Preview, November 2016.

Taroko-Gorge-Taiwan-Nature-Wallpaper
Taroko Gorge, Taiwan.

My wanderlust has gotten the better of me the past few weeks.  My top destination spot?  The Great Wall of China.  Beijing was to be our only stop.  The on-base travel agency reserved our air travel, a direct flight that was well under the usual price.  But after learning that each visa would cost nearly $300 (a total of $900), we elected to pass on Beijing.  To be clear, the steep cost of the visa is because of the courier service used to transport passports to mainland Japan, as there is no consulate on-Island.  (And, no, I would not even think of mailing our passports, given we live in a foreign country.)

As a result, we’ve turned our attention to Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.  People we know have suggested each as well worth the time and money, while being much less crowded than China.  (Current ranking by interest?  Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam.)  Ah, but I digress.

Taiwan has been on our to-do list since we arrived.  It’s close, resulting in low airfares and short travel times (approximately one hour and 30 minutes one way).  Several people have suggested going during a four-day holiday, but most travel sites recommend spending at least one week in the country.  So, we will be taking our time, exploring during the cooler, non-peak travel season.

Yes, I’m looking forward to visiting Taipei’s night markets and eating soup dumplings at Din Tai Fung.  And I’m looking forward to riding the Maokong Gondola and touring the zoo.  But, for now, I’m most looking forward to our time exploring Taroko Gorge.

As for Beijing, I haven’t given up hope.  Perhaps the price will be right to swing through the city on our way to Korea to meet our son, allowing us to take advantage of China’s 72-hour visa exemption.

#Hualien

#MakingPlans

A Forgotten Lesson.

Cursive writing was supposed to be dead by now. Schools would stop teaching it. Kids would stop learning it. Everyone would stop using it. The Common Core standards adopted by most states in recent years no longer required teaching cursive in public schools, and the widespread reaction was succinct: good riddance.

But like Madonna and newspapers, cursive has displayed a gritty staying power, refusing to have its loop de loops and curlicues swept to the dustbin of handwriting history. Just last month, Louisiana passed a law requiring that all traditional public schools and public charter schools begin teaching cursive by third grade and continue through 12th grade. Arkansas legislators passed a law mandating cursive instruction last year. And 10 other states, including Virginia, California, Florida and Texas, have cursive writing requirements in their state education standards.

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Though it was widely taught in schools in the early 20th century, cursive’s dominance has been in jeopardy ever since. First it was threatened by printed handwriting, and then it fell further from favor as typewriters, personal computers, laptops and tablets gained widespread use. More recently, the smartphone has become cursive’s chief enemy as the graceful, fluid lines of sentences inked on paper by a carefully gripped pen have rapidly given way to tweets and texts battered out with indifferent thumbs on mini keyboards or screens.

Once all but left for dead, is cursive handwriting making a comeback?, Joe Heim, The Washington Post (July 26, 2016).

A few weeks ago, Russell and I were engaged in a family drawing session, where crayons and paper dominate all else.  After drawing a picture of our family, we began writing [S]’s name with crayons, in various colors and styles.  Her name was written in lower case letters.  Her name was in capital letters.  And then Russell wrote her name in cursive.  Well, maybe.  I looked at the S.  “Is that right?  Is that how you write a capital S in cursive?  It looks funny.”  It was enough to make him doubt whether it was properly written.  Google confirmed he had correctly recalled his cursive capital letter, but for me, I had to practice the letter several times before muscle memory kicked in.

Those who know me well, know that I am fond of the handwritten note, be it to thank someone for their kindness or to comfort someone during troubling times.  Truly, one of my favorite reasons to write is just to say hello.  My problem is that my handwriting is atrocious.  This is not an exaggeration.  Indeed, my Husband can hardly make out my penned notes.  Typically, my writing is a mix of print and cursive, with print being dominant.  (Obviously.  I haven’t had occasion to write a cursive S in years.)  I can’t help but wonder whether writing entirely in cursive would improve the legibility of my writing.

After reading of the creative and analytical benefits derived from writing in cursive, I started writing my case notes in cursive.  At first the words looked shaky and uneven.  But as with most things, my writing improved with time and practice.  That is, for those letters I recall how to write in cursive.  Embarrassingly, I still need to look up how to write certain letters in cursive.  This, from someone who was taught cursive by way of drills.

Overall, I find the experience much like eating with chopsticks or, as we have recently attempted, eating with one’s non-dominant hand at mealtime–at once challenging and engaging.  But when it comes to writing in cursive, I have an added incentive to master the craft.  I recall the joy of receiving beautifully penned notes from my Grandmother.  Her right-leaning penmanship appeared so fine and delicate, it was as if each written word was a gift to be treasured.  And her script so distinctive and unique, I can see it in my mind’s eye today.

