The Campus

The Campus

After four days of training to be ESL teachers in Korea, we finally made it to camp four days ago. It feels like everything at camp is evolving at an incredible rate, four days ago feels like a lifetime. This week I started to feel exhaustion, and began to be overwhelmed with how much I love my students.

We arrived at the camp in the afternoon on Tuesday, got our dorms and went walking around the campus before meeting the Principle and head teacher over beer and pizza. Hey it’s Korea…they drink.

The campus is immersed in a forest of trees and green amid the mountains. The buildings, tall and diverse —some look official with domed roofs, others old and rainbow colored—all seem to sprout out of the forest itself. It’s clean and fresh here, and incredibly hilly, two dauntingly steep hills separate the classrooms from the dorms.

At the camp there are 168 students, 13 of us PSU students who are teachers, and 14 Korean co-teachers. There are a number of assistants and supervisors too, a long chain of command to go through with problems, but bosses in Korea seem to be very friendly people.

We teach all of the kids our different class, I am “mazes and directions”, but we also have a homeroom class who we meet with mornings and nights, and work together with on team activities. I am positive mine is the best.

My class is shy, smart, and thinks things out incredibly thoroughly, which can be difficult because we have time limits to complete tasks set for us. But it is also rewarding because I see them playing on one another’s talents to create something they feel is perfect.

Many of these students have never had a foreign English teacher, so our English pronunciation, and our western influence are pretty special to most of them. As I look at my class, I wonder how much my own attitude and character rub off on how the class operates as a whole.

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A few of the top students from this camp will be selected to come to Portland for a month to study. Some of the students I teach are low income or come from small towns, and most were selected because of their love and proficiency in English, so we have a student base which is really skilled at this language. I am able to talk to them like adults, talking slowly, but with advanced English, in complete sentences.

Today I watched my own fault of taking life to seriously, play out in the classroom. As I presented a journal writing assignment, and urged them with ways to improve their writing, I watched many close up out of fear. So I tried to start over, to tell them that this was not something to worry about, that journal writing was a way to express themselves through difficulties and happiness, to forget about the grammar and to write whatever they wanted. For some it was too late, I’d made a misstep in my presenting of the assignment. I put too much pressure on them here in Korea where the pressure is already much too high. And it was here that I began to realize how much I want to care about them.

Earlier in the day I called up two of my students to tell them I appreciated their hard work on a group project, letting them know that I noticed, and in their eyes I saw a depth of their gratitude, which is unimaginable in the US.

With my homeroom I am able to get to know every student, to encourage their strengths. Roy is a natural storyteller. Reo is quiet, but below the surface he has much more going on. In a journal entry he addressed his parents, telling them that he wants to be a movie director, though it is not the job they want for him. Riven will be a politician. Jae Young is a class clown as a defense mechanism. He broke his arm during our school activity competition. He came back the next day happier than before, with something exciting to talk about, but I see the pain and exhaustion getting to him.

Ella is everything, a writer with big dreams from a small town, and an outgoing English speaker. I worry that she is ready for love too. At the end of day four, late in the night, I left her to socialize in a group of boys, afraid for her young emotions, and hopeful that my thirteen year old student would find a boyfriend.

I am beginning to see them care about me too, beginning to see it in their eyes, that they love me too, just a little. And now, as I write this I’m scared. What will change by day ten? Will I be heartbroken leaving them, will they think I’m the best teacher, or prefer another? Will some disaster happen in the relationships I am trying to form with my class?

Now I lay in bed, exhausted at 11 pm, my day began at 6 am, and showed nearly no lulls. My eye lids are growing very weak as I finish these last lines, and outside my window, dozens of kids are yelling, running, playing games and uttering curse words in English. Their energy cannot be matched.

Top tier team captains duel for all the glory in baloon toss 2

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Travelogue: South Korea part 1. Failing at Departure

Teacher training at Jeollanamdo International Football Center

I planned just about nothing before embarking on my one month trip to South Korea. I went through a PSU program worked me hard, fifteen hour days spent teaching children English, but it only cost me about a two hundred dollars to receive a trip to Korea, four credits and an amazing experience.

Though excited, I thought very little about the trip until just before leaving. This may seem strange to readers, but this is how I generally operate. I’m practically unable to travel, unless by the seat of my pants.

So, me, I’m Jon Raby. PSU English major and Vanguard writer. I have actually taught ESL before, I lived in Vietnam for a year and a half, and miss it every day. I have come to find that I have Asian blood in me, not literally, but in my heart, yes. Let’s just say I fucking love rice, I eat it daily, need I say more?

At this point I think I better confess. I have never had much of an interest in Korean culture, it has never called to me. But maybe during this trip I will find an appreciation…even a love.

So here is the program: One month teaching at two summer camps, one for middle school age kids, and one for elementary. I will be paired up with a Korean co-teacher who is a university student. I don’t know what subjects I will be teaching, but the days should be long, and the climate should be hot and humid. There are multiple programs like this at PSU, I suggest looking into them.

In the days before leaving the excitement started to hit me. The bittersweet goodbyes to my home and my loved ones, they were….bittersweet (really pulled the heart-stings).

Before leaving the US I actually decided to learn zero Korean. Not even Hi. I thought I’d rather learn what Korean I get, from Koreans. My first word: Excuse me, sillye-hab-nida. Taught to me by the airline stewardess. Thanks lady.

The travel was long, about 24 hours of sitting uncomfortably in airports, on planes, and in busses. We made it to Mokpo International Football Center at one in the morning. This was to be our training facility for the next few days. I was given a roommate, Justin, who seems pretty rad, not super loud, and outgoing and happy. Most everyone on the trip seemed pretty cool. I guess when only one third of the American population holds a passport, you end up with more likeminded traveling company.

Thus far, the little of Korea I have seen has been quiet and calm despite its reputation for being a “hurry hurry” culture—Pali-pali! People look safe in their relaxed moseys, and it has not been too crowded with bodies. I did see out the window of the bus, the densely packed skyscrapers of the city. Very uniform. Very grid like. In my tired and emotional traveling state, it brought me a kind of wonder and sadness at the same time; humanity thriving outside of nature.

