Class of ’97

I can’t believe it’s here. It honestly doesn’t feel like that long ago when I graduated from high school. I mean, it does feel like a lifetime ago, but I clearly remember the event twenty years ago this month. I remember being excited to be done with high school, to move ahead in life, to begin college, to move out of my parent’s house. Class of ’97, it was something to be proud of. But now it’s here, just like that: our 20-year High School Reunion, held in Washington later this summer. Wait . . . what, how has it been twenty years? Where has the time gone?

I know my classmates and I are all approaching 40 and appear old to this year’s crop of high school graduates, but it is true what they say: time flies when you’re having fun. I did not make my 10-year High School Reunion a decade ago partly because the logistics made it difficult to do so, and honestly, the people I most wanted to see did not end up attending. And, I am still unsure whether I will make this summer’s reunion, but I am still a bit rattled by the fact that twenty years have passed. Will I blink and wake up a decade from now in 2027 to discover that my 30-year Reunion is just around the corner. Is this how life works?

Perhaps I should attend, enjoy it for what it is. A chance to realize that I have done okay in life and humbly show my classmates that they were passed up by the unremembered, quiet, underachievers like me in life. FWHS Class of ’97. Like I said at the time of graduation: you can take a man out of Federal Way, but you can’t take the Federal Way out of the man. Some things don’t change, even with time . . . .

Japanese Immigration to Brazil

I had the chance to visit Brazil for the first time last month. It was a brief business trip which mainly consisted of long days in conference rooms negotiating a business deal in Sao Paulo. The parties involved came from various corners of the world. It was a good experience, but what was even more memorable was the chance I had to visit an old area of the city I first heard about many years ago, while in college, and studying Japanese immigration to Brazil. The area was Liberdade.

When my hosts learned of my knowledge of the vast numbers of individuals in Sao Paulo with Japanese ancestry, they all conspired to take me to the old Japan-town that night for sushi. And it turned out to be extraordinarily good sushi. While my Japanese language skills are much better than my Portuguese skills, I realized upon arriving at the restaurant that my Japanese would be useless, as the employees at the restaurant were just as Brazilian as my hosts. And I would have expected nothing less, given that those with Japanese ancestry in Brazil are three or four generations removed from their ancestors who made the trek across the ocean to a brave new land.

One of those pioneers was named Masatomo Murakami. As part of my senior research paper for my bachelor’s degree in history as an undergraduate student, I had to pick a topic and write about it. That topic for me was Japanese immigration to Brazil, a phenomenon I first learned about while living in Japan and coming across numerous individuals from Brazil of Japanese descent. I met the granddaughter or Mr. Murakami and had access to primary sources. I went back recently to the paper I wrote and relived the amazing story. I ended the paper in 2003 with the following last three paragraphs.

“Masatomo’s idea was to construct a Japanese Buddhist temple on a designated piece of his land. He did not get around to beginning the construction of the enormous project before his death, however. Nobuko, still in good health and living off the money her husband had saved, took up the construction of the temple as her project to complete before she passed on to be with her husband. She knew little of the construction of Buddhist temples and could do little to help, but it reassured her greatly to know the temple was being built where and how her husband desired.

Masatomo Murakami’s legacy lives on in the city and state of São Paulo. Nippakuji, the Japanese name of the recently completed Buddhist temple, lies just southwest of the sprawling city of São Paulo in the rolling, green hills that Masatomo spent so much of his life in. It stands as a witness of a great man that achieved his dreams a world away from his birthplace. Nippakuji, though more of an emblem to the Japanese heritage in the area than a religious structure, stands boldly in a beautiful valley flanked by rising hills, its newness and dominance radiating in the Brazilian sun.

On special occasions, the priests of the Nippakuji temple ring the large bell that stands guard in front of the main gate to the temple. Its tone resonates throughout the countryside, the breeze propelling the sound over the hills to the neighboring community. With most of her family now back in Japan, Nobuko especially enjoys the nights the priests ring the bell. She sits on her porch in the evening warmth down the road from the Buddhist temple made possible by her late husband and imagines the fond years she spent with him. Gradually, both the lingering daylight and echo of the ringing bell fade from Nobuko, carrying with it the memories of her ancestors and the distant land she hardly knew.”

FB at 10

I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing in April 2007. I had my first job out of law school in lower Manhattan and this blog was going strong. Social media was not a term I recall knowing a decade ago and I received an invitation to join a relatively new social network called Facebook. I had recently joined Bebo, a now irrelevant social media site, and had connected with some friends from college and perhaps even shared some photos on Bebo. But Facebook was up and coming in 2007 and I created an account.

Had you told me a decade ago that Facebook would be alive and well in 2017, it would have been hard to believe. If you told me that Facebook would have two billion members, would possibly have influenced the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and would be one of the largest companies in the world by market capitalization, I would have thought you crazy. But here we are, ten years later, and crazy is now our reality. I don’t check the site and my newsfeed every day, and often don’t check it for several days in a row, but I still [*hiding eyes ashamed*] still check it often enough. And guess what: like most people, I scroll through a news feed posted on by the same revolving group of “friends” despite the many other silent “friends” I have on the site.

