Saturday, December 29, 2007

'Tis the season to celebrate in the third culture

This was the first year that I didn't travel anywhere for Christmas. I stayed home with my boyfriend. Although I'd been making Christmas dishes for a while, I really realized how much I associate the third culture with holiday celebrations on Christmas Day, the day we chose to celebrate. Feeling connected to many parts of the world is a huge part of Christmas for me. Thinking of my friends elsewhere and of how they are celebrating (or not) and wishing them well is really the embodiment or the Christmas spirit for me, and being the only third culture person in my house celebrating was a little weird.

Friday, December 07, 2007

President Halonen's Letter to Finns Abroad

Yesterday was the 90th anniversary of Finland's independence. My mother forwarded a letter from President Halonen to all Finns abroad that her Finnish club had been sent. I find it remarkable what this says about her (President Halonen's, not my mother's) deep understanding of cultural globalization and its implications for her country. And sort of mine. I'd vote for her. I think she should run for President of the United States of America. This letter made me feel very close to belonging in Finland, even though I know it's not that simple.


Ulkosuomalaisille yhteisöille 6.12.2007

Kuluvana vuotena vietämme Suomen itsenäisyyden 90-vuotisjuhlaa. Voimme olla ylpeitä siitä, että pohjoinen, lähtökohdiltaan hyvin köyhä maamme on vuosikymmenien kuluessa kehittynyt sitkeällä työllä pohjoismaiseksi hyvinvointiyhteiskunnaksi, joka selviää kovassakin kansainvälisessä kilpailussa. Suomalaisten on syytä olla myös kiitollisia sotiemme veteraanisukupolvelle, joka puolusti itsenäisyyttämme ja jälleenrakensi maatamme.

Tänä päivänä Suomi on osa yhä kansainvälisempää maailmaa. Olemme jäsenenä Euroopan unionissa ja aktiivisesti mukana kansainvälisissä järjestöissä, kuten Yhdistyneiden kansakuntien toiminnassa. Kuluneiden vuosikymmenien aikana myös talouselämämme on kansainvälistynyt. Suomalaiset yritykset ovat lisänneet ja laajentaneet toimiaan ulkomailla, samalla kun ulkomaalaiset yritykset ovat tuoneet toimintojaan Suomeen.
Kansainvälistyminen näkyy ihmisten lisääntyneenä liikkuvuutena. Suomesta mennään ja Suomeen tullaan työtehtäviin, opiskelemaan, eläkepäiviä viettämään. Ihmiset liikkuvat maasta toiseen jokaisessa elämänkaarensa vaiheessa.

Te, suomalaiset maailmalla, olette keskeisessä asemassa vaikuttamassa siihen, millainen kuva Suomesta muodostuu. Riippumatta siitä, oletteko asettuneet ulkomaille pysyvästi vai määräajaksi, te kaikki teette tärkeää työtä Suomen ja suomalaisuuden lähettiläinä. Te myös välitätte Suomeen ulkomailla saamianne vaikutteita ja rikastutatte näin suomalaisuutta. Teidän tekemänne työ ja luomanne verkostot ovat korvaamattomia.

Suomelle on tärkeää, että teidän ulkosuomalaisten siteet kotimaahan säilyvät. Kaikki te elätte, työskentelette ja toimitte kansallisina vähemmistöinä nykyisissä asuinmaissanne. Toivon, että voitte tässä ominaisuudessa kertoa kokemuksistanne
Suomelle, joka on yhä varsin yhtenäisen kulttuurin maa hyvin pienine etnisine vähemmistöineen, mutta vääjäämättä muuttumassa yhä monikulttuurisemmaksi. Te tunnette sen voiman ja mahdollisuudet, joita taustaltaan erilaiset ihmiset voivat yhteiskunnalle antaa. Meillä Suomessa voisi olla siitä opittavaa. Lämmin tervehdykseni Suomen 90. itsenäisyyspäivänä!

Tarja Halonen
Tasavallan presidentti



To the overseas Finnish community Dec 6, 2007

During this year, we are celebrating the 90th anniversary of Finland's independence. We can be proud of that our northern, originally poor country has developed over the decades with long and enduring work into a welfare society [difficult to translate - a society that is rich enough to take care of all its citizens] that is surviving even in hard international competition. Finns also have reason to be thankful to the veteran generations of our wars, who defended our independence and rebuilt our country.

Today, Finland is part of an increasingly international world. We are members of the European Unions and are actively involved in international organizations, such as the United Nations. During the past couple of decades, our economy has also become more international. Finnish companies have added and expanded their activities abroad, while foreign companies have brought their business to Finland. Internationalization manifests itself as increased mobility. People move in and out of Finland for work, studies, for retirement. People are moving from one country to another in every phase of life.

You, Finns in the world [implied: outside Finland, but less alienating overtones than 'abroad'], are in a central position to influence what kind of a picture people have of Finland. Regardless of whether you live abroad permanently or only for a time, you are all doing important work as ambassadors for Finland and Finnishness. You also transfer the influences you have encountered abroad to Finland, and thus enrich Finnishness. Your work and the networks you create are irreplacable.

It is important to Finland that the bonds of you Finns abroad to Finland remain. All of you live, work and act as national minorities in your current places of residence. I hope that in that capacity you can tell us about your experiences to Finland, which is still really a monocultural country with its very small populations of ethnical minorities, but is unavoidably becoming more multicultural. You know the power and the possibilities that people of different backgrounds can give to society. We in Finland could learn from that. My warm greetings on the 90th anniversary of Finland's independence!

Tarja Halonen
The President of the Republic

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Holiday Season & Life in a Can

Now that it's November, the holiday season is approaching. Yesterday, I was slightly late for a workshop in another building, and walked there briskly. Breathing in and out in the cold air felt familiar and invigorating. It reminded me of walking home from school in a snowfall in the dark. It reminded me of lights in windows, scarves, hats, Loden coats, and winter boots. I talked my boyfriend into taking a walk yesterday night, and we walked down the biggest road close to our apartment, a typically American road with neglected sidewalks, fast food restaurants, and car dealerships. The glittering lights in the dark and cold night made me miss Advent decoration events. I wish there was somewhere I could walk around and decide on a whim to enter this store or that, somewhere where each shop owner has decorated their windows for Christmas and where the city has put up lights. A downtown where you take a walk for pleasure with friends and family. Above all, somewhere you are not allowed to drive. A place meant for people and their senses, not cars. I miss smelling the fine bakeries and cafes. I miss feeling the wind on my face and the snow landing quietly on my hair and my bag and my coat. I miss watching the lights and the people. When you have to get everywhere in a car, because nothing is close by anything else, it's like living in a can. Are you really alive when you're never outside while doing things?

I don't want to take a walk at the mall. One mall is like another is like the next one. I want to take a walk downtown, somewhere that's different from Anywhere, USA. Are you really celebrating anything when all the food comes from cans and boxes and even the trees are pre-decorated? I know there are people who don't do it this way, but the consumerism is everywhere. It drowns out those people who celebrate in a different way. It drowns me out. Perhaps this recent cultural fight about Christmas here in the US is in part due to that people lack Christmas olive trees, using Friedman's framework - they see ideology and politics where others have tradition. No one can sell me Christmas, because no one can sell recordings of the silence of snowfall or can the smell of gingerbread cookies in the oven. Above all, no one can sell the energy of a community celebrating together, face to face. Individual people in cars driving past each other isn't a community.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Cultural resonance

You know you're not American when the first thing that pops into your head as a defense when people accuse you of being classist, even as a joke, is to confess your bourgeoise background (because you know you're not talking your way out of that one) and proclaim the insignificance of your suffering compared to the proletariat, and the finale is your sincere sympathy for the class struggle (and possible revolution). I clearly need an American version. Does anyone have any suggestions?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Cultural marginalization and homesickness

Having spoken to people so much about my future and having had to stay a night at the Sixth Avenue Inn recently, even though I am back "home" I still feel displaced. I like staying at five-star hotels because it makes me feel a lot like I came home. It reminds me of the Lidu. (Before its current fall.) I've gotten over the urge to tell every Holiday Inn employee I deal with that I live in the apartments in order to get better service, but I still miss it. I feel like I go from one local environment to another, try to make myself a little zone of transnationalism in a culturally oppressive majority view, get told I shouldn't be so attached to other places when where I am is so great, and eventually start doing the chameleon trick. Staying at the five-star hotels is like a vacation from locality, even though I only live in them when I'm working now. It's an escape into a deterritorialized zone where mobility is the norm and the environment is naturally a mix of people and places, everywhere yet nowhere in particular.

Looking at the Lidu website, I found the videos showing apartments. I almost cried. That's our furniture! Those are our sofas, our dining room chairs, our layout... That's home, almost exactly! I wish I could step into the video, go to the sofa and turn on StarTV. Or look out the living room window to look at ISB and the big foreign cars in the parking lot. Or walk into my room and see the scroll that's on the wall to my right over my bed. But as for so many others, home is a combination of time and space. The Lidu isn't as it was, and no one in our family lives anywhere in China anymore. My visa has expired for good. I have pages and pages of Z visas that are no good to me now. There are two more ring roads now. I can never go home.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

My new friend is Chinese, but has never been to China

One of my new friends is born in Thailand. Her parents came from Laos to Bangkok, fleeing across the border between Laos and China to escape unrest. If she could go anywhere, she would go back to Thailand with a lot of money, but she feels Chinese, even though she's never been there. Her heart is open. Perhaps there is a connection.

Networking Warm Fuzzies

After being over that horrid hotel ordeal, I'm having a blast networking. I've made four friends in 24 hours, and I love it. I love connecting people across disciplines, countries, cultures, and styles. Something about connecting people makes me feel calm and at peace.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

"Road Warrior" Reports, Seattle Edition

I'm at a conference in Seatte, WA, US. Because I need to work on my presesntation, here's some recently discovered travel advice:

If you call the Westin Seattle and they're full, they refer you to another nearby Starwood property called Sixth Avenue Inn. Do not book a room there. It is the nastiest, dirtiest hotel I've ever set foot in, and has nothing whatsoever to do with the Westin other than having the same owner. If other regular chains are full, consider the Mayflower Park Hotel. It's not part of a chain, but it's a very well-maintained old hotel close to the convention center. The restaurant has excellent but reasonably priced food and the bar is ambient.

