April 2, 2010

The Anglo Guilt and Pride

The Anglo Guilt

Former British colonies and Britain itself seem to suffer from some kind of guilt complex. They are constantly trying to make amends for all the bad things they have done to other countries and races. In the process, they can get take advantage by other countries who had done just as many bad things, but who are not feeling guilty in the slightest. China, for example, carried out horrible atrocities in Tibet and Vietnam, but it is not feeling guilty. Neither does Japan. Liberals in America and in the UK for example, have even created a new teaching saying that race does not exist. However, in other countries they do not have such a teaching; they believe in race and practice racism every day. They exclude other races from participation in society, deal with illegal immigrants most harshly (Mexico does that, for example), and devote most of their time to looking out after their national interests. Only the Anglos seem to constantly be saying with a sad mien “We did this, and we did that” while lowering their heads in shame as other nations just go on with their agendas without ever looking back. Sometimes I wonder if such guilt is useful for all these Anglo-Saxon countries. It would be of some benefit if other nation-states were working on straightening out their record as well, but they aren’t. Either they deny that they had ever done anything bad, or they twist it to make it look like they had done a good thing. Everybody is selfish and shrewd, and looking out for number one. Anglos do too, but not as much. The guilt significantly cripples them. Well, as long as UK and US lead the world, they may have to be doing that, since, I guess, the world must love a guilt-ridden leader.

As far as the political correctness goes, the Anglo-Saxon racial guilt now extends to countries that were not part of the US immigrant experience or the British colonial one. It is not OK to criticize Japan because the Japanese are not Caucasians. It is OK to criticize Russia, though because they are white. It is also OK to criticise France.

Ridiculous if you ask me.

The Anglo Pride

Along with the guilt there is also a pride and a delusion that comes with it. The gist of it is that an average American, Brit and often a Canadian actually equates the Anglo-Sphere (the part of the world where English is spoken) with ‘the world’. In fact, it is possible to circumnavigate the globe and only land, and spend time in English-speaking countries. Let’s say, you will go from Britain to the US, then Australia, and then, on to Singapore, HK, India, the Gulf Arab countries where most people are Indian or Filipinos, and then possibly to Africa where Kenya, South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana and other such places are English-speaking. Then, one will go back to London. One has been around the world and the world does speak English. At least that is the way it looks. As a result, you may form an illusion that the entire planet speaks English, whereas only 22-25% of it does. Such people who are Anglo- Saxon culturally, by and large do not learn another language when they are abroad, and do not try to assimilate or integrate into other cultures, and find it abnormal when people do not speak English to them. “What are you, dumb or something?” they are often heard saying to people in countries that were not “lucky’ enough to be colonized by England.

Even after decades of living in Thailand, Russia or Germany, many do not make any effort to learn another language, and somehow feel deep in their hearts that the locals are wrong by not speaking English. The illusion that they have about the superiority of the Anglo-Saxon culture is so deep that it borders on madness.

While rarely trying to assimilate into other cultures, many such cultural Anglo-Saxons nevertheless get raving mad when immigrants to their countries want to preserve their culture and language just like they do when they go abroad. Sorry, but it goes both ways. If an American can live in the Dominican Republic for ten years without learning Spanish and be proud of it, you can expect a Dominican to do the same in the US. It’s only fair, isn’t it?

So, those who live in glass houses should not throw stones. When Anglos start respecting other cultures, it should work the other way around, too- those who go to their countries will be making the effort to learn English.

That is if the world is fair, which it never seems to be.


It's climate, stupid!

During the Cold War there was a popular term: “The North-South Divide”. It used to refer to how rich countries in the North such as the US, Germany. the UK and even the USSR would exploit the poorer countries in the South such as the Congo, Colombia or Cambodia.
So, how did the countries in the North become rich in the first place?

There are several not so politically correct theories that claim that under right conditions, countries in the north reach a stage where people cannot live comfortably off the fat of the land, and they start inventing technology. The population is too big, the time in which you can plant and harvest crops is not enough to feed all the people, thus the inhabitants of such places have to become more inventive and creative in order to survive and prosper. They start developing equipment, establishing a personal discipline that is superior to other countries, and then going and conquering them either militarily or through investments, cultural invasions or by loaning them money they cannot repay and plunging them into debt.

Countries in the South remained more backward than the Northern countries because people there did not need to assert themselves as much as the climate is warmer and the land is enough to feed everybody. So, human beings under such circumstances remain the lazy creatures that they are. They will just do the minimal effort to get the minimal result, and then relax and enjoy life. Living in a land that is abundant, full of beautiful women and good friends that lies under a hot (sub) tropical sun near the sea is not a supposedly the best environment to become an inventor or a conqueror.

Or is it so? Some people will point to the highly developed ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome and say that these were not exactly “cold” countries. Some will also point to the Islamic Empire or the Ottoman empire that was very rich and prosperous while the cold Europe was poor and backward.

One needs to keep in mind though that while climate is a powerful factor, it is not the only factor. Other hardships also influence the people’s power to invent and propel the civilization forward. Overpopulation is one. A good government also needs to be in place to facilitate such progress. In any way, there has to be the right combination of relative freedom of forces of adversity coupled with opportunity to make people reach deep inside themselves and start taking measures towards improving their lot. So maybe it was the overpopulation in those times and not enough food that compelled those countries to develop? I wish to know the truth.

However, the way the world stands now, it does seem that overpopulated countries of the North are much better disciplined culturally than the overpopulated countries in the warmer regions. Try living in Sweden and then go and live in Italy. Try living in Japan and then go and live in Indonesia. You will see that streets are not as clean in the warmer areas, people as a rule come late to business or social engagements, or not show up at all, and there is less general rush as well as overall sense of responsibility than in the north. The North is more organized, cleaner, more highly industrialized with people resembling well-oiled automatons. But they all look unhappy and tense. And wouldn’t you be?

The warmer areas are more devil-may-care, with garbage lying around, the population striking all the time and protesting against the rulers, but the people, by and large, look happy. Their lives are not as stressed-out, there are fewer divorces, there is friendship and good interaction among people. Take your pick. Which on would you prefer?

There are also countries in between such as France, for example, or China. These combine both the qualities of the cold and the warm areas in many aspects of the daily life. There are also countries that are in the warm climate, but which were only recently settled by immigrants from the North- such as Australia, Singapore and Taiwan. There are warmer countries such as Malaysia who were whipped into discipline by British colonial overlords and hard-working Chinese newcomers.

The you have Israel which is ethnically a land populated by Jews, but many of these had lived in Northern Europe and brought a great deal of ideas from there. Hence, it is also a combination of being laid-back and progressive at the same time.

Religion also become stricter as you move from cold to warm. Compare the very liberal countries of Scandinavia, the British Isles and the Netherlands where drugs, pornography and sex are more tolerated to the much stricter states in the South of Europe which had traditional Catholicism ending with yet much stricter Islam down in the Middle East.

The reason may be the way people react to life’s temptations in cold vs. warm climates. I guess a Swede and a Dutchman may not be so sensual to begin with because of a colder climate, and will not need to be controlled as these will, generally, not react as passionately when presented with the opportunity to satisfy their senses be it through sex, drugs, intoxicants or other such stimulants.

The people in warmer climates are more probably more into sensual gratification because of the weather. A Frenchman and an Italian are supposed to be great lovers and an Arab and a Turk are legendarily even more love-crazed. Hence, since the more south you go, the more you need to restrain people from going bananas when presented with temptations, the religion naturally follows the pattern and becomes stricter and stricter ending with the Saudi Arabian variety of Islam where you cannot even look at a woman.

I guess, because in the old times, the male inhabitants of that area were so passionate that the very sight of a woman would make them lose their minds and stimulate sexual aggression on their part strict protective measures had to be instituted to preserve social harmony.

One recalls the famous examples of Italians pinching a girls’ buttocks as she walks down the street versus the complaints by the French that when a beautiful woman walks down the street in England, men won’t even look in her direction

I have always suspected that climate has been one of the main variables in the equation. The warmer the climate, the more passionate, friendlier, but lazier the people and the colder, the less friendly, less sensual but more industrious the population. There are exceptions to the rule, of course, but by and large, the pattern does seem to hold. At least in this day and age.


Miscellaneous observations

1) It never ceased to amaze me how so many Latin American nations see the Spanish language as a national symbol of their country, while, and at the same time, sharing that colonial language of the former European master with others. Shouldn’t the liberators, after a bloody war with the Spaniards to win independence from them, have adopted the local Amerindian languages as the national symbols? After all, in Europe Romanians rightfully see the Romanian language as their national symbol and so do the Hungarians. No one else speaks it. But Spanish? Give me a break!
Language can only be a source of national identity if only your nation uses it; otherwise, it is simply a means of communication, and should not be the cause of foaming-at-the mouth ethno-cultural chauvinism.

2) I have devised a way to enjoy five star hotels cheaply: I arrive in a country, stay at the cheapest hostel there is where I leave my things, and go at night to crash out, and then, I go to a five star hotel and use their facilities: I hang out in the lobby, go to their restaurants and just promenade around the atriums. At some, for a modest fee I can use the swimming pool and the sauna. Then, I hop into a taxi and go back to my fleabag to sleep. Admittedly, not all facilities are available to me at the big hotels, but I still get treated as a VIP in most cases without spending a fortune on the rooms.

