Being American

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I’m pretty liberal about most things but this is something that actually concerns me. Seriously, what’s wrong with us? No one seems to care anymore about being American anymore. I mean, after Bush, I think a lot of Americans became disheartened, understandably–and we do have a pretty bad reputation as tourists outside the country. But why shouldn’t we stand when the flag goes by? You know, despite all our failures, and all our flaws, we’re a pretty amazing country. The things we have accomplished at such a young age… the colorfulness of each state.. we’ve got all types of people, land, cultures, foods, and we co-exist so well despite our differences.

When I left the US over 2 years ago, I was dying to get out and see the world. I was tired of all the problems we had in the US and I was almost embarrassed to tell anyone I met that I was American. But I’ve found that every country has its problems, and no one is perfect, whether you’re Japanese, English, German, French, Spanish, or whatever. Some countries (like Germany) don’t really fly the national flag because to them, patriotism is a reminder of past wars. Okay, I get it. But truthfully, it’s in the past. Who we are today is where we come from, but it’s also where we’re going. (The key word being ‘we’). We define what it means to be American, so being proud of your nationality shouldn’t be likened to fascism, nor should it be dismissed as unimportant. It doesn’t matter which country we come from. It’s who we are and that’s that. It’s just like being born with the body you have. Sure, some people decide to change their bodies through plastic surgery. You can change your nationality too. But if you aren’t willing to go that far, then you ought to be grateful for what you do have. You’ve gotta work with what you’ve got and be proud of it. Mind you, proud doesn’t necessarily mean pompous.

The point is this: Whether you like it or not, or whether you agree or not with anything I’ve said so far, we’re American and we’re damn good at being American. So why shouldn’t we be proud? Why shouldn’t we stand for our dear little flag when it goes by? It stands for us… the least we can do is stand for it too.

**I know this is an old photo, probably taken in the 70s or 80s, but it doesn’t make it any less true. People today still don’t stand for the flag.

Over time…

The following is a draft I wrote in November of 2009. I never posted it because I was planning on writing more.. and then I just never got around to it. This is as far as I got:

I am soon coming up on my six month mark of being in Japan. I’ve done a lot of things since I’ve been here: traveled across half the country, been in a major earthquake, been in a major typhoon, moved apartments, had a bike/car accident, ended my engagement, met someone else, broke up with them, got harassed by them, went to Disneyland, went to a hot spring, rode the bullet train, stayed in a capsule hotel, ate raw chicken (as sashimi), got my first gray hair… it’s been a whirlwind experience. Sometimes I get lost on trains and can’t get back on track–no pun intended–for at least another 2 hours. That can be extremely frustrating when you can’t read or speak the language. Sometimes I buy a pastry at the bakery thinking it would make a nice dessert and it turns out to be savory. Sometimes I buy a shirt that’s a size L and it turns out to be like a size S. These instances usually make me smirk a little because that’s the experience of a gaijin living in Japan. These are the things that will make me strut though life not letting the petty stuff bother me.

I just got my ticket yesterday to go back home to California and I’m looking forward to going home.

I’ve been in London for 10 months now. My time here is almost up (I leave in September). I felt so proud of myself for living in Japan and going through everything that I did. I’m still proud of it, but I have to say I haven’t exactly been “strutting” through life since then. Coming to England gave me a different type of culture shock I wasn’t expecting. I’ve already written about this in an earlier entry. It’s been about 6 months since my last entry and I’ve only come to find that I am becoming more and more set in my ways. The good news is that I mostly realize it. Stress has been building up with my coursework and when I do catch a break, I let loose completely. But now I am trying to find that happy balance between working and playing. I’m beginning to take my time with things. London, as with all major metropoli, is a fast-paced city. I’ve experienced this before. I am, as I was hoping I would before, toughening up. But I don’t necessarily like what I’ve toughened up into. So I’m stopping. Just because you live in a fast-paced city doesn’t mean you have to live a fast-paced life.

I’m currently working on my dissertation and, after that’s finished, I’m moving back to the United States. It’s time I came home. So, this blog probably won’t see another entry from me for a while. But when it does, we’ll see how I’ve changed again.

Speak Globish?

Is the English language getting stronger or falling apart?

I just read an interesting Newsweek article that one of my students brought to class for me. It’s about English becoming the lingua franca of the world and how it no longer belongs to England or America, but to the world at large. This new form of English is thus appropriately coined Globish.

See the article here: All the World Speaks Globish

I must admit–I have mixed feelings about this. I do think it’s wonderful that the world is finding a common means of communication. It’s part of why I’m teaching English in Japan. It’s not that I think everyone should speak English–not at all–but I do believe in the potential and opportunity to be gained by the world being able to communicate in one language. The fact that it’s English is convenient for me but I’m also apprehensive that mother tongues will be lost–especially the mother tongue that is English.

