Europe’s history is one written in blood. One could say that other civilisations had violent histories as well, but the divided political makeup of Europe has made war a constant way of life. From the Seven Days War, to the French Revolution, to the Franco-Prussian War, to the World Wars, one could say that European culture is the most warlike.

So it was quite a shock when I finally visited Europe for the first time. The ability to travel between countries seamlessly, and the common currency, are testaments to a Europe that has finally set aside its differences after centuries of strife, or so the pro-EU people say.

To the apolitical middle class American, life is far better in the European Union for most citizens. Italy has one of the highest life expectancies in the world, Sweden and Germany consistently score high on the Human Development Index. My former classmates in high school have constantly praised the governments or Europe for committing more funds to improving the way of life, from public transport, to keeping costs down on rent. The EU is Bernie Sander’s dream come true.

So why, as I write now, do I view the European Union with utter and complete contempt, and commit the rest of this piece to endorsing Britain leaving it?

Simple, I lived there, and got a closer glance at how both work.

The United Kingdom is where American democracy was born. The idea of transferring power without violent, rule of law, and civilised debate. The notion life, liberty, and the right to property was the idea of John Locke, an idea that was hardwired into the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence as ‘Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.’

So it’s really no surprise that the United Kingdom has a democratic system of its own, where people vote once every five years for their representative, who in turn contribute to a majority whereby the largest party’s leader becomes Prime Minister.

The rest of Europe also has a democratic tradition. After all, Greece and Rome, the progenitors of Western civilisation, were also the inventors of democracy and republicanism. Yet, I still have not figured out how the European Union’s leaders are elected.

Sure, once every four years, each country participates in an election separate from their national elections to elect Members of the European Parliament. But how does the President of the European Commission, the chief executive of the EU, get his job?

From my understanding, limited as it may be, most bureaucrats who actually run the European Union are not elected by the people. Instead, they are nominated by other unelected bureaucrats. This would all be well and fine were it not for the fact that many of the UK’s laws are not approved by the British government, but by the European Union.

There’s also the fact that EU laws are not even drafted or reviewed by the European Parliament. The European Commission drafts the laws, then sends them off to the European Parliament to have them approved. Not voted through and signed. Not voted down. Not voted through and vetoed. Approved. You know where they also do this? Pyongyang and Moscow.

It is incredibly ironic that the UK, the birthplace of Anglo-Saxon democracy, is now subject to laws from an undemocratic, unaccountable institution that makes up 59% of its laws, from 2010-2013. That figure, from ‘Paxman in Brussels,’ also accounts for regulations for olive oil and growing tobacco, regulations that do not apply to Britain.

Nevertheless, how would it feel if you were to vote for a government only to have laws that went contrary to the government you voted for, getting imposed on the country whether you like it or not?

Businesses in the country have to abide by regulations passed down from a faraway authority that probably does not understand the country’s issue as well as the country itself. The British fishing industry took a huge hit after the EU brought its regulations, forcing British fishermen to cordon off areas of the sea for other countries to partake, the Common Fisheries law stating the North Sea is a ‘common European resource’.

There’s also the fact that the United Kingdom is prevented from doing business with China, and members of the Commonwealth such as India and Australia, simply because the European Union has erected trade barriers to prevent imports and exports to those countries because the EU prioritises businesses in its own countries. Mandatory quotas and regulations have killed competition and has stifled creativity.

There is little incentive for a failing French business to clean up its act against a superior Japanese counterpart if it receives corporate welfare and regulations that prevent the latter from doing business in Europe.

Immigration has also been a hot topic since the 2010 election. To date, the United Kingdom is the only country in the English speaking world that has an open border. Sure, there are border guards that stamp passports and make sure that the people who come to the country have the right to be there.

But EU citizens have the right to stay and work in the country. No paperwork, no documentation. Nothing. I understand the need for the UK to look after its down and employ their citizens over the citizens of other countries. I do not understand why, after that, they prioritise employing French, Germans, Italians, Polish, or Spanish citizens over American, Canadian, Indian, or Chinese citizens. They’re all equally non-British to me!

What also tipped me in the direction of supporting Brexit is the rhetoric. To date, there has been absolutely no positive case for Britain staying in the EU. Its president is fiercely devoted to further integration and it is now compelling more countries to adopt the Euro, a currency that Britain was wise to avoid adopting in the 2000s.

But there is no positive case being put forward by the Remain camp. Much of the reasoning is that if Britain votes to leave, the sun will no longer rise and the dead will walk the earth. Christine Lagarde of the IMF, and other big wigs such as George Osborne and the big business leaders that have signed a letter to the Times have said that economic disaster awaits a post-Brexit EU.

Yet, one has to look at the context. These people represent big business and the government. In other words, the establishment. These people are comfortably resting on their laurels in a fat cat fashion while people are unemployed and starving.

Conversely, the Leave camp has a few ideas of where Britain can go if it votes to leave. It is also comprised of politicians from both sides of the political spectrum and members from smaller businesses. There has been so much talk that the Leave camp is racist, yet there is no racism or partisanship to be seen here.

Then again, I’m not British, nor am I European, so what do I ultimately know? Nevertheless, it is my hope that the United Kingdom embrace its democratic tradition and votes to leave the European Union and into prosperity. Times will undoubtedly be uncertain, but when has uncertainty ever stopped great Britons like Sir Isaac Newton, Winston Churchill, and John Smith?

Before Shinzo Abe took the post of Prime Minister in 2006, I was largely uninterested in what went on outside of the United States, much less inside it. But I was very much familiar with the Second World War.

Kazunari Yamada, the leader of the Japanese Nazi Party, pictured with Tomomi Inada, Abe's policy chief

Kazunari Yamada, the leader of the Japanese Nazi Party, pictured with Tomomi Inada, Abe’s policy chief

I remembered catching my parents watching an incredibly brutal film about the war in China. It featured Japanese soldiers literally butchering infants like common animals. Women and children were gassed by the scores. Like any child, I was shocked. ‘Who would do such a thing?’ I asked my mother.

‘It’s war. Invaders do whatever they like.’ She said.

Some might have accused that film of having an extreme Chinese bias. That many of its atrocities were played up to stir nationalistic sentiment. Still, that film was enough to inspire me to be firmly anti-war.

