Monthly Archives: October 2018

Finally a milestone

Hello, everyone,

Well, it hasn’t been very long since the previous post to this list, but there’s a milestone worth sharing — a walk completely around Lake Chabot in Castro Valley (9.5 miles or 15.5. kilometers). It’s a fairly easy walk, though there are a few hills.  And those familiar with the route will detect from the pictures which direction I took. And don’t forget – clicking on a picture brings up a larger version which contains the details for which the picture was taken in the first place.

But it’s not the walk itself that’s so important, but the fact that, for the first time in well over a decade, it was not accompanied by stabbing foot pains in the middle of my left foot after the first few miles. Indeed, even last year when, a few times, I walked 3 miles with an old student,  that was pretty much the limit before the pains started.

The current milestone emerged from almost a year of physical therapy and traditional Chinese medicine aimed at untwisting my right hip and getting the femur back into it at the correct angle, thereby allowing both feet to hit the ground at the correct angle.  Not only was the walk pain free (except for the blister that I got), my stride was quicker, too, since the bones were finally close to the proper position. And walking downhill went quicker, too, since the bone position didn’t force my body to the side with each step.

This is a big deal. And I’m especially glad that I didn’t heed the podiatrist’s advice ten years ago to escape the pain by killing the nerve, even though it took ten years to discover the proper cause.

In fact, I waited until today to send this out because yesterday I circled the lake in the opposite direction, wearing different shoes, just to make sure the first time wasn’t just a fluke. A blister started on the opposite foot! But otherwise there was very little stabbing pain. I’m not out of the woods yet, and there are other problems to work on next, but it’s tremendously encouraging that some progress has been made in something. Thanks to all those who have been remembering me at this time.

While walking, I had time to think and remember. When I lived in Tianjin, one of our teaching colleagues was a European who cared a lot about air pollution.  He commonly wore a mask with a long nose that resembled vintage gas masks from World War I. In fact, many people habitually donned face masks while outdoors.

Since then, China has made notable progress in mitigating this blight, but back then, pea-soup smog loomed over everything, as seen in this night-time picture from those days which interrupts Lake Chabot gallery.

This European’s teaching status was higher than many of us, so he once finagled an interview with the mayor of Tianjin himself to discuss the problem.  The interview was short. The mayor graciously welcomed him, and assured him that pollution was not a problem. Neither he nor anybody else need worry about it.  Apparently the mayor hadn’t the nose or eyes to perceive what was obvious to the rest of the populace.

I recently heard that this mayor presently sits in jail, presumably for corruption, perhaps in connection with the 2015 port explosions? Perhaps someone in China knows more about this than I do and can provide correction?  Well, if it’s true, then that’s some small comfort, I suppose. But I’ve often  thought to myself, how could somebody lie so brazenly about something so obvious to all? Nobody in my own country would be so shamelessly dishonest. How naive I was.

My hiking thoughts summoned up this Tianjin mayor because not only does the present American head of state surpass him in lying, he lies more prolifically and glibly than anybody I’ve ever known personally, or even heard about. (Not only that, he still hasn’t reunited all the children separated from their parents at the southern border which I’ve previously written about).

Yet, in some ways, the  appearance of such cruelty is refreshing, because the pretense is gone.  He truly embodies the direction that the Republican party has been taking for quite some time. It’s not the same organization as it was when I was boy. While I was in China, my Chinese colleagues sometimes asked what was wrong with it. I usually replied that a sickness had slowly settled into it. Well, now it’s on brilliant display.

Again, it’s not always been that way. The transformation got going with the Lewis Powell Memo. Next came key figures like like  Grover Norquist, or Lee Atwater or Frank Luntz.  These people are not evil (well, except maybe for Atwater), and they don’t hide in corners.   Neither do organizations like ALEC. These should be front and center in any discussion about it, yet they’re often neglected.

With time, Republicans have been forced to increasingly depend upon lies, even more than most politicians. It’s easy to see why, as most citizens don’t support their actual positions. So it’s almost comical that the same people who tried more than fifty times (and almost succeeded last year) to eliminate health insurance protections for those who’ve already been seriously ill, now claim to support such protections even while they’re currently suing the government to eliminate them.  That’s Chutzpah.

