Around the World in Eighty Days

What a trip. England, Turkey, India, Africa, China, South Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia.

That’s not counting North America, where we hit Canada and Hawaii, trekked across western United States through the Midwest and Texas to the Eastern seaboard. We glimpsed Native American culture, the WASP world, New Zealand Maoris. We spoke with the daughter of a picture bride, a young Arab in North Africa, an American who chose life in an Indian ashram over the noise and ease of the States. We learned of the genocide of Armenians 100 years ago and the civil wars in Liberia, caught sight of the KKK.

flag-of-turkey_w725_h483I learned as much from the discussions as I did from the posts, more history than I did in a year of high school. I did not know “Tejanos are land-owning Mexicans who were farming and ranching before the Germans, Czechs, Irish, and Scottish settled in Texas. They speak with the same drawl the Caucasians do, but still get treated like border crossing migrants.” Mark, our American Gypsy, taught us so much.

Seems race is often the color others paint of us. Paul, not a blogger but a wonderful reader and writer, said to Sreejit, American in India:

flag-of-india_w725_h484I found it delightful that in America you are black and in India you are white. That is amazing and completely counter to conventional wisdom. It reminds me of an interview I watched with Barak Obama and his wife Michele before he was elected to the first term. The interviewer asked Barak what his response was to those who said he wasn’t really black, as one of his parents was white. Michelle jumped in and said he was black and if they needed any proof all they had to do was watch when Barak tried to wave down a taxi on a street curb. If there was a white man farther down the block, the taxi would go right past Barak and pick up the white man. That put an end to race questions. Michele is a lawyer and it shows: she picked an example that clearly showed that discrimination determined race.

White people in America told Sreejit he was white, blacks insisted he was black. And he wasn’t the only blogger on this journey to have been told what he was.

I said to Sreejit: That is something – plain funny and sad – how people kept imposing their own background on you. Projection? I’ve always said we see what we want to see. And you were chameleon enough, with enough black and enough white for others to pull you to themselves in the attempt to categorize you.

We see what we want to. Why? We fear what is OTHER. We fear the unfamiliar. It made them feel more comfortable to be able to identify with Sreejit.flag-of-australia_w725_h363

Julie, whose contribution did not make it into the race, shared some thoughts as an adoptive parent:

My husband and I are Caucasian; we adopted our daughter from China when she was ten months old. We are a mixed-raced family. This fact is both irrelevant on a day-to-day basis, and the thing that defines us. A while back, I read an article about a person who got in trouble for saying that she had forgotten that her adopted Chinese daughter was Chinese. I think what she was trying to say was that she simply thought of (let’s call her) Ann as “Ann.” Her “foreignness” was removed by familiarity, and she had for all intents and purposes blended into mainstream white America. Just an ordinary child, her child. And this is what offended people, the very denying of her ethnicity, the removal of her birthright of Chinese heritage and culture.

And while I don’t feel particularly inclined to join in the condemnation, I must say that I never forget that my daughter is Chinese, for that is part of her very essence. What I often forget is that there is anything out of the ordinary for a young Chinese girl to be parented by middle-age white parents.flag-of-china_w725_h479

Ann’s mother obviously meant she did not see her girl as being other. What does it mean to belong in this situation? To be full-blooded Chinese and part of a white family? What I hear from this mom is a deep acceptance of a child that did away with any self-consciousness about color. The way I might talk with a dear friend and, while appreciating the wisdom she brings to our relationship, forget she is old enough to be my mother. Because it feels natural, like we were meant to be together. Can we just say what we feel about race? Of course we can. And of course we can’t. I am so glad we didn’t have to worry about being politically correct in this series. Navigator echoed sentiments Jenni and Elizabeth had expressed: “Perhaps there is an unconscious luxury of being white.” I found the point-blank confession refreshing.

