International

let's see how the International affairs impact us

Leap year, Valentine's day and more

I hope that 2016 has started very well for you. Definitely, it has for me: I am spoilt being in Queensland (the third largest state in Australia) with its weather suited to outside entertainment and activities (e.g. only a sliding door and a compulsory gate separate our living area from the swimming pool).

January 26 was Australia Day and there were fantastic celebrations with fireworks and musical shows all over the country. While working for Multicultural Affairs Queensland (formerly Bureau of Ethnic Affairs), we had fun coming up with definitions of an Australian; and my updated version is something like this:

Being Australian is driving a Japanese car (most likely a Toyota or Mazda) to an Irish pub to drink a Belgian beer; then on the way home grab an Indian takeaway or have Yum Cha at a Chinese restaurant; at home sits on a Swedish furniture watching an American TV program or film on a German TV while texting or Facebooking in a gadget with components from Malaysia or Philippines.

The year 2016 should be better

I'm writing this from sunny Brisbane in Australia. I'm so delighted to be with family and friends, especially that I didn't see them for five years. Being a family addict and social connoisseur, every day is spent dining together, playing board games and sports, visiting places or simply lazing around talking to each other. Giving and receiving are also a habit. Fortunately, I received only useful presents last Christmas. However, even if I had unwanted gifts, I would have turned these into needed and appreciated possessions. In fact, even when I don't like my gift, I never return it. Of course you can do this if there's a receipt (but never ask for it) and exchange it for something that you really like.

In the past, I did regift expensive wine and champagne bottles (I don't drink alcohol). Sometimes, I had presents that stayed in my wardrobe for a year or so waiting for the right person and occasion. Since I have a fairly good memory when it comes to people and their kindness, I always remember who has given me what. However, one day when my memory starts to dwindle, I will record my unwanted presents so that I won't offer these embarrassingly to the original givers.

As well, I am good at reusing presents, e.g. my current make up porcelain holder was actually given to me as a jewellery box.

Barbara Young, one of my role models and former work supervisors, donates unwanted gifts to charities (e.g. Save the Children Fund) and those less fortunate. About 8 years ago, I helped her get rid of unused belongings in a garage sale.

Perhaps one day I will organise a swapping party for unused/unwanted Christmas (or birthday) presents.

The year 2015 was enlightening and productive for me, however, global events (several of which I had mentioned in my previous articles) saddened me. Currently, what worries me more is that our world continues to be riddled with mutual distrust and division, conflicts and terrorism. What can we do about these – antidotes and answers?

Solidarity amid insecurity

At 5am on 14 November 2015, I was awaken by a phone call from Australia. My sister was so relieved that none of my family and friends was in Paris. My brother-in-law continued the conversation with information on deaths and damages unfolding on their television screen the whole day.

We were in Luxembourg that Friday evening watching Spectre, and as soon as we got home at 11pm we went to bed oblivious to the terrorist attacks in the city of lights, where my first son was born and I resided for 2 years. Though we don’t live in Paris any more, I’m affected by this insecure state and threats of terrorism, which I had never seen in my life before. Last week, one of my students was at the funeral of his cousin’s son who was one of the Bataclan victims. For 2 weeks now, I’ve been coming home late, missing dinner with my family as it takes 2 hours to get home due to traffic jams and security checks. These days, I spend more time commuting than teaching.

Terrorism threatens our existence and that of the civilised world. This has ramifications on every aspect of our society: psychological (limit our activities & choices/create fear), political (e.g. State resources are redirected from social development to security measures), social (relationships are redefined, suspicions arise, and stereotypes prevails) and economic (increased expenditures on health and security; loss of income – e.g. shops in Brussels were deserted last November 21-22).

As the saying goes “If it doesn’t kill us, if will only make us stronger,” and this is exactly what our democratic world has become. There has been an outpouring of support and solidarity. This write-up is my contribution to ensuring that such support and solidarity continue even after families and friends have buried their loved ones and the injured have left their hospital beds.

Citizenship, loyalty and belongingness

Thousands of Filipino-born Americans cheered vehemently for Manny Pakyaw for “The Fight of the Century” boxing title against American Floyd Mayweather Jr. at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas in May this year. From time to time, we hear about some South Asians in the UK feeling gloomy when the English cricket team wins against Pakistan or India (their ancestral homes). My first work supervisor in Australia was a New Zealander, and I believe he celebrated in the comfort of his Brisbane home (Australia) the win of the All Blacks against the Wallabies/Aussies in yesterday's Rugby World Cup 2015.

Sport is one of the primary means through which citizenship and belongingness are contested and resisted. The teams we cheer for, flags we fly, anthem we sing and colour of clothes we wear are a part of our interpretation, as individuals or groups, of the cultural, linguistic and national connections that unite or divide us. These days, such connections are quite complex as the very concept of a national identity is challenged and redefined (sometimes as multiple identities) and dual citizenship have become more common than ever.

