“Go West, young man, go West and grow up with the country.”
A famous line used and reused in the United States, and one that we hear often today. It was written by American journalist Horace Greely in 1865 at a point in history when the whole country was on the move – building, farming and claiming land, rushing toward open space and opportunity in the American West. Greely’s words reflected the attitude of the nation of that time. The country was growing, hands were needed and fortunes were waiting to be made. That generation responded swiftly and hungrily – it was, after all, their Manifest Destiny.
The attitude of the youth of the nation today is something quite different. Many now call my generation the new “Lost Generation”. There are no open skies or untouched soil waiting for us, and opportunities are slim. The Great Recession has taken a great toll. Those of us who would if we could spend our time and energy creating, building and imagining solutions for the problems that face us in the future, are now more often than not occupied solely with the task of daily survival.
Unlike our parent’s generation or that of Greely’s, the youth of today’s America has faced college tuition fees that are upwards of five figures for every year at many institutions. However, often the only way to get even a minimum wage job is to have at least a 4-year degree. At the same time, jobs have disappeared. The two largest employers in the US today are Wal-Mart and MacDonald’s – minimum wage traps one can hardly call a part of the American Dream, let alone self-sustaining employment. Finding work with enough pay to support oneself has become an almost insurmountable task for many of us, and returning home is often the only option. In a culture that views independence as one of its greatest virtues, the return to Mom and Dad’s house is the ultimate sign of failure. Sadly, I think many of my generation have taken that to heart.
So what to do? This is no longer a world of encapsulated nations. “Globalization” is the word of the day. And this is by no means a problem that remains confined to the United States. Save for a few regions, the whole world has had a taste of the Recession. But in some places, East Asia in particular, the future still seems to be surging ahead. And many of my generation American or otherwise, are picking up stakes and going with it.
In mid 2010, I threw in my lot, and took a job in Japan. I had been abroad before, but never like this. It was a trip that had no return date. Sticking to Horace Greely’s advice, I did go West. I took a flight across the ocean westward, until at some point that imaginary human line dissolved and West became East. I left to grow up with the world. I cannot say I regret this decision. Yes, I get homesick now and then. Yes, I miss my culture, the good and the bad. But it was a decision that I felt was necessary for my future, because back home I didn’t see one, at least not until long after my time had passed.
Many people my age are feeling the same and many are doing the same. There is a new kind of traveler out there now, a large group of people that are not in China for sightseeing or South Korea to study Business. There are young people from all over the western world – Europe, Australia, North America and elsewhere that have left their homes for better lives and opportunities. Are they immigrants? Only time will tell, as they say.
I have met scores of English teachers with Korean or Chinese or Japanese students. I have met long-time expats that now run their own bars or hostels on the beaches of Thailand or the bustling center of Tokyo. Their stories are inspiring. I’ve heard it said that the East has a head start on the old pillars of the West because in the past they have had to learn about us in order to do well in business and other kinds of competition on the global stage. They have had to familiarize themselves with our cultures and to use that knowledge to become bigger, smarter players in the global marketplace. Now, I think, it is our turn to learn about them.
When I look back at what I have seen and learned over my years abroad, about education and the universal human mind in Japanese classrooms, about spirituality in Himalayan Nepal, about human rights on the borders of Myanmar, I am grateful and inspired. There are so many of us out there, living, learning, growing and teaching. We enrich ourselves, we enrich each other, and someday, if and when we return, we will enrich our home countries.
I come from a long line of immigrants. My great-great-great-something grandfather came over the Atlantic to the New World in 1630. He and others in my family left the comforts of home and culture and set out for a mysterious place that offered both opportunity for success and the danger of failure. Of the 700 people in his fleet, 200 died on the way over. But he took that step, made that decision knowing what may wait for him on the other side of the water before he ever set foot on that boat. His story is similar to so many other thousands of stories that any American can tell about their grandfather’s grandfather, or even their own fathers and mothers. From a nation that was built on the hopes and backs of those leaving home to seek a better future, I see my actions as a continuation of a tradition of hope, and of the eternal search for something better. I think that man who stepped on that boat, whose son’s son’s son’s son would someday produce me, would be proud.