The next morning I woke at 5:30, one of the benefits to jetlag. I went out strolling around the desolate facility. It was mostly empty football fields, and lots of birds and insects chatting away. On the outskirts there was mining and construction going on along the mountainsides. At this time in the morning it was 22 degrees Celsius and humid, really quite nice.

At the camp some of my coworkers have referred to me as oppa, or elder brother. This to me sounded like the German for grandpa—opa—Yup, that’s me. I like it though, the respect that comes from being older.

The training consisted of three days of demo classes, and seminars by other foreign and Korean teachers about the country and teaching there.

We were, and will be, in Jeollanam-do, the southwestern-most mainland province, which is rural and agricultural, and contains about 1,300 islands.

We learned about the extreme pressure put on Korean kids and adults in the education system. As a teacher here I will have a conflicting set of goals. At the end of the camp eight of our highest ranked students will receive trips to study in the US for a month, yet I will also be trying to make this summer camp fun for them, full of games and laughing. The true testaments of a teacher will be here: can I fully engage them while enriching their brains? Can I teach about my culture, while not dissuading the benefits of their own?

I also met my Korean co-teacher for the first camp. Aiden is the English name that I will use for now, or Yul which I will start using soon. But we can save that for next time, when we get to start meeting Koreans, and Korean Children.

Drinking Soju with two girls from University of Missouri and our two Korean babysitters

Hot Summer Strikes Again

DMZ Lines drawn

Part 1: the bus arrives

The war that never truly ended, began again over an incredibly minor attack on one’s ego. The two countries had been continuously at each other’s throats since the supposed end of the Korean war. In recent years if a person read the news they would see two things. One, America meddling with the two country’s unstable relationships, always standing behind the South as the big force that no one wants to mess with, but continuously egging on the North. And two, North Korea’s continuous absurd threats and proclamations which it does not follow through on. After his father died, Kim Jong-un seemed ready to surpass his father in these absurdities. As supreme leader of North Korea, he told the world that he was the greatest  in a number of unlikely categories (basketball player, leader, superhero, etc), and also his threats to attack, to bomb, to destroy South Korea, came and went with a regularity that they became a joke to much of the world. The son who cried wolf to the world. It seemed that one day he would have to really do it. After the world became passive against him, sure his threats were idle. The boy-turned-dictator of a poor and struggling country. His immaturity was obvious, but that certainly didn’t rule out a failed attack, when his ego told him he must stand up or shut up, no matter if he was doomed to fail.

So recently, once again, things began to heat up in South Korea. There was one difference this time though, I was there, I was there with a class of PSU students who came to teach English and explore the country and culture. I don’t want this to sound like I was some kind of hero in the events that follow though. Oh no, much the opposite, I was merely another observer, witness to some unexpected involvement of my classmates and the attack of Mr. Jong-un, supreme leader of North Korea.

We arrived in Seoul after our teaching at two ten day summer camps, and spend a few days touring the area curtsey of the South Korean government which was hosting us. Then a group of us decided to stay behind in Korea for an extra week after everyone else went home. It was about fifteen of the thirty PSU students, but I shared a hostel with five of those students, with a few other cameo appearances along the way. In Seoul we learned that we could tour the DMZ, the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. It was a chance to say we had visited North Korea, where Americans were definitely not allowed due to our country’s aggressive behavior against their government. But before we had a chance to go we heard news stories that landmines had been planted in the area, and that South Korea would begin a loudspeaker campaign along the border, shouting Anti-communist propaganda, pro-freedom propaganda, and most dangerous of all, K-Pop! One in our group, Grant, seemed wholly unconcerned, so we talked with locals, and they didn’t seem worried. We figured, hey they live with this every day, right on the border of the North, and likely Jong-un’s first target. So fuck it! We went on the tour anyway.

Here is the part about the Jong-un ego. The man who recorded the loudspeaker announcement made a fatal error in formality. In one recording, while reading the dialogue written earlier by a young woman of the South Korean military, he accidentally referred to the supreme leader as oppa, which in Korean is what you call an older man if you are a woman, or if you are romantically involved with someone. So this sounded like the message of a boyfriend talking about his man. Of all the messages there was just this one slipup, this one word deviation of what could be accepted by Mr. Jong-un.

The boys on both the North and South Korean side of the DMZ had a good laugh about the supreme leader’s new sexual orientation. Homosexuality being such a joke to everyone, and still such an unaccepted act for someone, especially the dictator of an entire country, that the joke spread. Murmurs and laughs on behalf of the supreme leader spread all the way up to Jong-un’s palace staff. Until sitting on his patio, napping by the pool, the joke was overheard by the man himself—Jong-un. He arose from his tranquil daydream furious.

“What the fuck did you say?” He screamed at the man, who was behind his personal pool bar. And from the belt of his security officer, he shot the man, already cowering, dead on the spot.

Into his meeting room, Jong-un’s top fifteen advisors met to discuss this rumor. They assured him they could remedy the situation. That they would have the recording changed.

“Who is this man shouting into my country as if he were my boyfriend?”

“Sir, sir, we assure you it is just a propaganda messages, they are trying to stir you,” his advisor pleaded.

“I will kill this man!” Jong-un wailed.

“Sir, sir, please, it is just a recording we will stop it,” the advisor went on.

“I will go down there right now. He wants to suck on something, it can be the barrel of my gun!”

“No, no, sir, please you must not expose yourself, you are safer here,” another advisor pleaded.

“Supreme Leader, you must not go, tonight we have a surprise dinner for you,” the first advisor bargained. “It is your favorite, human baby and mango sticky rice. ”

“Yes sir, and we have three new boys for you to try out, very fresh,” the second continued.

“We have word that it is already changed, sir,” a third stated it. “You spoke and the message complied.”

“No, no,” Jong-un continued. “Prepare my jeep, I go now to confront this man, this coward who lies about me.”

“But sir we do not even know who recorded the message, how can you find him?” A doomed advisor put in.

“You, shut up!” Boomed Jong-un, upholstering his gun. “I will go find this man with the booming voice, I am the supreme leader! You dare think there is anything I can’t do?”

“No, no, sir. Sorry sir,” the doomed man cried. But it was too late, he was shot down in his chair. The rest of the advisors quieted immediately and fell in line.

“You jeep is ready sir,” entered a new voice, followed by complies, of encouragement to the supreme leader.

