Breaking Barriers

19 Dec 2013 | Guest Poster

Guest post by Hyshaji Nightdragon. Nightdragon is a biological science graduate, laboratory specialist & fursuiter from Singapore. Rawr!

Three years ago, I was first introduced to fursuiting and fandom. This year, I made my first ‘pilgrimage’ to Anthrocon. With that came the rather intimidating prospect that is long distance travel. You see, I’m from Singapore, so by traveling all the way to the United States, I do mean a really, really long journey.

Crossing borders can be a touchy affair. Deep down, many of us do fear ‘outsiders’. We scrutinize them, question their motives, and sometimes downright reject them from ‘our place’.

That sense of caution is not entirely unwarranted, but in a manner of speaking, it is building a barrier around ‘our place’. As discussed in articles such as Furry Internationalism, the furry culture is helping to break down those barriers.

In many ways, my experience was complementary to JM’s experience, when he travelled from the UK to Malaysia, as he detailed in The Furry Accommodation Network.

The journey to Anthrocon would take me from Singapore, to Japan, then to the United States, visiting Seattle and finally Pittsburgh. Through some work-related circumstances, I later ended up in the UK too.

All over the period of two months.

Several Japanese fursuiters had visited Singapore the previous year for an Anime convention. We’d gone fursuiting together then, but I certainly couldn’t claim to know them that well. However, I still contacted one of them and, with my intermediate level of Japanese, managed to tell him about my upcoming trip.  I expressed to him that it might be difficult to meet because it was a Friday, being a working day, but I was greeted with a very happy reply.

Don’t worry! I’ll take leave!

The result of that was two Japanese furs picking me up from Narita Airport during my 8 hour layover, and taking me out to the nearby areas. A simple, quick shopping and lunch trip. And as a little bonus, the three of us got out our partials and took photographs at a small waterfall in a park.

The language barrier was there and communication was rather minimal, but it was a different feeling. It didn’t feel like I was going to Japan alone; I was going there to meet friends.

My purpose of going to Seattle was to visit a Singaporean who was there for studies, and I was also referred to contact one of the local Seattle furs prior to the trip. I did, and that got me a phone number and a lunch appointment.

Upon arriving in Seattle, I was indeed able to meet up with several local furs, despite having no prior contact with them before. After flying over 20 hours and the trip through immigration, it was a very good feeling to be welcomed by the locals.

Did I mention they dragged me to visit the local zoo on the day I was fresh off the plane? Yup, jet lag be damned! And I had a photo shoot, in fursuit, at a local museum the very next day.

A lot of the anxiety of traveling to a foreign country had faded away.

As for Pittsburgh, it so happened there was a fur from Singapore studying there. I’d only met him briefly once before during one of his visits to Singapore, but a quick online message and I had someone else to meet .

This was in addition to the contacts I’d been speaking to online, and had arranged to meet during Anthrocon. Plus some of the Seattle furs from before, who were also attending Anthrocon. I could probably go on about ‘My First Convention’, but that’s not really the point of this article.

My overseas travels were not to end there however, as I was soon sent to the UK for a work-related training course.

Very nicely, a fur from the UK had earlier visited Singapore and joined one of our meets. We exchanged messages, later phone numbers. And suddenly, the looming business trip to a foreign country, knowing nothing and no one, turns into a trip where I could look forward to meeting people during the weekends. One of whom happened to be JM.

Looking back, this was a completely different feeling from being on a tour group or going with my parents. Rather than follow ‘their’ schedule, I was able to follow my own.

I would have to say that in Asian culture, we are definitely more conservative. Someone, like myself, who is not a seasoned solo traveller, was bound to get flooded with the ‘usual advice’. Don’t do this, don’t do that, don’t go and meet random people from the internet; you never know who they could be.

That’s my parents’ generation, and while some of those rules still do apply,  times change and other rules break as a result of that change. As long as it’s done smartly.

To quote JM, "When you first meet a new furry in real life, there is an implicit level of trust."

I don’t expect things to go perfectly every single time. There will be the good and the bad; that’s just life.

I compare this to when I studied & lived in Australia for two years. When everything around you seems unfamiliar, we tend to gravitate towards the most familiar thing. In this situation, I found there was an Aikido club on campus, a martial art which I practice back home. The people there may have been different, but the feel of the art was still the same. It definitely helped me to relieve the stress in my initial weeks there.

On each leg of my trip, I found myself taken back to that emotion I felt then.

Not only was I able to visit touristy areas and do touristy things, I was able to see how the locals lived and dined. And I got to hear it from them directly: the differences and similarities between our cultures and our countries. I was able to talk to them about how the fandom scene was over there.

The beautiful thing is that I would never have crossed paths with these people otherwise. Our lives were too different, except for that one common interest.

I took back from my journey was the idea that ‘now I know how it feels’. My experience has become another common interest I can share with visitors when I reciprocate for kindness that was given to me. It’s certainly a hope that by spreading this around, others will be encouraged to do the same. This is especially interesting because I’ve always been naturally very introverted, yet the fandom has helped me open up and talk to people. That in turn has actually made me more comfortable with meeting people outside the fandom as well. It’s just a matter tailoring the conversation for the audience.

As a side note, readers, while I can’t really offer a crash-in spot for the night, I’m certainly happy to meet up for dinner. Drop the me or another of the local furs a message if you’re ever in Singapore.

To finish up, I would say that I’ve found some things to be truly international. Public transport screwing up, idiot drivers, screaming kids on planes & trains, McDonalds, the sight of my dragon fursuit making kids cry… and furries.

We’re one of the means to break down the walls that society has set up around us.

Hyshaji Nightdragon on Twitter
Hyshaji Nightdragon on FA