The forgetting of the Asian Squat

Asian workers are strong. Stronger than anything the Western world of athleticism and fitness has to offer. At least that’s my opinion. And they sport far stronger, more natural looking bodies too, in my opinion. Asian workers work 7 days a week, only god knows how many hours per day, and most of the year round. They work hard manual labour with little help from large scale industrial machines. In the past few centuries they built thousands of miles of high-speed railroads in Asia, millions and millions of residential buildings, many of them 30 stories high or higher, a million miles of roads, hundreds of airports and large scale train stations, and they did put the cables in the ground as well.

Asian workers are the pinnacle of human strength and endurance. Yet they look nothing like the Western ideal of strength and fitness. Asian workers are slender and can wear shirts without filling the upper sleeves like bloated sausages. Despite their mind boggling strength and endurance they can stand tall and relaxed and they can squat. Indeed they can squat. They can work in a squatting position for hours. The squat is not a constraint, but a very flexible starting and resting position for moving into a large variety of demanding other postures. Asian workers are flexible, strong, well coordinated, and very creative in their movements.

Asian workers define the rules of Western Biomechanics that say, “The human spine can’t be flexible AND strong.” And yet here they are, flexible AND strong.

Meanwhile, there’s a flood of famous Youtube fitness trainers teaching How to squat. And in doing so—some of them—make more money in a month than the average Asian worker makes in a year, maybe even in a lifetime. When I look at these famous fitness Youtubers I can’t help but wonder, “Will the West finally forget how the Asian squat even looks like?”

In the light of this rather dramatic forgetting… I mean… why is this even happening? Is it the lockdowns? Do Western people not travel to Asia anymore? Do Asians living in Western countries not squat in public? Are Asians who work in Western countries as landscapers or contractors, do they not move like Asian people? Is nobody paying attention anymore? Or is nobody looking at each other anymore?

I thought I might go around here—in Vietnam—and film and shoot a little bit of local people squatting, make a video on that… but then I realised that my contribution will be naught in comparison to big fitness Youtubers. I would spend an entire week of work and then probably get a thousand views and that would be that. And it’s not like Western culture and society isn’t falling apart anyways. What is a woman? Why would anyone care about real Asian squats and manual labour and culture in Asia? Why should I bother?

Well, of course. Because I do care. And I love to share. And I love to think that someone is listening, someone who is compassionate, and understanding, and is not afraid to look at the world as it is. There is beauty. There are things that make sense.

Here’s a few photos I took in the past couple of weeks I would love to share with you. They are from my life, moments that I felt, that touched me. Maybe they might mean something to you too. Have a great day, my dear.

A fisherman on Phu Quy Island, Vietnam, “preparing” Sea urchins, and a tourist watching him work. It’s one of the most loved local-tourist attractions on this small island to wander the ocean floor at low tide and look for Sea urchins, collect them, and have them grilled for dinner. For us Westerners the fisherman might look to have a somewhat bent or broken middle back, but after 20 minutes of working in this position he stood up to stand tall and upright and relaxed just fine, showing no signs of fatigue or sourness.

A couple of kids running to go catch some Sea urchins. The beach is very busy during low tide. Even some stray dogs are out and about to forage on that strange ground.

Anne and Linh squatting, resting, looking at an interesting thing they have found, sharing findings.

Linh squatting down to get a better look at the Blue starfish we have found. Squatting is a good method to get the eyes a bit closer to the floor.

Two early birds sitting at the beach side at 5:30am, chatting, and watching their friends taking a bath. If you look closely, the woman on the left is sitting on a thin cushion.

Thư looking at tiny oysters. I too didn’t know that there are mini versions of oysters, but of course, small comes before big. I was shocked to learn that all of them have already been cracked open and collected by local fishermen.

Thư sitting on the floor for resting, then coming up to squatting and finally standing.

And last but not least me myself, with my stiff legs and all, I too enjoy a good squat, to the best of my abilities.

For most of human history walking was not a fitness exercise. Mankind walked and ran to get from one place to another. It was a means of transportation. Only recently walking and running was turned into fitness. 10,000 steps a day to keep you fit. Nordic walking. Jogging. Running. The Ultra Marathon. Walking became the means to its own end. All fair and good. In the same spirit I don’t think that the Asian Squat per se is a fitness exercise. I think it’s a posture of daily life, a posture for action, for doing something, even if that action is just looking at something, or resting and enjoying a breather. It’s a posture like any other, like standing, or side-lying, or kneeling. And is probably best maintained by including it in one’s active movement repertoire, and by not being stressed out over it, me guesses.