Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The best of both the worlds!

It’s been almost four months since my trip to Singapore, Indonesia and Bali. I have been to Singapore as a kid, so this as my first visit as a grown up. Indonesia and Bali and even Singapore to an extent has left an indelible impression on me. I feel a strange impulse to go back there again. I think it was the Bali countryside and the polite Indonesians…but the place tugs at me for some strange reason. I was analyzing this the other day and I realized that what really struck me about these places was that though some of these Oriental cities and towns were as modern as any European or American city and town, they were strangely very homely! The people spoke their own language and though they wore Western clothes, their Oriental culture was very evident and entwined in their lifestyles. These places had achieved a very “local modernism” unlike India where being modern means aping the West.

Their unique traditions were seamlessly blended into daily life without being too overt or too covert. Like for example when we landed in Singapore in the morning we went to this small Breakfast place in the airport run by an elderly lady. The small restaurant was very well done up, but the lady was praying in front of a small altar. A tiny non obtrusive altar. She continued praying at her own pace and it was so interesting to watch her that we didn’t disturb her. She finished her prayer and then made us sit and made small talk while she cooked breakfast for us. I couldn’t believe I was sitting in the Changi Airport!!! Her demeanor was matter of fact like a mom cooking in her kitchen and she was not too friendly or aloof. I felt right at home!

Later in the day when I went into Singapore city with my friend, I noticed that guys don’t look at you like they are seeing a woman for the first time. They do look, but it is a polite appreciative look. In front of a KFC or Mac joint (I am not sure which), there was this huge crowd of young Singaporeans sitting on the sidewalk. The guys merely glanced appreciatively at us and we felt emboldened enough to look at them in their faces, something I would never do in India. Some gave us a friendly wink, we grinned right back…in my case it was a thankful grin, a very thankful grin for the appreciation and the fact that they respected me enough as a human being by not taking me for granted and approaching me. What an awesome awesome feeling!!

As soon as you land in Bali, you see small coconut leaf baskets, (the type we make small footballs with in Kerala), with food, flower and other offerings like incense, kept discretely around the airport. These are offering to Gods. The Balinese follow a Ramayan based Hinduism, which is very different from the Hinduism practiced in India. It is more like Buddhism actually and again very personal and unobtrusive but very evident. You got to see to understand.

The Balinese men are so respectful and the more dashing among them are to be found at the tourist places like Kuta. But again, it was looks of appreciation towards us, sometimes they asked names and no more and by the end of our stay, the whole crowd of guys that hang around Kuta had nicknamed us Miss Bombay! It’s not like we had beauty pageant winner looks, but merely their way of identifying us. Bombay is synonymous with India here. The moment they know that you are Indian, there is a feeling of camaraderie, as India is synonymous with Hinduism, the Balinese religion that they are fiercely protective off. Please don’t expect them to identify you as Indian, as not much is known of India here. Subtle hints about your Indianness will make people regard you a little differently from other tourists. And we used this to great advantage :p

When I hear our elders complain that their grown up kids and grandkids would rather go to Veegaland for Onam and Vishu and Christmas, I begin to appreciate the Orientals and the importance they give to their customs and culture.

All in all a very nice and warm experience. I wish India will also go the Oriental way when it is a fully advanced country. Right now our people are beginning to shed their Indian-ness real fast and our lifestyle is more or less like that in the US of A. Wish we could find work, life and cultural balance like the Orientals.


Mind Curry said...

probably for them, we are beginning to look like "westerners". but despite what our thought-leaders and comrades want us to believe, more than the tech, steel, and dollar power of USA or any other so called developed country, what sets people apart is the kind of basic human values we are able to display in our daily lives. and thats exactly where americans and europeans score over us. i havent been to singapore or that side in the last 5-10 years, but i totally can relate to your point.

Deepti said...

Very thought provoking post. As people go further away from their roots, the more the urge to preserve your traditions, atleast thats what I have seen in India...
Onam, Vishu , eater celebrated with more enthu than in Kerala itself.. ( I know a lil off the topic comment)

| Balu | said...