But those issues aren’t the leadership’s principle concern. Rather, the current Republican leadership (though not all members) has long worked to elevate artificial persons (such as international corporations) above natural persons (such as actual human beings). Anything more is just smoke and mirrors.

Most Americans don’t support these positions, so if you’re qualified to take part in next month’s vote, please do so. In years to come, you don’t want to be that someone who neglected this duty. Not this time. On my dining room table, where I can’t ignore it, sits my mail-in ballot for next month’s election (California makes voting easy), which will get posted during the next couple days

I really do feel that this is one of the most important elections of our lifetime. Meantime, it’s strange to sometimes hear more traditional Republicans such as this guy or this guy or this guy advocating that people vote for the other side, not because they agree with it, but because it may force the Republicans to rehabilitate themselves.

So how come Republicans keep winning elections, even though most people don’t agree with them? It’s not simply through misrepresenting their positions but also through  massive and sophisticated voter suppression, once they hold the reins of power.

Take, for example, Dodge City. Long after the days of Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson, most of the city consists of working class Spanish speakers who usually vote for the other party. So they moved the only voting place outside the city, a mile beyond the reach of public transportation, yet still mailed out cards that directed people to the old voting location that would no longer be used.

In South Dakota, they realized that Indians usually support the other party, so they required all voters to have an identification card with a street address, knowing that most Indians live where the streets don’t have addresses. You have to admit, they really can be clever.  There are many such examples.

Our situation in California is instructive. Once in power here, a few decades ago, they instituted a system of voter suppression called Gerrymandering. (to be fair, they aren’t the only ones who have done this).  Under their entrenched power, though, not much got done, and in fact, they threw the state billions of dollars into debt, something which I had never before thought was even legal.

Well, about ten years ago, the voters passed a law that eliminated Gerrymandering, no matter who might try it.  Without the suppression, the Republicans were almost thoroughly ejected.  California’s debts were paid (we now have a surplus) and California went from being the world’s tenth largest economy to the fifth. Even the roads are finally getting repaired.

Anyway, please everybody vote, so we can finally put in some checks on this disaster. My most immediate concern, obviously, is to maintain my access to health care, since just last week, the Republican leader in the Senate stated that he wants to cut medical care and retirements in order to pay for last December’s giveaway to the rich.

But overriding my own concerns is the preservation of our country’s traditional multicultural nature.  Believe me, people from California, Georgia, New England and  Wisconsin live in different cultures.  And that’s a strength. Furthermore, this country has large numbers of people from just about every other location on earth, something that most countries simply don’t deal with, at least not in large numbers.

I’m reminded of China, with its 56 ethnic minorities who all together make up only 7 or 8 percent of the population. I sometimes wonder what would happen if over half the citizens suddenly weren’t even Asian.

Something similar happened in California a while back.  The group of cultures called “white” was not comfortable that it would soon be just one minority among many. They passed laws to restrict bilingual education, among other things.  Now that it’s all over, life goes on.  Bilingual education returned.

Now, the Country as a whole is now about to enter that phase.  But instead of helping people to see that they’re not actually threatened by their neighbors, our chief of state stokes ethnic divisions for his own petty political gains. Divide and conquer, and above all, make his supporters feel like victims.  As I’ve long maintained, a leader who can make his followers feel like victims can lead them almost anywhere.  At least, by calling himself a “nationalist,” he’s clarified his game.

Interestingly, comedian Trevor Noah, has discovered the same point about victimhood that I have.

Meanwhile, the constant hatred, mocking, division, and violent sentiments coming from the chief executive is working its natural effect on some mentally unstable individuals, inspiring them to bomb and murder.  For all this, my hope and expectation is that we will get through this, though like an escape through fire, as St. Paul put it.  The chief executive will eventually join those whose names became nouns to conceptualize particular instructive elements– people like McCarthy, Quisling, Benedict Arnold, and, yes, Gerry.

