I just finished reading David Mura's Turning Japanese last night, a book I blogged about early on in my reading. As Sisyphus expected, I was struck by Mura's discussion of his relationship with his wife and other women, and by his relationships with his parents. The afterward was interesting to me because I'd expected Susan (his wife) to have left him, but apparently not; but during the main part of the text, he represents their conflicts, and her calling him on his sexism and racism. In the afterward, he talks about heightening some aspects of the main text for effect, including some of their conflicts, and so on, and I found that a helpful reminder about how writers choose to represent relationships. What's written isn't transparent, ever, even if the writer's trying very hard. And mostly, writers aren't trying to be transparent about relationships and such.
And most of us take a long time (if ever) to really get a very deep grasp of other people and relationships we're involved with. Maybe that's just me? Maybe I'm the only person who takes forever to realize things.
But Mura's relationship with his parents was interesting because he's sort of unwilling to recognize that we probably all tell ourselves daily lies just to get through.
One of the things that fascinated me about his book was his sense of basically looking Japanese but not speaking the language, and not actually having all the body language of someone more culturally vested in Japanese life. That comes out well when he talks about his parents in Japan, and how his parents' language skills quickly surpassed his, as they drew upon childhood memories.
I'm getting more and more set to go out to my own adventure, and I'm excited and nervous. At times, the nerves dominate, but that will settle once I get there, I think. I hope.
Some of my colleagues across campus have been giving me advice. One of my colleagues was warning me about culture shock and how different it's going to be to not look like the dominant race. I don't think my colleague's ever been to a place where s/he doesn't speak the dominant language, but s/he has always lived where s/he was easily identifiable as not being the dominant race. And I think that must be hard in a way I won't ever quite grasp fully. In the Peace Corps, I could always hold in the back of my mind that I would go home, that my country wasn't the country I was in, and that it was okay to feel like an alien. Can you really do that with your birth country?
I don't know quite how to react to some of the warnings. I expect culture shock, indeed. But that doesn't mean I know how it will be for me now, at this time of my life. I know how it was when I was in the Peace Corps; I know how it feels to look very different, to be the one pulled off the bus to fill out forms and get checked over. But what I did there was so very different that I don't quite know what to expect of myself. For one thing, I'll be in a university atmosphere, teaching, so there will be a degree of familiarity, and a degree of estrangement where things depart from my expectations.
I don't have a lot of knowledge or fascination with Asian culture; one of the reasons I applied for this opportunity was my unfamiliarity.
But I do know that living in a different culture, a different country, and dealing with a new language prompted a tremendous level of growth for me when I was in the Peace Corps, and I know that challenging myself now will be good for me. And yet I'm also a bit hesitant now, nervous about taking each of the next few steps.