Categories
Japan: Living Journal Musings

Ridiculous!

My Picture 1

It can’t all be serious! I think I’ve been sounding more or less like a brooding trogolodyte these last few weeks, as if all I do is walk around with a personal cloud raining on my head. Well, you can rest assured that I haven’t died quite yet. As evidenced by this interaction with my new computer, there are moments in my threadbare office when even I can loosen the bolts a bit and come undone. Hope this doesn’t make all of you lose faith in my sanity!

My Picture 2

What to do? This place has gotten me all twisted out of shape. At times I don’t know what is up or down and I have doubts about my own ability to show some backbone…

My Picture 3

Never fear! Everything that you thought was important, is not. Everything you held most dear, an illusion. You can laugh it all off and never lack for material…

My Picture 4

But, of course, it is then so easy to let it all go to your head, that indifference and pooling of outdated trivia…

My Picture 5

All my life I struggled with what it means to be a truly good person. And the closer I try to come to the ideal, the more the mirror reflects what looks like… a gnome?

My Picture 6

I seem to be a dichotomy, shoulder to shoulder with my own headaches… What’s that? You want me to pop the blackhead on the end of my nose? Sometimes I just don’t appreciate being frank with myself…

My Picture 8

Take a deep breath, close your eyes, and just be yourself. No need for exaggeration. Even if all the color drains from your eyes.

My Picture 7

Okay, I give up. I’d rather close my eyes and float away on daydreams than shoulder the burden of embarressment. Oh? I guess it’s true what they say… the best writing comes when you skip the “I’s” and settle for the “he’s” and “she’s” and “they’s”. Why focus on yourself?

Categories
Journal Musings People

White Flags

With Chris Clarke’s call for an ongoing discussion about racism in Blog Against Racism Day my ears have pricked up and heard the buzz of blogs around me again, and I made the rounds of old, familiar blogs, and in the process tripping over some new ones. There certainly has been a lot to say by lot of people. Some of it quite moving.

My first reaction, as a person of very mixed heritage, was that the idea of setting aside one day to honor sentiments against racism seemed cavalier and irresponsible. After all, how can something that follows you everywhere from the moment of your birth, poisoning so much of what you touch, excluding you from a complete and fair experience of the society that you happen to inhabit, be vilified within an afternoon’s blithe hat-tipping? It just seemed illusory. Guilt-ridden without action. Pedantic by so many who I presumed never experienced the fruits of racism.

I decided to give the topic time to ferment, while reading more entries and letting the thoughts I read mix with my own experiences and conclusions. Bigotry comes in so many forms, much of it solidified into stereotypes based purely on presumptions of one’s skin color or cultural bent or sex. “Whites are racist.” “Muslims are all devoutly religious.” “Blacks understand discrimination.” “Asians study and work hard.” “Americans are arrogant.” “Jews don’t commit genocide.” “Native Americans have done no wrong to the European settlers.” “Women respect life and would never start wars.” Everywhere you look, in everyday life, in each individual you meet, you see the kernels of disagreement, misunderstanding, dislike, and ill will. Who’s to say that racism would not grow among any group of people, given the right conditions? At what point is an individual capable of distinguishing their own righteousness from the confusion of all others’ wrongs?

In my own life, living between the self-battering anguish of my Filipino/ American Black side and the self-searching, confused outlook of my German background, all I have been certain of is that people in my family have continually surprised me. I discovered that my German grandparents risked their lives during the Second World War attempting to protect a Jewish family, all of whom were eventually captured and sent away. My paternal grandfather, a Filipino who left the close-knit community of his childhood in the Philippines, wandered halfway around the world to South Carolina, there to marry a black woman, a woman who would never be accepted back in the Philippines. Another Filipino-American side of the family vehemently supported Bush’s attack on Iraq. My Brazilian-of-Japanese-descent wife resents people assuming that she can dance. Even in myself, in spite of my pride in my tolerance of all people and cultures, recently find flares of resentment and impatience with Japanese, especially on the trains where the worst of people’s ugliness comes out while crushed up against a train door. The other night a businessman, disliking being forced to share shoulders with foreigner, shoved me away and snarled, “Fuck you!” at me in English. I stumbled out of the train at the next stop, dazed, and soon after finding myself silently cursing at all the Japanese around me for this feeling of being knocked out of kilter. I know very well that few Japanese harbor any real resentment against non-Japanese, but the feelings bubbled out of me nonetheless.

