By: Tiffany Pan
I've always had this mythical, wonderful, even fanciful, notion of the white farm boy who grows up in a small, rural community and who spends his life there. What it must be like to be so sure of one's identity - of one's surroundings, one's neighbours, one's place in the world. To not wander with knowing yet without intending; to be firmly implanted on this earth, with roots and pure, uncomplicated histories; to be without the hyphenated labels dotting my official documents, my survey answers, my journal entries - my very self. To explain, I must give you my life trajectory. In as few words as possible and after years of refinement, here it is: I was born in the USA, moved as a babe to Taiwan until age 8, where I spent two years in Boston then left for Vancouver, Canada. I have since spent three months in Uganda and two months backpacking in Europe. Now I live in Beijing and am poised to keep up my international style. I agree - it is an explanation much longer than something like "I was born and raised on a Swedish farm."
So by virtue of having three nationalities, I am very much a 'third culture kid'. I have, through my blood, history that differs from that of my adopted home. That adopted Canadian culture varies in degrees still from my birthplace of Eugene, Oregon. And I have lived amongst rural Ugandans, caught glimpses of Roman, or German or English ways of life. There are difficulties, practical and philosophical, in this way of life. As a lover of the art of writing, there have been more than a few words devoted to my existential crises. Yet the differences across cultures serve to highlight the sameness. From across the Taiwan Strait to Beijing, from the six hour drive of Vancouver to Eugene, from the hundreds of miles spanning Kampala and London - I've seen the same themes.
Politics is full of corruption; health is paramount (pollution, or water scarcity, or even pine beetles endangering the health of BC forests); job security is on everyone's minds; there is a perverse fascination with celebrities and pop culture. People laugh everywhere and are rude everywhere. In other words, we serve the same purposes on a dizzying array of platters. Rules about holding hands, about greetings and proper eye contact, about titles and hierarchies, about customs and beliefs. Even as I sit now, alone in my room typing with my short determined fingers, I'm sure there are a thousand social conventions governing my behaviour. I've tried hard to understand why sometimes it's okay for me to be outgoing, while other times it's considered extremely unpleasant. Or why one joke works one place but not another; why people say one thing but mean something else; the layers of implication under my roommates comments about using a blanket if I sleep with air conditioning.
It's a constant puzzle I doubt I'll ever solve. But most of us manoeuver these pieces unconsciously - it is only those afflicted with a mind that thinks too much who have to ponder on these issues. But I am glad for it. I do not know what else I would be writing, if I were that fabled farm boy who knew nothing else. I may crave his deep understanding, his certain embeddedness and his matter-of-fact movements - for I'll never move about my homes like that. But I will write of my admiration, respect and appreciation of my experiences across cultures. I know though, that even if I were him, in another universe: I'd still be writing, to tell you what it's like. And perhaps that means we wouldn't be so different after all.
Jumpin' around in Paris
Wandering through the Great Wall of China
Jumping for joy on the beaches of the US
Watching the world go by
Keep up to date with Tiffany's adventures on her blog.