Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Eight in the Morning and Culture Shock


Today, at eight in the morning on March 20th, 2012, I was in Sydney, Australia.

I was also in Honolulu.

It's a fascinating thing, this time invention. Though we woke up at 3:30am, though we traveled twenty four hours, we finished our journey technically only three hours after we began it.

It was fantastic. I finished The Songlines and two other books (the days since I was able to do that in one day have passed… my max is about 400 pages a day now— I read about 800). None were classics, but I caught up to the paperbacks and now I can fully ignore them until a) we spot a used book store and I exchange them, or b) we get on the flight back to Australia.

Entering Hawaii was a bit like entering some really weird, super-touristic country that's kind of, dare I say it, superficial. People smile to do their jobs, not because they want you to have a good time. They smile differently

I've just had a culture shock, I realize. Going off to Japan was easy. Moving through all of Asia, etc, was comparatively simple to 'coming back' to 'home.'

We watched TV today once in the condo.

"My kid's a picky eater, and he wasn't getting enough nutrients. So my doctor recommended X, for healthy growth, etc."

Ileana and I stared at the TV, unable to comprehend a doctor's recommendation for a picky eater, and we both said, "I would have told the kid to shut up and eat."

We watched some TV shows and saw how family relations are exaggerated— the needling parents, the annoyed teenagers, the stressed family dynamics… and I was aghast. 

We've been living as a nearly-perfect family unit compared to these TV people! And if this is funny only because it's exaggerated just enough to make people see the humor in it, if this is the kind of sitcoms kids might watch on a family night… it was a bit frightening.

I miss India. I miss Cambodia. I miss those simple countries where no one tries to sell you anything.

Which is hilarious because everyone in India is asking you if you want a rickshaw or a necklace or a bangle or a stuffed animal or a balloon or a lemonade or anything. People in Cambodia offer just about anything for one dollar.

But people smile there. There are ridiculous TV commercials, but they feel different too. They're actually somewhat enjoyable. We saw American commercials, and while the new Progressive deduction commercial is amazing merely because it's changed, everything else felt… pointless. Absolutely pointless.

Commercials for shampoo, commercials for single portion bags for easy freezing, for TV plans so that you can record six shows at one time and watch in up to four different rooms. This last one makes me think of a quote in my Psychology textbook.

"The problem with television is that people must sit and keep thir eyes glued to a screen: the average American family hasn't time for it. Therefore the showmen are convinced that… television will never be a serious competitor of [radio] broadcasting." — New York Times, 1939

73 years later, people become convinced they can't live without a television in four different rooms of their house and recording for six different shows. WHY?

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