Lazy Westerners

So I recently had the pleasure and privilege of traveling through Thailand and Cambodia.  I take a trip every year or so and I always take the DIY route. I pack a hefty backpack, a passport, a Lonely Planet guide book, some ideas and of course some money.  I roam the countries looking for attractions and things to do.. taking busses and trains to get places, staying in cheap hotels and eating the local food. Thailand was probably my best trip yet.. right up there with China back in 2001.

I learned so much on this trip.. it was an incredible eye opener.. I was already a lover of foreign cultures, especially the Asians, but now even more so. I feel the need to protect them.. to stick up for them.. to explain them.. because they need it.. or perhaps we need it. Yes we need it.. they are doing just fine without our understanding.

I hear all the time statements like “the Asians are taking all our jobs!” or “the Asians own all the businesses!”.. and these comments are of course delivered in a sour tone.. sometimes with a touch hatred or racism.. sometimes gushing with it. And it bothers me every time. But as I have learned in recent years, there is no point getting into a discussion about it, because people cannot be told anything that threatens their precious belief system.. something that threatens their intellectual integrity.. unless of course someone is openly searching for clarity or another point of view.  People get very defensive whenever subjects like “Asians” or “racism” comes up.. they get very emotional trying to explain to themselves they aren’t one of those nasty racist people .. all the while spewing out comments that would land them in “politically correct” hot water if any authority was listening.  And this point of view, this stance, this way of seeing the world, is very common.. it’s everywhere.  I’ve learned I am not capable of changing minds through dialogue.. not powerful subjects like this.  So this writing is my plan B.. those who want to change or understand will find their way here. Those who don’t… well..

Yes there are loads of Asians owning successful businesses in America!   They are hard working, resourceful and numerous. Most importantly, these successful Asians are not lazy.

One of the most striking observations I made in Thailand and Cambodia, is the number of businesses they have. On every street.. around every corner.. in every alleyway.. business after food stall after restaurant after more businesses.. wall to wall, street to street, block to block. Towns, cities and villages are packed with businesses. I’m not talking about “Home Depot” or “MacDonald’s” type businesses.. well yes those exist over there, but the great majority of the businesses are small personal kiosks, stacked on top of one another.. from a woman pulling a dirty old cart selling mangos, to small alcove stalls selling beverages, to the guy walking around draped in trinkets he sells, to full on stores with doors and locks that sell a variety of goods. It almost seems like everyone over there has a business of some sort.

I hope I am painting a good picture here.. and I will repeat to emphasize the visuals.. these businesses are everywhere.. one beside the other .. on streets, alleyways and in buildings. I am not saying that these are all successful businesses ! … just that they are businesses.  Whenever I wanted to buy bottled water, there were 5-6 options within my line of sight to choose from. And you almost felt bad when you chose your vendor.. you felt bad because of the numerous surrounding businesses that see you spending at their competitors.   Almost every small business sells bottled water…

I felt bad also because it seemed like the great majority of these businesses were not overly successful.. like the guy who walks around with his collection of necklaces and trinkets.. you had to wonder how many of these he actually sold. And yet he walks around from dusk till bedtime chanting and seeking eye contact.. The old lady pulling her cart around with a couple baskets of mangos.. mangos that will rot eventually if they don’t sell.. sell for pennies I might add.   How many of us would sell mangos for pennies for a living.. from dusk till bedtime..

After seeing these people working so hard to survive, I started asking myself.. why so many businesses?   How do they get by like this? Well those are the key words.. getting by. I imagine they sell just enough mangos to get through till tomorrow.. just enough bottled water to survive the day.. just enough meals to open the next day again.   These people are doing what they can to survive. These people are earning their keep.. hard core.  These people have no choice but to become business people even if at the trivial level of bottled water.

I’m not versed on their social programs or lack of.. I have no idea what goes on politically over there.. what citizens are entitled to.. what is expected of them.. what the laws and rules are.  So everything from here on in are my best inferences based on what I have seen first hand.  But I firmly believe anyone would come to the same conclusions…

How do we survive here in Canada and the United states? We have jobs!   We go to school (or not) to better our chances of getting one of these jobs.. or to get the best paying job possible.   From the day we enter school, the fear of getting a good job is drilled into us and we spend our lives trying to get and keep the best paying job possible. What happens if we don’t get a job?   We stay at home with mom and dad.. we stay with someone who has a job… we get social assistance.   If we compare these options to our situation in developing countries, or Thailand to stay on topic, we come to the conclusion that perhaps there is no social assistance over there.. or is it that social assistance is shameful to them.. or is it that they are a proud people who refuse to be part of any such assistance… I don’t have these answers, but it is clear that something is going on here.  How do we explain the crazy abundance of businesses over there ??

I equate these minute businesses, kiosks and stalls to our social assistance ..  the people on assistance over here in the Western world, are the same people with trivial businesses over there.  The people living with mom and dad or someone with a job are the people with trivial businesses over there.  The unemployed person here is the trivial business owner over there.  They are the same.  They are very different.  Is there anything negative you want to say or think about these people ?  Is there a stigma that comes to mind ?  Are these trivial business people bad in any way shape or form ?  Think about it…

I think they put us to shame .. I think they should be racist of us.  They must wonder who we are .. how we do it .. how we live with ourselves.  They must be envious in some ways also .. or not .. perhaps they are disgusted .. perhaps they are in disbelief.  Perhaps they see us as inferior.  I know I do ..

I am humbled by this apparent innate business sense the “Asians” seem to to have .. I feel like the inferior one.  I go to work every day .. working for the man ..  banking on the fact that I won’t lose my job .. fearful almost.  I do what I am told, when I am told and I wait for that paycheck .. I cherish that paycheck.  I wonder about those who don’t have a job .. I wonder about those who don’t take their education seriously .. and I envy greatly those who own their own business.. those who run the show .. those who make their own rules and their own future.  And guess what ?  Often they are Asian .. or foreign at least.  They come here looking for a better life .. willing to work crazy hours to achieve their goals.. with a seemingly innate ability to run a business.  I am jealous !!  I wish I knew how to run a business .. I am told I would need to go back to school to learn this .. I wish I had the courage to invest my money in a business .. in an idea .. in a living.  I don’t .. and I have no right to put down those who do.  Neither do you.

People here “taking your jobs” and “owning all the businesses” have worked very hard to come here.  Have toiled and suffered .. or at least their relatives have toiled and suffered.  They have worked hard, saved, uprooted their lives, traveled and jumped through hoops just to get here.  More than some of us achieve by the time we reach our 20s .. We sit back and wonder why life isn’t fair .. Why the government isn’t doing enough to provide you with a job.. why life is so difficult.  We are lazy Westerners.

I salute the foreign business owners.  I thank them.  I hope they can teach us this work ethic .. this ability to survive in the most dire of financial situations.. the ability to step up.. to take control of their destiny.  I salute you.

Think about this next time your friend or neighbor goes on with one of their rants about Asians or any other ethnic group stealing his or her job .. his or her business .. his or her country.  Pay attention and learn something rather than hating and talking trash .. sounding ignorant.  Step up and do something to change your life.  I guarantee you that they have.  They don’t need your approval or love .. think about it.. and stop losing.

2 thoughts on “Lazy Westerners

  1. Really interesting article and perspective. It’s the same here in Seoul. Right across from my apartment is a locally owned fruit stand where the owners literally work their asses off every day to make a living. The thing is, is that they are happy as can be. They like working for themselves and have the spirit and enthusiasm to get up every day, especially on freezing cold ones and still hammer out a full day.


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