Goodbye 2018!

~~ My computer is back! ~~

It’s good to take a minute and look back over the year.

My goals for this blog were to write about life in Israel and make a practice of showing up to the page. I can count this year as a success for both those goals. I wrote fewer words overall than in years past and fewer blog posts, but I hope that means my writing is becoming sharper and more concise (probably not always…).

People visited my page from 54 countries!

2018 map

Leaving aside the United States (#1) and Israel (#2), the top 10 countries were:

Germany
Finland
Canada
United Kingdom
Australia
India
Japan
Italy
China
Ireland

Surprises further down the list:

Six people from United Arab Emirates visited.

Four people from Pakistan stopped by.

One person each came from Bangladesh, Gibraltar, and Fiji.

Overall, I had more visitors this year than in years past and I had the most visitors in September.

I’m hesitant to write resolutions for 2019 for this blog, but my hopes are to write about different things (life in Israel will still be the main topic), try some experimental posts (I’m not sure about this yet), and write more reviews of things I’m listening to, reading, and watching (I’ve had a lot of fun with those posts this year).

I know. Hopes won’t get you anywhere unless you have a plan. I’m working on it.

Happy New Year!

Wishing you all good things for 2019!

May it be the best year yet!

Book review – How to American: An Immigrant’s Guide to Disappointing Your Parents

I had never heard of Jimmy O. Yang until I saw him play a small role in Crazy Rich Asians. I wasn’t that impressed, but he turned up on Youtube suggestions and I still wasn’t wowed. I’ve never seen Silicon Valley, so I really had no reference point to evaluate who this guy was.

But then I saw his book on audible.com and the title intrigued me. It got great reviews and I like a memoir, so *click*, in my basket and in my ears. Jimmy reads his own book, so you get to hear his story in his own voice. Always better.

Short review: I liked it and I definitely recommend it, but it isn’t for everyone’s taste. The humor is sometimes juvenile (sue me, I like juvenile humor and laughed out loud). There’s some swearing (not gratuitous). Some of the situations are not mainstream (he was a strip club DJ; not my idea of the American Dream). Still, it will make you think about the immigrant experience in America. More than that, it’s a story about finding and following your dreams, even when everything seems to be a strike against you.

Long review: Well, more like a response (below the promo video).

Jimmy O. Yang is a very insightful, well-spoken, college graduate, so this book is not a string of funny stories and jokes. When he uses the Chris Rock-style voice, it’s meant to be funny (and it is). But when he uses his normal voice, you can be sure something thought-provoking is on the way. He was born in Hong Kong to parents from Shanghai and moved to the US when he was 13. He also had a study abroad experience in Italy during college. He has a very deep understanding of what it means to be so obviously a fish out of water and how to survive it, thrive, and then find and follow his dreams.

I’m an immigrant several times over and the child of an immigrant, and many of his insights really ring true to me. He learned English from BET (thus the Chris Rock stylings), while Mom and I learned English from Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers – I was 3; I imagine Mom watched other programs too.

One big difference in my immigrant story is that I am not obviously an immigrant in America. I have no accent. I’m white. I spent a lot of time learning how to be the most American I could possibly be, except for one thing: I am Jewish and I did “crazy” things like walk out of music class when it was Christmas carol season. I purposefully set myself apart. Was it me embracing the American ideal of individualism? I doubt it. I was also set apart because Mom had an accent and came to school to talk about Jewish holidays.

I remember in 8th grade a Vietnamese girl joined our class. I wondered how she would fare. She was embraced whole-heartedly by all the popular kids and became super All-American. And I knew then that, while it didn’t help that I was born in the Evil Empire (thus a Communist, whatever that means to junior high kids) and I was also responsible for the death of Jesus, it would be an uphill battle for me to become super All-American.

I’m also an immigrant to Israel. Here I have an accent and it’s pretty obvious that I’m not a native-born Israeli. But nobody cares. Oh, you were born in Russia and your mom is Russian? Join the club. Half the population has roots in Russia and more than a million Russian-speakers came to Israel in the 1990s. Oh, you’re Jewish? Welcome home!

