When I visited Hanoi- the political capital of Vietnam- two years ago, little did I know that it would be celebrating 1000 years this year- from 1 to 10 October 2010. I consider that trip personally significant because it was when I sought to discover my identity as an Asian.
In the university, all of us undergrads took a semester-long foundation subject called Kasaysayan 2 (History 2) on Asian History. In high school, we also tackled important events in the history of the world's largest continent. I was aware of the Srivijaya and Majapahit empires, heritage sites like the Angkor Wat, and religious artifacts like the lingam- but it was all intellectual. I didn't feel very Asian at all- that is, I couldn't relate to neighboring cultures- even if I knew that geographically the Philippines is in Asia: I practiced a religion adopted from the West, spoke English and wrote using the Roman alphabet, and watched Hollywood films. Whenever I travelled to Asian countries- before Vietnam, I had been to China, Thailand and Cambodia, for example- I felt like an observer who was passing through, rather than the bearer of a continental culture.
While Western cultural software gave me self-confidence and opened up capacious worlds, it also led me to ignore traditions and patterns- Malay, Islamic, Confucian and others- that are at least as culturally rich as those from Europe or America, many of which as an Asian are already part of who I am. I've just had to learn to see them.