Friday, December 24, 2004

Cosmopolitan versus Heartlander.

I think I get it! (An insight, that is. However insignificant.)

Was having dinner, just hanging out and catching up with an overseas friend who I have not met in a good two-and-half years. Always interesting to see Singapore through the eyes of someone who has been away a while.

In any case, DT has straddled cultures and lived in a multitude of locations. DT is about half a generation ahead of me and has a wealth of cultural experiences that I would never come close to. Naturally I seeked DT's input on the choices I currently face.

Was updating DT on my life and possible move to Australia and DT cryptically commented "I hope the SO is not a heartlander". Puzzled, I asked what DT meant (as I consider myself a heartlander).


Looks like we have slightly different definitions of "cosmopolitan" versus "heartlander". And DT's version makes a whole lot more sense than my fuzzy attempts to distinguish between the two.

The heartlander / cosmopolitan divide can be clearly drawn by whether the individual in question defines personal identity as distinct from the homeland identity. For a heartlander, the distinct features of the homeland are strongly part of personal identity. For the cosmopolitan, the homeland may shape his/her identity but is not part of how he/she defines personal identity.

It is not about where you grew up, or where your family is, or where you studied, or where you have travelled, or even what kinds of foods you prefer.

It is about how you see who you are!

Of course, these two labels represent the extremes in stereotypes. In real life most of us would fall somewhere in between the two extremes.

View in this light, the deeply emotional responses in the "quitters versus stayers" debates of yore starts to make more sense to me. When cosmopolitans criticise what they perceive as problems in the motherland, heartlanders would take the criticism as a personal insult - as an affront to who they are as individuals, as a challenge to their identities / choices. And heartlanders in turn view emigration "quitters" as being disloyal to the motherland and turning their back on their "true self" - a worldview which would make no sense to cosmopolitans who do not link their personal identities to that of the motherland.


What DT was trying to caution me was the possibility that the SO could be a heartlander (by this new definition) and thus find it very difficult to redefine personal identity and adapt to a new homeland. It would not longer be just about eating potatoes instead of rice for nourishment. It would not be just about listening to strine instead of to Cantonese. It would not be just about surfing instead of mahjong for recreation.

For a heartlander, migration would be akin to forsaking their identity (of who they are) to adopt a new identity (tied to the new motherland). For cosmopolitans, migration could be a lot easier since they view self-identity as distinct from the motherland's identity.

In this sense, most of us are born heartlanders (since the motherland is the only culture we are aware of, unless our parents straddle cultures) and some of us get the opportunity to evolve / devolve / mutate into cosmopolitan.

Travel would generally be a prerequisite to the mutation. Not the standard-tour package travel but the opportunity to be immersed in alternate cultures. This could come about from studying abroad, or extensive travelling that required a lot of interaction "on the ground", or perhaps from some other form of knowledge / experience that allows the individual to be aware of alternatives to the current way of life.

I believe what happened to me was the second scenario - extensive travelling and interaction with different cultures. This is very different from tour packages and "collecting countries" in sense that work travel generally forces you to interact on the ground and be culturally more aware.

My passport has 96 pages. The breakdown is as follows:
17.7% totally full (17 pages)
11.5% partially full (11 pages)
64.6% empty (62 pages)
6.3% others (6 pages)

So I guess it is not the amount of travel that you do, but the type and perhaps the length of the travel involved. It is entirely possible to take a packaged holiday, see the tourist sights and return with no improved understanding of the culture you just passed through.


Okay. So maybe it is not such a big discovery. So I am kind of slow on the take...

And to all you folks who are sniggering and muttering "ar-ber-den... now ar-den you know", I would like to smack you for not sharing this insight with me. (Yes, I know I did not ask.)

So it looks like I was wrong once again.

I now officially switch camps and label myself a cosmopolitan.


Blogger Singapore Calamari said...

Oh, enlightening.

Yes, I also did not pick up on this definition. Mine was more on "emotional ties". Not on identity.

December 24, 2004 9:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reading your past couple of entries, I suddenly realised a few things. Things fell into place.

Why the Xiaxue blog entry disturbed you so much. Why you created this blog, a journey of thoughts and facts and agonising and reasoning and obsessing about Singapore and her future.

I think it's because you're more of a heartlander than you know.

As you pointed out, nobody is entirely a heartlander or a cosmopolitan. The first would go catatonic if he left his country, and the other would have to claim that his environment had no impact on him at all. So we all fall somewhere in between.

I think that you want a different life than what you're living now (I don't say a "better" life). And that means migrating to another country. But subconsciously, I think you feel guilty, more guilty than you realise. You do feel a strong attachment to this country and the family and friends you have here. You've posted a blog entry asking whether having to give up Singapore meant having to give up friendships as well. You posted another entry on the places that have been demolished and redeveloped in Singapore - places that have had considerable emotional significance for you.

Simply put, the issue of migrating is a big deal to you. And you're now in an amorphous never-never land straddling Singapore and Australia and you're trying to find your identity between the two.

To tell you the truth, I always wondered why migrating was such a big thing with you, so big that you would create a whole blog about your decision-making process. If I wanted to migrate, I think I'd just do it; what I'd miss most would be my family and friends. But I'm an anomaly: remember, I'm a Malaysian citizen living as a Singaporean PR. I came over at a young enough age not to remember much about Malaysia, and I always lived in Singapore knowing I'm not a Singapore citizen, and not really feeling patriotic about either country.

Anyway, that's my analysis of the situation. Like I said, it makes certain things fall into place.

December 28, 2004 3:57 AM  
Blogger KnightofPentacles said...

Vivienne has more thoughts on the issue in her post So am I a heartlander or a cosmopolitan?

June 15, 2005 2:15 PM  

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