Another question arose. The Germans were ashamed of their actions during the war. Were the Japanese just as regretful?

I did not know much, other than the fact that Junichiro Koizumi made regular visits to the Yasukuni Shrine. The Shinto shrine is dedicated to honouring the sacrifice of Japan’s fallen soldiers. The ugly part of that shrine is that fourteen Class A war criminals are honoured as well.

Those war criminals include Hideki Tojo, Prime Minister during the war, and Iwane Matsui, the commander of the forces that took part in the Nanjing Massacre. There are a few politicians who deny that the mass murder and rape never took place, in spite of evidence to the contrary, including testimony from both Chinese and Japanese eyewitnesses.

I read up on Abe as Koizumi stepped down from his post. He was largely unknown to the international public, but the fact that he, too, visited the shrine frequently was cause for concern.

I tried telling my friends that this was something to worry about. Continuing to play up nationalistic sentiment and refusing to acknowledge wartime atrocities would play badly internationally.

People just wrote me off as a raving madman, that I was being incredibly silly. Nobody wanted to hear it.

Six years later, when Abe took office once again, my fears were not unfounded.

He rode into power on stronger nationalist sentiment than before, hot on the heels of the Diaoyu/Senkaku Crisis. He pursued his agenda on Article 9, the clause in the post-war constitution that prohibits Japan from having a military, more aggressively. He pushed forward a ‘State Secrecy Law,’ that makes whistleblowing and exposing government secrets punishable by imprisonment. He finally got his wish to have Article 9 reinterpreted later in the year, to the dismay of the pacifist status-quo.

A leader who wants to militarise his country and is associated with people who refuse to acknowledge, if not condone, WWII atrocities...

A leader who wants to militarise his country and is associated with people who refuse to acknowledge, if not condone, WWII atrocities…

Thirteen members of his cabinet are from the Nippon Kaigi, an openly revisionist organisation that denies the atrocities committed by the Empire of Japan, an establishment it wishes to revive. He cherry-picked the new head of the NHK, Japan’s equivalent of the BBC, who condoned the use of sex slaves, known otherwise as ‘comfort women,’ in the Imperial Army.

Here is a Prime Minister whose values and actions blatantly contradict that of his Western allies, but also one who is willing to hide behind those allies when the going gets tough with China. Perhaps the only reason why China has not been more aggressive with its territorial claims on the islands is because the US is contractually bound to defend Japan in the event of an attack on the latter’s soil, including the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands.

While the alliance between the US and Japan is steadfast, it has its limits. The US made its disappointment known when Abe visited the Yasukuni Shrine on December, 2013. This is coupled with Obama’s warning to the Japanese PM that the latter should not let the Diaoyu-Senkaku Crisis get out of hand. It seems that Abe respects the alliance insofar that the US has his back, but he does not seem to respect the underlying values of that alliance.

Until his awkward meeting with Xi Jinping at APEC 2014, Abe’s diplomatic strategy was one of encirclement. In layman’s terms, that means ‘talk to anyone but China.’ He’s been making his rounds, visiting former territories of the Empire Vietnam, the Philippines, and South Korea.

The curious thing about the last one is that the Koreans, like the Chinese, are not very happy about his revisionist streak. What is more interesting is that South Korea, one of Japan’s allies and part of the greater Western alliance, is more willing to do business with China these days.

...who does he remind me of?

…who does he remind me of?

Park Geun-Hye and Xi Jinping have visited each other on multiple occasions, the latter even opting to visit Seoul without even thinking about visiting Pyongyang. The two often leave the meetings with smiles on their faces. The same cannot be said for meetings between Park and Abe, marked with awkward gestures at best and full-on contempt at worst.

The fact that not only China, but South Korea as well, are unhappy with Abe’s blatant disregard for history is indicative of the fact that this is not a political China vs. US issue, as many right wingers in Japan would like to picture it. This is a human rights issue. When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for Israel’s destruction, coupled with declaring the Holocaust a myth, many in the West were rightly furious.

So it boggles my mind that, in spite of his refusal to acknowledge history and his relentless drive towards militarist patriotism, people around the world are either quiet or even supportive of this man. Abenomics, the name of his economic reforms, seemed to have failed miserably, with the country plunging into a recession, and that is before the sales tax increase he plans to introduce next year. Yet all the opinion polls suggest that he is set to win big in this year’s general election.

It could be voter apathy. It could be that his supporters are guaranteed to turn out and cast their ballots, regardless of his policies, while the opposition plans to stay home. After all, it looks like there is no alternative to the latter, so why bother voting at all?

I would disagree. The Democratic Party of Japan, while in power, had a sound foreign. Yukio Hatoyama’s plan for an East Asian Community promoted trade liberalisation in the region, trying to make Japan less dependent on the US and more of an independent core player in East Asia.

They, too, wanted to check China’s power, but wanted to do so through cooperation instead of confrontation. Perhaps the party dropped the ball on other fields, but their three year rule was marked with high hopes for a harmonious East Asia.

But I digress. I look upon what I have just written, and it could very well be the most incoherent, tunnel-vision-induced post I have ever made. But the point still stands. A lot of awful things happened during the Second World War, and ignoring the lessons that they present leaves the world open to repeating those atrocities once again. Shinzo Abe is leading Japan, and by extension, Asia down an extremely dangerous path.

Before I sign off, here is a song that pretty much sums up how I feel about this guy. Never again.

Tomomi Inada image pulled from Will list the source as soon as it comes available

Abe image courtesy of 多摩に暇人

Ahmadinejad image courtesy of Daniella Zalcman

‘Never Again’ by Disturbed belongs to the band and its record label, WMG. Lyric Video by Dylan Smith

Previously, I wrote about how awesome it was to leave the country and start a new life. I was learning new things everyday, from saying ‘zed’ as opposed to ‘zee’ and using single quotations marks (known in Britain was ‘inverted commas’). By June, 2012, I had become fully ensconced in an environment featuring deadpan snarkery, Marmite (which I grew to love during my vegetarian days), and extremely cold weather.

The journey continued in London, which introduced a world that was familiar, yet still novel enough to be exciting. My time in St. Andrews opened a lot of doors, but it was a self-contained environment. A town in the middle of nowhere, it was referred to in colloquial terms as ‘the Bubble.’ The fact that it was such a small town afforded its advantages and disadvantages. Everyone practically knew each other, and a house party was never too far away. However, anonymity can sometimes be a good thing, but there is really so such thing there.

