When East Meets West and Worlds Collide

IMG_3345Recently, I had an online chat with an old friend, W, who is a banana: Yellow on the outside, white on the inside. (She also claims to be an inner blonde.) Obviously, I am not a banana. I am a mango. The fact that W is often bananas, i.e. crazy—and I’m speaking the way an adult does of a cute but mischievous pet–—cannot be stressed more.

At the prospect of a meal consisting of the much-touted wagyu beef burger, W’s fingers went ahead of herself and typed ‘Thank you! MUAH!’  In her glee, the m word came out unfiltered and unabashedly in uppercase on my chatscreen.  [Remind me to get her a HEPA filter for Christmas.] Although Singaporean, her ability to display Asian conservatism has never been her strong point. To her credit, she tried to backtrack. “Am I allowed to do that?”

I ignored that sudden outburst of spontaneity; afterall, I was exiting the MRT station going home and needed to focus on getting on escalators, crossing bridges. Besides, the use of muahs, in written/cyber form,  are still reserved for kids and significant others, right?

There’s a scene in Departures, one of my favourite Japanese films, where a man and a woman get into a quarrel. They kneel on the tatami, a square table dividing them, and they exchange words. Their terse sitting positions never change, only their words are circling the air, tense and bitter, edged with a sharpness that can cut through the soul.  They are husband and wife, but you would not guess it if you just chanced upon that scene. Asian conservatism in its ultimate expression–displayed between husband and wife.

Quintessentially Japanese, wouldn’t you say? And in the scene where she breaks the news that she is expecting their first child, the husband’s first reaction is not to go around the kitchen island to embrace her, but to express his joy in words.

One simply can’t go around giving everybody muahs, whether in word form or otherwise. Not when conservatism is the order of the day.

She apparently thinks differently. The written form, she says, is a simple outburst of spontaneity, nothing more, nothing less. In this classic instance of east meets west in cyberspace, my banana friend eschewed Asian behavioral norms and conservatism and showed warm gratitude at my gesture of the wagyu burger.

She defends her lack of Asianess (read conservatism), citing years of living in a Western culture.  Perhaps if I did study music in a place like Berklee (the famous music conservatory in Boston), my ingrained conservatism might have eroded a little. Things might have been different, I conceded. I imagine bohemian Asian musicians, walking examples of east-meets-west, walking around the campus, blithely sprinkling muahs in their e-mails, smses, online chats, and blogs, free to express themselves as they most certainly do in their musical forays.

“I used to be conservative, you know,” she said. “Still am. But spontaneity… That is allowed room for expression sometimes, right?”

Perhaps. Maybe more so when one has gone bananas for a long time.

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