“Even a single taboo can have an all-round crippling effect upon the mind, because there is always the danger that any thought which is freely followed up may lead to the forbidden thought.” – George Orwell.
Orwell says that if there are some things we are not supposed to think or say, it will in general hamper our overall ability to think creatively. Face often makes it harder to discuss some things publicly, so it may be avoiding embarrassment hampers free thought.
Ask a SE Asian to tell you a fictional story – to on the spot invent a tale. All that I have asked can not. Ok, maybe that skill is too complicated. Ask one to narrate any interesting instance of their life. Most not only will not, they CAN not. There are simply too many mental blocks – there is too much dangerous territory – will they reveal something about themselves? Must they take some sort of stand, betray an opinion? They will panic at the thought of free flowing yet structured thought, freeze, and claim that they “have no stories to tell”. A Thai has no story – no history – no personal identity that can be shared. Because of the blocks to thinking imposed by face.
Sometimes someone is capable of narrating some personal events, but I’ve never heard a story told that included commentary. It will be a strict chronological telling of events that happened. Nothing will be mentioned of the meanings of events, their import to the person, their feelings about them, how they were affected or changed by them, how they see the world now because of the events. Strict narrative with no editorial. Meaningless, or at least, the meanings in the story must remain unconscious and unspoken, like meanings in a passing dream. Vaguely felt but not fully known, ephemeral, and relating to no real thing. The Thai remains semi-conscious, not articulating his history to himself, not making mental maps of meaning, not gathering and garnering potions of wisdom from his events. He just wades from moment to moment, semi literate, semi conscious. May pen rai. “You think too much”, he will say, when you catch him in inconsistencies. He prefers his mental blocks and illogical catch22 paradoxes and blind spots to too much thinking or other painful clarities.
The catchphrase used in SE Asia “up 2 u”.
“I don’t trust you because you lie.”, I say. “Up 2 u.!” she retorts. ““No, not up to me. I don’t move your lips. If you lie, up to you. If you lie, then I don’t trust you.”
“I’m tired of your games and manipulation.”, I comment. “Up 2 u!” God gracious, what an insane cultural trait this avoidance of all personal responsibility for ones own actions! Up 2 you, up 2 you.
It seems they refuse to exist. All motivations and responsibilities are exterior. “Up to you.” “I can’t because my brother won’t let me.” “My father wants me to marry.” “Yes, I agree with you. And yes, I agree with you, with the opposite opinion.” Agree without taking a real stand, agree without being consistent, so no problem. No self, no problem. With that sense of no responsibility for anything said, and no importance attached to a personal stance, lies are flippant and expected. Truth is not hard, just not useful. No one has cultured a taste of it. It is irrelevant. There is no self who maintains opinions and hold responsibilities anyway, so no use to cultivate any allegiance to a silly abstraction like truth. It wouldn’t make one a better person to be an honest person who can take an informed and thoughtful and moral stand on an issue that she believes, irrespective of what others believe. A person is bettered by being pragmatic about circumstances, doing whatever is convenient. Deep thought about deeper meanings about what is happiness need never impinge upon blissful ignorance. Mai pen rai remains the best and most insightful mantra. The nihilism in that protects all from embarrassment Don’t think too much. Don’t think at all, and if it causes pain, forget it.
No wonder a lot of us drink a lot when in Thailand – it is impossible to communicate verbally with much depth to those who derail the conversation whenever it gets a bit sticky or tricky, so we have to find our entertainments in other ways. Sex and alcohol seems to work.
Asians are not straightforward. Everything seems to be some sort of negotiation, and everyone is expected to not disclose their hand. The other morning my cell phone was off because of a dead battery, and there was a power outage until late afternoon. My playmate freaked, assuming I was fucking. There became no way to be straightforward – everything I said was interpreted as some sort of strategic lie. And then everything she said was a strategic lie. She starts saying how she hates me and will never see me again, when the day before it was that she loves me and wants my baby. So I tell her that I am a western guy, and that I am straightforward, and that I don’t’ bullshit around – I aim exactly at what I want mean and I say it with words that mean exactly what I mean. If she wants me to love her, then say yes and I will, if not say no and I’ll find someone who wants my love. That shook her up enough to start to change the subject, but I swear she was really getting off on the drama of the whole thing, and didn’t seem to care one way or the other if I was telling the truth or if she was telling the truth. Truth totally left the picture. Reality had nothing to do with anything. She just wanted to show me how much jealousy she was capable of, and to show me that she was prepared to freak if I did anything that made her jealous. It’s tiring. That constant mis-trust and emotional manipulation never once happened to me in the west. If I said something, it was either believed, or if the person thought I had such a character that I was lying, then there wasn’t really much more to talk about – no need to continue the relationship. What is the point of talking if it is a lie?
Asians use language fundamentally differently – this has been noted in business manuals. At the negotiating table, Asians spiral around and about, as if getting to the point would cause everyone physical pain and reveal embarrassing genital flaws and long unspoken family shames. They often will purposefully obfuscate, puffing clouds of words at your direct questions, diverting question from hitting answer. Compound that onto feminine guile onto pre-rational unempathetic selfishly motivated confused and mixed desires, and what you’ve got is slush over ice on an ice floe on water. No traction, and even if you get anywhere, you aren’t going anywhere. “How does that make you feel?” can not be translated into any Asian language. It would be heard as “What would you like to present as your face regarding this difficult and awkward issue, or would you prefer to remain silent or change the subject just now?” In Asia you aren’t expected to look like a stupid ass if you giggle or twitter or otherwise completely avoid an unstoppably direct question as if it were not a twenty thousand pound elephant thwapping its trunk onto your forehead. Other people would be expected to show deference to you by not noticing elephants.
” Even if the love is real, the words you hear are somewhat less than genuine, because they’re said for effect rather than a natural outpouring of emotion. ” – Lookpapa
Yes, language is used fundamentally differently here in SE Asia. Instead of to convey what actually is, as if there is a real external world worth talking about and real inner worlds worth disclosing, it is mostly used to emotionally manipulate and to create advantage. People say either what they think you want to hear, or deliberately try to throw you off balance to gain an emotional advantage over you, or invent some lie, to see how you will react, in order to try to find out your “real” motives. Thais don’t and can’t understand this: that westerners do not lie. The can not grasp the abstract concept of “truth”. It is totally without meaning to them. They do not and will never trust you.
Every word is always said for effect.
How boring is that?