Too often on my ventures down the iconic stretch of King’s Parade, I am stopped by a punt tout trying to sell a tour to me. Never mind that I am usually walking briskly to my college or supervision, or even that I am wearing my college jumper – the fact that I am Asian is often enough reason for touts to assume that I am a tourist. None of my white friends have ever experienced the same thing; surprised exclamations always greet any mention I make of it.
As per the laws of biology I have adapted accordingly in the past year: I rarely venture out without my earphones plugged in, that my backpack swinging reassuringly from my shoulder blades and, for the occasional final touch, my computer tucked under my arm – no chance of me not being recognised as a student now. Still, I am no less frustrated whenever I do happen to be without my usual defences and am approached again by a tout.
These approaches imply that because my I am not white, I am the Other. Because I am Chinese, I do not fit as a student into the picturesque scene. One might hope that it would be different in a city as educated and international as Cambridge, but it does not mean that on my first day here that a man did not shout “white supremacy” at me from a car; it does not mean that BME concerns do not have to be repeatedly highlighted; it does not mean that punt touts do not occasionally come up to me and try to say hello in Chinese, despite the fact that I am from the English-speaking Singapore.
All this appears more pertinent in light of recent calls to decolonise the English degree.
As an English student myself, the issue is an important reflection of the intersection between literature and representation. It was infuriating reading comments on The Telegraph’s highly inaccurate article; phrases like “the University shouldn’t let themselves be dictated to by foreign-born students” only reinforced this sense of Othering.
So yes, my interactions with punt touts bother me. It is another instance of institutional discrimination, and only illuminates how Cambridge still needs a change of perspective. While an issue as prominent as the recent decolonisation of the English curriculum has certainly shone a spotlight on such matters, it is important to remember too the small detail that make up the picture.