3) Sugar-coated books on dealing with the culture shock do not tell you the whole truth, namely, in some countries culture shock can be very unpleasant, and sometimes it can even kill you. I read the other day that a person who goes to another country should expect to be stereotyped, and should not be angry about it. If one is English, they say, one has to expect people to think that he drinks tea; and if one is Japanese, one has to be ready for people to ask him if he can fight the karate style. Not all is so rosy. In some countries, an American can be stereotyped as a CIA agent and shot. In other countries, he can be stereotyped as a sex tourist, and his local wife can be insulted in public and even spat on. The culture shock and stereotyping can take some pretty serious forms at times.

4) Different cultures have different values, and we should not judge other cultures based on values which have been instilled in us since childhood in our own country. Some so- called developed countries place primary importance on technological, business and professional development. Other countries think that developing a harmonious family and friendly relations with people around them is the most important thing. Others yet, think that intellectual and spiritual progress is the most important thing to aspire to. While concentrating on just one such important aspect, it is inevitable that other areas of societal life will become neglected. Thus, many of the so-called First World countries are plagued by general unhappiness, unfriendliness, a high divorce rate and endless loneliness, while the family-oriented countries often have dirty streets, corrupt and inefficient governments, shoddy products, and incompetent services. Intellectual and spiritual nations also suffer from perennially unsolved infrastructure problems and classism. Most countries, therefore, remain incomplete forever. However, since they are used to their incompleteness, and we are not, we always notice what is wrong with them based on our perspective, and they notice what is wrong with us based on their perspective. Both they and we tend to become judgmental and haughty when talking about each other.

5) Diversity is a relative thing and depends on the observer. Therefore, we cannot say that one society is diverse and another is homogenous; we can only say that one society is more diverse than another, but even then, it is hardly a fact, but is more of an opinion. One gives examples of Japan as being a homogenous society, but that is how it looks to the uninitiated outsiders. Inside of Japan, the people think that every person is different in character, behavior and his or her way of thinking. Moreover, Japan has thousands of different religious sects, many political parties that are completely different in their approach to governing, as well as a variety of supposedly different regional characteristics. Moreover, as one Japanese person has remarked to me; Japanese people do not know they are Japanese unless they meet a foreigner.

It is the law of nature that no two things in the universe are completely alike and no two people are completely alike. However, people in any nation can be similar to each other when one compares them to foreigners; while they themselves are often never aware of that.


They all look alike. To you, that is.

When you arrive in a place where for climatic or cultural reasons people look radically different from the way people look in your country, your first impression is- “They all look the same!”. However, while to ‘you’ they may look the same, they do not look the same to each other. People in China and India, for example, can quickly determine by facial features what province or part of the country a person is from.

I remember, while living in Thailand, I was showing photos of my Thai friends to other Thai friends and they would remark- “Oh, a Khmer!” “And this one is Lao!” How would you know?” I would ask them? “It is obvious- he has a Khmer face!” “Look at the way the eyes go and then the lips- can’t you see that?” I would admit that I couldn’t. However, after living in one part of Thailand and then visiting another, I did indeed see what they meant. People did have slightly different features than what I was now used to. The eyes were of a different shape and so were the outlines of the noses and the mouths. The height was also different.” I see now”, I said to myself “Now I know what Khmers look like”.

In Africa, it is the same thing - people quickly pick out tribes by looking at their faces, but I would have no clue how they can determine which tribe is which so well. They have simply developed an eye to tell different groups apart after having dealt with them for so long and having had so much experience with them.

It is the same in Central America. People from Honduras immediately know if the other person is Salvadoran or Costa Rican, Guatemalan or Nicaraguan. How? By facial features. And also the clothes, the bearing, all before they hear them speak. “But they all look the same!” To ‘you’ they do. Not to them.

I remember sitting on a street in Japan with a Japanese friend and she picked out a couple and said “They are not Japanese!” “How did you know?” “The faces and the clothes and the skin color!” I looked at them, but could not tell the difference. They looked completely the same to me, as any other Japanese person would. Even after I had lived in Japan for two years.

And to them we ( and ‘there are different ‘wes’ involved) also look the same. Brits are furious for being mistaken for Americans in Asia. “Can’t you tell the bloody difference?!” they scream at yet another hapless Asian who dares to ask them the same question they hear all the time “ Are you an American?”. And a Lebanese person in Manila is often asked “what (US) state are you from?”. To an average Filipino and another East Asian, the broad distinguishing marks of being an American are white skin and a nose that is not flat. An Iranian fits the bill, too.

However, the Filipinos not only can tell each other apart, but they can also tell various East Asians apart as well. It is very easy for them. But the Caucasians all look the same.
And they look the same to us.

Once in a city in Southern Philippines I was approached by a taxi driver who seemed to recognize me. He smiled at me and told me that he was so happy I had come back. He also said that he was sorry that my wife had left me and remarked that I had dyed my hair very well and that it looked natural. ( I was not married and I had not dyed my hair) I was friendly to him, but I was intrigued since I had not seen the man before. Then he asked me how my trip back to Sweden was. “Sweden?”

“You have got the wrong person!” “I do not even look Swedish!”” I am short and dark, I look more like a Turk. But to him, I did. Not only I looked like a Swede to him, I also looked indistinguishable from some Swede that he had met before.

And a similar thing but of a different twist would be true with some Japanese. After having been introduced to a Japanese person and made acquaintance with him or her, they would pass me by the next day without as much as saying “Hello”. “Hey, Satoshi, don’t you remember me? “ He would look puzzled and I would have to remind him that we had met at a party the night before. It would take him some time to remember. You see, I would have exactly the same face as any other Caucasian to him and picking me from the crowd would be an impossibility.

Not only that. Children of my Asian friends would see President Clinton on TV and say that he looked like me. Some would say that I looked like Paul McCartney. I guess those famous people would provide some “anchoring” facial features which would then be mentally pasted on faces of all the other Caucasian foreigners they would meet later.

And I guess we are the same way. Our Filipina girlfriend looks a bit like Imelda Marcos to us, and our Japanese friend looks like Hirohito. Those are the ones we know the most.

It takes time to learn to distinguish the subcategories, but you will get the hang of it if you stay in one region long enough. This cannot be said about the natives that you will be living among. They will always mistake you for the larger category that they have most experiences with. So, a German will usually be thought of as an Aussie in Malaysia, an American in Japan, and a Brit in Singapore. He looks like one. And if the German is a female, she will look like Margaret Thatcher. To the locals, that is.


Fifteen and Fifty

In some English-speaking countries, where English is an official second language, and many documents and business communication in general, is in English, there is an interesting linguistic phenomenon: it is the numerical selling out of the tens and the “teens” which follows the utterance of the number.

Confused by what I mean? OK, let’s go to Singapore or Malaysia. A taxi driver tells you that “The ride to the hotel will be “fif-teeo” dollars. You look puzzled. What is “fif-teeo”?

You mean “fifty?” “No, fif-teeo”, One-Five!” “Oh, I see. You mean fifteen! Now I understand!”

To a Chinese ear there is very little or no perceptible difference between fifteen and fifty. Their language is very syllabic and it emphasizes every phonic pair with s strong stress. So a native Chinese speaker or an almost native speaker of pure Singaporean English still cannot hear the distinction between the two sounds which is very clear to a native American, British or Canadian, Australian speaker.

Fifty- the accent is on the first syllable. The “y” is now a schwa sound. Fifteen=- the accent is on both syllables. So much is clear. To you, that is, but not to the tens of millions of second language speakers out there to whom the difference was obviously never taught in too great a detail.

“How much is a room here?” “Eit- Teoow” dollars”. Again, you look puzzled. “What is Eit-Teeow?” “You mean eighteen? “No, Eight-Oh.” “Eight Zero”. “Oh, you mean” eighty!” Now I see what you mean. I was confused for a while.”

To many former colonial citizens the quite obvious difference in pronunciation between nineteen and ninety, fourteen and forty is completely lost. The Chinese, the Malays, the Indians and even many Africans are speakers of languages that are either tonal or staccato. They simply cannot distinguish the tens of from the “teens” as they are spoken by a native. So, thirteen and thirty are pronounced the same. To avoid the confusion, a digital spell out always follows:

“Sir, this cost seven-teeow, one seven, dollars” (ringgits, takas, etc.)

“I can let you have it for “six-teeow”, zero-six rupees. “

So, when you are abroad, visiting countries where English is the official second tongue, get ready for the confusion which ensues over the very subtle difference between “–ty” and “–teen” which is almost completely lost on the natives. And if you cannot understand, politely inquire whether they mean one-five or five-zero. Because there is after all a big difference between fifteen and fifty and you do not want to pay extra, do you?


Selective do-goodism, a wiser policy

In many societies there have been social and racial divisions that have existed for centuries, if not for millennia. People have learned to live with them and even benefit from them. By appearing in those countries and trying to be a do-gooder, you may violate the fragile social harmony of those countries and upset many people in the process. It may even cost you your safety. The wise expat learns to heed his instincts and acts delicately without becoming a bigot himself in the process.

