August 8, 2010

Loves from Afar are Loves of Fools

Amores de Lejos, Amores de Pendejos?

This famous Spanish proverb literally translates as “Loves from Afar are Loves of Fools”- that is basically that long distance relationships do not work. I beg to disagree. Of course, relationships with people near you are far better, but sometimes you can’t help but be separated. You can get drafted into the army, or be sent somewhere by a company, or meet someone online that is in a faraway land. There are millions of reasons for long distance relationships to occur. In the old times, with expensive phone calls and letters that would take weeks, it was no surprise that such relationships would often fail as people would get sick and tired of being drawn so much apart and the uncertainty that it brought with it. Truly, love from afar was fools’ love not so long ago.

Not anymore. We now have instant SMS, chatting in real time and very inexpensive phone providers that allow you to make calls across the world for pennies. We now have web cams and your lover can come online and chat with you. Granted you cannot touch him/her physically, but the technology that we have now sure beats those long waits for letters by the mailbox, and once a month phone calls.

Also with a much better social acceptance of personal ads than before these are no longer just for the most desperate. And with hundreds of thousands of people in poorer countries looking for a mate in richer ones, it is becoming more and more commonplace year after year. Now, many relationships begin as long distance ones and become “short-distance” after some time. Many dates now begin in cyber space and end in real life situations.

The used to tell us that one should not look for love but let it land on his/her shoulders like a white dove because if you look for it, it will allegedly run away from you. Well, a lot of people look for it and yes, it does not come; then they stop looking for it and again, it does not come. So what’s the deal? Then, people stopped taking chances with the white dove theory and they now trust the law of averages/probabilities much more. Many get online, meet lots of people electronically from all over the world and, then, they go ahead and meet them physically thus creating their own destiny and not waiting for things to happen.

Long distance love today is doing quite well and almost as good (if not better) than the short distance love, especially if one plays international and not just domestic markets. And you should see some gorgeous people that one can meet.

Long Distance Loves are not Fools’ Loves anymore. They are, actually, smart people’s loves.


Labor Laws, Dental Self-Treatment, Financial Free Fall

Get Out of My Office! You are Fired!

In some countries labor laws are so strict that firing someone is a difficult, lengthy and expensive proposition. However, many expats, both the managers and employees are not aware of those. Hence, western managers brought into the country fire people for the reasons that they would fire them at home for (many of which are trivial). In the US one can fire people for being late five minutes or for simply not liking them. However, “You are fired! Get out of my office!” will not fly in many societies where you cannot do those things by law, and where unions and labor boards are so strong that their protection for employees seems to be absolute.

So, a British company in Kuwait, for example, is subject to Kuwaiti labor laws, and when in Japan, the Japanese labor code kicks in. Hence, a sadistic foreign henchman who thrives on power can no longer exercise his prerogative for kicking people out at will the way he/she could often do at home.

Even if an employee’s contract is not renewed, some countries will still see it as firing and local laws to protect the worker will apply.

I remember when a British employee did not have his contract renewed in Kuwait for no apparent reason except some complaints by customers. He was let go along with five more members of staff by a British manager who saw that as a sufficient reason to not renew their contracts. Most fired people just left it at that, but one decided to hire an attorney and fight them in court. He was surprised to see that the Kuwaiti laws favored him and he was awarded a fat settlement to compensate him for the trauma. It took him a bit of time, but not only he was awarded a tidy sum for his humiliation but the tyrannical manager was fired instead. Sorry, it is not the UK here. You can’t do those things.

I personally was once told in Japan by a British administrator that my contract for the next year was not to be renewed. The reason? Being late on several occasions. However, I contacted the labor union, and it turned out that in Japan, you cannot fire people for being late. You can dock their pay and reprimand them, but it is not a “fireable” offense. After the union got involved, the company had to either reinstate me or pay me money for the months that I had missed while the case was disputed. “You did not renew a person’s contract for being late? Ridiculous!” I pocketed the money. The company that initially was unwilling to re-hire me also had to pay other costs pertaining to the ‘trial’.

So, expat employees – study the labor law in your host country and know your rights! Don’t just walk away with the “ Oh, well…” if a livid-faced, saliva-spitting Western boss is firing you. Check if your offense is trivial or not by local codes. Contact an attorney, and if you find out your rights have been violated, fight! You can get big money from the company. And you, arrogant Western managers-tyrants! Beware! You are not on your home turf anymore. Wait till you are faced with the devil himself- the labor regulations of your new country. You can and will get burnt big time. Ouch!


Dental Self-Treatment

An unforeseen consequence of cheap dental care overseas can be that when you get home (wherever your home is), the pain can persist or complications develop. I had three dental bridges put in the Philippines, two teeth pulled, several cavities filled and a crown put in all for the paltry sum of USD1000. However, I had no time to wait for the thing to heal and left the country immediately after. When I arrived to my temporary home in the Middle East, I realized that not all was well. The pain from six ‘reduced’ teeth upon which the bridges were resting was unbearable. It was so intense that I was howling during the day and crying all through the nights. Work became impossibility. What could I do? Fly back to the Philippines to have the teeth re-fitted? Miss work and pay huge airline fares? Go to a local hospital and have everything fixed there? Would they know exactly what the Philippine dentist had done? As I was hesitating, the pain would not let up.

So, I decided to cure myself. I went to the local pharmacy and bought antibiotics. Then I bought the most potent pain killers they had. Many things can be purchased over the counter without a prescription where I am at. I put myself on a strict antibiotics/painkiller regime. After 10 days the pain subsided a bit, after another 10 days, it got even better and after about two weeks more, it was completely gone. This is how I dealt with the problem on site while I had to work. I am not recommending this as a solution for all such ills but it has worked for me.


Financial Free Fall

When you go from a rich country like Saudi Arabia to a poorer one like Indonesia with pockets full of hard currency, your financial state can be compared to a weightless free fall. You just keep falling down the money space- the chute of dimensions in which you can now move freely without thinking for a relatively long time about how long it will take for you to land on earth and awaken with a jolt. Just like in a free fall where there is sufficient distance for you to enjoy your complete freedom of movement without any restraints. Oh what a feeling to enjoy for a month or two!


Instead of trying to learn a conventional and well-known language or culture, it will be very rewarding if you learn a more remote language and devote yourself to a more exotic culture. Why not learn Telugu or say, a minority language such as Cebuano. You will be worshipped by the natives if you dedicate yourself to integrating into a society that is not main-stream.


Christian Fundamentalist Propaganda and Public Ignorance

Some two decades ago, I was watching a famous preacher on TV. The topic for that day’s sermon was “India“. According to the preacher, India was poor because it was not Christian, and he was inviting people to go there and teach Christianity. At the end of the speech, he raised his voice and shouted something like: “Jesus will take that country out of poverty!”, “Jesus will make India advance!” The people in the audience were nodding with meaningful expressions on their faces- “That’s right! Amen! Jesus will help India!”

“Wait a minute“, I said to myself- “doesn’t the audience know that there are many countries that are even poorer than India and that are Christian, to boot? Don’t they remember that just some time ago, there was a huge drive on TV to gather food and medical supplies to be sent to starving Ethiopians most of whom were Christians?" Were the people, enthralled by the charisma of the evangelist, so uninformed and with such a short memory as to not have been aware of such important details?

On another occasion, I was reading a publication by a very radical Christian organization in which there was an article that said that the Jews had suffered the Holocaust because they would not accept Jesus. Ha! You mean, if the Jews had converted to Christianity, the Holocaust would not have happened? Dream on! Don’t they know that the Nazis were very busy asking foreign governments to give them the names of converted Jews ( which they duly received) so that they could send them to the gas chambers along with the non-converted ones? Don’t they know of so many devoted Christians who had ended up in Auschwitz along with the Jews? The authors were probably not aware of such niceties of history or thought the readers were not aware of these small details, either. Is ignorance really such bliss when they can mislead you by having you believe such worthless statements?

And if the Holocaust was the punishment for not becoming Christians, what did those who were, in fact, Christians, suffer for when genocides were carried against them? I mean, the Armenians, for one. At the beginning of the 20th century as many as 1.5million very Christian Armenians were annihilated by the Ottoman Turks. What was that for? That shouldn’t have happened- they had accepted Jesus and thus, they should have been protected. Why did they perish? And, one also forgets the massacres of the Huguenots in France when Protestants were being killed in broad daylight by the hundreds of thousands. What was that for? For not accepting Jesus, either? Hmm. Who do these fundamentalists think I am? Some kind of dodo?

Two decades after that speech, India is doing very well. The reason for the economic progress of the country is the move from a very staid socialism to a more dynamic, market -driven economy and the relaxation of restrictions on foreign investment. That, coupled with a strong IT base, has moved the country out of poverty. And the country is still predominantly Hindu with a strong Muslim minority.

And Japan, a Shinto-Buddhist country, may have suffered a setback in the 1990ies, but it was then and still is the world’s second largest economy. How come that preacher did not mention that in his sermon, and why didn’t anyone in the audience question him about that?

Today, many African and Latin American countries who are devoutly Christian- Guatemala, El Salvador, Kenya, etc. are still mired in poverty and corruption. And the long suffering regions of Sudan where so many people have been dying of starvation - did you see the horrid pictures of people eating leaves from the trees?-are mostly Christian. So, what gives, preacher?

I respect, and see good in any religion, and if there is Heaven, I believe that good and upright people will go there regardless of what they believe in. I also believe that people who work hard and are honest in their dealings with others will prosper, no matter what their religion is. And that misfortune can befall any group regardless of their faith. However, those Christian fanatics who claim that the sufferings- political, economic or otherwise, of others are due to the fact that they did not convert to these preachers' particular religion make me mad. Not only they are totally disrespectful of the distress of others, but they display morbid ignorance of world history and politics.

However, the thing that angers me the most is that they take me, or any reader or listener, for a fool because those who can actually fall for their outrageous claims must be, in fact, complete fools.


