Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The depth of my ignorance is deplorable.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

In preparation for our trip to Cambodia several months ago, I read Maurice Glaize’s Guide to the Angkor Monuments, which succinctly describes the origins of the Khmer:

Established since prehistoric times in the lower Mekong valley of the southern Indo-Chinese peninsula that included not only present day Cambodia but also Cochinchina and parts of Siam and Laos, they were in fact a mixture - from an ethnological rather than a linguistic point of view - of people from lower Burma and various barbarous people from the annamitic chain, themselves in turn quite probably deriving from Negroid and Indonesian roots. The Indian contribution apparently resulted from a natural expansion towards the east for commercial, civil and religious reasons rather than for any brutal political motivation.

As I was reading the passage, it dawned on me how unaware I was about our Asian neighbors. I know nothing about them. The depth of my ignorance is deplorable.

How is it that I know more about American culture – from its pop stars and TV shows to its literature - than that of the countries that the Philippines is supposed to share a common ancestry and geographical region with? How is it that I can vividly recall the story of Remus and Romulus and the birth of Rome but not the reign of the kingdom of Siam and the decline and fall of the Khmer empire? Why do I know the myth or Sisyphus, but not the epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata? How come I know more about the Holocaust but not Pol Pot’s killing fields? My lack of knowledge about such things brings me guilt and shame.

Except for the Chinese whose culture has penetrated our everyday lives and the Koreans and Japanese who have invaded Philippine pop culture, our Asian neighbors are not within our immediate consciousness. Whatever cursory knowledge we have about their culture and how it links with our own is learned only in school (if it’s even taught at all) and easily forgotten. Our culture and educational system has been saturated by Western ideas and standards that there is no space left for that which is Asian.

It is only when we go to a foreign country that we identify ourselves as Asians. As Filipinos in our own country, we do not have an Asian identity or an Asian consciousness. We never identify ourselves with the Thai, the Vietnamese, the Lao, with Cambodians, Sri Lankans and Malaysians; and it’s only when we go to an Asian country and we are mistaken for a local that we realize how similar we are to our neighbors.

We are from Asia but have neither become nor thought of ourselves as Asians. How shameful. How sad.

5 comments:

witsandnuts said...

I'm guilty about this, too. The wake up call for me came when I went overseas for work. Other nationalities would mistake me for a Chinese, Japanese or Nepali. Then I would be asked how different we are from them and how to properly identify each. Ayan tuloy, napilitan akong pag aralan. =)

Kayni said...

I don't know, but I've always been aware that I am Asian and that my roots are Filipino. I've always been proud to talk about our culture to Americans and Europeans and other Asians as well. Attending university here, I made sure to take a subject in Asian History every semester. I guess being away from the Philippines made me miss the country more and made me yearn to establish my own Asian-Filipino identity.

Angeli said...

you are among a few, kayni. as you said, your being away has prodded (if that's the right term) you to establish and articulate a Filipino-Asian identity. it's different for the rest of us who are guilty of ignorance.

but like what wits has done, we can still learn. :)

Artemis said...

sinabi mo Angeli!

as a history buff, I loved learning about our Asian neighbors' culture and history, but i also admit that as a History major, the History I mostly learned from school is very western biased... it was only when i did my M.A. in Japan that I learned about the "Look East Policy" being strongly espoused by Malaysia, Singapore, China and Japan.

This was also the reason why I preferred to travel around Asia (apart from being cheap, of course) where I visited most of the Asian historical and cultural landmarks.

..at akalain mo, invite invite daw ako magturo sa UPB eh, close naman sila sa mga makabagong idea. Sa demo, I mentioned to them about 'Chinese Politics' (Asian values, practical approach and not theory based, etc, etc..) as the new model and should be taught in schools replacing the western and theoretical approaches we've been using, tas walang naka-relate sa kanila.. isa lang! Either they could not tolerate new ideas or their age-old ideas were threatened... oh well, nag-rant tuloy ako...

anyway, yes we can do our individual roles to learn more about our Asian kins.. if you have found a sort of kinship with the Mainland Southeast Asians, I tell you, mas lalo na pagpunta mo sa Indonesia, parehong pareho tayo sa kanila.. In fact Visayan and Mindanao language are almost the same with Bahasa Indonesia. When I was there they insisted talking to me in bahasa, buti na lang nakaintindi ako kahit papano.

Angeli said...

all those similarities yet the 'look east policy' you mentioned has not become "fashionable" in the philippines, even in our own alma mater. our theoretical foundation is so steeped in the ideas of marx, freud, weber, etc that our classes merely glossed over eastern philosophy and like what you mentioned, 'chinese politics'. sa sds nga, we we tackled the social development issues of countries like tanzania, ghana, cote d'ivoire, but not a single reading was devoted to an asian country.

our travels to asian countries are partly for leisure and partly for education, too. :) kind of a field trip. haha

it is good to know that i am not alone in my sentiments. i think i would love to be a student of yours, artemis. :)

 
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