Similarities Always Better Than Differences

Southeast asia

Image via Wikipedia

THERE ARE probably many more, but one of the unintended consequences of migration is discovering perceptions of other races and cultures, and how others view your own.

Among the more popular and sometimes surprising we have picked up : Cambodians are excellent bakers of bread, pastries and related goodies; Taiwanese are remarkable in picking gadgets apart, studying how they work, and inventing more efficient models of the same (popularizing the term reverse engineering); both Malaysians and Indonesians are world-beaters in badminton, and, rivalling our own homegrown talent, Indian expertise in both information technology ( IT ) and call center operations is well-known the world over.

We’re fortunate enough to have spent our childhood years straddling both Filipino and Chinese cultures, so our face glowed with pride twice over when a Kiwi co-traveller told us that reviewing personal experience, Pinoys and Chinese adapted with greatest ease to a foreign culture, specifically his own.

It was his way of telling us that, at the workplace, in his neighborhood, in church or on the national scene, almost to a man (and woman) these people were the easiest to get along with, and vice-versa.

We avoided making comparisons among Caucasians across borders and continents, because firstly, it is like apples, oranges and bananas. The chasm is simply too great, and you cannot compare for example, Englishmen, French and Russians, just as Australians and Kiwis may look similar on the surface, but are as different as night from day. Natural distrust, historical slights inflicted on one another, and contrasting attitudes rooted in religion and ideology are just some of the reasons.

(This being our naive view, apologies if we may have offended anyone for the previous paragraph.)

Which posed the inevitable question, at least in our distracted train of thought. Among Southeast Asians and similar cultures (Polynesians, South Asians), is the tendency to look for similarities greater than the instinct to spot differences with those not of your own kind?

Pinoys within our own small circle seem to reinforce this urban legend. A flatmate observed that Samoans, Tongans and Fijians love cooking various dishes in coconut milk, and of course we Pinoys can relate to this on so many levels, witness our ginataang tambakol, Bicol express, kakanin, to name just a few orig (or so we thought) recipes.

Spanning the South China Sea : respect for elders, filial piety and involving the family in almost every aspect of life is likewise a hallmark of the Yellow Race, and again, whether we see them as Chinese from the Mainland, Overseas Chinese from different Mini-Dragons of Asia, or local Kiwi-Chinese that are as homegrown as NZ milk and butter, the basic aspects of Chinese character remain the same.

It’s probably a long shot, but various cultures that have been influenced by elements of Confucian philosophy as early as 2000 years ago, notably obedience to the state, respect for authority, and according the highest honor to education and educators, still find elements of the same today, in Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Indochinese traditions, and across Southeast Asia.

Inevitably, the so-called stereotypes of certain nationalities surface when we try to look for similarities rather than differences with our Asian brothers (and sisters). It’s almost as if we identify with the latter only for as long as the characterstics are positive, and distance ourselves from any comparisons as soon as the negatives become evident.

No names here, but our unfortunate combination of imbibing alcoholic beverages and the occasional crime of passion committed in the name of such, are shared by many other races particularly in the South Pacific.

 Frugality pursued to excess by the entrepreneurially inclined among some of our East Asian brethren, borrowed by other races,  has become such a basic part of our psyche as to be parodied and satirized by many who seek to disparage the otherwise unassailable business ethic of the cultures concerned.

Finally, Filipinos like to single out our former colonizers whenever the subject of our legendary indolence is brought up, but in truth almost all lands and nationalities close to the equator have their special way of dealing with the oppressive climate, while preserving productivity and harnessing energies under the tropical sun.

** ** ** ** ** **

It may be a long time coming, but the moment we discard the blinders of petty prejudice, transcend our long-held stereotypes, and banish the bitterness of history is the same time we begin to see the rainbow of races for what they truly are : fellow creatures of God who like us share universal goals of attaining happiness, preserving freedom and living with love.

In our humble view, this is one of the highest blessings that a migrant may enjoy.

Thanks for reading!



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