Category Archives: Culture

How I see the world through travel

My life is unique. It encompasses thousands of moments across the world and with multiple cultures. These moments include: Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, the Aztec ruins of Teotihuacan, visiting relatives in Germany and Italy, the undisturbed wildlife in South Africa and the multicultural wonder that is Singapore. Most importantly, the factor that stands out for me is the people I connected with across the world. We are all unique, yet we are all connected with one another. This was clear during my first days of life in South-East Asia.

 

Indonesia was my first country and with it came my cultural upbringing in mutual respect and generosity. From the time I was born, I remember the locals saying “Apa kabar orang kecil!” or “Hello, Little Man!” as I took strolls with my parents. They always greeted us with a smile and guided us around our new surroundings. Indonesians are a naturally inclusive people. They are hardworking, kind, family oriented, and completely devoted to hospitality. They taught me to be open and ever curious about the world around me, a gift that served me well into adulthood.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
A Familiar Sight

As I learned to walk, they taught me to speak Bahasa, urged me to sing their national anthem, cooked me their favorite dishes (Rendang is still my favorite) and even took me into their houses of worship. I’m still amazed as an adult at the level of trust that they gave my family. My parents also matched that trust.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Mt. Batur

 

While Indonesia is a welcoming country it is also one of immense poverty. It’s often that medical care, education and even electricity are unattainable for many families. My parents decided to help. By linking cables to our generator for the community around us, our house provided electricity for 15-20 families. It was through this gift that their children had light to study their schoolwork with. In gratitude for our support, the young men promised to protect our home from thieves and kidnappers. What was clear to all involved is the belief that children are what make a community, a conviction that I hold very dearly to this day.

 

As my family left Indonesia for other countries and cultures, being involved in our community was always a high priority. It was through this example that kept me involved in Cub Scouts, Alpha Phi Omega and AmeriCorps. As my parents were unique in their new Indonesian community, they never forgot that they were connected to the village surrounding them. I will continue to carry this lesson for the rest of my life and instill it into my own children.

 

-J

Advertisements

End Of Watch

This past weekend I had time to sit down and see End of Watch, a recently released Police thriller/documentary about Officers that work for the LAPD. Despite it being a Hollywood attempt to glamorize police work through action movies there is also a fair degree of realism in this film.

Unlike Street Kings or Training Day, Director David Ayer decides to do away with the crooked detective motif. Instead the viewer is put in the drivers seat of the average patrolman. We meet Officers Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Pena). Mike, a family man with a newborn daughter, and Brian, A former Marine looking to settle down. The footage is almost entirely shot from go-pro cameras mounted on the dashboard to Brian’s hand held camera. The actors performing the roles have a distinctly fraternal on screen partnership that is both well nuanced and realistic. Together they give an insight into the average day of a police officer ranging from responding to a domestic violence case, saving two children from a burning building, and discovering a house full of illegal immigrants run by a drug cartel. Despite the sub-plot of the two officers being put on a drug hit, the rest of the film is as realistic as it gets.

End Of Watch is an interesting movie that provides insight to the challenges and life that lawmen lead. The hand held approach to the filming leaves it both edgy and spur of the moment.

A Cure For AIDS

Finally some good news about humanity’s war with HIV/AIDS. Doctors in Mississippi report that an infant born with the disease has been ‘cured’ after drug treatments, 30 hours after birth. For the first time in our history we wont have to deal with a generation that has AIDS. There wont be anymore candlelight vigils, no benefit concerts, no more families standing by waiting to hear grim news from a doctor. This could be our turning point in our struggle. http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2013/03/baby-hiv-cured/

AmeriMemories

About four years ago I made a life changing decision. It was the summer of 2009, my graduation year. The idea of committing to a national service program was born from a distinct need to push myself past my limits and to explore a bit of America. After a long search through several programs I came across AmeriCorps NCCC. It was perfect. A 10 month long service term for 18-24 year old young people, the opportunity to serve in diverse settings across the U.S. and, best of all, making a direct impact for my fellow Americans.

