Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Preface

Empty Suitcase No.7 : The Invasion

The Cold Conversation War broke out a couple of weeks ago between my roommate and me, but recently we concluded with a peace treaty to prevent –the Mice Invasion. The invasion is one of the school housing problems; perhaps, houses in South Bend or any place have this kind of trouble. The mice just want to chew cereals through a cardboard box, or they just poked around to prosper their descendants— avoiding tragic death by traps or cats.

On a perfect, peaceful morning, I was drinking a glass of tomato juice, and then I saw two mice on the traps. I screamed like a machine-gun. The tomato juice spilled like blood. My roommate came to the kitchen screaming like grenades. Our kitchen turned into a battlefield. The screaming was absolutely not helpful to the invasion and the dead mice still stayed on the traps. I hoped that she would pick up the victims but she thought the same thing as me. So, we evacuated to the SAC—in order to decide how to remove the traps following the peace treaty.

We sat outside under the parasol to have cups of coffee and blueberry muffins. It was around 10 o’clock in the morning, but there were already many students on the campus. They carried phonebook-sized textbooks and dragged their suitcase-like backpacks. Some of them held coffees from Starbucks in their right hand and sandwiches from Subway on their left arms. When parents took their children’s hands to the daycare center in the administration building, a female student walked in her majestic knee-high boots wearing a dragonfly-like big framed- sunglasses.

Those people already made thousands of decisions—tall, decaf, mocha without whipped cream at the Starbucks—6inch, whole grain, cheddar, toasted, lettuce, tomatoes, honey mustard at Subway— cashmere sweater with matching gray pants, and a ding-dong necklace in the closet. Additional decisions were required for the parents who dressed up their children and filled up their lunch boxes. The students woke up on time and grabbed the correct textbooks for Wednesday classes. Some students might have already worked at Starbucks in a morning shift.

I wonder—in the morning, they have never thought that they did not want to leave from their beds or canceled everything for a day. They hinted at themselves that they were sick, didn’t they?

Every day, tons of decisions fall into life. People may force themselves to wake up, stopping their piercing alarm clocks. They make some decisions in the morning. At lunch time, without lettuce in the sandwich—the lettuce tray is somehow empty — they are extremely disappointed to have an imperfect sandwich. And they make decisions again for the afternoon.

Unexpected matters—like the mice invasion— pop up every second. People face complicated decisions in reality like which restaurant to go to for dinner, which major to choose for their future careers, which person they marry, which place to be buried at—a grave yard or by the St. Joseph River. They need courage to choose an answer for a happy moment. Perhaps, for a happy lunch hour, they may ask, “Could I add lettuce? The tray is empty, though.”

My roommate and I took one hour to make a satisfied decision for the invasion. But during the hour, people picked up coffees and sandwiches, took care of children, went to classes, and finished papers... They should celebrate for their vitality—nonstop, making decision after decision. Their brains constantly work by repeating itself ‘what is next?’ At the same time, I hoped that they decide to relax—like Yoga time—sometime in the day.

Our decision was a simple solution; we called the facility department to help clean out the carcasses and we asked to have extra mice traps and poison. Under the name of the peace treaty, we will cross the word, “mice,” off our house. If the mice can read this article somewhere in the drainage, I warn them—the house is full of toxins for their family. Stay away from our house!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Preface

Empty Suitcase:
Dear Roommates
by Naoko Fujimoto

“Congratulation for three months,” said a card I received. It added, “Try not to dispose your roommate any more.” Even though my roommate and I exchanged a one-way conversation (she asked me where her chicken was and I said yes) last week, we still live together—which means I have not disposed my current roommate yet.

I have had four roommates over the last three years, but all of them moved a couple doors away in school housing after spending a certain amount of time with me. They said, “Naoko, it is not you. It is me”—like a cheesy breaking up situation. Maybe they saw me at the midnight, sharpening a knife; perhaps, a scythe on a whetstone for chopping off a chicken head.

The first roommate, a world-famous Russian pianist, had a passion for studying Philosophy. When she cooked Estonian chicken soup with chicken bones, she told me of Philosophy from the entire world. While I ate her delicious chicken soup, she never stopped talking about interesting music stories— a maestro used a flyswatter instead of his gold conductor’s wand. Sadly, she moved down two doors after a semester. She told me, “Naoko, not you. It is me.”

