broken walls and narratives

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Archive for the tag “Christmas”

Christmas In Hawaii

The holidays are over, which gives me more time to reflect.  As such, I thought about my favorite Christmas ever… which was the Christmas I spent in Hawaii with my brother.  In 2014, back when I was doing Americorps service at the Boys and Girls Club as the learning center coordinator (i.e. I was living in extreme poverty), my brother kindly paid for my mother and I to visit him in Oahu.  So, these are some highlights of that memory.

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Cheap Flight:  We flew Spirit Air, which was an adventure in itself.  We had to pay more to have a checked bag, so my mother and I pinched pennies by stuffing our clothes and everything else into small carry on bags.  Even their carry on requirements were pretty strict.  Everything on the flight required money and there was an eight hour layover in Los Vegas.  Nevertheless, it was memorable if only for the challenge of packing less and not becoming too grouchy during the layover and long flight.

 

Polynesian Center:  My brother and I went to the pricey Polynesian Center, which was pretty fascinating.  It was fascinating because it was run by Mormons and many of the performers and workers were recruited from various islands by missionaries and are students at Brigham Young University.  The Mormon influence was subtle, but includes more modest dress and a free shuttle to the LDS church.  The center consisted of various villages representing an array of Pacific islands.  At these villages were performances, displays, and lessons.  I tried a Polynesian dance lesson, watched a coconut uses demonstration, listened to a lecture about Polynesian navigation, and observed several dance/musical performances.  One highlight was a floating parade of boats featuring dancers from each island.  My mother opted to go to the beach that day.
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Bishop Museum:  No one seemed enthused to go to the Bishop Museum, as it seemed a little spendy and we had already done quite a lot.  But, I love museums.  The Bishop museum was excellent, with a giant Nene to sit on, magnificent cloaks made of red, black, and yellow feathers, a Planetarium, scientific and cultural artifacts, and lectures.  We went to a presentation on volcanoes and another on Polynesian ethnobotany.

 

Botanical Gardens:  I feel that we went to three botanical gardens while visiting my brother.  Some people like going to beaches and relaxing with drinks.  I like learning.  ALL THE TIME.  But, what a wonderful opportunity!  Because of its isolation, Hawaii has many unique plants and birds.  Of course, the endemic plants and animals have been challenged by the many exotic, introduced species that continue to bombard the islands.  The botanical gardens showcased non-native plants, such as those used for commercial use and interesting plants from throughout the Pacific.  We visited the Lyon Arboretum, where we saw a small waterfall and went on a hike…only to get rained on. We also visited the Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden, where we fed some ducks and geese at a small pond.  Another garden was Koko Head’s Crater, which was massive, dry, and featured a large collection of African plants and cacti.  I feel that we probably visited another garden as well, but I can’t remember off the top of my head.  The best thing about the botanical gardens was that they were actually very empty.  We were among the few people to visit them- perhaps because other tourists aren’t as in to plants?
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(Note: I don’t think this particular hibiscus is native to Hawaii)

Pearl Harbor:  I don’t have a patriotic bone in my body.  I am somewhat indifferent to both the victory and defeat of imperialist Japan against imperialist U.S.   How can I defend the US?  During World War II, we imprisoned socialists…in my own state of Minnesota, no less…and sent Japanese citizens to concentration camps.  We bombed civilians with ATOMIC WEAPONS.  Of course, I don’t want 2000 people of any nationality to die, but the death of Americans is never uniquely tragic to me (as compared to the deaths of any other nation).  But, Pearl Harbor is a place where tourists go.  So we ritualistically lined up early in the morning, waited, and visited Pearl Harbor.  The visit was memorable in that it was a good study of sociological phenomenon such as “feeling rules” and presentation of self.  The American tourists at the site behaved in sober, quiet, reflective, ways…as these are the feeling rules of visiting such a place.  Like church, children were expected to behave, not climb on things, not shout, and “be good.”  Some Asian tourists broke the unspoken feeling rules by smiling, laughing, and taking fun photos.  This is no offense to Asians, but perhaps the don’t feel as compelled to follow the rules.  However, once the Americans were back in the parking lot, everyone was loud, rowdy, and energetic again.  They had left the public space and were backstage, to use Goffman’s metaphor.  It was interesting to watch the performance of reflective patriotism give way to more everyday expressions of self.  I also saw the USS Arizona burp oil into the ocean.  Is that good for the environment?

