My strategy for fighting jet lag returning from Asia is to have a large breakfast followed by a large lunch on the departure date. Minimal fluid around lunch and depart in the afternoon. Sleep little the night before. And then sleep all the way in a window seat on the plane. On numerous occasions, I managed to be out before take off and waking up as the plane approaches San Francisco. Picture to the left was my breakfast (a promise I’d show Allen during a chat) from yesterday while in Japan.
Seriously though, I had a number of interesting encounters during this trip to Japan.
First was a peddler for the Epoch Times in a market near Ueno Station. She was there distributing copies of a Chinese language version of the Epoch Times paper. People mostly ignored her, except for the occasional takers. Since I had some time before catching a bullet train to Narita, I thought a conversation with such a person might give me some insights into her thinking. In the back of my mind, I wanted to know to what aim she hope to achieve.
On the front-page of the paper were images of Yueyue being struck by the two vans. (We recently blogged about it too, here. As reader Naqshbandiyya pointed out, one must bear in mind the ‘bystander effect.’) She said the two year-old died because of the CCP. She said that the Chinese people and culture were noble before the CCP took power.
I interrupted her and asked, “what about the hundreds of millions of people the Chinese government brought out of abject poverty?” Before I finished, she shoved a copy of “the History of the Chinese Communist Party” article at me. She went into corruption without missing a beat. I again interrupted her by pointing out the fact that the U.S. recently extradited a corrupt official back to China for prosecution for embezzling money. I was about to explain that the Chinese government openly acknowledges the problem and in fact works hard at fighting it.
Apparently what I said didn’t register. She went on. I thought about the conversation I had earlier this year with a Chinese auto worker while on my way to Yangshuo from Guilin. (See “Conversation with a Chinese auto-worker on fighting graft.”) Not possible with her.
She viewed the CCP like how the Crusaders viewed the Muslims; it was a matter of good versus evil. (She also talked about the plight of many Chinese during the Cultural Revolution. Honestly, on that and corruption, I was sympathetic.)
After she brought up organ harvesting, I lost my patience. So, I asked her what she wanted? She replied, “the CCP must be gone; if they are gone, China will be well again.”
I shook my head and pleaded with her, “if you studied Chinese history, you should know that whenever China becomes weak she is invaded.” Before she replied, I also said that whenever a country looses strong central control, the country usually breaks out into civil war. That is even assuming the country is not meddled with by foreigners. That would likely bring disaster. “Do you wish that on the Chinese people?”
I didn’t expect her to have an answer. And, she didn’t. She continued with more accusations.
Our conversation basically ended there.
As I continued walking through the outdoor market full of shops, I thought how sad this encounter was. Here is a Chinese woman in Japan trying to distribute copies of the Epoch Times in Chinese. How many Chinese people travel through that area a year? I didn’t get the impression she could speak Japanese well. Something must have happened to her personally to give rise to such strong resentment.
I felt sad because she seemed to be shrouded in so much hatred and is unable to see things from another perspective. Perhaps her personal grievances have merits and perhaps there are just recourse within China. Instead, here, she was alone in a foreign land trying to seek ‘justice’ at home.
Had she thought about the hundreds of millions of Chinese people who were once dirt poor and now looking forward to an even better future? It’s a long line!
My next encounter was on the Skyliner, a speedy train that goes from the Ueno Keisei station to Narita. He was a U.S. air force pilot; retired now and lives in Japan. In about 45 minutes, we hit a number of topics.
On the Fukushima nuclear power plant radiation, he thought that the Japanese government had a really difficult choice. The radiation levels were high enough to cause health problems for some Tokyo residents. However, to evacuate Tokyo, it would pose a new head-ache. Where would the 30 million people go?
Japan is actually raising electricity price next year to cover the cost associated with this melt down. My thought was that the Japanese government was already in huge debt, and in such circumstances, options are more limited when disasters strike.
We both agreed that the Occupy Wall Street have not put forth a solution to their complaints. He sympathized with the protesters and believed they are protesting against the wrong people. In his view, the OWS should be protesting against U.S. politicians. Both parties.
From the look on his face, I could tell he was deeply indignant of both the Democratic and Republican parties.
I took the opportunity to explain for him that the 1989 Tiananmen protests by students were due to their concerns over the decade long privatization policy put forth by Deng since 1979. There was no longer job security upon graduation. In that sense, the student protests were not different from the OWS. It was not about ‘democracy’ or ‘freedom’ as the Western press portrayed. The students protested against corruption too.
I said to him the U.S. media is broken. They are not taking a responsible stance towards society. They are polarizing and sensationalizing. He injected, “they are dumbing everything down to five-minute sound bites.”
If capitalistic media tends that way, “then isn’t U.S. democracy broken?” Answering back, he said, “I don’t think it is broken. I think they just need to report in depth.”
Not satisfied, I ask, “what would you do if you are the President?”
After thinking for a brief moment, he said:
I would end all the wars and bring the troops home. We are no longer in a Cold War, and it doesn’t make sense to occupy these countries.
He asked me how many troops in Japan. I said something like 50,000. He nodded in agreement at the irony as I told him I read an article where the U.S. was negotiating with the Japanese government on their portion of the occupying expenses.
Next, he said he had bring back more manufacturing to the United States. How is it possible given the labor cost?
He said the blame should be laid against American unions. He believed the unions were for the unions themselves, not for the workers. He thought that the unions had served their purpose in U.S. history to ensure worker’s rights.
In my view, the U.S. standard of living is really high. The lower paying manufacturing jobs will naturally move to poorer countries, with or without the unions. But I agreed, without the unions, American labor could become more competitive.
He went on to say that China enjoys an unfair advantage in labor because the workers are treated poorly. I said, the 700 million people in the farm are waiting for a chance for having a 3x in salary increase by working in a factory. (By the way, don’t hold me to account on this 3x stat. I used it as a qualitative comparison.) He added, “and there is another billion in India waiting.” And, I said, “China’s unions are about to play that role the same way the American ones did before.”
After sighing, he adds:
The Soviets went bankrupt because we raced them on military spending. Now we are spending ourselves into oblivion. It is not a revenue issue. It is a spending issue.”
The politicians kicked the ball down the road. I would cut the spending.”
I told him I have been watching the Republican primaries, and I frequently see footage of other candidates making mocking expressions whenever Ralph Nader talks about doing the exact same.
The rest of my conversation with him was not so relevant to the blog.
Oh, and picture below was my lunch. Note the bottle of sake (upper right-hand corner). It was warmed. That soba at the opposite end of the table was mine too! And, I told the flight attendant to tell her colleagues to let me sleep. This strategy works every time.