After the pianist, I had a middle age woman who exactly looked like a traditional Russian doll. She had never gone out from her room, and she lived with many things, maybe, trash. However, after a semester, she suddenly disappeared with my red spatula and a bottle of cooking wine—I assumed that she took them by mistake. After her disappearance, her room smelled of her ancient Chinese leftovers. Whereas I was happy because I became alone in the house, so I loved cleaning her mess and then I bought my new white spatula with my name on it.

I also had a crazy teenage freshman for twelve days. I met several of her friends in the morning and afternoon in front of my refrigerator. They finished my leftovers—their favorite was my pizza— but they never touched my organic carrots, celery, and especially tofu. Her friend told me that my hair was as dark as Snow White, which I took as a compliment. After twelve days, when she left, she screamed that she hated me.

My last roommate was a pianist with a science degree. We got along with each other—or at least I believed so—she read my poems and gave me suggestions, we shopped together, and I ate her organic raisin cookies stealthily— truthfully, I am not a big fan of raisins but I wanted to have something sweet after dinner. However, after the last spring semester, she emailed me, “Naoko, it is not you, it is me.” She moved—actually her friends packed her all boxes.

My close friend told me “They moved out because you do not share the spatula with your roommates,” my mother said, “Because you do not have a patience with teenagers with appetites,” and my other friend addressed, “Because you eat organic raisin cookies.” Because, because, because I simply want to stay at my home without disturbances and without roommates. Consequently my roommates might feel I have an uncooperative attitude with blood in my eyes, so they had to find new homes without a selfish girl. I am sorry. It is me. It is not you—my roommate.

I expect a couple more years of living in school housing and I am looking forward to counting how many roommates I can oust from my home—No!—I am always welcoming. Hopefully, I will talk to my current roommate with more than one word. Please be my friend, I would like to say to her with my innocent smile, while handing to her an extra poison apple.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The IUSB Vision

A Country, which Has Many Names
Naoko Fujimoto

On September 24, Buddhists monks lead a demonstration march by an estimated 100,000 people through Burma’s former capital. They protested the high price of oil—in last two years, their government kept raising it to more than 9 times and the government has recently increased prices by 500%.

The monks and citizens in Myanmar have been perplexed by the gasoline prices, they decided to march against their government—the junta has administrated the country for 19 years. According to CNN News, more than 200 people have died and the deaths will increase; however, each media reports a different number of deaths. Numerous people are arrested by the government.

In addition, many international journalists and activists have difficulties reporting about this political situation. A Japanese journalist, Kenji Nagai (50), was shot when he reported the march. His documents, including some notes and memory cards of his digital cameras, were completely erased when his relics came back to Japan. He entered Myanmar with a sightseeing visa. According to the official report from the government in Myanmar, he should not have reported and joined the march with the sightseeing visa.

Immediately after Nagai’s death, part of his visual reports and documents by other journalists were available through the internet. However, the government shut down all internet access in the country for a while. The government dislikes Internet access, activists such as the daughter of General Aung San, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, and international journalists.

Behind this political situation, there are many complicated pieces of historical background. The country name is one of them. Historically, Myanmar or Myanma is the name of the country. When the British came, they heard Bamar and now it is called Burma. The Bamar is the main ethnic group with 134 groups, including the junta. The ruling military junta changed its name from Burma to Myanmar in 1989. One year later, thousands of people were killed in the suppression of a popular uprising.

In 1947, General Aung San, who had agreed to honor the agreement between the states in Myanmar, was murdered, and a year later the British departed. The new government did not follow with the honorable agreements; therefore, the disagreements between the main ethnic groups of 134 continuously caused many civil wars. Most groups wanted independence for political reasons.

With those political reasons, such as disagreement with oil prices, the monks and Buddhism are very important cultural icons in Myanmar. The citizens always support the monks and they are diligent in learning Buddhism. The citizens support the monks with food, money, and even their doctor appointments as a symbiotic relationship. Therefore, if one person strikes at monks, the person strikes at the spiritual heart of the country, and striking at a monastery, effectively strikes at a village.

Some citizens are escaping from Myanmar and working in neighboring countries such as Thailand. Most of them have not received an official educational degree, so they work in factories and restaurants. Some of them become housekeepers like servants. Their payment is extremely low; for example, a Thai worker would be paid double for the same work.