#PracticeMakesPerfect

Beach Hunting

Emerald Beach 1
Emerald Beach, Okinawa, Japan.

It’s my most recent obsession.  Fortunately, it’s not an unhealthy one.  To what am I referring?  My need to experience and explore as many Okinawan beaches as possible.  Indeed, for the next year, I have one mission:  to visit as many beaches as possible.

This weekend, we headed north to Motobu-cho to find Emerald Beach, part of the Ocean Expo Park.  The “y” shaped beach provides for separate areas for swimming, water activities, and viewing (e.g., non-swimming).  The beach has covered spaces for use, showers (indoor and outdoor), restrooms, food concession, beach rentals (umbrellas and chaises), and sundry shop.  It also has a tiered parking structure and five lifeguards.  The cost to park?  Free.  The cost to use facilities?  Free.  The cost to use the beach?  Free.

Emerald Beach 2
Emerald Beach, Okinawa, Japan.

We packed snacks and peanut butter and jam sandwiches and ate in between our swim time.  The water was shallow, allowing adults to easily stand within the designated swimming space.  [S] enjoyed her new beach toy, a panda ring with a built in seat, allowing her newfound freedom in the water.

How was it?  The water was calm.  The sand was soft.  And the concession sold ice cream and other frozen sweet treats to tide us over until we made it home.

#ItsAGoodLife

Another Day, Another Mass Shooting in America.

MIAMI — Two people were killed and at least 16 were wounded in a shooting early Monday morning at a nightclub in Fort Myers, in southwestern Florida, according to the city’s Police Department and to local news reports.

Police officers were called to the nightclub, Club Blu, on Evans Avenue and almost three miles south of City Hall, around 12:30 a.m. Monday. They came upon “several victims suffering from gunshot wounds” in the parking lot of the nightclub, Capt. Jim Mulligan of the city’s Police Department said in a statement.

Shooting at Fort Myers, Fla., Nightclub Leaves 2 Dead and at Least 16 Hurt, The New York Times (July 25, 2016).

Living in Japan, I do my best to keep up with U.S. news by way of online media.  But it is not the same as the media saturation one experiences living in the States.  Perhaps that is one reason why I don’t feel the urgency of the issues facing our country as sharply as I might were I sitting in New York City, let alone Washington, D.C.  But that very fact also provides me with a new perspective.

Sitting here, it seems as if U.S. news is dominated by (1) the politics of hate and discontent, a la coverage of the 2016 presidential election; (2) the newest mass casualty shooting; and, (3) Taylor Swift.  My opinions on two out of the three topics are well-known to regular readers.

I miss my family and friends terribly.  But the level of gun violence in America is enough to make me want to stay far away from the country, at least until a solution to gun violence is reached.  Those who claim there simply are too many guns in the country for regulation to be effective are wrong.  We could reduce the number of firearms sharply by disposing of those firearms not used.  Indeed, I know people who own firearms who have professed they would not use them under any circumstance.  I know people who own firearms who should not use them under any circumstance.  I also know people who have firearms locked in long-term storage lockers.  Think of it like reducing clutter:  haven’t used it in a year?  Toss it.

Those who claim the Second Amendment guarantees citizens the unfettered right to own firearms also are wrong.  If one is mentally competent, properly trained, without a criminal record, and not on a terrorist watch list, I have no issue with him or her possessing a firearm.  That is, so long as it’s not an assault rifle or other high powered firearm designed to inflict maximum harm in seconds.

The arguments against restrictions on firearm ownership simply do not withstand scrutiny.  If such arguments were coherent, why do we require people to hold a license to drive, after all, not all people who drive are licensed?   Similarly, why have professionals such as doctors and lawyers licensed?  People have practiced both medicine and law without the requisite license.  The answer is, because it is better than nothing.  Don’t even get me started on the fact that many of those in favor of heavily regulating–and restricting–abortion are perfectly fine with letting citizens purchase as many firearms as desired, despite the fact that firearms are designed to do one thing, and one thing only:  kill.

The thing is, it’s not just the proliferation of firearms.  It’s the well-armed citizen who is angry about fill-in-the-blank (e.g., immigrants, lot in life, personal finances, being fired, being dumped, etc.) who owns firearms.  And, as far as I can tell from sitting over here, there seems to be a lot of anger and hatred percolating throughout the land of the free and home of the brave.

I wish we could all be so brave as to live firearm free.

Japan Love

I’ve written before about how I appreciate–and respect–the fact that Japanese culture does not permit tipping for service, whether at a restaurant, bar, or hair salon.  How does the nation-wide no tipping policy effect service?  It doesn’t.  Indeed, the service provided at most restaurants we’ve been to is efficient, swift and gracious.

