Reading Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable

I’m currently reading Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable and I’m already thinking:

  1. This is definitely a critical work & research on Malcolm X’s life, at least more than what I’ve read. Marable isn’t afraid to point out things that are not aligned to the popular notions of Malcolm X and for that, I appreciate his immense effort and hard work of creating another insight on the amazing black nationalist leader/human rights activist.
  2. I’m also feeling reminiscent of one of my favourite books, The Autobiography of Malcolm X As Told to Alex Haley. A lot of quotes are taken from the former and I just miss reading Malcolm’s story from his own mouth (and imagining his charismatic tenor voice in my head)
  3. I’m feeling a bit conflicted with the way Marable describes the possibilities of other truths, the ones that Malcolm X ‘exaggerated’ or didn’t mention. E.g. ‘almost certainly’ or ‘probably’. Do I wish for him to keep some of his thoughts and assumptions of the late Malcolm X to himself? Probably.
  4. It’s pretty difficult for me to take some of this stuff since I’ve long admired Malcolm X. I’m starting to question, is there some kind of validation that Marable wanted to find? Or am I just being defensive about this? Maybe. I’m still reading. (I have to keep reminding myself that Marable was a historian and these are not mere assumptions)
  5. Reading at the part where Malcolm finally got out of prison. Things seem to be more interesting as the last paragraph ends with ‘He would see more, would travel, and he would seize the time.’

Well, I can’t wait to read more.


Flood Lines

Territory for years is granted,
Leeway for crashes is sorted,
Temperature is made adaptable,
Assumptions are daily exercises,
What on earth is going through their minds, I wonder?
Dangerous exhibitions are stamped,
Any possible extinguishment of the circle is forgotten,
The rides are fairly wounded and confined,
Would they be able to find out the shows are a hoax
Or would they be offended by the lights

that have always been there, like the sky?
Riddles are ensured to be manipulative,
As writers are claimed to be creatively insane,
Never mind how famous they are,
Their words are always mingled

with wooden crates and unnamed sacks,
Confusions occur mildly in the centre,
No one thinks they’re right or wrong,
But blames anyone who opposes them,
A grand hobby for the rising successors,

Temporary whistles scald the streets,
Where furrows are born and being painted over,
Scars are seen as wise for their sacrifices
Of facing the unexpected unknown,
They become the privileged and warriors.
Though there will be an upside down,
By the experienced or inexperienced tellers,
Synthesizing their own garments and fortunes,
Marking and disapproving fallacies at the same time,
I don’t know whether it’s a conscious decision or not.
The rooms are just created in a blink,
Completed with furniture and others in seconds,
Designed bountifully with cheap prices,
But what about the addresses of the tenants
That are hardly known or cared?

Living becomes an excuse, not a reason,
For tides would always arrive,
No matter where you are,
And we think to protect ourselves
by having them shunned away
as we form our confined circles,
With tentative views of rivers,
We thwart the torrent,
But still we are

Finding the Heart of Passion – Part 2

One thing that gradually occurred to me during my uni years was that, being lost was a mandatory state in every semester.

Sometimes I wouldn’t even notice that I was feeling lost. There was no specific time or place when it happened, it just did. A reasonable explanation for this, is perhaps, the weariness that was caused by the exhaustion due to the assignments (no surprise) and keeping up with the lectures/tutorials. They seemed to be consuming my energy so much that all that was left was the need to rest, eat, nap and sleep.

That could be it, but I knew I shouldn’t blame uni all the time it was more than that. It was a cycle I’d become accustomed to and it was quite a destructing one.

Some people would say the condition is similar to having a writer’s block and I don’t disagree totally. It did feel like having a mental block and a few times, I’d just stop doing what I was doing since it wasn’t doing anything except building more doubts and negative thoughts. Thirty minutes later, I found myself continuing doing what I was doing before that i.e. facing the laptop and getting on with whatever assignment I had at that time.

Strange, how the mind and body work.

Despite the complaints that I had and still have with the uni life, the schedule or the assignments, I do feel appreciative towards those times where I was feeling lost and uncertain. I’d say I started questioning things when I was in high school but the sixth-form was when I dug deeper about things and then uni officially made me a ‘deep’ person, however unflattering it sounds (since I’m the one saying it, it’s a different story if somebody else says it. And uh, you know what, never mind).

