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Friday, September 11, 2020

Feeling Left out

How many sunsets do I have remaining from our balcony?

Today is the 19th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. But I'd much rather think of this day as the first day of the Ethiopian New Year and wish everyone መልካም አዲስ ዓመት - may the year 2013 bring you much happiness!

Let's start this new year off with a rant. A friend on Facebook shared this article by a Caitlin Johnstone. In it she appears to cast doubt on the extent of the persecution of the Uighur people in Xinjiang by the authoritarian government in Beijing, and tries to redirect attention away from China and towards the United States. Apparently she is either unaware of, or (more likely) chooses to ignore, other such inconvenient truths as Tibet; Arunachal Pradesh; the nine-dash line; China's militarization of disputed islands in the South China Sea; and, of course, Taiwan. In doing so, she may end up being this generation's Walter Duranty, the infamous Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who, for possibly ideological reasons, deliberately denied the existence of the tragic famine in Soviet Ukraine from 1932-3 that resulted in the needless deaths of millions of Ukrainians. Anyone sharing similar doubts about China may want to have a look at this editorial from the Taipei Times.

What is it about progressives that they continually fuck up drop the ball when it comes to the actions of the Chinese government? Those on the Left should be leading the way in drawing attention to the abuses being carried out by the authorities in Beijing, but many instead choose either to deny, excuse, overlook or redirect attention away from China. Taiwan is a democratic country that has seen three relatively peaceful transfers of power (in 2000, 2008 and 2016); has a forward-thinking female leader (Tsai Ing-wen 蔡英文); and is the only country in Asia to have legalized gay marriage. And yet too many so-called progressives seem willing to let Taiwan be the province of the Right, which certainly makes things uncomfortable for people like me. I know that politics can make for strange bedfellows, but c'mon lefties, do the right thing here! Perhaps Duranty Johnstone could have a look at this video.

On to better things. This morning for my weekly trek, instead of strolling along the Potomac as I've been doing for the last several months, I walked across the river instead. My goal was to reach the Washington National Cathedral, 4.8 miles (7.7 kilometers) on foot from our apartment building. The cathedral can be seen from our balcony - this was the view at around 0730 this morning:


Kung Fu Tea - the caloric bane of my existence. My tolerance for dairy products seems to be weakening as I get older, but I can't resist the siren call of a cold 奶茶. Curse you, Kung Fu, for only being 16 minutes on foot from our building!:


The history geek in me can't resist stopping to read the markers that I come across on my walks:


Public art:


Scenes from a pandemic - gym members having to ride their exercise bikes in the parking lot in order to comply with social distancing rules:


Gong Cha (gòng​ chá) 貢茶 is an international franchise that sells Taiwanese-style bubble tea, with its HQ in Kaohsiung 高雄. I stopped in on my way back from the cathedral, but as it was exactly at 1100, just as the store was opening, it was going to take 10 minutes to prepare the tea. I ended up buying drinks for my daughter and myself at, you guessed it, Kung Fu:


American flags were in evidence today:


Crossing the Potomac on the Francis Scott Key Memorial Bridge:


Looking towards Georgetown University:


The spires of the National Cathedral were just visible in the distance as I approached Georgetown from Rosslyn:


Now in the District of Columbia, I started walking up 35th St. NW, past homes that I could never dream of affording:




The Duke Ellington School of the Arts:


The residents of the District pay federal taxes, but do not have voting representatives in Congress. Taxation without representation, as DC car license plates like to remind. I agree, you need statehood:


Back when I lived in Taiwan, my blog was sort of known for its obsession with photographing signage using (or misusing, in many cases) the Japanese language. Here in the U.S., perhaps I should turn my attention to Chinese characters in action, like at this pretentious-looking tea establishment. The characters 愿茶 in Mandarin are actually read as yuàn​chá ("wish tea"?):


After 1 hour 39 minutes and 9004 steps I reached the cathedral. The church is closed due to COVD-19, but I wasn't planning on going inside anyway, as we had previously visited back in August 2012:



Mission accomplished, it was time to head back. The Alban Towers Apartments opened in 1929, and are a fine example of Gothic Revival architecture:


The area in front of the Russian Embassy has been renamed Boris Nemtsov Plaza, in honor of the murdered Russian dissident. Walter Duranty, er I mean Caitlin Johnstone would probably try to explain away his killing, or redirect your attention to American misdeeds, rather than address the issue head on. Why, Left, why?:



