Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Forgiving Japan, Forging Alliances with China and Korea

This coming week, President Park of South Korea and President Abe of Japan will meet for the first time since both took office over a year ago.

At this point, Asian nations need to forgive Japan just a little. The world no longer punishes Germany for the crimes against humanity committed by Nazi’s. The current generation living and working in Germany, governing Germany, were not even born during the Nazi regime. They had no influence; they cannot be held responsible.

This is also the case with modern Japanese citizens. South Korea and China can no longer call out Japan as a nation, demanding to hold it responsible for the despicable actions committed by a generation that has largely passed away. An apology was provided decades ago. Modern Japan looks nothing like it did ninety years ago. Contemporary citizens should not be held responsible for the crimes of their forebearers, and they need to be able to move on.

So Korea has to be able to forgive. And on the flip side, Japan has to accept its history. But goading from Korea only encourages greater Japanese nationalism.

Japan, China, and Korea must begin trusting each other and relying on each other economically. Right now, all three countries turn to the West, but as some of the world’s largest economies, they must work out better economic and political relations with each other to maximize economic development. Particularly Japan.

Japan maintains a technological sophistication that unfortunately faces stiff competition in the West. China is swiftly becoming the world’s largest economy, has a large population with a growing disposable income, and a thumb on many of the world’s resources. Japan (and Korea) need to pair up with Chinese industry and work on opening the Chinese market to Japanese innovation. Forgiveness and respect: these East Asian countries should expect this from one another.
East Asian cooperation could produce a flourishing elsewhere in the world, as China and Japan work toward developing and creating lasting economic partnerships in Africa. Stronger political and economic alliances would create a less tense East Asian, and the United States could pivot its attention elsewhere, perhaps inward, and the U.S. economy would be forced to drastically change and adapt. Furthermore, East Asian economic integration and alliances could hasten the deterioration in the relationship between China and Russia and perhaps greatly alter the political situation in China itself as its becomes increasingly economically stable.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

A necklace made of small shells

The house didn’t have a musty smell. It didn’t smell like cat urine. No potpourri. A small, old bottle of Chanel No. 5, half empty, sat on the table. Four dollars. Likely the perfume hadn’t been touched in some time and had long since turned, smelling closer to disinfectant at this point.

Adam picked up a small plastic bag containing a necklace and held it up for me to inspect. A tightly strung line of miniature, brown seashells. Similar treasures sealed in plastic bags covered the table, haphazardly picked through and scattered. This bag had a necklace made of shiny plastic beads. This bag contained earrings made of polished shells. Costume jewelry all of it, but all still in perfect condition. Maybe no one had wore this jewelry in years, but it had been cared for by someone, kept for some reason.

Adam and I followed other strangers on a circuit through the estate sale, examining tables of artifacts. I listened as others exclaimed delightedly to a friend over some find, or tutted at the condition of some other potential prize. Ten glass ash trays. A punch bowl priced at eight dollars. Small, hardbound books: Romola by George Eliot, a series of novels written by Rudyard Kipling.

Who knows who took the costume jewelry my grandmother kept in the jewelry boxes on her dressers. Polished shells and plastic beads and fake, glowing gems. Some women kept their mother’s costume jewelry, even if they never wear it, justifying themselves by arguing that it might be valuable one day. I can imagine my sister wearing jewelry like this sometimes, and I wonder who’s holding on to all that jewelry now.

Who from my generation collects and keeps the porcelain figurines which filled our grandmothers’ curio cabinets? Elegantly dressed 18th century ladies and gentlemen playing chess, the frills made of real lace to compliment their ivory skill and pastel colored porcelain blushes.

Tutankhamen did not hoard half the treasures many Americans do. We Americans love our possessions. I’m definitely no different. My apartment is filled with little prizes. But who will love them like I have when I’m gone. What family member will want the painting of a cat? Who will take care of my house plants? My library ripped apart, I can only hope each book finds a good home.

I should have rescued the orphaned Romola. I found myself disheartened by we buzzards around this estate sale carrion, disinterested in she who had passed. At the same time, the departed spectre who lay at the heart of all these possessions must have been cared for: she had family and friends to care for her home, claim that table or crystal decanter, to organize this sale, better that these things find homes with others than be cast out onto the rubbish heap.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

china on ukraine

The Kansas City Star quotes Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Qin Gang as having said:

“I want to point out that we are aware of the historical facts and realistic complexity of the Ukrainian issue. There are reasons for why the situation in Ukraine is what it is today.”

Qin Gang spoke truthfully when he stated that the situation in Ukraine is historically and politically complex. The writer for the star points out that while China aspires to be an influential player in world politics, the country has been largely neutral in regards to the situation in Ukraine. Though true, can we really blame China of remaining unresponsive to the situation in Ukraine? The United States has been criticised for its lack of action in Syria. And though the U.S. has tried to facilitate political discussion, they have not become militarily involved in either Ukraine or Syria.

