Sexual Harassment While Travelling – The Reality & How To Overcome It
Moderated by Kudsia Kahar
With Jin Jeong, Özge Elif Özer and Petrina Thong
Filmed August 2017 at ZafigoX
Kudsia: Welcome to the first panel discussion, this subject is actually very very close to my heart. How many here are Malaysian women? Proud and strong. And how many are not from Malaysia?
But I think there’s one thing we have in common, right, we always face sexual harassment or gender discrimination from the time we are in school, being told that, “No, no, girls cannot do this, this one not for girls,” to the time we are working as well, “No, no, he’s paid more than you, he’s got a family, he’s got children to feed.” So even when we travel as well we face that sort of treatment sometime, I’m not gonna be speaking about it today though, I’m gonna be moderating for these three wonderful women who are here let me introduce them to you if you have not read about them yet; so we have three experienced travellers they’re going to be sharing their experiences, their horror stories as well and if you do have questions there will be a quick question and if time permits before we break for lunch. we have panel number one, Jin from Korea, how are you Jin?
Jin Jeong: I’m good.
Kudsia: So Jin and I were communicating via Skype before this, she’s like, “I have to memorise a half and hour speech.” I said, “Don’t memorise, don’t memorise, speak from the heart, speak from the heart, no worries.” Now, Jin, she’s a cycling traveller, I mean, yeah, you can see she’s quite fit, right? She cycles everywhere – something I cannot do even though I have a lot of padding on my rear side but after a while it’s like… yeah. Okay, alright, so Jin has cycled over 62 thousand kilometers, over 64 countries, sorry, 67 countries, you’ve also been hit by a car, right?
Jin Jeong: A few times.
Kudsia: Here, not yet? Rempit not yet hit into you?
Jin Jeong: Not yet, not yet…
Kudsia: Do you do superman, like them as well? No, not yet? Okay. Maybe you can learn new trick from rempits. So you’ve also been sexually harassed while you’re cycling? Of course, pretty young woman cycling, for sure kena… But the memories and friendships that you’ve build on these travels, that’s the one that you hold closest to your heart, right?
Alright panel number two, I’m not going to try pronouncing your first name cause I’ve always been calling you by your second name anyway; Elif. So Elif and I actually met up in KL to talk about and to discuss what our session afterwards was gonna be about. She told us some horror stories which I’m sure she’ll be sharing with you as well today. Well now, Elif is from Turkey, she’s travelled to over 30 countries and she’s lived in six of them. Elif says, “The more you travel, the more you realise that you know so little, and the more you want to learn.” I think we all agree with that and Elif will also be telling you how it is especially as a foreigner and how you can be targeted more where sexual harassment is concerned compared to local women.
We also have Petrina, diver dumpster? Okay so first there’s #digitalnomad now #diverdumpster. So Petrina’s from Malaysia (I love her blue hair) and one day she just decided she was gonna go to Stockholm with 200 bucks in your pocket. And her challenge was some sort of fear factor challenge, like how long can you last with 200 bucks in your pocket. So she did it, and she discovered its three months and then you kena korek lah and cari. So she’s going to be talking about that as well. So you survived for three months then you became broke, you started sleeping in petrol stations, you started hitchhiking your way back to this country and had to escape indecent drivers and she’ll be sharing all of those stories.
Like Jin as well, it actually it took her 13 months to come back to Malaysia, going through 22 countries, but she finally made it and it was also the kindness of strangers as you put it actually that helped you get through. Are any of them FB friends right now with you still?
Petrina Thong: A few, not many, but yeah, the ones that I really cherish.
Kudsia: Friends but mute – I do that with some… Never mind… Alright, I have five questions that I’m going to ask each of you and I’m going to start with you, Elif. Question number one; what was the most, I can’t say the word memorable actually, but of all the incidences when sexual harassment happened to you as a female traveller, which one sticks to your mind?
Ozge Elif Ozer: Hello everyone, hello again. I think it’s the one in India because it was one of the times I felt really safe because I went to india with an internship. It’s a student organisation everyone knows and I was also doing volunteering so I felt really safe in my office because when I was there, I went out with an international organisation and everything. But since a couple of Bollywood movies and a certain mentality in India that if you’re a foreigner women it means that you’re down to do anything, my boss there, who was like forty years older than me…
Kudsia: And how old were you at the time?
Elif: I was 21. And he started texting me every night, I was in Ahmedabad in Gujarat, which is a dry state and he would be like, “I know how much foreigner girls love their liquor, I have alcohol in my house, I can just pick you up now.” And he would text me like, “I’m in front of your house.” And considering that the company is paying for the house, I thought he might have the key and he might just come up, and he would be texting at midnight and everything and that’s when I realised that I came here with an international organisation that made me feel extremely safe, but he knew that I was all alone.
Now, he didn’t get to physically sexually harass me because I took caution. I was gonna stay for six months with that company but I left after four because I wrote a couple of e-mails (to report his behaviour) but it turns out that he’s one of the Brahmans from the highest caste, so I couldn’t even call the police.