The only way I can see overcoming racism is to forget identifying with any group and consider each individual you meet on their own merits. It is the very act of setting parameters by declaring “We…(fill in a racial group, cultural group, nationality, sex…)” that creates the breeding grounds for exclusion. Those who are passionate about rending the walls often differentiate the discrimination into neat categories: racism, sexism, ageism, nationalism, fanaticism… But aren’t they all one and the same? People finding things to refuse or disrespect in others?

In the end it all comes down to me living within my own skin. I’ve lived in enough different places and cultures to realize that the tides wash both ways, that what you thought of as set in stone here, has been forgotten elsewhere. And that people will always surprise you.

When I studied at the University of Oregon I lived in an apartment a mile or so outside the campus. The apartment faced a tiny, intimate alley that didn’t admit cars and that set the houses and apartments close enough that many of the residents greeted each other on a daily basis. One day a woman moved into the empty cottage across the street from my apartment. She was stunningly beautiful, blonde, and white. From the first day she waved at me and shouted out a bright, guileless “Hello!”. I often sat out on my deck and leaned over the railing, conversing with her as she sat on her doorsteps. We learned quite a lot about one another, confessing details of our lives that normally we would not have shared outside the societies we both hailed from. I learned that she had been a model for Playboy and that her father was a millionaire. She eschewed sorority life, but spent a lot of time hanging out with men and women from the Greek world, something that I had never once been invited to, and which seemed to me a surreal form of hedonism catering almost solely to whites. She learned about my growing up in Japan and my father in the United Nations. And about my elementary school days at a school in Harlem and my activities in the Asian-American club in which members barred whites from participating in events (an attitude that eventually made me quit the club). These bits of information didn’t come between us and our friendship grew, to the point where I began to fall in love with her.

But I noticed that all her boyfriends were white, well-off, and straight from the cover of GQ. My whole experience of wealthy white women, dating from my high school years in a school of amabassadors’ children, consisted of exclusions from conversations, being beaten up by older brothers outraged at my temerity at even thinking that their sisters might have an interest in me, condescension by the girls themselves in the form of coquettish dismissals, as if I couldn’t understand where my place was, “the skinny Indian”, as one French girl, the darling of the class, dubbed me during a chemistry class one afternoon. So though I fell in love with the woman across the street, I kept it to myself. My perception of her was reinforced by her never once attempting to come up to my deck and sit with me. I just assumed that she would make friendly talk with me, but always at a distance. Several times she invited me to have dinner with her in her cottage, but I always declined, citing the need to spend time at my architecture studio. When she started dating this athletic, he-has-everything man I backed into the woodwork of my apartment, leaving her to be with a man who most likely wouldn’t give me a second glance.

Then in the middle of the night my phone rang. It was the woman from across the street.

“Miguel, can you come over? Please?” Her voice was shaking.

“What’s wrong? Are you okay?”

There was a sob and then a thin wail, “Oh, please… Miguel. Please…”

“Okay, I’ll be right over.”

I threw on a jacket and ran across the alley to her door. No lights were on. I knocked. No answer. So I pushed the door open and peered inside. She was curled up in a ball on her couch, wrapped in a blanket. She lifted her head and turned to look at me. Her face was streaked with tears. There were clothes all over the floor.

I rushed to the side of the couch and kneeled beside her.

“God, are you all right?” I asked in whisper. I dared not touch her.