“I have the biggest dong!” Jong-un cheered.

Part 2: Danze-off

At that time I was starting the DMZ the tour. Our group was solely myself and the other Portlanders from my hostel: Tabina and Grant, the inseparable duo of cocktails and long naps. Summer and Lily, the dance crazy clubbers, and most productive of the group. Myself and Daniel, the old men. The six of us had been out late the night before, but still made the 7am wakeup call to go on the tour. We were all a little delirious, save for Lily, who was smart enough not to drink all you can handle sugar bomb cocktails at Ho Bar XXVII.

The DMZ tour began with a look across a giant green field at North Korea on the other side. We could see the guards from both sides with binoculars, and could faintly hear the loudspeakers blaring in Korean. Our guide gave us a history of the conflict between the two countries, and how this four kilometer wide, heavily guarded, piece of land separated the two countries. The tour seemed like it would be pretty boring, just an opportunity to say you had stepped foot in North Korea, but the day was still young. At around noon we went further into the DMZ over an old bridge, and unloaded from the bus. The North Korean officers were about a hundred meters away, and hardly noticed us tourists, just a normal day on duty.

Now up close the loudspeakers boomed in Korean, and the soldiers stood in their green military kakis, legs apart and AK47’s in hand. It really was very cool, this part of the tour. We looked at these soldiers, people who would likely love to raise their guns and fire a few hunks of lead our way. A big fuck you to us tourists, gawking at them in their poverty and lack of freedom. Like the kid at the zoo, pounding on the Gorilla glass, pointing and laughing at one he thinks inferior. Though cruel in some respects, it was incredibly exciting, what danger lay across the invisible line that divided the DMZ from North Korea?

Then, as we looked them over, and talked amongst ourselves, they began to stir. Shouts came, and the guards on the frontlines got close, and as word traveled between them, they became visibly disturbed. Many seemed not to know what to do, they waved their hands in the air, rifles still slung over their shoulders, and saluted those who had approached. The new men pointed fingers, and though silent from our positions, yells were visible. Some ran off, others got into guard position awkwardly and with too much show.

We were all still in the phase of saying “What the fuck” amongst each other, trying to understand…when we saw the man, the man himself, Kim Jong-un, come barreling up between them. We of course didn’t have any idea who he was, but he seemed important. He wore a finer blue and gold uniform, metals and military decorations covered his chest, and they all gave him so much space, so much fearful respect, that we knew this man was special. Now we were silent, but that silence was broken when he pulled out a gun and fired multiple shots in to a guy on the front lines, one who had turned to him to answer question.

“Whoa shit, don’t mess with that man,” Grand laughed, never phased too much.

The tour guides who had come with us, began to run towards a building behind us, and to speak rapidly in Korean. We followed them inside, where we found Korean soldiers, quiet and glued to a panel cut into the brick building which allowed you to look out.

“Don’t worry, don’t worry. Everything will be alright,” the guide told us without a hint of belief in his voice. He was practically peeing his pants.

We babbled amongst ourselves of what to do. Grant seemed unmoved by the events, he joked of the craziness of the man with the gun. Tabina smacked him. Daniel tried to reassure us that we would get on the bus and leave. Lilly, Summer and me tried to stay calm, but we talked to fast and jumped to conclusions (some correct). Basically everyone was in shock at just seeing a murder, and at the fear of all of the guards around us.

The men at the window shrieked, and tensely yelled at each other. One backed up and went into the bathroom, we didn’t see him come out till everything had transpired. I pushed my way up to see what was happening, just in time to see the man with all the metals and his entourage of guards, rush past the window.

The door opened. Guns drawn the men entered and the lined the insides of the small room, yelling at us. We got our hands up, and some got down on the ground. We could not understand the shouts of the man with the metals that came next, but later we were told he wanted to know who was yelling across the border? Who was calling him a gay man?

The South Koreans inside lay quiet. I looked around at every person, and fear covered the faces of our Korean friends, and most of my group from the states. Grant still seemed slightly amused by the situation, like this was a damn good show, and Summer, something in Summer was not right. She looked like she was going to do something. In my mind I screamed No, just submit! I tried to make eye contact with her, but she would not look over, her stare was trained on the man in charge of the room, yelling at all of us. And then it happened. Summer—the tall wavy haired, dancing queen from Lake Oswego—spoke.

“Uh, can someone tell us what is going on? Maybe we are just in the way?”

Jong-un stopped speaking and looked at her, and I think something in Summer must have snapped, she couldn’t take anymore.

“Yeah? What do you want from us little man?”

Well Jong-un didn’t take being talked to in this tone very well. He came up to her shouting and put a giant, shining, silver hand cannon in her face. But the look Summer had was hard to interpret. She seemed more angry than scared. Standing a shoulder above this man, who seemed so powerful, she was cautious, but she looked dangerous as hell.

Breaking the silence that we were all feeling, the silence of guns drawn and unanswered questions. Fittingly, the loud speaker changed from monotonous speech, to “Good Luck,” a past number one K-Pop hit. As it slowly led in, beats swaying and mysterious, Jong-un began to move from side to side slowly, his finger came up and snapped with the beat. And with the first solo by Beast’s Jun-hyung, the supreme leader’s eyes shifted to the ceiling in an overly empathetic connection to the song.

Why, why you leave me alone. Baby,” the emotional lyrics cried. “I’m still, still, loving you…”

            When the song quickly built and broke with distorted electronic beats into a chaotic futuristic dance, seeming unable to contain herself Summer’s hips began to jerk. Her arms went over her head and she looked down and Jong-un, gun still pointing at her, and began to menacingly shake her shoulders. A taunt, and telling of no, you can’t threaten me. A challenge was made, plain to see by all who could feel the music and energy exploding in the room.

Now I want you to know where I was right now. I was screaming in my brain, Noooo, what the fuck are you doing Summer, he is going to kill us all!

Instead, Jong-un lowered the gun, looked her in the eyes, and started twerking like you have never seem a short chubby, man in uniform do. The metals on his chest began to jingle—like the starting bell of an Olympic event. The two crazy people in the room went off, dance battle begun.

