Thursday, August 31, 2006

Female Chauvinist Pigs...

"We decided long ago that the Male Chauvinist Pig was an unenlightened rube, but the Female Chauvinist Pig (FCP) has risen to a kind of exalted status. She is post-feminist. She is funny. She gets it. She doesn't mind cartoonish stereotypes of female sexuality, and she doesn't mind a carttonishly macho response to them. The FCP asks: Why throw away your boyfriend's Playboy in a freedome trah can when you could be partying at the Mansion? Why worry about disgusting or degrading when you could be givin - or getting - a lap dance yourself? Why try to beat them when you can join them?..."

I'm currently reading Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture by Ariel Levy, and after reading this passage, I asked myself "Am I one of those women?" I consider myself a nouvelle feminist, one to fight for women's rights and argue against the patriarchy, but down enough to understand and appreciate what goes on in the male mind. I can talk about porn, masturbation, bikini waxes then switch to anti-discrimination laws and argue for equality in the same breath. I've heard and seen a lot, maybe too much, and I admit that it sometimes gets to be a bit too much when hanging with the boys. But I wonder where it leaves me? Am I really doing my part to advance the cause or am I just a chauvinist pig with breasts?

Yesterday, someone asked me if I was offended by the representation of the "voodoo" woman in Pirates of the Caribbean 2 and I replied no, because voodoo practioners are usually African or Caribbean then launched into a diatribe about how we as non-whites are hypersensitized by media portrayals of us. I think the film Crash did a good job of showing Blacks in several tones and nuances, but I admit the film was an exception to the rule. Usually though, I'm not outraged by the stereotypical portrayals shown in the media because, to an extent, they're true. There's a part in Crash where a White character says to a Black one "Don't you just hate Black people?" He went on to rant that Blacks seem to mess up the opportunities they have by shooting themselves in the foot, be it through drugs, violence and other such shit. The bad apples just bring everyone down and those are the fools you see on the 6:00 o'clocking news "wile'in out". And that's the image that gets perpetrated in the media by Blacks themselves! 50, Luda, Buckshot, whatever, you know who I'm talking about.

It's like the proliferation of the use of the N-word. I hate the word, but it's everywhere now, used by Negroes, Caucasians, Latinos and Asians. I don't care if you drop the "er" and add an "a", it's still offensive, but its been appropriated to the point that it's colloquial. I remember "The Nigger Family" sketch in The Chappelle Show, and it was just the N-word back and forth, and Dave Chappelle kinda looks down and I think he says "I'm dying inside." I feel that way sometimes when I think/talk about feminist/Black issues. It's everywhere, and while a part of you wants to be included, on the inside, if you will, another part feels bad that you're just a token that's been given a backstage pass.

Am I making sense? What do you think? Do you think our generation is more about trying to join them (the establishment) than beat them? Men/Whites are invited to discuss.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Year 1 in Japan: A Retrospective...

Before leaving Montreal to come to Japan, I was repeatedly warned that this experience would change me in numerous ways, some big and some not so big. I believed my friends and was open to changes. I had some things to improve on in my life and was looking forward to leaving a city that didn't hold anything new and exciting for me...just more of the same old, same old. Of course, my friends and family were my anchors, but sometimes, you just need to float along by yourself to make things happen. So I took a big chance and did something totally foreign for me - I left security. I had a permanent job with benefits, autonomy and a certain degree of power, a car and the fast track to owning my own condominium apartment. I was almost THERE, but I had to be honest with myself and say that it wasn't enough. I've never lived in a different country and I've never explored a culture radically different from my own. Life in Montreal was fun, don't get me wrong, but it just felt so...small. I used to think that MTL was the centre of the universe and you couldn't get me to change my mind. But after about 2 years of living in Montreal, having returned from university in Ottawa, and visiting Ghana and Japan, I finally realized that there was more to see. After my friend Cheryl moved to Japan on a whim and told me about her experiences, and then seeing an ad for JET in the Concordia student paper, I went to the information session to see what was what. It certainly sounded good so I applied and waited the 5 months to finally hear that I got in.
I moved from dreaming to planning in no time and spent the months between February (when I heard about it) to July (when I boarded the plane) getting myself together: I went to Cuba, I got surgery to correct a long time problem, I got my braces off and I bought tons of clothes and beauty supplies. I said my tearful goodbyes (I lost it at my Sayonara BBQ) and left. Now, a year later, I think I'm ready to share with you what I've learned and how I've changed to date (in no particular order of importance):

1. Being illiterate ain't no joke. Imagine not being to be able to read anything, understand anything, be able to communicate. Having to stop and figure out which bathroom you can enter or what's what at the grocery store. Imagine trying to find your way around town and having NO idea what the characters mean. A year in, I'm not fluent nor can I read everything, but I'm a helluva lot better. I can put some words together and have them make sense. I can figure out a couple of kanji in a phrase and put two and two together (sometimes). I can write little notes in Japanese and not be worried about the meaning being lost. Being illiterate here has made me more aware of the plight of Canadians who can't read or write. But Jesus Christ, if I can go from English to Japanese (I most definitely do not have a head for languages), others can too. They just need the right motivation - like wanting to eat food or leave their house (so not trying to be glib here).

