James Durston: Asia's so uncool it's cool

James Durston: Asia's so uncool it's cool

Slick hair, shiny cars and branded shades are old cool. The new cool is Asia, in all its geeky glory

James DurstonLast week CNNGo posted an article: “The world’s coolest nationalities.” Five days and more than one million hits later, we can assuredly declare one thing: despite the glut of media coverage, a lot of people in this world haven't been paying attention to what's been going on in Asia the past few years.

The vitriol directed at Singaporeans in particular for their inclusion at the no. 2 spot is hilarious. Most comments slagging off the Singaporeans say it’s a nanny state, a pseudo dictatorship, it’s too clean, too safe, too uncool to be cool.

Wake up. Uncool is the new cool.

Take China. Potshots at China’s inclusion at no. 9 cite its imprisoned ecologists, enviro-terrorism and other politically sanctioned "uncool" qualities.

Well, OK, politics is never going to be cool. Western politicians especially illustrate what being cool is not. These are the people who spend a career striving to be popular, to have people justify their years of deception and spin with a vote. They grovel for your approval.

That’s not cool, man. To be cool is to be real. To be true to yourself. In that sense, politicians are about as uncool as you can get. Indeed, politicians are probably the last people who should be in politics.

But this doesn’t apply in China. China doesn’t care about being cool. It cares about being true to itself. Whether you agree with its policies or not, that is cool.

And damn, has it been successful. China has bought up nearly a trillion dollars in U.S. treasury bonds. It owns vast tracts of Africa, having bought up entire mountains and more, rich in raw minerals.

When civilization collapses and China has a monopoly on the entire planet, we’ll be scurrying around under the table fighting over the scraps that China drops. Who’s cool then?

The Brazilians were voted coolest. Fine by me. Until the comments came rolling in.

Comments from Brazil were along the lines of: “Yeaaahhhh!! We soo cooooolll!”

I shouldn’t need to explain that anyone who spends their days on a computer uploading comments to an article is most probably not cool. Anyone who runs around screaming “I AM COOL!” is most certainly not cool.

The only people who were roundly accepted as being cool were the Nepalese and the Mongolians. I don’t know if the pictures of snow and mentions of mountains had anything to do with this.

Yes, he will inherit the earth. But back to Singapore. The problem stems from the idea that to be cool, you have to be like the West. Like the United States in particular. Get over it.

The days when cool is epitomized by a cigarette-smoking dude with slick hair and a corvette are over. Cool isn’t about what you look like, what you wear, who you listen to or what you do.

Cool is about truth. Geek inside? Be geek outside. You’re cool.

It would be easy for Singaporeans to want to be "cool" as defined by American standards. But they don’t. They want to be Singaporeans. That is cool.

Obviously many people really care about being cool. Unfortunately for them, if you care about being cool, you most definitely aren’t.

Some claimed to have five Asian countries in a list of 12 cool nations was too much. I would have liked to see all 12 countries from Asia. Asia’s uncoolness is the future of cool.

Look at the icon chosen by CNNGo as Singapore’s coolest dude, a 12-year-old primary school pupil Lim Ding Wen, who was the world's youngest iPhone application developer at the age of nine.

When he was asked how he felt about being an icon of cool, he responded: “It’s all right.”

So cool.

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The opinions of this commentary are solely those of James Durston.

As senior producer for CNN Travel, James commissions stories, writes for, edits and manages the homepage of the site. 

Follow his Twitterthing here: @jedurston

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