Of course, I could write about how much I enjoyed London all over again, but I shall instead move on to my current city of residence. The Paris of the East. The Whore of the Orient. The biggest city of the second largest economy in the world.

I’m not exactly a stranger to this city. Well, maybe I am, because Shanghai evolves at a rapid pace. The city that I first met thirteen years ago is a far cry from the sprawling, cyberpunk metropolis that it is today. Hailing taxis was once as simple as 1-2-3. Nowadays, it’s becoming more like finding a needle in a haystack. Many of the buildings that adorn the Pudong skyline popped up only a decade ago, if not a few years. The waterfront across, known as ‘the Bund,’ has only started bloom and flower with business.

The Bund, re-opened to the public just four years ago.

The Bund, re-opened to the public just four years ago.

Shanghai presented a couple of really trying challenges that, while incredibly annoying at first (perhaps still a bit annoying to this day), have contributed to my growth as a person, at risk of sounding incredibly trite.

The obvious fact that I had to speak another language most of the time aside, there are certain ‘attitudes’ about the city that put me off. In London, people formed orderly queues, chastising anyone who wanted to jump them. Here, while there is such a thing, some people hold no regard for their fellow man and just jump the queue to no protest. While the default emotion on Londoners was depressed or cynical, it seems that the default emotion here seems to be pissed. While Londoners keep to themselves and refuse to make eye contact on the Tube, a great deal of people in Shanghai would refuse to give someone the time of day.

It could be the PM2.5 particles in the air. But Beijing’s pollution is far worse. It could be the government that’s growing increasingly controlling by the year. Shanghai is perhaps the most cosmopolitan corner of the Middle Kingdom, perhaps filled with free-thinkers (or the closest thing to that in this not-so-free society) and people from different parts of the world, and perhaps the proverbial stick up most Shanghainese’s posteriors might be a by-product of a culture war.

Either way, Shanghai’s made me a much stronger, more confident person. It gave me a more challenging environment to warm up to, and while I am still a little annoyed at that kind of culture, it nevertheless has contributed to my betterment.

Of course, there’s a reason why people are gravitating towards the city. My brother told me that Shanghai is still growing and developing as a city. New York’s story has already been told. The book of London has already been finished ages ago. The spearhead of a growing economy, Shanghai’s identity is still in flux, and I feel honoured to be living here in this most exciting time.

Nevertheless, after I have finished my internship here, there’s a nagging feeling that I’m overstaying my welcome and that the journey home is long overdue. More often than not, as the year comes to an end, I end up asking myself the same question:

‘What am I doing here?’

I am surrounded by big-shot businessmen and management students. At risk of sounding bigoted, their way of doing things are as foreign to me as eating frogs and stinky tofu. The nightclub scene is filled with extravagant decadence, with people drowning themselves in the most expensive liquor money can buy at lush nightclubs like Mint and Lynx.

This is juxtaposed with the conditions that many people in this city have to work with, some possibly earning five yuan (~roughly 90 cents) a day. Some might called this vision of Shanghai caricatured, and some of my buddies do not fit well into that dichotomy, but this is how the city strikes me, at large.

There plenty of things I do not miss about the San Francisco Bay Area. The bullying, the restrictive parenting, and the fact that I can never pay the exact change at the cash register without doing the math in my head.

Haven't seen skies this blue in a long, long time

Haven’t seen skies this blue in a long, long time

But nevertheless, it is the place where I grew up. It is the place where I discovered my love of other cultures, which set me on my journey in the first place. The UK and China have shaped me as a person, but the US gave me a starting point to work with. An acquaintance of mine even referred to the Bay Area as my ‘launch pad.’

The dream of globalisation is slowly starting to die out. Immigration laws are getting tougher and countries are a lot less willing to cooperate with each other. Maybe it is the reality of trying to find work abroad that is slowly moving me towards wanting to go home. Maybe it is the fact that I am starting to miss In ‘n Out and amazing Mexican food.

William Bradbury for the Japan Times compared the sobriety of staying in Tokyo long after his friends have departed to Odysseus’ stays with Circe and Calypso. Both kept the Greek general on their respective islands, distracting him from his journey.

Perhaps I do not want to admit it, but it could finally be time to go home.

It is common knowledge the world over that the United States is a proud nation. I can attest to that as a first-hand witness. We were belting out songs such as “Yankee Doodle,” “My Country ‘tis of Thee,” and “America the Beautiful.” Only just now am I having trouble remembering the Pledge of Allegiance, something I had to recite daily until the day I graduated from High School.

Swallowgate, University of St. Andrews, where I spent most of my academic career

Swallowgate, University of St. Andrews, where I spent most of my academic career

It was around that time when I finally got sick of the country and its force-fed patriotism. I mentioned before that I was lucky enough to join a school trip to Europe, and that fuelled my wanderlust, along with my distaste for anything American even further.

Western Europe had everything that my home did not. Better public services, food that had natural ingredients, and different languages/accents. Of course, Europe was not the first time I left the States; I went on a couple family trips to Mainland China. However, visiting a foreign country with a small measure of freedom is completely different from being dragged along by your parents on a mediocre, lukewarm slog.

In digression, I found that European nations had America beat in many categories. Like Will McAvoy from the Newsroom, I was extremely puzzled as to why America was so proud, when there was so little to be proud of.

I looked into the possibility of studying in Europe. Understanding that I knew only English and a smattering of Mandarin, I opted for England. I was told that the English system was extremely specialised was offered the choice of studying in Scotland instead. The Scottish system is still admittedly more rigid than its American counterpart, but it still had a measure of flexibility to change one’s degree before declaration and experiment with other electives in the process.

The struggle is real

The struggle is real

There was so much of my life that I was unhappy about. I grew up in a household that put success (i.e.: resume-building) above all else. Getting straight A’s and excelling in activities such as figure skating and violin was success, enjoying it was not. The rule of thumb was that, if you are enjoying yourself, you were doing it wrong.

The strict regimen that I lived through was combined with being stuck with the wrong people. I had a lot of trouble finding friends in high school and I ended up hanging out with a group of people, some of whom hated my guts since elementary school. Some might have asked “why didn’t you leave,” and I would answer that, as an impressionable teenager, I thought that these were the friends I deserve, and that things could not get better than this.