Paul recently said to me, “When you started the Race series, you were obviously exploring asymmetry – how do we each create value in our lives given the different starting places and circumstances? Quite a few of the interviewees identified seeking commonness as the means of success. And yet if you looked deeper, they actually leveraged their unique personal circumstances to be successful.” Any thoughts? Many of our articulate writers felt race didn’t matter. flag-of-united-states-of-america_w725_h381I think it most certainly does but we need to clarify the not mattering. Race does not determine worth and should not affect opportunity. Sadly it does both these things in many places and where this happens, race should not matter. Can we instead take healthy pride in the culture of our lineage, and be neither overweening nor ashamed? My God made strawberries red and lemons yellow. And He delights in their color. Imagine strawberries looking to erase their ruby signature or trying hard not to be so red. Interestingly, every color of the farm fields and gardens offers its own irreplaceable nutrients. Why have I at times felt apologetic about being Korean? Why did I feel looking back at where I came from, talking about my past, would be a waste of your time – until you said otherwise? It was out of your response to my story that I gave myself permission to keep going with The Measure of a Woman. Remarkable that the immigrant tale would make its way up my Top 10, second only to my About which had over a year’s running start.

We had more than discussion and history lessons in our race around the world. There were personal history and conviction and fears. In my virtual travel around the globe, there wasn’t one tour guide of a contributor who has not opened these small Asian eyes. I’ve decided people who don’t travel or at least open themselves to cultures outside their own short themselves.

Sreejit put it well and sufficiently in reply to a comment: “I think the more we see of the world, the less we are stymied by race issues. But since most people don’t leave their own backyard, it is easy for stereotypes and prejudices to persist. Though I think the internet is also helping to break down the walls as well. The world is becoming a little smaller everyday.”flag-of-mauritania_w725_h483

I was nevertheless reminded in conversations with the Race participants who live in a far and different time zone just how grand our world is. Even instant email could not keep our long-distance exchange going at the pace I wanted. When I was up, my fellow writers were in bed. There is a sunrise every hour throughout this world. I am consumed by the affairs of my day but my light is someone’s darkness. We do well to grow a bigger heart.

71 thoughts on “Around the World in Eighty Days

  1. Incidentally, in relation to a writing 101 prompt, I was reading about ‘The Arrival’ by Shaun Tan.
    I found lot of relevance with what was being discussed here. Amazing to know how the participants have dealt with ‘occasional lack of belongingness’ & ‘comfort with familiarity’. Really an enriching endeavor, I must say. Thanks!

  2. You’re right race is important because it identifies us by where we came from, it just doesn’t identify us by where we go from there. It’s like you said, “And He delights in their color. Imagine strawberries looking to erase their ruby signature or trying hard not to be so red. Interestingly, every color of the farm fields and gardens offers its own irreplaceable nutrients.” That is a very profound statement, we don’t have to apologize for being the color we are or the race we are because it was in his perfect plan that we be exactly what we are and that’s good. Thanks for bringing this series home and taking the time to present it with care Diana. Blessings, peace, and love to you, Shazza.

  3. I was surprised (in a good way) to find myself being quoted in your post. Thank you Holistic Wayfarer for the honor. I loved your analogy of race and the garden. It is so true. And we even have jokes about the stupidity of comparing unlike vegetables/fruits: that’s comparing apples and oranges. And so it is with race – when we can decide what race is – each race has a unique contribution to make, just as each individual makes a unique contribution. Your series has certainly made that clear (to me) – underneath we all crave the same common goals including but not limited to: adding value, health, love, respect, collaboration, the right to pursue (or not) worship of our choice, and, of course, a home and food. And yet the myriad of ways this is done is a function of both race and individual – no two combinations the same.

    Thank you for your hard work and dedication HW in bringing this series to us. It has been an eye opener for me and I am sure others as well. Especially since I’m not likely at this point in my life to have personal experience of the myriad of races and perspectives, your series presentation has added a great deal of value to my world view. Oh, and thanks for your patience when I blabbered on in the comments. Keep up the great work.

    • “we even have jokes about the stupidity of comparing unlike vegetables/fruits: that’s comparing apples and oranges.” =) Right on, Paul.

      My turn to be a bit surprised, Paul, in hearing the series was an eye-opener for you, as I felt you added much more to it than you had taken away. You do bring up a point relevant to many of us. Though we have a lot of travel bloggers on WPress, I think the majority of us are tied to our mortgages and rent, and freewheeling travel isn’t quite viable. From this angle I can really see the good this project offered.


