I’m tired of people’s stupid reactions to the Japan earthquake

betty ming liu Inspiration, Writing how-to's 23 Comments

I wish that following news from Japan did NOT involve following American public reaction to the disaster. Of course, the racists are beyond evil; I’ll get to them in a second.

But I’m also troubled by the regular folk who are yammering about “taking stock” and “counting their blessings.”

Now that they’ve seen the horrific decimation of Japanese lives and property, some Americans are re-evaluating their own situations. They’re grateful that an earthquake didn’t rock our side of the planet into a tsunami. They watch video of the wounded, homeless and dead — and suddenly feel an appreciation for the homes, jobs and families that they’d been complaining about 10 minutes ago.

So what’s wrong with their epiphany? Well, here’s my pet peeve: Why did it take someone else’s extreme tragedy for these people to realize what they have? Where are their brains — and hearts — that they didn’t feel blessed every single waking day? By any global standard, we Americans enjoy an obscene amount of abundance. We take much for granted.

Which leads to my second pet peeve: Are we so self-centered that we can only respond to Japan’s nightmare in comparison to our own belly buttons? I’m the first one to admit that I love talking about myself. But what’s going on overseas exists apart from my obsessive navel-gazing. The issue demands my attention — and respect — on its own terms.

Given the situation, I think there are only three decent responses:

  1. give money to help the relief effort
  2. keep up with the latest news
  3. pray

Of course, the ignorance of the annoying people is nothing compared to the truly ugly Americans. AngryAsianMan.com explains it all in his rant, “hey you f@#king facebook idiots, the tsunami is not payback for pearl harbor.”

Watch out for the benign racists too. I met one the other day at my gym’s morning fitness class. It was the smiling instructor. She approached me after the workout and asked, “Did you have anyone in Japan?”

Whaaaat? It took me a minute to register her question. Oh, I get it — she sees my little Asian face and assumes I’m Japanese….

“Uh, no,” I said, frowning. “I’m Chinese.” As I left her, did I imagine that she seemed disappointed? By the way, the instructor was a Caribbean-American woman of color. Would I ever walk up to her and ask, “Do you have anyone in Libya? Or Haiti?”

Well, I’m done venting. I’d like to close by directing you to Gil Asakawa, a Japanese-American in Denver. On his NikkeiView.com blog, he has a superb reflection on what it was like being a kid in earthquake-y Japan (before his family immigrated to the U.S.). His thoughtful list of resources includes where to donate, which I’m using as one of my guides.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am going back to googling, texting my donations via cell phone and listening to the radio.

More on my news sources:

  • National Public Radio is doing great stuff — and growing as a news organization. It’s actually hiring reporters. But its management needs work, according to a March 14 New York Times story.
  • Pew Research Center just released its “State of the Media” report. More than ever, people are news addicts. But they’re getting their fix online — to the point where websites are the only growth segment of the news industry.
  • Speaking of online, you can search Google for just the latest updates. Here’s where I’m going for news:

Pick a time frame for your Google searches. Click on "Latest" for breaking news.



Comments 23

  1. Wow. I’m relieved to say I have not heard that stupid Pearl Harbor thing until now. Your instructor’s question reminds me of this (white) guy who works at this Asian Fusion restaurant I frequent. He’s married to a Chinese woman who also works there. He’s a nice guy, but sometimes he just seems to be trying too hard. He speaks Chinese, but one time he tried it on an Asian customer who didn’t respond. The customer said “I’m Japanese.”

  2. I arrived in Seoul on the day the earthquake hit beneath the ocean, close to the City of Sendai. I’ve been to Sendai before; I have friends who live there and in Fukushima Prefecture where my daughter spent a year abroad. We’ve heard from one of four families we know in the immediate area. We are holding our collective breath as we wonder about the other three. We remain hopeful for these families though a dark logic: Japanese people have lived with earthquakes and devastation in their history. If any nation knows how to pick themselves up off the floor after nature has delivered a knockdown punch, I’d say “Japanese Resillence” will rise up off the floor before the count to ten. Of course, Sendai and other nearby residents are facing more than just a knockdown. They are engaged in a twisted version of Xtreme Boxing of no rules! The tsunami and the fires in the nuclear reactors aim to destroy a community’s will to live. It feels more like the ‘gods of vengeance’ are at work here–something more cruel that divine sport where some god thought it would be fun to watch Sisyphus push a rock up a hill for an eternity.

    Anyway, in Seoul, the situation in Japan has an immediacy that you can’t get in California or New York–unless you are a New Yorker or Californian with personal ties to this island nation. Even Seoul isn’t on top of the mess but safely linked to the Asian continent. One Seoul resident said to me–after talking disparagingly about Japanese colonialism–felt oddly protected by Japan because Japan acts like a buffer: it feels the brunt of shifting tectonic plates beneath the Pacific Ocean. Korea occasionally gets a shivering shake and is spared the tsunami. But it lives with its own nemesis–the nightmares of a nuclear holocaust.

