Monday, April 26, 2010

Trying to Walk a Tightrope Toddling like a 2 Year Old ...

This is what doing fieldwork is like.

For every social situation there are cultural norms only some of which I know and even fewer that I understand.  There is body language that I cannot read; that I unfortunately do not realize I cannot read until after I misread it. 

When in doubt I tend to fall back on the politest action my American brain can conjure...but oh have I learned how bad that can be. Yet what else can I do?

Yesterday, a friend gave me some good advise. "Learn your place," he said, "This is a patriarchal society. If you learn your place within this system and act accordingly you will have more luck."

"I know this before"

I have read so much on patriarchy that it seems silly to me that I should have so many problems... and yet, I was totally unprepared for life in this type of social system. Even considering what I have read, where exactly does an unmarried 20-something year old woman fit in? Then add in that I smoke openly (which only men do - though women here do in fact smoke) and I openly play video games (another dirty little secret for many people).  

I do not want to give the wrong impression.  No one here is mean to me.  Sometimes people frustrate me, but I get the distinct impression that I frustrate others just as often. Living in Asia is like learning to walk all over again.  Even my "common sense" works against me here. Sometimes I am grateful that I look foreign because I know that lowers people’s expectations of me, but I don’t want it to be like that forever. 

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

"So I ran around naked and shot at people..."

I was sitting upstairs in the common room the other day with 2 residents and a tourist (I live in a guest house at the moment).  I was talking about my Sims game, when the tourist mentions that he once tried Second Life too. (Yes I know that Sims and Second Life are not the same game.) 

He said that he had seen a news-documentary on the game and that the program had said something to the effect of: In Second Life you can be whatever you always wanted to be.  With this in mind he decided to start up an account and then says, "So I ran around naked for 2 weeks and shot at people."

I couldn’t help but laugh, after which the tourists says, "Yeah so I got kicked out of a lot of places and then got bored so I didn’t play anymore."  "I’m sure you did," was all I could think of in response.  At this point the resident (and also a gamer) sitting next to me explained to the tourist that Second Life was more of a social game and he should try a game like WoW or a first person shooter.  The tourist explained that he knew that and that he did actually talk to some people, but then reiterated the tag line from the TV program about "being whatever you want to be."

The gamer sitting next to me, a generation older than the tourist and I, just shook his head, looked at me and then the tourist, and said, "kids these days."

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Report on the Sims Experiment

So I have been playing the Sims now for a little while.  Due to my language constraints (and sometimes my own laziness of not wanting to deal with my Chinese dictionary) I have restarted the game now 3 times when I get stuck.  Despite this, it looks like it has been helping based on the, albeit anecdotal, evidence.

For example, I met the friend of a friend a couple weeks ago while out with a big group of people.  (During this time the language used was more English than Chinese due to the varying level of language ability of the group as a whole.) We had a good time and see we added each other as friends on Facebook and chatted through text messages.  We conversed in a mix of Chinese and English, but using more Chinese than English, because I need to practice Chinese and his English isn’t quite fluent.

After about a week of chatting via text we met up and hung out in person.  After only a short time into the conversation he expressed his surprise at my low level of verbal communication ability in comparison to my written ability. My only explanation is that it must be the Sims.

The Sims game uses written Chinese, but like all versions, the avatars do not speak an actual language.  Therefore, when I play I am being exposed to written Chinese, but not verbal. I further believe this to be a result of playing Sims because although I am still taking Chinese classes, the classes do not emphasis writing and therefore are unlikely to be contributing to a disparity between my written and verbal abilities.

In short, it seems that playing the Sims in Chinese was a good idea.  I’ll keep playing and see if this continues to unfold in the vein.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Universal Language of Nintendo

I was having dinner at a friend’s house a couple nights ago, and of course, I tried to bring up the topic of video games. This was a little difficult, however, for two reasons. The first reason was due to the Taiwanese sense of gamer shame that I have blogged about here before. The second problem was communication.

My Chinese is not yet fluent and neither is my friend’s English. To make things more complicated, game titles (and movie titles and other pop culture references for that matter) are often not directly translated. So even if I knew the words, for example, "world," "of," and "warcraft," saying them in Chinese doesn’t make any sense to the person I am talking to.

My friend, like most Taiwanese I have spoken with, told me that he doesn’t play games now, but that he used to. He tried to tell me about a console he had as a child, but wasn’t sure what the English name for it was, so he tried to describe it using hand gestures.

He held his hands out to show me the approximate size of the machine, which of course isn’t much help since most consoles are roughly of similar size. He then says, "You know when you play you have to..." and then he pantomimes taking a cartridge out of the system, blowing on it, and then putting it back in.

"Nintendo! Of course!" I exclaim while loling, "Everyone knows the original Nintendo."

With this one simple gesture, the two of us found a common history from which to relate to each other. Our conversation had been a little strained before this moment, but the next couple hours were filled with effortlessly reminiscing about the good old days when we didn’t have to work and when saving the princess was the hardest thing in the world.