Of course, there were exceptions in that group, but the dominant figures would do their best to humiliate me and others they considered below them. There were plenty episodes of drama deserve a blogpost entirely of their own.

The irony is that, while people fled Europe to start anew in America, I took the opposite direction, but for the same purpose. There was just too much drama, politics, and other forms of buffoonery back home. I wanted to start anew in an environment where I would be allowed to be myself.



I was able to start afresh. Sure, there was the inevitable culture shock (e.g.: things closing after 5 PM and being completely closed on Sundays) and the past continued to linger on for some time, but I was able to do things I did not even dream of doing. I came back home for Christmas and summer bringing tales of things that were unheard of back home in the Bay Area. Forced by my British peers to adopt their dialect, I returned to be mistaken for a Canadian a couple times.

There was a guilty pleasure of being smug, that while the majority of my countrymen were spending their college years in the same country, if not the same state or even county, I got to spend them in exotic locations.

My high school friends only had beer pong and frat parties to talk about while I could regale them with British garden parties, drinking without a fake ID, and having classes in buildings older than the Declaration of Independence. A lot of my American friends played it up, thinking that I was living up the Hogwarts dream. It certainly did not help that my University had its own silly gown to complete the look.

But the greatest thing was that I could finally figure out who I am, without all the baggage that I felt was holding me back. I rejected the warm embrace of my home. The very last thing I wanted was to return to the life that I escaped. On top of the restrictive past that I had just left, the Bay Area just had nothing for me.

Rachel, a Japan-based vlogger, posted an interesting video:

In summation, she mentions that people obsess over other cultures because they are tired of what’s familiar and want to experience the unfamiliar. Moreover, it’s usually a phase in their lives where they still are trying to figure themselves out. While her video mainly deals with “weeaboos,” or people who are obsessed with Japanese culture to a fault, I can certainly relate, given my Anglophilia. I, too, was also a “weeaboo,” but that is a story for another time.

Going to the United Kingdom was me doing just that: learning about the world, and by extension, myself. That said, while I have left home behind, the past still lingers. Stay tuned for why I think it’s time to stop running from the past.

Swallowgate Image Courtesy of jjhake

High Expectations Asian Father Courtesy of… well… whoever generated that meme on memegenerator!

“In Defense of Weeaboos” is by Rachel and Jun, a couple living in Japan that vlog about life in said country. Their channel is certainly worth checking out.

I am not going to lie. This post is going to be controversial. Hell, I am not even going to pretend that I am unbiased.

I have kept as mum as I could about Scottish Independence for a long time. After all, the decision is Scotland’s and hers alone. It would be completely asinine for someone who is not Scottish or even British to try and influence the vote. Nevertheless, I have seen such people dole out their opinions anyway, and therefore I cannot resist the urge to make my case.

If you are Scottish and plan on voting, then I emphasise that I hope I do not influence your vote. I do not know as much about what is happening in Scotland as you do. Make your choice, be it ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ and understand that your country’s fate is in your hands, for better or for worse.

Union Jack

As an aside, independence would make the Union Flag look ghastly.

Nevertheless, I am of the opinion that Kingdom should remain United. Some might say that the 1707 Acts of Union represents a subjugation of the Scottish people, a successful attempt by the English to subvert Scottish liberty after being rebuffed by years of guerrilla warfare during the Scottish War of Independence. However, nothing could be further from the truth. I have learned never to refer to the entire United Kingdom as simply ‘England,’ and feel the urge to pass the correct terminology onto my fellow Americans, who are privy to such mistakes. The fact that the Scots detest the UK being referred to as ‘England,’ attests to the fact that the Scots cherish their role in the Union.

Supporters of Scottish independence might invoke the memory of William Wallace and Robert the Bruce as they stood up to the tyranny of Edward Longshanks. Still, the ultimate irony is that an independent Scotland would end up under England’s thumb if the Scottish National Party (SNP) has its way.

The problem with the SNP’s blueprint for an independent Scotland is that it changes direction as often as the St. Andrews wind. Until recently, the SNP declared that Scotland would invite English troops to defend her borders. The SNP wanted to adopt the Euro when it was still popular to do so. However, with countries such as Greece, Italy, and Spain suffering the reality of having a common currency, Alex Salmond’s plans have shifted towards asking England to use their Pound Sterling in the event of a ‘yes’ vote. The Yes campaign believe that independence would safeguard the National Health Service, yet a leaked different tells a very different story, announcing billions of pounds in cuts.

Instead of having their interest rates determined by Frankfurt, an independent Scotland’s interest rates would be determined by London. While the shift in policy is understandable, given the Euro’s poor record in the past couple years, Scotland cannot hope to be self-reliant when it is still reliant on the English pound, which would defeat the purpose of independence entirely.

I nevertheless believe that the status quo is unacceptable. It is unfair that Scotland cannot enact its own economic policies, forced to accept tax rates determined by Westminster. It is surprising that Scotland still cannot set its own tax rates, given that Margaret Thatcher test-drove the notorious Community Charge in Scotland, thereby soiling the reputation of her party.

However, there will be a clear direction should Scotland remain in the UK. Whichever way the vote goes, things will never be quite the same. Even in the event of a ‘no’ vote, it might be fair to think that Scottish autonomy might be given the long overdue attention it finally deserves.

In digression, another complaint of the Yes campaign is that Scotland has been dragged into governments and, by extension, wars that are not of her own choosing. The facts, however, tell a different story. As a Labour stronghold, Scotland has helped the Labour Party gain power in 1964, 1966, 1974, and 1997. Accounting for only nine percent of the entire UK population, Scotland punches well above its weight with regard to politics.

Even with governments that she does not want, Scotland is not alone. Northern England and Wales were full of people who were against Tony Blair’s controversial decision to invade Iraq. Besides, it seems that the entire UK has learned its lesson, rejecting a similar intervention in Syria just a year ago.

The point is that secession would be a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Perhaps Scotland is stuck with a government in Westminster it does not want, but it will not be long until it has one that it does want. The UK is a country that can change on the inside, and it is one that is inclusive of all its constituent countries. Most of all, it is a tolerant nation. The same cannot be said of other countries, such as Yugoslavia and Sudan.

