Many of you may have already noticed that Southeast Asian culture is quite different from that of the States and many other Western cultures. Every culture has its good points, its bad points, its similarities and its differences. Those things are exactly what we are trying to observe, learn, and distinguish every day that we live here. For today, I want to tell you about one difference that I particularly like – their willingness to use cartoons and “cuteness” in everyday life. Okay, okay, there are definitely cartoon characters on many products in the US, in commercials and whatnot, but the usage and extent of advertising over here is greatly magnified in comparison.
One example of this can be found in the promotion of a particular brand of dried seaweed sheets. They are known as “Big Sheet” and you see their products in every supermarket, every 7-Eleven, and on practically every street corner. We were even recently in Bangkok during one of their major promotion days, and they had a few different mascots running around handing out free sheets of seaweed to anyone who wanted them. They had posing stations for photo opportunites, information booths on all the different types, flavors, and sizes of seaweed snacks you could buy, and even a live concert going on with flashing advertisements for the product. My absolute favorite thing though, was this billboard just around the corner from the Big Sheet fair going on. It was almost scary, as this was covering the top half of a large building, and completely 3-D. Just take a look at it!
Another example of “cute culture” can be found on my phone. What? Yes, you can find it on my phone. Not on the screen, not a picture on the background, but literally hanging off the side of my Motorola Razor flip phone. Much to Brook’s demise, I have added a phone charm to my calling device, and I’m really pretty happy about it. You see, here in Thailand (and much of Southeast Asia), cartoon characters and the products they appear on are not just limited to children. You might see a 6 year old child and a 32 year old mother both wearing the exact same Winnie the Pooh backpack, and no one thinks twice about it. Any major store or mall will carry more than one line of car accessories, including seat belt sleeves (to cover the part that goes over your shoulder), gear shift covers, tissue box covers, floor mats, things to hang from your rear-view mirror, etc. all designed by cartoon companies. Winnie the Pooh and a brand called “The Dog” appear to be among the most popular. Men and women alike will buy these things, all different ages, and no one says a thing. (At home, it would probably be a different story… 🙂 ) I love it!
The club that I have chosen to become a member of though, is that of the phone charms. There are literally 1,000’s of different charms you can attach to the side of your phone, ranging from dangling jewels to cartoon characters, small action figures to fake cinnamon rolls, even small dolls that are twice the size of your phone! Seeing as I was a rather large fan of Hello Kitty when I was a kid, I was instantly pulled toward a market shop that sells only Hello Kitty merchandise. Oh, the joy I had when I saw this little charm hanging from a rack above the stuffed Hello Kitty dolls! I am very proud to say that my phone is just that much cuter now and nobody will ever say anything about it (well, nobody here in Thailand anyways). 🙂