Archives For culture

Brats Abroad

August 22, 2016 — 1 Comment

Never having been an athlete, or anything talented enough to represent my country in the world arena, I can only imagine the privilege and honour.

I did though grow up abroad and was raised with an inherent understanding that, while I might have considered myself African or Asian in outlook at times, I was actually Anglo-Australian. I was a guest in another country and therefore my behaviour reflected not only on myself and my parents but also my passport country. I also understood, when I reached my teens, that undisciplined behavior could result in my father’s work permit being rescinded. Was it an onerous charge? No, of course not. It was considered accepting the responsibility which accompanies privilege.

Back in those dark old days I and my friends were unflatteringly known, and it has to be said in the main unfairly, as expat brats. Ruth Hill Useem’s descriptor, TCK (Third Culture Kid), used to described children brought up in a society or culture not their own, was used only in the hallowed halls of academia.

There were of course some who did deserve the monicker, but it must be remembered they were children. Closer inspection usually found a parent who had embraced a sense of entitlement which spilled over to their offspring. A dismal lack of parenting which resulted in unpleasant and unruly children which often led to arrogant teens.

Not so Ryan Lochte. At 32, one would have hoped the American swimmer had outgrown any inclination for misbehaviour of any kind, anywhere. He has represented his country at four Olympic games, and has garnered through hard work and dedication an impressive array of hardware – individual and team. What an accomplishment. How sad to tarnish such a panoply of gold, silver and bronze.

I can only imagine the adrenaline rush of competing in front of the world, and the accompanying drop after the event. Winning or losing. That does not however excuse his appalling actions in Rio. Or that of Jack Conger, Gunnar Bentz or Jimmy Feigen – his three cohorts ranging in age from 20 to 26. Vandalising and pissing not only on the walls of a petrol station but on their host country, not to mention their home country. Their utter lack of respect for anything, not least themselves, is worthy of all the public condemnation and disgust being heaped on them.

Speedo have dropped their sponsorship of Lochte, rescinding $50,000 of his fee which will instead go to Save the Children in Brazil. Jimmy Feigen reached a deal wherein he donated $11,000 to one of Rio’s favelas. Little is being said about the other two. I assume other sponsoring organisations will also decide not to link their products with this quartet of crass and callow youths and men.

Their story is reminiscent of another young American, Michael Fay, who back in 1994 as a privileged 18 year old expatriate living in Singapore was sentenced to six lashes and four months imprisonment for spray painting a judge’s car. His punishment caused an outcry in the United States, garnering even the attention of then President Clinton. Lashing may seem barbaric to those of us coddled in western mores, but the reality is that when a guest in a foreign country we are beholden to their laws. Fay was indeed an expat brat.

The vast majority of young men and women who go abroad whether for sport, academics, or for the sheer joy of travel are respectful. Do accept the responsibility of privilege. Learn through their exposure to different cultures. But as always it is the shenanigans of a few who have sullied – certainly for the US team – what turned out to be a relatively incident-free Olympic Games.

Perhaps for Ryan Lochte, the pressure to compete with someone as successful as Michael Phelps, was too much. Perhaps the knowledge that his swimming days were possibly over was too much. Whatever the underlying reasons he has certainly damaged his chances of representing his country again, and he led three others into the same quagmire.

How sad for him. How sad for his parents to whom he also lied. How sad for all of them. But Lochte and his fellow vandals deserve the label – Brats Abroad!

Lost, One Culture

August 1, 2016 — 1 Comment

August in Texas is hot. Cumulus clusters float like candy floss across lapis skies. The beauty is as intense as the heat. A cloudburst delivers a brief respite – rain bouncing off the hard ground of the southern prairies in hard pellets.

Entering the gIMG_1801ates of the Mission San José y San Miguel de Aguayo just south of San Antonio, Texas, the seventh most populated city in the United States, it is easy to imagine the plaza filled with Franciscan friars, soldiers and men, women and children living their lives predominantly within the confines of the mission walls.

Pincered between the more aggressive nomadic Lipan Apaches from the North and by colonists from Spain eager to increase their footprint in the New World, those men, women and children were members of the hunter-gatherer tribes, known collectively as Coahuiltecans (Kwa-weel-tekens). Funded by Spain when prospects of riches north of the Rio Grande faded, the missions became the driver for the spread of Catholicism, though they did little to limit the spread of foreign disease.

