March, 2003

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Where Do You Want To Go Today?

bentley-small.jpgCurtin University has a health and counseling services department situated in a nice building just opposite the library, and I was there last week to see if I should be worried about a skin problem that had been bugging me for several weeks now. It turned out to be a pretty harmless heat rash caused by the intense summer sunlight in the first week of my arrival. Now, what got me thinking was a little conversation I had with the doctor – at one juncture, he asked casually whether I was starting to get home-sick, and I replied, laughingly, I was having the time of my life!

Still, while one would like to think that in a global village where it’s no longer as difficult – as it might had been before – for a person to adjust to new culture and environments, and Perth is a reasonably cosmopolitan city; there are also still significant observations to be made from one place to the next.

One thing that’s running in my head right now is how the Asian students tend to gravitate towards each other. Certainly there are a few who make a serious attempt to acclimatise, but many don’t – and still bring the same habits and persistently demonstrate their own unique cultural traits. Now, I’m a firm believer of the cultural melting pot, and that each individual brings to the table unique characteristics that the collective would be less without. However, in this instance – and the point of my writing this now – is that not all these traits that the Asians bring are endearing. One of these quirks is some Asians’ tendencies to talk loudly as though the other party has a hearing problem. Singaporeans as a general rule don’t exhibit this – we have other character problems, but vocal boisterousness isn’t one of them. For instance, I’ve got a Asian housemate who when yakking on the phone the whole house can hear her. And in another recent instance, some Asian folks living in our common compound brazenly decided to park their car into our garage space without checking with my house first, and when I sounded them out to this, one of them went ballistic and was shouting at the top of her voice that they had done no wrong, and that if my house had been upset about it, we “should have told them so.” You know, one would have thought that your neighbours should check for usage permission before deciding to park their vehicles in your property. Her parting shot in that experience was a shrill comment “it’s not as though you own this space!!!” to which I didn’t even bother dignifying her comment with a response.

Oh, both instances are indeed pretty trivial – but it’s still interesting, perhaps even distressing, that when Asians go about visiting other people’s countries and staying there long term, we don’t behave ourselves in the best manner as guests should. In fact, as I was remarking to Dr. Dreher (my PhD supervisor) the other week, some Asians unconsciously wreak this sort of social havoc instead when abroad. In the two instances I’ve described above, the first Asian is Malaysian Chinese, the second was Hong Kong Chinese. Now, before my friends reading my rants start accusing me of being a nationalistic bigot, I am now on the conscious lookout to detect the quirks that Singaporean Chinese demonstrate too – even if this would be slightly more difficult, being that I’m belong to the same national-racial mix and therefore our quirks are less stark to me as other people’s are. :)