Globalization and Why it Caused Most Awkward Plane Ride of my Life
Flying home to John F Kennedy International Airport from Narita Airport in Tokyo in August of 2006, I felt like the only person on the plane who could not speak Japanese. I was riding coach, coming back to New York after having spent two weeks (and all my money) traveling throughout Japan with my three best friends.
My assumption, however, was incorrect.
The nineteen-year-old boy sitting in my partner seat spoke only Mandarin Chinese: no English, no Japanese. He was also the only person on the plane to speak Mandarin, which ten minutes into the flight would pose the problem of filling out the forms he would need to pass through customs.
I spent the first hour and a half of the trip trying to communicate the different questions to him and, in turn, trying to translate the answers he gave me. Even seemingly simple boxes like Name were complicated because he could not write well in English characters.
I was luckily able to convey passport and visa, both of which I was able to use for all of the basic information. What was most interesting was trying to ask him Have you, in the past six months, come in contact with any livestock? We eventually settled on no, but I doubt he ever fully understood the question.
The thing that remained amazing to me was the fact that he was on the plane at all. Young adults travel by themselves constantly – after all, I was traveling by myself at the time, as well – but the thing that led me to a great deal of thought was what I initially perceived as bravery.
After all, I thought, how could he travel from Beijing through two countries in which he knew neither of the languages and expect to arrive safely at his destination in New York without a healthy dose of courage? It then became apparent, though, that it was not his nerve that carried him through that trip; it was globalization.
“Globalization,” in this case pertains not to economy, politics, or Westernization. Instead, it refers to a generally accepted idea of internationalization in the world. This takes Anthony Giddens’ idea of “local happenings [being] shaped by events occurring many miles away” a step further. Because local events are affected by far-away events, people feel more connected to those distant localities, whether they have a personal connection or not.
It is this that allowed my travel friend to get on two planes and travel to the other side of the world so he could visit family he had never even met. Japan and the United States were not unknown places for him, even though he had never visited either; through television and other forms of media, no doubt he had at least remedial experience with images, customs, and various other aspects of the two cultures. This familiarity gave him the security that he needed to make that trip to otherwise unknown lands.
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This type of globalization has become more abundant as technology becomes more advanced.
It is hard to imagine a nineteen-year-old Chinese boy traveling to the United States by himself for recreational purposes in, for example, the 1940s. The technology was not conducive to that type of trip with the same amount of assuredness that it would provide today. The hypothetical boy would not be as familiar with American or Japanese television shows, traditions, public figures, or widely held values. He would therefore not only be linguistically blocked but would also be unable to quickly assimilate himself into the culture once he arrived.
The globalization in today’s world allowed me to have that interesting and insightful interaction with the boy from China.