Category Archives: Random
“Go West, young man, go West and grow up with the country.”
It’s lonely out here.
Slowly, minute by minute, day by day, it leaves you. Maybe one day it’s a smell you can’t remember. Maybe a name. It could be the tune of a TV show who’s name you can’t recall playing over and over in your head. It is subtle, and slow. Things disappear. For a long while you don’t notice, as you try to deal with the never-ending conveyor belt of the strange and new that moves past you every second of every day, until slowly it becomes the normal that you learn to navigate. But one day, in a breath, you might turn around and realize you have forgotten once familiar faces and places. And on that day when you do go home for a visit or even to stay – you realize you have lost your culture, and something else has taken hold and changed you.
It could be in the way you walk. How you carry yourself. It could be that you don’t remember proper table manners anymore, or your physical “bubble” has grown larger or shrunk. Somehow, you are different. You don’t belong – not like you used to.
It won’t be like this forever.
“Disconnect” they call it. “Reverse culture shock.” I have been in Asia for three years. I don’t belong here, and I won’t be staying much longer either. The time to move on is approaching. But where? I have no connection with what is happening at home, nor any real desire to return. And now what was once familiar has become foreign. I left home for opportunity, for change and hope. Opportunity I found. Change I found. Hope comes and goes. She is so flighty. Tonight she is probably out hanging on the shoulders of some high rollers in a Macau casino. Or maybe she isn’t anywhere near my vicinity – even if I called her phone is out of range. So here I sit in my apartment and wonder – where do I go from here?
Times are hard. Everyone is saying so. Most days I don’t let myself believe it. I keep pushing on and working hard and hoping for the best. Today I wonder – I am I going where I hope to be going? Is it even possible? I’ve had highs and lows out here. I’ve seen magic and mayhem. I’ve felt misery and joy. The world is laid out as a carpet at my feet for as long as I wish, and as long as I stay clever.
Where to go? What to do? My heart is drumming somewhere out there but I can’t find the source of the vibrations.
I need some god damn sleep.
He is a doctor of archeology, doing the best job of making scraping at rocks sexy since Howard Carter found the tomb of King Tut (and come on, that guy didn’t even have a fedora).
So why bring up Indiana Jones? First of all, my computer has finally died (RIP Frankenputer) and I don’t currently have access to anything that will allow me to put my own pictures up :/. So until I get a new one, it shall just be prose and pictures I found on the internet. Second, I just (finally, after years of putting my hands over my ears and shouting “LA LA LA!”) watched Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
I will pause for a moment and give the people for whom those words are sacrilige time to scream and throw something if they wish. (I assume these are the people who have the same reaction to the Star Wars – uh…things-that-shall-not-be-mentioned. Do I sound like a nerd yet?) In the meantime, here is a picture of a kitty:
I’m a little late to the party (i.e. hatefest) but I’ll say what I have to say anyway.
Most people who know me or have ever interacted with me for more than five seconds know that I am a tough critic. So in the spirit of fairness, I entered into the fourth Indiana Jones film with as open a mind as possible.
And in all honesty, it was not as bad as I thought it would be. From what I had heard (and watched on South Park) I almost expected a scene where George Lucas literally steals into Indy’s room at night and rapes him to death – with Steven Spielberg looking on and weeping. This was not the case. However, I must admit that it DOES have aliens in it. And disappointingly, it is very obvious it’s heading to a flying saucer of some sort from the very beginning. From what I hear it was George Lucas (of course) that insisted on going the 1950’s ooo-look-aliens! route. Steven Spielberg expressed his initial reluctance, but was eventually won over. I imagine the conversation between them to have gone something like this:
Lucas: Hey, Steeeeeve……
Lucas: Can we do another Indiana Joooooones?