With the next song we were all marched outside, and the battle continued. We lined up. Grant again seemed unconcerned with the gun in his back, turning and telling the guy to knock it off. Tabina was rooting her girl on. Lily seemed to be making eye contact and gestures with one of the cuter North Korean guards, maybe her future husband. Grandpa Dan was telling Summer to cool it, quite aware that we might all be killed here.

For three more songs they battled. Jong-un’s demeanor became much more fun alive, but he never put his gun down, never did the unstable danger leave his eyes. Visible heat waves surfed the desolate baked earth, which seemed to emanate heat, and they both sweated like crazy, but Summer seemed to be winning in terms of moral and the crowd applause that decide in a dance battle.

Ka-kao!” Simultaniously all of our phones sounded with a new Kakao Talk message. It was from Mary-Jo asking if we wanted to hang out tonight.

We are kind of busy right now, Daniel texted.

After this epic dance battle maybe, Grant replied.

Big Bang came on next. Bang Bang Bang. We knew this song well, we danced to if for our fifth grade class dance competition. Summer’s hands came up, clapping to the beat, swaying and jerking, all perfectly with the music, this was not freestyle, at least not the first forty-five seconds of the song. Then the gait of her dancing began to take her backward, step by step towards North Korea, into the middle of the DMZ.

“No.” Yelled our guide, but she could not hear him.

Jong-un followed her, but he was not dancing, he was walking, strong struts, his pistol down at his side.

Summer finished the song, she had danced like a wild god, dirt flew in the air, fake guns flying. In the style of Big Bang, she was over the top bad ass. It was a huge production, a show of who is the shit, and who is shit. It was violent, sexual, and full of a style that said, you can’t stop this. And then she stood staring at him, waiting for his next move, confident that he could not better what she had just given.

Kim Jong-un looked at her, his anger swelled and consumed into a calm, and he played the final move. He raised his arm, the silver of the pistol, catching light as it aimed death at Summer. Then a laugh came from him, demonic as it bellowed from his gut and hastened into a maniacal cackle. His finger on the trigger, he took a step closer to Summer.

BOOOOOMMM!!!!

In an instant Kim Jong-un was torn to a million pieces by one of his own country’s landmines, and sprayed onto everyone. A finger here, some bone fragments there. I gold ring smacked me in the cheek (I took it as a souvenir.)

And that was it. Event closed. Winner decided. The North Koreans went back to the north, minus one who tried to accompany Lily, only to be shut out by the other South Koreans. We got into the bus, used moist towellets to clean off the blood, and went back to our hostel.

Ho Bar again tonight? Then Ocean club, Summer is hot tonight! Tabina texted to the other PSU students of our group.

And that’s the story of how North Korea got their new president, Kim Jong-sung

The Tools of Living

Obviously, when he first got to South America he was a tourist. Tours, treks, hostels—he burned through money and felt joy in doing places—”I did Santiago last week. Did Patagonia…Did Peru…Columbia…I really want to do Brazil next.”—as if an entire country could be summed up so easily. It was less the experience as it was being able to say he had done it. He met friendly locals, cool business owners, and other tourists from all over the world. There was a real tourist culture that came from the feeling of knowing that you were all travelers—that you had left your old lives behind. You had balls because it did take a lot of courage to go out into the world on your own, or even with a close friend. Not groups of friends though, the experience was different. Easier, muddled, disconnected from the culture you traveled to. Yes, being alone was where you proved yourself.

The locals had a special tourist culture as well. They knew how to read foreigners, and how to sell to them. It was a salesmanship at least understandable, and at times the most unique, adaptable, weird bearded guy you’ve ever met. These guides, moto-taxis, hook-ups or “friends” could see a tourist coming from a mile away, and knew just what to say to force them to stop their intended march past. They knew how to surprise, how to joke, and how to convince in godlike ways.

The superficial hostel hoping didn’t last long. At around two months he became bored, started to see through the monotony of his travels. It takes a certain amount of unhappiness to motivate a person to reach for the next good thing. When his travels started to feel repetitive and mundane he realized it was time for the next adventure.

Jamie Howard came to South America after years of sitting on the desire to go, letting it build till it was ready to explode. It wasn’t that he was afraid to leave the country, he just kept getting held back. School, though unnecessary in his own mindset, could be useful in the future. It could make life a little easier down the line, and make getting a job teaching English a possibility. School was slow because he also had monetary restrictions—meaning he was broke. He had to be really. If he wanted the government to pay for his school he had to be poor, very poor, and he was not rich enough to pay for school himself. He was trapped on the cusp of poverty and comfortability. Real poverty was never an issue though, not in America. Jamie was always saving, he could save in nearly any situation, but from his income those savings equaled—not very much. The secret, he would say, was to live below your means, no matter what those means were. Jamie saved for years at those low means. South America was to be an escape from money and restriction, at least the way he imagined it. An educated guess he would say. In South America he imagined he could live cheaply, experience something new daily, and get a good paying job merely because of the language he spoke. He imagined money would not be a worry, and his life would be filled with a sun-soaked happiness.

Jamie found volunteer jobs on the internet. He had intended to wwoof from the beginning. He traveled out to local farms and got room and board for his work. He wanted it to feel like old cowboy times; just working the meal line; an honest day’s pay for and honest day’s work, but most the of the time it was more of an tourist operation. They were real farms, but there was an air of fakeness to them. That salesmanship again, present in the way he was treated. Maybe there were too many other white people there for him to feel special, he wondered. So he worked his way to new places, got better at searching out farms that felt more authentic, improved his Spanish, and made friends who pointed him in the right direction. Eventually he found himself a part of a family. A community too. A small rural town in Chile. He would help in their grape farms and the smaller family garden, which at two acres was not so small at all. He didn’t work too hard, and didn’t get paid at all, but his family was generous. The meals at home were delicious, and they even took him out to restaurants once in a while. When they did the family’s table was always the focus of the restaurant. His skin color made him a celebrity, and his new family by association, but it was not as bad as it was in other places. Here it was respectful, not greedy. His new family was poorer than he, but they did not try to take his money. He justified that it was a fair trade: he gave them work and made them special in town; they fed him and gave him a way of living that he could not achieve on his own. The truth was that the real trade was in the friendships they gave each other, the trade of cultures that enriched both.

