Dec 25, 2006

The End of the Beginning

It's Christmas day, and also the two month mark for me.
This is the first Christmas that I've ever been away from my family, and I'm happy to report that it's by no means the depressing, lonely, suicide-inducing experience that one generally expects that sort of thing to be. I'm going to a get-together with some other westerners tonight, we're going to sing Christmas songs and bond over our mutal estrangements. Fun times.
At two months, I think it's time for a bit of reflection. I feel like I've settled into things, like the initial shock has subsided, and like I've adjusted a bit. It is the end of the beginning.
I remember when I was in SFO, having to transfer from Portland. I remember seeing a whole mass of Japanese people waiting for the plane, and hearing annoucements in both English and Japanese, and I remeber feeling weird and disoriented by suddenly being a minority. I'm serious. Being an English-speaking white American who had been inside the country his whole life, I was jarred by the fact that I was suddenly not linguistically or ethnically "normal."
I hardly notice it now, though. Walking around, I've come to be accustomed to being a stranger. I do miss being able to speak well, or being innocuous. But, generally, I've become used to being what I think of as the opposite of Ellison's invisible man- I am a visible, glaring other.
Now, I think I might step into pretentious territory here.
I'm a linguistic and ethnic minority here. I'm not trying to conjure up any pathos with that description, I'm merely stating a fact. This is underscored by the fact that I'm paid to basically be American at people- my language is my marketable skill here. At the risk of sounding trite, I think that this whole experience has liberalized me a great deal. I think I know, just a little now, what it's like to be a minority. Granted, I have it good. I have my own apartment, an alright job, and don't have much difficulty with things. But, I still have that whole "Visible Man" thing going on. It's not a bad thing, but it's not like I could ever get rid of it or put it down.
I'm sort of wondering how, if at all, it will change me when I get back to the states. I'm curious if I will think about things such as immigration and race in a different fashion. Already, I think that Spanish on ATMs is a great idea. Finding English language stuff in Okayama isn't that easy, so I am somewhat grateful when I see something that I can understand. I think I can identify, a bit, with non-English speakers in the States, and how they are probably quite relieved to see their own language on something.
So yeah- There's something. Spanish on ATMs, and on customer service lines. I used to never see it, but now that I'm here surrounded by different alphabets and innumerable pictographs, I'm all for making things easier for people with different languages. I didn't wholly "get" that until I got here.
So- Yay for bilingual education! Hooray for cultural immersion! Hell-yeah for multilingualism! Merry Christmas!


Kori the tomorrow lady said...

merry christmas!
wish I was there and more estranged.

here's to holiday drinking!

Anonymous said...

We are glad your Christmas will be a happy one. And Clark and Colin and I hope that your day was enriched by the song stylings of Eddie and Frankie.

Joseph said...

Hey, I recognize that post! That's the essay I write for those "explain your unique cultural background" questions. The opposite direction, in my case, but the basic sentiment is the same. It took me a long time living in the US before I got used to being able to understand what everyone was saying.

And hey, this was my first Christmas away from my family, too! I celebrated the day struggling to stay awake in Heathrow airport and bemoaning the $6 showers. Mind you, Jen and Eve were with me for the day itself, and we ended up celebrating on Boxing Day instead. And will again tomorrow, when the rest of the presents show up with our baggage. :-)