I had to change my house and my location for that and leave the company, but the scary thing is that if I didn’t do anything, I was in a place where I was feeling so safe, but this guy with so much power and money had my keys to my house and he was just texting me because he thought just because I’m a foreigner and just because I drink I was just gonna go to this house and enjoy… you know… enjoy his company.
Kudsia: And also when you moved, you moved into a house with other girls, but being the only foreigner in that area, every morning when you left for work, all these local boys would be waiting outside your gate. Waiting for her to come out, in India, they are known as Goonda’s. So basically they are these guys who have nothing better to do than to engage themselves in something known as eve-teasing, if you go to India and you speak to any women over there, they’ll tell you what eve-teasing is about.
Elif: Yeah, and it’s not like I lived in Mumbai or Delhi, I lived in Ahmedabad, so there were like two foreigners maybe tops so…
Kudsia: So it’s not like you can blend in.
Kudsia: Okay but we’ll get back to how you managed to blend in after that, which sounds like it came out of the script of a Bollywood film, and how about you, Petrina? Of all the countries that you went to, the places that you went, through the things that you had to do, what was the one incident that involves sexual harassment that sticks in you mind?
Petrina: Yeah, honestly, the whole time you were talking I couldn’t really pay attention cause it was just playing in my mind and I was just thinking on whether to say it or not cause I’ve never told this story in public before.
Kudsia: Well then let’s respectfully request that nobody records this because it’s kind of personal and private.
(Zafigo has obtained the spoken consent to publish parts of this panel with consent of the panellists)
Petrina: Okay, so I was in turkey.
Petrina: And yeah…
Jin: I had one injury in Turkey.
Petrina: Oh yeah you went to Turkey as well… So I was walking around in Turkey and then after that, by myself obviously, this person comes along he was Turkish and then he just started talking to me. He seemed normal, as most of them do, so we’re just chilling out the whole day and walking around. He was showing me around town, we went for food and just spent the day together, pretty normal. And then at night he was like, “Hey, I need to go back to the room to just like grab something do you want to… Can you follow me up?”
And I was like, “Yeah, okay, sure.” So I followed him up to the room and then he bought some beers and stuff and he was like, “Here, have a drink.” I was like, “No, it’s okay.” And when I sat down, just like at the edge of the bed, he came and then he just put his arm around me and I immediately pushed him away and I was just like, “No.” And I went to put on my shoes and when I put on my shoes and went to the door, he ran to the door and he blocked the front and he just held me and I was like, “Ah shit, no.” And he’s like, “Where are you going? You not going anywhere.” And I was like, “No man, I didn’t come here for this, I just came to accompany you to get your stuff.” And that’s when he just.. I tried to push him off, obviously couldn’t because he was stouter and bigger and that’s when he just grabbed me and picked me up threw me on the bed.
So I was just down there and I was just, “Ahhhhh… I walked right in a rape situation, how could I be so stupid?”
So he was just like there and he was holding me down and I was just like, “Please, please, please. I really don’t want this. Can you please just chill out.” And he was just like, “Obviously you want this. You came back to the room with me. Obviously you want this or else you wouldn’t have.” I was like, “Man, you patriarchal…” So the same as yesterday’s situation, the first thing that comes to my mind is to pacify the thing, so after a while i was just like, “Okay, fine, you know what, let’s have a cigarette first and then after that we can have sex.” And that’s when he leans back, he lights his cigarette, he gives me one, he lights my cigarette, then he leans back. That’s when I run out and I open the door and I scream. He tries to grab me but because I screamed really loud and I think you can hear like the fear in my voice, everyone in the hotel just came out running and then he let go and then I went off and he just started yelling like, “You fuck off whatever whatever la la la la.”
So that was the thing I couldnt.. I didn’t tell anyone for ages. And I blamed myself for the longest time. “Youre so stupid, you should have known better you shouldn’t have followed him back, it’s all your fault…” And I realised that’s what females do all the time, like we blame ourselves when its really really not our fault.
Kudsia: We do – we’ve been conditioned to blame ourselves. It has to be your fault you know, it has to be your fault, what were you wearing, what did you say, did you wear too much make-up, you know its always, it always comes back to the women.
Elif: Like the time I told her, when I was in India, I went to the doctor, and it’s like a woman who speaks English and everything. She was helping me with a couple of stuff, I was like, “Yeah, this happened, this guy was about to do this to me.” Now, because I used pepper spray, and no one tells you that pepper spray just ruins everyone’s life around like two meters, right, and I’m crying and I had couple of patches and she was like, “What were you thinking? You came to India alone.”
And she’s a female doctor that said that to me, she was almost like, I came here to get sexually harassed. And that was the mentality, she didn’t even let me be a victim of the situation and the guy was a victim because I came to India. I mean, in Turkey, my friends came to visit me ‘cause I was saying, “Yeah, Turkey, like they say stuff but they don’t sexually harass you.” When my italian friends came to visit, I did realise that there’s also a foreigner girl thing going on there, you know. Because they are just considering, “Ahh, you’re a foreigner. You’re from the west, or you’re from Asia,” and to them, it means you are kinky so they just try to do get their own way with foreigners.
