Tell us about your NON-Western living experience
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29-10-2011, 02:36 PM (This post was last modified: 07-11-2011 08:46 AM by Stark Raving.)
 
Tell us about your NON-Western living experience
*** LONG POST WARNING ***

I realize that this Forum is mostly populated with North American and Western nationals, with a very few exceptions. This sort of skews the views expressed here by many of the posters. I know many of you traveled and saw other lands, but a short visit isn't really the same as living there.

This thread could be used for anecdotes, stories, experiences (nice or otherwise) of anyone who lived for a long enough time at other lands, other countries, to really get to know the place.

I guess I might as well start it rolling:

As I mentioned before, I am from Eastern Europe, specifically from Hungary. Hungary, after the war, was a member of the Warsaw pact and the Eastern economic block (together with East Germany, Poland, Chehoslovakia, Romania, Albania) and as such it was very closely tied to the USSR. While some local autonomy was allowed to state-owned companies (99.9% of all companies) they were told in no uncertain terms what was expected of them.

Typical large-scale bureaucratic mismanagement at most places, stupid waste and horrible levels of pollution was the norm. Due to that, East Europe’s average life expectancy is about 7-8 years below what we have in Canada and infant mortality rate is about double.

Socially we had nothing to do with the USSR - as long as you were not caught passing political jokes (policeman jokes were brutal) you were pretty well left alone to live your life very much like the average young student in Canada: have fun, chase the opposite sex and party till you dropped.

I left Hungary in 1972 a few years after I graduated. I did not leave by legal means (no legal immigration was allowed) and as a punishment I was sentenced, in my absence, to a two years prison term for defecting.

All my possessions (including the condo apartment, furniture, etc) were confiscated. After bumming around in Europe (England, Finland, Sweden) for a while I ended up in Canada where I have been living ever since (interrupted by numerous business trips and extended stays in the US.

Most of the land and all the apartment buildings in the cities were state-owned and in very poor repair, but the rent was a joke: my parents paid the equivalent of $30/month for the rent of a one bedroom apt (toilet shared with three other apts. at the end of the corridor). However, there were lots of family homes owned privately (mostly detached houses with small gardens) in the suburbs and everywhere in the country.

The apartment shortage was so acute that 10-15 year waiting lists for rental units were not unusual. Most young people started their marriage in a spare room with one of the parents, or rented a room in somebody else’s aprtment. I could tell you horror stories about living conditions.

To resolve this problem, the state started building and selling condo apartments for people with money. The waiting lists for condos (even if you had the money) was still at least 3-5 years. Unless you had connections. You had to know somebody who knew somebody -- that is how I had the privilege of buying a one bedroom condo in the very outskirts of Budapest with a 35% down payment (I always said that, if I invested the energy it took to save up that money in Canada, instead of Budapest, I would be a millionaire now)

The apartment was so far out of town that it took me 2.5 hours to get to work every morning by a bus and three different streetcars. I had to start out in the opposite direction and turn around four stops later at the end of the line, if I wanted to get on the bus at all.

Still, I was envied as one of the privileged, as indeed, I was. Compared to us spoiled Canadians it may sound like a horror story, but I am sure it was absolute Paradise compared to how most of the world lives in Third World countries.

I have been living in Canada for almost 40 years now. I feel a lot more Canadian now than Hungarian in most ways. I had no problem adjusting at all. I already spoke the language when I got here, I had two job offers within a week (computer experience helped) and I was faced with so much goodwill and so many helping hands that I felt I was in Heaven. It took me a few years to see the negative sides and develop a balanced, realistic picture about Canada. I am painfully aware how spoiled we all are and what it costs to the rest of the world but that is not my biggest problem in North America.

My biggest problem is what I see as the consequence of that spoiled status: the blissful ignorance about reality outside our borders. Just take the average person’s understanding of what Communism means. Due to almost fifty years of one-sided propaganda from mainstream media, the word Communism is synonymous with Evil. It is not that simple.

In theory communism is a social and economic system of total Utopia: humanity is one big family, everybody produces according to their abilities and consumes according to his needs. The state withered away, there is no crime, corruption, total fairness and compassion. Jesus would have approved.

In practice, apart from small pockets here and there in History, there has never been a Communist country anywhere on this planet, neither has there been any serious attempt to build one. In the USSR after the first, and in Hungary after the second, world wars, power was grabbed by ruthless opportunists who capitalized on the popular appeal of communist slogans to assure support from the masses until they managed to consolidate power.

Soon after that, it was the true believers in communism who were murdered first (Stalin’s purges, same in Hungary). The so called Communist states had nothing to do with communism, apart from the slogans they used to justify what was essentially a police state dictatorship with a small elite at the top enjoying obscene luxuries and the masses kept in poverty, fear and ignorance.

Still, and this is what is not known, recognized and acknowledged by almost anyone: the so called communist countries did have a human face. During my years I lived there, I had never seen anyone who could not get and education (totally free), could not get medical help (very basic quality, but totally free), had to sleep on the streets and freeze to death on winter nights.

