Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Last Post

New Blog:

One of my great pet peeves is when people suddenly pack up their perfectly good blog to create a new one… and then expect readers to go along and follow them. To be fair, these people are usually teenybopper kids who have outgrown their URL, "QTdreamersweetheart09" in favor a more mature name, "Totescoolio09." (This is, indeed, the actual progression of one of my prize-winning students.)  

This is my first travel blog, and I will always look back on it fondly. It documents my Rotary Youth Exchange years, as well as my travels during my college years. As the main character of my own story, it is always amusing and fascinating to reflect upon my own blog and to see the progression of a wide-eyed little girl traveling abroad. It never feels that long ago until I stop and really think about how much time has past. The fact is that I think I have moved on past that blog. The description says, 
This is my story. The story of a small town girl with big-time dreams and a deadly (contagious) case of Wanderlust. I'm seeking life's most important question: what I want to do with the rest of my life and how to get there, while chasing samurai and wearing French berets, all the while differentiating between foreigner, gaijin, and Étranger...

I am past this stage in my life. I am 21, arguably not a girl anymore. I still do not know what I want to do with the rest of my life, but I have accepted this simple truth: I probably will never know what I want to do with the rest of my life. And you know what? That’s okay with me. But how do I start a new blog? I am sure great authors (and crappy authors, E.L. James and Stephanie Meyer, alike) have grappled with the great questions of where does a story end and then restart again. Where does a sequel fit in? I suppose I could have started a sequel when I left for France, or when I left for College. It seems relatively arbitrary to just start a sequel right in the middle of this wicked summer, coined the “Summer of the Islands.” But then I thought that “Wherever you go,” started when I was a 15 year-old girl about to head off on the greatest adventure of her life. It started with Japan. I should consider that as a sign of luck. Japan was the best year of my life. Maybe it’s a good idea to start this new blog with Japan. 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Life is a Map

My Summer of the Islands has been non-stop fun, but I am currently in the downtime between travels. Right smack dap in the middle of my Roman Holiday and the return of Julie in Japanland, is where I find myself right now. Thinking and putting together the threads of my life that blow in the wind.


In 2006, I traveled with several other exchange students to the island of Okinawa. For most people, Okinawa means vacation, basking in the sun, admiring the harmony of island life with the American servicemen. For me, it was a journey of discovery. My Grandfather, Mart J. Garner, an American Merchant Marine and boat captain during World War II, fought on this very island. He never spoke about the war to me or my father before his death, so my imagination ran wild trying envision the ghosts of history on this island. The ghosts of my grandfather, as well as the ghost of my Japanese host father’s father, as they fought against each other on this island in the Pacific Ocean. Not ghosts in the literal sense, my Grandfather, nor Katou Otasan’s father died in Okinawa, but the ghosts that all great history leaves behind. So while Okinawa, to me, was not a island paradise or hoping vacation, Okinawa registered itself as an important place on the map of my life. 

And maybe that is what life is all about. Creating ourselves while we our creating our own maps. Sure, Okinawa is a 7-letter island found in most travel books about Japan as well as the majority of history text books concerning World War II, but what does it really mean if one does not have the personal history, the stories, the experience of actually going to Okinawa and walking in the footsteps of all those great people who have walked, and probably fought, there before us.

I live in Verona, NJ, a small suburban town just a few miles outside of New York City, and I have deep family roots to the entire area, as in Essex County, not just little Verona. Because although I grew up in Verona, the majority of the rest of Garner’s call North Caldwell home. My mother’s side of the family, although having relocated to Fairfield in the early 70’s, still proudly proclaims themselves to be Newark people. The bottom line is that New Jersey, and more specifically, Esssex County, runs in my blood and is the stage of my most history.

I am a runner, and this has given me opportunity to get up-close and personal with some of the sights of the area; the parks, the winding streets that no one knows about except residents, and the old Victorians homes that hold secrets and memories all to themselves. On my favorite running route, I climb Bloomfield Avenue, running past Verona Park and on to the old shops that have changed little except in ownership. I will always pass by the Henry’s Grocery Store, and think of the story my Dad told me once about how the old original owner, Henry, called my Belgian-born Grandmother, a “dirty foreigner.” It must have been over 50 years ago, and still no Garner will frequent that store. I run by and I look in and I imagine a young Belgian women with very-little English trying to communicate with the sales clerk. Even the things that have long gone from this area of New Jersey; cleanliness of Verona Park lake, the Awful Awful ice cream sundaes, and the old Hilltop Sanitarium, they leave behind ghosts for us to see if we truly look for them.