Well, I’d meant to write no more than a thousand words, but after observing these events developing over the past thirty years, it’s hard to stop at a thousand, as there’s a lot more to be said. But by offering such an abbreviation, my points are not thoroughly proven.  Maybe it would have been better not to write at all.

But indeed, the discernment of truth, which becomes increasingly difficult in this age of the “the big lie,” is more essential than ever.  I can’t change anybody’s mind by what I’ve written, if indeed anybody would even read this far.  It’s just that I love this country.  <sigh>

But if anybody did read to here, I would like to recommend another musical selection, from the Tiny Desk concerts. It’s jazz singer Cécile McLorin Salvant, though, to tell the truth, it’s the pianist in this performance, Sullivan Fortner, who really caught my attention. How thrilling that jazz music continues to develop in this twenty-first century! Hopefully the link will work even in China.

And if anybody ever makes it here, there are lots of boats that we can rent at Lake Chabot.

Don’t forget to vote!






Happy Belated Mid-National Day!

Greetings from Portland,

The mid-autumn festival celebrates the full  autumn harvest moon. So take an evening stroll to enjoy it!  I popped outside around midnight on that date and snapped the full moon and a streetlight, rising loudly and in concert over my mother’s house.

And today is National Day in China — so Happy National Day! Or maybe, Happy Mid-National Day!

Fires in the West

I’ve sojourned to Portland a couple times since the last update, this latest time to celebrate my mother’s birthday.  The views from the earlier flights showcased extensive California wildfires. Like the hurricanes on our east coast, they aren’t more common these days, but definitely more severe, due to global warming.

The picture above, from August, shows the edge of the fire’s smoke, before the view turned exclusively to smoke. In all, about a million acres burned in California so far this year. That’s about four thousand square kilometers, about the same size as Beijing’s urban area.

The second picture, from this month, shows burned hills next to farmland. The smoke did in fact reach the Bay Area, where I live, where it was compared to Beijing air!

Those Darned Millennials

And as I’d hoped, I did indeed take in a baseball game with my pseudo-nephew John. It was held at San Francisco’s Giants Stadium (at least that’s what it should be called), one of the most beautiful ball parks anywhere. The Giants lost big that night. But it was still fun to be there.

Having had no kids of my own, I greatly appreciate my pseudo nephews. In the spirit of “rent-a-kid” that has characterized a lot of my life, I’ve shared various rites of passage with them over the years.  I once even helped John move into college! And this month, I got to give his brother Tynan a car and even helped him practice operating a manual clutch.  I’m a little ashamed to admit that I did it on the cheap. The Honda in question had been gifted to me by Tynan’s father a few years back when he moved to England. There’s not much credit in giving away something that was given to me in the first place. Still, I enjoyed every minute, even the smog check.

My Less-Shattered Body

Remember that scene in the second “Terminator” movie where the android is blasted to smithereens? Just when you thought he was blown away, the fragments began reassembling themselves.

My hips and legs weren’t exactly blown away, but stress had twisted and distorted them over many years.  Only now do I understand the extent of its effects, as my physical therapist and Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner work in tandem to coax the shattered parts back  into their proper positions.  It’s paying off in ways that I hadn’t expected.

For example, fifteen years ago (at least), my ankles began swelling, thick enough to hide my ankle bones. Doctors never seemed to think it was particularly significant.  But now, as my right-hand  leg bone re-settles into its original hip position, both my feet are meeting the ground at new angles, and the swelling has begun to come down and the bones to reappear, at least partially.

The foot pains and numbness are now shifting to the side, and will hopefully drop off. And the same re-alignment affects my whole body, including my ear ringing. It’s really intriguing, though it would be more so if it didn’t involve so much personal pain and discomfort.  And hopefully, other swellings will also deflate, so I can avoid surgery in the future. We’ll see about that, though.

In the meantime, I’ll observe that, despite my misgivings about leaving Tianjin, I had no idea that two years on I’d still be struggling with all this. So it’s probably good that I left when I did.

