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happy bday -- Janie May. 1st, 2017 @ 07:52 pm

I haven't done one of these in a while... and I'm a week late already.

Most of my friends on Facebook, I knew beforehand. But there are a select few whom I actually met through Facebook, believe it or not. Janie is one of them.

We're both members of the US Coast Guard Auxiliary, and just like every other organization out there, the Auxiliary has their own Facebook page. She was asking questions about the "Gold Side" (active duty Coast Guard), and I posted a lengthy response, making sure I actually knew what I was talking about. And then from there, we became "friends"! That's how it goes in the 21st century. =)

Later that year, I posted that I was going to visit Washington DC for the first time. It was a memorable trip because I'm a huge history buff and our nation's capital certainly has a lot of Hx.  Janie saw the post and was like, "We HAVE to meet up!!"

Which we did. She and her other half, Rob, took me out to dinner. It was kind of a small world -- not only was Rob also from the Bay Area, if memory serves correctly, but so was the waiter who served us! 2 koinikidinks in a row.

It also turned out that Janie's actually related to Alex Penkala, one of the soldiers who fought with the Easy Company, a US paratrooper unit in World War II. A HBO miniseries was based on them, called Band of Brothers.  What're the odds, that I'd meet an actual descendant related to perhaps the most famous American unit from the Second World War. I recall Janie saying that even though she never met "Uncle Alex", it was still eerie and strange for her seeing him "die" on the HBO miniseries.

But while being related to a Band of Brothers trooper is awesome, that's not why Janie is cool. We've KIT through Facebook and also had several convos over the years, both through messaging and phone. Despite being a wonderful full-time mom, she still made time to chat with me in times of support (and I could ask her for advice about women... ahem). Finally, our involvement with the Coast Guard Auxiliary is something I have in common with her, but with very few others. So that's special.

I truly hope to see her one day again. Another trip to DC is overdue.

Meanwhile, I hope she had a great bday.  =)

Current Mood: goodgood

Cathay Pacific flight attendant Mar. 25th, 2017 @ 09:21 pm
I was flying back from Hong Kong via Cathay Pacific. One of the flight attendants was serving breakfast. Out of the 2 choices -- eggs or noodles -- I asked for eggs as I was tired of having Chinese food for the past 2 weeks. It seemed like a lot of people were ordering eggs though, because it looked like she was having some trouble finding an egg dish. So I told her, "If you only have noodles, then that's fine."  Just wanted to make her job easier for her. She managed to find an egg dish and told me, "You're too nice."

Later on, she dropped by and asked me to fill out a Cathay Pacific survey. I felt singled out (not that I mind in this case) because no one else around me was asked to fill one out. I wonder what the "critieria" is to be picked out for filling out one of those things.

Towards the end of the flight, the flight attendants were collecting UNICEF donations (sponsored by Cathay). Feeling a little charitable -- hey, it's not like I haven't donated $$ before -- I filled one out. The same flight attendant said that was very nice of me. I guess donations from flight passengers don't happen too often.

Anyways, nothing big happened. Just small nice moments with her.  =)
Current Mood: goodgood

one humbling after another Feb. 26th, 2017 @ 10:51 pm
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Late last month, someone I knew passed away after fighting terminal lung cancer for 5 years. She left behind a husband and 3 little kids.

Also not long after the New Year, I had dinner with a recently widowed woman at my townhouse complex. On Labor Day weekend 2016, Darren and I helped her husband suffering from Lewy Body Dementia safely out of a jacuzzi because he couldn't get himself out, and his wife couldn't do it all by herself. I finally texted her asking how she was doing. It turned out her husband passed away way back in Oct, not long after Darren and I helped them out. He just withered away, complications arose, etc.  She was still very thankful and treated me out to dinner as a way of saying thanks (Darren lives in SD).

Also recently, I learned that the husband of a friend from high school has been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. They set up a Facebook support group, asking friends for their memories and good times together, and they never ask for $ or donations. In addition, they arranged these social gatherings that have these very giving themes to them (ie. "What cause do you care about?").  I got the invite to one such event and was admittedly a little hesitant. Even though I knew the wife, I didn't know her terribly well. We didn't kept much in touch since high school nor did I see her a lot way back when anyways (she went to Gunn, I was at Paly). And I didn't really know her husband at all, although I met him once several years ago. But just to show support, I decided to go. It was good seeing them both, and I ran into Peling! a former skydiving buddy.  =)    I also got to catch up with Emily, whom I haven't seen in 16+ years since high school. We actually didn't even chat much back then, but we were able to chat/catch up at the event. It turned out Emily is my friend's cousin, of which I had absolutely no idea. The things you learn these days....

