Thursday, August 20, 2009

Tea for Two

It often takes the most mundane and unexpected circumstances to shake you out of your stupor and make you realise what is important and what is real. For me, that lovely circumstance was having tea with Beverly at Foster's today.

I met her only expecting to catch up with her and wishing the very best as she leaves for Boston. Never did I expect that in our conversation she told me a few things that really struck me and really got me thinking of who I am, what am I and what I want to be.

In the midst of our English indulgence, the topic of ancestry, roots and origins came up. She told me about going to the heritage centre in Chinatown just to revisit some of our traditions. Additionally, a meeting with her grandparents early in the day led to the discovery that her family tree is scattered across China and Southeast Asia which certainly surprised her. In that vein, she mentioned of her wish to bring her traditions over to Boston as she remains rooted to who she is and her faith.

On any occasion, I would have let out a chuckle or sorts for I rage against certain aspects of my traditions for its backwardness and hate to confine myself to who I am by such traditions. Well, I am not saying that I totally reject my Chinese roots for I do appreciate its cultural value and its intellectual history but its conservative outlook does not suit me. Also, being a true believer of the Arts, I believe that every artist, in the words of Nobel Laureate Gao XingJian, is a citizen of the world. In my interpretation, we make out to be who we are and we we want to be for the countries and it traditions that we live by are artificial demarcations that we have set upon ourselves.

Yet, it is as if the Camomile tea I was sipping had a calming effect on me as I actually got to think about what she really meant. It is not about being confined by tradition but so much so as a basis of who we are. Like it or not, we are influenced by our roots and our upbringing. In a sense, our origins and culture gives us some integrity of humanity for it is the beginning and our upbringing that is steeped in that culture leads us to the present us and it is for us to decide how our future turns out. If we were to reject every iota of the culture that we are born into, we are thus throwing ourselves into a web of contradictions. This is because we are seeking to define ourselves in our self-created vaccum but the only problem is that our sense of our utopia is a mere modification of the confines the real world. Hence, this new definition of us still stems from our tradition and culture.

So how do I synthesise what I have believed for so long with this new found outlook? Well, I am sure that we seek to define ourselves in the best possible way and if we were to look at different cultures, there is a common thread of goodness in them that is expressed in a variety of ways. They all do espouse a set of universal values which is what Thomas Jefferson would term as Natural Law. Therefore, the self-portrait that I seek to paint would be the same no matter how I do it but the cultures that I take from and adopt are form my pallete and the culture that I am born into forms my inspiration and template. Hence, with the materials in hand, I am at leisure to improve this inspiration and template to complete my masterpiece. But at the end of the day, the first stroke on the canvas to define who I am comes from being Chinese.

Thank you Beverly.


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