As I share my journey across the world, it is important to share my story and stand in my truth. My goal is to share all of my experiences- those that bring me joy and those that are a little different.
Sit back and buckle up while I take you on an adventure detailing my experience as a black woman traveling solo to Beijing, China. I had a fantastic time while there, but it was intense at times. My goal is to share my experience and provide tips so that you can handle yourself if you have an experience similar to mine.
As soon as I stepped out of the airport, the show began. Many people were staring at me and approaching me, asking for pictures. There were occasions when groups of people gathered around me to take pictures. For me, that was a bit too much. I am not an animal at a zoo. Some people would ask for pictures, while others simply started snapping photos. Some people acted as if they were taking pictures of something in my vicinity, but they were indeed trying to sneak and take a picture of me. Someone even handed me their baby, and wanted to take pictures of me while I held the baby.
How I Handled It
I was in Beijing for 72 hours, and I wanted to make the best of my time there, so I decided to handle it in a way that worked for me. I would also like to add that I am extroverted, and I love people, so the way I decided to handle it may be different from someone introverted, someone not as friendly, or someone that does not like taking pictures with strangers. If someone asked to take a picture, I decided to take the picture because, honestly, I do not mind, and I also used the picture for my personal collection. Of course, you never know where a picture will end up, but all of the photos were in good taste. If I noticed that people were starting to gather around me, I would walk in a different direction, or say no so that they knew I was not ok with the random off guard pictures. Many would either stop, apologize, and some would come up to me and ask for a photo with me. Others genuinely wanted to talk, so I engaged in the conversation because why not? I love to talk. One of the things I love most about travel is talking to other people and learning their stories.
I was at a restaurant eating breakfast, the restaurant was not crowded, so I was happy to eat in peace. Then the pictures started. As I was eating, people were taking pictures. I thought to myself, “I am going to be somewhere on the internet with my mouth wide open if they get their shot.” Most of them were sneaking and propping their phone on the table to get a good angle. I was so exhausted that I had no more energy left to object. I tried sitting in a different seat, but there was someone in each direction, taking pictures as well. I gave up!
The restaurant owner signaled my driver to come to him. They exchanged words and looked in my direction. “Oh, boy, here we go,” I thought to myself. The owner and my driver came back to my table, and the owner offered to move me to the right side of the restaurant so that I could eat in peace. I appreciated that he took notice and offered to move my seat so that I could finally eat in peace.
The Jewelry Store Encounter
I was in a jewelry store shopping. Most of the jewelry was not my style, but they had a few cute pieces, and I decided to look and possibly make a purchase if I saw something unique. I noticed that one of the sales associates, Gina, was following me very closely. If I took a step, she took a step. She was trailing me so close that I had to say something. The conversation went as follows:
“You don’t have to follow me, I am not going to steal. I have money to pay for whatever I want.” I said.
“I don’t think you’re going to steal, it’s your skin.”
“What about my skin?”
“It’s dark, you’re beautiful.”
“Well, thank you, so are you.”
“How old are you?”
“Well, how old are you?” I asked.
“You’re beautiful, you look really, really good.”
“You’re beautiful because you aren’t dark dark—.”
I stopped her.
“Even if I were darker, I would still be beautiful because we are beautiful in all complexions, whether we are closer to white, dark, or even darker than I am. We are still beautiful, and come in all different shades, and there is beauty in everyone,” I said, the confidence was evident in my voice.
She stated that she wanted her skin to be as white a possible because the whiter it was, the more beautiful she was. She explained the desire to have beautiful white skin comes from a long history. She was always taught that white skin symbolized power and equated to beauty. This belief dated back to the 1st dynasty, skin color determined social status, and that darker skin belonged to those of lower social status- farmers and slaves. In the Qing dynasty, elite women ofter wore white makeup.
Empress Dowager Cixi- The Dragon Lady
My conversation with Gina continued, and she showed me a picture of Empress Dowager Cixi hanging in the store. Dowager Cixi, also known as Dragon Lady, effectively ruled China during the late Qing dynasty for nearly five decades. She lead over 400 million Chinese and was larger than life. Her goal was to develop a cosmopolitan way of thinking and bring more western ideas to China.
As a female in a male-dominated court, she wanted to show that she was legitimate. She was admired and had a reputation for being very beautiful. She was indeed a force to be reckoned with and was known for her lavish spending. She covered her face with white makeup and used skin bleach to make her skin lighter. Her standard of beauty has been adopted, passed down through generations, and is still practiced today.
Gina had flawless skin, and I could tell that she took excellent care of it. She went on to share her skincare routine for flawless skin. She believed in taking care of her skin from the inside out. She practices healthy eating and drinks warm fluids like tea and water. She noted that Americans like cold water, but warm water is good for the body. She also stays out of the sun and covers herself if she is ever in the sun.
Overall, we had a great conversation. Sometimes you have to speak to people to learn their story. I am a very easy person to talk to, and I do not get offended easily. Is this a conversation that everyone could handle? Absolutely not!
Overall, I enjoyed my time in China, and outside of the constant picture request, the people were pleasant. I did not have any safety issues, and my 72 hours in Beijing was a success.
Here are my tips for any traveler that has an experience similar to mine when traveling abroad:
1. Understand that you are in a different county that has its own customs, norms, values, and social interactions may be a little different.
2. Stay calm, give strangers the benefit of doubt and understand that they are not coming from a place of malice, ignorance, or intentional disrespect.
3. If they are coming from a malice place, ask yourself, “Can I walk away, or do I want to end up on an episode of Locked Up Abroad?” I want to make it back home.
4. If you do not want to take pictures, it is ok to say no, and keep walking.
5. If you do not wish to engage in conversation, then I suggest not having a friendly disposition. It is ok to look serious and keep communication with others to a minimum.
6. Go with a friend or significant other that can support you, and keep you occupied so that you have little time to engage with others.
7. Do your research before traveling and understand that you can also stay home if you think it may be too much to deal with. I know many people that decided not to go to certain places after doing their research.
Please keep in mind- everyone will have a different experience- some travelers did not experience what I did, while others had experiences far worse. I urge everyone to do their research- news, current events, embassy, country-specific information, travel alerts, reviews, blogs, videos, and others’ experiences. Will I return to China? You will have to stay tuned to my journey around the world to find out.
**Disclaimer: Names have been changed.
Here is a must see video, short video, of my trip to Beijing China. You will get a kick out of some of the things that I caught while filming.
Have you been to China? Where in China did you go? What was your experience like? Is Beijing on your bucket list?