Rather than retrace my steps all the way back to the Key Bridge, I detoured soon after walking by the embassy. Cutting across the Whitehaven Parkway was a reminder that even in a densely-populated (at least by American standards) urban area like D.C., there's a surprising amount of green space:


Next I walked through the campus of Georgetown University:


I soon reached the Exorcist steps, where Father Karras tumbled to his death at the end of the 1973 movie, thus defeating the demon (Amber and I had paid a visit back in October 2018):


Back on the Key Bridge, walking toward Rosslyn:


The remnants of the old Chesapeake and Ohio Canal towpath:


On the opposite side of the bridge could be seen the Watergate complex, the Washington Monument and the Kennedy Center:


I reached home after walking for 3 hours 53 minutes, accumulating 19,607 steps in the process. While it wasn't hot today (the high in the morning only reaching 25°C/77°F), the humidity level when I checked at the cathedral was a sweaty 85%!

In case you're wondering, I still don't have any definite news yet regarding a possible early return to Addis Ababa አዲስ አበባ. Perhaps the next time I blog. Until then, I'll leave you with a few random photos, like this nighttime shot (an unsuccessful attempt at capturing the full moon)...:


..and these sunset scenes...:




..and this beer I enjoyed while having lunch with my daughter at the Silver Diner:



Hmm, maybe 漢字 can become my new thing (Shu-E thought both this sign, and the one above, were a little strange:


Until next time, don't let yourself dry out:



























Friday, September 4, 2020

Japanese "Beauty" and Taiwanese "A-Holes"

Wait, where am I? Oh, right, if it's Friday it must be the United States

In my last post, I mentioned that there were indications that I may be returning to Addis Ababa አዲስ አበባ in the not-too-distant future. Two weeks later, however, it seems very little has been done on making that possibility a reality. In the meantime, we've agreed that my wife and daughter will return to Taiwan next month, where once they've finished quarantine, they can have some semblance of a pre-COVID-19 life in a country that could teach this country a lot of lessons when it comes to dealing with a pandemic. I can only hope the separation won't be a lengthy one, but that will depend on way too many factors that are out of my control.

The east is red, as the Chinese Communist Party likes to say

As I write these words, we're on Day 152. Since there have been no significant developments since my last post (including on the Ethiopian work front), I'm going to rant about a few things. I recently joined a Facebook group devoted to beautiful photographs of things Japan. For the most part it's a harmless page (save for the inevitable bots), but it's pretty apparent most of its members have never traveled to Japan and therefore have some wildly inaccurate impressions of the country. In addition to some spectacular (if enhanced or Photoshop) shots of things like Shintō shrines, Buddhist temples and Mt. Fuji 富士山, some people share images of fairly mundane urban scenes, which nonetheless draw numerous comments as to how beautiful everything is in Japan!

The west is also red

The other day, however, someone shared a photo of a homeless encampment in Shinjuku 新宿, and a lot of people were amazed, just astounded, that Japan could have homeless people! One American woman, in particular, never thought she "would see homeless in Japan", due to the Japanese being a "very proud people" with "a strong family and community connection where they help each other" - even their "homeless are neat and clean in their surroundings"! Nothing like generalizing about 126 million or so individuals. She went on to claim to have lived in Japan for over twenty years and to be a frequent traveler there, a statement which left me dumbfounded. I mean, I first arrived in Tōkyō 東京 in late January 1989, at the height of the "bubble economy" バブル景気, when everyone thought Japan was going to buy up the world, and even back then the city had a sizeable homeless population, which grew in size once the asset price bubble burst. And yet this woman somehow, in supposedly two decades of living in Japan, managed not to see any. Talk about living in a bubble!

Along the Mount Vernon Trail

Another member took issue with posting such a picture, a fair point to make considering the group is dedicated to the attractive side of Japan. However, when I pointed that it doesn't hurt to periodically remind people that Japan isn't a utopia, I was criticized for being "negative" (not the first time that's happened!). This person (a Romanian living in Canada) also stated that he wouldn't be surprised if I had never visited Japan. Ahem...after reading him the riot act regarding that last comment (a dick move on my part, I know, but sometimes people have to be put in their places), he accused me of living in a "parallel world". Yeah, it's called "reality"! I advised him that if he was distressed by seeing images of homelessness in Japan, he could visit a maid café メイド喫茶 in Akihabara 秋葉原. Funny, I haven't heard from him since...

