I slipped into my co-workers’ conversation midway during lunch. They are a hilarious group of people-I believe most of them are from India or from Indian descent. When they get really involved in discussion their voices get much louder and their accents come through a bit more. Sometimes they will jump to Tamil for a few seconds and then come back to English-their banter is very dynamic it reminds me of hanging out with my friends back home.
Then I was invited to play TT (Table Tennis) by one of my co-workers. I was a little intimidated at first because I heard he was the best in the lab, and his title is rightfully claimed. He gave me a run for my money and then some, beat me 15-7 and 15-3 but both times I think the points I one were more so for his mistakes rather than me winning the point. I think my brother Colton could have given him a fair match, but alas I am not my brother-one time when my co-worker slammed/spiked the ball at me I put my arms up to defend myself-my mentor saw this and laughed. So, I’ll try to play a bit every day at work and maybe at the end of the summer I’ll get a few more points or at least not flinch when a fast ball comes my way.
Afterwards I went to get tea with the group. I had ginger tea, it is very aromatic and sweat (made with milk). My mentor also told me that it should help me digest my lunch (most of the spices here have a purpose besides flavor). However, tea time was not as relaxing as I expected because the repartee switched to have America and therefore me as the center of attention.
FYI trying to be the authority figure on everything that is American and America is exhausting-I should have done more research on America before I came here. What I have learned is that any bit of news that catches American national headlines has probably also hit global headlines as well (or at least Singapore’s news). When my mentor handed me my tea, he told me to be careful because I can’t sue if I spill some on myself (reference to the law case where someone at McDonalds sued for the hot coffee that burned them). Then conversation bounced to why 60% of Americans are obese. All I could say is that I am not obese and that I don’t know many obese people, but that doesn’t do much to fight that statistic.
Conversation then deviated from America for a moment to Chinese versus Malay and Indian food in Singapore. One person said how Malay and Indian food is regarded by more people as unhealthy, when in actuality Chinese people have higher cholesterol levels and heart disease than any group in Singapore. There was some acrimony in his tone and it struck me to consider if there is a bias from an unofficial racial hierarchy in Singapore. In my head, I briefly related this to a play I saw last weekend.
The play was called “Pariah”. The setting was in Malaysia and the entire dialogue spoken in Malay with English subtitles for us to read. While the plot was fictional, it related to true events. A group of four college friends, two Malay, one Indian, and one Chinese had to read a book in class which presented Indians and Chinese people in a negative light whereas uplifted the Malaysian people. The book, which was a required reading by order of the Malaysian Ministry of Education (I believe), stirred a group of Indian students to take action and fractionated the group of friends. Eventually their bonds of friendship are restored, but this was after we journeyed through each person’s life and uncovered complex and unsettling emotions of cultural displacement, isolation, sexism, and racism. The story was familiar, it was as if you could use the same plot line but substitute the characters for people of European and African descent. If that happened it would be like the story of the Civil Rights Movement in America. If you substituted in other ethnicities and populations, it would represent the daily dynamics and churning that occurs in the American melting pot this day and age as it continues to strive for equality for all. Maybe our own problems are others as well…
What was awakening for me was that the word pariah was very taboo in the story. I learned the word pariah in ninth grade as a description for the lowest class in the caste system that previously existed (and maybe remnants of it still do remain) in India. However, the sensitivity of the word as presented in this play was equivalent to using the N word in the United States. It is amazing to me that the stigma of the word pariah lost its significance as it traveled over seas and into my textbooks. It makes me wonder if all deeply rooted traditions, words, and ideas, both glorious and horrific, dull as they travel from their origin.
Of course, the past two paragraphs are a bit of a tangent, I didn’t have all this time to consider these thoughts during my tea time conversation because after this moment we bounced back to America.
Gun control policy.
I was asked, “why are Americans allowed to own guns?”
My response, “so they can protect themselves and it is not like anyone can own one, they have to be registered.”
“But it can’t be that difficult to get one. Plus why is there the need for this gun culture. It is the job of the police department to protect the people, if people have guns why have a police department.”
Gun culture? When did America get a gun culture? I thought. But I know that in Texas you can carry a gun in public (it is almost like a pride thing), that in some city areas people conceal guns (for threat and power), and others hide them in their homes and stores (for protection). Does America have a gun culture? My thought for response is that you can’t generalize America like that, but wouldn’t that mean we have different gun cultures across the US? Maybe we do, but from where I am from no we don’t. I think that is the most difficult part of playing the role as expert American-the story of my life only holds true to a small group of people. I feel like for most of the questions I am asked my response is that it is not that simple and that you cannot generalize.
The fair response I’ve learned for these pressing questions is to make a distressed, but comical sigh and for the most part listen to what everyone has to say. It is amazing how well informed the Singaporeans (which I have spoken with, to avoid generalization) are about American issues. One person was citing a documentary he saw about Columbine and Food Inc. When we got back to Immunos I mentioned how the conversation was mind opening and then we returned to the banter the conversation started at. One person said to me come to lunch more often; 30 minutes of TT a day and 30 minutes of mind opening.
Sounds like a plan to me.