Global Citizen

Lots of things have been happening in Israel and around the world, but to be honest, the only thing I paid attention to this week was my Chinese drama.

Meteor Garden 2018

I’ve been in the Korean drama world for about 4 years and I dabble in Taiwanese dramas. Once in a long while, if the Korean drama netizens are talking about a Chinese drama, I’ll watch that. But the whole drama world went bananas for this remake (I’ve seen fan sites in English, Chinese, Russian, Thai, and Spanish). The source material is a 1992 manga (serialized graphic novel) from Japan and several remakes have been done, most famously in Taiwan and Korea. This is the kind of drama that launches careers.

manga styleMe as a manga character

Living in Israel, I feel much more like a citizen of the world than I did in the US. But I started to wonder if that was really true. I’m an immigrant, my mom is an immigrant, a majority of the family friends when I was growing up are immigrants (from China, Croatia, UK, Brazil, Argentina, Russia, just off the top of my head) or are at least well-traveled.

I remembered that one of my favorite childhood shows was Star Blazers. At the time, I didn’t know that it was originally a Japanese cartoon that had been dubbed. I was riveted every day and I just thought the long, lean, big-eyed, beautiful people were just part of the style of the cartoon and didn’t think much of the fact that it didn’t look like Super Friends or Scooby Doo.

Star Blazers intro – “Our Star Blazers!”

Long before I moved to Israel, I was aware of Asia; over the years, I’ve had an interest in Tai Chi, Thai food, and Chinese medicine. So when my Greek friend in Israel introduced me to Korean dramas, the cultural anthropologist that I secretly wanted to be took over and my interest in drama spilled into trying to understand the mysteries of Asian culture.

Is it because I live in Israel, hear multiple languages in the street and meet people of different ethnic backgrounds, and feel like I am at the crossroads of civilizations between Europe and Asia that I have recently found myself drawn to explore more and more about Asia?

Or would my love of subtitled movies, natural cultural curiosity, and the easy internet access to subtitled dramas have led me down this road eventually even if I lived in the US?

world map china center Best of Map Shop Hema Maps Buy Maps line Mapworld Australia
A different view of the world

I think it’s because I live in Israel. This is a small country with many immigrants and a citizenry that values traveling and seeing the world. In Israel, my American-ness makes me foreign, and somehow more of a global citizen. In the US, I was foreign, but spent so much time and effort in being American, I didn’t value my foreignness and so by default rejected global citizenry. All the potential was there, but it was only in Israel where I could be myself – a person in the cultural margins – that I could plant my roots and grow in different cultural directions.

My deep roots are in the US and Israel, I have cultural sprouts in Russia and Ukraine, and I’m growing branches in Korea, Taiwan, China, and Hong Kong. Yes, I’m a global citizen indeed.

But is it good for Israel?

I’m not a fan of Sacha Baron Cohen. I never saw his movies and I never watched the shows. All I really know about him is based on video clips I’ve seen here and there.

The problem is that I like the **idea** of Sacha Baron Cohen. I like the fact that he holds up a funhouse mirror to society and calls out hypocrisy and shows a certain group of people that their beliefs taken to absurd conclusions are very likely based on false foundations.

It’s meant to be funny (granted, sometimes it is), but it’s more often uncomfortable, rude, upsetting, horrible, and ultimately sad (I’m thinking of Borat in a bar in Texas getting everyone to join him in singing “Throw the Jews Down the Well.”)

So now we’ve got Baron Cohen’s new show on Showtime – we get clips in Israel – featuring the Israeliest Israeli Erran Morad. This is from an Associated Press article.

“The reaction has mostly been astonishment about the accuracy of the portrayal. He really got some of our traits down,” Einav Schiff, a[n Israeli] TV critic, said with a chuckle.

“Everyone here knows an ‘Erran Morad’ but I haven’t recognized any outrage or embarrassment about the character. It’s mostly been ridicule for these Americans who have fallen for him,” Schiff added.

I’m Israeli enough to appreciate the spot-on portrayal (it’s quite good), but I’m American enough to be dumbstruck by the words coming out of his mouth and shocked that US politicians are not catching on.

I’m stunned that anyone would believe that Israel has a “Kinderguardians” program that advocates arming kids starting at the age of 4.

Now read that again. I’ll wait.

Do you for even a second believe that it’s a good idea to put weapons into the hands of a 4-year-old? And would you endorse a program that advocates arming children? I think the clear answer – even if you admire Israel and even if you are proponent of gun rights – is a resounding NO.

