India is a country of a billion people with at least 50 million sides to it. There is political India which I've had no contact with and have very little real knowledge about. There is Bollywood India which I glanced at during a Friday night of dancing, drinking, and laughing at club Scream in Pune's Le Meridien hotel (Bollywood semi-starlet Riya Sen was in the house along with Mumbai's favorite transsexual Bobby Darling). There is the India of hard & harsher in the slums where I visit during my volunteer work at Akanksha. There is the middle-class India which is embodied in the hardworking folks at Akanksha and by the people I encounter "chilling out" at Barrista (think Indian Starbucks) or shopping at Pune Central shopping complex.
There is so much that I know I won't be able to see or experience in India during my current stay here that I've decided it is best to give up. I'm going to see, experience, hear, and taste what I can and let everything else go. I'm also trying to take India on its own terms which is easier written than done.
Taking India on its own terms means that I'm trying to look at my current reality through a different set of lenses. For example, I've realized that the white skin preference that I've sometimes seen displayed in India may have its flip-side for me- it is a perfect people filter. There is less bullshit for me to deal with and I can plow ahead looking for kind and interesting people to connect with instead of being hassled all the time or dealing with horny Indian guys with odd ideas of Western female sexuality.
I'm also doing my best to look for the sweet and light side of India per Professor Singh's suggestion. However, I know I've already found the best that India has to offer in its children. I really love my volunteer work at Akanksha. I volunteer twice a week at three different centers all over Pune during the week. The Akanksha kids have welcomed me with open arms, smiles, and their ears since I'm always after them to speak as much English as possible (one of Akanksha's goals). I also enjoy working with their staff which is filled with many cool and interesting young Indian women. Therefore, in honor of me finding of more sweetness and lightness in India (compared to finding sweetness in Mumbai only), I've created a list.
My Favorite Things/Experiences in India (So Far)
1. Becoming Chinita-Diddy (big sister in English) to dozens of Akanksha children
I thought the kids would call me Ms. Chinita or Chinita-teacher but Chinita-Diddy is the best. I like it as much as being my mother's daughter, Eugene's sister, Ms. Barbara's grandchild, etc.
2. The Food/ Chai
Yes, Indian food is good but some of the food I've had so far is so good that it is like "soul food" to me. And I love the masala chai.
3. The plentiful supply of newspapers, books, and magazines in English.
I was starved for periodicals during my two-year tenure in Japan. Books in India are inexpensive which is great but I love the extensive range of magazines. I read Filmfare, Stardust, India Today, Tehelka, Outlook, Elle, Cosmo, Society, Savvy, Time Out Mumbai, and more.
4. Friendly Indian People
I've realized that India runs on a serious networking system. It is important to get the mobile number of a friend of a friend's cousin's friend from Kerala who now lives in Pune, so you can call them up and meet for coffee, dinner or meet more of their friends and go to a club. If you know someone and get properly introduced to other folks, then socializing is much more easier and the people are so much more friendlier (to me anyway) than showing up some place without any connection to anyone.
5. Salwar Kameez
I like wearing the salwar kameez (punjabi suit). It is very comfortable and perfect for my volunteer work at Akanksha. It is also very easy to wear because I don't have to think about keeping certain body areas covered. However, I'm still trying to master the art of wearing the dupatta (the scarf draped on the shoulders).
Brother OMI has written about it. The Professor Amardeep Singh added his wisdom to the topic. Diva Saffron, Diva Chai, Diva Saurav (he said I could call him that), Mr. Bomani Jones, and Sir Bernie also featured prominent weblog posts about Hurricane Katrina. And I'm happy to finally see a hip-hop artist speaking some political truths regarding this catastrophe.
For once, I am left speechless and horrified by the photos flashing across CNN or BBC whenever I'm near a television. I couldn't believe the devastation wrecked by Mother Nature. Unfortunately, I could believe that the U.S. government would ignore the poor people stuck for various reasons in New Orleans.
