Monthly Archives: December 2011

Resolved

Strangest thing happened today. As I was eating breakfast with my family, my eyes caught a little logo on the TV screen in front of us. ‘2012’ it read in bright bold lettering. It was then that the realization hit me that in a few hours, it would be a new year, and I felt, well, something.

Typically when new years rolls around, my family will sit and share resolutions and what not. I half heartedly participate because to  me, it’s just another day. No big, nothing special. But today, I felt something. A hard to describe something. Perhaps nostalgia is a good word to use, but I’m not really ‘missing’ the events of 2011 per-se. Reminiscent may be a better word. I started thinking about what I had done in the year 2011, what had I accomplished? Another year has gone in my life, and what do I have to show for it?

I wonder if the whole “world is going to end in 2012” has anything to do with it.

After those thoughts however I took a nap, had a bizarre dream and the feelings were promptly given a break. But now, as 2012 draws closer, its begun to occupy my mind again.

I have never been a fan of new years resolutions. It always seemed silly to me that if a person wanted to change their life, they should ‘use new years’ as an opportunity to do so. No, if someone wants to change their life, like really actually change it, then there’s no time like the present. Why would you wait until new years? It’s like National Coming Out Day, should a person come out just because it’s a national holiday? Or what happens if you miss the date? Oops, got to wait another year before I can tell the world I’m gay, or oops, I can’t change my life now, I’ve got to wait til new years.

In my opinion, people should live life with no regrets (cliche! gross). And I suppose it’s easier said than done, but broadly speaking people should do what they want to do. Don’t spend you’re time being miserable, or wallowing in self pity about hating your job or a class or a teacher or whoever. If you’ve got time to wallow and complain, then you would be better spending that time on something you want to be doing, with people you like to be around.

Ludicrous.

But wait, hold on. I think I’m missing the point here. New years is not only about changing one’s life. I feel like the initial idea behind a new years resolution is to reflect upon the past year and ask yourself what else would you like to accomplish? What could you work on? How will you make this next year productive towards your life?

And this is where the strange feeling comes in. My last post established that I’m a workaholic, I have to be productive.This past year, I graduated from high school, started college, encountered a slew of new people I could have never imagined I’d meet, had numerous new experiences, ended relationships and started new ones. But what did I do?

Entering college meant I was starting the path toward the real world. It meant I met people who had plans and goals with what they wanted to do with their lives. They were getting somewhere. And then talking to both my sisters who are out of their undergraduate years and thinking about what they want to do for the rest of their lives out in the real world, I feel like I’m wasting time. What with all the classes I skip, the half assed work that I do; it’s just me being unproductive again. And like I said in my last post, I don’t do well with wasted time.

So this year I will make my first resolution. And because it’s my first, I’ll start out with something fairly small and tangible that hopefully in the long run will give me knowledge and discipline that will help me in pursuing what I want to do in life. 

Resolved: In 2012, I will actually attend class.

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Fact: I’m a Workaholic

It’s been one week since I left school for the holidays. One week of overcoming jet lag, readjusting to living with family, and sulkily being carted around to see relatives and what not because here, in Taiwan, with no cellphone and somewhat of a language barrier, I’ve been reduced to a little kid again. With this refreshed little kid-ness, I’ve spent a lot of time sleeping in the car, sleeping in the waiting room of the doctor’s office, sleeping around the house, or not sleeping but merely laying somewhere with my eyes closed as time passes. tick. tock.

It’s awful.

Before leaving campus, I remember telling you about how miserable my vacation would be, how it wouldn’t be a vacation at all. You had looked at me incredulously, “why?” ‘Because there’s and always will be work to do.’ I had replied. To you the notion of work over the holidays sounded crazy. Especially now in college where classes are only a semester long, there is no ‘winter reading/assignment,’ what sort of work could I have?

It’s quite simple, I give myself work.

Since I was little, my mother would always give me work to do. Always. During summer or winter break before I could get on the computer, or go outside to play, or go to a friends house, or do anything remotely fun, I had to finish my ‘homework.’ One chapter from a math workbook, one chapter from a grammar workbook, one lesson of Chinese, one passage from a reading comprehension workbook. As I got older, I was expected to continue to do some work everyday during the holidays before even thinking of leaving the house.

