Are Bangkok, Kelantan and Kunming in the same country? Which country is famous for the Ping Pong show? Who are the people who eat dogs? You might know the answer to these questions, but when it comes to interacting with people of the world's largest continent on the Internet, the furthest you have ventured to is an interactive chat on mailorderbrides.com with a village girl that claims she'll love you long time. Stop paying exorbitant fees to these bridal websites and plunge into the embrace of Asia's Digital Media. Here are a few pieces of advice before you get started (and if you want the best mail-order brides' website that offers the cheapest rates, do drop me a separate email):
1. Freedom on the Internet = Freedom to choose your prison cell
Call us Commies if you want to, some Asian countries like China and Singapore are extremely strict when it comes to airing political views online. A wrong step taken and you'll find yourself falling into a toilet in a 3m x 3m prison cell, with no access to lawyers or civilisation, for an indefinite period of time. So keep all racist, anti-government, psychotic or paedophilic comments to yourself.
2. Stop thinking that English is universal
You know it. So many times you've heard them say, "Mai fen (my friend), Mahsat (massage)?" while walking down a touristy street in Asia. While there is a huge English-speaking community in Asia, there're millions who don't speak the language at all, let alone read it. If you want to know the locals, speak their language. Google translate can help you say hello to someone in Vietnamese, but try translating "Yesterday, my car broke down on the highway and I was attacked by a moose. I threw avocados at it and planted a tracking device on it's left thigh." and it might turn out to mean something very offensive about mothers, sisters and reproductive systems.
3. Facebook is not universal either
It's banned in China and Vietnam. And at the rate this social-networking tool is helping to fan the flames of political discontentment in Singapore, don't be surprised if it's banned there in the near future. Of course, just like how Singaporean gum addicts turned to chewy Mentos for their fix, there're always other social-networking sites available. And again, Google should give you the answer in seconds, unless you're in China, where it's banned too.
4. When in Shanghai, do as the Shanghainese do
No, I'm not talking about spitting. I'm referring to the customs and etiquette of different Asian countries. Cultures might differ vastly and online actions like posting a humourous comment laced with a little sarcasm can be frowned upon in one but embraced in another. So always tread carefully.
Before you start creating a 51.com (China's largest social-networking site) account and start saying 我爱你 to the oriental beauties, do remember that there are still millions of Asians that have never been exposed to the Internet. While digital media can get you ahead in the net-savvy communities, be it expanding your business or finding a new wife, do take time to consider the huge potential of the offline market and how to bridge the gap between your digital and offline networks.
Kai also blogs at: http://kaiteo.posterous.com/