Archive for the ‘ Cultures ’ Category

“Who are YOU?”

said the Caterpillar. This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, “I–I hardly know, sir, just at present– at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.”

In a training I had recently for work, we spent some time on a section called “Dealing with Diversity” (a classic title that always has me shaking my head) and we were told to write down at least five cultural dimensions that reflect who we are. Just for fun, I encourage you to also do this before reading further.

Here’s what I wrote:

  • Faith
  • Multiethnic
  • Low income
  • Single/independent
  • Female
  • A liberal
  • College graduate
  • Native English speaker
  • Non-profit employee
  • World traveler

…there are of course, many other dimensions to me, as to all of us.

Then we were asked to share how we are stereotyped by some of our cultural associations. Take a moment and think about some ways you might also be stereotyped by what you put down on your list and how some of those stereotypes may  not be accurate to you.

This exercise I think helped many of us understand that you can’t just judge a book by its cover. I believe that stereotypes work only as a framework to suggest possibilities when interacting with individuals or communities, but not to be used as assumptions or labels. It’s a pretty important thing for me to remember as I work in an Asian counseling center with a vast range of diversity among primarily the Asian Pacific Islander population in Seattle. Lots of dynamics there.

I won’t mention them all, but here are some assumptions often made about a couple of my cultural aspects: 1) my Christian theology and my liberalism are mutually exclusive. Most Christians I have interacted with assume I have more conservative values and most liberals I interact with assume I am not a Christian based on my liberal opinions. 2) Because I am a native English speaker and fluent in the dominant North American culture, people assume this is who I am. In fact, I don’t always feel like I can associate myself with the dominant American culture; such is true otherwise: I do not always feel like I can relate to the Latin culture and ethnic groups.

Based on the two observations above, I don’t feel that there is one predominate culture group I associate myself with. I’m so evenly divided in many cultural aspects and I’m afraid I have slipped between the socio-politico cracks. I find myself in the gray area, the no-man’s land of culture because I am unique.

But aren’t we all? The purpose of the cultural exercise is, of course, to show how none of us fit exactly into a cookie cutter. At least, those of us who live in a non-homogenous culture. The best that we can offer when interacting with others is the respect that we may all feel differently, view things differently, make decisions differently, and believe differently. Like Alice, we probably change several times a day that who’s to be sure of who we are?


Today in the lunchroom, a co-worker of mine that I’ve never talked to prior came in and we greeted each other. Quickly after some small-talk she asks “Are you a Taurus or Capricorn?” A bit surprised at her out-of-the-blue question, I responded that no, I am Aeries. Apparently she’s an astrologist in training and is always trying to guess people’s sign. Still wanting to practice, she offered to look up my natal chart–and I agreed.

I think most Christians (least the ones I am mostly familiar with) would have said no thanks to the natal chart reading. I was curious about what it might say–and why not? She’s having fun with it, I didn’t mind, and I was kind of making a friend (or as many Christians would put it “building relationships”). So, she read my natal chart to me. A lot of it was pretty accurate (I’d say there were a few things that were majorly off) but vague. I figure any person has those traits in them to some degree and so naturally nod their heads in agreement when a description of their Zodiac is read. Then there was actually a moment when it got kind of eerily accurate–like no one’s business.

Coincidence? Probably. Yet, I’m just now wondering (sort of thinking out loud) if perhaps there is true science in it (sorry astrologers for the insult). From the traditional Christian perspective, astrology and psychic readings are “not from God”, but as I’m just thinking out loud here….I wonder if the Bible really does condemn it. Weren’t the three wise men astronomers? I’m sure there was some astrology mixed in there–after all, they were from the Orient, where we know astrology has it’s roots. I know it’s a weak link–there is no indication that their practices were ungodly–or Godly.

When I was an undergraduate at the Christian university I attended, my professors and classmates would always discuss the importance of contextualism* for cross-cultural ministry. Everybody pretty much assumed this meant to cultures that were really different from our own and that for some reason it was OK to “tweak” the Bible to make sense on their terms but not OK to do that in the American culture (possibly because we were all egotistic and believed we had the correct Biblical practices already down). Now that the U.S. is where I live indefinitely, I’m seeing the need to contextualize in sub-cultures here just as much as elsewhere.

So, I’m willing to be flexible when it comes to getting my natal chart read. I’ll listen with respect and interest–heck, I’ll even take some of its advice! I mean, why not–it’s useful.

