(This post has been churning within me for a couple years now. As we pry apart the crusty shell, I hope we’ll find a pearl…)
When I moved to Honolulu a couple of years ago, my roommate kindly gave me her bicycle. As an independent-minded person, I much preferred cycling to riding the bus to get across town. Instead of standing stationary and sweating on sun-heated pavement for a large metal capsule charging me $2.50 per ride, I hop on my bicycle and sweat my way to my destination, grinning at bus-riders as I pass. I love using the strength of my legs and the fuel from my breakfast while also getting some exercise in the commute. Cycling is the perfect solution for an eco-conscious independent multi-tasker who doesn’t want to fork out money for a gym membership when she lives in the tropics and can year-round enjoy the great outdoors.
Equally tantalizing it the idea of maneuvering outside the rules of the road. As a cyclist, I am sometimes ride on the sidewalk like a pedestrian, but other times on the street like a car. Does being on the sidewalk make me a pedestrian? No. Nor does riding on the road make me a car. I’m something in between and I like to use it to my advantage to stay in continuous forward movement. If I’m at a busy intersection at a red light, I might suddenly move to the pedestrian crosswalk and keep on moving. If the sidewalk is too crowded, with a quick glance over my shoulder, I might jump back onto the street and speed on ahead. At the stop light, I can maneuver past the cars ‘till I’m at the front of the line so I can step on the pedals once the light turns green. Cycling is a win-win for me.
Like an amphibian jumping between land and water effortlessly, like a biker maneuvering between sidewalk and street, I move swiftly from culture to culture. In a normal day, I might go from leading an international student event for East Asians, to joining my Hawaiian community for prayer or a protest, to coming home to chat it up about US political drama with my two white housemates. There’s little to no conscious pausing and code-switching as I go between these social spheres. It feels natural, like jumping off a lily pad into the deep cool pond, or hoping on a bike and navigating through cars and pedestrians.
Other TCKs* or cross-cultural individuals know what I mean. Having been influenced by more than one culture during the formative years of childhood, or having chosen to immerse ourselves in different cultural communities as adults, we’ve acquired a kind of cultural fluidity. We may speak more than one language, understand the context of various cultural environments, or perhaps adopt new cultural practices as our own.
champions of diversity
advocates for unity
… amphibious cyclers
*TCK stands for Third Culture Kid, describing someone who spent their formative childhood years in a different culture than their parents’ culture(s) of origin.