FOOD, Japan

Late Night Cravings, Finals Week Edition

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It’s 4:31 because America (except Hawai’i, Arizona, and US territories) lost an hour to daylight savings time when I needed it the most–during finals week.

I’m currently writing a paper on the championed ideas of ~perpetual peace~ and ~right to sovereignty~ in relation to the anti-base relocation controversy in Henoko, Okinawa. Of course I write about Okinawa. Once you get me talking about Okinawa I will never stop. Same thing with talking about my experiences studying abroad in Tokyo–I can run my mouth about my experiences and stories all day, all night.

That said, I’m craving ソーキそば (soki soba), a popular ramen dish in Okinawa. The texture of the noodles are softer, flatter, thicker, and more chewy than standard noodles. It’s standard to have sliced pork belly or pork ribs since pigs are highly revered and consumed in Okinawan culinary culture. The broth tastes light, complementing the noodles and pork toppings. When I ate this last June, my heart swooned.

I should really get back to my paper. It’s due in less than 8 hours and I have a Skype interview scheduled at 11:00. #priorities

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Japan

The Consequence of Man-Made Disasters, From Japan to the U.S.

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The billboard sign reads, “Nuclear energy is the bright energy of the future.”

Ironically, the future isn’t so bright for the people who lived within 10, 20, or 30 kilometers from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. This is located in Futaba, one of the towns that hosted the power plant in exchange for generous subsidies by the government. I took this picture around this time last year when I participated in a study tour hosted by my internship’s organization. We drove on the national highway that passes the power plant and the nearby towns, abandoned with no signs of human life and appeared as though frozen in time.

Prior to the 2011 triple disaster, the Japanese government and electric companies assured the safety and environmental benefits of nuclear energy. This assumption of safety traces back to “atoms for peace,” a phrase originally coined by President Eisenhower to promote an alternative use for nuclear power, ten years after the atomic bombings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

On March 11, 2011 at 14:46, an earthquake in the Pacific triggered a series of tsunamis along the coast of the Tohoku region. The earthquake and tsunami caused the reactors to shut down immediately; however, workers could not cool the fueling rods and led to a hydrogen gas explosion. Many of them were forced to evacuate from their homes. Some chose to stay indoors while others had the accessibility to escape.

Five years later, over 100,000 are still displaced from their homes. These evacuees include those who have also fled because of the earthquake and tsunami, such as the case with Iwate and Miyagi Prefectures. Many of them live in “temporary” housing set up by the government, which provides little comfort for residents who are mostly elderly folks. Thin walls, limited access to substantial food, cramped rooms–this isn’t a suitable long-term living environment for anyone.

Depending on the distance from the power plant, some towns have lifted evacuation orders and encouraged residents to return. However, former residents choose not to return for many reasons including uncertainty of the radioactive levels and health concerns. The closer to the power plant, the less access permitted for people to return to their own homes. Traditionally, the home is a sacred space for their ancestors, and now people can no longer return home for long enough to look after the sanctuary.

In many cases, a large percentage of mothers with children evacuated outside of Fukushima due to health hazards with radioactive contamination. Meanwhile, most fathers remain in Fukushima to continue working their jobs and live in isolation. Family separations have led to cases of domestic violence, divorce, and threats from the husbands. This puts mothers in a conflicting dilemma, whether to stay in the resettled location with less health concerns, or to return to Fukushima at the high risk of contamination. The problems with family cohesion stems from the indirect consequences of the meltdown.

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Endless rows of decontaminated waste stored in black plastic bags.

Although proponents champion nuclear energy for its low cost and little to no greenhouse gas emission, the irreversible damage as seen by Fukushima and Chernobyl completely outweighs the benefits. Millions of dollars have been spent on decontamination work and containing the radioactive leak. Meanwhile, regional energy companies have began restarting power plants since last August, beginning with the Sendai Power Plant in Kagoshima with the most recent one being the Takahama Power Plant in Fukui Prefecture. Yet even the latter automatically shut down three days later for unknown reasons.

Presently, I’m in the states contemplating the socioeconomic impact of the Fukushima disaster in conjunction with the tsunami and earthquake on its fifth anniversary. I can’t help but also think about the environmental disasters happening within this country.

People in Flint, Michigan have no access to clean water because the city government (read: Governor Rick Snyder) deemed most fitting to save millions of dollars on switching water supply to the polluted Flint River at the damaging cost of lead poisoning in the water. With a state of emergency declared in January, the livelihood of these communities–disproportionately affecting people of color who come from low-income backgrounds–are in severe jeopardy. The local government’s response sounds too familiar to the Japanese government: people in an influential, authoritative position to change policies did not take responsible measures to prevent catastrophes in their communities.

Meanwhile in Porter Ranch, California, methane gas has leaked throughout Aliso Canyon, forcing people to evacuate from their homes. Similar to TEPCO in its delayed announcement of a reactor meltdown, the Southern California Gas Company did not immediately notify its residents when the leak began. Furthermore, the well’s infrastructure was more than 80 years old with an average age of 52 years, underscoring the lack of routine maintenance for facilities that hold gas. Whether radioactive or methane gas, these cannot be seen by the naked eye and yet can lead to long-term health problems including cancer and leukemia.

My heart really hurts to know that these man-made disasters slowly destroy Mother Earth. With multiple factors escalating into hazardous circumstances, people have no control over their lives when the larger corporations and authorities control the environmental resources. The world cannot hold itself up if people continue centering themselves over the very environment that keeps them alive. If we don’t start taking better care of the earth on a larger scale, then the consequences will become too enormous for us to handle in the near future.

