Friday, March 16, 2007

You, Also Asian? Taboo Subject Here??


Every time I read or hear about "Asian values" or a "we are Asian" argument, I feel amused, if not baffled. A recent example is a letter, "Game promotes idea of Western colonisation." I would like to try to present a few perspectives.

When they say "Asia," what do they really mean? Asia is a vast area stretching from the Far East perhaps to the Middle East. Just remember the participants of the recent Asia Games. By "Asia," do they mean "Singapore" or "Singaporeans of Chinese origin"? Values and cultures are ideas that have nebulous shapes and are hard to be defined. Don't they notice Western or Caucasian culture are deeply integrated into their everyday life? Just look at how you wear. A T-shirt and a pair of jeans? A business suit with a tie? You even sometimes enjoy listening to rock music, Brahms or Tchaikovsky? Part of you are already Westernised. I myself prefer Italian food to local dishes. It is nothing to be ashamed of and should not be criticised. (In the meantime, one of my Singaporean friends said, "If we were still under British rule, my English would be better." So sad.)

There is no point to emphasise how different you are from others. Rather it is far more enlightened to try to find how similar "we" and "they" are. To "Asian valuers," I would say, don't worry. Whatever passport you are holding, you don't forget where you are from. It may be your preference of food or some other details. Many years ago, in Boston, an American said to me, "the way you hold a strap on train is very Japanese." I didn't (still don't) quite understand what she meant. But I believe that culture is something like this. It reveals itself in intangible ways.

As for the letter that mentions unequal treaties imposed by Western countries on Asian ones, I'd like to point out one such victim was Japan, which tried to rectify it by becoming a "power." Would "Asian valuers" consider Japan, a coloniser, part of Asia then? Or a quasi Asian nation that only mimicked Western colonisers? And we should not forget there have been Asian people who tried to conquer Europe. What would they say about Genghis Khan and his grandson, Kublai Khan, whose empire is said to have touched parts of Poland and Hungary.

By the way, I'm always confused by how Singaporeans use the word, "Caucasian." Caucasians are of and from people in the Caucasus region, for example, Ukraine. Would you call a French or Italian person a Caucasian?

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