Thursday, January 06, 2005



Yesterday I asked if anyone could identify Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. To me, it sounds like it could be an Indonesian law firm suing hotels in Banda Aceh for exposing tourists to the tsunami, or maybe a menu item at a Pan-Asian restaurant.

But no, just as, in 2000, George W. Bush didn't know who the prime minister of Pakistan was, I didn't know that Mr. Yudhoyono is the president of Indonesia.

It reminded me that it always takes a while for cultures to get used to each other. Today, in the US, if your name is Gallagher or Greenberg or D'Agostino or Lee, those names sound American. A hundred years ago, those would have been the names of immigrants, people thought to be smelly, and disgusting, and not quite human.

This occurred to me as I was reading about Sikhs in New York who are fighting to wear turbans as they work for the MTA and as traffic cops. I thought about how there was a Miss Universe several years ago -- from Thailand, I believe -- who was quite lovely, but whose name (Porntip) always threatened to send me into giggle fits. I'm still trying to absorb the naming conventions of Muslims and Arabs; I am embarrassed to admit that I cannot separate any of the 19 September 11 hijackers by name, except for the relatively simply named ringleader.

And now here's Mr. Yudhoyono, who has a fearsome task ahead of him, in a country with a population not much less than that of the US, a GNP nowhere near that of the US, and a natural disaster with a death toll 30 times that of the September 11 attacks. And all I can do is mock his name.

Someday, perhaps, I will get past how his name sounds like a demented combination of a Genesis tune, a Flintstones character, and the name of the company building the interdimensional rocketship in Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension, but until then, I'm just another western geek who can only say with pride that I have devoted more attention to the tsunami disaster than I have Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction." So I'm only *slightly* less scummy than most Americans.

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