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July 2, 2009

Frenzy, frenetic, frantic…a certain onomatoepia about these words.  Maybe is is the “F’ that begins the word.  Look how common the use of ‘fuck’ is in the english language and its meaning now is merely an expletive, it punctuates sentences with a resonance known to all.  It is acceptable in the media, whereas decades ago it was totally verboten, now it is common place, having  almost lost its original meaning.

It is not my intention to discourse on semantics of language.  I am not qualified to do so.  However I want to draw some cultural nuances concerning the word ‘frenzy’.  Having spent almost most of my life in the West and now the last ten years in Asia, I have observed some interesting parallels.

Westerners seem to have many difficulties with the East.  These range from the petty to the important, that is for a Westerner.  The Asian psyche is not ours nor will we ever be able to penetrate it, it is like trying to get into a black persons skin in the words of Atticus in To Kill A Mocking Bird.  We are westerners and no matter how long we live in an asian culture we will not be privvy to what goes on their pscyhes.  Sure there are those who write books, treatises, essays, abstracts, academic papers on the subject but it is from a Westerner’s point of view.  We will remain outsiders, some of us understanding or accepting more, others who expect to be treated as they may have been in the West.  A waste of energy.  I prefer the dictum, lie back and enjoy it.

Frustrations, impatience, both of these are common factors for those of us who have chosen to leave Western Culture and live in an Asian milieu. Each of us has our own reasons as to why we become ex-pats.  That is not my business.  But the longer I reside in Asia the more I am aware of what I left behind.  For some it is a loss, for others it is an asset.  Removed from family, friends and familiarity.

For me the pace of  life approximates living in slow motion, and why would you want to rush around in a Tropical Climate, utter madness.  Daily interaction between asians offers little of the frenzy of the West.  The body language speaks volumes.  The Asian gait is not a rapid one.  Peolple move slowly in general and seldom I have I seen an Asian actually running from A to B.  Of course sport is an exception.  There is a measure of languor, of fluidity, some would call it laziness.  Asians have no work ethic I often hear as a criticism.  Doing business with asians is so difficult is a common mantra among ex pats.  For Asians time is circular, for Westerners it is Linear.  Just observe the phenomonon of queueing.  It is not in the Asian pscyche to form perfect straight lines as it is in the West.  This distresses so many ex-pats who seem to think Asia should behave in the same manner culturally as those of us from the West.  Rather arrogant I suspect.

Listen to the converstions of Westerners.  ‘I ordered that yesterday!”  ‘Why do I have to wait till tomorrow or even next week?”  ‘I want it now, not in a weeks time!”  We are frantic, frenetic, and often frenzied.  And the asian response is so often a smile, a killing smile, a haunting smile, a bewitching smile, apologies to Christopher Moore, an author whose writings on asian culture far excel any mediocre efforts I am making in analysis of cultural differences.

‘Why is my life so fucked up?’  ‘I rang him yesterday and he has not returned my call”  ‘I am having a nervous breakdown but who cares?” “Did you see how that driver just changed lanes without any indication she/he was about to do so” “They cant even bring the meals to the table at the same time” “I asked for water and they brought me tea’. “They are supposed to be at work at 9 am, it is already thirty minutes after”.  The blood pressure must rise at a rapid rate. Westerners raise their voice as it were some kind of sign that things are being done incorrectly in an Asian country.  The West is frenzied, frantic and frenetic.  We want it all, but we want it yesterday. How presumptive!  We interact with one another on a totally different plain.  Our body language so often an indication of our state of mind.

I have been impressed by the gentility, the lack of frantic conversations, the lack of ‘must do’ and ‘must have’ of the Asian peoples. We read of the ‘Now’ generation.  Instant gratification pervades all our actions.  We are frantic when our computer does not work.  Frenzy takes hold like a rabid dog with a carcass.  Impatience leads to stress, not to calmness of the mind.  It eats away like a cancer. And while we live among these asian peoples we have much to learn about our own way of living.

Mindfulness is one of the major tenets of Buddhism.  Of course it is not present in all Asiatic peoples just as frenzy is not the exclusive domain of the West.  The Middle East exhibits it on a national level on occaisons.  We have all seen mass madness, even in the pilgramages to Mecca where often thousands are trampled to death.  Now that is frenzy at its extreme. There is an Indonesian word, ‘amok’ which the West has adopted to describe large gatherings of people for whom frenzy and freneticism is part of daily life.

But it is my daily life in Asia that reminds me of how frenzied and frenetic we can be as Westerners.  We demand, we expect, we hold it as our right to be attended to as we may have been in the West, but it aint so my friends.  We have great expectations of people form Asia who migrate to Western countries.  You will do it our way.  You came here so now speak our language, follow our cultural norms, obey our laws and the institutions that enforce them, but when we come to the East we expect things to be done as they are done in our own countries, somewhat hypochritical in my way of thinking.

Travellers to Asia are quick to critise treatment they may receive from authorities, but the same people would be the first to rise up and tell the Asians who have decided to vistit or immigrate, this is our country and you should behave as we do.  It’s a two way strasser.

For me Asia lacks the frenzy, the frenetic, the frenzied behaviour of the West.  For me it is an attraction albeit it frustrating at times.  But it is the choice I have made.  I no longer live in the West but will always be a Westerner to Asians and to myself.

Those of us who have left our own culture have so much more to know.  Knowing the knower is the best of the knowledge…

Here’s to a life less filled with frenzy!

3 Comments leave one →
  1. KTOF permalink*
    July 3, 2009 9:37 am

    Love it.

  2. William permalink
    July 4, 2009 10:43 am

    an interesting and very valid critique my friend on the frantic frentic madness that abounds…long live calm Asia!

  3. dyoll09 permalink*
    July 9, 2009 4:21 pm


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