Erenlai - Items filtered by date: Thursday, 26 February 2009
Friday, 27 February 2009 00:00

Tricky Appearances

We all know that fusion is exotic. It’s that urge that propels us to douse a hamburger with teriyaki sauce or pair your denims with a Cheong-Sam. Marriages of East and West are a harmless intermingling of culture, and second-generation Asians in the U.S and Europe are increasingly becoming the largest minority, but what are the complications for a generation of people of either pure or partial Asian heritage with a tendency towards Western orientation?

The world generally prefers its citizens in their own categories: Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese, and Korean. They represent the sanctity of our nation-states. After all, if you’re not one or the other, what are you? Whether you’re half Asian half-Western, or purely Asian raised in the West, you are associated by ethnic groups by your facial features – not that it determines half of what you are – but it often elicits a certain regard from others. This is the case in Taiwan, where most are inclined to associate one’s character with the way one looks, talks, and their mannerisms. Mainly the way one looks.

Classification by appearance can be good and bad news, depending on what you resemble. “In Taiwan most people think I am A.B.C because they think I sound American when I speak English”, says C.B Leeuwenhoek, who is a half-Dutch half-Taiwanese, and it is not necessarily a bad thing. “They look at me and they know that I’m not local but that I look like Asian…They look at foreigners a little weird here, but they think I am still one of them”. Born and raised in Rotterdam, the 21-year-old is not at all bothered by the recurring mistakes made on his nationality in Taiwan. ABCs (American-born Chinese) have the privileges in Asia of being the offspring of Asian immigrants whom are often associated with many of the Western qualities that many Taiwanese deem impressive i.e. ability in the English language, overt American/Westernised culture. A lot of it has to do with the general high regard for the American entity in contemporary Taiwan.

C.B recalls a time in his childhood when Chinese was all he could speak at the age of three, facing rejection from the other local kids in the Kindergarten at Rotterdam who could not communicate with him. “My teacher told my mum that she’d have to teach me either Dutch or English otherwise no one would play with me. From then on, my mum only spoke in Dutch with me.” C.B now speaks Dutch as his first language, fluent English, and consequently, little Mandarin. All that trouble, only to find himself now living in a predominantly Chinese-speaking environment.

“You do Kung Fu?” is a common question that French-born Belgium Jean-Jacques Chen hears on the streets of Brussels. Jean-Jacques is born to Taiwanese-Chinese parents whom immigrated to Paris during a particularly difficult financial time in Taiwan. They later moved to Brussels where Jean-Jacques spent most of his life growing up. “When I was little, the fact that I was the only Asian in my class, I was often gibed at”. In entering schools that were more multi-cultural, Jean-Jacques finally felt at ease in an environment where one would be less likely to adopt a condescending attitude towards foreigners who were now the majority.

“In Brussels, most would think I am Chinese, while in Taiwan, often people would think that I am either an old man or an alien, and very often, Japanese. Perhaps because of my moustache and the fact that I sport very traditional Chinese clothing that none of the young locals would wear...” When asked about the difficulties he faces living here with his looks and old-school fashion, Jean-Jacques laughs, “I face difficulties it comes to hitting on girls, it doesn’t work so well when one thinks you’re old, but in Brussels it does!”

Just as one may be approached with admiration for being or mistaken as an American-born-Chinese, one may also face hostility in Asian circles, with the latter of a visibly smaller extent in the Taiwanese society. Peter-Nam Hoang Dinh sports dreads and was born in Oakland, California to Vietnamese parents and looks little like any of the Asian-American crowd in Taiwan- or what I have seen so far. He is often complimented for his facial features and the fact that he is Asian-American, but upon hearing his heritage, a man responds, “Vietnamese? But your features don’t look Vietnamese.”. Having had just complimented on his good-looking features, one couldn’t help feeling a tad bit insulted for the Vietnamese person. Peter is often treated with much respect and admiration, with or without his thick-framed glasses, which apparently made him look more Taiwanese. “They generally treat me very well, when I have my glasses on they are less afraid to come up and talk to me- thinking I am a local. When I don’t have them on, Asian-American is what they see.” And Asian-American he is - Peter is in the lucky position for being recognised for who he is. Some us are less fortunate.

