Stale Content Alert!
This post was written a long time ago, and my views have almost certainly evolved since then. Please keep that in mind while reading, commenting, or sharing.
Having been home for a week, I figure I ought to actually write something of content. Here it is.
On July 5th, 2007, I left Portland, Oregon at 7:30 am with a group called People to People. I boarded a plane, which ascended above the clouds and flew for an hour before landing at San Francisco International Airport.
After a 4-hour layover, I then got on a bigger plane and took a ten-hour flight… to Japan.
I spent two weeks in Japan, traveling all around the country. I saw the unbelievably large megacity of Tōkyō, and experienced the slow life in the little community of Hirado. I discussed world peace with students my age at the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Memorial Museum, and walked around downtown Kyōto as preparations for a summer festival were being made. I spent two nights living with generous homestay families. The trip was amazing beyond belief, to the extent that the first word I use to describe it when someone asks is always “life-changing”.
And now I’m back in the United States, and it’s horrendously difficult to readjust, partially because there’s so much that I simply can’t take for granted anymore.
The day after I returned, I took my dog for a walk around the block. As we strolled onward, I felt more and more out of place. The thing that threw me off most that day was excess. As Americans, we live in a land of utter, unabashed excess. Our roads are humongous– a residential street in America is almost twice as wide as most roads in Japan. Our houses are giant, which has a definite adverse effect on our social interactions. Our dwellings are getting larger, but our families are getting smaller. The extra space is, instead, being used to store more and more stuff; and the more stuff we have, the less we need to leave our houses. Seeing a new, modern suburbanite house being constructed in my neighborhood almost made me choke.
But there’s more excess. We drive excessively large vehicles, when there is clearly no reason to do so, despite what automakers might have you believe. Most, if not all of these giant vehicles have despicable efficiency ratings, thereby wasting not only space, resources, and consumers’ money, but also laying waste to the global environment. And who’s driving these excessively large vehicles? None other than excessively large Americans, blabbing on their cell phones or munching on excessively large burgers. I’m not even going to attempt the pretense of being politically correct. There are so many fat people in America. I saw maybe a half dozen people of notable size in Japan, and none of them were even close to as large as Americans. It’s shameful, really, to come to the place I once called home and find gluttony, sloth, and greed plastered everywhere, along with a pride that blinds the people here to the rest of the world.
There are children in the world who are emaciated, so starving that they look like costumed skeletons. And here, they flaunt their resources, gorging themselves on food that’s barely food for all that’s artificial about it. They disregard their own health, and the health of the children they may raise, simply because of an unfettered gluttony. It is disgusting.
The other thing I noticed as I walked my dog around the block was the litter. This was a residential area, but even so, there was trash everywhere. Cigarette butts were at my feet with every other step. Restaurant soft drink cups– often in repulsively large sizes– were strewn haphazardly on the sides of the street, obviously from passing cars. In fact, many souvenirs from fast food restaurants decorated the landscape. I saw taco wrappers and taco boxes; cups, lids, and straws; cartons and even the plastic bags that the drive-thru food was served in. That wasn’t all, though. I saw a pizza box in a ditch. Plastic bottles were everywhere. The shattered lid of a plastic storage container was thrown in the bushes. There was so much junk, no matter where I looked, and to think that most pieces came from people who deliberately used the streets as their trash bins… I was repulsed to no end.
I’ve gone out twice now and picked up trash in the neighborhood, but it keeps appearing, and I’ve only covered a very small portion of my route. It feels good, doing the right thing when nobody else has, but at the same time, it’s awful.
When Michelle was home on Saturday, she picked me up to go to her house. The first story I heard from a friend, the first real interaction I had with the people I knew before I left, was about a camper who was always crying, often for inexplicable reasons. It was told in a horribly disparaging, frustrated tone that made it rather clear to me that whatever reason the camper had for crying was simply not a good reason. It was an utter shock, and extremely uncomfortable to suddenly realize what negativity and disdain pervades throughout the American culture, and to think that I had been a part of that.
That shock of culture, that realization of what I was part of and what I’ve grown up accepting, still reverberates within me.
I feel so horribly out of place now. I don’t want to be an American anymore, because the American culture sickens me. Yes, I will do what I can to change it, but whatever I do will be treating the symptoms. The disease has taken hold at the roots.
I can’t be part of this anymore. I can’t take for granted this sins of this society– greed, gluttony, wrath, pride, lust, sloth… the only thing missing is envy, and even that rears its head every so often. I can’t stand the self-absorption. I loathe the ignorance. The inconsideration and the fear of others. The willingness to shrug things off because someone else will do them. The intolerance, the bigotry, and the arrogance. So much is so wrong here, at least to my senses, and I truly can’t stand it.
I want to get out, but I don’t know how that would work. I have two years of high school left, and taking college in Japan does not seem like an option right now. If I continue with the plan I have right now, I’d graduate with a degree in theatre, but what good will that do me across the sea, especially when the theatre is quite a different thing over there? Not to mention the money and the idea of leaving my entire life behind…
I’m stuck, and being unable to do anything is one of the most frustrating feelings known to man.
I have no choice but to wait, then, and see what develops. Hope that this simmers down, though I know there will be a part of me that never cools off. My eyes have been opened, and I’m seeing the nauseating truth.
The best phrase right now is as follows: