Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Who the Heck Needs to Learn the British Accent?

Hanging out with the masses of different foreign students here in the LSE and in London, there is often a very clear trend when communicating in English. While people of every other nationality makes a concerted effort (or at least, do not mind) to pick up the standard British accent, the Americans not only makes a concerted effort to reject British English in every single way, they actually, at times, accentuate/highlight the peculiarities of American English so as to make their audience be perfectly clear that they are hearing from an American.

As the Americans get together in the local pub, and start lashing out about how "weird" is the English they hear from English people in a place called England, one has to think about just exactly what makes the Americans so confident and bold (to put it positively) or so arrogant and reckless (to put it negatively) to actually criticize a language at its very historical origin. It is as if the Americans are somehow perfectly convinced that the version of English that they imported from Britain centuries ago evolved to become better than the original language.

To understand the underlying reasoning, it is interesting to compare the situation of Americans in Britain to a very personal experience of being a mainland Chinese in Taiwan. In both cases are people moving to another country (lets set aside the political issue here for now), with somewhat different cultures, that then lend themselves to create unique biases and stereotypes. But the relative positions of the two are quite different. Taiwan, despite contention from Hong Kong, is now considered the pop culture center of the Chinese-speaking world, and would be the undisputed one in Mandarin-speaking areas as long as mainland media controls remain in place.

In other words, Taiwan's status in the Chinese-speaking world is not that different from that of the US in the English-speaking one: the center of all cultural things new and cool and worthy of emulation. Taiwanese pop music and dramas are ubiquitous in Chinese communities around the world, just like American ones are, well, present across the world. And as the culture spread, the unique forms of Taiwanese Mandarin, just like American English, began to be heard not just outside the country of origin.

Cultural attraction is often not felt, and they are often simply unstoppable. That was certainly the case when I traveled to Taiwan in the past summer. In that two-week roaming around the island, I picked up more Taiwanese Mandarin than I did British English for the past almost three months. Come of think of it, there really was not any sort of deliberate effort to learn the Taiwanese accent, just as there is no deliberate effort to not learn the British accent, the process simply happens, in spite of or despite the consciousness or the lack of consciousness to go about a certain way.

In essence, learning an accent is also purely an exercise of desired cultural immersion, unlike learning a new language, where practical purposes of doing business or conducting diplomatic affairs. And people only desire to immerse themselves in cultures that they feel are "cool," "hip," or whatever expression they would use to express superiority. And once they find that "upward cultural gradient," people cannot help but automatically pick up those accents they hear in music, in TV, and in movies.

So, you have people who openly speak about American English sounding like "pure ignorance." Let them continue their random criticisms. Even the most anti-American accent person found in Britain know that the Americans do not care that their accent is being secretly or openly bashed. The Americans, no matter what is said, still take massive, unwavering pride in their "ignorant" accent. With the massive soft power of America backing their pride, the Americans literally have no reasons to feel inadequate about their way of talking, and every concrete evidence to help rationalize why they refuse to adjust for the British accent.

As the world become globalized and movement of information and personnel become more easy and frequent, it is only a matter of time before every language become unified under one single universal accent. That "standard" accent would not be determined by some uncertain notion of historical origin, but by the simple ability for others to feel a certain affinity toward it. And there is nothing better for creating the affinity than cultural power. Well, too bad for British English and mainland Mandarin...

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Connections? Connections! Connections...

We all concede that drunk people tend not to watch what they say when they are drunk (and surely they will not remember what was said a day later), but sometimes certain drunken comments can simply destroy a good "drunkenly euphoric" moment in, literally, an instant of time. The speaker tries to bolster his own credentials by sprinkling some, what he himself conceives to be, strips of pure gold on a night of gradually built up good impression over hours of genuinely friendly conversations, only to destroy that image by, well, trying a little bit too hard.

Few comments can galvanize a group of young professionals and grad students to resort to pure hatred and the most vulgar profanities being used in their minds as talks of the "future." Whoever that touches the topics of what we are going to do after graduation and/or few years of entry-level work better keep the conversation focused on the general, non-personal, humble variety...or the result is a walk straight into a dense mental minefield where touching off an explosion among the audience is only a matter of time.