2. I actually like kids. And I can get along with them. Maybe one day, I'll have a few of my own.

3. I don't like to be constantly reminded that I'm Black (AKA a superfreak). I know I'm Black. I have mirrors in my apartment and pictures of myself everywhere. I know I'm different. I just don't like to have absolute strangers point it out at the supermarket, restaurants, toilets, festivals, on the train, you get the idea. I had one girl, one of my elementary students, tell me it was a pity that my skin was so dark. I'm confident in who I am and in my darkness, but goddammit, stop the insanity! (No need to comment about this point unless you want to piss me off). Also, unless you're a close friend looking for a bit of cross-cultural understanding, I don't want to fucking hear about which hip hop artists you like, how you like to get "crunked", and asking me who is better: Cube or Dre.

4. Despite the previous point, I've become a more patient person. You kind of have to be to express yourself in a foreign language and deal with the same questions/statments over and over: you can use chopsticks! can you eat fish? you're so tall! (I'm only 5'7" - barely). do you like rice? I just smile and vent later rather than launching into a sermon on the evils of cultural insulation.
5. I'm strong. Stronger than I ever thought. I don't mean to brag, but it's a testament to one's will and strength to live in a foreign country. I'm so proud of myself.

6. Living abroad has given me valuable insight to what my parent's went through when they left Ghana for Montreal over 30 years ago. They left behind the English/Ga/Twi and traded it in for an unstable French environment. It was hard for them, but now I better understand and love them even more.

7. Since making the decision to go natural (hairstyle), I've found a new definition of beauty for myself and in turn, acceptance. I don't need to conform the mainstream's idea of beauty as it is skewed, particularly for women of African descent. I touch my kinky hair and am awed by its loveliness. I look at myself and see new power in my eyes, nose, lips. I feel like I'm finally who I'm supposed to be and I love it. Geez, I had to come to Japan (with their bare representation of Black people) to finally GET this.

8. I hate, hate, hate bus tours. I've been on two - one to Kyoto and the other to Tottori. Never fucking again.

9. I've learned the power of taking time out just to breathe. My eyes are open all the time, and for the most part, I like what I'm seeing. Without this time, I doubt I would have figured out what career I want to pursue and taking the steps to realize my dream. Plus, having the chance to just read, without distraction has been blissful.

10. In my village, like other towns and cities in Japan, we have time chimes, to signify what time of day it is. At 7:00 a.m. I wake up to Edelweiss (I shit you not), at noon, I can hear the sweet sound of the ocarina, and at 6:00 (5:00 in the winter), I can hear Moon River. Other time chimes can't compare. I can't live without them now.

11. I've learned (finally) that more often than not, it's better to leave things in the past and just let go entirely. The lessons must remain, but the memories associated with the lessons are better left in the past.

12. Food. I really love good food. This is not something new.

13. A travel lust has been awakened inside me. Visiting China and living in Japan is just the tip of the iceberg.

14. I've finally found what I've been looking for, and it's nourishing, beautiful and all mine. Refer to the previous post for a clue.

15. I've changed in the way I let the actions and words of other people sit in my mind. Where I used to obsess over these things, I chew on them for a little while and spit out the fat while ingesting the good stuff. Really, living in this country forces you to let a lot of things simply roll off your back.

16. A smile goes such a long, long way. Being friendly, courteous, understanding, open and outgoing has made this placement reach its full potential.

I feel like I've come a long way from the days I would just cry in my living room, feeling the cold eclipse of homesickness all over me. My days and nights are much more full and my calendar is full of circles and stars and memos. I'm extremely blessed to have such an amazing support network from coast to coast, and in Canada, New York and Ghana. The Motosu and Ono crew have made so happy and been friends in ways I didn't expect. But the most surprising thing for me, the thing that I would never have predicted happening was meeting the Scotsman. Can I really explain it all now, on this public space? I would prefer not to. But he knows. And I know. And that's all that matters.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Love is...

