Photo by Adam Cathro
As a person that was raised partly in Laos and Thailand, a lot of the cultural way of thinking has made me of who I am today, but growing up in the western society, I’m beginning to see that some of the ideas behind as to why we do certain things are not the best solutions because I personally feel that it should be handled differently. For example, one of the biggest things for Laotians is face, we’ll do anything to save face, and at whatever cost, whether it’s going into debts to get material processions to show off, or carrying our children’s photos to show off their achievements even to the extreme of blindly lied about the situations.
As a typical Laotian having to show respect for others, strangely I find myself agreeable even knowingly that they lied to me. I didn’t have the heart to tell them how I feel. I couldn’t bring myself to tell them to wake up and smell the coffee. I couldn’t tell them that I knew the truth, that I’m not that naïve and ignorance. I couldn’t tell them that they’re making a fool of themselves, even in my writing, I find myself beating around the bush, couldn’t bring myself to write as is but write about things indirectly, and not stating exactly what I mean…might be for fearing that they might lose face, one day this way of thinking has to change.
One of the things that I admire about the westerners is their ability to tell you how they feel, assuming that if you were to ask to borrow money from a friend, and s/he can’t help you, s/he would come straight out and say, ‘sorry, I can’t help you because I don’t have that kind of money,’ and everything is cool and when you meet again, then it’s the normal greeting of hello and that little incident has not changed the relationship between the two of you.
Sadly, I can’t say that this holds true for Laotians, forget about borrowing money, from my own personal experience of the time that I lost my job over 10 years ago, I lost many friends, people tried to avoid me even when I ran into them at the supermarket. It’s as if I had a disease that looked obvious, and they made me feel like I had one that was highly contagious. I just lost my job, which in today’s economy is very normal. I often wonder why they treated me that way; I guess they were afraid that I might borrow money from them. That was a wake up call for me, this is how many relationships are based on, friendship with conditions, it was something new to me, but as I got older and met more Laotians, I’m beginning to see the trend that friendship comes with conditions.
I often wonder about how the Laotians deal with situations, that we can’t be straight forward and honest about our feelings, we often say ‘good’ knowingly that it’s ‘awful,’ is this our way of showing respect? I think for some Laotians it is, but to me it’s not. I think respecting someone is a matter of what we feel, many times we don’t have much control over our feelings, either we respect that person or not, or we might feel indifference because we weren’t sure of how we feel at the time. I can’t say that every persons that I met are worthy of respect, to blindly show respect is a backward way of thinking that has got to change, no wonder progress is very slow among our people, our community, we can’t be honest about our feeling for fear of losing face. Is this just amongst the Laotian community or it’s the Asians?