Thursday, October 30, 2008

Waiting for "Above the School"

Will and I are escaping Halloween. We're leaving town for Nye Beach in Newport. My sister Marti and husband Chuck are coming for the weekend to take care of mom. Mom will be all ready for their visit, new haircut, Halloween t-shirt and orange socks with black cats all over them. She will have fun.

When we go to Nye Beach we stay at "Above the School," a cozy cottage like apartment, Mary Englebert style, above the Montessori School. The greyed ceder shake building with a well rusted gate through which you can see window boxes of red gernaniums is surrounded by purple hydrangeas, bright yellow margarites, iris. We climb the stairs on the side of the building and let ourselves in with the hidden key. No neighbors; the whole space to ourselves. The front room with its colorful chintz futon couch and wood stove welcomes us. Down two steps from the small kitchen area are two bedrooms. The one on the left has a bed carved into the wall with down mattress, just enough for one person to curl up into, like a squirrel in a nest. The bedroom we pick has a big feather bed with iron headboard. The pillows and comforters are all down. It's usually dark when we get there. It's a favorite thing for me to wake up as the morning light streams through the white organza curtains from windows which fill one and a half walls. I roll over and open my eyes in the room which is small enough that the bed seems nestled into the view, coastline, all the way around.

Will always laughs at me because wherever I go, I always completely unpack and put things away in drawers as if I'm moving in. I hide the suitcase from sight. In New York, the first thing I did even before unpacking was to pick up a bouquet of flowers for the room. Here on Nye Beach, I usually go to a specialty store the next morning and buy some handmade soap with lavender essential oil, and a bag of China Rose tea from the tea shop, and make myself a fresh pot of tea each day to go with a good book. There's a teapot there because I bought one at a Newport second hand store for a very good price and left it there last time for all of us who share "Above the School" as a special hideaway.

Will and I bring books. Will usually brings non-ficgtion. I usually pick something very Victorian English, a mystery or Jane Austin spin off. But this time I am taking Becoming Madame Mao by Anchee Min. It's a "true novel." Anchee Min fleshes out the characters with details of their feelings and lives so that the reader becomes lost in the characters. No objectivity. This "true novel" is a well researched story of Mao Tse Tung's third wife, known to us as Jiang Ching, former actress and known to the West as one of the infamous Gang of Four, responsible for the bloody Cultural Revolution. I am intrigued with the protagonist who is referred to in the beginning only as "the girl," fatherless, raised by a single mother. "The girl" rebels against having her feet bound and throws them off as her feet begin to fester and swell and rot. Eventually, the mother must leave the girl with her grandparents, and disappears from her life forever. The girl is taught opera by her grandfather who has no grandsons to pass his knowledge to and is given a name Yunhe. I have followed her through her Shanghai days as Lan Ping, Blue Apple, her men, her illusive brush with fame.

I like the device Anchee Min uses where the point of view changes continuously. It doesn't get in the way. It imitates human relationship, going from one layer to another and then back again. I will take with me to Nye Beach Mao's young third wife, named on her wedding night Jiang Ching, Green River, by her husband Mao Tse Tung. The wife of the most powerful, known man in China, Jiang Ching lives in a cave hidden from Chiang Kai Shek as well as the Japanese, washing dishes, sewing in the background as her husband and his chosen comrades meet for hours and at all hours of the night. In her words, "I am playing a strange role, a queen who is a maid."

Will has put up with me this past month playing along with my questions, "What do you think we'll do when we get there?"

We will walk on the beach,"

"We can go to the gallery, maybe a movie?"

I go on the internet to see if there is anything at the Performing Arts Center. It's the Red Octopus Theater presenting Chekov's "Cherry Orchard." We enjoy live performance and the Center is justa short walk down the road from "Above the School" toward the beach .

"Can we go for tea at the tea shop?"

"Of course. And Friday, we'll go to Arr Restaurant right next door."

I'm excited because the food is wonderfully cooked, always changing, organic and fresh. Soft classical music plays in the background but the host and her husband the cook carry on lively conversation with their steady stream of local and out of town customers, New York style. We know so much about them. I wonder, did they buy their daughter the car? Did they visit Monte Rey again? Are they voting for Obama since they had wanted to impeach Bush.

"There's that little cafe where the tables are outside and there's a big rock fire pit and musicians too," I say.


"And to the wharf to see the sea lions?"

Tonight is the night before the day we take off! We hear it'll rain. Luckily rain is one of my favored weather. Everything smells better in the rain. But if it doesn't rain, and stays blue skies, we will be just as happy! I imagine the ride through the Oregon Coast Range, the maple turning fall colors against the dense evergreen.

