Ideology of East meets West


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?


  1. They were avoiding you because they thought you are not in a talking mood since you lost your job. They were trying to respect your privacy. Well, I try to think that way.

    Happened to me too before. I know exactly what you mean. When I lost my job at WorldCom it was bad enough for me but my friend doing that to me too. 😦

    Nye Ginger you are Khone Lao and a true Buddhist. Probably more than any of the one that go to the temple all the time. (oh, I am not saying you don’t go to the temple regularly). I better stop now or I get myself deeper. 🙂

  2. Asians has all the same kind of qualities I suspect. It’s in our cultural values really. In most Filipino household, there are things that makes me itch sometimes. It’s the thing we called “norms”. Filipinos are expected by their neighbors to return favors whether these were asked for or not when it is needed or wanted.

  3. Dallas, I don’t think like you, I feel that many Laotians that I know in real life will not want to associate with me if I don’t have jobs, material things, etc, and that is one of the reasons why I don’t post my personal information such as education, profession or name. When I lost my job, that was when I needed friends the most but many seems to disappear and that’s how I know who my real friends are.

    K, one of the things about Asians that really bug me is that we were taught to be agreeable, and passive, even when we disagree or knowingly that it’s wrong; we were taught not to say anything. How will things improve if everything is good? I think most people don’t like criticism, and I personally don’t like it when people openly criticize me but there must be a good reason as to why they do, and I think we can decide for ourselves if there is something really wrong there and need improvement. If everything is good, there is no room for improvement…life as we all know is not perfect.

  4. I bet one day, some obscure scientist in a lab-in his basement perhaps-will announce to the world that he has found the gene that governs this type of ‘abnormal’ behavior. Or is it ‘abnormal’ at all?

    Sorry Ginger, I’ve been reading up a lot on how gene governs most things lately. I’m in the support of the fact that who we are today has both to do with ‘nature & nurture.’

    On the aspects of this “Lao-behavior, low qualities…” the blame is our culture…the way our parents were taught, who were taught by their parents, and so forth. However, there are some Lao family who do not fit this ‘behavior.’ Very few, but there are some. Just as there are Westerners who fit this ‘self-centered’ Lao-behavior ideology. Now who is to blame, or what is the blame? The blame can be the word ‘fear’ itself. Many things arise from this simple word. And remember, to un-learn something takes many generations. Yours & my ways of thingking are different from our parents or this ‘Eastern ideology,’ because of the place we have come to dwell now, and our ‘biology’ are better adapted to welcoming this new changes…so we can see this distinction, this ‘abnormal behavior’, and ask the question, ‘why?’ Why hang on to something that is a lie? I’m rambling…

    Remember, also, for us now, in this new place, there’s not much ‘fear’ or there’s a ‘new form of fear’ that we must consider. Those who are less able to change now will do so eventually, but slowly. Ginger, you answered it for ‘K’…’life as we all know is not perfect.’ We see the goods that need to be done, but we failed miserably trying to do them.

    I often wonder at times…that when we came into this world, we came with nothing, and that we will leave empty handed as well–materially speaking…why we store up so much things we cannot take?


  5. >>>“so we can see this distinction, this ‘abnormal behavior’, and ask the question, ‘why?’ Why hang on to something that is a lie? I’m rambling…”

    Hi Bob, I don’t know if it was an “abnormal behavior” because it seems like the norm in our culture, as for me to think differently would be considered abnormal behavior IMO, this I came to realize and accept. I think it’s a material world that we’re living in and material wealth measures our success which I feel that it’s a shallow way of looking at things, but you know as much as I do that this is how most Laotians perceive things, look at the people around you, people seem to know you if you drive a nice car, and living in a big fancy house. I often times wonder why some people have the need to show off and the only explanation that I could come up with is because of their insecurity, if they have a lot then people wouldn’t look down on them but at the end it doesn’t bring them true happiness because some actually go into debts to accumulate these so called (fake) wealth. I feel that true happiness comes from within, just as beauty comes from within.