In some places, there is a very distinct social structure with the poor performing a certain role, the middle class being a certain way, and the rich being and acting in a certain mode, too. If you appear there and try and change those roles, you may bring upon yourself more trouble than you had bargained for. If you start acting like the savior of poor classes, you will often be taken advantage of. The many poor will simply see you as a sucker and a cash cow and try and exploit your kindness. They will be coming to borrow money from you and then refuse to repay it; they will mock you behind your back as a fool that you are to trust the poor and still harbor scorn towards you deep in their hearts because you are not one of them. Also, the local rich may not like the fact that you are in their country making them look bad, and, in some cases, may even dispatch a professional specializing in threatening people. The middle class people will also scorn you because you are sallying yourself by having contact with the lower classes. Soon you may find yourself quite lonely except for an occasional visit by another poor person to hit you yet for another loan that will, most probably, never be repaid.

Your ideas of equality and helping people may not get the welcome that you thought they would.

If you really want to help, do so discreetly and selectively. Contributing to established local charities could be a good way to do it. Also, setting up a business would be another good way. However, becoming a lone benefactor in foreign land may earn you more headaches that you thought.

In other places there are established racial groups; each one with a role and attitude towards another which has, over many centuries, developed into an uneasy, but steady balance. By coming into their societies and trying to liberate
“oppressed races” may backfire on you from both sides. At best, you will be frustrated; at worst you may turn into a bigot yourself even if, initially, you were not one at all. You do not fully understand what is going on and why races there act the way they do. They have a reason to be a certain way and many have grown very comfortable with their place in society. It would be unwise to disturb the delicate equilibrium that exists there, and if you do, all kinds of hellish effects may break loose a lot of which may fall onto your head.

A lot of racism or classism is ,basically, “culturism” that states that some ethnic/social groups are good for certain professions and certain roles in society and it may not be your place to challenge how things are in that country. A certain ecological system has developed there and you should not try to disturb it. Again, if you want to help, do so as discreetly as possible, teach people self-reliance, and, in the process, watch yourself – otherwise, you may end up in a heap of trouble.


Expat Discretion

As an expat, you will often be living in certain places where your presence alone may attract uncalled attention from a variety of unwanted elements. Jealous locals, fake business partners, women that want to take advantage of you, prejudiced people who do not like your race or nationality, corrupt police looking for bribes, etc. One has to be on guard at all times as one is not at home and may not know the ropes in a foreign land.

I am by nature a very gregarious, open and friendly person; and I like having many people around me, host noisy parties, have a whole bunch of guys and gals hanging out my house all the time- all these things make me happy. However, after having lived in places where people were of a different race, different culture and different values and modes of behavior, I have learned to appreciate the value of privacy, discretion, low profile and introversion. In some places, you can get beat up just for being a foreigner, have people file a false report on you with the authorities, have them slander you out of jealousy or even accuse you of a crime that you have not committed. And you may not be able to get any help from anywhere as often you are on your own there. After having experienced a certain shade of all the above, I have trained myself to be a quite, polite and discreet person, mindful of my own personal space and living in a sort of a bubble, a private fortress that exists either in the apartment that I occupy, a hotel room or simply dwells in my behavior towards my strange environment.

If there is a party, I am not always eager to go there. I do not know how people will react to having the likes of me there and what they will say. If I am invited to someone’s home, I also think long and hard about going there. And, if there is an outing, and strange people are coming to it, I am cautious, again. The friend who is inviting me may like me, but what about his/her friends? Will they like me, too? I have to think a little bit and assess the situation beforehand. In many cases, I have even chosen to decline an invitation under some pretext. It may be wise not to show up since not all people there may be pleased to see me. I do not know who and what they are and I am in a foreign land. Who knows how I will be treated!

One should not become paranoid either, mind you, but just allow selective entry to anyone who wants to interact with you and place certain conditional restrictions on anyone who comes into your space. One also needs to learn about which places are OK to go to and which are off limits to expats like oneself. In some countries, there are limitations on how deeply you can penetrate the local society and one should be aware of those borders. Ask other expats who have been there longer about those limits but also, do not believe them much either. You may have a whole different destiny in that place from them, so try and find out as much as you can from as many sources as you can. Where are you welcome? Where are you not welcome? Ask some straight questions and get some plain answers. Do not rely on tourist brochures or enthusiastic starry-eyed foreigners alone.

Expat life can be very rewarding, but there is a price to pay. Low profile is of paramount importance. Do not underestimate how crucial it is.

In case of a permanent traveler or resident, privacy, prudence, and discretion are not choices; they are necessities. One needs to be doubly on guard, doubly careful and often doubly sneaky when one is abroad. That is the only way to survive in the turbulent and often tricky world out there.

Non-accredited US Degrees; who are they good for?

As I thumb through major international magazines, I often come upon all these schools that advertise their long distance programs as well as on-campus programs for BAs, MAs and PhDs. They make it a point to convince the potential student that the degrees are legal and approved. And I keep seeing the ads over and over again everywhere I look. I have often wondered- since in the US, accreditation is such a big deal, where do they get the suckers to enroll in all these not-so-valuable educational curricula that are unaccredited?

Many of such schools also advertise on the Net and tout faces of their happy graduates-big smiles and testimonies on how good their programs are. Since I see these ads year after year, they must be attracting quite a few students. But who can they attract?

It is well known in the US that a non-accredited degree can be a time bomb. If you get a BA, MA or Ph D from a school that did not pass the rigorous accreditation requirements by special commissions that does that, your career can be put at risk and you can lose your job. If you try to work in the government sector or for respectful colleges in the US, Canada or the UK, they will not even let you near those places, and you will most probably never get a job there even if you are admitted for an interview.

However, that is not the case when you deal with a number of developing countries such as Thailand or Pakistan or even developed countries such as Japan. In many such countries, there is no American concept of ‘accreditation’, and, because the degrees are legal in the US, they add a great deal of prestige and job-finding power to their holders in those countries.

And I am not talking about degree mills. There are quite a few very good universities in the US that are approved and legal, but not accredited. They have good BA and MBA programs and fairly good teachers. Their fees are very low and that is very attractive to many overseas students who cannot afford a traditional US degree from a reputable school.

A Taiwanese student, who wants to be a manager at a private company in his country, will find such a degree a windfall. It shows that he now knows about business, can read and understand English and most importantly, that he studied at an American university. Hired!

The same goes for PhD holders from some obscure Louisiana college which grants such doctorates. They are legal all right, but you cannot get a job with them at most places in the US. However, if you are a Thai citizen living in Bangkok and you apply for a job at a private, say, real estate company in Bangkok, you will often get a good position and your degree will be a big door opener in your society, in general. Thai society, that is. In the private sector, mostly.

Some Japanese and other non-English -speaking First-Worlders, who cannot afford to go to the US to study, also avail themselves of these $4000 diplomas. “I have a degree from the US” is a potent indicator of one’s competence. Accredited? What’s ‘accredited’?” Many people would not even know the meaning of the word. American college? Graduated? Speaks English? Welcome!

This way, while the graduates may not become professors at large public universities- these would require an attestation of the document by the US Embassy-, quite a few private companies will generally welcome these American-educated potential employees.

As you travel around the world, particularly the so-called Third World, and visit offices of many a manager there, you will see such degrees proudly displayed on the walls of their offices. Now you know where these schools get their students from.

Incidentally, while there, you will often see US movies playing at their movie theaters with American stars whom you may have never seen before. These are also “non-accredited” US movies by small-budget studios made specifically for the Third World market. Do not be surprised if your foreign friends start asking you about whether you like a certain actor and you have never even heard his name. They are about as famous in the US as those non-accredited American universities which have, nevertheless, managed to improve the lives of quite a few people. At a fraction of the cost.


The Ugly Mess they Call Multiculturalism

Have you ever noticed how the term “Multi-Cultural” is often applied to the British colonies such as the US, Canada, Australia, and even Malaysia and Singapore, and how few other countries who were not British possessions give themselves such a description? The Soviet Union was a multi-national country and so was Yugoslavia but they were never called “multi-cultural”. Countries in South America have a more rigid class system, but, by and large, the Spanish or Portuguese models have never been called multi-cultural to my knowledge.

I have, on several occasions, come upon a few ultra-right websites who complain that certain elements in America ( such as Jews and Liberals) are aiming at diluting the US "racial purity" by bringing in "non-white immigrants" and turning the US into a multi-cultural nightmare.

There are, on the other hand, left-leaning groups who glorify multi-culturalism and proclaim that it serves everyone's interest to preserve our diversity; that the US has always been a nation of immigrants, and that it should stay that way.

Somehow, I feel that both sides are missing the point, so, being a centrist, I would like to give you my own take on how the much-lauded, much-vilified multiculturalism came about.

When the US was founded, it was primarily an English colony. Because it broke away from England, it sought to do away with a lot of class restrictions of the old society, so, official documents were written and enshrined to create a country based on the principle that ‘all men were created equal‘. The other principle as important in outlining American social philosophy was the "self-evidence" that people born or naturalized in the United States were, by virtue of that, US citizens.

Other countries were not like that and still aren’t. You can be born in Korea, but if you are not Korean by blood, you are not Korean. That’s just how it is there. You can be born in Saudi Arabia, but the Saudi nationality is not given to you because of that. Getting citizenship in those societies is hard, and even if you ever manage to get it, you will still never be one of them in social terms.

In America, these two principles should have been enough to create a veritable melting pot where people would harmoniously and naturally mix with one another and thus create a great American nationality. The same way as it happened in Brazil. However, there were also opposing principles in the US culture of those times which did not allow the One Nation Under God to truly develop, and, instead, lead to several parallel ethno-cultures arising in its place.