Globalisation, migration and family relationships have (and will continue to) changed individual and collective identities within a nation. At the same time, international connectedness has been confirmed by membership to organisations, e.g. European Union, creating a new kind of identity that is different from what is traditionally associated with a single country. Likewise, constant economic, political, social and cultural developments contribute to the transformation of our identity and sense of belonging, which aid or complicate our rights and responsibilities as citizens of one or more countries.

Immigration, Asylum Seeking, Refugeeing and Accommodating

It’s “the worst refugee crisis since World War II” – I can’t agree more as I very sadly see every day on the news thousands of men, women and children looking starved and exhausted in unsafe boats, desperate individuals and families crawling under and climbing fences, and dead bodies found in seas and abandoned vehicles (such as last week’s discovery in Austria).

Any discussion about migrants and refugees is complicated, complex and emotionally-laden thus we really have to be careful in our choice of words and with our behaviours.

Foremost of all, there are significant differences between immigrants and political refugees. The latter don’t have a choice but flee because of well-founded fear of persecution, illegal imprisonment, torture or murder.

Then there’s what’s commonly known as political correctness (PC), which is about the avoidance of language and ideas that may offend members of a particular group and lead to discrimination. PC first appeared publicly in the 70’s. A decade later, it was well into the consciousness of many educated and well-informed people.

“Illegal” entry and asylum seeking had been a paramount concern in Australia before it became a crisis in Europe. In the late 80’s, while working for the Queensland Government (Australia) as Policy Resource Officer on multiculturalism, I realised the necessity of PC for a harmonious and just society. Australians try to avoid colour identification with their use of Non-English Speaking Background (NESB)- and English-Speaking Background (ESB)- Australians to refer to those who originally come from Asia & other non-English countries and those from the UK & other English-speaking nations, respectively. Also, they often attach the national or ethnic origin of the person to the word ‘Australian,’ such as Asian-Australian (as in the USA: African-/Asian-/Latin-American).

From Fish & Chips to Pizza & Mozzarella then WORLD EXPO

Long queues at Calais but, fortunately, the ferry was under 20 minutes late in crossing the tunnel. The traffic in Dover was fairly smooth sailing considering that it’s the long summer holiday and Europeans move a lot, thus I got to Cambridge University as scheduled. My son’s graduation went very well though I understood but a few words in the purely Latin ceremony. It was a showcase of a truly English academic tradition.

England is a member of the European Community (EC) but not of the Euro Zone. It is a highly disciplined country where drivers stop at traffic lights, respect give-way signs, don’t go over speed limits and park in authorised places only. Its skies are constantly grey with sparkling rain. I love the English sense of humour and I’ve never met a ‘Pom’ (as Australians call them) who can’t tell at least one good joke.

Only a day of rest and I headed to Italy. My diet of fish and chips, sausage rolls and meat pies adorned with green salad was replaced with pizza, pasta and mozzarella. Generally, while the English are reservedly polite, the Italians are expressively gracious. In Naples, I witnessed these hilarious yet dangerous situations: A woman driving a motorcycle with a mobile phone between her tilted head and left shoulder; 2 women on a motorcycle (again) and one of them (the back rider) was holding 2 helmets with her right hand while moving her left hand as if giving traffic directions; drivers optimising 2 lanes into 3; motorists and motorcyclists over taking in a hurry and don’t give way readily to pedestrians on designated crossings. Meanwhile, unlike in England, from the north to the south of Italy, it didn’t rain for nearly a fortnight (while I was there) and the temperature was over 30°C.

Charlie... a month later

You certainly have heard a lot about the January 7, 2015 tragic shootings in Paris of 12 cartoonists, journalists and staff of newspaper Charlie Hebdo. The day after that, I received emails from friends worldwide, notably from Australia, expressing their profound sadness and sympathy -- describing such brutal act as a bloody offence against freedom of speech, liberty and peace. My responses included notes on immigration, identity, social inequality and education.

Global solidarity poured in instantly and there was a historic gathering of heads of states and communities in Paris on the 11th. Virgils and gatherings of support and commemorations took place in many cities in France, England, the USA and other countries, which were moving and impressive.

During that week, my French friend apologised for being late in responding to my email because she was distressed with what happened in Paris. I was intrigued by her testimony that I asked her if I could publish her write-up. I have translated it in English, and the French version follows after.

"I do not agree with what you write, but I will defend to death your right to write about what you think." This was written in the 18th century by Voltaire who experienced life in prison and exile for his writings that displeased people in power.

わたしは健二

أنا كانجي

أنا لست شينزو

إعطونا فرصة للسلام

 

私は健二。

私は安倍じゃない。

平和を我等に。

 

Je suis Kenji. Je ne suis pas Abe.

Donnez une chance à la paix.

 

I am Kenji. I am not Abe.

Give peace a chance.

