To say that the Asian continent is exotic would be an understatement. With its golden deserts and looming mosques that stand as divine guardians of the West, monsoon seasons that pack a meaty punch in the South, majestic and stocky elephants, lush green jungles, and shimmering Buddhist temples that have cultivated the Southeast, as well as the breathtaking landscapes and giant pandas that are prevalent in the East, it’s no surprise that many people, including myself, are incredibly fascinated by the cultures and peoples that comprise Asia. For the sceneries, aromas, languages, and traditions that these people share are unlike anything I have seen practiced in the Western hemisphere. And so I have made it my goal to acquire as much knowledge on as many different Asian nations as I could, visiting various websites and reading books that provide details into the attitudes and ways of life that these individuals live in contrast to Americans. It’s no wonder I have become infected with the travel bug as beyond the North American continent lies places that boast wonders leaving you gaping in awe. For despite all the poverty and corruption that is higher in these nations, many of these far off lands have been around longer than the nations of Europe, and because of this, these countries have rich beliefs and values that have been woven into society through their vast histories and the hands of time. And now it is time to touch on the two Asian giants of India and China which have been among the two most intriguing countries in Asia to me, and helped fester and boost my obsession with the cultures of the Asian continent.
When you hear the word India, what is it that usually comes to mind? How about Hinduism or the Taj Mahal? Cows roaming the streets? People riding elephants? Curry? The caste system? Crowded and filthy cities? While these definitely define a sizable portion of the essence of India, there is one element of Indian culture that has assisted in alluring people from all over the world to travel to India as well as establish India as a touristy location. What is this particular and pivotal element you may ask? The answer to that question is Bollywood. Now for those of you who are perhaps unaware or not very knowledgeable of what Bollywood is, in simplicity it is the Eastern counterpart to Hollywood. Named after the city Bombay, Bollywood is an enormous cinema industry, creating several films per year that are usually done in the official language of India, which is Hindi. So now you might be asking, “What makes Bollywood so special anyway?” I’m glad you asked, for there is a staple of Bollywood that is rarely present in the modern Hollywood films that I have seen, which is the musical numbers. These musical numbers feature men and women wearing intricate and elaborate outfits, with the women decorating themselves in jewelry, and people of both sexes engaging in dances set to an upbeat tempo. Part of the appeal of Bollywood is the contagious feeling of joy that is absorbed from the cheerful atmosphere of the song, for before you know it, your head starts bobbing and you find yourself mouthing the words. It was from the exposure to Bollywood that my original desire to learn more about India was elevated to new heights. While I could spend forever blabbering about the various interesting parts of India, it is time to move on to the other well-known nation of Asia: China.
China. When this word pops into people’s heads, all kinds of words come out. Chopsticks, bamboo, Mandarin, giant pandas, erhu, to name a few. But there are two portions of Chinese culture that I simply cannot get enough of: Chinese cuisine and kung fu. So for those of you who maybe aren’t familiar with martial arts in general, kung fu is a Chinese martial art that has become increasingly popular in Europe and the United States due to the strong exposure to kung fu films that feature high billing stars like Jackie Chan. There’s something to be said about the choreography of each kung fu fight, between the techniques that mirror the animals that they are named after, as well as the sophisticated footwork and hand strikes. However, there is a component of kung fu that alters people’s perception of martial arts in general. Kung fu is not based on fiery aggression or intimidation, but rather a form of defense and discipline, similar to other martial arts that were formed in Asia. Then there’s Chinese food. Being my favorite ethnic cuisine, this is definitely the food that I find myself craving on a daily basis, for one bite of any mouthwatering dish, be it wonton soup or sesame chicken, and suddenly the gates of heaven appear over my head, with a choir of angels singing in majestic unison. Now I’m well aware that a lot of the Chinese dishes that you may find in this country are not identical with the food that is consumed in China, but I’m pretty confident that there are at least a couple of dishes that are eaten here in the States that you could order at a restaurant in China. Of course, I know that I have touched on only a fraction of the various cultures and lifestyles of Asia, and there are plenty of other countries that have perked my interest as well; however, one thing is for certain, I am a giant Asian buff and scaling the Great Wall of China or staring at the beauty of the Taj Mahal are at the top of my traveling bucket list - for it is my dream to venture into Asia and see what it is like for myself.