Our cities looks like Western cities you must be joking (sarcastic as usual heh?)
Bali is one place I always wanted to visit. I have heard a lot about the hinduism there and their historic temples... God alone knows when I can make the trip! =)

SR said...

I totally agree with you. It is also true that small towns in big countries like US and Canada still has a flavour of their own tradition. Somehow Indians get lost in the process of modernization. We try to get the best of both worlds and probably end up with a confused culture.

Sriram V Iyer said...

...come to think of it, one reason that indians or people from other countries want to visit places like bali or singapore is for the same reason you have quoted, albeit through tourism.

if you see the layers, the people, their government, viz., the system, is more understanding and supportive for their existence. for instance, ask anyone in singapore and they'll tell you how expensive it is to own and drive a car there. the system has been designed in such a way, ie, to push public transport to all!

as for the bad stares, if the indian government had a law for that, lawyers in our country would be laughing their way to the bank!

my exp in singapore:

son: wow dad, this city is neat!

dad: yes son, we have hefty fines here for littering.

son: dad, this area we're passing through, its not as clean...why?

taxi driver: sir, this is little india!

mathew said...

I guess there is lot of generalization here..maybe this is about the trend we are seeing in cities..But in general if you see we are not really blindly aping the west..its more or less indianising western ways just like we have chicken tikka burger..i know its a bad example though..

And okay if you see men are ogling in India even there it aint all that lovey-dovey in west..it is just that those guys end up in prison after that.Though i agree it has reached really bad conditions esp in the cities of ours.what we need is law keepers and not more laws..

Nothwithstanding what has happened in goa,,in general we treat tourists in the best possible manner based on reviews i have read by travellers in the net..
And I have seen more kids smiling and happy faces in our country than anywhere else..

But what worries me is that we are slowly losing the sense of indians slowly..we arent proud of our heritage or country like the chinese are..and that reflects everywhere from sports to world affairs..

Jiby said...

reading your post reminded me of a comment, my cousin, an abcd made recently after she watched mtv india and the hindi movie songs that played. "jibs, if you mute the sound, doesn't this look latino, hip-hop, american...this is anything but indian!"

just today, a colleague was grumbling about americans claiming yoga as their own. his point was: is it ethical to ignore the roots of its origin. my counter-point was, how many of us indians, value yoga in any of our daily lives.

the west is reaching a point where they realize they made mistakes in trying to speed up all aspects of life, and now find it impossible to turn back...we are a generation which truely indulges in everything from all worlds...the fight is on our part to create a new set of values to harmonize both, as your title suggests. our children's generation won't stand a chance to do this...it will be too late.

i think we have an immense power to change things...with our blogs...people will read us and develop perspectives they never thought about. we should take their work culture, individualism and humanism. the rest of what we call the lifestyle of the west is nothing to write home about and hopefully kept out of home.

superb post...this is what blogging is all about.

Arpz said...

I completely agree with you, my trips to Singapore and the Phillippines have given me similar experiences... back here in Bangalore, Im an extremely rude person in the sense that a nod or a grunt usually means approval or a thanks ; or even a thanks is usually like a grunt ... after being there esp the Phillippines, I have found myself being more cheerful and vocal in my thanks and sorry and all that ... the people owning/ working in these commercial establishments actually make you feel nice for walking upto their shops, unlike the gruff and the rude shopkeepers here, who think they are doing you a favor by selling you stuff! similarly with the cabbies and the auto guys in namma bengaluru!
As for the culture, I think we are inherently a nice set of people, just stuck at cross roads in deciding which path to take.

silverine said...

Mind Curry: "what sets people apart is the kind of basic human values we are able to display in our daily lives" Bingo!!

deepti: It's not about preserving traditions...what I have observed about these people is that they have a healthy attitude towards religion and culture unlike us. We are to rigid or too lax.

balu: Look at the glass buildings...not that Singapore doest have them, but somehow the people seem to retain their Singaporeaness.You got to see it to believe it.

SR: You are right, besides our colonial hangover is so strong that we are still trying to keep up with the Joneses who left our shores long ago.

