October 04, 2003
CENTRAL ASIAN ASIANS
The single most amazing thing about today was seeing Asian faces, many Asian faces, at the annual meeting of the Central Eurasian Studies Society at Harvard University. They were faces at once familiar, but this time atypically strange and exotic to me. Being Asian myself, and having lived in Asia for the past eight years, Asian faces have become as ubiquitous to me as seeing Irish Americans. But these faces today were different. They were Central Asian faces...Turkmen, Uzbek, Kazaks... They spoke Russian with one another, not the usual whiny Cantonese, sing song Mandarin, quacky Thai, or staccato Japanese. Even though the Central Asian countries have been independent from Soviet rule for nearly thirteen years, the common thread of their linguistic culture remains. Russian is still the lingua franca among the Cenral Eurasians, from the Caspian Sea in the west, to Mongolia in the east, and from Siberia in the north, to Afghanistan in the south.
The Asians I met today were, in many ways, more like me than the Asians I knew in Asia. They were raised with the notion that they are (were) Russian, just as I had grown up as an American. My national allegiance is incongruent with my physical image as an American. And although you may want to argue that America is multi-ethnic, a "melting pot", I still grew up thinking I'd have a blond, blue-eyed, Gerber baby one day! I wonder if my Russian counterparts had the same identity crisis?
And it's not as if I have never met Asians of different cultural upbringing. I've met British-Asians, French-Asians, Dutch-Asians, but I was never impressed because I was accustomed to meeting the Asian diaspora. I, myself, had been transplanted from Thailand to America. There is nothing unique in that. But here is where the Central Asians are exotic to me. Theirs was not a diaspora culture. The Soviet regime took control of the region a little over 70 years ago. They became a conquered people, who lived under an imperial regime that had carved a new identity for them, including new habits, a new way of life, new values, etc. They were not formulated by a leadership in the guise of their own ethnic identity or culture. Soviet coersive power subjugated them to a national allegiance completely alien to their traditional, tribal, nomadic way of life.
Now that Central Asia is independent from the Soviet empire, they are in the process of carving out their own "nationhood", with all the inherent geo-political, economic, social and cultural adjustments. I will be committing myself to this region for the next two years in the Peace Corps. I don't only see it as a great opportunity, I welcome it as a privilege.
October 01, 2003
Just got an email from the Peace Corps with my application status update:
Clearances required to become an Invitee:
DENTAL - Complete
LEGAL - Complete
MEDICAL - Complete
PLACEMENT - Complete
This is for real. I'm really going. I have felt at once insanely ecstatic, and the next moment estreme sobriety; from the idealism of what I want it to be, to the reality of how it WILL be. The struggle now, though, will be the packing and the good-byes.