When the nail sticks out

rants, raves and randomness

When in Asia

I was away for practically a month. Here are some fantastic pictures to make you salivate —

The Philippines. My Home break

When in Asia

When in Asia. My home break : Baler, Aurora 

When in Asia

When in Asia. Surf Competition at Cemento Reef, Baler, Aurora


When in Asia

When in Asia. Super Tree at night,  Singapore

When in Asia

When in Asia. View of Marina Bay Sands, Singapore

Sri Lanka

When in Asia

When in Asia. Buddhist Temple, Weligama, Sri Lanka.

When in Asia

When in Asia. Coconut farm, Midigama, Sri Lanka. 

When in Asia

When in Asia. Stick Fishermen at Coconut Farm, Midigama, Sri Lanka.

When in Asia

When in Asia. Rivermouth in Weligama.

Sri Lanka is the first country I have traveled to in South Asia – and the very first country I have visited in such a looong time, my 18th country. (So screw me, I count.)  I turned 3x- and I thought I should do something different for a change. Do something adventurous again. Explore a new place. Meet new people. Surf new waters. Get out of my comfort zone (cough*Baler*cough).

I learned a lot. I look at my pictures one week before and one week after Sri Lanka – and it’s amazing how I seem to have changed in a span of few days. Damn, I haven’t fallen in love with another country since Italy! It’s crazy how much richer I feel despite my depleted bank account.

Not everything turned out as I wanted unfortunately. Traveling is a hit and miss thing. I was with another female surf-crazy traveler  I met online. It didn’t end well- it was her first time in Asia. To make a long story short, we had different values and outlook, about life, love and surfing. I lost her as a friend, sadly. But I gained deeper insights about myself, about being Filipino, about being Asian..

To those traveling to Asia for the first time:

When in Asia

1)  Understand that in many cases, we Asians won’t tell you outright what we think. We’re not confrontational

My friend had a problem with me because I couldn’t give her my two cents. Not about a behavior I didn’t like. Not about her conduct at home. For her part, she had a problem understanding why I didn’t tell her; and when I finally told her, accepting that it was the truth.  Surely, if it bothered me so much, why not just come out and say something? To add to that, no one in our Sri Lankan host family took it to themselves to lecture her about what was considered “impolite” or “rude”, even  “improper” in a typical Sri Lankan household.   For her, it was, plain and simple : “If I’m doing something I shouldn’, tell me now.” For me, it was, “Makuha ka sa tingin! Feel it in the air!” And even if anyone was being offensive, my first strategy would be to stay out of that person’s way, instead of confronting him or her. Why? Because it’s. Just. So. Stressful. (Besides, it isn’t my place to tell a grown woman- a woman older than me-  how to act)

Westerners prefer to get issues out in the open, stating the problem and how they’d like to see it resolved.  People don’t expect their logically constructed arguments to be taken personally. Often, they describe problems as violations of rights and hold one another accountable for fixing them. In fact, they consider such behavior “professional.” But that same approach is an anathema throughout East Asia, where the overriding impulse is to work behind the scenes through third parties to resolve conflicts, all the while maintaining harmony and preserving relationships. When there is no third party to intervene, the professional approach to confrontation is to subtly draw attention to concerns through stories or metaphors, placing the onus on the other person or group to recognize the problem and decide how to respond. To convey disapproval, an East Asian might say, “That could be difficult,” without explaining why.


In avoiding direct confrontation, East Asians can appear to Westerners as unresponsive or even passive-aggressive.  At the same time, Westerners who confront directly may come across to East Asians as aggressive and disruptive to traditional status hierarchies. And neither side recognizes its unintentional affront to the business relationship. The result of all this? Discord that could have been resolved escalates into a major conflict in which everyone stands to lose: Deals and long-term business relationships fall apart. Take, for instance, the now-defunct joint venture between French-owned Danone and Chinese owned Wahaha. Based on the results of an internal audit,  majority owner Danone publicly accused the head of Wahaha—and his family— of siphoning off $100 million from the JV. That direct confrontation was followed by an epic corporate battle that ended, after years of public and legal fights, with the dissolution of the joint venture.

