There seems to be a sudden change in the climate. For the past week or so, I have noticed that the seas are mirror like in the evenings and the early mornings. It gets a little choppy in the afternoons, but otherwise, it is a perfect swimming and boat tour time. I will make a mental note that the beginning of march is for swimmers.

Drifter in his comments made a reference to face…. It is a concept that many westerners hear about, but are not clear on what it is or how it works. Even those who think that they may have it figured out usually still do not get it. I am afraid that I may not have the writing skills to express into words what “face” is, but I will give it a try. First a little background..

Before I became involved with the Vietnamese, I lived among the Chinese. I was with them for 4 or 5 years immersed in their culture before I finally was able to understand what “face” truly is. It is not something that can be taught or explained, but something that has to be mastered by experience. I am very fortunate to be in a very small class of westerners who actually understand and feel in the soul the true meaning of “face”. I now live my life by this concept and have become a better man for it. Also because of this understanding, I am able to fit into situations and have total acceptance by people that you would think would want nothing to do with us…… Anyway, this is not about me tooting my own horn, but just to let you know that I truly understand and will try to give you an idea of what is involved. “Face” is an important moral base in almost all Asian cultures. The Chinese probably are the most deeply rooted in the concept with the others falling in behind.

Let us start with basically what “face” is. It is a system based on honor. Not respect or kindness, or correctness, but honor, and honor only. Through honor comes the other things such as respect, and politeness. “Face” is the core heart felt instinctive way a person feels. There is no thought or decisions, but it is a raw emotion as real as anger or love. A person might think that it is the honor of the individual, but wait….  No, there is the family…. But wait…. There is the community… but wait…. There is the local society…. But wait… there is the ethnic community…. But wait… there is the clan…. But wait… there are your ancestors. Yes!! That is how deep it goes. One must always respect the face of another for fear of losing face. ( I will deal with that in a bit.) “Face” can be a very emotional thing if you lose it, and a very elating thing if you can gain it. I have experienced both and the emotions are as strong as love and hate. So…….. Does face have rules? Yes and no. Try to think of it like the Klingon code of honor on Star Trek. ( I would even hazard a guess that Gene Roddenberry based the Klingon character on this very principle) Here is a very simple example of how one can lose and or recover face in a situation.

Two Klingons walk into a party with two Romulan women. The Klingons are good friends but the women are unknown to each of them. One remarks to another jokingly that that is a very ugly tie he is wearing. A joke to him is not a joke to his date… he has lost face. To react and give a joking result as a rebuttal in front of his date will cause him to further lose face, but he must respond to gain or get his face back. In order to save face, he will treat the comment as if not worthy of response not doing damage to his opponent and saving him face. Having saved himself face by saving his friends face, now puts him an a little bit of a position that he has worked hard and lost face with his friend by not giving him a rebuttal at the time of confrontation. In order save face he now must confront him and tell him of the inappropriate comment about the tie. This friend will apologize losing a little face for his friend to regain his.

Clear as mud right? I will tell you now that that is a very simple example of how it works. There is no way I can tell you in my clumsy words how it truly works. I already have reached my word limit and I am not even close at explaining it, so I will try from here to condense the explanations.

Insulting ones family or siblings is a bad move. The  family unit is the way people survive in Asia. If you insult one, you may insult them all. If an individual in a family is disgraced, the whole family will lose face and will stop at nothing to try to regain it. I personally have horror stories of this very thing. Some of you maybe have read past blogs on how I became enraged in the past. These instances were face issues and still have not been resolved to this day. I fear that relations with some family members have been damaged and can never be repaired. In some instances, face can be a curse.

With the above concept in mind, imagine what a process or raw emotion that can be stirred if you insult a family member. Face has to be satisfied. It cannot be let go, ever!! If you cannot find a way to save face, recover face, or repair ones face, a person or family or clan can become hated enemies forever. Being able to admit you are wrong and having the skill to give the wrong party their stolen face back, gives you a lot of face and respect in others eyes…. Even if you were wrong or wronged someone to begin with. It is a constant struggle of checks and balances that has allowed tribal cultures to survive amongst each other for centuries. Without this concept, there would be no basic rules to keep communities warring with each other. Think about it….. to this day there are still countries in the world that have no real political system in the country to keep everybody in line… only losing or saving face keeps the peace.

I live with the concept of face. I wish the western world could somehow understand and adopt the same principles, but I think not. It took me years of deep immersion to understand, and even though you think you may be able to make heads and tails from what I have attempted to say, sorry, I know you will not understand fully.

Of course, random photos as usual

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Tour designer and Guide specializing in off the beaten track tours of Vietnam

4 thoughts on “Face

  1. It sounds incomprehensibly similar to “the male ego” – easily hurt, hard to repair, hard to understand if you’re not one of them…. 🙂

  2. You are correct on the sublties. I would have gone into it a bit more, but I have a self imposed post size rule. I consider myself most fortunate to be in the know….

  3. It’s one of the most difficult things to explain and many westerners have no concept of this. Many sublties to it also, I don’t think I’ll fully understand it but I know it’s always good to try to build “face” for someone….very important.

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