this movie by my Uncle Derek recently during my visit to Ontario. Besides it being a great movie, it made me reflect on both myself and greater western society.
The movie depicted Williams' character as an atypical soldier who doesn't follow the rules, doesn't view people by their ethnicity and has a great appreciation for reality. Despite the massive conflict going on about him, his main focus is on the simple pleasures in life: laughter, playing, flirting and overall social enjoyment.
However, his happy-go-lucky life as a comedy radio broadcaster during wartime eventually hits a brick wall as he starts to realize that not everyone follows the same ideals as he does. Despite the fact that he shows no ill-will or racism towards the local Vietnamese, he encounters discrimination when he tries to woo a local girl. This is no surprise, particularly when in both this movie and in "Memoirs of a Geisha" the American military is portrayed as brash, crude, violent and uncouth. If I was a foreign national and I saw the American miliary during wartime ( in fact I get to see that first-hand here in Seoul all the time), I would probably not want my daughter/sister spending time with any of those soldiers either.
The sad side to this, which I can unfortunately relate to, is that many people in countries inhabited by the American military widely discriminate against all Caucasian men despite the fact that they may be kind, and more to the fact may not even be American, let alone a soldier. There have been so many situations where I, like Williams' character, fall in love with a girl, but can hardly get past a greeting due to deep-seated stereotypes about Caucasian men. In the very end of the movie, when Williams' character had proved himself trustworthy, kind and noble, it was already too late-- he was being shipped out the next day leaving no hope for him to pursue the girl of his dreams. Ironically, the steps he took to prove his trustworthyness and respect for the local culture was the very reason he found himself on the bad side of the American forces and was made to leave.
This highlights another unique paradigm of 'side-taking.' During my time in Korea, I found that the best way to immerse myself in Korean culture was not only to learn the language, but to think, talk and act like a Korean man. I learned quickly that that did not only include adopting different eating/chronic drinking habits, but also stereotypes and ways of thinking. The moment when people started saying that I was acting like a 'true Korean' was when I successfully followed after my seniors and called Japanese and Chinese by their derogatory slang words in Korean, 'Jjokbali' and 'Jjanggae' respectively.
To the contrary, I recall a very similar situation in which I spent time educating some Americans about Korea, only to have them try to make me follow them in their derogatory orientalism-based descriptions of Asians and foreigners. They would often say things like 'I can't believe everything is so cheap here, but you know these 'g---s' smell so bad, right?' In the exact same way as my Korean seniors did to me, the Americans wanted to make sure I was on 'their side,' not the 'other side.'
In other words, in order to get trust, respect and acceptance... I mean real, true acceptance... and in order to woo the fair lady on the other side of the fence, in many cases there is no other choice than to take sides. That's the gift of Nationalism, the great defender of cultural superiority and great enemy of globalisation. That is the takeaway from "Good Morning Vietnam." In that respect I have to say that it was a very well written movie and quite enjoyable to watch.
A few days ago I turned 29... and not too long ago I renounced my Canadian residency status~ this all made me think deeply about where my allegiances lay. My life has been quite complex with such a strong Chinese influence from my youth, to a strong Japanese influence throughout my teens, to the strong Korean influence in my early adulthood. Every time I go to a different country and meet different people, I am always met with choruses of 'our country is the best, isn't it?' And when I really get into a culture deeply and start speaking in a foreign language with other people, I can feel that part of my brain becoming deeply nationalistic. While I speak in Korean, the sentences that are formed within my brain and come out my mouth are strangely tainted with anti-Japanese and Chinese sentiment, despite the fact that I love both of those countries. I have melded with each culture so much that each language that I speak has its own personality, voice tone and set of expressions. Some days after an entire day of speaking in on language, i'll lay down in bed and my English brain will turn on and all of a sudden I find myself asking... myself... "who am I?"
Looking back, however, I realize that the fact that I let myself be taken into each culture and each language has been the best decision that I have ever made. Sitting down with certain people and being able to listen to their words on their terms and in their culture and language is absolutely priceless. Speaking with a Korean who has lived through the 70's and not only understanding their history but also understanding who they are merely by thinking not only in Korean but also with a cultural Korean mind has been a constant source of englightenment for me as a researcher. In that sense I have no regrets.
So... who am I? I'm a man living in the 'floating world' (Ukiyo, 浮世) depicted by Murasaki Shikibu in Genji Monogatari and found throughout the Edo period of Japan. I live for love, I live for fun, I live for pleasure, I live for entertainment. Every step of my life has been towards fun and happiness... it's not easy living in the floating world because despite the fact that it's not hard to find happiness, it is hard to keep happiness. So the real question for me now is not 'who am I?' but rather 'who do I need to be and where do I need to be to keep my happiness'... I have a strange feeling that the answer lies in the place from where I learned of the floating world...
I'm coming home...