On the Way to Osaka

Just a few snapshots from a recent trip.

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The World Is Watching

img_20161111_182907880It’s been a weird few days.

I felt grief at first. For hoping that we could be better. For hoping that the disillusionment felt by the white working class wouldn’t outweigh a basic human gag reflex. That common sense would prevail, that decency would win.

What this does is prove some things I have always suspected.

I have previously done political work for black candidates. I have done hours of call time where one person will tell me we live in a post-racial America and “they” need to stop trying to play the race card, and the next caller will answer and call the candidate a n—- before hanging up on me. The part that nearly drove me insane is how the first person denies the existence of the second, bending over backward to continue living in a world where overt discrimination is somehow not a thing.

There has been this weird blind spot in America for the past few years, like we finally saw what we could be, and we thought we were there already. We’re not. We’ve got a long way to go. In some small way, it’s a relief to have it out in the open. My personal goal is to never normalize this.

Part of what makes this entire thing surreal to me is the act of watching it from across the world. The actual day of the election, my students kept asking questions. One teacher told her rowdy class (to my mortification and amusement) that they had to behave because “Molly-sensei is already stressed enough about America.” With her permission and the class’s great enthusiasm, I held a mock election- Clinton, overwhelmingly, won. One student voted for Trump, and, when asked, clarified that he thought we were voting on playing a card game.

To understand what it’s like to watch this from a world away, you have to understand what Japan sees: the protests, the scandals, the pussy grabbing, the wall. Like some in America, most Japanese viewed Trump’s candidacy as some kind of odd joke- I was asked to explain him more times than I can count. The day after, one of my teachers asked me, “why do white colored women vote Trump?” NHK reported that 39% of white women voted for Trump.

There are some Japan-specific reasons for Trump being unpopular here- among them, his support for Japanese nuclear proliferation and increases in military.

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Yes, you’ve seen this gossip rag already. Take a closer look at the small box below the headline. Do uh… any of those people have anything in common?

I sat on this blog post for a while because I wanted to have something- anything- better to say. Something that would inspire, or comfort, or clarify. Right now, I am still speechless, trying to gather some of these scattered observations into something passably interesting. Perhaps I will have better words in the days ahead.

We must risk delight.

A Brief For The Defense by Jack Gilbert

Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have known and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
in the village is very sick. There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
We stand at the prow again of a small ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront
is three shuttered cafés and one naked light burning.
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come.

http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/a-brief-for-the-defense/

Grief Comes in Funny Ways

At this point, I’m choosing to believe that 2016 is actually the darkest timeline.

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Either that, or we are the timeline (SPOILERS) where Rick was arrested by the Galactic Federation. In the real timeline, David Bowie is singing at Hillary Clinton’s victory party.

The alternatives are too depressing.

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photo of me during the election

Today was rough for Americans.

My first election ever, I voted for Obama. He was not the first president I traveled under,and the change was immediate. His name was like a high credit score- doors opened, strangers smiled. For a little while, Americans abroad were small time celebrities.

My second presidential election… well, I was out knocking on doors. I’ve mentioned it before on this blog, but that was my first job out of college. Registering new voters, talking to undecided voters, organizing grassroots teams. It was an incredible, stressful, transforming experience. One that I can’t really do justice in just a few paragraphs.

It says a lot about this period of my life that I’m genuinely not sure if this photo was staged or candid… including the cheeto hair.

But even when it got ugly in 2008 and in 2012, you could feel the boundaries. McCain would not let a woman at his rally refer to Obama as a foreign Muslim. Romney caught hell for his “47%” comments. Today was something different entirely. It’s really going to be a new era, good and bad.

Today was surreal. One 6th grade teacher told her class to behave, because I had enough stress from the election already. Then I asked them how they would vote, if they could. 29 said for Hillary, 1 for Trump (but he put his hand down when he realized we didn’t mean the trump card game) Many teachers were quite kind and were happy to chat about it, but I could feel some of them giving me a wide berth near the end of the school day as the results were called.

It’s a strange time to be abroad.

No Substitute

Today was an interesting day.

I was called in at the crack of dawn to substitute teach in a different district, about an hour away.

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Me Tommy, Tommy Lee Jones. Me too. 

Sometimes I dread subbing. You don’t have as much preparation time, you don’t know your way around, and often, you are reminded of how… “unusual,” for lack of a better word, you are. It’s such a stupid cliche that I hate to even acknowledge it, but I am the only white teacher at any of the schools where I teach so I guess that’s the best way to phrase it. I have had children scream in shock when I walk into their class. Multiple times in the same day. The downsides of subbing comes with perks though. The expectations are lower, you get to see a different style of teaching than what you are used to, and often you can spend a lot of time on introductions, just discussing your culture.

It was a nice school. Teachers were very friendly, and I was set up to teach four 5th grade classes throughout the day. Early on, I noticed a larger number of foreign kids from around the world in my classes; many of them seemed bored out of their skulls at the somewhat basic sentences we were reviewing. One adorable kid asked if I liked history and then started telling me about his favorite era, the Sengoku Jidai, in Japanese. I was pleased that I caught a bit of it.

The more I walked around the class and asked questions, I started hearing…  something unusual.

Different variations of English language accents.

Huh.

I asked a teacher in the staff lounge (who, coincidentally, had a flawless Vancouver accent)
The part of town I was subbing in hosts the international headquarters for a few companies, as well as some government agencies, so people regularly move back and forth overseas. I was hearing Australian, English, New Zealand, Floridian, Nebraskan accents all throughout the school.

My last class, the homeroom teacher asked if I had any questions for her class. I asked the kids to raise their hand if they had lived in a different country. Around 1/3 of the students raised their hand, having had lived or studied abroad. All of them were around 10 years old.

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