Tuesday, August 19, 2008

on asia: south VS east?

DISCLAIMER: anything written in this post represents neither my country, my company, nor any of those with whom i associate. it's just me rambling on the world (which may be found as mildly offensive, and broadly generalizing). but i would like to couch it with the fact that i think i have an above average knowledge of Asian culture, (1) being Asian, and (2) having worked + traveled extensively thru the continent. that being said, please don't fire me (yet).

so, it's been awhile, how are you? me? i've been too busy watching the Olympics + traveling. and while i'm still doing both, i find myself "working from home" with far too many distractions (why it is VERY important that Raman has an office w/ people looking over his shoulder so he feels compelled to work). but be thankful, as you are in for a good post today. onwards!

let's talk about China.
(we'll start with the obvious, and go on from there. much of this is has been stewing in my head for several months. some of it coming to the surface more recently)

the Olympics. wow. Opening Ceremonies? $300 million spent (London must be soiling their undies). CGI fireworks footprints? sure, whatever. cute(r) little girl lipsyncing, like we can talk? don't even get me started on the 2008 dudes doing Tai Chi in a mad running circle, or the boxes. holy crap. it was enough to keep a Rock Band party on hold (though we did go picture-in-picture for the Parade of Nations (pausing only to ogle at the attractive athletes, male and female alike).
am i amazed at China? yes. am i surprised? not really. on a group, government, society level, China really has proven they've got their sh*t together. after all, it's a semi-authoritarian state. when they want to get something done, all they have to do is throw (force) the people into action, and they're off. i had in Indian friend over watching the Opening Ceremonies with me, and we agreed, we would be old, old (probably dead) men before we saw an Olympic Games coming to India, much less something of the magnitude that China was attempting.

[the above AMAZING photos from the Opening Ceremonies were taken from here]

and this is the perfect intro for me to go into my long stewing contrast of India + China.

again, please allow me for a bit to DISCLAIM (or skip this part):
i am Indian (sort of). i've been there a few times (most recently backpacking on my own thru temples in the south, even tho i am from the north, which comparatively, are like different countries). i've worked on marketing programs for India (so i get their consumer). i know where the best Indian places to eat are in Cincinnati and Singapore (and will argue my POV's w/ you on either city's cuisine). i pretend i can speak/understand Hindi, but i'm mostly faking it. i am dating a Chinese (sort of) girl...she's about as Chinese as i am Indian (but a far prettier, cooler, more interesting individual than i...i'm pretty sure if we have kids they will look Tibetan). i've been to China only ONCE in recent years, although thru my work/travels in SE Asia i've spent a LOT of time immersed in Chinese culture (they are everywhere). i know where the REALLY good dim sum places are in Boston + Chicago. and i've probably read more on Buddhism and Hinduism than you (but there are many who know fare more than i, and i still learn more every day). i've worked with a LOT of people of Indian + Chinese descent, and am constantly blown away by them. all this being said, my experiences are limited, and my assumptions are egregious, so please bear with, and humor me...

RAMAN's [observed] contrasts between Chinese & Indian culture:
(as my friend puts it, stereotypes exist for a reason)


South Asians (proxied by Indians, but i would argue you could include Pakistani's, Bengali's, and maybe even Middle Easterners, just for fun) are aggressive, crazy, obnoxious type A's who are mostly full of it underneath it all.

East Asians (proxied by Chinese, but feel free to throw in the Vietnamese, Japanese, and Thai) are passive, crazy, subdued, and have a fierce underbelly that will get you if you don't watch out.

US workplace: i work at a fairly large multinational corporation. we are basically split down the middle between 2 organizations. the business side (that leads most of our business + general management operations), and the technical side (research & development, plant opersation, supply chain logistics, etc). take a GUESS where you think either of the above mentioned groups fits in. here's a hint...i work in marketing, a field that is mostly BS :). did i mention my girlfriend used to be a chemical engineer in our R&D division?

but seriously, in our US organization (i discount Canada as there are a far more of Asians there, throwing off my sample set, but perhaps i'll append this post after spending next week in their office), i tend to see far more Indians excelling on the more commercial side, where i see far more Chinese on the technical side. naturally, are there exceptions, sure, but i'm commenting on a trend.

people/personality: Chinese (and most East Asian) culture values "face" - the idea that no matter what the situation, you should not allow others to see the true extremes of your emotion in a public setting. if you are upset or angry, you must maintain your calm and controlled demeanor. to make someone lose face is a huge social faux pas, and to lose your face in front of others, don't even think about it. as for Indians (and most South Asian/middle Eastern)? this concept doesn't exist. you say what you want, and you push until you get it. classic examples would be a member of my family at a restaraunt sending an order back, VS my girlfriend's just shrugging their shoulders and accepting it (limited experience here, as i've only been out to eat with her brothers, not her parents :). i'm assuming you can see how this plays out in the workforce, so i won't go any further.

