WHEN EAST MEETS WEST: 16 square foot of ignorance and other trivia
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Commentary by Hank F Miller Jr.
"Tell me something I don't know Dad," said my first son.
So I did.
The average women have 16 sq. ft. of skin. A cockroach can run at 3.4 mph.
Buffalo, N.Y., lies south of the French Riviera. The last surviving passenger pigeon, before they all became extinct, was named Martha.
You see, he and I had been engaged in one of those forums that the outside world dee "quarrels" and we families call "discussions."
We had been" discussing" contemporary Japanese society and I was trying to tell him about group dynamics, peer pressure and hierarchical relationships. He squinted at me as if I was a bull casually waltzing through a china shop and reminded me that this was his culture, not mine. He had been raised here, gone to school here
until high school where he went to my sister's Home in New Jersey.
He has been now trying to flesh out the knowledge he's been reading about Japanese culture etc. to broaden his understanding a bit more. Oh... However, he didn't know that the paper clip was invented in Norway? That Frank Dickens, son of novelist Charles Dickens, once worked as a Royal Canadian Mounties.
That the youngest hole-in-one was a 3 year old on a 65-yard par three.
His point, however, was painfully well taken. After almost three decades in this land,
I rather know the ins and outs, the ups and downs, the "pi's and key's" of Japanese culture. But at the same time I kind of don't. The nasty flip side of this is this:
After almost three decades away from my home culture, I am not sure if I know that anymore either. America has become somewhat of a foreign land in which I am often a Google-eyed outsider, dependent on the internet for input. I have become adrift between countries, hoping to know two, but not fully understanding either.
My total knowledge often boils down to a sticky scum of dusty facts, textbook answers and nutrition less trivia. Like...The electric toaster was developed before pre sliced bread. Twenty-five percent of the world's cows live in India. Blonds have more hair--not fun--than either brunettes or redheads. In America, often even trivia lets me down.
"Who played Drew Carney on "The Drew Carney Show'?"
Answer "Kevin Bacon?" No, what is Angelina Jolie's connection with Lata Croft?"
" Um...they both starred in movies with Kevin Bacon?"
"No, what was the title of Britney Spears first album?"
"Um...I have to say Kevin Bacon one more time."
And then the quizzing relative will shake his head and pin me with a comment like: "Uncle Harry you don't know anything, do you?" For a while, I try arguing back.
I argue that I know Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. That I know how many Cherokees died on the trail of tears. I know what year the Vietnam War ended. That I know al-Qaeda has not been linked to prewar Iraq."Yeah, but you don't know anything important!"
I might argue more, but at that point, the "discussion" is happily diverted as I am rescued by another relative who says: "Now. Now, don't be too hard on him. Uncle Harry has been away. I'm sure he knows Japan real well." Want to bet? My knowledge of Japan has been stunted by my difficulties with the language--an excellent excuse, thank you, fortified by the fact that there are 2,166 total pages of Japanese lexical items in my notebook size Kenkyusha dictionary, not to mention 1,945 government-designated Chinese characters. Add in two millennia of Japanese history and diversity in commerce, agriculture, industry and arts, and I think its wonder anyone can tell you anything about this culture at all.
Even though I do know that...
Tokyo has 37,000 crows, Mount Fuji last erupted in 1708. Plastic food displays in restaurant windows were invented by a man form Gifu. The Ueno Zoo monorail is 300 meters long.
"How can this have happened?" I ask my wife Keiko. "Wasn't our marriage
supposed to bridge two lands? How did we wind up knowing so little?"
"We do bridge two lands," she says."Only we do it collectively, not one-by-one. You are the support on the American end, I am the support on the Japanese end and out three kids are the posts-in-between. Together we have it covered."
"What about the bridge surface? And the cables?" Her eyes shift right and left. "You mean you want more kids?" I wish to avoid this "discussion," so I tell her, no, I just want a better analogy. One that I can agree with.
Either that or our collective bridge is overdue for a knowledge repair, especially at the ends. For example, after all these years of marriage to an American, I ask her what she really knows about my country."Let us see...George Washington chopped down a cherry tree with his big blue ax, Babe Ruth. This was followed by several wars, the invention of apple pie, and then the birth of Elvis Presley. Or something like that."I suppose we are never too old to learn more.
After all, Benjamin Franklin "discovered" the nature of lightening at age 46.
Umberto Aco wrote his first novel at age 48. In addition, Joseph Guillotine invented his shaving device at age 51.
"Yes, but don't we deserve a bit more credit for where we've come? Ok, so we splash about. Yet treading water means staying afloat, right? There are jobs to do, bills to pay, life to live, maybe we don't know as much as we could or should, "says my wife."But we know enough and that counts. We do get by--and far better than the average person, too."Hmm. The average person__I have heard--passes a full pint of gas every single day. So maybe, just maybe, she is right after all. It has been some time since my last commentary due to being very busy with other projects and business. See you in Gloucester City, N.J. between December 22 and January 3rd.We will be staying with my brother Joe Miller.
From Us to You with Warm Regards From
Kitakyushu City, Japan
Hank, Keiko Miller & Family