Still, I’m not easily convinced that astrology is really a tool to unlocking the human personality. It may be useful, but accuracy is important, too. Just like those 10 question personality tests, the description is too vague–could be anybody.

*In missiology, contextualism goes beyond the Wikipedia definition and is further described as a way to make Biblical concepts understandable and practiced in cross-cultures. For example, prayer in other cultures doesn’t have to be done the same way American churches pray–other cultures prefer communal prayer (everyone prays aloud at once) and the more extreme contextualization regarding prayer includes Muslims praying (and performing all the Islam prayer rituals) to “Issa” (Jesus) in spirit.

Culture vs. Culture: the Problem of International Aid

I had the opportunity earlier this evening to watch a showing of Children of War, a documentary on the child soldiers of Northern Uganda,* and thought the post discussion very insightful. As an opening statement from the director during this discussion time, it was mentioned that the methodologies used and applied by the counselors in Uganda for the rescued child soldiers were not complete and that they lacked a holistic approach. And by “holistic” it was implied that there was some absence of science in their psychology. Much of the documentary showed the professional Ugandan rehabilitation counselors using prayer and exorcism under their charismatic Christianity culture. The comment that there was a lack of method and long term healing concerned me, not for the imagined results, but for the misjudgment the Western therapists apply to the Ugandans.

The problem I see in international aid (which is mainly Northern to Southern hemispheres) is that it not only creates a vertical relationship between the “developed” countries and the “developing”** countries but also that with the naivety Westerners bring, there is a lack of respect for the already functioning methods used there. Let’s face it: Africans have better survival techniques than the West–after all, they’ve been on this earth longer. Yet what I think aid workers need to be careful and aware of is that healing does come in different forms for other cultures. However, I am not to say that by prayer and casting out demons is the best or only way to help these child soldiers. I suppose the director did not intend to imply that, but I do feel as though that was what the general audience concluded. I sure hope that holistic, long term care will be available for the children and their families.

*Personally, I thought it was a wonderfully organized documentary although it was dark and depressing. It was not as gruesome and horrific as the Invisible Children film. I commend the director for showing a brighter side as well to Uganda, and not portraying Africa as merely a miserable place.

**I have a terrible conviction with using this word from my studies of community development in two-thirds world countries as it implies that they are somehow behind and developmentally challenged. “Underdeveloped”, although obsolete in international studies vernacular, is more appropriate (e.g. Uganda is not developed in the same way the U.S. is because the West robbed and raped Africa).

Tetsuya Ishida

No culture is perfect, because it’s human. While I do love aesthetically pleasing art because it’s BEAUTIFUL and reminds me of the wonder and hope in life (very much needed for me), I do appreciate some darker reflections of culture, such as these I found by Tetsuya Ishida. I am thankful for people who have the talent to express through art forms can visually explain their observations, experiences, and heart to tell what words cannot.

I spent a year in South Korea, and although it was a great experience for me, it was full of challenges and emptiness, and I feel as though my feelings were similar to what these paintings represent. I love culture, though, for the good and bad. It’s what gives it character, provocativeness, and excitement. You know, without knowing dark, there would be no appreciation for light.

The Colorful Shades of Money.

As individuals immersed in work to fight poverty, we tend to speak in advocacy for the poor. Both authors of this blog have worked in the depths of poverty, with the homeless, unemployed and those who might rely on welfare checks to survive throughout each month. We have been exposed to poverty in one of the riches countries around the world, but have also gone abroad to work with the impoverished and homeless people in developing nations. Just as our blog title states, we see the “colors [indeed shades] of poverty.”

However, I have cause to wonder whether or not we truly see equality on the side of poverty. I obviously do not speak for my co-author, let me be plain in my disclaimer.

First, a history lesson:
I am a member of one of the largest immigrant groups to the US, the Chinese American community. We are the model minority. We are all the shades of yellow from every type of vocation, age, socioeconomic status, gender and upbringing. We have suffered discrimination throughout our experience ever since we first came during the building of the continental railroad. There were no advocates for us then and, as is typical of the Chinese people, we persevered throughout all the roadblocks put in front of us by the White Man. [This is not to say anything about White Americans as they are today, but to simplify detail a fact in history.]