Pension was automatic at 60 for men, 55 for women. There was no unemployment (actually it was a crime not to have a job) and no inflation (prices were kept the same by state subsidies). Whatever their evil (and there were lots) of the leaders, some efforts were made to provide for basic necessities for everyone in the country. I wish we could say the same in North America.

On the negative side: there was brain-numbing propaganda, no free press, literature or even speech, no political organization was allowed (one party system), no travel to the West for most people, but travel in the East bloc was completely free. Everything in western culture critical of communism or USSR was banned and History was completely rewritten in schools (The Hitler-Stalin pact never happened, The Berlin air-lift never took place, etc..) If you wanted to get promoted in your job, you had to join the Communist Party, spout the slogans and suck up to your boss.

As you see, it was not slavery in every aspect and I have always given my thanks to god for choosing Hungary for my birthplace as opposed to many other parts of the world. The only time anyone was shooting at me was during the 1956 uprising and that was a very short period in Hungary’s post-war history. And, thanks god again, nobody was dropping 10,000lbs bombs on me from 40,000 feet high up.
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29-10-2011, 04:41 PM
RE: Travellers' Tales
(29-10-2011 02:36 PM)Zatamon Wrote:  In theory communism is a social and economic system of total Utopia: humanity is one big family, everybody produces according to their abilities and consumes according to his needs. The state withered away, there is no crime, corruption, total fairness and compassion. Jesus would have approved.

In practice, apart from small pockets here and there in History, there has never been a Communist country anywhere on this planet, neither has there been any serious attempt to build one. In the USSR after the first, and in Hungary after the second, world wars, power was grabbed by ruthless opportunists who capitalized on the popular appeal of communist slogans to assure support from the masses until they managed to consolidate power.

Thanks for the unique and valuable perspective, Zatamon.

My question is this: Given that Communism sounds good in theory but has failed everywhere people have attempted to put it into practice--failed in the sense that it's led to repression, loss of freedom of expression, tyranny, power-grabbing by the elite, economic inequality between the elite and the masses--why is that? Is there an intrinsic flaw in the theory, perhaps a failure to come to terms with the facts of human psychology, that inevitably leads to such consequences? Or do you think it's possible for there to be a truly egalitarian Communist society someday with all the benefits and few if any of the defects that you yourself have experienced?

Religious disputes are like arguments in a madhouse over which inmate really is Napoleon.
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29-10-2011, 04:58 PM
 
RE: Travellers' Tales
(29-10-2011 04:41 PM)cufflink Wrote:  My question is this: Given that Communism sounds good in theory but has failed everywhere people have attempted to put it into practice--failed in the sense that it's led to repression, loss of freedom of expression, tyranny, power-grabbing by the elite, economic inequality between the elite and the masses--why is that?

Cufflink, you have posed a very good question.

I think the answer is the following: humanity is on an evolutionary path between two extremes: the law of the jungle and the law of the ant-hill. We are torn between co-operation and competition; compassion for the less fortunate and survival at any cost.

In this mixed state, for historical reasons, we have developed power-structures to regulate our behaviour.

The very word “power” implies ‘force’, ‘enforcement’, rule by a hierarchical structure.

Once you have these, then power usually attracts people best able to wield it and control it. That means the brutal, unscrupulous, violent, manipulative, etc. of humans who desire power for its own sake.

That means, sooner or later, corruption of all noble ideals.

In my opinion, eventually, shit always rises to the top and we can’t hope for a NATURALLY sane system, until a lot more human evolution takes place.

Sad, but that is how I feel about it.
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29-10-2011, 05:31 PM
RE: Travellers' Tales
(29-10-2011 04:58 PM)Zatamon Wrote:  We are torn between co-operation and competition; compassion for the less fortunate and survival at any cost.

In this mixed state, for historical reasons, we have developed power-structures to regulate our behaviour.

The very word “power” implies ‘force’, ‘enforcement’, rule by a hierarchical structure.

Once you have these, then power usually attracts people best able to wield it and control it. That means the brutal, unscrupulous, violent, manipulative, etc. of humans who desire power for its own sake.

That means, sooner or later, corruption of all noble ideals.

In my opinion, eventually, shit always rises to the top and we can’t hope for a NATURALLY sane system, until a lot more human evolution takes place.

Lust for wealth and power, to the benefit of the individual and the individual's loyalty group (immediate family, tribe, village, country, co-religionists, etc.), has been corrupting noble ideals for our entire history. For better or worse, the chance to advance economically and increase one's power is a huge part of what motivates most people to work and produce and create. Any viable system of social organization has to deal with that basic fact.

