The little things

My return to the West was sharp and shocking. Having spent the past month and a half experiencing two cultures differing hugely from what I see in Seattle, seeing a familiar society made me notice just how much the little things matter. From the luscious Botanical Garden right near the city’s heart (whereas in India it would be a slum), to the fact that I can longer claim to be as tall as the average man (I’ll miss that), Australia, has stood out markedly from anywhere else we’ve gone.
For instance, Australia, like many of its European relatives, is becoming more and more secular. Whereas cathedrals, churches, temples and shrines all seemed to be a major part of life in our previous locales, in Australia, religion seems to take a backseat to sports. Looking at Australia’s religious percentages only confirms this feeling; a full 16% of the population says they have no religion, which seems much higher than in the previous countries we’ve visited, especially the non-Western Japan and India.
I’m particularly appreciative of this next marked difference from Eastern culture. When walking through the streets of Sydney, the women walking around look as if they actually enjoy living. In India especially, one could drive halfway across town and not see one woman. I used to count how many men in a row it would take before I saw one woman, sometimes getting into the thirties or forties. Most of the women I did see look depressed and broken, forced into being quiet and discreet just because they were born into a conservative, sexist society.
From reading this, you may think that I went through India and Japan completely unappreciative of the culture around me. There are also some facets of life in foreign culture that I’ll miss- most prominently being Japan’s harmonious, sacrifice-individualism-for-unity culture. It may not have appealed to my rebellious side, but it showed me a way of social organization that contrasts heavily from the West’s individual-“friendly” ways. Throughout India and Japan’s older crowds, I was also taller than a good chunk of people (wow). Especially in the older crowds, I could stand a head taller than everybody. I also have to admit that Japan’s (especially Kyoto) appreciation of natural beauty also appealed to me, offering a nice break from chaotic India. What the contrast between East and West (I have to hand it to my parents for timing the trip like this) has really shown me is how growing up in any one culture can change your mindset. For example- I’m sure anybody who has grown up in India’s older generations would find Western women over-the-top and foul.