She broke down sobbing again and after some time I tentatively reached out a hand to touch her shoulder. I rested it there, feeling her body shudder. She cried for a long time. Then, “He… he…”

I shook my head. “It’s okay… Don’t speak. Just let it out for the moment…” She cried again for a long time. When she seemed a bit calmer, I asked, “Would you like me to call your father?” Her mother was no longer alive.

She shook her head, her eyes wide with alarm.

“Okay. Then we’ll just sit here like this for now. How about I make you some tea?”

She nodded.

“Okay.” So I got up and put some water on to boil. When the water was ready I made two cups and brought them over to my friend. I handed her cup to her, sat down beside the couch, and together we sat in the darkness, not saying a word. We sat like this until dawn, when the curtains began to glow with the first light.

And all the while my mind shifted between the strange numbness of realizing that this white woman had all along accepted me for who I was, and the odd peacefulness of being handed her vulnerability and trusted with it. I had been carrying around a racism all my own, blinding myself to the genuineness of her smile, and allowing stereotypes built up over past wrongs to shape her in my mind. I’m not sure if her acceptance of me was without exclusion, but perhaps it was the very fact that I did not live inside the sphere of her white world that she found safety with me at that moment. My visage differed from the familiar faces of the men she knew. She had trusted me enough to allow those quiet dawn hours, before the telephones rang and the officials came asking questions.

To blog against racism. Perhaps it is the very act of sitting and thinking about what you are writing and attempting to make some sense of it that points to the value of the exercise. You come away with the feeling that the mote in your eye has splintered and dispersed. Upload the act and it is like the smoke of incense at a temple: the gods will surely hear your confession.

Categories
Art of Living Journal Musings Self-Reflection

Adapting the Fire

Everyone’s comments have made me think a lot about my own attitude, and how my own attitude probably helps in shaping my misery. Though my love for nature is genuine, and I do need to find the kind of natural environment that brings me close to a sense of balance within myself and the surrounding environment, I also knew what kind of environment I was getting myself into when I moved here (though this place is exceptionally unfriendly and developing way too fast, with little thought given to the quality of the neighborhood. My last apartment may have been too small, but, even in the heart of Tokyo, it was quiet and the neighbors were so friendly that we had parties together and took care of each other’s children and pets). Aki’s comment particularly rang true with her insistence that it is how you choose to view a situation that in the end determines how that situation affects you and the people around you. Her example of Nelson Mandela was powerful. Here was a man who had been locked up and abused for years, and still he managed to get out of it with hope and grace and respectability. Instead of nurturing hate and revenge, he insisted upon fairness and understanding and thus managed to end a state of affairs that was intolerable for the black people of South Africa. And to relinquish power, too! What a generous and wise spirit!

I further read some thoughts by Robert Bateman, perhaps my favorite wildlife artist, in which he speaks of the need for people to learn, as he did in Europe, how to live within one’s circumstances. While I don’t intend to start another diatribe against America, I do think that the expansionist, pioneer attitude of Americans today is inappropriate in a world so overcrowded, and that it is this attitude, in great part, which has contributed to the intolerance that began the Iraq war.

I have to look at my own development, too, when I speak of “nature” and our relationship to it. Before I left Japan after high school, to attend university in Oregon, I loved Japan and Tokyo so much that I wanted to become Japanese. I saw no ugliness in the city and the crowds and jumbled development actually felt normal to me; it was the world I had grown up in. Upon arriving in Oregon everything felt odd and overgrown and frighteningly over-spacious. For more than a year I couldn’t get used to the empty streets and never bumping into people. The stretched out lawns in front of people’s houses, without walls, and the vast concrete wastelands of parking lots seemed a shocking exploitation of precious land. The gargantuan invisible wall of wilderness, where bears and cougars and men with guns roamed, was so alien and vast that for years I couldn’t wrap my mind around it and never dared venture too far into it without friends.

