How The Grand Canyon Changed Me

Told By A Chinese Girl, From The West Coast, Who Fell Off A Boat

WHO AM I? 我是谁

Before my trip to the Grand Canyon, I thought I knew who I was, what I wanted, and what my values were. After more than 650 miles away from where I call home, A LOT changed. I learned more than I ever imagined I would about things I wasn’t expecting to learn about. From the Grand Canyon, to the East Coast, to who I am compared to other people from across the country.

My name is Fiona Tsui. My chinese name is 徐芳蔚, Xúfāngwèi. I’m chinese but I also identify as Vietnamese and American. It’s a long story.

Growing up in San Francisco for the past 17 years really shaped me into who I am today. It shaped my opinions and how I see the world. It also made me an ABC, American Born Chinese. It’s a pretty interesting term with countless connotations. For example, if I were to be approached by a chinese speaker and I didn’t understand what they were saying, all I would have to say is “I am ABC.” The other people would automatically smile and say, “Ha. ABC. I see.” It’s a really fascinating social interaction you might never experience or hear about depending on where you live and who you are.

San Francisco’s fabulous public transportation system really helped me develop a love for adventures and discovery because missing one bus stop could take you some place you’ve never been to. That passion is something that I now hold very dear to me.

When I see tourists, they always seemed more interested than me when it came to Asian culture and it took me more than 650 miles to see why. I’ll talk more on how I came to this realization later.

I have a lot to say and once I start writing I can’t stop, but I’ll try my best to cut down to the highlights of my trip to the Grand Canyon.

Breaking the Ice With Flower Candy

Even before I saw everyone sitting in a circle near door 7, I knew there were a lot of white people going on this trip. I could tell based off of names, speech patterns, diction, vocabulary, and sometimes accents. I will admit that this stereotypes all types of people but it’s something a lot of people do. I chose to use this knowledge as an introduction for myself and who I am. When I found the group, I offered lychee candy, flower candy, and guava candy. All flavors that you generally wouldn’t taste unless you were introduced to Asian sweets. It was really cool to see how many people have never tried any of those flavors.

Acknowledged For A Smile. As a group, we wrote down expectations and traits we had for the group on a No Barriers Flag. This flag was passed at every meal to a person who exemplified those traits. I was the second person to get the flag because I “always had a smile on my face” and I “was always super friendly.” I was really surprised because these things never happen to me. I’m never the first few to be chosen. It really made me think about how important it to me to always bring a smile and it reminded me why I CHOOSE TO BE NICE. Because being kind is a choice.

The River

At first I thought a fire line was dumb and inefficient but that changed after 3 days. I found that it made moving things easier and it allowed more people to be included.

Being on the river is unlike anything else I’ve experienced. Number 1, peeing in the river and pooping in groovers. Definitely unlike city life. During the day when we are on the river, the sun beats down on us and the rapids cool us down with splashes of cold water. Often the water is “muy frio” or “muy fria” (very cold in Spanish. I’m not sure which one is correct). I learned that from other people on the trip and I found out that I really like Spanish, but it’s very very difficult.

When it’s time to sleep, I have to put on my night time contacts (CRT). This turned out to be extremely frustrating. Every night I would cry because I had sand under my contacts. I constantly thought about giving up, but the people that helped me hold a light were always super supportive and patient. They allowed me to push through and conquer this challenge. This taught me to push through the pain and keep trying even though I wanted to give up SO SO BAD.

P.S. It’s a really good bonding activity.

Stepping Up. Stepping Down

One day, one of the visually impaired participants seemed really frustrated. I walked up to him and asked him if he was ok because he looked really mad. I helped guide him up the next path and I told him to “take his time and feel the ground” with his feet. I waited for him to set his feet before going further. We took a lot longer then other people did to get up but it was okay. Later, he told me that I helped him realize how much he missed using his feet and that he was happy now because he had forgotten this.

It’s a pretty good feeling when someone tells you that you did something great or life changing of some sort. Seeing how happy he was after, made me want to continue helping people as much as I can and watch other people smile like he did. This also taught me how to “Step up and Step down”. I stepped down, off the fun train where all the sighted kids could get to our destination first and play more. I brought myself to the visually impaired kid’s emotional level by just being with him and just letting him know that I’m there for him. In that sense I stepped up. The adults can’t constantly baby someone and the person who had been helping him rarely ever got to jump ahead with everyone else. Anyone could have stayed back to provide moral support but hardly anyone did when he needed it the most. That’s why I really relate to the quote: “Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it.” – 4 friends on a river. (I’ll put the story down below)


I never really understood why being Chinese or Asian was so important to other people until I started to tell people about what being Chinese means to me. Everything from food, to traditions, to the language itself. The more I talked about it, the more I realized that I knew a lot compared to someone who knew nothing. Dim sum, lychee, honey walnut prawns, jelly fish, duck, and fermented beancurd. Many of these things that I find normal, others found bizarre and sometimes gross like durian (if they knew what it was). Durian is a spiky fruit that has creamy “meat” and big seeds. It’s also very, very, very smelly. Both the scent and the taste are acquired things. I wish more people got the chance to try it. I really appreciated being Chinese now because I get so many food options that some people never get in their whole life.