Our screens today are filled with images of forced migrations – peoples fleeing war, genocide, politics and poverty. Some make it eventually to countries willing to share the burden of refugees, others spend years, sometime decades, in camps initially built to be temporary. Many have fled with few possessions, but in their souls they carry their culture – the essence of who they are.

With the years, particularly if the country resettled in is of an entirely different culture, the home culture becomes diluted. Becomes a marriage of cultures, a blending of mores. And yet high days and holidays are still celebrated, perhaps without the exact ingredients, but near enough to satisfy our instinct to recognize and belong. Over generations those cultures become evermore diluted until we are left with sometimes just the merest hint of our ancestry – a darker skin, an almond-shaped eye, or with words alone. I am German American. I am Chinese American, and so on. It has been a slow iterative process, which is occasionally reversed through sheer will and determination of a man or woman many generations removed – but that original culture can never be wholly reclaimed. Think Kwanzaa, celebrating an African heritage and created by Maulana Karenga in 1966–67 for African Americans. (See blog Dec 31st, 2010)

Imagine then the intensity of culture change for the Coalhuiltecans who, driven by the fear of bows and arrows from the North and European diseases from the South, placed their fate in the benign hands of men like Friar Antonio Margil de Jesús, founder of the Mission San José.

The five missions along the San Antonio River, all modeled on Spanish villages, gave protection from marauders but not disease. Many died. But their story is not decades in the making. Rather it is one of willing subjugation. By entering the mission gates, the Coalhuiltecans, in exchange for refuge gave up not just a way of life but dialects, religious practices – an entire culture disappearing essentially overnight.

From hunter gatherer, at one with the seasons, carrying supplies in intricately made baskets in their search of food, they became Catholic neophytes living by a bell pealing around the walled missions. Mass three times a day. Spanish and Latin became their language. In exchange for their freedom, skills were taught and the Coalhuiltecans became weavers, carpenters, masons, blacksmiths, farmers and soldiers.

Wandering around the plaza, ducking into the Indian living quarters, taking in the quiet beauty of the mission church, a limestone edifice built in the Spanish colonial Baroque style begun in 1768 when the mission was home to 350 Indians, there is a serenity I had not expected.

My thoughts jumped to modern-day camps, enclosed by razor wire, but built essentially to protect, or maybe to contain, the many, many thousands of inhabitants fleeing persecution. I doubt my descendants will walk those camps with a sense of peace, even though cultures may not have not been lost.

And I doubt there will be remarkable innovations left for future generations. Like the series of dams and aqueducts – the acequia system – which irrigated fields surrounding the missions with waters from the San Antonio River. A system still supplying farms today.

For some Coalhuiltecans the strictures of a prescribed life were too great, and they returned to their former way of living, only to die from the original threats. Lost, one culture. For those who remained a new culture evolved and became the bedrock of the Tejano. I am Mexcian American.

The August heat on the southern Texas prairies is intense. But rain will fall, to be collected in dams built under the auspices of Franciscan friars. What, I wonder, will be the legacy of our camps today? What will be the essence of the culture these refugees carry?

When I began writing a blog, I was advised by my publisher, to stick to one area. To become a pro. My realm of so-called expertise was to be expatriation – the good, the better and the best, as well as the occasional blip. As many people have learnt over the years, I don’t always take advice. And so, six years after starting this writing gig, I have covered many topics, often though with recurrent themes.

Guns have been an ongoing discussion – Get Your Glock Here (April 2012), Language and Guns (Jan 2013), Bang, Bang You’re Dead (Oct 2015), The American A & G Debate (Oct 2015) and today.

It’s been a dreadful year, and it’s only July. 2016 might well go down in the annals of US history as, in H.M. the Queen’s words, an annus horribilis. Guns, guns and more guns. Shootings on the streets, on college campuses, in night clubs, schools, shopping malls and private homes. Murder everywhere. All colours. All faiths. All people.

And yet there are still no adequate measures in place in America to control the purchase of guns and ammunition. If anything, the stridency of the pro-gun lobby becomes more vociferous. The President has been stymied at every turn. At every memorial service or funeral he attends, whether civilian, soldier, policeman or child, his anger, and I think his shame, is evident for all to see. Anger is easy to understand. And the shame is not his alone. It should be shared nationwide. By every American citizen, no matter colour, faith or political leaning.