Scotland has a powerful position as part of the UK, a part of NATO and a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council. While some might argue that these perks are extraneous, it should not be forgotten that Scotland has great power-status.

It is without a doubt that Scotland could go it alone, but there are serious consequences to that path. Serious consequences that, in my humble opinion, the SNP and the Yes campaign have failed to address, at least convincingly. It could be fair to say that the promise of more autonomy by the three main parties is too little too late, but at least it’s a solid guarantee. The same cannot be said Alex Salmond’s plan for a post-Yes vote, promising the Euro one day and the Pound Sterling the next.

Whatever your choice maybe, do it with conviction. Do it with a well-informed mind. If you believe that the points above are completely invalid, do it in spite of what I have just said. Nevertheless, in a world that is growing increasingly unpredictable, I am of the opinion that Scotland is better together, as part of a United Kingdom.

The truth is self-evident that every nation-state has a right to self-determination. Of course, while, in an ideal world, everyone should be friends, hold hands, and work together, there are some nation-states that stir up some trouble, either by invading another state or economically suffocating it through sanctions. Thus, it is not a leap in logic that a nation-state should have a right to defend itself.

The aforementioned explanation is extremely applicable to Japan. Becoming East Asia’s most powerful nation in the early 19th and 20th centuries, Japan invaded China and Southeast Asia in hopes of expanding its reach and creating a new order with the Japanese as the nucleus. After ultimately failing in that endeavour, the victors of the Second World War imposed a new constitution, forcing the Emperor to give up his claims of divine descent and forbidding the country from having a standing army. The latter would be known as Article 9.

Of course, a country without an army is open to threat, and the Korean War certainly cemented that belief, giving Japan the right to a National Police Reserve. The new police force would allow the nation to deal with natural disasters and internal threats, while the occupiers would deal with external threats.

As the Cold War progressed, the police force developed into what is now known as the Jietai, or the Japan Self Defence Forces (JSDF). Of course, expansion of the defence force was, and still is, met with heavy opposition, but the government often took steps to reassure pacifist sentiments, emphasising civilian control. Until recently, Japan did not have a cabinet-level Ministry of Defence, the JSDF managed by a lower-level ministry.

Japan’s military presence overseas is minimal if not non-existent. The JSDF went to Iraq to provide logistics support, and even that was met with heavy opposition from the establishment. Members of the government found themselves trying to find loopholes in Article 9 to explain how they are legally allowed to send a defence force, only meant to defend the country from invasion, overseas.

A ship from the naval branch of the JSDF was stationed in the Indian Ocean, also providing logistic support, but the government did not see the need to renew its mission. Aside from defending the country’s immediate borders, the JSDF’s role is extremely limited.

Could this ship find itself taking part in pre-emptive warfare?

Could this ship find itself taking part in pre-emptive warfare?

However, Shinzo Abe is set to change that.

One of his pledges upon taking office in 2012 has been to expand Japan’s military capabilities at any cost, citing that the JSDF, in its current state, is not enough to fend off North Korea and China. Much talk of ‘collective self-defence’ has cropped up in the Diet, members of his government believing that pre-emptively sending troops abroad in more direct combat roles falls under that category.

Abe’s cabinet just recently approved a reinterpretation of Article 9 during a meeting on the first of July. While it was not quite the reform that they were hoping for, it would mark the first step towards fully remilitarising the country. The move has met with fierce opposition, as many as 40,000 turning out to protest against the cabinet’s decision, with one middle-aged immolating himself on top of a pedestrian bridge in Shinjuku.

Some might accuse me of resorting to Godwin’s Law, something that Abe’s apologists in the media are wont to do. Of course, it would be far-fetched to call Abe the next Hitler, and that a newly militarised Japan would adopt the Nazi Swastika as their new emblem. Some might even correctly point out that the changes are incremental, that the new military reforms allow the JSDF the ability to minesweep and protect peacekeepers overseas, and defend allies from incoming attacks.

However, militarisation is a slippery slope, and the parallel can still be drawn. An acquaintance of mine pointed out that the reinterpretation of Article 9 follows other government measures that have siphoned away at the pacifist constitution. Abe’s government signed into law a State Secrecy bill, thereby rendering leaks and whistleblowing illegal and punishable by incarceration.

The newly appointed chairman of the NHK, Japan’s equivalent of the BBC, has made extremely controversial remarks, trying to justify their use of comfort women stating that every nation had their own form of sexual slavery. He also stated that it is the NHK’s duty to fully back the Prime Minister without question, and that it should not contradict the government. Needless the say, the NHK did not cover the story of the self-immolating protestor.

Justifying the right to wage war overseas following stronger gagging powers and a national broadcaster, whose chairman believes that it should be lock-in-step with the Prime Minister’s policies, all in the middle of an economic downturn? Believe it or not, this is not the first time such an incidence has occurred.

After being defeated in a costly war, one nation was forced to pay humiliating reparations and limit its military as part of a post-war treaty. The country, once an absolutist monarchy, became a republic, moulded in the democratic traditions of Western Europe. Following a major economic crisis, the country elected a government that was willing to take away its civil liberties and expand its authority. Eventually, the government of this country disregarded its agreement to limit its military, re-armed, and began a conflict that is now known to history as the Second World War.

A member of the British embassy in Tokyo remarked that China’s concerns are unfounded, that there is nothing to fear from a remilitarised Japan. Its liberal democratic system is a testament to the fact that Japan would use its right to wage war responsibly, he stated.

I can only hope that he is correct, as I do not find a country, whose government is willing to deny its countries past atrocities and rolling back civil liberties, in any position to have a right to wage war overseas.

Image Courtesy of Public Domain

June 2006, several months after I begged my parents (okay, it was more like polite asking) to agree to send me on a school trip to Europe, I finally arrived in a land that I only heard about in stories, movies, and history books. Originally, the itinerary was to start off with Munich before heading through the Italian cities of Venice, Rome, Florence, through the rustic Swiss town of Lucerne, then to Paris, wrapping up with London.

ImageExcept the guys organising the trip decided to reverse the order for some reason. London would be the first stop. It kind of made sense, considering the fact that the people there spoke English and it would perhaps ease us into the other European countries where we had to utilise pidgin French, Italian, and German.

