Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Be open-minded

The other day, I had an interesting conversation with Thomas, a German gentleman living in Saigon. He has been a consultant in many different industries. (His blog)

He has been living in Asia and hopes to continue to do so for a long time toward the future. Although he is a German national, he says that he is not too keen on mingling with the German community in Saigon. His mind is more international-oriented and he hopes to have more international friends, not only German ones.

I felt empathy with his statement. When an expatriate community becomes introvert, its ethnicity gets even more condensed than that of their motherland. German expatriate communities become more German than the society in Germany, and Japanese expatriate communities become more Japanese than the society in Japan. This is probably because these people try to overcome fear of living in an alien land by clinging to their own ethnic community.

That's the exact reason why I feel reluctant to dive deep into the heart of the Japanese community in Saigon. While, according to Thomas, the size of Saigon's German community is about 500, the Japanese community here is said to be much larger with the size 5,000. However, many of them do not understand much of foreign languages, either English or Vietnamese. When they don't speak a foreign language, how can they effectively communicate with local Vietnamese people and expatriates here? It is natural for them to just stay inside the Japanese community and form a dense and complicated web of human relationships there. It would resemble a small village in ancient times.

I think we need balance. Having friends from the same ethnic group can be comfortable. But if you wish to have a more exciting life, you need to take some risk and go beyond the complacency. We should be more open-minded and embrace different thoughts of people with different backgrounds.


Kampuchea Crossings said...

i've observed that asians (particularly japanese, chinese, koreans) more than western nationalities tend to cloister themselves in gated communities and group trips for socialising, here in phnom penh. others seem to just form "cliques" and have their routine joints (French bars, English pubs, German beer joints etc..).
becoming more "japanese" or "german" i guess is a side effect to these. forms the basis for the locals' stereotypes of the different foreigner groups.

Eiji Sakai a.k.a. elm200 said...

Hi Kampuchea Crossings.

Thank you for your interesting observation.
I agree with you. Asians tend to form more closed communities.

One reason would be language barriers.While most Westerners speak more than acceptable English, many of these Asian people can't speak sufficient English to communicate with other nationals.

Another reason would be that the formation of Asian communities can involve numerous social protocols which vary from community to community. You have to obey a set of complicated social protocols to be considered "decent" in an Asian community. Therefore, Asian people don't feel comfortable with mingling with outsiders who do not know or abide by these rules.

Kenji Oh said...

I felt kind of the same way from your statement "Be open-minded". I tend to like communicating with people who have different background culturally from me. I think the number of those kind people are increasing. Recently, I could find some articles and blog entries mentioning a statement like yours. Among the people I found, you are the most interesting one who insists this kind of statements (importance of english for Japanese, etc.), anyway.

I think a number of the people who are open-minded are increasing or it's getting easier to find the people like you, using internet. It means that the way to think about globalization is changing in some part of japanese even if it only got easier to find. An apparent number is important for influence in many cases.