August 1, 2010

8 reasons why Asian men have a better social life in Russia than America (a letter to Winston Wu)

 A letter to my friend Winston Wu:


If you still have not figured it out, do not rack your brains over it. It is several reasons, not one- so it
is a combination of factors that lead to the different results you are experiencing. Here they are one by one:

1) East Orthodox Slavic culture vs. Anglo-Celto-Germanic. Communal and friendly vs. individualistic-cliqueish one.

Russians are generally friendlier people when it comes to strangers because of their communal past- even long before Communism. They are used to including strange people into their group. Anglos on the other hand like to be alone, do not like people they don't know, and prefer being in cliques. If you want to know why Americans behave a certain way look at their ancestors- go to London and any other English town. See how cliqueish the people are and how difficult it is to make friends. There is no eye contact, the people just seem to be absorbed into their own world and their own clique. But Anglos are very friendly inside of the clique and act as normal humans when they are in it. It is just that getting into the clique is the problem.

2) Your worth on the love market in both countries. Who and what are you as far as the context of the
market you are in.

Take (mentally) all the men in the US, line them up and put yourself amongst them. How would you rate in terms of looks, height, money, etc? Probably not high. Put yourself in a line-up with Russian men and see how and where you would rate. Probably quite high.

Mostly because Russians do not on the average have as much money and/or international lifestyle that you can offer. You are making ten times to twenty times more money than they do. If you look at it within the US context, it is as if you were a man making $20,000-$40,000 a month.

3) America is divided along racial lines and five categories of people- Whites, Blacks, Hispanics, Asians and Indians.

Each group has its assigned role and image within the US. In that system Asian men and Asian people in general are not seen as something popular or powerful. Within the context of the US culture, an Asian man is seen based on American stereotypes and you are familiar with them.

Russia is not divided so much by racial lines but more along the lines of ethnic Russians vs. non-Russians and foreigners. Kind of like China or Japan where it is not Blacks vs. Whites, etc, but Chu-Guo-Ren (Middle Country Person) vs. Wai-Gwo-Ren (Out of Country Person) or Ni-Hon-Jin (Japan Person)vs. Gai-Jin (Outside Person) . Foreigners in Asia especially richer ones are seen with curiosity, positive or negative. They are unusual and people are curious about them. They want to help them, invite them to their homes, talk to them. There aren't many of them., so people want to meet them and hear what they have to say. On the other hand, Americans being descendants of foreigners who left bad conditions in their homeland have been conditioned not to look back or be interested in bad countries that their ancestors came from. So, a foreigner evokes a yawn in the US and is seen as a dorky and clumsy person. Someone who has not yet learned to behave and act as a normal, American person.

4) The US is a land of plenty. People (think that they) have seen everything, experienced everything,
done everything and that everything is available.

Especially women see it that way. Russia has not been a land of plenty. People there are not cloyed with benefits of life. Things are hard to find. Good people are also hard to find. So, you are appreciated more within that market. People's lives there can be quite drab so you seem to be like a breath of fresh air to them. There are not that many foreigners there, either. So, when they see you, it means a new experience, something better and more exciting.

5) There are too many available handsome men in the US.

There are oodles and oodles of men with money, cars, houses, careers. Women can have the pick of the day every day. So they are stuck up as they can get any man they want. Even ugly and fat women in the US can get the guy. That is why you see horrid-looking women, ill-dressed women, women without make-up everywhere parading around like they are Miss Universes. Not so in Russia. Too many men were decimated by wars and too many drunk and irresponsible men are around. Finding a good guy is hard. Finding a rich foreigner is even harder. Women need to look their best, be nice, and try hard to find a good man.

Women everywhere want to improve their species. That is human instinct. that is what love and dating is all about. In the US the people believe that the species is already highly improved. So improving your species yet means dating Donald Trump or someone like that. In Russia the male species is quite poor and less numerous than in the US and also less well-behaved. So, on that background you stand out quite well. As you can see, context determines everything in society. In a land of the blind, a one-eyed man is king.

6)  The US TV and culture in general glorifies men that look like Steven Seagal, Bruce Willis, Brad Pitt, etc.

Now, how would you rate compared to those paragons of manhood?  Russia does not have those paragons. If you listen to songs in Russia it is usually a woman singing about how a man abandoned her for another. If you listen to a love song in the US, you will usually hear a sweet voice of a man courting a woman. Or a man whining about a lost love. The markets are different. Male-female ratios are different.

7) Russian people are used to Asians.

They have been seeing them since the 13th century. They have been dealing with them and even marrying them for a long time. It does not mean that as an Asian you are seen as "popular", it is just that you are part of the landscape. You do not evoke much negativism and it is not much of an issue. In the US, Asians are seen as fresh off-the-boat immigrants. poor and dorky, that is. People are still not used to them. There are many stereotypes of Asian men that work against them socially in the US. In Russia, there are stereotypes but not of the same nature.

A local Siberian Asian in Russia is not the most flattering thing to be, either. They will call him –a deer herder, "Churka"- the Russian word for the non-Russian colonial subjects- the equivalent of the British word "Wog", and treat him as a dorky hick.

This would not concern you as it is not so with a Japanese, Taiwanese or a US Asian. But try dressing
like a Russian and acting like those Siberian Asians. You will feel the difference.

8) The word "foreigner" in Russia ("inostranets") is not a negative word.

It immediately evokes mental associations of- "cultured- successful- richer than me-smarter than me- more exciting than me". So, when people in Russia see you as a foreigner, those associations spring to mind. And the people act accordingly.

In the US people see you and say- "Oh, another Asian man"- and the associations while not exactly hostile, are not flattering, either-" poor immigrant making noodles, maybe a martial arts freak-cannot speak English properly-a clutzy and clumsy Japanese student-short-has small dick-computer nerd." Or- "Pearl Harbor- Korean War- or Jackie Chan"- a clown. Hardly positive or respectful associations.

The word "foreigner" in the US is a negative word. It is used to designate a non-American- someone who is either an enemy of the US or someone who is poor and just came and is not assimilated. That is why even the phrase "foreign student" had to be changed to ”international student".

These are the main reasons why you have a better social life in Russia.”


July 24, 2010

How to Stop Sasha Cohen from Making Fun of Kazakhstan

The government of Kazakhstan is up in arms. A man in remote England is making fun of them by posing as a Kazakh journalist. He has set up a site in broken English, and is ridiculing the country and its people right and left. They feel insulted and are trying everything possible to stop him, but to no avail.

You see, Kazakhstan is a newly independent country that most Britons know very little about. Britain had never colonized it, so there is no large Kazakh community in the UK or anywhere in the English-speaking world to protest the mockery that the nation has had to endure because of Mr. Cohen’s nefarious activities. And what’s more, just to show you how ignorant the British public can be, he is now filming a movie about Kazakhstan in Romania of all places. Don’t the Brits know that Romanians look nothing like Kazakhs? Kazakhs are relatives of Mongolians, and Romanians are arguably related to Italians. They obviously do not know such a simple detail because there has been, in fact, another British movie about Kazakhstan that I saw on TV once although I can’t remember its name. It portrayed a British commando who went to that country to help them overthrow a despotic government and to set up a new pro-Western democracy. The movie was filmed in Bulgaria of all places. Why didn’t they go to Mongolia to film it? It would have looked more credible then. Bulgarians look nothing like Kazakhs, but Mongolians do. But the movie created no uproar even from the most educated and liberally minded Brits who would be fuming if someone showed, say, an African country- by filming a movie about it in Cambodia. There would be angry comments in the press and the studio would be pelted with eggs. So, why is there no outcry about pseudo- journalistic antics of the new anti-Kazakh burletta?

I will tell you why. Because very few people outside of that area- especially those in Britain- know where the country is, what the people there look like and how things there are. There is little trade between the two countries so damage from a Kazakh boycott of British goods is not likely to be significant. Too bad for the poor Kazakhstanis! They are now a laughing stock of the entire world. With total impunity on the part of the perpetrator- the witty and caustic Sasha Cohen, a.k.a. Mr. Borat. A person who is building a career out of disparaging someone’s beloved motherland.

The Kazakh government is not amused at all. Their culture, political system and way of life are being poked fun of in the most shameless and disrespectful fashion. They are lodging protests in all possible places and expressing their indignation to the international organs of the media, political bodies, and governments, but to no avail. They can’t fight the freedom of speech in Western countries even if it is being abused to make them look like backwater savages from some remote desert kingdom.

However, there is a sure way to stop this slander even though they still have not figured it out. The Freedom of Speech in the West has limits that the Kazakhs still don’t know about. All you have to do is use the modern political correct weaponry to silence Mr. Cohen. Namely: just call him a bigot. You may have, undoubtedly, noticed that Cohen is not making a show about Pakistan or India or China. He would be taken off the air in about five minutes if he ever tried to do so. And his show would be called discriminatory, bigoted, and most of all, racist. And once that nasty word creeps into the collection of adjectives that people use to describe you, there is no arguing back. If you are ‘white’ and you make fun of a protected country that is ‘not white’, even if you have a reason to poke fun of their politics, you get called “a racist”. And it is just like calling someone a heretic in the 16th century- how can you argue with that? Once you are a witch, you are done for! You get burned big time.

Yup, if he started posing as a Pakistani journalist, that would be the end of the show and his career. And I would not be surprised if his very life would not be threatened after that, and he would not be afraid to step out of his house and onto the street. But he was smart- he has chosen someone far more removed from the Western life and is now picking on the weak guy- the jumping off country of Kazakhstan. Now where on earth would that be?

I am sure that very few Brits know it, but Kazakhstan is, in fact, an Asian country whose native population is about as Asian as one can get. Sure, there are some 120 other ethnicities there, but the true Kazakhs are of the pure central Asian stock. And Mr. Cohen is, in modern Western terms, a Caucasian, a white man, making fun of Asians. This makes him what? That’s right! A racist! So, the Foreign Ministry of Kazakhstan as well as all its organs that are unhappy about the continuing harlequinade, had better learn how to scream “Racist!, Racist!”, so that they could keep up with the rest of the world. Send a few thousands of letters to the studio and hire some sandwich men to stand outside it with the placards “Racist Show!” “Down With Racist Bigots!” hanging from their necks. Claim openly that he is being racist towards Asian people. You will see how quickly Borat’s Show will collapse and he will go the way Benny Hill went when he was accused of being sexist and insulting to women.

