My goal is not only consist of exploring around the world for sightseeings, licking my fingers off after meals and learning more about other cultures. Through traveling, I want to explore and learn more about my Deaf culture across countries.
After meeting Deaf people in different countries during my backpacking trip in 2014, it opened up a whole new perspective. Deaf culture is no different across the world, no matter where you are. We also all share the same perks and struggles as a Deaf person. We all are going through oppression, such as what the society tells us what we cannot do.
Many of us also share many positive meanings as a Deaf person. We often are proud of who we are and know that we are capable of doing many things. The only difference between Deaf and Hard of Hearing and Hearing people is hearing.
With many positive meanings, we share same deep experiences: finding our Deaf identity, understanding ourselves, facing and overcoming oppression and more.
That is we called,
“The true success of Deafhood is when Deaf people feel “at home” with being Deaf and find a commonality with other Deaf people in their visual orientation and use of Sign Language.” –Deafhood Foundation
Even though I’m Deaf myself, meeting different people still open up a new world for me, enriching knowledge as I learn more about their lives in their country.
Not every country have the same accessibility or perspective on Deaf and Hard of Hearing community, they often vary by their other culture(s) and the society that they live in.
Last summer, I traveled with a friend for two weeks to South Korea and Hong Kong:
Heading back to South Korea where I have left my heart at, I was smiling ear to ear when I saw Seoul once again. I arrived around 11pm, and I just dropped off my backpack and started exploring around at night,
nope, I couldn’t wait.
Everything was lively and vibrant, just as I remembered. Musicians were singing on the streets, the smell of delicious food was making my mouth water. I felt as if I had never left South Korea, as if time stood still.
Prior heading back to Korea, I contacted my Deaf Korean friend, JY, whom I met in the summer 2014 and had kept in touch with her ever since. I was really excited to see her again, and she introduced me to her friend via KaKao Talk (a free text messaging app that is popular in Korea) since she wasn’t available on my first two days in South Korea.
So, I met this guy named KHM nearby the Olympic Park. I first assumed that he only knew Korean Sign Language (KSL), but it turned out that he also know International Sign (IS)! Because of him, I had the opportunity to learn more about Korean Culture and IS. In fact, because of him, it was my first time seeing International Sign Language (what IS? Explained here). I was in awe how much I actually understand him, and I kept wondering if he was signing KSL or IS so that I can distinguish the difference and learn both.
“How did you learned IS?” I signed to him in American Sign Language (ASL). “I traveled in Europe and met many different Deaf people, so I learned a lot from them.” he replied happily.
KHM was a very generous person, kindly took my friend and I to the DMZ and other attractions during his free time after work. He laughed how much questions I ask him about the deaf community in South Korea and Korean culture, “more questions?” he smiled.
Because of KHM and JY, I was introduced to more new friends. Another guy, name SP, whom I met, I was very impressed with him, because regardless of being Deaf/Hard of Hearing, he’s a musician. He plays electric guitar and participates in a band. Furthermore, he seemed to only to start discovering his Deaf identity and started learning KSL last year! I praised for his accomplishment and praised how he was learning both KSL and American Sign Language (ASL) at the same time which can be tough, because both are very different!
Meeting more new Deaf friends led me to meeting so much more, haha. As you can see here:
All of them knows KSL, a little ASL, and only KHM (who is sitting next to me) knows all three (including IS). Although I was sometimes a little lost in conversation, I can understand some things they were saying. We were all sharing about our life and teased each other.
KHM asked me, “Where are you planning to go next?”
“Hong Kong!” I told him excitedly.
“Oh, I know a friend in Hong Kong! I can introduce you to her”
“Dang, you know a lot of people,” I teased him. He laughed at my tease, and I thanked him for helping out.
But damn, a week flew by way too fast. I wish time was slower while traveling. I was sad on my very last day in Seoul with them but enjoyed our last night together as much as we can by visiting few attractions left that was on my list and bid farewell.
Thankfully to KHM, he contacted his friend who lives in Hong Kong if she would like to meet up with me. When I introduced myself via Line (another free messaging app), it turned out that she was leaving to Paris right before I arrive, so she gave me her friend’s, named AB, contact information who was also happy to meet my friend and I.
