Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Transexperiences: Painfully intangible but refreshingly meaningful

The ideas thrown back and forth between Chen Zhen and Zhu Xian (oh, who turned out to be…the same person) floated around in the clouds, so to speak. Very idealistic—but powerful. This interview was quite philosophical, and I guess the best way to put it is…intangible. But I really liked Chen Zhen’s way of thinking—his theory on way of life, art, the interaction of different cultures, contexts, and more.

Perhaps, the one I liked the most was his idea of “transexperiences.” Not only was this interesting because it is a non-real word that actually makes lot of sense, but it was also interesting because I think everyone can relate to this…”spiritual running away” or “special mode of thinking” or “loneliness of spirituality,” etc. I think Chen Zhen is right. In order to get more out of life, to find things within yourself that you never knew existed, you need to get out of that “cocoon” or that comfort bubble as we call it. I pictured this as flying over the barriers, whether it is cultural, language-based, racial, occupational, and even physical boundaries between states, countries, continents. I guess what I’m trying to say is being able to go through a lot of experiences at different times, together, no matter how easy or difficult, without having anything under you that you can fall back on. Through these scary experiences and confronting them right in the face, you grow as an individual. I thought of "transexperience" as freeing yourself mentally or I guess if I want to be abstract like Chen Zhen—“spiritually.”

Right now, I guess a lot of us are going through that too. One of my major reasons for studying abroad in China was so I can be scared, have a culture shock, be dropped off in the middle of a new place I know nothing of and start there. I wanted to empty my mind of all cultural stereotypes, everyday lifestyle, upbringing, expectations, norms, and start new. Or as Chen Zhen says so poignantly, “you do not belong to anybody, yet you are in possession of everything.” I took that to heart, because the more open-minded I became about this country, the more my eyes opened up, the more I feel like I gained. For instance, at first, I really did not empty my mind and stuck to my American lifestyle and mindset, complaining about why tampons or hand sanitizers do not exist, why I have to worry about consuming everyday things like yogurt, milk, and eggs, why the dryers don’t work well. But then I realized I was losing “possession of everything.,” Now I appreciate China for what it is, instead of dragging it down to the “cultural barriers” and comparing it to the States or Korea.

I agree with Chen Zhen. It is about networks and the experiences that you build after you free your mind, especially the misunderstandings and clashing between different people, between people and societal norms, languages, etc. Misunderstanding itself is a whole other language that implies so much. How do you learn about others or about anything if you just sit there watching and waiting? That applies even in the most basic level. In our every day relationships, it is not until you experience an argument, uncomfortable situation, or some type of tension with each other that you fully understand your friend, boy/girl friend, co-workers, etc.

One main criticism I have though with this interview is his idealistic proposals. First one is how he described his life as if it was the most heavenly thing ever when he was living in materialistic poverty in France. Especially in today’s growingly money-driven world, it is impossible to let go of this practical mindset of valuing money, because then you will have a hard time surviving. Is it really realistic and practical to ignore all material desires in a world where materials, the market, and money are what makes it go around? I do not understand how someone can be truly, truly happy without being practical about how important materials and money are.

Another idealistic proposal was Chen Zhen’s idea of “second tradition.” I do admit it is a great idea. This idea has very realistic roots. For instance, it is true. There is no such thing as a “pure Asia” any longer because it has such an embedded history with the West and now we are completely intertwined and interdependent politically, economically, socially, etc. So yes, in an ideal world, developing this “second tradition” that doesn’t shut out or completely replace China with this Western influence is the best way to go All I am saying is, it is not as easy as he makes it sound. Especially his idea of the multiculturalism web where every culture is an “other” with no dominating culture, power, or force.

Overall, however, I liked this interview because he managed to mold very unique and refreshing theories out of intangible concepts while exploring essential topics of today’s world.

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