Jamie told himself that he would write once he had the time and space to do so. South America was to be that space. He knew that there would always be other obligations, but he figured it would be almost easy while traveling. So much inspiration lay in wait for him on his journeys, and so much free time. There’s a big difference between writing for pleasure and obligation. The words just come out differently; they lack heart when they are forced. He had hoped pleasure lay in South America, and it did much of the time. He would wake up with the sun, the cultural norm where he now lived. Some days he had a hot cup of coffee, others tea and breakfast. He would go sit in the field soaking up the sun and looking out at the crops to be worked, or the mountains in the distance, their forested peaks behind flat farm land were picturesque. Or he would sit in the cool square shack he called home, big enough for his one person bed, a desk, and still room for working out or yoga. The floor was dirt, his bare feet planted on the earth. He spent plenty of time at his little desk in front of shutters that opened to fresh air and sunlight, without the barrier of a window separating him from the outside world. Some mornings he went on long walks, or went to town to get breakfast and be visited by curious townspeople who wanted to practice their English. Jamie did not write a novel, this was no writer’s fantasy of easily completed books, but he wrote what he felt and enjoyed the writing. It was beautiful like his surroundings. Beautiful like the beauty he began to find in his heart. A happiness in him that could well tears to his eyes at unexpected moments of overwhelming emotion. He had reached the point where his expectations, even the long-shot possibilities, had been surpassed. Where to go next, and when, were a complete mystery to him.

One morning, as the sun rose with Jamie, he had the urge to work. His shorts lay bunched on the chair beside his bed. He slid into them and walked out his door into the field without a shirt or shoes. He walked till he found root crops in need of weeding. He got down on his hands and knees, and dug his fingers into the soil, pulled it up and sucked the soil smell into his nose. So clean, he though. He worked for a few hours allowing himself to be side tracked with the movements of little insects foraging and worms wriggling in the upturned soil, with the good morning waves from his family, and with moments to take in the feeling of the breeze rushing across his bare sweating skin. His back ached and it felt good. He worked till he was done, a feeling he knew only when it came. When it had, he stood, breathed a deep and relieving breath, and went to the house for breakfast and cold tea. He had a full day ahead of him, what would he do? The possibilities are endless, he though.

My Story by Yash Ere Singh

My name is Yash, Yash Ere Singh is my whole name, but please just call me Yash. I come from Moolathara Village in southern India. It is in the Palakkad District, in the state of Kerala. Kerala is no doubt where you have heard of, but I have never been there, in fact I have never in my nineteen years left my village. I was a rice farmer in Moolathara. I was, but I am no longer. My family has lived on the land here, in a small house among the paddies, for many generations. When I was a boy I would help in the harvests, and planting of the rice. I would hand my mother, or brother, seeds as they nestled them into small mounds of soil below the thin layer of water in the flooded fields. As I grew older my father and grandfather taught me to build the minor embankments around the paddies to hold in the water which we flooded them with. In rice farming the water is the most important element. It is the life of the rice plants, what they drink in order to grow. Without it they die. Like me, the water is their life source, and death. We farmed rice where I live in southern India because the rains here were hard, and there is much water deep down in the soil. There was, anyway.

My favorite time was the harvest. This had to be timed between the rains. We got to use big rounded blades called scythes, and cut the rice stalks at their base. I was not allowed to do this till I was older though. I would collect the stalks and put them in piles. Later we would take handfuls of the stalks and beat the tops, the rice pods, onto a metal screen tilted at a 45 degree angle, above a tarp. The rice would fall through the mesh onto the tarp. We collected it in this way. Later we spread the rice out on the road to dry, and let the winds blow away the chaff and other light material of the rice that flaked off. We swept the rice around throughout the day to encourage more chaff to fall off, until after a few days we collected it up and it was ready for selling. My real favorite part was what we did with the stalks. We put them in big piles in the fields and burned them. The flames were big and powerful. Even at a distance the heat that came off the piles was incredible, and the pillars and plumes of black smoke that twisted into the air, and up to the unknown, never failed to hold my attention and imagination. I wonder if I saw them today if I would be transported back to the awe of my youth? Or if now I am too hard and cold to feel the wonder that I did back then?

My family was, me, my mother and father, my grandfather (my father’s father), my older brother Rut, and my younger sister Abi. We were not a rich family, but we got by. Our house was in the middle of our paddy as I said. We had a few papaya and coconut trees, some ponds with fish, and a small garden built on raised beds of soil. Really my house was build around the water, or should I say within it. When the rains came everything got wet, so we had to build raised areas for us to live on, and paths to travel on when walking around farm. Our primary source of income was from rice. My brother did get into politics, but that was not till later. My brother is only a few years older than me, so we, my sister included, were all in school. This was still ten years ago in 1993, when Coca-Cola was just moving in. They began building their factor on the edge of town, but since we also were on the edge of town, we were quite close and could see the factory in the distance. Sometimes I would sneak out to the fence that surrounded it and wonder what secrets lay inside. Many in my village went to work for Coca-Cola when they were building, and later, in the factory. In this way many thought Coca-Cola was a friend, to give so much work to our village. But not my father, he said they would hurt us.

I was nine when the Coca-Cola factor moved into my town. There was a vote as to whether they were allowed in , but my father said it didn’t matter, the local government was getting paid by Coca-Cola, so they would be allowed to build. I was young and I was excited. I said YES to Co-kah, as we called it. On special occasions my mother bought me the sweet beverage, and I loved it. It was a great treat. So in my child mind I assumed that when they moved in next door they would share Coca-Cola with me, like all neighbors share and trade what they have with each other. I figured they would be a part of our community, in this positive, sharing way, of which I understood community. They did share with us, but it was not bottles of Co-kah, it was the waste[i] from the process of making their many sodas.

In the years that followed Coca-Cola’s moving to my village, many bad things happened. It was a slow process but the signs were always there. The factory was surrounded by a strange smell. It smelled burnt, but also mixed with chemicals and sweet at the same time. My mother said she knew the smell, she said when she was a girl her brother had gotten injured and lost his leg. She said it was the smell that came from his sick leg as it slowly died; gangrene.  But I don’t think this was accurate. When you smell dying, infected flesh, you know it is bad, but the smell that came from the factory was both good and bad. It would be like covering my uncles dying leg in sugar and baking it.

