4/25/2019
Intolerance is intolerance

Maybe, just maybe, we're really just racist.

I don't know. What do I know? But it's one thing to feel a little uneasy when billboards written exclusively in Chinese characters start popping up in the places you frequent. There was one on the pedestrian walkway. There was one above the toll booth. There are several at the lobby of the building where my flat is. It's an electronic billboard. It cycles.

It feels uneasy because you're not used to it. It's the sort of thing that you see in foreign countries, but not here. And, I don't know, maybe Chinese characters just feel more threatening? You certainly don't feel this way when you're in, say, Kuala Lumpur, where the signs are all in a different language, but in letters that you can read. That, on the other had, that definitely feels like you're being taken over by an unknown entity.

But then, they're just signs. You learn to get past that, somehow. And then you realize what all that means, and your deep-seated biases come up for air once again.

'Yung mga beho na 'yan? Mga kadiri. Mga 'di naliligo. Dura ng dura kung saan-saan. Kuripot. Puro pera iniisip. Puro naniniwala sa hula. Diyos ko.

Yes, things are more complex than that. You surely don't think that way about your friends who have Chinese lineage, particularly those who you spend a lot of time with. (But maybe you feel a little weird when you realize they're part-Chinese.) And then there are the distinct differences. Mainlanders are different. The Taiwanese are different. The ones in Singapore and Malaysia are different. The ones who live here are different. But you would, perhaps out of convenience, blur them all together into one mess.

Admit it. We've been pretty sheltered when it comes to this. You don't really often see people that look different to you - at least for the most part; I'm sure it's different in other parts of the country, like, say, where the American military bases were. It's ingrained in us, mistrusting people who look different to us, or at least acting differently when they're around. You probably hold your breath when there's an Indian around, or try not to crack a joke about 5-6. You probably flinch a bit when you find yourself talking to an African.

But then, maybe it's that embrace of western culture, particularly American culture. I mean, we bow down at the feet of the Caucasian. Okay, maybe it's that embrace of lighter skin color, of cool climates, We're crazy over the Koreans. "Bboom Bboom" wouldn't be a hit here if not for that. (And then there are the people who blame every problem on those people who made that song a hit. What do we call that?)

Maybe, just maybe, we're really just racist. It's never a good thing, but it's not something we can't ever unlearn. Come to think about it, we don't have much of a choice on that front. The world is getting smaller, and it's not just about the Internet. Governments are looking to foster stronger connections with each other. Have you ever thought why Teh Botol and Indomie - two of Indonesia's biggest brands - are now available here? To put it very simply, economic integration. It's also the reason why your bottle of C2 likely has some elements of it made in a factory in Vietnam. We've long known it's not easy to be an island; only now have we reached a point where we can address this problem effectively.

We have free trade deals with major economies near our shores. Sure, it's really mostly business - that's mostly about their products coming here, and our products going there, with no taxes for the most part. But that's a gateway to learning more about those countries, those cultures. It's why Japanese companies have long had a presence here, albeit not immediately obvious to most. Same with China. It's long been there, yes, thanks to our history of trading before the Spanish got their mittens on us. But it's continued even up to now, from the entrenched tycoons to those trying their luck here.

In recent years, that has only intensified - and I'm not just thinking of Duterte's pivot towards China, of why he's in Beijing this week to take part in a forum on their Belt and Road Initiative, this massive attempt at geopolitical outreach that's led to fears of debt diplomacy. I'm thinking of previous governments quietly working to boost foreign investment in this country, efforts which include wooing Chinese manufacturers and companies to locate here. You may have wanted to raise your heckles then.

Now, though, we're irritated at the idea of Chinese subtitles on your geek-friendly Hollywood romp. Treasonist mall developers! Yes, it is annoying, but maybe, just maybe, we're really just racist. We don't trust people who look different to us, or more specifically, people who we're taught to distrust through years of innocuous jokes, stereotypes and, in some cases, verbal abuse. Tanginang beho 'yan. Lumayo ka diyan.

To borrow a colleague's words, intolerance is intolerance.

But then, what we're going through just feels a little more sinister. You have Chinese companies setting up here, employing only Chinese nationals, which leads to those Chinese restaurants with Chinese-only menus popping up, and those apartments kicking out all of their tenants because these workers need a place to stay in and are willing to pay double. And your government - whether you like it or not, it's still your government - seems perfectly happy to let all of this, and those military installations in our islands, slide. Lip service to appease the anxious, but that's it.

You stand at the elevator and feel just a little more uncomfortable with the chings and the chongs and the changs - they're the only sounds you can make out - being spoken around you, in what is supposedly your home turf.

Integration is supposed to be a two-way street, but this feels like you're heading towards a wall at high speed, and you'll inevitably crash, and maybe you'll die. Yes, perhaps we're really just racist, but this, this nonetheless feels wrong.

And your responses...

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