So the two things that made me not-quite American are the two things that make me more Israeli. And being not-quite American makes me not quite fit in with other American immigrants here in Israel. And throw in the great love of British humor and Korean dramas and I’m a nation unto myself. (You might note that Russian is out. That’s a story for another day. Ya nye gavaru pa’ruski. ‘Nuff said.)

One of the roles that Jimmy is most proud of is Dun Meng, one of the heroes in Patriot’s Day, the film about the Boston Marathon bombing. He had a chance to bring some authenticity to the role (including getting his real dad to play his big-screen dad) by bringing in the correct accent to the Chinese dialogue. How many non-Chinese-speakers would really notice the difference between a Cantonese dialect and a Shanghai dialect? He also connected to the role because he was playing an Asian immigrant in America. He mentions connecting to the Asian immigrant experience a few times in the book as something comfortingly familiar – “this person is like me.” It’s not a struggle like some of his other cultural experiences in America.

Israel is a small country with lots of immigrants. When so many people are immigrants, the details don’t matter because we are all struggling with the same things. The one thing the majority of the population – whether native or immigrant – is sure of is that we are all part of the nation of the Jewish people living in the modern State of Israel.

Still, I’m not exactly Israeli and I’m not exactly American. I guess I’m a fish with legs playing on the beach in and out of the water enjoying both water-life and land-life.

Bottom Line: This book was especially touching to me given my immigrant experiences, but the truth is that this book is for all kinds of people. It’s an inspirational story about someone overcoming internal and external obstacles, making life-changing choices, and pursuing his dreams (even if his dad tells him that pursuing dreams is what makes people homeless).

I love a parade!

Israel doesn’t generally do parades in the American style, but this year we had a special treat. Ok, it wasn’t Macy’s (that was a rumor that got blown out of proportion). Still, there were balloons and floats, and the American flair of classic cars and marching bands!

And we start with the Nutcracker!

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Going US style with US Ambassador David Friedman!

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Smurfy!

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Awesome classic cars!

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And a little red corvette!

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Compilation of the bands!

 

ANIMAL!!!

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Work it, Dragon!

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Wait. We’re in Israel, right? Do you see some Israeli heroes?

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If you will it, it is no dream!

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Chanukah: A light in the darkness

Man, if I was a Grinch last week, you don’t even want to know about this week. So annoyed! My ceiling is leaking and I’m camping in the living room. But there was one thing that made me feel better …

This is AMAZING!! I love a cappella to begin with and then bring in Queen, well, Chanukah doesn’t get better than that!

Cultural notes

As an American and Israeli, I noticed that this was a great cultural mix.

  1. Note the hard ch (Antiochus, Chanukah, Chai) but Mattathius.
  2. Israeli Chanukah treats (sufganiot – filled donuts) and American Chanukah food (latkes – potato pancakes). If Israelis make latkes in Israel they are called levivot (hearts – I don’t know why) and are never served with applesauce (I know, right?). And sour cream? Fuggedaboutit. Maybe gvina levana.
  3. Sevivon as well as dreidle and gelt (Israelis don’t actually know the rules to the dreidle game; they just know there’s a top and it spins).
  4. Sevivon, sov, sov, sov, as well as a clay dreidle (you gotta know your Chanukah songs for this one).
  5. Chanukiahs, but not a menorah to be found.
  6. Aba, Ema, but Bubbe (surprisingly not many grandmas are called bubbe here).
  7. Ah, but where was the miracle? Nes gadol haya po. It was here, not there (sham). We’re in Israel! (Even if Six13 are New York-based.)

So after singing this at the top of my lungs (many times), which hopefully bothers the neighbors whose fault it is that my ceiling is leaking, I’ve decided: Dammit all, I’m going to be a freaking light in the darkness.

Happy Chanukah Everybody!

