Today’s writing prompt about Renewal comes in handy with the content I intend to discuss in this post. I never thought it’d feel this difficult and so lost to be back from the U.S. exchange. That is aside from the reverse culture shock I have come to terms with on the 14-hours’ flight from North America to Asia Pacific. TV land threw me into a well of dangers and although the first few weeks of exchange had me foreseeing my eventual demise in this place from stranger danger, thankfully I was roped out of these dangers by luck almost all of the time. What I could get used and comfortable to culture in TV land are probably the chats you get with cabby drivers, janitors and someone sitting next to you in the subway and/or a domestic flight; have a good day-s; occasionally, strangers saying hi to you or smiling at you along the sidewalk; splitting checks among people you go out and dine with (provided the tips for the servers too); having hamburgers, french fries and vanilla milkshake in one meal; chicken and waffles; fried oreos, bacon and everything(!) except fried pickles.
TV land fulfilled many of the impressions that the world has of them – about race, about freedom of speech, about democracy, and maybe also behaviors imitating characters on American television and show business (or perhaps it is a self-fulfilling prophecy, such that I already developed these stereotypes in my head prior to going to TV land and what I’d seen or heard fits into this framework). At the same time, it also defied some stereotypes I hold of the place like being an all-liberal land. It is not difficult to come across people who are on the opposite extremes of the political spectrum. Just when you think it will be hard in this generation of ours to look for someone who is full-fledged against abortion rights… You might also be even surprised to find more conservatives than liberals in the college. Also, with regards to the… or at least my impression of Hollywood films being filmed at actual spots with actual dimensions, it breaks my heart to break the news to you that green screen accounts for most of that movie magic…
I also learnt that TV land is not an end goal but a work-in-progress still. Our system of guided democracy strongly believes in competent governments and perhaps slightly hinting that the masses might not be capable enough to elect the most competent candidate/party to do the job. Neither the Singapore nor the U.S.’s system is perfect but having the idea of democracy ingrained in these systems is important because it prevents tyranny. In addition, race remains as a contentious issue in the U.S. while multiculturalism is never new to this place. While you may still encounter racists and misogynists in this land of diverse racial and gender categories, you also get the group who stands up to injustice readily and very much vocally. You may not need to be one of the Scandinavian countries or Canada to be the ideal while I often still think that they’re the ideal. TV land’s state of still being a work-in-progress might be an ideal taking into account its complicated history and that I still consider her as a legitimate poster girl for democracy in which people have a stake and actively partakes in issues.
I attended a college debate as an audience member in UR on whether college education ought to be made free and/or subsidized. It wasn’t a huge turnout. They held an informal poll in the audience and the statistics amused me, with at least 95% of everyone around me voting for college education ought to be paid for only by those who can afford it and that government subsidies ought to be eliminated to make college affordable. This made me think about the relation between higher education and political participation since elections were recently over. Might this be why political participation in the form of voting is low in the U.S.? Was it because it was cumbersome to vote? Was it because people didn’t see hope in any of the candidates (i.e. that is failing to see the importance of voting at least)? The debate largely focuses on the selfish aspects of higher education where you need it to simply be able to survive and pay bills or, for a larger purpose, to make the economy more efficient. But there’s only this limited number of positions for those who make the cut so the ability to pay for college might be one of the determinants (aside from grade) that sieves out the people who fill those. But if we saw the public good in higher education (like it means higher political participation in Scandinavian countries although no clear causation) aside from the economic good, might we see the (democratic) world someday with free public education?
Beside all of these social food for thought, there were some personal musings. I’d like to think that I have a better sense of direction with regards to where I want to be in the near future and since gaining that sense, I would also like to think I have been making decisions since that are geared towards this direction. But I am still haunted by the fear that human survival instincts to pay bills and feed yourself and family would renounce this novel thought and that is when reality hits you sometime later this quarter life that you feel the need to eventually settle down because you are constrained by expectations and/or your own financial needs. On the side note, you know there’re always soundtracks or playlists you associate with different phrases or/and even people in your life. Since we are on phrases in life, I might as well share the soundtracks that got me through fearful encounters during this exchange. They were soundtracks from The Beatles 1962-1966 (The Red Album); Sound of Music; My Fair Lady; Frank Sinatra; Ella Fitzgerald and abit of Bowie. Especially since Christmas season falls within this semester, you get My Favorite Things playing at every corner.
Also, I might have wished for another roommate beginning last semester but at this point, I don’t think there’s a better roommate (having none prior to this since I don’t live in college) aka friend. We had many petty arguments and many differences I believe and just one similarity that stands out which is our love for fried chicken. Usually within my social circle, I seldom meet others with opinions of a different wavelength from mine, or at least we didn’t get to that point because we seldom touch on topics like religion, race and politics. And also perhaps I tend to get very defensive about my opinions so that kind of behavior switches off all meaningful discussions the latter would want to have. It might be helpful to listen to contradictory or even controversial point of view. She’s not a know-it-all on no basis and for no reason. You could ask her about any issue and she’d have an opinion to share or at least a story to tell from a podcast she has listened to or encounter. I always jokingly say that we’re no-choice friends and actually jokingly say alot of other things that some others might find it very disdainful. But I guessed she took these comments in a casual and non-serious manner which is nice to know that someone can take a joke, although a not so good one. Also, while I’d like to believe that I would have ventured out as well without company to every city and social event/party on my own, admittedly it’d be very much constrained without a good sport and a partner in crime. Several things I learnt from her: Breakfast is a social construct; racial privilege is as real today; my sense of patriotism is constructed by the state.
I’d wanted to go to the United States, not knowing where. But what gave me the push to go to Richmond, VA probably wasn’t for a good reason at first. Small city Richmond is probably not a bad starting point to start developing impressions of other big cities in the U.S. like NYC and LA. You go to NYC and Las Vegas for flashing lights and flamboyance of TV land at its finest. While Americans are generally already hospitable by nature, you go to Philly for probably the most friendly people you’d find in a bustling city. It is also the first place I’d seen rainbow flags hanging on church buildings. DC for political revelation and aplenty public spaces for you to sit around and soak in the sun during summer and springtime. LA to be in a living movie set, where lawyers and policemen look like they come straight out of Suits and the CSI. TV land has been a feast for both the eyes and the mind. There’re things I can hardly see it the same way again, as I have written in my last post.
But as an alien in TV land, it is always easy to point out the grass being greener on the other side. I still appreciate home in Singapore, as much as I’d like to return to TV land for any purpose. I’d also like to think that what makes me miss home in Singapore goes beyond the fact that my family and friends are here but that I, too, have a stake in making progress in this place.