Friday, March 19, 2004

Tales of a modern tribal woman

A "non-literate/aural" in an obsolescing, electrically accelerated visual/linear world.

The merry-go-round disorient. I was born off the edge of Chaos. When I look back at that edge I feel that it was closer to near-death-static than to the alive, paradoxically orderly, complex edge of which I presently float in. Sakolnakorn is a town far away from the center of Thai politics, history, and economy. Time stands still in this town. Change happened so slowly and so little during the past 20 years that I hardly perceive it when I visit my mother, a true native tribal member of this changeless town. It was a place of birth, not the place that I grew up in. I have no town-mates I knew from kindergarden, no intimate pals I knew from the local high school alumni. Even as in a simple town life, a large part of the town are my distant cousins, aunts and uncles, I hardly know them.

My life is a constant reorientation. My family and I pack and re-pack our belongings nearly every two years. Even if we stayed in one city, there was always a reason to move to a new house. As I started to become aware of my identity during adolescence, I had these nagging feelings that I was somehow strangely out of place. As a youngster, because you grow up with the environment, there is an illusion that the neighborhood you play in is yours. My father's work took us to Lebanon when I was five. Being an Asian in Beirut during the late 60s and mid 70s was definitely not the norm. When we mentioned that we were from Thailand, very few people knew where it was. Yet when I was going through Grades 2 to 8 in a school where most kids came from different places and soon left for different places, I realized that, well, since I was one of the few class members who had been there since Grade two, I had somehow earned a status that opened me to groups of "non-others" that otherwise wouldn't have allowed me access. When I returned to Thailand as a quite disoriented teenager, I suffered the culture shock of going back to a culture that was mine but which I didn't have a clue about. I couldn't even speak Thai. So came the years of trying to belong. Maybe it would be more appropriate to call the period - the years of creating a belongingness in non-locality.

My Psyche gave me preliminary warnings of the ordeals she demanded as her due for passing through the dark nights of her world with an inflammed, congested gall bladder that was maybe unnecessarily removed. I obliviously throdded through her gates. Her breathe of wakening only hit me full in my face when I started falling apart internally at cocktails parties under my well-learnt mask of Thai politeness, graciousness, and the facade of a politically correct career woman, in the middle of a soon to be cut short career as a Thai diplomat. (I still carry the symtoms of vertigo whenever I engage with groups larger than about 12.) I was then in my early 30s, divorced and a single mother of a 3 years old boy who was starting to show symtoms of language confusion in an English-speaking Asian city-state that emulated a Western model of development.

So started my journeys of self-uncovering. Through this merry-go-round of disorientation I found the name of my tribe, by reading Marshall McLuhan. He named this new village, the Global Village, and so I recognized that I was in essence a non-literate, aural woman in an obsolescing, electrically accelerated visual/linear world.

Hopefully there will be more tales to come from this whimsical modern tribal woman.


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