12 October, 2009

Australia is not Asia

Egged on by a reader after these two blog posts, I'll attempt to show you some ways in which Australia is not Asia. Emphasis on individual rights We've been surprised in Australia at how frequently we've received profuse apologies from various service providers when delays or incidents have impinged on our day. For example, when the doctor couldn't see us on time due to a previous patient's lengthy consultation or a librarian who wrestled with an unknown problem in checking out our books. The only explanation can be that there are a lot of consumers in Australia who are demanding their rights and are in a tremendous hurry. Japanese service providers do apologise in similar circumstances, but in contrast there is a lot more patience from consumers with delay. Less insistence in having their own way in a timely manner. Asians are certainly less vocal about their complaints. Road rage is also less of a problem in Asia. Relationships with one another Australians are very casual in this regard. I find myself calling my doctor by their first name. Many children are calling adults by their first names too. Aussies don't have much regard for status. Asians are much more status-aware. Conversations often begin with a lot of figuring out where you fit in relation with one another. Age, education, position are key points that change how you talk to another. No way would I call my doctor in Japan by anything but "sensei". Nor would I call anyone except very close friends anything but their surname. Japanese find it difficult to call me "Wendy". Education system East vs West is fairly clearly defined. West is focussed on understanding and processing material; "think for yourself" might be a motto of western education. Asians focus on being able to regurgitate the material. This is related to the high position that the teacher holds. Our of respect for the teacher, the students do not question what the teacher says. Switching school for our son in Japan emphasised this. Maths in the Japanese school focused on repetition hundreds of times. Maths in the western international school had a lot less repetition. The Asians who sent their kids to CAJ found this hard to grasp and accept. This is a key point that is probably disregarded when people say Australia is becoming Asian. Our education system is still very western. Immigrants will almost all put their kids into our schools and hence the second generation will be less Asian than their parents. Individualism vs group mentality Westerners value being individualism. "Do your own thing", "Don't be a door-mat" are two examples that demonstrate this. Asians are much more concerned with group harmony and not doing things that would disrupt this. They are also very concerned that people feel cared for and not left out. A good example of this is at Curves, the gym I use. Curves is international, but there are differences between the way an Australian Curves and a Japanese Curves look after their customers. In both countries you do a circuit of machines and recovery stations. In Japan you join onto the end of a line of people exercising and move around the machines as a group. In Australia you start the circuit wherever you want and usually Aussies try to keep a bit of a distance between each person. In Japan, if you are the only person exercising at that time there will always be a trainer with you, either exercising alongside you or talking to you. They feel it is too lonely to be doing it by yourself. I have done many circuits on my own in Australia, with very little attention from the trainer. Westerners often feel there are too many rules in Japan. We've found that many of the rules are in place so that everyone knows how to behave and is not embarrassed by doing something odd. The rules tell them how to conform to the group and that makes them comfortable (as much as it makes us uncomfortable). Privacy "An Englishman's home is his castle." Yes, in Australia too. Aussies need room to breathe. Children in a family very often have their own room. Coming back from Asia we are amazed at how big Australian homes are - and that people are usually planning to add more rooms. Many Asians live in heavily populated areas and their houses aren't big. They may never have the luxury of having space to call their own. Children in an average family probably will never have the opportunity to choose their own room's decor and have their own space. We had friends who had three children and lived in a two bedroom apartment. Their three children shared one room, the youngest sleeping in the spacious cupboard. But their place was quite western by comparison to many Japanese. Many families sleep with their children in the same bed/room until their kids are quite old (like middle primary age). I noticed another aspect of this in Manila. At the shopping centre we were followed around the shop by employees. The overwhelming feeling we had was, "Leave me alone, I'm Australian and need space." Asians, because of their lack of physical space find privacy within their own minds. No one can intrude there. Hence, the inscrutable Oriental. Directness Westerners are very direct in their approach. "What is the problem?" and "How do we fix it?" whereas Asians are more circular in their approach. I haven't gotten a handle on this one yet, to be honest! Well, there are just a few differences. Any comments? Disagreement? More examples? I know that others with more Asian experience read this blog - we'd welcome your input.


Laurie (and John) Elliot said...

Not direct?! Just depends on the subject and the region. Believe me, on some topics Tsugaru Jin are WAY MORE direct than they are in New England.

And as for individualism... as my husband loves to point out - none of the sports originating in Japan are team sports.

Wendy said...

What sort of subjects, Laurie? I know Tokyo-ites will ask about your age with less shame than an Australian.

Regards sports, yes those sports have come from Japan but they are very prescribed - heaps of rules. I wouldn't call them very individualistic sports.

But we have discussion going here folks. Feel free to contribute.

Ken Rolph said...

If you compare Australia, which is a single country, with Asia, which is not, it raises an interesting question. Are all Asians Asian?

I've often wondered if Filipinos, for example, are really Asian in the sense we are talking about.

Wendy said...

In answer to the last question, Ken, today I happened to run into colleagues who've been working in the Philippines for the last 14 years. They said Filipinos would call themselves SE Asians. Our friends have been in tribal regions in the south and said that the tribal peoples are probably closer to Melanasia/Polynesians. Of course the Philippines are very multi-ethinic with more than 150 languages spoken and have a number of non-ethnic backgrounds too, having had many colonists - Spanish, American and Japanese.