The class in American culture I taught this winter always proved enlightening, at least to me. During a discussion on American politics I explored some of the top issues on the minds of American voters in 2012; the economy, jobs, gap between the rich and the rest, Obama’s performance as president.
To amplify the point on the economy I showed a video on an Occupy Wall Street rally in New York along with a chart on how the top strata in America earned $27 million last year while the “average” family was closer to $50,000. At the end of my presentation one student applauded not the spirit of protest but the top wage earners. I asked him “why”? “Because I plan to be at the top” was his answer. “I want to be like the Facebook guy”. “In America you work hard and succeed so why not?” one chimed in. “I know a guy who went to the US and works three jobs and has a car now”. Several other students, coincidentally, all of them young men, nodded.
One young woman offered a muted defense of economic equality but clearly the majority sided with the top 1%.
In Asia, media coverage of business is on overdrive; magazines and other media dedicated to the topic, announcements on forthcoming new buildings, corporate complexes and shopping malls galore, billboards hyping luxury products, lifestyles promoted for the rich and famous or those who want to be.
When I pressed the class on their own concerns, inflation topped the list and corruption a close second followed by traffic, air pollution, national sovereignty and interestingly child abuse. Vietnam’s inflation rate is well into the double digits and corruption is something that garners much international and domestic concern. Living in Ho Chi Minh City, the challenges to quality of life like air and water pollution, overcrowding, traffic congestion are self-evident.
Child abuse was a surprise response to me. Were they revealing their own stories in code? Was there a strong social consciousness that was eclipsed by the desire for fancy cars and Wall Street bank accounts? I pressed them on this issue but no one elaborated further despite my prodding. The bell rang. The class exited, so it remains, unlike the desire to be like the guy at Facebook, a mystery.