That’s how we see places: they are our histories in bricks and mortar. And you can’t redraw them. You can understand why some people flee and some people are drawn back to the same places again and again. It’s because the best places offer us places not just to work, play, and sleep but for our lives to unfold in unexpected and colorful ways.

One of my recent interests to study is Subways, or Metros, or Undergrounds, or U-Bahns, or whatever else they are termed in one’s country. The London Underground, the world’s deepest underground, is by my far favorite to study, with all the abandoned Tube stations and World War II history. But I certainly have the most memory attached to the Paris Metro: St. Germain-en-Laye where Alex and I celebrated my 18th birthday. Pigalle, where my sister and I sprinted through the station in an effort not to be caught in some real-life version of the movie Taken. Trocadero, where I saw the Eiffel Tower for the first time, and remembered that dreams really do come true. Gare de Nord, where I fought with a train station operator to get a seat on a Belgian bound train after my original ticket was nullified because of the country-wide strike. Gare de Lyon, where I spent the entire night alone by myself because I had missed the last train. Perhaps a simple ride on the Metro might be jolting journey for me in some ways but these flashbacks are what makes the place and my memory bank fuse together.
These stations are merely little dots on a Metro map of Paris. But I have personified these stations, and given them memories. Like most people who find their veins entwining with their city’s streets, my map of Paris looks nothing like the little map one might find in a book. My Paris map is personal; a map made up of places where things happened to me – or people important to me. It is not just Paris either. It is my map of the world, different than most maps with little villages like Fixin, France or medium-sized cities, like Kochi, Japan, having larger font that great big cities like Beijing or Chicago. My map is disproportionate; Europe, America, and Japan are huge. South America and Africa are very small. But that will change one day.

I am headed back to Japan in 17 days. I fully expect to see my ghosts wandering along the streets of Kochi in a school uniform. Just as I fully expect 30 years from now, my children or my sister's children to go to Paris and see our ghosts peering out at the top of Sacre-Coeur. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

On Good Terms

Since September 11, 2006, when a Japanese host parent, someone I rightly and deeply cared about, told me that although he felt appalled about the tragedy of 9/11, he wondered if it was not a good thing. Maybe it was something that would finally make America come to her sense and stop being so "in-your-face" about every little thing: from foreign policy to cinema. 9/11, as you may know, has become a sacred day from all Americans, so my first emotion was anger that he could even bring this up on such a day. But I was pretty devastated when I really considered it. I realized I had my first taste of someone truly hating America. I had no idea how to handle it, except to shut my mouth and cry a little bit inside.

I mean, I had heard about Europe hating on the US in 2003 on the brink of Iraq invasion. I am a self-professed Freedom Fry eater and Grey Goose vodka pourer-outer in protest of France's protest. But to hear it face-to-face, by someone that I truly cared about and I knew cared about me. 

Well, it got me thinking. 
I did a lot of research.
I read a lot of blogs written by Europeans and Asians and Africans and even some Americans. I asked, I wondered, I explored the very typical question that every American asks himself at least once in his or her life, "Why do they hate us? What did we do? Why? How?"

My year in Japan was fantastic. I loved every moment of it. I stopped thinking about America. I never fit in at home anyway, and Japan embraced me like I was meant to be there. Oh, do not misunderstand, I always defended my country, of course. I believed Iraq was a good thing at first, and I have always stood by that. I believed in my country, my culture, the people who raised me, the education I received, and my home. But the more I thought about it, the more I wondered things, like, How could I be born into a country that I simply do not fit into? How could my parents, who believe America is God's gift to the Earth, have raised this child who is simply put- un-American? 

The one nice thing about this Summer of the Islands, and my mishaps in the Maldives, is that I have had time to really think about America. I still do not fit in. But I no longer feel resentful of America. I still do not look at my country the way most Americans do: I actually see the problems and refuse to pretend they are not there. I see America the way a foreigner sees America, but I can also see it the way an American sees it. It's a very enigmatic way to view one's own country; utter devotion and sheer distaste. 

