Sunday, May 20, 2007

Packing Up

As I put my life in boxes, I feel sort of compelled to sum up my time here. Perhaps in the hope of convincing myself that I have accomplished something. In my online reading, which I've been doing a lot more of, I've packed almost all my books and there are just only so many times you can read Fun Home and W. H. Auden's Collected Poems, I came across a couple things that resonated with my experience here. Like this entry from Sepia Mutiny,

As an ABCD, I want things both ways. In the USA I want to be recognized as fully American; hyphenated American to be sure, but still just as American as any pink-skinned Mayflower descendent. This is especially true when I need consular support or when I am re-entering the country.

But in India, I usually want to pass. I was really proud when a Delhite came up to me on the street and asked me for directions in Hindi. The only time I’ve been amused to hear “You speak English really well” was when it came from an Eastern European tourist at Fatehpur Sikri. [I ruined the illusion by responding “Thanks. I watch a lot of American television” whereupon he recognized the American sense of humor.]

I've also sometimes been a bit unreasonably obsessed with passing here. Sometimes to the point of going to great lengths to avoid talking, or talking very little so they won't hear the accent. For some reason, it's been very important for me at least pass for being local here. Probably, because in America, you've always got to be conscious of what you look like, where you are, and it's a good idea for you to be there. I mean really, this has been the only time when I could be relatively anonymous, well, until I opened my mouth anyway.

I have to admit, I also really dislike the condescension that sometimes comes out when people realize I'm not from here. White people have asked me why I have such a chip on my shoulder about it, probably it bothers me so much because I get that in America anyway, I really don't have to put up with it here too. And having it come from people who look (well sort of) like me, makes it hurt more somehow. I'm not sure why.

he finally discovers that the purpose of his journey was not self-discovery, but self-abandonment; that he may have moved abroad to find himself, but his real achievement was losing himself. For a period of time at least, he belonged not to his mother, his church, his middle-class upbringing, his debutante girlfriend’s idea of the perfect beau, or even black America. Outside of the “fish bowl” better known as Los Angeles he could breathe, try on identities without the fear of judgement, and get to the bottom of his enigmatic black self.
I also related to this, which is from the HNIC Report. It's pretty self explanatory I think. Certainly I've had to define myself in different ways here. I've known for a long time that I wasn't really American. Now I know that I'm not Asian. And I've also known for a long time that I'm an exceptionally inauthentic Asian American, but that's another story for another time, so let's leave that shall we? However, it's probably the first time that I got to be just a person.

I've met quite a few people who were pretty interested in finding the "real" Taiwan. Often rejecting what they saw around them as being not what they were looking for. The unreal Taiwan I guess. (If I was going to give in to my pretentious side, I would use some word like simulacrum or something, but I'll be good.) I don't know. I generally thought what they were looking for an idea that they already had about what their experience should be, and were trying to find something that fit. If you want to find kooky artists you'll find them, if you're looking for seedy brothels you'll find those too. If you're looking for suburban housewives, you'll find those too. Trying to find the "real" Taiwan seems to me to be about as easy as finding the real New York City. Your impressions and experience really say more about you than they do about Taiwan. So what do my impressions add up to? I'm not really sure honestly. It's sort of corny to say that I probably ended up learning more about what I was not than where I was. But at the moment, that's about the long and the short of it.

It's been one of those sort of gloomy, putting up the chairs and counting the day's take kinda days. We'll be at the 7 day mark on Wednesday. So I guess that's appropriate.

1 comment:

magniloquence said...

he finally discovers that the purpose of his journey was not self-discovery, but self-abandonment; that he may have moved abroad to find himself, but his real achievement was losing himself. For a period of time at least, he belonged not to his mother, his church, his middle-class upbringing, his debutante girlfriend’s idea of the perfect beau, or even black America. Outside of the “fish bowl” better known as Los Angeles he could breathe, try on identities without the fear of judgement, and get to the bottom of his enigmatic black self.

Ooh, yes. I know that one. I'm not sure that I've ever wound up anywhere that I could lose it quite so thoroughly... but that's never stopped me from reinventing myself wherever I went. I think Oklahoma might've been the biggest jump... but I think that was just the fact that it was a bubble outside of our, er, bubble.

As for the rest of it... I think it's neat, reading about all your experiences over there. I'm not sure a trip has to have a Big Revelation for it to be transformative. And even if it's a gloomy kind of day, it really does seem like it's been good for you.

(Well, except for the part where you report having a fever. Don't you dare get sick while you're all the way over there!)