  6. Hi, Ginger! I have to agree with you to a certain extent that many Lao people are materialistic . Bob is right when he says to blame it on our culture, but it makes me wonder also if moving to America has made Lao people more materialistic. Since we are able to make more money we can buy more so maybe that is to blame as well. It also could be that it is our “nature” to be greedy and that greediness is nurture throughout our younger years by our parents. It reminds me of Darwinism, survival of the fittest, but in some people’s case it’s more of survival of the greediest!

    Bob, I like what you said about coming into the world with nothing and when we leave we will have nothing so why kill ourselves in hording materialistic things. Yes, it’s nice to surround ourselves with pretty things and trinkets but it doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. I have seen too many people around me who are stressing themselves out trying to keep a lifestyle they can not afford and buying things to show off to others.

    Ginger, I am lucky that I have never lost any friends over material things. Yes, they have tease me and always ask me why I don’t get a bigger house or a better car when I can afford to even my parents bug me about that. It is hard for them to understand why, but I just laugh and tell them I am happy with what I have. I am “saving face” in my mind by not jumping into the materialistic race because I am being true to who I am and how I want to live my life.

  7. To begin, I would like to congratulate you, Ginger, for bringing up this topic for discussion. It’s a good beginning to address any problem(s) with such discussions that we see in our small ‘Asian community’ or where ever in life; but a discussion without any outcome is pointless and a waste of effort…to a degree. So the true question that arise now from this topic is, how do we rid ourselves of these desire to ‘possess and show off’ to others? How can we learn to be happy with less? To be thankful for the things we have, etc…and then to teach this to future generations. (And as the little skeptic in me always likes to put his ‘two cents in,’ as human, can this ever be achieved even after the realization?)

    What else can I say to ‘this idea of material possessions & accumulations?’ It is an irony in life that will always be overlooked. Irony how, you ask? From dust we came, and unto dust we go. Some say we accumulate them for the next generation, others just because they don’t want the guy next to them get it…aha, competition…but why? This part is mostly innate. The guy with the most money dies the richest…haha. I am for the most part the person who ‘accumulate for the next generation’ or do so that I may help out family members. I know that in my heart these things that I possess or may come to possess, I will never take with me…maybe the smiles and laughter of having help out, etc…

    Let me now clarify on the part about the ‘abnormal behavior,’ which I brought up on the last comment. You are right in that it is not ‘abnormal’; I was merely stating that we see this as being ‘abnormal.’ In fact, this type of ‘behavior’ is seen universally. In the Asian community, Lao in our case, people care tremendously about events that goes on in every day life; while in the West, there’s that Rhett Butler’s “Scarlett, I don’t give a damn.” So we see the differences in both cultures, upbringings, social & political systems, and the idea of ‘fear’ that is prevalence in all life…and this fear, fed by hunger & competition, will shape the way we act and do. Call it Darwinism like LT did or what you may; it is these structures and institutions that create and mode who we are today.

    Another point I like to bring up is that in the Western society, this same ideology happens on a grander scale. For example, we can see big corporations buying out smaller ones, jobs being sent oversea cause ‘big profits’ can be made this way, the way the laws are structured and re-structured throughout history to support those in power, scientist racing against one another to be the first author, to patent new ideas…the list goes on. In our Asian community, this same thing happens on smaller scale, on an ‘individual scale,’ …from parent to child, and among friends.

    So there we have it, ‘there is nothing new under the sun.’ Your realization of this ideology is good for your own understanding and observation. The change must now come from within you. I think this is where it counts the most if there is to be change. On the term with human community, to change and have a major impact, this change must start at the individual level. This is what has to be taught to younger and future generations. Learn to live with less, learn to share, to pass on a smile, to reach out…how ‘altruistic?’ There’s a lot of contradiction(s) in me. There’s a lesson here though…we can learn this idea…some will learn to live with less, while others will go on pursuing the same desire to attain all they can.

