While travelling within Vietnam and Laos in locations where there are few Caucasians mixed in with the locals, I felt like I was on display. While walking or cycling, I could feel their eyes following and staring at me as if I had come from another planet. At first I thought of it as a novelty and enjoyed the attention. But after a few weeks, I noticed that I became a bit impatient and I would mutter under my breath that perhaps they should just knock it off. Sure - I looked at them but I didn't stare!
Whenever I started to get bothered by it, I would stare right back at the person but their expression did not change. I then realized that here are 2 people from different countries on this small world of ours looking at each other with no verbal or facial recognition for each other. I then started a different approach - I started to smile and a majority of the time, the person would smile back and then we became friendly, non-verbal world neighbours.
When cycling throughout the country side, a majority of the children and adults in the fields and villages could not speak English but they would yell "Hello!"and wave to me. I would yell "Hello!" back and they would all giggle and smile.
If they didn't say "Hello" but rather just stared at me, I would yell "Hello", wave and smile. They would respond with a "Hello" along with a big smile and laughter.
And then one day, it hit me - I do the same thing the locals do when I see a Caucasian person walk or ride by me. I stare at them! Why? Because they are different looking from the greater population around me.
I would then start to analyze them and ask myself: "Where are they going? Where are they from? Are they from Europe? Are they from my own country of Canada?"
On two occasions during this trip, I was the one being analyzed by a traveller. The first man asked me if I was from Canada. I replied yes and asked him why he asked. He replied that he saw the "MEC" logo (Mountain Equipment Co-op) on my t-shirt as he was from Victoria, British Columbia. We had a nice chat and exchanged our travel experiences.
The second traveller asked me the same thing as he also noticed the MEC logo. I found out that he was from Toronto, Ontario and we talked as if we had been long-time neighbours.
I am tempted to write to the Canadian Government to have them consider changing our national icon - the Maple Leaf and instead, use the MEC logo.
Have I learned a lesson from this trip about interacting with people in their native country? Yes - and that is to relax, allow them to look at me if they wish, have me say "Hello" and keep on smiling. And ... look for that MEC logo.