The International Writers Magazine: Musings on global blanding
and Generality: Musings Before a Journey
book can evoke in us feelings of nostalgia. Books set in a country
far, far away fill us with a curiosity and desire to experience
a strange and alien land and people. Or oftentimes it's the other
way round, where a feeling of curiosity compels us to pick up
a book and thus transport ourselves elsewhere.
This nostalgia, for me, has been primarily nostalgia about some
bygone era or period in history. I sometimes think I have been
born at the wrong time, far too late by a couple hundred years
or more. And I yearn for the time that I feel should have be mine,
and pine for it as one would an impossible love.
I am especially
envious of those times in history when the 'rest of the world' seemed
exotic and mysterious. When travellers would fill you with stories of
lands other than your own, bringing back priceless treasures of weird
and wonderful foods and clothes, bizarre and beautiful art and innovations,
and that would be your only knowledge of the world outside your little
cocoon. How incomparable and unimaginably astounding then, an experience
of visiting a country for the first time. Today, many of us will never
know that feeling. The world is too small, we know too much, and there
is hardly anything bizarre and unusual anymore. It takes a lot to surprise
us, or leave us in awe, for most of the world is what we've seen before.
I remember the months leading up to my departure for England. I was
excited, keyed up and couldn't wait to get there. But I wasn't nervous.
I didn't feel unprepared. I knew what to expect, what my life would
be like to some extent. It was enthusiasm I felt but not fascination.
England was strange in several ways, but I'd seen it all before, on
TV, in the countless movies, in the cultural and social exchanges that
have transformed us into a generic, nondescript world.
For me, the closest that comes to experiencing a land far, far away,
is Japan. I know Japan primarily through stories. Incredulous stories
that leave me shocked or amused or flabbergasted. It's true I have had
some exposure to Japan through movies and books, but it hasn't been
overkill. My hope is Japan will offer me a myriad of oddities and quirks
to delight my craving soul.
However, as I prepare to leave for this dark, delicious and distant
land, I carry with me a sense of guilt. I long to experience the diversity
that is Japan, but my mission contradictorily, is to spread the 'universal'
language of English amongst the Japanese people. I go as a Teacher of
English as a Foreign Language, of which there is a great need in Japan,
and as a matter of fact the rest of the world. I am part of the process
of standardising the world, the very process I loathe.
I console myself by trying to be less sceptical about my world and my
era. I tell myself that I exaggerate, that the world is in fact still
diverse. And a wonderful and apt example has to be Japan once again.
Japan is modern, 'westernised' and savvy in everything from technology
to cinema to fashion. And she still maintains her mysticism. She still
seems like an enigma, bursting with ideas and customs I struggle to
understand and that fill me with awe. Japan keeps alive her sense of
history, she has kept her image of an ancient land. A perfect harmony
of the antediluvian and the ultra modern. How presumptuous of me to
think that learning English will obliterate this unique diversity of
the Japanese people. There is wisdom enough in Japan to protect her
from the evils of generality.
© Anushka Rao Feb 9th 2005
Bio note: I have lived most of my life in India, and have travelled
extensively in India as well as a bit in Europe. I spent the last year
studying in the UK, and am headed to Japan in April 2005 to teach English.
I hope to share my experience of Japan and Japanese culture as it unfolds.
I will be living with a Japanese family in the little known coastal
town - Hamamatsu, two hours south of Tokyo.
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