Growing up abroad it is hard to find a comfort zone with Asian features as kids of other nationalities can tease and be cruel. Despite being one the very few Asians at school in Africa, I myself was rarely teased with racial slurs growing up. In coming to Taiwan I was held at times with, if possible, a lower regard apart from the times when they mistake me for an Asian-American. Among many incidents, one that I often raise as an example for my friends is a rather unpleasant encounter in a taxi- whereby a taxi driver asks me upon boarding his car, if I was looking for my ‘Master’ in a tone that left me feeling rather undignified. “No sir, but are you?” was my wry response which he chose to ignore, “Philippines or Indonesia, you?” asked the nasty fellow.

Filipinas are largely employed as domestic maids in this country, a fact that I am well aware of. His reaction and the reactions of many others showed me a side of Taiwan’s bigotry with respect to Filipinas, Indonesians and Thais that came as a surprise. It occurred to me as highly unfair to be treated in this manner – whereas if I had been speaking in English loudly in open public, one would have given me more credit. In any case, I was pleased to be referred to a race of people whom I find beautiful, though it would’ve been admittedly nicer had they spoken with me in a more respectful manner.

False assumptions and stereotyping are passé, I no longer pay heed to what one may say about appearances.



Thursday, 26 February 2009 22:03

接近死亡,拥抱生命

大部分人不敢、不愿意、也不知道如何面对死亡。不过,「人人必死」的事实,不但不会随著时间的消逝而消失,还会随著年龄的增长而愈发显得真实迫切。显然,规避生死不能免却生死,更不能超克生死。奇怪的是(细想其实也并不奇怪),大部分人即使明知这一点,却继续选择遗生忘死的「务实」态度。问题是,这种态度会使人生变得更充实、更踏实吗?答案恐怕是否定的。各大宗教传统以及近年来方兴未艾的生死学都鼓励人正视、接近死亡,从而安顿、超克生死。

「接近死亡」指的不是「人人必死」那种被动而无奈的事实,而是一种主动或有所自觉的面对死亡、观想死亡。怎样的人或哪些机缘会使人接近死亡呢?首先当然是自己的死亡迫近或亲身经历某个死里逃生的变故时。生命是无常的,一场大病会让人体验到生命的脆弱;一件意外车祸会使人发现,即使你可以遗忘死亡,死亡却绝不会忘了你。

另一种接近死亡可能比自己经验死亡的机会要多些,那就是亲人面对生死无常的时候。法国哲学家马赛尔曾说,陌生人的死亡不能将我们从遗忘死亡的昏昧当中撼醒起来,只有至亲至爱者的死亡才能彰显死亡的深沉意义。许多人都有如下的经验,看著父母在加护病房垂死挣扎,群医束手无策,而自己却不能代受。此情此景,一方面让人情何以堪,另一方面也使人对仍继续过著的日常生活产生如梦似幻的感受。在这时刻,生死意义的问题也会突然真切起来,再不那么事不关己。

此外,日常生活也提供许多具体处境,让人接近死亡。例如,「天下无不散的宴席」是人们在无数的聚散离合间常会有的咏叹。叹人生的无常,也隐约发抒某种对永恒的期盼。最后一种接近死亡是修行者在日常生活中所做的。西方的基督宗教或东方宗教的灵修都很重视对死亡的观想。接近死亡、观想死亡可以说是宗教修行中最重要的法门之一。佛陀临终时说:「在一切足迹中,大象的足迹最为尊贵;在一切正念禅中,念死最为尊贵」(西藏生死书,43页)。耶稣也邀请人们醒寤祈祷,不要像糊涂人一样,只顾著累积世上的财富,却忘记上帝有可能就在今夜索回我们的灵魂。

接近死亡是修行者在日常生活中不可忽略的功课,原因无他,人很容易遗忘生死而醉生梦死。

附加的多媒体:
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