Sriram: "one reason that indians or people from other countries want to visit places like bali or singapore is for the same reason you have quoted" hmm thats very interesting and makes a lot of sense!!! And the example you have quoted makes me despair...if we cant be clean in Spore then there is no hope for us :)

Mathew: This post has nothing to do with the West but the way the developed Oriental countries have struck a balance between their culture and the Western concept of working. And about ogling...again I was talking of the people in Singapore and Bali and not in the West. I have been going to Goa as a kid to my friends home and the situation in Goa is so murky that this particular incident is just the tip of the iceberg. I have written about it here.

But what worries me is that we are slowly losing the sense of indians slowly..we arent proud of our heritage or country like the chinese are" that is exactly what I was trying to say with this post!

Jiby: Thank you! I remember that scene in akkarakazhakal when the Dad calls his kids to see Malayalam culture on TV and they see obscene dance sequences :)) The rest of your comment gives me hope that through dialogs via blogs and articles we can be the change we want to see.

silverine said...

Arpz: Thanks for that comment and the input. These are things that have to be exp. And I really hope we are still at the crossroads...and will make our transition like the people of these regions.

Karthik said...

I agree with mathew regarding the ogling part. The judicial system in India has just too many loopholes. Would Singapore be so clean without the stringent laws?

Couldn't the pre-liberalised era also be a cause for generation gap/ culture bashing problems in India (especially when the present gen have umpteen opportunities which their preceding generation could only dream of).

As you said a gradual change in mindset will eventually result in harmony.

But we seem to ape only the easier part of the Western culture, dont we?

Do we think of doing part time jobs when we study at school or college and managing our college fee?

How many of us really bothered about how our parents managed both the household and our education income when we studied at college?

Sorry for the long comment. Nice post!

Emmanuel said...

we assimilate something which comes to us as new......prominently western.....but we don't care about their habits of punctuality, obeying law and order etc.....as read in a newspaper, we jump across the signals even when there is a traffic jam and make it worse and in Canada, a taxi driver waits at the signal even at 1 am.........we just want someone else to "enforce" us on these matters.........

i think the main difference lies in between the way a person is molded.....in west, the individuality is prominent........in our society, person comes way below family, religion etc.....in Oriental side, i'm guessing, may be both are important.......so they have their life and outlook rooted in their own cultural identities and use the western ideas to improve themselves....in our case people follow the ones that are propagated easily in the social framework, unfortunately that are prominently the wrong elements.......and nobody makes an attempt to propagate punctuality, professionalism etc......i hope that's the reason we always look up for leaders......we don't have an individual opinion....that's why when we are late or when we violate traffic rules......our justification is that "everybody does it, then why shouldn't I try to change that?????"...and the things like "one person can't change all the wrongs".....and our right is to blame others..........but i hope (just a thought!) Orientals are assimilating the western elements too....but they have their own notions about themselves and their culture which they want to retain....it includes respect towards women, respecting other individual as well as the social viewpoint too......i don't know whether i'm right.....but some thoughts......

Karthik said...

@emmanuel: I think the perfect reply to people who say that one person alone cannot change things is "Dont scream for the change. You be the change".. Interesting point actually..

A person from a training/consulting firm told me that reserach indicates that "The average number of times a person needs to be made aware of his wrong doing so that he corrects himself" is 4 times! I think he meant that for India..Its sad that we are just 4 transcations away from creating a better society in many respects :-(

Padakkam said...

yo... interesting post... although i have a different point of view...

I guess the reason why u saw that singapore was such a "pciture perfect place where the world is happy and everyone is nice" its because it has been programmed to be that way...

People are nice to u not because they want to be nice to u.. they have been trained to behave in a certain way... so in the surface it looks nice and rosy but once u get a little deeper, u see the rotting flesh...

In singapore, any woman can complain that a guy looked at her in a wrong way/passed comments etc. Without any evidence, the guy will be arrested and will be whipped around 100 times.... now tell me why they rather not look at u in a wrong way...

Singapore lacks culture.. the youth here are so confused on whether they have to follow the western, eastern or their own ethnic cultures... all the razzmatazz which you saw on the "traditional" chinese outlets are tourism promotion stunts by a very smart set of govt officials...