The doubts might have tortured me, because no one really likes not knowing what to do or being uncertain about the existence of life, but they helped to steer some things to a better light and made them clearer. That is, if you treat doubts as challenges or ways to understand meanings beyond words and actions in order to make sense of your life. At least, that’s how I’ve come to see and accept.

I think it was during my first year that the doubt was becoming more intense. I’d find myself in this kind of situation (extracts from one of my journals):

I don’t really listen to what the lecturer is saying and most of the time just think about other stuff and also ‘what am I doing here for?’

Feeling unsure of what it is that we’re supposed to do, asking yourself the same question, walking on the same path all over again, pacing here and there, back and forth – constant doubt.

So, constant doubt – why is it happening? How did it happen?

I suppose this happens to everyone, at some point.

And it is happening to me now.

So you can see, the big questions that had appeared during my sixth form days were entering my life again and this time, with more emphasis on the choices that I would consciously make for myself. (Hey, guess what? It wasn’t uni, it was life! Okay, glad that’s settled now)

The things that I love, the things that I hope to be, the things that I don’t need, the things that undermine and motivate me – the growing independence eventually raises these issues that I’d have to confront at some point in my life.

And it’s really hard.

The fact that I haven’t gone into specific details about those experiences probably shows this.

I can tell you for certain though, that humanities/liberal arts are the core of my interests if you’re talking about academic interests. They’re the ideal subjects that I hope would and should receive more attention especially in my country.

Sociology, Literature, Philosophy and History – taking classes for these modules is one of the best things that happened to me. Modern education does have its demerits, which I would love to talk about next time, but I think what attracts me the most from them is the knowledge that has been seeded in each of them.

Sure, some scholars or professors might have written works for other reasons than spreading ideas/theories and elevating people’s minds into understanding the society and societal issues. But the energy, the effort and the sincerity – some things you can just feel and I was entranced by this phenomenon. I suppose I was having some kind of realisation, that I want to do what those individuals that I’ve learned, studied from and about, did. To me, it would be fulfilling to do something that benefits others and myself.

The passion for learning is basically the reason why I opt to study in a university. Even if I’m not a student anymore now, I don’t think I could stop doing research and reading from trivial to crucial topics.

To tell you the truth, I’m still clueless, afraid and anxious about life: what’s going to happen and what’s going to change. What have I actually changed from 4/5 years ago then? Maybe, I’m just more relaxed and not so caught up in things and one would argue that this could be a symptom of becoming mature, I don’t know.

I’m not sure if I’m going to do a part 3, maybe. It’s so hard to write stuff about yourself and honestly, I think I’ve been all over the place. Hope there’s something good somewhere here, though.

I’ll share a quote that I find comforting in going through stuff in life which may be a bit harsh (or even unrelated to the stuff that I’ve been talking about) to some:

“These are problems [murders, terrorist acts in the name of religion and secularism etc], they’re not going to go away. Welcome to the world, welcome to planet earth” – Hamza Yusuf

I mean, who wouldn’t feel comforted knowing that there are issues/problems all around the world, solvable and unsolvable. At least I know I’m not crazy and at least I have some things I’ve grown fond in life despite the struggle to keep up with the society’s standards.

On a more optimistic note:

“To find yourself, think for yourself” – Socrates



Those Artists

I’m drawn to people
who think a lot
and put salient effort
in describing their journey,
whether in words,
pictures, paintings, melodies
and thoughts.

Those people
who may not call themselves
as artists,
but they are
the ones
who create art,

I feel deeply
connected to them
as they share their stories
that some
may have glanced,
passed by,
and not noticed
their struggles,
their restless hearts.

Those street artists,
they have it hard,
they’d rather crawl
than die
a millionaire forever,

Grant Acceptance

Often at night, I would sing a song,
Imagining myself before a great audience,
In the silent auditorium; just how I’d prefer,
Just how it has been all this while,
It’s the same here and everywhere,
Except, the audience now
is nowhere to be seen.

Often at dusk, I would sing a verse,
Picturing myself in a busy café,
Where people like me would gather,
Sharing their sorrows and lost identities,
And though they might not listen,
They’d appreciate my voice, all the same.

Often at dawn, I would hum a chorus,
Believing in better days and wistful woes,
To the new homes and kindred spirits,
Hoping one or two would cry, whether in tears or laughter,
We would watch the sunrise together,
And I would hug them and say, ‘it’s okay’.

