Umbrella Revolution Wall 2014

Umbrella Revolution Wall 2014
Admiralty, Umbrella Revolution 2014

Thursday, April 19, 2012


Here are Keohi's great-grandpa and great-grandma. Married at age 17 and 16--an arranged marriage. My grandfather was the son of an herb doctor, a family whose fortunes had fallen over the years. He rebuilt the family's name and standing through education. He had an opportunity to be a high school teacher, a teacher wanted to help him. But he wanted to be a medical doctor. He managed to become a successful obstetrician/gynecologist, owning clinics, a hospital etc... and proceeded to send every single one of his brothers and sisters to university and medical school. Rare for a Korean family--even my aunts age 70 and up did work outside the home--one a doctor, another an opera singer and professor.

My grandmother was the one who held the family together. She died when I was 4 years old and we lived in Queens, NY when she came to the US to visit. I remember her wearing sometimes these old style dresses--hanboks. She also had the scent of ginseng and would feed me dried squid.

My father was the beloved middle son. A scholar and medical doctor. As a young boy, however, Dad was something of a rascal, I believe. He said that his mom would get regular visits from other mothers because he was always causing trouble. One example was when he was running for class president at age 10 or so--he hit some kid over the head with a wooden board because he didn't vote for him....

Ah--Korean politics!

Monday, April 16, 2012

TCK, Expatriate, and more

Pondering this idea a little more...

OK, I should not conflate a) the Third Culture Kid with b) Third Culture Kid parent. As actually, they are two different experiences and types. For the sake of this discussion, I will call the TCK parent, the Expatriate.

Most of what I previously referenced had to do with the Expatriate, though some thoughts definitely apply to the TCK. After all, most people are a product of their environments and do not end up very far in ideology, behavior or lifestyle from their families. It can happen, and perhaps the experience of the TCK does this, but hard to say. I will though, hold to what I said before, that the adherence to limited beliefs and ideals from Expatriates is rather surprising given the amount of travel they have done and the wide exposure that they have had to difference. But I remember long ago a friend told me: "I think travel is sometimes the worst thing that some people can do. It can confirm their worst suspicions about the world. It can make people more close-minded.Some people should just stay home!" This was said by an old Chinese Canadian friend years ago. I think it applies to everyone.

A good many TCK are also the products of missionaries. Nearly 20%---17%, maybe. Then there's the 20% who are military, and the 20% who are foreign service, 20% whose parents work for multinationals. In other words, I am not sure of the diversity of the social and economic backgrounds to begin with. For the most part, this is a rather narrow socioeconomic group to pick from (literature touts the TCK's likelihood of obtaining a college education etc...). Diversity arrives from the origin of the passport, but not necessarily from the economic factor which often determines cultural outlook.

OK, back to reading a great book (for my conference) which encapsulates ideas of the possibilities of the TCK and the expatriate, the migrant, the emigrant/immigrant and adventurer--The Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Myths and Realities--Third Culture Kids, Travel, Expat Life

I've been reading more on Third Culture Kids, prompted, obviously by my raising one. However, what I find interesting is not so much that there is a perpetual idea of the TCK being homeless or rootless or nomadic, nor that the supposed world becomes smaller due to a broad exposure to different people, but that the truth is, one can find diversity in any country. The question is about how one approaches the search for difference and the cultivation of culture, intellect, art, and life.

Obviously there are aspects of life that are different should one be raised out of one's own passport or home country. I find here that the children are often (BUT NOT ALWAYS!) aware of language difference, nationalities versus ethnic origin, and a variety of behavior. The sensory stimuli is different (all covered in a healthy aroma of pollution...) but, yes, countries differ. Quite often, depending on income level, children travel to different countries and are exposed to a variety of cultures (where if they have certain kinds of families, or even if the families are more open, they will probably eat banana about 15 different, the variations however, amazing!).

But I am very blunt in saying, all of this difference does not necessarily broaden their horizons. The fact is, people are also products of their families and the attitude that their families inculcate. In other words, you can travel to Dubai on the weekend, jet off to the US, party in Bangkok, climb in Nepal, but yes--still be completely narrow-minded and closed to cultures, difference, and ideas. And this is because of your family.

Let me be frank: being a progressive person from California, a majority minority state, and having been itinerant as a young person due to my parents (mostly in the US, but not exclusively so), and having as an adult and child traveled, though not nearly as much as many people I encounter here, I'm fairly astounded on a regular basis here in HK at how closed people are to difference, the conservative nature of their ideas about gender and race, and their lack of exposure or thoughts about poverty, globalization, cultural exchange or the environment. I'm nothing unusual in California or in other parts of the world. There are millions like me. Fairly bog standard type.

Most people of color in the US or in the West have a Third Culture Kid experience. It's what it means to negotiate in a society that often doesn't reflect your reality, identity, beliefs, culture etc...While not fully, most people of color in the US at least (can't speak for everywhere) definitely understand this Third Culture Kid stuff. It's just what it means to not be in the majority. We don't get worked up about it and talk about how we're so enlightened by it, not like a lot of this Third Culture literature proclaims. (Not being a community informant here, but that's the reality). So what is it then, about the illusion of the sophistication of TCK that seems to have gripped a lot of HKers that I find so odd?