And there is not a more perfect example of such instant explosion than a comment spoken last night in a little pub at two o'clock in the morning. The conversation, naturally enough for a bunch of foreign students in a UK devoid of post-grad work visa, ended up on the issue of how to stick around in Britain after the inevitable expiry of our student visas. As we all express our frustrations, one American pops in and straight up blurts out, "I KNOW I will get a visa to stay, because I got family connection with the heads of all the major companies."

A moment of dreadful silence...we all standing there, thinking, "wait, what, did he just say that?! And, eh, why did he just say that? Is that suppose to impress the girls or something?" Well, maybe if he was in some random bar with a random group of juvenile teenagers, that comment could have sent his stock through the roof, but he does realize that he is talking to a bunch of LSE people, i.e. some of most independent-minded and absolutely self-reliant people one would ever meet in the world?

Any conversation after that inflammatory comment was thrown on the table, understandably, cannot possibly persist without some intense anger barely suppressed through the communal effort to maintain some sort of air of outward friendliness. For "queasy" people like myself, staying until witnessing the bitter end of that effort was just a bit too much. "Not digging the conversation," some of us had to call a night at that moment, leaving the host and some others to deal with a situation more cumbersome than taking drunk people back to their respective houses.

But, lets take a step back from an equally juvenile streak of profanity-filled curses that is bound to be the first reaction as we left the scene of the crime. After all, what motivates our anger is as much our hard-to-admit inferiority complex as the sheer inappropriateness of the comment about connections. As much as we believe ourselves to be independent, we do all need some practical help when it comes to fulfilling our dreams, whether they be the short-term ones about making ends meet, or long-term ones about satisfying our personal ideals of "saving/changing the world".

We honestly are all frustrated by a system where 95% of the jobs in the world are not even advertised and perhaps half the advertised jobs already have "competent" candidates pre-selected through some secondary source of recruitment. Beneath all the f-words and the a-words, we do feel envy, a certain degree of jealousy that tells us that solid networking, not some hard-to-define "skills/expertise" stipulated in our one-page resumes, is the element that lead to jobs for high-level pay or for genuine professional interest.

So, ultimately, we all have to secretly concede to the guy with the connections. Sure, he made some enemies in an instant, but he was perhaps the only one in the night who was drunk enough to let copious amounts of alcohol lead to the dirty, dark truth that no one else was willing to bring up. For that, and for the amazing connections he proclaim to have in the UK (lets hope that part was true, and not some alcohol-induced lie), he does have my respects, and I am sure that other unwitting members of his audience, when they wake up in the morning from drunken anger, would agree with me to some extent...

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

"Going Out" for Students: Mentally Compulsory?

Just another of the grind here in the LSE Library, on the gigantic working table with six strangers coincidentally sitting quietly, each intently focused on his or her little section of the table in front of them. Each buries his or her face in the massive pile of academic books, journals, and/or a notebook computer opened to some online journal article. Each person invariably takes out a notebook, frantically jotting down lines after lines of neat notes as they flip through pages or scroll through screens...

But they all do zone off, very inconspicuously. Their eyes are still on the books, journals, computer screens, but their minds are obviously somewhere else. Their eyes no longer keep moves along with the endless mesh-mash of words and sentences. Its like staring out of the window or the wall back in the classrooms of high school, only we here at the library table, perhaps because of the six others (plus however many at the adjacent tables) watching over the each of us constantly (so we tell ourselves), refuse to secretly embarrass ourselves by openly admitting loss of concentration.

It is these times that I envy the guy sitting at the corner, near the windows. He pulls open his laptop, and the eyes start moving more wildly than needed for reading an academic paper, and his typing becomes inconsistent short spurts, dubious for essay writing (barring the most creative and "brilliant" writers). Mundane entertainments of Facebook and email takes over, and the guy suddenly transports himself to a happier private space, much to the quiet dismay of the others, who can either continue the pattern of self-distraction or painfully ignore the signal by trying to toil in academic work even harder.