The lesson was this: even if it’s the holidays, don’t waste your time. Be productive and do something that will improve your life and yourself. Work now, play later.

Thanks to years of winter, spring, summer, and fall breaks, the first thing I think of when I hear the word vacation is, “oh yay, finally time to work on A, B, and C things that I don’t get to do during the academic year.” A, B, and C usually involve some sort of reading, learning something new, working out, exercise and will never include things like catch up on sleep, friends or TV. It’s a time for me to self improve my life in ways that I otherwise could not while school is in session. 

The first thing I did when the summer after my senior year of high school started, was make a bucket list of sorts for fun things I wanted to do in Singapore and then proceed to get a job and not do next to any of the things on the list. I worked (some would say over worked) until I injured myself and was confined to bed rest. I think I went stir crazy those three weeks in bed, not doing anything but eating and watching movies.

It’s winter break now and, again, one of the first things I did was to make a ‘to-do’ list while on the twelve hour plane ride here (as well as a ‘to-buy’ list hmmmmm :P). Alas I guess I forgot how things would be like in Taiwan.

No means of transportation to do what I want. No solid means of communication  to do what I want. No freedom to do what I want, what with my parents having their own agenda of what I should be doing and where I’m going with whom what time…

And thus, because I feel like at any moment I could be called to ‘be ready in five minutes’ so I can go have lunch with so and so, I don’t do anything. I don’t start anything. I spend an hour getting out of bed. Once out of bed, I go back to it an lay there, doing nothing. I waste time doing mindless things online. When my eyes tire, I go back to laying on my bed doing nothing. A couple days of this and I’m a sack of potatoes. And as much as I would like to get up and do something, the laziness has seeped into my body. My tired, over worked, and sleep deprived body is loving the vacation. My mind, however, is restless, and my conscious, from so many years of conditioning, can’t help but feel that this relaxation is undeserved. I have yet to work today, why should I deserve nap today?

The solution is simple: I have to work. I need something productive to do. I’m a workaholic, what can I say?

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Where are you from?

Expatriate kids will moan and groan when asked the question “where are you from?” or its variation “where’s home?” because when you’ve lived in countries you were not born in, or that your parents weren’t born in, there is no easy answer. Some kids will choose the country of their passport, others the country that they spent the most time in. As much as we moan, however, there is a sort of pride taken in the fact that such a simple question requires significant back story.

Others may look in on our lives and say, “Cool! You’ve been all over the world!” and yes, it’s very cool. But what the outside world doesn’t realize are the self-identity problems some expat kids have when it comes to choosing a country of origin. Correction: it’s probably just me.

I grew up in an environment influenced by three cultures. By heritage I’m Taiwanese yet I was born in America, raised in Singapore, and attended an American school. In third grade, I eagerly identified as a third culture kid but only in later years did I come to realize that being a part of three cultures meant I was never really a part of any one in particular. For as long as I attempted to maintain a balance between Taiwanese, American and Singaporean culture, I would never be able to fully become a member of any of them. I didn’t even fit the typical expat kid stereotype. My family did not move every couple of years, my schooling, housing, and transportation were not paid for by my dad’s company and I was on financial aid for my entire high school career. Like a drop of water just barely on the rim of a glass, not really safely on the inside or out, I was just about to be displaced, fallen, with no form of my own until placed into a container to whose shape I could conform.

I never truly fit the Singaporean label, despite my having lived there from ages one to eighteen. Try as I might to eat chili with every meal, omit ‘to be’ verbs from my sentences and tack on extra “lah’s” and “wahlao’s” to the things I say, I was never truly Singaporean. I was the other; I was an “angmohr,” a foreigner. Because I spoke better English and went to an American private school, there was a disconnect between me and the locals. “Wah, your English speak so good, eh. You go American school is it?” was a phrase I heard often from any local I spoke to long enough which also meant, “your socioeconomic status is higher than mine, your education is better than mine, you lead a completely different lifestyle of which no aspects overlap with mine.” I was placed in the box of luxurious expat living and barred the chance to understand Singaporean life. They associated me with the American ‘space’ (Wacquant pg. 50). This stereotypical ‘space’ was stigmatized to be luxurious and wealthy, self constraining to only high class foreigners, and territorially isolated to the area of ‘little America.’ Ironically, I never belonged to it.

