Articles > International
Visiting places in Asia, it is easy to optically feel like an outsider. On second thought, one may be fascinated by a new world with commonalities, where not expected. "Western people funny" is not only a discovery of "The King and I". And so I am thankful for the chance to enjoy different cultures, although to some, I am just a "da bizi", which is Mandarin for "long nose", or "kojanyee" in Korean. If you have read James Clavell's "Shogun - A Novel of Japan", you may understand better...
The longer the Nose...
Global Village. Freedom of travel and cross-border traffic have reached a level never known before. Still, many people are afraid of foreigners. When walking through familiar roads, you may suddenly find yourself in the minority among different looking and speaking people. When they start giggling behind you, thoughts may come up like: "Are they laughing about me? Are they tourists or migrants? What are they actually saying? Am I in danger?" The origin of local xenophobia, still deeply rooted in people's minds, results from the uncertainty in past centuries, whether a foreigner has left his home with good conscience or was a criminal on the run (as a friend once had put it, historically analyzing the development of the feud).
Lunch Question. Over the centuries many countries have been invaded and occupied by newcomers from far away. As part of colonization as well as missionary work many cultural habits have been imported and former local habits altered and extinguished. It is important to preserve the good though, as a form of conservatism that is valid even in times of trade partnership without borders, proceeding globalization and cultural attack, attempted brainwashing and Americanization. It is not necessary to have a melting pot everywhere in the end, having everything and nothing at the same time. Still, more than ever openness and respect for others are important for international communication and cooperation. Over lunch a colleague asked me, whether Asian people call Europeans and Americans "long noses" (in German "Langnasen"). She had picked it up from a quiz show on TV. Here we would show a long nose, when we snub somebody. But do we all have long noses anyway? The question sparked my interest for further investigation. So I asked around...
Golden Hair. The term "long noses" has not been heard of in Malaysia to start with. In contrary, locals point out that also among Asians sharp features are quite common. Westerners are usually referred to as white people. Words used in local languages include "Kuai Lo" in Cantonese, "Masale" in Bahasa Malaysia (Malay language) and "Ah Mo Lang" in Hokkien (Taiwanese language). In Thailand, Europeans and Americans are called "Fa Rean" with golden hair. "Fa Rean" is derived from "France", for being the first nation who came to visit Thailand many, many years ago.
Foreign Ghost. Just like the British at the court of the Kingdom of Siam, today's Thailand, in the musical "The King and I" by Rodgers and Hammerstein, who also wrote "The Sound of Music", et cetera, et cetera.... As the song lyrics of "Western People Funny" put it, in the movie reduced to an orchestral underscoring: "They think they civilise us, whenever they advise us to learn to make the same mistake that they are making too! They make quite a few!" It is in China that foreigners are uncharitably referred to as "long noses", which is "Dabizi" in Mandarin (actually meaning "big nose"). More common though for Western visitors is "Guilou" (Cantonese for foreigner or foreign ghost) and "Yang gui zi" (Mandarin for foreign devil). Having derogatory meaning, the latter was used in the martial age to describe aggressors from outside, vanishing more and more due to high respect for foreigners these days.
Beach Bewilderment. The term goes back to the legend of a Chinese seeing a foreigner on a beach for the very first time in his life. He immediately noticed the strange appearance, long nose, pale skin, hairy and speaking an odd language. So he concluded that this could not be a human being. Fleeing in panic, he told everyone that he saw a ghost. And that stuck! Just for fun, also in Korea Americans are sometimes called long noses, which translates to "Kojanyee", where "Ko" means nose in Korean.
Blond Pinoccios. Taiwanese again knows the word "A-Dou-A" for long nose. Quite popular in Taiwan is the Mandarin expression "Lau-Wai" for foreigner. Also Japanese people notice that Europeans and Americans have longer noses than Asians, have longer legs and are taller, with bigger eyes of blue or green color, which some envy. As there is no specific word for long noses in Japanese, "takai hana" meaning "high noses" is as close as it gets. Other words include "kin patsu" for blond, "gai jin" for foreigners, in this case referred to as "takai hana no gaijin". Thinking of Pinoccio, having a long nose is not exactly a sign for being trustworthy either. What's the funny?
Smiling Eyes. The other side of the medal must to be seen as well. To point out "slit eyes" among Asian people is neither nice nor absolutely true for many have got beautiful big eyes. This may be despite or just because of their epicanthus, the small skin fold arising from the lower lid, which is responsible for making the eyes appear almond-shaped, even smiling. In return, to people from the Far East foreigners may appear bug eyed, just look at a Japanese cartoon!
Assimilated Asian. The expression "yellow men" is just exaggerating the skin color in the same way as American Indians are not just "redskins". Having this in mind, in return the perception of Westerners as "ghosts", "palefaces" and "long noses" makes sense. Assimilated Chinese in Malaysia that have adopted Western habits are occasionally referred to as "banana" for they are yellow on the outside and white on the inside. Equally, second generation Indian immigrants in the US are called "ABCD - American-Born Confused Desi".
Big Ol' Nose. "Dabizi" is the Chinese expression for big nose, used for white people with a long nose. In Mandarin "da" means "big", which is why colleagues from the Far East would refer to me that way. Unfortunately, it also stands for "old". "Da Bizi", by coincident, is also the name of a self service pizza restaurant chain in Vienna. Eating at a Pizza-Bizi place again after some time, also the cashier could not tell where its name came from. At first, I discovered that the words exist in Turkish language in sentences like: "Biraz da bizi dinleyin - Listen to us a little bit, too!" Where "bizi" means "to us" ("biz" is "us") and "da" stands for "too" or "also", only used in context, but without any meaning by itself.