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Byodo-in:  My brother lived right across the street from a Buddhist temple.  We visited the temple on Christmas Day, which was not only enormously fun and beautiful…it was vaguely sacrilegious.  The temple had a bell, a few nice trails, bamboo patches of forest, koi ponds, and a Buddha statue.  My mother was awkward about the Buddha statue, which I suppose seemed like idolatry to her.  I was also a little awkward about the Buddha statue since I never know the right etiquette and it is a bit of a hassle to take off my shoes.  Still, it was a lovely place and a great way to walk off Christmas dinner.
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Christmas Hike:  Christmas morning, my brother and I went on a hike on a nearby hill/mountain.  The trail was impossibly muddy, making the journey dangerously slippery and messy. It was fun to spend my time doing something active with my brother.  Christmas should be for hiking and enjoying nature…not sitting around, eating, and watching TV.
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Taro Pies and Sushi:  My brother lived walking distance from a McDonalds and a sushi place.  So, several days involved visits to the sushi restaurant for really cheap sushi.  The sushi in Duluth tends to be a little expensive.  On Oahu, it was as cheap as fast food (at least it seemed this way to me).  I also ate taro pies from McDonalds.  I enjoyed the novelty of eating a pie filled with a gelatinous, sweet, purple tuber.
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(Taro, before Ronald McDonald turns it into a pie.)

Diamond head State Park:  My mother, Tiffany, and I hiked up the Diamond head crater for a lovely view of Honolulu.  I am proud of my mother for making it all the way up the almost two mile trail (which included a tunnel and a lot of steps).  It was pretty hot that day too.  My mother was pretty good sport and went on a couple hikes.

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(My mother and Tiffany, not enjoying the hike)

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Whale Watching:  We all went on a whale watching boat excursion and had a few sightings of humpback whales.  Layton, who was probably only about 2 then, searched the water for whales (looking over the side of the boat).  It was a whale of a good time.

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(My mother and the sunset)

Crabby Brother:  My brother was memorably crabby during the trip.  I suppose he did pay for the trip and the activities, as well as drove us around.  This is pretty stressful and underlines the lack of public transportation/traffic nightmare that is Oahu.  I had enough fun for four people, so too bad I couldn’t redistribute my good mood to the less fortunate.

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Stray cats and chickens:  My brother and I went out to feed stray cats and chickens on the day after Christmas.  We fed them the remains of the Christmas ham.  Oddly, the cats were at the bottom of the pecking order…cowering from the fierce flock of feral chickens.  I think we might have seen another botanical garden after this, but I don’t remember.
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This was a truly magical Christmas.  It was the way Christmas should be.  Christmas often stresses me out with its social obligations, financial burden, cold, and oppressive presence through trees, songs, sales, traffic, consumerism, religious battles, etc. But that Christmas seemed like a nice escape from it all.  Instead of cold, it was tropical.  Instead of tons of gifts, it was a few things we could fit in our carry-on.  There was a Christmas dinner, but this was a minor event compared to the Christmas hike and Christmas temple visit.  There was family time, but instead of the familiar setting of Minnesota and home, it was far away and exotic. And, it was far less stressful as it was only a few immediate family members. There was learning, botany, volcanoes, hikes, stray cats, Mormons, taro pies, whales, and sushi.  The trip sparked an interest in Polynesian history.  Of course, my wonderful Christmas was only possible because of crushing U.S. imperialism which put Hawaii under its yoke and a tourist industry that commodities Hawaiian nature and culture while at the same time destroying both.  But, politics aside, it was enjoyable.

 

I will probably never have a Christmas as fun as the one spent in Hawaii in 2014.  But, life is long!

Another Marxmas

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As a socialist, it is hard to get into the holiday season.   The holiday season kicks off with Thanksgiving, which seems like it could be alright.  I mean, being thankful sounds like a good thing.  Only, it is quite hard to be a Thanksgiving enthusiast when you care about indigenous people and don’t think that a holiday marking their genocide should be celebrated.   It is hard to give up Thanksgiving-cold turkey- when there are some minor familial expectations that you will participate.  Also, for most Americans (i.e. white Americans) Thanksgiving doesn’t really have much historical meaning.  It is a routine.  It is a time to get together, eat turkey, watch a parade of floating cartoon characters on television or a dog show, and (I think) football.    While lip service may be given to thankfulness- this too is a routine- as much as stuffing and turkey.   I don’t think that much thought is actually given to Pilgrims or Native Americans.  Now, Thanksgiving is all the weirder because…as an accident of patriarchy, as I like to say….my last name is Bradford.  I’m really not at all English.  Maybe some droplet of blood….but really, I am mostly Finnish with some Czech and Slovene.  I like to point this out because William Bradford was the governor of Plymouth colony for 30 years and generally viewed Native Americans as primitive and that white people had Divine favor.  Besides forcing a peace treaty on already disease decimated  and beleaguered Native Americans, apparently he raided a more communal settlement that was distributing guns to Native Americans (Merrymount).   Well, in any event, Thanksgiving can really only be enjoyed if you don’t think too much about it.