The complexity of the situation stretches in many different directions. While the U.S. and Europe support the transitional government in Kiev and the ouster of Yanukovich, and denounce the Russian coup in Crimea, Europe has substantial and troubling ties to Russia which may complicate any sort of forceful action Europe could take against Russia. Europe and Russia are reliant on one another: Europe relies on Russia for its natural gas and natural gas therefore has become Russia’s largest export, propping up the rest of its weak economy. Furthermore, Russia imports heavily from Germany and other western European nations, and European sanctions could jeopardize the income generated by its exports to Russia, which could be particularly damaging during this time of tender recovery within the E.U.

China, as another export driven economy, could also be greatly affected should it choose to cross Russia politically, let alone commit to economic sanctions. China also holds a tenuous alliance, or at least some sort of detente, with Russia - they support each other politically as both seem to fear international intervention, influence, and pressure. The Chinese and Russian governments exert enormous power over their populations and the political systems in those countries. Both countries often defend established governments and the sovereignty of other governments in the face of public protest and international intervention.

But with Ukraine, Russia has directly violated the sovereignty of a foreign nation, despite Crimea’s history as Russian. If China cares so strongly about foreign powers involving themselves in the affairs of other nations, China must break with Russia on this issue. If China does want to be politically influential, and not merely economically influential, it should at this point at least condemn Russia’s actions. Economically it makes more sense to defend its politics of sovereignty and simultaneously appease the Western nations which contribute more to the growth and strength of the Chinese economy. In Mao's Three-World theory, China remained non-aligned with neither the Western capitalist countries nor Communist U.S.S.R.  At this time, China should remain unaligned, forge its own path politically and economically, and take its place as an influential world power.

Monday, March 10, 2014

visions in birmingham

everything could have been different. i can feel it. 

i’m sitting at a coffeeshop in birmingham, alabama, across from a park on highland avenue, a coffeehouse that didn’t exist when i lived here half a decade ago. i walked down the hill from my sister’s apartment for a cup of coffee. sitting out on the sidewalk, i take off my jacket. nine in the morning and the day is warming up. i had expected a snow storm, more of the unusually extreme cold weather the south has experienced this year. instead, the sun shines, the temperature approaches 70. bare trees have not deterred the happy chirping of birds, and i can feel spring fast defrosting on the second of march.

two women on the far side of the patio talk of running and biking. they discuss their friend from california.

a middle-aged couple, dressed warmly in fleece north face jackets over work out clothes finished with running shoes. two australian shepherds with kind brown eyes snuffle for crumbs around their feet. i drink coffee and crease my brow at my computer screen. the dogs notice i have a muffin.

the young cashier might be homosexual. evenly dressed in a t-shirt and khakhis. he wears a hemp bracelet colored red and dark red. a display for bible bars sits next to the register - they contain 18 biblically approved ingredients as found in dueteronomy. his eyes are dark brown and worried like the australian shepherds’ on the sidewalk. he’s polite, but not friendly. maybe he mistrusts me, wonders why he doesn’t recognize me. it’s birmingham and all gays know each other.

a young man approaches quickly on the sidewalk and sits down amidst a scrabble of aussies and smiles at the older couple in front of him. he asks for their debit card, explaining that he left his in a bar last night, grinning mischievously. his parents acquiesce.

fair haired, weak chinned, blemishless, when the young man returns to the table, he explains to his parents that the reason a few of the men at the bar have not been talking to him is because some “tranny” had been talking shit about him behind his back. dressed in workout clothes like his parents, he waves flamboyantly at two girls passing on the sidewalk.

the parents look happily at their son, indulgently in love with him. the son seems comfortable with himself. this is a young southern man who came out to his parents what must seem to him years ago. his father probably said nothing. his father was probably still disappointed to hear it from his son’s lips, but had been expecting this for years. at this point, retired, his parents just want to enjoy their lives, their vacations, their coffee, their dogs. they find themselves disappointed only when their son asks for money. they always indulge.

the fair haired faggot enjoys his life in birmingham. he’s completing a nursing degree and spends weekend nights at a gay bar, living on vodka diet sprite and gossip. he only has safe sex with other young gay men his age. to his friends, he sometimes laments the fact that he hasn’t found a new boyfriend yet. he has more fun making fun of the old queens who have been struggling with hiv since he was in diapers.

when i lived in birmingham i knew boys like this. their lives, their concerns always seemed so remote from my own.

i close my computer and start back up the hill, walking toward my sister’s house with the rest of my coffee.