… Continued from Part 1
I noticed that while I am trying my best to be a real Canadian and fit into the mainstream culture, I, at the same time, am slowly losing my own cultural identity as a Chinese.
I do not speak Mandarin anymore with anyone apart from my parents, and we only talk about 2-3 times a week. I am forgetting many words and expressions in Chinese and oftentimes have to use the translator, only this time to translate from English to Chinese… It is also very hard for me to write in Chinese now, the beautiful characters developed from thousands of years ago.
Recently, I started watching a new Chinese singing competition TV show. I enjoyed the songs in beautiful Chinese lyrics and loved the melodies. Judges were very knowledgeable and well read, and were commenting with all kinds of poems and proverbs. Contestants even made videos to showcase their hometowns. While watching this, without any warning, something hit my heart and I started to cry.
I knew what it was. It was a feeling that I don’t often feel but every time when I do feel it, it always hits me hard – It was the feeling of being homesick.
It reminded me of the beautiful culture that I was born into and grew up with. I suddenly envied those people I saw on the stage who were immersed in the culture and were sharing it with the whole world. Strangely, I also felt a subtle sense of guilt and shame.
A few years ago when I was just accepted by a Canadian university, a friend of mine in China warned me very seriously to “not forget my roots”. I think he was wise to see that I did not fully grasp the beauty of my own culture and it would be a pity if I just tossed it away altogether. I was taking everything I had for granted simply because it was given to me.
I can tell my friend now that I have not forgotten my roots. This few years of staying away from my culture actually make me understand it more… I now understand its depth and its shallowness; its strengths and its weaknesses; its farsightedness and its shortsightedness. Maybe I had to be un-rooted first to be able to truly rooted again.
This is a very important lesson, to me and to my fellow drifters.
Along with many controversies, there are so many wonderful things in my culture that I absolutely adore and feel proud of. If you ask me about them, I will never be able to stop talking. The truth is, no matter how far away I am from my country and how infrequently I review my cultural experience, I am nevertheless very much connected to my roots and always will be.
I was fortunate enough to have the chance to study overseas and to have the privilege to really be part of another culture, not just as an outsider or observer. The interesting thing is that, the more different cultures I experience, the clearer I can see things through multiple lenses, the less judgmental and self-absorbed I tend to be, and the more compassionate and understanding I become.
No culture is perfect, just like no person is perfect. That’s why we should not try to make a conclusion about which culture is better. What is more important is to think about which part of each culture is worth learning from and what we can do to combine those different parts together and live the best of all cultures combines.
“With great power comes great responsibility”
— from Spider-Man
I feel a stronger and stronger sense of responsibility to filter through all the different cultures that I’ve experienced and the cultures that I am about to experience, to figure out all the parts that are going to help make the world a better place, and to pass on the combined legacy of them all. This great responsibility comes from the best kind of power we can ever possess — knowledge and understanding.
I recently met a Caucasian friend who just went to China to teach English. Before he left, I had a chat with him just to see if he was prepared for some cultural shocks that he might encounter. We had a great talk and in the end, he said to me, “I admire the Chinese culture and I am not there to take it away from the students. I am just there to add more on top of it.” After hearing that, I was very assured that he’s got the perfect attitude and that he will be a great teacher.
Back to the TV show, a few contestants are experimenting with a new style of music, the mix of traditional Chinese opera and Western music styles. It is very innovative and entertaining. Those contestants are, just like me, being exposed to other worlds and are no longer satisfied with just one way to do things, just one culture to carry on with, and just one identity to associate themselves with. Instead, they are taking on the responsibility of combining the essence of different art forms and creating something bigger!
I might be losing some touch with my culture, but I’ve certainly gained more clarity. I’m also not too worried because just like how whatever is learned can be unlearned, whatever is unlearned can be learned again, and this time, better and deeper.