Finally, I've been trying to get in touch with a former coworker. He retired quite a few a years ago, and has been fighting the beast known as pancreatic cancer ever since. Sure, I helped buy him a party gift that he really liked way back when (it was a Star Trek blanket... he's a fellow Trek fan!). But I haven't seen him since then. And especially after what happened with Fawn and her terminal lung cancer.... I just feel like I should do a better job with people. Not just those who has cancer, but those overall. But yeah, ever since he retired several years ago, I need to see him again. We were going to meet up for lunch a few weeks ago. Then some urgent "We need this done yesterday!! ASAP" thing with the FDA popped up... and I had to cancel on my friend 30 minutes before our lunch meet-up.

I was instantly reminded of Fawn... a few years ago, we were going to meet up for lunch. And then an unsuspected internal audit at work made me cancel plans on her. Now, I was going to see another friend (someone whom I actually know better), he also has some form of cancer... and then an urgent thing at work forces me to cancel plans on him. It's like... FUCKING work. Can't you just hold off your effin' emergencies for a mere few hours so I can see someone whom I haven't seen in forever? Geez.

And just yesterday, I attended the memorial service for my uncle's brother. I was only related to him by marriage, and while I wasn't particularly close to him, he was a good man. He was still a member of my extended family, with other family members & friends who loved him.

Anyways, I don't mean to sound somber. But this year has been... humbling. Sure, there are people dying everyday and unfortunately, medical conditions are common. But it just seemed like that lately, there have been more happenings that makes me stop and puts everything in perspective. When folks pass away or are fighting something like cancer, it's like... I shouldn't complain about my own first-world problems. Someone out there always has it worst. Gotta be thankful for what you got.

True, I can't save the world, and my hardships are no less important. But what makes my days bad? Stress at work? Traffic jams on 101? Woes of dating girls in male-congested Silicon Valley?  (Yes, I'm aware that I just insulted myself.)

None of these things are worth whining about, at least compared to all of the stuff mentioned above. Although I do it anyways because I'm only human, I try not to.

I'm taking all these as learning experiences, because along the way, that's all one can do. 
Current Mood: contemplativecontemplative

RIP, Fawn Feb. 16th, 2017 @ 12:31 am

She wasn't family.

I'm not sure if I'm allowed to call her a friend or a colleague.

Acquaintance is more like it. But even that term seems too high up there for me.

Regardless, I am dedicating this entry to Fawn. And I will never forget her.


It Began with the Newspaper

Back in Apr 2011, the San Jose Mercury newspaper had a front page article with a picture of an Asian woman crying.

Her name was Fawn. She was at then just diagnosed with terminal Stage IV Lung Cancer. That's bad news for anyone, but it also affected her husband, Rick, and three little kids. At that time, her kids were 4, 3, and 1. Boy, girl, girl. Fawn and Rick had a videographer with them so that in the future, their kids wouldn't just have pics of their mom, but an actual video. So they could see their mom speak and hear what she sounded like.

Just like anyone else reading that article, I was touched by Fawn's story. I managed to reach out to her and told her I wanted to help by donating some $. I couldn't cure her cancer but at least I could help soften the blow of her medical expenses. As a character remarked in the 1996 film Mission: Impossible, "Dying slowly in America... can be a very expensive proposition."  So true.

If my foggy memory is correct, the first time I met Fawn was at a fundraiser for her. It was at this Italian restaurant in Alviso, CA. The place had really good spaghetii, I remember. That's where I met Fawn. I handed her a check, the first of a few I would give her.


Irregular Correspondence

Over the next 5-6 years, Fawn and I mainly kept in touch through emails. We didn't correspond very frequently, but when we did, I always asked how she was doing and kept sending well-wishes her way. If you read her emails, you could tell that she was a lady who was fighting the cancer with doctors and chemo, all the while raising her kids and working. Through it all, she was humble and thankful for every day of life she had.

Every now and then, she'd send out emails (whether mass email or personal ones), inviting me to family events, including her kids' bday parties. One of them was to renew vows with her husband after 10 years of marriage.

I didn't go to most of them, which I now feel ashmed of.

Admittedly, I was busy with work, volunteering, family, social life, etc. Her home was pretty far away. Very lame excuses, I know. Through it all, I just thought, "She'll be okay."

I did go to one of her kids' bday parties though. I still remember that inflatable jumpy house with other families with kids. It was a happy environment.

But the only other times I saw Fawn were when we met up for an occasional lunch or dinner. And when I say occasional, it's probably even less frequent than that. More like... once or twice a year, really.

Things just got so busy for me... and for her as well. So whenever we'd meet, it'd be like several months in the making. Communicating through emails, trying to set a date to just get lunch during the day. Both of our schedules were super busy.

And one time... I remember we were set to go to meet for lunch. Then a fuckin' unscheduled audit came up at work that day. Working in the medical device industry... it's technically audit season all year round. But I had to be there. I contacted Fawn and profusely apologized to her, cancelling our lunch just a few hours before it was to happen. Of course, she understood. Another time, she had to cancel on me too. Sigh, the things we do for our jobs...

