29 August 2013

Shocking Culture

Fishing Village Penang Malaysia

Little India Penang Malaysia

Punjabi Suits Penang

Most of the time, when I mention that I've lived in Malaysia, people say something like, "Oh wow! I bet an experience like that really makes you appreciate everything that you have here in America!"

My response to that is usually a polite, non-committal, "Hmm" or "Umm" or "Yeah..."

But what I really want to say is, "Actually, the years I spent living in Malaysia really helped me appreciate the opportunity I had to live in Malaysia."

However, that feels too confrontational, and I generally try to avoid shocking people, so I never say it.

I don't mean this in any anti-American way. I am grateful for many aspects of the land of my birth. I really, really like having religious freedom, and the right to vote. There are stories of integrity and valor from American history that still bring tears to my eyes. We have beautiful wonders of nature scattered all over our country, and a wealth of natural resources. The Chevy Corvette has always been my idea of the coolest car ever made, and I'll always be convinced that the American system of spelling the English language makes much more sense than any other system of English spelling. 

I especially appreciate the American public bathroom. I can go to public bathrooms in this country for free--and I can expect that they will most likely provide both a western-style toilet and toilet paper. I can also expect that they will almost never be flooded or a home to large spiders, cicaks, cockroaches, or monkeys.

But one thing that I don't appreciate is any version of the point of view that all countries in the world are in a competition, and America is clearly winning, so obviously everyone who isn't American wishes that they were, and every American who travels outside the U.S. comes back realizing how much better America is than the rest of the world.

What I learned from living in Malaysia is that I truly loved living there. I learned that there is beauty and joy and love outside of the U.S.A. I don't return from Malaysia feeling pity on Malaysians--No, I feel only gratitude for the part in my life that Malaysia has played.

It's not like Malaysia is a perfect country. They've had repeated problems with governmental corruption and racism. Sometimes there are too many monkeys too close to people, and there's too many rats at the meat market. Some of the beaches are so heavily polluted that no one will dare venture into the ocean for a swim.

But the way I see it, Malaysia is not in competition with America. They are two different countries, each with their own problems and with their own blessings. The unique characteristics of America have played a huge part in shaping my life and my worldview, and so have the unique characteristics of Malaysia.

The fact is, I believe it's arrogant for the wealthy West to assume that they automatically have it better than other nations. Sure, stuff like central air-con and well-developed infrastructure and large ovens and grocery stores full of convenience foods might be nice, but after a certain point, more money doesn't buy you more love, more community, or more joy and contentment, and it's for that reason that I don't think Malaysia needs the pity of the West.
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Blond Duck said...

What an interesting view! I bet you're having a grand adventure! :)

Tayler Morrell said...

I love this! As a history teacher who loves learning about other cultures, I try to instill this in my students as well. There are pros and cons to each culture and each country's history.
Our Fairy Tale

Moonofsilver said...

wow, thats put different then I've ever heard. I don't feel pity on other countries--I do feel sad for some, like Korea--but I don't feel "better" then any other person, regardless of their origin of birth. I do feel more privileged--not in a "better then thou" way, but in a way where I might have more opportunities because of where I was born. But with more opportunities come more responsibility. The only place I've been besides the good ol' USA is Mexico, and a few of their neighboring islands. I will admit to being shocked by what I saw. Many of these places (lets take Rotan for example) have a "tourist" area, and then outside that...I saw a lot of people living in what I would call "shacks" and riding motorcycles with babies pinned to their backs. It was a very different way of life then what I've seen in America, and it was both shocking and humbling all at once. Mostly it just hurt my heart and I wanted to help those people. To be honest, I'd heard of poor countries, but I really did think people lived like me. Or at least a little less, like the poor in America, who have 100x more then the poor in Mexico. I was really naive.

Pamela M M Berkeley said...

"But one thing that I don't appreciate is any version of the point of view that all countries in the world are in a competition, and America is clearly winning, so obviously everyone who isn't American wishes that they were, and every American who travels outside the U.S. comes back realizing how much better America is than the rest of the world." Indeed!

Living in India, I face this a lot. When I talk to my American friends back home, if I want to vent or just expound on something really strange about India, I often get a "oh, wow, you need to come back to America NOW" kind of reaction.

Really? Nevermind that while I love my home country... it ain't perfect, that's for sure. And I bet Indians who move to America have similar woes of adjustment.

And what really breaks my heart is when Indians here have this perception. When they think that America is somehow better than India. There's a sad feeling that somehow "the West" is superior to a lot of people that I just want to let them know is NOT true. Sure there is great stuff about the west, and I was blessed to be born where I was... but there is great stuff about the east too!

The big thing that makes eyebrows go up with people for me is that I chose to come here instead of Ryan coming to America.. and most people are asking when we're going to America, assuming we have a date to move over there in mind... but we don't. We're here for now. We may move back, we try not to choose options that would make it harder to move if God calls us to do that... but who knows, maybe in India for life. We just don't know yet.

And we're okay with that. Because while the culture shock and stuff can be super tough sometimes... India is India. It's not meant to be America, and while that means I have adjustments... it's not that bad. India can be pretty cool.

Why Girls Are Weird said...

