Welcome to the East/West World
Glenn: I want to thank everone for joining this discussion about the new East/West World.
Let's start with the primary question.
Do you consider yourself to be Eastern? Or Western?
Noriko - a Japanese woman working for an American company:
I don't know actually. When I talk with Western people, I become Western. When I meet Eastern people, especially Thai, I become Eastern. Both ways are comfortable for me.
In the office, I love to be Western - rational and straightforward. But at home or in nature, I feel Eastern.
Vincent - a Singaporean male who has lived in the U.K., and works for an American company:
Both. Maybe 60% Western.
Kamikaze - a Japanese male who has lived in Singapore and the United States:
I think I'm more Western.
Angie - an American woman who has lived in Japan and Singapore:
Redsun3 - an American male who has lived in Korea and Thailand:
'Weastern' sounds good to me!
Tsuji - a Japanese male who has lived in America, and works for a Korean company:
Maybe you can judge better than I do. But that's not a good answer.
So... I think I'm half Western and half Eastern. I can be Western and Eastern, I think. It depends on what I do.
Well, at this point maybe I'm Eastern, because Westerners' don't care about that (names). Westerners always go their own way.
Anyway, I don't care if I'm Eastern or Western. I'm Tsuji!
Dan - a Japanese-American male, who was born in Hawaii, and has lived on the Mainland, and in Japan.
Hmmmm... That's a good one... In my case, being a 4th generation Japanese-American, the answer to that question seems to depend on where I am and who I'm relating to.
In the US and Japan, people tend to relate to me either Eastern OR Western. In Europe, they relate to me as Eastern, with no question. If you talk about how I view myself, I tend view myself as a mix of both.
In the US, I feel Western, but there are people that don't let you forget that you're ethnically something else. Even the tax returns and various applications ask your ethnicity.
In Japan, I'm usually viewed and treated Eastern until I open my mouth. Then I would definitely be treated and would feel Western.
I notice my "common sense / logic," which may differ in other countries, swings more to the Western side.
Glenn: Okay, we're not sure, are we? Everyone here has an Eastern side and a Western side.
What about you is Eastern?
Tsuji: I eat natto and fish like crazy.
(Editor's note: Natto is a disgusting-looking, sticky, fermented soybean dish that's sometimes served in raw egg. It smells terrible. Half of the Japanese - the Tokyo half - love it. The other half of Japanese hate it)
Noriko: Religion. I love Buddhism for the belief that everybody can be God, if they want to and try hard to. Other religions ask people to believe in something outside you, and that you are just a weak person without it. In Buddhism, I can do what I believe is right, without asking what God would think. God is no excuse for wrong doing or mistakes.
Also, my relationship with my husband. My husband is radical compared with ordinary Japanese men. He does housekeeping jobs to help me, but I feel sorry for this. If I was a western woman, I may not feel sorry for this. I would probably think it's fair to share housekeeping jobs.
Kamikaze: My diet and my values, but I want my values to be more Western. Right now, I still work like a crazy Japanese. I can't help it.
Vincent: My Chinese customs and Buddhist religion are Eastern, though I don't really think of Buddhism as Eastern. Buddhism teaches acceptance of everything and everyone.Dan: Growing up in Hawaii throws a different curve to these questions. Hawaii is a big melting pot of different cultures, both Eastern and Western, that impacts all aspects of diet, values, outlook, religion, etc.
It's not unlike the melting pot in Singapore, lah!
(Editor's note: 'Lah' is Singaporean slang for 'you know'. We call this slang 'Singlish')
Hee, hee. Instead of Chinese, Indian, Malay, and other Southeastern Asian cultures, Hawaii hosts Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Portuguese, Philipino, Hispanic, and American cultures. As a result, my favorite foods are a mix of different ethnic foods and my outlook might be considered as rather laid back relative to others.
Angie: I believe in the Eastern approach to health. It's holistic. The integration of mind, body, and spirit through various martial arts, bodywork, diet, and philosophies can maintain health and wellbeing.
In Western medicine, there's a tendency to just treat symptoms.
Redsun3: The places where I feel at home are Eastern. And my outlook on life.
As long as I can remember, my heart has had an eastern view.
Glenn: I can't say I've always had an Eastern view.
But once I moved to the East, I discovered some concepts that were very compatible for me, like the Thai concept of 'sanuk' or fun. I've always believed that everything should have some element of fun.
And yet, on my Western side, I'm cynical. I have an almost automatic disrespect for any organization, because I believe in the power of the individual.
