“Well, guess what? We learned it in school. Some of us DID and DO pay attention in class. We watch English films and read English books which prove just how globalised the language really is. You might find people who can’t speak a word or struggle with English but that does not make up the entire nation . . .
. . . There is nothing more irksome than seeing some foreigners imposing a certain sense of superiority whenever they come to developing countries under the guise of ‘English teachers’, ‘aid workers’ or just merely ‘harmless-soul-searching-thrill-seeking backpackers’ who seem to remain confined within their bubbles of disillusioned euphoria while at the same time expecting to be pleased and entertained by the local people, culture and sights throughout their stay.”
-Sydrah Mustaffa, Starlustre Sydrah
Indian-Canadian comedian Russell Peters has a famous catchphrase, “I don’t make the stereotypes, I just see them.” Having grown up in Canada, but under the care of Indian immigrant parents, he provides an interesting take on the cultures he observes and how he related them in his comedy act. Although, since the jokes tend to be for a western audience, his ‘observed stereotypes’ are usually from the Asian cultures he’s so fond of describing.
So often here in Bangkok, I hear the westerners I know complain about how backward the country is or the many ways that things should change. And I’m admittedly guilty of it too, despite my background in cultural relativism. When it comes down to it, a perception of a culture is always through the subjective eyes of the observer, and they will use their own as a reference and overlay their own culture on top of their new environment.
What if that perception is turned on its head? The observer is no longer the outsider looking in, but the insider looking out. Despite the all too common perception of westerners, South East Asia, or all of Asia is not the place we all seem to think of from 50 years ago or the Vietnam War Era. Cities like Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, and Jakarta can and do produce world-class education just as much as Boston or Paris.
This is the point of this week’s Weekly Reblog. Sydrah, the author, is from Malaysia and currently studying in Australia. She is well-educated, well-travelled and brings up some points in this post that would certainly shake the nerves and preconceptions of so many newcomers to Asia. Her blog caught my attention while ago and is certainly worth a read. Her insights into the region and the people she sees in it, whether local or foreign, come from her own emic point of view, a refreshing break from all of us western backpackers writing about the same things.