Monday, 3 February 2014

Thank you very much, University of Oslo

How do you think East and Southeast Asian students feel when their university (condescend to) celebrate their new year? Happy? Touched? Grateful?
Let me tell you how I feel.

In front of the cafeteria in Eilert Sundts hus of UiO there was a sign saying that from 27/1 to 31/1 they celebrated Chinese New Year (kinesisk nyttår). That's problem no. 1. Based on the lunar calendar, and not only celebrated in China and other Chinese-speaking countries, it should be called Lunar New Year. Using the name Chinese New Year is incorrect, or at least tactless. (Note: American president Obama uses the term Lunar New Year).
Problem no.2 is that the cafeteria was decorated with Chinese, Thai, South Korean, Japanese and Indonesian flags. Thailand has a different New Year, in April. Japan no longer celebrates Lunar New Year. There are some other countries that still do, such as Vietnam, Taiwan, Singapore... and their flags weren't there.
I would have forgiven these 2 things if not for problem no.3: the line "the year of the dragon". For anyone who doesn't know, such information can easily be googled. That was 2 years ago, now it's the year of the horse.
It was on Tuesday 28/1 that I saw this spectacle, and left a note pointing out the aforementioned mistakes. The next day, 29/1, I came back after class to see if there was any change. Indeed there was- the change was that the note I'd left disappeared, everything else remained the same. I thus talked to a person working there and was told that the manager was absent. I left another note, this time not stating clearly what the errors were, only my name and phone number and that there were a few things to discuss concerning the "Chinese New Year" thing.
On Thursday I had no class and stayed home, waiting for the call. In vain.
On Friday, 31/1, as nobody called, I came back to check. Everything, I repeat, everything, remained the same. The manager was there, however, and even though she was busy, I asked for 5 minutes and was accepted.
Now guess what she said.
Concerning the flags, she enlightened me that they were decorations for something else- the week was supposed to be Asian week. Right. Except that there were only flags of only 5 countries. Except that placed beside the flags was the line "the year of the dragon". Except that I didn't see the phrase "Asian week", only "Chinese New Year".
Concerning other things, she "didn't think it would offend anyone". The year of the dragon was... last year? Or the year before? She was uncertain and apparently didn't give it much thought. Why should she? "And this is the year of the... horse?" Rise at the end of the sentence. A question. Uncertainty. Yet whether or not certain, she had known or been told that it's the year of the horse, but she kept the line "the year of the dragon" anyway. Because she thought it's "nice", she said. Because "it's better than nothing", she said. Because the decorations came in a box from the office and she "didn't think it would offend anyone". Right. She added, all of them would be taken down after 31/1 anyway.
The whole time talking to her, I was under the impression that everything I said was seen as trivial and unimportant and that she didn't care very much and only wanted me to go so that she could turn back to what she was doing. Trying to say everything in 5 minutes whilst seeing that look on her face, I forgot to say that the hat worn by the people working at the cafeteria was problem no.4. The hat has absolutely nothing to do with Lunar New Year, nor other East and Southeast Asian countries; and to be the best of my knowledge, is not even a traditional hat in China and can only be seen in Chinese-speaking costume dramas.
How do you think I, as well as other East and Southeast Asian students, feel? 
That same day I came to the office that organised the event, SiO mat og drikke i Frederikke building, only to find that the manager of the place wasn't there. So on Monday 3/2 I came back and talked to him. There's no need to specify what I said and what he said, except that the week was meant to be a celebration of the New Year, not an Asian week as said by the woman, and the ones responsible were from different groups, different departments, who then sent the kits to Frederikke and Eilert Sundts hus. Generally I felt better after the conversation, as he listened attentively and apologised and promised he'd make sure it wouldn't happen again, adding that he understood, as an Irishman who had lived many years in the US before moving to Norway, that national identity's important.
In short, because of this man I will not make the matter bigger and more serious, as intended, but it should be written anyway, and published here- I must react since apparently no one else does, according to the 2 managers, and sometimes your careless way of speaking about something of another culture, another group of people may be very insulting, what you see as trivial may matter a great deal to someone else.


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