the thought that has been consumming my mind for the past few weeks, and no big surprise as I've been contemplating my time here, looking back at my past and setting my sights on the future. No big surprise since I've been reading "a story of irreconcilable love and infidelities", each page burning a hole in my conciousness, forcing me to think about the love in my life. No big surprise as the word has been swimming in my mouth and spilling from my lips more often lately. I've recently finished reading The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera and I can't really begin to adequately relate a synopsis of this book, nor explain its affect on me. It just is. But maybe if I post a couple of passages for you, you might be able to understand where I'm coming from: "He suddenly
recalled the famous myth from Plato's Symposium: People were hermaphrodites until God split them in two, and now all the halves wander the world over seeking one another. Love is the longing for the half of ourselves we have lost." If you knew my mind, you'd know that I never bought into the myth of the "soul mate". In fact, I hate the words, the idea. I've always thought of it as a made up word, conjured up my marketing executives and authors of lonely hearts books in an effort to make people feel less than they are if they are single. To me, the idea of the "soul mate" was invented to create a feeling of dissatisfaction in the individual so that they'd have that wanting and the desire to buy into goods and services to make them more desirable to "catch" their soul mate. BUT, I do believe in the idea of deep connection, between male and females, romantic attachments or not. I believe that there are those special people that can touch your life and turn your world into blinding beauty, catching you off guard to the point you weep with delight and disbelief that you are so blessed. I believe that we are all looking for something, an unknown element that will just fit, without explanation, when it's right. We want that Jerry Maguire moment, to really feel it when "you complete me."

Sublime. Divine. Celestial. Love is my religion. And I can finally see it nearly everyday, in every way. In the wind that blows through the trees. In the river that pushes past the road. In the clouds where I swear I can see God (I've rejected the idea of God as a man. Now I'm more comfortable with the Creator as creamy, cumulous wisps of smoke and water). I can feel it in the rush of blood and pleasure to all corners of my extremities, my heart and my brain, submerging me in wave after wave of bliss, nearly suffocating me.

But during the week, betweent the professional hours of 8:30 and 4:30, I see it in my kids. Their eyes, their smiles, the bashfulness and playfulness. I know now why people covet them so. Love personified.
Another quote from Kundera's book: "Perhaps the reason we are unable to love is that we yearn to be loved, that is, we demand something (love) from our partner instead of delivering ourselves up to him demand-free and asking for nothing but his company." I didn't demand the
love of these children, only their attention during class. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I woud fall in love in them, so irrevocably, and that love would be returned through smiles, laughs and acceptance. These kids have taught me to demand precious little from the adults in my personal life as the pleasure of their company is enough to sustain me, and the rewards from this is the love that I seek.

I'm often thinking about next year and of leaving my kids behind. I know that once I take off on the plane, that will be it for our relationship. All I'll have are the memories and the photographs. And I feel my heart squeezing even now and I know this is love as well, this pain that is sometimes is sometimes love's shadow on a sunny day.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Summer Workshop, The Perfect Swimming Hole, and MONKEYS!

It's been an action packed few days. A couple of blog-worthy things happened, so I'll start with the coolest: Dave and I saw monkeys! I've been living in Neo for over a year, and I've heard stories about the vegetable farm pillaging, sometimes aggressive, always entertaining Neo monkeys, but yesterday, I finally got to see some in the flesh. It went down like this: Dave and I went exploring on a lazy Sunday afternoon. We drove for a little while until we found a place in the river that seemed swimmable. We got out and found that there were people, including some unidentifiable Eastern Europeons camping and barbecuing. We were getting ready to walk in the water when someone yelled out "monkeys" and lo and behold, there was a family of them. It was one of the coolest things I've seen in Japan. We walked around for a bit and found the most perfect definition of a swimming hole. It was so lovely but we didn't have our swimsuits, so we'll test it out next weekend. I can hardly wait.

On Thursday and Friday, Gifu JETs new and old headed to the city for a summer workshop. It was a little crazy, but it was a fab chance to hook up with Japanese people who could speak English. I love my kids, but lord help me, English study is not where their passion lies. But these kids at the workshop were nothing short of amazing. And some of them just sounded like native speakers, which totally blew my mind. This girl, Mai, is a 4th grader, so she is maybe 9 years old. She nearly gave me a heart attack because she was reading an English newspaper that was put on the desk for crafts. When she got to a word she didn't recognize, she sounded it out. Shit on a stick, I don't think I could have been surprised. She was absolutely lovely.

There were a lot of games and opportunities to chat with the kids but it was also cool to meet some of the newbies. I was very happy to see that quite a few were Canadian, including a Black girl from Toronto. Damn, Christina and I made a beeline for her. I believe that brings our female population to 4. Can I get a woot?!

After the workshop on the first day, a bunch of us went to a Turkish restaurant, and it was my first time at this place. I picked a winner of a dish (lamb stew - lamb, how I've missed you), and Aiden got some meat on a sword. Fantastic photo op.

And that's about it. I came to school on Monday to find the head teacher there with her three gigantic dogs - Terra, Alpha and Lord. P.S. She's a science teacher.

