There are many things that define our identity. Some people claim that these are characteristics moulded within ourselves due to the social structures that surround us, whilst others perceive it as with a certain set of innate qualities. Our common identity thus serves as a defining factor that binds and transcends any inhibitions and boundaries – these are the things that makes us, us.
So, the following are the things that I personally feel that define ASEAN.
1) Street Hawker Food
Did I hear FOOD?!
South East Asia is well known for its lively hawker scene and eating food from street vendors are a common past time shared amongst many – regardless of age or social backgrounds. Street hawkers serve a tantalising array of snacks and meals that are sure to tempt even the most discerning foodie. This is where delicious food interplays with colorful theatrics. If one were to look out for a place to start their gastronomical journey, here is where they should start.
2) A Mix of ‘Old’ and ‘New’
The rapid pace of development seen around the region has resulted in many changes in the urban landscape of many ASEAN cities. This has amounted to an interesting and eclectic range of architecture and build-up spaces that gives a good mix of the “old” juxtaposed against the “new”. This is also evident of the region’s readiness to embrace modernity whilst still retaining and respecting the roots that bind us, which, forms our unique identity.
3) The Simple Life
The region is also known for its countless rustic charms where one could retreat into the serenity that ensorcels many weary travellers from around the world. Home to centuries-old traditions steeped in rich culture and biodiversity, Southeast Asia offers many destinations that will wean one from the ennui felt from the hustle and bustle of city life. Scenic holiday destinations such as Bagan – known for its picturesque scene of hot air balloons floating against an enchanting backdrop of countless temples; Sandakan for being the gateway to Borneo’s biological treasures; or perhaps the rice terraces of Bali. Time for a get-away to a simple life!
4) The Sun, Sand and Sea!
The favourable sunny weather all-year-round makes beaches an invigorating break to get on a balmy summer vacation. As citizens of ASEAN, we have easy access to countless pristine beaches around the region – from popular circuits such as Thailand’s Koh Samui to laid-back Ngwe Saung beach in Myanmar. What more, budget air travel makes access to such destinations more extensive and cheaper, making it perfect for a weekend getaway. So pack your sunscreen and board shorts for some frolicking good fun in the sun.
5) Eating as a Social Activity
It is common to find oneself in situations when we are stuck with no plans for the evening and the most convenient thing to do with families and friends is to – Eat! Yes, food is the centrepiece again with many ASEAN societies sharing a common passion for food as a social get-together activity. Even our elders would greet each other with phrases such as chia̍h-páh bē (in Hokkien for “Have you eaten yet?”) as an opener to make small talk as a kind gesture of asking for other’s well-being. This greeting also exists as variations found within various other languages of the SE Asia region. Hence, pigging out is not only forgivable but it is totally acceptable as a way to socialise here.
So, there you go. This sum up my little list of things that makes us truly unique through commonalities that amazingly defines us as citizens of ASEAN. Maybe you have your own personal list too!
By Solyh Ahmad, ASEAN Correspondent from Singapore