I won't pontificate on the matter of race because I think it is a mute point. I truly believe that America doesn't give a shit about poor people, especially poor Black people, even when they sign up to fight its wars (Please note I'm currently traveling in Vietnam.).
I'm going to allow Sir Bernie to speak for me with his 'People Helping People' post. I'm also going to pray for the victims and survivors of Hurricane Katrina and give a donation.
I really wish we all could understand how connected we are. As I travel around Southeast Asia, I've seen so many people in various countries who look like or have energy that remind me of my family and friends from in the U.S. and Japan.
I was in the Chinatown area of Ho Chi Minh City this afternoon doing some exploration and shopping. I went to the pharmacy looking for shampoo (don't ask). A Vietnamese woman came up to me and started pointing at me and speaking. 'Same, same,' she said. 'Huh?', I replied. Then she put took my arm and held it next to her arm while a small crowd slowly formed around us. 'Same, same,' she repeated and smiled.
The truth is that we share so much more than earth-colored skin. We are all human beings who love, hurt, laugh and cry. It is a shame that we don't fully realize that.
I was in love with Michael Jackson when I was in elementary school. I thought he was very handsome, talented, and an amazing dancer. I use to dream of being Michael's girlfriend. So, now it is very odd to look at the soul star that I once lusted after turn himself into the world's most unattractive white woman.
Honestly, I can't believe he was acquitted. I think he needs to do a little time in jail to help him realize that it really isn't OK to share his bed with young boys.
I'll leave Japan on an airplane bound for Hong Kong two months from today. A new journey/adventure will commence upon my departure from Japan. I'm excited, terrified, sad, and joyful about mu upcoming prospects. My new phase of life has been designed by me with guidance from the Universal One. I have no idea what is in store for me in my newest stage of life but I pray it will lead to greater growth, love, and clarity.
In the winter of 1996, I was pounding the New York City pavement on the hunt for a job. By the time spring emerged in April, I had two job offers in different fields. I gave myself a week to ponder emerging opportunities in the publishing field and museum arena before making a final decision. I took the museum job. I worked there for about 2 1/2 years.
Now, I look back on that decision with a little tinge of regret. My love of books is slightly below my love of God and family. What was I thinking? My decision to work at a museum instead of in publishing put me on a career track I was bound to abandon. Now I can clearly see how important and powerful that decision was in my life. But I couldn`t fathom its impact until eight years later.
Since my mother taught me to learn from my mistakes, I`m very aware of how the smallest decisions can have significant repercussions on your life and the lives of your progeny. This idea is always in my mind when I think about the Reconstruction period in U.S. history. I clearly see that time in American history as a pivotal moment when my country could have owned up to its horrific misdeeds and committed itself to integrating their African brethren into mainstream political and economic life in lieu of their great contribution to the building of our nation. Unfortunately, America faltered on its promise to promote liberty for all. The economic and political empowerment of Blacks in the South was thwarted. And I honestly believe that America has never properly recompensated or reconciled with the descendants of enslaved Africans.
I started thinking about all of this after reading The First Occupation by Edward L. Ayers in The New York Times Magazine. Ayers sees lessons to the quagmire of problems the current U.S. government faces in its occupation of Iraq with the America`s first occupation in the post-Civil War South. His views resonate with me.
I believe Memorial Day will be celebrated this Monday in the U.S. I only know this because it was mentioned on National Public Radio which I listen to religiously on the Internet as I assemble dinner. I've been away from the U.S. long enough that I've forgotten about Easter, President's Day, Labor Day, and Malcolm X birthday (celebrated by my brother). I almost forgot July 4th last year too. However, I've added Golden Week, Marine Day, and O-bon to my holiday knowledge bank. There are four holidays that I never forget though; Thanksgiving, Valentine's Day, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Christmas.
This information is for all incoming JETS (participants on the Japan Exchange & Teaching Program). I thought I'd give you gals and guys a heads up by giving you my 500 yen on some frequently asked questions (FAQs).
