Cross-cultural issues (2)

For a few centuries, many of the nations of Europe had enjoyed controlling vast areas of the globe occupied by coloured peoples. Their newly-acquired superiority in armaments had enabled this result. A sad consequence was that there evolved a view, supported allegedly by certain academics in the eighteenth century, that white people are genetically superior to all others. The lessons of history were thus ignored.

In Australia, an admirable ambition was to create a nation of white people where no man would deny any kind of work – such was the egalitarian principle which underlay this hope (the indigene excepted, as elsewhere). At the beginning of the twentieth century, the White Australia policy was legislated. Although Australia had little to do with colonialism (except briefly in New Guinea), the people had come to hold views which were patently racist.

However, by mid-century, the independence of adjacent nations had led to a gradual lessening of the colour bar, initially by permitting the arrival of (mainly) British-educated Asian students. Although we spoke good English (my matriculation was from London University) and behaved properly, our very presence and our comportment discomfited many of the locals.

The explanation was quite simple. We were intruding into ‘white space’ (as enunciated by academics). We were also violating the prevailing ethos of the superior white man, through our clothing, assumed wealth, educated speech, visible indifference to public rudeness, and our non-combative response to discrimination. For instance, my father had taught me thus: If someone spits at you, do not retaliate. Move on, but do not turn the other cheek.

We were also of foreign faiths; the effort by so many to convert us to Christianity was testament. Our foods were frequently described as ‘foreign muck,’ with some querying our preference for spices. We used to add chili sauce to guest-house food and to take-away fish and chips, and pies.

My university’s student council even conducted a survey asking how the respondent would react were his sister to marry an Asian (or words to that effect). Even some of our Australian friends might say something like ‘I don’t want many more like you in my country, although you are OK.’ They had clearly forgotten how Australia had been acquired.

The underlying ‘them’ vs. ‘us’ viewpoint was also manifest against the sudden arrival of large numbers of war-displaced refugees and immigrant Europeans. Yet, the main differences brought into the country by the Europeans were their accents and their preference for more tasty foods, with better bread. Australian cuisine then was very British (thereby dreadful from an Asian perspective.)

It was obviously difficult for so many of the locals to have their life changed so much, so abruptly. Yet, their governments had to go down that path. Initially, it was to obtain able-bodied workers to develop the necessary infrastructure. Later it was to avoid unwanted tensions with the emerging nations of Asia.

The reverse culture shock to the young Asians was confusion and a lack of understanding of the antagonistic attitudes and behaviour directed at them. ‘What’s it all about?’ was my thought when I was targeted in a fashionable public arcade on a Saturday morning. It took us a while to understand the reasons for this unacceptable behaviour.

Strangely, few Malayans studying in Britain experienced comparable behaviour. (Snooty chaps are, however, unavoidable everywhere.) The British people are far more tolerant of coloured people and the cultures they represented.

The isolation of Australia was clearly a cause. The principal cause was undoubtedly the enduring relationship between white invader and indigene. Curiously, governments will promise, from to time, to ‘bridge the gap’ between their indigenes and the mainstream. But the them/us divide seems to have a certain durability.



Cross-cultural issues (1)

When people who had grown up or been acculturated in diverse environments come together, there may arise cultural tension, because of the manner in which human societies have developed over their histories. A strong distinction between ‘them’ and ‘us’ seems to be the basal layer of human relationships. What triggers these tensions?

Normally, one is born into a collective, and is sustained in that collective until maturity. Then one becomes one of the legs upholding that collective. In most of Asia, even modernised Asia, this collective is the extended family, in its various forms and traditions. In the Ultra-West, the modern nations of the West created in recent centuries by European migrants, the collective is the nuclear family. The boundary of the Asian extended family will include three generations. The boundary of the nuclear family of the Ultra-West is most unlikely to include even the grandparents.

The cultural underpinnings and traditions of the communalism of the East are quite clearly identified, and enforceable in a subtle manner. Those of the individualism of the West are somewhat amorphous, yet effectively coherent, and apparently binding without coercion (except in the matter of religious conformity).

The reality in both situations is that there is a sense of belonging to a ‘tribe,’ especially when the ‘elders’ of this tribe, the priests and politicians, work hard at keeping separate their collective from other collectives. This separation implies the exercise of power or the display of superiority, reflecting competition for resources, or minds and souls. Fanciful? Or a realistic perception?

Competition between groups (or tribes) of Primitive Man or hunter/gatherer or nomad would have been over resources. Shamans and other self-appointed priests and their subsequently developed institutions, and god kings, would have sought power (and probably wealth). Add tribal leaders, the politicians, and there could result that basal relationship between ‘them’ and ‘us.’

With the ending of colonial rule in India, Ceylon, and Malaya, young people from these countries entered Australia in the early post-war period with, as I observed, no prejudice against white people as a whole. I was certainly taught not to be anti-British, while remaining anti-colonial. We had grown up within extended families in multi-ethnic, multi-religious, and multi-cultural territories where mutual co-existence and tolerance were evident; and we were educated.

We were also adequately acculturated to be superbly confident about our historical and cultural heritage. We did not expect the treatment we received in those early days when we landed in Australia.