Yet, even as the quiet battle of concentration and embarrassment carries on at the six-person table in the Library, sometimes I feel that the six of us already established a Sixth Sense mental connection od some sort the moment we all sat down. The boredom and the annoyance with ending work are by all means communal, mutually felt, and understand. We all know we want to be somewhere else, but somehow manages (once in a while) fight back the temptations of doing something else to be here, at the studying table.

But the distractions just won't go away. The guy with the laptop at the corner unwittingly send off a smirk seen by all at the table. He found something, maybe a pub crawl, a party, a gathering of some sort, disguised as academic but offering free drinks. Split second of jealousy and the rest of us go back to our notebooks, scribbling harder and faster than before. "We study hard and so should you," we try to say to the guy with the smirk...but then, everything goes back to normal. All six of us comes to a physical stop, our collective minds wondering what could be beyond the invisible confines of the table.

Half the time we get invites from some colleagues to do something, whether it be lunch, dinner, coffee, a movie, a drink, a day trip, or even something as ridiculous as shopping or a visit to an amusement park, there are hints of desperation in the invite. "I just want to be somewhere, anywhere other than the library, studying at some table with a bunch of strangers for hours everyday!" they seem to say. The destination or the activity no longer seemed to matter. Any excuse was good enough to escape the school.

Funny how I never felt so strongly about being stuck in the library back in undergrad years (even though I perhaps done much more of that then than now). Part of it may be the fact that we are all in a city as exciting as London. Or maybe LSE has never really bothered to instill a sense of school pride in her students than places like Yale tried to do with endless ideological brainwashing. Or I suppose alcohol was not that big of a factor as an American undergrad. Either way, the feeling of somehow being a "caged animal" at the LSE Library simply persist and refuse to go away...

"I am going out tonight, because I just finished a big assignment and don't have anything else due for another two weeks!" Every time I hear such a statement, I cannot help but consider it some sort of bragging coupled with unscrewing of some invisible pressure valve within the statement-maker. Well, here I am, sitting at the table and just done with a big assignment due in two weeks. Maybe I too need a mini-celebration of some sort. A blog post, on the desperate vanity of "going out," is good enough "going out" for me to release my pressure valve...

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Ambiguous "Work"-"Life" Balance of Grad Students

People often say grad school is the scion of "flexibility," an almost sacred place where people can genuinely pursue academic interests of their fancy, at their own pace, in a sea of endless resources. It is sheer independence, on one hand reflected in the I-don't-give-a-damn-what-you-do-as-long-as-you-pay-your-fees attitude held by the school administration, and on the other hand illustrated by just how much leeway the students are given to "pursue their own studies" as long as assignments are turned in at the proper deadlines.

...Or perhaps, not even. While crazy weekend all-night dance parties seems to become more and more far-fetched for the "mature" (i.e. older and less energetic) grad students, in their place came literally any excuse to have an alcoholic gathering under any occasion. Every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday became Friday and Saturday nights, and stepping into the local pub at any moment in time no longer brings any sort of shame or "wise" second thought...and so, the assignments are the ones being pushed back, with fierce last-minute type-ups occurring literally minutes before the due date comes to an end.

And we (the school administration included) are thought that procrastination was the realm of the high school students and perhaps some lazy undergrads. Quite a major portion of these grad students did have real full-time jobs at some point, being held accountable for completing far more difficult and complex projects with stricter deadlines than submitting 2000-word "research" essays to professors too busy with their own research projects to actually keep track of when the essays are actually submitted.

Obviously, being out of a full-time job, for many, means that they are also out of the rigid regimen associated with those full-time jobs. While everyone does agree that being in a place like LSE is indeed a financial investment despite tendency toward mass production, at the same time even the grad students, joining the ranks of the carefree exchange students, are simply rejoicing, maybe a bit too often, just how much "life" and freedom they got back by quitting their jobs and going back to school.

In the end, somehow "life" itself became "work," while actual schoolwork, whether it be reading or writing, simply became more and more of a nuisance that one has to put up with in order to continue enjoying the high "life" in the great city of London. In simply too many occasions, we have all been witness to another masters or PhD student with a bottle of beer (or something much stronger) commenting on just how little they worry about their papers considering how much of the school year(s) they still have left.

