Why asking Asian people to fund your travels abroad is wrong
20 Jul 2016
Last week, while out running errands, my partner and I came across the picture above
For some context, we live in Hong Kong — I’m South Asian and have lived here since I was eight, and my partner is native to this city. Upon seeing this, we were both completely grossed out, but not at all surprised. Unfortunately, Hong Kong has a pretty solid population of entitled white tourists and obnoxious white residents.
Outside of the specific context of Hong Kong, I want to note that white people demanding money from people of colour to support their whimsical journeys of self discovery (though they will completely lack any reflection on their whiteness and the privileges that come with it) is appalling no matter where it takes place. But in this article, I want to go into why the notion of “travelling around Asia” and asking for funds for it in Hong Kong, specifically, is fucked up. And it has a great deal to do with colonialism.
Hong Kong’s own fairly recent history with Colonialism is very painful. The British occupation of this area, which went on from 1841 to 1997 (though Hong Kong was also briefly occupied by Japan during WW2), involved wars, segregation, and the exploitation of local people in various forms, including a forced market of opium addiction. The west, colonialism, and white supremacy have already taken from this place. For a white person, whether or not they be British, to be asking for FREE MONEY here is insensitive and deplorable.
The clueless entitlement of this kind of behaviour takes on another dark meaning when you take into account wealth and poverty in Hong Kong. In 2015, Hong Kong ranked third in world for the largest wealth gap as a nation. According to a local food bank, Feeding Hong Kong, one in five people in the city live in poverty, 40% of the population lives in subsidised housing, and 100,000 people in coffin homes, cage homes, and on rooftops.
This traveller and his sign were located in a fast paced business district here called Wan Chai — he knew where to find the rich and access their wealth. But if wealthy people in Hong Kong want to give away money, there are clearly more deserving people it could be going to. For this person to be taking up space and funds that could be going to those who live here, who do not have the luxury of travelling for kicks, who could put the kind of donations he’s asking for towards feeding or sheltering themselves and their families, is deplorable.
So white tourists, if you’re going to come here to fulfil your Orientalist fantasies, or to “discover” Asian cultures, at least do it on your own dime. Check your entitlement at immigration and don’t lay claim to space and resources that aren’t, weren’t, and never will be yours.