EVA Airport Lounge, Bangkok Airport: I considered slugging this "Thailand" as well, but since I've already checked out through immigration, I don't suppose I'm still in Thailand. I'm in that netherworld of airports and no man's lands between border checks.
I learned a few new things while I've been here, but mostly I've had a lot of old ones reinforced. Here's a selection:
Buddhism, like any other religion, is a whole lot of different things to different people. Like most religions, everyone tries to claim it's really a philosophy, some concepts, some ways of living one's life and "not really a religion." Bullshit! The vast majority of the people who practice it, practice it and relate to it no differently than adherents of any other religion do to theirs. Buddhists often say things like, "I hope Buddha protects me." "I prayed to Buddha to make more money." "Thanks to Buddha for..." "Buddha is challenging me by..." etc. And Buddhists do a whole lot of different things. Thai and Tibetan Buddhists happily eat meat. Balinese Buddhists sacrifice animals - including puppies. Buddhists are as dismissive of women, or use their religion to suppress women, as much as any other religion. Buddhists all over the place pass the collection plate and rake in plenty of cash and get involved in all sorts of interesting scandals - financial, sexual, political, you name it. Sure, Buddhism, like pretty much any other religion, has some good, useful precepts. But in its actual practice it is as venal, corrupt, corrosive and generally offensive as I find any and all other religions.
Women are horribly exploited and oppressed in most countries, sure, but it's also not quite so simple. According to an international survey released on Women's Day this year, about five percent of North American companies have women CEOs. In EU companies, the figure is about nine percent. Guess what country has the highest percentage of women CEOs of any in the world? That would be Thailand, with about 30 percent. China comes in second at about 19 percent. Still, hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of Thai women are forced into prostitution by economic, social and cultural circumstances. And Thai society doesn't seem much bothered by that. But at the same time Thailand is very much a matriarchal society in which women generally hold the purse-strings and run the households. Go figure.
Indonesia has the world's largest Muslim population and they are trying their damndest to love us (Americans) even though we don't make it easy. Electing Obama, who spent part of his childhood there, was a big help - Indonesians take great pride in that. Our invasion of Iraq, however, our conduct of the war in Afghanistan, the demonization and suspicion in our media of Muslims, our support for oil-rich brutal oppressive dictatorships (in part because we think they'll help us hold back the terrorists) all make making friends with Indonesia a whole lot harder than it should be. And we really could very much use a good, largely Islamic, friend in the world.
Architecture - well, just scroll down to the blog about that and you'll see what I'm saying.
Whining and casting blame is something that we Americans have become expert at. People in Asia don't have time or patience for it. It just gets in the way of getting their jobs done, developing their countries, feeding their families, making their lives better. It is the one thing that they understand the least of about us Americans (what have you got to really complain about?) and the thing they like the least. I'm with them.
Counterculture - a good, solid core of wacky, creative, disruptive outsiders who can hold their societies up for examination, introspection, even ridicule are the one thing that most Asian countries seem to lack, and sorely need. It won't be easy to develop that - these are societies that put a premium on harmony and social cohesion and greatly discount individualism. So far that dedication to purpose and the greater common good has served them in good stead. And there is certainly no good reason to toss it all out. But beyond a certain point, if a society, an economy, a body politic is to continue to develop, and not simply plateau, it needs its nut jobs, its crazies, its wild eyed visionaries who sometimes make people uncomfortable. There are some of them around the region who are making themselves known, and there are some of them who are being brutally held down in places like China and Singapore and Malaysia and Vietnam - not to even mention Burma and North Korea. But there aren't enough of them, not yet, and I have no idea how a country provides for their development.
Those are just a few thoughts that have come to mind.