Kudsia: Horrifying. Don’t get scared of travelling, yeah? We’re just sharing the stories so that later you will know what to do if you’re ever in that situation. Okay, Jin. Cycling everywhere and you’ve been harassed while you cycle through this, all these different countries, 60 over countries; what’s the one incident that sticks to your mind the most?
Jin: Actually, the one story I get overcome by just telling what happened, the most dangerous situation happened in the most, in one of the safeties country. It was in Finland. I was cycling in the winter, it was snowing everywhere and I really loved it. But then, I cannot sleep outside, so I always knock the people’s houses, “Can I set up my tent in your garage?” And people always invite me in, I love Finnish people. I really love Finland because people are so kind to me and so it’s very usual that every night I sleep at people’s houses. And Finnish people love their sauna by the way. So yeah, I always have sauna as well. So one time, I knocked the door and a old guy came out and we couldn’t communicate because he couldn’t speak English and he was a bit weird from the beginning. But he prepared a sauna for me, very common in Finland, but then I’m inside and I hear that he open the door but he couldn’t see me so I say, “Hey, I’m inside! Don’t open, don’t open!” And it was fine and later he prepared dinner and I had dinner, he didnt poison anything, but I couldn’t feel safe.
Usually, after 9 they show me where to sleep, but he didn’t show me where to sleep and I asked, “Do I sleep there?” And then he was a bit angry like he was shouting something and I didn’t feel safe at all…
My heart was beating too much and I was thinking, “What to do? What to do? If I stay here, something’s going to happen.”
So then I decided to run away, but outside was minus 20 degrees. Crazy cold and if you just go out and cycle, you’ll loose all fingers after ten minutes. So I take my clothes, some jacket, a winter jacket, but i couldn’t take my gloves. So I said, “Oh, I have something.” and just ran away to my bicycle and then got onto the main road where cars were passing and hitchhiked. Then some trucks stopped and I asked, “Please can you call the police, please, something is happening and I need police help.”
The police came and I told the situation and I was in the police car and police took all my luggage from his house so nothing happened. I was so lucky that nothing happened and that night I slept in jail.
Kudsia: Because it’s the safest place.
Jin: It was free.
Kudsia: That too, free, yes, free and safe.
Jin: So that was a scary memory.
Kudsia: Okay, second question; did it put you off traveling for a while? Elif? After India, I mean we’ll get to how you blended in later, but after that happened and there were a few other experiences where you felt like “Oh my God! This country is really not safe.” But did it put you off going back to India? Did you have to take a break from travelling for a while because you felt that, as a woman, this is just not safe?
Elif: To be honest, it did the opposite because I was just like, “Okay, this happened here, let me see the other city. What is going on there?”
And then I realised, with every city and every country, there’s sexual harassment. Men are kind of weird and horny, so it didn’t stop me from anything.
I just kept travelling, but after six months, I needed to decide my next destination and that’s when I decided for New York. I was like, “Maybe I’ve had enough of this part, you know, and go to New York now and see a little bit of a different culture.”
But then i came back to India again eventually, and it’s one of my favourite countries, I would definitely live there
Kudsia: So it didn’t put you off?
Kudsia: So it’s just now you know the signs to look out for.
Elif: Yeah exactly, and even if you feel like you’re in a safe situation, it’s a safe organisation and everything, now I know that I should always have, you know, one eyebrow up like we say in Turkey. Like questioning always, “Is everything okay? Am I safe?”
Kudsia: And what about you Petrina?
Petrina: No, definitely not, ‘cause these situations are still… It only happens once in a while, so I know that if I were to stop right after a crappy thing happens, then that’s my last memory of the whole beautiful traveling experience. If one really horrible thing happens, it’s just like, “It’s okay. You know what, it happened, just continue.” And by continuing, it’s the best way to get over it.
Kudsia: But did you, did you wake up sometimes at night like ‘cause when a woman feels like she’s either violated or almost violated, you sometimes have nightmares. I don’t know whether I’ve been through this before, but I used to wake up like for about six to seven months. I used to think someone was trying to break into my house and i used to sleep downstairs in my living room cause i was so afraid that somebody was gonna break in and I used to wake up at night, you know, having nightmares that this person actually managed to break into my house so did you ever have any like, did you dream of the old man shouting at you?
Jin: No, no, I overcame it. Then i don’t dream about it anymore.
Kudsia: You didn’t feel like slightly traumatised? Did you feel really angry though?
Petrina: I just had trouble sleeping the next few nights ‘cause every time I closed my eyes I could see his evil eyes and I was just like “UGH!” But after that, it was fine.
Kudsia: And what about you, Elif?
Elif: Yeah, I had a couple of nightmares too, which is always like I wake up feeling so trapped and I always took myself to the wall so I get to the physical position when I’m sleeping and in the dream it is the guy pushing me towards the door or something. When i wake up it’s always like, “Ah, okay, no I’m in the house and everything.”
And I had to buy extra locks for my room, you know, because I didn’t know who can open the door of the house so my room had extra keys and everything, so that made me a bit safer and I sleep better.
