PERSONAL NEWS: Bourgeois Sacramento, the Interconnected Globe & 24 Hour Fitness (20 May 2006)!
Hi Everyone and welcome to a beautiful weekend!
I've been ruminating over writing a post about the the level of globalization, that is to say the interconnected state of the world in the age of the Internet, satellites and air travel, in humble little Sacramento. Even though I was born at the Presidio in San Francisco (a hundred miles or so to the East of here), I've lived off and on in Sacramento for the greater part of my life... leave with a job, come back... join the military, come back... live abroad, come back... and so the pattern goes. And I've seen so many changes in the greater Sacramento area... California is growing, but so is the rest of the world.
One of the recent trends I've seen on the Internet is for "interconnectedness tests," that is to say tests that show the relationships between an object or person in just a few steps. And I have to say that Sacramento is most definitely a locus,a middle ground between so many relationships between places and peoples. Sacramento is also a major dumping ground for the Immigration Service; you can find an immigrant from nearly any nation on the Earth here in Sacramento. While Sacramento may be known as "the Big Tomato," it's no cow town (that would be Vacaville) and you can find just about anything in Sacramento that you could find in a better known Metropolis such as San Francisco, New York or another major US city / urban area.
So, as an experiment, I took a 3"x5" notecard a few weeks ago and decided to track some of the many global relationships that I've observed over only a two-week period while going back and forth to my job, working out at the local gym and at other times I've spent farting about in the area. And as a footnote, I do have a better than average level of education regarding the world (an International Relations degree from the University of California at Davis) as well as a great curiosity about world affairs that fuels my inquisitive nature. I'd also like to note that I met most of these folks at my local gym while in the steam room... people always seem to be ready to talk while under extreme heat. It's amazing what you'll learn when you open your eyes and keep your ears open.
Here's a link to learn more about various countries around the globe:
Here is just a sample of the many folks I've met or chatted with in the last week alphabetized by country of origin / recent destination:
- I've been working a small job for an educational testing company in the area and noticed Mohammed. I listened to him talk to a friend in a language that obviously wasn't Arabic (I know a little Arabic and can differentiate between various dialects of Arabic with some small degree of accuracy). Eventually I became bold enought to walk up to him and ask him if he was speaking Urdu and he was surprised and replied yes.
- That was the conversational gambit I needed and we started speaking. It turns out that M. and his family immigrated to the US after the US crushed the Taliban. He has mixed feelings about the invasion, but overall, he thinks that the US presence in Afghanistan is a great chance for Afghanis to escape the cycle of dictators and strongmen that have plagued his former home. I didn't press him too much, but I did enjoy hearing a much more real perspective on what's happening over there than I could get from local television news or The Sacramento Bee (a local newspaper).
Armenia / Azerbaijan:
Gregor & Ruben:
- I really enjoyed speaking with these two gentlemen in the sauna one evening. Both were solid fellows with wide waists and they spoke a sort of macho non-native Russian that was a pleasure to hear. After we went through a set of introductions and the annoucements of faith that many "holy roller" Christians tend to start conversations with, we discussed the Armenian / Azerbaijani conflict.
- When the former Soviet Union fell, many of the republics that were once kept in line by the almighty Soviets fell to war. Armenia and Azerbaijan were two of these countries, one Christian (Armenia) and the other Muslim (Azerbaijan). Gregor and Ruben had lived in the Northern part of Armenia and were war refugees to this country. Both talked about how peaceful their lives were as farmers before the war came. They spoke about trading with their Azerbaijani Muslim neighbors and firmly blamed the war on outside influences from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran. They spoke of how Jihadi Muslims came into the area and idealized the local Azerbaijani with violent ideas, supplying them with weapons (mostly of Chinese and Russian manufacture) at the same time.
- Eventually we played out the war line of conversation and spoke about the Armenian church, one of the oldest branches of Christianity if not THE oldest. I have a bit of an interest in religion and theology so hearing native Armenians talk about their church was fascinating.
- Some very opinionated links regarding the Armenian / Azerbaijani conflict:
Belarus (White Russia):
- Lev is an interesting man that I met at the gym. I knew right away that he was Russian (actually White Russian) and noticed how mazaingly observant he was. Usually I'm the only one in the room keeping a tab on my surroundings, but Lev was too... and we both noticed each other. Eventually I walked up to him, introduced myself and asked where in Russia he was from. It turned out that he was from Minsk, the Belarus and was a Jew like me. We traded little Hebrew and Yiddish before reverting to a mix of English and Russian for our conversation.
- Lev was a former Red army officer and we spoke about Latin America, and specifically Cuba. I mentioned that I had been stationed at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba at one time and he spoke about Cuban officers that came to train in the former Soviet Union. Lev resented that Russian officers were routinely put out of the barracks when Cuban officers came to train... I guess that there wasn't much of a visiting foreign officers barracks because he mentioned that Russian officers were routinely quartered with the enlisted when the Cubans came.
