While one may need to immerse himself in the community for a certain period of time in order to discover the way how people make meaning of something, could an ethnographer at the same time treat himself as one of the participants during the observation too?
There are certain kinds of distinctive attitudes between an inhabitant and a tourist. Insiders and outsiders surely experience landscapes differently for some reasons.
An example of mine would be the first time when I was in high school in Saigon, I used to be called “Tàu Khựa”, meaning a dirty Chinese. Fair enough, so would Vietnam be my home actually? What was wrong with us for speaking Vietnamese and Cantonese at the same time, I wondered? That is still a question.
Then as time flew, I was settled in a Japanese workplace. By saving my week holidays for years to decide to have to trip to a land that I thought at least I could see the experience as an insider, Hong Kong was the decision I made. Unfortunately, I was wrong again, because the Hongkongers called me “越南鬼”, which meant Vietnamese demon. What was I supposed to react? What else could I do except for pretending I did not understand what they said? Denis Cosgrove indicated “The way people see their world is a vital clue to the way they understand that world and their relationship with it.” (Cosgrove, 1985). What if one tried his best but no luck for forming the relationship with the land? We cannot deny the reality that almost everyone needs a better place to live. But a better place to live has nothing to do with modern high technology or the luxury, but about the word home. If one lives in a palace with Lamborghini cars, but never feels home, then neither an insider nor outsider he would be, and he would be stuck in the middle of nowhere.
One may never stop seeking a land, a land where he belongs to, to dwell in a real home. If Maurice Merleau-Ponty once has said that nobody would understand better than the insiders do how the miracle in their world is worked (Merleau-Ponty, 1962), Xu Liu on the other hand, described on the Old Book of Tang a phrase “當局者迷，旁觀者清”, that those who have already involved in the game cannot see the most of the game (Liu, 1975). It is clear that somehow I was unsuccessful to try to be an insider, but somehow I failed to identify myself as an outsider in both of the countries.
There is no doubt that being an insider or outsider is considered an unremarkable topic to discuss, observing the way how they interact with us, the cultural homeless people, might be the first exercise to do to study and define a place which we are proud to call a real “home”.
- Cosgrove, D. E. (1985). Social formation and symbolic landscape. Madison, Wis : University of Wisconsin Press.
- Merleau-Ponty, M. (1962). Phenomenology of perception. London, Routledge & Paul; New York, Humanities.
- Liu, X. (1975). Old Book Of Tang 旧唐书. 中华书局.