Wednesday, March 29, 2006

A dance of submission and resistance

Posted by kuri, ping, the pinglet, & mini-ping on 3/29/2006
As a person living abroad, do you consider yourself an "expat" or an "immigrant"? This was the basis of a very live discussion...somewhere...a few months back. If you know me, you know that I'm not that concerned with details.

For myself, even though I have basically relocated myself to Japan for the forseeable future, I still consider myself an "expat," even though that conjures up images of people living the high life in Azabu in Tokyo (I saw this with my own eyes. You wouldn't BELIEVE the lifestyle some people were living.)

While I would like to get a taste of that luxurious life for a month or so, I pretty much live like any other Japanese person in Japan does (well, except for dining out every day). I live in a small, tatami mat apartment that--thankfully--doesn't have a Japanese style toilet (Oh God, you have to click on that link!!! It is the FUNNIEST thing I've seen all day! Almost as good as my portable bidet story!) TANGENT: Why does bathroom humor exist in every culture? Discuss.

I'm reading a book right now called: "Expat: Women's True Tales of Life Abroad," which was sent to me by one of my virtual friends, travellingcari. I've found myself nodding and laughing along with the writers' tales of joys, woes, and surprises of every day life. There were a few lines that made me agree with the writer OUT LOUD ON THE MONORAIL...IN JAPANESE. I managed to raise quite a few eyebrows...the funny looking foreigner reading a book in English and making comments to herself in Japanese. Even I think it was weird.

"When we travel, we are craving a break from routine, so we seek out the different and exotic at every turn because we know that in a week or two, we will be back in our safe little worlds. But when we move away, the home we've left behind can tug at us in surprising ways. We go abroad with our sights set ambitiously on change, but find we crave something recognizable and tangible, things we may have never known we needed...Having wanted to take travel to its furthest extreme, we end up coming full circle as we learn to cope with the most mundane tasks in a foreign place...Balancing the need for the familiar with our desire for the exotic is at the heart of the expat experience."

Life in a foreign country is a dance of submission and resistance. Self-knowledge comes in small repeated shocks as you find yourself giving in easily, with a struggle, or not at all. What can you do without? What do you cling to?

So true, so true. What can I do without? I've found out that I can do without an American-style house, central heating, hardwood floors. I can do without a lot of things, but not without relationships with family and friends back home.

Oh and French onion soup, of course. Must be the expat in me.

8 of you feeling verklempt. Tawlk amongst yourselves:

Expat Traveler said...

I think friends and family are all you need to survive in any enviornment, so I totally agree. I'm definitely an expat, almost a nomad at that. But I think I'll always call myself an expat. However, I'm working on immigration and at one point, I expect to get another passport, so maybe at that time I'll accept I'm an immigrant and not an expat anymore....

To me expats have less ties to the country they are living in, along with many restrictions and not all of the ability to vote or have the rights of many who were born in that country.

L. said...

The Tokyo apartment we bought last year is in Azabu -- we lived surrounded by the people you describe, and even befriended a few of them. They were always interested and amused at our shabby little lifestyle. When they came over and saw our typical Japanese-style living, they acted as if it were all some merry camping holiday: as if all five of us slept in one room for fun, instead of necessity. Ha, is all I can say. Ha.

I was an expat. I just lacked the lifestyle, that`s all.

kuri & ping said...

Expat and L., it's such an interesting discussion...I also consider myself an expat, since I have no plans to change my nationality and am not afforded the same rights at citizens of this country, such as voting.

I'm with L on this...I'm an expat but just lack the lifestyle. :) L, what do you consider yourself now back in the U.S.? "Repatriated"? Or do you feel like you're on the outside looking in? Very curious about this point.

Expat, what about yourself? When you visit your birth country (for lack of a better word in this era of globalization!), will you consider it a foreign country or that you are a citizen of two countries (either by culture or by actual citizenship)?

Winnie said...

that's a quandry. I consider myself an ex-pat;mainly since I still have citizenship in my country of birth. But it is strange, cause I think of ex-pats are the rich and my life is pretty much the avg. working class Japanese one. Maybe we need a new word. Nomad was a good suggestion, DH and I both think we will eventually live in yet another country.

Cari said...

I'm definitely a nomad--expat or immigrant to me imply having some fixed location, which I definitely lack. I look back on the last ~5 years

8/01-8/02 - Japan
9/02-11/02 - Spain
1/03 - Prague (long story)
2/03-11/04 - US
12/04-11/05 - Australia
11/05-now - Japan

Yeah. Nomad.

What I miss from home. The relationship, the chance at a love life...and a BED! OR at least a proper mattress, I can deal with the tatami but the futon's murder on the back.

L. said...

I just answered my question on my own blog. I thought about it, and I guess.... I considered myself an immigrant after all.

I did love Azabu, though. We lived in Higashi-Azabu, which is the "shita-machi" Azabu -- closer to the Shiba neghborhoods than the other Azabu`s.

And the place we bought is in Azabu-Mamiana-cho.

I think my husband just wanted to live in a place called, "Raccoon Dog Hollow."

Mande's J-Life said...

Yes, I especially like the fact that you should squat over the bowel. Close, but no cigar.

kuri & ping said...

I have to say that I like the word nomad as well...I definitely don't think about myself as an immigrant, but it is interesting to also think about how other people view you--those in the country you live in and those who have absolutely no relationship to you at all.


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