To be clear, there is no chit-chatting with servers.  Servers in restaurants have a job and they execute their duties with precision–and some help.

FullSizeRender(263)Many restaurant tables in Japan, look like this one.  Oftentimes, restaurants are seat-yourself and menus are already on the table, eliminating a need for a hostess.  Once seated, water is brought and the server leaves.  A fact that is perplexing–if not annoying–to many non-Japanese is that, often, the server will not return unless called, by pressing a button on a small device on the table, here, the brown device on the left.  Of course, there are several types of call systems, varying both in color and size.

Once called, the server promptly appears and takes one’s order.  In several places we have eaten, water is self-serve at a common station.  Utensils–chopsticks or forks and spoons–are provided in a rectangular woven basket (shown on the right in the photo), to be used as needed.  This, of course, eliminates extra work and waste, as an unused fork remains unused.  One of my favorite things about Japan is that if one orders a cool unsweetened drink, it is accompanied by a small pitcher of sugar water or syrup.  Alternatively, disposable containers of liquid sugar can be found in restaurants, oftentimes next to sugar, ensuring that those wanting their tea sweet have sweetened tea.

#SweattheSmallStuff

RE:PRINT (NPR): U.S. Appeals Court Finds Texas Voter ID Law Discriminates Against Minority Voters

There are some who believe that discrimination doesn’t exist.  Those people opine that cries of discrimination–on whatever basis–merely are imagined slights, rather than a result of purposeful bias.  The truth is, regardless of how far our society has come from days of overt discriminatory acts, discrimination continues today.  By discrimination, I mean actions taken with the intent to treat a person or group of people differently because of their fill-in-the-blank (e.g., race, color, national origin, religion, sexual preference, etc.).

The 2016 election is significant for many reasons, not the least of which is how the United States will address conflicts throughout Asia, the Middle East and Eastern Europe.  While some of those issues may impact our country for decades going forward, it is unlikely.  Given the current state of affairs, it is more likely that the next POTUS will be able to direct the path of our nation for decades to come through his or her appointment of at least one, or more, Supreme Court Justice.  Justice Kennedy, a swing vote in several cases, was appointed by President Ronald Regan and has sat on the high-court for nearly 30 years.  That’s right, if you are 60 years old, Justice Kennedy has been an active Supreme Court Justice for half of your life.

To some, the rule of law is about being politically correct and socially progressive.  To others, the Supreme Court is seen as an antiquated and outdated institution.  To me, the high court is needed to ensure the rights afforded to citizens remain unabridged, even by the rulings of other courts.

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RE:PRINT:  NPR

A federal appeals court has ruled that a Texas voter ID law has a discriminatory effect on minority voters, and it has ordered a lower court to devise a remedy before the November elections.

A district court had found not only that the law discriminated, but that it was intentionally designed to do so. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals saw some flaws in that conclusion and instructed the lower court to reconsider that element of the case and rule again — preferably after Election Day.

The judges also ruled that the law is not a poll tax and declined to consider whether the law puts an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote.

The Texas voter ID law requires voters to present an approved ID card before voting. It has been controversial ever since it was passed in 2011. NPR’s Pam Fessler explained why earlier this year:

“Part of that has to do with the type of photo IDs the Legislature designated as legitimate. For example, military IDs and concealed handgun carry permits — they’re lawful to vote. But state employee photo IDs and university photo IDs are not.

“So in federal court, the plaintiff’s lawyers have argued successfully that the Legislature approved ID cards that were more likely to be held by white Republican voters and excluded IDs that were more likely to be held by minority Democrats.”

The legal dispute has stretched on for years, as The Two-Way reported in April:

“The Texas law first took effect in 2011; a judge’s order later struck it down, but that order has been on hold since October of 2014.

“Last summer, a three-judge panel from the 5th Circuit ‘ruled unanimously that the law does not equate to a “poll tax” but does discriminate against minority voters,’ as the Two-Way reported. After that ruling, the case was put before the full 5th Circuit for review.”

This spring, the U.S. Supreme Court gave the 5th Circuit a deadline of July 20 to rule on the case. As NPR’s Nina Totenberg has reported, the deadline was motivated by suspicion that the 5th Circuit might have been “dragging its feet” to keep the law in effect until after the election. The idea, Nina says, was that a ruling by Wednesday “would leave enough time for the Supreme Court to decide whether to block the law for the upcoming election.”

In its decision Wednesday, the 5th Circuit called for the lower court to change the law in a way that “disrupts voter identification rules for the 2016 election season as little as possible” — but it said some changes were necessary to keep the law from discriminating against minorities.

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