Kudsia: Okay, how did you take care of yourself at the petrol station and just out in the open, Petrina?
Petrina: As in when I sleep?
Petrina: Well actually, in the beginning, I didn’t even have a tent, just had a sleeping bag and pretty much the wall is here and I’d just, I’ll just sleep.
Kudsia: On the wall, on the outside? And did you not worry that somebody would come?
Petrina: I did.
Kudsia: Like did you have to sleep with the pen knife under your sleeping bag?
Petrina: I actually had no weapons on me because I feel like that might just work against me. But yeah, no, i just slept and prayed and hoped that no one will come and disturb me and so far thankfully no one did but I was pretty much out in the open.
Kudsia: Okay what about you Jin, sleeping in people’s home, wait okay, but first you didn’t have any nightmares of this old man?
Jin: So my case is, a few times I got sexually harassed, so usually what happens is that I’m cycling and then someone, some guy on a motorcycle would touch my butt, grab my butt, and we’re moving together. That was like my first sexual harassment.
I shouted, like I was so angry and there’s one funny thing that all these guys who are touching my butt, grabbing my butt, they’re always smiling at me.
Like a dirty smile I don’t know, I don’t understand why they give me dirty smile and I’m so angry and I shout and actually I cry all the time so badly and sometimes people ask me, “Did you get hurt physically? No?” But I don’t know, I cried all the time because my soul was ruined.
Kudsia: It’s the frustration.
Kudsia: What a lot of people don’t realise is that women don’t cry just because they’re sad, they can also cry when they’re very angry, when they’re enraged, when they’re frustrated. It’s not just about, “Oh you broke my heart.” There are many reasons why we can cry.
Jin: Yeah, and all the time actually I post on my page, I want to share with people don’t do this and I want to show that that this is not good. For a few days, I’m very depressed actually, I don’t want to eat and for a few days I cried and got really fearful. Like, grabbing my butt, that really hurt me, but then after few days I got better and better and that’s how I overcome it actually, yeah.
Kudsia: So now we get to the next part which is what do you do now, like, okay for you, Elif, in the beginning, being a foreigner with light skin and light hair, people just know. So how did you blend in, how did you have to blend in to make sure that they didn’t see you in a certain way?
Elif: So I moved in with a couple of local girls and they had amazing stories; one of them ran away from her village ‘cause she got married to.. how do you say it… an arranged marriage to another guy. They didn’t let her marry the guy she loved because he was a Muslim and the other guy was in love with another girl so he would always come home with the girl he loves and she would sleep on the sofa. The parents were like, “You cannot get divorced, it’s not a thing.” And he would beat her and everything so she ran away. She was studying marketing while she was living with me in a university and she was working at the same time, she also stole the money from the wedding and she was like, I feel, horrible but I was like, “No, don’t, it’s like he deserved that.”
So this house, she was living there, she was from Kerala so she also had to like fight to study in a university and like the living conditions were bad. I think I showed you a couple of pictures, like our house was really really nasty, but they were so helpful. They were trying to teach me Bollywood dancing moves, like you know, those moves and then they also realised that those guys were waiting for me outside every morning and they were saying, “Goaty, goaty, goaty.” And I was like, “What is ‘gaudy’?”
Well, apparently, it means female foreigner. And they started teaching me how to dress up like them and they were teaching me the way they cover themselves so they don’t get tanned so I was covering myself like that and they were teaching me a couple of words in Hindi so when I take a tuk tuk or something they would always try to tourist bargain and I would just begin speaking their language so they were like, “Ah. Maybe her father or her mother is Indian.” Because I’m not that white, so maybe that’s why, so they would be a bit off they would stay off but I started to blend in more the way I’m dressing and everything so that helped they would always watch out for me like walk next to me if the crowd is too crowded.
Kudsia: And what about you, Petrina? What are the precautions that you take now?
Petrina: I don’t know if I have any but I noticed my dressing changed a little bit. In the beginning, I would say my dressing while I was hitchhiking was very irresponsible, I would still wear shorts sleeveless and all that, but then after that I just progressively made myself look as least attractive that I can, so I just wear like really ugly horrible baggy clothes and I’d wrap up my hair.
Kudsia: You look like you didn’t shower for three days?
Petrina: Yeah, pretty much, yeah, not sure if it helps at all but I just try to look my worst.
Kudsia: So the defensive mechanism is just to repel?
Petrina: Yeah, ‘cause sometimes in India people even thought I was a guy cause I had a Turban on and I just wore like a shirt and loose pants and everything so when I went on the female train, they were like, “Eh, eh, woman, woman!” And only then did I take it off to show that I was female.
Kudsia: Right, because in India, they have female coaches only which they have here now, but there are still some issues with men still trying to get in here. Okay, and Jin, what are the precautions? Do you wear something now at the back with needles or pins so that when they touch it it’d be like OW!
Jin: I wish, I wish, then they cannot smile again.
Kudsia: Are there any engineers in the house? Maybe you can design one you know like a, like spiky cycle wear.