Brett, Jeanne. Behfar Kristin. Sanchez-Burks Jefffrey. Harvard Business Reivew. How to Argue Across Cultures. December 4, 2013. Web. March 4, 2014.  < https:// hbr. org/ 2013/ 12/ how- to- argue- across- cultures/>

2) Be sensitive to body language, tones and gestures

What we don’t communicate in words, we communicate by other means. Look at our body language, the gestures, the subtle frowns and gentle smiles. Even if the person says yes, look out for other signs that may say otherwise. Even if you don’t speak the language, it doesn’t take a genius to guess how people feel about things. Before I moved out of my host family, I saw my host mother’s frown at my friend hanging out in her son’s room. It lasted a fraction of a second – but  I caught it. Distaste. Disapproval. I had to ask another local about girlfriends-and-boyfriends and the rules of banging at home, to make sure I wasn’t imagining things. (I wasn’t)

It also helps to be familiar with cultural body speaks. In Japan, there’ this constant bobbing of the head that doesn’t mean the person agrees, but rather the person is listening. In Sri Lanka, like India, they have some particular headshakes :

Remember, some people can understand English more than they can speak. We can answer using body speak instead of words. Read between the lines. Observe our body language. Feel the atmosphere.

3) We can’t help it if we don’t see objects separately 

In the Philippines, pakikisama is the keyword; something I’m (still) extremely bad at but continuously trying to learn. In Japan, your relationships with everyone at your company can mean your failure or success in the corporate world.

When in Asia

When in Asia. Don’t like drinking with the boss? No promotion for you. From Rocket News 24.

Like in Japan and in the Philippines,  Sri Lankans are also very relationship-focused. They care about  what their family, their friends and their neighbors may think. They respect lines and boundaries – such as not stealing someone’s customer. Or hitting on someone else’s girl. To preserve relationships, I saw struggling locals gave tips to  workers generously (which impressed me, tbh).

Here’s an interesting excerpt from Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind :

The WEIRDer (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic) you are, the more you see a world full of separate objects, rather than relationships. 

It has long been reported that Westerners have a more independent and autonomous concept of the self than do East Asians.  For example, when asked to write twenty statements beginning with the words “I am…,” Americans are likely to list their own internal psychological characteristics (happy, outgoing, interested in jazz) whereas East Asians are more likely to list their roles and relationships (a son, a husband, an employee of Fujitsu)

The differences run deep; even visual perception is affected. In what is known as the framed-line task, you are shown a square with a line drawn inside it. You then turn the page and see an empty square that is larger or smaller than the original square. Your task is to draw a line that is the same as the line you saw on the previous page, either in absolute terms (same number of centimeters, ignore the new frame) or in relative terms (same proportion relative to the frame). Westerners, and particularly Americans excel at the absolute task, because they see the line as an independent object in the first place and stored it separately in memory. East Asians, in contrast, outperform Americans at the relative task, because they automatically perceived and remembered the relationship among the parts.

Related to this difference in perception is a difference in thinking style. Most people think holistically (seeing the whole context and the relationships among parts), but WEIRD people think more analytically (detaching the focal object from its context, assigning it to a category, and then assuming that what’s true about the category is true about the object).

Haidt, Jonathan. The Righteous Mind. Why good people are divided by politics and relgion. Page 113

4) We cannot change our ways to accommodate you – even if we are hospitable.

We like that people are interested in our culture. And that you’ve come all this way to see our country! But there’s a limit to our hospitality. Some of our ways are down there, in the subconscious level- and we aren’t even aware of it.  We cannot just, one day, be feminists and believe in women empowerment. Or become  relentlessly aggressive to get what we want. Or even become confrontational to suit you. We can’t change at a moment’s notice – like you can’t, either.

5) You cannot judge us by your standards.

Just because we live with our parents doesn’t mean we are a bunch of useless, debt-ridden, unmotivated, parasite singles. For all you know, we can be paying our share of household utilities or rent. Or that we are living with our parents at our their request.

Or just because we work pulling riksha  on our backs means we are kawawa for doing “undignified” work.

When in Asia

When in Asia. Jinriksha. Image from the internet.

Don’t feel sorry for us. Who knows? We are probably enjoying our job.

Or just because it was an arranged marriage, that we are extremely unfortunate and unhappy. Remember why the Taj Mahal was built?

When in Asia

When in Asia. Taj Mahal. Image from the internet.

Take note : there is not one set of moral standards that apply to all countries and cultures.  You cannot look at things through your Western lenses all the time. Try to be relative.  With all that said, you may think we are full of bullsh*t, but remember there are many things that have worked in East  that failed in the West. (Yes, the Philippines is an exemption, I know!) Asia is a wonderful place and I am quite happy to be in it. Peace.

When in Asia. Asia is a wonderful place and I am happy to be in it.

When in Asia. Asia is a wonderful place and I am happy to be in it. Look!

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This entry was posted on March 4, 2015 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , .
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