Also, I’m so grateful to those who have kept in touch with me during the most difficult two years of my life so far.  Its been critical to my recovery.  And also, thanks to my parents for, among other things, maintaining their own health for the last couple years as I’ve been dealing with all this.

Update from the Border

Last time I wrote, I had been blind-sided by the shock of my own government taking children from their Central American parents as a matter of policy against refugees from that region who were seeking help. I knew that our chief executive was a capriciously cruel and mean-spirited man, as are many of his closest advisors (“like attracts like,” I guess), but I hadn’t expected him to go that far.

The situation has not been resolved, despite court orders to reunite the families. Two months past the deadline, over a hundred remain separated, perhaps because the government knew beforehand that the courts would take that attitude, and so they totally “unprepared” for it.  I’ve recently learned a lot more horrible ways that even more refugee kids are being treated, but that’s enough about that.

Many of the refugee families, out of desperation, had crossed into the USA at illegal locations, after the proper ports of entry “slow-walked” the entry process to keep them out. Some of these ended up in a local jail near Berkeley, California, so my friend Arlene and I headed out to join a protest. The jail was located in a suburb, so all the extra cars jammed the streets. Perhaps a thousand people showed up to augment a smaller group who had been attending every  day for weeks. There were even musicians.

In the end, the jail tired of paying overtime to hire extra guards to watch protesters. The refugees were moved to a more distant facility. Are they better off? It’s hard to know.

And this ethnic targeting isn’t limited to border crossers. The government is now exploring ways of removing citizenship from naturalized citizens and from those in the Texas border area who were not born in hospitals, and thus might lack the customary hospital paperwork.

Arlene’s Family

Arlene’s family knows such ethnic targeting well.  And the pictures in this section are hers.

In 1942, it was World War II.  Arlene’s parents, along with over 100,000 other Americans of Japanese ancestry were rounded up into camps. About two-thirds were American citizens, and the others were not, mainly because the laws back then limited citizenship for immigrant Japanese.

The barracks at Amache, Colorado.

So Arlene’s parents were hauled off into the Colorado desert, where they met and married, thus proving that even the worst of clouds can have some silver lining. Many of the young men from those camps joined the American military and fought for the USA in the war while their innocent families were yet interned.

The camps were emptied at the end of the war, the lumber sold off in whole or in part. Only the foundations remain.  I was surprised to learn that many Americans, particularly those from back East, don’t know this history. More information about all this can be found here.

Finally, this year, 2018, the Supreme Court, while striking down a Presidential travel ban against Muslims, declared that the orders interning the Japanese Americans were not legal according to the constitution.

So last summer, Arlene joined a large group of amateur archeologists and former internees, organized by the University of Denver, to excavate and document that same Colorado camp where her parents met. She brought her mother’s wedding dress to donate to an associated museum. And she later told me how impressed she was that so many non-Japanese people, including the professor who organizes the dig every year, care so much about what had happened there.

Chinatown / Japantown

In Portland, starting in the 1890’s, an area near the river had developed into a thriving Japantown. But then, during WWII they were forced into internment camps, and never regained their lost property. So the Chinese community settled into that area, and to this day it’s a Chinatown, though over the past few years, most Chinese have then moved further out to Southeast 82nd Avenue.

For Mid-autumn Festival, I visited the old Chinatown with my brother-in-law and took in various performances and exhibits. One exhibit, as well as a nearby museum, told the story of Portland’s Japanese. Interestingly, nobody Asian was operating that exhibit.

In 1990 a Chinese Garden, the “Lan Su” Garden, opened up in Chinatown. A lot of non-Asians help run that, too. This was only my second visit inside since the first, 15 years ago. Its loveliness seemed more lived-in than before.

In the yard next door someone sold greeting cards with hand-made paper-cut designs that popped out when the card was opened. I got a card with a pop-out butterfly for my mother’s birthday! It’s hard to find anything with a butterfly theme that she doesn’t have already, so I was happy.

And down the block were various musicians, dancers, and the obligatory lion dancers, as well as a museum about the old Chinatown.

