Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Survival tips in a foreign land part 4: 入乡随俗 aka "When in Rome, do as Romans do"

7 months down the road, I have finally gotten down to completing my first real attempt at putting together a series to "advise" others based on my personal experiences. Looking back at my 3 earlier posts, I have to say that I am pretty pleased with what I have to offer, and I do hope that this final instalment will not disappoint.

Before I get on with it, it might be a good idea for everyone, especially new readers, to review my 3 previous  survival tips, all of which are extremely important:

Tip 1: Building a social circle

Tip 2: Family

Tip 3: The 2 Capital Ps - Patience and Perserverance

Everything happens for a reason. I had almost forgotten about writing this post, but in the past month, Amy Cheong's rant on a Malay wedding on her Facebook page and the consequences she suffered reminded me of this unfinished series and gave me the conviction that I HAVE TO complete it. Amy Cheong was an Australian (born in Malaysia) working in Singapore, very much like my current situation in Thailand. Her rant was, in my opinion, not exactly racist, but extremely rude and disrespectful to the natives in her adopted nation, which ultimately caused her swift downfall. I seriously do not consider her a racist, as she might have done that to any event or anyone on a bad day, but I would say that she got what she rightfully deserved, as we all have to bear the consequences of our own actions.

This brings me to the final and MOST IMPORTANT survival tip, called 入乡随俗 in Chinese and "When in Rome, do as Romans do" in English, though the Chinese version brings out the essence more accurately. Tips 1 to 3, as vital as they are, would mean nothing if you are not prepared to "Do as Romans do".


    I do not mean that you have to smoke if most locals smoke or become an inefficient worker if the working environment is generally relaxed. The more important aspect of this is RESPECT, respecting the people, culture/s, food, customs, habits of the locals etc. Always remember that you are the odd one out, not them, if anything, they should be the ones expecting you to behave like them.

    This is no longer your home-ground  you cannot always win. If you cannot get your head around some of the locals' behaviors or habits, try harder, or maybe find another place to work/live in, because they are not going to change for you. Please do not resort to ranting on your FB page, you know what will happen next.

    Try to understand the history and culture of the people to know why they do certain things. I had to take the public bus with my colleague to understand why she had to leave office on the dot everyday. By talking to them, I also knew what I could and could not do/say to locals, as the locals do have their traditions and preferences.


    It's ok to follow world news and keep in touch with what's happening in your home country, but ultimately, Obama or Romney becoming the next US President would not be more important than what's happening right outside your doorstep.

    By caring about the news and happenings in the country you live in, no matter how strange it might seem, you will start to feel a sense of involvement and belonging. Celebrate National Day with the locals, avoid the riot locations, be updated on what new rules are regulations are being put into place. It will definitely make your stay a more fruitful one.


    English is supposed to be the Universal language, but sadly it is not as widely used as we hope it would be. For example, in Thailand, I can reasonably assume that more than 90% of the entire population of 70 million cannot speak English properly. Thai characters, originating from Sanskrit, consist of 44 consonants and up to 28 vowel forms, not forgetting 5 tones, meaning it is infinitely more difficult to master than English, a language I spent half my life learning and can't say to be very good at.

    Although I admit I could have spent more effort learning how to read and write Thai, at least I can now speak quite a good bit of basic Thai (I am starting to learn reading too) and usually don't have major problems getting simple ideas across with the locals. If you are content with staying in your luxurious serviced apartment watching cable TV, you will always be dependent on others to do things for you and will never be able to solve you own problems.


    You are no longer a tourist. You can't possibly go to the places filled to the brim with foreigners every weekend though you are one. Try to go to spots locals frequent to see and experience the local way of enjoyment. It could be a walk in the park, grilling seafood by the beach or even fishing by the river. Life will never be the same again.

So I have finally come to end of my series. I hope in some way or another, my input would have helped you. Remember, I am a 31 year-old Malaysian who has spent 28 years in Singapore and another 3 in Thailand, in addition to leaving footprints on every continent multiple times, you do the Math. There might not be many other people floating around the globe at my age who can say they are more qualified than me to give a lecture on this topic.

My final sentence to close this off would be to absolutely respect and appreciate what the country you live in has given you, because only when this happens will its people respect you back.

If Eddie can do it, so can you.

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