I know India has its limitations... I know that I can sit here miles away and complain about this place which actually is a great place for a comfortable living... but what i always miss from India and the Indians is the raw genuineness of their emotions.. If someone says they cares for u.. they really do.. If someone letches at u, then he does want to sleep with u... its an uncomfortable thought... but at least its genuine and not a put on like many parts of the world...

Yes, Indians are going thru a change... we are discovering a lot of western concepts, beliefs etc etc, but at the end of the day.. we will always remain indians... and thats somethin which no one can take away from us....

nickdigital said...

I wouldnt completely agree Silverine .. We overlook the beauty or the values here in india, perhaps just because we are too accustomed to notice it .. I have talked to so many of my non-indian clients who visited India n they hold a completely different sweet perspective about it... when i hear them speak, i sensed how i completely fail to realise it until they pointed it out... n i understand your concerns about ogling and other stuff but i guess thats a by product of culture we are living .. take my word, no matter wat place you go, in the whole world thats something which prevails, people can be mild or strong in expressing it .. may be the expression is completely different and out of our notice .. dunno but i presume it is so ...

n Bali .. thats a place i have always wanted to go .. i can relate how exciting it would have been to witness its rich culture right before you .. lucky u ...

mathew said...

"always miss from India and the Indians is the raw genuineness of their emotions.."

couldnt have put that better..I think if we really have to other cultures we have to work and live there for sometime..the tourist prespective of the place is almost skewed..I can go to the same place at different times and have different opinions..

Anonymous said...

you see what you WANT to see

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with you. I am a Punjabi woman married to a Bengali businessman in Singapore. We are settled in Indonesia for the past 20 years. What you have observed many people fail to see in the shopping rush. I adore this place and the genuine people.They may not have the raw genuineness of Indians who rape and murder 15 year olds, kill millions of baby girls and burn women for dowry. But they are alright.

silverine said...

Karthik: “Would Singapore be so clean without the stringent laws?” Who cares?? I want to walk without being molested or robbed and if a govt can successfully implement such laws then kudos to the govt. My post was about the Orientals and the positive aspects of their wholesome progress and development and how I wish we could develop along the same lines :)

Emmanuel: That was one helluva analysis. Thanks!

in our society, person comes way below family, religion etc.....in Oriental side, i'm guessing, may be both are important.” I never saw that aspect of our society till your comment!! I don’t know about the Orientals but I agree that we Indians come way below religion, family etc in our society’s priorities which is why we don’t think like individuals and act like herds!! I have so many Chinese friends in Blr…people who came here many many years ago and set up Chinese restaurants and I get the same warm feeling when I go their homes. Really appreciate your contribution to the topic of the post.

Padakkam: Thanks for the comment. I asked you to comment as you are among the newer people living in Singapore and all my relatives in S'pore have been there for decades. So their loyalty can cloud their perspective when talking of Singapore. So now I have two viewpoints :) Thanks!

Nickdigital: “so many of my non-indian clients who visited India n they hold a completely different sweet perspective about it” Absolutely right and they have a nice perspective of every other country they visit too. They tend to compliment whatever they observe as nice. But thats besides the point here...right now any thoughts/experiences on the way the Orientals have handled progress is welcome.

Anon: “ you see what you WANT to see”!
If I Google I can come up with several such smart and perhaps better terms. But if you are really that smart…then you could have joined in the discussion constructively. Apparently you are not!

Anon: I met lots of Indian families settled in these areas on my flt back from Bali. They were returning from an Indonesian Indian businessman’s daughters wedding in Bali. So I got several invites to their places which I am going to take up :)

nickdigital said...

they have a nice perspective of every other country they visit too. They tend to compliment whatever they observe as nice.

Doesnt that go for you too Silverine .. :P

To summarise, from wat I ve noticed so far, orientals have had a very slow progress. living their culture is fine but I doubt if caging their culture is as good. A few things which I notice the most in the orientals are
1. they are prone to belittling others
2. they live on their past glory
3. lack of knowledge / desire to question things - follow the trend
4. they are more into paper chasing when it comes to education

I dont know how good caged culture is. But Orientals prefer to be it that way. n I doubt if the orientals strike the balance..