Now let’s say you don’t care one way or the other about Israel or gun rights. Let’s leave it as a wild card if you know of Sacha Baron Cohen and let’s let Youtube make suggestions based on your previous viewings. You like funny stuff, so the video clip comes up.

So you see this guy (definitely foreign, so probably, as he says, Israeli) saying all kinds of absurd stuff with a straight face and he’s believed by legitimate congressmen and leaders. So you’re left with this impression of a bad-ass, crazy Israeli who advocates guns for toddlers. And since you also know that the Israeli Mossad is the top intelligence agency in the world and the Israeli army is one of the best, maybe Israel really does have a Kinderguardians program.

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This show is probably not good for America, but I’m not convinced that it’s going to do a lot of good for Israel either.

(Prepare barf bags if you have a sensitive stomach. You’ve been warned.)

On hiatus until August 4

on hiatus

I’m taking a break from blogging for a little while. I wish that I was going on a long driving trip as suggested by the image above, but the truth is that I’m really busy and I need to take some time to get back into balance.

Looking forward to meeting you again in August!

Bus

Since I moved to a new neighborhood, I’ve been taking the bus more often instead of walking. It’s unfortunately very convenient when I’m late, hot, tired, or feeling just plain lazy.

Sometimes I feel the crush of humanity and I regret getting on the bus, so I get off to walk because it’s just too crowded, uncomfortable, hot, and weird.

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Sometimes everyone has their own double seat and we can all comfortably ignore each other.

Sometimes it’s entertaining to just people-watch.

One guy was standing in the area reserved for wheelchairs. In Israel, you are more likely to see moms with their strollers using the space. A stroller was parked practically on his feet and he still didn’t move. Not until the mom very loudly said, “EXCUSE ME!” “Oh, sorry, sorry…I didn’t see you,” he muttered as he shuffled away focused on his phone.

Teenagers are plugged into their music (I’m guessing; they aren’t bobbing their heads or dancing to the beat of an unheard drummer).

Perfectly made-up Barbie-doll Russian women are softly talking business on their hands-free Bluetooth devices, covering their mouths so that you can’t hear them.

An Israeli man with a white knitted kippa covering his graying hair is shouting on his phone that there is no way, no how, no conceivable possibility that he would ever agree, and he’s willing to say that to whomever’s face any time, any day. “Mo-o-om, I’m telling you, you tell him I said so!”

Four religious Australian teens are talking about getting high (in English, as if no one else understands them).

There are moments when we are all in it together.

The bus driver slams on his brakes nearly rear-ending someone. All the passengers, many of us standing, are hanging on for dear life hoping not to fly through the windows. We all nervously laugh together and mumble our agreement when a few people voice their criticisms.

At the top of the hour, the bus driver turns up the radio really loudly so that everyone can hear the news.

One bus driver seemed to have forgotten the bus route. The first time he nearly took a wrong turn, he was startled in time when half the bus yelled, “DRIVER!” After most of the bus passengers yelled “DRIVER!” again to avoid the second wrong turn, he actually had to back up to take the correct turn. Cue the mumbling among ourselves about what the heck is wrong with this guy and we need to get off this crazy bus asap.

Once in a while, something nice happens.

My friend was visiting from Costa Rica and texted me that she was on the bus on the way to my house. My plan was to get home before her, so I flew out of the office to catch the next bus home.

As I clambered onto the bus to pay my fare, I looked down the center aisle to see if my friend was on this bus. I heard someone call my name and from among the sea of faces on the crowded bus, there she was!

We haven’t seen each other in 17 years, but we recognized each other immediately. And in that moment, it was as if no time had passed.

And to paraphrase Confucius: Is it not a pleasure to meet friends from afar, even if it’s on a bus?

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The Right Side of History

When I was a kid, the world was simple. When the United States elected the president, he was not only the “Commander in Chief,” but also the “Leader of the Free World.”

The “Free World” was the West. We were against the East. Asia and the whole southern hemisphere didn’t matter.

(I know it was never so simple, but bear with me here.)

The Berlin Wall crumbled. The Soviet Union broke into pieces. Suddenly there were over a billion people in China. The map realigned itself and we were going to be the humans of Earth just like in Star Trek!

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Oh, wait. That’s not what happened.

Fast forward to this week. The “Leader of the Free World” had a contentious, undiplomatic, and ugly meeting with the democracies of the world. I think it’s safe to say that the Free World would prefer a different “leader.”