  4. Many 45 years ago I read a paper of American scientists. They made a questionaire. In it they placed 40 different nationalities and people everyone to choose what characteristics (there was a choice of 30 words) described each nationality the best way. Among 40 nationalities 4 were fictional. They got terrible descriptions (cruel, greedy, stupid, etc). People often fear unknown. On the other hand, today governments and parties use race as a tool to divide people and to get more power.

  5. Such a beautiful and thoughtful post. I guess it’s about denying stereotypes and untangling the inequalities, while giving all people space for identity?

    • I’m not sure the project was about denying stereotypes, as many of us saw these are often true. I just don’t see we have to stamp a value judgment on individuals or groups based on them. Love the giving people space for identity. =)

  6. Reading this made me think about how looks plays a BIG part in how others treat you. My friend, let’s call her Ann 😛 is black and in Thailand she was received well. No problems, and Thais revere white skin, okay. So this made me think about how Ann is stunning. She’s beautiful, friendly, great figure, too. She also learned to speak Thai fluently. I think to look at the race question is one thing, but it sure does help if you are easy on the eyes…doors open to you in ways us “ordinary” folks don’t usually experience.

    • There you go, Lani, keeping that door open again LOL!. You’re tempting me to segue into a new stream on looks and societal relationships when I have enough plans on the burner. =) Ann is certainly very interesting, given how Asians still don’t favor blacks. You said it well. Doors do open for the lookers – and close for some of the others. Neil Postman, in his incisive social commentary on the effects of TV on American culture and the mind, pointed out that JFK won the presidential debate against Nixon when TV came on the scene and the politics went on visual air.

      • Right. And Ronald Regan, the actor 😛 became one of our most popular presidents! My friend M got an apartment in NYC because the landlord took a shining to her. I remember her roommate telling me the story, I was not surprised – really, because she is one of those Asian-Caucasian mixes that looks so good!!!!

    • Hello James, it’s been a most enriching group journey, personal and broad. You sound pretty well traveled. It’s hard for me to wrap my head around places outside the US with such an old history.

  7. Sounds like a transformative trip for you and the writers who joined you on this voyage. You all went so in depth into matters that don’t get written about or talked about. Just goes to show that sometimes a word, such as race, can defy and be vaster than any dictionary definition can encompass. Congratulations, my friend.

    • The writers shared how revelatory it was to spell out experiences and feelings. Diahann, I really appreciate the affirmation of what we all did together in unpacking the word RACE. You’re just awesome.

  8. Very interesting post. Thank you for sharing it with us.
    “There is a sunrise every hour throughout this world. I am consumed by the affairs of my day but my light is someone’s darkness. We do well to grow a bigger heart.” Love it! 🙂

  9. Great article 🙂

    Its funny to me how different demographics talk and how they go about categorizing people. When I was living in the states, everyone tried to classify my race as Asian which is just like assuming everyone who speaks Spanish must be from Mexico.

    In America, quite frankly, its annoying that people are so into their stereotypes and say things that really have no depth or reasoning behind them.

    In Australia, people are actually polite about these things. They dont assume things as much and I’ve rarely been called just Asian in Australia. They ask before saying a remark that sounds ridiculously insensitive. Lol

    Its just something I noticed.

    Isnt it interesting to meet other people whilst travelling ?? ^^

  10. There are definitely some good thoughts here, particularly on the not-mattering. Race *should* not matter in terms of opportunity – but there’s still a lot of beauty in celebrating traditions and origins.

    Australia has been through a bit of a national discourse on this since the “assimilation” days, when it was thought that new immigrants should either leave their homes behind or go back there. Speaking as an immigrant, I think it’s practical that if you choose to move somewhere you should expect to make some changes, but this is where I like the Singaporean attitude that if a foreign idea has local merit they won’t refuse to take it on just because it’s foreign. And of course there’s lots of ways in which you should be allowed to celebrate your own heritage as you please!

    Interesting discussion around being black and at the same time white. I think that really says something important about race as a construct – as the way others see you.

    • “but there’s still a lot of beauty in celebrating traditions and origins.” Exactly what I was getting at. I guess I hadn’t spelled it out. Glad you did. =)

      And yes, many of the participants brought to light how race is often a construct. I was just reminding us not to throw the baby out with the bath water. Let’s acknowledge the intrinsic distinctions of race.