This article acknowledges that, “native speakers still cling fiercely to their mother tongues, as they should.” But, what of the English language? Already, English seems to be butchered and neglected by its own native speakers. It seems to me that unless one majors in some form of communication in college, be it Literature, Journalism, or so on, one will only have a meager grasp of grammar and a limited vocabulary. Having taught English as a second language for one year, I’ve realised how little I truly know about the language. The scary thing is that my studies and career revolve around knowing the English language through and through. Most Americans I know who never spent a lot of time studying the English language constantly make mistakes that I can only cringe at as though they were nails on a chalkboard. If I correct these persons, they look at me like I’m crazy and ask me why it even matters. The fact that anyone has to ask why grammar matters is just deplorable, if you ask me.

At the same time, I can say that having a serious lack of grammar is admissible if you’re still successfully communicating. There’s a point in my lesson everyday where my students have to practice a dialogue. First, they read it out loud, and then I have them do it again while standing and leaving the books on their desks. I want them to practice making eye contact and using intonation. Most of my students think this means they have to memorise the conversation before class but this is all wrong. I have to remind them that I don’t want them to remember every single word; I just want them to understand the situation and act it out. If that means they end up changing some words or using a different sentence altogether, so be it. The point is for them to communicate with each other in a natural way, using body language and intonation. They can use whatever words they know as long as they are communicating the right ideas and understanding each other.

It doesn’t take more than a semester of linguistics to know that language is a living thing and constantly changes. New words and phrases are invented all the time. Definitions get switched around from word to word as though they were pieces of furniture at a feng shui convention. I suppose I feel this is a necessary evil if we want to keep up with the changing world. Or perhaps it is just result of a changing world. But I still think it’s important that we hold on to the language whence our modern words came. There are histories and knowledge to be had from our predecessors’ parlance. We shouldn’t underestimate that.

The bottom line? Speaking Globish is a fine skill to have as long as we remember our mother tongue, English. Otherwise, I’m afraid we may lose one of the world’s most dynamic and wonderfully colourful languages.

Gaijin Geisha

Well… I just read an interesting article. Fiona Graham, from Australia, is the first foreigner geisha in the history of Japan. Being in Japan as a foreigner myself, I found this to be somewhat intriguing. I’m sure if I had read this article a year ago, I wouldn’t have understood exactly why she would put herself through the rigorous training and, I would think, potentially ostracizing position of trying to become a geisha. My first thought probably would have been, “Okay.. well, to each, their own.” But I’ve been in Japan for half a year now and I see the beauty of the Japanese as a distinctive and remarkable culture. I’m sure Sayuki (Graham’s geisha name), feels the same way a hundred fold since, after all, she’s lived in Japan for a good chunk of her life and is a doctor of anthropology as well.

Apparently, Sayuki’s original intent going into geisha training was to produce an academic and anthropological documentary. However, it seems now that she is happy being a geisha and intends to continue as one indefinitely. I say bravo! Good for her. She may not be paving the way for tons of gaikokujin females to enter the ranks of the elite geisha, but she is doing something amazing and she’s doing it her own way.

Ganbatte, Sayuki, and rock on!

<<>>

I was just informed that Fiona Graham was not the FIRST gaijin geisha, but rather, Liza Dalby was. That’s what I get for not researching thoroughly. Hah. Either way, whoever the first foreign geisha was, my opinion still stands. Good for you, ladies!

Settled In.

I am soon coming up on my six month mark of being in Japan. I’ve done a lot of things since I’ve been here: traveled across half the country, been in a major earthquake, been in a major typhoon, moved apartments, had a bike/car accident, ended my engagement, met someone else, broke up with them, got harassed by them, went to Tokyo Disneyland, went to a hot spring, rode the bullet train, stayed in a capsule hotel, ate raw chicken (as sashimi), got my first gray hair… it’s been a whirlwind experience. Sometimes I get lost on trains and can’t get back on track–no pun intended–for at least another 2 hours. That can be extremely frustrating when you can’t read or speak the language. Sometimes I buy a pastry at the bakery thinking it would make a nice dessert and it turns out to be savory. Sometimes I buy a shirt that’s a size L and it turns out to fit like a size S. These instances usually make me smirk a little because that’s the experience of a gaijin living in Japan. These are the things that will make me strut though life not letting the petty stuff bother me.

I just got my ticket yesterday to go back home to California and I’m looking forward to going home. I don’t necessarily feel homesick, per se, but I do welcome the opportunity to see my family (and what a great family it is), and maybe eat some real Mexican food. I also welcome the break from all things unfamiliar. Like driving on the other side of the road, or sleeping on an actual mattress as opposed to a futon. Baking something in an oven will be amazing because, quite frankly, who doesn’t like to bake cookies around the holidays? Most homes (apartments) in Japan don’t even have an oven. It will also be nice to fall into a pile of warm clothes that have just come out of the dryer. I don’t think anyone in Japan has a dryer. (I’m sure someone does, but that’s not the point). The thing is, home is home. It will always be that. I feel lucky as hell that I have a home too… I know some don’t. So I like to keep myself feeling lucky and grateful. I know a lot of people who love the town they grew up in and they’d never want to leave. Those people might say I’m ungrateful for wanting to leave my hometown. But I say leaving my hometown makes me even more grateful.