And I agree to binu, I ld prefer indians who are not "a put on like many parts of the world"

Perhaps you should consider visiting places here in India - rajasthan, gujarat, kashmir, uttaranchal. You ll notice its similar here.

I think it ll not be wise to copulate my experiences to spam your guestbook. Now that you have channelized me to the excavation... :P .. I ll blog about it and send you the link... btw, missed to tell u this last time.. U rock !! :)

silverine said...

Nickdigital: Thank you :)
"Doesnt that go for you too Silverine" No...I have clearly mentioned in my post on S'pore that I didn't quite like the people. I can get thousands of well researched thesis on the Net on caged culture and the problems of Orientals. I just have to Google. I am not talking of that here. What I noticed among the people of these areas are that they have achieved a very local modernism compared to our Western modernism. I remember looking around and feeling that I was in India fast forwarded a couple of centuries forward. And I hoped it would be like this and that we would not be totally Westernized by then. So what I wanted was some inputs like the ones given by Arpz and SR. The type of exp I have had in Chinese homes in India. If you notice there are no or few Chinese ABCD's. They have no cultural problems like our ABCd's and retain their Chinese'ness (if I may use the term) even in the US.

Looking forward to that article of yours :)

nickdigital said...

Sorry for being a lil off-topic .. the pattern of cultural change is in the fragmentation of old cultures n proliferation of new values, attitudes n attendant behaviour. Culture transformation is more dependent on how readily or often it is subjected to change, to invasions, to masquerade n last but not the least, to the degree of freedom. Perhaps you are right, its more of a religious chore... considering two dots in chinese religion are buddhism n taosim... but in a secular country like india, we are already a mixture of so many alien cultures.. so the route to local modernism or acute westernisation or occidentalism holds a major cleavage in culture transformation, which is definitely not between advanced intellectuals(from towns bangalore, delhi) or backward masses in villages, it is between people ready for more freedom and leaders afraid to grant it. lets see how and where it goes ... was great talking about it coz we rarely think of it.. perhaps would love to meet n thrash it out with you if you people hold bloggers meet or something of that kind .. am definitely taking this up for the next DBM .. Cheers !!

silverine said...

Nickdigital: Very thought provoking comment!!!

Robin said...

the tourist prespective of the place is almost skewed

Your post is skewed in its perspective silverine...bad girl!!! :-p

Karthik Sivaramakrishnan said...

As usual, I wish to speak for the other side :) (Its only for a better exchange of ideas. I don't much believe in nodding heads in unison when there's nothing to be gained :))

But what worries me is that we are slowly losing the sense of indians slowly..we arent proud of our heritage or country like the chinese are" that is exactly what I was trying to say with this post!

I don't see a basis for saying the 'chinese' are proud of their heritage and we aren't. Is this due to equating 'balinese' with 'chinese' or 'singaporeans' with 'chinese'? If so, those are grave misconceptions and anyone who has a remote idea of the religious, ideological and political history of these three will immediately know they can't all be happily classified under the same bracket. However, to address Silverine's suggestion of retaining of culture in Singapore, I beg to differ. Even as the youth in India look to ape the west and those kids wish to go to Veegaland for Onam, so they wish to go to Genting if they are kids in Kuala Lumpur. Even as the youngsters here wish to clothe like the westerners, so the Singaporean girls like to strut around in short shorts like the kind worn in the US of A. In fact, Singapore has little 'culture' of its own. Its really a hodge-podge of cultures formed by the migration of tonnes of people from the neighbouring asian nations. It is quite similar to United States in that sense. I, for one, believe that India will, for a while to come, have far more of that culture in them than Singapore. The 'revolt' in India, is mostly a superficial one I think, and is far less in extent than in many of the oriental nations. Have you ever been to China? They probably had KFCs before you grandad was born, if I may exaggerate a little. In spite of its presumed closed door policy, they have opened up the gates far more than we have, and have westernised a whole lot more than us. While I'm not all praise for the Indian youth, I'm merely saying we are only as guilty as the rest. And if one weren't an Indian or any other Oriental but a Liza of Lambeth, then one would still be aping by perhaps trying to immitate the ladies of the upper class, with what little one can afford. Such, I believe, is human nature :)And it is adorable if its harmless :)