Little Confusion. In Swiss-German dialect, "a bizzili" stands for "ein bisschen" or "a little". However, as "da" is Italian for "at", most likely the name of the "Pizzeria Ristorante" stands for "At Bizi's", where "Bizi" is a person's name. Maybe it is even derived from the last name of a Pizza delivery man "Pietro Pizzi" from an Austrian TV commercial for frozen pizza? A very vague guess, though.
In Thailand at the Grand Palace and the MBK Shopping Mall in Bangkok.
In Malaysia at the Tian Hou Gong Temple and a view at the Petrona Towers in the center of Kuala Lumpur.
Drifting Thoughts. Actually, "Bizi" is a hebrew boy name, a short form of Betzalel, meaning "In the shadow of God". And in Basque language it stands for "Life" itself. Moving from the north of Spain to its very south, some say "Bizi" is short for Ibiza, the sunny island in the Mediterranean Sea, one of the most popular summer vacation destination among Germans, who like to go to the beach and party themselves into oblivion. "Vamos a la playa, oh-oh-oh," as the 1983 disco hit goes. Inspiring summer holidays ever since, the Spanish text actually describes people going to the beach after a nuclear bomb has been dropped... The other day I had to think of parts of some other song lyrics - "The deeper the love, the stronger the emotion. And the stronger the love, the deeper the devotion." That is probably where the title of the article "The longer the nose" came from, parodying these lines. Anyway, the more you stick up your nose, the less important you are, really. If you are humble, less people may notice you, but more may tell you the truth. Hard to follow these thoughts sometimes, is it? But the more incomprehensible drivel you put on a webpage, the more visitors might read it...
In China at the Zhenhai Tower and a view from the same over the city of Guangzhou.
Nosey Notion. Following my mention of "da bizi" in a newsletter, a colleague commented, if you have watched "Shogun", you really understand what "long nose" means. "Shogun" is the title of the Commander of the Forces in Japan as well as a Japanese-American TV production, which had excited us when it first aired over here in 1982 in 7 parts. It had been almost spooky to gather a first impression of a far away civilization among the shadows of the old black and white TV set. Gathering in front of the tiny screen, we were holding out to new developments, as the main character adapts and gets more acquainted with the environment, reaches a status in the foreign society and finds a love that should not be...
Stranded in Japan. Based on James Clavell's 1000+ page novel, the story follows John Blackthorn, who is shaped after the historical character of William Adams, the first English sailor to reached the coast of Japan in the year 1600. Step by step he adopts more knowledge from the different culture, speaks the foreign language, understands the unfamiliar philosophy and attitude towards life. He fights back, as a whole village is supposed to be held responsible for teaching him the difficult Japanese langauge, until he more and more often replies: "Hai wakarimasu - Yes, I understand!"
There is only Now. Richard Chamberlain plays the part of a stranded foreigner, who has to face distrust by locals and Portuguese missionaries. Step by step he wins the trust and affection of his interpreter, Lady Toda Mariko, played by Yoko Shimada, who lives in an arranged marriage. "Anjin-san (the Pilot)" is being told not to worry too much about the uncertain future that is not his to decide, about leaving karma to karma: "Today you are here and nothing you can do will change that. Tomorrow does not exist. There is only now. There is only this moment. Nothing else. Nothing." But the first bridge of Edo, the old name of the Japanese capital Tokyo, marks the beginning of the end.
John Wayne of Japan. Lord Toranaga is portrayed by Toshiro Mifune, who had played next to Charles Bronson in "Soleil rouge (Red Sun, 1971)" and starred in Akira Kurosawa's "Yojimbo (1961)", the archetype of Sergio Leone's "A Fistful of Dollars (1964)", which made Clint Eastwood a star. Mifune also played in Kurosawa's "The Seven Samurai (1954)", which was remade by John Sturges into the "The Magnificent Seven (1960)". According to the makers of "Shogun", Toshiro just had an incredible stage presence and working with him "was like working with the John Wayne of Japan".
Accepting Diversity. Alongside the development of the smelly white barbarian to a cultivated citizen according to Far Eastern standards, the "Shogun"-story provides insight into early Japanese culture, mindset and tradition. Notably, in the original broadcast most of the Japanese dialogues were neither synchronized nor explained in subtitles. In this way, viewers could better put themselves into the situation of a foreigner in Japan. Which leads to the conclusion that regardless what culture we belong to, what colour our skin has and what religion we practice, only mutual understanding of our roots and the willingness to approach each other will allow people to find to each other.
No Nose Knows. Talking about long noses, a German saying comes to mind: "Eine Nasenlaenge voraus sein - being a nose ahead of the rest" is what we should attempt in life. No matter, whether we carry a bigger or smaller facial feature, forward-thinking and -thinking is what we should attempt to do. Having a good nose for important questions definitely helps, but one cannot predict everything. A certain amount of spontaneity is needed, for one must be flexible, in order not to break.
Go to next page: Understanding.
In Korea the Han River flows through Seoul and is most impressive when viewed from the 63 stories high Hanwha Building.
"Leave the problems of God to God and karma to karma. Today you're here and nothing you do will change that. Today you are alive and here and honored and blessed with good fortune. Look at this suset, it's beautiful, neh? This sunset exists. Tomorrow does not exist. There is only now. Please look. It is so beautiful and it will never happen ever again, never, not this sunset, never in all infinity. Lose yourself in it, make yourself one with nature and do not worry about karma, yours, mine, or that of the village."
(James Clavell, Shogun - A Novel of Japan, 1975)