    What the media isn’t covering is the effect of an estimated 450,000 people on the move. What’s it like when 450K people are displaced from their homes and jobs and loved ones and need food, clothing, and shelter somewhere–anywhere–else? I’m writing from Austin, Texas where 7,000 or so Louisianians fled after Hurricane Katrina. Overnight, our city population grew by ten percent. City life became surreal in a flash because 7,000 temporary residents were like imposing family members suddenly down on their luck and needing a helping hand! With no other place to go and nothing to do but sit around and wait–for their homes to dry out, or businesses to call them back home for work, or to bury their dead. The kids were pushed into local schools where some kids were ridiculed for their rags and ‘country ways.’ You know how kids are…

    Seoul is a short two hour flight from Narita Airport. I was on my way to visit family in a seaside town about two hours south of Tokyo when the US State Department scared me off. Actually they said, “Don’t go!” So I remained on the sidelines watching events on television and wondering about octogenarian in-laws competing with newly arriving visitors for food, public space, a seat on the train, the last bottle of bottled water: ugh! The price of airline tickets, I was told, skyrocketed. Prices doubled quickly. I don’t know what the going rate to fly round trip is. And what happens if you arrive in Tokyo on one day but learn your flight’s been cancelled when you want to leave? I’m sure one will feel some level of panic.

    Those fortunate to get out of Japan–by plane or boat to Korea–competed with others for a “room in the inn.” I was told that hotel occupancy was way up during a time of year when rooms should have been readily available. One heard more Japanese spoken on the streets of Seoul as time passed while news coverage on CNN International continued to loop images of Sendai as a city of toothpicks, toy cars, and sludge spilling over a high wall. By the end of the week, the photos took on an artful quality–catastrophe as photogenic art. I couldn’t help but imagine the next issue of National Geographic magazine on news stands soon. While Americans struggle to distinguish a Liu from a Kim or a Yamaguchi or a Nyugen or a Carpio, I was thinking in Seoul about profiteering. Which is more angering?

    I flew out of Incheon Airport and over the mountain ranges of Japan where the blustering tailwinds spanked all fleeing airplanes shaking my cool soft drink into my lap. A napkin or two (and a prayer or two) quelled the vengeful gods sufficiently, ending my brief “suffering” after about one and one half hours of flying time out of Korea. Notwithstanding scary ruminations about the altitude of airborne nuclear contaminants in the thin atmosphere at 39,000 feet, I was quickly putting distance between me and the chaos I just flew over. But, in truth, i couldn’t stop thinking about my in-laws who are pacing themselves for the long haul of healing and rebuilding their homeland.

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  3. Betty you said the following: “As for this ucla student, she is an idiot. anyone who threatens her is an even bigger idiot. but her enduring problem is that clearly, she didn’t understand that WHATEVER YOU POST ON THE INTERNET, STAYS ON THE INTERNET. forever.
    so alexandra wallace, good luck finding a job when you graduate. honey, your name will be linked forever with anti-asian racism and general youthful stupidity. i ALWAYS remind my students to never, EVER post anything they’ll regret — even if it’s just a tweet, fb status feed or comment on someone’s blog. social media will come back to haunt all of us!”

    I Say: Alexandra doesn’t have a thing to worry about concerning her employment opportunities when she graduates. First of all she is White and a woman, as well as a very attractive woman too, she’s already backtracked by saying she doesn’t know what made her make that video and wished she could take it back if she could. AND you must remember white people are very forgiving when someone of their own kind says “they’re sorry” about some stupid thing they did or said. Look at John Imus and his comments about the black female college basketball players looking like as he put “nappy headed hos” yet he’s still making millions on WABC radio to this day. Another one? How about Dr. Laura Schlessenger and HER racist comments? She has book deals in the works & may even return to radio.. Why am I not surprised… I could give further examples of this but those examples should be sufficient. In short Alexandra will not have any problem getting hired at CHASE, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs or any other company once she walks through the door… I would love to see a follow up of her life 10 years from now, I bet you she will be A-OK :)

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      you make good points and you may be right on this one, annon. guess we’ll just have to wait and see. but quite frankly, i feel we all have better things to do than spend even another second thinking about alexandra wallace…..

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    kristin, i couldn’t make your dance performance but so wonderful that you did this. and christina, thanks for checking this out.

    there are so many ways to connect with japan. i’d like to link you now to the twitter of mike yamashita. he’s a shooter (aka photojournalist) for national geographic. he was recently in assignment in japan. and his tweets really moved me. very poignant.

    btw, that instructor at the gym class recently asked me again what my nationality is. when i reminded her that i wasn’t japanese, something shut down in me. she meant no harm but i haven’t been back to her class since.

    some people just don’t get it. maybe some day i’ll explain to her how i feel. but i also have reached the point where i don’t have the time or interest in setting the record straight with every person i meet. life is too short and i have too much to do.

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