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.

Frustrations Alight

So it’s been almost two months since I first arrived in London. It’s been busy. And frustrating.

It’s strange being a foreigner in a land where things seem so similar to your own homeland. I thought it would be easier to move here. In Japan, it was understandable to encounter different ways of doing things. Everything was different there. That’s not to say I didn’t expect London to be different–I did. But I suppose that something about suddenly being able to read the signs and communicate with people messed with my impressions of the place. “How hard could it be?” I thought.

But I found there were things I took for granted in both the US and Japan that really annoyed me here in the UK. For example, pedestrians do not have the right of way and in some places, you have to pay anywhere from 50p to 3 quid to use a “public” toilet. I guess I was under the impression that going to the toilet was a basic human right, not a privilege. Using the underground on weekends is a nightmare due to the fact that London is trying to upgrade everything for the 2012 Olympics. But they do all their planned engineering on weekends? They should be doing it at night, like the Japanese do. But what do I know? I’m not a civil engineer. I’ll just have to put up with tube disruptions every weekend until 2012. And I’m not exaggerating.

Frustrations aside, I’ve had some good experiences here. I like that debit cards have a chip in them instead of a swipe bar. I like the variety of beer and Thai and Indian food you can get here. I really like the friends I’ve made, although most of them aren’t even British. I like the grocery stores and all the different ingredients I could buy should I ever want to make that crazy European recipe I couldn’t make in the US.

I’m trying really hard to get around my frustrations because I seem to be the only one around here who has them. And I’ve already offended a Brit by complaining. It wasn’t my intention to offend, but I needed to vent and getting it thrown right back at me was a bit of a wake-up call. Things aren’t so bad. Things could always get worse. I realise this. I need to toughen up again. I was a lot tougher back when I was living in New York. San Diego calmed me down, but I felt stuck. Then I got lost in San Francisco. Found myself in San Diego but got stuck again. Then really opened up in Japan. But I think I softened up a lot there. Everyone is so nice and passive. London is the opposite. People don’t care here. You’re on your own.

I’m not sure I can be as tough and cutthroat as I was in New York. I’m not quite as crazy as I used to be. But something will have to change. I wonder what London will turn me into….

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.