About 2 or 3 years ago, we did manage to have dinner together. That was when I had this super big crush on my housemate. Fawn was like, "Go for it!"  She later wrote to me that girls, especially Asian girls, tend to wait for the guy to make the first move. That was the kind of lady Fawn was. Even in the midst of her terminal cancer, she wanted to know what was going on in your life. Fawn was a big believer in not wasting any time -- she said that even after a few dates, if you're not interested in the girl, move on. Not surprising this is coming from a lady with limited time left, telling me not to waste my own.

Then last year... around the summer time, we managed to have a lunch (after more and more scheduling). I didn't mind making a long round trip drive from work to see her. You could kinda tell that she was wearing a wig, because of the hair loss from all the chemo. But I didn't say anything. When lunch was over, she was like, "Have a good summer!"  Which, again, tells you that we didn't see each other all that much....


The Last Time

Finally, in Dec 2016, I decided to check out her personal blog. She didn't update it much and it didn't get much public views. But what I saw shocked me.

Hospice care!

Her recent entries talked more about her physical ailments from the cancer and all the chemo treatments. In the end, her doctor said that she shouldn't reduce her quality of life and should go into hospice care. Fawn also said in her blog on how she came to accept her pending death....

I immediately texted Fawn. She got back to me and not knowing how much time she had left, I asked her if she'd like to meet again if she felt able to.

So not long after New Years 2017, Fawn invited me over for dinner. She asked me if I could bring take-out for her and her family. I was like, "Of course! Anything you'd like!"

I didn't mind driving all the way from work to Santana Row in stormy weather, buy $70 to $80 worth of food, and double back to southeast San Jose where she and her family lived. Sitting in traffic along the way... that was fine.

I also bought Fawn some rainbow daisies. Didn't want to get her red roses because it wasn't a romantic situation. I certainly didn't want to get WHITE roses because those are for someone who'd have passed away already.

Admittedly, I was nervous. I wasn't sure how to act, or what I should say. I've never really been in the company of someone who was in hospice care before. And when I'd leave, what was I supposed to say?

See ya later?
Take care?
Nice knowin' ya?

Kaitie said be positive, but be whatever Fawn wanted me to be. Suzanne said something similar along those lines.
Bob W. (my mentor at work and with other things in life) said, just make yourself available to her and leave it at that.

So during the night, I tried to be uplifting and not sad. Fawn appeared fragile and lost her hair. Her speech was a little slurry even though she was fully cognizant.  But nevertheless, it was good to see her again.

Her kids.... they were much older than when I saw them last. It's amazing -- they knew that their mom was dying, yet they acted totally normal, laughing and behaving like how little kids normally behave.

As for Rick: he's a nice guy. You could tell he was sad about his wife. But he was very friendly to me. When he said, "Hey, Derek! We haven't seen you since our kid's bday party!"... which was quite a few years ago. I told him straight up, with a tone of regret: "I don't have an excuse."  Of course, Rick said it was all right.

That night, it was just mainly me eating with Rick and Fawn. Their kids were watching TV. Fawn couldn't eat much. We didn't talk about the cancer most of the time, but here and there, it'd rear its ugly head as a topic. Fawn said, "Even after I'm gone, you should still come over."  Oh man, that just gave me a lump in my throat.

When it was time for me to leave, I did what Bob said. I told Fawn that please reach out to me whenever she wanted, and that I hoped to see her again.

Over the next few weeks, I'd still trade some texts with Fawn. They were brief, like "Happy MLK Jr Day! Hope your kids got the day off school so you could spend time with them."  Nothing significant.


The Text

It was a Weds, late morning. I was just finishing up a meeting at work. Then a text came through from Fawn's #.

It was Rick.

"Hey, buddy. Fawn went to Heaven at 5:40am. Thanks for everything."

I replied back immediatey, saying how saddened I was to hear that. I told him to please reach out to me if there's anything I could to help. He just simply said "thanks". Which is totally fine.

Haven't heard back from him since.

I still have that old newspaper article from 2011. The one with Fawn's story. I should throw it away now, yet it seems wrong.
I still have her emails and texts. Should I delete those too? From someone you knew but who's no longer with us?

I still feel bad about not regularly corresponding with Fawn.
I feel bad for not going to all the family events she invited me to.
Heck, I feel bad for having to cancel our lunch because that stupid audit that one day.

And even though I got back in touch with Fawn after finding out she didn't have much time left, that also comes with being assailed by my guilty conscience:  "Oh, now that her time's coming up so soon, you're finally going to go see her???"

I'm sorry, Fawn....


What She taught me

1. Be thankful for what you got in your life.
2. Don't complain about your problems. Someone else always has it worst.

She fought for almost 6 long years. Her original prognosis ranged from a few months to 2 years at best. Her courage to live that much longer was inspiring, to say the least.

Through it all, Fawn remained humble, prayed daily, treated every day as a gift, and continued to fight her lung cancer. She didn't let it stop from living her life as a devoted wife and mother of 3.

Seriously, my issues were -- and still are -- such first world problems compared to what she faced.

