Monday, April 03, 2006

Reverse Culture Shock

We had a guest stay with us for a few days last week. He was on his way back from Japan after teaching English there for 18 months. He's a regular Aussie guy, plays footie and drinks copious amounts of beer when he's out with his mates. Denis was one of our groomsmen when we had our wedding Manila. He was almost robbed at knife point while withdrawing money at an ATM in Greenbelt. And because Denis is the way he is and super tall, he simply took a swing at the desparate would be robber and the robber went running.

When I first heard that Denis would be leaving Australia and teaching English in Japan of all places, I wondered how he would fit in and adjust to life there. Denis was the guy who wore a full-on white suit and danced on the dance floor holding a pineapple. He takes crap from no one, and if you extended a limp hand to shake hands he would simply tell you he won't shake it. How would someone like Denis survive in a country where majority of the population probably stood at half his height. But he did. And he loved it there.

One of the things that really hit me when we were chatting about his adventures in Japan and of his return to Australia, was hearing him say he had nothing to look forward to back in Melbourne. Other than playing football again and seeing his family, there really isn't anything he's excited about. And even football is iffy since he plays with people almost half his age. I told him just be ready to experience some serious reverse culture shock. Its a good thing he's already heard of the term.

I remember when I first went back to Manila after living in the US for 6 years. I was really excited at first to return because most of my college barkada were already back there. I had 2 years of catching up to do and wasted no time making plans and meeting up with them as much as I could. It wasn't easy though. I found out the hard way while it was easy for them to revert back to the way life was in Manila, I had changed.

One evening epitomized my ordeal and was the tip of the iceberg of things to come.

We had planned to meet up for dinner one night in Makati. Reservations were made for about 10 of us at 8pm. I showed up at 10 past 8 hoping I wouldn't be first. Everyone else had dates or boy/girlfriends so I was the only one without a partner. Of course when I got there I only had our empty table waiting for me. Thinking they were just abit late I settled myself hoping I'd probably be waiting for 30 minutes maximum before someone showed up. Almost 2 hours later, someone finally did.

By then you can tell I wasn't a happy camper. When I voiced my anger and dissappointment, I was told that it was my fault for showing up on time and that I should have known no one would be early. How dumb was I? Had I simply left, they would have given the table away and then my friends would have nowhere to eat. I wasn't thinking! A few months later when something else happened, I was told that we were no longer in the States and that certain "rules" had to be followed when dealing with people in Manila. That I couldn't just say what was on my mind. That I had to act in certain ways if I wanted people to like me. Too bad in those days I hadn't built up enough confidence yet to realize I didn't need them to like me.

It took me over a year before I got back into the groove of things. I needed friends and soon enough I started showing up late to dinner. Then later I figured I should just go to one of my friend's house and bug them to come earlier with me. Then later again I was fortunate enough to realize who were the ones that stuck by my eccentricities and who had dissappeared into the background.

To this day there are still alot of things about life in Manila that I do not accept or fully understand. I have simply embraced elements in which I am proud to have picked up growing up there and happy to let go of the ones that no longer apply to me. But most of all I realized how lucky I was to have been given the chance to live a life so different from Manila. And instead of shoving this fact into my friends faces, I learned to appreciate how far I've gone. I learned to be more open-minded to differences in people's lives. Before all I knew were hefty allowances, the maid, driver and never having to work before graduating from college. After returning from the States, I was more aware of other friends who lived lives so different from mine that I was never interested in knowing. Extending the reaches of my fence made me extend the reaches of my understanding and acceptance of people in my own home.

Denis arrived back in Australia this past Saturday. I wonder how he's doing these first few days back. I hope after he settles back into life again in Australia, he'll be able to realize all I had learned and even more for himself. And probably how great the beer still is in Oz.

1 comment:

Chris said...

Wow - this one rings true both for me as well as for Tawn. Most of Tawn's friends (it sounds like yours, too) came from a certain privileged spot in society and the experience he gained studying in the US caused him to really notice a difference when he returned.

Conversely, after only five months living in Bangkok, upon my return to San Fran for three weeks I was wildly aware of how much I could never live there again.