I’m in a Funk

giphy

Ever since my Japan trip my brain has been in a funk. Reading and writing seem like a burden, and I was stumped on what to write about this week for the blog. I blame this slump on jet lag and the month of September. Experts say that for every time-zone crossed, it takes the body a day to recover from travel; Christina and I crossed 14 time zones which may explain why I am not motivated to read my current book – a 1000 pager on the history of Christianity. Jet lag is sneaky because you can get back to a normal sleep schedule in a couple of days, but feeling “functional” is a far cry from feeling “optimal.” My jet lag is worsened by the fact that it is September. I never liked September because it is the little brother of New Years; it is that transition time of the year when the leaves change, school starts, and people make arbitrary goals. Unlike New Years, Labor Day goals have zero chance because of the upcoming holiday season

Labor DayI’m going to lose some pounds before Halloween.”
1st of October “I love the fall decorations…how can I enjoy this season without candy and cinnamon donuts?”
Halloween “I feel gross…I’m going to try really hard up until Thanksgiving.”
One week later “I didn’t know my work was going to have an early Thanksgiving feast…I’ll just do portion control.”
ThanksgivingI feel like a Beluga Whale…this is already my third Thanksgiving…screw it!…I’m using the big plate at the dessert table.”
Christmas “Honey I’m having heart palpitations after that third glass of eggnog…I am starting that diet for real after New Years.”

screen-shot-2016-09-13-at-2-54-51-pm

So hence, I feel the September blues quite a bit; I have one foot in summer and one foot in fall with a jet-lagged brain that keeps nagging at me like a wife who finds pee on the toilet seat. So what am I to do? What motivation can I offer to prevent us from playing “Wake Me Up When September Ends” on repeat? The best way to get out of a funk is to be both realistic and tangible. For example, I am going to start the reading and research for my next book in the coming weeks. I know that this will be difficult with the many social engagements of the season, so my timeline is significantly extended. This is applicable for any goal you make right now – whatever you have in mind, lower your expectations by 50 percent. If you want to lose 10 pounds, go for 5 pounds. If you want to save 500 dollars go for 250 dollars. If you want to read 3,000 pages on Plato …. just go stick your head under a frozen-yogurt machine.

giphy2

The other half of September success is to make your goal tangible. I have all the books I need to read stacked on my countertop so that I am reminded each day of my progress. The holidays make it easy to forget everyday routines so having a tangible reminder is paramount. Mark a calendar or have something on your desk that makes you think of your successes- just make it visible. After writing just these two paragraphs, I feel less foggy and more motivated to get back into my reading. Make a realistic goal this season and try your best; even if you improve by only 50%, it is still better than backsliding to those egg-nog induced palpitations.

giphy1

Japan is Finally Here!

***Due to my vacation, this will be my last post until September 10th :)***

The wait is over. Christina and I will be flying to Japan this week, and I feel like my Chihuahua when he hears the words “let’s go bye-bye!” The travel will be arduous, but I am trying to remember that you have to eat an elephant one bite at a time. The flight is a 13-hour red-eye which will probably leave me depleted – I am bringing some boring books and Benadryl which will hopefully help me sleep.

snakes-on-a-plane-how-the-hell-did-it-happen-7

 

As most of you know, I have been reading various texts on Japan to obtain a greater understanding and respect for this complicated country. My last book before heading off was an excellent summary of the history of Japan by Christopher Goto-Jones – Modern Japan: A Very Short Introduction. This book is actually one of many in Oxford’s Very Short Introductions series; each book tries to concisely address difficult topics. These books are similar to my Tackle the Library series *cue shameless plug*  except they are longer and dryer in nature. Nevertheless, I was able to get a comprehensive view of Japan from its feudal past to its post-modern present; Japan’s history is pertinent to Western readers because it shows how modernization can both destroy a culture and uniquely define national identity.

tokyo-livable

 

Today Japan is the third largest economy in the world with a population of nearly 130 million people – for context, Japan’s neighbor, Russia is the 12th ranked economy with a population of only 145 million inhabitants. Japan was not always a powerhouse of human resources, and it wasn’t long ago that it was completely isolated from the world. For 250 years, Japan had very little to do with the burgeoning powers of Europe and the United States. It wasn’t until 1853 that Japan was forced by the United States to sign a trading agreement – within 50 years of that date the entire country would undergo a political revolution, establish a new constitution, become an industrial economy, and begin a colonial empire.