Too bad the Kazakhs are too innocent to ever have heard of political correctness the same way as most Brits do not even know what Kazakhstan is. Someone had better contact the Kazakh authorities and quickly recommend they follow that route. I mean, they need to do it pronto! They will be surprised how swiftly and effectively they will be able to deal with the issue and how soon Borat’s show will meet its demise. It is just like spraying DDT upon a worm. It curls up and dies. So, spray some PC DDT upon Sasha. Call him a racist, please! Do it quickly before it’s too late and the reputation of the country is totally ruined.

Kazakhs have the Baikonur cosmodrome, and have been launching rockets into space for decades. If they are such good rocket scientists, surely launching a PC rocket straight into Borat’s Show should be a breeze for them.


July 9, 2010

Free Speech vs. Common Decency

As the government of Kazakhstan is hating Borat more and more for making a movie and TV series in which their country is shown to be a backward East European backwater and a poor Third World jumping off place, and in the aftermath of the cartoon riots, many Muslims around the world are steel reeling under the weight of the controversy, many Western media leaders are citing the right of free speech in their defense.

Many are saying that a movie is not real life, and a cartoon is just a cartoon. However, how do you know about the effects that such movies or cartoons will have on people in real lives? People’s reputations can be ruined. They can be mocked. They can be refused jobs and apartments. They will be shut out of social lives. It’s been known to happen. Who is reading such newspapers or watching such movies? It is mostly working-class people the majority of whom aren’t that sophisticated and who, while realizing that a movie was made at a studio, will still form harmful subliminal associations in their minds which in the future will only increase bigotry and discrimination against various groups. So, while free speech is allowing you to make funny movies and caricatures, keep in mind that you are harming many people’s lives in the process.

I keep hearing things like- well, most people know it is really nothing serious, just a parody. But most people, even in the West are not necessarily open-minded, international, politically correct PhD holders with majors in Intercultural Communications. Landlords and employers are watching such movies and seeing such cartoons. And next time a Muslim or a Kazakh comes to apply for a job or to rent living space, they stand a bigger chance of being rejected than before such things have been put into the organs of the media. In social situations people will be ridiculed- "Hey, I saw a show about Kazakhstan- it looks like a very poor, third world dung hole (Kazakhstan is an oil rich country that is almost on par with Brazil in GDP. A normal middle-income country, that's what it is.) I have even seen comments on the Internet stating that Kazakhstan was a “small” Third World country- hey, when was the last time you looked at the world map-the country is about the size of the entire Western Europe!

Such irresponsible journalism and movie making is creating a very harmful effect. Think about one thing, for example: it is called "word association". People are asked to give the first other word that comes to mind when a certain word is uttered. Teachers in classrooms would give an exercise to students quite often when I was younger. Say the first word that comes to mind if I say “Italy”, for example. What are you going to say if you have been seeing movies on TV that show Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo? You will probably say “Art”. If you always see articles about Italian food, you will think of spaghetti and pizza.

However, if the media keep churning out one movie about Mafia after another, you will associate Italy with Mafia. So, next time an Italian applies for a job, even if you are an open minded person, such an association will flash through your mind. Now, what will happen if you are not an open-minded person but just an average Joe? Most probably you will transfer these associations into your dealings with that person. You may, if angry, call him names and defame him. He may even be passed for a promotion and refused various social interactions.

In such a way, organs of the media are, with total impunity, sowing seeds of poison by planning one negative stereotype after another in the common people’s minds.

Granted, Italians are now quite well accepted in America, or other “Anglo-Saxon” countries, but the media, under the umbrella of “free speech” still keeps slandering other groups while arguing that they have the right to do it, and “it is just a movie”. However, by constantly portraying other groups in a negative or ludicrous light they besmirch the reputation of such groups and destroy their right to live with dignity and self-respect. This way, a Kazakh will become associated with a “poor, third world fool” and a Muslim with terrorism. Then, people will start reporting more cases of work-place harassment, losses of friendship and rejections of all kinds in society. Or most noticeably, as a member of such groups, one will simply not be respected.

Sure, there will be some very cosmopolitan individuals who will not form such stereotypes, but how about store owners? Hotel owners? Supervisors at work? Friends? Neighbors? Who are they going to treat members of such groups after the nearly hypnotic associations of such groups with various contemptful and negative things have been inserted into people’s minds?

Media should not take the very sacred right of free speech as a license to slander entire groups and, in process, virtually ruin their lives. Free speech is there to expose true evil, not sow tribal scorn and hatred. So, please have some decency, media people. We cannot legislate decency, only suggest it to you. Think about all those who may be affected by your gross and false generalizations and by the associations you are repeatedly inserting into the minds of the common working public worldwide in the name of 'free speech' and the Almighty Dollar.


White Bums in Sydney- the End of the Western Civilization?

I am in the middle of Sydney, Australia. It is a cool, wintry day in August. The skyscrapers around and above me are filled with light , and a huge moon hangs over the city as the lazy puffs of vapor, coming out of the chimneys and exhaust outlets, rise into the crisp, southern skies.

I look around me and I see what I did not quite expect to see in Australia ( maybe because I had been watching too many re-runs of Crocodile Dundee)- I see many people jostling around, but they do not look like Paul Hogan; most of them have Asian faces, that is. They appear well dressed and happy, their clothes are crisp and stylish, the expressions on their smiling faces seem to show deep satisfaction with their lives. Around me, there are stores and restaurants selling mostly Chinese and Korean foods. They are all full, and there is no place to sit. There is only one word to describe downtown Sydney- prosperity, and it is Asian prosperity. I, in fact, feel that I am in Seoul or Hong Kong. Except that here I do not see nervous people or hustlers. They all look relaxed and rich, or at least, very comfortable.

A young Asian couple, hand in hand, a pretty girl and a bespectacled young man, stroll purposefully past me. They have that successful and confident-of-their-future look as they animatedly gaze at, and discuss various expensive items in display windows. I watch them go into a store. I walk in after them and check out the prices. A silk tie is Au$175?! That is about $140 US. For a tie? In many places in Asia you can by a similar tie for just a few bucks! Most customers, who are Asian, look enthusiastic, and I see no shock on their faces as they carry shopping bags full of the outrageously priced items out the doors of these ultra expensive, glitzy stores. I am a traveler on a $100 a day budget which includes my small hostel room, so I watch those shoppers with envy, and sigh at my own small expense account as I walk down to the rail station, since I think it would be too expensive for me to take a taxi.

All of a sudden, I hear a voice with a Crocodile Dundee accent - “G’d evenin’ mate, ( “mate” is pronounced as ‘mite’) woudj’u by aynee chance be ible t’spare two dollars? “ and I see my first Caucasian face in a long time. He looks like a typical Outback Aussie, with a weathered countenance and a shuck of gray hair. I‘d say he is in his early sixties. His clothes are old and worn, and the expression on his face is wistful- the same that I would see on the visages of poor Bangladeshis working in the Middle East. He looks at me sheepishly, while laughing Asian passer-bys give him a wide birth. “Jis’ two bloody dollars, please, mite” he looks at me again, while crouching as if expecting me to hit him.

The Australian $2 coin is one of the smallest, so, I guess, local beggars prefer to ask for those rather than for the one-dollar ones. If in the US, they ask you for a quarter; here, there are no quarters, only 20c coins. Everything is rather expensive, too, and the 20c and one dollar denominations are larger in size, plus their purchasing power is not that great. Thus, the beggars have discovered that the $2 coins were the easiest and the most sensible ones to try to get from the people they ask for money.

I give him $2, he thanks me and walks away feebly into the throngs of briskly walking East Asian pedestrians who, upon seeing him, shun away again and speed up as if they saw cholera. As I myself walk away, I hear more “Good evenin’ mite‘s” being uttered by the hobo towards the smooth flowing torrents of gallant and well -groomed Asian shoppers. “ Wou’j’yah spare two dollars, mite? I need t’ get t’ Canberra!” Eventually, his piteous figure disappears into the dynamic and wealthy-looking sea of the Asian pedestrians.

“It’s pathetic!“ ,I mumble to myself and decide to postpone my return to the hostel. I take another look around. At the corner, I see another “Paul Hogan“, sitting on the asphalt of the street corner, with cardboard signs around him asking for small sums of money. A relatively short distance away, there is yet another one- this one looks like one of those Scottish warriors from the movie “Braveheart“. He is looking up at the affluent Asian crowds above him with the wet eyes of a puppy asking to be petted. As he is ignored, he lowers his gaze in the shame and resignation of defeat. I throw him a coin and he gives me a look of unbelieving gratitude. “Thanks, mite!”

It does look like the precursor of things to come- the “Caucasian race” turning into sorry-looking beggars as vibrant Asians stride confidently towards the future of material comfort, professional success and happiness, leaving the pitiful Caucasians behind to beg on the streets of Sydney, Auckland, and many other “formerly” Western cities. Is this the end of the Western civilization as we know it?

It may sure look like it in Sydney, and if I were an Australian who does not travel, I would probably get that same impression. However, I am a traveler, plus I do read the news and do quite a bit of research on the Web. This is an illusion. The thing is, the Australian government does not want poor or uneducated, unskilled Asian people in the country. Or any other poor and unskilled people there for that matter. The only Asians ( or non-Asians) that are allowed to move or travel to Oz are the ones who are either wealthy or professional. Or tourists with money. No bums, Asian or otherwise, from other countries are allowed in, as a rule. Hence, the only beggars there can be the poor, bummed out locals, and these end up in the downtown areas because that is where the crowds are. Downtown locales are popular with tourists and recent immigrants, but not so much with the natives or those who have been in the country for a while, for these have long ago moved on to the wealthier, and more comfortable, suburbs.