Of course, the UK and the US are two countries divided by a common language, and we were reminded by our English tour guide to speak ‘proper’ English, as opposed to the barbarised bastard variant that I have grown to speak fluently.

The funny thing is, I was constantly warned that the French and the Italians treated Americans like crap, but the strange thing is while I felt welcome in Paris and the Italian cities, the atmosphere and the people of London seemed to have done their very best make me feel ashamed to be American.

People were just straight-up grouchy and there was nary a smile amongst the people there. It could have been the fact that I came from a very happy-go-lucky town, but the atmosphere was just extremely oppressive. While I heard plenty of ‘bienvenues,’ ‘benvenutos,’ and ‘Wilkommens,’ it seems that people are very reluctant to say ‘welcome’ in London. People made the biggest deal out the most miniscule of matters, such as accidentally getting crashed into on the street, and I could not help but feel a sense that I was not welcome at all.

Yet, somehow, I was still drawn to the place, and my trip to Europe really broadened my horizons. Of course, I have travelled abroad before, but that was only to China. This was a place which introduced to me a whole world to explore, that I should not limit myself to the boundaries of my own country.

The trip to Europe came at a rather critical moment, when I was just about to start my Junior year of High School, a time when I had to start thinking about applying for University. It was an incredibly stressful time, as it was the moment that my parents were trying to help me prepare for through their iron-fisted regimen of academic and extracurricular overdrive.

Advance Placement classes, the SAT, and other wonderful benchmarks through which American students are assessed for college admission, were right at my doorstep. Getting into a decent University was an extremely tall order, especially given the constant rise in college applicants by the year. This challenge was exacerbated by the fact that I was experiencing depression at the time, the cause of which is another story for another time.

Then a thought occurred to me towards the end of my Junior year: why not head back to Europe? Of course, the only European language I knew of was English, so the United Kingdom had to suffice. I had to choose Scotland, since their education system is more reconcilable to America’s, England’s system being more specialised and less flexible.Image

Luckily, I somehow ended up admitted to the University of St. Andrews, where I learned even more about British culture. It turned out that people act extremely counter-intuitively, they never say what they mean, and their actions are always opposite to their actions (e.g.: someone told me that if someone is being a jerk to you at the pub, that means he wants to be your friend). This somewhat explains the hostility that I experienced in London, but it was still something I had to get used to. I also found that said counter-intuitive behaviour has also rubbed off on me, as I have found myself resisting the urge to be snarky about everything I came across.

This is not to mean that I did not meet any nice people there. Quite the opposite: I have made friendships that I hope will last for the rest of my life. Having to leave St. Andrews was a very painful experience, and I felt like I was not ready to leave the UK yet, and thus, I sent off a last minute application the London School of Economics.

It was a brief year doing a Masters, but in that time I also met some really great people, both within the school and elsewhere in my time here. After a few hilarious misadventures on the Boris Bikes, I finally discovered the joy of biking around the city, not to mention discovering secrets, such as holes-in-the-wall, shortcuts, and other things that typical visitor to London would not know about. While I always had to be shown around other cities such as San Francisco, New York, or Hong Kong, London was a city where I could play host.

It is one of the many reasons why it is going to be hard to say goodbye.

Most unfortunately, my Leave to Remain is set to expire in the next two days. It was already a nightmare trying to get my visa extended for my Masters programme, and apparently the government had just scrapped the Post-Study Work Visa, which would have given me the right to work in the UK for two years.

The problem is that getting a workers permit is a Catch 22; to get a permit, you need a job, but very few employers are keen to offer sponsorships, which are costly and inconvenient for them. There’s also the fact that, in tenuous economic situations, people are less welcoming to immigrants, as they make for convenient scapegoats, since they cannot vote.

Without trying to wax political, I will say the following. What makes London so special in the first place is its cosmopolitan populace. There is rarely another place where people from so many different backgrounds and parts of the world live together, work together, and play together. It’s the unique mix of their culture and experiences that make London such a great city and I think Britain’s current policy is a mistake the country can ill-afford.

Nevertheless, I extend my gratitude to everyone I have met on this journey. You really have made my trip special and one that I will not soon forget. However, do not think of this farewell as a permanent one. I will only be gone for a short while. In the words of a great man:  

Thank you very much, everyone.

Video Courtesy of the BBC, posted on Youtube by tyens

Dear Paramount Leader Xi Jinping,

I hope your first year of your Presidency has treated you well. You really were not lying when you said you were going to crack down on corruption, as one of my family’s favourite restaurants, apparently a place where politicians used to frequent, is starting to lose business, no longer propped by trickle-down tax yuan.

Your ‘Chinese Dream’ policy narrative is also something to be admired, and flattering to an American like me, as it seems to bear some resemblance to our ‘American Dream.’ After all, as a country’s economy grows, so do the aspirations of its people. When United States’ economy boomed after the advent of the Second World War, people all of a sudden started developing a taste for cars, diners and drive-in cinemas.


Knowledge is Powerful

As you might know, economic growth is starting to slow, and perhaps it is time to shift China’s economic focus from a production-oriented economy to a consumer-oriented economy. It does kind of get a little annoying after a while, when the rest of the world views your country’s products as shoddy, poison-laden, cheap rip-offs of the real deal, does it not?

I see that you, along with your predecessors, admire America’s culture and its promise of prosperity and you want to learn from it as much as possible. Of course, I also see that you admire it at a distance, as evidenced in your document ‘Concerning the Situation in the Ideological Sphere,’ or simply known as ‘Document No. 9.’ Of course, you would not want China’s dignity to be violated by decadent Western values such as human rights, due process, and constant whining about everyday life, known to us not as democracy, but as #firstworldproblems.

No, we are still speaking English and our language is largely intact. Oh, you mean the hash symbol, and the lack of space between the words? It’s a thing that we Westerners have taken to as of recent, trying to express themselves in less than one hundred and forty characters. Of course, one hundred and forty characters is a lot in Chinese, but thanks to the Latin alphabet, that does not leave much for us. We have become fixated on summing up our concerns, aspirations, ideas, and feelings in bite-sized phrases, otherwise known as hashtags.

You might not be familiar with the concept because your predecessor’s administration banned the use of Facebook, Twitter, and other Western-born social networks in the country. Now, before you throw this letter away and recommend me for the re-education camps (no wait, you’ve done away with those camps, too), please hear me out.