More in ''Mother of Japanese Isis hostage Kenji Goto makes tearful appeal'' (source: journal The Guardian)

Giving, Receiving and Reviewing

Happy New Year To You and Your Loved Ones!

Three weeks ago, one of my friends asked his wife what she wanted to receive as presents. Without hesitation, she said “love.” His eyes widened and said he meant something tangible. (Love is complex and unquantifiable and we need something to represent it). He insisted, “What can I buy for you?”

Nowadays, in many societies, cost is associated with love. The more we love the person, the more we spend on gifts (presents). There is a tendency to express appreciation in terms of “how much?” Gone are the days when handmade and creative inexpensive presents were valued as meaningful and memorable.

There are many occasions in our lives when we give presents: birthday, wedding, graduation, etc. Gift giving is universal and important in any relationship. Dictionaries define gift as a thing (for me, service as well) given willingly to someone without payment (I add, ‘not expecting something in return’) How about re-gifting? Have you given something that you had received from someone else? It’s environmentally and financially worthwhile to do this; however, a recipient may have a different view. When you receive a regift, what do you think and feel about it? Being the second born of 5 children and having both rich & poor cousins and both needy & generous friends, I am used to giving and receiving pre-loved belongings. I believe that sharing our possessions and experiences is part of being humane.

This year and beyond

The year is coming to an end, and this is my last article in 2014. We've read and heard a lot about crimes, illnesses, injustices, the Ukraine crisis, shoot down of Malaysian Air Flight 17 with nearly 300 people on board, abduction of Nigerian girls, Ebola virus and on-going Middle East conflicts.

In fact, there are more happy stories and remarkable progresses than gloomy ones. There have been useful research findings and inventions, such as robotic exoskeletons that can provide support to a ravaged body that needs to heal. There are now about 3 billion people in the world who have Internet access. The FIFA World Cup, which was held in Brazil from June 12 to July 13 and won by Germany, was a success. The Rosetta spacecraft's Philae probe landed on Comet 67P, which was the first time in history. National and international laws have been introduced and collaborations established to combat organised and cyber crime, terrorism and tax evasion (e.g. US FATCA - Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act that requires US citizens, including those who live outside the US, to report their financial accounts held outside the country; and obliges foreign financial institutions to disclose to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) information about their U.S. clients. This increases national tax revenues as it makes it difficult for US taxpayers to conceal assets abroad). There have been local and global meetings, conferences, working parties, fund-raising events and other gatherings addressing social, political, economic and environmental concerns.

ベルギーの志道館

Long life to Shidōkan!

Longue vie au Shidōkan!

Cette année marque le dixième anniversaire de Shidōkan, club de iaido à Libramont, en Belgique, fondé par d'ardents disciples de Ogura Noboru Sensei, Gérard (Gési) Simon et Gérard Gatelier. Maintenant, le club entretenu avec succès par Gatelier et d’autres. Beaucoup de membres consacrent une bonne partie de leur vie à la pratique et à l’amélioration de leurs techniques de iaido et la connaissance des aspects philosophiques afférents à la discipline. Une personne, par exemple, fait chaque semaine 120 kilomètres de route pour aller pratiquer, tandis qu’une autre personne pratique près de 6 jours par semaine, gardant un jour libre pour que sa femme puisse le voir!

Je me demande ce qui est si fascinant dans le iaido (s’entraîner pieds nus dans un dojo pendant des heures). Une personne m’a dit que c’était "la poursuite du bien-être, celui qu’on gagne et celui qu’on partage."

(Lire la suite...)

Summer holiday (UK)/vacation (US)

I was nearly finished writing an article entitled "Not on holiday." After lines and lines of experiences of men, women and students doing summer jobs to put food on the table, pay for driving lessons, save for university studies, etc.., I decided not to go ahead with it. I realised that my thoughts were all over: from the economic crises, social evolution to work ethics, and these issues are boring as a summer reading. So, I'm going to talk about my tomorrow's visit to central Europe instead.

From Metz (the capital of Moselle in the north-east of France where I live) to Prague (the capital of the Czech Republic where I'll stay for 4 days) is 7 and a half hours by bus. From Prague to Bratislava (the capital of the Slovak Republic where I’ll be for 4 days), is 3 and a half hours by bus.

The Czech Republic is a member of the European Union (EU) but not of the Euro Zone (thus money exchange will be a bit inconvenient -- about 28 Koruna to 1 Euro); has a population of slightly over 10.5 million; has a multi-party democracy with the Prime Minister as head of its government; and has varied landscapes and temperatures. The warmest month is July and it’s sunny and festive in August.

Hearing on the TTIP held at the Chamber of Deputies in Luxembourg

Chamber of Deputies of Luxembourg - Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Picture taken by Ex13. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0
(CC BY-SA 3.0)

This blog is a short (Japanese) summary of the hearing on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) which was held at the Chamber of Deputies in Luxembourg on July 11, 2014. I added some comments on the TTIP.

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