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.