After getting a call from Washington D.C. that July from AmeriCorps offices, I set out to Vicksburg, Mississippi. I was amazed at how the landscape changed from the Carolina foothills to the swamps of the Deep South. I arrived after three days on the road, often driving 12 straight hours to get through the wilderness. Arriving in town was an experience in itself. The downtown area looked like it hadn’t changed since the 1860’s. I sat by a blues cafe on the waterfront, watching barges laden with goods make their way up the Mississippi river. I took a tour of the National military park just off the interstate where General Grant made his march east towards Virginia. The most amazing sight was the Al-Saints school, the headquarters of AmeriCorps NCCC’s Southern Region Campus.

On each campus one may find an amazing cross section of people from diverse socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds. What struck me, as the greatest factor in the organization’s success, is how well so many different people can operate together in the most adverse conditions.

During my service, I learned a great deal from living with nine other strangers. All of us recognized that we were different and came to accept each other’s quirks and personality traits. We ended the year with, for lack of a better word, a second family. During work and off-hours we learned individual integrity, team effort, flexibility and reliance on each other in whatever environment we were positioned. Our work took us from rebuilding homes on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, to building trails in West Virginia and culminated in assisting flood victims in Nashville, Tennessee. Even to this day I would enjoy having that experience again.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Another preventable massacre and its social impact

A few months ago I was tempted to write about the tragedy that occurred at the Sandy Hook Elementary school. It was proper to wait for the dust to settle as details were not concrete enough. Now that the story has been told multiple times by several news affiliates several, facts are clear. A mentally disturbed 20-year old shot his mother and proceeded to kill 26 unarmed people, 20 of whom were children. After the tragedy, the media descended upon the town.They interviewed the barber that cut the killer’s hair, police detectives, and several survivors. What the news can’t seem to get across is the sheer magnitude of disciple problems we have with firearms in this country.

Several anti- and pro-gun advocates almost immediately came to the forefront of this crime. The issues were of the stigma of mental illness, the fact that guns prevent shootings, or how arming guards or even teachers would prevent incidents like this from happening. Several articles came up in a recent search of how Switzerland has a similar rate of weapon possession, but no substantial history of firearms related tragedies on unarmed civilians. The Swiss military requires many of its citizens to perform national service, which includes the proper discipline to handled and maintain weapons. This is also highly stressed in the Israeli Defense Forces. In short, when nations that have a mobilized population that are trained in military weapons are called up, they are urged to exercise individual responsibility. Weapons are regarded as tools necessary for the defense of their homes. Period.

In the United States, with our large military and law enforcement bodies, it is necessary to manufacture firearms for war and public safety. For civilians, a firearm is a traditional means of hunting game or preventing a home invasion. If I had a son, I would forbid him from holding a firearm until he is old enough to fully understand a gun owners responsibility. I would expressly tell him of a weapons purpose. To be clear and matter of fact would, I think, discipline him. I would tell my son that they are not toys, they are meant for providing for your family or defending them. To hold a weapon is to accept the responsibilities of an adult, to fail to realize this is unforgivable.

Pearl Harbor: What it means to me

R.I.P
R.I.P

Every generation endures its most shocking moments. At the age of 14, I witnessed one September morning two 747s crash into the World Trade Center. As my class sat riveted to the television in my second period history class, the memory of my mother telling me of President Kennedy’s Assassination came to mind. I felt shock back then, and fear, constricting fear. It was a reminder that the world was not especially safe nor was it full of innocence as I let myself believe. This past weekend I took some time to understand what my grandparents must have felt one December morning over seventy years ago, when the entire world was at war.

At that point in history beginning in the 1930’s, Japan had ambitions to rule Asia and subjugate its people. In 1931, Emperor Hirohito’s army invaded and assumed control of Manchuria in order to exploit its coal and iron rich mountains. From there, the coastal areas of China were overtaken, culminating in the infamous Rape of Nanking in 1937. Over 300,000 civilians were massacred by Imperial troops, prompting a great outcry by the League of Nations. Despite promises to initiate trade embargoes with Japan, the League was ultimately powerless to halt Tokyo’s territorial expansion. On the other side of the world, Germany and Italy prepared for war as well.

1933 saw the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party. His vision was of a world where his Reich would rule a vast stretch of territory from the English Channel to the Pacific coast. He instructed his previously defeated nation to embrace his dream of conquest as a means to avenge itself of the First World War. In order to do this, Hitler silenced all opposition and initiated a campaign of terror for Germany’s ethnic and religious minorities, especially targeting its sizable Jewish population. Many of these millions of innocents would be relocated to secret camps that would enforce slave labor, to assist in the buildup of Germany’s war machine. With Germany effectively a police state, Hitler had his security services later develop a horrific program called “The Final Solution”. This action would murder over 10 million human beings from many nations and creeds during the war’s progression. In 1939 the German military (Wehrmacht), while operating alongside the Soviet Army, invaded and subjugated Poland.

With its Eastern front secure, the German Army then turned its attention to the West. Denmark, Norway, The Netherlands, Belgium, and France fell before the Wehrmacht Panzer divisions and endless columns of troops. Nothing seemed to stop the German conquest of Europe. By June of 1940, England stood alone. For three long months, the British Royal Air force fought the German Luftwaffe for control of the skies over London and other major cities. Bolstered by the courage of their pilots and the profound words of Prime Minister Winston Churchill, the people of Great Britain vowed to fight to the bitter end. It was at this time that they and other besieged nations began to receive aid from the United States.

Respecting the American people’s wish to avoid the horrors of war, President Roosevelt met with Churchill to discuss mutual aid. That year, the U.S. Navy and Merchant Marine under orders from Washington D.C., began supply operations to the British, bogged down in heavy fighting with the German and Italian Armies in North Africa, and the Chinese, who were engaged in a guerrilla war with the Japanese. President Roosevelt also agreed to sign a strategic war materials embargo in the face of Japan’s continued war in China as well as its invasion of French Indochina. Viewing restrictions on oil, steel, and other necessary materials as an affront to their ambitions, Tokyo’s war ministry drew up plans to attack the American Pacific fleet. Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, a national hero and military genius, urged his Emperor and the Japanese high command that attacking the United States would “awaken a sleeping giant” and would lead to Japan’s immediate triumph or ruin. Ignoring this appeal, Prime Minister Hideki Tojo demanded action in order to secure the empire.

In late November 1941, a combined carrier battle fleet sailed from Japan to the island of Oahu. By the time they arrived it was a Sunday morning, The 350 pilots readied themselves below decks, fastening hachimaki headbands with the words “Certain Victory!” to themselves. With a shout of Tenno Haika Banzai! or “Ten Thousand Years” they boarded their planes for their bombing missions.

As the sun rose, the fleet was at rest. Even as mounting tensions between Washington and Tokyo escalated, no one expected an attack. Religious services were about to be held, fleet bands played “The Star Spangled Banner” on decks, the University of Hawaii was set to play a football match with Willamette College, and military personnel everywhere readied themselves for duty after shore leave. This was the environment before observers reported planes with red circles on their wings.

Mitsuo Fuchida, the attack commander, deployed a flare over the area signaling the attack. A wave of torpedo bombers let loose their payload on the U.S.S. California, Maryland, Arizona and five other battleships, dive bombers proceeded to destroy airfields, oil tanks and other targets. The entire island was in chaos. Entire crews became trapped in the sinking ships. Survivors frantically swam to shore. Air defense teams manned their weapons. Sailors and Marines saved their friends from burning oil slicks. Moments of bravery became common.