I didn’t fit the American label either, never having lived in America until now. Even during my thirteen years in the American education system, I did not consider myself American or even truly expatriate. The lifestyles of my American Expatriate peers included vacations to Italy, then Paris, then London, and on the way back to Singapore, perhaps a three day stopover in Bali, personal drivers to and from school, and membership to the American Club in Singapore; little to no interaction with local society and culture. In their eyes, because I was involved in non-school sponsored, non-American Club organized activities, I was effectively a Singaporean. It’s been no different here. My saying I’m from Singapore, and being ethnically Asian, has people automatically associating me with ‘The Asian.”

Trapped between two labels in Singapore, neither of which I could truly represent, I came to the States hoping that the supposedly most diverse nation on the planet would grant me freedom from labeling. But upon arrival, “I stumbled, and the movements, the attitudes, the glances of the other fixed,” (Fanon, pg. 326) upon me the label of Asian. Here, more than anywhere, I’ve felt the pressure to act the way I look. A slave to my appearance (Fanon, pg. 329), I’ve been once again cast a role that I don’t identify with. It was as if I had stepped outside myself to observe what was a caricatured ‘Asian’ or ‘American’ version of me interact with the world.

If not Asian, and not American, then what do I identify with? Asian-American? According to everyone else, I’m too Asian to be American and too American to be Asian. I have these identities that society has given me on which others attribute my actions to, causing me to categorize the way I behave as well. There reaches a point where it stops being “Emily, that’s so Asian of you,” to me telling others, “It’s because I’m Asian.” These labels have affected the way I act and pressured me to follow the script that comes along with my racial identity (Appiah pg. 671).

Try as I might to be Asian or be American, I can’t help the feeling of displacement, like I am too much of the ‘other’ to properly agree with whatever label I was given, too American to be Singaporean and too Asian to be American. I don’t fit in with society’s pre-described labels of race identity. In prescribing to one of these two labels, I deny the existence of the other one. At one point in my life, fitting into one of these groups was of utmost importance. I remember being completely ‘white American’ in middle school, hanging out with white friends, and going to friends’ houses after school. Then, converting to being ‘so Asian’ in high school, staying in on weekends to study, and going to sing karaoke when I did leave the house.

What does it mean to be truly Singaporean or American anyway? I guess from the point of view of an average Singaporean, my accent served as the one drop of American blood set me apart as American. I could look and act as Singaporean as I wanted, I could pass, but the second I opened my mouth it would be known that I did not really share the same Singaporean experience. It’s not the same in America. The cultural gap between me and the average American makes me feel so un-American despite my accent and passport that I would cling to my Asian background in an effort to at least fit somewhere.

Now attending an American university, taking a class on race, I’ve discovered how little it all matters. Society has moved beyond racial theories to justify slavery and discrimination but it has not moved beyond race as a means of distinguishing, segregating, and stereotyping. Just because society is not yet past that point doesn’t mean I can’t be. I’ll take the advice of K. Anthon Appiah, a professor of Philosophy at Princeton, and stop making my racial identity ‘negatively central’ (Appiah pg. 675) to who I am and just accept it. I’ll decide how important fitting into racial identities is in my life. (Appiah pg. 671).

So I like rice, eat with chopsticks, and slurp my noodles. I pose in pictures with a peace sign displayed on both hands, and listen to Asian music. So what? I enjoy pasta, burgers and fries too. I’ll also celebrate Christmas and Thanksgiving as well as the Fourth of July. The question, “where are you from?” hardly matters when I’ve accepted that I won’t have a typical home or country of origin like everyone else.  I’ve fought and I’ve struggled with displacement and racial labels and I’d like to say I’ve won. I can say I’m from Singapore, Taiwan or America. Don’t believe me? Want to hear the back story?

Word count: 1,335

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photo inspired by 365.denizen.com a daily self portrait photo blog by third culture kids

 

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