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The gift that keeps on giving May 29, 2009

Posted by casualadventurer in Cultural Understanding, Philosophical Perversion.
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The gift that keeps on giving

Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, what an interesting proverb…… My research on the World Wide Internet thingy tells me that it was probably first appeared in print in 1546 in John Heywood’s ”A dialogue conteinyng the nomber in effect of all the prouerbes in the Englishe tongue” or in modern English A dialogue containing all the proverbs of the English tongue”. Of course this proverb relates to the practice of examining a horses teeth to determine the age and condition of the animal. Thus the saying means that you should not examine the value of something that is given as a gift.

I have been pondering quite a bit recently the way that gifts are given and received, along with how this is reflected in the behavior of people….. I find myself working in projects designed to improve the lifestyles of people and communities. The one thing that becomes immediately obvious is the simple fact that gifts of money or goods (no matter how necessary they might be) rarely transforms the lives of the recipients on an on-going basis.

Recently I have seen a series of events that highlight the possible consequences that accompany unearned wealth.

1: Disregard: The gift was a quite expensive piece of equipment. A perfectly suitable item (also new) could have been purchased for 1/3 of the price. Two years on the expensive equipment is now in poor repair and destined for expensive repair bills that the person will never afford. The cheaper item would probably have suffered the same outcome, but would be repairable at a fraction of the cost…… Now the original purchase was not necessarily wrong in the hands of a caring owner the more expensive item would have lasted much longer than the cheap item, have been more reliable as well as being nicer to use…… The problem here is that as a gift the item had no real value to the recipient….. Why spend money maintaining the thing that cost you nothing? (The sad thing is that the services would have been free under the long warranty of the expensive item)…….go figure.

2: Power: So what happens when one person in a family gains the power to distribute wealth. The kind of wealth that determines which kids get to go to school and  who has priority at health care. I’ve seen people who handle situations like this well, and manage what in the end are limited resources as well and fairly  as can be imagined. However I’ve also seen it become a source of power used to wield vengeance on past hurts . When used this way it ends up being a thing that causes more damage rather than something good.

3: Laziness: This is probably the saddest, because rather than the gift being used to some end that will enable the family to go from one new strength to another, it becomes a means to the recipient maintaining a current lifestyle at the benefit of discontinuing any effort to maintain it.

4: Greed: This is probably inevitable if the person has demonstrated any of the tendencies mention prior to this….. this is the state where someone who squanders everything given to them expects it to keep coming and then is genuinely aggrieved when the gravy train comes to a smashing halt……

So why would you want to give?

1: Opportunity: Giving someone the opportunity at a better life is excellent because you will probably only need to give it once. This opportunity could be education to gain a skill and thus income. It could be support of a business or work idea that will give the person a start. Of course if you make opportunity and the person doesn’t try, well you don’t have to do it again. If they try and succeed….. Well you don’t have to do it again….

2: Pleasure: This is when you give for your own entertainment and expect nothing in return. Sometimes it’s good to see the smile on someone’s face! The funny thing is though, how often this kind of gift is returned beyond your expectations. And people don’t need to be rich to be generous in return.

And I guess that raises the other issue: Receiving gifts, something I don’t always do well.

I recently spent time with some fantastic folks that showed me enormous affection and generosity even though they were quite poor. I will remember the time we spent laughing together fondly, for a moment I was alive with the simple pleasures of life.

My generosity to those people was overshadowed by the depth of the gifts they gave me. My gifts might help them for a while. Their gifts changed my perspective on the world….. and maybe my life. You can buy a village chicken for a few dollars, but good times with friends are priceless.

If this is my gift horse It is a thoroughbred

May I learn to be more honourable when receiving gifts as well as more wise when giving.


Opportunity Lost March 2, 2007

Posted by casualadventurer in Cultural Understanding.
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Today I sit at my desk and observe a small ceramic ornament (A little turtle with moveable legs) . It is an unexpected gift from a friend. However it makes me feel a little sad, because it represents lost opportunity. But it also makes me feel optimistic because it teaches me a valuable lesson about confidence.

You see the gift is from a lady; A young lady who joined the technical team in our office several months ago. When she first came to our office I was captivated by her shy but friendly smile. She could speak Vietnamese, very basic French and almost no English.