Living in Oregon for ten years, though, gradually eroded my conceptions of space and humanity. Concentrating on courses revolving around the environment and listening to passionate professors speak about the “loss” of this wilderness and the supplanting of old growth forests with human plantations, biased my ideas about what was a fair assessment of “nature”, and what an ideal human habitat might look like. The ideals were particularly American, home grown from a land of people used to great open spaces, abundant wealth, complacent in their expectations of land and standard of living. When I began studying architecture the mantras of relevance and respect for existing historical precedents meant thinking of buildings like an American, building with an American sense of size and personal comfort, ways of seeing the built world that were completely outside of my own experiences in Japan and Germany.

I returned to Japan carrying this new load of cultural baggage, my eyes newly attuned to a different wavelength of tolerance and expectation. Whereas Tokyo, before I left, had seemed beautiful in its details and the people finely accentuated for living within the environment that had shaped them, I now saw only seething crowds and a mess of unkempt buildings. And I hated it. Try as I might I couldn’t restore the old faith in things Japanese and join the people in delighting in the trivial trinkets that so plague the society today. Part of what I sought had been lost during the social shakedown of the Bubble Era and I was returning to a different world, but in large part it stemmed from my own changes. I had lost the Japan of my youth.

Perhaps this learning process comes in big steps that you take at certain junctions in your life. First was the pastoral wonder of the world in childhood, then the reinforcement of ideals to reach for in America, the plunging into reality in my post graduate period, an awakening to the enigma of arrival in my early middle years, and now, something new, a further step in awakening and change. It is an often painful struggle, like the writhing of a moth pupa when something dangerous touches it, but cleansing, too. Perhaps the step to be taken is not some harboring of resentment against the people around me, but to actively take part in transforming the world I inhabit, to embrace it and mark it with my own brand of charm and vision. Certainly sitting here fuming alone in front of the computer can’t spell an iota of influence upon the neighbors. But if I were to offer something to admire and like, something beautiful and open, with my heart ready to suffer the gauntlet, then perhaps my own spirit will emerge free. After all it is a pact with humanity that I seek, not nature. Nature is there of itself all the time; it is the vagaries of the human experiment that so troubles me.

Categories
Art of Living Journal Musings Self-Reflection

Unsheltered Sky

Magnolia Storm
Magnolia visible from my living room window in April, just before blooming, Tokyo, Japan 2004.

It’s been a month of losses. Losses in time, losses in money, losses in confidence, losses in trust, losses in sleep. And recently a great loss for my sense of balance within my own home: the small, deserted lot just outside my living room window, over which I would peacefully gaze every morning as part of my ritual of waking up and feeling at least a little connected to the natural world, was suddenly converted into a two-story apartment building. Within one day the only view of the sky that I have in my apartment was wiped clean of any further connection to the horizon. And a disconnection to the magnolia tree that I have been gazing at every day for the past four years.

Here is what has been taking place (along with daily pounding of hammers and screeching of saws) You can see the magnolia tree in the back, between the scaffolding:

 

 

 

New House Building

Now my home is completely surrounded by windows and walls. With the recently moved-in family on the other side of the apartment, complete with four screaming little kids (promptly waking me each morning at 5:30, effectively drowning out the birds, and continuing unabated all day until the first crickets begin to try their tentative chirps), and my wonderful college kid neighbors upstairs who love rearranging the furniture at three a.m., I feel as if the spirit of Tokyo has flooded my sanity with its hordes of restless crowds. This also being Japan, however, you are expected to grin and bear it, taking it all down to “shoganai” (It can’t be helped). But shoganai it ain’t, because my heart and soul remember much freer pastures and greener grass. Certainly I’ve never in my life felt this hemmed in before.

To make matters worse, the hotel project I was working on came to an end, finally, only to leave me with the news that I will only be getting paid about half of what was originally expected. Still not sure about the logistics behind this, but I suspect a disingenuous spirit on the part of my benefactors. It’s been, to say it mildly, a crappy sort of day. Now it looks like I have to put up my dukes and fight it out for proper compensation, though I have the sinking feeling that, as has happened five times before here in Japan, I will lose the round. If anything this experience has confirmed in me a great disillusionment with design work and any sort of foray into advertising and such. I knew it when I started this project, but like money always does, especially when you really need it, I listened to the clinking of coins.