The question is whether Facebook will be a force to reckon with in 2027. It’s hard to see it going away anytime soon and will have probably reinvented itself at least once, if not twice, in the next decade. As a shareholder of FB stock, I now hope its trajectory continues up and to the right.

Some Months . . .

Fly by with not much to say. The days feel like weeks and the weeks feel like days. We keep getting older.

Fastnacht

As many parts of the world today celebrate the day before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent, I am reminded of a trip I took several years ago to Switzerland, where I used to travel for business regularly. While there in Zug, a city just south of Zurich, in late February, I was informed that I should go explore Fastnacht that evening. “Fastnacht?” I asked, having no idea what my colleagues were referring to. But they encouraged me to brave the cold and experience the Swiss-German version of Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras or Carnival. So I went that night with Melissa, another American colleague I was traveling with, and was blown away with what I saw.

There were people dressed up as animals, people wearing large and grotesque masks, groups of marching bands, brass bands dueling with other brass bands, tents set up to serve beer, strong cheese, pretzels and sausages, and ordinary masses of people, like me, on the sidelines observing the festivities with a cell phone camera wondering how this mayhem got its start. Turns out, Fastnacht goes back centuries in Germanic-speaking Europe and varies by region, with Lucerne and Basel known for their wild Fastnacht parades and events. All in all, it was quite the experience and one I am unlikely to have for years to come.

 

Throwbacks No More

In November 2015, I posted on this site that Salt Lake City finally received a radio station that I could enjoy and look forward to listening to. That station was 94.9 The Vibe. And now, that station no longer exists. I was shocked to learn the other day that my go-to radio station (in the event that I did turn on the radio) had disappeared literally overnight and was replaced with some sound-the-same Top 40 hit station. I don’t know what the motivation for the change was, but find it hard to believe it was market demand because everyone I know appreciated the classic throwback station that was The Vibe. So, for now, I’ll continue to stick with my audiobooks and NPR, but when I want to listen to music in my old car it really is a shame that my favorite option has been eliminated.

Theme Music by Alicia Keys

I realized the other day that I could attach some theme music to a few key points in my life. The reason this occurred to me was because each song that sparks a memory is written and performed by the same artist. That artist is Alicia Keys. Here are three separate moments in my life and how each song fits.

December 2003 – I was recently engaged and took my fiancé back to my hometown in between Seattle and Tacoma during the holiday break. The local radio stations of where we lived at the time were less than ideal when it came to urban, hip-hop and R&B and so I took advantage of better stations when in Washington. One afternoon, while driving to the Tacoma Mall, Alicia Keys’s “You Don’t Know My Name” came on. My fiancé didn’t know the song, but I somehow did. I remember singing it in the car and telling her, “this is one of the best songs on the radio right now.” She just smiled as I sang to her, just like lovers do before marriage.

October 2010 – I was with my wife and other immediate family members on my first and only cruise at the time. One of the activities that particular Carnival Cruise offered was Karaoke, and we all decided to entertain ourselves trying to sing one afternoon as we cruised the Mexican Riviera. Song after song, my siblings sang silly songs to each other and we all had a good laugh. Then it was my turn. I chose Alicia Keys’s “If I Ain’t Got You.” The song was released several years before on the same album as the song mentioned above, so I knew every word by then, exactly what is needed to rock Karaoke. I stood up on stage, no one knowing what I was going to sing, and dedicated the song to my wife. I then sang my heart out, and I’m sure only those in the audience who knew me appreciated it. For everyone else, I am sure I was an earsore. Until this day, that song is the closest thing we have to “our song” and I still sing the song at home often. All my kids know it, which says something about how that song has fit into my life.

November 2011 – As I have mentioned on this blog in the past, one of my all-time favorite places to think and write is on a plane at night, surrounded by strangers, with the lights of small unnamed towns 30,000 feet below. One evening, either coming or going, I was on a Virgin America flight from coast to coast and I was listening to Alicia Keys’s “Un-thinkinable (I’m Ready)” on repeat. I was also scrolling through photos of my phone, which at the time, included many shots of my two young daughters. My wife and I had been discussing whether to have another child and when would be a good time. I was the holdout, feeling that maybe I was satisfied with the two healthy children we then had. But I kept thinking, Alicia’s sweet voice echoing around my head saying, “If you ask me, I’m ready.” I came home from that trip and told her I was ready. In September of the next year we had our third daughter. Alicia was even a finalist for her name. Instead, she ended up with another name beginning with the letter A.

There are other life moments that come to mind where Alicia Keys’s music has played a starring role, including dancing to “My Boo” in Lucerne, Switzerland to listening to her acoustic “Empire State of Mind” as I walked up West Broadway in lower Manhattan. Her voice and talent has been with me. Thank you, Alicia, for the great music and memories.