I'm not sure I see us evolving in a positive direction anytime soon. Then again, maybe one of the monoliths from 2001 will suddenly appear to kick off the next phase of our development as a species. Wouldn't that be nice! Smile

Religious disputes are like arguments in a madhouse over which inmate really is Napoleon.
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29-10-2011, 06:11 PM
RE: Travellers' Tales
(29-10-2011 04:58 PM)Zatamon Wrote:  We are torn between co-operation and competition...
(29-10-2011 05:31 PM)cufflink Wrote:  I'm not sure I see us evolving in a positive direction anytime soon.

I agree, there is a dichotomy between cooperation and competition and always has been. The details are very different, but I have always seen tremendous similarity in the corruption of the capitalist system and the communist system. Fighting over these differences has always just been one big head shake for me.
Although I know evolution can not actually be detected, I do kind of see the rise of rational thought [as a back lash to extreme, fundamental religious, right wing,] as pointing in a positive direction. I really feel as if change is on the way, slowly but surely.
I might come off somewhat "Pollyanna-ish", but I just feel like I have to take hope where I can find it and run with it. It makes me personally want to work toward that time when we will see the next phase of our development as a species.
Ok, yea... that's pretty Pollyanna-ish. Tongue
I'm going to self medicate now with copious amounts of lager... I might even have 2!!! Big Grin

A new type of thinking is essential if mankind is to survive and move to higher levels. ~ Albert Einstein
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29-10-2011, 06:23 PM
 
RE: Travellers' Tales
kim, cufflink, thank you both for the valuable comments. Smile

I was sort of hoping that other forum members with unique (not western) experiences would join this thread and tell us what the world looks like in view of their own tales they could tell us.

That is why I called the thread "Travellers' Tales".
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29-10-2011, 06:31 PM
RE: Travellers' Tales
Yes, many of us are on the inside looking out. Aside from my parents, I was raised by my Czech Grandparents who immigrated to the US in the early part of the 20th century. So, whatever formative "world view" I might have, has been influenced from a time not of my own making. Sometimes, I feel very much in between. Shy

A new type of thinking is essential if mankind is to survive and move to higher levels. ~ Albert Einstein
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30-10-2011, 08:56 AM
 
RE: Travellers' Tales
So, how about it?

Anybody else with non-western experience want to tell us what the world is like?

Out there?

Smile
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30-10-2011, 01:47 PM (This post was last modified: 30-10-2011 02:07 PM by GirlyMan.)
RE: Travellers' Tales
(30-10-2011 08:56 AM)Zatamon Wrote:  Anybody else with non-western experience want to tell us what the world is like?

Got none of that. Apart from the 2 years I spent in Urbana-Champaign as a visiting scientist at UIUC where there was a bimodal distribution between geniuses and dudes growing field corn and soybeans, I've lived my entire life within a 5 mile radius of my birthplace around Washington D.C. But that gives me my own unique perspective to comment from. Wink

(29-10-2011 02:36 PM)Zatamon Wrote:  (I always said that, if I invested the energy it took to save up that money in Canada, instead of Budapest, I would be a millionaire now)

And Zatamon's life would've be different how? Better or worse?

(29-10-2011 02:36 PM)Zatamon Wrote:  As you see, it was not slavery in every aspect and I have always given my thanks to god for choosing Hungary for my birthplace as opposed to many other parts of the world.

You should give your thanks to god for your peculiar aptitude for Physics, not your birthplace, your aptitude for Physics is what spared your sorry ass, not being born in Hungary.

(29-10-2011 04:41 PM)cufflink Wrote:  My question is this: Given that Communism sounds good in theory but has failed everywhere people have attempted to put it into practice--failed in the sense that it's led to repression, loss of freedom of expression, tyranny, power-grabbing by the elite, economic inequality between the elite and the masses--why is that? Is there an intrinsic flaw in the theory, perhaps a failure to come to terms with the facts of human psychology, that inevitably leads to such consequences? Or do you think it's possible for there to be a truly egalitarian Communist society someday with all the benefits and few if any of the defects that you yourself have experienced?

I can't speak for Zatamon, Cufflink, but I got all my money riding on the fact that the reason communism has failed is because we still got the dick in us who wants to exploit the position of power for personal gain. That dick can't last much longer. Hamata k is fully prepared and stands at the ready to beat the dick out of him or us as necessary.

As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
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30-10-2011, 02:44 PM
 
RE: Travellers' Tales
(30-10-2011 01:47 PM)GirlyMan Wrote:  
(29-10-2011 02:36 PM)Zatamon Wrote:  As you see, it was not slavery in every aspect and I have always given my thanks to god for choosing Hungary for my birthplace as opposed to many other parts of the world.

...your aptitude for Physics is what spared your sorry ass, not being born in Hungary.

That, plus the completely free education I received (including textbooks, food, lodging and scholarship), all the way to the second year of a PhD program, when I decided to leave and donate all of it to the West.

I reckon, leaving my condo behind was a small price to pay for all that. Smile

Quote:And Zatamon's life would've been different how? Better or worse?

Zatamon's life is as good now as he ever hoped it could be.

No regrets.
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