BANGKOK - Our Southeast Asia Bureau Chief, Steve Herman, today ends more than a quarter of a century of reporting in
The late dictator of the
The English journalist and
In places as diverse as
I have spent a little more than a quarter century here, a mere blip of the Asian eon. But my relatively scant experience has prompted me to conclude the dated guidance for Asian ideologues (usually simultaneously revered and condemned in their own countries) rings hollow and does not match contemporary realities.
Covering nearly one-third of the Earth’s land area it includes countries in size from
So what commonality binds these diverse lands, tongues and beliefs?
Frequently it is defined by what it is not.
“Asian values,” we are told, bifurcate Eastern culture from the West, stressing communal approaches over individuality. The term, however, is used, too often by autocratic governments as an excuse to resist the democratic ideal.
At the risk of sounding stereotypical, I have observed family bonds are tighter and more pervasive than in Europe or
With these extensive relationships come responsibility. The family is to be nurtured and uniquely trusted amid suspicion of the motivations of those at large who are supposed to support society and lead the state.
Casual interactions from the Bosphorus to Borneo have taught me more about
Breaking paraki naan bread with an Afghan village chief led to more insight into certain geopolitical tensions than from interviews with tightly scripted government ministers.
The most revealing characterizations of societies have come from experiencing them at their most stressed – amid civil war or natural disaster.
Frequently, the thought entered my mind of whether my compatriots would display such resilience, grit, ingenuity and flashes of humor among the magnitudes of misfortune.
Displaced Filipinos homeless after typhoons, Tamils trapped between dueling artillery units and North Koreans –- choosing their words very carefully -- in the pincer of Orwellian apparatus readily come to mind.
My homeland, to which I am now returning, has grown richer over the past century amid an influx now collectively called Asian-Americans. I now make a similar reverse exodus, regarding myself as an “American-Asian,” who will forever feel inexplicably rooted on both sides of the Pacific.