just floating

i was walking down holborn a few days ago, invoking my inner virginia woolf and observing the hustle and bustle around me (funnily enough, i was heading towards the virginia woolf building for my seminar).

for the first time in two months, i realised why i've been feeling a sort of unease in my surroundings – i don't feel like i belong anywhere.

i've spent more than half of my life in china, but i've only ever had two chinese friends (actually, 'friends' is probably too intimate a term – i think of them more as acquaintances) because i've never really had any opportunities to befriend the locals. here, in london, i pass by so many students from china as i approach LSE on my way to class, with their arms intertwined, in their big winter coats reaching down to their calves, and i catch snippets of their conversations and it sounds like home. i recall the loud laughs down the streets of my childhood, as well as my inner monologue of adolescent frustration as i try to push past them. but now, having been separated, for almost half a year, from the cacophany i associate with that country, i don't push past. i walk by and i try to enjoy the familiar intonations and inflexions as long as i possibly can. yet although i miss china, and although i've come to discover how much i think of the place as home, to say that i feel (or felt) completely comfortable in their culture is a lie, because i don't understand chinese culture enough. i know nothing about their politics, their media, their slang, their economy. the only china i truly understand is my china. the country i have experienced with my taiwanese friends and malaysian parents.

i always thought, back in those days before graduation, that when i left for london i would feel right at home. if i didn't fit in fully in china, if some of their more traditional ideas irked me, surely london would fit me like a glove. but i think one of the biggest reasons why i was so unhappy in my first few weeks here was because i felt so odd where i was; i didn't feel like i belonged. it was hard, and it still is hard, because i struggle to talk to the people on my course (the vast majority of which are british). there's a sort of gap that i feel between me and them. it's the trivial things – the volume at which they speak, their stance, the words they use. i've found that here, it's normal to just join in on a conversation, and oftentimes strangers converse like they've known each other for months. back home, that would never pass. there would be an initial tinge of awkward formality in conversations and interactions. back home, even when i've known someone for years, i sometimes still speak to them with reserve.

or maybe i'm completely off-track and it's just my problem.

the other day someone in my seminar said that she doesn't understand why some people feel so much pride in their national identity, and why there are people with such strong patriotism. and i thought, "you don't understand, because you're white and you're from england. you've never been colonised by anyone else, and you've never felt oppression due to your race. you don't understand, because you've never felt that your culture was inferior to someone else's. you don't understand, because you've never had to feel a sense of shame when you speak your own language and people look at you like you've done something wrong. for someone who's been through all this, to be able to embrace their national identity and revel in that golden goodness is monumental, and they should strive as hard they can to not lose that". there were arguments against this claim, however, and i know this view isn't representative of all white britons, but i still feel like it exists subconsciously in people's brains, just in varying degrees of intensity. and although i know that the chances such topics will come up in social situations is very slight, these kinds of ideas and perspectives on the world still seep into other parts of life. and this is the gap i feel with england.

i introduce myself to people i meet as a malaysian. but to say i'm malaysian, i've realised, is to just mean that i have a malaysian passport. i feel pride in my country, yes. but akin to china, i only know malaysia as my malaysia. i don't understand the politics. the racial tensions don't feel as real to me as they should, and i can't even speak my national language. i don't know most of the places my malaysian friends here talk about, and even if i do know them, it's a superficial kind of knowledge, where i only know vaguely where it is and what's vaguely in that area.

i feel that, as an international kid, i should be able to integrate myself seamlessly into whatever culture i'm thrown into. rather, all i've experienced so far is a sense of detachment from the cultures i've been exposed to, and an acute awareness of the fact that i'm just floating.

over and out,

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