    Lastly, as you know Ginger, I have somewhat of a scientific background, so my understandings and viewpoints are quite different…to a degree. So I’ll leave with one lasting question: Can this ideology of just being happy with life, with being alive and breathing the clean air which is slowly disappearing, with this simple part of life ever be enough for mankind? After all, human being, as specie of endless imagination and dreams, will always have these yearning for discovery and creation. And through these discovery and creation, material things will be available within our mist. It is an irony upon irony. Enjoy!

    Hey! that’s my Ipod…don’t touch.

    The discussion we are having with this article can be pretty much linked to your other two articles: ‘Silence is Golden’ and ‘Different Characters.’

  8. Just tossing in a movie quote: “There’s no such thing as a mistake–life just goes on…”

    If you are looking for a great movie this holiday season, a definite ‘chick flick,’ but with excellent story & life’s lesson/message, try renting “Evening.” Or in your case, Ginger, the novel is also titled “Evening” and it’s by Susan Minot.

    I like films that have something to teach us about life. This movie contains such message, and is filled with Gatsby’s sense of romanticism.


  9. Bob, I think one of the main goals for most people is financial security or financial independence, as we all want this in life; I also want this, which I won’t deny. As I’ve mentioned before that many Laotians view expensive car, and huge house as being rich, but I view it differently. I see car as a transportation that will get me to places, therefore expensive car gives me the feeling of being wasteful. I see house as a shelter, and also a financial investment, if by chance I live in a big house, then it’s only because it’s a form of financial investment, unlike some Laotians that when they live in a big house, they became very arrogant and think that they are better, and look down on other Laotians, sometimes I wonder what give them the right to do so, (Bob, this I’m not referring to you, but I hope that you’ll never become this person.) We also have to ask ourselves if we are living above our means or are we spending more than what we’re making, if the answer is yes, then is it really necessary? As for your other points, let me sleep on it.

    Karmadiva, what you said, “…it makes me wonder also if moving to America has made Lao people more materialistic,” I think the answer is yes, and it makes me think that it’s because we came from a third world country which most of us were very poor, and when we accumulate a little wealth, we became somewhat arrogant, and it’s the first generation Laotians that feel this way, but this way of thinking will most likely pass down to the younger generations. I think that those that like to show off their so-called wealth are to compensate for their own insecurity because most that are wealthy don’t like to talk about their wealth IMO.

  10. Bob and Ginger, very stimulating conversation. It really has made me contemplative about what you both have said. First of all Bob I agree with what you said about humans as…”specie of endless imagination and dreams, will always have these yearning for discovery and creation. And through these discovery and creation, material things will be available within our mist”. The first thing I thought of is that because of our curiosity and imagination we have created many gadgets, technologies etc that has created this frenzy zombie like generations of people who are obsessed with buying and spending. Some people end up in so much debt because of Christmas that I find it unbelieveable. For example, I told my cousin that this Christmas I am not going to go crazy and buy my kids senseless toys or gifts just for the sake of them having a lot of things to open. Well, I actually kept my word because I thought about how they don’t really need a lot of things because they have enough. I asked her how did she do this Christmas if she had toned it down. She told me she bought her nine year old a lap top because she was tired of her daughter using her lab top. My response? I asked her if she was kidding me?! Even though her excuse is her daughter does extra credit work for school a lot and she uses the computer, I wasn’t convinced. I told my cousin, ” Come on now are you serious? She is only nine, she does not need a lab top!” As our conversation progress, she told me she was going to have to go find a full time job soon because they had been charging too much. I told her she needs to cut down and to remember our conversation about teaching our kids the value of money.

