Same Same, But Different

Same, Same, But Different…

If you’ve traveled in southeast Asia in the last fifteen years, even more so if you visited Thailand, you’ve likely heard the phrase “same, same, but different.” I was there in 2004, and my recollection is that the phrase was becoming part of the backpacker traveler’s vocabulary. This was during my seven-month trip around the world, and I distinctly remember discussions about the origin and meaning of “same, same, but different” being a dinner conversation at a backpacker hostel where I stayed. By the end of my time in southeast Asia (December, 2004), the first t-shirts with the phrase were being sold in tourist hotspots. Same, same, but different was definitely catching on.

Two months later, after returning home to Montana, a global perspective that had been forming in my mind since Thailand finally crystalized. I had been asked by the local library to give a presentation about my time in Thailand, including being on the Phuket Peninsula during the seismic tsunami that came ashore the day after Christmas (yes, that December 2004). As I developed the presentation and relived how the locals acquired their food, built their homes, commuted to their jobs, played with their kids, worshipped their god(s), celebrated their holidays and did all the other things we humans do, I realized that “same, same, but different” was a great metaphor for the human experience.

During my thirteen-country tour, I had become fascinated by how people around the planet strive for the same things (food, housing, families, education, employment, etc.), but do so in such profoundly different ways. Same, same, but different. This framing nicely represented what I so valued about experiencing different cultures while traveling the globe.

Take religion, for example. From Mongolia to the Mediterranean, I saw an animist shaman dance his trance in Mongolia, I attended a sit-on-the-floor Methodist church service on Fiji’s Garden Island of Taveuni, I witnessed Buddhist monks chanting in their temples in Thailand, and I heard the public “call to prayer” announcement five times each day I was in Egypt. Each experience was similar in its purpose and practice, yet so very different in its belief and behavior.

At the very least, I think it is interesting and entertaining, even curious, to consider the similarities and differences between peoples and their practices. I find comfort and companionship in our similarities while celebrating the beauty and bounty of our differences. These juxtapositions bring stimulation and intrigue to my mental wanderings, and typically result in a sense of “whodda thunk it” in terms of how I view the world.

At the very best, the activist in me hopes that some of my observations may cause a reader or two to have their views of, attitudes about, and actions toward other people changed. From awareness comes understanding, from understanding comes appreciation, from appreciation comes concern, and from concern comes action. I’d be thrilled if any of the seeds I sow (awareness) result in someone becoming more understanding and appreciative of “others,” and thus more compassionate and caring toward others.

Finally, some of the similarities and differences I ruminate on have to do with my relationship to and with different natural landscapes. This is the focus of my first post: how recreating in the wildlands near my two most recent homes – Bozeman, Montana and Santa Cruz, California – means recreating in habitats where another animal can eat you.

With all that said, let’s go explore the “same, same, but different” of human and natural communities.