So 2017 has already been quite a humbling year for me. While I try not to whine about my own issues, I still tend to (ie. "I got cut off by those douchbags on the freeway again!!").  I try to remind myself on a regular basis to not be caught up in my own personal issues, that things could be a lot worse.

And yet, there are so many people out there who're like Fawn. They're facing what she had to face for so long.

Fawn, I don't know what to say. Except that I'm sorry. Rest in peace. I'm glad that I got to know you.

Current Mood: sadsad

a "front line" type of guy Jan. 29th, 2017 @ 10:39 pm
Every now and then, I do think about whether or not I should switch industries. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not dying to get out of the medical device field. But I guess this could be somewhat of a third-life criss maybe...?

Problem is, the line of work I am most interested in doing is emergency first responder stuff. However, they're not known exactly to pay very much... and that includes in the expensive Bay Area.

I remember asking Matthew why EMTs don't get much $$$. He succinctly said, "You don't need to have a college degree."

Which I guess makes sense. The higher the pay, usually that equates to more education. And when I was taking my EMT class, there was a guy in my group who graduated high school, but hadn't gone to college yet.

But still, when I tell people who aren't familiar with the world of EMS (Emergency Medical Systems) that I wouldn't be surprised if green, inexperienced EMTs get paid just $10/hr or so, they're shocked.

"But EMTs save lives!"

And they do, I'm not saying they don't. But I've read articles online from experienced EMTs themselves who say that they don't deserve to get more $$.  One person basically said: "You want higher pay? Get more education."

That's why paramedics -- the next level above EMTs, who are basically the bottom rung of the ladder -- get more $$ b/c they have to have more training.  How much more $$ they get, depends on your experience and where you work. Docs have to go for years in med school. Paramedics, about 18 months to my knowledge. EMTs... 6-12 months, depending on where your classes are.

Last year, I felt like I was getting fed up with my current job. Peg asked me if I had any debt or family to take care of. Because if not, then I'm in a better position to take a pay cut (albeit a really big one) than most people out there....

And when I was speaking to Joe about being a volunteer emergency first responder, he made me realize something about myself:   "I think you're the type of guy who enjoys being on the front lines."

That got my attention.

First responders are indeed out there on "the front lines"... that's why they're called FIRST responders. True, we don't perform complex surgeries out "in the field" and hospitals themselves can be quite chaotic. But "out there", it's a different kind of chaos. The environment is less controlled, there are potentially more dangers, equipment and manpower are more limited (especially the equipment), etc.  If you are effective "out there", then I think that says something about you.

But alas, those on the "front lines" don't get that much pay. It reminds me of those fighting as infantry in the US Army and in the Marines. They're doing the most dangerous work in the US military, but generally speaking, a lot of them don't have degrees and are the lower ranks. That means they don't get paid very much (albeit they're free of taxes), despite the fact their jobs are very high risk.

So yes, every now and then, I do wonder about having a full-time profession in the world of emergency medicine (or "dirt medicine", as some have called it. Hey, it has a nice ring to it.) Kim has brought this up every now and then.

The main thing that's holding me back -- and I know this makes me sound greedy -- is the low pay, at least compared to my current job.

I was speaking with a paramedic-trained first responder a few years ago on a ride-a-long. I told her I'm not an EMT, but I volunteer as a medic for the Red Cross. She asked me how much I made for my regular job in the medical device industry. When I told her how much, she said to me:   "Keep volunteering."
Current Mood: contemplativecontemplative
Other entries
» "embrace failure"

So I work at a medical device company, where the overall goal is to manufacture equipment and tools (so to speak) that hospitals can use to diagnose/treat their patients.

The company I'm at is a global one, and has a lot of different products that come through the pipelines. Needless to say, supporting the manufacturing of these devices can be a pretty chaotic job. It's like Murphy's Law -- anything that can go wrong will go wrong. So at such a medical device company, you can expect the unexpected. And there are plenty of unwelcomed developments.

Last year, there was a problem for one of the products that my team was responsible for out on the manufacturing line. In such cases, it is required to escalate the problem, create a Powerpoint slide deck, and share it with upper management. You need to have as much information available and present it to TPTB.

When my group was asked directly "Who's going to present?", naturally no one volunteered and own the task. After a few seconds of hesitation, I raised my hand.

So I did what I could -- tried to gather all the information possible, get input from the other SMEs (subject matter experts), put everything into a Powerpoint presentation, etc. And when I did present the Powerpoint to TPTB.... it didn't turn out so well.

After the presentation, my former boss called me into his office. This was his feedback:

1)  He started it off with, "First of all, THANK YOU VERY MUCH for stepping up and doing the job."  I could tell that my old boss meant it. But then the other shoe was dropped...

2)  My presentation wasn't a good one. He said the Production Manager was seething with the lack of complete info. My old boss said that I shouldn't have presented, that there was a Manufacturing Engineer II and a Principal Manufacturing Engineer.... THEY should've presented, he said. As I was (and still am) a Quality Engineer I, he said they are getting paid a lot more $$ than I am, and that it was their job to own the whole task in the first place.