**Note: I know I need to cite my sources better this but I felt like thought-dumping everything. With today being the fifth anniversary of 3/11, I want to give a little bit of time out of my studying to reflect on issues affecting both of my countries. I’ll come back to this after I finish my finals.

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Essay

Confronting Atrocity

I walked out of my class with more questions than answers
as confused as today’s weather
a patch of clear sky even when the rain pounded all around me

My professor broke down the difference between knowing and accepting
She said knowing can be powerful because “knowledge is power”
but not knowing can be powerful too– for it serves as an open door to a new conversation,
to question the unknown, the unfamiliar

then there’s accepting
accepting reality at its worst, even when we don’t want to fully acknowledge it.

When power dynamic among different racial groups come in play,
think about who gets the say in writing–and erasing–history

Countless examples pay so much attention to the perpetrator
(San Bernardino, Aum Shinrikyo, Nazi Germany, and so on)
shaming them for their crime, probing into their background…
but what about the victims who fell into their hands?
what about the survivors who lived through the victimization?
Don’t they deserve to be mourned,
to be recognized for their humanity, too?

Then I raised my hand and commented,
“This whole thing reminds me of what happened here a couple years ago. There was so much media coverage and condemnation toward the perpetrator yet so little sympathy for the victims.”

Immediately, I felt the atmosphere of the classroom change
as though it adjusted to the gloomy weather outside the lecture hall.

The conversation turned more disturbing
trying to dissect the racial dynamic of the perpetrator/victims and the choice of weapon taking away the lives of specific victims
analyzing the psychological and physical distance for murder
People shuffled in their seats uncomfortably
Several footsteps hurriedly headed toward the exit
to avoid taking in any further about the tragedy than they already have two years ago.

I must have thrown a curve ball at my professor because,
after a tense discussion between her and students, she muttered, “I didn’t expect that to be brought up”
and tried to squirm out of the conversation altogether…

Shit, did I say something wrong?
Was I being insensitive?
Too soon?
If we’re trying to process what’s going on in the world, isn’t it necessary for our understanding to ground it with whatever goes on in our backyard?

Maybe because I immediately left the country after it all happened,
didn’t stay with my fellow classmates, friends, and professors throughout the communal healing process for the following year,
that I had…the audacity…to bring it up in a classroom setting.

In hindsight, I acknowledge that we all deal with loss and atrocity differently.
Now I’m slowly realizing that I was completely absent when the local community made efforts to commemorate the lost lives.
Scholarships in their name, memorials in the park…
So maybe a majority of the class–who I’m assuming stayed longer than me–would have rather moved on than confronted it from a theoretical lens?

This made me question if the local tragedy was brought up in a classroom setting the following year. Because I didn’t know. So I asked a couple friends. One said it was a “taboo”; another said their class processed it by “talking about their feelings and writing about it.”

Personally, a critical discussion about the event is a crucial step toward accepting the inhumanity of it all, and then take the next step toward healing together (or individually). I think it’s especially important when students/people who were present at the incident will most likely leave within the next few years. In ten, twenty, thirty years, professors and students will discuss about it as another historical tragedy of the past, as part of a never-ending list of tragedies in our human society. Although this community constantly changes with the entrance and exit of students and people, I hope we continue to commemorate the six lives whose individual youth, potential, and passion was taken away too soon.

George Chen, James Hong, David Wang, Katie Cooper, Veronika Weiss, Christopher Martinez — I keep you all with me in my thoughts, in my heart.

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Essay

R(evol)ultion

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Collage by me. Floral diptych. Better Homes magazine cut-out, clear tape. Dedicated to my friend Ola who blooms as lively as sunflower and peonies, her fave flowers.

“Talk to yourself like you would talk to someone you love.”

These are words I didn’t realize I needed to hear–until a woman said it to me this past weekend. Women are often held to impossible standards in their roles that overlap in the private and public spheres, and these roles demand a lot of their physical and emotional energy. More specifically, traditional gender roles relegate women to unpaid, emotional labor in taking care of the home and the family members who inhabit it.

In this day and age, on top of the aforementioned labor,  women seek paid work outside of the home in order to financially support themselves and their family. For this reason, they do not have time to care for themselves because they are so busy caring for others. And when they practice self-care, they get criticized for it, they get shit for being “selfish.” Across various cultures, women are expected to meet gendered standards that disadvantages them to men, and thus they often feel disrespected and hurt.

This hits me personally because I often talk down to myself very negatively in order to prove myself wrong. There’s something a little twisted about hurting myself so that I can feel better about myself. As a full-time student, a daughter of immigrants, and committed student group member in different spaces, I carry a lot of responsibilities that I feel willing and determined to fulfill.

However, being all three is exhausting.

I’ve been trying to find a balance among all these activities because I care about them and the people involved in it very much. Within all the chaos in my last three weeks of undergrad, I’ve also started asking myself, “Who am I doing this for?”

I do it for my mother who tirelessly puts her family, her students, and her parents before herself; I do it for the people in Japan whose demands for the right to live and the right to sovereignty are ignored by the central government; I do it for my friends from various backgrounds who feel unsafe and underrepresented by the larger system; I do it for the people who believe in shifting our society from an individualistic, capitalist society to a communal, egalitarian society.

Let’s be real, living independently can only go so far as a human being. Yes, having alone time is great for introspection. But my point is that despite the emotional roller coaster and responsibilities/obligations that burned me out many times during the past several weeks, my fire (well being) remains ignited. Why?

Because my family and friends–at UCSB and in different parts of the world–support me when I feel so lost and disconnected with myself, renew my sense of purpose behind the things I care about, and fuel me with so much love that I cannot contain it all.

Love is revolutionary; I truly do believe that the power of love serves as the driving force for those bigger changes in our broken society.

But the revolution of love begins with loving myself.

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