American Airlines has terrible customer service and can't seem to get a plane off the ground on time to save themself from bankrupcy, not even in and out of their hub. The reason they call seasoned travelers "Road Warriors" in their in-flight magazine is probably that inevitably, one must be a warrior when dealing with them. Congratulations to those who make it to warrior status - I will remain soft-footed and meek and fly United exclusively. The time it took American Airlines to fly me from downstate Illinois to Seattle is the time it takes United to fly me from downstate Illinois to Chongqing. And that's including immigration at Capital Airport. It's quite obvious that no one expects me to have 20 years of international travel experience and think that I will put up with all kinds of ridiculous things because I'm young.

Back to presentation - I've lost 36 hours of work thanks to AA and Sixth Avenue Inn.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Books as a cross-continental point of comfort

My mother sends me an email stream of articles from various news media almost daily. Today's single article was about public libraries and respect and love for books. Since both of us are avid readers, I thought that was why she sent me the link. However, at the end I realized she had double motives:

"Och han [Alberto Manguel]tror att han vet varför böcker blev så livsnödvändiga. Hans pappa var diplomat så familjen flyttade runt i hela världen. Och den unge Alberto Manguel behövde en fast punkt för att känna sig trygg.

–Eftersom platserna ändrades och människorna byttes ut blev det som var konstant mina böcker. Jag minns hur jag kunde komma hem på kvällen och öppna en bok och bli så glad för att samma text var där på samma sida.

Han ler brett vid minnet.

–Så böcker har alltid varit med mig."

Translation: And he [Alberto Manguel] thinks that he knows why books became so important for him. His father was a diplomat, so the family moved all over the world. The young Alberto Manguel needed something steady to hold on to. "Because the places varied and the people changed, the only thing that was constant were my books. I remember how I could come home at night and open a book and be delighted that the same text was there on the same page." He smiles widely at the memory. "So books have always been with me."

Not only do I recognize that in myself, I know another TCK who also used books as a steady touchingstone. Funny that I should get sent this article today, when yesterday I grieved my loss of science as a similar point of comfort. Many of the books I read were popular science and math books. I guess we all have our points of comfort that come with us from one continent to the other. I wonder if books is a common one? For me, it was very natural, because my mother actively bought books in my three mother tongues to help me speak and use all three correctly and separately. I had a library by the age I was six. It always came with me. Which books to bring to China was a hard and much discussed decision. We weren't entirely sure what might get taken in customs, but certainly didn't want to bring only light-hearted novels either. (If anyone needs a tip in that department, it seems that they do not block smaller languages as effectively as bigger ones. If it's in English and forbidden, they won't miss it. You have a better shot with smaller languages, probably because they have less translators for those.) Perhaps a higher than average percentage of TCKs are avid readers for the same reasons that I, my friend and Alberto Manguel are?

Monday, October 08, 2007

Gender equity in research

I haven't posted much lately because I've been very busy with my research, trying to really get somewhere. However, it's difficult not to be reminded that not only do I live in a country that doesn't take feminism for granted, I am in an atmosphere where discrimination can't be discussed - a major research university in the US. It makes me very sad sometimes to think about that the area of knowledge that I thought was truly transnational - science - is not. We will never be able to have Science like I thought we could. For me personally, science has been the one thing that has remained the same from country to country. Electrons on one continent behave like they do on another. I forgot to consider that the people who observe them not only collapse wave functions, they create social knowledge-as-truth as well. Part of that truth seems to be that I am not and cannot be a professional researcher.

I hope there is a place for me too somewhere, and for once my concern isn't cultural marginalization.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Quantum mechanics in German

I recently ordered two thesis from the University of Munchen that seemed very helpful in writing my own thesis. They arrived, and although I read slowly in German compared to my mother tongues, I realized on the bus today - I'm following a discussion on quantum mechanics in relation to observable variables in surface science experiments in my adopted language! It wouldn't surprise me if I'm the only person at this (US American) university who can read this in German. If there are others who could, there can't be more than a handful. Very useful for me.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The TCK page on Wikipedia

I contributed to the TCK page on Wikipedia a while ago, and after posting my previous post I skimmed through it (Alright, I admit it, I'm procrastrinating) and noticed the following header: "Non-United States TCKs". It was followed by the phrase "Most international TCKs are expected.."

Uh, what? Excuse me? Are even American TCKs so stuck on nationalism that they classify the world into American and non-American? The whole point is that TCKs do NOT HAVE A HOME. If they do not have a home, how can they be either American OR non-American? Being a TCK is the way out of 'needing' to have a home country. A TCK from somewhere makes no sense. Why consider yourself a TCK if you think you have a home country? One of the prime characteristics of a TCK is the insider/outsider duality. If you're from somewhere you're an insider; if you're not, then you're an outsider. Even positing such a duality questions the existence of a neat two-category system, which is the POINT. Nation-states are political entities and logically have nothing whatsoever to do with 'being from' somewhere, other than as a probability argument. Citizenships and passports are a paper game we play, and 'Here is something from my culture' is another game we play, with one nation-state after the other. None of it is fundamental and none of it had to be that way; it could have been completely different and yet I'd be findamentally the same. I could have grown up eating salmon sashimi and upon my first encounter with Nordic smoked salmon realize this is almost like salmon sashimi, or realizing that when buying linen you can think about what makes good bamboo.

For someone like me who looks at the flag of her country of citizenship, her mother's birth country and her current host country with equal (lack) of emotional engagement - they are special to me because I recognize them very well, but they do not represent me - the concept of 'international TCK' is just redundant. And irritating. It's like saying that a TCK is supposed to have a home after all, that all this "international stuff" is just a phase or some neat tricks or like an extended vacation and all the scholarly research that's been done on the subject isn't really like that either. I feel so misunderstood all of a sudden.

More episodes from the home life of a TCK

I went to visit my parents over the 3-day Labor Day weekend. Americans have their labor day in September for some internationally ideosyncratic reason, but even here it's a bank holiday. (Not that anything else other than then banks are closed - the proletariat is busy selling things to other proletarians and bourgeoisie alike.) Anyway, my father was arriving slightly after me from Peru again. He brought some Peruvian coffee, much like he brought Chinese tea during my childhood. He once made a good profit on selling some Chinese businessmen some Chinese tea, because of course garden variety Swedish supermarkets like Hemköp and ICA don't carry Chinese tea, especially not at the time. No one knew there was any other kind of tea except red/black, and there certainly weren't enough people where we lived to support the expat grocery stores. It was local or nothing. So now fates have shifted such that we have a lot of trouble finding decent Chinese tea of any sort, but buy shade-grown Peruvian coffee instead. Obviously, I brought back a few packets to avoid going back to Gevalia. Americans may think it's 'gourmet', but I disagree. Gevalia is the Swedish Folger's. Just because it's European doesn't make it great. Unfortunately, it's better than most of the coffee in my grocery store, so I'm stuck with it.

Actually, as I'm writing this, I'm eating sandwiches on bread that contains 0g of sugar per slice (as opposed to the obligatory 3 in store-bought bread), topped with wild-caught smoked salmon from Norway flown here in my father's suitcase and drinking aforementioned direct-imported Peruvian coffee. All of it except the cucumber on the salmon was flown to me. My mother baked some dark bread the morning I left and I brought a loaf with me. The salmon is tender and soft like salmon sashimi and the coffee is so rich and delicate in flavor that I'm enjoying drinking it black. Thinking about it, I'm very lucky. This coffee leaves even Presidentti in the dust.

Since I started thinking about being a TCK when I discovered the concept sophomore year of college, I've felt slightly disqualified from time to time, especially initially, because I've only lived in three countries and only have three mother tongues. I'm not one of those diplomat kids that's lived in ten or fifteen places before college. I convinced myself intellectually by considering the clause that it is enough if others in the environment around the TCK are highly mobile, and I recognized that my father was. (Common dinner conversation during my childhood: "-Hur var Kina? (How was China?)" -"Som vanligt. (As usual.)") It's taken me a while to fully emotionally appreciate how that has made my childhood and family different from others'. I find it very natural to do your grocery shopping in different countries whenever you can in order to get the best quality. Why, it would be positively silly not to if you have the chance! How else are you meant to get real danishes, real doughnuts, real coffee, real tea, real Polish sausage (known outside the US as kabanoses), real Schwarzwald cake or real 中餐 (zhōngcān, Chinese food)? Many products are commercially imported, yes, but many more aren't or have been adjusted to local tastes (or lack of, depending on your perspective.) The idea of traveling with half a suitcase full of rye bread or smoked salmon across the Atlantic sounds like the sort of thing one does without thinking about it too much to me.

Over breakfast the next day, my father mentioned to me that the American Airlines repfresentative who checked him in in Lima said that his American visa was becoming hard to scan electronically due to wear. I am now finally convinced that there was significant mobility in my childhood.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Rye bread

I went to Finland for two and a half weeks recently with my mother, and it was very refreshing. Cold, of course, but I got to do many things I've missed doing, like eating rye bread. American have no idea of what dark, filling bread is like. "Rye" bread here is more like wheat bread with a slight addition of rye flour that's virtually unnoticable, except in the color of the bread. The food was fabulous. The coffee was even better. I had coffee and pastries in Fazer's cafe. (English page available.) A real cafe (and famous), with the hand-made pastries of normal size behind the glass counter for me to pick the special one just for me. If you're in Helsinki visiting, find this place. Kluuvikatu 3. I got to eat smoked fish. We ate muikkukukkoja (I don't know what those are in English) from the kauppahalli (market building) in Helsinki. I had fresh chanterelles fried in butter, home-made raspberry kiisseli (more dishes I don't know in English), lättyjä (like crepes) and lots of mineral water! On the more glamorous end, we also had a fabulous meal at NJK. One of the best meals of my life. And we got to sauna in two real wood-heated saunas! One was even by a lake in the proper old-fashioned way.

