Sunday, August 17, 2014

Globalization: The Past Hides Abroad

In my junior year of high school (2006), my Latin teacher/mentor and I started a tradition of going twice a month to a restaurant called Benningan's. It was a middle-range place with tacky decor and was totally interchangeable with every Irish themed  family restaurant at the time. Two years after we began the tradition, the chain filed for bankruptcy, we picked a new burger spot and I thought nothing of the chain for six years. That is until I moved to South Korea.

I did a double-take and realized that a brand I thought had long ago fallen away, had actually just moved locations. Then I started to realize how often this happens.
Swensen's ice cream is wildly popular in Southeast Asia, especially Thailand, but almost doesn't exist in it's native US. Haagen-Dazs has mega-restaurant across the Pacific. And while Baskin-Robbins isn't exactly threatened in the states, its American presence is totally overshadowed by that in South Korea and Japan.
So a funny thing happens. Brands from North America and Europe often expand to an overseas market, most often in Asia. If they continue to prosper, things stay the same, but if they flounder on their native soil, they usually remain immune abroad. Moreover, they go into time-stasis, where they stay unchanged compared to their native homes.

If you've traveled a bit, it may come off as old news that things like Baskin-Robbins, Swensen's Ice Cream, Bennigan's, Haagen-Dazs, Outback Steakhouse, and Cold Stone Creamery are all vastly more popular abroad than in their native America. But the story of preservation by travel is just as old as travel.

Like so many things, I'll use language as an example.

When Britain came to settle the US, they brought with them their accents and flourished in the New World. Back across the pond, dialects within Britain started to change and over centuries became what they are today. At the same time, the New England dialect stayed the same and preserved something that was lost across the Atlantic.

In Asia, the calligraphic symbols used in Chinese (hanzi, kanji, hanja) 

Before it migrated to bad tattoos
were brought to Korea and Japan centuries ago. While the Korean and Japanese forms of writing these have stayed the same, mainland China has had significant writing reforms to increase literacy.

The same two symbols
Left: Hong Kong, Japan, Korea
Right: Mainland China

Colonial languages have a tendency as well to retain more historical words, while the language will change in the 'homeland.' For example Nigerian English often uses words from the colonial period that are no longer in use today.

This sort of borrowing then time freezing is especially common with pop-culture. Walking around a major city in South Korea or watching K-pop videos, there's a distinct hip-hop influence. What's more interesting is that it's a distinctly 80s and 90s influence. 
Hip-hop in America has changed significantly since the 90s, but the old style in kept alive and strong in the land of Kimchi and Samsung.

I get to see this on TV anytime I use the stationary bike
This has also happened with things as grand as religions. Buddhism is hugely popular in Southeast Asia (Thailand, Laos, Cambodia), but not so much in its native India.

There's a certain lack along the subcontinent

So if you really want to preserve something, perhaps the best thing to do is send it abroad.

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