I've never lived in another country and I'll admit, even when I'm on vacation in another country I tend to stay at nice, ritzy resorts that make it feel like you're living in the US. So I don't really know what it feels like to live anywhere but the US.

However, I've always felt like its ridiculous that so many in the US feel like they're in the best, winning country. There are so many things that are screwed up about this country. People who think money can get you everything, teen pregnancy rates, the obsession with women having to be skinny little twigs, etc. It's sad. I think the US could learn SO MUCH from other countries, things that are important.

Maybe we have great things here. But we're not the best. Every country has good and bad things. No one is winning, in my opinion.

Mrs. Bennett Has Class said...

This is an excellent perspective! Sometimes I think Americans are so busy thinking about America that we think everyone else does too, when other people in other countries/cultures are simply focused on living their own lives. We are just such a materialistic culture and have a hard time imagining living without the luxuries we are afforded. Sometimes I crave a simpler life, even if it means monkeys in my bathroom. :)

Maggie B. said...

I'm not sure I can actually agree with you more! While I'm thankful for all of the amazing things/opportunities I have here in America, whenever I travel outside of here I get a little sad when I come back. Because, honestly, I've had more friendly encounters as a traveler then I have had at home. I haven't traveled extensively, and I've never been to a country like Malaysia, but from what I've seen... America is hard. There's such pressure to be perfect, to be the best, to have the most. I'm glad it's not like that everywhere, which makes me think there must be home for us still. =)

Unknown said...

Monkeys! I would love to hear more about that one day.

I think many people in the US just don't understand what life is like in other parts of the world. They may think that Europe is "civilized" -- Japan, Australia, parts of Russia, Africa and China, too. But the rest of the world can seem like a hazy, backward, poverty filled mess. And that's too bad.

Angi said...

Honestly, I think every country has its pros and cons. America included. And the way it's headed lately it almost makes me want to move to another country...haha. I think America is great for a lot of reasons, but I do get tired of a lot of aspects of technology and politics and such.

Mrs. M ~ a.k.a. ~ April said...

Very good perspective! I've had a "fantasy" of living in another country but haven't had the opportunity, yet! I'm so happy to be in this country though it's not all cracked up to what it seems to be. You've expressed your view really well, I couldn't have said it better.

Jeans and a Teacup said...

I really believe that people should travel and experience different cultures. Every culture has something unique are really cool to offer! I went to China and it was definitely a culture shock for me. But it was interesting and I learned a lot. The bathroom situation is definitely something that I appreciate about America though! haha... But people are always going to believe that where they live is the best place. I find that even within America - state to state.
Jeans and a Teacup

Cramer Coffee and Jesus said...

wait, so what are bathrooms like elsewhere? lol.
also, I read this entire post in "Rachel's Voice" - it took me a lot longer....
Have you ever seen a video of me? or heard me talk? I am loud and talk fast :/ **another opposite of**

Hima Rajana said...

This is so absolutely true. When I go to India, the people there always ask me about the US, and while I definitely appreciate a lot of things about it, it doesn't mean that India is any less!

xo, Hima
Hima Hearts

Rachel said...

Monkeys are evil. That's what we decided long ago when they kept coming way too close to us for comfort.

I realize that there's no way to really know what life is like in a different country unless you actually live there yourself. But I do think it's sad when some Americans automatically assume that life in Malaysia or other developing nations must be 'bad' or 'inferior' just because it's a developing nation.

Elizabeth said...

I really like this post - great points. Haha "sometimes there are too many monkeys" made me laugh!

Suzanne said...

In my 20's and prior I travelled lots. I lived in Hawaii, London, Scotland,France and travelled to Mexico, Spain, Australia all throughout Europe, the US and Canada. I have never been to the East however my husband travels there all the time, China, Malaysia, Thailand, Japan etc. He has also been to Romania, Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Turkey, Iran, India, Pakistan, Chile, fact it is getting harder to find places he hasn't visited. Without fail every time he comes back from somewhere new he is in love with it. (not with the toilets...) but pretty much everything else and wants to move there. Each country has something unique to offer. That is why we both enjoy travelling so much.

It was a choice I made when I was younger to go out and live and discover other ways of living. I still think it is the best education you can have.

Whenever I stayed in a hostel you could almost always tell the Americans. They were the ones talking the loudest and complaining the most.

It is refreshing to hear not all Americans think that they are the best and everyone else in the world is inferior.


Lauren {at} Life.Love.Lauren said...

Refreshing perspective! Great post! My friend loved his time in Malaysia!

Anonymous said...

I love that response and I think you should say it every time someone asks that! Obviously I love America and I prefer to live there again someday, but I also love every country I've ever been to and I'm definitely glad for the opportunity to live and travel in different countries.

Claire Justine said...

Aww I would love to travel all around the world, looks like your having a great time :)

Erika from America said...


Get out of town!

I went to Hope!

Erika from America said...

Okay, now onto ACTUALLY responding to this:

Wow, what a great post! I think you're right -- many Americans DO look at it as a competition... and would see you living there as pitying them. It's hard for people to imagine that there are OTHER things outside of a conventional lifestyle (for us here, anyway) that would be of worth or value. Wow. Thank you for sharing your perspective, Rachel!