Saturday, January 26, 2013

reflections of a well respected guava

I am a guava in Thailand.  Foreigners, especially Americans, are referred to as "farangs", a Thai word for guava.  It is said with respect.  As much respect as a traveling guava might get.  I am treated very well here.  I have learned a lot.  And have many questions.  And I answered many questions from the students from the dozen or so countries that I have met.

Why doesn't America release Burma from all of the economic sanctions.  The Burmese students answer the question in a way that Hillary Clinton was too politic to answer.   It is because they are not free.  Yet.  They are optimistic that the process that has begun will be successful.  In about 15 years, they say.  A long process they admit, but freedom takes time.  I have not met citizens of any country with more pride and hope for its future than those of Burma.

My Nigerian students ask why do the American media portray Nigeria as a country wholly consumed with civil war and the bombings that serve as evidence of such a war?  Nigerian students speak with pride about their country.  There are divisions and troubles and prejudice, they admit.  There is also peace in much of the country, a strong culture and an articulate people.

Why does America portray Somalia as the land of pirates and starvation?  The pirates and terrorists are a small percentage of the population.  Somalia has a strong culture and a strong people.  Simple respect would be appreciated.

My Muslim student from Thailand answers my dopey questions about her religion.  I get to admit to her the very much that I don't know about her religion.  She is glad to share since it is her belief that once I understand her religion that the next natural step is that I will want to join her religion.  We compared and contrasted our religions, Judaism and Islam.  We share much and also differ significantly.  She asked why Americans think that she and all her Islamic friends are all terrorists.  I truthfully tell her that not all Americans think all Muslims are alike.  I tell her it is just the ignorant ones.  

She says that watching American media, how could Americans come to any other conclusion except that they are all terrorists?  A fair question and I have no answer.

The person from Bhutan is proud of her country that consistently rates among the ten happiest countries in the world.  She is proud to share literature from her national airline.  The overly complex English sentences included in the magazine tells me that her country does not look down on those that read about it. They lift them up with articulate, though overly complex sentences.  It is also a country that wants tourists but will not sacrifice the safety of its treasured natural resources just to accommodate a few more tourists. Very wise people.  It is a beautiful country.

My Zambian student does not talk about her country that much.  I do know that she is 19 years old and has written a novel and keeps a blog with tips for young women on how to stay safe.  Based on all the people I now know from Zambia, it is a remarkable place.  Victoria Falls, according to those that have visited the Zambian treasure, is worth the trip all by itself.

I ask, to no one in particular, why can't all Americans learn about these and other countries?  Why do American media have to define countries and religions by the acts of a few?  The first answer is that I have been given the gift of meeting these people through my travels to Thailand.  The second answer is also easy.  

Friday, January 25, 2013

Watching America From Afar--part 2

Here in Bangkok, my students from Asia, Europe, Canada and Africa asked me about things they see trending on Yahoo.  I can only do an eye roll and explain...that I can't explain.  I can only apologize.  And then I explain the eye roll video.

Thanks to Yahoo, I relearned that people can read nonverbal behavior, particularly that of Michelle Obama.  I learned that a blogger can draw conclusions about what certain nonverbal behavior  is reacting to, though the blogger is utterly ignorant of the context of the reaction.

Video from the inaugural luncheon shows Michelle Obama doing an eye roll after Speaker of the House Boehner says something.  We can not hear what the Speaker said.  Maybe he was talking basketball and Michelle may be tired of talking basketball.  Maybe the Speaker was saying that gays should only be allowed to marry aardvarks.  We don't know.  But her eye roll video went viral and trended number one on Yahoo.  How sad.

I learned a new word today. Photobomb.  Bill Clinton can be seen supposedly gawking at Kelly Clarkson during the inauguration.  Nice to know Bill Clinton can still recognize a pretty girl when he sees one.  And knowing he still knows one when he sees one makes me.....quite shallow, actually.

With all the important things that President Obama said during the inauguration speech, so many are focusing on the trivial.  It is easy to understand the trivial.  Journalists do not have to analyze and provide context to the trivial.  And nobody ever accused Yahoo of challenging its readers to new ideas.

There is so much to talk about as the President laid out his hopes for a second term.  And intelligent people can debate those priorities.  If such debate is going on, it will not be via Yahoo. 
It makes me sad to see what the priorities are of people searching the internet.  It is hard for me to explain to my students.  Picture me doing an eye roll.  Because I am.   

Monday, January 14, 2013

Watching America From Afar...

Watching America from afar is fun.  Watching CNN international in Bangkok and staying updated via internet while spending days with students from a bunch of different countries is fascinating.  A great perspective change.  CNN in America covers politics. CNN International  It's a very nice change.  Here is some of what else I have learned so far:

For one thing, America, let's not get too cocky about how cool we are.  According to Reporters Without Borders  rankings of countries by degree of press freedom, the USA ranks 47th out of 179 countries. (Why can't we be actually cool like Canada in tenth place?) 

Some other notes I gathered in my travels in Bangkok:
--A young lady from Iran wants to know why American media focus on the Iranian president when the actual power in Iran resides in its religious leaders.
--Young people from Burma tell me that through the extraordinary work of Aung San Suu Kyi, the country is on the rise but still very much a work in progress.  The Burmese media are sources of amusement, though not sources of facts.
--Some Canadian and British nationals say that socialized medicine is not perfect--but it works very well and they don't understand the American issues regarding health care reform.
--A charming young woman from Bhutan taught me two things:  the country of Bhutan exists and it is has been ranked the 6th happiest country in the world. (United States is merely average among the happy countries of the world.) 

Finally, why is Piers Morgan doing whatever he does?  Intelligent debate about gun control is necessary.  He is not capable of carrying such on such a debate or interview or apparently any other journalistic endeavor.  His "questions"--and "questions" needs to be in quotes--seems to be rattling off statistics that he wants opponents of gun control to acknowledge.  Piers, getting people to acknowledge a statistic is as useful as getting people to agree the flu makes you sick.  Develop points of view, debate perspectives... oh, c'mon Piers, you have actually made me miss Larry King.

This is some of what I have observed in Thailand while watching America from afar.  America is great.  With some hard work by our journalists helping us understand our world a bit better, we can definitely be greater.