Being American

**

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.

Men Who Explain Things

“Men explain things to me, still. And no man has ever apologized for explaining, wrongly, things that I know and they don’t. Not yet, but according to the actuarial tables, I may have another 40-something years to live, more or less, so it could happen. Though I’m not holding my breath.”

After reading that article, my good friend Jesse (likeaphoenixignition) wrote:

Really interesting article, but I take a little issue with where she takes it.

I think she’s probably right that this sort of authoritative talking-out-of-one’s-ass is a largely gendered behavior, which is to say that, broadly, it’s a Thing Men Do.

But she then leaps from there to the assumption that men only do this to women, which couldn’t be more wrong in my experience.

I certainly understand why she would interpret such behavior as paternalism. And there’s absolutely an assertion of power that’s inherent in this form of communication. But it’s not something that’s reserved for use towards women, not at all. At it’s basest, I suppose it’s how we guys vie for lead dog status amongst each other.

I guess the point is, we’re not trying to dominate women; we’re trying to dominate EVERYONE, indiscriminately.

If that’s better or worse, I’m not sure

…to which i have this to say:
I’m with you on this one, Jesse. She makes some good points and she definitely has her opinions which you can tell have been reinforced in her due to her life experiences… But you’re right about Men Explaining Things to not just women, but men too. It’s not so much about ‘keeping the woman down’ but more so just a man’s nature to feel he is an authority on some subject, regardless of who he is talking to. I don’t hold it against men (anymore) that they are this way.

At the same time, women in this day and age have a fierce tendency to self-righteously feel they are being subjugated or victimised, especially by men. And while sometimes we actually are being subjugated or victimised, it’s unfair to assume that all men treat us this way and only this way. Yeesh, I should write my own article on Women Who Disdain Men.

A short thought.

Are we really unique?

Well as Oscar Wilde once said, “Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.” Just to reinforce the point, the best I can give you is a quote from someone else. Even with looks and physical appearance factored in (hello doppelgängers), it’s true… each individual one of us isn’t really all that unique. But as depressing as that may sound to an American brought up on believing that everyone is supposed to be a special little snowflake, individualism isn’t the only or necessarily best way.

If, when you sit people-watching, you say you just think of all the countless people who you’ll never know, that’s okay. Maybe we’re not so unique on purpose. There’s no way to meet everyone in the world, so maybe we’re all a bit alike for that very reason.. the more you learn about people, the more you know people.

When it all comes down to it, though, what does it really matter how unique we are or aren’t? As long as we try to be good people and are happy with ourselves…

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….

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.

Our Life Track. (Part II)

(…continued from before)

Well I was going to continue my previous post with what consoling and self-inspiring thoughts I had come up with before publishing, but it seems that the friends who read Part I took care of that for me with their comments. So thank you all for the kind words.

I was, in fact, already thinking I was doing okay. More than okay, actually. As it turned out, the very day after I wrote Part I, I received an unconditional offer of placement at the school I applied to–I’m going to England!!! I’m still a bit stressed out with having a cough, having to file US taxes while abroad, and now having to apply for a visa to study in the UK as well as figure out how I’m going to pay for grad school. But that’s okay. I can make this work. If I could leave a fiancé and two low-pay, no-future part-time jobs to come to Japan where I would effectively become illiterate and find my career only to apply to graduate school in the UK and get in, then I can do anything. Right? I know that was a terribly written sentence–I run out of breath just reading it–but that’s what the last year has felt like for me.

My cinzano-drinking friend knows we’re doing well. “We’re ahead of the game,” she said to me. I agreed with the sincere, if a tad clichéd, statement. Then I thought about it and retracted my agreement. We’re ahead, for sure, but there is no game. We shouldn’t think of it in terms of a game that everyone is playing, because then we would only compare ourselves to all the other players, would we not? We’re ahead for ourselves. I am doing alright for myself.

If I had stayed in California and gotten married, my life would have stopped there. I am certain of it. It would have taken a total overhaul 20 years down the pike to get myself happy and inspired again. Don’t get me wrong. He was a good guy, but that’s not the life I was meant to live and I gradually knew that. Now, I am where I’m supposed to be: going somewhere. I got here by listening to my gut. It was my gut that told me to go to Japan, even though I was engaged. It was my gut that told me I’d found my profession. It was my gut that told me to go to school in the UK. Like I said, I only applied to one school: the one I wanted more than any other school. And I got it. So for now, all I can do is keep listening and keep going. When my gut tells me I’ve found the right job or the right person or the right location, I’ll know I can rely on that. It hasn’t failed me yet.