I’ve lived in three different cities around the world since leaving my hometown and now that I’m in a foreign country, I feel more at home than ever. I’m certainly not Japanese and in no way do I fit in around here. I was never really a Japan-o-phile but I always had an interest in the exotic and the world outside America, and Japan falls into those categories. It’s been a struggle to adjust to life here and there are a lot of things I wouldn’t be able to do without relying on someone who can speak Japanese and English. Strangely, though, I feel more independent and at home–with myself– than ever before. I do not feel that I have reached the pinnacle of self-discovery or self-realization by any means, but I do feel like I’m heading in the right direction. My future plans include living in one or two more foreign countries, possibly for an extended period of time. Depends on the country.

There is so much you can learn about yourself, your hometown, your home country just by learning about other people and their towns and their countries. My passion for communication and bridging the gaps between people and cultures has only been cemented by my experience living and working in Japan. As a teacher, I get to have some of the most amazing 50-minute conversations with my students. These stimulating talks are the mere tip of the cultural exchange iceberg. It’s times like these that make me want to stay in Japan another year. But I also feel the pull toward other countries. Like I said, I’m no Japan-o-phile. I find value in all kinds of cultures. The more experiences I can have, the better. There is so much I want to do, you have no idea. The best part about it all, though, is that I feel like there’s no rush. I certainly don’t feel as though I’m wasting any time, either. I’m going at exactly the pace I should be going.

I can only hope that others get to experience or have experienced what I’m experiencing now. I’m not talking about living and working in another country, specifically, but more the metaphysical and transcendental experience of realizing one’s own and the world’s potential. For me, it’s an overall satisfying experience. I wish I could share it with you, but this blog just won’t do it justice. I’ll still give it a shot, though.

Differences

The days are winding down (20 more to go) to Japan and I have yet to pack my clothes. Heh.

However, I am doing my homework on the culture and (a little bit of) history of the Japanese people. I was directed to a blog written by another former Foreign Teacher from the same company that I will be working for (I am leaving out names for everyone’s protection), and I must say, I was very disappointed. What he wrote about his experience with this company was supposed to be the “truth” about what it’s like to work for them. Apparently he and the company had some disagreements. What disappointed me wasn’t so much the company but, rather, what he had to say. His blog was very informative, and I certainly got some useful tips out of it. But I was completely unimpressed with him. He complained about certain aspects of the Japanese world of business and, quite frankly, he should have known better. What he was so upset about was the way the Japanese handled situations. He didn’t like that he could not argue with his manager about something at a business meeting. He felt like he was being stifled and that he was not allowed to be “productive” via speaking his mind. He was also very taken aback by what he saw as passive aggressiveness in the Japanese.

Now, I don’t have to go to Japan to know that the Japanese highly prize group solidarity, especially within the business world. Just look at the way Japanese businessmen dress. See any bright colors? See anybody trying to stand out or beat the system? I don’t.

This blogger claims that he went to Japan to explore it and learn about another culture and yet he was kept from doing so because he had to work all the time. There’s no such thing as a free lunch, buddy! But more than that, he cheated himself out of the Japanese cultural education because it was happening to him the entire time he was there! Alas, he was too busy imposing his American standards of behavior on everyone he worked with to open up his mind and broaden his horizons.

I’m glad I read the blog, really, because it is a reminder to me that when I go to this brand new Eastern world, I should let myself be open to and understanding of the differences I know I will encounter. I may be going to to Japan to teach English conversation, but I’m not there to change the Japanese into Americans. I’ll do what I can to help them understand Americans and our nuances. But I won’t judge them for it if it doesn’t come naturally to them. This is a learning experience on both sides and I am happy to help create this bridge of communication.

Land of the Rising Sun

Well, I have some very exciting news:

I am moving to Japan to teach English for a year!

I was recently accepted for a position in Okazaki (Central Japan, near Nagoya) and I leave this coming June.  I know that this will be an extremely enlightening and exciting adventure because, besides the fact that I have never been anywhere in Asia, this will be such an inspiration to my writing.  My whole experience there will be one based on language.  The challenges of learning a new language, teaching a language to a new people whose language I don’t understand, and immersing myself within their culture is going to be an invaluable opportunity for me!

I plan to use this experience to grow as a person, of course, but also to make my blog grow.  I think I’ll be able to write some pretty interesting things once I get to Japan.  At the moment, I’m going through some books I got about Japan, the Japanese language, and the Japanese people.  Because of their long history of isolation, they have been able to preserve some of their oldest traditions and remain very unique in culture.  Unlike Western Europe and the United States, both of which have common backgrounds and melded histories, Japan is a singular entity and I expect to receive some major culture shock.  :)

Hooray!