Monday, 19 May 2014

China , Taiwan - Not same same

If you are a Taiwanese company boss or worker , currently working in Vietnam, you deserve much sympathy and can be excused if you are bawling loudly. How unfair can the word get.

The background is this. China (Mainland China , that is) has been sabre rattling in the South China Sea and picking up a fight with every other country for the last two years now. In typical bully fashion, it is claiming almost the entire South China Sea as its own and pissing off Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam and God knows who else. Every so often it does a provocative act - the latest was that it started drilling in waters claimed by Vietnam.

The reaction from Vietnam was unexpectedly massive. Vietnam is also a Communist Party driven totalitarian state and nothing happens without government sanction. In a country that allows no dissent,  it allowed protests, including street protests against China. That triggered a mob response. Chinese factories in Vietnam were attacked, Chinese workers were assaulted and an orgy of looting has happened.

Wait a minute. Now where does Taiwan fit into this. The problem is that many "Chinese" factories in Vietnam are actually Taiwanese. The average Joe (or Nguyen) on the street can't differentiate between a mainland Chinese and a Taiwanese. So Taiwanese factories have been torched. Poor guys - they are pissed off at China's action too, but are instead getting targeted.

This is a world over problem of the average Joe being geographically and culturally challenged. Sikhs being mistaken for Muslims and attacked is an occasional occurrence in the US of A. Closer home, for a number of people , every South Indian is a Madrasi. And 99.9% of Indians can't differentiate a Naga from a Manipuri or a Khasi from a Bodo - so everybody is a "chinkie" - the worst insult to our brothers and sisters from the North East is the ignorant bumpkin asking them if they are Chinese or Indian.

In this globalised world, this sort of lack of awareness is just unacceptable. In the old days, when you pretty much lived in one place and met the same set of people, it just didn't matter. Now in a globalised world blissful ignorance is a recipe for disasters of the Vietnamese kind.

The responsibility is two fold. The locals need to make a special effort to understand and appreciate the cultures of the "foreigners" living amongst them. Equally the new comer should make an extra attempt to learn and appreciate the land he has come to and not live in the metaphorical ghetto. We are privileged to live in an era where  both travel and communication is possible on an unprecedented scale. Sitting on our bums, we can appreciate and gain from the fantastic diversity in cultures in the world. Diversity is a great boon to the human race - if we were all exactly the same, the race would have been wiped out long ago.

So, here's my plea to Nguyen. Invite Hsi from Taiwan and Xi from the mainland to your home. And go to the factory and stay with them to tell them that you would protect them when there is trouble, By all means, march to the Chinese embassy and protest for all you want if you don't like China's action. But go to China's embassy. Not Taiwan's.


gaurav jain said...

needless to say, it was a nice read. However I was expecting some wise words on the flavor of the season, i.e. the 2014 election results. Hope that will follow shortly.

Ramesh said...

@Gaurav - Thanks Gaurav. I try and steer clear of commenting on politics. Best that way as it tends to raise emotions and polarise readers. However, when they start economic initiatives, I'll comment loudly :):)

Deepa said...

This is as twisted as it can get. Having spent some time here now (US), I feel that this country at least is in the middle of a boiling process. It will eventually be inevitable for someone not to understand foreigners or remain isolated from the locals. In India, I feel we have been exposed to diversity since time immemorial, we are just too inert to change. We will be forced to change too, but the lack of will makes it a cumbersome process. Have you seen '2 states' (movie) by the way?

Sriram Khé said...

Hey, I might have blogged about my ignorance (well, what else do I display in my blogging, right?) and I know I have talked about this with lots of people ... might as well repeat it here.
(In the context of your words "the worst insult to our brothers and sisters from the North East is the ignorant bumpkin asking them if they are Chinese or Indian.")

So, back in 1982 or so. As always, I was early at the Madras Central Station, to take the overnight train to college. I struck up a conversation with another guy waiting for the train. He was about thirtyish. I asked him something like how long his visit in India was going to be.
He got pissed off. For all the right reasons. "I am from Assam" he said. The "ignorant bumpkin" I was.

Over the years, mistakes I have made in plenty. But, I like to think that I am learning from my mistakes.