Having fun certainly do seem to slow down time in that particular manner. Everyone seems to reminisce about some "dude, that was sick" kind of party he or she attended, bragging and telling stories of someone's excessive drunkenness, only at the end to realize that the party actually happened, literally, one or two days ago. Give those storytellers a year in London, and they can definitely publish a few thick volumes that compile the collection of tales in "the Hard-living Grad Student's Guide to London."

And the fact is, there are just too many instances when the "life" of partying and having fun is not at all separate from the "work" of a grad student, often in a, well, quite nerd-like way. Tipsiness so often lead to massive debates about merits of free trade and immigration, with quotes flying in from current affairs and theoretical works supposedly read for seminars. And not a few of these pub debates are hosted by none other than the professors themselves getting a few pints at the end of their long, tiring days of dealing with half-serious students.

The blending together of "life" and "work," all in all, maybe the ultimate expression of what it means to be an academic, at the not socially compulsory grad school level. Even as many states the purpose of doing grad school is to buy time for finding that job, the fact that they are still willing to pay massively for being here means they do enjoy this grad school lifestyle. Otherwise they could have just cheaply stayed home and continued their job search while getting fed and clothed by parents. And with enjoyment, it should be no surprise that work, in many ways, become synonymous with life.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

I am Cursed, I Tell You, Cursed!

The smell of the ooze being squeezed out of the massive lump on my face was simply nauseating. The milky yellow juices of the oil gland, trapped in a bubble for more than two weeks, burst out when the doctor's knife slashed across the soft lump. The whole scenario, even with painful local anesthesia that took away all sense of pain, still was discomforting enough to make me cringe, frown, and pinch myself just to have my attention transferred to self-induced pain from the discomfort. My face turned sharply white, and the mental toughness I am so proud of suddenly became completely nullified.

And the doctor was not done. "To stop further infection," he calmly and nonchalantly mentioned, "we need to cover the cut with some anti-infection liquid." What appeared was a a foot-and-a-half-long piece of surgical tape soaked in a purple liquid. He proceeded to shove the tape, bit by bit, into the empty space left behind by the squeezed out pus. Slide in, twist, slide in, twist, the work quietly continued for what feels like an eternity amid my agony of weird, god-knows-what sense of physical and mental discomfort.

Shell-shocked, disoriented, and confused, I stumbled out of the hospital with the putrid smell of the pus still in my nostrils and haunted by the fact that within the next week, there will be another session when the foot-and-a-half-long tape will be PULLED OUT of my face, in even more agonizing pain perhaps, due to partially healed cuts and perceived lack of need for any anesthesia. "What happened to his face?" People would have thought when they were staring my face, as I tried my best to avoid their eyes as I walked home.

Great, I can finally rest, so I thought when I opened up my computer as I stumbled back into my room. Then, the pain just hit my wounds all the sudden. The partial anesthesia was wearing off. The stinging pain felt as the doctor was once again slashing across my face, multiple times, over and over. Once, twice, thrice...the cutting just would not stop. Rolling around in my bed, I just cannot believe painkillers cannot show their effects soon enough. The combination of the pain with the itch of the wounds healing themselves just felt intolerable.

Blockage of the oil glands happened before, but never this bad. While I am lucky that I can be treated in a country in which I do not actually have to pay for the treatments, I cannot help but feel that there is a curse forcing me to deal with the issue repeatedly, with the issue becoming worse and worse every time it reoccurs. The swelling is bound to return at a later date, eventually forcing me to cut out the oil gland once and for all just to prevent future problems. The issue of my infecting oil gland may go exactly the same way as my infecting wisdom teeth, ending up with straight-out "extractions."

Finally the painkillers began doing their job, and I had enough energy to open up my computer. Waiting for me was an email from BCG Japan office telling me that I have been selected for an initial interview. Well, seems like curses do not act alone these days. On my way out of Rakuten, my boss made it clear all my ideals will simply die and I will end up becoming a heartless consultant. Well, seems like, unless I deliberately turn down the offer for interview, I certainly got my first step toward that heartlessness.