Linda Yapp who owns "Above the School" is the teacher of the Montesori school below. "Above the School" once was her apartment. She eventually bought it, and kept it for sentimental reasons even after she married and moved to a house. Because she is a teacher, she gives teachers, even retired ones, a 10 percent discount. Otherwise, for everyone, the first night is full price, but the following days are less. I am posting this because some of you might be on the Oregon Coast sometime, and now you will know how to access this homey place, the sweetest secret in Nye Beach.

WE'RE HOME!! The weather was perfect! Every walk on the beach was either calm weather or with those gusty breezes which refresh and plays with your hair. And we read with rain spattering against the window, cozy, drinking tea and looking out at the grey seascape with white curls for waves. We saw a community performance of Chekov. It was fun. You know how it is, the performers enjoy themselves, and one can't be picky about ages and costumes. So the actor playing the eldest daughter was the same age as her elderly mother, and Will got confused whether her suitor was in love with the mother instead. (He was just flattering her to sell her cherry orchard.) And the director came out in the dance scene in his 2008 clothes and haircut and I had a moment where I thought Chekov had included visitors who stepped out of a time machine and no one noticed. Perhaps he was doing an Alfred Hitchcock thing where the director walks through the movie. But while Hitchcock's walk through was so subtle, one couldn't help focusing on the director who just stood there, framed by the curtain, and I'm afraid I missed "the action" which went on downstage. Daylight savings time happened during our trip so it did seem like a time warp. It gets dark so early now. Before the trip, dark by 7-ish. Tonight dark at 5:30 pm.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Tick Tock Tick Tock

I have bad techno luck. I was on My Space and one day, they no longer accepted my password. Friend Tom tried to help then disappeared . . . forever. I got on Facebook. My friends who forced me to for the purpose of easy meeting notification said it was easy. Facebook changed their format and my computer couldn't handle the change. I have a new computer, but again, there is a glitch between us that does not allow me to respond to Facebook friends. And what the heck is a superpoke? Now blogspot says I have to have a google account to continue accessing my blog -- and you guessed it. When I tried to start a google account, the little yellow square flashes the message that it cannot recognize my present email and I'm stuck on page one no matter how many times I may push "next."

So I think the demise of is imminent. If I disappear, I will try to rise up somewhere else and try to keep my name. Until then, I'll just keep trying to get on blogspot the regular way without the google address.

I'm bummed. They seemed so friendly.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Joo the Blogger says Please Vote!

JOO the Blogger votes Obama!

Forgive me for the "corn" but I've been wanting to say that for the past week. When Angry Asian Man advertised "Cho the Plumber" t-shirts, I was thinking about making a "Joo the Blogger votes Obama" tee for myself.

My last name, Joo, is pronounced Joe. I remember complaining about the spelling to a couple of sanseis with the same last name because so many mispronounced my last name Jue. They were so lucky their name was spelled Jio.

"I wish we spelled it Jio too," I said.

"No you don't," said one.

The other joined in, "Yeah. They mispronounce it anyway. They call us J-ten."

Sunday, October 26, 2008

To End the Vietnam War

The three women walked up to sit in front of the audience. Ms. Dang, regal in stature and demeanor, her translator Ms. Huyen and young Ms. Tran whose age is indiscernible. She was without legs, and her rounded face and rose-like complexion made her look much younger than her 22 years. The three women spoke softly without microphones. They traveled far from Vietnam to speak to the American people on the fourth Vietnam Agent Orange Justice Tour on behalf of victims of the Dow and Monsanto chemical companies’ Agent Orange used during the war in Vietnam by American forces. The victims represent the three million affected in Vietnam, tens of thousands of American veterans and Canadians also exposed to the chemicals, and many Vietnamese Americans as well as the second and third generations who continue to be victimized by Agent Orange. As Ms. Dang says, although her health has been greatly weakened, she feels a great commitment to travel and speak on behalf of the many victims who cannot even move or speak.

Accompanying them was a US organizer for the Vietnam Agent Orange Relief and Responsibility Campaign who pointed out that the chemical companies used Agent Orange as a defoliant even though they knew that its toxicity would kill humans, that it would get into the chromosomes. They knew that the dioxin was not necessary but, as she said, it was greed and racism that allowed them to create a quick and dirty agent. “They didn’t care about the time and temperature of the materials. They didn’t care about the US
and Canadian soldiers using the agent. They didn’t care about the Vietnamese.”

