You Are Where You Eat

When President Roger N. Casey spoke these five words at the Grand Opening of our new Glar, many laughed.

They probably didn’t believe him.

I wouldn’t believe him any more than those who laughed if it wasn’t for the fact that on Mar. 11, a 9.0 earthquake hit the northeastern coast of Japan. After that day, several meaningful moments came together for me and I had a realization. But I’m getting way ahead of myself.

One of the key moments was a conversation with my mother over Skype.

She and I used to argue a lot. Most Asian parents care little for art (and sport), which subjects, impractical as they see them, hardly secure a living. This was precisely the problem my mother had with me, and she was constantly in agony for my non-Asianness.

During our last conversation, however, my mother gave in under my persuasion. She then went quiet for a bit, and eventually added,

“Have you been reading about what’s happening in Japan? Well… you go do what you want now.”

I was very struck by her word. This, coming from my mother, is not like any status updated by a friend on Facebook that says “live today to the fullest.”  It seemed more urgent, more real. I see clearly now. This magnificent earthquake is gradually redirecting people’s take on life.

Environment does unimaginable things to people.

And that is just what I realized. From what I knew of the Japanese people, I have learnt that they are existentialists, and that they exploit their emotions to the extreme. The Japanese believe that one should always “live in the moment”; they allow themselves to consume sentiments on trivial minutia; they linger on every second of the savory life.

Wonder why? At another key moment, this was what I read: in the last 10 years alone, Japan had 15 major earthquakes with magnitude of 6.5 or above, along with constant smaller earthquakes across the country.

Then it was no longer difficult to comprehend. For people who live in such a difficult environment, they are haunted daily by the uncertainty of life or death. As they confront the power of nature, these people are persistently reminded of their insignificance as human beings. As a result, how can they not treasure every moment they’re living – their very being?

But that’s still not all. This has yet even greater an impact.

As we all know, the relationship between China and Japan is a quite peculiar one. Until today, many people in China continued holding a grudge against Japan from WWII. Some are especially frustrated because, unlike the Germans, the Japanese appear to have no shame or guilt for what they’ve done. Little did the Chinese know, it’s not that the Japanese can’t face their wrong – they’re just too busy living in the now to regret the past. They are not trying to forget – they simply don’t bother to remember.

In the end, this is where Glar comes into the picture, because environment does unimaginable things to people.

At our new dining hall, we have smaller tables, cozier seats, much upgraded tableware, and brand new facilities. And what, may I ask, is at the end of it all? Will people start to dress nicer? Will they come to think the food taste better? Will there be more intimacy between friends? Will there be more prospective students leaving intrigued?

I really can’t predict.

The only thing certain is this: things are sure to be changing now. We are where we are, and we are where we eat.