    Bob, I really believe we can teach the younger generations to be happy, thankful, and appreciative with what we have through our own actions. That means we as adults can’t be a hypocrite! We can’t tell our kids they can’t have this and that or they don’t need this or that then we ourselves go out there buying stuff like it is our last day on earth. My kids are 9 and 6 and even though my husband and I can afford to buy them what they want, we don’t. We make them earn it. They have to do chores and for each chores I put point values on it. Like cleaning their room is 50 points. We keep a log of the points they earn and then if they want something there is a reward board where they can trade in their points. For example, if they want to go to a movie it’s 100 points each. This method really works because it helps them learn the value of money. We all can live a good life without working ourselves to death. Bob, we can use our yearning for discovery and creation to find a different method of living our lives that is beneficial. That yearning for discovery and creation does not have to cost money! In fact there are so many things in life we can enjoy that is free like nature, creative activitites etc…Look at the amazing scientists during the scientific revolutions, the great thinkers of the Enlightment period… they use their brain to create art, music, inventions etc…

    By the way Bob, everybody should read the Great Gatsby so that can learn an important lesson: a decadent life is a wasteful life!I like what Nick realizes at the end according to Sparknotes: “Nick reflects that just as Gatsby’s dream of Daisy was corrupted by money and dishonesty, the American dream of happiness and individualism has disintegrated into the mere pursuit of wealth.” Ginger and Bob, do you think this is what has happened to some Laotian?

  11. I think being happy with what you have is on a personal level and can’t be preached or taught, the individual has to accept it him/herself as a way of life. I think the topic I originally addressed was “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?” Laotians can’t say what we meant for fearing that we might hurt other people’s feeling, or pretty much saving face and how will we improve the situation if everything is good, but now it’s turning into “Lao-behavior, low qualities…” which I think seems unfair to say this. My social circle might be more with Laotians and seeing more of Laotians way of doing things, but to be fair and open about the subject matter, I think it’s only human nature to like to show off, even doing it at whatever cost, it’s all about face. This holds true whether you are Laotians, Asians, or any other ethnicities. Some that have certain lifestyle can’t live down, it’s all about face, even if they have no money in their bank account, the majority of people are living the American dream, using plastic money, this holds true for many people, not just in the Laotian community.

    Take for instance, some doctors that make lots of money, since health maintenance organization (HMO) is paying less, but they have to live at certain lifestyle, which means a set amount of income. In order for them to make the same amount of income, they have to see more patients in the same amount of time. It’s all about money, seeing patients as number or viewing them in quantity, what about the quality of their work I sometime wonder. I actually saw this when my mom got very sick, instead of her regular doctor seeing her, they sent in an intern that was inexperienced, I guess how my mom felt at the time was not important because she was halfway gone.

    Most people will socialize in their own social circle, and of course it’s all about face, the doctor’s wife would want a mansion, a vacation home, luxury vehicle(s), even if they have to go into debt to accumulate all these material wealth. I would assume that Laotians that have a lot of material wealth, whether fake or not, would only want to socialize with their own social circle, then looking down on other Laotians would appear normal; it’s only human nature because they got more. I won’t talk about lying to the IRS to avoid paying tax because no matter how much they make, most would tell their tax preparer or CPA, “I don’t want to pay tax!”, this holds true for all races.

    As for me, I think differently…to me less is more; I value people on a personal level, not based on their material wealth. There is nothing wrong with competition, most entrepreneurs all want financial stability, but we must not forget that they also create job, create the stability for our future generation, and this goes for scientist, inventors, etc., I think competition is healthy as long as your are fair.

  12. Ginger, you are correct when you said it is up to the individual to decide what makes them happy, but as parents we can show our kids different forms of happiness and a lifestyle that does not fully involve materialistic things. Going on picnics, family trips, drawing, painting, reading, writing… those are all events that does not have to cost an arm and a leg to do. You just have to be creative about it. Our environment, upbringing, culture and personal preferences all affects our choices in life and how we live.

    I have to agree that many Laotians do not or can not be honest or are willing to share their points of view or voice their opinions on things. Yes, some are afraid to hurt others or some are trying to save face. I was raised in a household where my parents taught us to watch what we do and say around others because we did not want them to talk bad about us. To my parents, saving face was more important than self expression. A lot of Laotians are raised like this where we are constantly encourage to be aware of our self-image and our family’s reputation. This can be stifling and frustrating at times.

