Alvin's 'diarrhoeal India' & making sense of Sense

I read with interest, the following account by ‘alvinology’, of his trip to India. I can’t say that I disagree with him with regards to the difficulties mentioned. However, I’m also very much aware that, oftentimes, it’s not only the experience that makes much of you, but how much of you there is to make more of an experience. I’ve often said to my Chinese friends that the reason why they keep ‘preferring’ singapore is that singapore has underdeveloped them to the point that they do not possess the perspectives to appreciate more. In other words, they discount information that does not fit in with the slots in their personality. That is like a child tossing out objects of all shapes except circular ones because the only slot s/he has in her fit-object-to-slot toy is a circular one. My personal strategy has been, since my late teens, to use various experiences to hew congruent shapes into my personality – unless there is a logical reason why I shouldn’t do it. In scientific terms, I allow myself to ‘go native’ by taking on the persona and perspective of various cultures to the point that I can feel like them. Thereafter, I end the experience and move on to the next. (to date, amongst others, I’ve done this in varying degrees with Arabian, African, Afro-American, Native American, Aboriginal, Chinese, Indian, British, American, rap, rock, blues, black metal, 50s-80s pop culture, Hindu, Buddhist, Islamic, Christian, Satanic, heterosexual, bisexual, homosexual, male, female, cultures – but it is more of a mental thing than a physical one at times.) That is the only way to get rid of the ‘censor’ within oneself that leads one to make less of an experience.

Well, the following is an excerpt of Alvin’s observations, and my comment – placed at his site – follows.


“The trip left me mentally me mentally and physically drained, but also enriching in other ways.
I now appreciate the clean, portable tap water and faultless sanitation system in Singapore very much. I don’t have to to watch every step I tread on the street as there are pee and shit everywhere. I also need not drink bottled water everyday.
I appreciate not having to walk down the street, harassed incessantly by countless touts, beggars, con-men and tuk-tuk drivers who all want a share of my supposedly fat wallet just because I am foreign - “Hello? Where you from? Korea? Japan?”
There are honest and sincere Indians too, but the sad thing is, I cannot tell them apart from the rogue ones who will also appear honest and sincere till they go for your wallet.”


I suppose the reason why it might be safe to assume that everyone is a suspected 'cheat' is because you have yet to learn to distinguish between the honest and bad ones. For that, you will have to learn their culture, expressions, etc. Then you'll be able to read their intentions a mile away.

I have heard statements such as 'indians/malays/africans/chinese/etc all look alike'. The reason for this is not that they do, but our making sense of reality from the cultural/perspectival formulae we are accustomed to. That blinds us from appreciating the details that distinguish other types of phenomena. The same applies in your case. Don't forget, you come from a singapore which has been highly monocultural and does little to train people in the art of detail-appreciation or of difference. Hence, you will, relatively, be far more backward in identifying or even being cognizant of detail in just about anything compared to a multiculturally-trained person, i.e the Brits, Indians from the subcontinent. Chinese culture trains one into a superficial view of reality because empathy is a 'no no' due to its compromising the political aspirations of any despot. With the eviction of collective empathy, comes the decline in the appreciation of detail. And with that, comes a whole load of problems. Collective activistic empathy is the key.

But to be thoroughly honest, my Chinese wife continuously advises me not to trust the Chinese because they all intentionally or unintentionally always 'chia' you. I suppose it could be said that it is in the culture of the chinese to 'chia' because they undergo great pressure from the government. Therefore, the only way to survive within such a state of affairs is to 'chia one's neighbour'. My wife who was stationed in China for 2 years in a directorial position also stated that the only difference between the chinese in china and the chinese in singapore is that the former are more 'advanced' in this 'chia thy neighbour' thing.

It is not really that the chinese can't be trusted. But where top-down pressure is taken as 'it's like that one lahhhh'(as often heard amongst the chinese), one becomes the sort of person who will seek to maximise gain at minimum expense or effort. That leads to minimal information, effort, thought, etc, being exchanged for maximal gain. And this is further exacerbated by the fetishisation of tradition, being reared in a monocultural state, being subservient to authority, being conformist, etc, etc. It's quite the same in china as it is now in singapore. It's a psychological thing, not a racial one of course.

But it's too bad you didn't get the most out of India. It is, unlike China, the biggest democracy in the world, extremely multicultural, and there is a high degree of empathy there as well. People go by logic and reason, thinking and debate is a national pastime (as opposed to shopping and eating...and in future 'gambling'), and wit is greatly appreciated - hence, the baddies will inevitably be even more skilled in the art of 'chia-ing thy neighbour'. But these are exceptions and cannot be the rule where people power is more of a reality. This will be embedded in various forms in the country, but you will have to free yourself from Qin-gaporean learnt perceptions on what defines the epitome of civilisation to appreciate that. You ought to wonder why when westerners go there, they come back with a more in-depth appreciation of the Indian civilisation. But in order to do that, you will have to appreciate it from outside the paradigm by which you have been taught to appreciate and depreciate reality. Remember, to see more, you'll have to be more.