1. My predecessor wants to sell me their home telephone line. Should I buy it?
My immediate impulse is to scream, "NO." However, as you newbie JETS will discover "every situation is different." Here are some different situations. If your predecessor wants to sell you their home telephone line for 10,000-20,000 yen ($100-200USD) it might be worth buying, especially if you would like to get Internet access in your home. But if your predecessor is trying to unload the home telephone line for 40,000-50,000 yen ($400-$500USD) or even more, you are getting screwed. Unfortunately, your predecessor may want to screw you over because they were screwed over.
A long time ago in Japan (about 20 years ago) getting a telephone line as a non-Japanese citizen was a big f*cking deal. It cost an arm and a few fingers. However, it is 2005 and you can easily get one of those amazing Japanese cell phones (keitai as the natives call it) that will allow you to send e-mails, surf the web, listen to music, and play games. I have one. I'm rolling with Vodafone for about $55-$65USD a month. My friends and I text like fiends at school.
I will note that making a lot of international phone calls on a cell phone can get expensive (even using phone cards because you will get less time). Therefore if you are planning to make tons of international phone calls, then it may behoove you to get a home telephone line. However, you can RENT a home telephone line from NTT (Japan's national telephone company). I do. I pay about $25USD a month. (Please note that if you chose to buy a home telephone line you will still have to pay a monthly charge.) I have a home telephone line because I wanted to get Internet access. I asked my supervisor at the Board of Education to help me get the telephone. If I can rent a home telephone line, I'm quite sure you can too.
2.My predecessor wants to sell me their stuff. Should I buy it?
This is a difficult question to answer because every situation is different. I paid my predecessor $500 for a very nice fully furnished apartment. I feel like I got my monies worth because my predecessor invested her money redoing the apartment. However, I did end up buying a new luscious sofa/bed when my old sofa/bed collapsed on Christmas Eve. Overall, I`m a very happy customer. Unfortunately, I know people who didn't get their money's worth. I would suggest that you ask your predecessor to send you photos of the apartment and specific items they are trying to sale. If they won't send you any photos, I think that says something.
Basically, you need to figure out what is important to you, your comfort and convenience. If you don't like the idea of sleeping on the floor, then buying futons off your predecessor makes little sense. If the idea of walking into a house or apartment that is pretty empty makes you nervous, then you may want to buy some things off your predecessor or from another JET in your area. If the idea of walking into an empty house or apartment gets your creative juices running with decorating items, then you may not want to spend $400USD on someone else's hand me downs. Please know many JETS are trying to sell you items that have been handed down from one JET to another. I suggest you may want to ask how old the items are that your predecessor or other JETs are trying to sell you. I also want to add that many contracting organizations will provide a TV, refrigerator, electric heater or kotatsu, cooling fan, and washing machine. So, if your predecessor is trying to sell you the TV, feel free ask if it belongs to your contracting organization. Usually if you want a VCR/DVD player, pots & pans, dishware, tables, chairs, microwave, sofa, dressers, book cases, desks, toaster oven, and music system, you'll probably have to spend yen on it.
3. Can I get Internet access in Japan?
In many Japanese cities, you will be able to get high-speed Internet access. However, you may have some problems getting high-speech Internet access in rural areas and on islands. You should consult your predecessor about the Internet issue or inquire about it in person when you arrive in your assigned city. I have great high-speed Internet access through Yahoo BB!. They have an English application process. I applied for Yahoo BB! services by myself (I think I had a teacher write my name in katakana on the application form though).