After a few days in Helsinki, we went to see my grandfather near Vaasa and then to the opera festival in Savonlinna, then back to Helsinki. What felt so familiar and comfortable, despite that it sometimes annoyed me before, was how simple everything is there. How natural. How clean. Women walk like real women and smoke and drink. Everyone cooks at home, from simple and fresh ingredients, and wouldn't consider anything else. Everyone cleans. The simple things in life make people happy, and me with them. People can walk without effort. People have energy. People form a society, a community. There is simple beauty. Nothing is so far twisted or processed from its original that there is nothing left of it. If you don't feel like smiling, don't. There is no show. Don't ask a Finn to put on a spectacle for you, but you can count on one to keep it real. And to have sisu, of course.

We got tickets to a new Finnish opera about modern Finnish society by Olli Kortekangas called Isän tyttö. (Daddy's Girl) It was great. The music was moving, but above all, it had a lot to say about people and about the past. I recognized a lot of it in my own family history. The main character Anna has a mother who is a seamstress, like my grandmother. Anna herself has run away far to the south, where "the nights are nights, and the sun is right above during the day," from a family situation (I won't spoil the story, if you see it) and sings that she is younger than when she left. While Anna's family problems aren't ones I share, I can see my own relationship to Finland mirrored to some extent in this. Anna's father died in the war, and she longs to know who he was and get his support. This is a recurring theme, and having just come from my grandfather's house, where there's always a lecture on the wars being served up, lots of pictures of dead soldiers on the wall, and obligatory tours of the local veterans' graveyard on the agenda, it sure struck a chord on the behalf of my relatives. Anna's mother Siiri moves them to the city after her husband dies, in order to earn enough money sewing to send Anna to college and give her a better life than Siiri herself has had. (Just like my grandmother did with my mother.) Anna becomes a communist in university and thinks that her mother is causing suffering by employing women to sew for her. Siiri is aghast, because she herself has worked hard for Anna and her husband died fighting the Russians for freedom. The duet ends with both singing "Whose suffering?" Anna's partner Axel is a drunk, and after a few kids, they split up. Skipping some dramatic parts of the story, at the very end, Axel and Siiri have become friends despite their earlier ideological differences.

I thoroughly enjoyed the opera. As we were waiting for the crowds to move out, the American woman behind me, who rather rudely asked me if I had a cell phone, then borrowed someone else's phone, and continued talking business and complaining about being tired very loudly while the orchestra was tuning, really started to shine as an ugly American. Very loudly, she proceeds to talk to a friend involved with organizing the event about the opera, talking about the Vietnam war, American history and communism, all under the (explicitly stated) thesis that she has to understand the opera through what she knows, namely U.S. history. After a lot of clueless jabbering, I was extremely tempted to turn around and say "Listen, lady, if you don't get it now, what you need is a book on Finnish history, not to lecture Finns on YOUR history. Shut the fuck up." She didn't understand that the reason it was so hurtful for Siiri that Anna was a communist wasn't only or even mainly politics or economics - it was the symbolism.

Russia has been trying to take Finland for centuries. In recent history, huge parts of the population have take on the Russians - a force much more powerful than they will ever be, and they know it - twice and have managed to stay independent. Thousands of people have come home missing arms and legs, thousands of people have died. Finland just barely escaped becoming part of the Soviet Union after World War II, and a constant reminder of how lucky that was has come from Estonia, which wasn't as lucky. Finland still lost Karelia to Russia, and had to pay massive war debts to Russia - most of Finland's industrial production went to Russia for a long time. To be a communist can't be wrong on absolute grounds - after all, what could be wrong with the aim of trying to improve life for the down-trodden? - but there is certainly something a bit disloyal to take Russian ideals when so many people have sacrificed so much so that you can be free, and when your own mother has worked very hard to give you the freedom to choose, to succeed, to give you a better life than she had in the shadow of the war and poverty. Americans have never, ever had to raise a single, real, physical gun to defend themselves from Russia or communism. No Americans have died or been maimed defending their country's independence from invading Russians. America has never lost land to Russia. No Americans have skied over the border with Russia by mistake, to return too afraid to speak a word of what they've seen. A cold war may be nasty, but it's even nastier to fight both hot and cold wars with your neighbor. And I can guarantee you she didn't even catch the slant on how the communism was presented - the subtle pointers to the mindlessness and ultimately meaninglessness of the slogans and the key words (We're protesting imperialism!")and what they meant in societal context. I'll also bet she didn't feel the sense of moving forward when the characters choose to value human relationships over ideology. It's quite possible that she would have though it weak to love your family instead of sticking to ideology, like many Americans do. It was a real bummer to have to listen to her after such an uplifting and personally relevant opera.

While at the festival, we stayed at a farm that's running a hospitality business on the side called Lomamokkila. (Several other languages available on the website.) No, that's not a typo, it's an o. It's 12 km from Savonlinna, but all the hotels were booked, of course. It turned out to be very nice - almost like at our old summer house, but with some extra perks. I highly recommend Lomamokkila if you're looking for a special place to stay near Savonlinna. If you don't speak Finnish, we heard the owners speak excellent English with foreigners, and they responded quickly to email. All the buildings and equipment were clean, solid and of good quality. They have many kinds of lodging (including in old liiterit, uh, a kind of old-fashioned grains storage barn), both close to the farm houses and cottages by the lake. (Mosquito warning by the lake.) There's a common fire teepee where you can grill (good place to grill some sausages), two row boats and fishing rods for common use, and a common kitchen if you want to cook yourself. You can bet we did, we made poronkäristystä (a reindeer dish). You can also pay for meals at the farm. We ate breakfast there, and it was like the rest of Lomamokkila - simple but sublime in its simplicity. Oven-baked porridge with whole wheat kernels, baked milk, fresh bread, yoghurt, fresh eggs, fresh coffee. By the time you'd eaten some of almost everything, you were stuffed. It was a lot like being at a summer house, and that area of Finland is very, very pretty.

I've spent so much time in itä-pohjanmaa (east botnia) that to see järvisuomi (lake finland) was very refreshing. It was also nice to get away from the east botnia dialect. My step-grandmother goes a bit nuts with the local identification and she'd got an east botnia dialect-Finnish dictionary she likes showing everyone. As a TCK, that's somewhat awkward. Every time she reall pushes the regional dialect I can't help but think "Lady, it's a big world out there beyond itä-pohjanmaa... Guess where we came from? We just flew from Chicago across an ocean to Germany to Finland to come see you. We switched from English to German to Finnish without much effort and you're stuck on a dialect of Finnish? Just let it go."

Back in Helsinki, we went to Ateneum to see the exhibit Music and silence. Finnish symbolism. Very interesting, as I recognize the feelings from the exhibit relating to Finland, but didn't have a way of describing them. It also suggests a different perspective on some of Akseli Gallen-Kallela's work that I hadn't considered before. We also stopped by the Academic Bookstore and picked up a huge technical English-Finnish dictionary for a mere E160.

We stayed a night at the Kempinski Hotel Airport München, since we were flying Lufthansa and our Chicago flight was early in the morning from München. Great chance to practice German! I started on the outgoing flight, of course. I asked the stewardess how they decided which language to speak with passengers. She replied that (of course) they had a system: if a passenger's last name was German, they spoke German, otherwise English. Then she peered at me and said, "Aber mit ihr ist es anders." (But with you it's different.) That made me proud! It should indeed be different with me. I'm glad to see I'm still above that barrier of ease in German where people respond naturally in the language you're trying to speak. I wouldn't let my mother get away with English after 25 years of language propriety exhortations, but I have to admit, people did respond to her in English or addessed her in English. I found a biergarten at the airport and got to have some real beer and German sausages too! Very tasty. The return flight was first class and therefore very pleasant. I managed to get the flight attendants to address me in German all the way.

Then there was the return shock. When I arrived in Finland, I thought the hotel coffee was good and that everyone was skinny as a stick. When we left, the hotel coffee was incredibly watery and barely worthy of the name 'coffee' and there were overweight people here and there. I miss rye bread again.

Monday, June 18, 2007


Yesterday, I was outside late at night. Some lights were reflecting off the water of the pool. It reminded me of the pool in 重庆 (Chong2qing4). I would go swimming at night, so that people wouldn't stare as much. The neon signs would reflect off the water surface in neverending color patterns, and standing on the side of the pool, you could see the river and 解放碑 (Jie4fang1bei1) and all the lights of the city. Here, there are no neon signs, no river and few lights. I felt like I was somewhere else.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Old-fashioned vs. Exotic

I took a 太极拳 (Tai4ji2quan2) class in 重庆 (Chong2qing4) sort of to have something to do over the summer. It was nice to get to know some of my traditions. I liked it, even though it's not really something someone my age "should" be doing. I can't help but want to be one of those old ladies that meets her friends every morning to do 太极拳 (Tai4ji2quan2) together. Unfortunately, I forgot bits of the form, and signed up for a 太极拳 (Tai4ji2quan2) class here.

The other day, I had planned to run some errands in the grocery store after class. I didn't think about that I'd be wearing my 太极拳 (Tai4ji2quan2) clothes - very old-fashioned indeed. As I'm walking through the supermarket, trying to be quick, feeling like everyone's looking at me thinking, "What's a modern young woman doing in those clothes? And she's a Westerner to boot, shouldn't she be a little more with it?", I realized that the clothes don't look old-fashioned here - they must look exotic.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The New American Century and Fascism

Listening to Pandora at work, a song called New American Century by KMFDM came on. The lyrics caught my attention. In context of what I've been reading (and re-reading) this seems right on the money. There are strong directions in American politics that could endanger not only democracy and freedom in America, but given America's importance in the global economy and proto-community, could have reverberations worldwide. Already now, some issues that should stay America's internal struggles and problems get transmitted elsewhere - like faith-based abstinence-only education in countries that desperately need condoms (As America itself, one might note.) and a stubborn insistence in face of facts to the contrary that global warming doesn't exist. America may be taking a sharp swing toward the unreasonable, and they are often not aware of the mirrors they could see themselves in to get a reality check. If you're really dominionist, you can always dismiss the mirrors as insufficiently something or other, insufficiently Christian or insufficiently American or why not both. While we're making things up, might as well run with it.