I guess to me it's about recollecting people I know, some of whom have not necessarily ventured as far as many of these globetrotting HKers, and thinking of them respectfully and truthfully. And I have to say that what I note is that for some, physical travel does not change one's mindset. If you are ready to be open, you will be and it will increase with travel. But if you are narrow minded to begin with, visiting 25 countries won't do you a bit of good. And there are those who stay in one place most of their lives, like a good many I know, who are surprisingly tolerant and open. Maybe this type may not know the ins and outs of what is going on in Jakarta or Paris, but this person who stays in one place, often due to economic factors, may have been more strangely propelled to read, discover, seek out, and learn from the smattering of people or opportunities that present themselves that seem unique. This person has potentially discussed or read about difference, thinks about it, lives it, but maybe from a smaller geographic circumference.

In fact, I will go so far as to say that the "oh wow, such exposure" types, actually, were probably so SO narrow-minded in their way of being in their home country, that it would probably terrify the average progressive thinker. You know what I am talking about, the person who only knew people of their same ethnic background, who only ate one type of food and poo-pooed various cuisines, who cared nothing for trying to understand different ways of thinking about the world.

Yeah, for this type, coming to HK is a major heart attack. Why? Because all of a sudden the person has to think about what it might be like to uhm...a racial or ethnic minority. Or maybe, golly, not think like the majority about religion. Or uhm...hear another language! Yawn. And god, get treated like crap because you are different, or you look strange, or people think you are strange. Hello. This is just life if you are a person of color in most of the developed Western nations around the world. So for expats like myself, and for our TCK, our negotiation is very very different in how we perceive of life here. Often for us, it is not the culture that is hosting us that is the pain in the neck. It's the other people we are supposed to be like because we are expatriates!

Now, for Joe Blow or Jane Main from Mainstream Western Developed Nation, HK may be a good thing all around. Exposure can't hurt and the person may become more tolerant. If Joe or Jane is open to begin with. But if Joe/Jane wasn't the type who was that curious prior to landing in this place, chances are, this person won't exactly try to negotiate difference all that well. And therefore, the entire idea of cultural exchange is pretty much of a joke. And that Third Culture Kid? The progeny of Jane and Joe? Probably just a ravenous capitalistic consumer of goods on an international level. Yeah, maybe speaks another language, but will mostly utilize this to oppress someone in an underdeveloped area of the world, or simply make a wad of cash without thought to anything else.

Expats often point to Obama as a prime example of a Third Culture Kid who made good. But they fail to point out his mother was a community activist who worked on behalf of the impoverished in Indonesia, his father, an intellectual from Africa. He was no ordinary Third Culture Kid. He was biracial. He was raised in the only (at the time) US minority majority state--and it was Asian to boot (and he wasn't). He was very unusual to begin with, as were his circumstances.

Just rambling thoughts. It all comes down to what's in the mind, what is perceived of as possibility. How one thinks of difference. Of nations. Of gender, race, religion and everything else. How one is willing to reconfigure an idea of self, community, evironment and culture. Hard questions.

No easy answers. And now, back to my reading...tomorrow a school day for my Third Culture Kid.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Sumo Wrestling

Move over, Spiderman. Yeah, the world of sumo has taken over. Stephen and I have been concerned about Keohi's body image obsession, modeled on superheroes (we are trying to avoid a steroid taking teenage boy) so I thought to combat this and to show him a different idea of what strength is, in terms of body types, I'd show him some sumo clips. We watch the National Geographic clips on sumo now (there are two, 2 and 4 minutes in length) and Keohi is a serious sumo wrestler. Last night I made him a loincloth from my old white T-shirt and he was so thrilled (it also works as a Tarzan number, and he has a favorite Native American story about the Mud Pony, a little boy who with the help of his horse, becomes a chief (boy also wears loincloth)). So now for hours, we do sumo matches, purify the ring, cook up some chonkonabe soup (sumo favorite, Keohi's pretend soup includes plastic pink doughnuts) and he tells me he can speak Japanese and needs to bulk up for the match. He's picked up some sumo terminology from these short clips and when I pointed out that his friend's mom speaks Japanese, he tells me he speaks a different Japanese. Sumo Japanese. What I like is that there are clear rules to sumo--no kicking, no hair grabbing (okay both are done when the opponent loses, but I said we don't do that part of the sumo match after he whacked me once) and no punching. We've discussed how the younger sumos are not as big as the older ones, and all in all, this is a much superior obsession to the superhero one. There are no tie-in products, nothing to buy (have loincloth, desire settled), and it is fairly entertaining all around for his parents.

Keohi the Sumo Boy.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Papers Due

That's it. Papers due. April 16 and less than a month past that. And I am barely going to get there...signing off.