But even in Blacktown, a largely immigrant suburban enclave on the outskirts of Sydney, bristling with vivacious and enthusiastic crowds of Indians, Filipinos, Sudanese, Fijians and Samoans, all briskly going about their business with self-assured expressions of purpose and gusto on their faces, I eventually come upon a pale face of a young Caucasian beggar who comes out at me from the shadows of the bushes near the station.
“Couj’yah spare two dollars, mite? I need t’get t’ Sydney”.

I guess they all stake out places where there are the biggest crowds no matter what their ethnic composition is. Those beggars are something else! And the impression they make on the visitor to Australia is both comical and tragic. But most of all, they do give you the wrong impression of the demise of the Western world which may be exploited by quite of few propagandists for dubious purposes. I do, therefore, wish the Australians would import a few beggars from Asia just to be fair.


Oil Rich Countries

Aah! What prosperity and abundance awaits so many of us who end up in the countries where wealth comes from the ground! One does not realize that instead of an economy based on credit or taxes or hard work and discipline as in most of the West, the wealth seems to be jetting forth constantly from the ground, like from the horn of plenty. One soon notices that everything is cheap but salaries are the same or bigger with no taxes. Soon one’s savings account starts growing without one sacrificing his/her lifestyle. Then, services are also dirt cheap. Soon, one stops budgeting, since one still spends as one would at home, but one still can put away decent chunks of money into one’s bank account.

There are drawbacks, though. While services are, in fact, cheap, they are not of such high quality as back home. Many employees are not as motivated and will not get fired if they do not give you excellent treatment. Many are completely incompetent. Travel agents make mistakes that would cost them their careers in the West; repair shops do not repair items on time, people promise to have an item or a service ready for you on a certain day only to fail to deliver, costing you hours of lost time. The employees are either sullen and unfriendly, or smiley and friendly, but still not able to serve you properly. Many things are simply not available and if you ask them when they arrive, they will give you a date, but even on that date, the goods are still not there. The companies will not go out of business because oil money will keep them as well as the entire economy afloat. Everybody will have some kind of income whether the customer gets served well or not, so why try too hard?

Quality control on imports is very poor. I once bought a pair of sneakers in the Middle East that looked great and felt very comfortable on my feet, however, when I took them to Sydney, the soles fell off after a few hours of walking. I had to limp around until I located a store selling glue and later, had to sit on the street gluing the soles to the shoes in plain view of everybody. It was very embarrassing, and it was even more enlightening when I realized that the glue that I bought to glue those soles back on cost more than the shoes themselves. Eventually, I had to throw them out.

Many of the natives are so rich and so protected by local employment laws that they can live the lives of complete security no matter how badly they fare at work. They can show up late, leave early, screw up all they want and still be better off than you. None of the principles of personal responsibility that are so highly valued in the West apply to them. The world, in fact, owes and provides them with an excellent living that spurts from the ground in jets of black gold. The economic system for nationals of such countries can rightfully be termed Petro-Socialism and it is probably the only types of socialism that works, primarily because money generated by the oil comes from all the Western capitalists that have helped to develop the system to begin with.

It can sometimes drive you nuts, though. Hey, take a chill pill. That is the price you have to pay for living in such naturally prosperous countries and being able to put so much cash away. It still irritates me occasionally, but I have learned to take those things in stride as part of my overall petrodollar experience.


Duty Free, etc.

You know, duty free may be a good deal in Western Europe, Japan or the US, but for the life of me, I have no idea why anyone would want to buy anything except only a few items in the duty free areas in most of the world countries.

Take souvenirs, for example. Why would you want to buy them in the duty free section if you can get those three or four or five times cheaper outside the airport, in town? The same goes for bags. Gee, why would you want to buy a bargain $200 bag at the Duty Free if so many stores in town will sell it to you for $30 or less. Admittedly, it may not be exactly the same bag, but it will be pretty darn close and you can then use it for the same purpose as you would have used the more expensive ones.

Electronics for some reason do not look so cheap, either. You can scout the Internet and get them much cheaper. The only good thing the Duty Frees are good for is items that are simply not available anywhere near where you are heading to. For example, caviar may not be available in many places in the Middle East or SE Asia. Plus it ‘will’ be cheaper if you buy it there. Some famous alcoholic items will be cheaper, for example Black Label- it is, in fact, cheaper. Chewing tobacco or snuff can be unavailable in many countries except in some big duty frees. However, outside of those items, I do not see much benefit in the Duty Free sections.

By the way, neither Australia not New Zealand seem to have chewing tobacco or snuff as they simply do not form part of the culture there and will not have a market. Dubai and Bahrain Duty Frees, on the other hand, are excellent for such items as well as for caviar.

Caviar needs to be declared when you come out as it falls under “food” but chewing tobacco is not considered ‘plant product’ by many customs. I have, on numerous occasions asked customs officers about that, but it’s still worth asking when you go through the customs. You never know what they have in mind.

Anyway, outside the occasions when I wanted to buy those items, I do not spend much time in Duty Free sections. And, by and large, I would not buy anything since often I would see huge lines in the Goods to Declare lines formed by those who had bought something in those.

By the way, on several occasions Custom Declaration forms seemed to be confusing. When I was in Australia this year, I checked “yes” on the form where it asked me if I acquired certain items abroad over a certain sum of money. I can’t recall how much it was, but I was worried about my gold jewelry which was in access of US$ 1000. Would I have to pay duty on it? It turned out that since I was going there as a tourist and was not going to keep it in Oz, I did not have to declare it in the first place. Then, also, when I was going through the New Zealand customs the form asked me something to the effect whether I had been near animals or in rural areas recently. Well, I had been, as a matter of fact. I was in a national park in Oz and then I was in contact with kangaroos and koalas- yes, I petted them. When I put ‘yes’ on the form and talked to the NZ customs officer, he began to smirk, asked me to show him the soles of my shoes and let me through, changing the ‘yes’ on the form to ‘no’. Go figure what they have in mind. Weren’t those rural areas and animals respectively?


Expats Cheating Other Expats

Very often one gets cheated in a foreign country by someone who is another foreigner and who is often from either your country or the one near yours. As a matter of fact, in many places it is far more common for expats to be cheated by another foreigner than by a native. After all a native often feels guilty about cheating a guest while a foreigner living there rarely feels guilty about cheating another foreigner. Would a German in Thailand be guilty about cheating an American? Or would one American feel guilty about cheating another in a far away land? Not always. Watch out for “business offers” coming from mealy-mouthed foreign residents who had been in the country longer than you. They may be trying to take you to the cleaners.


June 21, 2010

The Culture Shock’s Undiscussed Stage

There are many books dealing with the culture shock, and generally they all agree that you go through these stages- euphoria, followed by disappointment and resentment, followed by adjustment and then, eventual relative peace and enjoyment,

I have discovered that after the resentment and before adjustment you go through the stage of sarcastic derision. The new country ends up looking ridiculous and its people seem so stupid that you start making fun of them and deriding them. It is not exactly resentment because derision can be so funny that you may actually enjoy it.

This is when you start making jokes about the natives that are funny to you but not funny to them. You start laughing at the way they walk and talk and think. You sometimes laugh so hard at the way they misunderstand you or make comments about you and “your people” that you come home with a big smile on your face.

The derision stage can last from several weeks to even several years and then you slide out of it into the adjustment stage. However, do keep in mind that when you deride the locals in their country, or even after you leave it and find the locals in your country, you are inviting trouble. People can get offended and attack you verbally or even physically. I have had it happen to me and since then, I keep my jokes to the circle of expats in bars and clubs and even then I watch the barman and stop talking when he or the waitresses are around. The locals’ ways are not funny to them and your mocking of their country may end up costing you dearly.

If you are one day laughing sarcastically, or not so sarcastically in the taxi at everything around you in the new land, rejoice, for you are now out of the resentment period. However, do not tell anyone among the natives why you are laughing. Hold your laughter until you get back home and chat on the Net with the people back in your country, or call your mom and tell her just how ludicrous these people can be. If you can, do it in some language that your hosts cannot understand.

The derision stage is real and you will go through it. Hold on to your seat and enjoy it. It is part of the culture shock and you will soon be over it.


Can They Get You a Working Visa?

In some so-called developing countries, the enthusiastic employers who want to hire you can exhibit gross ignorance in how they are supposed to go about issuing you a working visa or a work permit.

A case in point is Thailand. It is a constant complaint of many expatriates there that they would be hired only to find out that their employer had no earthly idea as to what is involved in the immigration formalities that you need to go through, and that he/she is now beset by as many headaches as you are. Some are not even sure that you are qualified to get such visas and permits. How would they know? They are not foreigners and they have never gone through the process themselves.

Some supervisors who knew something about the immigration procedures may have gone on to bigger and better things, and you are now facing a personnel officer who cannot even speak English and who has been hired through personal connections, but is completely incompetent. You then end up at the mercy of his/her incompetence. That means they send you to the Immigration and the Immigration sends you back asking for this and that paper and then you keep going back and forth and the assistant that the boss sent with you adoes not now anything about how to obtain the paper.

How about, in the worst case scenario, you find out that you are not even qualified for a work permit? That is after you have moved to the country and spent several months there. And if you are working in the meantime without the work permit, you run the risk of breaking the law and being fined.

Eventually, in most cases, such immigration nightmares end with you getting all the visas and permits you needed; however, if the bosses are in the dark as far as the procedures are concerned, it is a very unpleasant situation to be in.

So, whenever you get hired to work by a local employer or even a foreigner, please find out if he/she can properly process your papers and if he/she has done so before. If this is a small company and they have never done it, think twice about accepting employment with them. It may not be worth the headache.


Always Prepared in the Middle East

Working in the Middle East can be lucrative, but it can also be uncertain. One never knows what may happen from one day to the next. I guess uncertainty is universal nowadays, but it is especially so in this part of the world.