House View Gone

I do have to say, though, that taking a run later in the evening, along the darkened proliferation of reeds and vines along the river, cleared my head quite a lot. Bats and toads and feral cats and a bellowing American bullfrog greeted me along the path, reminding me of the simple pleasure of moving and smelling the cut grass in the night air. And as I ran the knot of anxiety and feeling of being wronged evaporated. Perhaps it was a good thing that the project ended with a flop. After all, it was never what I wanted to do in the first place. So I finished the circuit around my neighborhood and slowly came to a stroll. A gibbous moon hung pregnant in the sky.

Is it just me, or does everyone feel a primordial need to live close to the seasons and to the breathing of the Earth? Does everyone else also feel an almost unutterable ache somewhere in the interior when it seems as if your life is disconnected from the very source of its heartbeats? Why can I just not feel happy with this citified world that has heaved up around me? Why do I constantly, every single blinking moment of the day, and on a deeper, soundless level at night, feel that my life is unbalanced and shallow and hungry? And yet I can sense the source of satisfaction and joy somewhere around the corner. If only I wasn’t so groggy and full of fog. If only there was just me and the open door, all the stuff released behind me.

Categories
America: Society Iraq War Journal Musings Society

Smoldering

Ice Dipping
Ballet of ice at the tips of branches dipping in Jamaica Pond, Jamaica Plains, Massachusetts, 1989.

I’ve been trying to come to grips with the maelstrom of thoughts and emotions concerning the United States, especially these last two and a half years. Susan of A Line Cast asked me, in a comment, what I thought of the effects of America:

“Funny how when we try hardest to justify and protect our way of life, and extend it to others, we create the most animosity in others. A recipe for further terrorism if you ask me.
It also strikes me as interesting that we don’t see any real need to be truthful in our portrayal of other cultures or even our own. I remember traveling to Asia a little over 10 years ago when it became apparent that what the US had most successfully exported was the television show “Dallas.”
I commented in my blog last night about a conversation with an ex-serviceman about how the only crime he saw in Japan during his stay was that which his fellow US troops had committed. I wonder what your impressions have been over the years about the ongoing export of “westernization” (in reality americanization” and if you think it destructive there?”

It’s taken me several days to digest her question and to delve into my feelings and thoughts. There is simply too much there, from too many years, a lot of it now stretching into numbness and deep, deep anger and distrust. The feeling is like the nervous suffocation that you feel when you are standing on the block the moment before the gun goes off for a swimming race, skin exposed to the cold air of the swimming pool hall, all eyes on you, the anticipation of water inhibiting your movement big enough to incur a kind of anxious frustration. In a place like this blog, where the vast majority of readers are American and the whole discussion is weighted in favor of what Americans might find distasteful or appropriate, rather than there being a worldwide dialogue so that all the unseen reactions to America can be fully aired, you risk quite a lot of backlash for opening your mouth about something that Americans are so sensitive about. And yet it is America that is disrupting the balance of the entire world right now, no one else. It is America that is fanning the fury that so many people around the world feel.

Just how do you deal with this huge debt of outrage, and still remain a fair and compassionate human being? Why must I carry this sense of outrage in the first place, or feel that I must somehow apologize to Americans for not being one of them?

This whole week fighter plane after fighter plane has been booming by over my apartment, in constant reminder of what the United States is asking the world to do and to submit to. I sit under my roof, staring up at the ceiling, cringing in the roar of sound, and feeling, well, what the hell can I do? And yet I must put up with this, because that is what the Americans want. I, not being American, have no say in the matter. I certainly have no say in whether or not Bush should be allowed to dictate to all the rest of us what we can and can’t do. As so many irate American e-mailers have enjoyed reminding me, “If you don’t like it here, get the *___* out!”, not stopping to think, of course, that I don’t live in the States any more and actually left it for many of the reasons that I list below.