    I can understand about what you are saying about doctors and the quality of care we get. I too feel that sometimes doctors do not take the time to really listen to their patients because they have rooms full of patients to see. It makes me angry that they rush us through our appointments like they are in a race! How could they fully diagnose our conditions if they only see us for ten or fifteen minutes? The worst part is sometimes we have to wait for an hour to see them. Fortunately, after all these years I have a found a physician’s assistant that is the opposite of these other doctors. Yes, there are doctors who may feel that they have to see more patients to make money, but my little brother is different. I will tell you about him in my blog!:)

  13. Thank you for your interesting blog entry. On the subject of debt, it appears that voracious consumerism is a blanket that covers just about every cultural sub-group in the United States. It’s hard for anyone to avoid the siren song of “Buy, Buy, Buy!” and it’s just as hard to avoid amassing debt. And not just personal debt. Unfortunately, our lifestyle of consumption cannot be sustained by the planet. There aren’t enought natural resources to support this continued growth of consumerism. And who’ll pay the price? We’re paying it now as we deal with the effects of the drought in the Southeastern U.S., high fuel prices, a housing industry slump, and the overall credit crisis. Ultimately, our children and their children will bear the heaviest burden. This burden will transcend all cultural groups, although we should learn from each other the best ways of handling the stressful times to come. The Laotian American community has a lot to teach others about managing crises of various kinds, and other groups have a lot to teach Laotian Americans. I think it’s all about changing our mindset while respecting our heritage – no matter what our cultural background.

  14. Seiji and Laotian Teacher (aka Karmadiva), I personally think that our culture, upbringing, and environment play a role but the bottom line it is really the individual to decide for him/herself because you have to ask yourself, “when is it enough?” The Banking/Financial institution make it too easy for us to get money but the face and value of that money is not the same, really it’s the debt and if we don’t understand how things work, then they can really get us to borrow and before we know it, we dug a hole for ourselves, we become the money pits. We’ve to realize that the value of money is not the same, but to some it’s a quick fix and too easily accessible, and the banking institution really make us feel that it’s something that we need and it’s a smart move.

    For example, when I was younger, I used credit card, plastic money as if it was real money, and as I got older, I realized that there is no limit in what I want and to avoid having that easy access or one might call it the power of purchasing, I only have 1 or 2 credit cards for emergency usage or online purchases.

    I went to open a CD at a local bank not too long ago, and I had to fill out a questionnaire and it made me feel like I was taking out a mortgage loan to purchase a house at the time. She used that information to see if I would qualify for a loan (that I didn’t ask for), and went on and explained to me that I’m qualify for a loan, and wouldn’t it be nice to have money there if I ever need it, I don’t have to pay any interest until I start to use it, and also I can pay off my car loan, and buy the things that I really want and need. I think most people would think this is great, most of us are always in need for extra cash but the cost and value of that money is not the same. I looked at the lady and told her that I think I will tough it out for 1 more year as my car is almost paid off, I did all the hard work already because the first 2 or 3 years, I paid most of the interest on my car loan, and now I’m just paying the principal of the loan, I don’t see the point of starting over by having to pay the interest again. She looked at me as if I was stupid, but I really think that it’s the disappointment that she couldn’t suck me into taking out that loan, from the face value it would appear as if she was looking out for me, but in reality she was looking out for herself, the income that she would be getting on the commission of that loan is what I am thinking (correct me if I’m wrong here.) It would have cost me a lot more to pay off my car with that Loan, but she made it sounded so convincing that everyone is doing this and that I would be a fool to pass this great opportunity.

    I realized that we can’t use cash to buy everything but we should limit our credit card/borrowing money spending on big items such as car, house or business loan as these are considered reasonable and good debt IMO because it’s investment. For most of us, we learn from our own mistake and for others we learn from other people’s mistake, before I buy anything, I would ask myself “do I really need that?” and most of the time the answer is “NO.”