Often in the dark, I would cry,
Dreaming of wondrous adventures at the peak,
Along with friendly strangers met by strange fate.
And I would improvise the learned tunes,
As a way to show my gratitude, debt and ties
To those who are listening and those who stay.

Often in somewhere bleak, I would pause,
Thinking about memories of the past,
How ancient solitude and chaos are,
How little we have always been,
And I wonder if our voices are scarce
Because we are afraid to die.

Often I would forget, that I was nothing
But a paper human, scribed and written
With a choice of heart.

Crying and Laughing Together

We were teenagers, there was nothing to worry about. We were just doing what we were supposed to do. The others would do their job, and we would do ours. We were teenagers, we didn’t mean any harm to anyone. We were simply goofing around, trying to feel and savour every moment in our lives like there was no tomorrow.

We were young, we only wanted to have fun. We were curious about a lot of things and sometimes got into trouble because of that. We laughed about how we managed to get away from those troubles every time we did. We were young, we absorbed things that we only wanted to take, hear and see, and we shunned everything else that we considered unimportant and boring. We were young, we thought we could create our own world, rule there and forget about the reality.

We were friends, we were singing and laughing together. We weren’t really doing anything wrong, we were just expressing what we felt about the world. We believed nothing could go wrong. We were friends, we thought we knew what we wanted. We fought from time to time and refused to talk to each other for a long time. We were proud, we didn’t expect things to go this way and eventually went to separate paths.

We were young, we’d forget that. We began to see and hear things we didn’t want to before. We were friends, yet we were so distant. Some challenges in life broke us so hard and made it difficult for us to swallow the bitterness. We were lonely, we screamed for help desperately and tried to shed the tears with our own hands.

We were afraid, we couldn’t sleep well. Nights became darker and days were even more obscure. We thought we couldn’t live again. We missed how we played in the rain and talked about dreams and wanting to change the world. We were afraid, we finally saw each other. We stood silently at first. There were no words to describe the emotions perfectly, and we forgot why we fought in the first place. We were just happy. As soon as one of us smiled and cried at the same time, we understood each other. To be honest, I hadn’t felt a warm hug for so long.

We were teenagers, we told ourselves that. There were moments and memories that we wanted to forget. We’ve made so many mistakes and wrong decisions that we wanted to hide. We were young, we failed a lot of times. But we grew, and it was good that we had each other at that time.

We were young and we were just beginning.

Finding the Heart of Passion – Part 1

“What do you really want to do?”

A good lecturer of mine asked me this question when I was consulting to him about my desire to pursue my Masters and several other options (I’m still thinking of academic career, nonetheless). I couldn’t reply straightaway and I just thought, ‘whoa, I haven’t heard that question from a teacher/educator for a while.’ Or at least it feels like it.

Within probably seconds, I tried recalling back what was it exactly that I liked and wanted to do in the future. I almost went back as far as the early childhood but luckily I stopped at high school. Not that I was totally sure about my goals and future plans at that time, but I think it’s a good sign that some of my interests have remained since then. Fast-forwarding to the sixth form and then uni, I thanked my flashbacks for assuring me. However, my skeptical side suddenly whispered to me: Wait a minute, are you sure this is what you want to do? Are you even really good at it? Don’t you think you have to be realistic? Do you think you can survive by choosing this?

I didn’t imagine it would be this hard to answer a simple question.

But I couldn’t make my lecturer wait any longer or let my eyes wander to his bookshelf for a long time so I started stammering some typical nervous words.

“Um, well, I like History and I like Social Science in general too so I’m not really sure…yet what I really want to do but – but, I’m open to learning things – anything related to those things, so yeah…”

Oh God, I’m so going to criticize myself later on. Wasn’t there any way to express your uncertainty in a much more poised way? You’ve graduated and you’re still so clumsy with words? What about all those essays you’ve done, eh? Okay, stop now, you self-conscious human being.

Like the super supportive lecturer he was, he nodded to that and said:

“Good, that’s good”

After that, my lecturer went on talking about his past experience as a student and while I was still beating myself up internally, I did catch some useful things that he shared.

He stressed that:

1. If I decide to do Masters, it would be wise to do so if only I have the intention of doing PhD.

2. I should have some specific idea of what I want to do since it’d be easier for him to give me further tips and advice & for me to find a good uni.