My old boss... I took to heart what he said. Even though he's very direct and blunt, he'll still support you if you deserve it. And I'm glad that he supported me, and has done so in the past as well.

He also said that my current boss (at that time) should've objected to me owning the task and presenting it to TPTB since it was supposedly not my responsibility. But he didn't step in at any point.

So while I'm glad I stepped up to the challenge, I felt like I failed.
Most importantly, I felt like I let my team down.

I spoke with Bob W. (whom I consider a mentor) about this afterward. He said that my old boss was right, that I DID NOT fail and did the right thing, and that I should learn from the experience by getting feedback from other managers. Which I did (ironically, all of these people are no longer with the company today).

So it was a very tough pill for me to swallow. But I guess so is every lesson learned well.

It reminds me of a phrase that my teammate at work and good friend likes to use:  "Embrace failure."  (Alberto)

» homosexuality... and sins
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First off, for the record, I'm not a religious guy. If I had to categorize myself (which I don't usually like doing), I'm Agnostic. I believe there is a God... but can't say a specific God. This is not the same thing as Atheism, btw.

In any case, I remember way back in college, I was having a deep convo with my roomie Steve. For some reason, we were talking about homosexuality and it being a sin. It's no secret that deeply conservative people have VERY STRONG opinions about homosexuals. (One Christian friend I used to be in touch with said once, "Gay Christians are not true Christians.")

I felt back then, as I do now, that homosexuality is not something someone should be condemned for. I guess me not being a Christian has someting to do with it. I'm also not gay either, but I just didn't see how that would be a sin anyways. If two people of the same gender want to be together, let them. It's not as if they're hurting others.

And if being gay IS indeed a sin, then surely there are other sins that are far worse... like rape, murder, stealing, etc. I even considering BULLYING a sin that's worse, because: 1) I was bullied when I was little and it was pretty traumatizing; and 2) bullying someone else is intentionally belittling/hurting them for your own sadistic pleasure.

Yet homosexuality seems to be in the controversial spotlight more often in comparison to "other sins".

Anyways, Steve was Christian back then, and I think he still is now. But he's never been a hardcore Bible thumper, for which I am grateful. But I'm not sure where my ex-roomie from college truly stands on the religious spectrum. In any case, he said that in the eyes of God, a sin is a sin. We humans may think that sin #1 may not be as bad as sin #2, but to God, they're both bad and are equal to each other. I still remember the example he gave:

"Let's say I want to steal this cookie. In the eyes of God, stealing this cookie is the same as actually hurting someone else."

13 or 14 years later, I was having a recent dinner with a mutual friend of ours, Joe. I was surprised to learn that Joe is also a Christian because he doesn't at all strike me as the religous type. I relayed my old convo with Steve to Joe, and Joe agreed. I asked him, "So you think homosexuality is a sin?"  His reply: "Yes, but it's no more of a sin than heterosexual lust."

Joe says that while he is a Christian, he considers himself a realist. Not everything in the Bible should be taken literally and doesn't really "apply" to the real world as we know it. I respect that view.

Nevertheless, for me personally, I still don't believe being gay is a sin. If it is, then there are far more worst sins out there to be more concerned about.

But... that's just me. I'm just one out of 7 billion on this planet, so I could be wrong.
» old grievances
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This December 7th will mark the 75th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor. Wow, has it been that long already? (not as if I was conceived back in 1941)

Even though World War II  occurred three to four generations ago, there are a lot of old grievances that have lingered since then. Which is hardly surprising considering for what it was -- a global war. Something that big fought amongst so many nations on such a destructive scale.... nothing is going to be easily forgotten. Nor should it.

But when it comes to grudges between the peoples of the world.... it's like... war is war. No one is innocent. Even the "good guys" had to do ugly things back then. Let's just leave the past in the past. Let's not forget or ignore it, but let's work together to move forward towards a better future.

Still, you hear about the grudges, and old grievances. All have valid points, but there's always the other side of the story.

I remember the last time I visited Pearl Harbor.... there was this young lady in the tour group. I overheard her saying, "Everyone's talking about how Americans were the victims are Pearl Harbor. Well, how about Hiroshima and Nagasaki? What about the Japanese who suffered from the A-bombs?"

In my head, I was thinking the Pearl was neither the time nor place to bring that up, but kept my mouth shut.

First off, the Americans who died at the Pearl had absolutely nothing to do with Hiroshima and Nagasaki, for the obvious reason -- the Atomic bombs were dropped a good 2-and-a-half years AFTER Pearl Harbor. The Japanese attacked us first, so we declared war on them (the whole Pearl Harbor conspiracy theory, which I overall disagree with, deserves its own blog entry).