These are things i told myself when i was in my late teens in the late 80s. Critical introspection, a lot of it, is required. But you will have to cease being any particular race for that.

Good luck



I will end this observation with this,

To know oneself, one has to know variations of oneself that aren't entirely discernible through experiences in any one national, cultural, gender, class, etc, milieu as these just serve to open us to one persona and blind us to others. And in doing so, we’ll be able to make more of an experience that we would have previously been unable to imagine.




  1. Very well put Ed, no other better way of getting that shit out of his brains, that is blurring his thoughts.
    He is not fit to be in Mysterious India in the first place or to go to any other country for any reason. He should just imprison himself here in brainwashed Singapore. The least, he could go to China and return back here with H1N1, Sars and unstopable watery stool leaking from his sore buttocks, without his wallet and pants. This creep even removed my sincere comments made on his blog.

  2. My my. You really have a way with 'whacking';). But i wouldn't say that they weren't entirely ill-deserved. But I wouldn't be too harsh on Alvin actually. I see him more as a victim of singapore's monocultural ethos. Hence, he valued a phenomenon by his being undervalued, perspective-wise, prior to exposure. It is quite typical of the 'new post-80s singaporean'.

    Personally, i too would be upset by that which he was appalled by. But, I would find great compensation for it in what else I can experience there despite their version of 'new water' being in a pre-processed condition;)- which might, in part, explain their hardy constitution.

    The point of taking trips to other climes is not to solely judge them by what we have learnt to take comfort in, but in allowing that experience to chisel out new facets in our persona for our own perspectival enrichment. Unfortunately, after his Indian trip, Alvin had more to say about what's great about singapore and little to say about how India compensated for what's lacking here. For myself, Indian media greatly helped to keep my IQ above the sewer level - even if most of them might be living in conditions that can be likened to one - and helped alleviate the abject stupor that comes with the 'uniquely singaporean' experience.

    That said, I would say that India is a highly intelligent nation - more so than most of s.e.Asia and China put together. But, that would also mean that the 'baddies' are going to be even more problematic just as the good ones are going to be far more insightful.


  3. I share your sentiments, Ed.

    Personally, i have been to India a few times. There are parts of India that are clean and others are not. However, this is not critical. I have enjoyed my trips to India as the interactions with the local Indians are very stimulating (a totally different experience with the singaporeans of today). What i missed most is the vibrancy and quick-witted conversations with the Indians in India - these traits are seriously lacking in the people here in singapore, especially the chinese.

  4. I agree with you 'Anonymous'.

    I have to say that the Chinese are generally extremely challenged when it comes to wit, going beyond the obvious, or engaging in issues that aren't trendy. What i've interested myself in this past decade, is in the causes of it. This is not a 'racial' problem but a perspectival one. But, it also has to be said that if a particular race is identified with a particular perspective that produces this, then it can become a racial descriptor. That is why we have to help in disengaging them from such perspectives.

    I have helped my Chinese acquaintances overcome such problems over the past couple of decades, and they themselves will attest to the value of such aid as it has had positive effects on their social relationships, work, etc. However, they too have reported to me that they are constantly under pressure to conform because when they behave in a more vibrant/analytical/witty manner, they are almost always ignored or have what they have to say dismissed offhand with a simple 'talk cock' or 'there he goes again'.

    As for quite a few of the Indians i have encountered in contemporary singapore, they strike me as different from the majority in feature, but not perspectival form. Most unfortunate for everyone as the majority and minority can't gain mutually from true integration. I'm always appalled by the Indians i encounter these days whom are well-versed in where one might find the best 'hokkien mee' or 'prata', but look blank when i speak analytically on significant or trivial issues. The Chinese i've encountered are more obvious in that they actually just turn away and look around at other things. That is why i've elected to keep to myself and severely limit my social circle as i do not want to fall victim to said pressures to conform.

    As for India, to be brutally honest, I have to say that i too share Alvin's views on it and that has prevented me from going there as i'm a bit too squeamish when it comes to the lack of hygiene as some might be at the sight of blood. One of my weaknesses i'm afraid. Additionally, my 'unique' looks is certainly not a plus-point and given that i look Indian, they might not be as forgiving as they might if a 'white man' was to sport a similar style. I suppose i need a guided tour.

    But i do recognise the value of India's spiritualism, multiculturalism, empathy, and great popular intellect - and i have learnt much from them as i have from the Brits, amongst others. In fact, i view India as the final place where the battle between good and evil is taking place. They are caught betwixt the capitalist west and the confucian east and this is severely compromising their ancient wisdom and perspectival development as it does not lead to great success in the economic sense where the economic system values mammon over God. The Chinese, via the consequences of legalist/confucian culture, are however well-prepared for capitalism as it engenders mutual alienation and gross opportunism. And that is why the west of today are in a number of respects aligned with China. They are two paths to one destination that reduces humanity to nothing more than a self-absorbed, consumeristic and apathetic mass.


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