Day One (June 11, 2015)
On the first day we arrived at a hostel near Oxford Street, where we did some shopping. I felt a little bit at home when I recognized many of the clothing stores. There is something oddly comforting about seeing all the familiar shops, like Zara and Forever 21, in an otherwise unfamiliar environment. Of course, the architecture and aesthetic was absolutely beautiful. I could tell that many of buildings were intended to blend in with the existing, original architecture. Afterwards, we went to the Ye Olde Mitre, a historic pub. This was our first experience going to a pub in London. Although it’s a popular tourist destination, my friend and I definitely stood out not only because we were Asian but because we were women. Perhaps it was just a coincidence, but that day the pub was predominantly male.
On day two of our London adventure, we explored the area around Leicester Square and bought tickets to see the Jersey Boys. I was very surprised to find a Shake Shack in the Covent Garden Market, which was mostly surrounded by distinctly English things such as Whittard and Miller Harris. My friend, who had studied on the East coast, wanted to relive her nostalgic times with Shake Shack, so we ended up eating there. Afterwards, we went on a Warner Bros. Studio Tour for the making of Harry Potter in Leavseden- which was absolutely amazing. Of course, I had to buy an overpriced ravenclaw pen- no regrets there.
While on the way to dinner somebody shouted “konnichiwa” at me. It was so rude on so many different levels. I guess being a tourist in Europe means you can expect people to shout out stereotypical Asian phrases at you and then assume that you will interpret it as a form of English hospitality.
On the third day in London, we went to the amazing British Museum. If you’re ever in London, make sure to check it out. Then we did some exploring in the Parliament Square and the Trafalgar Square area, where I braved the uncomfortable task of heaving myself aboard the lion monument for a picture. One thing I love about London is how we are allowed to drink outdoors. It wouldn’t hurt if Canada took some notes.
For the final day in London, I went out alone to get breakfast while my friend was still asleep. The people working at the family-run café I was at could not stop pestering me with questions. “Where are you from? You look so different from everyone else. We have never seen someone quite like you before,” said one of the women. Unlike the many others who have approached me in London about my ethnicity, these people were not as rude so I was somewhat more responsive. For the last destination spot, we went to the National Gallery where we saw Van Gogh’s famous sunflowers among other amazing works.
London is far more homogeneous in terms of ethnicity than Vancouver, which would probably explain the lack of proper tourist-local etiquette that I am used to back home. Travelling to the other side of the world has made me not only acknowledge but also appreciate the multicultural values we often take for granted in Canada.
Thoughts & Reflections
Overall, the city itself was gorgeous and full of character but I found many people quite abrupt and almost a little bit rude. This isn’t entirely surprising given that it’s a big, fast-paced city where people don’t necessarily have time for others. Something Vancouver also has a reputation for. Unfortunately, when we arrived, the heat wave was just finishing and we ended up experiencing some pretty chilly London weather. Assuming that it would be warm in Europe, I didn’t pack any sweaters and definitely ended up paying for my lack of forethought.
Throughout my time in London, I noticed that I was constantly getting a lot of looks and unwarranted attention. Most likely because I look completely different than most of the people there, with me being Asian and all. People were able to easily tell that I was a tourist and that made them treat me differently. Sometimes it wasn’t too bad, with people just asking me where I was from but other times I would be aggressively approached by people who would comment on my looks and then demand that I go out with them. Of course, this made me quite uncomfortable at times and I actually felt like I had to try to make myself blend in to avoid anymore of such interactions. My efforts were, however, relatively unsuccessful – I definitely exude the air of a tourist. Not many people, however, believed that I was from Hong Kong. They thought I was some other more “exotic” East Asian ethnicity. This contrasts the treatment of Asians in Vancouver greatly and goes to show how ethnic minorities are viewed differently from another cultural perspective.
Now for my next stop, Paris!