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Everyday Life in Southeast Asia

Edited by Kathleen M. Adams and Kathleen A. Gillogly

Publication Year: 2011

This lively survey of the peoples, cultures, and societies of Southeast Asia introduces a region of tremendous geographic, linguistic, historical, and religious diversity. Encompassing both mainland and island countries, these engaging essays describe personhood and identity, family and household organization, nation-states, religion, popular culture and the arts, the legacies of war and recovery, globalization, and the environment. Throughout, the focus is on the daily lives and experiences of ordinary people. Most of the essays are original to this volume, while a few are widely taught classics. All were chosen for their timeliness and interest, and are ideally suited for the classroom.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Cover, Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vii

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pp. ix-x

Our heartfelt thanks go to each of our contributors, who not only provided us with their wonderful essays, but many of whom also offered us valuable suggestions as the volume developed. In addition, we wish to acknowledge and thank the students in our Southeast Asia classes in the 2009–2010 academic year. They were the trial audiences for many of the chapters in this...

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Note on Transliteration

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pp. xi

There are over eleven official national languages in Southeast Asia, and there are many hundreds of smaller language groups and dialects spoken in the region. In addition, many people of Southeast Asian speak more than one language. Given this diversity of languages, we have opted to use accepted conventions for transliterations. Many names of people, places, deities, and...


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pp. xiv-xvi

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Introduction: Southeast Asia and Everyday Life

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pp. 1-7

Southeast Asia is one of the most dynamic, complex, and fascinating areas of the world. And yet, for most Americans, it also remains one of the world’s least understood regions. Often, people lump it into the category of Asia (along with China, Japan, Korea) and are unaware that Southeast Asia includes eleven very diverse countries. American news media portrayals of...

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Part One. Fluid Personhood: Conceptualizing Identities

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pp. 9-13

We begin with a section on “Conceptualizing Identities” because the definition of the “self” in Southeast Asia is one of the startlingly different elements that intrigue observers from other regions of the world. In the West, particularly the United States, there is a pronounced emphasis on the self as a bounded unit, autonomous, self-actualizing, and independent. We are...

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1 Living in Indonesia without a Please or Thanks: Cultural Translations of Reciprocity and Respect

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pp. 14-26

“Can I take a sip of your drink, Dad?” I recently heard a seven year-old American girl ask in a public waiting room. “Yes, but you didn’t say ‘Please’,” her father chided gently. “Please. . . . Thanks!” The little girl chanted these two magic words in quick succession as she eagerly reached for her father’s can of soda pop. It is easy to watch these remarkably powerful words being taught to...

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2 Toba Batak Selves: Personal, Spiritual, Collective

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pp. 27-36

Who is “me”? For the Toba Bataks of North Sumatra, Indonesia, probing that question might take a lifetime. My first experience with the complexity of a Toba Batak notion of self occurred when I was listening to my carving teacher’s wife, Ito, talk about one of their sons, a young man who had serious learning difficulties and who was recalcitrant and mischievous. Their son...

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3 Poverty and Merit: Mobile Persons in Laos

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pp. 37-46

When I conducted sixteen months of fieldwork in a poor, rural village in Laos, I was required to obtain official permission from the central government. Before fieldwork began I spent more than a year negotiating this with administrators in Vientiane, and I was resident there for much of that time. When I finally received permission, it came in the form of a stamped and...

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4 A Question of Identity: Different Ways of Being Malay and Muslim in Malaysia

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pp. 47-57

For more than two millennia, Island Southeast Asia, which is connected as much by sea as by land, has been open to migration and trade across and beyond the region. It has shared connections with China, South Asia, the Near East and, more recently, Europe. The original populations were sparse and geographically mobile, augmented by itinerant merchants and bearers...

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Part Two. Family, Households, and Livelihoods

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pp. 59-64

The flexibility, stability, and shape of Southeast Asian social structures have been dominant themes in the anthropological study of the region at various points. While anthropologists today do not devote as much time to the study of social structure and kinship as they once did, understanding these aspects of social life is still essential to understanding how people of Southeast Asia relate...

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5 Maling, a Hanunóo Girl from the Philippines

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pp. 65-78

Just before dawn, one day in late September 1953, seven-year- old Maling tiptoed to the edge of my sleeping mat to wake me with a short but sad announcement: “namatay yi kanmi ’ari’” (our younger brother is dead). Still an infant, Gawid had succumbed to an unknown malady during the night. On his death, the Mt. Yagaw Hanunóo family with whom I had been residing in...

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6 Marriage and Opium in a Lisu Village in Northern Thailand

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pp. 79-88

Alema (Second Daughter) walked into the community center building of Revealed River Village one brightly hot December afternoon as I sat at a hand-planed desk writing field notes. She slumped onto the hard bench across from me and leaned across the desk between us. She told me she envied me for being issara (the Thai word for “free”) and then announced to me: “My...