The more I think about whether this is a real threat or not, and what would be ethically justified and/or required to resist it, I am starting to (once again) realize the magnitude of my blind spot for societies where faith plays a key role. I re-read Sam Harris's The End of Faith again. Perhaps the way in which Sweden (and the other Nordic countries) is (are) the most secular is in that evidence is always key. You are politically free to believe the Sun orbits the Earth, but society will see no virtue in your faith. Faith for the sake of faith is not seen as a virtue. Strong convictions without logic or facts is seen as a vice. I feel this way, of course, but when I think about my feelings on the matter, I feel an imagined community behind me. Just like you just can't say that gender roles are a good idea, you can't expect people to respect your opinions if you can't argue for them logically and with facts as support. Feel free to believe whatever you like about God in your free time, but reality trumps faith as soon as you try to do anything at all. If you accept that if you stick your fingers in an electrical outlet, you will get an electric shock, and this is real, then you have to leave religion for those moments when you're feeling contemplative, perhaps after a few glasses of wine. Of course, this is not globally how people feel about it. After the recent discussion with my mother about spirituality and how I can be an atheist, she a Christian and agree on spiritual, moral and ethical matters through our feelings and experiences with nature, I'm wondering if religious dogma historically never gained the hold they did in southern Europe up north, because people have engaged almost by default in another kind of spirituality that is more rational and also spiritually satisfying. I'm sure not everyone feels this way (I imagine many Chinese may not, based on their behavior in Swedish forests), so perhaps it's culturally symptomatic that I feel at once small and powerful alone in a vast forest. Listening to the sounds of the forest and feeling the harmony (or, if the forest is hurting, its plight) is for me greatly conducive to losing my sense of self, which Harris lays out as a main goal of spiritual practice. Why should I listen to dogma when I can go into the forest?

Anyone who made claims like my mother-in-law - that she believes that the Bible is literally true and that science is true - would be quietly avoided or quietly derided in gossip. In fact, I heard of such a person in Sweden once. It was delivered as dirty gossip, and it didn't occur to me that it could be seen any other way. Being deeply and professedly irrational is a dirty secret you don't want your co-workers to know. Something you might confess to a very trusted friend. But not here! Here, in fact, making a big show of your irrationality is encouraged. We are not perfectly rational - in fact, we may mostly be irrational - but that is no excuse to cling to dogma that fly in the face of evidence. Sam Harris points out in his book that many liberals - myself included - do not appreciate the gravity of the threat that truly believing religious dogma presents. Reading that section, I laughed out loud, because I saw myself on the page. Looking around in the US, it is difficult enough for me to imagine life when you really believe that the Bible is the literal Word of God. I just... dismiss it as ridiculous in several ways, unrelated to my concept of theology or religion per se. Ideas in the Koran are equally unrelated to life for me. Prior to moving to the US as an adult, I had never encountered another person who acted as if they did. I have been encased in a bubble of reality, it seems. The religious people I met in Europe had, as Harris points out, discarded large parts of past dogma and texts as unreasonable. Trying to imagine really believing them is for me an exercise where my heart screams with injustice and my head feels about as comfortable as trying to imagine that invisible pink elefants have decreed that I must have six cups of coffee a day or I will suffer for all eternity. It's very distressing, in fact, and to get rid of the cognitive dissonance I just leave the thought be.

The New American Century is a very, very scary project. Such megalomania that is untouched by reality or facts or critical thinking is one of the scariest things I can think of politically. Maybe it's because I feel I share Europe's burden to make sure fascism never, ever returns, but I have to do something. If this is all going to hell, I want my conscience to be clear. We could still either stop this or make sure it won't happen. But how?

Friday, June 08, 2007

June 4th Massacre Ad

Reuters reports that an ad saluting the mothers of the June 4 天安门广场 (Tian1an1men2 Guang3chang3, Tiananmen Square) massacre got published in the Chengdu Evening News! The person who placed it also tried other newspapers, and the clerks who handled the requests didn't know what June 4 referred to. The other clerks called a supervisor. This clerk called the customer, and got told it was a mining accident, and it went through! I would love to have a copy, to see it myself.

I remember Li, one of my father's business partners, telling me about what happened. She was there as a student, and spent the next two weeks in the countryside hiding. It's amazing when you think about it, how much the world has changed since then. Now she's an overseas Chinese. She changed her citizenship, so now she has what she was fighting for then. But many millions don't.

I also remember speaking with a good friend of mine, whose name I will not type out on the vauge chance that I could get them in trouble. We were speaking about the massacre (good friend with open heart indeed, as you can see), and I mentioned the iconic picture seen all around the world except China itself, of the lone man standing in front of the tank holding up his hand in a 'stop' sign. My friend looked confused, and I realized they hadn't seen it, they hadn't seen any pictures or footage of something that happened 30 minutes from their home.

But the grip of the Party will corrode, sooner or later. There were good reasons to be so suspicious of foreigners. My friend now knows that there is footage that was seen worldwide, they know there are pictures, and they know from my face and my words that everyone abroad knows. They know there is such a thing as "the" picture from 天安门广场 (Tian1an1men2 Guang3chang3, Tiananmen Square). I don't know how far that knowledge might spread, but some young people do know. I told one myself. Looking around on campus, there are a lot of overseas Chinese here. Some of them will see the footage, and some of them will go back. The knowledge and memory will be preserved here, until China is ready.

The authorities are still very jumpy about gatherings on 天安门广场 (Tian1an1men2 Guang3chang3, Tiananmen Square), especially after the Falun Gong incidents. A police van followed me around when I was rollerblading on the square once, but that was in June. I'm not sure how someone rollerblading might be a threat, but it's apparently not out of the question.

It's so unfair. I wish my friend had the same freedoms and opportunities as I do. They deserve better. They are not a cog in a machine, they are a person. They are not some cretin that has to beg for a visa or a potential sacrifice for the glory of some leader or party or country. They are a person with their own personal sorrows and joys, their special smile, and their own hopes and wishes. I wish they could look at anything they like, discuss anything they like and had more chances for a better life than they do. There is no reason why they couldn't, and they shouldn't have to leave their country to get it. I hope we will meet again when China is completely open and rich and look back and say "Wow, things changed since we first met. Remember?"

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Face of Modern Hatred in the US

While waiting at O'Hare recently, I made the mistake of walking into a bookstore to spend some time. (I don't have gold status with any frequent flyer program, since I fly so little, so I can't wait in a lounge.) I call it a mistake, because I'm almost incapable of walking into a bookstore without buying anything, but I usually promptly forgive myself for splurging on books with such a small budget, because the books I buy were very important. This time I walked out with Christian Fascists by Chris Hedges and Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point. Blink was very intresting (and explains why I am unable to explain consciously why I do not want to be alone with a co-worker, but feel very strongly about it), but Christian Fascists triggered some third-culture associations between America and European Neonazis. Hedges is what I think of as a "normal" Christian, the kind that one can have as a neighbor without further complications. The kind I have no problem with. He is a graduate of Harvard Divinity School and actually recieved his first warning against religiously clad totalitarianism there, from a German professor who had seen the rise of National Socialism (funny how der Nationalsozialismus pops up in my head there, along with images of "NSDAP" spraypainted on walls) first-hand. Hedges is a moderate Christian who does (or at least attempts to) what Sam Harris says in The End of Faith is not possible: attack religious extremism from within.

Perhaps Harris writes from the point of view of someone who has lived in a place of mired in religious literalism and authoritarianism that imagining a culture where interpretation of religous texts is culturally mandatory. Harris is probably right in saying that religious moderates have taken values and ideas that are not strictly speaking religious when they interpret their religion. However, I think that in practice what matters is the cultural force of the value, not strictly speaking where it came from. However, here in the US, "primacy" of religious ideas is an idea with tremendous cultural force. Culturally speaking, trying to make an argument here for why literalism and conservatism (in the original, literal, general sense) are not good approaches to religion is as futile as trying to make an argument about the benefits of lowering taxes in Sweden. Forget it. You may find individuals who will admit, in private, that you at least have a point worth considering, and occasionally even someone who agrees. But public admission of such ideas is socially unwise, except in very select company. But swap the arguments between the two cultures - and you will instantly have broad support. Truth is socially - and therefore culturally - constructed. Harris's argument may well be functionally correct for the US, where a cultural change is probably necessary to allow religious moderates freedom of religion without also sanctifying religious extremism. It would have to become truth that literalism is incoherent, even from a religious point of view. This doesn't seem likely. But perhaps globally speaking, one can have faith without extremism, but only in cultures where truth limits religious fundamentalists from gaining legitimacy. Harris can certainly be forgiven for missing this; even I find it difficult to remember sometimes, in the middle of being flustered.

Anyway, back to the original subject. Hedges writes explicitly and clearly about a feeling I've had, and I believe a friend of mine also has had: that the American Christian Right feels a lot like the European Far Right. I get the same cold feeling from both. Of course, accusing people of being pseudo-members of the Far Right is very serious. Very serious indeed. I've dismissed it consciously, because they seem rather different in many ways. Fascism is part of Europe's past, and its past imagery and circumstances feel very different from the US. How can you say "Auslander raus!" when the country is built on immigration? How can you appeal to pastoral images of national dress and national music when there are none, at least none that are seen as such? These features of the US would even seem as guarantors of that fascism cannot rise here. But Hedges points out what should have been obvious: if fascism were to rise outside Europe, it would appeal to local traditions. He cites Robert Paxton (from Anatomy of Fascism): "[The language and symbols of an authentic American fasicsm] would have to be as familiar and reassuring to loyal Americans as the language and symbols of the original fascisms were familiar and reassuring to many Italians and Germans, as Orwell suggested. Hitler and Mussolini, after all, had not tried to seem exotic to their fellow citizens. No swastikas in American fascism, but Stars and Stripes (or Stars and Bars) and Christian crosses. No fascist salute, but mass recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance. These symbols contain no whiff of fascism in themselves, of course, but an American fascism would transform them into obligatory litmus tests for detecting the internal enemy."

Right in the beginning of the book, Hedges has a short text on Ur-Fascism by Umberto Eco. It's a simple list of what fascists have in common, with some explanations and examples. Here is the list.