There was also a stream that came out of the factory. It was very dirty. We were told to stay away from it because we would get sick if we played in it. One boy did, Maagh, a boy a few years younger than me who I went to school with. He played in the runoff often, and then one day he did not come to school. At first I thought it would just be for a little while, but he never came back. Something went wrong inside body, and his organs stopped working[ii]. He died after a few months. The river was blamed for his death, and we were even more afraid of it; everyone avoided it at all costs. But my father said we could not avoid the stream, that it was seeping into the soil and that we were all drinking it because it was going into our water. He said he could taste it. Some people said there were holes in the earth inside the factory fence, that were filled with the same sludge as in the stream. My father was right, but at the time he did not know the science behind it. Our whole town was connected by and aquifer that lay beneath us and held all our water. Many of us had wells, and there was a big one in the center of the village. These wells tapped into the aquifer, and yes we later learned from studies done by concerned people like my brother, that Coca-cola was contaminating the whole aquifer.[iii]

There was also something worse than the contamination that Coca-Cola was doing to our water. They were using too much of it[iv]. In my traditions we have a kind of connection with nature. We know that it gives us life so we take from it sparingly so it will not get mad and go away from us. We looked at the water as a present from the gods. The rains that came, enabled us to grow our rice and quench the thirst of ourselves and our animals. When the rains did not come we believed it was because we had angered the gods. After Coca-Cola came, the gods became angry. The rains began to slow and drought came to us.

As the years past I grew into a man. I was married to Kavisha, my neighbor’s daughter. We tried to start a family of our own, but Kavisha could not get pregnant. Maybe it was because of the sickness in the land, and a chemical I have heard mentioned called DDT[v]. I became very poor too. My father’s lands dried up. Water would not come, and so rice would not grow. My sister had died also, over the course of a few years. The doctors did not know why she got sick, but we all knew it was from the chemicals coming out of the Coca-Cola factory. After my brother became a politician, he would show us facts of how Coca-Cola was illegally drawing too much water from the earth. That they had made six huge wells that stole 1.5 million liters of water a day[vi]. He said they were running their factory in ways not mandated by the government. He said that Coca-Cola saw the water as money. That they stole it and then resold it. He said the water belonged to the people and that the factory took more than their fair share. This was my brother’s view though. I agreed that Coca-Cola was taking too much, but I did not care for his political ways. I thought he overcomplicated it. I believed nature and I were one. I did not think water was a legal right, I thought that the water and the earth were my family. When we lived in harmony, life flowed more smoothly. The gods were happy. Nature and I shared the same gods, and we were gods by the same respect. This is what I believed, but I don’t think about my beliefs very often anymore. For me there was also the reality of my situation in front of me. So I did what I could to get by. When we could no longer grow rice, I went to work for Coca-Cola.

I worked in the shipping department at Coca-Cola, stacking the heavy crates into trucks to be hauled away. Millions of bottles of that sweet liquid I craved as a child, went through my hands every day. The company sees these bottles of sugar water as a commodity to make profit by, but I see the soda as the water of life I once knew, dirtied by their process. I read once that it takes nine liters of clean water to manufacture a liter of Coca-Cola[vii]. I would rather have the nine bottles of water. I did not want these bottles of soda, I did not want to drink them. I only wanted water. But sometimes I did drink Co-kah because there was no water to drink. My brother showed me a letter[viii] Coca-Cola had written in response to his colleagues official complaint to them. It said they had set up rainwater harvesting ponds which held 27 million liters of water. I believed it too. The factory was huge, and in it somewhere was enough water to flood my father’s rice field. And the fields of our neighbors. In it was enough water to fill the town’s wells which now held a thin layer of silt filled water at their bottoms. Somewhere in the factory was enough water for me to fill up an empty coke bottle and bring it home to my wife.

So this is where my story ends. My father is not the man he once was. He is old and angry, he drinks rice wine and yells. He does very little with his time. My mother is much the same. She has retreated from life. She sits in our house, in a kind of daze. She helps Kavisha with housework, but there is not much to do, because there are not many living in my house anymore. My father and mother watch a lot of TV now, sitting next to each other not speaking. My brother tries to change the world. He wants to make India a better place, and he want to fix the wrongs that have been committed to our village, and to others like it. He knows the water is key to fixing our problems, but he only sees it as tool. He lives in the city now, and drinks water from bottles. He sends money home to us sometimes. But it is not money that we need, it is purpose. We, my father and I, my family and ones like it, we need to go back to the past. We need our hands in the earth. Wet hands, our feet suctioning in the mud as we plant rice. We need to work, backs bent—hard work. We need the days before harvest, watching the sky, deciding when the rains will come, and when there will be respite from them to let our rice dry. Now there is only respite from the rains. I need to go back to being to that kid watching the flames roar over cut rice stalks, and the black smoke twisting into the sky. But we cannot go back to the past, so on my walk to work, I stare at the silver pillars which protrude from the Coca-Cola factory, and now and then I see thin white smoke wafting up into the air. It is not the same, but it is better than nothing.

*

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[i] Vandana, Shiva (2006). “Coke Pepsi and the Politics of Food Safety.” Z Space. Retrieved from:  http://www.zcommunications.org/space/viewCommentaryPrint/2690.

[ii] (See i). The effects of exposure to this waste are not fully documented, but it contains high amounts of Cadmium and Lead. “Cadmium has the potential to cause effects like kidney dysfunction, damage to bone, liver and blood. lead affects the central nervous system, kidney, blood and cardio-vascular system” (Vandana 2006).

[iii] Vendana, Shiva (2005). “India: Soft Drinks, Hard Cases.” Mindfully.org. Retrieved from:  http://www.midfully.org/water/2005/India-Coca-Cola-Pepsi12mar05.htm.

[iv] (see i and iii).

[v] (see vi)

[vi] Office of the Perumatty  (2003, September 18). “Panchayat Letter to Coca-Cola.” Message posted to:  http://www.pbs.org/now/transcript/transcript_perumattyletter.html.

[vii] (see iii).

[viii] Coca-Cola India (2003, November 5). “Response from Coca-Cola India.” Message posted to:  http://www.pbs.org/now/transcript/transcript_cocacolaletter.html

I wrote this essay, but it doesn’t fit the assignment well enough…scrapped.