Jin: … electrocuted
Kudsia: Yes, electrocuted. That’s good, that’s good, they get tasered when they touch your bum. Yes, okay, maybe if anybody has a startup, you can talk to Jin after this. Maybe Datuk Marina we can get funding from somewhere. Okay, alright, now I have this question now. What would be your go-to move if you were harassed now?
I’ve got a few different situations here, on a plane – anybody ever travelled on a plane long distance and you’re stuck next to a guy who really can’t keep his hands to himself? But you’ve heard of stories where there are guys who can’t keep their hands to themselves? And you’re stuck and you’re in economy and you wanna change the seat and you tell the stewardess and they say, “Sorry ma’am, but the flight is full and you can’t change.” You know there’s no other seats that you can change to so on a plane if some guy tries to get funny with you what would you do?
Elif: Well, since it is a public place, I would assume that they are not going to get aggressive and these kind of people are… Mostly, if you face them, and if you say something direct to them, they back off. Like if you go to the stewardess and go like, “Hey this guy is bothering me can you help me?” That’s not the way to go because if you take the eyes all around you to him, he’s going to stop. Like that’s what happened to me, and I was trying to say like, “Hey, you’re touching me. Don’t do it.” And it doesn’t work, I would call the stewardess and just in front of everyone I would say it loudly ‘cause it’s a public place, he cannot get aggressive there. So I think that would back him off, but my strategy would be different if it were the street, so yeah, this is only for planes and public places.
Kudsia: For Petrina, on a train, what if someone was trying to get funny with you on a train?
Petrina: ‘cause I, yeah, I’ve come to notice that when it comes to myself, I really don’t make a scene even if I think that’s the best thing to do. It would take a lot before I’m like, “Ahhhh!”
I think my first move would just be to move away or go to another seat first, and then if he does follow, then yeah since it’s public, I wouldn’t be too afraid, I would just yell back at him or tell someone close by.
Kudsia: I’m assuming you’ve been on a boat at some point with your bicycle.
Jin: Yeah, yeah.
Kudsia: So what if someone was tryna be funny with you on a boat or a ship or a ferry?
Jin: Actually, it happened seriously in Egypt. So I took ferry from Sudan to Egypt, there was land, but I had to take a ferry to cross the border and one guy grabbed me, here, my leg.
Kudsia: Oh, not your bum this time, your foot?
Jin: Yeah, different, different.
Kudsia: I think her skin must be very very soft, like I’m gonna try and grab her arm after this. Okay, so he grabbed your foot.
Jin: And I just shouted. I have very bad temper when they grab me or something, I have very bad temper, so even if other place public place I would say don’t do it but it depends, it depends, because sometimes I’m confused but if it’s on purpose, I must say or I just scream out and I don’t like the verbal sexual harassment when I travelled in Latin America and Africa.
I must’ve heard it everyday kissing sounds and like, “Hey baby, hey sweetie!”
Kudsia: “Mama citta, mwah mwah.”
Jin: Oh, I hate, I hate that. I hear that fifty times a day for a year in Latin America. I love Latin people but I really hate it and I just ignore them, but then in Africa I got bad temper and I show the finger. So for a year, you know, for a year I didn’t show the finger, I hate slangs and, you know, before I say some bad word you know like F. U. C. K. in a song, I’d delete it. I don’t like to listen bad words but if you did bad to me, if you did a bad thing, I will show it and so I think my character is a bit changing. If you bother me, I will show the finger and these days, I’m doing that like, just like a few weeks ago as well. I drank and came a bit late, I was on the street and some guy was, you know, making whistle noises or something, just a second, I gave him the ginger and shouted and they show finger and shout and uh they go this is how i do it
Kudsia: So, it’s like Elif said, confront them and then they’re like, “Oh, okay, need to go away.”
Elif: But also, there is a thin line..
You don’t know if it’s sexual harassment or anything because you realise if you get into an airplane or public transport this is how we sit right or we sit like this, and men are just like…
Kudsia: The manspreading, I had to deal with that on the plane just now coming to Penang, this guy next to me was like that and he’s like three times my size and his arm was like that and I’m like… As it is I’m not that small but i have to like make myself as small as possible. In the end, I’m like, “You know what, screw this,” and took out my ipad and jabbed his elbow because he just didn’t get the message.
Elif: Yeah, it’s all like this.
Kudsia: What’s so precious that it cannot touch the thighs? I just hate manspreading. Okay, alright. What is the one advise you would give to the women who want to travel and if they were facing sexual harassment?
Elif: I think a smart place to play around, like, of course adventures and everything, for example when I was traveling around India I never took the train or bus at night time. I would always do my traveling, even though you lose time instead of saving time, I would always do it in the mornings. And for the bus or the train, I would always get an economic plus ticket which is not that different, it’s like five rupiah more.
