A few weeks ago in Taipei, a Taiwanese American friend and I had finished dinner and hailed a cab to take us back to her apartment. We told the driver in Mandarin where we wanted to go. Upon hearing our vaguely non-local accents, he asked us where we were from.
“Beijing? Shanghai? Hong Kong?”
No, we said. We’re from the United States.
“Ah. Overseas Chinese. You’re just like Jeremy Lin.”
He then told us that he thought we were mainlanders because “Mainlanders, Hong Kong people, ABCs. You all talk the same. I can’t tell the difference anymore.”
I do wonder how he would have reacted if we had said we were from China. Chinese tourists have created a terrible reputation for themselves lately. For example, a Chinese teenager scratched his name into an Egyptian temple. In North Korea, Chinese tourists are throwing candies at local children as if they were ducks in a pond. In Taiwan, their bad behavior is compounded by regulations stipulating that Mainlanders travel in large tour groups, making them stick out on the streets and in tourist attractions.
To be fair, Chinese tourists are likely no more rude than American tourists. Most of the complaints lodged against rude tourists stem from the visitors’ lack of foreign language ability and knowledge of and respect for other cultures. This is something that Chinese and Americans unfortunately share. I’d hypothesize that the novelty of their increasing presence just as China is beginning to assert itself on the world stage is breeding a sense of resentment and xenophobia in countries that are receiving them. (Taiwan, of course, has its own reasons to fear an influx of Chinese tourists, even as its tourism industry increasingly relies on their renminbi.)
How does the rise of the uncouth Chinese tourist affect other Asian people traveling around the West and other parts of the world where “all Asians look same”? Have any of you ever been confused for a Chinese tourist and treated rudely (or otherwise differently) as a result?