4. Can a JET really manage in Japan without decent Japanese language skills?
I believe the answer is yes but I know some people would disagree. I can barely speak Japanese. I've taken group and private classes here. The only kanji I know is for my city. However, I have been able to get everything I need and more during almost two-years adventure in Japan. I think attitude is very important. My Japanese skills are minimal but I believe that human beings can communicate without the noise of language. I believe if you are willing to embarrass yourself using a Berlitz Japanese phase book, broken Japanese, and gestures, that you can reserve a roundtrip train ticket to Tokyo, you can make a dentist appointment, open up a savings account at the post office, and you can get the postman to re-deliver the big package from Mom. Of course, I had to endure being stared at oddly, spending 30 minutes trying to explain myself to a sales person, or even being laughed at but I eventually got what I wanted accomplished.
I must say that the more Japanese language skills you have the easier your transition may be. I also think it makes making friends a little easier. I must add that I believe that it is harder for JETS of Asian descent to maneuver the language issues if they have minimum Japanese fluency. In my experience, many Japanese people assume that JETS of Asian descent are Japanese therefore they should know the language. I honestly don't know if my Asian-American, Asian-Canadian, and British Asian friends could get away with my lack of Japanese language shenanigans.
5. Is there anything I can do to prepare me for life in Japan?
Honestly, learning any Japanese is very helpful. You can also read books on Japanese culture like Culture Shock Japan. If you haven't had any teaching experience, you may want to try to do some tutoring. However, I don't know if anything can actually prepare you for your JET experience except Japanese study abroad. Please make peace with the fact that sooner usually than later you may freak out. I came to Japan with a bevy of European travel experience under my belt, plus I traveled Egypt on my own. I really thought I had the traveling chops and maturity to conquer Japan. Once my supervisor and vice principal left me alone in my apartment for the first night in my new home, I freaked out badly. Then I unpacked and freaked out some more. I was too stressed to eat anything but the chocolates I had brought as gifts for my new colleagues. I drank tons of Coke from the vending machine. I vowed never to leave my apartment because I couldn't fathom the idea of going to the shopping center across the street from my apartment. Did I add that I'm in my 30s and lived in London? Try not to have many expectations and be as open as humanly possible.
6. Do you have any other advice?
What kind of question is that? Of course, I have advice for you. I love giving advice!
1. Be prepared to give a number of speeches in Japanese and English upon your arrival to your assigned city/town/village.
2. Bring some gifts to give your principal, vice principal, and Japanese Teachers of English (JTEs).
3. Try to get as much information as possible about your work situation from your predecessor or JETS in the area.
4. Try to have little expectations but also brace yourself for anything.
5. Try to suspend judgments about the Japanese culture for an extended period of time. It really is very different. I don't think it is better or worse than my culture just different.
6. Be friendly!
Please note all of the information is coming from my own personal experience. If you have specific questions, e-mail me and I'll try to help you.
Blogging is a sport, hobby, obsession, and an occupation for a few brave souls that is sweeping across the wired world like Starbucks cafes. This new frontier can be a wild and rough place or a wonderland full of kind, interesting, and crazy characters. The blogsphere is a place where the person with domain, weblog, or URL address rules. All bloggers are masters of their own world. And I think many of them relish this power. But I think that all personal empires real or operating in the blogsphere need rules of engagement. In the last several months, I've developed my own rules and I thought I'd share them with you.
1. My weblog is my space and I can write whatever I want. Therefore if I want to rant about race in America, sexy Sikhs, the power of filmmaking, my crazy cousins, upcoming world travels, or subject innocent readers to bad poetry, I'm completely within my rights to do so. However, I do believe it is in my spiritual interests not to publish any items out of pure malicious intent. I have my beliefs and opinions which are formed from my life experiences. My beliefs and opinions may be very different from your views but that is not a reason for us to hurl fowl language and abuse at each other in blogland. I really believe the blogspere can be used as an important tool for having constructive discussions and dialogue about complicated topics like international politics, American foreign policy, and class in America. These are conversations that some people may shy away from in real life but are able to engage in behind the computer screen.