I am not talking about political uncertainty alone. It may happen that you may not be rehired for the next year’s contract. It may also happen that someone does not like you for some reason or that you may have some incident at work involving a local that may end up in your early repatriation.

When I was in Kuwait, there was an employee that had a run in with a Kuwaiti which pretty much sealed his fate- he did not have his contract renewed. Prior to that, his wife had had a child and he had bought an apartment full of furniture. Now he was stuck with all the furniture and had to think how to get rid of it before the departure- not an easy task if you ask me.

I had another coworker on a Saudi military base that had bought a car and rented a luxury apartment in Jeddah. Some time later, he had a run in with a Saudi supervisor who afterwards had him kicked off the base. He was then transferred to Dhahran and had to rack his brains over what to do with a lease on his apartment as well as the loan on the vehicle. Eventually, it all worked out but why the headaches?

Then, we had repeatedly received consular warnings from the US diplomatic missions urging us to leave the country. Many people have consequently left. And those who were traveling home light went without much headache.

So, while in the Middle East, I have learnt to always remain as unattached as possible. I would rent cars instead of buying them and tried to live in company -provided housing or those places where no lease was necessary- where you simply paid month to month. And the places were furnished. People would say that it was very wasteful of me to do that but for me that was the price that I paid to keep the peace of mind in the face of uncertainty.

I also did not buy any expensive goods and, instead, acquired all kinds of cheap Chinese products that I would not miss if I had to go. I did not have a personal Internet connection or a landline. My phone was prepaid and I went to cafes to send emails. They had some pretty good monthly deals and I found it to be a refreshing experience to go out to surf- just like one goes out to eat. The fewer attachments, the better. I also ate out at cheaper local restaurants interspersing my diet with once- a week hotel buffets. The rest of the money I stashed away. When we were finally laid off and not rehired for a long time, I left without headaches and with plenty of cash in the bank to tide me over till the next contract.

One should always not be paranoid and live in constant fear. That is another extreme that is simply not advisable. Instead one should, as they say, hope for the best, but be ready for the worst, and that includes being able to get out quickly and effortlessly and not getting too comfortable with all sorts of middle class trappings in a country whose permanent resident you are not. If you look and think hard enough, you will be able to live a very comfortable “portable” life and quickly get out should circumstances change. Then, if you try and get another Middle Eastern job, you will be able to being in a new place while using OPT- other people’s things- that is: rented cars, rented furniture and apartments coupled with cheap Chinese appliances and clothes. I found that to be the most headache-free way to live and enjoy my life in the rather unstable Middle East,


More Miscellaneous Notes


One of the tragedies of Van Gogh was that during his life time he could not sell but very few of his paintings and it was only after his death that he started selling and became famous. Most artists go through that stage one way or another. Most do not become famous even after their death. And most cannot sell.

I am an artist and I have found the reason why I was not selling a lot of my works- they were either not good enough or not cheap enough. So I made them better and then I made them so cheap that people simply could not refuse to buy them. So, this year I was able to sell over 20 paintings.

As far as becoming famous, with the Internet and all, if you could post yourself on enough bulletin boards, you could achieve a semblance of “fame” that is, in a way, worldwide- people can access your website all over the world.

The main task remains making a living of your art. That is definitely a tough thing to achieve. However, selling art and becoming ‘famous’ (sort of) is not a problem.


In the West, they make fun of the Taliban, and how it allegedly ‘uglifies” people by making women dress in all these weird hoods, covering their beauty and, basically, depriving them of the joy of dressing well, among other things. However, one can say the same thing, albeit to a lesser extent of the modern Western culture, particularly the British one that derides those who dare to dress well. To think of it: I have repeatedly been told by British coworkers that I should wear subdued colors and even avoid designs on my clothes and would be given dirty looks if I tried to dress half-way decent. Every time I saw British people, they would all be dressed in grey and denim; and if you did not dress as they do, you would be a declared a freak or a queer. The exception to the rule would be if you were an obvious ethnic minority- then they would lower their gaze in guilty respect. I mean, if you were a West Indian with dreadlocks and a colorful knit cap, they would usually say nothing. I did not look ethnic enough to them, so they would give me a hard time.

And many of the former British colonies around the world suffer from the same “sparrow syndrome”- its inhabitants dress in the colors of that most unsightly bird. I guess, if the Brits come from such a grey country with so little sunshine, it is most natural to them to look drab and insipid. But exporting their dull dressing habits to other countries is most uncalled for.

Sometimes, I also think that the modern sneakers-and-jeans culture destroys female beauty as badly as Taliban does. At least, in many of those Eastern nations women wear colorful clothes under the veils and reveal them to their family members once they come home. However, a dull-looking, sneakers-and-jeans-no-make-up girl stays the same when she comes home and is unlikely to change to anything more appealing.


In many countries around the world whose people are known for being tolerant, incompetence reigns supreme. Why? Well, because who screw up are usually forgiven and given too many second chances. Actually, they are given infinite chances. Hence, they do not dread being punished for their deeds. So, they screw up all the time. Services are bad, products are not delivered on time; people do not come to appointments on time and are forgiven. Hence, over decades, such tolerant societies fall behind those countries that are less tolerant and who give their incompetents hell if they do not shape up. After some time, the intolerant societies end up conquering the tolerant ones and making them their economic or political colonies.


Thailand used to be a very friendly country, accepting of foreigners and tolerant of people of all races and religions. It used to be that if you came to the country and learned the language, the society would be very open to you. It also had the name Land of Smiles, the name that its tourist authorities desperately try to preserve.

However, as it developed, it became more materialistic than even many Western countries and people there tuned down their smiling as they saw their forests wiped out, their cultural values trampled under the new, money –worshipping culture and as life became tougher and tougher for an average person there.

Many more foreigners came to live in Thailand and also, the prostitution industry developed to unprecedented heights and sex tourists from all around the world streamed into Thailand in droves. Thai people have consequently begun to feel squeezed out by all these invaders and the only relationship that remained between them and the foreigners who would arrive would be that of money. Integrity and honesty that used to form part of the traditional Buddhist culture became replaced by greed, envy and money-grubbing insincerity. Foreigners would be ripped off, taken advantage off, lied to and used in the same way as they used the Thais. The advent of AIDS did not help.

Right now, I would rate Thailand as one of the least friendly countries in SE Asia to live in. The people are not what they used to be- they have become xenophobic, jealous, and it has become a shame for a Thai girl to be seen with a foreigner. Who would blame them? With hundreds of fat Westerners parading daily with their Thai hookers down the main street of Bangkok, which decent girl would want to be mistaken for one? And with so many obnoxious and smelly Western tourists of the lowest possibly classes misbehaving in all possible ways, the locals have become more and more suspicious of the Fa-rangs (the white people). I would thus classify Thailand as a formerly-friendly country and would like to give it a wide birth as far as it becoming my residence. I will still go there on vacation and to hang out but I no longer feel good as far as living there goes. There are still Westerners residing there but they are clinging to the old version of Thailand in their minds- the friendlier one-not realizing that the country has changed for the worse in so many ways.

There are other countries to explore in the region and those who like authentic Asian culture should head to Myanmar, Cambodia, even the Philippines. I would not waste too much time in the over-hyped, too modernized and too commercialized Thailand.


Sometimes I wonder if a bad reputation of a country in the media could be the divine way of protecting it from invasions of modernity which begin with throngs of tourists and investors. Places like El Salvador or Nicaragua or Myanmar are not as bad as they are painted in the media. However, tourists give it a wide birth. The same can be said about so many prosperous African countries where life is quite normal, and one can live very well but because of a bad image of Africa on TV and in newspapers, people just do not go there.

Also, sometimes bad events that happen on one isolated place can damage the reputation of the whole country or region, effectively keeping so many people out of it. Say, if there is war in Sierra Leone, people will not visit Cameroon. Or any place in the Sub Saharan Africa, for that matter. If there is a war in Lebanon, people will not go to Jordan. Hey, it’s the Middle East. Lebanon, Jordan, what’s the difference?

When there are kidnappings in a remote area of the Philippines, it makes the whole country look dangerous and people cancel their travel plans to Manila.

Pity! One needs to do some research and ask around. Dangers are often greatly exaggerated and bad events in one area do not have to mar the whole region. Personally, I like going to places that are in close but somewhat safe proximity to the danger zones. They are usually virginal and pristine and if you calculate your odds well, you will have nothing to worry about.


Asian sex sites have been proliferating on the net for over a decade now, and they are getting very many visitors. I will not pass any moral judgments here, however, after having lived in Asia for so many years, I often laugh at some of the stupid things the owners of those sites try to pull on the unsuspecting surf-for-porn public.

They say that the site is updated weekly, but many have the same models month after month and year after year. They try and pass American-born models as “pure” Asians from all these different exotic locals, whereas I can immediately see if they are or they aren’t. And many aren’t from Asia at all.

But the funniest thing of all is how they try to dump all Asians together under some kind of common porn culture. They have Filipina models with ornaments around the site that represent Chinese food containers or, worse, they try to palm one Asian off as being another. Some sites pretend to have girls performing lurid acts in Laos of all places. I know what Lao people look like. I also know that it is a Communist country that would not allow such things. But even if they somehow used Lao models to create pornographic images from them, how come they have the Japanese “ washibana”- aguiline noses, that is? I can clearly see that the faces of the models are as Japanese as they can get. Are the rest of the sex surfers as stupid as to confuse those two?

Some sites who promise Vietnamese sex actually have all these Thai models on them. I know what the Vietnamese people look like. The ones they have on some of such sites are all Thais. Dressed like Thais, with Thai faces and movements. I have seen enough of both ethnicities to know which is which.

Sometimes you have one model on one site, who is presented as a Korean, pop up on another site as a Vietnamese. Lol!