Homeless At Home

            The beginning of large scale Asian immigration into the United States started around the 1850’s, but their reception was unlike that of fellow white immigrants, instead they faced huge quantities of racism, lower wages and a lack of belonging. The latter of these struggles will be illustrated here as a sense of homelessness among Asians in America, which will be defined within the essay. The 1957 limited release of John Okada’s book No-No Boy will be used to diagram the lack of home many Asians felt, even when America was their home country, and through it will be a window into the struggles they underwent, specifically those of Japanese Americans just after WWII and the nationwide internment imposed upon them in America.

No-No Boy begins with the main character Ichiro’s return home from a two year sentence in prison for refusing his draft into the army during WWII. He returns to hatred from fellow Japanese who had served among the hatred of other races; he returns to a family shattered by the internment and a lack of national identity; he returns to a new home, a small store cramped with poverty, which he can scarcely call home. For Ichiro there is no home, not physically or mentally. Ichiro is representative of many Japanese Americans at the time, and the Asian American experience in this country for many years.

A close reading of one quote from the book will take primary focus in this essay, as it details this idea of homelessness better than any other. The focused of the quote is not literal though, it is metaphorical and nightmarish. Rather than describing something that happened to Ichiro, it is instead a description of what is happening inside of him.

From [a] sublime depth, a stranger awakens to strain his eyes into focus on the walls of a strange room. Where am I? he asks himself. There is a fleeting sound of lonely panic as he juggles into order the heavy, sleep-laden pieces of his mind’s puzzle. He is frightened because the bed is not his own. (Okada 39)

Looking closely at the words used, the quote begins with “from a sublime depth.” Sublime here means coming from a place of great awe, but scientifically it can also relate to a substance changing state from solid directly to gas, or visa-versa. This requires intense conditions to support the metamorphosis, and metaphorically it implies the encroaching forces put on Ichiro’s world. As the many challenges are put on him, he becomes a lost spirit without anything solid to hold him down. The next idea we are given is of a stranger waking. Strange is repeated twice in this one sentence to give it emphasis—stranger in a strange room. Ichiro is just that, a stranger in his country which has forsaken him, in his family which has lost its unity, and in his own life which has lost purpose. This is seen in the next line when he asks himself “Where am I?”. Being lost which he is clearly feeling in this fantasy, reflects his outer self as lost as well. The next sentence is filled with words that describe that loss of self: “fleeting”; “panic”; “juggles”; “sleep-laden”; and “pieces of his mind’s puzzle”. These are all great descriptions of the confusion in his mind and senses; the feeling of blurry sleep burdened eyes; sound quickly vanishing; the disorientation of the brain like an unfinished puzzle. Ichiro can find no place in the world, the last sentence here shows his fear of that: “frightened”…”because the bed is not his own”. The “bed” deserves very specific attention. Beds are where we sleep, where we are able to relax, heal and restore our health and strength. Beds are most associated with home, they are private, in our living space, in our rooms, they are the sacred space to be shared with loved ones, with a wife, with a child, with a brother or sister. When this sentences says a “bed” not his own, what it is saying is that he has no home. To be in the bed of someone else is to be in the home of someone else as well. The words used in this sentence very clearly map out Ichiro’s homelessness on a mental level.

Why Ichiro is homeless in America is a big question. The answer is a number of factors, all stemming from his ethnicity. Racism is the simple answer, it’s cause and effect. External and internal racism is the longer answer. Though Japanese internment plays very heavily into Ichiro’s life, we must a look little further back to see that even before WWII most Asian Americans did not feel at home in America.

Here is a brief look at Asian immigration into this country over the hundred years of 1850-1950 relying the history book by Ronald Takaki, Strangers from a Different Shore. Of course some Asians had entered the country before 1850, but this is around the time period when immigration became large scale. Immigrants included Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Indian, Korean, among many others Asians, but to a lesser degree. Their stay here shifted back and forth between wanted importation, and intense hatred and deportation. Their labor was cheap, good for business owners, bad for other laborers. Laws passed by the US government tell the story. In 1882 the first race exclusion act was created: the Chinese Exclusion Act (14). This was followed by extensions of the exclusion act to other Asian races, systematically creating wage competition among various Asian immigrants (29). It is also necessary to note that the majority of Asian immigrates were male, thus creating a family, another sense of home, was much more difficult, and that anti-miscegenation laws abounded until 1948 when the California Supreme Court ruled against them (405). In 1913 California passes the Alien Land Law (203) barring non US citizens from owning land, this spread to many other western states (206), “In fact, the state’s image as projected by politicians in the 1920 vote on the alien land law was ‘keep California White'” (390). Since Asian immigrants were not eligible for the same citizenship and naturalization laws that white immigrants were allowed, owning land to build a home upon became an impossibility which is best highlighted by the Ozawa case in 1922, where he was denied citizenship because “he was not white” (208). More specific to this essay, in 1941, the day Pearl Harbor was bombed by the Japanese, Roosevelt signed Executive order #9066, which allowed the internment of Japanese Americans throughout the country. It is important to note that the other two major axis forces in WWII, the Italian and Germans, did not face the same racial prejudices as the Japanese (391-92). It was not until 1965 that the US government amended the Immigration and Nationality Act to remove national-origin quotas for those allowed to immigrate into the US. These laws, among many others, show that the US has had a long standing history of attempting to keep Asians from settling in this country, and making a home here.

After looking at Asian immigration history it is clear that while many Asian Americans did make their home here, they did not necessarily feel at home here. This is excluding example of personal racism which are not illustrated here yet, but it should be realized that many did face great quantities of it. For Japanese Americans during WWII and our example of the book No-No Boy, this time period was especially difficult. Their lack of home in all the senses we are talking about here exemplifies, almost to martyrdom, the Asian American experience at the time.