      You really should serve on a BOARD somewhere, political, if possible. You would help steer the ship clearly, cut through emotional, impassioned perspectives.

  11. I am not totally on topic, but your travelog inspired other thoughts in my mind. You might add one more stop to your list—a stop that causes profound questions in my mind.

    This brings to mind the cultural aspects of each nation. We have lived in Thailand and understand from our associations there that Thailand requires young men to give a set amount of time to studying in a monastery. Families are allowed to choose the time they study, so some are older and some are younger when they go there.

    Singapore requires one year of civil service from every young before he/she enters college and by that many have found rewarding careers.

    In days past the US required 2 years of military service from every male 18 years of age or over. Some chose to opt out by declaring they were conscientious objectors, but not many. Some opted to move to Canada where there was no required military service.

    Now comes the question: When it comes to training children, are we to think that childhood has no responsibilities–no hardships? If children do not learn responsibility in childhood, can they be as effective as adults? Is it always the parents’ responsibility to provide a carefree life?

    • South Korea still mandates army duty for its young men. That’s a beautiful post you sent me. I’ll be saying hello over there. The question you raise is one I have explored and reexplored on this blog, Beth. A question that continues to nip at me as a mother of a little one. This series, my first on this blog, found its way into a homeschool magz with a global readership last fall. Here’s a clip for you:

      • I see my great granddaughters (ages 1 and 2) so skillful with their mother’s iPhone, their daddy’s iPad and their grandfather’s computer. It scares me because there is a potential for “just the wrong click” and an introduction to what the child’s mind should not know or the possibility that a predator is lurking somewhere in the shadows.

        These children may be savvy when it comes to technology, but do they have what it takes to endure and survive life in the real world? Will they be able to mentally process real life issues?

        Neil Postman, a media scholar and one of the most astute social critics of our time in a scholarly book on education, explores the differences between the mental processes involved in reading and those involved in television viewing. Postman says that reading demands sustained concentration, whereas television promotes a very short attention span. Reading involves (and teaches) logical reasoning, whereas television involves (and teaches) purely emotional responses. Reading promotes continuity, the gradual accumulation of knowledge, and sustained exploration of ideas. Television, on the other hand, fosters fragmentation, anti-intellectualism, and immediate gratification.

        Postman does not criticize the content of television—the typical worries about “sex and violence” or the need for quality programming. Rather, the problem is in the properties of the form itself. Language is cognitive, appealing to the mind; images are affective, appealing to the emotions. Neil Postman, Teaching as a Conserving Activity, New York: Delacorte Press, 1979, 47-70.

  12. I wondered about my regular readers who skimmed parts of my profile that you did on race…I actually got a careful muted response from….regular white/Caucasian readers. Or no response. Either they couldn’t relate or were uncertain how to comment.

    I normally don’t write in my blog, much on racism and my personal experiences, perspective. However it is an area that clearly I have done volunteer work in fostering awareness and do have specific opinions.

    I have made passing mention when highlighting a historic place, artwork that points to racial conflict /cross-cultural/immigrant experiences.

    • Jean,

      I have occasionally read your posts as they appear in other settings. I meant to follow your blog since my husband is from Canada, but somehow lost you until now.

      I remember that every nationality has problems with receiving what is unknown to them. An unknown face, maybe a different shape of eye or different hair color and texture are what defines the “stranger,” but our friend from Thailand seems to have nailed the reason some are accepted while others are not. Even the Jews in Old Testament times had to have a law to force them to be kind to strangers, widows and the fatherless. When someone is deemed different, less fortunate or less beautiful, they will be discriminated against in any nation–even China and Africa.

      “Thus saith the Lord; Execute ye judgment and righteousness, and deliver the spoiled out of the hand of the oppressor:and do no wrong, do no violence to the stranger (foreigner), the fatherless, nor the widow, neither shed innocent blood in this place. 4 For if ye do this thing indeed, then shall there enter in by the gates of this house kings sitting upon the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, he, and his servants, and his people. 5 But if ye will not hear these words, I swear by myself, saith the Lord, that this house shall become a desolation” (Jer. 22:3-5).