There are newly arrived Chinese Americans, and there are families who have lived here for over 50 years. Regardless of how long an individual has lived in this country, one thing we can never deny is our roots, the traditions and customs that make us Chinese Americans. And yet, there are many rifts among us: young vs old, those born overseas vs those born in USA, those born overseas outside China vs those born in China, etc. The list goes on.

One of our guiding values is that of financial stability due to career success. There are those who have been here for a very long time who have become doctors and lawyers. These are our heroes, the pride of our community; the ones who made it, the ones we expect our children to look up to and to one day become. Some new immigrants do make it. They become the scientists and lawyers and doctors that gives the rest of us hope.

Yet, those are the few and far between. Many unforeseen circumstances erupt to hinder and divert our path in the journey of life, and not all are successful in the pursuit of this goal. As a result, a rift is created between he who gains the success and wealth desired and he who cannot or does not.

My first experiences of this were in college. Granted, most were predominantly White Americans. However, there was a change that was required of me. I was called the “trendsetter” and “prim and proper” and ultimately, the “spoiled rich girl” all simply because I wore nice designer clothes, acted in a way typical of the area in which I grew up, and drove a car that my father bought to force me to drive. Now, in the Silicon Valley where I grew up, those things would not be out of the ordinary…except that most kids love to drive. But in Northern California, things became different. Property taxes, salaries, and the typical standard of living were lower. The culture of the area was also very different; the community as a whole was very dedicated to family life and people enjoyed wilderness activities (kayaking, skiiing, snowboarding, sailing, hiking, etc.) more than the consumerist city life I was attuned to.

And as a result, a sort of majority mentality began to develop: the idea that I was rich, and that it was a bad thing. It was all so strange to me. Me, rich? I guess maybe the Silicon Valley of the Bay can be considered possibly Upper Middle Class in the most extremely affluent of areas. However, I never lived in them or was anything like them. I was always Middle Class. There were always people who struggled more than my family did, and there were always people who we struggled to become more like. I had never considered myself in that manner before.

However, I must say I have never once considered the idea that poor people are better than rich people. NOR have I ever considered that rich people are better than poor people! That sounds ridiculously absurd to me! And yet, there are many people, Chinese and otherwise, that have such ideas. Some believe that poor people are bad and even criminal. Others think the poor put themselves in that position. Some others think that poor people are better than rich people because they are happier. [Let me tell you, they have never met the impoverished with an entitlement complex at social services!] Still others believe that poor people are are a drain on the system.

Where is the equality in these socioeconomic divisions? Where have we gone? How can we be one people when we cannot even agree to look towards one another with a non-judgmental attitude?

I am lucky. I have grown up with a father who lived an impoverished life in a developing nation AND a mother who was the daughter of a wealthy businessman. I am the typical Chinese American, and I have experienced both sides. I am both a hoarder, penny pincher and DIY fanatic while also one who purchases high quality items whether it is clothes, food, furniture or medical services.

People are people. Whether poor or rich, labelling others based upon socioeconomic status is still a focus upon money. Let us not allow the “shades of money” to rule our lives or how we view others. It is important that we see each other as just PEOPLE. Together, we can be people.

Living Well without Guilt

My pastor told the congregation a few weeks ago in a Sunday evening sermon, “show me how you live and I will tell you what you believe.” It was an assertive statement that was endorsed by several contemplative hmm’s from the pews. As for me, I was impressed with the way he said that basically, worldview leads to behavior. Admittedly, I blush as I confess that what the pastor had said had made me reflect on my lack of integrity in many realms of my life in a way I never really thought before. Usually by comments like these, I feel attacked and tend to disarm such statements so that their validity is gone and I can toss it aside. But this I decided I liked because I think it is a good way to assess one’s beliefs in accordance to one’s lifestyle. The pastor probably wasn’t saying that he will judge our hearts and beliefs by what we do. It was in fact a statement on principle: that a good tree bears good fruit. Likewise, a bad tree bears bad fruit. Some here (myself included) would challenge the definition of “good” fruit—what does it mean to be good? Or better yet, what is bad? Who says so? Why should I live according to someone else’s definitions?