Spielberg: I’ve told you a million times, George – no. Our time making those films has passed, and now we’ve* grown up and moved onto more mature material. Let the youth of Indiana stay in the past.
Lucas: But, but….
A few years later:
Lucas: Hey, Steve….
Lucas: I have this really great idea for a new Indiana Jones movie…
Spielberg: No George.
Lucas: But Harrison is already on…
Lucas: It will make a TON of money….
Lucas: And there will be aliens!
A few years later:
Spielberg: What, George?
Lucas: I know you don’t want to make a new Indiana Jones, but…
Spielberg: George, I’m not doing an Indiana Jones film with aliens in it – I’ve already done two alien movies!
Lucas: Well how about this then: they aren’t really aliens from another planet.
Lucas: Yeah – they aren’t aliens, they’re interdimensional beings.
And so the latest Indiana Jones was born. And that part about the interdimensional beings? Fact. Spielberg said in an interview that the “interdimensional beings are totally NOT aliens” argument eventually won him over.
So now we have this new movie with an older Indy, facing a rough new world full of Sputnik, the bomb, Russian spies – and of course, Area 51.
At the surface level, I kind of like this idea. While the previous Indiana Jones films were set during the 30s and 40s, meant to reflect action serials of the time, the new film had to be updated to match Harrison Ford’s age. Cool, fine by me. There is a lot that can be done with such an interesting time period. But there is also a lot that has to be lost for aging Indiana out of 30’s surrealism and into 50’s paranoia.
Which brings me to my next point: while Indiana Jones perpetually belongs to said era (the 30s and 80s respectively) of surrealism and multicultural innocence (sounds better than ignorance), the audience has aged and matured without him for the last 20 years. A lot has happened since we last saw Indiana ride off into the sunset – and our expectations at the movie theater reflect that.
Gone are the days when blatant racism can be played out in a movie theater and only professors and well-traveled individuals will make a fuss. Nowadays we have words like globalism, interracial, multicultural and politically correct on the tips of our tongues. These days, racist stereotypes are pretty much offensive to everyone (I would like to think).
We accept the old Indiana Jones films as they are because they are considered classics. Many of us have grown up with them, and watch them for what they are meant to be: a good time. The stereotypes involved are only just part of making the fun funner, and aren’t really there to make a statement about anything.
Things like this:
(Okay, it was mostly Temple of Doom that turned out to be a racist asshole, but you get my meaning.)
But now, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull has a different audience to please – and no one is telling anyone else that it is a must-watch classic. So when, in the new film, Indy and Mutt (a play off of the joke about Indy naming himself after a dog, I guess) are stalked and attacked by creepy, nameless natives that makes screeching sounds like monkeys, it makes me squirm a little bit. They showed respect for the power of the skull which means they know something about it, and you would think as an anthropologist Indiana Jones would think to ask them. And what about when they are mowed down by the Russians? What an academic waste.
Ah well. This is a movie damn it! And awesome movie scenes it has (though I didn’t think much of the A-bomb and the refridgerator). Lucas, Spielberg and Ford did their best to bring back some of that old Indy badass magic, and it is helped by the return of Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood (queen of female lead badassery) and the not-so-bad addition of Shia LaBeouf as Indy’s son Mutt. But what it really needed was Sean Connery.
But we must remember that the Indiana Jones movies gave us this:
Anyway anway: what has Indiana taught us about culture over the years? In my opinion, he has taught us that our perspective on culture changes all the time. And sometimes that means we want our movies to change with it.
Was the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull a bad movie? On it’s own, no. Was it the best (or even a good Indiana Jones movie)? Certainly not. And the parts of Spielberg’s good direction that were hijacked by silly ol’ George are obvious (and riddled in CGI). But it did it’s best to harken back to a more innocent time and give us one more good round with a good friend.
I love you Indy!
New post coming, but it’s been delayed because I’m getting ready for my next trip. Expect it in the next few days.
I’m off to Australia for the next 3 weeks, so I’ll see you all in the land down un-dah!