Even sitting in my stuffy and hot room, somehow all the thoughts of my curses give me a cold sweat. It is as if, in some ways, our lives are predetermined, with certain paths for self-destruction, self-damages, and self-hurt. Sure, with mental and physical pains of dashed job opportunities and extensive surgeries, we might somehow avoid that ultimate "goal" that fate arranged us to arrive at, but it seems that, among the many "curses" that envelop our lives, only a minuscule few can be discovered before they unleash their devastation upon our lives.

People seek advice from family, friends, professional consultants. Yet, being advised does not subject us to exceptions of unconsciously following what has been somehow designed for us. The path of life, in the most simple rationale, is one in which there are many restrictions but little flexibility. Our ethnic and social backgrounds as well as physical and emotional builds give us a set of initial conditions that we cannot escape, and no optimism, no special friendships, can really change all that.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Reflecting on the Meaning and Worthiness of "Sacrifices" on Remembrance Day

As the tower clock far away far far away struck 11am, and began its eleven loud chimes echoing across the city, a dead silence blanketed the elementary school next door to my dorm. The young kids, usually shouting and screaming as they run around the courtyard with their friends, stood motionless in formations with their eyes to the ground, not uttering a single word. Traffic around the school stopped, and everyone had their badges of red poppy flowers quietly flapped to the cold autumn winds. It is as if the entire community flashed back to that day in 1918 ending of the bloodiest conflict in human history.

For many, the collective mourning marking Remembrance Day is not simply a tradition or something that is normally done, but much more personal. Millions of young men, from a nation not so populous, fell in the battlefronts of France and Germany. Every person mourning may think back to a distant relative, an uncle, or even a grandfather who suffered directly from participation in the war. Nine decades later, the sentiments seem to remain strong, and the most deadly pages of her history still emotionally propel a peaceful Britain (and Europe) forward.

While the solemn nature of the Remembrance Day can be understood even by the third graders standing in their school courtyards, what is exactly genuine under that solemnness, more or less inappropriate or even taboo in the course of public debate, should be matter of greater contention. Yes, the soldiers did indeed die painfully on the battlefield, and they did indeed fight in the name of their mother countries, but the more fundamental question (and the purpose of mourning) really is: did they die in vain or truly for the benefit of their mother countries?

Surely, there is no doubt that at least someone has to think that he or she benefit from a war. Otherwise, there would absolutely be no motivation for instigating the conflict in the first place. But, there is no guarantee in reality that the beneficiaries are indeed the national interests of the participating countries and the welfare of the common citizens. The story is never as simple, straightforward, or grand as the ones portrayed in the history books, showing students the heroic sacrifices their ancestors made to ensure that they have safe, wealthy lives today.

Such doubtful cynicism against simple beliefs in heroic ideals is definitely on the rise. And stories from mass media only shake the roots of those few "true patriots" that remain. For instance, yesterday I watched the "Ides of March," a political thriller detailing the backroom deals made by politicians in the presidential campaign. The blatantly immoral actions of power bargaining, mud-slinging, and illegal sexual favors are all largely contrasted with positive images of integrity, solidarity, and honor the candidates attempt to pull off in front of TV screens.

Most importantly, those who screw up the backroom dirtiness and soil the honorable reputation projected in front of national audiences, without sympathy, are purged and silenced. Those who make mistakes suffer political deaths so that those at the top can continue to move forward. The unwritten rules of the game, essentially, teaches us that in all conflicts, no matter violent or bloodless, for some to advance their individual positions, others of lower rank tend to be sacrificed.

War, like an election campaign, is a game of individual actors using whatever available resources to get ahead at the expense of the others. Those resources can come from anywhere and in any form, from generating nationalist pro-war feelings among the ill-informed citizenry to the sweat and blood of the brave young men charging forward amid enemy fires. For secondhand observers not directly involved in the action and without access to the "confidential information," the only possible action is to have faith, in the leaders, who we can trust to also concern themselves with our interests, or in our own judgments of skepticism.

In all honesty, people do understand that at some point, for any event, a health dose of skepticism is bound to win over blind trust in the authorities. Yet, even as we cynically determine that the millions of soldiers we mourn today actually died vainly for the political benefits of few old men sitting leisurely in their luxurious offices, perhaps we are also missing half the meaning of the Remembrance Day. It is, after all, also a celebration of non-existent ideals that the otherwise optimistic third graders in a school yard can look forward to as they grow up...

