Wednesday, January 14, 2004

You and I are victims of a love that lost a lot in the translation

Here goes...

Okay it's blank space time.

Right then. Not that I've checked through any others but I guess it's probably traditional to start your first blog with a little bit of an explanation as to why you want to be a blogger in the first place.

The truth is - I've just returned from seeing Lost in Translation at the cinema and it blew me away. I don't think anything has hit my mood so perfectly since I read Catcher in the Rye when I was 15. I know everyone is comparing LIT to Brief Encounters but to me it has the mood and atmopshere of CITR. Anyway, I wanted to put my thoughts in print plus I enjoy writing and have been meaning to join the ranks of bloggers for some time.

It seems to be the common wisdom that the film is all about making a connection with someone. In this case it's two people whose lives mean they are unlikely to pursue this connection. I wouldn't disagree with this synopsis but I think there are so many other levels to it. In particular the theme of consumerism. Japan, where it is based, must be the capital of consumerism and in the midst of the neon, the advertising and the fashionable bars are two people who have very real and very confused feelings. At the same time, Bill Murray's character is there to film a whisky commercial - something he is not very proud of. To me the film is saying that it's easy to lose track of your thoughts and feelings amongst this buy, buy, buy culture.

Murray's character's wife is at home, in the USA. She periodically faxes him with details of the shelving she's proposing to use in the furnishing of a room. She follows this up with Fed-Exed carpet swatches. As you can imagine he pays little attention. These DIY details don't really matter that much as he struggles with firstly the isolation of Tokyo and secondly his growing relationship with his co-star Scarlett Johansson.

In many ways it's these details that most hit home to me. I'll try and explain why, although I need to back track a bit in my own life for you to fully comprehend it.

In May 2002, after 12 years of working for a living I took some time out. Eight months to be precise. I traveled overland firstly from Hanoi in Vietnam to Singapore. Then on the second leg I traveled from Guatemala to Panama.

Okay I am just going to have to come out and say the rest because it's the tackiest of all cliches. OK. Deep Breath. Here goes. I found myself.

Yeah yeah, I know. But I'm not some home counties trustafarian. I'm big lump of a Geordie with a shaved head and a season ticket for Newcastle United. Don't judge a book by it's cover though - I'm soft as clarts.

Basically, traveling the world is a humbling experience. None more so than visiting Vietnam. I lost my heart to Vietnam. And like Cambodia, Nicaragua and El Salvador later you can't forget that these countries have had the most appalling crimes perpetrated against them by the USA.

Speaking particularly about the Vietnamese, and more generally about the other countries I mentioned, it's hard to believe we could fight such beautiful people. And I mean that in the sixties sense. The Vietnamese are hardworking, friendly, very very funny, resourceful, community minded, honorable etc etc etc. It's also understandable that in Vietnam, at least, the USA lost.

Imagine that. The USA "losing" a war. If any other country had beaten the USA they would still be doing a lap of honour 30 years on. However the Vietnamese are magnanimous about it all. Americans are welcome now. I was there during the World Cup and they cheered and beeped the horns on their scooters as loudly for "Team USA" as they did for any of the other sides. As they will remind you - they won - so they feel they don't have to be bitter or resentful about it.

Can you imagine anyone from Europe or America feeling the same way? The USA lost 3,000 people because of 9/11 and the Axis of Evil was created and a framework for a life time of wars was put in place. Vietnam lost four million people to Napalm, agent orange and some of the most blood thirsty soldiering the world has ever witnessed and they have forgiven. It beggars belief and is truly humbling. And yes, they do want and need the US dollar but it goes much deeper than that.

So anyway thanks to my experiences, and thanks to the many books I read during and after my trip, I changed my views on the world in general. I was always an anti-war person but since my trip around the world I have marched twice in London against the Iraq war. The big one early last year and for the visit of George Bush in November. I have also written to my local MP Nick Brown four times - needless to say he hasn't responded.

Of course by now you are wondering how all this fits in with Lost in Translation. Well, on my return to England it was very difficult to look at anything the same way again. The possessions we think we need for modern life seems increasingly unnecessary. The traditional way we choose to live our lives also seems shallow and just a little bit dull. .

Meanwhile the bars and clubs I used to frequent are slowly being bulldozed or being snapped up by chains. The dirty, grubby, friendly city that I live in and love, (Newcastle upon Tyne) is being turned into a true European City. New galleries, works of arts, restaurants and oh-so-trendy bars are opening by the day. Don't get me wrong, it's progress and I'm very proud of the way my city looks. But I miss the old Newcastle. And traveling has taught me that it's the people that make a place, not the number of Starbucks you have or how often you get mentioned in GQ or the Sunday colour supplements. I hate the way that we have to try to become as like London as possible before we are recognised by it.

Like Billy Murray and Scarlett Johansson I'm feeling a little bewildered by it all. I'm also wondering if the world has gone mad or is it me? Or am I just getting old? For your information I'm 32 and I haven't quite got over turning 30 yet.

What's more, because I have realised that we don't need half the possessions I thought we did, I have falled out of love with consumerism. The trouble is, if you stop wanting to buy all this crap then you suddenly find yourself with less motivation to actually make money. I recently set up my own business but I'm finding motivation hard to come by.

I hope all of this makes sense by the way. I do hope to travel again in 2005 and I have made tentative enquiries into voluntary work abroad. In the meantime though I need to try and find that missing motivation so I can get the required cash together.



I saw two shooting stars last night I wished on them but they were only satellites. It's wrong to wish on space hardware. I wish, I wish, I wish you'd care.