According to The Age, more than 1 million Burmese are living in Thailand and most of them do not have identity papers. If the government finds them, they will be repatriated to Myanmar. In any countries, the citizens live with extreme fear of police harassment. Moreover, if they use the term Burma and are overheard by the wrong people, it would be considered as a political act worth 3 years in jail.

The junta has a practice of “Not just taking the tree, but taking the seed too,” which means that if one person commits a political act, their whole family, extended family and friends are targeted for punishment and imprisonment. Therefore, many people hesitate to be active in changing this situation.

The citizens still live under unstable situations and have sleepless nights until they can safely walk on the street and freely speak up on what they think.

Peace.

Reference:
Asahi News

BBC News

CNN News

Irrawaddy.org

The Age

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Preface

Empty Suitcase:
A Direction with a Hand for Chopsticks
By Naoko Fujimoto

I sometimes have a difficult time communicating with people. I feel an invisible wall—perhaps a whole galaxy— between them and me. The invisible wall is impossible to go through, even with any kind of wireless signals. Even though my brain signal works perfectly fine, it is suddenly destructed by the invisible wall and my brain becomes just a half of the signal bars—or out of service.

It is not because my mother tongue is Japanese—I catch English conversations most of the time like I catch a dragonfly in harvested fields; in addition, I am clinging to the edge of the English Department as a graduate student. Maybe my strong Asian accent—I switch around ‘R’ and ‘L’ and with other mouthful, painful pronunciation situations. There are a couple of possible reasons for creating those invisible walls between people and me. However, most people understand my ‘Japanglish’ when they talk to me a couple minutes.

Then I remonstrate against myself why I cannot communicate to people like two young women who I met last week. When I walked down Hildreth Street after my classes, a car parked beside me. The women screamed “Where…red…the bridge?” from inside their car but I could not hear well because of lawn mowers, traffic, and other noisy reasons; perhaps, my brain did not respond quickly enough to unexpected questions.

I assumed that they wanted to see the beautiful new red bridge—across the St. Joseph River for future student’s dorms. Even though I did not fully hear what they said, I guessed with those words—Where, red, and the bridge. Guessing is one of the useful tools to live in a foreign country. Moreover, when they said the word, the bridge, they had a strong emphasis on it. So I screamed back to them, “You need to go a-lound the DW” in Japanglish. There was a silence and they giggled. I expected that they did not understand what I said, which happens to me most of the time. So I said it again with exaggerating gestures.

Through catch ball of this odd conversation, they added, “Do we turn DW to left?” so I said, “No, l-ight.” But in my mind, my anxiety was born—it is a big responsibility to tell them “right” because if it is actually left, they would drive in a totally opposite direction. I repeated myself in my brain—right is the hand for chopsticks and left is the hand for a rice bowl— I told them “Yes, L-ight!”

But their faces showed doubtful feelings so I asked them again where they would like to go. They said, “The farmer’s market.” Suddenly it clicked in my brain—they might have asked, “Where is the red barn by the bridge” or something similar to this question. It is a little difficult to tell them how to get to the Farmer’s Market from Hildreth Street because they had to go through narrow paths and go down to the street by the river. So I said, “Go st-laight two b-rocks and turn r-eft and turn l-ight by the l-iver.”

Their faces were absolute-ry blank.

Why did they ask me—black hair, short Asian girl— for directions to the farmer’s market? It has been the most famous local community place for a long time. The Farmer’s Market is one of the symbols of South Bend; perhaps, a popular sightseeing spot. I should have lifted my black hair with both my right and left hands in front of people who asked where the Farmer’s Market was— can’t you see I’m not f-lom here?

But I also needed to pay more attention to what they said; perhaps, I should bend my ears to people who need my help, so I can break the invisible wall between people and me. Like all my friends, who are from America and other countries, always look at my eyes and try to understand me no matter how I use silly Japanglish. I should not use the excuse that noises were the cause of miscommunication between the two women and me.

I do not know if the women reached the Farmer’s Market or not, but I was kind of happy at the end of the day. Someone asked me for directions in South Bend, which means that my attitude appears like that of local people. The two women were surprised when they asked what they thought was a local person — a kooky little Asian girl—, but we somehow communicated. At the end of the day, nobody gave me a star sticker but I feel that I took one more step forward into the American society.

