‘The World Still Belongs To Us’: Asian Women & The Power Of Travel, According To Michelle Law

Photo via Michelle Law/Instagram.
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Growing up in a family of seven meant that holidays were a raucous affair for Michelle Law. Over the phone with Refinery29 Australia, the writer, actor, and screenwriter reminisces on times the Law family was piled into a big van or Greyhound bus zig-zagging across state lines, or taking big international trips to Hong Kong, Thailand and London.
While nostalgic fondness seeps into her voice, anyone who has gone on a family holiday knows that they are never without their bumps and potholes. In fact, one of Law’s earliest travel memories is not rosy at all.
“One of the first memories was getting lost at the Big Buddha in Hong Kong when I was four years old — [I wasn’t] able to speak Cantonese when I was that young. I think I found a security guard at the time and wrote my name down — in English,” she emphasises. 
While her mum eventually found her, her experience is one that many children of Asian immigrants who live in countries with a predominantly white population go through when they visit their parents’ birth home — myself included. “[Locals] expect you to be able to [speak their language] and so you're just like, ‘Oh my god, I'm even more lost,’” she says.  
It’s no surprise then, that Law's newest book Asian Girls Are Going Places starts with anecdotes and advice on navigating family trips. The catalyst for Law’s colourfully illustrated (by Hong Kong artist Joey Leung Ka-yin) and colourfully told stories about travel was the realisation that she had never seen anything written like this aimed at Asian girls and women. 

I wanted to reassure Asian women that the world still belongs to us, and we deserve to feel safe and free and find excitement and travel just like everyone else does.

Michelle Law
“I was a bookseller for about 10 years and I'd never felt particularly drawn to the travel section because I found that most of the time, it was written by the same older, well-off, white people. It wasn't very accessible material to me,” she explains. 
Right now, half of Australia is caught in a self-mandated lockdown of sorts as we battle the deadliest wave of COVID-19 so far. So why would she choose to release a travel book at this time?
Law points to the waves of anti-Asian violence and hate that have ricocheted across the globe in the face of COVID. She says, "I wanted it to be an antidote to that. And just to reassure Asian women that the world still belongs to us, and we deserve to feel safe and free and find excitement and travel just like everyone else does.”
Writing the second instalment in Hardie Grant’s Girls Guide to the World series in Sydney’s lockdown proved to be difficult for Law, but also an exercise in imagination and distraction. 
“[It] just made me feel really nostalgic. It’s important to have something to look forward to, and be hopeful for. It's more general advice for living as well; it’s more about not necessarily getting from A to B in terms of a destination but just how to exist in the world as an Asian woman,” she shares. 
Through anecdotes and interviews with other Asians, including her sister, photographer Tammy Law, Indian-Australian screenwriter Mithila Gupta, partners and black belt holders Eva Chin and Kim Lawton, and author and cook Yumi Stynes, Law has successfully created a guide that rightly paints Asian women as badass, intelligent, strong and outspoken — a direct attack on the demure and submissive trope we unwillingly find ourselves in.
Law doesn’t overlook these problematic stereotypes that govern how others view Asian women either. In her book, she offers up her own examples of fly-kicking a man that wouldn’t leave her friend alone at a nightclub, and screaming at a peeping tom that was filming her in a public toilet. 
“I'm super hyper, hyper-vigilant. I think it comes from having quite protective Asian parents as well. It was important [for me] to instil readers with a basic level of self-defence,” Law says, referring to Chin and Lawton’s Taekwon-Do tips (use your knees and elbows!). “I really wanted to dispel that myth [that Asian women are meek and passive] by showing that we are able to care for ourselves and we don't need anyone else to protect us.”
Tucked between the joys of travelling as an Asian woman (there’s an entire section dedicated to celebrating Lunar New Year, Ramadan and Diwali), is another portion that tackles privilege (“travelling is a rich person’s game,” notes Law). 

[There’s] a sense of guilt when you go back to certain parts of Asia that aren't as developed as a country like Australia.

michelle law
“Often when we talk about privilege, we think immediately of white people travelling through Asia, but we absolutely carry that as well,” she says. In the chapter, Law writes about the uneasiness that can manifest when faced with wealth inequality between yourself and locals of the places you’re travelling to. 
“As someone from the Asian diaspora who lives in the West now — especially because I came from a middle-class family — [there’s] a sense of guilt when you go back to certain parts of Asia that aren't as developed as a country like Australia,” she says, musing that if her parents hadn’t immigrated here, that she may have been destined for a similar life. 
“It's also fraught when you're Asian, and you're going to an Asian country that isn't as wealthy as the country you’re coming from, and you look like the people and you might speak some of the language even, but you still feel really separate from them,” she says.
Despite the sensitive themes of belonging, safety, and privilege, Asian Girls Are Going Places is ultimately a joyous and inspirational read. That energy was carried from conception to the final product, with Law tweeting, “Asian women lovingly crafted this book along every step of the way: editing, proofreading, designing, illustrating, [and] creating the cover art.”
Reflecting on her experience, she gushes, “Oh my gosh, it was just the best experience I've had, I think creatively, in a long time. I've never had the experience of working with Asian women specifically from top to tail. It made the process more relaxed, I feel like because there was just a shorthand especially between myself and my editor [Allison Hiew] and the proofreader [Leeyong].” 
While 2022 feels like the continuation of the curveball 2020 threw at us, Law remains cautiously optimistic. 
“I had planned to go to Taiwan and Vietnam with my best friend, but I think the next place hopefully will be South Korea. My eldest brother, he got married last year, but he wasn't able to have his traditional wedding in Korea… We're all going to go as a family and celebrate and have a big wedding [there],” she says. Talking to her makes me unable to help myself from fantasising too, about the travel I will one day be embarking on, as an Asian woman going places.
Michelle Law's Asian Girls Are Going Places is now available to purchase here.
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