Aside from ecological lifestyles (and chile peppers), East Asia has been an interest of mine for just about as long as I remember. In lighter moods, I blame it on “Kung Fu” and “Karate Kid 2” – we have moved beyond Freud, after all, so it’s time not to blame the parents, but rather TV.
Of course, once you move from childhood dreams to adult life, the question becomes how you can get good enough – or maybe even, acclaimed as the best – in where your interest lies so that you could make a living from it. Unless, of course, you go a different route, work for a living, and follow your passions outside of your work.
(On the one hand, if it’s really what you are good at and want to spend your life engaged with, it would be a waste not to use your talents and interests in/for/as your work. On the other hand, passion may not be the best guide to jobs, and making an interest one’s work may even make it lose its fascination, the intrinsic motivation.)
What do you need, though?
As I’m thinking about moving on, I finally have the long-term field experience with China I had been lacking to complement my academic, anthropological, education.
Yet, I wonder how to best engage further.
Language study appears to actually have progressed better (and that was dismal) when I was at university in Europe – and that would be considered a, or even the, essential prerequisite for this to be field work.
Also, other people in my (virtual) social circle have been in China for quite a bit longer, so I do not feel as if I really did all that much.
I’m probably wrong, though.
You don’t usually see how you yourself have slowly changed over time, after all. Furthermore, the engagement is different when you are well-prepared to learn another culture. You can be an expat in another country for ages, yet never manage to look beyond the horizon of your own culture. In fact, considering the turn inwards we oftentimes see in situations of inter-ethnic/-cultural contact, it can even lead to a stronger retreat into an (often idealized) image of one’s “own” culture.
Still, it makes a difference whether you interact with people you want to know more about on a daily basis or just study a culture from afar. I feel that there is a lot more to learn, and distance may make it all the better possible to get a new grip on (theoretical) things. At the same time, there’s still more to learn here.
Finally, beyond the experience, knowledge, and skills, there’s the question of recognition. More and more, I think that becoming an expert is as much a matter of the former as of the latter: you can know little and understand even less, but still be the go-to person simply by having become said go-to. All the better to actually know and have experience – but you still need to be productive, be out there…