At the same time, I'm not condemning all Japanese for their preemptive attack on Pearl Harbor. Most notablly, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto who was the architect/master planner behind the attack. To sum it up, he didn't want to wage war with the United States. He also was against Imperial Japan's war with China and Japan's alliance with Nazi Germany. But Yamamoto was universally respected by those he commanded in the Navy, and was still loyal to The Emperor. So he was, what I would say, a reluctanct warrior; he didn't want to wage war, but out of devotion to his Emperor and his country, he had no choice. Yamamoto was hoping -- but not expecting -- that a conflict with the United States would be swift and not prolonged.

Isoroku Yamamoto.jpg

Actually, that's a very similar line of thinking the American leadership had when they dropped the Atomic bombs in 1945: they didn't want to prolong the war and end it as quickly as possible.

Which brings us to Hiroshima and Nagasaki...

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As for the Atomic bombs being dropped on Japan... that's also super controversial. Another old grievance from World War II that still exists today. I'm no expert on the subject, so I could be wrong. But from what I read, Imperial Japan and her citizens were prepared to fight to the end. And they were willing to take as many Allied troops' lives (mainly Americans) with them as possible. The more cornered and wounded someone is, the harder they fight back.

I've heard that Operation Downfall (the US code name for the invasion of Japan) is the greatest battle in history NEVER fought. I believe that. Casualty predictions vary, but were all projected to be extremely high... for both the Americans AND the Japanese. Perhaps even in the millions. After all, it wouldn't just be the US military vs Japan's military... but also Japan's citizens as well. All of this was based on the "Pacific Experience", from what the Americans learned from fighting the determined Japanese in bloody battles such as Guadacanal, Saipan, Peleliu, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. So they were expecting more of the same -- and perhaps even worse -- when they were planning Downfall.

And to give a faint idea of how vast and complex Operation Downfall was going to be, the Allied plan of invading Japan is depicted below:

Operation Downfall - Map.jpg

In my personal opinion, I believe that Operation Downfall would have resulted in many more deaths (including Japanese) than from the # of people that died from the Atomic bombs; this include those who died in the aftermath as well. And from the American standpoint, I've never heard or read an old World War II combat veteran saying that they wanted to land & fight Japan... because that would mean certain death for them. Just how I've never heard or read any American veteran saying they wanted to get into the ultimate street fight with Nazi Germany for the Battle of Berlin (it would be the Russions who would get that dubious honor). This isn't to say that the American combat vets rejoiced at the thought of Japanese civilians getting bombed, but that they didn't want to die themselves by invading Japan.

Thus, I believe President Truman was correct to use the Atomic bombs... but that doesn't make me happy to say that. I think about all the Japanese civilians -- including women, children, and the elderly -- that perished and suffered from the Atomic bombs.... let's just say that I understand the point of view of those who opposed the bombings, even if I unhappily disagree with them. Pictures like the one below from the Atomic bombs' aftermath are heart-crushing:

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Of course, those from "the other side" will say that the Japanese deserved to get bombed after what they did in the Rape of Nanking, the Bataan Death March, waging chemical warfare in China, and other atrocities they committed during the war. I understand those grievances as well.

Whether the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki truly deserved to get bombed by "Little Boy" and "Fat Man" (the codenames for the atomic bombs, respectively), I can't say.

But what I CAN say for certain is that both sides suffered horribly. Again, World War II was a GLOBAL WAR.

Let's hope nothing like it ever happens again.

And that includes the use of nuclear weapons.

» a shrinking Japan

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So it's been confirmed that Japan's population has been on the decline.

Like any complicated nationwide issue, there's more than one reason at the cause of all this. Based on what I've read, the following reasons are:

- Young people aren't interested in dating or relationships;
- Childcare in Japan isn't that good;
- Women find themselves having to choose between their careers or being full-time mothers, and more are choosing the former.

First, in regards to young folks not really wanting to date anymore.... this is mainly based on what I've read around the web. Both guys and girls think that relationships are too much trouble or too much work. At the risk of promoting stereotypes, I've read that guys rather just hang out with friends and/or play video games, while girls also want to just hang out with their friends as well as go shopping. In other words, both genders just want to do their own thing and have fun. I've seen articles that they're not even interested in sex.

Secondly, about childcare in Japan... I've only heard this through my ex-housemate who is originally from Japan and is now back living in Tokyo. She doesn't have any kids of her own, so she may or may not be right. Meanwhile, a coworker of mine in Tokyo told me that kindergarten schools are very hard to get into because there are so few. I don't know if this is directly related to childcare in Japan, but if schools are so hard for kids to get into at a young age in Japan, then maybe that's another factor discouraging from Japanese adults to having kids. Not having good childcare could definitely be a legit reason on not wanting to have kids though. Oh, btw, my coworker in Tokyo almost has a baby due. Congratulations to her!! Japan needs it.

Lastly, women in Japan seem to be fed up with being forced to either being full-time house mom's or retaining their jobs once they have kids. From what I've read, Japan still has quite a mysogynistic culture, at least where corporations are concerned. Most of the ranks, especially upper management, are filled by men. And men say to the women, "You have a kid now. Stay at home and be a mom."   Women don't like to hear that. And if they try to stay at work AND be a mom, then they face pressure to quit their jobs. In Japan, men are reportedly not that good at raising children (surprise, surprise) and are expected to spend more time at work. This probably contributes to the mysogynistic culture at work through Japan.

So, like in the States, Japanese women want to focus more on their careers and thereby putting off having kids till later. That's my understanding. Can't say I blame them. According to my pregnant coworker in Japan, she says that there are only a few companies that allow Japanese women to do both? But that may be more common with non-Japanese owned companies that have offices in Japan.

I know a few other women in Japan... I can't say what their exact ages are, but they're older than me. Only one of them has a child, and I don't even know what happened to the dad. As for the other women I'm friends with, I don't think they have husbands and/or kids of their own. I could be wrong because I've never asked out of respect for privacy, but that's the impression I get.

So as a result of there being less babies and a shrinking population, those 65 and older are expected to make up nearly 40% of Japan's population in 2060. That means elderly folks will probably have to work longer, whether they'd like it or not. This is for a nation that already has some of the highest life spans in the world.

I've read numerous comments online about how Japan's shrinking population is a good thing, that the world is over-populated with not enough resources as it is. I think that's a straw argument. If it applied to other countries with populations even higher than Japan's, then sure.... I see the logic of it. And that includes my own nation, the United States.

But with more and more elderly folks on the horizon... someone has to support the elderly. Who's that "someone" going to be? The young adults and middle-aged adults. Sure, it's part of Asian cultures to take care of the elderly because they're family. But with more and more senior folks, and less younger folks to support them, that's not sustainable in the long run. And it'll probably impact Japan's economy. Instead of focusing on innovative technology, tourism, etc, Japan will have to redirect more of her labor/resources to taking care of the seniors.

And related to all this is the immigration issue. With a shrinking labor force, Japan needs more people from outside countries to come in and prop up the work force. However, I've read that Japanese people can be quite xenophohbic, especially to Koreans and those from the Middle East (ie. very few Syrian refugees were accepted). This attitude is understandable, even though I'm not condoning it. But it's difficult to change people's mindsets. I must add however, that I do see quite a few foreigners in Tokyo... not in very high #s, but considering how it's an int'l city, a fair amount. For the most part, I doubt they've felt like that they're not welcomed. I don't really get that feeling so far from my 2 trips to Japan. Either I'm lucky, or I haven't noticed any discrimation attitudes towards me, or perhaps some people think I'm Japanese myself since I know a little of the language and I'm also Asian. But I can't say for sure, and I can't speak for other foreigners living in Japan.

Anyways... I digress. I do sincerely hope that Japan will eventually be able to reverse its declining population, or at the very least halt the decline. But in order for that to be possible, a lot of things need to happen... namely changes to her society's mindsets regarding the aforementioned reasons.

It would be a shame if such an awesome country would keep on shrinking to the point of collapse (gosh, that sounds dramatic). I care about Japan and hope she'll get back on the right track.
» a Glimpse into the North
It's always been on my bucket list to visit North Korea. Or at least get close enough to it.

You're talking about the last remnant of the Cold War that still exists today. The Cold War officially ended in 1991, but that could be debatable since the Korean War itself technically has never ended.

Taking a tour to the DMZ (Demilitiarized Zone) was, like, my top priority. The tour was pricey, but given my interest in history (especially contemporary military history), it was well worth the $135.

After arising bright and early, John and I were greeted at our hotel by our tour guide, Hana. After picking up the rest of the tourists via bus, she gave us the backround about the Korean War and thus the DMZ. Being a history buff, I was familiar with most of it. But then she said something that stood out to me:

"When North Korea invaded the South, 16 nations around the world rallied to help out a country they've never heard of."

Now, I didn't talk to Hana enough to get her personal opinion about the politics behind the Korean War, and especially the United States' part in it all. But I know that there has been anti-US sentiment in the past, particularly in the early 2000s when the Iraq War started and the Yangju Highway Incident when a U.S. military vehicle fatally injured two 14-year-old South Korean girls, Shin Hyo-sun (신효순) and Shim Mi-seon (심미선). I remember speaking to a fellow college student at UC Irvine during 2001-05; he was Korean and he said that young people in South Korea just wanted to be reunited with the North. Whether that meant even living under the Democratic People's Republic of Korea's (DPRK) system, aka North Korea, I don't know. But the impression I got from him -- perhaps incorrectly -- was that the United States is the single, biggest obstacle to that reunification occurring.

He may have been right. After all, if it weren't for the Soviets and the United States splitting up Korea post-World War II, there probably wouldn't be any North and South Koreas.