At Gravelly Point looking toward Reagan National Airport

These folks are generally harmless in their naivety and preconceived notions. What is more odious are the cheesecake photos and, in particular, the comments they in turn generate. There are lots of pictures shared with the group of attractive, demure young Japanese women, usually under the pretense of kimono 着物 or yukata 浴衣 appreciation. A typical example:


Yes, she's good-looking, but photos like this not only reinforce stereotypes of Japanese women that clash with reality (trust me on this!), but generate uncomfortably creepy responses from mostly middle-aged men - lots of declarations of how "cute", "lovely", "beautiful" and so on these women are (some written in clumsy Japanese), along with emojis, hearts, roses etc. There are apparenty a lot of perverts all over this world suffering from serious cases of "yellow fever" (apologies for the political incorrectness).

Look, it's a runway! Maybe we'll see a plane take off!


Now I should point out that I've also been accused at times of having this particular fetish. After all, I lived for long, roughly equal periods of time in Japan and Taiwan, and during those years I was hardly a monastic celibate...


...not to mention my wife is Taiwanese. But in my defense, while living in Vilnius and Addis Ababa, I've found myself lusting after ogling leering at fantasizing about admiring the beauty of Lithuanian and Ethiopian women. It's more a case of "When in Rome, do as the Romans", although seeing as I'm married, the "do" part is better replaced by "like".

A plane, a plane!

Now that I've successfully extricated myself, I can move on to the next subject, that of "assholes" in the mountains of Taiwan, according to this article in Thursday's Taipei Times. It seems the writer is greatly bothered by the number of hikers who choose to bring along radios with them while traversing the mountain trails. After the story was shared on Facebook, it generated a predictable backlash among the resident waiguoren 外國人, who, like the Japanophiles mentioned earlier, don't appreciate any discouraging words on the "kindest people in the world". As one person so stupidly put it, "it's their country"! Oh, and looking at that last person's FB profile seems to indicate a very pronounced certain fetish.


While I would've toned down the asshole comments, I can sympathize with the writer. I used to hike regularly in the Dakeng 大坑 area of Taichung 台中. Even on weekdays, when there would only be a handful of hikers on the trails, there would be those who would bring along radios with them, to listen to music or talk shows. For someone like me who enjoys the solitude that mountains should provide, it was frustrating to have to listen to such intrusions, though I never asked or told anyone to turn down the volume. Even worse than the radios were the small karaoke shacks 卡拉OK that dotted the hillsides, the sound systems of which would share the "singers'" performances with the entire mountain range.

Following a short but intense downpour was this single, low-lying cloud hovering over the Potomac

Now I'm not a cultural anthropologist, psychologist or sociologist. But I used to teach English to young children in Taiwan, which means I'm qualified to explain what makes Taiwanese people tick in an extremely general way (or so the Internet leads me to believe). According to my expert armchair analysis, because the majority of Taiwanese live in crowded, noisy urban areas, peaceful environments such as mountains produce anxiety that can only be addressed by familiar sounds. So the carrying of radios is a soothing reminder that they're not alone while walking around in nature. And because I used to work in 補習班, I'm right and my opinion is the only one that matters.

A storm over Bethesda. Someone I know who was there at the time described it as an "apocalypse"

Enough about Japan and Taiwan. Here in the U.S. not much has changed, unfortunately, both on a personal level (still here, waiting for word on when I can return blah blah blah), and on a national level. As you can see from most of the photos posted so far, I'm still going on long walks down to and along the Potomac.

The sweat never ceases

On Friday I reached two hours going one-way on foot from Ballston, passing Gravelly Point and reaching Reagan National Airport. In total, I took over 24,000 steps in an outing that lasted almost 260 minutes in total.

A boat landing at Gravelly Point

Two hours in one direction is about my limit - I've already worn holes in the athletic shoes I brought with me from Addis. Also, I'm getting tired of the scenery running between Theodore Roosevelt Island and the airport, having done it so many times now. From next week I'll try and expand my horizons by walking in different directions...and in a new pair of shoes which I've had to order from Amazon.

Farewell scenes like this?

I'll leave you with some weather videos, taken from our balcony. Until next time...