And I always had a pepper spray with me, but, don’t use it if it is not the last call. It burns everyone’s eyes and they emptied the train wagon because of me. Babies were crying and everything and I felt horrible but it happened and a knife or anything too aggressive, I wouldn’t carry because it sounds like a defence thing but they can use it against you. You also don’t want to end up killing someone or hurting someone ‘cause it’s either gonna get them more aggressive or it’s gonna put you in a really difficult situation in a country you don’t belong. So pepper spray is a nice one to use I heard that some people use the electro one the one police have?
Elif: Tasers, yes, so those kind of more passive self-defence things would be better than a knife and yeah, always travel during day time.
Kudsia: Day time, yes, and where India is concerned, I still have family there and my uncle was telling me ‘cause I was gonna go to Sarawhechaga which is a favorite market place, and I was gonna wear sleeveless, it’s like summer right, and he said this is Delhi not Bombay, they’re a little bit more conservative here you may not want to wear your shorts for this one. Or you know, if you wanna wear your shorts, make sure it’s below the knee ‘cause in Delhi there’s a big difference from Bombay. Always go to Tripadvisor and have a look at what other women have to say as well, because it always is a bit better to be more cautious. What about you Petrina what’s your advice to women?
Petrina: One thing I had to learn which I think was mentioned yesterday as well, sometimes being rude is necessary, ‘cause I find it so hard to be rude to a person. So someone comes and talks to me and I’ll just entertain the person until he gets the wrong idea or he thinks he can make a move or whatever and then I still find it so hard to just be like, “Arghhhhh, go away!” So yeah, that’s still something I struggle with.
Kudsia: Call Jin, because Jin can now show the finger for you.
Petrina: Yeah, exactly, so I need to learn from her
Kudsia: Skype. Skype Jin, “Snapchat the finger now!”
Petrina: So yeah, everyone should learn to be rude when necessary. Once you feel it’s getting uncomfortable, get outta there or just yell at the fellow.
Kudsia: And Jin? What’s your advice so maybe other women who want to cycle around Asia or around Malaysia or even around the world?
Jin: It’s not only about bicycle, I have a similar opinion anywhere.
Don’t be too kind. I’m sorry, but I don’t trust people 100%, especially males. I’m sorry but this is how I protect myself over six years.
I try not to be kind all the time, physically, mentally, I try to have some distance and many times actually I slept in only solo male guys house because I make sure I was on business so when I talk I don’t go very close.
Kudsia: So you leave space.
Jin: A little bit space and yeah, so I try to be kind but not too kind. Not to smile all the time ‘cause if you smile all the time then men can misunderstand so make sure yeah, not to be kind.
Kudsia: Do what you need to do get out there if you find, you know, that someone is trying to get into your space.
Petrina: In some countries, I don’t even smile when I’m hitchhiking. Yeah, because the moment you smile, already they’re like, “Oh, she wants me.” So yeah, there’s a fine line as well where is friendly and where is not.
Kudsia: So wait, now the question is, if you don’t smile, you give, sorry but you know in Malaysia they have this term called, cock face. So you give the cockface, who’s going to give you a ride?
Petrina: So it really depends on the country, some countries where, yeah, the men would easily mistake your smile as an invitation, I think those types, as long as you are female they will stop the car anyway or I don’t know, maybe smile but just like a, “hmmm not interested” way and not in a…
Kudsia: Can’t do the Tyra Banks ‘smize’. Don’t ‘smize’ with your eyes, wrong attention. Okay, so we have time for like two questions that’s it cause I think I got only five minutes left right now.
Open Q&A: I just wonder, you are talking about traveling and you are talking about sexual harassment which I would say is a very good thing for us, but how do you tackle like if you go to a country where, shall we say Bangkok or Thailand, we’ve been hearing all these things about drugs and all these things, how do you tackle when you get into that situation?
Petrina: As in, if someone spikes your drink or?
Open Q&A: Yes, if someone spikes a drink.
Kudsia: Oh, there are, there are ways to do that actually, like Priscilla, myself, and Elif, we’ve got a workshop at 3.30 where we’re gonna be talking about things like that and the golden rule Pris taught me as we’ve travelled together quite often, if you leave your drink and you need to go to the restroom, when you come back, don’t touch it. Don’t touch it.
There was a time also in KL, my own sister also kena one time you know they used to use Eyemo. I don’t want to get sued by Eyemo, but anyway I’m just saying that putting eyedrops into drinks can also knock you out.
So if you’re gonna leave your drink even though there’s like three quarters left, don’t think about the 10 ringgit or 20 ringgit that you paid. The thing is, you left your drink, it’s not safe, just don’t touch it.
Open Q&A: Okay, drink is another another avenue of it, but what about other things like people I’ve been hearing this, like touching, you know, touching you a bit also you get this kinda spell when you travel how this one you know avoid.
Kudsia: For me, I just would never allow a stranger to get close enough to me that they can touch me but what about you ladies?
Eif: She has the finger.
Kudsia: It’s the magic finger, y’all, it’s the magic finger.
Jin: I shout actually, yes.
Open Q&A: Because when you’re in a different country, it’s not only one person, you know, it can be an accomplice or group of them.
