Showing posts with label society. Show all posts
Showing posts with label society. Show all posts

Sunday, March 11, 2018

What is the Best Way for a Wealthy State to Engage the World?

The movie Black Panther has been all the rage back in the US for quite some time now, particularly among the black community given its depiction of a wealthy, confident, powerful black country not suffering under the yoke of Western colonialism.  While the concept of Afro-centrism or Afro-futurism as many have termed it, is worthy of note, a bigger theme that goes beyond race comes to mind when watching the movie.  That is the question of whether and how a wealthy nation engages its poorer neighbors.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

The Dangers of a Social Fabric Based on Drinking

It is unsurprising that in many places of the former Soviet Union, people (and middle aged men in particular) love their alcohol.  The winters are cold and long, so shots of vodka are great for keeping warm and whirling away the long nights.  The wide availability and cheap cost of making and buying the stuff make them friendly on the wallet just as it is on the senses.  The public's indulgence has created a very strong distilling culture, in which high quality alcohol is even made at home with different fruits.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Does More Exposure to Mass Tourism Makes a People Less Friendly?

Just a few days ago, the author found himself discussing how to increase number of tourists in Azerbaijan with a few locals in an underground bar in Baku.  The economy was in dire straits as the GDP dropped along with oil prices.  The government's supposed diversification to non-oil sectors involved little beyond investing in infrastructure to increase exports of natural gas.  Tourism, for a city as beautiful as Baku, deserves to be one of the main sources of income in a diversified economy.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Are Restaurants More "Special" in Some Countries than Others?

The restaurant does not look like much from the street level.  With a little "restaurant" sign pointing at a dimly lit set of stairs leading down to a basement of a otherwise commercial building filled with fashion shops.  But as soon as the set of glass doors dividing the stairs from the streets were opened, the loud sounds from down below were inescapable.  Simultaneously, almost disco-like lights from the basement give off the impression that one is entering a nightclub rather than a restaurant.

Friday, March 2, 2018

What is the Influence of the Soviets on Local Cultures in ex-Soviet States?

At the airport in Baku, Azerbaijan's capital city, the author found himself briefly unable to enter the country due to misunderstanding of the country's visa-on-arrival rules.  The immigration staff not only helped him step by step through the process, he also did so with smiles, jokes, and even free chocolate to help him get over the three hour wait at 11pm.  In the subsequent taxi ride from the airport to city center, the taxi driver got lost but remained good natured, joking about how streets shouldn't have same names.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Exchange of Food as the Pioneer of Globalization

The Mongolian names for dumplings (buuz) and restaurants (guanz) sounds conspicuously like their northern Chinese equivalents 包子 (baozi) and 館子 (guanzi).  Simultaneously the southern Chinese name for the same dumplings 饅頭 (mantou) made to both Korea as mandu and Central Asia as manty.  The favorite pulled noodles of Lanzhou 拉麵 (lamian) found itself to Central Asia as laghman just as it went to Korea as ramyeon and Japan as ramen.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

On Quick Changes of Cultural Affinity

The main Koreatown of Shin-Okubo in Tokyo has, unsurprisingly, a neon-washed main street.  Shops advertising the latest hip new trends from the world of Kpop, combined with seemingly endless lineup of Korean street foods and restaurants, draw in customers from across the metropolis to experience "cool Korea."  Yet, just a few steps away from the neighborhood's brightly colored main drag lies a completely different side.  Dark little alleys, home to hundreds of mundane residences, extend away  from the main street, at the first sight no different from any other residential area in the Japanese capital city.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

To Promote Real Cultural Exchange Requires Asking Tough Questions on Cultural Differences

When Japanese firms and government market the concept of "Cool Japan" abroad, a few formulas come in mind.  For them, to get foreigners to "like" Japan and its culture, it simply cannot beat a demonstration of what are traditional combined with the country's modern quirks.  The likes of martial arts, kimono, and tea ceremonies can expose foreigners to the historical depths, while singing idol groups, cartoon characters, and technological demonstrations can show how the country can combine its traditional values and mold it in a modern sense.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Are Environmental Friendliness and Good Service Mutually Exclusive in Japan?

In his recent world travels, the author has gotten used to the idea of having to ask for bags when he goes shopping.  In the US, for instance, plastic bags are no longer free, so shoppers are expected to either do without them, bring their own reusable ones, or pay a fairly expensive price for one.  In more politically aggressive places like Rwanda, the very idea of using plastic bags have become obsolete as plastic bags themselves are completely banned from the country.  To those not used to having to carry around their own bags, it is a bit of nuisance, to say the least.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

In an Automated Society, What If the Algorithms Stop Working?

If there is anywhere that proves the world-leading level of automation Japan achieved, it would be the country's public restrooms.  To prevent the spread of bacteria, more often than not, the use of levers and buttons have completely been made obsolete.  To flush the toilets, to let water out of spigots, to turn on the machines that blow-dry hands after washing, and even sometimes for turning on lights, sensors do the job.  A swipe of the hands in the right places, without any physical touch, allow accesses of these services.  Clear signs show first-timers where to put their hands.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Is Popular Patronage of the Arts a Luxury of a Rich Populace?

