Celebrating Higher Numbers

As the numbers get higher, the words come more slowly.

I don’t know if that’s because I have to reach farther back into memory, or because the celebratory moments are less obvious.

Whatever the reason, I am determined to make it to 45, so here we go . . .

27. In high school I played flute and bassoon.

28. I sang in my synagogue choir when I was young. I took voice lessons as my first challenge to myself after I got my doctorate. I’d really like to join a woman’s a cappella group if I can ever get the courage.

29. When I went on a vacation trip to Bali/Hong Kong, I spoke in Japanese almost the entire time. I was travelling with a Japanese friend of mine, and she wanted to do the tour thing. Our tour guide in Bali didn’t speak much English, so Japanese it was (luckily on that part it was the two of us and the adorable guide). When we got to Hong Kong, and our tour grew to 30+ Japanese and myself, I spoke English at first until my friend let it slip that I could speak Japanese. That was when I knew I had a handle of the language . . . wish I remembered more than just a few phrases now.

30. Once upon a time I had a dream of being an actress. I never pursued that dream because I let fear and doubt get in my way. However, I do occasionally make appearances on the stage. My most memorable role in the early days was, perhaps, was an ancient Japanese woman in Teahouse of the August Moon, when I got to act as a goat. As an adult, I played the Nurse from Romeo and Juliet in a bizarre little summer Shakespeare show that took scenes from several plays. The nurse is lots of fun.Tea House of the August Moon

I just got an idea for the next one, which may take an entire post o fits own. Stay tuned . . .

 

Feeling Foreign Abroad and Feeling Foreign At “Home”

On and interesting post at Broadside called Feeling Foreign Caitlin asked at the end:

“Have you ever lived outside your native land? Did you enjoy it?

How has it changed you?”

I’ve thought about those questions a lot lately, because of my search for a place that I can call home. I cannot really call this new location home. I’ve found people here that fit my idea of home, but I still feel like a foreigner in this place.

Now, you may ask, how can you feel like a foreigner? It’s America, you are American.

Well, here’s the thing. I’ve had many wonderful experiences in my life, including the opportunity to live in a variety of places. My first big move was to Okayama, Japan, where I ended up living for three years. I was a gaijin but I loved every minute of it. It wasn’t easy; sometimes it was difficult. And, when I chose to leave, it was time to leave. But, whenever I think about what place I want to call home, images of Japan pop into my head. I don’t think I want to live there, but there was something about my experience there that made it feel more like home to me than any place. Perhaps it was simply that I became a true, individual adult in that complicated country. I lived alone, I supported myself, and I learned to survive despite language and cultural barriers. I am not saying that every moment was perfect. Sometimes it was hard. Sometimes it was challenging. Sometimes the cultural differences seemed impossible to overcome. But somehow that country and that experience felt like finding home.

From Japan, I moved to Hawaii for graduate school. There I was haole and I have to say being haole was a lot more difficult than being gaijin. Perhaps it was because Hawaii is part of the United States, so I expected to feel like I belonged, but I didn’t. Sometimes I made more glaring errors there than I did in Japan. Sometimes I felt more alone. Even now, when we go back to visit Nathan’s family, I don’t feel completely comfortable. I love it there, but it never felt quite like home. Maybe if we actually moved there that would change, but I don’t know.

Between then and now I’ve lived in several other states. Some felt more home-like than others, but I still haven’t found home. And now, after moving to Kansas, I again feel more foreign than I should. Why? Well, I am a liberal person in a sea of conservatives. I am a Jew in an ocean of Christians. I am “different” in ways that I can’t quite explain.

Now don’t get me wrong, the people here are warm and wonderful, it is all the way I feel. I feel foreign. For some reason, I feel more foreign than I have before, and I don’t know how to guide myself through it. When I was in Japan, my errors were often seen as “cute”, because they were made by someone making an honest effort to be respectful of the culture. Somehow that doesn’t work here. Of course I respect the differences between me and other people, but I can’t just pass off disagreements as my not understanding the culture. Because the culture is not that foreign, but in some ways it is.

Is it possible then, that “feeling foreign” is a state of mind?