1. Cult of tradition - truth has already been spelled out once and for all
2. Rejection of modernism and above all reason
3. Cult of action for action's sake - thinking is a form of emasculation
4. Disagreement is treason, because you have to think to disagree, and thinking falls under 3.
5. Exploits and exacerbates fear of difference - racism is built in
6. Derives from individual or social frustration
7. To those who feel deprived of a clear social identity, Ur-Fascism says that their only privilege is to be born in the same country - nationalism + obsession with a plot against the country by people with insider/outsider status (Jews are the eternal favorite, but perhaps Arab-Americans could work?)
8. Followers feel humiliated by the ostentatious wealth and force of their enemies - but construe their "enemies" to be at once too strong and too weak
9. Life is lived for struggle - pacifism is trafficking with the enemy - life is permanent warfare
10. Popular elitism - every citizen belongs to the best people in the world
11. Everyone is educated to become a hero/martyr - the Ur-Fascist hero is impatient to die, but in his (gendered pronoun intentional) impatience, he often sends others to die instead.
12. Since both permanent war and heroism are difficult games to play, the Ur-Fascist transfers his will to power to sexual matters - playing with weapons becomes a phallic ersatz exercise
13. Individuals as individuals have no rights, and the People are a monolithic entity with a Common Will.
14. Ur-Fascism speaks Newspeak.

Hedges goes into deeper discussion of these points in the book, of course, but I recognize just about every one of these qualities in the American Christian (Far) Right. He argues that the movement is not yet revolutionary, but if a disaster happens to increase individual or social frunstration, it may cross the line to becoming so.

This list is like a vocalization of what about the Christian Far Right makes me feel so cold. It's the ideas that life is war, the prominence of guns, and fierce nationalism put together with soothing statements of that they are virtuous. God, guts and guns may appeal to many Americans, but that's exactly what makes that combination so potentially dangerous. I feel like I need defending from these people. And that may be why, much earlier in the Bush presidency, I had flashes of planning how to exit the US as quickly as possible if necessary. I've even felt better knowing that I am a foreign passport holder - if they try to stop me at the border, I have a better chance of making a stink about it than an American citizen. If the borders close, I have to be one of the few who make it out, one of the foreigners who ride out on their citizenship, leaving behind the poor citizens of Whateveristan to the cruel hands of their government.

It sounds rather drastic, I'm sure. I'm a bit surprised myself, that I've thought of this, and more than once. Justified or not, these thoughts are linked to the Nazi Germany, to the Soviet Union, the Revolution in China, and the invasion of the Japanese, in different ways. These modern people in the US make me associate to some of the darker moments in human history. When I was little, hiking in the Swedish mountains, my mother and father said that if the Soviets ever invaded, we could flee on foot across the border to Norway. Perhaps that idea stuck.

But if America has even some fascist leanings, it could have consequences far beyond even this current misguided so-called war in Iraq. I'd really rather not think those thoughts out all the way, because this country is sitting on so many nuclear weapons that I feel radioactive already just thinking about them in fascist hands. Perhaps I should learn a few Bible quotes, so I can masquerade as a proper "Bible-believing Christian" should they feel that the Apocalypse needs speeding up.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Religion, mythology and the forest

These past few days, I've been discussing religion with my mother. We've been talking about the cultural differences in how religion is approached in the United States compared to Sweden and Finland. She is Christian and I'm an atheist. However, what we mean - and especially the implications - aren't what they mean here in the States. Neither of us understand the cultural functions of Christianity here very well. However, both of us find spirituality in the forest. I realized that when I say I don't believe in God, I mean pretty much the same thing as when I say I don't believe in keijukaiset/älvor/elves or fairies. (I'll use the word fairy, since it has associations in English mythology closer to the 'form' of a keijukainen/älva. Fairies are translucent, female nature beings who dance in clearings in the forest, especially at dawn and at sunset. Their dance is incredibly beautiful, and they will invite you to come dance with them, but if you do, you will disappear and become a fairy too. So be careful, if you see the fairies dancing.) I don't actually believe that there are real, physical beings that are translucent dancing around in the forest, trying to lure me to dance with them. But when I walk in the forest, I feel connected to it. I feel like part of a system of life. I am not scared of the animals or plants, even though I know there are animals that could seriously hurt me there. I feel like we have a spiritual deal - I leave them alone, and they leave me alone. I make noise as I walk, so that the animals know I'm coming. I am, in fact, almost mystical about it. I feel like if you enter the forest with ill will, the forest is much more likely to hurt you. (As did the miners of old, who gave offerings to the mountain guardian/goddess before starting work, asking for her permission to mine her mountain.) But when you are at peace with the forest and everything in it, we can both prosper. Just as I know how fairies work, and know not to go near beautiful violin music from a stream or a creek (lest I be enchanted to drown myself by another mythological being, Näcken), I know the snakes can feel the vibrations of my footsteps, and I know the bears and wolves can smell my scent. Fairies, trolls, and other beings of the forest all play their role too, roles that are not cast in terms of good and evil. I do not feel afraid of the fairies, the trolls or Näcken, because although they could harm or kill me, they are only part of the life-system we live in. If I get hurt, it is because I have intruded somewhere where I shouldn't be in the first place. Perhaps I view them more as abstractions of general principles to life. But I do clearly feel that I am communicating with something. The forest has spirits that I can feel, but I don't have very strong urges to define them or roationally explain them. I think in China, people know the forest spirits as qi4. They are simply there. They always have been, and always will be.

Unlike religious or spiritual experiences in the United States, these feelings are intensely personal. My mother and I feel the same about the forest and its spirits. I can see that my mother doesn't care that I don't believe in the Christian God, and I don't particularly care that she does. We don't need to, because we can share spirituality about the forest. It is an experience of exchange between you and the forest. A congregation would only destroy it with its noise and human activity. That doesn't belong in the forest. It is disrespectful, in fact. When we move in the forest, we do so on its terms. Silence and respect are appropriate behavior. Talking and thinking about it, it seems like people who live physically close to nature often regard the forest as almost sacred space. Here in the US, I conspicuously lack culturally appropriate respect for the church and Christianity. But I cringe at people shouting in the forest, people walking too broadly, in a too imposing kind of way, or people taking things from the forest without thanking the forest, and a host of similar behaviors that just feel irreverent. The guardian-goddess of the forest (Metsänhaltija) will punish you! Can't you see that her wrath could be devastating? Without nature and the forest, we will be reduced to nothing!

This last line of reasoning is perhaps a spiritual formulation of the need to protect the environment. But to me, it isn't just an intellectual argument, it is an emotional one, too. If the trees and the animals are dying, we will be, too. Our fates are the same, because we belong together. In the forest, there can be no doubt of our oneness. Conversely, Christianty doesn't mention those feelings of oneness. In the traditional mythology (that in the Nordic countries has been mixed with Christian beliefs, but never abandoned), both male and female entities exist. That feels natural. Androgyny and/or a mix of genders is the only normal state. Simultaneously, it feels natural that the guardian-rulers are almost all female. (Perhaps this is a leftover of the original Goddess worship?) I have never been able to feel a male-only deity. I tried, but I just can't feel it. It feels... alien. God just cannot be a man. She can't. What is considered 'male' (aggressivity, domination, etc) isn't the forest at all. Power flows through all circuits of life, and life is not aggressive. Life is a flow, a complex web of life and death, pain and joy, loss and gain. To pick one strand and say "Look, how viciously the wolf is killing the deer! Life is brute force and aggression!" is misguided. The spirit of the forest is not like that. She/it is wiser and calmer and nearly eternal. (It may not be surprising I find Buddhism a great deal more approachable emotionally.)

Going back to more practical apsects of this, the hippie imagery here is also difficult for me to understand. I don't understand the connotations of 'treehugger' very well. What moral person isn't? That's not about politics. That's about the basic truths of life. I know what it's supposed to connote, but I don't think it can for me. Without the forest and nature, arguing about politics and clothing choices are moot, because we will disappear.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

"Multiculturalism" and women

Most of my mental capacity at the moment is going into being mad about and trying to understand the sexist behavior of someone at work. A fact that I think is highly relevant - and is currently being suppressed - is that the man in question is from a society that is generally known to be much more sexist than the country in which I am now, which in turn is more sexist than at least one of my other homes. (Not just from my personal observations, mind you, from studies and reports as well.) Susan Moller Okin has written an essay entitled Is Multicultralism Bad for Women? that raises a number of good questions about group rights and women's rights. I think she's right - there comes a point where the interests of women in a minority group are not commensurate with the interests of the men in it, and that can't be ignored. Furthermore, therecomes a point where the interests of men in a minority group are opposed to, well, ALL women. You can't give people carte blanche to oppress women (or homosexuals, or any other group) just because they're a minority. To my partial relief, I have heard multiple people respond with "When in Rome..." to that he may not have a coherent picture of what a professional relationship is, or may carry with him ideas about women and their place that are not acceptable even here in the US. However, I've also gotten quick warnings not to be racist.

I do not think that for me as a woman to be suspicious of people, but especially men, from cultures widely known to have oppressive ideas about women is racist. It simply doesn't have anything to do with skin color, it has to do with culture and cultural-societal constructs. I'm a bit suspicious of, frankly, all men on this count. However, with 99% of the men I encounter, they do not give me any indication that it is anything but suspicion, and I drop it and proceed with business. With partners that aren't from the handful of countries that have reconstructed social reality to the point where a dad who doesn't do half of the housework and pick up the kids at daycare is a deadbeat dad, I have always worried about how they will behave as a partner. At any rate, no matter how delicately you have to handle cultural imperialism, positing universals where there may or may not be any, etc - this isn't a general case of a woman in one country getting pissed about how sexism another country is. I'm pissed about how an expatriate to one of the countries I'm from is applying cultural norms from another country to me, much to my detriment. My heart tells me that a woman from his country has all right to be pissed for the same reasons I am and probably more that she might know and I don't, but that's for her and her sisters-in-arms to fight. However, I cannot see why this man ought to be allowed to break all kinds of (at least supposed) norms of this society that we're both in and oppress me because I'm a woman simply because he's an expatriate and part of a racial minority. That makes no sense whatsoever. I've spent my life adjusting to cultures, and this is what I get? Imported, sanctioned oppression?