That’s one of huge perks in the Deaf community.
Believe me, our world is small; many of often know one another or heard of one another – even 3,000 miles away or so!
When I landed at Hong Kong at night, my friend and I took off exploring right after checking in our hostel.
Yeah, as you can see, I just couldn’t wait, haha.
We went to Ladies’ Market, that was located nearby, to explore the night market. Coincidently, I passed by a Deaf group in the Ladies’ Market who were signing differently. I waved at them and asked, “Deaf?” They all excitedly nodded when I gestured back “I’m Deaf too.” In the group, there were 3 girls and 1 guy. They all excited and the girls were urging the guy (poor guy, haha), and I could tell that they were telling him to sign to me in ASL. He nervously laughed, scratching his head and attempted to communicate with me in ASL with little knowledge of it. I could see how nervous he was,
“Sorry. I know a little ASL” he nervously laughed with a guilty expression on his face.
I assured him with a smile and that it’s alright and that I don’t know their sign language either. We mainly gestured and laughed as we get each other (going “ahh!!!!”) and puzzled when we get confused and continue trying. When we failed, we all help each other out and use images on our phone as well to communicate. I was thrilled that I coincidentally bumped into them on my very first night in Hong Kong.
Then, my friend and I suddenly were invited to join them for late dinner. They gestured if I was hungry by rubbing their belly with a questionable facial expression, head tipped to the right. I gestured back by rubbing my stomach and shook my head “no” and stuck my tongue out to show that “I’m full,” but would love to join them.
While spending our night together, I found out that they do not live in Hong Kong; They were visiting visit Hong Kong from China for vacation during the weekend. Their language, Chinese Sign Language (CSL) has a lot of difference from Korean Sign Language. Imagine suddenly trying to shift the signs for particular words in few days apart since I just arrived from South Korea! But it was all fun!
Through gestures, ASL and CSL, we share our background, such as where they were living in China, how one becomes Deaf, whether our parents know sign language, etc.
Before we knew it, the restaurant was empty. We looked around and noticed that the staff were cleaning. They gestured by putting their hands upwards, shaping it into a “roof,” and then they put their two hands together on the right on their cheek and closed their eyes (“sleep”) and shrugged and pointed in different direction (implying “where?”). I knew they were asking me “where are you staying at?”
I pointed to the direction of the place I was staying at, and they also pointed where they were. They invited us to check out where they were staying at, and we chatted for another hour (perhaps 2 hours, haha). Unfortunately, they were leaving the following day, so we exchanged contact information in hope to remain in touch.
I gestured to them, “Come California, see me, okay? We can meet!” They smiled excitedly and nodded. “When I go China, we can meet,” I gestured again and use a little CSL, which they taught me earlier during dinner.
We all gestured like this:
which means, “okay!” or “perfect!”
After few days, AB (who I met through KHM’s Deaf Hong Kong friend) and I met up at the nearby subway station. We introduced ourselves, and she knew only a little ASL. She gestured, “eat?” by using her right hand and move inward her mouth. I nodded and followed her to a restaurant.
However, I didn’t expect to find 8 other Deaf people!!
My jaw dropped, because I was informed but hey, the more, the merrier!
They were all so welcoming and very open about their experiences. They shared so much about their experience as a Deaf person in Hong Kong, how some participated in the Yellow Umbrella movement early last year and more. I’ll be posing some videos of their experience! Keep an eye out on that one!
Every moment with different Deaf people around the world, despite the different sign language,
I felt like I’m home. This is home.
This is where we can relate a lot with each other. This is where we share a deep understanding. This is where we can communicate through sign language and don’t need to relay hearing or listening to conversation.
This is everything.
Meeting them gave me greater confidence in myself and a greater sense of pride as a Deaf person. Despite some barriers and the stigma, I’m really proud of who I am. Really proud.
My friends, I wish you nothing but happiness and success. I’m happy that we’re still contacting with each other, and hope to see you all soon one day. Thank you for everything.