Friday, May 23, 2008

Thoughts on the Future


A few months ago at a party somewhere on Sukhumvit road in Bangkok, a forty something Australian woman told me that the west has no culture or at least nothing interesting culturally. We've been down this road before so let's just agree that there's a lot to disagree with. Of course she could be right, I have never been to Australia, maybe it's a cultureless pit of despair. My Australian readers can educate me on this. In addition, she no longer liked Thailand as it's "too commercial" or something like that. She was heading off to Laos to suck it dry before her cultureless fellow citizens could get their greedy fangs into it.

The invective aside, it was around this time that I began to ponder my future food blogging once residing in my home country of America. Was my new acquaintance correct? Is there nothing culturally interesting and valuable left in the west? Must we head to some vaunted "exotic" locale to sample culture?

One of the more interesting and exciting things to me is the opportunity to explore the idea of America, and with that, American food. But this just begs the question of just what the hell America is? In a country where to be American, you need not fit a certain ethnic/cultural profile, the possibilities are nearly endless.

At one of the amazing ruins in Ayutthaya some months ago, E showed the lady at the ticket booth her Thailand Taxpayer Card which would often get us into national parks and other sights for the Thai price. E jokingly referred to us as "Thai people." Big mistake. The woman was angry and gave us a look that said, you are not nor will you ever be Thai people. She was right. A similar thing happened at the Grand Palace in Bangkok. Upon showing my taxpayer card, the guard played his trump card: a national identity card. I'll never have one of those nor do I want or need one. To see this incredible display of opulence in Bangkok (for a second time), I grudgingly paid the eight bucks.

On my flight from Bangkok over to Japan I was listening to a woman across the aisle speak Thai to our stewardess about what forms she might need to fill out upon arrival. I saw her pull out her passport and low and behold, she was an American citizen. The fact that I had actually forgotten that this is totally normal really surprised me. Maybe it seems insultingly obvious, but you can be both Ethnically Thai and an American citizen. Does it go the other way? Who is and who can be a Thai citizen? Upon my arrival at customs in Portland, Oregon, I was surrounded by American citizens speaking Russian, Spanish, Korean, and English. Everyone looked different and spoke different languages, but dammit they were Americans and it was actually kind of exciting.

America has veered to the right the last number of years, with outsiders increasingly looked at with suspicion and walls even being built to keep our southern neighbors out. Regardless of this, we are, and continue to be, a nation of immigrants, making it difficult to pin down a definition of who or what is genuinely American. When I was younger, much like my Australian acquaintance, I might have confused an evolving multi-cultural society for a cultureless one because it was just too hard to pin down and define. It may seem like a cliche to talk about America being a melting pot (tossed salad?), but now that I'm back home, it has never made better sense.

In closing, my blogging continues, but have no idea where it's going, and that sounds fine to me. I hope you agree.

5 comments:

Katie said...

I'm excited that you're going to continue blogging. Where ever the blogging goes, I know it will be interesting! I hope you're enjoying being back home.

Robyn said...

Random comments:
1) the woman you opened with sounds like an absolute idiot
2) I've also wondered what the heck I would ever blog abt if I returned to the US. Then while visiting my parents in NM, I came across something I'd never seen before: fresh green garbonzo beans, in the pod. In a Wal-Mart, of all places. (My photographer was, unfortunately, halfway around the world so you won't be reading abt them anytime soon.)
I think that blogging has made me more curious and observant in general, and everywhere - not just in Malaysia or Asia. If you're interested in what's around you, I think you can find stimulation no matter where you are.
That's what I felt after this last trip home, anyway.
3)There's lots not to love abt the US these days but, like you, every time I return I'm struck by its ethnic and cultural richness. Esp in comparison to most Asian, and alot of European/Western, nations. (It's one of Malaysia's attractions ... it's as close to an Asian mosaic - not melting pot - country as you're gonna get)
I'm also struck by - intolerant, xenophobic, far-right rhetoric aside - how generally open Americans are to outsiders.
4)Keep up the blogging, whether it gels into a 'theme' anytime soon or not. Looking forward to more posts...

And good luck with settling in.

a said...

Katie
Thanks. We'll see how interesting it gets.

Robyn
Thanks for the words of encouragement. It has been tough to decide how to proceed with this thing but certainly not for lack of material. I was wondering how many would stick around after shifting from silly Thai street snacks to somewhat broader topics. Then again, maybe I'll just stick to tacos in the East Bay. We shall see. Thanks for stopping by.

Robyn said...

East Bay! We used to live in Oakland and then Berkeley. Oh my goodness - have some Cheeseboard pizza for me. And find out if the Phoenix (Shattuck Ave) is still around (great fresh pasta and macaroons) and most importantly - if they still serve lunch weekdays.

a said...

Robyn
Thank you and do keep the recommendations coming! I have been meaning to try cheeseboard for some time now. Can't wait!