- We also discussed Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez from Venezuela. We chuckled about Fidel never having allowed elections, even trumped-up ones like those that occured in the USSR. Lev and I can both see shades of Castro in Chavez. While Chavez was most likely voted in legitimately, he has now announced pretensions to become "El Presidente" aka the dictator of Venzuela for the next twenty-five years. I wonder how Chavez's plan will resolve itself. I wouldn't be surprised to see a "quiet coup" happen in Venezuela like the one that happened in former Czechoslovakia.
- Roselin is from Fiji and worked in the cubicle next to mine at the job. I originally has a neighbor named Tazmin from Bangladesh, but she couldn't pass some of the tests that Roselin and I passed and left the job pretty early in the program.
- Roselin was very friendly, and like many Fijans, spoke very good British English. Like many Fijans of Indian ancestry, Roselin is a Muslim although the Muslims from Fiji tend to be very Westernized. She was very surprised to learn that I was very knowledgable about Islam (five pillars, and all that) and wanted to learn more about Judaism and Israel. I answered her questions the best I could. She later told me that I was the first Jew she had ever met. After a few days, she spoke about Islam and denounced terrorism and Jihadi theology. It was nice to speak candidly with someone like her.
- One of the topics we discussed was relgious food law. She spoke about "Hallal" food proscription, which is the equivalent of Jewish "Kosher" food law.
- Roselin is also a newlywed; she was married earlier this year to a fellow Fijan Muslim in a successful arranged marriage.
- Firuzei is an Iranian expatriate and works at the educational testing company where I'm currently employed. She sat down next to me one day and we chatted a bit. I didn't speak too much, because she is an boservant Muslim witha covered head and I didn't want to make her uncomfortable in any way since she seemed to be observant of many Islamic modesty customs so I followed her conversational lead. I learned a bit about where she was from in Iran and not too much more. I think as much as anything else, she was curious about me since I wear a kipah / yarmulke and many Muslims have no idea what Jews are really like.
- I spotted Ramon in the gym one evening in an Army National Guard shirt and we ended up lifting a bit together. Ramon is currentli in the US Army National Guard and is getting ready to enter the Special Forces active duty. He's been deployed to Iraq and thinks that he will shortly be returning. We talked about the service, military friends and the geopolitical situation in Iraq. Ramon is of the opinion that the troops in Iraq and not demoralized and that Iraq is not a quagmire.
- We discussed the physical tests for getting into Special Forces, which I took some time ago, and as I had correctly suspected, it was the swimming part of the test that had tripped him up before. You see, they typically give the very exhausting swimming portion of the test AFTER you've done the rest of the demanding physical test and are already beat. I remember that after I had run, and done umpty-zillion sit-ups and push-ups, it was the swimming portion that I couldn't hack.
- Anna is a security guard at the educational testing company I've been working at. We chatted a bit and traded a few remarks in Rumanian. That's about my extent of Rumanian language knowledge... a few remarks.
- Sacramento has a pretty sizeable Romanian community... mostly Pentacostal Christians.
- Ibrahim is a security guard at the educational testing company that I've been working for and the very sight of him inspires confidence. There's a wisdom about him that makes me want to hear his stories despite a misleadingly impression that he has a fruff exterior... it's only surface deep.
- Ive chatted with Ibrahim a number of times on breaks and learned a lot about the man... first of all, he has six children and ten grandchildren. Not bad for a guy that was born under third-world conditions in the northern part of Sudan. Ibrahim is a Muslim and grew up in a small tribe in the Northern part of Sudan learning Arabic and a local tribal language. His family and tribe were later displaced by the building of the Aswan Dam and not so longer after, Ibrahim was able to secure a visa to immigrate to the USA.
- While we have talked about a number of topics (the nature of language, Islam, Israel, Egypt, etc.), Ibrahim has chosen not to speak about the current genocide in Sudan by the Janjaweed Militias. He mentioned that he thought that the killings were shameful and switched topics. I didn't press him.
- Ibrahim's displacement by the Aswan Dam reminds me much of a similar project taking place in China today, the completion of China's Three Gorges hydroelectric dam:
- Two links to the ongoing problems with genocide and slavery in Sudan:
Vietnam / China:
Miye / Mike:
- I met Miye the other day ago in the gym sauna. We spoke about Vietnam and it's improving relationship with the USA. Despite improving conditions in Vietnam and a rather pragmatic Vietnamese Communist government, Miye would prefer to live in the USA. He is currently studying medicine and commented widely on the state of medicine in today's Vietnam. Miye is formerly from Saigon and when I queried him about Saigon being called Ho Chi Minh City, he laughed and said that only the government ever refers to it with that name.
- Two links showing progress in the Vietnam / USA relationship:
Have a great weekend!