3. Try to reach out to people e.g. who have gone through the state I’m in.

4. Just continue researching about the field I’m interested in, fellowships, opportunities etc.

He was such a nice fellow that I feel I don’t deserve his advice. (Mostly, because of the late essays I’ve submitted to him.) He gave a lot of suggestions as well – practical ones – which I really appreciate and need at the moment, especially with the current society (budget, budget and budget). Of all things though, the one thing that remains in my mind even up till now, is the no.2.

I thought I knew myself pretty well, I definitely know which food I like and dislike but four and a half years is quite a long time – and a lot of things happened in that period. Good stuff, CONFUSING stuff, weird and random stuff. There’s always the bad stuff, of course, but nothing that doesn’t teach me more about life. So, with all these stuff going on, I didn’t realize how much I’ve changed in terms of my mind and my perspective. I realized that I took the thought of my ‘present self’ for granted.

Interestingly, a friend has told me that I basically have a good sense of self and that I’m lucky because I seem to know where I’m going.


I spent some time afterwards thinking about the question that triggered back to the memory of childhood (I couldn’t stop myself. Childhood is precious) and moments where I found myself enjoying doing the things that I loved, my passion. Eventually, I was grateful that I gave that reply to my lecturer. It was true that I was still searching for something more and it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

History was not even one my choices when I began my first year in the uni. (It was either Literature or Sociology initially) I’ve taken history before in the sixth form, and it was pretty torturing mainly because I had no idea what I was doing. I believe I managed to survive and pass because of a substitute teacher who turned out to be the best history teacher, past year papers and the less/no expectation that I was even going to pass the subject. Basically, it was like gambling back then and I was confident that I didn’t want to go through that anymore AGAIN.

Things, however, weren’t that predictable though.

What happened was that I…had what you call a change of heart. I gained my interest, or actually, renewed my interest in history somehow after taking Literature and Sociology classes. During my second year, I changed my major to History.

(There were a lot more happening before that but this is the simplest version I can tell, for now. It’s one of those memorable moments and to some extent, a life-changing decision story that I’m hoping to save for another day.)

Let’s just say I had a new understanding and a new perspective on the subject that I forgot about the horrifying experience during the sixth form because that memory became a new one. It wasn’t an excruciating memory anymore, it changed to a now-I-knew-why-I-didn’t-enjoy-history-memory-because-I-never-understood-it. Simple.

Despite that, I wouldn’t say I didn’t suffer anymore after changing my major. I was quite insecure in the beginning of my History major days, feeling that I was still a newbie history nerd and the books, ohmygod, the books. It really took a while to get used reading them. It was, however, more bearable because I actually found myself enjoying being a History major.

To start off, I like that the idea that the past shapes the present is being explained in so many ways. The more I read about the things that I wouldn’t have dared to before, the more I realize it makes so much sense to me. It filled some of the missing spots that I didn’t know were missing. History was a challenge that I didn’t know I would accept because of the misunderstanding/lack of understanding I had of what it was.

It’s ruthless, but it’s also profound. Like the realization I had when I took Sociology and Philosophy courses (‘Why did I just discover this stuff?’), it appeared like a riveting light bulb that glows pervasively in a good amount of space. The passion and the respect I have for this subject kept on increasing as I got to learn more about it.

Remembering all this is truthfully a bit difficult because it forces me to seriously consider my real passion which would and should help me to take another step in the world. The reluctance, I think, is because of the idea that I have to choose just one thing and forget about the others that I equally love.

Though it may be inaccurate to think so but there’s the dilemma, I suppose.

The Social Sciences/Humanities area is something that I hold close to my heart. My thirst and curiosity in knowledge is much largely owed to them. Unfortunately, the times that I had enjoyed misusing back in the younger days had made me miss the chance to learn their pre-requisites. So I guess I’m very much on the side of ‘I’m still learning’ than ‘I know what I want to do and I want to do it’.

[To be continued]



Because sometimes I like to rant about injustice and such through poetry.

What a thought to be mended,
There was something else in the bin,
Yet it was unattended.
Limited coercion,
Unfair play,
Access denied.