Kudsia: Yes, I’ve been to Romania where there are gypsies and ten of them will surround you and before you know it, your backpack is open, they’ve cut it open, they’ve run off with your wallet, your phone, and everything. So yeah, there are some countries where there actually work as a gang, but like I said, you have to be extremely mindful of where you are and I was the kind where I would just take my handbag and then just go off walking on my own even though I’ve never been to that city before but I’ve learned that if i want to do that it better be in the daytime and better be in a place that has a lot of people.
Open Q&A: Okay, thank you very much.
Petrina: I actually keep all my valuables and everything in a hidden pouch under my clothes so that whatever I have over me, like, if you wanna steal it, fine, go ahead, I don’t think it’s gonna mean anything to anyone.
Kudsia: I know some people who put it in their shoe, they put some in their shoe and they put some in their bra and put some in the in the… there’s a belt that you can wear underneath your shirt and you can put in your pocket and then you put some in your bag.
Open Q&A: ‘Cause you mentioned pepper spray, you mentioned knife things like this to keep ourselves safe but when we’re traveling to different places, for example, especially planes, I know that they have restrictions on what things we can bring even when we do carry luggages. There are certain things that we are not allowed to bring on the plane, there are certain things we are not allowed to bring on when we enter certain countries, so if lets say if my pepper spray is confiscated, what other things we can do that is hands on? Maybe we can prepare ourselves as maybe we travel in different places locally like maybe something that we can make ourselves to keep ourselves safe is there any suggestions like that?
Petrina: Chilli pepper in your pocket, chilli pepper powder, but then just make sure you don’t go and rub your eye after that.
Kudsia: So you go Domino’s Pizza, keep all those packets, they’re already in packets. Elif?
Elif: I think if you’re in a daytime, a little bit public place, I would scream. That happen to me, I was with my mum in Turkey and they were just threatening us and it was inside our house because they got inside but there’s security and other neighbours but they didn’t think that I was going to scream and I just started screaming on top of my lungs and they got a bit scared, think that I went crazy and security and neighbours heard it. Running is always a good option, but the chilli sounds good to me like I’m gonna do it, I’m gonna do it from now on too.
Kudsia: There’s also those little alarms that you can carry, that, you know, in your carry-on luggage. Press that button, it’s really loud, you know, and you have that on you as well.
Petrina: And i think I read if you’re hitchhiking, pretend that you’re gonna puke. Just be like really disgusting then they might stop the car so you can go out and puke outside.
Jin: And when I hitchhiked in Canada, I always thought that if driver bother me, I use two fingers to his eyes. Yeah, I always think about finger.
Kudsia: My mother always told me this as well, she forced me to take taekwondo actually when I was 17, 18. And I was a bit late, all my sparring partners were like 9-years-old, 10-years-old, but no it’s really important to actually know basic self-defence. It’s not just because you’re going to travel, but for your own safety as well. We do have a self-defence class happening with Ann later, so that would be that would be quite handy to know. Yeah, last question.
Marina Mahathir: It’s a comment I guess, and a question I think. What I come across and it’s not just about traveling but also at home, is that whether sexual harassment or whatever, it’s violence against women. It’s about power and it’s about perceiving you as being weaker and more vulnerable and that’s why they do it, if you’re on a bicycle they know you can’t do much so yeah, very easy to reach out and to grab you, right. And it seems to me, that we need to change that perception about the powerless-ness, so when you get aggressive, that puts them off, you know, cause women are not supposed to be aggressive and not supposed to fight back. So I guess the one big lesson is fight back, fight back you know, just defy the stereotype that you yourself have about women.
But the one question I have to ask is that we kind of know all these things, I mean, okay, you have very specific experiences but we kind of know all these things but I still hear about a lot of particularly young women who still get themselves into these situations and I can say that when I was young, me too, I got myself into a situation where like, “Hmm why did I do that? You know, I mean I didn’t get into serious trouble, but I could have and what is it that despite knowing, we still… What is that we need to overcome to make sure that we are really… I mean, we’re not here to scare everybody because you know fear is also disempowering, and we’ve heard that many times but how do we keep reminding women, especially young women, things they actually already know. Like, you know to get into those situations. Is there any answer to that?
Elif: I actually wrote an article for Zafigo about this too, how fear gets to us because sexual harassment happens when you’re traveling. It’s going to happen, like not that it’s gonna physically happen, but there are gonna be situations you put yourself in or men try to take advantage of it because at the end of the day you are traveling and you want to believe in the kindness of strangers. And from my experience 90% of the people I met on the road were nice and kind people the 10% I had horrible experiences with.
But if I had to make a judgment call because of the experiences I’ve had with that 10% that would be such a shame because I know that all those 90% of the people I met, and I cherish them so much.