I admit that my anger towards the States began long before its first reaction to the New York tragedy, in fact way back in high school when I had to endure the bullying that the American (and Australian) kids inflicted on everyone else in my school. All my life I’ve been watching Americans play this thespian mask game, one moment the comedian and do-gooder on the block, the next moment the tragic victim and raging machine gun wielder. My twenty years of living in the States brought me in contact with segregation in schools; with police throwing me up against police cars because I looked like a Mexican; with being asked to pigeon hole my identity by being given a series of boxes to check off in government surveys: 1) White/ Caucasian 2) Black. African-American 3) Oriental 4) Latino 5) Pacific Islander 6) Other… Please explain ______; with hundreds of movies in which the Arabs or Latinos or Germans or blacks are always evil, while white, American men are always hulking, innocent, wronged-but-I-single-handedly-will-wreak-my-revenge-on-a-whole-army heroes; with the devastation and despair of such places as the Bronx, which literally looked like a bombed out war zone, or the Douglas Fir clear cutting in Oregon; with professors in school telling me that my desire to study ancient Asian architecture for my graduation thesis was a waste of time because Asian architecture didn’t contribute anything of note to the development of world architecture, or a group of research doctors at the New England Cancer Research Center where I worked part time as a glass washer, during one lunch period when I sat with them discussing new directions in medical research, staring at me as if I had committed an error in the ways of propriety by daring to open my mouth and suggesting that they take a look at Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for some new ideas; with the loud-mouth ways of so many Americans who step into MacDonald’s here in Tokyo (heaven forbid that they would try the local food!) and literally shout at the girls behind the counter for not understanding English, or English teachers who whisper to me under their breaths about how ignorant and stupid they think Japanese are, and expecting to find a comrade in arms in me; with the dozens of books by people who lived in Japan for one year and propose, without speaking a word of Japanese, to “get” Japan now; with surprising number of American Jews calling me a “Jew-Killer” and “Mass Murderer” just because I happen to be part German, but who themselves have never experienced anything like the Second World War and wouldn’t stop for a second to ask what role my mother’s family played in the whole Nazi Germany mess (my family was pacifist, my grandfather refused to bear a weapon and became a medic in the national army… as distinct from the Nazi army…, and they harbored a Jewish family in their attic through most of the war until most of the family was discovered and sent off to the camps); with the almost chest-poundingly proud way of so many “patriots” who unapologetically condone the use of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but vehemently deny that it is anything like terrorism; with one of my closest friends in college, a Viet Nam vet, going through the whole Agent Orange thing, and another friend, a Vietnamese room mate who felt so lonely in America that he almost committed suicide; with some fruitcake sticking a pistol in my face while I worked the night shift at a hotel gift shop in Boston and snarling at me, “Get the *___* out of this country, you *—* Ayrab!”; with… with…with…

So much. I couldn’t possibly put it all into words here. So yes, I am angry. It’s like this enormous duffel bag of injustices and bad attitude toward the rest of the world that has been shoved at me and the perpetrator taking off into the dark. I am left with more weight than I can carry alone. And yet alone I have been forced to carry it. What American is going to truly listen or care? Or truly comprehend? I am told I complain too much. That everyone has a difficult life. And yet what other point of view can I validate, but my own?

There are, of course, a lot of wonderful experiences and growth that America gave me, and most of the time I concern myself with the small things in my life that have only to do with every day living, but that is not the point of this post right now, is it?

My father and I had a conversation on the phone yesterday, a long one, in which we both tried hard to make a fair assessment about why we are both so angry about the States. And to our surprise it was not what America had done or what they lied about that incited the anger, so much as the attitude behind so much of American thought and life. Americans seem to live in a state of perpetual existential discontent. Nothing is ever good enough. Nothing can differ from what they conceive as the “right” way to do things or think things.

