30 March 2007

lost in translation

i just finished reading lost in translation by nicole mones (nothing to do with the film of the same name). i enjoyed the use of mandarin in the novel, as well as the cultural and historical references that were so easily weaved in. what i found strange though, was the obsession of the female protagonist, an american, to 'be' chinese. perhaps in another culture she might get away with it, i don't know, but in china her attempts to be one of them just makes her that much more 'other'. i could not understand her compulsion, although i would guess it was simply a need to belong somewhere; she had long ago stopped thinking of herself as american.

i do not usually think of myself in terms of nationality. my overriding identity would be bohra. and yet, i definitely consider myself to be a hong kong-er. this is home, this is where i belong. i can speak the language, love the food, am familiar with the mannerisms. but i am not chinese. these are in no way conflicted though.

this could largely be due to the fact that hk is a city of migrants, and as such, everyone is from everywhere. china on the other hand, is very different. i don't think i really understood the difference (nor do i quite grasp it even now). this novel was an eye opener, as was my recent conversation with hunaid.

this country is on my doorstep, and yet i know almost nothing about it. i have a sudden urge to relearn some mandarin! i'd forgotten how poetic the language was, and how replete with cultural mannerisms. all languages must reflect their cultures, but i have always felt this to be the case more in chinese and arabic than the other languages i know--which are not many!

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