I live amidst Chinese languages, traditions and cultural practices. From my vantage point as a Singaporean of mostly Chinese ethnicity, even I think the China onslaught is a bit full-on; as full-on as I’ve had America shoved in my face and forced down my throat – the Gulf War, Black Friday sales, Coca-Cola, American Idol. It is ironic that Singapore was a British colony.
Born and bred in Singapore, the Chinese-ness of life and things around me went largely unnoticed. That might be because life even just 30 years ago was a purer mix of race, culture and language. Apart from the fact that it was mandatory for me to study Chinese as a second language, little else overtly ‘China’ jumped out at me.
And then I decided to spend five years in Beijing – living, working and pretending to be Chinese. For now, I’m in no rush to go back there even for a holiday, but I won’t deny the eye-opening, horizon-widening experience that it was. China taught me several things: Everything is negotiable; people will do anything for short-term gains; only fools give a shit about the environment.
I guess that makes me a fool. But then again, I don’t live amongst one billion other people trying to survive.
My time in the “Middle Kingdom” also acquainted me with the toxic smell of plastic (lots of it), cheap electronics and fake everything – from char siew pau (roasted pork buns) to eggs to faux fur that is sold to other countries as faux fur but is actually real fur made from slaughtered dogs, cats and anything you can imagine on four legs. China also introduced me, in real time, to the vulgarities of the nouveau riche.
The China brand is as global as the American one. People everywhere are fighting their natural inabilities to learn a language that has four tones; authentic spicy Sichuan hotpots have replaced the passé egg fuyong in restaurants; and so many people (too many to count) have smartphones. Who said anything about genuine?
China and Laos share a border. So, it isn’t overly surprising that China-cana (as in “Americana”) has spread to Laos, and quite quickly, too. From the UNESCO World Heritage town of Luang Prabang to the sleepy village of Muong Noi, the Chinese brand is prevalent.
In Laos, and indeed in many parts of the world now, common sights include Chinese-only hotels/guesthouses, packaged custard pies that keep for a year (and more), rip-off iPhones, and Power China dredgers digging up riverbeds to make dams.
The air we breathe is thick with consumerism; a scourge of our modern times that no one seems to be able to control.
But how can we?
Even in Singapore, I can buy a pair of China-made shoes for just S$5.