Fragments of Culture

It’s strange seeing downtown here, or at least what seemed like the shopping district. It’s familiar, but in a way that feels wrong. Everything is what I would expect on a Saturday night in any major city, but at the same time everything was out of sync.

It had the feel of the central district in Guadalajara, where it’s designed for people to walk rather than drive, but there were cars and motorcycles everywhere. I was told that the law had changed a few months ago and now the boardwalk was a parking lot. It reminded me of San Diego or San Francisco, but there were signs everywhere, crowding the sky overhead. And then there were the people, that familiar range of foreigners and locals passing through the crowded streets.

There was a dissidence to it, extremes of culture and commercialism all impacting there. I passed some amazingly beautiful women, then a homeless man sleeping on cardboard. Expensive restaurants filled with people, then a street cart with meat on a stick. People shouting, laughing, then avoiding the dirty man playing solitaire on the ground. It was nowhere near the flood of homeless that I saw in San Francisco, or the stark shift from wealth to poverty I found in Mexico City, but there were so many things that seem to have been put in a blind spot while surrounded by flashing lights.

It’s rare that I would even visit that side of town, but a friend got me tickets to Rocky Horror, and I had never seen it on the big screen. They had a live show with it, and people shouting at the screen like back home, but it was missing something key. The idea of the live show with Rocky Horror was always that it gave people license to do anything they wanted, unleashing chaos within the confines of that time and space. Cross-dressing, throwing things at the screen, shouting, laughing, dancing, drinking, and anything else they wanted. But that’s back home, with Americans who grew up with the cult movie, often in a shit theater where no one cared about the damage that might be done.

This was a nice theater, with a long list of things you cannot do and a number of locals from a culture where chaos is rarely a desirable trait. I saw it with a German and a couple of Americans that had never seen the movie. I didn’t think it was bad, they laughed, and took part, but they didn’t see the wonder that the cult had found. I think that if they’re going to give a list of rules, they should also add the things you can do. You can, and should, shout at the screen. It’s not a bad idea to be drunk. Sing along if you know the words. Be loud. Be what you want to be. Just do it with respect.

In a way, it feels like a fragment of the weirdest part of American culture has been brought to a place where understanding will take a lot of time. That’s not a bad thing though. Like the Babel fish, understanding the words someone speaks is not enough to understand the culture, and nothing has created connections between cultures like slowly learning what someone actually means.

I wonder about it though, sometimes. I have found so many things that I love, but I can so rarely share them with people. People like the idea of kung fu, but rarely like the reality of training. I have seen people study languages so they can travel, but rarely just because they are fun. I don’t know if the things that appeal to me are that far off the path, but it seems rare that I find people who are really interested. I can’t remember how many people I’ve talked to about kung fu, who wanted to train, but never went with me. How many people talk about how hard it can be to connect to the locals in a place, but I always seem to find them. The number of times I’ve heard people here talk about how there is nothing to do surprised me, but when I asked what they wanted to do it always involved drinking.

The people here have their way, and it’s not a way of alcohol and bars. People connect, but that doesn’t mean they connect the way we do. People talk about how cold the Taiwanese can seem, but I’ve found that’s only when they first meet you. Even when I can’t really say what I want, trying to connect, smiling, and showing humor changes the way most people see me. I don’t know that it’s always a good thing, but there is a way here, and there are connections to be made.

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2 Responses to Fragments of Culture

  1. sea2seasea says:

    Interesting seeing Rocky Horror in an Asian motif. I miss you. Glad you’re getting out


  2. Bill Eberline says:

    Yes. And true anywhere in the Orient- even (for me) in the Philippines. Much as I hate to admit it, the biggest barrier I face is language, James. I get teased a lot, because after all the time I’ve spent there, I really should know more than the handful of Tagalog words and phrases I know. Worse, some of those don’t work in the Bicol region where I spend most of my time, and where fewer people speak English fluently. When we left, I humbly promised to study before I came back. Oddly, it doesn’t affect my understanding of Filipino culture- I gain back a lot of respect by being able to explain local culture and history. Glad you’re having fun, and I wish we’d found some time to get together. Take care, my friend!


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