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Thursday, November 06, 2008

Witnessing history before returning to Tokyo again.

I'm flying back to Tokyo in eight hours. It's now an hour past midnight.

Jason, my Hong Kong friend in Tokyo, had once asked me why I follow the U.S. news so much. Why do I watch the Daily Show? Why do I watch Letterman? Why not follow just as regularly the news of any other countries? Why not, say, my own?

I always think that maybe I'm somewhat westernized (or Americanized?). I grew up reading mostly Western literature, U.S. magazines, watching Hollywood films, follow the NBA (and not the EPL) so thus unknowingly, I find myself more immersed in U.S. culture. But that has more to do with personal interests, and NOT because I've completely forgotten my own roots, culture and tradition.

I can read and write in Chinese just fine (though obviously not as well as I do in English), and these few years, I'm finding it increasingly useful to be multilingual. The fact that I know Chinese made it much easier for me to survive in Japan (because I can read Kanji) despite having only a rudimentary grasp of the Japanese language.

But anyway, there's really no need for me to justify all these. I do not idealize nor idolize the West, I never really thought of becoming something I'm not, nor neutering what I really am. 9 years ago, back in form 3, during a seminar in secondary school, I remember a schoolmate asking with sheer pompousness: "Why should we continue studying Chinese when we all know that the language is practically useless?" (I was in Catholic High, Chinese was a compulsory subject for all who came from Chinese primary schools) His question to the teachers drew wild applause from many other students. I knew not whether it was to agree that the Chinese language was useless, or that the Chinese classes were admittedly grueling, but hey, when you were 15, being a rebel who dared speak your mind at the intimidating face of authority (embodied by your schoolteachers) was an instant path to martyrdom. You immediately become Harry Potter.

In regards to East vs West. I just thought that, why expose yourself only to one side when you can draw the best from both sides? (I adhere to the same principle when it comes to filmmaking, it's the same reason why, after Australia, I picked Japan as my destination to further my film education, it's the same reason why, aside from the almighty Hollywood and European cinema, I still find myself paying attention to Asian films etc.)

With the 2008 U.S. presidential election, which had captured not just my attention, but also the rest of the world's, I find myself in awe of the limitless press coverage given to the event. So many differing viewpoints, perspectives, opinions! They just satiate my own thirst for reading. And with them, everything is given such an air of mythical quality that I tend to feel that I'm not just reading some news, but witnessing a part of some Grand Narrative.

I was at my mom's office yesterday afternoon when I read that Obama's victory was confirmed, and I excitedly told her the news, and she was just as excited too. doesn't matter whether we're Malaysians. Then I read McCain's very eloquent and gracious speech when he conceded the election, and I was moved. It's gentlemanly. Graciousness is universal. At least he reminded people that the election wasn't really about him, at least he didn't just stage a walkabout in protest.

And Obama's acceptance speech, one hell of a speech even though I was only reading the transcript (and I have yet to watch the videos below because my Internet connection is so horrible). I enjoy witnessing this Grand Narrative, and not just the 'American' Grand Narrative. Obama's election is a historic moment, and not just an 'American' historic moment. I guess ultimately, it's really not about which nation I'm following, national barriers are just illusions, some things are universal and transcendental.