Friday, January 01, 2010

Another Victory for Cultural Imperialism


Did I mention that before my trip to Vietnam, I also went to Thailand? Yes, two consecutive trips to South East Asia, you've got a problem with that?

Anyway, during that trip, my friend and I were given full access to a private Bangkok condo owned by the friend's generous old auntie. I bought some durian, along with some other tropical fruit, so we kept hearing about  how we had to eat it in the open air, on the balcony, in order to avoid stinking up the air-conditioned condo. Anecdotes were told about airplanes in the Philippines, hotels in Singapore with sniffing dogs, and various other precautions taken in Asia to prevent people from sneaking durians into planes or hotel rooms or other enclosed spaces.

Now I don't know about you, but when I was a young girl in Vietnam, I knew of people who didn't like the smell of durian (my dad), so they just didn't eat the stuff, while the rest of us gorged ourselves with the fruit when it was in season. Durians were never banned anywhere and people didn't recoil with horror at the thought of having to breathe a few durian molecules. The classification of the smell of a popular Asian fruit, considered to be the king of fruit, into the equivalent of a stink to be avoided like caca or a skunk is therefore a new phenomenon, originating from outside of South East Asia.

I agree it's a strong smell, which I happen to like. But I also like blue cheese and camembert, and I consider that some cheese's smells are pretty nasty. When I eat a brie for example, I always remove the crust because it smells like piss. But I never heard of any hotels or airlines forbidding Stilton or Camembert.

Which brings me to the conclusion that this is another example of cultural imperialism. Because some Westerners cannot stand the smell of a durian, then the whole of Asia must hide in shame to eat that fruit. That cultural bias is so strong that Asians have been brainwashed into accepting it as an objective fact, without realizing where it comes from.

The relative that owns the condo is a sweet little old lady who kept reminding us to hurry up and finish the durian before it stinks up the condo or the fridge where it was kept. Each time, I wanted to ask: So what if the place smells like durian, would that be such a disaster? The smell will disappear eventually and it's not like I took a dump on the Persian carpet in the living room. Old Auntie has a cute little dog that does its business on newspapers in her bedroom, which smells like dog's piss/poo all the time. I know because that's how my bedroom smells at home. And I keep thinking how outrageous that that sweet old lady has been accepting a relatively recent Western judgment as a universal fact, to the point of thinking that the smell of a durian in a house where she is not staying is worse than the smell of her dog's excrements in her own room.


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