2. If you don't have constructive criticism or a positive word to offer a blogger, don't bother leaving a comment. What is the point of visiting someones weblog and leaving unconstructive negative comments in your wake? Honestly, I don't think posting rude comments on weblogs furthers any debate or discussion. I think the author of the rude comment just looks an asshole. There seems to be a substantial number of a-holes in the blogsphere. Fortunately, there are equal number of angels buzzing around blogland too. I'm really striving to be my highest self in this reality. Therefore I've decided that being nasty and mean just to be nasty and mean is out of the question for me. I want to spread love in the blogsphere. I know that may sound a little odd since I'm the first person to go off on a rant if you make a negative remark about African-Americans. However, they are my people and I will defend them if need be to my death. My loyalty isn't blind but it runs very deep.
3. The anonymous of the blogsphere are anonymous for some reason but they can stay away from my weblog. I'm not feeling people who like to roam around the blogsphere using the "Anonymous" tag. I think I'm anti-anonymous because it is the antithesis of my personality. I don't allow people using the anonymous tag to post comments to my weblog. I also have little patience for people who provide fake e-mail addresses when posting a comment. I am all about spreading love in blogland but I do have my limits.
4. Don't "write all over" another person's weblog, especially if you don't know them in real life or in blogland. If you find yourself writing very, very long comments on another person's weblog, you are "writing all over" it. This is a very difficult rule for me to stick to! I had a horrible habit of "writing all over" the weblog of Professor Singh. However, I do have some discipline so I'm down to writing a few sentences here and there on his weblog. But I "write all over" Cousin Ryumi's weblog and she loves it. I'm also inclined to believe that lucid semi-"writing all over" Mr. Iselfra's weblog wouldn't piss him off too much. The Bengali emperor over at Dark Days Ahead doesn't mind if the politically minded commenters "write all over" his palace either. Divalicious Saffron over at Mouthing The Words is a lover of food, New York City, and lots of chit chat. However, I do believe that "writing all over" someones blog can get out of hand. I believe if you find yourself writing over several long paragraphs in response to a post on another person's weblog then you need to move that conversation to you own darn weblog. And if you don't have a weblog, please visit this website and join our merry blogging fray. If I can have a weblog, then Cousin Ryumi can have a weblog, then anyone can have a weblog.
5. Typepad rules! I know Blogger is free but I couldn't figure it out. Livejournal looks to confusing to me. Typepad costs money but it is easy in my view. It also lets you upload photos easily and ban people!
PLEASE NOTE THESE ARE RULES THAT I, AND ONLY I, AM TRYING TO LIVE BY. I TOTALLY EXPECT EVERYONE TO DO THERE OWN THANG!
The New York Times is publishing a series of reports about social class in America called "Class Matters." Hell, I could have told them that class is a central component in American life even though some people still want to believe the U.S. is a classless society. Social class is an emerging chasm in the African-American community. I'm very interested to read their upcoming series of articles about this topic.
I always bring up the class topic in political discussions I have with middle class or upper middle class Americans. My experience is that some Americans, especially those in the upper social ranks, don't realize the impact of class in American life. I have firsthand knowledge of how class works in American life. I hate the fact that poor and working class kids of all colors who desperately need quality education usually get stuck with low quality education which makes them only suitable for low-wage service work.
The New York Times is defining class as a combination of occupation, education, wealth, and income. This is where things can get dodgy for me. I have the education attainment of the upper echelons of American society because I hold a master's degree but I have no wealth. My occupation prestige is in the middle rank but my income is above the middle level also.
I have definitely moved up in American society but I still call myself a working class girl, like this noted writer. Although I'm becoming obsessed with building wealth. I want to buy a house or condominum when I return to the U.S. I want to be an entrepreneur because I'm sick of working for other people. I also think it is very important for African-Americans to build their own businesses and use them as a tool to bring opportunities and wealth back into poorer communities.
But I can't shake my working class origins and I don't want to. A British friend of mine who also shares a working class background pointed out that working class people don't travel all over the world for leisure and exploration. This brings me back to a central question in my new life- How do you call yourself a working class girl as you country hop all over the world?