an01368037_001_l

Japan was highly motivated to develop their country because of the “Unequal Treaties” which were Western treaties that viewed Japan as a backwater not worthy of fair trade. This view was partially accurate, but Japan was far from simplistic – by the 17th century, Tokyo was the largest city in the world and Japan had a sophisticated religious system that facilitated the famous samurai class and a revered Emperor. Suffice it to say, Japan in the 19th century was primed for development, and with Western technology, it shot off like a rocket into the “modern” age.

giphy4

At the turn of the 20th century, Japan was involved in a paradoxical policy of Imperialistic Anti-Imperialism. Confused? The Western countries were trying to dip their fingers into the honey pot of Asia – taking land from less developed societies in China, Korea, and Southeast Asia. Japan believed Asia should be in the hands of Asians and subsequently went to war with Russia, Korea, and China to secure their own holdings; they were extremely successful in these endeavors, and the Japanese began to get a taste for military power.

japaneseinvasion-1

By the time of WWI, Japan assisted the Allies and was given a seat for the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations. This “seat” was celebrated in Japan as a concrete symbol of their worldwide respect and modernity. All optimism was short-lived once Woodrow Wilson and the other Western nations decided that Japan would not have an equal voice. This “Western racism” highlighted to the Japanese that no matter how modern they became, they would be inferior because of their ethnicity and culture; this would lead to the conflicts of WWII in which the Japanese highlighted their national superiority.

 

giphy6

Following their hard-fought defeat in WWII, General MacArthur occupied Japan and modified their constitution: disbanding the military, adding a bill of rights, and transforming the role of the Emperor. In the 50’s Japan’s economy quickly rebounded thanks to the Korean War and by 1960 Japan was the world’s largest shipbuilder. The next 57 years followed a close line with the development of the United States – cars, technology, and the middle-class became the standard.

maxresdefault

Japan however to this day differs from other modern countries. Because of their early isolation and disrespect, Japan was determined to maintain their culture and their Emperor. With the US occupation post-WWII, Japan was able to stay out of the Cold War and invest in their country – leading to its cutting edge technology, education, and infrastructure. Japan’s forced pacifism has made it difficult for them to reconcile their past and to reconcile their place in the “post” modern world. With an aging population, an overworked middle class, and a technological-isolated youth the question for Japan today is defining what the “Japanese Dream” actually represents and how it is different than the “American Dream.”

What’s Your Prescription?

I have worn glasses since my sophomore year in college. At first it took some time getting used to them framing my everyday life. They would fog up during the winter. They would smudge whenever Christina gave me a big fat kiss. They would distinguish me from my Mom, Dad, and Sister who all had great vision. After awhile though, I became use to them and I actually embraced them as a new identity. In time, I would realize that we all wear glasses in some shape or form. All the things that we have experienced in life – personal encounters, adversities,  blessings, life lessons – frame the way we view our world. That is why there are so many different viewpoints. Everyone has a different prescription and their proverbial glasses are crafted by their unique existence. These “glasses” make some people view life in a optimistic manner while a different pair makes the world appear very gloomy. One person could have a prescription that makes them campaign for Trump while another person could have a prescription that makes them campaign for Hillary. Now, there is nothing wrong with wearing glasses, and everyone, no matter how wise they are, has a prescription.

