Sunday, September 19, 2010

Evaluating Intercultural Behaviour

This took place 12 years ago, when I was still a 11-years old kid.

I was in a tour group along with my entire family in Hong Kong. The tour group consisted my family and some other Singapoean families and individuals, and all of us are of Chinese race.

The whole group were walking past an old street Hong Kong when we came across an old restaurant that sell snake meat and snake wine. In front of the restaurant, there were live snakes exhibited inside cages, as well as skinned snakes hung on hooks like chickens hung on hooks in front of chicken rice store. When I first saw this restaurant, I was excited because this was the first time I saw a snake restaurant. I had heard tales from my family about restaurants selling snake meat and snake wine in places like China and Hong Kong, and I had also seen them shown in documentaries on TV.

As I was looking at the live snakes in front of the restaurants, I heard loud gasps behind me. I looked back to see that the other fellow Singaporeans in our tour group were pointing at the restaurant and remarking on how disgusting the snakes were. That time I was still young, hence I did not understand why did those people feel disgusted seeing snakes when they were also Chinese like us.

Now, after recalling some of the things I had learnt these past 12 years, I can roughly understand why those fellow Singaporeans felt disgusted seeing snake restaurants.

Eating snakes has been considered to be normal by some Chinese cultures. To the western societies, especially to the christians, snakes are considered to be evil and never to be touched, let alone eaten. In Singapore, many of the Chinese Singaporeans had been educated by the British system for generations. For many Chinese Singaporean families, snake eating cultures had been slowly "forgotten". As for my family, we belonged to a more traditional Chinese family. Although we had never eaten any snakes, we had heard about them. Hence I have never felt disgusted when looking at live snakes.

Do you know that Chinese also eat alot of other kinds of strange food beside snakes? Depending on the region, Chinese can treat any kind of animals as food; from spiders to bats, to even rats and dogs. To most societies, it may be considered as "disgusting", but to some Chinese, that is their life.

Still, it is quite amazing to see that there are such great contrast between the cultures of Chinese races living in different countries. Despite the same roots, there can be some things considered to be taboo for one dialect, and norm for another. Anyway, I believe that the difference between cultures should be respected, not disgusted. I feel that those Singaporeans who were pointing at the snake restaurant should feel ashamed of themselves. Even if the snake restaurant did not appeal to them, they should have respected snake eating culture of the locals, not to criticise it openly in the public like in 12 years ago. How will it be like if someone criticise durians to be stinky and disgusting in front of a durian lover?

Intercultural differences should be respected, not ridiculed. This is one of the many important concepts that I have learnt so far in this ES2007S course.


  1. Hi Riyan,

    It is really an interesting scenario. In fact, in Malaysia which is well-known of its multi-cultural characteristic, we do have some shops selling snake meat and snake wine as traditional medicine. I agree with you that we should show respect to the restaurant. When we are in a foreign country, we should expect to see something that is different from the culture at our home town. What we think is strange might be common to other human population in different regional zone. We should bear in mind that if we criticize them, they might feel that our attitude is weird.

    See you around in class :D.

  2. "Depending on the region, Chinese can treat any kind of animals as food; from spiders to bats, to even rats and dogs. To most societies, it may be considered as "disgusting", but to some Chinese, that is their life."

    That's the same with Vietnamese. We have a lot of kinds of food made from any kinds of animals. Actually, I see this as a food culture. I am proud of the food culture in Vietnam. We have a lot of good and nutritious food with delicious tastes. Maybe Vietnam is a bit small to get the world know our food. China can be a better example. I am pretty sure that Chinese food is more well-known then Singaporean food lolz. What makes the difference? Its diverse kinds of food, tastes.

    I also do agree with you and Hau. Even though we cannot accept the other country's culture, we should show our respect :)

  3. Yeap, I agree that respect is the key to have good quality intercultural connection. Besides,I found that open-mindedness and adequate level of curiousity can be helpful, too! They are magic tools to convert the "disgust" into "creativity" and help us to see the beauty of diversity.

  4. Hi Riyan, thanks for your interesting story. yeap, food diversity is common among different cultures, and it's quite interesting. for me, i seldom eat Indian food, and i never use my hand to eat rice, which Indians always do. i also see no Indian try Chinese food, so i think, if i think Indian food is disgusting, maybe they also think Chinese food is disgusting, then there will be no end.
    so i accept the difference and try to find some good points of Indian food. and now i really like various prata.
    so my point is we cannot avoid cultural difference,especially in Singapore, and we should accept it, then respect it, finally find its good points and try to like it, if possible.

  5. Thank you for an interesting, insightful post, Riyan. You detail your experience very vividly. I'm happy that you describe this incident in such a way that from it you can draw the conclusion that "Intercultural differences should be respected, not ridiculed."

    There are a couple language issues you might take note of:

    1) ...when we came across an old restaurant that sell snake meat and snake wine. >>> ...when we came across an old restaurant that was selling snake meat and snake wine.

    2) why did those people feel disgusted >>> why those people felt disgusted

    3) cultures of Chinese races >>> point of fact: To say that the Chinese are of different races is a bit like saying Europeans are various race. (That is true if people perceive themselves as French of African origin, for instance, versus French of Parisian descent). In fact, from a social scientist's point of view, it might be more accurate to call yourself a Singaporean of Chinese origin (also related to the dialect your family speaks), and Min Hau a Malaysian of Chinese origin (with a certain connection to his family's dialect/ethnic origin), and Nan a Chinese from China (and again, a regional origin).