Saturday, April 17, 2010

McDonald’s and the Missions Etrangeres de Paris PART 1:

Zach in Aberdeen

I went to McDonald’s this morning.
I totally bought my coffee there. In my defense, it was a last resort. I couldn’t find anything else in the area that sold coffee to take-away (to go).
I, very conscientiously, haven’t been inside fast-food restaurant for over 5 years. I dislike them, and feel that they often embody many of the things I dislike about American consumerism and the overwhelming impact corporations have on our daily lives.
And yet….
Standing in line, I was deeply conscious of how stupid it was being an American, buying American coffee at an American-based fast-food chain while surrounded by the myriad other options that Hong Kong offers.
Sometimes, you just need your coffee to go, yo.
More precisely, sometimes you need the reassuring comfort of familiar rituals and patterns.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m loving Hong Kong. Not at all yearning to return to the States.
I’m just noting, with some degree of amusement, how I’m coping with being a foreigner here. I consider myself a pretty savvy, adventurous traveler. I’m pretty much down for anything. But still, I’m noting that, even though there’s a Circle K, 7-11, or KFC on every corner; even though English is spoken nearly everywhere, even though this was city borne out of westernized expansion and commerce, I’m still grappling with notions of foreignness.
And of course, in light of the project we’re about to embark on, this all broaches the question:
If I’m grappling with being a stranger in a strange land, how must these French Missionaries have felt?
…. I bet it was really, really hard for them to find coffee to go.

Bethanie served missionaries who’d been working throughout Asia. These priests were often the vanguard of westernization. They were quite literally placing themselves in contexts and cultures that were utterly unfamiliar and unknown.
For many of them, Bethanie was a haven. A place that provided succor, and where they sought solace, healing, rest.
So In light of all of this, I’m pondering: What is the nature of foreignness? Why are we rattled by that which is alien? Are we such creatures of habit that unfamiliar customs panic us? What are the things, the rituals that give solace? Why is it easy to get along with a single stranger, but a mass of strangers seems intimidating? Where is the line between the foreign and the familiar?
Tom and I are about to hike the Dragon’s Back to Shek-O, a village on the South East of the Island. As I make ready to go, I’m thinking about these entries I found on the on-line thesaurus:
Foreign: alien, alienated, antipodal, barbarian, barbaric, borrowed, derived, different, distant, estranged, exiled, exotic, expatriate, external, extralocal, extraneous, extrinsic, far, far-fetched, far-off, faraway, from abroad, immigrant, imported, inaccessible, nonnative, nonresident, not domestic, not native, offshore, outlandish, outside, overseas, remote, strange, transoceanic, unaccustomed, unexplored, unfamiliar, unknown
Succor/Solace: comfort, help, mitigation, refuge, relief, rescue, support, aid, ameliorate, assist, avail, be good for, better, build, contribute to, do for one, relieve, serve, succor, allay, alleviate, buck up, cheer, comfort, condole with, console, mitigate, soften, soothe, upraise, assuage
- Zach
Tom in Central


ChrisC said...

culture shock! Give it two weeks and you'll get over it. Oh wait you might be back in the states by then. Maybe a month long residency in HK will help you move that thought forward!

Anonymous said...

Yes, keep thinking that way, Chris! ;) I am certainly glad we came a week early, though, before starting the project. We definitely needed the time to get our bearings and a sense of place and the various contexts for where we are.

See ya soon when we get back to NY.