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Letters from the Dragonlands: Five Things I Love About Asia

Singlish, Peranakan and dragons are a few of the many adventures I’ve encountered in Asia. To document everything in seven columns would be impossible. I have contemplated Kiasu, slapped on sunscreen after losing my face and argued in two different versions of English. I have discovered Peranakan, reflected on my identity as a Third-Culture Kid and tried to fly high with dragons. But there are still so many things that I love about this grand continent that I could write for a century. So, in a teary farewell from the Dragonlands, I present to you (in no particular order) 5 things I love about Asia.

1. Girl Power

Asia continues to applaud female leaders. Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi has actively and loyally fought for Burmese democracy for over two decades, locked away in house arrest for most of the time. Rivals Sheik Hasina Wazed and Khaleda Zai have fought political battles over the position of Bangladeshi prime minister, and both are women. The first woman to rise to power in the West was Margaret Thatcher, when she became the prime minister of Great Britain in 1979. In contrast, Asia put out its first female leader a decade earlier in 1960 – Sri Lankan leader Sirimavo Bandaranaike. The U.S. and Canada have yet to have a female president or prime minister. And most recently, the world extends its congratulations to Yingluck Shinawatra, who just became Thailand’s first female prime minister.

2. Playing the Qin in Front of a Cow and Falling From a Tree into a Boat with the Bark Peeling Off

Idioms exist in a language for a reason. They are flowery metaphors sprinkled throughout our speech that create an image to express something that other words can’t quite encompass. But they do more than communicate an idea – they also communicate quite a bit of culture. Asian idioms are so diverse and so steeped in stories that they immediately brighten any rhetoric. In China, to say one is playing the qin in front of a cow is to say one is wasting one’s efforts. When the Japanese assert that “even monkeys fall from trees,” they actually mean that even the experts can get it wrong. An exclamation of “it’s a carrot!” in Korean is another way of saying “of course!” In Hindi, to say one is “excreting embers” means one is extremely angry. In the Philippines, “itchy feet” can be cured with a bus ticket, not an anti-fungal cream, because to have “itchy feet” is to have the urge to travel. The Western metaphor of “going to the dogs” would be figuratively translated in Kashmiri as, “it’s a drifting boat with the bark peeling off.”

3. Everything is Possible (With Terms and Conditions)

When I was house hunting in China, my realtor told me if there was one thing I needed to know before moving to Asia, it was that anything (and literally, anything) is possible. It’s just a matter of “how much.” That is, how much you’re willing to pay for it. After many years in Asia, I have come to realize that it’s not just about the money. Asia is rising in gold and wealth, but if anything, it is full to bursting with motivation and enthusiasm. If someone in the West tells you a corporate analysis can’t be completed by the end of the week, someone in the East will have it done with a bow on top within the next hour. The kiasu-capitalist mentality of trying to get ahead has engulfed Asia in one large, nationalistic movement of competing and surpassing the West. Asia’s rise is actually a large comeback – a resurrection spurred by Asian motivation.

4. Color, Color Everywhere

Wherever you look, a rainbow inundation will deluge you. Walk through the streets of China and you’ll see the bright red lanterns hanging on threads of ivory yellow. In Japan, the springtime cherry blossoms cover the land in a soft snow of vibrant cotton-candy pink and contrast strongly with the black of the wood after a spring rain. All the spices, silks, dyes and seeds in the marketplaces of India are an artist’s dream – Tyrian purples, peacock blues, cinnamon crimsons and bright daffodil yellows are only a few of the colors that you not only see, but taste, feel and hear at the same time. In the forests of Borneo and Indonesia, foliage of the finest green jade grows from the caramel earth, and the sudden explosion of a bird breaking through the foliage seems like an accidental splash of bright color on a painter’s perfect green canvas. The colors of Asia are so easy to brush over, but they are the introduction to a majestic world of culture and vibrancy.

5. Unusual Occurrences on a Daily Basis

In Asia, be prepared for the unknown. Every day is an adventure, and every day, something unusual will happen to you. Be it discovering a shopkeeper who knew the last emperor of China or a turtle showing up in a backyard pool or even a monkey creeping into your house to steal your watermelons, surprises abound in Asia. These surprises are what make Asian life colorful and exciting. There’s a whole continent out there waiting to be explored, waiting to teach you. Innumerable cultures and innumerable lands are waiting for you to take their hands so that they can introduce you to a world you had no idea existed. Countless roads of adventures lay in wait. Now it’s up to you to decide which road to take. Asia tells you to choose wisely, and good luck.

Planning your adventure in the Dragonlands? Beware that she might reminisce for hours, but ask Aysha for advice at [email protected]

 

 

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