I understand that you have legitimate concerns; Egypt, Iran, and other countries in the Middle East rose up against their rulers through the use of Twitter and Facebook, able to organise meetings and rallies with a mouse and keyboard. Mass meetings and organised movements are scary, aren’t they?

But not to worry. Remember when I mentioned how you are trying to learn from America’s successes and failures? Well, the reason why I take issue with your restrictions on social media is because I believe your administration is missing out on a really good opportunity.

Social media is not used as an instrument of free expression or a mode of protest at large in the United States, but it is used to spy on potential dissidents. You might be aware of its National Security Agency, which has access not only to Facebook and Twitter, but also other applications such as Skype and even iOS. In a world where anyone, even a six year old girl from Bowling Green, Kentucky, can be a terrorist, the United States government utilises the power of social media to track and monitor the activity of potential dissidents. Anything can be read by the government, whether it is plans to fly to Idaho to see family, ‘dirty talk’ texts, or if someone is going to a square to protest.

Think about the opportunities that are being missed by blocking Facebook and Twitter. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of potential dissidents who are waiting to have their voice heard and then get themselves subsequently arrested for their actions, but cannot because they do not have a platform on which to complain.

Making an example out of someone who steps out of line on his timeline or feed would surely scare the rest of his friends list or followers into self-censorship, always watching what they say in case the good ol’ Politburo is listening. That surely is the case back in America, where the NSA is keeping a keen eye and ear on everyone’s activity.

And by everyone, I do not just mean every single US citizen. By everyone, I mean every single citizen of the Western world. The United States keeps tabs on from France all the way to Australia, the NSA maintaining partnerships and agreements with other country’s spy agencies, but sometimes, the NSA does not feel like it needs consent to spy on other country’s citizens, as was the case with Australia.

Think about the potential that is being wasted. I am aware that you have an uppity neighbour that is talking about crazy things like ‘constitutional revisions,’ visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, and the idea that the Diaoyu Islands do not belong to China. Maybe you might not have the luxury of having Japan’s trust to abuse, but there are always other countries that have dealings with them, South Korea for instance. Russia, a friend of yours from the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, might also have some dirt on Japan that you could dig.

In closing, I must confess that, as a foreigner, I do not know much about the country that you have tasked yourself with leading and therefore, feel free to disregard the above if it falls prey to Western bias. However, I do put forward this advice as a mere suggestion for your consideration. A modest proposal, if you will.


An Ignorant American

Image Courtesy of the Public Domain

2013 has been a rather interesting year. I developed a passion for cooking, League of Legends, the 1980s, Cyberpunk fiction, and Doctor Who this year, along with making some incredibly awesome friends along the way while keeping in touch with the friends I already have. I also completed a Masters degree, and while I am not much for bragging, I am the first among my generation in the family to pull that off. I also got a rather interesting insight to business when I was asked to help out a few friends with their start-up for the few months that they were here.

Return of the Prodigal Son- Rembrandt

Return of the Prodigal Son- Rembrandt

Yet, at the same time, while I cannot say that 2013 has been a bad year for me, I cannot help but feel disgusted with myself.

Ever since my British adventures began in 2008, I was practically doing something extremely ironic. While people were escaping Britain to start a new life in America, I was doing it the other way around.

I was not escaping persecution, religious or otherwise, by any stretch of the imagination, but I was still escaping a certain aspect of my childhood that had left me rather scarred. I am not going to publicly shame the guilty by putting out names, but there was a group I used to hang out with in high school. Now, the majority of these people were actually quite nice and welcoming, but a few rotten apples certainly made my social experience a bit of a living hell.

If I went into minute detail about what exactly happened, this post would end up extending into a full-blown novel. What can be said is that two of these people were the de facto pack-leaders and they ruled the group with an iron fist. They would use physical and verbal abuse to keep people in line, and I was often on the receiving end of that.

I left California to sort of start again and make some new friends who were hopefully not so terrible. What got in the way was the fact that I was extremely fixated on the two guys from home, and I wanted nothing more than to exact the most saccharine vengeance on them. I would relish any kind of misfortune upon them that would be related to me through the few friends that I did retain back home.

In short, I held onto my anger and hatred and I continued to let it consume me throughout these last five years. They must be pretty happy that I have allowed that to influence a majority of my behaviour. Everything I did, whether it was lashing out at friends after consuming copious amounts of alcohol, or feeling contemptuous of others for having what I did not have, was because I was unwilling to let go of the past.

It is extremely easy for me to forgive people, but only on the condition that they apologise first and acknowledge their wrongdoing. I cannot bring myself to do the same to those who are not only ignorant of what they are doing, but continue to do so on a regular basis.

Of course, I did tell some people in my final year of my undergraduate studies that I was ready to bury the hatchet, but that was really just lip service. I was saying that because I was still rolling around my own filth, but I wanted validation. In retrospect, it was very sickening and to those I lied to, I apologise profusely.

This time, I am for real. Saint Augustine mentioned something to the effect that hatred is like poison. Whilst volunteering at a homeless shelter a few days ago, I noticed a banner saying that one would not be punished for his anger, but by it.

I had not been hurting the people who had wronged me by continuing to harbour ill will towards them. It was hurting me the most. It not only was taking its toll on the way I was doing things, but it was also taking its toll on my friends, current, and new. It also helped nurture destructive living habits, such as excessive swearing among other things. By allowing these two people to influence every single thought and action only condemns me.

I am not one for New Years’ Resolutions, but I am going to take the beginning of 2014 as a good opportunity to finally say: ‘No more.’ I want to be more forgiving, more loving of others, and less hateful, because it not only helps others around me, it helps me the most. I think what really went wrong before my final year was that I was doing it for others.

Not only would I welcome help from my friends in his endeavour, but I would strongly encourage it. Hold me accountable, remind me of the task at hand, whatever you feel is necessary in helping me stay course, I would be immensely grateful.

That said, I wish everyone a prosperous 2014.

Image Credit- Courtesy of Public Domain

Last time, just a few days before the U.S. Government shutdown was narrowly averted thanks to a timely deal in the Senate, I wrote about how the United States, the dominant power of today is in decline, much like the Roman Empire before it. Despite the fact that the government is going back to work, employees are no longer being forced to take unpaid leave, and tourists can finally visit national parks and historic sites, the United States is still hurtling towards collapse.