  15. Ginger, I do the same, I always ask myself that when it comes to purchases and services. Do I really new a new coat? Do I really have to pay fifty bucks to color my hair professionally while I can do it myself for 5 to 10 dollars? The answer is NO! It’s a choice! I want to get my house painted because it has been ten years since the last paint so I got an estimate and the guy tells me 985 for labor and material to paint an 1100 square home. Yes, for some people they will say that is a bargain, but I think about how I can do it myself for free and just buy the paint. I will also ask some of my students to come help me and pay them some money.

    I have seen too many around me become financially strap because they used so much plastic. Like I mentioned earlier, my cousin has to go get a full time job now while working on her Bachelors because she has become a victim of consumerism. This is very stressful for her and she keep telling me “I know I know!” when I tell her to not spend so much.

    It is very wise like you said to limit our money spending on big items and it is imperative to look at the loan rate for everything. I can not agree with you more when you said banks and companies out there make it so easy for us to fall into their trap. I compare the banks, credit companies etc to a venus flytrap! Once you fall in it is very difficult for you to climb out! Remember next time when they ask you at the stores: paper (money) or plastic (credit cards) always say paper!:)

  16. Commentors, I share your concern about consumer debt. I admire the way you are handling it. It scares me knowing that I could walk into a car dealership tomorrow and return home with a luxury car or SUV that I couldn’t afford and had no business buying. Just because you qualify for a large loan doesn’t mean you should take it. You are, in effect, buying money from the bank, right?

    When it was time for me to get a new car a couple of years ago, I decided I could afford only a modest, compact car. And I had two choices when it came to purchasing it: buy it outright or finance it. I came to the conclusion that it would actually be cheaper just to buy it outright. That’s what I did, and now, instead of making car payments to the bank, I make payments to myself to try to replenish my savings account.

    I used to pay for most things in cash. But with the price of gas and other goods going up, I’m simply not able to carry around a whole bunch of cash to pay for these things. Now I use plastic everywhere that I can and pay off the balance each month to avoid finance charges. But you know what? The clever (or sneaky) credit card companies are starting to shorten the monthly grace period for payments so they can collect more of those high late-payment fees. Wow, you really have to be vigilant!

  17. Laotian Teacher, painting is not hard at all, I’m a good painter and would help you paint your house but I’m just too far away (good excuse 😉 ); I think anything that we’re capable of doing it ourselves, it’s best that we do, my dad also taught us how to roofing, so I also know how to do that.

    Seiji, I think it’s difficult to carry cash around nowadays, I’ve direct deposit on my paycheck and it’s harder for me to get to the bank or ATM so I often use my debit card, it deducts out from my checking account, and I only make my purchase if I have cash in the bank, in a sense it’s still plastic but only for convenience. What really bugs me was the last time I was at Sam’s club, I’ve the store membership card that came with their credit card, and the lady asked me if I want cash back…cash back on a credit card? You have to be joking me, and I must have said it out loud, then she told me that people do it all the time. I normally get asked this question on my debit card but never thought that they also do it on the credit card as well. They just pave the way for us to live the great American dream.

  18. I think this conversation has gone on long enough…a year already! Seiji, I think you need to see a ‘plumber.’

    I believe with what Ginger had said on the idea of change coming from an individual basis; it takes an experience to teach a lesson now a day, not some wise saying by an old adage somewhere high in the mountain. Buddha for all we know was a prince by all means, and he gave it all up realizing that there must be another way. However, the world as a whole will simply keep moving as it has been for millennium…discovering, creating, and putting things on the table to tempt us. There has to be this mix of idealism.

