Thursday, February 14, 2008

February 14, 2008

So. I’m downstairs at the bar. (Nu Bliss has been recast as a sports bar.) I’m letting Sylvia, the building owner, know that we still don’t have any water, after not having any all day. Liverpool and Manchester City are playing on TV. Liverpool is like the Portland Trailblazers, they’re having a disappointing season with one of the best players in the league. I’m watching the game and making small talk with Steve the Scotsman and watching the game. Liverpool is down 1-0, and there is a play when they should’ve scored but missed a great opportunity. They zoom in on the guy who missed: dark skin, long black braids, with snow-white extensions interspersed – a true football star. I look at Steve the Scotsman and say something about how the guy shoulda had that one, hair must’ve gotten in his eyes. His only response was, “African.” He nods. “African,” he says again.

The only shocking thing about this is that Sarah and I hear this type of comment all the time here. I thought living the expat lifestyle would be full of tolerance and brotherly union across the race lines. Guess not. It seems bad experiences while traveling gives you ammo and “knowledge” to talk trash and make sweeping, generalized statements about others.

From what I’ve seen in the small expat community here in Makassar, America looks like one of the most tolerant nations in the world. I know of some Australians, Scots and English who have a long way to go. Sarah and I have been told why you should never trust a Pakistani, an Indian, why you should never sell property to Aboriginal Australians, how only Muslim countries are filthy and poor, that “African-American” is just too much to say – whatever happened to “darkie?”

This is all for real. I’m not making any of this up. People actually said these things.

I had an argument with a co-worker about how even though you’ve met a few people from Pakistan who had lied and stole from you, you still cannot make an all-inclusive statement like “They’re liars and cheats” when someone is talking about their cricket team.

I have actually heard the words, “That’s why I wish the old colonial days would come back,” and “These people cannot run their own country. Bring back the Dutch.”

It doesn’t stop there. A student’s poor class performance was first blamed on his (supposed) homosexuality. The lesbians of Makassar have been pointed out to me like rare tropical birds. And if you’re a single bule in Indonesia and not out playing the game in the clubs every weekend… well, you’re most probably gay. What other explanation could there be?

Seriously. I’m not exaggerating here, people. And then it continues with America bashing…

The guy who wished us a “Happy Chinky New Year” called American football “one of those horrible sports no one cares about.” Then I actually had to listen to a debate in the teachers room one day about whether the Moon Landing was real or not. (How was the flag blowing in the breeze on the moon? one asked.) And if it did in fact happen what was the point? To hit a golf ball, collect some rocks and say the U.S. beat the Russians there? Really. I listened to all this. And I really couldn’t tell how serious they were. When I was little, my Mom would’ve told me they were just jealous. I mean, when we think of European technology we think of nice luxury cars, the guillotine and the cuckoo clock. OK. Maybe they discovered penicillin or something over there. I’ll give them that.

Portland may be full of do-gooders and feel-good liberalism, but I’ll take a slice of that over having to hear about how anyone but a (straight and white) European would fail at anything they’d ever try. Of course, racism and bigotry still exist in the U.S. It took us years longer than most countries to ban slavery after all. But we have come such a long a way in such a short time. Is there any other government that has anything close to Brown v. the Board of Education and the wave of change that followed?

Does this mean I think America is the greatest country in the world? The simple answer is no. The longer answer is that every country and every culture has infinite possibilities of intricate, efficient, complex and rich systems of living. And America does too. We gave the world jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, baseball, the Monroe Doctrine, Moby-Dick, Star Wars, the inspiration of the Civil Rights Movement, the cotton gin, and the light bulb. We’re not just a bunch of bullies and ill-informed morons. Don’t forget we have two former presidents who have won the Nobel Prize for Peace (Jimmy Carter and Teddy Roosevelt).

You’re welcome, world. Sorry if we get a little too excited sometimes – even, yes, arrogant. But America has given more opportunities to us than most countries could promise.

(I still want to travel all of Europe someday, by the way.)

1 comment:

A Knutson said...

Go Peter!!! It's interesting to see how your perspective is influenced by your cross-cultural experience. I couldn't see you defending America's merit at home in Portland. I'm enjoying reading about your and Sarah's experiences.