In all things, be the student

Here is a post where Jeannie will come off sounding Yoda-like, but Jeannie can’t help it. For instance, she’s already referring to herself in the third person. 🙂

I came across this post by Aliette de Bodard with Presenting the Cultural Imperialism Bingo Card which displays an array of comments from discussions on the internet that show the idea of paternalistic idea of “West is best” is still alive and well. I don’t present this to rant or be angry or roll my eyes. I’m not linking this so I can say, “Ha! See…who are you to tell me my stories aren’t Asian enough?” I present this because it’s an eye-opener for me. I’m very much a Westerner. I’m also very much Vietnamese, with parents who came from a land that was continually colonized. Our culture, even our language, is a mix of Eastern and Western influences.  This makes me always aware of both halves..the left brain checking in on the right brain…hello!

It led me to thinking, what is the “right” attitude if you’re trying to explore issues of culture, either through activism or academic discussion or even just through the plain act of pleasure reading a piece of fiction?

This question then made me think of Buddhist monks. When we go to temple, we call the monks “teacher”. But Mother never asked any questions of the monks. Yet they were always respected. But do we believe they know more? I don’t think so. You wouldn’t expect them to counsel you on marriage or your job stress when they’re neither married or traditionally employed. I think the sense of respect for these “teachers” comes from the understanding that they think about life and existence.  And they think of it in an open way that we from outside the temple try to follow.

This leads me to the one time I heard the Dalai Lama speak and someone asked him how can the average person become more enlightened? His answer was that he wakes up early in the morning and he thinks a lot. He didn’t say how to think or what to think or that he meditates in a certain way. Just think more about things. About anything.That answer has always stuck with me.

From there my mind went to a Harlequin craft chat I did yesterday on Deep Point of View where I was the host and the supposed expert. There were other published authors in there too and really it was a sharing of ideas. As the “teacher” in that situation, I was simply one person who had thought a lot about these issues and thus could add to the conversation. I didn’t feel as if I was instructing and I learned a lot from the other participants of the chat.

So in discussions about East and West and imperialism, I have been the oppressor. I have been the oppressed. How do you come to such a conversation in the “right” way?

My answer to myself: What you’ve experienced is valid. What you’ve studied is valid. But who is the expert? And what good is being an expert if it places you above the conversation with no room or need to take in anything new? And this is true whether you identify as part of the culture being discussed or if you are from outside it. A depth of experience or learning may make you the “teacher”, but in all things, be the student.


  1. Leela
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 16:19:31

    Since I figure Jane’s thread (at Dear Author) can derail itself on its own, I’d stop helping there & just reply here.

    Yes, I like the Liao dynasty, and I am not the only one! I come with my own horde! Err, pardon the pun. Okay, we’re probably a small-ish horde, since it’s me and at least six other people who’d gobble up more/any historical fiction about the Khanite… but I’d bet it’s at least a dozen, since for every noisy person, there’s always a quiet person.

    (This isn’t counting the five or six friends who’d read simply because it’s set in China or Korea, or Japan, or Singapore, etc, purely for the setting/culture.)

    Also, as long as I’m here:

    1. per your post before this one, I am waiting for the day when a director like Siu-Tung Ching or Zhang Jizhong adds parkour to their wuxia. I’ve seen the french action films made by, erm, forget his name, big parkour guy, and what he does (without wires!) is equal to, or even more amazing, than what’s done with wires. Seems entirely reasonable to me that parkour is just a modern version of the lightness concept.

    2. pirates! don’t forget the pirates! xD

  2. Leela
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 16:35:15

    Hrm, this post should’ve been replying to the previous one, rather than derailing this post, instead. Ah, sorry, it’s been one of those days…

  3. Jeannie Lin
    Jun 24, 2012 @ 09:17:57

    No problem Leela. Nice to see you here. One of the Parkour/freerunning guys I spoke with LOVED Jackie Chan so I think there’s already an overlap of skills.

  4. Jeannie Lin
    Jun 24, 2012 @ 10:18:15

    As to pirates….hmm….definitely food for thought. You probably know about this lady pirate Ching Shi: