Friday, January 14, 2011

Political Potpourri

On the Arizona shooting:

"I would like to visit America but I don't want to get shot."

When my friend told me this was the common opinion of the Japanese towards my native country, I laughed.  As did he.  How could these people be so misinformed?

And then I read a book about Asian perspectives of America.  (To make this experience even more surreal, try reading such a book in a place far removed from either of them -- I recommend Germany.)  I wanted to discredit the book - It's outdated, It isn't reporting accurately on the state of things in Japan, The incidents of crime are just hyped up by the media - all of these thoughts crossed my mind.  I even told my roommate over dinner after finishing the book and returning home that this book was completely false and almost laughable.

But then I realized that in my small town of Charlottesville, in the past two years there have been two national media-covered murders of Morgan Dana Harrington (I pass the plaque dedicated to her every day on my run) and Yeardley Love (I used to live on that street).  Plus there is that unexplainable crime spree that the city and university have experienced this past semester, making everyone nervous.

I thought about my friend who is from Blacksburg and how much she was shaken up by the idea that her small and friendly hometown suffered a massacre shooting 4 years ago this April.

The lectures I have given friends about going out alone at night and how we continually pass along those emails about ways to avoid getting attacked. The times I have had male friends walk me home or even drive behind me as I went home to make sure I got in safely.  The Friday night I spent riding a bus with my bus driver friend to make sure she stayed safe despite the late hours and the students returning drunk from parties.  --- All of these are second nature.  We watch our back and keep alert.

And then the Arizona shootings happen which shock even Jon Stewart into solemnity.  Have we just learned to accept violence as a horrific but all too common aspect of our lives?

On the Asian Cup 2011:

It's been exciting to cheer for my team - Japan Samurai Blues! - and watch them win.  However, as I looked at the teams participating, I started wondering why the rest of the world isn't sitting up and taking note.

North Korea and South Korea.  China.  Japan.  Iran and Iraq.  Kuwait.  Shouldn't this be a politically charged tournament?  Here we have a mix of cultures and governments and religions that somehow think coming together for a competition in soccer is a good idea.  And are successful in it.  Now granted, South Korea and North Korea haven't competed head-to-head yet.  And the heat Japan and Syria game was really nothing about outside politics.  But still, shouldn't we be trying to understand how Asia gets along with Asia before we try to figure out how America gets along with Asia?  I think the value from these lessons to be learned are incalculable.

On German opinion of US and Taiwan opinion of Japan and South Korea:

While in Germany I asked a friend there what the Germans thought of our President Obama and our government.  Her response was encouraging: "We really like the Americans but we feel that President Bush made you look too power hungry and desirous to conquer everyone.  We didn't like to see America looking so bad to the rest of world so we didn't like President Bush."  It definitely gave some insight to the criticisms America has been receiving from many other countries.

Meanwhile, I recently asked a friend if it would be okay if I cheered for the Japanese team since my loyalties tie most closely to Taiwan.  I know that Japan itself was once a formidable force and had China, Korean and Taiwan all under its power in recent generations.  By this point I have read a lot of books expressing the underlying anger that simmers under the surface between these countries and so didn't know if the Taiwanese people would even acknowledge the Japanese.  His response was interesting: "Taiwan has no complaints against Japan currently.  We do have some problems with South Korea though."  In the Asian games a Taiwan athlete was disqualified in Tae kwon do on decidedly unfair claims and so the whole of Taiwan was in an uproar against the Taekwondo President who happened to be a South Korean.  And despite the fact that I don't seem to understand why South Korea is at fault for this, it makes me realize that there are so many political thoughts and undercurrents that I simply have no grasp of.

America after all is so young and so small in the history of the World.  And yet, if America as a whole is in any way representative of my own personal feelings, despite its youth, despite its weaknesses, despite its personal battles, it is desirous to make a difference, to leave its mark and to truly improve this world that we live in and share.

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