My Latest Visitor from Abroad

I recently hosted my friend Rob, an American guy that I worked with in China and I’ve known for almost two decades now, and whom many on this list also know.  In some sense he’s also joined my family, the French part of it anyway, since he presently lives with his French wife and sons in Saints, a small town east of Paris. He had to come to San Francisco to sort out some visa issues.

They’d had their second son just before Rob arrived in California. Not only did they receive full medical care in France, without payment of any kind, the French government actually gave them some extra cash to tide them over during the first months with the new baby. And when Rob flew to America, they offered to hire a part-time helper for his wife while he was absent.– again, free of charge to Rob’s family.

And I keep asking myself — why can’t we have such things in America, when we are so much richer? California, if it were its own country, would be the fifth richest in the world, up from tenth in the world ten years ago when the Republicans used to rule it.  On the other hand, I found out that French bureaucracy is every bit as obtuse and Byzantine as any in China, or even compared to my old school district in Hayward.

I’m still waiting for others on this mailing list to come visit!  Don’t delay!!!!

American Dreams

When I was in China, everybody talked about “the Chinese Dream.” As far as I could tell, this meant to work hard and succeed, not just as an individual, but everybody together — a laudable goal. People there often asked me what the “American Dream” was. And though I could feel it in my heart, I never quite knew how to express it.

But recently someone opined that the American dream is the chance to reinvent oneself. That sounds right.  It’s our strength, and also our weakness. It sounds like a selfish and  individualistic goal, but actually  it’s more a matter of deciding which team you’re going to join. And the team is everything.

Mine was a true reinvention.  Never in my youth had I suspected that I’d end up joining The Teachers.  Certainly, nobody in my family had ever been one. The Teachers here, like every American group, naturally differ from those in my ancestors’ homes — Sweden, France, or Scotland — even though in some sense, teaching is its own culture.   I’m reminded of my first trip to China in 1998 (shown in this picture), on a teacher team mostly comprised of American-born Chinese.  China mystified them almost as much as it did me. Kind of like how Sweden and France still mystify me.

America’s panoply of differing cultures, similar to their foreign originals but not the same, persist as groups, even after everybody’s speaking English. Twenty years ago, I volunteered to report on various teacher meetings. Our assistant superintendent spoke forcefully that he was committed to finishing a certain project. When I reported that he was going to get that project finished, I got called on the carpet. No, he did not say that! He said he was committed to it!  Change it in the report!!!!

When I later complained to a friend, he asked ,”Is he Portuguese? I find that the Portuguese always draw that distinction between promises and commitment. No wonder he felt misquoted.” Well, my friend nailed it. His ancestry was in fact Portuguese. His culture, at least in this small area, was distinct from mine.

Meanwhile, I have a recurring and literal dream of my own, as my body s-l-o-w-l-y comes together. I keep dreaming that I’m preparing to teach a year of elementary school, like my former class in this picture, taken in June 2000 with my very first digital camera – a gift from the kids’ parents.

In my dream, everyone around me is always so encouraging.  And then, as the first day of classes draws nigh, I remember that I’m retired, so I can’t receive full pay. And then I don’t know what to do.  And then I wake up.  And then I start writing letters like this one.

Going Forward

I wanted to tie this message up at the end by explaining why, in terms of what I stated above, I feel that the country which I love is in great danger, probably the greatest in my lifetime. At the same time, wonderful things are happening outside the leadership, which may make the country better than ever once they work themselves out.The clues to these positive changes are not-so-subtly portrayed above.

But to explain it all properly would require a book, not just a few paragraphs. All I would have accomplished is to irritate those who disagree with me, and simply mystify many of those overseas. So here I stop. If anybody wants to know more, drop me a line and I’ll explain it.

Portland Culture

If I just let myself go, I’d write all night. But despite the excessive length, I’d like to share one more item — a recent “tiny desk concert” that features Haley Heynderickx, born and bred right here in the Portland area. To me, she and her group look, act, and sing pure Portland.

Her Tiny Desk Concert (on YouTube) is here.

Those in China can see it (with lots of advertisements on Youku) here.

And here she is about a year earlier on KEXP radio, Seattle.