Even The Dude might not abide

It was Thanksgiving this week and Israel doesn’t do Thanksgiving, so we Americans do what we can for ourselves. My family tradition is to go around the table saying what we’re thankful for and I have to admit, my thankfulness was clouded by the annoying week I had. In general, I have a lot of blessings and I’m truly thankful, but this post is a little bit of a rant.

 

Black Friday

For some reason, Israel has really embraced Black Friday. It’s especially weird since Thanksgiving is not a national holiday and “the day after Thanksgiving to kick off the Christmas shopping season” doesn’t exist. It’s not a kickoff for Chanukah shopping either – just to be clear. I’m mostly annoyed because if you are going to take something “Christmassy” from America, why would you take greedy materialism? It’s not even balanced by popularizing How the Grinch Stole Christmas or A Christmas Carol. There are no friends and family values as we find in It’s a Wonderful Life.

The weirdest part of Black Friday is that this year it’s mostly written in English. There were ads a year or two ago that gave us shishi shachor the literal translation into Hebrew of Black Friday. Since no one knew exactly what that meant, they switched to English so that everyone would understand it’s a big sale weekend (just like in America!). And because there is no Thanksgiving, Black Friday is a week long. Because that makes sense.

black fridayTraditional. Nothing says Black Friday like balloons.

Black friday 2

Because blue is so much more festive.

Pink Friday 2

Guess what’s for sale? Make-up and beauty products. I’m not convinced this is better.

Bowling league

I was channeling Walter at the bowling alley at the work league match this week. I’m not a great bowler, but I do enjoy it and usually the games are fun. Not everyone is Walter-serious about the matches, but the other offices participate with good sportsmanship and a sense of camaraderie among all the players.

This week we were playing against the municipality. That was probably the first strike against them. No one likes the municipality in real life, so we aren’t going to change our opinions even if it is a league game.

Their team was a rooster surrounded by hens – one was a grandmother who thought it was a good idea to bring her grandson, surely he could bowl a few turns, right?

I should mention here that bowling in Israel would horrify even The Dude. You don’t have to rent shoes; we just play in sneakers. No one follows any bowler etiquette. Thankfully the scoring is automated, otherwise who knows what would happen.

Some players are new to bowling, but obviously these people have had no guidance at all. These hens picked up a ball using their thumb, index finger, and second finger; walked up to the foul line (often over the line); started swinging the ball (and-a one, and-a two, and-a three); let go with no follow-through causing the ball to plonk on the lane and miraculously roll its way toward the pins. The worst part was that it worked sometimes – usually when I was looking. (I did manage to calm myself down by looking at their total scores; they weren’t that successful.)

I confirmed that the unusual hold is used in bowling, but it’s not standard. The swing and plonk method is ridiculous. I tried to be an example using the 4-step release, and they even noticed, but somehow didn’t realize that their bowling style was the equivalent of toddlers who need gutter-guards.

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Correct form

One might forgive the lack of skill and knowledge, but to top it off they were rude bowlers. They were constantly in the way. They took over all the chairs with themselves and their stuff – they had more than 4 people on their team, to allow them to switch out in different games (which is legal), but they didn’t care that there was another team there.

But worst of all was the attitude that they couldn’t understand why we were annoyed. It’s like the bully in the schoolyard who pushes you to your limit and then says, “Why are you getting so upset?”

At this point, even The Dude can’t smooth it over by saying, “It’s just a game, man.”

I wanted to show the Walter “over the line” video, but it had too many f-bombs in it and I don’t want to encourage threats of gun violence. Better the dulcet tones of The Stranger reminding us to take ‘er easy while we sip a White Russian with The Dude.

Israel is not the 51st state

Sure, there’s turkey and fixings for Thanksgiving (Chag HaHodaya – Hebrew for Holiday of Thanks), there’s bowling and everyone knows about The Big Lebowski, and it was just announced that the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade floats are coming to Jerusalem for the first night of Chanukah. But no matter how American Israel might think it is, it’s still in the Middle East.