Obviously, not living up to the expectations that others put on us make us all feel guilty at times. In fact, we may not even feel guilty that much because we are constantly trying to avoid that terrible, no good feeling by pleasing others and meeting that certain standard of goodness. Everyone has guilt and that comes from failing a standard that society has put on them. Guilt is an inward sense of wrongdoing or feeling of remorse for a committed offense. Typically those of individualistic cultures, such as the U.S., live out their lives in avoidance of guilt. Those in collectivistic cultures base their lives more around shame—avoidance of dishonoring the family. Living better to protect one’s family and self is not bad, in and of itself. However, if a person is only doing good deeds or restraining from evil deeds in order to avoid guilt and shame (which is trying to meet up with other people’s standards), then this person is not living with real integrity. The only benefit that guilt and shame bring is that they encourage integrity. But when this person decides that what society deems is good and just is against their personal morals, or when the person finds a way to be evil without others ever knowing, then the person is liable to do wrong and never have repentance.

If we lived not to other’s standards, but for goodness, then I think our actions would be more sincere and we would be better people all around. We’d have more integrity! Yes, there is still a standard of goodness—some things are absolutely wrong and cannot be justified—but the difference is in reorganizing the mindset. Don’t live for others so that you won’t feel bad, but live for others so you feel good. Believe in what you do is right and good! If only my students would learn this and study because they know it’s good, not because I tell them it is.

Also, people should not make others feel guilty. Instead, people should take on their own responsibility as a human living in a rapidly depraving world of nearly seven billion other human beings with still more to come. People should be thinkers and doers–people who think before they act. Of course we all make errors (I can still hear my mom say “that’s why they put erasers at the end of pencils”) but that isn’t always an excuse. There are consequences for every mistake, but we shouldn’t live to avoid those, merely. Instead of doing good to avoid the bad, we should just do good for goodness’ sake!

Taiwanese Drama & Social Commentary

by Sporadicwriter

I just completed watching a Taiwanese drama series that was, in my opinion, the pinnacle of the strong independent women category of dramas within Taiwanese modern culture. Never previously have I seen the main female character depicted with strength, power and independence in such a positive light.

“My Queen” is a drama about an independent, driven and ambitious 32.5 yr old woman who has always been at the top of her class and career status only to be lacking in love and relationships. In the last episode, she has waited 2yrs for her boyfriend’s return from medical training overseas. At this time, she is already 35, the age limit for a healthy pregnancy in childbirth (according to the drama series). It is at this time that the boyfriend proposes. Now, typically when your serious boyfriend of two years proposes, wouldn’t you be the most overjoyed and immediately say yes? But no, she smartly says that she will accept the ring but must think more about considering the proposal. Quite a surprising twist in the plot. Understanding, the boyfriend later says that its not bad to be single.

In this category of Taiwanese dramas, there has been a rise in the independence and strength of female characters. For all prior independent woman dramas that I have watched, the woman has always ended up marrying a man to provide her that protection and strength that is such a theme in Taiwanese and Chinese love stories. Yet this is the first time I have ever seen a drama so completely encompassed in the journey of exploration and identity discovery of life as a woman in modern day Taiwan. China and Taiwan have long desired to assimilate the ways of the United States. I believe one such thing that was brought over was the increasing career-mindedness of women in the USA.

I, as a Westerner, am amazed and impressed with the progressive thought behind this drama because I know that it has received disapproval for the ending. Many women in the Chinese and Taiwanese cultures still struggle with the idea of balancing one’s independence and career with the traditional roles imposed upon us as child-bearers and homemakers. Many have tried to become the “Supermom,” as it were, in order to achieve the perfect balance between tradition and modernization. And yet, to some extent…that can never be possible. This drama show a different perspective, not of balance but accepting who you are regardless of how others see you.

I like how this drama series demonstrates that struggle, presenting the pressures of a traditional, close-knit Taiwanese village as the main character initially fights to become that “Supermom” identity and later realizes that she does not have to conform. It is society’s realization that women do not have to be mothers and wives any longer, that they do not need to be restricted to serving their husbands. A new age has come, the age where a woman can and will rise in the ranks of men and achieve equally or better.

In Chinese history, few have achieved such greatness. Those than have are labelled with the “Dragon” pronoun. It is also interesting to note that when addressing a man, the “dragon” is a label of respect and reverence. Yet when addressing a woman, it denotes something out of place, warped and twisted, something distrustful and wicked.

Madame Chiang – for her political ambition, the Dragon Lady Who Bridged the East and West
Empress Dowager Cixi – for securing her position as ruler, the Dragon Empress
Emperor/Empress Wu Zetian (my FAV) – for being the first and only female emperor, Dragon Emperor