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7 Merit and Power in the Thai Social Order

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pp. 89-100

As good Buddhists, the Thai perceive that all living beings stand in a hierarchy of varying ability to make actions effective and of varying degrees of freedom from suffering. As actions become more effective, beings suffer less; the two vary together; such is the nature of existence. Above man in shimmering space stand the angels and gods who, with a single word, can...

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Part Three. Crafting the Nation-State

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pp. 101-106

Traditional states in Southeast Asia were substantially different in form from modern states. Little is known of the earliest states in the region, in part due to conditions that militate against the preservation of cultural materials made of organic matter. The earliest known state on mainland Southeast Asia was Funan, believed to have been established in the first century ad, and extending...

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8 Recording Tradition and Measuring Progress in the Ethnic Minority Highlands of Thailand

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pp. 107-116

It was clear that government interventions in highland farming had made local livelihood rather precarious by the time of my first fieldwork with the Mien people of Thailand in 1992–1994.1 Shifting cultivation had been outlawed for decades, and the bulk of highland ethnic minority peoples had not been granted citizenship, the legal prerequisite for owning land. Occasionally whole settlements were evicted, and in some places people’s fields...

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9 Everyday Life and the Management of Cultural Complexity in Contemporary Singapore

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pp. 117-126

In this chapter I illuminate the ways in which Singaporeans negotiate complex social, cultural, and economic environments in their everyday lives. In this way, I illustrate how various Singaporeans confront the realities of life within a city that is co-terminal with the boundaries of the state. With the elimination of the last vestiges of the rural sector in the last few years, Singapore1...

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10 Youth Culture and Fading Memories of War in Hanoi, Vietnam

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pp. 127-136

I met Mai and her young college friends outside the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum on a warm, fall Sunday morning in Hanoi in 1999. For many Vietnamese, a visit to the mausoleum is a meaningful, emotion-laden experience, and visitors typically stand in long lines that wind around the massive granite tomb waiting to pay their respects to their nation’s founding father...

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Part Four. World Religions in Everyday Life: Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, and Christianity

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pp. 137-142

Southeast Asia is a land of tremendous religious diversity. In addition to its plethora of indigenous religious practices, all of the world religions can be found in Southeast Asia today. In some Southeast Asian nations, such as Singapore, the world’s major religious traditions coexist. A walk through Singapore’s central neighborhoods takes one past Hindu temples, gleaming silver-domed...

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11 The Ordination of a Tree: The Buddhist Ecology Movement in Thailand

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pp. 143-153

A Buddhist ecology movement, developing in Thailand and other Buddhist nations, addresses local and national problems of deforestation and ecological destruction. While this is only one aspect of the growing environmentalism in Thailand (Hirsch 1996), the Buddhists involved in this movement see their religion as critical for providing practical as well as moral...

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12 Javanese Women and the Veil

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pp. 154-164

When I first lived in the Javanese university town of Yogyakarta in the late 1970s and periodically walked the grounds of the prestigious Gadjah Mada University, I could not help noticing how young female university students were dressed. At that time, the coed school “uniform” consisted of Western-style knee-length skirts and short-sleeved blouses. Fewer than 3 percent of...

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13 Everyday Catholicism: Expanding the Sacred Sphere in the Philippines

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pp. 165-175

For nearly fifteen minutes we pass face after face, in every direction. We walk silently, at a steady pace. Were it not for the landmarks in the distance— the city’s skyline on one side, the orange sunset dusting Manila bay on the other—we might be disoriented on our journey toward the rally stage. The crowd of half a million is calm but expectant as they go about settling...

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Part Five. Communicating Ideas: Popular Culture, Arts, and Entertainment

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pp. 177-181

Southeast Asia is rightly celebrated for the rich diversity of its artistic, expressive, culinary, and entertainment traditions. Many American and European scholars were initially drawn to Southeast Asia via chance encounters with the region’s music, dance, material culture, or martial arts. One of this volume’s editors (Adams) still vividly recalls a European train ride she took...

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14 Cultivating “Community” in an Indonesian Era of Conflict: Toraja Artistic Strategies for Promoting Peace

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pp. 182-194

On a brisk morning in 1997, a convoy of trucks rumbled into the rural predominantly Christian Toraja town of Rantepao, in upland Sulawesi, Indonesia. The trucks screeched to a halt at the town’s dusty main intersection, where sarong-clad villagers awaited public transport to the market and unemployed Toraja tourist guides lingered alongside snoozing immigrant...

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15 The Fall of Thai Rocky

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pp. 195-205

Thai-style boxing (muai Thai) is perhaps Thailand’s most popular national pastime and its best-known international sport. Thais are immensely proud of their boxing tradition. In the past, boxing skills formed a core part of military training known as the art of bare-hand weaponry (phahuyuth; see Bua 1989 and Khet 2007). Many legendary Thai boxing warriors employed these...

