Hong Kong & Macau Part 2 of 2: OI International Traveling

My parents used to always remind me how appreciative I should be about living in the US. People with disabilities in other countries aren't always afforded the same liberties and independence that many of us might take for granted. Activities that I don't think twice about: going to school, hanging out with friends, going out to the city, and medical care may not always be as easily attainable for disabled individuals in other countries; of course it depends on the country and, I think, in part on the culture as well. As an American tourist in Hong Kong and Macau for two weeks this different perspective had its ups and downs for me. 

I am too curious of a person to not want to experience things first hand. It doesn't matter what it is, if there is an opportunity my first response is "why not?" So with that attitude in mind I wanted to go everywhere and see as much as possible. My enthusiasm though was met with a ton of staring and gawking, the kind of eye contact that lasts a little too long for comfort between two strangers. Between two adults, or groups of them from young adult to the elderly. Never have I experienced this kind of ...thing... before. Their strange stunned stare was a mix of their curiosity, their sense of awe, wonderment, and a dash of confusion. In that part of Asia there were a lot of tour-guide led groups, many of them were from India, China, Korea, or Japan. The countless pairs of eyes that darted to me and away from whatever monument or statue they were supposed to look at was shocking to me: at times I felt like their staring meant I didn't belong there. As if they were silently telling me I didn't fit in with their culture, the environment, or their expectations. Suffice to say, I was confused by their confusion. 
Surely these people had seen a wheelchair before? I am always hearing about how in some countries in Asia the population of elderly is growing at a rapid pace - I knew that disabilities and assisted devices like wheelchairs, walkers, canes, and crutches existed in their worlds and communities. So what was wrong? What was with the slightly crude staring? 
And it wasn't just a slight glimpse or quickly meeting their eye-contact and then the other person would turn away. It was a stare, one that I would hold as I rolled along a few feet at a time. For the first few days this happened I would flinch a bit and then quickly look down at the floor or away, but still I would feel the intensity of their eyes on me. I was very uncomfortable and was exhausted by just the constant barrage of silent questioning I could sense. However by the end of the first week I decided to heck with them, I had flown to the other side of the world and could not afford to let awkward cultural differences get in the way of vacation time with my family. 
Maybe it's a cultural difference? Are people in the States more subtle about noticing differences than in other countries? (This was really the first vacation where I was consciously making an effort to be observant about this behavior..) Are Asians more blunt about things? My parents were both immigrants from the Eastern hemisphere, (one from Vietnam and the other from Hong Kong) and so I was raised within an Asian culture. I have to say that I think we are a little bit more blunt than Americans when it comes to personal differences. I have known Asian parents (including my own) to berate their kids for being too stupid, too fat, too slow, or anything that wasn't an accepted societal norm. (For those of you who have not heard of the Tiger Mom article, please refer to this). So is it because I am not seen as visibly 'perfect' and don't look 'normal' with my bowed arms, barrel rib cage, and large head that was the fodder for the staring? I don't know and because I was a guest in the country, and many of those who were staring were elders - I never confronted anyone. 

I know I wrote quite a bit about how uncomfortable the staring was for me, but this was really the only major hiccup. Whenever my manual wheelchair needed to be lifted into a store because it had one or two steps the employees were always very helpful and made no commotion about it. Or if we were eating at a particularly crowded restaurant staff made sure that my wheelchair had enough space to pull up to the table, and surprisingly (and unlike in the states) no one talked to me like I was a young child! 

If I could rate my experience traveling in Hong Kong & Macau I would rate it a 7.5/8 with 10 being the best experience and 1 being the worst. I had a lot of fun, I really appreciated the patience my family had when it came to managing accessibility logistics, and am glad that I got to travel at all! Once I get a minute to breathe I will upload more pics.. thanks for being patient!

Tips on International Traveling:

  • It's important to stay open minded. It's not just about the culture that you are visiting and absorbing, but be open to the impact you might have on that culture
  • Bring your most reliable and easily manageable wheelchair. (A manual wheelchair if possible!) Although having a manual wheelchair meant giving up some of my independence when it came to pushing myself around, I was able to see and experience more in it than if I had my heavier power wheelchair
  • Don't expect things to be done like you are used to, and never assume that they should be
  • Although you are in a foreign country, being in a wheelchair has some universal experiences: needing to sit down and therefore being at a lower level, and the need for elevators/lifts/ramps. I have found that people everywhere are aware of this and will try to meet these most basic accommodations 
  • Someone who needs help knows no barriers. A person needing help is a person needing help regardless of what language they speak, culture, or country you are in. Don't be afraid to ask for help
  • When booking ANY flight (whether domestic or international) don't worry too much about choosing seats. When you get to the gate and check-in, notify the person at the desk that you are in a wheelchair and they will always try to move your seat for you - usually closer to the front or to the restroom
  • Expect to board a plane earlier than other passengers, especially if you need the assistance of an aisle chair
  • Always stick with family and friends! 

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2 Responses to Hong Kong & Macau Part 2 of 2: OI International Traveling

  1. Hmmmm this is interesting to me. I do wish I knew why Asians tend to "stare" we frequently visit a nearby tourist town. On our last visit I noticed the Asians we encountered also STARED and just like you said they did not at all mind that I noticed them staring & the stare did not let up until we passed or were out of site. Clearly a cultural thing just wish I could pick their brain about the subject... just to know not to judge.

  2. Someday we'll find out, until then though let's just continue visiting! They've gotta let up at some pont :-) Thanks for the comment!


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