Sunday, November 6, 2011

A Drunken London is a Beautiful London

As the night falls on another Saturday night, the British metropolis was by all means ready for another night of inebriated euphoria. Just give the crowd an excuse to gather, and gather, they certainly did. Perhaps when Guy Fawkes got caught more than four centuries ago on the night of November 5th, 1605, he (or those loyalists who celebrated the foiling of the attempt on the life of King James I and the parliamentarians) could have imagined the event's annual celebration becoming a sheer mayhem of singing, burning colors, and of course, tons and tons of alcohol.

And when the celebrations happen to fall on a weekend (as is the case this year), the energy and turnout just becomes unstoppable. In just one instance, despite its rather dubious reputation for being an East London neighborhood, the normally quiet bedroom community of Bethnal Green still received a horde of hundreds from across London to see a 15-min firework show in the local park. It is hard to imagine what the residents (if they are there) would have thought as an army screaming to the display of lights in the sky marched through the narrow streets.

Napoleon once said that an army marches on its stomach. Well, for the army at Bethnal Green last night, the contents of the collective stomach was no doubt an endless supply of alcohol. The drinking pub crowd in front of the tube station blocked the station entrance, and the cashiers at the community off-license alcohol shops had a stressful night dealing with massive crowds that snaked through their tiny shops and out the door. Hundreds of beer cans chugged and chucked as the crowd surged forward, leaving behind a trail and sure sign of a "good time."

As the fireworks drew to a close amid the drunken outcry of the beer-toting mob, the real party got under way. As the crowd (absolutely oblivious of the danger) continued to fire off their own personal stocks of firework rockets into the air from within the dense crowds and out the windows of random buildings, the army gushed out of the community park and back into the stores and pubs of the neighborhood. shrills of joy mixed with ground-thumping music coming from all directions, sealing the whole area off to traffic with an impromptu human shield.

Every bar, club, some guy's apartment (...basically anywhere with a stock of alcohol) were packed. People danced, laughed to not so funny jokes and random situations, and talked about matters in ways completely inappropriate in any other situation. People start to realize that they cannot walk down a street without dancing, and cannot utter a single sentence without sprinkling it with some cheerful infusion of the f-word and any other vulgarity. People of all ages and all backgrounds came together. No one cared who they are and who were there.

As I witnessed all this firsthand, I, in my "slightly" tipsy mind, finally saw London at her most beautiful stage. "Diversity," a word long used as a praise for the international metropolis and a cause for all sorts of conflicts from riots to train bombings, finally stopped, if only temporarily, being an obstacle for unity. Dowsed with excess drinks, the residents of the city and the country as a whole found unity and common language in alcohol. All differences were then a source of good-natured fun, not tension.

Surely enough, we laughed and laughed to a Scotsman and an Englishman debating the issue of Scottish independence from the UK. A source of political upheaval, just as the sounds of fireworks still ringing outside, disappeared into the thin air with a joyous cheer. It was just one instance among thousands in the country pushing on the happiness of inebriation. I cannot think of a better tribute to celebrating the Guy Fawkes night, a legacy of political division among the British elites and their less fortunate (and in the modern context, more "foreign" immigrant-originated) constituents.

Of course, as anyone would say, drinking too much is definitely not good for the body or the wallet. But with a first-person experience of London as "one," not just an empty symbol of "diverse/international/global," is worth all the trouble. A city infused with energy of alcohol is by all means a friendly accepting place. Reality of social division is harsh, but drunkenness is the commonly opened door for escaping that reality. And with free healthcare dealing with any bad after-effects, why not experience all that firsthand?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

First Post in Japanese: 民族とアイデンティティーの関係は一体何なのか...

For some reason or the other, a Chinese guy ended up becoming the main teacher for the advanced language class offered by the Japanese Society here at the LSE. At such a "joyous" occasion, it is perhaps a good timing for me to finish my "foreign language trilogy" with a post in Japanese (after the Chinese and the Korean ones). It is, like so many other ones before, another rant detailing my struggle with a constant, lifelong identity crisis.

