Living Overseas and Coming Back
Download audio file (overseas.mp3)
Mark talks to Seiko about her time in San Francisco, Beijing and Amsterdam and they wander on to the topic of languages and being bilingual or multilingual.
Mark: Seiko, you’ve just come back to Japan. When did you come back?
Seiko: Well, I came back about two years ago…uhm…you know…not really exactly yesterday but I lived overseas for half of my life…so it was a long absence from my country.
Mark: Which places did you live in?
Seiko: I lived in San Francisco the longest.
Mark: Mm-hmm. So when did you first go to San Francisco?
Seiko: I went to San Francisco in 1982.
Mark: Right. So, were you studying then?
Seiko: Yes, I was finishing up my graduate school.
Mark: And what was your impression of the city?
Seiko: It’s…you know…it’s a beautiful city and…it’s on the edge of the ocean so, it has the ocean and the hills around it…and it is a pretty nice city. As for the American cities, I think it’s one of the nicest American cities.
Mark: A lot of…these times with the war in and America being so conservative at the moment…a lot of Americans joke that San Francisco is not really a part of the United States because it is famous for being a liberal city. Did you find, when you were living there, that the people were really free-thinking and liberal?
Seiko: I did think so for the longest time…for example…you forget that…you know…you live in such a liberal city…even the rest of the Californians…not the rest of the country…are not that liberal…as we are in San Francisco…for example, San Francisco has a very big gay community and in fact if you work in some companies…fifty per cent of your male friends will be…gay…from the gay community…so it is really a natural thing for us to…have all the racial and the sexual orientations…and I really felt very comfortable…being a non-native there, but one of the reasons I came back hereï¿½…I started to feel not too comfortable after the 9/11 terrorism attack there in New York. People’s mind is changing…
Seiko:..even in a liberal city like San Francisco…they were starting to show some of the…you know, alarming signals of…kind of the…USA first before the rest of the world kind of thing.
Mark: kind of…I guess America feels that it is under attack so everybody is a little bit paranoid.
Mark: When you were in San Francisco did you have a lot of Japanese friends?
Seiko: At first I didn’t I really didn’t seek Japanese friends when I first arrived there…but then started to know more and more Japanese people who lived there. So I guess by the time I left two years ago eighty per cent of my friends were Japanese…
Mark: …other nationalities. Did you have Mexican friends?
Seiko: San Franciscos biggest population is its Asian population so I had a lot of Chinese friends and Vietnamese friends…and Thai friends not too many Mexican friends…maybe if you go a little further south in California, you may see more Mexicans.
Mark: You speak Chinese too, don’t you?
Seiko: I do speak at the conversational level. I lived in China for a while so I picked up enough to get by.
Mark: What part of China did you live in?
Seiko: I lived in Beijing but I traveled quite a lot to some places where normal tourists would not go.
Seiko: For example like Tibet and Inner Mongolia…and…
Seiko: ..and some of the…near the Silk Road…
Mark: And…any other countries?
Seiko: I think I traveled more countries than I could really remember…
Mark: But actually living for a longer period of time. Did you live in Europe?
Seiko: Yes, I did. I lived in Amsterdam for about two years.
Mark: Wow, I love Amsterdam.
Seiko: So do I.
Mark: Two years?
Mark: What do you think about Amsterdam?
Seiko: I really felt at home. It’s so wonderfully liberal and also…people are conservative…at the same time they are liberal-thinking…and you know it’s…very acceptable people…I really…it is a small country…but Japan and the Netherlands have a long history of…aaam…you know…they…
Mark: …a long relationship
Seiko: I felt very very good about that.
Mark: Did you learn some Dutch when you were there?
Seiko: I tried, I asked the Dutch people to teach me and they said…they all speak English…you know…and they said…it is not a good language to learn because nobody knows it…and so I…really…I still remember a few words though.
Mark: I don’t agree with that. I think all languages are great. It is a good thing to learn a language because it is not just a system of communication. It is also another way of thinking.
Seiko: Mm-hm. I think so too, because when I am thinking…talking in Japanese…I am kind of a different personality from when I am speaking.. let’s say Chinese and what little of other languages I speak…so I wanted to learn…but Dutch pronunciation is so difficult.
Mark: It is difficult…but that is really the interesting thing…if you are bilingual or multilingual and you have another friend who is multi-lingual…so for example…you can have a conversation in English or German or Japanese or French or whatever language…as you change languages, the topic changes your character, your personality…everything changes; the way you think changes when you speak another language.
Seiko: Mmm..hmm. That’s true.
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