When I was a kid, I spent a good portion of my time reading until my parents kicked me out of the house to play or a friend would come over and drag me outside. I loved playing outside, but if I got wrapped up in a book, I often wouldn’t put it down until I was hungry or fell asleep. However, I also used to play “games” by myself. One of them was to pretend I was from the past, the future, or another world (sci fi geek from the cradle) and walk around the house and look at everything as if I had never seen it before. I would try to imagine what it would be like to see doors and handles and microwaves and TVs for the very first time without knowing what they were.
If my sister was out and about while I was “playing” this “game” I would act like I didn’t know who she was and/or I didn’t understand anything she was saying. This served two purposes: 1) to irritate the shit out of her and 2) to not break from the game. Of course, I wouldn’t tell her what I was doing.
I started back to school this semester and I’m taking one class. Anthropology 101. Since taking on this class, I’ve realized that I spent a good chunk of my life practicing anthropology in some form or another. My professor claimed that it would take more than one class for us to think like anthropologists. I think this might be true for someone born and raised and bred from generations of Americans living in the US. It’s not true for me.
Most people grow up interacting in only one culture. I grew up with three. And not just three cultures, but three cultures that couldn’t possibly collide more. My dad is a caucasian American male. My mom is South Korean. She was born and raised in Seoul. My parents married and ended up raising me in Saudi Arabia. I grew up in a predominantly Western culture with strong influences from the Far and Middle East. My mother refused to let my sister and me grow up ignorant of half our birthright. We spent many summers in Korea visiting relatives and/or attending summer camps that taught us about the history of Korea.
Growing up in Saudi Arabia, how we interacted outside of our house and our compound (think: walled and gated city inside a city) was vastly different from how we interacted inside our house and/or compound. How we dressed, who we talked to and even what we said was very important to not draw negative attention from the Mutawa (religious police) and cost our dad his job and/or get him landed in jail and/or the family deported.
It sounds like a lot to take on all at once, I guess. This was my norm. It’s just what I did to get through the day. To me, this was normal. Everyone did it. Some better than others, but everyone did it. Even the part about growing up in two or three different cultures. I grew up with a rather large number of kids who were from bi-racial homes. (To me, biracial means caucasian and asian.) My best friend in the entire world is half American and half Thai. A lot of my friends were half American and half Vietnamese. There were other kids at school who were half American and half Korean. There were other kids of mixed races as well. We were the norm. A lot of the other caucasian kids were European. Therefore, most of the full-blooded American kids were considered the minority. There was no animosity towards them, they were just not the vast majority.
So imagine my shock of coming to the States were almost everyone seemed to be 100% white. Where you were free to talk about religion openly in public and even disagree with others about it and no one would haul you off to jail. You could talk politics and no one would charge you with treason. Women wore shorts and tank tops in public! Sometimes all at once! Women were driving cars! It was very bizarre.
Especially the part where there were actual seasons: fall, winter, spring, summer. I grew up knowing only summer intimately. The other seasons were what happened in books and other parts of the world. I understood them in theory, but had no frame of reference to understand them as a reality. My dad found it particularly hilarious when I called him freaking out and almost hysterical because it was cold outside. ALL DAY LONG. What is this madness? I was ready to go home right then. Forget living in the States where it is cold! in winter! This is for the birds. At home, my winters were spent swimming at the pool or going to the Red Sea to spend the day out there snorkeling and eating hot dogs in the sand. Christmas is supposed to be spent at the beach with friends and family! Swimming! Getting tan! Avoiding the Coast Guard! Not huddling up for warmth in eleventy million layers of clothing and thinking that the sun will never shine again! American are MAD to think that this is FUN and SING SONGS ABOUT IT LIKE IT’S THE GREATEST THING ON EARTH.
Ahem. I still don’t like the cold. It’s something I’ve never really gotten over. Nor do I think I should.
Anyway, these are just some of the things I’ve been thinking about since taking this class.
Oh and since everyone always like a picture, here’s a picture of me and my friend Keesh from high school. We went to boarding school together in Columbia, SC. And that is a whole other post. We were both foreigners in a strange land. The only difference was, I already knew the host country’s language.