Saturday, April 07, 2007

The future of the American Dream

This morning, I read my American boyfriend some parts of Jeremy Rifkin's book The European Dream. I read the sections pertaining to the American Dream and the religosity of the United States. The extent of religosity and its ties to the American Dream in the United States was made clear to me for the first time in Rifkin's book. ("They [Americans] believe that the American way is God's way" (Rifkin, 2005, p. 19); "Nearly half of all Americans (48 percent), for example, believe that the United States has special protection from God." (Rifkin, 2005, p 19); "Nearly half of the American people say that it is necessary to believe in God to have good values" (Rifkin, 2005, p 19); "Sixty-eight persent of the public believe in the devil." (Rifkin, 2005, p 20); "... 40% percent of the American people believe that the world will end with an Armageddon battle between Jesus and the Antichrist." (Rifkin, 2005, p 20)) It turns out that my American boyfriend recognized every statistic given in the book from his own experience. The section on the American Dream I recognized myself, other than the specificity Rifkin claims for the American Dream ("The first thing to understand about the American Dream is that from the very beginning it was meant to be exclusive to America. It was never meant to be a dream shared with or exported to the rest of the world. Its power rested in its particularism, not in its universalism. One can only pursue the American Dream on American soil." (Rifkin, 2005, p. 17)) and the aspect of being a "chosen people" (Rifkin, 2005, p.18). My boyfriend recognized both of those aspects as well.

Perhaps my lack of understanding of the religosity and the particularism of the American Dream are due to my being a third culture kid. I imagine that one could pursue the American Dream anywhere, just not calling it the American Dream, simply a dream of a more prosperous life. Perhaps the feeling that Americans have that one pursues this dream at home is one I share, it's just that home isn't just the United States for me, and so logically it follows (for me) that if a dream of prosperity is pursued at home, it can be pursued anywhere.

The Americans I know evidently are not representative on this matter. Perhaps that's not surprising, since people that want to befriend me are generally not typical in some way or other of their country in the first place. When it comes to the religosity, I recognize myself thinking as an European, especially perhaps as a Nordic person. ("While six out of ten Americans say that thir religion is 'very' important in their lives, in European countries religion is barely a factor in people's day-to-day lives. (...) Many Europeans no longer believe in God. While 82% of Americans say that God is very important to them, approximately half of all Danes, Norwegians, and Swedes say that God does not matter to them.") I probably have difficulty really understanding the religiosity in the United States in part because my parents are European Christians, who do not mix religion and politics and who have no problems with others having different religious views. I am an atheist, but that doesn't prevent us from having interesting discussions about religion.

My experience with America from my childhood did not include American Christianity to any extent that I remember. Therefore, my third culture logic is as follows: Religion has been responsible for so many of our moments of shame in history, like the Inquisition, and been used as a political tool, like kings confiscating the gold of the Church for fund a war, that we must make amends and make sure we will never repeat the mistakes we have made in the past. (This also applies to the Holocaust, ten times stronger, but that's not the topic here.) This is a modern insight into our own history, along with our realization of the importance of universal human rights. We modern people now know that our ideas of the past were horrible and violated the rights of countless human beings, both inside and outside Europe. That's why we have consicously left religion out of civil society and politics. You can be religious if you wish, but that does not belong anywhere but your own head, in private moments. If you bring religion into politics or anywhere else in public life, you are retracing the path that brought disgrace to our history. Since this is an insight of modernity, and since both Americans and Europeans are modern and Self (to me), Westerners collectively have left religion behind in public life. Unfortunately for me, that's not true. My sense of "we" spans both Europe and America, but the two are in fact different and the "we" I feel is a figment of the third culture.

While I was reading out the statistics on Americans and religosity, I was laughing at some of the statements, like that many Americans believe in the literal existence of the devil. It seems so incredulous to me in part because I was taught by the Catholic Church in Sweden that the devil does not in fact exist, but is rather a literary character used to make a point, and that hell also doesn't exist as a place but is a ltierary metaphor for life without God. Since the Catholic Church is hardly progressive and is supposed to be universal, I never imagined that Christianity in America could be so different. Believing such things is positively medival to me, which strongly conflicts with my feeling that the US is a modern country. My boyfriend said that he was a little hurt by my laughing. His reason was very interesting. He said that although he knew I was right, he felt hurt because he would like it to be true. Expanding on that thought, he took one aspect of the American Dream - the notion that America is destined for greatness by God - and replaced that with the emphasis on the individual and working hard. To replace his wish that God existed and was watching over the US, he chose to believe that the US is and will stay great because of the hard work of its people. He also agreed with Rifkin's - and my - opinion that in some ways the US is stuck in the past when it comes to nationalism. Then again, like I already said, anyone who wants to be my friend - and perhaps especially my boyfriend - is likely to be at least somewhat cosmopolitan.

I do wonder how many Americans feel like my boyfriend. Rifkin asks, "What happens to the American sense of being special, of being a chosen people, in a world where exclusivity is steadily making way to inclusivity? Does God really care less about the whole of his [sic] earthly creation than he does about the North American part? Europeans might find such a conjecture funny, but, believe me, many Americans remain wedded to the notion of our special status as God's chosen ones. If we were to give up that belief, or even entertain doubt about its veracity, our sense of confidence in ourselves and the American Dream might experience irreparable harm." Could others replace the idea of being chosen with the idea of making themselves special through hard work, preserving the core of the American dream in a way more compatible with a global world?

Time will tell.

References: Rifkin, J. (2005) The European Dream.New York, NY: Penguin Group

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Soviet legacy

Today's scary piece of news: The horrible Soviet legacy of pollution is alive and well. I once read one of the environmentally scariest articles I've ever read in National Geographic about pollution in the former Soviet Union. At the time it was written, the Soviet Union had collapsed, of course. Openness and transparency were hardly their strong suit, and the information and pictures needed to report the pollution was of course not available. I still remember my heart breaking, looking at the pictures of black rivers, children playing in oil fields, and of black snow coating a small city with people walking along the streets. It was like a traffic accident with victims just lying on the pavement, slowly bleeding out. Except I couldn't call 911 or 112 or whatever the appropriate number might be to stop death. (Governments of the future: please pick ONE number that you have to memorize. Thank you.)

So an area the size of Germany is dead around the town of Norilsk in Siberia, mostly because the metal smelter there that produces most of the world's Ni and Pd is also fabulous at making acid rain. The population in Norilsk is sick and/or dying. And still very little transparency.

The disregard that the Soviet Union had for human life is what was the absolutely most terrifying thing about the whole thing to me. That human life could only be a cog in a great machine that cares nothing for life or the Earth is just as dehumanizing as Marx's worst nightmares about capitalism. And apparently, the world hasn't quite moved on yet.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The US and global ethics

The BBC reports that Dragan Zelenovic, a Bosnian Serb, has been convicted of crimes against humanity.

From the BBC report:
Zelenovic was among Bosnian Serb forces responsible for a campaign of rape and sexual assault of Muslim women in 1992 and 1993 in Foca, where he was deputy commander of the military police.

One of the women was just 15 when she was illegally imprisoned and gang-raped. Another had a gun held to her head while she was raped, the court heard.

That the US refuses to join the International Criminal Court (ICC) is incredible to me. How could any nation refuse to help build a system of justice that can convict men like Zelnovic? He was arrested in Russia and extradited to The Hague. That is not possible under most national law, and those that have laws allowing them to prosecute people for crimes committed outside their country may be building a dangerous precendent. However, I think we can all sympathise with the intention: some people commit crimes so horrible, they must be brought to justice no matter where in the world or under what circumstances they committed them, and no matter where in the world they are now. An international court is the best way to do that. That the US refuses to join this laudable effort, or would join only on the condition that US soldiers not be subject to the Court, is ridiculous. I liked Clinton a lot - he's probably my favorite US president - but that decision of his was very poor. I, and I'm sure virtually everyone else, wonder what the US has to hide.

If it believes in justice, human rights, and the rule of law, it should be supporting the Court. Do they reserve the right to torture citizens of other countries only for themselves? Is torture OK for American soldiers, but not Serbian soldiers, or Nigerian soldiers? In a time when US credibility on moral and ethical issues especially in war is disappearing rapidly, it could even be a strategic move on their part to support the ICC. The US is one of my homes, and it's special to me, but this attitude they're taking not only on this particular issue, but US foreign policy overall right now, is very alienating to me. The lack of universal, clear thinking is very disturbing in so many ways.

Even personally, do I really want to be part of a country that doesn't subscribe to universal human rights? I don't have the right to a fair trial here. I could be taken away in the middle of the night without any formal accusations or even being informed what I'm supposed to have done. Echoes of stories about the Soviet Union come to mind. I'm not imagining that the two are so similar that I'm likely to be taken to a labor camp in Siberia (or perhaps Guantanamo), but on matters of human rights, principles are important. Even someone observed murdering someone else gets a trial. I don't. And examples have come up of cases of mistaken identity, where someone who was completely innocent has been tortured by the US. State sanctioned violence never ends well.

Perhaps the US as a whole understands the impact of globalization the poorest when it comes to ethics. Economic globalization, they're doing good with, other than the farm subsidies, which Europe is also refusing to give up. (Although I oppose protectionism in principle, I have to say that Swiss food is so delicious thanks to those subsidies that it gives me pause.) But when it comes to ethics, the US is not exhibiting much evidence of understanding that what is considered to be ethical greatly depends on how you count who matters. The beauty of universal human rights is that they are sufficient to give everyone on Earth the basic conditions from which to build a life according to (almost) any culture and society structure as they please, but not so prescriptive that they are imperialistic. This beauty seems lost on the Americans. Their behavior when it comes to global warming sends the same message to the rest of us. The ethical aspects of global warming are rarely addressed, although I'm hoping that John Edwards' declaration that he will keep his campaign for president carbon neutral will help bring this issue into the political debate better. Perhaps there is still hope that the US will catch on soon enough not to damage either itself or the planet too much.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The TGV Record

The BBC reports that a TGV (Train de Grande Vitesse, "train of great speed", a bullet train) made by Alstom has broken the previous speed record for trains on conventional tracks by going 574.8 km/h. That's about as fast as a 747 or an A380. It is no surprise to me that the record was set by a European company on contract for a European government. Japan would also have been expected. Between Europe and Japan, it's more of a which-company-was-it and what-technology-did-they-use kind of situation. What would really catch my attention would be news that an American company has broken the world speed record for any kind of train working on a contract for the U.S. government. That would be the day.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Speak of the future...