すらすらと日本語のレポートとメールを書いてた楽天時代かわずか5ヵ月後、まさに一センテンスを打ち出すことさえ困難となっているこの私がまさか日本語教師と変身するのは、正直、自分の結構変わった頭でも創造できないものでした。もちろん、ここで突然自信をなくして、自分の能力を疑っているわけでもないのですが、この状況はどう考えもどこが「変」です...と言うか、息苦しい日本の企業文化を代表する所謂ビジネスマナーを日本に対して理想を持っている外国の方々に教えるのは、「風刺」と言うしかないかとも思ってます。

シニカルになる一方、逆にこのような「珍しい」機会もまた「自分は一体何か」を再度深く考えてみるチャンスでもないでしょうか?韓流ポップを聞きながら、中国語のニュースを読みながら、アメリカにいる友達について考えているこの自分が日本語を教えるなんてまさに能力はずれの「光栄」ではないか...そして、いざその意外な熱心で「授業」を準備し、行う自分を見て、本当の、もう一人の自分はバイアスなしで判断するとどう表現したらいいのか?その答えはこの砕け始めている日本語のレベルでは、言い切れないものであるのかもしれないようだ...

社会理論者は「民族」を個人アイデンティティーの一重要な要素と考えるのを一般的な常識としている。寮の食堂で気楽に中国人に声をかけて一緒に楽しく食事をする自分を考えてると、まあ、そのような理論は完全にロジックには会っているはずだ。だが、その楽しい一時間の会話でも頭の裏のどこかで「自分はこいつらとどこかが違う」と言う思いがついつい飛び出して、意識的に取り外すことができない。「アメリカに住みつけたから普通に中国人と思われたくないんじゃない?」と良く指摘されるが、なぜかそれよりも複雑な答えが割るような気がする...

実際に考えてみれば、個人の民族にかかわらず、長年海外に住む人たちはなぜか全員このような傾向があるような気がする。中国は国家として結構ひどいイメージ問題があるから「中国人になりたくない」と言うのは、もちろん、100%理解できる要望だが、実際にポジティブな海外印象しかない母国を持つ人々からも「国に帰りたくない」的な話を良く聞く。最近海外に出たばかりで母国の弱点を良く知る留学生は別として、母国を幼いころからはなれ、マスコミと両親からもらった片っ端の印象で好き勝手に母国を嫌うやつらは何を考えてるのか?

もはや、自分の民族を逆にアイデンティティーから一生懸命抜き出すのは、その自分を代表する民族に対しての理解、知識があまりにも中途半端すぎて、「恥」であるこそだろうか?それとも、ただ、比較的に謎とミステリーに囲まれたほかの民族があまりにもエキゾチックでカッコよすぎるからだろうか?特に、自分をはじめとする、努力して同民族の人たちと違いを主張し、ちょっとだけでもの他民族との言語、文化共通点に食いつく人たちは何かしらの「自己不満」でモチベーションを高めてるのだろうか...「自分から逃げ出す」のを恥にしないのもアイデンティティーの一部なのか?

と、自分は英語の授業を聞きながら、日本語で一杯の頭で想像し続けた。自分のアイデンティティーを一生に明確にすることはできないと断念した自分は、いくらこんな質問の連発でも、良い回答はちっとも返ってこない。日本、中国、アメリカ...数々のコネクションはただの言語だけではない(まあ、日本語を教え、作文に落としてみると「全然流通じゃないね...ってか、まるで考えのつながりは悪い子供じゃん!」とも言える)...だが、同時に、文化でもない(どの国の人と話しても、本当はその国の文化を知ってないことに気づく)、じゃあ、残り、まだ何があるんだろう。

結局、アイデンティティーと言うものって、たぶん、自分が自分を理解する立場で見るより、第三者の目線を使ったほうが複雑さを減らせるのだろう。人として、積極的に「自分は何々です」の自己判断を意見として他人に伝えるのを一ミッションにするより、ただの事実を述べ、相手に判断してもらうほうが正しいのではないか。「えっと、自分はどこどこから参りまして、何々にしておりました...」と数ヶ月、数年のお付き合いから聞き手は自分の勝手な想像よりもっと確実な論理で自分のアイデンティティーを探って、分析して、思いをこめて教えてくれるだろうかと思い始めてます...

