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November 3, 2007

My Manifesto to Living in Asia

I’m a member of a semi-closed social network called Asoboo. It’s mainly comprised of expats, creative professionals and foriegner-friendly citizens of Japan, with a few Japan-lovers around the world thrown in for sport.

Recently, a guy new to Japan wrote a minor rant on Asoboo which he entitled “My Manifesto.” The basic concept of his piece was that he was having trouble building relationships and dealing with stereotypes (he is a black male). It pricked a soft spot in me, having dealt with many of the same issues during my stay in Korea. So I wrote the following response, which probably could be considered my own reflective statement on living in Asia.

Allow me to share some advice from one black man to another. Asia is going to be a lot of fun, but it’s going to be like putting an ice cube in hot oil:

Point 1- you’re coming is the merging of two different states (geographically, mentally, etc) and you are the odd one for now. Asian culture is built upon roles and positions, so if you’re new you get—yes by default and it’s bad—thrown in with everyone else. As you live and grow accustomed to the experience, though, you’ll assimilate more and with greater success, just as the ice cube melts from the heat of the oil.

(But why did I use oil?)

Point 2 - You will never be Japanese, you will never be normal. You can become familiar in your neighborhood and circles. But even if you live there for ten years, learn perfect japanese and master the culture when you step outside your regular locations people will act as if you just got off the plane, speak impolitely about you in Japanese (thinking you wouldn’t know), and assume you know nothing. Unless you become a star on tv everyday, there’s nothing you can change about that.

Women will come. Bro, women will come—and it’ll be a problem because you’ll find girls who want to hang much faster than you’ll find boys to kick it with, and that may cause tension with the few who do. nycboy is right that there are women who love black men. But that’s who you are to them: black men. Not a black male, with an individual personality and ideas. Finding the female that recognizes that will be much harder, though not impossible. My finding is that a female like that more than often comes, surprisingly enough, from the group of people who’d normally avoid you because of stereotypes, but because she has a keen perception and a pure spirit she, over time, comes to appreciate you for who you are. More often than not, this relationship will be painful as no one else around you will have the same perception. Her family may war against you causing hell; they may win, causing heartbreak.

But this is Asia. This is what we signed up for when we came. And, more importantly, our every action, every won battle, every conquered stereotype shows who black men really are. It makes it easy for the next brother coming over; he won’t have to deal with that foolishness. You are a pioneer in that regard, a beacon of light for your people.

And, should you accept that role as I think you already have, you’ll find that when you return home you’ll never find another way to be more of an impression on the world. You’ll miss the days when the girl’s eyes light up as she realizes you are more than an MTV projection. You’ll long for the days, when your boy, drunk as hell, puts his arm around you and wordlessly conveys how you are brothers despite the color, despite the language, despite the imperfection of the world.

Hang in there. You’ll achieve what it is you’re there for. Check out some tips we wrote here for living abroad. And feel free to ask any question you might have from those of us who share(d) your experience.

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