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I'm Asian American. Here's how the pandemic changed how I view travel.

July 29, 2021
7 min read
I'm Asian American. Here's how the pandemic changed how I view travel.
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"Ni hao."

"Konnichi wa."

These are Chinese and Japanese greetings that I expect to hear while traveling abroad. Not that these phrases are anything bad on their own.

But I've come to realize that sometimes, a "hello" isn't simply a hello.

Often, it's accompanied by a smirk and a contrived accent. With one single phrase, it blurs distinct East Asian cultures into an indistinguishable monolith. It assumes that I, as a person of Asian descent, may not speak English. After all, Asian Americans are seen as perpetual foreigners.

Other times, it's no words at all. An impenetrable stare lingers long after one's eyes have moved on. As an Asian American who frequently travels abroad, I have come to tolerate -- and in fact, expect -- microaggressions such as these.

Hear it, brush it off and move on.

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But something changed late last year that made me more deeply consider my Asian identity, especially as it relates to travel.

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The wave of hate and violence that rattled the Asian American Pacific Islander community also unnerved me too. It was the direct result of anti-Asian rhetoric associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

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A post shared by Chris Dong (@thechrisflyer)

It made me more deeply ponder an element of travel that I took for granted for far, far too long: my own safety.

In late February, I had a staycation at Hotel 50 Bowery in New York City's Chinatown neighborhood. It was an area of town that I've come to embrace as a home away from home.

I wandered the deserted streets near Canal and Bowery in the evening with another friend, also of Asian descent. Typically, the vibrant Chinatown sidewalks would be crowded with hawkers and food vendors, filling the air with shrill, yet familiar sounds and tantalizing scents.

But the pandemic's devastating effect on the area's businesses -- coupled with the brisk winter cold -- created a more desolate atmosphere.

It was only after we got back to the hotel that I learned an Asian man -- not much older than myself -- was attacked in a hate crime 24 hours earlier at the exact spot where I carelessly frolicked.

(Photo by Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Related: How to support Asian and Asian American communities at home and on the road

It wasn't just an isolated incident. According to statistics from Stop AAPI Hate, there were 6,603 reports of anti-Asian hate from March 19, 2020, to March 31, 2021. But sometimes, it's one particular event that triggers an avalanche of emotions. For me, this was that one event.

Fast forward to this summer.

I recently traveled to Portugal to cover the country's reopening, my first major international trip in many months.

In the weeks following that particular incident in Chinatown, I began to realize how important travel was in feeling empowered. Travel not only fed my soul, but it also opened my eyes to the stories -- and the people behind those stories -- that help make the world a much less scary place.

However, in practical terms during this trip, I was more hyperaware of my surroundings -- and people's intentions -- than ever before. The increase in crimes against Asians instilled a newfound sense of "stranger danger."

My flight to Portugal. (Photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy)

Related: Testing in Portugal: My experience getting a COVID-19 test to return to the US

Asians are culturally conditioned to withhold. But after the incidents of this past year, I told myself I'd speak up more and ensure that my voice was heard when I felt like it needed to be.

So when several people asked me about my experience traveling as an Asian American in Portugal, I felt like now was the time to share a small glimpse into my own story.

Their question was some variation of this:

[pullquote]How does it feel to be Asian and traveling internationally now in the COVID-19 era?[/pullquote]

At the end of the day, I can only speak for myself and my own experiences, both learned and unlearned. On one hand, there is lingering fear and distrust. My parents always warned me to be cautious of others -- and that upbringing isn't easy to break down.

But on the other hand, the pandemic also instilled in me something surprising. It's a feeling that I can't quite pinpoint exactly.

It goes something like this: There is a certain sense of gratitude for being able to traverse the world and slowly break down the hate and intolerance that others have built up.

And after the events of the past year, I am empowered more than ever before to show that Asians have a voice that can't be taken away, wherever in the world I might be. That was the case in Portugal, and wherever I may be going next.

Travel runs deep in my veins, and I'll continue to use it as my method to uplift my community, those around me and myself.

Related: When will international travel return? A country-by-country guide to coronavirus recovery

Featured image by Photo courtesy of Florian Wehde/Unsplash.
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Cons

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  • Difficulty meeting $15,000 welcome offer for smaller businesses
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  • The Points Guy Exclusive Offer: Earn 150,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Platinum Card® within the first 3 months of Card Membership.
  • Get 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com, and 1X points for each dollar you spend on eligible purchases.
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TPG Exclusive Offer
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TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

5XGet 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com
1.5XEarn 1.5X points on eligible purchases at US construction material & hardware suppliers, electronic goods retailers and software & cloud system providers, and shipping providers, as well as on purchases of $5,000 or more everywhere else, on up to $2 million of these purchases per calendar year
1X1X points for each dollar you spend on eligible purchases.
  • Intro Offer
    The Points Guy Exclusive Offer: Earn 150,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Platinum Card® within the first 3 months of Card Membership.

    Earn 150,000 points
    120,000 points
  • Annual Fee

    $695
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Good, Excellent

Why We Chose It

It's hard to find a card that competes with the mile-long list of benefits that come with the Amex Business Platinum. While it's certainly not the card for the average consumer, a business owner with tons of expenses -- especially related to travel -- will find this card incredibly valuable. This card is similar to the consumer version that Amex offers, but with more business-oriented perks around statement credits and earning rates that are a better fit for business owners.

Pros

  • An up to $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee every four to five years
  • Up to $400 annual credit for eligible U.S. Dell purchases (enrollment required)
  • Gold status at Marriott and Hilton hotels (enrollment required)
  • Access to the Fine Hotels & Resorts program and Hotel Collection
  • Extended warranty protection
  • International Airline Program and Cruise Privileges Program

Cons

  • Steep annual fee
  • Difficulty meeting $15,000 welcome offer for smaller businesses
  • Limited high-bonus categories outside of travel
  • The Points Guy Exclusive Offer: Earn 150,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Platinum Card® within the first 3 months of Card Membership.
  • Get 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com, and 1X points for each dollar you spend on eligible purchases.
  • Earn 1.5X points (that’s an extra half point per dollar) on eligible purchases at US construction material & hardware suppliers, electronic goods retailers and software & cloud system providers, and shipping providers, as well as on purchases of $5,000 or more everywhere else, on up to $2 million of these purchases per calendar year.
  • Unlock over $1,000 in annual statement credits on a curation of business purchases, including select purchases made with Dell Technologies, Indeed, Adobe, and U.S. wireless service providers.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit: Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year for checked baggage fees, lounge day passes, and more at one selected airline.
  • $189 CLEAR® Credit: Use your Card and get up to $189 back per year on your CLEAR® membership. CLEAR® is available at more than 50 U.S. airports and stadiums.
  • The American Express Global Lounge Collection® can provide an escape at the airport. With more than 1,400 airport lounges across 140 countries and counting, you have more lounge location options than any other credit card on the market as of 9/2021.
  • $695 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.