populace + social order: both countries brag a HUGE citizenry (a "small town" usually sports ~1 million people), but the way these populations exist is drastically different. you land in an Indian city and are assaulted by the color, unbridled chaos, and frankly, dirtiness. a China city? cold, (mostly) colorless, and full of organized chaos. roads, trains, skyscrapers and Olympic stadiums are built in Beijing. i think they're still working on the first subway line in New Delhi, nevermind an interstate system. bribery at the highest ends of government? present in both actually, but far more prominent in India, as there are quite a few more people to bribe, VS far fewer "party bosses" in Communist China (though it should be noted that Communism is rampant in South India, and during the Cold War, India was actually more aligned w/ the USSR...their Air Force still flies Russian MIGS)

obvious similarities: there are quite a few things both Asian cultures have in common though, but i would argue it has more to do with the immigrant culture i find myself in (+ most Westerners find themselves in observation of), rather than the true nature of the local populations.

respect for elders is the biggest one. as a kid i would aspire to, but now as an adult i cringe at, the way many of my western friends interact with their parents, uncles, aunts, grandparents. for many Asians it is a foreign concept to think of putting your parents in a home, because naturally, they will come live with the children when they become old.

importance of education. i cannot even stress this one enough. i have many western friends that have excelled academically, but much of it was of their own volition (for which i find them superior to me) rather than the downwards pressure placed by my parents, who themselves used education as means to escape their country and come to mine. but i fear much this will be lost with my children, to some degree. let's hope my kids aren't TOTAL jerks.

and then there the few universal things held in common across Asian cultures. leaving your shoes at the door. white at funerals. red at weddings. sharing food (VS getting your own plate). as big a fan as i am for free refills, i think this last one is the biggest thing i find appealing when dining with others.

NET - there are some distinct differences between East & South Asian cultures. so Westerners, pay heed. because your darker-hued peers will soon be taking over, economically and politically. and thru it all? my girlfriend and i are constantly learning how much we share in common, but moreso how different we really are. and that's what makes it work.

let's get back to where we [more innocently] started, the Olympics.

the events themselves? i hesitated the first few days to get pulled in, only because i don't watch too much TV in my daily routine. but from the chatter at work, i noticed a LOT of people were getting sucked into staying up far too late watching. it was not until i got to NY to spend some quality time w/ my girlfriend that i too succumbed.

Michael Phelps? what a monster. Nastia Liukin? graceful, who in America names their child that? Chinese gymnasts? c'mon, don't tell me you think some of those girls are really 16 Jamaica running? holy crap they are fast (but Usain Bolt was a bit arrogant on his 9.69s run at the 100 metre, he totally could have had a 9.5s time).

and lastly, what the hell is up w/ the commentary? i guess NBC is using the Olympics to "introduce" Chinese culture to rest of America, but seriously, PLEASE don't talk down to us. what i find even MORE funny is the recent slew of movies where China is the centerpiece....Kung Fu Panda, and the Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (the latter of which i can picture a room full of Hollywood producers, having just done a few lines of blow, sayings "where can we set our new Mummy movie? hmmm, the Olympics are hot, why not China?!?"). here's a related article.

want to learn more about East Asian culture, forget the movies, go read a book. or for proper entertainment, go watch
Avatar: the Last Airbender ...quite possibly one of the best TV shows ever (and sadly, over)

what a great way to end this crazy bloog. agree/disagree with ANYTHING written here? comment then already!

ok, now i have to quickly make a post about Barack Obama and/or John McCain so first-time readers to my bloog don't see what i'm REALLY thinking....


  1. Raman check this out from David Brooks. Great column on China's collective culture:


  2. wow. good article. i would definitely clump india specifically in with America here. far more individualist.

  3. it's come to my attention that i should pay more attention to my writing/self-editing. sadly, such comments are accurate, but i can hardly be bothered.

  4. Raman, nice post. I'm sorry about this, but since you mentioned the Olympics *and* you're an American...

    ...can you explain to me why all American media outlets (or is it just NBC?) continue to put USA at the top of the medal count? On what planet does "total medal count" mean anything? Do they seriously think that 100 bronze medals is worth more than 99 gold? Do they think that you guys (consumers, citizens, whatever) can't handle being *second* on the table behind China?

    We should go back to the ancient Olympic style of awarding first place only...that way there's no debate :-)

  5. to be clear ben, it's not just the US media (NBC) that's emphasizing total # of medals:

    i personally think there should be a weighted count, ie golds count for 3 points, silver counts for 2, bronz 1

  6. thanks for the shout-out. stereotypes DO exist for a reason so here's another one: i'm terrified of china. not of india. not b/c i'm indian, tho i'll allow for the likely bias. i see china as far more likely to someday dump its us treasury bills, have the bottom sink out from under us, and then buy up a number of our real estate and companies, shifting its capital structure from liabilities to assets. it would then have more leveled the economic playing field, esp given its propensity for manufacturing. luckily, we'd prolly nuke 'em for doing that. and india would help, w/ its somewhat-ironically-made MIGs. and surya, no i'm not drunk. just a xenophobic "amurican."


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