Traveling with a white guy sticks out more in Asia than in Europe. (Though I was yelled at a few times and called a puttana in Bologna while I was traveling with a white male friend.) Unfortunately, it’s still a (white) man’s world, especially in Asia.
In all of the South East Asian countries we’ve visited, I’ve been mistaken for a local. It’s a bit refreshing being in Sri Lanka, where no-one thinks I’m one of them so I don’t have to say ‘sorry, I don’t understand, I’m not Thai/Indonesian etc’. Though one thing that sticks out in Sri Lanka is that the men will always ask ‘Where (are you) from?’ But it’s always Artur they ask, they never ask me. They do assume I am Chinese though, which I find frustrating. One guy proceeded to argue that I have a Chinese face, after I told him that I am not Chinese. (I really dislike being mistaken for Chinese because my whole life I’ve had idiots just assume I am Chinese because I am Asian, and it’s like, come on, there are other Asian countries out there too, you know.) To be fair to the Sri Lankans though, there is a HUGE amount of Chinese people coming to their country. Really, I was shocked. Prior to coming here, Artur wondered how Sri Lankans would react to me because we didn’t really expect to see Asian tourists here. Well, they think I am Chinese.
Indonesia was a very good country to travel as an Asian girl with a white guy. I didn’t feel awkward at all, like I did in Cambodia and Thailand. I had some locals think I was from Java. When asked where I was from, I would always say ‘Vietnam’ since Australia has such a bad reputation in Bali and it can sometimes be confusing to people when I say ‘Australia’. ‘Oh but you have an Asian face’ is something I’ve heard many times and then had to explain, so it’s easier just to say ‘Vietnam’. Only the guy we rented snorkelling gear from on Gili Air picked up my accent and worked out I wasn’t ‘really’ from Vietnam.
Vietnam is the only Asian country so far where locals speak more to me than Artur. But of course this is only because I can speak Vietnamese and he can’t. No awkwardness or weird vibes here, mainly just women asking how long we’ve been married and if we have kids yet.
In Thailand, as expected, you see a lot of (older) white guys with (younger) Thai girls. It made me feel awkward a lot of the time. I think I got into the habit of speaking slightly louder around other tourists so they would hear my accent and know that I wasn’t paid for. Five or so years ago, when I was getting back from a gay nightclub with a good (white) male friend of mine, a cleaner at the hostel we were staying at thought I was a prostitute. She followed us into the room, pretended to clean the room (at 4am) and proceeded to ask me for my bed number.
Traveling Cambodia with Artur was awkward at times but overall not so bad as Thailand. We were once at a restaurant on the beach where there was a Cambodian lady sitting with two older white men at the table next to ours. She had her hands on one man’s balls and kept saying things like ‘I love money’. We then heard them organise their encounter for later that evening. A Cambodian policeman jokingly slapped me on the back because I couldn’t understand what he was saying to me in Khmer.
The Philippines was really uncomfortable in some places. I really hated Manila. Artur had arrived before me and checked into our hotel first. When I arrived and asked if I needed to give them my passport details, the staff seemed confused as they seemed to think I was ‘a companion’. We stayed in the middle of Malate and at night it really was just call girls everywhere. We had dinner at a street food restaurant and a prostitute came and sat with a bucket of beers at the table next to ours, waiting to be approached. A man came and we had to listen to their stupid small talk. Walking by all the girls at the doors of the bars, I felt like they probably hated me for taking a potential client away from them. Some small towns were just creepy. Too many old white dudes with young girls.