Tag Archives: Brexit

Brexit, Burdock, Geisha, and Beans

As I stood in the bathroom at 3am stamping my feet to try and get my Restless Legs to go away, I noticed the labels on Lynn’s toiletries.

While I respect all countries’ national pride, does every EU country really have to have precautions about not using more than a pea-sized dab of toothpaste provided in their own language on the back of toothpaste tubes?  Is the swallowing of too much toothpaste a menace to global health?

This is probably one of the things that drives Brexiteers crazy.  Brexit—Britain’s exit from the European Union.

In the US, we have watched, enthralled and horrified, as the country of our mother tongue and many of our ancestors rips itself apart in a very undignified, un-British manner. I imagined some Leaver—as Brexit advocates are called—standing in his tiny damp English loo right now, glaring at his toothpaste tube and muttering, “Bloody bureaucrats in Brussels ….”

The day was hot and humid again.  Lynn and I walked to the shopping district for one of our favorite travel activities, shopping.  We usually have some item in mind we want to buy as a gift. Something that provides the excuse to go shopping. I was looking for a knife for Vince, and Lynn wanted sake for Richard.  But the purpose of shopping was really to experience what stores and products were like in another country. We hardly ever end up buying what we are purportedly looking for, and almost always buy something we didn’t know existed until we saw it on a shelf.

Here are some sights we saw along the way.  This sign, advertising “Rojetta by Snob.”

I hope it’s a bad translation and someone’s name isn’t actually Snob.

Samurai movie posters.

Me with the Japan Rail mascot, I think.  It must have been 100 degrees Fahrenheit inside that costume.

This lovely deco building was kitty corner from Takashimaya, our destination department store.

Takashimaya is like Harrods’ in London or KaDeWe in Berlin—floor after floor of luxury goods you cannot afford.  But Takashimaya also had quotidian items like slippers and housedresses.

There were sections of tea pots and chop sticks.  I didn’t get too close with my camera because no one but me thought this was remarkable.

The sweets section was so vast I had a moment of panic thinking we wouldn’t be able to find our way out of it.

We spent most of our time in the packaged foods section.  Beans were big.

So were dried fish.  Please never buy Manta Ray fins.  The way they are harvested is barbaric.

I bought bonito flakes, red beans, and burdock root, which Taro had told us is referred to as “no doctor” root because of its medicinal properties.

Outside, there were flocks of young people—Japanese? Chinese? Korean?—dressed as geishas and snapping selfies.  It must be fun to come to Kyoto for the weekend and play dress up.

What, exactly, are geisha?  I went through a geisha phase a few years ago.  I read the 1997 bestseller “Memoirs of a Geisha,” by Arthur Golden, a white man born in Tennessee.  I read the 2002 memoir, “Geisha, A Life,” by Mineko Iwasaki, an actual geisha active in Kyoto in the 60s and 70s.  Golden’s novel was supposed to be based on her life; he interviewed her but apparently she was dissatisfied with his rendition and her book is meant to set the record straight.  Her book is heartbreaking and intriguing for what she implies but doesn’t say directly.

We were off to spend the afternoon at the Yasaka Jinga Shrine.  Or was it the Chion-in Temple?  Or the Shoren-in Temple? They’re all part of the same large complex.  We stopped to refresh ourselves at a café near the entry gate.

I’ll tell you this for free—burdock root may have medicinal properties but it is not a good substitute for French fries.  We sat gnawing on burdock fries washed down with non-alcoholic beers, then sauntered on.

Timing is everything.  If we had had regular fries we might have missed seeing this Shinto wedding.  The large hat covers the bride’s horns. Yes, horns.  You know us women, we’re devilish like that.

Deserving Immigrants

The next day I would go to Oxford for some meetings with Oxfam people and to hang out with Lynn and Possum.

I had to leave the house early but first I let in the cleaners into the flat.

People in the States have asked me what Brits thought about Donald Trump.  Typically, I would meet a new person and he or she would make small talk while looking down at the ground, then after 10 minutes broach The Topic.

“Sooo … what do you think of your new president?” They weren’t sure where I stood, so they posed an open-ended question.

When I expressed my opinion, they invariably let out a sigh of relief that I wasn’t one of “those Americans” who think he’s Terrific, and they would launch into a screed about him, usually looping in the themes of Brexit and nationalism.

“We think he’s a complete tosser!” was a typical comment.  Tosser, wanker, arsehole, mad as a bag of ferrets.  Just a few of the British endearments I heard about our president, not to mention the universal terms racist, sexist, nationalist, moron, jerk, sociopath, and narcissist.

Granted, I tend to hang out with very liberal people, but I went to a few parties where I wasn’t sure what was coming.  It was always the same.

So when the Polish couple who cleaned the flat once a month stated that they love America, I expected the same.  They were immigrants, after all.  Fortunately they didn’t ask my opinion first.

“And we love your President Donald Trump!” the husband exclaimed as the wife nodded heartily.  The husband waxed enthusiastic.  “He is strong man!  In Europe, we understand about the Muslims.  You Americans need a strong man to keep them out!”

There was a lot going through my head at that moment.  Normally I’m a fighter and I would have challenged them.  But here I was, alone in Eton.  No one knew I was here aside from Sam and my people back home. This guy was about 6’ 2” and burly, with blonde hair and blue eyes—an ideal Aryan.  He was yelling—not angrily but animatedly—and waving the five-foot-long wand of the Hoover around in the air.  This was not the time to mention I was a Jew, and how I empathized with Muslims and hated all of Trump’s anti-immigrant policies.

The wife stepped forward, excited to share her opinions.  “We live in UK 11 years.  We go home to Poland every year, town near German border, and see what the Muslims do.  They change the country.  They make crimes, they are dirty.  They rape German women!  No, no, we stay here.  We have two kids; the boy he 13, the girl she 11.  They English!  We want keep refugees out of England.”

Wow.  I couldn’t even begin to know how to tango with the illogic of her statement.  During the election, I had heard a Vietnamese immigrant to the US on National Public Radio lauding Donald Trump and stating she would vote for him.  I had figured she was an outlier.

But now I wondered.  Is it a thing?  “I made it to safety/prosperity so screw all of you in line behind me.”  Or did a Vietnamese immigrant really see herself as completely virtuous and deserving of being taken in, while no Muslim was?  It boggled the mind.

I couldn’t resist asking, “What will happen to you with Brexit?”

They beamed.  “We love Brexit!  Brexit will keep new immigrants out.  There are enough immigrants here now.”

I really wanted to ask if they were aware that many Brits think Poles are pond scum.  Google “British views of Poles” and 18 million results come up.  I thought one chat room comment summed it up well:

“Poles are the second-largest overseas-born community in the UK after Indians. This isn’t new (Polish Jews came in 19th century) but much of it has to do with Poland joining the EU in 2004 making migration easier.  So I’d imagine anti-Polish sentiment being the British equivalent of American dislike for Mexicans.”

But instead of diving into this conversation, I grabbed my bag, waved good-bye, and exited to catch the train to Oxford.