À la cherche du soi

By James

What Eliza lamented about in George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion (1913) coincidentally conjure up my mind: “What am I fit for? What have you left me fit for? Where am I to go? What am I to do? What’s to become of me?”

These few lines were uttered when Eliza, originally a low-class flower girl and having been trained by a linguist called Professor Higgins to behave and articulate like a lady, realized that her future became increasingly uncertain since she could neither sell flowers at Covent Garden nor remain to be in the noble class. She was not fit for any group, or simply put, she was marginalized. I doubt whether it is those lines that have drawn my empathy, or it is Audrey Hepburn’s fabulous performance in the film My Fair Lady (1964), an adaptation of Shaw’s play, that has impressed me.

But then I imagine what is like to belong to a minority group. As a sojourner once in London and now in Tokyo, I have come across numerous English and Japanese speakers. Some foreign friends of mine asked whether I first think about what to say in Cantonese and translate it into the target language, or think straight in the foreign lingua franca. Well, I really have no idea. I don’t really know how my brain works. But even though I appear to be proficient in that language, a towering obstacle called culture always stands ahead of me, and makes me hard to stride across.

Last week, when I thought I had finally returned to my home town and met most of my friends with whom I share the same mother tongue, they were as if speaking an alien language to me. I mean, I can comprehend thoroughly what each word signifies, for the nine intonations have always murmured softly, tenderly near my ears for more than two decades. It is just the combination of words, phrases and sentences which mesmerized me. To cite a few:

“Peter, what shares have you bought?”

“The local property market is now at risk, and you’d better keep an eye on your own assets.”

“J, how sagacious your mum is! She must have earned a lot by having sold her flat at its peak price.”

As if money, stock market and property market are the only three pillars that support the city, without them, the place will be a barren, sapless desert. I am bewildered. I feel sometimes like a sheep who has escaped from a confined pen, and when I wish a reunion, I simply can’t. Neither can I join other flocks unless I garner their trust instead of being treated as a gaijin – a foreigner.

Some days ago I dreamt of coming to a crystalline lake. I lowered my head to drink some water and quench my extreme thirst. To my astonishment, however, I saw on the surface of the lake a stranger’s face – a face of a different strain. I could not help but yelp, “Who is this? What has become of me?”


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