There is however a point at which a person’s eyesight is so bad and their glasses so bulky that they are unable to see very much at all. These are the people who many would call ignorant. Some ignorance is good and some is bad. Good ignorance, in my opinion, is not knowing the daily depression that always inundates the news. Bad ignorance is thinking that you know all the answers, that your way of doing things is the best, and that you are better than other people. Having a limited perspective makes life very difficult – there are few frames of reference for the range of emotions and thoughts experienced on a daily basis. For example, if I had no understanding of the suffering that takes place in the slums of India, I may feel apt to dramatize my own menial discomforts. Alternatively, I would be quick to rage if all I knew in life was the continual cycle of revenge and the coping mechanism of blame. For these reasons, it is imperative that we all improve our prescriptions – from the bulky thick lenses of our myopic desires – to the sleek frames of farsighted sagaciousness. So how do we go about improving our world perspective? First and foremost we must read things that take us out of our normal-intellectual circle. If you love Fox News pick up a book written by a liberal professor. If you love The Huffington Post, read a book by Bill O’Reilly. Read often because as Theodore Roosevelt said, “I am part of everything that I have read.” Second, travel as much as you can. See places in the world that make you appreciative of your own life and more respectful towards cultural differences. Thirdly, give your time to others. Giving to others is one of the greatest ways of looking at life through another person’s glasses. The better your prescription gets, the more you will realize how far you can see past your previous level of ignorance. Remember one important fact. Getting a better prescription is not a passive experience. Gaining years is not a free pass to wisdom. To truly see the background and the foreground one must consciously step out of their crisp-comfort zone and take a step forward into a  blurry-quagmire of endless opportunity.

3 books that helped improve my prescription:

  1. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  2. The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs
  3. Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo

Shenandoah: The Red-Headed-Step Child

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Two years ago on June 21st I married the love of my life. It was one of those days in which time both stood still and flew by-leaving a host of wonderful memories. Following our wedding day, we spent our honeymoon in Yosemite National Park. I thought it would be a excellent idea to camp the whole week-suffice it to say, do not camp on your honeymoon. After only two days, Christina was complaining about her back hurting and our sex life was in a state of drought worse than California. We ended up getting a hotel for the rest of the trip but still had a great time relaxing in nature. It is our goal to visit all 58 national parks in the United States so we decided to celebrate our two year anniversary with a vacation to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.

Shenandoah is the red-headed-step child of the national parks system. Essentially, city goers in Washington D.C. wanted a national park in the east similar to those found in the west like Yellowstone. The Blue Ridge Mountains were chosen because of their proximity, natural beauty, and the preexisting tourist development known as Skyland Resort. Skyland was a bohemian complex that sat on top of the Blue Ridge Mountains and was owned by George Pollock. Pollock pushed for Skyland and the area around it to become a National Park so he could get more business. Old Georgy got his wish but the National Park Service ended up disbanding his business after the park’s opening in 1935. Shenandoah’s odd history does not stop there. Since the 1600’s, the Blue Ridge Mountains had been settled and owned by all sorts of individuals-generations of families who worked the land. This area was host to complete American towns with churches, schools, and cemeteries. To make a long story short…these people were compensated for their land and told to leave the park. Some were relocated, some did not leave (their houses were eventually burnt down), and some sued the State of Virginia (they lost).

With that history in mind let’s get back to the anniversary trip. Forgetting the nightmares of camping in Yosemite, I thought it would be an excellent idea to camp in Shenandoah. We got to our campsite and commenced a four-hour long operation to get our site completely set up: pitched the Taj Mahal tent, assembled the stove, stacked firewood, sprayed copious amounts of bug spray, searched for the bathrooms, etc. At about 7 pm we collapsed on our cots exhausted and were ready to go to sleep when the sky turned completely black. I knew this was bad and before the thought could register the wind blew so hard that the tent collapsed on our resting heads. Christina jumped up like a chicken and we soon began an hour ordeal in which we were bracing the tent-spread eagle style-while lightening, thunder, pouring rain, and wind threatened to destroy our dwelling. The rain tarp partly flew off and rain began to drench our sleeping bags, clothes, and books that were on the floor. At about 8 pm it was decided that our camping trip was over. The storm began to wane and we jumped ship with all our wet belongings to the nearest hotel-a very sketchy Budget Inn.

The next day we heard on the news that the storm registered 50 lightening strikes per minute. We survived and ended up having an awesome vacation with a ton of beautiful hiking. The tally of nature that we saw was quite impressive: 5 bears including two cubs, four falcons, a snake, deer, centipedes, a host of fish, and a partridge in a pear tree. The highlight of the trip was a 9 mile hike up to Old Rag Mountain which required precarious rock scrambling and copious amounts of trail mix. In the end, Christina and I really enjoyed the adventure with all its twists and turns. Was it right to kick the people out to make the park? It’s a hard question to answer because the park benefits so many people and wildlife now that it is protected land. I have to say that I am glad it exists and hope to go back in the future when the leaves are changing colors in the fall.