Welcome to my world. If you are Hearing,* I don’t only mean just your world but my other world, the Deaf world. I have two worlds that I’ll always be part of: the Hearing world and the Deaf world. I’m involved in the Deaf community and Deaf culture, which means I identified myself as a culturally Deaf* person.
Almost every year, I write a post about different Deaf people that I’ve met (although this post was pretty late). This is probably the longest post of the series that I have to write part two. You can also read my previous experiences in 2015 and 2016. I mentioned that I almost wrote one every year because I didn’t write one for the year of 2017. Traveling & meeting Deaf community wasn’t really possible for me that year. I was juggling with so many things: work, internship (unpaid), graduate school, depression & PTSD, long-distance relationship, failing at self-care, and yeah you get the idea. Sounds chaotic? It was. Instead, I was continuing to save money for my dream: a year-long backpacking trip.
Finally, after finishing graduate school and saying goodbye to my family, I sought out the world to explore and meet several Deaf communities around the world. Following the rest of this post and the sequel post, all countries are in chronological order:
for a whole month, December 2017 – January 2018
Jarkata, Bandung, Yogyakarta and the island of Bali.
direct messages from them on Instagram, networking, visiting a Deaf school.
Malang, island of Sumatra, etc.
Fingerspellings, Deaf Village
Indonesia was where I officially began my long-term slow travel. I originally wanted to do solo traveling for the first couple of months, but my partner and I were in a long-distance relationship for a little over a year.
I actually didn’t know any Deaf person in Indonesia but getting their direct messages on Instagram and networking both helped me to find and meet different Deaf Indonesians. When I mention “networking” it’s this: one of the things I love about Deaf culture is how sometimes they know someone else lived in the place where you’ll be heading next. Bandung was my next place after Jakarta, and local Deaf people in Jakarta told me that they know some Deaf people in Bandung. Basically, the domino effect happened: Jakarta – Bandung – Yogyakarta – Bali. Our Deaf world is smaller than you think.
While engaging with them, some Deaf Indonesians know International Sign* but we mainly communicated in gestures as the majority of them know BISINDO (Bahasa Isyarat Indonesia, which is one of the sign languages in Indonesia). In case if you didn’t know, each country (even regions) have their own sign language. I had no expectation that Deaf Indonesians know American Sign Language (ASL), despite that ASL is also glorified like the English language.
Some of the fondest memories I have in Indonesia with the Deaf community were spending time with a Deaf Indonesian mother and her Hearing kids who know BISINDO in a city called Bandung. Due to limited public transportation to visit attractions that are located far, the mother offered to drive me around for a day. I personally do not like to be guided by anyone as I like to take time on my own pace due to photography, videography and like to indulge the scenes. She seemed really nice and asked me what I’d like to see and can take me out an adventure with her children too, so I agreed to take her offer.
Because of her and her children, I really enjoyed our adventure around Bandung: man-made hot springs, strawberry picking, Kawah Putih (also known as the White Crater) and a cute little adventurous park that I don’t know the name of. I couldn’t be more thankful for her kindness and offered to pay for gas, food for her and her children. I told her that if she visits Los Angeles, I’d be happy to see her. Then because of her, I’ve learned that I have the privilege of having a USA passport, not worrying to get decline frequently to certain countries, wasting tons of money and needing to provide proof of someone you know in that country. Damn.
Another was spending time with Deaf teachers and Deaf children at one of the eight schools in Bali. The only Deaf school that advocates and believes sign language is the key to language acquisition and development. And as a personal experience, I strongly believe in this. There are even researches saying so. I am for schools with bilingualism: sign language and oral (spoken language) with cultural awareness & sensitivity which is absolutely crucial as the majority of teachers are Hearing (in general).