Amy Pincus, local activist who was videoing the evening gave the audience some chilling news. She spoke up and informed the audience she also was a victim of Agent Orange. OSU professor Mark Newton was given Agent Orange as late as 1975 and it was sprayed as a defoliant over clear-cut areas all over the Northwest. She explained that the toxin bonds to the sediment, that it is carried through the water systems.

The speakers informed those assembled that although there have been some movement, justice is at a stalemate. Dow has only cleaned one hotspot. Although the Vietnamese government and the people do whatever they can to support the millions with their plight -- health care, day care (because of the severe birth deformities of the second generation where most are trapped in their bodies and beds and must be cared for in every way), it is far from enough. On the US front, veterans affected by Agent Orange and their families are stuck in bureaucracy having to prove their eligibility for help. Their children and grandchildren affected by Agent Orange are not covered.

I am posting this because it is something I felt would help the US, all of us, begin to leave the war behind. The speakers ask for very little although the need is great. They ask that Americans bring this issue to the forefront of our legislature and President to push for what would be like a Marshall Plan and which covers the American veterans and the Vietnamese Americans and the victims in Vietnam and the land which has been affected. Once again, it is the former enemies who carry the banner for the American veterans who have until very recently been shoved into a closet by their own country, veterans who have become the scapegoats of the shame caused by the disasterous policies of the Vietnam Conflict. Find out more at

I have learned that there is only one way to leave the war behind and that is to deal with the unfinished business rather than burying the past. An aging generation of Vietnam veterans has spent a lifetime of isolation and non-support. It is a sad statement that for many veterans of the Vietnam war, the first people who acknowledged their suffering and loss, and who welcomed them back into the human family were their former enemies. That is where my own first steps to leave the war began about fourteen years ago -- led by a team of veterans who returned to Vietnam with World Team Sports.

Asia Society put the World Team Sports venture called the Vietnam Challenge on the Internet for school children all over America to access January, 1998. I decided to get my students online for the Vietnam Challenge which brought together veterans from both sides of the Vietnam war to bicycle the length of Vietnam. For many US vets, this was their first time back and some went with anxiety and fear in their heart returning to a land where they had lost their youth and belief in humanity. The team was comprised by men and women, able bodied and disabled. Some were blind and rode in bicycle carts. Some were blind and rode tandem. Some had no legs and rode hand-cycles. Before the winter break, Jefferson students emailed questions to the Vietnam Challenge vets to answer at their various stops along the way. Mildly curious, sixth and eighth grade students logged on after their winter break to read the first words written by the World Team Sports veterans.

I learned the hard way, breaking down in front of my class when I read the emailed journalizing from the American vets, to read by myself after school hours. Their raw honesty broke through feelings which had been buried deep inside me and I couldn’t hold back the tears. For the duration of the Challenge, that’s what I did each evening, sit in front of my computer, sobbing out loud. I wasn’t the only one. Many of us teaching at Jefferson were youth during this era, and most of us were part of the Peace Movement. The Vietnam Challenge cyclists took us all back to our youth. For me, the deaths of Sammy, Chuck, Jim, high school and college classmates who died in ’68, ’69 spurred me to join the peace movement. I remember walking alone downtown at night after a phone call about Sammy Rodriguez dying the first month of combat in Vietnam and turning to the refuge of the First Methodist Church. The church door was locked. I don’t know why that became the focal point of my anger. It somehow represented the nation’s leaders and the policies which had kept us in that war for the duration of my college years, and now Sammy, the first of his family to go to college, drafted out of his senior year when his grades suffered from one bad term, and dead that summer. It was wrong and no one was there to listen. I felt betrayed -- by church, by country -- and fell into a dark hopelessness. The only light, which I grasped onto eventually, was activism in the anti-war movement and the Asian American movement. The Peace Movement in Eugene was city-wide, based both on campus and in community. Returning Vietnam Vets and university students as well as the community formed the leadership. The funny thing is I don’t know how it ended. It just kind of petered out one day with news reports of baby airlifts as hundreds of children were taken out of Vietnam and away from their families. It’s a fog to me still. We just returned to business as usual, cramming everything down inside. And the veterans were swept into a corner with yesterday’s news.

Twenty years later, in my classroom after hours through the Vietnam Challenge, I came face to face with Vietnam again. The students were surprised by the flood of emotion coming through the Internet as US veterans shared generously and honestly their deepest emotions with the young people. Each question was answered with such care and thoroughness. The Challenge veterans were not just the young people’s eyes on a beautiful peaceful country, which had come far from war. The Challenge veterans became their time machine transporting them to a harsh time, which divided their nation, parent against children, brother against brother.

