Wednesday, February 25, 2009


If one wishes to have a less biased look at American culture, I recommend living somewhere else for a while. As the influences from my home country gradually fade--some more than others--from my daily life, I find what used to be overlooked aspects of life in America suddenly revealing. On today's Yahoo home page, these were the top four "news" stories: "The Biggest Loser" trainer can't stop crying about something that happened on the show; Paula Abdul objects to the 4th judge added to "American Idol"; A mystery has been solved about a transparent fish; and Tiger Woods has a big return to competition. Further down the list were President Obama's plan for health care reform and his call for Wall Street reform.

If one looks at the popular press, it would appear that Americans are obsessed with celebrity worship and funny videos. This escapism has reached a high--or low, depending on how one views it--point in our times. I reflect now on how little I noticed it when I lived surrounded by the culture; it was simply backgound noise that was easy to tune out. Sometimes I long for connection to cable television, but most of the time I am happy to not be bombarded with irrelevant pieces of information interspersed with a lot of people trying to sell me things I don't need. I figure that if there is something really of importance happening, I will hear about it.

Meanwhile I am happy to live in a rich cultural mix, of traditional customs intertwined with the new: Water buffalo being herded across our paths as we leave the school; Comical English subtitles on pirated DVDs; Traditional Thai dancing near night clubs with loud techno-pop pulsating from huge speakers; A multitude of languages washing over me as I walk through the school grounds; Crowded weekend markets across the street from sparkling clean air conditioned supermarkets; Familiar car brands with unfamiliar model names; Cricket and Thai boxing making headlines, and the NFL on page seven of the sports section; Gleaming Palm Springs-style homes close to corrugated tin shanties with roaming chickens; Dogs sleeping undisturbed in the middle of the street; Swift, quiet elevated trains rolling across the city as vendors in flip flops and straw hats walk below, bamboo yokes across their shoulders, their baskets filled with fruit or eggs; Hollywood blockbusters sold out in huge movie theaters. In this interesting country, life is never the same day to day.

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