I never suspected that this trip would turn out to be a great surprise for other reasons as well. In Singapore of all places, 9,900 kilometres from my home town of Berlin, Germany, a great many people are asking themselves questions similar to my own: what does it mean to feel both Western and Asian at the same time? How do those different cultures fit together? And how do I explain the contradictions within me to others?
First, I spoke about this with the author Parag Khanna, whom I met the day after my arrival at a lunch held by the German Ambassador, Norbert Riedel. Khanna was born in India and grew up in Dubai and the USA. Most recently, he wrote a book about migration called 'Move'. In fluent German, he told me that he moved to Singapore nine years ago with his family because it is the 'capital of Asia'. Normally, it is possible to fly from here very quickly to Delhi, Shanghai or Hong Kong. However, he does not find Singapore to be typically Asian. On the contrary, he enjoys the multicultural environment: apart from the large Chinese community, there is also an Indian and a Malaysian one.
How do I explain the contradictions within me to others?
'Do you have a special relationship with the Indian community because you were born in India?' I asked him. Khanna shook his head. For him as a global intellectual, the particular attraction lies in not committing to one culture, but in overcoming one-sided categories. I could well understand that, because I, too, had often been annoyed when others asked me whether I called myself 'German or Vietnamese'. Sometimes I would answer, 'Neither nor,' and sometimes, 'Both.' For me, both answers amounted to the same thing: an identity which is fluid.