The Great Asian Lie
The children who pass by my gate always wave and smile; except for those kids who only know one sentence of English; that being, “Give me money.” Tourists have made life difficult for expats because the local children observe foreign tourists spending money like drunken sailors on weekend liberty, but the children have no concept of the almighty credit card. They do not realize the bill comes later when the tourist returns home. Most likely, the day will come when panhandlers will have cell phones that allow tourists to swipe their credit cards when responding to the appeals for money.
As they saunter down the street, the men and women also acknowledge me. The women often greet me with a smile; some in pleasant niceties and others in a more sensual manner. Trolling for a husband is a way of life for many in poor countries and a foreigner’s income would go a long way in improving their standard of living. I am not being judgmental in making this observation, because if our roles were reversed, I would also want to marry a foreigner. The men, well that is a mixed bag. Some smile and others loathe. Most of these men, whose facial expressions seethe with disdain, believe all foreigners are in their country to use and abuse the women. Sadly, they are not entirely wrong in their thinking. The majority of foreign men, single or married, who are traveling solo, are often looking to have sex with the locals. The mindset of men from developed nations is their money is that good; as if it were some magical key to unlock a treasure trove; a key that will always work in places where poverty is the order of the day.
Guess what? It does work. Much to my dismay I know of families that have abandoned all their cultural norms and moral standards to drink from the well of foreign currency. In every Asian country I have visited the cultural norm is for a man, any man, foreign or domestic, that desires to date someone’s daughter, would first meet her family and then the couple will be accompanied by a chaperone. Truth be known, that was also the standard in developed nations in times past. We certainly have come a long way. Not!
And we have no problem exporting our habits and vices to other countries. Twenty-five years ago I would rarely see an obese Asian, but thanks to the infusion of fast food joints, “Civilization Ho!” there are now pronounced numbers of overweight adults and children. Nowadays they even have an entire industry devoted to weight loss! Developed nations have given so much: cigarettes, liquor, pollution, traffic jams, porn, casinos, lottery, etc. Don’t sit their looking so smug, because Asia has, and is, mimicking all of the vices that originated in developed nations.
As Western culture has taken root foreign men now meet their love interest at the airport and then head off to a resort where they will spend the week alone. Before the man returns to his home country he will usually have dinner with the family and shower them with gifts. Commonly, they will be inappropriate trinkets that do nothing to benefit the actual needs of the family. Gifts of perfume and gold watches do not fill empty stomachs. Fifty kilos of rice and a case of canned corned beef would be a much better choice.
Of course, one has to consider the fact that these families are making a conscious decision to accept these handouts, but when they do…it sends the wrong message. In essence, they are saying, “Sure, it is fine and dandy that you sleep with our daughter and take her virginity while possibly impregnating her. And while you are at it, invite your friends to visit here and do the same.” Khaki clad travelers with sunglasses on, interpreters of love, shuffle sandal shod feet on Asian lands, to join the sex machine and the people sing praises of Dinky watches and Channel No. 5.
Some Asians are angered by the expression “Crab Mentality,” some could care less and others are oblivious to its meaning. I resisted the inclusion of this term in my verbiage for a long time. It was not until a Filipino journalist gave me her views regarding “The Great Asian Lie” that I then began to see how such terminology could be used without sounding like an arrogant racist. And after living in Asia for a number of years, I have had many personal experiences that typify the definition.
One stands out quite vividly among the plethora of others. Some friends came to my house for dinner one evening. One of the guests was a middle-age woman with two children. When it was time for them to depart, I stood outside with them as they waited for the next tricycle (motorbike with a sidecar) to rumble down the street. The junction in front of my residence was a common area for people living in that barangay to flag down a tricycle and then proceed to their selected destinations. The area is not particularly well-lighted. Desiring that my friends would feel safe and secure as they waited for transportation, I waited with them. After a few minutes two men from one of the side alleys appeared and stood within twenty feet of where we were positioned. They could obviously see my friend and her two children; knowing full well that she was first in line to secure a ride back into town. In a couple of minutes an empty tricycle approached the intersection. The driver looked toward the woman and I sensed he knew that she was the better fare; three persons versus two. Before he could stop in front of the place where my friends were standing, one of the men stepped out in front of the tricycle forcing the driver to halt. The two men exchanged words with the driver, climbed into the tricycle and preceded down the road; leaving a woman with two children standing there bewildered. I shouted, “How rude!” as the men passed be me. It is my nature to be a defender of the downtrodden and defenseless. My friends are continually telling me to be quiet, because people have been killed for simply looking at another person in what may be deemed an offensive manner.
What? Are there no laws? Many here in Asia have told me that there are many laws, but no one to enforce them. Come to think of it, I have walked for one hour throughout the town on many mornings and I have never seen any police presence. However, I have seen many personal motorbikes parked in front of police stations. How can they enforce the law if they are all inside the station?
“Crab Mentality” has been defined in many ways: being too proud and treating others as inferior beings; jealous and bitter when others are improving and progressing; selfish and lacking any sense of sacrifice; self-righteous and critical of others; lacking in compassion; know-it-alls; and never believing they have any of these characteristics. I believe this attitude, so prevalent in Asian countries, can be summed up in one simple sentence; that being, they care about themselves and nobody else. Many Asians have told me, “If we continue in this mentality, we will not grow as a person and definitely, we will not grow as a nation. Therefore, as people mature, they have to become aware of this negative attitude or habit. We must eliminate this way of thinking, not only for ourselves, but also for the whole nation and the next generation.”