[I don’t want to get into trouble for using the picture, but you know which one I mean.]

It is certainly a good thing to try to negotiate with enemies, bridge differences, and be open to global cooperation. Meeting with the leader of North Korea deserves some recognition; and I think Dennis Rodman deserves some credit for that. At the same time, one wonders about the location of the meeting. Singapore is a country known for somewhat absurd and stringent laws (high fines for selling gum, littering, spitting, jaywalking, singing obscene songs in public, forgetting to flush a public toilet, etc.) and still uses caning as a punishment.

Watching Korean dramas led me to research more about the Korean peninsula, Korean culture, and eventually to read more about North Korea. The short version: Based on testimonies of people who have escaped from North Korea, the book 1984 by George Orwell or any movie portraying a dystopian future is a pleasure trip compared to the reality in North Korea today. Trump (ignorantly) said in an interview that North Koreans love Kim Jung-Un with fervor. Um, yeah, they go to forced labor camps and die if they don’t. That’s what brainwashing looks like. That comment was just the tip of the iceberg of his inane and uninformed observations.

Trump seems to be the only one who wants to embrace Russia too. I’ll let the Mueller investigation play out on that one.

I’m not a geopolitical expert and I’ve wildly oversimplified these complex situations. But the point I want to make is: How does Israel fit into this new map?

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Where is our moral compass?

American-Israelis think Trump is good for Israel. Evangelical Christians also think Trump is good for Israel. Objectively, it’s a good thing for Israel to have the US recognize Jerusalem as the capital and for the embassy to officially move to Jerusalem. We have the clear backing of the United States on the international stage.

After this week, I’m not sure what that means. It’s not like the “Leader of the Free World” did these things. Israel has hitched itself to a man who admires Russia and North Korea and is distancing himself from democracies.

We’re supposed to be a light unto the nations. I hope we end up on the right side of history.

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5 things that happened in Israel recently that maybe you didn’t hear about

  1. Guatemala opened its embassy in Jerusalem
  2. Paraguay opened its embassy in Jerusalem
    Hardly a blip on the international radar. I wonder why that is.thinker-28741_1280
  3. Argentina canceled its pre-World Cup friendly match in Jerusalem. This one is complicated because there are unconfirmed stories everywhere. There seems to be agreement that protesters were encouraged to wave Messi jerseys smeared with fake blood. It’s been said that Messi and his family were threatened. Some are reporting that the cancellation is because the game was moved from Haifa to Jerusalem. The BBC, linked here, says it’s because of the Gaza violence (which no one has said except the BBC).
  4. Speaking of Gaza, I haven’t seen very much about Hamas’s incendiary kites. These are not the Mary Poppins version of “Let’s Go Fly a Kite”; these are kites flown over the border to cause fires. So far a nature reserve has been damaged and 6,200 acres of agricultural land has been destroyed. (One wonders why somebody who wants to move back into a house he says is his would set it on fire.)
  5. But I’m gonna end on a high note. A quarter of a million people (250,000) came to Tel Aviv to participate in the 20th annual Gay Pride March. It’s one of the largest marches in the world. Jews, Arabs, Israelis, and foreigners. Even the British Embassy had a float – the only diplomatic mission participating in the parade! See video here, more pictures here.

There may be those who would say that Tel Aviv is cold-hearted for celebrating Gay Pride while there’s violence in Gaza and fields are on fire in the south.

I say screw ‘em: In Israel, we value life and we celebrate it at every opportunity. As human beings we have a right to laugh, to love, and to be joyful. But more than that, we have a right to live, to exist. We will not be broken by fear or swirl into the abyss of sorrow.

The glass, my friends, is half full!

It wouldn’t be Gay Pride without Rosalind Russell as Auntie Mame reminding us that life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.

Taking a moment

Sometimes it’s good to just stop everything and enjoy the moment.

When I have the chance to walk to or from the office, I prefer to walk along a new-ish park that follows the path of the railroad tracks, which haven’t been in use for decades. The city created some lovely green space and it’s worthwhile to enjoy it.

Now imagine this: a light, cool breeze to counter the sun warming your skin; the scent of blooming trees and flowers passing by on the breeze; the lush green as a background for beautiful flowers; and birdsong as background music to the conversations of relaxing people. It would be perfect if we all had pineapple flavored popsicles cooling our tongues (trust me on this one).

When I stop to take these pictures, I make a point of being grateful for experiencing this specific moment.

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(I took these pictures at different times of the day over the past few weeks.)