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Choose any TWO stories you have read in Gullick's "Adventures and Encounters" and write about the cultural observations made by the authors. Do you think that they offer a fair and objective view of local custom and society? Discuss.

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Introduction

Choose any TWO stories you have read in Gullick's "Adventures and Encounters" and write about the cultural observations made by the authors. Do you think that they offer a fair and objective view of local custom and society? Discuss. Adventures and Encounters is a compilation of travel writings by a batch of people from diverse backgrounds. The works that are chosen by Gullick in this compilation are significant as they portray various cultural observations of the South-East Asians in the eyes of foreign European writers. It is because of this foreign background too, that the validity of the Europeans' stories are questioned, as to whether these writers have presented fair and objective views of local customs and societies which they had encountered. One of the narratives in this compilation is "A Rambling through Saigon", which was written by Isabella Bird, a prominent female travel writer. In this narrative, Bird narrates her experiences in Saigon, and writes about her observations and personal views of the situation there. Bird's narrative revolves mostly around the people, their homes, the harsh climate and the travelling condition in Saigon. In terms of the domestic sphere in Saigon, Bird gives detailed descriptions of the homes she saw or went into - ranging from a native village, Choquan, to a native town, Cholen, and at last to a permanent floating village. In her descriptions, the homes are all depicted in a pathetic state, which highlights the squalor and the poverty of the people's living conditions. Bird uses words such as "primitive", "ramshackle", "wretched" and "forlorn" to describe the homes. Here, readers are able to see that Bird's perception of things was governed by her ethnocentric view where civilisation and development are defined by the advanced condition in Europe, and anything less than that is considered the opposite, which is negative, uncivilised and backward. David Spurr, in The Rhetoric of Empire, comments on Richard Harding Davis whose descriptions of the houses of Congo in a negative manner is somehow similar to ...read more.

Middle

The Third World continually provides what writers call "material" of a special nature: the exotic... (46). Another narrative in this book is "Sultan Yusuf Faces Death - and Turns Back" by Hugh Clifford. It is through this story that Clifford brings out his observation of the royal family at that particular period when Sultan Yusuf became very ill and was on the brink of death, and also the issue of occult versus Western science through this incident. There is a tendency among readers to believe in the validity of Clifford's work although he is an European and this narrative involves the occult. This is because history has shown Clifford to be an expert in writing about the Malay culture and its way of life. In fact, Clifford was fluent in the Malay language, and he was able to mingle well with the Malay locals and the rulers, and also to immerse himself in the cultural life of a Malay. That is why Victor R. Savage comments in "Environmental Cognition and the Malayan Colonial Process", (Clifford's) adeptness with the Malay language and their almost complete cultural submergence into Malay culture yield some of the most interesting insights into Malay life, customs, beliefs and superstitions... (he was) in fact (an) amateur anthropologist adopting participant observation to record a plethora of Malay cultural activities. What Clifford... (has) done for Malay culture is to put in writing an oral tradition of folklore, folk tales and myths that even the present day Malay might find a revelation. Furthermore, in this narrative, Clifford himself was a participant-observer, partaking in this incident. Hence, Clifford takes the role of a sentimental narrator where he is not just interested in providing the descriptions of the culture, but also his personal sentiments regarding the whole situation. According to Mary Louise Pratt in Imperial Eyes, Sentimental writing explicitly anchors what is being expressed in the sensory experience, judgment, agency, or desires of the human subjects. Authority lies in the authenticity of somebody's felt experience (76). ...read more.

Conclusion

The trees and shrubs and all the masses of greenery about me were drenched with dew... the chorus of the birds... a pack of monkeys were whooping and barking... I revelled in the beauty of the scene, and tried to persuade myself that the sordid death-bed of the King, with all the greed and lasviciousness which had made it hideous to witness, was but an evil dream... ("Sultan" 103). From his descriptions, readers are again aware of Clifford's objectivity, for although he was frustrated with the scene in the palace, he was still able to keep his mind intact and to enjoy the beauty that local nature was able to offer. He did not allow the string of unpleasant happenings to affect his perceptions and sensitivity towards nature. Victor R. Savage comments that Clifford extolled the beauties of nature and enjoyed its aesthetic attractions ("Environmental"). For Clifford, the pristine beauty of nature outside the palace compound acted as a refuge for him to escape from the stifling environment of the palace. Through this picture of his escapade into local nature and also the comparison that he made, Clifford somehow seems to be indicating that he was disappointed with the cruel nature of those people in the palace, either waiting for the King to die, or hoping for the King to live for their own selfish purposes. In conclusion, in both stories, the writers are perceptive people who are able to narrate to the readers their keen observations on their experiences. However, the influence of ethnocentrism could still be seen through their writings, especially in Bird's. But then, Bird's attitude of being honest and direct seem to indicate otherwise. For Clifford, though he is less judgmental on the traditional cultural belief, certain parts of his narrative still reveal his skepticism on certain people and issues. However, it can be said that both writers should be applauded for their efforts in attempting to project a fair and objective view on the local cultural customs and society that they had observed. ...read more.

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