Thursday, September 9, 2010

Hanging Out With The Enemy, Part 1

They glanced my way with mild curiosity under the dim lights of the Vietnamese restaurant, and I tried to meet their gaze with an inner animation I was all too aware I didn't feel. I couldn't wait for this tedious dinner party to be over. In a typical display of extravagance, Brad had ordered every single dish on the menu, and now a small portion of the Stanford Drama department was assembled around me, happily munching on the various delicacies. Mr L and his wife sat directly opposite me, making polite but affected chit-chat in an air that let me know I was welcome to join in anytime. Mr L. luxuriated in the laid-back arrogance indicative of his Northern Californian "Golden Boy" upbringing. His wife, who came from a lower class, had a blonde bob and a rather ordinary style of speaking, the details of the facial features fading from my memory.

Upon being informed by the person who had brought us all there that one of my passions was actually the continent of Asia, the two stared at me uncomprehendingly.

"What do you like about it?" Mrs L decided to play.

Unable to gather up the enthusiasm for complex metaphors or comparisons this time, I began to rattle off key words: The people, the weather, the culture, the social dynamic, the food... The incredulity in their eyes increased with every addition.

"We went to the Phillipines on holiday, and we didn't like it," Mrs L channeled distaste at the thought of the distant nation quite clearly.

I think about where she might have been coming from. I have heard that Philippinos, like the rest of South-East Asians, were quite friendly. Mr & Mrs L were in possession of wealth. The host (my victim and oppressor) had told me that their philosophy of travel was to go "north in the summer and south in the winter," indicating that they travelled regularly and often. As first time visitors to Asia they would have gone to luxury hotels and spent their money on top end level goods and services - the sort of things that tend to isolate you from the local culture of the everyday person of a new location. They wouldn't have gotten to know any of the lean figures with world-weary gazes as individuals, learned about the stubborn will to succeed that they have cultivated from birth, learned that they are still soulful, kind, friendly and generous even though they live on a fraction of how much Americans earn back home. They would have seen statistics, as superficial an impression of Philippine life as can only be gleaned from the plush comforts of beach side resorts.

I feel sorry for these people who hadn't had the experience of appreciating the warmth and magnetism of the Asian culture that has so informed my adolescence and early adulthood. What could I say? I merely gave an absent-minded smile and waited for someone to change the subject.

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