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The International Writers Magazine
: Musings on global blanding

Diversity and Generality: Musings Before a Journey
Anushka Rao

A 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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