There are federal gun laws dating back to 1934 to do with taxing manufacturers, or promising not to pass along guns to baddies, or over state lines, or increasing the minimum age for buying a handgun to 21. The Gun-Free School Zones Act in 1990 is self-explanatory – but as universities and colleges are called schools in America, I’m a bit hazy on the ins and outs of that. The 1993 Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act required background checks “on most firearm purchasers, depending on seller and venue.” Why ‘most’? Why not ‘all’? Then in 2004 the law expired on the Federal Assault Weapons Ban – something which beggars belief.

In 2005 the poor old firearms manufacturers and licensed dealers were deemed not liable should a crime be committed with one of their products. That little piece of legislation was called the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act.

But where, I ask you, are the safe guards for you and me? Particularly in states wherein ‘open carry laws’ prevail? Texas is one of them, and where from August 1st, 2016 it will be permissible to carry handguns on college campuses. Gun-free zones will be allowed, which I’m sure relieves many parents sending their children off to college. I just wonder how students will navigate the areas between those zones – the much larger areas where guns are permitted.

How can it be sensible to encourage young men and women, some at a volatile stage in their life anyway, to carry a weapon to class? There seems, sometimes, to be a disconnect between what we see on the screens of our computers and televisions to what actually happens when a gun is fired. People, invariably innocent, die or are horribly maimed.

We hear the cacophonous sounds from gun proponents that good people carrying guns can stop bad people from shooting at us. Bollocks! And, in slightly less colourful language, a growing number of police chiefs around the country are agreeing. David Brown, the Dallas Police Chief, said after the dreadful shooting of five police officers, “… it’s increasingly challenging when people have AR-15s slung over their shoulder and they’re in a crowd. We don’t know who the good guy is versus the bad guy when everyone starts shooting.”

Guns shops and shows are advertised in the daily newspapers, often offering free financing or free interest. I could go out today and purchase a Smith & Wesson M&P15 “Sport II” with an adjustable stock and A2 sights, a forward assist flash suppressor and a 30 round magazine for $699.97. Now call me naive, but what sort of sportsman needs a 30 round magazine to shoot a deer – one that has probably been enticed with feed. That, my friends, is not sport.

So many people who should not have guns, who have slipped through the very holey safety nets, have them. How can it possibly be alright, for example, for those with a record of domestic abuse to retain their firearm license? Yet another loophole in the gun laws.

I have not heard or read one single instance of those in favour of more stringent gun controls demanding the banning of all guns. No one is asking for a rewrite of the Second Amendment to the US Constitution. Just common sense regulations.

Maybe I did take heed of my publisher, after all. There is a theme, albeit a number of them. I do not though profess to be an expert on guns or the control of them, merely a concerned citizen appalled at the needless deaths of innocent men, women and children.

Absorbing Cultures

January 15, 2016 — 1 Comment

Culture, a word with various meanings. My copy of the Shorter OED, once we get past the cultivation of bugs in petri dishes, defines it as, “the training and refinement of mind, tastes, and manners; the condition of being thus trained and refined; the intellectual side of civilization.” No mention of “ideas, customs, and social behavior of a particular people or society”, which is how an online dictionary interprets the word.

For those of us who have spent large swathes of our lives roaming the globe, living in other cultures, there is often a subliminal absorption of those cultures. Foreign words become part of our family lexicon, not through affectation as some of our more sedentary friends and family might assume, but because they are an audible part of our life wherever we happen to be living. I grew up with words like cukup and tidak, Malay words for Continue Reading…

Last week I spent two days with a man, let’s call him Esteban. He was crew lead for a removal company. I was on hand for any last-minute queries about my friend’s goods and chattels, she having already departed the US.

We walked around the house, me pointing out the red dots on items not to be packed. Later, as standing before a pile of buff-coloured paper he wrapped plates, bowls, cups and saucers, we started chatting. He worked carefully and diligently as I sat, idle, at a table and chairs liberally splattered with red dots.

Esteban was from, er let’s pick Honduras, and had arrived in the US when he was seventeen. I did not ask how he arrived, though from his skimming of the details I gathered it was an illegal entry. I assume, if it was, he was one of the lucky ones not fleeced by Continue Reading…