Tuesday, 21 February 2012

The Asian Century and all that Jazz

I've had an overdose of this term since the beginning of 2012 (mostly in a good way). From my academic grant applications, to my formal and informal conversations with friends and colleagues, and even my leisurely viewings of Q&A on the ABC - it has been a hell of an inter-disciplinary discourse on the importance of Asia, and the decline of Europe. So far, so good.

On some occasions, the discussion wanders into perilous non-economic territory, and you begin to hear a degree of soft grumbling about the drop in the study of Asian languages in Australian schools. I distinctly recall a research scholar on a panel discussion show suggesting that we need to try and find a way of making Indonesian as cool as Japanese. Amen to that!

So it appears that we might begin to do something about Asian literacy. Perhaps a combination of institutional and grassroots endeavours is ideal. The higher education sector could lead the way, as indicated by a recent story in 'The Australian'. But the other side of the problem, as pointed out by  Jason Li in a remarkably cross-cultural keynote address, is being comfortable with Asia (and Asians) in Australia. In that respect, I believe, we have more pressing yet more easily addressable concerns. The framework of the multicultural talk-and-action in this country needs to shift from tolerance, co-existence and the occasional curry or yum-cha to much more engagement with each other's morphing communities (as opposed to stereotypes of frozen cultures).

Let me clarify my position on ethnic ghettoes by saying that all groups, white and non-white, seem prone to this phenomenon. In other words, there is no point getting into a blame game and, for instance, holding this or that international student group culpable. I have seen local initiatives work splendidly in forging inter-cultural links, and perhaps they need to stand up as models and show us the way. The Asian Century may sound like the grandest of narratives, but it needs to take off with the daily stuff.