Asia is Different from Canada

by Johnny Lucas

Don't lick the stamps in Thailand, don't chew gum in Singapore, don't plan a New Year's party in Bali, don't bring a household gift for your friends in Hong Kong, and don't take a bath in Japan if you are not already clean. It's a different part of the world over there, a lot of what we take for granted here just "does not compute" on the Pacific Rim.

Just as we can't imagine the why of not licking the stamps (although they do have glue on the back) people over there can't imagine why we're not excited about a soup made of "the entrails of some cow" or why we would ever want to get even a moderate tan. And if you get by those ones and are Canadian, try explaining to a Thai just who Queen Elizabeth is and what she's doing on our coins.

If you can visit any of these countries and not discover things you never imagined could exist, if you don't come away with a fresh perspective on "normal" life at home, then you've spent all your time at the Hilton coffee shop and should be ashamed of yourself.

In the global village, these countries that we are tempted to think of as impossibly distant and too exotic to be understood are lie less than 24 hours from our front doors. Once we get there we see that they are full of people who, for all their differences really want to be friends.

One of the most dramatic cultural differences travellers notice proves to be a big embarrassment for us Canadians. Hospitality to strangers is a such strong tradition on the Pacific Rim that people there are more welcoming to "Our Most Honourable Guests", as the Japanese put it, than we are in Canada.

So why not lick those stamps? In Thailand most stamps have the likeness of the greatly-revered king on them and licking them is considered a sign of disrespect. Chewing gum is all but outlawed in Singapore where there's a $100 fine for littering. Most Hong Kong households are too small to accommodate another item. Japanese make sure they are clean before getting into the communal baths for a long soak (and as a Westerner you had better make sure you are very clean). At New Year the Balinese custom is to stay inside and keep as quiet as possible all day in the hopes that evil spirits will assume the place is deserted and leave the island.

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Page maintained by Johnny Lucas, © J.P.Lucas. Created: June 24, 1996 Updated: January 11, 1997