The email conversation between the veterans and American students evolved into a friendship. The veterans were very open and honest with their feelings and all of it poured out. Students had favorites: Jose Ramos who called them “little brothers and little sisters” and cared about their future; Wayne Smith who answered each question with such respect for the youth; Artie Guerrero who promised Jefferson students that he would visit them on his hand cycle. There was “Elvis” a Vietnamese man whose goal was to make 1000 American friends. We told him he had made 530 at Jefferson.

My students learned from the cyclists that this was the first time they felt embraced, welcomed and forgiven, and that feeling of Grace came from their former enemies, not their fellow citizens. They had not been welcomed home, yet, to America.

A student in my class demanded, “Why did the veterans feel that they weren’t welcomed home?” Teachers had to grapple with some tough questions.

The students were also struck with what Jose Ramos wrote, that he learned that Vietnam was a country, not a war. That phrase began the conversation, “what can we do to end the war in our own hearts?”

Twelve students decided they would study Vietnam further. I asked them students to ask 100 or more students in the lunchroom “what do you think of when I say Vietnam?” They came back with the answers -- war, hate, and killing. Only a couple said family or friend because they themselves had family members or friends who were Vietnamese.

Clearly, there was a need if we were to finally leave the war behind.

I recruited a graduate student from Vietnam to meet with the twelve. Their mentor was an international student from Hue named Khoi Truang, gentle, kind, articulate. They learned that almost half of the country was born after the war. The majority of the population was young adults and children. For these people, born after the war, the war that is known as the American War has been over for decades. My students learned that many Americans visited Vietnam. Many of those who visited were Vietnam veterans who were welcomed, much as the cyclists, and who received some kind of closure by doing so. Vietnam was a country of trade and tourism.

Eventually, these twelve students wrote papers about what they learned and studied and decided to organize a Peace Symposium: Vietnam is a Country not a War, inviting speakers from many perspectives: Vietnam veterans, international students from Vietnam, Vietnamese Americans and to present their own findings by reading their papers to those who attended. They decided the symposium should be open to the public.

To their amazement, Asia Society based in New York City wanted to support them by flying in two very special speakers -- Artie Guererro and their favorite bicyclist, Jose Ramos. Artie would be able to keep his promise to show them his hand-cycle.

The afternoon before the conference several eighth graders with hand painted signs went to the airport to greet the veterans. Guerrero and Ramos were met with banners, bouquets and excited students. Ramos said to the TV cameras that if this had happened thirty years ago, his life would have been different.

The students had arranged for the Vietnam veterans and local vets to sit on the small stage to tell their stories. Before they began some students had written some thoughts they wanted to share and one by one stood to say a few words to honor the vets. “Mr. Schwartz, I’m glad you came home safe and taught me math.” “Mr. Dawes, I think you’re a hero for returning to Vietnam to plant an orchard of peach trees where bombs had destroyed everything and for starting an irrigation project,” “Mr. Sixkiller, thanks for coming home and teaching me more about my Native American culture.” “This is for Jose and Artie, I really admire you for all you did. I’m glad you went on the Challenge and came to our Peace Symposium.” Some more students were moved by the moment to stand and give their own impromptu thanks. “Mr. Jorgenson, you’re the best vice principal and I’m glad you came home safe.”

From that moment all carefully laid plans for the symposium went out the window. There would be no staying by the schedule. The veterans were very touched and each responded, some telling their stories, stories they said they had not even been able to tell their family yet. One told about what he had perceived as his act of cowardice for thirty years, but now sees it was an act of survival. Another told about the survivor guilt deadened by alcohol and the loss of everything he held dear from that. Mr. Jorgensen told them that even today, he is unable to sleep without a light on at night. Jose Ramos read his poems emboldened by middle schoolers who visited the night before and demanded “You’ve got to read these tomorrow to all the kids. These poems are really good!” Artie Guerrero told of that horrible night when so many died, about the person he killed because he had to to live only to find she was a woman. He continued that there was one young American kid he still had not been able to put to rest in his tormented mind, but he believed he could do it now with their patience. While he wheeled back and forth on his wheelchair, looking at a distant spot no one could go, the hundred middle schoolers crowded into the small theatre sat hushed giving him his space. After several minutes, he said firmly, “There, I’ve put him down.” As one student said as he left the room, “Wow. This has been really intense!”

