Monday, December 19, 2005

Soft Browns vs Hard Yellows

When I was first in South-East Asia as a long-term English teacher obviously enamoured of most things Asian, a diplomat said to me: "If you love Asia, you'll find yourself siding either with the soft browns or the hard yellows". Now this was during the Vietnam War, when some hard yellows were thrashing some people who fell into neither category - and I sort of backed off from what sounded like a distinctly racist generalisation. But recently I've found myself coming back to something which may not be so facile. Is it all about productivity, efficiency, being focused - or have the soft browns got a point? Put it another way, do you find yourself drawn more to the Japanese, Chinese, Koreans, Vietnamese or to the Indonesians, Filipinos, Thais, Khmers, Malays, Burmese, Indians? Think of Robert Frost and the paths dividing in the wood: if you have to choose, which path do you take?

It's late at night now (1.15 a.m. in the UK) but I know where I stand and I hope in later posts to say where and why. Sleep well and Happy Midwinter (if you're north of the equator) - if not, lucky you!!


Blogger Nigel said...

In N.Thailand we were taken round Chiang Mai by 3rd generation Thai who said his ancestors were chinese. Then it became clear that Thailand is a place of many countries just as I think Malaya and the Phillipines. So while there may be parts of China, Japan and Korea that are particularly sensitive about their roots diversity is at least an underlying characteristic of most of these places...

Perhaps the dress of a buddhist novice does serve as an appropriate metaphor for how both hard yellows and soft browns co-exist in most countries?

Wed Dec 28, 09:27:00 am GMT  
Blogger pangapilot said...

Yes, and co-existence, especially of the peaceful kind is self-evidently desirable. I was talking about polar characteristics of different groups and clearly there can be convergence. In a Buddhist country like Thailand where there has been widespread tolerance of intermarriage (indeed Thais sometimes say they welcome the prospect of lighter children if they marry Chinese) the distinctions become thoroughly blurred. However, in Malaysia and Indonesia, perhaps related to Islamic beliefs, there has been much much less intermarriage - and in times of communal stress there have been serious violence between the racial groups. To return to Thailand, ask a "khon thai thee" (quote real Thai unquote) about Bangkok and they are quite likely to call it a thoroughly Chinese city, i.e. one that expresses what they regard as Chinese values. So, despite intermarriage, there is a recognition of divergent priorities between different racial groups - and between the two great cultural streams of South Asia, namely India and China.

Wed Dec 28, 12:59:00 pm GMT  

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