I see Amish people

Hong Kong is easily one of the most technologically-advanced cities in the world. In fact, the city is so far ahead of the rest of the world on this front that tourists travel halfway across the world (and sit through some long-ass flights) just to get the latest Japanese-made video camera. Hong Kong is also a city where your Blackberry is the ultimate symbol of status, your five different phone numbers are almost enough to verify your popularity, the color of your iPod makes a bigger statement than your clothes, and the size of your plasma TV determines whether you fit into your desired social group.

Fortunately for me and my savings account, I was never quite tech-savvy enough to develop the desire to sell one of my kidneys just to own the latest gadget, which is supremely un-Hong Kong of me. During my three years of working in Hong Kong I was making buttons for a living and even if I had the money, I probably would've invested it in insanely expensive outfits instead of getting a digital camera that I'll most likely never use, or an iPod I'll never know how to operate (I still don't have one and am NOT ashamed of it). In fact, the one and only electrical appliance that I can say I proudly own is my Motorola V3 Razor, which I didn't even pay for (you gotta love a generous sibling!). And before that Razor thingy I had a cellphone the size of a microwave - I remember being so embarrassed by it that I barely even used it in public which, when you think about it, kind of defeats the whole purpose of owning a cellphone. But that's not for here.

The reason I'm rambling on and on about the beauty (?) of technology is that as much as I loathe to admit it, all these modern conveniences have come to be such an important part of my life that leaving my cellphone at home is enough to give me a heart-attack (even though no one ever calls me), and my MP3 player dying on me means I would have lost the will to live. So imagine my utter surprise when I came to Pennsylvania and found out that -










Modern conveniences.

I'm talking no TV, no Internet (the horror), no phone, no microwave, no coffee maker, no car, no lighting, no anything that comes with wires. Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce to you: the Amish.

I first discovered their existence when I was with my husband, just a few days after I arrived in Pennsylvania, USA. We were happily driving on a country road, admiring the lovely scenery (translation: barnyard animals and what have you) on the road that day when an Amish buggy pulled out from across another road, with funny-looking people on it. I didn't even know what it was when I first saw it but upon further investigation (translation: asking my husband about 400 questions) I was told what the buggy was for and that the people riding it were, in fact, Amish.

Since most of you freakishly intelligent readers are probably Americans/Canadians (or maybe you just read a LOT), you don't need me telling you what they are. But for those of you who are not familiar with the Amish (like my old self), they are basically a breed of amazingly down-to-earth people whose religious beliefs date all the way back to the early 16th century. They reject modern technology and contemporary society in the name of religion, speak their own language (i.e. Pennsylvania Dutch), wear low-key, traditional clothing that provides maximum coverage of one's body, make lovely quilts and most importantly, they bake excellent, excellent shoofly pies - a popular Pennsylvania Dutch delicacy.

In addition to all of the above, here are some other fascinating facts about the Amish that I managed to dig out courtesy of Google (is it even PC to Google the Amish?):

  • They do not go on "dates" to find a mate. Instead, they conduct "courtship rituals" involving Sunday evenings and a buggy
  • Nothing confuses the Amish more than an ice-breaker like "You won't *believe* what happened on American Idol last week!"
  • It was never their goal to become a tourist attraction. They hate the camera and hate it even more when it's pointed directed at them by curious tourists who don't know any better
  • It's considered normal practice for an Amish person to go through your kitchen cupboard just to see what you have in there
  • The most popular pick-up line in the Amish community is "You've really got the build for that plain bonnet and shapeless black dress."
  • They don't use buttons
  • Amish children play with faceless dolls
  • Contrary to common misconception, the Amish population in the US is actually found to be growing
  • When desperate, they rely on people like us to pass on computer viruses

A few jokes aside (hey, some of them are facts!), I'm actually very grateful to have known and had some degree of physical interaction with the Amish (they sell pies at my local market every Wednesday). It's so comforting for me to know that in a world where tolerance and understanding seem to have become endangered practices, it's still possible for people with opposite lifestyles to co-exist in harmony, "live and let live" and all the rest of it. While the idea of living without modern conveniences pains a city snob like me, I have the most respect for the Amish for sticking to their religious beliefs, and having enough strength to resist the temptation coming from mainstream society. I also admire them for their hard-working nature and reluctance to accept support from the outside world (they don't collect any form of monetary assistance from the government). I'm amazed by the personality and color they bring to the community - something a fancy statue alone can not do. Seeing them practice such an earthy lifestyle has been such a humbling experience for a tech-spoiled brat like me, which as a result has helped me put my life into perspective and made me feel too fortunate to have what I have to make it better. The lack of contact with the "normal" world may have one believe that the Amish are anti-social and isolated, but having spent some time here in Pennsylvania has helped me discover that they are actually extremely warm and friendly people who will wave at you for no reason, and are probably more courteous and well-mannered that many people that I've met here in the "real world".

Oh, and they give me pretty good deals on pies too.

-Chrissy Wai, chrissy@expatjournal.com.hk