Cultural Contrasts.

 

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It is a statement of the obvious but of you travel then outside your own land, your own place and way of doing things you will travel to another culture. It is part of the nature and experience of travelling. It is one reason why we go in the first place. But when we do and we find this other culture and we enter it how do we treat it? Do we accept the culture or what it is, do we shrink from it, do we try to impose out own culture on that which we find, do we adapt to it, or do we reject it? Of course we go with an open mind, but then a new culture can attack our senses and confuse us. And when we come with our own culture and enter another one, what happens to ours, have we left it behind?

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In Asia some of the most beautiful monuments and sights are Buddhist. An ancient religion still very prominent, revered and practiced by the people who live there. We want to see these buildings, temples, icons, and so we do. Some like Angkor Wat are historical, empty relics, large stone constructions that give us an image both of something extraordinary but also an image of a bygone era. Some on the other hand are alive and part of the everyday lives of the communities around them.

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Enter a Buddhist temple filled with people having removed our shoes and watch what people do. The dress code is sometimes serious and perhaps it irritate us that we are not appropriately dressed. So do we ask ourselves why on earth do they have these rules, or do we accept this as just part of the culture and comply? Sometimes we stand to one side quietly, trying to be unobtrusive so that we don’t interfere in what is happening. Or maybe we deicide we want to be a part of it, we might buy some incense sticks or a piece of gold leaf for the Buddha, or sit and meditate.

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Unless it is our own religion we are always outsiders but accepted as such by the people at the temple. We may, discreetly, take a photo, or ask a question and we are careful not to impose either ourselves or what we think and how we act. Having sampled, we wander outside to be met by the sight of a monk standing at a souvenir stand sipping from a can of Coke through a straw. It’s a jolt, we don’t expect it, and it’s amusing but why not? There is our culture and his culture coming together and neither one is the less for it.

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In times gone by cultures rose and fell on war, attrition and the supremacy of one over the other, now perhaps they start to blend and we can hope that the best of both is what the traveller carries home.

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