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16 Everyday Life as Art: Thai Artists and the Aesthetics of Shopping, Eating, Protesting, and Having Fun

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pp. 206-217

The collective shock of the 1997 economic crisis in Thailand stimulated a number of young artists to confront Thai social realities through installations and the “new media” of film and video, performances, and interactivity. With the collapse of the Thai baht currency, the promises of globalization had faltered and stereotypes of Asian economic prowess collapsed—a theme...

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17 Eating Lunch and Recreating the Universe: Food and Cosmology in Hoi An, Vietnam

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pp. 218-229

It was 11:30 am and Quynh said that lunch was ready. We all took our seats on the wooden stools by the round wooden table: Quynh and her husband Anh, his mother and sister, Irit (my spouse) and I. The food was already set on the table: a small plate with three or four small fish in a watery red sauce, seasoned with some fresh coriander leaves, a bowl of morning-glory soup...

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Part Six. War and Recovery

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pp. 231-236

For young tourists and travelers today, Southeast Asia is a place of beauty, pleasure, and peace. It has not always been so; as with other regions, the area has experienced wars. The warfare of early states in Southeast Asia tended to focus on limited goals. For instance, the aims of mainland warfare were not so much to capture territory, but to capture populations. As the saying...

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18 Living with the War Dead in Contemporary Vietnam

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pp. 237-246

Two of the most common sites visible across Vietnam are cemeteries for soldiers and monuments that instruct the living to remember their debts to dead soldiers. These symbolic reminders of the presence of war dead can be found in virtually every Vietnamese community, yet other reminders are visible as well in the names of schools, streets, and national holidays. They are also present in photographs on family ancestral altars and in...

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19 Producing the People: Exchange Obligations and Popular Nationalism

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pp. 247-257

“If the national flag came from overseas,” Fernando objected quietly, “it would mean that foreigners still ruled us.” It was a Saturday afternoon in May 2001; we were talking with three Mambai elders in their ancestral origin village, in the mountains of central East Timor. Village members had gathered there to rebuild the sacred houses; one house had been destroyed...

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20 The Question of Collaborators: Moral Order and Community in the Aftermath of the Khmer Rouge

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pp. 258-268

It was near to the end of my fieldwork in Cambodia when Pu [Uncle] Thon offered to take me to see the sites that had comprised the old village of O’Thmaa before Pol Pot came and everything was destroyed.1 The original village had consisted of four parts, each with its own place name and located at a distance from each other. Each part contained a group of households...

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Part Seven Global Processes and Shifting Ecological Relations

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pp. 269-272

Processes of global change are not entirely new in Southeast Asia. It has long been cosmopolitan—as “the land below the winds” implies. Sea trade was an integral part of many of the early states of Southeast Asia. In addition, the upland areas of mainland Southeast Asia were sources of significant commodities for pre-modern states in Southeast Asia and in China (Frank 1998)...

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21 When the Mountains No Longer Mean Home

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pp. 273-282

In the past, the mountains of Muang Sing (a small district in northern Laos bordering China and Burma) were remote and undeveloped: they lacked electricity, roads, schools, and services. That is not to say the hills were unpopulated. Close to one hundred Akha villages were to be found in this area, built into hillsides at high elevation (in part, to protect from malarial mosquitoes) in...

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22 “They Do Not Like to Be Confined and Told What to Do": Schooling Malaysian Indigenes

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pp. 283-294

This chapter concerns how Malaysian state-run schooling “disciplines the work force,” a euphemism popular among advocates of “globalization.” We draw parallels between how kidnappers treat kidnappees and how state agents treat children of Orang Asli, a Malaysian population occupying a status like that of U.S. Natives. They are the indigenous peoples of the Malaysian...

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23 Narratives of Agency: Sex Work in Indonesia’s Borderlands

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pp. 295-303

“Some people do this kind of work because they are forced to, but others do it because they want to live the high life,” said Lia earnestly, responding to a question about the prevalence of trafficking in the sex industry on Karimun, an island on the western edge of the Riau Archipelago in Indonesia.1 An extremely attractive young woman in her mid-twenties, Lia is the image...

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24 Just Below the Surface: Environmental Destruction and Loss of Livelihood on an Indonesian Atoll

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pp. 304-315

Early one morning in March 1992, I was sitting at my desk, getting ready for another day of fieldwork on the remote and generally peaceful Indonesian island of Balobaloang, one of dozens of coral islets scattered near and far along the coast of South Sulawesi. Lost in my thoughts, I was startled by the sound of a distant bomb going off. Running out of my house and...


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pp. 317-342

Selected Film Resources

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pp. 343-344


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pp. 345-348


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pp. 349-364

E-ISBN-13: 9780253001054
E-ISBN-10: 0253001056
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253356376

Page Count: 384
Illustrations: 15 b&w illus., 3 maps
Publication Year: 2011