    We’re borne with no knowledge of what is to come. We later attain what is known as ‘knowledge.’ This knowledge will be used differently by all. There will be agreement(s) between certain groups, and disagreement(s) among others. Life has to have this dynamic, this cycle of ups & downs. (I’m being rhetoric here.) So individualism must intertwine with the real world…learning, observing, partaking only what is necessary and teaching others to understand that to live beyond one’s mean is not the proper way toward the ‘noble truth.’ It is this simple, yet so many of us do not see it until we are old & gray. And at that point we realized this idea has to be taught, or it will go on & on.

    Laotian Teacher (LT), I like the fact that you brought up “The Great Gatsby” as a lesson to be learned from. I believe we can gain tremendous insights from reading these works left by great writers. (By the way, “The Great Gatsby” is one of my favorites of all time.) I love the way Fitzgerald opened up the book with Nick echoing the wisdom his father had passed down to him. Quote:

    “In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.

    “Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”

    He didn’t say any more, but we’ve always been unusually communicative in a reserved way, and I understood that he meant a great deal more than that. In consequence, I’m inclined to reserve all judgments, a habit that has opened up many curious natures to me and also made me the victim of not a few veteran bores. The abnormal mind is quick to detect and attach itself to this quality when it appears in a normal person….Reserving judgments is a matter of infinite hope. I am still a little afraid of missing something if I forget that, as my father snobbishly suggested, and I snobbishly repeat, a sense of the fundamental decencies is parceled out unequally at birth.”

    Nick is an excellent observer of human nature. We see what goes on in the world; and we rarely can change thing(s) or add on what we believe to be good. Just as the end of this story alludes to, and it just breaks my heart…for it confirms how little we can do. Quote:

    “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . And one fine morning——

    So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

    So we have it then, change will come once we learn it and understand it. It will start at the individual level & echoes its way slowly through time.

    To Seiji:
    “Great is the rape of the fair country
    To Botany Bay for my Great Grandfathers
    Deportation sailed…Great, great change in the fair country
    The future lies with the sons and daughters”

    What high hopes we place on future generations for change to come.

    I need an icon so I’ll have an identity. How can I get one?

  19. Bob, we indeed place high hopes on future generations. But as a utilitarian, John Stuart Mill would suggest that our actions today have a profound effect on happiness of our children. So we must therefore consider the moral implications of such actions.

    And thanks for the “plumber” comment, Bob. But have you seen their rates? Too expensive for me…

  20. >> It is this simple, yet so many of us do not see it until we are old & gray. And at that point we realized this idea has to be taught, or it will go on & on.

    Bob, I think great wisdom also comes when we’re at our lowest; I know it does for me.

    Bob and Seiji, thanks for such great comments, I think you two are born bloggers, might be about time to sign up. 😉

    >>I need an icon so I’ll have an identity. How can I get one?

    Bob, you can get one by signing up to blog at, or signing up with gravatar. Signing up for a account is FREE, and all that’s required is your email address. Once you’ve signed up you can upload your avatar image. I think for you, signing up with gravatar might be best, the avatar image is linked with your email address, which means you can use any user name and the (same) image will still show up, you can be Bob, or any other name.

  21. This is a good topic you’ve brought up Nye. As in any culture or society, there will be something both good and bad. In order to move forward, we have to sacrifice a few of them. The first one we can start with is exactly what you wrote “to blindly show respect is a backward way of thinking that has got to change.”

    You also wrote “….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?”

    In my experience, I have probably spent more time dealing with Westerners and other Asian then with Laotians. Other Asians are just as bad when it comes to “saving face”. They put pressure on their children to succeed both academically and financially. But not so much with my White American friends. Their parents are very supportive of them, and don’t pressure them to follow a certain path to success. Success is viewed as personal happiness rather then material accumulation of objects.

    Then again, this could be a “family” or “personal” issue and less of a race issue. And again, that is just my observation and contribution to this discussion.

    Have a great day!

  22. I just wanted to share this song from one of my favorite artist with y’all. I heard it this morning on my way to school. I know I had taken the article of ‘Ideology of East meets West’ beyond what it meant & broadened it to a general view of things. (Hope I am forgiven by it). I like looking at the ‘big picture.’ Hopefully this song will reinforce what I had commented on this great discussion presented here (so far) by Nye.

