The Cartography of Thought: Introduction

I’m going to start a project that’s been at the back of my mind for some time now, gnawing at me incessantly as my time scrolling through Buzzfeed quizzes and magazine articles eventually leads me back to the inevitable research I have piling up concerning this topic. While the format I decide to share this information in may change, the subject matter will stay true to the title of this new series of instalments.

I’ll begin by saying that before anything else, I’m an avid learner at heart. I’m the type of person who becomes wildly obsessed with specific topics and will find myself going to great lengths to soak in every bit of information I can manage pertaining to the subject. I’ve spent hours researching the most seemingly mundane or random concepts just because I may have stumbled across something as elementary as a phrase that managed to catch my eye (a few off this list include: linguistic relativity in Arrival, the history of comics and the transition to manga in Japan, circular storytelling in Native American literature, the lie and conception of America’s superiority complex, the origin of cephalopods found in Asian erotica, and so on). Around a year or so ago, right when I was in the process of applying and interviewing for jobs abroad, I came across an article in The New Yorker that detailed the conception of truth in regards to arguing. In it, there was a line cataloging the history behind the principle of right vs. wrong in a disagreement, and how for most Westerners, there is no overt grey area when it comes arguing your believed truth. Needless to say, I was instantly compelled.

I researched for weeks about philosophy, history, agriculture, psychology, and societal structures in countries such as Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, France, Germany, and America. I wanted to understand why I viewed the world the way I did, and why someone from Hong Kong viewed the world the way they did.

Ultimately, when I decided that I was going to move to an Asian country (I was still debating at the time this research began between Japan, China, Taiwan, and South Korea), I immediately signed up for a course called Introduction to East Asian Cultures. I wanted to be forced to discuss foundational literature and poetry from different countries so I could begin to gain a better understanding of each culture. I prodded and poked until the cascade of information came funnelling through – my curiosity nagging me with the same question: How does our culture and environment influence how we process information?

Which leads me to now.

Now that I have moved to South Korea, I’m finding the cultural differences even more fascinating – not in the removed-scientist-does-experiments-and-laughs-in-the-corner kind of way, but I like to think I lean more towards student-seeking-insight on the culture she has the privilege of taking part in kind of way – even if I’m coming from an outsiders perspective.

Both my time volunteering in Busan and working at an international school has led me to stop and consider two central issues:

How do we even begin to understand others if we cannot take the time to learn about their history/language/culture?

If the rest of the world is forced to learn English and understand our culture, shouldn’t we grant other countries the same level of respect?

If there is one thing I would like to get out of all of this, it is not simply to gain understanding, it is to gain compassion for those whom I may not entirely agree with. While there will always be specific issues that I will never budge nor even consider changing my position on due to similar principles of morality and compassion (or perhaps because that is the Westerner in me), I want to be able to see through the eyes, through the history, through the literature, art, science, and environment, what may contribute to a person’s perception of their world and how they continuously process that overwhelming amount of information. Because at the end of the day that’s what all of us are doing: processing and conceptualising what constitutes our place in the world.


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