of Canadian, and you fit in nowhere so you are confused.” I suppose I deserved that, because I make friends by sassing everyone.

I think this goes for many people out there who live in in a mix of cultures.

The waiter marks my going away dinner as a party of foreigners. The security lady for the building who keeps track of gossip says I am the Canadian girl who brings in foreign guys.

I decide that I am really on a journey to figure out who I am.

Photos: Cover – Island off Hong Kong; 1. Hong Kong, 2. Hong Kong – Mid-Autumn Festival; 3. Our stay in Malaysia; 4. Sailing along the Borneo in Malaysia 

Thank you Nadia L. for designing the cover image.


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  • Reply Marla February 23, 2016 at 7:58 pm

    Grace, you are so right about not being one thing or another. My husband lived the first 4 years of his life in Germany, then moved to the US. He always felt like the odd man out because of the language issue and how you felt keeping the foreign part of you with family and the other part with everyone else. Then our family traveled to visit his family in Germany. He fit right in, spoke the language with no trace of an American accent, and we traveled all over Germany, with him able to converse with anyone. He was a different person, not having to hide his heritage to fit in. It was fascinating to see how comfortable he was there, while my pathetic high school German got me nowhere. It definitely changed how the kids and I saw him.

    • Reply Grace Lam February 24, 2016 at 10:31 am

      That is interesting! Age four is quite young and most people assume kids would just pick up a language. It’s often much more than language we are dealing with.

  • Reply Mike February 23, 2016 at 11:20 pm

    That clip of you playing is really nice; I wish there were more! Who wrote the piece? It’s very simple and elegant… and very pretty!

    • Reply Grace Lam February 24, 2016 at 10:29 am

      Thanks, Mike! It’s an older piece by Yiruma – one of my longtime favourites. I’m thinking of filming more videos. :)

  • Reply Whitney H. February 26, 2016 at 7:25 am

    I spent the 6 years of my childhood in Japan, learned so much about my ancestry from there and then grew up the rest of my life as an American. Wish I could get back there and learn more about all of Asia! What a wonderful trip for you.

    • Reply Grace Lam March 2, 2016 at 7:37 pm

      I’d love to go back and visit Japan. It sounds like you’ve gotten the best from different worlds.

    What do you think?