Culture Wars/Current Controversies

Adapt, Resist, Deform, Reform

[Cape Town, 9/18/21]

On the grimy wall over me is a flyer for a missing cat. In the color xerox, this white and tan pussy is lying inside an old cardboard box. Despite this, its owner is clearly not indigent, for the reward is $100. The average monthly salary in Phnom Penh is only 300 bucks.

Sure, some Cambodians eat dog and cat, as do Vietnamese, but the majority stay clear of such delicacies. In Thailand, such meats are banned. After WWII, even pork was frowned upon because it was deemed too Chinese. This went nowhere, though. Pork is too tasty.

Until the Meiji Restoration of 1868, Japanese ate no beef. Encountering beefy whites forced them to change their diet, to grow taller. Before fighting Russia in 1904-05, they were still concerned about their smaller soldiers, then they won. Now, Japan produces the best beef in the world.

When a culture is threatened or already overrun by another, it must quickly overhaul itself.

In 1913, Nguyễn Văn Vĩnh wrote in Đông Dương Tạp Chí [Indochina Journal], “Us Annamese have the strange habit of laughing in any situation. If praised we laugh, but when criticized we also laugh. Good we ha, bad we ha, right we ha but wrong we also ha ha. When you bare your teeth ha haing at everything nothing is serious.”

Though I can’t find the texts from a sidewalk in Phnom Penh, I remember Phạm Quỳnh at the same time telling men to wear their hair short and women to not sleep in the kitchen.


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