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Biforcated Motherland

When I was three, I left Hong Kong for my global trek. The parents had their shades on, but I had my rose-colored glasses on instead. I had tunnel vision for the longest time: chewing the cud of overrated childhood days.

The scene around me was a blur, like those sped up commercials. Lights, sounds, and colors... swirling in a medley of urban development and smog. I wonder what condition my lungs are in now, especially after virtually getting sore throats on a weekly basis in Guangzhou.

What is home, really? I was born and raised on an island supposedly doomed to be uninhabitable by 2050. The big bowls of wonton noodles and the rushing wind of the MTR (rapid transit subway) will always resonate in my mind.

But I will always remain as an outsider. Mom's fear that I would never be skilled in English had me reading virtually in the womb. I went to an international school, reading my silly stories and multi-colored alphabet stickers plastered across the wall of my small room.

Locals always stare at me when I speak, because I have the appropriate Cantonese accent, but am equally fluent English. With the miserable levels of education in Hong Kong, learning proper and effective English is like finding gold dubloons.

I will never fit seamlessly into the fabric of Chinese society. My westernized philosophies and liberal personality has never meshed with a country so steeped in tradition. But I love and cherish where I am from... I just wish I fit in more.

The wonderful irony of it all popped up again in conversation the other day: "Dude, you must have been born in the wrong family or something... You could pass off as Japanese."

It's true, you know. My non-academic pursuits (Kendo and Taiko drumming) so far at UCLA have been virtually all associated with NSU (Nikkei Student Union), a student group for Japanese Americans. Though there is no discrimination based on ethnicity, it was never a concern to me. I have been Japanese-centric for most of my life (anime, Japanese food etc.)

I've always felt more connected to Japan, mostly because of my past there. My short stay in Japan left such a lasting impact that it likely dominates my cultural mindset to this day. I don't hate China, nor do I actively make attempts to avoid Chinese culture. I still adhere to traditional values and customs, notably ancestor veneration during death/birth anniversaries and New Years meals (8 dishes every year!).

Don't mistake my actions as trying to be something I'm not. I can't stand when people bash themselves or who they are for the sake of finding acceptance in another group. I hold no ill will toward China, despite my distaste for the communist government and the recent consumer scares. It's still where I come from, and I have all the love for what makes me who I am.

In my opinion, I really think it's a case of bad timing. My young, impressionable mind appealed to the courtesy and wonder of Japan. China's urbanization and my mom's suffering as a result to her job made me heavily dislike my time there. It was there that I would often fall ill, almost got kidnapped, and had likely the worst teacher in history... Just a bad mix of experiences...

Japan was like a dream... especially the quiet time I spent at temples and hot springs. Obviously, Japan had a more vacation-like feel to it, and I was like a kid in a candy store in the Electronics district. The people treated me well, and I felt safe. Natural childlike perspective made me naturally pledge my shifty allegiances with no regards to my genuine motherland.

I don't mean to offend anybody who is very nationalistic. I have the utmost respect for those who love and champion their country, but my experiences have led me outside the doors. Blood should not limit the cultures we identify with, for this world is worth loving in its entirety.

Thank you, China.

Thank you, Japan.



© 2009 Travis Lau