1) The birth of the "white" identity.

Most Europeans are not aware of the fact that they are “white”, and do not think of themselves as ‘white‘. Germans think of themselves as Germans, and Poles think of themselves as Poles. The British were English, Scottish or Welsh, not "white". The term 'white' originated during the colonial times, when various Western conquerors came upon the shores of continents where people had a darker pigmentation than these colonists did. Still, in many Spanish colonies, the conquistadors thought of themselves more as ‘Spaniards’ than ‘whites‘. It was in the English colonies that the 'white' self-nomination became the strongest.

Some of the Founding Fathers, after creating a white ’nationality’, went as far as declaring that only the English were “white”, and even people like Germans and Swedes were not. I can’t imagine why, though.

This new white "ethnos" took a deep root in the American psyche and became a cornerstone in creating other identities which eventually split America into several new uniquely American "ethnic groups" the likes of which seem to exist as serious ethnic identities in the US and some other British colonies only: the Blacks, the Hispanics, the Asians, etc.

After the Native Americans had been pushed out and the Founding Fathers had a “white”, mostly ethnically “English” nation in America, they, very contradictorily to their own plans, did not keep it that way. I guess, becoming wealthy was more important. So, they went ahead and brought slaves from Africa. Why? Well, you see, they faced a “labor shortage”, and importing the English was probably too expensive. Slaves worked for free. To them, it seems, growing rich by slave labor while bringing thousands upon thousands of captive Africans into the country was more imperative than preserving a newly found “white nation”. They did not think about what these slaves and their descendants would become in the future, where they would live, how they would change the character of the “white country” that they had been trying to create. In other words, they had two conflicting desires- one for ‘racial purity’ and one for profit at another man’s expense, whoever he may be.

Black people from Africa did not think of themselves as Black, either, until they came to America. They thought of themselves by the name of tribes that they belonged to. However, these African identities were completely obliterated and instead morphed into a new “Black” identity by the virtue of different tribes being dumped together in the New World. They were now called “Black” by the settlers who were calling themselves “White”.

Thus, there were now two nations in the US, one Black and one White. When the slaves were finally freed, the two legal principles mentioned before eventually and, after along struggle ‘kicked in’ in their favor and helped ‘adjust their status‘- the first one again was that ‘all men were created equal’, and the second one was that almost sacred conviction of every American that anyone born in the United States was a US citizen. Following these events, albeit not immediately, a “Black”, and later”African-American” identity was born.

2) The English snobberies:

The first settlers brought a lot of the Old World, uniquely English snobberies with them. The main one was that anyone who was not English and /or who did not act, speak or look English was somehow inferior. Being an American in those times meant to be ‘English’, or, at least, talk and behave like one and have an English name to boot.

OK, it was their country now and they made the rules. This I can go along with. But they again do not practice what they preach and they go ahead and start bringing in boatloads of new immigrants from Europe because they are facing a new labor shortage and need someone to man factories and coal mines. They took advantage of turmoil and hunger on the Old Continent and brought more new, non-English people in.

When the Irish and, later, the Germans, the Italians and the East European Jews arrived, they came up against these merciless English snobberies. Instead of being embraced into a “melting pot”, many were kept at a distance by the people who had come before them and were not accepted as true Americans for a long time. If you had a non-English name, a foreign accent or, God forbid, spoke a foreign language, and did not behave as the original British settlers, you faced ostracism. You were kept at an arm’s length and treated as an outsider. In addition to that, even after you had children in the US, again, the original settlers would still call them Italians, Irish, Jewish or Polish and continued to discriminate against them for some generations to come.

The reaction of the new native-born Americans was to assert pride in their origin, and hyphenate themselves. “I am proud to be an Italian- American! “, “I am proud to be an Irish-American! “ Such hyphenated pride was often simply a backlash to the snootiness of the first English settlers. The new people were Americans because they were born in the US, but for since because they were not British in origin, they would still be considered not quite American for a long time to come. Hence, they would now form a previously unknown “dual” identity the likes of which did not exist in the Old World, where either you were German or you were not, or you were an Irishman or you were not. It was simple there. It became complicated in the US. Hyphenization seemed to solve the problem somewhat.

No such phenomenon took place in South America. People there simply became Argentineans, Uruguayans and Panamanians, although many were from the same countries as the immigrants that came to the US.

In North America, on the other hand, many of such groups became encysted in ethnic neighborhoods and special sections of the cities partly because they needed the support of like souls in the new land, and, partly, because those who had come before them discriminated against them

None of these American ethno- identifying terms helped in creating a single American identity, but rather, further paved the way to what we now know as Multi-Culturalism.

To give the South American example again, if you take a nation like Chile, you will learn that their national hero was of Irish background and his name was Bernardo O’Higgins. However, he is not known as an “Irish-Chilean Liberator“; just a “Chilean” one. In Latin America, they had presidents with names such as Kubischek, and Stroessner and they would just be called Brazilians and Paraguayans, because, in those societies, there was little snobbery against people who were not like the original Spanish ‘founders‘. They were simply and naturally embraced because they had been born in the country. Mostly, the ethnic background was simply not important. Your money and ability was. That is why many Latin Americans of various immigrant origins cannot understand the US people’s tendency to hyphenate and to be proud of being, say, an Italian -(American), all while not having Italian citizenship, never having been to Italy and not speaking any Italian. Why can’t a person be just an American? they muse. They are not aware of how in the US, the English exclusiveness reverberating through two centuries keeps many people from becoming members of society with only one word to describe them as one would be in so many countries south of the US border.

But let us go back to the US. With all the snobberies and the “white identity” still in place, the US government surprisingly goes ahead and purchases Louisiana with its very mixed Creole population, then annexes the northern part of Mexico with its mostly mixed “mestizo” inhabitants, and, later, brings in Hawaii, the Philippines and Puerto Rico under its fold with more “non-white” people now joining the country in one way or another. Add to that the Chinese and Japanese laborers that were brought in to build railroads, and the appropriation of the territories of Guam, Samoa and the Marianas, and the United States again adds to its population a veritable potpourri of new cultures and identities. Please explain to me the logic: If being “white” was so important to so many “original” Americans, why are they bringing in all these cultures that they did not consider as their equals? And, shouldn’t they now become more open-minded to other cultures and ethnicities?

So, thus you now have a cultural dilemma on your hands. How are you going to sort it out? The original principles of the Constitution would again be applied: all people born or naturalized in the US are US citizens and those born or naturalized in US possessions are US nationals. However, because of the unnatural “white nationality “ which now encompassed all the English descendants as well as other Europeans who by now have been “Americanized” still in place with all its superciliousness, there is still there the continued stratification and discrimination across all strata of society. The groups who cannot join “the white nation” form their own divisions based on how they look and how they see each other. Chinese and Japanese become Asian- Americans, Puerto Ricans and Mexicans become Hispanic Americans while Italians and Jews join the “White” or “Caucasian” group.

(By the way, outside of the English language, the word “Caucasian” means people from the Caucasus mountains- Armenians, Georgians, Azeris. However, in the US, it means people with “light skin” having origins in Europe, Middle East and N. Africa now. So the Berbers and Afghans have now joined the English. Kind of inconsistent if you ask me. I often wonder what anthropologists these classifiers have contacted before they coined all these arbitrary terms.)

As a result, all the above groups with the remnants of the Native Americans solidify themselves into a five-race system that is America today.

If you come from another country and move to the United States, you will soon feel the pressure to join one of these ‘tribes’ and abandon your original identity as a Thai, a Peruvian or a German. No, you do not melt into America. You melt into a White America, a Black America, an Asian or a Hispanic America. There is very little that you can do to fight against this ludicrous system as you are now outnumbered by people who will assign you to one of these groups whether you want it or not. This is how these things developed over two centuries and this is now the official policy of the government, schools and workplace. All thanks mainly to the strange New World phenomenon of ‘whiteness’ and the English snobberies which have been rolling down the hill and ricocheting against everybody in this country for two centuries resulting in splitting of the US into such five slices.

Yes, it is true. If you are new to the US, and you want to just make friends with all the people there, you will inevitably clash with this Quinto-Tribal structure sooner or later. If, say, you are a Dutchman who came to the US and you wants to associate with Black Americans, date Black girls, or associate with Hispanic Americans and date Mexican-American girls, etc., you will now encounter resistance and be called “Caucasian”/ “White”/“Anglo” and often made aware of your new identity even though you had never thought of yourself as anything other than “Dutch” before.

Politicians and liberal elements exploit this “Five-Nations in One” divisions to get votes, pitch one group of people against another, while the ultra right elements declare this to be a Jewish conspiracy to obliterate the “white nation” in order to make America safe for the Jews.

Very few people in the US are trying to forge an American national unity on creating an identity that is just purely “American” which is how it should be. The reaction to the original rejection by the English of whoever was not like them two hundred years ago keeps boiling in the veins of the American population up until today.

3) Guilt-ridden Liberals.

The original Protestant culture may have been intolerant, but now, after having understood the ‘evil’ that has been done to anyone who was not “white”, a new formula to correct the situation has been devised- forced integration. So, instead of teaching everybody that people should be just Americans and One Nation under God, and that we should all just be nice to our fellow man, the guilt-ridden elements try and correct the past wrongs by simplifying the problem and applying many broad measures across the board while hurting innocent people in the process.