Content was the shoemaker,
Seeing the fascinated looks of
Everyone but –
Others outside the window,
Still was borrowed,
Still was untreated,

Still was madness
Performed orderly,
Leaving no debts behind.
Yet, he believed in all his might
Those formal letters
That were never signed
Just like the front pane
That yells beloved
But sells taints.
Unfortunate were the metres,
Measured by lenient laws
And lost in the empty smiles.
What a pitiful premise,
Yet his eyes shine,
Seeing value for the first time.

Confessions of a self-proclaimed bookworm

“I’m quite illiterate, but I read quite a lot” – J. D. Salinger

One of the things that I learned to realize after studying in the university, is that, I am not as literate as I thought I was. It took me about a year or perhaps more (an F grade did help me to see that, ouch) to accept that fact, as painful as it might be.

Some of my concerns:

#Confession 1 – Help, I’m an illiterate bookworm

#Confession 2 – Goodbye fast reading days, I’m now a slow reader

#Confession 3 – How the heck did I ever get called a bookworm?

#Confession 4 – Dear dictionary, sorry for ignoring you for a long time

First of all, I love reading and I think it just started ever since I was taught how to read. The meaning of ‘read’ at that time simply refers to the way people can spell, pronounce and understand some words, meanings and sentences. According to the society, if you can do that, it’s enough to call you literate. The meaning of ‘read’ when I get to university, however, has a lot more weight and the gap is freaking huge. The academic level is no joke. It’s more than just a formal language, it’s critical!

Especially when you’re in the Social Sciences Faculty, where you cannot run away from tons of reading tasks and assignments. And because I like to experiment and enjoy suffering, I took English Literature, Sociology, Philosophy and lastly, my major, History courses in my uni years and I’ve tasted similar pains that led me to question my grammar and how the heck did I manage to get in uni again and again.

Some of my friends and peers did have similar experiences (thank God for that) and it was a comfort to know that I wasn’t alone in that. We’d complain every chance we got about how crazy and heavy the language of the articles was. Fortunately, some of us were quite literate and some were talented in bluffing so the class discussions went alright. Then there were not so alright moments, when the awkward silence reigned over and most of us became suddenly interested in looking at anywhere but the lecturers. Those were some fond memories.

Yet, the discussion of the issue itself never really came to light. We would talk about it, yes, but hardly ever delve into it. Frankly, I don’t blame anyone. With the daily routine, it was hard to do so. Assignments were always piling up – usually approaching the mid-semester (but sometimes even earlier) and the only thing that people were mostly worrying about was surviving, not excelling! Well, excluding a small number of people maybe, super human beings…I think.

Anyway, by my second year, I would tell myself to learn how to read properly again. I had already taken the compulsory communication skills (teaching academic skills) and didn’t realize how utterly important it was, especially for someone who wants to continue studying after degree. I’m ashamed to say, that the memorable memories I had in that class, consisted of me enjoying the cool air-conditioner and meeting my childhood buddies. I was totally guilty of treating the class as another GP class. Sigh.

After a while though, I would soon forget the task I’d put myself to do. My poor time management swayed my momentum (if there was even one) and procrastination always came in the way whenever I wanted to perform well in every class. Sorry mum. Not to say there weren’t some achievements, I did manage to finish some assignments, but I’d often feel guilty for the inconsistency that was repairable. By my fourth year, I continued to suffer and tried my best compensating the skills that I thought I should have attained even pre-university. Thankfully, I graduated and my wish of going back to basics still hasn’t disappeared and in fact, is stronger than ever.

So where did it go wrong?

Primary and secondary education didn’t help?

Were the books I’d read in my childhood weren’t that great?

Am I really illiterate and not capable enough?

And some more questions roller-coasting in my mind~

My take?

1. The role of EDUCATION

This, I believe, is the most important thing and even more so after reading Dorothy Sayer’s The Lost Tools of Learning. However, since I’m planning to review her speech-essay, I won’t go into the details too much here. One thing that I’d like to mention is one of the questions she’d so wonderfully raised:

“Has it ever struck you as odd, or unfortunate, that today, when the proportion of literacy throughout Western Europe is higher than it has ever been, people should have become susceptible to the influence of advertisement and mass propaganda to an extent hitherto unheard of and unimagined?”

