Monday, June 21, 2004

The World, Our Reflection

The World, Our Reflection

When you first arrive in Jakarta or any Third World city for that matter, you always feel like you are surrounded by suspicious people. Is the taxi driver going to drive you somewhere and rob you? Are you going to be abducted from the streets and held for ransom? Are people trying to overcharge or cheat you?

It is only natural for someone to feel this way in a foreign country. But after a while, you feel more comfortable. Physically nothing has changed. It is still the same crowd that you see; the same dirty sidewalks and the same noisy traffic; but you do not feel self-conscious anymore and you realise that you even feel at home.

What is it that has changed? Nothing, except your own attitude. It is usually our own anxiety that stands in the way for us to feel at home anywhere. If we know how to relax and treat everyone we meet like any other regular person back home, things become easier.

The world around us reflects back on the attitude that we project towards it. It can feel like a very oppressive place if we choose to see it that way. We must resist our desire to look down on other people. People could be different; but no one is superior to anyone else.

I am lucky that I did not have any prejudices or misconceptions about Indonesians when I first visited the country in the mid-nineties. And having lived there for two years, I realised that a lot of the "dangers" that I had been warned before were grossly exaggerated. These days, I even like to see Indonesia as my second home.

But that doesn't mean that I would take unnecessary risks. The basic precautions are the same any where you go. One just needs to learn not to be paranoid about things.

I have an American friend who got robbed on his first trip to Bangkok more than a decade ago. Despite being a huge guy, he was driven by this bogus taxi driver from the airport to a secluded place and robbed of all his valuables at gunpoint.

Anyone else would have chosen not to step foot in the Land of Smiles again had he gone through such a bad experience. But my friend did not take that one unfortunately incident as being representative of the state of the whole country. He chose to get to know people better. And gradually, he became captivated by their charm and grace. Today he speaks Thai fluently and has chosen Bangkok his home for the last six years. His dream is to retire here one day.

Humility, courtesy and respect always help. One can always find friendly people if one projects a friendly attitude. Very rarely people would want to be unfriendly; If they seem distant, maybe they are just shy; or maybe they are the ones who fear you.

I always feel that we have nothing to lose by giving other people the benefit of the doubt. In the end, the world around us is just a reflection of ourselves.

No comments: