Wednesday, January 11, 2012

I've Always Felt a Little Bit Asian

To this day, the smell of rice fresh from the cooker reminds me of summer days spent at the Nguyen’s. With four kids all around the same age, their house offered the action I was seeking in my youth. I spent a full week at their house once simply because at the end of each day of playing post office, making friendship bracelets, or watching Summer School starring Mark Harmon for the 43rd time, I still wanted more.

Each summer, my extended family also smuggled me into IBM family day for a glorious day of free food and awesome rides. One might find it curious that a Vietnamese family would adopt a pale, white girl, but I guess you never know - and the lax authorities never questioned it. We’d return home, and Little Mommy Minh would serve up fried wontons and “salty meat". I’d happily scarf it down with a ton of white rice as my pal, Khiem, opted for American fare. “This is where I was meant to be”, I thought.

In college, I was in the Asian Student Association, not because I was particularly interested in Asian issues, and I wasn’t obsessed with Asian culture in that skinny-nerdy-white-guy-with-glasses-who-ends-up-with-an-Asian-wife kind of way. I ended up there because my friends, Hoa and Alex, would always invite me to the events which oftentimes involved free food and volleyball on the lawn. Who could refuse? Eventually, I found myself on the ASA volleyball intramural team and attending most of the outings (I mean, who doesn’t like dim sum?). I did, however, have to draw the line when I was asked to run for officer because I was one of the few members who actually showed up to events. Sorry to let you down, Don.

The point of all this is I grew up with some warped stereotypes - one being that all Asians are nice. I mean all Asians I met were nice. Seemed to me like a pretty logical conclusion to draw. I am only realizing now that in my youth I would always go out of my way to befriend the Asian kid. With the white kids, it was always a crap shoot, but the Asian kids were a particular brand of cool.

Imagine my surprise when watching an episode of “21 Jump Street” and Harry Ioki found himself going undercover in a Vietnamese gang that was up to no good. How could this be? Asian bad guys?! Lho (expression of disbelief)! Rocked my world. Then in high school, getting snubbed by a childhood friend, Neel Parekh, in the cafeteria really confirmed it.

“Hmm, could it be that generalizations are bad?” I thought to myself.

But even after these hard-hitting lessons, I still do it. My world is only as big as what I see or experience or what I choose to believe from what is told to me. Anything outside of that really gets sticky. Heck, even the stuff I see and experience is iffy.

Oh, Indonesia is big, you say? I see. Oh, and diverse? Sure I buy that, but it makes a difference when you actually get out and see sedikit (a little) more of it. I am in my little village blogging on about “what Indonesia is like”, and, turns out, I really have no idea. Sorry about that, folks. Check your mailboxes in upcoming weeks for a full refund.

And, I mean, how am I supposed to proceed here? I can't say anything is Indonesian, or even Javanese, for that matter. Can I even say East Javanese? Meh (shaking head). It is like reporting on "Indonesian culture" from the vantage point of...of...well...that guy in "My Cousin Vinny" who claimed he saw Ralph Macchio robbing the Sack O' Suds only after getting a glimpse through his crud-covered windows blocked by a bunch of trees. What would America look like if you heard stories and saw pictures solely from the postage stamp-sized piece of acreage known as the the village of Wappingers? Or maybe from Dearborn, Michigan (which, incidentally, is home to America's largest Muslim population)? Pret-ty different, I'd say.

I knew Bali was Hindu in contrast to my current Muslim home, but after emerging from my East Java cocoon for the first time in 9 months, I was struck by the blatant tank-top wearing, the amount of temples (usually at least 3 per desa), the plethora of dogs everywhere (dogs can be a "no no" for some Muslims and are rare in my village), the availability of pork products (pigs also a "no no"), and the lack of mosques or a call to prayer. A whole new world.

I am anxious now to get out and sample more of this Indonesian buffet. In due time.

Anyhoo – here are some pics from a recent trip to Bali with some fellow volunteers. This event is also momentous as it commemorates the second Fitzgerald (of the Wappingers Falls Fitzgeralds) to set foot on Indonesian soil. There is now a plaque at Denpasar airport. To find it, go past those beefy Australian boys wearing the tight, white tank tops, take a left at the Russian guy swearing and yelling at all of the ticketing staff, and if you hit the American couple speaking loudly to their Balinese taxi driver who speaks perfect English, you’ve gone too far. 

I mean, I guess not all generalizations are bad, right?
Absolut Vodka bottles getting filled with bensin, or gasoline, to sell.


1 comment:

  1. I'm so happy you got a picture of the vodka bottles as gasoline containers...also our Bali pose turned out pretty nice if I do say so myself! Thanks for posting all the pics!