It’s amazing how this was in 1947 when she made that speech and can still be made so relevant today. The point she made here, as I understood it, is that we might trick ourselves into thinking that the literacy rate accurately shows how far we’ve progressed our minds, skills and abilities when in fact, many people have been easily influenced by the mainstream media. She’s suggesting that if we were better equipped e.g. with reasoning and critical thinking, we would’ve been less vulnerable and less persuaded by those ridiculous ads and implicitly negative messages in movies etc.

Brunei is one of the countries that experienced an increase in the literacy rate, it jumped from 1981 (77.83%) to 2015 (96.66%). Of course, statistics don’t always tell us anything but I do feel there’s a parallel to Sayers’ point there. A lot of us are exposed to the media, particularly social media and tech stuff. I’m one of them and I’m realizing more and more how dangerous it is that everything seems so convenient and easy these days. It’s not challenging and it’s not healthy that our source of entertainment and leisure activities do not depend much on our brain.

This is why, education is important in nourishing the kids from the early age – not by teaching them what to learn/read but how to learn/read.

More points next time, hopefully in my next post!

2. I forgot to mention that English is not our first language, so, English is not our first language but I think the problem lies with LANGUAGE itself

One of my lecturers who was not a local, had kindly pointed out that the fact that English was the overall standard language in the uni might be a disadvantage to a lot of us. It was, but not exactly the way he thinks. He thought that we were more fluent in our native language and we would have performed better if the essays were done in Malay. Well, I’m not sure about that.

The problem is that, though, the idea of being bilingual is great, a lot of us are struggling towards achieving that. Most of us who are fluent in our native language, are not necessarily fluent in the standard native language aka the formal language, especially written.

English is made the official language in most public schools and that means, most subjects are taught in the English language. That could explain how some are poor with the standard Malay language. Yet, some of still struggle to grasp the most basic English. I remember that one of my lecturers (different one) complimented how well Bruneians speak English here generally (hello to American tv shows), but he couldn’t say the same for our written English.

So here are the things that I frequently hear that we’re lacking of generally with both Malay and English: Grammar, structure, format. Efforts, definitely, yeah we need to do a lot of work.

3. To a lot of us, the university is the first & real INTELLECTUAL institution

Like I said before, there’s a huge gap between the university level and the previous education. When I first started university, one of my modules was a Philosophy course and I couldn’t forget that experience. It was probably an indirect introduction to critical thinking and reasoning (it was actually an introduction to Islamic Philosophy class) to me. I realized then that I’ve been missing a lot of prerequisites in my life!

Since Philosophy deals with rational thinking more directly than other courses that I’ve taken, it came to me how fundamental it was to have these instruments – logic, thinking skills – before getting to the big league. Even if you’re not from the Social Sciences Faculty and even if you’ve read Descartes or al-Ghazzali or every Shakespeare’s work at a young age, you’d need them not only to survive, but excel in the academic field.

I’m realizing now that I’ve been writing this stuff as if I was talking to my past self. Despite everything though, I’ve enjoyed my uni years overall. It was rough, but it was worth to know the things I couldn’t do and am capable of doing in the future.

For one thing, I really need to read more.

Thoughts on the “American Culture” Debate: Abnormal Summit, episode 37

Something that I have posted before in my facebook page just want to share here.

I love the show, 비정상회담 (abnormal summit or non-summit) and it’s probably the only variety show that I’m still watching. This is one of the memorable scenes because it presents one of many issues that I’m interested in. Had a few discussions with friends and family members regarding this issue and it’s still fascinating to talk about. America the Hollywood.

It all started when Robin (French representative) said that “showing off” is an American culture and Tyler (US representative) intercepted Robin, and asked him: ‘you’re saying the bling bling culture comes from America?’

And then this happened.

[The following is the translated English from Korean. Credits to @southsubs]

Julian (Belgian representative): What happened was, we [Europeans] come from an aristocratic culture. For Aristocrats, hiding your wealth was the common etiquette. So people would hide it in their castle. In fact, in my parent’s generation, the aristocrats would wear dirty clothes. Because wearing your wealth meant you were ‘new money’ and not an aristocrat. In the US, people can easily talk about their wealth. But we really can’t talk about money because Americans have a different concept of money than us. Many Europeans are surprised when they go to the States. Also, in the US, if you go from nothing to becoming successful, there’s the desire to show off.

Ilya (Russian representative): It is from America.

Julian: Because America has many people who became incredibly rich, it became the icon of new money, not saying everyone is like that.

