Saturday, February 12, 2011

the difference between

Phnom Penh
I endeavour now, to turn your attention to the subtle difference between these sets of images. 'The East' in contrast to 'The West', is what I present to you, in three very simple, very common settings - barbers, dancing, and butchers.
Every human gets some kind of hair cut, every couple enjoys some kind of dancing, and every society consumes some kind of meat. What, then is the real difference between us? How is it that we are all human, and yet we have all developed in such incredibly different ways and at different points in time. The idea that The West is more developed is certainly given more weight as globalisation becomes more prevalent. Comparisons between countries are infinitely easier to make now that we have 24 hour news and frequent flyer miles to spare.

Yet I can't help but get the feeling that some things are still really the same.

Siem Reap
When I see a mother scold her son for being loud, it is the same everywhere. When I see awkward young teenagers working at fast food joints, it is the same everywhere. When I see an elderly couple in funny outfits holding hands walking together, it is the same everywhere.

Things like GDP and environment and race and politics can change, but more often than not, the fundamentals of human relationships stay the same.

Hong Kong
I often wonder why some things I witness give me culture shock as oppose to others, and the more I look, the more I realise that the most shocking differences come from the most human elements of a society. Seeing people in different clothes living in different houses does not stress me. Seeing humans behave differently to what I have been taught is 'humane' does. When I am in a new place where the people instinctively behave a certain way towards other human beings, and this way is different - this is when I am most uneasy. I long to believe that we all share the basics of humanity, but the more I travel the more I see that everything we do is learned.

I'm not sure which is better.

The incredibly optimistic part of me longs to believe that an idea of 'inherent humanity' is inside of all of us, but the current state of the world in terms of religions and global warming and poverty really suggest otherwise. Then I begin to understand that most humans share many negative attributes regardless of race or location.

So now I have simply arrived at the conclusion that humans worldwide share a lot more than they care to acknowledge, considering how much they persecute 'otherness' simply because of skin colour or politics or  borders. However, humans (read: my understanding of humans based on me) will never cease to identify and be either amused/discomforted/angered/interested/upset by the differences between themselves and the others. For me, these differences are intriguing when they come from more trivial origins, such as hair cuts and dancing. I become upset when my preconceived ideas of the 'universal truths' of humanity are challenged.

The greatest thing I have learned so far, is that these challenges have nothing to do with the so-called 'levels of development' of different countries.

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