Don’t tell me about your trip to Southeast Asia

cw: white (sexual) imperialism

As a privileged software engineer at Google and Stanford University grad, I’ve become surrounded by other people similarly privileged enough to take nice, international trips, and it really does give me joy to see people enjoying the fruits of their labor; my friends are hard workers. But as a Vietnamese-Filipina operating within the apparatus of an industry and area known for “yellow fever,” hearing about friends’ trips to Asia can be harrowing. As friends have started working and Southeast Asia especially has come to the fore as an affordable destination, something that’s come to bother me time and time again is white friends bragging about how “cheap” their trips to Manila, Hanoi, etc. are.

To boast of cutting corners in countries where human beings depend on literal dollars, table scraps of your hourly income, to feed their families for entire weeks holds no repute for me. And to begrudge people whose cultures and languages you probably aren’t even going to take the time to learn, whose lands have been forcibly colonized by Western nations, and whose economies have been rendered codependent ever since, coerced into sectors the West now scoffs as “third-world” — sex tourism and agriculture — does not impress me. I really don’t think a lot of my peers see the entitlement in a white man who makes $100s/day at Facebook bragging about frugality at the expense of a Filipina living on cents. The eurocentrism simply amazes me. But what amazes me more is the perpetual warmth of Southeast Asian people, their eternal predisposition to smile despite having seen their lands and people toured, touched and tousled for centuries. “When you’re oppressed you’re not supposed to be happy, so smiling is a form of resistance.”

Clearly white imperialism, especially white sexual imperialism, is something that’s been weighing on my mind for a while now, something which feels not too far off from an industry that seems to have a professional appetite for white men (~88% male, ~70% white to be exact) and a long-talked-about sexual appetite for women of color. So in conclusion, I don’t want to hear about your trip to Southeast Asia. I don’t want to hear about your “dirt-cheap” trips to Mexico, India, or “Africa” either. (P.S. it’s really funny how the same people who will fault you for not knowing prosecco from champagne will homogenize an entire continent, but that’s a story for another day.)