I still talk to them and if I think now next time I travel, if I don’t travel because of the horrible months, I won’t get to meet people like those ones now that I call brothers and sisters because they are so close to me. And it’s not only traveling, like I said, sexual harassment in my mum’s house; the truck drivers helping us to carry the furniture and they saw we were two women they tried to take advantage of the situation. So it can happen in your own house as well, so limiting yourself to your own room is not gonna help either like you can get pizza delivery and it can happen. So you need to think of it, pros and cons, and not focus on the bad thing. I know this happened and I know this guy was disgusting, like, it hurt but also think about all the people you’ve met all the places you’ve seen and how empowered you feel because you overcame the 10% of the horrible people and you will plan your next ticket, your next trip. So I think that’s the thing
Kudsia: True. Petrina, do young women have a false sense of security when they travel? Are we so infatuated with our friend’s Instagram posts and the wonderful travels that they have that we feel nothing bad can ever happen to us and so we let our guard down? Is that what’s happening?
Petrina: I don’t think so. I think as women, we almost always have our guards up, especially I would say people from KL. Like people tell me, “So dangerous the places you’re going to!” And I go like, “No man, to me, KL is the most dangerous.”
So I think we are always cautious, but yeah, like Elif said I’ve come to realise that I cannot judge a person based from the beginning.
Because sometimes I think the person is good and he turns out to be the complete opposite and sometimes I think someone looks completely dodgy and he turns out to be really nice.
Petrina: So a lot of times…
Kudsia: You’ve met some of my ex-boyfriends then?
Kudsia: Sorry just a live moment.
Petrina: So yeah, a lot of times I’m just like, you know, I’m just gonna give him the benefit of the doubt and the whole time, I’ll just think of an escape plan. If i need to get out of there, I get out of there. But yeah, if I go in constantly just like, “I can’t trust this person,” then I won’t get anywhere. So you just gotta deal with it when it happens.
Kudsia: And Jin, have you met other young women who also want to, I’m sure women have come up to you and said, “Okay, I want to cycle as well, what do I do?”
Kudsia: So do you tell them you got to be really careful or?
Jin: So maybe I give some caution, like, sexual harassment is everywhere all over the world, in my country, in United States or whatever, in Europe, but in some countries it can happen a bit easily. In a few countries, and maybe, I’d tell you a list, like you have to be careful in this country because this is more like a men’s world and it’s not common for a girl walking on the street, so maybe be careful. I’d maybe tell you a few countries where I want to say that sexual harassment happens a lot. And I usually report to the police.
Of course, people say that you cannot catch them or that they say you cannot change the way things are, but okay, I know I cannot change it, but at least I want to tell people this is wrong. So I always report if I can and actually one time when I was sexually harassed in Turkey, I reported him and they found him because there was camera on gas station and then we caught him and he apologised.
So that also gave me another reason to say, “Okay, let’s report it. Yeah.”
Kudsia: Thank you very very much to all our panelist, a huge round of applause please for our women travellers who shared their stories today. I can’t summarise it better than what Datuk Marina has already said, but you know as words to part with, like, if you want to travel and if you are going alone, do a lot of research on the country that you’re about to go to. Find out what is safe to do, what’s not safe to do, especially if you’re a woman traveller.
Just to give you information, women-only travel clubs have increased around the world by 300% in just one year, so there are a lot of companies now that are doing women-only travel groups as well, so stay safe, don’t be discouraged by our scary stories, and yes, you can catch up with the speakers as well during lunch time. So once again, thank you to Jin, Petrina, and also Elif.
Kudsia Kahar, Co-founder & CEO of Kudsia+Co
Kudsia’s name is synonymous with the success and growth of the commercial radio industry in Malaysia. She has over 25 years of experience as a broadcaster under her belt, and was at the helm of top Malaysian stations such as Hitz.FM, ERA, Sinar FM and THR. Kudsia Kahar remains the only person who has managed over 20 radio stations in her career, including Malaysia’s sole women-targeted English station, Capital FM.Now the co-founder and CEO of Kudsia+Co (an effective communications training company), Kudsia regularly speaks at regional and international conferences and forums, training the C-Suite of corporations on developing an engaging presence for public speaking engagements and as spokespersons.
Jin Jeong, Solo Cyclist
Despite the odds, Jin trusted her dream and herself, and has since cycled through 67 countries in North America, Latin America, Africa, Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia and South East Asia. And all without going back home for six years! Jin has cycled more than 62,000 kilometres so far (that’s 38,525 miles).
Jin shares all about her experiences in her riveting ZafigoX Talk, 6 Years, 67 Countries, 62,000 KMs, 5 Continents, 1 Girl – What I’ve Learned Cycling The World.
Elif decided to leave the little town of Erzurum in the eastern Turkey when she was 17 to escape the patriarchy. Since then, she has lived in six different countries and travelled across over 30 more. Elif is the current Head of Special Projects for Tune Talk Sdn. Bhd.
Elif shares her tales of growing up, escaping patriachy, and womanhood in her aptly titled talk Turkey, Turkish Delights, Menstrual Cycles.
Petrina is a freelance scriptwriter and has no exact travel plans yet. A different continent next, for sure, after her months-long hitchhiking trip from Europe to Asia. But planning isn’t her thing. And that’s why she freelances.So when the urge to leave hits, she’s gone.
Petrina addresses the good, the bad, and the in-betweens in her ZafigoX talk, Hitchhiking From Sweden To Malaysia – Of Money, Men And Misconceptions.