Living abroad teaches you many things. It is really one of the only ways to get a deep understanding of a particular culture. And a deep understanding of another culture gives you a better understanding of yourself and your culture. It’s only through experiencing the similarities and differences that you can really understand what culture is.
One big thing that I quickly realized is that the world really is a small place. Even on the other side of the planet you seem to bump into people that have a lot in common with you or have had very similar experiences to what you have experienced. Or have been affected by certain events.
And there are some events that affect the whole world, that change the way we think and our attitudes. These events are usually ones of great tragedy like wars, natural disasters or out-of-the-blue terrorist attacks. These seem to get the headlines at least. There are also slow-moving, but happy events like the creation of the Internet, which, like it or not, has shaped our modern society, for better (cheap convenient goods) or worse (NSA).
A Drink with History
About 5 years ago or so, I took a trip to Korea. Since I was (and still am) a poor guy, I took the cheap overnight ferry ride to Busan from Shimanoseki. It’s an interesting trip if you are traveling on a budget. Basically, you are sleeping on the floor in a large communal room with about 20 or 40 other people. It’s fairly cheap, but if you have the money, you might want to steer clear of this adventure, and just take the plane.
Anyway, I had been walking around on the outer deck and decided to maybe do some reading and then turn in for the night. I was traveling by myself so I had setup my sleeping spot in one corner of the somewhat large sleeping area. It just so happened that I wasn’t sharing the space with too many others. However, there was a group of 3 other travelers sitting around a few drinking glasses.
The oldest of the group, a guy in his 60s, waved my over for a drink. I tried to say no, but he insisted and poured me a glass of milky liquor that I later found out was Makkoli (or Makgeolli depending on who you ask), a Korean drink. We got to drinking and talking in my cave man Japanese. My Japanese was very low at that time and I could only understand bits and pieces.
Everything was going along fairly well until the older man told me he was deaf in his one ear and that I should talk into his other ear. When I asked him why he explained that when he was a child, living in Hiroshima, the shockwave from the A-bomb had hit him from the side and made him deaf. Or at least, that’s what I understood from the conversation.
It seems ridiculous now, but I apologized to him for what happened. He shrugged it off, and the conversation went in a different direction. After taking a while to take all that in I chatted for a little while longer before turning in for the night.
World War II seems so far removed from this era now. Not that we live in a world without war. But, the concept of a complete all-out war is something we have never come close to, my generation living in the States at least. So, to meet and greet someone from that area that touched the history and experienced it for himself, firsthand, was a powerful moment for me.
Nobody Wins at War
It’s very easy to forget what happened 60 or 70 years ago (again, at least for my generation). There are fewer and fewer people that were alive during that time still around to tell the tales. And I am honored to have the opportunity to meet someone who witnessed that event or atrocity, depending on who you ask, and to have him offer me a drink, more honored still.
I’m not going to go into the whole discussion of the use of the A-bomb. That is a very delicate topic that would take a lot of background information to really debate thoroughly. If you are interesting though, Dan Carlin did a very in depth podcast about the morality of the use of the A-bomb in the Second World War. It’s 2.5 hours or so, but well worth it if you are interested in the topic.
However, I do think about all the destruction that came about from essentially a series of misguided events and decisions that escalated to war. All that was lost on both sides, for no real reason. Now Japan and America have a pretty stable alliance (with a few nicks and scratches here and there) that is beneficial to both, so why did it have to spring from such a terrible war?
The more I travel, the more I realize people are people. They generally want to be nice to other people. There are some with mental illnesses that are out of the norm, but generally speaking, nobody is born to fight or kill. Someone or something (e.g. government propaganda, radicalism, etc…) seems to encourage that path.
Go Be Peaceful
During this season that some people celebrate Christmas, which is celebrated a million different ways across the world, its good to remember to take some time and to celebrate and do your part for peace. And that might involve sitting down and sharing a drink with a guy that at a different time or place might have been your enemy.
Peace out everyone and have a happy holidays however you happen to be celebrating.