What are your Western traits?
Noriko: I don't hesitate to be selfish! Yeah, I am the center of the world and I am always right! If you don't see things the way I see, you're dead!
And the company I work for is a tool for a better life, but it's not a home. And family? Oh no, I don't want it.
Vincent: I'm open to everyone and everything. I'm very straightforward. I tell the truth, even if it's not what someone wants to hear.
Tsuji: When I do something with my friends, I can be direct. I don't care about anything in front of them. I sometimes pick my nose, even in public, which is Western. Right? Well, you do it a lot, too!
Kamikaze: My outlook is Western. I don't want to be like everyone else. I'm an individual.
And my religion, which is Christianity.
Redsun3: I enjoy a good hamburger, every now and then. But really, I always try to keep things balanced. There is no sharp edge of what is west and what is east in my life. I feel that both meld into the 'entity of me'.
Angie: I can't stand the thought of sameness in people, though this is an endearing part of Japan; that everyone is so Japanese. I'm individual and want no one telling me I have to be this way or that.
I'm quite used to my freedoms and independence, thank you.
Glenn: What was your first contact with another culture?
Noriko: An American schoolgirl who visited my high school
Tsuji: The first time I listened to rock music on TV. I was about 7 years old.
Kamikaze: A trip to the West Coast of America.
Dan: In my case, both Eastern and Western culture may be considered "the other culture."
My first culture shock came when I moved to Arizona, in the US mainland. Although Western culture wasn't a shock (I'd grown up Westernized), it became apparent that most people there didn't consider me "American." Most people there didn't even consider Hawaii a state, and kept asking how I liked being in the USA.
They'd also think I was serious when I'd jokingly tell them that I lived in a grass shack on the beach, paddled my canoe to school everyday, and communicated using my family's drum (damn rednecks). Ha, ha, ha. ; )
The second culture shock was when I lived in Japan. It also became apparent that people there didn't consider me as "Japanese."
Both experiences, although initially discouraging, were interesting and in the end rather enlightening.
Redsun3: In San Francisco, there is no 'other' culture. San Francisco is it's own culture.
Vincent: Well, I was raised in Singapore, which is mixed. Of course, movies and books show us other cultures. Then I had a Western teacher. But my first real contact was when I went to the UK for school.
Angie: Moving to Tokyo, Japan
Glenn: What was the biggest surprise about that culture?
Noriko: That my English teacher was really teaching me English.
Redsun3: No surprise.Dan: The biggest surprise was how culture evolves. I would say that most ethnic groups that move away from their "mother country," tend to blend with the host local culture but also tend keep old traditions, beliefs, and values that reflect the time period which they came from. In my family's case, that would be Japan in the late 1800's to early 1900's.
Although there is contact with Japanese people and media broadcasts in Hawaii, actually being in Japan made it apparent that although the main underlying cultural value and belief baseline didn't change very much, some cultural features were changing quite a bit.
One extreme example would be the younger Japanese generation, which I'd term as "Generation Ecch." Although in the rebellious period of their lives, their definition of conformity to cultural and societal norms differ radically from previous generations. Of course, they face completely different social and socio-economic conditions today so...
Angie: How the Japanese people could be so much the same, yet each individual still is different.
Vincent: Well, Buddhism teaches me acceptance, not judgement, so when I moved to the U.K., I just took in everything. No real surprises.
Tsuji: A lot of people take drugs!
Kamikaze: People were kissing everywhere!
Glenn: Drugs and Kissing. The American Dream!
These differences sometimes shock us into learning new things about ourselves. When I lived in Japan, I learned that I could surrender myself to 'not knowing'. I could ask for help, ask for directions, and lean on others for support. In America, this would be 'weak', but in Asia the ability to 'surrender' is a strength.
What did you learn about yourself through this contact?
Vincent: I learned about my potential. Singapore is sooo structured. Most decisions are made for you.
When I went to college in the U.K., I was allowed to choose my own projects and methods. I learned that I could find my own way.
Noriko: That I wasn't that different.Dan: I've learned that the classification of oneself is not as important as the actual internal measure of oneself.
Japan is still rather racially "pure." America, on the other hand, seems to try to classify it's people as Asian-American, African-American, Mexican-American, etc, etc. As a result, its' people seem to be "hung up" on race.