    “Motherland” by Natalie Merchant

    Where in hell can you go
    Far from the things that you know
    Far from the sprawl of concrete
    That keeps crawling its way
    About 1,000 miles a day?

    Take one last look behind
    Commit this to memory and mind
    Don’t miss this wasteland, this terrible place
    When you leave
    Keep your heart off your sleeve

    Motherland cradle me
    Close my eyes
    Lullaby me to sleep
    Keep me safe
    Lie with me
    Stay beside me
    Don’t go, don’t you go

    O, my five & dime queen
    Tell me what have you seen?
    The lust and the avarice
    The bottomless, the cavernous greed
    Is that what you see?

    Motherland cradle me
    Close my eyes
    Lullaby me to sleep
    Keep me safe
    Lie with me
    Stay beside me
    Don’t go

    It’s your happiness I want most of all
    And for that I’d do anything at all, o mercy me!
    If you want the best of it or the most of all
    If there’s anything I can do at all

    Now come on shot gun bride
    What makes me envy your life?
    Faceless, nameless, innocent, blameless and free,
    What’s that like to be?

    Motherland cradle me
    Close my eyes
    Lullaby me to sleep
    Keep me safe
    Lie with me
    Stay beside me
    Don’t go, don’t you go

    Natalie writes the majority of her songs. That’s what I like about her. She was formally with ’10,000 Maniacs’ as their singer then went off to solo career. 10,000 Maniacs has not been the same since she left them. Why I like her music? All aspects of her music simply come together for me, as music should as I come to understand IMO. I love her lyrics most of all, and her voice simply gets the meaning across.

    To put it short, this song’s main idea concerns with what we are doing to the environment…a comment brought in by Seiji as the consequence of our greed & continuous yearning for material things. The lyric, blend in with what we see in reality, bring a very haunting image to the mind of what will happen, or is happening. The second part where she speaks about the “five & dime queen” bring to mind Wal-Mart of all things. I think you know what I mean here.

    This is Natalie’s take on the song:
    “…the song is a desperate plea for innocence, to be ‘faceless, nameless, innocent, blameless and free,’ expresses a craving we all share now for the world we took for granted and lost. Suddenly there seems to be no hiding from our past as a nation or our present, or our future. For me it’s the death of nostalgia and dreams.”

    If you are interested in listening to the song, the link is below:



  23. Salat, I think it’s very odd that we were taught to show respect to those that clearly don’t deserve one, but just because they are older than we are, to me this is so wrong and a bit backward way of thinking. But for us to say things bluntly can come off as rude and it’s also not a good character to have, and maybe the teaching is not to show respect but more of keeping the peace because it is one of the main teaching of Buddhism. I agree with you that success is viewed as personal happiness rather then material accumulation of objects, but sadly many can’t see this.

  24. a wonderful post on the Asian mindset, my heart goes out to you because i also am under this deep unconscious influence that you describe, and im not even Asian bloded but have lived integrated in Thai society for a decade with only minimal contact with westerners, and the mindset seems to have permeated my being. I find your description of the psychological aspects of this line of thought and cultural influence on our behaviour and communication methods so very accurate and easy for the Non-Asian to understand. You have therefore made evident a very deeply rooted and interesting aspect of Asian Culture and psychology. This is Essntial to expose it in order to overcome it. I think this kind of self exposure is what an old Guru of mine would call “externalizing one’s own demons”.
    Thank you so much for this genial post and article.
    Spencer Littlewood

    • Hi Horus, thanks for your visit. It has been over a year since I wrote the post, and all that I’ve posted here still hold true for me. I think sometimes by speaking up, there is a good chance that you’ll lose a friend, but I think it’s necessary to do so if it bothers you. Most people don’t like to be criticized because they think they’re perfect, who are you to judge them? But people like that don’t improve themselves, when you’re perfect there is no room for improvement.

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