Hunkering down

While I’m sure other stuff has been happening around the world, the last couple of weeks in Israel and the United States have been crazy.

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How we deal with it at my house

In the US, we had a blue wave in the House, more firings in the White House, CNN had a stand-off with the president, the president popped over to France, and major elections had recounts.

In Israel, the apathy of the citizens of Jerusalem was staggering – the new mayor won by about 6,500 votes in a city with a population of 865,000 with only 30% of eligible voters voting. Israel is defending its citizens against attacks by Gazan rockets (460 rockets over several days from Gaza into Israel), but now there is a cease-fire. However, the defense minister stepped down, which rocked the delicate coalition, and that may bring about national elections.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

“Truth is stranger than fiction.”

Yeah? I’ll have some of that fiction now, please.

The nice thing about fiction is that it’s clean and all the boring unimportant bits are taken out. You don’t have to waste your time on details that don’t push the story along. Real life has just too much stuff going on and you don’t know what’s really important or which way to look.

I’m a fan of thrillers, mysteries, police procedurals, and I’m not averse to vigilantes with strict internal moral codes. At the moment, my fictional world is making a lot more sense than real life. But I do need fiction that makes me think. I need a theory or a particular worldview to chew on.

A few weeks ago, a British show called Strangers caught my attention. A few of the main characters are British, but it was filmed in Hong Kong with Chinese actors speaking Chinese (scenes with subtitles!). My original thought about reviewing this series was to point out that Britain is now getting in on the Asian drama wave. But I’m going to take it in a different direction.

What I loved about this show was that it was filled with twists and turns I didn’t see coming. I know the usual tropes, so I really appreciate a show that keeps you guessing. For instance, here is a synopsis of the first fifteen minutes: A woman is driving while crying on the phone. She’s hit by a truck. A self-satisfied professor starts his lecture and is pulled out of the lecture hall to be told his wife has died in a car accident. He’s afraid of flying, but goes to Hong Kong to identify his wife’s body and bring her back to England. He sees a man holding a picture of his wife. Who is this man? None other than her Chinese husband who she’s been married to for the past 20 years.

Say what? I’m hooked. And it goes on like that for eight episodes: an unexpected twist every fifteen minutes or so.

I won’t spoil it for you. The unraveling of the mystery is very well done; I enjoyed the meandering pace.

What made me think, though, was a nearly throwaway line in the first minutes of the show. The smug professor wrote a book called Do Nations Exist? The brown-nosing student says “Nations are imagined; they only exist in our minds.” The professor answers, “Surely a group of people claiming to be a cohesive whole is, at best, a lie agreed upon.”

You can watch the whole show without ever thinking about this line ever again. However, given the events of real life, you might see that the story shows you the answer. Our professor leaves his ivory tower and arrives in a dirty, dark, smoggy Hong Kong. He finds that everything he thinks is true is not, everything he expects in the world is upside-down, and all of his British cultural touchstones have no meaning in Hong Kong. He expects the police to help, they don’t. He expects the British consular officers to help, they don’t. He thinks the Chinese husband is working against him, he isn’t. Then there’s the journalist, the university friend, the activist, the refugee, the Triad gangster, the conglomerate owner, the British consul, the hotel manager – no one is who they appear to be. And what about the elections in Hong Kong? There are protests and the usual rumors and power plays. But how does it fit in? (As I mentioned, nothing is introduced that isn’t important. It’s clean and we know where to look, even if it might be misdirection on the part of the writer.)

It’s possible that the important bit of the line is “a lie agreed upon.” When you hold up the mirror of fiction to real life, you might find that everything you think is true isn’t. All your expectations are baseless. Your interactions in the world go awry because you are a stranger in a strange land.

But then why throw in nations at all? Do they exist? Well, I suppose it depends on who you ask. If you are inside, then they don’t – or don’t have to. If you are outside, then they most assuredly do.

As for me, for the moment, I prefer to stay in my fictional world that makes some kind of sense. Real life is just too crazy right now.

Here’s the opening of Strangers

And a quick teaser