Monday, May 31, 2010

A Response to Kwan Weng Kin Part II

They published my letter in The Sunday Times today!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

A Response to Kwan Weng Kin

An article in The Sunday Times last week prompted me to do what I normally would never have even considered doing - writing in to the ST Forum.

ST's senior japanese correspondent, kwan weng kin (whom i've actually sort of liked up until last week for his usually succinct but informative features on japanese politics and society), wrote a page-long, two-part feature on okinawa outlining its uncomfortable history with mainland japan and the problems caused by the large US military presence in the prefecture.

i thought he did a wonderful job of giving the average reader an insight into the current situation in okinawa in the first part of the article, but the latter portion was full of gross misrepresentation and sweeping generalizations.

i quote here three of his ludicrous observations:

"the prefecture has the highest unemployent rate in japan, yet most okinawans are said not to be unduly worried. in okinawan society, family ties remain very strong and unemployed siblings can expect support from family members - a fact that critics say may, however, rob young okinawans of their desire to become financially independent."

"okinawans are also extremely fond of drinking, especially the local awamori...hangover or no hangover, most okinawans routinely report to work late in the morning after a bout of serious drinking the night before. co-workers however, do not bat an eyelid."

"there is also a widening gulf between young and old okinawans in terms of language. okinawans aged 50 and above are apt to use dialects among themselves. most young okinawans however, influenced by television and radio programmes, speak only standard japanese."

what total bullshit. i have been living in okinawa for three years, been in personal contact with many okinawans and none of my experiences come close to any of the things put forth by kwan weng kin. it is highly disappointing and embarrassing to admit that an experienced journalist from our national paper should resort to mere hearsay and popular stereotypes in covering a story. everything in the article stinks of ethnocentricism, the type of cultural-blinder experience one is apt to suffer from after spending too much time in centres of power.

i decided i couldnt have another person perpetuate another stereotype about okinawa because the place and its people are mired in enough externally-inflicted controversy and misunderstanding already.

so i fired a response to st forum and forwarded the contents of my letter to kwan weng kin's sph email. i'll be posting his response here in the event that he does reply.

in the meantime, here's what i wrote. i hope my letter gets published.
I read with much concern Mr. Kwan Weng Kin’s article on Okinawa (“A Country Within A Country: Okinawa”) in The Sunday Times on 16th May 2010.

As I have been living and studying in Okinawa for three years, I was heartened by Mr. Kwan’s efforts at informing readers about the conditions of a place that remains largely unknown to most people in Singapore. However, I was deeply disappointed to discover that Mr. Kwan has chosen to paint what I felt was a skewed depiction of the Okinawa people and their attitudes towards life and work.

Admittedly, the image of Okinawans as a group of happy-go-lucky merry-makers has been prevalent in most popular discourse concerning Okinawa. Such stereotypes have been further reinforced by the booming tourist trade in Okinawa, which bills the prefecture as an “island paradise” for tens of thousands of mainland Japanese holiday-makers who flock to the islands each year. The battle for the tourist yen thus necessitates the juxtaposition of the average Okinawan against the “typical worker bee Japanese” (as put forth by Mr. Kwan) – the Okinawan makes hay while the sun shines, enjoys the slow life and most certainly drinks too much for his own good.

Throughout his article, Mr. Kwan repeatedly prescribes to such stereotypes and even appeared to suggest that the cause of the high unemployment rate in Okinawa lies not in the many structural conditions plaguing the islands, but with the people themselves. Not only did Mr. Kwan fail to mention how the disproportionately large presence of U.S. military bases may be driving away potential corporate investment, which would help to propel economic growth and provide more jobs, he has also overlooked how Japan’s protracted economic recession might have further exacerbated the lack of work opportunities in Okinawa, which has the lowest minimum wage levels in the nation.

Unlike Mr. Kwan’s account of a widening language gap between the old and young in Okinawa, the imposition of an aggressive language assimilation policy during the Meiji era has meant that most Okinawans under the age of 60 were schooled in standard Japanese and are thus no longer able to speak the Okinawan dialect.

In my personal interactions with Okinawans, I have found them to be a hardworking, optimistic and friendly group of people who are nevertheless deeply concerned with the many social and political problems afflicting their hometown. Perhaps on his next visit to the prefecture, Mr. Kwan should consider venturing outside of the tourist haunts and spend more time interacting with the local people in order to gain a more accurate understanding of the situation in Okinawa.

Friday, May 07, 2010

The Bridezilla VS the Budding Groom

Contrary to popular belief, I'm not quite the bridezilla I made myself out to be.

yes, i can fork out almost 16 dollars for a Brides magazine and without taking any of the "what bride are you?" quizzes available online, i instinctively know that i'm what they might term "a classic bride". i know which colour palette to use for my wedding and i already have theme shades all carefully thought out for the reception.

march-in song? check.
guest entertainment? double check.
customised invitation cards, escort cards and wedding favour boxes? hell YES.

but when it came to my gown, i sold out after five shops and three days of shopping. i'd always thought that i would scour every single bridal boutique in singapore before deciding on The Dress, but really, every gown you try on does fade into whitewash after five minutes. and before you know it, you find yourself trooping back to the first store and buying that very first dress you tried on (well, not quite the case for me but close).

but while i come to terms with my broken ambitions as a bridezilla, it's very heartening to know that the man is experiencing a transition that is quite simply the opposite of mine.

he was never one to believe in marriage. for a long period of time i was worried that it wasnt on the cards for the both of us. but then he came around and made it happen. and i know he did it for me.

now that he has slowly warmed up to the idea of having a wedding in singapore, he is beginning to partake in the fun of preparing for it. he's excited about the wedding bands, he's asking me if he should tailor a suit and he's thinking of all the people he should invite to the reception.

and now, it seems that we might actually have one in okinawa afterall.

it means so much to me that he's enjoying the process because it's finally starting to feel like we're doing this together. and for that, i'm more than ready to let go of my bridezilla tendencies, because it's always more important to have a groom who is ready to step into his new shoes.