And guess what else? They have newer and newer sites with the same models and the same movies in them. They must be raking in big bucks and the average Joe six pack is probably satisfied. Heck, they all have slanted eyes and yellow skin, so who cares where they come from?

Those Asian sites are laugh, for sure. Don’t waste your money on them.


If you ask me what the most beautiful language in the world is, I will say to you that it is Tagalog, the national language of the Philippines. Actually, I used to like French and Spanish and Italian but when I first heard Tagalog, I was completely awed by it. It sounded just like someone was playing a piano. Try and listen to it - when you have many Tagalog speakers, like on the streets of Manila, it sounds like a piano concert. Not many other languages can sound like musical instruments, but Tagalog does. I could sit and listen to it for hours. When I began studying it in earnest, I thought that it and no other language should be called the language of love. There are so many expressions to convey love, and everything is so gentle and indirect. The entire language is basically based on passive voice with verbs being inflexed from within. Instead of saying “I love you” you say ““Endeared I am by you”. And even when you say something like “Take it” it is expressed as, “Taken it be by you!” Kind of solemn and delicate. When you start learning the language and trying to put your ideas into their new piano-sounding shells, you will be amazed how beautifully they will come out. You are now Mr. Horowitz playing the piano with you mouth and joining the great concerto of the Filipino nation.

I think that any educated person should devote time to studying that beautiful language and its very rich literature. When information and human thoughts are expressed in Tagalog, they sound incredibly rich. Almost astral-like. Please study Tagalog, you will not regret it.


Do Not Turn Off the Foreign Song

When I was a kid, I used to listen to music from around the world. It did not matter to me whether I could understand the words or not. Actually, it seemed even better to me when I could not grasp the meaning of the foreign language because then, the voice would become a musical instrument of its own. A voice that I could not understand and the accompaniment to it sounded awesome and exotic.

I thought other people would enjoy the world music as much as I did, however, I found out that there were quite a few of them who thought it silly to be listening to songs whose lyrics were incomprehensible to them. Many even thought of it as a sort of an insult to their intelligence. Whenever I would put on a song in, say, German, they would turn away or start looking around nervously as if something seriously bad was happening.
In other words, they did not enjoy that experience at all.

Pity! There are so many musical treasures out there and they should not be just enjoyed by those who can have the comprehension of the language of the singer. A song is not exactly like a poem which needs to be translated for you to appreciate it. A song does not have to be translated to be enjoyed. Song is part of our musical heritage, not the literary one.

So, next time you hear a “foreign” song, do not turn it off. The voice may be telling you something even deeper than the actual meaning of the foreign language would be if you had it translated. There is a mysterious semantic undercurrent that runs deep beneath the singer’s consciousness. By not knowing what the words mean, you may be able to understand the song subconsciously, catching the profound significance that only those not familiar with the language could catch.

Can Chinese Junk save you money?

There are two types of Chinese Junks- one you see in the Hong Kong harbor and they will charge you an arm and a leg for a tour of the island. The other junk is the one you see in all these countries that have no quality control. Watches for $1. Electric shavers for $2. Sneakers for $5.

Is buying all these things worth it if you want to save money? They say that if you buy cheap Chinese products in 3d world countries, you are really wasting your money. They will break in a month or two and then you will need to buy a new one. You had better buy something of good quality that will serve you a long time, they say. Chinese junk is very wasteful.

But my experience is that it actually helps me save money. I alot myself a certain amount of money to buy things every month and those cheap Chinese things fit fine with my budget. Somehow, if I spend my cash on all these inexpensive items, even if they break and I buy new ones, somehow I still end up with more cash left. How? I don’t know. I haven’t figured out the reason.

However, I suspect that if I buy an expensive quality item, I will get sick and tired of it even before it breaks and then I will buy something new. Also, if I get used to buying quality stuff, I will start buying it in bigger amounts just like I am used to buying the “junk” in big amounts and feel “rich” in the process. Also, an expensive Japanese item may not break by itself, but I can end up breaking it myself. Then I will have to have it repaired and if it is past warranty time, it will cost me more money at times than buying a new low quality Chinese item.

Somehow, I still can’t figure out the reason. Maybe it is because I like to shop till I drop and still end up spending some $30 only on a bag full of all these gadgets and shoes. My shopping urges are satisfied and even if I do so once a week, I will still end up spending only a lousy $120 a month. Then, it is another $120 a month.

Now, will I ever be able to do that with expensive items once I decide to wise up and buy the real thing? Again, I don’t know. One thing I know for sure is that when I buy all these cheap Chinese goods as often as I like, I still save money and that’s how it works for me.

Does it work the same way for you, too?


Wild and Dangerous Kids

Living abroad is challenging as it is without the almost never-mentioned danger- wild kids. These kids can create all sorts of problems, some lethal, and make your life miserable.

In some countries kids are above reproach. It is simply not the custom to discipline them. Hence, the may go wild when the see someone who looks foreign or dresses foreign. And they can cause you embarrassment, ruin your mood for the day or even create a dangerous situation with which you may not be able to deal properly.

In Asia, kids sometimes taunt white people (and other foreigners) with horrible words. At the last KKK or Black Panthers meeting they would not use racial epithets of such variety. But since these are usually not uttered in English, I guess there is no one to call and complain.

The worst thing of all is that often such Asian kids will often be accompanied by their parents who will be looking at them with endearing smiles as they are taking the piss out of you and laughing at you all the way. And these parents will do nothing to restrain the kids.

Many kids are so spoiled; they sit in the middle of the road as your car approaches and do nothing to move away. Their parents probably never taught them anything about safety. Hey, these are kids; they don’t know any better’.

In some other countries, kids will throw stones at you while shouting racial abuse (which is not in English) or other objects such as tree branches or anything their hand can find at the moment. Sometimes, such kids could be those of the neighbors down the street. If you go and complain to the neighbors, they will probably deny it; and a visit to the local authorities will produce a tolerant smile on the face of such important figures. “These are just kids! What can we do?” In the meantime, they are getting ready for another attack when they see you. A stone at your car or at you personally, while you walk, can cause serious injury. And there is little you can do. Except move.

When abroad, especially in places where cultures and races are very different from yours and you cannot blend in, please exercise extreme caution with local kids. If there is a place where lots of children live, try not to move in there. Better yet, if you can live in a big expatriate compound, that would be even better. Just make sure there are not that many wild kids there, either. In some countries, kids will make Dennis the Menace look quite tame by comparison.


One of the most frustrating things about living like a skittering bird of unpredictable passage is the fact that some of your experiences cannot be applied as warnings to too many people. OK, you have made a mistake by making an assumption that something was going to be a certain way, and it turned out to be different, but what you have done is not something that that many people are bound to do if where you went is not the prime tourist destination.

One of such mistakes was to board a dhow in Dubai for a so-called “creek cruise”. The Dubai Creek is sort of an artificial canal that runs around the business part of town. These are beautiful Arab boats- two story ones- double-deckers if you wish, that would be a welcome relief from the Middle Eastern heat if one would take a nice cruise at night in them. I especially liked the upper deck from the outside look of it - very wide, with wooden banisters. I could see myself and my mom, who was with me, walking around the deck at night, marveling at the skyscrapers in the distance and inhaling sweet breezes coming from the desert.

However, after paying the ticket and boarding the ship, we have found out that we could not go onto the upper deck as it was prohibited by the Dubai Port Authority. We then had to content ourselves with sitting at crowded tables while people were eating buffets inside of a sterile, air-conditioned interior. The lights inside were so bright that we could hardly see what was happening on the outside because of the glare. And we could not get off, and had to withstand the ordeal for the whole of 2.5 hours that we were aboard. The music was blaring so loud that we had to ask the waiters to turn it down twice. And they were playing “Killing Me Softly” over and over, as well as many other very obsolete British and American oldies from the 1970ies. Some Arab experience you’ve got there! We went around the downtown area as many as ten times without ever taking any other route. It was basically a closed- in, crowded marry-go-round that made us feel very claustrophobic as we could not stop it and get off.

This is what one means when one says that Assumption is the Mother of All Screw-Ups. Just because you can take such a tour in many other places in the Arab World, Egypt in particular, and enjoy walking on the upper deck and breathing in the river aromas, does not mean that you can take a tour like that in Dubai.

However, it looked like the other passengers were very excited and happy to have the buffet onboard and, probably that is what they all came for to begin with. Screw the breezes!

OK, so what’s the conclusion and the lesson derived from it? It is basically, if and when you go to Dubai, and decide to take a creek cruise to enjoy fresh air, go in a small, open boat with only one deck, not the double-decker dhows. If you opt for the latter, you will end up imprisoned with a huge crowd of buffet- hungry passengers who could not give a hoot in the Hades for romantic whiffs of the desert on the upper deck.

Dubai- bound anyone? I hope so. I hate to think that we have suffered in vain and cannot warn other people now.


June 2, 2010

Five Indian Minutes

Throughout many years I have worked along side people from the Indian subcontinent. I have met few people more pleasant than these- they are polite, non-confrontational and rarely angry. It is a culture that emphasizes harmony and humility above all.

One cultural peculiarity that I would like to describe is the time-stretching phenomenon which Indian people include in their business practices. It is their " five minutes" phrase, which is probably as sincere and truthful as the Anglo-Saxon " How are you?".

To illustrate my point: let's say I visit a travel agent who says " I will be with you in five minutes". You relax and wait five minutes. However, the time drags on. It is now close to twenty minutes, but he still has not finished his other thing, and is still not paying any attention to you. The same with an Indian cab driver: " How long is it from here to there?" "Five minutes" ." That' s not far, I can deal with that". The ride turns out to be 30-35 minutes if you are lucky.

So, if an Indian man tells you it is going to take five minutes, please do not take it literally, but automatically multiply it by six. 5 x 6 = 30. That is how long it will take. However, telling you that it will take 30 minutes will make you angry. So, why not pacify you and tell you what you want to hear- “five minutes“? Punctuality is politeness of kings. Fake punctuality is politeness of Indians. Just as fake concern about your health is the politeness of the Brits.