The new philosophy is this- “We have the following protected species in this country- the African-Americans (never use the horrible word “Black“!), the Asians (do not use the word “Oriental”, it is not PC!), the Native Americans (do not say “Indian“, please!), and the Hispanics which rarely includes Spaniards or Argentineans of German descent. Now, we have to promote these and protect them by law but against whom? Mainly, against the whites. But who are the whites? They are now a bunch of Italians, Jews, Irishmen and other such groups who had been for a long time discriminated against by the English descendants, as well.

They, however, do not seem to get protection in the same way as the above groups. Even if other ‘tribes’ treat them bad for past slavery and oppression (which the Italian peasants from Sicily did not practice, nor did the Irish, the Jews, or the Scandinavian settlers in Minnesota were ever guilty of). It is unfair, again, but now the wrong people are paying for the dead slave owners’ crimes. Some elements among poor whites start forming militias and joining ultra right groups. All while the rich ‘whites’ really do not care. Which brings us to another stark truth in today’s America.

4) Profit is almost always above racial or national solidarity.

For a long time now, an average white American employer, a “John Smith” has discovered that hiring a Jose Rodriguez from Mexico costs less than hiring another John Smith from the US. Jose Rodriguez will work for less because his family is often in Mexico, and Mexico is cheaper than the US. $50 a day is a fortune in Mexico. Jose Rodriguez is working hard and is very happy with his job. But the other John Smith, the employee, is complaining that he is not making enough. The Smiths live in the US; not Mexico. School tuition is high, housing is expensive. He wants more money. ‘To hell with a fellow John Smith,” says the Gringo employer-“I am hiring Jose Rodriguez who is here illegally. I’ll save money in the process and make a fatter profit.”

In the US, when it comes to money, profit by any means possible often takes precedence over race, nationality, ethnic origin, citizenship or patriotism. Americans will usually hire anybody who costs less. The “white cause” is now opium for the poor, unemployed, and oppressed rural whites. But the economic reality is still this: an illegal Mexican plumber will come to your house and repair your faucet for $30. An American plumber (often white, but, sometimes, black, Hispanic or Asian) will charge you $200 for the same job.

What will a white American rather have- a white mechanic who presents him with an $800 bill for simple repairs on his vehicle, or an illegal Mexican mechanic who will repair his car for $300 or less? The answer is obvious.

For years, indignant comments have been made about illegal immigrants more than half of whom come from Mexico and Central America with the far-right groups seeing it as a conspiracy to destroy “the White Race”. Why don’t they address the real culprits who hire these people in the first place? -mostly other white Americans who are only thinking about making money off of cheap workforce. It is not about race. It is about the cost of labor. Before, you could get Europeans to come to the US and work cheaply, but now Europe is richer than the US, and even East Europeans would rather go and work in Germany or Portugal and make Euros than travel to America and make dollars which are now worth less and less. That is the main reason why you do not see so many Europeans coming to these shores anymore.

The Hispanic population in the US will continue growing not because of some preposterous Jewish conspiracy, but simply because Gringo employers will welcome these cheap workers since they make them rich. And, because the US law states that anyone born in the US is a US citizen, the children of these immigrants will be unconditional US citizens in the future. And they will bring their families to join them. Forces of economics are what is shaping the US ethnic demographics, not some fantasy meetings by mythical Elders of Zion in Williamsburg.

Another thing that a “white” American (or any other American) has also discovered very recently was that outsourcing a job that was meant to go to a John Smith or even a Jose Rodriguez in the US, to a Mr. Singh in India or a Mr. Lee in China was even cheaper. That means more money saved and a wider profit margin. So, what is more important? Hiring a fellow “white“, or even a fellow American of another ethnic group, or saving more money and becoming rich in the process? The answer again is obvious.

This leaves poorer ‘whites’ in America angered by the fact that their jobs and wages are being eroded and many of them become resentful of these new workers further keeping America divided. Some join the Skinheads (instead of going to computer schools) and mistakenly rant against people that have nothing to do with the “Destruction of White America“. Blacks, too, feel the pinch and blame the illegals for stealing jobs instead of placing the blame on American employers who hire such workers. These job-related squabbles further drive the wedge between all these groups in the US, and forever keep America from becoming a One Nation Under God.

This way the divisions among many ethnicities in America based on the original British insular snobbishness, mistrust, jealousy, selfish profiteering, lack of respect for the fellow man, the puttering Melting Pot that melts unevenly and with great interruptions, and the resulting, long-lasting, uneasy Salad Bowl has been given a fancy name of Multi-Culturalism to camouflage its ugliness. The school systems and the government’s unscientific and artificial ethnic classifications further divide people by giving them unnatural identities that have no equivalent in the countries where these people had originally come from.

Somehow we cannot seem to be able to correct the situation by following the Latin American example; we simply cannot teach in schools what many other countries in the Americas teach their kids: “You are all Panamanians“, “You are all Venezuelans“or “You are all Brazilians“. “You are all Americans” is hardly ever taught.

I guess neither the Founding Fathers, nor their followers ever went down to the many places on the another side of the equator to see that people can actually get along more and become much more of a One Nation Under God without creating a clumsy and unnatural social system that breeds nothing but continuous unhappiness for all concerned.


Jealousy in the Third World

Jealousy is a basic human emotion, and it generally manifests itself in situation where one observes other people having things that one does not have, and/or living a lifestyle that one cannot afford to live.

Jealousy is a strong emotion, however; in the First World countries it rarely assumes destructive proportions unless you find yourself among the really poor and deprived underclass which is not the First World mainstream. In the Third World, jealousy can be very powerful since the Underclass is the mainstream, and you as an expat can become its victim if you are not careful enough.

How so? Well, in the First World, opportunities are generally available to a greater percentage of the population than in the developing countries. Student loans, grants, scholarships and other such programs usually enable the person to move from being poor to, at least, becoming middle class. In addition to that, many First World countries are privacy minded- “Mind Your Own Business!” is the motto there. Also, religions and life philosophies in many a developed country teach people to change and improve themselves and instill in one a spirit of confidence. Therefore, if one becomes jealous of achievements of another, it more often than not serves as a healthy impetus to improve oneself. “You just wait! Next year I will have a bigger car than yours, and I will buy a house better than yours“. Such a healthy expression of envy is actually good as it makes people work harder, and, usually, many opportunities and resources are in place to help one ‘push himself up in the world’.

In many developing nations, that may not be the case. Social classes are much more static and moving from one stratum of society to another is a great difficulty for most people, if not an outright impossibility. There are few scholarships, no student loans or grants and the rich get education, while the poor are destined for only minimal improvement of their lot. In addition to that, many religious and philosophical teachings there, as well as the whole culture are very much focused on preserving the status quo. Being ambitious is seen as a betrayal to one’s proletarian ideals and as a gesture that one is abandoning one’s community of poor people and is trying to become better than others. The rich also see such upstarts as a threat to the hegemony that they hold over the lower classes- a source of labor to them. Therefore, an average poor person in a poor nation may not even conceive of the desire to improve oneself. And even if he/she does, the money that one obtains will swiftly be sucked out of one’s pocket as poor relatives and friends who are not studying, and who do not have good jobs will be there waiting for a handout. Hence, someone who manages to get an education will forever be burdened by a group of other indigent people whom one has to help continuously. Poor people in the Third World often have large families and no money to feed them. A son that got a degree and is working now will see his salary melt away as he now supports a large extended household. His money will be vanishing like water poured into the sand.

Jealousy in the Third World is many times more powerful than in the First one. There, it emanates from people who were never taught that they could in fact develop themselves, take care of themselves and make money. “You are better than, me? I will destroy you! “ They seethe with the resentment for the rich of their own country and see them as absolute overlords whose lifestyle they can never even remotely hope to achieve. Then, revolutions take place; the former slaves get into the government after destroying the local rich and, in turn, become lords who rule over the poor classes with vengeful cruelty. The paupers become tyrants and the society continues as it was before- the few rich at the top, a huge number of hopelessly poor at the bottom with a tiny ‘middle class’ which is never sure of its identity and position in society, and which receives a dose of scorn from both the rich and the poor each one thinking it as part of the other.

When a First World expat decides to live in such a developing country, he/she will need to be extremely careful. There have been cases of expats settling in such Third World countries, hoping for a happy life thereafter in a cheap tropical paradise, only to become targets of jealousy and antipathy. They would be caught between the rock and the hard place. The poor would see them as unwelcome invaders who have come to exploit them, and the ruling classes would see them as a menace to their status and the power which they held over the poor.

A rich foreign man with a big car and a beautiful local wife would, on occasions, end up being killed along with his spouse (who would be called a traitor who has sold out to a wealthy foreigner) by the masses of the deprived jealous natives in extreme cases, but most often than not, constantly hit for money by the “lazy” indigenous neighbors who
never even dream of paying them back. They would end up cheated, overcharged, and often treated with derision by the locals. All based on nothing but intense jealousy.

In some cases, there were expat men who dreamt of opening businesses with their wives and helping the local community. These would be seen as unwanted competition and threat to its domination of some kingpin who would then resort to the services of a local hit man to do away with the foreigner and his wife. Often, both the rich and the poor do not want their status quo to be disturbed in such places. The poor do not like those richer than them to come over, raise prices and steal their women from them, and the moneyed classes do not want the new parvenue to treat the poor better than they do because this way the downtrodden masses will lose their spirit of obedience to those who are well-off.

So what is the solution?

