What makes China the most mysterious country? Is it the Paramount Leader Hu and the Premier Wen? The notion of "mysterious Asian" comes from the manner in which China has been portrayed through an accumulated five thousand years of recorded civilization. This has resulted in a twisted and devious fashion of thinking of the Chinese people, which is confusing and shocking and gradually habitual to the westerners. "S/he is Chinese" is almost an omnipotent answer to solve all problems: the Chinese drink hot water; the Chinese step on couch with their shoes off; the Chinese don't call people by name; the Chinese have a narrow mind towards sex; the Chinese are less self-centered, self-centered being in a way of daring to speak out, a trait the Chinese parents will not appreciate.
When my father sent me to Montreal to study, I found myself a "mysterious" Asian to others and to my family. I objected to my parent's expectations of entering banking and turned my interest in an unusual direction, film.
In film studies, first and foremost is language. It is funny that the exam-oriented
pedagogy in China never teaches students real English. My first
encounter with non-Chinese
printed English words shocked me in the sense that words do actually
compose a literature-like text other than examination. Three-year high
school without even the slightest reference to the Western ideology,
when I came to Canada with a bulk of knowledge consisting solely of propaganda, I found myself caught up between being an art-lover and a bad student.
As I eventually learned authentic English and criticism, I was like a crab forced to crawl vertically: teachers assume that every student is familiar with critical writing, a fundamental subject that CEGEPs offer as preparation for university. In China, however, criticism is considered dissent, voice no orthodox schools want to hear; love for movies is fiddling that no good students want to waste their time on.
Falling behind both internally and externally, with an intensive workload adds to the burden; to complete logic and poetic in not-so-naïve sentences is a task, competing with people who use their first language in a field of study where the beauty as well as the rationality of language plays the most important part. Even though every professor accepts papers written in French if the students are not confident of their English, this is a privilege a student like me can never enjoy.
On the level of personal life, language is also a true obstacle for outsiders. The bilingual environment in Monteal is charming and at the same time demanding. The "retiring" and "shy" Chinese stereotype as observed by Eric Liu is crucially due to the middling proficiency of the language (Liu 51). Most of the time, I just don't get the punch line. The contemplation of expressing my feelings is drawn back by sentence structure and verb agreement; insensitiveness of English words makes me a dull person. Deep down inside, a voice is shouting: I really mean it when I say "interesting"!
Culture-related backgrounds are like blind spots to me. For example, I never understand why every film student is so crazy about Star Wars or the profound impact the 70's has had on pop culture. What does "how are you" really mean to people who say and respond it? Even if I look up to them, the understanding is forged, theoretical than empirical.
Sadly, culture has come to embrace its status of oblivion. China has become the world machine and seems to be happy about it. The quotidian banality "made in China" means nothing more than bad quality. To look at our neighbor, Japan, who does not have integrated history of philosophy will only yield envy. The Chinese are, as they have always been, so engaged in reproducing and making a living that seldom do they create or meditate. What has the five thousand years of civilization left for the West? What will a westerner think of when s/he thinks of China? A bowl of General Tao chicken, I bet. And ironically, there is no such thing as General Tao chicken in China. It has been invented for the westerners specifically.
Culture determines language, and influences the way people think. I didn't know I was going to be assimilated when I came to Canada, and now I find myself trying so hard to get rid of my Chinese otherness. Objecting to parental expectation is just a beginning, and I know there is still a long way to go.
Liu, Eric. The Accidental Asian. New York: A Division of Random House, 1998
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