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ARTICLE: Same-Same, But Different.

Same-same, but different. He said it over and over all day long.

4:30 am, December 5th, I stepped into line at Dulles Airport. Three long flights and 32 hours later, my feet finally crossed the threshold of my hotel room.

I was in Bali, Indonesia.

Many people think of Bali as a beach destination. But, I was here for the music and dance.

Ever since the Ethnomusicology course I took as an undergrad, I have wanted to visit Bali to explore its arts and culture in person.

What followed were four and a half amazing days:

+ Music, dance, and theatrical performances, often two or more a day

+ Lessons in Balinese gamelan music and traditional dance

+ Conversations with locals about their culture, language, and religion


We are not talking together with our mouths; we are talking with our hearts.

I truly believe that one of the best ways to learn about a culture is through its creative arts. Engaging with others through the arts opens doors for understanding, appreciation, and connection.

With watery eyes, a Balinese musician said to me: "We are not talking together with our mouths; we are talking with our hearts."

Yes; we were.

Rachel Morgan Im

Making music together, we transcended our language barriers, our skin tone variances, and our cultural differences. We saw in each other our shared humanity. We were talking with our hearts.

We saw in each other our shared humanity.

All too soon, I boarded a plane out of Bali. But, my arts adventures in Southeast Asia were far from over.

I spent the next two weeks in Thailand. Then, ten days in Vietnam.

A Vietnamese guide I met for a day tour in Hoi An kept repeating a phrase I'd heard a few other times on this trip:

"Same-same, but different." He said it over and over all day long. He used it to compare two things that were at least somewhat similar... but also different, sometimes vastly so.

Upon returning to the USA in January, that phrase of his kept rattling around in my head.

Same-same, but different.

The more I reflected on my month in Southeast Asia, the more I realized how aptly that phrase applied to my experiences.

Everything there was so... different.


Very obviously, my green eyes and pale skin contrasted sharply with the local populations'. The languages were not my own, and two of the three were tonal. The busy traffic flowed like water down a river rather than in straight, contained lines. J. S. Bach was decidedly not part of the aural and structural lineage of the traditional musics. In Vietnam, I ate soup (pho) for breakfast; in Thailand, I ate crickets for a snack; in Bali, I ate fruit that was smothered in hot sauce.

More subtly, "givens" like table manners, shopping etiquette, gestures of respect, the meaning of eye contact, and etcetera differed from country to country... and all were different from my own cultural expectations.


However, the more I travel the world and engage with local peoples, the more I see through the differences to what is the same.

The people I have met have families. They buy and sell food, goods, and services. They express themselves artistically. They hold beliefs, traditions, and values. They build friendships. They hope. They feel. They grieve. They laugh. They love.

What we have in common is our humanity.

We're different, but same-same.

May we always acknowledge and honor our shared humanity.

We don't look the same. We don't act the same. We don't believe the same. We don't feel the same. And... we certainly don't always agree with each other.

But, no matter our differences - be it color, culture, or creed - each person bears intrinsic value. Each deserves dignity and respect.

May we always acknowledge and honor our shared humanity.

We're different, yes.

But also...


Rachel Morgan Im

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