If your fate or choice has landed you in such a place, you will have to do your best to keep a low profile and try to pass yourself off as someone who is just passing through or who is living in the place temporarily even if one remains there forever. If one wants to do business, one should try and do it in larger urban areas which resemble the developing world, and where one can get lost in the crowd. If one decides to live in smaller, more rural places, one should only have small businesses staffed by local people and be as unnoticeable as one can be. Under no circumstances should one sell out all of his possessions back in one’s home country and move to the Third World completely. A base in a solid First World country to which one can revert if things turn sour because of the Third World jealousy must be maintained at all times. And, while you are in the developing foreign land, talk softly, smile a lot, look poor, sometimes even complain about how difficult business is for you, and keep to yourself as much as you can.

Another good thing that many such expats do is starting businesses in tourist areas where they blend in with the endless ebb and flow of tourist crowds. There, they remain largely undistinguishable from temporary visitors and obtain money from sources outside the country. But even there, you always have to be careful. Jealousy may still raise its green head at any time and harm you in ways you may never know.


Best things in life are cheap

Best things in life are…cheap if you know where to look.

I do believe that best things in life may be free, but what is not free is getting to where they are and putting yourself in the situations where you are more likely to find them.
Too many of us are simply short of both time and money to be able to travel to places where such things are free.

Some twenty odd years ago I had a dream to fall in love with a French girl, and to have her say to me: ”Je t’aime”. It did happen, but not in Paris. Since I had no money to go to France, I decided to take a train from New York to Montreal, and then, on to Quebec City. This is about as close to France culturally as you can get. I had only $800 at my disposal which I changed to Canadian money and it became something like $1200 in their dollars- quite a big factor in giving me more breathing space while on the trip. I rented a room in a student boarding house, and spent one month hanging around the Gothic, Celtic and very French city of Quebec- a strange, out of place town which, in my opinion, simply does not belong in North America as we know it. It has an old section of town behind a mediaeval wall, and many castles, courtyards, and quite European-looking shadowy alleys which make you feel like you are, in fact, living in France.

I started frequenting a café in the town where people were friendly and where I met a local girl. We fell in love and, one day, we both stood in front of St. Lawrence River with the huge Frontenac Castle behind us, and she murmured as she looked straight at me. “Je t’aime”.

This memory is so precious and so intense that up until today I cannot forget the solemn, ice-bound watercourse to the right of me, the crisp air around us, the oblique winter sun, the shadow of the somber castle hanging over us, and the words “ I love you” uttered in French, the most beautiful language on Earth.

I think that for some, an experience like that may be worth many years of work and struggle, but it cost me only $800. It was one of the greatest highlights of my entire life. It wasn’t costly, but it wasn’t free, either. I still had to spend money to get to Quebec City and to take buses around it, feed my girlfriend, etc. It was money well-spent, though.

I also did something that not many people do. Since I was very poor at that time, I was able to take ‘French courses’ by becoming an “auditor’ at LaVal University’- the biggest institution of higher learning in that town. I attended many classes, met quite a few people, all without paying a dime. I asked the university staff if I had to pay for classes if I did not take them for credit, and all said “‘No’, just talk to the teacher, and if the teacher says ‘it’s OK’, then just go ahead and sit in the class”.

All this was done in just thirty days, but the amount of experience was tremendous. Many months have come and go, each one so much like the other, but that was probably the best month in that period of my life. It was not free, but it was like so many other best things in life- inexpensive.

So, since then, I have dedicated a lot of time to studying where I could get quality time and meet quality people, enjoy great beaches and sunsets, fall in love, dance, make great friends for as little money as possible. And it is very doable if one sits down and does his homework. The thing is, one simply needs to pick a destination which contains unusually concentrated amounts of a certain thing one likes, be it great beaches, great people or great food, but it has to be a bit off the beaten path where most people do not go. Like Quebec City. This way, you will be able to enjoy the best things in life cheaply because best things in life are relatively cheap.


Religion and Tradition

A lot of strife nowadays is generated by religious intolerance which is a bit difficult for those who come from fairly liberal societies to understand. My observation is that while religious differences are definitely a serious cause, the bigger cause is really in the combination of religion and tradition.

In most societies of the world religion is something you inherit from you ancestors. It is simply a traditional way of viewing the world and your place in it, your relationship with the One you pray to, combined with the explanation of various phenomena and a code for behavior. Most people in the world did not invent the religions they practice. They got them from their forebears. And, unless you live in very liberal cities of the West, few people will be recent converts to a religion. The majority will simply become heirs to the way of worship and the worldly view based on how their parents, the society around them and, often, the governments, dictated that they believe.

If you are born in a country X, and are not a big city in California somewhere, you will probably have very little choice or even desire to acquire or change a religion. The country is of a certain religious denomination, your parents practice it, the inhabitants around you practice it and, in school and at work, most people you meet are practitioners of the same faith. Parents are probably the most powerful tool in transmitting a religion. If you have a child to whom a smiling mother and father bring a certain hallowed book when he or she is very small, and tell him/her that that is the correct way to see the world and that is what a child should follow and be proud of, then in 99% of cases, that is what the child will be. If, then, the parents start taking the child to an official place of worship of that religion, just like their parents did to them, then, of course, the child will grow up to be a good ( put the name of the follower of a religion here). Neither the parents nor the child actually sit down and examine their beliefs. They simply follow the tradition that spans hundreds or thousands of years and trust it to be good.

If one is to experience a particular religious awakening or a desire to radically improve one self, he or she will rarely change religions. Most often than not, he will either get deeper into his/her present religion or, in some extreme cases, change denominations.

When I lived in the Caribbean I saw many examples of people who would say that they 'became' Christians. I would often ask them “Well, excuse me, what were you before?” "I was Catholic". "Well, isn’t Catholic a Christian, too? They would hem and haw and say, "Well, yes, but not a true one.” I would often hear things such as “I have studied many religions and I finally understood one profound truth- Jesus is the answer”. Somehow, the tradition would still keep the people in that area within the same "range" of religion even though they would change sects simply because the major sources of spiritual information would be, in their majority, Christian. There would be few if any Buddhist or Taoist temples, few mosques, and knowledge about such faiths would be hard to obtain. Hence, the move from Catholic to Protestant as a major spiritual upheaval. Not much else is available there.

When going to Buddhist countries, I would again witness a similar phenomenon. The country is Buddhist, the temples around are Buddhist, the loving parents who inherited Buddhism from their ancestors teach their children symbols of Buddhism and the child faithfully and trustingly follows what his family, society, schools and friends follow- a Buddhist spiritual tradition. Sometimes, the Buddhist would switch from Hinayana to Mahayana, but rarely move on to other creeds.

Problems begin when you have people who grew up in one religious tradition and who are completely convinced of its total and undisputable truth -their parents and their society, teachers and elders told them that it was so-meet another group of people who had inherited another religious teaching through all the organs in their respective society, and whose view on God, worship and societal behavior differ from the first group. In other words, because of their own unique historical circumstances, the groups are now followers of different dogmas with each group feeling that their teaching is ‘natural”, “correct” and not to be questioned under any circumstances because it comes from books and other sources that are too holy to be challenged.

Each group usually feels prejudiced against the other’s teaching because, just like a foreign language, it does not seem natural to them, and because it is not expected and is strange, it is, therefore, wrong. The other group, that followed its own millennia-old customs will feel the same way about the first group.

Most groups of people will never be able to judge another spiritual teaching impartially and will only be able to compare it to what is normal to them. And their ‘normal’ belief is, strictly speaking, not theirs as a product of some thought-filled realization, but, again, as a consequence of a habit passed on over many generations. They inherit it from within the environment where it is most prevalent and wide-spread- their country.

The situation is aggravated by the fact that people are by nature social animals, and, belonging to a certain religion gives them a sense of identity. They now fit in with a larger group and they get support and guidance from it. Also, because in many parts of the world, not being part of an official creed invites social and economic ostracism, only a true rebel would ever dare to challenge it, while the ‘moral’ and ‘proper’ member of that society will conform to it so that others see him/her as good and civil and worthy of trust and acceptance.

Sometimes you do witness religious tolerance but such forbearance is just that-"You stay there and do your thing, and we stay here and do ours, that thing we have always done, and let's live in peace, but deep inside we know that we are right, but you are all wrong and I hope one day you will realize that".

In addition to that, we have very few people who are really and truly students of another faith even for scholastic purposes. Most would never touch another holy book except their own. Few Christians have read the Holy Koran which nevertheless does not stop them from making "knowledgeable" comments about it. Few peaceful inter-tradition dialogues take place. All this widens the gap of misunderstanding between members of different faiths.

People's affinity for tradition, and the failure to realize that we have other societies on this planet who are also followers of their own holy traditions that were passed on to them by their ancestors, and who also feel that they are right, as well as our tribal preference for people who are closer to us by their traditions is what has been creating so much strife today.

We need to promote more dialogue, more openness and more inter-religious communication. We need to study other religions deeply and objectively. Only then can we hope to have some kind of peaceful coexistence and learn to overcome our mistrust for one another.


Transpanted dissidents' identity crises

For a long time on earth we have had several opposing camps- Communist vs. Capitalist, Materialism vs. Spirituality, Fundamentalism vs. Secular or Christian- based democracy, etc.