Thanksgiving is followed by Black Friday.  I don’t even want to go there.  I can see how this semi-holiday may be a bonding experience between friends or family members, who go through the ritual of an early morning, large lines, and crowds.  People look down at long lines and crowds- in the context of queuing for things in the Soviet Union- but in capitalism, this is somehow a blissful experience.     Beyond the consumerism feeding frenzy is racism as well!  Black Friday was coined by the Philadelphia police to negatively describe the demographics of mass of shoppers/pedestrians.   Retailers have appropriated the meaning to be “in the black” financially, but it certainly isn’t a just  event- as underpaid workers hustle in the pre-dawn hours or night before to provide services to the mob of shoppers.

Really, I worked on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.  I slept on New Year’s eve.  The harsh schedule of school and internship, as well as anxiety over the rampaging diseases at my workplace, left me tired and stressed for the month of December.  So, once finals were done, I mostly slept and worked.   I did do some leisure reading, but I mostly hibernated and hid.

However, with the holidays behind me, I feel more energized.  Once I made it through New Year’s, I was ready to celebrate.  As others put their trees and lights away, it was time to decorate and put lights up!

This brings me to Marxmas.   I’ve celebrated Marxmas for over a decade now.  Really, it rips off a lot of Christmas traditions.  Instead of a Christmas tree, we have a red plastic Marxmas tree.  It is hard to invent an entirely new holiday.  I don’t blame Christians for ripping off paganism in this respect.  You work with what you know!  Yes, Marxmas involves some level of consumerism.  However, as it is often AFTER the other holidays, it takes advantage of post-holiday clearance sales.   In the ten years of celebrating, a few traditions have remained staples.  Usually, there is a skit or a song.  Often, there is trivia and “Proletarian Pictionary.”  Food and guests are obvious parts of any party.  Most years there has been a red elephant gift exchange.  In recent years, this exchange occurs during a rendition of the history of Trotskyism.  Often The International is sung.   Pinatas are often a part of this celebration, which are accompanied by a special piñata song.  Finally, in recent years, there has been a theme.  These themes include Cuba, Space Race, 1980 Moscow Olympics, and …this year…Northlandia.

 

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Northlandia was a departure from the degenerated worker state themes of year’s past.  It was based on the TV show Portlandia.  As such, we had pickle jar decorations, a huge tray of interesting pickles, bird decorations, and a “put a bird on it” game.  Beyond this theme, there was a general hipster theme.  This meant that I tried to made hipster-ish foods, appealing to vegan, gluten free, and local food trends.  There were mustache decorations, cupcakes, and gingerbread cookies.  The trivia was generally geared towards hipster trends.  This was not meant to poke fun at the idea of hipsters or even to acknowledge their existence (anything vaguely progressive and alternative seems to get labelled hipster).  Finally, there were prizes for everyone!  Really, that is pretty socialist- as winners and losers in the competitions all came home with a prize and a gift bag.  Not that we don’t believe in competition- but at least I like the idea that we all win together through learning, experiencing, and participation.

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Of course, like any celebration, Marxmas could be critiqued.  It is silly, for one thing.  How can we be silly or have fun when there is so much suffering in the world?  Well, I think politics are a part of the celebration.  It is a break from more serious matters, but the serious matters play a role in the celebration.   Pictionary included words like “cultural appropriation” “genetically modified organism” and “rape culture.”   Like Christmas, there is some waste and consumerism.  I buy things for the party.  But, we also make a lot of food and decorations.  It is a matter of time versus money.  Making the prizes or every element of the party from scratch would be quite time consuming.  It could be critiqued as borrowing too heavily from Christmas, but singing, trees, and gifts are not exclusively Christmas elements.  Like anything fun, it is easier to enjoy it if you don’t think too much.

As a whole, it was fun.  I love hosting parties.  I love seeing people having a good time because of something I planned.  I am terribly socially awkward.  I have a hard time with small talk or even big talk.  But, when I host a party- I feel in control.  I have a role to play.  I know what to say and do.  It feels great when there are more people than chairs!  (We had 21 people show up to the party).

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