Roppongi, one of metropolitan Tokyo's most cosmopolitan neighborhoods, host an all-night arts event every year.  Museums open through the night, performance artists strut their stuff, and temporary exhibitions pop up all over the plazas and the streets.  Thousands upon thousands crowd into the buildings and alleys, gathering for concerts, little musicals, and displays in otherwise inaccessible hours.  They bring their down jackets to the unusual chilliness of 4am, huddling to witness relatively unknown artists trying to get their five minutes of fame one after the other, battling their sleepiness and fatigue. 

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Can the IT Idea of Fashion Take Over Asia?

If there is anything that visually identifies a Japanese adult, and especially a female adult, it is the sense of fashion.  People in Japan's major cities are absolutely meticulous about how they dress in public, even in the most casual of situations.  Countless magazines advise both males and females on proper coordination of shirts, coats, and pants, while various TV programs show how to properly apply makeup and introduce shops that help those with subpar sense of fashion.  Even those who do not care too much about visual presentation inevitably have to conform to the fashion sense just to feel socially acceptable.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

The Danger of Gaps in Expectations during Social Events

Tokyo is a fine city for meeting new people.  Dozens of organizations ranging from students doing it on their free time to fully professional outfits run social events that bring together complete strangers from all walks of life to help them expand their often limited number of friends and acquaintances.  Generally, what makes these events so fun is that people go in with an open mind and very little expectations, making them extremely conducive to conversations with literally anyone.  In a Japanese society where social status and looks can be paramount, such situations, to say the least, can be quite rare to find.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Difficulty of Japanese People to Get outside Their Normal Social Circle

As mentioned in the previous post, Tokyo is full of social events that help foreigners meet Japanese people and simultaneously allow many Japanese people to learn about foreign cultures and meet foreigners. Many Japanese people take advantage of these events to get an idea of how English speakers speak and think, so that they can improve their language and international communications skills for the purpose of work and just personal interest.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

"It's So Difficult to Make Friends in Japan!"

Thus goes perhaps one of the most common statements among foreigners met in Japan.  And curiously enough, statements of such kind are uttered during some of the most popular meetups where hundreds of Japanese and non-Japanese from all walks of life mingle, specially designed for finding friends among complete strangers.  While being in an environment where people aggressive meet people for the explicit purpose of befriending them, foreigners lament that it is hard to make friends.  Clearly, the reason is not because they have little opportunities to meet other people.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Frequent Suicides can Actually be Good for Social Stability

When working in Tokyo, taking the train to work (or anywhere, for that matter) is part of daily life.  And since people are so reliant on trains to go anywhere, it is especially irritating when they are delayed or canceled for unforeseen reasons.  Japanese train services are famously punctual by design, but even then, there are times where good service and design does not equate lack of issues.  The most frequent of these issues is 人身事故 (accidents involving bodily harm), an euphemism for people jumping into train tracks to commit suicide and delaying services in the process.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Excessive Praise of Anti-Poaching Heroes Masks Economic Desperation of Poachers

The articles are everywhere.  In local and foreign news outlets, the dedicated lives of anti-poaching patrols in some of the world's most wildlife-abundant areas wage constant wars against poachers, who commit murders for a quick buck.  By showing the aftermath of wildlife slaughters on widely circulated posters and visual reports, both public and private sources make the anti-poaching patrols out to be heroes saving the planet from shortsighted human actions, driven by unparalleled ignorance, uncontrolled want, and the massive profits to be made in the black market.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Does the Presence of More Singles Reduce the Potential for Economic Growth?

If there is any issue that defines Japan, it is its demographic one.  Among the youths, ever-fewer people choose to get married and have kids, while increasing longevity ensures that a bulging elderly population steadily increases the average age of the entire population.  The presence of "herbivore" men (and women), defined by their almost complete lack of interest in romantic relationships, aggravates the problem into something that is not easily corrected by simple incentives for bigger families.  The mentality of the population has dramatically shifted to one that questions the very virtue of family life.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Belonging as Identity and Interest as Belonging

We all have those moments.  Sometimes we show up in a social gathering with supposedly close friends to talk about major events in their lives, yet as the conversations go on, one just finds oneself drifting away, aloof, staring into the space.  It is not that the conversations are boring.  In fact, they might be humorous, full of exciting details, drawing interest of everyone else involved in the conversations.  But even as everyone else laughs and ask follow-up questions, one cannot do much beyond weakly laugh along without understanding the context, just to be polite.

Monday, July 31, 2017

If Language is Not an Obstacle to Universalizing a Song, Then What is?

In my nearly one month of travels across South America, there was one thing that was commonly done in every country and city that I set foot in.  That is, the bars and restaurants repeatedly played this summer's (or in South America, this winter's) smash hit, Despacito.  While the Spanish-language reggaeton dance number is just as popular in the US and many other countries around the world, in South America, the craze is at a whole new level, with the song played as part of the pop music hit list so frequently that it is impossible to not go anywhere that plays music without hearing it at least once (if not more).