Incidentally, by the same token , “10 minutes” also needs to be multiplied by 5 or 6.

With longer time periods - from say, 40 minutes to a day, multiply by three or four. If an Indian man tells you it takes 40 minutes, it is going to take three hours. If he tells you that it will be ready tomorrow, add another 2-4 days. Such seems to be the culture and other Indian people do not complain. They probably know about this rule and never take these numbers literally. They simply calculate the real time in their minds. The speaker never actually means "5 minutes" and is probably surprised that you think he does.

It is just like the American " We should get together one of these days" - do not bet on it. Or " I'll call you" - meaning- "I do not need you". Or the Japanese "It is a little bit difficult" meaning "Impossible". If you understand that people say one thing and mean another, you will be able to plan accordingly. After all, they do not act like this out of malice, but they expect you to read between the lines and schedule your time in accordance with the time frame they indirectly give you.


Second childhood in Saudi Arabia

I had a happy childhood, and for many years thereafter, I always longed to be a child again. After all, I did not have to work, all of my needs were provided; I did not have to pay rent or worry about finding a mate. Up until puberty, I lived a life of absolute contentment. I had no sexual urge and all the troubles resulting thereof, and I was simply happy to read my books, travel to new places, or just be alive, walking around the city, admiring architecture, and devoting the rest of my time to hobbies- collecting butterflies, playing with my pet hamster, doodling on a piece of paper or going out with my friends. It was a blissful time which I thought would never come back to me again. Little did I know that it would come back but with a weird twist- in the shape of the desert kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

In 1997 I lost my job, a relationship and also suffered severe economic setbacks resulting from unwise investments. Me debts were $27,000 and mounting. A day actually came when, after I had made payments to yet another creditor, I discovered that I had no money left to buy food. This was when I got on the Internet and started doing some serious job searching. A company in Saudi Arabia advertised for a position. I applied and got a call from the recruiter. Within two months I was on the next plane to Riyadh with mixed emotions going through my head. What was I to expect there? Were they going to await me at the airport with daggers and sabres screaming "Death to the Infidels!". You know, the usual stereotypes.

Well, it turned out that the place was actually quite good. We were housed on a military base, all our needs were met- we did not have to pay for rooms or utilities, and food was free. They provided us with clothes and cars, and free gas. The work load was very light- if we had to work 5 hours each day, it was considered a hard day. On some days I did not have to do any work at all, just sit around the office and chat with my friends. After work, we went out in groups, some guys went to the US embassy for parties there, some watched satellite TV, which, again, was free. Some borrowed books from the base library - actually they simply took them with no stubs, no registration; and then, after they were done reading them, they returned them. There were no women around, the weather was nice- it was February, and the air was fresh. In addition to that, there were very few people around, and lots of open spaces.

The absence of women had many good points. I was no longer "on the make" all the time but could chill out and do my own thing. I did not have to worry about looking good. If I did not shave for one day or did not wear nice clothes, it was OK- who would care? I was not thinking about dates and was not planning to have any- hence, the economization of time and money resulting from it was significant- if before, every day I was thinking about where the next date was coming from, this time I was no longer worried about it- I was now looking towards a next walk in the desert to observe the stars, the dunes and other new phenomena.

I also started going into the sandy wastelands around the base and studying local insects and small animals, just like I did when I was a child. I once caught a hedgehog and brought it to the base, and we all had fun with it, especially the Filipinos who had not seen such an animal before. I started taking Tagalog classes with the Filipino guys paying them 10 Saudi Riyals an hour- about $2.60 cents. I am now fluent in teh language, by the way.

Every day was predictable and was very similar to the day before. My life acquired the same rhythmic quality that it had when I was a child. I lived for the present, in the present, enjoying the simplicity of every day.I started noticing the beauty of naturearound me, started listening to the wind, admiring themoon and watching sunsets. The Western people on base were very friendly and we did not have to compete against each other since each one of us had a separate contract and his own duty. The Saudis on base were also quite friendly and very welcoming. Most were big jokers, and always in a good mood. Surprisingly thus, the feeling of happiness that left me at age 13-14, with the advent of puberty, came back full force.

I could now understand how monks could live happy lives, cut off from the opposite sex and the temptations of society. They could obviously see great benefit in living their simple and predictable existences free from constant demands of the flesh. Being in Saudi was similar to being such a monk. And it was just as well.

As months and years rolled by, I paid off all of my debts, was transferred to Jeddah, learned diving, and, if I wanted to date, I was able to do so during my long vacations which took place every five months. If I average my conquests over the years, I did not do so badly- in fact I did even better than back home.

After 4.5 years in Saudi I was a changed man, in good humor, with a sizable bank account and with a good, warm feeling towards mankind. However, things changed with the wars and the coming unto the scene of many terrorists who were targeting the thousands of Westerners residing in the Kingdom. So, I left. Now, when I look back, I recall those years as happy ones. As happy as the years of my childhood. I can now rightfully say that I had a second childhood in Saudi Arabia, without the accompanying senility, of course.


Saudi Arabia- an oasis for us, losers

That's right. Losers by society's standards. So, if you have no place to go and nobody wants you, come on over to Saudi Arabia- you will be in good company. What's more, you will rediscover your dignity as well as save some cash.

How so? OK, I'll give you an example. Let's say you are a glamorous young man aged 20-35, handsome and popular with women. You are a party animal , exercise freak , are quite good-looking and given to flirting with the opposite sex. Or, you are an up-and- coming young executive set on succeeding in the corporate world. Saudi Arabia should be the farthest thing from your mind. Do not come here! You would be nuts if you did.

Now, if you are a balding, paunchy, middle -aged loser, past his physical prime, and with a life full of disappointments in every area, including romantic and financial, with a divorce or two behind you, who is feeling that the world has largely past him by, come on over- you are going to love it!

By coming here, many things will be working in your favor: you will be one of the few Westerners in a country filled with Third World laborers on low salaries. Your wages will be higher than those of these workers, and most Saudis for that matter. Also, because there is no sales or import tax, everything here is cheap. You can rent a good car for some $400 a month, including insurance. That is , if your company will not give you a car. You can take taxis for next to nothing, if you do not want to drive. Food of all kinds is plentiful and everything else is Chinese-made and dirth cheap. You get SR ( Saudi Riyals ) 3.75 to the dollar. Within the local Indo-Pakistani laborers' economy ( these are the people that provide work force for the Kingdom) one Riyal has an almost the same buying power here as one dollar in the US, or one pound in the UK. If you shop where such drudges shop, which is almost everywhere, you will be able to live the same lifestyle as you would if you had a salary of $10,000-$12,000 a month back home. I mean it.

Tired of seeing the younger generation pushing you out of your job? No more. All people here have individual contracts and jobs assigned to them. Westerners here rarely compete against each other, but are supportive and helpful to one another for the most part. In a place like Saudi, a guy that would cut your throat back home will most often than not become your best friend.

The economy is based on oil revenues, not taxes or credit. Money is rarely a problem. As one of my co-workers used to exclaim with his toothless smile-" Let the petro dollars flow!" And they do flow. You will stop losing your sleep thinking of how you are going to pay your next month's rent. Housing and utilities are usually provided and paid for by employers. Work is easy- no one is worried as much about getting fired for under-performing or not going the extra mile. You can look forward to an enjoyable and rather easy day at work.

Worried about your retirement? I guess you should be as you are not contributing to Social Security here, but, instead, every month at least two thousand dollars is deposited into your bank account back home. After three years, it's a lot of money- buy a house, rent it out, and you can retire somewhere nice.

Fed up with watching all those attractive young couples back home making out in the parks and walking lovey-dovey down the street while you are putting Rogaine on your bald pate and wondering where all those years have gone? No more! There are no such couples here, only married ones, and the wife is covered in black robes, head-to-toe. They are not holding hands or anything like that. Most of the time you do not see women, period, so, that eliminates any feelings of jealousy, inadequacy and forlornness on your part. Everywhere you look, you see male workers from the Indian Subcontinent and the Philippines. How do you fare compared to them socially and economically? Not badly, I must tell you.

You can now dress any way you want, shine your bald spot unto the world and feel just great! You are no longer keenly aware of the fact that women do not pay attention to you anymore- there are no women to pay attention to anybody in Saudi Arabia. You are among millions of lonely middle-aged men here most of whom are happy to be making their $300-400 a month and sending it back home to Bangladesh. Except that now you are seven to ten times richer than they are. A truly enviable position to be in.

As a Westerner ( “Khawaja“- that is how they will call you, my Gringo friend) you are seen as being high-class even by the Saudis, let alone the Third World nationals working here. When you walk into stores, people smile at you and say "Salaam Aleykum". They know that you have power and money- at least they think you do and that is how they perceive your status here-you are a rich ambassador of the West.

When your (paid!) vacations come rolling around, and these are usually at least twice as long as what you get back home, you head for exotic destinations where a man's age does not matter as far as women are concerned. A fat, bald, ageing Western "loser" is a highly desirable boyfriend, husband ( and customer) in many S. E. Asian or E. European countries. Once you hit those famed night spots in Bangkok, Manila, Jakarta or even Kiev, no one will see you as a loser anymore. Not there , anyways.

As soon as you learn to compartmentalize your international life and see Saudi as a place to work, while other countries as places to have fun and romance, you will have finally understood the formula to success- assign duties to countries and do not wait for countries to assign duties to you. That's what it's all about. Each place should be appreciated for what it's worth- not more, not less.

So, if you feel like a loser back home, and you have let happiness slip away from you; if you feel like you got beaten in the rat race, come on over to Saudi Arabia. You will be able to put your vanquished history behind and start your life afresh among the golden dunes of the Magic Kingdom. Just watch out for those terrorists- they can get quite obnoxious at times.