Just a little after writing yesterday's post I happened to check the BBC News website, and lo and behold: US 'no longer technology king'. So it's happened already. I wonder how long it will take until the reality sinks in here. One day, there will be a lot of wounded national pride here - especially because this is the only Western country I've been in that, well, has any significant amount of national pride outside the soccer world cup. National pride is very last century and, frankly, not very compatible with globalization. It may be very easy to say for a person who regards citizenship as a red tape game, but it's true. Nation-states probably won't disappear, but their importance is declining. Fortunately for America, not everyone is blind to this problem. Curtis Stalbank makes fun of the implications of nationalism in the 21st century in his op-ed I'm Prepared To Give My Life For This Or Any Country on The Onion.

In a sidebar to the technology article, I saw that the BBC reports that Nordics show way in sex equality. Yet another matter that the US is assuming they are leading the world in, when they are in fact in need of playing catch-up and don't even realize it. As the Swedes would say: Högmod går före fall.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Generation e - or x?

I've been listening to a radio station I created on Pandora Internet Radio from the song Encore Un Fois by Sash!. (It was a huge hit in the 90s in Europe.) So, I've been getting a mix of trance and goa, mostly, and listening to that while calculating things from some data has made me think about The Future and how it's imagined in different cultures. I come back to this from time to time, because as a young global person it's hard not to notice how people imagine the future and how they see their role in it may differ a lot from how I see it. When I listen to electronic music in general, whether it be trip-hop, trance or drum and bass, I feel like I'm striding into a new global world that will overturn the world of my parents. I feel like I belong to a new generation that understands the globalized world and globalized technology better than my parents' generation did, and we're moving the world in new directions. My work is to discover new things. To discover new science, I am also seeing the world socially in a new way. I feel like a vanguard of change. But when I look around, I don't feel connected to those my age around me. They don't seem to be interested in new ideas and visions of the world, nor aware of that the world has changed in the first place.

It's striking to me how there is an almost absence of ideas among young people in America of what the future will be like. No bold visions of instant metal connectivity to the internet via implanted wireless cards in your head. No huge LCD screens in public. No visions of a Brave New World that we are building. And no alternative vision. People - young and old alike - seem to lumber on in some kind of certainty that tomorrow will be like today, except perhaps will bigger televisions and smaller mobiles. No one seems too aware that those smaller mobiles will likely be developed outside the US and then imported here, nor that the best mobile telephony standards weren't developed here. Perhaps that has something to do with the fact that technical vocabulary isn't used very much here, not even for something as commonplace as mobiles. Very, very few Americans know what an SMS is. They say "text message". Very few of them know what a SIM card is, nor what SIM cards have to do with GSM and (not) CDMA. American mobile companies' websites don't even use these terms - multiple band phones are referred to as "international phones", making it difficult to know what you're buying. Even calling them to ask is difficult, because the service representatives don't always know either. I've never heard anyone mention - in conversations or in news broadcasts - anything about 3G.

Many of my friends listen to the same music that their parents listened to. There's nothing wrong with that, per se. It's good music that has stood the test of time better than I expect many bands and songs currently getting airplay on the radio here to. However, there is no new youth movement. Without raves and rave culture, their parents know and understand everything that they do. This generation isn't creating its own voice. There is no new dream to replace the dying American Dream. No one plans for a future where we travel more and more. Both generation e and the Erasmus generation are missing in action. Young people in Europe and Australia, and to at least some extent Asia, are creating a new vision around PLUR (Peace Love Understanding Respect) and meeting to celebrate it in clubs and at raves worldwide. Americans are left out. Indeed, many Americans, especially older ones, seem to view the world through the lens of that it's still the '70s, and those damn hippies are still around. People who care about the environment must be damn communist hippies, not rational (and often conservative!). Very little transformation of that pop culture imagery has occurred. Americans overall seem very blind to just how much the world has changed, in so many ways, since the 70s. They seem almost stuck in the past.

Sometimes it feels like the winds of change are blowing all around, except here, where the air is stagnating. While young people elsewhere area learning how to wind surf, people here are suntanning. Suntanning can be nice and all, but there's only so long I can lie on a beach. I can't help but get the feeling that when the waves and winds of globalization hit the suntanners on the beach, it will be a very cold shock indeed. It seems like when people here get hit by spray from the waves, they think it's raining and ask for an umbrella. The day it is no longer possible to think it's just rain, and it's painfully obvious a tide is coming in, what will they do? There's no vision now, how can you construct one while you're busy scrambling in suprise?

Friday, March 23, 2007

Relationships to food

This morning, I stopped by the new postdoc's office to offer some settling-in support. He just arrived from Germany, where he got his Ph. D., although he's Spanish. His wife is here in the chemistry department, so he wanted to come here, and my advisor is old friends with his advisor. I mentioned not bothering to eat American food, and he said they'd already reached that conclusion and are eating at home, just like me. I recently saw dealing with American food likened to shellshock. That's probably not far off the mark. It's definetly a shock when you first come here/come back here. It's almost like a caricature, with mountains of food served on serving-platter-sized plates and half of the menu fried. Supermarkets are huge, like the Americans themselves, and carry meter after shelf meter of processed and frozen food. You actually have to find the fresh foods among them. Then your eyes glaze over, and you only see the fruit and vegetable, bread, meat and dairy sections and consider the shelves between them transport stretches. But every so often, something happens to revive the original shock, like eating out at a restaurant and being faced with so much food that eating feels like a chore or you plain lose your appetite. Sometimes I feel like a child in a world where everything is adult-sized, because living here is like being a child again, where everything is too big for you, and you need special kid-sized versions of everything. Except I'm not going to 'grow up' and find everything sized just right this time. Whoever said that Chinese are obsessed with fresh food must have been an American, because I've never seen a country so uninterested in fresh food. (I thought Chinese supermarkets carry a lot of preserved and frozen food.)

I didn't have leftovers to bring for lunch today, and I forgot about it until this morning. After missing two buses, I was so hungry I went out to eat, albeit grudgingly, because I'm tired of American junk food and didn't want to pay a lot of money for something I don't like. I walked another route than I usually do, and walked past a Chinese restaurant called 萬家香, I guess roughly translated into English as 'The fragrance of ten thousand home kitchens', and had a look at the menu. I saw 黑椒牛肉 (black pepper beef), which I have been looking for here but haven't seen yet. I didn't see 魚香茄字 (I've seen it translated as fragrant eggplant, but the literal translation is fish-smelling eggplant - fish-smelling sauce doesn't really smell like fish to me, but it's one of those common fixed-recipe sauces you can put on all kinds of things), which is one of my favorite dishes, but I figured they can probably make it whether it's on the menu or not. It was in a small, unassuming strip-mall-like set of storefronts - the American version of a hole in the wall. So I went in and ordered black pepper beef. I got the usual compliments on my Chinese, and the usual "You speak like a Beijing person!" comment. (I add 兒 (like an American 'r') to many words that don't have them in pure putonghua (gong1 yuar2 公元兒 instead of gong1 yuan2 公元, mer 門兒 instead of men 門), and use forms of words that are Beijing dialect like zhar4 這兒 and nar3 哪兒 instead of zhe4 這 and na3 哪) I asked if there was tea, and there was. As I sat down, I noticed I was the only Westerner in the restaurant. And then I felt at home.

I got free soup and my food was called out in Chinese, not English. It was a distant proximity. America and China were mixed. It was an American hole in the wall where I was the 外国人 wai4guo2ren2 (foreigner - but its reference point in Chinese is always China for me, whereas in English it's not so clear, even though 'foreigner' in English has taken on some of the connotation of the Chinese word for me). Free soup for Chinese skills, and only the real foreigner - who walked in later - got their food called in English.

I realized while eating my food that a 外国人 is exactly what I was there. Not American, not Swedish, not European. My Chinese tells people I'm from Beijing, not where the genes for my pale face and tall height came from. I've thought about this in China as well. I broadcast my third-cultureness in being a foreigner who speaks putonghua with a Beijing accent. Everyone knows I'm not like them, but I'm not like other foreigners either. It's a very comfortable place to be.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

A Day in a TCKs Family Life

I often eat breakfast on the phone with my mother, because both of our jobs are independent to the point of being lonely sometimes. This morning, my father was still at home, because he had a flight to catch mid-morning and figured he could save time by working from home instead of going in to the office. He was in a talkative mood and asked to talk to me. I told him about my automatic coffeemaker, because he's stubbornly insisted on brewing coffee the old-fashioned way, he mentioned he flew over the city I live in yesterday and how convenient those flight times were, we talked about what kinds of financial holdings outside the US you need to report to the IRS (Internal Revenue Service, the American tax agency), whether the divedends from my mutual funds in Europe are big enough to need reporting (which I didn't think, because I've never seen any information on that I should, and they're not large enough for me to be taxed for them locally), and then he said he had to go to Peru, and he handed the phone back to my mother.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Global Culturati Community and Forums

Last night, I found an interesting online community called Global Culturati. It's small right now, but it has message boards, something I wish my page had. When I first found out I was a TCK, I had an intense need to talk to someone else who was. Perhaps this can be like a Usenet group for talking and connecting, but one that people might actually find. I hope the community continues to grow and discussions develop further. I joined up. Let's see where this goes.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Waging Peace

The Globalist has reprinted parts of a speech by de Villepin to the UN Security Council before the war in Iraq began. I wish the US would have listened. The US is dangerously out of step with changing global realities that they are both subject to and help shape. They also seem to have forgotten - or never learned in the first place - the lessons that Europe learned the hard way in the past 500 years or so, especially in the 20th century. Europe shed volumes of blood and tears to learn the value of peace and of diplomacy and negotiation, and the impossibility of waging a humane war. There is no need for the Iraqi people to teach the Americans with their own blood and tears the same lesson.

