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.