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Rape and pillage of a foreign land February 12, 2007

Posted by casualadventurer in Cultural Understanding.
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The other day I became a rapist, not just once but twice! It’s disconcerting, I didn’t mean to, it just sort of happened…… And now I feel a twinge of guilt that their innocence can never be returned, and that their world will always be fundamentally different.So now that you are all about to call the police I had better explain myself…… It’s like this…… Vietnamese folks had been isolated from the “International” community for many years. Although this has changed in the last 10 years, especially in the city, many people are still quite innocent of many things relating to Western culture. Sometimes this is bad, because many things coming from the west help them to improve their living standards. But more often it is good because the folks have not gained many of the “Bad” aspects from our culture…… Unfortunately they usually learn these things first.

So here I am in Ha Noi, A city of about 4 Million people, completely bereft of American fast food stores when I arrived last year. Since then the Colnel has arrived….. Yep now we have 2 Ga Ran Kentucky (Kentucky Fried Chicken) outlets……. So I’m out with a young lady, and the topic of dinner was raised. She was keen to demonstrate a knowledge of “International Cuisine”, but worried I wouldn’t like her choice…. So for a kick I asked her if she had been to “KFC”….. Of couse she hadn’t so her education into American fast food was about to begin…..

Now KFC in Ha Noi is a bit of an event. They have staff to park your motor bike and greet you at the door in addition the usual array of colour and smooth shiny surfaces. It is kind of cute to see a grown woman with a University education in business management stare mouth open in wide eyed wonder at the multi coloured men boards, not sure exactly how to address the candy stipe uniformed watresses……. I explained how it all worked, and she gained a shred of independence back by paying for the meals, and then I had to grab her so that she didn’t walk away to find a table……. I think the amazement of complete meals arriving seconds later made her lose appreciation of the fact that we provided our own table service…….. It was at this moment that I realised I had changed her world forever…… and a small part of what made her outlook on life different to mine could never be returned.

Then I did it again……. On my way to work I stopped in at a little store, and noticed a box of “Kinder Surprise” chocolates sitting on the counter. Thinking that these would make good gifts for my two work assistants I bought them. Now as you know “Kinder Surprise” is an egg shaped chocolate treat with a toy enclosed. Consisting of 50 cents worth of chocolate, a 25 cent toy enclosed in a snap together ball shaped plastic shell that sells for about $2.

So I give one of these to the young bloke in my office. Now this young man is one of the smartest people I have ever met. His intellect is not far off genious standard I am sure. I notice he is consuming the last of the chocolate and ask him about the toy that his had contained (As you know, that is the fun of this treat). He just shrugged at me an said….. no mine just had some round plastic thing in it that I threw away……..

After i explained the concept and he went and retreived it from the waste paper basket he was amazed to discover it contained a collection of strange shaped plastic pieces and a set of assembly instructions……. No problem, you might think, as this is designed for a primary school target audience……. Well to cut a long story short the whole process needed my intervention before the plastic would reveal itself to be a spinning top.

So once again I felt that I had been an agent of the destruction of innocence.

We live in a strange world. Now that travel is so cheap and easy, that we so readily share communication and consumer goods around the world, cultures start to lose the things that make them distinct.

As I think of this, what is this thing we call culture? We are quick to hang on to it as a source of identity and identification. We tell ouselves that it is something we pride….. A land like Australia traces it’s cultural roots back several hundered years for most residents and much longer for a few. A land like China would claim thousands of years of culture to draw upon.

But what does this mean for me? I have no memories of 1000 years ago, nor of even 200. I guess my culture extends no further back than my own parents The things I value have come from their influence or even much more recently from my own discoveries of life and the world I live in. So more and more I see that in a world with ever shrinking boundaries and greater interaction between countires and races….. I don’t see separate cultures, I see a bunch of people trying to get through life the best they can…..

So I wonder, what makes our cultural identity so important. Is it just an excuse for me to behave in a certain way, or do we need identity to give us value and make us unique?

I don’t know….. But I do know that there is something charming about living amongst folks who understand the world from a different perspective, and I’m not sure the World will be a better place if they all become just like me!

So now that I have expunged my guilt over raping others of their cultural innocence….. I must be about my business to find some suitable pillage!