The US military could be a wonderful, positive force in the world. If it were used to save civilian lives in places like northern Uganda, to save children from being child soldiers, to save women from rape, to enforce the arrest warrants of the International Criminal Court to bring perpetrators of crimes against humanity and genocide to justice in a legal due process, its capacity for death could be used in the most constructive way possible. Alas, this will never happen as long as nation-states and their military organizations conceive of themselves as agents only of their own national good.

Every country needs to understand that our fates are all linked together, and we need to behave accordingly. Some countries have understood this better than others, but none as fully as I think is needed in the future.

Concert traditions

I recently attended a concert by the National Philharmonic of Russia, conducted by Vladimir Spivakov. The highlight of the evening was Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18. I played that piece as a second violin in an orchestra that was a fusion of professional and student players, and it was a blast. Being there, hearing the piece that I've played myself (but not nearly as well as the National Philharmonic), made me think of concert traditions here and there.

When we lived in Sweden, I learned how to play the violin and eventually became the concertmaster of our school symphony orchestra. My parents, my mother especially, considered theater plays, operas and concerts as Events To Go To, and brought me along when I was old enough to sit still and at least somewhat appreciate it. As a result, I was brought up in the cultural tradition of especially symphonic orchestras in the Western tradition. Or perhaps I should say European tradition. I have noticed before that outside Europe, in or out of Western countries, people do not have the same set of cultural rules for proper behavior as I do. Now, Sweden never has been one of the great centers of cultural influence in Europe, and for most of its history has been somewhat of a backwater, really. If one can acquire that set of rules for proper behavior there, odds are good they're general for Europe.

When I walk into a concert venue, I feel underdressed unless I am wearing something significantly nicer than I would wear to school. Now that I'm older and am generally expected (more in my head than by my actual American environment) to dress better than as a child, the difference is less marked, but it remains. Men are lucky; they can go from work to a concert, since suits are suits. But I should be wearing high-heeled shoes, either fine pants or a skirt, a blouse, and some jewelry. A dress is even better. (It should be noted this is difficult during large parts of the year in Sweden, where anything presentable when it comes to shoes is miserably too cold to wear outside - so one has to bring two pairs of shoes. One just cannot clomp into a concert hall in winter boots of the sort that are actually practical in Sweden in winter.) When I walk in, I straighten up and hold my head high.

Elsewhere, I can slouch or have unbrushed hair while obsessing over some calculation at work. In a concert hall, I cannot. One must speak discreetly, exercise one's best manners, and carry oneself with some pride and dignity. It's Eurocentric ideas of proper behavior and dress full blast. Children are scolded or corrected when they slouch, when they put their feet up on the seat in front of them or when they speak loudly. And here, I know from an honest examination of myself, there is little tolerance for other customs. Children and foreigners are only excused for their natural ignorance for so long. Failure to behave according to the proper norms will result in social outsidership. To the extent that the norms change, they change slowly, as modernity changes reality. Entrance to this world is contingent on the right dress and the right behavior. Those children who do not learn will slowly be rejected as they become older as being of lower class or as a little uncultured. Foreigners who do not learn will be declared resistant to integrate or a little ignorant, regardless of skin color - Americans in shorts and t-shirts need not apply. And those children who never had a chance to learn will certainly be looked upon as lower-class adults, no matter how much money they have - at least while they're in the concert hall.

My mother has often whispered to me about someone else's improper behavior to make clear that I should not do the same. The negative implications of not knowing how to behave never needed explaining. It was in her voice, and others' faces. What to wear, when to applaud, how to applaud - it's all culturally transmitted as part of a system of social codes to use to communicate in a concert hall.

People with different cultural and socioeconomic perspectives may have different opinions on this. Personally, I am torn. Perhaps this is one of the most difficult issues for me to consider from a global perspective, because this concert culture is absent elsewhere, and I'm not sure what an appropriate equivalent tradition might be. I have only grown up with the European view, with nothing to counter it.

On one hand, this is a European tradition. On the other, European classical music is known, played and studied worldwide. At what point should what was a local tradition change into a global tradition? At what point does considering a previously local tradition a global one become imperialism? At what point does continuing to consider a previously local tradition that is spreading elsewhere local become imperialism? I do not know the answers. I'm not sure I know how to start answering. In part, this is because I know I do not know non-Europeans' relationship to classical European music, not even the Americans'. I will never fully know, because I know the European relation all too well. (Including the disinterest that most young people have in it.)

My best impression is that in the States, very few people are raised with anything resembling my experience of playing in a symphony orchestra in high school. Instead, as with so many things European and/or old, it seems to be something Americans use to declare themselves "cultural." I recently ordered coffee from Gevalia, who clearly has an excellent cultural advisory team for North American operations, because in their coffee catalogue they do not only sell coffee - but all kinds of other things (that Gevalia has no expertise in making, I have to note), including something called "Coffee Treats Recipe and Music Set", described as "A delightful duo: luscious recipes to serve with coffee and music to enjoy while baking them. Includes a CD (made in USA) of Bach's Branderburg Concertos Nos. 2,3,4 and 5, with recipes for ginger scones, lemon poppyseed bread, health nut muffins and more, a total of 16 recipes (imported)." Now, I've never been served lemon poppyseed bread anywhere but the US, and I certainly don't know a lot of Europeans who spend their days listening to Bach and making little coffee treats. The most European thing about this set is that it includes recipes insted of mixes or ready-made cookies. Gevalia is already pumping Americans' perception of anything European as "refined" for all that it's worth. I can't blame them, from a profit point of view. However, it may say more about Americans' ideas about European cultural traditions than it does about Europe.

At the concert and ballet performances I've been to in the US, it's obvious that many or most of the audience do not feel the finger of shame pointing at them for improper behavior. From the program selections, it is also evident that many or most of the audience has not been exposed to symphonic music or ballet to any great extent. I've gotten the impression that audiences here go for light entertainment or to be able to claim that they are "cultural" and/or "refined". This is rather ironic to me, as in the process of trying to be refined they are busy excommunicating themselves from the European tradition they are trying to belong to. It is also clear that there isn't enough people - at least not where I have lived, but I hope it is different in at least New York - that know the European traditions to pass them on to audiences and performers. There is nothing wrong with not knowing the European tradition - after all, where would one learn it other than Europe? - but pretending to be part of it is just silly. The European concert tradition isn't very flexible. Either you conform to it - and accept the judgements of others for improper behavior - or you do something else.

Here is where I am not sure what to think. The thought of accepting the behavior of some Americans (and therefore other non-Europeans) at concerts and ballets makes me wince. After all, this is a tradition we are talking about. Symphonic concerts are not a supermarket commodity you can order in any color you want. This music has a rich tradition, both of composers, virtuosos and of study and technique. Those who study, play and listen to it today are continuing the tradition, perhaps even as they change it. If you learn to play the violin, you will play in that tradition. You will be taught norms of beauty and of skill. You will be taught what to do when you want to applaud someone when you have a violin in one hand and a bow in another and have no more hands to clap with. You will be taught how to show the conductor respect, and will learn how s/he shows respect for you as a musician. As an audience member, you will be taught how to let the musicians know that you appreciated what they played. You will be taught how to ask the orchestra to play more after they are done. You will be taught how to welcome them and how to show any previous high expectations of them. You will learn how to let a particular solist know that they played well without interrupting the music. The norms of behavior also fill practical functions of communicating between a mass of people in the audience and the orchestra both as a whole and in parts. To throw out that communication in the name of diversity wouldn't help anyone.

However, as classical music is studied and played outside Europe, perhaps it's not fair to ask either musicians nor audiences to be familiar with the full European tradition. It is a tradition of the sort that is transmitted fully from person to person, not on paper or by general descriptions. It is also a tradition embedded in a larger general set of ideas of behavior. My parents attended a concert by Li Yundi - a piano prodigy that's probably the best pianist I've ever heard - in Chongqing. It was the first leg of a world tour, starting with several stops in China. Li Yundi is from Chongqing, and therefore he started his tour there. They said that the concert was breathtaking - my mother, who never liked Chopin very much, suddenly became a fan of Chopin when played by Li - but that despite requests for parents to keep their children in order, there were children playing and yelling at the very front of the hall, disturbing the music. Our reactions were to be appalled. Apparently this was also Li's reaction, because no children were allowed at any of the subsequent China concerts. I do not know where Li studied music, so I don't know whether banning children from the concerts came from Chinese or European thought, or both. But it is conceivable that he is part of the European tradition of classical music. In that case - what does it mean for a Chinese musician trained in the European tradition to ask Chinese audiences to conform, at least nominally, to European norms of concert behavior? Is this expansion of what was previously exclusively an European tradition into a more global and less exclusive tradition? Or is this cultural imperialism?

My practical solution, perhaps characteristic of the cultural switching I do anyway, is to apply the original cultural traditions, no matter who is edging into their territory or where those people are located. If European classical music is played somewhere, I expect all people present at the concert, European or not, to use the European traditional standard of behavior. I don't see it as being different from learning to play the erhu and sticking to traditional Chinese music, or following folk music traditions when playing folk music, or becoming part of the style of African traditional music. But what the ideological implications of my solution are, I'm not sure. Sometimes it seems declaring certain things to be Europe's way or the highway isn't accepted, and there certainly is a danger in doing so. But in a sense the tradition is a meritocracy - if you master the tradition, clearly you are part of it. Li Yundi and Vanessa-Mae (Chen Mei) are examples of ethnically and culturally (in the case of Li Yundi) Asian people who have been accepted and acclaimed as continuing European traditions. It is hardly the case that whiteness or Europeanness is a passkey; the system functions in fact in part to distinguish between some white Europeans and other white Europeans. It has developed during a time when almost everyone residing in Europe was a native, white European. Colonial and post-colonial (as well as revolutionary and post-revolutionary) debates about European classical music are recent and can perhaps be left behind, if not completely, then in large part for a more global and simultaneously inclusive and exclusive view of traditions. Perhaps one day, we will lose the epithet 'European', and it will just be one musical tradition among others that are widely practiced, but one that must be adhered to in order to be said to be part of it.