Tyler: Of course there are people who like to show that they have money. If you look at people like Paris Hilton, she buys a Pomeranian puppy for $25,000 but they are characters produced by the mass media. But what foreigners see is of course Hollywood, Los Angeles, Las Vegas or New York. Of course there are people that show off what they have. Surely they must exist in Europe as well –

Robin: You don’t get criticized. If you show off you don’t get criticized [in America]. If you show off like that in France, you get criticized immediately.

Alberto (Italian representative): What Julian wants to say is that in Europe, it’s bad manners to show off your wealth. For Europe, the culture of “showing off” wealth came from America.

Tyler: So you’re saying the change in culture was influenced by America? Then how were you influenced? Are you saying this happened after seeing it in Hollywood movies?

Blair (Australian representative): I thought about it and America had the concept of ‘American Dream’. In those times success was thought to be the result of efforts. So people who succeeded had to show it off, “I succeeded. This is the American Dream”. I think that’s why.

Ilya: What Blaire is saying is right. America had the American Dream. Russia was the same. In the 90s when Russia became a democracy, the American Dream was imported. But the American Dream as Russians see it is to make a lot of money and let everyone around me know just how much. So this is from America –

Tyler: But this… What is the meaning of American Dream is – none of you are American, right? And none of you have parents who immigrated to America. But my father immigrated to America. People who think “I have to go to the US to become rich” is probably few. Also arriving in America is the meaning of American Dream. American Dream isn’t “I made a lot of money so I have to show it off”.

Ilya: That is correct, but Russia’s perspective of American Dream is different.

Tyler: Why is it America’s fault?

Sam (Ghanaian representative): It’s the same for us. American Dream is to make money, come home and show off by wearing bling bling. It’s all because of America.

Zhang Yuan (Chinese representative): I think there must be a reason because before America became number 1 in the world. Europe and China were wealthier back then so when America suddenly grew, we felt a bit of tension. We used to be number 1 but since America became number 1, we have to work hard so that we can later retake the position of number 1. I think we have these thoughts, China and Europe.

Sikyung (host): In America there must be many people in the upper and middle class who also know how to hide their wealth. However, there is this notion ‘capitalism = United States’. Money, success conjure up a certain image about Americans.

Tyler: Have you read ‘The Wealth of Nations?’ Who is the author of ‘The Wealth of Nations’? England. It’s England, it’s Adam Smith.

Hyunmoo (host): Even so, although capitalism originated from England, modern capitalism was developed in America. To say that this was influenced by that American lifestyle is a reasonable point. We’re not saying that all American rich people are like that.

Guillaume (Canadian representative): American Dream seems to have a strong image in LA. Outside LA is very different. There are many humble people –

Julian: I’m saying they can talk about money easily. We don’t talk about money at all normally.

Guillaume: I think that they do that only in LA.

Alberto: What people keep getting confused on – there’s the American Dream that Tyler mentioned – it’s true, I know that very well. In World War II, in some sense, the war ended thanks to America. So poor people encountered American culture for the first time. So many more immigrants began to go to America. We all become like that as we develop. Capitalism didn’t even start there, it started from Adam Smith’s writings. All the countries can’t help but live like this today. We’re not saying that America’s bad.


Basically, about six people agree that:

1. America has a culture of “showing off” i.e. they have the need/desire to show off their wealth

They think that it is a common thing among rich people in America. Julian even compared it with Europe, where “showing off” money is a rare occasion unlike in America. He used an example from his parents’ generation in Belgium where the aristocrats would hide their wealth by wearing dirty clothes.

Blair related this with the American Dream, believing that because of the background of America, people had the need to show off their wealth as a way of showing off the result of their hard work and efforts.

2. Capitalism originated in America

Because the idea of America having a culture of “showing off” they seemed to believe it was reasonable to argue that capitalism came from America and America was the cause of spreading this culture to other countries including Europe.

Tyler’s response:

1. America does not have a culture of “showing off”.

The reason why other people think it is, is because of the false representation of America in the mass media e.g. popular celebrities and Hollywood characters like Paris Hilton (pointed out by Tyler) who had no problem spending a lot of money buying a dog. Tyler argues that there is only a small number of people who act that way and the lavish lifestyle in LA, New York, Las Vegas that are portrayed in the media somehow popularized a certain image of America – including one that the 6 representatives had in mind: wealthy people regularly flaunting their properties and bragging how rich and well-off they are.