The Japanese internment plays very heavily into No-No Boy. When this happened families were taken out of their homes and split up. Some were shipped back to Japan, some were sent to the internment camps which sometimes left them separated within. Some Japanese were drafted into the US military, a proof that they were American not Japanese, but many could not bring themselves to join the military so they were thrown into prison for draft dodging. These men were nicknamed “no-no boys.” But joining the military was no easy feat for many Japanese, despite the possible death it could bring, it also might have meant going to war with family back in Japan. Joining the military also meant serving a country that in most cases had not served them. In the preface of No-No Boy there is a good example of this. A man was drafted into the army out of an internment camp where he and his split up family resided. “[He] had stood before the judge and said let my father out of that other camp and come back to my mother who is an old woman but misses him enough to want to sleep with him and I’ll try on the uniform. The judge said he couldn’t do that and the friend said he wouldn’t be drafted and they sent him to the federal prison” (xi). This example is not one of fair treatment, it is not the freedom Americans are encouraged to fight for, it is not what one deserves from the government of their home country. Here we also see the symbolism of a bed again, mother and father not allowed to sleep together, not allowed to share a bed. This is a very clear example of a lack of the qualities of a home that the first quote illustrates.

To take this a little further we will look at a famous American, Yuri Kochiyama, who died recently at an old age. Her voice is still seen by many as strong and influencing. She was a prominent activist in the racial struggles in this country. Yuri Kochiyama was put into an internment camp like most Japanese who were not drafted or imprisoned. Her voice is especially important as she dedicated her life to be an activist for civil rights. Seeing a link between the African American segregation and the treatment of Japanese during WWII, she worked closely with them, and even jumped on stage when Malcolm X was shot and cradled his head as he died. Her father was one of the first taken by the FBI on December 7th, 1941, the same day Pearl Harbor was bombed, and he died a few hours after his release (Kochiyama). Of the early internment she recounts, “The Japanese Americans, and even the Isseis–first generation, who could not become Americans–they were so American. [..] And yet the hysteria about, the suspicion of Japanese people was very, very strong. […] By the end of the day, I think, all the Japanese people were calling their friends to say ‘did anyone come to your home and take your father or mother?'” (Kochiyama 32:55). Living under a reality that the government can and did come into the houses of Japanese and take people’s mothers and fathers away, and later take them–nearly all Japanese, certainly destroys another important factor of having a home. That is security. To be able to lock your doors and feel safe inside your home. For nearly one hundred percent of Japanese, and Japanese Americans, in the country at that time, there was no sense of security in the places they referred to as home. This real life account emphasizes the “lonely panic” and fear of the highlighted quote.

In looking at Internment the question arises: How was this allowed to happen? The answer is it was a product of racism. Personal racism is how Americans turned a blind eye to the internment of their fellow humans, and countrymen. Before Ichiro can even make it home he is confronted on the cold street by a group of African Americans, they shout racial slurs at him: “‘Go back to Tokyo, boy.’ Persecution in the drawl of the persecuted. The white teeth and brown-black leers picked up the cue and jigged to the rhythmical chanting of ‘Jap-Boy, To-ki-yo; Jap-Boy, To-ki-yo…'” (Okada 5).  Ronald Takaki notes, “The term ‘Jap’ was  so commonplace it was even used unwittingly.” And, “Racist curses repeatedly stung their ears: ‘Jap Go Home,’ ‘Goddamn Jap!’ ‘Yellow Jap!’ ‘Dirty Jap!’ Ugly graffiti assaulted their eyes at railroad stations and in toilets: ‘Japs Go Away!’ ‘Fire the Japs!’ […] ‘Japs, we do not want you’ (Takaki 181). Verbally assaulted like this, it is hard to imagine the Japanese were seen as equals, for they clearly were not. This kind of racism did not spring up overnight either, it has been present in America since Asians began immigrating. When trying to build a sense of home, this is clearly not the foundation which one finds a place of belonging.

Returning to Ichiro’s nightmare, awaking as a stranger and asking where am I? This become not only a major theme for the book, that is Ichiro’s sense of homelessness, but also a theme for many Asian Americans in this country, throughout history. Takaki give us an account of a Japanese woman who gets pregnant while interned, she says, “I told my husband, ‘This is crazy. You realized there’s no future for us and what are we having kids for?'” (396). Indeed America was rarely the kind of place for Asian American immigrants to raise their children, or give them opportunity. Home is a safe place where families live and sleep. It is where one emerges into the world in the morning, and where one retires at night. It is something one strives to build for their family, both literally as an owned house, and mentally as a comfortable setting where all can let their guard down and feel protected. None of these places existed for Japanese in America during WWII, or for the majority of Asians in this country since they began arriving. For the Asian American, finding a home in this society is no easy task. An overarching sense of homelessness in the search for belonging, has been a keynote struggle for Asians of all decent in this country for far too long.

Work Cited

Kochiyama, Yuri. Interview with Democracy Now. Democracy Now. 2 June 2014. Broadcast. http://www.democracynow.org/blog/2014/6/2/yuri_kochiyama_on_her_internment_inw

Takaki, Ronald. Strangers from a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans. New York: Back Bay Books, 1989. Print.

Okada, John. No-No Boy. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1976. Print.

Productivity in Small amounts

Homework lasted 5 or 6 hours, a small amount really. At school I accomplished a lot, starting at 8 am and quitting homework now, at 11 pm. But I only sat in this chair, in the solitude of my cubic home, for a few hours. Of course at home, in homework, I am in rest. I cook, I work, I feel productive, and I drink much of the time.

 

What I accomplished is the question. I did what I needed to first, then did extra curricular that I felt to be very important, the school newspaper, but everything I wrote today needs polish.

 

Ah hell, maybe it all needs polish. I will never be satisfied with a work, always I will change a word, or find a spelling error. I feel pride in this. Like it makes me a true writer, my work never done. I know perfection will never, NEVER, come, but I still wish it existed.

 

My conversations today were good too. With my neighbor Kevin, a nice guy who just moved to Oregon. He needs a bit ‘a drama in his life but that’s ok, it makes the days interesting I guess.

 

And with the bar tender. That conversation was not special, but I’d had a few drinks and wanted to talk. He thought me very drunk or weird when I first came in. I just read and wrote and only the later was true. It was nice to see him re-evaluate me after I started talking with him.

 

Study can be consuming but definitely worthwhile. I have the perfect amount of it. Too much and I’d get bored, too little and I would not be getting much from it.

 

Anyway. Read some old writing from a few weeks ago. It was good.

 

Ok good night.