Hawaii, as it may be in Singapore, doesn't make a big deal about race. Everybody knows what race the other person is but it's not a big factor in the acceptance of the person into the community whole (unless the guy's haole; Ha, ha, ha). There are many different ethnic jokes but no one really takes offense to them and no one really considers them "racist" as some ethnic jokes are viewed in the mainland US.
I'd never thought of myself as a Japanese-American until I moved to the US mainland. Up to that point, I had just tried to be myself with the definition of "myself" as totally unrelated to race. I think it's important to view others as people not as shapes and colors.
Kamikaze: I saw that my view was so narrow. I felt like I wasted my life a lot.
Redsun3: I've learned that there are no absolutes in life.
Angie: That I've taken my freedoms for granted.
I was also pleased to learn I could be happy living in a place different from my own culture. And shocked to find myself eating basashi (raw horsemeat), and liking it! I'm a horse lover, and I don't even like rare meat!
Tsuji: I learned again that I'm the best!
Glenn: Okay, Tsuji, you're the best. But at what?
What's the most important lesson or quality your country/culture/people can offer the world?
Tsuji: Japanese manufacturing can be the best manufacturing in the world. We can make things exactly the same. Even people! In school here, we are taught team-work. I hate that word! People follow people. You don't want to be alone, even to be number one. If everybody does something, you do the same thing, even if you don't agree. So people are the same. The same people make things that are very close to the same.
Noriko: Money? Not any longer. Self Defense Force as a logistics to a dangerous area? Probably useless. Our labor force as an example of people good at working obediently, without thinking. Really, I think Japan should use the nuclear bomb experience to stop world wars. Ghandi taught us 'No Violence, No Obedience'. Is that not realistic? Well, I can not hit nor kick a person who doesn't hit or kick me back.
Vincent: That a mixed culture can work. Living with diversity prepares people for the world. You learn about adaptability.Dan: From my Japanese culture: Patience and attention to detail. It's hard to imagine people of other cultures waiting for things as patiently as the Japanese (like riding patiently on a packed train next to a reeking booze hound for a couple of hours). As far as being anal retentive, no other culture in the world could match up... well, except maybe the Germans.
From my American culture: Creativity and free thinking. Any country that'd come up with Disneyland, Universal Studios, Star Wars, and refrigerator magnets is o'tay with me.
Hawaiian culture: Acceptance and a relaxed pace. What, me worry?
(Editor's note: I'm glad Dan didn't mention poi.)
Kamikaze: Japan can offer the best quality of products and service, with cute girls and the best hospitality.
Angie: That there are more than one, two, or three ways of looking at something. And that being an individual can be celebrated., though I realize in many Eastern cultures that to proclaim individuality is cause for harassment or worse. It's the awareness, I guess, that there are other ways of being, that helps broaden horizons.
Redsun3: Be patient. Trust your inner self. Happiness is you. Why? Because there are many ways to live and love life.
Glenn: I think America's best lesson to offer is the 'melting pot' concept. That the mixing of cultures isn't just a nice idea, it's an economic and political necessity that's been proven by a billion or so years of evolution.
Do you agree that the mixing of East/West culture is good?
Noriko: Regardless of good or bad, it is inevitable. Advanced technology will not allow us to be completely separate from each other. But I don't like the melting pot so much. If East and West melt into one, I will lose a reason to travel to other countries. The differences are a stimulation to trying to understand each other.
Tsuji: Why not? I think it's very good, but it's not going to happen.Dan: Yes, for the most part mixing cultures is not a bad thing. There are many things that both cultures can learn about the other and, consequently, about themselves.
Vincent: Yes, but each person has to pick the elements that work best for themselves. Not everything is suitable for everyone.
Redsun3: I think transforming or evolving is a better word than mixing. Yes, it can be good, if it happens without design or conscious thought.
Glenn: That's an interesting distinction; mixing versus evolving. Look at what passes for architecture in the East, these days. Or listen to Asian pop music, if you dare. With very few exceptions, the East just apes the latest trends from the US or Britain.
In the past, Japan took Chinese arts and gave them a Japanese twist. Thailand and Indonesia took Indian culture and embellished it.
Today, we suffer from culture 'cloning'. It's as though Asians will respect their own traditions only if Western people do first.
Angie: Yes, mixing can help one appreciate aspects of one's own culture previously taken for granted. There's much we can teach one another.
For example, Japanese toilets, complete with all their intriguing buttons and heated seats, wouldn't be a bad idea for the Western world to adopt!
Kamikaze: It depends. I think it's too mixed now.
Glenn: So you think there can be too much mixing?