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Sino-Indian Relationship: a Dilemma of Mutual Ignorance

A brief survey of the leading magazines and newspapers on the Indian subcontinent often leads to an outsider confused by the excess obsession with China. The foreign affairs section sees sensationalized reports of Chinese military or economic superiority splashed across the headlines, filling pages with gloomy analysis of Indian doom in case of open competition with China. And brief chats with scholars from the subcontinent here in London illustrates that China does indeed loom large in the subconscious of the Indians and the Pakistanis, who often mentions China in the framework of subcontinental affairs.

The growing influence of China in global affairs, after years of economic and military expansion, is no longer a surprise to anyone. American, European, and East Asian media cannot live without giving their readers daily reports of China's growing threats and problems. But there is still a key difference to them and the South Asians. Compared to the floods of Americans, Japanese, Koreans now roaming China for language studies, work, and adventurous travels, Indian faces are still pretty much a rarity in the People's Republic. Their representation there even in growth terms, is a still a trickling of insignificant minority.

Perhaps nowhere in the world are Chinese and Indians more equally well-represented than on the campuses of major English-speaking universities in the US and UK, yet even here, the interaction between the two are, well, next to none. While both groups tend to stick to themselves, when outreaching across ethnic lines, they both tend to be much more fascinated first by what Americans and Europeans have to offer culturally before considering more intimate and invested interactions with fellow dwellers of the same continent.

The fact is, at the most basic level, neither the Chinese (and the East Asians as a whole) nor the Indians (South Asians as a whole) really have the obvious desire to know about each other. Both sides are perfectly fine to limit the understanding of the other to few highly distorted lines from history textbooks and news reports, supplying both sides with the sort of highly biased and inaccurate cultural disdain to prevent further mutual learning. For both, bliss seems to be having the other just be that "invisible outsider" who have to be reluctantly dealt with for studies and work.

Obviously, the mutual ignorance is dangerous, and not just for some shallow idealistic rationale of global cultural interaction. East and South Asia are now the two cultural regions with the strong economic performance outside the Euro-American one, and the economic partnership between the two has in some ways already eclipsed that of the either with Europe or America (for instance, by total value, India's annual trade with China is almost 20 billion USD more than her trade with the US). The economic relationship, combined with ongoing border disputes, Sino-Pakistani cooperation, and still-fresh memories of 1962 border skirmish, should make Sino-Indian relationship the most important for both sides.

Yet, the reality is quite different. China, by all means, behave much more like an East Asian and Southeast Asian power than a South Asian one. Its regional concerns with North Korea, Taiwan, and the South China Sea greatly outweighs the ones with India and Pakistan. India, on the other hand, have yet to play any sort of role in East Asian affairs other than a few vague trade and military exchange agreements with Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. "Both sides playing down potential conflict" much be a nice way to describe the situation, but somehow, for the outside observer, the lack of domestic interest may play a much bigger role.

So, when the Indian questions the Pakistani why the Chinese should be trusted, the sentiment is highly logical even from the Chinese perspective. After all, browsing through Chinese mass media, relations with subcontinents are rarely mentioned. The average Chinese will probably know that border disputes with India exist and that Pakistan seem to be "on our side," but they can never passionately rant on their naive political views like they do with regard to Taiwan or Japan. The fact that those East Asian issues receive much more frequent and comprehensive exposures plays a huge role in the thought processes of the common people.

To change the neglect of Sino-Indian affairs at the grassroot level, maybe a top-down focus on cultural exchange must be implemented. Back few thousand years ago, the passage of Buddhism from India to the Chinese royal family served as a cultural conduit. There is nothing that prevent similar exchange today. Whether it be movies, food, or tourism, specialized programs for bilateral cultural understanding ought to be introduced so that that exclusive interest of the elites for "strategic partnership" can be solidly passed down to the common people in both countries in the form of cultural goodwill.