Alvin's 'diarrhoeal India' & making sense of SenseI read with interest, the following account by ‘alvinology’, of his trip to India. I can’t say that I disagree with him with regards to the difficulties mentioned. However, I’m also very much aware that, oftentimes, it’s not only the experience that makes much of you, but how much of you there is to make more of an experience. I’ve often said to my Chinese friends that the reason why they keep ‘preferring’ singapore is that singapore has underdeveloped them to the point that they do not possess the perspectives to appreciate more. In other words, they discount information that does not fit in with the slots in their personality. That is like a child tossing out objects of all shapes except circular ones because the only slot s/he has in her fit-object-to-slot toy is a circular one. My personal strategy has been, since my late teens, to use various experiences to hew congruent shapes into my personality – unless there is a logical reason why I shouldn’t do it. In scientific terms, I allow myself to ‘go native’ by taking on the persona and perspective of various cultures to the point that I can feel like them. Thereafter, I end the experience and move on to the next. (to date, amongst others, I’ve done this in varying degrees with Arabian, African, Afro-American, Native American, Aboriginal, Chinese, Indian, British, American, rap, rock, blues, black metal, 50s-80s pop culture, Hindu, Buddhist, Islamic, Christian, Satanic, heterosexual, bisexual, homosexual, male, female, cultures – but it is more of a mental thing than a physical one at times.) That is the only way to get rid of the ‘censor’ within oneself that leads one to make less of an experience.
Well, the following is an excerpt of Alvin’s observations, and my comment – placed at his site – follows.
“The trip left me mentally me mentally and physically drained, but also enriching in other ways.
I now appreciate the clean, portable tap water and faultless sanitation system in Singapore very much. I don’t have to to watch every step I tread on the street as there are pee and shit everywhere. I also need not drink bottled water everyday.
I appreciate not having to walk down the street, harassed incessantly by countless touts, beggars, con-men and tuk-tuk drivers who all want a share of my supposedly fat wallet just because I am foreign - “Hello? Where you from? Korea? Japan?”
There are honest and sincere Indians too, but the sad thing is, I cannot tell them apart from the rogue ones who will also appear honest and sincere till they go for your wallet.”
I suppose the reason why it might be safe to assume that everyone is a suspected 'cheat' is because you have yet to learn to distinguish between the honest and bad ones. For that, you will have to learn their culture, expressions, etc. Then you'll be able to read their intentions a mile away.
I have heard statements such as 'indians/malays/africans/chinese/etc all look alike'. The reason for this is not that they do, but our making sense of reality from the cultural/perspectival formulae we are accustomed to. That blinds us from appreciating the details that distinguish other types of phenomena. The same applies in your case. Don't forget, you come from a singapore which has been highly monocultural and does little to train people in the art of detail-appreciation or of difference. Hence, you will, relatively, be far more backward in identifying or even being cognizant of detail in just about anything compared to a multiculturally-trained person, i.e the Brits, Indians from the subcontinent. Chinese culture trains one into a superficial view of reality because empathy is a 'no no' due to its compromising the political aspirations of any despot. With the eviction of collective empathy, comes the decline in the appreciation of detail. And with that, comes a whole load of problems. Collective activistic empathy is the key.
But to be thoroughly honest, my Chinese wife continuously advises me not to trust the Chinese because they all intentionally or unintentionally always 'chia' you. I suppose it could be said that it is in the culture of the chinese to 'chia' because they undergo great pressure from the government. Therefore, the only way to survive within such a state of affairs is to 'chia one's neighbour'. My wife who was stationed in China for 2 years in a directorial position also stated that the only difference between the chinese in china and the chinese in singapore is that the former are more 'advanced' in this 'chia thy neighbour' thing.
It is not really that the chinese can't be trusted. But where top-down pressure is taken as 'it's like that one lahhhh'(as often heard amongst the chinese), one becomes the sort of person who will seek to maximise gain at minimum expense or effort. That leads to minimal information, effort, thought, etc, being exchanged for maximal gain. And this is further exacerbated by the fetishisation of tradition, being reared in a monocultural state, being subservient to authority, being conformist, etc, etc. It's quite the same in china as it is now in singapore. It's a psychological thing, not a racial one of course.
But it's too bad you didn't get the most out of India. It is, unlike China, the biggest democracy in the world, extremely multicultural, and there is a high degree of empathy there as well. People go by logic and reason, thinking and debate is a national pastime (as opposed to shopping and eating...and in future 'gambling'), and wit is greatly appreciated - hence, the baddies will inevitably be even more skilled in the art of 'chia-ing thy neighbour'. But these are exceptions and cannot be the rule where people power is more of a reality. This will be embedded in various forms in the country, but you will have to free yourself from Qin-gaporean learnt perceptions on what defines the epitome of civilisation to appreciate that. You ought to wonder why when westerners go there, they come back with a more in-depth appreciation of the Indian civilisation. But in order to do that, you will have to appreciate it from outside the paradigm by which you have been taught to appreciate and depreciate reality. Remember, to see more, you'll have to be more.
These are things i told myself when i was in my late teens in the late 80s. Critical introspection, a lot of it, is required. But you will have to cease being any particular race for that.
I will end this observation with this,
To know oneself, one has to know variations of oneself that aren't entirely discernible through experiences in any one national, cultural, gender, class, etc, milieu as these just serve to open us to one persona and blind us to others. And in doing so, we’ll be able to make more of an experience that we would have previously been unable to imagine.