Man Overboard

Throughout the whole trip, we were constantly reminded to “leave no trace” and I didn’t think too much about it until a plastic Pringles lid flew off the boat, into the water. I leaned off the boat to grab the lid. I didn’t plan on slipping in but that’s what happened. While I was getting the lid, the person next to me watched me and asked himself “Should I help her? She looks like she’s slipping.” (he didn’t help me). Two girls from the other boat saw me fall in and they bursted out laughing. The funniest part of this whole story is that we were literally 3 feet away from shore and I fell in for a Pringles lid. When I got back onto the boat, my friend hugged me, asking if I was okay. I was, but I wasn’t. I didn’t get hurt nor did I almost drown, but I started sobbing while laughing. It was the funniest thing ever. I didn’t know why I was sobbing, but I laughed because it was hilarious and I didn’t know why. This continued for what felt like 2 or 3 hours and I was still shook.

Shook (adjective): The state of being shaken up.(Slang) Example: “he was hella shook after I surprised him.” or “I’M SHOOK!!!!!”

I felt vulnerable crying in front of people I had only met 9 days ago, but a part of me didn’t care. It was a lot easier letting it all out rather than holding it in and they had become my family in this toilet-less place. This taught me that it was okay to cry, that it’s okay to show weakness, and that it’s okay to not know why.

Me and My Bacon

“Crispy or chewy?” You can’t play both sides. From the very start, I made it very apparent that I love chewy bacon and I fought as a minority in this place of crispy bacon lovers. I stood my ground when people tried to tell me crispy bacon was good, but I didn’t let them move me. I stood strong defending my love for chewy bacon. Jokes on them, I won the fight because I got 4 pieces of bacon that were cooked just for me and it was delicious. I ran around wiggling its squishy form in front of all the haters and I shared it with my fellow chewy lovers who weren’t as vocal as I was on this matter. Sharing is caring and chewy bacon needs to be shared with the world.

I didn’t only butt heads on bacon; I butted heads about pecan being pronounced “pēcān” because that’s what it is and I defended my use of the word iTouch when labeling my apple device. It is an iTouch because although it is an iPod, so is the iPod Nano, the iPod Shuffle, and the iPod classic. WHICH ONE ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT WHEN U SAY IPOD?! I rest my case.


Continuing on from that, I believe in the word “Hecka.” Hecka (adjective): a lot, very, similar to hella but they are not always interchangeable. Example: “That was hecka scary.”

I found out that hecka is a west coast thing. This amazing descriptive word isn’t socially acceptable in many other places outside the west coast and I will cherish this word for as long as I live because it is a GREAT word.

Who Am I To Others?

Living on the West Coast has no doubt, had a big impact on who I am, what words I choose to use(i.e Hecka), and it has shaped my opinions. San Francisco is so diverse and so dense. I don’t know how this 7 miles by 7 miles plot of land holds so much culture, and history. It’s incredible how big this melting pot is. Being with the group made me realize how much it made up for my identity and I think that realization is priceless.

Who Am I To Me?

My name is Fiona Tsui and I’m a lot more Asian than I thought I was. But, I’m proud of it. I’ve found that being able to share my culture with other people brings me lots of joy and watching people try foods they’ve never heard about is very funny and it makes me laugh.

I am a good combination of selfless and selfish. I am also kind but I know sometimes, it is okay to be mean. I am a team player but I also highly value individual work. Being in a team doesn’t necessarily mean someone is doing most of the work; being in a team should mean that everyone is doing whatever they can do best, based off of their abilities.

Take Aways

I may not be the best at anything and I may be the most mediocre person out there but someone will think what I do is good, maybe even great. The people on this trip were extremely supportive when I “tattooed” them with pens. I didn’t think I was that good, but hearing them tell me how talented I am made me more confident in my mediocre abilities.

In a few years, I might forget some details about this trip but I won’t forget how it changed me.

I made some amazing friends in the Grand Canyon from all across the country and I am so glad I made the cut.

Thank you for taking the time to read my lengthy letter. I hope that I was able to express to you my experience in the Grand Canyon and I hope you learned a lot from what I wrote.


Fiona Tsui

P.S. I was the ONLY Chinese person in the group and I was 1 of the only 2 Asians on this trip. I know people are pushing for diversity but I found the diversity in our group made this experience what it was to me. I don’t know how it would have been with different people and I don’t want to know. It was an amazing, life changing trip, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.


This is a story about Somebody, Anybody, Everybody, and Nobody.

 Somebody, Anybody, Everybody, and Nobody went rafting together. Everybody was so excited. Somebody was hoping to get something deep and meaningful out of the experience. Nobody was initially scared to be left out because Everybody agreed that wouldn’t happen. But Everybody knew that Anybody could sometimes have those feelings.

On the River, there were times that Everybody assumed that Someday would do a certain task. Anybody could have done it. But Nobody did it.

Of the 4 characters on the trip, which one do you relate with? Write the ending to this story.

-Told by Erin Willy

August 30, 2017
No Barriers

No Barriers

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