And that brings me to “The Great Asian Lie.” Over and over again I have heard this lie so many times that it is not any wonder to me why people have come to believe it to be the truth. In all fairness, a “half-truth” would be a more appropriate assessment. I cannot begin to tell you the countless number of times that Asians have said to me, “We are a family oriented society and we care about others.” Even the media touts this half-truth in news broadcasts and commercials. One half of that statement is true, that being, they are family oriented, but the other part is a blatant lie, because they ONLY care about THEIR family and will step in front of, or on, a fellow countryman to be first in line.
When shopping in developed countries I have arrived at the checkout lane many times carrying only a few items for purchase. Those persons already in the lane, with their shopping carts filled with many items, quite often have graciously invited me to go ahead of them. Conversely, after living and shopping in Asia for over four years, such courtesy has only been extended to me on two occasions. And never permit a space of greater than twelve inches between yourself and the person standing in front of you, because that minute distance creates the perfect opportunity for someone to step in front of you; it has happened to me more times than I care to remember.
Consider where common courtesy and decency are found. They are certainly not values that are birthed in corrupt environments. Corruption here has reigned for so long that the citizens have become numb to civility and it shows in the manner in which they treat others. The more that centralized governments attempt to control every aspect of daily living, the greater the propensity for corruption and inefficiency.
For example, I have a close friend that works in city government. She is, for all intents and purposes, a welfare recipient. Basically, she has more paid leave days than she can use. In fact, at the end of the year she has to utilize her leave days or simply forfeit them. And holidays! They have more holidays in a six month period than I had in a year when working in a Western nation; another contributing factor in a lack of productivity. The school system fairs no better. On many occasions I have witnessed my neighbor’s son not attending classes. Curious, I have asked him why he was not in school on that particular day. His replies were manifold. For example: “We have no teacher today for those classes.” Substitute teachers are essentially nonexistent in most Asian countries. Other times he has said, “They are testing the girls, so we are excused from classes,” or “It is raining so we do not have to attend right now,” or “It is festival, so no school today.” And the government wonders why students score poorly when compared to developed nations.
Furthermore, only last year did the school system here begin the progression to a Kindergarten through 12 curricula. Previously, students were considered to have completed the necessary elementary educational standards at grade 10. After which, they would either attend a four year or two year college program. Unfortunately, the burden of expense for these educational pursuits is shouldered by the student’s family. That fact alone creates a crushing hardship for the majority of families. Worse yet, it most often fosters another cultural habit which finds its genesis in “The Great Asian Lie.”
For those families who opt to stretch their resources to the maximum and pay the tuition of their oldest child, when that son or daughter graduates, he or she is burdened with the responsibility to financially support the next oldest sibling when it is their turn to go to college. This is not a noble tradition, but a burden the child must bear and most will tell you that it makes going to college seem like a perpetual cycle of poverty. Even with a college diploma their income will be quite limited; hence, forcing them to remain at home coupled with having to relinquish the greater portion of their labors to support their family. I view it as enslavement by parents who are too lazy to work hard themselves and rely solely on a large number of offspring in order to generate income for their personal wants.
I have neighbors who live in a very simple structure; woven fiber walls, a metal roof that leaks and a concrete floor, but they have a 32” LCD TV, new furniture and a powerful stereo system. All of which were had from the incomes generated by their three daughters who are working and remain at home. The parents do not work even though they are able bodied. It is no wonder those daughters hardly ever smile when I see them leaving for work in the mornings and returning home in the evenings. What do they have to look forward to? What a disheartening existence. I could only imagine the look on my older brother’s face had my parents told him that he would have to assist me with my college tuition.
Most Asians have never been taught to plan for the future; probably because their futures have been so fraught with difficulty and burdens. Most do not even plan for the next day, let alone one year, five years or ten years down the road of life.
So how can they break this cycle that impedes growth and stability? Traditional educational pursuits have certainly not been the answer, because those who do graduate find themselves applying for jobs that pay little more than those who did not have access to a college education. Most college graduates find themselves working in service industries as desk clerks in hotels, retail sales persons in the malls or cashiers in the supermarkets and restaurants.
Does it really require a pseudo college education to have the skills to fulfill those positions? Of course not, but the educators continue to perpetuate this false belief and the governments have been unable, or lack the will, to stand up to teacher organizations. Interestingly, it has been the college educators that have opposed the transition to a K to 12 curricula. Why? Their enrollments will decline because employers will now have access to candidates with a high school diploma knowing they possess the necessary skills to fulfill job requirements.
Additionally, vocational programs at the high school level would also provide a greater number of opportunities for graduates and reduce the financial burden on families. Parents and students would no longer be forced to rely on the two year college to do what a primary education system could never accomplish in a Kindergarten through 10th grade curricula.
Improving the judicial system will also help to bring about positive change. A lack of implementation and enforcement of laws that are already on the books sends the wrong message to citizens. If the judicial system is unwilling to apply and administer those laws, the citizenry has no compulsion to act honestly and honorably in their interactions with others. You can see this played out on a daily basis as people attempt to cheat one another; even rationalizing that deliberate thievery is just a cultural norm.
Cases of injustice fill the television news reports, radio broadcasts and newspapers, but the reporting does not move the judicial system to act in accordance with the law; to do the work to which they have been appointed. I have followed one such incident where 58 persons, 32 of whom were journalists, were massacred on their way to support an opposition candidate for an office that was held by a corrupt politician who had his own personal army. That incident occurred over three years ago and not one, no not one, person has ever been convicted.
There is no magic pill to immediately cure all the ills of any nation, but if change is going to come…it has to start someplace. There needs to be a beginning point; a place where people can look back to and say, “It was right there when we decided that honesty was a virtue that would bring positive change and we chose to stop living a lie.”
It can only happen when they free themselves from “The Great Asian Lie” and come to the realization that caring about others is as equally important, actually, more so, than solely caring about ourselves.