Thursday, July 11, 2013

Great Arguments Are Made of These

We were chilling on the Garonne riverbank enjoying the gorgeous sunset when a lady approached us and said, "Hi guys, I'm kinda bored. May I join you?"

Of course, we said. The more the merrier. She was Korean-American, married to a French, but as her French was pretty dismal we had to switch to English. As the only person in the group who spoke decent English, I had the de facto duty of engaging her in conversation.

All was going well until she uttered, "I live in California, but I hate America. They have absolutely no culture." Naturally she was expecting me to concur, as if it was a sentiment shared the world over. As if, by virtue of not being American, I was supposed to agree that anything American is bad, that the Americans had no culture. The hatred towards Uncle Sam is supposed to be a universal thing, is it not?

Well, tough. Contrary to popular opinion, I, for one, find that the American culture is very present and not just in America, but all across the globe. How can I not, when I'm sporting a pair of jeans and T-shirt, when all I listen to is American music and its declensions, when half of my favourite films are American, when I even adopt American mannerisms when speaking English although my education was largely British.

"That's unfair and a bit hypocritical, don't you think?" I asked, looking her straight in the eye. She reacted accordingly with wide, judgemental eyes.

"What do you mean, unfair?" she queried.

"Well, for one, your outfit is clearly American. You speak with a distinctly American accent, and I'm pretty sure the hamburger is part of your diet. How can you deny the existence of a culture when you are immersed in it?"

"Because it's a stupid culture!" she retorted, obviously irritated.

"So you're acknowledging that it is a culture nonetheless, be it stupid or not?"

"Yes, but not a culture I'd like to adhere to."

"So now that we've established that they do have a culture, we can discuss whether or not it is stupid," I said cheekily, knowing that half the battle was already won because she had just indirectly contradicted her original stance about the nonexistence of the American culture.

"It is stupid, period," she said, probably hoping that such a flimsy argument would suffice. Well, again, tough. I'm going to need more than that, lady.

"I think you're confusing stupidity and practicality. Their culture might not be as ancient as that of the Indians, or as intricate as the French, or as elaborate as the Chinese. But the practicality of the American culture makes it prevalent in almost every developed nation. I'm proud of my beautiful Malaysian heritage and culture, but do you know that people come to Malay weddings wearing jeans and T-shirts instead of our own traditional attires? You want to know why? Because it's simple and practical. Like it or not, we've all adopted the American culture for the sake of simplicity and practicality. So much so that it's become an integral part of our culture, to the point where we deny the Americans their own culture. And that is highly hypocritical."

"If that's the case in Malaysia, then you guys are just stupid," she said, dead serious. Aha. Of course, when all else fails, go for the low hanging fruit. At this point I had nothing else to say to her because suddenly she came off as childish, on top of being pretentious and arrogant. She might have perceived my sudden silence as a sign of defeat, so she decided to go in for the kill. Or so she thought.

"How old are you?" she asked.

"25," I curtly replied.

"Ah, I see. Well, you're still young. Give it some time and you'll see," she said, and I swear I saw her grin triumphantly towards her own reflection in the Garonne river.

I just smiled. So, on top of being pretentious, arrogant and childish, she's also ageist. She is one of those dumbasses who think age equals wisdom. The mere fact that I'm almost 20 years younger than her somehow discredits all my arguments. I might not have lived as long as she has, but I consider myself very well-read and cultured, and I take pride in my maturity. Given her frail arguments and willful recalcitrance even when proven wrong, the only difference between her and me are the wrinkles around her eyes. She might be years older, but none the wiser.

You just can't win with these people.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Coincidences and Baader-Meinhof

I was ten years old when one weekend my whole family decided to go pay a visit to my elder sister in Penang, so I brought a book along to make the long journey bearable. The main character was a girl whose dreams helped solve a crime. While in the car, suddenly my parents had a discussion where Jalan Travers was mentioned and I found it funny because Travers was also the name of the main character in the book I was reading. But wait, there's more. Once we reached Penang, it so happened that most affordable hotels in Batu Feringghi were fully booked so we had to roam around looking for a reasonably priced hotel with vacancy. We finally found one in a secluded area, and the hotel's name was... Travers Hotel. That was when funny became freaky. Today, it was brought to my attention that this phenomenon goes by the name Baader-Meinhof, where you come across something unusual for the first time and later keep seeing that particular thing over and over again over a short period of time.

I love freaky coincidences, because I don't fully believe in them. As much as I'm driven by the logical aspects of things, I still have enough superstitions to know that some occurrences are just metaphysical. Science has accomplished so much, but there are still a lot of things the brain can't grasp, and when the brain fails, science follows suit. Freaky coincidences are among the places science just can't reach. The best we can do is breaking them down into probabilities and statistics, whence phrases like "You have one in thirty thousand chance of finding your doppelganger."

I'm currently reading Fritjof Capra's The Tao of Physics. While the book is a magnificently boring piece of shit, I'm still learning a lot about Eastern mysticism, most importantly about how we shouldn't try to understand and explain the universe but instead just agree with it. I'm not even trying to understand coincidences; I just enjoy them.

Last summer I was walking around London with a friend I'd known since primary school who came for a short visit. We were just reminiscing old times when all of a sudden we saw this girl walking in our direction and she looked extremely familiar. Turns out, it was a common friend of ours from primary school who just happened to be in London at the same time. She was studying in Dublin, Ireland and was only in London for the weekend; I just arrived all the way from France that very morning, whereas my other childhood friend had driven down from Aberdeen, Scotland the night before. The fact that the three of us came in from three different countries just to bump into each other in yet another foreign country is just mind boggling. Granted, my encounter with the Aberdeen dude was planned, but the fact that we bumped into a common friend from primary school (that was 13 years back!), in a cosmopolitan city as sprawling as London, is something to ponder upon.

Humanity owes so much to coincidences and serendipity as most inventions and discoveries were unearthed this way. In a world where people are growing dismissive of divine presence, God still finds a way to gently shook us to the core and remind us who's boss. It's... beautiful.