      • An interesting angle on that Biblical injunction, Beth. The God of the Bible is the God of the fatherless and the unloved. But I hadn’t thought of it the way you present it. By the way, in case you missed it, Jean wrote “Part 13: Chinese-Canadian”) in the Race series.

    • You have so much to offer on the subject, Jean. So do you think you’ll speak more on race and culture where they’re relevant in the blogging? I would think them very relevant, esp for all the PLacEs to hit and photograph.

      • There are some blog posts which will have more stuff –I haven’t figured what and some of it gets intertwined with identity and discovery. But I may have to salvage this post that I wrote which gives the flavour of Vancouver as Canada’s Pacific Rim city:

        With my long standing Caucasian friends (We’ve known each other well over 25 years), I don’t discuss racism matters with them because we’re intent on sharing on other stuff since we don’t see each other often –living in different provinces with job moves causes that. But they know of the work I’ve done in the past and simply accept it as part of me. They listen to some of the highlights, they read my blog…:) That’s what I expect at minimum — listen to me, accept all of that wholly of me and as part of my identity, life experiences. And they do.

  13. Well done to you and all the writers and readers who contributed to this series. What a journey it has been. It opened my eyes even more to the issues of race all people have to deal with and helped me develop more sensitivity. Race isn’t some thing I think of consciously although I’m mostly surrounded by people with a different skin colour. Your series made me begin to reflect on why and what it means for me. Kudos again.

    • Thanks, Timi. “Race isn’t some thing I think of consciously although I’m mostly surrounded by people with a different skin colour.” Interesting. Been that way for much of my life, too.

      “Your series made me begin to reflect on why and what it means for me.”
      Precisely the intention. =)

      I’m so glad you got involved in your own way.


  14. Interesting thoughts on cross-cultural differences. The Obama example does highlight ethnocentric hang-ups very well. I guess globalization is gradually changing mindsets.
    Thanks for a lovely post. Cheers 🙂

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  16. Pingback: Around the World in Eighty Days | theladyonthelake's Blog

  17. Well written food for thought..
    There are cultural differences to be respected and understood.
    If you want respect you must give respect.
    Travel broadens ones outlook.
    I always remember a black man saying to me.
    “We all bleed the same colour.” _/\_

  18. Really liked this HW, Very interesting and brought ways of looknig at things that i never even thought of in to a deep conversation. I remember seeing a funny tshirt the once (and i think it is funny because non prejudiced or non “racist” people i believe can see the funny side and not take things to heart: It said something along the lines of, when you’re cold you’re blue, when tan, you’re brown, when you burn, you’re red and when you’re sick you go green… Now who you calling coloured?! 🙂

      • Your technical answer was more thought provoking than the tshirt i saw, but hey ho. If we stopped worrying about what others thought then we’d have more time to get on living with our own lives 🙂

  19. Greetings once again Diana, I was visiting your site (as I said I will) and l read this post. Your structure brings together clarity and the way it flowed kept the concept interesting. I’m not a writer per say, and my structure at times may seem like I’m a cynical person. My wife tends to help me with that, as I do the same on her writing. When certain things causes me to want to express my feelings, my mind is all over the place.

    Why I’m commenting on this post is because part of what you wrote reflects somewhat on what I posted (if you would read it) ; I was hoping to create dialog from my so called followers comments. I would like to know what you think, and is it too controversial for other readers?

    • I don’t see why it’s controversial. A nice way you overlapped the time metaphor into political consciousness. You happened to catch me when I’m battling a relapse of the flu so I’m not at my clearest. Just keep writing what fires or interests you — but always bear in mind that you want it to resonate with readers. You might want to fix the “where” (to “were”).

      how certain phrases where used to comment about negative events that had consequences because many people where rendered oblivious to the real facts.

      • Thank you Diana for the reply. I hope you are taking your Holistic supliments to get over your flu. As you commented on “where”. That is what I’m working on. I know where I’m going but getting the point across might not (as you said) resonate with readers. I’m ossociated with a old school mentality which renders me a little out of tuch with how people of today use social media. Think of me as a person of reason, with a super contentious attitude.

        Thanks for responding, I reached out to other bloggers of whom writes like they want to share their thoughts but don’t seem to care too much about helping anyone at the same time.

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