This caused me a problem. Being a person who is quite shy at making new acquaintances, I found the language barrier to be intimidating. This was made worse by the fact that I am also shy around ladies and this particular lady was attractive to me to the point I became speechless in her presence. The final problem was that due to her own lack of confidence in English, she only ever spoke to me in French.

So the stage was set for our working relationship for the next few months. I was too shy to communicate with her, she was scared to communicate with me, and I was speechless in her company. However, I always try to treat my work mates with kindness and I am sure she noticed this part of my personality.

Now over this period of time I have had the opportunity to develop my Vietnamese language skill and I feel less shy about initiating a full conversation. My standard is still very basic, but if the person has the patience for me to reference a dictionary occasionally, I can manage a full conversation.

Last Friday I finally gained the courage To initiate a proper conversation with her. It went surprisingly well. It was a very companionable conversation about nothing in particular. We talked about the weather, living in Ha Noi, sport and the general things about family and life. I think she was surprised at being able to speak with me, and I went home with a sense of achievement at managing the conversation well…… And a knowledge that I should have been more bold to test my language skills. (and real anticipation for seeing her again)

What I didn’t know at the time was that the Monday was to be her last day working for our organization. But before she left she came to my office to say goodbye, and gave me the ceramic ornament as a gift. It was such a small gesture that touched me very deeply. To the best of my knowledge she didn’t give anyone else a gift before leaving. Maybe she was just surprised to meet a friendly foreigner…… I don’t know , but I do know I am sorry that I didn’t take the opportunity to find out more about her while I could.

So for me it is not just a small desk toy, but a lesson in grasping opportunities with confidence.

I hope this small story encourages you to meet todays challenges boldly!

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!

The rest of the world January 29, 2007

Posted by casualadventurer in Cultural Understanding.
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A mate sent me a funny message where he had overheard his daughter proclaiming the people from
Thailand spoke Taiwanese.

A really common mistake, more common than you would expect.

I have found that many Australians don’t really have much idea of geography outside our own
country, and we are probably better than many nations on that score.

Well there’s this place,
It’s outside of Oztraylia,
Its called the rest of the world,
I think some people live there,
But you don’t want to go there because it’s full of foreigners.
Of course you get some of the people visiting the Oztraylia from the rest of the world they’re called Toororists.
But not from Newz Eeland coz they live in Oztraylia too. You can tell from all the toororists that
the rest of he world is made up of several groups.

Yanks, Poms, Wogs, Huns, Fuzzy Wuzzys, Arabs Japs and Gooks.

Now the Yanks are all like some kind of policeman and they blow up whole countries so that they
can be free.

The Poms haven’t done much of anything for a while, so that when they manage to win a rugby match
their whole country celebrates like they have just won their whole empire back off the Yanks.

The Wogs are our friends because they came to Oztraylia so that we could learn about food that
wasn’t cooked by Poms.

The Huns haven’t invaded anyone for a while so they’ve quietly been buying the entire British
motor industry in revenge for what the Spitfires did to their Messerschmidts.

The Fuzzy Wuzzys are our friends as well, they helped us fight the Japs by carrying our tanks and
machine guns across these really big hills. Now Oztraylian companies can take all of their gold
for free, we don’t even need to worry about toxic waste or anything because it’s all in the rest
of the world.

The Arabs own all of the oil in the world except for the bit in Bass straight that the Wogs use
for cooking our food. But the Yanks are planning to take it all off them real soon, so that they
won’t need to drive economical cars like the rest of us.

The Japs are sort of like other gooks, but they haven’t learnt how to cook their fish yet. The
Japs are famous for making intricately designed engines that make mechanics
want to fall onto their swords and scream BONZAI.

That only leaves the Gooks, We should really respect the Gooks because there is a really really
large number of them, and although they all look the same they speak about a million different
languages. Oztraylia is teaching them how to wrap their food in pastry just
like a good Ozzy meat pie, that way they can use their hands instead of having to pick up a couple
of sticks from the back yard.

Yep we should take the time to learn about the rest of the world so we can watch those sexy movies
from Europe.