To those lost, confused, or uninspired, I say listen to your gut. Even if it’s not saying anything now, it will at some point. Just keep going and your gut will help you figure things out.

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.

Osaka Bang!

This is such an excellent example of what I like to call the study of people. Sure, you could say that’s sociology or anthropology, but I just think “the study of people” sounds much less academic and just more fun and appropriate when applied in small doses like this. Heheh.

Things about Japan that Surprise me

I guess that I expected a completely foreign world when I got to Japan. And, granted, I was right to expect things I’d never seen before. I can honestly say that my world has been turned upside down, coming here. For instance, they drive on the other side of the road here, and all the cars are SMALL. (Total opposite of America). There are no preservatives in the food here and they eat most everything raw. Even eggs. Also, everyone here smokes cigarettes, and it’s illegal to smoke outside. They prefer you smoke inside or in designated smoking areas so as to make sure you don’t leave any cigarette butts littered in the street. I wonder if the Japanese have ever heard of second-hand smoke. But what surprises me more than the differences I’ve found here are the similarities. For example..

Mayonnaise – I can’t even begin to tell you how much the Japanese love mayonnaise. It’s like an addiction. They put it on everything. Salads, pork, french fries, noodles… the list goes on.

Convenience Stores – 7-11, Circle K, Family Mart, Lawson, Sunkus, etc… These handy little marts are like the Starbucks of America. There’s one on EVERY corner. They are certainly convenient. You even pay your utilities bills at the convenience store.

Shopping – While I admit I knew the Japanese liked to shop, I don’t think I understood just how much they like to shop. Some of the big department stores in Nagoya or Sakae are like the 5th Avenue designer stores you would expect in New York. Or Monte Carlo. They have uniformed concierges and everything.

I was wandering through my neighborhood today (which I was told was all housing) when I came across a Seiyu. This giant building slightly resembled a tiny shopping mall and I figured it was public since it had a McDonald’s on the first floor. So I curiously ventured in to find what must have been the biggest grocery store I’ve ever seen, besides the Navy Commissary. I actually uttered the word “woah” under my breath. Plus, there were two more floors. On the second floor, I found a small photo studio with costume kimonos for the whole family to wear, bedding, furniture, household items, cookware, and fake plants (the real plants were on the first floor). I bought some wooden spoons to use in my “kitchen.” Then (dare I?) I went to the third floor where I found clothes, more bedding and household items, bicycles for sale, electronics, appliances, and toys. And for a Sunday in Japan where the economy is on the rocks, the place was hoppin’. Families, couples, little old ladies inspecting dishware like it was a fine red wine. You’d think this place was the local pub in an Irish village, but on a grander scale. As I walked around not only perusing the aisles but the customers as well, I felt for a small moment as if it was 1984 and I was back in America. The words “materialistic” and “yuppie” came to mind. For another small moment, I wondered if I should immediately leave, go home, and take a shower to rid myself of the commercialism.. but naaaaah.. I needed clothes, bedding, and groceries. So I stayed and enjoyed every minute of it. :)

I’m not sure if I’ll ever completely understand this strange land and its people, but I’m not sure I want to. I like the mystical, ‘time warp’ feeling I get while I’m here. For now, anyway….

Ah, Japan…

I’ve been here for little more than three weeks. I’m finally beginning to feel like I live here. I must admit, I didn’t really think about the fact that as soon as I got here, I’d basically be illiterate. Trying to get used to the kanji, hirigana, and katakana is a lot more difficult than I was expecting. I figured if I just memorized each katakana and hirigana symbol (and their sounds) then I’d be able to easily decode most Japanese words.

Yeah. No.

I spent an hour searching for just one symbol on the internet and in my books when I was trying to read the directions on a packet of “drano”-like powder I bought for my flooding bathroom. I gave up and just dumped the powder in the drain. It hasn’t worked.

While this can get very frustrating at times, I must commend the Japanese for being such fans of kawaii anime that they have cartoon directions on a large majority of their products. Also, everyone here is very polite and understanding of the fact that you probably will never master Japanese. So, they do their best to help you out whenever they see you have that pained/panicked look on your face while holding a plastic package of some kind. I’ve managed to get by in Japan just knowing the words for “please,” “thank you,” and “yes.” Nobody ever directly says “no” in Japan, so knowing the hand signals for “no” (crossing your arms like an ‘x’) and giving a simple smile works too. Maybe when I get enough money, I’ll buy one of those electronic devices that lets you draw the kanji and then it tells you what that symbol is. But in the meantime, I’m stuck with my books and the internet. Oh well.