John F. Kennedy, arguably one of America's last great Presidents

John F. Kennedy, arguably one of America’s last great Presidents

The American government has expanded to the point where it feels it can do whatever it pleases and it is not being held to account. A sweeping generalisation, perhaps? Well, the federal government is barging in on business that local authorities are better suited to tackle, such as policing, with the dispatch of FEMA to ‘assist’ in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, or the infamous ‘Bridge to Nowhere.’ Part of this is to blame of what people call ‘pork-barrel spending’ or better known as ‘sleaze’ elsewhere in the world. It is unfortunate that most politicians do not represent the people who voted them in as much as the lobbyists, corporations, and special interest groups who fund them.

More often than not, pledges to spend federal government resources on local pet projects, such as research into whether or not fish can breathe air, are often nestled into bigger bills, such as the Protection and Affordable Care Act, or the Violence Against Women Act. Of course, the main feature of those bills would not be to waste federal tax dollars on things the federal government has no business dealing with, but they end up sliding undercover so that measure that would come across as unpopular would end up getting passed. While most people in their right mind would oppose such wanton waste of money, no one is going to oppose providing for protection for women or allowing more Americans the right to healthcare.

There is also the issue of overseas intervention. Traditionally, we did our best to stay out of global affairs, since we considered ourselves above the puerile squabbling of the European powers at the time. George Washington’s parting words before he left his presidency was not to be entangled in alliances with other nations. After all, obligations to alliances were a major part of what sparked the First World War, with Austria-Hungary declaring war on Serbia, an ally of Russia, which declared war on Austria-Hungary, an ally of Germany, which then declared war on Russia, an ally of France, which in turn was an ally of Britain, and so on and so forth.

Yet here we are, in the middle of major alliances such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the United Nations (UN). We have military bases all over the globe and whenever something really awful happens (like in Kosovo, Rwanda, and most recently, Syria), we have to get involved. It is a mentality that was born of the post-Cold War world, with the United States the only superpower remaining in the world.

Some might argue that the reason why we preferred a policy of non-intervention was because we were very weak at the time and did not have the resources to engage in international conflicts. While we are in a much more tenable position than in the days of George Washington, I am of the belief that we still do not have the resources to wage war across the globe and get ourselves involved in every single international dispute.

Firstly, war is expensive. Part of the reason why I am sceptical of taxes is the fact that the majority of the funds do not go towards public services, but towards warfare. One of the few things we lead the world in is military expenditure, boasting more funds than the next twenty seven countries put together. Our foray into Iraq has cost the taxpayer trillions of dollars. Even after losing so much money to a war that had lost the support of the American people and whose success is rather pyrrhic, we are still keen to solve the world’s problems by sending troops over. The surge perhaps worked, but now we have severely lost the trust of the Arab World and that of our European allies as well, with Britain balking at the prospect of joining us in Syria, not to mention the level of influence that Iran has over the newly-installed ‘democratic’ government in Iraq.

While we are on the subject of European allies, nations like Britain, France, and Germany are beginning to reconsider the nature of their relations with the US in light of the fact that our National Security Agency has spied on their governments and their citizens for a prolonged period of time, without our allies knowing. In the Germans’ case, some in their government take this as a message that we cannot trust them as our equals and we need to keep tabs on them as if they were our pets. During the Cold War, Western Europe turned to America because of the fact that they led by example, not by coercion. People are drawn towards America because of the ideals it represents and the promise of opportunity and freedom that it provides. We used to say ‘do as I do’ as opposed to ‘do as I say.’

To those who believe that America is better off not reverting into isolationism, I must remind them that I too do not believe in such a close-minded policy. Yes, we have a responsibility to engage in diplomacy with other nations. It is also correct that trade with other nations leads to prosperity. It does not mean, however, that we have to solve every international problem by sending troops there. For example, we fought the Vietnamese, but now we engage in bilateral relations with them and trade with them. While we are on the subject with Cold War enemies, I am still at a loss as to why we still have an embargo on Cuba. There are plenty of Americans who would love to go on a holiday over there and smoke a Cohiba, I am sure.

Then there is the issue of domestic security. The Transport Security Agency is seeing expansion and are appearing in places that are not even airports, such as bus stops. In light of Edward Snowden’s leaks, the NSA is spying on American citizens, looking over calls on Skype or perhaps even reading this blogpost if they get the chance. While London is constantly being watched by CCTV cameras, America has drones flying over civilian airspace, watching over citizens. Whatever happened to the Fourth Amendment, whereby we cannot be searched without a warrant?

What does the violation of the Constitution have to do with America going downhill? Well, there’s the fact that we are losing sight of what this country stands for, but there’s also one very simple fact: surveillance is extremely expensive.

The economy is still not doing well, despite some reports that unemployment is down and things are beginning to pick up. Many people like to blame big businesses for being irresponsible and using its money in a wanton manner. Little do they know that there is one business that is more irresponsible and more wanton than the biggest corporations: the United States government.

Some people like to refer to tax as theft. Of course, it is the price that we all pay to live in a civil society. Vital services, such as a local police department, fire brigade, and schools need to be provided for, but the US government is providing for far more than that. It is spending money very freely, dumping funds into fruitless wars, foreign aid efforts, and funding big banks. How can people demand more government action against corporations when that very same government is bailing them out?

There’s also the mentality that the government, not the people, is the solution to everything. Thatcher’s quotation about there being no such thing as society is proving very true. We no longer look to our own communities and compassion to tackle problems, we look to the government. Some ObamaCare adverts are even abusing this mentality, by appealing to the 18-25 age group’s tendency to partake in binge drinking (‘free healthcare means more booze’) and sleeping around (‘I can totally get under the sheets because I got free birth control’).

We believe too much in the government and no ourselves. Even in the 2012 Elections, there was the mentality that we are too dumb to conceive of the various problems that the US government faces, so it must remain expanded as it is to deal with them (‘too big to fail,’ anyone?). That is simply not true. Most people do not think of Uncle Sam when they think of the US, they think of Lady Liberty. It is we, the people, who must lead the country, not the special interests, big corporations, or Super PACs. In the words of one of America’s greatest presidents: ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.’

Image Credit- Cecil Stoughton

October 2016
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