Guillaume disagreed by relating to his experience in meeting people in the US and thought many of them were humble, in contrast to what the 6 representatives believed.

2. Capitalism does not originate in America, but from the UK.

As Tyler said, “The Wealth of Nations”, written by Adam Smith, a Scottish moral philosopher and a pioneer of political economy, addresses the issue of how some countries are wealthier than others. It’s highly regarded to have a huge impact on capitalism.

My thoughts on this:

I have my own preconceived notions about America especially back then where my source was MTV, ads, movies and stuff like that — even now, however much I want to say I am not prejudiced, I probably still have my own ideas of what America is. I really have no problem them (the representatives) discussing about their thoughts on America and its so-called culture of showing off, because that’s what the show always does: sharing their views and a general view of the country that they’re representing. This part is totally fine. No one’s view is perfect and free from faults and subjectivity. It is more important that their view reflects the kind of society that they were born to and their cultural lifestyles, that may or may not influence on what they think is normal or abnormal, right and wrong, acceptable or unacceptable.

I’m just saying that their (the 6 representatives) attack on the US, on what they think is the culture, was not sound enough to make a judgment call. It was a criticism on what they believe to be an American culture. While I’m glad that Robin brought up the subject, I was desperately hoping that they would consider what Tyler said into account, not just because he is the US representative, but because of his reasons.

I am by no means pro-America or even pro-some country. However, I find myself supporting Tyler in the whole discussion about the “American Culture”. He is probably the most academic and knowledgeable person in the panel, not because he’s an American, but because it’s who he is. Tyler has always provided examples to either support or reject the motion given. I don’t necessarily agree to everything that he said but I feel most comfortable hearing him speaking (yeah, as if I could understand..well, subtitles did help) because he always gives rational arguments and avoids generalization.

So, do I wish other representatives to have a similar background as his? That’d be another debate, but in this particular case, I kind of wish they do, because it all seems unfair to put the US representative in that position. There is no way you wouldn’t be mad if your country is being accused that way (unless you have no feelings, man), but generalizing to the point where you have to admit something that is not exactly accurate?

Whether America popularized capitalism or not, I think it’s arguable and my cents are probably not enough to offer to this topic. However, solely based on the discussion that they had, I do want to touch on a few things. The 6 representatives were quite convinced that the culture of showing off/bragging was influenced by America because the media says so.

Yeah, that’s the problem, I think. As much as I like to criticize the US (their politics and media etc), I do think it would be unfair to think the Americans are exactly like the ones portrayed in the Hollywood movies. Nor do I think everyone there supports Trump (I really didn’t want to mention his name but), the KKK, capitalism and so on.

Interestingly, some representatives have spoken (previous episodes) how they think it’s unfair that Hollywood portrays e.g. Russians as mafias, Colombia as a dangerous place etc.

I guess, the lack of statistics, data, and actual evidence makes it possible for one to conjure up stories that are believable and convincing. Not to say that I’m always bringing facts and statistics wherever I go but when it comes to serious issues and bringing up claims like this, it’s more than a prerequisite to do so.

And then I was left to wonder:

Is it reasonable to think that the origin of capitalism is in the US based on the media (Hollywood, famous figures on tv, social media, news etc) and few people that you’ve met when these could be false representations of the population?

I think I am reminded again about the danger of relying on these bits and pieces that we cannot be certain, to be true, or perhaps, parts of bigger truths.

Some quotes that I can resonate with, in this particular topic and other ones relating to it:

“I know nothing about Islam so I can’t say anything about Islam.” – Ted

“We make the assumption that everyone sees life the way we do. We assume that others think the way we think, feel the way we feel, judge the way we judge, and abuse the way we abuse. This is the biggest assumption that humans make. And this is why we have a fear of being ourselves around others. Because we think everyone will judge us, victimize us, abuse us, and blame us as we do ourselves. So even before others have a chance to reject us, we have already rejected ourselves. This is the way the human mind works.” – Miguel Ruiz

“I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it is for or against. I’m a human being, first and foremost, and as such I’m for whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole.” – Malcolm X

*Abnormal Summit, is a South Korean television program on JTBC. The show features a panel of non-Korean men, living in South Korea, who debate on various topics and “Korean culture, through the eyes of a foreigner,” in a talk show format, in the Korean language.