Through many stories, I’ve learned their resiliency and they’ve challenged me the idea of the White Savior Complex that I’ve learned. I was told by one of the Deaf Indonesian leaders that White Deaf leaders from other countries are sometimes really needed regardless. Especially it’s because since their own government wasn’t really listening to them and the White Deaf leaders understand our Deaf culture. Because of that Deaf Indonesian leader, I gained a new perspective that wasn’t really discussed in different articles relating to White Savior complex. I’ve also shared in my other post how much the Deaf community in Indonesia taught me, and it was only the beginning.
Have I missed something? Of course. One month in Indonesia wasn’t even enough. I missed this Deaf-owned restaurant called, Fingerspelling. I didn’t even know about this until only after I left Indonesia. Another was the Deaf village in northern Bali, I didn’t go as I was on budget and was too scared to ride the motorbike due to the rainy season at the time.
Thank you, Deaf Indonesian community.
for two months, January – February 2018, April – May 2018.
Kuala Lumpur & Penang
direct messages from them on Instagram, networking, visiting Deaf Starbucks, KFC with Deaf employees, a Deaf school, a local organization, hosting 2 meet ups
Sarawak, Sabah, Terengganu, etc.
DIB Restaurant Cafe, Coffee Sprex,
While settling down for a month in Kuala Lumpur (and another month after India and Nepal), I had to a chance to meet new and familiar faces. Again, I didn’t know any Deaf person in Malaysia at first. Announcing where I was going on my Instagram and my Facebook page came in handy, so then did networking, hosting a meet-up in both Kuala Lumpur and Penang, visiting Deaf school (named SMK Pendidikan Khas Persekutuan), a local Deaf organization, etc.
It was my first time hosting meetups, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. A huge number of Deaf attendees came (about 20 – 35 people?), who asked different questions, asked for taking photos together (even more than twice), randomly taking my arms and dragging me into a group photo, asking me for my phone number or personal Facebook – and I have to kindly say that I cannot and just to message me via Facebook page or email. It was kinda overwhelming, yet interesting nonetheless. And the biggest challenge? It was truly impossible for me to get to know everyone at deeper levels AND I’m not great with facial memories – trust me. It’s not that they weren’t important or didn’t leave me good impressions. Don’t just assume those. I have facial blindness (aka prosopagnosia), yikes.
And I also learned something that was never discussed or thought of with the Deaf community in the USA: because of Deaf Malaysians, I later recognized the privilege of knowing ASL. So many of them have apologized for not knowing ASL or hope to learn ASL. Although ASL has some influences on their sign language (Malaysian Sign Language, MSL), there are still some differences. Yet, some areas of Malaysia and the younger generation learned the newly developing sign language called BIM (Bahasa Isyarat Malaysia). One of the reasons for this is because they want to decolonize ASL influence and develop their own sign language. Yet, many Deaf Malaysians are comfortable with MSL and claim that “ASL is the best!”
Just like how many Hearing people apologize for their English language skills, Deaf people generally apologize for their ASL skills. I found myself, again and again, reassuring them that they did not need to apologize to me. “I’m sorry that I don’t know Malay Sign Langauge!” I’d tell them (I still get this in every other country, not kidding).
There are some moments that I found myself into situations that I just don’t have time for. Just like Hearing people, there are some cliches of a different group of Deaf people, having dramas and disliking one another. I invited two different groups that apparently don’t like each other, so one of the groups refused to come to see me unless I find another day with just them. As a visitor, I ain’t have time for that but I obliged and found a different day. After a while, I decided that my time was valuable. There were just some that I just couldn’t connect on personal levels.
But there are also many memories that I’d forever hold to my heart. I had a chance to experience Chinese New Year for the first time and with them twice, one at the local Deaf’s family place, and another with a huge group of Deaf people at the restaurant. Because of them, I learned the purpose of tossing the Yee Sang, different traditions and cultural beliefs. International Sign or most sign languages truly broke the cultural barrier. One of the Deaf Malaysians in her late 50s even got me teared up as she gave me a speech and wished me great health and happiness. Her bright energy and free-spirited were refreshing to my heart and soul. She told me to call her, Mama Jo.