Monday, October 8, 2007

The Preface

Empty Suitcase:
Something Between Toothpaste and Heartbroken
By Naoko Fujimoto

How much can I trust the toothpaste?

In any case, I felt similar hesitation when I had a couple dates with a man from a science class for non-majors. He said that he liked me, so I queried myself “another fun night or prepare for another heartbreak.” It is always fun to meet new people, no matter whether it is a date or not, but what matters is how much I can trust his words—I like you— as same as how much I can trust the toothpaste.


For a young love, casual dates will more than likely bring another broken heart situation even though it they were called ‘casual’ dates—no serious commitment but just for fun—can cause serious heart pain. So, I need to decide an answer based on my heart barometer—measuring the truth between the man and his words; perhaps, the toothpaste and its quality.


In other words, decision-making is like the stock market with a financial advisor. How much I can adapt the advisor’s ideas—perhaps, toothpaste or the words from the guy in the science class—into my life plan? If I believe the advisor, I may eventually make a lucky venture; of course, I may also have an opposite situation—lose money.
When I fail in making a decision, people may call me a “loser.” Unfortunately in this world, everything seems to be categorized into losers or winners by competition over and over in a lifetime—the better life seems to have a good financial advisor, a nice partner, and beautiful teeth, so some people try whatever they can to win those perfect situations.


I scream, “I am not a loser” even though I do have enough elements to consider me a loser. For example, I do not have any plans on Friday evenings, so I end up wearing crumpled pajamas and eating Haagen-Dazs strawberry ice cream to watch Brigit Jones’s Diaries or Pride and Prejudice. This life style has a fine line between being a loser and having the perfect single life. But this awesome single life was caused by my decision where I trusted the toothpaste and his words, adapting them into my life and they betrayed me, so I had painful situations with dentists and sleepless nights.


Maybe I rely too much on the toothpaste and his words. I should look up on the internet how to brush teeth without a blind spot and I also use citrus mouthwash and floss; moreover, I should observe his attitude beyond his words—“I like you.” How powerful of an influence they are in my life! Perhaps, my problem is that I am too gullible—I should try different toothpastes and I should be smart enough to realize that I always choose the wrong man.


Maybe I am one of hundreds of naïve girls who still believe in a frog turning into a prince like a new commercial for a chewing gum, Dentyne, which I chewed after having chocolates in the science class for non-majors and I met the guy. Maybe I am a just a blah-blah-blah drama queen— I toss my questions to a cavity-like black universe—when can I fall in love; perhaps, when can I eat a doughnut again?


How much can I trust the toothpaste?


In any case, I felt similar hesitation when I had a couple dates with a man from a science class for non-majors. He said that he liked me, so I queried myself “another fun night or prepare for another heartbreak.” It is always fun to meet new people, no matter whether it is a date or not, but what matters is how much I can trust his words—I like you— as same as how much I can trust the toothpaste.


For a young love, casual dates will more than likely bring another broken heart situation even though it they were called ‘casual’ dates—no serious commitment but just for fun—can cause serious heart pain. So, I need to decide an answer based on my heart barometer—measuring the truth between the man and his words; perhaps, the toothpaste and its quality.

In other words, decision-making is like the stock market with a financial advisor. How much I can adapt the advisor’s ideas—perhaps, toothpaste or the words from the guy in the science class—into my life plan? If I believe the advisor, I may eventually make a lucky venture; of course, I may also have an opposite situation—lose money.

When I fail in making a decision, people may call me a “loser.” Unfortunately in this world, everything seems to be categorized into losers or winners by competition over and over in a lifetime—the better life seems to have a good financial advisor, a nice partner, and beautiful teeth, so some people try whatever they can to win those perfect situations.

I scream, “I am not a loser” even though I do have enough elements to consider me a loser. For example, I do not have any plans on Friday evenings, so I end up wearing crumpled pajamas and eating Haagen-Dazs strawberry ice cream to watch Brigit Jones’s Diaries or Pride and Prejudice. This life style has a fine line between being a loser and having the perfect single life. But this awesome single life was caused by my decision where I trusted the toothpaste and his words, adapting them into my life and they betrayed me, so I had painful situations with dentists and sleepless nights.