“Playful Kiss”

 

WED/THURS - MBC - PLAYFUL KISS  장난스런 키스 (2010)

Image by dramatomy.com via Flickr

 

The other day as I was browsing through Hulu I stumbled on the Korean show Playful Kiss and I got hooked. I found it to be a sweet, fun, quirky romantic comedy about a less-than-smart high school girl (Oh Ha Ni) who has feelings for a genius boy (Baek Seung Jo) who thinks he is superior and shows it.An earthquake destroys Oh Ha Ni’s home and she and her father move into Baek Seung Jo’s home (because the two fathers were close as children).  The show, based on a Japanese manga, reveals those roots (at least in the first 2 episodes) with some moments of pure fantasy.

After watching episodes 3 and 4 last night, I thought about the cultural differences that are reflected in the show. Doing research this morning, I recognized those differences are even greater than I thought. Insight into what others are thinking really made me see that we all perceive things differently. In those differences lies the complexity of our world.

I saw Playful Kiss as a comedy. I’ve even experienced the ever so rare laugh-out-loud moments watching this show. BUT, it is billed as a drama (and I believe that is how it was billed in Korea). If it is a drama, then some of the objections to the show might be legit, but if it is a comedy it looks at the world through quirky rose-colored glasses.

Some of the complaints I read this morning surrounded the idea that the 4th episode showed the Oh Ha Ni as drunk, and because Baek Seong Jo made a sexist (or harassing) comment about her small breasts. This is where culture comes to play. Yes, she was drinking, but under the supervision of the adults. They were celebrating her grades and offered her one drink which, of course, went straight to her head. Now, I’m not saying that parents should hand drinks to all there children. But, how often have American audiences watched as the parent figure on-screen (and in real life) turned a blind eye as their  perfect child throws a wild party that included enough alcohol to poison half the town?

As for the comment about small breasts, it seemed natural given the circumstances (Baek Seong Jo was carrying the drunk girl home by piggy back) especially as girls at that age worry about breasts and boys are fascinated by them. What I found more interesting (and reflective of culture) were the clear expectations that females should clean up and take care of males. Evidence of this appears throughout the show. Of course I notice these things, as I still reflect on remnant sexism that exists in American culture today, but I recognize it for what it is–different cultural values.

I think the show is interesting for the contrast it makes to American values in that the hero is the smartest kid in school (in addition to being cute and talented in every way). Yes, he is wealthy as well, but he is the heart-throb at school because he scores 100% on every exam. Wouldn’t it be nice if that happened in American high school dramas more often?

It seems to me that, in this time of technology providing so much access to other cultures, we should really spend time evaluating the things that make us different as well as the things that make us human. Meanwhile, I’ll keep watching Playful Kiss and enjoying ever sweet moment.

On Dreaming in Japanese

Sign from Seattle's old Japanese-language libr...

Image via Wikipedia

When I lived in Japan, I started dreaming in Japanese. I believed that was the sign that I was finally becoming fluent. Years later, Japanese only pops into my head occasionally, and the phrases aren’t very fluent. Last night, I found myself in the top floor of an old library.  While there were comfy chairs to sit in, this place wasn’t one of these clear, bright, modern libraries that I go to now. This was more like the library of my childhood, that smelled like books and dust the minute you walked into the door.  I was with a few people, although I’m not sure who (my mother-in-law?) one of whom knew I spoke Japanese. The others were Japanese, and started testing me. They also kept handing me books. Books that creaked open and had cobwebs holding them together. Now, mind you that even when I was pretty fluent, I could only read about 1000 kanji (which is only about a fifth grade level I believe) so these library books would have been beyond my capabilities even then. But, out of respect for my insistent friends I struggled through reading and conversing in a language no longer comfortable for me.

What does this dream mean? It could simply be a reaction to the beginning of a long overdue e-mail conversation with one of my best friends in this world who still lives in Japan. Or, maybe it is my subconscious telling me to pull out the dusty books of educational desire and start embracing learning for learnings sake again. I didn’t study Japanese because I had to (there were plenty of gaijin who got through their time in Japan speaking as few phrases as possible). I did it because I love learning, I love language, and I love words. So, maybe my next step involves dusting off some old dreams and pursuing something new.  Suggestions, anyone?

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