Some people say it’s because I’m a foreigner, especially an American foreigner. Perhaps it is so but I know it’s not for every single person, like Mama Jo. It’s not for two Deaf women who aided me around in Penang out of kindness and heart, even when I attempted to decline this guide offers. I am humbled by Malaysians’ generosity and kindness.
Thank you, Deaf Malaysian community.
for a whole month, March – April 2018
New Delhi, Jaipur, Varanasi, Visahapatnam
getting direct messages from them on Instagram, bumping into them
Mumbai, Amritsar, Kolkata, state of Kerala, Sikkim & Assam, etc.
Deaf schools, Deaf organizations, Mirchi and Mime, etc.
For about a month, I didn’t explore as much as I should be. I think it was partly due to feeling burned out and overwhelmed. Hence, I didn’t also socialize many Deaf Indians, so I do regret it looking back but I know I will visit again. I’ve at least met a few awesome Deaf Indians while visiting, like in Jaipur and New Delhi. I also almost met one of the Deaf leaders in India, named Alim who graduated Gallaudet University and currently advocating for the Deaf community there, but our schedule did not align. I do certainly hope to meet him one day, somewhere.
A Deaf person, called “Ajay,” from New Delhi knows some signs of ASL but explain a lot of things clearly through International Sign. Ajay was completely open to answering my questions. Through his body language and the way he expressed, I can see his great love for India and proud to be Indian. He excitedly shared his culture, customs, and beliefs. Ajay emphasized that there are diverse cultures, traditions, and languages in India. He also even shared what needed to be improved on and admitted some toxic masculinity going on (but it doesn’t just only happen there. It happens in the USA and anywhere in the world. I was even threatened four times in the USA) due to what happened to me at Holi festival. He wanted to ensure that I’d be safe on the buses or trains at nights.
He traveled across different states in India, learning what the Deaf community there are dealing with, such as advocating for subtitles in films (whereas it is more accessible in New Delhi), Deaf education and more. And what’re another fondest memories in India?
Getting an invitation to Ajay’s friend’s Indian wedding, a Deaf Indian wedding in Varanasi! The couple is both Deaf, and I was beyond thrilled. I love to see different cultural weddings or any other celebrations.
A Deaf soon-to-be-married couple welcomed my friend, partner and I without hesitation. During the rituals before the wedding, the Deaf groom took some chances to explain the meanings of the rituals in Indian Sign Language (ISL). Ajay translated it from ISL to International Sign, and it was just fascinating.
Ajay is one of the people that I am happy to know more than just at superficial levels. In fact, he planned to invite me to his own wedding 3 months ago but he knew I was ending my trip and already had a plan to go home. Ahhh! How I would love to go!
Although I still do have few regrets not taking up opportunities to explore India, it leads me to meet Ajay, get an invitation to a Deaf Indian wedding, befriending a Deaf guide (and now a teacher) in Jaipur. With better energy and preparation, I am looking forward to meeting more Deaf people and many more areas of India.
Thank you, Deaf Indian community.
for a whole month, March – April 2018
Pokhara, Chitwan, Kathmandu
visiting a local Deaf organization, randomly bumped into them
Kathmandu, Bharatpur, Dharan, Western Nepal areas
Deaf schools, Deaf organizations, Sam’s One Tree Cafe, etc.
I’ve asked around if anyone have Deaf friends who live in Nepal and I attempted to reach out to some on Facebook but to no avail. Instead of giving up, I just show up to a local Deaf organization or luckily enough to bump into some Deaf people in Nepal. I’ve shared my experiences in Nepal that didn’t go well as I hope for, BUT that was only based on my own personal experiences. Again, the post perhaps displayed some ignorance as a Deaf light-skinned/white-passing Mexican-American with Westernized perspectives. Could I’ve approached better with the situation? Definitely. If you’ve read this, I want to emphasize that my own personal experiences do not mean that the Deaf Nepali community are bad, because they are not.
