Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Something for the folks back home

Yesterday in Korean class we had an assignment to prepare a presentation about a festival in our hometown, or, if our hometown lacks a festival, we could choose one from somewhere else in our home country. Most of my classmates chose the latter option, and presented about some of the biggest most famous festivals in their respective countries, though many students had not actually attended the festival themselves.

I chose to present about "Two Cylinder Days," an event which is held once every two years in August in my home town of Grand Detour (population ~300). At this event, held on the grounds of the old John Deere historic site, antique John Deere tractor enthusiasts from around the region gather to show off their tractors. Then they all parade in a circuit around the roads of the village. That's it.

I thought this was a good way to demonstrate to my classmates what life is like in the rural areas of America. They were interested to know if my family had a tractor and if I had ever driven a tractor myself. I found it amusing to follow up presentations about Chinese New Year, the Cheung Chau Bun festival, and the Hokkaido Snow Festival, etc... with Two Cylinder Days.

I've often felt that Asians have a different attitude about living in the countryside than I do, as an American who grew up in a rural area. There seems to be a strong feeling here, even among rural people, that it is better to live in the city if possible. Nobody boasts about what a small town they come from, the way they do in the U.S. Even people from relatively big cities such as Sendai complain about how provincial their lives are. I've heard a few Japanese people speak whimsically about retiring to live in some cottage in the mountains, but few of them ever go through with it.

I've noticed some Koreans and Japanese alike tend to equate quality of living with how brightly lit their streets are at night. I've heard people apologize if they feel their streets are not sufficiently brightly lit. This theme seems to come up in Chinese novels that I've read as well. Whereas in my home town, we feel oddly proud about the fact that we don't have any street lights, and we brag about how well we can see the stars at night. I'm probably in a minority because of my background, and there are plenty of Americans who prefer the city, but it strikes me that the question of preference does not come up at all here in Asia - it's assumed that urban is better. In cities there are better job opportunities, more cultural diversity, better education, etc. In Asia, living in the countryside signifies only a life of limitations.

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