In each of such camps there were dissidents- people who disagreed with the mainstream political or spiritual philosophy of their country, and who would leave for places where they could finally practice their own way of thinking unhindered by the tyrannical forces of their own countries. Soviet and Chinese dissidents, as well as Iranian anti-ayatollah thinkers found refuge in the West. Even some Westerners defected to the Soviets, the Chinese or countries of non-Christian religions- yes, that is true- you can see quite a few American converts in very far flung places- these are not fundamentalists, but they enjoy a place where religion and state are one. Particularly, some Black Americans were attracted to certain foreign states because of a, supposedly, much lesser degree of racism, and a far greater acceptance of Blacks in their societies.

What happens with many dissidents when they relocate can be rather baffling. Many end up very confused and begin to experience an identity crisis.

Let’s take Soviet dissidents, for example. Or Cuban ones. When in Cuba or the USSR, the state of affairs is clear- the regime is ultra-left and evil; the dissidents, on the other hand, are usually pro-right, thinking intellectuals who believe in democracy and freedom; and finally, after a long struggle, they escape to the West ready and hopeful to be among other freedom loving individuals of the same intellectual make-up, who, like themselves, love and treasure democratic capitalism and believe in the ideals of the West.

When they arrive in the West, they are in for a shock. Many Western intellectuals are not pro-right at all, but are, actually, very left-leaning. These are pro-gay, pro-socialist, pro-so many ‘evils’ that these dissidents have fought against to begin with. The pro-right people in the West are actually found among the not-so-educated working classes with whom these dissidents and the local thinkers have nothing in common. Because the dissidents come from a Communist country, some Western pro-rightists, who are usually not very bright to begin with, declare them to be “commie, foreign immigrants”, give them no support whatsoever, and shun them, while the left-leaning ‘intellectual’ classes also have nothing in common with them as they are busy promoting socialist ideals that the dissidents have devoted their entire lives struggling against.

They are also shocked to see refugees from fascist dictatorship in Latin America who are living in the US, while, at the same time, holding meetings of Communist and Socialist committees and talking about the US Imperialism in their countries. This comes as a big shock, and a personal identity crisis sets in. “Hey, you guys, socialism does not work! I’ve been there, I know!” In one ear, out the other. The Communist meetings continue.

The main question that these dissidents ask the Western Leftists is always this: “if you are so much to the left, why don’t you go and live in Cuba?” Or “How do you know what life under socialism is like? I have lived under it, and I know what it is all about. You are here, enjoying all the fruits of Capitalism, a nice car, a nice apartment, fully stocked supermarkets, while, at the same time, promoting a social idea that you have not experienced in practice”. Needless to say, angry debates explode, the formerly progressive dissident is now labeled reactionary, redneck, fascist, and other bad names and eventually he remains alone, baffled and unsure of his identity anymore.

A Russian proverb reads “One with a full stomach does not believe one who is hungry”.

At the same time, the dissident continues being called a “pinko bastard” by the less enlightened elements of society. Many working classes in the West do not even know the difference between Communism and Fascism. Many cannot even find communist countries on the world map.

“He is from a Communist country, hence, he is a Commie operative”. He is asked daily questions such as “Why are you here? Are you a KGB agent? Are you a spy? Do they allow you people to be here?” Refugees from Communist Vietnam sometimes get harassed by the poorer elements of veteran Americans who call them Viet Congs and other unflattering names.

A Nicaraguan refugee from Communism whom I once knew ended up in Guatemala, and he often complained that he took a great deal of flak from both sides- the progressive, thinking leftists (it seems that a huge part of Latin American intellectuals is) who declared him a traitor, and the common people who called him ‘Comunista’ and refused him friendship and means of livelihood. ‘Nicaragua is a communist country. You are from Nicaragua. Hence, you are a Communist! ‘ Hard to argue with that. How can you? Especially, if the reasoning comes from a potential job-giver.

He eventually ended up in the US where he was, at least, able to establish himself as a human being, even though his pro-right views only found true sympathy among other refugees from his homeland.

The same thing happened with those not many Westerners who ended up in the East because they believed in the rosy ideals of Marx and Lenin. The thinkers and the people with any kind of brain there were virulent anti-Communists, while the left wingers were the lazy and corrupt bureaucrats who these new idealist immigrants had nothing in common with. It was again, a big disappointment, aggravated by the severe realities of trying to live in the under-supplied and inefficient societies that did not seem to work even in the most basic aspects of daily life.

In extreme cases, such idealists got arrested by the leftist governments on trumped up spying charges and sent to the Gulag or its equivalent. “They are from the West. Hence, they are enemy agents. Capitalists”. Logical, isn’t it? A communist peasant KGB officer does not usually have too high an IQ to figure out that while the person is from the West, he is in fact not a spy but a socialist sympathizer. Many thus ended up dying of starvation and exposure in the Gulag labor camp complex.

Many Americans who converted to a foreign faith and ended up in some parts of the world where it is practiced, were also appalled by the corruption and how so many people there do not follow the religion as ardently as these very sincere American believers of it do.

What is the conclusion? There are two:

1) Most people are not travelers and they do not really know what it is like in other countries. They have not lived there. They may sound intellectual, but they simply lack hands-on experience of someone who has actually lived under the system. They think grass is greener on the other side. Some may have degrees, but they are still very naïve. The only sure way to enlighten them is to forcibly transport them by planes onto such countries and let them live there for a few years on the local economy. A nice idea, but almost a logistical impossibility. Hence, a blank, unbelieving stare is all you get from such people.

2) As much as it goes against one’s often altruistic ideals, creating one’s personal philosophy from the good parts of every philosophy available on earth and applying it to one’s daily life to the best of one’s ability seems to be the only way. Winning by being stubborn, but at the same time sneaky and discreet, seems to work best. Once you relocate to another country, get ready to face ignorance coming from everywhere and try your best not to be affected by it. I have known Cubans and Nicaraguans who have given up on arguing about ideologies when in the US, and, instead, concentrated on making money and just taking care of themselves. Sometimes, rugged individualism seems to be the best cure for identity crises of the transplanted dissidents.


Discover the Treasures of the Kingdom

The Thai Tourist Authority used that catchy phrase in the 1990ies to promote tourism to their country. They advertised the temples, the tropical fruit and a pretty lady selling them. I saw the poster. Very impressive! And the phrase stuck with me, too.

I kind of adopted it as my own personal motto- basically, every Kingdom or country has its treasures, and it is up to us to discover them. Even some countries that do not advertise themselves have some kind of treasure that we can seek and find.

Take Kuwait, for example. Some people complain that it’s one of the most boring places to be – it is kind of hot, there is nothing exotic there- no old cities, no traditional, “ real” Arab suqs, and some say that there is very little culture there. However, while I was there I was able to discover a treasure-condos overlooking the sea for very little rent.

Kuwait is one of the richest countries in the world but, surprisingly, in some places a bit away from downtown you can rent a condo or an apartment with a gorgeous view on the Person Gulf for very little money. It would be comparable to renting a one bedroom apartment in Santa Monica or Malibu location-wise but not rent-wise. In such prime locations in the US you would pay thousands of dollars a month for a place like that, but in Kuwait, it was something like $200 for a one bedroom apartment with a fantastic view of the sea.

I worked as an ESL teacher in Kuwait, and even though my salary was small, my company rented me one such apartment- every morning I would wake up and walk up to the window to witness a solemn celebration of the sun, the sea and the clouds. As weather would change, the color of the sea would change with it and the combination of the three would change every day like some giant kaleidoscope of nature. I was just a teacher but I had a “room with a view” of the kind that only rich people in the West would have.

I was only 5 minutes away from the beach and I would swim in the sea and then go back to my apartment to relax. Right in front of my place there was a Burger King and a huge Internet café staffed by beautiful Filipina waitresses. It was great life!

Talking about the Philippines, what is the great treasure there? Well, one of the greatest things there is the availability of very cheap but high quality Japanese food and huge numbers of Japanese restaurants. I am a Japanese food lover but it can be so expensive both in the US and in Japan. However, in the Philippines you can get it at one third the price and it is just as good. Every time I was there, I would spend a great part of my time gormandizing on foods and dishes which would cost me hundreds of dollars back home. That was ‘the treasure of the kingdom” there.

In Oman, the treasure is again low rents on both cars and villas. A six room villa in the off-season- September through June in Salalah, Oman can cost as little as $365 a month. And a nice car with insurance can be rented for about the same. One can get a villa on a gorgeous beach for a bit more and watch seagulls flying catching fish while listening to the wind whistling through the high reeds growing from the golden dunes. It is heaven on earth and your villa is only $500 a month. And Oman is not a poor country but for some reason in this part of Oman there are so few tourists that huge villas stand empty and anyone can rent them. There are dune buggies for rent, too. Cheap millionaire style villas are thus the treasure of the kingdom there, or the Sultanate, to be exact.

So when one gets assigned to a particular country that may not be the most popular and romantic destination and finds himself bored and pining to go back home, one needs to remember the motto” Discover the Treasures of the Kingdom” and go out there and find them. Every “Kingdom” has them although they may not be very obvious to those who have newly arrived.


Happier Paths

So many of us spend decades of our lives climbing social ladders of societies where competition is high, the dog-eat-dog attitude is the norm, and true friendship and love are devilishly hard to find. We grow stronger in such an environment, wiser in an unhealthy way, and, at the same time, tougher and colder. We are true societal warriors, ready to crush the guy next to us for the benefit of taking his place in the social order.