A few dislikable experiences should not shun the community or the country.
I wanted to share my personal experiences, because despite how we share Deaf culture (especially the sense of Deafhood*) around the world, I’ve learned that I will not able to connect on a deeper level with every single Deaf person I’ve met, just like what I’ve learned in Nicaragua, Hong Kong, Malaysia, and the USA. And if I visit Nepal again, which I’ll love to, I’d meet the same Deaf Nepali people that I’ve met before if I could. The people I’ve met had kindly given me a ride to a local photo center and they ensured that I won’t be ripped off when requesting for a bundle of passport photos. They also waited at the local immigration office, because they hoped that the process of extending my visa went smoothly. Believe me, Nepal is such a beautiful country, and many Deaf people I met are good people, have good intentions and are generous.
Thank you, Deaf Nepali community.
for 3 month, May – August 2018, January 2019
Taipei & Kaohsiung
networking, visiting a local Deaf organization and attending Deaf events
Taichung, Hualien, Yilan, smaller cities/villages near Hualien.
Lotuss hot pot restaurant in Taipei, cafe (can’t remember the name) in Tainan, Deaf schools, other Deaf organizations
One of my Malaysian friends referred me to her Deaf Taiwanese in Taipei. When we first met, I can see his hands shaking. He confessed that he was incredibly nervous about his ASL skills, and I reassured him that he didn’t have to be ashamed of his ASL skills. He was later feeling comfortable as I kept reassuring him that I am the visitor of his country. I should either learn some Taiwanese Sign Language (TSL) and work on my part to communicate with him. He felt later felt relieved once we communicated through International Sign and one in a while we’d use Google Translation.
Some younger Deaf Taiwanese people I’ve met shared how they grew up orally and did not know TSL until a few years ago. There is a strong persuasion of Oralism, especially in schools within the last 2 decades that affect some younger generation in different ways: social skills, identity crisis and emotional connection with their family members. Some shared how they were struggling to accept who they are until they meet the Deaf community and began learning TSL, yet some do still believe that oralism still benefits them in some ways, such as obtaining jobs (yet they still face discrimination).
One of the younger Deaf Taiwanese didn’t know TSL & ASL , so she was anxious to meet me. I engaged with her through gestures, Google Translation app, and sometimes her friends (who know TSL) interpret to her by speaking instead of signing. Her eyes were bit watery when I told her that I have no doubt that she was experiencing hardships, perhaps fighting to belong in both worlds, and that her experiences are valid. Her friend, who know TSL, slowly opened up to me how she was learning more recently about the customs, beliefs, and controversies within our Deaf culture. She felt on edge sometimes, fearing that she’d face rejection from the Deaf community. This story, her story, is not a single story. There are so many similar stories like hers, so many ones around the world. No doubt how it is for many of them, and these girls are just…..full of resilience.
I also met the president of a local Deaf organization, named Mike, who attended Gallaudet University and believed that Deaf university gave him some strength and given him a path for him to make a difference in his own community. Mike also shared about what the Deaf community are advocating and how their Taiwanese culture influenced the Deaf community in my video. After sharing my experiences of meeting younger Deaf Taiwanese, he said that some Deaf Taiwanese people are timid and sometimes afraid to meet international Deaf travelers due to lack of English skills or ASL skills. This is just insane to me but this also led me to unpack more of my own privileges.
3 months in Taiwan wasn’t even enough. Taiwan is definitely an underrated gem of Asia.
Thank you, Deaf Taiwanese community.
These are the stories of my almost first 8 months of traveling. About 4 countries (including visiting Malaysia twice), it may seem so little for some travelers. Some would’ve already maybe visited 8 countries or more, or maybe even less than 4 countries that I’ve visited. The reason why was because I was slow traveling. I wanted to take care of my well-being, meet different people and take my time while fully immersing myself into their culture.
Stayed tuned for part 2.
Do you look for or hope to find a community while traveling?
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