Being a white person in East Asia is a strange experience

One is for all intents and purposes an eternal guest and is treated as such by the man on the street. You may be living in the country for 20 years but to the average Joe Asian, when he sees you, it is like you have just arrived. He starts speaking to you in English or if he does not speak English, he either uses signs or avoids you altogether. He asks you questions that one would only ask a tourist. Somehow, they simply cannot fathom the fact that one is living in their country permanently. You are just so unusual, they simply cannot accept that. They want to be a host and they want you to be the guest.

With very few exceptions, being accepted as "one of them" is an impossibility. You can never be Chinese or Japanese or Korean. Or Vietnamese, Thai or Cambodian. You can be seen as a Filipino or a Singaporean, though but it has to be among very educated classes- and they may, in fact, one day, see you as such. The man on the street, again though, will see you as this permanent tourist no matter what you do. From this point of view, even if you feel that the country has become your "home" ,the general population will have hard time accepting the fact that you now belong there.

Having said that, the group of people that you know, your friends and colleagues will come to accept you quite well. The people are generally quite polite and non-confrontational. The food is delicious. If you are a man, you will find it easier to score with local women than back home as you will be seen as someone exotic and virile.

Being poor in Asia is not a good thing but being white often compensates for it. In some countries, such as Japan, for one, not being rich may not matter so much socially but it may matter if you need to get a good place to live or send your kids to an international school.

In Malaysia, Thailand or the Philippines, being poor will not make you too many friends with the locals as they are not used to seeing poor white people and do not know how to deal with them. Mostly, it will be amazement followed by eventual feeling uncomfortable on their part.

Asians as a rule seem to be quite insular and have a view of the world and your role in it that may seem as narrow to you. They call you a “foreigner” but they do not call other Asians- foreigners. They simply call them Koreans or Filipinos but never “foreigners“. Also, they assume you to be a certain way even though you are nothing like that. As far as they are concerned, only people with narrow eyes and jet black straight hair eat rice and use chopsticks. All white people eat bread and use fork and spoon. Never mind the fact that you grew up on Chinese take-always back in New York- you will have hard time convincing people that in your country there are Asian restaurants and Asian people. It is a common thing to be sitting at an eatery in Tokyo, eating your meal and having a middle aged lady at the end of the room stare at you as you use chopsticks, and then watching her start clapping while smiling and nodding in surprise and admiration. Look at that foreigner! He is using chopsticks! Wow! Never mind that Asians can use all the Western utensils and wear jeans. That is normal. Your eating with chopsticks is not normal, however. These things get on one's nerves after a while, but there is absolutely nothing you can do about them as the number of people holding such stereotypes is simply astronomical.

You can become fluent in the language but, again, to a local stranger who has just met you, it is so shocking that he may not even register it. You will be speaking in Chinese or another Asian language and he will staring at you with his mouth agape and not knowing how to react.

I remember I was once sitting in a Thai restaurant and watching a program in Thai- a language that I speak quite well. Suddenly, an employee walks out of the kitchen and without looking at me or even saying hello, walks up to the TV and changes the channel to CNN. Then he walks out just as unceremoniously. "A white person understanding Thai is an impossibility, we had better change it to CNN- so that he could understand". Such is their train of thought. Again, not everybody is like that, but such an attitude is very common and is almost a daily occurrence when you meet people there whom you don't know.

I remember I was once in Manila in the company of two middle aged ladies, one Japanese and one Filipino. I had my guitar with me and proceeded to sing a Japanese song to them. I then translated the Japanese lyrics into Tagalog. There was a Japanese word "karasu" which means "raven". I explained to the Filipino lady that "raven" in Tagalog was "uwak". She nodded, then chuckled, and then, chuckled again. "Uwak"- "bwahahaha". She was nodding and giggling. I asked her what was the matter. The answer was " Because your face... it is American...but you say, bwahahaha- uwak, ha-ha-ha." It was a strange, almost surreal experience. Never mind the fact that their faces were not "American". It was OK for them to speak English, and I was not laughing, but as soon as I used the word "uwak: it evoked chuckles.

Some white people do a wise thing by not learning the local languages, speaking English to everybody and not trying to integrate. Unlike in America where such an attitude would be quite insulting, in Asia this is how many people expect you to act, and they accommodate you quite well if you behave like that. Many Westerners conduct themselves in just such a manner and act with superiority, and they gather nothing but admiration from the local population. Strange indeed.

One of my friends, an old Asia hand once told me, “One can never expect an Asian to treat you as an equal. Hence, unless one wants to be stepped on and scorned, one has no choice but to try and come off as being superior". Rudeness, of course is not tolerated anywhere, but being somewhat cocky pays off as people there seem to respect such a type. It also helps if one actually has the money and the power to justify such a self-view. Failing that, if one is on a short trip, one can fake being rich for the duration of one's stay.

The food is great and overall, notwithstanding the irritations described living in Asia is very enjoyable. However, after being there for months and years, it is quite refreshing to go to a place like Argentina and walk down the streets among crowds of people that look like you. In Asia, people will not approach you and ask you for directions, unless they are drunk. In Argentina they do. This makes you feel at home as people come up to you and speak to you in Spanish assuming that you are a local. But one becomes just one in many there. In Asia, although one is somewhat of a mild freak of nature, one can enjoy a weird semi-celebrity existence and keep tasting local hospitality ad infinitum.


Anglo- American vs. Latin- American racial issues

If you travel to and live in both the Latin and the "Anglo"- America, you will notice that the problem of racism in both parts of the world is expressed differently. In the US as a rule, the poorer the strata of the society, the more racism there seems to be in their general attitude in dealing with other groups. The worst place to be different in color or in nationality in the US would be some trailer park or some poor neighborhood. As one becomes more educated, it seems that it becomes easier for one to mingle with other people, as richer, more knowledgeable Americans seem to be more open-minded than the lower, less informed classes. Therefore, rich blacks will have much better time among rich whites than among poor ones. The same would go for Asians and Hispanics if one observes how they integrate into the US society. The poorer they are, the more discrimination they have to face from both poor whites and poor blacks. Lower classes in America are segregated into somewhat "angry" ethnic neighborhoods where each one associates with his own kind. Not so with the higher classes. One only needs to look at the US government to see how many minorities there are in power. People like Condoleeza Rice and Colin Powel come to mind, as well as people with all kinds of exotic and ethnic names who have come to occupy high positions in US politics.

In addition to that, America divides its population into five "tribes" - Whites, Blacks, Hispanics, Asians/Pacific Islanders and Native Americans. These are arbitrary definitions for all intents and purposes, but people seem to take them very seriously and they form their personal identities based on those. Foreign visitors sometimes remark that while America is diverse, "the white guy", "the black guy" and other such "guys" seem to be very stereotypical models into which the US population is expected to fit in. Whites are supposed to act a certain way, blacks- another way, etc.

In Latin America things are slightly different. The first thing that catches one's eye is that the poor classes there are the least prejudiced. If one goes to places such as Panama, or Puerto Rico or Colombia, one will notice that there is almost no racial segregation among the lowest echelons of society. In addition to that, a Black person does not speak a certain "black dialect" as in the US, and you cannot tell on the phone if a person is Black or White ( same in Britain, by the way). There are not many cultural stereotypes of behavior that one needs to fit into. People seem to behave just like what their nationality dictates they should behave. A Colombian behaves as a Colombian. A Brazilian behaves as a Brazilian should. Not as a "Black Brazilian". Just Brazilian.

The Spanish ( or Portuguese) language spoken by the darkest African-looking person and the whitest- Northern Spanish/Euro-looking person is generally the same. One may notice that there are sometimes black neighborhoods in Latin America, but they are often such because slaves that worked in certain areas simply remained there- such as around the coast and the former plantations. Social interactions among poor working classes are very harmonious, and people of all colors mingle and make friends easily. Intermarriage between poor people of all races is very much accepted. However, once one begins going up the social ladder, this is where prejudice starts getting stronger and stronger. Whereas in the US you see many blacks in positions of power, you will be hard pressed to see them occupying such posts in Latin America. The higher you want to go, the whiter you have to be and the more you need to look like a European immigrant. There have been exceptions to the rule, such as Alberto Fujimori of Peru, but the Japanese are in many circles seen as "honorary whites" anyway .There has been an Argentinean president of Arab descent- Menem, but again, he looked very European, physically, and "acted" in a European way, too. Generally, to get a good job and to move up, being as white as possible helps a lot. That is the reality of life there.

It is like that in the US, too, you may argue, but, again, the US does have Affirmative Action and one can see all these Black judges and mayors and quite a few rich Black people who are very well integrated. College professors with Ph. Ds who are Black are quite common. Nothing like that can be seen in Latin America. Very strange, indeed.

In addition to that, within Latin America, racial definitions are somewhat different, too. Generally, a person who is part European and part Indian with a name such as Gomez, Lopes or Rodriquez will be considered “white” there. The "Hispanic" qualification naturally does not exist in that part of the world- they are just Peruvians or Mexicans. This creates confusion on the part of Latin American immigrants to the US whose identity changes to "Hispanic" as soon as they arrive. People of French and Italian descent from Argentina suddenly become "non-whites" in the US. However, a person of the same origin coming from Paris will be "white". Again, it shows how ridiculous the whole thing is and how arbitrary those definitions are.

Many Black people who came from Latin America to live in the US have felt that now they had much greater opportunities to advance and make something out of themselves. So did many people of Amerindian descent ( such as poor Mexicans and Guatemalans) who were able to benefit greatly from the equal opportunities awarded to them by the consitituon of this country. However, they all complained of one thing- it is so hard to make friends with the poorer classes of Americans who seem to be very prejudiced and angry as a whole.

The " white" people from Latin America such as Argentines or Chileans would, on the other hand, often bemoan their loss of status here and the fact that they are now no longer "white", but "Hispanic". This is probably the reason why if one sees people from Latin America in the US, most of them are not European-looking but either Native South American or a mixture of various races, because the States, after all is the best place for them to develop and grow, albeit not socially.At least not aslong as they are poor by US standards But, who cares?- social acceptance may not necessarily be on their priority list, anyway. At least, not immediately.