Why did so many of the host-people display oral prejudice and discriminate against us, apparently because of our skin colour? We were well-dressed, and spoke courteously, and in educated English?

Was that the trigger? After demolishing the cultures of the First Peoples of Australia, demoralising them, and pushing them into a dim background, and in spite of not having been a colonial ‘power’, was the Anglo-Aussie affronted by the presence of educated and confident middle-class coloured young people paying their way?



Cultures need not be competitive

Some years ago, childless couples in Australia were adopting babies from overseas. An Aussie woman opposed this practice. As she explained to the newspaper which published her letter, foreign babies bring ‘foreign cultures.’ The reality, of course, is that any foreign culture brought in would be in the baby’s nappy.

Culture refers to the ways humans behave consistently, traditionally; and the underlying values. I was brought up in a family and tribe of Hindus. Hence beef was not on the menu. We did not eat pork, although it was the main meat for our Chinese neighbours. We saw pork as hygienically unclean. Pork was not avoided because of religious beliefs, as with the Jewish faith and Islam.

During the racist White Australia era, Anglo-Australians complained about the odour of garlic, ginger, and curry spices used by Asian students in shared kitchens. The huge influx of Europeans soon stopped that. Young Aussies who had travelled overseas also took to Asian and European foods.

In the 1960s, I observed 2 young white Aussie girls buying from a food store owned by an Englishman the ingredients to be combined into curry powder. They knew exactly what they wanted. On the other hand, I bought a packet of imported curry powder. I had no idea of its ingredients. My mother had never told me; indeed, I had not been allowed into the kitchen.

Cuisine and clothing, as cultural markers, cross ethnic boundaries easily, in time. Prayer and associated religious rituals, while variable, are motivated by identical objectives – to seek succour from, and to express thanks to, God. Diversity in religious belief is not a barrier to close inter-cultural relations, as I have observed. Doctrine-bound priests may not agree.

In terms of day-to-day living, what differences in behaviour do we all display – wherever we are on the globe – which pose barriers to mutual tolerance inter-culturally?
British Malaya, with its ethno-tribal diversity during my development, was a multicultural nation-in-the-making. There was mutual tolerance, in spite of an original lack of a shared language. We lived our lives as guided by our respective cultures and, in time, through habituation, education, and some social interaction, became one people. Only politics can be a threat to social cohesion.

My own extended family includes Chinese, Malay, Indian, English, Burmese, Italian, and Anglo-Australian genes. We are the lamp-lighters to a new world based on a shared humanity, with any historical cultural tensions devoid of consequence.


When other people’s money runs out

Mrs. Margaret Thatcher, former British Prime Minister, said that socialism works well until other people’s money runs out (or words to that effect). In spite of my extended life in Australia (almost 7 decades as an adult), I do not believe that I have experienced (lived under) a socialist government. My exposure to the Australian polity ranges from White Australia (with its overt racism) to the current rule under Vaticanite social doctrines.

Although the Australian Labor Party (ALP) purportedly represented the working class, it has allowed generous tax concessions to the wealthy, and to powerful interests (especially the foreign-controlled mining industry). As a swinging voter, and thereby a political orphan, I am perpetually aware that our major political parties are akin to Tweedledum and Tweedledee in that wonderful story ‘Alice in the looking glass’. Changing places in Parliament makes little difference.

The cost of welfare payments is said to be rising. Eligibility seems to be widening. There are visibly wealthy senior citizens receiving some age pension (the cut-off point for couples is close to a million dollars). The disability pension (which pays about 25% more) appears to be easily exploited; I personally know 4 recipients who are not in any way disabled.

By retiring from the work force from about age 55 to 60, and living on one’s superannuation until retirement age, one could then live on the age pension until death. (Super is intended to be a replacement for the age pension.) The use-by date for men is now (Oct 2017) about 80; and for women about 84.

In the late 1980s, when asked about the policy implications of the proliferation of welfare eligibility – and how he proposed to deal with it – the responsible public official replied “I am too busy”!

With the political parties playing politics, were the responsible public officials to sit on their hands in the circumstances of the increasing casualisation of the workforce and falling union membership (about 12%), are those taxpayers who are unable to reduce their tax to be increasingly burdened? How long before the ‘camel’s back’ collapses?

Yet, there are increasing demands for widening welfare payments. In spite of a substantial intake of identified refugees, we are also asked to take more. It has also been suggested that welfare should enable a sustainable lifestyle. Worse still, that ridiculous concept of a ‘poverty line’ has re-surfaced. Under this definition, anyone whose income is below the median income (at the halfway mark) is in poverty; and therefore needs financial supplementation. How irresponsibly generous are those proponents of expropriation of other people’s hard-earned money!

The cost of welfare in October 2017 is reportedly $300,000 per minute or $430 million per day. The total lifetime bill for those receiving welfare benefits is estimated at $2.1 trillion. Furthermore, dole recipients are reported to be not attending interviews. Does anyone in office care?

Welfare is now based, not on need, but on a right; what about reciprocity? I read recently that a nation in Europe insists on reciprocity in relation to payments to refugees. Was I correct in believing during my youth that socialism is no different from communism – and to be fought in terms of a human right – the right not to subsidise those not in need?

