reach-out

Everyone has stories of how they have been treated poorly by other nationalities. It brings out unfortunate comparisons with our own ethnic group, and at best leaves us feeling slightly smug and superior. At worst it degenerates into racist slurs. I recall hearing such talk before we went to Germany. Ever mindful of our responsibility as parents to teach our children differently, all five of us enrolled in German school for a year before we left, and learned to appreciate not only the language, but the culture of Germany as well.

During our year in Kandern we were constantly struck by the gentle courtesy of our neighbours, their genuine love for nature, their cleanliness, and their grief and sense of shame for the horrors their country had unleashed on Europe in the last war. The war changed forever the way they saw themselves and their responsibility to their neighbours. It is terrible to think of the price of that lesson, but encouraging to hear of their self-recognition and their genuine humility.

We heard our share of slander about South-East Asia before we came here as well. I won’t indulge in any stereotypes by citing examples, for I’m sure you’ve heard them as well. Let me just say, as we close in on the end of our second year here, that you would be hard pressed to find people as gracious and considerate in any part of the world as we have found here. From our rental agent and her husband who drive us to church every Sunday, to the total stranger who bought our lunch in Singapore when he saw us struggling over the menu, Asians are almost invariably considerate.

On our last trip to the airport we made a casual comment regarding the music video the driver was playing for our entertainment on his in-cab viewer. Before he would let us go he had pressed all five of his current music videos into our hands and insisted that he take no money in exchange. He was simply pleased that we had appreciated his efforts. We were both humbled and embarrassed by his gesture and determined to be more careful about our admiration for what belongs to others in the future.

Asia may be crowded, and in places extremely poor and deprived. Their sanitation is not up to snuff and their infrastructure is overburdened and often inadequate. But for all that they could teach us in the West a thing or two about treating others with courtesy and consideration. That is to say, if it is not too late for us to learn.

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