Maybe I rely too much on the toothpaste and his words. I should look up on the internet how to brush teeth without a blind spot and I also use citrus mouthwash and floss; moreover, I should observe his attitude beyond his words—“I like you.” How powerful of an influence they are in my life! Perhaps, my problem is that I am too gullible—I should try different toothpastes and I should be smart enough to realize that I always choose the wrong man.

Maybe I am one of hundreds of naïve girls who still believe in a frog turning into a prince like a new commercial for a chewing gum, Dentyne, which I chewed after having chocolates in the science class for non-majors and I met the guy. Maybe I am a just a blah-blah-blah drama queen— I toss my questions to a cavity-like black universe—when can I fall in love; perhaps, when can I eat a doughnut again?

In other words, decision-making is like the stock market with a financial advisor. How much I can adapt the advisor’s ideas—perhaps, toothpaste or the words from the guy in the science class—into my life plan? If I believe the advisor, I may eventually make a lucky venture; of course, I may also have an opposite situation—lose money.
When I fail in making a decision, people may call me a “loser.” Unfortunately in this world, everything seems to be categorized into losers or winners by competition over and over in a lifetime—the better life seems to have a good financial advisor, a nice partner, and beautiful teeth, so some people try whatever they can to win those perfect situations.


I scream, “I am not a loser” even though I do have enough elements to consider me a loser. For example, I do not have any plans on Friday evenings, so I end up wearing crumpled pajamas and eating Haagen-Dazs strawberry ice cream to watch Brigit Jones’s Diaries or Pride and Prejudice. This life style has a fine line between being a loser and having the perfect single life. But this awesome single life was caused by my decision where I trusted the toothpaste and his words, adapting them into my life and they betrayed me, so I had painful situations with dentists and sleepless nights.






Saturday, October 6, 2007

The IUSB Vision

Active-Globalization
By Naoko Fujimoto

After taking shower on an ordinary morning, you may wear an Indian cotton shirt, and then your Korean cellular phone rings, which is phone call from your friends in Mexico on their vacation. While you wait for boiling water in a Chinese pot, you eat Chilean grapes. After you drink Italian cappuccino, you drive in a Japanese car to IUSB. In your Taiwanese backpack, international business textbooks and Thai notebooks and perhaps, an American pencil, are inside.

Globalization is everywhere—South Bend— the Meijer on Grape Road has become one of the icons of globalization. You may be surprised how much of the merchandise in supermarkets is from foreign countries. Especially, their foreign food section is growing every season, and now they have a whole section for Asian, European, and Mexican food. They have nice collections of sweets, seasonings, staples, and some instant food from Germany, Japan, Thailand and many other countries. Moreover, some local people buy foreign food from the Saigon Market downtown and the Oriental Market on Grape Road. There are many other international supermarkets around South Bend.

However, it may be passive-globalization if people only buy foreign products and enjoy tasting foreign food. They may feel they are having a cosmopolitan outlook when they consume foreign products, but they are just consumers in the global business. On the other hand, active-globalization— occurs when people become more creative with their own interests by adapting new ideas from the world.

World famous designers, like Thakoon Panichgul, adapt foreign traditional arts into their collections. In the fashion industry, it became more popular to study and adapt foreign skills. For example, he adapts Shibori— a traditional Japanese folded and dyed fabric printing technique—into his sportswear for the next spring collection. He found new abilities of mixing Western and Asian cultures with his endless imagination and vitality, and then he creates new fashion.

On the IUSB campus, some professors teach how important it is to be active in those global situations like Thakoon Panichgul does. In economic, sociology, and even English classes, those professors require students to interview international students about their cultures and influences from America. Through the interviews, the students build up their international communication skills and find new inspiration from learning different cultures. The professors believe that their students will have a chance to be the next entrepreneurs in working with people from all over the world.

Moreover, every Wednesday at three o’clock at the Jordan International Center, which is located on the Hildreth Street, has an international meeting open for all students. They talk about different cultures, religion, and everything; in addition, there are many other international events sponsored by Latino and Chinese Student Unions and the International Office.

The students may find new inspiration through those international experiences on campus and become more successful in global situations. However, in an ordinary life, people always receive inspiration when they communicate with people, no matter where they are from. Perhaps, the most important fact is that communication between people will allow people to create great things in the world.


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