As a private citizen the mistakes I make are, of course, different from the public errors such as the protests against ROC that you write about as against the PRC they wanted to throw stones at (is it ok to end the sentence with an "at"? hehe)

What is really really horrible is when the news media makes such errors, when they use file photos and videos of, say, protests in Nigeria and show that while covering a news story in South Africa. A friend here (yes, I do have a friend or two!) teaches a course on cross-cultural communication in which she addresses the kinds of ID issues you write about.

BTW, a big hi to "Nancy" who has shown up here after a long time ;)

Shachi said...

I have been the ignorant bumpkin way too many times while in India. Especially southern India. I could still be ignorant about the eastern states....I have unfortunately not read much about them or visited them.

At the global level - just like you point out, this is screwed up and needs to be fixed.

Ramesh said...

@Deepa - The US is the finest melting pot there is. Especially a place like New York. In fact, I would say that the only two really global cities in the world are New York and London.

Have heard of 2 states, but of course haven't seen it. Maybe I should, since it involves my alma mater I am told and something like the movie theme was happening there all the time.

@Sriram - We all make mistakes and I have made my own share of horrible ones. Given the diversity in the world, its practically impossible to appreciate every culture. We can, but , try and be sensitive. And use every opportunity to learn a bit more about a culture very different from our own.

The journalistic snafus happen far more often than we think. In 2008, when photos of police brutality in Tibet were flying around to urge people to boycott the Olympics, the Chinese were outraged because many of the photos weren't even of China - they pointed out so many cases of photos from Nepal, Laos, Vietnam, Korea, etc being bandied about as Tibetan !!!

@Shachi - Oh - its impossible to learn about everybody in India - we are just far too diverse. We can be sensitive - as you so wonderfully are. Despite having lived in Gujarat, I never appreciated the identities of Saurashtrians and Kutchis until I traveled there this year.

Deepa said...

@Ramesh- you have the option of reading the book too if the movie is going to be too much. And I have heard that the book is better (isn't it always). Why I asked was because it's a depiction of our stereotypical mindsets at its best.

@Sriram- big hi to you too. I am always around stalking this blog, just didn't leave a comment in a while. :)

Louisa Vendela said...

The locals need to make a special effort to understand and appreciate the cultures of the "foreigners" living amongst them.

The Million Miler said...

Ha Ha! Reminded of a curious incident with a Cabbie in Chicago. He looked Indian and hence asked him where from. He said Hyderabad. Immediately a conversation ensued (one sided from me) extolling the biryani at Paradise in Secunderabad, Famous Ice Cream at Nampally and Minerva Café in Somajiguda. After listening to a 15 minute monologue on the great eateries of HYD, the cabbie politely said - Bhai, there are two kinds of Hydreabads, I'm from the other one! The penny dropped then.

Ramesh said...

@Louisa - Completely agree. In fact I would say its even more important for the locals to make the foreigners welcome into their country by reaching out.

@Kiwi - Oh yes - Can easily happen. You could have mollified him by stating that Damadam Mast Qalandar was the best song in the world - any Sindhi would then be instantly mollified :)

Prats said...

I am speechless. China has been a bully all along I think only next one in line with America. This is indeed sad that because of the government actions private companies and citizens of a different country are getting adversely effected

Ramesh said...

@Prats - Yes, bullying comes naturally to China these days - they have forgotten Deng Xiaoping's exhortation to not display arrogance and power.

Sandhya Sriram said...

First of all, it is really sad that someone has to pay the price for someone else. just go to the 70s. no one in tamilnadu would learn Hindi because the politicians wouldnt allow them to, and how many tamilians go out of tamilnadu and struggle to speak Hindi and it has taken a generation to overcome this.

the consequences of someone's action impacting someone unconnected is the most sad part of today's world.

But i also feel insensitivity is not cultural. it is just a mass phenomena. just join the crowd and show your power. how many die in riots not just the targetted communities . but the bigger point is why target someone innocent - whether chinese or otherwise in this case.

there is a video that they play in the BA Flight about the longest living woman in the UK and she talks about how she lived her life in the NAZI concentration camp and i was truly overwhelmed by her positivity.

the positive side of uninvited, unexpected adversity is that creates many spirited individuals. that is the power of humanity i would say.

Ramesh said...

@Sandhya - Yes, so called" leaders" always find it easier to divide than unite. Just see what the idiot in Telangana is trying to do.

It is often somebody who has undergone a personal tragedy or seen great sadness who often rises above such petty divisions.

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