In honour of the hard working scientists at the Large Hadron Collider, trying to prove God’s existence, or disprove God’s existence, or develop a new flavour of ice cream, I have decided to develop a grand unifying theory of Asia.
There are a few obstacles to overcome in developing this theory. I’ve probably only been to about a tenth of the countries in Asia. I’ve almost certainly only met about one billionth of the people. My total time spent on the continent is actually only about seven months. Also, my partner has helpfully pointed out I lack the intellectual faculties to handle such a task.
I however have never felt that ignorance and gross stupidity should ever be a hindrance to judging people you don’t know, and places you haven’t been. I’m looking for a short phrase, or even just a word that can sum up my Asian experience. If this were Lonely Planet, I would just say “Land of contrasts”. But that’s cheap. It’s pejorative, and I believe all three of my devoted readers deserve more. Especially mum.
I’ve been having difficulties though. In the final episode of Curb Your Enthusiam’s most recent season, Jerry and Larry discuss the modern habit people have of proclaiming something, inserting the phrase “having said that”, and then proceeding to completely contradict their initial statement. My brain kept doing this to me every time I thought I was on to a winner.
Straight away I thought “Friendly”. Malaysian’s are all the argument a person needs for this statement. Never have I been offered more unsolicited helpful advice in all my life. People are always happy to smile and chat and one hostel owner even invited us to his daughter’s pre-wedding party. There was also the extra friendly gentleman who gave me a genitals heavy pat down at Taipei airport. I still maintain they should make their security staff wear uniforms, but you don’t want to mess about when it comes to airport safety. So “Friendly” it is.
Having said that , I was once hate-hissed by a 100 year old Japanese man at Ueno zoo. We also had another racially motivated incident at Universal Studios Osaka where we were made to sit alone in the ‘foreigners’ section on the Jaws boat. I almost went all Rosa Parks on their ass but the ride started, and you don’t fuck around with Jaws.
So I next thought “Delicious”. A no-brainer. I could happily live my life on a diet of xiao long bao (that’s Shanghai soup dumplings for anyone who didn’t just look up the correct term in their guidebook) without ever complaining. Or Peking duck for that matter. Or fish curry in Thailand, beef pho in Hanoi or bbq chicken wings in Seoul.
Having said that, someone needs to explain to Asia that red bean paste tastes like shit. I’m sorry, but some of these truth bombs are going to hurt. And I’m not sure who became convinced that by taking pumpkin soup, throwing in red bean paste and then serving it cold they had created a dessert, but they need to be slapped. Why such horrible desserts? I know everyone has seen the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. I bought about a thousand of them at the grocery store for ignorant white foreigners in Shanghai.
Next came “Organised”. This is a classic Western stereotype that we’re all happy to throw at Asia every now and then convinced that it is vaguely complimentary. And like a lot of stereotypes, there is an element of truth to it. Using public transport in most Asian cities, particularly having come from Brisbane is kind of like spending your life only having listened to Nickleback and then having somebody play you Sgt. Peppers. Life suddenly seems worth living again. The ample room (mostly), the efficient arrival and departure times, the cleanliness. I was tempted to say “Fuck the museums and galleries Stephanie! I am getting on the subway, you can pick me up when the last service arrives. What? They keep running all night? I AM MOVING HERE!”
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Having said that, the inability of communists to queue is truly mind boggling. The beautifully ordered structure, the uniformity of it, how can communists NOT appreciate queuing? Prior to the 2008 Olympics, Beijing authorities instituted a ‘Learn to Queue’ day once a month, as well as trying to explain the downside of spitting all over the place. Both policies have failed miserably. Not possessing a willingness to smash old grannies to the ground to get on the metro meant travelling around Beijing, and to a lesser extent Shanghai, could be a frustrating experience.
So I have given up. Asia is amazing. It is infuriating. It is beautiful and ugly, friendly and hostile, huge and tiny, conformist yet undeniably individual. It has beautiful food, beautiful people, wealth beyond imagining and poverty that is heartbreaking. I have been at many times furious at it, but that fury is dwarfed by the affection I feel for all of the countries and the people that have given me without a doubt the best 6 months of my insignificant little life. There is no word or phrase eloquent or meaningful enough to capture everything this brilliant continent represents.
Having said that….
Land of contrasts.