Have you ever just been going through the motions of your boring, every day life and all of a sudden you stop dead in your tracks and have this incredible epiphany? That’s been happening to me a lot lately.
Living abroad will do that to you. I think it’s because you end up spending a lot of time alone with your thoughts. I have friends and I’m incredibly busy but there’s still a large portion of my day that’s spent on trains or just wandering around by myself.
Or eating in restaurants alone.
The other day I ate a sea cucumber. It tasted exactly like how I would imagine a sea cucumber to taste, chewy and salty and exactly like the ocean. But this post isn’t about sea cucumbers.
I’ve never been a picky eater. One of my talents has been that I’ve always been able to eat (and enjoy) pretty much anything put in front of me. I never thought this was strange until a friend pressed me to name a food that I didn’t like. “Come on, there’s got to be something you don’t like. “
Honestly, there isn’t.
Sure, I’ll always prefer certain foods over others but there isn’t a single thing I’ve eaten to date that I’d say that I’d never eat again.
I think this comes down to trying to keep an open mind. Sometimes I’ll put a new food in my mouth and my taste buds will react in shock, as in “Oooh, I don’t know if this tastes good.” That’s when I’ll stop myself and ask: Is it really that this doesn’t taste good or is it that it’s just unfamiliar and different? If the Japanese (or Korean or French or whomever) like this, then I can like it too.
So that got me thinking. Can’t I apply this same theory to life abroad? Shouldn’t I be able to teach myself to withhold judgement and see this culture from a purely objective standpoint? Because everything that may strike me as negative, immoral or just plain wrong about Japan, isn’t wrong. It’s just different. It’s all rooted in perspective.
I think the example that illustrates this idea best is how different societies view dogs.
In the States, a dog is a cherished member of the family. Little Fido has feelings and thoughts and a soul. Family members arrange play dates for him, dress him up in the trendiest outfits and even take him to psychologists when he is depressed or anxious.
In Muslim societies, like Saudi Arabia for instance, a dog is viewed as unclean and not something you’d keep as a pet, welcome into your house or want near your children.
In parts of Korea and China, dogs are raised to be slaughtered for food and dog meat is an expensive delicacy. In some states in Nigeria, dogs are eaten for medicinal purposes.
So who’s view of the dog is the correct one? Who’s right?
No one is. Everyone is. It’s all dependent on your culture background; on values that were instilled in you long before you even knew the meaning of the word. And it all operates on a subconscious level, for the most part.
I’ve been trying very hard to keep this in mind in the last few days. And it’s helped. Tremendously. It takes a lot of work though and I don’t think I’ll ever be this completely tolerant, accepting and non-judgemental person. I still don’t like Japanese comedians or Disney-inspired fashion 99 percent of J-pop. But I’m continuing to try.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it solely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!