Kamikaze: Yes. Japan is losing its' past. Too many people adopt things from the other cultures without understanding them, like it's a fashion.
Tsuji: Well, if you look at the US, I don't think it's gone too far.
Angie: Sometimes people are happier within their own culture or with their own native people. When people are mixed unwillingly, then real problems begin. There needs to be choice, but that would be in a perfect world.Dan: One must remember to be respectful of other cultures and not to force their culture on others. When in a foreign country, we must also remember how we are representatives of our own culture and that we are merely a visitors in a foreign land. We shouldn't expect people in that county to speak our language or to conform just to suit us.
The important thing to remember is that you don't have to change your culture to understand another one. The mixing of cultures should enhance your own... not destroy it.
Vincent: That's a difficult question.
Mixing is a natural process, and it provides great opportunities, but each person has to decide what's right for themselves. We're each our own chemist, picking the elements that work for us.
Now, if governments try to dictate the mix, that's a problem....
Redsun3: Well, there can be too much. Some people adopt things they feel will make them unique, but then they lose themselves by rejecting the things that already made them unique.
We're all special if the process happens, but you have to let it happen of itself, you can't design it.
Glenn: Good point. I've seen Japanese men go to the States and try to 'act' American. They do drugs and swear a lot, and end up as a caricature. It's pathetic.
The whole point of America is to let people be themselves.
Maybe the Internet can change that, by showing that there are so many types of people that you can't possibly 'act' Japanese or American.
Do you think the Internet will affect the mixing of East and West?
Tsuji: Maybe more people will learn English?
Vincent: The internet only offers information, not experience. You can surf for three years, but you'll still be lost on your first day in a new country.Dan: The Internet certainly shortens the distance between both points but the computer is still the on-ramp (i.e. interest in computing, cost, availability, etc. will tie in). It makes communication, as well as information retrieval and cultural learning, easier. However, I still think you'd need to actually live and view a culture first hand to really understand it.
You can't understand all cultural nuances until you've lived it. For example, try explaining a Japanese customer negotiation meeting; complete with managers, underlings, tea serving secretaries, and humble vendors to someone who hasn't lived it.
Noriko: Internet is not used so much here, as most Japanese are computer illiterate. But the information sharing and exchange may bridge people of other regions and cultures.
Redsun3: It's too early to say.
Angie: I think any new media is likely to shrink the world further. In some ways it will lessen the mystery, in other ways, increase it.
Kamikaze: It only affects PC users, not ordinary people.
Glenn: And yet, it's worth noting, we did all of this by email and the Internet, and anyone who reads this will do so by the Internet.
Okay, last question.
There's a lot of talk about the 'global village' or 'one world'. In the movie Blade Runner, there is a fairly depressing 'melting pot' vision of the East/West world in the future.
Are we headed to this 'one world'?
Tsuji: I think there will be mixing, but no, not the same. We have time differences!
Noriko: Traditional borders will become less distinguished, but as we live in different circumstances (weather, landscape, etc.) and many traditions are based on such physical circumstances, I don't think all cultures will become the same. Anyway, it's not fun!
Kamikaze: I don't think so. Genes cannot be mixed that much.
Vincent: No. At least, I don't want to see it. We should build and strengthen our own cultures, and then share and enjoy the differences.Dan: I don't think so. They may become a lot closer to one baseline, but there will still be those underlying cultural and ethnic markers. You never know.
If it were to happen, technology will have to advance to bring borders a lot closer than they are today. The Internet is a start.
Redsun3: I think culture is what fragments humans, and it also keeps people together. At this stage it's too early to say, because people need something to belong to, or to be from.
In studying Chi-gung, the teacher would say, when asked to explain something, "Same body. Same results".
Angie: 'One World' is both a pleasant and unpleasant thought. I think there's more to be gained by retaining separate cultures but with the mixing of hearts.
Glenn: Well, today there is a trend towards sameness of music, architecture, food, and fashion.
But tomorrow, there will probably be a backlash.
History shows that governments always enjoy blaming outsiders for problems. That alone guarantees some degree of cultural self-preservation.
Anyway, I dread the day we all live the same way.
In the end, it seems like we all agree that the East/West world is about acceptance, balance, tolerance, and keeping open eyes and hearts. Diversity is the one essential ingredient for evolution, and it's clear that every one here has learned to thrive on diversity.
Well, thanks again for your time. Editing this discussion has been a great experience for me.
I look forward to our next topic.