There were several forums where the topic was present-day Vietnam. The international speakers were gracious and shared stories of a peaceful, growing and proud country, the country of their friend Khoi. Jefferson students who had researched Vietnam read their papers in the symposium, papers covering various topics of interest -- Cities of Vietnam; Ritual; Foods and Festivals; Ongoing Scars of War; Vietnam Challenge.

Students and staff learned that day after all the other perspectives that even though we successfully presented Vietnam as a Country not a War, the war still continued. A generation of Vietnamese bore heavy casualties. A lot of the land was still affected. As for American veterans, according to Guerrero, 58,000 veterans died in Vietnam and another 60,000 have died since by 1998 through war related causes. More importantly, everyone learned that in giving the Vietnam veteran a forum with a young audience to carry the stories on and in giving the veteran some respect, something important happened. Jose Ramos cautions us from using the word “healing.” He would prefer to say the talking and respectful listening allowed people to “move on.”

The Vietnam Peace Symposium went on each year for the next several years until one teacher and school secretery argued about the word “peace” complaining to the organizing teacher who carried it on. It was 2002, the dawn before the war in Iraq, and suddenly the word peace had become politicized once again. The two disgruntled staff demanded that there be a voice that wanted war. The secretary sent her husband to the panel that included local Arab community speakers to confront them using stereotypes about their country as they tried to share their own real experiences. The symposium persevered one more year but eventually stopped with the weirdness war brings. Over the five or six year that it continued, Jefferson’s friend Jose Ramos returned each year for three years on his own dime. His story is Jefferson’s story also.

He will write a book someday. So out of respect for that I’ll wait until Jose and I talk before I write about his friendship with Jefferson, about the play he inspired, about the "milagro" which happened here, about how he left this town a better town and more prepared. The war in Iraq goes almost as long as the Vietnam War. With this preparedness, the anti war movement and community has not forgotten the soldier and have welcomed home soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan. The movement has also stood side by side with families of soldiers, some badly injured, who made the difficult lonely choice to resist. Small groups have stood vigil even through the rain on the corner or marched en masse, filling the streets to end the war and bring our young people home, and lobbied our congressional delegation to vote for funding for veterans benefits and support.

Also we have sent 500 yellow postcards to Washington DC to commemorate a day to finally Welcome Home the Vietnam Veteran, a campaign which Jose Ramos bicycled across the country to spread having caught that vision at Jefferson Middle School. George Bush did not sign the bill introduced by the Congressional delegation of CA and passed by House and Senate.
But the movement Jose Ramos began, the March 30 Welcome Home, Vietnam Veteran Day did not die on George Bush's desk. Check out the website and see how you can organize one at your own home. Welcoming home the soldier of the Vietnam War is not a yes or no to the long and destructive war which split our generation in half. It is to take our share of the burden and responsibility and bring "the family together" by showing the love, respect and acknowledgement of sacrifice the veterans have always deserved.

A middle school and a veteran from Whittier, CA led our community’s journey out of the Vietnam War, but with the 4th Vietnam Agent Orange Justice Tour I am reminded how long the road out of war, how long the road that victims of the war have had to travel alone unless we keep learning. Please educate your friends and neighbors about the unimaginable scope of suffering caused by Agent Orange in Vietnam, the people and the land. Millions. At home, the Vietnam veterans’ families and the veteran have had to fight for every bit of benefit they had earned. The panel educated us how important it is for the veteran's descendents to also receive benefits. Every victim of Agent Orange is not recognized by the government and suffer without benefits. I ask everyone to become educated and write your senators and congressional delegation to hold the US chemical manufacturers responsible and to hold the US government responsible to provide significant and meaningful compensation to the Vietnamese and significant medical and coverage for the Vietnam veterans AND their descendents.Please support the work of the Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange.

As part of an peace movement, I believe our work does not end with the last helicopter out of Vietnam or Iraq or Afghanistan. All of our work begins after the soldiers come home, between nations, to fix what has been devastated and support those who have suffered in all countries involved. The burden should not be shouldered only by the grassroots people and service organizations, by the medical community, the veteran and families. It must also be shouldered by the governments who waged the war and corporations who profit from them.
"from Outside the Belly" was also known as "TBAsian" from 2008-2010. Thank you for reading.

from Outside the Monster's Belly

from Outside the Monster's Belly
. . . following Earth instead (Rakaia River, site of Salmon Ceremony, photo credit Ruth Koenig)


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Eugene, Oregon
I am a citizen of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe. I am a Nikkei descendant sansei (third generation);retired teacher, involved in the Winnemem tribal responsibility to Water, Salmon, and our belief that the Sacred is our Teacher. Working locally for human rights and supporting youth leadership.