Dorie Miller, an African-American ship’s cook, manned a machine gun with two white compatriots. They, along with other weapons teams, saved the lives of hundreds of sailors struggling ashore from strafing attacks. Ensign Francis C. Flaherty sacrificed his life saving a turret crew from the sinking Oklahoma. Warrant Officer Thomas Reeves handed ammunition from a burning passageway on the California to a gun crew, later dying of asphyxiation. Machinist Mate Robert Scott stayed behind and manned an air compressor unit for his battle station as his station became flooded. Before he drowned he was quoted by surviving shipmates as saying “This is my station and I will stay and give them air as long as the guns are going.”

When the raid was over, The U.S. Pacific Fleet was crippled. Over 2,400 Americans lost their lives, half of whom died when the Arizona exploded. As news of the attack spread, the American public flew into a panic. Air raid shelters were constructed, windows were blacked out overnight, gas masks and supplies were bought in bulk, and children were evacuated to the countryside by their parents. The following day when President Roosevelt addressed congress, a miracle happened.

In a tone of determined realism, The President declared Dec. 7th a “Date that would live in Infamy”. While many lives were lost, the attack reminded us of who were and not to give up. Our unbounded determination as a people would see us through. With this speech, America literally responded as one.

City boys from New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and Los Angeles became sailors, manning guns and stoking boilers in our fleets. Ranch hands from Colorado and Texas became crews for the Flying Fortresses. African American and White men worked side by side in munitions factories from Mobile, Alabama to Philadelphia. The sons of autoworkers became tank crews. Mothers, Sisters, Wives and Daughters went to work in factories. High school students everywhere enlisted as Paratroopers, Marines, and fighter pilots. They all accepted the challenge.

The Second World War generation is named the “Greatest Generation”. I think this is not because of their deeds or moral standing. They were great because they overcame their challenge, they ensured that millions of people had the right to live without fear, to survive, and realize a life of dignity. It’s all right to be afraid when challenged by tragedy. You must fight for what you believe in, no matter what the odds.

Steampunk: the future in retrospect

This past Saturday a good friend invited me to a ball, yes a ball. Not just any shindig mind you, but a unique experience called a steam punk ball. A gathering of folks that can only be described as a cross between a historical reenactment and a science fiction convention.

Steampunk is essentially what would happen if the  ideas of Jules Verne’s and H.G.Well’s steam powered world dictated the course of our history. The airship and the locomotive would still be the main sources of transport, communication would be through wireless telegraph and society would resemble the best of Victorian England and/or the Old West. But enough history, lets talk about that night.

The little art gallery/cafe/curio store named Davenport and Winkleperry is situated in a little place called Pittsboro, NC. Think Norman Rockwell’s Main Street America and you’ve got the picture. Yet every other month or so the doors of this cafe (tastefully decorated in Dr. Who Tardis colors) swing open. My guide for the night, dressed for the part as Annie Oakley, introduced me to a cast of characters ranging from dapper Victorian gentlemen, rough mountain men types, corset and bustle clad ladies, itinerant scientists, brazen adventurers and the like. What they all seem to have a love for was a past that might have been. As a newcomer I was immediately paired off with a Parisian dancer, hitting the floor with gusto.

Dancing at this event was very open, for every couple swinging and waltzing there were at least a dozen more doing everything from salsa to gypsy stepping. And, In keeping with the theme, the D.J. played everything from The Decembrists, Gogol Bordello and Flogging Molly to classic pop songs sung in an 1800’s style.  The fun didn’t stop there. We had Tom Maxwell of the Squirrel Nut Zippers playing all his hits, UNC-TV doing interviews for one of their specials and even a marriage proposal. The future bride and groom received a standing ovation from the crowd.  One hell of way to end a Saturday, right?

Steampunk certainly has a large following, especially in North Carolina. If ever you want to step into a past that might have been, look no further than this little place.