Americans have the answers and business rights to everything (America threatened economic sanctions against the Asian cooperative economic group ASEAN when many countries balked at the United States demanding to join the group). They feel they can bash into anyone else’s garden and demand tribute, but take great offense when anyone else attempts to gatecrash their parties.

And the populace seems to argue and get angry about everything! Look at the movies and television shows… every other minute it is someone losing their temper and shouting at another person.

Look at the amount of suing gong on! Once, while living in Newton, in Massachusetts, after my roommates had spent days disturbing the neighbors with drunken horseplay, I proposed that we go around apologizing to everyone… one of my room mates, a lawyer, looked horror stricken at me, and announced, “Miguel, you’re living in the States. You can’t just go around apologizing to people! They will take that as admission of guilt and sue you!”

Look at such supposedly little things as the covers of video games… there was a game called “Spyro the Dragon”, in which a little dragon goes about trying to save his friends. The Japanese cover showed a cute little dragon, smiling and flying about with his friends (basically exactly what the game was about), but the American cover showed this fire breathing monster, destroying a village and looking mean as a devil… an interview with the American distributors revealed that without the mean-looking cover the game would never sell in America.

Or look at the sarcastic and often militaristic anger of women towards men in the States… (or the childish reaction of men towards the issues the women are trying to talk about) While I understand and support the need for men to change toward women and that women need more representation and opportunities, but even women know that disparaging another person, being sarcastic with them, or ridiculing them, in private or in public, rarely gets the other person to see things your way or gets them sympathetic. When I watch these popular talk shows on TV, such as Oprah Winfrey, or these movies where it seems every single time some woman has to make the point about how deceitful men are or how stupid men are or how socially superior women are or how much more nurturing and emotionally mature women are, well, it just turns me cold. Things are much more grey and unclear in the real world.

It seems there is no attempt to find a center point, to reconcile. It’s just, “You are wrong. You are evil. You this, you that.” Almost never, “I have a lot to learn. I have a lot of faults and habits I must work on. I need to see things more clearly and from a more balanced point of view.”

This kind of attitude is every where in the States. It’s what must, in part, lie behind the high school shootings or this insane “Homeland Security” nonsense. It most certainly is what lies behind the Iraq War. I have never felt this level of discontent anywhere I’ve been in the world (note: I haven’t been everywhere). While Japan has a lot of problems of its own, there is one thing I love about this country: there is at least an attempt to find peace and balance first, before throwing a tantrum or finding fault with everyone.

It wouldn’t matter so much what the States felt or did, if it didn’t affect everyone else. The whole world is turning on America’s whim, though, and no one can nay say it, lest they risk attack or sanction. We have to have the Coca Cola, the CNN (international, no? But with 90% of the news about America, of course), the jeans, the barage of movies, the computers, the basket ball games, the Nike shoes, the hip hop music, the MacDonald’s, the secular life set, the Puritan work ethic, the plastic shampoo bottles, the War Against Terror (“Against us?” we all ask ourselves here outside the States), the war planes screaming overhead. While I like a lot of these things and have found my own cultural uses for them, at the same time it feels like hegemony. What if I don’t want a secular government? What if I want to sing songs condemning the States? What if I want to wear a sarong rather than a business suit? What if, if I go by America’s dogma of “freedom”, I don’t particularly find the States a bastion of all that I want to be or want the world to be? What if I don’t think the States is a particularly good role model?

Arundhati Roy, the author of “The God of Small Things”, puts it much more eloquently than I: Do Turkeys Enjoy Thanksgiving?.

My wish is that the world work toward peace, not war. That we all talk as equals, not as master and servant. That we put aside our anger and try to understand each other. That we work for the common good of all, not just a privileged few. We don’t need some far-fangled project of settling on Mars; we need to figure out how to live together here on Earth, now. Not tomorrow.