Anyways, when I heard our tour guide Hana say that part about the 16 nations rallying to fight for South Korea back in the 1950s, I didn't hear any anti-US sentiment in her voice. More like gratitude, actually, of the US and the United Nations coming to aid of the South way back when, despite the immense costs her civilians suffered in the war (and cannot forget the North, I suppose). Of course, our tour guide wished for reunification just like everyone else, but recognized the North's belligerent attitude & actions in relative recent years especially in 2010, when the sinking of the South's Cheonan warship and bombardment of Yeonpyeong Island occurred.

Anyhow... I digress.

Our first stop was Imjingak Park, whose location also included a Korean War Memorial, the Freedom Bridge, the Peace Bell, and Stones of the Peace Wall. It was a very sunny day with blue skies. Despite the frigid air, we were very lucky to visit a site of such remembrance under those conditions.

Korean War Veterans Memorial

I was pretty impressed with the Stones of the Peace Wall, which reportedly contained stones from historical battlefields all over the globe. That's a major feat. The stones were gathered in hopes of it being a symbolic step towards reunifying the two Koreas.

Aftewards, we visited the 3rd Infiltration Dunnel dug up by the North Koreans. It was supposed to be used to invade the South upon its completion. Tourists could go walk down there, but aren't allowed to take cameras. It was pretty crazy going 73 meters (240 ft) below ground... below the DMZ, actually... and the incompleted tunnel is 1,635 meters (1 mile) long. During my trip down there, I actually hit my head twice on the rocky ceiling. Thank God for those hard hats!

Afterwards, we headed to the Dora Observatory to look across the DMZ into North Korea. The Observatory is the closest part of the South to the North, oustide the DMZ that is. Through the binoculars, I was able to take pics of the North. Special mention is the North's very very tall flagpole, which towers above their Southern's counterpart.

We also visited Dorasan Station, which the two Koreas hoped to use for their reunification. Unfortunately, since things went sour in 2008, it's pretty much just a tourist attraction and a non-functional train station. But hey, at least I got my ticket to Pyongyang! The most expensive ticket in the world since it won't do anything. Hana was all like, "Please DON'T stamp your passport..."

Finally, the grand finale... the JSA.

First off, the Joint Security Area is no joke. The military completely owns it, and you HAVE to follow THEIR rules, no Qs asked. It is technically a war zone since the two Koreas have no peace treaty between them. Thus, it is even a miracle that tourists are even allowed to visit.

I was struck by how many posted guards there were from the South's side, and how there was only ONE guard from the North's side... and he was all the way back THERE! Don't get me wrong, I'd rather have more of *us* vs more of *them*. But I was expecting more Northern guards up close on their side of the MDL (Military Demarcation Line). Thus, I was kinda disappointed that I wasn't able to see "the enemy", up close and personal... but I suppose it all comes down to safety. Later on, a ROK (South Korean) soldier said that the North does tours too. And when they do, they post more guards out. I've heard of foreigners being able to do tours in the North. The daredevil inside me wants to sign up for one of those.

Anyways, the one Northern guard I *did* see was very far on his side of the border. Once I snapped a pic of him, I saw him side step out of view, behind a building pillar to his right. Hah! Too late, sucker! I got ya (but he later came back into view). One tourist remarked that the North was probably taking pics of all our faces, the tourists'... and he was probably correct.

We then entered one of the JSA's conference buildings, where negotiations since 1953 have taken place. Again, no Northern guards were there. Two Southern guards were, and they looked dead serious. Talk about discipline! As our tour guide (not Hana) humorously remarked, "Don't touch them. Or they'll touch back."   I read that these guards need a black belt in Tae Kwon Do to be qualified to be posted there. I wonder what goes on in their minds when they see all these curious, nosy tourists coming in, potentially causing trouble. One guard was on the northern end of the building, with his back towards what seemed to be the northern entrance. It's scary to think about:  what's stopping the North from suddenly coming through that door and grabbing him, other than sparking an international incident? Nothing, I suppose.

Anyways, we all had 2 minutes to take photos. It was kinda eerie to be actually standing in North Korea.

On our bus ride out of the DMZ, they checked our passports... AGAIN. Meaning, they do that a few times when you came in, and they do it again when you go out. Security's not taken lightly. I also saw a truck of US Marines, which surprised me. I knew that the US Army was stationed in South Korea, but wasn't aware of the Marines. Anyways, I couldn't take a picture of them because taking pics of anything military (including personnel) isn't allowed. They're at the DMZ 24/7, and they're armed. So why they call it the DMZ "demiliatarized" is anyone's guess because from what I read about it, both sides are also bristiling with land mines, patrol teams, antiaircraft batteries, surface-to-air missles, and fixed armor emplacements. "O brave new world"...

I was hoping to also visit The Bridge of No Return, which was the site where 1976's Axe Murder Incident took place. But I guess that is off-limit to tourists, and they weren't part of the tour.

In any case, the tour was definitely THE highlight of my trip to South Korea. Thanks to Hana, the other tour guide, and above all, the United Nations forces at the DMZ for making it all possible.

When we did return (safely) to Seoul, the other tour guide said, "NOW you can take photos of anything you want."  Hah!

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