Thursday, December 21, 2006

Another Messy Fight with My Annoying Know-It-All Invisible Book Reader

I don’t know how many of you have ever written a book, but if you have, you will probably know what I am talking about. Every writer has an Annoying Know-It-All Invisible Book Reader, who always hovers in the background somewhere and pops up at the most tiresome moments and asks you annoying questions about something that's in the book or something you left out of it that you can’t answer.

I was sitting in a nice Italian restaurant which Malgorzata the Wild & Crazy Pole (pictured here with her husband Denzlerowski the Wild& Crazy East German) had rented out to show some of her friends her new documentary TV-film called "The Vietnam Express" (soon to run on Arte), about a train that runs all the way from the north to the south of Vietnam. It takes days, mainly because the quality of the train and the tracks forces the train to crawl, but you see everything, including some breathtaking scenery in the green, lush mountains.

As I watched, I couldn’t help notice that a lot of Vietnamese wore baseball caps – which I assume (but cannot be certain) is a tradition imported to Vietnam from America.

Not just a few Vietnamese wore them, everyone wore them. Old, young, male, female. It was hard to pick out anyone not wearing a baseball cap. They were everywhere I looked.
Suddenly, my Annoying Know-It-All Invisible Book Reader popped up. "See? Everything is Americanized. You were wrong. You can see that for yourself." In my new book, Planet Germany, I claim there is no such thing as Americanization, that's it's an illusion, a fata morgana, that people imagine there is such a thing because America is so big and threatening, but in reality America doesn’t export more culture than any other country.

Then this. All those baseball caps. What if I was maybe wrong after all? What if I had really got it all wrong? My God, the world really is Americanized! And the voice of that Annoying Know-It-All Invisible Book Reader sneering in my ear.

I started fidgeting in my chair. I couldn’t concentrate on the movie. The waitress asked if I wanted another beer and I nearly lunged for her throat.

Then I told myself – "Think, Eric, think. There must be a way out of this. If you were MacGyver, you would figure it out. You would think clearly and open your eyes and see everything that's there, not just the baseball caps. There must be something you're missing."
So I took another look and soon realized that there was one other thing that everyone had: mopeds. Everyone was riding one. There were no cars on the streets, just mopeds. It's the basic mode of transportation now. Where did they all came from? Probably they came from Japan, Korea or China. Not America – America makes cars, not mopeds.

In fact, America worships cars. Cars are a more important part of American culture than baseball caps any day. Any culture that prides itself in being Americanized would have cars, not mopeds. And mopeds had certainly had more influence on Vietnamese culture than baseball caps. The moped has changed Vietnamese life more than anything else. It determines how far from home you can get a job, it determines how much stuff you can carry to and from the marketplace. It determines how cities are structured. Not to mention the pollution which, to judge from reports, is horrendous.

Clearly, the mopped has much more influence than the baseball cap. But still, no one ever talks about the Japanization, Chinesation or Koreanization of countries like Vietnam. It was just a bad instinct that made me focus on the baseball caps and not see what was clearly in front of my eyes.

After that, that Annoying Know-It-All Invisible Book Reader vanished again and I could lean back and enjoy my night out.

Let me tell you, it takes a lot nowadays to get me to enjoy a night out.

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