Alright, I'll be off to Tottori ken tomorrow for the next couple of days for a bus tour and I'll be seeing the famous sand dunes. After that, I'll have a jammed weekend featuring the swimming hole, an ocarina concert and a movie. After that is an orientation for Gifu JETs primarily for the newbies which is an overnight thing, then I'll be hanging out with my surrogate parents. Mata ne!

Wednesday, August 09, 2006


Yesterday, I had a rare treat. I got to go out to the big city and have dinner with friends, on a weeknight!!!! Wow, that statement warranted four exclamation marks, and while it may not seem like a huge deal for you, it was a rare occasion for me and most blog-worthy. Well, not really, but it was sweet. And what made it even sweeter was that I had the pleasure of the company of my favorite Scotsman, David (sorry Ed, but you understand). Dave came over, MIDWEEK, because he had an appointment to get a Japanese driver's license, and it was the first time ever. My freaking mind was blown.

Anyway, after showing Dave the route to get to the driver's license bureau from my place, we made our way to Gifu City to have dinner with Heather, Mai, Jeff, Ed, his friend Henry, and Sarah. The original plan was to go for Mexican (which I was sorely craving), but we went for Italian when it was learned that the El Paso was closed. Where the food was lacking, the company more than made up for it. It was SO GOOD to see Heather, a wonderful woman from Thunder Bay, Ontario. We met a year ago, and this is the first time we've gone out to something that was non-JET related. At the last JET thing, we promised each other we'd hook up and it came to fruition yesterday. Since she lives relatively close to the big mall not that far from me, we'll be hooking up on a more regular basis. It was great seeing Sarah as well, a Southern belle I hardly see, but always a pleasure when I do. Yeah, it was a simple gathering of friends for dinner, but it was so good to have a reminder of my former life - you know, having a social life during the week. Ahhh...gotta do that more often.

Speaking of my former life, I've been trying to book tickets for Dave and I to visit my former home, and let me tell you, it's a biatch. Firstly, most of the time, it's all in Japanese, which lets me practice, but rudely reminds me that I still have a long way to go before being somewhat fluent (yeah, I know, that's not happening). Secondly, the price variations are insane and I can't help but feel that I'm getting financially molested by ticket agents and for good reason - On top of that, the gasoline tax is outrageous. As we will be going for my best friend's wedding and I won't be going on another international flight before leaving Japan next year, I just gotta suck it up and take it up the butt.

I'm currently reading The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera and Oprah's Live Your Best Life. The former is weighty but beautifully written and the latter is full of exceptional writing from very talented writers.

I've watched a few movies over the last little while including You Can Count On Me (loved it for its quiet and soft beauty), Primary Colors (well-written, humourous and surprisingly emotional), Get Shorty (a much loved, oft-watched film), Pirates of the Caribbean (I liked it much better than the first time I saw it. I thought it was too hyped up, but now I think Johnny Depp was fantastic and the whole story was well put together), The Sweetest Thing (I should have known better than trust Aya's recommendation - she saw The Wedding Date for godssake), and The Remains of the Day (a beautiful film, but I liked the book better. Gotta give Anthony Hopkins props though - he da man).

I stole this pic from the BBC web site. I saw it on TV the other day and thought it was just beautiful. It is a memorial service marking the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki. I doubt I'll have a chance to hit that prefecture before this year is up, but Hiroshima (second time) is in my crosshairs.

So it's been over a year since I landed in Japan and there are some observations that I want to share with you. Not now, but very soon. Stay tuned.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

It's so bloody hot...

And I have no idea how to put captions under my photos...Can anyone help me? In the meantime, please enjoy this pics from Hokkaido and sumo last month. I think I'm going to go put my head in the toilet just to cool off. Jaa...

Tuesday, August 01, 2006


My self-esteem got a nice boost this morning. See, my hair is growing and I'm experimenting with twists to keep it protected from the elements and to keep me looking somewhat decent during the lazy days of summer. They are cute enough, but they make me look like a 12 year old girl. I've worn them out a couple of times and I had my hair twisted for the majority of the Hokkaido trip, but I recently decided to actually go to work looking like this. Last night after dinner, I twisted my hair while watching Remains of the Day (good flick, but read the book instead). They looked good and I was confident that they'd look fine in the morning. So I woke up and tied a ribbon around my hair to make it look even cuter and skipped to school. My closest friend at work commented right away and made me feel really good. A little while later, all the ladies in the office came over to tell me how good it looked and asked me a bunch of questions. Yes, they put their hands in my hair, but they asked first. I usually don't like people touching my do, but in the spirit of internationalization, I allowed it. They really boosted my self-esteem and I'm feeling just lovely. Just wanted to share... Sorry, no pics yet, but I'll be getting my camera back this Friday.