I have a confession to make: I love America. I hate fast food, avoid buying jeans, protest the jingoistic wars, avoid watching reality TV - and yet, life without America is almost unthinkable. This is a shocking new revelation to me, as they'd say on the E! channel, but it turns out I've loved it all my life, since Sesame Street and the Beezus and Ramona books. 
I’ve lived in America for a long, long time, and while there are obvious things to hate about it—the exceptionalism, the inequity, some of the cultural aspects, the armies of the oblivious, both native and tourist varieties—I have never not loved it here. Part of that is about the resources that come easy to get, the ready culture, but a lot of my affection for this country involves the people. Not just my friends and acquaintances, although they’re certainly the glue that holds everything together, but the energy that comes with all that humanity, the big mix, the general beauty of the species (or, if I’m in a foul temper, the general grotesquerie of it—but this is not that tirade.)

So I love America, and I bet you do, too. Whoops, is that a further affront? I do not mean I am going outside right now on my balcony overlooking Athens, Greece to sing the Start-Spangled Banner while double-fisting a hot dog and a hamburger. It's not America the Brave that I love, but America the Beautiful; not the American government but America's intelligent, enriching culture.

It has taken me 6 years but I am ready to finally say that I am no longer resentful of America. I love my country, even if I wonder if I am actually meant to be from this country. I respect other people for their own beliefs concerning America; lord knows I have a few things that can be said about this country. But I am also going to defend it and admit, sometimes proudly depending on my mood, that I am proud to be from America the beautiful.

America, you and me, we are on good terms again. Oh, and Happy Birthday!

Monday, July 02, 2012

Why Americans Are Not As Ignorant As We THINK

“There is a stereotype that Americans don’t know much about the rest of the world. There is some truth to that, but it isn’t as bad as you might believe. The reason this stereotype exists is because most other countries on Earth pay very close attention to American news and politics. Most people view our ignorance in terms of reciprocity: i.e. “I know about your country, why don’t you know about mine?” The truth is, if you quizzed people about third-party countries other than the US, they are equally as ignorant. I confronted one German man about this, asking him who the Prime Minister of Japan was. He had no clue. The problem with America is that we suffer from the same problem as the rest of the world: an obsession with American news. The quality of news I read in other parts of the world is on par with what you will hear on NPR.”

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Paris Versus New York

This is probably the greatest art I have seen in a long time, hence why I feel any blog readers must see it.


Great Quote... Sneak Peek at Next Post

“When you grow up in middle America you are inculcated from the earliest age with the belief – no, the understanding - that America is the richest and most powerful nation on earth because God likes us best. It has the most perfect form of government, the most exciting sporting events, the tastiest food and amplest portions, the largest cars, the cheapest gasoline, the most abundant natural resources, the most productive farms, the most devastating nuclear arsenal and the friendliest, most decent and most patriotic folks on Earth. Countries just don’t come any better. So why anyone would want to live anywhere else is practically incomprehensible. In a foreigner it is puzzling; in a native it is seditious. I used to feel this way myself.”

Bill Bryson

Italy and Dalmatian Coast Playlist

1.] Everything is Sound- Jason Mraz
When there is love, I can't wait to talk about it
When things get rough, I like to walk with you
Or when it's night, I like to be the light that's missing
And remind you every minute of the future isn't written....
And know the only time is right now, it's right well where you are
You don't need a vacation when there's nothing to escape from

2.] That's Amore- Dean Martin (sorry.... it was the only Italian song I had on my iPod!)
When the moon hits your eye
Like a big-a pizza pie
That's amore
When the world seems to shine
Like you've had too much wine
That's amore

3.] Life is a Highway- Rascal Flatts (I'm ashamed... but you don't understand just how many times the boys have made me watch Cars on this trip.)
Life is a highwayI wanna ride it all night longIf you're going my wayWell, I wanna drive it all night long

4.] The Remedy- Jason Mraz (my favorite song of all times, resurrected on the balcony of my cabin overlooking the Dalmatian coast. It's a sad happy song. It reminds me that life is a tragedy and a  comedy all at once.)The remedy is the experience. It is a dangerous liaisonI say the comedy is that its serious. Which is a strange enough new play on wordsI say the tragedy is how youre gonna spend the rest of your nights with the light onSo shine the light on all of your friends because it all amounts to nothing in the end.