In the meantime, there are places in the world where we are needed by many people who are actively searching for our help. Many would like to make friends with us and even share their lives with us. However, somehow most of us do not like to look “down” – we are trained to climb, climb all the way to the top. Be like the big players- the highly paid actors, millionaires, doctors, and other great people.

Then, many of us complain of loneliness and coldness among the skyscrapers of Hong Kong, New York or Tokyo not realizing that ultimately we have made the choice to be there, karmically or otherwise. If we really wanted, there are many places where people want us, and often, we can go there and live a life with much less competition and much more acceptance and respect, but many of us simply do not dare to. Or, we are just ashamed to. What will our friends think of us when they see us with those who are poorer than us? In countries that are poorer than ours? Nah!

One of the sources of my feeling inferior to my fellow (wo)men was that I would always compare myself to those above me socially, economically, ethnically and otherwise, while totally ignoring the so many people “below” me in so many places where I would be so much more welcome.

After I hit forty, had a divorce and a near bankruptcy, I finally woke up and began thinking of where I could contribute to the development of the world while at the same time not to become a pauper. It did turn out that one could do both- one really did not need to sacrifice one’s comfort for the sake of serving one’s fellow human being. I also started looking for social life in countries where I felt people would be seeking me out instead of me having to seek them out.

So far, such a balanced life has proven to be a very happy one. When I compare my personal state of mind, and, most important, my present level of happiness to the times when I was living in the concrete jungles of big 1st World cities, thinking only of myself and how I could please the people above me, I always note with satisfaction that, I have, in fact become happier.

So, the lessons that I have learned can be summarized as follows:

1) There are plenty of people in many countries that need you. Find out in which ones, where and go there.
2) Do not worry about not becoming one of the people at the top of the world. That may or may not make you happy. There are still many places where people would like to have you as a leader; and you can serve them and enjoy the same respect amongst them that billionaires have in large industrial world capitals.
3) There are jobs that pay well, but which are still located in places where people need you. You can kill two birds with one stone- make good money and contribute to humanity. There is no need to become a “hippy volunteer”.

Finding a situation like that is easier than one may think. And it may be the best path to follow if one wants to become happy.


Love market’s singing indicators

When traveling from place to place one becomes exposed to local radio programs be they in a taxi or a car you rent or wherever. If you listen to love songs, I mean, local love songs, you will become aware of an interesting phenomenon- namely, the kind of lyrics and the type of performers change as you move from country to country depending on the particular characteristics of their national “love market”. What I mean is this-in some countries it is mostly girls singing about guys and in some countries, it is mostly guys singing about girls. Example: let’s say, you are in Thailand. If you listen to Thai music on the radio, one of the most frequent love song types seems to be that of a woman who has been abandoned by her male lover. There is often a song or two by a woman who loves a man but who does not know how to attract him.

This indicates the particular characteristic of the Thai ‘ love market’- there seems to be a great number of good girls and the number of ‘worthy’ guys just does not seem to be anywhere near it. In other words- based on the songs you hear there, Thailand is clearly the guy’s market with many available women to choose from.

In the US, a large number of love songs is sung by a young man who is sweet and caring (judging by his voice) and who sings very beautiful things to a girl. Think about such popular songs as “ Nothing’s gonna change my love for you”, most of the love songs by Barry Manilow, and other such very warm and passionate songs-all of which are basically written by a man who is courting a woman. It seems to show that the US is a ‘girls’ market’- guys really need to be sweet and sharp when it comes to courting as competition for women seems to be very keen there.

The funny thing is that when you get to the Philippines, you will get to listen to the same American songs but now they are sung by ‘a girl to a guy’. It shows again that the Philippines is a guy’s market- good guys are hard to get. So, women now sing such American courtship songs to them. One of the most popular songs sung in the Philippines by a lady singer is “I’ll always love you, deep inside this heart of mine” which is sung by a man in the US.

In the UK again, most courtship and heartbreak songs are sung by men. Think about the Beatle’s songs “I wanna hold your hand” and ‘I can’t stand losing you’ by “The Police”. You would be very hard pressed to find a song by a British girl who is singing about losing a guy. I guess the dynamics of the British love market are severely slanted against men.

In Spain, love songs seem to be sung mostly by guys to girls. In Russia, lots and lots of songs are sung by women about unworthy and irresponsible guys and how they do not love them and abandon them. In the neighboring Ukraine, again, the songs are mostly sung by guys courting a girl.

In Puerto Rico, sad songs by an abandoned woman are a rather frequent occurrence on their radio waves. That again reflects the severe economic realities of an Island whose many men leave for greener pastures on the US mainland leaving many local women behind to compete for the few eligible men that stay behind. Since women outnumber men in that US territory, when men choose wives, some women will remain holding the bag and singing such songs. I have yet to hear a Puerto Rican song of the kind of “Oh, baby bay it’s a wild world” in which an America woman abandons her man leaving him singing such a sad and bitter song.

Of course, the above does not indicate that in any given country ‘all’ songs will be either by guys courting women or by women courting men, just that the frequency and the number of either one will be different- their ratios will be different. By counting the ratios you will be able to figure out basically if you will be able to score on their love market or not.

Some songs also indicate the economic realities of certain countries (duh) and how they pertain to the ‘love market’. In Thailand, again, many a song is written by a poor guy who does not seem to have enough money to live a good life which often implies marriage. In that country you need to pay a ‘bride price’ to the family of the girl if you want to tie the knot, and if you have no money or not enough of it, marriage may be something that you will still need to save for, for a long, long time. This is directly and indirectly reflected in the lyrics of the songs. Few if any Thai songs are sung by a rich guy who is courting a girl or who has been abandoned by one. There is just no such thing in that “Paradise for Men’ land.

If you are an international love seeker and are thinking of heading to a country hoping to find some romance in it, it would be a good idea to buy some of their popular song collections and listen to them. If you do not speak the language, ask a native speaker to translate some for you. You will get a good picture of what opportunities will await you there.

It is not the traditional way to determine how well the country will accept you as a potential hunter of their romantic treasures but a rather accurate one. Try it. It may save you from prospective disappointments and heartaches, as well as unnecessary loss of your time and money.


Impressions and Status

I have, on several occasions, read the writings of ladies who were wives of American officers, and who spent a large chunk of their lives accompanying their husbands on their overseas postings. They would describe their lives in Germany, Japan, and other such locations with the most positive of terms. The people were lovely, the cultural experience, overall, was priceless and the hospitality of the local population was unmatched. Everybody was so friendly and welcoming. They had learned some of the local culture and language, too. Then, they went back home after having seen how great people in those countries were, taking with them precious memories that would now last a lifetime.

Of course, they had a great time. They did not stay in a country that was an enemy of the US. Not at the time, at least. Both Germany and Japan had been conquered during WWII and they now very much respect the winner- the American military, that is. The wives, and their army or air force spouses, too, were taken care of by the US government, and had not become a burden on the local economy. The couples and their children, if with them, basically represented Uncle Sam while in those countries, or, at least, this is how many local people saw their role: they were America to them, the powerful, the wealthy, the unbeatable. As such, they were most certainly well treated. It sure had helped again that none of those countries were at war with the US, and that the US bases there were not under attack at the moment. Because if they had been stationed there when a war was going on, they would have had a different impression of the place; that is, if the wives had been allowed to be there to begin with.

Of course, most of the people around the bases were very helpful - they had already gotten used to the presence of the troops and learned to deal with them. Many had even opened businesses there to cater to the military personnel and were now waiting on them hand and foot as these have become a source of income.

These women and their husbands did not have to go into the local community and look for a job. They were not poor immigrants or foreign laborers. They were respectable envoys of a mighty nation. Now, if they had been wives of Turkish workers coming to Germany to make a living and compete with the local labor force for scarce employment, and thus take jobs from the Germans, they may not have been so thrilled about the hospitality of the people. If in Japan, instead of being a robust US military officer, you had been a poor nobody coming alone to look for a job as an English teacher or someone like that, without having the proper connections and introductions, you would have seen a different Japan- a suspicious and mistrustful one, xenophobic and rude. Or, if you had been brought in as a Korean colonial subject to do manual labor for the Japanese Imperial Government, you would not have to say much about the affability and charm of the Japanese people. Most probably you would have thought that you had ended up in the Hades and were now surrounded by devils and other such demons.

Your efforts to fit into the local culture would also be appreciated in different ways depending on your status. A high-ranking officer in the US military who speaks some Japanese or German will be praised for his efforts and very much appreciated. A poor immigrant worker, on the other hand, who is looking for a job there, will probably be told that he has an ugly accent, and that he is dumb, even though he may speak the language much better than the officer. So, depending on one’ s status and what one symbolizes to the locals, one’s impressions of the country will vary. A nation that seems to be populated by cultured and friendly people to one group, will appear to be a hateful hell-hole to others, a place from which they would want to escape as soon they possibly could.

Many places in the world are like that- people there respect whom they see as the powerful, the rich and of high status, even if they had been enemies in the past. However, few there have any regard or even pity for those poorer than they are, and who are coming to the country to do hard work to help their families back home. You will often than not be scorned and treated like dirt. And, depending upon in which category you will find yourself in a foreign country, you will either take with you fond memories of wonderful encounters with a fascinating culture, or seething resentment and even outright boiling hatred of your oppressors. It just depends on who and what you are and what you are doing there.