My exposure to Hinduism In Bali

My tour guide in Bali was a Brahmin (a Balinese Brahmin). His Indian ancestor had arrived in the 9th Century. When he discovered that I am a Hindu, he was delighted. Everywhere we went, he introduced me as ‘Indu’! The responses were most pleasing. I was one of them.

We first observed a cremation. It was in the open – like the one for my father in Malaya. Whereas I and my relatives were required to turn away when the pyre was lit, here people watched. The presiding priest then left. He did not walk. He was carried on a palanquin by 4 men.

As he passed me, our eyes met. He could have been one of my relatives – by skin colour, shape and size of head. Was he a throwback to the first arrival?

On another day, we arrived at a temple. On one of the 2 pillars at the open gate, was a small basin with a little scoop. I was the only passenger who had exited the tourist bus with my guide. At the pillar, he took down the basin, filled the tiny scop with the water in the basin. I knew what to do. I cupped my right hand over my left, and received about a teaspoon of the water. As I sipped the water, I heard the collective gasp from the other occupants of the bus. I then reversed the process. My guide sipped the water and sprinkled the surplus water over his forehead, just as I had done with my tiny surplus.
To me, the water was holy water. It could do me no harm. And it did not.

One afternoon, we witnessed the Ramayana depicted in a hotel. It was similar to the display I had witnessed in Buddhist Thailand.

Then occurred that annual day when no Balinese worked or went out. The place was strangely peaceful. On another day, I witnessed the procession of women carrying baskets of fruit on their heads on their way to their temple.

It was clear that the Balinese Hindus are as religious as are the Indians and Ceylonese of my experience. After the re-invigoration of Hinduism by the great Shankara in the 8th Century, this faith seems to have absorbed Buddhism. This would mean that, as one looked up to God, one would also look laterally at co-created fellow-humans, and with compassion.

As one who feels, deep within his soul, that he has been a Muslim, and Jew, and Christian in my many past lives, I am pleased to be a Hindu in this life. Hinduism is a useful religion in its concepts and cosmology. It is the only religion to offer a coherent view on cosmology. Strangely, many speculative scientific cosmologists seem to be in tune with Hindu philosophers.

Where next? The significance of reincarnation is to be offered learning, preferably understanding, of all that is.

Hinduism in Southeast Asia (2)

These are further extracts from Wikipedia

Today, vibrant Hindu communities remain in Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Medan city of Indonesia and the Philippines mainly due to the presence of Indians, such as Tamil people, who migrated from the Indian sub-continent to Southeast Asia in past centuries.

One notably Southeast Asian aspect of Tamil Hinduism is the festival of Thaipusam, while other Hindu religious festivals such as Diwali are also well-observed by Hindus in the region. In Thailand and Cambodia, Thai and Khmer people practised Hindu rituals and traditions along with their Buddhist faith, and Hindu gods such as Brahma are still widely revered.

In Indonesia, it is not only people of Indian descent who practice Hinduism; Hinduism still survives as the major religion in Bali, where native Indonesians, the Balinese people, adheres to Agama Hindu Dharma, a variant of Hinduism derived from ancient Java-Bali Hindu traditions developed in the island for almost two millennia that often incorporates native spiritual elements.

Other than the Balinese, a small enclave of Javanese Hindu minorities are also can be found in Java, such as around Tengger mountain ranges near Bromo and Semeru volcanoes, Karanganyar Regency in Central Java, and near Prambanan, Yogyakarta.

Similarly, Hinduism is also found among the Cham minority in Southern Vietnam and Cambodia: just like the Javanese, the majority of them are Muslims but a minority are Hindu. In other parts of Indonesia, the term Hindu Dharma is often loosely used as umbrella category to identify native spiritual beliefs and indigenous religions such as Hindu Kaharingan professed by Dayak of Kalimantan.

The resurgence of Hinduism in Indonesia is occurring in all parts of the country. In the early 1970s, the Toraja people of Sulawesi were the first to be identified under the umbrella of ‘Hinduism’, followed by the Karo Batak of Sumatra in 1977 and the Ngaju Dayak of Kalimantan in 1980. In an unpublished report in 1999, the National Indonesian Bureau of Statistics admitted that around 100,000 she had officially converted or ‘reconverted’ from Islam to Hinduism over the previous two decades.[6] The Ministry of Religious Affairs, as of 2007 estimates there to be at least 10 million Hindus in Indonesia

The growth of Hinduism has been driven also by the famous Javanese prophesies of Sabdapalon and Jayabaya. Many recent converts to Hinduism had been members of the families of Sukarno’s PNI, and now support Megawati Sukarnoputri. This return to the ‘religion of Majapahit’ (Hinduism) is a matter of nationalist pride.

Next to Indonesian Balinese, today, the Balamon Cham are the only surviving native (non-Indic) Hindus in Southeast Asia. In Vietnam there are roughly 160,000 members of the Cham ethnic minority, majority of them adheres Hinduism while some are Muslims.[8] After centuries being dominated by Kinh (Vietnamese), today there are some effort to revive Cham culture.