Tuesday, July 22, 2003

The Most Ass-Kicking Blog in the Blogosphere

Marc Miyake's Abode of Amritas

Sorry to disappoint you, but it's about one of my favorite subjects, linguistics, with what appears to be an Asian studies focus. If I were allowed several parallel lives, I'd want to be (1) a linguist, (2) an actor, (3) a productive cartoonist, (4) a philosopher, (5) a marine biologist, (6) a theoretical physicist, and (7) an expert martial artist, in several arts (as things stand, I'm most dangerous when farting). I don't have the brains or the guts for half that list, but a man can dream, dammit. In the meantime, I'll admire this guy's accomplishments in linguistics.

Here's one culture-oriented post from this guy's blog, quoted in full (with apologies, but also unabashed fascination):



About once a year, some Hawai'i paper runs a story about a Jepani (Japanese-American born and raised in Hawai'i) who goes back to his/her 'homeland' and (gasp!) experiences culture shock. As if Japaneseness ran in their genes. Please. That's not news.

Here in Hawai'i, the word 'Japanese' is ambiguous. It could either mean Jepani in the strict sence that I described above, or it could refer to a person from Japan proper. To say "Japanese hate Japanese" is not an expression of self-hatred, as long as you realize that there are inaudible subscript numbers "1" and "2" after each instance of "Japanese". Maybe this loose usage confuses Jepani into thinking they're more Japanese than they really are. Which is to say not much. If you changed their ethnicity or even race, they would still be living more or less the same lives. They are far more American or Loko ('local') than Japanese.

I don't think changing the ethnicities or nations changes the basic lesson: You can't go 'home' again, especially when 'home' never was your home in the first place! I am always suspicious of Americans (or Canadians, Australians, etc.) who gush about 'their' homeland without actually having lived there or learned its language.

So this article about an "exodus" of Americans to Israel made my eyes roll:

''I always dreamed of coming here,'' said David Michael Pollock, 28, originally from Kendall, in a telephone interview from Jerusalem ...

''Watching it [the intifada] on the news, I felt I had to be with my people" ...

Israel, said [Danielle] Rosen, is where she belongs.

''I don't feel a connection with America,'' said Rosen ...``The second I set foot on the plane I'm Israeli.''

Rosen said she relishes being among her Jewish brothers and sisters, on Israeli soil, living under morals and values Judaism sets forth. And as for safety, she's not worried.

''I feel more safe in Israel than in America,'' she said. ``Everywhere you go there are guards outside.''

Have fun fisking that last line. The rest bugs me enough.

I'm not against American Jews moving to Israel. Perhaps it is the best possible choice for some. But what about the others? Do some of these people have any idea what they're getting themselves into? The photo accompanying the story shows a bidirectional Hebrew-English dictionary. I presume it's Rosen's (her Israeli fiancé is presumably bilingual and doesn't need it). Does she think Hebrew will be a snap? (Time and time again, Americans vastly underestimate the difficulty of foreign languages. Modern Hebrew is not the hardest language in the world for Anglophones, but it has few cognates one can hang on, unlike, say, Italian.) Will she rely on her fiancé to get around? Will she assimilate to the ways of her new home - or will she just hang out with other American exiles? Is she serious about becoming Israeli, or is Israel just a toy in her personal identity game?

What is it like to be an Israeli dealing with identity gamers? Unlike these Americans who can pack and leave if they're tired of their little game, many Israelis have nowhere else to go. Hebrew isn't just cool jargon for them - it's their language. If I were an Israeli, I'd hate to meet people who didn't take my way of life seriously yet proclaimed themselves to be among "our people" - while competing for employment (hard to get without Hebrew, I'd guess) and using up government money.

I presume Rosen doesn't think Americans are her people. Do some of the exiles go to Israel (or wherever) because they haven't 'found themselves' in America (or any other post-ethnic state)? Do they think their 'real self' is in the 'homeland'? How do they know that? How can one know what Israel's really like based on watching the intifada on TV? (At least Rosen has some second-hand knowledge from her Israeli fiancé.)

What would these people say after several years in Israel? Some may never want to leave. Yet others may want out as soon as possible - even if it means paying back their grants. The quest for belonging can be expensive - and fruitless.

I don't understand this need to belong. I don't have a 'homeland'. Amaravati exists only online and in my mind. I don't think of myself as having a 'people'. I don't need a group to validate myself.

I've always wondered what it would feel like to belong out of sheer curiosity. But I don't think I really want to know.


Miyake even deals with Korean linguistic issues. Helluva guy. I'm hooked.

Now will SOMEONE PLEASE TEACH ME SOME QUICK HTML SO I CAN SLAP PERMANENT LINKS ONTO MY DAMN SITE WITHOUT CHANGING THE BASIC TEMPLATE???? Along with the Naked Villain's blog, I have to list this site as a permalink.

Miyake links to this site as well: KoreaWatch.org. I have friends who'll find this useful.

And if you want to continue in the Israeli vein, Salon.com has an article about "The Holy Land," a film I hope comes to Seoul. I'm not linking you to Salon because the article's part of Salon Premium. Either subscribe to Salon or watch a brief ad to get the "day pass." I watch the ad. Personally, I don't think Salon should be charging people who want access to the liberal slant.

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